Saturday, January 31, 2009

How much is enough? How much is too little?

Below is a link to an interesting article putting our current living standards into perspective. Most interesting is his assertion that most people think of spending levels of more than three times greater than their own to be excessive, and they think that living on an income of less than one-third of theirs as being impossible.

Personally, I can easily imagine surviving quite reasonably and more or less contentedly on quite a bit less than one third of our current income, not that I would like it. On the other side of the coin I can easily imagine spending ten or twenty times our current income without having any problems with thinking of it as excessive.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Makes me think of Monticello

Talk about a rookie mistake. President Barry's press secretary let the thermostat out of the bag by revealing that The One like the Oval Office kept at subtropical temperatures. He'd better let his staff in on the fact that it won't do to rub the noses of the little people in the smelly fact that he's like most leaders in wanting us to "do as I say, not what I do."

At some level we realize that our leaders are eating high on the hog off of fine china in front of roaring fires up in the fancy rooms of the big house while we're eating scraps out of wooden bowls in our drafty little quarters in the basement; but that doesn't mean it's wise to say it out loud.

Makes me think President Barry shares some of Thomas Jefferson's ideas and attitudes with respect to social hierarchies. I hope he turns out to be as good a President as Massa Tom.

Some policemen have no sense of humor

They're taking all the fun out of life.

Meanwhile, is this a great country or what? The other day Bank of America offered me a loan at zero interest until next January. Most of these sorts of offers have a semi-hidden transaction charge of 3%, but this one had a maximum transaction charge of $75 so I naturally called them and snarfed up on the maximum amount they were eager to give me.

There was one catch though. The fussy bankers wouldn't let me use the attached check to pay off the 2.99 percent loan that they so graciously gave me last January. But they had no problem with sending the cash to my checking account. And they have no problem with me paying off last year's loan from that checking account. Because they've been so nice I may put the remainder in a nice safe 4% CD with Bank of America and make a few hundred bucks on their money. That's some small change I can certainly believe in. You'll never catch me saying that those TARP funds the government has been showering on the banks aren't going to good causes.

I'm sure Bank of America is very wise and prudent in it's lending practices, so I didn't feel it necessary to mention to the nice woman on the phone that rising unemployment levels have a pretty negative effect on the job market for corporate recruiters like me. I'm hoping that next January they'll actually pay me interest to take a new loan to pay off this one.

Disclaimer - Don't do this at home unless you are very reliable in opening your mail and paying bills on time. Nice bankers like those at Bank of America get very nasty very quickly if you miss a credit card payment.

You say that I may get in trouble kiting credit lines like this. There's an old, old story that's relevant.

Once upon a time a new prisoner was sent to the death row section of a Sultan's prison. The other prisoners, who were pretty negative about their situation, noticed that this new fellow was as optimistic as could be.

"You're doomed just like us," the other prisoners said, "so why are you so cheerful?"

"Because I made a deal with the Sultan," he said, "I got him to agree to grant me a pardon if I can do him a little service by this time next year."

"What service can you possibly do him," they asked.

"I agreed to teach his horse to sing," he replied, and that explained to them why every day this new prisoner spent an hour in the courtyard of the prison talking and singing to the horse.

"But you're never going to be able to teach that horse to sing," one of the very negative prisoners said, "it's hopeless."

"Ah, but it isn't hopeless," said the man, "for many things can happen in a year."

"What sort of things," they asked.

"Well, for one thing, I might die sometime during this next year;" he said, "and for another thing the Sultan might die, or he might get a new concubine who will brighten his mood and cause him to issue pardons; and who knows, maybe the horse actually will learn to sing."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Swinging is as swinging does

Last evening Linda and I practiced the new West Coast Swing moves we learned at our Monday night lesson up at the Ballroom on High. Unlike the heedless young kids who make up much of the class we're serious students. And we've learned in the past that if we don't practice the new dance moves faithfully they'll go in one foot and out the other, and we'll end the five lesson course as clumsy and wrong footed as when we started.

But I'm not here to write about West Coast Swing today. I'm here to write about the South East Coast Swing, or more precisely South East Coast Swingers. All because of a salacious web article that caught the attention of both Linda and my dear sister Marianne on Monday. I missed the article because I was diligently stoking the wood stove between sessions of reading substantive stuff about world affairs and such. The bright sun coming in both direct and by reflection off the snow has the house heated to something like seventy six degrees today; but on Monday it took pretty regular feeding of the stove to keep it in the high sixties.

