On What We Mean When We Say That

“There’s no indication whatsoever that this is any act of terrorism,” assured Thomas G. Mangan, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

via Phoenix Area Rattled by Booby-Trapped Flashlights – NYTimes.com.

It is a weird corner we have worked ourselves into where a comment like the one above actually makes sense. So, like, it is terrorism, without a doubt; but it is not terrorism. Does everyone understand?

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The Walking Guns

For the past year and a half, some Republicans have promoted the idea that Holder and other top-level officials at the Justice Department knew federal agents in Operation Fast and Furious had engaged in a risky tactic known as “gun-walking.” Two of Holders e-mails and one from Cole appear to show that they hadn’t known about gun-walking but were determined to find out whether the allegations were true.

via The Associated Press: AG emails: Get to the bottom of Fast and Furious.

English: Actor Charlton Heston at the Civil Ri...

English: Actor Charlton Heston at the Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C. in August 1963. Magyar: Charlton Heston az 1963-as, polgári jogokért folytatott washingtoni menetben (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The beautiful irony of this it-will-end-up-going-nowhere scandal is that the natural, rational outcome of Republicans’ criticism would be to call for a natural, rational reassessment of the patchy and toothless laws that cover gun control in this country. You know, so that the amateurs in the Justice Department will be unable to foul things like this up in the future.

Sadly, that will not help people like Darrell Issa raise money for their re-election campaigns. You can just about imagine the gnarled, bony finger of the entombed Charlton Heston making an undead Shhh! sign over pursed, leathery lips. (“You damned, dirty politicians!”)

“Republican senators are whipping up the country into a psychotic frenzy with these reports that are patently false,” says Linda Wallace, a special agent with the Internal Revenue Service…

via The truth about the Fast and Furious scandal – Fortune Features.

The real cause of violence and crime south of the border, it reports, is lax gun laws in Arizona and elsewhere pushed by Republicans and their friends at the National Rifle Association.

via GOP Votes for Contempt as “Fast and Furious” Blows Up in Its Face | Mother Jones.

The House of Representatives on Thursday voted to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for failing to disclose internal Justice Department documents in response to a subpoena. It was the first time in American history that Congress has imposed that sanction on a sitting member of a president’s cabinet.

via Fast and Furious Contempt Citation for Holder – NYTimes.com.

The Ever-Elusive Michael Vick

8:29 PM John
I like how Vick said this, and no one told him he is an idiot: “I’m a firm believer in God, and I believe in karma,” said Vick…

8:32 PM Samantha
karma, for him, will be a bitch. …Idiot

…There, I said it!

The formerly disgraced quarterback Michael Vick, when speaking to prospective N.F.L. rookies on Monday, displayed a rhetorical agility far greater than any head-turning juke he performed on a football field. Vick was addressing the league’s so-called rookie symposium, apparently as a designated bogeyman, having spent nearly two years in prison after being convicted for his role in an appalling dogfighting racket. As Vick put it:

That’s bad. You dont want to end up that way.

via Michael Vick orders NFL rookies not to count on second chances | NFL.com.

Most media outlets took the new and improved Vick at full, fantasy value (ranked No. 19 in 2010!), describing his talk as candid and powerful. My own thinking was tackled by Vick’s assertion (in the same sentence!) that he is “a firm believer in God” and “in karma.”

He only looks angry. (From “Creation of the Sun and Moon” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo.

I do not mean to endorse spiritual world views in this space, let alone promulgate my own, such as they are. But it does seem like part of the overall bargain that such views have a semblance of internal consistency. Vick’s seeming ignorance of the monumental clash between the monotheistic first clause of his comment and the polytheistic second clause is enough to cause serious, if only mental, injury.

To be fair to Vick, that dualistic mind-set jibes well with the rest of America, which seems to have no difficulty or compunction picking and choosing from among the bible’s many inconsistencies and contradictions, and then spending all evening watching TV programs about aliens, bigfoots and other supernatural oddities.

Vick goes on, as if cracking into a busted dialectical play. Vick warns that “if you don’t appreciate what God gave you,” “he’ll take that away from you.” In Vick’s case, of course, it was the federal government that took away what God “gave” him, not God himself, but the record in Scripture is not exactly clear. Some of the time, God takes it away from you even if you do appreciate it (Job 1:1). And some of the time, God just squares up his shoulders and goes linebacker all over you (Genesis 32:24-5).

The rest of Vick’s speech is a jumble of stale platitudes, not surprising from a football player but faithfully, disappointingly, reported by The A.P. and the N.F.L., among others: “You’ve got a lot of learning to do, a lot of life to live…”; “Your friend can’t make you do something you really don’t want to do if you’re strong enough to say no”; “Trust yourself”; “Once this is over, it’s over”; “Enjoy the ride.”

The best part, probably, is that most observers took Vick’s central message to be that rookies should not count on second chances. Apparently, that stems more from Vick’s notion of karma than whatever prison-Christian heresies he has adopted. Second chances are, or so I have read, a bedrock of Christian theology.

Vexing Questions for a Tuesday

Are human beings intrinsically good but corruptible by the forces of evil, or the reverse, innately sinful yet redeemable by the forces of good?

via Evolution and Our Inner Conflict – NYTimes.com.

How’s that for a lede?

And you thought it would take all your life to square a circle like that. In today’s Times, all you need to do is read about 1,000 words.

…Wait, what? You don’t have that much time? O.K. I will summarize it for you: “Humans are forever conflicted… between the two extreme forces that created us.” Why is that, you ask? “It is just the way things worked out.”

Thanks, Philosophy!

Nobody can halt the worldwide rush to create cyberweapons, but a treaty could prevent their deployment in peacetime and allow for a collective response to countries or organizations that violate it.

via Stuxnet Will Come Back to Haunt Us – NYTimes.com.

What about the people who violate it?

I’m pretty sure the Yankees are the only club capable of making people try to spin hitting so many homers into a bad thing.

via Embracing the flawed, first place Yankees | River Avenue Blues.

Why is that, anyway? Why is no one satisfied, or impressed? Why do wonks continue to speculate about what useless fatbodies will be available before the trade deadline?

Homicides are up by 38 percent from a year ago, and shootings have increased as well…

via Rate of Killings Rises 38 Percent in Chicago in 2012 – NYTimes.com.

What the hell is happening in Chicago?

On Weighty Matters, and Ranch Seasoning

[10:24 AM] Bob: …so any way [redacted] is talking abouit [redacted]’s …surgery…and weight loss….for a benchmark for those that did not know heavy [redacted]…she has been using me ….as the benchmark….thought this would give you a chuckle….a tickle….yeah…

[10:58 AM] Me: It did make me laugh. Thanks. But I am disturbed by this trend toward emphasizing negative traits about you. Why is that, I wonder?

[1:47 PM] Bob: …trend….who’s been talking…

[1:50 PM] Me: [redacted], for one. I just wanted you to know that you are my hero.

[1:52 PM] Bob: …one is not a trend…one is one….an event…hold the horses

[2:04 PM] Me: Anyway, it’s not important who said what, is it? You a good guy, no matter what.

Doritos

[2:48 PM] Bob: …yeah….had to dip into Doritos and Mountain Dew…feel better now…besides only an hour to go at work…

[2:58 PM] Me: Just read article on Frito-Lay. Doritos are slumping, so they’re going after both the pricier snacks AND the cheapest. New strategy, they say. As for me, I still like Doritos. Used to be that was fancy. Anyway, struggling bodega on my corner sometimes has nothing else.

[3:15 PM] Bob: …got another bag …nacho cheese off course…ranch doritos..are just…ranch corn chips.

[3:19 PM] Bob: …Ranch flavored anything besides ranch dressing is a bit silly to me…as I feel the one need to dip…something about the dipless ranch flaored chips …the spice the powder…ranch flavor need to be wet…as with sour cream…it just looses something…with the dry ingredients…bar-b- que…the only exception…

[3:26 PM] Bob: …so there…downed two bags of Doritos…and have 50 minutes of work left…to bad I don’t need to balance my check book…or address some cards …with notes…say when is [redacted]’s birthday…maybe I could get started on that …and hope it goes better then my efforts earlier in the year…

[3:32 PM] Me: I’m a Cheetos man. Puff or crunch.

[3:39 PM] Bob: …yes…cheetos…but we were on chips….but as you made the move to extruded corn…yes cheetos are top notch….puffed ones for the slow savor…crunchies …well for a little more aggressive snacking…but we can’t overlook the cheeseball…as a contender in the “puffed” category…they are also perform better when chucked either in a …jester of sharing …or…in a offensive tactical nature

[3:43 PM] Me: I am going rogue here: the pretzel chip! Have you had these??

[3:49 PM] Bob: ..the pretzel chip please…the pretzel …hard….cheese wiz….and potato chip…with the cheese wiz as the adhesive….bomb, the original pretzel chip….anything else a pretender…

[3:50 PM] Me: Wow. That’s bold.

[3:54 PM] Bob: …and please lets keep in mind..snacking …should be more …there should be an experiance as well…otherwise….loose the belt and grab a couch…remote ..

[3:54 PM] Me: Of course

[3:59 PM] Bob: …so yes…at work….Nacho Cheese Doritos with a Mountain Dew…classic..or your pretzel chips….onthe go snack….but at home…maybe expand it to …Doritos and crunchy peanut butter tucked into a wheat baguette….complimented with Lays classic potato chips dippeds in Liptons California Onion Dip….the drink….chocolate shake or rootbeer float…snacking…proper….with a purpose….experiance…

[4:02 PM] Me: Well played. My most common gnosh is Planters Mixed Nuts, and yogurt-covered pretzels. Handful of these nearly every day.

[4:11 PM] Bob: …yes …nice….but…kinda slanted towards the healthy side of snacking…unless…I assume…the volume consumed …brings you up to a respectfull…fat….sodium …and calorie…count…on par…sya with a cup of cheese wiz…or sour creme…or ranch dressing….snacking…good …solid snacking…as with anything good in life…should dangle a little bit of risk…

[4:13 PM] Me: No, sorry. I’m letting you down there.

[5:37 PM] Bob: …don’t apologize …it takes a big man to snack…well

[5:52 PM] Me: You said a mouthful.

‘The Profligate Sense of Space Had a Hypnotic Effect’

A hypnotic prairie vista. (Credit: Ken Dewey, Applied Climate Sciences Group,
School of Natural Resources, UNL)

The archives of The Times preserve some of the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) examples of purple-prose reporting by citified pantywaists. They blink their eyes like children at prairie vistas (or vast forests or ice-capped mountain ranges) and carry on like no one has ever seen such a thing before. Pity most of all the humble cornfield, whose stalks have waved mournfully and tirelessly across pockmarked, sun-baked highways at a thousand stump speeches.

Portrait of George Bird Grinnell from Nathanie...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Travel section of today’s Times, ironically, offers a worthy entrant to this dubious Pantheon. The fairly accomplished, we are led to believe, travel writer Tony Perrottet introduces readers to the 19th century environmentalist and adventurer George Bird Grinnell, right, and in a preamble to a glowing review of the sights of rural Nebraska and Kansas provides this hard-to-believe-anyone-would-type-it sentence: “With all the changes in the West over the last 140 years, I wondered if following Grinnell’s route would offer any glimpses of the 1872 frontier.”

With all the changes “over the last 140 years”? Like world wars? Or just interstate highways?

English: Walt Whitman. Library of Congress des...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least Perrottet did not disguise the stereotype, admitting freely that he “was a New Yorker longing for empty horizons and open skies.” The hyperbole and heavy breathing begin immediately, as if following page by page in the Handbook for Parachuting Reporters. Step 1 is to introduce a literary element totally foreign to the locale, in this case a quote from the poet Walt Whitman, left, about prairies: they “fill the esthetic sense fuller.”

Stand in one some day, fill your lungs with a deep, manure-scented breath and you will undoubtedly agree.

Perrottet’s “esthetic” sense is on full, near-hallucinatory display. “Even the modern metropolis of Omaha,” he writes of my hometown, “took me back in time.” He claims to have been stirred at dawn by “the lonely whistle of a freight train,” and then describes a stroll “through the 19th-century warehouses of the Old Market district,” below, which is now less about the 19th century than it is wine bars and so-called gastropubs.

English: Old Market Omaha, Nebraska, summer 2010

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But Perrottet did not come to Nebraska for the Bordeaux ($7.95 a glass) and charcuterie (from $9) at La Buvette. He was eager to point his rental car toward the mystical countryside. “As I was fresh from the East Village,” Perrottet writes, using an adjective and a proper noun that, I assure you, are not often used together, “the profligate sense of space had a hypnotic effect.”

Wait. It gets better:

I wound down the window, smelling “the wild lyrical drizzling air of Nebraska,” as Kerouac rhapsodized in “On the Road.” Under the midday sun the landscape can seem bleached and monotonous, but when the golden dusk catches the sunflowers, the setting is as sublime as Provence.

Provence!

It goes on. (Of course it does.) Perrottet nimbly displays awe and naiveté, as in phrases like “even the remotest towns revealed their passion for history;” “the old bank had been turned into a hotel;” “oceans of undulating grass extend to the horizon;” and “the stroll was eerily idyllic, with butterflies flittering among the bluestem.”

Flittering is what happens to your brain by the end of Perrottet’s journey. I have no doubt he enjoyed it, and undoubtedly there are many places in the Plains that are profoundly beautiful. It has always been thus, but it does not seem to stop big-city clods from being bowled over. (I am talking to you, Theodore Roosevelt!)

However, I can speak from experience that rural Nebraska has almost nothing in the departments of remote towns, undulating grass and 19th-century commercial districts that, say, rural Indiana, or even rural New York State, does not. You can call it a “passion for history,” but really that is a desperation for tourist dollars. And the only thing lonelier than the whistle of a freight train is going to be the Perrottet-inspired traveler who has not fully grasped that the “hypnotic effect” derived from wide-open spaces bleeds inexorably into personal torpor.

God forbid Perrottet ever points his rental car toward the covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa.

On Segregation and the South

“That’s the way it has always been here in the rural areas,” Mr. Menendez said. “White funeral homes employ white embalmers, and black funeral homes employ black embalmers. That’s the South.”

via Funerals Remain a Segregated Business in the South – NYTimes.com.

“It’s our custom, here in the South, here in Jasper,” said Albert K. Snell, 80, a retired teacher who is white and a member of the cemetery’s board of directors. “We have the same cemetery, but we don’t mix the white and the black graves. They’re separate. Put a black up here? No, no, we wouldn’t do that.”

via In Jasper, Texas, Racial Tensions Flare Again – NYTimes.com.

“What you have is the northern section of the county,” he went on, “which is mostly white, seeking to leave the rest of Fulton County, and doing so with what I think are racially tinged arguments about the corruption and inefficiency of local government.”

via A Georgia Town Takes the People’s Business Private – NYTimes.com.

It’s Hot Today, and Other Good Sentences

So many good sentences today.

But, first: Why does the astronomer/blogger Phil Plait hate me? The 22nd of June and his excellent Bad Astronomy blog offers up, above, a photo of the sun!? Not to mention two posts (and a slide show) on June 20! Enough!

Thence to this, from Bible History Daily. “Just because a text is old, however, does not mean it is better.” The context is a discussion on the differences between biblical texts, for instance between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text. These are legion, by the way. Some mundane, some profound. Some are in between, as in this example, which asks if Jesus was moved by compassion or by anger when he healed a leper.

But “just because a text is old, however, does not mean it is better” is far more durable.

Attempting to make a lasting statement about commencement addresses is Blake Masters, who I never heard of. Mr. Masters reviewed on his blog the address at Stanford by Cory Booker, the feisty, lovable bald-headed mayor of Newark, and came away unmoved by Booker’s apparently hippy-dippy message about the power of love. Masters displays an unmatched grasp of the famous-black-people-speaking-at-Stanford genre, however, and compares Booker’s speech to one in 2008 by Oprah Winfrey. She apparently said that making money was a good thing and that it would actually help people more than just walking around and loving everybody. As Masters puts it, “Actual productivity is a better terminal metric than love.”

Nothing encourages empathy for an opinion like the phrase “terminal metric.”

Which brings us, turning from empathy to sympathy, to a viral video of an elderly female bus monitor being cruelly mocked by four overindulged schoolboys. This has resulted in a nearly spontaneous outpouring of love that meshes well with Mr. Masters’s desired metric. Namely, the making of money. Nearly half a million dollars has been raised by sympathetic viewers, who were moved initially, I think, to send the monitor on a vacation. But who I guess now are hoping to send her into early retirement.

Lest you hastily take Mr. Booker’s side on these matters, realize that thousands of people have sent critical messages to the school in question, by e-mail and phone, and not all of them diplomatic. Hundreds more have harassed the bullies themselves with threats — presumably, the “terminal” part of the metric in question. As the local police chief put it, “Threats to overcome threats do no good.” (Well, played.)

And, finally, to a metric-obsessed, third-generation Asian-American who is now my new hero. (Sort of.) David R. Chan is his name, and he claims to have eaten in more than 6,000 Chinese restaurants, notes on which he has recorded in a vast spreadsheet. My favorite sentence from the L.A. Weekly report on Mr. Chan? “He doesn’t use chopsticks and doesn’t speak Chinese.” Hey! Neither do I!

I ask for a fork without embarrassment, anyway. But. Some day I want to be offered complimentary lederhosen when I order a brat and a German beer.

Beware the Pretty Ones, or a Story About Rudolph Valentino

…the actor traveled to New York and arranged to have boxing lessons from his friend Jack Dempsey, the  heavyweight champion. Valentino was actually quite fit, and Dempsey tried to help, getting in touch with sportswriter Frank “Buck” O’Neil.

“Listen, O’Neil,” Dempsey told him, “Valentino’s no sissy, believe me…. He packs a pretty mean punch.”

“Cut the crap,” O’Neil told him. “I don’t buy it, and neither does anyone else.”

O’Neil then volunteered to take on Valentino in the ring, and the actor quickly agreed to fight him the following afternoon on the roof of the Ambassador Hotel. The next morning, reporters arrived at Valentino’s suite, only to see him decked out in an “orchid bathing suit and lavender lounging robe.”

“I’m going back to Chicago and I’ll have satisfaction,” Valentino told them, still incensed over the “Pink Powder Puffs” editorial.* Privately, reporters marveled at Valentino’s bulging biceps and wondered what the star would do if he found out the editorial writer was a woman.

Valentino and O’Neil met on the roof, with reporters and photographers attending, and despite O’Neil’s promise that he would not hurt the star, he popped Valentino on the chin with a left. The actor responded by dropping his larger opponent with a left of his own. Somewhat stunned, Valentino apologized and helped the writer to his feet.

O’Neil told reporters: “Next time Jack Dempsey tells me something, I’ll believe him. That boy has a punch like a mule’s kick. I’d sure hate to have him sore at me.”

via Rudolph Valentino, aka the “Latin Lover,” and His Enemies | Past Imperfect.

* …it was the Chicago Tribune that really set Valentino off. On July 18, 1926, the paper ran an unsigned editorial under the headline “Pink Powder Puffs” that blamed Valentino for the installation of a face-powder dispenser in a new public men’s room on the city’s North Side:

A powder vending machine! In a men’s washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn’t someone quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo [sic], alias Valentino, years ago?… Do women like the type of “man” who pats pink powder on his face in a public washroom and arranges his coiffure in a public elevator?… Hollywood is the national school of masculinity. Rudy, the beautiful gardener’s boy, is the prototype of the American male.