Thursday, June 30, 2005

Would Natalee Hollway Likey Giant Catfish?

Another busy day- must be brief.

If you've found me through the name above or by searching for Natalie Hoolloway, Natlee Hollaway, or Natalie Hallaway, where you can get the latest news feeds from Yahoo on the actual girl-in-question is HERE.

UPDATE: As of July 12th, the news link above is still good and full of fresh reports. Hope this helps the multitudes avidly following this story.
UPDATE2: As of July 25th, the HERE link above is still a go. You are most loyal to her cause. Wherever she may be, I think that's nice.
UPDATE 3: As of August 25th, the Yahoo link still holds the latest reports, but I wonder why the stalled story still holds your interest. Any dramatic new information on this case will find us all, searching won't be required.

Although her name was spelled correctly in the title, my recent rant on the media coverage (which has not improved, by the way) of the blonde teen missing from Aruba had her surname misspelled within the body of my post. As a result, I've been getting heavy search engine traffic from all sorts of people who aren't sure how to spell her name. If you're one of them, you must be quite disappointed to arrive here, where opinion trumps information and neither is fresh. However, being the charitable type, I'm wont to aid all serious seekers of truth.

Meanwhile, I like to think that Nataley Holliway, whoever or wherever that alternately-spelled entity might be, is herself the kind of gal who could enjoy getting down with some hushpuppies and a 646-pound catfish. Oooh, we're going to need a bigger Fry Daddy for that one, I think.

“I’m thrilled that we’ve set a new record, but we need to put this discovery in context: these giant fish are uniformly poorly studied and some are critically endangered," added [Zeb] Hogan, a fellow with the World Wildlife Fund, which is partnering with the National Geographic Society. "Some, like the Mekong giant catfish, face extinction.” ...The Mekong River Basin is home to more species of massive fish than any river on Earth, they added, and Mekong fish are the primary source of protein for the 73 million people that live along the river.

I'm not even going to try to tell 73 million Thais to stop eating in favor of an arguably prehistoric holdover. But caviar sturgeon, maybe. (I kid about the snobbery.) (Not really.) I will admit my absolute glee that species run smaller than they used to. Not only are the young and dainty more tender and sweet-meated, but who needs creatures like those enormous flying lizards screaming through the skies and plucking victims right off their Rockports? Unless we could employ them as low-emission air travel.... Must go. Grant proposals to craft.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Had to Laugh When Noonan Nailed the Putt

Caddyshack? No, though of work of untouchable cinematic brilliance, I say. If you haven't seen it in a year or two, it's time again. But this time I award today's gold-star to Peggy Noonan of the WSJ who charmingly fries the lardy bottoms of our pompous politicos using examples from their own speech. How underhanded. Read it here. As a friend pointed out, it's easy to ignore the cheap theatre of fighting partisanship, because the narcissists in D.C. are a lot more like each other than they're like us.

Here's an article in from the New Yorker (hat tip: Michelle Malkin, read the comments for more goodies) about Operation Respect: Don't Laugh at Me. The goal is reducing dangerous bullying. Okay- good goal, but does it seem a recent development that young'uns have gone hog-wild on murder sprees at school 'cause someone doesn't like their T-shirts? (Parenthetically, that's just one reason why I'm pro-school uniforms and pro-school discipline. Express youself when you're eighteen, miscreant.) But onto the heart of it, shall we?

Here's what happens when teachers use assertiveness training to teach "I feel X when you do Y" messages for conflict resolution to schoolkids. “Just make sure they’re sticking to the formula,” Hurdle-Price advised. “I often get students who say, ‘I feel that you are stupid.’ ”

I laughed out loud, even though there was no smiley face after the sentence to let me know it was a joke. Here's another platitude from the program: “A ridicule-free world,” a soothing voice intoned. “It’s possible, but only with everyone’s help.”

Can I tell you how little I want to live in a ridicule-free world? Noonan's op-ed piece wouldn't exist even though the grounds for her ridicule are factual. I am pro-satire and quite against the pervasive hypersensitivity that created this program as well as the recent foolishness of the flag burning amendment. Were the representatives never in fourth grade? This kind of jingoistic hand-wringing will only encourage lousy behavior for Al-Jazeera's cameras if they suspect it really bugs us.

I say let them burn any U.S. flag they can find and wipe their behinds with the shreds, because it won't change a molecule of the oppression and hopelessness they suffer due to factors that are strictly local and that ought to be their greater concerns. Let them burn 1000 a day for a year and see what's changed in the quality of their lives. And any American doing it is just pathetically boring. What about a new idea in protest since the last three or four decades? The flag's an object, the Koran's an object. The Bible or a crucifix or even a consecrated, transsubstantiatied communion wafer is a mere object when balanced against human lives. I don't applaud desecration or destruction, and it betrays a certain weakness and vanity, but a freaking sense of humor is an essential survival tool especially when it forces you to laugh at the stiffening of your own neck.

Back to humor, here's what I think we really need in the schools: a focus on better comedy. The problem I have is that so much childhood ridicule isn't actually funny and it's getting worse. Sure, fart jokes and belches will work perenially and have been the basis of many careers, but most in-school mocking is lousy quality, I'm sad to say. Instead of Operation Respect. let's send kids to Theory of Comedy class where they can learn what's funny and realize that jokes and their reactions to same are each weapons in a well-balanced psyche's arsenal. Let them deconstruct and improve upon the comments used to hurt them. Tell the bullies that the scriptwriters for According To Jim are funnier (ouch).

But lest I forget, some nose and stomach punching will have to occur. I'm not completely sure when it descended, but there's a notion of childhood completely alien to both history and nature if the popular understanding is that civilized kids never get challenged to fight. When I was young and my attackers large, I ran. A fine skill to acquire, as well as learning to live through the attendant embarrassment. When I got older and bigger, I stood up and fought, and it was enough to keep the predators at bay. I didn't enjoy seeing especially vulnerable kids picked on near me, so I obstructed that, and I wasn't usually alone. That used to pass for normal.

Some agony of the schoolyard falls on everyone, because childhood is the training ground for adulthood, not some candy-colored utopia of unreality and soft landings. And what can come from confrontation is an understanding of force and appeasement, knowing how far is too far to go, respect from others, and even the decision not to let others be dominated. If a kid is absolutely meat, pull him or her out of the scrum and hie them away to independent study of karate or some other area that confers its own special importance. (Mere apple-polishing positions won't qualify. Who needs the Machivellian maneuverings of more Eddie Haskells?)

But this P.C. anti-bullying training would, no doubt, have made even bigger a-holes out of kids I already hated.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Yay Gabriel and Parrots, Boo Lightning and Zombie Dogs

I'm a jerk while on deadline, and although this one is self-imposed and unpaid, it's still real enough to make me snippy. So briefly...

1) Lately, I've been Afrocentric which I promise to reduce for variety's sake-after this one last thing. I applaud Peter Gabriel's efforts to organize a concert of actual African musicians near the Eden greenhouses in southwest England. Both supportive of and endorsed by Live 8, Gabriel nonetheless jibes Geldof as "the pope" and "Chairman Bob" and calls for address of African corruption as well as poverty.

“What I would like to see is pressure on the ICC (International Criminal Court) to include corruption in its remit,” he said. He also called for a system of registering complaints of corruption made by African citizens against leaders and logging any investigations that are launched. “I would love to see more African-generated initiatives highlighted, because by putting us (in the West) once again in a position of power, there is a subtext which may castrate African initiatives,” he said.

As one starring musician, Ayub Ogada of Kenya, puts it: “With this Eden concert we have a chance to take part. A lot of the times we are left out. Throughout our life outsiders have told us what we need, and no one has ever asked us.”

2) This foul-mouthed parrot screamed her owner awake to escape his burning home. "Green-cheeked Amazon Sweetie Pie, who speaks with a strong Scottish accent, usually mutters a string of obscenities, including 'f *** off', 'get tae f *** ' and 'you're a b ***** d'."

