And several ponies

The next time the Poor Man shows us a gusher of ponies, he'll have to think about whether to list their names. Go ahead, take the test. HT to Sunbeams From Cucumbers.

Speaking of the Poor Man, don't miss his rundown on the Democratic aspirants.

Dept. of Unintentional Prophecy: Doonesbury

For the first part of this story, one must get one's Negropontes straight. Nicholas Negroponte is the MIT Media Lab guy; it's not his fault that his brother is a war criminal. (Well, knowing how siblings are, we should at least give him the benefit of the doubt.) He's the guy who designed the $100-dollar computer with wireless Internet connection, for distribution to people all over the poorer parts of the world. The hundred dollars is the estimated cost once it gets into mass production, and the moment it was announced, jillions of peopole really wanted one; but this is for people who need it. And he's pushing to get it into production and into people's hands.

The second part is about the second Mrs. Doonesbury. As you may recall, Mike met this young programmer at Microsoft, Asian of course (stereotype!), and wound up marrying her. I followed this passively, and it was not for some time that I took some hint in the morning's comic and realized who she was.

You see, that little spat we had in Vietnam affected the lives of Doonesburians, and not only B. D., who wore his football helmet through his combat duty. There was a rather nondescript middle-class couple whose adventures we watched as they dealt with the little Vietnamese war orphan they had adopted. One day Daddy came home to find Mommy very exicted: the baby, who spent a lot of time sitting in front of TV, had said her first word! Namely, "Big Mac".

That's who Mrs. Doonesbury is. I've forgotten the proof, but maybe somebody can dig it up. Professor Weil, are you listening?

Returning to out main story, there's an item over on Amygdala about Negroponte's work with his fabulous machine. He's now got a deal that, if it really works out, will put an Internet-capable laptop in the hands of every schoolchild in Libya. Not your favorite beneficiary, but you've gotta start somewhere, and it's not the kids' fault, you know.

So, the tie-in:
[...] The idea of a laptop for every schoolchild grew out of Mr. Negroponte’s experience in giving children Internet-connected laptops in rural Cambodia. He said the first English word out of the mouths of the Cambodian students was “Google.”

colorless green ideas

Some day I'll write a real blog posting. Meanwhile, don't miss Brad deLong's discussion of how colorless green ideas sleep furiously. Seriously, you'll be glad you did, provided you don't skip the comments.

What is the Internet?

People have asked that for a long time, actually years. And it's hard to answer simply; even Ted Stevens, a trained communicator, had some trouble making it entirely clear. Now, though, thanks to Seth Breidbart (no, I don't know who he is) as quoted by JP Stormcrow in a comment (#44) to a post by that's well worth reading for its own sake if you have any use for Bérubé at all, we have a clear, simple one-sentence definition, shorter than these attributions:

It’s the largest equivalence class in the reflexive transitive symmetric closure of the relationship “can be reached by an IP packet from”.

When I say coffee...

I mean Folger's Coffee. There won't be many people old enough and local enough (San Francisco) to recognize that one.

But Folger's is not on the agenda tonight. There are many important things on which I have many important insights at the moment, like what the Pope really said (what he was thinking is beyond me), and the nature of the entity known as Hewlett Packard and how that relates to Mennonites. So, rather than talk of any of those, here is le mot du jour. Passed, as you might say, to us by Orac, who does not take responsibility for its content:

" What does a coffee enema do, and why is it better using Wilsons coffee?"

Gospel music time

I don't always agree with Pharyngula's recommendations on religious reading and listening matter. OK, I don't often agree. But this is priceless.

As if my personal blogroll weren't too long already.

Update: This Internet thing is expanding my musical horizons. I'm quite taken with this. May have to find their other stuff.

Patience rewarded

At SadlyNo (via the Poor Man) we have news of a major threat: the Republicans may be losing the kook vote. In evidence we see a characteristically articulate analysis by Kaye Grogan laying out the reasons for that group which she calls Christians to abandon the party as it has abandoned them.

It's best summarized by mdhatter in the comments:

awe nice! that bit at the end

It’s time to start a new viable third party

I knew if we just waited they’d flinch first.

But that's not all; jpj adds,

So, building highways in Texas is a Christian issue. Huh.

It kind of summons up a picture of Kate going down the road to where they are repairing potholes with a huge sign reading, “Repent Sinners!” and screaming, “Blasphemers! You will burn in hell!” at the workers.

But of course! After all, they're paving it with good intentions.

Yo, Nesco!

Today I figured it out, and I feel much better.

This morning I was befuddled. I had just received an appalling e-mail forward, one of a series on the general subject, which demonstrated by the force of anecdote and analogy how you must deal with an enemy: Hit him and hit him and beat him and beat him up and beat him some more and when he is finally cringing on the floor and moaning for mercy beat him and beat him some more and make him suffer and did I mention beat him some more and then beat him up, and when he has finally mumbled out the words "I was wrong" you will live in peace.

It had some application to current affairs on some other continent. The application was not left to one's own perspicacity. (I could provide documentation to anyone so crazy as to want to confirm that I am not exaggerating.)

This sort of thing used to the be property of red-state lumpenproletariat, ignorant of the world, deliberately and maliciously miseducated, and panicked at the bidding of the government in proportion to their insulation from the rest of the world by thousands of miles of ocean and in some cases an expanse of coastal states, terrified by the hideous thing that happened in New York and therefore requiring much larger DHS appropriations to protect Podunk, while New Yorkers who breathed the toxic smoke and the incinerated and decomposing remains of their fellow citizens have repaired what they could and gone on living and being -- thank God! -- New Yorkers. A thing for which I'm not sure I'd have expected ever to thank Divine Providence.

But no more. Now things like this come from people who are not pig-ignorant, who used to be, and still are in many ways, reasonable people. Largely they are people, and here we approach getting to a point, who belong to some ethnic group that shall not be named here, but I assure you its history in the USA is honorable or maybe stellar, and with a claimed heritage from those who gave us the upper limit of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

Alan Dershowitz going over to the dark side may be shrugged off as almost predictable, but there are decent people who seem to be heading his way. Of course, the lever is the same "The very existence of your people is at stake" lies that the red states take from Washington, but the audience is different, or I thought it was. This upsets my lifelong assumptions and is disturbing.

But tonight, driving along and contemplating the necessity of exercising self-discipline to destroy such stuff without reading, so as not to be thinking about its wrongness to such an extent that useful thoughts are displaced, I figured it out. This is not real life.

I have strayed into a production of Rhinoceros.

Another righteous one

We all know about Oskar Schindler. Lots of us have heard about Chiune Sugihara (whose name I had to look up just now), a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania who, acting against his country's ally and disobeying specific orders, issued visas to thousands of Jews. And there was his opposite number John Rabe, a Nazi businessman in Nanking who sheltered thousands of Chinese from the atrocities of his country's ally.

But here's a new one: Dr. Ho Feng Shan, a Chinese diplomat in Vienna who, like Sugihara, issued as many visas to Jews as he could. He was an early bird, managing to get disciplined by his government months before the war started. And a late recognition: only after his death in 1997 did his activities come to light; even his daughter knew almost nothing about them.

Thanks to The Peking Duck, specifically to commenter bingfeng, for this. The blog is the Official Nesting Place of the Faction of Quacking Canards, and you can guess how much I want their proposed t-shirt.

What language do they speak in Iran?

Another curious coincidence today, and I wish I remembered the term Jon Carroll used for this sort of thing. Not African swallow -- that's something else -- but some ornithological term.

Anyway, I was pondering something, a thing that I might even turn into a blog entry, when an irrelevant question occurred to me; and a few hours later in a completely independent way the question came up and was answered. So I might as well begin with the posting that was dubiously worth writing.

I had occasion this afternoon to muse on irretrievably lost opportunities; only institutional in this case, not personal; but there's a bit of sadness to all such musings. And it occurred to me that while the best short poem of all is "Jenny kissed me when we met", there is one great standout among the quatrains (or Rubaiyat, as we call them in Persian):
The moving finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.
--LXXI in Fitzgerald's translation (duh), the popular and successful fifth edition

I admit to the Philistine position that this is an exquisitely constructed bit of verse. The images are striking; the antique diction is well suited to the context. Jenny is a great deal jollier; but then, as Richard Mitchell said,
Children learn what they most need to know from happy stories of the birth of kings, and grown-ups learn again and again what they most need to remember from sad stories of the death of kings.

I wonder what examples of the form, and short verses generally, appeal to people with properly educated taste. Of course, the poem is trivial and obvious. (Hum the "Ride of the Valkyries" (a thoroughly hackneyed piece) and it doesn't sound like much either.) But after all, as Dirac said,
In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by
everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.

I said "Persian" above, because I like the traditional, classical effect of the name; but, I thought idly, was that the proper name for the language? For that matter, is Farsi exactly, identically the thing named by Persian, or am I messing up my linguistics? So, a few hours later, I am looking at the Language Log, and there's an amusing note on Danish pastry, in which I find "Persian (or if you prefer, Farsi)." Turns out, a lot of the speakers of that language really don't like the foolish Americanism of calling it Farsi. Like talking of Deutsch or Nihongo; or worse, if I read one comment right, though I don't know enough German to read his humorous example.

All right, then, a bunch of people who care think that to say Farsi is to turn your back on thousands of years of Persia's civilization. I can get behind that.

Update: I mean, of course, I can get behind the sentiment of not turning one's back on a civilization, no matter what kind of dangerous twits may be momentarily the keepers of the flame. One can't be too careful what one says in these days of Freedom Fries. And I should have added a Read the Rest rating in the style of Amygdala, and a high one, for the if-you-prefer thread. Joseph Bell is particularly eloquent on the value of using corrupted forms from civilizations with which we have a long history of contact.

Nothing important happened today

At least, that's the version of George III's famous diary entry cited by Wikipedia. It's pleasant to note that someone has marked the quote with "citation needed"; just try to find a citation, or figure out whether it's "important" or "of importance", by googling. But I digress.

Jon Carroll has written a column that can almost stand with his too-oft-reprinted Thanksgiving column. And if you hurry, you may be the 7,345th person to remind him that the fruited plains are not from Irving Berlin, but from Katherine Lee Bates. A fine piece, though, especially for those of us in that corner toward which, as Carl Sandburg(?) said, the rest of the United States slopes, causing everything loose to roll down into California.

Carroll talks of the land, staying mostly out of the politics. Extremism in defense of California is no vice. Carroll notes that "patriot" refers to "father" in Latin. But (speaking of Berlin), German has not only vaterland but heimat, from "home". A good way of speaking, if you can get over certain unpleasant associations.

Bates, however, had a political agenda, sneakily getting into brotherhood and stuff. (And will God crown my efforts with coherence? Not likely, when I see that the Language Log has annotated Ray Charles's missing of the subjunctive "crown", and that a Google search on crowned good brotherhood brings the good news that most references to the song that are not quoting Ray Charles get the words right.) And it's politics that created this day, and politics that I wanted to talk about.

To get down, then, to the document that we celebrate with John Adams and with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

And by the way, The Star-Spangled Banner is a damn fine song, as is America the Beautiful, even if they both drag God into it, and even if the Banner is warlike and bombastic. Bomburstic. Whaddaya want from a national anthem? At least we're not watering our furrows with the other guys' blood. And as to its being based on a drinking song, I ask you: if you're going to strain your voice, would you do it for "the land of the free and home of the brave" or for "the myrtle of Venus and Bacchus's vine"? Perhaps I'm courting the fate of Hippolytus, but my choice is clear.

So. I hold that the introductory section of the Declaration is self-evident. If you doubt it, you can read many pages of proof in the paper by Stephen E. Lucas. It is also an unsurpassed bit of English prose.
Whan that Aprille with her shoures soote
When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes
When in the course of human events
It need not be embarrassed to stand in that company.

But what about the famous bill of grievances against the King and his country? We all know that it's terribly exaggerated and unfair. And "merciless Indian savages," good heavens! But what about it, really? Wouldn't if be nice to see a sober annotation and analysis of the list? Lucas treats of the list, but his treatment is trivial: he analyzes the grammar, rhetoric, and logic. It looks to be a good analysis (haven't read it through yet), and by no means trivial; but I'd like to see a discussion of the real historical events associated with the charges and how the charges and the history relate.

There must be dozens of analyses that are simply dismissive: you know, the revolution was just because Americans didn't like paying taxes for their benefits, the ingrates. (If you want a rebuttal of that new discovery, which seems right now to be fashionable in schools, you might not do better than to look up the one written during the Revolution by an anonymous author who turned out to be Thomas Jefferson.) And the Patriots would be glad to provide some, when they find someone who can read eighteenth-century English, but of course it will be nationalist garbage -- though maybe they won't want to write anything when it requires them to take on that item about slavery: too uncomfortable a topic. Does anybody know of a good treatment anywhere?

Meanwhile, we can contemplate the exact meaning of "conquer we must, when our cause it is just", with reference to the many senses of must, and without raising the scorn of some eight-year-old cynic, as one school did in the Korean War, by replacing "when" with "for".

Is Mr. Krassner there?

I'm pretty sure I heard of this one, but I hadn't seen the full text, which Denis DeKat has kindly provided. There are real subversives lurking in the heart of Islamic wild-assness, Saudi Arabia. ("Fundamentalism" is a term with a specific meaning, and we do not muddy the waters by misusing it.) I recommend reading the piece through; it's a fine satire, even if a bit too long.

It's only right and proper that serious-minded Islamists have taken the supposed authors to task for religious extremism; only to be expected that some others would have seriously taken it to heart, but in fact there seems to be no reason to believe that anyone has. Those who want to criticize the Saudi commentators for gullibility will do well to look up Report from Iron Mountain, but there is a difference: there are Americans who have taken that satire seriously and liked it.

(Do I believe the interpretation I've just given, or am I being sarcastic? Yes. I mean, mostly the former.)

Update: For contrast, read this, which looks entirely like the real thing, even when presented by a site that surely is violently hostile to Islamism.

Defending the mall against [what?]

I seem to be leaning on Max a bit today. Via his next item, here's what security guards are defending against today.

Do you see why? Took me a minute, which I'll try to excuse on the basis of the misleadingly colorful illustration in Max's post. Answer is given in the comments. Or is it crashingly obvious? If so, why was the newspaper item so coy about it? Inquiring minds want to know.

The Birth Tax

The party that traditionally has defended us from deficit spending and inflation and all that stuff has found a conflict between that mission and its other one, making life easier for the rich. You knew all that. But since there is so much attention being paid to the Death Tax as a way of fulfilling one of these responsibilities, it's only fair to take a glance at the Birth Tax: the debt that every American acquires by the act of being born. MaxSpeak has kindly given us the data. If you wish, you can cut straight to the graph, showing the national debt bestowed on each newborn citizen over time, expressed in 2005 dollars (corrected for inflation, that is).

Technical note: Why call it a tax? Elementary bookkeeping principles: You add a financial liability to the books, it's a credit entry. The balancing debit entry can be the reduction of another financial liability (nope) or acquisition of a financial asset (nope) or an expense (yep, a tax payment).

Homicide suicide

Not having been driven off by the title's implication that this is about something truly horrid, you are a candidate to read this really remarkable sarcasm-fest from alicublog, concerning the new and seemingly unbeatable standard recently set for how repulsive a statement by a government spokescreature must be before you can use the word "incredible". If you fail to read the comments thread, you will miss much important material, including the strategy for countermeasures by Donald Rumsfeld.

A deconstructionist joke

[Note: I may turn this into an actual post later on. After all, Edward Said, the National Spelling Bee, the brain-eating Hitler zombie, and deconstructionist gangsters could be the basis of quite an entertaining posting. This, however, is at present not it.]

It may not be all that funny, but it's late at night, and I have just spent too much time on a Google search, having decided on a whim that I would now try to find out a thing I had wondered for some time: just what Edward Said really said about "Aryan" languages.

I should say at the outset that I still don't have it quite clear. But I can now be quite sure that nearly everyone who addresses any question having to do with Said from either side, is an insufferable fanatic who is plainly incapable of saying anything that one could take at face value, at least on this subject. Alas, I pretty much knew that beforehand.

In the process I finally found a piece of good sober academic prose, which included an instance of a word I'd never heard of before this week (and confirmed my opinion about that word, on which I may manage to write more trivialities later), along with a quite unexpected sighting of a corpse that may turn out to be the brain-eating Hitler zombie. But that's not the paper I'm speaking of.

Then I came to another piece of non-nonsense, which I found worth reading through while skipping dense discussions of the author's specialized work (rather than invest my time in a long course of instruction to be able to assess the details of his argument, it being easier to stipulate that what he says does support his main point). And toward the end I was further rewarded by a joke:

We now know, thanks to the decontructionists, that not only is objectivity impossible, it seems it is even impossible to convey intended meaning. It seems that there is an unbridgeable gulf between the writer and the reader as well. No matter what the writer intends when he writes, the reader will bring his separate set of experiences and understanding to the writer's text. This is truly pathological. This means that the very enterprise of writing is unlikely to convey the meaning intended by the writer. This is a view that I find truly tiresome (and for those of you who have attempted to read deconstructionist theory you know, at least, what the word tiresome means. The impenetrability of the writing about this theory has given rise to much derision on American campuses--my favorite is the story of the Boss of a Mafia family who decided he would study deconstructionist theory. As a result, he was eventually replaced as the Boss because instead of giving orders that no one could refuse, he found himself giving orders that no one could understand.)
Actually, it's not all that hilarious, but anything that disses the desconstructionists is a good start, and as I said, it's late. If you were still reading, you might ask, 'Do you mean that is the best you found in a long search on <"edward said" aryan> ?' Yes.

And why haven't you ever asked this?

And, obviously, why haven't I?
You might think that pundits would ask why the Democrats have NY and CA in the bag in every presidential election without spending a dime, when they're traditionally Republican states that will still vote for pro-choice Republican governors, but for some reason this topic is off-limits.
Thus spake Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Since I remember when California generally voted with the winning side in presidential elections rather than necessarily for the Democrat, I'm interested in his answer.

Ravens Imprisoned in the Tower

The Chronicle (actually the Washington Post) tells us today that Branwen, Hugine, Munin, Gwyllum, Thor, and Baldrick have been put in protective custody in a comfortable cell in the Tower of London. Obviously I am not making up those names; who could?

This is to protect them from the infamous H5N1 flu. Should the ravens at the Tower expire, the Tower will fall, and with it the kingdom. They can't be removed from the Tower, under a decree of Charles II. The master of the ravens, Derrick Coyle, puts on protective clothing, for their protection, not his, when he feeds them.

They seem to be taking well to it.
"The first day they were a little bit stressed," Coyle said. But now, he added, "They're eating very well and Thor, the one who talks, said, 'good morning' straight away" when he visited the birds on Tuesday. He said the birds are eating their normal diet of hard-boiled eggs, apples, biscuits soaked in blood, beef liver, vitamin tablets and chicken."
"Good morning", eh?
Q. After a severe storm we found this old male raven in the study of my father, the Hon. George Morton Bodwell, for may years head of the Latin Department at Tufts, sitting on a bust of Livy which was a gift to him from the class of '92. All that the old bird will say is "Grawk." Can ravens be taught to talk or was Poe merely "romancing"?

A. I am handicapped by an uncertainty as to who says "Grawk," the raven or your father. It just happens that "Arrk" is what ravens say. I have never known a raven that said anything but "arrk."

-- James Thurber, pet advice column from The Owl in the Attic
Unnecessary to add: Time for Mr. Coyle to worry, when Thor drops his "Good morning" for "Nevermore."

How could they tell?

When Dorothy Parker was told that Calvin Coolidge was dead, her response was, "How could they tell?"

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was running for the honor of being the oldest President in history, and some people raised gentle, polite, even apologetic questions about whether there might be a problem there. His campaing assured us all that he would get annual medical checkups, which would establish whether he was subject to any deterioration of brain function.

Guess what I said about that. To be sure, my response in 1980 became less funny in the 90s, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, which is not fit material for joking, which is why there are so many jokes about it. Well, maybe not less funny, maybe just a bit too offensive.

Now, as you all know, the Iranian newspaper Hamshahri has a contest going. They will now start publishing contestants for the most offensive cartoons about the Holocaust and Jews in general.

All together, now! "How can we tell?"

If you have any doubts about this radically new editorial policy, ask Deborah Lipstadt, the historian who kicked David "What Holocaust?" Irving's butt in a lawsuit that Irving brought under the extremely plaintiff-friendly English libel law. She has declared that she is entering the contest. A piece of cake, she says. She has cartoons at the ready, really nasty ones, some them already in Farsi, having been taken from Iranian papers.

But this is old news. This morning it gets more interesting. In the Chronicle there is a reference (in the printed edition, but I can't find it in their on-line sotry) to the first entry published. First it quotes the paper as to the meaning of the contest, titled "What is the Limit of Western Freedom of Expression?":
The newspaper said its contest was a test of the Western world's readiness to print cartoons about the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews in World War II.
Right, so here's the entry:

The first entry depicts a man, smoking a cigarette and wearing a blue and white striped prison uniform, with a tall wall and guard tower in the background.

The man, with a moustache, is wearing a white keffiyeh (fez) and has his right hand over his forehead and eyes.

On his chest is a red Muslim crescent with a letter "P". Below that is the number 7 256, the significance of which was not immediately clear, although Israel is said to be holding about 8 000 Palestinian prisoners.

Now we see the cluelessness to which that once-great civilization has sunk. (And not as a product of Islam; of the thousands of years of high civilization in Iran, the most recent centuries were, of course, Islamic.) I mean: Duh, the guy is comparing Isael's treatment of Palestinians to Nazi Germany's treatment of Jews. Not, obviously, "Duh, it's true", but "Duh, they've been saying this for years, what's the news here?"

This unpleasant little item is not merely part of daily political discourse in the Great Satan; it's relatively inoffensive. From the description, I can't even see a direct reference to the Holocaust; it's just somebody in jail. Now if the number were tattoed on him, that would be getting offensive. Maybe the blue and white stripes, rather than the traditional black and white prison stripes, refer to Israel? Pretty weak. Where are the interlinked swastikas and stars of David?

Nest to the stuff that you and I have seen paraded throught the streets of San Francisco (or wherever), this is so inoffensive it's pathetic.

And the Iranians think they're challenging the bounds of discourse in the civilizedWestern world.