While Doug and Claudia prepare for their move from the sunny glades of Bucharest to the snowy slopes of Yerevan, I thought I might distract and appall HDTD's regular readership with stories of someplace completely different.
Like Romania, the Philippines is a Latin country. Over twenty-seven hundred years ago, a pair of twins living in a shack on top of a hill in peninsular central Europe had a vision of the future: Marcello Mastroianni walking down the street badly hungover, every hair on his head perfect. That works! they said. And the rest, as they say, was history.
But all such dreams have their dark side. Twenty-six hundred years and three or four waves of Latin expansion and contraction later, the following horrible events occurred, which I recount for the edification of Brett Bellmore:
First, some background! From the 2000 Texas Republican Platform:
Panama Canal -- The Party urges Congress to support HJR 77, the Panama and America Security Act, which declares the Carter-Torrijos Treaty null and void. We support re-establishing United States control over the Canal in order to retain our military bases in Panama, to preserve our right to transit through the Canal, and to prevent the establishment of Chinese missile bases in Panama.
Yes, you read that correctly. Chinese missile bases in Panama. You see, Hutchison Whampoa Limited of Hong Kong has a twenty-five year lease to run the container ports at both ends of the Canal, beating out certain Texas-connected American companies for that privilege. And even though Hutchison Whampoa is run by Li Ka-shing, the richest Chinese businessman EVAR, it's obviously a front for the Communist Party. It's all clear now, no?
And, yes, it said "The Party". The phrase is from an old Texas saying: "The individual is nothing; the Party is everything." I think John Connally said it first. Anyway, Texas has always been known for its Party animals.
Moving on to the 2004 Texas Republican Platform:
Foreign Purchase of Public Property -- The Party opposes any sale or transfer of public properties to foreign or international entities.
Really? Let me get this straight. The Texas Republican Party opposesany sale or transfer of public properties to foreign or international entities.
I got the time. I'll wait. [Update: we have Texas Republican dissent! Like I said, better than the Olympics. Comments closed; enjoy the puppy!]
Continuing with HDTD's focus on that obscure yet fascinating subject, paleoecology (see 1, 2), friend of HDTD Will Baird live-blogged a teleconference on paleoclimate simulations, recently held in the less-snowy-than-Yerevan paradise of Madison, Wisconsin. I've included a copy of the conference's agenda below the fold, with hyperlinks to WB's comments.
Been in Cambodia for a week now.
Truth to tell, I'm not liking it as much as Laos. This may not be fair to Cambodia. I'm working harder, because I have to write both my Laos and Cambodia reports this week -- no way I'm going to get much done in Romania, with kids and moving. So I'm not seeing as much of the city, never mind the rest of the country.
That said, Phnom Penh is kind of a mess.
Things are just the littlest bit crazy around here. My agenda for the next weeks: Go to Germany tomorrow, come back next Sunday. To the US on Monday, come back following Monday. To Yerevan Tuesday, come back Saturday. Party on Saturday, Alan's birthday on Sunday, Doug's birthday on Tuesday, move on Wednesday, drive with cars and kids to Germany Thursday. That's also the day Doug travels to the US for training. The week after we travel from Germany to Armenia. Why from Germany? Don't ask.
And if you got dizzy reading this, imagine the state of my mind right now.
So, in lieu of deep philosophical musings on Guantanamo Bay, here's the latest of the latest but not leastest:
In terms of raw percentage, I am not a big comics reader. (We all know what that means.) But I have friends in the industry, follow the blogs, accumulate geek lore on the subject et cetera.
Anyway, recently there has been a perk, an upswing of interest in the great American symbolist cartoonist Jack Kirby, now that he's safely dead. I've been an admirer of his art for a long time, and not simply because I look like one of his characters. But let me give you his potted biography first.
James Anthony Kirby was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1917, the second of seven children; his family had settled in Harlem by 1924. Although Kirby dropped out of high school during the Depression in order to help support his family (his father died when Kirby was 10), he attended the night classes of the Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Alston, who also sidelined as a commercial illustrator for the leading fashion magazines of the day.
Alston quickly recognized Kirby's talent. Through Alston, Kirby was hired as a single-panel cartoonist by the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate at the age of 19. Although the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate soon folded, Kirby picked up work in the new format of comic books, where he began developing his distinctive style. At the same time, he also picked up a new nickname, from the initials with which he signed his work: JAK. It would last him a lifetime.
Now let me show you his work.
In Alan's school, a liaison book is a little booklet in which the teachers record what the children have learnt or will be learning about in school. Today, I found this:
Alan spent a lot of time, and had a lot of fun, making simple circuits with a battery, two wires and a light bulb.
Alan: How does this light go on?
Mrs D: We have to make a circuit, what do you think we need?
Alan: We need batteries and we need to put it together.
He connects the battery to the bulb with a white wire.
Mrs D: Now what do we need to do?
Alan: We need to wait.
He waits for a few seconds watching the light bulb.
Alan: Maybe we need the red one.
He replaces the white wire with the red one.
Mrs D: What will happen if we use two wires?
He connects another wire to the battery and bulb without help.
Alan: We have made a circus!
Mrs D: Well done, you have made a circuit.
He continued to play for another 5-10 minutes making more circuits.
When we got home, I gave him some of the chocolate cake I had made earlier that afternoon. He sampled (he's not a cake eater) and said:
"Mmmm! Mama, that is the perfect cake."
You gotta love this boy.
Claudia's sick, Doug's in Laos, so I guess that leaves me to keep y'all amused. Anyone have a deck of cards? No? Then I suppose I'll fill the dead air with mindless chatter links.
My exgf, La Belle Dame SansCulottesPiti Loca, sent me this recipe for Vegan Twinkies. As many of you know, Twinkies were developed during the Cold War as a snack food that could survive a nuclear holocaust, like roaches. I have yet to try this version.
The good people at UbuWeb have put up a passel of avant-garde films, including Buuel's Un Chien andalou and Maya Deren's Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. In fact the whole site is filled with nuggets of good weirdness.
Finally, enjoy the saga of TerryLong. Very few things on the Internet make me "laugh out loud", since I am notorious for my humorlessness and general lack of levity. But this did.
Saw the game at Scholastic Dave's apartment, which is largely organized around the watching of gridiron. Besides the regular crowd of Wisconsin expatriates, Colbert Report Rich was there, who is moving to Brooklyn now that the show has been picked up. Woo-hoo!
For a good breakdown of the game, see theseposts [update: and this one too] by Jim Henley, one of the few libertarians that I don't want to c-punch every time I read him. (It's more like 20 to 30 percent of the time.) Onion John, who is now sports editor there, pointed out that it denied all the narratives leading up to the Superbowl. None of the spotlight players -- Hasselbeck, Roethlisberger, Alexander, Polamalu, or Bettis -- had a great game, and it turned out to be a defensive grind with few fast-moving interludes. (And there's nothing wrong with that.)
As a long-time Holmgren watcher, I am completely not surprised at his coaching meltdown. It brought back memories from his days in Green Bay. Bad ones.
Moment of wonder: watching football great Joe Namath coming out on to the field, totally shellacked. (For European readers, Namath was the long-haired 1960s gridiron star whose image inspired Homer Simpson's mother to become a hippie.) Another moment of wonder: seeing Mick Jagger's Lovecraftian life force re-enter his body during the final minute of his halftime set. Ia! A third moment of wonder: the Discovery Channel's Puppy Bowl. Awww. [And a fourth moment of wonder: congratulations to Pregnant Emma! who was at Dave's place for the game, and to Newborn Carter, who just missed it.]
Today, the flags in Germany are on half mast as former president Johannes Rau is taken to his last resting place in Berlin. Germany mourns a popular president who had constant approval ratings of over 80% during his entire presidency.
Bullet points about Laos.
-- Laotians are first cousins to Thais, like Spanish and Portuguese, or maybe even Swedes and Danes. But Thailand is a big country -- sixty million or so -- and quite wealthy by regional standards. Laos is much smaller, just six million, and much poorer.
You will be shocked to hear that Thais look down on Laotians as poor, backwards mountain cousins. And that Laotians look at Thailand with a mixture of one part envy, one part admiration, three parts resentment.
This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder whether immortality would be all that.
Both Doug and I enjoyed John Burdett's recent Asian thriller Bangkok 8, set guess where. (It has weird sex, snakes. and revenge! What more do you need?) Anyway, one of the subplots in the book deals with the Asian amphetamine trade. This is not a matter of guys with bad teeth setting up trailers in the middle of nowhere. Well, OK, it is, but instead of manufacturing the crank from scratch, in Asia they extract a precursor from local Ephedra shrubs first. Which brings me to the real point of this post, phytochemistry!
The Ephedra are weird-looking shrubs, sometimes called the joint-firs in English. You can see why.Ephedra itself is a living fossil, one of only three (maybe four) surviving genera of the gnetophytes, until recently thought to be the closest living relatives of the flowering plants. Ephedra have been found from the Cretaceous period, over 65 million years ago. They also have a remarkably odd biochemistry: they produce cyclopropyl amino acids. This may require some explanation.
... or, wait. It is a blog on a US server, so it's a domestic blog. No, no, it deals with international issues, so it's an international blog. Furthermore, two of the contributors are residing outside the US, and one of them even is of foreign nationality! And they log in from Romania! You know, the country with no CIA prisons!
That's not spying! That's just protecting you!
If you got a little confused on the definition of domestic versus international, just read the very informative news release of the White House:
# Domestic Calls are calls inside the United States. International Calls are calls either to or from the United States.
# Domestic Flights are flights from one American city to another. International Flights are flights to or from the United States.
# Domestic Mail consists of letters and packages sent within the United States. International Mail consists of letters and packages sent to or from the United States.
# Domestic Commerce involves business within the United States. International Commerce involves business between the United States and other countries.
All clear now? If your reading comprehension isn't quite up there, you may want to watch this little instructional video which explains the White House release in easily understandable words for you. With graphics!
Don't tell me I didn't warn you. It's your own damn fault if you are reading this.
[You have to open the video in Internet Explorer, I'm afraid. Microsoft is evil.]
You know how kids have imaginary friends? It seems a perfectly normal thing. The funniest essay I ever read on this topic was by Adam Gopnik, about his New York daughter Olivia and her imaginary friend Charlie Ravioli. (We have this essay in a New Yorker collection.)
My daughter Olivia, who just turned three, has an imaginary friend whose name is Charlie Ravioli. Olivia is growing up in Manhattan, and so Charlie Ravioli has a lot of local traits: he lives in an apartment "on Madison and Lexington," he dines on grilled chicken, fruit, and water, and, having reached the age of seven and a half, he feels, or is thought, "old." But the most peculiarly local thing about Olivia's imaginary playmate is this: he is always too busy to play with her....
It's a great essay. Read it, if you can find it.
Now, my kids don't really do imaginary friends. They do imaginary monsters, oh yes. They talk with people on the phone - but those people don't have names and lives of their own. They are just people on the phone. Oh, and David likes to pretend he's a dog - or sometimes, that he's an octopus. I don't know whether that is healthy but it sure is cute.
But today, today he had me worried.
And here's something that all of Germany is laughing about: 5 (five!) kilometers of train tracks were stolen last week near Lohra in Northern Hesse.
Yes, you read that one right. The thieves first sent letters to the neighbors, assuring them of their proper intentions. When the mayor of Lohra got suspicious, he called the Deutsche Bahn and promptly got lost in voice mail hell. The thieves worked on the tracks for some days, ripping them out of the beds with heavy machinery. They subsequently hired a local transport company to ferry the tracks to a scap dealer - the estimated worth about 200,000 Euros.
The people living nearby even made photos of the whole operation:
No, the tracks weren't in use anymore. The Deutsche Bahn was about to sell the tracks to the city of Lohra. But now the tracks are gone and the sale is off. (Btw, and the thieves never did pay their bill from the transport company.)
If you saw something like this in the movies, you'd say this could never happen in real life... Oh, mein Vaterland.
Discussing an issue that touches sensitivities is always risky. The signal to noise ratio suddenly drops considerably (see the comments on my earlier post on the VanGoethem trial). But maybe we can try to discuss this topic without losing basic civil behavior.
The problem I have with the VanGoethem trial is the really weak performance of the prosecution.
The Mekong is low.
It's a bit spooky. Vientiane sits right on the Mekong, and you can see that it's supposed to be a serious river, like the Mississippi or the Danube. It's like a mile wide.
Except it isn't. From the shore -- or where the shore should be -- several hundred yards of dry, bare ground stretch to the water's edge. You have to walk for five or ten minutes before you reach the actual river, huddled mournfully against the opposite bank. At a guess, I'd say half of the Mekong's bed is bone dry right now. You can see that this is a recent thing, because no ground plants are growing on the bare mud flats yet.
Reader Ciprian beat me to it - I was composing a post on the VanGoethem trial yesterday but didn't finish it. Now this:
QUANTICO MARINE CORPS BASE, Va. — A seven-member court martial board on Tuesday found Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem not guilty of the two major charges in the traffic death of Romanian rock musician Teofil Peter.
The board found VanGoethem not guilty of negligent homicide and adultery, but guilty of two lesser charges: obstruction of justice and making false statements. Stars and Stripes
This is ludicrous and shameful. I can't find the words to express how I feel about this. This is driving yet another nail into the coffin of what once used to be a positive image of the US in the world.
I need to take a deep breath and step back for a day from this subject, otherwise I will drip sarcasm and derisive comments about the US military judicial system all over the place. I will have a complete post on this tomorrow, complete with inside information from the US Embassy.
(Besides the fact that his affair with Wentworth was blown out of proportion -- what is it compared to killing a human being? - it was an affair and not his first one. It was also not his first accident while drunk. He had a crash in May 2004 which was hushed up by the Embassy. I think VanGoethem got hurt in that accident but I need to check my sources on that one.)