3) Being struck by lightning is still rare and the consequences are still misunderstood, even by keraunopathologists, specialists in post-electrocution syndrome. Here are fascinating survivors and their stories. For example, we learn that "lightning can flash over the outside of a victim, sometimes blowing off clothes without leaving so much as a mark on the skin." Mark this, collegians, you don't have to admit to the X or tequila shooters. Tell everyone you were struck naked by an act of God.

4) I further learned today that in Anglo countries like England and Australia, research scientists are called boffins, which is a splendid title I will begin using immediately. But that's not nearly all. Some Steel Town boffins have found a way to reanimate a dog after hours of clinical death by replacing its blood with cold saline solution and restarting its vital engines with an electric shock. This is supposed to evetually save people with injuries causing tremendous blood loss, but the idea of the intentional zombie is still SUPER CREEPY! Non?

Thanks to McMudge of Huffington's Toast.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Reality of TV, Goats, and Murder

I feel like I'm shooting blanks today, not that I'm sure you'll particularly notice in the quality. Once at basement level, how can we descend?

1) If you weren't aware, so-called reality TV is (gasp) scripted. Since the beginning of the Real World, writers have been guiding situations and crafting story arcs to add dramatic oomph to life, which- while rich and multi-textured- is often boring. The current issue is that to maintain the myth of "reality", as well as the puny production costs, writers have been credited as producers, consultants, and other sorts of catch-all meaninglessness to disguise their function on the shows. Not being billed as writers, they're not working under Writers' Guild provisions and don't get the benefits thereof. Now, in general I'm not a union fan, it's true. However, I think Hollywood may be so divorced from real reality (if that makes sense) that free market principles can't penetrate its silicone shell. Writers ought to be credited as such for their career development, and shouldn't be treated worse than camera operators and caterers just because their job is to make entertaining lies.

2) For fans of the indubitably authentic detritus of murder and tragedy, here's the auction for you. Now, I do love the macabre, which includes in its definition the suggestion or representation of death, a perfect example being Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies, viewable here. I love the equal absurdity and dark humor of Mexico's Day of Dead and its kind of whistling in the graveyard, but I have no interest in actual Faces of Death or owning the sad remains of broken lives. Some might say that makes me unrealistic. I disagree.

I believe it's realistic and respectful to discern that one category is an intellectual and artistic tickle recognizing that life can be fragile and short and ridiculous, while the other dehumanizes true evil and loss. I don't generally believe in hauntings except for purposes of generating frissons of delight at Halloween, but beliefs from the karmic to feng shui hold that items can be infused with negativity through association. Having a Gorey on my wall celebrates a product of artistic creation; these others are emblematic of destruction. To me, it makes all difference in the world.

3) In our everything-old-is-new-again segment for today, please enjoy with me the eminent sensibility of employing herds of goats to thin fire-prone brush. I have family in California who live very near a grazing hill for cows which protected them when last summer's blazes got dangerously close to their house. Not only are grazing animals a historically smart way to control overgrowth, but I like goat cheese, too. Wouldn't it just be plain cool to hear the sound of bells, put down the Blackberry and look out the window of your San Fran wifi-espresso bar to witness herds of goats cutting the rug? TCB, my Capricorn brothers and sisters!

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Charity and Africa-Go-Go

UPDATE: My most recent Live 8 hypocrisy post here.

Accessing the following articles requires registration (boo, hiss) but not subscription. I know for a fact that the Spectator's nosy form can be left incomplete and still goes through. However, I find the Telegraph and Spectator routinely have such interesting coverage, I think you'll find it worthwhile.

Do I ever tire of being so freaking on top of what's happening? Well, no, since I'm a pathetic fraud. But the inefficiencies and hypocrisies of international aid programs have been a concern of mine, since the inception of this blog- sans sexy links- last January to comment on the Indian Ocean tsunami. I do claim to be at least a persistent bore, banging my pot with a wooden spoon and yelling that more money and U.N. room service won't fix underdeveloped nations without systemic reform against corruption and empowering regular folks to benefit from their labors.

1) The authentically fabulous Mark Steyn describes the current fate of tsunami aid which is still held up awaiting bribes and infrastructure. He also details how the first responders and essential (non-bribe dependent) supply transport was provided by the same militaries that most of the world is too cheap or faux-civilized to maintain themselves. He cites a clueless Canuck who berated America for sending an aircraft carrier to the devastated region (how imperialist and warlike!) while ignoring that it replaced destroyed staging capacities on land and was additionally a high-tech, floating hospital. Like other countries, we sent tons of goods and funds. Unlike them, we also immedately provided a fully-staffed, billion-dollar asset to make sure the stuff got to where it was needed and that critically wounded people could be airlifted to top-quality medical care. This service is irreplaceable in the rest of the world. So why did our helping hand get accused of pinching pennies? Because greedy officials can't steal a whole carrier.

2) I've posted about the abuses of the ruling African strongmen and their love for Mercedes. Reading this Spectator article by Aidan Hartley, I learned the biggest tyrants are actually nicknamed WaBenzi in Swahili because of their trademark fleets of autos. You will discover their favorite models in color and number as well as how the money keeps finding its way past needy mouths and into rulers' garages. Hear the debauched argument that fat compensation makes a country's leaders less vulnerable to corruption. And BTW, grow up, Geldof.

3) Toward Robert Mugabe of decimated Zimbabwe, I've recently expressed a lack of confidence here and here. But now I must reconsider. He's got his thugs, correction, "building brigades", hastily reassembling some of the stores and shanties they just demolished after turning thousands from their homes and arresting thousands more for wondering whether things might be better under other leadership, I mean, for being menaces to society. Patrick Chinamasa, the justice minister, admitted that "harm" had been caused to legitimate housing in the clean-up to "flush out black marketeers and criminals". I don't know if I'm more nauseous from the transparent antics, or from the oxymoronic notion of a Mugabe justice minister.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Squittens, Cabbits, Sleep, and Slate

1) Thanks to April's comment yesterday, I can now direct you to this site where Sarah Hartwell discusses a variety of inadvertent and intentional (ack!) kitty distortions as well as persistent cross-breed myths like the squitten and the cabbit. People wonder why I'm so worried about cloning et al. It's because there's almost no horrific mutation someone won't try.

As Terry Pratchett wrote once, and I recall in mangled form:
If someone made a sign reading Don't Touch above the button that destroys the universe, we'd all be dead before the paint was dry.

2) Further prioritizing the Morphean bliss of slumber, Slate has this article about whether sleep or breakfast helps kids' cognition more. As a chronically under-rested teen, with circadian rhythms biased more toward the owl than the lark, I never awoke hungry and still don't. Here's another arrow in the quiver for those of us advocating the simple power of adequate sleep. Taken together, the scientific literature on breakfast and sleep suggests that making sure kids get enough shut-eye will probably do more for them than dragging them out of bed to eat their Wheaties.

3) In a Slate two-fer, this article talks about the prevalence of "problem" fiction in curricula for teens. Rather than reading classically worthy books, which don't have to be stuffy and naive, we're directing young readers toward blah-blah writing about the conflict-ridden.

I didn't watch many Afterschool Specials once I got the general idea. I only read so many Judy Blumes. I got bored with stupid characters inexorably stumbling into terrible situations that could and should have been avoided. I got tired of characters whose lives were so lousy that I couldn't relate. I felt alienated that there wasn't anyone portrayed who was vaguely familiar, and I drifted toward literature peopled by those I could admire. Is it best to push kids' faces into the muck of awful, if believable, lives told badly? Or could we assume that they'll inevitably discover permutations of sadness and depravity on their own, and instead give them literary-quality examples of people succeeding through hardship accompanied by strong character (and good vocabulary)?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Eminent Domination of the Noble Tribesman

The stories today are threaded with the theme of other people deciding what's best for you, especially if you don't happen to be as influential or educated or as collectively civic-minded as they.

