Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Dictionary Flashback: Rafflesia

I recall a legendary game of Dictionary played in my parents' living room during my high school (or immediately post-) era, with so many players we had to double up in teams. My partner Nick Byram flipped straight to a word he already knew, and with it we quite crushingly stumped more than a dozen hyperintellectual college-bound knowitalls.

rafflesia (n) a foul-smelling, stemless plant native to southeastern Asia

The reveal of the true definition and the accompanying crest of incredulous laughter (rising still higher when Nick articulated--from personal knowledge--that the plant had been named for British explorer T. Stamford Raffles) was one of those ineffable moments of youth--indescribable to those who weren't present, uncapturable on film, that stands like a stone marker in one's emotional memory of the path traveled long ago.

Today I found photos--the first I've seen--and a feature post about Rafflesia, asserted to be the largest and perhaps rarest flower in the entire world, over at the Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society.
They take from 9 to 21 months to bud, and then the bloom lasts for just a week.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Question Hour: The Fat Controller's Railway

Economist Tom Bozzo of Madison, WI has a few questions about the Sodor Railway. There are links to other blog posts and comments of interest.
4. How is it that the bakeries only keep enough flour on hand to make a day's worth of English Muffins?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Playbill: Catching up with Stephanie D'Abruzzo

Playbill's "Diva Talk" columnist sits down with Steph to ask about her current Off-Broadway Show I Love You Because" and life after Avenue Q.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Scorecard on Iraq

821 words from Anthony Cordesman, Senior Fellow from the Center for Strategic & International Studies (who does not oppose the war and believes in staying the course), in which he assesses the progress of the war against its (stated) objectives.
Objective One: Get Rid of Iraqi WMD Threat: Happened before the war. The main stated objective of the war was pointless.

Objective Two: Liberate Iraq: Security for the average Iraq is now worse, and the new political freedom is essentially freedom to vote for sectarian and ethnic divisions.... We essentially used a bull to liberate a china shop, without any meaningful plan to deal with the consequences.

Knight Ridder: Iraqi police report US troop atrocity

Three Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents contributed to this report. Their identities are being withheld for security reasons.

Knight Ridder has been such a tremendous resource of reality prior to and throughout this mad Iraq venture, but this account of an alleged massacre of civilians (including small children) by US troops leaves me feeling anxious and depressed.

Many critics of the newsmedia (from all sides--myself included) argue that its credibility is all too often a function of what the reader is willing to (or wants to) believe.

I don't want to believe this story; nor do I want to believe KR would send it over the wire uncritically. But for followup all I expect to find is uncritical echochambrage on the one hand or uncritical dismissal on the other. And of course on the third, largest hand of all there will be an uncritical silence, through unknowing or willful ignorance of the question at all.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I Am Not Keeping Up With Your Blog

NPR commentator David Weinberger officially releases you from having to keep up with his blog. Because he's not keeping up with yours.

And that's ok.

American Theocracy

NYT book review of American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips:

[T]hree broad and related trends — none of them new to the Bush years but all of
them, ... exacerbated by this administration's policies — ... threaten the
future of the United States and the world. One is the role of oil in defining
and, as Phillips sees it, distorting American foreign and domestic policy. The
second is the ominous intrusion of radical Christianity into politics and
government. And the third is the astonishing levels of debt — current and
prospective — that both the government and the American people have been
heedlessly accumulating. If there is a single, if implicit, theme running
through the three linked essays that form this book, it is the failure of
leaders to look beyond their own and the country's immediate ambitions and
desires so as to plan prudently for a darkening future.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

David Foster Wallace: Host

The Atlantic Monthly is dropping this DFW article about conservative talk radio host John Ziegler outside of the for-pay firewall, since it's a nominee for a National Magazine Award.

Includes popup footnote windows.

Get it while you can.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Surviving a robot uprising

While Mommy is out on the second of two back-to-back all-night photo shoots at the Walnut Creek Safeway, evidence mounts that mechanical invaders want to devour the children of Planet Earth and make humankind their slaves.

Friday, March 10, 2006

NPR: O'Connor the Moderate?

Sandra Day O'Connor's speech yesterday at Georgetown University was not available for broadcast, but NPR has a cracking good report on it. I have never been so in love with Nina Totenberg.

