September 28, 2006

A book recommendation

So little of what I have been reading these days is worth a shout out. Much of it will not be remembered next month, forget fifty years from now. So, maybe my standards are dropping, but I have to say I enjoyed, The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece , by Jonathan Harr. Harr wrote a very readable book about, as the title says, the search for a Caravaggio painting that had been missing for hundreds of years. It was entertaining, it was thoughtful, it was a bit light on the art history, but it was nice enough on the detective work and the explanations of the politics of Baroque Italy were terrific.

Ultimately, it left me a tiny bit nostalgic that I never followed through on the art history degree and career.

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Zimbabwe: let's review

I have written in the past about the slow motion train wreck that has turned Zimbabwe from a healthy exporter to the leading example of what corrupt governance can do to destroy a nation and inflict horrible suffering on its citizens. I have not written on this subject for some time, mostly because I despair of change. Mugabe ain't going anywhere and watching him recently in Cuba embracing Chavez and that asshole from Iran made me want to vomit blood. World leaders in the non-aligned movement, the Third World, and the African nations recoil from the thought of even suggesting that Mugabe is a brutal dictator who is crushing his country.

The Economist brought a nice reminder this morning on the train about how badly things are going in Zimbabwe:

Food, fuel and other essentials are in painfully short supply (shops in Harare, the capital, are even running out of bread). Power cuts are routine, three-quarters of the population have no job, inflation is at 1,200%—the highest rate on the planet. The economy shrank by nearly half in the six years to 2005, and most people now rely on remittances from some of the 3m-4m Zimbabweans living abroad.

One adult in five may be infected with HIV, and AIDS is thought to kill nearly 500 people every day. Drugs could have saved many of them, but there is almost no money for that. People with jobs see 5% of their salaries deducted, supposedly to finance a national AIDS programme. Yet getting treated in government clinics is difficult, and patients must pay Z$3,000 for a monthly course of pills. Private treatment is much more costly.

The world doesn't care and the internal opposition, when not beaten down by the police/army/security forces, is split and disorganized.

I'm glad we've had this little review. I feel ever so much more hopeful.

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Nine hours

The title in this post is the amount of total sleep I have had in the past 48 hours. In that time, I have managed to do quite a bit, however. I shook hands with the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon, had dinner with a former hockey star (now retired), attended a contentious and difficult board meeting, set up two dinner events for later in the year, gave a bunch of legal advice for free to the president of another board, played squash, lifted weights, did some pilates, and, oh yeah, actually practiced law for money.

If it weren't for the headache, I think I could be convinced that sleep is over rated.

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September 26, 2006


We, as Americans, are kind of misunderstood on the world stage, I think. The world thinks that we are nasty imperialists, bent on spreading our revolution by hook or by crook throughout the world. Maybe. I personally think that the world would be a better place for it but you can't make a retarded mule into a race horse, no matter what kind of saddle you put on him. That's all an aside. No, I think that the world misapprehends our nature. We, as Americans, are more likely to tend towards the isolationist than the imperialist. We prefer, as we showed in the aftermath of WW I, to withdraw into the comfort of our vast nation and let the rest of the world go on its merry way.

Look at some of our national icons for illustration. The lonely rancher, battling against the weather and the odds. Ralph Waldo Emerson Thoureau*, in splendid isolation up on Walden Pond (a lovely place to visit, by the way). The heroic sea captains, cut off from civilization. Astronauts, can't get any more away from it all than that. The list goes on and includes individuals doing individual things.

No, we like our privacy. Even Alexis de Tocqueville talked about our tendency to withdraw from society and the only thing that could bring us out was our self interest properly understood when we would join together into voluntary association in order to better govern ourselves or accomplish a limited task.

But privacy is something that cannot really be taken for granted. I am, sad to say, not a scholar of privacy rights. I am not even sure I understand anymore what privacy really means. If it means a right to go unmolested in your own home, absent a compelling reason or showing by the government, then I understand that. If it extends to your car, as an extension of your domicile, than I understand that perhaps a little less well. Does it extend to your communications? Sort of, I suppose. I guess it extends to those communications in which you have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Only, how reasonable is the expectation? No one, for instance, expects that a post card is private. Everyone expects that a private letter or a telephone conversation on a land line will remain private, again without a compelling reason otherwise. As for the rest, it becomes a bit more opaque.

Unless, of course, you serve on a corporate board. Or, to digress for a second, you enter a store which posts a sign that all persons entering consent to search of their bags. I hate that one, personally, and do not know what the Constitutional staus of such a warning is. I was never much of a Constitutional scholar in law school, I confess.