I would be completely innocent of the latest report of, uh, concupiscence among the geezers down in The Villages if Linda hadn't emailed the article below to me on Monday afternoon. And I probably wouldn't be writing about it if Marianne hadn't called to alert me to it on Monday evening.

Where do the two of them find time for such fluff?

I'm reminded of the time Uncle Mill was visiting Pop and Mom in the 1980's. Me, Sam and Jas successively showed up on a weekday for coffee, and breakfast, and then conversation which stretched to the point at which it made no sense to go elsewhere for lunch, what with Mom right there to make potatoes and eggs. I can never get potatoes and eggs to come exactly the same as Mom could. Sometimes the simplest recipes are the hardest.

Anyway, there was a lot of catching up to do that day in the 1980's. I had met Uncle Mill one time in the early 1970's when I stopped and stayed a night at his house on the way out to Chicago; but I don't believe Sam and Jas had ever met him before at that point. He was a slightly beefier version of Pop. Such a good version of Pop that there is a picture of him driving Pop's golf cart that I wrongly identified as a picture of Pop for a long time until Mom set me straight.

"Doesn't anybody work around here?" Uncle Mill finally asked. I won't get into the fact that this was a surprising question from a fellow who left Norristown rather suddenly in the late 1940's and rode the rails for a couple of years before he quietly settled in Ohio to work in the steel mills. All through the fifties and sixties he pretty much laid low, occasionally contacting only Pop to stay in touch; and he never visited until that time in the early 1980's.

Have I ever mentioned that we folks of my generation have a first cousin who grew up in Bridgeport? She would be a second cousin to you younger folks. I forget her name just now, but there are a couple of electronic pictures of her that I believe are correctly labelled. Her existence isn't the only interesting factoid to be discovered in the electronic picture labels by someone who is alert to nuance.

Ah, the naivete' of the young, always believing that everything is new and different. I believe it was Shakespeare who first wrote that "there is nothing new under the sun;" but I may have that wrong. Shakespeare may have been quoting some fellow who composed the Old Testament in 800 or so BC. I'm too lazy to google the phrase. Shakespeare also wrote, this time I'm sure, "lechery, lechery; all wars and lechery, nothing else holds fashion."

And while I'm on the subject of dating conventions and innocence of history, I noticed the other day that Spike Lee mentioned the idea of labelling the years before 2009 as "BO" and the years after 2009 as "AO," or something like that. Talk about clueless chutzpah! Someday I'm going to reacquaint myself with the number of centuries that elapsed after certain events in Jerusalem before the world decided to begin labelling years by the convention"BC" and "AD." "Before Christ" and "Anno Domini," for you folks educated after politically correct idiots began referring to "BCE" - before the Common Era - and "CE" - the Common Era.

I suspect I've completely messed up the punctuation of that last sentence, at least by conventional punctuation rules which bored me almost as much as the diagramming of sentences back in grade school back when they still taught punctuation and the diagramming of sentences; but I'm the author here so I'll use any damn punctuation marks I please.

Anyway, back to the web article that both Linda and Marianne curiously noticed. "Why are you calling me about that?" I asked Marianne, "I'm only an occasional visitor to The Villages. It's your other brothers who bought houses down there."

She said she expected me to write about it. So here goes.

I think the ten to one ratio mentioned in the article is an exaggeration; although I might possibly believe that a given hot spot on a given night might have that ratio. I doubt that the ratio in The Villages as a whole is more than two to one. I'm also considering the reliability of the writer. Sixty plus year old hips may still move somewhat creakily; but they very rarely "gyrate." And, just what does the term "hot spot" means in a community where they turn the streetlights off at 9:00 PM and the loudest noise to be heard by ten is the sound of snoring? I would think that the most frequented hot spots in such a community would be the heating pads in the arthritis pain clinic.

Talk about a mixed up world. I'm just realizing that "PM" stands for "Post Meridiem" and "AM" stands for "Ante Meridiem." These are said to be latin phrases, although I question that "Post" in there. "AD" stands for "Anno Domini" which is certainly a latin phrase. But "BC" stands for "Before Christ" which is definitely an English phrase. So why is the english phrase mixed up with the latin phrases in those usages? Another excellent timewaster for another day.

But back to the article about The Villages. I've noticed during my visits to down there with Sam and Jas that there is a somewhat substantial pool of widows; although I don't think that's why the mailing address is Lady Lake. Who is the lady? Or is it a reference to a lake of ladies?

Finally, I'm very skeptical about most of the folks I've met down there doing anything much more strenuous than sitting on the bench seat of a golf cart. If very many of them are attempting the kind of golf cart hanky panky mentioned in this article I would hate to see the length of the waiting line at the back pain clinic.

Here's the article. If you have questions about it I suggest you address them to Sam and Jas. For myself I have to get going to the monthly meeting of the technical recruiters association to commiserate with the other folks who are out of work in this first year of the age of Obama. Is this the year One or is it the year Zero? I'll need to check out that Spike Lee reference.,2933,482785,00.html

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Like father like son

This is pretty near to unbelievable unless you reflect on just how close to stark raving mad many actors and actresses are to this very day. It turns out that the father of John Wilkes Boothe wrote a very explicitly threatening letter to Andrew Jackson. The story is fascinating, as is the wikipedia entry which details the very real, if somewhat comic opera-ish, conspiracy of which John Wilkes Booth was a part. The part about the fellow who tried to assassinate the Secretary of State is especially fascinating.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Remember this when you do your Federal Income Taxes

The President of the United States and Sixty United States Senators (50 Democrats and 10 Republicans) believe that blatantly cheating on your Income Taxes up to the level of tens of thousands of dollars is fair game. They further believe that "I forgot" is a perfectly good excuse and enough to absolve you of penalties if the IRS happens to catch you.

Six Senators believe that the question of whether government officials should pay their income taxes is not worth leaving their mistresses beds, so they didn't show up to vote.

Thirty Four Senators believe that someone who fails to pay their income taxes for four years should not become Secretary of the Treasury and the boss of the Internal Revenue Service.

Remember that when you do your taxes this April. If you use Turbo Tax you are especially absolved of all responsibility for any lying or cheating you do because that's what Timothy Geithner used to do his taxes when he purposely failed to pay his taxes from 2001 to 2004. When he was caught by the IRS in 2005 he paid the taxes he evaded (with no penalties) for the years 2003 and 2004. Only when he was nominated to be Secretary of the Treasury by President Barack Obama did he decide to pay the taxes he evaded for the years 2001 and 2002.

Aunt Mary R used to refer to politicians as "whoremasters." She was far too mild.

"I forgot" and "I made a mistake" are now perfectly good excuses for not paying your taxes. If that's not "Change we can believe in" I don't know what is.

Update - Michelle Malkin has helpfully provided a list of the 50 Democratic Party and 10 Republican Party Senators who just spit in the face of all common sense and decency by voting to confirm a demonstrated tax cheat as Secretary of the Treasury. If you know anyone who is related to or has ever worked for any of these shameless horse thieves you would be well advised to watch your wallet in the event you need to deal with them. If you live in a state that foolishly elected them to the Senate you could do worse than to remember their name and vote against them no matter who they are running against when next they stand for election.

Here's a guy who says what I said yesterday - only much better

The video is only six minutes long; but it's an excellent capsulization of the problem with what happens when politicians get together to conspire on ways to spend your money to supposedly solve problems. He's not shy of criticizing President Bush, by the way, so this is not just an anti-Obama thing.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Even the economists have lost their heads

Robert Samuelson makes a lot of scary sense in this column ( ; but the scariest thing in the column is his opening phrase.

"We all want President Obama to succeed in reviving the economy. . ."

That phrase indicates that even this top notch economist has been panicked into completely misunderstanding the problem. Ultimately President Obama can't "succeed in reviving the economy." At best he can limit the damage that the government will do to the economy as it flails around rapidly printing money and wildly spending future tax dollars doing things that make it look like the the politicians down in Washington are doing something they believe will be helpful.

No politician can revive the economy. The market economy that has made us all so unbelievably wealthy is so complex and interdependent that tinkering with it is almost sure to make things worse. Economic activity will slow to a bottom no matter what the government does; and economic activity will eventually bounce back from whatever bottom it reaches no matter what the government does. Almost any action likely to be decided upon in the great sausage grinding machine down in Washington will make things worse. The more intervention there is the slower the real economy will revive and the less fast it will grow.

At their very best the wisest politicians in Washington will be like moderately thoughtful teenagers shaking a stopped precision watch in the hopes of making it run better. At their worst the mostly dim witted politicians in Washington will be like impatient nine year olds prying open such a watch and pulling out its gears while indulging in the fantasy that they can reassemble it. I doubt that one in ten of the politicians down there has any understanding of the complex workings of the system that reliably delivers eggs, bacon and grits to their breakfast table. I'm certain that not a one of them has any appreciation of the complexity and sensitivity of the system that reliably delivers over a million of ten thousand different kinds of parts to the factories that assemble jumbo jets.

