Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Links from the sick bed

Two links from our man in the trenches, Mitch.

  • A new study out of Duke University suggests that monkeys and college students--well, Duke undergrads, at any rate--are equals when it comes to mental math.
  • An awesome, long term photo project called " Living My Life Faster - 8 years of JK's Daily Photo Project." Watch this one with the sound off.

Tuesday Links

Three nice links today from Harper's Weekly.

This week:

  • President Bush pardoned 29 criminals, including carjackers, drug dealers, an election-laws violator, and a moonshiner.
  • the American Bar Association named Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lawyer of the year.
  • Vífill Atlason, a 16-year-old Icelandic high school student, was taken into custody by the police and questioned after he dialed President Bush's private number and, claiming to be the President of Iceland, asked to “chat” with Bush. “I don't see,” Atlason said, “how calling the White House is a crime.” [Bush, you just got punked!]
  • And apparently Venezuela, constrained by temporal conformity, has permanently set its clock back half an hour, creating a country-specific time zone.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Art Class

Things are a bit slow in the blog-world today, and I'm not feeling especially ambitious today, so I will content myself with a simple art-related post.

Awhile back I did a couple of posts on modernist painters that I fully intended to make a routing, but I've fallen off the bandwagon, so to speak. Back then, I had intended to do a post on de Chirico, whose landscape paintings are eerie and somehow fascist in feeling. Rather than playing as the art critic today, I'll just post a link to his wiki page and bunch of images. Enjoy.

Giorgio de Chirico (July 10, 1888 – November 20, 1978) also known as Népo, was an influential pre-Surrealist Greek-Italian painter born in Volos, Greece, to a Genovese mother and a Sicilian father. He founded the scuola metafisica art movement.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pleasures of Mass Destruction

You would think the pope would have better things to do than hyperbolize about the congruence between the mass death of Armageddon and two boys kissing. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe that stodgy old bastard doesn't have anything to do but be alone with his thoughts.

Pope Says Abortion, Gay Marriage Are 'Obstacles' to World Peace

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Nuclear arms proliferation, environmental pollution and economic inequality are threats to world peace -- but so are abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage, Pope Benedict XVI said in a statement released by the Vatican Tuesday (Dec. 11).

Via Pandagon. Full link here.

Thursday morning tabla fun

Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha - Tabla Solo in Jhaptal

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

word of the year

Everybody knows that Merriam-Webster does NOT have any sway when it comes to picking the word of the year. That honor belongs to The American Dialect Society (whose choice I am eagerly awaiting).

But M-W picks a word, anyway, and as far as I can tell, they pretty much just randomize these. The winner this year is "w00t." Apparently it has zeroes instead of o's.

From Boing Boing.

w00t is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2007

Voters at Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year 2007 poll have chosen "w00t" as 2007's most iconic word. M-W says that the word is a gamer's acronym for "we own the other team," but I'm inclined to think that that's a backronym, a back-formed acronym created to explain a word already in use.

1. w00t (interjection)
expressing joy (it could be after a triumph, or for no reason at all); similar in use to the word "yay"

w00t! I won the contest!

Among the other words in the top ten were such lame-ohs as "facebook," "conundrum," "apathetic," "hypocrite," and "charlatan." Though this list may reflect a certain cultural and ideological moment in America, the words are hardly interesting--certainly not worth of attention. The only word that I think even deserves mention is "Pecksniffian." My dad uses this word a lot, which leads me to believe that Bill O'Reilly uses it. Which makes sense, because Bill O'Reilly's a Pecksniffian bastard.


"Waterboarding": simulated drowning, or a new "extreme" sport?

Yesterday on PBS’s Newshour, host Gwen Ifill asked Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) whether waterboarding constitutes torture. Bond replied that the technique is actually more like “swimming."

From Think Progress.

And on the semantic delicacy of the word "waterboarding," I refer you to Jon Stewart:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


The absolute best/worst part of this article is the rhetoric from the military that suggests that suicide is the prisoners' form of a public relations war against America. Clearly.
Stay classy, Gitmo. Via, again, Harpers.
'Fingernail slash' at Guantanamo

An inmate at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay slashed his throat with a sharpened fingernail, US officials have confirmed.

The prisoner, described by his lawyer as an Algerian held for six years, required several stitches and spent a week under psychiatric observation.

US officials characterised the incident as an act of "self-harm" rather than a suicide attempt.

There are just over 300 prisoners still being held in the base in Cuba.

Detention ruling

The latest incident reportedly took place last month in a shower.

US Navy Cmdr Andrew Haynes said there was "an impressive effusion of blood" but the prisoner was treated by guards and taken to the prison clinic.

Officials would give no details of the man but lawyer Zachary Katznelson said the inmate had been held without charge for nearly six years.

