December 28, 2013

"Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context..."

"...turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault."
The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam....

Anger at the video motivated the initial attack. Dozens of people joined in, some of them provoked by the video and others responding to fast-spreading false rumors that guards inside the American compound had shot Libyan protesters. Looters and arsonists, without any sign of a plan, were the ones who ravaged the compound after the initial attack, according to more than a dozen Libyan witnesses as well as many American officials who have viewed the footage from security cameras.

"Belgium’s euthanasia guidelines are a mere veneer that can be violated without consequence."

"When violations finally come to public light, lawmakers simply amend the law to reflect actual practice."

Belgian doctors have provided euthanasia to: "a transsexual repelled by the results of a sex change operation... a depressed anorexia patient who wanted to die after being sexually exploited by her psychiatrist... deaf twins, who asked to be killed together when both began losing their eyesight... elderly couples who preferred immediate death to eventual widowhood."

They harvest organs in the process too, when they can.

"Is Michelle Obama’s Birthday Party Invitation Inconsiderately Worded?"

What does it mean to invite people for "Snacks & Sips & Dancing & Dessert"?

I think it means there will be plenty to eat and drink but you can't sit down. Kinda like "Let's Move" but more festive.

"A&E now has, if not an obligation, a golden opportunity."

"The network should return Robertson and Duck Dynasty to the air, but not in the adulterated, cartoon version that has conservatives so besotted.... No, Duck Dynasty should get real," writes Richard Kim in The Nation.

"For me, pictures like this are so troubling because they ask core questions about the contradictory nature of photography."

"On the one hand, the photo is a tremendously disturbing representation of evil and chaos."
On the other, it is such a perfect and unique example of this evil that it transcends the constant, predictable, numbing pictorial representations of equal or greater violence that usually just slip away unseen. These are such troubling thoughts to think. Ten years ago, I would have felt some of the violence before I could acknowledge my respect for the photograph. Now I feel them both simultaneously. Perhaps that’s the great achievement of the photograph. But what do I know anymore? I guess I’m in too deep.

"Pop princesses bow to queen Britney Spears."

No, that is not bowing. Scroll through the rest of the pictures. It's all terribly disrespectful to the poor, troubled ex-princess, Britney. If she's to be a queen, give her a dress... and some dignity.

Mark Steyn tweeted me!

"What should happen is the following: please develop the film and hand it over to your students."

Wrote the great film director Werner Herzog to the film professor who had 2 weeks earlier handed him a Super-8 camera and instructed him to make a film for the Film 102 class.
My demand is the following: they have to make films, collectively or individually, which should include my footage. Obviously, they do not need to take everything, nor in the order I filmed the material.

The title of their film/films has to be WHERE’S DA PARTY AT? 

In my footage this appears in one of the graffiti, and at least this portion of the text should appear in the film, or all the films.
The film prof told the students their project would be a bit like what Herzog did making the film "Grizzly Man," using the footage (and pawage) of the late Timothy Treadwell.

"The 17 most jaw-droppingly terrible lyrics of 2013."

This stuff is so bad I don't know how the author (a writer at Salon) could be troubled to listen through it to find these items in the first place. Or do the tunes just jump off the radio or the internet and accost you until you pay attention and hate them?

Speaking of attacks against one's will, the worst lyric seems to be: "Put Molly all in her champagne/She ain’t even know it/I took her home and I enjoyed that/She ain’t even know it."

Have you noticed the new HBO show "Getting On"?

We've started watching it. The scene is a geriatric extended care facility, which is timely, no? Here's a list of 4 reasons to watch, including this scene:

I don't know why that isn't the kind of politically incorrect that gets you in trouble. Clearly, HBO means for us to laugh at the incomprehensibility of East Asian languages. ("It's something Chinese-y.") Remember when Rosie O'Donnell got in trouble for doing a crude imitation of Chinese?

ADDED: ""[I]n what many would consider heretical by Hollywood standards, the actors do not get their hair or makeup done. The existing overhead fluorescent bulbs serve as the only lighting set up."
"The three of us have joked that we are three of the bravest actresses in TV right now with no hair and no makeup," [Laurie] Metcalf says. "It's a luxury to not have to worry about it, but it's also a kick in the face - being willing to look like you've had a hard day on your feet."
Metcalf (who played Roseanne's sister on the old "Roseanne" show) plays a doctor "who feels insulted by her assignment to the Billy Barnes unit. She wanted to be a medical-research star and is obsessed with collecting and analyzing feces, an ongoing metaphor for the show's bleak environment. The correct way to pick up an errant sample off a waiting room chair dominates an entire episode."

AND: Unlike all those TV hospital with that let "thin, beautiful, hyper-articulate doctors... demonstrate their intelligence and/or compassion""Getting On" gives "a trio of frumpy, middle-aged comediennes regular opportunities chance to be funny, unlikable and compelling."

"This is the environmental awakening. It marks a new sensitivity of the American spirit and a new maturity of American public life."

So wrote Richard M. Nixon in his "Special Message to the Congress Outlining the 1972 Environmental Program" (February 8, 1972):
From the very first, the American spirit has been one of self-reliance and confident action.... What has dawned dramatically upon us in recent years, though, is a new recognition that to a significant extent man commands as well the very destiny of this planet where he lives, and the destiny of all life upon it. We have even begun to see that these destinies are not many and separate at all -- that in fact they are indivisibly one....

It is working a revolution in values, as commitment to responsible partnership with nature replaces cavalier assumptions that we can play God with our surroundings and survive. It is leading to broad reforms in action, as individuals, corporations, government, and civic groups mobilize to conserve resources, to control pollution, to anticipate and prevent emerging environmental problems, to manage the land more wisely, and to preserve wildness....
Among the many subheadings of this document is "ENDANGERED SPECIES":
I propose legislation to provide for early identification and protection of endangered species. My new proposal would make the taking of endangered species a Federal offense for the first time, and would permit protective measures to be undertaken before a species is so depleted that regeneration is difficult or impossible.
And it was on December 28, 1973 — 40 years ago today — that President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law.

Scientists fight over what would happen if you fell into a black hole.

Leonard Susskind, a physicist at Stanford, says: "It's kind of like you're rowing on Niagara Falls, and you pass the point [where] you can't row fast enough to escape the current... Well, you're doomed at that point. But passing the point of no return — you wouldn't even notice it."

"A scientific mission ship, trapped in dense pack ice off East Antarctica, is still awaiting rescue after a Chinese icebreaker failed to reach it."

"The Snow Dragon icebreaker was itself stalled by heavy ice, officials say."
Although trapped for the moment, the scientists are continuing their experiments. They have been measuring temperature and salinity through cracks in the surrounding ice.....