Without naming names, O'Connor ripped into the rhetorical bullshit of Tom DeLay and John Cornyn, and the dangers of partisan attacks on the judicial system.
Pointing to the experiences of developing countries and former communist countries where interference with an independent judiciary has allowed dictatorship to flourish, O’Connor said we must be ever-vigilant against those who would strongarm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies. It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, she said, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.
Follow the link to hear the story, or click to read a transcript.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Video: Moving the Post Office

Minnesota Stories hosts this brief look back at a fascinating anecdote of civic engineering in St. Cloud, MN, when the town once spent eight weeks moving a two-story post office building through town on rails to a new location.

Fun with Lenses

Originally uploaded by ereneta.
When I showed L what I looked like holding the craft lens in front of my face, he was eager to try it himself.

More fun lens shots if you click through to Flickr.

NYT: The Dames of Beef

"They're midcenturyists."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report hit iTunes

$1.99 per episode, or $9.99 for an entire month (16 episodes at $.63/each) using iTunes' new "Multi-Pass" feature. Even buying both shows each month that's half what we're paying for satellite service, and right now we frequently miss episodes.

On days after big news events, you know they are going to make so much money.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

For Trader Joe's, a New York Taste Test

The NYT previews the opening of Manhattan's first Trader Joe's later this month, with a glimpse of the secretive food development process and its attempt to create "addictive" food products.
"Before we got our Trader Joe's I used to drive up to Chicago every couple of months to stock up on those pretzels," said Kevin Messina, a lawyer in Creve Coeur, Mo., near St. Louis. "It's about five hours each way, but hey, it's a straight shot."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

NYT: Home Economics

More food for thought from the NYT Sunday Magazine's special on Real Estate, this time at the macroeconomic level of urban development and housing supply. A profile of iconoclastic economist Edward L. Glaeser.
Homeowners, he points out, have a strong incentive to stop new development, both because it can be an inconvenience and also because, like any monopolist, stopping supply drives up the price of their own homes. "Lack of affordable housing isn't a problem to homeowners," Glaeser says; that's exactly what they want. "The thing you want most is to make sure that your home is not affordable if you own it. And for that reason, there's absolutely no reason to think that little suburban communities with no businesses that are run essentially by their homeowners will make the right decisions for the state as a whole, for the business in the area, for the country as a whole."

NYT: Who Needs the Mortgage-Interest Deduction?

An intriguing reframing of the mortgage-interest deduction, with a lucid explanation as to why Bush's specially commissioned bipartisan tax panel was unanimous in suggesting eliminating it.

What the article fails to include is any data or perspectives on the secondary mortgage industry and to what extent the refinancing binge during Bush's first term was responsible for propping up the economy (or not).

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Monster Kid Home Movies

Awesome DVD compiling homemade monster movies from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Click on "Screaming Room", then "Trailer" to see a sampling.

Friday, March 03, 2006

John Carroll: Honor the divine spirit within Dick Cheney

A reflection on the challenge of compassion.
We celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday last month. Did we reach out to our enemies last month? Did we employ the power of love last month? Did we understand the power of peace last month? Yes, yes, I know they didn't, but what they do is outside your control. Did you do it?


All Gandhi had was the British Empire, whereas we have -- what, the Patriot Act? We're such whiners.
No criticism of Deirdre's post from yesterday intended. Because: what an asshole that guy is.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cheney Scolds Americans for Lack of Savings

``The American dream begins with saving money and that should begin on the very first day of work,'' Cheney told a conference here exploring how to encourage people to boost savings and be better prepared for retirement.

Too often, workers are living paycheck to paycheck and are not saving sufficiently, Cheney said.

This from the man who cleared $1,328,678 in the 2004 tax year.

Post by SusanG in DailyKos.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Events to Debut in Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics

Hoppity Horse SnoBoCross:
Starting position: Stand at starting gate uphill of Hoppity Horse, feet apart and paralell, arms extended out at the shoulders. Turn head and gaze down your right arm. At the sound of a clap of the hands, leap towards Hoppity Horse and land astride in a single jump. Ride Hoppity Horse to the finish line.

4-Man Hoppity Horse Bobsled:
Starting position: Assume a runner's crouch next to Hoppity Horse at starting line. At the sound of a clap of the hands, driver grabs Hoppity Horse's ears and begin running in place. Once Hoppity Horse has attained theoretical momentum, driver mounts Hoppity Horse and crouches low to minimize wind resistence. The remaining 3 men are presumed to find a place on the horse but are not provided additional attention or instruction. Penalties are awarded if driver's feet touch the living room carpet. If Hoppity Horse sled topples over, the team usually overcomes this disaster and makes up for lost time to win the race.

4-Man Hoppity Horse Backwards Bobsled:
Same as 4-Man Hoppity Horse Bobsled except that driver mounts Hoppity Horse backwards and drives by holding onto the tail.