July 30, 2004

An indictment of Journalism as a "Profession"

Thanks to Black Five, I read the following account by a journalist/photographer of his time in combat in Iraq with the US Marines. It is a gripping read. One thing jumped off the page at me, though:

At this time, another Marine who had rushed out to a second floor balcony moments earlier yelled, "I'm hit." One of several thousands of rounds fired in the opening 30 minutes of the battle had found its target. He gave an agonizing scream and yelled again that he was hit, hoping someone would rescue him.

Sgt. Nunez threw open the door and rushed out, returning moments later dragging Sgt. Magana across the floor by the grab handle on the back of his flak jacket. Confusion ensued. He was eventually dragged into the room where I was hunkered down. He had been shot through the back and was in severe pain.

While corpsman were concentrating on his injury, I could see that he was beginning to fade. His eyes were empty and began to close. He was mumbling about a letter from his daughter and I'm sure he began to concede that his life could end right there on the floor.

I was compelled to grab his hand and assured him that he would see his daughter once again. I looked him straight in his eye, telling him to look back at me, then squeeze my hand so I knew he was still with me. It was all I knew to do.

I felt caught between being an objective journalist and responding as a human being. I apologized to a news crew that was sharing this horror with , "I have to be a human first," I heard myself saying awkwardly. It was a lesson I had learned early on from a photo professor that had a profound effect on my life.

I shot only a few frames to depict the scene; some right as he was being dragged into the room and then some after he began to stabilize. I felt satisfied that I had both done my job and also done what was right in a potentially life and death situation.

What is wrong with a profession in which you have to feel ashamed to act like a human being? To feel ashamed when you offer comfort to a dying man who is asking about his child as he dies? When did the practice of journalism become so morally bereft and debased?

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:26 AM | Comments (6)

The Vertigo of Bed Time

Vertigo, according to my trusty Webster's, is a "dizzy or confused state of mind". It is also, in my house, a condition brought about by hopping in and out of bed to run back and forth between your bed, if you are 3 1/2, and your parents' room, when your parents think that you are safely ensconced in your bed and headed off to dreamland. We are experiencing a lot of bed time vertigo.

My wife and I leave our bedroom door ajar at night. Slightly more open than cracked. What happens is this, we hear a little creak of the door, and a little golden head slowly inserts itself in the opening and two little eyes come into view as they carefully peer around the edge to see if she might be welcome. Then she bops right in, sometimes interrupting a conversation not really meant for 3.5 year old ears, and announces that she just came in for an extra hug and a kiss.

Last night, I was sitting in one of the chairs we have in our bedroom and she came in, this was the second visit, and informed us of her need to give more hugs and kisses. She looked at me in my chair and said, "you know, Pappa, this would be easier if I climbed up into your lap". I told her that would be fine, got my extra hug, kiss and cuddle and sent her off to bed. Again.

The third time she came in, she said, "I heard a noise. Mamma, did you make a noise? Mamma, det er stille tid", she admonished. For you non-Norwegian speakers, she told my wife that it is quiet time. I barely managed to not laugh out loud. And off she went by herself back to bed after giving my wife a kiss.

My wife and I have a different point of view on these little excursions. My wife doesn't like them. She worries a little about the invasion of privacy, like last night when my wife and I were having a private conversation and the girl child snuck in. I don't worry about that at all. I am absolutely delighted. I love these little flying visits. They are pure joy. I propped her up on the counter during the first visit so she could keep me company while I brushed my teeth. Eventually she will go back to bed and sing herself and her animals to sleep. I treasure every second of these visits. I think it's close to the best part of parenthood so far. I explained this to my wife and she said she'd try to come around to my point of view. She's a little stressed right now but if she says she'll try, she really will try. She's good like that.

I just wonder how it is the girl child's head doesn't spin, hence the vertigo in the title, from all of her ups and downs and ins and outs.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:13 AM | Comments (2)

Shhh!

Don't tell anyone, but I am going to try to play half day hooky today. I'm going, if all the stars are in alignment, to slip out of my office at the noon hour and spend the afternoon with my wife in blissful, child free, irresponsibility. Hmmn, sounds like a nooner, doesn't it? Alas, no, I mean lunch and the beach and a book and an adult beverage and idle chatter and hand holding and the occasional smoochy for no reason at all. Assuming the weather cooperates, it could be glorious. Then an early dinner with some new friends.

Until I can take a real vacation, stealing a little time here and there will have to suffice.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:30 AM | Comments (1)

July 29, 2004

Bed time stories

Last night, I was once again put firmly in my place by the girl child.

She joined us downstairs for a snack after putting on her pj's. Actually, what she called a snack was almost as much as my wife ate for her entire dinner. I don't know where this child puts it. She is so thin that the doctor actually had her tested to see if she was absorbing nutrients. She was. She is in the 90th percentile for her age group for height and the 50th for weight. Tall and thin. I don't have any idea where that comes from. After finishing her "snack", we adjourned to the living room to watch the Yankees/Blue Jays game on mute while we had our story.

She picked two books, one in Norwegian for my wife to read and one in English for me. Mine was "Katy No Pockets", a story about a kangaroo who lacks a pocket in which she can carry her baby. I get tired of reading the same old story all the time, so, I do what any normal father does. I change the words. In Curious George, for example, the Man with the Yellow Hat becomes the Man with the Green Hat. Katy was not searching for a pocket this time, but a backpack. My daughter is way too smart for this kind of thing, though. She catches me every time. She tells me, "Pappa, read it straight, please, not funny."

Last night, though, we finished the book and she decided to make it clear to me just where I went wrong with Katy. She hopped off my lap and came around in front of me. She opened the book to the last page and pointed to the picture of Katy wearing her apron of many pockets and she said, firmly, "see, Pappa, pockets, not a backpack, pockets". She looked at me carefully, as if to make sure I understood, and then took the book back to put on the shelf. Her work completed, we went upstairs to go to bed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:28 AM | Comments (8)

South Africa and AIDS

I've posted before about the impact of the AIDS virus in Africa. About how 2-3 people have to be hired to perform the same job in middle management in South African companies because chances are statistically very good that only one of them will be around to get the job done. Or maybe I haven't posted about this. I have certainly harangued my wife about it. (By the way, the poor dear deserves your sympathy entirely because before I discovered blogging, she was the sole "beneficiary" of my rants.)

There was an article in the NY Times this morning about AIDS in South Africa. Its lead in was about how graves have to be recycled in Durban because of the high number of deaths and the small amount of cemetery space. It included some shocking statistics and I want to bring them out here so that all my readers, all eleven of you (and you know who you are), can share my concern:

*51 of the 53 municipal cemeteries are officially filled to capacity

*"Five years ago, we used to have about 120 funerals a weekend, but this number has now jumped to 600," Thembinkosi Ngcobo, who heads the municipal department of parks and cemeteries, said in an interview this week. "In order to cope with the current rate of mortality - we hope it is not going to increase - we will need to have 12.1 hectares every year of new gravesites." That is nearly 30 acres.

*Roughly one in eight South Africans is H.I.V.-positive

*in Durban, South Africa's third-largest city with about 3.5 million people, a survey two years ago of women at pregnancy clinics found about 35 percent were infected with H.I.V.

This is tragic. I just never contemplated the effects of the deaths vis a vis funerals and cemetery use. I'm glad that the NY Times brought these facts out.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:58 AM | Comments (5)

July 28, 2004

Behind the Curtain: Daniel Edgar Sickles

Thanks to Jim, by the way, for suggesting the titles for these short biographical sketches.

Today's sketch is of Daniel Edgar Sickles. I came across his name while looking at the Hayes/Tilden election. Sickles was, in 1876, the fellow who realized that if the disputed states could declare for the Republicans, Hayes would win the electoral college. Sickles immediately sent telegrams to the governors of those four states, signing the name of the chairman of the Republican Party, who was too drunk to do it himself. When I read about this, I began to wonder, just who was this Sickles fellow anyway? Turns out, he was a pretty colorful character himself and worth a closer look.

Sickles's career can be broken into ante-bellum, Civil War, and post-bellum.

Interesting facts Ante-Bellum:

Sickles was elected to Congress thanks to his association with the corrupt Tammany Hall machine. He was part of the Boss Tweed crowd. While serving as congressman, he became the first man in America to be aquited of a murder charge based on the defense of temporary insanity. He shot his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key in LaFayette Park, across the street from Sickles's home when Sickles caught him signalling to the wife to arrange an assignation.

Interesting facts during the Civil War:

Sickles was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role at the Battle of Gettysburg where he lost his leg. He commanded III Corps. That fact alone, however, does not suggest how much of a rake and a scoundrel is was. His command was reputed to be a rolling bordello.

Many officers complained that Hooker, Sickles, and Daniel Butterfield had converted the army headquarters into a combination of bar and brothel. Sickles' own headquarters were considered to be even worse. After fighting at Chancellorsville, Sickles retained charge of the 3rd Corps even after Hooker's removal. Then on the second day of Gettysburg he did not like the sector assigned to his men along Cemetery Ridge. It was too long and low to his liking and he unilaterally decided to advance to the Peach Orchard. If he had survived the battle unscathed he probably would have been court-martialed. But some claim that his advanced position absorbed the shock of Longstreet's assault before it could reach the ridge. This theory claims that if the assault had hit the ridge in full strength it would have broken the Union line. This is, however, highly debatable since his movement put the left flank of the 2nd Corps in the air as well as both of his own. Always courageous on the field of battle, he was struck in the leg by a shell as his command was beginning its withdrawal. The leg was amputated within half an hour. (Source).

Sickles left the Army in 1867 as a Major General and a hero, as such things were judged. He donated the amputated leg to a museum and was said to have taken ladies to see it while on dates. A little eccentric, perhaps.

Post-Bellum

In 1867, President Ulysses Grant appointed Sickles ambassador to Spain where he continued as a rake and had a love affair with the deposed Spanish queen, Isabella II, and was called "The Yankee King of Spain." (Source).

As I said above, Sickle's played an important role in the disputed Hayes/Tilden election.

At nearly midnight, on his way home on election night, Sickles stopped by the Republican headquarters to check the returns. He soon realized that if Hayes lost no more Northern states and won the states of Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina, then the Republican nominee would win the Electoral College tally by one vote. Sickles rushed off telegrams to Republican leaders in those states, under the signature of Republican national chairman Zachariah Chandler, who was sleeping off a bottle of whiskey, urging them to hold their states for the Republicans. At 3 a.m., Republican governor Daniel Chamberlain responded: “All right. South Carolina is for Hayes. Need more troops.”

Sickles went on in the 1890's to head the New York State Monuments Commission, which put him in charge of erecting Civil War monuments in the state.

In 1912, officials discovered $28,000 was missing from commission coffers and arrested the 93-year-old Sickles. Yet the wily former politician served not a single day in prison, his charm apparently rescuing him once again, as supporters raised money to fill the hole that had opened in the old man's pocket. And no doubt the old rogue would have added a few more chapters to his life story had there only been more time. He died two years later. (Source).


Sickles is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:13 PM | Comments (7)

A Litigator's Letter

The following just got taken out of a letter I drafted to send to opposing counsel. I regret its deletion and publish it here:

During the course of our negotiations, I was treated to several unprovoked outbursts of hysterical screaming from you. Indeed, I was forced on several occasions to ask you to calm down. Most recently, on Monday, I had to suggest that due to your obvious overwrought emotional state, we hang up and continue our conversation when you had collected yourself. Based on the foregoing, and based on the vituperative personal attacks you made in your letter to me, I conclude that you have an anger management problem and I urge you to seek professional help.
Posted by Random Penseur at 04:21 PM | Comments (6)

He stole the election!

Until today, if someone said that to me, I'd assume that they were talking about Bush/Gore, dismiss them as either a lunatic or a sore loser and I'd try to back slowly out of the room, keeping my hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. Until today, I thought that this was the first time such an accusation had been levied at the presidential level and such a series of events had taken place in US history. Well, shame on me for being ignorant.

Let's jump into the history way back machine for a sec and revisit, in the extended section: The Hayes-Tilden Presidential Election of 1876.

In, "Mornings on Horseback", David McCullough describes the election, where the popular vote and the electoral vote went to different candidates, thus:

At first it seemed Tilden had [been elected president]. Tilden had swept New York and nationally held a clear majority. But the votes in four states - Oregon and three in the Deep South [me: Florida was one of them!!!] - were in dispute, states that, if carried by the Republicans, would swing the electoral vote to Hayes. Republican "statesman" rushed south to confer with election boards. Through February a special committee met daily in Washington to appraise the conflicting tallies, and outraged Democrats from all walks spoke of violence should the Republicans try to steal the election. In Columbus, Ohio, somebody fired a shot at Hayes's house as he sat down to dinner.

Tilden, in the end, did not dispute that Hayes won by a single electoral vote.

HarpWeek put together the most fascinating website about this controversy: Hayes v. Tilden. If you are interested in the subject, go check it out. It offers a day by day time line and analysis, historical essays, cartoons, the whole shooting match. I have nothing of any great value to add past this site.

Hayes was an interesting character who ran as a reformer, determined to root out corruption and cronyism in government and civil service. He insisted that appointments be on merit, not as a reward for political favor or party affiliation. There is a good biographical sketch about him on the White House website.

In the end, a disputed election that could have torn the country apart. Someone even shot at Hayes or at least his house. And a 120+ years later, who remembers? That points to the strength of this system and our citizen's deep commitment to it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)

The Girl Child - last night

I may have said this before, but it bears repeating. There are times when I interact with my daughter that I fear for my future. She's only 3.5 but I think sometimes she's really a 20 year old trapped in a little person's body.

Last night, she and I were sitting at the kitchen table where I was impatiently waiting for my wife to come downstairs after putting the boy child to bed. I was hungry and wanted to start dinner. The girl child was happy discovering the joys of the lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice dumpling I brought home for her yesterday from Chinatown. Finally, I turned to my daughter and asked her what was taking her mother so long to get downstairs. Here is our conversation:

GC: "Maybe she's doing something upstairs".

Me: "Yeah, but what could be taking so long?"

GC: "I don't know. I'm not upstairs. [pause] Did you think I was upstairs?"

I don't know if she was serious or being sarcastic (my wife votes for sarcastic), but either way, I feel like I'm totally screwed going forward.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:23 AM | Comments (8)

July 27, 2004

Archeology today

A very cool find has been reported in Norway: a major Viking burial mound, several actually.

The site contains two monumental burial mounds, one of which contains a large stone casket. The other one is believed to contain remnants of a Viking ship and a so-called "long house," used as communal dwellings.

A Viking ship! That is so cool. If you want to see what other Viking ships look like, this site has some pictures.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:23 PM | Comments (4)

Bitterly Partisan

The heat's getting turned up here in July. People are growing increasingly shrill and bitter. We once discussed the existance of the "moderate" on this blog (by the way, I still can't quite get over the fact that I have a blog, that people come read it, and that people seem to enjoy it, it's just astonishing to me). I think us "moderates" are few and far between these days. This presidential campaign is so ugly already with people so polarized that I begin to despair. I get emails from friends on the right questioning every last thing about John Kerry and emails from friends on the left accusing George Bush of having committed every kind of crime known to man, all to further line someone's pockets. Basta! Enough already! Turn down the rhetorical heat, please, before most of us are driven from the political kitchen!

Here's the thing. I am a registered Republican simply because I have felt for a long time that there is no place for me and my views in the Democratic Party. That said, no candidate has ever been able to count on my vote simply because of his or her party affiliation. I tend to vote issues and positions, not (r) or (d). I suspect I'm going to vote for Bush come November, but I want the chance to reflect on it and chat about it. I want some civilized discourse. I want some adult conversation and reflection. I sound like a chick, don't I? I want romance, seduction, etc. No, what I want is for everybody to stop yelling and stop spinning.

