Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Very Berkeley Christmas

The tradition is observed, but next year maybe send her to Graz:

When my children learned that Tina was joining us for Christmas dinner, they were not thrilled.

“What’s wrong?” I inquired. They shrugged. “I just don’t feel comfortable around her,” said one.

“She smells funny,” said the other.

You kids need to be more welcoming,” I admonished. “You know Tina. It’s not like she’s going to hurt you or anything.”

“Yeah,” my son agreed. “But she talks about all this weird stuff.”

Yeah. She does.

....Tina follows me into the kitchen, talking along while I wash the dishes.

“I didn’t want to say this in front of the kids,” Tina confides conspiratorially, “but if your pubic area is thumping then you need to have sex. It relieves this area right here ... in the back of your head, of stress.”

She gestures to the area between the back of her head and neck.

“That’s why homosexuals aren’t meant to have sex because their kind of sex doesn’t relieve the stress in back of the head right.”

“You mean they’re under a lot of stress? Maybe they should have more sex, then.”

This remark of hers calls for some clarification.

“No, no,” Tina shakes her head. “What they need to do is to take more Vitamin C.”


“And one more thing,” she cautions me. “If your pubic area is thumping it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have sex. It means you’re lucky and should be at the casino ... it happened to me...”

“You won some money?” I ask.

“No, I didn’t play but they called my number and I would’ve won,” she laughs.

“And I want to tell you about Stanley Tookie Williams,” Tina says, abruptly changing subjects. “He was innocent. And now he’s in heaven. He’s just fine.”

“Why do you think they killed him?” I ask, curious about how much she knew about the case.

“What about all those white men who raped and killed little girls, cut their heads open and even ate people? They didn’t kill them!” (Actually, it is interesting to note that Williams was not executed for killing any black folks.)

Tina is hot. “They’re still following slavery,” she says, adamantly. “They haven’t let go of slavery!”

....This is the most time I’ve spent talking with Tina. It was interesting and she could be quite amusing, sometimes intentionally so. Apparently she reads a lot and keeps up with current events. I wonder if Tina votes?

I’ll ask her tomorrow when she comes back for seconds.

The Romance of Berkeley

The Daily Planet had so many readers contributions they needed a second edition to include them all:

Last week at Whole Foods

as I was reaching

into the refrigerated shelves

for the coldest tofu

with the most future

expiration date

a yellow gloved hand

from the other side

laid itself on mine.

I nearly jumped a mile.

“Oh sorry!” said a woman’s voice

from the other side.

A man behind me laughed.

This week as I walked by

the same tofu


I heard a disembodied voice

from the other side say,

“I needed you,

and you have never

been there

for me once.”

“Yes, I have,”

I wanted to protest.

“Last week!”

Friday, December 30, 2005

Ring out the old...and the soused

London says good-bye to another eccentric:

Sandy Fawkes, who died on December 26 aged 75....

For her last 30 years...was a familiar sight in the Coach and Horses and in the French pub in Soho, consuming simply astonishing amounts of whisky. ....

The force of character that had once brought her success in journalism she now used in getting a stool at the bar, no mean feat in Soho pubs in the 1980s....

In the United States in November 1974, after an unsuccessful trial period with the National Enquirer, she met a man in his late twenties in a bar in Atlanta, Georgia. He looked like "a cross between Robert Redford and Ryan O'Neal", she thought. They began an affair, and she joined him on a leisurely drive down the coast to Florida. She knew him as Daryl Golden. In reality he was Paul Knowles, who killed at least 18 people. The day before Sandy Fawkes met him, Knowles had killed two people, one of them a 15-year-old girl he had raped.

The car they drove in had been stolen from a man missing for four months. Even the smart clothes Knowles wore were those of a murdered man. "He told me he was going to be killed soon, but had made some tapes which would make a world news story," she recalled. "After a week, I just had a feeling I wanted to get away from him."

Knowles had set off on his trail of killings only that May. It ended with his arrest within days of their parting. A month later he was shot dead by police.

She wondered ever after what it was that had prevented Knowles from murdering her too. Her escape from his company did not end her troubles, for the police took a dim view of her sexual liaison with a murderer. Could it be that she was guilty of some of the murders too, they asked? "Police in Macon, Georgia, make Rod Steiger look like a fairy," she said.


Missing Mussolini

Trains not on time? Sue:

A commuter who says that repeated delays on the Italian rail network are making his life a misery is planning to sue the train company for allegedly causing him "existential damage".

Mauro Brunetti, a teacher who travels by rail every day to his job in a school in Savona, says he is so exasperated by the constant uncertainty of whether his train will arrive on time that he sometimes wonders if his life has any value or meaning.

The failings of local train services have been making his life impossible and affecting his sense of self, he said.

....The legal challenge comes as hundreds of thousands of Italians are having to get used to new train times introduced by Trenitalia. The annual adjustment of the timetable, in which some trains are cancelled or their arrival and departure times are altered, always causes problems for commuters.

One recent example involved a train to Florence, which was first posted as 25 minutes late, then flashed up as 10 minutes late, then went back to 20 minutes late. The train actually arrived on time.

c'est la vie

Bummer of a year for the French:

The year did not start too well when a study by civil servants described the French public as morose, and this seemed to be summed up by the man who went off with a bottle of whisky after feeling depressed and got lost in caves for 35 days.

....February saw the spectre of unemployment raise its head as the number of people out of work hit 10 per cent for the first time in five years, with one in four young people out of work.