Cmdr Haynes said "self-harm" incidents were a tactic to discredit US forces.

There have been four suicides at the camp.

Two Saudis and a Yemeni prisoner were found hanged in June last year.

This May another Saudi was found not breathing in his cell and attempts to revive him failed.

Co-ordinated suicide attempts last May involving hoarded medicine led to tighter rules on the dispensation of pills.

On Wednesday the US Supreme Court is to hold a hearing on whether the inmates at Guantanamo Bay have the right to contest their detention in US civilian courts.


Via Harpers.

Ga license plate spells antisemitism... almost

For about two months Frank Gumina has driven a 1974 Volkswagen Thing around with a Georgia tag that reads HA8 JWZ.

Gumina saw nothing in the sequence of letters and the numeral 8 except a sequence of letters and the numeral eight. Others did.

"I would be at a grocery store or the Wal-Mart and people would say 'Hate Jews?' or 'Jew Hater?' and I had no idea what they were talking about," Gumina said Friday.

"You know how people just say things that don't make any sense."

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, a mechanic working on Gumina's car sounded out the letters and the numeral on his tag.

"I got it then," said Gumina. "Hate Jews. I realized I had a problem."

Gumina said he made a few calls and ended up talking with the Atlanta office of the Anti-Defamation League and the Georgia Department of Revenue, which handles license plates in the state.

The state has a database of about 8,500 tag number letter sequences that it blocks from being made into license plates, said Department of Revenue Spokesman Charles Willey.

The state on Friday said it will now prohibit auto tags that begin with HA8 or H8 to prevent any accidental or intentional messages of hate.

Tags on the blocked list included, for instance, "MAFIA," "AZZ KICKER," and "KKK." The system also blocks any tag that reads as any combination of words that can be read as curse words or racial slurs, or anything that starts with the word 'EAT'," said Willey.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cultural Implement

I have to admit that I've never really understood toothpicks. Sure, I'll pick one up every now and then, but I've never had the uncontrollable postprandial urge that would make me buy them for daily use. For use in baking, sure -- but for a little after-meal help, never.

But I'm coming around to appreciate the toothpick. The American has a piece up about the history of the toothpick, which is kind of interesting, in part because of the totally outrageous marketing of America's toothpick pioneer, Charles Forster, who lifted the idea from Brazil.

Forster was soon making toothpicks in Boston, but people there did not see much point in buying quantities of what they could whittle themselves. To sell his product, Forster devised clever schemes. He hired employees to visit stores and ask for wooden toothpicks, which retailers were not accustomed to carrying. Soon after these disappointed customers left, Forster himself would come in peddling his wares wholesale. As soon as the storekeepers had toothpicks in stock, Forster’s shills would return and buy them. These were then returned to Forster, who recycled them to the trade.

In another scheme, he engaged Harvard students to eat at local restaurants and ask loudly for wooden toothpicks, which the restaurant managers soon felt obligated to provide. Having established a mar­ket in the Boston area, Forster moved his fledgling manufacturing operation to Maine, where white birch grew in abundance. With the help of Charles Freeman—a Sturtevant employee who had been assigned to develop the toothpick machinery—Forster’s mill was soon turning out toothpicks by the millions daily.


Thank you to Gerry Cananvan for passing along the most depressing link I am likely to see this year: Things Other People Accomplished When They Were Your Age

Here's mine:

At age 26:

American anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote her famous dissertation, Coming of Age in Samoa, which claimed that in some societies adolescence is not a particularly difficult time.

Albert Einstein published five major research papers in a German physics jornal, fundamentally changing man's view of the universe and leading to such inventions as television and the atomic bomb.

Benjamin Franklin published the first edition of Poor Richard's Almanac, which was to play a large role in molding the diverse American character.

Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Chereshkova became the first woman to travel in space.

College dropout Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer.

Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, revolutionizing the economies of the United States and Britain.

Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Italy.

British ethologist Jane Goodall set up camp in the Gombe Stream Chimpanzee Reserve on Lake Tanganyika and began studying the lives of chimpanzees.

Ken Kesey published his first novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Thomas Pynchon published V., for which he won the William Faulkner First Novel Award.

Friday, December 7, 2007


Two nice stories today from the domain of antiquarian relics.

  • The BBC is reporting that Michelangelo's last sketch, depicting the stone work for St. Peter's Bascillica, has been found in a Vatican archive.
  • The NYT is reporting that the Magna Carta is for sale. Apparently they mean a copy of the early British law, not the law itself. There's a cool feature where you can look at a high resolution image of the actual document. Although owning such a document would be pretty sweet, I am told that the Magna Carta was deemed important only retroactively, after it had been rediscovered. In other words, it's a pure fiction that the document is a "foundational" text of modern democracy. But, hey, if Sotheby's thinks it "forever changed the relationship between the monarchy and those it governed," that's just great. But it's a lie. Bid away!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My Bug Could Paint That


Hey, elephants and chimps (and children) can do a pretty good job of abstract painting, so why not bugs? Artist Steven R. Kutcher dips the creepy crawlers in (watercolor) paint, or has them traipse through it, and then he lets them scurry across the canvas (watercolor paper).

