Archive for June, 2011

Talk to the Animals

Posted on June 17th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Funny coincidence: The other day, I watched Day of the Dolphin for the first time in, oh, 25 years. Maybe longer. (Wow—how does that happen?)

A little dated, but…still great!

So…if you live long enough, it seems, most science fiction becomes true.

New Scientist reports on the invention of a computer that divers can wear which translates dolphin clicks into English and allows for the human to respond.

A diver will carry the computer in a waterproof case worn across the chest, and LEDs embedded around the diver’s mask will light up to show where a sound picked up by the hydrophones originates from. The diver will also have a Twiddler – a handheld device that acts as a combination of mouse and keyboard – for selecting what kind of sound to make in response.

As I’ve said before on this blog…the 21st century will bring true interspecies communication representing perhaps the most profound shift in homo sapiens’ relationship with the planet ever.

Sorry the Blog’s been Quiet

Posted on June 15th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

It’s been a brutal week….

Weiner May be Resigning

Posted on June 13th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

…various places are reporting. But should he?

Writing in the Daily Beast, Peter Beinart doesn’t think so:

Here’s one good point:

The current line among talking heads is that he must resign because he’s hurting the Democratic Party, which no longer can focus public attention on the GOP’s efforts to cut Medicare. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy. The main reason the Democrats no longer can focus public attention on the GOP’s efforts to cut Medicare, after all, is that talking heads would rather focus on Anthony Weiner’s pecs.

Here’s another:

Other critics say Weiner has shown poor judgment in his private life, which casts doubt about the judgment he’ll show in public life. But there’s no necessary connection between the two. Bill Clinton was privately reckless and publicly cautious; with George W. Bush it was the reverse.

Indeed. George W. Bush never cheated on Laura, so far as we know. But how many hundreds of thousands have died in Iraq because of his moral certitude, his lack of humility?

And I think this is very true:

How many of the pundits mocking Weiner have marriages that could survive the kind of scrutiny they have been giving his? The realization that everyone’s private life is messy and flawed should produce humility and compassion. Instead, pundits enter the public arena as disembodied Olympian figures, entitled to render the harshest of verdicts, secure in the knowledge that no one will ever investigate their most intimate of domains.

Alas, none of this is likely to make any difference. Forget all Weiner’s years of public service, all the fights he waged against Republicans who are actually doing damage to our country. What he did grosses us out. He’s gotta go.

In Brooklyn, A Study in Contrasting Economic Systems

Posted on June 10th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

An interesting night on my block last night.

In the Williamsburg Savings Bank, a stunning, now unused bank from the 1920s that is part of the building where I live, Kanye West gave a “secret” performance last night to celebrate his birthday. There were about a million cops around, and some very cute German shepherds wearing green tags that said “Staff.” Judging by the abundant signage, Kanye’s birthday was underwritten by Heineken.

At the other end of the block, in the BAM Opera House, my wife and I watched a performance by the Cuban National Ballet.

It was hard to imagine a greater contrast in the space of a few hundred feet. Kanye and his fellow rappers represent some pretty unattractive things about capitalism—the worship of the material, mainly—but they’re also the product of a highly competitive meritocracy. Those guys are good. (As confirmed by one of the doormen in my building, who told me this morning that he crashed the concert.) Have you heard Kanye’s new album? Ridiculously great.

The CNB, by contrast, was bad—very bad—and bad in ways that are directly attributable to Cuban socialism. I’m hardly an expert on ballet, but…their style was so dated, it was embarrassing. They showed virtually no awareness of what’s happening in the world of dance, and it created in me a sort of awkwardness. Wow. They really don’t know. (The way you feel when you watch some of the early contestants on American Idol, who seem to have no idea how bad they are.)

Their costumes looked like something out of a 1950s Vegas review—or, really, like they were borrowed from the Tropicana club in Havana, which feels equally outdated. They feel as if they’ve been trained to perform in front of generals and bureaucrats—all flash, no subtlety, desperate to please the philistines.

As the Times’ reviewer put it,

it’s still a shock to see this company, full of strong technicians who can jump and turn and lift their legs as high as any of today’s ballet dancers, but whose performance style looks so mannered and dated that the company often recalls Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the all-male troupe that loves to perform exactly the kind of program that the Ballet Nacional presented at the Brooklyn Academy.

It’s easy to romanticize Cuba. But having been there, I’d say that the only romantic aspects of Cuba are the parts that predate Castro—the cars, the architecture, Hemingway, Graham Greene—and the CNB performance only affirmed that. If I had to choose, I’m sticking with Yeezy.