The goal of the modern day Australasian Antarctic Expedition is to repeat many of the original measurements and studies of the Mawson expedition to see how facets of the environment have changed over the past century.
Here's the Spirit of Mawson page about the current expedition.

"Michelangelo's Grocery List..."

"... written for an illiterate servant."

"I’m a patriot and a Christian... But now it’s gotten to where I’m some kind of nut or Bible beater."

Writes Phil Robertson in his recently published book, "Happy, Happy, Happy: My Life and Legacy as the Duck Commander," noting that he's just following "the principles on which the United States was built... right there with our founding fathers."
What in the world ever happened to the United States of America, folks? Our country is so different from the nation that was founded more than two hundred years ago. I’m absolutely convinced that the reason America went so far and so fast is that our founders were God-fearing men. It was godly from the start. Our founding fathers fled the wickedness of Europe and came to America to build a nation built on principles, morals, and their beliefs in Jesus Christ. They drew upon their faith and biblical ideals to actually construct the framing documents of our great country.

December 27, 2013

A&E brings Phil Robertson back into its good graces.

This was all so very predictable, but here's the statement and it's headlining at Drudge, so, after all our discussions of the topic, I feel I must treat it as news.
As a global media content company, A&E Networks' core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect. We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people's homes, and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principles.

That is why we reacted so quickly and strongly to a recent interview with Phil Robertson. While Phil's comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the "coarse language" he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would "never incite or encourage hate." We at A&E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article and reiterate that they are not views we hold.

But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man's views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family… a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A&E Networks also feel strongly about.

So after discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family.

We will also use this moment to launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, a message that supports our core values as a company and the values found in Duck Dynasty. These PSAs will air across our entire portfolio.
That's terribly carefully worded. I'm sure they worked very hard on that.

Here's your ice cream.


(Via Metafilter.)

What to do about those "hospice survivors" who are "draining billions from Medicare"?

They only got in because 2 doctors certified they'd only live 6 months at the most.
[O]ver the past decade, the number of “hospice survivors” in the United States has risen dramatically, in part because hospice companies earn more by recruiting patients who aren’t actually dying, a Washington Post investigation has found. Healthier patients are more profitable because they require fewer visits and stay enrolled longer.
So... the way we're supposed to see that the greedy corporations aren't bilking us all is for more people in their care to kick off? Noted!

Federal judge in NY says the NSA surveillance program is legal.

Judge William H. Pauley III grants the government's motion to dismiss in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
Judge Pauley said that protections under the Fourth Amendment do not apply to records held by third parties, like phone companies.

“This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” Judge Pauley said in the ruling. “While robust discussions are underway across the nation, in Congress and at the White House, the question for this court is whether the government’s bulk telephony metadata program is lawful."
He says it is.

"Hey, Al, do you remember that time, back in the day, when we chemically castrated you for no good reason?"

"Yeah? Well, we forgive you. Also, you’re dead."

Feats of strength in Austin, Texas.

As long as we're talking about Marines doing pullups, here's Meade — last week, in Texas — doing a chinup:

You know the chinup/pullup distinction, don't you? Meanwhile, I provided support for a sculpture...

... in front of The Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex and Dell Computer Science Hall. I wonder what people at the University of Texas actually call that place. Gates & Dell? I'd call it The Gates of Dell (riffing on The Gates of Hell).

The sculpture itself — by Sol LeWitt — is called "Circle with Towers."
The outdoor structure possesses a discernable logic and rhythm: the concrete towers are four blocks wide while the low walls between them are eight blocks wide—a perfect 1:2 ratio. The fact that there are eight towers, each composed of repeating four-sided square modules, further instills a sense of calibrated order.
And while we're merging (and morphing) with sculptures, here's Meade, playing the gargoyle...

... at the Littlefield Fountain, which has the inscription "A short life hath been given by Nature unto man; but the remembrance of a life laid down in a good cause endureth forever."

A shantytown in Madison, Wisconsin.

"The first 'tiny home' constructed for Madison's homeless was officially occupied earlier this week — the first of what OMBuild, a nonprofit organization that grew out of Occupy Madison — hopes will eventually be a 'village; of little houses for the formerly homeless."
City ordinances require the house — parked on the street — to be moved every 48 hours.

OMBuild is waiting for a qualified nonprofit group, like a church, to step forward and obtain a newly created zoning permit that will allow a little house to be placed permanently on private property. Long-term, OMBuild would like to own property on which a “village” of little houses could be developed....
This is supposedly modeled on something that's going on in Washington and Oregon, including "Right to Dream Too" "a 'rest area' located on private property in downtown Portland, fenced with a ring of recycled doors morphed into a mural art project."

"Just morph out from there," I say and Meade says, "I knew you would say that." We get each other's allusions, which in this case was "Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."

What's morphing in your world today? "Morph,"  the verb, goes back to 1982, according to the (unlinkable) OED, as a reference to the computer animation process, and the extended use, referring to change "as if by morphing" only appeared in the early 90s. I first heard the word "morph" when that then-amazing video "Cry" came out in 1985.

Back to the topic of fencing in a possibly unsightly shantytown, the top-linked article quotes a [former] Madison city council member, Brenda Konkel, who toured places like Right to Dream Too. She said: “Fences are important — it gives the community a sense of security and personal responsibility — and that gives people the right to govern what goes on there.”

Is the fence to cater to the feelings of those who are fenced in or those who want them fenced in? You know there's a question you're supposed to ask:
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.'....

"So cluttered was Holzberger's home that police did not find him when they searched the house Nov. 10."

"It wasn't until Retzlaff allegedly confessed to the killing three days later and told investigators exactly where to find him that police discovered the body."
Now, friends are left to contemplate a character who immersed himself in causes, survived mostly on ramen noodles, and rode around on his bicycle to mine treasures from other people's trash.

"He lived one of the most simplistic lives of anyone I've ever known," said a friend, Jim Carpenter.
"Simplistic" means — according to the (unlinkable) OED "Of the nature of, or characterized by, (extreme) simplicity. Now usu. with the connotation of excessive or misleading simplification." Carpenter's use of the word isn't wrong, just unusual. And it's unusual not merely because he meant it as a compliment, but because he looked at extreme clutter and saw admirable simplicity.

"In the US, reality TV is replete with spoiled teenagers, extreme eating challenges, and arguing roommates."

"Here in Kenya, though, an innovative show is putting aside ratings-grabbing petty squabbling and trying to do good: helping small farmers back from the brink of poverty."

The Marines Corps quietly puts off the requirement that female Marines perform 3 pullups.

A Marine spokesperson cites the need to "ensure all female Marines are given the best opportunity to succeed." Only 45% of female recruits could meet the standard, which 99% of male recruits meet.
Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, says the delay shows that women just can't meet the same standards.

