Ben A.
Ben H.
Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable
Moloch, whose horrid cry is the opening harmonica wheeze of Piano Man... [Ben H.: 2/29/12 11:25]
With Respect, Senator, I'm Afraid The American People May Have Trouble Reconciling Your Claim That Moloch Is "Loveless" With Your Later Assertion That His Love Is Endless Oil And Stone.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/29/12 10:33]
Santorum Blames Ba'al For Losses

Denounces "Creepy-Step-Uncle of Lies" [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/29/12 10:10]
Romney Stuffs Santorum Back Into His Hole

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/29/12 08:49]
He was terrible, he is terrible, he always will be terrible.

I always applaud unprovoked, untimely insults aimed at art and artists I consider base. That goes treble for Billy Joel. Gagghh! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/28/12 22:28]
Arranged Marriage

Judging by the reports I get from single people about modern dating, an arranged marriage would save our kids a lot of grief. A single friend and I actually have a tentative agreement to make an arranged-marriage website for white people (at any rate not from the Subcontinent).

One more political observation, Santorum is coming across as a boring Sunday-school teacher with his Satan comments. Now see if instead he focused on Moloch, he would capture my attention. Imagine this Sunday morning show:

George Will: Senator, would you like to clarify the comments you made about Moloch?

Santorum: Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness!
Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Children screaming under the
stairways! Boys sobbing in armies! Old men
weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the
loveless! Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy
judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the
crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of
sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment!
Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stun-
ned governments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose
blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers
are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a canni-
bal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!
Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long
streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose fac-
tories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose
smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch
whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch
whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch
whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen!
Moloch whose name is the Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream
Angels! Crazy in Moloch! Cocksucker in
Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom
I am a consciousness without a body! Moloch
who frightened me out of my natural ecstasy!
Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch!
Light streaming out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs!
skeleton treasuries! blind capitals! demonic
industries! spectral nations! invincible mad
houses! granite cocks! monstrous bombs!

[I'm sure there's a good punchline from George Will but it's not coming to me ...] [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/28/12 07:55]
We decided to try to pluck a name from the higher branches of the family tree. Unless we wanted to prepare our child for a career in Yiddish theater, that meant from Colby's family tree. That's fine, because it seems fair that the child should get a first name from her family if he gets his last name from mine. [Ben H.: 2/27/12 12:26]
By the way, no Teutonic blood? I imagine some marauding Teutonic Knights left their genetic stamp on Lithuania... [Ben H.: 2/27/12 08:52]
My thoughts on Siri are identical to Ben's. It's a lovely name. In all probability, the iPhone connection will be a faint memory in two year, with the risk being the faint but real chance that "Siri" becomes the "Kleenex" of digital assistants. Sigrid is also beautiful, and improved by the lack of obvious ethnic connection. Your and Dao's daughter with the name "Sigrid" already seems mysterious and fascinating. Can I get Jacob on the list of potential spouses? [Ben A.: 2/26/12 23:44]
Siri is great, especially in light of the reversal, but given the timing, you'd have to be willing to spend the next few years explaining you aren't an abject Apple fanboy. [Ben H.: 2/26/12 22:40]
Baby Girl Names

We could go entirely traditional: Mary, say, or Anne. Nothing wrong with that. In any case I am disposed to bar names ending in "a," which connote a girliness our daughter is unlikely to have. In fact I'd prefer not to have a vowel ending at all. Also am wary of getting too twee/Victorian, which rules out things like "Edith" and "Mabel."

A recent front-runner is "Sylvie." Is that too twee? Too French? Will the lifelong duty to explain that it's not "Sylvia" be too much of a burden?

I also like "Sigrid" because it's so consonant-heavy. (I wouldn't go as far as "Dagmar" though.) Is Sigrid too twee in the Teutonic direction? Obviously there's no Teutonic blood to help justify this choice.

The Swedish variant of this name, "Siri," is appealing too, esp. because it's "Iris" backwards, but ultimately I think no. Or should this be a serious contender?

In light of the recent articles about Ivy League discrimination against Asians, I have also started to consider "Lily White."

Anyway the front-runner before Sylvie was May. Safe? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/26/12 22:22]
More Evidence "Class" Is Heritable

Courtesy of the Kennedy clan. And just in case it isn't genetic, it is important to start transmitting values as early as possible. In this case, Douglas Kennedy demonstrates to his infant son that rules are for non-royalty and those who try to apply the rules to royalty must be swiftly and sternly corrected.

This went down in the hospital where I was born, incidentally. [Ben H.: 2/26/12 15:10]
I Saw Your Advert In The Bolour Supplement

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/26/12 12:35]
You're right that household income and unemployment statistics since 2000 are conforming to party stereotype. Obama will have to make an argument on that subject. What astonished me was how much Corporate America en tant que telle (as Mitt Romney might put it), which I think is commonly supposed to correlate even more positively than income or employment with the government's redness, instead correlates positively with its blueness. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/25/12 15:09]
Since when does a friend of the little man like you, Gombrecht, measure a politician's economic impact by the Dow? Let's look at how the US economy has done by Joe Everyman.

