Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We interrupt this panic for a little humor

The stock market is going down faster than the Hindenburg after that fellow lit his cigarette. The supposedly staid and sober bankers now seem to be about as solvent and judicious as drunken sailors. The economy is collapsing around our ears. Congress is running around in circles screaming and shouting. And somehow it's no longer quite so amusing that President Bush looks a lot like Alfred E. Newman.

But enough of all this doom and gloom!

We interrupt this panic for a little humor. . . but not right away.

It turns out P.J. O'Rourke has cancer. . . pause, drumbeat, rising volume. . .the big C!

That kind of puts all that economics gloom in perspective don't it? Even though P.J. has a relatively survivable form of cancer.

But I promised humor. And P.J. O'Rourke wouldn't be P.J. O'Rourke if he didn't still have his sense of humor. So, in his inimitable way he has made lemonade out of the great big lemon life has dealt him.

His latest column is an interesting example of bitter sweet humor.


Monday, September 29, 2008

An eight minute tutorial on how politics works

Here's an eight minute video of clips from a congressional hearing in late 2004 that tells you all you need to know about who's most responsible for the fact that the financial crisis is as bad as it is. Even President Clinton now recognizes the truth.

The main fault that lies with Republicans is that they should have forced this issue to public consciousness in 2005.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

We need a bailout regardless; but. . .

Why do I get the feeling that every one of the jubilant hogs in this picture of the happy Democratic bailout negotiators has just confirmed the deposit of a couple of billion dollars of swag in his or her secret offshore bank account?


Bursting figs

Chalk this up as a learning experience.

I've been watching a couple dozen figs begin to ripen over the past couple of weeks and now the ripest of them have started to burst before they're fully soft and ready to pick. We've eaten about ten figs, but it appears the major part of the crop will be spoiled, or at least not able to ripen to perfection.

I think rain over the past three days has overloaded them with more water than they can incorporate. Next year I have to keep the fig tree better watered during droughts, especially as the figs begin to mature. Also, there's a damn bird messing with the figs on occasion. I also need to get a net to put over the tree. And I need to research the old Roman recipe for larks and thrushes.

Update: This week's Economist has helped me to develop some perspective on the problem of birds eating my figs. It seems bears are very busy this year eating Canadians. I don't especially like Canadians, except for Mark Steyn and sometimes David Frum when he's not being too annoying; but I also don't especially dislike Canadians. On the whole I'm not sure I approve of bears eating them indiscriminately. I would prefer the bears restrict themselves to eating the liberal ones. They're probably sweeter and chewier than crusty conservative Canadians anyway.

Update 2: This article (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080926143908.htm)
got me to remembering the stalwart goose Mork, who terrorized all in the vicinity of our pond until Mr. C's dog taught him to be more respectful of others and then ate him. If I knew how to post pictures here I would post the one I have of Mom running from Mork that day at the picnic. First and only time any of us ever saw Mom run. I don't have a picture of Mork startling Jas and getting him down on the ground between the cars. And I don't have a picture of Mork continuing to attack even though Linda was beating him moderately hard about the head and neck with her riding crop. Most of all, I wish I had a movie of Alex dueling with Mork along the bank of the pond. Back and forth, Alex advancing with his giant supersoaker, driving Mork back, and then Mork advancing with beak and wing, fearless. A noble goose. A priceless memory. All the money and effort spent on paleontology is worth it for reminding me of watching that confrontation. Ah, the other memories of that great season when Mork ruled the pond and all within fifty yards of it, chasing even the horses when he chose to go into their pasture.

Update 10/2 - Linda reminds me that Mork played with the horses and that the horses were gone to their new owners before Alex was walking. Ergo, Alex had to duel with a different and later goose, probably one of a pair that was defending young.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Electrorheology Leads to Efficient Combustion

I find it amazing that I just read this at sciencedaily.com and haven't heard of it before. If this is workable on standard production cars and trucks at reasonable cost and with reasonable reliability it's amazing news. Yet it hasn't leaked to the popular press despite the fact that it was sent to the American Chemical Society on June 12th. The Temple professor who did the research must be very closemouthed indeed given the significant implications. For one thing it has the potential to reduce U.S. oil usage by something like ten percent and reduce oil imports by something like twenty percent. That's a greater impact than all the windmills and solar energy plants Al Gore envisions being built in the next ten years in his wildest dreams. For another thing the patent on it is probably worth more than Temple University spends on it's entire science program in a decade.

I'll be interested to see what Alex thinks of the original paper on which the science daily article is based. Given what this paper claims this may be totally bogus, or else it may be hugely expensive or impossible to manufacture on a large scale. It's claims are not quite like claims to be able to run a car on water, but they are almost as remarkable given the maturity of internal combustion engine technology and the huge efforts automotive engineers put into improving fuel efficiency by one or two percent.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

A brief note on this credit crisis

Everybody is trying to capsulize what caused this credit crisis, and both political sides are trying to minimize their role. Here are some simple facts.

In the 1990's some congresscritters, mostly Democrats, noticed that many inner city people could not qualify for mortgages because they could not provide a record of income sufficient to justify a mortgage. So they passed a law with some Republican votes requiring banks to provide so called "no document" mortgages without checking the borrowers income. Furthermore the law required Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy those mortgages from the banks. A former law had established Fannie and Freddie as quasi arms of the government, which allowed them, in turn to borrow money from the Treasury and from others at lower interest rates than usually required for such things as mortgages. The Federal Government thus became sort of responsible for the debts of Fannie and Freddie.

If congress had just restricted such "no doc" mortgages to cheap housing in the inner cities all would have stayed manageable. But noooooooooo! The congresscritters, Democrats and Republicans, quickly figured that it would be unfair to only let poor people take advantage of the system like that - so they quickly raised the limit on such mortgages to middle class and even wealthy people. After that it became all the rage for banks to offer everybody who couldn't or didn't want to prove their income "no doc" mortgages.

As a result pretty soon banks were writing big mortgages on first homes and even on second and third, fourth and fifth home mortgages on a "no doc" basis. This all resulted in a very enjoyable party wherein folks were buying and selling homes like sausages, especially in Florida and California. If you doubt this you can turn on the TV and find a show called Flip That House which is all about how everybody can get rich by buying houses, fixing them up a bit and then selling them for big profits. Naturally all this game playing drove the price of housing up to the sky in the hot markets.

It all worked quite nicely while home prices continued to go up fast because people could take out a new mortgage to pay their old mortgage. But then in the early part of this decade the nasty old Grinches, like Warren Buffet, tried to spoil Christmas by pointing out the old Chinese proverb that "No tree grows to the sky."

So, in 2005, some congresscritters (mostly spoil sport Republicans this time, including John McCain) noticed that Fannie and Freddie were writing an awful lot of bad mortgages, and they were also fostering a market in blindingly complex bonds and betting pools called "derivatives" which were being sold and kept in bank and insurance company vaults as assets just as though they were real money. The Republicans were shouted down in 2005 because they were gutless wimps and because nobody wanted to leave off drinking the champagne and eating the caviar that came of writing and trading and betting on all these interesting new "derivatives" even though nobody could really understand them.

So there you have it. High finance in a few paragraphs. That is what brought us to where we are now, when even the smartest financial wizards don't know what those "derivatives" are worth, and when if the government doesn't bail out all the dumb banks and insurance companies the whole shebang will come apart.

As an aside, practically every well known congressman and senator except John McCain was on the Fannie and Freddie payroll to keep the party running as long as possible. And even McCain is not blameless because he should have shouted his concerns from the rooftops in 2005 instead of letting the Democrats kill the bill which would have at least moderated the crisis. But, of course, if he had done that he wouldn't have been able to run for president because nobody likes a Grinch. His opponent, Barack Obama, is trying his darndest to wriggle out of his share of responsibility for all of this, but that's pretty hard when it's a simple fact that he took the third biggest money envelope Fannie and Freddie handed out last year.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Perspective please

Sam called me earlier and we talked about all these economic problems that are in the news. Now. . . first of all I don't think the Washington idiots are going to so mishandle things as to put the country into a real depression. But even if they're a whole lot more stupid than they seem, lets keep a little perspective.

1. This is America. If you find yourself on a streetcorner starving the police will pick you up and take you to a place where folks in white coats will feed you unless you actively resist.

2. Even if things get so bad that they no longer pick up starving people and feed them, Grandpop A mostly fed, clothed and housed a family of eight on the produce he grew and partly sold from about two acres of worked out ground up near Johnson Highway. It's true he had a Model A Ford to use as a huckster vehicle, but we can use my tractor to haul a cart if need be. If we can't build a cart with the parts from the ten or fifteen cars the extended family owns we probably deserve to starve.

3. Among our extended family we own about eight acres of lawn on former farmland that has been patiently accumulating nitrogen in the soil for thirty years. And Dave and Marianne have an old brick bread oven that just needs a bit of assembly. You say, what about fertilizer? I say the kind of long unworked soil we have will produce good crops for several years before someone will have to open the septic tanks and dip out fertilizer to spread on it. Based on Grandpop A's productivity we can feed something like thirty-five or forty on land we own that's lying fallow. And we wouldn't even have to break that ground laboriously with a spade each spring as he did because I have a tractor that can plow all those acres using a couple gallons of diesel fuel. You say diesel fuel may be unavailable? I say Alex can distill usable fuel for that tractor from the wood of the trees we would be cutting to break even more ground for crops. You want meat? Dave probably still has that old black powder blunderbuss, and the deer in the herd around here are utterly impudent, more than willing to walk within range.

