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Ethel the Blog
Observations (and occasional brash opining) on science, computers, books, music and other shiny things that catch my mind's eye. There's a home page with ostensibly more permanent stuff. This is intended to be more functional than decorative. I neither intend nor want to surf on the bleeding edge, keep it real, redefine journalism or attract nyphomaniacal groupies (well, maybe a wee bit of the latter). The occasional cheap laugh, raised eyebrow or provocation of interest are all I'll plead guilty to in the matter of intent. Bene qui latuit bene vixit.

The usual copyright stuff applies, but I probably won't get enraged until I find a clone site with absolutely no attribution (which, by the way, has happened twice with some of my other stuff). Finally, if anyone's offended by anything on this site then please do notify me immediately. I like to keep track of those times when I get something right.


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"When they say, 'Gee it's an information explosion!', no, it's not an explosion, it's a disgorgement of the bowels is what it is. Every idiotic thing that anybody could possibly write or say or think can get into the body politic now, where before things would have to have some merit to go through the publishing routine, now, ANYTHING." - Harlan Ellison

Old pals Rumsy and Saddam

Other stuff of mild interest to some:
unusual literature
scientific software blog
physical oceanography glossary
computer-related tutorials and texts

Friday, June 02, 2000

National Academy Press (of the National Academies) has made available online issues of its quarterly Issues in Science and Technology stretching back to Fall 1996. Typical articles include:
posted by Steven Baum 6/2/2000 11:29:44 AM | link

Topology Atlas contains, as you might guess, information about topology. Several folks offer useful overviews of topology. Useful features include Ask a Topologist, a preprint archive (most definitely not for the layperson!), invited survey on special topics (also quite advanced), course lecture notes, and the obligatory related links.
posted by Steven Baum 6/2/2000 10:01:00 AM | link

Having over 150 of the sumbitches myself, I was most pleased to find
Howard Besser's T-Shirt Database. The details:
This database has been constructed by Howard Besser's library school students using cataloging instructions, with technical assistance from the Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE and design assistance from Masako Sho. There are 533 t-shirts in the database. See also Howard's 1996 Ann Arbor TShirt Exhibition.

You can search through the database using specific terms like (surprise!) dog, book and music, or see a list of all subjects.

If I weren't meant to wear t-shirts and hiking shorts at all times, then I wouldn't live in a sauna. In the last five years, I've probably worn shorts (other than the week I spend in Ohio every Christmas) all but maybe two or three weeks. Today I'm wearing an enduring classic from the folks at OpenBSD:

OpenBSD t-shirt

posted by Steven Baum 6/2/2000 09:33:52 AM | link

Thursday, June 01, 2000

Some of the most convincing evidence linking anthropogenic increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to increased global average temperatures comes from glacier measurements. The numbers and other gory details for over 67,000 glaciers around the world can be found in the
World Glacier Inventory at the NSIDC. The World Glacier Monitoring Service also keeps track of these things, issuing yearly reports such as Fluctuations of Glaciers and Glacier Mass Balance Bulletin.

Most of the glaciers around the world are indeed shrinking, some more and faster than others. The most dramatic evidence I've yet seen is a series of pictures of the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand taken over a 14-year period from 1951 to 1964. Since the original NSIDC site containing the pictures chooses not to show them all on one page, I will:

Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Snowball Earth
Other well-known examples of retreating glaciers include the Mer de Glace in Chamonix, France, the Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada, and various glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana.
posted by Steven Baum 6/1/2000 04:07:09 PM | link

Useful sites for those who don't want to be unfashionably late in their preparations for
hurricane season: And if you want to scare yourself shitless with half-assed speculations, then I'd recommend Mother of Storms by John Barnes which, while exhibiting the usual lack of character development one expects in the genre, does a pretty good job of explaining the science in laymen's terms. Barnes' speculations were largely based on research by Kerry Emanuel, at whose page you can find his latest research as well as a simple numerical model for hurricanes you can grab and play with.
posted by Steven Baum 6/1/2000 10:11:59 AM | link

There are two kinds of bloggers: those who categorize bloggers and those who don't. I'm in the latter category, of course.
posted by Steven Baum 6/1/2000 09:46:47 AM |

Wednesday, May 31, 2000

The closest thing Texas has to an EPA is the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission - abbreviated TNRCC and usually just pronounced as "Trainwreck." It was established in 1991 to monitor air quality and grant state permits for new refineries, chemical and industrial plants, and landfills. One of Shrub's first actions as newly elected governor of Texas in 1995 was to rid Trainwreck of its three appointees by the previous governor. He replaced them with a flunky from the Texas Farm Bureau (which, while purportedly speaking for Texas farmers, is really not much more than a large insurance company with a portfolio loaded with agricultural chemical stocks), a man who'd worked with Monsanto chemical for 30 years before becoming a lobbyist for the Texas Chemical Council (a chemical industry promotion group), and a fire-breathing evangelist who's slotted to become the next head of the EPA should Bush win in November (whose first act in his previous job had been to dismantle a program for posting signs in pesticide-sprayed fields for the safety of the farmworkers).

Highlights of the new Trainwreck crew's first months on the job included spending tens of thousands of dollars lobbying against the new federal air-quality health standards enacted in 1997, and attempting to vastly reduce public participation in its "public" hearings. The latter policy was challenged in court by a grain farmer in the Panhandle who opposed a permit granted to build a corporate hog farm across the road from his house. (Believe me, I grew up 3 miles away from a hog barn an order of magnitude smaller than the one they wanted to build, and when the wind blew the wrong way it was hogshit hell downwind. And I was even somewhat used to the smell having raised the critters for several years.) He got a court order to reopen the hearings, although Trainwreck has recently published rules attempting an end-around of the court order to close the hearings again.

This troika - despite their vehemently anti-environment and pro-business inclinations - decided in 1996 to deal with the problem of the refineries, utilities, and chemical and industrial plants that had been "grandfathered" past the 1971 Texas Clean Air Act. The exemption was meant at the time to give the older polluters up to five additional years to come up to the new pollution standards. Almost 30 years later those same 850 grandfathered plants produce more than a third of the state's total air pollution. What probably finally moved the Trainwreck three to action was that every major metropolitan area in the state has exceeded (or soon will) EPA air pollution standards, where noncompliance means a loss of federal highway funds and tighter restrictions on some businesses. For example, Houston has beaten L.A. two years running for the "worst air pollution" award.