Real Personal Income Per Capita Excluding Govt Transfers in 2005-dollars.

2000: $29,950
2008: $32,350
2011: $30,560

Sign of the deltas look fine to me!

A Democrat inflationist with a Goldman-run Department of Treasury* is friendly to speculative capital and unfriendly to the real economy, at least compared to a compassionate conservative Republican with retard-run Department of Treasury!

*I like to kid about Goldman, but I have been dealing with someone relatively senior at Treasury this week on Greece stuff. He is very, very sharp, which is a welcome contrast to his European analogs. I asked the person who put us in touch where the guy came from. "He was in foreign exchange trading at Goldman." [Ben H.: 2/25/12 12:22]
As I wait for someone to figure out where I mixed up some minus signs in my calculations, let me say that I do find myself rooting for Mitt Romney. I mean, we're both quantitative rather than emotional, we both speak French, we're both bad at pretending we care about the concerns of the dolts around us, we're both as likely to strike up a natural rapport with an "everyday American" as with a langur ... I guess the only difference is that if I had his money, rather than embarking on a pointless quest to win the love of everyday Americans, I would get one of my architect friends to design me a giant castle in the shape of an upraised middle finger, centered around an amphitheater on which my friends and I would while away the remainder of our days putting on amateur Gilbert and Sullivan productions and drinking crates of Chateau Margaux. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/24/12 22:45]
Through The Looking-Glass

Every day I hear how the Democrat administration's anti-business, anti-growth policies are destroying the economy, and how we need to get a Republican back in the White House to save America.

DJIA on first day of George W. Bush's presidency: 10,587
DJIA on last day of his presidency: 7,949

Ergo, DJIA change over course of most recent Republican presidency: -24.9%

DJIA on first day of Obama's presidency: 7,949
DJIA today: 12,983

DJIA change over course of Obama presidency: +63.3%

Uh, can someone please check my math?

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/24/12 22:25]
Hint: If the naked woman is screaming and the setting is her own bathroom -- femme du monde. If the woman is not screaming, probably a prostitute. [Ben H.: 2/24/12 19:29]
Dominique Strauss-Kahn: Beyond Parody

How was he to know catered orgies could involve illegality? As his lawyer (awesomely!) notes:
"Je vous défie de distinguer une prostituée nue d'une femme du monde nue."
My friend M remarks that this challenge could be the basis of the best game show ever. [Ben A.: 2/24/12 12:13]
In A World ... Where Moochers Cripple The Human Spirit ...

Hat tip to Weigel, who ran it under the headline "Will Mitt Romney Save America from George III?"

Seeing the vanguard of capitalism exalt humanity in full Dolby THX surround-sound makes me recall a tidbit about the rather different reality of today's free enterprise. A friend was explaining to me the other day how the hedge fund he works for now makes up much of the worldwide demand for atomic clocks, the better to track the performance of its nanosecond trading algorithms.

(Now if only they had loaned one to those neutrino clowns at CERN ...) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/23/12 17:48]
Looks like "whatever" was indeed the correct reaction. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/23/12 09:33]
The Final Lin In Mavericks' Coffin

Ever since the Post's homophonically-challenged post-victory headline "A Lin And A Prayer," I have been trying to come up with headlines in which the least amenable words or syllables are replaced by "Lin." If you're bored you might try it.

P.S. He's back in top form. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/19/12 21:34]
Self-Refuting Web Site

Did you read the NY Times Magazine article about how big companies know everything about your shopping proclivities?. As I was reading it, two of those "targeted" Google ads kept showing up: "Traditional Jewish Casket," and "Make-Up Secrets 2012" from L'Oreal. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/19/12 21:13]
"Studies Show..."

This paper maps new territory in awesomeness. Have you ever wondered if all those ubiquitously reported social science/behavioral economics studies are garbage? Here is some excellent evidence that error rates (which the paper frames in terms of false positives) are much higher than you might expect. In brief, subtle (and non-malicious) choices of analytical design can dramatically influence findings. Here's a teaser:
To help illustrate the problem, we conducted two experiments designed to demonstrate something false: that certain songs can change listeners’ age. Everything reported here actually happened
This is why pre-specified data analysis is the gold standard, people! [Ben A.: 2/17/12 11:25]
Theology (4)

I hope no one gets the impression that this blog is religiously bigoted. I myself have nothing against the leadership of the Catholic church in particular. Rather, it is child-rape syndicates in general that I take exception to. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/16/12 00:09]
Theology (3)

There's a reason an edict is called a "bull". [Ben H.: 2/15/12 15:29]
Linexpugnable! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/15/12 12:56]
Theology (2)

If grad school in philosophy taught me anything, it's that Catholic theologians have an answer for everything. You may not like the premises, but the if you grant them, the conclusion will follow.