4. If the whole world economy goes into a new dark age the US will be in the position of growing enough food and producing enough energy to sustain its current population at something like 1950's living standards for hundreds of years, if not indefinitely. The highly ironic net result of such a catastrophe would be that most of us would live longer and healthier because we would get more exercise and lose some weight. People aren't going to forget how to make penicillin.

So - lighten up. What's the worst that can happen?

And set yourself up to look on the bright side by reflecting on Grandpop L's saying whenever there would be a seemingly dire source of grief - "These problems only trouble the living."

A sublime confection

For the past couple of weeks I've been listening on and off to an audio novel titled The Book of Air and Shadows by one Michael Gruber, who I’ve never heard of before although I find he has five recently published novels on Amazon. He must have achieved significant success with one and then had publishers eager to bring out his former efforts.

I’m only about halfway through Air and Shadows; yet he has already managed to include a bookie, an intellectual property lawyer, the Russian mob, Shakespeare scholars, a document ciphered in the 16th century, a discussion of world class weightlifting, a Palestinian driver who formerly served as one of Yassir Arafat’s bodyguards, a detailed discussion of bookbinding, a pistol formerly owned by a decorated member of the SS and a world class model. What a sublime confection. When I have such an audio book in the car I yearn for the days of long commutes.

In enumerating the list above I’m only scratching the surface of the complexity; yet he makes it delightfully readable, or rather listenable. I have to be careful of that distinction because on more than one occasion I've found novels that enrapture me in audio to later bore me on the printed page - and not because I’ve read them as my second go around, already knowing the plot. I often reread novels, yet I only rarely find my first judgment faulty on second or third reading. The very best novels, in fact, become like old friends, improving with the rereading at different stages of life. In that class I can name, off the top of my head: Tai-Pan, Hawaii, The Godfather, The Mote in God's Eye, The Winds of War, War and Remembrance, Shogun, Stranger in a Strange Land, Shibumi, A Soldier of the Great War, Kim. . . I'd better stop; the list could go on for a long time.

Lest you think me a total time wastrel I should point out that I took a one credit hour speed reading course way back when at Illinois Tech. I came out of that course barely able to sustain eleven hundred words per minute, almost a page of easy material at a glance; although a headache would stop me after about a half hour. So, when I say I read something, I might mean I savored it at a couple of hundred words per minute, and I might mean I slammed through it at six or seven hundred words per minute. There was a time when I could slam through an interesting novel of a certain sort at almost a thousand words per minute without the headache.

Here's a cheery thought for you young folks - the performance of one's central processing unit, among other things, does not improve with age; and furthermore, as a general rule, what does not improve over time degrades over time. I used to see more than a dozen stars in The Great Square of Pegasus - now I see two. That is not all the result of light pollution.

The physicist Richard Feynman did a long running study of his own central processing unit by regularly doing certain mental calculations and recording the time and accuracy in his notebook. If you find his writeup of that study it will not improve your mood. There's another great book - What Do You Care What Other People Think - and another - Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. Not for nothing did Freeman Dyson once refer to him as "all genius, all buffoon" - what a character. I once believed that I had attained a glimmer of understanding of why his seemingly simple little idea of Feynman Diagrams was worthy of a Nobel Prize in physics but I gave up on thinking I understood that kind of stuff a long time ago.

Another related story, Albert Einstein once wrote a simple little book in plain language about general relativity. I can't remember the title; but I remember foolishly thinking I understood what he was saying - this was back when I foolishly thought I grasped the Lorentz Transformations because I could ponderously follow the equations when they were laid out in front of me. Later I read that Niels Bohr, I think, once said that there were perhaps a dozen people in the world capable of fully understanding the implications of Einstein's simple little book. Taking Bohr as speaking figuratively, I knew one of those "dozen" once, and had a bit of a chance to appreciate the workings of her mind - in fact that has a lot to do with why I'm a words schlub rather than a science schlub; but I see that I have digressed a bit - that's a story for another day.

Anyway, I’ll definitely find The Book of Air and Shadows as a print book after I finish the audio. I hope it doesn’t disappoint.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Many people believe in many strange things

This article in the Wall Street Journal by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway discusses an interesting paradox. It turns out that religious people are actually somewhat more more likely to be rational than non-religious people when it comes to things like Atlantis, bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, etc.

The author points out that Bill Maher, for example, who often mocks people who believe in a "sky god" as he puts it, turns out not to believe in scientific medicine. This in the face of a hundred years of evidence, a good bit of which evidence he surely saw with his own eyes in the simple fact that we and our children are far healthier over all than the average of our grandparents and their children. He doesn't believe that vaccination is what wiped out polio, for instance, even though he actually lived through the time when the disease was eliminated. Sheer bloodyminded idiocy. Bill Maher is a short slim strunze.

The Baylor University study that the author refers to got results exactly opposite to what I would have expected. At any rate I found this to be an interesting article.


It seems Sarah Palin really drew out the geezers

Jas thought last evening that Sarah Palin pulled in a crowd of 18,000 at The Villages the other day. The fire chief of The Villages estimated 60,000. I've seen other estimates as low as 25,000.

One way or another that's quite a crowd. I was a little surprised to see somewhere else that Joe Biden only drew 2,000 when he went there. Maybe Palin offered a blue plate special to get her big crowd. On the other hand Biden must have tried to charge them or something. I know Biden is boring, but heck, there are usually 2,000 or so wandering around lost and confused in The Villages at any given time.

My impression of The Villages is that you can get a bigger crowd than 2,000 if you spread the rumor that you'll give out free boiled peanuts and new rubber feet for people's walkers and canes. For those of you who haven't experienced boiled peanuts I'll just say that you haven't really lived until you try them and learn what people will eat when they're starving.

I wonder if Al and Doris dropped by to see Palin.


The few, the proud, the hardheads

The fellow quoted below went the full mile in his attempt to qualify for a Darwin award, but failed because he survived Hurricane Ike. Others may feel differently, but I'm glad there are still people like this around to keep things interesting. I'd like to meet him. The link at bottom leads to a nice picture of him sitting on the porch where he rode out the storm. He looks a lot like Popeye's old Pappy.

Here are a couple of questions to ponder. Why do we take lots of risks when we're young and have decades of life to lose? Why do we become conservative and avoid risks like the plague when we're old and don't have so much to lose?

"Ray Wilkinson doesn't consider himself a hero for being the only Surfside Beach resident to ride out Hurricane Ike in his home.

Rather, the 67-year-old Marine Corps veteran considers himself to be the only one "stupid enough" to stay behind.

"I'm just a crazy, old hardhead," said Wilkinson, while sitting on the front porch of his Fort Velasco Boulevard apartment today. "I didn't say I had all my marbles."

The 30-year Surfside Beach resident said he watched the frenzy of Ike's arrival from the front porch of his upstairs apartment, which faces away from the beach.

"I just saw all kinds of goodies floating away, like my refrigerator downstairs," he said. "I watched automobiles floating by," like a Volvo that traveled for several blocks before ending up in a ditch."


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shakespeare farce in Phoenixville

Last evening Linda and I went to see Shakespeare in Hollywood at the Forge theater in Phoenixville. It's quite an amusing little farce - based on an actual film of Midsummers Night's Dream which was produced in Hollywood in 1935.

I just googled the 1935 film and learned that it did indeed star James Cagney, Olivia DeHaviland and Dick Powell, among others. Linda mentioned after the play that we're going to have to seek out the film and see it one of these days.

I recommend the play if you can get to Phoenixville to see it by October 4th. Tis true it's written about like a typical high schooler's satire, but then Shakespeare's play itself has a plot like a typical high schooler written satire. Midsummers Night's Dream is the one where a character is changed into a jackass and in which a magic spell causes characters to fall into hopeless love with the first person they see when they wake up. Of course, Shakespeare's play may be a smidgen better written than a typical high schooler's if you can handle all that iambic pentameter stuff.

Have I mentioned that I wrote a play back in high school, and even published it on the school mimeo machine? There was no iambic pentameter; but there was a fair run of poetry in one rather humorous scene. It was overwhelmingly well received by the cast and a small audience at its first reading. And it garnered quite a bit of word of mouth. That play could well have had a run like Midsummers Night's Dream had it not been altogether less well received by the principal and head disciplinarian when the word of mouth reached them. Alas, it never opened to wider audiences, and all the mimeo copies were rudely destroyed by the book burners. Worst was that all of our study halls, and all of our detention hours, were closely monitored after that, eliminating all scope for creativity.

Anyway, enough of life's little trials and the sacrifices made for art. Here's a little sample of the 1935 film that's precious:


Friday, September 19, 2008

Pop and Uncle Joe Sky's restaurant

Debra asked on Labor Day if Pop once ran a restaurant. I’ve been thinking about that for two weeks now. What do I know about that? And what do I think I know? It resides in that recess of my mind where the memories of what I actually saw and heard at the time jostle with the memories of what Pop and Mom and others related about it later.

