Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Because There Can Never Be Enough

Yet another medication for erectile dysfunction, with a great name.

A Chinese herbal remedy called horny goat weed is a promising alternative to Viagra for impotent men, Italian researchers said on Monday.

Answering Isn't Fun,Either

Do you get frustrated with overseas-based call centers? Working at one is losing it's allure for them,too.

The youth of India seem to have fallen out of love with the call centre industry.

Young men and women in call and contact centres across India are overworked and stressed out. Many are leaving the industry.

The reasons sound familiar.

Shabana Pavaskar, a senior employee at a reputable call centre in Mumbai, feels it is not a career, just a job. "I have been working here for many years but there's no promotion, no motivation and the hours are extremely demanding," she says. "Overtime is not an option but a compulsion. A government job with a fairly less salary will be more feasible than working here."

Those who have left say they quit because it was frustrating to continue to answer calls day after day, year after year. No creativity, no use of mind required. Some say their minds have become cabbage.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Besides, She Wouldn't Fit Into the New Restroom

A pub has to turn away a longtime customer.

Peggy, a 12-year-old mare, used to enjoy a pint of beer and a packet of crisps alongside her owner at the Alexandra Hotel in Jarrow.

However, she is no longer allowed to prop up the bar following a refit which included new carpets.

The owner is making the best of it.

Mr Dolan, a 62-year-old retired oil rigger, said: "People come into the pub and the first thing they say is 'Where's Peggy?' "I tell them she's kicked the habit and is teetotal now."

We Admit It's Wrong, But It's Not Changing

A Chinese author talks about the censors.

The office that Chinese writers, artists, and journalists dread and hate most is the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department. In addition to its propaganda work within the party, this department, through its numerous bureaus, also supervises the country’s newspapers, publishing houses, radio and TV stations, movie industry, and the Internet. Except for the Military Commission, no department in the Party Central Committee wields more power than this office, which forms the core of the party’s leadership.

He notices inconsistent punishment for challengers, and makes some bold statements.

.....the authorities no longer try to justify actions that obviously have no legal grounds, but their decisions remain unchanged.

First, the Communist Party, despite its powerful appearance, has become quite fragile, weak within. No party members believe in the ideal of communism anymore......In other words, the party can no longer derive any justification from the firm belief in its ideology, so challenges such as those made by Jiao and Zhang can put officials on the defensive.

Second, both Jiao and Zhang belong to the so-called elite class, which the authorities have avoided exasperating.

Third, Jiao and Zhang were well connected within the country and with the outside world, and they occupied a conspicuous spot in the public eye.

Bowzer over Ginsburg

A group of scholars has been studying the way historical perceptions about an era are created. Example: the 1950's.

The idea of the Fifties that America still holds — the happy, “greasy” Fifties — was an “invented History.” Up until 1969, quite an opposite cultural memory held sway. When Americans remembered “the Fifties,” they thought of Joe McCarthy witch hunts, of an “age of anxiety,” of the “shook-up generation” diving under their desks during A-Bomb drills, of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit selling out and Holden Caulfield cracking up, or Allen Ginsberg ’48 and Jack Kerouac ’44 too “beat” to fight back. Nothing to get nostalgic about there.

Then something changed.

“The replacement of the Beat with the greaser as the emblematic 1950s rebel” had, Marcus reports, consolidated its hold on American “memory” within a very few years, by the time of Happy Days and Fonzie.

Where did this come from?

Tracing back, Marcus discovered, as Guffey had, that the new Fifties was no older than Columbia College, spring 1969, when the Kingsmen put on two shows: “The Glory That Was Grease” and the “First East Coast Grease Festival,” attended by 5,000 students from Massachusetts to Maryland.

Not the "Louie,Louie" Kingsmen......

Renamed Sha Na Na, they became regulars at Fillmore West and East, appeared in the Oscar-winning Woodstock movie as well as the movie version of Grease, which their act had inspired. Their syndicated TV show ran for years, worldwide.

Did It Have To Be There?

P.J. O'Rourke has cancer. The good news......

I'm told I have a 95% chance of survival. Come to think of it -- as a drinking, smoking, saturated-fat hound -- my chance of survival has been improved by cancer.

The bad....

I have, of all the inglorious things, a malignant hemorrhoid. What color bracelet does one wear for that? And where does one wear it? And what slogan is apropos? Perhaps that slogan can be sewn in needlepoint around the ruffle on a cover for my embarrassing little doughnut buttocks pillow.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Reserve The Last Bullet

John Eisenhower recalls talking with his father about accepting a combat assignment in Korea.

We met at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago, just after the Republican convention, and I explained my position. My father, as a professional officer himself, understood and accepted it. However, he had a firm condition: under no circumstances must I ever be captured. He would accept the risk of my being killed or wounded, but if the Chinese Communists or North Koreans ever took me prisoner, and threatened blackmail, he could be forced to resign the presidency. I agreed to that condition wholeheartedly. I would take my life before being captured.

She May End Up Bathing In The Water Tower Again

Chris Erskine is closely following the financial crisis with his family.

"Who's Fannie Mae?" one of the kids asks as Matt Lauer moans on and on about Wall Street, as if he has an infected toe. "Remember 'Petticoat Junction'?" I ask. "No." "Well, Fannie Mae was the redhead," I explain. How she ended up in the mortgage business, I'll never know......

If You Can't Save It, Spend It

Jeremy Clarkson has been in a bit of a dither since a dinner conversation with a banker a few months ago.

But then I was snapped into hair-straightening consciousness when he casually mentioned that the giant Union Bank of Switzerland was in trouble. UBS? That’s where I’d plonked all my life savings.

The next day, in a bit of a flap, I rang the bank, which quite understood my concerns and offered to transfer the bulk of my savings to a company I’d never heard of. It was called AIG.

As you can imagine, the past two weeks have been most enjoyable. No wait. That’s the wrong word. I mean blood-in-my-feet, dead-faint-half-the-time terrifying.

He attempted to take action.

Of course I made strenuous efforts to get my money out of AIG as soon as the scale of its problems became apparent. But it wasn’t possible. It had shut the fund in which I’d invested and it would remain closed for three months while it tried to sell the assets. “We need to do this in an orderly fashion,” said the man on the phone, calmly.

Inwardly I was screaming. I don’t give a shit about an orderly fashion, any more than a man in the trenches wants to look smart while running for his life.

Efforts to become better informed about the crisis were not reassuring.

I decided to try to understand banking. And what I’ve gleaned from a two-week crash course is that it is completely unfathomable. There isn’t a single person in the entire world who has the first idea how the system works.

Out of nowhere, salvation seemed to appear.

Then, for no reason that anyone can explain, news came through that the American taxpayer had rescued AIG. I was beside myself with happiness. I was also in California. So I..... ran downstairs and, much to the surprise of the hotel doorman, thanked him and everyone in the lobby for getting me out of such a deep and confusing hole.

But it wasn't what it seemed.

I’ve just received a letter from an AIG assistant general manager – it has obviously put its top men on the job – saying that I can either have a fraction of my investment back in December, or I can take out a new fund – using imaginary money that obviously doesn’t exist – and hope to get it all back at some unspecified point in the future.

What to do?

Now, I’m a gambler. I love the horses and playing cards. But this is a big one. This is keeping me awake at night.

My banker can’t help. He, like everyone, is caught up in a whirlwind of uncertainty.

And so it’s up to me to come up with what I hope, for once, is a spot of sensible advice for those who are in the same boat. (At least those who can get to their money.)

Because there is no safe haven for your money, you need to give it to someone else. That way, it becomes their problem. So, why not pay your income tax early? And call your kids’ school to see if you can settle all forthcoming fees in advance. Need a new car? Why not buy one now?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Combining Candy and Gum

At least some companies are doing business.

Wrigley's sale to Mars marks the end of independence for the maker of Juicy Fruit gum and Life Savers candies, which was founded in 1891 and whose shares have been traded on the New York Stock Exchange since 1923.

Mars, known for M&M's, Snickers and other candies, was founded in 1911 and is privately held.

Big wheels were involved.

Warren Buffett helped to finance the deal.
Mars said other financing would be provided by Goldman Sachs Group Inc and JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Another Preacher Gone Wrong

Here we go again.

The 74-year-old founder and leader of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries was arrested without incident at 2:45 p.m. (4:45 p.m. ET) as he was departing the Little America Hotel with his wife, said Manuel Johnson, spokesman for the FBI in Phoenix, Arizona.

Alamo was charged under a federal statute with having knowingly transported a minor across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity, Johnson said.

Even by the standards of the the profession, he's been an odd character.

When his wife died of cancer, Alamo claimed that she would be resurrected and kept her body on display for six months while their followers prayed.

For a time, his elaborately painted denim jackets were a must-have in Hollywood, but sales contributed to tax problems that landed him in prison for four years in the 1990s.

On Saturday, he had said that for girls having sex, "consent is puberty."

It's Make Believe

Charlotte Dale asked adult film stars about livening up her relationship, and how they handle sex in their relationships. She got an answer that many men, especially young men who watch a lot of adult fare, should keep in mind.

“I explain to them there’s a huge difference between real sex and sex on camera,” said Ms. Daniels, of meeting men in real life. “Sex on camera is about what looks good and real sex—for lack of a better term—is about what feels good. So I’m not expecting you to have washboard abs, or a huge penis. And I’m hoping you don’t expect me to come to bed with false eyelashes and porno hair and perfectly airbrushed skin either. Once you explain to them it’s all smoke and mirrors, they deal with it.”

When You Think Delusion, You Think G.W. Bush

In case you've been wondering how things are in the Middle East....

The Quartet of international powers has "lost its grip" on the Middle East peace process which it is meant to foster, a group of aid agencies says.

"We are facing a vacuum in leadership," said Care International representative Martha Myers. "The Quartet's credibility is on the line."

Lost grip.....vacuum in leadership...... you can feel it coming, can't you?

The US will continue to seek a Middle East peace deal during George W Bush's final months in office, the president has told the Palestinian leader.

How Bad Can It Get?

However bad things may get, at least we're not Zimbabwe.

The last official figure given for annual inflation was 11,000,000%. Last month the central bank struck 10 zeros from the currency, making 10bn Zimbabwe dollars equal to one new dollar.

Banks only allow people to withdraw a maximum of 1,000 new Zimbabwe dollars a day.

Currently teachers earn Z$1,200, which is about $US35 on the local parallel market.

It's Not That They Don't Trust Us,But....

This can't be good.

Chinese regulators have told domestic banks to stop interbank lending to U.S. financial institutions to prevent possible losses during the financial crisis........

A Bad Time To Win

In a post last Sunday I mentioned the possibility that the next President is in for trouble. Gerard Baker agrees.

When the votes are counted his people might ruefully conclude that the victor is not Barack Obama or John McCain. The real winner will be Hillary Clinton, or Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee, or some now happily anonymous figure whose star will rise in the next four turbulent years.

2008 may be the best year there has been to lose an election.

I wonder if Herbert Hoover - at one time one of the most admired men in American history - ever wished he had lost in 1928?

Yes, It's Still Done

It's Homecoming week in Pierre. (Although speaking as someone who hasn't attended such festivities in my hometown in many years,I've always wondered how many dispersed alumni actually come back to visit now.) The schools - all of them,not just the high school - have had various theme days, one of which - nerd day - gave me the opportunity to drag an old suit out of the closet. Both the jacket and the wide-legged (not just bell-bottomed) slacks are tan plaid, hand-made in about 1973 from organic free-range polyester; truly a remarkable garment worthy of Steve Urkel's wardrobe. My daughter wore it to generally good reviews at school; she remarked on it's high level of comfort. I'm trying not to think about the fact that it fits her pretty well, or that I once wore it to actual public functions. I was Urkel well before Urkel.

The parade was last evening. It was pretty traditional; the high school band marched, the middle school band strolled, and a small band of unknown origin consisting of adults (my wife believed it to be the city band, which I didn't know existed) rode on a trailer while playing. There were the usual entries from various school organizations, city businesses, and - this being an election year -advocates for various candidates and ballot issues. Candy was thrown and retrieved; anticipating the resulting increased need, one dentist gave out toothbrushes. Old-style floats were absent, which is understandable. I recall the time and materials involved in creating such things in my youth; recreating them today would be very expensive. I was surprised by the lack of fire department representation. A parade should have a fire truck; I believe it's in the Constitution somewhere.

A line of what are referred to as Govmobiles brought up the rear. These are vehicles - almost all vans, although there was one motor home - that are rescued on the way to, or perhaps from, the junkyard; gaudily painted (usually in school colors, although one had a hippie peace-and-love motif); and driven around during the week or until they expire. For those of you who worry about such things, they are required to have license and insurance, which I'm told is breathtakingly expensive and requires a group of students to finance.

There will be other high jinks, notably the tossing of eggs at various targets. My wife isn't working at Wal-Mart this week, but in past years they have denied large egg purchases to young people. I have been told that eggs can damage car paint, although I'm not sure that's true of modern paint; I may have to research that.....googling.....it does seem to be true (at least for the clear coat on top) unless they are washed off quickly.

In my hometown we had jousts between pickups carrying kids wielding water balloons and "cream puffs" (tissues with whipped cream - if you being chased by another pickup, toss them into the slipstream and they would fly back onto the pursuing vehicle's windshield). One year some classmates built a catapult that could launch a water-filled garbage bag. It was hard to load and it's accuracy was woeful but when on target it had considerable effect. I don't know if they still do that, or other classics such as toilet-papering houses; I'm pretty sure the tipping over of outhouses is no longer practiced since just locating one would involve more advance scouting than it would be worth. I suppose tipping over a modern chemical toilet would be possible, but the possible hazards would outweigh any potential mirth.

This will culminate with a football game and other festivities that contribute to a sense of community that has faded away in many parts of the country. I think a lot of people don't realize what they've lost.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not Well-Spent Money

Stories like this always irritate me.

"Without changing deployment patterns, without changing length of tours, we do not have the forces to send three additional brigade combat teams to Afghanistan at this point," Mr Gates told the committee.

It bugs me not just because of the Iraq-sucking-up-resources angle, but because of what this article notes; The U.S. accounts for 48% of the world's military spending, or just shy of what everyone else spends combined. For that kind of money we should be able to do better.

If It's Not Profitable, Non-Profits Should Get Involved

Some corporations have cash to spare.....

Microsoft has unveiled plans to spend $40bn (£22bn) buying back its shares from investors, the biggest single buy-back plan in history.

Hewlett-Packard and Nike have also announced major buy-back programmes.
The personal computer-maker will buy back $8bn of shares, while Nike's plan is worth $5bn.

This story brought Bill Gates and his gigantic foundation to mind. He and others like him should step in and buy some of these bad mortgages, then just forgive them. They would be helping people keep homes and relieve some of the current financial pressures. Yes, they might bail out some people who don't deserve it, but so will the government plan. At least they would be helping people at the lower end, not just George Bush's banker buddies. They could concentrate on the smaller ones that were more likely taken out by poorer people who got conned by financiers.

Into It A Bit Too Much

I'm glad they really enjoyed sex, but I can't help but think that it's best for humanity that they didn't successfully reproduce.

A couple in South Africa who were having sex on a railway track in Mpumalanga Province have been killed by a goods train, police say.

But It's Our Corruption, So It's OK

Yes, we're doing a fine job of bringing reform overseas....

Equatorial Guinea
DR Congo
Source: Transparency International

Two of the bottom five..... Bush and Cheney must be proud.
In case you're wondering, The U.S. came in at number 18. Here's the table.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Old Political Ads

John Dickerson at Slate did a video piece showing his favorite vintage political TV ads, and provided a link to a site with others. I didn't watch all of them, but a sampling of ads up to 1976 did evoke a few thoughts.

- If you want some insight into Nixon the political animal, look at the ads from 1952 and 1956. His job was to be Ike's attack dog, savaging the Democrats while Ike smiled and looked like a leader. Stevenson's "Nervous about Nixon?" ad reminds us that there were doubts about Nixon for a long time before Watergate.

- The 1960 debate over experience vs. youth sure seems familiar.

- I don't understand Spanish beyond the words that have been incorporated into the English language, but for some reason the Jackie Kennedy ad is riveting.

- 1964 seems to be a turning point; before then the ads were fairly upbeat, and even the critical ads were fairly tame. The Johnson ads are the first to really resemble what we see today, and some are beyond what anyone would try now.

- The famed daisy girl ad insinuating that electing Goldwater would mean nuclear war and the end of life on earth - it doesn't get much nastier that that.

- The one featuring a KKK leader endorsing Goldwater - what would the Obama campaign do with a KKK leader endorsing McCain? Actually I'm not sure how much meat that would have; I think "of course the scumbags would endorse him instead of the black guy" would be most people's reaction. Now a KKK leader endorsing Obama - that would be an interesting twist, for good or ill.

- Nixon vs. Humphrey 1968; the ground is broken on the path U.S. politics still follows. The Nixon ads - us vs. them, law and order over all, divide-and-conquer. You could use those scripts today; some do. The Humphrey ad making fun of Agnew could be recycled quite easily today as well.

- 1976 This isn't really about the ads themselves, but a thought that came to mind while looking at them: when I remember what the country was like at the time, I can't help but think that whoever won that election was probably screwed. When Harold Macmillan was asked what represented the greatest challenge for a statesman, he replied "Events, my dear boy, events." Events of the time were overtaking the ability of just about anyone to deal with them. They were going to have to run their course, and the President overseeing it was going to take a beating. Part of me wonders if that's going to be the case in 2008.

I Can, But I'd Rather Not

Stefan Fatsis at Slate discusses Tennessee Titans QB Vince Young's recent crisis of confidence in the context of others who have walked away from the NFL on their own terms.

A week before NFL training camps opened in late July, an Indianapolis Colts defensive lineman named Quinn Pitcock delivered a message to his employer: I quit.

That a gifted 24-year-old athlete would voluntarily abandon a career in the glamorous NFL might make little sense to fans.....Ask a player, though, and you'll likely get a different reaction. I'm willing to bet that more than a few Colts privately admire Quinn Pitcock for having the stones to walk away from the NFL—and wish they had them, too.

The surprise isn't that a player like Quinn Pitcock quits the NFL. It's that it doesn't happen more often. "When I tell people that I left after five years on my own, you should see the looks on their faces," says Ed Cunningham, an offensive lineman with the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks from 1992-'96 who's now a college-football analyst for ESPN. "Well, hey, man, it sucked. It was not fun. And oh, by the way, I was getting beaten up every single day at work."

I think "it was not fun" is an underrated factor here. When these guys started playing football, it was for fun or camaraderie or community pride. It took some effort, but their superior physical gifts could carry them. College was probably tougher, but there was still a positive school spirit, as well as (theoretically) the idea that it's a means to an end (a college degree) . At my Alma mater, athletics was strictly for fun; scholarship money was inconsequential, and the faculty attitude was "if you want to do that, it's your problem". I know the big-time schools are different, but there's still a sense of belonging to something outside of football.

The NFL, however, is purely about the entertainment business; the goal is to produce football that people will pay to watch. Combine that with the much narrower talent/physical ability gap between players (few can consistently overpower or outrun others at this level, and if someone can, schemes are devised to account for it), the greater size and speed of players, and the other pressures mentioned in the article, and the result is a grind that requires a special love of the game to tolerate.

This would be an especially big shock to someone like Vince Young, who not only is a unique physical specimen but grew up in Texas, where football is king. Playing would be fun under those conditions. He's probably never had to confront the possibility that he doesn't like football as much as he thought; that it isn't the game itself he enjoys but the perks that come with being the stud QB.

The article mentions that even Vince's mother wonders if he wouldn't be better off without football, as the others mentioned ultimately decided. I also recall Barry Sanders walking away while he was still able to play at a high level and with the all-time rushing record within reach. He just decided he was done. Other people may not walk away on their own but get cut from a team and decide to move on even though they could probably play elsewhere.

People in other fields have had the same conflict; Elizabeth Taylor once said she thought Montgomery Clift would have been happier pumping gas. Most of us have had doubts about our chosen professions at some point, or have gotten sidetracked into something else; when I was in college I would never have guessed I'd be doing what I do. It's just that few reach the level these people did while harboring such misgivings.

Hopefully Vince Young can make the right decision for himself; whatever makes him feel better about life.

A Bleak Picture

I've mentioned this at Dakota 21 and other places, but I thought I'd put it here. Bill Moyers interviewed Kevin Phillips, prolific author and one of those people who, as Bill puts it, " has a history of being way ahead of the curve", about the current financial crisis. He has some pretty harrowing things to say.

But I do have the feeling that this is going to be a big one, that I hate to use the term "innings." But let's say I don't think we're too far into the ballgame. I think we have more of a ballgame to go than we've had.

Where we are, in my opinion, is about halfway through. Halfway through the serious part.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cable TV, Kittens, and Tulip Bailouts

Jon Carroll muses.....about a friend getting cable TV......

It was sort of like talking to someone who was buying her first refrigerator. "You'll love it. You can keep milk for over a week, and you can freeze meat for months, and make spaghetti sauce with yummy fresh September tomatoes and eat it in January. Hardly anything spoils! It's fun!"
Of course, many things on basic cable spoil, or come pre-spoiled, but that's OK because you can only watch one channel at a time.

about a kitten's life.....

Kittens just want to have fun. And if fun is not available, they will create their own fun. The first principle of kitten consciousness is: Everything is fun. That piece of dust is fun. Leaping onto that chair is fun. Aluminum foil - oh such fun. A shopping bag - endless hours of amusement. Flies - love flies. Little dangly things of uncertain function - can't get enough of 'em. Invisible things! Perfect for stalking. Reality is fun, but not necessary.

and about getting government support.

And all I'm asking for is tulip money. I hope the government doesn't want to regulate the tulip market. I hope it doesn't want to decide who can and who can't have tulips. No, it should let the market decide. Give me the money, and I will promise to put it back into the tulip economy. And I will buy retail! Support our nation's nurseries!

Not Giving Up, Unlike Many

I know it's been a few days since I posted anything. I can cite some legitimate reasons (curse the real world!), but sloth was the primary problem; I just couldn't get motivated. But I don't plan on quitting completely and adding to what is already a large pile of internet roadkill, according to a PC Magazine article mentioned at 2 Blowhards.

......research firm Gartner calculated the total number of dead, abandoned blogs at more than 200 million.

I can certainly understand why someone would quit. Unless you have a particular theme, it can be difficult to create and/or find worthy material unless you're especially creative and/or diligent (or your standards for blog-worthy material aren't very high, which too often is my fall-back position). One man in the article caught my eye.

David Thomas, a senior editor at Cars.com who maintains a professional blog (blogs.cars.com) as well as four personal blogs.....

Four personal blogs? Admittedly the man is a professional writer, and I suppose if each blog has a particular topic it can be done, but my fingers ache a bit at the thought.

Part of my problem is some of the blogs I use for comparison, such as Andrew Sullivan and Marginal Revolution, are so prolific that my meager efforts seem pretty inadequate. I have to tell myself that those people are pros and I'm a hobbyist, and keep plugging away while waiting for a Powerball win to allow me to do this all the time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nobody's Fault

Megan McArdle has words of wisdom for this election year.

It would be nice if everything that went wrong in the world was a result of the scheming of our ideological opponents. But the sad fact is, stuff goes wrong. All the time. And there is usually no villain behind it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

It Also Means To Finish

Hannah Betts talks about the fuss over consummating a relationship.

And yet, in practice, sex is rather akin to dancing: something physical and exuberant that makes most of us look like arses.

As the American writer and wit Anita Loos decreed: "Sex, which has been acclaimed by too many misguided poets as an utopian activity, seldom attains that status in the human race." Like life, it has a tendency to be nasty, brutish and short, which may or may not be exactly how one likes it.

Fading Hope

James Lileks is losing ground to the electric gremlins.

......I am having network problems. The modem problem has been eliminated. The router problem has been eliminated, and I know this because I bought a new one, plugged it in, and had the same problems. Which is like divorcing someone because she picks her teeth with a knife, marrying her twin, then watching her pick up knife on your honeymoon and remove spinach from her gums. You have to say you weren’t warned, in an overall sense, but it’s still disheartening. The only thing I can do now is check the wiring, and if the cords seem stout and strong, hang myself with them.

Day Off

Against my will, I was up and about early on a day off. Sunday evening my car's exhaust began sounding like a teenage boy had gotten to it. A trip to the local Tire-Muffler-Alignment shop revealed that the appropriately named Flex Pipe - meant to allow everything else to shake without completely disconnecting - had flexed one too many times and broken off. $82 for a new one to be installed in a little over an hour; not too bad by today's frightening car-repair standards.

The wait (which was optional; the store owner offered to let me drive his vehicle home and come back later, but I didn't have anything pressing to do) gave me a chance to take in the ambiance. Fox News on the TV; fortunately I was the only one there, so I could turn that down before intestinal cramps set in. A stack of Automobile and Outdoor Life magazines for perusing; I'm not an outdoorsy guy but Pat McManus is always funny. A Golden Labrador named Bob that has a classically gentle disposition (only getting excited when a pickup with two other dogs in the back pulled up) and is always amenable to a good scratch. Registration forms for a local fishing tournament at the counter. All in all, a classic South Dakota repair shop.

This temporary downtime forced me to drive the wife's car, which reminded me how vehicles become molded to fit the person who usually drives them. The (non-powered) outside rear view mirror has settled into the setting for her and resists adjustment. Likewise the driver's seat has become comfortable where it is and would prefer to be left alone. The fact that it's a Dodge while mine is a Ford contributes to the feeling, as all the controls are just a bit different, so a reflexive reach for a knob or lever frequently doesn't produce the desired result. Then there are the contents; Grandbaby-related items such as spare diapers and a frame into which the baby carrier/car seat locks, which always reminds me of the canvas baby swing my parents had for us, which could be unhooked from the frame and hung over the back of the car seat for transporting baby. Different times indeed, although as a toddler I survived a car accident in that swing with only minimal injury.

I'm clicking between The Price Is Right, where Drew Carey seems to be settling in as host, and CNBC, where the various commentators are competing to find out who can get the most excited about the Lehman Brothers/Merrill Lynch hooha while another investment honcho says his company will come out of it looking like one of the Price Is Right models. That's the way it seems to work; once one of those outfits sinks low enough the government saves it and/or another company makes money disposing of the carcass. It's hard to get too worked up about it.

Well,off to roam the information superhighway (how's that for a flashback term?) in search of silliness. It never takes long.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Less Beefcake

As the New England Patriots face their first full game without Tom Brady, The Onion assesses the collateral damage.

But football and demographics analysts agree that Brady's injury surely changes the rugged, weatherbeaten complexion of the entire NFL, where the Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls since 2001 with Brady as their quarterback and spokesmodel, were the strong female-fan favorite. However, Belichick denied the team reached out to any other more experienced or handsome quarterbacks.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It Makes You Stronger

Mark Vernon gave a talk on the role of suffering in contributing to well-being.

It is common to equate wellbeing with happiness. However, I prefer to think of wellbeing as something more subtle and expansive than our word happiness can capture. It has to do not only with living a life, but with living it well – well-being.

Friedrich Nietzsche highlighted a related insight about suffering and wellbeing. He noted that times of hardship can teach people certain things and deepen their emotional lives; that is, they can improve their overall wellbeing. He put this rather well, when he pointed out that pain can be a great source of wisdom. ‘There is as much wisdom in pain as there is in pleasure,’ he wrote.

I commented there that suffering can contribute to well-being in that it can be the one step back that motivates you to take two steps forward. Many people have been driven by suffering to improve their lives in ways that may not have happened if they had just been able to continue on their "happy" way.

Mark also took issue with so-called positive psychology.

Positive psychology has little discussion of the role of pain and suffering in life, let alone exploring whether it might be part of a good life. When the question of pain does appear, the response might be summed up as: ‘Positive emotions undo negative emotions’.

I suspect that the inability of positive psychology to ask questions about suffering with much sophistication is due to the discipline’s implicit hedonism. By this I mean that it is tied to a philosophy of life in which pleasure is the key measure of wellbeing.

I certainly agree. Elsewhere in the article he mentioned Victor Frankl's suffering in the concentration camps. There were guards at those camps who got pleasure and a sense of well-being from inflicting that suffering;does that make their actions acceptable from the point of view of positive psychology? I see another weakness, in that the minimization of suffering can lead to a complacency which stifles the self-improvement I mentioned.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Domestic Negotiation

Jon Carroll notes that the marriage license is only the beginning.

Marriage is an apparently simple contract that has all sorts of hidden codicils and exclusionary clauses and subsidiary agreements to be negotiated sometime after the ceremony. I do not believe that marriage is necessarily between a man and a woman, but I do believe that marriage is a lifelong exercise in ad hoc contract law.

Bananas and Celery

QT passes along some facts previously unknown to me.

A bunch of celery isn't a bunch, but a stalk, which is made up of individual ribs.

Which reminds QT that it isn't a bunch of bananas, but a hand of bananas, with each banana a finger.

Bananas are an herb, by the way.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Larry King Has Had It Easy

Love at last.

After 24 failed marriages, a 49-year-old porter in eastern Nepal says that he has finally found happiness in his latest union.

And I thought my third one made me a slow learner. Like me, he finally got it right.

Ramchandra Katuwal, of Khandbari municipality in Sankhuwasava, and his wife recently celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary.

He didn't start young.

He first got married when aged 26.......

That would be 25 marriages in 16 years. Most of them ended the same way.

His first wife set a precedent followed by many of her successors: she eloped with her lover.

This is it.

Mr Katuwal says that he is now so happy he has vowed not to marry again. Instead, he wants to focus on his children's education.

He thinks he knows why things went wrong so often.

He says that the constant battle against poverty could well be why so many of his wives left him.
Mr Katuwal's work as a porter is a tough job for low pay.

Why did he keep trying?

"I wanted to have a wife, because a house is not house without a wife," he said.

Free to Ruminate

Justice is served in the Congo as prisoners are freed.

Deputy Justice Minister Claude Nyamugabo said he found the goats just in time during a routine jail visit. The beasts were due to appear in court, charged with being sold illegally by the roadside.

This is an understatement.

The minister said many police had serious gaps in their knowledge and they would be sent for retraining.

A Different Smoking Ban

QT offers Chicago mayor Daley assistance with defending the city's gun ban.

Calls were placed to state and federal agencies ranging from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

A question was asked. It was a question most had not heard before.

But finally an answer is starting to take shape.

When a handgun is fired, it releases gases and other residue, including, for starters, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are carcinogenic.

Repeat. Carcinogenic.

You may see where this is heading, Mr. Mayor. You’ve just been trying to ban handguns for all the wrong reasons.

But now you know what to do.
You now have at your disposal two of the most feared words spoken these days:

Secondhand smoke.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

At Least He Can Cook

The Prime Minister of Thailand has big problems.

Thailand's Constitutional Court Tuesday fired the country's prime minister, Samak Sundaravej, for violating the constitution by hosting a TV cooking show while in office.

Ministers are barred from working for private companies, and Samak's opponents filed the case hoping that a conviction will compel him to step down.

Samak appeared in court Monday, and argued that he had not violated any rules.
His work for the television company, he said, was as a freelancer and not an employee.

I like the name of the show.

The 73-year-old Samak continued to appear sporadically on the show "Tasting while Grumbling" after he became prime minister in February. On the show, he served up personal favorites and dished on topics that struck his fancy.

He can add this trouble to his list.

Samak was already facing charges of corruption, appealing a three-year prison sentence for defaming a deputy governor and dealing with an election commission decision last week that his party committed electoral fraud in the December elections and should be dissolved.
In addition, thousands of protesters have camped outside the Government House, the government's headquarters -- blocking Samak from entering since August 26. The protesters are demanding that Samak step down. They accuse him of being a proxy for his ousted predecessor, Thaksin Shinawatra.

Monday, September 8, 2008

But He is British

In addition to getting whipped by Roger Federer in the U.S. Open final, Andy Murray has had to suffer the indignity of being called English.

Former tennis player Wendy Turnbull, an Australian now commentating for the BBC, says: "It was funny, I was upstairs in the players' lounge and I heard some Americans go 'Oh, the Englishman won.'

"Then someone said 'He's Scottish!' and the others said 'We meant to say British, not English.' So Americans are correcting other Americans and saying he's Scottish."

I thought this was informative.


England, Scotland, Wales = Great Britain

Northern Ireland + Great Britain = United Kingdom
BUT many will use "Britain" as shorthand for UK, not just GB

GB also includes Isle of Wight, Scillies, Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands, but not Isle of Man and Channel Isles

Great Britain + Republic of Ireland + Channel Isles + IoM = British Isles

Saturday, September 6, 2008

As Long As They're Together,How About Stripes 2?

Back on May 30 I posted a story that plans were afoot for another Beverly Hills Cop movie, and wondered what else would be revived. Well......

Columbia Pictures is getting serious about scaring up a new installment of its blockbuster "Ghostbusters" franchise.

I like this idea better, assuming the original cast reassembles and can revive the old energy; none of them have gotten any younger (although Sigourney Weaver is holding up well) . A good together-again-after-drifting-apart script, perhaps with some younger assistants, might work out.

Same Land, Fewer Farmers

Monica Davey writes in the New York Times about Iowa's disappearing barns and what they represent.

What had in the 1930s been an ordinary farm here — 80 or 160 acres and a few cows and sheep and chickens — is today far bigger and more specialized to pay for air-conditioned, G.P.S.-equipped combines and tractors, so much fuel and the now-skyrocketing price of farmland.

The result.....

When the W.P.A.’s writers came through, they wrote that Iowa had 221,986 separate farms on land totaling more than 34 million acres. Today, on only a little less land (31.5 million acres), Iowa has just 88,400 farms. More than half the farmland is owned by people 65 years old or older, an Iowa State University farm economist says, and about half of that is owned by those 75 or older.

It's not that there aren't young people who would like to farm.

Brice Hundling, 27, returned to Breda, Iowa, not long after he graduated from Iowa State University, hoping to build up a farm. He and his wife, Melanie, 26, have struggled to find cropland they can afford to buy or rent.

“You go to the auction and there’s always someone that farms like 10,000 acres and so they can pay $7,000 an acre,” said Ms. Hundling......

“They sit and complain there’s nobody in the small towns anymore, there’s nobody in our schools,” Mr. Hundling said. “And then they go and rent it to the guy that’s already farming 10,000 acres and lives 30 miles away, 40 miles away, 100 miles away.”

Those distant farmers, Mr. Hundling said, are unlikely to pack the local restaurant. Nor will they likely fill the school bus near Mrs. Fort’s house. Or slow the disappearance of Mr. Scott’s prized barns.

The Party's Over

Avi Steinberg, while working as as security guard at the Republican convention, had a late-night talk with a long-time party activist.

But Charles Hunter, an environmentalist delegate from New Hampshire and a veteran of Republican conventions going back to the 1980 coronation of Ronald Reagan at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, can't sleep at all.

"This is my last convention," he tells me, lighting a cigarette.


"I'm a real McCain guy. I served. But I liked the old McCain -- when he was a true hero, before he signed on with the yahoos. I actually believe in 'country first.'"

"Not a fan of Palin?"

"If I were McCain I'd probably bring her onto my ticket, too. That's exactly the problem. I guess I tricked myself into thinking that McCain, even after he watered himself down for the election, could somehow restore sanity. The Democrats tried to paint him as a twin of Bush. Not true. But Palin ... she does remind me of Bush. McCain has made a devil's pact and sealed this party's fate."

Even though he's older, he smokes his cigarette like a young man, with earnest haste, before he flicks it off into the dark.

"That's it," he said, "we're through. Even if we win, we've lost."

Lightening Up for Love

A new study confirms something those of us who have used it already know.

Anthropologist Gil Greengross, who conducted a two-year study into the art of seduction, has discovered that self-deprecating humour is the most attractive trait in a man.

It has to be handled with caution, though.

"It is a risky form of humour because it can draw attention to one's real faults, thereby diminishing the self-deprecator's status in the eyes of others," the New Mexico University scientist said.

I loved this.....

But can there be any truth in the rumour that one of the Irish respondents in the survey said: "I tried to be less self-deprecating, but I was just rubbish at it."

Off He Goes

Chris Erskine takes his youngest child to kindergarten.

Is this any place for a kid? I don't mean this school, I mean this world. He is eagerly stepping into a land where no one seems to agree on anything and half of all e-mails seem like scams. He is stepping confidently into a world peppered with Nike swooshes, where all events are sponsored by Visa, where religion and journalism are now based on the bottom line.

Big business is running amok. Baseball is adopting instant replay. Alyssa Milano is getting another TV show. Where does it all end? Is there no stopping this train wreck? Where are the populist firebrands demanding a fair shake? Where's the next Harry Truman, the next Upton Sinclair? Heck, right now, I'd settle for the next George Carlin.Maybe he or she is here, climbing the steps to Miss Price's room, with a Thomas the Tank Engine backpack. I hope so. No, I pray so.

Maybe It Really IS for Show

Lemmonex isn't impressed with her new neighbors', um, amorous stylings.

New neighbors, I don’t believe your orgasms last that long. Who are you trying to kid? These performances are not erotic or titillating, but saddening and hollow. Do you, perhaps, watch too much porn and think this is what sex sounds like? Shall I maybe pony up and get you some acting lessons?

A possibility occurred to me that I didn't see mentioned in the comments; it may be that they're trying to make some of their own porn, either for private or public consumption. All that so-called amateur video on the internet has to come (so to speak) from somewhere.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Of Course She Can Handle It

Dave Barry lays some concerns to rest.

I don't know about Palin. But I do know this: women in general are WAY better at work/home multi-tasking than -- to pick another gender at random -- men. I base this statement on my wife, who recently was in Beijing, reporting on the Olympics, while I was at home, theoretically getting our 8-year-old daughter ready for third grade. We had several phone calls like this:

MY WIFE (answering her phone while typing a story on an extremely tight deadline in a very loud sports arena): Hello?
ME: Hey, sorry to bother you, but I can't find the...
MY WIFE (typing): It's in the drawer under the kitchen phone.
ME: Ah! Thanks. Also, which...
MY WIFE (typing): Her pink sneakers.
ME: OK, I know you're busy, so I'll let you...
MY WIFE (typing): You have a booger poking out of your right nostril.

So I think it's time for the voters, Republicans and Democrats alike, to set this whole ''Mommy Wars'' issue aside and agree that what qualifies a person to be president of the United States is NOT that person's gender or domestic situation. What qualifies a person to be president of the United States is whether or not that person is my wife.

A Full Fifty

Tuesday a co-worker noted that Keanu Reeves just turned 44 years old. I had mentally filed this bit away for later disposal when I read that Michael Jackson turned 50 last week. Something about that narrow age difference struck me, and led to a gaggle of Googling.

George Clooney and Brad Pitt have a movie coming out. Clooney is 47 (as is Barack Obama), Pitt 44. Madonna is 50. Bono is 48. Condoleeza Rice is 51. All well within Jackson's age group. Yet all were far from attaining celebrity when the Jackson 5 danced up the singles charts in early 1970, sharing chart space with Elvis, The Beatles, and Frank Sinatra. Gary Glitter, who would enjoy considerable musical success in the U.K. and later be convicted of offenses similar to those of which Jackson has been accused, was still known as Paul Raven. M*A*S*H, Patton, and Love Story were released. John McCain was a POW, George W. Bush was in the Texas Air National Guard, and the Watergate burglaries were two years away.

More than enough has been said and written about Jackson (his Wikipedia article is huge), but it's a milestone like 50 that reminds us just how much has been crammed into a relatively short life. Fronting an internationally successful band at 12; the massive solo career; the highs, lows and miscellaneous weirdness of his personal life - any of those would be more than enough to power a celebrity career. Just look at all those who make a fine living off so much less.

Sarah Palin, Meet Kate Moore

AMC had The Enforcer on last night, and something about Tyne Daly's character rang a bell. Her qualifications for police inspector: Felony arrests - none. Misdemeanor arrests - none. Actual investigative work experience - none. But she got the job because she's female and appeals to the right people. Of course,in this story she struggles through her inexperience and eventually wins over her skeptical partner.

Perhaps this is the scenario McCain hopes for with Palin, that she can win over skeptics (including, I suspect, himself; he's never been the kind of conservative she is). Dirty Harry would seem to be his kind of guy, and there's a similar sense of picking her for her gender and appeal to the right people (conservatives). Which brings up a serious question; is John McCain that kind of guy, and do we want a Dirty Harry type as President? Someone who makes spontaneous, risky decisions, collateral damage be damned? Someone who goes it alone, figuring he can shoot his way out of trouble? Aren't we just finishing eight years of that? After all, being involved with Harry didn't do his partners, including Kate, any good.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wearing Out Granddad

Magnus Linklater gets in deep with grandkids.

The only way to survive is to impose Victorian standards of behaviour......

This can work because....

Oddly, children will accept a regime required by grandparents that would elicit tears and tantrums if attempted by their parents.

It is possible, of course, that, at the age of 3 and 7, our grandsons were simply indulging two ancient and clearly demented characters who were nevertheless the source of sweet and unhealthy treats banned at home.

It is possible, too, that both sides get something out of showing up the parents. As someone said once: “Grandchildren and grandparents get along so well because they have a common enemy.”

My experience with my two granddaughters, ages 8 and 6, is generally similar, although I'm 20 years younger than Magnus, which means more energy but less of that aura of antiquity. The younger one, however, seemed much more impressed with my turning 46 than her Grandma turning 50; I guess 46 sounds older.

I do wholeheartedly agree with his assessment.

On the whole, however, my one-man report on the grandparental role is positive on both sides.

A View from the U.K.

Alice Miles of the London Times has conflicting thoughts about Sarah Palin.

Call her a “mom”? The mother of a pregnant, unmarried 17-year-old daughter, presumably going through one of the tougher periods of her life, who decides at that point to run for president and make the teenager vulnerable to the scrutiny of the entire world? Gee, mom, thanks.

Yes, she is running for president, Sarah Palin. Any deputy to a 72-year-old man with four bouts of cancer behind him has to be seen as doing just that.

If someone is to present womankind on the international stage, please let it not be Mrs Palin. Please not her, I think. Or part of me thinks. For even as I think it, another part of me cheers.

Somewhere inside me is another person who glories in this woman. I hate her beliefs, but I love that she has the guts to hold them. I hate her campaigning against abortion, but I love her personal decision to have the baby with Down's syndrome.

John McCain's Flying Circus

I'm really sorry about this, but the vision keeps popping into my head. Just imagine.....

John Cleese is talking on the telephone to someone. "Yes, of course it was a surprise, but I've known the man for 40 years. We did some great work together, and he's become a seasoned world traveler since. I'm sure he'd make as good an American Vice-President as anyone.....what?.......SARAH Palin!......who the hell is she?

Monday, September 1, 2008

To Huron and Back

Garrison Keillor went to Iowa's; James Lileks went to Minnesota's; I thought I'd better speak up for South Dakota.

My wife, our daughters, a friend of my daughter, Grandbaby and I went to the State Fair Friday evening and Saturday. My wife wanted to see George Jones in concert Friday night for her 50th birthday, so she and I went to that while the girls (except for Grandbaby, who hung out with my Mom) used the carnival rides to inflict dizziness and gastric distress upon themselves.

I've never been a big fan of George Jones, but the old guy (77 later this month) did give a good effort; he was onstage for a solid 90 minutes. He can't sing like he once did, but most of his repertoire doesn't require soaring vocals; he can still croon well enough. His backup band, as you would expect, was thoroughly professional. I didn't know until I got there that South Dakota native Sherwin Linton was opening for him. Linton has been at it for about as long as Jones; I remember hearing about him when I was a kid. He's a Johnny Cash-style performer (he even titled an album "Hello, I'm not Johnny Cash"), and he still does it pretty well. Best of all, he knows what an opening act is about; he gave a solid 40 minutes or so, then stepped aside.

Before the show we wandered the food avenue looking for something relatively inexpensive and edible, finally settling on a pretty decent roast beef sandwich from the South Dakota Cattleman's Association booth, on the theory that since they produce the stuff they have an extra interest in making it good. They also had the added motivation of the South Dakota Pork Producers selling sandwiches next door; there was a bit of huckstering from both sides. Later I saw a booth offering alligator on a stick and was tempted to try it just as a novelty, but $6 for what appeared to be 4 small pieces of fried something was a bit steep for me.

My wife and I didn't wander through too many buildings; we've seen most of this before, and the heat made such incursions a threat to respiration. She did look over the wares for sale at the Senior Citizen's building while I bought a relatively cheap root beer float ($2 for a 12-oz can of root beer and a cup of ice cream - mix it yourself). We spent a lot of time at her favorite carnival game, Coin Push. Drop a token onto a flat surface with other tokens, small prizes and chips that can be exchanged for larger prizes; a board pushes everything toward a drop slot; whatever falls out is yours. It can be a bit addictive. My wife and stepdaughter both really get into it.

My daughter and her friend went through the reptile exhibit, while a man who worked there tried unsuccessfully to get my stepdaughter to pet a small snake he was holding. She did take Grandbaby on a camel ride in the kangaroo-pouch carrier she uses, and the petting zoo was a big hit. We missed the pig races, and I don't believe they had the trained bear show from last year, which drew huge crowds. They didn't have any of these attractions when I was growing up just a few miles from the Fair. It's good to see them trying to spice things up.

I did notice something interesting while carrying around Grandbaby (she wanted nothing to do with the bassinet-like stroller; there were Things To Be Seen). There's nothing like a small baby for positive female attention. The smiling, pointing and cooing were steady. I think I could have strolled through the women's restroom at the grandstand without much recrimination. I must note that I didn't use the kangaroo pouch. I guess I'm too old-fashioned, plus I have two arms but only one back.

Our strolling was limited by a desire to keep her out of the sun and small-animal-snatching wind, which turned our Saturday evening birthday-celebrating picnic into a merry game of Keep It on the Table. We considered tipping up some picnic tables to serve as a wind break, but potential balance issues nixed that. We had to use clamps to hold the tablecloths down. Nevertheless it was a fine gathering notable not just for my wife's birthday but for my stepdaughter's debut at the Women's Table, where maternal issues are discussed. My Dad, my brothers and I convened at the Men's Table, where the upcoming football season was a subject of much discourse. I know that all sounds terribly traditional, but hey, we went to a fair; what's more traditional than that?