Caligula famously made his horse a consul. Compared with Congress, the horse is looking pretty good.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
There are five Siri Paboun novels at present, each complete in itself, but together presenting a snapshot of a place and an era. These stories start in 1975, when the Communists take over Laos to the immense surprise of everyone, not least themselves. At least 500,000 of the newly liberated citizens of this enlightened country have chosen to swim across the river or otherwise decamp to Thailand at the opening of the first book, The Coroner's Lunch.
When the story opens, the previous official coroner has fled elsewhere, so Siri Paboun, an elderly doctor who fought for Laotian freedom, has been appointed to fill his place. Although he lacks the training and the equipment, refusing the job is not an option. Siri supports the new governemt--after all, he fought for it--but has no illusions. He is hopeful that the Pathet Lao (the new Communist regime) will eventually get their act together and start governing efficiently, but skeptical of this happening any time soon. The new government is devoted to bureaucracy, requiring lengthy forms to be filled out for every trivial action, mandatory meetings, and pompous pronouncements. Under the new regime, Laotians are meant to "volunteer" for menial jobs, such as painting the new civic center, in their spare time. Vietnamese "advisors" are also present and represent a force be reckoned with.
Siri improvises from day to day, performing his assigned duties to the best of his ability, ably assisted by his nurse, Dtui, and by Gueng, a Down's syndrome man who tackles the menial tasks of the lab with great patience and zeal. The three of them manage to run the enterprise competently and resourcefully and to enjoy life despite obstacles put in their way.
All this takes place against a background of Laotian and Hmong villages, peopled by gentle souls still living as their ancestors did, people who never sought to fight anyone but were overrun by the forces of twentieth century history and left to cope as best they could.
The atmosphere of Vientiane and other venues in Laos is so skillfully depicted that you get a real feel for the place - primitive, exotic, yet suffering the discomforts and constraints characteristic of the twentieth century. Cotterill obviously has great respect and affection for the various ethnic groups who find themselves lumped together as a nation because it was convenient for the French — their former colonizers — to draw the map that way.
To complicate matters further, Siri, a man of science and a skeptic in matters spiritual, is the reluctant host for the spirit of a thousand-year-old shaman, who occasionally has prophetic dreams and gets him into all kinds of trouble. He also is pursued by a demon, a phibob, who is bent on destroying him. With the help of his occult powers, Siri is able to get to the bottom of all kinds of mysterious events which drive the plots of these five books.
The best way to appreciate these novels is to read them straight through chronologically from beginning to end. The main characters — sketchily described in the first novel — develop foibles and strengths as they cope with the difficulties which confront them. Their individual histories are revealed more fully, and they become more rounded and believable.
Posted by miriam at 10:42 PM
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I admit I don't understand the plan advanced by Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke to save Wall Street, or whatever it is that they are saving. The Senators who are questioning them also seem skeptical. It seems I heard a figure bandied about of 7 billion $, that's 7 with a whole lot of zeroes after it.
I don't understand how the government taking over the entire economy is going to save capitalism, but heck, these guys went to prestigious colleges and won impressive degrees so they should know what they are doing. I hope.
The fact that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac donated oodles of money to various members of Congress was a big coincidence.
Another thing, if Freddie and Fannie both did the same thing, lend money foolishly, why did we need two of them? I would think that one quasi-governmental agency could mismanage very well all by itself, saving the government the cost of two buildings, two chief executives, two charwomen, and so on. I mean, the student loan agency manages to rip off the public just fine with only one agency mismanaging it.
But the ways of American politics are very exotic to me, more so than the rituals of some esoteric, remote tribe in the Amazon. I've never been able to understand the finer points of political activity. For instance, what was Watergate all about. I know what happened, but I fail to understand the reasoning behind it. Was Nixon afraid he wouldn't win the election because he was only 20 percent ahead?
Welcome, Insanities readers!
Posted by miriam at 10:49 PM
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Above, a picture of the brass band that entertained the arriving guests. They were excellent. So was the program. The symphony, of course, is a pick-up orchestra, but performed ably. It was the guests that I found most remarkable. They all seemed to know each other. It was like going to a family wedding, if your family consisted of well-heeled and well-dressed people. The women were exceptionally stylish, except for one or two human skeletons in baby dresses--hanging straight from the shoulders and cut off below the hips. Not a good idea for women over forty, especially if you have legs like sticks. The younger women were ravishing. Women were all dressed to the nines, or at least to the eight and a halfs. Men, not so much.