But back to the board. Let's say you serve on a board. Beware the phone taps. It looks like a lot of people over at Hewlett Packard are going to get into major trouble for tapping the phone lines of their board members to try to discover who was leaking information to the press. Interestingly enough, though, the stock price has remained flat during this period. That signals that no one in the market seems to care and that you can expect this not to touch HP's strong profits or results.

Let's say you serve on a board and are tempted to do this, to tap phones and spy on people. Let me make it easy for you to figure out whether you should do this or not. And I have to make it easy, since I have already explained that I am no Constitutional scholar. If you are thinking about invading the opaque area of another person's privacy, take the Talking Heads test. Ask yourself, seeking guidance from the masters, do I pass the following test:

We got computers, we're tapping phone lines I know that ain't allowed

(Source: Life During Wartime)

If the Talking Heads tell you that it ain't allowed, then you should know that your contemplated actions will most likely not pass Constitutional muster. And if you are thinking of using a computer while doing so, well, that ain't allowed either.

I hope that this helps clear up some fundamental misunderstandings about America and your right to privacy as an American (assuming you, gentle reader, are an American).

If you are not an American, by the way, and, say, you are an Italian. Well, don't worry about the Talking Head test because you have no right to privacy at all while conducting private conversations, as the recent scandal with Telecom Italia has shown:

On Friday September 22nd, as details emerged of the scope of an alleged espionage operation run from inside Telecom Italia (TI), the country’s cabinet approved a decree to limit the practice.

* * *

The targets of the spying operation apparently included many of Italy’s elite, including leading businessmen, bankers, sports figures, celebrities and politicians. But the true extent may never be known. According to reports, most of the records were destroyed after the information had been passed on.

Up to 500 people are reported to have been involved in the snooping, which began in 1997 according to investigators. But what was it all for? The investigators claim to have established links between the TI operation, a private security firm whose boss was a friend of Mr Tavaroli and the state intelligence apparatus, where he also had acquaintances. Some of the spying was done for clients of the security firm and some at the request of the government's own spies.

From the Economist, which is subscription only, so no link.

* Thanks to Tuning Spork for the kind correction.

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September 21, 2006

Still breathing

In case you were wondering, I am still breathing. I think. I mean, the chest is still moving, but that might just be from the production of nasty green stuff. The kids have gone back to school, the Girl Child has a tiny, little sniffle. I have the plague. The Viking Bride may be the next to fall.

In the meantime, I have new clients to tend to and to nurture and old clients to fix. Fix? Well, what else do you call it when you are at a trial and your client testifies on direct examination so differently and so significantly differently from what he told you would be his testimony that you ask the judge for a continuance so you can re-organize your presentation. In the face of stiff opposition, since the other side smelled blood, I actually got the continuance.

So, while trying to fix that, I got a new client -- the brightest most successful guy I know. And he has a big problem. If not handled right, it would be a regulatory problem. Ugly. Then, in the middle of all this, the senior partner comes in and says, what do you know about the rights of a New York corporation to issue new shares of stock and dilute the holdings, as a consequence, of a minority shareholder. Well, I've been busy finding out.

Lunch was taken at 2:30 today. I feel fortunate to have been able to find time to eat at all.

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September 15, 2006

The nanny state in Europe taken to a new level

This is just plain weird. Madrid, in conjunction with the fashion shows, has taken it upon itself to ban models who have a body mass below 18. The Wall Street Journal notes that would mean that poor Kate Moss couldn't work these shows. The problem is that the State thinks that employing such models constitutes a terrible influence on women who then, after seeing the spindly legged creatures, develop horrible eating disorders.

Please. As if.

This is the nanny state reductio ad absurdum. The thought that the State is basing permission to work on a person's appearance, all for the greater good, strikes me as so ridiculous, so controlling, so totalitarian, that I could scream.

Madrid's regional government introduced the prohibition on the premise that the fashion industry has a responsibility to promote healthy body images. A Spanish organization that helps anorexics and bulimics had campaigned for the ban, based on the assumption that girls are inspired to starve themselves by what they see on the catwalk.

* * *

The doctor-enforcers who will be on site next week to boot the underweight won't make fashion a kinder, gentler business. Organizers are rejecting models with a body mass index of less than 18, meaning that, for instance, über-waif Kate Moss would not be welcome.

Here's the link to the article, although you may not be able to bring it up.

Posted by Random Penseur at 03:56 PM | Comments (14)

Must be a language difference

See, here in the United States, when we say "petting zoo", we don't mean a place where you get to pet with the animals, much less have sexual relations with them. I guess that must be why the article is titled "Animal Bordellos". Think the animals have a union?

Note to self: do not take kids to the zoo in Norway or Denmark next year.

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September 11, 2006

Pardon me, but, I have to ask, can you maybe just shut your mouths?

Sunday was packed full of things to do. But we still managed, all of us, to steal away and let the kids take their shoes off and run around and play at the beach playground. It was a perfect afternoon for a spur of the moment beach visit.