1) In a truly HORRIBLE ruling, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that forced sale of people's property under eminent domain is even justified if the proposed development is primarily for private gain. I've posted before about my dread of environmentally-justified eminent domain hurting property owners. I rail and rant about other countries' hopeless backwardness in ignoring individual property rights. And then SCOTUS does this. The "conservative" justices dissented, augmented by O'Connor, whose childhood among the ranches of the West might have inculcated a deeper understanding of the essence of territory ownership for Americans.

For years, developers have been cherry-picking pretty parcels of land with ugly or impoverished dwellings upon them, romancing municipal councils with the promises of increased tax bases and property values, and helping people out of their homes with the flimisiest application of the "blight" and "public use" provisions. Now, holy Christmas in June, they don't even have to restrict themselves to targeting the poor and unrepresented.

Developer/Council Member: (Looks at your backyard swingset) That's where we're going to put the duck pond and the bike path. The smoothie franchise is going where your neighbor's garden shed is.

You: I like smoothies, but...

D/CM: Isn't it great? We've already got a chiropractor and a drycleaner signed up for the strip mall next to the office complex. But don't forget we'll have chamber music in the gazebo twice a year. For the children. (Begins blubbering and retrieves tissue from pocket of sharkskin suit) We all care about our community's children, don't we?

You: I was sort of thinking about my own kids. Having a home to grow up in. Using a second mortgage for their college. Leaving them an inheritance when I pass away...

D/CM: Well, it's just lucky for all of us that the judges aren't so small-minded and selfish.

2) Daniel Akaka, Democratic Senator from Hawaii continues his efforts to liberate native Hawaiians from the tyranny of the Constitution. Legislatively segregating 20% of Hawaii's population, he wants to reorganize a separate tribal government that the U.S. can deal with as a peer entity, and that will not be required, of course, to give its members the same protections under the law they already have as American citizens. (hat tip: Townhall) Oh sure, lots of existing tribes haven't loved their liasons with Indian Affairs. But maybe casinos among the macadamia trees will ease the pain. Reading the bill reveals what will be gained are fat government jobs to administrate this travesty.

It establishes the Office of Native Hawaiian Relations in the Department of the Interior to serve as a liaison between Native Hawaiians and the United States. It establishes the Native Hawaiian Interagency Coordinating Group to be composed of federal officials from agencies which administer Native Hawaiian programs. Both of these provisions are intended to increase coordination between the Native Hawaiians and the federal government. And third, the bill provides a process of reorganization of the Native Hawaiian governing entity.

To get the proposal even this far, the Hawaiians had to swear they weren't taking from the piggy banks that already serve (and I use the term loosely) the indigenous peoples of the mainland. No, our taxes will pay for brand new line items to segregate people. If I said that blacks or Buddhists or the colorblind had to form their own sub-government reporting to a single, unelected bureau within our government's bowels, wouldn't it be seen for an outrage?

3) Arts & Letters Daily put me onto this wonderful Commentary article about the willful misjudgement and condescending paternalism that intelligentsia impose on primitive cultures, in this case, South American tribes. Here's what an older, wiser Margaret Mead said, trying to dissuade one young, cultural savior from his romantic views.

The main point that annoyed [Mead] was the concept, unstated by me, that primitive peoples were any better off as they were. She said she was “maddened by antibiotic-ridden idealists who wouldn’t stand three weeks in the jungle” . . . and the whole “noble savage” concept almost made her foam at the mouth. “All primitive peoples,” she said, “lead miserable, unhappy, cruel lives, most of which are spent trying to kill each other.” The reason they lived in the unpleasant places they did, like the middle of the Brazilian jungle, was that nobody else would.

While Mead acknowledged that the dances and art and music should be preserved or at least recorded for their granchildren, she wanted to preserve the people themselves not because of some inherent cultural value or hope of capitalizing on rainforest cures, but on absolute moral grounds. " was bad for the world to let these people die, and the effort to prevent their extermination was good for mankind even if it failed.” ...She also claimed emphatically that they all wanted one thing only, and that was to have as many material possessions and comforts as possible...if they could possibly get hold of any aluminum pots they would use them.

I regurgitate my previous post from March about Africa where Kenya's Akinye Arunga puts it this way: "Cute indigenous lifestyles simply mean indigenous poverty, indigenous malnutrition, indigenous disease and childhood death. I don't wish this on my worst enemy, and I wish our so-called friends would stop imposing it on us."

I wish the self-professed enlightened of this world would stop assigning spiritual superiority everywhere material inferiority exists. Hoarding history's advancements while saying it's for primitive peoples' own good dooms the less-developed to cruel hardships. Stop confining people to living as exhibits, professional anachronisms to bulwark your feelings of superiority and bolster the assumption that the spirituality you've discarded is a necessary fatality of progress. Cultural preservation efforts should come from within the said culture. I find it massah-style repulsive to deny anyone the hopes of their own future potential, trapping them in time like insects in amber, clapping while you force them to grin and dance in their funny ancient outfits for your pleasure.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Two-Faced Wonders, Can Courtesy Cure All?

First, many thanks to Jenny D. for the listing and kind words in week 20's Carnival of Education. This week, she hosts education-related reportage and commentage in the oodles. Whatever your hot button, someone's pressing it. Chewy, interesting stuff.

1) The strange weather of the blogosphere means I'll pick a topic and, within the next day or two, I'll see new information that makes me want to update. Ad infinitem. I usually let it drop. But not this time.

In my post yesterday about how Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe must love Live 8 and hate DDT, I didn't mention his recent project. Operation Murambatsvina, translated as Drive out the Rubbish, which bulldozes the homes and kiosks of impoverished urbanites. We are not talking about a razing a cardboard enclave in a city with the property rights, zoning, and aid infrastructure of Cleveland. We are talking about displacing over a million people, families who live in established, though poor, neighborhoods The displaced are not even allowed to cart their debris away to rebuild homes elsewhere. They're instead relocated to anchovy-snug tent camps with little food and less hygiene. The neighborhoods slated for beautification are those most politically resistant to Mugabe's blandishments. Coincidence? The latest wrinkle is Mugabe disallowing these bullied citizens their subsistence gardens, because... wait for it... Their growing food hurts the environment.

Unlike the newly aethetically and environmentally attuned Mugabe, this straightforward kitty shows her two faces. She's bucked the odds so far. Good luck, Gemini.

2) Another aspect of the blogiverse is that seemingly unrelated stories swirl around, accumulating until they smack you in the face with a new idea. My notion isn't fully thunk, but it's rattling my synapses so I've got to let the bats out of the belfry.

BACKGROUND: I read this Townhall article about the firebrand Thomas Szasz, calling mental illness the new normal, and a meaty book review in Reason. While the expansion of what constitutes dysfunction astounds me, I can't decide yet that everything we don't have a physical diagnosis for isn't a real problem. Thomas Dalrymple had already caused me to consider what I called the death of eccentricity here. I read Kristof's NYT op-ed about the plight of women in Pakistan, about the breathtaking rudeness of a German diplomat towards American guests in his home, and about H.G. Wells' elitist utopianism.

In my fevered brain, it all connected with something by George Orwell, an essay fronting a collection of E.W. Hornung's stories, from 1899, about A.J. Raffles, the public-school boy and West End clubman whose amazing cricket skills and infallible taste allow him to mingle among the upper crust whom he burgles for a living. Writing in 1944, Orwell compares Raffles' exploits to a contemporary American gangster story by James Hadley Chase. 1939's No Orchids for Miss Blandish includes multiple varieties of torture, rapes, Stockholm sydrome, murders and police abuses. Citing the increase in Might Makes Right as entertainment, Orwell writes:

People worship power in the form in which they are able to understand it. A twelve year old boy worships Jack Dempsey. An adolescent in a Glasgow slum worships Al Capone... A New Statesman reader worships Stalin. There is a difference in intellectual maturity, but none in moral outlook. Thirty years ago the heroes of popular fiction had nothing in common with Chase's gansters and detectives...Between [Sherlock] Holmes and Fenner [Chase's protagonist] on the one hand, and between Abraham Lincoln and Stalin on the other, there is a similar gulf.

