Ben A.
Ben H.
Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable

Was My Son Mitch Hedberg in a Past Life?

David knows grandma has ordered him a present for next time she visits. That's not for several weeks.

David (for the 100th time): We should wait for grandma.
Dad (exasperated): Grandma is not here and time is passing, so by definition, we are waiting for grandma.
David: Time is passing.
Dad: Yes, that is my point.
David: I want to wait for grandma... RIGHT NOW! [Ben H.: 5/14/14 12:48]
Still don't get why Jesus being nailed to a cross makes it "Good" Friday. Seems like at best it would be Equivocal Friday. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/18/14 09:52]
Parenthood, the Mirror of Locutions

Watching one's child develop language provides an excellent perspective from which to detect one's own linguistic tics. When I ask David now if he wants something, and he wants to express the negative, he doesn't say "no", but rather "I'm good." [Ben H.: 4/17/14 11:38]

Amen, Ben A. Colby and I did alumni interviewing this year. Don't worry, it's not out of any newfound love for the Big H, but rather a way to try to get a better understanding the educational landscape in Austin in preparation for making decisions about our own kids' education. We figured we would start at the end, seeing the conventional success stories, and tracing back to how they go there. As it turns out, we did notice some well-trodden paths. Anyhow, the one kid I interviewed who really blew me away -- sharp, personable, found his way to working on some interesting stuff alongside grad students at a UT materials science lab, cellist -- got waitlisted. Only one kid we had interaction with got in, a woman Colby talked to, who had decent academic credentials, but nothing like the kid I liked. The difference: the guy is South Asian and attended the top magnet school in the city; the girl is Hispanic and went to a "grittier" school and had an interesting family and personal backstory. (The guy just got in touch -- he's deciding between MIT and Caltech, not coincidentally two places still very focused on pure intellectual horsepower). The diminution in resolution of standardized tests at the top of the distribution (due to re-centering) has given admissions officers tremendous freedom to discriminate, not merely on the basis of race, but also on the basis of non-academic credentials. I wonder if it is a way for them to dignify their job, not merely screening academic credentials, but weighing souls. For the straight academic aces in the first generation of the shift in criteria, it's a bum deal. The world still accords great weight to the imprimatur of a Harvard. But over time, I think the overreach of the admissions office could prove a healthy development for society at large. I have faith in the efficient market. Employers (and others) will start to recognize the sliding correlation between attendance at a top institution and the possession of a top-tier mind. They will have no choice but to reduce their reliance on the identity of the credentialing institution, and begin to more directly evaluate candidates on their merits, drawing from a wider pool. [Ben H.: 4/17/14 11:36]
Musical Interlude

Older kid played a good recital today. Suzuki Book 2 has this Schumann song "The Two Grenadiers" that Suzuki (or someone) shortened and transcribed for violin. Fun fact: Accompanist's name is "France". [Apologies for terrible visual quality of the video.]

She was particularly successful at not looking totally bored while playing. This is the bane of the Suzuki Method; I was sometimes afraid while she was practicing that she was going to fall asleep. At this very recital, the kids that preceded her looked so down that a silent movie of their performances would have looked like some kind of requiem. One thing I did to forestall this was have her watch the following excellent recording of the original song and try to imitate some of the emotion. Ultimately I did not follow through on my threat of forcing her to imitate the eyebrow motions.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/13/14 21:05]
I was planning a similarly-framed post when a particularly crazy news item came along, like: "The Many-Worlds hypothesis is redundant since apparently anything you can think of already exists in this world."

Looks like a great school. "Ad fontes" would be a great motto for it. If I were starting my own charter school, the motto would be "Follow the money." [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/13/14 11:37]
Evidence for Many-Worlds Interpretation

It seems a near-universe duplicate of mine founded a charter school in Colorado [Ben A.: 4/13/14 02:58]
Admissions Standards

A great paragraph on the impact of increasing admissions selectivity.

Like Phoebe, I was vaguely troubled by the annual NYT announcement that selective college admissions grows ever more selective. Unlike Phoebe, I'm at the U of C right now (in the Reg even!), and I can attest to the devastating effects of this stringency first-hand: the undergrads, especially the women, have become a lot more attractive, or at least, cleaner since we were there. They were always more hygienic than the men, but now, whoa. Also, they all wear the same casual-but-actually-calculated side-flip hairstyle. It is a travesty.

I would never get in anywhere now. Maybe Vassar. [Ben A.: 4/11/14 15:56]
I forget what the Times' position is on term limits, but I, for one, think they ought to impose them... on their own columnists. [Ben H.: 4/8/14 10:15]
Agreed -- I mean what's the alternative, bring back Bill Kristol? Just seems like RD has said his piece and is phoning it in now. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/7/14 11:54]
I tend to agree that RD is offbase about Catholicism and healthcare reform (my take: the official hierarchy, at least, is absolutely in earnest about its objections to covering contraceptives, and is otherwise temperamentally and doctrincally in favor of collectivist/redistributive healthcare reform; Francis ain't a Tea Partier). But, come on: any editorial page that features MoDo and Tom Friedman has set (insanely low) standards of logical rigor and prose style that RD clears with ease. [Ben H.: 4/7/14 10:34]
Red on Red

Don't we have an Eleventh commandment: never speak ill of another former Salient editor? I confess that I have a fondness for Douthat ever since he ended a review of "Grizzly Man" as follows:

But the imitatio Dei isn't the only possible solution to the dilemma of being made a little lower than the angels. You could also go in the other direction, and give up on human reason, human self-awareness, in the hopes of returning to a pre-rational, pre-spiritual, entirely animal state . . . But Nature won't take us back

[Ben A.: 4/6/14 21:49]
Time To Retire Ross Douthat

I get it that the decline of Catholicism, and of religion generally, has a bad side to it. I even agree that it has several bad sides, and that these sides are so complex that one could make an interesting columnist career examining them every week. Unfortunately Ross Douthat isn't the man to pull this off. He just sort of blandly asserts over and over that secularism is behind this and that and the other social ill. Today he laments "a grinding, exhausting argument over how to pay for health care in a society that’s growing older, consuming more care, and (especially if current secularizing trends persist) becoming more and more invested in postponing death." This is an embarrassing sentence. He seems to be phoning in his columns from an alternate universe where believers, eager to be reunited with God and their deceased loved ones, slip smilingly into death, while unbelievers fight in terror to stay out of the Void.

Remember Terri Schiavo? She was in a vegetative state and her husband wanted to end life support. But a self-appointed "culture of life" raised a ruckus and tried to interfere. Secularists? They seemed to come most often from two frequently overlapping groups: those who are religiously devout, a group about evenly split between conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and those eager to champion the cause of the disabled.. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/6/14 07:59]
On a lighter topic, the post-Mariano American league poses the following question: which reliever has the most bad-ass entrance music. The class of the field, Boston's own Koji Uehara, favors J-pop. Less threatening music could scarcely be imagined.

Set-up man Andrew Miller favors Johnny Cash at his most soteriological.

Ben H, any other good candidates? [Ben A.: 4/4/14 23:13]
I'm pretty sure the perp is not a CS major. Had he been, he would have done better work anonymizing his "contribution." Oh, and probably he wouldn't have been a deranged alpha-male sex offender, either. [Ben H.: 4/3/14 11:39]
At Least We're Not Dartmouth

What is wrong with people? [Ben A.: 4/3/14 09:56]
No, man, you've got it all wrong. The Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, the Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment tutors, and the Office of Gender Issues have a difficult time coordinating, what with all the professional development events they need to attend. What Harvard really needs is a Liason Officer ($150K/yr + benefits), and if you give just $1mm to the ongoing Capital Campaign, this office could bear the title The Gombrecht The Irrefrugnable Liason Officer*. What better way to honor yourself and your alma mater?

