August 31, 2004

Jim lost his job

Go send Jim some love and any helpful suggestions you can. He is really one of the good ones, you know?

Anybody know anyone in Atlanta who's looking for a real smart tech guy?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:12 AM | Comments (3)

Rudy Giuliani

Did anyone stay up late last night and watch Rudy's speech at the Convention? No? I missed it, too. That's why I was just listening to it at the NY Times website. It was wonderful and smart and clear. It was a powerful speech because it was so personal. Rudy lived it. He didn't have to be at the Convention speaking. He's not running for anything and no one claims he will be anytime in the near future. He came, I think, to thank the President for his support in those very dark days after 9/11 and to re-affirm that, in his view, this President is the best hope for maintaining national security. You don't have to see it Rudy's way, although I more or less do, but you have to admit it was a powerful speech.

You can find the text and video links here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:04 AM | Comments (1)

Click your way to a brighter future

I received the following email this morning and just had to reproduce it, all but the link, of course:

Dear Sir/Madam;

From our records we understand that you are inquiring about a new profession.
We have a limited, ont time offer.
Our university can offer you a pre-qualified degree in your field of choice.
We offer signing bonuses of up to $15,000 in your profession.

To obtain your degree with valid transcripts & information on new career bonusus, follow our link:

I have left all the spelling mistakes in. Fascinating, no?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:06 AM | Comments (4)

Art. Rape. Politics. Gender. Power: a reflection

My dad gave me a copy of "The Rape of the Masters", by Roger Kimball which I am trying to read on the train in the evenings. This is a great read and you should run to the store and grab a copy.

A little background first. I am by vocation a lawyer and by avocation a frustrated architectural historian. I am removed from the formal study of art history by about 15 years now. Having read Kimball's book, I'm happy I did not make art history my vocation.

Kimball's point is that art historians have stopped looking at art, stopped doing research in primary sources (like, say, journals written by artists) in favor instead of projecting their own views of politics, gender, racism, bias, and every other popular ideological movement from the last 30 years onto the painting. They stop looking at the art as art and start to call it a text, which they can thus read and search for hidden meanings "written" into the text. It is at once both absurd and disturbing. The effect is to destroy the art and to deny its important cultural weight, to remove from the art of Van Gogh its special character as something important in Western thought, to thus attack Western thought and culture as itself unimportant and, indeed, oppressive. The art becomes a tool in the hands of those who wish to deny the Western heritage and to disclaim it.

You should read this book. The art historians, secure in some of the most prominent sinecures of academia, are consumed by their own interest in seeing vaginsa (spelling intentional to avoid odd searches), some with teeth, castration concerns, fears of anla raep (sp., again), etc. It is remarkable. Kimball illustrates his point by picking ten paintings, including color plates of them, and then fisking the academics who write about these works and the artists who painted them.

The thing is, I happen to agree that art is political, to a certain extent. Not every work of art is a political message but I do believe that artists reflect and are part of their society, that they reflect to some degree the social mores of the time (whether reacting against or in agreement) and that you can understand art through its social context. What you can't do, however, is reach back with your own concerns and forcibly impose them on the art (which ain't a text) in order to distort the image to meet your own needs. That's uncool. And sloppy, no matter how many foot notes you include.

But the thinking and the material Kimball pokes fun at are seductive. It's fun to try to do this, as an intellectual exercise. While riding the train this morning, I tried to engage in this exercise. I envisioned Munch's painting, The Scream, and tried to write about it as if I were a modern art historian. The Scream is about a lot of things. I doubt strongly that it is about any of the things I subscribe to it below in the EXTENDED ENTRY (click away, if you dare).

Let the game begin (please note that I have done no research on this and am not copying anybody else's silly ideas, ok?):

Munch's Scream: An Essay on Sexual and Gender Confusion


Here we have before us a "painting", a text, if you will which lends itself to a close reading of the pseudo-sexual conflict and confusion Munch was experiencing at the time he created this, to the extent that any man can create as man was not made to give birth.

Look at the sinuous lines of the water and the air and how they are echoed in the form of the Screamer, a figure left ambiguous as to its gender. It is bald, perhaps a woman shorn of her hair, disfigured by society and robbed of her crowning glory, made unrecognizable in her robes. Or is it a man, thrown into conflict between his feminine nature, as made evident by his long, beautiful hands, and his angular, hard body. What horror does s/he contemplate? What is s/he looking at? For, by becoming the viewer, s/he becomes the viewed and is merging the two experiences into a text replete with meaning and submeanings. Much of this text can only be discerned by a careful and rigorous reading.

If it is a he, is he consumed by his fear of castration? By his overwhelming sense that society has removed his manhood? Note, if you will, that he is robed in black. Is he mourning his loss? His powerlessness? His hands held to his face in shock as the painter/surgeon wields his knife. We know that Munch's father was an Army doctor. Munch would not have been unfamiliar with surgery or the consequences and perhaps a close reading allows us to see that here, even if Munch himself was unconscious of it, as he must have been.

Or is his/her gender subsumed by questions of fear, questions of how a repressive society forced him to choose? We can see that in the approaching figures in the top hat. They clearly represent all of the rigid, patriarchal hierarchy in all its horrible repressive self. Note how that top hat thrusts into the air, punctuating the painting with a phallic object as if to mock the subject, to show the screamer what has been taken from him. It is clear, is it not, that the only permissible use of the penis here is where it is harnessed and restrained by existing societal expectations. The artist fears the penis and he constrains it within the teleological construct of the hat. It is a powerful image and a haunting progression of images as we move from the penis/hat to the scream of the castrated, dressed in doleful robes of mourning.

Ok, I have to stop here. I fear that this is going to warp my mind for the whole day if I don't stop now. Thanks for getting this far.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:00 AM | Comments (8)

August 30, 2004

Les Nessman reports from the Fair

I promised a report from the Fair we went to on Friday and here it is, something between a full report and list of connected observations. In drafting this, I feel as if I am channeling Les Nessman, reporter extradonaire from WKRP. Remember Les? Coincidentally, eerily so, Richard Sanders, the actor who played him, just had his birthday on August 28.

So, first of all, the fairgrounds were huge. Acres and acres of barns and permanent structures. I take my hat off to the organizers for a tautly run show. The bathrooms were clean at all times. Can you believe that? At all times.

The fair was at heart an agricultural endeavor and was country at its best. Kids with "4H" shirts all over the place. Huge displays of new and used farm equipment and tack and agricultural materials. Ribbons all over the place. Tents devoted to the health department and the state agricultural department.

We saw cows. A lot of cows. Really big cows, impeccably groomed. We were all duly impressed. There were prize winning flower arrangements. We saw lots of horses.

There were carnival games. The Girl Child actually won two prizes by throwing 2 darts and popping balloons. I was seriously impressed. I had no idea that she was coordinated enough to do this and to win.

The Girl Child also conned me into going with her on the ride that causes you to go up and down and to spin around. I held on to her so tight. My vertigo is actually returning as I type this. I did not disgrace myself by vomiting. She did nothing but laugh with great delight through the whole ride. Well, she did reassure me a couple of times by telling me it was ok because she was holding on to me.

We missed the Oak Ridge Boys and (sorry, Amber) the husband calling contest.

The girls rode on an elephant by the name of Beulah. She was 35 years old.

We were all in agreement that the piglets were very cute.

We watched dog obedience and obstacle course runs, cheering loudly for all the dogs.

We over paid for lunch.

We bought fresh roasted peanuts from a booth with a huge peanut roaster and they were among the best peanuts I've ever tasted, even when they cooled off. The Boy Child also loved them.

What else to report? It was pretty darn hot and I congratulate myself on the foresight to have sunscreen applied to the little ones before we got there.

I saw no, not one single, Vote for Bush or Vote for Kerry shirt or sticker. That was nice.

Everyone was friendly and happy and looking for a good time. Even the State Police seemed relaxed. And they had one of the Cameros out on display. I imagine that they are pretty fast.

We closed the day with a purchase of maple sugar cotton candy. I abstained, but the Girl Child was enraptured.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:13 PM | Comments (4)

Olympic Games: A Success?

The Games have ended in an orgy of odd dance returns and aged Greek entertainers. Did anyone else think that those fellows all dressed in black and shaking their money makers during a "war dance" performed while women harvested the wheat did not have the body form traditionally associated with dance? But I digress.

The Games are touted as a success all over the media. Were they? I have two small observations.

First, estimates now put the cost at $10 billion. How is this a success where, according to the World Bank (pdf file) average yearly income is a scant $11,660 a year? How are they going to pay for this? What is going to happen to the tax system? While people are crying about the security costs, by the way, please note that these costs were estimated to be about $1.2 billion, or not much more than 10% of the actual costs.

Second, what did the Greeks get for the money? They did not get attendance at the Games, particularly. Ticket sales were generally accepted to be poor and if you watched the Games, you saw that the stands were regularly empty or sparsely filled.

So, how was it a success? It cost a lot to put the show on and no one came.

I am not persuaded.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:55 AM | Comments (7)

SC Johnson Company

I was watching the Olympics this weekend and was forced to watch the commercials as the Boy Child has made off with the remote and secreted it somewhere. A commercial came on for some product or other, I wasn't really paying attention, but the closing words caught me: "SC Johnson, a family company".

And that got me to thinking a little bit. Is SC Johnson still privately held? Well, a quick check of its website reveals that it is. Then I saw all of the products they sell: Shout; Windex; Mr. Muscle; Ziploc; Edge; Glade; Brise; Vanish; Raid; OFF!; Kabbikiller; Pledge; Scrubbing Bubbles. Many of us have, at one time or another, used some of these products, I assume. Most of us associate the SC Johnson company with household tasks and chores.

But how many of you associate SJ Johnson and Racine Wisconsin with an icon of modern architecture? With Frank Lloyd Wright? If you dig a little on the SC Johnson website, you will find a page concerning the architecture. I was going to extract from it here but there really is no point. Go take a moment and read the whole thing.

Here is a page with some excellent photographs.

Not every post needs to be an exhaustive treatment of a subject. Sometimes its enough to record the thought and point people in the direction to go and indulge their curiosity.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:30 AM | Comments (2)

August 29, 2004

Too Sweet Moment of the Day

We have just returned from eating ice cream down in the village and the Girl Child is running laps in my bedroom around her mother who is seated on the floor. We had the following exchange, me and the She Who Was Hopped Up On Sugar:

Me: Hey, Sugar Girl!

Girl Child: I'm not Sugar Girl.

Me: So, what makes you so sweet, then?

Girl Child: [pause for thought] You loving me.

Very sweet, isn't it?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:48 PM | Comments (4)

Quick one before heading off to the pool with the kids

This morning at breakfast, the Girl Child and I watched as her brother happily painted his face and hair with blueberry butter (really, a yogurt spread). My wife said to him, "you are such a goof ball".

I looked at the Girl Child and we had the following exchange:

Me: Where did you get such a goof ball for a brother from?

Girl Child: You made him.

So, there.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:21 AM | Comments (2)

August 27, 2004

Gone Fishin'

Hi, y'all, I'm hanging the Gone Fishin' sign on the door today. Yup, I'm taking the family, loading them into the car, and heading upstate to the:


According to the Dutchess County Fair web site:

Over a half a million visitors are expected at the 2004 Fair held August 24 through August 29. The Fair is the second largest agricultural event in New York State and has become the fabric of family life and tradition. Thousands of family members have grown up coming to the classic, old fashioned Fair year after year, experiencing something new on each visit.

The stars of the Dutchess County Fair are the farm animals. Over 1600 goats, sheep, hogs, cows, horses, chickens, cattle and rabbits will be judged for excellence at the six day event. In addition, vegetables, fruits, home crafts, baked goods, antiques, grain, flowers and more are entered in events celebrating Dutchess County’s farming traditions and values.

Over three hundred commercial exhibitors will display and sell a wide variety of products. Demonstrations such as spinning, weaving and dyeing will be featured. There will be contests such as horse shoeing and forging, husband calling and hay bale throwing, to name a few.

I'll report back on the success of the petting zoo with the children and on whether my wife feels compelled to enter the "husband calling contest".

Have a great day!

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:05 AM | Comments (6)

August 26, 2004

Nepal: some background and the mighty Ghurkas

Someone asked, in the comments section, about the Ghurkas of Nepal and I thought his inquiry merited a fuller response than a quick reply to comment so I decided to do a post. I know a bit about them. I have been fascinated by them since I was a child and intrigued by that whole region ever since I read, Kim, by Kipling.

Let's start with some background on Nepal. There is a really great US Government report on Nepal which probably will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the place, although it is a little old. You can find it here. In case you don't feel like reading it, let me extract from it here, down in the extended section, in case you are not curious about the Mountain Kingdom:

THE HIMALAYAN KINGDOMS of Nepal and Bhutan share a history of influence by Tibet, China, and India, and an interlude of British colonial guidance. Although the kingdoms are not contiguous, each country is bordered by China to the north and India on its other peripheries. Both kingdoms are ruled by hereditary monarchs and are traditional societies with predominantly agricultural economies; their cultures, however, differ. Nepal's Hinduism, a legacy of India's influence, defines its culture and caste-structured society. Bhutan's Buddhist practices and culture reflect India's influence by way of Tibet. The two countries' legal systems also reflect their heritage. Nepal's judicial system blends Hindu legal and English common law traditions. Bhutan's legal system is based on Buddhist law and English common law.

Nepal has existed as a kingdom centered in the Kathmandu Valley for more than 1,500 years. The country is known for its majestic Himalayas and has nine of the fourteen peaks in the world over 8,000 meters, including Mount Everest and Annapurna I.

