Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Candid photos of inanimate objects

I think that's my forte -- if that's the right word -- in digital picture-taking. I mean photos of things as we find them, without adjusting the scene or dolling up the photograph with lots of stylized technique. I guess most of us do that when our pictures don't have people in them.

Here's a candid photo from the bathroom chez Oscar. I call it "Bathroom Reading."

Left: Zen Alarm Clock. Right: milk bottle with white tulips.
Foreground: World War II Infantry Tactics -- Company and Battalion.


Wednesday Word Verifictionary -- The Usual Suspects?

Complaints, criticisms and self doubt about the Word Verifictionary contest have slowly built up to a critical mass. One blogger, whom we will refer to as Tonya, complains "how come I never win?" When I point out that she has never in fact ventured a word verifiction, she replies that the whole idea of it is lame.

Sleep Goblin has long suspected that all of the word verifiction entries are posted as "at least" honorable mention, a sort of competition-rigging that for some reason she finds off-putting. Let me assure you all that editorial discretion is excercised: not everybody is a winner (e.g., Tonya), and not every entry is posted in the Wednesday Winners' list.

Moral Turpitude doesn't see the humor in the very funny WV I left on her comments:
nizdlab: "You're dyslexic and you have a bad cold -- what are you going to do now?"

"I'b goig to nizdlab!"
I grow concerned that the contest is becoming too insular -- that it's just the usual suspects. But I'm glad to see a few new names in this week's winners' list. And if you're interesting in joining in but feel like you don't know how -- Joint Tortfeasor -- here are the simple instructions:

Post a comment. When you see the word verification letter string, try to make it into a word and give a definition. Type the letter string and your definition at the end of your comment. And voila! Honorable Mention at least! Well, maybe.

And without further delay, this week's prizes:

First Prize
neel mehta
mrfucc: a male escort.

Runner(s) Up

1. "Oy, yes. You go" What you say to your SO when you have too much work and they remind you of a social engagement.

2. (oh-ee-SHU-goh) A new collectable card game, replacing Yuh-gi-oh cards.
abduesk: doing abdominal crunches under your desk at work.
frzbx (frizz box): A special wig box for frizzy wigs.

Special "Are You Trying to Tell Me Something?" Award
neel mehta
uucis: (YOU-cus): that sticky residue caused by you clinging to me.

Honorable Mentions
aldfurbl (ald-FUR-ball): what you get when you elect a cat to the City Council

rytth - the primary ingredient in risotto, as pronounced by a teenager with extensive orthodontic apparatus.

Quinn the Brain
wwgbffu -- what would George Bush f*ing foul up?
warren p.k.
wcwjw = what comedy would jesus watch?

dloadkw -- "de-load-queue" -- the line that forms behind a truck as people buy black market goods

phrld = ("furled") how to describe a long phone cord that is all twisted and kinked. (Cf. "unphrld" -- the way the cord looks after you stand there holding it high with the earset hanging down so that the cord can unwind and become straight again)

inrtggv - inert gigavolt -- also known as a defective NASA space shuttle battery

mfdwux - a fleetingly popular hair pomade, used primarily for spiking hair and mohawks.

mzxemoin - (mizz-eh-moyn) an additional seating tier, between the loge and the mezzanine

jcfuwdad - (jay-cee-few-dad) The only Christian city in Iraq.

ghgmv - (gig MV)
1. A Billion-Million Volts
2. The truck a band uses to get to gigs.

Janelle Renee
pogfxr (pog[s] fixer): A person who organizes an adult-themed Pogs game.

cfyozmt (Sci-Fi Oz-mat): Centrally located in the twilight zone, between the Land of Oz and the Death Star, there is a convenient Laundromat where flying monkeys and rebel troops meet to do their laundry.

Honorablee Me(hta)ntion

neel mehta
lyclcty (LYC-al-city): where werewolves wolve.

xupzubt (X-ups-you-butt): An unknown item found in a human subject of alien rectal probing.

nubgkyla (nub-geek-EE-la): someone who gets unnecessarily excited about nubs.

alqzyg (al-KEE-cig): why not destroy your liver and lungs at the same time?

skrfq: a hidden rock on a ski slope.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Top Chef -- finale thoughts

The Top Chef finale aired last week.

1. I ended up liking it as much as Project Runway. Message to my three-legged friend: the episode you watched with me was regarded by all Top Chef regular viewers as the worst one. Really.

2. Dave, who got all word on Tiffani with his line "I'm not your bitch, bitch," is himself a total bitch. He's a whiner, a self-centered drama queen, and has a big ol' mean streak. And despite the way the show was edited to make him look like a mensch, I think he lacked integrity in the last episode -- showing up drunk to sou-chef for Tiffani, trying to claim credit for her dessert, etc. He makes a big deal about how unfair it is that his great T-shirt line will be licensed by others, but is it even remotely possible that "I'm not your bitch, bitch" is original with him?

3. Tom Colicchio's blog post for the final episode provided really interesting back story that reminds us how the 1-hour edit can reshape or distort the reality. For instance, the show made it look like Tiffani was overbearing when she insisted Dave get his wine glass off the cooking line, and a liar when she claimed credit for "his" dessert. But in fact, according to Tom, the wine glass was a major health code violation and a hanging offense in professional kitchens; and it was Dave who was overclaiming. I came away from that blog post persuaded that Tom is a mensch and that the judging was legit and not rigged by the producers.

4. Nevertheless, last word to Althouse: "At one point, somebody said that in the end of the day it is not a popularity contest. But, in the end of the day, it was."

Monday, May 29, 2006


Comparative asparagus

Our local farmers market on Saturday had this:


Meanwhile, in Germany.


I warmly welcome polite dissenting commenters

... but I wonder whether there's a conservative conspiracy. I wonder whether a well-funded conservative organization has enlisted people to comment on "liberal" blogs. The organization assigns one regular commenter to each target blog.

