Friday, October 31, 2008

Silk Purse

I went to a funeral yesterday. My wife's cousin died of a heart attack at age 35 while hunting in the Black Hills. He left behind a wife and two small children. Guys like him are hard for any community to lose, especially small farming communities like Onida, where the funeral was held and near which he farmed. People his age are the main source of civic energy, and Onida doesn't have much of that to spare. I noticed he was buried near a man who died at 25 not long ago; tough times there.

The funeral was held in the school gym; school let out early to accommodate it. The county courthouse also closed at noon; there wasn't much point in staying open since most of the town was going to the funeral. We rode up and back (roughly 60 miles total) in a transit bus provided gratis by the company owner, an old friend of the family; he drove it himself.

My wife's extended family is huge; it took about 10 minutes just to seat everyone. That and a slide show of the deceased man's life lengthened the ceremonies to over an hour. It had a hunting motif; the pallbearers wore orange vests, and he was buried in his hunting gear. There was a younger mix of people than usual, of course, giving a different atmosphere. My wife takes deaths hard, which in a way is to her credit. Losing a son to cancer and a husband to a heart attack in his 40s would harden some people.

After the ceremonies there was the standard luncheon and "fellowship gathering", as the pastor called it. Good sandwiches and various sugary baked goods. In this case it was an impromptu family/all-class reunion. Pretty much everyone there was connected to someone who grew up there, so there was a great deal of life updating among the locals and the Onida diaspora. Pictures were taken; contact information was updated; physical changes were noted. My wife's grandmother, who along with her siblings is the source of much of the family that attended, particularly enjoyed this.

At the other end of the tree, Grandbaby also had a fine time, developing her laugh, soaking in the attention babies get at such functions, and seeing for the first time (although she won't remember) people with whom she'll be crossing paths occasionally for the rest of her life. Welcome to the Family.

It's this last event that gives the occasion a positive aura; perking up a down day. Coincidentally I was rereading a Peter Egan column on last night, and he ended it with this:

"So we honor the dead, but we really cherish our survivors, reflecting on their good fortune to be here at all. And maybe ours too."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Just Getting Started

As we near the end of our massive electoral process, it's worthwhile to look at an example of young democracy in action.

Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has conceded electoral victory to opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed.

Mr Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader, congratulated Mr Nasheed after final results were confirmed.

"I congratulate Anni [Mr Nasheed's popular name]," Mr Gayoom said in a radio address.
"I thank the people of the Maldives for allowing me to serve them for 30 years.

The two men jointly addressed the nation from the presidential office just hours after the results from the election were announced and agreed to work together for the good of the people.

"I wish to assure the public and the international community that the transition to democracy in the Maldives will be smooth and uninterrupted in governance," Mr Nasheed said as he shook hands with his former rival. "A test of our democracy will be how we treat Maumoon."

The outgoing environment minister said the elections had been a "very close race".
Abdullah Mausoom said the country's first "multiparty elections have been held freely and fairly".

The Wonders of Scotch Tape

I had seen various links to this, and finally decided to have a look.

......researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, have shown that it is possible to produce X-rays by simply unrolling Scotch tape.

This could lead to some immediate applications.

The research opens up the possibility of looking for X-ray emissions from composite materials as they fatigue. Such materials, increasingly used in airplanes and automobiles, do not show the visible weaknesses that metals do before breaking.The tape phenomenon could also lead to simple medical devices using bursts of electrons to destroy tumors. The scientists are looking to patent their ideas.

Then there's this eye-catcher.

Finally, there is the possibility of nuclear fusion. If energy from the breaking adhesive could be directed away from the electrons to heavy hydrogen ions implanted in modified tape, the ions would accelerate so that when they collided, they could fuse and give off energy — the process that lights the sun.

I know enough about the requirements for fusion production to be a bit skeptical, but these aren't the kind of people who talk about such things casually.

Whatever Works

While bemoaning her, well, casual living standards, Lemmonex tells of finding a motivation to cut down on cigarettes.

This decision was made several months ago when, unable to find a book of matches or a lighter, I leaned over the stove to light my cigarette and singed off a lock of hair. Not my hair! It scared the hell out of me and smelled horribly to boot.

Thanks to a long-ago incident involving a cigarette lighter (but no cigarettes) and almost epic stupidity, I can vouch for both the consternation and the bad smell of burning hair that is still attached to one's head.

Thanks For the Money, New Jersey

Dale over at Faith in Honest Doubt pointed me to a Tax Foundation chart of how much individual states got back in federal money for every dollar paid in federal taxes for fiscal year 2005. The top 10......

New Mexico $2.03 Mississippi $2.02 Alaska $1.84 Louisiana $1.78 West Virginia $1.76
North Dakota $1.68 Alabama $1.66 South Dakota $1.53 Kentucky $1.51 Virginia $1.51

New Jersey, Nevada and Connecticut get the biggest shaft with less than 70 cents back per dollar. Dale about breaks even out in Oregon (93 cents), as does Brian down in Florida (97 cents). The next time I'm near the Minnesota border I'll have to see if I can spot the money flowing this way (72 cents).

I had heard South Dakota was a federal mooch, but I'd never seen actual numbers. It's something for people here to keep in mind when they talk about federal spending.

I may have to check their methodology,though. I wonder how much of that results from the Pentagon keeping airplanes here (Ellsworth Air Force base), or federal highway funds to help people drive through on their way to somewhere else (or to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, a federal operation)? I'm guessing federal farm programs are a significant contributor.

It Was Nice of Him to Give Them Another Chance

From the gasoline-on-a-fire file......

An Austrian man, charged with drink driving, drove to a police station to complain about the charge whilst drunk, officials said on Monday.

hat tip to Dave Barry

Take a Deep Breath

Jon Carroll urges calm.

First, I want to stress that I am not at all nervous about the election. The sun will come up in the east no matter which candidates win, and no matter which propositions pass, and there will still be music and root vegetables and the glint of sunshine on the water.

Then he loses it.

But don't tell me that Obama's really far ahead, because that would be conventional wisdom and conventional wisdom is often wrong and there would be talk of the McCain Miracle. Oh God no.
But don't tell me Obama's behind, either. Sometimes polls are wrong, but mostly they are not wrong, and if he's behind, then probably he's going to lose, and then I would have to move to Canada and hide in my daughter's basement in Montreal.

My enemies have tricks up their sleeves. They could, I dunno, suspend the election on national security grounds. They could create an international incident that requires a military man to manage it. Bomb bomb Iran - McCain has already prepared for that possibility. Now, I think most Americans would be appalled if we bombed Iran, but what do I know? Does America ever think the way I think? It does not.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Iron Lady In Winter

Margaret Thatcher is slipping, but she hasn't fallen completely.

At 83, and reportedly suffering from dementia, she makes few public appearances these days.

She walks with tiny, deliberate steps, all her effort seemingly concentrated on getting from A to B.

But she managed to summon up a hint of the old steel, as she paused at the hotel entrance for the photographers, shooting them a determined glare of the type that once reduced Cabinet ministers - and Brussels bureaucrats - to jelly. And instead of being shepherded past the crowd of admirers in the bar on her way to the top table, she was thrust straight into the middle of them.