* * *

In January 1951, the Ranas were forced to concede to the restoration of the monarchy, which then assumed charge of all executive powers: financial management, appointment of government officials, and command of the armed forces. The latter power became an increasingly useful tool for enforcing control. In 1962 King Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev devised the centrally controlled partyless council system of government called panchayat (see Glossary). This system served as the institutional basis of the king's rule and was envisioned by the palace as a democratic administration although it functioned only at the king's behest. Incorporated into the 1962 constitution, the panchayat system was established at the village, district, and national levels. Successive changes in government and constitutional revisions did not weaken the powers of the absolute monarchy. In fact, a May 1980 referendum reaffirmed the status quo of the panchayat system and its continuation as a rubber stamp for the king. Elections in 1981 and 1986 were characterized by the lack of political programs.

* * *

The dissolution of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, and the successes of the prodemocracy movements in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, had an impact in Nepal. In part as a result of the participatory experiences of Nepalese in India, movements arose to effect changes in Nepal's government and society. Nepal's longstanding history of continuity of rule and relative stability was challenged when the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, or prodemocracy movement, was formally established on February 18, 1990, almost forty years after the end of Rana control. Demonstrations and rallies--accompanied by violence, arrests, and even deaths--were held throughout the country. Political unrest became widespread. Ethnic groups agitated for official recognition of their cultural heritage and linguistic tradition and demonstrated against the monarchy. The goal of the prodemocracy movement, however, was to establish a more representative democracy and to end the panchayat system.

* * *

In November 1990, the king finally approved and promulgated a new, more democratic constitution that vested sovereignty in the people.

* * *

Nepal's population, estimated in 1990 as approximately 19.1 million, is very diverse. The country is home to more than a dozen ethnic groups, which originate from three major ethnic divisions: Indo-Nepalese, Tibeto-Nepalese, and indigenous Nepalese. Ethnic identity--distinguished primarily by language and dress--constrains the selection of a spouse, friendships, and career, and is evident in social organization, occupation, and religious observances. Hinduism is the official religion of Nepal, although, in fact, the religion practiced by the majority of Nepalese is a synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism and the practices have intermingled over time. The socioeconomic ramifications of the country's diversity have proven problematic for Nepal in the late twentieth century.

Considered a least-developed country, Nepal depends heavily on farming, which accounts for most of the country's gross domestic product. The work force is largely unskilled and mostly illiterate. Nepal's industrial base was established in the 1930s, but little process has been made in improving economic performance. In the early 1990s, tourism was one of the largest sources of foreign exchange; visitors from the United States were the most numerous.

Social status in Nepal is measured by economic standing. Landownership is both a measure of status and a source of income. Women occupy a secondary position, particularly in business and the civil service, although the constitution guarantees equality between men and women. Nepalese tribal and communal customs dictate women's lesser role in society, but their status differs from one ethnic group to another and is usually determined by caste.

As we have discussed before, Nepal is currently opposing a Maoist insurgency.

Now, let me point you to some sources about the Ghurkas:

The British Army has a great historical essay about the relationship between her Majesty's forces and the Ghurkas.

The heritage of the Brigagde of Ghurkas is set forth as follows:

The word Gurkha is derived from the valley of ‘Gorkha’ in West Nepal. Gurkha is more loosely used as the generic term for the indigenous population of the middle hills of east and west Nepal. Gurkhas have provided service to the Crown since 1815. On the conclusion of the Anglo-Nepali War (1812 – 1815), the British East India Company, impressed by the extraordinary bravery and fighting qualities of the Gurkhas, raised the first Gurkha regiments. When India became independent in 1947, four Gurkha regiments transferred into the British Army but remained based in the Far East. The Brigade conducted itself with distinction. The Brigade, which at its peak, formed ten regiments of Gurkhas, participated in every major conflict fought by the Indian Army including the North West Frontier, and the First and Second World Wars. At the partition of India in 1948, four regiments – 2nd, 6th, 7th and 10th Gurkha Rifles - moved across to the British Army whilst the remainder continued to serve with the Indian Army. During the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the Sirmoor Rifles (later the 2nd Goorkhas) served with great distinction alongside the 60th Rifles (later the Royal Green Jackets). So impressed were the 60th Rifles that following the mutiny they insisted Gurkhas be awarded the honours of adopting their distinctive rifle green uniforms with scarlet edgings and rifle regiment traditions and that they should hold the title of riflemen rather than sepoys. At the same time, and as a mark of respect, Gurkha riflemen were invited to share the same canteens as British soldiers, Indian sepoys were excluded from this privilege.

This section on how the British Army recruits the Ghurkas is particularly interesting reading:

Gurkha recruiting takes place once a year in Nepal. The British Army maintains a skeleton recruiting structure based on the British Gurkha Camp at Pokhara, in the West of Nepal. In a process that begins in September each year, local recruiters, known as Galla Wallahs, recruit a specified number of young men from their respective areas in the hills of both west and east Nepal. The pool of young hopefuls is further reduced at a second stage in the process. Here, senior retired Gurkha officers select a final tranche of potential recruits at a number of hill selection sites. These individuals then move down to Pokhara where a stringent and demanding final selection process is conducted by British and Gurkha officers. Once selected, the lucky few are flown to the UK to start recruit training and a career in the Brigade of Gurkhas. The number of Gurkhas recruited depends on the Brigade’s annual manning needs. The figure is currently around 230. Last year there were 28,000 applicants for 230 places.

Finally, I recommend checking out this section here on the Kukri, the almost mythical knife used by the Ghurka, which looks like this:


There is also a very well illustrated essay I found on the origins and the current role the Ghurka's play in the British military. If for nothing else, go check it out for the pictures. The article is put out by a company that sells Kukris. They have quite a selection.


This little look at the Ghurkas would not be complete without a mention of the controversy regarding payment by the British government to the Ghurkas for their time in service and their time as prisoners of war in Japan during World War II.

The prisoner of war issue may be resolved. The British government has announced that it will make a one time 10,000 pound payment to the ex-Ghurka POWs.

The pension issue is more serious and seems a bit of a national disgrace. The issue is that the Ghurkas are paid far less in pension benefits than other British service personnel. The Ghurkas have sued over this disparity but the Appeals Court has dismissed the suit and the disparity is now beyond review. The position of the government is that the Ghurkas retire back to Nepal where the cost of living is so much less than if they retired in England. My view? If they accepted the same risks as the other soldiers, they deserve the same pension, as simple as that. But then no one asked me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:03 AM | Comments (5)

Irreverent Observation

Sign seen affixed to homeless guy's shopping cart this morning while walking to office from train station:

Repent: Judgment is Coming

My thought in response:

That's why we have appellate panels.
Posted by Random Penseur at 07:15 AM | Comments (10)

August 25, 2004

Subway Maps as Art

Have you ever stopped to appreciate the design of the humble subway map? You probably consult them regularly, especially if you live in a big city with a sprawling transporation system. I think that, intentionally or accidentally, they are quite attractive. I was going to post a couple of pictures here, but then I found a way more comprehensive survey: The Subway Page of Maps. This is your definitive source of maps of all of the world's subways, from Almaty to Zurich. This could easily suck up way too much of your time today. Therefore, I dub it my time suck of the day. Go forth and get sucked in! If nothing else, it's a cheap way to armchair travel.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (3)

I boldly risk the hockey bitchslap

I am going to try to take part in Inter-Munuvian Hockey Whoopass Jamboree. I have selected the NY Rangers, the home town team, and will be posting their shield somewhere on the blog soon. Assuming that there will be a hockey season this year, and assuming that people still care, I'm planning on trying to care a little bit one more time.

The Rangers finished last year second from the bottom of the Atlantic Division with 27 wins, 40 losses and 7 ties. It is not looking like this coming season will be a breakout crazy win filled season by the way.


Posted by Random Penseur at 08:22 AM | Comments (3)

Clueless, continued

To continue yesterday's thought about searches that puzzle me, let me share this little gem with you. I am equally perplexed by people who spend so much time searching on the internet for: "farty girls". Are these the same people who want to know what to do with girls in bed? Or what to do about girls in bed? Do they seek advice or are they looking for a support group? The mind wobbles, to quote an old friend who preferred that to boggles.

By the way, a disproportionate number of these intrepid seekers after knowledge seem to come to us from I merely offer this information and refrain from making any attempt to interpret it. Although it's killing me not to. Just killing me.

Speaking of farts, by the way, go read Helen's exegesis on sharing these experiences with her beloved. I have managed to stop laughing, finally, and am now just smiling. I warn you, though, NOT SAFE FOR COFFEE!!!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:04 AM | Comments (6)

Zimbabwe v. Kenya, a different approach to land

It seems to me that I write so much about Africa that I ought to have it as a category. But it is such a fascinating topic. Zimbabwe is a country of great interest to me and I have written about it's slow motion train wreck of a system of government and civil society at length.

One of the biggest reasons for the decline in Zimbabwe's standard of living and hard currency reserves and general economic malaise is the manner in which the government has handled the redistribution of land held primarily by white farmers before. This land was the source of the main exports -- coffee; flowers; and tobacco. To raise these crops for international markets required a high level of sophisticated technical expertise. The people the government resettled on these farms had no such technical knowledge and, to cut this short, the economy has been devastated with the effects reaching beyond the export to the internal chemical industry (pesticides not needed any longer for farms not growing anything) to the heavy machinery industry (who has money now to buy farm equipment or to have existing equipment serviced?). The effects ripple and are bad.

Kenya is now faced with demands for the redistribution of land which was settled during colonial times and according to treaties of dubious character. Kenya, however, has taken lessons from Zimbabwe and has gone the other direction. According to the article in the NY Times* this morning, the Kenyan government is forcibly resisting the Masai squatting and land invasions. They are arresting and relocating the squatters.

Kenyan officials have no intention of following Mr. Mugabe's example. Uprooting the ranchers, government officials said, would be disastrous for the economy, which relies heavily on Western assistance and on tourism, a major source of hard currency.

On top of that, acceding to the Masai might encourage similar demands by the scores of other ethnic groups in Kenya, many of which have historic grievances of their own, officials added.

The government has adopted a cautious approach to land reform. A new constitution that is being drafted proposes that the long leases granted to some wealthy ranchers, some of which exceed 950 years, be reduced to 99 years. When those leases expire, Mr. Kimunya said, it is possible that the land may be reallocated.

A small round of applause for the cautious Kenyans and their sensible approach. They may yet avoid the calamity that has befallen Zimbabwe.

* Should you go read this article, please ignore the exceptionally stupid whitewash -- "But while President Robert Mugabe backed - and even encouraged - the forced redistribution of land in Zimbabwe as a way of righting colonial wrongs" -- of the land redistribution as Mugabe's one great chance as an historical reformer. Mugabe was trying to hold onto power and he did it through land redistribution. That is the reason, no matter what protestations to the contrary you may see in the press. This kind of off handed treatment of Mugabe just drives me nuts.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

Nepal, continued

Eagle eyed readers of this blog may recall that I wrote, last week, about the blockade of Katmandu by the Maoist rebels. That entry garnered no comments so I don't really know if anyone, besides me, is interested in the topic. But, nevertheless, there is a follow up. The rebels have announced that they have lifted the blockade after appeals from humanitarian groups. As you may recall, the capital was running out of food and cooking fuel. The rebels have not, however, moderated their demands for the release of rebels held prisoner by the government.

As I said before, if the rebels hold the rope and can tighten it into a noose around the capital at will, this rebellion might be all but over.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:25 AM | Comments (2)

August 24, 2004

"Clueless In Seattle" Needs Help

According to Google, someone came calling at my blog because they searched for: "Things to do in bed with a girl".

If you need the help of the internet to fill in that blank, you have no imagination.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:07 AM | Comments (8)

Whatever you do, don't mention the war

We are getting a German law student intern for a week starting today. We are taking her as a favor to a friend who practices exclusively corporate law primarily for German clients in the United States. This should be fun for her to see how litigation is conducted here. Our friend told us that she really wants to work when she is with us. That's nice. The fact is that she will be able to contribute very little of substance to what we do on a daily basis. Most law school summer associates are useless as are most first year associates. It takes a long time to be able to practice litigation effectively and correctly and they do not really teach you much about it in law school. Still, I've supervised foreign interns before and I have an idea of what to do for them and with them and no, I don't mean to imply a reference to our last President here.

We will let her sit in on a very contentious deposition scheduled for today and I will take her with me to Court later this week. I will give her some research material and a draft pleading and ask her to write me a memo about what I need to plead in order to get around the problems this client may have. I know the answer to that question already, of course, but if the memo is any good she can walk out of here with a small writing sample.

All in all, it should be fun.

Anyone recognize the source of the title, by the way?

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:54 AM | Comments (9)

August 23, 2004

Economics of Cars, a Personal Reflection

We own, outright, a Volvo station wagon. We bought it in the days following 9/11 when my wife's job was transferred to New Jersey and we needed a car in the City. Since then, we have moved out to Westchester and have been leading the you-gotta-have-a-car suburban life style. The Volvo has not been a fulfilling experience. Many electrical problems -- locks, windows, etc. Many other small problems. All of this means that I have lost confidence in our ability to drive this car another 75-100,000 miles as I had hoped we would do when we bought it. I bought the car with the intention that we would drive it into the ground. It appears as if I was wrong. Did I mention that it is very expensive to fix, too?

Well, the warranty on the beast is about to run out and I have been considering the cost of the extended warranties that Volvo will offer to me. They are several thousand dollars and they have deductibles, like an insurance policy does. They do not appear to replicate the original warranty on the car.

So, here's where the economics part of the post comes in. What to do? Buy the warranty or, and this is where things get more interesting, admit that the Volvo was as bad an investment as that JDS Uniphase stock and see if I can cash out the equity that remains in the car and buy another car for about or not much more than the cost of the extended warranty. Clearly, we'd be talking about a used car. That led to some investigation by my wife. She selected a couple of cars from Consumer Reports and compared them for safety and reliability. After Saturday afternoon driving four different SUV type cars (a moment of silence for the BMW X5, please, which was so great and so not a possibility), we have arrived at an Acura MDX. More precisely, the 2001 version, with around 29,000 miles. We will, I think, be able to swap out the Volvo for the Acura for a minimal amount above what the extended warranty costs for the Volvo.