According to my conspiracy theory, Bryan got tired of my blog and asked for reassignment. (You haven't seen him around here lately, have you?) And they've replaced him with DBP.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


A Great Day in Madison

Blogger Janelle Renee flew in from California, and I flew in from Wherever It Is That I Live, to join a core of Madison bloggers for a little blog fest.

It put me in mind of that day back in the summer of 1958, when 57 jazz greats posed for a group photo up at 126th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues in Harlem.


You can get a "map" of the musicians in the photo here. The photo by Art Kane is called "A Great Day in Harlem," and there's a documentary about it by the same name.

Naturally, on this Great Day in Madison, the bloggers posed for a group picture too:

great day in madison
Courtesy of Moral Turpitude. Permission Pending.
Well, first I have to ask for permission.

Photo guide: 1) Tonya, 2) Janelle, 3) Moral Turpitude, 4) Sleep Goblin, 5) Oscar Madison.

great day in madison2

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Existential Friday*: How About Oscar?

On some deep level of egoism, we all believe that we're the star of our own sitcom. Aren't you just slightly disappointed every time your entrance into a room isn't followed by a quick punch line and an upsurge in the laugh track?

Come on -- admit it.

* * *

I've previously asked you to name the movie and genre for you personal biopic. Today, give us the name of the sitcom about you.
E.g., The Tonya Show.
Be creative! See, isn't this better than a stupid Blogthings or Quizilla quiz that generates a name for you?

I suppose mine should be Everybody Knows Oscar ['s real name].

*On Saturday?!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Track backing

I really enjoy the "referral" feature on Sitemeter, which lets me see the "referral" pages -- the web page someone visited right before coming to my blog. Obviously you can find links to you that way, but sometimes it's just random -- perhaps bcause the surfer is hitting the "next blog" button in the upper right hand corner of the Blogger Navbar.

Yesterday, the "referral feature" led me to a blog called "Nigeria Chess Player Forum."

I was disappointed that the suggestively-titled sidebar link, "White does not stand well enough in the center to undertake an operation on the wing" wasn't working.

But you can find out the names and ratings of the top Nigerian women chess players here, and here you can find photos of International Master Dapo Adu playing a simultaneous exhibition at the Howard University Chess Club.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Honey trap!

I don't know whether this is the stuff of spy fact or only spy fiction. I've encountered the term "honey trap" in John Le Carre' novels, and it's uttered by one of the Israeli Mossad agents in Steven Spielberg's Munich.

If you believe spy fiction, then a lot of espionage activity resembles elaborate con games, and a "honey trap" is a con game in which the mark is lured by an attractive stranger dangling sexual favors.

If there really are "honey traps" in the real spy world, then the Porter Goss fiasco is even more amusing: "Spy Director Falls for Own Honey Trap."

The idea of a honey trap is lurid and depressing -- the Mossad agent in Munich knows it's a honey trap, but jumps in anyway because he's so desperately lonely, and winds up getting bumped off. Yet the name of the ploy is so darned cute! It sounds like something out of Winnie the Pooh. How incongruous is that?

Anyway, it turns out that Alexander Hamilton (by Ron Chernow) was brought down by.... a honey trap!

That's right: in 1791, an attractive stranger named Mariah Reynolds showed up at Hamilton's door, played damsel in distress fleeing abusive husband, and seduced Hamilton when he went to her place to lend her some cash to help her with her difficulties. He became so sexually obsessed with Reynolds that he couldn't break off the affair even after it became clear that Mariah and her husband James Reynolds set the whole thing up as a blackmail scheme. (James Reynolds apparently had pimped his wife out on previous occasions to make money.) Hamilton payed about $2,000 in hush money before he stopped in 1792.

I don't know exactly how, or to what extent, this played out in Hamilton's downfall. I'm only at disk #16 out of 29. The book-on-CD set was due yesterday, and I can't renew it because someone else has a request on it. Can the library increase my fine for a wilful overdue violation? I'm caught up in a recorded book trap!


The haircut -- correction

Two factual inaccuracies appeared in the previous post, Finding Neverland -- My Quest for the Bygone Haircut.

Oscar Madison's hair, described as "thick, straight hair," is actually thick and thinning at the same time. While the strands are on the thick side, the denisty of hairs per square inch of scalp has been steadily declining over the past several years.

The age of "Tom the Barber" has been given ever-higher estimates in successive posts: "mid fifties," "early sixties" and most recently "late 60s." He cannot have aged more than 10 years since the original post last November. The increased perception of age may be a function of increasing exasperation with him over the haircut.

The Columnist Manifesto regrets the errors.

UPDATE: I'm getting a little traffic spike today. Why? Because my haircut post was linked by a Johnny Depp fan blog!

By the way, I defy you to make a cutesy new word -- like "blawg" or "fanzine" -- to convey "fan blog." Blofang? Nuh-uh.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Finding Neverland -- My Quest for the Bygone Haircut

I don't go around believing that a hair-cutter can make me look like Johnny Depp. I, sir, am no Johnny Depp. But I have thick, straight hair -- I know that I can have this haircut:

Depp in Finding Neverland.

I have tried mightily to get this haircut. For years, I've tried to describe this haircut to salon stylists. After I saw Finding Neverland, I've actually starting showing this photo of Depp to the hair cutters. Without fail, I've wound up with not the Johnny Depp haircut.

Instead, hair stylists have invariably given me this:


If I say, "No! It needs to be shorter at the sides and back!" they proceed to "fix" it with their knee-jerk blending and layering, making it too short at the top and bangs:


More recently, I've tried going to barbers. My theory is that Johnny Depp's haircut was the standard men's haircut for the first six decades of the 20th century. Back in the day, any barber on main street in any city or town in the U.S.A. could give you this haircut. I figure that a barber, particularly an older one, is going to be genetically programmed to give me this haircut.