One ought not to infer too much from the success of Mr. Chase's books. It is possible that it is an isolated phenomenon, brought about by the mingled boredom and brutality of war [sound prescient?]...Raffles, as I have pointed out, has no real moral code, no religion, certainly no social consciousness. All he has is a set of reflexes- the nervous system, as it were, of a gentleman...In Mr Chase's books there are no gentlemen, and no taboos. Emancipation is complete. Freud and Machiavelli have reached the outer suburbs. Comparing the schoolboy atmosphere of the one book with the cruelty and corruption of the other, one is driven to feel that snobbishness, like hypocrisy, is a check upon human behavior whose value from a social point of view has been underrated.

JIST: When I talk about politeness or being courteous, I'm not referring the etiquette of table utensils for prawn cheeks or the correct address for the wife of Burundi's ambassador. Should the need arise, do look up such miscellania online. What I refer to is an old-fashioned ideal that many feel slipping from evidence in the public square. Courtesy predjudices one toward and habituates behavior characterised by tolerance, patience, consideration for others, generosity, dignity, self-control, and deference of the strong to needs of the weaker.

Within courtesy, I perceive practical training against narcissism and impatience among the young. I perceive habits that encourage respect for individual differences while lubricating smooth function of the whole. I see facilitation of effective debate across classes and democracy's defense against accusations of popular unfitness by dictator-loving elitists. I see a standard of civil conduct which need not rely upon or preclude religious observance. I see elevation of women's social status and of those that protect the weak from violence and coercion.

Is it possible that this cheaply held, neglected minor virtue is the pillar of all decent civilization?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

I Heart DDT and Phyllis Schlafly and Bubble Wrap

I had been meaning to post this story on the bleak news about West Nile virus. Okay, this bad boy is worse than we thought, but we're not powerless, oh no, simply deluded and wobbly.

As any semi-regular reader knows, I love DDT. (See one such post here) I think it's a human advancement right up there with Salk's polio vaccine (don't get me started on the anti-vaccine lobbies), and we ought to be using it today to save the millions of people in developing nations who are painfully debilitated and/or killed by malaria. Even in America, where its use was also banned, though fortunately only after we'd made substantial progress through spraying, not only is West Nile on the rise, but we're seeing new emergences of dengue fever- remember when that funny name was a punchline? It's unconscionable and foolish that we've allowed this decades-old internalization of well-debunked junk science to petrify into a knee-jerk gospel of ignorance that contributes to catastropic and remediable human suffering.

In my opinion, Live 8 is a celebrity strokefest which will only put more money into the hands of tyrants like the butcher Mugabe. Meanwhile, if we seeded Africa with low-cost and easy-to-distribute DDT, we'd be guaranteed to save lives, impacting people in a way that tinpot dictators couldn't coopt to feed their own hunger for Mercedes. Let me paint the picture.

Aside from the obvious joy or relieving suffering, we'd increase the potential for Africa since more people would be alive to care for their now-orphaned children. We'd increase the wealth and productivity since we'd have large majorities without the chronic malnourishment and dehydration from persistent diarrhea that keep so many from being able to work for their own and their communities' welfare. If you wonder (with a touch of superiority) why Africans are still living as so many do, realize that the horrible physical circumstances which decimate the population preclude steady education, consistent social institutions, and actually affect basic brain development. Chronic illness keeps Africa from using its own creative potential for progress. Healthy Africans could create beneficial, working societies that would, I hope, topple regressive oppressors from their seats of power. Be sure that tyrants want checks from the West, written against our impotent pity. They don't want DDT.

I had not expected to find myself in bed with Phyllis Schlafly today. Really ever. However, as I read her well-presented Townhall article on the issue, I wonder whether I, too, haven't absorbed someone else's dusty propaganda without getting the facts. I'm giving you the straight-up chance to rock me, Phyllis, 'cause anyone for DDT can't be all bad!

Here's your online, bubble wrap connection. Sure, some may find it boring and pointless, but to some it's transcendently theraputic. Thanks, Bonnie, for the link. I do mine on manic mode.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Natalee Holloway Nauseum, 100 Wacky Kickers

UPDATE: All below still applies, but my recent follow-up to this story is here.

I didn't have anything to say about Natalee Holloway's disappearance until a recent saturation of media input made me realize this story highlights questionable priorities across the board. I'll assume you know the basics. If not, bone up here.

1) I'm getting this out of the way early. Nothing pardons crime, however, sending your underage children to another country without pretense of scholastic value or edification, but merely to party on foreign beaches with a tiny cohort of non-parental chaperones may not be the greatest idea if you intend them to remain sober, unmolested, uninfected, etc. It's not my place to say what people should do with their own children and their extra money, but it's excessive for my taste. Whatever happened celebrating high school graduation with a nice party and a watch?

2) FoxNews' Greta Van Susteren did a long interview with Natalee's mother to ask how she feels. Unless the situation is surprisingly nifty and fun, this doesn't exactly meet the definition of news. Having a child go missing with the probability of at least foul play and likely murder must be a living nightmare. Perhaps a soul-sucking ordeal of fear and pain and horrible fantasies? You need only be human to imagine that. Broadcasting a mother's helpless tears and pleas for ten minutes is not news, it's facilitating exploitative rubber-necking. How does this help anyone find the girl?

3) This case is operating at a snail's pace among the Aruban constabulary. The Attorney General, explaining the two-week delay in searching a suspect's home and car after his detention, says that they can't just "go in there like a cowboy." This not-so-subtle swipe at our own commander-in-chief displays local frustration in having American citizens and law enforcement breathing down their necks. The implication is that their system better protects the innocent, however, it's their own very civilized regulations that allow them to detain anyone for 116 days without charges! Obviously, it's this Carribbean bias against haste that means no one thought it logical, after detaining suspects, to do anything but interview them... for days... and a week... then again. While locals push back against turf encroachment, where is the girl?

4) In another example, last night, Fox News found a retired island police investigator to interview. Offering zero facts about the normal approach or course of investigations, he assured viewers briefly that the police were doing "their utmost." Of course he knows the suspect's father, but wouldn't call himself a friend. No, this man's overriding and passionate concern was the airing of suspects' photos on American TV. He was disturbed by this outrage against their Geneva Convention rights, and demanded that the investigation be more correctly directed toward the Holloway family and their publicity of their daughter's disappearance. He was visibly offended that the interviewer did not allow him to expand on his theme, though he wedged in repeated mentions of how the FBI ought to spend its time. If criminal charges are ever filed, perhaps such items can be debated in the ICC at The Hague where we're going on which dusty year of the Slobodan Milosevic trials? But in the meantime, would a real investigator's focus be on media coverage of an uncharged suspect or on the girl?

5) He's not alone, though. The MSM in America also took this case as an opportunity to look at itself, specifically whether a missing teen who's a pretty blonde gets more coverage than, say, an unattractive member of another race. This might seem like a legit question to some, but my question is why the story always returns to the media's submersion in its own importance as the organ of information? It's not about you! It's about the girl!

6) There are multiple polls and stories circulating about whether you'll be less likely to visit Aruba after this and how it may affect their tourism. Various boards are offering statements about how safe and cozy it is on their island. It may be true, but- in the parlance of a stright-shooting pal- I don't give a whore's fart for their press releases until they FIND THE GIRL!

In whatever sad state she may be, Aruba must provide tangible proof of Natalee Hollway's fate. It's the only thing that will make Americans relax their pressure, it's the only thing that matters, and the only issue I want to hear about from our homegrown tragedy-mongers or Aruba's convention bureau.

WACKINESS HERE: If you're just here for the oddities, there's an overflow of awesomeness today. Thanks, Dr. Sanity, for this week's Carnival of the Insanities. Number 17 pointed me to the 50 Worst Hairstyles of All-Time (with captions). Another can't-miss is Phat-Phree's 50 Coolest On-Screen Rides.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Six-Legged, Two-Penised Malaysian Puppy named Lucky.

I don't usually post on Sundays, but today's AP story provided a strange and wonderful follow-up to yesterday's one about sadder puppy fates. Spare me the jokes about any creature with two penises being lucky. Okay don't, but make sure they're funny.

--- I wrote the above then decided to search for an example of the kind of thing I meant and I couldn't find one. Oh, there were tons of web sites and lots of material, but as I feared, nothing struck me funny. And can we get some one-liners posted, please? Everything's essay-length, shaggy dog format. Perhaps jokes simply stink in print. If a person telling me a joke screws up or forgets the set-up, or experiences paroxysms of hysterics long before the punch line (like 5 year-olds frequently do), I always find that infectiously amusing. But for me, the form known as the joke acquires humor in the delivery not the content. Anywayyyyy---

The puppy was apparently abandoned outside a Chinese temple and is being cared for by the temple committee...devotees feel that the unusual dog is a bearer of good fortune and have named him Ong Fatt, or the Lucky One.

I did wonder whether the extra parts are residuals of an undeveloped twin (eeuwww) and what the reaction would be to a similarly formed young human. Social labeling as "accursed" or "lucky" can be as arbitrary as lethal in certain geographies, but I suppose my overall feeling is happiness for any oddball with a loving home. You represent hope for us all. Welcome to the World, your Ong Fattness!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

PETA stands for Preferred Euthanasia and Thoughtless Aftermath?

If you believed this strident activist group was about sparing animals' lives at any cost and subsequently encouraging vegetarianism and fashion choices without animal hides, you've misunderstood their opinions and initiatives. Apparently the group merely advocates a preferred method of death and believes the health restrictions about disposal of animal carcasses and waste are an oppressive straitjacket to liberty.

Today, Page Six reports two [PETA] employees were caught tossing the corpses of 31 orphaned dogs they had "euthanized" into a Dumpster outside a Piggly-Wiggly store in Ahoskie, N.C. ...Ahoskie police chief Troy Fitzhugh told PAGE SIX that up to 80 dead dogs, including seven puppies, had been illegally dumped in the area over the past four weeks...PETA insists that its method of euthanasia, lethal injection, is more humane that the local methods — .22-caliber rifle or poison gas. The local shelters knew the dogs "adopted" by PETA were doomed to die, PETA claims — but local officials say they were told the organization would find homes for the animals, not slaughter them. ...PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk told us, "We have a history of communications with these shelters. They know we provide free euthanasia services. We drive down there to euthanize their animals."

I had only heard rumors that PETA actually euthanized animals, but hadn't seen it confirmed. Now, it's not only confirmed, it's defended by their president. No-kill shelters do exist, but PETA doesn't run them. Apparently no pet cemeteries either. Does that seem incongruous to you given their accuse-of-Nazism-first and vandalize-later M.O. toward other organizations and businesses involved with animals? While they hound and badger (no pun intended) KFC about their practices with chickens, PETA President Newkirk defends as "good people" these paid employees tossing rotting puppy cadavers that they killed into a grocery store dumpster. It demonstrates not only complete disregard for disposal and sanitation of animal waste (regulations PETA contentiously monitors for others' adherence) but what must be seen as a contemptuous attitude towards the bodies of the innocents they claim to protect. Even the local pound will cremate. A loving owner might bury. And PETA's defense is that gassing or a single shot to the head is so much crueler that lethal injection? For the record: If I'm doomed to die by unnatural causes, I don't care which method they use as long as it's quick.

Let the suicidal and terminally ill be informed. PETA are not just annoying finger-pointers who want you clad in hemp while gassily bloated from soy protein isolates. They're officially declaring themselves your glossy, celebrity-endorsed source for free euthanasia. And although they can't guarantee your decaying body won't be dumped and befouling a water supply somewhere afterwards, you will get what you paid for.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Gender of Text, the Mess of Art, and Lost Thermidor

1) Writers tend to wonder how they come across in print. Who might you think I am or how might you imagine me if you didn't know? The Gender Genie takes text, preferably at least 500 words, either fiction or non, and algorithmically guesses the author's gender. (HT: Bookslut) The program will display your stats, highlighting words and indicating whether they're associated as male or female. I pasted pages from my new novel and from this blog. It was wrong about me twice since, apparently, I'm literarily canted quite differently from my chromosomes. How did it work for you?

2) This article from the Chronicle of Higher Education recounts with historical and educational meatiness the drift and degradation of art from studio practice to radicality for its own sake and self-expression...The audience for modern art long ago gave up expecting or wanting skills, talent, or beauty from artists and willingly acceded to the idea that an artist is a creative outsider whose usefulness lies mainly in being critical of everything. Think "court jester" without the humor.

But Laurie Fendrich doesn't just critique. She offers interesting and specific suggestions to reintegrate the ideals of art that inspired history's masters into current curriculums. She concludes: In any event, the most crucial job at hand is to steer art students away from the self-congratulatory, self-indulgent deconstructionesque platitudes that increasingly guide their educations. After all, why major in art just to become a half-baked social scientist?

Even when I was in undergrad in Art (lo these many years ago) it was quite common to structure one's curriculum so that by graduation, one had merely a scattershot portfolio of a couple sculptures, prints, drawings, paintings, multimedia projects, and/or videos that represented an uncohesive bunch of teacher-assigned subjects and nothing beyond novice level mastery of any medium. I learned to manage drawing and painting better than I'd expected given my late arrival to art, but even my last semester, I never had more than one painting class at a time and no department-assisted focus on a theme, technique, or topic that would've led to richer development at least within a limited area. I think I would've graduated with better work and capabilities by spending the first two years in technical survey and art history, and digging deeply into critique, individual artistic evolution, and skill mastery as a junior and senior.

I applaud Fendrich's analysis and her efforts, and I don't underestimate how incendiary it is to make such comments from within art school academia. After another recent and disappointing report from my alma mater, I listed my collected rules for modern art at the bottom of a previous post. They're still guaranteed to rocket any current student into the pantheon of overexposure. And I'm still begging to be saved from the ugly and obvious.

3) Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jeffrey Eugenides has relocated to Chicago.
I view it as a Denmark kind of place. Cold, well-run--a clean, beautiful, pristine city where you can have a nice life and bring up kids and not have a lot of stress. After living in Europe, Chicago reminds me of some of those cities. He's right in the nicest sense.

Eugenides has cultivated a passion for the Cape Cod Room at the Drake Hotel, and I approve heartily, except when he discourages the Tribune's reporter from ordering the lobster thermidor. LT is one of the dishes that in my youth was cultural shorthand indicating the acme of style and taste. Others included pheasant under glass and baked Alaska. I not only love the idea of these dishes, but when well-prepared, they're wowser. I order these and other such antiquated entrees whenever I see them, because they wouldn't be on any nice joint's contemporary menu unless someone championed them. That champion is usually the chef. And that means good eatin'.

While in Atlantic City, I was at a restaurant that had flounder a la francais with lump crabmeat on its permanent menu. This unusual entree with a mostly-neglected fish signaled me that it was probably a chef's favorite. I consulted with the waiter to confirm, and I must report it was lip-smackingly delicioso. If you want something great, don't just order the ubiquitous chicken or even the simple lobster tails. Order something from the specials list and enjoy the chef's fresh enthusiasm for seasonal ingredients. Order something distinctive that the chef is proud of and excited about serving. Order the Bookbinder's soup.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Nanny Cavalcade, Port-a-Lets for Everest

Well, yesterday brought a ka-bong letter on my latest novel. I haven't given up on it yet, but such events push me toward discussing topics distant from my own failures. Like this one.

Today, I was walking the dogs just as the sprinkling rain began. Suddenly, I spied an inchworm working its way along the sidewalk to 2nd Ave, perhaps for cocktails at donatella&davidburke? Its signature locomotion was as cheery and wonderful to see as it was incongruous in this cement Legoland. May one of the following delight you.

1) Walter Williams takes on the newest cash cow, safety belt laws. I hate the ones I'm required to wear, and resist the back seat versions even though people have recently told me gruesome, true stories about life-changing accidents. Thank goodness I'm still free to be backwards.