I sat sort of in the middle of the playground under some shade with the baby on my chest as I kept an eye on the Girl Child who was playing with an old camp friend (the Girl Child was remarkably upfront about requesting that the mother of said camp friend push her on the tire swing). It was very peaceful as I sat there, rubbing my cheek against the baby's head and cooing at him while he tried to gum my thumb off. I actually started to relax.

And then came two mothers who sat beside me. One briefly remarked to me that our two daughters were in the same kindergarten class but, before I could introduce myself, she turned to her friend and they tuned me out. Oh, but I wish I could have tuned them out. See, they weren't just any two moms, they were Alpha-Moms. Alpha-Mom1 kicked things off by talking about her problems with her publishing company, about how she wasn't getting the support she needed, even though her book had, at one point, been below 1000 on Amazon for a whole week! Alpha-Mom2 really didn't have much to say about that, couldn't really top it, but did manage to express a lot of sympathy and support.

Then, however, the battleground shifted. It turned to their children. The big guns came out as they each tried to out do each other on the "my child is doing more interesting activities than your child front".

It was horrifying. They sat there and, in the name of good parenting, tried to top each other while pretending to share information. It went from soccer here ("if they get good enough, maybe they can be on traveling teams together!"), to ballet here, to tennis there, back to figure skating, and on. Alpha 2 got some of her own back against the book thing by pointing out that she had signed up for every available slot for lunch room monitoring and recess monitoring. Alpha 1 countered by playing up her own college athletics experiences (to look at this woman, you would be astounded to hear she ever broke a sweat on purpose, by the way) and then going into how she wanted her girl to learn how to play squash. That kind of topped it all since Alpha 2 had never even heard of squash.

[Full disclosure: I had already tried to sign the Girl Child up for squash but she has to wait until she's 7. I did it because I thought she'd like it and it would be fun for us to play together.]

As Alpha 1 extolled the virtues of squash and how she had played in college and all of her many triumphs on the squash court, I gave up. I got up and walked away. I couldn't take it any longer. My own anxiety level was shooting through the roof as I realized how poorly (read: sensibly) scheduled my daughter was. Seriously. I mean, I had heard of parents like these but never seen them in the wild, in their native habitat -- the playground.

I walked over to the parents of the kid my daughter was playing with, introduced myself, and begged for shelter. They kindly took me in and calmed me down.

Oh, I forgot, the only time the two Alphas paid any attention to me was when I had occasion to address a few remarks in Norwegian to the Girl Child. The two Alphas fell silent and then immediately wanted to know what language I was speaking to my daughter in. I have to think that the demand for Norwegian language tutors is going to skyrocket in Westport as a result. Just skyrocket.

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No room for doubt

Saturday was a busy day. I had the Boy Child and the Girl Child showered, dressed, fed and out of the house by 7:15 a.m. for an 8 o'clock dentist appointment. They both did very well at the dentist and loaded up on small things out of the prize chest -- stickers, plastic bugs, and cheap jewelry. On the way back to CT, we had the following exchange:

GC: Pappa, you better roll the windows up so our stickers don't blow out.

BC: Uh, oh! Girl Child, your butterfly necklace just blew out the window!

GC: WHAT!?!?!!!

BC: I kidding.

GC: [tone: a little angry and very firm] Boy Child! Do NOT joke about jewelry blowing out the window!

Just so we're all clear. Some things, you just shouldn't joke about.

I don't mean to give the impression that she's a girly-girl. Far from it.

Me: GC, are you playing at all with that girl Sophie in your class?

GC: No, she's mean.

Me: Why do you say that?

GC: She says stupid things.

Me: Like what?

GC: Like girls should only play with girls and boys should only play with boys. That's stupid. I like to play with [rattles off a list of six boys].

One mother, who knew the GC from pre-school and is now a recess monitor at kindergarten, confirmed for me that while a lot of the girls like to sit around, the GC prefers to run around and play with the boys. Good for her, I say. In the long run, it is a healthier attitude.

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September 08, 2006

The Girl Child's Oral Advocacy skills improve

I was putting the Girl Child to bed last night and we had the following interchange:

GC: Pappa, can I have some glue?

Me: Why?

GC: To glue my little bench back together.

Me: Which bench?

GC: You know, the little one I got in Norway and which broke? Which clearly wasn't my fault since I said we should have left it in Norway.

I worry about her telling her teacher that she's "clearly" wrong. I mean, what amuses me. . .

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Archeology ... yesterday. Or the day before. Not really today, though


This story broke first on September 6, but I was too busy to do anything about it until now: Viking find in Østfold, Norway. Aftenposten reports:

Archeologists have found a boat in a burial place near the E6 highway in Bjørnstad in Østfold County in southeast Norway.