Today, I went back for the fourth time to Tom the barber. I keep going back because he comes the closest to this haircut. Close but not that close. Tom's in his late 60s and has been barbering for years, but he doesn't have that old barber-shop quickness and confidence that I remember from my childhood. Back then, it seemed, barbers whipped out the electric shears and mowed you down, and then got out the scissors and set about your hair with a "snip-snip-snip-snip-comb, snip-snip-snip-snip-comb," at the quick staccato pace of a sou-chef cutting a carrot.

Tom minces around my head gingerly, like "the new girl at the salon." I silently urge him on, trying to wind up with "the Depp haircut" by sheer force of will, with tightened abdominal muscles and held breath -- as if I were trying to will Mets closer Billy Wagner to get that last hitter out in the ninth inning.

But it's always the same. Tom gives me what I call the standard "shopping mall" haircut. It looks sort of like this --

-- but you can actually get a better look at it in the "Supercuts Style File," here. It's style number 001, modelled by "Tobias." (You can rotate Tobias and see the back and sides by clicking on him -- way cool!!)

This last time, I told Tom, "It needs to be shorter at the sides and back." To which he responded, "but that won't be the picture you showed me!"

Tom's barber programming has been displaced. If he ever did the 1950s and early '60s standard men's cuts, he beat that knowhow out of himself as he retooled for the longer 70s-style haircuts (which he probably learned in the mid-'80s). And that's all he can do now -- longer or shorter versions of that. It's like the way old men, now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, still wear the horrible clothes they bought in the late 1970s rather than the now-hip retro styles of their youngers days in the 40s through 60s.

Tom obliges and takes the electric shears to the back and sides. And, as usual, I end up with a rough approximation of my haircut. Very rough -- it looks like I have two separate haircuts, one at the back and sides, and another top and front, that don't mesh. It's an effect so strange that his ability to replicate this haircut on my successive visits to him is perversely impressive.

People say to me: "you'd think a trained hair cutter could look at a picture and give you that haircut." You'd think so. But I now see it differently.

Johnny Depp's hair stylist for Finding Neverland is some highly skilled "haircut historian," who does the same kind of researched recreations done by the costume and set designers, with whom he teams up.

The haircutters I go to basically know a small handful of basic haircuts -- half a dozen or fewer -- and can only give you those, making their repertoire look bigger with miniscule variations on the basic theme, or with lots of holding gel. Asking them to do something different is like asking your Ford auto mechanic to fix your foreign car engine. The skills are not as generalizable as you think.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


The down side of the smoking ban

You can ban smoking all you want -- and I'm a huge supporter of smoking bans in all public places -- but smokers will have their day. No smoking on airplanes or in airports, but when you leave the airport, you have to pass through a belt of second hand smoke at the exits to baggage claim.

Our Town recently enacted a smoking ban in all bars and restaurants, and the smokers now congregate just outside. Here's the sidewalk in front of one of our neighborhood bars, Sunday morning:


It's the law of unintended consequences, I guess.

This scene got me thinking: when was the founding moment in the history of smoking when society said it was okay to throw your f***ing butts on the ground? Often lit? Out your car window on the highway, still lit?*

When the backlash against littering was launched in the late 60s, who won the exemption for ciggy butts?

The other day, as I drove over a bouncing lit cigarette tossed from a car on the highway, I wondered: Has a lit cigarette thrown from a moving car ever bounced into the engine housing of another car and started a car fire?

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Unsolved household mysteries, # 247

(Previously on Unsolved Household Mysteries -- #246: "what happened to my other sock???")

How in the world did this avocado get all the way over here???

DSCN7519 DSCN7520

(Next episode of Unsolved Household Mysteries: "where the hell are my sunglasses???")


Have yourself a hangover -- the "Heart Healthy" way!

You can simulate a hangover, without the liver damage or massive sugar-and-calorie intake involved in consuming alcohol -- and get a good workout at the same time!

Here's how:
1) Some time after 8 p.m., do some form of intensive exercise (e.g., ice hockey) that causes you to sweat out about half a gallon of your body's water.

2) Stay up late because you're wired from the exercise.

3) Don't drink any water before going to bed.

4) Get up at your normal hour.
All the coffee in the world the next morning will not save you. Pretty neat!*

*This happened Thursday night. I couldn't pull myself together to blog about it until this morning.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Exisitential Friday: Possessions and Experiences redux

Three ways of saying the same thing:

1) my blog post.

2) the old saw, "you can't take it with you."

3) The Onion.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Bush's latest terrible idea

During the Clinton administration, Republicans howled like hyenas about the use of U.S. troops in peacekeeping missions.

There is something to the argument against using troops as peacekeepers. "Peacekeeping" is a fundamentally a policing role rather than a combat role. By training, mentality and institutional arrangement, combat troops are really not well suited to policing. Ideally, police should be an integral part of a community, not heavily armed outsiders who keep order pretty much entirely through the threat of force. And police are closely governed by local civil authorities and the legal system, whereas combat troops represent the state's warmaking power with control by the executive rather than the legal system.

Yet there are times when using troops in this role is unavoidable. A human rights crisis -- genocide in the Balkans and Africa are the recent examples -- may provide an overwhelming justification for setting aside scruples against using troops in a police role.

And troops have to be used in this role as a limited-term, transitional occupation force following a war.

Note, however, that this use of troops is always abroad, never at home. Calling out the national guard domestically is a remedy for a breakdown of civil society or natural disaster, and borders on a declaration of martial law. It really is, or should be, a remedy of last resort in our free society.

Bush the Boy President has a real penchant for using troops as police. In contrast to the use of troops as occupation police in, say, post-WWII Germany, he has deployed U.S. armed forces in a policing role in Iraq on an open-ended basis, with no exit timetable -- or even, it seems, an exit strategy.