At the end of the day, I suspect it will not matter who I vote for or who gets elected president. I expect strong disagreement on this point, but I'll take my chances. I am a believer in the theory that presidents will rise to the occasion. I believe that if there is a national emergency, our president will handle it, no matter which party he's from. I also believe that our country is internally strong enough to resist the effects of four years of bad rule. So, if the candidate I don't like gets in, I think it will probably be ok in the end.

That said, I think that there are significant problems facing us as a country and we might be better off with the Bush approach than the Kerry approach. But I'm going to wait and see a little bit and try my hardest to separate the substance from the spin. I just hope tempers cool a bit by November.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:13 PM | Comments (4)

Stealing time

I stole some time out of my day today. I just reached into my employer's back pocket and plucked it right out. It was about a half an hour, but it was mine, all mine, and it was glorious. It was freedom and it was irresponsible and it had no agenda or address or anything and it was mine, all mine.

I took papers down to court this morning to file with the motion support office at the Supreme Court of the State of New York for the County of New York, (known to us lawyers as Supreme New York or simply S/NY). This courthouse borders on the surreal. No, well, it may, but what I meant to say was that it borders on Chinatown. I handed in my papers which the clerk accepted without a problem (which is always nice and never a sure thing) and headed off with no agenda to wander the streets a bit. Chinatown is congested, smelly (lots of fish markets), filled with tacky gift shops and just downright fun. Probably because of all of those things.

I walked through the park behind the courthouse and observed a beautiful tai chi class conducted to music and using swords in an intricate and very controlled ballet of movement and internal tension. I also was treated to the odd spectacle of Chinese senior citizens, looking very fit, stretching and twisting on the jungle gym. No kids, mind you, but lots of senior citizens. Their teenage grandchildren, quite a bit less fit looking, were screwing around on the basketball court.

Most of my favorite stores were still closed, so I couldn't do any serious shopping. I had decided to see if I could break some international trademark laws and buy my wife a cool knockoff bag. She's been a bit down of late and a bag never fails to cheer her up. Unfortunately, none of the knock off stores were open yet. However, our favorite bakery was open. Ever have coconut cream bread? It is so yummy, being both sweet and salty at the same time. I bought four pieces for the kids, wife and nanny. I also got two lotus leaf sticky rice packages for the kids. The girl child ought to enjoy unwrapping the package and eating the sticky goodness contained therein.

I then ducked into a little galley of a shop, it was long and no more than 7 or 8 feet wide. It was crammed to the gills with food products from: Malaysia; Thailand; Indonesia; and other exotic locales. I bought some new chili sauces and some Thai fried garlic bits and Thai fried red onions. I passed on the Thai anchovy snacks. They were pieces of anchovy fried in palm oil and seasoned with chili, salt and sugar. The owner of the store insisted that I try one out of the open container he had on the counter. He claimed that they were a great seller and good for your bones to boot. It was chewy, spicy, sweet, and tangy. In fact, it was a bit too chewy and dry for my taste. I ate one but passed on the entire package.

I tasted the anchovy snack all the way back to the subway and wondered, is that fishy taste the taste of adventure or the taste you have in your mouth that signals the return to responsibility?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:03 AM | Comments (8)

July 26, 2004

Speaking of Kerry

I am highly amused by the spectacle of Mrs. Kerry telling a reporter to "shove it", shortly after delivering a speech exhorting her fellow citizens to return civility to politics. Whatever you may think of the relative merits of Mrs. Kerry v. Mrs. Bush, Mrs. Kerry appears to be more entertaining. Watch the fun as the Kerry campaign deals with this little issue.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:22 AM | Comments (4)

Who's got my mojo?

I feel mojo-less this morning, bereft of topics, out of ideas. I blame the tiredness from the 3 a.m. wakeup call from my wife's new pedometer that she just put the batteries into yesterday. It has an alarm function. It went off at 3:04 a.m. The children gave us a problem free night but the wife's new toy jumped at the chance to fill in.

Yesterday was actually pretty nice. We took the kids in the morning to a farm in Stamford with a great playground to burn off energy on after looking at all the different animals. The boy child appeared unmoved by the animals while the girl child was mostly struck by the smell. She also liked the "baby pigs" the best.

We brought them home for lunch and packed them off for naps. I got a little writing done while they tried to go to sleep. The boy child cooperated. The girl child refused. No nap for her. My wife was exhausted, though, and I thought she really needed a little peace and quiet. So at the risk of being seen to reward bad behavior, I put the girl child into her swim suit and took her down to the kiddy pool.

She flung herself about in the pool for about an hour. The lips turned blue and the teeth started to chatter at about the 30 minute mark. She insisted she was fine up until the hour passed and then she consented to get out and be wrapped in a towel. We then went and got a drink and her some gold fish and sat companionably by the ocean and chatted about the sailboats out on the Sound. It was delightful.

Even more delightful, she rewarded us by going to sleep early and immediately so as to give my wife and I a little grown up alone time as the Yankees got spanked by the Red Sox.

Am I the only one who watched the game and found the pictures of John Kerry mugging for the camera to be distasteful?

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:12 AM | Comments (1)

July 25, 2004

Socialist Worker Paradise

Norway is the socialist worker paradise, paid for by the oil resources. This was just fascinating to me -- the Norwegian worker, excluding vacations, misses 4.8 weeks of work a year. That is stunning. It is said that it costs the government some $12 billion a year to cover the costs. Oh, and by the way, some 50% of the work force is working for the government in some capacity or another. How is this healthy for any society, that no one works and that half your work force is engaged in providing monopolistic social services to the other half? Who produces anything? How do you expect a society to grow, to thrive, to create, to do anything at all?

You cannot, in my view. The problem the Norwegians are now facing, according to the article, is that they are finally being called on this problem as American (you know, the great Satans) are buying or merging with Norwegian companies and not putting up with these practices.

Norwegian intellectuals do not like America or Americans. They are not alone in Europe, of course. But go, if you have a moment, and check out this article by Bjorn Staerk (Bear Strong for you non-Norsk speakers) on the famed Norwegian intellectual who thinks pro-American Norwegians should be put under surveillance and eventually on trial for their crime of supporting America. Truly shocking. I wonder why we bother to have relations at all sometimes with Norway.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:47 PM | Comments (8)

True Multiculturalism

We have successfully blended two cultures in our house. My wife is Norwegian and I am an American Jew. Last night, my daughter wanted to clink glasses again at the dinner table. So, I turned to her and said: "Skoal, bubbe." My wife just cracked up and I realized we have acheived the melting pot right in our little house.

Welcome to America!

P.S. My spelling of "skoal" is an approximation because I couldn't get the right Norwegian letter on my keyboard at home.

UPDATE: Correct spelling is: Skål.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:31 PM | Comments (4)

NY Times is liberal!?!?

Hold the presses: The NY Times has admitted that its coverage is liberal and unbalanced. At least, up to a point, they admit it. They note that they are a walking advertisement for gay marriage and never present the dissenting point of view about it. They note that they present too much by way of diversity issues on the sports page. I am shocked they admit it and shocked that they didn't push it as far as they could have. For instance, the "public editor" who wrote this column wants to leave the political issues of the campaign out of this column and wait until the fall until he can tell for sure. Please. Most of us don't feel the need to wait.

The really interesting thing I take away from this is that the complaints about how one sided the Times' coverage is must be forcing some response. Finally. Stay tuned to see if it ever changes, not that I really expect it to.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:25 PM | Comments (0)

Out of the mouth of the babe

My daughter and I were up early this morning and went down to breakfast by ourselves. I asked her what she wanted this morning and instead of telling me, she said:

Give me the beat boys and free my soul. I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away.

I was kind of surprised and I asked her where she learned that. She said, "the car, Pappa, the car taught it to me".

So amused.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:19 PM | Comments (7)

July 24, 2004

My wife is cool

Nothing ruffles my wife. Not even my daughter and I treating her and the boy to a quiet, but still probably too loud, rendition of "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Hairy Tushies" during lunch today at our favorite Indian restaurant.

At the conclusion of the song, my daughter turns to my wife and asks:

Hairy tushies, do they taste good? I bet they don't.

My wife just laughed. I suspect my daughter is right but disclaim enough knowledge of the subject to opine with any authority.

One of the nice things about raising kids in this area is the most important diversity of all: culinary. My daughter, aged 3.5, could discuss with us today whether she wanted Mexican or Indian or even Thai. This is just one the best parts of immigration -- good ethnic eats.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:07 PM | Comments (3)

July 23, 2004

test of block quote

This is a test of the Madfish Willie block quote script I have seen on other people's blogs and really liked.

If this works, it will look really sharp!

So, let's see.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:52 PM | Comments (4)

R.I.P. Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith, a.k.a the Frugal Gourmet, died almost 2 weeks ago and I didn't notice (Seattle Times obit) Shame on me. Do you all remember him? He had this great cooking show and put out a couple of cookbooks I still like to this day. Here are some of his recipes on the net. He came off the air after allegations surfaced concerning his inappropriate sexual contacts with some young boys. Never proven, mind you, just alleged. But that was enough to get him off the air.

I really liked his show. He may have been a little less nice and approachable in person, though:

He made his name and his money on television and in print selling an image as a man of god, warm and generous and the very model of moral superiority. In my one telephonic encounter, though, he all but told me to go Cheney myself, Madam. Thanks to a starstruck editor in the mid-Eighties, I had to approach him for a recipe for a magazine story and it was if I had dialed Tourette’s Central. Suffice it to say he did not end the conversation with “I bid you peace.”

Anyway, Rest in Peace, Minister Smith.

This kind of got me thinking about the other cooking show I used to really like. Anyone else remember Justin Wilson? He is also dead, unfortunately, but was a fascinating man (obit and here), and boy, could he cook.

UPDATE:

No, they are both still dead, as is Generalissimo Francisco Franco. The reason for the update is that the second page for the Justin Wilson obit has this great link to listen over the web to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage music broadcasts. I am thinking the day is looking up!

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:35 AM | Comments (8)

An early birthday present?

If my wife is reading this, I think I found what I'd like as an early birthday present: my very own air craft carrier.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:20 AM | Comments (2)

Today in History

Here are some random today in history facts. I can find no way to link them but I thought they were all interesting, so I list them here as trivia, along with a little research by yours truly to add some value:

*1599 Caravaggio receives his first public commission for paintings, click here for cool website gallery of all his works
*1885 Ulysses S Grant, brilliant general and much less brilliant 18th President of the United States, dies in Mount McGregor, NY, at age 63. Click here for a dissenting point of view by the US Grant Association.
*1904 Ice cream cone supposedly created by Charles E Menches during Lousiana Purchase Expo at the St. Louis World's Fair. Here is an extremely cool link from the Library of Congress on ice cream in America.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)

While waiting for inspiration to strike. . .

I am not feeling very inspired yet, so I will favor you with a random observation I made while walking to the office this morning. Large patterned tight pants on a woman who may be carrying a few pounds extra may not be the most flattering choice she could make for herself. It also got me thinking, what are some of the fashion mistakes of yore which have happily died out, to be missed by no one but nostalgia fans? I will give you a couple and be curious to see what you add.

*leg warmers
*stretch pants
*lycra everywhere (as a young gay man once said to me as he passed me just after passing a very large woman in lycra shorts, "lycra is a privilege, not a right)
*head bands (picture O. Newton-John in the "Let's get physical" video)
*vests everywhere

What else?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:45 AM | Comments (15)

July 22, 2004

The fruit of the vine

I almost never drink at lunch. It tends to make me sleepy in the afternoon and besides which I am not being paid to drink at lunch. However, I feel that the only mistake I may have made at lunch today was having only one glass of wine instead of two. The wine and a good lunch have cheered me up immensely. How much, you may wonder? Well, let me share with you the post I drafted this morning and I decided not to put up:

* * *

I am in a truly foul mood today. The kind of mood which gives NY'ers a bad reputation among our fellow citizens. The kind of mood which suggests that my last rabies shot just did not take. It is a little shy of being undirected rage looking for an object. I have little to no tolerance or patience today. That is the mood that propelled me up the train platform and into the office today.

When I got to work, I got a call from my wife. She is back safely from Germany. The job she had interviewed for several times went to someone else. She is disappointed but seems to be dealing with it better right now than I am. I think that is because I feel horrible for her, for us, and then I try to imagine how she's feeling and how I'd be feeling in her spot and it just starts all over again. And I feel like I lack any ability to give her comfort, to make it all right, to kiss this boo-boo and make it better. I hate feeling helpless.

Combine all that with the foulness of the temper I am already enjoying and it feels sort of volatile. I can feel the tightness physically in my hands and in the set of my jaw. It is a pugnacious feeling.

Now, I just got off the phone with a client who has broken yet another appointment with me. He's facing something like $18 million in liability over a busted commercial real estate project and I think he lacks a firm footing in reality. I have no idea how I am going to represent him if he keeps blowing me off.

I need more sleep or a vacation.

* * *

Or I needed to self-medicate with a nice lunch, good company, and a glass of wine. There may be a lesson in there with universal application.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:02 PM | Comments (3)

Thanks for the award

Thanks to One Ordinary York Student (who does not have any contact info on his/her site so I can't email him/her) for giving me:

The terrorism-is-not-okay award (for my post on "root causes").

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:03 AM | Comments (2)

An extraordinary article

I happened across an extraordinary article this morning in the Spectator, an English weekly magazine, entitled: The triumph of the East (registration may be required). It is extraordinary to me because I don't often see articles like this in mainstream publications. The premise of the article is that we in the West are deluding ourselves about Islam's expansionist and imperialist aims. Reassuring ourselves with our bland pablum of multi-culturalism, our fevered insistence that we are all the same with the same interests and the same needs and motivations, we are blind to the fact that the conquest of the West is a central topic urged on the main Islamic media sources. It is a central topic of discussion in the most prominent mosques and it is ignored in the West.

The most popular tactic is immigration. I must admit that this sentence jumped off the page at me: "In Brussels, Mohammed has been the most popular name for boy babies for the last four years." I don't know if it's true, mind you, but it startled me.

Contrast this with the upbeat article that the NY Times ran today on how woman are agitating, albeit with no organization, for more rights to pray in the mosque. This is a "feel good about Islam" article that the Times likes to run from time to time. However, someone gave us an interesting juxtaposition by running this article right under the picture in this article of six kidnaped civilians in danger of having their heads chopped off by the three hooded terrorists, whoops, I mean "insurgents", in front of them (scroll down to see the picture). Like I said, interesting juxtaposition.

At some point we are going to have to confront the fact that not all people want the same thing in the West, that even those who immigrate here don't necessarily share our values or even respect them, and that we are in a conflict of cultures. I hope we do it soon. I for one do not want my daughter to wear a veil except on her wedding day.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:38 AM | Comments (1)

New Holiday

My daughter reminded me of the new holiday today that she had invented some time ago. I haven't heard about it in a while.

We were chatting this morning while I was getting dressed to go to work and I asked her what she was going to do today. She said that she was going to the park to play and then she wanted to make and decorate cupcakes. I replied that I thought she was going to camp today and maybe she could do the other things on Friday. She said, no, that she was not going to camp because today was "Play-All-Day-Veen". This is her holiday, based on Halloween I think.

I could use a little "Play-All-Day-Veen" myself today. Well, maybe I'm going to do the grownup equivalent and go take a long lunch with a friend.

