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Date:2013-03-25 21:40
Subject:Happy birthday to…

one of my favorite people, whom I see far too infrequently, kate_schaefer.

i hope you've been having a great day! Best wishes for the year ahead.


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Date:2013-02-22 07:20
Subject:Birthday Wishes

Best wishes to whumpdotcom on his birthday! (Even if I didn't remember that was Bill Humphries until I looked it up!)

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Date:2011-07-25 15:07
Subject:The Israeli Foreign Ministry Goes to YouTube and I Respond Here

Shocked and saddened by the horror in Norway? Sick and tired of the debt-limit morass in Washington? Allow me to distract you with some opinions about another of the world's well-worn trouble spots.

Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted a nice educational/PR/propaganda -- your choice -- video on YouTube. It's just a six minutes long, done in a light style, and well worth watching for the educational value of the too-little known facts it presents.

You'll find it here: http://youtu.be/XGYxLWUKwWo

However, my posting it here does NOT mean I endorse everything it says. As I'll explain below, much as I like it, I think it's flawed, and I have some serious problems with the underlying attitude it stems from.

While it's generally very informative and convincing, I do think there are a couple of weak points in its argument.

The first is its appeal for justification to the unilateral decision of the British Empire in 1917. Imperialism doesn't have much legitimacy these days.

The second is the further basis of its argument in that British decision's later affirmation by the League of Nations. The League is a long-defunct body only history buffs remember, that no one much respected even when it was still around.

It's hard to see anyone, even someone neutral toward Israel, let alone someone hostile to it, being very impressed by those two points.

But let's grant the argument that these historical facts give Israel legal justification for its current activities beyond the green line, and therefore for its negotiating position. Even so, this film still suffers from the failing I see, and am exasperated by, in both parties to the conflict.

That failing is what I call wishfulness.

The Arabs don't want to deal with the reality of a long-established, successful Jewish state with a deep-rooted history in the region that predates their own arrival. Instead, they've actively tried to drive us out, and when they're not doing that, they negotiate, or pretend to, as if they could unwrite our long history and wish us away. But we're not going to disappear.

The Jews don't want to deal with the reality that in the process of restoring the Jewish state they displaced thousands of people who were not themselves guilty of usurping us, and radically disrupted their lives.

They don't want to deal with the fact that those people (and, increasingly, their descendants) aren't going to stop being angry about that because Israel waves a piece of paper from 1917, nor if a deal is made that doesn't have some semblance of justice. Instead, we Jews just wish those troublesome people would please emigrate elsewhere. But that's not going to happen, and they're not going to disappear.

The Jews also don't want to deal with the fact that they are eventually going to be outnumbered in their own country, making the perpetuation of Israel as a democracy and a Jewish state impossible. Instead, they wish the Arab citizens of Israel, the descendants of those people who chose _not_ to run away from the Jews in 1948, would just stop having kids or somehow just politely leave. But that's not going to happen, and they're not going to disappear either.

In other words, both sides base their actions on wish fulfillment fantasy rather than practical facts and actual people in the real world.

Until those facts are acknowledged, until each side admits that the other side is just as stubborn and determined as they are, and that they are not going to just conveniently disappear, the middle east mess will continue. All the clever PR the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cares to post to YouTube isn't going to change that.

It's recently occurred to me that the story of Israel and its neighbors can be summed up by the two most famous quotations attributed to the revered sage, Hillel.

After the horrors of the Shoa, we Jews justifiably told ourselves "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?" On that basis, we took back our homeland, restored Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years, and created a modern, prosperous, enlightened state we have a right to be proud of.

But six decades later, basking in our success, I think it's time to recall that Hillel also said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.''

No reasonable person can deny that we've treated the people (I'm talking about the individuals here, not their rulers) in the territories and Gaza in a way we'd find hateful if it were done to us. Yes, some of that was done for reasons of national survival and to save Jewish lives, but there comes a point to recognize that if circumstances repeatedly force you to behave hatefully, it's time to make a deeper change, so you can behave like a mensch instead.

That's why I think Jewish history obligates us to preserve, protect, and defend Israel, and also why I think Jewish values (and, ironically, hard-nosed realism too) obligate us to do so in the most humane and generous way.

