Saturday, July 31, 2010

Asymmetrical apologia: Why do ex-Communists get a pass? 

Lefty historian Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present, turns out to have been a card-carrying Communist, notwithstanding his long denials. There's a shocker.

My question: Why do former Communists like Zinn and Princeton Paul Robeson get a pass from the chattering classes, but former fascists do not? It seems to me that the only difference is that most intellectuals believe, deep down, that Communism is a noble system, even if it does not "work" because of human shortcomings. Otherwise, it is hard to understand the asymmetry.

Me, I think it takes a lot to redeem a former Communist. The superficial transition to squishy Euro-socialism does not do the job.

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Whence I blog 

Kipling's Pub, Brattleboro, Vermont. A nice IPA and free WiFi. Life is good.

Kipling's Pub, Brattleboro, Vermont

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The next time you are in New York City... 

...make a point to walk the High Line, a beautifully designed and landscaped park built along the top of abandoned elevated train tracks on the west side. I walked it for several blocks yesterday and took a few pictures there and around Chelsea Piers, a block away from the High Line's 18th St. staircase.

Looking south...

On the High Line

...and north...

High Line

There are cool design elements all along the High Line. Park benches...

On the High Line

...and "bleachers" on which you can sit and literally watch New York go by from up above.

High Line audience

Your Blogger...

On the High Line

New Jersey's most beautiful skyline...

New Jersey's most beautiful skyline

The sport of tools...

Chelsea Piers driving range

And Your Blogger again, this time after IPAs -- three, actually -- and sliders at the Chelsea Brewing Company.

Chelsea Piers

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Shirley Sherrod to sue Andrew Breitbart 

Shirley Sherrod has announced that she will sue Andrew Breitbart. It is not clear from the lame press coverage what her cause of action will be. Presumably "false light" invasion of privacy or libel or some such strained tort. Natch, I have a few thoughts.

  • It seems to me that suing Andrew Breitbart is the surest way to make "Shirley Sherrod," heretofore only known to blog readers and other newshounds, into a household name. Whatever her notoriety now, it will be much greater by the time this case is resolved. Perhaps that is her objective.

  • Is not Sherrod, who chose to speak about race in front of a storied political organization (the NAACP), a public figure for the particular purpose of this controversy? If so, I believe I am correct that the standard of New York Times v. Sullivan applies, and she will have to prove actual malice to win on liability, a high hurdle even in the case of Andrew Breitbart. Any better lawyers than me out there who have a different view?

  • If Sherrod argues that Breitbart libeled her by implying she is racist, Breitbart's defense will be truth. In other words, he will have a huge incentive to develop evidence that Sherrod is, in fact, racist. Friends and acquaintances of Shirley Sherrod had better start preparing for their depositions. Does Sherrod really want to put her friends through that? Does she want to run the risk that a jury will find with Breitbart? I'm fairly sure I would not want a court to determine that I was racist.

  • If this case has not been filed, it certainly seems that Sherrod has made a tactical error. Breitbart should consider suing her and seeking a declaratory judgment that he did not, in fact, libel her. Then he gets to choose his court.

  • Either way, Breitbart should make a jury demand. He's much better off with a jury determining matters of fact than a judge. Juries are a lot less likely to apply post-modern or academically fashionable (e.g., asymmetrical) norms in any determination of what is and is not racist.

  • A prediction: This case, if it proceeds, will almost certainly demonstrate once again that courts of law are terrible forums for establishing the legitimacy of one version or another of social morality. Our national conversation on race will get more coarse, not less, in its wake.

  • Release the hounds.

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    Summer Thursday afternoon Caption This! 

    The original caption of this White House photo:

    President Barack Obama picks up his sub after meeting with five small business owners at Tastee Sub Shop in Edison, N.J., July 28, 2010. The President visited Edison to discuss the economy and urge Congress to pass support for small businesses.

    Seriously? I think you can do better than that.

    Caption this!

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    Summer reading? 

    Amazon has helpfully assembled a page of the "best books of 2010 (so far)". It includes The Big Short, which is a rollicking good read.

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    The choice 

    Daniel Henninger puts it rather succinctly this morning:

    If the Obama presidency didn't exist, we would have to invent it.

    At a time when the American people need to make some decisions about the nation's purpose, along comes Barack Obama to make the choices crystal clear.

    In one corner of the world you have Europe, beset by a sovereign debt crisis that's been building for 50 years. The U.K.'s new prime minister, David Cameron, promises his people years of austerity to dig out from beneath their debt. Americans, staring at fiscal crevasses opening across Europe, have to decide if they also wish to spend the next 50 years laboring mainly to produce tax revenue to pay for public workers' pensions and other public promises. The private sector would exist for the public sector.

    In another corner of the world, wealth is rising from the emerging economies of the east—China, India, Korea and the rest—posing America's greatest economic challenge in anyone's lifetime. Do the American people want to throw in the towel, or do they want to compete? If the latter, the public sector has to give way to the private sector.

    One or the other. It's time to choose.

    Here's another way to think of it: Are we going to invest in people who produce more than they consume -- or at least will do -- or the other way around? Will we, as a culture, still honor people who make a substantive contribution to the national wealth (whether through the building of great businesses or the proud and competent execution of a job in one of those businesses), or will the therapy society's prurient interest in tragedy, failure, incompetence and pathology transform in to permanent government subsidy of those conditions?

    Discuss among yourselves.

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    Wednesday, July 28, 2010

    Wednesday night sitting in Eno Terra tab dump 

    I'm in Eno Terra in Kingston, New Jersey, waiting on my butcher plate and thinking about taking in the 7:20 showing of Salt at Marketfair. Naturally, I have tabs to disgorge.

    Who drinks alcohol? People with big vocabularies! Well, duh!

    I'm taking more than a little comfort that this did not trigger another global financial crisis. The economy must be more robust than it appears! I mean, to take this kind of scare.