So what did the Green Governor do just as Trainwreck was about to take action against the worst offenders? After his "environmental director" warned him in 1997 that those tree-huggers in Trainwreck were "moving too quickly" and "may rashly seek legislation this session," Shrub called two oil company presidents (i.e. Dad's old cronies) and asked them to outline a voluntary program for the grandfathered polluters. These two nature worshippers in turn convened a meeting of two dozen industry representatives at Exxon's corporate headquarters in Houston (catered with sparkling mineral water and oxygen from out of state), at which point they handed them an outline of the voluntary emissions reduction program, i.e. told them to shut up and sign it.

In 1999, two years after the handiwork of those two oil company presidents had been the unofficial law of the land, Shrub moved to have it written into law. The bill, written for Shrub by an energy and utility company lobbyist, was a joke. Every newspaper in the state (in a state where liberal dailies are as common as hen's teeth) ran editorials angrily denouncing the proposed legislation. The bill proposed that the companies use ten-year-old pollution control technology - as opposed to the Best Available Control Technology usually specified - and that even the use of that would be voluntary. The bill passed.

The upshot is - that nearly three decades after 850 companies had been grandfathered out of pollution abatement - that 28 of them have come up with voluntary plans to reduce pollution, and 3 of them have actually done so. Oh, and the companies that had participated in the industry confab in Houston contributed $260,000 to his 1988 gubernatorial campaign (during which he never led by less than 25%), and another $240,000 to his presidential campaign within a month of the formation of his "exploratory committee."

It is exactlly this legislation that is trumpeted by Shrub and his handlers as proof of his deep concern for environmental issues. That's right. This is what supposedly makes Georgie Green, while in the real world the only green he sees is the mountain of cash poured upon him by the polluters in every other state who want the same sweet, sweet deal he cut in Texas.

As a matter of fact, a recent planned secret meeting between the Bush mafia and regulators and industry representatives from 17 states at a hotel in Detroit was canceled when the Detroit News ran an article on it. The chair of Trainwreck was to be the chief Bush representative, but canceled after the story leaked, as did the representatives from all but 4 states.

This was compiled from recent stories in the Texas Observer, one of which was itself excerpted from Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" by Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose.
posted by Steven Baum 5/31/2000 11:26:32 PM | link

On April 29 the
Washington Post published a story by Vernon Loeb called "Soviets knew date of Cuba attack." The article dealt with the full declassification of a June 1961 special report on the Bay of Pigs invasion written by General Maxwell Taylor. The gist of the report was, according to James K. Galbraith in the May 26 Texas Observer:
The Russians knew the date of the invasion. Therefore, Castro also knew. The Central Intelligence Agency, headed by Allen Dulles, knew that the Russians knew. (Therefore, the CIA knew the invasion would fail.) The leak did not come from the invasion force; it had happened before the Cuban exiles were themselves briefed on the date. Kennedy was not informed. Nor, of course, were the exiles. And knowing all this, Dulles ordered the operation forward.
Why did Dulles do this? He was trying to force Kennedy into a full-scale invasion of Cuba.

On April 17, 1961, approximately 1,300 members of a CIA-supported counter-revolutionary Cuban exile brigade attempted to invade Cuba. They were quickly trapped on a beach by Castro's military forces attacking them from land and the air. At this point, Dulles and his deputies demanded that President Kennedy - who had canceled an air strike to take down Castro's air force just before the attempted invasion - order a direct U.S. military intervention, i.e. reauthorize the air strike. Everything up to here is in the standard accounts. Galbraith adds a detail not widely known:

The histories don't tend to mention something else: there were landing craft full of Marines offshore, waiting for the order to go in. (How do I know? I know someone who was on one.)
If Kennedy had followed the advice of Dulles, the several boatloads of Marines would have followed the exile brigade ashore and also been captured. There simply weren't enough of them to overcome the much larger Cuban forces. This would have led to U.S. Marines being paraded through the streets of Havana along with the exile brigade, a sight that would almost certainly have precipitated the full-scale invasion so desperately desired by Dulles.

Kennedy refused the advice and later, with Taylor's report in hand, forced the resignation of Dulles. A 1962 report from the CIA Inspector General's office came to the same conclusion as Taylor, yet was ignored by a cabal of high officials who instead chose to spread the rumour that Kennedy's "chickening out" on the air support was the only thing that kept the invasion from being a success. That rumour is believed to this day by the anti-Castro Cuban exiles in South Florida, and comprises a large part of the mythology that's driven them insane enough to think that keeping a small boy from his father is going to topple Castro.

A postscript to this sordid tale involves, appropriately enough, Nixon during the nascent moments of Watergate in 1972. According to H. R. Haldeman's 1979 memoir The Ends of Power, Nixon blackmailed then CIA director Richard Helms by threatening to reveal the perfidious deeds of Dulles if Helms didn't uses the CIA to squelch the FBI's growing investigation of Watergate. It worked ... for a brief while. The rest is, as they say, history.

That the exile brigade were nothing more than cat's-paws Dulles gladly sacrificed for his larger scheme, and that it turned out to be all for naught, is probably unknown to the Cuban exile community to this day, although they've gone so far round the bend I doubt it'd matter if they did know.
posted by Steven Baum 5/31/2000 10:22:22 PM | link

According to Jen Loy's
Pushing the Perfect Pussy:
Costing anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000, a sample of the snipping, injecting, clipping, and stitching from the burgeoning world of Female Genital Cosmetic Surgery (or, as Cosmo refers to it, "sexual-enhancement surgery") includes: vaginal tightening (similar to the husband's knot -- the stitching up of the torn or stretched vagina after child birth), the liposuction and lifting of lips that have begun to lose the battle with gravity, the "repair" of the hymen, the clipping of elongated or asymmetrical inner lips, unhooding the clitoris for more friction, and injecting fat (taken from the inner thigh) into lips thought too thin.
The most common surgery, however, is labiaplasty, i.e. the trimming of the labia minora. A Dr. Alter (and that's apparently his real name) is the expert on such things, in addition to his previous mastering of the arts of penis enhancement and reconstruction as well as transsexual surgery. He's not shy at supplying the before and after pictures, either.