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Date:2011-07-18 15:00
Subject:Hugo Reminder - two week warning!


If you're a supporting or attending member of Renovation, you are eligible to vote in the 2011 Hugo Awards. As a nominee, I naturally hope you will. The voting deadline is now just two weeks away.

To help you cast an informed vote, the nominees and their publishers have graciously made nominated works, art and excerpts available electronically to Renovation members at no charge. After the voting closes on July 31, 2011, this electronic package will no longer be available. Even if you aren't interested in or able to vote in all the categories, this is a great chance to get good stuff for free that you can enjoy later.

As I've been doing for literally decades, please allow me to remind you NOT to vote in any category in which you have not seen all the nominees. and to freely vote for "No Award" in any category where you feel no nominee has met the standard of excellence the Hugo Awards should embody.

The Hugo Voter Packet (nominated works, art, and excerpts) is available here: http://hugos.renovationsf.org/login/ You will need your Renovation membership number and Hugo PIN code.

The online ballot is available here: http://hugos.renovationsf.org/vote/

All ballots must be received by July 31, 2011, 11:59pm PDT. Ballots may be revised by resubmitting before the deadline. For more information on the Hugo Awards, please visit Renovation's website at: http://www.renovationsf.org/hugo/info/

and thanks for your consideration!

[Much of the above is borrowed from the reminder email the worldcon just sent out.]

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Date:2011-05-30 17:33

[Adapted from Newyorkology.com]

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. has been called the grand priest of Manhattanhenge, since he’s the one who discovered the uniquely New York phenomenon, named it, and each year calculates the dates the sun will set in perfect alignment with the street grid.

The 2011 Manhattanhenge dates:

Half-sun on the grid:
Monday, May 30 at 8:17 p.m.
Tuesday, July 12 at 8:25 p.m.

Full-sun on the grid:
Tuesday, May 31 at 8:17 p.m.
Monday, July 11 at 8:25 p.m.

For best views of the Stonehenge-like sunset, deGrasse Tyson suggests showing up half an hour before the times listed. “For Manhattan, a place where evening matters more than morning, that special day comes twice a year,” he writes on the museum’s website. “For 2011 they fall on May 30th, and July 12th, when the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan street grid, creating a radiant glow of light across Manhattan’s brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough’s grid. A rare and beautiful sight." 

He also jokes that "These two days happen to correspond with Memorial Day and Baseball’s All Star break. Future anthropologists might conclude that, via the Sun, the people who called themselves New Yorkers worshiped War and Baseball.”

The Manhattanhenge dates don’t align with the equinox because Manhattan’s street grid is rotated 30 degrees east from geographic north.

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Date:2011-05-24 02:39
Subject:Handy Tips for Mac Users (with links for the rest of you)

David Pogue's column in the Times is devoted to tips and tricks for gadgets and software that many people don't know.

He followed up it with a bunch more on the Times website, which in turn is trailed by a host (159 right now) of suggestions from readers. 
A number of the tricks are Mac-specific. Here's one from a reader that I've never seen documented anywhere:

On the Mac, I use Cmd-i if I want to email the contents of a web page (such as a Pogue column). And then if I want to convert it all to text, strip out graphics and ads, etc., use Shift-Cmd-t. This trick only works with Safari and Apple Mail, AFAIK. It is a major reason why I keep Safari around as my default browser.


Here are a couple more from readers that use Mac features I was aware of in a way I hadn't previously thought of:

A useful trick on the Mac is to use Control-Command-Shift-4 to get the crosshair cursor to draw across a portion of the screen you want to copy to the clipboard, then open Preview and select Command N to open a new window from the contents of the clipboard (the image). Then do a Mail Selected Image from the File menu. While in Preview, you can annotate the screenshot with arrows, text, rectangles, etc. For example, you could copy part of a Google Earth image and then add directions to your home with the annotation features. Preview automatically reduces the size of the image before sending as an email. Works like a charm.


On any Mac system...When a website has a black background, I like the ease of flipping it to white (and back to black afterwards) by holding the Control-Option-Command keys, then tapping the "8" key on the top row.