In that regard this is an especially mixed up story because Pop and Mom talked about it often both between themselves and with us from the 1960’s on. And then, most confusingly, it was one of the things Pop talked to me about during those long days and nights in the hospital at the end of his life. Why he picked up on the restaurant story I don’t know; although it did fit in some ways with other things he was interested in talking about during those long weeks of the vigil.

Late at night I would return to his room after a little walk while he was asleep, and I would find him awake; and he would tell me stories of the old days. In the hospital, much more so than in former times, he was responsive when I asked questions, perhaps because I was grown up then and perhaps because he felt more comfortable about sharing things about what was by then the distant past, most of the participants gone. When I was young Pop didn’t exactly dodge questions; but he had a way of skirting around and answering a different question, or he would change the subject. And then he would just laugh when I clumsily tried to pin him down.

So beware! This story about the restaurant is formed from a very few direct observations folded into three decades of stories, including stories told to me at a very emotional time. I’m going to tell it as though I’m confident I have it straight, which is always questionable. I’ve been known to realize after ten years of telling a story that I have a wrong character in it, or I have the era wrong, or I have it mixed with some other story.

With that warning, here goes. First off, Pop definitely did run a restaurant. He ran it with Uncle Joe Sky during a period when both of them were underemployed because of some special circumstances. Pop and Uncle Joe needed temporary work and some income; and Tommy, or maybe it was Reds, knew a fellow who needed a liquor license. As I understand it, a liquor license was easier to get, or cheaper, if you could show that you already had a functioning restaurant for a year or so. The restaurant didn’t actually need to be at the place where you wanted to use the liquor license; it just needed to be nearby – or something like that.

At any rate, Tommy's friend rented a small storefront on Main Street down past the Conte Luna factory toward Black Horse, on the way to Conshohocken. Don A, down in Florida now, told me that section of Main Street and the blocks between it and the river were called Mogeetown or Miggietown way back when.

So now Pop and Uncle Joe have a storefront for their restaurant. It must have been a deli or something like it in a former life; because it had a couple of booths with tables, and a counter and such. It was laid out to serve cold sandwiches. In the era before supermarkets it's owner probably also sold a few varieties of canned goods. It had a regular kitchen stove rather than a grill behind the counter; which was probably just as well. I doubt either of Pop or Uncle Joe was much of a cook back then.

So, they had a restaurant, but they needed supplies. And the way this deal worked is that the guy who wanted the liquor license provided the restaurant and all the needed supplies; and Uncle Joe and Pop earned something each week in the manner of wages. Plus, they got to keep any revenues from the food they served.

So on the weekend that they started Mom and Aunt Mary R were there cleaning the place. I think Aunt Lucy, Uncle Joe's wife, was sick then which was probably why she wasn’t there. Pop and me and, I think, Norfi, Cappy, Doc and Uncle Joe were out front. The restaurant was in one of those irregular shaped buildings that result when streets don’t cross at right angles; and I was interested in how the walls were angled back. None of the four corners of that building were right angles. I had to squeeze down the narrow alley on one side of the building to get in the back to see the fourth corner. Mom and Aunt Mary wouldn’t let me go through to get to the back because the floor was wet or something. Or else I decided not to try to go through the building to the back. I was old enough to know that when they were in that kind of cleaning frenzy, with ammonia and buckets and mops and scrub brushes, it was best to stay clear.

Anyway, Pop and the boys, and Uncle Joe in his suit, were out front on the sidewalk talking like they always did, and a car drives up. And the driver gets out and shakes hands with Pop and Uncle Joe after asking, “You Johnny?” I can't remember what he called Uncle Joe. Then he pops the trunk of the car and unloads a few cases of coffee mugs. Then from the back seat he unloads a couple or three more cases of coffee mugs. And from the front seat he produces a box of stainless steel flatware - forks, spoons, butter knives - all jumbled in a large cardboard box which he picks up carefully and carries from underneath, because it’s heavy.

I should explain that Pop didn’t help in unloading or anything physical because even back then he had to be pretty careful how he exerted himself. If he wasn’t careful he could end up spending a long time trying to catch his breath, holding his hand out to you if you asked a question. He had to concentrate all his attention on the task when he caught his breath. So he didn't help; but now that I think about it that guy didn’t ask for help, or seem to want help. He just went about unloading the car and carrying the stuff inside.

Anyway, that guy leaves. And a little later, Uncle Nicky drives up in the dump truck from the factory where he worked. He had been down to Philly; and he had that truck filled with stuff. He and Norfi and Cappy start to unload five or six huge boxes of paper towels, and boxes of napkins and paper cups, and plates and saucers and steak knives and cases of canned foods and all sorts of other stuff. And again I should explain about division of labor. Doc was a real doctor, so he didn't do anything manual that might hurt his hands. He was in good shape and all, and he played ball at the Redpeppers picnic, although come to think of it he always had a pinch runner like Pop, and the boys treated him just like one of the guys; but the thought of him doing physical work just didn't occur to him or anyone else. Uncle Joe Sky was the same in a way. He was a stander out of the way when physical work was being done back then; although later he became a manual laborer to support the second family he started after Aunt Lucy died.

So I didn't think it was odd that Pop and Doc and Uncle Joe just watches as Norfi and Cappy and Uncle Nicky did the physical work even though they were not involved in the restaurant except as bystanders. Just as I didn't think it odd that Uncle Nicky used the company truck on weekends whenever anything needed to be moved, or that he would show up at our house in Trooper with that truck and unload, for instance, a full set of the Encyclopedia Brittanica which I much later realized was the 1913 edition. A funny story how I came to realize that, but that's another digression.

Cappy and Uncle Nicky and Norfi did the work because they were factory guys to whom manual work came naturally. I later learned that Norfi was a very elite sort of factory guy, a highly skilled machinist who made one of a kind parts of exotic alloys for the space program. But in almost naturally doing manual types of work Norfi was just like Cappy and Uncle Nicky.

So, they unload paper products, and dishes, and then they start unloading cases of food. They unload until Mom comes out and says there isn’t enough room in the restaurant or in the back room to put all this stuff. So back onto the truck go three or four big cases of paper towels, and a few cases of coffee mugs, and cases of napkins, and other stuff as Mom and Aunt Mary sort and decide how much of each thing needs to be there at the restaurant, and how much else will fit in the back room.

After that Uncle Nicky couldn’t very well take that unneeded stuff back to Philly, so he took it to Grandmom L’s house and put it in the cellar there. I remember that those paper towels lasted for several years, and that was with all the aunts using as many rolls of paper towels as they wanted. Mom used those coffee mugs in Trooper and in Collegeville for the next thirty years. For a long time there was a case of those coffee mugs in the basement in Trooper; but eventually that was gone after all of its mugs were taken to replace broken ones upstairs. I wouldn’t be surprised if Marianne and Dave have some of the surviving coffee mugs from that case at their house.

Come to think of it Aunt Mary R used those mugs at her house all the way through the 1990's when Mom lived down there with her after Pop died. Here’s a laugh. I’d almost be willing to bet that Frankie Jiggs or Gussie have some of those coffee mugs down in Maryland to this day, or that Al R has some of them down in Florida. And if Angela has some in her condo in San Diego it wouldn't surprise me in the least. They were very good coffee mugs, with just the right balance and heft. An olympic swimming pool of coffee was served in those mugs. We're talking about an era wherein I, or any of a couple dozen cousins, could walk into the delicious smelling kitchen of any one of eight or ten houses through the unlocked side door and immediately be offered coffee and cookies and conversation and then "Can you stay for dinner? I'm making. . ."

So what else can I say. Pop mostly ran the restaurant for the year because Uncle Joe wasn’t really cut out for hanging around a restaurant. Pop, on the other hand, was perfectly cut out for hanging around a restaurant. One or two or three of the boys were always stopping by to have a cup of coffee and talk. And Pop knew just about everybody in Norristown, or it seemed that way. So anybody who walked in would be a conversation about sports or politics or the old days. Mostly Pop sold cold sandwiches. He made zeps and hoagies on Corropolese or Morabito rolls; and he also made plain lunch meat sandwiches on spongy white American bread, which a surprising lot of people were willing to eat just like it was real bread.

Pop also got to where he made pretty good peppers and eggs. And that was when he started making ham and eggs with deli type boiled ham; because he was being supplied with far too much lunch meat for what he was selling. He was even being supplied with too much of the expensive stuff like sliced boiled ham. I guess the guy who wanted the liquor license didn’t mind the expense, because for that whole year cars came up from Philly bringing more supplies and food than Pop could possibly use. I remember him saying that he even told the delivery guy that it was too much. But the next week there the guy would be again, with too much stuff. It was a major issue he talked often with Mom about, getting rid of the stuff without wasting it.

Not that too much stuff was ever really a bad thing back then, at least not in Mom’s opinion. Some of the extra supplies came home, although we became resistant about eating restaurant type stuff after a while. Anyway, the last thing we needed was meat, what with Butch bringing a box of meat from the butcher shop every Wednesday night when he and Rose came over to play canasta.

There was always too much lunch meat, Butch would simply bring way too much, no matter what Mom said. Three or four inches thick of baloney and of white American cheese; maybe a couple inches thick of Italian salami; and always a stack of deli ham two or three or even four inches thick in the box with the ground meat and the chip steaks and the t-bone steaks and maybe a pork roast or whatever else mom had ordered. And then there might be a ring baloney on top. Nobody but Butch himself ate much ring baloney, other than Jippon.

