Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gotta Support the Team

Your humble Desultory Eclectic grew up in, of all places, Michigan.  Not Detroit, but Michigan.  He has some friends from the suburbs and an uncle at Ford.  He grew up making a few afternoon drives across the state every summer to see the Cecil Fielder Tigers hit 3 home runs in an 8-5 loss.  He wore Cecil's #45 in little league.  He briefly became a yuppie (Cubs follower) after the move downtown from Michigan and Trumbull.  How could anyone forget those urinals?
The Tigers have a Sports Illustrated cover this week and a pivotal day-night doubleheader against the Twins today.  The meaning of communal emotional outlets in depressed places has probably been excessively hyped.  Michigan State basketball doesn't inspire people in Tennessee buy American; a dominant hockey team can't make GM competitive.

I've spent exactly two days in Detroit in the past three years.  I rode past the remaining corner of the old Staium--rebar sticking out of the few sections still standing--and it still couldn't crack the top 3 on a list of "the most depressing abandoned buildings within walking distance of the Fox Theatre."  I went to my uncle's house in the suburbs and had a nice meal at a newish strip-mall.  Then we went back downtown for the game.  Abandoned lots make for easy parking.  Even around the stadiums, so near Woodward, the combination of open space and old brick is disorienting coming from New York, though the homelessness is pretty standard.  Then you get inside and catch a glimpse of the grass, and move down to a $35 seat behind the dugout that would cost $350--easy--at Yankee Stadium, and Porcello doesn't have great stuff tonight, but we're finally hitting with guys on base and Inge saves a couple of runs with a nifty backhand and the bullpen protects the lead and Rodney has a little fun with everyone's emotions before closing it out and the carriage turns back into a pumpkin.

There's probably no glass slipper for Detroit.  Sure, a technically skilled, unemployed workforce and technically advanced, shuttered factories seem like the perfect combination for another revolution in transportation production.  Yet optimism is scarce.  A World Series won't change that.  Baseball won't fix a city of less than a million with an infrastructure built for twice that.  But God, for a few innings in October, it would be nice to turn back the clock to 1968, even if it's only a last hurrah.    
(h/t detroityes )

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Today, Desultory Eclecticism extends its heartfelt regards to long-time-reader, first-time-winner Thomas McClosky, whose interpretation of this Russian Fairy Tale has earned him a lifetime subscription to Desultory Eclecticism.  The moral:

Fear is a better motivation than anger/strength, and eggs make everyone feel better? Also, I don't get it--the gold's still there, just in really small pieces, right? I mean, cashforgold.com and/or Flava Flave will still take it off their hands, right?

I believe it was Confucius who once kept himself awake an entire twenty-four hours, neither eating no drinking, in the hope it would somehow arouse his philosophic/artistic faculties.  His verdict on the experiment?  "It didn't work."  However, in light of our winning explication's 3:13 AM arrival in my inbox, I hereby encourage all Desultory Eclecticism readers, in the name of science, to test Confucius's results, this time without any silly restrictions on imbibition.  

A Second Note on the Ads

I don't choose them, Adsense or Adspace or whatever they call themselves does, so today we have a "keep your bureaucratic hands off my health care" selection.  Want to show solidarity with Desultory Eclecticism in the cause for healthcare reform?  Click on the anit-reform ads; each such click takes a penny or so out of their pockets and puts it under Desultory Eclecticism's mattress for safe keeping.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

This Sounds Familiar...

No afternoon naps at 151st and Broadway today.  El Rincon de la Moda (unfortunately directly across the street from my living room) is celebrating its grand opening with a traditional Latin ritual--blasting a salsa/Daddy Yankee mix out to the entire neighborhood.  It would be just like Honduras, if only that man out front carrying lumber were a guard out front carrying an assault rifle.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Qualifier

From Gideon Rachman's blog at the Financial Times:

Now clearly Gaddafi is going to get bad reviews in the morning papers here in the US. But I have to say that some of what he had to say made perfect sense. It is entirely true that the structure of the UN Security Council is anomalous and outdated (although it was perhaps a bit harsh to call it “the terror council”). Gaddafi’s analysis of why it is so hard to reform the council was also bang on the money - each time you suggest one country, you trigger a demand from the next one in the queue. (So if you suggest Germany, Italy jumps up and down.) And his proposed solution - a Security Council of regional organisations such as the EU, Asean, the African Union - sounded like an elegant way out.,,
...Many of Gaddafi’s statements, which will be scorned in the West, actually probably resonate in the developing world. His views on the Security Council are widely shared. President Lula of Brazil said something not too dissimilair.