"Young women, in spite of all the training and all the best intentions, are not going to be the equal of young men in terms of upper body strength," Maginnis says. "You've got to have a lot of upper body strength to lift the stuff. Been there, done that."

Maginnis just wrote a book called Deadly Consequences: How Cowards are Pushing Women into Combat. He says the issue has more to do with politics than protecting the nation.
But 45% of the women did it. Depending on how you look at it, that's a surprisingly high percentage.

Did the judge in the Utah same-sex marriage case "give Justice Scalia the finger"?

So said lawprof Jason Mazzone, blogging at Balkinization, quoted today in the NYT in a piece titled "Utah Ruling Means No Respite for the Supreme Court on Same-Sex Marriage," by Adam Liptak. Liptak writes that the U.S. Supreme Court might have hoped, after this year's 2 somewhat modest same-sex marriage cases, to put off the big same-sex marriage question — whether there is a right to same-sex marriage — for a few more years. But the Utah case, it seems, is crushing that hope:
... Judge Shelby’s decision will certainly get the justices’ attention. He acknowledged, for starters, that the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act, United States v. Windsor, could be read to support either side in his case....

To resolve the tension, Judge Shelby looked to Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissenting opinion in Windsor.

“The view that this court will take of state prohibition of same-sex marriage is indicated beyond mistaking by today’s opinion,” Justice Scalia wrote.

Judge Shelby wrote, referring to himself, that “the court agrees with Justice Scalia’s interpretation of Windsor.”
Is that "giv[ing] Justice Scalia the finger"? Scalia did what many dissenting opinions do: call attention to the implications of the principle established by the majority, which the majority — posing as modest and incremental — coyly pretends are not there. If Professor Mazzone is right, and Judge Shelby meant to say "fuck you" to Justice Scalia, then it must be acknowledged that Justice Scalia was asking for it.

When your husband gives you a huge hideous handbag for Christmas...

... get out there and parade around for the paparazzi.
The design features several eerie nude female figures and a bare-chested monster, and has been directly hand painted on the front of the very expensive leather good.

On Thursday, Kim also posted a photograph of the bag on her Instagram account, captioning it with a series of hashtags, including '#HandPaintedGeorgeCondo #HermesBirkin #OneofOne #ChristmasPresentFromYeezy'.
Now that the awful thing has been photographed, seal it away. Never carry it again. At auction — some day soon — it will sell for $100 million.

And what a lucky artist. We've now all heard of George Condo. Here's what George Condo thinks of you:

Lots more George Condo images for your delectation here, but don't think that if you bought a very expensive Hermes handbag for your wife that you could get George to paint it into a billboard advertising himself, not unless the paparazzi are after her too.

December 26, 2013

"On November 5, 2014, Wisconsin progressives will wake to find that not only has Scott Walker been elected statewide for a third time..."

... but the GOP has taken back the U.S. Senate and increased its House majority.
Republicans will also be calling Obamacare the worst popular domestic policy reform since Prohibition (also warmly embraced by progressives, let's not forget), and the battle to deliver the knockout blow to this wobbly but still-standing program will enter its next phase.

This news will undoubtedly make many isthmus residents sad, and some might need a hug. Too bad Madison's Snuggle House didn't make it through 2013.

Happy New Year.

"An Iowa State University professor resigned after admitting he falsely claimed rabbit blood could be turned into a vaccine for the AIDS virus."

"Dr. Dong-Pyou Han spiked a clinical test sample with healthy human blood to make it appear that the rabbit serum produced disease-fighting antibodies, officials said."

He got $19 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health.

60 swimmers injured in a mass piranha attack.

In Argentina.

Aaron Rodgers is cleared to play on Sunday...

... against the Bears, who broke his collarbone back in November.

AND: Not just cleared, but will start.
"We're in it. You know we have a chance against our rivals, and what a better way than to go down there and get some redemption and host a home playoff game," Rodgers said....
Redemption is a nice word. One could also say revenge.

First ski of the season.

Finally snow + not horribly cold.

Mark Steyn writes about "de-normalizing" — being put "beyond the pale of polite society and mainstream culture."

And he's sorry his editor at National Review "does not grasp the stakes" in the "Duck Dynasty" flap.
Indeed, he seems inclined to “normalize” what GLAAD is doing. But, if he truly finds my “derogatory language” offensive, I’d rather he just indefinitely suspend me than twist himself into a soggy pretzel of ambivalent inertia trying to avoid the central point — that a society where lives are ruined over an aside because some identity-group... decides it must be so is ugly and profoundly illiberal.
Via Power Line, which says:
As to the terms Steyn used, I understand [National Review editor, Jason Lee] Steorts’ point. I too would have liked the column better without the unfunny Rat Pack joke. And I agree with Steorts that courteous disagreement, devoid of insults, is usually preferable to lack of courtesy, even when one is disagreeing with the dangerous and the uncivil.
The point of the Rat Pack joke — “How do you make a fruit cordial?”/ “Be nice to him.” — wasn't that it's funny. It's that not too long ago junk like that was the norm. It was probably considered sweet, gentle and even gay-friendly. Steyn is paying attention to how cultural norms change. This is something I've been talking about too, and I am confounded by what a hard time people have understanding this subject. (Read my posts and the response in the comments here and here.)

"In a happy coincidence, the grandmother hypothesis comes along just as Americans enter what might be called the Age of Old Age."

"America's biggest generation, the baby-boomers, began retiring in 2011. This gerontocracy is expected to drain our wealth."
By 2060, more than 20 percent of all Americans will be 65 or older, up from 13 percent in 2010. More than 92 million oldsters will roam the land, if roaming is within their power. People who fret about the federal budget point out that, by 2011, Social Security and Medicare were already eating up a third of it. Looming in the near future is the prospect that both programs' trust funds will vanish as the number of workers paying into the system goes down.

But are senior citizens really "greedy geezers" (a term made popular by this magazine in 1988) about to bankrupt us? The grandmother hypothesis suggests not. It suggests that we should see the coming abundance of over-65-year-olds as an opportunity, not a disaster....
We Boomers must get out in front of the death panels. "The grandmother hypothesis" — whatever the hell it is — is the kind of propaganda we need. And, young people, did you scoff at my use of the term "death panels"? I hope so! It means our propaganda is working. But how well will it work when more than 92 million oldsters will roam the land, if roaming is within their power. If you young people decide you're tired of funding our pensions and our health care, capacity to roam will not be enough. We'll need to run.

"A year of controversial products."