George Will did a column some time ago ( that gives some sense of what I mean about complexity. Will wasn't being especially original in this column because a long time ago Milton Friedman used the same example in his book Free to Choose, and Adam Smith, of course, wrote similar things first a couple of hundred years ago in The Wealth of Nations.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In case my anthropophagy post made you think I'm weird

In case you think it's only my mind that makes strange associations here's Ethan Barron, a newspaper reporter, on his reaction to a crowd of Canadians who apparently became quite aroused while watching Tuesday's inauguration ceremony.

Barron wrote, "I haven't seen a group of people wearing their fervour so completely, and so uniformly, since a guy I used to work with brought me to visit his weird sex cult in California."

". . . wearing their fervour so completely, and so uniformly. . ." It's probably even colder up there in Canada than it is down here. Barron has me wondering if those Canucks were wearing anything else.

He also has me wondering whether I've been too hide-bound and unimaginative in my mockery of the Obamatons. It never crossed my mind to imagine them as a "sex cult". And, had that notion crossed my mind, even I am too politically correct to have gone there in print. I'll go no further with this train of thought than to wonder whether Ethan Barron's Freudian slip is showing. He may have read a little too deeply into a Kyle Onstott novel in his youth.

You should read Barron's whole unbelievable story. Those folks up north of the border are passing strange.

Hat tip to Jonah Goldberg of National Review, who always comes up with the best strange stuff.

Serving Man

Those of you who remember the old Twilight Zone know, of course, that Serving Man was revealed to be an alien cookbook at the very end of one of the best episodes. That ending was a cultural shocker even to us old folks who grew up in the era of cannibal and missionary jokes like this one.

"Two cannibals meet one day...The first cannibal says, "You know, I just can't seem to get a tender Missionary. I've baked them, I've roasted them, I've stewed them, I've barbecued them, I've tried every sort of marinade. Just can't seem to get them tender."

The second cannibal asks, "What kind of Missionary do you use?"

The reply, "You know, the ones that hang out at that place at the bend of the river. They have those brown cloaks with a rope around their waist and they're sort of bald on top with a funny ring of hair on their heads."

"Ah, Ha!" the second cannibal replies, "No wonder--those are fryers!"

As it turns out the cannibals in the joke were pretty ignorant, or perhaps they didn't live in Fiji. For yesterday I came across a reference at about page 4,800 of the continuing Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin saga I've been reading that provided a perfect solution for their dilemma when Dr. Maturin mentioned a plant the British naturalists named Solanum Anthropophagorum which sent me to the internet to do a few clicks.

We think of cannibals as primitives. But it turns out they were pretty sophisticated, at least in Fiji, where they had special recipes, special utensils and even maintained a special plant for their occasional feasts on so called "long pig". Solanum Anthropophagorum turns out to be a real plant which was purposely cultivated near the special long houses where Fijians ate their battle prizes. The leaves were exclusively used as wrappers for roasting and the tomato like berries were used to make a special sauce. Google helpfully digitized the botanical volume where you can see it's picture if you page up after going to the link below; and you can read a lot more in English about the plant's uses if you page down to below the Latin. If you spend a while trying to puzzle out the Latin, using the English translation as a sort of Rosetta Stone, you have much too much time on your hands.,M1

Why I was moved to post on this matter is a very good question. Why you should not google "long pig" and then click on the link to The Church of Euthanasia is one very good answer to that question. The universe has been said to be not only stranger than we imagine but stranger than we can imagine. That goes double or triple for the internet. There's a lot of stuff way out there that you just don't want to know.

Meanwhile, back on real planet Earth and still on the subject of why I came to write about cannibalism, I don't yet fully have my mind around the fact that National Review, which is supposed to be a conservative magazine, has suddenly changed its comfortably musty look and feel by adding color photos. As is my custom I opened the latest issue to the last page to read Mark Steyn's Happy Warrior column and was greeted by a color picture of Frank Sinatra in the middle of the page. Curiously, Steyn's column, adorned with an unwanted color photo, is in some measure a rant against change. After reading the Steyn piece I turned to Richard Brookhiser's City Desk column, next to last at the back of the magazine, and found a photo of a palm tree, again in color. That got me thinking about botany and Doctor Maturin. And that led me by a roundabout route to The Church of Euthanasia, to which I now wish I had never gone, for now I will always know that the author of that website is out there, somewhere.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What's all the hubbub about?

Some of the news lately has been very bad for my state of mind.