The Acura will come out of their certified pre-owned program, is on the list of used cars recommended by Consumer Reports, has been serviced exclusively by the dealership selling me the car, and has a reputation for being a reliable car that can go the distance. Oh, and to extend the warranty (no deductible) on the Acura would be about 30% of the cost of doing so on the Volvo and I think that has to tell you something about the confidence that Acura has in its workmanship

Does anyone have any experience with Acura, generally, that they'd care to share? Anyone think that this transaction makes no sense and I have screwed up a major assumption? Did I get the economics right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:00 AM | Comments (13)

Heard on the Street

They must get a less profane group of construction workers slightly farther uptown from me. The following was from the NY Times Metropolitan Diary today and I thought it was charming:

Overheard by Patrick Keeffe recently as he walked to the office: a group of construction workers sitting on a terrace wall on 52nd Street, outside the CBS building. One guy pulled a cellphone from his pants pocket. Another said, "Hey, you shouldn't carry that in your pocket; it could make you impudent."
Posted by Random Penseur at 08:08 AM | Comments (4)

August 22, 2004

APB: Have You Seen This Man or This Woman?

Have You Seen This Man?


Seriously, he (the Scream) was stolen from the Munch Museum in Oslo yesterday by armed men who threatened the museum employees and then escaped to a waiting car.

Have you seen this woman? They also stole her, the Madonna:



Go to this blog, Secular Blasphemy, for a collection of a lot of links concerning the theft.

Posted by Random Penseur at 01:27 PM | Comments (6)

August 21, 2004

The Girl Child looks out for me

Tonight, while watching the most excellent Puerto Rican comeback against the Aussies in basketball, I notice the Boy Child is marching over to the bar. The Girl Child follows him. While I direct my attention to the game, I hear from over by the bar:

"Boy Child", she admonishes (she did actually use his name), "Get out of Pappa's Scotch!"

She is clearly looking out for me. Or my Scotch. Either way, she is such a good kid.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:38 PM | Comments (1)

August 20, 2004

T-Shirt Seen on Train

Coming home on the train tonight after a lovely dinner with my wife, I saw the following t-shirt on a young man on the train and I wanted to share it before the buzz from the wine faded and I no longer thought it was a good idea to post this:

My Other Ride is Your Mother

Now I hit "save" real quick before I can reconsider. Hey, I'm really not that mature.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:42 PM | Comments (7)

One Quick Thought

In the area of things that I find outrageous is this portion of a job announcement I found from the University of Toronto for a classics professor:

The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community. The University especially welcomes applications from visible minority group members, women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, members of sexual minority groups and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.

I am particularly bothered by, inter alia, the implicit assumption that, ipso facto, a member of a minority group will necessarily "contribute to the further diversification of ideas" (like how I threw all that Latin in there?) just because of their minority status. I am also troubled by the assumption that "further diversification of ideas" is something that should be an end in and of itself, that is to the extent I even understand it. In any event, who is this "other" of whom they speak?

I have no great love or respect for diversity "studies" or "scholarship" (dig the scare quotes).

Here endeth the rant. Please continue with your normal activities while I sit here and mumble to myself.

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:09 PM | Comments (7)

Quiet Today, huh?

My Firm has just gotten retained by someone who is facing a potential $40 million judgment against him. Partial summary judgment has been entered on the first cause of action against him, his affirmative defenses and counterclaims have been dismissed, and the matter has been set down for an assessment of damages hearing. A note of issue has been filed by the plaintiff to certify discovery is complete and the case may be placed on the ready trial calendar. We appear to be long past the 20 day period in which one may move to strike the note of issue and remove the case from the calendar. We have had no discovery of any kind and need to take discovery on, inter alia, the issue of damages, both the computation and even the existence.

Welcome to my day. It's going to be quiet over here today.

Nothing like getting retained in a timely fashion.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:39 PM | Comments (5)

Today in History

Been awhile since I've done one of these, but I came across a few things I thought might be interesting to share, and after doing a little quick research to augment them, I give you:

Today, in:

*1785 Oliver Hazard Perry US Naval hero at the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 ("We have met the enemy") was born. He died from Yellow Fever at the age of 34. The link is to a very nice little bio.

*1866 Pres Andrew Johnson formally declares Civil War over. Let me refer you to an excellent report on the surrender at Appomattox from the Southern perspective.

*1873 Eliel Saarinen Finland, architect, was born. He designed a number of interesting buildings (including the Helsinki Railway Station, his most important, View image of the Station here and View image of the Station at night here) and was involved with what I think is one the most important architectural competitions of all times, The Chicago Tribune Tower competition, in which he took second place (I can't seem to find much about this on the net, to my surprise). He also designed beautiful furniture.

*1890 H.P. Lovecraft US, Gothic novelist was born and you can read a biography of him here, where, at the bottom, you can find a list of other online biographies.

*1942 Isaac Hayes composer (Shaft) was born. He has his own official web site (a little hokey, but fun).

*1940 Leon Trotsky icepicked by Frank Jackson in Mexico City. I found an article about the murder but I know that there is a lot more out there if you are interested.

*1944 Graig Nettles one of my favorite Yankees' 3rd baseman was born

*1968 650,000 Warsaw Pact troops invade Czechoslovakia and "crush . . . the Prague spring".

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:07 AM | Comments (3)

August 19, 2004

John Kerry: Priceless

My dad just sent me this. I've been sort of trying to stay a little above the fray, but this just totally cracked me up and I wanted to share it here. Enjoy!

John Kerry: Priceless (View image)

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:51 AM | Comments (7)

One Reason It's Fun to Watch the Olympics with Your Children

We allowed the girl child to stay up late last night and the night before to watch the Olympics. Together, we watched the medal ceremony for the first American fencer to win a gold medal. As an ex-fencer myself, I was thrilled. The young woman stood on the podium and they played the national anthem. The girl child was playing with a stuffed animal and stopped when the music started. And this is what she said:

What is that music? It's so beautiful!

Thus warming this old patriot's heart a little more.

Here's hoping we see some more world records broken by drug-free athletes!!!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:48 AM | Comments (7)

The George Washington Bridge

There is a spot, in Washington Heights, where you can pull your car over and get a great picture of the George Washington Bridge. I tender it here for your pleasure.


Posted by Random Penseur at 08:29 AM | Comments (6)


Do any of you keep up with the insurgency in Nepal? It is one of my particular interests. If you don't let me give you a little background. There is a maoist insurgency, patterned after the Shining Path insurgency in Peru, operating in Nepal since the mid 1990's. Their aim, of course, is to bring down the monarchy in Nepal and replace it with a government patterned on the teachings of Mao, probably because that's been such a success everywhere else it has been tried.

The Shining Path is not a good model for anyone to follow, as the Council on Foreign Relations reports:

Shining Path, established in the late 1960s by the former university professor Abimael Guzman, is a militant Maoist group that seeks to install a peasant revolutionary authority in Peru. The group took up arms in 1980, and its ranks once numbered in the thousands. Experts consider it one of the world’s most ruthless insurgencies; Shining Path often hacked its victims to death with machetes. The group, which now has only several hundred members remaining, operates mainly in jungle areas.

While this conflict in Nepal receives sporadic coverage in the American media, today was an exception. There was an article in the NY Times this morning that made me think that the insurgency in Nepal is, for all intents and purposes, over and the rebels have won. The upshot of the article is that the rebels have called for a blockade of the capital, Katmandu. All traffic has been prohibited from entering the capital. And you know what? The drivers are listening and obeying. The rebels have isolated the capital with a single proclamation. Not one gun or bomb was needed, they are so feared in Nepal.

Immediate consequence:

Planes - which are too expensive for most people in this impoverished nation - and roads are the only way to travel in the Katmandu Valley, and its 1.5 million people depend on trucks to bring in fuel, food and other goods. Many store owners said they would run out of vegetables and other food if the blockade lasted for more than a few days.

Iswor Pokhrel, the minister for industries, commerce and supplies, said the city had a few days' supply of kerosene for cooking. Officials at the Nepal Oil Corporation, the country's sole petroleum distributor, said its supply of fuel for cars and buses would last about two weeks.

See why I think the insurgency is basically over but for the actual handover? The government has lost the ability to provide food and fuel for the capital. The people fear the rebels more than the they trust that the government will be able to protect them. It is starting to look like nothing more than a strong breeze will knock this government over.

Or, since this was reported in the NY Times, it's all bunch of shite. Still, the Times has to get it right sometimes, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:17 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2004

Debasement: An Update

I am not going to be updating this theme on a regular basis because it would never end. But this one, from an article I read at Little Green Footballs, just jumped off the page at me. It was contained in this Yahoo news article about Rep. Lantos who was very critical about the failure of the Egyptian government to shut down the tunnels the Palestinians are using to smuggle weapons in. Here was the bit that got my blood pressure moving:

[Lantos] added: "I am strongly and irrevocably opposed to arming terrorists," referring to Palestinian militant groups.

Holy shit. We now need an explanation of what a terrorist is? A terrorist is not a militant. We don't need the reporter to translate this. It was clear to us all. Or it would have been before this reporter and his colleagues watered down the meaning of the word until no one knows what anyone is talking about any more.

Pardon me, I have go throw up now.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:31 AM | Comments (4)

Do Not Pass Go

Do not collect $100. Instead, go immediately to Helen's blog, Everyday Stranger (one of my daily must reads), and read her post about passion and her refusal to be "life's bitch" .

Words to live by. Hard to do maybe, but something we all ought to aspire to.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:44 AM | Comments (6)

Poor, Old English Language, He Hardly Knew You

Did anyone happen to catch the portion of the Olympics television coverage last night when they did the story about the ancient Olympics site where the shot put and some other events will be held? It was actually not bad. And then, Bob Costas (is that his name?) got to speak and he showed that the English language is probably close to being on its last legs. This is what he said as the other correspondent signed off:

Props to you Dan for a fine report.

My wife looked at each other in stunned disbelief. Did we just hear him say, "props"? In the land which gave us the word, "kudos"? He said it so matter of factly, in that faux-gravitas newscaster's voice, the one that makes everything sound so important and so significant. There was no hint of mockery or self-doubt. No sense that he was being forced to use this term by an ever increasingly youth conscious marketing department trying to reel in the younger viewers. Nope. He used it like it was a perfectly acceptable synonym for the eminently serviceable word, "congratulations". I admit that hoary old thing as 5 syllables to the 1 in "props", but still. Not a reasonable excuse.

Normally, I don't look to sportscasters for examples of good English. In fact, the opposite is true. My favorite sportscaster malaprop was in the Fall of 1985 when, while watching the pre-game to some college football game, the announcer said:

It's very unusual to have these two teams meet so early in the season. This game could have national championship implifications

That one is so good that I have to think sometimes, almost 20 years later, before I use the word implication because implication doesn't sound as important as implification.

But I digress.

The reason Mr. Costas has me so heated up is that there is no good reason to reject many of the excellent words English has put at our disposal to signify congratulations or approval in order to replace them with the darling of the rapper set: "props". In my head, a prop is something you find on a set. Kind of like Mr. Costas, come to think of it.

We may not speak the King's English anymore, but we ought to draw the line somewhere. The way you speak in this country, while not as serious a matter as it is in England, will still serve to either limit or expand your opportunities. Many first generation immigrants will tell you that they learned to speak English here from the television. Teaching them that "props" is an acceptable way to convey congratulations is a dis-service to these people and to anyone else who might be led to think it's now appropriate to walk into the CEO's office and say, "Ms. Smith, props to you on that fine presentation you gave to the analyst community on our new cost accounting recognition system." Can you see that happening?

There are standards and we have them for a reason. Even if mine is the lone voice in the wilderness crying out for rigor and adherence to these standards, so be it. I know my wife will keep me company, at least, and English isn't even among her first two or three languages.

Here endeth the rant. Please resume your normal activities. I think sometimes that if it weren't for this blog, I'd be that guy in the corner. You know the one, the guy muttering to himself who makes you think, did he take his meds?


I just read the following article about the value of memorization in teaching children proper English and I extract the following paragraph for your consideration (in which the author does a much better job than I have done in expressing why the dumbing down of our language is such a problem with real consequences for those cheated out of an education):

All these benefits are especially important for inner-city kids. Bill Cosby recently pointed to the tragedy of the black kids he sees “standing on the corner” who “can’t speak English.” “I can’t even talk the way these people talk,” Cosby said: “ ‘Why you ain’t. Where you is.’ ” To kids who have never known anything but demotic English, literary English is bound to seem an alien, all but incomprehensible dialect. Kids who haven’t been exposed to the King’s English in primary school or at home will have a hard time, if they get to college, with works like Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick. In too many cases, they will give up entirely, unable to enter the community of literate citizens—and as a result will live in a world of constricted opportunity.

It's like I posited above, if you think props is a real word, you constrict your opportunities.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:25 AM | Comments (17)

August 17, 2004

Dreams of Vicarious Olympic Glory Slink Away

The Girl Child and I were watching the Olympics on Sunday, specifically some of the swimming. She was pretty interested in it and so, dreaming of seeing her on the podium one day, we had the following conversation:

Me: Those are the fastest people in the whole world swimming this event right now. Isn't that cool?

Her: Yes.

Me: Would you like to swim like that one day at the Olympics?

Her: [Pause as she thinks about it] No, I just want to swim fast in the kiddy pool.

And so my dreams of vicarious Olympic glory slink away.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:43 PM | Comments (8)

I assumed this was a joke

I get a decent amount of junk mail at the office. Often, solicitations from publishers who want me to buy expensive treatises. Today's solicitation was, all appearances to the contrary, not a joke. I was offered the opportunity to buy:

Digest of Commercial Laws of the World


They have laws? For international commercial transactions? Really? If I was doing a transaction there, I would be specifying ICC arbitration in Geneva or Paris with a choice of law clause that was somewhere other than Iran or North Korea.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:32 PM | Comments (2)

Yay, Jim!