    The federal government thinks your kids should be in public school 12 hours a day.

    “In all seriousness, I think schools should be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 11-12 months of the year,”

    Because, you know, the government has insufficient influence over our lives.

    Oh, darn: The spilled oil is evaporating and otherwise dissipating more quickly than anticipated. Both clean-up crews and reporters are having a tough time locating the slick. Dang! Another crisis gone to waste!

    Reporters and others are upset that the new finreg law contains a heretofore unpublicized provision allowing the SEC to blow off Freedom of Information Act requests. Among the various no doubt nefarious motivations for this new wrinkle in Hope and Change, there is one that makes sense: Businesses will be more candid about their troubles with their regulator if they do not have to worry that their competitors will find out.

    In death as in life, George Steinbrenner helps the rich get richer.


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    Lunchtime video fun: Jon Stewart on Sherrod 

    I've obviously not been all over the Sherrod story, at least on the blog, but Jon Stewart's take is definitely worth a few minutes of your precious lunch hour.

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    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    Tuesday night micro-tab dump 

    Two links, both worth reading.

    Ezra Klein, on the procedural device that could get rid of the filibuster. The Democrats had better think twice. When the Republicans proposed to do the same in the context of judicial appointments five years ago, I argued against it. What seems like a smart move when you run the place can blow back in a hurry if you lose control.

    The other? The best magazine articles ever. A real trip down memory lane.

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    Beaches vs. wildlife: Cleaning one can hurt the other 

    An interesting lecture by a toxicologist on the trade-offs between cleaning the oil from the beaches and inland marshes -- which are visible and politically important -- and actually protecting the ecosystem. And a useful reminder of the price we pay for our oil.*

    *No, I have not suddenly turned in to an anti-development environmentalist or a post-industrial Luddite. I love living in an energy-intensive world. It's awesome! But neither do I think we should deny the high negative externalities that come from pumping oil out of the ground, paying disgusting people for the privilege, shipping crude across huge distances, and burning the refined products to power the global economy. If you cannot drive your car and run your air conditioner and enjoy your imported tropical fruit without acknowledging that your choices come at a heavy price, you are just a different version of the Gulfstream liberals who bleat about global warming in luxury resorts all over the world.

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    Celebrity publicity stunt video of the day 

    From my Facebook scroll, Jewel sings karaoke under cover. It'll make you grin.

    Undercover Karaoke with Jewel from Jewel

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    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Adirondack light 

    My cousin has some very nice pictures of our Adirondack lake, at dawn. (As many of you know, she is more than half way through a wonderful and somewhat spiritual project, greeting the dawn outside every day in 2010. The main page of her blog is here. She's been up in the Adirondacks for two weeks, so keep strolling for more of that.)

    Silhouette of loon

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    Evening falls on Muscongus Bay 

    Just north of the village of Round Pond, Maine, on the shores of Muscongus Bay, the sun sets, and the moon rises to the east -- all away from the scorching heat of points well to the south.

    The south end of Hog Island; the town of Friendship is to the north and east, hidden from view.

    A half-gallon growler of Pemaquid Ale, sadly nearing emptiness.

    Good moon rising.

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    The looming Congressional battle royal over taxes 

    The New York Times has a nice run down on the massive fight we are about to have over federal taxes. It will generate an enormous amount of heat in advance of the November elections, and the stakes for the economy are even more significant. Unfortunately, the debate and the no doubt confusing and poorly understood legislation that will emerge will probably increase, rather than decrease, uncertainty for the people who have capital to deploy, further delaying the American recovery.

    Oh, and if you contribute enough to the national prosperity to be "rich," gird yourself for another round of condemnation from the people who consume more than they produce.

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    Bullet dodged: The "cultural defense" to rape falls in New Jersey 

    In a rare moment of sanity, a New Jersey appellate court has rejected the "cultural defense" for rape.

    A New Jersey trial court had exculpated a Muslim man from charges of sexually assaulting his wife on account of his putative religious belief that "the woman should submit and do anything I ask her to do." Volokh runs down the case here, with excerpts from the opinion. If the trial court's first decision does not run shivers down your spine, check your humanity. The trial court's decision was so asinine we need to raze it to the ground and salt the earth where it stood, lest any other American judge try to rebuild it.

    The trial court found that the defendant did not form criminal intent because his disgusting opinion was founded in religious practices. In keeping with our long tradition of asking the questions that others will not ask, is this a "mainstream" attitude among American Muslims? If so, then we need to have a serious national discussion before there are any more American Muslims. If not, then how is the defense "cultural" rather than aberrational nuttiness masquerading as cultural with a costume supplied by a smart lawyer? Is there a third possibility that eludes me?

    Next up: If "religion" -- and I use the word advisedly in this case -- were a defense to rape, then why isn't it a defense to consensual bigamy? How does the trial court decision square with Reynolds v. United States, which held explicitly that religious duty was not a suitable defense to a criminal indictment?

    Among the politically correct and cultural sensitive, you can take pretty much any disgusting opinion or practice and if some imam or ayatollah cites a justifying sura we are all supposed to give it a pass. Opinions and practices that would result in your rejection by polite society and termination from your job or earn you a long beating with a tire iron suddenly become excusable and even quaint if you dress them in the garb of a religion. Unless, of course, it is a Judeo-Christian religion.

    How about a new rule: Religion is a subset of opinion, and it is entitled to exactly the same protections as other opinions, no more and no less. People should be entitled to say prayers and express other such opinions in school and post offices and anywhere else the secularists would like to ban religious people, but we should be free -- legally and socially -- to disrespect religious opinions as freely as we do political and aesthetic opinions.

    And under no circumstances should an opinion -- religious other otherwise -- be a defense to rape.