And men look so great in evening dress!
Posted by miriam at 3:46 PM
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I have some stuff to clear up:
I caused the stock market to tank. Yes, I am guilty. Last Friday I ordered my IRA to sell some shares. You saw what happened Monday? I am deeply sorry.
The pro-abortion cheerleaders act like getting an abortion is a fun thing, like getting a really nifty hairdo or taking a vacation in Bermuda. It isn't. It's a surgical procedure, not a cause for celebration, whatever you are, pro-choice or pro-life.
The Wall Street Journal quotes a a couple of supposedly representative Christians:
When I got home from church I... called my Jesuit friend, who I know hates these people, too. I asked, "Don't you think God finds these smug egomaniacs morally repellent? Recoils from their smugness as from hot flame?"
And he said, "Absolutely. They are everything He or She hates in a Christian."
I thought Christians were supposed to love their enemies, or their neighbors? Apparently not. I guess Jesus was just kidding around when he said, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." I suppose the quaint idea I picked up, that to a believing Christian, every one of us is a child of God with an immortal soul, was not applicable to Republicans. I'm not a Christian, so how could I know? I thought Christians were like the Rev Martin Luther King. You know, saintly.
I hope these tolerant believers don't extend their contempt to us Jews--oh wait, they already have. Only they call us "Zionists."
By the way, I just posted a new feature, called "Followers," on my blog. Humiliatingly, I have 0 followers so far. So if you want to follow my blog, sign up. If no-one signs up, I will remove the gadget.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
while the poor run around in rags, no doubt.
Laura Bush's ensemble
Oscar de la Renta suit: $2,500
Stuart Weitzman heels: $325
Pearl stud earrings: $600–$1,500
Total: Between $3,425 and $4,325
Cindy McCain's wardrobe
Oscar de la Renta dress: $3,000
Chanel J12 White Ceramic Watch: $4,500
Three-carat diamond earrings: $280,000
Four-strand pearl necklace: $11,000–$25,000
Shoes, designer unknown: $600
Total: Between $299,100 and $313,100.
How contemptible this stirring up of class envy is, especially in a fashion reporter!
News flash to Elizabeth Snead: Oscar de la Renta is an American company. Stuart Weitzman is an American company. It provides jobs to American workers. The fashion industry is very important to the economy of New York City (hence NYC hosts fashion week and not Elizabeth Snead week)) and Los Angeles.
Wealthy women wear expensive clothes--deal with it. At least these two are buying American, unlike Jacqueline Kennedy, who bought French clothes, at least until she was in the White House.
Laura and Cindy are criticized for being wealthy women who dress nicely when they are on national tv. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is considered white trash who probably goes around in the skins of the moose she kills.
Posted by miriam at 8:45 PM
Answer: Not very.
[Palin's] state of Alaska has less [I would use the word fewer, myself, as more grammatically correct] than 700,000 residents, which reduces the job of governor to the scale of running one-tenth of New York City. By comparison, Rudy Giuliani is a towering international figure.
Well, Delaware only has about 850,000 residents, which reduces the job of governing Delaware to running--actually--about ten percent of New York City, assuming NYC still has 8 million. I missed a lot of school when we studied fractions, but by my calculations Delaware is about 12 percent more important than Alaska.
By these criteria, Delaware isn't much:
Delaware is 45th largest state in population, which makes it pretty negligible, although not as contemptible as Vermont or Wyoming, 49th and 50th, respectively. I don't know why we even bother to have an election for governor, really. The place could probably run itself.
Let's look at the world. Giuliani could probably govern both Luxembourg (pop 483,800) and Iceland (pop 319,355) together without turning a hair. Imagine what these two countries could save in salaries every year if they just had to pay one chief executive!
Welcome, Insanities readers!
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Every once in a while I check to see what combination of words brings people to my site. Here goes:
Miriam's porn site I should really remove this facetious post from my website--the poor dears must be so disappointed. Still, it does generate lots of traffic....
A short history of the United States This one is most often consulted by foreigners. Good grief! I hope they don't take it too seriously.
