May 2008 Archives

Obama's Winning Strategy: Embrace the Sleaze


That would seem to be Dan Conley's advice:

Various articles during this campaign -- including some in Salon -- have attempted to tie Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to that outdated vision of the Windy City. But over the past 25 years, Chicago politics has evolved. The city is still divided along racial lines, and other layers of government here -- from the Illinois Statehouse to the Cook County government -- feature as much grandstanding and as many ad hominem attacks as anywhere. But anyone who doubts that a toxic political environment can be overcome should look to Chicago. Consensus has become more conspicuous than conflict. Deal-making is more important than showboating. In short, the city's politics has become post-partisan. It's a concept that should be familiar to anyone who has followed Obama's presidential bid.

Sure, when a corrupt mayor with extensive mob ties exerts the full weight of one of the nation's largest political machines to alternately intimidate and buy out all of his enemies, turning them into sniveling "yes"-men. we could call that "progress." We could also call it "Stalinism."

Here's the deal -- the author of the piece is a Daley goon, and his message to Obama is to be more like King Richard of Bridgeport. Give me a break.

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Papa-Lu wins!


My You've Got Mail post below was chosen as the best answer by the guy who originally asked the question on Ask Meta Filter.

Hooray for the narcissism and misguided optimism of the 90s!

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Just 'cause I feel like it


Richard Spencer (original has links):

(Anecdote: once while I was at the U of C, I had the gall to paternalistically open a door for Sunstein’s then-girlfriend Martha Nussbaum (Cass is now apparently linked to Samantha Power; geez, this guy can’t get enough of the human rights crusaders!). Anyway, Martha didn’t budge and then opened the adjacent door for me, and we stood in a post-feminist stand-off for at least 20 seconds, until I briskly went through my portal and brusquely shut the door behind me. Take a look at this gal (egads!).)
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A fine tradition of service to humanity


Thanks again to The New Yorker, this time for responding to that timeless cry of humanity -- "OH PLEASE MAKE IT STOP!" -- with Joan Acocella's study of the human hangover.

A taste:

Some words for hangover, like ours, refer prosaically to the cause: the Egyptians say they are “still drunk,” the Japanese “two days drunk,” the Chinese “drunk overnight.” The Swedes get “smacked from behind.” But it is in languages that describe the effects rather than the cause that we begin to see real poetic power. Salvadorans wake up “made of rubber,” the French with a “wooden mouth” or a “hair ache.” The Germans and the Dutch say they have a “tomcat,” presumably wailing. The Poles, reportedly, experience a “howling of kittens.” My favorites are the Danes, who get “carpenters in the forehead.” In keeping with the saying about the Eskimos’ nine words for snow, the Ukrainians have several words for hangover. And, in keeping with the Jews-don’t-drink rule, Hebrew didn’t even have one word until recently. Then the experts at the Academy of the Hebrew Language, in Tel Aviv, decided that such a term was needed, so they made one up: hamarmoret, derived from the word for fermentation. (Hamarmoret echoes a usage of Jeremiah’s, in Lamentations 1:20, which the King James Bible translates as “My bowels are troubled.”) There is a biochemical basis for Jewish abstinence. Many Jews—fifty per cent, in one estimate—carry a variant gene for alcohol dehydrogenase. Therefore, they, like the East Asians, have a low tolerance for alcohol.

As for hangover remedies, they are legion. There are certain unifying themes, however. When you ask people, worldwide, how to deal with a hangover, their first answer is usually the hair of the dog. The old faithful in this category is the Bloody Mary, but books on curing hangovers—I have read three, and that does not exhaust the list—describe more elaborate potions, often said to have been invented in places like Cap d’Antibes by bartenders with names like Jean-Marc. An English manual, Andrew Irving’s “How to Cure a Hangover” (2004), devotes almost a hundred pages to hair-of-the-dog recipes, including the Suffering Bastard (gin, brandy, lime juice, bitters, and ginger ale); the Corpse Reviver (Pernod, champagne, and lemon juice); and the Thomas Abercrombie (two Alka-Seltzers dropped into a double shot of tequila). Kingsley Amis suggests taking Underberg bitters, a highly alcoholic digestive: “The resulting mild convulsions and cries of shock are well worth witnessing. But thereafter a comforting glow supervenes.” Many people, however, simply drink some more of what they had the night before. My Ukrainian informant described his morning-after protocol for a vodka hangover as follows: “two shots of vodka, then a cigarette, then another shot of vodka.” A Japanese source suggested wearing a sake-soaked surgical mask.

Application of the hair of the dog may sound like nothing more than a way of getting yourself drunk enough so that you don’t notice you have a hangover, but, according to Wayne Jones, of the Swedish National Laboratory of Forensic Medicine, the biochemistry is probably more complicated than that. Jones’s theory is that the liver, in processing alcohol, first addresses itself to ethanol, which is the alcohol proper, and then moves on to methanol, a secondary ingredient of many wines and spirits. Because methanol breaks down into formic acid, which is highly toxic, it is during this second stage that the hangover is most crushing. If at that point you pour in more alcohol, the body will switch back to ethanol processing. This will not eliminate the hangover—the methanol (indeed, more of it now) is still waiting for you round the bend—but it delays the worst symptoms. It may also mitigate them somewhat. On the other hand, you are drunk again, which may create difficulty about going to work.

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Tom, Meg and the 90s


Enough serious stuff -- let's get frivolous!

This post is a cross-post from this AskMeFi thread where a user asked:

It seems like at least once a decade, there's a hugely successful movie that taps into the contemporary social zeitgeist that shapes a large part of how people remember an era. Back to the Future in the 80s. Saturday Night Fever in the 70s. Easy Rider in the 60s. Rebel Without a Cause in the 50s.

What film will future generations look at and say "Now that was the 90s"?

Here is my response, lightly edited, mostly for blogginess

I'm going to go counterintuitive here. This movie summed up the 90s in that:

  1. it was not serious. The 90s was perhaps the most unserious decade in American history.
  2. it centered around yuppies. Yuppies may have surfaced in the 80s, but the 90s was their decade
  3. it had an anti-corporate message. The 80s gave us Wall Street ("Greed is Good"); the 90s rebelled -- yuppies embraced the BoBo lifestyle and we saw a slew of movies that had corporations as the enemy or that embraced the notion that capitalism was unfulfilling -- Fight Club, The Insider, City Slickers, The Firm and Philadelphia come to mind.
  4. it's plot revolved around computer technology. The 90s were the dot-com decade.
  5. it was awful. The downside of the dotcom decade -- the Internet was hyped to no end and disappointed many people once they realized its limitations.
  6. it starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The actor and actress who are iconic of the 90s.

That last one should have given it away. You've Got Mail captured the 90s better than any other film. It's a bland Hollywood movie about how awful bland corporate-mono-megaculture is. And much like the Internet, the movie was egregiously over-hyped: it was a can't miss -- Tom Hanks! Meg Ryan! Nora Ephron! And if that doesn't convince you, most of the movie takes place either online, in bookstores or in coffee shops, for goodness sake!

Runners up:
Thelma and Louise: feminism, suicide and Brad Pitt.
Jerry McGuire: narcissism, materialism, Tom Cruise, a woman with low self-esteem falling for a jerk

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In other shameful local news


I had no idea that the Curtis Road /I-57 exchange was costing $13.5 million.

Here's a map of the area:

View Larger Map

At the top and bottom of the map are existing interchanges. Right smack in the middle (at the green arrow) is Curtis Rd. As you can see, the intersection of Curtis and I-57 is surrounded by corn fields.

Granted, this was done because Champaign has grown and is likely continue to grow southwest, so pretty soon those cornfields will be replaced by McMansions. But to the extent that that growth is south, it will head straight for the Monticello Road (Route 18) exit. So the only people who really benefit from this are those who live west of Duncan, south of Kirby and north of Old Church. And we've spent $13.5 million that could have been used to repair Champaign's crumbling arterial roads to save them six minutes of driving time.

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Justice in Champaign-Urbana


Patrick Thompson, a local community activist who has caused numerous headaches for police in Champaign-Urbana, is currently undergoing his third trial for charges that he forcibly entered his neighbor's apartment and assaulted her in 2004.

Thompson's supporters imply that the charges are trumped up, and indeed on the surface things look suspicious: there is no physical evidence, the police didn't investigate the crime scene when it happened, and the case mostly boils down to the word of the assaulted woman. Not being personally acquainted with the case, I refuse to take sides either way, but objectively, it's hard to see a conviction being handed down when it's her word against his.

That said, there was a major development this week when the judge in the case threw out the home invasion charge, on the basis that the defense "failed to present evidence...that Thompson was not a peace officer acting in the line of duty." The report goes on to report that the judge justified his dismissal by claiming that "'A significant segment' of the police population does not wear typical uniforms while working."

It's pretty obvious that Patrick Thomspon is not a peace officer. In fact, he's made a career out of making life difficult for "peace officers." There seem to be two possibilities here: 1) The prosecution is grossly negligent, because really, how hard is it to prove that somebody isn't a cop? or 2) The judge is trying to make this case go away.

Look, it's entirely possible that these charges are a mockery of justice, but throwing out a charge for failing to prove a negative doesn't advance the cause of justice.

UPDATE: Brian Dolinar says it's negligence. He's not exactly an impartial observer, but I don't think he's a liar either. The circus goes on.

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Lincoln Park Cemetery


This one's for my Chicago peeps: "A Conservatory, a Zoo, and 12,000 Corpses" from the Chicago Reader.

One day in the 1970s, when Pamela Bannos was a teenager, she was riding in the back of her father’s car as he turned off Lake Shore Drive onto LaSalle Street. Looking out the window, she noticed an old stone structure standing in Lincoln Park. Surrounded by a chain-link fence and a wall of weeds, it looked like it might be a tomb. The word couch was just visible on its crest. What is that? she wondered. And if it is a tomb, what’s it doing in the park?

It was in fact a tomb, and as she would later learn, the park had once been a cemetery...

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Schall on Rowland on Ratzinger


James Schall, Jesuit professor at Georgetown and mightily prolific author (most recently of The Regensburg Lecture, has a brief review of Tracey Rowland's new book, Ratzinger's Faith, at First Principles, the excellent web journal of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

On almost every page of this book we find issues of the highest import. I will indicate a few in these comments. In his Regensburg Lecture (text in Appendix of this book), Benedict traced the history of western thought. It went back through the Old Testament. It pursued the affirmation: Deus Logos Est. The Apostles were in fact first directed toward Greece, the land of the philosophers, not to the lands of mystery. This turn, if we are to understand our universe, was providential, not accidental. But, as Rowland points out, granted this emphasis on reason, Benedict’s first encyclical is not Deus Logos Est, but Deus Caritas Est. This concentration on love, on agape (caritas), phila, and eros, was not intended to deny the Word, the Logos, but rather to emphasize the relation of “reason and love.” We do not love the act of loving, but what is, what is true.

Behind this emphasis on love, no doubt, is Benedict’s long-standing interest in Augustine, who reminded us that “two loves built two cities.” We have to be sure that what we love is loveable. This interest, as Rowland insists, is not to be seen as being anti-Thomistic. St. Thomas, after all, was one of the greatest readers of Augustine, ever. Rowland explains that Augustine’s famous maxim, that “faith seeks understanding,” establishes the interest of faith itself in philosophy and points us toward the “necessary prerequisite for the pursuit of understanding.” The pope wrote that “just as creation comes from reason and is reasonable, faith is, so to speak, the fulfillment of creation and thus the door to understanding.” In this context, Roland shows that Ratzinger not only wrote on Thomas from the beginning of his own studies, but has needed him to complete his own (Benedict’s) overall approach. That approach, as Rowland shows us, is harmonious with, and not antagonistic to, Augustine. In fact, Augustine may be the more useful in a post-modern, Nietzschean world.


The final thing I would like to indicate about this excellent and readable book is that it finally addresses the central place of beauty in our lives. In many ways the real battles of our time occur over the liturgy and not over politics. “The emphasis given by Benedict to ‘an intellectual affirmation by which one understands the beauty and the organic structure of the faith’ means that the primary task of the church in this era is one of catechesis and healing rather than accommodation and assimilation.” It is the culture itself, as Rowland delineates in the second chapter of the book, that has embodied principles that lead to its death. We have already accommodated and assimilated; what is now needed is to heal and to purify.

Rowland remarks that “Ratzinger describes history as a whole as the struggle between love and the inability to love, between love and the refusal to love.” This too is something that begins in beauty, for it begins, as Plato taught us and as Augustine reaffirmed, in our very souls where we all must begin to see the reality and beauty of what is. Ratzinger’s Faith is the real introduction to what is most needed in our times. It understands both that Deus Logos Est and that Deus Caritas Est.

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Mother Teresa and Mary


Zenit has an interview with Missionary of Charity Father Joseph Langford, author of a new book about how Mother Teresa's faith sustained her during decades of darkness.

Q: How would you describe Mother's periods of darkness, and what do you think about the recent controversies over her "dark night?"

Father Langford: Contrary to reports in the press, Mother Teresa did not suffer a "crisis" of faith. In fact, her struggle was not with faith at all, but with the "loss of feeling" of faith, with the loss of a felt sense of the divine. As she stepped out of the convent and into the slums of Calcutta, what had been her usual consolation in prayer abruptly ended.

Though she would not understand it until later, she was being asked to share the same inner darkness, the same trial of belief suffered by the poor and destitute -- and to do so for their sake, and for the love of her Lord.

She was allowed to feel as though God was absent, and at first she agonized at the disconnect between her emotions and her belief -- though never did her lack of feeling become lack of faith.

In fact, her dark night revealed the hidden depth of Mother Teresa's faith in a way that any lesser challenge could not. Her darkness not only allowed her to exercise her extraordinary faith to the full, it allowed us -- modern disciples too often of "little faith" -- to discover the true dimensions of which faith is capable, even under duress, even in the night.

She would want to encourage us to do the same in our own Calcutta, in our own dark night: Instead of allowing our trials and pain to become a prison, we can, as she did, make our pain a bridge into the pain of others, a bond of solidarity, a catalyst for charity.

Q: How did her relationship with Mary assist her in these times of trial?

Father Langford: Just as the Israelites were given a column of fire to lead them by night, so Mother Teresa was given her own guiding light through the night of faith, in the person of the Virgin Mary.

The gift of Jesus' mother -- given to St. John on Calvary, and to disciples and saints through the ages -- strengthened Mother Teresa in carrying her own pain, and in tending to the pain of the poor.

Our Lady would help her to not only believe in the night, but to love in the night -- to transform the mystery of the cross, both within her and around her, into seeds of resurrection.

As it was Our Lady who brought St. John, alone among the Twelve, to stand faithfully at Calvary, so it was Our Lady who would bring Mother Teresa through the sea of suffering opened before her, that she might shine the light of God's love on the poor.

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Solitaire: "Our Secret Shame"


Mom, this one's for you.

The canonical single-player game is an easy punch line, most often cited as the preferred hobby of the office slacker or the intellectual playground of dullards. (George W. Bush was known to play the occasional hand while governor of Texas.) But the poor, benighted game is also—according to a Microsoft employee who worked on reprogramming it for Windows Vista—the most-used program in the Windows universe. We mock solitaire because it is our secret shame.
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Thank you, New Yorker


For this fascinating profile of Phil Schapp, walking jazz encyclopedia, and for this list of 100 must have jazz albums.

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Friday Links


Some articles to drink your coffee over this weekend :

  • Sandro Magister, Vaticanista extraordinaire, reruns a decade-old account of a pilgrimage to Mt. Athos.
    Saints, centuries, empires, earthly and heavenly cities – everything seems to oscillate and flow, no longer distant. The monastery's treasures – golden and silver boxes with sapphires and rubies that are set in the Virgin's belt, the skull of Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom's right hand – are offered to visitors for veneration. The light of the sunset sets them aglow, makes them pulsate. And the frescoes of Theophanes – master of the Cretan school in the first part of the 16th century – are also lit up, as are the blue majolica tiles on the walls, the mother-of-pearl on the iconostasis, on the lectern, on the episcopal throne.

    After vespers one leaves the catholikon in procession and, facing the square, enters the refectory, which is also built like a church and frescoed by the great Theophanes. The same liturgy continues. The igoumenos takes his place at the center of the apse. A monk reads stories of saints from the pulpit, almost singing. One eats blessed food: soups and vegetables from old iron dishes – and on feast days even amber-colored wine – on thick, roughly hewn marble tables, themselves resting on marble supports. They are a thousand years old, yet evoke prehistoric dolmens. The exit is also made in procession. A monk gives everyone a piece of blessed bread. Another incenses it so artfully that the perfume remains a long time in your mouth.

  • Two recent articles about human trafficking and prostitution caught my eye. The first is this lengthy but excellent New Yorker profile of a Moldovan woman who works for a non-profit that helps women who have been trafficked into prostitution get home. The second is this First Things daily article from last week that discusses a new book about the modern day slave trade by a reporter who has investigated trafficking all around the world.

  • Lastly, Zenit has a brief article quoting Fr. Joseph Fessio talking about Pope Benedict XVI's recent trip to America. This quote stood out to me:

    "Most people already knew [Benedict XVI] is extremely intelligent and articulate. Many weren't aware of the personal warmth, what in Bavaria they call 'Gemütlichkeit,'" Father Fessio said.

    I don't know about you, but to me, nothing says "personal warmth" like Gemütlichkeit

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Civilizational DeathWatch

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A Really Messed Up Relationship


This interview with doctor and author Daphne Miller from Gourmet is worth your time.

...the taste of hot is lost from a lot of people’s palates in the U.S., I think. Hot and sour and fermented are all sort of erased from the average American diet, so we basically just have sweet, salty, and fatty.

DM: Absolutely. There is hot, but it’s very combined with sweet. Hot is not actually an instinctual taste that we seek out, like sweet, salty, and fatty; hot is a learned healing taste. So [the food industry has] harnessed the idea that hot is somehow good, but matched it with loads of high fructose corn syrup so that it becomes palatable.

But fermented is probably one of the greatest losses, I’m figuring out. I swear, if we could get everybody in this country to eat one serving a day of a really good-quality yogurt that was relatively unsweetened, and truly made through a fermentation process, I think that in itself would be a major step forward in terms of public health. That, or some other fermented food. But most people have nothing that’s truly fermented in their diet. Even the pickles and sauerkraut and things that you can buy in some supermarkets across America aren’t made through a true fermentation process anymore. So they lack all the health benefits. But recently the medical literature has been showing that genetic information is actually put into our gut through eating fermented foods. It’s becoming really obvious that this plays a key role in everything from food allergies to possible cancer prevention...

CH: And so it’s really telling to look at cultures where Western diseases just don’t exist.

DM: Right. And the proof positive is that we’re exporting this disease now. So effectively. Okinawa was just amazing: You have this culture that is so remarkable for longevity and low rates of cancer, and within one generation, our food corporations have achieved near-magical results in terms of transforming Okinawans into a group of obese diabetics with metabolic syndrome. You have these grandmothers who are 100 watching their great-grandchildren waddle around and suffer from obesity.

Miller's new book, which explores the health benefits of traditional diets from around the world, is going on my "library list."

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I Will Eat Your Dollars!

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Double Play


I'm sure there's a worse way to have your misery compounded than to turn on the car radio while driving away from the softball field after a 6-1 loss only to hear Derek Lee ground out with the bases loaded to end a 5-3 loss to the lowly Reds -- but it sure didn't seem like it last night.

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Domestic terrorism and lapel pins


Scrappleface hilariously merges -- Seinfield-style -- two of the fake Obama controversies:

Obama Feared Bill Ayers Would Step on Flag Lapel Pin

(2008-05-05) — Sen. Barack Obama admitted today that he stopped wearing an American flag lapel pin out of fear that friend and domestic terror group founder William Ayers would “step on my chest.”

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Danielle Bean on Baseball Season


All I have to say is: Someday!

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Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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