Not that she had anything to fear.

"How many times in your life, do you get to meet a legend? She will be remembered for hundreds of years," said Nikki Sinclaire, a UKIP Euro election candidate.

These are Thatcher's people - true believers who had paid upwards of £125 each for the opportunity to have dinner in her presence, including several current Tory MPs, the novelist Frederick Forsyth and the UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

"You are my heroine," said one woman.
"You inspired me," said another, reaching out to grasp her fragile hand, "we need more like you".
Ms Sinclaire explained that she was standing for the UK Independence Party in the West Midlands. "Good for you. Never give up, never give up," Lady Thatcher told her.

Suddenly, the reporter's dream comes true. What do you say?

Then, unexpectedly, as she pushed further into the crowd, I found myself face-to-face with her.

"It's an honour to meet you," I said, shaking her hand and, for reasons which now escape me, adding: "I come from the North East."

She seemed delighted. "Thank you for coming down. Give them my warm regards," she said.

The dementia comes and goes, as it does with most people.

Her daughter, Carol, recently wrote about her battle with dementia and that on bad days "she can hardly remember the beginning of a sentence by the time she got to the end". There was little sign of that here.

"I think she gets a bad press about how bad her condition is. She comes to visit us and talks to people for hours without any trouble and of course the pensioners love her," said Susan Smith, of the Chelsea Pensioners' Appeal, one of Lady Thatcher's charities.

But this was a good night.

As she reached the end of her final procession through tables of applauding admirers, pausing at the top of the stairs for a farewell wave, a chant went up from the back of the room which summed up the night perfectly and - if she heard it - will have left her with a smile on her face.
"Ten more years! Ten more years! Ten more years!"

The Pirate Life

What drives the Somali pirates? Pretty much what you'd expect.

According to residents in the Somali region of Puntland where most of the pirates come from, they live a lavish life.

"They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day," says Abdi Farah Juha who lives in the regional capital, Garowe.

"They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns," he says. "Piracy in many ways is socially acceptable. They have become fashionable."

Most of them are aged between 20 and 35 years - in it for the money.

BBC Somalia analyst Mohamed Mohamed says such pirate gangs are usually made up of three different types: (1)Ex-fishermen, who are considered the brains of the operation because they know the sea. (2)Ex-militiamen, who are considered the muscle - having fought for various Somali clan warlords. (3)The technical experts, who are the computer geeks and know how to operate the hi-tech equipment needed to operate as a pirate - satellite phones, GPS and military hardware.

Of course, the local situation contributes to recruiting.

Such success is a great attraction for Puntland's youngsters, who have little hope of alternative careers in the war-torn country.

The trappings of success may be new, but piracy has been a problem in Somali waters for at least 10 years - when Somali fishermen began losing their livelihoods.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Next, The Rolling Stones Without Mick Jagger

This completely mystifies me.

Rock legends Led Zeppelin are planning to tour and record but without frontman Robert Plant.

Bassist John Paul Jones told BBC Radio Devon that a new singer was being sought after Plant ruled himself out.

He said that he and guitarist Jimmy Page along with drummer Jason Bonham did not want a replica of Plant. He said: "It's got to be right. There's no point in just finding another Robert."

I don't think they'll have to worry about finding another Robert Plant.

Do they really think this will work? I know AC/DC and Queen have new frontmen, but death forced those changes. If you're (wisely) not going to try to duplicate Plant, then change the name of the band and try to forge a new legacy.

Is His Name Clouseau?

The next time life's little problems are dragging me down, I'll think of this guy and remember it can be worse.

A passenger on a French train had to be rescued by firemen after having his arm sucked down the on-board toilet. The 26-year-old victim was trapped when he tried to fish out his mobile phone, which had fallen into the toilet bowl, and fell foul of the suction system.

The man was carried away by emergency services, with the toilet still attached to his arm.

The Lure of the Large Orange Fruit

British expatriate Chris Ayers is trying to understand our pumpkin fetish.

There is really no way to understate the enthusiasm of Americans for pumpkins. They harvest an astonishing 100 million of the things every year. That's some 700,000 tonnes of orange gunk - most of which is converted into the kind of pie filling that everyone likes the idea of, but no one really seems to want to eat. For years I have been baffled by this annual insanity. Which is why at the weekend I decided to visit a “pumpkin patch”.

It was quite a scene.

They had pig races, a “petting zoo” of tame farm animals, tractor rides, a corn maze, live music and a squad of cheerleaders. And of course they had a field lined from end to end with pumpkins - like the droppings of some giant extraterrestrial bunny rabbit - and a stand selling the aforementioned pumpkin pie.

The result? Enlightenment.

All I can say is that as I watched my son run through a field of giant, almost luminous orange globes - his arms outstretched, a look of complete awe on his face - everything seemed right with the world.

Another Rogue Animal

First a hamster holds off firefighters for several days, now this.....

Choochy the poodle broke free after her plane landed at Logan and for the next 17 hours, the tiny white fugitive managed to elude nearly a dozen Massport employees and State Police, holding up runway traffic as she cavorted on the tarmac.

Like the hamster, the dog was finally bribed to surrender.

The State Police dog unit assisted Massport's fire and rescue staff and operations personnel in corralling Choochy at about 12:40 p.m., enticing her with dog food.

Now the big question...... which is the better name, Fudgie (the hamster) or Choochy?

Relief for Cold Feet, and Just Relieving Himself

A couple of items courtesy of Dave Barry. First, a groom wants to back out.

A Japanese man set fire to the hotel where he was due to get married at the weekend, rather than go through with the ceremony later the same day....

This may have been a factor....

Tatsuhiko Kawata, 39, had gone along with wedding plans despite already having a wife, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

Next, a man takes out his frustrations on an innocent animal.

A 36-year-old man took revenge on his roommate after she refused to have sex with him by allegedly urinating on her dog, police said.

As you probably suspected......the man was drunk when he argued with the woman.

Pressler Swings

Larry Pressler voted for Obama, but he didn't feel good about it.

Pressler, who said that he had never voted for a Democrat for president before, added, "I feel really badly. I just hate to go against someone I served with in the Senate. I voted and I got it mailed and I dropped it in the mailbox, and it tore at me to do that."

It was more a sign of unhappiness with the Republican Party than anything.

Like some of Obama's other Republican supporters, Pressler said he had concerns about his party's fiscal policy, particularly the war in Iraq, that went beyond the presidential campaign."We have to be a moderate party. We can't be for all these foreign military adventures. We have to stop spending so much money. My God, the deficit is so high!" he said.
"The Republican Party I knew in the 1970s is just all gone."

Despite his support for Obama, however, Pressler emphasized that he intended to stay in the GOP and described himself as a "moderate conservative.""I'm not leaving the Republican Party. We're going to reform it," he said, but added: "In the general election, if you have disagreements, you should not vote the party line."

I recall Pressler as an amiable man with a bit of a gift for gaffe when he was in office, but he's pretty much right. More Republicans need to think this way.

hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Half a Smurfy Century

The little blue creatures are fifty years old.

The Smurfs were the creation of cartoonist Pierre Culliford, known as Peyo, and made their first appearance in a 1958 edition of Belgian comics magazine Le Journal de Spirou.