I wish you all a very happy Play-All-Day-Veen!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)

TV News

I am not a television news type. I am a throwback (which is not the same as a toss-back, thank you very much). I get my news by getting my hands smeared with news print or by clicking through the web. I may have to reconsider, especially if it means I am missing moments like this with "Shepard Smith, the clean-shorn host of the No. 1–rated Fox Report":

But it was on the set of The Fox Report in November 2002 that Mr. Smith became infamous among cable news watchers for his gaffe involving Jennifer Lopez. In a story about her hit song "Jenny From the Block" and the reaction it was getting from her childhood neighborhood in the Bronx, Mr. Smith was prompted to read that they were more likely to "give her a curb job than a block party."

But it turned out to be a real mouthful, and the hapless anchor instead read that J. Lo’s neighbors were more likely to "give her a curb job than a blowjob."

Now that's great television.

Source.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:04 AM | Comments (2)

July 21, 2004

A fascinating character

I am sometimes intrigued by the people who populate the periphery of history. These are people who, while they may have been famous or notorious in their own era, have been relegated to the footnote of history in our time. These are people who may have been very accomplished in their own right, but who are known to us today primarily because of their association with someone who has greater historical gravitas or because they played what is now felt to be a minor role in an important event. Seriously, isn't this a fascinating concept? These "peripherals" led full lives and may have done astonishing things, some of them, yet they are eclipsed by their contemporaries by reason merely of their association. Who remembers the names of any of the men who went with Perry to Japan? Or climbed Everest with Hillary? Or was the second in command to William the Conqueror? Are they any less deserving of our attention?

Well, sometimes you find these peripherals as they put in an appearance in a history or a biography. Sometimes, if you look closely, you can see them in the corner of a book or peeking out from behind the drapes of history, as it were, where the author left them while he or she is writing about someone else.

I just observed one such elusive person. As I mentioned before, I am reading McCullough's biography of Theodore Roosevelt as a child and young man. Teddy was a world stage historical personage. His maternal uncle, James Bulloch, was a pretty compelling figure in his own right.

James Bulloch was born in Roswell, Georgia and grew up in a house that may have been the model for the mansion in Gone with the Wind. He was, in Teddy's own words, a former admiral in the Confederate Navy and the builder of the Alabama:

My mother's two brothers, James Dunwoodie Bulloch and Irvine Bulloch, came to visit us shortly after the close of the war. Both came under assumed names, as they were among the Confederates who were at that time exempted from the amnesty. "Uncle Jimmy" Bulloch was a dear old retired sea-captain, utterly unable to "get on" in the worldly sense of that phrase, as valiant and simple and upright a soul as ever lived, a veritable Colonel Newcome. He was an Admiral in the Confederate navy, and was the builder of the famous Confederate war vessel Alabama.

To leave him at that would not be doing him justice. The building of the Alabama was significant for the Civil War and his accomplishments in doing so may have influenced the future of naval policy under Pres. Teddy.

Captain Bulloch had the Alabama built under the nose of the Union and in contravention of the British law forbidding the building of foreign men of war. He was sent to England to procure a fleet of ships. These had to be built. Naturally, the Union was trying to stop this project and spies were everywhere. The Alabama was built under a different name and Captain Bulloch sailed her out of Liverpool to be refitted as a corsair just ahead of the law. The story of the building and escape can be found here.

During her first months of service alone, the Alabama took Union shipping worth over $400,000. The episode of the Alabama can also be found in a book devoted to the Secret Navy of the CSA.

According to the BBC, the C.S.S. Alabama significantly poisoned English and American relations for years. And no wonder, according to the book I referenced above: "When it was finally unleashed as the CSS Alabama, the Confederate gunship triggered the last great military campaign of the Civil War; a maritime adventure unparalleled in our history; an infamous example of British political treachery; and the largest retribution settlement ever negotiated by an international tribunal: $15,500,000 in gold paid by Britain to the United States."

The Alabama was finally brought to heel in June of 1864 by the USS Kearsage outside of Cherbourg, France. Actually, I went and saw a wonderful small exhibit about this naval battle at the Metropolitan Museum of Art last summer. If you follow the link, you will find images of the paintings by famous artists, such as Manet, of this battle.

So there you have it, James Bulloch was an important civil war figure. He died, by the way, in England as an Englishman, without ever being eligible for a pardon.

But what was the effect of his exploits? I have seen it argued that without Bulloch in Teddy's life, we might never have seen the development of such a critically important strong navy.

The economic impact of the commerce raiders was significant, so much so that historian Philip Van Doren Stern considers James Bulloch's contribution to the Confederacy second only to that of Robert E. Lee. The Alabama and her fellow commerce raiders destroyed many millions of dollars worth of American merchant ships, diverted numerous Union naval ships from the blockade of Confederate harbors, nearly destroyed the American merchant marine (which never again recovered the world dominance it had enjoyed before the Civil War), and inflated American maritime insurance rates to such an extent as to drive more than one New England shipowner into bankruptcy.

The idea of this potential for naval power was early drummed into young Theodore Roosevelt. As he wrote: "From my earliest recollection I have been fed on tales of the sea and of ships. My mother's ... deep interest in the Southern cause and her brother's calling led her to talk to me as a little shaver about ships, ships, ships, and fighting of ships, till they sank into the depths of my soul. And when I first began to think, in any independent and consecutive order ... I began to write a history of the Naval War of 1812."

* * *

It was, indeed, on Roosevelt's watch as President that the United States emerged into the top ranks of the world's naval powers. By 1907, the Atlantic Fleet was comprised of no less than 16 battleships which formed, according to Secretary of the Navy Victor H. Metcalf, "in weight and numbers combined, the most powerful fleet of battle ships under one command in any navy." By 1908, the US stood second among naval powers in the index of capital ships. TR made sure to put his amassed naval power on display when he ordered the global circumnavigation of the Atlantic fleet, often called the Great White Fleet, from December 1908 through February 1909.

So there you have it. My attempt to shed a little light on an otherwise not so common figure.

Finally, I have to admit, I am pretty intrigued by the thought that an important influence in the life of Teddy Roosevelt was a Confederate veteran of the War Between the States. I don't know what to make of it, but I think it's interesting.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:54 PM | Comments (5)

Life Insurance

I beat the NY Times up all the time, but sometimes they get it right. There has been an interesting series on the sale and marketing of inappropriate financial products, including but not limited to life insurance and mutual funds, to soldiers. Apparently, for as little as $1500, you too can buy congressional intercession on behalf of your sleazy business practices. The first article is here and the second one, run today, is here. Go read the second one to understand my comment about how cheap it is to buy access.

This practice, by the way, stands in sharp contrast to the actions of the most prominent Americans during the Civil War. I have been reading, at night, the McCullough biography of Theodore Roosevelt, called, "Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt". The President's father, during the Civil War, was instrumental in creating the Allotment Commission. I find nothing of any consequence about it after a Google search, but let me explain.

The men went off to fight in the Civil War and left their familes and women behind, often made destitute by the lack of income after the men left their civilian jobs. Roosevelt, and others, conceived of the Allotment Commission. They presented it to Lincoln and secured his agreement. What was it? Simple. It was a mechanism by which Union soldiers could allot some portion of their pay to be subtracted from their pay check and transmitted directly back home. No one else had ever thought of this. Roosevelt traveled to practically every encampment and preached to the men the value of this service. Many signed up and many millions of dollars were sent home. This was a selfless act on Rooselvelt's part.

We dishonor the memory of the men who toiled on behalf of the common soldier, without recompense, by permitting these scum to prey upon our soldiers. It is just shameful.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

Further on "root causes"

A little more on the "root causes" post of yesterday. I closed by asking whether we could unite this country and face, together, the threats and powers arrayed against us. Thanks to Frederik Norman, a Norwegian who founded the "Norwegian Friends of America" group in Norway, I have discovered the Committee on the Present Danger. This is a bi-partisan group who, well, let's let them tell it in their own words:

In times of great challenge to the security of the United States, Republicans, Democrats and Independents have traditionally joined to make an assertive defense of American interests.

Twice before in American history, The Committee on the Present Danger has risen to this challenge. It emerged in 1950 as a bipartisan education and advocacy organization dedicated to building a national consensus for a strong defense against Soviet expansionism. In 1976, the Committee on the Present Danger reemerged, with leadership from the labor movement, bipartisan representatives of the foreign policy community and academia, all of whom were concerned about strategic drift in U.S. security policy.

In both previous periods, the Committee’s mission was clear: raise awareness to the threat to American safety; communicate the risk inherent in appeasing totalitarianism; and build support for an assertive policy to promote the security of the United States and its allies and friends.

With victory in the Cold War, the mission of the Committee on the Present Danger was considered complete and consequently was deactivated..

Today, radical Islamists threaten the safety of the American people and millions of others who prize liberty. The threat is global. They operate from cells in a number of countries. Rogue regimes seek power by making common cause with terrorist groups. The prospect that this deadly collusion may include weapons of mass murder is at hand.

Like the Cold War, securing our freedom against organized terrorism is a long-term struggle. The road to victory begins with clear identification of the shifting threat and vigorous pursuit of policies to contain and defeat it.

It is led by Senators Kyl and Lieberman and chaired by the Hon. James Woolsey. It is, to me, a reason to hope just a little bit more.

I still deeply regret Joe Lieberman's withdrawal from the Democratic primary. He was the only one in that Party who I could have voted for.

UPDATE: Go you and check out the many articles these guys have published. This is very cool.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

When the wife's away. . .

The wife is on a business trip to Germany all this week and when the wife's away (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), you know what happens, right? Daddy comes home early from work and gives all the baths by himself and reads all the stories by himself and kisses all the boo-boo's better by himself and just has such a great time alone with the kids that he doesn't want to go to work at all. It has been pretty close to sheer bliss.

I come home, take off the suit, and we play. I then partially undress the little guy and let him run around with his shirt off. He likes to stroll about the place, after the shirt comes off, slapping his naked chest with both hands. The girl looked at him last night and said, "hey, stud man". I don't think she knows what it means but it was funny. We then get milk for the little guy and I throw them both in the bath where there was much splashing of each other and of me. Here's a tip, by the way, for when you are dealing with overtired little pills -- throw 'em in the bath. They love it, it relaxes them and they are in a contained space. The boy then gets put in his crib, after milk, and the girl comes downstairs with me, in her pj's.

The girl keeps me company while I dine. She sits, we chat, and we clink glasses -- my glass of (last night) vino verde (Portugese Green Wine -- the perfect summer white) to her sippy cup of chamomile tea (she's been reading Madeline). She eats off my plate with her own fork. It's very companionable. After, I thanked her for sharing dinner and she told me that she had already had dinner and this was just a "snack". We go off and read stories and then we try to put her to bed. She won't go to sleep, mind you, but she will go to bed. Last night I was treated through the monitor to a moving rendition of "head, shoulders, knees and toes" as she sang to her animals.

This morning, as I was playing at the computer in my bedroom (we have a lap top at home), she came sneaking in with her blanket and climbed into my lap. She didn't say a word. She just arranged herself in my lap and put her head between my shoulder and neck and lay there for five to ten minutes while I gently stroked her shiny, golden hair. It was totally silent and so peaceful. I was content with everything at that moment and filled up with love and with happiness. It was beautiful. It ended when she looked up at me and said, "Pappa, is it ok if I toot?" I guess she thought our little moment was pretty special, too, since this was the first time she ever asked my permission to pass gas.

The wife returns on the late flight tonight. I will be happy to have her home but I will treasure the little moments when I had the single parent duties.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:40 AM | Comments (9)

July 20, 2004

"Root Causes"

This one may take me awhile, so if you plan on reading the whole thing, grab a pew, missy (as I tell my daughter when I want her to sit down and as she delights in repeating back to me). If you don't plan on reading this one, that's ok, I bet someone else is writing about this in a better way than I am.

The Root Causes. Everyone seems to think that we need to understand the root causes of terrorism, the root causes of ceaseless anti-American hatred, the root causes of anti-Semitism, the root causes of _______ (fill in the blank, how about obesity?). The world faults us for failing to understand the root causes. They want us to ask: why do they hate us? What did we do wrong? The media drumbeat on this point, in our own newspapers and from our allies, is as relentless as it is nonsensical and downright contemptuous.

You can see how silly this is here, in the words of British "journalists" (dig my scare quotes?):

Why is there no coverage in America given to the root causes of terrorism? We try to understand why Palestinian people feel driven to take such extreme measures as suicide bombings. I understand why Israel is building a wall to stop terror, but terrorists only flourish if they have grievances to exploit.

The root causes of terrorism are hatred and fear, not economic. The suicide bombers are not motivated by issues such as fair trade and labor regulation. As others have noted, the World Trade Center bombers were from the highest socio-economic classes their society had. They were not protesting American influence on foreign exchange rates. No, they hated us. They still hate us and we are to ask why, if you believe the pundits. What impels the hatred?

The hatred, I believe, stems from fear. They fear our freedom and our liberalism because the freedom to decide for yourself is not compatible with their vision of a society subservient to the dictates of Islam as they understand them. We are seductive and corrupt. We will infect their youth and destroy the power they hold over their women. We are a disease that must be halted. This is not hard to understand. They hate us because our values are so different from their values. They hate us because they cannot fathom how they are righteous and we are not and yet we are successful (so, add jealousy to the volatile mix).

In other words, while I am prepared to ask the question why, I reach a conclusion different from that urged by those who constantly stress the necessity of its asking. I conclude that the fault lies not within us, Horatio (nor within the stars), but within them.

There. I asked why, I answered it and I feel so much better now.
Well, not really. Now I want to ask about the root causes of another problem (no, I don’t mean stomach issues experienced after too much spicy Indian food, although I am curious to know why Indian food and why not Thai): Western anti-Americanism. You know the kind I mean, the feelings and beliefs expressed by our allies, by Europeans, among others, who believe that America is evil and the greatest threat to world peace but who stop short of flying planes into our buildings or bombing our Naval vessels (the USS Cole). This question is one I’ve been exploring of late and I don’t have a real good answer for it. How is it that a book in France which hit the best seller list there and was taken seriously when it asked whether the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were faked. I really don't know. But I can send you to some of what I’ve been reading to help me understand it and maybe these works will help you (assuming you share my confusion).

First of all, I’ve been reading Jean Francois Revel’s book, Anti-Americanism. I cannot excerpt any of it here. It is too tightly woven for me to pick apart any of its arguments here. I think it is a must read. I seldom urge people to pick up a book, but I do so now.

Second, I just read Bruce Bawer’s essay in the Hudson Review: Hating America. This is also a great read. Dr. Bawer is an American living in Norway.

Third, I’d send you to Robert Kagan’s slim book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. It seeks to explain how and why America and Europe have taken such different paths.

If you have other recommendations, I'd be pleased if you'd share them with me.

What does it all come down to? Europe resents the Pax Americana, at its base. Europe lacks the capacity or ability or will to project power beyond its borders and, while enjoying the fruits of a free society protected by American servicemen and women, is unhappy about it at the same time. At the end, I perceive that nothing can be done about it.

So, where does that leave us? Where are we now that we’ve asked the questions about the “root causes”?

We are at the same place we were when we started (although you didn’t know that). We are at my cousin’s funeral. I attended my cousin's funeral in the days after 9/11 and her death at the top of the World Trade Center. It was a funeral held with an empty coffin. There is space enough in her plain wooden box to fit the questions of why do they hate us and what did we do wrong. I’d like to bury these fucking questions there and get on with the business of uniting our country to oppose a common foe who seeks our destruction.