....The battle over the future of Europe took place in May with the vote over the constitution put before the French public – who resoundingly rejected it, stunning the political elite.

.... the awarding of the 2012 Olympic Games to London, a massive snub to the Paris campaign ....

The continuing depressed air hanging over France was again highlighted in a report saying a fear of flying, bird flu and change has seen many worry about life.

Those keen for change have even upped sticks and headed to the UK seeing it as a land of opportunity with many young people moving to London and the south east to look for work.

Couldn't have happened to nicer guys.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Missing Economist Alert?

Easily amused in Berkeley:

I have become a local ... a West Berkeley resident of long standing ... all of a sudden that is given to me ... it has been happening delicately, almost imperceptibly, to be sure, but the realization is sudden, breathtaking ...

Now as a local I go to walk on the pier with my dog and see things that only I can see ... one day just before sunset I saw two tall dark lovers kissing and pressing against each other out at the end of the pier ....

Anther day as I stood at the end of the pier happy and meditative in the last moment’s of that day’s sun, I saw a man in a gray suit and floppy brimmed straw hat striding toward me, a long silken gray umbrella rolled up tight in his swinging hand ... He strode past me, lips pressed together, determined, and walked right through the bars at the end of the pier, continuing airborne until he reached the old pilings that stretch halfway to San Francisco ... then he strode on, gingerly leaping from old piling to old piling, until he was almost out of sight.

I couldn’t help but think with gratitude that I had truly become a local.

Diga 'adios' a la siesta

Spain manages to finally enter the 19th century:

MADRID, Spain — Who could turn down a two-hour lunch fueled with good wine and the lure of a postmeal siesta?

Spaniards would love to.

....Many Spanish civil servants work from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., break for lunch, then come back as late as 4:30 p.m. for another three hours. Add commuting time in the morning and evening and people spend 12 hours or more away from home every day.

....But under a law that went into effect Tuesday, Spanish government ministries will close by 6 p.m. as part of a package of measures designed to help Spaniards balance jobs and families.

....Many Spanish workers — not just civil servants — have work schedules with lengthy lunch breaks, which have long been associated with the custom of taking a midday nap, or siesta. But polls suggest that, at least in cities, people live so far from their offices that few have the time to head home for an after-lunch snooze.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ya Gotta Have Heart...Miles and Miles of Heart

A mere five months after undergoing open heart surgery, Ronny Turiaf is back on a basketball court:

Turiaf, playing in his second game since open-heart surgery to repair an enlarged aortic root this past July, definitely was worth the price of admission Tuesday. ....Turiaf finished with 17 points and just missed a double-double with nine rebounds and definitely made sure he was the life of the party in only 20 minutes of action.

Turiaf has apparently signed a temporary contract with the Yakama Sun Kings of the CBA as a conditioning move, to prepare for a return to the Los Angeles Lakers within a few weeks:

The Lakers have indicated that they may be interested in re-signing Turiaf in the near future, and they might have to move fast.

"I've got a lot of opportunities overseas," Turiaf said.

"Lucrative contracts. I've got to take care of my family."

Gangs of Toronto

Canada allows only criminals to have guns, with predictable results:

TORONTO - A city that prides itself as one of the safest in North America is bewildered by a surge in violence that has produced a record number of shooting deaths this year, the latest a 15-year-old girl on a street filled with holiday shoppers. Canada's prime minister and Toronto's mayor blame weapons smuggled in illegally from the United States, but others point to a growing gang problem.

....It was the 52nd death inflicted by a firearm this year in Canada's biggest city, which is nearly twice as many as last year and raised the overall homicide toll to 78 _ not far below the record 88 homicides of 1991.

....Prime Minister Paul Martin said he was horrified.

"What we saw yesterday is a stark reminder of the challenge that governments, police forces and communities face to ensure that Canadian cities do not descend into the kind of rampant gun violence we have seen elsewhere," Martin said.

By elsewhere, he meant the United States. Martin, other politicians and police contend illegal guns flowing across the border are behind the spike in firearm violence.

Martin vowed earlier this month to ban handguns if his Liberal Party wins re-election in the Jan. 15 parliamentary elections. But ownership of such weapons is already severely restricted, and critics accused him of playing politics with the violence spree.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Fuhgeddabout It

The Seattle Post Intelligencer recaps the year's low lights in Washington state:

James Michael Tait and Kenneth Pinyan entered a barn near Enumclaw in July so Pinyan could have sex with a horse while Tait videotaped the event. Pinyan suffered internal bleeding and died.

....Spokane Mayor James West....was recalled from office after a newspaper contended that he offered young men city jobs and perks in exchange for sex.

.... Four inmates escaped the Yakima County Jail in 1994 by ramming a hole in the fourth-floor ceiling, crawling through ductwork to a roof vent, then using a bed sheet rope to lower themselves to freedom. Jail officials ordered that the facility be made escape-proof.

But on Nov. 25, nine inmates cut through the ceiling of their fourth-floor unit, kicked open a roof vent and escaped -- basically the same plan used in 1994.

....In August, a state prison guard who was arrested after a drunken brawl at a nightclub got into more trouble when he allegedly urinated on a jail computer.

Willie M. Shannon, 26, of Lacey, employed at Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, was in the Thurston County Jail when he decided to relieve himself through a protective screen onto a nearby computer workstation.