For instance, until the other day I used to enjoy watching the squadrons of robins turn over leaves on the lawn. And I used to enjoy watching flocks of crows harass a hawk. But then Linda pointed out to me that the news experts have been reporting that a "flock of birds" caused that airliner to crash up in New York last week. How can I look with equanimity on those flocks of robins and crows now?

Then again, I used to enjoy watching the local youths skate on the pond in former winters. But I can no longer look on them with such equanimity since the news media began reporting that generic "youths" were responsible for the rioting and burning of thousands of cars in France. For all I know those youths down by the pond will become riotous one day and burn my car.

And further, as I've been pondering on this matter of the news media limiting it's descriptions to such broad terms as "youths" and "flocks of birds," I've been moved to wonder what all the hubbub is about on the national scene. For surely, if it's sufficient to blame a generic "flock of birds" for the airliner crash and a generic group of "youths" for the riots and mayhem in France, it must also be sufficient to describe the current turnover of power down in Washington in terms that render it no big deal.

What's all the hubbub about? Why is everyone so excited about this inauguration being a historical event? In terms that CNN and The New York Times use in other contexts the ceremony at noon today will result in no more than one mammal replacing another mammal atop the great dungheap down in Washington. Heck, the two mammals involved even belong to the same genus and species.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Linda reported that the sheepherders who live cross the creek in Mom and Pop's old house had a couple of their goats out on the ice on our pond this morning. The goats are usually in a pen next to the shed I built for our horses twenty-nine or thirty years ago. Meanwhile the noble shed has been reduced to being a shelter for two exceedingly dirty off-white sheep and one less obviously dirty brown sheep. Bah!

The horse shed has held up amazingly well over the years, and I'm pretty proud of its post and beam design. I suspect that the trunks of the cedar trees I used for its supports have rotted off underground by now; but the thing still stands proud. If only I had built it on our side of the property line rather than on Mom and Pop's side. It would make a great drying and storage place for wood although it wouldn't be very well sited for that.

It's been about as cold as it gets around here for the past couple of days and we've been burning wood at a prodigious rate. Jas was talking yesterday morning about those electric space heaters they've been selling all over the place; but those surely can't hold a candle to a nice hot woodstove. It's not only physically luxurious to sit near; it's also morally luxurious to contemplate. The trees take the carbon out of the air and we put it back into the air.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shaped like a pringle?

I was going along OK in this article even though it was reinforcing my sense that many physicists are more than a little nuts. But then I got to the part about the five dimensional space shaped like a pringle. . .

Anyway, if we're living in a hologram I want a crack at the remote control.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Looking forward to Barry O's inauguration and the expected crowds, the government has officially declared that Washington D.C. will be a disaster area on January 20th.

I think that's a little over the top, openly declaring it to be a disaster area I mean, even though I started thinking of D.C. as pretty much of a disaster area at about the time Lyndon Johnson won reelection when I was a sophomore in high school in 1964. I was pretty ill informed back then. As the years went by I became better informed. I did enough reading about American history to attain some perspective and realize how naive I was back in high school.

Now I know that Washington D.C. has been a disaster area since at least July 4th of 1826 when both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died and the corrupt rapscallions down there realized there were no more of the founders around to look over their shoulders. July 4, 1826; that was the date when they started losing all shame. Not that they had a heck of a lot of shame to lose, because they were the natural product of democracy. And American Democracy, like all democracies, was doomed from the start. The amazing thing is how long it's more or less lasted. Even more amazing is that it seems well enough established to have at least a a certain amount of limping life in it, thank God.

For Winston Churchill was right on the money on the subject. "It has been said," he famously pronounced, "that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

Which sort of gets me back to my point about officially declaring Washington to be a disaster area. It's much too late in history to take that step. And it's much too early in Barry Obama's contribution to history to make his inauguration seem like the reason for doing it.

Meanwhile, here's a pretty funny article by Robert Ferrigno of National Review that puts some perspective on the changeover from George Bush to Barack Obama.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's this world coming to?

Yesterday the Times Herald reported that a college student and her boyfriend were arrested for killing her father. It seems the boyfriend shot the old man with her .357 magnum pistol. Shooting him was, of course, a pretty drastic action; but at least the boyfriend chose a proper tool for the job.

Later though, the two of them showed shockingly poor judgement when it came to disposing of the corpus delicti . First they dithered for a couple of weeks while the body ripened, so to speak, which was probably not the wisest course of action. Then they proceeded to buy themselves a chainsaw. . .