6 of them, collected at The New Yorker. One of them is marijuana:
Colorado and Washington have been hard at work setting up marketplaces for marijuana, after both states legalized the sale of the drug. “What the state is doing, in actuality, is issuing licenses to commit a felony,” Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at U.C.L.A. and a drug-policy analyst, told Patrick Radden Keefe for “Buzzkill,” a piece that ran in this magazine in November. While the laws had strong support in both states, their implementation has not been without its controversies. “Earlier this year,” Keefe writes, “the liquor-control board unveiled a logo for Washington State marijuana, with a cannabis leaf superimposed on a map of the state. After an outcry that the state was ‘promoting’ pot, the design was abandoned.”
Here's the whole article "Buzzkill," which I highly recommend. There are so many complexities to the problem of "legalizing" marijuana, much more than you can see from that squib. It's fascinating! Notably:
When legal marijuana goes on sale, sometime next spring, the black market will not simply vanish; over-the-counter pot will have to compete with illicit pot. To support the legal market, Kleiman argued, the state must intensify law-enforcement pressure on people who refuse to play by the new rules. A street dealer will have to be arrested in the hope that “you will migrate that dealer’s customers into the taxed-and-regulated market.”

[T]ax revenue from the sale of legal cannabis will be devoted to substance-abuse prevention and research — not to police or prosecutors. Who, then, was going to pay for such a crackdown? Although Kleiman urged state officials to set aside funds for increased law enforcement, he can get impatient with such complaints. He likes to say, “You don’t get any of the revenue for arresting robbers, either.”

"Respect All/Love Many/Harm None."

A bestickered Chevy truck, seen last Sunday in the SoCo area of Austin, Texas:

(Click photo to enlarge.)

"Giving thanks is no longer just holiday fare."

"A field of research on gratitude in kids is emerging, and early findings indicate parents' instincts to elevate the topic are spot-on. Concrete benefits come to kids who literally count their blessings."

"Beginning in 1953, when [Ayn] Rand was nearly 50, Ms. Branden wrote, the intellectual mother of principled self-interest had ardently pursued an interest in Ms. Branden’s husband, Nathaniel."

"Though 25 years apart in age, they had an affair for about 15 years. Ms. Branden knew about it because Ms. Rand had insisted from the start that both spouses — Ms. Branden and Ms. Rand’s husband, Frank O’Connor — give their consent. Ms. Branden revealed the story, she said, partly to set the record straight about Ms. Rand’s sudden banishment of the Brandens from her circle in 1968. She had denounced them in a widely circulated essay, claiming they had exploited her financially. The couple denied the accusation."

From the obituary for Barbara Brandon, the author of  "The Passion of Ayn Rand."

ADDED: Here's a clip of Brandon talking about her book on Reason TV:

I found that looking for a good clip of Helen Mirren playing Ayn Rand in the Showtime movie based on Brandon's book. Here's the trailer for that (which I watched and which caused me to say "Oh, bullshit.")

"Republicans have a 49%-44% edge over Democrats in a generic ballot, a key 2014 midterm election indicator..."

"... according to a new CNN/ORC International poll," says a new Breaking News email from CNN. Here's the article:
Two months ago, Democrats held a 50%-42% advantage among registered voters in a generic ballot, which asked respondents to choose between a Democrat or Republican in their congressional district without identifying the candidates. 
Whoa! 2 months ago the Dems were up by 8 and now they are down by 5? That's a 13-point change in the spread.

"Amazon's Best-Selling Books of 2013, and What They Tell Us About America."

Interesting, but what it tells me is that it's time to make all those end-of-the-year lists, like Best Quote Quoted on This Blog for Each Month of the Year That's Now Ending, or whatever that annual nonsense I used to do was. I'm using the term "annual nonsense" because I have a tag for that.

When I click on that tag, I see that bellyaching about end-of-the-year fussing is an annual thing for me. Such as: "Blogging, paying attention to each day as it happens, makes it hard to assess a whole year." And: "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."

Yeah, I love normal days. Nice to get past Christmas. I mean, nice to get past Christmas and not believe in Boxing Day.

Hey, actually those old quotes are quite fascinating to return to. From the second link, above, remember this oldie-but-goodie?
"In addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates. That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it."
Oh, the shit that was shoveled in 2008!

As 2013 stumbles to a close, many of us wish the country had settled for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree and not acquired the grandiose notion that the forest was a poisonous landscape. Some of us liked our tree and wanted to keep it. 

December 25, 2013

"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)."

"Unlike Romney, Reagan connected with the daily struggles of ordinary Americans."

"In announcing his candidacy, he shared the story of 'a Christmas Eve when my brother and I and our parents exchanged modest gifts — there was no lighted tree as there had been on Christmases past. I remember watching my father open what he thought was a greeting from his employer. We all watched and yes, we were hoping for a bonus check. It was notice that he no longer had a job.... I’ll carry with me always the memory of my father sitting there holding that envelope, unable to look at us. I cannot and will not stand by while inflation and joblessness destroy the dignity of our people.'"

From Scott Walker's "Unintimidated: A Governor's Story and a Nation's Challenge" — a passage found while searching for "Christmas" in my ebooks.

"Even now in my mind’s eye I can see a series of ads in Boys’ Life from the A. C. Gilbert Company of New Haven, Connecticut, promising the most wholesome joy from their ingenious chemistry sets, microscope kits, and world-famous Erector Sets."

"These last were bolt-together toys from which you could make all manner of engineering marvels—bridges, industrial hoists, fairground rides, motorized robots—from little steel girders and other manly components."
These weren’t things that you built on tabletops and put in a drawer when you were finished playing. These were items that needed a solid foundation and lots of space. I am almost certain that one of the ads showed a boy on a twenty-foot ladder topping out a Ferris wheel on which his younger brother was already enjoying a test ride.

"If you don’t want to marry a homosexual, then don’t."

"But what gives you the right to weigh in on your neighbor’s options? It’s like voting on whether or not redheads should be allowed to celebrate Christmas."

Writes David Sedaris in "Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls" — something I found today in my search for the word "Christmas" in the text of my Kindle books.

"Frank’s generosity extended far beyond me and others in his inner circle. He was often kindest of all to strangers."

"I’d wander into a room and hear him on the phone to his accountant, Sonny Golden, asking him to check out some tragic story he’d just read in the newspaper about a mother who couldn’t pay her medical bills. 'Make sure she’s okay and has everything she needs,' he’d say. 'And don’t tell her who sent the check.'...  He’d anonymously replace the Christmas presents a family had lost in a fire after he’d watched their story on the TV news. Or he’d sit with the newspaper circling the names of strangers down on their luck and have Dorothy [Uhlemann, his personal assistant,] send them five hundred dollars from 'a well-wisher.'... He’d invite the kids of old friends backstage if he played a university town and give them a pep talk about working hard. He paid off the mortgages, loans, and debts of just about anyone who asked him."

Wrote Barbara Sinatra in "Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank," in a passage I ran across today as I search for "Christmas" in the books I have on Kindle.

