Things Your Father Told You to Do, and Things He Didn’t

father-and-son-talkIn our humble opinion, though, learning how to drive stick is one of those time-honored skills that just might save your tuchus. Knowing how to drive stick could also get you out of a sticky situation. Like fleeing the scene in a “borrowed” getaway car.

via <a href=”″>Learn to Drive Stick | Car Talk</a>.

It’s the fear of every father: Your son never learned to drive a stick shift, and you just know that someday it is going to bite him in the rump.

Well, it happened over the weekend, when campus police officers at the University of Texas in Houston Police Department responded to a report of an unusual carjacking. Apparently, two teenagers had picked the wrong car to steal.

The first part of the crime went according to plan. The vehicle was chosen, and the victim was removed from the car. But things got complicated when the teens tried to make their getaway. All at once it became apparent that a life of crime is harder than it looks. Also, driving a stick shift.

But in an inspired act of problem-solving, the thieves actually appealed to the victim for an impromptu disquisition on the modern manual transmission. Alas, the circumstances were not ideal. No impression was made on the boys’ driving abilities, and after a few blocks they kicked their instructor out of the car.

The victim quickly called the police, and what should have been a high-speed pursuit quickly devolved into a foot chase.

“Apparently they had issues operating the vehicle,” a police spokesman said. “They then jumped out of the vehicle and ran on foot.”

The boys were quickly rounded up and the vehicle returned to its owner, the mysteries of its locomotion intact.


‘Dogs and Cats, Simmering Together! Mass Hysteria!’


Oh, Mr. Johnny Verbeck how could you be so mean
I told you, you’d be sorry for inventin’ that machine
now all the neighbors cats and dogs will nevermore be seen
For they’ll be ground to sausages in Johnny Verbeck’s machine.
via Johnny Verbeck Lyrics.

“The way we prepare it,” the Swiss say, “no one knows what they are eating anyway.”

How’s that for an endorsement of regional culinary traditions? Call it food for thought on this Thanksgiving as animal lovers in Switzerland step up a campaign to ban traditional, if secretive, dishes made from cats and dogs.

And by step up I mean just get started on, because these kind-hearted, ski-cap-wearing folks only have about 16,000 signatures so far — a slim fraction of the Alpine country’s population of eight million.

But never mind that. It’s the thought that counts.

“These animals form part of a family; they must not end up on a dinner plate,” said Tomi Tomek, a German woman active in petition-circulating circles. “Around 3 percent of the Swiss secretly eat cat or dog.”

She may only be half right. A reporter from the Swiss daily Le Matin found at least one chirpy farmer who finds “nothing odd about eating dogs.” It’s meat, he said. What’s the big deal about eating meat?

At some point in the interview, though, our hero appeared to grow a little squeamish. He added that, you know, us farmers aren’t the only ones ringing the necks of puppies and kittens.

“Construction workers in particular like eating it,” he said, deftly throwing a whole demographic under the bus.

This is such a serious problem that the wife of a Swiss diplomat was quoted explaining that it’s the high price of meat that is to blame — probably after brushing lint from her cat-skin jacket.

Apparently, dogs are made into sausage. The Swiss prefer Rottweilers, I am betting to act out the latent resentment they feel from the fact that most people confuse the Swiss for Germans. Cats are more popular over all, and are typically served with garlic and a white wine sauce. “Young ones are more tender,” an animal rights activist told Breitbart London, which is not hard to believe.

It’s worth mentioning that rabbits are eaten the same way, which leads one to wonder if this isn’t a well-constructed practical joke by a few bored farmers.

We’re not even the only ones making jokes about it. Godfrey Bloom, a British former member of Europe’s parliament, made a lot hay a few years ago trying to get horse meat banned in Europe. But his stomach shifted not an inch when told of the Swiss petition.

“We used to have Swiss chocolate cats on the christmas tree as a lad,” he said, winding up for the punch line: “I fear the soft-centered ones might not have been quite what we thought.”

‘Outland,’ or When Science Fiction Becomes Sordid Reality


Representaive blecch, from “Outland.”

Representaive blecch, from “Outland.”

I came across, again, the film “Outland” the other day. I remembered this as an average piece of science fiction that tried to ride the coattails of “Star Wars” in the early 1980s. And I wanted to remember its having compelling qualities, like “Blade Runner,” which came out a year later. Certainly the movie’s star, Sean Connery, is worth watching.

Sadly, I’m not sure the movie holds up after 30 years. What struck me was how the criminal conspiracy at the heart of the plot seemed so commonplace. Perhaps it was less so at the time? It is hard to remember what we were all thinking back in 1981.

Sean Connery holding his spot in line for the toilet.

Sean Connery holding his spot in line for the toilet.

The story goes like this. Sean Connery is a space cop, or something. Really, he is dressed like a modern-day retiree: cheap hat with garish patch on the front, bright white tennis shoes, etc. The first time you see him head to toe, you expect to next see several blue-haired women push past him in a rush toward a restroom.

But let’s call him a space cop. His post is a mining complex on one of Jupiter’s moons that is owned by a big, I guess, multigalactical corporation or whatever. And after a while, Mr. Connery’s character grows suspicious about a series of mysterious deaths.

Really, the deaths are more spectacular than mysterious: they’re suicides by explosive decompression. Indeed, this is less a space-bound police procedural than the indulging of a gruesome science-fiction fetish.

When Mr. Connery’s character takes a closer look (spoiler!)… Continue reading

Tragedy of the Shopping Mall

One of the outer arcades, in 2009. Notice the Barcelona Zlatan Ibrahimović jersey.

One of the outer arcades, in 2009. Notice the Barcelona Zlatan Ibrahimović jersey.

“This is actually about deciding who is supposed to pay for the refurbishing.”

via Report: Grand Bazaar in Istanbul in Danger of Collapse – SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The Grand Bazaar is mostly tedious, but there are numerous gems tucked away in its venerable arches and winding passageways. Worth a visit, especially if you hit the Cemberlitas Hammami afterward, to get all the commerce off you. (Straight out the main southern entrance, and to the left.)

The bazaar made a lasting impression on me — during a visit in 2009 — for two reasons. One was that even the simplest, most inexpensive transactions were prolonged by an absurd tradition of haggling. (“How much is that keychain?” “Three lira (about $1.50).” “O.K.” “For you, though, I will take two. Two lira.” “O.K.” “I cannot take less.” “O.K.”)

And two was the rat that bounded joyfully across my path somewhere in the northwestern quarter. I was unconcerned; the whole place is open air, and I imagined the rat knew right where it was going. But the nearby shopkeepers rallied like townspeople oppressed by a mythical beast. Before I knew it, a mob had cornered the rat with broomsticks and mops. After a few seconds of human and animal protest, an abrupt, agonized squeak marked the end of the drama. The victim was placed in a mop bucket and wheeled away. The crowd melted back into the arcades. I passed through a centuries-old arch.

‘Paulie, Pull Over, I Gotta Take a Leak’

Rodriguez, according to an associate, is eager to begin playing and does not understand why the Yankees have shelved him…

via Rodriguez Angers Yankees –

Like a man who knows his days are numbered, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez trudged to Tampa from Scranton to begin “rest and treatment” for a leg injury he says he doesn’t have.

This is what baseball gives us in July: Ryan Braun’s urine and Mr. Rodriguez’s Sad Sack Road Show.

It’s so sad that Mr. Rodriguez was compared to a child who is left behind at recess. The Yankees’ Curtis Granderson, in Tampa recovering from a broken finger, himself another member of the club’s well-heeled disabled list, said Mr. Rodriguez had wanted to hit baseballs with the rest of the kids in Tampa. He added ominously, according to The Associated Press, “They had to stop him.”

7:11 PM John
…So, really, do you think A-Rod “doesn’t understand” why the Yankees are holding him over the hamper like a pair of stinky socks?
7:18 PM Samantha
Well, with a-rod it’s tough to know

The Yankees have their reasons. You see, Mr. Rodriguez is on baseball’s magic list of players who have engorged themselves with the help of a now-disgraced Florida doctor.

Mr. Rodriguez had hip surgery in January, and a few days ago completed a longish stint in the minors honing his now-mediocre timing — he had eight hits in 13 games. Had the Yankees wanted him back, they could be penciling him in the lineup right now.

Instead, team officials announced he had a strained quadriceps and needed “rest and treatment.” Which, if it weren’t in the cold, clinical language of American sportswriting, would sound like a line from “The Godfather.” As in, “I’m putting you on a plane to Vegas;” “…the boss says he’ll come in a separate car;” or, you know, “Paulie, pull over, I gotta take a leak.”

The Yankees, already vexed with their three-time M.V.P. for bleating on Twitter without permission last month, were further provoked on Wednesday when one of Mr. Rodriguez’s cronies, a New Jersey doctor, told a New York radio station that “I don’t see any injury there.” Oddly, the doctor was reprimanded Thursday by the state for allowing an employee of his clinic to peddle steroids. Is there anyone in Mr. Rodriguez’s entourage who is taking this seriously?

The Yankees certainly are. For all the world, they are acting like Don Corleone himself, sitting in a dark, smoky room, waiting to hear back from baseball’s Luca Brasi. Some wags believe Mr. Rodriguez is in for a lifetime suspension.

To reporters who tried to corner him Wednesday at the Yankees’ complex, Mr. Rodriguez said, “I feel great.” He added, a bit dishonestly, if you ask us, “That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Mr. Rodriguez is acting like nothing is going to happen, calmly stepping into the fishing boat with a sullen figure he hardly knows.

Which I suppose is all you can do.

On Kierkegaard and the Shin Guard

…the Yankees signaled to the world that there are still some simmering frustrations beneath the surface of this maddening season.

via Yankees and Pettitte Lack Punch in Opener of a Daunting Stretch –

Jacoby Ellsbury assaulted Yankees Manager Joe Girardi’s metaphysical balance on the second pitch of Friday’s game, a groover from Andy Pettitte that Mr. Ellsbury clouted over the fence for a homer.

“You can’t take too much of it,” Mr Girardi told reporters after the Yankees had put the chalk outlines around a 4-2 loss in Boston.

No, you can’t. No one can. Heat, boredom, thumping mariachi music from the basement — there is always an It that you can’t take too much of.

But Mr. Girardi was pressing hard with his mental pencil. “Obviously this is an important stretch for us that we are in. We understand that.” — Wait; what? — “The next three teams we play are all in front of us.”

They always are.

It’s a strange intersection the Yankees depart from in the so-called second half the season. They are well back in the American League East, so far back that ordinarily delusionally optimistic fans are beginning to suggest housecleaning trades.

On the mound for the Red Sox on Friday was Felix Doubront, a rookie who was making his 12th start. All 12 have been so-called quality starts — a bogus baseball stat — and the Red Sox haven’t had a rookie come out like that since 1915.

The Red Sox won the Series that year.

“Not the way you want to start the second half,” Mr. Pettitte intoned instructfully, probably not referring to the portent of a Boston championship.

He later topped himself: “The long ball hurt me.”

Noteworthy was the news earlier in the day that Derek Jeter was headed back to the disabled list. He is the third Yankee starter from last year to start the season on the D.L., return to the club and then re-injure himself after Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira. Alex Rodriguez isn’t on that list only because he hasn’t had his chance yet.

The Yankees can see what is front of them, probably because they don’t want to look at what they’ve left behind.

The Artlessness of Politics

“A vote for this bill is a vote to end nutrition in America,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. … “Thank God, we can do something!” exclaimed Rep. Tom Rooney R-Fla., as he walked off the floor…

via House Approves Farm Bill, Without Food Stamp Program –

Well. The House passed a Farm Bill, finally.

Of course, they left out the food stamps, so I suppose it was easy.

For weeks, Republicans and Democrats could not agree on what to spend on food stamps. Apparently, it got ugly, even for an institution known for its ugliness. In the end, they simply agreed not to agree and sent the farmer-specific bits along to the printer.

Explaining himself afterward to reporters, Speaker John Boehner said, and I am not making this up, “If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas.”

This is a politician, mind you. An experienced speech giver. And that — basically a list of some of the things poor people may not be able to afford at Christmas — is the best he has.

Not only was it hackneyed, but he flubbed it, too. People of Earth: It’s “ifs and buts.”

Really, the vote Thursday by the House was a punt. It only eliminates food stamps in the imaginary world of polemicists and blog posters; Congress will still have to find a way to pay for them. The difference is now Republicans won’t have angry farmers breathing down their necks, asking them why the Farm Bill hasn’t passed. They will be able to focus their beady little eyes on giving poor people what-for.

Which, to be honest, is what most people really want — shrinking the cost of food stamps a bit, I mean.

And, to be honest, unhooking aid for poor people from aid for farmers probably makes sense, from a lawmaking-philosophy point of view. Never mind that very little in Congress does otherwise. Or that quite a few farmers qualify as poor for our purposes.

There were a few interesting — and by interesting I mean NOT interesting — footnotes. There is more crop insurance. There are more juicy perks for guys who grow peanuts. And lawmakers went in and erased a handful of unpleasant legacy laws from the Depression, which — and I am not making this up, either — kick in if Congress doesn’t get off its duff every now and then and write a new Farm Bill. (And you thought sequestration was an innovation.)

The point is, things will work out. The Senate has already passed a food-stamps-included Farm Bill, cutting less than a percent from the poor-people parts. And House Republicans promise, they really do — Eric Cantor of Virginn-eeya told The Associated Press his colleagues would “act with dispatch” — to get around to this food stamps business.

I am sure that red-state farmers are relieved. My question is, Why?

The first thing any farmer will tell you if, heaven forfend, you suggest that the Farm Bill might be too expensive is, Well, most of that is for food stamps. And this is true. About $80 billion of the $100 billion, according to the original House bill.

But what do you think food stamp users are buying, more often than not? Foods, which I observe are the very things farmers make with all the money the government sends them in the first place. Maybe a lot of the money goes to big conglomerates. Certainly there is waste to sop up. But does it make sense to turn your back on your customers?

In any case, don’t pity the farmer. It says here, being in food is going to be very good business over the next few centuries.

‘Embers of War,’ by Frederik Logevall

In 1968, a colleague of his went to see Henry Kissinger, who was then the incoming architect of the Vietnam War, and he urged Kissinger to meet Kellen. But Kissinger never did. Maybe if he had, the course of history would be different.

via BBC News – Viewpoint: Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War?.

To the question, “Could one man have shortened the Vietnam War,” the answer is, obviously, Yes. Really, a person could start anywhere. And much earlier than 1968. Inside or outside Vietnam. But how about we limit ourselves to presidents?

To wit, President Johnson, in 1964, noted to himself that “there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam, there’s not a bit.” That’s before the Army even had full combat units in the area. And it was not a passing thought. Such gloom permeated the Defense and State Departments at the time.

But you can go back to President Kennedy. He was in Vietnam in 1951 as a young senator on, I guess, a fact-finding mission. He interviewed numerous people and rankled French officers with his probing questions. “Foredoomed failure” is how he described it when giving a speech that year in Boston.

How about President Roosevelt? During the war, he was adamantly opposed to France’s proposed return to so-called Indochina, and many of his adviser feared a continuing war in Asia. So much so that it led to minor rifts with Winston Churchill, who was afraid the Hyde Park sentimentality for colonial peoples would bleed over into British Malaya and India. Had Mr. Roosevelt lived a few months longer, he might have blocked the slow, stuttering consolidation of French power in Vietnam at the end of 1945.

But there were many others, like Konrad Kellen, who were merely advisers or were outside government altogether. Bernard Fall’s book “Street Without Joy” came out in 1961 with gloomy lessons, albeit too late for the French.

In short, “the skeptics had been there all along,” writes Frederik Logevall in “Embers of War.” The Vietnam War, for both sides, never seems to have been about trying to win.

Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's VietnamEmbers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam by Fredrik Logevall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Indulgent, especially with the Graham Greene references. But thorough, engaging and complete. Recommended.

View all my reviews

The ‘Fuel of Hope’ Is Bug Spray

How do you get one group of people who looks at the evidence and sees contamination, while another decides “The data conclusively prove that the Sasquatch exists”? To find out, we went through the papers data carefully…


via How the attempt to sequence “Bigfoot’s genome” went badly off track | Ars Technica.


A simpler explanation might be, you know, that one of the groups is bonkers.


The key problem with “sequencing Bigfoot’s genome” is, of course, that there is no such thing as Bigfoot. But an attendant problem stems from the current mania for crime-themed entertainment. Anyone who watches television for more than a few minutes could be forgiven for believing that police investigators can solve any mystery, just so long as they can collect enough schmutz from the right places. Whatever else, that is just gross.



More to the point, “Finding Bigfoot” has been on TV for four seasons. Note the present progressive tense in the program’s title. Obviously the act of finding implies that the looked-for object will be found, but it also makes it clear that whatever it is has not been found. The finding is ongoing. Taken further, it means that it can never be found; this is why movies about time travel are so complicated.


“Tune in next week when nothing will happen that will prevent us from asking you to tune in the week after that.”


It is interesting to note, too, that there are well more than a dozen television shows on so-called paranormal phenomena being produced in the world, not including programs about Bigfoot. None of these, through hundreds of episodes and decades of taping, have made a single, credible determination.


The greatest achievement of this pursuit has been the cultivation of the nimble intellectual dexterity needed to patch the inevitable holes in the story of whatever-it-is. Are you kidding: Bigfoot? Yeah, why not? Where do they live? In swamps, forests, mountains? O.K., seriously now, how can a stable breeding population of Bigfeet exist for centuries without being detected? They’re sneaky. Are they also burying their feces? You’re gross. (Sigh.) But why has no hunter ever killed one? There are few hunters and lots of empty spaces. That’s where you are going with that? Sure.


Paul Fussell, in much more serious circumstances, wrote that “irony is the attendant of hope, and the fuel of hope is innocence.” For the Bigfoot finders, it must be a tortured existence. The moment one of these poor hairy bastards is dragged out of the deep woods, covered in ticks and howling in anger, those TV shows will be sent straight to public television.


Anyway, it seems to me that the time for DNA tests will be when they change the name of that show to “Found Bigfoot” or “Finding Bigfeet.”