With that as preface, I have never understood how sanction of the rhythm method/natural family planning co-exists with the prohibition on artificial birth control. From the standpoint of natural law, aren't these both exercises of human reason? Would birth control method be licit if it were 100% but consisted in assuming an particular mental attitude?(perhaps: "I will subscribe to the Utne Reader") [Ben A.: 2/14/12 23:14]

Now I'm not saying the Irish are all drunks, mind you, but the contraceptive-coverage "controversy" that's been, er, ginned up recently, revealed to me a doctrinal justification for Catholics who conform to that stereotype. Why does the Church proscribe condoms? The reason is distinct from the "abortion is murder" mantra that most discussions of religion and reproduction reduce to. For when you use a condom, nothing is conceived, and there is nothing to abort. Rather, the divine law bans condoms because they interrupt a process that might otherwise result in pregnancy. Now imagine you're at the pub some evening with friends. Stipulate that you're all married, if you like. After the third round, your wife suggests that you call it a night and get home in time to get enough sleep to get to work on time tomorrow. But you realize the following: the process of getting shitfaced results often enough in procreational activity. Settling your tab now would interrupt a process that might otherwise result in pregnancy, and God would hate you all! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/12/12 00:43]

Didn't this guy sit behind us in physics?

I have to admit loving this story -- I guess I get the same kind of resonance that pious middle-Americans get from the TIm Tebow story.

Update -- 38 points against the Lakers!?!?!?!?!?!?! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/10/12 22:37]
Best Law Ever

Proposed in New Mexico in 1995:
When a psychologist or psychiatrist testifies during a defendant’s competency hearing, the psychologist or psychiatrist shall wear a cone-shaped hat that is not less than two feet tall. The surface of the hat shall be imprinted with stars and lightning bolts. Additionally, a psychologist or psychiatrist shall be required to don a white beard that is not less than 18 inches in length, and shall punctuate crucial elements of his testimony by stabbing the air with a wand. Whenever a psychologist or psychiatrist provides expert testimony regarding a defendant’s competency, the bailiff shall contemporaneously dim the courtroom lights and administer two strikes to a Chinese gong…

Source [Ben A.: 2/10/12 12:07]
Clash of Civilizations: Feeling Good About Our Chances

Bashar Assad's email password: 12345. [Ben A.: 2/9/12 14:18]
Mitt Gets Santorum Facial

I'm loving this clown show. May the vest man win!*

*Pun stolen from

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/9/12 10:30]
I recall Ben H once saying exactly the same thing that Werner Herzog says here --

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/7/12 17:15]
DRA(CH)MA [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/7/12 16:52]
Weak currency drama engulfs Switzerland (7) [Ben H.: 2/6/12 15:00]
Big California Quake Within 30 Days

Calling it. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 2/6/12 13:44]
Am I Really Supposed to Read About a Dutchman?

A novel in which the only white man of importance is a Dutch Trader, while all the women are Malays or half castes, does not promise much entertainment. It is well, therefore, to approach Almayer's Folly with no expectations. The figure of Almayer is pathetic, but almost lost in a mob of raging heathen engaged in battles for rum and wives on the banks of a river of Borneo. We have become inured to tiresome fiction supposed to be descriptive of outlandish places, but a feeling of resentment smoulders.

—The Original "Nation" Review of Almayer's Folly 17 October 1895, reprinted in Conrad: The Critical Heritage

[Ben A.: 1/31/12 10:22]
I'm looking for the Mulchy, Mulch-lovers, Mulchfest (mulchless). [Ben H.: 1/30/12 14:50]

Happened to come across MULCHFEST 2012 in early January. "Mulchfest" is my favorite English word. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/29/12 21:28]
Fund Raising

My sister-in-law (we just got back from visiting her family in Orange County) received a call during dinner. After she had gently-but-firmly terminated it, someone asked who it was, and she said it was Harvard, asking for money. My question was whether the call had gone something like this: "Hey lady, I hear you have four kids. It'd be a shame if anything happened to their educational opportunities ..." [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/28/12 23:57]
It is precisely that willful disconnect from reality that I am battling. CDS functions to track the losses on actual loans or bonds in case of default or restructuring. The commercial intent is clear. In case, however, Greece defaults in a particular way (not worth going into details) then one can try to apply a tortured, counterintuitive reading to the CDS contract that suggests its payoff becomes disconnected from economic reality. The willful disregard of commercial intent strikes me as similar to a Derridean, "il n'y a pas d'hors-texte" dismissal of authorial intent. Luckily, in court if not in academia, intent counts. [Ben H.: 1/28/12 10:54]
I recall reading, in at least one article, an explicit analogy between Derrida-type nonsense and the exotic financial instruments that helped cause the 2007/8 collapse. At some point some last tether to reality was cut, and these professions were free to float into a gorgeous beyond. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/27/12 17:18]
The Jargon-ridden Lucubrations of Professor Zapp

Thank you for reminding me of David Lodge, Ben H! [Ben A.: 1/27/12 14:58]
I'm spending all my days this month going through insane lucubrations in order to make sure that Credit Default Swaps work properly in the case of the Greek restructuring about to occur. For the last 15 years, I've been involved in trading CDS on sovereigns and this product never seems to work right. Dealers make all these sloppy arguments and interpretations, and this forces me to run around madly trying to fix the situation. The same process is underway with respect to Greece, with the added jab that the analysts, when confronted about the stupidity of their interpretations say something like, "oh, don't worry about it; in the end, it always works out fairly." My head feels like it will explode whenever I hear this reasoning.