Damage to the computer, monitor, fax machine and other hardware was estimated at $1,500, and other equipment was rendered unusable because of the contamination. Shannon apologized.

.... A former Washington State Patrol trooper convicted of fondling women during traffic stops was ordered to pay more than $40,000 by a King County judge. Michael Idland, 41, was placed on four years probation.

Idland was accused of groping up to 10 women pulled over during drunken-driving traffic stops in 2002....

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Days Without Mexicans

Life imitates the movie in California's agriculture industry:

With the lettuce harvest beginning, farmers in the $1 billion winter vegetable industry are panicking about getting their crops out of the ground. Vegetable growers estimate they could be 32,000 workers short of the 54,000 they need for the winter harvest, which runs until March. Last year, local farmers left hundreds of acres of lettuce in the fields because they lacked the manpower to harvest it.

Worker shortages have swept the Western agriculture industry, bringing $300 million in losses to raisin growers in California's San Joaquin Valley in September and causing consternation about this winter's harvest from the Christmas tree farms of Oregon to the melon fields of Arizona.

"Today I have approximately 290 people working in the field," Jon Vessey said recently. Vessey runs an 8,000-acre winter vegetable farm with his son, Jack, near El Centro, Calif. "I should have 400, and for the harvest I need 1,100. . . . There's a disaster coming."

The Western Growers Association, which represents 3,000 farmers, is lobbying the Bush administration to make it easier for farmers to tap the labor pool just below the border.

Needless to say, consumers will be the ones paying for the recent crackdown on illegal immigration with higher prices at the grocery stores.

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads

Christmas came a few days early for Minnessota beet growers:

As they prepared to send the spending cuts to the floor, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and his Republican lieutenants realized they were headed for defeat unless they nailed down one more vote. And to get that, Frist had to meet the asking price of one of two Republican senators, Norm Coleman of Minnesota or Gordon Smith of Oregon.

Smith vowed not to support the bill unless it was changed so that proposed savings on Medicaid, the federal health-care program for the poor, were achieved at the expense of drug companies and other providers instead of coming in the form of lower benefits for Medicaid recipients.

Coleman's price for supporting the package was removing from the bill a provision that would have eliminated $30 million in subsidies for sugar-beet growers, many of them in his home state.

In the end, sugar farmers got to keep their subsidy, and Frist got Coleman's vote. With the Minnesota lawmaker on board, the bill passed: 50 senators in favor, 50 against, and Vice President Dick Cheney cast the tiebreaking yes vote, as is his prerogative as president pro tempore of the Senate.


One of the giants of civilization passes:

Joseph L. Owades, a biochemist credited with inventing...light beer ... died Dec. 16 at his home in Sonoma, Calif. He was 86.

....Mr. Owades entered the brewing trade through postdoctoral work in fermentation science. While working in Brooklyn, N.Y., at Rheingold Breweries, then an industry leader, he developed a process to remove starch from beer. This reduced carbohydrates and calories.

"When I got into the beer business...."It was a common belief then that drinking beer made you fat," he said. "People weren't jogging, and everybody believed beer drinkers got a big, fat beer belly. Period. I couldn't do anything about the taste of beer, but I could do something about the calories."

Introduced in 1967, his product was called Gablinger's Diet Beer. As Mr. Owades later said, the Gablinger's television advertisement showing a man with the girth of a sumo wrestler shoveling spaghetti into his mouth and downing a Gablinger's did little to help the cause.

"Not only did no one want to try the beer," he said, "they couldn't even stand to look at this guy!"

....With approval from his boss, Mr. Owades said, he shared his formula with a friend at Chicago's Meister Brau brewery, which soon came out with Meister Brau Lite. He routinely joked, "Being from Chicago, they couldn't spell 'light.' "

Miller Brewing acquired the light-beer process when it bought Meister Brau in the early 1970s. The "tastes great, less filling" marketing strategy, which used football players and other tough-knuckled types, helped Miller Lite flourish.

....As a consultant since the mid-1970s, he helped craft formulas for Samuel Adams, New Amsterdam Beer, Pete's Wicked Ale and Foggy Bottom Beer. When the long-defunct Rheingold name was revived in the late 1990s, Mr. Owades was hired to re-create his recipe.

He also wrote and presented more than 40 research papers about beer.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Have Yourselves a Merry Little Christmas

Without Hollywood. If you're a soldier in Iraq:

During world war two American troops away from home for Christmas were entertained by Marlene Dietrich, Bing Crosby and the Marx Brothers. Even in Vietnam Bob Hope was guaranteed to put in an appearance. But soldiers in Iraq are more likely to get a show from a Christian hip-hop group, a country singer you have probably never heard of and two cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys.

Just as the seemingly intractable nature of the war has led to a growing recruitment crisis, so the United Services Organisation, which has been putting on shows for the troops since the second world war, is struggling to get celebrities to sign up for even a short tour of duty.

.... Wayne Newton, the Las Vegas crooner who succeeded Bob Hope as head of USO's talent recruiting effort, told USA Today. "Now with 9/11 being as far removed as it is, the war being up one day and down the next, it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to go."

Newton said many celebrities have been wary of going because they think it might be seen that they are endorsing the war. "And I say it's not. I tell them these men and women are over there because our country sent them, and we have the absolute necessity to try to bring them as much happiness as we can."

Fear is also a factor. "They're scared," country singer Craig Morton, who is in Iraq on the USO's Hope and Freedom Tour 2005, told USA Today. "It's understandable. It's not a safe and fun place and a lot of people don't want to take the chance."