I <3 NY

Before complaining of jet lag, suggesting that swine flu was conspiratorially developed in a lab, comparing the UN Security Council to Al Qaeda, embarrassing our own "black, African, Kenyan" President, questioning the Warren Commission Report, demanding the release of Manuel Noriega, and suggesting that perhaps next time we try "fish flu," "king of kings" and "leader of the revolution" Muammar Quaddafi just wanted a place to pitch his tent.
Selections from various news agencies:

An attorney for the town of Bedford, around 43 miles north of Manhattan, said the town ordered work to be stopped at the site late Tuesday.

"We believe the erection of a tent on the ... property violates several codes and laws of the town of Bedford," Attorney Joel Sachs said.

Sachs said officials found workers constructing the tent but could not communicate with them because they didn't speak English. He said they gave the order to stop the work to the property's caretaker.

"There is no such thing as diplomatic immunity when it comes to complying with local laws and ordinances," Sachs said. "This is a private piece of property and they have to comply with the laws of this municipality."

The Trump Organization said Qaddafi would not be coming to Trump's estate and insisted that Trump has not rented property to him. But it said part of the estate "was leased on a short-term basis to Middle Eastern partners, who may or may not have a relationship to Mr. Qaddafi. We are looking into the matter."onship to Mr. Qaddafi. We are looking into the matter.
But then, just before 5 p.m. came word that the tent was down and the notoriously eccentric Libyan leader had changed his mind. He wouldn't be coming to Westchester now. 

Still unanswered is how he got access to the Trump estate in the first place. 
It's Qaddafi's first trip to the U.S. since taking power in Libya 40 years ago. His plan to pitch a tent in Central Park was denied, and local protests foiled plans to set up in Englewood, N.J. 

A Bronx developer also refused to rent two mansions when he learned the people who claimed to be from Sri Lanka were actually Libyans fronting for Qaddafi
Still, it seemed appropriate to ask the keepers of some New York City landmarks, particularly those that have allowed entertainers to pitch their tents, how they would feel about having Colonel Qaddafi put up his tent in their neighborhoods.

Dick D. Zigun, the unofficial mayor of Coney Island and impresario of its sideshow and museum, pointed out that the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus put up its tent this summer along the beach and took it down around Labor Day.

“Without question, Qaddafi is a circus,” he said.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a lot of catching up to do. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Devil on Broadway

"Iran's hard-liners are pushing their country into a dangerous and perhaps crippling isolation that could, if Tehran continues on this path, eventually make it another North Korea...And Ahmadinejad, on the cusp of his trip to New York this week to speak to the U.N. General Assembly, has veered even deeper into a David Duke-like rhetoric about the Holocaust and the role of Jews in history."
(Juan Cole, "Does Iran Want to be a Pariah?", Salon)

Juan Cole, traditionally far from hawkish, comes down hard on the Iranian regime today in Salon.  The University of Michigan professor, who actually speaks Farsi, has continually provided the sanest voice in the public debate over just how to deal with Iran's developing nuclear program (Cole has tirelessly corrected misuse of Ahmadinejad's oft-misquoted 'vow' to "wipe Israel off the map").  If he is this pessimistic about Iran's desire for rapprochement with the West, it does not bode well for Obama's oft-criticized (albeit on Fox News) intention to sit down with the enigmatic regime.

At the height of the "election" protests in July, Iranian scholar Reza Aslan suggested that the country was teetering between China and North Korea.  Although a strong dissident movement remains as active as it can, and the president-select himself appeared to moderate temporarily in the wake of the July fiasco (he clashed publicly with supreme leader Khamenei over the selection of a vice president, and even over the appointment of a woman to a cabinet level position), Cole clearly interprets Ahmadinejad's recent rhetoric as a move towards the crackpot alternative, as opposed to the merely despotic.  

A month ago there was still a rationalist explanation to all of this: the regime, wanting to play up its democratic legitimacy at upcoming nuclear talks, tried to artificially inflate it's 'political capital' by fudging an election it likely could have just won fairly.  I don't see a rationalist explanation for Ahmadinejad's Jerusalem Day speech.       

The devil comes to Broadway this week.  It would be great theatre, if only it were fiction. 

Monday, September 21, 2009

Курочка Ряба

Жили-были дед да бабаИ была у них курочка РябаСнеслакурочка яичкоЯичко не простое - золотоеДед бил-билнеразбилБаба била-билане разбилаА мышка бежала,хвостиком махнулаяичко упало и разбилось.
Дед и баба плачута курочка кудахчет: "Не плачь деднеплачь бабаЯ снесу вам яичко другоене золотоеа простое".