A parable for CDS dealers:

An office worker throws the remains of his lunch on the floor by his desk every day before he leaves work. Every night, the cleaning lady sweeps it up. One day, the worker arrives in the morning to find a note on his desk. "Please don't throw your food on the floor, it will attract rodents." The worker is indignant. He waves the note around. "What's with this note? WHy is this person so bent out of shape? I throw my food on the floor EVERY DAY, and I've NEVER ONCE seen a rodent in here!" [Ben H.: 1/26/12 12:13]
Not A Future Lawyer

Boy runs into kitchen sobbing, aggrieved.

Mom: What's wrong?

Boy: Sophie hit me back!

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/24/12 01:08]
We have a president named Barack, and two front-running challengers called "Mitt" (really Willard) and "Newt". They say the beauty of America is that anyone can grow up to be president. Just to be on the safe side, I'm going to name my son "Gumby". [Ben H.: 1/22/12 11:28]
My Only Comment On South Carolina

[Ben A.: 1/22/12 11:17]
Some Stereotypes Are True

[Ben A.: 1/20/12 00:35]
Funny you should say that. The joke going around Bloomberg terminal today is that what really has the Italian public angry is that for all that effort, the ship didn't manage to get the ref to call a foul on the rock. [Ben H.: 1/19/12 15:14]
Shipwreck Captain

The Italian captain now claims that he didn't abandon his ship, he was tripped and fell into a lifeboat. This is actually an understandable line of defense when you recall how his countrymen play soccer. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/18/12 13:19]
SHR(IP WR)ECK [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/17/12 14:27]

“I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away,” Mr. Romney told reporters after an event here. “And then I get speakers’ fees from time to time, but not very much.” Financial disclosure forms that candidates are required to file annually shows that Mr. Romney earned $374,327.62 in speakers’ fees from February of 2010 to February of 2011.

From the Times. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/17/12 13:57]
Famous ogre hides intellectual property atop wheelhouse of sunken vessel (9) [Ben H.: 1/17/12 12:49]
There's another possible clue for Santorum although it needs some polishing:

Anus in mêlée with Mitt Romney's core 40% ! (8)

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/17/12 11:52]
It is not just that the politicians have changed. So too has the audience. What would the response be to a document like Letter from Birmingham Jail? I'm guessing it would go something like this:


tl,dr [Ben H.: 1/17/12 10:00]
COWSHED! [Ben H.: 1/17/12 09:59]
... Actually I did just read it, here, while waiting for a data import script to finish. (Yes I am working today.) The main thing I took from it is a renewed awe at how petty, by contrast, today's would-be leaders are -- small, small men; nematodes. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/16/12 15:19]
I believe this is the seventh consecutive Martin Luther King day on which I'd intended to read Letter From A Birmingham Jail. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/16/12 14:43]
OBAMA [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/16/12 12:04]
Slippery amoeba losing first part of election !(6) [Ben H.: 1/15/12 22:50]

I am impressed. I don't think Republican kingmakers naturally consider &lit potential in deciding which candidates to back, so your clues must demonstrate a rare mastery of the cryptic form. [Ben H.: 1/15/12 22:36]
The clue that's haunting you is actually just an anagram.

I'm surprised "R-Money" hasn't caught on as a moniker for the guy.

Also surprised that my term "incongruist" hasn't replaced the vaguer "contemporary artist" -- I was reminded of this today by our visit today to the Guggenheim, where they've strung up the entire oeuvre of a certain Mr. Cattelan, who's apparently at the top of this game. A very kid-friendly exhibit, with lots of stuffed horses and so on. My favorite work was the pope being struck by a meteor -- now that's incongruous!

Of course, for my money (which never exceeds zero; we have an angle to get into these places for free) you can't beat The Anguish. Where did this guy go wrong that he hasn't gotten into the Guggenheim?

Of course the real reason you go to the Guggenheim is to see how your clothes stack up against your transatlantic counterparts'. There was an Italian guy with green pants that were at once iridescent and supremely tasteful. I really failed here and I feel I should go iron my shirts and replace the sweaters with holes in the elbows. What lifted my spirits was Mr. Cattelan's work consisting of a lifelike sculpture of a female inside a refrigerator. The brand? Liebherr, of course. So we're not wholly out of step with the global culture elite! You really need to get on board with Liebherr, Ben A.

Final thing -- I don't recall getting much useful info at childbirth classes -- I may have attended one -- but the one thing I wish I'd known is to decline to see the placenta. You really don't need to see that. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/15/12 15:54]
Interestingly, my iPad corrected the last bit of my answer to "money"!