They probably got that idea from watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre; but if they had watched that movie a bit more closely, or if they had given even the barest amount of thought to how wide a kerf a chainsaw cuts and what the saw necessarily does with the removed material, they would have realized that it perhaps wasn't the best tool for the job. Talk about making the chips fly! Even Linda, who has never used a chainsaw, immediately commented that an ax would have been a much better choice of tool for the job.

What's the youth of this country coming to?

In national news it's been revealed that Barry's nominee for Treasury Secretary failed to pay his social security and medicare taxes for the years 2001 to 2004. Sounds like the perfect guy to put in charge of the IRS. It reminds me of when Philadelphia Mayor John Street nominated his brother Milton to head up the Philadelphia Gas Works and it was revealed that Milton hadn't paid his gas bills for fifteen or so years.

It's not only the youth of this country that's capable of making poor judgements.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A blast from the past made real

Newspaper opinion columns don't get any more timely than this.

Meanwhile, the reason I've been so lazy about posting to this blog lately is that since Christmas I've been spending a lot of time reading much lighter fare than Atlas Shrugged.

First off, I owe somewhat of an apology to Mark Weingardner for the unkind comment I made about him a few days ago after I read the first couple of pages of The Godfather Returns. I stand by my opinion that Weingardner is nowhere near the elegant paragraph by paragraph writer that Mario Puzo was; but the truth is that The Godfather Returns is an excellent novel. It's true to the original characters and it carries forward the original story as portrayed in the novel and movies very darn well. Weingardner presents interesting plot twists that make sense and comport with the motivations of the characters. A very good read.

Talk about a wealth of excuses for not posting blog entries. After finishing that book I started on Patrick O'Brian's collossal twenty-one novel compendium of Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin stories. Linda gave me the five volume set for Christmas. I've read or listened to several of the novels before; but Linda's gift gave me an excellent excuse to start at the beginning with Master and Commander and read the novels in succession, which is the way O'Brian wrote them. So far I've read seven, totalling 2557 pages in all - Master and Commander, Post Captain, H.M.S. Surprise, Desolation Island, The Fortune of War and The Surgeon's Mate. What a treat! Each book stands alone; but reading them in succession is stunning.

A New York Times book reviewer called these "The best historical novels ever written," which I think is a bit over the top given that it puts them above I, Claudius, to pick one example; but they certainly rank among the best historical novels ever written. They're especially neat because O'Brian seeded them with archaic uses and sailing ship naval jargon for atmosphere. These never detract from the stories; but they did apparently detract from the self confidence of the copy editor at the publishing house. And O'Brian himself must never have closely reviewed the typeset books before they were published. The novels are delightfully sprinkled with little gems of error. Coming across a spelling or usage error in a book is even better than coming across one in a newspaper.

Speaking of newspapers, according to The Norristown Times Herald a young fellow robbed a bank up in Limerick the other day. He apparently did a professional job of actually robbing the bank; but he hadn't thought to bring a getaway car with him. Even if he mostly gets around by bus out of concern for the planet that's pretty unprofessional. Anyway, after the robbery he selected a Prius to carjack for his getaway. It's good to see that the young are concerned about their CO2 emissions; but I really think the fellow should bring his own Prius to his next bank robbery. He would have been in a heck of a situation vis a vis the environment if all there was to carjack was a Hummer. He can probably get a deal on a Prius of his own right now because sales of hybrids are way down what with gas down to $1.70 or so a gallon.

In other local news, a muslim woman was convicted of killing her husband after she found out he was planning to go to Morocco to marry a second wife. Thumbs up to her. And thumbs down to the judge who just sentenced her to eight years in jail for a perfectly justifiable homicide.

Re International news, I keep thinking about writing about the Israelis and the Palestinians; but I find that I have little to say. The Israelis are justifiably kicking the crap out of the Palestinians in Gaza after putting up with the hundreds of missile attacks that Hamas has launched at Israeli towns from there over the past couple of years. I don't bear any special ill-will toward the Palestinians because they're as entitled to free speech as anyone; but ever since they celebrated in the streets in the days after 9/11 I really don't give a damn about them either.

And anyway, along with believing in free speech I also believe that serious speech should honored by being taken at face value. The Palestinians in Gaza freely elected Hamas. Hamas openly and repeatedly says that it intends nothing less than the complete destruction of Israel. Given that, I don't believe it's possible for Israel to attack Hamas and the Palestinians who elected it in a "disproportionate" manner.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

First they came for the toilets that flushed

Some years ago the enviroweenies passed a law banning toilets that flush properly. They said such toilets used too much water. So now you can only buy the new kind that use less water, until you have to flush them three times to make the icky stuff that needs to go down go down to where it needs to go.