I hope these prove useful to some of you.

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Date:2011-04-23 13:57
Subject:In Which I Am Interviewed by the Paper of Record
Mood: cheerful

As those of you on Facebook know, there's a story in today's New York Times about the special Coca-Cola (made with sucrose as all Coke once was, rather than high fructose corn syrup) that is specially manufactured in the US for the benefit of observant Jewish consumers at Passover.

This isn't necessary in the rest of the world, where sugar prices aren't artificially kept high and Coke is always made with real sugar. The interesting and amusing result here is that a lot of the special Coke is sold to non-Jews who appreciate Coke's original flavor.

As it happens, I was interviewed for this article, and you'll find me mentioned at the end:


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Date:2011-02-23 09:30
Subject:Borders and the Future of Publishing

Over on Facebook, I posted a link to an interesting short article on Quora by Mark Evans (Borders' former Director of Merchandise Planning & Analysis) in answer to the question, "Why is Barnes & Noble performing well as a business while Borders is near or has even reached bankruptcy?" [Everything on Quora is organized in terms of questions and answers.] You can read it here. The comments are worth reading too, since they raise some good additional points, and Evans responds to them.

This led to quite a long discussion thread in the course of which Steve Stiles asked me "How much of an impact will Borders' shrinkage have on publishers?"

Here's what I wrote in response:

It's going to depend on a number of factors we can't judge yet.

How smart are they going to be about which stores they choose to close? Will surviving stores nearby pick up none, some, or a lot of sales previously made at the closed stores? What revisions to their merchandising methods will be implemented in the surviving stores? What innovations or promotions can they develop to rebuild their brand identity and recover market share? And so on.

There's certainly no question that losing Borders completely would be a very bad thing. Depending on the author and category, sales there can represent anywhere from a quarter to a half of a title's sales at traditional retail outlets.

Beyond that, there's the even harder to calculate but very real importance of every physical outlet's role (not just bookstores, but newsstands, drugstores, variety stores, etc.) as a place for people to encounter books and get in the habit of being book consumers. That's an area where we've already been hurt on the mass market side because of the demise of the small independent distributors.

I'm not saying that reading for pleasure or literacy in general go away without bookstores to sustain them, but they almost certainly would suffer at least in the short and medium term.

In the long term, who knows, maybe the tables will turn again.

It wasn't so long ago that the self-appointed guardians of our cultural heritage were worrying about film and video displacing written literature and making old-fashioned literacy obsolete. Text itself was alleged to be in danger.

Today, when young people spend more time reading and writing online, and yes, texting, than their parents and grandparents ever spent reading books, magazines, and newspapers, or writing letters, the idea of text becoming obsolete looks pretty darn ridiculous.

No doubt the current generation, and the ones to come, will find new ways of engaging with the pleasures of text in all its long and short forms, that today's writers, editors, publishers, and booksellers can't even imagine.

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Date:2011-02-14 17:48
Subject:Investing in the Future

Today's release of the President's budget reminds me of something that's been nagging at me since his State of the Union address.

I've been a supporter of high speed rail and our need to match our foreign competitors in infrastructure investment for as long as I can remember. Yet I find myself uncomfortable with the President's repeated calls for prompt large investments in this area.

I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I suspect most Americans have never ridden a train, except perhaps at Disneyworld. Maybe I'm just afraid it will all go wrong and spoil our chances in this area forever. These are certainly not the kind of projects that show quick results, and the voters are so shortsighted and impatient. (The Republicans have noticed, which is why some governors are pointedly turning down federal rail money they once would have seen as welcome pork.

I'm also concerned that here in the Northeast Corridor, there will be a misguided, half-assed attempt to further upgrade Acela rather than built the kind of new, dedicated line a true high-speed service (over 200 mph) would require. (Yes, I know it'll be difficult in such a densely built-up area. But Japan and Europe are dense too.)

Consider also one of the key facts cited in this recent New York Times article "Pitch for Rebuilding Infrastructure Carries Political Challenges": "The median Republican Congressional district now has a population density 11 times smaller than the median Democratic district . . ." [emphasis added] I think that's pretty stunning, and pretty telling. The Republicans are increasingly the party of outer suburbs and rural areas. The only kind of infrastructure they really understand or care about are roads and highways.

Maybe, rather than trying to start a bunch of projects at once, we should focus instead on doing just one quickly and really well. If we make its speed fast enough, its design cool enough, and its operation efficient enough, then everyone else will be enviously asking for one, instead of feeling that Washington is pushing something on them they never wanted.

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Date:2011-02-12 17:04
Subject:This Magic Moment

Over on Facebook, I wrote about how thrilled I was by the news from Egypt.

In the long comment thread which followed, my friend Tim Kyger cited a famous story about Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention. I'll quote the first online version I found:

The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."

Tim went on to say:

I hate to be the Burke of all this, but I don't see anything
but trading one for another (and I dearly hope I'm wrong).

But my prediction? One man, one vote -- one time.

History does indeed offer a preponderance of evidence in favor of skepticism, pessimism, and cynicism. Yet somehow humanity still manages to advance. It does so by ignoring all that horrible evidence and choosing hope instead. (That is how _we_ met Franklin's challenge.)

I have hope now that the predominantly young population of Egypt -- knowing much better than their parents and grandparents did how we live in the West -- fiercely want what we have in terms of liberty and opportunity to prosper. They won't willingly give up their chance for those.

If someone tries to hijack this wonderful, epic moment in the way Tim fears, I doubt they'll stand idly by. They've learned a precious lesson in the last few weeks and they won't forget it.

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Date:2010-11-28 10:49
Subject:Nothing Is Sacred

As you may know, I love chocolate.

Back before I went to Paris and discovered Valrhona, my favorite plain chocolate bars were Tobler's Extra Bittersweet and Lindt's Excellence - 70% Cocoa. I gave a slight edge in preference to the Tobler, but the Lindt was pretty close, and it was usually cheaper.

Then the Tobler bars disappeared from the shops. I couldn't find them anywhere. I was forced to switch to Lindt full time. Eventually, I learned that Tobler had been sold, and the new owners were working on a new US distribution deal.

When Tobler finally returned to the American marketplace. I immediately bought an EBS bar and was terribly disappointed. They'd changed the recipe.

Why buy one of the most famous brands in the chocolate business and then deliberately screw it up? It baffles and enrages me. Did they think that people who spend the extra money to buy imported Swiss chocolate wouldn't notice? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Anyway, I never bought another Tobler bar and came to rely on Lindt. Eventually, I did go to Paris and discover Valrhona, but since I sometimes couldn't afford it, I was happy to have Lindt as a backup.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, the Eternal Girlfriend and I were in one of our favorite shops, Sahadi's on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn (http://sahadis.com/), and I happened to glance at the chocolate display. The Lindt Excellence bar had a red triangle in the upper left corner of the main part of the label. In all-caps white type it read "NEW RECIPE." I looked at her and said, "Uh, oh." But she had just bought me one of the excellent 73% Super Dark organic chocolate bars at the Trader Joe's up the street, so I didn't get one to try.

I did buy one at Target the other day (along with the Pepperidge Farm Tim Tam cookies from Australia I finally found there). On the back of the package we're told to "Experience this new milder recipe that balances smooth dark chocolate flavor with a surprisingly rich and creamy texture."

Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not terrible, but it's not nearly as good as it was. Who asked for "milder"? It's lost its distinctive character and become blander and ordinary. What is it about the chocolate business? Does working in it inevitably warp your judgment?

What they've done is add lecithin (an emulsifier) and, if I'm interpreting the Nutrition Facts box correctly, a little more cocoa butter and a pinch more sugar. Total fat per 40g serving has gone from 17g to 19g and sugars from 11g to 12g. Just as importantly, they've also reduced sodium by half, to 10g. The result is a more innocuous bar that will probably sell better to average Americans with less sophisticated palates who had the misfortune of growing up on (ugh) Hershey's or, at best, cheap Nestle's.

Of course, I'll be writing to Lindt & Sprüngli to tell them, politely, that they're idiots, but I don't expect it to do any good. I guess I'll just have to get into the habit of stocking up whenever I'm at a TJ's and try to make enough more money to occasionally treat myself to a bar of Valrhona.