Once upon a time, Pops and Granny had a spotted hen.  The hen laid an egg.  But this egg is unusual...it's...GOLDEN!  Pops hit it and hit it, but he couldn't split it.  Granny whacked it and whacked it, but couldn't crack it.  Then a mouse ran out, waving his tail; the egg fell and shattered.

Pops and Granny cry, so the hen clucks: "Don't cry Pops; don't cry Granny.  I'll lay you another egg, not golden, but a normal one."
                                               (Russian Folk Tale, trans. Michael Wasiura)

Slavic children are much deeper than I am, which is why we're holding our first reader contest.  The best explicator of this fable not only receives a free lifetime subscription to Desultory Eclecticism, he or she also gets his or her moral published in a future post.  Have at it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Haiku for Curtis Granderson

Your glove? Just superb.
Leadoff home runs are nice too.
Please hit two-eighty.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Healthcare Reform

I saw Howard Dean speak at a Barnes and Noble back in July.  A former doctor himself, he stressed that no matter how many disagreeable provisions were sure to be included in any medical reform bill that passes through two legislative chambers, the sine qua non of the entire effort is the public option.  Then he batted softballs from admirers.  

Until an Ayn Rand-colyte got up: "Will I have the choice not to pay for the public option?  If I can't opt out of getting taxed for it, even if I don't want it, then how is it an option?"

This baffled the five-term governor (note: gubenatorial terms are only two years in Vermont).  The easy answer is that it's just as much an option as public schooling.  Everyone's property taxes fund schools, even if they have no children.  Those who do, have the option to enroll them in a system of taxpayer funded public education, to pay a premium for private schooling, or to do it themselves.  I did not post this analogy at the time, and it is so obvious as to be no longer remotely original.    

However, many such complaints (though not most) aren't misguided.  Any government driven healthcare reform will, and like all entitlements will irrevocably, increase the size of a growing federal government.  It will replace some cubicled claims auditors with cubicled bureaucrats.  It will be flawed.  It will be expensive.  A profit-driven firm can't compete with an entity able to sell trillions of dollars worth of bonds to fund its short and medium-term insolvency (which is why every plausible reform plan puts major restrictions on just who is eligible to enroll in the sure-to-be-cheaper public option).  A public option for health care, like social security, medicare, the federal reserve system, the medicare prescription drugs plan, progressive taxation, corporate welfare, and public schooling, is inherently socialistic.  That doesn't make it the logical first step to gulags in the Dakotas.

Not a single independent observer ranks our current system as much above average.  In bang-for-your-buck terms we inspire all manner of unflattering metaphors.  Dr. Dean cited medicaid's overhead at 4% of costs, compared with a typical insurer's 20%.  He maintains that the marketplace is incapable of supplying two sectors: defense and healthcare.  I'm inclined to agree...until I hear a proposal to shift money out of the type of "Cadillac" insurance plan my NYC Department of Education-employed fiancee enjoys.  

I supported Barack Obama last year because I believed he was a political son-of-a-bitch in sheep's clothing.  If anything meaningful is accomplished on the healthcare front, I say it vindicates that analysis.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Bad Guys

Sitting in an uptown pizza place near an Hispanic family and trying to eavesdrop in on the rapidamente Spanish of their four or five rambunctious little boys, I know I got two words for sure: just as a slightly larger bowl-cut little niño was about to hit his slightly smaller, bowl-cut younger hermano, the aggressor loudly proclaimed himself--as if he were claiming Lebron James for a driveway basketball game--"THE TALIBAN!"

Monday, September 14, 2009

Беседа пьяного с трезвым чёртом

A Drunkard's Chat With a Sober Demon
Антон Чехов 1886; trans. Michael Wasiura

A former ranking manager, retired college secretary Lakhmatov, sat by himself at the table, and, drinking his sixteenth glass, meditated on brotherhood, equality, and freedom. Suddenly, from behind the lamp, peeping out at him--a demon...but don't trouble yourself, dear reader. You know what sort of demon? It's a young man with a pleasant appearance, with boot black horns and expressive red eyes. On his head, although yet unmarried: horns...a haircut
a la Kapul[1]! A body covered in green wool and smelling of dog; at the base of his spine, a tail, culminating in an arrowhead; in place of fingers: claws; in place of feet: hooves. Lakhmatov, noticing the demon, became mildly confused, but then, remembering that green devils have a stupid habit of appearing to all drunk people, quickly calmed down.

"Can I speak with you honestly?" he addressed the uninvited guest.

The demon, confused, lowered his eyes.

"Don't be ashamed," Lakhmatov continued. "Come a little closer...I'm a man without prejudices, and you can talk with me openly...from the soul...who are you?

The demon indecisively approached Lakhmatov and, tucking his tail between his legs, politely bowed.

"I'm the devil, or at least, a demon," he introduced himself. "I'm earning my worthy rank on an errand from his worthy excellency, the director of the chancellery of Hell, Mr. Satan."

"I've heard of him, I've heard of him...very pleased to meet you. Have a seat! You wouldn't like some vodka? I'm very glad...well, but what, sir, are you up to?

The demon's confusion increased...

"Properly speaking, my task is nothing definite," he answered, coughing confusedly and blowing his nose in a rebus puzzle. "Earlier, certainly, we had tasks. We tempted people, seduced them from the way of good onto the path of evil. These days, between you and me, this task isn't worth spit. The way of good is already nonexistent; there's nothing left to debuach, and--to get to the point--people have grown more clever than us! Just try and tempt a man when he's finished all the sciences at university--the time of fire, water, and copper pipes has passed away. How can I teach you to steal a ruble if you can already snap up a thousand without my help?"

"That's true...but, nevertheless, you must be up to something?"

"Yes...our earlier duties are now, maybe, only nominal, but we still have work: we seduce classy ladies; we prod youngsters to write poetry; we compel drunk merchants to break mirrors...Of politics, of literature, and of science we long ago stopped interfering; we don't even prick those subjects...A lot of us work together to make rebus puzzles. There are even some who left Hell behind and entered in among people...They're retired demons, those among the people; they've wedded themselves to the riches of the marketplace and live extremely well. One of them is a lawyer; others publish newspapers; they're generally very worthwhile and respected people!"

"Sorry for the immodest question, but what sort of compensation do you receive?"

"Our prior situation..." answered the demon, "...well, that state has changed a little. Earlier an apartment, light, central heating...Now they don't even give us a stipend because they consider us all supernumerary and because a demon--his duty is honorable. In general, to speak openly, it's a poor living; ah, but to walk the earth...Thanks be to people for teaching us to take bribes, otherwise we'd have been finished long ago. We live on that income and produce sins for food. Well, you get it: Satan got old. Now, instead of paying Him honor, everybody goes to see Zucchi [2]..."

Lakhmatov poured the demon a glass of vodka. He drank it and it loosened him up. He told Lakhmatov all the secrets of Hell, poured out his soul, cried, and so endeared himself that Lakhmatov proposed he stay the night. The demon slept in the stove and muttered all night. In the morning, he disappeared.

[1] French tenor; 1839-1924
[2] Italian dancer; 1849-1930

(h/t LingQ)
Read the original here.

I've linked to lingq.com above. The site provides text and audio in several languages with good links to dictionaries and user hints for vocabulary building. I recommend it for anyone studying a reasonably common foreign language (no Arabic unfortunately).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

BLUE 38 gold 34

I thought it would be another year before I could start making annoying Michigan fan posts. Instead, enjoy the first installment of our new weekly feature.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Obligatory 9/11 Post

"Unless you were there in a position of responsibility after September 11th you cannot possibly imagine the dilemmas you faced trying to protect Americans... If you were there in a position of authority and watched Americans jump out of 80-story buildings because these murderous tyrants went after innocent people, then you were determined to do anything you could--that was legal--to prevent that from happening again."
Condoleezza Rice, speaking with students at a Stanford dorm (4/27/09)

I don't doubt her for a second and can only begin to sympathize with the administration's task in the uncertain wake of 9/11.  Had I spent my first 8 months in a position of responsibility derisively ignoring Richard Clarke and his leftover band of hawkish bin Laden hunters, or received an August 6 briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US," I too may have tried desperately to overcompensate for my negligence.   

I haven't seen a remotely plausible 9/11 conspiracy theory.  The Humean in me fingers a combination of bad luck and incompetence as the culprit.  There were opportunities to smother bin Laden in the cradle--most of them under Clinton (due to his administration's threat prioritization). There was no option for Bush but to invade Afghanistan after 9/11, to dismantle al Qaeda's training infrastructure at the very least.

But Charles Bronson syndrome set in.  We had been mortally wronged and were now morally justified to do just about anything in retaliation.  Tyrants only understand force.  They hate our freedom.  I stand for 7 hours a day.  We do not torture ;-).  Two security checks in every airport and an American boot in every terrorist ass.  Precision-guided democracy reigning down on the liberated.  

Which leads us to the second half of Condi's discussion with a group of teenagers:        

"The President instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the convention against torture...The United States was told, we were told 'nothing that violates our obligations in the convention against torture,' and so by definition, if it was authorized by the President, it did not violate our obligations under the convention against torture."

I know she's speaking extempore, but read that again.  This woman was provost of Stanford, accompanied Yo-Yo Ma, stood in Kissinger's shoes, held a prominent position at Chevron, speaks far better Russian than I do, holds multiple advanced degrees, and couldn't make the debate team at the school she used to run.  

I can't believe people like this ran my country.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


As someone who'd be dead without the skill, innovation, and open borders of American neuroscience, and bankrupt without the generous health care the Government provides for its own employees, our most recent red scare has been of relative interest to me.  Following the theme of yesterday's post, here's my favorite moment from Obama's address to Congress.  

I've had some late-night bull sessions about whether or not politicians actually believe in what they're saying.  If Joe Wilson's (note: not THE  Joe Wilson) reaction isn't genuine, then you may have a bridge I'd be interested in purchasing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Democracy in America

(we'll get to Tocqueville later)

The influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame within their particular States, but will be unable to spread a general conflagration through the other States. A religious sect may degenerate into a political faction in a part of the Confederacy; but the variety of sects dispersed over the entire face of it must secure the national councils against any danger from that source. A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State. James Madison, Federalist 10 (November 1787)

Although he foresaw factional divisions as the inevitable result of an inevitably unequal distribution of wealth rather than, say, as a tivo-driven phenomenon (skip to the second segment of the episode; unfortunately the digg link isn't working for me), Madison’s Federalist 10 masterpiece, despite its wildly inaccurate forecasting of upcoming "improper or wicked project[s]", remains among the more prescient of the founding era documents.

Don't believe it? Find me a single public debate of any consequence in American history that isn't rife with disinformation, misinformation, and childish name calling.

We'll skip over the controversies surrounding Jay's Treaty, the Alien and Sedition Acts, the election of 1800, and just about all of the other mis- and disinformed public name calling sessions of the succeeding 209 years and note just a few of the most prominent examples of the "propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities, that where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts." (also Federalist 10)

1796: Legend-in-his-own-time George Washington, opting for "greatest man who ever lived" status over the rigors of a unanimously elected third term, receives a letter from Thomas Paine concluding thusly: "And as to you, Sir, treacherous in private friendship (for so you have been to me, and that in the day of danger) and a hypocrite in public life, the world will be puzzled to decide whether you are an apostate or an impostor; whether you have abandoned good principles, or whether you ever had any." The Correspondence of Thomas Paine (July 30, 1796)

History appears to have decided in Washington's favor.

1864: On the tamer side of pro-slavery propaganda, we have "An Amalgamation Waltz," forced miscegenation being the death panels of its day.2009: This health care town hall clip is pretty tame compared to most of the “moment of zen” footage that’s been popping up over the past few months, although the socialism joker icon really adds something.

Madison reminds us that, "As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed," the result seeming to be that the same system that took three score and sixteen years to outlaw chattel slavery simultaneously defends itself against the tides of 1793, 1917, 1933, and even 2001. The same cacophony of idiots that makes sensible health care reform impossible also seems to militate against similarly lasting negative changes. 

I'm not saying Glenn Beck isn't an idiot; I (likely unlike Madison) won't even concede that he serves some twisted higher purpose; I'm just saying he isn't an aberration.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Note on the Ads

Adspace chose them for me, presumably due to the heavy Russian content in yesterday's post. Anyway, they say "Defeat the Scary Dragon" and give you an authentic virtual plaid Slavic indoor slipper as a weapon. Maybe it's a fun game, no?

Monday, September 7, 2009

For Labor Day

Have a "Happy Labor Day!" and enjoy my first and final use of an exclamation mark to kick off a sure-to-be-sporadic blogging career. In honor of the day off work (well, school) I'm giving you the condensed version of my favorite Soviet band's ode to manual labor. I include the original Russian for the overachievers and a link to the band's wikipedia page for the uninitiated.
Надоело ходить на работу,
Каждый день к девяти на работу.
Я нашёл выход: я хочу быть кочегаром, кочегаром, кочегаром,
Я хочу быть кочегаром, кочегаром, кочегаром,
Работать сутки через трое, через трое,через трое,
Я хочу быть кочегаром, кочегаром, кочегаром...
                              Кино, from 46 (1983)

I'm sick of going to work,
Every day at nine to work.
I found a way out: I want to be a stoker, a stoker, a stoker,
I want to be a stoker, a stoker, a stoker,
Work round the clock a full three times, three times, three times,
I want to be a stoker, a stoker, a stoker...
                               (trans. Michael Wasiura)

Listen here. 'Kochegarom' follows 'Selva' (also worth a listen) at the 2:50 mark.