Of course, that won’t happen, but I can dream, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:57 AM | Comments (12)

Favorite Bartenders

I feel the need for a martini coming on.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:33 AM | Comments (2)

Today in History -- the Arts

There is no question that today was a great day in history for the arts, starting, in 1304 with the birth of the great Italian poet, Francesco Petrarch (the father of Humanism), and followed, a quick 600+ years later with the following births in:

*1958 Michael McNeill from Simple Minds (as if anyone could, who needs to be told "Don't You Forget About Me")
*1943 John Lodge bassist for Moody Blues
*1946 Kim Carnes singer (Bette Davis Eyes)
*1947 Carlos Santana of Santana
*1954 Jay Jay French, guitarist for Twisted Sister
*1955 Michael Anthony bassist for Van Halen
*1956 Paul Cook drummer for the Sex Pistols

-and-

in 1968 Iron Butterfly's "In-a-gadda-da-vida" becomes the first heavy metal song to hit the charts at #117.

I ask you, from Petrach's canzoniere to "In-a-gadda-da-vida" (scroll down for lyrics) in 664 years, is this progress or what? That may have come off snottier than I intended, but so what. The point remains valid, even if the comparison is unfair.

Ed. Note: I will be singing most of the songs mentioned above, including some not mentioned ("We're not gonna take it" -- Twisted Sister) for the remainder of the day. I trust I will not be the only one.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:25 AM | Comments (1)

Norwegians think they can vote here?

How unilateral, how interventionist, how one sided. A foreign group wants to interfere in the democratic process of another country! Call out the United Nations! Someone has to stop this madness, this threat to world peace, this act which has the potential to imbalance all of the delicate mechanisms by which international relations are maintained. Maybe we should get France involved.

What am I talking about? You mean you haven't heard? The Norwegians don't want us to re-elect President Bush and have started a website in order to raise money to purchase an advertisement in the Washington Post to tell us silly Americans that Norway was opposed to the war in Iraq and we should not reelect the President. You can read about it here.

The funny thing is how central Norway feels it is to this debate that their ad*, in the WaPo of all papers, is going to influence our election. Most of the US voters don't even read the Post! The best part, though, was this quote:

Geir Lundestad of the Nobel Institute in Norway . . . [says] "Everyone [of the power elite in Norway] is asking me, 'do you think we'll get rid of Bush in November?,' and that's a completely new situation," Lundestad said.

We'll get rid of Bush? Are they kidding?

If we did something like this, the Norwegian press would be all over our neocolonialist-imperialist-unilateralist-bomb dropping-cowboy hat wearing-ass. The Norwegians take themselves so seriously sometimes that it's just funny.

* corrected typo pointed out by eagle-eyed reader.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:59 AM | Comments (7)

Gratitude is, what?

Gratitude is, according to Webster:

\Grat"i*tude\, n. [F. gratitude, LL. gratitudo, from gratus agreeable, grateful. See Grate, a.] The state of being grateful; warm and friendly feeling toward a benefactor; kindness awakened by a favor received; thankfulness.

Gratitude is hard. It leaves you feeling obligated to another. That person has rendered you a service or done you a favor. You are obliged to that person. You owe him or her something. It makes you feel, I don't know exactly, but sometimes, maybe, a little uneasy. Especially if you didn't ask that person to do something for you or on your behalf. You owe, at minimum, a thank you to that person.

Grand Central Station, in NYC, since September 11, 2001, has been guarded full time by members of the NY State National Guard. These civilian soldiers stand there, armed, and guard the terminal. They have been taken away from their lives and their families and they stand and walk and watch the terminal. Sometimes they look for suspicious people and sometimes, like me, I have to think that they are wondering whether that tall brunette walking through the terminal is not wearing any underwear at all or just a really thin thong. Nonetheless, it is clear that they protect us. It is clear that they do so at personal risk to themselves and at a cost to their families and employers.

I have been thinking about these part-time soldiers for awhile now. I feel gratitude towards them. I am grateful for their sacrifice in making me safe and, in the process, giving up their own lives for my benefit. Today, and not for the first time, I thanked two of them and expressed my gratitude.

I said to each of them, something along the lines of the following:

Excuse me. I just wanted to thank you for your service. Thank you for being away from your families and keeping me safe during my commute. I'm sure a lot of people think that when they see you, but I wanted to tell you. Thank you.

Gratitude is hard to express. It can make you feel goofy, standing there in the middle of Grand Central Station, thanking a total stranger. But it seemed worth it. Each of the soldiers I thanked seemed surprised and then happy.

It was the least I could do, I figured.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:44 AM | Comments (6)

July 19, 2004

This weekend

The weekend was good. I actually did an enormous amount of blogging this weekend, which is unusual for me. But, then, I had a lot to say.

We spent a lot of time being focused on the children to the exclusion of taking care of the house. That's ok, I think. The house isn't dirty, it's just messy. There's an important distinction and anyone with kids understands it. Before kids, I'm not sure that I did understand it so well.

Saturday was spent at the kiddy pool, either flinging the girl child around in the water to the accompaniment of her shrieks of laughter and demands for one more time, or trying to keep the boy child from killing himself as he somehow formed the conclusion that walking up to the edge of the pool backwards and stepping back into the pool was an acceptable method of entry. It was great fun and the Summer is shaping up to be idyllic.

Saturday was also, however, the scene of a tactical blunder on my part. I attempted a "nap-over", as we call them, with my daughter. That means that during her afternoon nap, I joined her in her bed with my pillow. She provided me with one of her blankets and a judiciously selected stuffed animal to cuddle with. I was given the flamingo this time. The blunder was that she was too excited to have me in bed to sleep. I slept and she didn't. So I was rested by the time we went over to my parents for dinner and she wasn't. By the time that bowl of ice cream my mother gave her hit her system, we had sugar + overtired = difficult. Still, at least I was rested!

Sunday was rainy and humid. No pool. Instead, we went to a local playground and then to feed the geese and ducks. The boy child had trouble with the concept of parting with the bread. My wife, who was holding him, would give him bread to throw and, instead, he'd eat it himself. MY daughter enjoyed feeding them but displayed great concern about the geese who circled behind us and went into the road. She ordered them back onto the grass with great authority.

Geese are kind of scary, aren't they? I remember reading as a child that Roman Armies used them as sentries. Plutarch writes about the geese and how they warned the Romans of a sneak attack on Rome by the Gauls:

Rome's Fortune, however, did not lack a voice capable of revealing and declaring such a great mischance. Sacred geese were kept near the temple of Juno for the service of the goddess. Now by nature this bird is easily disturbed and frightened by noise; and at this time, since they were neglected, because dire want oppressed the garrison, their sleep was light, and was made uncomfortable by hunger, with the result that they were at once aware of the enemy as they showed themselves above the edge of the cliff. The geese hissed at them and rushed at them impetuously, and at the sight of arms, became even more excited, and filled the place with piercing and discordant clamour. By this the Romans were aroused, and, when they comprehended what had happened, they forced back their enemies and hurled them over the precipice. And even to this day, in memory of these events, there are borne in solemn procession a dog impaled on a stake, but a goose perched in state upon a costly coverlet in a litter.

Poor Fido.

After the ducks and geese, the boy child made an important stride forward in his acquisition of the attributes of humanity: he communicated with words his hunger. "Num num" is Norwegian for yummy. It is an acceptable answer to the question, "is that good?" The boy, and the girl before him, is using it to signify food. When we got back in the car, he started complaining a little and saying, "num num", and when we got to the restaurant, he started saying "num num" again and was very excited. My wife observed that he made a great stride today and made our lives easier as well because he could now start to tell us what he wanted, in place of just crying and hoping we'd figure it out.

I hope you all had as nice a weekend as we did!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:34 AM | Comments (6)

Coffe Cans in the Cupboard -- the hoarder's mentality

Either you are going to intuitively understand this post deep down inside, like you could have written it yourself, or you just ain't never gonna get it.

We accumulate things, my wife and I. Well, maybe me more than my wife. In any event, we don't throw out a whole lot of stuff. This urge to preserve spans whole categories of items and I don't intend to address the range of pathologies. No, I'm going to limit myself to the kitchen.

By the way, in case you were wondering, I blame my parents for this. Ok, no, not really. But they have gently aided and abetted by only recently starting to inquire when I was going to drive the ten miles over to their house and clean out my childhood room. They are kind and understanding for the most part and also quite accomplished little clutter bugs themselves so the pressure has been gentle thus far. But notice has been given and since I really did move out when I left for college, it's about time I boxed up the old high school yearbooks and other momentos. Pardon the digression, back to the kitchen.

We keep stuff in our cabinets that we treat like national treasures. Old cans of coffee, bottles of hot sauce from vacations, weird spices, stuff picked up on sale, etc. You never know when you are going to see that jar of capers packed in salt again, so you buy it and you keep it. You might want to bake chocolate chip cookies at odd hours when the market is closed and you need to make sure you have every possible ingredient for said cookie. You also never know when you might need that odd tin of Norwegian "horn salt". I actually have no idea what horn salt is, why we have it, what you use it for, when we got it, and I have never seen my wife use it. But it has faithfully followed us for our last two moves. We have this spectacular "piri piri" sauce we bought in Portugal (ten years ago!) and a great collection of Guatemalen hot sauces. I think we still have a jar of prickly pear jam we bought on our honeymoon, lo these many moons ago.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that we like to go to supermarkets when we travel. Foreign supermarkets are huge fun and I think are just as culturally enriching an experience as visiting a museum. You see stuff you've never imagined before, you get a glimpse of how the other people really live (nothing tells you more about a society than its selection of toilet paper), and you can buy inexpensive and unusual gifts and souvenirs.

So, we cart this stuff home and we put it in the cupboards. And there it sits. Never to be used. Why? Because it cannot be replaced once we open it, I suppose. Or because we never intended to open it? Or because while we still have that bottle of Hungarian brandy we still have a tangible connection to that trip. Beats me. Maybe we just like to have lots of stuff.

So, that coffee can I titled this post with was a can of Cafe du Monde strong as heck coffee we brought from New Orleans. Here is an interesting link about coffee in New Orleans. We had run out of the good, freshly ground stuff and were in a desperate place. I opened the pantry cabinets and there sat the can of Cafe du Monde. And I realized, the memory that can represented needed to be sacrificed on the alter of our coffee emergency. You know what? It wasn't so bad and I don't think I'll even miss having the can as much as I will treasure the new memory of that can stepping up to the plate (er, coffee maker) in our hour of need.

Besides, I can now buy another yellow can to put in its place, if I am so inclined.

My wife is leaving today on a business trip to Germany and I am going to take the opportunity afforded by her absence to ruthlessly cull our cabinets. I'm not actually going to throw anything away (that would be mean), but I'm going to put all this stuff in boxes and let her decide if we should keep it. Who knows, maybe we'll even get some stuff off the counters! Or maybe we'll just create more room for more stuff.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:09 AM | Comments (4)

July 18, 2004

Bastille Day, III

By the way, Allan Sherman has a very amusing take on the subject of the French Revolution, in, "You went the wrong way, old King Louie"".

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

It's not abusive

I don't care what you think about this -- it is not abusive to inflict my ecclectic musical tastes on my children. Right? I mean, so, my daughter is the only kid on the block who wants to listen to tracks from Allan Sherman. What's wrong with Sarah Jackman, anyway (lyrics here)? Or "Shake hands with your Uncle Max" (lyrics here)? Here, by the way, are a couple of good sites about Sherman: article about hello, muddah, hello faddah and an encyclopedia entry. This entry is taking me forever to write because I'm reading everything!

Anyone else like this guy? Or are my poor kid and me the only ones?

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:30 PM | Comments (6)

The NY Times and my blood pressure

I read the paper at the table this morning and it pissed me off for the whole morning. One of these days, I'm going to check my pressure before breakfast, not have any coffee (as a control), and check it again after reading the Times.

Roger Cohen is a _____ (supply your own appropriate word here, my choices don't make the cut since, while they are all heartfelt, they probably make me look less and less like an adult). His article/editorial (hard to know which since it wasn't on the op/ed piece but it certainly wasn't reporting), was an unmitigated horror of moral relativism which places a lower value on the lives of Jewish children killed by suicide bombers than it does on the consequences to the Palestinians because of the wall. I will explain.

The article starts with some facts which one senses Mr. Cohen disapproves of. "If Israelis are going to the beach and to clubs again, and if bombings have become rare, it is thanks in large part, they insist, to these ditches and guard towers and coils of barbed wire and miles of wire fencing that separate two peoples, demarcating the gulf between them." Meaning, the wall has allowed Israelis to lead normal lives with less fear of someone strapping on a belt of explosives with a package of nails dipped in rat poison in their pockets, and blowing up a bus or a nightclub. Cohen seems to me to minimize the importance of everyday normalcy by choosing the most frivolous possible examples to illustrate the larger point that the wall is taking away the fear. The ever present, grinding you down, fear. By putting it in this way, Cohen trivializes it and makes it seem ridiculous.

But let's continue, shall we? Cohen notes that while there is no one single explanation for the sharp decline in the number of suicide bombings, everyone agrees that the wall plays an important role. Cohen then contrasts the high tech nature of the wall monitoring center with the Palestinian condition on the other side of the wall and writes:

"What often seems to be missing from these Israeli musings is any grasp of the life of the Palestinians on the other side of the barrier. On those war-room screens the most common sight is a Palestinian in a donkey cart trundling along a dirt track. The contrast between the high-tech Israeli cameras that deliver these images and the abject existence of the Palestinians photographed provides an apt summation of the divergence of the societies: a first-world Israel forging ahead as best it can, a third-world Palestinian society going backward."

Neat juxtaposition, no? By choosing to put these concepts next to each other in his arti-torial, Cohen leaves you with the impression that the reason for the plight of the blameless Palestinian is the wall. What else could be to blame for their society going back to the Third World standard? He goes on to outline the effects of the wall on the Palestinians compared to life for the Israelis -- dirt tracks v. highways, donkeys v. cars. The impact is clear for Mr. Cohen. The wall is a disaster for the Palestinians.

Here, I ask myself, so? I don't believe that the wall is to blame for Palestinian economic disintegration. Their economy imploded when they turned to violence from negotiation. The Intafada killed it, not Israel. The most basic human right that any society needs to provide to its citizens is freedom from death from outsiders. Israel is doing so now with a non-lethal barrier. Israel has no real choice -- build a barrier and separate or watch its buses blow up all over the country. This is not an option. Palestinians have to stop trying to kill Israelis and have to stop teaching their children to hate. Or else, they should not be permitted access to the First World on the other side of the wall.

I started by saying Cohen's arti-torial was an exercise in moral relativism and I'm not sure I made my point. My fault, of course. Let me be clear, by comparing the inconvenience of the Palestinian farmer and his donkey who have to wait for the Israeli soldier to let him through to his orchards with the freedom of the Israeli to lead a life free from the fear of an explosive device, he has elevated the one concept of the Palestinian right to convenience to the level of the moral right of the Israeli to live at all. It elevates the one while diminishing the other. Even if it is the freedom to go to the beach, that is still the freedom to live without fear. If that inconveniences someone else, well, so be it. To put these two concepts on the same level, is the basest kind of relativism.

Mr. Cohen, you should be ashamed of yourself for adding your pen to this cause at this time.

I really hate the Times.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:57 PM | Comments (3)

NYC/Tokyo

My facile observation of the day.

Let me take you through my thought process.

We have people visiting from Utah who went to Chevy's Mexican restaurant where they got sombreros for their birthdays. I was told that in Utah, they sort of smash them on your head but here, that didn't happen. I told them that if someone touched another person without permission in NY, someone might get shot. That got me to thinking that there really is an elaborate code of behavior in NY. Unwritten but understood. It governs how you behave on the subway, when it's ok to talk to strangers, how you walk down the street and give enough space so as to not bump the next person, how to fold your newspaper on the subway, how to cross streets, how to wait on line for a bus, etc. This code was similar to the rigorous code of social behavior I have read about in Japan. At least superficially.

So, I decided to pull up the population densities and compare them. To my surprise, I found that NY has a greater population density than Tokyo.

In 1990, according to the US Census Bureau, the population of New York City was as follows:

7,323,000 people in 309 square miles for a density of 23,700 per mile.

In Tokyo, there are 14,097 per sq mile (source).

Facile observation of the day: you want to get 23,000 people living in one square mile, you better have some code of behavior, some commonly understood rules, or else, without strong gun control, you're going to have a lot of dead people.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:26 PM | Comments (2)

Not a Michael Moore fan

I am not a fan of Mr. Moore. Frankly, when it comes to describing him and his destructive influence on the nation's political debate, words fail me.

Fortunately, words don't fail the author of this site: Centigrade 9/11: Alternative Views of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11". This site is a collection of the factual errors and corrective essays concerning Moore's fatuous film.

Hat tip to Powerage for the link.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:58 PM | Comments (1)

Bad writing

Amanda has linked to this collection of award winning execrable academic writing. It is truly awful.

Amanda had fond memories of my link to the post-modern essay generator.

Judith Butler, who I dislike very much because of her self-hating essay which defended the rights of academics to spew forth vile anti-Semitism (and which I decline to reproduce here because I want it to fall into the abyss of bad thinking), was the clear winner. Her entry, I reproduce below, in extended format for those who don't feel like following the link:

"Professor Butler's first-prize sentence appears in "Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time," an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997)":

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Never has so much been used to say so little to so many.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:53 PM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2004

Last Night

Last night was what our nanny calls, "date night". My wife and I try to go out once a week and engage in adult pursuits. And no, I don't mean s-x clubs (the "-" is to hopefully avoid those searching for just those kinds of references). I mean, at minimum, an adult beverage, grown up conversation, and dinner without cutting up the food of the person sitting next to me. It can be very relaxing and is important. It's important to remember why you enjoyed this person's company before you had kids.

We went to dinner by ourselves after some friends bagged on us. They had a good excuse. He was admitted to the hospital with a an irregular heart beat (and should be just fine). We are, however, the harbinger of doom for dinner companions. This is the third couple in a row to cancel dinner based on health emergencies. One other person tore her achilles tendon playing tennis and another person's father died. I feel like in all good conscience we should not be permitted to make dinner plans with anyone else without first warning them and giving them a chance to reflect on the risks. That said, no one who ever actually made it to dinner with us has been injured in the dining itself, hangovers the next day excepted.

So we went out by ourselves to a lovely little place overlooking the Long Island Sound. Breezes off the water made for a comfortable outside dinner. What made the evening so memorable, for now, was the quality of the light. The light was so compelling as it changed with the sundown. The water looked different, of course, but it was the land that captured my attention. There was a little peninsula and cove across from my seat and the light on the trees and rocks was downright painterly. It made me think of chiaroscuro, the Italian painting technique by which you contrast light and dark to produce depth. The changing light from the sundown and the reflection of that light off the water made the trees look as if they were rendered by an expert hand with the shadowy bits throwing the sunlit bits into greater relief and contrast. It was very peaceful to sit there, cooled by the breeze, sipping from a bourbon and soda, and chatting companionably with my wife, who is a very interesting conversationalist.

All in all, it was a lovely night. Until the nanny rang my wife's cell phone to say that the alarm at the house was going off and they couldn't get it turned off. So, we went from relaxed to not in 2 seconds, rushed home, and fixed the problem. I think it was no more than a dying battery in the smoke detector. Harmony restored once more.

Until 5:17 this morning when I had an attack of the killer leg cramp in my calf. I actually found what sounds like a reasonable explanation for nocturnal leg cramps. That's why I'm up so early and writing a bit.

Have a great weekend, y'all!

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:02 AM | Comments (9)

An unexpected consequence

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I moved my archives over from Blogspot and have settled in. It's nice to have them all in one place. One thing is that they are easier to read here and easier to organize. Although, my wife does not care for the font this template/style sheet came with. Out of curiosity, is she alone on that? Anyone else dislike it?

So, the unexpected consequence of the archive move is that some brave souls are re-reading my older stuff. Older sounds more important, you see, than saying the posts from the last 90 days. And there have been a couple of comments, which is nice because I have not yet figured out how or even if I can import the Haloscan comments that went along with these original posts. Anyone ever try to do that?

It's as if the older posts have been given a new life. And I think that's kind of nice.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:37 AM | Comments (7)

July 16, 2004

Feeling moved in

Thanks to Pixy, I got my archive moved over today. I had to retype all of the titles to all of the posts, but nothing's perfect, you know. Now I really feel moved in. It's like I finally got the books on the shelves and I know where I put the bar.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

The Girl Child evolves

I was cuddling in bed with the girl child last night when she turned to me and said, "Pappa, can I tell you something?" And I said, "of course". So, she said:

Luke. I am your father.

I'm so proud.

(By the way, I think I said this to her once, some weeks ago. I don't know where she keeps this stuff.)

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:09 AM | Comments (7)

Impulse control

I struggle with impulse control every day. Usually, I succeed. My most recent victory is as follows:

* * *

Telephone Call. Ring, ring.

Reception: "Big Fat Advertising Company" (client)

Me: Mr. Big Fat Executive, please

Reception: Who may I say is calling?

In stunning display of impulse control, I did NOT say the following:

Me: Ramon from the clinic. I have the results of his, test, if you know what I mean. Should I just give them to you?

* * *

This was merely a test of the impulse control system. If this had been a real impulse control failure, you'd either by fired by now or on your knees thanking whatever god you pray to that Mr. Big Fat Executive has a good sense of humor and an appreciation for 80's film references* (in this case, Beverly Hills Cop).

* Editorial Change: "references" replaces the word "allusions" in the original post as per the suggestion of Grammar Queen in the comment section. Thanks, GQ.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:59 AM | Comments (2)

Do not collect $200

Put your coffee down, swallow, and go check this out. Tell me it's not hysterical! I dare you!

WARNING: Not safe for coffee!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:16 AM | Comments (1)

A Thank you, or two

It seems to me I owe a couple of thank you notes to a couple of very kind people and I'd like to do that here:

First, thank you Helen for nominating me to join this community. And thank you to Jim and to Steven for weighing in in favor. Thanks also to Pixy for agreeing to take me in (despite my status as an attorney), for setting me up, and for putting up with my many questions. This is the end of my first week and, while it's been hell on my real job, it's been a lot of fun.

Second, I'm very grateful for the extraordinary patience Jim has displayed in assisting me as I stumbled my way through adding those wicked cool click down menus on the links. All the credit for their coolness goes to Jim. I also want to thank Madfish Willie for coming to my rescue when I screwed the pooch so badly in trying to implement the click down menus that Jim said something along the lines of, "wow, I've never seen THAT before!" Madfish kindly sent me a backup template. Have I learned my lesson? Yup.

Finally, I want to thank all of the other members of this wacky and wonderful community for making me feel welcome!

I also want to thank the Academy because when I was a young girl growing up on a small farm in Nebraska, I never dreamed that I would be standing in front of America with this statue and knowing, in my heart, that America really loves me [sob]! Shoot. Wrong thank you speech. Please disregard. The medication hasn't kicked in yet. Still, a girl can dream, can't she?

Now, as soon as I figure out how to import my old entries from blogger, I will feel at home. Then I can start to tinker with the look of the page. After I make a backup, of course.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:57 AM | Comments (1)

Last night

I walk to and from the train station each day. Unless it rains and my wife agrees to pick me up on the way home. I don't attribute that to any great humanitarian impulse on her part. No, she just wants the whining to stop. She's a pragmatist, she is.

I stayed late last night to have a meeting with a new client who wants to do something that will surely get him sued. While I obviously cannot go into it in any detail, let me note that when you want to leave your job, and you are an officer of your current employer, and you want to take some of your direct reports with you, and then go into competition with your current employer, you are going to get sued, non-compete or no non-compete. A couple of bourbons and sodas later, he seemed to get the picture.

As I came home, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young woman in a sun dress who occupied herself by reading through a script. She was very pretty in that sort of fresh-faced "I'm-going-to-be-a-star-one-day" kind of way. You know the look right? It's that look they still have while they're living at home with their parents and before the fickle hand of fate has smacked 'em around a couple of times and they're looking at the wrong end of their late twenties with not quite enough time in to get that SAG card and they start thinking, hmn, graduate school in social work seems like a really good idea. She was pre-that second look. We had a pleasant and flirtatious chat for about three stops. Is there anything nicer on a warm evening than a harmless flirtation with an attractive young woman? An exchange of witty banter that does not start with, “so, come here often” or end in, “so, can I get your number”? Nope, just some gentle conversation.

So, I got off the train feeling pretty darn good. New client with bound to be difficult (read: expensive and interesting) problem, slightly buzzed from the bourbon, recipient of the flirtatious attention of a delightful young woman. Does it get better? Well, actually, it kind of did.

It was twilight, that time of Le crépuscule du soir that Baudelaire writes so interestingly about in Fleurs du Mal. That poem starts:

Voici le soir charmant, ami du criminel;
Il vient comme un complice, à pas de loup ; le ciel
Se ferme lentement comme une grande alcôve,
Et l'homme impatient se change en bête fauve.

My rough translation:

Here is the charming night, friend of the criminal;
It comes like an accomplice, on the feet of a wolf;
The sky closes itself up, slowly, like a great alcove,
And man grows impatient to change himself into a wild animal.

Beautiful, isn't it? Even with my not so great translation (which I expect to hear about in the comments section, no doubt).

Well, that wasn't my night or my twilight.

My twilight was cooled by the breezes off the ocean, a scant mile away. It was lit by the dying sun, in cool oranges and pinks and eight different shades of white. It was quiet. And it was punctuated, to my delight, by the incandescent little bursts of fireflies, as I turned onto my little street.

I love fireflies. I remember chasing them around the yard as a child, trying to catch them to put into a big jar to watch them blink and blink. My mom would always let them out after I went to sleep but I never minded. I could always catch them again the next day.

What makes them so bright? What gives that glow? Well, according to the scientists at Ohio State University, the bioluminescence is produced by a chemical reaction "consisting of Luciferin (a substrate) combined with Luciferase (an enzyme), ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and oxygen. When these components are added, light is produced." The cool fact about this is that the firefly produces almost 100% light from this reaction, as opposed to a lightbulb which gives off only about 10% light with the rest of the reaction wasted as heat. I am surprised to learn, by the way, that science still does not know exactly how the firefly throws the on/off switch for their lights.

Why do they flash? Well, either sex or defense, seems to be the reasoning. To attract mates or repel things that would eat them.

Or, I’d like to think, to welcome me home after a long day at work.

Pax tibi!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:34 AM | Comments (7)

July 15, 2004

The NY Times has again pissed me off, again

Anyone who has stopped by and casually read my blog knows that I have problems with the NY Times. Today, I found another stunning example of a biased and annoying article about the collapse of civil society among the Palestinians. All the blame for this collapse is laid squarely at Israel's door. Not one word of this long article mentions how the Palestinians brought this upon themselves when Arafat chose to call out the intifada over continuing to negotiate with the Israelis. Not one word about the numerous and horrific suicide bombings and shootings perpetrated against civilians by Palestinians which brought about an Israeli reaction.

It does mention that the PA now receives UN and European support of up to 1/3 of the GNP, which is critical because the Palestinians have wrecked their own economy and destroyed the possibility of any foreign investment through their own corruption and their own violence. To put this aid into perspective, "[t]hat works out to roughly $310 a person, more aid per capita than any country has received since World War II, the World Bank says."

I am teetering on the brink of cancelling my subscription.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:28 AM | Comments (7)

Mississippi drivers

When we lived in New Orleans, we always felt that no matter how bad the drivers in New Orleans were, they were worse in Mississippi. Now, thanks to Kimberly, I understand why: they were all cheating on the written portion of their driver tests!

Now that Mississippi has switched to a random, computerized test, from the much photocopied pencil and paper test, the percentage of failure has gone from 20% to nearly 60%.

But let me ask you this: Where is the outrage that fully 20% of the test takers failed a test that everybody in the state was cheating on anyway? How stupid (and I don't throw that word around lightly) were these 20 percenters? What does that say about education in the great state of Mississippi to begin with?

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:05 AM | Comments (8)

Architecture -- today in history

Today, in 1573, was born the architect, Inigo Jones. (Please do not confuse him with the other great Inigo, Inigo Montaya, gifted orator). Jones is one of my favorites and I made a strong bid, defeated by my wife in some of the ugliest back room dealing I have ever seen, to name my son, Inigo. Probably for the best, really. Over a fifteen year period from 1625 to 1640, Jones was responsible for the repair and remodeling of St. Paul's Cathedral (more associated with Wren which is why I give no link to it here), and the design of Covent Garden. There is a nice bio of him here, if you are so inclined. You can see what he looked like in his self-portrait.

Why else is he so cool? Look upon his wonders and weep:

* The Banqueting Hall at Whitehall Palace: "When the Banqueting House in London was completed, it bore no resemblance to anything ever built in England before". Cool, right?

* The Queen's House at Greenwich. If you go here, you can take a virtual tour of some of the rooms and grounds which are available for hire for weddings.

Jones was also known as a set designer and party giver (and there is a nice portrait of him there as well).

By the way, it was a good day for the arts all around as, in 1606, Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leiden, Netherlands.

Such a short post and yet it took so long to put together!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:41 AM | Comments (3)

July 14, 2004

It's her world and my wife just lives in it

Tonight, at the dinner table, my wife told my daughter to do something or maybe it was to refrain from doing something. Either way, my daughter did not want to obey. So, what did the 3.5 year old tell her mother?

It's MY house; I just let you live in it because I love you.

The future scares me now more than ever.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:01 PM | Comments (8)

Bastille Day, II -- Le Bilan

Le Bilan, roughly translated, is the bill or the balance sheet. It can also refer to a tally of casualties.

As I mentioned before, there was a horribly destructive period in France during the Revolution, it was known as the Terror. Andrew Cusack has a very good post in memory of the thousands of people executed when the Revolution came to town.

The Committee of Public Safety, an innocuous sounding group, held dictatorial power in France and was directly responsible for the deaths. It was a committee of 12, led by Robespierre. I read that as many as 17,000 deaths can be traced to their hands, many by beheading. Here is a good link on the Reign of Terror. Oddly, if you do a google search on the committee itself, you will not find very much on the terror it presided over. Feels like revisionism to me.

I have friends in France who come from la noblesse in la Vendée. The memories of the repression there run quite strong still and my friends can speak about it as if it took place yesterday. Go read about it here and you will appreciate why. It is very much a forgotten episode in the glorious French Revolution.

So, is it fair to say that the French Revolution was, at best, a mixed bag? I'm just glad that we Americans resisted the worst impulses of our revolutionary brothers.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:05 PM | Comments (0)

Happy Bastille Day!

Today, in 1789, French Peasants who were "so poor, [they] cannot even afford [their] own language... all [they] have is this stupid accent", stormed the Bastille. I, for one, pledge to honor their bravery by watching my copy of History of the World, Part I, to relive this moment in world history, as it was faithfully recorded by the noted historian and auteur, Dr. Mel Brooks.

If, sticklers that you are, you are not persuaded by the interpretation of Monsieur Brooks, I give you the patriotic pablum put forward by the French Government.

But above all, Bastille Day, or the Fourteenth of July, is the symbol of the end of the monarchy and the beginning of the Republic. The national holiday is a time when all citizens celebrate their membership to a republican nation. It is because this national holiday is rooted in the history of the birth of the Republic that it has such great significance.

On May 5, 1789, the King convened the Estates General to hear their complaints, but the assembly of the Third Estate, representing the citizens of the town, soon broke away and formed the Constituent National Assembly.