And this latest idea to deploy 6,000 national guard troops as border police is a terrible precedent. Aside from it being a bad idea as a police stopgap -- how many excessive force shooting deaths are we going to see from this? -- clandestine border crossings are a problem that isn't going away any time soon. So Bush is basically getting our society accustomed to the idea of an armed state -- armed forces policing domestically in peacetime.

If we find 20 or 30 years hence that our country has taken on attributes of a military dictatorship, you can tell your grandkids that it started here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Wednesday Word Verifictionary Winner -- Who da lawyer?

It's just too good to be true that newly minted law graduate Moral Turpitude pulled this word verifiction on the very day she was congratulated on this blog.

First Prize
Moral Turpitude
whoesqw: I'm going to fudge and add an r to the end of this to make: Who?? Esquire!!

Who's the esquire? You're the esquire!

Runner(s) Up
Janelle Renee
(bald text): the naked truth written quite plainly for all to understand.

Staying with the lawyer theme for a moment, we have Wendy and Neel combining for a "set-up and spike" of this one:
jdbxfkg - there is an f-bomb begging to be used in this one.

neel mehta
jdbxfkg - there is an f-bomb begging to be used in this one.

Maybe. Sparring partners with law degrees get down and dirty on the canvas?

Neel was on fire this week, and is the winner of the special Neel Before Me(hta) Award for Sustained Excellence in Quantity and Quality. Any one of these was good enough to be a winner (or at least a runner up):
neel mehta
scwyin (SKEW-in'): the act of messin' with one's head, in a not quite parallel or perpendicular fashion.

whiyzarx (WISE-arks): a smarter version of the Ozarks.

kujmpi (koo-JIMPY): delectable, though live, seafood.

lzhnf (LAZE-enough): a satisfactory amount of relaxation. In honor of Moral Turpitude.

ekgrcizl (EKG-rock-izzle): Snoop Dogg's steady heartbeat.

ronpcq (ron-PACK): the complete set of Ronco products, as seen on TV, all for a reasonable price, minus shipping and handling.

abbzcl (AB-sic-le): a frozen confection that's a tasty midsection.

voyewo (voy-eh-WHOA): a Peeping Tom that found something really good.

While Neel has been "on fire," Warren p.k. wins the Smokin' Award (as in what have you been smokin?) for this one, which made me laugh out loud:
warren p.k.
usrqktoe -- u.s. regimental quick toe -- a new military parade move (usually done in full dress uniform with gold rope plaits on the shoulder)

Honorable Mentions
warren p.k.
jrhuid = junior human i.d. (those little plastic bracelet/footlets they put on newborns in the hospital)

zdpdg -- the last page in a canadian book

jdbxfkg - there is an f-bomb begging to be used in this one.

jysqv - joys of quivering.

walmkxx - the high you get when shopping at walmart.

dlzgm - (dazzle-gram) a card, email or other message containing lots of sparkly bits.

Janelle Renee
larzax: Lorax always chuckled when people incorrectly pronounced his name. He didn't mind as long as they cared about the trees.

Oscar Madison
gkpng -- (1) "geek-keeping": monitoring statistics relating to someone's geeky habits, such as the speed of reading biographical tomes; (2) "geek-ping": an electronic warning signal to alert friends to intervene before the geeky habit gets out of hand

muiuiui -- (French) Pepe Le Pew saying "yes, yes, yes!" Note the "mmmm" leading into the "oui."

And the Special Award for "Best Word verifictionary Related to the Accompanying Blog Post":
warren p. k.
gwrvrs -- george washington's rivalries!
Very fitting for what has turned into U.S. History Week here at the Manifesto.


The faces of paper money

When you're reading about guys like Hamilton, it's kind of fun to whip out some bills and look at their portraits.

Hamilton is on the $10 bill. These days, the $20 has become the dominant bill for cash usage. It's the default denomination at ATMs, so you typically get twenties when you restock your cash, and then you're always breaking twenties. The ten-spot is neither here nor there. It's too big for most vending machines, but too small to give you the comfort level of a twenty, that you have enough on you for most small transactions.

For the current price index, I think Hamilton -- the architect of our finance system -- would be the fitting image for the twenty. Jackson on the twenty is an absurd historical contradiction. A die hard opponent of central banking -- opposition to the second Bank of the United States may have been the the number one priority of his presidency -- Jackson might be spinning in his grave over this one.

In a way, the most fitting bill face is Jefferson on the two dollar bill. The $2 bill is reissued every few years and vanishes from circulation almost immediately, as people hoard it as a curiosity. The now-you-see-it, now-you-don't quality of that bill symbolizes the similar quality of Jefferson's political positions, and reflects his ambivalence about being the President at all given his predilection against a strong central government.

You can see a complete list of who's on what bill at the Bureau of Printing website, here. My namesake Madison is on "the $5,000 bill." Come on, was there ever really a $5,000 bill?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Still reading: books and candy bars

I have to admit I'm a bit defensive that I'm "still reading" the Hamilton biography after Jeremy's comment.

Maybe I should have said "listening to." I listen to the book on CD in my car. It's 29 CD's long! That's almost 22 hours of listening. So if I finish it, I'll be "reading" it for however many weeks it takes me to spend 22 hours in my car -- unless I bring the CDs inside and listen while making breakfast or whatever.

There is something of a debate in the record-book-listening community about whether to say that you are "reading" a book when you're listening to a reader read it aloud. The more activist members of this community insist that they're "reading." They argue that parents who read to their kids don't say "my son has been listening to me read Curious George Makes Fun of the Slow Reader." They say they're "reading to" their child or "we're reading together."

I don't feel quite so strongly, but I do find that if I say "listening to," then I have to explain that it's a book on CD, rather than, say, a radio docudrama. And it's absurd to say, "Actor Scott Brick has been reading me Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton biography." There's just less explaining when I say that I'm "reading" the book.

Until now, that is.

