Friday, August 31, 2007

Follow the Money
(To Know Her is to Love Her Dept.)

David D. Kirkpatrick in the Times this morning has an instructive little piece about the bundling of Presidential campaign funds, along with a cool chart of who bundles for whom (link, and link on "boldface bundlers"). I see three takeaway points:
  • New evidence that to know Hillary is not to love her: of 11 people on the Obama list, three are former Bill Clinton (Clinton I?) insiders. Of 10 people on the Hillary list, none are.

  • The folks at Dreamworks really know how to diversify their portfolio: there's a Dreamworks insider on each of the three Democratic lists (Clinton, Obama and Edwards)--and Meg Whitman, CEO of Ebay and a Dreamworks board member, is on the list for Mitt Romney.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ashland Theatre Note: As You Like It

There are so many things to like about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of As You Like It, that it’s a shame there’s a queer kind of vacuum at the center. The play displays, first of all, an exuberant physicality—lots of little kicks, pirouettes, and high-fives, obviously choreographed by somebody with great care (I assume the director, J. R. Sullivan?). This kind of thing can be a distraction if it takes over but whoever put it together made sure that each little gesture makes sense in context and helps move the plot-line downfield. Indeed a critical plot-point is a wrestling match, so elaborately crafted (on the model of a Thomas Hart Benton painting—thanks, Hal) that it garnered a round of applause all its own.

The setting is—rather, settings are—deliberately anachronistic. This can be a dodgy business, but here I think it mostly worked. The “court” scenes leapt right out of 1930s Batman, which made sense because it helps to establish the mood of social instability and casual violence that frames the story. The “country” scenes were more on the order of Garrison Keillor, which was acceptable, though for the life of me I can’t imagine why they insisted on leaving Duke Senior in a bowler hat. I do regret the failure of nerve that impelled them to replace the original Shakespearean song texts with early country and funky cowboy. Granted as the tune, melody, we have no idea what, exactly the Shakespearean players sang. But the text is Shakespeare and it has its purpose which should not be lightly regarded.

[But speaking of Shakespearean texts, what is it with the sonnets? This is the second show in a row we’ve seen where they felt they had to tart up the script with a bit of sonnet action—hardly evil in itself, but not serving any obvious positive purpose].

Casting was never less than adequate and sometimes wonderful. The play has to have a good Touchstone and a good Jaques, and this performance had both—also a bunch of other good performances in a variety of roles. The surprise of the day was Danforth Comyns as Orlando. By common understanding, Orlando is a Labrador retriever role if there ever was one—the tenor lead who has no more function than to stand still and look pretty, like the groom on the wedding cake (someone has said that Rosalind will spend her life doing Orlando’s thinking for him). But Comyns reminds us (once again?) that there are no empty Shakespearean roles—he gives Orlando grit and sinew and makes Rosalind’s enchantment plausible as I have never seen it before.

Which brings us to Rosalind and her cousin/companion Celia. Matter of some delicacy here. I grant that Rosalind may be the toughest role in the Shakespearean canon: a girl-boy-girl (sometimes a boy-girl-boy-girl) who speaks about love and womanhood with a clear-sightedness that is nearly unique. No wonder that almost every good actress wants to give it a swing. And you find yourself rooting for Miriam Laube, who understands that she has a great opportunity, and struggles to embrace it.

Yet at the end of the day, you get the feeling that she just can’t find the right note. Part of the problem is that she is caught in a crazy syncretic mélange. She has a voice of a cabaret singer; but they decked her out a costume left over from Hee Haw. Then to top it off, they put her through a display of swoops and kicks so manic that she looked like the speeded-up celluloid of an old Buster Keaton movie. And here, unlike in other parts of the show, there often seemed to be little or no relation between the character’s moment and the physical byplay. Hardly any wonder that in this thicket, Laube never seemed really able to find her own (one saving grace: I loved the way she did the epilogue).

An added complication was Julie Oda as Celia. Anybody who saw Oda in The Importance of Being Earnest knows that she is a glorious comic talent—funny and sexy and full of energy all the time. As with Danforth Comyns as Orlando, she squeezed more out of Celia than I have ever seen before, but that’s a problem. I don’t blame Oda here, who was just being her adorable self. But if Rosalind is not to dominate, then at least they must work as a team. And an As You Like It without a Rosalind is a play with a vacuum at the center.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ashland Theatre Note: The Tempest

Nobody doubts that Shakespeare’s Tempest is full of dynamite verse, some of his best. It is possible to argue that the play is static, in that Prospero the magician knows all and control all. In this summer’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival performance, Derrick Lee Weeden finds a plausible way to sidestep the problem: his Prospero is near exploding with passion, anger, regret, perhaps even lust. You can think, if you worry about that sort of thing—woops, he might just get fed up and blow it all apart.

This is Weeden’s 17th season at Ashland –more or less the same time frame as Prospero’s exile from Milan. Weeden has grown into the part: he’s worn and weathered, a man who has known betrayal, and has learned simply to survive. Weeden has a somewhat formal elocution-teacher style of speech which doesn’t work for everything, but seems to fill this role well. He’s also got an odd little falsetto trick that he’s learned to use to give just the right comic touch to a role that can use a little comedy, but not too much.

Libby Appel’s production is straightforward, not too tricky. She interpolates a collage of Shakespearean sonneteering which actually works pretty well in its place. She rings in a duchess in lieu of a duke for no more obvious reason than to provide an extra role for a woman (Greta Oglesby)—but it works fine, so no complaints. She gives us a singing Ariel (Nancy Rodriguez) with a posse of singing, dancing, rope-climbing sidekicks—the kind of showmanship that Ashland does well, but which this play, at least, can sustain. Dan Donohue as Caliban shows again that he is an actor of remarkable range—he did a first-class Dvornicheck in Stoppard’s Rough Crossing a few years back, and followed it up with a wonderful Henry V, neither an obvious preparation for Prospero’s savage underling (having a black Prospero lord it over a white Caliban is an invigorating touch).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Party of Kick You When You're Down

[Update below.]

There's an old story about Charlie Lederer the writer, standing next to his Waspy/anti-semitic hostess, beside her highboy full of priceless China. "Admit it," said Charlie, "you don't really have a good reason for hating Jews, do you?" No, his hostess admitted, she really did not. Whereupon Charlie pushed over the highboy and said "now you do."

I have often wondered why I dislike Mitt Romney so much. Maybe now I know. But first, let me tell you a story about Dean Acheson and Alger Hiss.

I’ve lived long enough that I now believe—as I did not once believe—that Alger Hiss was indeed probably guilty of spying for the Soviets. But I remember few parts of the story more vividly than his relationship with Dean Acheson. Time Magazine recounts (link):

Hiss scarcely had time to post $10,000 bail and file an appeal before Secretary of State Dean Acheson set off the storm. At a crowded press conference in Washington, Acheson went to the defense of the former top State Department official whom a federal jury had convicted of perjury and thus found, guilty of stealing State documents to be sent to Russia.

"Whatever the outcome of any appeal which Mr. Hiss or his lawyer may take," said the Secretary of State. "I do not intend to turn my back on Alger Hiss."

By His Own Standards. Dean Acheson spoke in a voice weighted with emotion. "I think every person who has known Alger Hiss . . . has upon his conscience the very serious task of deciding what his attitude is and what his conduct should be," he said. "That must be done by each person in the light of his own standards and his own principles. For me, there is very little doubt about these standards or these principles. They were stated for us a very long time ago ... on the Mount of Olives."

In terms of sheer tactics, it was an epic blunder. Acheson met with near-universal denunciation, and established himself irrevocably in the pantheon of traitors. Less obviously, but no less truly, it established him as one who would not trade away his personal integrity for momentary political advantage.

Back to Mitt Romney. Today someone asked him what he thinks of his former Senate liaison, Larry Craig (link):

Once again, we’ve found people in Washington have not lived up to the level of respect and dignity that we would expect for somebody that gets elected to a position of high influence. Very disappointing. He’s no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine… I’m sorry to see that he has fallen short.

Shorter Mitt Romney: Larry who?

I used to wonder why I disliked Romney so much. I think I’m beginning to catch on.

Update: The Wichita bureau brings me current on news I had missed:

Romney's munchkins went back and altered previous information on his website to delete any reference to Craig being associated with the Romney campaign. ... Don’t know that they tried to edit him out of pictures, however.

Via a friend, Wichita adds:

The restroom in which [Craig] was arrested is outside security--so he had to leave and re-enter through security to make his connection (no pun intended) for Idaho.

Craig Followup: Tallulah

Since everyone else is trotting out their favorite bathroom-stall joke today, allow me to add mine. Attributed to Tallulah Bankhead:

--Any paper in there?
--No, sorry, none.

[Long pause]
--Got two tens for a 20?

Update:Underbelly scoops Dish (link).

Is Lingering Nothing? Is Tapping Toe to Toe?

The blogosphere is having a conniption fit this morning over Senator Larry (“Wide Stance”) Craig and his bust in an airport men’s room. The best and most useful thing I’ve seen so far is Glen Greenwald’s piece on how the wingnuts have turned on a dime on this one—ferocious against any questions about Craig’s, ahem, “lifestyle” before the election, out for his scalp today (link). And I have to admit I believe that every time a hypocrite is outed, an angel gets its wings.

But read the charge sheet, and you certainly wonder what, if anything, this guy was really guilty of. As TPM says (link):

Leering stares, foot tapping, a lingering presence. Are any of those, even taken together, what most reasonable people would call criminal? Is it because they happened in a bathroom? God knows they happen every night in bars and other public spaces, among gays and straights.

Must the Cop was reading Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale:

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?--a note infallible
Of breaking honesty--horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only,
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?
Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings,
If this be nothing.

--but if so, he ought to read the rest of the play where we learn that Leontes was calamatously wrong.

Fn.: Okay, okay, I also read on the blog that Craig felt he couldn’t risk a trial because it would have outed his previous gay life style—works for me. I’m also persuaded that the wingers are willing to forgive Sen. David (“DC Madam”) Vitter of Louisiana while trashing Craig because Louisiana has a Democratic governor (link).

Update: What Matt said (link).

Oz on America

More Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness. We’re reading it aloud, and it is almost impossible to speak it in anything other than a faux Catskills accent:

In America… people dig for gold, hold up mail trains, stampede herds of cattle across endless plains, and whoever kills the most Indians ends up getting the girl. That was the America we saw at the Edison Cinema: the pretty girl was the prize for the best shooter. What one did with such a prize I had not the faintest idea. If they had shown us in those films an America where the man who shot the most girls was rewarded with a good-looking Indian, I would simply have believed that that was the way it was.

--Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness 17 (2004)

Monday, August 27, 2007

My Friend the Bear Who Swims Goes Shopping

My friend the Bear Who Swims found a sausage in a market called "British Pride."

Contains 13 percent bread crumbs.
BADA BOOM. Actually, I think 13 percent is pretty modest. My mother and I used to make Swedish sausage at Christmas. Lotta barley, let me tell you.

And I remember--who?--Chico Marx?--who carried around a piece of sausage one end of which was all bread. Times-a like-a this, he says, it's-a hard to make both ends a-meat. BADA BOOM

Lift 'em Up, Put 'em Down

Mrs. Buce has been telling me I must read Amos Oz’ A Tale of Love and Darkness. God bless ‘er, she’s right again:

In Jerusalem people always walked rather like mourners at a funeral, or latecomers at a concert. First they put down the tip of their shoe and tested the ground. Then, once they had lowered their foot, they were in no hurry rto move it: we had waited two thousand years to gain a foothold in Jerusalem and were unwilling to give it up. If we picked up our foot, someone else might come along and snatch our little strip of land. On the other hand, once you lifted your foot, do not be in a hurry to put it down again: who can tell what coil of vipers you might step on.

--Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness 7 (2004)

Let This Cup Pass From My Lips..

Recycled form last month, Jess Bravin at the Wall Street Journal offers a shrewd account of how the job of acting attorney general may be, for Paul Clement, a poisoned chalice (link):

Over the past six years, Mr. Clement, 40 years old, has become one of the conservative legal movement's brightest stars. He has been praised by Republicans and Democrats for his skill as he defended some of the Bush administration's toughest positions. Some predict he may follow the path of previous solicitors general, including Robert Jackson and Thurgood Marshall, to a seat on the Supreme Court.

Now [i.e., mid-July--ed.], however, the Justice Department controversies have thrown Mr. Clement a curve. As the highest-ranking Justice official not involved in the firings, he is charged with overseeing the department's investigations into the matter. The solicitor general's regular job is pondering the great questions of law and, dressed in a traditional morning coat, arguing on the government's behalf before the Supreme Court. It is only on rare occasions the solicitor general is dragged directly into the political fray, becoming acting attorney general when his superiors are disqualified from exercising their authority.

Mr. Gonzales remains under fire, and the deputy attorney general has tendered his resignation. This could be a defining moment for Mr. Clement, who may be torn between Capitol Hill demands for disclosure of internal deliberations and the White House claim that executive privilege shields its actions from congressional review.

How Mr. Clement navigates those shoals could determine whether he emerges as a replacement should Mr. Gonzales depart -- and how far his judicial ambitions will take him. Mr. Clement's supporters say partisanship won't cloud his judgment. As solicitor general, he sometimes has had to defend laws unpopular with Republicans, such as the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance act. The law's co-sponsor, Sen. Russell Feingold (D., Wis.), called Mr. Clement's performance "superb."

"He's a just-the-facts, just-the-law kind of guy," says former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, a Republican who in recent congressional testimony raised questions about Mr. Gonzales's judgment. "If he found himself as acting attorney general, he would do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may."...

Like other lawyers who gained prominence in the Bush administration , Mr. Clement belonged to the right-leaning Federalist Society and held clerkships under two pugnacious conservatives, U.S. Circuit Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In 2000, he joined the phalanx of conservative lawyers who fought in the legal dispute that made George W. Bush president. After the election, Solicitor General Theodore Olson selected Mr. Clement as his deputy.`...

The Times and the Crumbling Linchpins

Is it sheer coincidence or the lattice of coincidence that the New York Times ran the same (in essence) story twice on Sunday? That would be the story about how story on how nice people can’t make a living any more, the ground-bass premise of (a) the business-page story of employees left behind in Newton, IA, after the demise of Maytag: (link) ; and (b) the story on the theater page about ordinary non-celebrity actors as they struggle to keep themselves supplied the smoke and mirrors needed to pretend that they actually have an income (link).

There are differences. The Iowa story focuses on Guy and Lisa Winchell, with a combined current income of $43 an hour, still trying to figure out the license number of the truck that is about to hit them. “The Winchells are still in their 40s,” the Times reports. And with a strained bonhomie: “They can retrain or start a business, choices promoted by city leaders in a campaign to “reinvent” Newton without its biggest employer.”

Oh, get serious:

But as they ponder their futures, the Winchells are uncertain about how to deal with a lower standard of living. “I’m not wanting to go waitress,” said Mrs. Winchell, who, at 41, drives a forklift and earns $19 an hour, “but I can do what I have to to make money.”

Mr. Winchell, 46, having earned $24 an hour as a skilled electrician, seems paralyzed by the disappearance of his employer. He imagines that there is work for electricians in central Iowa but he hasn’t looked. “Lisa is always on me because I’m so angry,” he said. “She says, ‘What would your mom have said?’ My mom would have said, ‘Worrying is not going to help.’”

The actor story follows the careers of five people. One of them actually topped out at $140,000 while he was touring in “The Lion King,” but all of them, spend most of their time piecing together sustenance out of different kinds of nothing. One big difference between the actors and the Iowans: the actors know they are broke, have always been broke, and have developed an impressive range of survival skills to keep their chins out of the water.

One has to wonder who is the audience for this sort of story—soon-to-be-unemployed industrial workers, or permanently marginal theatre folks? Seeing as how this is the Times, I suspect there are more of the latter than the former. But there might be a broader theme here: it might be that Times readers, like a lot of other folks, are finding themselves caught up in a world where a lot of the linchpins are crumbling, and a lot of people are wondering what it might be like to piece together a living the way the actors have always done.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

And Did You Have a Good War?

Fritz Stern fled Germany with his parents and sister only in 1938, almost too late to escape the worst of Naziism and the concentration camps—which, in any event, devoured many of his relatives and friends. Returning as a visitor in the 1950s, he is dismayed at the Germans’ mute unwillingness to come to terms with their past. In one memorable encounter, he meets the historian Siegfried Kaehler. “True to his conservative-elistist views,” Stern recounts, Kaehler “had kept a certain distance from the Nazis, no doubt regretting their plebian character.” Stern and Kaehler discuss Hermann Lüdermann, once the governor of Upper Silesia, then after the war the first minister-president of Schleswig-Holstein.

“That scoundrel!” Kaehler said.

How so? I asked. He referred to Lüdermann’s womanizing. I objected: a man who had been once imprisoned and had then volunteered to join the conspiracy against Hitler, thereby risking his life and ending up for a second time in a concentration camp, didn’t seem to warrant the negative term. Kaehler responded unfazed. “We couldn’t all get entrance tickets to the concentration camps.”

--Fritz Stern, Five Germanys I Have Known 214 (paperback ed. 2007)

I hope to say more about this remarkable (but sadly uneven) book some day very soon.

Permanent President

I have nothing whatever useful to add to this line of inquiry but I do think it deserves the widest possible distribution (link).

Somebody Hold My Coat

I caught C-Span’s presentation of a Cato Institute talk by Glenn Greenwald on wireless wiretaps, etc., with commentary by Lee Casey (link). For those who aren’t acquainted with Greenwald, this is a fine introduction to a guy who I think is a national treasure—one of the most intelligent and effective critics of the Bush administration’s near-unprecedented abuses of power. Casey, is worth your time also; he offers about as effective a rebuttal as you are likely to get (Casey begins at about 42:00, declaring that he has “no desire to crush the testicles of children”).

I won’t trouble myself to undertake a comprehensive postmortem but I do want to zero in on a curious aspect of Casey’s response. Per Casey, Greenwald charges the Bush with “Manichaeanism”—defined by Casey as

the proposition that the world cannot be understood as black or white or good or evil but only in comforting shades of grey…

Casey adds that this cleavage

has been one of the left’s fundamental articles of faith throughout much of the postwar period and arguably, before--one can I think failrly characterize many if not most of the right-left disputes of the last half century as a battle over this very proposition’s validity.

Casey doesn’t seem to deny that Bush is a Manichaean; indeed, Casey’s only caution seems to be that Bush isn’t Manichaean enough. Of course I agree; I also think his charge is on the whole a fair cop against Greenwald, and I think he is more right than wrong in his characterization of modern political conflict.

But focus on “comforting,” as in “comforting shades of grey.” I suspect that right here we have a key to some of the fundamental discontinuities in world-view that make these debates so aggravating.

I’m a shades-of-grey guy myself—yes sir, mighty proud to say it; you can almost put that down in black and white. But “comforting”? Well, I suppose it is “comforting” in a sense to tell yourself that you’re trying to get things right, that you’re struggling for intellectual honesty, that you’re trying to be fair to all points of view. And I admit that thinking about shades of grey can put me to sleep at night—but I suspect this has less to do with “comfort” than with sheer exhaustion.

But in a more general sense, the point about “shades of grey” is precisely that they are not comforting. Wasn’t it Voltaire who said (and wasn’t it about Frederick the Great) that “I wish I was as certain of anything as he is of everything”--? I know about waffling liberals; I know the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and dead possums. I know there is nothing more exasperating than on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand. I dream of being a Manichaean; I’m no closer fulfilling that wish than I am to a Parisian vacation with Glen Close. Say that I find grey “comforting” and I say – Oh, I wish.

There’s a murky underside to this shades-of-grey disposition, of course. That is: I want to be recognized for my heroic sense of doubt—no, not recognized saluted and honored and cherished by a beleagured multitude. To have my world-view dismissed as `comforting—argh, somebody hold my coat!

The whole program is available at the Cato link above. It is due to be rebroadcast on C-Span Monday, August 26, 6:30 a.m. and next Saturday, September 1, at 4:30 p.m. (both est).

Friday, August 24, 2007

We Go Forth, and You Can Too

We’re off again, this time for just a couple of days, to help with the launching of a 17-year-old, on her way off to University in Britain. This is our third launching of a 17-year-old this season (all girls, as it happens). Proof enough that the next generation is well on its way. No wait, let me count here: that’s one, um, two and – eeuw, the next after the next generation. Now, that is depressing.

Meanwhile for entertainment while we are away, he’s a squib from the ever dependable Michael Quinion (link), except somehow he forgot to mention Tom Stoppard’s wonderful play, Albert’s Bridge:

GO FORTH When somebody says some job is like painting the Forth Bridge they mean it's never-ending. Although the famous railway bridge across the Firth of Forth north of Edinburgh was opened in 1890, recent research by the Oxford English Dictionary shows that the metaphor first appears in print only in 1955. But the symbolism of the endless task was around long before then. As early as 1894, it was reported in the Glasgow Herald: "The Forth bridge receives a new coat of paint every three years, and one-third is done each year, so that the painters are continually at work." In 1901, US papers commented "The Forth bridge is constantly being repainted" and the factette was repeated down the years until it was embedded in the public mind on both sides of the Atlantic. Now an expensive refit is using epoxy resin and polyurethane coverings in place of traditional paint (though still in the same rust-red colour). Last week, a BBC television programme reported that the finish is so much more resistant to the rain, gales, salt spray and ice that batter the bridge that when the refit ends in 2009, nobody will need to paint the bridge for 30 years. But how long will it take for the cliché to die?

And come to think of it, I remember hearing somewhere that the Eskimos really don’t have any more words for snow than we do.

Whaked 'er with a Double Helix, Yer Honor

Man linked to assault by DNA gets three life terms
--Palookaville Morning Afflatus, Friday, August 24, 2007

The Benefit of Bad Organization

The benefit of having your books badly organized is that you stumble on gems like this, which I found on a shelf full of Arden Shakespeares:

Annoyed with the world, I took a large studio in Hampstead. Here I resolved to live in utter aloofness, until the world should approach me on its knees, whining its apologies.

--John Collier, "Night Youth Paris and the Moon," 299, 299-303,

Fancies and Goodnights (NYRB 2003)

The Lazy, Loitering Rogue
And the Last Voyage Home

My friend Joel believes he has identified an important fundamental principle of law.

In another context (don’t ask), Joel was pointing out that expenses of funeral and burial typically get first priority in probate. Want to get those bodies under the ground.

I responded by pointing out that admiralty law has a principle of last-in-time, first-in-right. Apparently we want to equip ship chandlers to supply the last voyage home.

Exactly, said Joel. The last voyage home.

Now this:

`Upon further consideration,' said he, `I thought I might say to him, "Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time that I may see how the public receives the alterations." But Charon would answer, "When you have seen the effect of these, you will be for making other alterations. There will be no end of such excuses; so, honest friend, please step into the boat."' But Mr. Hume said, `I might still urge, "Have a little patience, good Charon, I have been endeavouring to open the eyes of the public. If I live a few days longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition:" But Charon would then lose his temper and decency.—"You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease for so long a term? Get into the boat this instant, you lazy loitering rogue!"'

--The last hours of David Hume, as recorded by
William Smellie, Literary and Characteristical Lives (1800), pp. 166-9

At least Charon can count on a first priority claim.

Thinking Outside the Tin

Went Googling for a recipe for a cornmeal yoghurt muffin and came up with a, um, recipe, for a cornmeal yoghurt honey body wrap. I'm thinking, I'm thinking...

But It Never Stayed Home Before

Thanks to Larry, who blames rent control:

Russia: Woman Sets Ex-Husband on Fire
Published: August 24, 2007

A Moscow woman set fire to her ex-husband’s penis as he sat naked watching television and drinking vodka, the police said. It was not clear if the man would make a full recovery. The couple divorced three years ago but for financial reasons continued to share their small apartment.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bridge, Anyone?

Count on the estimable Rick Perlstein to note the presence of a think tank in Minneapolis touting the virtues of privately owned bridges. Mr. and Mrs. Buce have decided to carry the logic one step further. Just to be on the safe side, on our trip to Seattle next month, we plan to bring our own bridge, and don't you grasshoppers even think of trying to get onto it.

Fantasy Gets Realer

Last Sunday I was riffing on the idea of fantasy law faculties (link). I'd say this is pretty close.

The President and the Prime Minister

My friend Ivan flags me to an interesting Guardian piece (Lynn Olson) re: which Prime Minister does W remind you of? (link):

George Bush's favourite role model is, famously, Jesus, but Winston Churchill is close behind. The US president - who was yesterday again comparing the struggle in Iraq with the allies' efforts in the second world war - admires the wartime prime minister so much that he keeps what he calls "a stern-looking bust" of Churchill in the Oval Office. "He watches my every move," Bush jokes. These days, Churchill would probably not care for much of what he sees.

I thought a great deal about Churchill while working on my book Troublesome Young Men, a history of the small group of Conservative MPs who defied Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing Hitler, forced Chamberlain to resign in May 1940, and helped make Churchill his successor. I thought my audience would be limited to second world war buffs, so was pleasantly surprised to hear the president has been reading my book. He hasn't let me know what he thinks, but it's a safe bet that he's identifying with the portrayal of Churchill, not Chamberlain. I think Bush's hero would be bemused; parallels do leap out - but between Bush and Chamberlain, not Bush and Churchill.

Like Bush, and unlike Churchill, Chamberlain came to office with almost no understanding of foreign affairs or experience in dealing with international leaders. None the less, he was convinced that he alone could bring Hitler and Mussolini to heel. He surrounded himself with like-minded advisers, and refused to heed anyone who told him otherwise. In the months leading up to war, Chamberlain and his men saw little need to build a strong coalition of European allies to confront Nazi Germany - ignoring appeals from Churchill and others to fashion a "grand alliance". ...

Interesting, but my recollection is that Churchill himself was remarkably restrained about the supposed follies of his predecessor. The one Churchill really hated, if memory serves, was Chamberlain's predecessor, Stanley Baldwin--he of the soothing, bedtime-story manner who succeeded in reassuring Britains that they should forget about the problems and all go for a nice walk in the country. On this view, Chamberlain probably needed to stall for time to let Britain get just a little bit ready (the pendant is that Joseph Goebbels, the #2/#3/#4 Nazi, apparently always believed that the Germans would have had a better chance of winning had Hitler started the war earlier).

Perils of Publishing (with Update)

My friend Sternwallow, who is very smart but not smart enough to stay out of the small-press publishing biz, offers an acerb insight into the current state of the market:

...the scary part to me is how people understand this in some areas, but not in others. Theoretically, product placement is a legit business; we know that the summer movies at the Cineplex are going to be the latest blockbuster, regular Hollywood fare. But we know that we can turn to our local art house for something better, or rent something satisfying from Netflix. We know that the stuff piled high at the ends of the shelves in supermarkets is probably crap; we can get beyond that to the fresh meats and produce we want, or patronize the farmer’s markets and fish trucks that are now becoming more popular.

But otherwise intelligent people still think that, because of its vastness, a big B&N Superstore must have all the books in the world available. They don’t, of course, they have only what they think (or publishers will pay to have them think) can sell. Again, this would be OK but where is that alternative channel? The independents have been run out of town. When you apply the commercial model to the world of ideas, it’s a bit scary. You may have the best book on how to solve the Iraqi crisis, or fix Social Security, or whatever. But if your publicist cannot get you on Jon Stuart or Oprah, and your publisher will not pay to have your books piled high inside the front doors of B&N, your ideas are dead.

Update: My friend Larry, another guy who knows what he is talking about, responds:

It's true, I suppose, but my feeling is that it was ever thus, and it used to be worse. Because the little independents didn't have anything, and didn't know where it was when they did. There are some powerful reasons for the success of the chains, and not all of them fit into conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, retail book sales keep dropping, and I suspect they will continue to do so. If people are sufficiently retro to want to read, they'll do it online for free or via for $1 a book. And why shouldn't they?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oh Augustus, Now I Know
Why They Call You "The Strong"

The blogerati are still having fun with a New York Times story on sexual partners—who gets how many (a Google blog search for "male female sex partners mean median" yields 200 hits as of 911 am pst Ag 22 (link; cf. link)). Surveys suggest that men claim more sexual partners (of the opposite sex) than women. But wait, object the arithmeticians: every time a man has sex with a woman, then by definition a woman must have sex with a man. So the number must be exactly the same.

Model it this way:


F1, F2


M1, M5


F2, F3


M1, M2


F3, F4


M2. M3


F4, F5


M3, M4


F5, F1


M4, M5

So, two each, and an average of two for everybody, and the green grass grows all around, all around. Call it the “frat boy” model: a boring, moderately promiscuous, society, where the guys do a lot of lying.

But contrast:


F1, F2, F3,


M1, M2, M3, M4, M5


F1, F2


M1, M2, M3, M4


F1, F2




F1, F2







Call this the “Victorian” model, with a lot of virginity and a lot of prostitution (though not, it seems, any pure monogamy). There are still 10 relationships on each side, so, an average of two each as before.

But while the mean is the same (definitionally), note the median. The midpoint on the male side is two relationships; on the female; only one. So measuring with the median, men do, in fact, have more relationships than women—solely because one or two poor girls are doing most of the work.

So far this is stuff that any good high school student could figure out, and a lot have. But now consider this case which doesn’t seem to have received so much attention:


F1, F2, F3, F4, F5



















Call this the “Augustus the Strong” case, after the Elector of Saxony alleged to have fathered 385 children (link). One guy gets all the action. This is more or less what you would expect in a polygamous society, and it is what guys forget when they think that polygamy would be such a great idea. Note that we still have an equal number of M and F relationships-now, five and five—so the means remain equal. But the median for women is now actually higher (one) than it is for men (zero).

Fn.: A private communcation cautions that Augustus is called "the Strong" not because of his progenitive capacity as because he was capable of breaking horeshoes with his bare hands. Sorry, my bad. He was 5 9 1/2 and weighed 242 pounds. Oof. Also liked eggshell porcelaine. Sissy boy.

Fn2: I recall reading in The Economist many years ago that many more Turkish women report that they are married, than men. I assumed then that it was lying or, ahem, misunderstanding. Course it could be illegal polygamy.

Fn3: Apologies for the quirky formatting. I have spent far too much time trying to get it right; be glad that it works at all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Some Stuff to Try

Boy, a really need to update my links:

IPienso. Development, business, social enterprise.

Little Devices that Could. Medical gadgets.

Schnier on Security. Practical and unterrified.

Knzn. Name says it all.

I Swear I Heard This on NPR

...about noon today, during Talk of the Nation (I was in the car): that the Iranians had released Haileh Esfandiari on payment of a bond of $300 million dollars.


That would be 300 million Iranian reals, which translates into $320 thousand dollars (link).

NPR needs to pay these guys more.

The Bad News: Tax Evasion is Still In

Remember the old joke about Moses coming down from the mountain:

The good news is--I’ve got him down to ten.

The bad news: adultery is still in.

Apparently tax evasion, also, is “still in” (link):

Pope Benedict XVI is working on a doctrinal pronouncement that will condemn tax evasion as “socially unjust”, according to Vatican sources.

In his second encyclical – the most authoritative statement a pope can issue – the pontiff will denounce the use of “tax havens” and offshore bank accounts by wealthy individuals, since this reduces tax revenues for the benefit of society as a whole.

It will focus on humanity’s social and economic problems in an era of globalisation. Pope Benedict intends to argue for a world trade and economic system “regulated in such a way as to avoid further injustice and discrimination”, Ignazio Ingrao, a Vatican watcher, said yesterday.

The encyclical, drafted during his recent holiday in the mountains of northern Italy, takes its cue from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples), issued 40 years ago. In it the pontiff focused on “those peoples who are striving to escape from hunger, misery, endemic diseases and ignorance and are looking for a wider share in the benefits of civilisation”. He called on the West to promote an equitable world economic system based on social justice rather than profit.

Reports I’ve seen so far don’t seem to mention the point, but this seems to be something of a turnaround for the church. Apparently just a few days ago, Silvio Berlusconi’s favorite priest was still telling Italian media that tax evasion was “not a sin” (link). He’s got a lot of flac for that, but up until today, I think he may have had some church law on his side. I can’t put my finger on it just now, but my recollection is that a 19th-Century pope (my bet is on Leo XIII while Prisoner of the Vatican), embraced exactly that view as part of his standoff with the nascent Italian state: no duty to pay taxes to what was, after all, in the eyes of the Papacy, an illegal Italian state.

Consider also Pius XI: “Wherefore the wise Pontiff,” we are told, “declared that it is grossly unjust for a State to exhaust private wealth through the weight of imposts and taxes” (link). Continuing, he may seem to waffle:

"For since the right of possessing goods privately has been conferred not by man's law, but by nature, public authority cannot abolish it, but can only control its exercise and bring it into conformity with the common weal."[36] Yet when the State brings private ownership into harmony with the needs of the common good, it does not commit a hostile act against private owners but rather does them a friendly service; for it thereby effectively prevents the private possession of goods, which the Author of nature in His most wise providence ordained for the support of human life, from causing intolerable evils and thus rushing to its own destruction; it does not destroy private possessions, but safeguards them; and it does not weaken private property rights, but strengthens them.

50. Furthermore, a person's superfluous income, that is, income which he does not need to sustain life fittingly and with dignity, is not left wholly to his own free determination. Rather the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church constantly declare in the most explicit language that the rich are bound by a very grave precept to practice almsgiving, beneficence, and munificence.

51. Expending larger incomes so that opportunity for gainful work may be abundant, provided, however, that this work is applied to producing really useful goods, ought to be considered, as We deduce from the principles of the Angelic Doctor,[37] an outstanding exemplification of the virtue of munificence and one particularly suited to the needs of the times.

…but I don’t think there is a real waffle here: he’s just saying spend it right¸ or invest.

The Kerouac MBA

Per Matt Weiland, Jack Kerouac teaches “that low overhead and a sense of improvisation make for a good life” (link).

Setting aside Weiland, Kerouac and improvisation, this is actually pretty good advice, not so? It’s the percentage return that matters. My father, who was in the credit reporting biz, taught me that every restaurant gets sold three times—until the price gets low enough so the operating surplus can cover the debt. In my bankruptcy law days, I saw lots of businesses with lots of fancy equipment and no cash flow. That’s why successful dentists are, by definition, successful entrepreneuers. They have to persuade people to give them money for inflicting pain on them, and with all that equipment, they are all the time running away from the bank like they were running away from an unmanned power lawn mower.

Probably true of “improvision” too. Get Kerouac’s point through your head and you can skip business school.

Monday, August 20, 2007

One Bush Can't Win

Not that it bothers me all that much, but I have to admit I don't see how W can win on Hurricane Dean. If he messes it up again, why then we have Katrina II. But if he does not mess it up--why, it only proves that he takes better care of Texans than he does folks from Louisiana.

But You Knew

Over at Google Blog Search tonight:

Billy Hospitalized Graham gets 441 hits (link).

Australia Woman Sex Camel gets 8,738 (link).

Matt Yglesias and the Great Depantsing

Matt Yglesias has an uncharacteristically (for Matt) unsophisticated post up about the mortgage meltdown and the practice of banking (link). Matt puzzles over why the mortgage meltdown is creating such a pervasive problem. He discovers that the mortgage enterprises are, in some sense, like banks, and finds this insight, on the whole, comforting.

For most non-economist commentators, this probably draws a passing grade. But you might have expected ominicompetent Matt to realize that (a) there is no good, workable definition of what is a bank; and (b) correspondingly, everything is a bank, actually or potentially.

What’s a bank? The conventional old-style definition is that a bank is an entity that (a) takes deposits and (b) makes loans. Fair enough, but consider a life insurance company. It “takes deposits,” in the sense that we leave money on account with it for years at a time. It “makes loans,” in the sense that it tries to turn a profit with the money on account. And you could say that anyone “makes a loan” any time he extends credit. I read somewhere that Toyota isn’t a car company, it’s just a bank that happens to sell cars. At first blush, I assumed the quip meant only that Toyota was so choked with money it had to cook up ways in which to invest it. On second blush, it sank in on me that for Toyota—indeed for any car company, maybe for any big-ticket inventory seller—the installment credit side of the business may come to dominate, leaving the “inventory” side as some kind of a loss leader.

This is the kind of pitch banks make when they argue that they play on an unfair playing field—they are constrained by regulation, but others are not.

I’ve got a lot of sympathy with this argument, but there is an unsettling mirror image. That is: at the end of the day, still banks really are different from any other kind of enterprise. Banks are party of a system that runs on trust, and once trust ends, the whole system unravels. So banking is the only system in which one does not gain from the failure of one’s competitor. I’ve heard people describe it as the situation you get in a rugby scrum when somebody loses his pants: all the players mill around and make a racket while the unfortunate recovers his dignity. Then they give high fives all round and charge off again down field. I must say, I don’t envy Ben Bernanke tonight, as he tries to play “lender of last resort” (cf. Charles Kindleberger, passim (link)) for an entire galaxy. Is anyone strong enough to rectify the great depantsing. Anyone? Anyone?

Weekend’s Most Effective Strained Simile

Jack Shafer on the Washington press corps:

Imagine ants farming aphids for honeydew at Sans Souci, and you get the picture.

(Think about it) Shafer is reviewing Robert Novak’s memoir, in which Novak divulges (surprise!) that he really doesn’t mind that the world thinks him a flaming bunghole (in the Sunday NYT Book Review (link)).

Fn.: For no reason of which I can conceive, Shafer’s review is linked at a website featuring “Nicaragua agricultural news” (link).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Things I Never Would Have Known
Had I Not Read the Airline Magazine

We came home from Maine Saturday by way of Southwest from Manchester NH via Las Vegas. That's a diagonal, and counting down time to fix a gummy tire, that was the longest time I've spent in a tin can on a domestic flight since, oh since I came back from Maine via Portland ME 10 years ago (I begin to descry a pattern here). I made a lot of progress on a big gnarly book, but here is some stuff I never would have learned had I not strayed to the onboard magazine:
  • You (well--"somebody") can make $200,000 a year playing fantasy football. I assume Brian whats-his-name will shortly give us all a chance to play fantasy law prof. Or maybe he has already?

  • At least two dentists find it worth their while to take out full-page ads for their cosmetic dentistry practice. Dental tourism in Houston?

A Smokin' Hot Babe, and a Meteor Shower
(With Update)

All I could see form where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way
And saw three islands and a bay.

That would be Edna St. Vincent Millay, from Renascence, one of the poems which I, at least, associate with the State of Maine, where Mr. and Mrs. Buce disported themselves last week, lounging about in a regime of compulsory idleness. The picture is not a mountain or a wood, but it is a bay, or at any rate, a sound--Mericoneag Sound, off Bailey Island. And it may be an island—it’s a point off the end of Harpswell Neck, south of Brunswick, but it seems to be connected to the mainland only by one of those bridges that did not exist before the Europeans started to make a nuisance of themselves.

I picked up a good deal of Millay along about 1951, when she would have been my sister Sally’s favorite poet. We both remember our mother warning her that Millay really wasn’t of the first rank. We speculate whether mother was trying to protect her little girl from embarrassment—or to protect herself from embarrassment that her little girl should have such vulgar taste. Either way, I’d say the real point is that Millay certainly is memorable and accessible, and she seems to be a good deal more of a smokin’ hot babe than, say Emily Dickinson; perhaps a thousand times more than, say, Adrienne Rich.

I’ve always associated Millay with Maine. Per Wiki I learn that she was indeed born there, though she doesn’t seem to have spent much time there. Either way, I am happy to associate her with the exhilarating fresh breezy air and the low, rolling (slightly spooky) pine-covered woodlands. And the long mountains, and the islands. And the ocean, did I mention the ocean? Did I mention that it changes color and texture every time you look at it? I don’t suppose I can blame her for the fact that they seem to overcook their fish.

Here’s another bit of Millay that must be about Maine:

I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed shall escape my door
But by a yard or two; and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand.
I shall be gone to what I understand,
And happier than I ever was before.

The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung.
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.

Oh, and Persieds. Yes, there were Persieds. We set the alarm for 1 am. I counted seven, all spectacular, but then we got sleepy and went back to bed.

Update: I see somebody just linked here from a Google Search. The search terms were: "hot babe in shower." Sorry to disappoint.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Travelling Again

I’m off to a teardrop on the coast of Maine to watch the Perseids, and to provide succor for Mrs. B’s carved and scraped shoulder. If all goes well, we may stage our own private reading of As You Like It. I assume I'll be out of wi-fi range, so I'm not even bothering with the laptop. Some things to do when I’m away:

Go to Credit Slips and read the cool posts by Emily Kadens about hanging bankrupts, etc.

Watch for a new liquidity crisis with the guidance of Mark Thoma, (who reads Brad DeLong so you don’t have to).

For sane skepticism about real estate, see Calculated Risk. For a more excitable view, see Housing Bubble.

If the oil market starts caterwauling, visit Oil Drum.

Save yourself the trouble of reading all those 10Ks with Michelle Leder. If you really like getting under the hood of financial statements, visit AAO.

For a new fave in the realm of acerb commentary, visit Jenny Diski (I really must update my blogroll). For a blue/white peacock on a blue/purple tree, visit my old friend Toni.

…and if this isn’t enough, for a really cool collection of new links, go here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mr & Mrs. B on Stoner

We’ve finished John Williams’ Stoner (link; cf. link). I feel impelled to add a word to what I said before, not least to showcase an offering from Mrs. Buce.

Executive summary: it is still an extraordinarily good piece of writing, although not the piece of perfection that some have deemed it. As a piece of prose composition it deserves highest marks—best thing I’ve read in English since Housekeeping (link) Individual sentences, paragraphs, pages, display great power and intensity. He recounts a love affair with precision and tact—I can find a snigger 90 yards away in a snowstorm, and there is none here. And a dying: he skirts the edge of, but never tumbles over, the cliff of mawkishness.

Aside from the protagonist, most of the characters are pretty much set-pieces. Indeed as I guess I did say before, his wife, Edith—the monster—is a convincing piece of villainy, but I find myself extending my sympathy to her. As one can say of a lot of people: it couldn’t be fun to be around her, but it must be even less fun to be her; I’m curious to hear her side of the story.

Stoner himself probably is a kind of “hero,” as the author wants to characterize him. But he’s a spectacularly passive hero, and this is the real issue: Stoner’s passivity damages not only himself but those around him, and you find yourself almost wanting to shake him to get him out of his box. Indeed, he does execute one bit of nerdy sabotage in mid-career: it’s mean and clever and effective and you can only wish he would do more.

If not for himself, then maybe for Edith, the villainous wife –even for the reader, it is almost past bearing that they had to live yoked together so hatefully for 40 years. Or for Katherine, the mistress whom Stoner, without lifting a finger, let walk out of his life (he hardly deserved the book dedication). Or if not for Edith or Katherine, then at least for the daughter. Yes, the daughter, Grace. He owed her better. No doubt that he loved her, but Loving is Doing Something About It, and Stoner did almost nothing about it at all.

Which brings me back to Mrs. B. I had said that I liked Stoner, but I didn’t think as highly of him as the author did. But that, Mrs. B said, is what makes it such an interesting novel: the character takes on such a life of his own that not even his author understands what he has done.

Well, fair point. This misunderstanding does add some texture, and since it was a good novel to begin with, I guess this makes it a very good novel, indeed.

Works For Me--China Finance

Works for me:
Uncle Sam, Your Banker Will See You Now

By Paul Craig Roberts

08/08/07 "
ICH" --- - E arly this morning China let the idiots in Washington, and on Wall Street, know that it has them by the short hairs. Two senior spokesmen for the Chinese government observed that China’s considerable holdings of US dollars and Treasury bonds “contributes a great deal to maintaining the position of the dollar as a reserve currency.”

Should the US proceed with sanctions intended to cause the Chinese currency to appreciate, “the Chinese central bank will be forced to sell dollars, which might lead to a mass depreciation of the dollar.”

If Western financial markets are sufficiently intelligent to comprehend the message, US interest rates will rise regardless of any further action by China. At this point, China does not need to sell a single bond. In an instant, China has made it clear that US interest rates depend on China, not on the Federal Reserve.

The precarious position of the US dollar as reserve currency has been thoroughly ignored and denied. The delusion that the US is “the world’s sole superpower,” whose currency is desirable regardless of its excess supply, reflects American hubris, not reality. This hubris is so extreme that only 6 weeks ago McKinsey Global Institute published a study that concluded that even a doubling of the US current account deficit to $1.6 trillion would pose no problem. ...
And so on (link). But do I buy all the looniness in the comments? I do not. Do I think the dismantling of the US is part of a plot to advance world government? I do not. Oh, and thanks, Dave.

Hello Kitty

I missed this the first time around but it really is too good to ignore (link):

Cute Kitty Is Pink Badge of Shame in Bangkok

Published: August 8, 2007

BANGKOK, Aug. 7 — It is the pink armband of shame for wayward police officers, as cute as it can be, with a Hello Kitty face and a pair of linked hearts.

Skip to next paragraph
Yasushi Ukigaya/Kyodo News, via Associated Press

A police officer in Bangkok shows a pink Hello Kitty armband.

If an officer parks in the wrong place, comes to work late or drops a bit of litter, that officer would be decorated with an armband depicting Hello Kitty, the Japanese symbol of cuteness, no matter how many ribbons for valor he may already wear.

“Simple warnings no longer work,” said Pongpat Chayaphan, acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division here, who instituted the humiliation this week.

“This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offense, no matter how minor,” he said. “Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It’s not something macho police officers want covering their biceps.” ...

Thanks, Larry.

Newspapers and the Great Sucking Sound

In which I highlight two stories about the news biz:
  • The New York Times paywall is crumbling: very good news? You're cheering? "Very bad news," says Michael O'Hare, "stop cheering" (link). Sure, it means you'll get free access to Maureen, for the moment. But the real point is that not even the Times can figure out how to make money in the news biz. "Enjoy your free Times Select while it lasts, folks," says Michael, "that sound you just heard was not the triumph of free information over selfish profiteers, it was the sound of the iceberg opening up four or five compartments below the waterline.

  • Meanwhile Michelle Leder, who wades thorugh all those securities filings, has hit upon a story that perhaps needs more attention than it has received (link). It's about Gannett, the chain of chains, trading near its ten-year low. Michelle finds that they've adopted a "Transition Compensation Agreement," (link) aka provision for rats who want to leave a sinking ship.

Uh Oh

This does not make me happy:

You Are 84% Feminist

You are a total feminist. This doesn't mean you're a man hater (in fact, you may be a man).

You just think that men and women should be treated equally. It's a simple idea but somehow complicated for the world to put into action.

So, I am only three points less feminist than Matt Yglesias. Matt slyly suggests he might be a hypocrite; me, I just want a recount: I don't think I am nearly as feminist as this chart seems to suggest (I felt the same way about the "liberalism" test last year). I think these issues are far more ideoligized and coarsened than is good for us (though less, I concede, than a few years ago), and that there are lots of complications we have barely begun to acknowlege. But I guess that when the chips are down, I am still a wuss.

I see there are a whole bunch of other blogthings at the blogthings website (link), aka "cool things to put on your blog." But oddly, most of them seem directed at women. At the risk of sounding unfeminist, isn't this a distortion? I know there are female bloggists (Blogettes! Let's hear it for the ladies!). But surely the vast majority are men? I confess I would, however, like to take a shot at this one.