As Cicero said -- though he never tasted chocolate: O Tempora! O Mores!

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Date:2010-11-15 01:44
Subject:Mid-November Weather

Yesterday was my 59th birthday. I was noting on Facebook what a nice day it was, and how my birthday has had milder weather in recent years. If you asked me off the top of my head, I'd have guessed it used to usually be in the 40s. But then I started to wonder. Is that really true?

So I did some research. Utah State has a great website with historical weather data. For the US, you can narrow it down to a single observation station, so I used Central Park, where the records go back to 1876. It turns out that the average temperature for November 14th in the 134 years since then is 48 degrees, which is in line with my guess.

But it's been significantly warmer than that in my lifetime. In fact, the day I was born, in 1951, the high was 67! (The record high is 72 in 1993 and the record low is 20 in 1905.) Not only that, in the decade from 1951 through 1960 it was actually 60 or warmer on every 11/14 but one, the exception being 1953, when it was 44 degrees. The average high for all the birthdays in the first decade of my life was a surprising 61.5. (If it hadn't been for the one cold day pulling the average down, it would have been over 63!)

For the succeeding decades, the average 11/14 high temperatures were as follows:

60s: 51.2

70s: 54.7

80s: 55.3

90s: 53.9

00s: 57.5

So yes, maybe there's a slight upward trend there, but the lifetime average for my birthday turns out to be 55.6. So where did I get the impression that it's usually so much chillier?

Weird; and the high yesterday was 61.

Well, at least now I've set myself, and the record, straight.

Happy birthday to all my fellow Novemberites. May you have lovely weather for it.

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Date:2010-06-21 19:17
Subject:It's been too long since I've been in London

as I was entertainingly reminded by this brilliant Googlemaps mashup that Lise just brought to my attention: http://traintimes.org.uk:81/map/tube/

This map shows all trains on the London Underground network in approximately real time. The yellow pins are stations (click for a local map of that station), the red pins are the trains.

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Date:2010-04-27 17:24
Subject:Presuming none of you are the fabled "old lady in Dubuque". . .

Since you don't all follow me regularly on Facebook or Twitter, I thought I should make sure you all heard about this anyway.

There's an amazing bargain being offered right now on The Complete New Yorker DVD set (that's every issue 2/1925-2/2005). It's just $17.95 from their website at http://tinyurl.com/26zdozf !

This set was originally priced at $100, so it's a great deal. Not to mention the excellent quality and historical interest of the contents. You get every page of all those issues, even the ads. The viewer application works on both Macs and PCs.

Their promo email says "once this sale is over, we will no longer offer this product, and it will never be available again!" That's a shame, and I wonder why. I'm also sorry if it means there will be no more update disks issued. (Knowing I'd have every issue on disk has been a great help to me in NOT accumulating the issues that arrive here in the mail!)

But whatever's going on, don't miss this chance. I paid a lot more for my set!

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Date:2010-03-25 08:04
Subject:Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain


Further to my recent rant about the stupid idea of taxing so-called "sugary" drinks in New York State to improve our health, here's support for what I've been saying about the difference between the roles of real sugar and the now ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup in our diet. This study explains why soft drinks have been around for over a century, but we didn't have an obesity epidemic until the last few decades.

If we have to have nanny-state type laws, let's at least aim them properly. And before we add to our tax burden with a new regressive tax, let's start off with consumer education. If people really want to consume HFCS (hah!), let them, but they should know that they're doing so.

I'd be quite happy to see all products containing HFCS required to have a big, bold warning on their label alerting consumers to the presence of that all-pervasive ingredient. When people become aware of how inescapable it's become, even in products where you'd never expect it, I think they'll vote with their dollars and manufacturers will begin to reform their recipes. Then we'll start to see labels and packages proclaiming "Made with REAL SUGAR!"