Now it turns out that was only the beginning. Those folks are now planning to come after flat screen TVs because they use too much electricity. Linda and I have a primitive old TV because one of us has been resistant to the idea of getting a new one that's the size of the screen at the old drive in movies, like the one a certain brother of mine has. I'm not going to name him because I wouldn't want the environmental police to break down the door of his house up in Limerick just off of Ridge Pike. He better put blackout curtains on the windows of the room where he has that TV.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Walking in the rain

Linda and I returned from our nightly walk a little while ago. I wrote "nightly walk" but truthfully we very rarely walk in the rain as we did this evening. And we almost never walk when there's too much danger of icy sidewalks and streets. But tonight we broke all the usual rules.

On the way back we ran into one of our neighbors and learned that we're not quite so virtuous as we thought we were. We've been keeping the thermostat set at 66 degrees, although sometimes it creeps up to 68 or even 70. It turns out this neighbor keeps their house at 61 degrees, and she said her sister keeps her house at 55 degrees. That's impressive. On a twenty degree night like tonight our woodstove comes very close to keeping the house in the 60s all by itself when I feed it every few hours. And that's without running it seriously hot the way I used to do occasionally back in the day on truly bitter cold nights.

55 degrees! That's serious hair shirt style self denial. You can let Al Gore know from me that the polar bears will all be treading water and the rising ocean will be lapping at the twentieth floors of the buildings down in Philly before we turn the thermostat down to 55 degrees.

We're all done with the poplar from the big tree near the house, which is just as well. Poplar is okay for moderate weather; but it burns up too fast if I run the stove the way I need to for freezing nights. Way back when before we knew better Pop had me cut up and split a big willow that had fallen over behind the springhouse. Talk about a waste of effort. That willow was about as light as balsa wood once it was dry. Pop burned it up; but it almost wasn't worth the effort of putting it into the woodstove. Of course, him and Mom really used their woodstove only to make it toasty warm in the living room since the air couldn't really circulate out of that room at any great rate.

Recently we've been burning the ash from the big limb that fell down and made a six foot high bridge across the driveway a couple of years ago. After that we'll get into the walnut from the tree Alex cut down to get a big enough piece of heartwood to carve his last year's Christmas gift for Christina. And then I have a bunch of apple, maple, cherry and walnut from the smaller trees I thinned out of the woods last year over on the other side of the property.

All in all I still have about two cords of good well dried hardwood stacked out there near the house. And I have another half cord of cured small stuff over on the other side of the property that I'll be bringing over a bit at a time with the tractor on weekends when the ground is frozen.

I already have a couple of cords worth of maple and cherry rounds to split for next winter from the leaning trees that were near the driveway. And I have my eye on the oak grove back of the house. There are a couple of smaller trees in that grove that should be thinned out.

Always look on the bright side of life

There has been a lot of doom and gloom talk lately. It's useful to be reminded periodically that we're living in magical times.

The big heads at this site ( ) consider the question of what coming technologies and social developments may change everything the way electricity and penicillin have. I haven't read all the way down yet; and I may never read all the way down; but the selection I've pasted below struck me as a useful curative for all the negativity we've been suffering because of these trivial economic problems.

JUAN ENRIQUEZCEO, Biotechonomy; Founding Director, Harvard Business School's Life Sciences Project; Author, The Untied States of America

Speciation is coming. Fast. We keep forgetting that we are but one of several hominids that have walked the Earth (erectus, habilis,neanderthalis, heidelbergensis, ergaster, australopithecus). We keep thinking we are the one and only, the special. But we easily could not have been a dominant species. Or even a species anymore. We blissfully ignore the fact that we came within about 2,000 specimens of going extinct (which is why human DNA is virtually identical).

There is not much evidence, historically, that we are the be all and end all, or that we will remain the dominant species. The fossil history of the planet tells tales of at least six mass extinctions. In each cycle, most life was toast as DNA/RNA hit a reboot key. New species emerged to adapt to new conditions. Asteroid hits? Do away with oceans of slime. World freezes to the Equator? Microbes dominate. Atmosphere fills with poisonous oxygen? no worries, life eventually blurts out obnoxious mammals.

Unless we believe that we have now stabilized all planetary and galactic variables, these cycles of growth and extinction will continue time and again. 99% of species, including all other hominids, have gone extinct. Often this has happened over long periods of time. What is interesting today, 200 years after Darwin's birth, is that we are taking direct and deliberate control over the evolution of many, many species, including ourselves. So the single biggest game changer will likely be the beginning of human speciation. We will begin to get glimpses of it in our lifetime. Our grandchildren will likely live it.