English towns with funny names: Self-explanatory.
Hairstyles of the 20th century: Also self-explanatory.
Natalee Holloway. In this post, I explained that there is no news about NH; still, people continue to visit the link. Go figure.
Posted by miriam at 11:09 AM
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
It sounds unpleasant, if not dangerous.
Britain is “quite simply running out of power” and blackouts are almost inevitable within the next few years.
Campbell Dunford of the respected Renewable Energy Foundation said: “It’s almost too late to do anything about it. Nothing will stop us having to pay very high prices for power in future.
“If we pull our finger out now we can limit blackouts but it’s going to be pretty grim whatever happens.”...[ ]
Blackouts could force the Government to impose electricity rationing, last seen in the Seventies. The REF report says the Government “should prepare itself to intervene with social policy to prevent hardship and maintain order”.
It criticises ministers for focusing too heavily on such untried renewable energy sources as wind and tide power, rather than making sure that secure new power generation was put in place.
The report concludes: “A near fatal preoccupation with politically attractive but marginal forms of renewables seems to have caused a blindness towards the weakening of the UK’s power stations and a dangerous and helpless vulnerability to natural gas.”
Great Britain seems to have adopted the policy favored by the Democrats. Apparently it isn't working very well for them.
Thanks to Ker-Plunk for the link.
Monday, September 08, 2008
The whole carry-on about Sarah Palin and the local librarian reminds me of my experience with censorship in my long years atoning for the sins of a former life by serving as a library director.
The politicians never took any interest in the books in the library. They didn't read them. I don't believe they read the reports I sent them. They didn't even have library cards. Only the inmates of these small towns noticed we had books, some of which they objected to.
The complaints were bizarre. One man poked his head around the corner of my office and dropped a copy of The Return of the Native on my desk, remarking that it was the dirtiest book he had ever read. He must have led a sheltered life.
In order to forestall citizen's complaints, we had a Procedure. I found that a Procedure, in writing, was a good way to cope with complaints and other problems. We had Procedures for every eventuality--unruly customers, opening and closing the library, checking out books, dealing with emergencies, etc. They were kept in a notebook entitled Policies and Procedures.
So, as part of this Procedure, we had this form which we asked our patrons to fill out if they wanted something removed from the shelves. No-one who complained ever wanted to fill out the form, so the matter usually died there. Most of the books people objected to were not obscene or objectionable; someone just had an aversion to a particular book for reasons of their own. I think some of them just wanted to talk to somebody.
Librarians love to talk about Censorship, but censorship was not my main problem with books in the library. Our main problem was donations. Ideally, we didn't want any. We particularly didn't want any copies of encyclopedias more than three years old or with volumes missing. Filthy or moldy books, books with pages missing or covers torn off, books whose contents were escaping their bindings--you get the picture. Nix. No. Nada. Non quiero. We of course had a policy stating what sort of books we would accept, but no-one ever read it. People just brought in books, left them in the bookdrop, or deposited them at our door if we were closed. It was a bad idea making them take them home again, so we quietly disposed of them.
Donated periodicals were a lesser problem, as sometimes one of our issues was missing and we could fill in our collection. But National Geographic! It's an excellent publication beyond a doubt, but we had so many of them that we gave them to school kids to illustrate their reports.
Other problem donations were books people were eager to add to our collection: books about little-known religions; books denying that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln, hate-filled tomes blaming all the world's problems on the Jews, stuff like that. We had a Policy for these, thank God. It generally involved pitching them.
And there were the books donated under certain conditions: they must be kept in the reference collection, or the children's collection, or behind glass. We didn't want them either.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
Praying! in a church!
What atrocity will come next?
I have noticed that we Jews have a prayer for our country's leaders which is recited some time during the high holidays--and they don't even add a footnote: "Except for George W Bush."
Clearly this prayer book needs revision.
Posted by miriam at 2:14 PM
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Put up or shut up:
I have some news for Ms. Palin about the responsibilities of a community organizer. I know something about it because my son Matthew is a community organizer; and in south Chicago, as it happens.
It’s true that he doesn’t have the responsibilities of a small-town mayor. He’s never had the responsibility to use authority and power to threaten to fire the librarian for not banning books that were incompatible with the mayor’s personal beliefs and tastes.
Well, did this happen? Names and dates, please.
Meanwhile, about that community organizer job Barack Obama had--how did that work out for the community? More jobs? Better housing? Slumlords (Tony Rezco, call your office) persuaded to take good care of their properties? Are the schools any better? Does the city pick up trash more regularly and keep the streets clean?
Friday, September 05, 2008
Phyllis Chesler answers her own question. This is how she states her dilemma:
Do we vote to keep abortion legal and to stop the anti-Choice conservatives from taking over the Supreme Court–or do we vote to make sure that the American military is allowed to stop the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in their tracks? Can we really achieve both goals by voting for one candidate? If not, then what is the more pressing priority? For ourselves, for our country, for the world at this moment in history?
If American women retain the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term–in my view, a prerequisite to female human freedom, what does this mean if the jihadists bomb the country back to the seventh century? If the jihadists triumph, American women will be forced to convert to Islam, to wear veils or burqas (body bags), and risk being stoned to death, hung, or honor murdered if they want to choose their own husbands, attend college, dress like modern American girls do, or convert to another non-Islamic religion.
First: No one is proposing to do anything in the near future to either restrict or promote abortion. Indeed, no president has the right to do so. He or she could propose either pro-abortion or pro-life bills, but there is little chance that anyone in Congress would want to pick up that hot potato. "The right to choose" represents left-wing lip service, and "the right to life" represents right-wing sermonizing.
Second: Supreme Court nominations: Supreme Court nominees are at best autonomous, at worst loose cannons. Once approved by the Senate and appointed to the Court, they are free to decide that the moon is made of green cheese and no-one can say them nay. The justices are absolutely free of any check on their power. They serve for life. A conservative appointee might want to discover his inner liberal, once he is appointed, and vice versa. So you never know what a nominee will do. You can guess, but chances are you will be wrong 50 percent of the time.
I'm sure Reagan wanted to appoint a conservative, but what did he get? Sandra Day O'Connor, for one, a woman who lurches from the right to the left like a drunken sailor aboard a ship in a storm.
For my part, I don't consider an abortion exactly a cause for jubilation. I reluctantly agree that it is up to the individual to decide for herself, but there is no denying it is an ugly business.
Posted by miriam at 2:13 PM
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Just stuff that crossed my "mind," if you can call it that:
1. Everyone dumps on Nancy Pelosi for having plastic surgery. Just because she's stupid, does she have to be ugly too? Plastic surgeons have to feed their families, too, you know.
2. Sarah Palin's kids have awful names. Could there be an uglier name for a girl than Bristol? Is it worse than Crystal? It shouldn't be, but somehow it is. It reminds me of the bristles on a pig, or a hairbrush. Poor kid. Willow is not as bad, but I think one of the boys is named Trigger or something. Maybe it's Track. Sarah herself is lovely, of course. Why not Sarah jr?
3. Cindy McCain is too thin. When she stands sideways she disappears. She looks like the undead. Have a cookie, Cindy. Or drink some of the family beer.
4. On the other hand, Laura Bush is a perfect lady. She's tactful and soft-spoken--in a word, charming. She looks as she should look as the mother of grown children. But that doesn't stop anyone from saying ungracious things about her.
5. Hillary Clinton is the world's favorite dumpee. She is criticized for everything from her hair to her toes, with several stops in-between. People who aren't even personally acquainted with her speak of her pejoratively. She appears to be the second most hated figure in politics. GWB, of course, takes the honors.
6. McCain can't do anything about "a woman's right to choose," pro or con. Neither can Obama. Bush couldn't do anything about it either. Nor Clinton. So why can't we drop this topic from political discourse? The case is closed. The supremes have spoken. Give it a rest!
Posted by miriam at 4:36 PM
Monday, September 01, 2008
A little humor at Mayor Ray Nagin's expense:
Evidently intending to forestall the looting rampant after Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Nagin promised lawbreakers a quick trip to the state’s notorious penitentiary, Angola.
“We have double the police force, double the National Guard force that we had for Katrina,” the mayor said, “and looters will go directly to jail.”
It was not clear, however, how he planned to bypass the state’s usual law enforcement procedures.
It's simple: he'll just trample their civil rights.
Posted by miriam at 12:21 PM