Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Messing With Winnie the Pooh's Jar

Pirated CD's, poisonous toys, tainted baby honey.

In the U.S., where bee colonies are dying off and demand for imported honey is soaring, traders of the thick amber liquid are resorting to elaborate schemes to dodge tariffs and health safeguards in order to dump cheap honey on the market, a five-month Seattle P-I investigation has found.

The business is plagued by foreign hucksters and shady importers who rip off conscientious U.S. packers with honey diluted with sugar water or corn syrup -- or worse, tainted with pesticides or antibiotics.

Guess where most of it originates?

Big shipments of contaminated honey from China are frequently laundered in other countries -- an illegal practice called "transshipping" -- in order to avoid U.S.import fees, protective tariffs or taxes imposed on foreign products that intentionally undercut domestic prices.

Some of it is pretty blatant.

Countries that have few if any commercial beekeepers, such as Singapore, are now exporting significant quantities of honey, records show. That includes the Grand Bahamas, which has been listed as the country of origin for honey shipped into Houston, authorities say. "I have a difficult time seeing the Grand Bahamas as a major honey producer," said David Westervelt, a Florida state apiculture inspector. "It's an island. You move bees on there and they'll die."

There are attempts to stop it.

An alphabet soup of federal agencies insist that they work tirelessly to prevent adulterated honey from reaching store shelves.


Most honey shipments aren't inspected when they arrive at a U.S. seaport, or when they cross the border by truck or train.

A customs supervisor on the U.S.-Canada border, who asked not to be identified, disputed the notion that stopping honey smugglers is a top concern. "Honey is not only not near the top of the list of priorities," he said, "it's just not on the damn list."

Hat Tip to The Daily Beast

Sex vs. Fireworks

Some headlines just can't be resisted.

Naples women threaten sex strike over fireworks

Hundreds of Neapolitan women have pledged to go without sex unless their men promise to refrain from setting off dangerous illegal fireworks.

The woman behind the protest has a serious motivation, and classic inspiration.

She has spent her life caring for her father, who was left partially paralysed and with epilepsy after a firework exploded next to him at New Year's Eve party before she was born.

The move was inspired by the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, in which the women of Athens refuse to have sex unless their men folk forge a truce with their rivals from Sparta.

According to a local politician with a gift for understatement, it seems to be having an effect.

Doctor and local councillor Vincenzo Sorrentino, who has long campaigned against the illegal fireworks, said a sex ban was "an issue that men are particularly sensitive to''.

''The idea of no sex is not exactly popular and polls among local men have suggested they plan to make much greater efforts this year to prevent illegal fireworks being let off," he said.

Depending on the domestic situation, I can imagine a few men choosing the fireworks.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

They Should Have Had a Skate-off

James Lileks pointed me to this blast from the past with some unfortunate modern twists.

On-site security had quashed a brawl at a Coon Rapids skate party Sunday night when five backup officers and a dog arrived, sending 1,200 partygoers into panic mode.....The teenagers and young adults attending the party sponsored by Shine On Entertainment were sent home about 9:20 p.m. after several fights broke out at the rink at 3075 NW. Coon Rapids Blvd.

I hadn't thought about rollerskating rinks in a long time. This page says there are only two in South Dakota, in Sioux Falls and Rapid City of course. I guess it's good that the rink in the story seems to do good business, at least based on the fact that there were that many people there. The number of fights does seem to indicate a problem,though.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bad Influence

Ariel Leve is concerned about what getting involved with her does to people.

When people really get to know me, I’ve found they start to loathe me. Either that or they associate all the loneliness and isolation that has befallen their life with my influence.

One particular friend is cause for concern.

She used to be an intrepid, adventurous person. Now, if she has to walk four blocks out of her way to the supermarket for a diet soda they won’t stock at the deli on the corner, it’s an ordeal.

Another thing is that she’s become a lot more pessimistic. She worries about things too. The other day she had a headache in her apartment. “Do you think it’s noxious fumes?” She asked. She hurt her knee in yoga. “Do you think I’ll need surgery?” It’s not just about her either. “I’m worried my cat might have Attention Deficit Disorder.”

I once had this concern about my influence on my first wife, but watching her life for eight years since our divorce has convinced me that it was coincidence.

Better to Observe Than to Experience

James Lileks went to Arizona for Christmas.

I love AZ, but half of the flora evolved with the specific intention of killing anything that tried to get its water.

There's also the risk of losing one's edge while living there.

That warmth changes you. Makes you soft.


It's seductive. There's a weak, cowardly part of you that enjoys standing outside at night without dying or having to whack your hand against the wall for five minutes to get feeling back in your fingers.

Not at Christmastime,though.