I'm still hung up on chew sod, whichnwas running in my head for much of the 6 hour childbirth education class I attended yesterday. So if my breathing coaching is subpar, I'll blame it on you. [Ben H.: 1/15/12 12:14]
I sometimes wonder if my psyche would be better ordered if my chief talent were for, say, scrimshaw. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/15/12 04:36]
Republican with insane money! (6)

Our man's excited about three-way! (8)

Synonym for "dripping with outrageous hypocrisy after flagging past midway point"! (8)

Listened to closely, it is, above all else, devoid of substance! (7)

Sadly, the hope that posting these things will end the insomnia that produced them never works out. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/15/12 04:16]
B(urg)undy [Ben H.: 1/14/12 23:10]
Famously crude Chicago shoe salesman has unconsummated urge for French wine (8) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/14/12 20:21]

Hey, all those Louises are easy to confuse, Now, on to this sod chewing... [Ben H.: 1/14/12 10:55]
She's French-kissing Louis XVI's finance minister? (6)

Ben H not allowed to use Google but everyone else is (I was going to put Louis XIV myself before double-checking) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/13/12 21:38]
France is no longer an AAA credit. And in other news, it has been revealed that the Tooth Fairy does not exist. [Ben H.: 1/13/12 15:04]
Chew sod in this structure! (7) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/12/12 18:43]
My optimism does not extend far enough to allow me to offer as an explanation that most everybody who deserves killin' has already gotten killed. [Ben H.: 1/11/12 23:22]
Like everyone on the internet I take myself to have everything basically figured out. For example, I can't tell you who'll win any particular election, but once it's over, I can give you a good story about how its outcome was inevitable given this important fact about social dynamics that I've observed. But sometimes there's a clearly important social-dynamical trend that just completely baffles me. The drop in the U.S. homicide rate to a near 50-year low is a big one. If it was at a fifty-year high, you can bet I would be shaking my head and saying it's the sad but inevitable result of a coarsened culture, of the politics of incivility, of the ubiquity of violent video games, and of the desperation of those whom the one percent have condemned to inexorable bleak futures. As it is, I have no freaking clue. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/11/12 22:04]
I found myself drooling and panting just now, and I couldn't really figure out why. But now I realize, it must have been because I was thinking about an integrated thought leadership campaign! [Ben H.: 1/10/12 18:00]
Are you excited about digital advertising, working on integrated thought leadership sponsorship campaigns, and providing excellent customer service to clients?

And how!

[From a jobs mailing list] [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/10/12 17:40]

Maybe his poll numbers have never climbed above the level of humiliation, but his Mandarin could get him into even the most prestigious Manhattan pre-school, and believe me, that's impressive. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/9/12 20:59]
At least our elected representatives don't dress so as to evoke their actual governing philosophy. It would be a sea of wide-brimmed fedoras, purple velvet blazers, and gold chains. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/9/12 10:37]
Sartorial Tics in Politics

Is Santorum attempting to communicate something by wearing sweater vests? Or is he just prone to feeling chilly? I can think of a few other examples of politicians with a sartorial signature. I've never thought about it closely, but when I do, this sort of behavior -- really, donning a costume to go campaigning -- seems ludicrous, even for politicians. I suppose for some, the choice is a kind of camouflage. Jerry Brown's turtleneck meant to hide turkey-neck and disguise his age. Governor Moonbeam can't look like your grandpa. But the choices that are less cosmetic than semiotic bother me more. Scott Brown's work boots and lumberjack coat -- I'm regular folks! Paul Simon's bowtie -- I'm not a slick politician, just an old-fashioned good-sense small-town burgher. Patty Murray's tennis shoes... Does this fool anybody? It's far subtler, but partakes of the spirit if Qaddafi's opera-bouffe kit, now the Bedouin robes, now the gewgaw bestrewn chest of a Gilbert and Sullivan general.

Give Ahmedinjad credit for forthriightly explaining his (loony) justification for rocking the tieless open collar. Thank Allah someone has come out and said the unsayable. Neckties are a Zionist conspiracy!

Perhaps candidates can go all-out in 2016, and we can have a primary debate stage that looks like a Village People concert. [Ben H.: 1/8/12 16:31]
Men of Faith in The White House

What's more propitious for a president, Romney's magic Mormon underwear, or Santorum's magic sweater vests? I go with the underwear here. It's more discreet, it deflects bullets so it reduces our Secret Service bill, and sweatered Evangelicals have a bad track record in the White House. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/8/12 08:43]
Bad Sign

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/6/12 21:19]
Audio Tape Of NYC Firebombing Released

Suspect: You will give me all your crappucino!!!

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/4/12 18:37]
I Don't Often Wish I Had Become A Political Pundit

But with Weinergate and now Santorum (let's do our part for his Google score) I feel like I'm missing a lot fun. It would be an interesting challenge to keep a straight face on TV. "Brian, I don't think the American people are going to swallow Santorum." "This morning we saw Santorum all over the electoral map." I'm torn between my personal interest in a Romney victory -- by eliminating the middleman and having Wall Street run the country directly, we'll set Manhattan real estate climbing again -- and a desire for the fun to continue. Ultimately I guess I choose fun. Onward Christian soldiers! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/4/12 18:22]
Speaking of Science Fiction

I just read the original Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter, Warlord of Mars vehicle, which has been made into the latest Disney tentpoll spectacular (estimated budget: $250M).

I can't recommend the book, but it did lead me to Burroughs' admirable description of how he came to write it.

I had good reason for thinking I could sell what I wrote. I had gone thoroughly through some of the all-fiction magazines and I made up my mind that if people were paid for writing such rot as I read I could write stories just as rotten. Although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.


Thomas Newell Metcalf, who was then editor of The All-Story magazine, published by Munsey, wrote me that he liked the first half of a story I had sent him, and if the second half was as good he thought he might use it. Had he not given me this encouragement, I would never have finished the story, and my writing career would have been at an end, since l was not writing because of any urge to write, nor for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife and two babies, a combination which does not work well without money.
[Ben A.: 1/2/12 23:50]
Vote Your Heart, Iowa!

Here's hoping a great Santorum surge will come spurting from every crack and crevice in the body politic. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/2/12 23:34]
50-Foot Scrotum Speed Record

A friend lent us the DVD cartoon series "Avatar" (no relation to the 3D movie). I hadn't been familiar with it. It's ersatz anime (Dao thinks she knew one of the white guys behind it in college). A long time ago I posted that all anime movies end with the forces opposed to the good guys collecting themselves into a giant writhing 50-foot scrotum before expiring in the climactic battle. Well, in the very first of the 61 episodes of Avatar, the eponymous hero is found frozen inside a levitating 50-foot scrotum. In a way, everything beyond that feels like dénouement.

Also, it seems like its writers named many of the characters after sushi restaurants -- Roku, Haru, etc. I guess that's what I would have done if charged with producing a pseudo-Japanese cartoon.

That said, if you watch more than a couple episodes, it becomes pretty addictive -- like in Angry Birds, you always want to see the next level. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/2/12 21:04]
This discussion makes me think, here on January 1, that I could probably save myself a year's worth of tiresome blogging with one succinct pre-emptive post:

@ModernFrance @OrganizedReligion @Neurophilosophers @HumanitiesProfsInGeneral @ApologistsForDictators @ApologistsForGOP @OccupyWhatever @Hollywood @ContemporaryArt Cool Story Bro!

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/1/12 22:57]

I remember reading an article in Le Figaro about how Americans will often compare their salaries at dinner parties. Don't be surprised, it's just the local custom! The author was a Frenchman based in California who ran a consulting business for French companies seeking to do business in the US. [Ben A.: 12/30/11 13:41]
More Succinctly

@ModernFrance csb!

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/30/11 12:33]
Little Thing That Keeps You From Looking Stupid Yet Nobody Ever Does It

Just have someone double-check all the italicized foreign terms in your novel to make sure they're spelled right. Everyone fails to do this. To Mr. Jack Finney, author of a book I picked up due to insomnia last night, I would point out the final e on l'heure bleue, if he weren't dead. Or more accurately, if he weren't dead and I weren't sure I did this all the time myself while blogging. Popping in a foreign phrase makes you feel all intellectual and stuff; to admit that you need someone to check the phrase is to make this warm feeling of superiority vanish. From this analysis you might expect the worst offenders of this sort to be French, and you would be right. After moving there I quickly lost count of the cringe-inducing English spelling mistakes I found in newspapers and magazines. Novels were just as bad, and there the mistakes would sometimes transcend spelling and blow up into mortifying chasms between the author's actual urbanity and his own estimate of it, like one guy who, in flaunting his familiarity with NYC, floated the idea of sailing all the way up the East River to Canada. Good luck with that!

Of course, we have to cut the authors of contemporary French novels some slack in their failure to have them proof-read, since they are not, generally speaking, readable. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/30/11 11:44]
I Like This Guy

Rule #1 of stupid people trying to make sense of the world: the culture you know nothing about has all the answers.

I also like the observation -- which is really among the most crucial, that whenever you are reading long-form magazine journalism you should be asking yourself "What does the journalist want to be true?"

link [Ben A.: 12/30/11 11:32]
CH(ee)semong ER

Dude, that took me two whole days... [Ben H.: 12/29/11 15:46]
New U.S. Fighter Fuselage Uses Advanced Composite Material

Micro-tubes of rolled-up $1000 bills

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/28/11 12:11]
I think what makes the suffragette clue hard is that, at least in the harder cryptic puzzles I've seen, "with" can mean either "alongside" or "containing". A better, less ambiguous clue would be "She's truncated misogynistic tradition using very loud fulmination!" [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/28/11 12:05]
The indispensable Alamo Drafthouse cinema recently had a quote-along showing of Buckaroo Bonzai. Not quite a sequel, but better than nothing...? [Ben H.: 12/28/11 11:16]