They have devoted fans.

"They exist in their own little universe without any of the trapping of the modern day," says Alan Mechem from the British Smurf Collectors Club.

"I have up to 5,000 Smurfs in my collection," says Mr Mechem. "But I don't keep them in my house because they are too valuable. They're in a safe place where I can go and look at them."

They're not going away soon.

With a movie and new television series in the pipeline, Smurfs are being brought into the 21st Century by the company which owns their licensing rights.

This has aroused some controversy.

Ardent fans say the late Smurf creator's wishes are not being honoured. "Peyo was against making them modern and I believe he's right," says Mr Mechem. Others, though, say even elves must to move with the times.

One of the commenters is priceless.

The Smurfs a platform for anti-racism and bigotry? I always assumed they were crypto-Nazi - they're a group of ethnically pure (all blue) men living in a utopian agrarian community with a solid work ethic. The only woman in the village is introduced as an evil plot to subvert the Smurfs, but she (as a pure Aryan with blonde hair etc.) turns out to be chaste and pure, and a "good guy". Gargamel, the evil sorcerer who attempts to destroy the Smurfs, bears an uncanny likeness to Nazi depictions of Jews, and the "only gay in the village" (that's the camp one, I think he's called Vanity Smurf) is forced to wear a pink flower to mark him out from the others. Have I read too much into this?

Offhand, I would say yes.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Attention Please

New Yorker Gail Collins laments the way her state is largely ignored by the presidential campaigns.

Here we are just a little more than a week away from one of the most important elections in modern history, and most of us are beside the point, our states long since written off as hopelessly red or blue.

The reason for this is......

As we all know, in America the president is actually chosen by an Electoral College of 538 members......The electors are chosen by the states, winner take all. The only exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, which divvy their electors up more or less according to the popular vote.

This leaves Gail feeling neglected.

I want attention! I want to get Republican robo-calls during the dinner hour, telling me that Barack Obama is a terrorist. I want to have college students from other states coming to my door with helpful leaflets. I want volunteers offering to drive me to the polls. Or sitting at my feet, admiring the way I fill out my absentee ballot. I want to hear political ads every time I turn on the television. I want the love!

I think the only way to break out of the pattern Gail bemoans would be for voters to pull a surprise on election day, to go against the polls and give the state to the other candidate, or at least make it closer than expected. As she said, the odds of that happening are pretty long.

Speaking as a resident of a state that is not only considered a Republican presidential lock but generally not worth much trouble for a measly 3 electoral votes, I agree in principal with Gail that the Electoral College needs changing to a proportional setup. However, the annoyance wrought by the advocates of both sides of the ballot issues here gives me enough of a taste of what voters in contested states are going through that I'm willing to see the bright side of not getting the attention of the big boys.

The Rogue Rodent Returns

Dave Barry relayed the news that the hamster who fended off firefighters finally surrendered.
They got it the old-fashioned way.

Fudgie's nine-day adventure beneath the floorboards finally came to an end when he was trapped inside a baited cage.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why To Not Run Marathons

2 Blowhards pointed me to a list of 10 reasons. Here is a sampling.

Marathon running damages the liver and gall bladder and alters biochemical markers adversely. HDL is lowered, LDL is increased, Red blood cell counts and white blood cell counts fall.

Marathon running causes acute and severe muscle damage.

Marathon running elevates markers of cancer.

I personally need no convincing, not having done any distance running since the Carter Administration. If this is to be believed, Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt should be dead by now.

Cleaning Up the Mess

Bill Moyers had another good interview about the economy, this time with James Galbraith.

Professor Galbraith once served as Executive Director of Congress' Joint Economic Committee. He teaches economics at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas, where he also directs the University's Inequality Project, analyzing wages and earnings and patterns of industrial change around the world.

A few tidbits.....

I have been working on financial crises since the New York City rescue in 1975. And this is, by far and away, the biggest threat to the system as a whole that we've seen in my lifetime and I think the biggest threat since the late 1920s.

But we have an enormous advantage over our predecessors in 1929. We have the fact that the New Deal happened. And we have the institutions of the New Deal, though they have been badly damaged in the last decade, they are still with us.

The consequence of the failure of regulation, of supervision of the banking system over the past eight years, has been to cause a collapse of trust, a poisoning of the well.

Right now the thing that troubles me most is not the United States. The thing that troubles me most is that the same ideas of deregulation, of free markets, were applied in the construction of modern Europe. And the Europeans don't have the institutions of the New Deal, a central bank that can lend as necessary.

Uncle Sam's credit is excellent. Uncle Sam can borrow short term for practically nothing these days. Everybody wants to have Treasury Bills and bonds because they're safe.......So from our point of view, we're actually well placed, I mean, as the government of the United States is well placed to take the lead in pulling the country and the world out of this crisis.

One of two things can happen. The government can take action and help stabilize the economy in which case we will have more spending but also more employment. Or the government cannot take action and let the economy collapse in which case we will have much less tax revenue. The deficit is going to be larger either way.

.....the people who took over the government were not interested in reducing the government and having a small government, the conservative principle. They were interested in using these great institutions for private benefit, to place them in the control of their friends and to put them to the use of their clients.

They also turned over the regulatory apparatus to the regulated industries. They turned over the henhouse to the foxes in every single case.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Back Payments for Spy Gadgets

The story of WWII British code breakers cracking the German Enigma code machine is fairly well-known. However.....

Also secret, and less well known to this day, was the fact that Britain had Enigma too. That's why the Germans--no slouches at code-breaking--couldn't read British signals.

.......a machine called Typex which looks like Enigma's slightly bigger twin. That's because it was Enigma, which Britain had also bought and adapted. The Germans couldn't penetrate their own system.

The story began in 1928 when the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS)--forerunner of GCHQ and then part of MI6--acquired two Enigma machines at the Admiralty's request. The Admiralty inexplicably lost interest but in 1934 Wing Commander Lywood of Air Ministry Signals asked the GC&CS if he might borrow one.

He could, but there was a small catch.

"You may borrow this machine in order that it may serve as a model for your 'engineers'... I must point out that it is probable that this machine is covered by patents taken out in this country...It may be advisable that you consult your patent experts before proceeding to make a direct copy."

There were some patents, but they went ahead anyway, with good results......

Typex remained secure throughout the war and continued in use afterwards.

.....but some legal complications.

Later, Air Ministry Contracts Directorate wrote: "It is suggested that the question of infringement be referred to this branch after the apparatus has been made and used in order that any payment due to the patentee may be action to settle the matter could be considered while the apparatus is secret."

Which meant - since the patent holder was German company ECA - payment to ECA could be considered only after the forthcoming war was won or lost, in which case there would either be no ECA to be paid or no Air Ministry to pay them.

There was also a British legal claim.

By 1936 the War Office was showing interest in "the RAF Enigma" and the same phrase seems to have been used by a Mr Sidney Hole who wanted to know whether it infringed a patent of his from 1924.

