More From the Desktop . . .

July 31, 2009 at 9:23 pm (By Amba) (, )

For years I’ve wanted a T-shirt of this:

Stupid World

From this great Calvin & Hobbes strip.

I wonder if Watterson could ever be persuaded to license it.

Guess not:
Bill refused to merchandise his creation on the grounds that pasting Calvin and Hobbes images on commercially-sold coffee mugs, stickers and t-shirts would devalue the characters and their personalities.

More on this rare decision, by which Watterson “has forgone millions of dollars a year in additional income.”

This was “the only licensed and approved Calvin shirt to exist“:


There’s a lot of bootleg Calvin & Hobbes stuff, showcased here with a funny combination of prurience and disapproval.

Oh well.

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At the Wedding

July 31, 2009 at 2:26 pm (By Amba)


I look like Homo floresiensis in this company . . .

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July 31, 2009 at 10:51 am (By Amba)

Truth hurts:

Obama undoubtedly has major accomplishments ahead of him, but in a real way the Obama presidency is over. His messianic hopey-changiness has been exposed for what it was, and what it could only be: a rich cocktail of pie-eyed idealism, campaign sloganeering, and profound arrogance.

As president, he’s tried to apply the post-partisan gloss of his campaign rhetoric to the hyper-partisan dross of his agenda. And he’s fooling fewer people every day.

Indeed, the one unifying theme of his presidency so far has been Obama’s relentless campaigning for a job he already has. That makes sense, because that’s really all Obama knows how to do. He’s had no significant experience crafting major legislation. He has next to no experience governing at all.

But he’s great at giving speeches, holding town halls, and chitchatting with reporters. So that’s largely what he does as president. The problem is that campaigning is different from governing. The former requires convincing promises about what you will do; the latter requires convincing arguments for what you are doing. He’s good at the former, not so good at the latter. Or as columnist Michael Barone puts it, he’s good at aura, bad at argument.

Of course, there’s more than a little partisan exulting there at seeing the enemy normally wounded.  The infatuation is ending, that’s all; it’s just that Obama’s honeymoon verged on a religion.  It was like one of those fool-for-love songs where the beloved is almost literally described as “divine.”

It’s not that Obama’s presidency is over; it’s that it hasn’t begun yet!  Because he flew so high, Obama is going through a particularly rough reentry into reality (I’m watching Endeavour land flawlessly as I write).  He’s going to have to find a style of governing that’s not a style of campaigning, and he hasn’t found it yet.  He never had to before.

Oh, and:

Despite the strenuous objections to my comparison from both sides, I can imagine something similar — though different in the details — happening to a President Palin.  As Darcy points out, Palin has governed.  She is more practical.  But I can see her saying or doing something impulsive, reckless, goofy, and arbitrary, and her defenders adamantly refusing to view it as such.  We’re getting a taste of what happens when symbolism is paramount and qualification is very, very secondary.  This is a problem that transcends identification and ideology.

UPDATE: Read “Why Sarah Palin Fans Feel Betrayed,” the John Hawkins piece Darcy linked in the comments.  It confirms my hunch that “she’s like me” is a big part of Palin’s appeal.  However, as Ron wrote to me in an e-mail, that’s no inconsiderable strength at the head of a much-needed populist rebellion:

A: The fact that her enemies are repellent doesn’t automatically make her qualified.
R: No, but it certainly makes her refreshing which I suppose may be a qualification.  I also agree with worrying about her being “qualified”, but I worry more about “qualification” being diluted enough to mean “elitist rubberstamping.”  We have not been critical enough about having a President not only not from any Ivy, but from beyond Harvard and Yale.  We haven’t yet constructed a language of approval of non-elitists (we used to have one!) and thus have reduced “qualification” to a code word.  Especially after electing the least-qualified candidate I’ve seen in my lifetime!

The gravitas of “qualification” has been destroyed by the Bernie Madoffs (former head of NASDAQ!) and the John Edwards of the world.

Identification trumps qualification when elites fail to behave like elites;  it [winds up] being perceived as just a con, a hustle that these fraudsters rise as high as they do.

That’s why I think we need a dose of populist energy; not necessarily to blow up Harvard, but to instill more fear in these institutions that they can’t just featherbed their nest and that they actually have to perform for the greater good of all and not just “own.” (class?  group? gender? race?)

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Cleaning Up My Desktop . . .

July 31, 2009 at 2:39 am (By Amba)

. . . will probably take months, because for months I’ve been recklessly downloading .pdfs, .jpegs and .tiffs onto it and leaving them there.  It must be putting a terrible strain on my computer.  What a jerk!  Turns out on this issue of OSX you can riffle through documents very quickly, blow them up with a mouse click, check them out, and trash those you don’t want with another click.

But I’m finding some cool stuff I didn’t remember was there, because there’s so much junk on the desktop the computer no longer displays it.  You can click any spot on the spiral galaxy that is my wallpaper and you never know what will pop up.

Here’s the lovely, eye- and mind-grabbing cover image my friend Marc Barasch designed for the paperback of his own book, The Compassionate Life. Sort of over his publisher’s dead body.

Marc 3

Here’s wry update of the evolution-accelerating slab in Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey.


And here’s a great pic of J from the wedding we went to about two weeks ago:


Will probably post more fuzz from my pockets.

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I’ve Gone Mad(Men)!

July 28, 2009 at 11:00 am (By Amba)


Thanks to Ron.  Doubt I could’ve done it better meself.  He did Althouse, too!  Do you!

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“Novel Ecosystems,” aka “Trash Ecosystems”

July 28, 2009 at 9:40 am (By Amba) (, , )

This story is somehow related to the turn the conversation on the previous post has taken.  It’s about the futility and silliness of control and purism.  It’s about humans not as the destroyers of nature but its wild card, its agents of creative destruction.

This forest on Big Island features mango trees from India (Mangifera indica); Cecropia obtusifolia, a tree with huge star-shaped leaves from Mexico, Central America and Colombia; rose apples (Syzygium jambos) from southeast Asia; tasty strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) from the threatened Atlantic coast of Brazil; and a smattering of Queensland maples (Flindersia brayleyana) from Australia. It also has candlenuts (Aleurites moluccana), a species that humans have moved around so much that its origins have become obscure. There is at least some native Hawaiian representation in the form of hala, or screwpine (Pandanus tectorius), which is pictured on the crest of Punahou School, where US President Barack Obama studied. There are no Hawaiian birds here though. Mascaro sees plenty of feral pigs, descendants of those brought by settlers from other parts of Polynesia or from farther afield. The soil is black and rich. Mascaro likes it here.

Most ecologists and conservationists would describe this forest in scientific jargon as ‘degraded’, ‘heavily invaded’ or perhaps ‘anthropogenic’. Less formally, they might term it a ‘trash ecosystem’. After all, what is it but a bunch of weeds, dominated by aggressive invaders, and almost all introduced by humans? It might as well be a city dump.

A few ecologists, however, are taking a second look at such places, trying to see them without the common assumption that pristine ecosystems are ‘good’ and anything else is ‘bad’. The non-judgemental term is ‘novel ecosystem’. A novel ecosystem is one that has been heavily influenced by humans but is not under human management. A working tree plantation doesn’t qualify; one abandoned decades ago would. A forest dominated by non-native species counts, like Mascaro’s mango forest, even if humans never cut it down, burned it or even visited it.

You could even call it cosmopolitan.  Or the nature version of “street.”  As wilderness goes, it’s urban.  The species that make it in these places are scruffy, versatile, adventurous, and resilient.  Sometimes even beautiful.  Brawlers and opportunists, like us.

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Who Do You Trust — Government or Business?

July 27, 2009 at 4:44 pm (By Amba) (, , , , , , , )

Been thinking a lot lately about how liberals trust government and mistrust business, while conservatives trust business and mistrust government.  It may be the single most fundamental difference between them.  Now here’s John Stossel quoting Greg Mankiw:

Perhaps a lot of the disagreement over healthcare reform, and maybe other policy issues as well, stems from the fundamental question of what kind of institutions a person trusts. Some people are naturally skeptical of profit-seeking firms; others are naturally skeptical of government. […]

I tend to distrust power unchecked by competition. This makes me particularly suspicious of federal policies that take a strong role in directing private decisions. I am much more willing to have state and local governments exercise power in a variety of ways than for the federal government to undertake similar actions. I can more easily move to another state or town than to another nation. […]

Most private organizations have some competitors, and this fact makes me more comfortable interacting with them. […]  To be sure, we need a government-run court system to enforce contracts, prevent fraud, and preserve honest competition. But it is fundamentally competition among private organizations that I trust.

This philosophical inclination most likely influences my views of the healthcare debate. The more power a centralized government authority asserts, the more worried I am that the power will be misused either purposefully or, more likely, because of some well-intentioned but mistaken social theory. I prefer reforms that set up rules of the game but end up with power over key decisions as decentralized as possible.

Mankiw cites Paul Krugman, who raised the whole “who do you trust” issue, as a member of the opposite camp:

What puzzles me is that Paul seems so ready to trust solutions that give a large role to the federal government. (In the past, for instance, he has advocated a single payer for healthcare.) I understand that trust of centralized authority is common among liberals. But here is the part that puzzles me: Over the past eight years, Paul has tried to convince his readers that Republicans are stupid and venal. History suggests that Republicans will run the government about half the time. Does he really want to turn control of healthcare half the time over to a group that he considers stupid and venal?

Stossel adds some thoughts of his own (the ABC site seems to be copy-proofed somehow, so I have to take a screenshot of the passage):


I grew up in the allegedly benevolent shadow of FDR, believing that business was greed and government was public spirit.  My attitude has changed drastically, mostly (the way my attitude usually changes) through broadening circles of friendship, which came to include small entrepreneurs, a couple of first-generation millionaires from working-class backgrounds whom I love and admire.  Also typically, though, I haven’t gone all the way.  I think of government and business as another of the vital checks and balances of American life.

An example I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is cars.  We had a visit recently (which I noted on Twitter) from a deeply and deliberately Southern character, a 61-year-old who looks (to RT myself) as if “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” had been written by John Crowe Ransom, but who is a stealth liberal and Obama voter in a conservative small Tennessee town.  He said that after the election he had heard one of his neighbors raging, “They’re going to take our cars away!”  Who knew that SUVs were in the Bill of Rights?  Which amendment is that?

There’s a paradox about business:  it is at once the most innovative force in the world and, at the same time, can be one of the most conservative and inert.  Nothing illustrates its inertia more than the fossil fuel economy, with all that it entails of manifold environmental damage (not even counting disputed global warming, just the health effects of air pollution and the ravages of, for instance, mining the Alberta tar sands) and dangerous dependence on foreign countries.  As long as there is oil and as long as its price can be kept within broad bounds, our energy habits are not going to change.  There’s too much employment, too much existing infrastructure, too much power and profit and, yes, pleasure (I love the freedom of a fast car as much as anyone, and more than many) entrenched there.  Market forces will keep on playing that hand until it is catastrophically played out, because the costs of changing are too high and the rewards too meager and speculative.  In this case, there isn’t enough necessity to mother sufficient invention, and there won’t be until it’s too late.

The conservative solution is “Drill, baby, drill!”  The way of life that cheap oil made possible is too often equated with the American way, a days-are-numbered luxury with an eternal right.  I think this is a place where government can play a legitimate role in forcing innovation by manipulating the market — creating an anticipatory artificial scarcity (through taxation and regulation) on one end and incentives for new solutions on the other end.  (Don’t tell me government should never manipulate the market until you’ve eliminated farm subsidies, please.)  It’s a delicate business because the transition can only be gradual and the regulation can’t be too draconian without strangling the economy.  But the decades of permissive mileage standards have been shameful, and have contributed to the American auto industry’s fatal complacency.  Unnecessary waste — in a sort of potlatch*-like display of boastful affluence — has too often been the American way.

Here’s how I feel about cars:  getting places fast on Ike’s highway system, with the top down and the radio blasting, has been wonderful — and quintessentially American for a particular time.  But I sometimes think about the places I’m passing, the detail I’m missing at my usual 75 miles per hour.  The convenience and pleasure the automobile has given us has exacted a high and mostly unnoticed price, from the annual fatalities (which usually equal the number of American deaths in the Vietnam war) to the creation of car-dependent bedroom communities.  If we have to drive slower, drive less, or drive shorter distances in yet-to-be-invented plug-in electrics, I won’t feel that my God-given rights have been violated; I’ll feel that a wonderful era has passed and another, differently wonderful, is beginning.  Besides, I have faith in American inventiveness.  Given the chance and the necessity, I don’t doubt that the problem of the fast electric car, too, will be solved.

(I didn’t have time to write this, and I definitely don’t have time to put links in, but will do so later.  Meanwhile, Google “Alberta tar sands.”)

UPDATE: At the link to “potlatch” I find that these traditional feasts were all about the redistribution and sometimes the destruction of wealth.  Prestige was proportionate to how much you gave away.  Here’s the ultimate irony:

Potlatching was made illegal in Canada in 1885 and the United States in the late nineteenth century, largely at the urging of missionaries and government agents who considered it “a worse than useless custom” that was seen as wasteful, unproductive which was not part of “civilized” values.

I guess it was thought subversive of the sacredness of private property?

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My Henry Lewis Gates Kind of Moment – a quarter century ago

July 26, 2009 at 1:39 pm (By Rodjean)

The latest media dust-up over the confrontation between a Cambridge cop and a professor of African-American history brought to mind a case I tried (lawyer alert) about 25 years ago. A credit card theft ring was working the Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas, and a circular described one of the participants as a 30 year old African American woman. An eyewitness saw a woman who fit the description in a back area of a store where only employees should be, and the alert was sounded to look for a black female, about 30 years old, wearing a red top and blue pants. As it happened, there was a 40 year old African American lady wearing a blue top with red pants shopping at Nieman Marcus. That was when things got interesting.

Mall security picked up both women and called the police. The cop arrived to find both women in a holding area in the basement of Saks Fifth Avenue. To make matters worse, the eyewitness had ended her shift and gone home. The first thing the cop did when he arrived was ask both women for ID. The younger woman (who was actually the thief) complied, and she was not arrested immediately, but told to remain in the holding area until the witness could get back to the mall. The older woman, a professor from Purdue, refused to give her ID. The cop politely explained that he was going to have to arrest her if she didn’t hand over her purse. She did not relent, calling the cop a racist and saying her husband was a lawyer (which he was) and was going to “sue” his “ass.”

Guess which woman spent the next 20 minutes handcuffed until the witness arrived?

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The current Scream

July 26, 2009 at 1:56 am (By Rodjean)

The Hypocritical Scream

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Fort Myers Beach Hits the Big Time!

July 25, 2009 at 12:47 am (By Amba)

My parents’ little beach town in Florida — my own second hometown, really — just put itself on the garish map of tabloid America by firing its town manager for marrying a porn actress.

Town Manager Fired

The punch line:  he’s from Alaska.

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