But on my reading rate, there are two points. First, I'm a slow reader. This has been the bane of my life as a nerd and academic. I don't know why I'm a slow reader, but I've come to the conclusion that since I enjoy reading, I'm just not going to worry too much about that.

Second, a book isn't a candy bar, is it? I no longer feel compelled to finish one book before starting another. I mean, who nowadays makes a thing about someone having two or more windows open on their friend's computer? There's a kind of old-fashioned multi-tasking about having a couple of books going at the same time.


Jefferson, a shady character in the Hamilton bio-pic

If it's natural for a sympathetic biographer to view the world from the perspective of his subject, then it should be unsurprising that Thomas Jefferson comes off badly in Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson was, after all, one of Hamilton's archest arch-rivals.

Chernow clearly loves Hamilton, but he's not blind to his faults -- I hate fawning biographies, and would have dropped this one in 50 pages had it been of that ilk. And he's basically persuaded me about Jefferson.

There can be no doubt that Thomas Jefferson was brilliant, and that his was a towering acheivement in the founding generation. He did two great things, either one of which would have earned him his place in U.S. history.
(1) writing the Declaration of Independence;

(2) pushing through the Louisiana purchase and following that up by commissioning the exploratory mission and appointing Merriweather Lewis to lead it.
But now let's get a look at some of Jefferson's shortcomings. As unsavory as it may be, I'm not going to get on his case for schtupping his slave Sally Hemings, even though she was only about 14 or 15 when they started.

Nor am I going to get on his case for not being a fighting man -- for sitting out the Revolutionary War behind the lines while many of his peers, including Hamilton, were getting their butts shot at. (Jefferson was 33 in 1776). Instead:

(1) As governor of Virginia in 1779, he failed to organize the militia to defend Richmond, and fled the city on the approach of a smallish British force, leaving a huge arsenal and government archive to be captured.

(2) He managed to absent himself from any sort of positive leadership role from the time he penned the declaration in 1776 until he assumed the post of Secretary of State in 1790.

(3) As ambassador to France, he flitted around Paris high society (1785-1790) while failing to perceive or understand much of anything that was going on around him. He was oblivious to the violent underpinnings of the French revolution as it was happening, and reported back that France would make a peaceful transition to a democratic republic.

(4) He flip-flopped on several vital issues of nation-building in the first Washington administration, and spent much of the second Washington administration secretly intriguing against Washington's policies. He justified this by claiming in essence that Washington was senile and unaware of how he was being manipulated by Hamilton -- which was BS.

Jefferson was a romantic idealist whose vision of himself and of the world ignored a lot of reality. He extolled virtuous republican simplicity while tending himself toward living a spendthrift, if not sybaritic lifestyle that kept him in debt and made it financially impossible for him to free his slaves, despite his supposed opposition to slavery.

His political vision for America consisted of a citizenry of independent yoeman farmers who had no dependence on cities, manufacturing or creditors. This was the material basis for his opposition to Hamilton's economic policies. Yet he and his peers built their lives on a dependence on credit, imported manufactured goods and, of course, slave labor.

As a politician, he was something of a snake, telling people what they wanted to hear, going behind their backs, and withholding his own true views.

Don't get me wrong: these failings are outweighed by his achievements. I don't believe in the kind of simplistic revisionist history that tears down our past leaders. I just don't believe in marble statues either.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Existential Friday Monday: Bored of the wonderful

Janelle Renee in a recent post describes the beautiful daily sunrise from her window, and then asks: "Can people get bored of the wonderful?"

That put me in mind of one answer to this question, in Ed Burns's Sidewalks of New York. The character "Carpo," Burns's crude-but-worldly mentor in matters of the heart, gives this advice: "show me a beautiful woman and I'll show you a guy who's tired of f---ing her."*

My answer isn't quite so fatalistic. People can get bored of the wonderful. Sustaining wonder takes conscious effort ... it takes a kind of existential gardening.

* Question for master film connoisseur Neel Mehta: without looking it up, name the actor who delivers this line?

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Cool story -- with irony, of course

Christopher Ochoa, wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for 12 years for a crime he didn't commit, graduates from law school.

This happened in Texas, and an interesting footnote to the story is the fact that then governor George W. Bush did nothing when, in 1998, evidence was brought to the attention of the governor's office that someone else had committed the crime.

This came up in the 2000 presidential campaign, but did not cause much of a stir. Contrast that with the 1988 presidential race. George H. W. Bush won the election in part by blaming Democratic contender Michael Dukakis for the violent crime committed by prison inmate Willie Horton while on furlough during Dukakis's tenure as Massachusetts governor. Dukakis had vetoed a bill that would have made convicted murderers such as Horton ineligible for the furlough program. This attack dovetailed neatly with relentless attacks on Dukakis for his opposition to the death penalty.

Better not to let one guilty man go free than...

Better to convict one innocent man and set him free than ....

Fool me -- you can't get fooled again.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Graduation present -- the sound of butter

To Moral Turpitude, who has just graduated from Law School, I give you the long-sought answer to the question "what does butter sound like?"

"Butter," by The Low End Theory.


Project Runway footnote: "It looks like a giant laundry label got sown on the outside by mistake!"

Since I'm really ignorant of the fashion world, I'd never heard of Michael Kors, the "famous designer" who is one of the regular judges on Project Runway. The sharp-tongued Kors provides most of the more bitchy, catty comments on the Project Runway contestants' designs.

He's got one hell of a nerve. Imagine what he'd have said if a Project Runway contestant had designed this:


It looks like you took a gray turtleneck and just stuck a big piece of pink duct tape over the seams.

It looks like the Times Square electronic teletype is running across your shoulders. And don't you wish you were that famous!

It looks like your mom got carried away and wanted to make extra sure your sweater didn't get mixed up with someone else's laundry at band camp.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


Where are all the great statesmen?