2) It's not my fear of heights. The "virus-laden poo" is the reason I don't climb.

3) More proof that hypersensitive PC-ness turns normal people into a bunch of histrionic, thin-skinned, tantrum-prone toddlers. A civil society of mutual respect should not require becoming as duplicitous and mealy-mouthed as... I'll say it ... a career diplomat. However, if you disagree, you'll be comforted by this Mark Steyn article from the Telegraph. As violent crime continues rising in England, miscreants like Sam Brown are pounced upon by six officers and a fleet of patrol cars, jailed overnight, and fined for speculating on the sexual orientation of an officer's horse.

4) In a topic I've ranted on before, Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post points out that the greatest increases in airport security have come from the airlines themselves. Current security screening is intrusive, time-consuming, costly, and doesn't work. Our latest father and son tag team of aspiring dirty-bombers from California were discovered through their patterns of international travel. We should re-privatize airline security. We'd get rid of the patdowns of 8 and 80-year olds, increase the technology in luggage and cargo screening, and put security personnel to work gathering intelligence not plastic buckets.

5) The celebrated American character isn't extinct yet. A grandmother gets stuck in her bathtub for five days. A friendly neighbor kid notices her absence and actually gets help. Her family isn't suing the bathtub maker, they're buying handrails. And our plucky heroine celebrates her freedom from porcelain with a Parliament 100 and a Coke. Rock on!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Improper Convertibles. Mind if My Mind Wanders?

I'm recovering my equilibrium after the gypsy feel of vacationing across multiple destinations. I'll admit that I love the anonymous, nomadic, anything-is-possible freedom that I feel while traveling, but nonetheless, I'm happy to be home. There are big goals to tackle here, and honestly, even just during a week, things have begun unraveling in the homestead. I've got piles of mail to cull, errands and to dos, and my air conditioner started leaking some fluid last night that buckled the parquet floor tiles into splintered teepees.

I'd mentioned awesome convertibles in my last post before vacation. The article I linked did not mention the 2005 Ford Thunderbird , but they should have. I'm sure the 10-best folks had their reasons, but as I traveled the roadways, it was that sleek machine that repeatedly caught my eye. It has that rare quality of looking good from every angle. So often a goofy backend or lousy silhouette disappoints a car that made the angels sing at first view. The Thunderbird's styling was uniformly tasty. Even if it has a slightly European feel compared to the traditional T-bird ideal, it was blissfully appealing whether in my rearview, through the passenger window or as I tailgated. My favorite among the few I saw was a metallic turquoise/sea foam color that I don't see on the website. Probably custom. Ford should add it.

One of the upsides of returning home was I got an e-mail from my friend (whose new novel I pimped in the same pre-vacation post) asking whether I'd be interested in writing a little book review. The magazine concerned is called The Improper and claims to be "a view askew from Manhattan to Montauk." But looking at the cover, doesn't it seem almost staid to cover the Hamptons by reporting on shiny hotties with names from Page Six? Anyhoo, no staff member had time to read the book before deadline today thus creating an interesting opportunity for me. Being the fiction writing type, I have accumulated zero in the way of press clips, so I was eager to get one. I'll take any validation, really, but more on that later. To date, my only other presence in a periodical was a candid photo topping an article about a hair salon I visit that appeared in a freebie gay weekly in Chelsea. You can't recognize the head's me without knowing, but since it's not entirely the kind of thing I could send to my grandmother without significant editing and explanation, it's probably for the best.

I don't know whether the approach I took for the Improper's minireview- yes, even 200 words requires an angle- suits their skew, but I liked it. My friend seems happy with it, and it wasn't too much to write compared to the quantity of blather I produce here on a semi-regular basis. My problem is not producing quantity, it's the time to make it usable. Those two paragraphs, not styled like my fiction, but for publication I hope, took me at least four hours. I merely begin with writing. The enduringly painful part is when I revise, re-edit, reread, repeat. Back to my validation whine.

There are established career writers who are not terrific craftspeople. But once you've got a publisher and audience that accept your style, you can concentrate on creating other aspects of your story like plot and pace. I tool and retool my style, because I don't have anyone to tell me to stop, that it's good enough, that I could safely transition to improving my craft as I go. My fiction style is different from what's here. Quite. Probably why I enjoy the relative looseness of this venue. Oh, I haphazardly correct for basic grammar, punctuation, and typos, but I don't agonize over sentence variation, paragraph structure, parallelism, sequencing, word choice and all the other possible permutations that allow a page of fiction to consume hours of concentration.

I still hope that I'll become better at what I do, turn a corner, and experience streamlined creativity as opposed to this microscopically self-conscious process. How I'd love to focus on storytelling, far beyond this phase of endlessly dissecting the page's every squiggly bit of detritus. I understand that the writing must be a fitting vessel for the story, but some people seem to deal with it effortlessly like great jazz musicians improvise. They don't worry about whether they're playing triplets, their minds are on the tune. Not me. Not yet. So I must get back to work. As my old boss used to say: Enjoy Your Life and Goodbye.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Gassy Communists, Hatin' Socialized Medicine (redux), and Wacky Nigerians

I am back and scatterbrained. However, in my absence, such nuggets of goodness have accumulated in the browser and inbox that I have much to share. Thanks to April and the Scrivener especially. While I was narrowly focused on the trivia of local landscapes, the international world blazed with interest.

1) British expats who've retired to the cheap, sunny eastern coast of Spain are losing their patience for being repeatedly gassed in their homes and robbed by feuding international criminal gangs while unconscious. Do tell. Vigilante patrols are the result. (Registration to the Telegraph may be necessary to read this, but the process isn't too intrusive and worthwhile since their content is reliably provocative.) Do you think that Europeans might ever become concerned enough with the condition of their own communities that they stop ignoring decay or fainting into the spindly arms of the Barney Fife-like state at every sign of lawlessness?

2) Since you've already registered, you can read this piece by Mark Steyn on the fascinatingly and innately camoflaged nature of Chinese society and how the Communist Party may yet puncture the illusion of the industrial powerhouse. This reminds me of a friend from Hong Kong who described to me how schoolgirls from the wealthiest families had special silks and even fur sewn into the linings of their uniforms. The richness was for secret and personal delectation, not public knowledge. This canny reticence about revealing the true nature of things is inculcated from childhood, and only underscores how confident prediction about the future of this world power defies the prudent.

3) HA! And HA again! It's unkind to dwell on I-Told-Yous while people suffer needlessly, but I applaud the Canadian Supreme Court's landmark decision slamming their national health care. George Zeliotis of Quebec, a patriot in my view, was denied replacement of a painfully arthritic hip for a year (shades of Sweden's Prime Minister anyone?) and was also informed that it was illegal to leave the coutry for health care or to pay for surgery through private insurance. Instead of quietly skirting the system as so many do- including Canada's Prime Minister who visits a private clinic- Zeliotis took a stand and sued. Canada is the only nation besides Cuba and North Korea to ban private insurance. You'd think the company alone would give the Canucks pause. Noting the deficiencies of quality and timely treatment endemic to their system, the court determined that "access to a waiting list is not access to health care." Three of the seven judges actually wanted to declare the entire national health-care system unconstitutional. This is progress.

As an exercise in contrast, read Michael Barone's article about how in the current American marketplace, HSAs (Health Savings Accounts) are being rapidly adopted by businesses despite Congress' impotent wrangling over absolutely everything. I suppose we should be grateful that while they're deadlocked, they can't make anything worse. Meanwhile, affordable, self-directed health coverage, especially for serious conditions, is quickly and measurably increasing for Americans while overall costs have begun to drop.

4) What would a newscast be without ending on a wacky kicker? In that spirit, I give you an international update from Nigeria where local businesspeople attended seminars at the new Abuja Sheraton ("the running water was a nice touch!) to enhance their effectiveness in e-mail marketing. Topics included:

Are 10 Million e-mails a day Too Many?
Grammatical Errors: What's the Optimal Number?
The effectiveness of using all UPPERCASE letters

With a continental breakfast of two slices of bread, a hard-boiled egg, and a cricket, this five-star event was a slam dunk. More details here.