Quote of the Day

Posted on June 10th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

It takes one kind of brazenness for a man to send lewd pictures of himself to women he knows only through a few on-line chats. But it takes 200-proof gall to decide that you — and let’s say that you’re a congresswoman from Pennsylvania or California, or an ex-governor from Virginia — know better than the 70,000 people who voted Anthony D. Weiner into Congress.

—NYT columnist Jim Dwyer, making the point made here yesterday.

Dwyer goes on to say:

it ought to be noted that Mr. Weiner is employed by the people of the Ninth District in Queens and Brooklyn, and not by Ms. Pelosi or Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate. Those people have voted him into office seven times. They may never vote for him again, but that’s their call. Elections should not be undone by a press release from [Pennsylvania congresswoman] Allyson Schwartz.

On the same subject, another Times article about Weiner’s “brash style” injects some plot-thickening facts into the matter. Like this:

Mr. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, has strongly encouraged him to try to remain in office. She is actively participating in discussions of his political future, speaking with him several times during the day.

And this:

….constituents have told him to ignore those outsiders who are clamoring for his removal, recounting his contributions to their neighborhood and longtime service in government.

Ira Zalcman, 62, the head of the Manhattan Beach Community Group in southern Brooklyn, listed some of Mr. Weiner’s accomplishments: removing giant cement planters that irritated neighbors, fighting unpopular traffic patterns imposed by the city and being on call 24 hours a day during the blizzard last year.

“People make mistakes,” Mr. Zalcman said. “I hope he stays in office.

The more Washington insiders and media pot-stirrers call for Weiner to be ridden out of town on a rail, the more I think: Let the people decide.

In All Fairness

Posted on June 10th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Red Sox are looking awfully good these days.

I haven’t quite given up on this season—it’s not even the All-Star break, and the Yankees are only two back, and lots can change.

But truth is, I’ve had sort of a resigned feeling to this Yankees season, and it really has to do with Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, the three Yankees legends. With the exception of Rivera—and even he’s shown signs of fallibility—Jeter and Posada just aren’t very good this year. (Posada’s been horrible, in fact.) And their presence on the team is a dilemma: You can’t trade or release them, because they’re such a part of the team’s history and they’re both classy guys. But to me, they contribute to a lack of energy, a team torn between the past and the future. The Yankees are old.

Of course, things could change. Jeter could turn it around. The pitching staff could surprise. AJ Burnett might actually beat the Red Sox, that thing for which he was signed and which he’s barely done since. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But for me, this is a baseball season of low expectations….. So if I were a Sox fan, I’d feel good about dominating the Yankees this season. But not that good.

Weiner-Watching

Posted on June 9th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

Is anyone else getting uncomfortable about the progression of the Anthony Weiner witch hunt? Wishing that maybe we could just slow this thing down and think it over a bit more?

As calls for his resignation apparently increase, here are some things to consider.

1) Imagine Nancy Pelosi saying that he should resign because he’s become a Democratic liability. Coming from Nancy Pelosi…

2) Here are a couple quotes from women who were on the receiving end of Weiner’s sexts.

“I think he has a weird fetish. It doesn’t make him a bad politician…or a bad congressman. It makes him a bad husband.”

—Las Vegas blackjack dealer Lisa Weiss, quoted in a NY Post article entitled, “Perv takes a ‘Hit’ from his Blackjack Dealer.”

“I certainly don’t condone his behavior, but I think that’s a personal matter between him and his family.”

Genette Cordova, the recipient of the Weiner boxer photo, in the NYT.

So…the women involved—you can’t really call them “victims,” can you?— seem more reasonable than the rest of us.

3) “Anthony Wiener’s Wife is Pregnant” — a New York Times headline yesterday.

This marks one of the lowest moments in the history of the New York Times. There is absolutely no news justification for printing this story. Write all you want about the political implications of Wiener’s behavior, the cultural meaning, blah-blah-blah. But to run an article in the New York Times saying that Huma Abedin is 10 weeks pregnant—or, as the Times put it, “in the early stages of pregnancy”—this being before the end of the period of greatest risk of miscarriage, when women generally don’t tell the world that they’re pregnant—is a profound and shameful violation of privacy for purely salacious reasons. The Times has disgraced itself. But then, so has most of the media in the matter Wiener.

4) Here’s a quote from Andrew Sullivan that I find worth considering:

….we have dispensed with even the pretense of any over-arching justification for this attack on Weiner. He hasn’t been accused of adultery or hypocrisy; he has committed no crime; it doesn’t seem as if he has spent any public money. No one he corresponded with complained. No harrassment is involved. And yet this case of doing something which is ubiquitous online is equated, in some cases, with Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s brutal alleged rape.