There are at least three parallel tracks on which this change is running towards us. The easiest to see and comprehend is taking place among the "handicapped." As we build better prostheses, we begin to see equality. Legless Oscar Pistorious attempting to put aside the Special Olympics and run against able bodied Olympians is but one example. In Beijing he came very close, but did not meet the qualifying times. However, as materials science, engineering, and design advance, by next Olympics he and his disciples will be competitive. And one Olympics after that the "handicapped" could be unbeatable.

It's not just limbs, what started out as large cones for the hard of hearing eventually became pesky, malfunctioning hearing aids. Then came discrete, effective, miniaturized buds. Now internally implanted cochlear implants allow the deaf to hear. But unlike natural evolution, which requires centuries, digital technologies double in power and halve in price every few months. Soon those with implants will hear as well as we do, and, a few months after that, their hearing may be more acute than ours. Likely the devices will span a broad and adjustable tonal range, including that of species like dogs, bats, or dolphins. Wearers will be able to adapt to various environments at will. Perhaps those with natural hearing will file discrimination lawsuits because they were not hired by symphony orchestras…

Speciation does not have to be mechanical, there is a second parallel, fast moving, track in stem cell and tissue engineering. While the global economy melted down this year, a series of extraordinary discoveries opened interesting options that will be remembered far longer that the current NASDAQ index. Labs in Japan and Wisconsin rebooted skin cells and turned them into stem cells. We are now closer to a point where any cell in our body can be rebooted back to its original factory settings (pluripotent stem cell) and can rebuild any part of our body. At the same time, a Harvard team stripped a mouse heart of all its cells, leaving only cartilage. The cartilage was covered in mouse stem cells, which self organized into a beating heart. A Wake Forest group was regrowing human bladders and implanting them into accident and cancer victims. By year end, a European team had taken a trachea from a dead donor, taken the cells off, and then covered the sinew with bone marrow cells taken from a patient dying of tuberculosis. These cells self organized and regrew a fully functional trachea which was implanted into the patient. There was no need for immunosuppressants; her body recognized the cells covering the new organ as her own…

Again, this is an instance where treating the sick and the needy can quickly expand into a "normal" population with elective procedures. The global proliferation of plastic surgery shows how many are willing to undergo great expense, pain, and inconvenience to enhance their bodies. Between 1996 and 2002 elective cosmetic surgery increased 297%, minimally invasive procedures increased 4146%. As artificial limbs, eyes, ears, cartilage begin to provide significant advantages, procedures developed to enhance the quality of life for the handicapped may become common.

After the daughter of one of my friends tore her tendons horseback riding, doctors told her they would have to harvest parts of her own tendons and hamstrings to rebuild her leg. Because she was so young, the crippling procedure would have to be repeated three times as her body grew. But her parents knew tissue engineers were growing tendons in a lab, so she was one of the first recipients of a procedure that allows natural growth and no harvesting. Today she is a successful ski racer, but her coach feels her "damaged" knee is far stronger and has asked whether the same procedure could be done on the undamaged knee…

As we regrow or engineer more body parts we will likely significantly increase average life span and run into a third track of speciation. Those with access to Google already have an extraordinary evolutionary advantage over the digitally illiterate. Next decade we will be able to store everything we see, read, and hear in our lifetime. The question is can we re-upload and upgrade this data as the basic storage organ deteriorates? And can we enhance this organ's cognitive capacity internally and externally? MIT has already brought together many of those interested in cognition — neuroscientists, surgeons, radiologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, computer scientists — to begin to understand this black box. But rebooting other body parts will likely be easier than rebooting the brain, so this will likely be the slowest track but, over the long term, the one with the greatest speciation impact.

Speciation will not be a deliberate, programmed event. Instead it will involve an ever faster accumulation of small, useful improvements that eventually turn homo sapiens into a new hominid. We will likely see glimpses of this long-lived, partly mechanical, partly regrown creature that continues to rapidly drive its own evolution. As the branches of the tree of life, and of hominids, continue to grow and spread, many of our grandchildren will likely engineer themselves into what we would consider a new species, one with extraordinary capabilities, a homo evolutis.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Change can happen

This is kind of neat. Hat tip to Rick Brookhiser at National Review.

And, if you're not in the mood for history and seriousness this ad is priceless. If the thermometer function doesn't make you laugh out loud you're entirely too anal and really need to lighten up.

Finally, for those of you who can read, here's the first recorded example of tech support. Warning - subtitles.