Friday, October 31, 2008

"Bleed Bluest of Blue"

Todays Wisconsin State Journal has a story comparing the bluest ward (most heavily Democratic) with the reddest (split). While not as heavily Democratic as one Milwaukee ward (99% Kerry(*)) it is still highly monolithic. I find the contrasts a bit amusing: "It's 'anything goes' here," but "I cannot figure out the 51 percent of the population who voted for Bush." Truly Remarkable Loon (a fine juggler) thinks Republicans would be welcome and "Might lead to some interesting discussions."

That has an ominous tone that I doubt he intended. For those of us to whom politics is not the by-all and end-all, the prospect of being compelled to either regularly express agreement or explain ourselves isn't entrancing. I get a little of it myself at work: I don't want to face it at home.

There's another term from the other side of the color wheel for that ward: "Yellow dog Democrat" :-)

(*) I don't believe that number, BTW. The spoiled ballot rate alone is about 2% nationally, though Wisconsin had no data, and I expect random votes to appear at a slightly higher rate.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I remember reading years ago of someone trying to clean his chimney by firing a shotgun up it. It seems risky, but every winter doctors recommend flue shots.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

2008 Presidential Elections

It is about time to render judgment on the candidates proffered. I hate these multi-year campaigns. They do not shed much light on the candidates, and their expense and focus on appearance must have a corrupting effect on the process and the candidates.

I’m not enamored of either of the men at the top of the main party tickets. Never mind the VP candidates for now.

Executive Summary: I do not consider Obama suitable for the job. I worry about McCain’s attitudes towards government’s roles. Neither of them (and probably no human being) is going to be adequate to meet the challenges of the next few years.

  • His opposition to the anti-infanticide law tells me something ugly about Obama’s character

    He voted to oppose Illinois legislation (explicitly written to not restrict abortion) designed to protect infants born alive despite an abortion. He was the only Senator to speak against it. The same measure passed the US Senate without opposition.

    Even if one stipulated that abortion was a right and not an evil, failing to recognize any limits to it even beyond birth shows at the very best an execrable lack of judgment.

    This is a showstopper. But to continue:

  • The frequency with which Obama voted “Present” tells me something unhappy about his courage.

    While it is true that voting “Present” isn’t likely to satisfy either the supporters or opponents of some law, it is generally possible to weasel an explanation that at least keeps them from opposing you when you need votes or money.

    The best spin I can think of to put on this is that either he was trying to make some statement about the insignificance of some particular bill or that he was admitting that he hadn’t had time to understand the ramifications of it. The first case doesn’t survive inspection: the best way to make a statement is to say it. The second case is no excuse—we know the job isn’t possible, that’s why we pay for staff to assist the legislators.

  • The associates Obama has chosen and the environment he chose tell me something unpleasant about his vision of America.

    Wright’s sermons, and Ayers’ unrepentant hatreds—and for that matter, the very grants that Obama and Ayers helped distribute—for things like teaching mathematics with a social justice theme (a perversion reminiscent of the “Marxist biology” of the Soviet empire)—are part of a world-view of class warfare (and race warfare) that hopes for the destruction of order in favor of some earthly paradise. When whitey is suppressed, or when the corporations are controlled by the state, then comes the millennium of: Well, we know where that goes.

    You don’t have to pretend that our current system is perfect to judge that this kind of solution is worse than the disease.

What does Obama plan? Standard Democratic Party boilerplate. What history has he of “bridging divides?” None. “He will be transformational.” Transform to what: frogs or princes? “Change” Is it for better or worse? One of the top lessons of the 20’th century is: Things can always be made worse.

Tomaso wrote on his blog that he believed electing Obama would heal divisions between the US and Italy; that the governments would be more cooperative. I admit I know little of Italian politics, but I suspect he knows less than he thinks he does. Italy will follow its own interests, exactly as before. Electing Obama would bring a brief “thrill” in the world, which would last about a day as newspapers went “happy happy joy joy.” Next day would be business as usual, as they discovered to their horror that he was President of the United States.