A few years after that happens, it won't surprise me if we pass single payer medical care, the Catholic church allows female priests and requires male clergy to marry, same-sex marriage becomes available nationally, the national Christmas tree is declared unconstitutional, evolution by natural selection is taught in every school, real bagels and lox becomes available in all major cities,, the U.S. rectifies its balance of payments by exporting AI robot butlers, we capture and try Osama Bin Laden, the U.S. wins the World Cup in soccer, and Ford, GM, and Chrysler introduce pollution-free flying cars.

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Date:2010-03-18 11:25
Subject:Don't Tax My Soda
Mood: annoyed

My favorite local public affairs radio talk show, WNYC's "Brian Lehrer Show." just completed a segment on the prospects for the proposed New York State penny-per-ounce soda tax. As you might guess, I oppose this highly-regressive scheme, in which the claim of an alleged health benefit is actually just another excuse to pick our pockets. (What's next, taxing butter, bacon, and steak to get our cholesterol down?)

The Times had an article about this in the Week in Review a couple of weekends ago (which you can read at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/weekinreview/14bittman.html) to which I responded with a letter. Unfortunately, they didn't choose to print it, but this morning's radio discussion prompts me to vent my feelings by presenting a version of it here:

Taxing soft drinks as a way of dealing with the obesity and diabetes epidemics raises the prospect of needlessly prohibitive pricing for one of life's few remaining reasonably-priced innocent pleasures.

As someone who has always been slim despite regular consumption of Coca-Cola, Dr. Brown's Black Cherry and Cel-Ray, 7-Up, and other icons of America's soda-pop heritage, I don't see why I should be taxed because other people are eating (or drinking) too much and getting fat.

Furthermore, the article makes seven references to these beverages being sweetened with sugar. In reality, almost none use "sugar" in the everyday sense of the word (i.e. sucrose from sugar cane), but in fact are actually sweetened with fructose from corn.

If we're going to tax anything in an attempt to control our weight, let's tax fructose and corn syrup not just in soft drinks, but in ALL their myriad unnecessary applications in our industrially prepared foods. (I just saw yesterday that my otherwise healthy favorite herring snacks now get their modest sweetening from high fructose corn syrup, which is ridiculous.) At least that would affect everyone equally and would begin to make up for decades of politically-maintained price distortion that has kept our fructose cheaper and our real sugar more expensive than anywhere else in the world.

4 comments | post a comment

Date:2010-02-08 14:44
Subject:Retired Brooklyn Show Cat Needs New Home

Her name is Coco and she's a Havana Brown, a rare kind of dark brown cat with green eyes that are particularly known for their sweet personalities. She's currently in Park Slope.

She looks something like this:

You can read the complete CFA breed profile here:


I've always wanted one (along with a Russian Blue and an Abyssinian) and after the Eternal Girlfriend spotted her on Craigslist and alerted me, I was going to adopt her myself and bring my feline menage up to four. Unfortunately, it turns out she has feline herpes, which can affect the eyes and respiratory tract. Happily, it hasn't so far been a problem for Coco -- many cats are asymptomatic carriers -- but I can't risk her passing it on to my other guys. She should therefore be adopted by someone who likes cats but has no others at the moment (dogs or birds are OK).

She sounds like a perfect cat for the Eternal Girlfriend herself, but the latter has been long-term fostering a willful little calico named Turtle, who -- as we've discovered when she's stayed here during the EG's travels -- won't tolerate other cats. Turtle is one of the cutest, smartest cats I've ever known, but she's fiercely possessive and bossy. So another solution would be to find a new home for Turtle -- the EG feels that they aren't really a good personality match anyway -- and then she could take Coco, who is much more the kind of cat she wants.

If you can help me keep this lovely cat out of the shelter system (where hundreds of cats are killed each day) please contact me directly at moshe@feder.name.

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Date:2010-02-02 12:14
Subject:Are we still a republic or are corporations our new nobility?

Once again I called the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC, waited on hold, and didn't get on air, making me 3-for-3 lately in that regard. The topic of the discussion was the recent horrible People United decision by the Supreme Court, allowing unlimited spending by corporations in furtherance of their political goals.