Friday, December 23, 2005

O Tannenbaum!

The state so stupid it sends Lincoln Chaffee to represent it in the Senate, can't even put up a Christmas tree:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It's a Charlie Brown Christmas for Rhode Island's official Christmas tree.

The 18-foot Colorado blue spruce lost its needles and died after Statehouse workers dried it with commercial fans and sprayed it with a fire-retardant chemical. ....

Gov. Donald Carcieri sheepishly explained the tree's demise and suggested the state might get an artificial replacement next year.

"With the new fire code, we're supposed to spray it," he told WPRO-AM. "And apparently the spray killed it."

Rhode Island law designates Christmas trees as "flammable vegetation" and regulates their display in public buildings. Until recently, Christmas trees in public buildings had to be doused with fire retardant, said Tom Coffey, executive director of the Fire Safety Code Board of Appeal and Review.

....A team of tree farmers rushed Thursday to get a replacement tree, but the task proved complicated because the law also requires a fire marshal to be on hand when a tree destined for public display is cut down, to ensure freshness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Used up their nine lives?

In England it's the giving away season:

Last year, the RSPCA investigated 530 complaints of animals being abandoned between December 23, 2004 and January 5, 2005.

Some of the reasons given are:

My cat doesn't match my new carpet
I've got a new puppy that is too boisterous for our old dog. Can you take the old dog away?
Our kitten isn't playful enough with our children
We don't want our three rabbits because they don't come out to greet us
I've got two elderly terriers and I don't want them to get the new carpet dirty
My dog keeps hiding my shoes
Our cats sleep on the stairs. I don't want my daughter to trip over them when she comes to stay
She hurts my legs when she wags her tail
Our dog gets jealous when we sit together

Monday, December 19, 2005

Gnat know about this?

Just in time for the Lileks' Christmas, Barbie mutilation:

In a finding that will astonish many parents, academics at Bath University concluded that girls attack their Barbie dolls as a symbol of their rejection of the consumer society. "Barbie provoked rejection, hatred and violence," said Dr Agnes Nairn, who led the research for the university's school of management.

....of all the toys named, Barbie aroused the "most complex and violent emotions".

"The girls we spoke to see Barbie torture as a legitimate play activity, and see the torture as a 'cool' activity," the researchers said.

The mutilation ranged from cutting off hair to decapitating and putting the dolls in microwaves.

Dr Nairn said the children were aware that they were being exploited by "over-marketing and over-charging". While boys had feelings of nostalgia for Action Man dolls, girls saw Barbie as "babyish" and felt that rejecting the doll was a "rite of passage".

Barbie also symbolised excess because girls often had several versions of the toy, the researchers said. "Barbies are not special; they are disposable, and are thrown away and rejected."

Air Ditz

Great moment in self-unawareness last night on Q&A:

[Brian] LAMB: What is that story, once and for all, the story of you just leaving the Air Force?

[Randi] RHODES: I did just leave.

LAMB: Just walk out the door? Where were you?

RHODES: Here‘s what happened. ....this guy and I, I kind of fell in love with this guy. And so he said, we have to leave, we have to leave. They‘re never going to do anything for you. ....

LAMB: But you didn‘t go AWOL.

RHODES: No. I went Palace Chase. And so the deal then was if you were 100 miles away from your reserve base, you would go to one drill and they would tell you when you had to come back. And they would tell me, you don‘t have to. So I got an honorable discharge and that was it.

Later in the interview came:

LAMB: Does your audience like it when you say the president lies?

RHODES: Yes. ....And yet the president lied about the one thing that we always believed as an American -- it was sort of an America compact, we all lie about politics. George will lie about whether or not he served his full term in the Texas Air National Guard.

You know, it‘s painful to say he didn‘t serve the whole thing and he didn‘t do it the best and you weren‘t a general or you didn‘t make office or whatever. It‘s hard to do that, but it‘s honest to do that.

Put these Santas on the naughty list

Marauding Clauses down under:

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A group of 40 people dressed in Santa Claus costumes, many of them drunk, rampaged through New Zealand's largest city, robbing stores and assaulting security guards, police said Sunday.

The rampage, dubbed "Santarchy" by local newspapers, began early Saturday afternoon when the men, wearing ill-fitting Santa costumes, threw beer bottles and urinated on cars, said Auckland Central Police spokeswoman Noreen Hegarty.

She said the men then rushed through a central city park, overturning garbage containers, throwing bottles at passing cars and spraying graffiti on buildings.

....Alex Dyer, a spokesman for the group, said Santarchy was designed to protest the commercialization of Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Beaten With an Ugly Stick?

Join the club:

The ugly are seeking refuge from a hostile world in a German club specially founded to cater for their needs and allay their anxieties.

Hamburg's Ugly Club requires of its members only that they identify the one thing about themselves that they are most unhappy about. Stomachs are at the top of the list, followed by noses and hips.

Harald Gasper, a creative director in an advertising agency with a jowly face and a big nose, established the club with his wife Regina, a tall journalist with big feet.

.... Among the club's role models are Angela Merkel, the new German chancellor, whose own lack of regard for her looks has attracted much criticism, the Duchess of Cornwall and the singer, Janis Joplin.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Maze Craze

One of those idiosyncratic Telegraph obituaries for a labrynthologist:

Randoll Coate, the labyrinthologist [and WWII commando] who died on December 2 aged 96, became a designer of elaborate symbolic garden mazes after retiring from the Foreign Office; there are examples of his work in Buenos Aires and at Blenheim Palace.

....Working alone and in partnership with the maze designer Adrian Fisher, he created more than 50 mazes around the world.

In Britain he designed (with Fisher) the Archbishop's Maze at Greys Court, near Henley, created to commemorate the maze metaphor Robert Runcie employed in his enthronement address when he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1980.

Other creations include the Marlborough Maze at Blenheim, the Roxburgh Maze at Floors Castle (with Adrian Fisher), and the Sun Maze and Lunar Labyrinth at Longleat. He designed the Millennium Maze for the Borghese Gardens in Rome, and the memorial maze in Buenos Aires for his friend Jorge Luis Borges, inspired by the writer's short story The Garden of Forking Paths, and in which Coate used smooth stones to pick out in Braille the blind writer's celebrated quote that a book and a labyrinth are one and the same.

Led us to a Tyler Cowen moment. That the market for labyrinths and mazes is booming thanks to the prosperity of recent years:

In the nineteenth century, the unprecedented wealth of the Industrial Revolution provided the first stirrings of a leisure industry, and many new hedge mazes were built in parks and other places, for general public amusement. Wealthy private families also added mazes to their gardens. The maze at Hampton Court, the oldest hedge maze in Britain. The design has been copied over a dozen times.

In the first half of the twentieth century, two world wars forced gardens to be neglected, and many mazes were irretrievably lost. The world-wide upsurgence of mass leisure, travel and tourism since the 1970's has created a new market for mazes. As a result, more mazes are being built today than at any time in their history. In Japan alone, some 200 were built during the 1980's. New mazes have appeared throughout Europe, North America, Australasia and the Far East.

In Britain, there are now over 125 mazes open to the public, compared with 42 in 1980. One distinctive aspect of British mazes is their diversity, with possibly the widest range of forms of maze of any country in the world. Hedges mazes are particularly distinctive to Britain, whilst mazes using turf, brick, stone, wood and water are also widespread. Indoors, there are mazes made of mosiac, marble and stained-glass, as well as mirror mazes.

Help wanted.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

When Murtha Loses Tikrit...

The Pennsylvania congressman who claims we can't win in Iraq, seems to be a little behind the news:

Sunni Bastion Now Turning to Ballot Box

TIKRIT, Iraq, Dec. 13 - Along the main boulevard here in Saddam Hussein's hometown, hundreds of campaign posters have flowered where insurgents once tossed homemade bombs at American troops.

The guerrilla war found fertile ground in Tikrit, and defiant Sunni Arabs boycotted the elections in January.

But turnout in the parliamentary elections on Thursday is expected to be high, reflecting the shift in attitude of many Sunni Arabs toward the American-engineered political process.

"Last January, the elections were quite different than they are now," Wael Ibrahim Ali, 61, the mayor of Tikrit, said as he strode Tuesday along the grounds of the palace where Mr. Hussein used to celebrate his birthdays. "The people refused to vote, and now they see it was a wrong stand or wrong position."

They even have a budding Churchill:

Zuhair Damen, the electoral official in charge at the Khansa Girls' School, said he expected at least 2,000 of 2,800 voters registered at the site to turn out Thursday.

As he began taping up posters with voting instructions, he summed up the ambivalent feelings that many Sunni Arabs here have about finally being drawn into the political process.

"Democracy is better than nothing," he said. "It's not very good, but it's better than nothing."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Say, Good Night, pgl

Glutton for punishment pgl at Angry Bear does the moth to the flame thing better than anyone in the economics profession, and didn't disappoint with his summary of the ridiculous George Clooney movie, Good Night and Good Luck.

Not being able to resist pretending to know about something he clearly is woefully ignorant of, Soviet espionage in America:

Update: Patrick Sullivan revisits the Angrybear to let us know that PrestoPundit’s smear of Mr. Murrow had to do with the allegation that Laurence Duggan was a Stalinist. Laurence Duggan 1905-1948: In Memoriam would be an interesting read:

Memorial volume for a brilliant and distinguished young civil servant who apparently committed suicide after two members of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Richard M. Nixon and Karl Mundt revealed to reporters testimony that Whittaker Chambers claimed Duggan was a Communist, charges that Chambers himself repudiated. Includes tributes, statements, and transcripts of articles and radio broadcasts by Sumner Welles, Marquis Childs, Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward R. Murrow, Elmer Davis, Archibald MacLeish, and others. Subsequent investigation cleared Duggan of all charges. The affair caused one of the earlist and most forceful denunciations of the Committee.

As we have documented here before, there is simply no doubt Duggan was a Communist and a spy for Joseph Stalin. In demonstrating that rather well-known information to the fact-resistant denizens of AB's comment section--in particular, one die-hard who holds out hope that the code names from Soviet archives and the Venona decrypts might not be reliable identifiers of actual spies--a bit of new information surfaced.

The co-author of the Haunted Wood, Alexander Vassiliev, had to produce all his notes from his research in KGB archives in Moscow in the early 1990s (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) in a libel trial in England. Thus, some information not included in that book came out, including this list of not only code names of Stalin's spies, but there real names as well.

Where we can read this entry under Redhead's [Hede Massing] Group:

4. Prince – Laurence Duggan (aka 19), former State Department official. Suicide.

And we know that Vassiliev's notes are accurate, because the completeness of the lists allowed historians to identify minor figures whose code names hadn't yet yielded their real identities. As John Earl Haynes demonstrated here:

...deciphered WWII KGB cables identify someone with the cover name Huron as a Soviet spy.

....The deciphered Venona cables show that Huron was involved in technical/scientific espionage and likely a scientist. In Venona 259 Moscow to New York 21 March 1945 the Moscow KGB headquarters orders that Huron be directed to go to Chicago to reestablish contact with two senior physicists in the Manhattan Project.

This suggests that Huron was a scientist of a sort that would make his contact with these physicists ordinary rather than something unusual which might have attracted American security concern or caused his targets to become suspicious of why he was approaching them.

But, beyond identifying Huron as a spy, likely a physicist, and able to get to Chicago in 1945, the deciphered cables provide few indications of Huron's identify. Nothing about where he worked or what firm or institution he worked for or other personal information.

....The Gorsky memo resolves the matter by identifying Huron as the physicist Byron T. Darling, whose specialties included sub-atomic physics, thus the appropriateness of his approaching two Manhattan Project physicists who worked in the same area. He was also working in Detroit in 1945, making a trip to Chicago an easy one.

Additionally, evidence of his having links to the CPUSA prompted his being called to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in

So, Angry Bear marketeers, Good Night, you're outa luck. As usual.

Don't Go All Wobblies On Us, Howard

Seattle Democrat and java mogul Howard Schultz may need to find out if Pinkerton still does labor war:

In a first for Starbucks, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charged the company with violations of federal law on Nov. 18 in response to complaints filed by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), which has waged a yearlong campaign to unionize three coffee shops in New York. In the filing, the NLRB asserted that the 10,500-store Seattle-based chain violated the National Labor Relations Act by engaging in unfair labor practices, specifically citing instances of employees being fired for union activity and Starbucks managers conducting surveillance of and questioning employees about union activities, among other claims.

Daniel Gross, an IWW organizer and Starbucks barista in New York, says the union wants to organize workers so they can get a guaranteed 30 hours of work a week to make ends meet in pricey Manhattan. "Starbucks has been breaking the law nonstop," he says, referring to what he characterizes as union-busting activity by the company. Gross says company managers monitored employees through a camera at one Manhattan location. The IWW campaign is the first attempt to unionize the latte behemoth's employees in the U.S. In Vancouver, B.C., 10 Starbucks stores are unionized. Company sales for fiscal 2005 amounted to $6.4 billion.

.... the nonunion company has more than 100,000 employees.

The Big Sleazy

Via Presto Pundit, this AEI piece from Joel Kotkin identifies the source of New Orleans' poverty. Its politicians:

Like most cities, New Orleans sprang up for commercial reasons. French settlers founded the city in 1718 because it was situated at the mouth of the Mississippi, the most critical waterway in North America. Their new port created an industrial base that employed many working-class people, eventually including African Americans who migrated from the rural Mississippi delta after slave plantations and then sharecropping in that region faded. The development of this port complex, and the related energy industry, provided opportunities that raised poor Louisianians of both races from poverty.

But during the 1960s, the push for economic growth that created an upwardly mobile working class was replaced—in New Orleans as well as most other cities —by a new paradigm that emphasized politics. Political agitations promoted various forms of racial redress, and the rights of people to receive government welfare payments. By the late 1970s, African Americans in many American cities had gained more titular power than they’d ever dreamed of, including the mayoralty of New Orleans.

Urban liberalism fails the poor

The new political gains of black Americans were widely regarded as a major step toward an improved social status. This coincided with the rise of a new form of urban boosterism—which showcased downtown renewal districts and insisted that the dramatic decline of city quality of life during the 1960s and 1970s had been reversed in the 1980s and 1990s. Urban elites, including in New Orleans, burbled about the vigor of their cities. Right through last year’s Gallup poll, leaders and residents of the Crescent City had (along with San Francisco) one of the highest levels of municipal self-esteem in the country. That now appears sadly delusional.

The truth is that, rather than improving conditions for average residents of their cities, many urban politicians and interest groups have promoted policies that actually exacerbated a metastasizing underclass. Urban liberals tend to blame a shrivelling of Great Society programs for problems in cities. Observers such as former Houston mayor Bob Lanier have suggested, however, that the Great Society impulse itself is what most damaged many cities—by stressing welfare payments and income redistribution, ethnic grievance, and lax policies on issues like crime and homelessness, instead of the creation of a stronger economy.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

RNs R Us

The American Thinker links to a Boston Globe article about Big Box Healthcare:

Wal-Mart is experimenting with ways to provide outpatient medical services to its millions of customers by opening walk-in clinics in about a dozen stores. The move by the $285 billion corporation is part of a broader trend that could significantly change the way many Americans get basic healthcare.

Target has opened 12 clinics in Minnesota and Maryland stores, staffing them with nurse practitioners who treat sore throats, earaches, and other minor ailments. The CVS pharmacy chain is aggressively rolling out similar clinics, with about 35 so far in cities like Atlanta, Nashville, and Seattle. Rite Aid, a national drugstore chain, and Duane Reade, a New York pharmacy chain, are setting up pilot programs for similar clinics. And MinuteClinic, a Minneapolis healthcare firm that leases space from Target and CVS, plans to expand to another 100 to 200 retail stores next year.

.... Demand for lower-cost, convenient care is expected to grow as insurance companies and employers, trying to minimize premium increases, move employees to insurance plans with high deductibles. Such plans shift more out-of-pocket costs to patients, making them more likely to shop for lower-priced basic care.

Meanwhile, faster procedures and an increase in the number of nurses trained to provide in-store care have the potential to transform basic healthcare delivery, said Clayton M. Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor and author. The emergence of nurses and clinics in retail stores is a ''disruptive innovation," he said.

''When you can unambiguously diagnose the condition, then a rules-based therapy can be prescribed and you don't need a Harvard-trained doctor," Christensen said. ''Quality is defined on how fast can I get what I need. Speed and convenience and price begins to matter a lot."

.... But the potential for turf wars with primary care physicians will probably push retail stores toward the use of nurse practitioners instead of doctors, said Regina Herzlinger, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School.''We have this in the rest of our economy. We have fast-food outlets. We have 7-Elevens. We have places that have a limited array of goods and services that are hugely convenient and usually relatively cheap," she said. ''It's what you and I want."

Friday, December 09, 2005

t'was caviar to the general

400 years after Shakespeare wrote that line for Hamlet, it appears on the street in Moscow:

A caviar vending machine selling tinned salmon caviar, or roe, has been installed on Moscow’s main avenue Novy Arbat, the RIA-Novosti news agency reported on Friday. The appearance of the machine has coincided with the start of the festive season; caviar is a traditional treat on Russian tables during New Year’s eve celebrations.

....A representative of the company that owns the vending machine said installing it was an experiment and if it proves successful, more machines will appear in Moscow in the coming year.

He said, however, that there were no plans to put sturgeon caviar in the vending machines.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Okay, then how about a pound of green cheese

You'll have to pick it up, of course:

Beijing - A Chinese company's efforts at selling plots of land on the moon was a "beautiful" idea but fraudulent and illegal, a government watchdog has ruled.

The firm, known as "Lunar Embassy", had managed to sell tracts of the moon for 298 yuan ... an acre before being shut down in late October, the China Daily reported on Wednesday.

Lunar Embassy chief Li Jie took the case to Beijing's commercial watchdog, urging that the suspension of his company's license be lifted.

"There is not a law or regulation in China that prohibits the selling of land on the moon," the China Daily quoted him as saying in his application to the hearing.

The watchdog ruled otherwise.

"The selling of land on the moon by the Lunar Embassy to its clients is a kind of fraud," the watchdog said, according to the paper

....Thirty-four clients had bought 49 acres of land on the moon before the Lunar Embassy's license was revoked.

You get what you pay for

Even if you're an World War II Ace:

Fighter ace sells medals to spare wife long wait for hip replacement

By Neil Tweedie(Filed: 08/12/2005)

One of the most decorated British fighter pilots of the Second World War has sold his medals, diaries and other memorabilia partly to pay for a hip replacement operation for his wife who faced at least a six-month wait on the National Health Service.

Sqn Ldr Neville Duke, 83, the Royal Air Force's top-scoring ace in the Mediterranean theatre who set a world air speed record of 728 mph in 1953, put the collection up for auction rather than subject his wife Gwen to months of pain and discomfort while she waited for an operation.

....Mrs Duke, who has been in pain with her hip for eight months, was told by her chiropractor that the wait might be 15 months.

Before the sale Mrs Duke, 85, explained: "It is very likely I will need a new hip and that is something we just cannot afford. If I went on a NHS waiting list I would have to wait forever, and at my age that's no good.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Pyramid Envy

On the Asian Steppes. In the new capitol of Kazakhstan.

Coming next summer, the Pyramid of Peace:

Two wonders of the ancient world, the Pyramids and Babylon's Hanging Gardens, will be revived in a structure that will dominate Astana, the world's coldest, newest and most remote capital.

The "Pyramid of Peace", as the monolith is known, has lofty aims. President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who after 14 years in power is showing increasing signs of megalomania, hopes it will bring the world's religions together and envelop the planet in peace.

This modern Xanadu, which at 205ft will be taller than St Paul's Cathedral, will have a sunken opera house larger than Covent Garden at its bottom. A museum of culture and a "university of civilisation", the president's nod to ancient Athens, lie on the lower floors.

At mid-level zig zag ramps lead through cascades of tropical plants, known by Lord Foster's colleagues as "the hanging gardens of Astana".

....The West, competing for the vast energy resources of Kazakhstan, is inclined to turn a blind eye to this eccentricity. ....

Lord Foster's pyramid is in, in effect, the garden of the president's new and equally vast palace. When tired of his pyramid, he can cross to the other side of his home and survey his city.

Each building has been given a nickname by locals: an oddly shaped ministry is known as the "cigarette lighter"; a brightly coloured block of flats "the banana" and a spaceship housing a circus and lions "the UFO".

The crowning glory is the Baiterek. It is supposed to be a soaring sheaf of wheat, on top of which lies the golden egg of the mythical roc bird. Many call it "the lollipop". One opposition official was less charitable. "It's the world's biggest penis extension," he said.

Which is the picture at the top of this post.

Know What It Means...

To miss New Orleans? These guys do:

Singer Harry Connick Jr. and saxophone player Branford Marsalis are working with Habitat for Humanity to create a "village" for New Orleans musicians who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina.

More than $2 million has been raised for the project dreamed up by Connick and Marsalis - a neighborhood built around a music center where musicians can teach and perform, said Jim Pate, executive director of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity.

....Connick said four or five of the 16 musicians in his own band lost their homes. "There's a ton of musicians who have no place to go," he said.

...."We'd hope some of our musician partner families could do some of their sweat equity by doing performances or concerts for some of our volunteers who are coming from all over the world," Pate said.

It's a fantastic idea, said Banu Gibson, who sings '20s and '30s jazz.

"So many musicians have moved out of town, and a lot of the good ones, too, which is really depressing," she said.

Gibson is back in her own house, but two of the seven musicians in her band lost homes they had bought in the last couple of years. "All the money they raised to put down as a house payment, $25,000 to $35,000, is gone," she said.

Pen...mightier....Dumbassy Award

For an Ohio rapper:

Steven Zorn had put the pen gun to his head and clicked before, apparently thinking it was jammed and would not work.

But on the third try, the tiny silver pistol went off as the 22-year-old budding rap artist was drinking to celebrate an impending record deal. He died at a hospital.

...."Steven had a career and his dreams all ahead of him," said Zorn's mother, Lisa McCoy-Horn. She said she wants lawmakers to outlaw pen guns, which are small-caliber, single-shot weapons that resemble pens.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Cheese of Love?

Frank Sinatra had nothing on these guys: now appears that male mice may serenade potential mates with melodies approaching the complexity of bird song.

Mouse songs are sung at ultrasonic frequencies, which is why no one has noticed their complexity before, nor indeed been moved to celebrate the tunes in romantic poetry.

....Tim Holy and Zhongsheng Guo, of Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, Missouri, US, recorded the vocalisations made by male mice in the presence of female pheromones. They then digitally modified them to drop the pitch by several octaves into the range of human hearing.

....The function of the mouse song is not yet known, but given that the males are stimulated to sing when they smell female pheromones, it seems likely that singing attracts females.

If mice are singing to serenade females, the song should contain information about their “quality” as a potential mate, say the researchers, and they found some evidence to support this. ....there could be information about male quality in the song," with stronger males being able to sing better.

With the forecast calling for snow during tonight's Eagles-Seahawks game, will the Governor of Pennsylvania make another wager:

The politician was on their left, wearing a powder blue ski cap that said Finland on it. Brosz heard the hooligans refer to him once or twice as Ed. He looked closer.

Ed Rendell.

You know him. Former district attorney, perennial candidate. Ran for governor. Ran for mayor.
Brosz says the snowball throwing got nastier. One of the four rowdies hit No. 15 for the Cowboys.

"Right between the shoulder blades," says Brosz, who started looking around for security guards.

He couldn't find anybody. But he thought Rendell, the city's former chief law enforcement
official, might take action. He did.

"Rendell says to this one guy, 'I'll bet you $20 you can't reach the field. ' I couldn't believe it."
So the guy loads a good one. He winds up, lets it rip. A howitzer.

"It lands at the feet of the back judge - the same referee who got hit in the head earlier," Brosz says.

"Rendell pulls out his wallet, rips out a 20 and pays the guy."

Saturday, December 03, 2005

...bees do it...

Expect the ranks of unemployed blood hounds to increase thanks to science:

TIFTON, Ga. -- Trained wasps could someday replace dogs for sniffing out drugs, bombs and bodies. No kidding.

Scientists say a species of non-stinging wasps can be trained in only five minutes and are just as sensitive to odors as man's best friend, which can require up to six months of training at a cost of about $15,000 per dog.

With the use of a handheld device that contains the wasps but allows them to do their work, researchers have been able to use the insects to detect target odors such as a toxin that grows on corn and peanuts, and a chemical used in certain explosives.

"There's a tremendous need for a very flexible and mobile chemical detector," said U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist Joe Lewis, who has been studying wasps since the 1960s. "Our best devices that we have currently are very cumbersome, expensive and highly fragile."

The "Wasp Hound" research by Lewis and University of Georgia agricultural engineer Glen Rains is part of a larger government project to determine if insects and even reptiles or crustaceans could be recruited for defense work. That project has already resulted in scientists refining the use of bees as land-mine detectors.

.... In 2002, the Pentagon considered fitting sniffer bees with transmitters the size of a grain of salt to locate explosives and relay that information wirelessly to laptop computers.

A British firm, Inscentinel Ltd., sells trained bees and mini-hives where the insects' response to scents from natural and man-made chemicals can be monitored. The company says the system can be used to screen for explosives, drugs, chemical weapons, land mines and for food quality control.

Jerry Bromenshenk, a research professor at Montana State University, is using bees for mine detection. The bees congregate over mines or other explosives and their locations are mapped using laser-sensing technology.

"Insects and their antennae have an olfactory system that is pretty much on a par with a dog," Bromenshenk said. "They're a whole lot more plentiful and a lot less expensive to come by."

Bromenshenk said bees may be more appropriate for open areas, while the Wasp Hound may be better in buildings.

"The difference is that we let our bees free fly," he said. "That's not good in confined areas like an airport."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

?Que dice a un desnudo ladron de un banco?

Levanta tuyas manos:

Police in El Salvador say two naked men who came out of a hole in the road were bank robbers.

Officers say the men were digging a tunnel towards the vault of a bank in San Salvador, reports the BBC.

The two men, covered in nothing but dust, were caught after part of the tunnel collapsed, leaving a gaping hole in the street.

They had apparently stripped off because of the heat inside the 250ft tunnel.

The area had been under police surveillance after reports of mysterious noises.