Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Let's pop those Champagne corks

The Natural Resources Defense Council announced that the Rolling Stones will perform a special FREE concert to raise awareness about global warming on February 6, in Los Angeles, CA. Fans win tickets by entering a sweepstakes. rollingstones.nrdc.org

Crime & Punishment Pulp fiction novels and crime thrillers

New powers allowing police and customs officers to seize criminals' assets come into force on Monday. The Proceeds of Crime Act will mean money can be confiscated from all types of criminals and not just drug dealers, as previous laws allowed. By 2004 the government hopes to have doubled the amount of cash seized each year to £60m.
· Crime & Punishment [BBC]

Silent Victims

Investigation of more than 2OO child deaths statewide has found that flawed probes on the part of the DCF may have contributed to the deaths of at least 100 Florida children over the past five years. That number could be even higher because the DCF never thoroughly documented or investigated its own performance in some 80 child deaths.
· Innocence Lost [Miami Herald]

MMII, Two Zero Zero Two Getting to the bottom of 2002

If you had to pick one smart alek’s word to describe mood in 2002, that word would be wary. Be alert, but not alarmed. We went to sleep wary, and we woke up wary. We wallowed in wariness. We were wabbits.
· Alarmed Wabbits [Miami Herald]
Literature Encyclopedias still speak volumes

Printed encyclopedias they seem to be enjoying a modest revival. After a four-year hiatus, Encyclopaedia Britannica, based in Chicago, has almost sold out the new edition it released this year and is planning a revision for next year. Libraries remain the best customers, but there is still a core of people who want that row of books at home. A 2002 study of research habits by Outsell Inc., a market research company based in San Francisco, found that while people will use the Internet for a fast information search, they tend to place more trust in a book.
· In Books We Trust [Boston Globe]

Platform on Cold River

Literary Agent Rafe Sagalyn provides the theme for a Washington Post article: The dreadful buzzword of the last two or three years is platform. Does the author have a platform to promote his or her book? As Hyperion's Bob Miller notes, there is a temptation toward publishing a personality who has a regular following but the important question is, Will that audience want that book? BTW, according to my favourite paper the Sydney Morning Herald, JK Rowling was the UK's highest-earning woman in 2002, earning £48 million through the phenomenal success of her creation in book sales and the subsequent cinema box office hits. That's about six times more than Queen Elizabeth.
· How loudly would the phones be ringing [Washington Post]
· The Deviant's Advantage: How Fringe Ideas Create Mass Markets [First Matter]

The ring and the cross

I think the beauty of Tolkien is that he's not explicitly Christian. I think I would be turned off if we had Jesus running around the story. Tolkien avoided that, but quite a few devout Christians are nevertheless claiming his story as their own. The question is whether this could be a turn-off to everybody else.
· Crushing the hearts of hippies everywhere. [Boston Globe]

Irony of Science Oscars

It’s time to pay homage to the year’s outstanding science performances. Without further ado, the envelope, please…
Most embarrassing performance by “reputable” experts. The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) announced in July that no amounts of margarine, vegetable shortening, dairy products, pastries, crackers, fried foods and breast milk are safe to eat.
· Swedish Meatballs [Fox]

Monday, December 30, 2002

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy his own heart?
- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Internet Expressing the Real Heart

Adina Levin points to her father's Holocaust experience as one of the reasons she blogs: One of the questions that I had about approaching adulthood was, if the place that I lived started sliding toward totalitarianism, would I be one of the people who spoke up... this is one small thing that I can do to help make people aware.
· Speaking Out [Levin]

Arts What is the relationship between art and society?

Can literature change the world? Or should it be above the concerns of society? Philip Pullman argues that while writers have wider duties, they must be faithful servants of their stories.
· Before a writer’s duty to audience [Guardian UK]

Literature The great novelists not fit for duty in this war of words

War is Heller. It is also Tolstoy, Owen, Vonnegut and Hemingway, among many others.
But according to the Pentagon, war — at least the impending war in Iraq — is Shakespeare, the 5th-century BC Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu and two modern bestsellers about heroism and wartime correspondence. Before Christmas the US Defence Department began distributing free, pocket-sized copies of these books to its troops, to ensure that soldiers are improving their minds while removing Saddam. More than 100,000 copies have been given away so far.
· Sun & Moon [Times UK]


There are people who read all the time, who have read everything, and who remember all that they have read. They can effortlessly quote Mr. Micawber at appropriate moments; they make a point of returning to Madame Bovary once a decade; if approached by some magazine for one of those what's-on-your-bedside-table? items, Thucydides and Don Quixote trip from their lips as easily as Dristan might drip from lesser mortals; despite their enthusiasm for the classics, they have already read Austin Clarke's The Polished Hoe, Rohinton Mistry's Family Matters and Annie Proulx's new novel.
But this is child's play to them. They are not fooled by puerile emotion. They are not tricked by simple fondness. They are not duped by mere sincerity. The people who have read everything know that whatever we may say about loving books, we have holes in our literary knowledge that they can drive trucks through. Trucks called Dr. Faustus. Or Mikhail Bulgakov. Or The Man Without Qualities. The people who have read everything, sense literary vulnerability the way a leopard senses which grazing antelope has the bad leg. And then they pounce.
· Child’s Play [Globe Books]

Silence of the Artist

Max Beckmann’s idea of a fine night out was to sit alone in black tie, sipping champagne at the bar of an expensive hotel, silently observing.
· Observer [NY Times]

My Kafka and His Amerika

Kafka's unfinished, posthumous novel Amerika had been edited by his friend Max Brod before its release. Now an unedited version under the title The Man Who Disappeared is being released by New Directions. The editing done by Brod, however, was the removal of factual inaccuracies, misspellings, things of that nature. For example, San Francisco was on the East coast, according to Kafka. New Directions argues that Amerika was like a dream and therefore such errors should remain.
· Dreams [Boston]

Lit Lerher

Reading about the Australian elites put me in mind of Tom Lerher's quip about the ‘people who make you realize how little you've accomplished.’ Lerher said it was sobering to contemplate that ‘when Mozart was my age... he had been dead for two years.’
In their Christmas stockings the elites found a copy of Keith Windschuttle's Fabrication of Aboriginal History, with solid endorsement from the new editorial team at The Australian newspaper. This is the most reactionary book to be taken seriously in this country for many years. I suppose all one can console oneself with is the thought that every era produces the book it deserves. Happy new year.
· Elites [SMH]

Double Joy

Congratulation to a double-dragon-partner-in-crime, Marilynn Byerly who wrote (yesterday):
Oooooh, ooooh! My THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN is right above Michael Crichton's current NY Times bestseller, PREY, on the SF bestseller list atfictionwise. I'm definitely taking a screenshot of that!

· Double Dragon [Wise]

Internet From Andy’s 15 Minutes of Fame to 15 Wise People

On the internet, everyone is famous to 15 people. A comparison between urban design and blogging: The blogosphere is the closest thing going to the short blocks neighborhood. Which is a very human scale... it opens you up to new perspectives, but doesn't overwhelm you at the same time.
· 15 [SteveBerlin]

Power Corrupts; Marginal Blog Power Corrupts Marginally

The way daily journalism works, a story has a 24-hour audition to see if it has legs, and if it doesn't get picked up, that's it. In a case of Lott, the guy's majority leader. Reporters, as opposed to bloggers, depend on him for access. Without samizdat magazines under communism and without stories on the Internet in today's political climate, many really important stories would not be given oxygen and most scandals would end up underreported. The hinterlands are full of bloggers who don't care whether Trent Lotts of this world are nice to them or not. That makes them different from the Washington, Prague & Canberra press galleries. One of the greatest things about blogs is that they are not being developed by huge evil spinning companies, but by individuals who are members of a community. Pundits now recognize that blogs as useful tools for everything from venting about politics to raving about deaths and taxes.
· Lott [Guardian UK]

Games Making Moves: Erotic Czech Mates

The language of chess is very sexual. I mean, what are you supposed to think when somebody declares that they're going to mate you in five moves so you might as well surrender now? Things get taken in chess. They can also be pinned and skewered. If you're going to nab the queen, you have to move in carefully, obliquely, much like a tricky seduction. It's a traditionally masculine game but in spite of that, or perhaps because of it, she is the most powerful piece on the boards and calls many of the shots. A knight, if he's careful, can take her without putting himself in harm's way. He just has to make the right moves.
· Chess [CleenSheets]

X-es They're all at it, in this sex quiz of the year.

It's been a busy 12 months for sexual intrigue. But just how good is your XXX-rated memory? Which distinguished ex-MP confessed to prowling around Clapham Common furtively seeking anonymous gay sexual encounters?

a Jeffrey Archer

b Matthew Parris

c Harvey Procter
· Encounters [The Independent UK]

Rubbish The privacy of your trash.

Police everywhere are in a habit of raiding the curbside garbage bins. Not so long ago bins of Gina Hoesly experienced such invasion. The consensus, as far as the police were concerned, was that garbage was public, not protected by the Fourth Amendment, and its search and seizure were not illegal. Well, welcome the Fourth Estate. Reporters decided to raid the curbside garbage of three righteous public officials (Police Chief, Mayor, District Attorney) who supported the police garbage-sifting assault. The results are disturbing and hilarious:
Invasion of privacy? This is a frontal assault, a D-Day, a Norman Conquest of privacy. We know the chief's credit-card number; we know where he buys his groceries; we know how much toilet tissue he goes through. We know whose Christmas cards he has pitched, whose wedding he skipped, whose photo he threw away. We know what newsletters he gets and how much he's socked away in the stock market. We even know he's thinking about a new car--and which models he's considering.
· D-Day [Willamette Week]

Sunday, December 29, 2002

Wouldn't it be a terrible, tragic, obscene irony if, in responding ... to these terrible, terrorist attacks, we forsook the very things that we believed had been assaulted.
-Prime Minister John Howard 17 September 2001

Paranoia in The Lucky Country The Australian way of life

The Antipodean way of life - relaxed, informal, welcoming - has been lost after the Bali bombings and in the shadow of international terrorism. We will also become less tolerant, less inclusive of other people and the community will turn in on itself.
· Ways of Terror [SMH]
· Ways of Nervousness [SMH]

Politics Michael Moore Live, and Kicking

At Times of Crisis be true to yourself, do the right thing every now and then and don't believe what the politicians tell you. Still, you needn’t be as optimistic or as persistent as Moore to believe that this advice might improve a world that could use considerable doses of improvement.
· On the use and abuse of Reality [Pop Politics]
· On the use and abuse of Fantasy [Antidotal]

Political Pigeonholing

Political Temperament matrix: the vertical axis tells whether you believe that people left to their own devices are basically good or bad, while the horizontal axis indicates how much you think people are responsible for their own actions.
· Good and Bad of Political Animal [Cal Pundit]

I keep reading things political like this Strange Lotts of Archers: Major Actors

Go read Charles Kuffner on former Texas Commissioner of Health William 'Reyn' Archer. I'm glad Charles took the time to look up Google and put this together. Makes you wonder why the Chron didn't fill in the blanks a bit more. Note how long it took for Bush to finally abandon Reyn Archer, and that it took a lawsuit to do it. Archer was in a much less visible role than Trent Lott, but by the same token he was more closely connected to him.
Calendar year 2002 saw a steady stream of high-profile scandals, including improper fundraising activities in the mayor's office, the Democratic primary petition fraud, the bankruptcy of Greater Southeast Community Hospital due to financial shenanigans by its owners, and now the unfolding story of the alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars in Teachers' Union funds. A constant throughout all of these improprieties is, of course, Anthony Williams's association with most of the scandals' major actors.
· Act of Arching [Off the Cuff]
· The State of Corruption [Washington Post]

Life Mysteries Politics is always a fruitful source of mystery.

Life is full of little mysteries and 2002 has thrown up its fair share of them. Here are several that intrigue me. Science has taught us that superstition is just a load of mumbo jumbo. Even so, we carry on with an irrational array of rituals and practices to keep a step ahead of fate. Touch wood? Why bother when we know it makes no difference?
· Intrique & Irony [SMH]
· Superstition provides a sense of control - if an illusory one [Guardian UK]

Music Some guilty pleasures aren't your fault.

Some guilty pleasures aren't your fault. Without sounding overly lefty-paranoid, the corporate mass media does everything it can to plant some songs deep in your skull, where your devoid-of-taste subconscious is powerless against catchiness in any form. This is why you'll hum along with Nelly's Air Force Ones, no matter how silly you think it is for grown men to sing about shoe shopping. Even if you're repulsed by the song, some part of your subconscious (Freud called it the death drive) can get your brain pumping The Macarena like your own personal shitty jukebox. (Speaking of corporate evil and The Macarena, Michelina's using that damn song in its ads may rank as one of the most cynical campaigns of all time, because no one on earth likes the fucking Macarena -- the tune is analogous to those ear slugs in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan).

Guilty pleasures can also come from your early childhood, back when your puddinglike brain wasn't developed enough to know that you were listening to crap (Mama, play 'Knock Three Times' again). It's a mystery of the human condition why so many of our adult preferences were formed at the age when we liked to eat paste (although it does help explain Creed). Criticism accomplishes something by allowing people to think about the cultural side of music.
· Gulity Pleasure [River Front]
· Prick Up Your Ears [The Nation]
· The Power of Music [The Nation]

Literary Loneliness Surrounded by Strangeness

In How to Be Alone, a hit-or-miss compilation of 13 magazine essays, Jonathan Franzen is obviously earnest in his belief in the redemptive power of great literature. Too earnest.
· How To Be Alone [Via Pop Politics]
· How To read the unfinished manuscript for Harry Potter book over the phone for an American girl who was dying of cancer. [Reuters]

Internet Much ado about blogging: Thinkers and Linkers

Blogging is democracy at it finest. At best, it creates a dramatic and dynamic exchange of information and ideas ... at worst, it creates atmosphere for fisking and blairing and makes many lawyers, accountants, professors look foolish. Once upon a time, bloggers were a select few thousand who blogged in oblivion. Terrorism changed that. Over 500,000 people from all over the democratic world now blog. Mainstream journalists ignore blogs at their peril. A well-known journalist blogger summed it up by saying “we can fact-czech your *^* (butt). Bloggers are brave, leaving themselves open to all kinds of bashing. Blogging is no longer limited to fisking - right-wing bloggers & journalists bashing left-wing journalists and visa versa (sic) and everything in between.
Talk radio, webzines, list servers, message boards and now blog sites have one thing in common. They are interactive. They let people talk back. Consequently, it is physically impossible for new media to do what old media did – that is, to shove unpopular ideas down peoples’ throats and pretend that the audience likes it. Ah, but that’s the beauty of blogging. The system is self-selecting. The worst blogs sink to the bottom. No one sees them. The best blogs rise to the top, borne aloft by the sheer number of bloggers who link to them. A blog will either contain few, long, well-written, time consuming posts, or many posts with a link to a "thinker" post or a news story, sometimes with a bit of comment.
· Fa(c)t Czechers [PLA]
· Well-formed (or even a half-baked) opinion [Richard Poe]
· I've linked to you; will you link to me? [USS Clueless]

Blogs and Books are written to be read, right?

A woman approaches the counter at a bookstore.
The guy behind the counter smiles and says, May I help you?

Yes. I bought this book last week, she said. "And I wasn't able to put it down for a moment.

The clerk replied, It was that good?

It had everything, the woman exclaimed. It had laughter. It had tears. It had drama, and comedy, and angst. This book explored every aspect of the human condition.

· Writing on the Web [Burning Bird]
· Double Dragon [Freezing Fish]

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Exiles The Power of Blunt Nostalgia & Secret Life of Endgame

Not two cultures, but two mentalities, two spiritualities meet: the people in the land toward the sea, in biblical Canaan, were concerned with commerce, with trade, with agriculture. The people to the east, the people in the desert, were concerned with spirit, with visions. The two have always met in Jerusalem.
· Meeting Cultures [Forward]

From MittleEurope to the Strange Land Of the Oz to the End of Games, actor Jacek Koman has led a strange, if not secret, life.
When he left his country, just over 20 years ago, Jacek assumed he would have to leave acting behind, too. It's a measure of his determination he considered this a fair price to pay for freedom. His reasons for wanting to leave were mixed: partly to escape the communist regime, and partly because he wanted to see the world. He says he wasn't especially political. Not beyond what everyone was. There was this shared hatred towards authority, and you followed that because you sucked it with your mother's milk.
If you believe in fate, if you believe that things offer themselves at the time you are ready for them, or when it's important for you to expose yourself to things . . .
· Remembering Mother’s Milk [Sydney Morning Herald]

Seven Deadly Sins Gobble up: gluttony is the gift of civilisation

Boxing Day mirrors reflect the waistlines of sin. Gluttony induces guilt. Now, moralists, dietitians, fashion advertisers and lifestyle journalists try to nag us into frugality. I doubt whether even so formidable a combination of forces can reverse evolution and history. Gluttony has a powerful pedigree. Excess at table is hallowed by antiquity. So eat on.
· Snis (Dream) [Times UK]

New Year Resolution - 2003 Say you want a resolution?

It’s that time again, the end-of-the-year, assess-where-you’re-at-and-decide-to-make-some-big-life-changes time. I’ve been through this routine before, like, 20 times, and I can happily report that I have never, not once, stuck to any of my New Year’s resolutions.
· Time and Time Again [Boston]

Mittle European Folklore Lead of Luck

Finding out about the year ahead is a bit risky, since to that end, Germans melt lead in a spoon over fire, throw it into cold river and use the hardened form to predict what the new year will bring. For example, a human shape with a large belly could mean pregnancy. Fortune-telling kits for - Bleigießen, which are available at supermarkets, need to be handled with care. Melted lead can burn skin and damage furniture. And the poisonous vapors shouldn't be inhaled. If you try it, remember none of the various trash bins in German households are suitable for these lead oracles. They need to be disposed of at hazardous waste sites.
· Slid well [FAZ]

Dissent Doesn't Mean A Lack of Patriotism

There is little chance that Columbia or Yale, where we teach, would heed the call to allow outsiders to dictate what opinions faculty may voice. The danger is that institutions less financially secure and more dependent on legislatures may bend to this gathering threat to freedom of speech.
· Professors Who Love America [LA Times]

Politics & Punishment Former East-West German Minister jailed

Günther Krause, one of the first politicians out of the former East Germany to attain prominence and power in reunified Germany, has been sentenced by a court in the eastern city of Rostock to three years and nine months in prison on breach of trust, fraud and tax evasion charges.
· Punishment [Faz]

NEPOTISM, GOOD SENSE, OR BOTH? According to this story, former Sen. Frank Murkowski, who was just elected governor of Alaska, has just appointed his replacement who will serve in his stead in the Senate until the next election: His daughter, state legislator Lisa Murkowski.
· Reward? [Washington Post]

Misko Janovsky asks whether the director of the agency set up to facilitate filming projects in Los Angeles defrauded the city and county by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for personal expenses and political donations, some to members of the board that oversees the agency? That's what an investigation of the agency currently underay, hopes to find out.
· Independent Agencies For Corruption [The New York Times]

Australia has a crazy system of eight different reward-defamation laws which has thrown up the following colourful cases over the years.
· The Crikey defamation list: Oft-sued Crikey publisher [Crikey.Com]

Law & Justice Whistle-blowers tapped to clean up corporate crimes
Uncle Sam is looking for a few good whistle-blowers. No, it's not part of the Justice Department's war on terrorism. Rather it is a centerpiece of the government's corporate reforms to prevent the kinds of bookkeeping excesses that led to the downfall of business giants like Enron and WorldCom. New law taking effect in January forces lawyers to expose corrupt business practices.
· Will it do any good? [CS Monitor]
· Law Firms: Who Represents America's Biggest Companies? [Law.Com]

Literature Cold River: Book They Wish They'd Written (Just Dreaming)

Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones): If I could transform into anyone this year (and many other years, for that matter!), it would be William Trevor. His new novel, The Story of Lucy Gault, is just so beautifully written . . . When I closed the book, after two evenings reading it, I thought, This man doesn't just write a novel, he composes a symphony.
· Sneaky eccentricities [Law Weekly]

Bad conversationalists borrow, good conversationalists steal; It's not a lie. It's a gift for fiction; I want to know if love is wild, girl I want to know if love is real...
· Sometimes a quote is just a quote [By the Finest Newspaper in the world the Sydney Morning Herald]

The Year in Books

Oprah Quits! Double Dragon gives birth to Cold River! Historians are caught in a sea of plagiarism piracy, this year was a rollercoaster ride for everything literary! It was a year full of screaming headlines about the book world. There were plenty of breakout bestsellers, shocking controversies, and head-scratching oddities.
· Wishful Thinking [Central Booking]

The Year of the Blog - Media Dragon

In the annals of Internet history, 2002 may go down as the year of the blog. Twelve months ago, few of us had ever heard the term -- a contraction of Web log -- even though blogs had existed in one form or another since at least 1997. Today, their number is estimated to be anywhere from 200,000 to more than half a million.
· The explosion in blogging [Law.Com]
· Czeching the czechers: Matthew Yglesias fisks the fiskers. Do they ever tire of looking foolish? [Matthewyglesias.com]

The Year of the Arts

From Moscow to Melbourne, money dominated the arts this year. Expensive Australian festivals losing pots of money; the crumbling Bolshoi Theatre and Hermitage Museum shoring up operations with gaffer tape and the kindness of strangers; the once imperious global Guggenheim cutting loose staff and satellites; the Uffizi in Florence unable to pay its light bills; orchestras and opera companies across North America swimming in red ink.
Still, cheer up and take an Art Quiz.

· The top arts stories of 2002 [Evening Standard]

The Year of the Blues

Congress has officially declared 2003 - The Year of the Blues.
Well, naturally. War is imminent, the economy is lurching along in a rut and "The Sopranos" has only one season left. Actually, the legislators designated the "Year of the Blues" in a literal sense, as a tribute to the blues, the most influential form of American roots music. But the broader implication is too obvious to ignore.

· The blues have documented Cold River [LA Times]

It Had To Come to This We Have Experienced Another Sea Change & So We Must Pretend That All is Well ...

At first, the new owner pretends he never looked at the living room floor. Never really looked. Not the first time they toured the house. Not when the inspector showed them through it. They’d measured rooms and told the movers where to set the couch and piano, hauled in everything they owned, and never really stopped to look at the living room floor. They pretend. Then on the first morning they come downstairs, there it is, scratched in the white-oak floor:
Some new owners pretend a friend has done it as a joke. Others are sure it’s because they didn’t tip the movers. A couple of nights later, a baby starts to cry from inside the north wall of the master bedroom.
· Lullaby for Characters like Gustav Husak or Ian Faulks who made war, not love, against disliked politicians such as late John Newman within the walls of five star hotels - courtesy of the NSW Taxpayers [Central Booking]

The Accidents Waiting To Happen Are we more prone to fights and accidents than in the past? (grin)

There are accidents and there are bike accidents like mine breaking two of my hands. A good many, like earthquakes and tornadoes, are unavoidable acts of nature. But many more are human accidents provoked by the very technology that we celebrate: they represent the dark face of progress. Hear, Hear, Hear ...
· Deaths, Taxes and Accidents on Bikes [The New York Times]
Nothing is Funnier than the Unhappiness of Exile

Nobody can fail to recognize the influence of the doctrine of the Noble Savage in contemporary consciousness. We see it in the current respect for all things natural (natural foods, natural medicines, natural childbirth) and the distrust of the man-made, the unfashionability of authoritarian styles of childrearing and education, and the understanding of social problems as repairable defects in our institutions rather than as tragedies inherent to the human condition.
-Steven Pinker FBI, ASIO, KGB, STASI, VB, MI5 ... & & the EYES Have it (For Fun Only)
Drudge says first clone has been born. And it's a girl.

Friday, December 27, 2002

I have no idea when -- or if -- humans will ever abolish war.

As a rather unfortunately lucky son of the tribe who gave the full meaning to the word Slavery I know well that it took centuries of seemingly hopeless effort to end slavery. But this much I do know: Voices that preach peace and democracy must never fall silent. They need to speak so loudly that they drown out those who clamor for war. Even if our species is not yet ready to end war, we must always be prepared to create a climate for peace.

Mother of Wishes & Quizes

My simple wish for 2003 only requires two things: A grain of imagination and a lot of courage. Let us find the courage to see each other face-to-face before we push the buttons. According to Slavic saying we'd better have at least a few political laughs before the year ends, so czech out a political quiz we had to have and then probe The Origin of Religions, From a Distinctly Darwinian View.
· A pair of partially nude Actors & Jokesters [San Francisco Chronicle]
· Social Science [NY Times]

Politics & Media Compilation of the most overhyped and underreported stories of the year.

Ah, the good old days. Now, that same trivia is mixed in with active disinformation being cynically fed by politicians from the White House down, self-interested corporations, and media that could know better if it only dared rock a boat now and then.
· Trivia [Eat the State]
· Stories [Sun Times]

The rich get off easy

The greatest burden of state tax falls upon those with the lowest incomes, while the rich get off easy. The solution? A major tax shift, replacing all or some of our extremely high, regressive sales tax with an income tax (which all but three other states have in some form). Neither a degree in economics nor a direct line to Miss Cleo was necessary to predict this conclusion.
· Miss Cleo [Eat The State]
· X at [Poor & Stupid]

What does it take to kill democracy? Would we know it when we saw it? Jackboots and swastikas aren't the only symbols of democracys fall. As Huey Long, a Louisiana politician, so presciently stated 70 years ago, ‘when fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the American flag.’
Had a time traveler arrived 30 years ago to foretell that a U.S. president would be appointed, not elected; that secret courts would review evidence against undesirables; that privacy rights would be gutted; and that collective bargaining rights for labor unions would be seriously challenged -- most Americans would have fought against this deterioration of their democracy.
· Democracy [Miami Herald]

For 100 years after the Constitution was ratified, various governmental entities led corporations around on leashes, like obedient puppies, canceling their charters promptly if they compromised the public good in any way. The leashes broke in 1886, the puppies got away, and the public good was increasingly compromised—until it was finally displaced altogether.
Today, the First Amendment protects the right of corporations-as-persons to finance political campaigns and to employ lobbyists, who then specify and redeem the incurred obligations. Democracy has been transformed into a crypto-plutocracy, and public policy is no longer crafted to serve the American people at large. It is shaped instead to maintain, protect, enhance or create opportunities for corporate profit.
· Corporate Personhood Is Doomed [Common Dreams]

Time to bond as vital to women as paid leave

In a striking development, a distinctive maternal feminism has emerged in the United States. An important seminar last October pulled together an unusual group - feminists, child advocates, mothers at home and work/family experts. Calling for an end to the "mummy wars" between women at home and women at work, the new maternal feminist movement is trying to achieve better conditions and recognition for mothers in both domains.
· A Time to Value [SMH]

Internet The descent of Trent Lott brings the rise of 'bloggers'

Walter Shapiro uses blogs - including ABC's The Note and Mickey Kaus's Kausfiles, to catch a whiff of the Washington zeitgeist. But he isn't quite ready to declare that the Lott story has ushered in a new media heirarchy. Like every revolution, blogging 'is overhyped on the way up, overscorned on the way down, and settles into the middle realm of reality.
· Lott of Bloggers [Boston]
· Lott More [Twin Cities]

iLiterature Where the trail goes cold like Morava River

In the post-cold war world, new political and cultural definitions are still struggling to emerge. The lone traveller, essentially an investigator of the strange other, seems a poor authority on the strangeness of what is happening on his own home turf. An uncertain global picture is best mirrored in different kinds of literature. In both British and American fiction, there has been a return to social realism: Zadie Smith, Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides are architects of cultural complexity. Popular history is part of this trend, too: an attempt to rediscover national and cultural identities through our own past. Better that than follow a wandering narrator around regions which may well have changed beyond recognition by the time his book comes out.
· Wandering Narrator & Exile [Prospect Magazine]

My Smashed Wrist put under the knife on 27 November 2002

Everyone who comes under the knife wants his surgeon to be as highly trained and as experienced as Dr Chris Blenkin: but how is the surgeon ever to come by that training and experience unless he practises on people while he is untrained and inexperienced?
Someone has to be operated on by tyros, even if they are under the supervision of more experienced surgeons.

· In the absence of certainty: tragedy, or triumph [Telegraph UK]

Light Side Fruit Cake

Everyone knows the holidays have their dark side. The underbelly of holiday cheer is the conflict and strife that arises during the pressure cooker that is Christmas, and one of the central points of conflict each December is the age-old debate over which controversial comestible best signifies the holiday spirit: eggnog or fruitcake?
Once again, it's time to choose up sides. Pick your poison.
· Dark Side [LA Times]

Thursday, December 26, 2002

I asked Tom if countries always apologized when they had done wrong, and he says, `Yes; the little ones does.’
- from Tom Sawyer Abroad by Mark Twain

A strong people do not need a government.
- Emiliano Zapata
· Group protests, or collective action, may have health benefits for participants. [Max Speaks]

Politics of Powerful & Media of Powerless The art of seeing-the-whole-story

The insightful Melanie McDonagh has a refreshingly clear view of one of the two 'Home Alone' items currently clogging up the media until some domestic or foreign disaster provides some real news such as this story.

In case you are unfamiliar with the story, a middle class mother in London somewhat deranged by depression walked out of her house, abandoning Rufus, her 12 year old child, leaving him to fend for himself. He managed to do so for two weeks before someone noticed and reported him to Social Services, in spite of his attempts to hide the fact of his mother's absence. It was the fact that Rufus tried to conceal his mother's dereliction which caught Melanie's eye.

There is one further element of this story that stands out. It's the villain. It's the thing that Rufus does everything to avoid, that looms in his imagination like some sort of nightmare. That is the fear that he will end up in the hands of Wandsworth social services. And I can't have been alone in feeling my spirits sink at the news that Rufus ends his adventure in the hands of social workers, to whom he's been turned in by the police, even though they pass him on to family friends rather than to an institution. It wasn't irrational fear that made him do anything to keep himself out of their hands. He'd been in care before - another thing that sets him apart from the other pupils at Emanuel School - for some months after his father died and his mother succumbed to depression.
· Rufus Polak [Telegraph UK]

The Season Of Giving For Corporate Welfare

Who says that our current government in Washington, D.C. is filled with hard-hearted grinches? When it comes to handouts for corporate sponsors, it is the politicians' season of giving.
· Carrtels [Tom Paine]
· Reward! For Information Leading To The Identification Of The Eli Lilly Bandit [Father Tom]
· Character matters: A Confederacy of Cronies [Mother Jones]

If, like me, you asked Santa for lots of good investigative reporting for this Festive Season, you won't be disappointed by this week's top pieces. Among them are a series by the Louisville Courier-Journal on gambling in Kentucky and Indiana. The paper found that "gambling-related thefts, embezzlements and bankruptcies are on the rise, as are calls to hot lines. And many families in the region are paying the price."
· Gambling [Courier Journal]

Just 48 wealthy Texas families paid more than half the cost of the key campaigns that convinced 2.6 million voters to solidify the Republican hold on state government in last month's elections. Those families gave $34 million of the $64 million used for top GOP statewide races. The top donor, Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, gave $3.8 million.
· Donor, & Not the Red Cross Type [Chronicle]

Frank Main and Carlos Sadovi of the Chicago Sun-Times have the lead piece in a two-part series called Crime, Inc., focusing on gangs and the mob in Chicago. You might expect a piece about violence, but instead Main and Sadovi report on an interesting aspect of gang life: working as "political foot soldiers" in city elections.
· Chicago, Moscow, Sydney [Sun Times]

Using National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data and a state database of speeding tickets, the Indianapolis Star found that the Indiana state police's "heaviest ticketing isn't always done where speeding drivers are killing people." State troopers issue more than half of their speeding tickets on interstate highways and the Indiana Toll Road, while "nearly 61 percent of the injuries and deaths from speeding accidents occur on the other two types of roads they regularly patrol -- state roads and U.S. highways." The paper talks to residents who live near areas where drivers speed but see little enforcement.
· Ticketing [Indystar]

War within a war: the press and the Pentagon

While the Iraqis may permit a handful of correspondents into Baghdad in the hope of manipulating them, most journalists will be attempting to cover the war from the American side. Thus many news organizations are setting funds aside for war coverage, suiting up their war reporters with flak jackets and chemical warfare outfits, and sending them to media boot camps being run by the Pentagon.
· Two major campaigns will be under way. [CS Monitor]

Why I Don't Watch Mainstream News
Student Activist Bemoans Dumbed-Down Media
I’m an activist, taking a stand on many issues, and I need to keep an open mind and be able to gather information from different points of view. So I think I should be paying more attention to the news, even if I just want to criticize it.
· Stream of Ideas [Tom Paine]

Internet Top online journalism stories of 2002

The phenomenon of do-it-yourself journalism, from eyewitness accounts to analysis from amateurs, gained new prominence in the past year, according to a Pew Internet & American Life Project study. Growing numbers of Americans seem to want to use the Internet to supplement the information they get from traditional media, and Weblogging has had the most noticeable impact. A slew of journalists are now sharing their thoughts on their own personal Weblogs -— but that’s old news. The biggest news was the widespread extent to which mainstream media organizations jumped on the blogging bandwagon – everyone from MSNBC.com to Salon joined the game. Here’s a rundown of all the major media blogs, plus a look at the journalists blogging on their own. And a look back at reports on Weblogging as journalism in The Weblog Blog.
· First Draft [CyberJournalist.net]

Internet Free Speech -- Virtually

The Internet creates a veil of separation between you and other people. Don't be misled by the fact that you're sitting in a room, behind a locked door, at your computer. There's ways to find out who you are.
· Legal Constraints on Web Journals Surprise Many 'Bloggers' [WASHIGTON Post]

Image Conscious

I believe in the failure of reason. But that doesn't mean people have no responsibility for who they are. Things happen -- you know, the Holocaust, cruel parents, things like the Triangle Shirtwaist fire. We can't control the circumstances -- those are God's -- but people are responsible for who they become. Happiness is not something one finds, but makes.

Which means -- what? That America is the promised land? The end of a (death) sentence that began in Europe, or further back, by the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down and wept? That no text, not even a simple map, is wholly profane? Yes. America is where you can become what you want to be. Wilhelm becomes Bill; Leora's soccer-playing boyfriend, Jason, becomes diamond-cutting Yehuda. And yes, it is the end of a sentence if not all sentences, the place where a blank slide, a missing picture -- hers and Bill's memories of Naomi, her confusion over the gaps of logic so prevalent in the contemporary world -- is finally revealed to Leora as an empty canvas, waiting for her.
· Promised Image [Killingthebuddha]
· The most recent entry 13 Dec. about his love of Chicago bookstores [Identitytheory]
· Preservation and persistence of the changing book [FutureoftheBook]
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
- P. J. O'Rourke

Last decade’s optimism has given way to uncertainty and apprehension and this poem reflects the sentiments of the season.

A Boxing Day Poem: 'Twas A Fright At The White House

We don’t need a tax break, they shouted in chorus.
We just need a White House that does something for us.

· Last Poem [Tom Paine]
Yes, Virginia, Blitzen is a girl!

Re: Rudolph had to be a girl
Date: 24 December 2002
Sir - In reply to your correspondent who wanted to know if Rudolph was a cross dresser (Dec. 21), according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter.
Female reindeer retain their antlers until after they give birth in the spring.
Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen, had to be a girl.
We should have known. Only women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night and not get lost.
J Evans,
Chichester, W Sussex

It's a sad day when petrol costs less than beer... and contains more alcohol.
Ada Lim
Sydney, NSW

· A Very Corporate Christmas

Perhaps this Christmas....

We have a lot to be humble about, but we also have cause for hope. There is a growing chorus, not just of angels, but of ordinary folk, singing ‘Peace on Earth’, calling for an end to killing, terrorism, torture and war, and trying to change the ways we talk about one another and treat one another.
· Dreams [CommonDreams]

Politics Let's cut to the heart, head and soul of the matter - better opposition

Carmen Lawrence may have taken a back seat, but she is well out in front of her colleagues.
· Sit back and reflect on the year that was [SMH]
· And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? [SMH]

Reclaiming Our Courage

It's hard to maintain hope when greed and fear seem to hold all the cards. Despite Bush's mangled phrases, the political operatives who surround him are as ruthless and cunning as any in recent memory. Some of them believe they're taking orders from God. Others are simply playing the political game. Either way, they'll do whatever they can to maintain and increase their power. With the help of a compliant media and a fearful and distracted populace, they may even temporarily prevail. But ultimately they'll succeed only if those of us who embrace more humane visions give up in despair.
· Imrich comes out out of a Spell Czech as 'Embrace' [WorkingforChange]

Winning the cash dash
I do not regard the Australian or the Tele as in the same business as the Sydney Morning Herald. However, an author of this story used to write for the Herald and some good journalistic habits fail to die easily even under moronship of editors.

Max Moore-Wilton is just the latest in a long series of business-government exchanges where senior bureaucrats or politicians leave the public payroll and take up a corporate salary. Consultancy – particularly in the area where a minister has worked – is the usual path, and the more senior the politician the more likely it is that they will establish their own business. If you shake any major financial institution or business lobby you are likely to end up with a parliamentary handbook of former MPs, staffers and bureaucrats.
· Consulting Insults [The Australian]


One of the most striking trends in American politics in recent years has been the steady escalation in niceness coming from the White House. The baseline was set by Johnson and Nixon, who were, dispositionally, at the historical norm. Then there was Jimmy Carter, who had a kind of Sunday-school-teacher bonhomie (although one suspects that, on the eve of the White House Christmas party, he spent a little too much time working out who had been naughty and who had been nice).
· White House [New Yorker]

The Book Lives

I' m neither rich nor sure who started the rumor, it may have been Dunny Byrnes or, more probably, Garry Willy (sic), but somewhere in the middle of the twentieth century, people came to believe that books were doomed. The future belonged to film and television, it was assumed, the prevailing media in an increasingly visual age: Queen Victoria read books and tax rulings, but we will watch video screens.
· Cold Reality [Weekly Standard]

Internet Thing.net Booted From The Web

As reported in a story in today's New York Times, Thing.net, which hosts a variety of pushing-the-edge artists and activists, was in danger of being shut down for controversial works. Early this morning a release arrived from Thing.net saying it had been booted off the web.
· Booted [Thing.net]

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Sentiments of the Season 2002 That’s Xmas, with an X
Hangovers, weight gain and sunburn. There's no escaping the axis of summer holiday evil, unless you are extremely self-disciplined or a party-pooper. Of course, the food and drink can be a lot of fun, especially when you're surrounded by the best of friends and family.

Lenin the bald-head Marxist
Had a very nasty foe
He was opposed by royalty
So of course they had to go (bang bang bang)

All of the evil bourgeois
Used to sneer and call him mad
They never let poor Lenin
Put in place his strategy for implementing a nationwide struggle to wrench the means of production from the parasites’ grasp and thrust it into the proud, eager hands of the proletariat to build a future in which all were equal and rhymes were the forgotten legacy of a debauched capitalist system! (Sung very quickly, with great anger)

Then one snowy October
Hist’ry came to say
Lenin with your theories great
Won’t you seal our cent’ry’s fate?

Then all the masses loved him
As they shouted out with glee
Lenin the bald-head Marxist
You’ll save us from Christ - mas - Treeeees!

· Treeeees [Lileks]
· Marx after communism [The Economist]

George Orwell

It still gratifies us today to read George Orwell: we feel ennobled by him. He was a complex man, and thus never an entirely honest one...
· Honesty [Boston]

Literature, Truth Nothing ... Reading in the Dark

Authored by Richard B. Woodward and published in The Village Voice, this article takes a look at the state of book reviewing in the U.S. today. Woodward is not very positive about the state of the art. This is an interesting article that shows that not all reviews are created equal and that some are more equal than others. It is worth reading just to get a taste of how the book reviewing world operates.
· Wood & Words & Truth of Fire [Village Voice]

Life Giving up the Ghost

Childhood was a sort of gulag for me, just as exile is for others. Few people acted with malice towards me, bar Ian F. and Michelle M. ... It was just that I was unsuited to being a child, or an exile.

· Childhood = Exile [LRB]

Internet Build a Better website

Ninety percent of Internet sites miss the point. They focus on the flashiness of the technology and not on the ease of navigation.
· web sites [Business2]

Spoiled Bra(t)s Where Rudeness Is A Status Symbol?

Bad behavior among politicians who have any power, is rarely punished. Same attitudes and rules seem to apply to Hollywood executives. In Hollywood and in many Parliaments people seem to confuse rudeness with power. People think that being rude and demeaning is somehow a show of importance when, to me, it just suggests that you're dealing with a lot of spoiled brats whose mommies didn't give them enough time-outs.
· Crime & Punishment I [Los Angeles Times]

Constituents of Trouble Makers

When Waverley police and a beach gang dubbed the Bra Boys, the Bra standing for the last three letters of Maroubra, decided to hold functions on the same night at Coogee RSL Club, it became the ultimate Christmas bash.
· Crime & Punishment II [SMH]

Philosophy has fallen on hard times.

Despite important developments in recent decades in philosophical accounts of thought and meaning, law and ethics, and knowledge and consciousness, the enterprise of philosophy is no longer taken very seriously nor accorded any special status in the broader culture.
Ayer’s philandering, Foucault’s gay sex, Arendt’s affairs. Why bother with hard analysis when cheap moralizing will do?
· Philosophers’ gossip [Boston]
Happy Xmas (War, Divorce, Is Over)

So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Xmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Xmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Xmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Xmas
And what have we done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so happy Xmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
War is over, if you want it
War is over now

Happy Xmas

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) by Yoko Ono and John Lennon

Czechoslovakia 10 years after

Driven by European integration, Prague and Bratislava establish their strongest ties since the Velvet Divorce.
· Velvet Divorce [Prague Post]
I've been spacey all day today. I keep reading and hearing things wrong. I keep going into rooms and then forgetting why I'm there. We have just moved; and it is called SEA CHANGE.

Publishing Peter Olson Is Really Two People

Olson's dispatches the last couple years have followed this formula: He congratulates Random House employees on achieving miracles the previous year, then predicts a dark time for the coming one. When the next December rolls around, he rinses and repeats, exulting in the great achievements of Random House the prior year (the same year for which he once foresaw such gloominess) and reverts to the we're-bleeding talk for the coming twelve months.
· Random [PW]

Secret history of Prague

Prague's mystical side is one of its major attractions, but it was a specific incident several years ago that first prompted Kuchar to consider compiling what he calls the city's secret history. A tourist expressed great interest in the building in which Kuchar lives, pointing out that Max Brod, the man who edited Franz Kafka's work and an important figure in 1930s intellectual circles, had lived there. The knowledgeable traveler pointed out the window of Brod's flat -- Kuchar's very own window.

The coincidence intrigued him. Kuchar took it as a sign and decided to investigate further. "The best way to find out about something is to write about it," he says.
· Mysteries [Prague Post]

Politics Thatcher

Communism was defeated in our lifetime - defeated above all
through the efforts of that great American president, my friend Ronald Reagan. His name will be remembered for as long as there are men and women on this earth who value their liberty and honour those who secure it.
· Cold War [CapitalR]

Conservatives vs liberals.

It is more a matter perhaps of instinct than reason, of jocks vs freaks in a schoolyard. For all that, the gulf bedevils public discourse.
· What defines the political debate [NY Times]

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Unsold soul of Antipodean Carmen

This year I got to meet my newest hero.

Carmen Lawrence opens her new Web Diary column by saying her frontbench resignation released a wave of pent up anger among the party faithful.

'Spirited' is the word I would use to describe this collection of articles by Carmen in which she pours all the hot water she can boil over the Heartless & Mindless apparatchicks for what she regards as a naked political assault on the powerless.
· Woman of the Powerless [Webdiary]
Literature Can Clancy, King, Grisham et al survive?

Three things in life used to be thought certain: death, taxes, and that Stephen King would sell a lot of books and sole survivors like Jozef Imrich, a.k.a. Impoor, none at all.

Of course, the book world (like other worlds) has changed utterly. America, post 9/11, has a new set of dreams and nightmares. With queues for smallpox vaccination, and citizens opening their Xmas (Anthraxmas?) cards, gas masks at the ready, the old stories just don't have the same thrill. In Prey (warmed-over Jurassic Park) a hive of computer-generated insects (cyberbugs) escape from a laboratory. Havoc, death, destruction, yawn.

Red Herring: last time I czeched,sitting down with a reporter from The New York Times for a profile was not a very effective way of remaining anonymous and unnoticed.
· Escape Beyond Cold River [Guardian UK]
· How do you manage to attract 100 million loyal readers worldwide? [Times UK]

Death & Taxes

Congress has always needed to know how much revenue would be lost by cutting taxes or raised by increasing them. In the 1920s, it established the Joint Committee on Taxation to estimate the revenue effects of tax changes. Historically, these calculations were made by accountants using adding machines. They simply looked at the most recent year for which tax data existed, and recalculated revenues as
if a proposed tax bill had been in effect at the time.

By necessity, therefore, revenue estimates were done on a static basis. That is, they assumed no changes whatsoever in the economy or taxpayer behavior. Estimators knew that this method produced inaccurate calculations of how tax changes would really affect federal revenues. Obviously, people will alter their behavior if their tax situation changes, and the overall economy may be affected as well. But until the 1970s, the tools to do a better job just did not exist.
· Calculations of how tax changes [National Review](Link provided by Terje Petersen)
· Tax the Poor! [Slate]
· Property taxes: Measuring your pain [NJ]

Sadness of Life A history of pernicious sadness

It is summary of the myriad theories of what causes melancholia, how it manifests itself, and how it has been dealt with over the centuries. There are thoughts about some of the medications that are currently used to try to bring Smith and others like him out of the worst of depression. Finally, there are descriptions of famous melancholics --- people like Sylvia Plath, Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark), Isaac Newton, Martin Luther, St. Paul, Charles Darwin, William and Henry James, Henry Adams, and Herman Melville.
· Mur [This piece is dedicated to managers who fail to win any popularity contests. There aren’t many managers who are not turning to drugs in order to cope ...]
· The Heavy Cost of Chronic Stress [NY Times.]

Politics Prostitutes and addicts: Politics as usual

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Well, I don't know if they will or not. You know, this is a very addictive system. It's so much easier to raise money in hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars than in one thousand-dollar or two thousand-dollar contributions. But I think they're tired of it. There was recent comments by Senator Zell Miller of Georgia where he said after a period of fund raising he felt like a prostitute after a busy day.

BILL MOYERS: Can a government run by prostitutes and addicts claim to be legitimate?
· Public interest is not served; the special interests are [Working For Change]

For Milan Kundera the truth of the human condition is found not in pompous horizons of public life, but in the intricate folds of families.
· Laughter and Forgetting [New Republic]

Politics Trent Lott Hit A Real Nerve. The Other Senators Just Fawned.

Trent Lott is getting the drubbing he deserves. But what about the other Senators who fawned over Strom Thurmond during his retirement party? Note: Strom mean tree in Slavic.
· Bad Lott [Tom Paine]

History Story of nation's birth turns spiteful

The controversy over historian Keith Windschuttle's book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History is heating up in Australia, as commentators in the nation's leading newspapers are adding their opinions to the mix.

Reputations have been attacked, insults traded, legal action threatened. It could seem excessive until you consider what is at stake. This is a battle over the story of how a nation came into being.
· Blowing Bad, Bad, Wind? [The Age]
· I'll sue the bastard: Scholars clash over claim of 'soft plagiarism' [Sydney Morning Herald]

Internet Telecoms Do not want you to read this

A new Internet service means you don't need the phone company anymore.

A new service called Vonage makes using your telephone over the Internet as easy as picking up the phone and dialing. You simply plug the same phone you have now into a little adapter box that connects to your DSL or cable modem (OK, through a router and then to your modem), and you get a dial tone. That's it. There are no special phones to use, no talking through a PC using a microphone, no weird lag time or decrease in call quality. Technically, you don't even need a computer to use Vonage—all you need is a broadband connection. And you can even keep your phone number. All of which adds up to something important: Vonage is the first Internet telephone service that could credibly replace your regular phone line. It turns your telephone into just another Internet application, like e-mail or instant messenger.
· Bon Vonage, Baby Bells [Slate]
· Mac Users: How I Caught a Counterfeiter with a Little Help from my Friends [Remodern]
· ascinating story revealing that older MPs are more savvy Internet users than younger ones. [BBC]

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Bad News Old Testament prophet

In June of 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered a harsh critique of the lifestyle of the West in a commencement at Harvard University. The 59-year-old Nobel Laureate, in words reminiscent of an Old Testament prophet, denounced not the Soviet system which we have been exposed to in numerous writings, but his new home, Western society. Since the speech was delivered by one of the foremost literary scholars and Russian dissidents of the day, many Americans, including the President, took serious note of the message.

Solzhenitsyn called his Harvard speech, The World Demands from the U.S. a Spiritual Blaze. He stated that a decline in courage may be the most striking feature an outside observer notices in the West today. He noted that, in ancient times, a decline in courage pointed out the beginning of the end for a culture. The habitual well-being guaranteed by the state does not encourage the rigorous self-denial needed to defend one's country. He further pointed out that our legalistic system has blinded us to voluntary self-restraint for the moral good, because everything is defined in great detail by the law: Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man's noblest impulses.

He stressed that it will be impossible to bear up to the trials of this threatening century with nothing but the support of a legalistic structure devoid of moral absolutes. He stressed that to defend oneself, one must first be ready to die. There is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being.

Solzhenitsyn concluded that our rationalistic humanism, the proclaimed autonomy of modern Western man from any higher force above him, is failing. He pointed out that because Western civilization worships man and his material needs, everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods is left out. All our heralded achievements cannot redeem the moral poverty of twentieth century Western man. He closed by saying that the fulfillment of one's life should be the experience of moral growth, to leave life a better human being than one started it.

Good News Banishing Armageddon

Wars and rumors of wars, famine, drought, floods, plagues and pestilence - it's all beginning to feel a bit apocalyptic. This rhetoric of disorder, depravity and decadence is the lingua franca of faith communities. It expresses the doctrinal need to balance their bleak explanations of original sin with promises of rapturous redemption. The imagery of Armageddon has a dangerous evangelical quality which is liable to be used by warmongers to provide sacred authority to their secular enterprise.

It is time for a doctrinal regime change. There is nothing remotely apocalyptic about the present time. Rather, we are on the cusp of a most exciting and hopeful era, the age of enablement.

For millennia the man in the street, the woman in the field, the child down the mine, the publicans, sinners and invalids were collateral in the grand schemes of the high and mighty. Gradually they have been manumitted; the slaves are free, women vote, young people have a childhood and a charter, the mentally unstable given a place, the disabled access.

At home, a new social infrastructure is being put in place as the excluded take on ownership, through small-scale initiatives, with buddies, mentors, citizen advocates, careworkers, outreach, mediation services, personal advisers, community clinics, credit unions, grassroots multi-agencies. This is serious social capital and its "interest" is exponential. If Christ had been born this Christmas, it is unlikely that his parents would have had to seek sanctuary in a stable. There might not have been room at the inn, but there would have been many alternative refuges.
· Social Capital [Guardian UK]
Europe Doing the Continental

A europhile, but not quite to the bone.
· Spying on Cultures [Spectator]

Poetry I have my poems

I have my poems.
Poor old Bukowski; he didn’t keep copies.
Won’t happen to me.
My poems are baby spiders, on the Web
waiting for the vibrations
of a frantic fly.
And that’s why
Jonny Smackhead, you can steal my laptop
but you can’t steal my poems.
They stay with me.
I have my poems.

I have my poems.
I can shoot you with a poem.
The poem
makes two fingers and a thumb into a gun. Ts, ts.
“Mum! The reader won’t die!”
You can’t get to me any more.
A bullyproof vest, my poems
protect me.
You can keep your sport, your walks,
ice cream, streetwalkers, ambition at work:
I have my poems.

· Vibrations [ABCTales]

Internet Gutnik: Australian ruling is raising worries

A number of concerned First Amendment advocates say a landmark libel decision by the Australian High Court may have the effect of erecting a fence on the borderless information frontier opened up by Internet technology.
· Borderless information frontier [Boston Globe]

Media US media retain their liberal bias

There are many ironies regarding the seemingly political bias. But, ism it one of the great political myths? Most reporters don't know whether they're Republican or Democrat, and vote every which way.... And also, let me say that I don't think that `liberal' or `conservative' means very much any more.
· Ironies [Boston Globe 2]
· Second Draft Salvo: Historians in bitter plagiarism dispute [The Age]

Arts Over The Hill At 30

Turn 30 in Hollywood, and your career is all but over. And we're not just talking actors and actresses. Writers too. Hollywood once had a notorious blacklist of political radicals; today it has a greylist of 'oldies'. A producer of the ABC sitcom Spin City is on the record as saying that writers over 29 were deliberately not hired. Some writers complain they cannot find an agent once they pass 50, making it almost impossible to present scripts.
· Oldies [The Globe & Mail (Canada)]


My eldest son, who is a smart aleck lawyer, calls the National Lottery a fool’s tax. I call it great fun and I play the game of buy, dream and check the numbers.
The Scottish Arts Council alone has invested £170 million in arts facilities and activities up and down the country, not just for flagship buildings, but for dozens of musical instruments, children’s workshops and skills training. Now Scots are being asked if the money's going to the right places...
· Fool’s tax [Scotsman]

Ivan Klíma: A humble giant's wisdom

He is one of the most widely translated Czech writers, yet one cannot help being struck by his modesty. A small man with a quiet voice, he will win you over with his clearly formulated, original opinions.
· Opinions [Prague-Tribune]
· In the morning hours of August 21, 1968, the Soviet army invaded Czechoslovakia. [History]

Tuesday, December 17, 2002

History Message from Vaclav Havel

In my lifetime, my country experienced two situations whose consequences turned out to be far-reaching, deep and long-lasting. The first of them was the Munich capitulation when two principal European democracies, supposedly in the interest of peace, yielded to Hitler's pressure and allowed him to dismember the then Czechoslovakia.

They did not save any peace at all. On the contrary: Hitler took their conduct in Munich as the final indication that he was free to unleash a bloody European war, and eventually a world war. I believe that the greater part of my fellow citizens join me in perceiving the Munich experience as evidence in favor of the belief that evil should be resisted as soon as it is born.

We have also had another experience - the occupation by the Warsaw Pact States in 1968. At that time the entire nation reiterated the word 'sovereignty', cursing the official Soviet interpretation that the intervention was an act of 'brotherly help' offered in the name of a value that ranked higher than national sovereignty - in the name of socialism that was allegedly endangered in our country, which allegedly meant a danger to the prospects for a better life for the human race.

Almost everyone in our country knew that the sole objective was to preserve Soviet domination and economic exploitation, but millions of people in the Soviet Union probably believed that the sovereignty of our State was being suppressed in the name of a higher human value.
· Havel’s Wisdom [SMH Webdiary]
· Most Inspiring Person of 2002 [Belief]

Where have all the flowers gone?

We need to remember in Australia where we started and what was thought of authority in 1788. We need to remember what authority did to the Aborigines. We need to remember refugees and all the other people who came to Australia to escape authority. We are right to be sceptical of authority. This is core for us and we know where we have authority. Don't mess with us, the Aussie people. We are ALL refugees from authority in one form or another.
· Gulag Archipelago, Volume VI. The Creeping Erosion - A Sequel? [SMH Webdiary]

Society The age of manipulation

All around us are signs of our rejection of authority.
The therapeutic mentality that urges total revelation and fulfilling our needs and desires reduces others to mere obstacles in path to happiness. Get rid of them.
· Authority [Spiked]

On being happy
The happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don't care about keeping up with the Joneses next door, lose themselves in daily activities and, most important, forgive easily.
Materialism is toxic for happiness.
· What makes people happy? [USA Today]

Story Well Told From Morning Glory to Gory Reality: Sex For Dummies

I developed a rash and a severe case of medical students’ disease – when a medical student becomes convinced they have whatever illness they’re currently studying. It just appeared out of nowhere and itched so much I could barely sleep. I applied my recently obtained knowledge in an effort to diagnose myself.
· Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts [The Morning News]

Monday, December 16, 2002

Do not follow where the path may lead ... go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

History Cold War archive
His Story: Frankly, They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. (Benjamin Franklin)
· Raw Cold War [Learning Curve of Imre Kertész]

Politics The Agitating Lott
Basically sums up feelings of those who know too well how political sausages are made.
· Lott [The Agitator]

Getting Chemical?

The Bush administration has received a credible report that Islamic extremists affiliated with al Qaeda took possession of a chemical weapon (smallpox) in Iraq last month or late in October.

There's the dog-poking problem. Let's say you take a nasty, vicious dog who has never bothered you personally. Then you take a stick. As you poke the dog, it becomes more and more likely that the cur will attack you--at which point you'll have to shoot it. You'll be justified in shooting the leaping, slavering, fanged attack dog, even if it would have been best if you'd never poked the dratted thing in the first place.
· Saddam and Al Qa'eda [Eve Tushnet]
· Mohammed Atta in Prague [This is London]

From Maxwell to Gutnik: Sue
David Hooper explains in Reputations Under Fire: London has become known to many foreign forum-shoppers as a town named Sue - a place where you can launder your reputation on the basis of a few sales in the UK of some overseas publication. Publishers would have to take account of the law of every land on Earth. This was a trick used by the late Mirror Group boss Robert Maxwell, who used England's libel law to sue the New Republic - a journal with fewer than 135 subscribers in the UK compared to a circulation of 98,000 in the USA.
· Good Gut Feeling of Down Under [Spiked: a crying shame]
· Good Akademonic Logic [OLO & Professor]

Shackling the opposition

Admitting he is breaking political rules, John Reid, the new Labour party chairman, used his first major speech in the job not to talk about his party, but to lecture the Conservative party on how to survive.
· Ideas [BBC]
· Guts [Spectator]

The Problem Of Thinking Too Much...
For most of us, the problem would seem to be not thinking enough. But it can go the other way. According to one scholar, overthinking can sometimes be worse than not thinking at all. The real difficulty is knowing when to stop thinking and go with your gut. Too many eminent & demonic akademics seem to refuse heed this advice.
· Decisions, decisions... How to stop thinking [Boston Globe]
· Blairingly Odd Vanity Thinking: Your pleasure is my purpose [Times London]

Literature Half-Plated
E. Annie Proulx, winner of a Pulitzer for The Shipping News, wrote a story five years ago called The Half-Skinned Steer. John Updike selected it as one of the best stories of the 20th century.

The girlfriend started a story, Yeah, there was this guy named Tin Head down around Dubois when my dad was a kid. Had a little ranch, some horses, cows, kids, a wife. But there was something funny about him. He had a metal plate in his hand from falling down some cement driveway.
· Falling off the bike [Atlantic]

Internet Human or Computer? Take This Test

On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog,” says a famous joke. But can one tell that you’re a real human being, and not another computer? Ah, well.
· Dr Turin [NY Times]

Mysteries of Life Hands, knees and bumps-a-daisy

What makes an ideal husband? Every woman needs a man. But how to choose? Is he dark or fair? Is the form of his nose sharp, melancholy, or refined?
· Ear lobes tell a story [Guardian]
· What's the secret to a happy marriage? [SunTimes]

Life Cigarettes better than sex?

Nearly 80 percent of British smokers, almost 70 percent in the Netherlands, France and Germany and more than 55 percent in Belgium and Spain would forgo sex rather than live without cigarettes for a month.
· Smoke v Fire [CNN]

Nathan Vass a.k.a. Pritikin?
You don't remember Euell Gibbons? Here's a taste: Without going more than a half mile from the house, I saw, identified and recorded more than sixty species of plants good for human food and several of these had more than one edible part.
He's dead.