Still reading Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. The book has gotten me thinking about the old saw: why were there so many "great men" leading the our young nation through the Revolutionary War and the framing of the U.S. Constitution, and such mediocre political leaders today? Where are the stately Washingtons, the brilliant Madisons, Hamiltons and Jeffersons nowadays?

The question of who goes into politics today, and what the process does to their ideas and values, is a topic for another time and place. Here are some thoughts about why the brilliant ones made such a splash back then.

Late 18th century America offered a unique historical circumstance combining (1) low population, (2) a high concentration of wealth, power and education in a small elite, and (3) the high point of the Enlightenment.

The enlightenment represents the tail end of the period in which a well educated person could still be a "renaissance man," that is, a master of numerous fields of intellectual endeavor. Hamilton, for instance, gained mastery in the fields of law, political theory, economics and finance, and military command. Jefferson: political theory, philosophy, literature, architecture. And so on. As human knowledge deepens, the more we are pushed toward specialization, because mastery of a subject usually requires a lifetime of dedication to it.

Here, America's small population (about 5 million people, including nearly 1 million black slaves) and lack of established institutions come into play. Basically, renaissance and enlightenment men were gifted amateurs at a time and place when gifted amateurs could run things. Some of the greatness of the founders wouldn't look so great today -- Washington's grasp of militatry strategy, for instance -- but it worked because the standards of excellence were lower in that simpler time. (I sometimes fantasize about becoming a professional hockey player in Israel.)

In other areas, of course, the founders were brilliant by any standard, but that's where the small elite thing comes in. Chernow makes the interesting point that in the 1770s-1780s, there was a great demand for intellectual and theoretical argument in politics. No doubt this was a function of Enlightenment values couple with the need to create political institutions more or less from the ground up. The concentration of wealth, power and intellectual attainment in the same relatively small group contributed to the demand for intellectual argument by decisionmakers and the broader, but relatively small, reading audience. The Federalist Papers were not written for the masses.

Finally, mere historical myopia played its role. There was plenty of low-brow personal attack politics in that era (for instance, Hamilton's political enemies in New York politics dubbed him "Tom Sh*t" in a series of essays claiming, among other things, that he was of mixed race), but it has been swept under the rug of popular history.

Long story short: I think there are brilliant people around today who could have rivalled Washington, Madison, Hamilton or Jefferson had they been placed in that historical moment. But today's political and social problems can't be solved by grand theoretical solutions, and are beyond the reach of gifted amateurs. Today's brilliant people are scattered around in various areas of specialization, and their voices can't readily be heard above the din of the hundreds of thousands of articulate folks babbling away in tens of thousands of publications, broadcasts and, yes, even blogs.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Comment gardening

I previously promised to be more interactive with comments, but I don't think I've really delivered. Some people are really good at that. They treat their comments sections like a garden, and their commenters are flowers that need to be tended. Phantom Scribbler, for instance, has cultivated dozens of "perennials" who flower in her comments section on a weekly or daily basis.

I'm not good at gardening, either in real life or here on the blog. And I'm somewhat deterred by the fact that I'd need to do some weeding of the dozens of spam comments that sprouted in my old posts before I activated word verification. Should I go through my archives and delete them all?

Or maybe I should reply to them:
Anonymous spam commenter: "great Blog. I have found a site you may find useful with information on cheap europe package travel at cheap europe package travel"

My reply: "You, sir are a butthead. And the travel packages at your link are not cheap at all. They're rather expensive!"

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


I am a famous dictionary entry author

In a recent post called, and about, "Bums in Seats," I noted the inconvenient fact that I couldn't find a handy definition of that phrase on the web.

Well, problem solved! See the sparkly new entries for "bums in seats" and "butts in seats" at Urban Dictionary... courtesy of yours truly!

Monday, May 08, 2006


Update: Butter

Commenting on my previous post, MT and Lena both ask something to the effect of "what does butter sound like?"

Do you remember Mike Meyer's SNL routine where he impersonates his Jewish mother-in-law and repeatedly uses the catch phrase "it's like butter"? (Since she has a New York accent, she says "buttah.") It was her catchall word to mean "excellent," "nice" "elegant" or "high quality."

Meyer's Jewish Mother in Law probably descends from the same eastern European peasant stock that I do. In my ancestors' diet of potatoes and, if you're lucky, maybe a beet or two, they had too little animal fat. Maybe a little bit of chicken fat sometimes. Lard over in the goyim village. In this dietary context -- a world away from our high fat society -- butter was the Cadillac of animal fat.

I suppose the nearest thing to "like buttah" in current slang would be "like money."

Oh, and by the way, butter sounds smooth and creamy.


High Spring II: Spring Fever

Would it really be Spring without falling in love? Passionate, head-over-heels, life-will-never-be-the-same love? Love that makes you realize how, before, you were just settling for something that was not good enough. New love that makes you feel like love itself is something new?

I'm in love.

DSCN7378 DSCN7386
My new love objects. Left: toaster oven. Right: wiper blades.

For over two years, since we first drove the car off the new car lot, the wiper blades weren't quite right. If the rain was anything lighter than a downpour, they would make a dry-rubber-on-glass scraping sound like the World's Loudest Snoring. They would leave blurry streaks making it particularly hard to see in bad weather.

I thought, "that's just the way it is with this car." But we finally got the wiper blades replaced and I now know that it should always have been like this. They wipe the windshield clear as... well, glass, I guess. And they sound like butter.

The toaster oven we knew was no good. It didn't have a warning bell to let you know the toast was done. There was a light that would silently flicker off and, unless you just sat there and stared at it, your toast could get cold before your realized it was even toast. Eventually the old toaster started to break down -- chunks of plastic broke and fell off the nobs, and finally the door would not stay shut unless you propped it shut with a Rube Goldberg alignment of kitchen implements.

When we finally got our butts into Target -- a real ordeal for us -- to replace it, we walked out with a toaster oven that proved to be no good. (I should have been tipped off by the company name, "Euro-Trash.") Its instruction manual confessed that it did not actually toast your slice of bread, but would instead slowly bake it for nine minutes until crisp. Nine minutes for a lousy piece of toast! What an outrage to use the name "toaster"!