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    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Super Heroes vs. The Westboro Baptist Church 

    For some impenetrable reason, the Westboro Baptist Church decided to go to Comic-Con to protest...whatever it is they're against these days, and it seems that Comic-Con was prepared to recieve them.

    It's things like this that make me love the world, and make me proud to be a geek.

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    Thursday, July 22, 2010

    More Webcomic-iness 

    I periodically do this post, mostly 'cause I can't think of anything better to write about in a relatively short period of time, but any new readers might find some gems in this link dump to waste tons of time reading, so here goes:

    I mentioned Dresden Codak in the post below. It's a fantastic webcomic about obscure philosophy, psychology, science, technology, and humor. The art constantly changes and is always excellent. I can't recommend it enough.

    Hark! A Vagrant is a clever webcomic usually involving history-related humor (and then usually from the 1700s or 1800s), which is excellent for the history nerds such as myself. The artwork is pen on paper, but it's very expressive.

    XKCD is fairly well-known, but it's worth mentioning, because the humor is fantastic and the subjects are diverse, although the art is usually unremarkable, there are exceptions, and it's expressive in its own way. It is truly a webcomic of "romance, sarcasm, math, and language." It also features rollover text: if you roll over the picture with your mouse, the label for the picture usually has a joke in it.

    A Softer World is a strange comic in many respects. It is done by a couple, with the girl taking pictures while the guy writes captions for them. The humor is often fairly dark, but it has its spontaneous, silly moments. It too has rollover text, and the people who don't read it often miss out on the punchline.

    Video Games and Parodies:
    Nuklearpower.com's Brian Clevinger wrote the first webcomic I ever got into, 8-Bit Theater. This comic uses sprites and the plot from Final Fantasy 1, but with excellent humor and developed characters. He pays more attention to detail and steadily improves the comic as the series goes on, and he has seen it through to the end of the game. Funny for all who have played Final Fantasy, other video game RPGs, and even for those who have played Dungeons and Dragons.

    CTRL+ALT+DEL was the second webcomic I got into, and focuses more generally on the video games and the people who play them. The art starts off decent, and gets much better over time. Lots of people view it as a rip-off of the next comic in my list, but I think that there are more characters to identify with, a good story to follow, and the humor isn't as dated or arcane.

    Speaking of the comic that many feel CAD rips off of, Penny Arcade is arguably the most successful and well-known webcomic in this list, as it was a pioneer in the medium. Although I haven't read as much of it as I have of the rest of this list (there's ten years of comics to wade through), the authors know what they're talking about. The art evolves considerably, and it is well-written.

    VG Cats is also quite well-known, and although the author is a bum and hasn't updated in ages, whenever he does, the comics have tons of snarky, poignant humor and are always well-drawn. Also by this author is SUPER EFFECTIVE, which follows the plot of Pokemon: Red Version. Sadly, this one won't make lots of sense unless you have played the game or watched the TV show, and I'm guessing simply mentioning the word "Pokemon" causes involuntary twitches for some of our readers.

    Two Star Wars parodies are Darths and Droids and Blue Milk Special. Darths and Droids uses screenshots and freeze-frames from the movies for the art, but it truly shines in the writing: it takes the perspective of people playing it as a Dungeons and Dragons campaign (in a world where Star Wars was never created). It's easier to understand if you simply read it than for me to explain it, although a visit to TV Tropes might be helpful sometimes. Blue Milk Special, in contrast, is drawn (shocking!), includes lots of self-referential humor and delves *very* deep into Star Wars lore, to the point where a visit to Wookiepedia might be in order.

    "Traditional" Webcomics:
    Sinfest has been running since 2000, with a 4-panel black and white comic Monday through Saturday, and a full-page color every Sunday. This is one of the most consuming comics I have on this list, as the characters are developed, the art evolves, albeit in subtle ways, and the humor is diverse. One of its most defining characteristics is that it involves deities from many religions, including the giant hand of the Judeo-Christian Sky God, the Devil, (and their respective fanboys) Jesus, two Succubi, Buddha, and a Chinese dragon. It ranges from whimsical to very deep (yet still funny). It's difficult to stop reading, and there are currently 3,607 comics in the archive.

    Questionable Content follows the story of a bunch of twentysomethings in Northampton, Mass., the home of the author, Jeph Jaques. It's largely about romance and relationships, so it involves a lot of humor and sadness. The characters are perhaps the best developed of any of the protagonists in any of these other comics, and the art undergoes slow but steady, and ultimately dramatic improvements (compare the first to the latest, and you'll see what I mean). At the moment, it's Guest Comic Week, so the art in the few most recent strips isn't typical. Like Sinfest, it's difficult to stop reading, but fortunately, it updates every weekday.

    That's all I follow for now, and hopefully it's enough to keep you from your work for a week or three. Enjoy!

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    Dresden Codak: Indistinguishable From Magic 

    Aaron Diaz, creator of the webcomic Dresden Codak, has created a very interesting blog about comics and the science behind the art, called Indistinguishable From Magic. I highly recommend the blog, as it explores a lot of the technical aspects and various theories of building comics and styles in great detail.

    I also highly recommend the webcomic, as it can be very interesting/intellectually stimulating for anyone remotely interested in philosophy, history, technology, futurism or just plain humor. Although he doesn't have new content very often, each comic is very deep and stands out by itself. The artwork also varies greatly, from plain pencil on paper to incredibly detailed masterpieces of digital art. For the love of God, check it out.

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    Wednesday, July 21, 2010

    Wednesday afternoon long-time-coming tab dump 

    Just because I've been busy working (and, actually, playing) hard does not mean that I cannot accumulate tabs. Indeed, the load of jumping, bubbling tabs is overflowing the sides of its container, so before they are lost forever I am going to dump them for you to sort through. Herewith, while I listen to Handel on Rhapsody.com (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

    According to The Economist, the United States ranks only in the middle for "quality of death." By comparison, the British, who are not known for excellent health care, go quietly into the night:

    For all the health-care system’s faults, British doctors tend to be honest about prognoses. The mortally ill get plentiful pain killers. A well-established hospice movement cares for people near death, although only 4% of deaths occur in them. For similar reasons, Australia and New Zealand rank highly too.

    Hey, a "well-established hospice movement" is the opiate of the masses.

    For those of you interested in such things, the Latham & Watkins law firm has prepared a nice summary(pdf) of the new financial regulation law. Of course, the quickie summaries rarely pick up the really interesting sneaky stuff, like the oppressive and expensive provision in the health care reform bill (of all places) that requires businesses to issue 1099s to virtually everybody from whom they purchase goods and services. To wit: The Finreg law has raised the requirement for an investor to be "accredited" under the securities laws, and therefore able to invest in "private placements." Not only will this shrink the pool of "angel" capital just when we ought to enlarge it, but one will have to be relatively richer to invest in riskier (and therefore potentially higher return) opportunities. In other words, the rich will get richer, and the Democrats will no doubt wonder why.

    Too optimistic: Equity analysts have overestimated annual corporate earnings growth for a quarter century. Well, there's a shocker.

    Platoons: Fritz Crysler, World War II, and the making of modern college football. A nice read.

    The 60 year-old credit bubble.

    Dang ticks!

    Here's liberal thinking for you:
    Politically Correct Crybaby Andrew Breitbart Gets Another Black Person Fired

    If only Andrew Breitbart had the power to fire third echelon political appointees in the Obama administration. Dude, the only person who can "get" somebody fired is the president. Dat said, from what I can tell Jonah gets it right.

    Justice Canadian-style:
    A Timmins man has been sentence to four months in jail for theft after dumping poutine on a woman's head and running off with her purse.

    How long would the sentence have been if he had snatched the purse without dumping poutine on her head?

    In the actual treatment of women (as opposed to politically-correct adherence to feminist political objectives), will the Clinton-Gore ticket go down as the most degraded in American history? It is hard to see how it could be otherwise. (CWCID: Glenn)

    Once again, the Obama administration proposes to increase the risks to businesses that might, some day, want to hire somebody. Because no pay is better than theoretically unequal pay. Perhaps related: A slide deck of economic ugliness.


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    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Health care "reform": What if the individual mandate is unconstitutional? 

    Glenn Reynolds points to an interesting argument that the "individual mandate" embedded in the health care reform law is unconstitutional. I hope the argument is wrong, because we need the individual mandate to survive. Otherwise, those parts of the new law that persist will operate to destroy what remains of the private health care insurance business and we will move inexorably to a fully socialized single payer system. This is because "community rating" -- the very popular (and probably non-repealable) requirement that health insurers accept all comers and set premiums without regard to preexisting conditions -- creates a perverse incentive: If insurance companies are not allowed to turn down new applicants, why would anybody buy insurance until they got really sick? You wouldn't, and I wouldn't, at least once we figured out that the system allowed free-riding. So under community rating the insurance companies would collect premiums only from customers that will cost a lot more money than they would bring in. Any industry that loses money on every customer will not long survive. If we are to have community rating, the only way to guarantee that the insurance companies have some profitable customers is to require that healthy people buy insurance against only the possibility, rather than the certainty, that they will consume more health care than they pay for. Therefore, if the courts deem the individual mandate unconstitutional and the Congress and President Obama do not then repeal community rating the next and inevitable step is for the government to take over all payment for all health care. Since "progressives", including Barack Obama, openly prefer a single payer system, it is safe to assume that they will not repeal community rating if the individual mandate turns out to be unconstitutional.

    In other words, be careful what you wish for.

    MORE: I further suggest that we ought not rely on the lack of a severability clause.

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    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Pictures of New York 

    I roamed around New York a bit on Saturday and stopped at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, and took a couple of pictures along the way.

    Above Lex...

    Above Lex


    Jasper Johns... [brain lesion corrected]


    Contemplating Mark Rothko, at uncomfortably close proximity.

    Contemplating Rothko

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    Saturday, July 17, 2010

    The feather passport 

    The AP is running a lenghty article on the Iroquois lacrosse team passport dispute, and one set of paragraphs deep in the article caught my attention:
    Like the Iroquois' view of lacrosse, Hopi belief is that running is a gift from the creator, said Bucky Preston, a Hopi from the reservation village of Walpi in northeastern Arizona.

    Preston said passports that have been issued by his tribe have represented what it means to be a sovereign people — being honest and sincere, and having faith and belief in the creator, along with concern for all creation.

    "I can understand why they're standing strong on this," Preston said.

    Among the Hopi, passports in the form of an eagle feather, sometimes tucked in a buckskin-covered pocketbook, have been issued in the past by elders to only a select few. To have one means you've been entrusted to carry messages from the Hopi people to other parts of the world.
    My first reaction was that TigerHawk could have a significant business opportunity, counterfeiting such passports at the cabin up in the Adirondacks, using the proceeds from fallen eagle feathers to help fund the cleaning up of eagle scat. TigerHawk would obviously have to bring in a third party to certify that no eagles were harmed in the manufacture of such passports.

    My second reaction was perhaps a tad culturally insensitive. To what extent could members of the tribe "carry messages from the Hopi people to other parts of the world" without the use of transportation technology that is almost entirely a creation of European/American white guys? The Hopi do have a good message to send -- that tribe was said to have been among the most peace-loving people in the Americas, contrasted with the more expansionist and reportedly violent histories of the member tribes of the Iroquois nation thousands of miles to the north and east. (It's unlikely the two peoples were even aware of the existence of the other before the 19th Century).