"My family began to legitimately believe that my favorite thing in the world was hot sauce."

"If I 'forgot' to put hot sauce on my food, they helpfully reminded me. They consistently brought home newer, spicier, weirder hot sauces for me to try. For Christmas that year, Santa gave me a whole case of hot sauce. Being a child, I was devastated that a potential toy had been replaced by those bottles of painful torture, but I couldn’t let anyone know. At that point, I was starting to feel more and more at peace with the idea of admitting failure, but it was too late. I’d been pretending for long enough that it would be too weird and embarrassing to explain myself. There was no choice but to maintain the illusion."

A passage from Allie Brosh's "Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened," found today because I'm searching for "Christmas" in my Kindle books.

At the Christmas Café...

... did you get everything you wanted?

"In the spectacular Christmas 1956 issue of Life, devoted in full to the 'new' American woman..."

"...  we see, not as women’s-magazine villain, but as documentary fact, the typical 'career woman — that fatal error that feminism propagated' — seeking 'help' from a psychiatrist."
She is bright, well-educated, ambitious, attractive; she makes about the same money as her husband; but she is pictured here as “frustrated,” so “masculinized” by her career that her castrated, impotent, passive husband is indifferent to her sexually. He refuses to take responsibility and drowns his destroyed masculinity in alcoholism.
From Betty Friedan's "Feminine Mystique," found this morning as I search my Kindle collection of books for the word "Christmas."

"If one could nominate an absolutely tragic day in human history, it would be the occasion..."

"... that is now commemorated by the vapid and annoying holiday known as 'Hannukah.'"
For once, instead of Christianity plagiarizing from Judaism, the Jews borrow shamelessly from Christians in the pathetic hope of a celebration that coincides with “Christmas,” which is itself a quasi-Christian annexation, complete with burning logs and holly and mistletoe, of a pagan Northland solstice originally illuminated by the Aurora Borealis. Here is the terminus to which banal “multiculturalism” has brought us.
From Christopher Hitchens's "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

"I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalog that Toot and Gramps sent us, and that Santa was a white man."

"I kept these observations to myself, deciding that either my mother didn’t see them or she was trying to protect me and that I shouldn’t expose her efforts as having failed. I still trusted my mother’s love — but I now faced the prospect that her account of the world, and my father’s place in it, was somehow incomplete."

Wrote Barack Obama in his memoir "Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance." Later, his father does find a place in his world at Christmas time, and it's like this:

"I have no 'meditations,' suggested by this spot where the very first 'Merry Christmas!' was uttered in all the world..."

"... and from whence the friend of my childhood, Santa Claus, departed on his first journey, to gladden and continue to gladden roaring firesides on wintry mornings in many a distant land forever and forever. I touch, with reverent finger, the actual spot where the infant Jesus lay, but I think — nothing."

From Mark Twain's "Innocents Abroad," found in "The Complete Mark Twain Collection," as I search for "Christmas" in my ebooks this morning.

"Cabbed up to Jerry and Mick’s apartment for Christmas lunch."

"Jerry’s pregnant sister Cyndy just married Robin Lehman, and so everybody was happy. Jerry’s mother was there. Jerry had an apron on that when you unzippered it a big cock came out, so I was taking funny pictures of that, her cooking a turkey with a cock in her hand."

From "The Andy Warhol Diaries," found as I search for "Christmas" in my Kindle books. Kindle conks out after it finds 100 of whatever it is you are searching for, so all I can say is that Christmas appears more than 100 times in Andy's diary, so it's not as though that was the only one I could find. I am responsible for selecting that. But I'll give you another one. This one has Nancy Reagan in it. The year is 1981:

"Time’s gone by since that silly, regrettable business/When she became known as The Girl Who Ruined Christmas."

"Helen harbors the hope that the passing five years/Have made folks forget both the vomit and tears..."
And throwing of glassware and drunken oration,
That half-hour tirade of recrimination
Where, feeling misused, she had got pretty plastered,
And named His name publicly, called him a bastard.
The details are fuzzy, though others have told her
She insulted this one and cried on that shoulder,
Then lurched ’round the ballroom, all pitching and weaving
And ended the night in the ladies’ lounge, heaving.
From David Rakoff's "Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel," found, this morning, on my search for "Christmas" amongst my ebooks.

"At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It was a short, cold Christmas..."

"...and as the short northern day merged into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean, whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor."
The long rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curving icicles depended from the bows. Lank Bildad, as pilot, headed the first watch, and ever and anon, as the old craft deep dived into the green seas, and sent the shivering frost all over her, and the winds howled, and the cordage rang, his steady notes were heard,—
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,
Stand dressed in living green.
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between."
Never did those sweet words sound more sweetly to me than then. They were full of hope and fruition. Spite of this frigid winter night in the boisterous Atlantic, spite of my wet feet and wetter jacket, there was yet, it then seemed to me, many a pleasant haven in store; and meads and glades so eternally vernal, that the grass shot up by the spring, untrodden, unwilted, remains at midsummer.
From Herman Melville's "Moby Dick" found as I search for "Christmas" in my ebooks, here on Christmas morning on a short northern day in Wisconsin ,where spite of this frigid winter, it seems to me, there are meads and Meade eternally vernal.

"Everybody knew him. 'Happy New Year,' he called, and sometimes 'Merry Christmas.'"

"He said this all the time. At Christmas he said Happy Halloween."
Justin W. Brierly was shaking hands with everybody and saying “Good afternoon, how are you?” and when midnight came he was saying “Good afternoon, how are you?” At one point I saw him rushing the Mayor of Denver off somewhere. Then he came back with a middleaged woman; next minute he was talking to a couple of young ushers in the street. The next minute he was shaking my hand without recognizing me and saying “Happy New Year, m’boy.” He wasn’t drunk on liquor, just drunk on what he liked---thousands of people milling, and he the director of it. Dancingmaster Death indeed. But I liked him, I always liked J. W. Brierly. He was sad. I saw him threading through the crowd in loneliness.
Found in Jack Kerouac's "On the Road," as I search for "Christmas" in my collection of Kindle books.
A little boy came by on a tricycle. “Merry Christmas there. Don’t you think it might be better if you stayed on the sidewalk, someone might come by and make oatmeal out of you.” The little kid shot by in the street with his face pointed to the future. Brierly got in his car, U-turned, and threw a parting sally at the little boy. “When I was your age I was confident too. My mudpies were marvels of architecture. Eh?” Brierly and the little boy disappeared around the corner slowly then we heard him shoot the car ahead to businesslike affairs and he was gone.

Christmas gift cards.

For you worst-of-the-worst Christmas shoppers, it is still possible to email a gift card that will arrive right now.

A&E celebrates Christmas by showing 25 episodes in a row of "Duck Dynasty."

Replete with the supposedly on-the-outs Phil Robertson.
“I think, honestly, it’s A&E trying to play both sides of the coin,” [said Cate Meighan, senior writer for Celeb Dirty Laundry]. “They’ve come out and not supported Phil’s statements… however they’re also looking at the backlash from the fans, and they have a huge amount of backlash from the fans... It is really a money thing... You’re going to have the same people tuning into ‘Duck Dynasty’ that always have and the same people not watching that always have.”

She said at the end of the day, the series will likely continue if the advertisers continue rush to air ads during the series.... “Unfortunately people are secondary,” she said. “At the end of every single thing that we see it’s about the money and the advertising.”
Oh, come on, Cate. Corporations are people too. So it's "a money thing"? Who but people care about money? People invented money just as people invented language and getting offended at language, and people invented corporations to channel money and language and offense. And entertainment. Arts and entertainment.

Peace on earth, good will toward people of all entertainment orientations.

Christmas morning.

Just now, pre-dawn.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

December 24, 2013

"I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it."

Says Edward Snowden.

"The power which has always started the greatest religious and political avalanches in history rolling has from time immemorial been the magic power of the spoken word, and that alone."

"The broad masses of the people can be moved only by the power of speech. All great movements are popular movements, volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotional sentiments, stirred either by the cruel Goddess of Distress or by the firebrand of the word hurled among the masses; they are not the lemonade-like outpourings of the literary aesthetes and drawing-room heroes."

"How Much of a Psychopath Are You? Take the quiz, compare yourself with your friends (or with some historical figures)..."

"... and see what pets, musical styles and news media are more popular with the more psychopathic."

I'm surprised at how "psychopathic" average people are. This quiz seems to equate the moral awareness of the reality of other human beings with empathy, which I don't think is right at all. I came out with a 6% score and was told what a warm, "people person" I am, which isn't true.

The view from McDonald's.

A stop in Oklahoma, late Sunday afternoon.

Note the thick coating of ice on the tree. We made it that evening to Andover, Kansas, just beyond Wichita, and driving yesterday, we stopped somewhere in Iowa...

... before reaching Madison just before 10 p.m. (in time to stop into Whole Foods before it closed so we'd have fresh bacon and eggs for a classic breakfast Tuesday morning at Meadhouse).

L.A. Times columnist connects Gov. Scott Walker to Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson.

There must be a way to do that, right?
Like the “Duck Dynasty” dispute, or the recent fight over renaming a Florida school honoring a founder of the KKK, the Wisconsin fight raises the question of among some people as to whether there is a blanket protection of speech, even when it is hateful to some people....

The Wisconsin law, signed by Walker,  amends a 2010 state law that required Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction to hold a hearing on a school's race-based nickname if the agency received a single complaint. The 2010 law placed the burden on the school district of proving the nickname wasn't discriminatory.

"The Democratic Party of Wisconsin scrubbed its website Wednesday of accusations that Gov. Scott Walker was kicked out of Marquette University and student elections there."

"The move was in response to a PolitiFact Wisconsin investigation that found no evidence Walker was forced out of either," reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"While we still stand behind our sources, only Scott Walker can clarify what happened in his time at Marquette University, and we'll afford the governor the respect of taking him at his word on this," Democratic Party chairman Mike Tate told the Journal Sentinel. "Accordingly, we've updated our website."
Paraphrase: After all the disrespect, when we find ourselves cornered and unable to continue the longstanding smear without getting too much smear on ourselves, we'll afford him the respect.
The Democratic Party's site previously claimed that Walker either dropped out or was forced out not long after he was "kicked out of student elections at Marquette University after masterminding a scheme that destroyed newspapers critical of him."

Tate had previously defended the accusation, saying the party had heard unspecified information from people it could not identify about misconduct by Walker.

“My initial reaction was, ‘I killed her... This is my first time. And Jen is dead.’”

"After a couple of terrifying seconds, Gerakaris slowly pulled her head out of the wall and looked at Casarona incredulously."
Gregg and Jen aren’t the only lovebirds who have landed in the hospital. Here are five other cases featured on TLC’s “Sex Sent Me to the ER”....

At the G Raj Mahal...

... come in and sit down.

(Photos from Austin, where we were for pre-Christmas. We're back home now.)

Kathy Griffin tweets a graphic, comparing Phil Robertson and Matthew Shepard — not a victim/victim.

Twitchy decries the comparison mainly on the theory that Robertson committed no act of violence against gay people and also observing that "the murder of Matthew Shepard... might not have had anything to do with Shepard being gay after all, but rather with drugs."

Here's the book that came out last September examining that evidence that the murder wasn't about homosexuality but crystal meth: "The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard."

But let's take this a step deeper and compare the repression of free speech and the use of physical violence to control and oppress people. Murder — especially torture murder, like Shepard's — is a terrible crime. Is it even worse if it is a hate crime — that is, if the victim is chosen because he belongs to a group toward which the murderer feels hate? The reason it is considered worse is because of what it does to the minds of other members of the group.

We all fear crime, and if there is a lot of murder going on, it erodes our sense of well-being and may inhibit our freedom to move around town. But when the crime is hate crime, it has a disparate effect on the minds of the people, so that some are constrained and afraid more than others. That matters! In fact, spreading a false belief that a murder is a hate crime also imposes that disparate burden on members of the group that was supposedly targeted.

Hate speech similarly affects the minds of the members of the group against whom hate has been expressed, and it can produce the same kind of fear of violence that is caused by a report of a hate crime. Now, there is hate speech and there is hate speech. Think of the most virulent hate speech, and you should see how powerful it is, how justified and painful the fear is. In extreme cases, members of the targeted group should take alarm and even flee in terror. A purveyor of hate speech need not commit an act of violence to create a fear of violence. He might inspire others to commit those acts of violence, and even if he doesn't, the threat of violence alone has an effect. False reports of hate speech work the same harm.

In the set of statements that could be characterized as hate speech, what Phil Robertson said was not that bad. Many would argue for a narrow definition of hate speech such that what Phil Robertson said would not be in the set at all. Defining the category very broadly is a political and rhetorical move, and it isn't always effective. At some point — and perhaps with Robertson, we've hit that point — you're being too repressive about what can be said on issues about which decent people are still debating, and it would be better to hear each other out and remain on speaking terms.

There is more good to be achieved by talking to each other and not shunning than by treating another human being as toxic. In fact, to treat another person as toxic is to become hateful yourself. It's better to let the conversation flow, and if you really think your ideas are good, why switch to other tactics? What's the emergency? Especially when your cause — like gay rights — is for greater human freedom, you ought to resist becoming a force of repression.