From BoingBoing.

Dead White Guys

Sometimes cultural studies is an afterthought to a museum exhibition; sometimes it is integral to it. Marianna Torgovnick, Duke spy in New York, reports in the Chronicle.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


The Library of Babel, or just modernist governmentality?

From Metafilter.

An obscure 1911 British law requires a copy of every published book, journal, newspaper, patent, sound recording, magazine etc.. to be permanently archived in at least one of five libraries around the country. The British Library has the most complete collection and is currently adding about 12.5km of new shelf space a year of mostly unheard of and unwanted stuff. A new state-of-the-art warehouse is being constructed with 262 linear kilometers of high-density, fully automated storage in a low-oxygen temperature controlled environment. It is not a library, it is a warehouse for "things that no one wants." BLDG Blog ponders on what it all means.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

There's always 2012

Apparently Al Gore is not going to be the next president. From The Lede.

Al Gore is not running for president — not yet, anyway, his most ardent supporters would say –- but the campaign to draft him in New York lives, if only on life support, in an apartment on East 84th Street.

Yes, the local “Draft Gore” campaign rests in several neat stacks of nomination petitions, on a campaign table next to “Gore for President” buttons, stickers and fliers. The table is in the modest, rent-stabilized apartment of Robert Plautz, 60 a tax lawyer and longtime Democratic activist. Mr. Plautz helped organize a last-ditch effort to put Mr. Gore on the Democratic primary ballot in New York State with a signature-gathering mission to persuade the former vice president to run again.

The petitioners began on Oct. 30 and, since Mr. Gore did not publicly tell such “Draft Gore” groups across the country to stop, they continued to gather 2,352 signatures in New York State on dozens of petitions. Finally, on Nov. 13, a Gore representative sent an e-mail message urging them to desist.

What did you ever do?

I saved Latin. And Latin could save politics. Or so Harry Mount at the NYT thinks.

Of course, it's hard to take Mr. Mount seriously. Not with a name like that.

On Silliness: A Trans-Atlantic Approach

The BBC seems to have a knack for reporting stories that make Americans look silly. But I guess I really shouldn't blame them for our silliness. They're just doing their job.

Rich US dog hiding after threats

A dog which inherited $12m (£5.8m) from late New York hotelier Leona Helmsley is in hiding after it was targeted by death threats, US media say.

Trouble, a white Maltese that belonged to the billionaire until her death in August, was flown by private jet to Florida, the New York Post reported.

It says the tiny bitch was whisked away under an assumed name after receiving about 20 threats.

Trouble is said to have earned a number of enemies due to its habit of biting.

Under an assumed name? Have we all gone mad, or are we just kidding ourselves?

While we're on the topic of silliness, why not a bit English silliness? Have a nice day.

Monday, December 3, 2007


The pay phone's day of reckoning draws nigh.

War on Global Warming

AlterNet has a link to a Nation article by Naomi Cline about the weapons industry and environmentalism.

In the world of venture capitalism, there has been a race going on between greens on the one hand and guns and garrisons on the other -- and the guns are winning.

Anyone tired of lousy news from the markets should talk to Douglas Lloyd, director of Venture Business Research, a company that tracks trends in venture capitalism. "I expect investment activity in this sector to remain buoyant," he said recently. His bouncy mood was inspired by the money gushing into private security and defense companies. He added, "I also see this as a more attractive sector, as many do, than clean energy."

Got that? If you are looking for a sure bet in a new growth market, sell solar, buy surveillance; forget wind, buy weapons.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

And for dessert, we have electrodes

Tasered on Thanksgiving. Maybe the hastiest use of a taser I have yet seen.

From the Austin American-Statesman:

After an investigation, the department’s Internal Affairs office saw no need for disciplinary action. http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifBut then-Acting Chief Cathy Ellison reviewed it and ordered a three-day suspension for O’Connor, who served it and then returned to duty.

When Art Acevedo, the new chief from California, saw the video, he strongly disapproved of O’Connor’s action but saw in the footage what some would call “a teaching moment.” He released the video, told officers to watch it, and made it clear that any officer who did the same as O’Connor would be in serious trouble. The chief’s warning was appropriate and welcome.

Via Cynical-C.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Oh course they beat me

Waiting for Godot. In New Orleans.