    Nobody disputes that American Indians got screwed multiple times, both with respect to the taking of lands and the breaking of treaties. In the 21st Century, taking the notion of sovereignty to the point of issuing passports really stretches the envelope. Tribal members vote in U.S. elections and pay federal (but sometimes not state) income taxes, have fought and died in the service of the U.S. military, and have, I believe, all of the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens because they are U.S. citizens. It's fine to have dual citizenship, if that's what is desired, but what is objectionable to certain tribal leaders about having a passport that meets the security standards of the post-9/11 world, using modern printing technology invented by the same culture that invented the airplanes at the gates down the corridor from where the passports are checked?

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    Thursday, July 15, 2010

    "Two Vietnams, side by side..." 

    Via Ace from Moe Lane, a remarkable video of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D, TX-18):

    I am pretty sure that sitting here in the year 2010, there is only one Vietnam.

    I think I understand what the congresswoman was trying to say, and (provided that the commenter over at Ace is incorrect when he implies that the "we" Jackson-Lee uses refers to forces which the American military was fighting against) the notion that we should honor the service of members of the U.S. military is one that nearly every reader of this blog would agree with. But she's either got to bone up on recent history, or get better staffers to write better set piece speeches for her when she stands at the podium.

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    Sorkin signs 

    I have admired Aaron Sorkin's talent as a writer of good dialogue, both in the TV series "West Wing" and the play and movie versions of "A Few Good Men." One can disagree with aspects of his political views, but still think highly of his artistic talent.

    Sorkin will now bring his artistry to bear on the stories swirling around the recent life of John "Two Americas" Edwards.
    An insider's account of John Edwards' affair and the lengths he went to hide his mistress will be developed into a movie, a former aide to the two-time presidential candidate said Thursday.

    Andrew Young said that he has reached a deal with writer and producer Aaron Sorkin. He declined to discuss the terms of the agreement.

    Young's book, "The Politician," detailed how he helped hide Edwards' mistress during the candidate's second campaign for the White House...

    ..."He was the perfect one to write this," Young said. "I was really impressed by him and really impressed how he was focused on the tragedy of this rather than the tawdry."
    Sorkin will have to use all of his considerable talents for this story not to end up as a Lifetime channel made-for-TV movie that shows yet another man behaving badly. I have a feeling that the snappy, up-tempo dialogue which Sorkin will likely write for this work will be vastly superior to what was actually said by the principals. Any suggestions out there for an actor who might do a nice job of portraying Edwards?

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    Coincidences in our time: Finreg becomes law, and the SEC settles with Goldman Sachs 

    Congress has sent the financial regulation bill to President Obama for his signature. In no doubt wholly unrelated news, the Securities and Exchange Commission has settled its case against Goldman Sachs. The government got some good money by the standards of these actions, but everybody thinks this is a huge win for Goldman: No admission of wrongdoing, no change in management, no material change in business practices, no ongoing monitoring, and -- above all -- no disgorgement of documents to the plaintiff's bar. Notwithstanding the SEC's chest-beating victory lap, Goldman's stock is soaring for a reason.

    Anybody out there still think that this case involved anything other than preparing the political battlespace for Finreg?

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    Thursday afternoon commercial chuckle 

    I have no idea whether this is legitimate or not, but its uncertain pedigree does not make it any less funny:

    Yeah, I know, posted four years ago, but new to me.

    CWCID: Bomber Girl.

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    "Moms" and their common sense 

    Like her or not, it is easy to see that Sarah Palin's new web ad is very effective. Short commentary follows.

    Now, I'm not much for "moms" in politics. Banded together, they usually argue for more state action and social control. See, e.g., the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and their antecedent, the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Palin's emphasis on women, though, is something different and arresting, and poses a direct challenge to the idea that politically aware and empowered women -- as opposed to women who derive their political opinions from their husband, for example, or other condition of dependence -- simply must be for more and bigger government, or at least the Democrats. Sarah Palin drives a lot of people crazy, some of whom simply cannot abide the idea that she might lead, or at least embody, a women's movement.

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    BP: Flow stopped 


    BP said Thursday that it has stopped oil from leaking out of its blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico. The gusher has been throttled for the first time since the April 20 blowout on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon.

    The psychological impact of our inability to cap this damned hole in the bottom of the sea has been huge, and perhaps the hidden and unverifiable source of more economic damage than the actual spill. It was depressing and contributed to a wider sense that things are seemingly spinning out of control. The work is not done, but imagine the relief of those engineers, workers and executives -- the unloved heroes -- who have been struggling to deal with this problem for almost three months. I hope they get a few cold beers tonight, and maybe a nice steak.

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    Hidden taxes in your daily life: Air travel 

    Continental Airlines breaks out the taxes from the actual fare in the little confirming email that they send. I booked a flight (coach, naturellement) to Europe a month or so from now, and CO reported that we would pay some serious taxes along the way, 39% of the fare:

    Air Taxes

    If you had asked me to guess what the direct taxes were on air travel without looking, I might have thought 20%, still well above the typical sales tax on retail transactions, but not anything so high as 39%. Now, it costs a lot to run the air traffic system and the airports, so I do not even know whether these taxes are reasonable or abusive. I am, however, quite certain of this: If the government tried to levy a visible 39% tax on typical retail transactions the citizenry would rise with a great fury. Less visible taxes, including valued-added taxes, tend to trigger less intense and more diffuse reactions. Look for our elected officials to impose as many of these as they possibly can.

    (6) Comments

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010


    A friend sent a link for the Clusterstock Chart of the Day depicting the per cent of voter enthusiasm by party.

    Based on the Pew data, it is not a pretty picture for the Democratic Party in the upcoming November mid-term elections. No wonder Speaker Pelosi was so upset with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs for saying "no doubt there's enough seats in play" to allow for a Republican takeover of the House. The election is four months away, and much can happen between now and then. I continue to think that the best thing that could happen to President Obama is for the Republicans to take the House, and that a more difficult path for his re-election in 2012 is created if the Democrats maintain numerical control of the House and Senate (albeit without effective control, lacking large majorities).