The so-called " 'toaster' oven" went right back into its packaging and sat in our home until -- the days turned into weeks -- we could work up the nerve to go back to Target.

What we finally brought home was worth the wait. It sits in the corner, trim, unobtrusive, but kind of cute when you look at it. Its timer not only has a warning bell, but also makes a comforting ticking sound, as if to say: "Don't worry! I've got it all under control!"

I now understand that my relationships with my old wiper blades and toaster oven were abusive. They are behind me now. I feel reborn.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


High Spring I: May or Dismay

A disproportionate density of dandelions


We are exactly halfway through Spring (-ish), and the season is in full swing around here. I had to question yesterday whether B was in true Spring spirit when she insisted that I mow the lawn. She was a bit embarrassed that our lawn seemed to have a disproportionate density of dandelions compared to our neighbors lawns.

To be sure, you could look at our front yard as a lawn full of weeds. Or, you could view it as a field of wildflowers. A n untamed garden of dandelions and wild violets.

Front yard before the dandelion massacre.

Why are dandelions "weeds"? When you press the point, the answer inevitably includes the fact that they grow and spread uncontrollably. But isn't that simply punishing them for their own evolutionary success? And couldn't you make the same point about... well, people?

"Weediness" is so culturally determined and relativistic. Dandelions have a beautiful flower and their greens are good eating. What's weedy about that? They even have a second round of beauty when they go to seed and form their wispy white crown's like a grandma's hair. Okay, so maybe they're ugly at their other phases, but any flowering plant has ugly phases. And what' "ugly," really? It's nothing that a little attitude adjustment couldn't take care of.

DSCN7390 DSCN7392
I suppose these wild violets are also, in some technical sense, "weeds."

Naturally, I yielded to the inexorable pressure to mow down our dandelions. They're now a bunch of scraggly weed with their tops lopped off.

To pay tribute to these late dandelions, I show you some particularly fetching individuals before they were cut short by the mower.

Above: Scott, with Kevin in the background.

Below: Kimberly.


Below left: Roy. Right: Whiskers.

DSCN7399 DSCN7397



The word "plate" is a verb in three discrete, unrelated areas of human endeavor:

1) metalwork (e.g., "gold plated")

2) the restaurant business ("to plate the food"; "the entree was nicely plated")

3) baseball (to drive in a run: "Delgado's double plated Jose Reyes" -- fairly recent slang referring to "home plate.")

Huh... weird.

Saturday, May 06, 2006


A day without irony

A reader writes in response to my recent post on "A Day without Immigrants," as follows:
Do you really see no difference between benefits earned by 20-30 years of military service and benefits granted due to need?

Further, do you really think a citizen should be punished for publicly speaking his mind? How tolerant.
To get the context, please reread my very brief post which prompted the comment.

I warmly welcome all comments. At the same time, I knew that my irony in this post would be misconstrued by at least some readers. It always happens... why should this day be any different?

My response was so lengthy that I decided to delete it and put it up here as a separate blog post:
(1) Actually, I wasn't seriously proposing that Col. (ret.) Culberson be forced to work in the fields. (Please see "irony" in Wikipedia.) As a mushy liberal softy, I would punish neither him, nor the millions of people he is trying to punish (undocumented immigrants and welfare recipients).

(2) Of course there are differences! But there are also broad similarities overlooked by Col. (ret.) Culberson. You could certainly say that pensions (military or private) or social security are "earned." But you could also say they're given as a matter of "grace" or social welfare policy. In a sense, any of us who get the pensions we believe we've earned are quite lucky. Think about all the Enron employees whose retirement accounts were wiped out by their employer's stock swindle. And I feel I'll be lucky to get the social security checks I've "earned." Which is of course the whole problem -- my social security taxes today are not "earning" my social security retirement checks, but rather funding today's retirees. Tomorrow's workers might say to me, "what are you doing for society now, you lazy old person? Get out in the fields and pick strawberries if you want your social security check!"

Culberson clearly adopts a "what are you doing for me now?" attitude toward welfare recipients since he refuses to acknowledge that most welfare recipients have been employed in the past. Indeed, many are employed right now, even as they receive various welfare benefits, at low wage jobs at places like Walmart. By Culberson's own logic, if he is retired, what's he doing for us now?

(And if he's not retired, but drawing a non-military salary while drawing his military pension, he's double dipping! Again, I have no problem with that -- he's the one complaining about people drawing checks for which they're not presently working.)

Nor is he acknowledging that the majority of welfare recipients he has in mind (probably those on the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program) are single mothers, and that child care is hard work. Many others are disabled, and even military veterans!

And of course, while Culberson impliedly acknowledges that undocumented immigrants (about 6 million of them in the US work force) are working very hard at dirty, dangerous low paying jobs that somebody has got to do, their hard work impresses him not one bit.

I have no problem with Culberson exercising his free speech rights. My point is simply that he's an idiot.

Friday, May 05, 2006


I post another animal picture in a shameless ploy for increased blog traffic

Remember Toonces the Driving Cat?



Feeling Pretty Good Friday

Existential Friday is on vacation

Sorry, no existential crisis today -- I'm feeling too good. Why?

1. My classes are over, it's the beginning of my summer, and I have great optimism about it.

2. The New York Mets at 19-8 have the second best record in baseball, a five game lead in the NL East and a 7 game lead over the hated Atlanta Braves. I just shelled out $180 for the MLB Cable Sports package and can see almost all the Mets games on TV. (Hint: I don't live in the NY area, so this is a treat.)

