Sunday, November 30, 2008

Too Many Friends

Ariel Leve has succumbed to peer pressure and joined Facebook.

I joined Facebook because I was told to I had to. “You’re missing out,” Sophie said. I enjoy missing out......But missing out on what’s going on with my friends is different. The disparate nature of peoples’ lives means I feel like I’m always in catch-up mode even with close friends.

No problem with that now.

Facebook means I can get status updates and as soon as I joined, one instantly appeared on my screen. “Liza is folding laundry.” I felt so included. God only knows what else I’ve been missing.

The atmosphere is different,and has it's good points.

In real life, my friends are disinterested and distracted. But in cyber life people are very excited (!!!) about everything!!!

The only thing better than having a social life without ever leaving the house is having no obligations or responsibilities for maintaining this beyond an occasional click of a button.....All of which has led to a startling discovery: I’m so much better as a virtual friend than I am as a real friend.

There are some oddities.

I thought about posting my own status update but figured “"I just woke up - going back to bed - may snore” wouldn’t be of much interest. I was wrong. There’s no minutia too small to report.

As usual, she's pessimistic.

I predict it will all end badly......I'll end up losing my real friends because I don't have enough time for them thanks to keeping up with new people I'll never see or speak to.

I've never looked at Facebook, but it sounds like a fancier version of the old instant messaging systems. I had some use for one then, but I really can't see a need now, and I'm not sociable enough to want to try to maintain communication with a bunch of strangers while trying to do what in my life passes for useful work.

Bad First Impression

Dom Joly is invited to a big-time party.

I'm going to meet the kingpin, the head of the social salon: Jeremy Clarkson.
It's a casual, polite invitation from Alex James (bassist of Blur and now Lord of Cheese) to his 40th birthday celebrations, but I bite his hand off and agree before he can change his mind.


It starts off fine.

We arrive and wander in. It's all very casual and cool. Huge legs of lamb are being cooked and interesting, arty people wander about. Oh look! There's the guitarist from Blur... stay cool, pretend to be unimpressed. Well done. I have a couple of looseners – nothing too extreme but I'm feeling good and this is going to be fun.

Then the big moment.

Suddenly a huge shadow covers me and the tall figure of Clarkson is in front of me. "What are you up to at the moment?" he asks from somewhere high above.

Then it goes bad.

I open my mouth to reply wittily and realise that I am about to vomit......I start to say something but can feel that it's not making much sense as I'm trying very hard not to puke all over him.

I stagger out of the room and find Stacey dancing lasciviously with Alex James. I tell her that I have to leave ... now.

Twenty minutes later, just past Burford, I make her stop the car. I get out and vomit profusely before slipping into the ditch and falling on to a barbed wire fence that cuts me up really badly. I pray that nobody can see me.

He doesn't think it's the booze. Whatever it is, it hasn't dulled his capacity for understatement.

This had not been a good night. I have a bug; I'm not drunk, despite what Stacey thinks.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Which God Is This Again?

Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt has a post with a video of a woman, shall we say, declining two Mormon missionaries' offer to discuss religion. My late Grandfather used to act similarly; I recall when the Unification Church showed up at his door and introduced themselves, his greeting was "oh,the god damned moonies, eh?". My uncle told me of an incident when Mormons showed up while Granddad was sitting on the porch cleaning his shotgun for hunting season. As they turned up the sidewalk he closed the breech with a loud click and said, "that's close enough, boys".

This led me to ponder talking points for such encounters......

"I'm God, and I don't recall approving your group."

"Is this the devil-worshipping, baby-killing religion? I already have that literature."

"You boys make a nice couple. You should consider getting married."

"Where do you get your clothes? My wife wants me to dress up like that for sex."

"For communion I prefer black cherry Kool-Aid powder dissolved in vodka. You?."

"I have worshipping your god scheduled for three days next week."

If you have the chance, take off all garments below the waist before you answer the door. Vehemently deny your nudity if they say anything.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Eat It As It Is

Jill Hunter Pellettieri wants you to skip the fancy turkey recipes.

Do not be tempted by that recipe for turkey and leek risotto. Those stringy last bits of gristle and meat that cling to your bird are better suited to the raccoons who rummage through your garbage. Do you really want to morph the centerpiece of your most ceremonial meal of the year into turkey bundles (stuffed with turkey, cream cheese, dill weed, and water chestnuts, among other things)?

I'm not saying to abandon leftovers entirely. On the contrary: Embrace them. Just don't turn them into some bastardized concoction. Enjoy them for what they are.

Thank Somebody

Mark Vernon is slightly perplexed by the philosophy of giving thanks.

Imagine one day you check your bank account and suddenly find $1 million in it. It's not a mistake. It's yours. But to whom to say thanks?

Theists are people who have discovered who's put the money in, and they can be thankful.

Atheists are people who conclude it's a glitch, and one for which they are glad, though they've no-one to thank.

Agnostics are people who spend the money trying to find out who is their benefactor!

Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt has some thoughts that relate to this.

Mostly I am thanking other people, on whose shoulders we all stand in so many ways, but I think there's a valid intransitive use of the verb to thank. It just refers to the way things are, and it's worthwhile to take a moment to be mindful of all the good in the world.

Blowout Indeed

Dave Barry provided one couple's answer to the dilemma of what to do when the football game is boring.

The duo — a 38-year-old woman and a 26-year-old man from Carroll and Linden, Iowa, respectively — turned a handicapped toilet stall into their love nest about 8:30 p.m., late in the Hawkeyes' 55-0 trouncing of the Gophers.

A crowd of intoxicated fans gathered in the restroom to laugh and cheer the off-the-field action, until an Avalon Security guard tipped off University of Minnesota police to the ruckus.

The legal repercussions were minor, but the personal fallout may be more troublesome.

.....the woman was embarrassed about being caught: She initially gave a false name to officers and had to be identified by her husband before she was released.

The man was attending the game with his girlfriend, according to police.

Canine Contentment

I hope everyone had would be considered a good Thanksgiving. I suppose good company and/or good food would constitute the standard description; some would add good football, in which case they were disappointed unless they are Cowboys or Titans fans.

I worked until 3pm and my wife went to work at 5, so there weren't any festivities at my house. She and my daughter did have dinner at my wife's grandmother's place. I got to spend the evening babysitting Grandbaby, so the good company goal was achieved.

James Lileks had a fine day, and his dog did even better.

Jasper Dog got his usual plate at the end of the meal – no bones, don’t worry. Then he parked himself in the kitchen and put his head between his paws and stared up at the leftovers for an hour. Now he’s up on the bed, stretched out as if leaping across a great chasm.

I just went into the bedroom to see how he was – eyes twitching, mouth moving, paws vibrating in some ancient dream. He woke up – stretched – gave my hand a lick – and silently issued a hind-gust that would make Satan himself drop to one knee – although whether in horror or admiration, I can’t say.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Three Birds Wrapped in Pig

I first happened upon this via a commenter at Balloon Juice.

Turbaconducken. That’s right — a chicken stuffed in duck stuffed in a turkey, all wrapped in bacon.

I thought only the outside was bacon-wrapped,but no.....

We started by wrapping the chicken pieces in bacon.
Then we split the duck into two halve and wrapped the duck halves in bacon.

This should, of course, be washed down with bacon-flavored bourbon.

Going Down Fast

As he leaves Afghanistan, Robert Fisk assesses the situation. It's not good.

This is not the democratic, peaceful, resurgent, "gender-sensitive" Afghanistan that the world promised to create after the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

"Nobody I know wants to see the Taliban back in power," a Kabul business executive says – anonymity is now as much demanded as it was before 2001 – "but people hate the government and the parliament which doesn't care about their security. The government is useless."

Afghanistan is just a battlefield of ideology, opium and political corruption.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cooking the Turkey

Advice from Dave Barry.

The only way to be sure you've killed all the bacteria in your turkey is to cook it until a meat thermometer inserted into the breast melts, indicating that the turkey has attained the same internal temperature as the sun.

The "hot" new Thanksgiving culinary trend is to cook turkeys in big deep-fat fryers, which are hugely popular because they give guys an excuse to spend Thanksgiving outside drinking beer and messing around with a device that could potentially destroy an entire neighborhood.

You may wonder: Is there a more humanitarian option that you can serve for Thanksgiving dinner? There certainly is: It's tofu, a semi-foodlike substance secreted by soybeans as a defense mechanism. Tofu can be used as a high-protein meat substitute, as well as a denture adhesive or tile grout.

Card Shark

Will Smith - no, not the actor - has some thoughts on his recently acquired ability to play bridge.

The element of mind-reading involved in silently agreeing a trump during the bidding stage makes picking your partner a delicate process. In one beginners' game I played, it might have helped if mine had known the difference between clubs and spades. They also suggested it would be easier if more colours were introduced to the pack. This is the sort of person you should follow to see how they manage to open doors.

Bill Gates Plays Bridge Online, of course. He may play it in person as well, but he definitely part-owns bridgebase.com and regularly uses it. I tried to join in, but, typically, Bill required me to run Windows on my Mac, something I am not prepared to do. If I wanted my Mac to run like a PC I would leave it out in the rain and whack it with a hammer before turning it on.

Bovine Tranquility

Jon Katz has been inspired by his pet steer.

But I had an unsettling realization recently, which is that my steer Elvis already has the spiritual equanimity I have been seeking. He is comfortable within himself, has no discernible anxiety, rolls with life as if it were a gentle wave, is uncomplaining, generous and loyal to his mate, and trusts and accepts people.Cold, rain, snow, flies, ticks, mud, and muck—none disturbs him. He is as peaceful covered in ice as he is taking in the sun with the Guernsey steer, and his pal, Harold.

I am finding in Elvis the spiritual life I have been searching for myself. A few months ago, I brought Elvis a volume of W.B. Yeats poems. I don't like poetry much, but I often read poems to Elvis, as he seems to love them, swishing his tail to keep the flies off his gargantuan butt. Elvis has his own rhythms. He is usually in the same place at the same time doing the same thing—eating, mostly—every day. I've read St. Augustine's City of God to him, some James Herriott, Merton, and Carl Sandburg, to appeal to his masculine side. I've read from C.S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain, and more recently, I climbed to the top of the hill and read from an anthology of haiku, which seemed appropriate for such a centered, easygoing creature.

I read two or three Yeats poems to him and put the book down, and Elvis ate the paperback, almost inhaled it, really, and enjoyed it as much as any donut. Then he looked up at me, as if to say, "What's next, bub?" What was next was my sitting down next to him and the two of us spending a lovely hour chewing our respective cuds and staring meaningfully at nothing in particular. I enjoyed it. Elvis is a contemplative, capable of long hours of meditation and observation. Sometimes, it rubs off on me.

Of course,there's a reason for this calm.

Elvis is not, to my knowledge, self-aware. He has no consciousness that I can see. He eats, rests, and stares out at the world, content to observe it.

Swimming For Its Life

More video via Andrew Sullivan......a penguin vs. killer whales.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Late Bloomer

A long-awaited breakthrough.

A Dorset dairy farmer has ended his 28-year losing streak as an amateur jockey by finally winning a race.

He's going out on top.

After achieving his lifelong ambition riding Wise Men Say, he is planning to retire to concentrate on milking his cows in Sturminster Newton.

They'd Fit Right In

A new player enters the financial world.

The pirates would buy Citigroup with new debt and their existing cash stockpiles, earned most recently from hijacking numerous ships, including most recently a $200 million Saudi Arabian oil tanker. The Somali pirates are offering up to $0.10 per share for Citigroup, pirate spokesman Sugule Ali said earlier today.

The pirates will finance part of the purchase by selling new Pirate Ransom Backed Securities. The PRBS's are backed by the cash flows from future ransom payments from hijackings in the Gulf of Aden. Moody's and S&P have already issued their top investment grade ratings for the PRBS's.

Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

Sound Familiar?

Via Andrew Sullivan, a blogger reports from the debate in the Iraqi parliament over the security agreement.

It seems like 70% of the Iraqi MP’s have no idea what is in the agreement.

The opponents of the agreement are using this big national issue to blackmail the government, and they are forgetting their duty to their voters.

Some of them try to use our religion to convince their voters that this agreement will make Iraq submit to the Americans, and they use people’s ignorance about what exactly this agreement includes to make them support their party’s position.

Uninformed legislators......pursuit of political agendas at expense of voters.......invoking religion.....exploiting voter ignorance. They seem to have picked up some of our political system quite well.

Dave's Shopping Tips

Dave Barry asks a basic question.

Why do we give gifts during the holiday season?

The answer.....

We do it for a reason that is as timeless as humanity itself: women. Women have an overpowering biological need to mark pretty much every occasion, including sunset, by wrapping a gift and giving it to somebody, along with a card.Why do women do this? We put that question to some leading psychologists, who responded: ``We think maybe they're insane.'' We would not go as far as leading psychologists.

On the other hand.....

A man buys a gift only when he sees a clear and present need, such as he remembers that his wedding anniversary was last week. Otherwise, when a man is in a store, he is looking for practical items.

This creates an imbalance of gifts. Is there something a man can do to counter this?

There is, and it's right here in your hands: the annual Holiday Gift Guide. This is a list of items that are so unusual that if you give one to your wife, her reaction will be: ''Thank God he did not get me any more.'' And this effect is not limited to your wife: whomever you give a Holiday Gift Guide item to, that person will never want to exchange gifts with you again.

DAVE BARRY'S ANNUAL GIFT GUIDE (each item is a link to a description)
Lottery Mate Multi-Purpose Scratch-Off Apparatus
Head Spa Massager
Talking Fly Swatter
Razorba 'War Hammer' Back Razor
Disaster Preparedness Activity Books
Gun-Shaped Egg Fryer
Pet Highchair
Zombie Yard Sculpture
'Firm Grip' Brand Butt Glue
Restroom Baby-hanger
Hug Me Pillow
Wearable Sleeping Bag
The Uroclub
Gassy Gus Flatulence Game



Just Kick Me So We Can Move On

James Lileks encounters a marital landmine.

While waiting in line to exchange the tile-installation items, my wife said the three words that makes a man steel himself: “I’ve been thinking.” This has many meanings. Since women are always thinking, this often means “I’ve made a decision.” My wife is not given to unilateral aesthetic decisions, though – unless I’m out of town – so it meant she had a suggestion.....

Those aren't as bad as "we need to talk". Six years after the divorce I would still get a cramp when Ex-1 said that. Happily I don't recall my wife ever using that phrase.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bringing Back Some Oil Money

The Saudi king got a checkup in the usual low-key style.

Rochester officials say Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz arrived on November 15 for a checkup at the Mayo Clinic and was accompanied by at least five princes and hundreds of others.

I suppose someone had to hold his hand for the vaccinations. Local businesses were glad to see them.

Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Brad Jones says a conservative estimate of the royal family's spending on the trip to Mayo Clinic is up to $1.5 million.

Hard, Slippery and Mysterious

Scientists discover a new material.

The "ceramic alloy" is created by combining a metal alloy of boron, aluminium and magnesium (AlMgB14) with titanium boride (TiB2). It is the hardest material after diamond and cubic boron nitride.

BAM, as the material is called.....is much slipperier than Teflon, with a coefficient of friction of .02 compared to .05. Lubricated steel has a friction coefficient of 0.16.

As you can imagine, this has lots of potential uses.

One way to exploit this slipperiness is to coat the rotor blades in everyday pumps used in everything from heating systems to aircraft....

BAM is also potentially attractive as a hard coating for drill bits and other cutting tools. Diamond is commonly used for this, and is harder, but it reacts chemically with steel and so degrades relatively quickly when used to cut the metal. By contrast, BAM is cheaper and does not degrade when used with steel.

A commenter added no-wear non-stick pans and no-oil engines. The material is a bit of a puzzle.

The exact reason for the new material's characteristics is still unclear.......Its slipperiness is also not entirely understood.

What about Christopher Robin?

Jeremy Clarkson has had anthropology on his mind.

So how do we break down the human race into groups? This has occupied the minds of some of the greatest thinkers throughout history. But actually I suspect the answer was found in the middle of the last century by AA Milne.

Yup. I gave this some serious thought in the bath this morning and I have decided that we are all either Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo, Wol, Rabbit or Eeyore.

I'm definitely Eeyore.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Groundbreaking Comedy

Shazia Mirza took her standup act to an unlikely place.

I’m in Pakistan, invited by the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop in Lahore as part of its 25th festival of performing arts.

The first impression was positive.

On arriving, I was impressed to find such a well-organised and entertaining festival, the best I have ever performed at.

There was one predictable but oddly worded limitation.

Before my first show I was told: "You can talk about anything you like - drugs, religion, politics - but just don't expose the sex."

"Expose" the sex? Apparently Pakistanis are a horny bunch.

Pakistan is a sexually repressed country where everyone is at it, more than Russell Brand, and yet no one talks about it. Lahore is a city in which the red-light area is at the back of the mosque; less King's Cross, more the halal version of Amsterdam.

The show was a big event.

A British comedian had never performed in Pakistan before; some of these people didn't know what stand-up was, and there were teenage boys running into the venue shouting: "It's a woman comedian!" Outside, there were security men with AK-47s.

It went great, even when she took a chance.

They understood everything, and laughed consistently for an hour and a half. I took this as a sign that I could now do what I normally do, so I told my one and only anal sex joke. Eight people walked out. Yet word obviously got round, because the next three performances were sold out; I even put on an extra show.

She saw some contradictions, and got a taste of the local dark humor.

Pakistan is an anxious and dangerous country; it has a shortage of electricity and wheat......But there are still laser hair removal and liposuction clinics on every corner.......And just like the American dream, there is the Pakistani dream, too - or so everyone in Lahore has been telling me since I got here: "If you kill your wife, you get to be president."

The comments are worth reading. She apparently made quite an impression.

Moving Out, Moving In

Did you ever wonder about the transition process from one Congress to the next? For outgoing legislators, it's a pretty abrupt comedown.

Mere weeks after losing power, defeated or retiring US representatives move to this temporary basement setup from the comfortable office suites where they previously worked. Here they pass their final days in office, each soon-to-be ex-legislator and his or her staff issued a single work space measuring approximately 5'x5'. The cramped cubicle accommodates little more than a tiny desk, a laptop, a phone, and a box of Kleenex.

Bob Beauprez, a former two-term Republican congressman from Colorado who left office in 2006.......recalls his own transition from elected office. "Anybody who's been through [this] who doesn't look in the mirror and wonder if anybody cares anymore…" he says, trailing off. "You go through a little bit of withdrawal. I was significant yesterday—today I'm not."

Before the outgoing members end up there, the mood is different.

During this period, it serves as the temporary quarters for newly elected House members, who are quickly swept up by a whirlwind of activity that includes orientation sessions and postelection parties and mixers. "When you're part of the arriving class, it's a beehive of activity," says David Williams, the chief of staff to Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wisc.), who has escorted both arriving and departing members through the transition process. "It's Grand Central Station at rush hour. When you're there with the departing members, it's Grand Central on Christmas Day. It's empty. In fact, it's pretty morose."

Helene Flanagan, a Hill staffer who has helped to coordinate congressional transitions for 27 years......described both the mechanics and mood of the changeover. "I always say the freshmen members of Congress are like freshmen in college," Flanagan told me, standing among a bank of cubicles. "They're wide-eyed and happy to be here." On arriving, she says, it's straight down to business as new members of Congress are bombarded with information, ranging from ethics tutorials to staffing options. "It's like taking a fire hose to the poor souls, because we provide them with so much information. We get a lot of deer-in-the-headlight looks."

It isn't all work for the freshmen, who are inundated with invites to parties and luncheons held by fellow lawmakers, special interest groups, and lobbyists.

I found this tidbit particularly interesting.

It's a little-known fact that the strict rules [PDF] on gift giving and lobbying that apply to sitting members do not cover members-elect.

Meanwhile, the outbound are packing and decompressing......

Among other things, they must ensure that all the equipment in their office, which technically belongs to the citizens of their districts, is accounted for. If so much as a laptop is missing, the member is held personally liable. "If they don't pay, we take it out of their paycheck," says Flanagan.

For Beauprez.....the postelection period came as a shock. "You go from being in the middle of the nation's business to suddenly the phone doesn't ring," he says. "There's no mail that goes through. There's nobody to respond to."

No Worries About Lint

There was a revelation earlier this week at the Victoria's Secret fashion show.....besides the usual.

The beauty in question is Czech supermodel Karolina Kurkova. The riddle is her non-existent belly button.....While most of us have an "outie" or an "innie", Ms Kurkova has a smooth indentation (although sometimes a tummy button is airbrushed onto her photos in post-production).

Because that would be the first thing noticed in a picture of a scantily-clad model. The reason for it's absence remains a mystery, although one theory has been debunked.

Ms Kurkova has not spoken publicly about how she came to have a smooth navel, and all her agent will say is "she's not an alien".

Well,that's a relief. The most common reasons......

- May be result of abdominal operation in infancy
- Or umbilical cord left to detach naturally
- Adults may have artificial navel after stomach surgery, or cosmetic reshaping


She's doing OK without it.

Forbes magazine ranked her as the eighth highest paid model in the world last year, with estimated annual earnings of over £2m.

On the Same Bus Out of Town

During an article about the Republican Party's recent woes, Rupert Cornwell made an interesting comparison.

As for Karl Rove, aka "Bush's Brain" and once touted as architect of a boundless Republican future, he is now to political strategizing what Alan Greenspan is to central banking.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Renewed Respiration

Scientists give a woman new breath.

To make the new airway, the doctors took a donor windpipe, or trachea, from a patient who had recently died. Then they used strong chemicals and enzymes to wash away all of the cells from the donor trachea, leaving only a tissue scaffold made of the fibrous protein collagen. This gave them a structure to repopulate with cells from Ms Castillo herself, which could then be used in an operation to repair her damaged left bronchus - a branch of the windpipe.

Two types of cell were taken from Ms Castillo: cells lining her windpipe, and adult stem cells - very immature cells from the bone marrow - which could be encouraged to grow into the cells that normally surround the windpipe. After four days of growth in the lab in a special rotating bioreactor, the newly-coated donor windpipe was ready to be transplanted into Ms Castillo.

The results......

Today Ms Castillo is living an active, normal life, and once again able to look after her children Johan, 15, and Isabella, four.

If Only It Were Less True

Sometimes The Onion is too accurate to be parody, as in this woman's "explanation" of her faith.

My faith in the Lord is about the pure, simple values: raising children right, saying grace at the table, strictly forbidding those who are Methodists or Presbyterians from receiving communion because their beliefs are heresies, and curing homosexuals. That's all. Just the core beliefs. You won't see me going on some frothy-mouthed tirade about being a comfort to the downtrodden.

We oppose gay marriage as an abomination against the laws of God and America, we're against gun control, and we fervently and unwaveringly believe that the Jews, Muslims, and all on earth who are not born-again Pentecostalists are possessed by Satan and should be treated as such.

Maybe it's where I live, but here it's too easy to find too many people who come too close to this for it to be as funny as I would like.

Beyond Sunday School

Last night PBS aired an interesting show about the efforts of archaeologists to corroborate biblical historical claims. Among the tidbits:

- The Torah was written by four groups of scribes over a period of several hundred years, with the final compilation by Israeli exiles in Babylon.

- David is the oldest figure whose existence can be independently confirmed.

- No archaeological evidence of the Exodus has been found. It is believed that the actual event involved a much smaller number of people who subsequently hooked up with other groups.

- Likewise, based on excavations at the various sites, the alleged mass conquests of Canaanite cities by Joshua-led Israelites did not happen. Indeed, some evidence indicates that rather than being outsiders, the Israelites were in fact mostly disaffected Canaanites combined with the aforementioned Egyptian escapees.

- The much-ballyhooed (and repeatedly violated) monotheism did not really take hold until after the Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem.

I enjoy shows like this not so much for what they find - the evidence supporting some of the conclusions is at best scant - but for the fact that some of the research is being done by religious scholars and institutions trying to clarify history, even to the point of acknowledging that at least some of their sacred text is inaccurate. They want their faith to be based as much as possible on accurate information.

This is a stark contrast to the popular view of too many believers that because the Bible (or Koran) says it no further inquiry is necessary or even desirable. This shallow, Sunday School level of faith is the biggest contributor to the many acts of stupidity committed by believers.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wanted: Good Conversation

Alain De Botton laments the general inability of people to converse.

.....it is striking how bad most of us are at having a conversation, chiefly because we insist that knowing how to talk to other people is something we are born with, rather than an art dependent on the acquisition of a range of odd and artificially acquired skills.

I certainly wasn't born with it, and growing up as a nerdy kid in a small farming town didn't help.
College was better, but I still tend to listen quietly to what others say, only joining in if a topic of particular interest comes up.

Why do conversations go wrong? Shyness has a lot to answer for. We get scared of opening our souls because we falsely exaggerate the difference between ourselves and others.

So what can be done to help liberate us? We need to learn some manners......We need prescriptions and rules to get us to the natural and raw parts of our characters. Consider the record of the greatest conversation in the Western tradition, Plato's Symposium. The evening is as minutely choreographed as a piece of theatre.

We should be braver. An evening comes alive when we meet people who seem to express our very own thoughts, but with a clarity and psychological accuracy we could not match.

Blogging and the internet in general have been good for my conversational skills, just by enabling me to learn about a great variety of topics and giving me a forum in which to practice organizing and expressing my thoughts. My physical presence still leaves much to be desired; I tend to be shifty-eyed and fidgety.

A Different Path

Rachel Crain had always tended toward a certain type of man, with consistent results.

I had just been dumped by another leather clad, black-haired, silver-ring wearing, I’m-full-of-angst-please-love-me musician type.

As she was killing time in a bar while waiting for a plane, she happened upon someone completely different.

Kevin and Victor pointed out a friend of theirs who was apparently Manhattan’s district attorney. They really liked this guy and said he always had an amusing story about a recent murder case or drug bust.

She wasn't impressed.

I glanced over, noted the short hair and plain T-shirt paired with Gap khakis, and returned to my conversation. I hardly noticed a few hours later when “The DA” came over and horned his way into our discussion. Whatever. He had cigarettes, and I was dying to smoke. I barely remember going outside with him to light up but I was so wasted from the free J├Ąger shots that I accidentally stumbled into him, which he mistook for interest. We started making out on the street in broad daylight. Another drunken regret. He put me in a cab to LaGuardia to catch my flight home.

The next day at work I returned from lunch to find an email from an unknown address in my inbox. “Hi Rachel, Remember me? I’m the guy who hailed you a cab in the LES. If you’re ever back in the city, it would be cool to hang out.” Oh, God. The khaki-pants-wearing DA thinks I might actually be into him. I was so drunk I gave him my contact info.

She still wasn't interested.

I decided not to return his email and deleted it.

But it won't end there.

Two months later, I was back in Manhattan for work and decided to stop by Iggy’s for a drink. I walked in, and there he was. The DA. Assuming he wouldn’t remember me I sat down at the bar and ordered a Bud Light. Minutes later, I heard my name. “Rachel?” He had initiated contact. After I had completely blown him off. This guy had some guts. Finding his confidence kind of hot, I invited him to sit down in the interwoven nylon chair next to me.

They hit it off, even though he wasn't quite what his friends said.

He was smart—he used words like ‘jetstream’ in regular conversation—had a great sense of humor and a job where he made enough money to live in Manhattan without roommates. It turned out he was one of 550 assistant DA’s for Manhattan, not the district attorney.

Later, an epiphany.

Six hours later we slept together. It was the best sex I’d ever had. I never realized that being a self-absorbed artist-musician in life also meant being self-absorbed in bed. I couldn’t believe that my entire love list, from the moment I lost my virginity to the lead singer of Mystery Machine, had been governed by this principle.

The next day the DA emailed to say how much fun he had. This time I wrote back.

Ten months later I moved to New York to be with him.

It only took me 18 years of dating to figure out that it was the dark, tormented musicians’ emails that I shouldn’t have returned.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Nit Picking

Jennifer Fisher Wilson has been battling lice.

I knew that lice still existed, of course, but I had always assumed that they belonged in someone else’s house. So despite receiving a letter from school alerting parents of an infestation, it took three days of watching my son furiously scratching his neck before I realized that he might not have mosquito bites.

The moment I checked, there they were: little wingless, bloodsucking insects skittering over his thick-haired scalp. I wondered how long had they been hiding there, and how I could not have noticed. They were there on his little brother, too, who had also fostered them unnoticed despite having thin, fine, blond hair. Then a quick check in the mirror at my own hair confirmed the inevitable: A single louse perched assertively on my hairline, looking like it had popped out to say, “See, I’ve been here all along.”

Eradicating head lice takes a lot of work. In addition to hair treatments with pesticide shampoo, a visit to the barbershop, and painstaking combing for nits daily for two weeks, everything in the house that can be washed must be washed (that’s piles and piles of laundry), everything that cannot be washed must be put in a hot dryer or bagged and quarantined, and all furniture must be thoroughly vacuumed. As a precautionary measure, I washed the bed sheets everyday for a week. I could not let the bugs come back.

Even when they're gone, they're not forgotten.

Even now, more than a month later, my scalp feels itchy as I write this, and I have checked twice in the mirror to reassure myself that the bugs are really gone.

Supportive Parenting

Jeremy Clarkson has advice for parents who, like him, attend their child's sporting events (in this case, rugby).

First, parents must remember that they are an embarrassment to their children..So here’s a tip when on the touchline. Be normal. If your child’s team scores a try, you may applaud but do not - and this is something I witnessed just two hours ago - run onto the pitch, bellowing like a wounded animal, with a red face, a jugular vein standing 6in proud of your neck and your arms held aloft like a triumphant boxer.

Also, no matter how knowledgeable you might be about the sport you’re watching, do not feel free at any point to offer loud and hectoring advice. This will make everyone on the team want to kick you in the head and, since it’s against school rules to attack visiting fathers, they will simply wait until they are in the showers after the game and kick your child instead.

Furthermore, offering helpful hints at the top of your voice will irritate the ref, who may at some point come over and ask you to be quiet. This - and I’ve seen it happen twice - can end in a fight. And no one wants to see the divisional manager for a supermarket chain rolling around in the mud trying to punch his son’s history teacher in the face.

Family Outing

Dom Joly took his family to a Remembrance Sunday parade.

We cross the Mall and buy one of the most expensive coffees known to man from a little booth in St James's Park. It's a posh part of town, so I wonder whether the extortionate price might be because they are using Kopi Luwak, the highly prized Indonesian coffee beans that pass through the digestive system of the palm civet before being harvested? Sadly, I can't be certain, although it certainly tastes like shit.

Eventually we spot my dad marching with the Fleet Air Arm, their bowler hats bobbing up and down in unison. My kids are excited and we all clap and cheer wildly. My daughter, Parker, becomes contemplative: "Dad, lots of people died in the wars. That's why we are here, isn't it? If Grandpa had died, would I still exist?" She's a thinker, my little girl.

After the parade they go to a restaurant called Simpson's.

My boy, Jackson, is surprisingly happy to be going to Simpson's. He jumps up and down excitedly all the way. I had no idea that a restaurant could have such an impact on him. Once inside, and seated, he appears deflated. I ask what's wrong. "Where's Homer?" He asks in a disgruntled manner.

Coming Soon to Bar Restrooms Everywhere

The latest space shuttle flight is taking some new recycling equipment to the space station.

The new system distills, filters, ionizes and oxidizes wastewater - including urine -- into fresh water for drinking.

Why?

With the space shuttles due to retire in two years, Nasa needed another way to make sure the station crew would have a good supply of fresh water. The orbiters make water as a byproduct of their electrical systems. On missions to the space station, the water is bagged and transferred over to the outpost for storage.

"When the shuttles retire, that nice water-delivery system that we have will go away," said Endeavour astronaut Sandra Magnus, who will be staying behind on the station for a four-month flight.

How well does it work?

The water has been thoroughly tested on Earth, including blind taste tests that pitted recycled urine with similarly treated tap water.

The most frequent comment was the faint taste of iodine in the water, added Nasa's Bob Bagdigian, who oversaw development of the water regeneration system. Iodine is added at the final step of the process to control microbial growth. "Other than that, it is just as refreshing as any other kind of water," Mr Bagdigian said. "I've got some in my fridge. It tastes fine to me."

That's Sturdy Cardboard

Why break out of jail when you can get carried out?

The 42-year-old Turkish citizen - who was serving a seven-year sentence - had been making stationery with other prisoners destined for the shops. At the end of his shift, the inmate climbed into a cardboard box and was taken out of prison by express courier. His whereabouts are still unknown.

Standby for a statement of the obvious.

The chief warden of the jail told the BBC this was an embarrassing incident.

The thief wasn't in the box very long.

Shortly after it had passed through the prison gates, the inmate made his dash for freedom by cutting a big hole in the tarpaulin of the lorry and jumping off.

The warden took the opportunity to pitch for more money.

"I was not surprised that an escape happened on my watch. For years I had been asking for more security guards from the government. But now they'll have to listen."

I'm sure they'll also inquire as to the whereabouts of the current guards during the incident.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stop Digging the Hole

Jon Carroll expresses something that, judging by the latest retail sales figures, many people understand.

We are in a malaise of materialism. I don't believe the way out is more materialism. The way out is to stop relying on stuff to make us happy. Buy less, America. Get out of debt that way. Lower your stress levels. Capitalism will adjust; that's what it's good at. You know how a pizza and a deck of cards can brighten an evening? Try that.

James Lileks has similar feelings.

This may seem heretical, and we certainly don't wish retailers ill, but perhaps a year off from shouldering massive debt because there's a tree in the living room might give us a chance to breathe deep, take stock, settle debts and enjoy the season for the reasons stated on the greeting cards.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mama Africa Passes On

A last sighting of someone from my childhood.....Miriam Makeba died.

Widely known as “Mama Africa,” Ms. Makeba was a prominent exiled opponent of apartheid since the South African authorities revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she traveled abroad.

Ms. Makeba’s musical career spanned five decades, from 1950s recordings with South African vocal groups — the Manhattan Brothers and then her own female group, the Skylarks — through her last studio recording, “Reflections” (2004), and her continuing concert performances.

In the United States she became a star, touring with Harry Belafonte in the 1960s and winning a Grammy award with him in 1965 for “An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba.”

My parents had that album - I think my Dad still has it - and I played it until it was just about non-functional. Not just for her, of course; Belafonte was great live. Perhaps it's just a childhood-colored memory, but I don't believe there was a weak cut on that album.

They Also Make a Good Salt Substitute For Shots

Gee, I haven't posted since Sunday. Once again, it's the usual suspects - a trip to Sioux Falls consumed valuable blogging time, and temporary intestinal troubles squished the desire to sit in front of the computer long enough to produce something worthy of my high standards, such as this, via Marginal Revolution.

A method of producing synthetic diamonds using tequila - Mexico's favourite alcoholic drink - has been discovered, scientists there say.

There is one catch however.The synthetic diamond crystals are too small to be turned into jewellery.

Even so.....

They can be used as an alternative to silicon in computer chips or as ultra fine cutting instruments in medical procedures.

Best of all....

The scientists found that even the cheapest of tequila brands, averaging at $3 a bottle, are good enough to make diamonds.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Laura Ingalls Wilder NC-17

In one country,anyway....

Finland has rated the DVD release of the much-loved children's television series "Little House on the Prairie" suitable for adult viewing only.

Of course there's a silly explanation.

To save money, Universal Pictures decided not to submit the series to state inspection.......
Finnish authorities charge 2 euros ($2.57) per minute for assessing the correct age limit on films and television series. Distributors who forego this can only sell their shows with a sticker saying "Banned for under-18s."

Calvinist Chocolate

Sometimes I just don't know how to react......

Swiss chocolatier Blaise Poyet believes he has captured the essence of the Protestant reformer Jean Calvin in special chocolate pralines he created to mark the 500th anniversary of the religious figure who made his mark on European history.

"It's not easy to represent theological ideas by using the taste buds," acknowledges Poyet.....

I know it can be done,though; certain theological ideas leave a bad taste in my mouth. In case you're wondering about church disapproval, don't worry.....

The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches approached Maison Poyet to produce the chocolates.

Mongolian Grilled

At some time we've all felt like tossing everything and taking off. LeeAnn Marhevsky did it.

Why Mongolia? It represents just about the most distance you can put between yourself and anyone in the western hemisphere......If you are running from something, Mongolia is a great place to hide.

Getting there wasn't easy.

It took three hours to get to Los Angeles and another 13 to get to Beijing. Unfortunately, I landed in Beijing with the intention of going to Mongolia on a day when the Chinese government was incredibly angry with Mongolia. The Dalai Lama was in Ulaan Baatar to visit Gandantegcheling monastery. China decided to punish Mongolia by cancelling and delaying all flights from Beijing to Ulaan Baatar. I spent a long day at a hotel in Beijing until the government let up on the flight ban.

Her teaching job there also developed complications.

Two days before the school year started, the head of the English Department, Boda, informed me that due to a mistake in hiring by the administration I would not be teaching primary school English. I would be teaching primary school science and one or two conversational English classes.

If the administration knew that I — a writing major and Women’s Studies minor — had taken exactly one science class in my entire four years at college they probably wouldn’t have been so eager to entrust me with teaching second, third, and fourth graders everything they needed to know about science.

There were some other interesting policies.

You know why kids in Mongolia are afraid of the office? Because Mongolia is different from the States. Mongolia still believes in corporal punishment...... In Mongolia, if you shove dirt in someone's mouth they make you eat dirt. Actual, physical, black dirt.

I can't help but think that fear of the office isn't all bad.

Violent Sects

Dave Barry pointed me to some good Christian love.

Monks from the Greek Orthodox and Armenian denominations were preparing for a ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City when a disagreement led to a full-fledged fistfight.

The fight began when Armenian clergy were holding a procession to commemorate the finding of the cross believed to have been used in the crucifixion of Jesus.....The Greek members of the clergy wanted one of their monks present..... for fear that the procession would undermine their claim to an ancient structure built on what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus. The two sides could not agree, and when the Armenians tried to begin the procession, the Greek monks stepped in and the fighting began.....

Sounds like many religious conflicts, doesn't it? One side claims that some seemingly trivial and harmless act by another will somehow compromise their beliefs. Rather than just go along with a seemingly equally harmless request, the other side tells them to suck sand. Pointless mayhem ensues.

Many among the dozens of monks came away with cuts and bruises, said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.

I think police should have let them fight it out, winner-take-um.....whatever the winner would have gotten.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Geriatric Evildoers

In low-crime Japan, it's not the young punks; it' s the old folks.

Seniors accounted for 13.3 percent of offenders in 2007, up sharply from just 2.5 percent in 1988. Over the same period the percentage of elderly people in the population nearly doubled to 21.5 percent. Meanwhile the total number of crimes recorded over the period — excluding traffic offenses — dropped 8.1 percent.

It's mostly petty stuff, but not all.

Nearly two-thirds of crimes by the elderly last year were thefts, but the proportion of murders committed by seniors rose 40 percent over the last two decades.

The reasons vary.

Many seniors who were arrested for the first time in their life suddenly turned to crime for reasons including a "feeling that their pride was hurt," the report said.

Elderly people with previous records of serving time showed a tendency to commit crimes out of economic anxiety and apathy in life, it said.

At Least He Can Wear Smaller Prison Garb

Italian officials don't waste time apprehending a suspect.

A suspected Italian mobster who went into a clinic for liposuction surgery has ended up losing more than his excess weight.

Soon after he regained consciousness, police officers disguised as nurses and visitors bearing flowers arrested him in his hospital room.

The Italian news agency Ansa said that Mr Magnoli was still recovering from the effects of anaesthesia when police arrested him.

Righting An Old Wrong

A shop owner gets recompense.

The owner of an Indian food store in Bristol has received an apology letter and £100 from a former drug addict who stole cigarettes from the shop in 2001.

It begins: "Dear Sirs, I am writing this letter to make amends to you for something I have done in the past."

"At that time I was heavily using drugs and my life was in a mess, now I no longer use drugs and I strive to lead a decent and honest life. "

"As part of my ongoing recovery I try to put right all of the wrongs I have done in the past, at least where I can, and this is why I am giving you back the money which I stole from you. "

"I regret the harm I caused you in the past and I sincerely apologise to you for it."

Voting Solo

Nick Arvin voted early, and by mail.

Voting by mail eliminates much of the drama of cycling people through voting booths on a single day, and it is not nothing to lose the opportunity to watch a few strangers go in and out of booths while wondering to yourself how they are voting. An election, after all, is civic and social, a process through which we make communal decisions.

Countering the drawbacks of mail-in voting is the convenience of the thing, which is profound. By filling out my ballot at the dining table one night, I ensured I wouldn’t have to take any time off work. And I appreciated my laptop and Internet connection when trying to remember which amendment — No. 48? 58? — was the one I really, really wanted to vote against.

Doesn't Fit the Profile

Thomas Friedman talks about the effect of Obama's election on foreign relations.

“If you’re a hard-liner in Tehran, a U.S. president who wants to talk to you presents more of a quandary than a U.S. president who wants to confront you,” remarked Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment. “How are you going to implore crowds to chant ‘Death to Barack Hussein Obama’? That sounds more like the chant of the oppressor, not the victim. Obama just doesn’t fit the radical Islamist narrative of a racist, blood-thirsty America, which is bent on oppressing Muslims worldwide. There’s a cognitive dissonance. It’s like Hollywood casting Sidney Poitier to play Charles Manson. It just doesn’t fit.”

We Can Hope They'll Keep Him

Donald Trump has big plans in Scotland.

Mr Trump has vowed to return to Scotland within weeks to start the ball rolling on his controversial golf resort, north of Aberdeen, which he wants to be the greatest in the world.
His plan to build two golf courses, as well as hundreds of homes, has caused business and environmental division for more than two years.


Jeremy Clarkson isn't thrilled.

Just last week an idiotic-looking American man whose hair is on back to front was given permission by cash-strapped Scottish politicians to build what sounds like the single most ghastly development the world has ever seen on top of what appears to be all of Aberdeenshire.

Don't Blame Fat

Edward Bottone defends fat.

Fat, the fat we cook with and eat, is good for you, and I sing its praises. Our bodies need fat. That's right — fat supports cellular growth, the immune system, the brain, and our hormone-producing endocrine system. We'd struggle to function without it. The low- and no-fat era of the last half century made us heavier, not healthier, and in the process has taken a lot of the pleasure from eating.

.....in the end, it's calories that make you fat. Too many in and not enough expended. We may be a nation of fatties, but it is not because of an overindulgence in glorious gorgeous fat: It's overindulgence in general. Eat a little less; eat much better. Put fear of fat behind you. Eat fat for flavor. Eat fat for life.

2blowhards led me to another fat advocate, who provided some definitions.

Real lard is a naturally-hydrogenated, solid fat that requires no tampering in the factory to add anything to it. Lard is rendered pork fat.

Unlike the natural solid fat, lard, vegetable shortening is a liquid oil until manufacturers tamper with its structure by heating it up under pressure and bubbling hydrogen gas into it (with a catalyst to make it all work faster) and force-feeding the carbon double bonds some hydrogen atoms that often latch on in a crossways or trans configuration.

A little bit of hydrogen added in the trans configuration increases shelf life of the oil and allows liquid vegetable oils and corn oil not to go rancid in large, clear containers exposed to light and heat on the store shelves. (This would also be the case, though to a much lesser degree, for the small amount of hydrogenation possible for shelf-stable lard.)

A lot of hydrogen added in the trans configuration solidifies the liquid oil, creating stick margarine or solid vegetable shortening, such as Crisco. These Franken Fats were created to replace the naturally solid fats, butter and lard, not for health reasons, but because the real McCoys were rationed in WWII.

Advance Analysis

Dave Barry's election analysis has a handicap.

The Miami Herald made me send in this analysis before the election was actually over, so that it could be printed in a timely manner. This is part of the newspaper industry's crafty plan to defeat this ''Internet'' thing that has the youngsters so excited.

However, he was able to do a bit of prognosticating.

Barack Obama is our next president, which is very bad because he is a naive untested wealth-spreading terrorist-befriending ultraliberal socialist communist who will suddenly reveal his secret Muslim identity by riding to his inauguration on a camel shouting ''Death to Israel!'' (I mean Obama will be shouting this, not the camel)......

• Or, John McCain is our next president, which is very bad because he is a 287-year-old out-of-touch multiple-house-owning fascist who will rape the environment and build nuclear power plants inside elementary schools and reinstate slavery and create tax loopholes that benefit only people who own three or more personal helicopters......

• Or, Ralph Nader is our next president, which is very bad because it means there has been a successful Klingon invasion.

• Or, the outcome of the election is being disputed because of irregularities such as unregistered horses voting in Ohio, or some Florida county tabulating votes in Roman numerals, or God knows what else, which is very bad because it means the next president will be selected via a giant Lawyer-Palooza court fight that will go on until it's time to hold the Iowa caucuses for the NEXT presidential election.

So basically my analysis is that, whatever happened, we are, as a nation, doomed. We are also bitterly divided, because whoever wins, roughly half of us will despise the other half, and vice versa.

He's also a bit nostalgic for the political discourse of his parents.

........they were capable of understanding a concept that we seem to have lost, which is that people who disagree with you politically are not necessarily evil or stupid. My parents and their friends took it for granted that most people were fundamentally decent and wanted the best for the country.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Down to Business

Garrison Keillor offers congratulations and a few words of advice.

As for President-elect Obama, he can now stop dancing, which he's been doing for 20 months - in a democracy we want candidates to really, really, really want to be president - and get down to the business of patient, focused, rational deliberation and calculation, starting with the formulation of a Cabinet and a White House staff. Have them write up a presidential order for Jan. 20 saying that America will not employ torture, and maybe issue a blanket presidential pardon for your predecessor and his vice, and then set about the business of disappointing your followers and astonishing your enemies and doing what is right for our country.

Plenty of Rooms Available - Bring Firearms

Looking for an unusual vacation destination?

A valley as green as the emeralds that lie beneath the mountains. Cold and clear rivers flowing from the snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush. A brilliant blue sky - it's hard to describe the Swat valley without getting carried away. It feels like one of the most beautiful and magical places on earth.

No need to worry about crowds.

The Serena has 50 rooms set in beautiful landscaped grounds. I was the only guest in the entire hotel and the first one they had seen in well over 6 weeks. The handful of other people they have had stay this year were all journalists like myself.

Of course, there's a reason.

Around 7pm every evening it started. Boom boom boom, followed by the inevitable shaking of the building, sometimes so strong it was impossible to distinguish it from the earthquakes which routinely hit the region. It was the sound of the military offensive - evidence that the Pakistani military has stepped up its battle against the local Taleban.

For several nights in a row I was unable to sleep as mortars and gunfire echoed across the mountains, sometimes for 12 hours solid. One night I counted 60 mortars in less than an hour.
Some blasts were so close the windows threatened to shatter.


The outlook isn't good.

The Pakistani Taleban appear to be slowly but surely taking over Swat with 80% of the Swat valley estimated to be under their control when I was there. People in Mingora, Swat's biggest town, say it is a question of when, not if the Taleban seize the town.

Ninety Years Later

Remnants are still there.

The forests around Verdun, where so many died, are still and silent.

There in front were the unmistakable features of French trenches - deep channels, virtually unchanged, that sheltered men struggling to and from the front line.

In 1917, the Canadian Corps attacked and captured German positions on the hills around Arras. More than 3,000 Canadians died. The shell holes and trenches are now covered by a manicured carpet of grass - Canada has adopted this corner of France as its own memorial. The warning signs remind visitors that unexploded shells and grenades lie where they fell.

A lot of modern Western history can be traced to World War One. It at least hastened the collapse of Czarist Russia, opening the way for the Bolsheviks. Germany was scarred by the humiliating surrender terms, which contributed to conditions that Hitler exploited. The conference that drew up those terms also rearranged the world into colonial powers, angering those who were left out (Japan) and those who were colonized (Ho Chi Minh, the Middle East). The Balkan nations are still grappling with the results.

The combination of 19th Century ideas with 20th Century technology ground down the old order and left a smoking ruin from which to establish a new one. We've been sweeping up the mess for 90 years, and we're not done.

Those Robes Do Look Cozy

The Australian High Court tossed out two convictions because......

The court heard that the judge slept for up to 20 minutes at a time and sometimes snored, distracting the jury.

He did have an excuse.

Judge Ian Dodd has since been diagnosed with a condition known as sleep apnoea.

However, I have to agree with this statement.

"Where the judge is noticeably and repeatedly asleep or inattentive during the trial, there can be a miscarriage of justice," said Chief Justice Robert French.

Toothless

Alexa Chung had her wisdom teeth surgically removed.

I was informed by a kind anaesthetist that if I imagined I was on a sunny beach somewhere as I fell asleep, there was a 30 per cent chance I would think I had been away on holiday when I came round, albeit without the tan. Mathematics not being my strong suit, I am unfortunately unable to calculate the relative probability of coming round and presuming my head had been crushed between two buses....

Some doofus asked me if I was in pain. My thumbs responded with a resounding yes, and before I knew it, syringefuls of morphine were racing into my veins. Nice, you may think. Well... morphine does two things, as far as I can make out. Firstly, it makes you itch, and secondly, it makes you cry. I don't particularly want to find myself in a situation again where I'm doing both furiously and simultaneously.

Having mine pulled some years ago was considerably less eventful. No surgery was needed. It took roughly 5 minutes at the dentist's office once the Novocaine kicked in. The biggest inconvenience was nearly swallowing one when it popped loose from the forceps.

Smart, and Willing To Say So In Public

Amused Cynicism led me to this quote about Obama.

But of course it was also a historic election. Not everyone in the US has felt represented in politics. There are some kinds of people that we give lip service to, but when push comes to shove, they are not welcome in certain circles. It has been, if not the kiss of death in American politics, at least something to overcome. But last night we elected a President who represents this group and makes no apologies for it, wears it openly like a badge of honor.

Last night, we elected an intellectual.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nicely Done

I don't want to seem casual about the elections, but at least on the national level things pretty much turned out exactly as predicted months ago, didn't they? Besides, the weather here isn't allowing much time for reflection; snow and wind are on the way, and it could be ugly.

Megan McCardle made a similar point about the elections.

We've all known for a while that Obama was going to win, wistful dreams notwithstanding. But everyone's watching as if this were the seventh game of a tied world series.

I think this interest was the result of several factors:

- The obvious historic election of an African-American to the Presidency. This added a certain element of uncertainty. Would hidden racism not reflected in the polls pop up and alter the outcome?

- The media's continuing hype efforts. Actually admitting that the race was over would have been bad for ratings. On the other hand, it also combated complacency and probably helped get out the vote.

- Fatigue/relief. After two years of this, people wanted to see the end.

- The shenanigans of the last two Presidential elections led people to believe that such high jinks are going to the the norm, so they wanted to see what would happen.

- Eight years of an administration with complete disregard for any law that didn't serve it's agenda fostered concern that it would stop at nothing to snag this election for it's allies.

I think these last two served as partial motivation for early voters. They hoped that voting early would get them in front of any Election Day irregularities.

But in the end, the line held. As John McCain said in a very classy concession speech:

My friends, we have — we have come to the end of a long journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly.

Now I'm off to get out my overshoes and snow shovel. Actually that's a positive thing; in some countries I'd be arming in anticipation of post-election violence.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

At Last

Two days off, and Election Day! I'll vote with the wife after she gets off work today and get a flu shot tomorrow, which is somehow vaguely connected. It's 60 degrees out, but the wind is strong and foreboding, and the forecast is gloomy, although perhaps seasonal is a better description. The last few days have been so far above normal as to be suspicious; people carried coats in case the temperature suddenly collapsed and snow hit.

In case you're wondering, Dick Cheney is spending Election Day here in South Dakota shooting at domestically-raised pheasants at a lodge north of Pierre. I wonder if he'll be back after he's out of office. I imagine it would be more relaxed and enjoyable then, although he'll have to use a Halliburton airplane instead of Air Force Two, which I doubt will be a problem, given all the money he's made for them.

A few years ago I talked to a Secret Service agent who was part of Cheney's detail. He had never been anywhere like South Dakota before. He called it "a hidden treasure" and hoped he'd be back. I imagine that job could be monotonous. A chance to be outdoors free of protesters, even on duty and knowing that the VP is armed, must be a nice change from guarding look-alike hotels at undisclosed locations.

Maybe They Should Hand Out Suckers

James Lileks isn't impressed with those "I Voted" stickers.

I think they’re a bit smug and boastful, but that’s my problem, and I’m in the minority. They remind me of the balloons we got after a check-up: FROM MY DOCTOR FOR BEING GOOD. You could have kicked the doc in the crotch and clawed through the plaster trying to escape a shot, and you’d still get a balloon.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Apparently The Honor System Didn't Work

No more sneaking in late or leaving early at the Vatican.

Senior clerics will have to swipe plastic cards when entering and leaving, all in a drive to improve time-keeping and efficiency.

The cards have been issued to everyone from the lowest office staff to the heads of departments, even if they are priests and archbishops, though there has been no mention if Pope Benedict XVI carries one.

Well, he is German, and we know how they like efficiency. This next item puzzles me a bit,though.

Next year there are plans to introduce performance-related pay.

Performance pay? I'd be interested in seeing the criteria for that.

No Word On Party Plans In Palin, Slovakia

One city in Japan is solidly behind Barack Obama.

Dancing, singing and playing the guitar, residents in the sleepy Japanese fishing port of Obama are readying to party for Barack Obama before Tuesday's U.S. presidential election.

Shops in the town have been selling everything from T-shirts, fish burgers and steamed cakes to chopsticks bearing Obama's name.

"We've been dancing for Mr. Obama for more than six months," said Yuko Shirayama of the local "Obama Girls" hula dancing group, created to cheer on Obama. "So I hope he wins."

McCain, North Carolina isn't so festive.

It, or what's left of it, is a prison, down the road from the country's largest turkey processing plant (so the prison cafeteria serves some kind of turkey almost every day).

McCain used to be a full-fledged village with a post office, dairy barn, and ice plant, back when it was home to a Tuberculosis sanatorium. But now the only people who live there are 360 sick and aged men locked up in the North Carolina state prison system, and, like the residents of Obama, Japan, they cannot vote.

And yes, there really is a Palin, Slovakia. I can't find a town named Biden.