On June 20, 1789, the deputies of the Third Estate took the oath of the Jeu de Paume "to not separate until the Constitution had been established." The Deputies' opposition was echoed by public opinion. The people of Paris rose up and decided to march on the Bastille, a state prison that symbolized the absolutism and arbitrariness of the Ancien Regime.

The storming of the Bastille, on July 14, 1789, immediately became a symbol of historical dimensions; it was proof that power no longer resided in the King or in God, but in the people, in accordance with the theories developed by the Philosophes of the 18th century.

On July 16, the King recognized the tricolor cockade: the Revolution had succeeded.

For all citizens of France, the storming of the Bastille symbolizes, liberty, democracy and the struggle against all forms of oppression.

What did the French version leave out? The heroic storming of the prison freed some 7 lightly guarded prisoners, including the Marquis de Sade. Oh yeah, nothing about the horrific terror and abuses which broke out after the Revolution had succeeded. More on that on another day, me thinks.

In an event, on a lighter note:

More in the category of making people feel good, I note that on today in 1906 was born Tom Carvel, founder of Carvel Ice Cream. Also today, in 1832, opium was exempted from federal tariff duty.

Soft serve ice cream and duty free opium, all in the same day. Is this country great or what!?!

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:22 PM | Comments (4)

A clarification

Azalea requested I explain what I meant by my statement that, with respect to the NY Times, I have "language issues". Fair enough, I can see how that may have been a little obtuse or obscure or some other word starting with "ob".

At home, I tend to talk to the newspaper. Out loud. Usually by myself, but generally I don't care if others are there. I regard the reading of the newspaper as a conversation between me and the writers and editors. I orally convey my agreement with an article, as in, "yes, exactly right". Or my disagreement, sometimes, by proclaiming loudly, "you complete asshole, that is such a biased presentation and just totally ignores the facts!" Sometimes I will review out loud what those missing facts are. Sometimes my language gets coarser. I don't know if I am alone in conducting this kind of conversation with the Times. I hope not. If I am, I will simply mark it down as one of my charming idiosyncracies. Feel free to chime in on this point.

In any event, I had been doing this for years. Long before the arrival of the children. And while I saw good reasons to stop doing this around the children, there were times I just could not help myself. For instance, I consider the NY Times' articles concerning the conflict in Israel to be so one-sided and so anti-Israel so as to be a national outrage. In fact, I really started reading the NY Post in earnest on September 12, 2001, since the coverage by the Post of 9/11 did not include any earnest questions about what we as a nation had done to deserve this attack. But I digress.

One day, my daughter was sitting and having breakfast with the nanny when out popped a whole series of curses. The nanny was astonished and asked her why she was using such language. The little girl pointed to the table and explained with one word: "Newspaper". The nanny then requested that I stop reading the newspaper around the children if I could not control myself.

I hope that clarifies what I meant when I said I have language issues with respect to the NY Times. Still, I suppose it might be more accurate to say instead that the NY Times has writing issues and I have control issues.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:23 AM | Comments (5)

Yellular

I don't recall where I first heard the term "yellular". It is a reference to cell phone voice. As in, not cellular but a really loud yellular. Anyway, you can hear the darndest things as you walk the streets of New York. Here are the snippets I overheard from two conversations while going to work today:

1. In Grand Central Station: "So Lee (or Leigh?) was at camp for five days before Health and Human Services shut it down and sent everyone home. Turns out the guy running it was a registered sex offender."

2. On the corner of Park Avenue and 42nd Street: "I was like, 'you will NOT talk to me like that' and then I was like, 'fuck this shit" and then I was like . . ." Regrets but I had moved on before I found out what she was "like" next.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:01 AM | Comments (5)

Today I feel like the uncola

Not Seven-Up. No, I mean flat.

My wife has a second interview for a job she thinks she wants. As a result, she needed a good night last night. The girl child, if she woke in the darkness, would be my responsibility. And she woke. She woke crying with what I believe as a bad dream, but that is only my surmise as she declined to elaborate on the reasons when offered the opportunity. That was at 1:28. I managed to get back to sleep and my wife did not stir. A success, according to the way I am judging these things.

Then, she woke and called again. 3:00 in the morning. I was not happy, especially when she told me that it was for another hug and a kiss. I gave it to her and she promised she'd go right to sleep. She even did. I did not. No, I mostly lay in bed and thought about how I might consider listing her on Craig's List to trade for a stuffed fish I could hang on a wall. Disclaimer, I do not consider myself responsible for my thoughts at that time of the morning and, if she is extra cute this morning, I may reconsider.

But right now, I see a flat day with limited fizz ahead of me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:56 AM | Comments (0)

A little Sartre goes a long way

I defaced a poster last night on the way home from work. Well, not a poster exactly. More like a sign. The conductor posted a handwritten sign with the words "No Exit" over the door to the train carriage closest to where I and many others were sitting. Of course it was an exit. In point of fact, it was the chosen exit for those of us in that part of the carriage and we all did actually end up exiting through it. I think the sign may have been left over from a different route. No matter. I was the first to line up at the door to await my station stop. I stood in front of this sign and couldn't help myself. I took up my pen and glanced quickly over my shoulder (thus establishing to the complete satisfaction of even the most casual observer that I was about to do something either suspicious or improper or both). I then wrote huis clos on the sign. Often enough, when you commute sitting near some idiot who has his cell phone fixed to his ear and his voice set to stun, you agree with Sartre that hell really is other people.

Inject a little existentialism in everybody's day.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:49 AM | Comments (5)

July 13, 2004

Today in History

Today, July 13, is not only the day that my most recent parking ticket is due, it was also on this day, in:

*1568 that the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral, of blessed memory, perfects a way to bottle beer (may we have a moment of silence, please?)

-and-

*1898 that Guglielmo Marconi patents the radio.

Taken together, they made it possible for you to stay home, drink a beer, and listen on the radio as, on this day in 1934, Babe Ruth hit his 700th home run (against Detroit).

Coincidence? No way. This right here is enough to make me believe in a higher power.

On a more serious note, today in 1793 Jean Paul Marat, French revolutionary, was murdered in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday. There is a cool link to a small bio for Corday here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

A very merry unbirthday to you

If you recognize the title, you have young children or a great appreciation for the finer points of children's literature and film. It is, of course, from Alice in Wonderland and is the song they sing at the Mad Hatter's tea party. My daughter loves that song and the cartoon movie.

I came home from work a little late last night, but still early enough to see the kids, happily. It was my daughter's unbirthday yesterday and she turned exactly three and a half. I congratulated her and wished her a happy unbirthday. She got excited and asked me, "is it really my unbirthday today?" And I told her it was and she responded, "well, then why don't I have a hat?" A good question, I felt and I didn't have an answer but, fortunately, my wife was there and she did have an answer. Her answer consisted of constructing a birthday crown out of green construction paper. The girl child was most satisfied and set about decorating her crown with crayons. We drew the line, however, at the glitter glue since I did not want to see it all over her pj's.

She stayed up late with us while we had dinner and fiddled with her crown which she liked despite the lack of glitter. I put her to bed and told her that she had to go straight to sleep tonight because I was going to sleep now, too. (How pathetic. My bedtime last night was the same as her bedtime.) Well, she didn't go straight to sleep and I didn't really expect her to. I could hear her through the monitor as she sang quietly to and chatted with her stuffed animals. I went back in and asked her why she was not yet asleep. She held up a bright pink flamingo and explained: "The Flamingo is making too much noise and keeping me up". Huh. What do you say to that? I told her to tell the flamingo to quiet down. She said she would and I told her that she had to do it now, right in front of me. She shot me a considering look and complied anyway. I was sure that if I didn't see/hear her do it, we'd have more flamingo action. After that, peace and quiet reigned.

To all of you who managed to get this far today, I wish you all a very merry unbirthday:

March Hare: Imagine, just one birthday every year.

Mad Hatter: Ahhh, but there are 364 unbirthdays!

March Hare: Precisely why we’re gathered here to cheer!

Alice: Why, then today is my unbirthday too!

March Hare: It is?

Mad Hatter: What a small world this is.

March Hare: In that case... a very merry unbirthday.

Alice: To me?

Mad Hatter: To you!

March Hare: A very merry unbirthday.

Alice: For me?

Mad Hatter: For you! Now blow the candle out, my dear and make your wish come true! He he he!

March Hare & Mad hatter: A very merry unbirthday to you!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:19 AM | Comments (8)

No newspaper this morning

There was no paper outside my door this morning. Usually, there is. So, I occupied myself this morning with reading all of various manual and "how-to" items I printed out concerning MT. The commute just flew by. At one point, however, I looked around the train and I noticed that the seven people sitting closest to me were all reading seven different newspapers:

* the Financial Times
* Investor's Daily
* Wall Street Journal
* NY Times
* USA Today (I guess it's a newspaper, too)
* NY Post, and,
* the local Gannet newspaper (I forget the name)

Now, you may say to yourself, "self, that seems like a lot of newspapers". And then you might agree with yourself. But that would be wrong, because thanks to Andrew Cusack, we know that NY has 18 daily papers. I think that's quite cool, but then, I am a newspaper and periodical junky. I probably look at three or more of those 18 on a daily basis and more on line.

The NY Times and I have a special relationship. I think of it as a love/hate/couldn't care less kind of a thing. Sometimes I love certain sections, sometimes a hate most of the politically correct and biased tone and reporting, and it couldn't care less about what I think about it. By the way, I am no longer allowed to read the Times around my children. I have language issues.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:02 AM | Comments (1)

July 12, 2004

Nursing Shortage in Africa

Today, in the NY Times, there was heartrending article about the nursing shortage in Africa. In a nutshell, it appears that all of the nurses are setting off to practice their art back in Great Britain. Result? The health and medical systems of Malawi are on the verge of collapse. It is becoming a total ruin and a crisis.

The blame and the remedy are where the NY Times and I part company. The position of the author is right out in front: "It is the poor subsidizing the rich, since African governments paid to educate many of the health care workers who are leaving." Well, the blame is clear. It's all the fault of the prosperous Western regimes. The remedy proposed? Set up some system which will make it more difficult for these women to emigrate, to get out of Africa, to get out of hospitals where it is assumed, for instance, that "any woman they examine may be H.I.V. positive", where "a quarter of public health workers, including nurses, will be dead, mostly of AIDS and tuberculosis, by 2009, according to a study of worker death rates in 40 hospitals here".

Instead of setting up some bureaucratic Berlin Wall to keep these women slaving away for overtime pay of 20 cents an hour, let's turn the focus on corrupt regimes which are killing their people. We cannot force these women to stay. That is immoral if they can get out and especially if they can support themselves elsewhere. No, this is the free market of people -- the movement of people from bad regimes to comparatively better ones. The trick is to make it possible for these women to want to stay in their home countries, not to coerce them into it. That is where the hard work comes in. How to improve African countries. No one wants to focus on that when the easier and more politically attractive explanation is that it is all the fault of the West. Cheap blame will solve nothing.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

My name is . . .

My daughter told my wife that she didn't like the beach club we joined. My wife asked her why and she replied, "because not enough people know my name". I know how she feels as I join this new community. So, I will take my daughter's example to heart. She went over to a new group of children sitting on the main lawn, plopped herself down, and said, "hi, my name is X, can I play with you?"

Hi, y'all, my name is RP, short for Random Penseur, and this is my first post at my new location on Mu.Nu. Welcome to my new spot!

I am a lawyer, living in the suburbs of New York, and I tend to write about politics, culture, family, society and whatever either catches my interest or outrages me at that particular moment. I have two children. The girl child is 3.5 and the boy child is 17 months.

Thanks for having me! I'm looking forward to playing with you all.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:58 PM | Comments (9)

The Mercy

Philip Levine

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
Eighty-three years ago was named "The Mercy."
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
"orange," saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept "The Mercy" afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
"The Mercy," I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, "Tancred" out of Glasgow, "The Neptune"
registered as Danish, "Umberto IV,"
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:13 AM | Comments (3)

Changes afoot

Hi, y'all! There will not be a lot of activity today as I am in the process of changing webhosting. I have been invited to join the Munuvians over at Mu.Nu and am starting to reestablish my blog over there where I will be found at RandomPensees.mu.nu. This is a very cool thing and I am very excited. I will most likely be neglecting my work today as I try to figure out how to get it all set up and how to move my archives over. I invite you to join me there and to update your links/favorites in the near future.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

July 10, 2004

Saturday Observation: Vol 3

I went to an independent bookstore in our little village to track down a proper copy of AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh to begin reading to my daughter. Upon entering, I was immediately distracted by the bookshelves to the left of the entrance that were devoted to the recent publications. I can enter a bookstore with the best of intentions, with the steeliest of resolves, with the belief that I cannot be distracted from my mission to procure one, single title and no more and I can and will fail each and every time. This time, however (while I did briefly consider a new edition of the Journals of Lewis and Clark), I was too distracted by the overwhelming number of anti-Bush publications with not one pro-Bush book. Is it true, I wondered, that not one author has put pen to paper in defense of the President? I doubt that.

So, after locating my Pooh, I approached the counter and asked the woman why the display was so unbalanced. I was pleased when she responded that she had received a lot of complaints about it. I was pleased about that because maybe, even in this very Democratic party village, people were still concerned about the chattering class treating them like idiots (at least I hope that's why). And then she told me that this was what was being published and maybe they had a point. I responded that I didn't know if they had a point, and regardless of where I stood on the President (and actually I support the man even if I did not vote for him the first time around), I was tired of these authors treating me like I was not a fucking adult. Stop pandering and actually engage in reasoned political debate and conversation. To my surprise, this woman agreed with me and took out a clipping from the NY Press which excoriates the new Michael Moore movie. The NY Press is not known for its conservative point of view.

I walked out somewhat cheered. Maybe the rest of this little part of the country is tired of the polemics, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:33 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday Observation: Vol 2

While driving today from one errand to the next, during nap time for the children, I went past Heathcote Hill in Mamaroneck, overlooking the Mamaroneck Harbor. There is an historical marker there to commemorate a small battle during the Revolutionary War. I give it a mental nod of the head whenever I pass by in recognition of the sacrifices past. Today, getting out of a Japanese car, in front of the historical marker, were three Indian women dressed in their saris. It made for an interesting juxtaposition of America past and America present. As I've said in this blog before, if we are still attracting immigrants, like the ones who fought at Heathcote Hill, for instance, we are probably doing better than the pundits would like us to think.

By the way, here is a little information I found on the net regarding the battle:

Heathcote Hill, to the north of the Post Road, is now covered with dwellings, but is rich in both historic and literary associations. It was named from Colonel Heathcote, who built a large brick mansion burned before the Revolution. The post-Revolutionary Heathcote Hall is now a road house.

In 1776 it was the scene of a surprise attack by a Delaware regiment upon the Queenes Rangers, a battalion of Loyalist Americans, who were worsted. This is interesting as an occasion where Americans fought Americans. The dead were buried near the hill in a common grave, "Rider and horse,Ã?—friend and foe, in one red burial blent."

A great-grandson of Colonel Heathcote's, Judge DeLancey, who succeeded to the estate, had two daughters, one of whom married John MacAdam, the inventor of the road which bears his name, and the other, James Fenimore Cooper.

Cooper lived for some time on the slope of the hill and here were written his first two novels, "Precaution" (1820) and "The Spy." The scenes of the latter are almost wholly in this `Neutral Ground,' which lay between New Rochelle and Stamford, where were respectively the lines of the British and the Continental armies.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

Saturday Observation Vol 1

While walking past a tavern, I noticed the following sign: "Gentleman: Please No
Tank Tops".

Has it really come to this? Gentlemen need to be told to leave the tank tops at home?

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:20 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2004

Let's play a game

A friend sent me this. It's an extract from a Christopher Hitchens article from the Weekly Standard:

"I used to play two subliterary games with Salman Rushdie. The first, not that you asked, was to re-title Shakespeare plays as if they had been written by Robert Ludlum. (Rushdie, who invented the game, came up with The Elsinore Vacillation, The Dunsinane Reforestation, The Kerchief Implication, and The Rialto Sanction.) The second was to recite Bob Dylan songs in a deadpan voice as though they were blank verse."

I feel inspired. Anyone want to play?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

More on Moderates

Just a quick post to call your attention to the discussion Mark is continuing about political moderates. He makes a lot of good points and is clearly got way more to say about this than can fit in a comment on my blog. Thanks to Mark for continuing the discussion in such a thoughtful way!

And if you haven't checked out his blog generally, get thee hence!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

A lovely compliment

I received such a lovely compliment from Jim at Snooze Button Dreams, who, in adding my blog to his blog roll writes: "Found from tracking back comments or maybe from the New Blog Showcase. Fantastic mad writing skillz. Talk about erudite - if I could write half as well..."

I wrote to thank him there and I write to thank him here. You all should go visit his site. He writes beautifully and fluently about a whole range of various topics. He also has a slightly different point of view on bogus tort claims from my post below and I think it will make you laugh while making you think.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

Time Suck of the Day

Inspired by the anniversary of William Jennings Bryan's famous "cross of gold" speech, given today in 1896, I ventured forth to look for the text of the speech and found this cool site: Great American Speeches (80 Years of Political Oratory). You will lose much time in here and probably quite profitably. Also, you might want to check out: Famous Speeches from USA Info.

In the meantime, check out this selection from the Bryan speech:


Ah, my friends, we say not one word against those who live upon the Atlantic Coast, but the hardy pioneers who have braved all the dangers of the wilderness, who have made the desert to blossom as the rose --the pioneers away out there [Bryan points westward], who rear their children, ear to Nature's heart, where they can mingle their voices with the voices of the birds--out there where they have erected school houses for the education of their young, churches where they praise their Creator, and cemeteries where they rest the ashes of their dead--these people, we say, are as deserving of the consideration of our party as any people in this country. It is for these people that we speak. We do not come as aggressors. Our war is not a war of conquest; we are fighting in the defense of our homes, our families, and our posterity. We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned; we have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded; we have begged, and they have mocked when our calamity came. We beg no longer; we entreat no more; we petition no more! We defy them!

and this, the conclusion:

No, my friends, that will never be the verdict of our people. Therefore, we care not upon what lines the battle is fought. If they say bi-metalism is good, but that we cannot have it until other nations help us, we reply that, instead of having a gold standard because England has, we will restore bi-metalism, and then let England have bi-metalism because the United States has it. If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we will fight them to the uttermost. Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns! You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!"

Good stuff.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

Tort reform? No, courtesy reform.

I do not intend to weigh in at length on this emotional and complicated subject. I write now only to make a limited observation based on my own personal experience.

As some of you may know, I am a lawyer. I practice almost exclusively complex commercial and corporate litigation and do some ancillary corporate work for clients who trust me and think I can't possibly screw up their work as badly as the last lawyer who got them into all the trouble they needed me to solve through litigation. Is that a ringing endorsement, or what? I got a referral for a personal injury claim the other day. I don't do PI work. Not my specialty. But, as a courtesy, I listened to the fellow's problem and agreed, at the end of his presentation, that he had a claim. I was about to type the details of his claim, but thought better of it. Even if he did not retain me, I would feel wrong about going into detail. Suffice it to say his wife was injured at a hotel they were staying at. I asked this fellow, at the conclusion of our chat, did anyone at the hotel offer to waive the bill, reverse the charges for the service than injured her, or even apologize. And he said, no, not a thing. This brings me to tort reform. I am beginning to think that a lot of tort cases are brought because the defendant acted like an asshole. If the manager of the hotel had acted like a gentleman, I doubt this fellow would have been on the phone to me looking for compensation.

Maybe this post isn't about tort reform at all, now that I re-read my scribbles to this point, maybe it's really just a continuation of the discussion we've been having about moderates and courtesy. Maybe the real point is not that we need tort reform but that we need courtesy reform. Stop treating each other like idiots, apologize promptly when something's your fault, be sincere, and I am willing to bet the number of lawsuits would go down.

I know that someone might comment, if they feel moved to do so, that the manager of the hotel could not have apologized because it would be seen as an admission of responsibility and an invitation to a suit. I disagree and I'll explain why. If the manager were my client, I'd advise him that he was going to get sued anyway since it took place in his hotel and due to actions by his employees who were acting within the course and scope of their duties as employees. Of course the hotel is a target and saying you're sorry will not make it any less of a target. So, I would counsel the manager to apologize promptly, send flowers, comp them to the room, pick up the medical bills, and make whatever other nice gesture he could think of. At best, he might just avoid a suit and pick up some nice good will out of it. At worst, well, he's probably going to get sued anyway. But, by not apologizing, the idiot has absolutely bought himself an all expenses paid visit from the process server.

So, my personal experience leads me to think: more courtesy, fewer law suits!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:29 AM | Comments (0)

Oh, the pain, the pain (to be read in fake falsetto)

Late night out last night with friends who we had not seen in a couple of years. Too much cheap Spanish red wine. Stayed up way too late on a school night. Ate too much excellent Turkish food. Came home to collapse in my bed only to be awakened three hours later, at about 3:30 a.m by a request from the girl child for a tissue. She needed her nose blown. I, of course, stumbled out of bed and immediately complied. I told her to go back to sleep and she sang, "ooookaaaay", at me. And wonders of wonders, she actually did go back to sleep. I settled happily back into my pillow and still warm duvet and began the process of going back to sleep. Then, from the other monitor, I hear, "da da da da da". A pause. Then more chatter. My wife, deciding that there must have been a Three Mile Island type incident in the vicinity of the boy's PJ's, valiantly dons the Hazmat suit and rides off to investigate. No hazmat incident. Just a little boy who's up and wants to play. He wants to play really badly. He delays for a long time accepting our kind invitation to return to his untroubled slumber. You may wonder, however, was your hero (read: me, the author) daunted by this yo-yo sleep/not sleep night? No, I shout triumphantly in return and thank you so much for asking. I am made of sterner stuff than this! When my alarm bleated its anemic electronic whine at 5:30, I promptly, without undue delay, jumped out of bed at 6:27. There's a lesson in this for all of us, somewhere. I think it might be that there's always going to be a later train you can take.

Speaking of going out late on a Thursday, by the way, when I was young and childless and living in New York City, Thursday night was considered connoisseur's night out. Then I think it became Monday night. Friday night was strictly for amateurs and the B 'n T crowd. Ever hear that somewhat offensive expression? It refers to those who need to avail themselves of either a Bridge or a Tunnel to get into Manhattan. There are a ton of social stereotypes bound up in that three letter expression. Some of them may even be true. But, I am so out of touch now that I don't know what night is hot anymore nor if anyone even use the B 'n T expression.

By the way, the couple with whom we dined last night? We met them shortly after the birth of the girl child in what feels like it has to be an only in NY story. My wife and I, faced with her impending return to work, placed an advertisement for a Norwegian speaking nanny in the Irish Echo, the newspaper of choice for those seeking domestic employment. We received something like 40 replies. I was thrilled, until I listened to all the voicemails stacked up on my cell phone. Then I realized that cultural diffusion had reached new heights. What else could explain why so many women were calling about the Norwegian speaking nanny position and leaving messages with the beautiful lilt of the West Indies and Jamaica in their voices? I am a big fan of that accent, I find it very musical. But it ain't Norwegian. There was one other message, however. It was from a guy who was also married to a Norwegian woman and they had also just recently had a baby. He said that they had not considered even advertising for a Norwegian speaking nanny and he wondered if I would be so kind as to send over his way the many women we considered and rejected for the position. I called him and explained that we received not one single qualified applicant and invited him and his wife over for a drink. They accepted and we have passed many happy hours with them since and our daughters like each other, too. I love this story. Anyway, they have now also sold their apartment in NYC and bought a house out in Westchester, one town over from ours.

So, here I am. Armed with Advil and coffee, I am off to convince two new potential clients that I am their man for the dispute they are having with their former hedge fund employer. I will not slobber on myself and I will confirm I have put each button of my shirt in the appropriate hole. Hopefully, they won't notice anything amiss. Wish me luck!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2004

Hit the showers

I happened to come across this article earlier today and I left the window up on my screen all day, thus ensuring that I would note it and also ensuring I would forget how I came across it. In any event, 60 per cent of German men didn't shower today, according to the article. And there is a downright icky number of them not changing their underwear. Just thought people might want to know, in case they were making European travel plans this Summer.

Actually, this reminds me that during the late 80's, there was a similar survey done in Austria concerning teeth brushing. My wife told me about it once. If I recall correctly, some 3 out of 10 Austrians were not going to touch a toothbrush for their entire adult lives. Quick google search turns up nothing on point. I'll have to ask my wife for more details.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:11 PM | Comments (0)

The Girl Child -- a little pride

My wife reported to me as follows. She and the children were out for the evening constitutional, while I was preparing dinner, and they ran into our neighbor who works at the school where the girl child is attending camp. Our neighbor told my wife that she was watching the girl child run through the sprinklers at camp yesterday and one of the counselors came up to our neighbor and said, "do you know that girl, she is so smart". I think she's smart, but I'm biased. It was nice of our neighbor to share that with us.

And just to round things out, last night, when she called me upstairs for the "extra hug and a kiss" that has become part of her going to sleep ritual, I simply popped right into bed with her, which caused her to give me a very bemused look, since I very rarely if ever do that when we are trying to get her to go to sleep. So, I'm lying there with her, and she looks at me with those huge blue eyes, and says, softly, "I missed you today". And I melted. I seriously considered not going to work today. Ah well, back to the coal mines.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

Zimbabwe, again

Long time readers may recall my post some time ago concerning Zimbabwe and the horrible political and social and economic situation there. I wrote about my disgust with the other African governments and their failure to even attempt to deal with this problem. Well, I came across this today in the NY Times: African Leaders Failing Zimbabwe, Prelate Says. Want to know why he said that?


Mr. Mugabe scored a diplomatic victory last weekend when the 53-nation African Union, meeting in Ethiopia, voted to table a sharply worded critique of Zimbabwe's civil-liberties record prepared by a committee on human rights. The report, which was leaked last week, accused the government of "failure at critical moments to uphold the rule of law" and of tolerating arbitrary arrests and human-rights violations.

Apparently, by the way, this report dates from 2002!

What a disaster.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

Hope for the moderates

I posted a question yesterday: what happened to the moderates? I have been concerned for a long time about the coarsening of political discourse, not to mention simple every day discourse, and as I said in that post, Michele at A Small Victory wrote a great item about this lack of civility.

Well, I think we found the moderates. They were here on my comments board and I'm going to reproduce them for the general readership who doesn't look at the comments (and if that's you, you are missing some very good and thoughtful writing).

Amber writes:

I'm always afraid to attach myself to any single label for fear of putting myself in a box. I have voted both Democrat and Republican. I would call myself a conservative/liberal or liberal/conservative too.

I'm all over the place on the issues. No one party suits me, since I'm strongly for the death penalty and strongly for abortion rights. And I'm that way about all the issues.

I don't like the term "moderate" because I feel it's such a tame word...and I'm *passionate*. That's what I am: a Passionate! *grins*

I wish we didn't have a two-party system, I know that.
Amber | Email | Homepage | 07.07.04 - 2:42 pm | #

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

No slots at NY racetracks

As reported this morning in the Times, a New York appellate court has tossed out the law which permitted slot machines at NY ractracks. If you are curious, the 52 page opinion can be found here. This is a good thing. As the article reports, the Governor planned to use the revenues from these slot machines to make up for the imbalanced school aid provided to the public schools in New York city. Another court found the formula by which school aid was provided to be unconstitutional. So the State needs to find more money.

Let me be unambiguously clear about this, something I normally hesitate to do, I loathe the idea of lotteries and gambling being used to fund any State program or purpose. Such a thing is merely taxation by other means, indirect taxation if you will. Yes, I know that it is the choice of the participant to play and thus be taxed and if I don't play then I escape that tax. Still, that means nothing. Why? Because revenue raised this way is objectionable for at least two reasons. First, the unfair impact on those who pay. Second, I think that this form of indirect taxation defeats accountability by allowing the government to disguise the true costs of services it provides.

Unfair Impact: Who buys lottery tickets, for the most part? I believe I have read that it is the working poor and lower middle class. How do they buy them? With after-tax dollars, of course. So, if you agree that this is an indirect tax, then you will have to agree that those who purchase these tickets, and pay this tax, are doing so with money which represents a greater proportion of their after tax earnings than, say, my after tax earnings. $10 spent on lottery tickets is going to mean more to the person from a lower economic group than it will to someone in a higher economic group. I am certain that this is recognized by the politicians yet they do not care that the group least able to afford to dispose of their income in this fashion is doing so. And the politicians are abetting it. This is unfair. If taxes need to be raised to support a program, then doing it indirectly and on the backs of those least able to pay for it is unfair. And that leads me to point two.

No Accountability: I said above, "if taxes need to be raised to support a program. . ." If you fund a program from lottery or gambling monies, then you effectively remove from the public forum any reason to debate the need for the program or its funding level. Why talk about, after all, if the taxpayer isn't paying for it? I think of it as the governmental equivalent of an off balance sheet vehicle like Enron used. The result is that no one has to talk about it so no one will discuss whether what the government is doing is right. I think that governments abuse power when the possibility of open review is removed. We are supposed to have government in the sunshine and with freedom of access to information. Laws have been passed to that effect. If we as a people permit the government to sweep a program under the rug by financing public programs with tax money raised indirectly from those who can least afford to pay it, then I submit that we have a problem. Also, if there is no one to complain that the money raised is coming out of their pocket, who is going to complain that the money is not being well spent, which is an issue apart from whether the money should be spent. This system changes the oversight mechanisms built into our participatory democracy and I don't like it.

Finally, governments are like crack addicts -- they can't stay away from the cheap money. Once they go to that well, they'll keep going back. And no one will care enough to make sure it's proper. Well, my thanks today go to the Appellate Division, Third Department, of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, even if they did it for a reason other than the ones I've enunciated here.

Here endeth today's rant.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:57 AM | Comments (0)

More Architecture

The NY Times this morning ran a gushing tribute to Paul Rudolph today, one of the great modern architects. The article mentions how he was the Dean of the Yale School of Architecture and how he designed the "heroic" and "magisterial Art and Architecture Building at Yale, which has nine floors and some 30 different levels". I already said gushing, right? What does the article fail to mention? Well, how about the fact that the students hated the building so much that they actually tried to burn it down? That strikes me as a fairly pointed piece of criticism. How about how Rudolph placed the sculpture studios at the top of the 30th level with no elevator access to get sculpture materials, like, say, marble, to the studio. Or finally, how about how the building was covered with this rusticated concrete on which Rudolph left the imprints of the wooden molds which held the concrete while it dried, thus leaving the building with this sort of sinister and unfinished looking air. Actually, I kind of like that treatment, but many don't, and in the hands of an untalented hack it is pretty awful. I suppose that these issues would reduce the impact of the article some.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:45 AM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2004

What happened to the moderate?

What follows is a draft thought I had been kicking around for awhile and never got much further with:

Did he or she disappear? Is the moderate an endangered species? This is a question I have been pondering, off and on, for a long time. I have no answer but I have formed some thoughts I'd like to jot down about political culture and identity.