They put on a guy identified as 'Joel from Westchester' whom I thought was going to make my point for me, but unfortunately he just used the idea rhetorically rather than substantively. Even worse, they paired him with 'Robert from Manhattan' who defended the decision on the grounds that corporations are composed of people and so should have the same rights, which misses the point completely. As if corporations were taking a vote of their employees, or even of their stockholders, before deciding which candidates to support! Joel was useless in response, which made me even more frustrated at not getting on.

Briefly, the recent unfortunate Supreme Court decision is premised on two key ideas, that the right to spend money on a campaign is equivalent to the free speech guaranteed by the constitution, and that corporations, having been defined by law as equivalent to persons, are entitled to the same free speech rights as people.

Since we can't change the first element without amending the constitution, we should change the second by modifying the legal definition of a corporation. That's something Congress could do today if it chose, and it would cancel the effect of People United in a stroke.

In the present setup, corporations are privileged above humans, and that's just wrong. Unlike people, corporations are immortal, they're taxed on their profit rather than their income, they have limited liability and can't be jailed or executed, only slapped on their non-existent wrist with a fine. They are, in effect, a new elite, a class of privileged nonhuman nobility who can rule us from outside the realm of law.

Is the next logical step allowing them to be elected and hold office? Does that make any more sense than putting them in jail or drafting them into the army? (Although I can imagine ways to do that.) With this decision the interpretation of corporate law has clearly passed the bounds of common sense.

If Congress refuses to act, then let's take SCOTUS at their word and nominate IBM for governor of New York and ask the President to appoint the ACLU as Attorney General. Maybe then someone in Congress or, by some miracle, on the Court, will wake up to the deplorable situation in which we now find ourselves and do something to correct it.

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Date:2010-01-30 10:17
Subject:So Much to Read, So Little Time

There's some debate at how well conventional speed-reading techniques really work. You've probably heard the classic Woody Allen line, "I took a speed reading course and read 'War and Peace' in twenty minutes. It involves Russia."

I've been reading a fascinating book called READING ON THE BRAIN by Stanislas Dehaene (hhttp://tinyurl.com/ye88pk5). He doesn't think much of ordinary speed-reading, but introduced me to the idea of Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). It allows genuine, non-skimming speed-reading at very high speeds by presenting single words in rapid succession at the spot of visual fixation. This is the real thing. Lab tests show that good readers can maintain normal reading comprehension at up to 1100 words per minute.

Naturally, I was intrigued.

I figured there must be apps or websites that would allow me try this out, and I was right. If you've got a previous version of Firefox (3.5 or earlier) lying around, there's a free add-on called RSVP Reader available at https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2149.

It's unpolished (version 0.1.0) and imperfect (presents more than one word at a time), but it's fun to play with anyway. It does allow you to adjust the size of the text and reading speed, and I found 750 wpm worked quite well. Couldn't quite manage 1000, but that was at least partly because it was presenting two-word and three-word groups.

Seems to me that a good RSVP app for the iPhone or iPad could be pretty nifty.

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Date:2009-12-13 19:53
Subject:Spelling & Pronunciation (Holiday Edition)
Mood: curious

I was saying recently (on FB) that I spell the current Jewish holiday, "Chanukah," and I pronounce it with the initial guttural "ch" sound. The other spelling doesn't bother me terribly, but the pronunciation it leads to does. "Hanukkah," what's that, a holiday for Han Solo or the Han Chinese?

This was still fresh in my mind on Friday when the annual Chanukah ads showed up in the Times.

I don't know if this happens in other cities (probably not), but here in New York there's a tradition of the big department stores and a few high-end specialty retailers marking the Jewish holidays (besides Chanukah, that usually includes Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year] and Passover) with simple 1/9 page ads that are always printed on the first two or three interior pages of the paper.

So I took note of which spelling each ad used. What these choices might imply, I have no idea, but for the record, here are the results:


Saks Fifth Avenue
David Yurman [jeweler]
Lord & Taylor
Brooks Brothers

Three of these used drawings of menorahs, one used a photo of a menorah. Tiffany used a photo of a silver dreydel. Saks had an abstract six-pointed star (made of twisted ribbons) that was not a Star of David. Brooks went with a dignified text-only design.

If anyone can come up with a correlation or pattern here, I'd like to hear it.

Chag sameach! [Now there's a weird spelling!]

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