Jim, over at Snooze Button Dreams, was profiled in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I think it has to make a nice change from the time he was profiled at the airport and they touched him in all of those inappropriate places.

Yay, Jim!

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:05 PM | Comments (3)

These things made me sad this morning

I have to go to the dentist this morning, and if that wasn't reason enough to be sad, I read the following things.

The first is from Little Green Footballs where Mr. Johnson shares an article about, in part, the opening ceremonies at the Olympics:

When the Palestinian delegation marched into the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremonies last week, they were warmly welcomed. When the Iraqis came in, they got a standing ovation and the loudest cheers of the night. Even the Americans were greeted with polite, if unenthusiastic, applause.

But the small Israeli team — 36 athletes competing in 14 sports — was met with quiet so complete it was shocking.

The atheletes must have felt so isolated and so hated. How horrible. How un-Olympian in spirit.

The second thing I read was from Elizabeth at Ravings of a Corporate Mommy. Elizabeth writes, so movingly, of her defender, Paul, when she was a young girl and was teased so cruely by the other children. Go read it, but I warn you, it will make you sad because Elizabeth is a gifted writer who can really make you feel the pain of this little girl. But it's worth it.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:30 AM | Comments (5)

Debasment is not another way to say da cellar in Brooklyn

[Warning: The following was composed primarily between the hours of 2 and 2:30 this morning and I have decided to publish it before I have any coffee.]

No, debasement is tradtionally something you do to currency. In Roman times, if I recall my Roman Law class from law school correctly, to debase currency meant melting a pure metal coin down, adding lead to the melted bit and reminting it in order to make more coins. Lead was a base metal. It had the effect of devaluing the entire currency and causing people to lose confidence in the monetary system. Under Roman Law, I seem to recall it was punishable by death.

Debasement is also something that the clever alchemists at Reuters and the A.P. and other "news agencies" (dig the scare quotes) are doing to the English language. How so? Let's take some examples, one at a time.

Instead of saying terrorist, we hear: rebel; militant; militia; or, my personal favorite, activist.

Terrorist means or meant (all definitions adapted from a radical who employs terror as a political weapon; usually organizes with other terrorists in small cells; often uses religion as a cover for terrorist activities.

Rebel means or meant: To refuse allegiance to and oppose by force an established government or ruling authority. To resist or defy an authority or a generally accepted convention.

Militant means or meant: A fighting, warring, or aggressive person or party.
[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin mlitns, mlitant- present participle of mlitre, to serve as a soldier. See militate.]

Militia means or meant:An army composed of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers. A military force that is not part of a regular army and is subject to call for service in an emergency. The whole body of physically fit civilians eligible by law for military service.

Activist means or meant: advocating or engaged in activism, n : a militant reformer.

These words, all perfectly good words with their own distinct meanings, are being debased, being melted down in a large Reuters kettle and, weighted down with lead, being reminted and contorted into the shape of the word terrorist. Soon, if not already, they will be read to be mere synonyms of the word, terrorist. And then our language will be rendered poorer and the readers will, if they have not already, begin to lose confidence in the whole system of reporting "news" (sorry about the scare quotes again, I can't help it). Why? Well, if activist is a word you might normally associate with someone trying to unionize apple pickers and then you start seeing it turn up in connection with a fellow who's activities include, say, firing an AK-47 at a school bus full of children, your view of that activity is warped by your perception of what an activist really does, or did before Reuters got ahold of the word. See it enough times and your brain, which is more sensible, will start to substitute the word terrorist for activist or, maybe, you will start to lose the meaning of the word activist which you had fixed in your brain. Everything just sort of melts down. And eventually, you distrust the messenger just as much as the message and you are not sure what anything means any more in any context.

I won't advocate a death sentence for these terribly earnest editors who, in their haste to avoid making some kind of value judgment about the activities of our hypothetical "activist", as the Romans might have, but I am open to suggestions for an appropriate punishment for those who continue to debase and contort this beautiful language and deprive it of all absolute meaning until everything is relative and not one word means anything until they tell you what they want it to mean.

One final thought, maybe we should just call the terrorists, freedom fighters, since by and large, they are fighting freedom all over the globe.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:21 AM | Comments (8)

August 16, 2004

Abbott Joseph Liebling


AJ Liebling is probably most widely known for his oft-repeated quotation that: ""Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one". In that regard, we might even consider him the spiritual father of blogs everywhere. If you disagree, just look at all the guest bloggers at the recent Democratic Party Convention where the blogger was elevated to the status of journalist and publisher in one fell swoop. But, that's not why I want to write about him. I want to call him to people's attention because he was a fantastic writer.

This is from a biographical sketch I found on him on the net which also has a nice list of the books he published:

After early schooling in New York City, Liebling wrote in The Wayward Pressman that "I went up to Dartmouth in the fall of 1920, lacking a month of being sixteen". Liebling did not finish his schooling at Dartmouth, claiming they threw him out for missing compulsory chapel attendance. He then enrolled in the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University and after finishing there, took the job at the Evening Bulletin. After his stint in Providence, Liebling went on to report and write for New Yorker magazine. While employed by New Yorker he served as a war correspondent; filing many stories from Africa, England and Europe. Following the war he returned to regular magazine fare and for many years after he wrote a New Yorker monthly feature called "Wayward Press". Liebling was an avid fan of boxing, horse racing and eating, frequently writing about each. In 1947 Doubleday and Company published Liebling's The Wayward Pressman, a highly quotable collection of his writings from New Yorker and other publications. Liebling's father was employed in New York City's fur district and his mother grew up in San Francisco. Liebling was married to Jean Stafford, a poet.

I am a big fan of Mr. Liebling and am re-reading his wonderful book, Between Meals, describing his time in Paris in 1926-27 when, as a 22 year old, his father gave him the gift of a year of study in the City of Light. The title refers to the fact that Paris, for him, became one long study in eating and drinking and this book is about that and what he did in the time between his meals. It includes time spent boxing and time spent rowing. It is a marvelous memoir.

How could you not love someone who writes like this about Vodka:

The standard of perfection for vodka (no color, no taste, no smell) was expounded to me long ago by the then Estonian consul-general in New York, and it account perfectly for the drink's rising popularity with those who like their alcohol in conjunction with the reassuring tastes if infancy -- tomato juice, orange juice, chicken broth. It is the ideal intoxicant for the drinker who wants no reminder of how hurt Mother would be if she know what he was doing.

Click below on extended entry for the rest (I put this in bold for my wife, who has problems with the extended entry function and I figure if she does, someone else might).

I went to the trouble of typing out some of my favorite quotes to illustrate how beautifully he writes about a whole range of topics.

On Wine

It is damn hard to find good writing about wine. Most writing is pretentious and does nothing to evoke the whole experience. Liebling can do it.

Tavel has a rose-cerise robe, like a number of well known racing silks, but its taste is not thin or acidulous, as that of most of its mimics is. The taste is warm but dry, like an enthusiasm held under restraint, and there is a tantalizing suspicion of bitterness when the wine hits the top of the palate. With the second glass, the enthusiasm gains; with the third, it is overpowering. The effect is generous and calorific, stimulative of cerebration and the social instincts.

On Getting to Paris

Here is his description of how he helped his father to execute on the suggestion that AJ spend a year in Paris before he got married, as his father said he was afraid AJ would do. It made me laugh out loud.

I sensed my father's generous intention, and, fearing that he might change his mind, I told him that I didn't feel I should go, since I was indeed thinking of getting married. "The girl is ten years older than I am," I said, "and Mother might think she is kind of fast, because she is being kept by a cotton broker from Memphis, Tennessee, who only comes North once in a while. But you are a man of the world, and you understand that a woman can't always help herself. Basically . . ." Within the week, I had a letter of credit on the Irving Trust for two thousand dollars, and a reservation on the old Caronia for late in the summer, when the off-season rates would be in effect.

On Boxing

Liebling was one of the great sports writers ever and his field of expertise was boxing. I recommend picking up The Sweet Science. Here, in Paris, Liebling describes what boxing is, at its heart. As I typed this in here, I realized that it's a darn good philosophy about the war on terror as well.

Defense is either preliminary to attack or an interlude between attacks. You move to beat the other fellow, not to avoid being beaten. Safety, relative though it be, lies in attack, too. You are safer inside a punch -- which means inside its arc -- then stepping away from it and possibly into its sweep. More, if you are inside a punch you are in position to strike, but if you are outside it, you have merely escaped. This is the simple essence. Whatever other inferences may be drawn from it are optional and incidental.

On Food

Liebling wrote very well about food. I happen to like eels, although I know many don't, but I chose this passage for the simple joy of it.

There are certain simple and unavoidably cheap dishes that are the I-beams of French cookery and are not to be tampered with; wine and ells and bacon and onions and herbs and judgment go into a matelote, and the eels should be fresh. The wine can be as old as you please. Within these classic limits, as within the rules of a game, there are gradations of success, dependent on the quality and proportion of the ingredients and on the termotactic gift, since no two stews reach their nearest approach to perfection in the same number of minutes -- or to be meticulous, of seconds. The good cook, like the good jockey, must have "a clock in his head".

Joy. That may be why I like Liebling so much. He wrote with joy and enthusiasm and verve. He treated everything with voracious reflection and seemed to appreciate the importance of the small, the every day. Liebling celebrated life.

I hope you all go out and discover him, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:25 AM | Comments (9)

Constructively Ignoring What I Can't Change Today

If you are looking for me today, you will find me at my desk, busy at constructively ignoring what I cannot change today. I begin my appointed task very tired because the boy child gave us an unusually bad night (my poor wife is a wreck) so I am forced to ignore the fact that:

* I forgot to brush my teeth this morning (spare toothbrush at office, whew)

* I almost forgot to shave but I forced myself to remember deodorant

* I left the house without my glasses (but found old spare pair in desk! Yay!)

* I left house without an umbrella but returned to retrieve one (it was raining and that helped remind me) and,

* I ran the rusty tip of the umbrella along the side of my formerly clean pants, unintentionally, but leaving a streak of rust along the left outside knee.

It is only 8:50. I believe that I will face, with fortitude, the rest of the day's little surprises. And if not, I will, nobly and with great dignity, close my office door and weep quietly.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:52 AM | Comments (9)

NY -- where everyone gets along and no one minds their own business

This was from today's Metropolitan Diary in the NY Times:

One recent afternoon, I was waiting in line at the silver counter at Tiffany. A woman ahead of me had just purchased a bracelet and was filling out a gift card. She looked up and asked the salesclerk, "How do you spell 'bar mitzvah'?" The salesclerk didn't hear her. I intervened.

"Bar mitzvah?" I asked.

She smiled and nodded.

"Didn't you buy a bracelet?" I asked.

"Why, yes I did," she answered.

"So it's for a girl?"

"That's correct," she said.

I explained: "Well, bar mitzvah is for a boy. Bas mitzvah is for a girl. So you should say 'Happy bas mitzvah.' " She thanked me, then I asked, "Do you know if they are Sephardic or Ashkenazic?"

Her face dropped. "Oh my, I have no idea. Does it matter?" she asked.

I replied: "No, not for the purpose of a gift. But if they are Ashkenazic, it's bas mitzvah, Sephardic is bat mitzvah."

"So how do I spell it?" she asked. I told her. She smiled and said: "I'm visiting from Milwaukee. Thank you for all this information, it's so interesting." She looked a bit sheepish and said, "I don't know any of this; I'm a Catholic."

I said, "So am I."

Surprised, she asked, "My goodness, how do you know all this information?"

I responded matter-of-factly, "I live here."

Brian Honan

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:03 AM | Comments (9)

August 15, 2004

Better than a letter to the editor

Thanks a lot to Linda who deemed my emails to her worthy of a post about the joys of fatherhood.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

Pancake Desires

I was awakened this morning by the Girl Child ("GC") crawling into bed at around 7:00. I asked her why she got into our bed and she said, "because I love you". I thought that was very sweet and then she added, "also, I was very hungry and would like to go out for pancakes this morning".

I turned to my wife and asked, "what do you think, Mamma?"

And the GC said: "No, you tell her what she thinks."

I said: "What? You mean you want me to tell her what she thinks instead of asking her what she thinks about going out for breakfast?"

GC: "Yes." [Tone: emphatic]

Upshot: I am signing off to go take the family out for breakfast. Why? Because I believe I have just been told by my 3.5 year old what I should be thinking.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:13 AM | Comments (5)

Political Satire

Thanks to Emma, who found it at Ace, for this link to, an excellent satirical send up of the neo-stalinist, MoveOn, by the bright young things at National Lampoon.

And there was much laughter.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:50 AM | Comments (1)

August 13, 2004

Job Opening

I came across the following job posting today:

UNITED STATES SENATE EMPLOYMENT LITIGATION ATTORNEY The Office of the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment (SCCE) is seeking two Employment Law litigators to defend the offices of United States Senators and officers in Title VII, ADEA, ADA and other employment cases. The SCCE is an in-house defense team of lawyers. Unique opportunity to combine employment law and constitutional law and to develop the jurisprudence with respect to the Congressional Accountability Act. Responsibilities also include advising Senate offices of their employment law obligations. Must have experience defending employers against employment discrimination claims, knowledge of Title VII, ADEA, ADA and FMLA. Excellent research and writing skills required. Strong academic credentials required; main law review membership preferred. Fax resume and law school transcript to: 202/228-3603. No telephone inquiries. Equal opportunity employer. Position open until filled.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to defend some of these Senators when they've been accused of, say, sexual harassment?

Posted by Random Penseur at 05:15 PM | Comments (5)

Next Generation Machine Gun

The Next Generation Machine Gun fires grenades (click link to bring up image).

Thanks to John at TexasBestGrok for directing me to Ace's post on this topic.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:56 AM | Comments (1)

I'm just a girl who can't say no

I was just called and asked to assume the office of Interview Chair for the Alumni Admissions Counsel, NYC Chapter, of my University alma mater. They assured me I was their first choice. What's a girl to do? Of course, I said yes.

..Groan.. ..Buries face in hands..

Need. More. Coffee.

To borrow a little from Jim, can anyone tell me where the title comes from, without searching?

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:27 AM | Comments (7)

This week just sucked

There is no other way to think about it, it just sucked. I will be happy to give this week the back of my hand and see it no more. Let me review.


Actually, Monday was fine, I think. I'm having trouble remembering back that far but I think it was fine.


Here officially commenceth the suckitude.

Leave work early to try to take ailing family (my parents') pet to the vet while my mother is in the hospital and my father is away on a business trip he could not get out of. Arrive to find beloved dog dead. See below for post on this. Handled disposal arrangements and broke news to parents. That was fun.

Come home to find Boy Child is running 104 degree fever. Call doctor emergency service.


Don't go to work. Take my mother home from the hospital. Spend hours at hospital dealing with release, getting her settled at home, doing grocery shopping for her, etc., etc. Find out her oldest friend has died that day. I knew that woman for most of my life. Very sad.

Boy Child still has fever but seems to be getting better.


Children do not sleep through the night before. Wake as exhausted as went to sleep. Drag self to office.

9:40, receive phone call from Girl Child's camp that nanny was acting irrationally and incoherently. Nanny told camp people that she lost GC, five minutes after dropping GC off with group. Turned whole building upside down before it became clear to camp people that nanny thought it was 12:00 and not 9:00. They called me to express deep concern. Holy shit. Jump on 10:10 train home.

Long discussion with nanny who has convinced us, barely, that she is not losing her apparently tenuous grip on reality, promises us that she will be home earlier at night and sleep more, and that this was just an isolated, strange event. We remain skeptical but hopeful.

Wife and I pick GC up from camp ourselves and take her out to lunch after I spend 45 minutes interviewing 4 different camp people to find out exactly what transpired from their perspective.

BC spikes fever again. Rush to doctor to be told it's a virus and let him ride it out. Whew.

Am asleep before GC.


GC awakes at approximately 1:00 a.m. complaining of pain in her teeth. Wife attends to her for 45 minutes. Wife tags out, I tag in at 1:49 a.m. I attend to GC until 3:00 a.m. when, after giving her some children's Tylenol, she goes to sleep.

Alarm goes off at 5:30, I go back to sleep. Wife's alarm goes off at 5:45. I stumble out of bed. GC is out of bed by 7, still complaining of pain.

Call dentist's service at 7:30, leave message, go to work, where I remain at present, ambivalent about our plans to go out for dinner tonight during what is forecast to be a monsoon.

I have a headache.

Goodbye week and good riddance! Other than breakfast with the GC on Wednesday morning, I'm happy to shut the books on this one.

I really need some sleep.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:06 AM | Comments (12)

Telephones and Toilet Bowls -- A Cautionary Tale

I managed, all by myself, to get my mom home from the hospital on Wednesday and to get her comfortably installed back in her own house. She was happy to be back, although, within 5 minutes of sitting down, the phone rang with the news that one of her dearest friends had died that day. She looked quite diminished by the call when she hung up. As I was leaving, she asked me to have my daughter call her when she got up from her nap. I told her I would.

After the girl child's nap, I gave her the phone and ran out to pick my wife up from work (I had her car for the day). The rest of the story is as told to me by my mother.

The Girl Child and her grandmother had a very pleasant chat until GC told her grandmother that she had to go to the bathroom and her grandmother said that she'd call back later. Well, the GC insisted that she could take the phone with her and my mother just sort of tagged along. Until the GC tried to drown my mother by dropping the phone into the toilet bowl.

When my mother called her back, the GC told her:

"Nanna, I am so embarrassed! That has never happened to me before in my whole life!"

The GC told us about the incident when I returned home with the wife and she concluded her narrative with the words, said very solemnly: "It was a very silly thing to do."

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

August 12, 2004

Red Footed Falcon

A Red Footed Falcon has been spotted on Martha's Vineyard, the first time ever in this hemisphere.


Posted by Random Penseur at 09:57 AM | Comments (6)

Zimbabwe, yet again

Regular visitors will have noticed that I am fascinated by Zimbabwe. It is sort of like watching a train wreck in slow motion. You just can't look away. That same elusive creature, the regular reader, might also have noticed that I am also very concerned about the impact of AIDS in the developing nations of the world. Well, today, the NY Times brought both of these topics together in an article about AIDS in Zimbabwe. As is my habit, I extract for you here those bits from the article which caught my attention. But first, a quick review of the thrust of the article.

The article is a snap shot of the effects of bad governance on AIDS. Briefly, people in Zimbabwe are suffering from AIDS at an enormously high rate but international organizations are reluctant to assist Zimbabwe because one, the present government will likely divert or steal the aid money and two, manipulate the aid for political ends. No one trusts the government, no one wants to throw money into that pit of despair.

Here are some of the statistics that stood out:

*In Zimbabwe, where 1.8 million people are H.I.V. positive and 360,000 need life prolonging antiretroviral drugs, virtually the only ones who get them are the 5,000 who can afford them. Relief workers here estimate that fewer than 1,000 Zimbabweans receive antiretroviral drugs free through government or charitable programs, with little hope of expanding that number.

*Zimbabwe, where roughly one in four adults is infected with H.I.V. and more than 2,500 people a week die of AIDS.

*The plight of this nation of more than 11 million people is evident at Harare Central Hospital, where workers say just 23 patients are receiving antiretroviral treatment and no more can be started until next year because of lack on money. It is obvious at the Parirenyatwa city hospital, where, local news reports say, the morgue reeks of bodies of AIDS victims whose relatives cannot afford to bury them. And it can be seen at one seven-year-old cemetery south of Harare, where more than 14,000 people have already been buried just 18 inches apart, and workers say they dig about 25 graves each day.

It is a hell of a situation. The only question left to ask is: when do you think that entire society will disintegrate?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (3)

August 11, 2004

Breakfast with the Girl Child

Just a quick note, to illustrate how funny it can be when a child answers a rhetorical question. We were at breakfast, at a local diner, and I convinced the girl child to take one more bite of her pancakes. I found a really good bite, put it on the fork, and this is what we said to each other:

Me: Here's a great bite, full of butter and syrup. Fat and sugar, what could be better than that?

Her: Well, we could have dessert.

Just so you know, I don't embellish these little exchanges. I don't need to.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:10 PM | Comments (3)

Small Escape from Reality

Today, barring any unforeseen problems, is the day my mother will be released from hospital and I, being the dutiful son, will go to fetch her home as my father does not return from his business trip until tonight.

But I don't have to go get her until the late morning, so I am not going to the office today and instead am going to take the opportunity to enjoy my daughter. I am going to take her out for breakfast -- pancakes and chocolate milk for her -- and then take her to her day camp. I am so excited. I told her about it last night and she woke up early this morning and came running into my room at 6:55 and said, "are you staying home today?" And for once, on a weekday, I was able to say that I was.

She climbed up into my lap and installed herself with her head on my collar bone and her hands tucked into her stomach to keep herself warm and just lay there silently while I traced her shoulder blade with my thumb. I closed my eyes and just existed for a moment. It was a moment of beautiful stillness with an otherwise perpetual motion machine. She then lifted her head and asked me if we were still going out for breakfast and I told her we were and she hummed happily and put her head back down again, visions of pancakes dancing in her head, no doubt.

I think today is going to be a better day.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:11 AM | Comments (4)

August 10, 2004

$209.28 -- warning: sad

That's all it costs, I found out today. That's what they charge you to take your friend away. I said that I was going to get my mother from the hospital but there was another problem today as well. And in fact, I will not be able to take my mother home from the hospital until tomorrow. But that's ok, I had other things to do today. See, when I left the office today, I was also going to deal with a medical emergency at my parents' house -- the dog was sick, too.

Well, the dog was more than sick. By the time I got there, she was dead. I find myself curiously reluctant to use the word dead. When I called the vet I told him that the dog had expired and later, when I called someone else, I used the expression, given up the ghost. I kept hesitating over the word, dead, like a mental stutter. But that's what she is all right. There was no question when I walked in that she was gone, that she had departed her body. She was lying on the floor and so terribly and utterly and unchangeably still.

I called the animal hospital and they gave me the name of the pet cemetery to call them to arrange a pick up. I was not going to try to take this dog to my car and drive her there all by myself, she weighed over 80 pounds in life and frankly I was just too sad to do it.

They came to take her and dispose of her for $209.28, including tax. I keep coming back to that number. I guess it provides a prism through which I can focus on the act of dying itself, on the sudden lack of the dog in our lives. I don't think it will make a good point to tell the girl child, but she has to be told something and I am leaning towards honesty here, to tell her that her friend is dead, too. She loved this dog and could say her name before she could say my father's name. Any suggestions about what to tell her?

I loved this dog. My parents got her from a rescue group. She had been abused but she found love in their house. And she died with someone who loved her sitting next to her and stroking her. Really, that doesn't sound too bad, does it? I think that this is what we all might want at the end if we are given the choice. This woman who was with her told me that the dog knew that she was dying and she kept looking out at the driveway because she was waiting for my parents to come home to be with her. But then she couldn't wait any longer and she sighed and went still.

$209.28 seems like not very much money to measure the worth to you of your friend when they're gone.

When the man arrived from the service, he put the dog into two plastic bags. Rigor had set in very quickly. I had to leave the room when it came time to put her head in the bag. I am finding it hard to write about it now, in fact. She was too heavy for one person to take. I helped carry her out to the truck and I lifted her very gently and the nice man was gentle, too. And then she was gone. A sweet and gentle animal, most of the time.

$209.28 is not much when your heart breaks a little as the plastic bag is closed and the door to the truck thunks shut and your friend is gone. It's amazing what a credit card will buy.

I'm going to go play with my children now. Writing about this did not, in fact, make me feel any better, as I had hoped it would. Instead, I feel the pressure of unshed tears.

Posted by Random Penseur at 06:11 PM | Comments (11)

Added Link

I've added a link on my sidebar to a page with some of the nice things people have said about me. A little bit of vanity never really hurt anybody, I suppose.

If you have anything amusing you want to add, in the words of Yogi Berra, I can't stop you.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

Hospitals -- follow up

Just a quick note, because I did receive some very kind wishes on behalf of my mother, but it looks like my mother is going to be released from the hospital today. That means I will have to leave work early today to go and fetch her home as my father is away from yesterday through tomorrow. So, I will most likely be out early.

She is pretty happy about it, not least of which because she is tired of listening to the woman across the hall, who is confused and old, continually moaning: "Jesus, help me, help me, Jesus, I need to go to the bathroom". That gets old fast. Especially since the nurses keep telling her that they can't take her to the bathroom since she can't walk, even with help. We're all going to get old one day, one hopes, but it ain't pretty. I try not to think about it, but I will for sure continue to hear this woman's raspy voice as she calls out to Jesus to help her for a long time. The only nice thing, is that the woman has fairly devoted children who come to see her all the time, according to my mother. It's nice that she's not forgotten.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:07 AM | Comments (3)

Handwritten Thank You Notes

When is the last time you sat down and wrote out a hand written thank you note? I bet, ever since you got that first hotmail account, that it's been awhile, hasn't it? I wrote one this week and received one this week and the experience was so unusual that it sort of stayed with me.

I had been invited to a thank you dinner by an acquaintance and I accepted and attended. This was last week. It was great fun. A stag night, as it turned out, full of bourbon, steak, and some very good dirty jokes and true (or so they claimed) stories. The details remain blurry and even if not I will intentionally obfuscate them here to protect the identities of the participants. Still, no arrests, no convictions, nothing broken. Our host also had a little gift for us -- a Waterman rollerball pen, very attractive. Totally unnecessary, of course, but very sweet of him anyway.

So, I dug out my old box of nice stationary we got from Crane's, a long time ago when we still lived in the City and having stationary with our initials on it seemed really important. It no longer seems so important now that we live in the suburbs with two children, but that may be a topic for another day. I uncapped this nice new pen and I luxuriated in the tactile sensation of pen moving over fine paper, paper with a high linen content. I wrote a nice little note and I mailed it off. I dusted my hands off and put fingers back to keyboard and wrote a little something to someone else. It wasn't the same at all.

The other thing I like about writing a real thank you note is that it takes a little time to be delivered. Email is practically immediate. You hit send and your little note gets there the same day, almost within the same 60 second period. If you write it the next day after the event or thing which eventuated the note in the first place, it just comes right away and that's that. Ah, but if you send it by mail, it might take a little bit longer. And it's usually a surprise when you receive it. And because it's been at least a day or two after the event, it has the effect of extending the nice feelings on the part of the recipient. He or she gets to open it, read your pleasant words, and re-live, a tiny bit, the glow that you felt when you wrote it. That's nice.

Even receiving the note is a tactile experience. It comes in a heavy envelope with a lining so when you pick it up it has substance and heft. It's been hand addressed, so you look at the handwriting for a moment as you try to puzzle out who wrote it. The paper used on the envelope feels rich and not at all mass produced, even if it is. You open it and it takes a little more effort because the glue used is superior or because it is harder to use the letter opener to cut through the unexpectedly thicker paper.

A handwritten thank you note is an event. Really, there ought to be a soundtrack.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:26 AM | Comments (5)

Overheard on the Street


Construction Worker 1: Holy shit. That motherfucker just told me that it was going to be another fucking week.

Construction Worker 2: Well, fuck him, that fat motherfucker .

Wide Eyed Little Girl, aged approx. 6: Mommy! They said a bad word!

Who says kids don't learn anything when school's out?

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:56 AM | Comments (2)

August 09, 2004

Getting cold in here

I just sent my wife the following email:

Hey, I just realized that you married me for my body.

Her reply:

Of water?

Like I said, it's getting mighty cold in here.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:42 PM | Comments (3)

The Right to Vote

The right to vote is a central incident of citizenship, that and the right to serve on a jury. There is a movement afoot to grant the right to vote in local elections, but you know it won't stop there, to non-citizens. I could not be more opposed.