According to Dr. Alter, 90% of the women on whom he performs this surgery have it done for cosmetic reasons. Why? Elizabeth Haiken, author of Venus Envy: A History of Cosmetic Surgery blames it on the "Penthouse effect," i.e.

"before crotch shots were published nobody was interested in this, but now everyone knows what labia are supposed to look like."
Okay, but who? Dr. Alter says that the majority of women who come to him for this procedure aren't first-timers. They're "really good looking", have had at least one previous body upgrade, and are looking for another in their pursuit of perfection. I wonder if Katharine Helmond's a customer?
posted by Steven Baum 5/31/2000 04:43:33 PM | link

Not being capable of passing up a 60 cent paperback with the title Locker Room Ballads (compiled from Britain's best-selling paperbacks Rugby Songs and More Rugby Songs), I added one more volume to my meagre poetry shelf. And since I'm also somewhat dog-obsessed, the obvious selection to share with my fellow genteel poetry lovers is:

The doggies held a meeting,
They came from near and far,
Some came by motor-cycle
Some by motor-car.
Each doggy passed the entrance,
Each doggy signed to book,
Then each unshipped his asshole
And hung it on a hook.

One dog was not invited,
It sorely raised his ire,
He ran into the meeting hall
And loudly bellowed, "Fire!"
It threw them in confusion
And without a second look,
Each grabbed another's asshole,
From off another hook.

And that's the reason why, sir,
When walking down the street,
And that's the reason why, sir,
When doggies chance to meet,
And that's the reason why, sir,
On land or sea or foam,
He will sniff another's asshole
To see if it's his own.

Rod McKuen, eat your heart out. Really. Other classics in meter contained therein include "Three Old Whores from Winnipeg," "The Bastard King of England," "I'm a Gentleman of Leisure," "Eskimo Nell" (nine pages worth!), "Gentlemen Should Please Refrain," "Knobby Hall," "Ivan Scavinsky Scavar," "O'Reilly's Daughter," "The Virgin Sturgeon," "Ode to the Four-Letter Words," "The Wild West Show" and "The Ancient Old Irish French Letter." Strangely enough, one can also find
such things in abundance on the infobahn.
posted by Steven Baum 5/31/2000 03:53:14 PM | link

Alas, the drive-in movie theater is a dying institution. But thanks to
Joe Bob Briggs, the world's first and best drive-in movie critic, you can view the classics at home. To make the experience a bit more real, you might want to make some nachos out of stale chips and a petroleum-based cheeselike substance. It also might help to turn off the 5-speaker mega-sound contraptions and run the audio through a 1 inch speaker yanked out of an old AM radio. And don't forget to "smuggle" a case or so of some godawful cheap beer (in cans for chrissake!) into the living room. Anyhow, Joe Bob listed the 32 Greatest Drive-In Flicks in the History of the World in his out-of-print 1987 classic Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In. I'll list them with the date they were released so you don't get a classic mixed up with some indoor bullstuff remake that ruins the atmosphere with expensive production values.
  • Beach Party (1963) - Frankie and Annette start a horrifying subgenre.
  • Rock Around the Clock (1956) - The first rock musical, featuring Bill Haley and the Comets and made by the man who coined the word "beatnik." It's a bit weird watching this today and realizing it was banned in several cities.
  • High School Confidential (1958) - The most erotic of 50s sex kitten Mamie Van Doren's movies, with Jerry Lee Lewis supplying the sweaty music.
  • Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979) - A pastiche of the teen exploitation movies of the 50s and 60s, with music provided by the Ramones.
  • Johnny Guitar (1954) - One of the first wild youth movies, basically a western with youth gangs. It took over 30 years for Young Guns to break the record for most snot-nosed punks in a single western.
  • A Hard Day's Night (1964) - Madcap, zany, kwazy romp by the Beatles, the only negative being that it inspired the Monkees to make Head three years later.
  • Hercules Unchained (1960) - The most erotic and sadistic of the Hercules flicks featuring the late Steve Reeves.
  • A Fistful of Dollars (1966) - Clint Eastwood shooting lots of people and, even better, not directing. Damn but that Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone combination was fine.
  • Five Guns West (1955) - This not only served as Roger Corman's directorial debut but also featured him in three acting roles. It also served as a template for Corman's future style of almost getting something out of nothing. Also a very early role for TV's Mannix.
  • Rock All Night (1956) - Another Corman cheapie wherein gangsters take a rock and roll bar hostage. Only Corman would think of combining the gangster movies of the 20s and 30s with the teen exploitation flicks of the 50s.
  • Machine Gun Kelly (1958) - Yet another Corman classic with Chuck Bronson playing the title role and practicing his range of snarls for Death Wish. Based very loosely on a real gangster.
  • A Bucket of Blood (1959) - You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Corman movie on this list. Here he combines horror with beatnik/bohemian culture, with some not terribly subtle comments about modern art tossed in the mix.
  • The Intruder (1961) - Speaking of Corman, in this one he has William Shatner inciting rednecks to riot against school integration. This was also released under the more sophisticated title "I Hate Your Guts!".
  • Kiss Me Deadly (1955) - The first screen appearance of Mickey Spillane's badass PI Mike Hammer, with the screenplay co-written by Spillane. Fists and bullets fly.
  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1954) - Probably the intrinsically best film of this lot. Great title; great cast; and a plotline not at all unaware of the machinations of Senator McCarthy.
  • X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) - Is a description really necessary?
  • Walking Tall (1973) - Ex-wrestler whups crooked redneck ass. Additionally noted for turning a bar into a drive-through and launching the horrifying career of Leif Garrett (whose bone-chilling version of "Da Do Run Run" was a Top 10 horror moment of the 70s).
  • Enter the Dragon (1973)- Classic Bruce Lee chopsocky.
  • The Trip (1967) - Peter Fonda in Roger Corman's only flick about LSD.
  • The Blackboard Jungle (1955) - The first juvenile delinquent flick, with Sidney Poitier being every bit as poignant as usual.
  • Rebel Without a Cause (1955) - The prototypical melodramatic screwed-up teenager film. The James Dean starmaker movie that inspired the 1980-88 "Rebel Without a Clue" star vehicle for Ronald Reagan.
  • Bloody Mama (1970) - Corman directs, DeNiro stars, and Shelley Winters supplies the horror in the title role as Ma Barker, machine gun toting badass harridan.
  • Death Race 2000 (1975) - Starred David Carradine, Stallone before he was (in)famous, and a bevy of that year's Playboy centerfolds. It features a classic doctor fu segment and spawned a controversial video game that was banned and eventually withdrawn.
  • The Wild Angels (1966) - Corman gives us the first Hell's Angels biker flick with Peter Fonda, archetypal 60s-70s villain Bruce Dern, and (love them boots!) Nancy Sinatra. This has been called a spaghetti western with Harleys.
  • House of Usher (1960) - Corman did a whole series of Poe horror adaptations in the early 60s of which this was the first. To say it's loosely based on Poe would be generous, but the Vincent Price fu is worth the price of admission.
  • The Little Shop of Horros (1960) - Man-eating plant fu from Roger Corman featuring Jack Nicholson's first screen appearance. The remake ain't bad either what with Levi Stubbs' magnificent way of screaming "Feed me!!!!".
  • I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958) - The heroine's fiancee is replaced by an alien the night before the wedding. Confusion reigns. German Shepherd fu saves the day.
  • The Blob (1958) - The movie Steve McQueen would like us all to forget (if he were still alive). He and his hot rod hipster chums battle a cherry jello appetizer that's forgotten who eats who.
  • The Brood (1979) - Oliver Reed boozes his way through a Cronenberg gorefest, with clone fu and afterbirth stew to liven up the festivities.
  • Targets (1968) - Corman protege Bogdanovich's first flick featuring Boris Karloff and a spate of inside jokes.
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968) - An army of walking zombies invade a Pennsylvania town, horrifying and eating the brains of the walking zombies already dwelling therein.
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) - Featured the most famous cannibal family in movie history, and started Tobe Hooper on a long and undistinguished career.
Motor on down to your video parlor, grab a half dozen or so, and drive right on into the living room for a memorable experience.
posted by Steven Baum 5/31/2000 11:25:13 AM | link

Seeing how the upcoming months are going to offer an unending barrage of bullshit about family values, I think it important to reiterate the results from a
Barna Research Group poll performed in December 1999. By the way, they describe themselves as an organization "providing information and analysis regarding cultural trends and the Christian Church since 1984." In other words, they're about as friendly towards religion as you can get.

The folks at Religious Tolerance have summarized the results of that survey, and I've taken the liberty of stealing a couple of their tables concerning variations in the divorce rate by belief and by age.

Variation in divorce rates by belief:

  % have been divorced
Born-again believers 27%
Not born-again  24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

Variation in divorce rates by age:

Age group % have been divorced
Baby boomers (33 to 52 years of age) 34%
Builders (53 to 72 years of age) 37%
Seniors (above 72 years of age) 18%

Variation by location:

Area % are or have been divorced
South 27%
Midwest 27%
West 26%
Northeast 19%

I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out which cherished myths about family values are utterly belied by these results, although it would be quicker to figure out the converse.
posted by Steven Baum 5/31/2000 09:40:48 AM | link

On rereading it, I find I committed a most egregious boo-boo in the previous entry about Shrub and his handicap. I read the CNN excerpt to mean that while evil Clinton cheats at golf, the avatar of moral renewal for our land doesn't. But, upon rereading the appropriate passage, i.e.
George doesn't take a lot of mulligans - that's takeover shots in golf parlance - and he's also good about keeping his score accurately.
In other words, Shrub takes mulligans (i.e. he cheats), but just doesn't take "a lot of" them. Or, to put it another way, his posited superior honesty on the golf course (which is supposed to reflect, of course, a superior honesty in the White House) is based on the supposition that he cheats less than Clinton. What a ringing endorsement!

Reflection has also led me to realize that I was a bit too hard on those chaps in the PGA. Sure, they tried to keep a disabled golfer off the tour - and one who can apparently compete on a top 100 level - for stated reasons that don't amount to much more than them wanting John Q. Public to think that their golfers are NFL- or NBA-level athletes because they can actually walk all the way around a golf course. But they do treat their roaring, gambling, womanizing drunks better than most of the rest of society. Especially if they're really, really talented and can bring enough of that "good ol' boy" ambience to the tour to attract a larger audience amongst the Johnny Sixpacks and Suzy Lunchpails than their usual pack of boring, elitist fops. And, even more importantly, it could divert some of their bowling dollars to the purchase of high dollar golf equipment in a market that bottomed out several years ago and is in precipitous decline. Ah, the milk of human kindness is even sweeter when you can sell it for $5 a pint.
posted by Steven Baum 5/31/2000 08:59:59 AM | link

Tuesday, May 30, 2000

The Shrub has a handicap, as was shockingly revealed in a
CNN article that demonstrates that the major media is every bit as concerned with the handicapped as is Gov. Blow Monkey:
George W. Bush sports a legitimate 15 handicap, which is pretty good considering how little time he has to play the game. And as I say, "it's a legitimate 15 handicap, as opposed to the current resident of the White House whose handicap has been variously estimated at about 15 to 18 to 20," Hurt said. "George doesn't take a lot of mulligans -- that's takeover shots in golf parlance -- and he's also good about keeping his score accurately. He's also good about paying his bets when he loses, as I learned from one of his recent golf partners."
I'll bet he paid his coke bills on time, too. Unfortunately, when it comes to another kind of handicap, Bush the Lesser isn't nearly as diligent. According to a recent Justice for All item:
Governor Bush is 17 points behind Al Gore among the Disabled, a Harris Poll showed last week. You may not appreciate the magnitude of the disability community. It numbers 56M, 37M of which are of voting age with an unprecedented, aggressive voter registration occurring now. Many of these disabled have spouses, most have caregivers and/or aids, most of whom are very sympathetic to the disabled needs and issues, putting the total number of potential voters at 100M, or enough to swing an election.

Governor Bush trails so substantially with this group for four reasons, all of which were well publicized across the internet to the community. They are as follows:

1)ADAPT OF TEXAS - A vast number of public, state owned housing projects, occupied by many disabled were shown to be inaccessible in 1996. ADAPT of Texas brought this to Governor Bush's attention and detailed what would need be done to render this housing accessible, three years later ADAPT found nothing had been done about it! When the usual cordial approaches to Governor Bush were flatly ignored, ADAPT of Texas protested outside of the Governors office. The Governor's response, he had them arrested.

2)JUSTIN DART - I interviewed our senior disability rights activist on my show last month. Dart, who served in the former President Bush White House, was instrumental in facilitating the signing of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) which President Bush signed into law 10 years ago. Justin Dart referred to the Governor as using 50's rhetoric in speaking about the disabled and further added"I hear him saying things about the disabled that you would have NEVER heard come out of his fathers mouth."

3)JOHN WILLIAMS-A writer for Business Week, writes a weekly column on Adaptive Technology both for the print and online versions of the magazine. He attempted to interview Governor Bush. 5 times over 5 months, the interview was scheduled and canceled. Finally word came from Governor Bush's office that no further rescheduling would occur and there would be no interview. This too, spread through the community via the internet.

4)THE NEW HAMPSHIRE FORUM-This year marked an historic 1st for the disability community. The Presidential Candidates Forum on Disabilities took place and was recorded and webcast to the community across the country. Vice President Gore attended and spoke passionately about his own personal experience with disability in his family, steps he and President Clinton had taken to aid the employment of disabled in the government, and enumerated what he would do point by point to help the disabled realize their agenda. Several other candidates addressed the gathering by phone. Governor Bush never even acknowledged the invitation and wasn't in New Hampshire at the time!

Is it any mystery that Al Gore has buried Governor Bush in the polls of the disabled?

Well, at least Shrub has the votes and, more importantly, the contributions of the pro golf tour, an organization with every bit as much sympathy for the disabled as their 15 handicap hero. A few years ago a very good young golfer named Casey Martin - who had a deteriorating hip condition - requested that he be able to use a golf cart to move between holes and shots since, while he could swing a club without difficulty, it was extremely painful to walk between shots and holes. The PGA fought this tooth and nail and finally relented, but not because they wanted to. A Federal judge ordered them to allow Martin to use a cart under the Disabilities Act.

Sure, the Shrub ignores the disabled (except when he has them thrown in jail for protesting) and even apparently badmouths them (but probably only when he's chumming around with his old crack and golf buddies), but these peccadillos pale in comparison to the fact that he has a LEGITIMATE 15 handicap (as opposed to that Satan-worshipping cheater who's taking the country's economy and soul straight to hell). After all, the solutions to all problems - domestic and foreign - begin with a smooth golf swing and the approbation of those blue collar, salt of the Earth chaps in the PGA.
posted by Steven Baum 5/30/2000 05:31:34 PM | link

Bored of the Rings - originally published over 30 years ago - is still one of the funniest books I've ever read. And, judging from the 79 current reviews of it on Amazon, I'm not alone in this judgment. Although the book lists the Harvard Lampoon as author, it was largely written by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney during their tenure at that notorious college humor magazine. The only warnings I'd give to a prospective reader would be to first read that which it parodies, i.e. J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (and its predecessor The Hobbit), and to also be wary that a lot of the humor involves topical references to the culture of the time (i.e. the late 60s). Sure it drags a bit in places, but it can produce the same hearty gales of laughter today as it did when I first read it in 1975 (only weeks after first reading the trilogy).

Some samples are of course in order. The prologue sets the stage by describing Boggies (i.e. Hobbits) for us:

Boggies are an unattractive but annoying people whose numbers have decreased rather precipitously since the bottom fell out of the fairy-tale market [alas, if only that were still true today!]. Slow and sullen, and yet dull, they prefer to lead simple lives of pastoral squalor. They don't like machines more complicated than a garrote, a blackjack, or a luger, and they have always been shy of the "Big Folk" or "Biggers," as they call us. As a rule they now avoid us, except on rare occasions when a hundred or so will get together to dry-gulch a lone farmer or hunter. They are a little people, smaller than dwarves, who consider them puny, sly, and inscrutable and often refer to them as the "boggie peril." They seldom exceed three feet in height, but are fully capable of overpowering creatures half their size when they get the drop on them. As for the boggies of the Sty, with whom we are chiefly concerned, they are unusually drab, dressing in shiny gray suits with narrow lapels, alpine hats, and string ties. They wear no shoes, and they walk on a pair of a hairy blunt instruments which can only be called feet because of the position they occupy at the end of their legs. Their faces have a pimply malevolence that suggests a deep-seated fondness for making obscene telephone calls, and when they smile, there is something in the way they wag their foot-long tongues that makes Komodo dragons gulp with disbelief.
The "story proper" begins with:
When Mr. Dildo Bugger of Bug End grudgingly announced his intention of throwing a free feed for all the boggies in his part of the Sty, the reaction in Boggietown was immediate - all through the messy little slum could be heard squeals of "Swell!" and "Hot puppies, grub!" Slavering with anticipation, several recipients of the invitations devoured their little engraved scrolls, temporarily deranged by transports of gluttony. After the initial hysteria, however, the boggies returned to their daily routines and, as is their wont, lapsed back into a coma.

Nevertheless, jabbering rumors spread through the tatty lean-tos of recent shipments of whole, bewildered oxen, great barrels of foamy suds, fireworks, tons of potato greens, and gigantic hogsheads of hogs' heads. Even huge bales of freshly harvested stingwort, a popular and remarkably powerful emetic, were carted into town. News of the fete reached even unto the Gallowine, and the outlying residents of the Sty began to drift into town like peripatetic leeches, each intent on an orgy of freeloading that would make a lamprey look like a piker.

Another fairly common criticism of the parody is that it is coarse, vulgar and juvenile. There are three kinds of people who read the book: those who find it funny, those who say they don't (i.e. liars), and those really don't (i.e. insufferable prigs who think knock-knock jokes and Tom Swifties the apex of humor). Having neither the inclination nor legal authority to put the latter in humor camps wherein they would be spun like tops using barbed wire, I simply ignore them.