* * *

The ship's contours are 6.6 meters (21.65 feet) long and 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) wide.

Although the find is the first of its type in the Østfold Country area, it resembles several ships of the same size found in Gulli in Tønsberg two years ago.

"The boats in Vestfold (County, over the Oslo fjord) were all from the Viking period. It would be a sensation if this was not also from the same era," Rødsrud said.

There is a cool article from PBS on Norwegian Viking Ships and you should certainly also go check out the Norwegian museum website which has links to the individual boats themselves.

A new ship. Very cool.

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September 06, 2006

A recap

In a sort of vaguely chronological order, I am going to recap the highlights of the last couple of days.

* The power failed in our little Connecticut hamlet again. I have begun to expect the power to fail when so much as someone sneezes near the utility poles. We were without electricity from about noon on Saturday to 4:22 a.m. on Monday morning. Hence, no blogging, of course. Most of Sunday was spent at my parents, where we hastened to in a successful attempt to preserve all of the expressed breast milk in the freezer and fridge. I am waiting to hear from the power system backup people to find out how much a backup system will cost. I am fine with throwing out a fridge or freezer full of food from time to time. Really, I have become resigned to that. What worries me more is the loss of power and thus heat in the dead of winter, when my pipes might just freeze up as a result. That is what terrifies me the most. So, I may be writing a big old check now to avoid writing several big old checks later.

* The Girl Child has commenced kindergarten with no small amount of trepidation. I made her lunch on Monday night for her first day on Tuesday. I cooked, a lot. I made a roast beef and also roasted a turkey breast and some chicken breasts so that she would have yummy, homemade lunch. A lunch made with love. I told her this and she insisted I blow a kiss into the ziplock bag. I think she understood entirely.

* The school bus was scary. We walked down our very long driveway to where the bus would pick her up, trying not to trip on the detritus from the recent storm -- all of the dead branches and twigs. The bus arrived and she took a step back, saying: "That bus is full of big kids! This isn't a little kid bus!" But I urged her on just the same, telling her that it would be fine and she had practiced taking the bus and was absolutely ready. She sort of squared her shoulders, her little back up hanging down her back, and off she went up into the bus. She found a seat next to window towards the back, which is where she had hoped to sit and looked out at me. We waved to each other. The bus left. I did not cry, although it was a very close thing.

* I spoke to her after she arrived home and confirmed that all of her fears were for naught. She had a wonderful time, had no problems finding her way to her classroom ("all by myself, Pappa!"), had no problems getting on the right bus to come home -- although some other child blew it, much to her amazement, had and enjoyed her lunch (insisting that I prepare the same thing for the next day for her), and came home with a present from her teacher -- a new book. When I asked her if she was reading it now, she told me no, that she was "experiencing some of my old stuff right now". I see. I sent a note back today to her teacher to thank her for making the Girl Child's first day so wonderful.

* I had a follow up appointment with the urologist for him to examine the fishing tackle. A word of caution. Let's say you get the occasional migraine from time to time. You know the kind, the ones that make you vomit because the pain gets so bad. Let's say that you get one of those just as you leave the office to go see the doctor. You try to sleep on the train on the way out to Greenwich and you sort of succeed but the pain doesn't retreat. You are in full blown migraine without pain killers by the time you have your appointment. Given the vomiting thing, I caution you never, ever let a urologist manipulate your testicles, no matter how gently or professionally done. There just is no way that can help the nasua.

* I got a clean bill of health from the doctor and am feeling remarkably more chipper down south. The pain is way down to just the occasional twinge and the swelling is mostly gone. Up north, however, the migraine lingers today, even though I blasted it yesterday with tylenol and took a two hour nap when I got home. The journey home was not fun. Thrashing around on the bed, moaning, while waiting for the tylenol to kick in was also not fun.

* As I said, the migraine lingers. I know this because my speech is slightly impaired and I can feel the thing lurking at the back of my head. I'm off to take more tylenol now. I wish you all a happy day.

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September 01, 2006

Still home

I did not go to the office today. I gather that, all predictions to the contrary, they appear to be muddling through without me. Indeed, I am not even sure they noticed I was gone.

Seriously, I decided not to go in today since the pain and the swelling both appear to be receding. This is good news and I thought it was better not to push it.

I did have to go out, yesterday, to take the Girl Child to her open classroom at the kindergarten where we met her new teacher and some of her classmates. I thought she was doing just fine about it all but there were some anxieties that came out later. She came into the baby's room after we put her to bed and said to my wife: "Mama, I can't sleep, I'm thinking about kindergarten and I have some . . . concerns." She then enumerated them for my wife, including concerns about the bus, about making friends, about lunch, etc. We tried our best to allay her concerns but I think that it will simply take time. She's going to do just fine.

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