I was flabbergasted to find him advocating the invasion of Pakistan. I notice he backtracked in a hurry, but he’s pretty careless. If he actually believes his own press releases about the value of negotiations he’s more of a fool than I take him for. He should have learned enough from Alinsky to know better.

McCain has a long history, with some blemishes such as campaign finance reform (Incumbent Protection Act).

He seems to have no notion of why the Mexico border needs attention, though to be fair almost nobody else seems to be paying it more than lip service either. You’d think with the economy the way it is there’d be some awareness of the risks, but with so many special interests looking to garner cheap labor and cheap votes I suspect nothing much will happen until the demagogues start in—and it’ll be pretty late by then.

He seems to be quite comfortable with an ever-expanding state. Obama is eager for one, so the advantage is to McCain, but not with enthusiasm.

I gather he didn’t understand the strategic significance of Iraq in the war, though at least he understands what’s involved in conducting a campaign, which is more than Obama did. I get the impression from Obama’s various statements that he doesn’t have any clear ideas about the war. Somebody needs to sit him down and teach him some history—wars are typically not short, and asymmetrical warfare requires just as much attention as big tank battles. We’re in for a century or so of what Kipling called “The Great Game,” and we need to know how to keep our eye on the ball.

Neither candidate seems to have a clear plan for what the economy needs—which is probably good since I suspect nobody knows. I suspect McCain will be more careful about signing laws to tinker with the banking system than Obama; and we’ll need restraint. If the US effectively owns the main banks, can you imagine any scenario in which Congress won’t be trying to implement pet projects through bank rules? Me either.

McCain’s history is consistent with someone who (right or wrong) goes with what he thinks is correct and not with convenience or party. Obama’s history is too short to be absolutely sure, but there’s no sign of any willingness to buck the party so far.

Even leaving aside the showstopper, Obama isn’t someone I want in office. McCain, though far from perfect, is far better.

Friday, October 24, 2008


We find that it is risky to let rabbits run loose near light cords: they speak tooth to power.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Press and Obama

A year ago I was predicting that the press would follow the usual model of lionizing Obama, and then, growing jaded, savage him.

We've seen the pattern before: an obscure and unexpected character gets a little attention; and then is "discovered." Reporters like to discover things.

If the "three-story" threshold is hit they assume there is a "buzz" about him, and reporting intensifies. Reporters like to catch the wave and have people read their stories.

When the wave is high and everybody likes the man, reporters start to suspiciously dig for dirt. Reporters dream of the big surprise story, and it is almost always about a hero's clay feet.

The pattern is ugly and painful to the unsuspecting subject, but it is ultimately founded on the reporter's devotion to his craft as he understands it: locate novelties, find out what people want to know, uncover the cover-up and don't let the famous or powerful get too proud.

I'm putting as nice a perspective on it as I can.

I predicted they'd apply the same pattern to Obama, and that by now he'd be in shreds.

I was wrong.

Stage 3 never materialized, despite opportunities. There've been hints of scandal aplenty (mostly probably minor, as usual), but little follow through. Is this because Obama is a Teflon™ candidate with a personality that shakes off any criticism, or is this because journalists have tingles running up their legs? Is it fear, or an enthusiasm so intense they forget their craft?

I don't believe it is because they suddenly turned sensitive: just look at the other news reports to see how low they go.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardner

Subtitle: “The remarkable story of an autistic boy and the dog that unlocked his world”

The book is really the story of Dale's mother Nuala.

Dale was an autistic boy. His first reply was at 3, and he had the obsessive actions and headbanging tantrums of the deeply autistic child.

Much of the story is his mother's fight to recognize the problem, then to get the authorities to recognize it, and then (over and over) to get people to help. Henry the golden retriever was a breakthrough part of that effort—and not an accidental part, as Nuala describes how, inspired by Dale's unexpectedly happy reaction to a friend's scotties, she researched what kind of dog would be best. Breeds vary a lot in temperament, and the lavish affection and patience that golden retrievers are famous for seemed ideal for Dale.

And so it proved. Dale and Henry (named after a Thomas the Tank Engine character) bonded famously, and Dale was able to make non-threatening connections with the dog that he could not do with people. Dale could understand the dog's simple needs, and learned to connect them to his own.

This took a lot of prompting by his parents: Dale didn't automatically make the connection between Henry needing to be clean and himself needing a bath. Learning to eat properly took training too:

Dale was also a bad eater, never hungry, whereas goldens, especially our Henry, are the world's greediest dogs. As Henry grew, he quickly learned when his meals were due and would bark at “his” cupboard to remind us it was dinnertime. Each day I would wait for Henry to do this, saying to my son, “Dale, what is Henry wanting at his cupboard? He is hungry.” This evolved to the point where Dale would tell me “Mum, Henry's hungry. It's time for his dinner.” Eventually Dale learned from this the concept of his own hunger and when it was dinnertime for him. I developed the trick of telling Dale that his food was good for him as it would help him grow big, just like Henry.

Another great breakthrough came when Henry found “his” voice. A carom conversation through a lovable dog is far less threatening than eye to eye talk with an adult.

When they aren't communicating, it is very easy to assume they are taking nothing in, but when Dale was ten, for example, he told me “If we hadn't talked through Henry, I would have chosen not to talk to you at all.”

As you can guess from the subtitle, there is a happy ending to Dale's story, as he grew more and more able and I gather is making a career in child care (!). Well, almost happy: dogs do not live forever, but Dale is there for the end.

Nuala showed Dale the book, and he made comments of his own on various chapters.

I found the long description of her efforts to get pregnant again both sad and creepy (IVF has issues), and it would have been good to have sketched “a day in the life” for a few different eras of Dale's development. I know several autistic people, and would have been happy for a few more technical details of what the non-dog-based training was like, but the book is meant for a general audience and that might not have fit well.

Read it.

I was asked to review this book.

We had rabbits instead of dogs, which didn't seem to elicit quite the same sorts of reactions—but then our children were far more communicative and affectionate to begin with.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Who can resist?

You remember Cabbage Patch Kids: ugly as sin. What would you Cauliflower Child?

Saturday, October 18, 2008


There is a poster at the pharmacists advertising a memory screening study by a Dr. Breslow at the school of Pharmacy.

The email name (I'll leave off the machine to preserve his inbox) is rmbreslow. rmbreslow

I enjoy the game of trying to figure out what that vanity plate in front of me means.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Youngest son does not appreciate baseball, not having seen much of it. James does not appreciate baseball, as the closest he comes to sports is doing weights at the club. His idea of recreation is to solve differential equations and matrices on the back of an envelope.

You do not go to a ball game to watch nonstop breathless action. That's soccer or basketball. I cannot enjoy either game; I can't keep my eye on the ball and I don't know what's happening. You go to a ball game to make a day of it: enjoy fresh air, good company, a well played game with a steady pace. Long, gracefully arcing fly balls; a bang-bang double play; a leap worthy of Nureyev to snatch a ball out of the ether; a Texas leaguer blooped to center, hit where they ain't--all that and the chance to relax and have a good klatsch with your friend between plays.

If you're a Brewers Fan, you start with a tailgate party. You either get good brats and cook them on a Coleman stove or a grill, mounted on a milk crate; or you go to the Milwaukee Public Market and pick up Italian or Japanese or Lebanese or seafood takeout--or a little bit of each, with a piece of cheesecake to top it off. Wash it down with a cold bottle of Sprecher's root beer. Bring the lawn chairs and the picnic plates and relax. Inside the park, you holler along with forty thousand other people. Between plays, you can klatsch and watch the replays and read the stats and trivia on the giant scoreboard. You cheer on the racing sausages between the 5th and 6th innings (the guy in the Chorizo costume won last time I went). You sing "Roll Out the Barrel" after "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" during the stretch. After the game, you enjoy the cool night air and truck on home with the postgame show on the radio.

If you're a Cubs fan, you park at one of the CTA lots and ride the El to Wrigley. You enjoy the quick glimpses of color in the rooftop and balcony gardens along the Red Line to Wrigleyville. You munch on a real Chicago hotdog in the stands. You look out at the deep blue of the lake beyond the scoreboard and count sailboats. You holler along with 40 thousand other people. Since the scoreboard is manual, with no electronic anything, you get a break from visual clutter; instead, your instant replay is the discussion you have with your buddy. Usually, the regular PA announcer, Wayne Messmer, sings the National Anthem; so you know that performance will be melodious and thrilling and on key, without any theatrics and broken notes and dramatic pauses that throw off the tempo. Today's guest conductor for "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" may or may not be able to carry a tune in a wheelbarrow; but a lot of the fans can't either so it's not a big deal. Ernie Banks sings it very well. After the game, you take the El back to whatever restaurant you've picked out for your postgame supper.

All that and the plays that make you scream YES! along with Ron Santo, or laugh along with Bob Uecker. Line drives, doubles to the corner, fly balls speared or dropped or caught like a scoop of ice cream on top of a cone. A play at the plate on an Alfonso Soriano bullet thrown from deep left--and it's in there! The timely strikeout. JJ Hardy, Milwaukee shortstop, smothering a grounder and somehow shoveling it to second in time for the force.

I was born during the 1957 World Series, Game 3 (Milwaukee won that one). Baseball is in my blood. I grew up a Cubs fan, and I played Big Ball--Chicago 16 inch softball, which Jake the Neighborhood Guy for Old Style Beer describes as looking "like a leather canteloup". I have two mashed and crooked pinky fingers to prove that I played catcher and outfield in Big Ball. I have the faith of a Cubs fan, and because of this I have no respect for Boston and Mets fans, who walk out of the park if their team's behind in the 5th. I've lived in Brewersville long enough to appreciate the Brewers too (now that they've left that other league with the silly rule about pitchers not batting).

Wait til next year!

Mrs James

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Extreme baseball

Youngest Son and I were talking about extreme sports the other day. He is fond of the Japanese "dump em in the mud" approach with mud trenches and large rolling balls, but I think we figured out a better approach.

Teams field 11 players. Each team has a red pitcher, a green pitcher, a red catcher, and a green catcher. The field has the usual 3 bases, plus a red home plate and a green home plate close to each other. There's a red baseball and a green one.

The rules are essentially the same, with a few exceptions:

  • Batters don a red or green vest, and face the appropriate red or green pitcher.
  • Green batters run bases counterclockwise, but red batters run clockwise.
  • Bases are extra-wide, to accommodate two runners going different directions.
  • A runner can be forced out only with his color of ball.
  • If both balls are in play, either one can be used to tag a runner out.
  • The pitcher is on a 5 second clock--he must pitch within 5 seconds or the runner advances automatically. This is to make sure play is rapid. Otherwise you'd have one pitcher pitching at a time, and the other waiting until the play was over just in case his ball would be needed for tagging. There's an obvious exception when there's a play at the other home base.
  • The batter is on a clock. After the end of the play for his color ball, he has 10 seconds to get into the box or he takes an automatic strike. Stepping out of the box is similarly timed.

I'd think this would make for lively play, fast innings, and some strategy. Which pitcher will the player face? If he's a good hitter, maybe you want him facing the red pitcher because the green pitcher has loaded his bases. It seems to put extra stress on the pitcher, which is fine because it means more hits and livelier play--but not necessarily higher scores because 3 outs will still end the inning and there are more opportunities for goofs and surprise tags from behind.

Monday, October 13, 2008


I gave up on index posts a long time ago--they were getting unwieldy, and the Blogger tags were much handier. Unfortunately the template I was using before only put up a single page of tagged posts (some bug in their scripting), and that just wasn't acceptable behavior.

The new template handles these much better, but unfortunately uses a fixed-width format, which is kind of ugly. And I had to fiddle with it a bit to get back some of the things (like email contact!) that I'd had before. Oh well.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dresser Stripping

The dresser's veneer is chipped all along the bottom, and here and there on the drawers. I can understand why the previous owners painted it, though I fervently wished they hadn't as I scrubbed off paint using a citrus stripper and rolls of paper towels. No doubt they were deceived by an enticing name like "antique gold," but the result is best described as baby-diaper yellow.

The wood under it is actually rather nice, and the veneer is mostly in good shape. The bottom is a mess, so I'll be staining some thin molding to cover it up. I don't think we'll need to paint it.

The instructions on the stripper say to leave it on for 30 minutes and scrape it off with a plastic scraper. That didn't work so well--you need a clean surface to clean the wood with, and the scraper gunked up on the first pass. If you stop to clean it off, the residues on the wood tend to harden up on you. Better to use paper towels and rotate clean surfaces into use with each pass.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Uncharitable Thoughts on Worship Styles

1 Jezebel 19:11-13

11 The LORD said, "Go out and stand in the church in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."

Then a great and powerful set by the worship team tore the air apart and shattered eardrums before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the band gig. After the band there was a frenetic movie clip, but the LORD was not in the movie. 12 After the movie came a PowerPoint presentation, but the LORD was not in the PowerPoint. And after the service came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"


3 The voice of the amplifiers is over the waters; the band on stage thunders, the amplifiers thunder over the mighty waters.

4 The voice of the amplifiers is powerful; the voice of the amplifiers is majestic.

5 The voice of the amplifiers breaks the cedars; the amplifiers break in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

Acts 12:22


7b for they think they will be heard because of their many decibels

Saturday, October 04, 2008


I spent several years living here. I remember eating, studying, playing with friends, playing with the cat, reading, exploring the jungle, burning termite mounds with gasoline, stepping on a mamba, working in the maintenance shop (fruitlessly trying to explain to the manager that he had the hinges wrong on a cabinet), shooting rice birds, watching tree frog tadpoles develop and escape, wandering and wondering--the usual things boys do. I wasn't (and still am not) a crowd person, and there was generally room to be alone.

That was almost two generations ago. Last year's visit was a whirlwind. We couldn't stay--our driver had a son in the hospital and as soon as business was done we could only allot a few minutes for sightseeing. The campus was much smaller now that I was grown, and far more crowded, and much run-down--the war had not been kind and neither had the tropical sun and rain.

I'd had some naive notion of showing my daughters where I'd grown up, but even the roads had shifted. I could have searched out some spot and tried to recollect what had been, and tried to describe to them the vistas now obscured by trees and new buildings and laundry. By the side of a road that doesn't exist anymore I used to watch tadpoles in a puddle, and heaved in the largest chunk of quartz I could find to see how far the splash would go. The pond filled in but left two inches of sharp stub sticking out above the dirt--my little mark on Liberia. It may be there yet, but I doubt it--the road was regraded in a new location before it was abandoned.

Even if there'd been time to explore, to try sightseeing through my memories would have meant trying to ignore the new people and new scenes. That would be a strange way to show Liberia to my kids: "Don't look at what's here, look at what used to be here." Better for us all if it is a completely new country, with a few people I used to know.

Friday, October 03, 2008


I've no idea if the current plan will help in the short term. The long term moral hazard is obviously extreme, but things are pretty dicey and the European banks are in even worse shape. Apparently (according to the Telegraph) the rules are looser over there.

If we ejected those Senators and Congressmen who abetted Fannie and Freddie, there'd be an awful lot of empty seats--including some of the noisiest complainers.

If you think about it, some problems are inevitable. If you refuse to allow someone to charge rent for the use of his money, you strangle all commerce above the level of barter.

On the other hand, if the system relies heavily on borrowing, then heavily capitalized (read "has enough money to survive moderate reversals") companies become targets and everybody is pulled down to the "have to borrow/repay to keep running" level, and are vulnerable to credit crunches. Good luck trying to mandate a happy medium--Procrustes redux.

So what to do? Mandate transparency and educate about boom/bust cycles and the value of moderation, and hope for the best? But teaching temperance is moral education, which tends to be anathema to educators.

Unless maybe we could say temperance was a "green" virtue? Is it my imagination, or are the only virtues taught these days "social" ones as opposed to personal character virtues?
Something is Looming

The dew froze to the car this morning.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Who can resist

I gather that the Antarctic stations tend not to have penguins wandering up the steps to come in: icy stares make them uncomfortable.