The NY Times covered this issue this morning, in a typical NY Times friendly way.

The arguments advanced in support of this position in the article fall into three groups: one, they pay taxes; two, history permitted it; and three, diversity requires it. These arguments are all garbage.

Argument One:

"It will happen,'' said Tamrat Medhin, a civic activist from Ethiopia who lives here. "Don't you believe that if people are working in the community and paying taxes, don't you agree that they deserve the opportunity to vote?''

Calling for "democracy for all," immigrants are increasingly pressing for the right to vote in municipal elections. In Washington, the proposed bill, introduced in July, would allow permanent residents to vote for the mayor and members of the school board and City Council.

Actually, no, I don't believe that. Simply put, I believe that voting is a right best restricted to: those who have agreed to be bound by our shared system of beliefs and interests; to those who have foresworn allegiance to a foreign monarch or state; those who are committed enough to this society that they choose freely to take an oath to defend it and support it and sustain it; and, finally, those who intend to stay here and live out there lives here as fellow citizens. I don't want and don't believe it is in the best interests of our society to have people vote on important issues who might just pack it in and go back to their native Ethiopia, for instance, when it comes to retirement. Are these people who may have no intention of residing here long term going to be able to be counted on to make hard decisions about local bonds and borrowing? Are they going to say, don't matter to me none, I'm not going to be here in 20 years when that bond comes due?

You want a voice, take the oath. Simple as that.

Argument Two:

They also note that the United States has a long history of allowing noncitizens to vote. Twenty-two states and federal territories at various times allowed noncitizens to vote - even as blacks and women were barred from the ballot box - in the 1800's and 1900's.

Concerns about the radicalism of immigrants arriving from southern and Eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries led states to restrict such voting rights. By 1928, voting at every level had been restricted to United States citizens. Today, some argue, those rights should be restored to noncitizens.

"They're paying taxes, they're working, they're contributing to our prosperity,'' said Jim Graham, the councilman who introduced the bill here. "And yet they're not able to exercise the franchise. "This is part of our history. A lot of people don't know what the history of this nation is in terms of immigrant voting; they don't understand even that localities can determine this issue. It's a very healthy discussion.''

Jimbo, you ain't reaching far enough back in terms of history to understand the importance of the decision of restricting the franchise to those who vote. Let's reach back a little farther and consider the public debates held during the period when the Constitution was adopted, from 1774 and on.

The debate, as best as I can recall it, centered on the issue of property ownership. One side wanted to restrict the right to vote to those citizens who held a certain amount of property. It was felt that these citizens would likely be less inclined to approve flighty measures and more inclined to support the long term good of society because of their stake in it. The other side disagreed. The other side, obviously, won. However, it took years and at no time was it thought that the right to vote should be extended to those who have no formal stake in society. I will have to go back and re-read some of the debates, it's been 20 years since I looked at this, but they were fascinating.

If you go back far enough, it was clear that the right to vote was meant to be given only to citizens.

Moreover, let's consider, at least anecdotally, the change in character of immigrants. Immigrants who came to this country in the period Jimbo is talking about came to stay, to make new lives in a better place. They were not going back. First, travel was difficult and expensive. Second, the places they left were not very free or nice. All that has changed. My impression, and I don't have the time to do any research to back this up, is that the character of immigration has changed from those looking to make a life long change to those looking to stay for several years and then return, richer, to their countries of origin to retire, aided by greater ease of travel, among other things. So, why would it be desirable to give these economic, short-term immigrants the right to vote? I could see how a long time immigrant might have the stake in society we would want to see, but a short termer who may lack the long term horizon and point of view? This is not your grandfather's immigrant.

In my view, history does not provide the justification they are looking for.

Argument Three:

"A lot of communities are not represented by representatives who reflect the diversity in their communities and are responsive to their needs,'' said Ron Hayduk, a professor of political science at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and an advocate for immigrant voting rights. "It raises basic fundamental questions about democracy.''

Ron, you are wrong on so many levels. First, diversity is not a constitutionally enshrined right. It is not a requirement that a representative "reflect the diversity" of his or her constituents. It is asinine to suggest that it is a requirement. You want a voice in the selection of your representative? Take the oath. Otherwise, assume that your representative will represent your community's concerns as a whole. If not, form a lobbying group or a neighborhood association and go to the representative. Tocqueville stresses this as one of the great strengths of American democracy. Second, Ron, we have a republic and not a direct democracy. The difference is that in a republic we are one step removed from the legislative process by way of legislators who we elect as opposed to all citizens directly voting on every law. Third, basic and fundamental are kind of the same thing. Just cause you say it twice, doesn't make it so.

The right to vote is a precious thing. It is a bright-line test, too. Are you a citizen? Were you born a citizen or did you take the oath? If not, no vote. Can you imagine the administrative nightmare it will be to figure out who among the non-citizens should be permitted to register to vote? I shudder at the thought. No, this whole proposal is misguided.

You want to vote? Join me in my citizenship, there's plenty of room.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:58 AM | Comments (11)

August 08, 2004

The Fruit Girl?

I may have met a new candidate for the next blind date for my co-worker. If you need some background on this story, and my part as a yenta, click on the "Blind Date" category over on the left.

She was working at a local fruit and vegetable stand. I stopped to see what was fresh. By the way, I found some wonderful local blueberries and luscious ripe figs. Anyway, she is very cute, blonde, 32, and looking. Or so she told me. I honestly don't know what it is about me that inspires women to confide in me about their romantic histories and hopes, but it never fails. It may be because I am a safe flirt.

In fact, she did flirt with me. She said, as I fumbled with opening a plastic bag and she took it from me, that she was surprised I was married since I seemed to lack the "magic touch". I told her, I am chagrinned to admit, that she didn't know what she was talking about since I wasn't using my tongue to open the bag. She laughed.

I gave her my card and told her all about my co-worker. We'll see if she calls. She was cute and funny.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:54 PM | Comments (8)


I don't know many people who like going to hospitals, either for themselves or to visit others. I do not, certainly. I have had the leisure to reaquaint myself with my dislike of hospitals this weekend as I have spent the better part of each weekend day visiting my mother, who has been hospitalized with a serious infection in the bone of her foot. Bone infections are very bad. I think, and more importantly her doctors seem to think, that she is going to be just fine and that no surgery will be required to remove any of the bone. This is a relief.

The thing about hospitals is that they are a self-contained 24 hour a day universe, with rules and social conventions unto themselves. I think that the 24 hour thing, plus the odd casino type lighting used, is one reason why you leave a visit to a hospital totally exhausted. I just spent a couple of hours each day this weekend and I am kind of thrashed. Still, easier for me than it is for my mother.

It was funny, while I had to wait in the hallway for a few minutes, to watch one of the new interns flirt with a pretty young nurse. One of my cousins just finished his residency and he told me a lot of stories concerning the sexual hijinks everyone got up to at his hospital. I gather that is common.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:38 PM | Comments (6)

August 06, 2004

Desecration of Headstones: "Lest We Forget"

Kiwi Bob, at Silent Running, has posted the photographs he took at the main Jewish cemetary in Wellington, New Zealand after some as of yet unidentified brave individuals struck a blow for freedom, or something, and burned down the small chapel and desecrated 80-100 graves by knocking over the headstones.

Here is the burned out chapel:


Here are some of the toppled headstones:


It is a chilling collection of photographs. My heart goes out to the Jewish community of New Zealand and to the families who have to go out and repair the graves of their ancestors.

As it is written on one of the headstones: "Lest We Forget".


Such courage, striking at the dead.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:38 PM | Comments (4)

Test of photo uploads

If this works, we should all be seeing a great photo of the old Penn Station in NYC.


Posted by Random Penseur at 03:04 PM | Comments (6)

AIDS and Personal Responsibility

I think about AIDS a lot. I have no personal connection to this disease. I know no one who has it or has died from it, to the best of my knowledge. So, that's not why I care. No, generally, I am concerned about the impact AIDS has on developing societies. I am fascinated by how this modern day plague is devastating the African Continent, how social norms appear to be in the process of being rewritten as a result, how prevention and treatment are advanced and thwarted, how Asia is responding in general and China in particular, and how this might effect the world beyond the borders of those countries and continents most particularly affected. Whole generations are being more than decimated and the impact of such a reordering of population norms may not be felt for years.

However, I never really thought much about the impact on US society in the same way, since it seems like the US has AIDS under much better control. I guess I was wrong, at least with respect to the black community here. And, if it concerns such an important segment of our society as a whole, it ought to concern everyone.

The NY Times today had an article on the spread of AIDS in the black community in small, Southern cities: Links Between Prison and AIDS Affecting Blacks Inside and Out. Again, as is my wont, I'll extract some of the statistics that caused my mouth to drop open on the train today:

*Blacks now account for more than half of all new H.I.V. infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black women account for 72 percent of all new cases among women. During the decades that the AIDS epidemic has spread, the number of people incarcerated has also soared, to nearly 2.1 million, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of that total, more than 40 percent are black.

*In North Carolina, African-Americans make up more than 70 percent of all existing H.I.V. and AIDS cases, and about 60 percent of the state's roughly 35,000 prisoners.

*The prevalence of confirmed AIDS cases in prisons is three times as high as it is in the general population, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. H.I.V. cases are harder to count, because only 19 states conduct mandatory H.I.V. testing of inmates. But many researchers believe the number of prisoners with H.I.V. to be far higher than the 1.9 percent most recently documented by the justice agency.

I'll put the rest of my observations below in the extended entry section.

One thing missing, that I’d be curious to see is what percentage of babies born HIV positive are black. If you go to the CDC website, though, you can look at some statistics through December 2002 which might give you an idea about how children, those under the age of 13, acquire HIV. Of the 9,300 children in the US with HIV, fully 8,629 of them became infected as a result of “mother with or at risk for HIV infection”. If it is true that black women account for 72% of all new HIV infections among women, then I assume that the number of children born with the HIV infection will also rise and the black community, and society as a whole, will be afflicted even worse.* (*see update below).

Here's the kicker for me. I've been chewing this article over all morning in the back of my mind and I went back now to re-read it. I am troubled by the rise of AIDS in the black community, but that's not what I mean by the "kicker". No, what also troubled me here was that nowhere in this very long article does anyone embrace the concept of personal responsibility, that just maybe you have an obligation to avoid engaging in high risk behavior that might get you infected.

The doctors conducting the study avoid the topic, instead seemingly cast blame on the "system" that incarcerates large numbers of convicts.

"H.I.V. is an opportunistic disease that thrives on disruptions of social networks," said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina, where several studies on the subject are under way. "You can hardly get more socially disruptive than removing double-digit percentages of men from communities for extended periods of time."

Why are double digit percentages of men removed from communities? First of all, that phrase is neutral and suggests no culpability on the part of those "removed". It's not their fault they've been "removed". No, blame the system. It's like that stupid phrase seen of late, "hate the game, not the player". No, these men are removed by the criminal justice system and sentenced to serve time in prison because they have been convicted of, or pled to, committing crimes in these very "communities" they've been removed from. Is the criminal justice system racist, as we’ve all seen suggested? Maybe. Probably not from where I’m sitting.

The article focuses on ways to keep released prisoners from spreading AIDS in their "communities" when they get released. I wonder if that's not the wrong place to concentrate all the efforts.

Maybe the key to AIDS prevention starts at first with turning around at risk teens, to convincing them that college and the pencil is a better choice than the State Pen. Maybe we acknowledge that there is at least one or maybe more generations we cannot help and we concentrate our efforts and our societal resources on the youth who are not yet criminally or sexually active and we try to save them. Is that heartless, the suggestion that we write off a generation? Maybe. But I'd sure hate to see us turn into a developing nation again and maybe we can save the next generation.

With a full-time job as a security guard, she is hoping to save enough money to pay for cosmetology school. Her current boyfriend was briefly in jail, but he has a good job in construction and a house, which they share. He knows she is H.I.V. positive, she said, and he is very supportive.

After a moment of hesitation, Louise admitted that they do not always use protection.

"He says if he gets infected he'll just deal with it," she said with a shrug of her shoulders and a raised eyebrow that hinted at disbelief.

The thing is, though, if he gets infected it's we as a society as a whole who will have to "deal with" the consequences of his outright rejection of the concept of personal responsibility.

Rant endeth here.

UPDATE: I went over to the National Institute of Health who had this statistic:

The estimated rate of adult/adolescent AIDS diagnoses in the United States in 2002 (per 100,000 population) was 76.4 among blacks, 26.0 among Hispanics, 11.2 among American Indians/Alaska Natives, 7.0 among whites, and 4.9 among Asians/Pacific Islanders.

The statistical breakdown presented there is chilling.

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:36 AM | Comments (6)

August 05, 2004

Public Service Announcement: An alternative

I was sitting here listening to the live broadcast from WWOZ New Orleans (Jazz and Blues) when I heard the following song about, well, alternatives to pharmaceutical intervention for a man who finds himself with performance issues, and in the spirit of public mindedness, I thought I'd share the advice contained within the song title:

"If I can't cut the mustard, well, I can still lick around the jar."

Bill Coday

Hope this helps someone out there.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:34 PM | Comments (4)


Erin O'Connor, over at Critical Mass, has a very interesting post about the Conferedate prison camp at Andersonville. I found it to be a fascinating article, written with Erin's customary erudition. Erin writes about the horrors of Andersonville as follows (go visit Erin's site for all the cool links she included in the text below and for the rest of her great post):

Andersonville was designed to hold about 10,000 men. But by the time it was itself closed down later that summer, it held 30,000. Many were nearly naked (the Confederates did not supply clothing), all were nearly starved (what little food was rationed to the prisoners was often rotten or, in the case of corn bread, so thick with jagged pieces of unground cob that the men could not eat it for fear of the damage it would do to their already bleeding intestines). Those who had shelter of any kind slept under "shebangs," makeshift tents comprised of clothing and blankets draped over short wooden poles. The stench of the place could be smelled for miles. The death rate, from starvation, scurvy, gangrene (which could arise from even the smallest scratch), dysentery, and so on, was astronomical--nearly one third of the men confined there died there. The death rate was also, tragically, avoidable--what the Confederate officers lacked in the way of resources and basic compassion the local Georgians did not. They attempted on more than one occasion to bring food and clothing to the prisoners in the stockade, often robbing their own closets and tables to do so. But they were turned away at the gate.


