Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Why Terrorists Stop

Andrew Sullivan's blog led me to an interesting news release from RAND. Generally it doesn't have any surprises, except perhaps to a few delusional people in the current administration. A few snips.....

Current U.S. strategy against the terrorist group al Qaida has not been successful in significantly undermining the group's capabilities,.....

The comprehensive study analyzes 648 terrorist groups that existed between 1968 and 2006, drawing from a terrorism database maintained by RAND and the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. The most common way that terrorist groups end -- 43 percent -- was via a transition to the political process. However, the possibility of a political solution is more likely if the group has narrow goals, rather than a broad, sweeping agenda like al Qaida possesses.

The second most common way that terrorist groups end -- 40 percent -- was through police and intelligence services either apprehending or killing the key leaders of these groups.

I sometimes wonder whatever happened to some of those outfits from the 1970s, such as the Red Brigade, the Symbionese Liberation Army, etc. This next bit isn't a big surprise.

Military force was effective in only 7 percent of the cases examined;in most instances, military force is too blunt an instrument to be successful against terrorist groups, although it can be useful for quelling insurgencies in which the terrorist groups are large, well-armed and well-organized, according to researchers.

Religious terrorist groups take longer to eliminate than other groups.
No religious terrorist group has achieved victory since 1968.


"The United States has the necessary instruments to defeat al Qaida, it just needs to shift its strategy and keep in mind that terrorist groups are not eradicated overnight," Jones said.

Moving On Up

Jon Carroll flies business class,and generally likes it.

My chair was wide, plush and had fold-out leg rests, plus literally more legroom than I needed - I could not touch the back of the seat in front of me with the soles of my feet even if I slouched. On one armrest was a full panel of buttons, some of them of uncertain purpose. There were three tabs on the other armrest, a lever under my right knee and another lever by my right ear. Also a goosenecked reading lamp.

On the other hand.....

I spent about the third of my luxury flight wrestling with my chair. The chair won.

Chihuahuas Annoy Me Too, But Not That Much

QT at the Chicago Sun-Times led me to this.

The dogs ran ashore towards a nude beach, and deputies said it was then the naked suspect started hitting them with a collapsible, police-type baton.
Then, officers said 74-year-old Donald Kenney, of Vancouver, advanced towards the victim with a can of mace and the raised baton. The victim fell backwards as Kenney pummeled him with the baton in the head, torso and legs.....

And this.

The woman told police that as she hid in her vehicle, Diaz threw a large rock through the windshield twice and then picked up and threw her pregnant Chihuahua through the broken back window. Both the woman and the dog were injured, police said.

Twittering Under the Influence

James Lileks attempts to fulfill a promise to Twitter while at the dentist.

First I wrote:
Three pilso
This is a reference to the three pills I’d taken.
That was the extent of message number two.

I think that’s a reference to the ancient Norse God of being high as a balloonist’s toupee.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Old von Trapp Place

One of the kids returns to the homestead,which is becoming a hotel.

Staying in the house for the first time since the von Trapps fled the Nazi regime in the late 1930s has been a deeply moving experience for the second-eldest daughter of Baron von Trapp, whose story was made famous by the "Sound of Music" film.

The film didn't have everything right. For instance, they didn't actually skip away from pursuing Nazis into Switzerland.

The family did not return from a concert tour in the United States in the late 1930s.

The real Baron also wasn't as uptight.

Christopher Plummer played Baron von Trapp, who was depicted as a strict patriarch, obsessed with discipline. "We were all pretty shocked at how they portrayed our father, he was so completely different. He always looked after us a lot, especially after our mother died," von Trapp said.

While she's there, she'll indulge in an old favorite.

"Today I will eat sausages -- this is what I did as a child. Sausages in Salzburg are simply fantastic."

Weeding the Begonias

A Dutch man learns that his horticultural skills are better than he thought.

Police officers suddenly noticed marijuana plants sprouting from his begonias," a police spokeswoman in The Hague said on Friday.

Darn kids.

The Hague pensioner promised to destroy the marijuana plants, which he believes were planted by local youngsters, while preserving his begonias.

Hmmm.....destroy them, eh? Perchance by burning them?

Boozy Shrews

Lewis Smith of The London Times writes about an animal that can hold its liquor.

Pentailed tree shrews have such an appetite for alcohol that each night they imbibe, weight for weight, the equivalent of a human downing up to nine glasses of wine.

After a night supping at the jungle bar the shrews are not even unsteady on their feet, let alone being copiously sick or starting drunken fights.

You can't buy the booze they drink.

They get their drinks from bertam palms, which grow in the jungles of West Malaysia and produce nectar boasting an alcohol content that can match beer.

Just Plain Nice

Via James Lileks at a stolen bike is replaced.

Only it wasn't the one that had been taken: it was a new Schwinn BMX bike, just his height -- and paid for out-of-pocket by several of the guards.

Yes We Have No Banana

Via Dave Barry.....It's a sad day for giant flying fruit-shaped art. The floating banana project (previously chronicled here) won't get off the ground. I guess I'll have to find another place to throw money. I wonder who the Natural Law Party nominated for president? Oops, never mind.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Another Crack in the Wall

A Chinese newspaper is in trouble.

A tabloid newspaper was withdrawn from newsstands in China after running a photograph from the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters.

It was probably a coincidence.

The photograph was printed alongside an interview with the Hong Kong-born American photographer Liu Xiangcheng as an example of his work.

..... it seems most likely to have been a mistake by staff who did not realise the significance of the photo, rather than a deliberate act, says the BBC's East Asia reporter Stephen Jackson.

It has been 19 years; many of the staff may have no knowledge of it, especially since it's officially a taboo subject. It does highlight a problem with Chinese leaders and their knee-jerk reactions; shutting down the paper probably caused people like those staffers who never heard of the massacre to ask what the problem was with the picture, and the lack of an official answer will create more curiosity.

It's another demonstration of the difficulty of maintaining a totalitarian state, especially one with a free-market economy. There are many places for information to hide, and in this ironic case the lack of knowledge of something caused it to pop into the open.

Scrabble Deception

Scandal in Senegal!

Mamadou Youck had been named winner of the "blitz" competition for 14-15 year-olds before officials discovered he was 16, Senegal's APS news agency reports.

In case you wondered.....

In the "blitz" category, players have just one minute to complete each move.

This is a big deal there.

The 37th Francophone Scrabble World Championships are taking place this week in Senegal's capital, Dakar.

The country's Sports Ministry, which accords Scrabble the same importance as football, has declared the competition a national priority.

Despite having a literacy rate of just 40%, Senegal's holds nine world titles in Scrabble.

How Do You Like My Mallet?

Some extra action at a polo match.....

The naked trio emerged from the grandstand during a match between England and Australia at the Cartier International event in Windsor.

One of them could run.

Two returned to the stand but the third was cheered as he fled stewards and hurdled two metal barriers to escape.

The Brits aren't nearly as uptight about these things as (some) Americans.

England team captain Luke Tomlinson later said it was not the first time he had played in a match interrupted by naked intruders. "You are so focused on the game you hardly notice. It brings a bit of humour in and the crowd seem to enjoy it," he said.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the club said: "I think it is the hot weather and the Pimms to blame. These things happen."

It's hard to imagine an American stadium doing this......

The streakers could be seen on the event's big screen.

As Long As the Checks Cash

The NY times has a somewhat confusing Op-Ed piece by John Allen on the stubbornness (although he doesn't use that word) of the Catholic Church. First he notes an anniversary.

Forty years ago last week, Pope Paul VI provoked the greatest uproar against a papal edict in the long history of the Roman Catholic Church when he reiterated the church’s ban on artificial birth control by issuing the encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” At the time, commentators predicted that not only would the teaching collapse under its own weight, but it might well bring the “monarchical papacy” down with it.

Those forecasts badly underestimated the capacity of the Catholic Church to resist change and to stand its ground.

Maybe, but standing your ground while people run past you isn't terribly effective.

Today polls show that Catholics, at least in the West, dissent from the teaching on birth control, often by majorities exceeding 80 percent.

At least the hierarchy isn't losing too much sleep over it.

But at the official level, Catholicism’s commitment to “Humanae Vitae” is more solid than ever.

The reason? Good old-fashioned patronage and boot-licking.

.....three decades of bishops’ appointments by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, both unambiguously committed to “Humanae Vitae,” mean that senior leaders in Catholicism these days are far less inclined than they were in 1968 to distance themselves from the ban on birth control, or to soft-pedal it. A striking number of Catholic bishops have recently brought out documents of their own defending “Humanae Vitae.”

The end result?

So the future of “Humanae Vitae” as the teaching of the Catholic Church seems secure, even if it will also continue to be the most widely flouted injunction of the church at the level of practice.

What confuses me is the seemingly positive tone of this, as though the ability to ignore the real world and their own parishioners is somehow a good thing. Of course, as long as the church members keep sending the money the leaders can issue edicts that the parishioners can ignore and everyone can pretend everything is just fine.

Then there was this paragraph.

During his almost 27-year papacy, John Paul II provided a deeper theoretical basis for traditional Catholic sexual morality through his “theology of the body.” In brief, the late pope’s argument was that human sexuality is an image of the creative love among the three persons of the Trinity, as well as God’s love for humanity. Birth control “changes the language” of sexuality, because it prevents life-giving love.

Beyond the somewhat weird comparison of sex to the relationship among the Trinity (two of which are described as male and related), there is the fact that clergy are officially prohibited from participating in this highly-praised, image-of-God's-love activity. I do agree that birth control changes the language of sexuality, in that it allows life-giving to be a result of love rather than happenstance or coercion.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Any Woman Will Do, But Even Then Being a Musician Helps

Not long ago I noted a no-kidding study that said men get excited by women in bikinis. Well, another study says that not only isn't the bikini necessary, but the woman doesn't have to be especially attractive.

Research involving a group of male students found that their levels of the hormone testosterone increased to the same extent whether they were talking to a young woman they found attractive – or to one they didn't fancy much at all.

The rise in the male hormone may also be the reason why men are more likely to tell women exaggerated stories about their job, career, education and earnings, the researchers believe.

The results also show that testosterone levels did not change when they were in the room with another man.

The men were also asked to rate the attractiveness of the woman in the room, and the results show that the testosterone increase was not influenced by the perceived attractiveness of the women.

But if you're a man looking for a woman, being a musician helps.

Musical ability, along with other creative skills, are rather like a human version of the peacock's tail; something that has no survival value, but has evolved precisely because it is found attractive by the opposite sex. That's according to Geoffrey Miller of the University of New Mexico and author of The Mating Mind.

That could be why, or.....

There could be another explanation for this weird affliction, according to John Manning of University of Central Lancashire. He thinks musical ability is an advertisement of male health and fertility, and that's why great musicians are so sexy.


The NY Times has an article with some interesting facts about mirrors.

Subjects tested in a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups performing the same exercises in nonmirrored settings.

.......people in a room with a mirror were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.

Outline your face on a mirror, and you will find it to be exactly half the size of your real face. Step back as much as you please, and the size of that outlined oval will not change: it will remain half the size of your face (or half the size of whatever part of your body you are looking at), even as the background scene reflected in the mirror steadily changes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Mulch or I'll Shoot!

Lawncare hijinks courtesy of Dave Barry.......

A Milwaukee man was accused of shooting his lawn mower because it wouldn't start.

Walendowski said he was angry because his Lawn Boy wouldn't start Wednesday morning. He told police quote, "I can do that, it's my lawn mower and my yard so I can shoot it if I want."

It's hard to argue with that. This seems a bit steep,though....

Walendowski could face up to an $11,000 fine and six years and three months in prison if convicted.

I anticipate he'll get a smaller fine and probation as long as he promises to refrain from assaulting horticultural machinery.

Did He Taste Good?

Dave Barry pointed me to this.

A suspect was charged with felony assault of a public servant after allegedly licking Sgt. Jay Newton on the face early Wednesday.

They frown upon that.

"We encourage people not to lick our police officers," (Police Chief Jeff) Pynes told The Facts newspaper in Brazoria County. "We want you to like them, not lick them."

Personally I don't lick people I don't like, but I'm a bit shy. I do agree with this......

"It's hard to say why he did it," Pynes told 11 News. "Whatever he was drinking, I wouldn't want it."

Another South Dakota Blog

Doug Wiken at Dakota Today just pointed me to Dakota 21, another S.D. Blog. I don't read as much S.D. stuff as I probably should; I usually end up running into South Dakota news elsewhere (such as the ongoing ridicule at Slate of our latest abortion law).

Among the posts was one about Estelle Getty's death, which brought back memories. I worked at KEVN during the initial run of The Golden Girls. We not only aired that, but also the syndicated reruns of the show, so I got to know it pretty well. Getty was always the spark of the show, and her ability to play a considerably older character was great to watch.

I remember getting a call from a woman asking for the name of an actor who had appeared in the episode we had just aired. Apparently she saw him visiting Mount Rushmore. It was Harold Gould, one of those actors who has had an impressive career and who many people would recognize but not be able to identify. I found this bit of trivia....

On the TV series "Love, American Style" (1969), Gould originated the role of "Howard Cunningham" in a segment called "Love and the Happy Days" in 1972. When "Happy Days" (1974) became an actual series with Ron Howard and Henry Winkler, Gould was replaced in the dad role by Tom Bosley.

It's hard to imagine Gould in the role instead of Bosley. It reminds me of one of my favorite movies, "Operation Petticoat". Bob Hope turned down the leading role, Cary Grant got the part, and in my opinion his persona made the movie work in a way that Bob Hope wouldn't have been able to accomplish.

Then too, only Leonard Nimoy as Spock made it from the original Star Trek pilot to the series, and even he was almost cut. Try to visualize that series with a completely different cast.

From a new blog to Spock..... that was some serious narrative drift.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

B.C. Bud

A BBC reporter checked out the marijuana crop in Canada,starting with one man's basement.

In front of me stand 120 marijuana plants whose thick bushy leaves cover the strong stems.
John explains quite nonchalantly that this is just a small growing operation, or grow-ops as they are known throughout Canada.

He has competition, and not just from the usual suspects.

Inspector Brian Cantera of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Vancouver believes that John's small grow-op is one of 20,000 to be found in residential houses around the province.
That figure excludes the larger grow-ops in industrial locations, not to mention the huge dope farms that are scattered around British Columbia's vast interior.

The striking aspect of BC's marijuana trade is that it has gone beyond the boundaries of traditional organised crime groups (although some are still heavily involved) and entered into the middle classes. Much of the revenue derived from BC Bud, as the cannabis crop is known, goes on paying college fees, perhaps buying a second car or making that holiday to the Caribbean just a little bit more affordable.

The trade is so large that the police in BC are faced with an impossible task.

That last phrase is a standard summary of the situation everywhere. A statement from an opponent of lightening up Canadian marijuana laws caught my eye.

And it's like alcohol - it runs an industry."

Like alcohol - which was banned, then re-legalized.

Here's an understatement.

If BC's marijuana trade ever did force through a change in the legal status of the drug in Canada, the implications for Canadian-US relations would be profound.

It's worth remembering that Canadians made a lot of money from U.S. alcohol prohibition.

Stories like this - massive marijuana production overwhelming law enforcement - have become a standard part of journalism as the so-called War on Drugs lumbers thoughtlessly and expensively on. Although I'm not optimistic, it is nice to think change is possible. After all, Don Quixote did eventually quit charging the windmills.

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

A British man tries a unique protest stunt.

A campaigner against Heathrow Airport's third runway has attempted to glue himself to Gordon Brown at a Downing Street reception.

He apparently didn't succeed.

"There may have been something sticky on his hands but it was only for a few seconds that he touched the prime minister," a spokesman said. "There was no stickiness of any significance."

No stickiness of any significance.....isn't that what we all want? I do admire the poor PR flunky who managed to say that with a straight face.

There was some risk of personal tragedy.

Mr Glass - a 24-year-old post-graduate student at Strathclyde University - had smuggled a small amount of glue through Downing Street security checks in his underwear at about 1700 BST.

Personally I couldn't trust a seal on a lid that much.

You would think they would've anticipated this since.......

Mr Glass was invited to Downing Street to receive an award from the Sheila McKechnie Foundation for his protesting work with Plane Stupid.

This quote pretty well sums it up.

"He was just grinning about it. He didn't seem to take me seriously."

Imagine that. If he wants serious he should try that with Bush. The Secret Service would break out the rubber gloves and REALLY check for glue.

Mr. Glass wasn't the only member of his group in action.

Campaigners who unfurled banners from Parliament were led away while Gordon Brown was taking part in prime minister's questions in the Commons.

Protesters from the Plane Stupid group climbed onto the roof at about 0930 GMT, unfurled banners and threw down paper planes, which they said were made from documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

At least they didn't interrupt.

One of them, Richard George, said: "We decided to let Gordon Brown get on with prime minister's questions, but we just wanted him to know what it is like to have an inconvenience above your head that you did not ask for."

They did cause some embarrassment.

The incident has raised fresh questions about security at Parliament with calls for an immediate inquiry.

Former Joint Intelligence Committee chairman Sir Richard Mottram told the BBC later he had been surprised that the protesters had got onto the roof.

I'm surprised they couldn't come up with a better name than Plane Stupid, although it does seem to suit them.

Muslim Beef in Nigeria

Sightings of images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary are regularly reported (although how that works is a bit of a mystery to me, given that no actual images exist for comparison), but this is new.

What looks like the Arabic word for God and the name of the prophet Muhammad were discovered in pieces of beef by a diner in Birnin Kebbi.

"When the writings were discovered there were some Islamic scholars who come and eat here and they all commented that it was a sign to show that Islam is the only true religion for mankind,"

I wonder what those scholars will say when the meat rots, especially if it then spells Elvis. Anyway, it's a big attraction.

Thousands of people have already gone to the restaurant to see them since they were discovered last week.

I'm chalking this up to creative carving in the kitchen, but I'm hopelessly cynical.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The First Step Off the Pedestal

I must confess I didn't know he was still alive, but Charles Van Doren is finally talking.

"It" is his career-ending involvement in the great quiz show scandal of 1959, which reduced him from a glamorous Time magazine cover boy and "Today" show regular to tabloid humiliation as one of the most reviled men in America.

Now 82, Van Doren is telling pretty much all, in an article scheduled for publication in next week's New Yorker.

This was a little before my time, but as someone who worked in TV, it has always been of interest, and I have seen the PBS special mentioned in the article as well as other stories about it. The effect of the scandal on people's opinion of television is hard to describe. It was the first major blow to the medium's integrity, and it hurt the game show genre in particular for a long time.

I also grew up in the time just after it, when there was still some trust in the television industry in general, if not in game shows. In today's world of obviously slanted "news" shows and programs that are essentially hour-long advertisements ("World's Best Hotels"), It can be hard to remember when there were only a few channels, and the people on them were regarded as truly important figures, not just teleprompter readers or ratings draws. When Edward R. Murrow (McCarthyism) or Walter Cronkite (Vietnam) could sway the nation and make history.

Today's television is better in many ways; there are more good programs and channels than ever before (though you have to look harder for them), and the technology is constantly improving. But that 1959 scandal started a decline in status that hasn't really stopped. Such a decline was probably inevitable as the medium grew, but to those of us who were the first to grow up with television as a major part of our lives, it's like watching a beloved relative age.

Working Vacation

Jeremy Clarkson tries to combine work with a family holiday.

Hang on a minute. I wanted to write this morning about Australia’s immigration policy. But sadly, each time I look out of the window, I’m consumed by the view. This means that every time I try to send an e-mail to the Top Gear edit suite about cuts I need for next week’s film, it always begins: “The seagull’s lonesome cry echoed eerily from the volcanic jaggedry . . . ” and no one in Soho has the first clue what’s got into me.

Insecticide Isn't All Fun and Games

Perhaps spraying the stove wasn't a good idea.

The accident occurred as Maceda was spraying for pests in his kitchen. Somehow the bug spray ignited a blast that blew out the apartment's front windows and triggered a fire that quickly spread.....

Men or Bean Dip?

Lemmonex ponders a change of affections.

Come to think of it, I could spend the rest of my life with some hummus. I am sure my trusty bowl of puree would be a loyal, constant companion. He tastes good, I am sure he is faithful (though he may cast a sideways glance at a bag of pita chips, I am sure I would always be number one in his book) Seeing as he is an inanimate object, he would stay out of my way and would never smart off. Of course, he wouldn’t clean up around the house and probably would provide minimal physical satisfaction, but I know enough bars where I can find someone take care of my carnal desires…

Monday, July 21, 2008

Religion vs. Belief

At Salon, Steve Paulson interviews James Carse, author of "The Religious Case Against Belief". He offers a lot to contemplate. A few snips.....

A belief system is meant to be a comprehensive network of ideas about what one thinks is absolutely real and true. Within that system, everything is adequately explained and perfectly reasonable. You know exactly how far to go with your beliefs and when to stop your thinking. A belief system is defined by an absolute authority. The authority can be a text or an institution or a person. So it's very important to understand a belief system as independent of religion.

Belief systems have virtually no longevity. Think of Marxism. As a serious political policy, it lasted only about 70 or 80 years. Nazism only went 12 years. And they were intense, complete, comprehensive, passionately held beliefs. But they ran out very quickly. The reason the great religions don't run out as quickly is that they're able to maintain within themselves a deeper sense of the mystery, of the unknowable, of the unsayable, that keeps the religion alive and guarantees its vitality.

There have been a lot of fantasies about putting all the religions together. Mahatma Gandhi was famous for saying that all religions are, at their core, the same. But I have spent my life studying these traditions. I am a historian of religion. And the more I studied them, the more I saw that they were absolutely different.

If God is defined as some sort of transcendent reality, do you think God exists?
[Laughs] Frankly, no.

When you look at belief systems from a religious perspective, what's exposed is how limited they are, how deeply authoritarian they are, how rationalistic and comprehensive they claim to be, but at the same time how little staying power they have with the human imagination. It's a deeper and much more incisive critique.

Today, the world is really being ravaged by conflicts between believers......
So it's very important to understand how different belief systems work and what's inherently wrong with them.

"the vast literature on Jesus is not about anything; that, in fact, it says nothing."

Summertime, Good and Bad

Rachel Shukert has never liked summer.

Summer meant sweaty thighs sticking to plastic chairs and getting diaper rash, long after you had stopped wearing diapers. It meant waiting around at barbecues to scarf down a still-cold hot dog that tasted of freezer burn and lighter fluid. Worst of all, summer meant camp, where I would be required to live, play and shower with other children. I would be forced to sit atop an elderly horse as it plodded down a well-worn trail, stopping whenever a horse ahead paused to release a cascade of feces that hit the hard-packed dirt with a warm plop. It meant bleach burns in the arts and crafts shed, and being made to sing Zionist folk songs at dinner.

The word on the street is that people like summer. They welcome the chance to relax, to consume alarming amounts of melon and engage in casual sex acts beneath a starry sky. I can appreciate this on an intellectual level, but the inability to enjoy these kinds of simple pleasures has persisted throughout my life, and something about the summer months throws my general malaise into painful relief. The constant burden of forced merriment -- the sense that you should be out somewhere, anywhere, taking advantage of it all, like Gidget or the Kennedys, weighs heavily on me.

This surprises me a bit, coming from a woman born and raised in Omaha. I tend to agree with fellow area denizens James Lileks and Garrison Keillor, who look more favorably upon summer, miserable though it can be, because winter is usually so long and cold. It often seems that people here feel they must store up summer heat like bears fatten up in order to get through the winter.

I'm not a big outdoor person, but I enjoy the reduced logistics of summer - less clothing, no need to warm up the car, sunburn and heat stroke easier to manage than frostbite and hypothermia. In general, summer is just less burdensome.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Police Dogs are Just Animals

Brian Palmer at Slate mentions an interesting tidbit in his article about police dogs; it seems South Dakota is the only state without a law providing specific protections for them. I can't say it matters to me, but it is somewhat curious.

Sick of Do-It-Yourself

Ellen Goodman is tired of jobs being farmed out to her.

The outsourcing of work to other countries has produced endless ire. But what about the outsourcing of work to thee and me?

For every task shipped abroad by a corporation, isn't there another one sloughed off onto that domestic loser, the consumer? For every job that's going to a low-wage economy, isn't there another going into our very own no-wage economy?

The job has not been "saved," it's been taken out of the paid sector, where employees have a nasty habit of expecting salaries, and put into the unpaid sector, where Suckers 'R' Us.

An MIT economist assures me cheerily that many Americans are willing to accept less service for lower cost. In a society built on the value of self-reliance, I am told, we may even feel virtuous when we put together our own bookcase or install our own hard drive.

But I have yet to find an economist who has figured out the human cost of "lower cost," or tallied up the transfer of labor from companies to customers.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Brother Metal

A monk and his music.....

Brother Cesare is the lead singer in a heavy metal band which has just released its second album.
The 62-year-old monk's love affair with heavy metal began when he attended a Metallica concert some 15 years ago. "I was overwhelmed and amazed by the sheer energy of it" he says.

He had to do some convincing.

The members of his band were at first sceptical at the idea of teaming up with a Capuchin monk but their doubts soon evaporated. "Five minutes after meeting Brother Cesare I decided to go ahead, because he manages to convey so much energy, that other musicians and youngsters often don't manage to express," lead guitarist, Cesare Zanotti, told Reuters.

He's getting noticed.

Brother Metal recently appeared in the Gods of Metal festival in Italy, along with giants such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Slayer, playing to a crowd of leather-clad hard-core metal fans.

He's not doing it to proselytize.

He does touch on faith and religion but is adamant that he is not seeking to draw people to Catholicism through his stage performances.

"I do it to convert people to life, to understand life, to grab hold of life, to savour it and enjoy it. Full stop" he says.

Dave Barry On the Road

I was informed by Andrew Sullivan that Dave Barry went to Costa Rica and blogged about it (scroll down to July 12th for first entry).

The Costan Rican unit of currency is -- get ready -- the "colon." The exchange rate is roughly one dollar for 387 hillion skillion jillion colons. If you want to feel wealthy, get yourself some colons.

We flew from Miami to San Jose, then changed to a small plane. And when I say a "small plane," I mean "a plane roughly the size of the bathroom in the plane that took us from Miami to San Jose."

Allegedly we have seen a sloth. I did not see the sloth, but I did see people pointing at a tree, and that in itself was pretty exciting.

Dave has also enjoyed the natural pleasures of Idaho.

The problem is that my friends are never content to sit around with a cool beverage and look at the nature from a safe distance, as nature intended. No, my friends want to go out and interact with the nature in some kind of potentially fatal way.

The Harder They Fall

Edward McClelland notes the decline of Anheuser-Busch.

But Budweiser's position as America's beer -- the alcoholic version of McDonald's, Disney World and Wal-Mart -- has made it difficult to reach the modern drunk. Traditional-beer sales have been stagnant since the 1990s. The baby boomers graduated from their prime drinking years, and new local beers arose to replace the hometown lagers Bud had helped pour down the drain. In 1980, America had eight craft breweries. A quarter-century later, there are over 1,300.

George Will praises beer in general.

It is closer to the truth to say: No beer, no civilization.

As an aside, the largest American-owned brewery is now Samuel Adams.

Looming Silence

Janice Turner is losing her hearing.

These days I find it harder to catch dialogue on television. Voices are muffled, broken, a sonic blur, and I have to turn to my husband and ask “Is it me or the TV?” because, in particular, makers of the edgier American shows and movies - The Sopranos, The Wire, Miami Vice - seem to regard dismal sound quality as a cool aesthetic decision; an auditory Impressionism.

Mostly, though, I know it is me, stepping on to the top rung of a slow descent into silence. Deafness is my genetic inheritance, along with a short temper and long legs.

My dad was born blind in one eye and yet this incapacity did not stop him being a capable bowler, a crack shot with a rifle in the Home Guard or prevent him from driving, even now aged 85.......It is the deafness that has done for him, locked away his gregarious character, turned his entire life into a table for one.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Car Apathy

Claudia Winkleman tells a story of a woman who got her driver's license after repeated attempts.

When asked what made her most recent attempt so different from all the others, she said: "This time I concentrated." And that, by the way, makes Teresa my new hero. She could have made all kinds of things up: the road was clearer, she feels better in a Corsa (this is, I agree, highly unlikely, but work with me here), she was in a better mood and had just finished a nice lunch, or maybe she could have said it was all about her brand-new instructor. She could have said any of these things but basically she nailed it – when it comes to women and driving and interest in cars, we just don't care that much.

As opposed to.....

Unlike our male counterparts at 18 who only want to furiously masturbate 98 times a day and occasionally stop to roll a joint, driving isn't THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL. It is not the way we measure ourselves.

To repeat.....

Women aren't less good at driving because we're not skillful, we're less good at driving because we DON'T CARE.


While on his honeymoon, Cooper Brown gets a sunburn.

The worst thing is my eyelids – they got burnt bad and it really hurts when I blink, so I try to avoid doing it for as long as I can.

This results in an impromptu showdown.

....I can't blink and I keep looking the sushi chef's way. He catches me staring a couple of times and, on the third occasion, he fixes me in some kind of kamikaze stare-off. Now, I've become pretty good at not blinking and there's no way I'm giving in to this asshole. He puts his sushi "equipment" down and we get into a total High Noon situation.

A queue starts to build up at the counter but nobody is backing down. After a good four minutes, the chef cracks and has to blink. I laugh and he goes berserk. He actually tries to jump over the counter to attack me. I guess that it all got too much for him. This probably wasn't how he saw his life panning out when he left his little fishing village in search of the good life. A couple of fellow staff members pull him back and he is taken into a back area to chill out. The battle of the Mauritius Sushi Counter was won by... yours truly, and I really felt that you should know about it.

Grandpa Again

I feel compelled to report that the number of estrogen producers increased slightly at 12:05 pm Tuesday with the arrival of Whitney Alexa Young, my wife's fourth grandchild. The official hospital page with photos can be seen here. She's remarkably serene and calm for a newborn, which I attribute to her happiness at finally being born after having to be restrained from coming out too early the past couple of months.

I heartily recommend marrying into grandparenthood; you get to skip the parenting. To be fair, I do have a fine daughter of my own who,while in no hurry to reproduce, doesn't seem to have been completely put off the idea by her older stepsister's tribulations of the past few months.

Spending Retirement

Two possible visions of the future......

On our recent trip to Sioux City we stopped to see my Dad in Centerville. He's been retired for a few years, and has spent roughly three of those years building a workshop attached to his garage. He has finally finished it, and the results are pretty impressive. It has a lot of space for work and storage, and a door that looks just like the garage doors. He'll be doing a lot of puttering out there.

At the casino in Sioux City we saw a large number of elderly people playing the slot machines. Many of them used the plastic casino cards instead of cash (indicating they were frequent customers) and spent hours playing the same machines.

I didn't inherit my Dad's woodworking skills, so I don't see myself spending retirement that way. I do like going to a casino occasionally, but I can't imagine spending time and money like those folks. If I had to guess, I'd say that, if the eyes hold up and the wife doesn't have better ideas, I'll likely be doing more of what I do now when I'm not working, which is watching TV and wandering the web. I know many people would find that unspeakably dull, but it suits me.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Crusade of the Lesbian Man

Via Arts and Letters Daily.....A man from Lesbos wants gay women to stop using his island's name.

Lambrou filed a petition for a temporary injunction in an Athens court. He wanted to keep OLKE, Greece's gay and lesbian association, from continuing to use the word "lesbian." Lambrou himself was born on the island of Lesbos, the home of the poet Sappho, classical muse of all women who love women. Lambrou happens to love his native Lesbos. OLKE, he insists, has stolen the word "lesbian." Women from Lesbos are constantly confused with lesbian women, says Lambrou, who believes real Lesbians can only exist on Lesbos.

I sympathize with him, but changes in lexicon are part of human history and pretty much irreversible once they've become widespread.

Road Trip

My wife and I drove to Sioux City and back this weekend to pick my daughter up from her two-week stay with her Mother. It's the type of trip that lends itself to idle thoughts and observations.......

When driving at the speed limit of 75 mph on I-90 and I-29, I got passed by other vehicles far more frequently than I passed anyone. The price of gasoline may be causing problems, but not enough to cause people to slow down. For the record, I averaged about 32 mpg for the trip, with a high of 36 thanks to a cool morning that kept the a/c off and gale-force wind assistance.

That wind was making things interesting for a boatload of fishermen on the Missouri River Saturday morning. Their boat was bobbing considerably amid the whitecaps as they were trying to sit still and fish. It seemed to me that the risk/reward ratio was getting a bit too high, but I'm not a fisherman.

In reference to a recent post by Dale over at Faith in Honest Doubt, I should note that I also saw a rare sight; a two-tone (blue over gray) Chevette moving apparently under its own power at highway speed on I-90 near Chamberlain.

We pick a motel more or less at random when we go there, and this time we chose the Quality Inn basically because it was conveniently located near both the riverboat casino and the street we needed to take to get my daughter. The motel itself was adequate, but the attached restaurant had a buffet with the best prime rib I've had in a very long time.

As for that casino, it was busy as usual on a Saturday night. My wife and I both like to play the penny machines. I treat it like I used to treat pinball; a source of cheap amusement. The "riverboat" description is amusing if technically accurate; it is on the water and accessible only by gangplanks, and does appear to be capable of independent floatation, but it's definitely not designed to go anywhere.

On the way back we saw a railroad car being hauled by two trucks; one with the box and one with the base and wheels. I hadn't seen that before, and for some reason it hadn't occurred to me that it was done.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Explaining Dirty Jokes

Via Arts and Letters Daily..... A Los Angeles Times piece by Jim Holt.

The whole point of humor, Freud thought, is to get around our inhibitions. Most of us in our daily lives expend a certain amount of psychic energy in keeping our sexual impulses at bay. (If we didn't, civilization would be rather a mess.) A naughty joke -- whether verbal or visual -- catches our inner censor off guard and liberates these dangerous impulses, if only for a moment. The result is a discharge of nervous energy through the facial and respiratory muscles: in a word, laughter.

There's a slight problem with this.

If the Freudian view of humor is correct, the people who laugh the hardest at lewd jokes should be those who are the most sexually repressed, because they are the ones who enjoy the greatest release of energy when they are liberated from their inhibitions. But in reality, the opposite seems to be the case. Research by the late British psychologist Hans Eysenck suggests that the people who get the biggest kick out of sexual humor tend to be the ones who are least inhibited about displaying their randy impulses.

There are two other classic theories of humor in competition with his. One of them is the "superiority theory," propounded in various forms by Plato, Thomas Hobbes and Henri Bergson, which says that laughter is a way of crowing victoriously over the humiliation of others. This theory works well at explaining the appeal of ethnic and racial jokes, of jokes about gays and drunkards and henpecked husbands and lawyers and women....

The other time-honored view of humor has a rather sweeter flavor, and a more intellectual one. It is the "incongruity theory," versions of which were held by Blaise Pascal, Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer, which says that we laugh when the decorous suddenly dissolves into the absurd. "Do you believe in clubs for small children?" W.C. Fields was once asked. "Only when kindness fails," he replied.

I think the answer is all of the above. But trying to think of a punchline for the unfinished joke mentioned in the article is going to irritate me far more than is healthy.

.....about a resident of Abdera, a Greek town whose citizens were renowned for their foolishness. "Seeing a eunuch, an Abderite asked him how many children he had. The eunuch replied that he had none, because he lacked the means of reproduction. Retorted the Abderite... "

We Talked About It; Now See It Done!

Because sometimes I just can't let something go...... here's a video of aluminum foil being made.

Incidentally, the reason two sheets are run together through a roller is about four minutes in.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Aluminum Foil

If this was keeping you awake, you can thank QT at the Chicago Sun-Times.

K.R., a Palos Heights reader, writes:
"Why does aluminum foil have a shiny side and a dull side? I mean, is one side better than the other?"

QT checked with a manufacturer. One side is not better than the other.
What happens is that when two aluminum sheets, one on top of the other, are sent between rollers, the side of each sheet against the rollers comes out shiny while the side against the other sheet comes out dull.

Isn't it amazing how some of the simplest everyday questions yield fascinating answers?
And some don't?

What Women Should Know

Bud Bryan at Auto Extremist made a of list 10 things women should know about men. Some are fine, others may partially explain his past "eventful" relationships.

1. We reserve the right to say that one of your friends is smokin' hot, in a healthy and complimentary tone of course. And it's just an observation, not a call to action. Usually.

2. It's true, we never do grow up (okay, so maybe this isn't much of a revelation). We liked to play with toys when we were young and we never grew out of it. The toys are just bigger and more expensive now. And besides, if your ring is big and sparkly enough, what do you care?.

3. At some point in our adult life we realize that we have absolutely nothing in common with you whatsoever, and that you basically just tolerate us. So we just go out and buy more toys and keep out of your way.

4. We actually do live lives of quiet desperation. We just don't like to admit how all-consuming our thinking about it really is, and we sure as hell don't want to talk about it.

5. We get the fact that we aren't supposed to say "yes" when you ask us if that outfit you're tryin' on makes your butt look big. But what if it really does? Wouldn't that be like a public service?

6. We actually like that you run the show even though we don't like to admit it. Just throw us a frickin' bone once in a while so we don't feel like a guest in our own kingdoms.

7. Yes, we do think about sex - a lot. But you have us so damn scared to bring it up out of fear of hearing "Is that all you think about?!" that we just bring it up about every fifth time.

8. Know your guy well enough to know when to say when - when it comes to pushing his buttons - or suffer the consequences.

9. We're so sick of Oprah that we can't stand it. There, we said it.

10. Yes, of course we love you. Can we have sex now?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Tell Me About It

2 Blowhards led me to this.

Geese, famous for their copious defecation, are less likely to defecate when they are flying.....

But when they do..... imagine a paintball made of crap.

But it has been estimated that depending on diet and season, a goose defecates from around once an hour to once every few minutes, for a total of a pound or more a day of droppings from a large goose.

As a resident of a city where thousands of geese come to spend the winter and make the area around the Capitol a watch-where-you-walk zone, I have no trouble believing that number.

Not Reading Enough?

Mark Morford at the San Fransisco Chronicle mulls over the decline of reading.

See, I love books. Admire and appreciate and adore. Was a lit major at Berkeley, read voraciously, still love to read, still like to consider myself a big consumer of books and deep thinker about bookish issues and ideas and authoralia.

And yet, if I'm painfully honest, I have to admit it: I barely read books anymore. Not nearly like I used to, anyway. Not for a long, long time. And chances are, if you're at all addicted to the new media vortex, neither do you.

I don't read as many books as I once did either, but cable TV, which came into my life in college, was probably the big culprit in that decline. I tended toward magazines and the reference section of the library anyway, so the Internet has actually been a boon to reading in general for me. I still subscribe to several magazines, but I certainly would have never read Mark Morford, or any of the many intelligent and creative people I regularly enjoy online, without the Internet. (An observation; the spellchecker says it should be Internet, not internet.) I think the thrill of the hunt may be part of the enjoyment; finding something interesting amid all the dreck. In that sense it's similar to a trip to the library or bookstore, except that I sit on my lazy rump.

Mass Eye-Gouging Narrowly Averted

From the Onion, a reason to be glad Hillary Clinton lost the nomination.

.....devoted spouse and former president Bill Clinton breathed a resigned sigh Monday and carefully folded the charcoal silk, fitted sheath dress he had hoped to wear as first lady during next January's inauguration and placed it back in its beautiful box.

No Scents

Elizabeth Zierah has an excellent article at Slate about the misery of losing her sense of smell.

I began searching the Internet like a cyber bloodhound (at least I could sniff virtually) for the trail that would lead to my missing sense of smell. I tried nasal washes, nose sprays, herbal remedies, steroids, acupuncture, antihistamines, dietary modification, meditation, and visualization. A few worked for very brief periods, but nothing lasted.

I lost normal function on the left side of my body from a stroke when I was 30, and although I've had a strong recovery, I still have limited fine-motor control in my left hand, I walk with a limp, and I can't feel much on my affected side. Yet without hesitation I can say that losing my sense of smell has been more traumatic than adapting to the disabling effects of the stroke.

My taste buds are in perfect working order, but without smell, each meal is a variation of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or vaguely savory cardboard.

....not being able to smell yourself makes personal hygiene incredibly stressful.

I'm not only dogged by the fear of stinking; I've also found that life is more dangerous. I've burned food and melted pots so many times I should be declared a walking fire hazard. Like most anosmics, I view any gas appliance as an archnemesis. I've become compulsive about making sure my gas stove is really on when I turn the dial.

I've seen the potential danger once myself. A co-worker at Public TV lost his sense of smell due to nasal spray overuse. One day he put a frozen dinner in the microwave oven at work and it emitted a stench the like of which I've experienced only one other time, when I was near a dead cow that had been in the summer sun for a few days and burst. The dinner must have thawed long enough to spoil at some point, then got refrozen. He didn't notice it at all, and would have eaten at least some of it if we hadn't been there to intervene.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Encouraging Writers

From her New Statesman blog, Scottish writer A.L. Kennedy:


But instead you smile, perhaps mention eating more fruit, self-maintenance, plans, hope – because the only thing worse than doing the thing you really love would be not doing it. And when it’s good it really is about as good as it gets – making dreams and wonders – not the worst job in the world.

Still Dead

Trying this takes more than guts; self-delusion is probably necessary.

A Moscow court convicted a man of fraud on Monday for preying on people mourning loved ones by saying he could resurrect the dead.

"He used a special method of influencing people distressed by the loss of relatives or the illness of loved ones," the judge said as he found Grabovoy guilty of 11 cases of fraud.

Whatever that special method is, it hangs on.

Dozens of Grabovoy's supporters crowded outside the scruffy court house in a Moscow suburb.
Despite the guilty verdict his mainly older supporters still believe Grabovoy has powers which can help them and that he has been unfairly persecuted and Grabovoy's lawyer vowed to appeal the ruling.

"We think the sentence is based on speculation and is absolutely unfair," lawyer Mikhail Tsyganenko said.

Hmmm..... It seems to me that raising the dead is something that would be beyond speculation. I would guess that one resurrected person would swing the case quite convincingly. Personally I would think big; perhaps Lenin after all those years on display. Yeltsin would also be a good choice; getting that body functioning again would be a feat.

Big Screen Material

This didn't take long.

Colombian movie director Simon Brand is teaming up with producers in Hollywood and his native country to bring to the big screen the story of last week's dramatic rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages in Colombia.

It does seem like an obvious idea.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Variety of What?

Admittedly I don't follow public opinion very closely, but I don't recall a clamor for this.

The Osbourne family are making a return to US television with a variety series, according to a report.

Who would bankroll such a thing? Who else?

The Fox network has commissioned the programme and plans to launch it with a Christmas special.

Mike Darnell, Fox's head of alternative programming, said the show was intended to make the concept of the variety show "feel new".

Eugene Young, an executive producer with the show's makers Fremantle, told Variety it would "tap into what the Osbournes do best, which is be themselves".

I saw them "be themselves" on their last TV series, and while they had a certain now-what-will-happen entertainment value, they didn't show anything resembling the type of skill set needed for a variety show. Ozzy is the most talented one - at one time he had a surprisingly good singing voice - but he's always been a flake and he looks like he's breaking down physically. The rest of the family hasn't shown much. Maybe a sketch-comedy format could work, but they just don't have the breadth of talent to handle different scripted material.

The Greatest Thing

James Lileks pointed me to this.

On July 6, 1928, in the small US town of Chillicothe, Missouri, the local newspaper broke the story on the front - and carried the advertisement on the back - of its eight page edition. From the following morning the Chillicothe Baking Company would be selling pre-sliced bread at quality grocers in the area, thanks to a powerful multi-bladed machine called the Rohwedder Bread Slicer.

It had been some time coming.

The bread slicer that made it all possible was invented by Iowa man Otto Rohwedder who built his first prototype in 1917 but it was not put into commercial use until 1928 when the Chillicothe Baking Co. took it on.

Thus was the standard for future inventions set. The significance has dimmed with time, but anyone who has attempted to slice bread manually understands why this was a big deal.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Just Stay Single

Maureen Dowd talked to a priest who for 40 years has been giving a lecture to high school kids - mostly girls - on choosing a spouse.

“It’s important to do it before they fall seriously in love, because then it will be too late,” he explains. “Infatuation trumps judgment.”

He cites a lot of red flags, most fairly obvious and sensible. A few snips.....

“Never marry a man who has no friends,”

“Does he have a sense of humor? That covers a multitude of sins.

“Don’t marry a problem character thinking you will change him.

“After I regale a group with this talk, the despairing cry goes up: ‘But you’ve eliminated everyone!’ Life is unfair.”

Wake It Up and Kill It

This could be good news for a lot of people.

They discovered that a mysterious gene carried by the herpes simplex-1 virus — the one that causes cold sores — allows the virus to lay low in the nerves it infects.

It may be possible to "wake up" the virus and then kill it with standard antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, said Jennifer Lin Umbach of Duke University in North Carolina, who worked on the study released Wednesday.

This could treat more than cold sores.

Herpes simplex 1 or HSV-1 causes cold sores, HSV-2 causes genital herpes, while varicella causes chicken pox and returns in middle or old age as herpes zoster to cause shingles.

The potential market is large. An estimated one in five Americans have genital herpes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 100 million have the HSV-1 virus that causes cold sores.
The CDC estimates there are a million cases of shingles every year in the United States alone.

Leave on a High Note

At least one band knows to stay retired.

Swedish supergroup Abba will "never" perform on stage again, two of the band's members have said.

Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson told The Sunday Telegraph there was "simply no motivation to regroup".

"We would like people to remember us as we were, young, exuberant and full of ambition," Ulvaeus told the newspaper.

Praise be. Admittedly money is a motivation for many groups to try to recapture the old magic, but I wish more would be deterred by the embarrassments of past attempts, especially by those that were marginally talented at their peak.

Ulvaeus added: "I remember Robert Plant saying Led Zeppelin were a covers band now because they cover all their own stuff. I think that hit the nail on the head."

It sure did, but Plant still can't resist the urge, and I can understand it a little bit when you still can get awards. But most groups are closer to this than to Led Zeppelin, and when you've gotten to that point, maybe it's time to stop.

Test of Time

Mark Vernon, while recommending reading the work of the first quantum physicists, posted this quote....

'A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.' Max Planck

That has been true of a good many ideas. For some reason it immediately brought to mind the unconnected, yet somehow cosmically related, death of Jesse Helms and success of Barack Obama.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Next, An Ice Cream Truck and A Chocolate Syrup Tanker

Well, they have gotten expensive....

Two trailers loaded with bananas have been stolen from the Port of Wilmington.

Too Valuable to Use

Via Arts and Letters Daily:
Oil has gotten too expensive even for the oil producers.

.....the state-owned Oman Oil Company signed a memorandum of understanding with two Korean companies on the construction and operation of several coal-fired power plants. Dubai, for its part, is initially planning to build at least four large facilities with a cumulative output of 4,000 megawatts. Abu Dhabi also wants to get into the act. Even Egypt is thinking of constructing its first coal-fired plant on the shores of the Red Sea.

Oil-rich Russia is planning the construction of more than thirty new coal-fired power plants by 2011.

They are currently able to sell their oil at record prices on the global market (currently over $140 a barrel). At the same time, they are able to satisfy their own energy needs at a much lower cost with coal shipped in from overseas.

Or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

Criminal stupidity in New Hampshire.......

....when Trooper John Hennessey asked about the bulge in Belmont's pants, he refused to cooperate and had to be physically restrained, police said.

Police searched him at the Seabrook Police Department, and approximately one pound of cocaine, packaged in a plastic bag, was found in his underwear.

Kung Fu Panda - Freedom Fighter?

I haven't seen this movie, but based on the ads it seemed to be a decent bit of fluffy entertainment with a standard success-through-hard-work-and-determination plot. I didn't imagine this....

....animated Hollywood comedy "Kung Fu Panda" has led Chinese artists to find fault with their own film industry and call for fewer government controls on culture.

"The film's protagonist is China's national treasure and all the elements are Chinese, but why didn't we make such a film?" Wu Jiang, president of the China National Peking Opera Company, was cited as saying by Xinhua news agency on Saturday.

Lu Chuan, a young film director, applauded "Kung Fu Panda" as a fresh and rich take on Chinese culture, mixing references to martial arts films with classic legends.

Lu said the government was stifling the creativity of China's filmmakers, explaining how he had been asked to make an animated film for the Olympic Games, which will be hosted by Beijing in August, but decided to walk away from the project. "I kept receiving directions and orders on how the movie should be like," he said.

Artists aren't the only ones talking.

A standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Congress said that, though there was no secret ingredient to filmmaking success, the government ought to relax its oversight. Opening more space for Chinese artists would allow more innovation, ultimately giving China greater cultural influence abroad, they concluded.

Chinese moviegoers have expressed their opinions as well.

The comedy had earned $16 million at the Chinese box office as of Wednesday, according to its distributors. Any film that grosses $15 million is considered a big hit in China.

It really is hard to predict what can have an effect on a totalitarian regime, especially a free-market hybrid like China,which as far as I know hasn't previously been tried. Perhaps the people who say that free trade will eventually change things there are right.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Wonder Drug

The applications never end.

Athletes looking for a performance boost are increasingly turning to a little blue pill more usually taken for its off-the-field benefits: Viagra.

The drug works by increasing the effects of nitric oxide, which makes blood vessels expand. That should theoretically allow blood cells to travel to the lungs more efficiently and to also receive more oxygen. It may also improve heart function.

Viagra is also approved to treat pulmonary hypertension, a condition where the lungs' blood vessels tighten. Doctors have used the drug experimentally to treat pregnant women with high blood pressure and to ward off jet lag.

But whether Viagra makes athletes faster, higher or stronger is uncertain.

Not all athletes benefit.

Viagra is only likely to help athletes like runners, cyclists or skiers — sports where endurance and speed are key.

Hmmm...speed and endurance......It seems to me that increasing those would benefit anyone engaging in the most popular activity involving that drug. However, I can also imagine how it's best-known effect could be a hindrance to a male athlete should it kick in during competition.

Marriage - Good, Bad and Indifferent

Jon Carroll.....

My obstinacy with regard to remodeling or, indeed, any change anywhere in the house is the despair of my wife. It's gotten so she starts proposals with, "OK, don't say no right away, think about it" or "I know you're going to say no, but ..." So I say "yes" once and I'm a hero, which is a kind of creepy conditioned behavior, but marriage is just creepy conditioned behavior with kissing, in my view.

From a New English Review article.....

“Woman inspires us to great things," remarked Alexandre Dumas, "and prevents us from achieving them.”

“Certainly the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men,” wrote Sir Francis Bacon (not a bachelor, but perhaps wishing he were).

H.L. Mencken....
“Bachelors know more about women than married men; if they didn’t they’d be married too.”

“If you are afraid of loneliness,” warned Chekhov, “don't marry."

On the other hand.....

Sir Francis Bacon maintained that, “wife and children are a kind of discipline of humanity; and single men…are more cruel and hardhearted (good to make severe inquisitors), because their tenderness is not so oft called upon.”

George Gilder likewise notes that "Men need durable ties to women to discipline them for civilized life, or they become a menace to society and themselves… and tend to live short and destructive lives." Men, he argues, need marriage for psychological stability. Marriage/monogamy increases your chances of surviving and reproducing, which is what our genes demand of us. And he commonly lives a happier and longer life. Without women men revert to packs, and spend summer nights chawing tobacco, swilling moonshine, and baying at the moon.

Safe Driving = Free Gasoline

Sometimes I'm just not paying attention. I had to find this via Marginal Revolution.

Residents in Sioux Falls, S.D., continued to top the chart as the safest drivers in the U.S., according to the fourth annual “Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report™.” The average driver in Sioux Falls experiences an auto collision every 14.6 years. Compared to the national likelihood of a collision every 10 years – Sioux Falls motorists are 31.6 percent less likely to have an accident than the national average.

This is a bit amusing because I know many people who dread driving in Sioux Falls due to the traffic (which at it's worst would be considered a divine gift in many cities).

They gave away free gasoline as a reward. It wasn't easy to get....

The free gas is available from 5:30 this morning until 8:30. You can line up at the Get 'n Go at South Louise and South Shirley Avenue to get 10 gallons of free gas per car or truck.