But last week I missed the snow. We'd left in the teeth of a blizzard, heard reports of howling winds and double-digit-below temps, and it sounded perfect. It sounded like Christmas.

I can safely say that the blizzard probably sounded better from Arizona than it felt here. Like hunger and other forms of deprivation, experiencing such conditions is much better as an option than as a requirement.

A Tough Job to See All the Way Through

Jon Carroll had this as part of his Christmas Quiz.

The last time two consecutive U.S. presidents each completed two full terms was in 1809 to 1825, when the fourth and fifth presidents, James Madison and James Monroe, accomplished this. (The only other duo who've done it were the third and fourth presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, 1801 to 1817. In other words, there were actually three consecutive two-full-term presidents, 1801 to 1825.)

Another bit of trivia......the last time the Republican party won a Presidential election without a Nixon or Bush on the ticket (as President or VP) was 1928. I wonder if Jeb Bush has this on business cards to hand out at party meetings?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Lack of Evidence

Andrew Sullivan links to a post by Alan Jacobs that ends with a statement that I heartily endorse.

Looking around at the world — the natural world as well as the human world — I do see some reasons (none of them definitive, of course) for believing in a God, but I don't see much warrant for believing in a God who is nice.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Last Rewind

A pioneer technology is fading away.

On a crisp Friday morning in October, the final truckload of VHS tapes rolled out of a Palm Harbor, Fla., warehouse run by Ryan J. Kugler, the last major supplier of the tapes."It's dead, this is it, this is the last Christmas, without a doubt," said Kugler, 34, a Burbank businessman. "I was the last one buying VHS and the last one selling it, and I'm done. Anything left in warehouse we'll just give away or throw away."

I certainly agree with this....

If you rewind back to the 1980s, VHS represented a remarkable turning point for the American consumer......."It was a sea change," says Leonard Maltin, the film critic and author who has written stacks of books to meet the consumer need for video recommendations.

The article talks mainly about the pre-recorded video industry, but creating the means for anyone to record video and audio onto what was - compared to film and reel-to-reel videotape - a relatively robust and easy-to-handle medium was a real revolution.

Remarkably, my small high school had one of the first VHS machines - with a camera and microphone, no less. It weighed roughly 50 pounds and had that memorable electro-mechanical tape-handling apparatus that ejected with a loud ka-chunk. It was used to record various school activities. At home basketball games it was run by a classmate who set it up behind the scorers' table, where I worked as official scorer; we would occasionally try to call the games, to the chagrin of the coaches and players who watched it later.

My college roommates and I rented many a movie. For a while the local adult shop even offered delivery; you could call and order a VCR and movies from a list advertised in a free weekly paper. I still wonder how they got away with publishing that list (with such classics as "Spank Me Daddy" and "Inside Seka") without incurring the wrath of the local prudes.

Does That Mean the "Clothing Optional" Signs Are Bogus Too?

A city is hit by unusual and rather sophisticated graffiti.

The signs, which were put up by pranksters in and around Nottingham, are designed to look official. They feature a toilet sign and include the words: "Public Urination Permitted After 7.30pm".

The prank also featured a laminated note, headed with the logo of Nottingham City Council, which said the scheme was aimed at reducing the mess faced by residents outside their homes.....
The notice reads: "In an attempt to reduce late night public nuisance, during the holiday period, Nottingham City Council has designated several public urination areas across the city.
"This urination area will be cleaned daily between the hours of 5am and 6am."

Suicidal Shame

The Madoff affair claims a life.

The apparent suicide of René-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, who set up his own company after rising to become one of the most powerful Frenchmen on Wall Street, was discovered early yesterday morning.

His hedge fund, Access International Advisors, enlisted intermediaries with links to the cream of Europe's high society to garner clients.

Access International had placed about $1.4bn with Madoff Investment Securities, putting intolerable pressure on M. de la Villehuchet, according to a friend who spoke last night to La Tribune newspaper in France.

Auctioning the Altar

Via Megan McArdle - economic troubles are hitting everywhere.

During this holiday season of hard times, not even houses of God have been spared. Some lenders believe more churches than ever have fallen behind on loans or defaulted this year. Some churches, and at least one company that specialized in church lending, have filed for bankruptcy. Church giving is down as much as 15% in some places, pastors and lenders report.

The main trouble is the same as it is for many others - borrowing more than they can now afford.

Spending on construction of houses of worship rose to $6.2 billion in 2007 from $3.8 billion in 1997, according to the U.S. Census. Now, churches are seeing congregants lose jobs and savings.

Monday, December 22, 2008

On Their Terms or Not At All

Maria Farrell at Crooked Timber hits a bullseye while expressing disappointment at the Pope's latest blathering.

The religious fundamentalists simply don’t want other people to be happy. The only joy they can conceive of is that which they allow. There’s no rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s for them. The law of their angry God is inadequate by itself, and needs to be enforced by the laws of men and the power of the state. Their joy is won only in a zero sum game. Sharing it destroys it.

It's wearing on her.

I keep on keeping on in the Catholic Church, mostly because it’s what I was brought up in and where I most feel the pain and joy of just being alive. I’ve even been lucky enough to find a home from home in a Catholic community that not just welcomes but celebrates every person in it. But days like today force me to ask myself if it’s even the right thing to continue to associate myself with an institution whose leadership behaves so shamefully.

One of the commenters summed it up.

I can’t help but comment that you just explicated a fine argument against basing any of one’s happiness on traditional organized religions. Find your community and joy elsewhere. The one power you possess to end the power of the Pope to oppress members of your community? Reduce the numbers who join a community of oppression and leave that anachronistic institution.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One and Down May Be More Appropriate

After lamenting the current state of cooking shows on the Food network, Heather Havrilesky finds a new favorite.

Thank god for Big Daddy! Starring Aaron McCargo Jr., who won the fourth season of "The Next Food Network Star," and was awarded this show for his efforts, "Big Daddy's House" finally washed that sour, upper-crusty taste out of my mouth once and for all.

His cocktail recipe caught my eye.

Finally, Big Daddy finished it all off by whipping up a drink called a "One and Done." Here's what's in it: Tequila, vodka, gin, Seagram's 7, Triple Sec, Coke and a squeeze of lemon. Hallelujah, Christmastime is finally here!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How About French-Fry-Scented Candles?

Andrew Sullivan pointed me to this.

Burger King has released a limited-edition men's body spray that evokes the smell of freshly broiled Whoppers.

Personally, I can barely stand to walk past some fast-food places because of the smell, although none of them compares to the greasy-chicken odor from Wal-Mart. Living near fast food isn't easy,either.

I live next to a Wendy's fast food restaurant, and the smell of my home is very describable: It's the smell of Wendy's food cooking.

It didn't take long, however, before the idea of eating Wendy's became difficult to stomach. It wasn't the food — that hadn't changed at all. It was, instead, the smell of the food, and how its fried-ness could creep into my apartment at any hour of the day.

Anything For a Buck

Ah,three days off. A chance to clean up the various messes left untended (laundry, bills, housecleaning) while taking care not to neglect blogging.

I turned on the TV expecting to see KSFY's 11:30 news and instead got a "paid program", as they are called in the business, otherwise known as a 30-minute commercial. Unlike programs which produce revenue via ratings/based ads, the company that produces these shows pays the station a flat fee up front to air them. I recall occasionally preempting weekend NBC news at KEVN for such shows, but never the local news. My guess is the KSFY news department isn't feeling too good about this. It seems to be a clear message from management that the news isn't important enough to avoid being kicked aside for an ad for,in this case, an educational computer program.

I assume the company wrote a fairly large check to get this done, but it still seems to be short-sighted. Local news establishes the personality of a station; in this age of cable and satellite, it differentiates it from other channels that offer the same programming (ABC, in KSFY's case). It's also pretty much the only meaningful public service provided by the station. If the viewers can't count on it, they'll take their custom elsewhere. Then it becomes a matter of time before the news department goes away, and the station is just another programming outlet like any crappy cable channel.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Buy That Personal Touch

Via Marginal Revolution...... Are you no good at gift wrapping but don't want to let on that someone else did it? In the UK you can go here. is paying 20 of its male forklift truck drivers and warehouse assistants to wrap presents as quickly as possible, using ugly brown duct tape and very little care. And the $9 service, cheekily called CrapWrap, has attracted more than 500 customers since it launched last week. Whether it's a book, DVD or something trickier such as a kitchen utensil, the team guarantees to make a mess of it.

I can imagine expanding this to personal shopping. Rather than hiring the typical personal shopper who would find a perfect gift that the recipient would know you didn't pick out, you could hire someone with similar questionable taste who would buy something you would buy.

Another Case for Limiting Reproductive Rights

I've commented on people's names for their kids before, but this is just breathtaking.

The father of 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell, denied a birthday cake with the child's full name on it by one New Jersey supermarket, is asking for a little tolerance.

The Campbells' other two children also have unusual names: JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell turns 2 in a few months and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell will be 1 in April.

Socially tone deaf cluelessness doesn't begin to describe this.

Heath Campbell said he named his son after Adolf Hitler because he liked the name and because "no one else in the world would have that name." He sounded surprised by all the controversy the dispute had generated.

Those kids have an uphill road ahead, not just because of the names, but because they're being raised by someone who would give them those names.

Almost Nothing

Unlike the markets,who seemed to like it, John Quiggin sees the latest interest rate cut to nearly zero as a harbinger of bad things.

It’s also, following the $50 billion Madoff fraud and the increasingly widespread suspicion that the entire bailout scheme has been operated to promote the interests of Goldman Sachs at the expense of its competitors and the general public, an upper bound for the credibility of the global financial system. And it’s a pretty good estimate of the probability that we’re going to avoid a recession worse than any since the Great Depression.

More Naked Swimmers

Douglas A. McIntyre anticipates others following Barnard Madoff's path.

They are the biproduct of rapidly rising wealth, narcissism, vanity, and the naïve assumption that the very smart and very rich never make bad judgments.

Several analysts have written that one-third of the 10,000 or so hedge funds will fail or be merged out of existence. That means many wealthy hedge fund managers and their clients will be losing large sums. Both the people who run the investment pools and those who invested face the deep shame of poor decisions. They will put off having to face the consequences as long as possible. That means that some will hide the results of bad investments and hope to double down and get back the money they have lost. At some point, the kitty will be empty and it will be confession time.

Hat Tip to John Quiggin at Crooked Timber

Big Lies Last Longer

Megan McArdle has a good thought on the ability of Madoff to operate for so long.

It's actually easier for someone committing outright fraud to slide under the SEC wire, because when you're making up financial statements out of whole cloth, it's not hard to make them conform to SEC regulations. Similarly, Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair and Jack Kelley were able to get away with their frauds precisely because they fabricated things out of whole cloth. If you misquote an actual person, or misreport something that really happened, there's a strong risk that you'll be caught. But manufactured sources never complain that you spelled their name wrong or twisted their words.

Hitler commented on this idea.

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.

The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.

More Legal/Financial Silliness

Andrew Sullivan pointed me to an article on a surprising possible use of a section of bankruptcy law.

Say you were an investor in Madoff's funds. A few years back you decided to diversify. You asked Madoff for your money back and you got it. You then invested the proceeds in an array of other assets. Madoff then goes bust in a massive fraud. One day you get a letter from a bankruptcy trustee. The letter says that you need to repay a large chunk of your original investment in order to satisfy the claims of other investors who were less fortunate (or smart) than you. Is this fair? Is this right?

It's the result of a pair of laws that:

.....declare a transfer made or an obligation incurred with actual intent to hinder, delay, or defraud creditors to be fraudulent...... render a transfer made or obligation incurred without adequate consideration to be constructively fraudulent - i.e., without regard to the actual intent of the parties - under one of the following conditions:(1) the debtor was left by the transfer or obligation with unreasonably small assets for a transaction or the business in which he was engaged; (2) the debtor intended to incur, or believed that he would incur, more debts than he would be able to pay; or (3) the debtor was insolvent at the time or as a result of the transfer or obligation.

Which means in this case that if Madoff knew he couldn't cover his debts then he shouldn't have given you all your money at the expense of later creditors, so you have to give it back. This was originally set up to keep companies and investors/creditors from setting up preferential deals.
However, as the article points out....

The aggrieved parties in the Madoff case, however, are individuals and firms with no knowledge of the fraud being perpetrated and with no preferential rights. Every investors' right to redeem (or not to invest) appeared to be just the same as any other. So why should those who got out be forced to suffer the same fate as those who didn't, even though they were operating with exactly the same information and with the same rights?

I agree with the author on this.

However, those who innocently exited the situation should not have their lives turned upside down on a retrospective basis due to a highly legalistic ruling with little appeal from a common sense perspective.

But we all know how often the law deviates from common sense.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Oddity of Confessing

Eric Dezenhall is surprised by one particular aspect of the Bernie Madoff affair.

Specifically, what floored me about the Madoff coverage were the reports that he had conceded to his sons and associates that “it was all just one big lie.” My experience with these affairs is that the accused uber-gonif tells everyone who will listen, including his legal and damage control team, that the charges against him are “total bullshit.” Not that some of the allegations are wrong; rather Virtually Every Negative Thing Being Said About Me Is 100% Certified Grade-A Imported Bullshit.

The reasons scandal figures don’t fess up is that they don’t believe they did anything wrong, and, perhaps most tactically, confessions and expressions of remorse are usually admissible in criminal and civil court. Enough rapscallions have been acquitted, or negotiated attractive pleas, that no sane attorney would sanction an out-of-the-gate mea culpa if there was any chance their client might secure his liberty (or his house in Southampton).

A similar logic applies to the “it’s the cover-up that gets you” bromide. As the late George Carlin once observed, “People in Washington say it’s not the initial offense that gets you into trouble, it’s the cover-up. They say you should admit what you did, get the story out and move on. What this overlooks is the fact that most of the time the cover-up works just fine, and nobody finds out a damned thing.”

I think the pressure of trying to hold it together got to him, especially as people started wanting to pull out money to compensate for losses elsewhere. I believe it was Warren Buffet who said "It's only when the tide goes out that you see who is swimming naked."

Is It Enough Yet?

Tom Sutcliffe takes some African clergymen to task.

Last week the Bishop of Pretoria, Johannes Seoka, added his voice to that of John Sentamu and Archbishop Tutu in calling for change in Harare. He said that it was now "an opportune moment for all church leaders... to call on God to cause the removal of Mugabe from the office of the President of Zimbabwe".

Like all calls to prayer in bad times, this rather begged the question of what God has been up to for the last five or six years, as the country collapsed and millions suffered. I know He's supposed to be slow to anger, but this is getting embarrassing. Is He sitting there tapping his fingers and thinking, "Right, if the cholera deaths rise above 100,000 then I really will do something"? Or has he just not noticed at all? Did Zimbabwe get buried in His overflowing in-tray, so that it needs to be tactfully drawn to His attention?

If God existed, then he shouldn't really need nagging like this to do the right thing. As he doesn't, men of goodwill like the bishop might do better to address themselves to earthly powers. They've also shown an apparently God-like indifference to the catastrophe on their doorstep, but they might at least acknowledge receipt of the message.

Strippers and Strange Devices

A prominent scientific journal accidentally got a little kinky.

There were red faces on the editorial board of one of Germany's top scientific institutions, the Max Planck Institute, after it ran the text of a handbill for a Macau strip club on the front page of its latest journal.

As usual, it offended some people, but not too many.

.....publication of the journal caused some anger among touchier internet users in China who felt the institute had done it on purpose to insult China, or that it was disrespectful to use Chinese as a decoration. But generally, the faux-pas sparked much amusement among Chinese readers.

The replacement cover seems somehow related.

The journal has since been updated online and its cover now carries the title of a book by the Swiss Jesuit, Johannes Schreck (1576–1630). The Jesuit text in question was "Illustrated Explanations of Strange Devices".

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dangerous Manger

Dom Joly's son was part of a Christmas Story reenactment.

My son Jackson has been given the coveted role of third innkeeper. He claimed to have been offered a much bigger solo part but that he turned it down. He said that he didn't really "feel like it".

There was an unusual member of the cast.

To the rear of the stage was an unlucky group who had been dressed up as the animals in the manger. For some reason there was a bear and a very unhappy one at that.

It was a hazardous production.

Try as I might to watch my son I kept being distracted by the sight of the boiling bear. His face was visible and was getting redder and redder. I could swear that actual steam was coming off him and he started to sway a bit. Then the bear burst into tears and was withdrawn from the manger and cuddled behind the crib. Shortly afterwards a sheep tripped up on a small bit of wood and disappeared off the stage.

A Rash of Rodents

Chris Erskine's house has been blessed with new life.

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, the little guy received a dwarf hamster as a gift from one of his big brother's friends.

It started off a bit rough.

One of the new varmint's first acts was to bite my wife -- so we had that in common. (If she were any sweeter, she'd be a Godiva store.) The hamster's second act was to run with reckless abandon in his little hamster wheel. Humans have jobs, hamsters have little wheels in which they run round and round, getting nowhere. Same principle.

The exercise was just a warm-up for more work, as well as a bit of a surprise.

.......on Thanksgiving morning, the hamster gave birth to eight little peanut-sized babies. I assume it was a natural delivery, since no doctor was on duty. Till that moment, we were pretty sure she was a he.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chewing Just Wastes Time

Via Chris Bodenner.... a dog essentially swallows a burrito. We had a St. Bernard/Black Lab that did the same thing with sandwiches,unless they had peanut butter on them. A peanut M&M would also drive him nuts; he couldn't get it between his teeth to bite, and for some reason he wouldn't swallow it.

It was a Party Before It was Christmas

A church billboard inspires Jon Carroll to clarify something.

Anyway, the billboard on the church currently reads "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." Well, no. Jesus is a reason for the season, no question. But Jesus is not the reason I'm going to take Alice to buy an evergreen tree tomorrow, nor is he the reason Tracy will make pancakes on the morning of Dec. 25, nor is he the reason that we will exchange presents.

I know lots of Jews who have trees and give presents; Jesus is not their reason either. Their reason is cultural; they live in America, and America is a country whose citizens attempt to stave off the drear cold days of winter with festive song, hot, strong drink and tokens of affection.

There's lots of talk about the "war on Christmas," as though the Christians had the holiday first and vile secularists are now trying to steal it with their subversive "season's greetings" and "happy holidays." But the reverse is true - the world had winter festivals and spring festivals and harvest festivals, because we are descended from agriculturalists and we celebrate times associated with crops - and sundry religions (not just Christianity) tried to appropriate them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Now, a Little Sexism

While describing his parents' new puppies, John Cole says something that I - twice-divorced and inundated with daughters and granddaughters - have trouble disputing with enthusiasm.

Word on the street is that Guesly (pronounced Goozly), the male with black coloring, is very bold and just wants to be pet and touched and cuddled. Ginny, the brown one, is a little shy, but reliable sources have told me that she is actually the ornery one. Apparently she runs around and investigates, finds things to get into, Guesly then joins her, she loses interest, and Guesly is left holding the ball. From my own personal experiences with women and in particular with sisters, this story resonates.

A Small Joy of Parenting

James Lileks attended a Fun Run with his daughter, which provided a chance to do what all parents enjoy once in a while.

It was fun; hence the name. The music was good. I knew all the tunes, and just like last year, brought humiliation to my child by singing the lyrics out loud and making Rock Faces. All the parents - most of them late-procreators, like me - got seriously down to Funkytown, and you could feel the shame rolling off the kids in bright red waves.

My daughter (who turns 18 today, which makes my back ache just a little more) used to live in fear of embarrassment by her nutty Dad. Once she realized that I probably wasn't actually going to show up at school during lunch, yell "my little girl!" and hug her in front of her friends she developed a sense of humor about my silliness, although she still has concerns about potential boyfriends meeting me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not What Bill O'Reilly Has In Mind

Morgan Weis recalls past Christmases.

In defending Christmas I have nothing to say about Jesus Christ, a terrifying and influential historical figure who, I confess, has had little impact on my life. My Christmas, the Christmas I have known, revolves centrally around objects — most crucially around presents and then secondarily around things like Christmas trees, ornaments, decorations, advent calendars, etc., and people — the people I’ve known, the family members whose faces come most quickly to mind when I smell pine needles.....

Jason Wilson expresses a similar sentiment while discussing the trip he took with his son to Lapland to see the "real" Santa Claus.

Beyond my simple parental guilt, I’m starting to realize that our trip to Rovaniemi was, for me, as much of a pilgrimage as any to Fátima or Lourdes or Santiago de Compostela. In my own family, Christmas is a religion unto itself, and it has very little to do with Jesus Christ. We may not believe in a whole lot, but our belief in Santa Claus is absolute and unbending.

Sounds Like An Old Columbo

A prop switch nearly kills an actor, and foul play may have been involved.

The character played by Daniel Hoevels was supposed to commit suicide in the drama with a blunt stage weapon but had instead been provided with a real blade.

Now police are investigating their own murder mystery drama – after refusing to rule out the possibility that the stunt may have been an attempt to bump off the actor by a jealous rival.

Of course, it may have been negligence.

Police have been told that the knife had been bought at a local store and are asking if props staff forgot to blunt the blade for the performance.....

Author's Anxiety

A.L. Kennedy just finished writing a book, and she's not handling it well.

You’ll pootle about your flat afterwards with a numb/emptied feeling, then send if off before beginning the enormous wait for anyone to get back to you.

Sadly, even though your new volume has been pressing on your brain like a venomous tumour for months and months, no one else is really that bothered about it – even if they’ve been expecting it, have paid a bit in advance for it and made mumbly nearly interested noises when you’ve ranted on about it.

This didn't help.

As it happens, I hammered the book’s last sentence into place while an Austrian camera crew fiddled with lights, set up for an interview and then looked on politely as I growled into my laptop and waggled my head twitches in combination with a hearty – I’LL BE WITH YOU IN A MINUTE, YOU WON’T BELIEVE THIS BUT I AM ACTUALLY JUST NOW FINISHING A BOOK, EXACTLY AS I SPEAK – AM I SPEAKING ? – ANYWAY, I’LL JUST DO THIS – AND THIS - AND THEN THAT. DEAR GOD, WHAT WAS I THINKING ? I MEANT THIS ! OH, JUST AT LEAST LOOK INTERESTED COULD YOU ? THIS IS THE CULMINATION OF THREE YEAR’S WORK, YOU KNOW. AND KEEP WELL BACK, I MAY CRY.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Forty Years of Clicking

The mouse reaches middle age.

On 9 December 1968 hi-tech visionary Douglas Engelbart first used one to demonstrate novel ways of working with computers. The first mouse that Dr Engelbart used in the demo at the Fall Joint Computer Conference (FJCC) was made of wood and had one button.

There will be a party.

A day of celebration is planned in California to mark the 40th anniversary; with many of the researchers behind the original demo reunited to mark the event.

Big Spud

They're going to need a lot of sour cream.

A farmer in southern Lebanon has dug up what might be the heaviest potato in the world.
"This giant weighs 11.3 kilos (24.9 pounds)," Khalil Semhat told the AFP news agency at his farm near Tyre, 85 kilometres (50 miles) south of Beirut.

It's all natural, and dwarfs the previous record.

He insisted that he had used no fertilizer or other chemicals to produce it.

The current world record, as recorded in the Guinness Book of Records, is held by K Sloan of the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom for a potato weighing a mere 3.5 kg (7 lb 13 oz).

I was unaware of this....

2008 is the International Year of the Potato......

Just Make It Out In One Piece

Lemmonex and I agree about this time of year.

Now, I am a fairly honest girl and I feel the need to be upfront about something: I don’t particularly care for the holidays......I tire of the crowds and the forced cheer. Christmas music makes my ears bleed. My family lives in Florida now, and palm trees with holiday lights is just all kinds of messed up. I am a New England girl and if I have to do Christmas, I want to be under a blanket, drinking coffee and Bailey’s, as I open my gifts.

For me the worst part is organizing a family gathering. All four of us boys are married, so there are other families to consider. One year the gatherings were spread out over about 3 months. It's always a blessed relief when everyone agrees on a single date and location. At least we all live in-state, so the travel logistics aren't too bad. But now our kids are growing up, so the dynamic will change.

Snow and Ice Doesn't Change Much from Year to Year

James Lileks speaks (types?) for many of us about first-snow driving silliness.

This is the most inexplicable aspect of life in this state. I can understand how new arrivals might be baffled – and by “new arrivals” I mean creatures from another world whose proximity to a star makes frozen precipitation impossible, and who have no experience with steering a starcruiser into a skid. Otherwise, there’s no excuse for driving like an idiot. Even if this is your first winter. Especially if this is your first winter here. Hmm – visibility’s down and the pavement beneath my wheels seems obscured by some odd slippery substance. I’d better accelerate and get right up behind the car in front of me, and see if the driver can explain this phenomenon by blinking a Morse Code explanation into his rearview mirror.

Honestly: blaming bad driving on “learning how to drive on snow again” is like blaming drowning on “learning that you can’t walk on water in June.”

Monday, December 8, 2008

One Was Too Many

While discussing bad TV, Chris Ayres mentions a British program that lasted only one episode for obvious reasons.

When it comes to almost criminal levels of poor judgment, however, nothing can top the Galaxy channel's 1990 sitcom about Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun living together blissfully in the suburbs - until a Jewish couple moves in next door. The title? Heil, Honey I'm Home!

I guess it's nice to know that Hollywood doesn't have a monopoly on cranking out crap. Still, the meeting at which that was approved must have been interesting.

Officer, I'd Like To Be Arrested

Via Dave Barry.....Sometimes a lawman's job is just too easy.

Honesty Knight, 32, 112 W. Waid Ave., was a front-seat passenger in a vehicle that Trooper Eric Perkins stopped at Willard and Madison streets for a traffic violation.

When Perkins was talking to the driver about the traffic stop, Knight obtained the officer's approval to light a cigarette.

She was arrested after Perkins asked to see the cigarette, which contained marijuana, not tobacco.

Perhaps she should consider a different first name.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Don't Do That to the Kid

I just read an item that itself wasn't interesting, but listed two children named Festus and JorJa.

Why do parents do that to their kids? Post-partum medication? New-parent jitters? I think there should be a neutral third party involved in naming children; someone who would say, "Take a deep breath. Are you SURE you want your child named that? Would you want that for your name?"

Don't Look At Us

James Lileks notes that the State of Minnesota is broke.

We're facing a "Mega-Deficit," which was previously spotted battling Godzilla in a 1965 movie. Godzilla won, but only by using radioactive flame-breath, and experts say that option is not on the table. Everything else is on the table, though. Including proposals to sell the table and just spread everything out on the floor.

He mentions a few short-term fixes,then makes a proposal.

We need bold, new solutions, like annexing North Dakota. They have natural resources aplenty, and the population density of Antarctica, even if you figure in penguins. Pushover. We have National Guard soldiers who've been to Iraq; I think Fargo would be an easier tour of duty. We would not only be bigger and richer, we would be the weirdest shaped state in the nation, and cement our stature as the state with the greatest number of old guys named Elmer.We will be greeted as liberators! As a native North Dakotan, I am willing to head up the provisional government.

Hmmmm. Why would they stop there? Who wouldn't want Mount Rushmore to put on their official stationery? Better keep an eye on the border.

Perhaps a preemptive merger with North Dakota to form a unified front would be worth contemplating. Most of the country can't keep the two Dakotas straight anyway.

When in Doubt, Rate It AAA

Jon Cole makes a point that has been on my mind frequently.

Lots of people have lost their collective asses, lots of business and banks have gone under, the federal government (you and me) is spending trillions to shore up this sector of the economy to avert total collapse, corporate CEO’s are being bashed every day in the media and on blogs, everyone hates Wall Street, but as far as I can tell, one group of people has gotten away with their perfidy- the credit ratings companies. Why is Moody’s still in business? Fitch? Standard & Poor? Why are any of them?

A commenter hit on a major problem.

There is an inherent conflict of interest here: the ratings agencies are paid by the financial companies to rate things. Gee, I wonder why all of a sudden the ratings are all spectacular? What are they supposed to say? "Gee, Goldman, I think your CDO sucks and I’m going to rate it junk. But I hope that this doesn’t harm our business relationship, and I really hope you won’t take your ratings business elsewhere. Okay?"

Combine that with the difficulty in figuring out complex financial instruments and the tendency apparently was to just give them a good rating and hope for the best.

I agree with the commenters that the SEC should assume this task. Get some bailout money to nationalize the rating agencies or set up something new to rate securities. Further, if they can't understand a security, they should refuse to rate it or rate it "unknown risk". Moneychangers would yell, but they would be forced to pay attention to what they're trying to peddle.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Iranian eHarmony

Looking to meet that right person in Tehran? Help will soon be available.

The Iranian government is to set up a network of marriage bureaux to help young Iranians find a husband or wife.

The other options aren't great, and concerns are arising.

Most Iranian marriages are not exactly arranged, but relatives often take it on themselves to introduce suitable candidates. There are even reported to be private matchmaking organisations, effectively dating agencies, some of them run by clerics.

It seems the government is worried that some young Iranians might be getting into unsuitable relationships, our correspondent says.

If you're a college-educated male, opportunity may be knocking.

And, now that more than 60% percent of university students are female, many Iranian women are complaining they can't find a husband to match their level of education.

The Real Problem

Garrison Keillor only has one real qualm about the copulating couple at the Minnesota-Iowa football game.

Midwesterners I know would not, even if three sheets to the wind and overwhelmed by hormones, use a handicapped stall to have sex in, just as we would never have sex in a car parked in a handicapped spot. It's a basic taboo. The adultery we cannot approve of, the drunkenness is immature, sex with a stranger is definitely sketchy, but the handicapped stall is beyond the pale.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Home Stretch

December at last; the appropriate time for Christmas-related activity. Now the wife knows she can put up our Christmas tree without risking a domestic incident. It was a struggle for me to refrain from vandalizing the tree Wal-Mart put up in the entrance right after Halloween. Lewis Black once did a stand-up routine lamenting the absorption of Thanksgiving into the Christmas season.

"It used to be that you ate and drank and passed out, and no one woke you up and said 'let's go shopping'."

That almost seems quaint. Now by the time Thanksgiving gets here I'm already tired of the Christmas season. At least my family is going to be able to get together all at once during the season. There have been past years when it was strung out well into January. Frankly, it just doesn't work by that point. The feeling is gone.

On the other hand, I'm ready for winter. It's not that I'd be upset if the serious cold and snow held off for another couple of months, but it's reached the point where winter weather is expected with resignation; it's that time of year, as the saying goes. When it hits before now there's a sense of dread; oh no, is this going to be one of those long winters? Happily,those are rare, but I still feel a certain sense of relief knowing that however ugly it may get, it will only last the usual three or four months. Now I have to get some Christmas shopping done.

The Aura of Old Stuff

James Lileks explains his feelings about a favorite stop.

The antique store always hits me on three or four levels – the archivist’s raw naked LUST for more scannable magazines, the horror at the crap some people found lovely, the odd aching sadness for the class of Grandmas now passing from the earth, leaving behind millions of items that filled their homes and idle moments – Mantovani records, paint-by-number kits, felt craft projects with googly-eyes, garish ceramic salt-and-pepper kits, Little Golden Books read with love to sleepy kids, curlers, Durkee spice cans, statues of cats with Modigliani necks and stylized eyes. All those things from the 50s through the 70s wash up here in the basement of the antique store, rearranged with strangers. That mood makes these trips difficult; you’re overwhelmed by the weight of all the ordinary lives that arced and declined just in your own neighborhood, just in the last 40 years.

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 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 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."