It reminded me that I had gone to see, sometime in the summer of 2000, with my father in law, an exhibit at the New York Historical Society concerning Andersonville and, with a little digging on the web, I unearth it for you here: Eye of the Storm. It has, in addition to the below, links to photgraphs by Matthew Brady, including: a bird's eye view of Andersonville; a shot of ration distribution; and a shot of the privies.

Union Private and map-maker Knox Sneden (out of NY, by the way) produced some five hundred watercolor drawings and maps about his experiences fighting for the Union and then later as a prisoner of war. He also wrote a journal. The scholars at the NYHS considered the drawings and journal to "constitute one of the most important Civil War documents ever produced". The interview with the historian who first realized the importance of these documents makes for fascinating reading as well. If you click on the above link for the Eye of the Storm, go to journal entries to read moving extracts such as the following concerning Sneden's captivity in Andersonville. Sneden's watercolors are associated with each panel of the Journal. If you want to read directly about Andersonville, go straight to panel #15. I am putting the quotations from the Journal in the extended entry below. Go read them there, they will move you.

The following entry concerns the general conditions and how cold the prisoners were:

April 7, 1864

We are having warmer weather but it rains every day for an hour or two. The Rebel quartermasters are very wroth because several axes and shovels which they lent us to build the causeway across the swamp cannot be found. They threaten to stop our rations if not found and returned to them. The prisoners want them to chop stumps with. And at night sounds of three or four axes are heard in the swamp. The nights are still cold and damp, many sleep during the day in a sunny place on the ground and keep working at the tree stumps for fuel most of the night, while hundreds lay on the bare ground shivering with the cold until they can start a small fire next morning.

And this entry dealing with the gangs of criminals who preyed on the more helpless prisoners:

April 8-20, 1864

One of the prisoners was killed last night by some of the Raiders with clubs, he was of course robbed of his overcoat and money, his head was smashed in with a pine club which had been hardened in the fire recently as the black smut left its mark. He was an old Belle Island prisoner who had his miserable hovel near what is known as Raider's Island, a small spit of sand on the brook and swamp near the sinks. As it was very foggy at the time the Raiders got away and are not known. About thirty of these scoundrels keep together and rob prisoners nearly every foggy night.

The following extract was terribly poingant. These men were dying alone and isolated with no way to communicate with their families and with the letters they wrote being stolen for the value of the postage stamp:

The death rate for this month is very large, over 300 have died since 1st April! Sixty or more are lying helpless, and there is not much chance for them. The hospital (so called) will be soon moved out of the stockade to the hill east of the battery on the hill. Walsh and Colvin who were captured with me are very low with diarrhea and cannot walk. The other friends attend to their wants and cook their rations for them as best they know how. As life is very uncertain in this hell hole, and our families at home have no conception of the horrors of this place, we have made contracts with each other in case any of us who were captured together are exchanged or escape to do all we can to let our folks at home know our fate and have written each others addresses and residences so that we may personally apprize those who as yet do not know our destiny or fate. The letter which I wrote home from Crew and Pemberton Prison must never have reached my folks in New York or I would have had an answer of some kind. Turner probably has seized on the 10¢ silver piece which must have been sent in the letter for postage to me

I found this journal to be riveting. The exhibition of the drawings and maps was moving but, somehow, I think I just got more out of quietly reading the extracts from his journal sitting here in the peace of my office than I did in seeing the works in the flesh four years ago.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:21 PM | Comments (8)

Cuddling in bed

I got home late last night after a client dinner sprinkled with liberal amounts of bourbon, but not too much because I have to be in Court this morning and judges don't like it if they can smell the booze you're sweating.

The girl child called to me from her room. It was about 9:30 and, after I had gotten out of my suit, I went in and crawled into bed with her. We chatted for a minute and then had the following conversation, which amused me so I share it here:

Me: Did you have fun at camp today?

Her: No

Me: Well, was anyone mean to you?

Her: No

Me: Did anyone hit you? (part of the fantasy world of a 3.5 year old)

Her: No

Me: Did you hit anyone?

Her: No

Me: Did you get put in time out again? (Never happened, again fantasy from her)

Her: No

Me: Did you put anyone in time out?

Her: No

Me: Well, did you eat anything fun today?

Her: You mean, at camp?

Me: Sure. Do they feed you at camp?

Her: Yes. They gave us chocolate chip cookies AGAIN! [Said in tone of exasperation along with hand waved rigidly for emphasis]

Me: You didn't want chocolate chip cookies?

Her: No!

Me: What did you want?

Her: Bananas with whipped cream. (Which I believe she has never eaten in combination before).

Me: Did you tell them you wanted that?

Her: No.

Me: They were just supposed to know?

Her: Yes [emphatically].

Me: Sweetheart, I love you.

Her: Why?

Me: Well, there are too many reasons for me to give tonight since you really should be asleep.

Her: Ok, tell me one now and you can tell me the rest tomorrow.

Me: Ok, one reason is because you are my daughter.

Her: Hmpf. Tell me THREE and the rest tomorrow.

Me: Because you're wonderful and special, too. Now, who's the smartest, nicest, prettiest little girl in the whole world*?

Her: There are two. Mamma and me. Now I have a question for you.

Me: Ok.

Her: Who is the smartest and goodest boy in the whole world?

Me: Your brother?

Her: And who else? Pappa!

At which point kisses were exchanged and she went off to sleep.

I feel constrained to point out that she omitted any reference to my looks.

*Maybe we overthink this, but whenever I ask her this question, I put the pretty at the end because the last thing I want to do is make her image conscious, which all girls are at some point, and to let her know that I rank other things above her physical appearance. My wife and I discuss these things. You do have to pay careful attention to what and how you talk to a child, I think. You send messages all the time. I want her to be secure that she is attractive, because it is foolish to say it is not important, but I don't want her to obsess over it. Again, maybe we're overthinking this too much!

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:54 AM | Comments (13)

August 04, 2004

Time Suck of the Day

Today's Time Suck of the Day is brought to you by the busy little archivists at the Library of Congress where they have, online, all 65,000 documents in the complete George Washington Papers collection. This means you can go and read George's correspondence written in his own hand. It's fascinating and he had really nice handwriting.

Actually, the whole Online Collection in American Memory is mind blowing.

You will possibly well and truly disappear down the rabbit hole of time suckitude if you follow these links. Don't say I didn't warn ya!

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:30 AM | Comments (2)

Madrid Bombings

I was reading this morning an article from the New Yorker online about the bombings in Madrid and found the following observation very interesting. It just sort of jumped off the page at me:

The case broke open in the middle of the night, when a young police officer, sorting through belongings recovered from the trains, opened a sports bag and discovered twenty-two pounds of Goma-2, surrounded by nails and screws. Two wires ran from a blue mobile phone to a detonator. It wasn’t clear why the bomb had failed to explode.

Police officers realized that a chip inside the phone would contain a record of recently dialled numbers. By tracing these calls, they were quickly able to map out a network of young Arab immigrants, many of whom were known to Spanish intelligence. Data stored on the chip revealed that a calling plan had been set up at a small telephone and copy shop in Lavapiés, a working-class neighborhood near the Atocha station. The store was owned by Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan who had previously been under surveillance because of alleged connections to Al Qaeda. He was soon arrested.

I recommend going to read the whole article. It deals extensively with the political developments and consequences that the Jihadi movement expected would eventuate from a bombing in Madrid near the election. We have to ask ourselves what will happen here closer to November. Of course, I suppose that even if there is a bombing here, nothing would change for the US in terms of policy. There is no choice here between socialists and right wingers as there was in Spain.

The article is chilling.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:08 AM | Comments (1)


A comment left by Ensie got me to thinking about Costco. Ensie, in commenting on my first post about Costco, said:

Actually, the Costco "Executive Membership" involves a cash back feature. I just signed up for my first Costco membership last week and had to tell three Costco employees, "NO, I DO NOT WANT TO UPGRADE. PLEASE STOP ASKING ME!" You're absolutely right that you won't save any money, unless you're spending millions at Costco each year. Which is pretty unlikely.

This got me to thinking about the actual impact of membership fees on Costco's revenue stream, so I followed the link I posted before back to their annual report for fiscal year 2002, and I poked around a bit. Annual reports can be fascinating reading and this one was no different.

First of all, membership has been growing for Costco at something like 2 million members a year at the most basic level. Sales increased 11%, to $38 billion, and earnings increased 16%, to $700 million, during FY2002. Those are some pretty big numbers and it is clear that membership statistics are an important component of earnings for Costco because they break out the membership fees as a separate item on their revenue breakdowns.

Executive members make up 1.75 million of their membership base. These people pay $100 for access to all sorts of useless stuff. Do the math, that's $175 million in fees alone each year for access to the right to spend more money on services. That is a hefty portion of the net earnings of 700 million right there (I have no way to subtract out the costs they attribute to executive level membership so I attribute none and that's probably artificial and wrong). There is a cash back feature of 2% of your purchases. But as Ensie points out, you have to spend a lot. How much? Well, you are limited, according to the report, to a maximum refund of $500. $500 is 2% of $25,000*. That's right, to get the max payback you'd have to shell out $25,000 yearly. And then they'd cut you off.

Costco had total revenue of $38,762,499 (that's billion) of which membership fees accounted for $769,406 (million). There was an increase from FY2001 of 17%, which is partially attributable to an increase in membership fees. The membership fees generally are 2.03% of sales. So, I was right to say that there must be some cost they assign to the membership fees, even if I can't find it. I mean, it stands to reason right? If membership fees accounted for $769,406 (million) and there were net earnings of $700 million, then clearly not all of the membership fees are straight profit. There must be some cost associated with the membership fees, like the salary for employees who do the sign ups, or the cost of printing up the cards, or other things I can't think of. They must lump it in under "selling, general, administrative" expenses which, for FY2002 was a hefty $3,575,536 (billion), but they don't seem to break it out enough for us to see what the membership program costs them, although they do note that this includes salary, health insurance and workers comp. Of course, they also don't break out how much more the executive level membership class pays for goods and services over the basic level, so we can't figure out if the class has a greater impact on the bottom line beyond simply the expanded fee.

So, what's the upshot? Well, seems to me that membership fee income is very important to Costco, which explains why that guy was soliciting people in line to upgrade, and that Ensie was right, you have to spend a lot of money to make any program like this worthwhile.

Oh, and Helen, the annual report claims to have had three openings in England. Looks like there could be a 20 gallon of jiffy in your future after all.

Let me add a small disclaimer, because while it seems obvious, you never know: nothing herein should be considered investment advice or a recommendation to purchase or sell securities. I am not qualified to make investment recommendations and I ain't doing so here. If you're taking investment advice from me, you're worse off than you might think!

*Math mistake caught by Mick. Thanks, Mick!

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:36 AM | Comments (13)

August 03, 2004

Odd Searches -- Update

This search came from Google UK.

It was: "lycra shorts fashion disasters".

It came from a United Kingdom government server.


Posted by Random Penseur at 11:55 AM | Comments (4)

Behind the Curtain: Le Marquis de Mores

Our newest “look behind the curtain” subject is Le Marquis de Mores, a Frenchman who came to America, married well, moved West in the late 1800's and broke his teeth trying to compete with the meat packers by introducing ranching and meat packing at the source, challenged (maybe) Theodore Roosevelt to a duel, and moved back to France. I will show you how we go from cattle ranching in the Badlands to the Dreyfus Affair in France. After all, that's why I initially found him interesting.

I also found this guy to be fascinating because, after doing a little research, it appears that his story has been sanitized in English sources, including on US Government websites. This is an example of historical revisionism at work where the unsavory bits of this guy’s story have been swept under the rug so as not to scare the children or the animals. Seriously, this fellow may look normal enough for those times on the surface, but when you probe a little deeper, you find a real whack job, lacking only the certification from the professionals to be official and to compete for a world ranking. I elucidate below.

The Marquis and the Badlands

The Marquis first came to prominence in the US due to his ranching activities in the North Dakota Badlands in the 1880's. There is a particularly gushing tribute to him at the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation where you learn that the Marquis was dashing and "inquisitive". You also learn that he founded the town of Medora, ND, named for his wife, and which by 1884, "had a population of 251, and in addition to the packing plant boasted a newspaper, a brickyard, several stores and saloons, a hotel and St. Mary's Catholic Church." You don't learn that it was mostly his father in law's money that paid for this town and the Marquis' schemes.

The town was built to challange the Chicago meat packing cartel. Most of the cattle from the West was shipped to Chicago stockyards and killed and packed in Chicago. I'm sure you all remember Upton Sinclair's work about the horrors of that world: "The Jungle". That book actually led to goverment reform of the meat packing industry. The Marquis intended to slaughter and pack the meat right there in Medora and ship directly to consumers. It would be cheaper for consumers, cut out the middle men, and he'd get rich. He failed.

Competition from the Chicago meatpackers and a consumer preference for corn fed over grass fed beef are the reasons generally accepted for the failure of the venture, although as you will see below, the Marquis had an alternative explanation. Need a hint? Think about Cynthia McKinney’s father’s statements.

By 1886 it was all over and the Marquis returned to France in 1887. The Roosevelt Medora Foundation website sort of glosses over the further career of the Marquis.

The Further Career of the Marquis de Mores

The US Park Service has a biography of the Marquis and this is what they have to say about his further career:

Perhaps a word should be said here about the career of the Marquis de Mores after the failure of his Medora venture. Since his name is inextricably associated with the history of Medora, it is of interest to recount what eventually became of him. The story of his subsequent life is both stirring and tragic. De Mores returned to France, and then went to India for a year. Then he journeyed on to China where he toyed with plans designed to increase the influence of his native France. Returning to France he became involved in its political storms and it is alleged he took a part in the Dreyfus Affair and in trying to overthrow the government. He dreamed of augmenting the power of France in Africa, and as a means of doing so he is supposed to have conceived a plan to unite the Moslems against England. He went to Tunis in 1896 to lead an expedition into the Sudan and unite the Arabs in resisting the English advance in Africa. Against the advice of friends, he exchanged an Arab escort for one of wild Touareg tribesmen. They led him into an ambush at the well of El Ouatia. There he fell, but not until after he had left a ring of dead men around him. French colonial officials later recovered De Mores' body and returned it to Paris. He is buried there.

What's reaction upon finishing that? He's a hero, right? A romantic hero with a life that was both "stirring and tragic"? It was “alleged” that he became involved with the Dreyfus Affair? What, he fell in with bad company? Excuse my vulgarity, but, what the fuck? No mention at all of his less “stirring” activities? You read this and you're left with no understanding about what a strange and vile whack job this guy was. Let's continue.

The Missing Career Information, or why I think he's a whack job

The National Park Service and the Roosevelt Medora Foundation are sanitized versions. Let's look instead at what David McCullough says in his book, "Mornings on Horseback" at p. 345-46, where McCullough pulls no punches:

Followng a tiger hunt in India, he went home to France to proclaim himself the vicitm of a Jewish plot. The Chicago beef trust was now protrayed as the "Jewish beef trust". He turned to politics, launced a crusade to save France, a blend of socialism and rabid anti-Semitism, and went parading about Paris at the head of a gang of toughs, all of them dressed in ten-gallon hats and cowboy shirts. With the collapse of the French effort at Panama, he joined iwth the unsavory Eduoard Drumont, a notorious anti-Semite, in an attemtp to blame that failure too on the Jews. It was this mania that led eventaully to the Dreyfus Affair, and the Marguis, before he went storming off to Africa, kept himslef in the forefront. His platform rantings set off riots, and in a series of duels with important Jewish army officers he became known as on of the most dangerous duelists in France.

The Marquis was himself murdered in June 1896 by a band of Tuareg tribesmen in North Aftica, where he had set off on a lone, harebrained scheme to unite the Muslims under the French flag in an all-out holy war against the Jews and the English.

Well, that puts a different spin entirely on it, doesn't it? Suddenly his adventures back in France and in North Africa look a little less "stirring" and a lot more insane, don't they?

There you go, from North Dakota and the Badlands to the Dreyfus Affair in one or two easy steps.

I don't know about you, but I am bemused by the idea of Frenchmen walking around the streets dressed in ten-gallon hats and cowboy shirts in order to look tough.

Posted by Random Penseur at 10:39 AM | Comments (8)

Television is Evil

Does anyone really doubt that television is evil and will suck the soul right out of your body, feed on it, and discard what remains, leaving you only an empty husk of a shell? It is totally soul destroying, imagination killing, attention span reducing, devil spawn. Unless, of course, it's showing something good, like baseball, or opera, or ballet, or, football, or the Olympics, or some of the really nasty HBO programming that I like so much. But for kids, it sucks.

This cannot be a shock to anyone. Let's review basic television economics, shall we? TV exists as a medium to sell stuff. TV, public broadcasting and viewer supported broadcasting aside, is supported by the sale of advertising. If the shows are not pulling the viewers, then the advertisers pull the plug on the show and that's that. The writers may tell you different, they may tell you that they are creating art or cutting edge programming, or some other nonsense. Don't believe them. Content is paid for and driven by money spent to advertise. Children's TV is the worst, of course because they are selling directly to minds incapable of making critical distinctions between competing claims.

So, we don't let our children watch television, except with us and generally just some sports or dance programs. The girl child gets to watch one Disney video a week and that's usually that. No TV at all for the boy child because, at 1.5, he's simply too young. We took this decision a long time ago and certainly before reading this article today in the NY Times entitled: "TV's Toll on Young Minds and Bodies".

This article was frightening to me. I will pull out some of the scarier findings for your consideration. Just bear in mind that I've not looked at any of the studies referenced herein and can't vouch for their rigor.

*The average young child in this country watches about four hours of television a day and each year sees tens of thousands of commercials, often for high-fat, high-sugar or high-salt snacks and foods; thousands of episodes of violence; and countless instances of alcohol use and inappropriate sexual activity. By the time American children finish high school, they have spent nearly twice as many hours in front of the television set as in the classroom.

*Nearly 60 percent of children aged 8 to 16 have a TV in their bedroom.

*A child glued to the tube is sitting still, using the fewest calories of any activity except sleeping. Such children get less exercise than those who watch less television, and they see many more commercials for unhealthful foods and beverages. They also have more opportunity to consume such foods than do children who are out playing. It is no surprise, then, that the percentage of American children who are seriously overweight has risen to more than 15 percent today, from 5 percent in 1964.

*Studies have found that children who watch 10 or more hours of TV a week have lower reading scores and perform less well academically than comparable youngsters who spend less time watching television. Long-term studies suggest several reasons.

*One study of 2,500 children conducted at Children's Hospital in Seattle and published in April in the journal Pediatrics found that the more TV watched by toddlers aged 1 to 3, the greater their risk of attention problems at age 7. For each hour watched a day, the risk of developing attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder increased by nearly 10 percent. Children with this problem find it hard to concentrate, have difficulty organizing and exhibit impulsive behavior.

*Studies of brain function show evidence of direct harm to the brains of young children who watch television for two or more hours a day. Watching television fosters development of brain circuits, or "habits of mind," that result in increased aggressiveness, lower tolerance levels and decreased attention span, in lieu of developing language circuits in the brain's left hemisphere.

*Other problems associated with excessive television viewing are poor sleep quality and a greater likelihood of taking up smoking. A study two years ago by the Center for Child Health Outcomes in San Diego found that children aged 10 to 15 who watched five or more hours of television a day were six times as likely to start smoking as those who watched less than two hours a day.

To borrow from Animal House, fat, hopped up on sugar, and stupid is no way to go through life.

The article gives a website for appropriate child videos and I'm going to check it out later. What are some classic videos any of you recall watching as a child?

Posted by Random Penseur at 09:02 AM | Comments (4)

Story Time

Last night I got home from work and I was cranky and overheated. Cranky because work was less than fulfilling yesterday and overheated because dear, OLD, Metro North had no air conditioning on its train cars last night, at least on my train.

I walked in and was greeted by my daughter gleefully telling me: "I was a pill today, an absolute pill." That set her tone for the remainder of the evening. My wife gave the baths but, due to poor listening skills by my daughter, had to tag out. We do that, the two of us. When it gets to the point where you feel like you are going to lose your patience, you can call out to the other parent, "I'm tagging out" or "you need to tag in" and, like in wrestling, the other parent steps into the ring. It has kept us from losing our minds, this little game. The problem will be when the kids figure it out and start to game us on purpose. But, that's another day, I hope.

After the baths was story time. Story time is a critical time of the day for my daughter. We lead up to it with negotiations concerning the number of stories, the mix of stories (if shorter ones are chosen, can we read more of them), and the selection themselves (because I insist on new ones from time to time). Usually, the boy child could not care less about story time. He has shown no interest in sitting on my lap while I read and when I try, he loudly demands to be set free. Last night was different, though.

The girl child selected three books: "There's a Wocket in my Pocket"; Cecil's Garden" and "Kiss Good Night". I pulled the boy child up since he was within reach and we began with the wocket book. He lasted all of two pages before wanting to get down. So I let him down and continued reading to the girl while keeping watch on the boy with my peripheral vision. He picked up the stethoscope from the girl child's doctor kit, put it around his neck and then, seemingly content, came back and held his arms out to be picked up again. Whereupon he rejoined us for the remainder of the wocket book and seemed to pay close attention to the last two books as well. He didn't reach for them or try to turn or crumple the pages, he just sat there happily as I read with, I must admit, greater animation than usual. I gave a different voice to each character and tried every oratorical flourish I could think of to keep his interest and get him hooked on the experience.

After we finished the three books, I began to rock in the glider chair and he slipped down a little in my lap to lay his little head in the crook of my arm. He was obviously very tired. I told the girl child that her brother was tired and she leaned forward a bit to take a look and then promptly lay down herself across my lap and put her head on his little chest and shoulder.

And we rocked in total peace and tranquility and I didn't want that moment to end for anything. I'd rather be home with them now, honestly, even if the girl child is being a pill.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:36 AM | Comments (8)

NY is more fun

I was reading the profile this morning of a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration and this line about JFK Airport in NYC just jumped out at me:

In the last year, Transportation Security Administration screeners have intercepted more than seven million prohibited items. Typically, it's knives, guns and scissors. But you would not believe how many recreational handcuffs I have seen in property rooms at airports around the country. I don't want to single out J.F.K., but the ones I've seen there were lined in everything from suede to fake fur.

It's like I've been telling you, NY is more fun.

Posted by Random Penseur at 07:45 AM | Comments (4)

August 02, 2004

Random Costco observations

I was packed off to Costco by my wife yesterday, while the children were napping, in order to replenish supplies. It was pretty crowded and I had a little time to look around. Here are some of the random observations that stuck with me.

*I am surprised by the number of luxury cars in the parking lot. I shouldn't be, really. Their average "ring" at the cash register is over several hundred dollars. Their most recent available annual report (pdf file) is actually really interesting reading and I was particularly interested to see how rapidly they have grown.

*Part of that growth has to come from idiots who accept the solicitation to upgrade their memberships from the base level, ours, to the executive level, more expensive but with some kind of discount attached. I was standing in line to pay and some guy came over and said, "how'd you like to save some money today because I can help you do that". I was instantly put in mind of Guys and Dolls. I felt like if I told him I was interested in him saving me money, I'd be like Marlon Brando saying, "Daddy, I've got cider in my ear". But it's such an effective sales technique. What are you going to say, "no, I don't want to save any money". But really, it seems clear that you are not going to save any money.

*I walked out behind two obese men in tight shorts which pushed at their bodies in such a way as to cause bulges where there shouldn't have been. The bulges were easy to look at because they were wearing these sleeveless t-shirts with huge arm holes so just about everything could hang out the sides. They were perspiring profusely and I felt it was a gift to humanity at large that these two gentlemen had included within their shopping the generous economy packages of Irish Spring bath soap -- 12 bars, I had time to count the bars as I was trapped behind them.

*Free samples will attract hordes like flies on a horse. If you have any hope of moving quickly through the crowds, plan your foray to avoid the sample stands. I actually got close enough to ask one unhappy sample lady what was an offer at her table and she told me to look at the sign. I asked, what sign and she said it was on the front of the table. It would have been quicker for her just to say pork but maybe she was just doing her part to demonstrate the importance of adult literacy. Or maybe not.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:55 AM | Comments (4)

Memory of summer

I was reflecting on summer this weekend. It was, by the way, a glorious Saturday. We had some friends come out from the City and we whisked them away to the beach and the kiddie pool. The weather was perfect, the rum punch from the bar was sublime, the water was warm and free from jellyfish, the children made sand castles and hunted for the prettiest mussel shells, and the young women in their bikinis were as attractive as they were unattainable. Actually, the young women made me feel tired just by looking at them -- that's how I know I am getting old, they are no longer objects of desire! It was really as close to a perfect day as I have passed this summer.

But it got me to thinking about childhood summers past and those summers past included, without fail, a trip to one of the last old fashioned soda fountains in the county. It was in a pharmacy on Main Street and it was a long gleaming counter with round stools which spun around. It was always cool in there without being cold. And there were polished chrome things everywhere you looked behind the counter. I would order the same thing every time -- the root beer float, perhaps one of the most felicitous combinations every dreamt up, even better than peanut butter and chocolate. By the time I was old enough to go there, there was no soda jerk anymore, just the elderly pharmacist. He would come over and take our orders. Then I would watch him squirt the syrup into the glass and mix it with soda water. The ice cream would come next and I'd get a long spoon and a straw. The glass itself was tall and fit into a special metal glass holder contraption and the condensation would bead on the glass and the metal would get very cold. It was special because I went with my father, just him and me and because the making of the float seemed to be conducted with such special ceremony in a hushed place.

The pharmacy closed eventually, I don't remember when exactly. But I do miss it still. I'd like to take my children to one. If I hit the road with them, I'll see if I can swing by any of these recommendations. Or, if I get to Kansas, they have a statewide list.

Posted by Random Penseur at 08:35 AM | Comments (2)

August 01, 2004

A morning toot

This morning, it was just me and the girl child for breakfast. The boy and the wife slept in. The girl awoke by coming in and climbing in for a wordless cuddle. We took the show downstairs because I needed coffee and she needed food. As I served her, she passed gas and I asked her, "did you just toot?" and she replied, laconically, "yup". So, now bear with me because the rest of the conversation took place in Norwegian, I asked her, "er du en tootie pike?" and then I said, "well, det var ikke norsk", because toot and any variation is not a Norwegian word. Meaning: "Are you a farty girl, well, that wasn't Norwegian". And she replied: "Jeg er norsk og det var en norsk fis!" Translation: I am Norwegian and that was a Norwegian fart."

So there.

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:45 PM | Comments (3)

Odd Searches

Everybody does one of these posts, sooner or later, and I think it's my turn now. Here are some of the odd things people have searched for and found me with:

*"how to know the names of buddies"

*"spanked tushies" (this was all caps)

*"stealing gas"

*"watch my wife"

*"random funny things"

*"picture of 80 s power suits"

*"flamingo dolls"

Aren't you just a little bit curious about some of the people who performed these searches? Watch my wife? Do what?

Posted by Random Penseur at 04:23 PM | Comments (2)