    Another interpretation of the graph is that astute political prognosticators might want to go long on volatility on the Republican side (it is a Clusterstock graph, so the jargon fits). Who would have thought the more "conservative" party would be more volatile?

    (5) Comments

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010

    Weather is not climate, but... 

    ...the Northeast's heat wave of the week just past was anomalous, to say the least.

    Regular readers: Yes, regular commenter Brian goaded me, but intellectual honesty impelled me.

    In other news, global sea ice extant remains at the long-term trend line, with the Arctic below and the Antarctic above. Climate scientists say that the models "predict" this disparity, although I have never seen any evidence that any of the older models predicted it before the model builders knew it would happen. It would be great if one of our more scientific readers would do the archival work and cough up a reference.

    (12) Comments

    Public service announcement: Free Amazon Prime for college students 

    Y'ask me, Amazon Prime is one of the great bargains in retail. Or at least the world's leading means for instant gratification. Either way, Amazon.com is now offering free Amazon Prime for college students. Check it out!

    (2) Comments

    Tuesday Morning Scottish Pirate Metal 

    Alestorm -- Wenches and Mead

    A friend at Landmark College showed me this band, and they are cool/hilarious enough to share. I think the video is only slightly broken, in that it's 3 minutes shorter than the video shows.

    (1) Comments

    Monday, July 12, 2010

    The freed director 

    As the AP headline declared, "Polanski free, Swiss reject US extradition request" (article here).

    Through the magic of Google translate, I provide a sentence for the German speaking section of Switzerland, and the same sentence for the French speaking section near Geneva. Maybe Polanski uttered one or the other.

    Ich dachte wirklich, dass sie über achtzehn Jahre alt war!

    J'ai vraiment pensé qu'elle était plus dix-huit ans!

    (I really thought she was over 18 years old!)

    I know, not funny; though, of course, neither are Polanski's actions.

    (3) Comments

    The former Speaker 

    Newt Gingrich has informed the AP that he is considering a run for the presidency in 2012.

    This calls for a TigerHawk poll. Considering all of the strengths and weaknesses of the former congressman from Georgia, what say you?

    Can Newt Gingrich run successfully for president in 2012?
    No way, his negatives are too high
    He might win the nomination, but there are stronger candidates
    He could well win the nomination, but cannot beat Obama
    Newt should measure for new drapes in the Oval
    pollcode.com free polls

    (11) Comments

    Birthing pun 

    Observed while walking through the parking lot at my local Whole Foods yesterday, the following bumper sticker:

    Perhaps there is some hidden political agenda there, but I thought it was chuckle-worthy.

    Who knows, once the health insurance reform bill reaches its full flower in 2014, maybe more women with low-risk pregnancies will opt for home delivery with midwives. Of course, if OB/GYNs have been litigated out of existence by then (with respect to child birth), that may be the only option. My father was born in his parents' first home near the University of Pennsylvania campus, and it didn't seem to hurt his longevity, as he lived well into his 90s. It's the small portion of challenging deliveries which require all of the technological advantages of a modern hospital, and, as I understand it, a pregnancy can appear to be completely routine throughout the term and still end with a complicated delivery.

    A cynic might say that midwifery (or home vs. hospital) highlights two conflicting themes within modern liberalism -- on the one hand, a sense that technology somehow disconnects humans from a more genuine and primal experience, and leads us to endlessly pollute our planet; and on the other hand, extreme risk aversion and the belief that government should act to mitigate all risks, especially those related to health care.

    There is also the chance that I am overthinking a somewhat funny bumper sticker.

    (6) Comments

    Sunday, July 11, 2010

    Adirondack light 

    A cousin and I rode our bikes 30 miles this morning early, from the start of the pavement in Little Wolf, through Tupper Lake, and down Route 30 about half way to Long Lake. This is what the road looked like as we drove out to our jumping off point...

    Foggy road

    Heading home now. I'm always sad to leave this place.

    (1) Comments

    Climbing Ampersand 

    Yesterday afternoon I climbed Ampersand, a small but challenging peak between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, and took some pictures along the way with my little Canon Digital Elph...







    Me, with Ampersand Pond in the background. The guide books always say it is "privately held," but between us girls the owners are the Rockefeller family (unless it has changed hands recently -- my data is a bit old).


    Saranac Lake...

    Saranac Lake

    Going on a long bike ride this morning, than driving down this afternoon. Which, I'm sure, will come as a relief to you all.

    (4) Comments

    Saturday, July 10, 2010

    Junk food 

    So I climbed a mountain and then picked up three hungry teenagers, and we bought some junk food. OK, a lot of junk food. I never realized how colorful it could be.

    Junk foodpalooza!

    (4) Comments

    Foreclosed mansions 

    A friend sent a link to an article in the New York Times by reporter David Streitfeld, entitled, "Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are the Rich":
    Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.

    More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.

    By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.
    My first reaction was that it would be interesting to see a graph of default rates versus loan amount, perhaps in $100,000 increments, and see if a bimodal distribution existed at the low and high end. It would probably make sense to regionalize such a study, given the disparities in average home prices around the country. A $1.3 million home in Fairfield County, CT might sell for a third of that price in suburban Baltimore.

    Second, reading the entire article at the link, it is reasonable to infer that in more than a few cases, borrowers do not lack the capacity to make payments, but simply don't want to, because they are so far underwater (in terms of the amount of the remaining loan relative to the lower fair market value of the house) that it does not make financial sense. In the view of those borrowers, there is no upside on the asset -- the note is effectively a call option that has expired worthless. It is hard to discern from the article what portion of the high-end defaults are elective and what portion involved people who stretched and genuinely do not have the means to pay the mortgage.