Identity. First off, I have identified myself before on this blog as a South Park Republican -- someone who combines the belief in the need for "a hard-ass foreign policy", is "extremely skeptical of political correctness”, but also is socially liberal on many issues. That's me. Not a true Republican and not a true Democrat. Somewhere in between. Perhaps a Liberal conservative. Or a conservative Liberal.

* * *

I was going to come back to this and write about the political culture side and expand on the identity section, but Michele at A Small Victory has done so today in a post that is just so good that I urge you to go check it out: A Social Civil War.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

The Boy Child Speaks

I have not written a lot about the boy child here. He is 16 months old and has the face of an angel. He is exceptionally blond and fair with piercing blue eyes. He looks a lot like my wife's pictures at the same age. In other words, he looks nothing like me and everything like every picture of smiling, happy Norwegian babies you might have ever seen.

In that regard, by the way, I refer you to the beautiful Summer in Norway pictorial collection in Aftenposten, where the only picture of a child is actually a happy child of apparently Asian descent, which is not exactly what I had in mind when I sent you there. No matter, the pictures are still beautiful.

In any event, up until very recently, he has not spoken much beyond Dada, Na-na-na (for banana) and trying to say his sister's name. Now, he has begun to speak. A little, maybe, but still. If you hand him something, he looks at you and says, quite emphatically, "Ta". We are quite certain he is saying "takk", or thank you in Norwegian. He may not say much, but he is endearingly polite.

Also, last night, my wife responded to his cries of distress occasioned by his having jettisoned his blankets from his crib. His new game. However, he becomes completely disconsolate when said blankets are no longer within reach. He loves these blankets, which is nice because my mother knit them for him. My wife came in, picked up the blankets, and asked him to sit down. He looked at her, said "sitte", and sat down.

While I have been eagerly anticipating his powers of speech, my wife points out that the power to talk is the power to talk back. She has a good point, but then, she usually does.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:51 AM | Comments (0)

July 06, 2004

I took my own advice today

and took myself off to the NY Public Library to see the exhibit of the Thomas Jefferson handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence in which he underlined the bits taken out by the committee before its adoption by the Continental Congress. I posted about this exhibit before here.

I had a number of different impressions. First, I was surprised how legible his handwriting was. He clearly, at least to my inexpert eye, used a quill pen. Second, his spelling was conventional. He spelled the word course as course, and not "courfe", as the contemporaneous newspaper printings of the Declaration did. Third, the ink was brown and faded but packed an emotional punch. I can't explain it, but I was quite moved and actually blurted out loud, "oh, my", when I read the first sentence. Fourth, the draft penned by TJ actually contained a scathing denunciation of slavery and he blamed the King for importing the institution to the colonies and then for inciting the slaves to take up arms against the colonists. I thought it was interesting enough that I will type it out here from the copy they gave out at the library. It appears in the section of the document listing the colonists grievances against the King:


he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people, who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase the liberty of which he has deprived them by murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

If you are in or can get to NY, I highly recommend going to see this.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

Ever feel like this?

"I replaced the headlights in my car with strobe lights, so it looks like I'm
the only one moving." -- Steven Wright

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

Odd, but interesting

I give you today's odd but interesting historical juxtaposition. Today:

in 1854, the first official meeting of the Republican Party took place in Jackson, Mich.

-and-

in 1923, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

I sit here and itch

I received quite a nice sunburn this weekend. I had my shirt off, outdoors, for the first time in at least a year and I chose to do it while sitting in the kiddy pool with my daughter, without sun screen. Oh, I remembered to put sun screen on the girl child but forgot to protect myself. Result? A predictable bad burn on the shoulders, chest, and upper arms. I have been slathering myself with aloe, spraying myself with dermaplast, and stoically whining about it ever since to whoever would listen to me (that's you at this moment, gentle reader). I sit here now as my chest itches, and my shoulders feel like someone is occasionally sticking a pin in them. You know what, though? It was worth it. I heard from my daughter probably three different times over the weekend how much fun she had when I came in the pool with her. So, I'm going to do it again. Just with sun screen next time.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

Stolen Identity

Another good reason why you should always be careful with your wallet: you may end up married without knowing it. At first this seemed really odd, but upon reflection it makes a lot of sense. You need a residency permit, you steal the identity of a woman, you marry her, you stay. I wonder how often this happens.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:25 AM | Comments (0)

Creation of Time Zones

I came across this little snippet, about how the US time zones came to be created, in the NY Times this morning in an article about timekeeping in Grand Central Station and wanted to share it. I thought it was fascinating and I had never given it any thought before:

Indeed, timekeeping, as it is known today, was essentially invented out of necessity in the late 1800's by a collection of railroads, including the New York Central, a predecessor of Metro-North. Before the railroads, time was a local matter, set in each town according to the sun. Therefore, noon in Cincinnati, for example, would be slightly different from noon in Cleveland. But this was obviously a problem for railroads. Coordination of traffic on the tracks, as well as schedules for picking up passengers, depended on a standardized time system.

"A train could leave Syracuse at 12 o'clock and come into Utica, and it would still be 12 o'clock," said Pierce Haviland, a Metro-North employee who is also a railroad historian. "That wasn't working."

At first, railroad managers set up 100 different railroad time zones, but that proved too complicated. Finally, on Nov. 18, 1883, four standard time zones - Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific - were adopted by the railroads. At noon on that day, the time was transmitted by telegraph from the United States Naval Observatory in Washington to all the railroads in the United States and Canada. Twice a day thereafter, railroad clocks were resynchronized with the Naval Observatory's clock.

However, it was not until 1918, when Congress passed the Standard Time Act, that the railroads' time zones became the standard for everyone in the United States.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:20 AM | Comments (0)

Chivalry's dead? I didn't even know it was sick. . .

I was thinking, off and on this weekend, about a letter I read in the Westchester section of the Sunday NY Times. A woman wrote in to complain that no one would give up their seat for her on a morning train going into the City when she was rather visibly 9 months pregnant. She closed her letter by asking whether chivalry was dead. Is it? Should it be? Should she have had any expectation that she would have been treated differently because of her sex? My answer is yes, it is dead and no, she should not have any expectation of more favorable treatment because of her sex.

Putting to one side the issue of the pregnancy, because I happen to believe that is not an issue open to discussion. Simply, she should have been given a seat because of her physical condition, just like you give your seat to a person with a cane, for example. That is based on disability. That said, I can recall numerous instances of offering a seat to a pregnant woman on a City bus or subway only to have them decline the offer. And, there is another school of thought that says you do not ask or suggest a woman is pregnant unless you are actually seeing them give birth. As in, what if you're wrong about the pregnancy? But enough, let us return to the chivalry question.

chivalry, at its beginning, was a code of conduct according to which Knights and the nobly born aspired to live their lives. There is plenty of information floating around about it on the internet and some of it might actually be correct. It included within it, the Courtly Love tradition, which had various rules for courtship and marriage and taking lovers. Chivalry has come to mean, I think, a manner of treatment of women by men. Women are exalted by virtue of the fact of their being female. I think that this is meant to memorialize the belief that women were the weaker sex and were to be treated accordingly, better really than the way men treated other men. So, we come back to our question: is it dead?

Yes, I think it is and it ought to be. First, the belief that women are the weaker sex is obviously false. They do not need better treatment out of weakness. Second, I think that the social contract has been redrawn over the last 30-40 years in the US. The playing field is much more level. Yes, I know that there are still glass ceiling issues and pay parity issues, but just the same, I think that women are competing fairly evenly with men now in the workplace, in school, on the athletic fields (at least since Title IX), and every where else. Such competition precludes any claim to chivalrous conduct. I think that it is somewhat a question of having your cake and eating it, too. I think that pregnant women does not deserve a seat on the train because she is a woman. Indeed, if she was not pregnant, she would have no right to complain. Her claim to that seat based on some outdated notion of chivalry rings false.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2004

Another girl child story

As I mentioned below, I was feeling fragile this morning and I even slept in until 7:30, a good 2 hours later than usual for me. I was just finishing toweling off in the shower when I get a very demanding knock on the bathroom door and a little voice sings out cheerfully, "goooood moooorning". So I invite her in and she keeps me company while I shave. We then go to her room to take her out of her pj's so we can go downstairs. I wanted to be quick upstairs because I wanted to fix her breakfast. She asked me to so nicely.

So, we get into her room and it smells funny. Like sun tan lotion. I ask her, why does it smell like sun tan lotion in here? And she tells me. "Oh, I was just putting some on my animals yesterday". Why, I ask. "So they won't get sunburned. The flamingo got some on his toes and the pony got some on his nose and his sides". She was covering the vulnerable spots, I gather. It was very sweet, even if it smelled kind of funny.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

Another thank you

I would also like to thank the nomad(s?) at The Greater Nomadic Counsel for linking to me. Go to their blog if only to view the very cool painting they have chosen as their header. Otherwise, it is a very interesting and literate read.

I would also like to say thank you to Red at Red Said for her kind words regarding my post at the New Blog Showcase. I have not had a lot of time to page through her site but I intend to over the weekend. She is clearly a person of great taste and discernment! :)

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

Oh, the fragility of it all

I was overserved last night. I take no responsibility for any of my actions last night and I blame the bartender and my so-called friends. It wasn't my fault. Ok, maybe a little bit.

We took a friend out for drinks and dinner for her birthday last night. We met for drinks at Aquavit. (I am compelled to share with you this picture of the urinal at Aquavit which I found doing an internet search for the restaurant. I had no idea that restaurant urinals was the subject of such fascination and I post this in order to squick you out, too. Share the joy.) Aquavit makes its own flavored aquavits -- I particularly liked the lemon/mint one and we had a couple of those. We then went next door to a private club and had a little bourbon. Then upstairs for dinner, where we had two excellent bottles of wine. One of the best things about dining at a private club is that the wines are not marked up like they are in a restaurant. We drank, at about 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of a similar bottle in a restaurant:

Volnay 1er Cru 1996, Caillerets Ancienne Cuvée
Carnot
Bouchard Père & Fils

and

Vougeot 1er Cru 1996
Les Cras Domaine Bertagna

They were so tasty. And the second bottle was even better than the first.

Then, home late, up early, and back at work where I feel somewhat less than my usual sparkling self.

Note to self: drink more water before going to bed after nights like last night.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:23 AM | Comments (0)

No access, no cry

Sorry so quiet, we had no internet access from the office (from where most of my blogging takes place) until just now. It was giving me itchy fingers, too. The title of this post is, of course, a take on "no woman, no cry", which is the song currently playing in my head this morning.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2004

Some overdue thank you's are in order

I have been linked to by some very smart people and I owe them a thank you note, which they will get, and a link on my page (because they are deserving, not because they linked to me first) which I will do soon. But, before I add them to my list, I want to thank them publicly and call your attention to them (in no particular order) as they are all worth a visit:


Irish Elk is a beautiful looking page with fantastic pictures integrated with smartly written text;

Zya's Ramblings is an interesting page written by a poet/accountant who is a Portuguese/American/Aussie going to University in Australia;

Hannah's Collection is the work of an American IT student living, studying, loving, and growing up in the Netherlands;

Indigo Blues is a page that veers from the comic to the searingly sad as this woman, cloaked in anonymity, writes openly, movingly, and beautifully about her life and struggles and hopes for the future;

Photojournaliste is a blog by a Canadian who works internationally as a photo-journalist.

Thank you all for finding me "link worthy"!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

America, etc.

I am feeling pretty damn dapper today. I have a rare victory under my belt from yesterday, and let me tell you, what I convinced the judge to do yesterday is something rarely accomplished. I am wearing a seersucker suit with an orange* and blue tie and I stopped to get my shoes shined in Grand Central Station before continuing on to work. Yes, pretty dapper indeed. I haven't worn these shoes in a long time and they are beautiful -- purchased before I had children -- monk strap shoes from J. M. Weston.

So, I was sitting there, feeling dapper and relaxed as this very nice young man from somewhere below the U.S. Southern border with Mexico (I really don't know where he was from and didn't want to ask) put a mirror shine on these shoes. (Digression: If you haven't worn your shoes in a while, get them shined, the leather needs the polish and will soak it up. Also, use shoe trees when you take your shoes off). It's an interesting feeling to sit down in Grand Central and watch the ebb and flow of the race tide as people hurry this way and that way in their haste to get to work. You sit elevated when you get your shoes shined and so you are looking down, a little, at this pageant of humanity. They have newspapers at the stand, but I am a people watcher and I prefer to watch the crowd. No startling observations to report from my crowd watching. In fact, as there were way too few attractive young women in light summer dresses to observe, I turned my thoughts to the young man shining my shoes.

He did a first rate job. Shining shoes is not complicated but it is very hard work to do right and to do it right all day long. Some people just swipe the polish on and leave a surface shine when they are finished. This fellow worked the polish into the leather of the shoe. To do that requires the application of some force. I tipped him $5 on a $3 shine when he finished and thanked him sincerely so he knew I noticed how hard he worked and that I appreciated it. Remember, the money is nice but the kind word lingers in the memory long after the money is spent.

But, I was thinking about this young man as I walked away in my shiny, spiffy shoes and I realized that there must be something still very special about this country of ours that people think it is worthwhile to cross dangerous and guarded borders to come here and shine shoes. That they will have a better life here. That they may be shining shoes today, but they will be paying someone tomorrow to shine their shoes. This is still the land of opportunity for many, many people. We may forget what a special place we live in, but look around you more carefully and I bet you can find reminders all around you of people who have risked much to live here.

This thought seems particularly appropriate today as today is the anniversary of the first vote, taken in 1776, on the Declaration of Independence. You know, the men who signed that document were courageous, don't you? That these men were marked down on British lists for execution as traitors if captured, their lands forfeit, their families thrown out onto the street. These men knew that when they signed this document what they were risking. This makes them heroes in my book because they took the risks knowingly and willingly and not in the heat of passion. Would they sign it today? Would you? Interestingly, I recall that sometime in the 80's, the Declaration was reprinted in the form of a petition and college students in Iowa (or maybe Kansas) took to the streets to ask people to sign it. Distressingly, most people did not recognize it and a startlingly high number refused to sign on the grounds that the document was too radical.

So, today, as I walk the streets of Manhattan in my dapper little suit, with my shiny shoes, I feel grateful to be an American, grateful that my ancestors took the leap of faith and got on that leaky boat in Europe and came over here, and I feel even more grateful that this is still the country which attracts those ambitious people who want to build a better life for themselves and their families. I think that as long as remain a magnet for these kinds of people, we will endure.

Anyways, that's my little thought for the morning. Thanks for reading.

* As for the orange tie, I am, perhaps, leaving myself open to being accused of making an unintentional political sartorial statement today. Today, in 1690 the army of England's Protestant King William III defeated the Roman Catholic King James II in the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland (Now celebrated on July 12 as "The Battle of the Orange" ). I intend to give all Irish bars a miss today and hope no one notices!

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:23 AM | Comments (0)

The Brits are really funny

I was paging (on-line, so, maybe I was clicking) through the Spectator and came across the following description of a religious service the author attended which made me laugh and I thought I'd share it here:


To cheer myself up, I went to a Sunday service at the evangelical Anglican church, Holy Trinity Brompton. Some of my best friends are happy-clappies, so about once a year I try and fail to sit through an HTB service. This year I lasted 15 minutes. For the first 10 minutes I successfully opened my heart to the power-point projectors, acoustic guitars and expressions of ecstasy. I even held out my hands and swayed, all the while terrified that I would have a religious experience and have to go to HTB for the rest of my life. Then the priest approached the microphone. ‘I think you’ll agree with me,’ he said, ‘that God is a great guy and deserves a round of applause. C’mon, everybody, let’s give God a big clap.’ Saved again.

Now, in all seriousness, can you imagine something like that taking place in a Mosque in Pakistan?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)