The "truncated" threw me off for a while, as I just assumed you meant to take the front part of SUTTEE and not to divide it. [Ben H.: 12/28/11 09:26]
I'll sell you Swiss pop star, with leftist gnomes and Mr. Cummings thrown in (12)

... given that "pop star" is Cher.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/27/11 21:37]
All of those guesses beat mine, which was the study of bad things. (and Ben H's #2 is right: it's mollusks, from greek 'malakos' for soft). [Ben A.: 12/27/11 16:58]
Depends on whether it is mala-cology, in which case i'd go for apples (latin: mala); or malac-ology, in which case I'll guess it is the study of some soft or squishy animal (from a Greek root). But short answer is, off the top of my head, no idea! [Ben H.: 12/27/11 14:52]
Dr. Lizardo

I don't know, Lithgow as Lizardo is just too serene and grounded in reality to make a plausible chief of staff for Ron Paul, or for any of his competitors.

There was an Onion piece or something, a few years back, describing people whose major disappointment in life was that the sequel to Buckaroo Banzai promised at the movie's end was never made. I sympathized.

I'll let Ben H field "malacology." What's the malic in malic acid, again? Apples? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/27/11 12:16]
Things You Learn at the Musuem

Without searching, please define "malacology." [Ben A.: 12/27/11 11:28]
NYC Xmas Tree Plan

We shelled out $60 for a tree that would fetch $30 in the suburbs -- and that was after walking away from other sidewalk vendors asking $100 and $70. I have a better plan for next year. There are a lot of families in the neighborhood, and many of them go away for Christmas, judging by the number of trees put out for trash the week before. I bet I could make arrangements with the doormen of buildings on the block to tip them $20 for a reasonably fresh trash tree, prior to its being put out for dogs to pee on.


She's truncated misogynistic tradition with very loud fulmination! (11)

... given that "misogynistic tradition" is SUTTEE. The number of google hits for "suttee" is very low -- 46K as opposed to almost 1M for "sati widow", suggesting it's a dead variant spelling. But it's Scrabble-valid.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/27/11 07:59]
Laugh-a While You Can, Monkey-boy!

Ron Paul's chief of staff is named "Lizardo."

We know what this means:

[Ben A.: 12/27/11 01:30]
There Are Only Two Difficult Things About Recursion Theory:

Avoiding infinite loops, and the two difficult things about recursion theory.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/26/11 14:06]
Wow, didn't know that word. From a Ghanaian dialect, apparently. Speaking of West Africa, my uncle the honorary Ibo chief was in town for Christmas, but he seemed pretty down on Nigeria (esp. on the chances of ever pacifying the Muslim north of the country). He seems more interested in Sierra Leone now. Did you ever do any business there? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/26/11 14:04]
Well, it was maybe a little less precise in its observance the rules than my typical clues.

KWASH(I)or(KOR). [Ben H.: 12/22/11 08:14]
Sorry, Ben, I'm drawing a blank on that one. An extended spell of full-time work has left me rather worn out, physically and mentally. I tried to relax a bit by doing the Wednesday NYT crossword today, but it took me 40 minutes and I felt I was in real danger of not being able to finish it. Urg. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/21/11 22:36]
Kind of malnutrition heard to suppress head of Iran or North Korea (11)
[Ben H.: 12/19/11 22:58]
VIBRATO(R) [Ben H.: 12/19/11 16:08]
In Memoriam

[Ben A.: 12/19/11 12:38]

One of the most popular means of achieving orgasm is Anne-Sophie Mutter's Hand Technique, right? (8) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/19/11 11:10]
Voltaire's religion has within it a blot of tyranny (9) [Ben H.: 12/19/11 09:16]
Good point, Ben. You gotta recognize that the game has been changing in recent years. These modern despots are going for a different style of play. It not just about body count anymore! The judges (Crazy Head of State judges, not ICC!) don't reflexively reward the big hitters these days. They are more impressed by pure clownish irrationality than sheer gore. I mean, let's look at Chavez. He's the pioneer in the new style of play, a guy who's made it to the top rank without concentration camps or pogroms. Instead, he's got Alo, Presidente. Twenty years ago, no player would have tried such a bloodless approach. He's a real innovator in the game.

So can we think of anybody else that might playnthe Chavez game to the top spot? I think we ought to give some consideration to the King of Swaziland. Guy's got something like twenty wives. Picks a new one out every year at a ceremony where a couple of thousand Swazi girls dance around and bare their breasts. It's like their constitution is an old VHS of Girls Gone Wild. All this amidst extreme poverty, drought, a nearly empty treasury. Loopy. Is the King gonna cause any meetings in the Situation Room? Probably not. But this is Crazy Head of State not Global Thermonuclear War that they're playing, so I won't count the guy out. [Ben H.: 12/19/11 08:22]
Definition Question

How consequential does the country need to be? I have a feeling lots of small countries have really madcap leadership, but we never hear about it because who cares about Vanuatu (totally a republic! I use them only as an example!).