By Sunday Jippon would have eaten the leftover ring baloney. And on Monday and Tuesday, Jippon would be eating baloney and American cheese. Jippon even ate boiled ham sometimes; but that used to make Mom a little crazy, feeding expensive boiled ham to the dog. And she would tell the story of Grandmom L in the 1930's, feeding ten on pasta and one pound of ground meat made into enough meatballs with a couple of eggs and a lot of bread crumbs. Sometimes she would even go on to the story about them trapping blackbirds which I acted like I believed, but never really did believe.

How could I believe that someone ate scrawny blackbirds when the controversy in our house was about someone getting tired of eating steak, although even then we ate linguinis at least a couple or three times a week, with meatballs. But the meatballs had to have a good mix of bread crumbs in them, just as hamburgers had to have a generous mix of breadcrumbs. We would resist if Mom made them too heavy on the ground meat.

Jippon ate a lot of leftover meatballs and hamburgers too. He was not as particular as us. He liked them if they were too meaty, and he liked them if they had a good mix of bread crumbs. He especially liked the ribs from the gravy. You could make him jump surprisingly high to get his teeth on one of those ribs. But you had to be alert; because Jippon's patience had a distinct limit. If you frustrated him beyond a certain point he would suddenly abandon the game you were playing and go after your ankles, fast as lightning. Just to nip, mind you. But he could convince you that the next time he might bite hard.

The extra supplies from the restaurant also went to the various aunts, of course - Aunt Mary R and Aunt Lucy and Aunt Carmella and Aunt Mary P - and to the wives of the boys whose families lived on Penn Street. And then Pop could usually send some stuff home with whichever of the boys stopped by who didn't live on Penn Street any more. And at least a few times Mom filled up a box of lunch meats and eggs and milk and stuff and had me take it over to Doris S. Mom somehow had the feeling that the other neighbors in Trooper were too proud or something to accept a box of food; but she was easy about it with Doris, who she knew from before. I think Doris worked at Logrip's rug mill when Mom was the bookkeeper there just after the war.

So that’s the story of Pop and Uncle Joe Sky’s restaurant, which was really more of a luncheonette. I’ve tried and tried to zero in on what year that was. I think I was at least ten or so years old, so it couldn’t have been before about 1958; and I’m sure I wasn’t in high school yet, so it had to be before 1962. I know that because Pop and Uncle Joe Sky were no longer working together by the time I was in high school.

About the time I started high school Pop started driving the school bus for Visitation School; and a little later he started working nights at St. Gabe's home for boys, tending the boiler in the brick machine building on Park Avenue. That was the perfect job for him because he could mostly sit and read his paper, or listen to a West Coast ball game, or do his crossword puzzles while keeping an eye on the water level in the boiler and adjusting the valves that controlled how much hot water and steam for heat were going to the residential buildings further from Park Avenue, where the Christian Brothers and the bad boys lived. Perhaps the brothers hired Pop to watch at night because he could relate to the bad boys when one or a few of them would contrive to escape at night and foolishly think they were going to be able to hitch a ride back to Philly.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Life doesn't get much better than this

I just ate a delicious fig fresh from the tree. Last night Linda and I shared four others. And there are a few more ripening.

The fig tree has clearly adapted well to it's new in-ground site after its years in the pot. Now all I have to do is make sure I wrap it properly for the winter and next year there will be a massive crop. I have a couple of 1943 pictures of Grandpop A's Penn Street backyard wrapped and bucket helmeted fig tree as a guide, but I trust someone out there on the net has posted step by step instructions.

I may even share a couple of figs with others next year.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Insurance company management is all about controlling risk

It's not often that I find something I totally disagree with on National Review's blog The Corner, but today I came across something incredible.

In a comment about the AIG bailout, Mark Hemingway wrote in part:

". . . AIG underwrites a massive amount of credit default swaps — which are very similar to insurance contracts for debt instruments. While I wouldn't say AIG couldn't have done anything to avoid their predicament, in some important respects, AIG's financial burdens were not created through their own mismanagement so much as being left holding the bag on these contracts after the failings of its customers. . ."

My comment on this is that AIG is an Insurance Company. The core business of an Insurance Company is to insure risks. The essential core of insuring risks is to avoid taking on so much of any one kind of risk as to put at risk the company's ability to survive the failure of any one type of risk. Insurance companies justify their existence and make their profits precisely by being responsible for "holding the bag" when the risks they insure go bad. AIG's management thus failed in not exercising the prudence which is the most essential characteristic of an insurance company. If that isn't mismanagement, I don't know what is.

Note that Mr. Hemingways comment above was made within a longer post about the wisdom of the government bailout of AIG and of statements by Joe Biden and Sarah Palin on that bailout. As it happens I don't know enough about the details of how AIG's failure might have affected other imprudent and mismanaged companies, so I can't comment on the wisdom or otherwise of his entire post beyond saying that his argument seems reasonable to me. You can read his entire post for yourself at:

The attack dogs are really out


Only Jonah Goldberg of National Review's The Corner would post such a thing. I read his stuff compulsively for it's sheer manic brilliance even though I'm still a bit irritated at him for his continued refusal to fess up to his error re Superman's birthplace in the footnotes to his otherwise excellent book Liberal Fascism.

Superman was born on Trantor, Jonah. No, I mean he was born on. . . I can't remember right this moment. But he certainly wasn't born in the midwest.

You can hardly improve on this kind of stuff

"A prominent Saudi Islamic cleric has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against Mickey Mouse, whom he characterized as an agent of Satan sent to corrupt young minds.

Sheikh Mohammed Al-Munajid told Saudi Arabia's Al-Majd Television that his beef with Mickey is that he is a mouse, a creature that Islam sees as "repulsive and corrupting."

Al-Munajid explained that Islamic law refers to the mouse as "little corrupter" and a creature that is "steered by Satan," and grants permission to all Muslims to "kill [mice] in all cases."
Therefore, according to Islamic law, insisted the sheikh, "Mickey Mouse should be killed."

This is so hilariously stupid and twisted on its own that I'm at a loss for how to make it better. . .

. . . so I'll just say of Imam Al-Moron bin Fudd, as Bugs Bunny would, "What a Maroon!"


Hat tip to Mark Krikorian of National Review and the Center for Immigration Studies who found and linked to this incredible item on the web.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Some Muslims don't want to convert us by the sword

Stephen Schwartz is always interesting even though I've disagreed with his articles as many times as I've agreed with them. In this short interview with John J. Miller of National Review he explains Sufism, a very old tradition which is a whole different thing from the sort of Islam most people are familiar with.


On the other hand, Michael Ledeen of National Review has pointed out that Iran's version of congress just voted 196 to 7 to pass a law that makes it an official death penalty offense for a Muslim to convert to another religion. Formerly in Iran the neighbors just stoned or stabbed the miscreant to death, informal like, if someone got that far out of line.

One hundred and ninety-six to seven! Sounds like it was a pretty popular law that aroused a lot of enthusiasm. The article doesn't say whether the Iranian congressmen - somehow I doubt there are any congresswomen in Iran - the article doesn't say whether the congressjihadis were jumping up and down, shooting guns in the air and waving big throat-cutting knives around after the vote. It also doesn't say whether the 196 who voted "Yea" immediately cut the throats of the 7 who voted "Nay;" or whether they did it later after the dudes got their day in Sharia Court. I guess a news story can't cover everything.


Ay Caramba! Not a Kodak Moment

Congresscritters working deals for private gain, cheating on taxes and generally acting like pigs at the trough is old news. But the picture of Charlie Rangel on the beach that accompanies this article aroused my sympathy for him.

Haven't we all experienced this? Haven't we all had someone take a less than flattering picture when we were innocently relaxing and then show it around for the amusement of the crowd?

Poor Charlie. I feel his pain. It's very wrong for insensitive people to pass around pictures like this. I, of course, only do it for educational purposes.


Monday, September 15, 2008

For what it's worth

If you own stocks or mutual funds DO NOT SELL into a panic.


If you have cash to spare, BUY stocks or mutual funds gradually and steadily during panics. Actually, you should be doing that in good times and bad times. The difference it that it's really advantageous to buy during bad times. The problem is that neither you nor anyone else knows precisely how long the bad times will last.

Split your spare cash into 12 or 24 or 36 or 48 chunks depending on how conservative you want to be and buy some stocks each month in a disciplined fashion. Or increase the deduction that's going to your 401K plan if you work for a company that has such a plan. That's always a good idea if you can spare the money, but when the market is falling it is an especially good idea.

If you're under about 50 years old all of your investment dollars (except for your house) should be invested in stock mutual funds except for the amount of cash you need to live on for six months or so in the event you lose your job. If you're 60 years old you still should have almost all of your investment dollars invested in stock mutual funds.

We're almost surely not going into a new great depression. The government is stupid (nearly all governments are stupid nearly all the time), but the government is not that stupid, and the economy has changed a lot since the 1930's. Now, in 2008, almost half of the economy is supported by federal, state and local government spending of one sort or another. That's a bad thing for growth almost all the time, but it's a good thing if the world economy really falls apart because it means demand in the US cannot collapse completely as it did in the 1930's.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Alpha through the Muse to Omega

In an article about archaeology The Economist of September 6th quoted a Dr. Jason Ur. Fortunately Dr. Ur is an anthropologist at Harvard rather than a surgeon. His name is pretty darn neat; but if he's a Chaldean who's into body building and sailing it's perfect.