Since making his controversial remark, Phil Robertson has put out the message that as a Christian he loves everyone. Love speech is the opposite of hate speech, and it has so much more to do with Christianity than the reviling of sin in the earlier remark. He wants to speak against sin, but it's a problem when you aim a remark at a kind of person who has, over the years — over the millennia — felt a threat of violence and the burden of ostracism. I think Robertson knows that.

That's what I want to say in this conversation that I think should flow on. The love is in the conversation. The conversation is an independent good, even if we never agree.

Come on, haters. Show the love.

It's Christmas Eve.

December 23, 2013

Greetings from Austin!

We're back in Madison, but here's a handful of photos from Austin, where we spent the last week.

Home for Christmas.

Are you home for Christmas? We are, having driven from Austin, Texas in the last 2 days. Did you even notice we were gone?

I've saved up all my photographs. I'll post a few soon.

An extra day to sign up for Obamacare... because somebody just noticed the existence of time zones.


Lecturing is "traditional and honorable method for passing on knowledge, communicating one’s passion for one’s subject, and modeling how to think."

Isn't it?

On the "Duck Dynasty" flap, Mike Huckabee is opposing and fomenting the squelching of anti-gay speech.

He said:
"I think it's come to a point in our culture where political correctness has made it so if you want to take a point of view that is traditional, that holds to a steadfast, old-fashioned biblical, Christian values - which are also, by the way, values of traditional Judaism and even Islam - and somehow you're just supposed to shut up and keep that to yourself."

Huckabee pointed to a "new level of bullying on the part of these militant activist groups,” as reason for Robertson's suspension by A&E, referring to groups like the Human Rights Campaign, which urged the network to suspend the star.

But Huckabee conceded that Robertson's comments would have been "more appropriate for the duck woods than it would be for the pages of a major news magazine."
So Huckabee is part of moving the culture to the very point that he's observing that it's come to. There really are things you don't say in mixed company, and it's long been part of the culture to refrain from voicing religious views that make other people uncomfortable. In Christianity, there are many many sins, and it's not socially acceptable to talk about all of them openly and indiscriminately.

If you don't believe me, here's an experiment you can do over the next 3 days. Whenever you find yourself in a conversation with a fat person, inform them that gluttony is a sin. Here are some Biblical verses you can incorporate into your experience:
Proverbs 23:20-21 warns us, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” Proverbs 28:7 declares, “He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.” Proverbs 23:2 proclaims, “Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.”
Let me know how that works out for you. But you won't do it, because you know it's not acceptable.

What people are having trouble with is the somewhat sudden change, with hostility to homosexuality moving into the category of something not appropriate to spout to a general audience.

And that doesn't mean Phil Robertson shouldn't have said what he said. He was being interviewed and pressed on a topic and he answered honestly. He has a reality show that is entertaining because it's somewhat daring and different, and people can choose whether they'd like to drop in on this particular cast of colorful characters. The culture of the show is a different, smaller circle than the whole American culture. And the network, A&E, is another culture. It includes some entertainment premised on colorful indiscretions that go only as far as fits a corporate brand.

We're in the process of figuring out what you can say where, what has no consequences, what counts as funny or daring and offensive to some but not enough to have a negative effect a speaker or a network, and what everyone ought to know by now is going to hurt you.

What hurts a business like A&E is different from what hurts an individual human being, especially one who believes he is building up his treasures in heaven.

"Opposition to Obamacare rose six points among women, from 54% in November to 60% now..."

"... while opinion of the new law remained virtually unchanged among men.... That's bad news for an administration that is reaching out to moms across the country in an effort to make Obamacare a success."

A CNN poll.
Sixty-three percent say they believe the new law will increase the amount of money they personally pay for medical care, which may not be a good sign for a law known as the "Affordable Care Act."
Yeah, maybe not.

Susan Rice and the single-earner household.

From the "60 Minutes" piece on Susan Rice, who is "not the first woman to be national security advisor, or the first African American. But she is the first mother. She has two kids: Jake, 16 and Maris, 11."
Her husband, Ian Cameron, used to be an executive producer at ABC News....

Lesley Stahl: Ian, you actually have stopped working.

Ian Cameron: Yeah.

Lesley Stahl: To take care of the kids?

Ian Cameron: Yeah. Well we were in a situation, you know, financially that one of us could step out of the working world.

"I think this is an attempt to improve the image of the current government, a little, before the Sochi Olympics — particularly for the Western Europeans."

"But I don’t consider this humane or merciful... This is a lie," said Maria Alyokhina, one of 2 members of Pussy Riot, who was imprisoned in Russia for staging a protest in Moscow's main cathedral and who has now been set free. She says she was forced out and would prefer serving the full 2-year sentence to serving as a propaganda tool for Putin.

Having chosen a church for their protest, they were accused of religious hatred, but they say they chose the church because of its political political support for Putin.

December 22, 2013

"Sexual sins are numerous and many, I have a few myself. So what is your safest course of action?"

"If you’re a man, find yourself a woman, marry them and keep your sex right there. You can have fun, but one thing is for sure, as long as you are both healthy in the first place, you are not going to catch some debilitating illness, there is safety there. Commonsense says we are not going to procreate the human race unless we have a man and a woman. From the beginning Jesus said, 'It is a man and a woman.' Adam was made and Eve was made for this reason. They left their fathers and mothers and be united to become one flesh, that’s what marriage is all about. But we looked at it and said it was an outdated stereotype. When you look back at the human race, the sins have always been the same: We get high, we get drunk, we get laid, we steal and kill. Has this changed at all from the time God burnt up whole cities because their every thought was evil?"

Phil Robertson preaches, and The Daily Mail is there with exclusive access, trying to understand where he's coming from. And I'm trying to understand how this long game will play out.

A puffy, glum Obama at an NCAA basketball game.

Pictured here (and at the top of Drudge). What a drag to go to a recreational event, to look like someone on vacation, and to know that photographers will be photographing every instant of your expression and that editors will be able to select from the 1000s of images the one that expresses whatever message they decide they want to send about you... you and your wife and your daughter. There is no recreation, only the appearance of recreation. So why go to the game at all? Because you want to get your phony-baloney message out, that you're on vacation, Christmas vacation, and that everyone else ought to chill out and get all holiday-ish and off your case.

Stop talking about Obamacare. Please talk about "Duck Dynasty." Not my puffy face. Please look away. It's not that puffy. It will be puffier if I must cry myself to sleep another night. No. Don't look at me. Not in that shot anyway. Look at the "Duck Dynasty" guy. Isn't he hateful? Me, I'm that very nice, very likable man who works so hard for you and then vacations in Hawaii and goes to basketball games with his wife — don't look at her grim underbite — and his charming, lovely daughters.

"I could read my favorite right-wing columnists all day long. But I should really eat some lima beans, too."

"In the past, I have settled on a few 'lima beans.' But I usually get unsettled — I fall away. I stop reading them. Why? Is it that I can’t stand to be disagreed with? Can’t abide an opposing view?"

Jay Nordlinger's readers help him compile a list of liberals that righties can read..

Today's Phil Robertson is Justine Sacco.

Every day, apparently, somebody's got to get fired for saying something off, and since I've blogged about the Duck Dynasty flap, I've got to offer up the story of Justine Sacco, a lady no one had ever even heard of, who tweeted, got on a trans-Atlantic flight, and landed to find that during the 12 hours when she was incommunicado the internet had caught fire with outrage over a pointless, stupid remark she'd made, and #HasJustineLandedYet was trending. What a nightmare!

She joked about not getting AIDS, and she discovered she'd come down with a raging case of another disease — sudden-onset fame toxicity. There was no hope for the lady, whose specialty was actually PR, at which she was — to be fair to the company that fired her — manifestly incompetent.

Unlike Phil Robertson, Justine Sacco had no fans. She's just stranded out there, with no friends at all. It's pretty sad. One bad joke — on Twitter — and you're doomed. Will anyone dare make a joke again? Not about AIDS. Maybe not anything with a racial element that might be misunderstood. Maybe nothing that casts the speaker in the character of an absurdly insensitive lout. What else? Be careful! You never know when sudden-onset fame toxicity (SOFT) will strike.

ADDED: "Some liberal white person coming to grips with her privilege and wanting the whole world to know about it" — that's how Professor Jacobson saw the tweet. I said something similar in the comments to this post before reading that. It's actually a pretty easy joke to figure out, if you're at all inclined to read charitably. So the real question is, as Jacobson put it: "Why did so much of the Twittersphere quickly proclaim her a racist and go after her with such a blood lust?"

Jacobson's answer is: "Because it could." I'd say: There really is no "it." The whole 'sphere never does anything. But the virus of hate happens, because somebody saw something and retweeted it in a way that caught on. There was no mind at the top to exercise moral judgment about whether inflating a nonentity for the purpose of destroying her was a good idea or even minimally acceptable. It was a heartless force of nature. I call it SOFT. Human beings need to observe and see it and fight it.... while we still have minds... minds that have yet to go fully soft.

Why is the urge to impress women called a "ludicrous tendency of men" in The Wall Street Journal?

Perhaps you've noticed this column by Robert M. Sapolsky titled "The Cheerleader Effect: What Men Do to Impress." Read the whole thing. There are a number of interesting angles. I just want to highlight the depreciation of male desire:
[M]ales can be kind of pathetic.

When women are present or when men are prompted to think about women, they act differently, research shows. Well, duh. But in unexpected ways. A 2008 study in the journal Evolutionary Psychology showed that in the mere presence of women as witnesses, men become more likely to jaywalk and to wait until the last second to dash on to a bus. This reflects, no doubt, the well-known belief among men that jaywalking means you're a Roman gladiator of irrepressible virility. As I said, pathetic....

There is also a darker side to the tendency of men to show off in the presence of women....
Evidence of this "darker side"? One study showed that the presence of women made men more likely to make "loud blasts of noise" while playing competitive games. Another showed that the presence of women made men "more likely to endorse aggressive stances about war."

Now, other research shows that the presence of women also moves men toward more charitable giving and service. So Sapolsky concludes that "There's an important point here":
The allure of the opposite sex makes men more violent, but only, it seems, in circumstances where violence is rewarded with higher status. 
That's a weird way to talk about football games, but let's continue.
When status can be achieved in a more socially desirable way, things work differently. 
What's not socially desirable about athletic success? Why be dismissive of that? Because:
In short, with the right social arrangements, this ludicrous tendency of men can be harnessed not only to encourage a ferocious goal-line stand but to make the world a kinder place.
Harnessed! So maleness has (or tends to have) a psychological structure to it, but the point of understanding that psychology is to craft it into a harness so society as a whole can most successfully turn male energy into benefits for the group. This idea of manipulating men is supposed to seem justified because the male psychology is ludicrous. Meanwhile, females are the means to the end. They too are useful for these manipulations. But somehow this harnessing and exploitation of the individual makes the world "a kinder place."

It's not kinder to think about human individuals this way. Our deepest sexual urges are not ludicrous. They are fundamental to the beauty and meaning of our lives. To ridicule our minds and bodies like that and to throw away what is most basic and real because it seems possible to extract more charitable giving and service, that is beyond ludicrous. It's evil.

"Apropos of nothing, you have never seen a man in shorts until you have seen Bill Murray in 'The Lost City.'"

Writes Bob Boyd, in the only comment on yesterday's Amazon post. (Here's "Lost City" on Amazon, in case you've got a yen to see Bill Murray in shorts, perhaps wandering lost in some city or perhaps knowing exactly where he is in a city that somehow finds itself lost.)

This makes me realize that I need to make a list of men in shorts movies (and TV shows). I think of "The Big Lebowski," but what else? There's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," where Johnny Depp plays the role of Hunter S. Thompson. Help me out here. Don't cite examples of men in bathing suits. Despite the similarity of men's bathing suits to shorts, it's not what we're looking for here. And don't include movies where the men are wearing sports uniforms/gear, e.g., "Hoosiers" and "Breaking Away." It must be a major character who is opting to go about in shorts in a situation in which women like me would think: That man should put on a pair of pants because those shorts make him look like a large boy.

By the way, speaking of titles that begin with "Breaking," the TV series "Breaking Bad" begins with the image of an empty pair of pants flying through the air. We never see the main character, Walter White, wearing shorts. Even when we see him with his pants off, in his underpants, the underpants are not undershorts but tighty whities. When not naked or in his underpants, he's wearing long pants like the long pants seen in that opening empty-pants shot. I think the series is a man's search for his lost masculinity. The lost masculinity is symbolized by the flying empty pair of pants.

So let's also work on a list of men-in-pants movies (and TV). Simply wearing pants is not enough for a pants-wearing-man to make this list, nor is looking great in pants enough. There needs to be some Walter-White-level importance to the pants, the kind of meaning expressed in phrases like "wearing the pants in this family" or "put on your big-boy pants."

In a game of favor exchanging, "players did not perform favors because of what happened in the past, but because of what they anticipated would happen in the future."

"It is entirely possible for an individual to perform a favor without having received any favors in the past... as long as the individual was not supposed to have received any favors in the past."
The current favor economy achieves at least some of its power from our ever enfeebled immunities to shame. When everyone is forced to become a brand, everyone requires relentless promotion. So you tweet the accomplishments of distasteful colleagues because if you don’t, they might not tweet yours, and somehow, despite your resistance, you’ve been sold on the notion that you ought to take measure of yourself in terms of 140-character assessments made by people you only vaguely know.