[Ben A.: 12/19/11 02:46]
Kim Jong I'll has died. He always feared flying, but he ended up dying on a train. It's like an Asian version of Final Destination.
But the really important implication here is that the competition for Craziest Head of State is now wide open. With the longtime runner-up, Qaddafi, out of the picture, too, you have to think Chavez is wishing he was healthy right now. A healthy Chavez takes the crown, but a cancer-hobbled Chavez loses the manic energy that is really his biggest strength in Crazy State-Heading. So, you gotta ask yourself, who in the second rank can take advantage of this extraordinary opening-up of the league tables?
Assad? Will he prove too distracted by rebellion? You gotta love his sheer thirst for blood, but does he have the focus to pull it off?
Or maybe you go with experience? Mugabe's old, but with the standings in flux, maybe the deacdes of despoting give him the baked-in craziness that can come through in a high-pressure situation.
You can never count out Ahmedinajad. He's been quiet lately, but he's got explosive quickness that can take him to full-on batshit faster than a lot of other guys out there.
And then there are the dark-horses: Kabila, Morales, Correa. It's as wide open as I've seen it in decades. Stay tuned, folks, this is gonna be one wild ride! [Ben H.: 12/19/11 00:01]
Du(llar)d [Ben H.: 12/18/11 18:00]
One destined to fizzle out, having become slower, regressing! (7)

... given that "become slower" is the usual musical abbreviation of rallentando. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/18/11 03:51]
Wasn't "fountain of jizz" the name of your LAN?

But seriously, here's a classic Hitch ultra combo on Carter

[Ben A.: 12/18/11 01:37]
Yeah, I'll miss him. I'm about halfway through the tributes on and the best excerpt so far:

In those long lost days, when we were young and childless, we often went out to parties together in a kind of gang, and I remember one evening when Martin, Christopher, and my husband and I all arrived—possibly after one or two cocktails—at some upwardly mobile soiree given by Arianna Stassinopoulos (not yet Huffington) in a hideous apartment in one of those white bricked buildings on the Upper East Side. Why I can’t quite recall now, but Christopher and Martin took it into their heads to start chanting, ”Fuck pigs frolic in a fountain of jizz.” I think this catchy phrase might have come from a headline in Screw magazine—hey, you can’t say that those hacks don’t have a way with words—and we all laughed so much, while never letting go of the chant, that we were soon, unsurprisingly, asked to leave. Christ, how silly—and happy—we were.

-- Gully Wells

[From this you can conclude two things: I respond positively to stories in which I could figure if only I had a little more wit, balls, and social standing; and white brick buildings are on the short of things by whose denigration you can instantly peg yourself as one of "us", i.e. the cultured urban elite.]
[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/17/11 20:22]

Hitchens, on a friend's habit of sleeping with students in his writing seminar.

"It’s not worth it. Afterward, you have to read their short stories."

He will be missed.

[Ben A.: 12/17/11 09:07]
you're fast! [Ben H.: 12/14/11 10:18]
GI(L)gameSH [Ben A.: 12/14/11 00:16]
Griffith's favorite actress all over first lead, game for Mesopotamian epic (9) [Ben H.: 12/13/11 22:25]
I have to disagree with the animating observation of that Vanity Fair piece. Take a look at movies or pictures from the early-to-mid 1980s and it looks very different. Have you seen any feathered hair lately? Leg-warmers as a fashion statement. Do you think Jane Fonda from her exercise video would not draw puzzled stares were she to show up at Crunch? Gothamist used to run a periodic feature where they'd display a series of photos of a New York neighborhood from a particular year. The shots from the eighties are noticeably different. What's more, occasionally they would run an older photo and ask people to guess the year (and the street). The range of commenter guesses tended to run about 20 years wide. What that tells me is that changes in the broad cultural look (the look on the street, let's say, as opposed to what is in a fashion magazine, which I have to believe tends to exhibit more volatility and a faster in-out cycle that the slower moving cultural mean) move rather slowly. It is also perhaps not coincidental that the span of 20 years -- the span of any normal human's participation in the pursuit, if not acknowledgement, of coolness -- constitutes the period over which we recognize unmistakeable change. Well, well, our introspective cultural critic yammering away in Vanity Fair happens to find the changes from 1991 to 2011 surprisingly subte. What a coincidence that these are just the years he or she actually experienced in real time!

Speaking of the specific span of 1991 - 2011, the Austin Film Society recently commissioned a project to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ur-movie of Austin cinema, Richard Linklater's Slacker. Each scene of the original was assigned to a young Austin filmmaker to reshoot. Colby and I watched the original and Slacker: 2011. The comparison happens to make an interesting take on the change in the look of Austin in the last 20 years, and also the change in film-making sytle over the same period. The original Slacker's claim to fame is more formal innovation that anything else, so you have to think of it as a movie that was ahead of its time for 1991. Even so, when you compare the original to the remake, you can't help but notice that visual grammer has shifted in that time. [Ben H.: 12/11/11 10:56]



Ben A.
Ben H.
Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable