Sunday, August 30, 2009

Friday, August 28, 2009

From the 'We need more of people like this' department...

Text from a recent email by Michael Kinahan, coach of a soccer team for girls aged seven and under in Scituate, Massachusetts, to the children’s parents. After reading the email, parents complained to league officials and Kinahan resigned, stating that the email was meant to be “a satire of those who take youth sports too seriously for the wrong reasons.”

Congratulations on being selected for Team 7 (forest-green shirts) of the Scituate Soccer Club! My name is Michael, and I have been fortunate enough to be selected to coach what I know will be a wonderful group of young ladies.
Okay, here’s the real deal: Team 7 will be called Green Death. We will only acknowledge “Team 7” for scheduling and disciplinary purposes. Green Death is not a team but a family (some say cult) that you belong to forever. We play fair at all times, but we play tough and physical soccer. We have some returning players who know the deal; for the others, I only expect 110 percent at every game and practice. We do not cater to superstars but prefer the gritty determination of journeymen who bring their lunch pail to work every week, chase every ball, and dig in corners like a Michael Vick pit bull.
Some say soccer at this age is about fun, and I completely agree. I believe, however, that winning is fun and losing is for losers. Ergo, we will strive for the W in each game. Although we may not win every game (excuse me, I just got a little nauseous), I expect us to fight for every loose ball and play every shift as if it were the finals of the World Cup. As I spent a good Saturday morning listening to the legal-liability BS, which included a thirty-minute dissertation on how we need to baby the kids and especially the refs, I was disgusted. The kids will run, they will fall, get bumps and bruises, even bleed a little. Big deal; it’s good for them (but I do hope the other team is the one bleeding). If the refs can’t handle a little criticism, then they should turn in their whistles. My heckling of the refs actually helps them develop as people. The political-correctness police are not welcome on my sidelines. America’s youth are becoming fat, lazy, and noncompetitive because competition is viewed as “bad.” I argue that competition is crucial to the evolution of our species and our survival in what has become an increasingly competitive global economy and dangerous world. Second-place trophies are nothing to be proud of. They serve only as a reminder that you missed your goal; their only purpose is as an inspiration to do that next set of reps. Don’t animals eat what they kill? (And yes, someone actually kills the meat we eat—it isn’t grown in plastic wrap.) And speaking of meat, I expect that the ladies be put on a diet of fish, undercooked red meat, and lots of veggies. No junk food. Protein shakes are encouraged, and while blood doping and HGH use is frowned upon, there is no testing policy. And at the risk of stating the obvious, blue slushies are for winners.
These are my views and not necessarily the views of the league (but they should be). I recognize that my school of thought may be an ideological shift from conventional norms. But it is imperative that we all fight the good fight, get involved now, and resist the urge to become sweatxedo-wearing yuppies who sit on the sidelines in L.L. Bean chairs sipping mocha-latte-half-caf-accinos while discussing reality TV and home decorating with other feeble-minded folks. I want to hear cheering, I want to hear encouragement, I want to get the team pumped up and know they are playing for something.
We are all cognizant of the soft bigotry that expects women, and especially little girls, to be dainty and submissive; I wholeheartedly reject such drivel. My overarching goal is to develop ladies who are confident and fearless, who will stand up for their beliefs and challenge the status quo. Girls who will kick ass and take names on the field, off the field, and throughout their lives. I want these girls to be winners in the game of life. Who’s with me?

Go Green Death!
I hope our sons will get coached by people like him...

Text of Michael Kinahan's resignation letter

Team, After careful consideration, I have decided to resign from all coaching responsibilities related to Team 7 this season. Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that some parents and the Board of Scituate Soccer failed to see the humor in my pre-season email. For the avoidance of doubt, the email was largely (albeit not completely) meant in jest and with the goal of giving the parents a chuckle while enduring yet another round of organized youth sports. It was also meant as a satire of those who take youth sports too seriously for the wrong reasons. My overarching goal is the well-being of my players, and I do not want any player to feel uncomfortable, nor do I want to see the team disbanded because of a lack of active players. Therefore, while I’d prefer to go down swinging, it’s really about the kids and it just makes more sense for me to take the year off.

While I respectfully disagree with the Board's interpretation of my comments, I believe that they should be commended for their immediate actions to address the concerns of the offended parties. The Board’s action proves that the chain of command is functioning as designed. Board members volunteer their valuable time and I do not plan to add to their already significant workload. I also respect those parents who were offended as I am sure they acted in the best interest of their children. While I may question their sense of humor, I have no right to question their judgment regarding their children. Perhaps we may even have beer (I’ll buy) and a couple of laughs at the end of all of this.

And while I am sorry some people failed to see the humor, I do not apologize for my actions; I wrote it, I think it's funny and I do have a distaste for the tediousness of overbearing political correctness. Furthermore, I was serious about parental involvement as I do believe parents should cheer and encourage players (in a positive fashion obviously) so that the kids feel the excitement that comes from team competition. And most importantly, I was completely serious that I want to see each young girl develop a positive self image, self-confidence and the will to succeed in any endeavor that she desires.

Sincerely,

Michael A. Kinahan

Go Green Death!
This reminded me of my citizenship ceremony...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Readings...

Has our work ethic collapsed? Are we getting a little too used to computer models supposedly doing the thinking for us and South American workers actually doing the physical labor for us?

The genius of America in the early nineteenth century, Tocqueville thought, was that it pursued “productive industry” without a descent into lethal materialism. Behind America’s balancing act, the pioneering French social thinker noted, lay a common set of civic virtues that celebrated not merely hard work but also thrift, integrity, self-reliance, and modesty—virtues that grew out of the pervasiveness of religion, which Tocqueville called “the first of [America’s] political institutions, . . . imparting morality” to American democracy and free markets. Some 75 years later, sociologist Max Weber dubbed the qualities that Tocqueville observed the “Protestant ethic” and considered them the cornerstone of successful capitalism. Like Tocqueville, Weber saw that ethic most fully realized in America, where it pervaded the society. Preached by luminaries like Benjamin Franklin, taught in public schools, embodied in popular novels, repeated in self-improvement books, and transmitted to immigrants, that ethic undergirded and promoted America’s economic success.
What would Tocqueville or Weber think of America today? In place of thrift, they would find a nation of debtors, staggering beneath loans obtained under false pretenses. In place of a steady, patient accumulation of wealth, they would find bankers and financiers with such a short-term perspective that they never pause to consider the consequences or risks of selling securities they don’t understand. In place of a country where all a man asks of government is “not to be disturbed in his toil,” as Tocqueville put it, they would find a nation of rent-seekers demanding government subsidies to purchase homes, start new ventures, or bail out old ones. They would find what Tocqueville described as the “fatal circle” of materialism—the cycle of acquisition and gratification that drives people back to ever more frenetic acquisition and that ultimately undermines prosperous democracies.
And they would understand why. After flourishing for three centuries in America, the Protestant ethic began to disintegrate, with key elements slowly disappearing from modern American society, vanishing from schools, from business, from popular culture, and leaving us with an economic system unmoored from the restraints of civic virtue. Not even Adam Smith—who was a moral philosopher, after all—imagined capitalism operating in such an ethical vacuum. Bailout plans, new regulatory schemes, and monetary policy moves won’t be enough to spur a robust, long-term revival of American economic opportunity without some renewal of what was once understood as the work ethic—not just hard work but also a set of accompanying virtues, whose crucial role in the development and sustaining of free markets too few now recall.

Briefly noted

On the public option...

The current premise is that a public option -- that is, the government providing the same sort of insurance program as Medicare, but for all their citizens and not just the elderly -- is very nearly a nonstarter, because we Americans are apparently supposed to believe that our government providing insurance to a seventy year old is a noble service, but providing that same service to a fifty year old is socialism, and providing that same service to a twenty year old or a ten year old is something that only a goddamned Hitler would do. We can have public fire departments, public police departments, federal disaster relief, flood insurance and whatnot, but keeping you alive and out of bankruptcy if you get sick is an abomination. Never mind that we are alone among the most advanced countries in this regard; never mind that our current system is both among the most expensive and least effective. We are supposed to believe chaos will ensue if we follow the same path as other nations, because the industry that has the most profit to lose if a "public option" is available has sent phalanxes of lobbyists out to assert that everything is, in fact, Just Goddamned Fine, and a hellscape elsewhere. Because the lobbyists say it, the legislators say it. Because the legislators say it, the partisan press says it. Doesn't matter that it's not true. Doesn't matter that there are no death panels, that there are no death booklets, that Stephen Hawking is not, in fact, dead from being British. We have yet to punish any politician or any news organization for baldly lying to us, so long as it is a lie that satisfies us to hear.

Edward Kennedy (1932 - 2009)

Senator Edward Kennedy will be remembered by immigrants like me for two signal pieces of law that he had helped pass in 1964 and 1965. A reason why many Indians like me landed here...

  • Senator Kennedy makes his maiden speech to the Senate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed on July 2, 1964, and outlawed segregation in public accommodations.
  • The first major bill that Senator Kennedy managed on the Senate floor was the Immigration Act of 1965. It was enacted and stood as a major turning point in immigration and civil rights policy because it eliminated discriminatory immigration quotas which favored European immigration, but restricted immigration from other parts of the world. The 1965 Act gave priority to immigrants based on their skills and family relationships.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer food readings...

An authentic description of a summer activity called Szalonnasütés (means "roasting bacon" in Hungarian) from a book printed in 1971 titled 'The Cuisine of Hungary' by George Lang.

First, a level place must be found. Then wood and twigs are gathered and a fire built. While the fire is kindling, the man selects wood for spits, sharpening both ends. One end, for the bacon, will have a longer point and the bark taken off. The other end will be sharpened slantwise for sticking into the earth should he wish to stop the roasting for some reason. He then cuts two slices of bread lengthwise. Considering the size and shape of a Hungarian country bread loaf, we should mention that the length of the ''slices'' will be well over a foot, and the thickness will be about seven inches—not quite like the bread one puts into the toaster, west of Hungary. He now starts toasting the giant cuts of bread by propping them up near the fire. Meantime, he cuts off a half pound of bacon in an oblong shape, puts it on the wooden spit making sure that the end of the stick does not protrude. Holding the spit in his left hand, he makes short, half-inch scores in the bacon with great care. He also makes three incisions lengthwise so that the side of the bacon will be nice and "checkered." He turns over the bread and toasts the other side. He then cuts the opposite side of the bacon the same way. He makes a deep cut in the skin of the bacon (which is always left on) and this part of the ritual is finished. He takes a seat on a log, and holding the toasted bread, he begins to roast the bacon over the fire very slowly, moving it from left to right. By now the fire should have burned down and have no flame. The bacon begins to sizzle and the drippings fall heavily into the embers. The fire picks up and flames. Our man now takes the toast with his left hand and stretches it toward the fire and holds the bacon on the skewer with his right hand directly over it so that the drippings will fall onto the toast. When the bacon shrinks to the size of his palm and starts to glitter, he bites into it and tastes it, then continues roasting. The incisions begin to open up, and the flow of the drippings increases. He leans the skewer at an angle so that the fat continuously drips onto the bread. With the point of a knife he pricks the bacon and squeezes it to get more of the fat out. Now the bacon is beautifully red and ready to eat. (To allow it to get black is a shame; no one likes to eat 'gypsy/' as burned bacon is called.) He sticks the spit into the earth, gets up and stretches himself. He cuts some more bread, cleans a big onion, pulls out the skewer from the earth and pours a little water from a pitcher onto the bacon to wash off any ashes. He places the bacon on the bread, pulls out the skewer and slowly, deliberately, with an unhurried dignity, starts eating. His right hand holds his knife, alternately cutting off little pieces of the bread, onion and bacon, which are held between different fingers of his left hand. It is quite amazing how clean his hands remain.

Quotable

"You want to know who the biggest hypocrite in the world is? The biggest hypocrite in the world is the person who believes in the death penalty for murderers and not for homosexuals. Hypocrite. The same God who instituted the death penalty for murderers is the same God who instituted the death penalty for rapists and for homosexuals - sodomites, queers! That’s what it was instituted for, okay? That’s God, he hasn’t changed. Oh, God doesn’t feel that way in the New Testament … God never “felt” anything about it, he commanded it and said they should be taken out and killed," - Pastor Steven L. Anderson, Faithful Word Baptist Church.
via

Good first paragraphs...

I like the way Richard Dawkins compares people who say evolution is a myth with similarly kooky folks (like Holocaust deniers) in his new book against Creationism titled 'The Greatest Show on Earth'.

Imagine that you are a teacher of Roman history and the Latin language, anxious to impart your enthusiasm for the ancient world — for the elegiacs of Ovid and the odes of Horace, the sinewy economy of Latin grammar as exhibited in the oratory of Cicero, the strategic niceties of the Punic Wars, the generalship of Julius Caesar and the voluptuous excesses of the later emperors. That’s a big undertaking and it takes time, concentration, dedication. Yet you find your precious time continually preyed upon, and your class’s attention distracted, by a baying pack of ignoramuses (as a Latin scholar you would know better than to say ignorami) who, with strong political and especially financial support, scurry about tirelessly attempting to persuade your unfortunate pupils that the Romans never existed. There never was a Roman Empire. The entire world came into existence only just beyond living memory. Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, Romansh: all these languages and their constituent dialects sprang spontaneously and separately into being, and owe nothing to any predecessor such as Latin. Instead of devoting your full attention to the noble vocation of classical scholar and teacher, you are forced to divert your time and energy to a rearguard defence of the proposition that the Romans existed at all: a defence against an exhibition of ignorant prejudice that would make you weep if you weren’t too busy fighting it.
"Which Way Home" on HBO last night was heart rending...

If you're leaving Honduras or you're leaving points in Central America, you can take buses. But then from Guatemala crossing into Mexico, that becomes a much more dangerous circumstance because it's illegal for people just to cross over, undocumented, into Mexico. Let's say you get to a southern city like Tapachula, there's a network of smugglers that may help you or help transport you north, maybe through buses or cars or vans. Let's say you don't have the money to pay them to take you - you basically wait for freight trains. You cross the border at Tapachula, you walk eight to ten days to get to Arriaga and there you wait for the train.
Now, once you get on a freight train, there's any number of things that could happen to you; you could have a relatively safe journey or you can fall under the train wheels and be decapitated, cut in half or have legs or arms cut off; you could be robbed from gangs or from corrupt police officials. There's any number of pretty horrible experiences that one can have along the train route. -- Ms. Rebecca Cammisa: Filmmaker, "Which Way Home". via

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quotable

From an article by Thomas Friedman

“If you spend enough time in nature and allow yourself to slow down sufficiently to let your senses work, then through exposure and practice, you will start to sense the meanings in the sand, the grasses, the bushes, the trees, the movement of the breezes, the thickness of the air, the sounds of the creatures and the habits of the animals with which you are sharing that space,” said Map Ives — the 54-year-old director of sustainability for Wilderness Safaris, which supports ecotourism in Botswana. Humans were actually wired to do this a long time ago. Unfortunately, he added, “the speed at which humans have improved technology since the Industrial Revolution has attracted so many people to towns and cities and provided them with ‘processed’ natural resources” that our innate ability to make all these connections “may be disappearing as fast as biodiversity.”

Strides we could use here in the US of A

A new law in Mexico that took effect late last week aims to decriminalize carrying small amounts of drugs... A very healthy development.

Under the new law, a police search that turns up a half-gram of cocaine, the equivalent of about four lines, will not bring any jail time. The same applies for 5 grams of marijuana (about four cigarettes), 50 milligrams of heroin, 40 milligrams of methamphetamine or 0.015 milligrams of LSD.
... Mexico’s approach won praise from organizations that consider the jailing of users a waste of resources that does not reduce drug consumption. In the United States, some states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana but not other drugs.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Comment

One of the reasons why we stopped putting artificial chemical fertilizers on our lawn and how the 'establishment' aims to circumvent the 'public awareness' (second paragraph)...

For decades, farmers, lawn care workers and professional green thumbs have relied on the popular weed killer atrazine to protect their crops, golf courses and manicured lawns. Now, new research suggests that atrazine may be dangerous at lower concentrations than previously thought. Recent studies suggest that, even at concentrations meeting current federal standards, the chemical may be associated with birth defects, low birth weights and menstrual problems. Laboratory experiments suggest that when animals are exposed to brief doses of atrazine before birth, they may become more vulnerable to cancer later.
...
But some scientists and health advocates disagree. They argue that the recent studies offer enough concerns that the government should begin re-examining its regulations. They also say that local water systems — which have primary responsibility for the safety of drinking water — should be forced to monitor atrazine more frequently, in order to detect short-term increases and warn people when they occur.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wingnut watch


The healthcare debate rages on across America. What is especially striking in this video is that the majority of folks questioning the Congressman seem to be regular working people like you and me but they seem to be sticking up (and making a great deal of an effort for) for private corporations who are the very same entities that will unscrupulously take advantage of this set of people when they have healthcare issues.

My favorite Barney Frank quote from the video:
"I am struck by those who think laughter substitutes for logic; and I guess if that's all you've got, that's what you go with."
Another hilarious Barney quote (not from this video):
“There are three lies politicians tell, the first is ‘We ran against each other but are still good friends.’ That’s never true. The second is ‘I like campaigning.’ Anyone who tells you they like campaigning is either a liar or a sociopath. Then, there’s ‘I hate to say I told you so.’ Everybody likes to say ‘I told you so.’ I have found personally that it is one of the few pleasures that improves with age. I can say ‘I told you so’ without taking a pill before, during, or after I do it.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tuesday music

Readings

As the strict tenets that bind certain religious denominations are getting watered down, Lisa Miller (of Newsweek) has this to say about Hindu ideals and their application to prevailing American spiritual beliefs...

America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that's the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity. The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur'an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."

Americans are no longer buying it.

According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life"—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious," according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005.

But Seriously, Folks

The CIA, our nation's clandestine spy agency does some amusing things with the mandate it is given (remember the exploding cigar thing)... This story is even stranger. It is about a group of fairly clueless American citizens from sunny El Paso, Texas who land illegally in Siberia in the middle of winter trying to buy ageing Mi-17 Soviet helicopters for use against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even an accomplished spy fiction writer might have difficulty making this up.

Full (bizarre) story here.

Peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs...

This NYTimes op-ed contributer says it best when it comes to the current state of the health care reform legislation running its rounds through Congress...

The hope of a government-run insurance option is all but gone. So there will be no effective alternative for consumers in the market for health coverage, which means no competitive pressure for private insurers to rein in premiums and other charges. (Forget about the nonprofit cooperatives. That’s like sending peewee footballers up against the Super Bowl champs.) Insurance companies are delighted with the way “reform” is unfolding. Think of it: The government is planning to require most uninsured Americans to buy health coverage. Millions of young and healthy individuals will be herded into the industry’s welcoming arms. This is the population the insurers drool over. This additional business — a gold mine — will more than offset the cost of important new regulations that, among other things, will prevent insurers from denying coverage to applicants with pre-existing conditions or imposing lifetime limits on benefits. Poor people will either be funneled into Medicaid, which will have its eligibility ceiling raised, or will receive a government subsidy to help with the purchase of private insurance. If the oldest and sickest are on Medicare, and the poorest are on Medicaid, and the young and the healthy are required to purchase private insurance without the option of a competing government-run plan — well, that’s reform the insurance companies can believe in.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

From the 'you can't make this up' department...

Every once in a while, the common man trying to make ends meet has one of those surreal run-ins with naked American capitalism and 'corporate speak' that practically borders on incredulity. I think it was my turn yesterday evening. Leafing through the letters in our mailbox, I came across a letter from a prominent credit card company that seemed to explain some changes that they had instituted in our credit card accounts.
Here is some background: My wife and I own a couple of credit cards. We use it mostly for the convenience - as in not having to carry wads of cash in ones back pocket. All of our accounts are paid in full at the end of every billing cycle and we have never had an outstanding balance thus far. We have had one late fee applied when we missed the bill in the mail because we were out of the country on vacation.
Well, what would one expect from a credit card company for such 'good' behavior... The letter I recieved has been scanned in full below and is what we got as our 'reward' - for lack of a better word. The funny thing is the tone they adopted in letting us know about changes to our account smacked of "we will be exceedingly polite in telling you of the changes to your account, yet, we plan on screwing you over so thoroughly that you will hardly realize that you have been raped”…

Important Account Price Change Notification

Like all companies large and small, our pricing has to be responsive to the business and economic environment. As a result, we have found it necessary to increase rates and fees on some of our products. Below are the principal changes to your account:

  • We are changing your Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on purchases from a fixed rate to a variable rate. This change will result in an increase to your APR.
  • We are raising the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on cash advances.
  • We are raising the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on any balances that have a penalty rate because of a late payment.
  • We are increasing the late fee. Please remember that you can avoid late fees by paying on time.

In addition, we are pleased to let you know that we will not charge you a fee if you go over your credit limit. Don't forget, it's still important to keep your balance under your credit limit.

These changes apply to existing balances and fixture balances on your Account. They go into effect for billing periods that begin on or after October 1, 2009, unless otherwise noted. Please refer to the Notice of Changes to Your Account on the back of this letter for the complete description of these changes.

You can find useful tips and information about managing your account, such as viewing your outstanding balance, as well as making payments at any time, free of charge, by logging on to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. com/managernyaccount.

Thank you for being a Cardmember. We look forward to continuing to serve you.

I love the part that says, “we are pleased to let you know that we will not charge you a fee if you go over your credit limit
Even the last sentence is a classic: “Thank you for being a Cardmember. We look forward to continuing to serve you.
I plan on cancelling these cards as of this evening...


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Quotable

Noticed in a book review of 'An Intellectual History of Cannibalism' by Catalin Avramescu.
Man and other animals feed on the substance of their predecessors, because human bodies turn to dust and are scattered over the earth and into the air. Thus they are assimilated and become ‘legumes’. There is not a single man who has not ingested a tiny piece of our forefathers: ‘This is why it is said that we are all anthropophagi. Nothing is more reasonable after a battle: not only do we kill our brothers, but after two or three years we shall eat them, after they have put down roots on the battlefield.
In a collection of bar jokes online, I ran into this keeper...

A priest, a rapist, and a pedophile walk into a bar and that's just the first guy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Friday, August 07, 2009

Art break...

Music from performance artist Kalup Linzy...

Life lessons

Excerpted from a 'first person account' series on Marketwatch by a former Wall Street trader, Todd Harrison.

It was the middle of the trading day and we actively moved merchandise back and forth, steadily filling our coffers with profits. I can't tell you exactly where the averages were, but suffice it to say the mood on the desk was intense as the market slid down a slippery slope.
"Hello, can I speak to Todd Harrison please?" the voice on the other end of the phone asked. After a brief exchange, the bomb dropped. The call was from the Maui Correctional Facility regarding my father, who managed to dig himself into a deep hole. As I sat back in my chair and listened to a person I didn't know, I discovered my father was homeless, abusing drugs and in solitary confinement. It had been 10 years since we last spoke. Ten years. A lot happened in my life during that time and evidently, a lot happened to him as well. As the head trader of a large trading operation, I was intellectually agile and able to make quick, emotionless decisions. On that random day in 2000, I was suddenly numb to the flickering ticks that surrounded me.
Immediately sensing something was wrong, Jim motioned me to his office behind him. I walked into the glass-enclosed room and sat on the couch across from his desk. Jeff filed in behind me and asked what happened. I explained the situation, or at least what I knew of it. Jim didn't skip a beat.
"Go to Maui," he said, "Go take care of what you need to take care of."
I'll never forget that moment. We were in a dogfight in the middle of a financial implosion and the most competitive person I knew urged me to go to Hawaii. By the time I digested what he suggested, he was already on the phone making calls on my behalf.
He contacted an investor in our fund who had connections in Hawaii. By the end of the day, I retained one of the most respected lawyers in Maui and had flights scheduled.
All that was left was to face my father and conquer my demons.
Not wanting to take the trip alone, I asked my brother to join. Two days later, Adam and I landed in Maui and drove straight to the lawyer's office. We had both given up on our dad but felt compelled to do something. He was our father and we were his last line of defense.
The attorney filled us in on the situation. Our father, homeless for years, panhandled on the street and wore out his welcome wherever he went. He was arrested for impersonating a police officer and once in jail, attacked one of the guards, who beat him senseless and stuffed him in solitary confinement. We were told our father smeared blood all over his cell in an act of defiance. It was, and remains, surreal.
The following morning, we sat in the Maui courthouse and awaited arraignment. As the judge called the session to order, the bailiff led a string of defendants into the room. I couldn't find my father. The orange jumpsuits looked the same and the chains that bound them together distracted me. I scanned the group twice and focused on a gaunt man in the middle of the pack with gangly facial hair and tattoos.
His emotionless eyes rose to mine and I saw the man I once knew -- the man who abandoned our family, the man who proudly drove a Ferrari as a sign of arrival, the man who moved to Hawaii to find his piece of paradise. He was broken and had hit rock bottom.
Over the course of the week, Adam and I jockeyed between scattered locations throughout Maui and picked up the pieces of his displaced life. The other side of paradise, we discovered, was a harsh place indeed.
It was a trail of debt, desperation and dereliction, and it seemingly had no end. Our father joined a cult and signed away his life's possessions. Once banished, he wandered the island in search of handouts. He waded through the resorts, pretending to be part of a seminar so he could get hot coffee and a roll. His golden retriever Bubba fetched rocks from the ocean in return for loose change from tourists.
We drove from one situation to the next, like mice in a maze, unsure of what we would find next. Our father had thousands of dollars of debt and owed people favors, many of who looked at us to settle up. We also discovered he was a sick man who suffered through many years of undetected and untreated bipolar disorder. That, more than anything else, stuck out in my mind. He was a sick man. During our last day in Maui, Adam and I visited our father in jail. He had tears in his eyes as he apologized for everything he did and didn't do. My mind wandered to birthdays spent staring at the phone. It had been an emotional week, one that opened wounds I thought were closed.
As we sat in his cell, he broke down and told us he had nothing to live for. My brother took from his pocket a picture of his two children, my niece and nephew, and handed it to our dad. "This is what you have to look forward to," he said, his gesture catching me off guard.
"Yes, dad," I continued, "If you stay clean, I'll help you get back on track, pay off your debts, find a home...I'll help you meet your grandchildren."
I could see the guards watching from the corner of my eye and I wanted them to soak it in. Perhaps they would think twice about beating him if they knew that he was a father and a grandfather.
I'll never forget the last thing he said to me before we left. "Relax, son, you have to enjoy life. You never know when a plane will fall out of the sky and ruin your day."

Viewpoint

Bill Maher on a new rule that he recently instituted which states that "smart president does not equate to a smart country'...

And before I go about demonstrating how, sadly, easy it is to prove the dumbness dragging down our country, let me just say that ignorance has life and death consequences. On the eve of the Iraq War, 69% of Americans thought Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. Four years later, 34% still did. Or take the health care debate we're presently having: members of Congress have recessed now so they can go home and "listen to their constituents." An urge they should resist because their constituents don't know anything. At a recent town-hall meeting in South Carolina, a man stood up and told his Congressman to "keep your government hands off my Medicare," which is kind of like driving cross country to protest highways.
I'm the bad guy for saying it's a stupid country, yet polls show that a majority of Americans cannot name a single branch of government, or explain what the Bill of Rights is. 24% could not name the country America fought in the Revolutionary War. More than two-thirds of Americans don't know what's in Roe v. Wade. Two-thirds don't know what the Food and Drug Administration does. Some of this stuff you should be able to pick up simply by being alive. You know, like the way the Slumdog kid knew about cricket.
Not here. Nearly half of Americans don't know that states have two senators and more than half can't name their congressman. And among Republican governors, only 30% got their wife's name right on the first try.
Sarah Palin says she would never apologize for America. Even though a Gallup poll says 18% of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth. No, they're not stupid. They're interplanetary mavericks. A third of Republicans believe Obama is not a citizen, and a third of Democrats believe that George Bush had prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, which is an absurd sentence because it contains the words "Bush" and "knowledge."
People bitch and moan about taxes and spending, but they have no idea what their government spends money on. The average voter thinks foreign aid consumes 24% of our federal budget. It's actually less than 1%. And don't even ask about cabinet members: seven in ten think Napolitano is a kind of three-flavored ice cream. And last election, a full one-third of voters forgot why they were in the booth, handed out their pants, and asked, "Do you have these in a relaxed-fit?"
And I haven't even brought up America's religious beliefs. But here's one fun fact you can take away: did you know only about half of Americans are aware that Judaism is an older religion than Christianity? That's right, half of America looks at books called the Old Testament and the New Testament and cannot figure out which one came first.

And these are the idiots we want to weigh in on the minutia of health care policy?

Readings

From an essay entitled ‘God and Me’ by Geoff Dyer in the Spring 2006 issue of Granta.

Over the centuries there has been a pretty stable consensus about which qualities are worth cultivating: goodness, kindness, honesty, reliability, consideration, compassion, generosity. At various times certain additional qualities get thrown into the mix; previously excluded qualities get called up (by Nietzsche, by various political ideologies) or promoted or relegated. But the core list has remained fairly impervious to historical change. (Don't we love Nietzsche partly because his life adds up to a kind of tragic parable, for the way that, having excoriated the notion of pity, he ends up throwing his arms around the neck of a horse that is being beaten — and then goes completely mad?) All the evidence is in — and has been in for centuries. And yet we still find it difficult to demonstrate our faith in the qualities we admire. We admire generosity of all kinds — and yet we succumb to meanness and pettiness. Given that we find it difficult to live up to our own standards, it's best, surely, to keep our expectations low. In Black Lamb and Grey Falcon Rebecca West lowers the bar until it is almost on the ground. Even to summarize her position as a preference for the delightful over the horrid is to put it in too Manichaean a way. Her preference is simply for the agreeable over the disagreeable. The problem, though, is that:
only part of us is sane: only part of us loves pleasure and the longer day of happiness, wants to live to our nineties and die in peace, in a house that we built, that shall shelter those who come after us. The other half of us is nearly mad. It prefers the disagreeable to the agreeable, loves pain and its darker night despair, and wants to die in a catastrophe that will set back life to its beginnings and leave nothing of our house save its blackened foundations.

Our extremist right wing politics/tactics

First it was the 'birthers' railing against Obama's country of origin, now it is the turn of the 'after birthers' who seem to be up in arms against health care reform. Is this what defines the Republican party?

All across the country, right-wing extremists are disrupting congressional town-hall meetings with venomous attacks on President Obama's plans for health care and clean energy.
  • Last night in Tampa, Florida, a town hall meeting erupted into violence, with the police being called to break up fist fights and shoving matches.
  • A Texas Democrat was shouted down by right-wing hecklers, many of whom admitted they didn't even live in his district.
  • One North Carolina representative announced he wouldn't be holding any town-hall meetings after his office began receiving death threats.
  • In Maryland, protesters hung a Democratic congressman in effigy to oppose health-care reform.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Annals of hegemony

From a patent application that was granted (a couple of days back) to Microsoft who claims to have 'invented' a method of creating documents using an open standard which (ironically) was in vogue forty years ago. Harkens back to the time when 'enterprising' folks in our United States started patenting Ayurvedic ingredients...

A method for creating a document in XML ("Extensible Markup Language") in a computing device that is understandable by many applications, comprising: accessing a published XSD ("XML Schema Definition") in said computing device, wherein the XSD defines rules relating to the XML file format for documents associated with an application having a rich set of features; determining an element to create in an XML file in said computing device, wherein the element is selected from a set of elements, including: a style element; a hints element that includes information to assist an external application in displaying text of the of the document; a bookmark element; wherein the bookmark element includes an identifier attribute that associates a start bookmark with an end bookmark element wherein two bookmark elements are used in book marking a portion of the document; wherein each of the two bookmark elements include an opening tag and an ending tag; a document properties element; a text element that contains text of the document; wherein all of the text of the document is stored within text elements such that only the text of the document is contained between start text tags and end text tags; wherein there are no intervening tags between each of the start text tags and each of the corresponding end text tags and wherein each of the start text tags do not include formatting information for the text between each of the start text tags and the end text tags; a text run element that includes the formatting information for the text within text elements; a font element; a formatting element; a section element; a table element; an outline element; and a proofing element; creating the document including the element in said computing device; and storing the document in said computing device.

The legal gobbledygook in the document will ensure that only those with pockets deeper than Microsoft can challenge this one - which is basically 'nobody' (at this point in time)...
Has anybody heard of the word 'monopoly'?

Childishly simple

Alison Gopnik, author of The Philosophical Baby on why children are “useless on purpose.”

Why do children exist at all? It doesn’t make tremendous evolutionary sense to have these creatures that can’t even keep themselves alive and require an enormous investment of time on the part of adults. That period of dependence is longer for us than it is for any other species, and historically that period has become longer and longer.
The evolutionary answer seems to be that there is a tradeoff between the ability to learn and imagine — which is our great evolutionary advantage as a species — and our ability to apply what we’ve learned and put it to use. So one of the ideas in the book is that children are like the R&D department of the human species. They’re the ones who are always learning about the world. But if you’re always learning, imagining, and finding out, you need a kind of freedom that you don’t have if you’re actually making things happen in the world. And when you’re making things happen, it helps if those actions are based on all of the things you have learned and imagined. The way that evolution seems to have solved this problem is by giving us this period of childhood where we don’t have to do anything, where we are completely useless. We’re free to explore the physical world, as well as possible worlds through imaginative play. And when we’re adults, we can use that information to actually change the world.

A travel excerpt

Ian Frazier in the New Yorker on his travels across Siberia. This part about the mosquito is super. Reminded me of Kerala, India in the months after the monsoons.

I have been in mosquito swarms in beaver meadows in northern Michigan, in boreal wetlands in Canada, and near Alaska's Yukon River. Western Siberia has more. On calm and sultry evenings as we busied ourselves around the camp, mosquitoes came at us as if shot from a fire hose. Usually mosquitoes cluster in a cloud around their targets, but as Volo-dya made dinner I observed a thick and proximate cloud surrounding him head to toe, and then a whole other sort of candidate swarm around that inner swarm, and then more in all directions, minutely enlivening the sky. With such astronomical numbers, Siberian mosquitoes have learned to diversify. There are the majority, of course, who just bite you anywhere. Those are your general-practitioner mosquitoes, or G.P.s. Then, you have your specialists—your eye, car, nose, and throat mosquitoes. Eye mosquitoes fly directly at the eyeball and crash-land there. The reason for this tactic is a mystery. The ear mosquito goes into the ear canal and then slams itself deafeningly back and forth—part of a larger psyops strategy maybe. Nose and throat mosquitoes wait for their moment, then surf into those passages as far as they can go on the indrawn breath of air. Even deep inside they keep flying as long as possible and emit a desperate buzzing, as if radioing for backup. Nothing short of a good breeze keeps Siberian mosquitoes down. They laugh at organic-based repellents. Strong repellent with DEET is disagreeable to them, but they work around it. Thick smoke can be effective, but you have to stand right in it. In past times, native peoples and Russians wove fine netting of the long hairs in a horse's tail and wore the nets throughout the summer. Members of a tribe called the Tungus carried smoke pots with them wherever they went, while another native people, the Voguls, retreated into smoke-filled huts for the summer months and became dormant, doing most of their hunting and travelling in the wintertime. The sheer volume of mosquitoes might cause an observer not to mention the gnats, flies, and tiny biting insects (known as "no-see-'ums" in America); there are plenty of all those as well. Sometimes in the evenings, I imagined I could hear the great insect totality tuning up all around, a continent-wide humming.

Thursday Poetry

Q by Sharon Olds

Q belonged to Q.&A.,
to questions, and to foursomes, and fractions,
it belonged to the Queen, to Quakers, to quintets—
within its compound in the dictionary dwelt
the quill pig, and quince beetle,
and quetzal, and quail. Quailing was part of Q’s
quiddity—the Q quaked
and quivered, it quarrelled and quashed. No one was
quite sure where it had come from, but it had
travelled with the K, they were the two voiceless
velar Semitic consonants, they went
back to the desert, to caph and koph.
And K has done a lot better—
29 pages in Webster’s Third
to Q’s 13. And though Q has much
to be proud of, from Q.& I. detector
through quinoa, sometimes these days the letter
looks like what medical students called the
Q face—its tongue lolling out.
And sometimes when you pass a folded
newspaper you can hear from within it
a keening, from all the Q’s who are being
set in type, warboarded,
made to tell and tell of the quick and the
Iraq dead.

Readings

What's a colony without its dusky natives? Where's the fun if they're all going to die off? Just a big hunk of desert, no more maids, no field-hands, no laborers for the construction or the mining — wait, wait a minute there, yes it's Karl Marx, that sly old racist skipping away . . . trying to make believe it's nothing but Cheap Labor and Overseas Markets.... Oh, no. Colonies are much, much more. Colonies are the outhouses of the European soul, where a fellow can let his pants down and relax, enjoy the smell of his own shit - Where he can just wallow and rut and let himself go in a softness, a receptive darkness of limbs, of hair as woolly as the hair on his own forbidden genitals. Where the poppy, and cannabis and coca grow full and green, and not to the colors and style of death, as do ergot and agaric, the blight and fungus native to Europe. Christian Europe was always death, Karl, death and repression. Out and down in the colonies, life can be indulged, life and sensuality in all its forms, with no harm done to the Metropolis, nothing to soil those cathedrals, white marble statues, noble thoughts.... No word ever gets back. - Thomas Pynchon in his book Gravity's Rainbow page 317.

This day in 1945



From here: Washington, Aug. 6 -- The White House and War Department announced today that an atomic bomb, possessing more power than 20,000 tons of TNT, a destructive force equal to the load of 2,000 B-29's and more than 2,000 times the blast power of what previously was the world's most devastating bomb, had been dropped on Japan.
The announcement, first given to the world in utmost solemnity by President Truman, made it plain that one of the scientific landmarks of the century had been passed, and that the "age of atomic energy," which can be a tremendous force for the advancement of civilization as well as for destruction, was at hand.
At 10:45 o'clock this morning, a statement by the President was issued at the White House that sixteen hours earlier- about the time that citizens on the Eastern seaboard were sitting down to their Sunday suppers- an American plane had dropped the single atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, an important army center.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I did not do it! My brain made me do it...

Would we start to see criminals go free because of pre existing mental abnormalities? That day will not be too far.
"A group of scientists has identified a structure in the brain of psychopaths that is abnormal when compared with controls. The change is found in the uncinate fasciculus, a bridge of white matter that connects the amygdala (emotion/aggression brain region) and the orbitofrontal cortex (decision making region). Interestingly, the greater the abnormality in the region, the more severe the levels of sociopathy in a subject. The results were published as 'Altered connections on the road to psychopathy' in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. A researcher on the team suggests the finding could have considerable implications in the world of criminal justice, where such scans could one day be presented as evidence in a trial."

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Tuesday multimedia

Tuvalu - Islands on the frontline of Climate Change from panos pictures on Vimeo.

Photo

from the website 100abandonedhouses.com.

Readings

From Werner Herzog's book 'Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo'.

The air is cool, almost chilly. The wind rattles the windows so hard that I lose sight of the point and turn around, facing directly into the light, so clear and piercing that it hurts the eyes. On the Golden Gate Bridge those moving dots are cars. Even the post office at the foot of the hill offers no shelter. As I toil up the steep slope, blown leaves on the ground catch up with me. It is the tail end of spring, but the foliage is yellow and dark red. The wind whips the leaves ahead of me across the rocky hillside, and by the time I reach the top, the fist of the void has swept them away. Once more, despite all my attempts at fending it off, a shuddering sense creeps into me of being trapped in the stanza of a strange poem, and it shakes me so violently that I glance around surreptitiously to see whether anyone is winching me. The hill becomes transformed into a mysterious concrete monument, which makes even the hill take fright.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A Shepard Fairey plagarism - the Repubicans should try harder...

Is this the best they have? To use a faded Bush anachronism - ''bring em' on...''

From here: These anonymous posters have been popping up around Los Angeles. It seems to be a new variant of "Obama is a terrorist" - or at least that he's very, very scary. But as Robert Dougherty points out, the messaging gets a bit muddled from there:
  • The Joker was many things, but was hardly a socialist. In fact, the Joker is the polar opposite of a socialist, and anyone who watched The Dark Knight would know that.
  • Socialism is the result of an all powerful central government that runs every aspect of life - but the Joker subscribes to anarchy, one of socialism's polar opposites. If the Joker was a socialist, he would be destroying Gotham in the name of an all powerful state. Instead, the self-described "agent of chaos" nearly brought down the state itself, and all of its most cherished institutions, so that nothing could bring order to Gotham.

Monday music



via

Art break...

Readings...

From the book 'Role Models' by John Waters, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2010.

I am guilty, too. Guilty of using the Manson murders in a jokey, smart-ass way in my earlier films without the slightest feeling for the victims' families or the lives of the brainwashed Manson killer kids who were also victims in this sad and terrible case. I became obsessed by the Sharon Tate murders from the day I read about them on the front page of the New York Times in 1969 as I worked behind the counter of the Provincetown Book Shop. Later, when the cops finally caught the hippy killers and I actually saw their photos ("Arrest Weirdo in Tate Murders", screamed the New York Daily News headlines) I almost went into cardiac arrest. God! The Manson Family looked just like my friends at the time! Charles "Tex" Watson, a deranged but handsome preppy "head" who reminded me of Jimmy, the frat-boy-gone-bad pot-dealer I had the hots for in Catholic high school, the guy who sold me my first joint. There was Susan Atkins, a.k.a. Sadie Mae Glutz, devil go-go girl, with an LSD sense of humor just like Mink Stole's sister Mary (nickname: "Sick") whom I lived with at the time in Provincetown in a commune in a tree fort. And look at Patricia Krenwinkle, a.k.a. Katie, a flower-child earth-mother just like Flo-Ann who squatted with us that wonderful summer on Cape Cod. And, of course, my favorite, Leslie Van Houten, a.k.a. Lulu, "the pretty one". The homecoming princess from suburbia who gave up her title for acid. The all-American girl who went beyond insanity to unhinged criminal glamour just like Mona, my last girlfriend, who took LSD and shoplifted and starred in my underground movies all under my influence. Until, that is, the day she caught me in bed with a man (who looked kind of like Steve "Clem" Grogan, another Manson fanatic) and dumped the contents of an entire garbage can on us as we lay sleeping.

"The Manson Family" were the hippies all our parents were scared we'd turn into if we didn't stop taking drugs. The "slippies", as Manson later called his followers, the insane ones who didn't understand the humor in Yippie Abbie Hoffman's fiery speeches on his college lecture tours when he told the stoned, revolutionary-for-the-hell-of-it students to "kill their parents". Yes, Charlie's posse were the real anarchists who went beyond the radical SDS group's call to "Bring the War Home". Beyond blowing up their parents' townhouses, draft boards, even the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Sure, my friends went to riots every weekend in different cities in the '60s to get laid or get high, just like kids went to "raves" decades later. But, God, this was a cultural war, not a real one and the survivors of this time now realize we were in a "play" revolution, no matter what we spouted. But the Manson Family! Yikes! Here was the real thing -- "punk" a decade too early. Dare I say it? Yes, the filthiest people alive.

Kevin Baker - author of Barack 'Hoover' Obama on Colbert

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Kevin Baker
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTasers

Article here.

Noticed

Scans from a couple of headlines noticed on Reddit... (The first article links here whereas the second one links here)



Chart Porn

An interactive graph of how various categories of adults spend their time in America... (below shows how blacks (top) and whites (botttom) spend their time)...


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Weekend Pictures...

Pictures taken while walking/trekking along the Delaware & Raritan Canal. A waterway built in the 1830's by pioneers who had hoped to link Philadelphia, PA and Newark, NJ...