    A generation ago, it was not unusual for lenders to ask for personal guarantees on so-called "jumbo loans" (non-conforming loans) on primary residences, and especially second homes. Also, loan-to-value ratios were lower, so a 15% decline in housing prices didn't put a mortgage underwater. Now, recourse is limited to just the specific asset. That's where the loan market went, as lenders pursued deals.

    So, this raises the interesting question of the amorality of elective default (cases where the mortgage could be paid if the borrower chose to do so) and how that is intertwined with the enabling behavior of lenders, who structured a loan market where assets could be firewalled, and provided mortgages with high loan-to-value ratios.

    In my view, one of the problems with elective default is the negative externality suffered by the neighbors. A house that a borrower walks away from will likely suffer from poor maintenance, and that will not help local home values recover. At the lower-priced end of the housing market, this might be how urban blight starts out on a particular block. Because there is an underlying physical asset, the condition of which has at least some impact on other families, a mortgage shouldn't be thought of as a call option on the potential appreciation of a house.

    As with other aspects of the popping of the housing bubble, there is plenty of blame to go around, but this specific niche might be especially controversial.

    UPDATE: I want to point out the difference between "amorality" and "immorality."

    Corporations are often viewed as being "amoral," and I would characterize legal corporate entities as having officers who have specific fiduciary duties which, on balance, obligate the officers to act in the best interests of the shareholders. The president of an otherwise profitable corporation could choose to default on a limited recourse loan for a particular project or plant, simply because standing behind that project is not in the long-term interests of the shareholders. If the president tries to "do the right thing" from a societal point of view and keep the plant open, even though it is sucking cash down a black hole (as revenues have declined and expenses increased), then the company needs to prepare for shareholder litigation. An individual who has the capacity to make payments on a home loan, but chooses not to do so, does not bear that litigation risk.

    Personally, I would be upset with my neighbor if he defaulted on his mortgage and walked away from maintaining his house, even though, for purposes of this example, I was aware that he had plenty of funds available to keep going -- that he is making a a narrow financial decision with respect to the relative amounts of his note and the future fair market value of his house. His monthly payment and maintenance costs haven't changed, nor his income, in this example, just the market prices for comparable homes has changed. I would be more sympathetic to a neighbor who got into financial difficulty and lacked the means to continue living in the house.

    (11) Comments

    Your government in action: The cancelled flights problem 

    Sometimes, the purported "unintended" consequences of government regulation are so obvious it really is not right to call them "unintended." This would be one such example:

    Airlines appear now to be canceling more flights rather than risk multi-million dollar fines for keeping passengers stuck on the tarmac for three hours or more.

    Of course they are. And since few things harsh my mellow more than a cancelled flight, it annoys the heck out of me.

    It is not clear to me why this problem requires a governmental solution at all, the occasional big-publicity screwup notwithstanding. This would seem like an area where airlines can and should compete by offering different policies if indeed there is demand. One airline might say "we will make every effort to get you where you are going, even if that means keeping you on the tarmac for hours," and another might say "we know you would prefer to hang out in the terminal than sit in a coach seat for more than a few hours, so we will cancel flights rather than run the risk that you will be trapped on a grounded plane." If the government intervenes at all, it should be to require that an airline disclose its policy under such circumstances so that would-be passengers can take it in to account when making their own plans. Pick the airline that raises the probability of getting you there eventually even at the cost of discomfort, or the opposite. What possible argument could there be for the government to make the choice for us?

    (20) Comments

    The Chris-Craft and the cocktail hour 

    I would have posted something on Friday, but I was too busy cruising around an Adirondack lake in my cousin's 80 year-old Chris-Craft...

    The cocktail hour

    No, I did not choose the Rolling Rock. I brought my own Pilsner Urquell, outside the view of the camera. Yes, I offered to share.

    In other news, I relearned today that my mountain biking skills have a lot of room for improvement.

    IMPORTANT UPDATE: A more knowledgeable member of the family reports that the boat above is not a Chris-Craft, but a Hacker, and that it is 87 years old.

    (10) Comments

    Thursday, July 08, 2010

    Navy SEALs to the rescue 

    There was a tragic accident on the Delaware River in Philadelphia yesterday, when a "duck boat" tour lost power on the water, and ten minutes later a barge collided with the tourist boat, capsizing and sinking it. Two people are presumed drowned.

    The positive news for the 35 people who survived is that, by coincidence, a group of U.S. Navy Special Operations personnel happened to be nearby:
    Sailors from Virginia Beach-based Special Boat Team 20 helped rescue nine people Wednesday from an overturned tourist boat in the Delaware River.

    According to Philadelphia police, one of the popular "duck boat" vessels was struck by a barge and capsized, throwing 35 passengers and two crewmembers in the water.

    Twelve Special Warfare Boat Operators who happened to be nearby at Penn's Landing immediately responded to a radio distress call and sped to the scene in small boats to recover people in the river.

    "We were the first responders," said 25-year-old Garrett Rodriguez, a Special Boat Operator 1st Class from Maui, HI. "Some of us jumped out and started grabbing people. They were just exhausted, in shock."
    One can only speculate on the litigation that will result from the accident and the loss of life of two young tourists from Hungary. It could have been worse had it not been for the proximity of U.S. Navy personnel who are particularly adept at quickly dealing with complex and urgent situations, and of course the Coast Guard and Philadelphia Police arrived shortly after the Navy and were central to the rescue effort. I certainly hope that nobody (cough, ACLU, cough) questions the legality or legitimacy of SEALs responding to a civilian emergency in U.S. waters -- it is not as if the team was acting in a law enforcement capacity, so it is difficult to see how Posse Comitatus would apply.

    Having SEALs nearby when you happen run into trouble on the water is definitely a "Thank you, God," moment.

