Friday, October 31, 2008

The manner to which they are accustomed -- Stolen Quote of the Day

What to wear for Halloween? From the Slate overview of the daily papers for Oct. 31 2008, here:
Maybe wear a suit and monocle and go as a corporate fat cat? The Journal fronts a good analysis of how the banks now being bailed out by the government owe roughly $40 billion in unpaid executive pay, bonuses and pensions. While the Treasury Department is putting restrictions on what executives at bailed out banks can earn now, it won't affect these debts. In the case of some companies, the debts to executives are greater than their entire pension program.
The whole story, in the Wall Street Journal, is here. [subscription]

And, we might ask, how safe are those programs?
Here are the amazing numbers: the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the government agency that is supposed to protect the private pension system, recently estimated that the amount of money currently owed to cover pension liabilities is $450 billion; 851 pension plans are underfunded by at least $50 million. United Airlines may have been the biggest pension default ever but we’re looking at a looming financial catastrophe: The PBGC, which takes over defaulted plans, had a $23 billion deficit in 2004 and that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Part of the crisis stems from the 1990s collapse of the stock market and low interest rates (which keeps returns on bonds low).
That was from 2005. I can't imagine it has gotten any better since then. Anxiety much?

UPDATE: An interesting chart from here:

To make the obvious more obvious: have a peek:

Why is it that the party that hates big government seems to end up taking over the obligations of companies who don't want the fuss and bother of keeping their promises to their retirees? Or are Republican regimes just bad for business?

MORE UPDATE: In reading the 2007 report from the PBGC, I note this paragraph:
The table below shows the ten largest plan termination losses in PBGC’s history. Nine of the ten have come since 2001.
These defaulting companies and the years of plan termination are (about a third of the way down the page):

Pan American Air, 1991, 1992 [business collapsed 1991]
Trans World Airlines, 2001 [renamed TWA Airlines LLC in 2001, acquired by American Airlines in 2001]
LTV Steel, 2002, 2003, 2004 [filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 29, 2000, merged with Weirton Steel to form the International Steel Group.]
National Steel, 2003 [filed for bankruptcy in 2002, sold to US Steel in 2003]
Bethlehem Steel, 2003 [filed for bankruptcy 2001, acquired by the International Steel Group 2003]
US Airways, 2003, 2005 [Still in business, merged with America West in 2005]
Weirton Steel, 2004 [bankrupt 2008]
Kaiser Aluminum, 2004, 2007 [Still in business. "In 2005, it recorded revenues of roughly $1.1 billion and employed more than 2,000 people..." Wiki]
Delta Air Lines, 2006 [Still in business. Filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005,emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2007. "(Delta's) bankruptcy exit strategy was vastly different from that of United in that it expanded its way out of bankruptcy, rather than retrenching " --Wiki]
Times are tough, okay. So I am wondering: why not just have the PBGC take over ALL pensions, since that would probably save money, time and effort (not to say anxiety) in the long run?


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sarah Palin is a Marxist!


In her own words...from last week!
"...And Alaska—we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs. Our state constitution—it lays it out for me, how I’m to conduct business with resource development here as the state C.E.O. It’s to maximize benefits for Alaskans, not an individual company, not some multinational somewhere, but for Alaskans.

- Sarah Palin, from "Letter from Alaska: The State of Sarah Palin" by Philip Gourevitch in New Yorker Magazine (September 22, 2008)

H/T to Maxwell's House

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Duh, that sounds logical." -- Stolen Quote of the Day

From here, a quote from Ann Althouse which has it all -- rhythm, memorability, and amazing insightfulness, sorta:

"You know, just because the thing I saw wasn't there doesn't mean there wasn't something there that I didn't see."

I stand in awe.

Score : two laughing Bostons

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

First it was LoLCats -- now THIS!

Every morning as I gnaw on a cup of coffee and pry my eyes open with a stir stick, I check out a whole string of online funnies. From Doonesbury to Calvin and Hobbes, to this.

Here's a little sample. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Quicker than a firehose

George Orwell told us, "Arnold Bennett was hardly exaggerating when he said that in the English-speaking countries the word “poetry” would disperse a crowd quicker than a fire-hose." It's ironic that when I was looking for a photo for this piece, I found this 1912 San Diego picture of police using a real fire hose to disperse potential poets -- or free-speakers, anyway.

I taught a course on poetry and its creation a few years ago. Going through my files [1] last week I ran across a single sheet of hints and quotes and advice which I had provided to my students on the first evening. Here it is, without all the formatting and fonts, for your consideration:
”Poetry is the elegant distillation of understanding into language.”

The purpose is communication.

The intended audience need not be large.

The dictionary and thesaurus are your friends.

Waiting for inspiration does not work – or not often. Write every day, it primes the pump.

Read read read

Read out loud, to hear the music of poetry. (This is especially useful with your own stuff.)

Good writing gets better the more you read it.

Experimentation can create new and significant stuff. Or not.

Some people say rhyme and structure are passé. They are wrong.

Writing without editing is not writing.

Recognize what is good in your stuff, but be ready to edit with a machete. However, wait at least a year before burning any piece.

People make poetry just as trees make leaves. There is always more.

Write passionately, edit ruthlessly.

Avoid clichés like the plague!
Poetry is not a frill -- witness the habit of dictators to kill or imprison poets.

You think they do it as a hobby -- either the poets or their persecutors? No, having tamed the press and the novelists and the theologians and the usual avenues by which people protest their oppression, sooner or later only poets, musicians and clowns and tellers of fairy tales remain as potent speakers -- and targets.

The mind that is accustomed to reading poetry is a mind that can get behind the scenes and see how the scenery of society is built, and what the canvas and paint are covering.


[1] Euphemism: "going through my files" = "feebly struggling to unearth my office, in the manner of a toddler excavating the Great Pyramid of Giza with a teaspoon".

Friday, October 17, 2008

Stolen Quote of the Day

Quote stolen from Angry Bear:
He's just shrinking the economy down down to the size where he can drown it in the bathtub.

Don | Homepage | 10.16.08 - 7:02 pm | #

Rated: Three Laughing Bostons

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jack's chicken simile

Hoisted from comments at Angry Bear, Jack speaks his mind regarding the current financial crisis:
[someone asked] *** why should the "economy" suffer because the financial industry can't get out of its own way? we still have everything we need to make the things we need.***

[and someone else commented] "There is no doubt that the US is wealthy enough to do that. The problem is how. Regrettably, perhaps I fear that the Communist solution of taking all the right wing jerks out and shooting them is neither practical nor likely to work"

[and then Jack tells us] These are related points and one begins to answer the other by trying to answer itself. Has anyone noticed that in spite of the crisis and all of the hand wringing surrounding it here and every where the foxes remain in the coop? First they tore the place to smithereens bloating themselves to the point of regurgitation. The chickens are devastated. The place is a shambles.

Even the eggs have been devoured. The farmer is about ready to sell the farm. Does he think to shoot the fox and build a more secure fence? No, because some how the fox has managed to convince the world that the chickens were all to blame in the first place and the farmer was an accomplice to the deed. "Buy more chickens. They'll lay more eggs. I'll be happy to guard the place so that this doesn't happen again." Who better to guard the coop than the experts who know best how to vanquish it to begin with?

Jack | 10.16.08 - 3:41 pm | #
Thanks Jack. Looking back over the last eight years, I search in vain for evidence that the sucking dry of the US economy was not deliberate. Can any of you offer evidence on that account?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Texas bans fish pedicures

From Practical Fishkeeping, this breaking story:
The US state of Texas has banned the use of fish in providing pedicures over health and safety concerns... fish pedicures - where customers pay to have the dead skin nibbled off their feet by small tropical fish - are no longer allowed in the state.

The Department said that, since the same fish are used to clean the skin of multiple people, that there are concerns that the practice could spread infections.


A number of salons and beauty centres have reportedly purchased the fish and now need to rehome them.

The use of fish to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis is popular in Turkey, where warm pools are stocked with a small cyprinid fish called Garra rufa, which nibbles flakes of skin from the body...

However, most of the fish pictured in the news reports covering the live fish pedicures in the US have not been Garra rufa. They have in fact been juvenile Tilapia - a species of cichlid which is commonly farmed for food and reaches a size of 30cm or more.

I don't know where to start, in wondering who to be sorry for. The poor fish needing to be rehomed? The substitution of inferior Tilapia for the real deal? The poor psoriasis sufferers, reduced to not being nibbled...

Hey, wait! The psoriasis sufferers can rehome the homeless Garra rufa.

Problem solved.


The morning after the night before

Well, the Canadian election is over and the Conservatives have spent about $300 million of our money in order to gain a slightly larger minority, by dint of starting two months early, escaping election spending limits by mailing out flyers at public expense and attacking the other guy for two years before formally breaking their own law by calling an election a year early clever strategies.

I am ashamed impressed at the political skills of the leader of my country, and will watch with suspicion interest to see what further dismantling of our strong protections and public services initiatives he undertakes.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"It's more important then the beating of your heart..."

Why don't people care about politics?

People who care about politics are terribly frustrated with people who don't. Over on Galloping Beaver this morning Dana was having another meltdown, because he sees how important these decisions are, and no-one else seems to be paying sufficient attention.

I was reminded of part of "Stranger In A Strange Land", where Gillian, a nurse, tells her boyfriend, a journalist, that she pays no attention to politics.

"Its nearly as important as the beating of your heart," he protests.

"I don't pay attention to that, either." Gillian replies.

So much of the gap in caring has to do with a gap in fine-grained knowledge. We are a highly unusual bunch (by "we" I mean the habitual online news-readers and bloggers.) We follow the information, thrash it out among ourselves and come to an understanding of the bits that we can trust versus the confetti and fog. We think and write all the time.

I can follow politics in part because I am retired. And because I find it more rewarding than other pursuits. And because I have long been concerned about social/economic changes.

The vast majority of Canadians are either

-- too young to care (I didn't care much about this stuff till I hit my late 20s)
-- too old or ill or impaired to cope with such a data stream. This includes legitimately stupid people -- why does no-one ever write about this segment of the population?
-- working, raising kids, juggling debts, finishing their Masters thesis, studying the migration and breeding patterns of the Atlantic codfish, inventing a better mousetrap etc.
-- already solidly partisan, for good, bad or nonsensical reasons, and not amenable to changing except slowly or under transformative conditions

This is perfectly natural. After all, our ears and eyes and noses are only a few ounces of our total weight. Why should the eyes and noses of the body politic be any bigger?

We blog because we care about this stuff, but it's easy to feel we're shouting in the wilderness. Bees gather tiny amounts of nectar, but together they fill the hive with gallons of honey. So do we.

The real question is, how do we get our honey to the general public? The blogosphere is quite new, so this channel of the transmission of knowledge is still not in place.

But I will tell you one thing for sure -- journalists hang around the blogosphere, seek out the more trustworthy and idea-rich areas, knock over good ideas in a dark alley and abscond with their loot. I have seen story after story appear first in the blogs, only to surface the next day in the news.

Journalists need ideas, and the more work they can leave to others the happier they are, because increasingly they are overworked or working freelance.

Going forward, this movement of stuff from blog to mainstream can only increase. I look forward to it.


Monday, October 13, 2008



I was taught, by example, how to vote. My parents got up in the morning and dressed as though for church. The day was somehow quieter than other days, even in a household with five kids.

We drove to the polling site and while one parent went in to vote, the other would ride herd on us in the car, but it never took much effort to keep us quiet. It was voting day.

Formal, sober, quietly determined, everyone in my hometown migrated to the polls, and we kids were taught that the actual voting was both a purely personal choice, and a secret. The secret might be shared, but it was uncouth to ask "How did you vote?"

It was never said outright, I think, but we were shown that the vote was sacred: "set apart for a special purpose". My parents treasured their vote, it was at once a right, and a privilege, and an obligation.

To add one voice to the larger voice of the nation, and together say in some mystical way what path the nation will take, is in its own way a religious action, full of faith and determination and patience in the face of a flurry of mere arithmetic.

To choose not to vote is an act of negligence or even despair – both of them equally undermine our shared nation.

I vote for meat on my neighbour’s plate, not mine. For the health of my neighbour’s children, the peace of our streets, the knowledge in our libraries and the significance and beauty of our images and songs. I vote for the strength of the whole, not the benefit of one walled garden at the cost of a wilderness outside.

Arithmetic is the enemy of the vote. The vote is more than a grain of sand on a scale, it is an action in which citizens make themselves manifest as a part of the whole. To neglect it is to become a political ghost, moving voiceless through the world.

An old woman who told stories, who was prisoner of the Nazis, who left her Dutch home for a new home and language and land, told this story:
"Tell me the weight of a snowflake," a mouse asked a wild dove.

"Nothing more than nothing," the dove answered.

"In that case I must tell you a marvelous story," the mouse said. "I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow. Not heavily, not a raging blizzard, no -- just like in a dream without any violence the snow silently fell.

Since I had time, I counted the snowflakes setting on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952 when the next snowflake dropped onto the branch - "nothing more than nothing" as you say - the branch broke off."

Having said that the mouse went away.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why we don't keep wolverines as pets...

This is lifted from comments over on Hullabaloo, where they were discussing Karl Rove and a couple articles about him. (Spite Politics, October 11, 2008)

The discussion is asking, why is it that Rove's tactics aren't decried by the American people. One or two writers think that it's because many Americans have embraced the principle of win-at-any-cost, and so they don't see Rove's behaviour as anything unusual.

I had a different take:
I have wondered for years how to hold these amoral *****'s to account. Because normally, people do it with shared recognition and condemnation of wrongdoing, and the wrongdoer either is ashamed, or has to stop doing whatever it is, because his misdoings have been revealed.

Rove, however, is no more subject to shame than an image in a mirror or an actor on the TV screen. No matter how angry people are at the actor, he won't, can't, respond to their dirty looks.

How many years does it take for the average person to learn not to scold TV actors? Roughly 0.00757, I would guess. People who don't stop scolding TV actors, who address paintings as though they were going to answer back, have mental problems usually,

So the widespread right-wing ability to disregard all shaming has taught most people to stop trying. It has formed a kind of armor. Left-wingers, still subject to shame, are perversely both held to a higher standard and more successfully scolded, giving the appearance of weakness.

We scold our dog for misbehaviour, but not a wolverine. The wolverine is far stronger, true, but that may be why we prefer dogs. That we haven't realized we have wolverines in office is our next step forward.

One final point -- our governmental wolverines ignore dirty looks, but are keenly aware of real threats to their position. These people and institutions are preemptively targeted long before they are in a position to muzzle the wolverines. One example is the US Justice Department. In Canada, the elections agency, the nuclear energy agency and freedom of information (hah!) were some of the targets.

As for the Little Guy -- well, Mr. Smith would never make it to Washington. His reputation would be smeared in the tabloids and on Fox before he latched his front door.

I am hoping that Mr. Obama will, almost at once, put all the watchdogs back in action and fund them to the hilt and set protections around them and quietly, soberly dig the wolverines out of their dens.

Friday, October 10, 2008

...but like, America never like calls Spain, so...

David Malki !'s Wondermark is a weird but wonderful strip. This one is a bit more topical than most of his, which range from darkly whimsical to disturbing. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Weird Thrift Shop Goodies -- October Edition

Thrift shop goodies come in all shapes and sizes, and my house has ENOUGH of them, thanks very much. But some cannot be left only to memory, they need to be photographed and shared.

An Economic Horse -- who else but an economist would paint a Scandanavian horse with sigmas, ampersands, percent signs and a round thing that looks like an "e"? And then put glasses on it? Must be one of Paul Krugman's grade school art projects, a rare find!

An infinity mirror. Whosoever has seen it need not know anything else about the 70s.

Snake saint. When I saw this figurine on the shelf, I knew it must be some kind of saint. But, two snakes? Thank heaven her name was on the base -- she is Saint Verdiana, a recluse who lived in a sealed cell for her whole adult life with only two snakes for company. Apparently when she died the people at the monastery tried to catch the snakes, one got away, and the other's skeleton is still at the monastery.

It's nearly Hallowe'en, but I am most scared by whoever designed this legitimately scary Samurai Witch.

Bee Box -- not very weird, but pretty, this gold paper box has an exquisitely molded bee on the top.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Vote Strategically -- thank heavens for this website

I want to vote strategically. In my riding the colour is solid orange, nothing else comes close. So if I were voting strategically I could vote NDP and ensure they keep their seat if I really hate the other contender and dread being the one to upset the vote. Or I could vote for any of the others and give them a bit of a lagniappe of vote numbers and federal funding, even if I actually liked my NDP representative.

If I were a lone Green in a Conservative riding, my vote would not affect the Conservative seat, but would give the Greens some brownie points and a smidgen of federal money in the following years.

But how do I know what strategy is most likely to achieve what I want? Or know how close a contest it is in my riding?

Here's a site that gives you a head's up on parties' past performance and minute by minute poll standings in your riding, and how that might effect your choice moving the federal government as a whole in the direction you think is right.

Here's their video.

Democrasy. We has it, one pixl at a time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

With friends like this...

Much remains to be done for mental health -- and you're in the perfect position to screw it up.

Hurrah, it's Mental Illness Awareness Week and amidst a few glimmers of hope (like the US decision to require parity between mental and other type health care) the huge job of helping people with faulty ideation, anger issues, profound lack of impulse control and a profoundly crippled ability to exhibit compassion remains largely untouched.

Pardon? Oh sorry, I should have been more precise. I'm talking about so-called ordinary people, not the officially "mentally ill."

At least half the affliction of those who suffer from mental illness comes from the ignorance and spite and misplaced helpfulness of the muggles of the psych world.

Assuming you would like to do better, how can you tell if you're one of the not-yet-treated majority of psych muggles? Here's a checklist.


1. Do you deny the condition? You can be situational and deny your friend has X problem, or you can try pre-emptive denial and loudly proclaim that one or all psychiatric conditions were just made up by the drug companies.

2. Do you deny the diagnosis? Only crazy people have mental illness, and since you and your friend are quietly drinking coffee and no-one is frothing on the floor or dueling invisible aliens, your friend is just mistaken (probably led astray by his money-grubbing psychologist or some goofy article in Oprah Magazine).

3. Do you offer unhelpful advice, by telling your friend to do things which, in fact, are prevented by the condition itself? Do you tell your depressed friend to cheer up, or your bipolar friend to just relax? Do you irritably tell your ADHD friend to just pay attention? Or (for bonus points) do you tell him, whatever the problem is, to "just suck it up"?

4. When your afflicted friend doesn't take your advice, do you write him off because "obviously he doesn't care, or else he would try harder."

5. Your friend, despite your help, has gotten a diagnosis and is being treated. Do you (finally!) research his condition, his treatment and medications and urge him to abandon them and do something else (like join a better church, eat lots of vitamins or follow your advice?).

6. Do you fire, or fail to hire your friend because "well, you never know"? Ditto for having him over for coffee, going camping, part of the bowling team, or taking your family to his place for a BBQ. Tell yourself he needs some time to recover and you don't want to upset him.

7. Do you blame your friend (at this point probably not a friend anymore) for doing things, large or small, that "only a crazy person would do"? Whether it's a bedroom with a pyramid of 37,128 cleaned and stacked Heinz baked bean tins, or singing "Jerusalem" off key all night long, or self-medicating with cannabis, all these things are symptoms -- but do you define them as crimes?

8. Do you believe your friend (who deliberately didn't take your wonderful advice) ought to be in prison for his willful collection of 37,128 bean cans, plus all that singing? ("bring me my bow of burning gold" is definitely suspicious.)

9. Do you gripe about all the crime around these days, and all the crowding in prisons, without noting that your friend is now one of the one in ten prisoners suffering mental illness (2007 figures)?

10. And finally, do you really truly believe that of the several hundred people you know, you can be sure you know which ones have never struggled with mental illness?
Of every 100 people, 20 have come through such a struggle or will do so sometime in their lives. Look at the five people at your dinner table and ask, of these people I love, is there one here who needs my help? Would they tell me, if they did?

How can I start now, to be ready to help when I am needed?

No one could have predicted the collapse...

... except this guy

You know those guys who want the ten commandments posted in courthouses? maybe they should tack them up on Wall Street and down on Pennsylvania Avenue: Here's an "op-ed" on the sin of Stealing, a hardy perennial:
For to steal is nothing else than to get possession of another's property wrongfully, which briefly comprehends all kinds of advantage in all sorts of trade to the disadvantage of our neighbor... to steal is to signify not only to empty our neighbor's coffer and pockets, but to be grasping in the market, in all stores, booths, wine- and beer-cellars, workshops, and, in short, wherever there is trading or taking and giving of money for merchandise or labor.

...When a manservant or maid-servant does not serve faithfully in the house, and does damage, or allows it to be done when it could be prevented, or otherwise ruins and neglects the goods entrusted to him, from indolence idleness, or malice, to the spite and vexation of master and mistress, and in whatever way this can be done purposely (for I do not speak of what happens from oversight and against one's will), you can in a year abscond thirty, forty florins, which if another had taken secretly or carried away, he would be hanged with the rope. But here you [while conscious of such a great theft] may even bid defiance and become insolent, and no one dare call you a thief.


Furthermore, in the market and in common trade likewise, this practice is in full swing and force to the greatest extent, where one openly defrauds another with bad merchandise, false measures, weights, coins, and by nimbleness and queer finances or dexterous tricks takes advantage of him; likewise, when one overcharges a person in a trade and wantonly drives a hard bargain, skins and distresses him. And who can recount or think of all these things? To sum up, this is the commonest craft and the largest guild on earth, and if we regard the world throughout all conditions of life, it is nothing else than a vast, wide stall, full of great thieves.

Therefore they are also called swivel-chair robbers, land- and highway-robbers, not pick-locks and sneak-thieves who snatch away the ready cash, but who sit on the chair [at home] and are styled great noblemen, and honorable, pious citizens, and yet rob and steal under a good pretext.


This is, in short, the course of the world: whoever can steal and rob openly goes free and secure, unmolested by any one, and even demands that he be honored. Meanwhile the little sneak-thieves, who have once trespassed, must bear the shame and punishment to render the former godly and honorable. But let them know that in the sight of God they are the greatest thieves, and that He will punish them as they are worthy and deserve.
--Martin Luther, c. 1530, The Large Catechism


Saturday, October 4, 2008

THE REAL MAJORITY -- a poster for the rest of us

ABC stands for "Anyone But Conservative". If they'd quit biting each other's ankles, we could have a very large lefthanded majority/coalition.

Vote strategic? Heck yes.

The orange leaves are Canadian maple, the green are prairie aspen poplar, and the red are Japanese maple from my neighbour's yard. No blue leaves, so the PQ just got a texture.

It's printed up and in my window this very minute. Happy mailman tomorrow.


Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Real Pit Bull Shows Why...

...the big boys in Canadian politics didn't want Elizabeth May in the debate.

There are two women debating tonight, two first-time top level debaters. One, Elizabeth May, had to fight for the last few years to get into the debate, the other not only didn't have to fight (despite styling herself a "pit bull with lipstick").but was catapulted onto the US national stage like a shooting star.

They are very different women -- nearly diametrical opposites in every way except their race and their status as moms. To offer one example, Ms. May is a capable debater, devastating but fair, with a couple decades of experience. Ms. Palin is not.

Is either of them a "pit bull"? Perhaps.

See, I actually know something about pit bulls. The highly coloured, slavering pit bull of the yellow press isn't a lot like the real one, a pet whose favorite hobby is sleeping on the sofa. (Don't take my word for it, the New Yorker had a comprehensive article here.)

So when the Republican VP candidate called herself a pit bull with lipstick, that told me that whatever else she might know, she didn't know anything about pit bulls.


Back to humans for a bit. I am typing and listening to the all-candidates's debate. May got the first question and jumped right in with no attack, no talking points, no platitudes but a forty word prescription for defending the Canadian economy by protecting Canadian corporations from foreign buyers, shrinking the dollar to boost our balance of trade for immediate income while initiating a shift our trade and manufacturing sectors to be less dependent on any one country or commodity.

So far, about 40 minutes in, every time May has spoken it has been to throw cold water on Harper's protestations. Meanwhile, Harper is speaking in the voice of a so-tired, 1950s father home from the office after a long day, only to find he has to settle a squabble between the kids.

Meanwhile the "kids" are sounding a lot more grown-up than Harper, all of them countering his vague statements with traceable facts and no weaseling at all so far. There's been a little sniping among Layton, May, and Dion, but mostly they sound exactly like a loose and functional, even cordial coalition on the left. I lift my glass to them all, so far I hear no frothing. Is EMay keeping them honest?


I can't live-blog this tonight, it's been a long day. But let me finish up with the doggies.

I have worked with dogs for thirty years and met scores of pit bulls. In one case I even toured a kennel that had about a dozen pit bulls which, I found out later, were being actively trained and used for fighting at that time. Of about 200 of these dogs only two did not try to climb in my lap and get their ears scratched and their tummies rubbed and lick my face if I wasn't quick enough to prevent it. Your average pit bull is relaxed, confident, friendly and when necessary capable of taking quick action to do what is needed without backing down.

I hope Ms. May doesn't mind me saying that by these qualities, she is the pit bull, not Sarah Palin.

So if Palin is not a pit bull, with or without lipstick, than what dog is she?

Well first, I must say that I do not know a bad breed. But also, I don't know any breeds that don't have regrettable members, and some members of some breeds are bad in predictable ways, so take that into consideration.

Does this portrait remind you of anything?

--beautiful, fluffy and well groomed --
--cute when it suits their purpose, aggressive and noisy when they can manage it --
--brainless in their choice of targets, especially since they don't have the power to carry through with their threats --
--alternately attacking at full speed and hiding under the bed--

This sounds to me like a good description of the only dog that ever attacked me unprovoked. This tiny dog, about seven pounds, would have torn a chunk out of my arm if my coat had been thinner. It was the pet Pomeranian of an old man who carried it inside his sweater wherever he went.

No lipstick in sight, but otherwise all present and accounted for. Enjoy the debate(s).


How to kill a poem in the first line -- join in the fun

I have belonged to an online discussion group called Piffle for about seven of its 10 years. It's like the best lawn party ever, with lovingly discussed topics like food, history, a shared encyclopedic knowledge which elevates trivia to a doctoral level, and always and ever, books. The group is an offshoot of another one, still in progress, called LordPeter. LP has discussed Dorothy Sayers and her detective Lord Peter Wimsey since the late 90s.

Word games turn up often, and this one prompted me to indulge in a little cut-and-paste for your reading pleasure.


How to kill a poem in the first line:

A rhyming dictionary underneath the bough
A jug of wine, a loaf of bread -- and thou
Transcribing in the wilderness --
O wilderness were paradise enow!

Omar Khayyam


In Flanders fields
The poppies blow
And antihistamine sales are way up

John McCrae


Oh, to be in England Now that April's there, and I can flee the IRS tax men
back in the USA.

- Robert Browning


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
One, two, three ... Gee, I guess that's about it.

- Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
I chose the one that got me into town more quickly

- Robert Frost


The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
In other words, it was a dark and stormy night

- Alfred Noyes

[and further to Noyes...]

The highway man came riding -- riding --
Riding --
Up to the Starbucks door


The shades of night were falling fast,
As through an Alpine village passed
A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice,
A banner with a strange device,
'MacDonald's 500 metres!'

Longfellow - 'Exelsior!'

[and again, with footnotes!]

The shades of night were falling fast,
And the rain was falling faster,
When through an Alpine village passed
An Alpine village pastor.


Of all the sad words
Of tongue and pen,
The saddest are these:
"Your manuscript does not meet our current needs."

- John Greenleaf Whittier


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree
Where Alph, the sacred river...
All right, all right, stop knocking on that door!

- S.T. Coleridge


It is an ancient mariner
and he stoppeth one of three
the other two, however, dummied past and scored a try!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge - 'The Ancient Mariner'


Twas many and many a year ago, in a kingdom by the sea,
That there lived a maiden whom you know know, by the name of Annabel Lee.
She was a child and I was a child, in that kingdom by the sea,
But alas, we grew up.

Annabel Lee (Poe)


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun,
And so I ditched her for a prettier one.



Batter my heart, three-personed God,
For *ulp*

(Note found on Dean Ioannus Donne, who died untime'ly from a heart attack)


At the round earth's imagined corners
they really ought to post a traffic light.

(certainly not John Donne)


Let us go then, you and I.
Oh, you're busy? Maybe later.

(probably not T.S. Eliot)


Twice or thrice had I loved thee
before I knew thy face or name.
Then the cops tracked me down.

(also not John Donne)


Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
but your call is important to us,
please remain on the line,

(not you-know-who either)