In the best traditions of the bureaucracy it recommended "a suitable non-committal reply" to Mr Hole. In 1937 it admitted to itself that it was infringing patent no. 267472 and concluded......
"difficulty arises in remunerating the patentees... since this would entail a suggestion that the Department is using a cypher apparatus similar in some respects to that to which the patent relates." In other words, we shan't pay what we owe because that would mean admitting to doing that for which we owe.

Now that it's in the these litigious times any inheritors of ECA titles or heirs of Mr Hole might even sue for unpaid royalties.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Creepy Cover

From 2004....... Tina Fey and McCain. Maybe this explains why he picked Palin - a flashback.

Rogue Rodent

The tenacity is admirable, but it's a hamster!

Two crews used a chocolate-covered camera and a vacuum cleaner to try and locate missing Fudgie at six-year-old Zoe Appleby's home in Dunbar.

Fire crews spent five hours trying to recover the pet after it scuttled down a hole in the kitchen floor.

But, the hamster, who was being looked after for a friend during the holidays, is still refusing to come out.

In the search for Fudgie, firefighters took the family cooker and gas pipes to pieces. They also dropped a mini-camera coated with chocolate underneath the floorboards. They then hoped to suck out the furry rodent using a vacuum cleaner with a sock over the nozzle.

The Chafing Must Have Been Awful

I'm trying to imagine how this happens.

A man found naked trapped in the chimney of a supermarket in Wigan has been charged with burglary.

Firefighters were called to rescue the man who had become trapped and had lost his clothes as he tried to get out.

These Boots Are Made For Throwing

It's tough being Prime Minister of Thailand. The last one was fired, and the new one has to dodge flying footwear.

Angry protesters have thrown shoes and bottles at Thailand's Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat. About 200 state employees surrounded his car outside the Information Ministry, and called him a murderer.

It's not just the shoes.....they've managed to evict the government.

Protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have been camping outside Government House for two months now, calling for the government to be disbanded and a partly appointed administration put in its place......Repeated attempts to move the protesters have failed, and the government has been forced to operate from a disused airport.

The PM is taking it in stride.

"This morning was a bit colourful, but I have to work and I am not worried about these things - people can have different opinions," Mr Somchai told the French news agency AFP.
"It would not be a problem for me to resign, but what will people get from my departure?... I cannot stop working otherwise government development projects would be halted."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Unsung Luxuries

Rain outside, laundry inside. I'll be spending the day overseeing the separation of dirt from clothing. At least it's the kind of blustery day that makes indoor chores easier. It brings to mind the laundromat days, before I lived in a house with a washer and dryer, when this would have involved loading the vast pile up, hauling it somewhere to wash and dry, and bringing it all back without incident. Add weather like today (or worse) and spending significant time in a place with the ambiance of, well, a laundromat (screaming and/or bratty kids, an inaccessible television stuck on the worst possible programming, the feeling of being in an unofficial homeless shelter) and unpleasantness is practically guaranteed (an exception being a combination bar/laundromat in Rapid City which had other hazards of the type that can result from combining alcohol and anything requiring dexterity, such as folding clothes). My first wife and I once chose an otherwise unremarkable place to rent because it had a washer and dryer on site.

This reminds me of the many conveniences of life that have come a long way. A washer and dryer in the home isn't considered a big deal, but growing up I recall many people relying on washers with manual wringers and clotheslines for drying. We didn't get a dishwasher until I was in high school; this was a really big deal for a family with 4 boys. My brother still uses that same unit for his similarly-sized family 30 years later (talk about not making them like they used to). If mine breaks I'll put off buying groceries to get it fixed.

Electronics? I remember when the word was exotic. My Mom recalls the arrival of television here, and I remember our first color TV. When my daughter gets her own place we'll probably get her a microwave oven; how different my college days would have been if I'd had one. Sitting in front of this computer reminds me of my time at ComputerLand (Does that still exist?, at least not as it did then.) in Rapid City when we would occasionally go to some one's home to pick up a computer for repair. I say "we" because it took two people to safely carry each of the two pieces; the hard drive was a separate unit.

At a more basic level,the improvements in timekeeping have been impressive, at least from the point of view of someone who, well into adulthood, owned a watch that required winding. Reliable, accurate clocks and watches are readily available and inexpensive. Even the ancient incandescent light bulb, now facing it's eventual demise (although the compact fluorescent bulb needs improvement before I'll consider phasing out the old ones completely), is more efficient and longer-lasting.

We tend to think of cars as having matured as a technology a long time ago, but a quick reaquaintance with even an early 1980's model shows how much they have improved. Learning to change a tire was once a standard rite because they could go flat for a number of reasons. Now they hold up to hazards that would have wiped them out not long ago, and have a lifespan that would amaze my grandfather. 60,000 miles? Cars were once considered on the downhill slide at that point; now they're just getting broken in.

There's lots of talk about people cutting back now, but it won't involve anything close to going back to the way life was not that long ago. We've come too far, and that's good; ask anyone who had to manually wring out wet clothes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Only So Many Shots

Amused Cynicism led me to an encounter the Ugley Vicar had with Jehovah's Witnesses, and a good idea.

......I think any organization predicting the date of Christ’s return (unwise in itself) ought to operate on a ‘three strikes and you’re out basis’, and so having been wrong in 1914, 1925 and 1975, the JWs really ought to call it a day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Andrew Sullivan Explains Himself

Well, at least the blogging part.

This form of instant and global self-publishing, made possible by technology widely available only for the past decade or so, allows for no retroactive editing (apart from fixing minor typos or small glitches) and removes from the act of writing any considered or lengthy review. It is the spontaneous expression of instant thought—impermanent beyond even the ephemera of daily journalism.

We bloggers have scant opportunity to collect our thoughts, to wait until events have settled and a clear pattern emerges. We blog now—as news reaches us, as facts emerge. This is partly true for all journalism, which is, as its etymology suggests, daily writing, always subject to subsequent revision. And a good columnist will adjust position and judgment and even political loyalty over time, depending on events. But a blog is not so much daily writing as hourly writing. And with that level of timeliness, the provisionality of every word is even more pressing—and the risk of error or the thrill of prescience that much greater.

You end up writing about yourself, since you are a relatively fixed point in this constant interaction with the ideas and facts of the exterior world.

The simple experience of being able to directly broadcast my own words to readers was an exhilarating literary liberation......Every professional writer has paid some dues waiting for an editor’s nod, or enduring a publisher’s incompetence, or being ground to literary dust by a legion of fact-checkers and copy editors.......But with one click of the Publish Now button, all these troubles evaporated.

Losing a Child

It's been a year for Claire Prosser.

One minute I had a cheerful, talkative 14-year-old son called Tom, the next he was dead, from an undiagnosed heart condition.

I had a younger sister who died as a baby of a respiratory infection when I was two. I don't have any memory of her, but my parents have pictures of us together, in particular a formal photograph (black and white, to date myself) of us side-by-side. A relative once spoke of how hard her death hit my maternal grandfather. I've always known about her, but I was an adult before I found out how she had died. I'm sure my parents would have told me sooner had I inquired, but it just didn't seem prudent to ask.

When my first wife and I were expecting our daughter, my wife unknowingly picked out for her the same name as my sister. I naturally consulted my parents, who approved. So far the only slight downside has been my daughter needing to get used to seeing a gravestone with her name on it when we visit the cemetery, where my sister is buried not far from that same grandfather, who unfortunately never got to see my daughter.

Shortly before I met my current wife she lost a son to cancer at 23. Unlike my sister, his had been a long fight, so it wasn't unexpected. My wife still occasionally speaks as if he's alive, and like the lady in the article she says she has "three children, one of whom passed away a few years ago." Many people in the area knew and still remember him fondly.

I'm convinced that losing a child is one of those things from which you never really recover; you just go on and with time you heal as best you can.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pushing Out Prose

Nick Mamatas is a writer with a skeleton in his professional closet.

.......for several years I made much of my freelance income writing term papers.

It's unsavory, but not against the law.

Writing model term papers is above-board and perfectly legal. Thanks to the First Amendment, it’s protected speech, right up there with neo-Nazi rallies, tobacco company press releases, and those "9/11 Was An Inside Job" bumper stickers. It's custom-made Cliff Notes. Virtually any subject, almost any length, all levels of education — indulgent parents even buy papers for children too young for credit cards of their own. You name it, I've done it.

Who were the customers?

Most of the customers just aren't very bright. One of my brokers would even mark assignments with the code words DUMB CLIENT. That meant to use simple English; nothing's worse than a client calling back to ask a broker — most of whom had no particular academic training — what certain words in the paper meant. One time a client actually asked to talk to me personally and lamented that he just didn't "know a lot about Plah-toe." Distance learning meant that he'd never heard anyone say the name.

In broad strokes, there are three types of term paper clients. DUMB CLIENTS predominate. They should not be in college. They must buy model papers simply because they do not understand what a term paper is, much less anything going on in their assignments.

The second type of client is the one-timer. A chemistry major trapped in a poetry class thanks to the vagaries of schedule and distribution requirements, or worse, the poet trapped in a chemistry class. These clients were generally lost and really did simply need a decent summary of their class readings.......

The third group is perhaps the most tragic: They are well-educated professionals who simply lack English-language skills. Often they come from the former Soviet Union, and in their home countries were engineers, medical professionals, and scientists. In the United States, they drive cabs and have to pretend to care about "Gothicism" in "A Rose For Emily" for the sake of another degree. For the most part, these clients actually send in their own papers and they get an edit from a native speaker. Sometimes they even pinch-hit for the brokers, doing papers on graduate-level physics and nursing themselves.

As for the benefits and working conditions....

Term paper writing was never good money, but it was certainly fast money.

Term paper work is also extremely easy, once you get the hang of it........Getting the hang of it is tricky, though. Over the years, several of my friends wanted in on the term paper racket, and most of them couldn't handle it. They generally made the same fundamental error — they tried to write term papers. In the paper mill biz, the paper isn't important. The deadline, page count, and number of sources are. DUMB CLIENTS make up much of the trade. They have no idea whether or not Ophelia committed suicide or was secretly offed by Gertrude, but they know how to count to seven if they ordered seven pages.

It's not that I never felt a little skeevy writing papers. Mostly it was a game, and a way to subsidize my more interesting writing.

His experience led him to a theory on why there was such a robust market for his services.

I know why students don't understand thesis statements, argumentative writing, or proper citations. It's because students have never read term papers.

Imagine trying to write a novel, for a grade, under a tight deadline, without ever having read a novel. Instead, you meet once or twice a week with someone who is an expert in describing what novels are like.

The Pleasures of Animal Flesh

Josh Bernstein has problematic taste in women.

Despite my carnivorous leanings, I’ve long loved the meat-averse ladies.

Thankfully, my current girlfriend prefers a more laissez-faire meat stance. “It’s your heart attack,” she’s fond of saying, as I stuff down another avocado-crowned pork torta at Rico’s Tacos.“At least I’ll die having known true bliss,” I reply, pointing at her wan vegetable tacos, loaded with limp lettuce and tomatoes the color of chewed gum.

So when she went out of town for a weekend.......

.....I adventured deep into Caribbean Flatbush. At just-opened Jamaican bakery Tastee Pattee..... I discovered flaky patties stuffed with chubby chunks of savory Angus beef and wild salmon, a welcome departure from the typical baby-food filling.

Continuing my dietary disobedience, I climbed aboard my bike and pedaled past Utica Avenue’s auto-body shops to Boston Jerk City..... Outside the corner spot, oil-drum grills spew plumes of fragrant smoke arising from flaming, fall-apart jerk chicken and a rarity: spicy and juicy jerk pork.

The next day, I bid adieu to the Caribbean and traveled to China via Queens. My destination, Flushing Mall........ is a rabbit’s warren of low-rent shops selling $10 tight jeans, Hello Kitty tchotchkes and dubiously legal DVDs. Such down-market merchandise is matched by a superb food court, which slings delicacies ranging from hand-pulled noodle soups to incendiary Sichuan cow tongue.

More Than We Want to See

While watching the Vice-Presidential debate, Virginia Hefferman notices an HDTV characteristic that I mentioned back in April.

Two humans who must look attractive and even statuesque in person in an auditorium — a tall, fit man of 65 (Biden); a onetime beauty-pageant contestant of 44 (Sarah Palin) — turn protean, bizarre and sometimes hideous in high def.

Consider Joe Biden.......On my HD television screen, a contrast formed between the patch of pallor by his mouth and the dark-honey hues of his chin, cheeks and forehead.

Over at the other lectern, Sarah Palin would seem to have the advantage of comparative youth and native good looks, as well as a woman’s prerogative to detectable makeup......But in high def, signs of cosmetic effort gone awry can be worse even than plain old human features. Palin’s overwhite teeth, which often appear veneered with blinding-white porcelain, can exaggerate her frequent smile and make her look monstrous. Her hair, too, seemed crisped and hardened with spray or gel, as would be necessary to secure her bride-worthy updo.

.....viewers and voters should not be allowed so much intimacy with the skin of a senator, a governor, a candidate or anyone. In fact, I’m inclined to think the only people who should get to study your body so closely are people who love you.

Now They'll Start Arguing

Two women from Weston-super-Mare who have been friends for more than 30 years, have discovered they are actually sisters.

Big Bird on a Bun

No, not that Big Bird........but Iranian cooks did use large poultry to make a large poultry sandwich.

About 1,500 cooks used 1,000kg (2,200lbs) of ostrich meat to make the 1,500m (4,920ft) long sandwich.

Why? two reasons.

The organisers want to promote Iran's fledgling ostrich farming business.

The organisers hope those world-beating dimensions will be enough to earn a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest ostrich sandwich ever.

They did encounter an unexpected problem.

The sandwich drew crowds of onlookers, and some reports said people rushed forward to eat it before it could be measured for the record. But the event's organisers said there was video footage of the sandwich which would be sent to Guinness officials.

Also Missing: Large Quantity of Seashells

A large-scale theft has Jamaicans stumped.

Questions are being asked in Jamaica about a police investigation into the theft of hundreds of tons of sand from a beach on the island's north coast. It was discovered in July that 500 truck-loads had been removed outside a planned resort at Coral Spring beach.

Apparently that type of crime is not uncommon.

Illegal sand mining is a problem in Jamaica; the tradition of people building their own homes here means there is a huge demand for the construction material. However, the large volume and the type of sand taken made suspicion point towards the hotel industry.

I don't think even the TV forensic people have tried this.

Police said they were carrying out forensic tests on beaches along the coast to see if any of it matches the stolen sand.

Friday, October 17, 2008

No Really Means No

Don't mess with this woman.

A woman in northern India has admitted chopping off the head of a man she says tried to rape her.

The 35-year-old said she had been working in her field cutting grass when the man tried to attack her. She hit back using her sickle.

I'm inclined to think that humanity will struggle on without a man stupid enough to attack a sickle-wielding woman.

Warren's Buying

The Oracle of Omaha has some investment advice.

I’ve been buying American stocks.

If prices keep looking attractive, my non-Berkshire net worth will soon be 100 percent in United States equities.

A simple rule dictates my buying: Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hugo's New Fellow Traveler

Mother Jones led me to this report of Hugo Chavez's latest comedy routine.

"Bush is to the left of me now," Mr Chavez told an audience of international intellectuals debating the benefits of socialism. "Comrade Bush announced he will buy shares in private banks."

"I am convinced he has got no idea what's going on," said Mr Chavez.....

Chavez is a demagogue, but sometimes it's hard to disagree with him.

There Would be Jurisdictional Issues Anyway

A judge tosses a suit on a technicality.

A US judge has thrown out a case against God, ruling that because the defendant has no address, legal papers cannot be served.

The suit didn't pull any punches.

Mr Chambers sued God last year. He said God had threatened him and the people of Nebraska and had inflicted "widespread death, destruction and terrorisation of millions upon millions of the Earth's inhabitants".

The court, Mr Chambers said, had acknowledged the existence of God and "a consequence of that acknowledgement is a recognition of God's omniscience".

"Since God knows everything," he reasoned, "God has notice of this lawsuit."

Ace Rothstein Loses His Last Bet

A legendary gambler/mafioso cashes in.

Frank Rosenthal, bookmaker, casino executive and television talk-show host, was born on June 12, 1929. He died on October 13, 2008, aged 79.

At one time he was officially chief executive officer of the Stardust, the Fremont, the Hacienda and the Marina, and was, through his activities as a dubiously connected sports handicapper on a hitherto unimagined scale, regarded as the unexampled pioneer of sports gambling. One of his most remarkable feats.....was actually to operate a sports book from inside a casino, making the Stardust the world centre for sports gambling. Another innovation was the introduction of women blackjack dealers, a novelty which was at the time credited with doubling the casino’s income within the year.

Even after his disgrace his myth was given the imprimatur of a Martin Scorsese-directed film, Casino (1995), in which the character inspired by him (renamed for celluloid purposes Sam “Ace” Rothstein) was played by Robert DeNiro, and that of his glamorous screen wife by Sharon Stone.

I like the way that movie shows the basics of how a casino operates, or did then. The chain of supervision on the floor, the thought given to slot machine placement, the way high rollers were handled - it was all new to me when I first saw that movie, and I think it was new to many people who didn't realize how little is left to chance in a casino without actually rigging the games.

Accountability Continued

James Ledbetter expresses sentiments similar to James Lileks about the financial crisis.

The lack of American accountability became stunningly clear today, when Hector Sants, the chief executive of Britain's Financial Services Authority—the regulatory body that's sort of a cross between the United States' Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Reserve Board—actually apologized for not preventing the meltdown that effectively led to the nationalization of Britain's banking sector.

It's now been conclusively established that there were "serious deficiencies" in how the SEC regulated Bear Stearns........Yet SEC Chairman Christopher Cox still has his job and has yet to acknowledge that his agency did anything wrong—or, indeed, to say anything germane about how the crisis came about, aside from blaming short-sellers.

Is there a way out of the culture of unaccountability? Hey, if Paulson can imitate the British bailout and offer direct capital infusions into shaky banks, maybe our officials can take a page from the Brits. Admit that you screwed up, and tell us you're sorry. It's a start.

It's a nice idea, but I don't see it happening for the simple reason that U.S. officials believe they acted completely appropriately. British authorities see themselves as regulators with at least a somewhat adversarial relationship to the industry they regulate. Paulson and his minions are from Wall Street, and deep down they don't really think their old friends need any oversight, so they do their best to design the regulatory framework accordingly. Given that, the current situation is seen as merely an unfortunate burp in the universe; something beyond their control. When you don't think regulation is needed, not doing it is nothing for which to apologize.

This mindset sees the finance men as victims, not perpetrators; they were just doing what any good moneychanger would do under the circumstances. It also explains Paulson's belief that he should be given a pile of our grandchildren's money to do with as he wishes; he's just going to help out some old friends who didn't do anything wrong and got caught in the gears of the system. Why would he need to be sorry for that?

As for the people who got snookered into mortgages they couldn't afford, don't his friends' taxes pay for social programs for them? Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?.....sorry about that.....but Ebenezer Scrooge initially didn't see anything wrong with his practices, either. (On the other hand, he would have let the banks sink.) At least the businessmen of that time didn't consider running to the government for help when they screwed up.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's Good to See He's Keeping Busy

Colin Powell, hip-hop artist.

America's former top diplomat took centre stage along with Nigerian group Olu Maintain at the Africa Rising Festival in the Royal Albert Hall.

Is there anyone whose reputation was more tainted by association with the Bush administration than Powell? At one time he was on the short list of serious presidential candidates. It's not hard to imagine him running instead of McCain or Palin had things gone better. Even now McCain/Powell would be more interesting - and certainly more credible.

It's Better Than the Alternative

Jon Carroll and his wife are...well,let him say it.

But the thing is, and I want to approach this delicately, we're old. I know 60 is the new 30 and all that, but people do get old, and by most objective measures, we're there.

It's wonderful to contemplate that the people who make jokes about old people will one day be old themselves. No cure for that but premature death.

Here's a tip for younger people: When an older person tells you his or her age, the polite thing to say is "No way."

On the other hand.....

So I am thinking about all this, my very ancient self about to get even ancienter, and then I think about Ruth, who is Tracy's mother. Ruth is 97, and yes, you're so right, "No way." To put it another way, when she was my age, I was 33. And is she doing fine? No, of course not - she's 97. Things hurt. The world closes in. But she can still make jokes, have political opinions (she would like you to vote for Obama), listen to books on tape and eat chocolate every day.

My wife's grandmother is 93 and still lives in her own apartment. This means that my wife's grandkids get the chance to know their great-great-grandmother, which is a rare and fine thing. It also means that Grandbaby has more Grandmas than she'll be able to keep straight for a while; without knowing much about her dad's side I count 6. Again, a fine thing; I've never heard of too many Grandmas being a problem for a kid.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Accountability is Un-American

James Lileks expresses something that went through my mind just yesterday.

The theme of the conversation was responsibility, and why no one in the current crisis seems willing to own up to this mess. I said that no one could see an advantage to admitting culpability, however small, and if I had thought of it I’d have brought up the Japanese; can’t have a big failure over there without someone sweating, bowing, apologizing, banging his head into the table, generally behaving as though he deserved to be stoned. And those are the showy ones who earn only contempt; it's the guys who go home and hang themselves that really get a round of applause. It’s almost impossible to imagine that here, what with the diminished likelihood of hosswhipping, or a dispassionate, sustained interlude of public caning. If we interviewed any of the people responsible for this situation and asked them what they planned to do now, we wouldn't be surprised if they said they were going to Disneyworld.

Maybe not Disneyworld, but.....

Less than a week after the federal government offered an $85 billion bailout to insurance giant AIG, the company held a week-long retreat for its executives at the luxury St. Regis Resort in Monarch Beach, Calif., running up a tab of $440,000.....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Banks aren't Everything, But Everything isn't Doing Too Well Either

Casey Mulligan argues that the financial crisis isn't as big a deal as everyone says.

The non-financial sectors of our economy will not suffer much from even a prolonged banking crisis, because the general economic importance of banks has been highly exaggerated.

So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 percent of you are not), don't worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 percent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 percent.

I'm skeptical of the bank bailout myself; it seems like it's going to be a way for Bush's buddies to get their money (if they decide to use it; I've read that some bankers don't like the way it would cramp their style and may try to tough it out) and leave our grandchildren holding the bag.

I think he's right in the narrow sense that the financial sector's troubles aren't going to drag everything down by themselves, but the necessary return to more conservative lending by the survivors is going to keep credit tight; the people who defaulted on mortgages will be out of the loop for a while. There's also the fact that lots of people have hit their limit in debt and are having to cut back to clear that up.

This combination of fewer people able to get credit and those who have it not wanting anymore will drag down the economy as people spend less. The auto industry is already getting hit hard by the combination of tighter credit and public caution, and others will feel it soon. Lots of things are ailing at the same time, and it's going to take a while for all of them to heal.

Hubby's Honey Hobby

As if all the financial shenanigans weren't enough, Margaret Wente also had a sub prime honey harvest.

My husband and his partners are depressed......Usually, they can count on their bees to produce at least 250 pounds of honey. This year, they only got a quarter of that.

Bees don't like to work in the rain, and it was a very rainy summer. Then there were the queens. Some of them failed to carry out their royal duties. Acts of regicide had to be performed, and newer, better queens procured. Then came the revolt of the workers. The bees started swarming, and threatened to fly away for good.

The partners are an elite unit.

The partners have been keeping bees together ever since David, the bee master, turned 80 and decided he needed to bring in some younger blood. They call themselves the Bee Boyz, even though none of them is under 60. Every week, they get together to check the hives, which are behind the honey shack at Jamie's place. They enjoy this weekly chore, because it gives them an excuse to sit around the honey shack telling dirty jokes. They also enjoy putting on their white bee suits and hats, so they look a bit like a nuclear decontamination squad. Usually, there's not much work to do. Bees pretty much look after themselves, which makes them the perfect choice for animal husbandry.

I'd Avoid the Meat and Milk

A boarded-up shop in Lancashire was found to have been left in exactly the same state as when it stopped trading more than 40 years ago.

Better, But Not Good

We all know about the declining U.S. casualties in Iraq, but......

There is much less violence now, but Baghdad is nowhere near returning to normal: the streets are full of potholes and the traffic is clogged and backed up by check-points.

Concrete anti-blast walls still surround almost every significant building here, and stretch along streets where there are markets bringing relative safety, but turning the pavements - where the vendors' stalls are - into narrow, claustrophobic canyons.

There are numerous sandbagged machine-gun posts. There is even one looking out from the walls of the ministry of agriculture compound.

Residential districts are protected with chicanes of concrete bollards, coils of rusting razor-wire, oil drums filled with concrete, sawn-down trunks of date palm trees and more check-points, protected with sandbags.

Despite all that......

One day, our anonymous BBC car is waved on by two policemen, but then everybody is doing urgent U-turns and heading back the way they came. The street is cordoned off - there has been a roadside bomb. Two people are dead and two cars are wrecked.....

The next day, two bombs - one in a car in a car-park, the other by the roadside - kill 16 people. They were out shopping and at least 50 more were injured, but it barely makes the news.

Even the positive developments are tainted.

But the good news is that people are growing more confident. They shop for High Definition TVs, satellite dishes, DVD players, air conditioners, and the generators to power them. Baghdad still has to endure long periods without mains electricity.

A comedy about the last five years in Iraq is playing to full houses at the National Theatre.
It is a black comedy and, in one scene, members of the Iraqi parliament are assembled in their chamber. From offstage, there is a shout: "It's salary time". They all rush out, abandoning their agenda.

The director, Haidar Munathir, tells me: "Our politicians are political teenagers. They are overpaid and they achieve nothing". And if Iraqis have no confidence in their politicians, the new peace has no secure foundations.

Follicle Failure

Ariel Leve is losing her hair.

Not in clumps, or in patches; it's an overall shedding.

About two months ago I noticed that my ponytail, which has always been thick and coarse, has now become thin. Also, there's hair everywhere.

She went to see a specialist.

He told me on a scale of one to four - I was a four. A four? That didn't sound so bad. Until he explained four was the worst.

There's a prime suspect.

I don't eat meals. I graze. Like a goat. Only a goat probably eats protein. Something I've been lacking.

The prognosis is encouraging.

He tried to reassure me that this was fixable. He could help. I would have my thick hair again, and it would grow back - it takes time. "But how do you know?" I asked. He said he's never been wrong. I would get blood tests, and we'd find the problem.

Nothing Wrong with Cover Bands

While lamenting the passing of his favorite musicians, Jeremy Clarkson makes an interesting point.

At the moment, tribute bands have a fairly poor reputation. But I’m not sure why.

When elderly people go to see Rachmaninov’s Third, no one is ever disappointed to find that it isn’t actually the man himself on the ivories. Indeed, many derive a great deal of pleasure in hearing how other musicians interpret the great man’s work.

In fact, when you stop and think about it, the London Symphony Orchestra is a tribute band. It simply turns up and plays music written by someone else.

A Long Celibate Life

Katy Guest has discovered what has been holding back mankind.

Last week it emerged that humanity is clearly going to hell in a handcart because we are all too busy obsessing about sex. If it were not for furtive bunk-ups, one-handed texting and guilty daydreaming during meetings, man would have invented the teleporter by now.

The first intimation that all this filthy onanism is coming between the human race and the realisation of its true potential came from Clara Meadmore, a 105-year-old virgin who lives in Cornwall. Ms Meadmore confirms that she owes her longevity largely to her rejection of All That Nonsense.

Ayers Gets Around

I haven't paid any attention to the Ayers/Obama slime, but QT mentioned something..... announced last week that Leonore Annenberg, widow of ambassador and philanthropist Walter Annenberg, is endorsing McCain.

It is not mentioned that former Weather Underground radical William Ayers has served on the Annenberg Foundation charity board.

McCain . . . Annenberg . . . Ayers . . .
Is McCain palling around with terrorists again?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Starting Too Young

First, a correction....In my previous references to MSNBC, I should have said CNBC. Also, the Dow is all over the place as I type this. I'm glad I don't make a living that way.

Last night at work my coworker - apparently reading some news item about Britney Spears - asked me if Madonna had ever been such a train wreak. (He is only in his mid twenties and has no memory of that bygone era.) I have never been a Madonna follower, but I don't recall her ever running her life into the ground that way, which of course led to googling and some noteworthy differences between the two women.

The biggest difference in my mind is when and how they got started. Madonna was an A student in high school and went to college for a short time before embarking on a career as a professional entertainer. She was 25 years old when her first solo album was released. She had time to grow up and be on her own.

Spears, by contrast, is only 27 now. She - a small-town Louisiana girl - was enrolled at New York City's Professional Performing Arts School and first auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club TV show when she was eight years old. I have an 8yo granddaughter, and the idea of a girl that age doing those things is ridiculous to me. Spears later attended high school for one year before going off to perform again. She never experienced real life the way you and I, or even Madonna, think of it. Because she was rich and famous before she was old enough to run her own life, it was run for her, and continued to be run for her through young adulthood, the time when you and I learned how to run our own lives. So when she started doing things that only she could control, she had no decision-making experience to help her. Hopefully when she's Madonna's age she'll have bounced back and will be able to look back with some humor.

None of this is new, of course. Entertainment history is littered with people who got too much too soon and never learned to handle life when it finally hit them. It's just a shame that too many people, particularly parents, don't learn from this.


I've had a really hard time getting motivated. The weather has turned blustery, with snow in the Black Hills. John McCain is turning into Abe Simpson. The stock market is in full nostalgia mode, flashing back to the days when 9000 was a far-off dream. Grandbaby has her first cold. I noticed that my haircut intervals are returning to what they were 25 years ago when I wore it long, only now it's because the hair is starting from higher up and therefore has farther to go before it becomes enough of a nuisance to overcome my aversion to spending the money necessary to get it cut.

Time to try the bright side. Gasoline prices have gone down 50 cents in the last week,with more declines likely considering oil prices are continuing to fall, which has the added benefit of upsetting some unsavory people (Saudi sheiks,Vladimir Putin). Living in a decidedly non-swing state (a ham sandwich would win here if it was the Republican presidential nominee) means I'm spared the worst of the campaign sewage. The weather is still in that range that keeps the need for indoor climate alteration to a minimum, thus reducing both the gas and electricity bills. No one on MSNBC has yet suffered a physical breakdown, which allows their spasms to be enjoyed without guilt. The AIG honchos were forced to cancel a party in California. Halloween candy will still be on sale for three more weeks. All in all, about the best I can expect.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Try Not To Spread It

Day Off, TV On. Ben Bernanke gave a speech which can be roughly summed up "Many things are rotten, and there are other things that could start rotting at any moment. We may have to do something sometime." Stock traders showed their enthusiasm by dropping the Dow as he spoke. Now George Bush is spewing forth the usual vapid cheerleader rhetoric with that "I don't know where I am" look we've all come to find so endearing.

I still think that the various toxins are going to have to work their way through the system, and there isn't much any of these people can do. I also think it's worth remembering that any government commitments are borrowed money, and therefore coming out of our grandchildren's pockets. Things are going to suck now anyway; we could at least try to avoid passing this on in addition to what we've already got waiting for them.

Never Just Right

James Lileks rings a loud bell.

Having grown up around farmers, I know there are two kinds of rain-type situations – either we don’t have enough and need more, or it’s too wet to plant / plow / harvest / bury the body of the hired man who got himself stuck in the augur like a damn fool, and now they’ll be up all night swabbing the bins.

Monday, October 6, 2008

This Old Bible

One of the oldest surviving Bibles will be available online.

For 1,500 years, the Codex Sinaiticus lay undisturbed in a Sinai monastery, until it was found - or stolen, as the monks say - in 1844 and split between Egypt, Russia, Germany and Britain.
Now these different parts are to be united online and, from next July, anyone, anywhere in the world with internet access will be able to view the complete text and read a translation.

For those who believe the Bible is the inerrant, unaltered word of God, there will be some very uncomfortable questions to answer. It shows there have been thousands of alterations to today's bible. The Codex, probably the oldest Bible we have, also has books which are missing from the Authorised Version that most Christians are familiar with today - and it does not have crucial verses relating to the Resurrection.

A Jumper's Grandson

While the stories of people jumping to their deaths during the Crash of 1929 were mostly apocryphal, there were a few, and and Roger Graef's grandfather was one.

My grandfather was not a captain of industry. He was selling insurance, he was I suppose more like Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman if anything. He was a sad man who was trying to make his way, support his family, had invested in Wall Street with the hope and belief that that was going to do what he wanted to do which was create a safe and better future for his children.

As you can imagine, this had a considerable effect on the family, particularly Roger's father.

So suddenly when his father committed suicide he was left having to look after his mother and his brother and sister were not doing well enough to share the burden. That was part of what he resented about the suicide.

My grandfather was apparently a gentle warm nice man. My father regarded gentleness as weakness.

First to Get Sick, First to Get Better

One of the first banks to go down now has to turn away business.

(British bank) Northern Rock was nationalised last year as the credit crisis started to bite.

The move meant that all future deposits with the bank would be guaranteed by the Government.

The bank has now been forced to pull six of its most popular savings products off the market because they were proving too popular.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Smarter Than the Average Movie?

Another cartoon character is being resurrected.

Classic cartoon character Yogi Bear, and his sidekick Boo-Boo, are set for a big screen makeover.

The film, which will follow Yogi Bear's antics eluding his arch-enemy Ranger Smith in Jellystone Park, is being made by Warner Bros.

I'm not sure about this, especially the animation/live action mix. The cartoon Yogi doesn't look, act or move much like a real bear, which is fine in a pure cartoon but could look pretty silly translated into a mix with live action.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Harry Potter and the Mountain of Money

For you struggling authors, a view of the top.

JK Rowling is the world's highest-earning author, making more than £5 every second over the past year, US business magazine Forbes has announced.

Of course, this is like saying Oprah Winfrey is a high-earning talk show host, or Michael Jordan was a high-earning basketball player. The income sources range far beyond the listed occupation.

The list....

1. JK Rowling - $300m (£170m)
2. James Patterson - $50m (£28m)
3. Stephen King - $45m (£25m)
4. Tom Clancy - $35m (£20m)
5. Danielle Steel - $30m (£17m)
6. John Grisham - $25m (£14m)
6. Dean Koontz - $25m (£14m)
8. Ken Follett - $20m (£11m)
9. Janet Evanovich - $17m (£10m)
10. Nicholas Sparks - $16m (£9m)
Source: Forbes magazine

Friday, October 3, 2008

Now What?

Chadwick Matlin notes that the bailout bill is only the beginning, and the path from here is uncharted.

The man in control of it all is Henry Paulson-the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and the new symbol of American capitalism. Despite two weeks of back-and-forth on the bill, Paulson is nearly as short on bailout details as he was when we began this process. Part of this is necessity.....and part of it is prudent policy.......There's a nagging thought, though, that Paulson himself doesn't yet know what he's going to do. The bill itself doesn't provide any help.

For now, all of this leaves us, the American public, scraping for some answers. Referring to that elementary series of questions we learned in grade school-who, what, where, when, why, and how-the only one that's been explicitly answered is why.

The answer to the others so far? Nobody knows for sure.