3. Last night was the first game of my mostly women's hockey league. Pork Chop is on my team. Remember her? She's my favorite hockey player, a fast, crushing defender. If you were me and really wanted to make a good impression on Pork Chop, what would you do? How about score your team's first (and only, in a 2-1 loss) goal of the season? Well, guess who did what. We all went out for beers afterwords, and I felt like I was just one of the girls. It doesn't get much better than that.


"If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own."

For an item in this category, check this out.

Here's some context.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Wednesday Word Verifictionary on Thursday!

This week's theme: "better late than never." And look who the winner is!

First Prize
Janelle Renee
buzhrs- (buzz hours) occurs right after happyhr

Runner(s) Up
Phantom Scribbler
ogtoqret: the tourniquet recommended if you are bitten by an octopus.


ruzsqzm - (rooz-skiz-em) A difference of opinion amonst scam artists as to what kind of scam to pull and how to pull it. The gang subsequently splits up into splinter groups

Honorable Mentions
neel mehta
qpheef (CUE-feef): a stage direction to introduce Scott, a cat burglar who comes at night to steal dentures.

warren p.k.
hdolihov -- trying to say "holiday" after way too many pina colatas. hold the pink umbrellas.

dqokbtv -- dairy queen: ok but too viscous

xvfpeo -- x-files kinda people

mvadg -- moving adagio -- a slow saunter

sbdrmdt = so be a doormat!

feng li
usznw: cabdriverspeak, "relax" / "calm down".

zxcmeu - (zee-eks-see-meu) a new sports car from Mazda, designed for cats.

inbigiqa -- the latest viagra knock off, guaranteed to make your "qa" a big'n.

wrknenff - (workin'-en'-off) what you do with extra donuts that you've consumed: "I ate too much yesterday, now I'm going to the gym and wrknenff."

Janelle Renee
-- A laxative formulated specifically for porcupines.

--"That is to say" just takes too long to say.

(lawn flick)-- You know you're at the cool neighbor's house (and that it's summer!) when you're invited to their outdoor BBQ & Movie Party. The movie? It's projected onto the side of their house, and starts at 9:00PM. (When it's dark.)

(Rx: NY. So long!)-- I'm self-medicating. Trip next month!

And the Special Award for "best word verifictionary related to the accompanying blog post":
Oscar Madison
jeohs: the obligatory expressions of humility to be uttered in response to a compliment.

(Written on Neil Mehta's blog after my comment filled with slobbering praise for his blog.)


Why am I always the last one to know?

I only just realized that "The Alphabet Song" is to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." I feel like you've all been in on this secret and have been laughing at me.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


"I am obliged to write in a position that scarcely admits the use of any of my limbs."

From Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow:

In June 1783, two months after ratification of the provisional peace treaty with Great Britain, most of the soldiers in the continental army had not been paid their wages. Indeed, many were owed several years of back pay. But an impotent Continental Congress was unable, or unwilling, to impose taxes to raise money to pay off and muster out the troops.

A disgruntled band of soldiers billeted in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, marched on Congress in Philadelphia to demand their pay. Armed with muskets and bayonets, they surrounded the hall of Congress, made threats and demands, and got increasingly drunk and unruly. The members of Congress refused to bargain with them. But since the governor of Pennsylvania refused to call up the militia to protect Congress from the mob, the members decided to retreat to temporary quarters in Princeton, New Jersey.

These quarters -- both the living accommodations and meeting rooms -- were cramped. James Madison bunked in a tiny single room with one bed, which he shared with another congressman, and no writing desk. The title of this post was his complaint on that point.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


A day without immigrants


This part of the AP wire story caught my eye:
Some of the rallies drew small numbers of counter-protesters, including one in Pensacola, Fla.

"You should send all of the 13 million aliens home, then you take all of the welfare recipients who are taking a free check and make them do those jobs," said Jack Culberson, a retired Army colonel who attended the Pensacola rally. "It's as simple as that."

Great idea, Jack. While we're at it, let's get you off your pension-check-cashing ass and out into the fields to pick some strawberries.

Monday, May 01, 2006



For some reason, I went back and read some of my posts from a year ago, when I was traveling in Europe. If I don't say so myself: boy, are they good. And the ones from Amerstam are really funny. Check out this one from Monday, June 20 and scroll up for a couple of days.

Or this description of Amsterdam from Tuesday, June 21:
one giant youth hostel with a smattering of Dutch locals on bicycles added for ambience.
Or this trenchant observation:
Amsterdam has been an international merchant city for over four hundred years, so I would have expected the Dutch merchants here to be industrious and clever business people. Why, then, in a city studded with so-called "coffee" houses selling marijuana to patrons for on-premises consumption, aren't there dozens of all-night delis and bakeries at hand?

Okay, this is pretty cheesy to recycle my old posts like this, but I've realized that blogging is worth its weight in gold. (How much does blogging weigh?) Travel blogging really enriched the experience of traveling for me. I admit it must have been annoying to friends and loved ones when I kept saying things like, "Hey, an internet cafe! Can you amuse yourself for an hour while I write a post or two?"

But it connected me to the experience more deeply. Instead of collecting physical mementos, I would collect blogworthy moments and then weave them into spun out riffs of memory. (Danger -- mixed metaphor!) And rereading my blog with both photos and text takes me back there more effectively than home movies ever did.

I can't wait to do that again this summer. There will be travel blogging on these pages. Stay tuned!


Great minds think alike; good minds sometimes think somewhat like great ones

While I was haranguing that journalist panel about corporate penetration of the blogging world, and wishing that I could somehow take those guys down a peg for their overly narrow conception of what a blog is, Althouse was haranguing a conference of law professors at Harvard on those very topics.

She submitted a paper for the conference which deftly takes all-law-all-the-time bloggers down a peg. Althouse has a clear vision of the blog form and has resisted all kinds of pressure to turn her blog into just another boring legal periodical.

Blawgs* ... Yuck!

* See here: "words like 'blawg' for 'law blog' make me want to throw up. Or at least point out that you really can't be cutesy and edgy at the same time."

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