I have to wonder. Is his wife a novelist? Is her name Jane? Do they have a son? Did they name him Abram? How many times has he suffered these sorts of weak japes?

And. . . a comment to a post below moved me to quote William Blake. That, in turn, awakened the muse of my poetic side; which you now have to suffer:

Tiger, Tiger, burning bright,
Please to come, and take a bite,
Of the deer, that deign to munch,
With scorn, my lily buds for lunch.

Rip their hides, with your sharp claws,
Crunch their bones, with your strong jaws,
Drag their corpses, home to your lair,
And feed them, to your kittens there.

Who can whine, about ravaged deer,
When they make, kitten chow sans peer?
Who can mourn, for a savaged fawn,
Whose haunches, nourish tiger spawn?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright,
I'd better stop, this making light,
Of mayhem, lest I rouse the ire,
Of neighbors, nieces and PETA choir.

Finally. . . On the way home from Villanova earlier today we saw a nicely shot up road sign along the expressway. It's true the shooter was probably using a mere pellet gun, because the sign wasn't shot through; but it warms my heart that there's still an outrageous scofflaw vandal out there keeping the world interesting.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A very satisfying read

I just finished Faye Kellerman's newest novel The Burnt House. It's been a very satifying read over the past couple of days. I can report that Lieutenant Peter Decker and his wife Rina Lazarus are well, and Lt. Decker as usual solved the case. Two cases, actually; because while searching for the body of victim one among plane crash wreckage they instead found the body of victim two who had been murdured and buried in the basement of the apartment house long before the plane crashed into it. Victim one had never been on the plane. Very improbable, just like real life; and thus very satisfying. Faye Kellerman has a gift for this sort of plot. And she has a gift for describing and portraying ethnic characters and religious traditions. In this case she incredibly manages to put a somewhat shamanistic Catholic Hispanic/Indian couple, grateful parents of victim two, together at a Shabbat dinner with Rina Decker's orthodox Jewish family.

Go figure where she gets the guts to do that. And go figure where she gets the skill to carry it off.

I know, I know; I'm supposed to be finishing Robert Lacey's book Little Man which Sam lent to me when I was avoiding finishing V.S. Naipaul's book The Enigma of Arrival. And I'm also supposed to be finishing the various magazines that I have half finished around here.

But there you have it. The evidence of my disorderly life. I found the Faye Kellerman book on the rack at the supermarket and picked it up. Then I picked it up off the coffee table where it was supposed to wait quietly until I finished at least one of the other books in process. I have no excuse except that it called to me at a weak moment; and it was a great excuse to avoid the other two books.

I should also confess at this point that when I picked up the book by Faye, I also picked up Jonathan Kellerman's new book and Patricia Cornwell's latest book. But I'm determined to return to Little Man before I open either of those two.

However, as I mentioned above, life is an improbable twist of random happenings. And I am an abject slave to my whims rather than a faithful servant of my rational desires and plans. I'm also old enough to realize that resistance really is futile. So, if I should succumb to the very strong desire to see what Milo Sturgis and Alex Delaware are up to, or if I should be unable to resist the siren call of a look into the lives of Kay Scarpetta and Pete Marino, it should surprise no one.

Little Man is a biography of Meyer Lansky. It's a true story, insofar as any book can be a true story of such a deeply private and devious subject who spent his life in such a dangerous business. It's full of interesting twists and turns, and it bears on a lot of subjects that I find deeply interesting. But it is a true story, after all, so it's not nearly as realistic as fiction.

The Enigma of Arrival, well, what can I say? It's by a great author, an author some of whose other books I have enjoyed a great deal; but it's, it's, so self absorbed. V.S. Naipaul was burrowed so far into contemplation of his own navel when he wrote it that it's almost beyond belief.

How can anyone be so self absorbed? I wonder about that from time to time.

If true, what a wuss

A sympathetic blogger at getreligion.org feels sorry for Charles Gibson. She thinks he was in a tough position and had to be tough on Sarah Palin because of all the peer pressure of his colleagues in the media. Here's what she said.

"I have been reflecting on the Charles Gibson’s performance during his ABCinterview of Gov. Sarah Palin and I actually feel bad for him. Because Palin has not been as available to the press as they would have liked, he had the burden of representing the entire mainstream media establishment. And with the mainstream media admitting they are “angry” and passionate these last few weeks, that put Gibson in a very difficult position. I mean, he has to work with and socialize with these people for the rest of his life. That is an incredible amount of peer pressure and it had to have been an unbelievably difficult situation for him. I don’t think it excuses getting basic facts wrong but it’s just worth considering all the pressures he was under.

And while Gibson’s performance is getting eviscerated as unfair by many observers — and that includes the New York Times media critic and the Los Angeles Times — he’s also getting lots of support from some media friends. So I think that he probably did what he needed to do to stay in the good graces of his colleagues."

Here's my reaction to this idea. First, Charles Gibson had every right to be as tough or as easy on Sarah Palin as he felt he should be in his own professional opinion. But note that I said "in his own professional opinion."

If Charles Gibson was so much as one jot or tittle tougher or easier on Sarah Palin because of public opinion, or out of a desire to preserve his own reputation, or especially out of a desire to keep the good opinion of his "in" crowd he's not a "professional" except in the sense that he's a professional whore. If he did that he's no more professional than any contemptible little sissy on a kindergarten playground who joins in taunting a former friend because "everybody is doing it."

Not that there's anything wrong with that, at least in the thinking of much of our modern culture, especially including the glib gaggle of sniggering gigolos who make up the media.

A word about my use of "whore" and "gigolo" in the above. I used the words in their meaning as insults connoting those who sell their honor for money. I certainly intended no insult to honorable whores and gigolos who merely rent the use of their bodies. Such honorable whores are not to be confused with the thoroughly dishonorable whores who infest the media.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ouch! That has to smart

It turns out Barack Obama is only in favor of women getting equal pay for equal work when it comes to women who work for somebody else; or maybe it's just that Obama has problems with the idea of hiring women for positions of responsibility.

Obama pays the women on his staff 83% of what he pays the men on his staff.

McCain, on the other hand, pays the women on his staff better than he pays the men by a few percentage points, mostly because he has female staffers who are allowed to do more than serve the men coffee and attend to the typing and filing.

But I'm a partisan, so you shouldn't just trust me. You can look it up yourself. Deroy Murdock at National Review lays out the facts in nice order. And, just in case you don't trust him either, he gives his sources so you can check them yourself.


I wonder what the law is on these in Pennsylvania

Debra has an issue with ATV's crossing their property; and, sorry to say, but Hobbs is getting a little old to handle the groundhog problem. I bet if she buys one of these and fences it back there all that with the trespassers will stop; and Hobbs can enjoy a well deserved retirement from groundhog control.

We're talking a bargain price also - five hundred bucks.

I'm thinking one of them would nicely solve the problem of deer eating my lily buds. I have to talk to Linda about this. We've been thinking of getting a pet. May as well get one that can pull his weight.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wow! That's a turnaround jump shot

Barack Obama is the basketball player in this race, but he seems to have had his guard down when John McCain pulled off an impressive turnaround jump shot from outside the three point line a couple of weeks ago by picking Sarah Palin to be his VP running mate.

The odds on McCain as the next president are now up to 51% on Intrade, while the odds on Obama are down to 48%. The odds on McCain were well below 40% seven days ago.

Intrade is a website for legal gambling, in case you didn't know, just like Hialeah Park, the New York Stock Exchange and the PA State Lottery. If you buy a share of McCain for $51 today they will pay you $100 on November 4th, if he wins. So he's like a horse running in the fifth race at Hialeah who goes off at a little under two to one. Last week his payoff was somewhat over five to two; and a month ago his payoff was over three to one.

Uh, Oh! Joe Biden can't like this trend. The odds of him being replaced on the Democratic ticket are up to twelve to one today. The odds of him being replaced were over thirty to one a week ago. I wonder if some members of Obama's staff are placing a few bets on the side, selling old Joe short, so to speak.

I think I have all that odds stuff right. If Pop were still with us I would ask him. He could explain it with great certainty. Mom also. They both knew a lot about the odds on lots of things.


This all brings back fond memories of a long running conversation I had with Pop about the possibility of developing a system for beating the horses based on Pop's knowledgeably held belief that most punters tend to be biased toward longs shots and thus increase the payoff odds of favorites above the actual probability that they will win the race.

This bettor bias belief of Pop's was deeply ironic and interesting in that the only person he knew with certainty to be a long term winner at the track was Doc. Doc's investment methodology was to watch all the various factors closely and patiently until he identified a particular long shot horse who was ready to win a particular race based on his history, the running conditions and the histories of the other horses in the field of competition, about all of which he maintained encyclopedic knowledge.

And Doc was also disciplined. If doc happened to go to the track with the boys and no such special pick was running that day, or if the conditions were not exactly right for a horse he had picked, say because it was raining, or because another horse had been scratched from the field, Doc would content himself with $2 bets all day. "Discipline and patience," Pop used to say, "Doc has the patience to wait and the discipline to withhold his bet unless everything is perfect." Not that Doc's horse would win every time; but enough of his twenty and thirty and fifty to one longshots won to return his overall investments and more. Pop knew this because Doc, as his best buddy, shared his picks, and Pop would send a few bucks to the track with Doc when he went, as he did a few times a year, to take advantage of a special situation.

After saying that over the long run he had won some money on Doc's picks, Pop would always mention that Doc would chide him at the track when they went together and Pop wagered a five or ten dollar bill on some horse because he liked the name or whatever. "Why do you do that, Johnny," Doc would say, "You, of all people, know that you can't win at gambling."

Pop and Doc, those were a prize pair to listen to, and if Norfi was with them. . . heavens, the conversations you could hear.

But back to my long running conversation with Pop about betting systems. Pop knew a lot about betting systems because a lot of people he knew were firm believers in a wide variety of betting systems. Pop believed that the betting bias in favor of longshots was real, but that it was was not sufficient to make it possible to beat the track's fifteen percent vigorish by betting regularly on favorites. And, he would always say, "What the hell's the fun of betting on a five to four favorite and then going up to the window to collect twelve fifty on a ten dollar bet. "

Near the end of his life Pop was tickled pink when I brought him a long and pretty careful news article about a scholarly paper by a group of college professors who not only proved the theory that the track odds could be beaten by betting on favorites, but who actually presented the reasoning and the sequence of bets they had made to prove the theory. As I recall it their system depended on identifying and taking advantage of certain kinds of odds spreads over the field of horses in a race combined with the running times of those horses in prior races.

I haven't looked it up online, but you can if you want to, I expect. It would be a scholarly paper written in the mid to late 1980's. And if you look it up you can apply the system yourself, although I'll warn you that it required a lot of study over some weeks before Pop agreed that it might work, resulting in a couple of percentage point edge beyond the track take for the bettor in those specific races where the stars aligned perfectly.

Also, unfortunately, the system itself appeared to me to be massively time consuming to work, although today I imagine you could set it up on a personal computer, if you know a lot about Excel or any of the Mathlab type packages, and if you're ready to do a lot of work learning about downloading betting and odds history, and the time performance histories of a lot of horses.

Then too - The fact that it can work means that many people have probably already perfected automated versions of that system, which in turn means the odds edge it can provide will have dropped since the professors published it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Surprise, Surprise

Back on August 12th I posted about people supporting illegal immigration by making the ridiculous argument that there are "jobs Americans won't do." After destroying that argument I mockingly asked why the open borders extremists don't also argue for the use of child labor to do jobs that fully grown Americans can't do because they're too big to fit into tight spaces and such.


The people I mocked in that post were complaining about an Immigration Department enforcement raid which found 600 illegal alien workers at an Iowa meat processing plant.

Well, imagine my surprise when I saw an article today about that same Iowa meat processing plant. It turns out that the owners there were also using underage child labor. I was relieved to see that they were doing that long before I posted my thing; because I would have hated to learn that I gave them the idea.

But seriously, why should it surprise anyone that an employer who will break the law to employ and exploit illegal aliens will also break the law to employ and exploit children? Such employers want easily manipulated workers who can't complain about unjust treatment. Illegal aliens fit the bill because if they complain the employer can easily replace them with a new illegal alien willing to work for any wage and under any conditions. Children also fit the bill, because they're too ill-informed to know they can complain.


We need to get control of our borders and we need to set reasonable limits on legal immigration. There is a logical argument to be made for controlled levels of immigration of people with specialized education and complex job skills and such. There is no logical argument to be made for wide open borders and wide open visa systems which allow a literally unlimited number of illegal aliens to enter the country.

There's no need for me to joke about this

The green goofballs in Boston just installed a windmill on the roof of city hall. Even though they were given the windmill for free, it cost $13,000 to install. It provides enough electricity for 19 light bulbs - when the wind is blowing. I guess Boston city workers sit in the dark when the wind isn't blowing.

Perhaps they plan to use the windmill to power the light bulbs in the offices where the mayor's relatives and old buddies are supposed to be working. Since those "workers" hardly ever show up anyway it doesn't matter whether he wind blows or not.


Always delightful, always maddening

Camille Paglia is one of the best writers out there. No matter what your politics are she's almost certain to outrage you at least a few times every column.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Read this before tomorrow!

The bad news is that when the Large Hadron Collider is turned on tomorrow it may create a black hole which will swallow the earth, or it may make this whole universe not be.

The good news is that if it destroys this universe your infinite number of other selves will go on living in all the other universes where they live.

The really bad news is that if it makes the universe not be there won't be a sound and light show.
The sort of good news is that if it creates a black hole which swallows the earth you'll be around forever to hear and see the sound and light show, but you'll be getting kind of stretchy. Everyone else will also get stretchy, but you won't notice because they'll be sucked in so fast. On the other hand they will also be around forever, except they won't see you get stretchy because you'll be sucked in so fast.

I'd go on, but understanding the relativity bit and the time thing and stretchy thing at the event horizon of a black hole is way above my pay grade. So you ought to take the above with a grain or two of salt. But take the grain of salt today, because tomorrow it could get sucked down into the black hole so fast you won't be able to taste it, even with your gynormously stretchy chameleon tongue.


Update - September 11
If you're reading this and your computer screen isn't very long and stretchy, the Large Hadron Collider has not destroyed the universe, nor has it created a black hole which swallowed the earth - yet. And you shouldn't be too paranoid even if you hear that the very big brained scientists who will be playing with it like it was a very big super soaker water gun believe with all their hearts that my frog can be in two places at the same time, and, that while he is occupying two separate lilypads in the space time continuuuuum, so to speak, his two little web footed doppelgangers can croak insults to one another instantaneously by, like, cosmic mental telepathy, no matter how far apart the lily pads are.

Another reason you shouldn't worry is that very famous celebrities believe you shouldn't worry. http://www.thespoof.com/news/spoof.cfm?headline=s5i40245

Do you have plenty of warm clothes?

In response to a previous post here Nephew David wrote a question on my wall at Facebook about the probability of serious global cooling. Fortunately Facebook sent me an email about it because I don't know how to get to the damn wall to read what's on it. And I wanted to read what's on it a couple of weeks ago because I got an email that made me think a young gal who should have her mouth washed out with soap also wrote stuff there after seeing my cowboy hat picture, although David told me he didn't see what she wrote when he went to this supposed wall.

Have I mentioned that my cowboy hat picture is the very best child's picture in the known universe. I would post it here, but I don't know how to post pictures here. Facebook is very easy to post pictures on. Maybe too easy, because like, Dude, some of the young folks who have posted pictures there are seriously going to be like embarrassed in ten or twenty or forty years when their like kids and grandkids find those pictures.

Anyway, here's a post by Edward John Craig on National Review's Planet Gore blog that talks about sunspots and the little ice age and why the way out there in the heliosphere scientists think we should be thinking about it. As a surprise bonus it also explains why you have straight black hair if you are one of the so-called "black Irish;" but you have to read kind of between the lines to get the joke about that, and you have to know where Spain is, and what kind of people live in Spain and what kind of people mostly live in Ireland and so forth, headsplittingly boring stuff they don't teach in schools nowadays. Anyway, even if you don't know where Ireland or why Spanish rice is kind of pink the post is very interesting because it explains why you might like freeze your ass off this winter or next winter.


We deserve better!

The Demos are trying to sell Joe Biden as a po' boy from Scranton. If Barack Obama bought Joe Biden as a coal miner's daughter type Pennsylvania native scion he's a lot less smart than he appeared when he rolled over Bill O'Reilly on taxes last night.

Here's a random thought that struck me while watching Obama swish O'Reilly around on the floor like a dust mop and then unscrew his head and slam dunk it.

After this election we're going to have to look at either Obama's big wart or McCain's turkey wattle neck for the next four years. Not pleasant. And then there's that thing with the tongue Palin does behind her lower lip when she's thinking.

And if that's not enough; all three of the above pale next to the thought of listening to Biden talk out of both sides of his mouth for four years. What a supercilious asshole. Caligula's horse is a lot more believable as a popular favorite for a Senator's stall and trough, and he didn't get re-elected 6 times. At least half of the three or four dozen voters down in Delaware must be brain damaged from smelling all that chicken shit.

Anyway, after eight years of putting up with George W's earnest Alfred E. Neuman imitation we deserve better.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Here's a wrinkle about Iran I hadn't thought about

This article about how we're about to sell a $7 Billion anti-missile system to The United Arab Emirates caught my eye. I've been so blinded by all the talk about Iran threatening Israel that I've tended to forget that an Iranian bomb also threatens a whole bunch of other people. Iranian Shiites may not hate Sunni Muslims quite as much as they hate Jews and Americans; but they hate them plenty much. There's going to be a lot of money in selling anti-missile systems to all the oil rich countries that are going to want to have a chance of stopping an Iranian missile. Figure on Kuwait and Saudi Arabia being next up to bat to pay several billion for such systems, and there is only one country that can supply them.


It's nice that there's money to be made by our aerospace industry. But don't get me wrong. I think it will be a very, very bad day for the world if Iran manages to develop a nuclear weapon. And it will be an even worse day if Iran manages to develop compact nuclear weapons that can be delivered with ballistic missiles. Iran already has missiles which can reach the other oil producing states in the Middle East, and also Israel, which is "the little Satan" in the eyes of the Muslim fanatics who run Iran. And Iran is working on missiles able to reach most of Europe.

Note that this is not a panic thing. This is a long run risk thing. I'm no expert on these weapons; but I do know there is a big difference in difficulty between developing unwieldy two ton nuclear devices like the bombs dropped on Japan, and developing a few hundred pound device which is shaped to fit into a missile reentry nose cone. It took the U.S. and the Soviet Union several years and dozens of nuclear tests to develop reliable warheads for missiles. With more modern computers to do modelling and all the information that is out there in the public domain it will probably take Iran less time; but it will still take a couple of years minimum from the time of the first test explosion to the time they can have a short range missile ready to launch with a reliable warhead.

Figure at least a couple of years before Iran tests a bomb, then at least a couple more years before they can put a bomb on a short range missile, then at least a couple more years before they can put it on a medium range missile, say one that can reach Israel, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, India, and a lot of other nearby countries. That means it's at least five or six years before things will get really dicey.

But five or six years isn't very long if you're thinking about how to defend against such missiles. Just installing and testing one of these anti-missile systems is probably a several year affair.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stupid is as stupid does

Meanwhile in breaking news from Norristown:

Gordon Glantz, managing editor of The Times Herald, published a perfectly predictable column slamming the GOP for a lot of things, one of which was stupidity.

Which was interesting, because Mr. Smarty Pants Managing Editor Glantz wrote in the next to last paragraph - "A choice of Jindal - a Native American no less - would have shown that the Republican Party still has some residual mojo. . ."

He meant Bobby Jindal, the Republican fellow those Good Old Boys down in Louisiana elected to be their Governor a couple of years ago.

To me Bobby Jindal being a Native American didn't sound exactly right, even though a politically correct fellow like Gordon Glantz said he was. First off, as a good Republican I have a mental picture of Bobby Jindal to go along with my mental appreciation of his policy positions, and in my mental picture Bobby Jindal is a good couple of shades darker than I remember Tonto and Cochise being. I was pretty sure he wasn't the kind of Native American who used to hold up his hand and say "How" when he wasn't shooting arrows at John Wayne.

Those gun toting racist Republican hicks out in Alaska elected the wife of a Native American as Governor a couple of years ago; but he's descended from kayaking Native Americans, the sort who used to hunt seals and walruses. The Republicans in Colorado elected a fellow descended from the sort of pinto pony riding, buffalo steak eating Native Americans Glantz was thinking of, but not Louisiana. I was pretty sure Louisiana Republicans elected a fellow who was born in this country but who's ancestors were Shrimp Vindaloo eating Indians, you know, folks who were from the Indian Subcontinent rather than from the Indian Territories.

But I like to be careful about such things; so I did a couple of clicks on this newfangled internet thingy that Mr. Glantz must not have heard about, to check my memory and my thinking. And then I wrote Mr. Glantz a respectful email:

"Only the Times Herald could have a managing editor who thinks Bobby Jindal is a "Native American" and is dumb enough to put it in a column.

Do you do your research before or after you neglect to check the headlines for spelling?

Another, less reliably leftist managing editor might have meant he was born in America. But you, of course, meant that his ancestors counted coup on white devils like Custer out on the great plains.

Turns out his ancestors, given his parentage, are a lot more likely to have counted coup on Mohammedans or British accented white devils over in old India.


P.S. Love your 'stache, but I recommend you ditch the white jacket for a rainbow tie-dye. "

Me again - In the interests of fairness I shall certainly post Mr. Glantz's reply if he makes one. Incidently, since sending him the email I have reconsidered my opinion of Mr. Glantz's droopy at the sides moustache. On reflection it makes him look like an underdeveloped walrus, or else a walrus after the attentions of a pinniped version of Lorena Bobbitt. He should ditch the picture.

Update: My remarks above relate to the picture of Mr. Glantz in the print edition of The Times Herald. His column of Sunday, September 7th wasn't up on the website (as of September 7th). There is a different picture of him on the web. In that picture he doesn't have a Fu Manchu moustache.

Update - September 9th - In today's paper The Times Herald published a tiny little correction of this pretty big error on Mr. Glantz's part, given that he regularly writes about national politics. The correction reads. "In Gordon Glantz's column on Page A4 of Sunday's edition, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was incorrectly identified as a Native American."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Obama will say Ouch! when he reads this

Over at Commentary Magazine's Contentions blog a poster took on the issue of why Barack Obama continues to trade punches with Sarah Palin even though his real opponent is John McCain.

I'm betting the writer is a graduate of a top notch college which has a Womyn's Studies Department. Alternatively, this is such a pitch perfect example of it's genre that the writer may even be Camille Paglia posting under a pseudonym.

"Joe NS Says: September 6th, 2008 at 2:50 PM

The Democratic campaign is not in a meltdown. The proper image, I believe, is that of a long metal chain the links of which are one by one sliding off the edge of a bench. One can see what is happening, very slowly at first and then accelerating, with horror or glee depending on party affiliation; but it’s very definitely underway.

It is nearly impossible to credit it, but the Palin pick has caught the Democrats so flat-footed that they have clearly decided the only counterpunch they have is to argue that Sarah Palin cannot be a mother and a vice-president at the same time. That is a flat-out incredible position for a Democrat to take. It is unvarnished surrealism. And I fear it might even work. The truth, however, is that they really have no other option at this point. Largely because of the psychology of BO himself, I believe.

In any sensible assessment of his current predicament, Obama MUST IGNORE Sarah Palin. To have the Democratic presidential nominee fencing on almost a daily basis with the Republicans nominee for vice-president is only a little short of insane. Palin was wrong on one matter: the longer the jousting between them continues, the more voters will notice that the proper level of comparison of Obama and Palin is not between Obama as community organizer and Palin as mayor, but between Obama as community organizer and Palin as a member of the Wasilla, Alaska, PTA. Obama should put Sarah Palin out of his head. So why can’t he?

It’s simple: She’s sexier than he is.

One of the things that has always seemed to me creepiest about the 2008 presidential campaign has been its erotic - I would even say homoerotic - atmospherics. Sheer celebrity, of course, tends to push things that way, to be sure; but with Obama something else has been going on, something that is often referred to as “narcissism” or “self-absorption” or, more honestly, as “seductiveness.” Though others may take offense, I think it was always more the self-fascination one sees in a young girl posing in front of a mirror. Edwards displayed the syndrome as well, but once he left the race, Obama had the enchantress slot all to himself. McCain? Hillary?? I don’t think so.

Now here is Sarah Palin, who directly threatens the male narcissist’s amour propre because she seems to be reorienting the eroticism in the campaign toward its “traditional” locus in ordinay life: toward the female. Sarah Palin is amazingly erotic. But even more amazing: It’s perhaps the least important thing about her? Like a belle who meets an unforeseen competitor for the title of most alluring, Obama has reacted badly and, let’s be honest, a little bit cattily.

In sum, hell hath no fury . . . ."

Take time for one minute of incisive political news

If you can only afford the time for one minute of political news today this short video is your best bet.


Or, if you really don't care about politics you can spend your minute learning about the completion of more than one hundred years of scientific study of a crucial topic.


Friday, September 5, 2008

A word on recent slurs aimed at my frog

Two guest have recently alleged that my frog has been gaining weight. I'm pleased to report that I've reviewed his pictures of three years or so ago and can report that he is as svelte as ever, or at least as svelte as he was three years ago.

Such comments are tempting me to give him the hop of the house as a test of his athleticism, but I'm resisting. The last time he was decidedly uncooperative about returning to his bowl. And I've slowed down a bit in the ten years of so since the last time.

If he should somehow become released to hop free and I can't catch him before Linda gets home it will not be good. Must resist!

The boring nitty gritty of engineering

This video by a retired General Electric executive patiently takes you through the facts about wind energy. The most interesting thing about it is the insight it gives into the sheer scale of the national economy.

If you know me you know someone who personally knew someone (Grandpop L) who started his life in a world and time when less mechanical power was generated in the entire world than can today be generated by ten, or maybe twenty, of the wind generators this fellow talks about. Grandpop L was born at a time when for 99.9% of the world's population one horsepower was generated by one horse, or else it was generated by four humans busting their asses.

Jules Verne, who died in 1905, was probably the most outrageously visionary thinker alive when Grandpop L was born in the 1890's. Told on his deathbed that within a hundred and three years a rational person would envision the world producing and erecting a thousand, let alone nearly three hundred thousand, windmills of the size this fellow talks about, Jules Verne would have dismissed the idea as a fever dream.


Hat tip to Mario Lewis who linked to this video on National Review's Planet Gore blog.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dusty work and translation services

Whew! I just came in from mowing the prairie areas that I've been leaving alone all summer. Dusty work - there was a lot of ground up dried grass and weeds flying around. Even my tractor won't mow twenty-four inch tall growth neatly the first time or the second time through, at least not now, late in the season, when the blades are dull and all dinged up from me using the mower deck like it was a brush hog out in the woods. So I mowed the prairie about ten inches high last week, and then took it down to about six inches high the other day. Today I finally took it down to match the four inch or so height of the grass around the house.

While I was mowing I had my best guess at Mom's old recipe for string bean and little meat ball stew simmering on the stove. I'll give you the recipe for that tomorrow after I see what what it tastes like.

While I was mowing I was also thinking about why I started to mow the grass the way I do. And it came to me that the original reason was the rug Dory and John Hamano had in their living room back in the 1970's. The rug was all they had in the living room that first time when we went over to their house, but what a rug it was. It was a Chinese made oval carpet about ten or twelve feet long, very colorful and very neatly textured. The pattern of the colors and the varying depths of the pile made it fantastic, like a picture in three dimensions.

We lost touch with John and Dory decades ago but I still remember their rug, and I still texture the lawn to be like that rug. Or rather every spring I have a vision of texturing it, cutting it to various depths in patterns, to be like that rug. And then I hate so much to mess up the luxuriant growth of the areas where the grass and the wildflowers are getting tall, that I never cut the high growing areas until I absolutely have to in late summer. Linda, of course, has an opinion or two about all this, so I cut the area within about a hundred feet of the house like a regular lawn. But I let the farther away areas grow tall so the grass can sway in the wind, except for mown paths that lead here and there.

John and Dory were interesting folks. I met Dory at work where she was a salesperson briefly. He was a salesman with IBM. Their living room was bare of furniture because their idea was to fill the house piece by piece with really fine furniture. If that rug was an indicator they must have a house full of some really great furniture by now. Thinking of them I'm reminded that they were somewhat unusual. She was Jewish American, but she spoke Japanese fluently from college and then some time in Japan, teaching English I think on a sort of work study basis. He was Japanese American, but he spoke almost no Japanese. She interpreted when he talked to his grandmother. She could interpret in real time, as though she was a machine and not even involved in the conversation if she wanted to.

Mom used to interpret when I talked to Grandmom L, but she was a terrible translator because she was never not involved in the conversation. It used to make me crazy. I would ask Grandmom a question. And Mom would answer for Grandmom without even interpreting what I asked. Or Grandmom would say something long and obviously interesting and Mom would have a little conversation with her in Italian and then tell me something very short in English. Or I would ask a question and they would have a conversation with lots of grinning, and then Mom would tell me Grandmom said something not funny at all.

It was obvious my access to important information was being restricted. So I would try to talk to Grandmom on the sly, but we could never really communicate across the language barrier. Trying to talk to her as she was cooking or whatever would get you some great treats because she and Aunt Mary R always, always!, had something good either baking or else in the refrigerator, but talking to Grandmom seldom yielded information. And Aunt Mary was as bad as Mom as a translator, although Aunt Mary could tell you some pretty good stories on her own if Mom wasn't there to inhibit her.

With Aunt Mary you could always get a great piece of cake and hear something very interesting about who did what to whom and when. Sometimes even why and where. And with names too. One time a person Aunt Mary had just said was a horse's ass happened to visit, and she offered him a piece of cake, and had a nice smiling little conversation with him. Then, after he left, she said, "See, like I said, a real shtunad; but whataya gonna do, you can't pick your relatives."

But it was Grandmom who I wanted to communicate with. So I would try to get Pop to translate, but he would claim not to be able to speak Italian well enough, even though I knew from observation that he could understand it perfectly well. He very rarely said anything in Italian, but he would get the jokes just as fast as everybody else did when he listened in to Grandmom L and Aunt Mary R and Julia, Mom's Goomah, and Sia Gigette, Pop's aunt from the other side of the family, when they were sitting around the kitchen table talking.

The really old ladies, Mom's Goomah and Sia Gigette, were already like a hundred years old then, at least, and they knew a lot. Mom's Goomah, Julia, was usually pretty quiet, but when Sia Gigette was around she would get rocking and rolling just as well as the others.

Sia Gigette was a special and interesting case. One time when they didn't know I was listening I heard Mom tell Aunt Carmella and Aunt Tavia that Sia Gigette would never die. "She's too nasty to die," Mom said. And Aunt Carmella and Aunt Tavia laughed and agreed, even though Sia Gigette was their aunt, just like she was Pop's aunt. "She's a bitch on wheels all right," Aunt Carmella said. And Aunt Tavia said, "You can say that again." And then they laughed about the time Mom asked Sia Gigette, "How's she different from your daughter?" or something like that right in front of Grandmom A after Sia Gigette made some remark about, uh, one of my relatives on Mom's side.

Anyway, when Mom and Aunt Mary and Julia and Sia Gigette were together in the kitchen down on Walnut Street they said the best stuff, stuff that made Mom look around to see who was listening; but they said it all in Italian. They said stuff that sometimes made her and Aunt Mary laugh so hard they would be like they were crying. Sometimes one of them would say something that would even make Mom break briefly from Italian into English.

"No!" She would say, and then "Goomah! Be good," or "Sia Gigette! He did not!" Or she would make that shh gesture and say "Mom! Little pitchers have big ears." Then they all would turn to where me and Matty were looking in the door and they would laugh and laugh. And if they were really loud in there Grandpop would mumble that phrase that Pop later told me meant "chickens in the barnyard," or something like that. Me and Matty would see that Grandpop was shaking his head with a little smile on his face in the living room, and Pop would have a big broad smile.

But Pop would never translate, or he would tell us something that was a little funny, but not something funny enough to have made Aunt Mary scream, "Stop! You're makin' me wet my pants."

My last word on Sarah Palin

Before last night Hillary Clinton was the most likely woman to become President of the U.S.

Last night, with that speech, Sarah Palin became the most likely woman to become President of the U.S.

She's not a lock, mind you, there is a lot of campaign ahead before she can even become vice-president; but you can be sure nobody in the media or among the political types will be taking her for granted or petting her on the head and saying she's just a token woman after her speech last night.

Which puts Hillary in a tough situation. In order to become the Democratic Party nominee in 2012 she needs to make sure Barack Obama loses to John McCain this November. But if Barack Obama loses her toughest rival becomes vice president.

An interesting take on Sarah Palin's speech

At National Review's blog The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez compared Sarah Palin to Mary Tyler Moore, of all people. And the comparison is perfect. She quoted the theme song to Mary Tyler Moore's show, which was set in Minneapolis.


"Who can turn the world on with her smile?
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Well it's you girl, and you should know it
With each glance and every little movement you show it

Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don't you take it
You're gonna make it after all
You're gonna make it after all"

I'd take a bet on very long odds that Joe Biden is a lot less confident today about facing her in their debate. This woman will go into that debate very confident of coming out with his head to display in her office with her dad's bear skin rug and the rack of the last caribou she shot; and she'll be smiling all the while.

There's a new sheriff in town.

Best quote, "Before I became governor, I ran for and became mayor of my home town. A mayor's like a community organizer, only with real responsibility."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Now they can come for us quickly

Technology proceeds by slow stages but then it all adds up to a stunning change.

The bad news is the robots will be able to get to us quickly with the nets if they ever decide to come and take us away.


The good news is it can't be long before we can sit back and enjoy a movie while we're being driven somewhere by our car.

A great motto

In the season of politics I'm always reminded of one of history's great quotes. It's more melodious in French than in English:

"Il nous faut de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace!"
"We must be audacious, and again audacious, always audacious."

Georges Danton, who said it, never lost his way with words - or his attitude. Just before they cut off his head he said, "Show my head to the people, it is worth seeing."

Impossible not to like a wiseguy like that. He went out with style.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Stock up on warm clothes!

In case you didn't notice August was the first month since 1913 without a single sunspot. In general sunspot activity has been significantly low this year. Some scientist types have been talking about the low sunspot activity for a while, but they've been pretty muted about it because real scientists wait for the data rather than promote paranoid fears (like a certain ex Vice-President I could name if this weren't a strictly non-political post).

The link to the article that I've pasted below will give you a hint about why you may need warm clothes soon. If you want to be really terrified about climate change google Maunder Minimum and read all about it. Or, if the Little Ice Age of the Middle Ages is too long timey ago for you young whippersnappers google, "year without a summer." That happened a few years before Grandpop L and Grandpop A were born.


A great letter about wrestling and the media

Jonah Goldberg at National Review's blog The Corner posted this letter from a reader which took me back even farther than the writer can remember. He talks about the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980's. I remember when me, Sam and Jas were watching Bobo Brazil wrestle the bad guys in the late 1950's. I don't know whether Sam and Jas realized that wrestling was phony back then, but I did. Just as I know the claims of fairness by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and the New York Times are utterly phony.

Here's the letter for you wrestling fans:

"I’m 31, and when I was a kid the World Wrestling Federation would not admit that what it was doing was fake. We all knew Hulk Hogan and Jake the Snake were really just doing a big sweaty man-ballet, but they would never admit that fact. The media today is just like the WWF back then. They won’t admit that what they’re doing is phony, and that almost every supposedly non-partisan, registered independent host on the networks, CNN, and MSNBC is a liberal democrat. They, like the WWF in 80’s, will not admit that their obvious charade is phony."

Me again - I'm just re-reading that letter and realizing the writer was just being born when I was 31 years old. It's good to see a member of the younger generation is growing up smart. Or maybe this member of the younger generation is getting old enough to be smart.

There's an old political saying. I think it was Winston Churchill who used to say:
'A man who's a conservative at age 18 has no heart.
A man who's a liberal at age 30 has no head.'