Ben A.
Ben H.
Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable
The Clutch

Seriously, I did not know that automatic transmissions of that sort had come so far as to be tolerated by sports-car afficionados. What do NASCAR drivers think? Here is an interesting interview with Dan Wheldon. Relevant bits:

Why do you guys use manual transmissions when automatic cars are so much easier?

-- Haha, now that’s a really good question. We have about a 500 page rule book it seems like. THey have rules on everything, including how we shift our gears.

So there are no NASCARs with automatic transmissions?

-- Haha, nope.

Do you someday see a day where you won’t have to have your hands in a gear shift the entire race? It’s much safer to drive with two hands, my mother’s always nagged me.

-- It’s second nature at this point, that would feel weird.

... So I notice that even this NASCAR champ admits that manual transmission is something of a relic, and doesn't defend it. Why don't they just drop it? Here I have to resort to speculation (not to say feculation). There is a kind of blue-collar pride to be taken in working a clutch. Here's a real skill with real-world payoffs that has nothing to do with symbolic analysis or cognitive-eliteness. It's a stand-in for the middle-class manufacturing job. If NASCAR allowed the fancy computerized transmission of the Maserati, it would be like admitting that their entire fan base consists of useless vestiges of humanity being plowed under by the pointy-headed programmer caste.

... If there is any truth to this, then it's ironic that the NASCAR nation's soulmate is France. Every car I rented in France, through 2008, was a stick, and I never heard of anyone driving an automatic there. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 9/4/13 20:34]
I am fully willing to admit to being left embarrassingly in the dust by high-end car technology, as the last automobiles I've purchased date from 2004 (the Porsche) and 2007 (the Maybach). [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 9/4/13 19:31]
Call Me a Luddite

No clutch, no glory. [Ben A.: 9/4/13 14:55]
Ah, but Doug, you are clearly living in an earlier car age. The "automatic" transmission in the Maserati is almost certainly not the clunky and inefficient fluid-coupled torque-converter kind you may remember from your grandparents' Buick, but rather a multi-clutch manual transmission that is electronically controlled. There's no clutch pedal, but there is a clutch (or clutches) which is actuated electronically. The driver can shift -- that is select the gear -- via an input device like a set of steering-wheel paddles, but the machine does the actual shifting. It changes gears faster than any human, including professional drivers. Formula One cars are in this respect "automatics". (I'm guessing though that this does not make you feel any less disgusted by Harvard Magazine and its subscriber base. Same here.) [Ben H.: 9/4/13 10:06]

What enrages me is not that certain of our classmates are buying high-performance Italian cars, it's that these cars have, per the advert you adverted to, automatic transmission! What kind of pussy buys a $100K, 500 hp car with automatic transmission!? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/31/13 23:00]

Sell one in-the-money banana option (9)

CA(VEND I)SH [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/31/13 04:13]

We befriended Meredith Artley when we lived in Paris; she was then the head of the International Herald Tribune website. She's a wonderful person and so is her husband (whose name, Naka, took me about five minutes to remember -- the fact that I remember it at all should testify to the esteem in which I hold him, given the well-known state of my memory). When the NYT absorbed/shut down the IHT site, Meredith went over to CNN, and she is now Managing Editor of their web site. The other day The Onion did a satirical piece under her byline, "defending" CNN's emphasis of Miley Cyrus stories over Syria and Egypt stories. In the end, my reaction to this is, okay, Miley Cyrus is not news, but ... Muslims slaughtering each other? That's news?? This reaction is currently the decisive one in my thinking about Syria, although I recognize it's a horrible dilemma with no obviously best course of action. Slaughter is just as much a "moral obscenity" in the Muslim world as here, and should God see fit to hurl thunderbolts at its perpetrators there, bully for Him. But America isn't God, and this punitive strike people are talking about seems more likely to vex our interests than advance them, in the short, medium, and long terms. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/30/13 20:49]
Next Month: Emperor's Club VIP

Did you all catch the back page advertisement in Harvard magazine this month? Maserati Quatroporte, Base MSRP $102,500 "without gas guzzler tax." Arguments for Ben H's proposed sumptuary tax regime increase daily. [Ben A.: 8/30/13 15:42]
That buddha will fit best beside a Naguchi Coffee Table.

Seriously, though, you know that the Buddha statue is, like many execrable features of modern urban life, a regulatory artifact. You can't get anything through NYC zoning. Put a Buddha statue in the place, call it a temple, and maybe you can squeeze by using a RFRA claim. [Ben H.: 8/30/13 09:07]
The interior-design analog of "I'm honored and humbled" is the bronze Buddha statue, de rigueur in photos of ruling-class homes. It's like saying, "I've recognized the irrelevance of worldly goods to true happiness, which is why I gave all mine away (aside from my $15M townhouse)."

Oh and since you mentioned it, Iris's helicopter-piloting skills have improved markedly ... [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/29/13 20:45]
Remote control helicopter attacks are going to be signal features of the coming rule of Iris the First. [Ben A.: 8/28/13 23:08]
I know, right? I want to believe that Obama and the MSM are telegraphing this "we are going to launch the most obvious and least original attack possible" story while actually preparing to launch nine thousand armed 10-inch remote controlled helicopters to kill all and only the members of Assad's inner circle. You're saying, again with the helicopters!, but really folks, either we roll this out now and go down in the annals as strategic geniuses, or in ten years when everybody will nod their heads and say it was inevitable. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/28/13 22:00]
One of the consequences of living as a dictator surrounded by sycophants is that your dumbest ideas receive nothing but positive reinforcement. I imagine Assad hoped to accomplish with his gas attack what a 2-year old hopes to accomplish by throwing his toys out of the pram.

Speaking of crazy, since when do you provide your intended target with your exact plans of attack? We're practically placing a menu on the table in front of Assad. "The US CENCOM pre-fix menu begins with a light peppering of Tomahawk missile, with a main course of JDAMs served from a vintage 5-52 bomber..." [Ben H.: 8/28/13 09:31]
What did the Syrian regime think it would accomplish by gassing a thousand civilians? Has anyone even floated a theory about this? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/27/13 16:50]
Says accused Goldman banker to his defense lawyer: "I don't get it. I do this to my clients all the time. What's the problem?" [Ben H.: 8/23/13 13:59]
Evolution of Immorality?

For whatever reason, David really enjoys the Camptown Races song. I guess I don't have a large repetoire of music that I am capable of singing, and a youth full of Loony Tunes imprinted this ditty on my head, such that when confronted with a crying baby in need of some singing, that's what I resorted to. I think the kid likes it because he can holler "doo-dah" and "doo-dah-day" along with it at the appropriate times. A while back I decided he might like to hear a professional version, so I looked it up on YouTube. At the top of the results was a clip from Swanee River, the late-30s biopic about Stephen Foster. Al Jolson plays the minstrel show impresario E.P. Christy, and the clip depicts the debut of Camptown Races in his show. Al Jolson and company perform in blackface. Now, it isn't necessarily the case that a film depicting a blackface performance counts as racist. It's all about critical distance. But as you can imagine, neither the director of this movie nor its original intended audience saw blackface as problematic, and the film pretty clearly valorizes Christy's Mistrels. After David asked for this clip about a hundred times, I started to mention each time -- giving some, you know, parental guidance -- "David, you should know that this clip could be considered racist. So the next hundred times, he received the culturally sensitive admonition. Not that I imagine he has any idea of what I'm talking about, or that seeing this clip could actually do any harm. But, hey, better safe than sorry. When he wants to hear the song, he says "doo-dah! doo-dah!" Finally, I figured I could track down a Foghorn Leghorn version (not without its own racial overtones, I guess, but at least they are less overt). David did not like it nearly as much. When I oblige his cries of "doo-dah" with the Foghorn Leghorn version, he remonstrates: "No! Raciss! Raciss!"* until I play Swanee River.

*I feel I have some plausible deniability here, as I can claim he doesn't recognize any version other than the Jolson one as authentic, and he is just asking for Camptown "Races". [Ben H.: 8/23/13 08:19]
Evolution of 'Morality'

The following occured at a local ice cream parlor.

Jacob receives the first cone, and proceeds to devour it.

Me: "Jacob may I have a taste of your cone?"
Jacob: "no"
Me: "please"
Jacob: shakes head, hunches over cone

I then receive my cone, and it is clearly a different flavor.

Jacob: "Daddy may I ... (pause) ... would you like a taste of my cone?"
[Ben A.: 8/14/13 15:42]
Ben H, you know me too well... [Ben A.: 8/10/13 23:26]
I had been unaware of the Lerner/West book -- I'll add it to my reading list (not at the top).

One book I came across on vacation and recommend highly is The One-World Schoolhouse by the Khan Academy guy. Spells out succinctly why current education system is pretty bad, and how it should change. A lot of ed-reform writing turns me off because the authors are firebrands first and educators last. Khan is not a firebrand at all, represents no established constituency, is not trying to market himself as the shrillest proponent of some bumper-sticker position, and was coaxed into becoming a thought-leader™ by people who recognized that he had an amazingly lucid understanding of how learning works.

I should add the caveat that I didn't get as far as reading the last part of his book, where he lays out his ideal vision for global education reform, so my recommendation is contingent on this part's not bearing the relation to the foregoing matter that, say, the last part of The Man Who Was Thursday bears to its foregoing matter -- but I think this is a safe bet.

Now I am off to listen to those rap excerpts again. My only disappointment was that nobody worked in any Merchant of Venice quotes, or found a good rhyme for "Dershowitz".

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/10/13 21:40]
I submit that a hemorrhoid cream commercial was the most creative use of the Cash classic. Apparently the Cash family disagrees. [Ben H.: 8/10/13 08:49]
Ben A., am I right in detecting a sly reference to the Michael Lerner/Cornel West classic? [Ben H.: 8/10/13 08:21]
The Jewish lawyer medley is hilarious -- I had no idea that was a rap meme (not having listened to a rap song since about 1992).

On an unrelated note, I heard on NPR that the producer of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" died yesterday. I always thought North Korea should rework that as their national anthem. "Seoul's going down, down, down, in a burning sea of fire ..."

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/9/13 22:25]
Let the Healing Begin

A compilation of rappers praising their Jewish lawyers. [Ben A.: 8/9/13 15:53]
What A Burger Is All About

Back in Austin after a month away, I noticed an old retail building had in the meantime turned into a construction site. A sign on the hurricane fence related a piece of excellent news: "Future Site of In-and-Out Burger"! Another instance of refugees enriching the culinary culture of their destination? [Ben H.: 8/9/13 08:25]
No News on the Kitab-Al Azif

But the Voynich Manuscript looks legit.

[Ben A.: 8/7/13 16:12]
The interplay between A-Rod, the Yankees and MLB will surely form the basis of an HBS game theory case study sometime in the not-too-distant future. The Yankees find themselves with the toughest strategic dilemma, as their payoff appears to be very much non-linear with respect to how hard they push. If they make overt efforts to have A-Rod hit with a more severe penalty, they run the risk of losing and having a hated, un-tradeable nutcase on their payroll for another half-decade, nursing a grudge the whole time. But win, have the guy banned for life, and they escape a terrible contract. Maybe the best outcome is for A-Rod to continue to play while appealing his ban, at a time when the Yankees need every body they can muster and the trade deadline has passed, and then have his suspension backended. A full 2014 ban means no luxury tax for that year and a lower tax rate for 2015 if A-Rod does come back and the Yankees choose to spend over the cap. [Ben H.: 8/6/13 14:28]
"I am fighting for my life"

The decline and fall of the Yankee Centaur could hardly be more delicious for Red Sox fans. Ben H, has there been any scenarios bruited whereby New York dodges the huge luxury tax hit? [Ben A.: 8/6/13 10:48]

Superb. [Ben A.: 8/2/13 22:08]
That is hilarious. We should skype sometime (we may both be on vacation). I see you got on Google+, which like Facebook I never use.

On the other hand I am considering decamping from this blog to Twitter (@frognal) since, after a long and zealously-pursued course of self-stultification, all my thoughts now fit into tweets. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 8/1/13 08:38]
Shortcuts Start Early

David has concluded that producing crocodile tears to get what he wants is too much effort. Now he just frowns and says "weep!" [Ben H.: 7/31/13 10:40]
Robert Ludlum book or Antebellum factoid? 1: The Holcroft Covenant. 2: The Matlock Paper. 3: The Wilmot Proviso. 4: The Gadsden Purchase

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 7/26/13 11:59]
How an urbanite reacts to life in the country: first observation is "wow, I've never seen wifi cover a house so well!" [Ben H.: 7/23/13 09:13]
You have to tip your hat when you see real excellence. [Ben A.: 7/19/13 11:31]
Priapic Politicians' Post-Penance Pursuit of Public Office

Sanford, Weiner, Spitzer ... is it too soon to get on the John Edwards 2016 bandwagon? I hereby postulate for the campaign spokesperson job:

Edwards 2016: His wife has moved on, why can't you?

John Edwards: Seriously hung, just like his jury

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 7/10/13 22:08]
Now that is precocious! On our side, May is speaking in complete sentences. So far no one has figured out what language she's using, though. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 7/8/13 15:11]
I went into David's room this morning and from his crib he attempted to dictate to me what the morning's initial activity would be. The word order, I have to say, seemed, as it does these days, a little odd. "Door...Open...Down...!". But then I realized, he's somehow learning to speak not normal English, but rather Object Oriented Baby: Door.Open(); Down(); Seat.In; Food.Eat(Prune). Very efficient! [Ben H.: 7/8/13 13:26]
$39K per year and they still solicit donations! Well, you can't say they're failing to prepare the families for the Ivy League. [Ben H.: 6/30/13 16:04]
Can't Get Enough Stories About $39K NYC Kindergartens

I think Iris has a pre-school friend who went on to this class -- will try to get inside scoop for you. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 6/30/13 11:33]
Bon Mot

... regarding a proposed tax: "It must be admitted, that some men would by perjury elude the law, and this being admitted, it follows that the law would be a tax upon honesty and not upon money."

--Gouverneur Morris, quoted in The Founding Conservatives. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 6/26/13 21:22]
That which cannot go on forever... won't. I suspect that merely wiping out the market debt will not even come close to solving the problem. Even haircutting the retirement obligations may fall short, because, as I see in Emerging Markets all the time, the states that build up unbearable debt loads usually run large primary deficits right up to the moment of crisis. It's not just that Detroit has large debts; it's primary "fiscal asset" is worth less than zero. [Ben H.: 6/14/13 13:27]
I'm generally positive on her. She comes from outside the charmed Goldman circle and brings a commonsense approach to thinking about bank regulation. I wrote a piece for the Observer when I was promoting the HFM book about the importance of simplicity in regulation. Bair is a proponent of that view, at least as regards capital requirements. The more complex you make the risk-weighting rule, the more energy you encourage banks to putting into regulatory capital arbitrage. Where I see her views suffering from self-contradiction, is that she supports the Volcker Rule -- which in operation has proven a signal example of regulators putting faith in complex, abstruse regulation to deliver predictable behavior. It will fail for the same reasons Bair understands Basel capital-weighting rules failed. I also think she has an irrational prejudice against CDS. What AIG did in the run-up to the crisis was CDS in form, but not really standard use of CDS in content. Vanilla CDS did nothing to precipitate or exacerbate the crisis. CDS is really just a wrapper. IT's what you put in the wrapper that counts. [Ben H.: 6/11/13 09:34]
"You don’t have to be very efficient to make money by using a lot of leverage to juice profits then dump the losses on the government when things go bad.”

Ben H, your thoughts on Sheila Bair? I confess general ignorance of the regulatory side of high finance. [Ben A.: 6/10/13 17:31]

I was thinking of Heyward's Mystical Organ...
[Ben A.: 6/10/13 17:03]
Lum the Mad

I think I have mentioned the disturbing way in which factoids and sentences from the original TSR manuals remain lodged in my brain, literally three decades after my initial reading. So it is with great aggravation that I note that while I do recall Vecna's hand (and eye! who just puts some found object into an empty socket? That's just crazy!), the sword of his henchman Kas, amd several others, I cannot say with 100% confidence the artifact associated with Lum. But I think it was a pipe organ. I swear on the teeth of Cuthbert that this was google-free. [Ben A.: 6/10/13 16:59]
Homi Pix

Our readers, if we have any, may wonder where our (my?) obsession with Homi Bhabha comes from. Every once in a while I will catch myself singing the tune of Falco's 1980s novelty hit "Rock Me Amadeus" with the words "Homi Bhabha, Homi Bhabha ... ooh! Homi Bhabha." [UPDATE -- I found the very old post where Ben A first pointed out that this tune goes well with these words.] In other words he just has an awesome name. Really it's just like my obsession with NFL linebacker Barkevious Mingo. I mean, in the sense that their names are great. Otherwise they're totally different; one is grossly overpaid to inflict brain trauma weekly on other players of a game with inscrutable rules; the other plays football.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 6/7/13 19:49]

I was having lunch at a restaurant in Chelsea and who should walk in but Homi Bhabha! Actually by my own lights I figured it was only about 90% certain it was him (see below for my problems recognizing faces) but I showed my friend the picture below and he said 100%. I thought he would look more subcontinental. He came in with a 40-ish blond woman dressed up in a kind of tasteful Upper East Side way. Having nothing to say to the guy, I didn't accost him.

I imagine this isn't so exciting for Ben A, who can probably turn around and see Homi Bhabha any time he chooses, but in Chelsea, a day after posting about the guy, it was pretty weird.

Tried to take a few surreptitious photos but they came out real blurry. Maybe it would be funny to post them anyway in kind of a critical-theory Blair Witch way. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 6/7/13 16:30]
Perhaps the critics of the higher education bubble in humanities would be appeased if Folklore & Myth's course of study included a class on engineering Vorpal Blades and other artifacts? [Ben H.: 6/7/13 09:49]
I wouldn't worry about the fruits of Folklore and Mythology being lost. I myself was gratified to find yesterday that I still remembered many of the Artifacts and Relics from the Dungeon Master's Guide. Hand of Vecna, Codex of the Planes, Wand of Orcus ... one thing that escaped me is what Lum the Mad bequeathed to us. For 1000 points, Ben A, the answer is ... [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 6/6/13 19:12]
And if Folklore & Myth goes from 3 concentrators to zero, who will sing the glories of Grettir Asmundersson? We're going to wind up with a glut of computer scientists and a crippling shortage of skalds. [Ben H.: 6/6/13 17:02]
"At Harvard, the Liberal Arts Lose Status"

That's the front-page WSJ headline that links to this article. And it looks worse than I'd thought ... Homi Bhabha seems to be outfitting himself with eyewear for a new career in welding:

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 6/6/13 13:00]
Carnegie Hall

A colleague gave Dao tickets for a concert he couldn't make at Carnegie Hall. It was a benefit concert for Lang Lang's music foundation. I'd never seen Lang Lang play before. The guy is from another planet. Go see him, even if you have to pay money.

Some of the young protégés of his foundation also played. One of them was very young (nine?) and impossibly talented (played a 4-hands Beethoven piece with Lang Lang) and impossibly cute. YouTube has accelerated the hyperprofessionalism of the music world to the point that if you haven't been identified by and mentored by a top-notch teacher by your tenth birthday, you're not going to make it too far. This has obvious drawbacks, but it must also save thousands of adolescents wasted effort and dashed hopes. Better they should set realistic goals as soon as possible. Systems analyst! Systems analyst!

Also Joshua Bell did the A minor Franck sonata with Lang Lang. I thought it was an odd choice among all the zesty and light-hearted pieces; it's one of those leathern nineteenth-century things that only resonate if you've spent all day reading Henry James to put yourself in the proper frame of mind. What really amazed me, as the Suzuki parent of a five-year-old violinist, was how straight Joshua Bell kept his bow. I mean, he's swaying, he's gyrating, and yet bam, there it is, perfect right angle to the violin. Impressive!

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 6/3/13 23:40]
Sunlit Uplands

Perfect Churchill pull, Doug. These are bright days ahead.
[Ben A.: 6/2/13 00:33]

There is a group of people that I fear will, in the coming months, be put to a terrible spiritual trial — or, as Kierkegaard put it in the Danish, Anfœgtelse. I am speaking of the headline writers for the Post and Daily News. Since Mr. Weiner announced his candidacy to be mayor of New York, you have had to come up with another phallic pun day after day; sooner or later, you will wake up and say, "Do I really have it in me to come up with another one? Have his misdeeds been so great that he merits being the butt of so many jokes? Have my misdeeds been so great that I merit the burden of writing them?" On behalf the entire citizenry of New York, I am here to say, see it through. To relent is to fail in your calling. If you only persevere, I see a day when Mr. Weiner cracks under the pressure, downs a half-liter of Grey Goose at a downtown nightclub, and starts groping multiple women, leading you and your publications into sunlit uplands of tabloid material. Until that happens, your job is not done. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 6/1/13 17:54]
Two of Dao's friends/colleagues from her Le Monde days sent her a copy of a book they just got published by a prestigious French house about the internet. Without meaning anything critical by it -- this doesn't detract at all from the analyses they make -- I have to relay what Dao pointed out, which is that it takes them all of three pages to start talking about Louis XV. It doesn't matter what you're writing about in France -- nanotechnology, dating, bicycle repair -- you can't go ten pages before it all comes back to the French Revolution. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/25/13 15:11]
Oh, you mean rolling (uh, rotoring?) Sao Paulo-style? The submerging First World can learn from the emerging Third World about how to deal with Third World infrastructure bottlenecks! [Ben H.: 5/24/13 15:05]
I say we say screw it and buy personal helicopters. Of course I will feel bad for the majority who can't afford one, and will have to pick their way through the crumbling land-based infrastructure, and suffer from the increased global warming our helicopters will cause, but at least they will get a cooling downdraft when we fly over their tenements. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/24/13 09:24]
#ThirdWorldUSA Update -- So much for a quick jaunt to Canada when I visit my brother in Seattle! Clearly, the answer to this is more high-speed rail. [Ben H.: 5/24/13 08:11]
Weathered Pine With Antiqued Taupe Finish

What I can't figure out is, where are all these people who are willing to shell out thousands to make their homes look like Miss Havisham's room? There must be a lot of them, to subsidize mass delivery of this tome, but who are they? Do you know any of them? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/22/13 21:30]
So Far Beyond My Expectations

The four-pound Restoration Hardware "Interiors" catalog came to our mailbox today, as I'm sure it did to yours, in light of your zip codes' income statistics. At first I was sad. What's the point of opening this if there's no lunatic "carpe diem" page from my favorite CEO, since he was cashiered last year for shagging his employee(s?)? I did find a use for it though -- it was effective at pressing the water out of tofu when put on top of a plate on top of the tofu. Also I put it next to the stove on the kitchen counter to protect it from splashing oil when I fried the tofu. And then ... curious to see what meager replacement they found for Gary Friedman's inside cover piece, I opened it, and there was the man himself, now billed as the "chairman emeritus, creator and curator," with his hands on his hips and a leather jacket, seeming to say, "Yeah, I screw my employees, what are you going to do about it" -- and en face, an absolute classic foreword. Its all-caps epigraph:

"When we are open and giving of our light, we create an endless reflection that outlives our human existence."

[For "light", read "semen."]

And it gets better: "We decided to eliminate the marketing department in favor of having a Truth Group, as marketing can at times be manipulative." When Friedman becomes Global Overlord, and the knock comes at my door at 2 a.m., I will know it's the Truth Group coming for me ... [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/22/13 20:21]
GINGER BE(E)R [Ben H.: 5/22/13 08:18]
Awesome work that I am not planning to verify myself [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/21/13 19:39]
Alcoholic drink -- bit of ethanol in baby-food company's non-alcoholic drink (6,4)

["Alcoholic drink" is GIN -- This one should be solvable] [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/21/13 19:30]
Google Glass

For many years during the last decade I worked for a NYC management consulting company, alternately full-time and part-time, depending on whether I was living in NYC or Paris. I remember dreading during the latter periods my trips back to NYC, when I had to go to the office and be greeted by colleagues whose names I'd completely forgotten. Come to think of it, I routinely forgot people's names there when I was full time, too. Huzzah to Google for coming up with technology to help those of us -- and we must number in the millions -- who suffer this disability. With facial recognition that pops up everyone's name onto our retinas, we need never fear bumping into colleagues from the other side of the office, nor even into sociopaths like Ben H who abuse their photographic memories by coming up to people they've met once at a party many years ago and greeting them by name. (Hopefully family life has mellowed you out, Ben, and you no longer do this.) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/19/13 23:16]
Leave the Driving to Us

Say what you will about Fung Wah, but none of their crashes took out the whole of I95! [Ben H.: 5/19/13 20:59]
Maybe We'll Come Visit Ben A In The Next Few Days

Then again maybe not. #ThirdWorldUSA [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/19/13 19:47]
Congrats to David! I'm looking forward to reading it, but I will take care to buy my copy with cash. If I have an item on my credit card record involving "the Founders", "Revolution", and "Conservative", the NTEU zombies at the IRS will surely mark me for a painful audit. [Ben H.: 5/19/13 10:53]
Summer Reading List

The Founding Conservatives, hitting the shelves next month, by our Winthrop homeboy David Lefer. I expect it will be great -- I haven't read any drafts or anything, but I know he's put years of very hard work into it, and David differs from PhD-holding scholars by not being undead; this must add a certain sparkle to his prose. Seriously, I do expect it to be a great read, and it wouldn't surprise me if it were welcomed into a very select canon of works on the American Revolution. Sales-wise, I think he realizes that its success has nothing to do with its merits, and everything to do with the viral propagation among marginally literate Republicans of the idea that its creaseless spine will radiate, from its perch on their bookshelf or coffee table, totemic-historical proof of the Rightness of Our Side and the falsity of Obama's nefarious crew. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/18/13 21:25]
Contemporary Art

When I laugh that the pomposity, hucksterism, and general inanity of contemporary art are leading it to extinction, I sometimes lose sight of the fact that art fulfills a vital need of human civilization. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/13/13 11:58]

Yeah, that was probably unsolvable without more letters. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/10/13 13:13]
CHE was the easy part! I was thinking the summer camp was CTY. But couldn't really make a go of it from there. [Ben H.: 5/10/13 10:22]

The answer to our criminal-justice quandary is the internet. When you're convicted of something it should announced on your Facebook page and your Twitter account, with reminders posted at a frequency commensurate with the seriousness of the crime. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/9/13 12:32]
Speaking of Guerillas

Summer school for kids of the cognitive elite ... as well as infamous guerilla's mischievous kid (5,4)

[I modified this slightly ... the infamous guerilla is Che, if that helps ...] [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/9/13 08:15]
Up With Flogging

I endorse the Ben H pillory/flogging agenda. Especially for property crimes. And littering! The people who pee in the MBTA elevators, however, may require more severe correction. [Ben A.: 5/8/13 21:32]
Pillory vs Dungeon

A friend introduced me to the work of a Texas oilman he knows who, while a big donor to conservative causes, has taken an interest (initially, it seems, religiously motivated) in the rehabilitation of criminals. The main thrust of his advocacy is against incarceration, both on practical and ideological grounds. He sees the world through a libertarian lense and considers the taking of one's liberty just about the most draconian punishment available. If someone is susceptible to rehabilitation, make a real effort rehabilitate him. If not, execute him (it takes the recidivist out of circulation a lot more effectively than 50 years of incarceration). Prison tries to split the difference with the result that it takes the maximum resources to get minimal results on the dimensions we claim to care about. Deterrence, he believes, would and should rely on a very different system. Wouldn't it be better for both society and the impulsive criminal that he just get 20 lashes in the public square rather than a year in the pokey with other, worse criminals? A year absence that costs him whatever job he might have, marks him as unemployable, breaks up his family, loses him his apartment, etc, and from which he emerges with deeper and more persistent injuries than a lash could inflict. [Ben H.: 5/7/13 09:39]
Old Detroit has a cancer. That cancer is crime

Good article.

If you’re looking for a single “root cause” of crime, look no further: The cause is bad decision-making by offenders. And the solution must lie in some combination of improving that decision-making process and devising deterrent threats that actually deter reckless, impulsive, short-term-oriented people, which the current regime of randomized draconian responses so dramatically fails to do.
[Ben A.: 5/6/13 23:48]
We need to commission that book. Just as the majority of the animals have some little toys in their cages (the elephant has Babar, as I recall), so too must the guerrillas. A copy of the First Critique for Abimael? [Ben A.: 5/6/13 23:46]
We like to buy books for David in both their English and Spanish versions. He has lately taken a liking to the classic Goodnight, Gorilla. We tried to order the Spanish translation, but we realized it was not entirely literal, when Buenas Noches, Guerilla showed up on our doorstep.

The set-up is similar, but the cages in the Spanish version are not at a Zoo, but rather a prison camp, and inside the cages live not a giraffe, a lion, etc, but rather Abimael Guzman, Subcommandante Marcos, and friends. [Ben H.: 5/6/13 07:39]
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto

I must now confess myself a fan of both The Dead Milkmen and They Might Be Giants. Catholicism of taste or infirmity of character? [Ben A.: 5/2/13 13:36]
I'm impressed that the Dead Milkmen are still around, if reduced to playing casual venues in Harvard Square. Doug, you've mentioned that 80s geek-band fandom tends to divide between partisans of the Dead Milkmen and followers of They Might Be Giants. That we ended up on opposites sides of this divide might be a Philadelphia vs New York thing. I hope it isn't taste, because I hate to doubt yours! Both bands remain active, though I should point out that my side's guys have remained continuously active since the 80s, while yours only re-formed after a long hiatus; maybe after Joe Talcum washed out as a subprime trader? I have to say that if people are willing to drop $600 bucks to watch 70-year-old Rolling Stones totter around stage, the Dead Milkmen deserve better than a restaurant in Harvard Square!

Speaking of superannuated acts, let's have a moment of silence for Kris of Kriss Kross. He shall warm it up no more. [Ben H.: 5/2/13 09:26]
What I want to know is did they also play "We're In the Money" instead of "Stormy Weather" under Kai's reading of the Dow numbers? (Do they still do that, by the way? I haven't heard Marketplace since the David Branchaccio years). [Ben H.: 5/2/13 08:53]
Tonight Kai Ryssdal said in his sign-off that the Dow was up 138 points, when of course (I say "of course" because I assume you too can be counted on to know this -- if not, mazel tov) it was down 138. Did he just screw up, or are there some kind of meta-media hijinks in play that I'm not yet aware of? Among NPR listeners, there are some who are obsessed with Terry Gross, and some who are obsessed with Ira Glass; I confess that I find their voices so immediately annoying that I hate them with a hatred that could not be overcome by any amount of conversational genius. I am in the minority, perhaps of one, that is obsessed with Kai Ryssdal. To my mind, he is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside a douchebag. His Californian cadence and diction immediately mark him as that kind of glib glad-hander you find in any high-prestige business or institution, and yet when you hear him interview someone, he seems remarkably well-informed and able to steer the conversation to the heart of the matter. I can't figure out if he's a perfectly trained monkey, or an honest Searcher for Truth who impersonates a douchebag because he knows it's the only way to reach it. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 5/1/13 19:12]
Choke on this you dance-a-teria types

The Dead Milkmen just played a venue in Harvard Square -- Deb and I had gone to the attached restaurant for a rare night out away from the boys. Some of my friends were in line for the show... [Ben A.: 4/29/13 21:22]
"You wear black clothes so you're poetic / The sad truth is you're just pathetic" ... and also a frigging liar!!!

I don't like contemporary art or its accompanying scene, or more accurately I don't like the West Chelsea scene or its accompanying art -- and anything that I might express by way of elucidating this not-liking has been expressed better by The Dead Milkmen -- but today I have an entirely new reason to dislike these people: they're frigging liars! I got a letter today from the Whitney Museum with "Free Pass Enclosed" written on the envelope; inside, a donation/membership form, and neither mention nor trace of free passes! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/29/13 19:49]
Simpsons Revisited

I got some old Simpsons DVDs off the internet (Season 3) ... it definitely still has its moments, like when the school psychologist is telling Martin the results of his career aptitude test.

Martin [crossing fingers and closing eyes]: Systems analyst, systems analyst, systems analyst ...

School Psychologist: Systems analyst.

Martin: ALL RIGHT!!!

Of course this is on YouTube.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/26/13 19:37]
As an avid listener of "Marketplace" with Kai Ryssdal, I am aware that headline unemployment numbers are imperfect vehicles for information, but still, 25%? Or rather, as of today, 27%? How much worse must Europe get before we see social unrest at the level of, say, 1968? I have no first-hand and little second-hand knowledge of Spain, but I occasionally think about what's been happening in France since we left (four and a half years ago already!). There was always a majority of people who felt sullen about having, due to the manifest unfairness of the global System, so little money and income. Of course, nobody's actually going to starve in France -- as you say in the case of Spain, there's unemployment benefits and other forms of social security, so it's an open question whether theirs is a steady-state sullenness, or one that might actually lead them to the barricades. Apparently Flanby has been as abject a failure as everyone (except the majority of French voters) knew he would be, and French unemployment is up, and everyone there now understands what absolute scum their classe dirigeante is, if they didn't before. But what are they going to do about it? Buy Le canard enchaîné more regularly? That'll learn 'em! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/25/13 23:33]
Take the Spain numbers will a grain of salt. The unemployment benefits and social charges there are such that a lot of reported "unemployed" people actual do have work of some kind or another. The official U has always run suprrisingly high for that reason. That said, the rate has gone up a lot. The Greek number, being more accurate, is more shocking, and it comes at a time when the political correlation of forces is in serious flux. If the current government falls, it is not beyond imagining that the winning party in a new election would be a mix of communists and anarchists and the number two or three an avowed fascist party. [Ben H.: 4/25/13 08:54]
Our Monstrous Tax Code

Ben A, I second your motion to force congresspeople to do their own taxes. Maybe we can line up Dao, as Director of Growth at Buzzfeed, to have that idea go viral in early April of next year. But there is really no hope. To mix two management-consultant metaphors, we slowly increased our tax code's complexity until we boiled the frog to the point where we would have to boil the ocean to undo the damage.

Speaking of the paralysis of democracy, for how may more years can Spain and Greece endure 25% unemployment? This is another frog-boiling scenario where no single day brings acute, news-worthy drama, but when you stop to reflect on it, it's staggering. I have to wonder if it's like the pre-Arab Spring situtation, where it seemed like these creaky authoritarian regimes would go on forever, until some fruit vendor knocks over his fruit cart and they all go spilling into the sea. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/24/13 23:45]
Fun tax factoid. My tax preparation fees this year exceeded the average amount of federal tax paid per capita. [Ben H.: 4/23/13 08:38]
Policy Entrepreneur

My proposal: every member of congress has to do his own taxes. No accountants, no turbotax. Pencil and paper, you monsters.

Lockdown Diary

Given twelve hours with the boys, we were able to coax Danny into taking his first steps. Now he's careening around the house with his brother cackling after him. [Ben A.: 4/21/13 22:53]
Having written a check that made me wish I could have paid merely the AMT rate, I second the sentiment. Luckily, federal anti-terrorism statutes allow for the death penalty. One hopes that Massachusetts, which dropped the death penalty in the 80s, will not contend for jurisdiction. However, if it does, it is the citizenry of the Commonwealth that will cover the cost of feeding and caring for the Chechen maniac (thanks, Ben A.!), at least until some patriotic burglar or rapist shivs his sorry ass. Gun control has recently been a hot topic. Djokhar's escape through a firing line of cops raises the question of whether we ought to broaden the "national conversation" to include the T-shirt version of gun control (for police at least), I.e. knowing how to hit your target. [Ben H.: 4/21/13 12:14]
Having just written a hefty check for the Alternative Minimum Tax, I'm somewhat miffed that they didn't just blow that fucker's head off and that his room and board will be billed to taxpayers for the next sixty years. One thing I think we can agree on is that when applicant for immigration is named after a historical figure who has slaughtered more than, say, five million people, an extra level of psychological evaluation is warranted. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/19/13 23:08]
So Ben A, are you locked down in your house today? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/19/13 12:59]
Jerry Seinfeld once had a bit about if you name your kid "Jeeves", you're really cutting down on his career options. I'm thinking the same is true for "Tamerlane". Give his parents the chair, I say. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/19/13 10:36]
Dagestani terrorists in the Bay State? I mean, I know Cambridge is often called "Moscow on the Charles" but that is not meant to be taken literally. [Ben H.: 4/19/13 08:22]
This explosion occured in West, Texas. Doug, we stopped in this town to get some of its famous kolaches. Kolaches clearly make for safer industry than fertilizer. [Ben H.: 4/18/13 09:42]
Republicans Spit On Graves Of Newtown Victims

This meme will accelerate the decline of what's already a marginal ethnic-pride party. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/17/13 19:00]
Flynn on the Flynn Effect

Very, very interesting. The brief summary on the Flynn effect: average IQ scores have been rising at +1 standard deviation per generation, generating the perplexing (and in my view, obviously wrong) implication that the average guy in 1850 was a moron.

The gains in scores have not been uniform across test components: arithmetic scores remain more or less constant, scores on abstract relationship tests and spatial coordination have soared. It's not clear that being better at Raven's matrices correlates with real world problem solving smartness. And one wonders if there aren't some other cognitive skills that have atrophied over the same time frame. We have poor instruments for many skills, and what you can't measure tends to disappear with notice...

The fact that we wear scientific spectacles doesn’t mean that we actually know a lot about science. What I mean is, in 1900 in America, if you asked a child, what do dogs and rabbits have in common, they would say, “Well, you use dogs to hunt rabbits.” This is not the answer that the IQ tests want. They want you to classify. Today, a child would be likely to say, “They are both animals.” [Ben A.: 4/12/13 16:55]
Crime Wave

Ben A, where were you on or around April 7?

My own alibi is solid ... [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/8/13 19:11]
Still a great swing

[Ben A.: 3/29/13 12:50]
Now Batting, #31, Winfield. David Winfield

Shameful joy is, by definition, shameful. But I will confess some amusement in contemplating the Yankees opening day roster. Vernon Wells! [Ben A.: 3/27/13 16:16]
Happy Passover

[Ben A.: 3/27/13 16:11]
The mute button in the Ben A. household will be getting less use next baseball season, I am guessing, based on this news.

On a related note, do you think the Yankee's "Every Day is Old Timer's Day" strategy might extend to the broadcast booth? Are Messer and White still alive? Any chance of re-animating Phil Rizutto or Bobby Mercer for a one-year deal? If Chien-Ming Wang can pitch again, I submit there is no such thing as dead. [Ben H.: 3/27/13 14:02]
U.S. Health Policy Update

We received a letter in the mail that has data about a health insurance claim on top and then begins:

Dear [my wife's full name],

We received the above claim for you. Before we can process this claim, we need more information about the patient's prior health benefit coverage. Please send us a Certificate of Creditable Coverage (COCC) or Coverage Letter from the employer.

Now we do have the document requested, but rather than mail it in, I am drafting the following response, which maybe you guys can help me fine-tune.

Dear Sirs,

In reference to your request to examine my COCC, let me assure you that I do have an entirely creditable COCC, but I am unable to provide you a facsimile thereof at this moment. Unfortunately, due to its great length, my COCC cannot be reproduced on a standard 8 1/2" by 12" sheet, or even on legal stock. If your company could send a representative to my office, I would be happy to take my COCC from my drawers so that you can examine it in detail.
[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 3/22/13 22:17]
Chinua Achebe

You two have probably read his entire oeuvre and can quote select bits from memory, but let me say, as a representative of the dullard class, that I happened to read two of his books (Things Fall Apart, Anthills of the Savannah) and thought them first-rate. How did he succeed in dodging the Nobel prize? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 3/22/13 19:37]
CY + P + RIOT [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 3/22/13 19:24]
Hear, see why left-wing people riot on Mediterranean island (7) [Ben H.: 3/22/13 09:05]
If you like that Q*bert story, I highly recommend the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. [Ben H.: 3/18/13 18:19]
72 Hours of Q-Bert

America's greatest hero?

My dad was close to this level on the old ColecoVision Mr. Do. [Ben A.: 3/18/13 15:38]
Nutella Hoarding

"There is no crime of which I do not deem myself capable."

--Goethe [Ben A.: 3/14/13 14:17]
Funny, I think I wrote something similar here a few years ago. It does seem odd for the very secular-Jewish New York Times to write editorials advising the Catholic Church on intramural matters.

Now, arguably violating my own rule, I'll tell you I think the appointment of Cardinal Bergoglio is highly suitable. There are two things I am pretty sure don't exist. God and an honest Argentine*. An Argentine pope seems therefore highly appropriate.

*kidding aside, I think it will be interesting to see how the Argentine authorities react. Bergoglio, to his credit, always stood up to the bullying of the Kirchners and as a result spent much of his last decade in BA on the official shit list. Early indication is: crankily. [Ben H.: 3/14/13 09:48]
David Brooks:

I also feel somewhat out of bounds interjecting myself in the race to be pope. I guess I don’t want Catholics telling me who should be the next Sturgeon King.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 3/13/13 19:44]
Memory of Venezuela/Long Live General Tapioca!

The type of piece at the which the Telegraph excels.

And a bonus "Tintin and the Picaros" reference! [Ben A.: 3/6/13 17:25]
The prostitution claim may be a set-up, but if so it comes from enemies of Melgen in the DR, most likely. Melgen's angle is something one sees from time to time in EM, namely a person with a wildly inapposite background manages to wangle a very lucrative government contract. Often that person is himself the victim of a scam, but from time to time he is the perpetrator. Menendez went to great lengths to get the US government to bring pressure on the Fernandez administration to honor Melgen's bogus port security contract with the DR ports authority. This for sure gored a lot of powerful people's oxes in the DR, and I would not find it in the least surprising if one of them thought a ginned up sex scandal implicating Melgen's political protector might blow Melgen out. We ought not forget that, John or not, Senator Menendez was riding around in Melgen's private jet and using his Senatorial powers to push another country to honor his benefactor's corrupt monopoly contract. [Ben H.: 3/5/13 10:13]
Menendez Set-up? Or What?

It is hard to keep track of this story! [Ben A.: 3/5/13 00:59]
I think Shmarko is just the diminutive of JaMarcus (a name that is clearly attested in NFL history). [Ben H.: 3/4/13 10:43]
Barkevious vs. Shmarko

Carl C. sent me a story about an NFL scouting event that included two fantastic NFL names, Barkevious Mingo and Shmarko Thomas. We agreed that the former dethroned D'Brickashaw Ferguson as the best ever. Maybe I've been overthinking this it but I'm beginning to wonder. The core of our arch delectation of NFL names is that they just confound white people like us. Does Barkevious Mingo really pass this test? Or does his name share in the archness? Is it too consciously gesturing to the upperbrow culture hero Thelonious Monk (with an overtone of Charles Mingus)? Could he pass as the sideman of McClintic Sphere in Pynchon's V? What I'm getting it is that Shmarko Thomas may be the true title-taker here. I mean I really just, Shmarko? One has no purchase on that name; one has no point of entry into any thought process that outputs "Shmarko." (If you named your child "Shmayden", as the logical endpoint of Aiden, Cayden, Jayden, and Brayden, that would be brilliant, but not confounding.) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 3/2/13 13:42]



Ben A.
Ben H.
Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable