Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Remembering the Thing.

Perhaps no other car has so perfectly typified its nameplate than the Volkswagen Type 181, known in the US as The Thing. Though I was just a wee lad when it was first introduced to the North American market in 1973 I recall that it was billed as the quirky, fun successor to the original Type 1 Beetle. It certainly was quirky.

Is There a First Amendment Right to Intimidate People?

A concerned old lady holding a sign would certainly not constitute intimidation, because a "person of ordinary sensibilities" would not fear bodily harm. But a huge angry crowd, hurling insults and shouting obscene slogans, that very well might be. The larger the crowd, the more intimidating it is. Intimidation can be accomplished by sheer numbers alone. But then, even a smaller crowd of demonstrators can be extremely intimidating, especially if they are known for a history of violence. Angry large tattooed bearded men holding signs saying "TEAMSTERS LOCAL 666 -- DO NOT CROSS OUR LINE!" would frighten most people away. Why? Because they would have a reasonable fear of bodily harm.

Dispelling The 'Deregulation' Myth.

A dubious and dangerous idea seems to be gaining strength — that government caused the financial crisis by giving capitalism free rein. If anything, it hasn't done enough of that.

Read the whole thing.

Tarte Tatin.

It's the peak of apple season in Yankeeland, and the best use for apples is Apple Pie and Tarte Tatin, which is sort of a semi-burned upside-down apple pie.

The Tarte Tatin was supposedly invented by mistake. I have tried to make them many times, but I can never get the hard crispy caramelization on the apples that I seek: I just get a browned upside-down apple pie - a gooey mush that sticks to the pan and makes for a mess of a presentation (but tastes good anyway).

Hard apples - not cooking apples, high heat and an iron skillet seem to be important. Some people seem to have no trouble getting it right, but I never do.

Here's a recipe. If you can make it right, it ain't too terribly bad with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream on the side.

The Strange History of Final Games in Stadiums Slated for Demolition.

The departure of the Dodgers from Brooklyn may be a legendary moment even for those in the borough who weren't born yet, but remarkably few turned out to bear witness: Only 6,702 showed up at Ebbets Field on September 24, 1957, to hear organist Gladys Gooding play "California, Here I Come." According to a contemporary report in Sports Illustrated, the sparse crowd "seemed to regard the occasion as just another ball game." (This wasn't, incidentally, the final baseball game at Ebbets: Long Island University played its home games there in 1959, and on August 23 of that year, the one and only Satchel Paige yielded the final Ebbets home run, in an exhibition game of Black and Latino stars before about 4,000 fans.) Five days later, just 11,606 showed up to bid farewell to the Giants at the Polo Grounds; when the Mets later made the big Manhattan horseshoe their home for two seasons, their finale drew an even more piddling 1,752. The wave of vintage stadiums that fell to the wrecking ball in the early '70s—Sportsman's Park, Forbes Field, Crosley Field—to make way for the "concrete donut" craze fared somewhat better, but still, none sold out their final games.

Something that was a common sight on the final days of ballparks in that era: looting.

The second reason Bill Clinton wants Obama to lose.

For many months now we have been treated to Bill Clinton’s intermittent displeasure with Barack Obama. Sometimes it has been overt, sometimes covert. Most recently, while being fawned over by the ladies at The View, he allowed as how Hillary did not really want the vice-presidential nomination after all. (This makes sense to me, by the way.) At the Democratic Convention, he delivered a far better speech than the candidate, showing up the less experienced Illinois Senator without really doing anything for his presidential campaign. In fact, he seems to speak more postively of McCain–especially off the cuff–only the other day lavishing praise on the Arizonan and defending his decision to skip the first debate to work on the financial crisis with an obvious fact most of us had forgotten - McCain had previously asked Obama for repeated, even constant debates, which the Democratic candidate refused. (The mainstream media made nothing of this, needless to say.) Indeed it seems Clinton wants Obama to lose.

The explanation for this behavior, says the conventional wisdom, is that Clinton wants McCain to win to give his wife another shot at the presidency in 2012. I wouldn’t doubt there is validity to this. But I submit there is a second reason, perhaps equally important: Clinton genuinely wants McCain to win for the good of the country.

Another Real-Life Roy Hobbs.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the profile of Eddie Waitkus I had a few weeks ago.

Bernard Malamud borrowed heavily from the Eddie's life to create the character of Roy Hobbes for The Natural, but he still needed bits and pieces to round out the character. Enter Carvel William "Bama" Rowell:

On May 30, [Bama] Rowell and the Braves were in Flatbush facing the Dodgers in a Saturday afternoon doubleheader. In the second inning of the second game, facing Hank Behrman, a Brooklyn-native, Rowell launched a high fly ball to right field that struck the famous Bulova Clock that stood atop the scoreboard. Bama's blast shattered the face of the clock, raining glass down on Dodgers right fielder Dixie Walker. The ball was in play, and Rowell ended up on second base with a double that kept a Boston seven-run rally alive. The clock however, was not alive. It stopped working exactly one hour after the ball's impact, which occurred at 4:25 p.m.

Pirates Die Strangely After Hijacking Iranian Ship.

The vessel’s declared cargo consists of “minerals” and “industrial products”.

Interestingly, the symptoms are consistent with radiation poisoning. Not really sure what that means. Nothing good though.

Iran’s Oil Woes Threaten the Mullahs.

Despite the rising unpopularity at home, what worries Iran’s leadership even more is that, as history has shown them, lowering oil prices could mean having to be flexible with the West. This was first shown in the mid 1980s, when Iran was fighting Iraq. Midway through the war, many countries were calling for a ceasefire, but Khomeini didn’t listen. He was confident that his forces could go on fighting and topple Saddam. In order to finance this ambition, Tehran attacked oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, with the hope of pushing oil prices up. This didn’t work. By 1988, the falling oil price finally forced Ayatollah Khomeini to take the painful decision of accepting a ceasefire with Saddam Hussein, something which he likened to “drinking a chalice of poison.”

The same happened in 1997. The Asian crisis of that year, which led to a crash in oil prices to less than $10 per barrel, was one of the major motivators behind Iran’s rapprochement with the West, headed by the reformist administration of Ayatollah Khatami. Low oil prices were again a factor behind Iran’s Western-friendly policy of temporarily suspending uranium enrichment in 2005. In fact one of the reasons Iran felt confident enough to stop the suspension was that oil prices started increasing sharply in August that year.

What this all could mean is that if oil prices fall to $70 per barrel or below, Ahmadinejad may find it difficult to maintain the same level of belligerence against the West. Things could get much worse for him if Obama is elected. His pledge to invest $150 billion in renewable energy could very well burst more bubbles around oil prices, thus pulling them to more unbearable lows for right-wingers in Iran — so low that the words “suspension of uranium enrichment” may turn from blasphemy into a realistic option.

Just Die. It's Your Duty.

An evil woman touted as "the influential medical ethics expert Baroness Warnock" says it's time for some tough love and hard death among the demented of England. Call it "the culling the herd to save some money" ethic. Warnock says, "If you're demented, you're wasting people's lives – your family's lives – and you're wasting the resources of the National Health Service."

Or, as Orin Judd so succinctly puts it: "Ever notice how "medical ethics" is nothing more than justifying murder.

We do and we also note how this is a rising trend in the "ethical" thinking of Europe. Or perhaps we shouldn't say "trend" as much as a nostalgic yearning for the past century where an interest in eugenics amongst the "leaders" of that civilization was part of the biggest butcher's bill in history.

Where have we seen this sort of "cost crisis" medical thinking in Europe before? Oh yes, that would be the Hadamar Hospital AKA the Hadamar Euthanasia Center .

When the power of the state is coupled with the ability to ration out health care (or not), there is the enivetable temptation to cut costs by eliminating some of the more "expensive" patients.

It begins by denying services to the undeserving. Why should taxpayers pay for smokers cancer treatments or liver transplants for alcoholics? They did this to themselves, goes the argument. Shouldn't scarce resources be reserved for those who are truly deserving?

Then there are the patients who have no socially useful future (in the eyes of eugenics supporters). The argument has a certain utilitarian logic: why should we waste resources on the profoundly disabled when we could be building bridges or schools with the same money?

Finally, those near the end of their lives must culled. Why have someone linger, possibly in great pain and with no hope of recovery at the cost of thousands of taxpayer dollars?

The answer is simple. We care for the sick, the disabled, and the elderly because every life matters.

Each and every life has value and not only to the one who possess it. This isn't an argument about assisted suicide, that's a topic for another day. Most of us have known friends or relatives who have faced painful ends and we may have wished that we could have alleviated their suffering with the release of death. But that death would be on their terms-not at the behest of the state because of budget cuts.

The weakest in our society will always be vulnerable to the whims of people like Baroness Warnock. Those of us who value our humanity need to vigorously oppose her and those like her at every turn.

God, Patriotism and Taxes.

Joe Biden isn't backing down from his startling claim last week that raising taxes on the rich is the "patriotic" thing to do. On Thursday he upped the ante, thundering that he also has Jesus in his corner. "Catholic social doctrine as I was taught it is, you take care of people who need the help the most," Mr. Biden preached to a group of union supporters on Thursday.

Heavens! The political left likes to score Republicans for claiming that God is on their side, but here we have Mr. Biden claiming support from both God and Caesar. If Sarah Palin tried this, she'd send the boys at the Daily Kos into cardiac arrest. We won't get into a theological debate with Mr. Biden, except to say that Biblical tax rates tended to run around 10%, not the 39.6%-plus that Barack Obama's tax plan calls for.

Call It Slavery.

Because slavery is universally ­illegal—though ­it was banned in Saudi Arabia only in 1962 and in Mauritania in 1981—its existence is subterranean. There are no reliable estimates of the number of people held in bondage. The U.S. State Department and the International Labor Organization put the figure in the millions. The State Department estimates that as many as 17,500 slaves are brought into the United States every year, from many different countries, and it is likely that trafficking within the United States involves several times as many people. As is the case elsewhere in the world, most American slaves toil in brothels, massage parlors, and other sex businesses, or as domestic servants. A large proportion of those who come from abroad arrive by perfectly legal means, often in the company of “handlers” who help them obtain tourist or business visas.

It's the one of the greatest human rights issues of our time...and almost nobody talks about it. Even fewer try to do something about it. Shame on all of us.

EPA Shuts Down Local Ghost-Entrapment Business.

NEW YORK—Citing unsafe practices and potential toxic contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency shut down a small ghost- entrapment operation in downtown Manhattan today, and had four of the business' spectral-containment specialists arrested in the process.

According to EPA agent Walter Peck, employees of the company—located in an old fire station in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York—had repeatedly refused to grant him access to their storage facility, which posed a health hazard to the surrounding community.

"The facility in question unlawfully used public utilities for the purpose of non-sanctioned waste-handling, and was in direct violation of the Environmental Protection Act," Peck said. "Additionally, this company possessed several unlicensed portable nuclear accelerators that were frequently discharged within mere feet of civilians."

Typical. The heavy hand of government intrudes once again upon the private sector. Nothing good can come of this. I'm not saying Gozer the Gozerian is going to try to take over New York City but if there is a problem...who ya gonna call?

Sarah Palin's Faith, and Mine.

I didn't like Mike Huckabee's campaign in the Republican primaries, because Huckabee argued, sometimes explicitly, that Christian voters should support him because he's a Christian. I wouldn't have voted for him anyway, but that sealed the point for me. I won't vote for any candidate because of that candidate's faith, or lack thereof. Often, I don't know anything (and don't try to find out) about the religious convictions of the candidates I support. I'm sure I've voted for candidates with a wide range of religious commitments, including some--probably a lot--with no more than nominal religious affiliations, or none at all.

Though you won't read it in the New York Times, I'm pretty sure that most of my fellow Christians follow a similar practice. We vote for and against candidates' political programs, not for and against their religious practice. That is as it should be in a society as religiously diverse as ours is.

But there's a flip side to that proposition. While my faith should never be treated like a job qualification in a political campaign, neither should its absence.

Read the whole thing.

A Plauge of Panhandlers.

Like most countries, America has always had its share of itinerant travelers, vagabonds, and hoboes. But panhandling became a more pervasive and disturbing fact of urban life in the 1970s—a by-product of the explosion in homelessness that resulted from rising drug use and the closing of state-run mental institutions, which released scores of helpless psychiatric patients back into society. Though studies showed that only a small percentage of homeless people panhandled—mostly alcoholics and drug addicts seeking their next fix—the sheer numbers of street people still meant lots of beggars. By the crack epidemic’s late-eighties peak, New York City in particular was home to a massive panhandling presence. A 1988 survey by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority found that 80 percent of subway riders disliked the constant harassment. “I was raised never to pass a beggar by, but there are too many of them and I’m sick of it,” one Manhattanite told the New York Times. “I feel like this is becoming beggar city.”

Sexy Halloween Costumes.

Apparently she's supposed to be a "Dirty Martini". Note the pimento placement.

Halloween is coming up and America's costume designers have reaffirmed their commitment to tasteful demure costumes for the ladies. Some more photos here...and here. I love this country.

Jay Tea on the bailout.

It's a kind of negative evidence, but it's persuasive to me: the Democrats have a solidly established record of being utterly and completely wrong on the whole mess. They are now acting as if the situation isn't so bad, and are still far more interested in playing their run-of-the-mill political games with the whole process. If they are still wrong (and the odds are highly in favor of that conclusion), then we are in real trouble and the bailout that they don't seem to care about whether or not it passes is probably a necessary evil.

Read the whole thing.

Jet-Setting Greens.

“Green living is largely something of a myth,” Dr. Barr told the Guardian newspaper. “There is this middle class environmentalism where being green is part of the desired image. But another part of the desired image is to fly off skiing twice a year. And the carbon savings they make by not driving their kids to school will be obliterated by the pollution from their flights.”