Note that the 1969 first publication date of this classic predates the fantasy/humor sub-genre by a good decade, the authors having the good taste to know when to stop and go on to bigger and even more tasteless projects. (No, I haven't forgotten Doon but am rather willfully ignoring it in the hope that it'll just vanish if sufficiently ignored. The less said about that turkey the better.) For instance, Kenney went on to co-write the sophisticated humor classic Animal House (before either falling or jumping off a cliff in Hawaii), and Beard has turned into a regular parody slut. But, to be fair, they've turned out better than some of the Lampoon crowd from those days, e.g. P. J. O'Rourke who unfortunately decided to become more tendentious than humorous.
posted by Steven Baum 5/30/2000 02:01:22 PM | link

In what I promise will be my last Wodehouse entry (at least for today), I've pilfered some interesting links from
World Wide Wodehouse.
posted by Steven Baum 5/30/2000 10:54:04 AM | link

The proprieter of
bon mot: a world of words has a simply spiffing Wodehouse section that includes chronological (by publishing date) lists of the Blandings and Jeeves stories as well as the entirety of the Wodehouse novels (76) and short stories (291). There's even a Wodehousian parody called Jeeves and the Curious Newsgroup Affair. Speaking of the latter, if anyone knows of any other Wodehouse pastiches, parodies, etc. (other than Scream for Jeeves) I'd appreciate hearing about them.
posted by Steven Baum 5/30/2000 10:42:59 AM | link

So what inspired P. G. Wodehouse to write the Lord Emsworth stories? And especially what the hell prompted him to make a 300 pound pig called the Empress of Blandings a centerpiece in all of them? The details are related in
Wodehouse and the Real Empress of Blandings, the result of fifteen years of investigation on the part of the author.
posted by Steven Baum 5/30/2000 10:33:15 AM | link

Freeforms (or freeform role plays) have been defined by
one active participant as:
...a little like plays - but without a script or audience. Freeforms are rather like roleplaying games - but lack the tables, dice and have many, many more players.
I happened this sub-genre of the dramatic arts whilst searching for bits about my favorite P. G. Wodehouse creation, the pig-owning Lord Emsworth. A freeform called Midsummer Mischief is set in Lord Emsworth's Blandings Castle, described as `a place where people shout "Wot ho!" and "You bounder!" and even "That's just not cricket!"'

Freeforms also have lists of what are called starting points, i.e. rules or guidelines that are operative in the world being temporarily created. The list for "Midsummer Mischief" - being so exquisitely and bloody civilized (not to mention horribly anachronistic) - bears repeating here:

  • It is always hay-harvest weather in England: 54 holes of golf a day, or a swim before breakfast in the lake, morning in the hammocks under the cedars, tea on the lawn, and coffee on the terrace after dinner.
  • Money is something you should inherit, get monthly as an allowance from your uncle, or win at the races.
  • Small dogs bite your ankles.
  • Babies are hideously ugly.
  • Young boys are fiends.
  • Aunts are harridans.
  • Butlers have port in their pantries.
  • All decent-sized country houses have cellars, coal-sheds and potting sheds for locking people in.
  • Most handsome men have feet of clay.
  • No decent man may cancel, or even refuse, an engagement to a girl.
  • Blandings Castle is traditionally infested with impostors.
  • Men and girls in love think only of marriage.
  • Rose gardens turn a girl's thoughts to romance.
  • A bedroom scene is either when you discover that someone has made you an apple-pie bed, or when one or more people come and search your room for policemen's helmets or miscreants hiding under your bed.
  • All married couples have separate bedrooms.
  • It is every young man's duty to steal policemen's helmets.
Other useful pages related to freeforms include Convivium and the marvelously titled Shakespeare Eclectic Science Fiction Interactive Theatre.
posted by Steven Baum 5/30/2000 10:07:33 AM | link

Monday, May 29, 2000

Linear Differential Operators is a classic(al) mathematics text by Cornelius Lanczos. While he started his scientific career in 1915 working on relativity theory - eventually becoming an assistant to Einstein in 1928-29 and corresponding with him on both scientific and personal matters until the latter's death - his most lasting contributions were probably in the field of numerical analysis, with this book one of his finest moments (and available in a Dover reprint edition).

He left his birthplace in Hungary in 1921 after finishing his dissertation because of laws against Jews, moving to Germany where he stayed until spending a year as a visiting professor at Purdue University in Indiana in 1931. He returned to Germany in 1932 but - seeing the writing on the wall - went back to become a full-time professor at Purdue later that year. He stayed at Purdue until 1946 when he left to take a position at Boeing Aircraft. After applying numerical analysis to aircraft design there for a few years, he moved on to the National Bureau of Standards in 1949, where he worked on developing digital computers and their application to numerical methods. In 1952 he received an invitation from Erwin Schrodinger to head the Dublin Institute for Advanced Study in Ireland, a move not unmotivated by investigations and suspicions at the NBS prompted by notorious paranoid asshole Joe McCarthy. He stayed mostly until Dublin until his death in 1974.

LDO is an extremely well-written text on the application of linear differential operators in numerical analysis, covering interpolation, harmonic analysis, matrix calculus, function spaces, Green's functions, Sturm-Liouville problems, boundary value problems, and numerical solutions of trajectory problems (a novel feature in a book published in 1961). The best feature is a pedagogical style that doesn't sacrifice pragmatic intelligibility on the altar of mathematical pristineness. Lanczos wastes no time pointing this out in his preface, starting with:

In one of the (unfortunately lost) comedies of Aristophanes the Voice of the Mathematician appeared, as it descended from a snow-capped mountain peak, pronouncing in a ponderous sing-song - and words which to the audience sounded like complete gibberish - his eternal Theorems, Lemmas and Corollaries. The laughter of the listeners was enhanced by the implication that in fifty years' time another Candidate of Eternity would pronounce from the same snow-capped mountain peak exactly the same theorems, although in a modified but scarcely less ponderous and incomprehensible language.

Since the days of antiquity it has been the privilege of the mathematician to engrave his conclusions, expressed in a rarefied and esoteric language, upon the rocks of eternity. While this method is excellent for the codification of mathematical results, it is not so acceptable to the many addicts of mathematics, for whom the science of mathematics is not a logical game, but the language in which the physical universe speaks to us, and whose mastery is inevitable for the comprehension of natural phenomena.

He reiterates his purpose for writing the text towards the end of the preface:
This book is written primarily for the natural scientist and engineer to whom a problem in ordinary or partial differential equations is not a problem of logical acrobatism, but a problem in the exploration of the physical universe.
And a fine job he does of explicating numerical analysis to those of a pragmatic bent. In addition to being useful by itself, this book would make a fine complementary text to any of the canonical books on computational numerical analysis (i.e. the application of digital computers to numerical analysis) that are currently available, supplying some of the "why" that's usually missing in the flood of "how". Or, as Lanczos said in the finish to his preface:
But of what value is the numerical answer if the scientist does not understand the peculiar analytical properties and idiosyncrasies of the given operator? The author hopes that this book will help him in this task by telling him something about the manifold aspects of a fascinating field which is still far from being properly explored.

posted by Steven Baum 5/29/2000 03:51:27 PM | link

Classic Early Recordings in Chronological Order 5-disc Django Reinhardt set doesn't have the best title ever, but it's indispensable for jazz fan(atic)s and a corking good deal even for those who aren't but who still appreciate the sort of music made by supremely talented and inventive musicians.

Reinhardt was given a banjo-guitar (resembling a modern banjo) at the age of 12 and, before he even reached his next birthday, was working as an accompanist for one of the most popular accordian players in Paris. By the time he reached 18 in 1928 he participated in his first recording session, not long after which the leader of the famous British group the Jack Hylton Band made a special trip to Paris just to hear him play. A contract was almost immediately offered and signed, but it was not to be. When we return to "Behind the Music" we'll learn of the tragedy ... er ... his caravan (i.e. motor home) caught fire soon afterwards, with Django suffering horrible burns to his right leg and left hand. The upshot is that after being bedridden for the next 18 months he had lost the use of two fingers on his left hand.

He taught himself how to play the guitar all over again with just three usable fingers on his left hand, after which he took up right where he left off as a tremendously popular musician on the Paris scene. In 1934 he met violinist Stephane Grappelli and formed the now-famous Quintette du Hot Club de France, which consisted of three guitarists, a string bass, and a violin. The recordings they made from mid-1934 to late 1935 are still feted as stunningly innovative music, with all 26 featured on Volume 1 of this 5-disc collection. The personnel changed somewhat during the course of the recordings, with the tenorist-clarinettist Alix Combelle guesting on several of the later ones.

The quality of these recordings is extremely good for sides recorded in 1934-35. Indeed, as it says in the liner notes:

This first volume of a project Django Reinhardt series has been largely prompted by the appalling standard of most Django CDs currently on offer. Certainly, most of issues of the important Ultraphone sessions, be they in "complete," "collectors," or "archive" editions, have been lamentable: poor transfers, either from LPs or worn 78s, careless treatment of clicks and surface noise, sometimes even incorrect tracks. ... All tracks [on this set] have been taken directly from the best 78 pressings I could lay my hands on in months of borrowing, bidding, and badgering. ... I have removed as much extraneous noise as possible without cutting into the music, but have otherwise attempted no "enhancement" of the sound - it would only obstruct the music anyway.
The remaining 4 discs document the Quintet up through their breakup in 1939, as well as feature Reinhardt in solo outings and in collaborations with Coleman Hawkins. At less than $23 this is a steal. As the former CEO of GrinchCo was fond of saying, "You know you want to."
posted by Steven Baum 5/29/2000 02:10:54 PM | link

In 1937 three friends in Buenos Aires sat talking one night about fantastic literature. This was a half century before the literature of fantasy became a sub-genre unto itself - or should I say literary ghetto? Anyhow, the three - Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo - started talking, according to Casares:
`... about fantastic literature ... discussing the stories which seemed best to us. One of us suggested that if we put together the fragments of the same type we had listed in our notebooks, we would have a good book. As a result we drew up this book ... simply a compilation of stories from fantastic literature which seemed to us to be the best.'
The result was originally published in Argentina in 1940 as Antologia de la Literature. Revised editions were published in 1965 and 1976, with the first English language edition published in Great Britain in 1988. The U.S. edition of
The Book of Fantasy is of course now out of print. After all, who would want an anthology of fantastical short stories chosen by one of the great authors of the last century (from his vast reading of the literature of the previous half-millennium) when they could buy another fat, worthless fantasy trilogy chock full of vowel-less, boring trolls, elves, and various other mythological creatures standing in for the dead horse.

The version I've got is a trade paperback and contains over 70 stories in its 384 pages - Borges preferred the short in reading as well as writing. There's an introduction by Ursula Le Guin and a list of sources for all the stories (although most are long, long out of print and, I'll bet, damned hard to find and damned expensive once you find them). Each story begins with a short bio of the author, many of which are as intriguing as the stories themselves, e.g.

I. A. Ireland, English savant born in Hanley in 1871. He claimed descent from the infamous impostor William H. Ireland, who had invented an ancestor, William Henrye Irlaunde, to whom Shakespeare had allegedly bequeathed his manuscripts. He published A Brief History of Nightmares (1899), Spanish Literature (1900), The Tenth Book of Annals of Tacitus, newly done into English (1911).

Leonid Andreyev (1871-1919) studied law at the universities of Moscow and St. Petersburg but, after depressions which led to several suicide attempts, turned to writing, encouraged by Gorki. His sensational themes, treated in a highly realistic manner, made his reputation; amongst his works are In the Fog (1902) and The Red Laugh (1904), as well as numerous plays.

Other obscure or perhaps unexpected authors in the book include John Aubrey, Max Beerbohm, Elena Garro, W. W. Jacobs, May Sinclair, Emanuel Swedenborg, B. Traven, Evelyn Waugh and Jose Zorilla (okay, that last one isn't the same chap who died in 1893 but those recipes sure look like fun). A complete listing of the stories in the collection can be found at SFF NET.
posted by Steven Baum 5/29/2000 10:31:04 AM | link

When I first grabbed Ross H. Spencer's The Radish River Caper in a used paperback store back in the late seventies, I thought it'd be another mildly enjoyable hard-boiled detective novel.

I was wrong.

Boy was I wrong.

If they'd given a Nobel Prize for wrong that year I'd have won it.

It was one of a series of five novels about a detective named Chance Purdue written by Ross H. Spencer. The titles were, in chronological order, The DADA Caper, The Reggis Arms Caper, The Stranger City Caper, The Abu Wahab Caper and The Radish River Caper. All are individually long out of print - although used copies can be snagged at ABEbooks - but Spencer has been fortunate enough to find a big fan in Michael Resnick, who managed to get all five bound into a single volume called The Compleat Chance Purdue.

In the first book we finally get around to the "plot" hinted at in the title on page 80. A government operative named Dawson stops by Purdue's office:

Dawson lowered his voice.

He said Purdue have you ever heard of DADA?

I shrugged.

I said not since I was very young.

Dawson aid DADA stands for Destroy America Destroy America.

I whistled.

I said they must mean it.

I said they said it twice.

The previous 80 pages have involved the destruction of most of the cliches in the genre. For instance, the femme fatale:
Candi Yakozi was about five-five in her four-inch spike heels.

She had dark brown hair and eyes to match.

She had a pug nose and a bee-stung lower lip and an intimidating bosom.

The purple dress was so tight I could make out her hysterectomy scar.

She was twenty-five maybe.

She was also thirty-five maybe.

I should probably mention that the misogynistic tendencies of the genre are amply lampooned in these books, which aren't for the humor-impaired. Then of course there's the booze. A mainstay of Purdue's favorite bar is a rummy old fart named Monroe D. Underwood, whose "wisdom" provides a pithy beginning to every chapter, e.g.
...being domesticated is every man's secret desire...it just might work if he didn't have all them there other secret desires...

...sure wisht I had all that there drinking time I wasted just sleeping...

...I got to give whores credit...wisht I could find one what would do likewise...

If you're a fan of the genre you'll probably like it.

Albeit in small doses.

Larger doses of beer wouldn't hurt, either.

Whether or not you're reading the damned books.
posted by Steven Baum 5/29/2000 09:21:05 AM | link

Sunday, May 28, 2000

Yumpin' yimminy this
Oranjeboom Premium Lager is one damned fine brew. It can be found at Whole Foods and the Central Market in Austin and, unfortunately, not at all in College Station.
posted by Steven Baum 5/28/2000 10:44:05 PM | link

NY TIMES - 5/28/2000
We'll start with
Donald Westlake's review of Truth at Any Cost, Susan Schmidt and Michael Weisskopf's hagiography of Kenneth Starr and his special prosecutor's office.
As you can imagine, the contrast between Starr and the Great Satan in the White House is made pretty clear: "And while Bill Clinton got through Yale Law School borrowing notes and cramming for exams, Starr never missed a class at Duke Law School, taking exquisitely organized notes and freely lending them to less dedicated students." Wait, it gets worse. Bittman was on the golf course with another prosecutor, and saw Clinton shanking "one ball after another, abandoning each as he went. When he finally hit the fourth one onto the green, he announced, `I'll play that one.' They couldn't get over it: Clinton must be shaving his scores." Can you imagine? Bill Clinton doesn't take golf seriously. At that time, he was taking Israel seriously, and he was taking Ireland seriously, but he wasn't taking golf seriously. He was treating it as, well, a diversion. And this is the man we put next to the nuclear button; what can we having been thinking?
Next we have Perry Meisel's Bookend piece "Let a Hundred Isms Blossom" wherein, after noting the French litcrit modernists who instill St. Vitus' dance in the knees of many, he offers:
But the French influence shouldn't be overestimated. American criticism has its own history. It's an open secret within the ranks that even before structuralism, deconstruction and Lacanian psychoanalysis had become the fashion, three books of enormous influence, all of them written in the 70s, had already paved the way: Stanley Fish's Is There a Text in This Class? (1980), Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), and Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence (1973). The terrain they map out is actually a common one, despite what you may hear around the Evian cooler or at Starbucks.
Paul Krugman's op-ed piece "Money for Nothing" offers the following bit concerning the plans of Social Security reformers to privatize the fund by investing it all in the stock market:
Recent remarks by Mr. Bush offer evidence of good old-fashioned American disingenuity at work.

In a May 15 speech he asked his listeners to "consider this simple fact: even if a worker chose only the safest investment in the world, an inflation-adjusted U.S. government bond, he or she would receive twice the rate of return of Social Security." That's an amazing fact; it's even more amazing when you realize that the Society Security system invests all its money in, you guessed it, U.S. government bonds. But the explanation - which Mr. Bush's advisors understand very well, even if the governor does not - is that today's workers are not only paying for their own retirement, but also supporting today's retirees. And if you think that's a minor detail - that the question of how to meet existing obligations when workers are allowed to invest their contributions elsewhere is a side issue - let me assure you that I too would have no trouble devising a painless plan to save Social Security, if you let me assume that a large part of the system's obligations would magically disappear.

Or maybe "magic" isn't quite the right word. How about "voodoo"?

In Ben Ratliff's "The Solo Retreats from the Spotlight in Jazz" we find the following bit of history:
The solo is certainly the primary symbol of jazz to the outside world - a rail-splitting statement made within a rail-splitting music. In the history of jazz scholarship, solos have been taken as the highest mode of assertion; there are more analyses of solos than those of rhythm sections, for example, and they're much better-known pieces of criticism. And most of the great heroes of the music have been powerhouse soloists [Miles Davis and Duke Ellington being notable exceptions]. Jazz solos first grew into special moments, things of art, in the early 1920s, and they may have reached their peak in the 1960s when John Coltrane's 15-minute performance on "Chasin' the Trane" made him an icon. Now, some of the best jazz has pressed the solo back into the context of written music or made it an ongoing collective endeavor throughout a piece of music, thereby lessening its iconic stature.
The piece also quotes Wynton Marsalis, finding him offering the usual noncontroversial musings:
I think there's going to be an end to the old style of jamming on the bandstand that was really initiated during Charlie Parker's time. Historically, that was never a part of jazz music, not in the beginning ... solos didn't come into fashion until Louis Armstrong and didn't become ingrained into jazz until the bebop thing came along. So I think there will be more emphasis put on presentation and composition as opposed to just soloing, which is really a boring and predictable way of presenting music.

posted by Steven Baum 5/28/2000 09:45:24 PM | link





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