Friday, June 10, 2005

SC to DC to AC AtLast!

UPDATE: I am now home with adequate facilities to fix the myriad errors in the post below. However, I'm leaving the mess as is. First, to demonstrate how the clumsy web TV interface combined with rotten navigation and a keyboard as sticky as a toddler's cheek to create a horrific situation that certainly earns me your pity and a pat on the head. Second, I hope you'll see how much editing I do on your behalf, even to crank out posts at my usual level of error-riddling.

AFter SC, I spentabout two days in Washington D.C., and speedsighted many historic spots under the relentless blaze of the sun. I had underestimated the brigades of matching-shirted young miscreants on summer group trips that would be mocking and sweeating in competition with me at every venue. Many of the monuments were impressive in concept and stonework, but in gneral, the grassy verges bordering such sites as the Vietnam Memorial and surrounding the reflecting pool were raggedly chewed weed islands floating in seas of barren dirt. The Smithsonians were hodge-podge, though Air & Space was cool and the Nat'l Art Gallery notable in both its collection and its sparse attendance. The Lincoln Memorial could mist up anyone, but time and again, the wide vistas and medians of uneven dandelions and drifting brown dust made me wish Frederick Law Olmstead were around today to give our capital the landscaping it deserves.

Leaving D.C. this morning, we headed to Atlantic City to finish the week with decadence. On the way through Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersy, I saw a few items of note. I saw a graveyard with a huge number of heart-shaped headstones in pink granite to the extent it looked like it had become a local fad. I saw a trailer park being advertised in a way I'd never seen before, as a "picnic grove community." And I saw the worst name for a 55+ retirement development ever: Cranberry Run.

Having learned more about our nation through exhibits and mileage, having arrived safely at Bally's where a foully designed web TV device with a sticky keyboard and lousy controller just barely allows me to check in briefly, I'm going to wish you all well and hit the tables! My America in her grandeur and squalor. How I love her.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Gator Blogging to D.C.

This is my first chance with serious wifi access. I think the titling may be rough, but it's working. SC was magnolias and gators and golf, tropical plants, beaches, crustacean buffets and grits. Although I knew there were more golf courses per capita in SC than any other state, apparently they're counting minigolf, too, Driving around Myrtle Beach and environs, I must've seen more than 50 courses myself. My aunt said there are at least 100, and the local chamber of commerce got defensive when the governor said "Charleston has history, and Myrtle Beach has miniature golf." To mollify the room of irate businessmen, the gov backpedaled, explaining, "Some of my best friends play mini golf."

The themes run mainly to jungle/safari and pirate/volcano island with the odd, ancient pyramid-building civilization. And though, after seeing a few, all the astroturfed hills and blue-dyed lagoons and plaster giraffes look the same, I'm sure to experts the nuances are manifold, At the moment, I'm in the airport waiting to fly to D.C. I hope to get proper access and surfability there, and hope to acquire more witty charm by landing, too.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Oh, am I READY for Vacay!

Starting tomorrow, I'll be vacationing in various places along the East coast. Today there's laundry, packing, notes for dogsitter, blah, blah, blah. But in my heart, I'm already there.

I have tested the concept, and I should be able to blog from the road. I have a Palm Tungsten C with wifi, and a little setup from AvantGo that should make it work. I think links and formatting may be a little challenging, but I think it'll be fun to try.

Anyhoo, for today, if you want to get your head into the vacation mindset, here's a survey of lavish, tasty convertibles from MSNBC. The downside is they link you to a Forbes site with annoying splash screens and auto slide shows. Still, seeing some of these beauties is worth a tiny hassle. Which would you pick? It's hard to argue with the Boxster, but I must disagree that the new Mustang relies too much on retro styling. Beauty doesn't go out of style. I've always believed if you put modern automotive technology in some of our favorite classic silhouettes, even as limited editions, you'd need bigger spreadsheets to chart the profits. Look at the VW Bug and PT Cruiser. Make today's responsive, monster-engined muscle car in 1967's Mustang body and you could name your price, I'd say.

What's a vacation without idle reading? This week, a friend of mine, Laura Caldwell, has released her fourth(?) book, Look Closely, a suspense set in a resort town that's perfectly sized to shove into a beach bag for a getaway. Her last effort, The Year of Living Famously, is an effervescent trip through the world of overnight celebrity and, based on the reports of people to whom I've recommended it, a can't-miss choice for sand and sun. But if your tastes run to the grittier, seamier side of Hollywood noir, you can read John Scalzi's Agent to The Stars free online, or order your own hardcopy. Scalzi is also the author of the critically and popularly acclaimed scifi novel, Old Man's War, a fresh tale of old minds in young bodies that many compare to Heinlein and Haldeman. I put links to Amazon pages, but that's not a tacit endorsement, merely a way to display the goodies.

For my plane ride tomorrow, this one: Fade to Blonde from the also retro, but oh-so-hip Hard Case Crime, the home of newly hard-boiled reprints and original paperback issues. At $7 a pop, sporting glorious cover art from masters of the form, you'll want a subscription to receive the newest pulp monthly. I'm planning a rewrite of another manuscript of mine into a more copacetic form that I can pitch to this imprint. Reading every title they've made is simply research. That's right...research.

I'm practically taking a working vacation. How do I expense the sunscreen?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Can Esteem or Rocking be Taught?

Should I be worried that every current news story reminds me of a rock-n-roll comedy?

1) If you haven't yet seen it, here's the USA Today article surveying the excess of esteem accomodations in modern education from "tugs of peace" to disallowing recess tag since some "victim" has to be "It." The natural, important lessons of maturation are undermined by people who would bubble-wrap childhood, despite the fact that the adult world, where lucky people will spend the vast majority of their lives, is full of sharp corners that grown-ups need to have learned to navigate. Here's a corker:

Purple is replacing red as the color of choice for teachers. Why, you may ask? It seems that educators worry that emphatic red corrections on a homework assignment or test can be stressful, demeaning — even "frightening" for a young person.

This recalled to me a conversation from Spinal Tap about the amp knobs that dialed up to 11, or as Nigel Tufnel pointed out, "One louder." Marty DiBergi asked, "Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?" Reply: "These go to eleven."

What if we make purple the new red and then purple becomes the new frightening color?

I always thought red grading marks were historically used for visibility. In early days of Xeroxing, when it turned out red pen didn't photocopy well, some teachers switched to green which did. At the time, we students didn't get confused even though "green means go" and is the color of springtime and currency. We didn't misunderstand that answers marked in green were not being singled out for celebration, although now I feel my schoolmates and I may have been adaptable in ways considered inconceivable today. Our unique resilience aside, I'm suprised that experts haven't advocated lavender scenting to accompany the ink's color for the aromatherapy benefits to students' jangled nerves.

2) There is a documentary called Rock School. The site lauches with annoying music (bad design) which you can stifle by clicking the Dude with Amp icon in the lower right corner. Apparently there's a real place in Philly where Paul Green aims to cultivate rock's future heroes as graded by inches of coverage Rolling Stone, a crummy way to judge music in my view. Maybe this is all a great idea, but I'm not sure you can force lightning into a bottle that way.

I laughed like a loon during Jack Black's comedy, School of Rock. But part of what was so funny was the absurdity of turning rock into study modules, flow charts, and Venn diagrams. Jimi Hendrix ergo Lenny Kravitz carpe Joplin sum Zeppelin. The kids in that movie were carefully selected musicians with rock backgrounds, except for the classical keyboardist (playing a classical keyboardist) who had to learn off-screen how not to simply follow the score, but to internalize and emulate the rhythmic rolls of the Doors' Ray Manzarek.

Not all, but most rock is composed of simple forms, like blues, country, and gospel are. There are musical wizards who elevate the complexity and technicality, but it isn't necessary in order to make heart-wrenchingly wonderful music. Nuances of expression within simplicity are what either rock your socks off or fall flat. Far from being the result of polished calculation, new sounds and techniques often come from the ignorant work-arounds of self-taught and/or impoverished musicians. Putting together rock bands like choreographed pop horrors can't guarantee a rockin' product even if it helps the kids' musicianship, which is a worthwhile goal on its own merit. But far more elusive than mere catchiness is the rock song that hauls a$$ to Boot Stompintown.

I prefer the classic model of youths in garages and basements. Soundproofing, paying too much for lousy equipment, having fun, writing songs, fighting over band names and logos, breaking up, changing members, getting better, and figuring out what your unique contribution is as you ride Mother Nature's own rock band continuum.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Skunk of Trust. The Hazzards of Marriage.

Last night, I was talking to a friend, an artist and writer who actually doesn't hit the internet like a crack monkey after its fix pellets- unlike whom?

I introduced her to the idea of blogs. She was delighted to learn how they assist international exchange, reasoned debates and unstructured conversations. I described how blogs give people a safe way to reach out to others sharing their deeply personal concerns. I told her how they've allowed people on the ground in remote places and oppressive situations to become citizen journalists, how the distributed nature allows truths to filter to the surface quickly in the maelstrom of reactions. It was wonderful to restate for virgin ears what invigorates me about the fabulousness of the blogosphere, even if after all that, the sort of thing that I try to do here seems spindly by comparison. But it's an exciting world, right? And better that screwdrivers don't try to become hammers. So here's today's contrarian jumble.

1) Scientists are studying whether oxytocin is a hormone that helps people trust each other. "Of course, this finding could be misused," said Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich, the senior researcher in the study, which appears in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. No offense, Ernie, but you might be getting beyond yourself here.

There's a BIG difference between getting people to gamble away near-worthless experimental "monetary units" without consequence and getting them to trust in situations with real stakes. Also, should I have to point out that the less than 200 subjects were all 20-something men, a pretty nonrepresentative sample whose "trust" only increased 17% over the control group? I believe if the "trustee" were an attractive coed in a low-cut blouse versus a science geek, we could induce a greater change in behaviors than that. Don't get me wrong, the area of inquiry is interesting, but extremely preliminary. So am I alone in perceiving the article's lede as a trifle overheated?

Trust in a bottle? It sounds like a marketer's fantasy, like the fabled fountain of youth or the wild claims of fad diets. Yet that's what Swiss and American scientists demonstrate in new experiments with a nasal spray containing the hormone oxytocin... The researchers acknowledged their findings could be abused by con artists or even sleazy politicians who might sway an election, provided they could squirt enough voters on their way to the polls.

I just adore when they sex up the science and distort the results, don't you? But let's say we have now spawned a rash of cheats and crooks squirting people randomly. It's downright irresponsible not to cover how long the affect lasts and how you control the object of someone's trust. It's like this reporter and these researchers haven't even watched Love Potion No. 9.

2) This is the man who won the job as VP of the Dukes of Hazzard Institute. I'd been following the story since encouraging a friend and occasional reader to apply for the position. Well you'll have to cry into your Boss Hogg commemorative pillow, Daisy, 'cause it's too doggone late now. (HT: KJL, The Corner)

3) I'm traveling soon to celebrate a couple's 65th wedding anniversary, but they're pikers compared to the record holders, 100 year-old Florence whose been married to 105 year-old Percy for 80 years. (HT: ditto)

4) Who says rockers aren't smart? Still, we knew the genuis wouldn't be a drummer, didn't we? Jeff "Skunk" Baxter played with Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers, but now he's one of our nation's top (self-taught) counter terrorism experts who began with his first crack at a rudimentary missle defense system. WOW, Skunk. That is some righteous gray matter, dude. (HT: PowerLine)

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

My Own Mercurial Carnival. Librarians Rule!

Editorial UPDATE: Even with my jazzman lifestyle, this post was ready hours and hours ago, but I couldn't publish. My cable connection seems to have an internal setting tripped when I've expended the most effort that I'm least likely to wish to duplicate, and my internet service subsequently goes belly-up with what I perceive as a smirk on its LCD. Now I'm at the local Wifi coffee bar with the rest of the Smendricks, because I'm too mulish to give up some things even when I really should. UPDATE 2: My laptop's infinitesimally short battery life means I'm back home now. Still trying. I must've succeeded if you can read the following.

Thanks to all those who stopped by for the first time yesterday! Today's mish-mash shows how far I can surf down an indulgent rabbit hole from one, puny notion. Here's how it happened.

I read through the medical carnival, Grand Rounds , yesterday, not just to see my own blog's nifty name in red letters again, but skimming for interesting items as I'm wont to do. I found Overlawyered's demands by "disabled" doctors (read to see whether you'd like any of these incompetent whiners as your physician). I also found my way to Respectful Insolence's scientifically meaty debunking of the highly-publicized hypothesis that asserts unproven mercury poisoning from vaccinations is the cause of autism. Orac, the M.D. who "knows", points out that autistic children simply don't "demonstrate the known symptoms of mercury toxicity." By contrast, the victims in this Telegraph article do, but it's because mercury is one type of poison the grande dame of mystery, P.D. James, discusses in her review of the crime writer's resource, The Elements of Murder.

I myself have ranted recently about the dangers of discouraging childhood vaccination in developing countries and even our own. Partly as a result of reactionary vaccine hype, our benevolent friend polio's making a comeback. So perhaps we can forgive Scarlett Johansson, star of the new cloning thriller, The Island, for not knowing it was ever gone. "I mean, if they could eliminate diseases like Alzheimer's and polio that would be incredible. On the same note, people may say you're playing with fate or the idea of people creating a master race or being able to choose their children's eye colour - and that seems quite strange to me. However, I think that the positive outweighs the negative." Maybe, Scarlett, but here's an MSNBC article on bioethics wondering whether Bill Gates (or other geeky innovative types) would have been allowed to be born if prospective parents could delete all variations from normalcy.

In scifi TV and movies, the members of the alien horde always resemble each other. I was going to find a link to demonstrate, but you try searching "star trek aliens" and see how much miscellaneous crap you get. Anyway, they show up like a marching band, wearing the same outfits, with the same color faces, same antennae and hairstyles or lack therof. Utterly homogenous among themselves, even though the backwards humans still manifest differences in type like Uhura vs. Scottie vs. Sulu. I think Rodenberry was trying to demonstrate that future civilization won't be about optimizing life for unique individuals (liberty is tre' devolutionary) but instead, the future is in achieving genetic standardization. Mediocrity by design, catch the wave!

Anyway, back to my mercury kick. Sure, I found the obvious stuff about the planet and astrological significance (see dates for retrograde at bottom, even if you- like the author- claim not to believe). And there's also an article about NASA's Mercury probe spacecraft, published, interestingly enough, on the English version of the Chinese People's Daily, Xinhua. And here's some tweenage girl's blog , Mercury's Star, neglected since 2002. That's definitely not "active" blogging, if you follow this WSJ article on how blog numbers are tracked. But that's not nearly all! There's the Manhattan Mercury newspaper of Manhattan, Kansas; the women's pro basketball team, the Phoenix Mercury; and the upcoming concept vehicle, the Mercury Meta One, a partially zero-emission (PZEV) hybrid diesel with collision mitigation braking. Whew! When I've got leisure time, all the surfing and culling is fun, even if I did learn that my brother would be allowed to use a page of unsupported pseudohistorical tripe like this as a footnote for a middle-school history paper.

However, when you really need information that's fast and dependable, it can still be frustrating and difficult to know where to go. People need and want repositories of trustworthy, substantiated facts, and they want opinion clearly labeled as such. Internet searching has come lightyears from its origins, but it still takes people of sense to provide intelligent guideposts toward relevant, high-quality sources. I guess what I'm saying is: Reference Librarians Still Rock! (and they're dead sexy, too).

P.S. Here's a story I couldn't wedge into my premise about a dog with a rubber duck in its guts for 5 years. Coherent? Erudite? That's me all the way.