I’m just amazed at the resources of American puritanism. This is the first sex scandal I can think of in which there was no even faintly credible reason to do it, but pure partisan hatred, and no actual sex.

The New York Times has certainly dispensed with any pretense of justifying its coverage.

5) Here’s another quote from another Times article:

“Having the respect of your constituents is fundamental for a member of Congress. In light of Anthony Weiner’s offensive behavior online, he should resign.”

—Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania

That’s a classic logical fallacy (wish I knew the name for it.) “Having respect from your constituents is important. Anthony Wiener behaved badly. Therefore he should resign.” See the missing sentence?

But people in Queens are pretty tough, and from what I can tell, opinion there is very much mixed about Wiener’s behavior. There’s far from a consensus. And Queensians certainly don’t need someone from Pennsylvania telling them what they think.

6) If people make the argument that politicians should be role models and Wiener clearly isn’t one, I think that’s certainly an argument worth taking seriously. But most people I talk to gave up that notion long ago…

7) Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican senator, just blocked the appointment of a Nobel Prize-winning economist to the Fed because he said the man was unqualified.

Is this more or less obscene than Anthony Weiner’s crotch shot? Is it of greater or lesser public importance?

8 ) The Oklahoma legislature just passed a bill banning affirmative action because, one white Republican explained, “blacks just don’t work as hard as white people.”

Is this more or less obscene than Anthony Wiener’s crotch shot?

9) Republicans are saying that Mitt Romney is not a viable presidential candidate because he refuses to disavow the science behind global warming.

Is this more or less obscene than Anthony Wiener’s crotch shot?

So, really, why are we driving this man out of office? Because he’s creepy? Because he treated his wife terribly? Or because he’s a vociferous and tough political critic of the Republican party, and this is a convenient—maybe deliberate, maybe planned—way to take him out.

If those are the reasons, fine, let’s put our cards on the table. But let’s not pretend that we’re being high-minded about it. This is a political assassination pretending to be a mercy killing.

Good News for Sharks

Posted on June 8th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Mexico has just banned shark fishing ” during the period of greatest reproductive intensity of the main species, that is to say, between May and August each year.”

It’s a start. The question is, will/can this policy be enforced?

The New School

Posted on June 8th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The Guardian reports on the formation of a new private, for-profit university in England.

The Oxbridge-style university college aims to educate a new British elite with compulsory teaching in science literacy, critical thinking, ethics and professional skills on top of degree subjects taught in one-to-one tutorials.

Interesting—and already wildly controversial in England. But what really caught my eye about this was some of the names of the faculty involved:

Its first master will be the philosopher AC Grayling, and top teachers from Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge will include Richard Dawkins teaching evolutionary biology and science literacy, Niall Ferguson teaching economics and economic history and Steven Pinker teaching philosophy and psychology.

How exactly will Harvard professors Ferguson and Pinker do that without giving up their Harvard tenure? Simultaneous sabbaticals? Skype?

A Truly Disappointing Politician

Posted on June 7th, 2011 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

No, it’s not Anthony Weiner; it’s recently retired Indiana senator Evan Bayh.

I remember about 15 years ago running a glowing profile of Bayh in George. He was the next big Democrat—son of liberal icon Birch Bayh, clean as a whistle, unlimited potential.

(John Kennedy even gave him money.)

Well, he did virtually nothing in the Senate before retiring in such a way as to likely hand over his seat to a Republican.

He did say, though, that he was retiring because “I simply believe I can best contribute to society in another way: creating jobs by helping grow a business, helping guide an institution of higher learning, or helping run a worthy charitable endeavor.”

So what has he done since then?

As Gawker points out,

He is a partner at the corporate lobbying firm McGuire Woods LLP.
—He is a Senior Advisor to the private equity firm Apollo Global Management.
—He is the token punching-bag Democrat for Fox News.
—And now, he has been hired by the omnipotent Chamber of Commerce, where, along with former George W. Bush chief of staff Andy Card, he will be “part of the Chamber’s anti-regulation messaging team, doing ‘speeches, events, and media appearances at local venues
.’”

The Chamber of Commerce, of course, being the group probably most likely for the Republican takeover of the House in 2010 and one of President Obama’s dirtiest political opponents.

So let’s see.

Helping grow a business? No.
Helping run an institution of higher learning? No.
Helping run a charity? Um…no.

Cashing in on a pathetic Congressional record in the most craven way? Very much so.

But at least he didn’t send dirty pictures over the Internet….