    (3) Comments

    Submarine socialism 

    This sort of sneaky shit would cost the Democrats a lot of votes in the fall, if the non-Fox media were willing to cover it. Which it is not, apparently.

    The economy cannot grow if we constantly burden business with new requirements that do not actually have anything to do with, er, business.

    CWCID: Glenn Reynolds.

    (10) Comments

    Wednesday, July 07, 2010

    Wall of silence 

    This rather succinctly captures the wall-of-silence problem with the non-Fox mainstream media. How do you miss this story, or at least not play catch-up, unless you are actively pursuing an agenda?

    (29) Comments

    In Defense of "Bank Bailouts" 

    It gets so tiresome. Really. The whining without comprehension of why governments feel compelled to be the capital of last resort to struggling financial institutions. I understand that individuals might feel aggrieved that people working for financial institutions seem to catch a break when that institution finds itself in financial difficulty.

    But do you know who really benefits from a bank bailout? Why, after all, do we do it? Where did the notion of a bank bailout come from?

    Depositors. Savers. That's who benefits societally from ensuring that financial institutions remain liquid and solvent. In Argentina, for example, depositors were not bailed out. Instead, their dollar denominated deposits - which they had earned and saved - were converted into pesos and then devalued by 70%. By contrast, depositors in the US are protected in order to ensure that the banking system - that is, the blood and oxygen which powers are economic system - does not suffer a liquidation. That, by the way, is a result of the banking system failure we suffered during the Depression. We've seen this movie. It ended badly.

    So please, can we stop now with the misplaced concerns about bank bailouts and "too big to fail" and so forth? It was in our interest as citizens and taxpayers to capitalize Citibank, BofA, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and every other bank to prevent the bank runs that we were already beginning to experience as a result of the failures of Lehman and WAMU, among others.

    It would be nice if some intellectually curious 10 year old of a journalist decided to research and write that story. Instead of the inane 10 millionth ignorant complaint about "bailouts for bankers." Bailouts are for DEPOSITORS. SAVERS. Regular people. Without them, we would be screwed. We would bury our money in the backyard or stash it in the mattress (with our gold, no doubt).

    Rant over.

    (22) Comments

    Monday, July 05, 2010

    Respect the Big Noodle 

    Rarely has authority been so blatantly defied.

    Respect the Big Noodle

    (6) Comments

    Thought for the day 

    Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

    This is known as “bad luck.” -- Robert Heinlein



    (31) Comments

    Sunday, July 04, 2010

    Out and about in Chicago, the accumulated photos 

    No doubt I am, in the immortal words of the TH Daughter, a "freak" for uploading random bad Chicago photos, but they're all I got right now...

    At the Apple Store, ogling the goods...


    Guess where we went?


    Back in the day, before Mrs. TH was Mrs. TH, we lived in a nice old Chicago garden apartment at 828 West Addison, right next to the police station on the corner of Addison and Halsted. Sad to say, it is now a parking garage. Rats.

    Me and a headless Harry... (credit the TH Daughter)

    Me and headless Harry



    Only putting this one up because it is so unusual -- how often do you get a shot like this off the digital zoom on a point and shoot?


    Off to dinner, then Navy Pier. Where are you watching the fireworks?

    (2) Comments


    On a hot Fourth of July on Buzzards Bay, it's nice to imagine that the Hydrangea along the wall are just big snowballs.

    (0) Comments

    In re Lance 

    The Wall Street Journal has given voice to the most serious allegations that Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service team systematically doped to accomplish their extraordinary cycling victories. Yes, there are all sorts of credibility issues with the main witness, busted and embittered former Lance acolyte Floyd Landis, but the story at least rings true and I suspect the WSJ has enough more evidence that it was confident in publishing.

    For my own part, if the charges turn out to be true it will depress me a lot more than the Tiger Woods scandal could possibly have done (if, in some bizarro alternate universe, I cared about golf), because it corrupts the athlete's championship run, the very accomplishment that made us adore him in the first place. And that's not the worst of it: Even if not true the story is depressing, because it tarnishes Lance forever. After all, how on earth will he ever be able to prove the negative?

    In other cycling news, "little motors"?

    (4) Comments


    I hope you're all having a great Fourth...

    Chicago Rivef, from the Renaissance

    (4) Comments

    Saturday, July 03, 2010

    Bridge over the River Chicago 

    State Street Bridge

    (0) Comments

    The view from my window 

    A few hours ago, shortly after our arrival...

    The view from my window

    (7) Comments

    Bird Island 

    A shot of Buzzards Bay, not far from the Cape Cod Canal. It's taken from the widow's walk of a house near the tip of Butler Point, looking at Bird Island Light.

    Extra points to those who can name the famous oceanographic institution that is located in the distant point of land beyond Bird Island. Hint: a ferry service is in the town, taking people to and from a larger island that has been the preferred vacation ground of recent Democratic presidents.

    (4) Comments

    Saturday afternoon Great American Poetry 


     HOG Butcher for the World,
         Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
         Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
         Stormy, husky, brawling,
         City of the Big Shoulders:

    They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
         have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
         luring the farm boys.
    And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
         is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
         kill again.
    And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
         faces of women and children I have seen the marks
         of wanton hunger.
    And having answered so I turn once more to those who
         sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
         and say to them:
    Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
         so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
    Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
         job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
         little soft cities;

    Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
         as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
              Building, breaking, rebuilding,
    Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
         white teeth,
    Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
         man laughs,
    Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
         never lost a battle,
    Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
         and under his ribs the heart of the people,
    Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
         Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
         Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
         Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

    Where I am now.

    (5) Comments

    Friday, July 02, 2010

    Summer garden on Buzzards Bay 

    I'm up in Massachusetts for the Fourth of July weekend, staying with friends on Buzzards Bay. Their gardens looked particularly beautiful today, so I snapped some shots to share.

    Lily pad.

    Garden arch.

    Fence line.

    Busy as a bee.

    (2) Comments

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