January 5, 2013

"In the mountains of the Pyrenees/There's an independent state/Its population five thousand souls/And I think they're simply great..."

"One hundred and seventy square miles big/And it's awf'lly dear to me/Spends less than five dollars on armaments/And this I've got to see."

So wrote Malvina Reynolds, with that kooky, lefty patronizing attitude you probably know better from her greatest hit, "Little Boxes." Remember that one, criticizing people for going to school, then getting jobs, forming families, and living in suburban developments where the houses are "all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same"? Really, what was that lady complaining about? The song quoted in the title is about a country that she read in the newspaper — back in the 60s — had a defense budget of $4.90. She took off on a lyrical flight of fancy that had no inkling of what was really going on with this country. She just used that $4.90 business as a jumping off point for hating on the United States:
I wandered down by the Pentagon
This newspaper clipping in hand
I said, "I want to see everyone
In McNamara’s band."
I said, "Look what they did in Andorra,
They put us all to shame.
The least is first, the biggest is last,
Let’s get there just the same."
What did she know of Andorra? What do you know?

Andorra is today's "History of" country, as we proceed through the list of the 206 countries in the world. It's very tiny, 181 square miles. But look where it is:

View Larger Map

How did that happen?
Andorra is the last independent survivor of the Marca Hispanica, the buffer states created by Charlemagne to keep the Islamic Moors from advancing into Christian France.

Why is it "inhumane" and "idiotic" to question the veracity of the claims that have been made about Hillary Clinton's various medical conditions?

James Carville is saying:
I have no idea what it is about the secretary of state that drives them to this kind of inhumane idiotic behaving state.
Inhumane idiotic behaving state... is an odd way to struggle to make a point. People — like me — who notice the coincidence of this string of medical crises and the interest in avoiding questions about Benghazi are not "behaving." We're speaking. We're not in a "behaving state," whatever that's supposed to mean. We're looking at the information we have, analyzing it, and asking pertinent questions. This is political speech about powerful office holders in the United States of America. I am sick and tired of people who say that if you talk about Hillary's health you are inhumane and idiotic. I feel like yelling that. I want to stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to question and criticize any politician. I'm saying that out loud and sounding like this:

Clinton supporters are trying to shut down criticism by going hardcore on those of us who are just asking questions. We're being called inhumane on the theory that Hillary's problems are health problems. This accusation of inhumanity is — ironically, outrageously — being used to supervene any humane concerns directed at those who died in the Benghazi attack. I could just as well accuse Carville for going into a kind of inhumane idiotic behaving state whenever anyone suggests that anything other than Hillary's health deserves attention.

It's been said that those of us who ask — merely ask —whether there's some evasion going on here are asserting a conspiracy theory. First, asking is not asserting. Second, the idea that politicians are avoiding questions isn't a conspiracy theory. It's pretty much expecting the most ordinary and predictable sort of human behavior. Third, I can't think of anyone in American politics who is more famous for slapping the label "conspiracy" on something than Hillary Clinton:

And fourth, she was lying! When we're talking about Hillary Clinton, we're not talking about someone with a clean reputation for honesty. Talk about idiotic! It would be idiotic not to probe self-serving statements coming from the Clintons. The more histrionic these shut-up-she's-ill statements become the more suspicious I am. This is an immensely powerful politician who seeks even more power and has a motive to cover up what could be a terribly damaging story about an incident the American people deserve to know about. I'm sick and tired of people who say we can't talk about that, and I'm going to stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to question and criticize and debate about Hillary Clinton.

ADDED: Wow. Look at this NYT puff piece, crediting Hillary with "indomitable stamina and work ethic" because she went back to work after breaking her elbow. It's not like she continued working without getting it treated. She just went back to work with her arm in a sling while the healing took place. Doesn't everyone do that? (Unless their work requires you to do things with that arm.) I can't imagine if a co-worker came to work during the period of recovery for a broken bone that we'd be saying this is "vivid evidence of... indomitable stamina and work ethic." That's ludicrous!

Toward the end of the article, it says that Clinton still "plans to testify, while still in office" about Benghazi.
“She would have vastly preferred to testify that original date than go through the last 27 days,” said her senior adviser, Philippe Reines. “Only an imbecile would say otherwise,” he added, referring to charges by conservatives that Mrs. Clinton faked her illness to avoid the Congressional questioning.
Only an imbecile! Okay, if that's they way we are going to talk, I'll just say Reines is a.... oh, being a civil woman, I can't say it.

At the Winter Walk Café...


... find the light.

What's the "word of the year"?

According to the American Dialect Society. Phrases get to be words in this competition. Guess: YOLO, #hashtag, Gangnam style, fiscal cliff, 47 percent?

"Cash for Clunkers" environmental cost/benefit balance seems to have been negative.

"According to the Automotive Recyclers Association (ARA), almost 100% of a vehicle can be recycled."
Even the fluids can be reused.... Transmission and brake fluids, anti-freeze, oil, gasoline, diesel and Freon from air conditioners are harvested at scrap yards for use in other vehicles. However, still-functioning engines are the most valuable part of a scrapped car....

Many of the cars that were traded in during Cash for Clunkers were perfectly functioning cars in good condition, and excellent candidates to have their engines and other parts recycled. With the engine destroyed, many clunkers bypassed the recycling companies and went straight to junkyards to be crushed and shredded.... [The engines were] destroyed to prevent the vehicles from being resold and taking the road again.....

[Cash for Clunkers] mandated that the clunkers be crushed or shredded within 180 days, regardless of whether all the usable parts were salvaged or not... Cars that are shredded are turned into small, palm-sized pieces of metal... For each ton of metal recovered by a shredding facility, roughly 500 pounds of shredder residue are produced, meaning about 3 to 4.5 million tons of shredder residue is sent to landfills every year....
Well, that's the perspective of the recycling industry, and it's all information that was known when the program was adopted. This isn't news, just an industry press release. That should make us skeptical, but also, if it's true, more critical of the government, since (I assume) they knew all this and did it anyway.

"The only building in sight was a small block of yellow brick sitting on the edge of the waste land, a sort of compact Main Street ministering to it, and contiguous to absolutely nothing."

The Waste Land... I think of T.S. Eliot's poem, which was published in 1922. Coincidentally, "The Great Gatsby" — the source of the sentence quoted above — is a story that takes place in 1922. F. Scott Fitzgerald began planning "The Great Gatsby" in 1922, and the book was published in 1925. I'm forced to think this sentence is a shout-out to Eliot.

How I spent the winter break between semesters at the University of Wisconsin Law School.

I sat in my Freedom Chair or stood at my motorized desk in front of a wall of picture windows looking out over our snow-covered yard though which a dog occasionally bounded, and — once the blizzard came — went cross-country skiing nearly every day. I ate many delicious meals at home with my beloved husband, and watched some football games on TV. I blogged, read, graded some exams, worked on new syllabi, reorganized a couple closets, and — at long last — burned the rest of the CDs I still cared about into my iTunes.

But my colleague Nina, after going to Poland and back, went to Turkey, and here she is in Alacati attending a fish auction.
We cannot understand what they're saying or how they're bidding, but the very idea of a fish auction is, to me, unusual and therefore cool to watch. The people are keenly tuned to what's on the table.

DSC07996 - Version 2
She can't understand the Alacati fish auction, and I can't understand going to Turkey, let alone Alacati, let alone the fish auction in Alacati.

But that's the thing about the world. There are all kinds of people in it.

"A revolution has begun against the perception of beauty in Israel..."

"...  this law shatters the anorexic ideal serving as an example for the country’s youth."
The new law, known as the “photoshop law,” requires models to present their employers with a current doctor’s note confirming that they meet a minimum body mass index (BMI) – a calculation of weight to height proportion – of 18.5, which is considered the lowest threshold for a healthy weight. Advertisements featuring models who are “photoshopped” or otherwise digitally altered to make them appear thinner must be clearly marked as manipulated images.
Here's a BMI calculator if you want to check whether you're too skinny to be a model in Israel. I've been 5'5" for more than 40 years, and I've weighed lots of different weights, including the weight of 107, which I regarded as my ideal weight (based on a chart in the Stillman diet book) when I was a college student. But based on that BMI calculator, I see I'd need to weigh at least 111 to be permitted to be a model in Israel! I know you need to be taller to be a model, but my point is that 107 wasn't anorexic for a 20-year-old.

Certainly, for modeling clothes you want a body that doesn't really call attention to itself, that works more like a clothes hanger. It's an aesthetic choice, a way to feature the clothing, the product. The Israeli law is ridiculously repressive. People need to take responsibility for their own bodies, not blame the fashion/magazine industry and certainly not use the government to cut off messages that supposedly feed their irresponsibility.

"The first key to thinking about 3-D printers is this: Do not think printer."

"Think magic box that creates any object you can imagine."

"I've been there. Drunk, looking for a snack, couldn't get the pickle jar open."

Top comment at the YouTube video "Incredible footage of BBC cameraman and hungry polar bear."

Person who had her 15 minutes of fame...

... wants 15 more minutes.

Al Pacino avoided meeting Phil Spector, whom he's portraying in an HBO movie.

"It would have been meeting a different person. Now he’s been convicted and he’s in prison. I play him before his first trial."
After doing the film role, said Pacino, he didn’t feel he knew Spector much better – but that it didn’t matter, because his job was to explore the film character, not the real-life person.
“The play’s the thing,” said Pacino. “I was looking for the truth of the drama.”
It's not an impersonation, but something much deeper.  Or that's the PR for the HBO movie. Maybe it's a preemptive defense against the criticism that he doesn't seem like Spector at all.

ADDED: In other HBO celebrity impersonation news:
HBO’s new Liberace biopic was “too gay” for every studio in Hollywood, director Steven Soderbergh says.
What big name actor will be probing the depths of the truth of the drama of Liberace? Matt Damon? No. Damon's playing Liberace's younger lover. Liberace will be... Michael Douglas!

Aw, give me a break. The studios turned down this movie because it was (whine) too gay? It's obviously insufficiently commercial.
Promos of the film screened for TV critic in Los Angeles yesterday contain numerous scenes of the two male stars shirtless and about to kiss.
No one wants to see that. It's not anti-gay to say I don't want to see that. Who wants to see Michael Douglas shirtless and about to... do anything?

"Cyclist Lance Armstrong considering public confession to drug use..."

Isn't that already a confession? But it sounds like what he's talking about doing is saying whatever it is he needs to say to get back into the sport:
The World Anti-Doping Agency code says athletes who fully confess to doping might be eligible for a reduced punishment. Armstrong hopes to compete in triathlons and other events, but many of those are sanctioned by athletic organizations that have agreed to the WADA code.
Should he get another shot... I mean... chance?
“Does he think people are completely stupid?” asked Betsy Andreu, whom the cyclist vilified as a bitter and vindictive woman because she testified in a court case that she had heard Armstrong tell his cancer physicians that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. Her husband, former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, was denied jobs in the sport because he refused to lie for Armstrong, according to the damning report released by the United States Anti-Doping Agency in October that detailed the cyclist’s drug use.

“This guy is like a Mafia don,” she added. “Will he apologize to all the people who wouldn’t lie for him? Will he compensate people for costing them jobs and businesses? How do you put a price on lost opportunities?”
It's not hard to read between the lines there. Armstrong needs to hand out a lot of compensation to everyone he hurt, enough to make them back off.
“Will he pay Christophe millions of dollars for forcing him out of the sport?” Andreu asked, referring to Christophe Bassons. Bassons has said that Armstrong threatened him because he suggested banned drugs fueled Armstrong’s comeback from cancer.
“Will he compensate (Tour de France champion) Greg LeMond for ruining his bicycle business? Will he apologize to Emma (O’Reilly, Armstrong’s former masseuse) for calling her a prostitute? Forgiving doesn’t mean being a doormat. Being a Christian doesn’t mean allowing people to profit from their crimes.”
Armstrong needs to do the math. How much money does he have? How much money could he possibly make if he gets back into sports at his advanced age?

"The breast pump industry is booming, thanks to Obamacare."

"Tucked within the Affordable Care Act is a provision requiring insurance companies to cover 'the costs of renting breastfeeding equipment'..."
“The law states that we must provide rental pumps,” said UnitedHealthcare spokesman Matthew Stearns. “These pumps are hospital-grade, and they are larger, harder to clean and more expensive than personalized pumps for women. We are providing women the option of getting a personal pump in lieu of renting the more-expensive pump.”
People will do what is incentivized. If breastfeeding is — as we've been told — extremely beneficial to the new baby (and the old baby?), then we ought to want to encourage women to do it. We can't force them to do it, but what we can do is make it easier. I'm very interested in the way the health-care law is going to be a mechanism for manipulating human behavior. By requiring the offering of something that feels like a gift, the government manages the moods of women who would be outraged — rightly outraged — to be told they must breastfeed.

Let's say, now that we're all becoming so involved in the overall economics of healthcare, that we wanted to boost the health of the babies in the insurance pool by making every mother breastfeed (unless she can't and gets a doctor's excuse note). You couldn't simple mandate breastfeeding, because it's too intimately concerned with the woman's body. You'd be violating her rights, but you wouldn't even reach that legal question, because it would be too politically ugly to go there. How about imposing higher health-care premiums for women who have babies, then choose not to breastfeed? That's also unpleasant. And how would you spy on women to check what they were doing? You could slap some big tax on baby formula, but that punishes even the women who can't breastfeed, and it nudges people to buy some alternative product — milk being an obvious substitution.

So make the pumps free so the manipulation feels good.

And here's a business sector that will do fabulously well: the pump-makers. The politicians score triply: 1. Female service to baby health is harnessed, 2. Women feel happy about getting things, and 3. A business booms.

ADDED: Times have really changed:
I remember in the early 70s, Ms. Magazine, in its early days, constantly attacked La Leche League, a pro-breastfeeding group. It was considered anti-feminist at the time to encourage women to breastfeed. Breastfeeding promoters had an ulterior motive (according to Ms.): keeping women at home.
The pump is a device to obscure this criticism. It represents a weird kind of freedom. This human organism needs your body, frequently, but you can get your distance if you attach yourself, diligently and efficiently, to the electrical suction machine. The aesthetics of breastfeeding are radically transformed. The leisure and the ease of natural breastfeeding while tending to various household tasks are superseded by a busy schedule stacked with duties — going to work, getting through work while slotting in the regular suctioning of the mammaries, getting home, taking care of all the same household tasks, and slotting in some time to bond with the child. Was this worth it? Hey, don't be glum. Here's a present for you: A milk-extraction machine. Happy?

January 4, 2013

A Late Night Café...


... where you can talk until dawn.

"Do youuuuuuuuuu have this in a sizzzzzzzzzzzzzzzze SIX?"

"Gingham is my jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAmmmmmm."

Gingham style.

Too much esteem for self-esteem.

Time to take it down a notch.

"I don’t know whether this world has a meaning that transcends it."

"But I know that I cannot know that meaning and that it is impossible for me just now to know it."

Today, the "History of" project brings us to...


Chuckit 18M Launcher $8.74 today through the convenient Althouse Amazon portal.

Up to 1% of the 7% of 100% will be used to purchase Charlee Bear dog treats for Zeus, Bingo, Joey and friends.

And thanks for supporting the blog called Althouse!

Bart Simpson at 40.

No longer a cartoon.

Old news about "news" and dog-powered machines.

In the 19th century, there were lots of inventions like this:

I discovered that as a result of having looked up the word "news" in the Oxford English Dictionary and run across this sentence in Richard Burton's 1621 book "Anatomy of Melancholy": "As a horse in a mill, a dog in a wheele, they run around without alteration or newes." I could picture working horses harnessed to a mill, trudging around in a circle, but what was the corresponding situation for a dog?

How about a dog-powered car?

The reason I was looking up the word "news" was that it was the last word in today's Gatsby sentence, and Meade, reading what I wrote, asserted that "news" was a word that dated back to the early days of movie newsreels and was an acronym for "north, east, west, south." No way, I said, dashing into the OED for confirmation. The idea of the pluralizing the word for "new" to mean news, is quite old, much older than English:
Spec. use of plural of new n., after Middle French nouvelles (see novel n.), or classical Latin nova new things, in post-classical Latin also news (from late 13th cent. in British sources), use as noun of neuter plural of novus new (compare classical Latin rēs nova (feminine singular) a new development, a fresh turn of events).
Meanwhile, Meade found a Snopes item, which established a pedigree for the misconception.

"Gatsby’s notoriety, spread about by the hundreds who had accepted his hospitality and so become authorities on his past, had increased all summer until he fell just short of being news."

That's from Chapter 6. I'm getting used to these F. Scott Fitzgerald sentences (as I continue with this Gatsby project, taking one sentence out of context every day). Each one — so far — has a little narrative arc, with perhaps a missing center or a surprising ending. In today's sentence, we see a process of inflation and then deflation.

At that Horizontal Café...


... you can talk about whatever you want.

Barney Frank does want Kerry's Senate seat.

"A month ago, or a few weeks ago, I said I wasn’t interested... It was kind of like you’re about to graduate, and they said: 'You gotta go to summer school.' But [the fiscal cliff deal] now means that February, March and April are going to be among the most important months in American financial history.... “I’ve told the governor I would now like, frankly, to do that...."

"Hand-drawn animation with ink, white-out and coffee."

Lotsa coffee.

Essence of Drudge.

Is that a form of argument?

"Anesthesia awareness is an intrapersonal event..."

"No one else sees it. No one else knows it. You’re the only one."

"Err ... this Wikipedia entry as reported by Ann has some large factual errors."

"Neither Albania nor Yugoslavia were ever liberated by the Soviets. There was no 'EU military mission led by Italy,' if for no other reasons than that the EU does not have a military, and would not, in any case, have been so insensitive as to have sent one headed by Italy, the former colonial ruler. Wikipedia is an unreliable source."

If only there were some way to edit Wikipedia....

How bad is fat?

12 reasons why it's complicated.

Dubbing in movie musicals fell into disrepute.

Present-day preference is for "real" screen actors, with an acceptance of their vocal imperfections. But in the old days:
Classically trained singers like Betty Noyes, Betty Wand, and Marni Nixon made careers out of singing for some of Hollywood’s most famous actresses, including Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron. One of the greatest movie musicals, West Side Story, dubbed three of its leads—Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, and Rita Moreno—because their voices weren’t trained for the operatic score. The film was better for it. (Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris, whose singing was not dubbed, had less challenging vocal parts.) Similarly, the men behind Singin’ in the Rain, a movie partly about dubbing in the movies, had no problem dubbing Debbie Reynolds for a couple of songs. The King and I, Gigi, and My Fair Lady are other prominent musicals that used dubbing without shame.
Everything in those old movies was more "false," but within n comprehensive environment of falseness, it made sense. It's false that people are singing at all. There's falseness to any stage show. But in a stage show, the actors are really singing, not lip-synching. I'd rather not watch lip-synching, whether it's the actor's own voice or not.

"In a country comfortable with a firm state role, most people don't question the Personal Names Register, a list of 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names..."

"... that fit Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules and that officials maintain will protect children from embarrassment. Parents can take from the list or apply to a special committee that has the power to say yea or nay."
In Blaer's case, her mother said she learned the name wasn't on the register only after the priest who baptized the child later informed her he had mistakenly allowed it.

"I had no idea that the name wasn't on the list, the famous list of names that you can choose from," said Bjork Eidsdottir, adding she knew a Blaer whose name was accepted in 1973. This time, the panel turned it down on the grounds that the word Blaer [which means "light breeze" in Icelandic] takes a masculine article, despite the fact that it was used for a female character in a novel by Iceland's revered Nobel Prize-winning author Halldor Laxness.
Parents express themselves through their naming of children. There are many things parents do to children that are expressive. To some extent, we intercede on behalf of the children. Where would you draw the line? In this case, the child is now 15, and she says she loves her name.

"In the case of the male vegetarian, what may look like vegetarian or sexual orientation discrimination is really sex discrimination in the form of gender stereotyping..."

Says the abstract for a law review article titled "Of Meat and Manhood," which has led to a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit against the author:
New Jersey banker Robert Catalanello on December 28 sued Zachary Kramer, an associate dean at Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor School of Law....

The article cites former employee Ryan Pacifico's 2009 complaint against Catalanello, including a charge that he made numerous derogatory comments equating Pacifico's vegetarianism with homosexuality. "You don't even eat steak dude. At what point in time did you realize you were gay?" he said, according to Pacifico's complaint....
"Catalanello harassed Pacifico not because Pacifico is vegetarian, but because Pacifico was not sufficiently masculine," reads one passage that Catalanello cited. "The key here is that vegetarianism acts as a proxy for effeminacy."
Defamation? Presumably, Catalanello disputes Pacifico's allegations and doesn't like the way Kramer, in at least one part of his article, presents the allegations without saying something like "according to Pacifico's compliant."

Here's the "Meat and Manhood" article. More from the abstract:
[Current doctrine says] that an employee cannot raise an actionable theory of sex discrimination to “bootstrap” protection for an unprotected trait.... By focusing on the male vegetarian case study – which involves allegations of vegetarian, sexual orientation, and gender-stereotyping discrimination – the Article argues that sex discrimination often manifests as other forms of bias.
That is, the law doesn't give special protection to you because you're a vegetarian, but it does let you sue for sex discrimination. So the litigant tries to present anti-vegetarian animus as a matter of gender. That's an interesting problem of employment discrimination law, but think about why the courts don't approve of this "bootstrapping."

(Via Taxprof.)

"We can’t go out and lock up all the socially awkward young men in the world..."

"But we have to try to prevent the unpredicted."

Says a psychiatrist quoted in a WaPo article titled "Predicting violence is a work in progress."

The photos at the link — a line-up of Jared Lee Loughner, James Holmes and Adam Lanza — create the impression that you can tell by looking at them, especially at their eyes. But if you look long enough, you'll see the 3 men are quite different. Only Loughner is smiling. One may sense that madness radiates out of his face, but if you can exclude what you know — that's a photo taken after his shooting spree — he may seem like a fairly ordinary guy. Holmes's face, especially stuck between those other 2, looks open — even empathetic — and sad. Lanza looks abnormal, like an alien. The oddness is enhanced by knowing that this isn't a mug shot like the other 2. Is that his driver's license pic? It's hard to believe — in this age of digital photography — that a picture that came out that bad wouldn't be trashed. If I were diagnosing Lanza from that photograph, I'd say his problem was anorexia. What that boy needs is cheeseburger*... and a better haircut.
An analysis of 20 studies published three years ago found that schizophrenia increased the risk of acting violently fourfold in men and even more in women. The risk of schizophrenics committing homicide was 0.3 percent — more than 10 times greater than the average citizen.
What is the risk of serious violence — not just homicide — for schizophrenics who are also young and male? What is the risk for young, male schizophrenics of the paranoid subtype? If we're going to reason from statistics, we need to be able to look at the numbers in different ways. I suspect that the 0.3 figure — which screams you can't just institutionalize schizophrenics — is massively diluted by including large numbers of females, over 30s, and the nonparanoid subtypes (disorganized, catatonic, undifferentiated, and residual).

Back to the WaPo article:
John Monahan, a University of Virginia psychologist... and many others came up with a constellation of “risk factors” and “protective factors” for violent behavior.... [that] the presence of a mental disorder as only a small contributor to risk, outweighed by other factors such as age, previous violent acts, alcohol use, impulsivity, gang membership and lack of family support.
Gang membership? Now, you've got a list of factors that's off the subject of mental illness and more about a young male's social context.
“From our research, we could quickly distinguish between a patient whose chance of being violent was 1-in-10 from one whose was 1-in-2,” [Monahan] said.
Some statistics skepticism: he's saying "violent," not homicide or even serious violence.
[A British Medical Journal analysis found that of] the people predicted to “violently offend,” 41 percent did. Of those predicted to be nonviolent, 91 percent were. In practical terms, that meant that if authorities used the tools for the purposes of public health, they’d have to detain two people to prevent one from becoming violent.
That is patently defective reasoning. Where did they draw the line in scoring individuals using their set of factors? Show me how the factors were scored and who ended up being violent. Why have you simply divided people into 2 groups? Look at different subsets within the predicted-to-be-violent group with the highest scores. For example, if you break out 10% of them, the predicted-to-be-violent ones with the highest scores, what percentage of them went on to commit acts of serious violence? If that approaches 100%, then the "practical terms" about the fairness of detention would look entirely different.

*Adam Lanza was a vegan — "He didn't want to hurt animals."

January 3, 2013

"It was my first trip to Detroit, Michigan, so naturally..."

"I convinced a local to give me the 'ruins porn' tour."

ADDED: That comic got me interested in finding some photos of the Heidelberg Project. I recommend this (and then click the "older" button for more).

And our "History of" country today is...

The Enver Hoxha Pyramid in Tirana, Albania

Do you recognize where this is? A clue: That's a photo of what used to be called the Enver Hoxha Mausoleum. If I told you it's in the capital city of Tirana, would you know the country, or is it easy because we are proceeding through the Wikipedia "History of" pages for the 206 countries in the world in alphabetical order?

"In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist."

"I asked myself how this checked against my own life experience. 'This is garbage; this is not the world in which I have lived.'"

ADDED: Here's a Gerda Lerner book that I read: "The Creation of Patriarchy."
Using admittedly sparse prehistorical evidence, Lerner offers a plausible multicausal theory to explain the development of the patriarchical system. She seeks to show that the subordination of women is a historical (i.e., changeable) phenomenon, not a natural one. Lerner posits that division of labor by sex occurred early but that the oppression of women began with the emergence of agriculture; the domination of women, she argues, preceded and served as the foundation for the origin of private property and the state and the institutionalization of slavery.

And the #1 "Most Annoying Liberal of 2012" is...

... not Barack Obama.

"They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house."

I decided to pluck something from Chapter 1 for today's entry in the "Great Gatsby" project. I randomly selected the sentence that appears above. You must believe me that it is indeed random, and yet someone had just emailed me to say he liked the Gatsby project and:
When I was a Harvard Freshman in 58-59, I took the required freshman English class and the instructor was an expert on Gatsby....

At one point while we were reading Gatsby for the class, he remarked "Have you noticed that whenever you see Daisy in the novel, she is wearing white?"
Now, how can my correspondent believe that I randomly picked a sentence with 2 women in white? But, on my purest honor, I did. We're focusing on sentences, so I don't know or care whether Daisy was one of the 2 women. I won't presume, though I will presume that the 2 entities known as "They" are women, given that they are wearing dresses. We must bring our knowledge of what is possible and what is probable to the enterprise of reading, even as we bear down on an isolated sentence. One or both of "them" might be a transvestite male (or a nonhuman), but I'm going to presume 2 women (or girls).

Wisconsin state senator Glenn Grothman caught up in a flap about Kwanzaa.

CNN's Ashleigh Banfield and Roland Martin pile on.

Here's Grothman's press release — PDF. I had to wonder why a state senator was attacking a holiday that some people like to celebrate. What business is it of his? He talks about the origins of the holiday (which I haven't independently researched) and asserts that it's not a "real holiday." But so what? It's usually just not a very good idea to make pronouncements about the truth or falsity of other people's religions. He ends the press release with the statement: "Be on the lookout if  a K-12 or college teacher tries to tell your children or grandchildren it's a real holiday."

Okay, is something going on in public schools? Are they celebrating Kwanzaa? That would obviously be wrong — a violation of the Establishment Clause. But Grothman seems to be merely saying that teachers might be teaching about Kwanzaa in perhaps a social studies lesson about the various holidays that are celebrated. I suppose we should be alert to whether teachers are feeding schoolkids inaccurate lessons, but the characterization of Kwanzaa as a holiday isn't an egregiously incorrect fact.

We could go deeply into the subject of what makes a holiday a real holiday and debate about whether Kwanzaa is in or out. It depends on how you define holiday. Or we could debate about what constitutes a sound social studies lesson. We don't want kids to hear that white people celebrate Christmas and black people celebrate Kwanzaa or that Africans arriving in the New World brought a Kwanzaa tradition with them.

Grothman ought to give us the specifics about defective lessons in schools and aim the criticism right there. Don't just tell us to be on the lookout for teachers who might dare to refer to Kwanzaa as a holiday.

"40 years ago, abortion-rights activists won an epic victory with Roe v. Wade..."

"They've been losing ever since," says the new cover of Time Magazine:

You need a subscription to read the article, but here's a shorter post by the author, Kate Pickert:
The pro-life cause has been winning the abortion war, in part, because it has pursued an organized and well-executed strategy. But public opinion is also increasingly on their side. Thanks to prenatal ultrasound and advanced neonatology, Americans now understand what a fetus looks like and that babies born as early as 24 weeks can now survive....
The prochoice establishment has also been hampered by a generational divide within the cause. Young abortion rights activists today complain that the leaders of feminist organizations, who were in their 20s and 30s when Roe was decided, aren’t eager to pass the torch to a new generation whose activism is more nimble and Internet-based.
In what form are these metaphorical torches passed? When and where do elder leaders step down and cede power to youngsters? If their activism is so "nimble," why can't they grab the power they want? Or is this a special "feminist" theory that the older women ought to get out of the way? Back in the day, expecting older women to get out of the way was regarded as an anti-feminist notion. Well, too bad I don't have a Time subscription or I'd investigate the details of these young activists and their whiny ways.

"As the 113th Congress takes its place in the Capitol, John Boehner has been re-elected speaker of the House..."

With 200 votes, says email, just now, from CNN.
Several conservative members of Boehner’s Republican caucus voted against him and others didn’t vote in protest of what they see as the speaker not holding a hard enough line on fiscal issues.

At the Hoarfrost Café...


... it's warm inside.

Paul Krugman is "feeling so despondent."

Why? "Because of the way Obama negotiated" the fiscal cliff deal.
He gave every indication of being more or less desperate to cut a deal before the year ended....
He did? Funny, Rush Limbaugh kept saying Obama wanted to go over the cliff. It was his preference. The idea was to get rid of the hated Bush tax cuts and the cliff was there as a device to make it possible to blame the GOP. Back to Krugman:
The only thing that might save this situation is the fact that Obama has to be aware just how much is now riding on his willingness to finally stand up for his side; if he doesn’t, nobody will ever trust him again, and he will go down in history as the wimp who threw it all away.
The wimp?! Hey, remember when they were calling Romney a wimp?

That was back in July. Was Romney "just too insecure to be President"? Meade and I were just talking this morning about exactly that. There were 2 crucial points when Romney failed to stand his ground. He crumpled under intimidation. One was when the 47% video leaked out. Romney went beta, instead of doubling down, getting hardcore. The other was during the second debate, when he was going big on Benghazi, and Obama and Candy Crowley performed their check-the-transcript routine, and Romney deflated into oh, am I wrong?

So, anyway... is Obama just too insecure to be President?

Andrew Sullivan reaffirms the value of independent blogging.

After years of selling his traffic-pulling work to corporate enterprises — first The Atlantic and then The Daily Beast — announcing that he's going independent again, he acknowledges what really matters about blogging:
When I first stumbled into blogging over 12 years ago, it was for two reasons: curiosity and freedom. I was curious about the potential for writing in this new medium; and for the first time, I felt total freedom as a writer. On my little blog, I was beholden to no one but my readers. I had no editor to please, no advertiser to woo, no publisher to work for, no colleagues to manage....

For the first time in human history, a writer - or group of writers and editors - can instantly reach readers - even hundreds of thousands of readers across the planet - with no intermediary at all.

And they can reach back....
Is he going independent again to reconnect with these essentials? It's really more about the endless, frustrating search for a workable business model. I guess he wasn't getting enough from big media, in relation to what he gave. And yet, what is the alternative? Making even less? The new experiment is to make his blog into a subscription site. No ads. Sullivan reminds readers of the old adage: "If you're not paying for the product, you are the product being sold." He wants us to pay $19.99 a year. I don't know what his traffic is, but if my readers did that, I'd make $700,000 a year. He has many more readers, but also 7 employees to pay. He's not going to get all his existing readers to fork over $20, and putting up a wall will affect his traffic. But what does traffic matter if you're not selling the "product" of readers' eyes to advertisers? It matters in the way stated above, reaffirming the essentials of blogging.

C-Span is sorry it wrote "Just Plain Dick" and "I Want You to Shut the F#ck Up" at the top of your screen.

"Now on C-SPAN2: Just Plain Dick" appeared on screen at 1:30 a.m. ET on January 1 as Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) was speaking in the Senate:

Some people thought C-SPAN had been hacked, but it was just doing its usual thing of cutting away from scheduled shows when there's action on the floor of the House or Senate. The "Now on C-SPAN2" caption referred to a scheduled show, which was a BookTV interview with Kevin Mattson about his book "Just Plain Dick: Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech and the 'Rocking, Socking' Election of 1952."

"I Want You to Shut the F#ck Up" was another accidentally apt book title that captioned congressional blabbery.

Al Jazeera hands Al Gore the second-chakra-releasing sum of $100 million.

Wow! Here's this failed, low-rated cable TV project of Al's. What is Al Jazeera buying? It's going to close down Current TV and only seems to want access to the American TVs that receive Current TV, if the people watching those TVs wanted to watch Current TV, which they obviously don't. There are many, many more spots on the cable TV dial, so why buy Gore's channel? Al Jazeera paid $500 million total (Gore's share is 20%). That seems like a crazy amount of money just to get onto cable TV. The idea is — as the NYT puts it — "to convince Americans that it is a legitimate news organization, not a parrot of Middle Eastern propaganda or something more sinister."

How hard is it to take over an existing slot in cable TV?
News channels financed by Britain, China and Russia are especially hungry for American cable deals. To date, the BBC has had the most success; its BBC World News channel is now available in about 25 million homes thanks to a deal struck last month with Time Warner Cable.

But the takeover of Current brings Al Jazeera to the front of the line. 
But did BBC or those other channels ever try to purchase an existing channel's access? Would $500 million be the going rate? Did Al Jazeera negotiate only with Gore's channel or did they try to get a better deal from some other channel with pathetically low ratings?
In recent weeks, Mr. Gore personally lobbied the distributors that carry Current on the importance of Al Jazeera, according to people briefed on the talks who were not authorized to speak publicly.
So... Al Jazeera was buying the former Vice President's advocacy.
Distributors can sometimes wiggle out of their carriage deals when channels change hands. 
How long is that carriage deal? $500 million worth of long? And it's not even guaranteed? It could turn into nothing?!
Most [distributors] consented to the sale, but Time Warner Cable did not...

Time Warner Cable had previously warned that it might drop Current because of its low ratings. It took advantage of a change-in-ownership clause and said in a terse statement Wednesday night, “We are removing the service as quickly as possible.”
So Time Warner — which serves 12 million of those 40 million homes — is already out. Did Al Jazeera get hoodwinked by the Oscar-and-Nobel-Prize-winning former Veep? He did what he could for them, "personally lobb[ying] the distributors that carry Current on the importance of Al Jazeera." How much more can you buy in this world? You got Al!

Hey, I just thought up a slogan Al Jazeera can use as it promotes itself to the American people: You Can Call Us Al.

January 2, 2013

At the Meadhouse Café...

... come on in!

"Alexander the Great arrived in the area of Afghanistan in 330 BC after defeating Darius III of Persia a year earlier at the Battle of Gaugamela."

"His army faced very strong resistance in the Afghan tribal areas where he is said to have commented that Afghanistan is 'easy to march into, hard to march out of.'"

"Afghanistan was conquered by the Maurya Empire, which was led by Chandragupta Maurya from Magadha... [A]s he was going to war with the generals of Alexander, a wild elephant of great bulk presented itself before him of its own accord, and, as if tamed down to gentleness, took him on its back, and became his guide in the war, and conspicuous in fields of battle."

State grabs man's nuts...

... or something. From the front page of the NY Post:

... teasing this item (on a subject we've already talked about extensively).

"I moved into the Mansion really young. I was 21 or 22... I needed to explore out there and take the time away."

"The time away really helped make me realize that where I'm meant to be is here with Hef..." 

It's practically a romance novel. Hugh Hefner marries Crystal Harris at the Playboy Mansion... I love the photographs, which make it seem like the Playboy Mansion has its own chapel. But I suspect Hugh Hefner is an atheist. Googling, I get here:
PLAYBOY: What do you believe happens after death?
HEFNER: I haven't a clue. I'm always struck by the people who think they do have a clue. It's perfectly clear to me that religion is a myth. It's something we have invented to explain the inexplicable. My religion and the spiritual side of my life come from a sense of connection to the humankind and nature on this planet and in the universe. I am in overwhelming awe of it all: It is so fantastic, so complex, so beyond comprehension. What does it all mean -- if it has any meaning at all? But how can it all exist if it doesn't have some kind of meaning? I think anyone who suggests that they have the answer is motivated by the need to invent answers, because we have no such answers.
Hef is 86, and Crystal is 26, but you never know who will go first. Hef appears to be in fine shape, and he's still cute, old man cute, not in denial of age. He seems smart and sane, and why wouldn't a woman find him attractive? Crystal on the other hand is bereft of the freshness of youth. She looks fake and drained of life, despite the big-lipped, plastered wedding-smile. What does he see in her?

"The attorney who said he would sue the state of Connecticut for $100 million after the Newtown school shooting is withdrawing his potential lawsuit..."

"... at least for now."
Irving Pinsky, who said Saturday he was filing the suit as a way to improve school safety, told the Connecticut Post that he’s received new information about security at Sandy Hook Elementary School and wants to review it....
"We all know its going to happen again," Pinsky said last week. "Society has to take action."
Oh, Irving. Lawyers and their motives. What have you added to our thinking on the subject?

"A paparazzo hoping to get a picture of Justin Bieber in his Ferrari after the vehicle was pulled over by police in Los Angeles got struck and killed by an SUV instead."

"And as it turned out, the 18-year-old singer wasn't even in the sports car."

This seems to be an occasion for wheeling out that horrible old saying: He died doing what he loved. He thought he had Justin Bieber set up for a shot. The photographer was swelling with delight and then — blam — not from a Ferrari but an SUV. Let's hope he never knew what hit him — to coin a phrase — and never knew that Bieber wasn't even in that car. He died doing what he loved! He had his peak of paparazzi ecstasy and then... annihilation. A consummation. It's over.

But wait! Justin Bieber wants to speak:
"While I was not present nor directly involved with this tragic accident, my thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim... Hopefully this tragedy will finally inspire meaningful legislation and whatever other necessary steps to protect the lives and safety of celebrities, police officers, innocent public bystanders, and the photographers themselves."
Oh, Justin. Not every screw-up is an argument for legislation. Putting "meaningful" in front of "legislation" is itself meaningful, but what does it mean? 1. It means meaninglessness, an empty existential cry in the face of helplessness. 2. It means I would like to soothe myself with the fantasy that if the right laws had been in place, the bad thing that just happened would not have happened. 3. It means that we can express meaning through laws, that laws work as expression, quite aside from whether they have any effect on the bad things we would like to call bad.

Now, should we also get on Bieber's case for calling what happened a "tragedy"?
Tragedy (Ancient Greek: τραγῳδία, tragōidia, "he-goat-song") is a form of drama based on human suffering that invokes in its audience an accompanying catharsis or pleasure in the viewing....
Pedants love to say that the word "tragedy" is misused, but I think we may have encountered a correct use of the word. That correct usage seems out of place with the rest of the statement, with its angst about prayer, inspiration, and meaning. One suspects Bieber bumbled into saying something he wouldn't have meant to say. It's meaning without a mind that meant it. We witness human suffering and feel... good!

ADDED: The more apt term is poetic justice — "a literary device in which virtue is ultimately rewarded or vice punished, often in modern literature by an ironic twist of fate intimately related to the character's own conduct." The key is the self-contained logic of the story. It makes sense. There should be no call for legislation to find meaning. The meaning is already there. What happened is exactly right: poetic justice. The Wikipedia page I just linked has some examples, and since we were just talking about Wile E. Coyote, I enjoyed seeing him first on the list of poetic justice in TV and film: "Wile E. Coyote always sets traps for Road Runner, only to end up in the traps themselves." The phrase "hoist with his own petard" expresses the concept. Did you know it's from "Hamlet":
"For 'tis the sport to have the engineer / Hoist with his own petard." (Shakespeare, Hamlet (III.iv.226).)
And did you know (again, from Wikipedia):
During the late 17th century, critics pursuing a neo-classical standard would criticize William Shakespeare in favor of Ben Jonson precisely on the grounds that Shakespeare's characters change during the course of the play.... When Restoration comedy, in particular, flouted poetic justice by rewarding libertines and punishing dull-witted moralists, there was a backlash in favor of drama, in particular, of more strict moral correspondence.

"Bitter ending for Montee Ball, who's bottled up by Stanford after break..."

"'Now I’m done,' he said in a somber UW locker room, 'so this stings a little bit more but I’m really looking forward to seeing this team be here next year.'"

"The Dirty Etymology of 9 Everyday Words."

"Oops, you just said: Pig’s vagina..."

Yes, yes, I know, fiscal cliff jumped back from.

We'd gone off, we were told yesterday, but somehow, from mid-air, we scrambled back. We were Wile E. Coyote out off the cliff, suspended, despite gravity, but unlike Wile E. Coyote, we already knew it, we'd been obsessing and blabbing about it for weeks. Unlike Wile E. Coyote, we didn't stay up because of ignorance of where we were and realization of where we were didn't make us plummet. We were somehow able to get back on the cliff, and it was exactly as if we'd never gone off the cliff.

It's almost as if there was never a cliff!

"Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season..."

"... suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed."

We're sticking to sentences, here in our "Gatsby" project. I won't pretend not to know that Daisy is the main female character in the book, but for the purposes of this project, I'm disregarding what we know about her and where she might be in the plot line when this sentence appears. I'd like to follow a rule that excludes all extrinsic evidence, but the phrase "this twilight universe" shows why that rule may be too severe. Nevertheless, I'm going to stick with the no-extrinsic-evidence rule, and accept "this twilight universe" as a mystery. Daisy has been up to something in what is now being referred to as "this twilight universe," and there's something poignant about encountering someone — a flower-named woman — in a mysterious place where she has moved before and is beginning to move again.

January 1, 2013

The Clinton clot plot thickens... or thins... with anti-coagulants.

So we were just talking about the oddities of the Clinton clot story. We noted that no sooner was it said that Hillary Clinton would testify, as Secretary of State, on the Benghazi attack, than there came an announcement that Hillary Clinton had entered the hospital with a blood clot. The coincidence raised suspicions of an effort to engineer an evasion of this testimony.

And we weren't told where the clot was, which is a crucial bit of information when assessing how serious this health scare is. Clinton had recently suffered a head injury, which makes one think the new problem would also be located in the head, but she'd also had a blood clot in her leg years ago, which makes that alternative seem plausible. If the clot were in the leg, withholding that information suggests a strategic choice to incline the public to view the problem as  more serious than it really was.

Later, Clinton's doctors released a statement saying that the clot was in a vein inside her skull, and that she's "making excellent progress" and likely to "make a full recovery." The Washington Post repeats the information that she's being treated with anticoagulants. You may remember that the analysis I discussed at that first link contained the assertion that "anticoagulation is never given to persons with clots around the brain." But that WaPo story says: "The conventional treatment is an anticoagulant drug for at least six months."

I know some of my readers are doctors. Can you help us out with that inconsistency about the anticoagulants? [ADDED: Here's what Dr. Pogo says. And here's some useful detail. I think the crucial distinction is whether the clot is in the brain or in the space between the brain and the skull.]

And, by the way, I've gotten some pushback in email and on the web, saying that it was "shameful" and "appalling" for me to tie Clinton's health problems to a possible intent to avoid testifying about Benghazi. Let me tell you that a core motivation to my blogging — and I've been going at this for 9 years now — is to stand tough against people who try to cut off debate with this kind of shaming. So I'm glad that this performance of outrage was directed at me. I know it when I see it, and it fires me up. You want silence? You want backing down? You want me not to dare say a thing like that? That's how you want to control political debate in the United States? Thanks for reminding me once again how deeply I hate that and for giving me an (easy) opportunity to model courage for the more timid people out there who are cowed by the fear of shaming.

ADDED: Here's something I would dearly love to do with this blog: I want to make it so that emotive, intimidating outrage like that backfires. I want people to learn that they can't get away with empty assertions like "I am aghast" or "You are despicable." You have to give reasons for what you think. Even if you really feel those feelings. And, of course, many of these hack writers don't actually feel the feelings they scribble about. They just don't want to have to talk about the actual issue. They want to make it something that everyone feels they'd better not talk about. But that should be a loud signal: We need to talk about it!

And let's get back to basics: What we need to talk about is Benghazi.

Chief Justice Roberts informs Congress that the federal judiciary is scraping by on a mere $7 billion a year.

$7 billion! Why, if that were one person's entire fortune, he'd only be #50 on the Forbes list of richest Americans. He'd only just butt ahead of Charles Butt.

The Chief stressed the bargain we the people are getting:
“Yes,” he went on, “for each citizen’s tax dollar, only two-tenths of one penny goes toward funding the entire third branch of government!”

In the report, Chief Justice Roberts said the judiciary was doing what it could to cut costs in rent, salaries and computer services...

The federal courts went to great lengths last year in trying circumstances, notably after Hurricane Sandy. “As just one example,” he said, “the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York conducted emergency hearings in Lower Manhattan the day after the storm hit, working in a building without heat or hot water that was only sparsely lit by gas-fueled emergency generators.” Though Chief Justice Roberts did not say so, the Supreme Court also showed fortitude the day the storm hit, hearing arguments when the rest of official Washington was closed.
I could think of quite a few ways to economize on the federal courts — things Congress could do. The courts are forced to handle the cases that fall within their jurisdiction, but Congress could target litigation-generating laws for repeal.

ADDED: Another way to increase that "two-tenths of one penny" proportion would be to reduce spending on things that are not the judiciary.

Electronic devices on planes are dangerous...

... but not for the reason the FAA seems to want you to believe.
If progress [toward changing the rules] is slow, there will eventually be an episode on a plane in which someone is seriously harmed as a result of a device being on during takeoff. But it won’t be because the device is interfering with the plane’s systems. Instead, it will be because one passenger harms another, believing they are protecting the plane from a Kindle, which produces fewer electromagnetic emissions than a calculator.

"Baby break for Village 'bomb' gal/Brings life as cops find instruments of death."

A NY Post headline.

Bomb gal. That's rich. Not since "tot mom"...

At the New Morning Café...


... so happy just to see you smile/underneath the sky of blue...

"Craigslist sperm donor forced to pay child support to lesbian couple - despite giving up parental rights to the baby BEFORE she was born."

How sympathetic are you to this man's argument?

Why should the father of a child ever be allowed to contract out of responsibility for it? If he is, why shouldn't the state control the extent to which this is permitted? Whatever you think of the mother, what about the child?

"DM, thank you for providing the map of Canberra. Were it not for that..."

"... I would have had trouble reconciling the city's layout with a man impaled on a bedpost."

A comment at The Daily Mail has the distinction of being the first thing that made me laugh out loud in 2013. (Please forgive me!)

"Under the agreement, tax rates would jump to 39.6 percent from 35 percent for individual incomes over $400,000 and couples over $450,000..."

"... while tax deductions and credits would start phasing out on incomes as low as $250,000, a clear win for President Obama, who campaigned on higher taxes for the wealthy."

Is that a "clear win"? Good lord, whatever happens, the NYT will spin it as a win for Obama. I thought his number was $250,000 for couples, and now, it's way up at $450,000. That should be called a clear compromise. How hard it must be for the Republicans to compromise, when even clear compromises are declared clear wins for the other side.

"Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York..."

"... every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves."

I warned you I was going to do this. Come on. Play along. (And, no, I wasn't thinking about Andy Kaufman when I dreamed this up. It was all a riff on that Baz Luhrmann trailer for the new "Great Gatsby" movie.)

So, now, let's talk about oranges and lemons. The phrase "oranges and lemons" appears twice in the sentence, unchanged, even as the oranges and lemons themselves are changed. That's the whole action of the sentence, the transformation of oranges and lemons in one form into oranges and lemons in another form. Here they are on Friday, in crates, and here they are on Monday in "a pyramid." That is, they have become, in that alluded-to time period  — the weekend — a pile of garbage. But the pile is called "a pyramid," A pyramid! We're called upon to think of the grand erections of pharaohs, in comparison to crates from the lowly little character with the silly-sounding occupation "fruiterer."

Are the crates even stacked up? There's the absurd and obviously false notion that the fruit has been improved by whatever it was that went on in that house over the weekend. That absurdity calls upon us to think about the people who arrived and left, the people who ate all that fruit. But of course, they didn't eat it. They drank it. The pulp was extracted for use in alcoholic mixtures, and if the fruit emerged from the weekend as "pulpless halves," then, we may infer, so did the people. We don't hesitate to keep calling them human, yet we see the inaptness of calling the mere rinds "lemons and oranges." Even if you could conceptualize the big pile of rinds as a pyramid, you'd easily perceive it as garbage. Since that perception is easy, we have energy left to think about what is more difficult. Who are these people?

The History of Abkhazia.

"According to The Georgian Chronicles, the first inhabitants of what is now Abkhazia and the whole western Georgia were Egrosians, the descedants of Egros son of Togarmah, grandson of Japhet, son of Noah, who came from the land known as Arian-Kartli."

"... Abkhazia was conquered by Mithridates VI Eupator of Pontus between c. 110 and 63 BC, and then taken by the Roman commander Pompey."

"[T]he kingdoms of Abkhazia and Georgia [were united] into a single Georgian feudal state... reach[ing] the apex of its strength and prestige under the queen Tamar (1184–1213)."

"Towards the end of the 17th century, the principality of Abkhazia broke up into several fiefdoms, depriving many areas of any centralized authority. The region became a theatre of widespread slave trade and piracy. "

"In the Russian revolution of 1905, most Abkhaz remained largely loyal to the Russian rule, while Georgians tended to oppose it. As a reward for their allegiance, tsar Nicholas II officially forgave the Abkhaz for their opposition in the 19th century and removed their status of a 'guilty people' in 1907."

"On 24 October 2008 the railroad bridge of Shamgon-Tagiloni, connecting the city of Zugdidi in Georgia with the Abkhazian Gali district (populated mainly by Georgians) was destroyed. According to Georgian and French sources it was done by Russian army; Abkhazian sources maintained it was a Georgian diversion."


And so begins the new year project on this blog, which is to proceed, alphabetically, through the 206 countries of the world, and to read the "History of" page in Wikipedia. The idea is to have had it go through our head, at least once, something of what happened in each place. It is fitting that we start with Abkhazia, which may be an unfamiliar name. Much has happened there! It's touching to see that, to confront one's own persistent, nagging ignorance. But we are all fortunate to have woken up again this morning, still a human being on Planet Earth, and I want to perform a ritual — for the next 206 days — of adding a slight glimmer of awareness of those other human beings who live or who have lived over the long expanses of time and place.


It's apt that we encounter Noah on New Year's Day, Noah being our earliest example of an individual overindulging in alcohol.

ADDED: I found a nice Flicker stream of photos from Abkhazia. I recommend beginning here — at Stalin's bathroom — and then clicking to the "newer"/"older" button to see more.

Happy New Year!

Are you up early, like me, or are you sleeping off last night's festivities? Personally, I don't get too revved up about the shift from one year-number to the next one. I think we live in days, and when life is good, normal days are the best, and the truth is, we live in days:

But if our lives are to have meaning, don't we need to knit those days together?

If we should take account on an annual basis — to put the Ann in annual — why should it be on this outwardly imposed occasion, this flip of the calendar from December to January?

"Yeah, I can get with that!"

December 31, 2012

"Thirteen years ago, I happened to be at my folks for New Year's."

"Both my Dad and my significant other were asleep in couches and Mom and I were sitting drinking and gossiping."
The subject of resolutions came up and somehow we decided we were going to do a good deed at least once every day for a year.

It seemed so much better than depriving ourselves of something or quitting something or losing weight or whatever. It could be as simple as letting someone ahead of us in traffic, helping a person find the right aisle in the grocery or even being nice to a telemarketer.

My Mom passed away that year. I have done a good deed every day since, for the last thirteen years. And every time I do, I think of her.

A conversation for the end of the year.

At the New Year Café...


... say hello from 2013, if you're out there on the globe somewhere where it's next year. If you're still waiting in 2012 with the rest of us laggards, feel free to talk about anything.

How to read a book a day for a year.

Choose short/easy/audio books.

Actually, I read a book a day and have for years — but it's an audiobook, and most of this reading is done while asleep.

Do you have an reading-related New Year's resolutions? Let's think up some reading projects for the new year. We don't necessarily have to do them. Let's just contemplate them. I've already thought of 2, one of which I plan to do. First:
Maybe a good project would be those "History of..." pages, not just for their most common words — WAR! — but to have had it run through your head, at least once, what happened in all of those places. Do you know how many pages we are talking about? The number of members in the United Nations is not the right answer, but do you know that number? It's 193. Wikipedia lists 206 sovereign states (including those with disputed sovereignty).

Let's make a New Year's resolution: Each day, read one Wikipedia "History of..." page. Will you join me? We'll go in alphabetical order, and I'll prompt you with blog posts.
That will start on New Year's day. Don't worry, I'll make it amusing. Second:
What I like [about "The Great Gatsby"] is that each sentence is good, on its own. Seriously. Test it out. "As my train emerged from the tunnel into sunlight, only the hot whistles of the National Biscuit Company broke the simmering hush at noon." Every sentence is a writer's inspiration....

I feel like starting a blog devoted to individual sentences in "The Great Gatsby," chosen randomly, and continuing until all the sentences have been used up.
With commentary, of course. For example, here's my commentary on the hot-whistle-simmering-hush sentence (responding to a commenter who complained that "trains do not 'emerge' from tunnels. They blast, speed, rip, explode, hurtle. E.B. White and Orwell would have hated the verb 'emerge'):
Now, one reason the train can't "blast" or "explode" from the tunnel — and by the way, oh, you men, with your cocks — is that the "only" sound was the "hot whistle." Otherwise, there was a "hush." That's all very surreal, no? Why didn't the train make any noise? It emerged, because it wasn't a screaming cock blasting through a vagina tunnel, as happens in your (presumably) E.B. White-approved works of fiction. Why was the train silent, why were the whistles hot, why was the hush simmering, why was it noon, why were the whistles biscuit whistles, and why wasn't it the biscuit, rather than the whistle, that was hot?

"Long before Erika Menendez was charged with pushing a stranger to his death under an oncoming train at a Queens elevated station..."

"... she had years of contact with New York City’s mental health and law enforcement establishments."
She was treated by the psychiatric staffs of at least two city hospitals, and caseworkers visited her family home in Queens to provide further help. She was also arrested at least three times, according to the police, twice after violent confrontations....

There were ample warnings over the years concerning Ms. Menendez.

In 2003, according to the police, she attacked another stranger, Daniel Conlisk, a retired firefighter, as he took out his garbage in Queens.

“I was covered with blood,” Mr. Conlisk recalled on Sunday. “She was screaming the whole time.”
That's the NYT. In The Daily News, we learn that what she was screaming was "You fucked my mother."

Up for 2 hours... still waiting for the sunrise.

I love mornings!

"It is shockingly inexpensive to travel within Turkey by plane."

"Take this segment: from Istanbul to Izmir (about an hour flying time) on Atlas Jet, it's $25 (without additional discounts). For this, we get not only the flight itself, but a warm snack (melted cheese sandwich, cake, coffee or a soft drink) and, too, upon arrival in Izmir, free transportation by bus to towns south of us. Including to Slecuk — another hour's worth of travel."

... worth of travel.

Do you understand it?

"What do a cake, a runner, a rainbow and a kalashnikov have in common."

"10 Contested African Images of 2012."

Baz Luhrmann's "Gatsby."

If you loved "Moulin Rouge," as I did, you may find the new trailer thrilling:

I was literally thrilled. And I'm very skeptical of all movies. I resist going to the movies. I see one comment over at YouTube whining about this not being in 3D. 3D is a curse. I've vowed never again to see a movie shot in 3D unless it's in a 3D theater. I saw that most recent "Planet of the Apes" movie, which was shot as a 3D movie, in a non-3D theater, and it was full of dumb shots — objects placed in the extreme foreground, actors framed in a way that you could tell was for an effect that you weren't able to see. I'd love to see "Life of Pi," but I put off going, because it's such an ordeal to engage with a 3D experience, and now it's only around here in non-3D, and I can't go, because of my vow. I'm delighted that Luhrmann didn't mess up the visuals to pander to the 3D dweebs.

Here, you can read "The Great Gatsby" on line, in a nice format. This is one of my favorite books. What I like is that each sentence is good, on its own. Seriously. Test it out. "As my train emerged from the tunnel into sunlight, only the hot whistles of the National Biscuit Company broke the simmering hush at noon." Every sentence is a writer's inspiration. I'll vouch for that.

ADDED: A trailer was put out last summer using many of the same visuals and a very different audio track, and I blogged at the time: "It looks awful, with horrible acting." I'd forgotten that! Here's the old trailer:

But I did say: "But then I think it's like 'Moulin Rouge,' which can seem bad if you look at it the wrong way, and this new 'Gatsby; is in fact directed by the same person, Baz Luhrmann." There's a fine line — in some quarters — between garbage and greatness. 

What's Happening to Hillary? Only a clod would say the clot is a plot!

Here are Senators Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein, interviewed by Chris Wallace (yesterday, on "Fox News Sunday"):
WALLACE: Senator Graham, how important is it for Secretary of State Clinton to testify under oath before she leaves office about the Benghazi terror attack?...

GRAHAM: Absolutely essential that she'd testify....

WALLACE: Some of your Republican colleagues say they are prepared to hold off the confirmation of John Kerry as secretary of state, until Secretary Clinton testifies as secretary, before she leaves office.

GRAHAM: That's going to happen. I've been told by Senator Kerry he wants that approach also. He needs to hear what she says so he can make comments about, I agree with her/I don't agree with her. It makes sense to have her go first.

WALLACE: Do you agree with that, Senator Feinstein, that she needs to testify first, as an -- and have you been assured she will testify, though it has been 3 1/2 months since Benghazi and she still has never really answered questions, about Benghazi, her role before, during, after the attack? Do you have reason to believe she'll testify as secretary?

FEINSTEIN: She has said she will and I believe she will. You know, she's had a very real accident and she's recovering from it, and, she will be back. I gather, her first day, of work may well be next week. So, I think that's good news.
With all that assurance that Hillary Clinton would testify, later that day, we heard the news that Hillary Clinton had entered the hospital with a blood clot. We weren't told the site of said blood clot. Was it her brain (recently concussed)? Was it her leg (where she had a blood clot back in 1998)? The former is a big deal, the latter, not so much. Why not specify the site, since it make such a big difference, medically? Oh, but we're told we must not display any skepticism, any hint of suspicion that the SOS is trying to avoid having to testify about Benghazi. The woman is ill. Only a clod would say a clot was a plot.

Here's medical expert Kent Sepkowitz:
Unlike the relatively bland “concussion after fainting” pronouncement from earlier this month, this terse press release from her spokesman smells a little fishy. First it is odd that we are not told where the clot is—usually the clot, referred to as thrombophlebitis, occurs in the leg, a condition suffered by former president Richard Nixon after leaving the White House. 
Maybe you can remember — if not, guess! — how sensitive we were to Nixon's phlebitis, which conveniently flared up in the midst of Watergate. Ha! That bastard thinks he can get our sympathy. Pathetic! (That's what I said at the time.)
The clot [in the leg] can be uncomfortable but is only dangerous and even life threatening if it breaks free and travels downstream into the lung—a pulmonary embolus, in medical parlance.... Given that Clinton already has had this condition and those who have had one episode have a predilection to recurrence, the lack of a reminder of the 1998 clot from her press people seems a strange oversight.

Another problem with the “concussion then clot” story is this—the concussion, if indeed it came after a faint, should not directly predispose Clinton to a clot....

Alternatively, is it possible that the clot in question is one in the lining of the brain that can form after head trauma.... But anticoagulation is never given to persons with clots around the brain. They are either watched without intervention or surgically evacuated. So this possible explanation is out.

We are left with a story that is not easy to connect up with sparse information from the inside crowd, who could easily deflate speculation with two or three more measly facts. The National Enquirer has already declared Clinton to be suffering from a brain tumor, linking her observed weight gain, possibly from treatment for the putative cancer, and not-exactly-explained need to leave Obama’s Cabinet to the grim diagnosis. Such a story no longer seems to me as implausible as it did after the faint and concussion reports.
The suppression of informationthe site of the clot — suggests 2 radically different theories: 1. fakery/exaggeration to evade testimony, or 2. something horribly serious. I read Sepkowitz to exclude the middle ground.

UPDATE: Email from CNN says: "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a blood clot between her brain and skull behind her right ear, her doctors said." This seems to be the option that Sepkowitz excluded because "anticoagulation is never given to persons with clots around the brain." If that's correct, then something is still, to use Sepkowitz's word, fishy.

UPDATE 2: Here's the Washington Post, on January 1st, noting the site of the clot and saying "The conventional treatment is an anticoagulant drug for at least six months." So that directly contradictions Sepkowitz's statement that "anticoagulation is never given to persons with clots around the brain."

AND: I've got a bit more to say here

December 30, 2012

Obama seems amenable to the NRA idea of armed guards in schools.

On today's "Meet the Press": David Gregory asked him what he thought of having "armed guards at every school in the country," adding "That's what the NRA believes. They told me last week that could work." Obama said:
You know, I am not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me. I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem. 
Of course, we are also skeptical that gun control is going to solve our problem. My only point here is that Obama didn't denounce the idea and treat it as crazy, which seemed to be the left/liberal spin last week after NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre made the proposal. Obama is saying that the idea deserves consideration. And to say you doubt that it's the "only answer" is to imply that it may belong in a package of items that together are the answer. In fact, later, he said: "I'm going to be putting forward a package..."

At the Sunroom Café...


... we can wait out the winter.

Fiscal cliffhanging on their every word.

Are you?