*at least until the next capital campaign, when the job description will change slightly, opening up a re-naming opportunity for a new donor. [Ben H.: 4/2/14 09:50]
Guess Who's Still The Scum Of The Earth After All These Years

Harvard's administrative parasite class [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 4/1/14 21:23]
It's just a consequence of their ages! The little one is too young to say much, and the big one has had some lessons in not being racist. It's been surprising to me how stereotypes get into her head even living in a pop-culture-free zone like our home, and in a liberal/cosmopolitan neighborhood like the UWS. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 3/26/14 16:35]
The Winner

Doug, your kids didn't say anything even remotely racist in their day with us. I declare you and Dao the parenting winners of the Bandarlog. [Ben A.: 3/25/14 11:44]
Diversity in Austin

We spent last Thanksgiving at my parents' place in Florida. It was a big gathering, so my mother hired a husband-and-wife catering team she uses from time to time to help out. The husband part of the team hails from the West Indies. When he walked in, David said, "Look! A garbage man!" Austin is heavily Latino, but has a quite small black population, one that happens to be overrepresented among city employees. The men who crew the neighborhood garbage truck (which David awaits with great excitement every Friday, and who wave to him at each visit) are some of the few black folks David sees. (On the other hand, I think he can probably tell a pejelegarto from a chilango). [Ben H.: 3/24/14 13:37]
Maybe We Do Need More Diversity in Cambridge

Jacob: Are David Ortiz and Jackie Bradley Junior synonyms?

(He had just watched a spring training game on TV. Ortiz and Bradley are the two dark skinned regulars in the Red Sox line up) [Ben A.: 3/21/14 15:09]
Fun at School

We've starting sending David to a pre-school program one morning a week, mainly as a way to start getting him out of the house more in advance of his future brother's arrival. The first several times he has howled like a banshee when the nanny drops him off, and apparently is still wailing at pick-up time. This week, the nanny said he seemed better at pick-up. I asked David about it when I got home.

Ben: How was school today?
David: Good.
Ben: Did you play with other children?
David: Yes.
Ben: What were their names?
David: Malcolm [there is in fact a boy named Malcolm in the class.
Ben: What did you do with Malcolm?
David: I cried. [Ben H.: 3/18/14 10:02]
The Price of Putin's Nationalism

Somewhere in America today, a school supplies purchasing manager is reading the news headlines, slapping his forehead and asking himself why, oh, why did he decide yesterday to place a nonrefundable order for world maps for every classroom. [Ben H.: 3/18/14 08:54]

Almost nobody calls me "Benjamin." My mother did, from time to time, when as a yougster I committed a serious breach of protocol. David constantly summons me, and recently I've been trying to establish that not every time he yells "Daddy, come!" will I show up. At first, he merely escalated by yelling more loudly. In the last few days, though, he steps it up by crying instead, "Benjamin H____, come!" [Ben H.: 3/10/14 09:28]
Golden Age

[Ben A.: 2/22/14 01:11]
Gnothi seauton

Deb: "Jacob, were you a good cooperator last night a bedtime?"
Jacob: "No"
Deb "what were you?"
Jacob "I was a million times bad" [Ben A.: 2/22/14 01:01]
They all get "A"s based on extraordinary class participation. [Ben H.: 2/10/14 12:28]
Nice work, Ben, but maybe needlessly drastic? Couldn't you have just meandered among the revelers, causing them to feel vaguely that the fun has ended and that they should head elsewhere? Or am I the only one to have retained that power from college? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/29/14 13:32]
Speaking of upstairs musicians, do you remember the woman who lived right above me at Stanford Court in Irvine? She worked on the same Chopin Polonaise the entire time I lived there, and I swear she never made it beyond the first 20 bars. I wasn't quite cheeky enough to buy a CD of the piece for the purposes of cranking it right after she finished each day. Even she, though, proved less nettlesome than the little girl in the townhouse adjacent to mine whose attempt to learn the French horn I had no choice but to follow closely. There's just no escape from that stuff in NYC.

Of course, here in Austin, we aren't free of musical intrusions. One night last fall, at about 1am, I was awakened by a shredding electric guitar and sloppy drumbeat. After tossing and turning for 45 minutes, I decided to see where the hell it was coming from. It turned out to be a house full of students probably a quarter mile away! The band played out on the front porch to a street full of cheering yahoos. I snuck around the back of the house, opened the breaker panel and killed all the power to the house. The guys on the porch seemed to think that their awesome rock 'n roll power had overwhelmed the grid, because they greeted the outage with cheering. I went home, mission accomplished. [Ben H.: 1/28/14 09:32]
It's A Small World

Kid upstairs played "It's a Small World After All" on the piano (that's right above our living room) today. Surely there is some kind of "stand your ground" law that would absolve me of homicide in this case?

Just kidding, we are actually good friends with the people upstairs, and the pianist kid is lovely, and even if that weren't the case I would approach this situation with my typical equanimity born of wisdom and Wellbutrin. (As an assertion about jurisprudence, I believe my point stands, though.) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/27/14 22:04]
Carl V reminds me of the tweet where the Get White or Die Tryin reference came from
[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/25/14 20:09]
Pitiable Schlehmiel

Think back to high school and the guy who did really well on SAT's and lapped up his teachers' praise and was awkward and tedious company but always had a dorky smile that witnessed his self-satisfaction. Now imagine that this guy, instead of getting smacked as he inevitably does in America by reality (in the form of a college rejection letter triggered by his interviewer's sizing him up as a loser and/or his realization at college that he's one of the duller intelligent guys in a sea of intelligent guys) keeps getting his narcissism validated by a society that's just one SAT after another. That's Hollande. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/23/14 22:49]
I see that Dinesh D'souza got indicted or something. Can't remember who it was that described D'souza and Jindal as the "Get White or Die Tryin'" crew. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/23/14 22:32]
I agree with Ben. If one considered only the bare facts, that he has bounced from the bed of a presidential candidate to that of a glamorous journalist, and then zipping from Elysee to secret assignations on a motorbike has ended up knocking up a famous actress, you'd guess he's a dashing rake. Yet, we behold an awkward, sheepish doofus caught up in a Three's Company episode, with a Dukakis-level goofy photo of him riding on the back of a dorky scooter. I can't help but feel a little sorry for the guy. He's not a contemptible Casanova so much as a pitiable schlehmiel. [Ben H.: 1/20/14 15:13]
Got to be de Villepin. [Ben A.: 1/19/14 14:51]
It's too easy to beat up on Flanby, so let me throw out a difficult question: who is ultimately more insufferable, François Hollande or Dominique de Villepin?

For six years I lived in France, where Art is the closest thing they have to a religion, and the artwork that I recall most vividly from that period is Plantu's cartoon of Dominique de Villepin nearly sinking below the waves ... of his own hair.

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/17/14 22:44]
Out: Character is destiny.

In: Sociobiology is destiny.

You wouldn't want your country to be led by a beta-male, would you? [Ben H.: 1/17/14 13:47]
The Old Saw...

Used to be "a man who will lie to his wife will lie to you."

As we now know, Science has shown no correlation between how you treat people close to you who trust you and anything else whatsoever. The concept that some unifying construct -- "character" -- exists which might explain behavior across multiple domains is, of course, deeply suspect. One man's bunga bunga party is another man's stamp collecting. [Ben A.: 1/17/14 13:26]
Flanby, Sigh ...

And the soon-to-be-ex-First-Lady in the hospital ... not to be cruel, but how could you fail to see this coming? This is an obviously insecure guy whom you seduced away from the mother of his children! Why shouldn't some younger and better-looking woman be next in line? [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/16/14 17:23]
Go, Flanby!

Good thing the French got rid of that playboy Sarkozy, otherwise they'd still be stuck with a serial philanderer for a President, a guy swapping first ladies like junior advisors, spending his time chasing and impregnating actresses. Oh, wait. But, lookit, Hollande rode to his assignations on a humble scooter. Sarko would have rolled up in something way more blingy.

Side note: You have to think somewhere in a Milan lawyer's office, Silvio Berlusconi is slapping his forehead and saying to himself, "wait, you don't have to pay for it?" [Ben H.: 1/15/14 13:10]
Kimchee Kaligula

Pulp spy-thriller villains favor baroque styles of execution, much to their within-story disadvantage and usually with prejudice to the verisimilitude of the fiction. Heads of rogue states or violent non-state militias have a lot of pressing work to do. THey can't very well sit around coming up with Roman-style capital punishment techniques. Can they? Well, the Norks did manage to cobble together an A-bomb in the midst of a famine, so maybe their top cadres excel at multitasking. Check out this account of Gen. Jang's execution. Somebody has to build a special cage, find 120 dogs that the population hasn't already eaten, then spend three days starving them. I do appreciate the irony that a literal a dog-eats-man story is, in the Korea context, something of a figurative man-bites-dog story. [Ben H.: 1/3/14 11:54]
Ben A. ftw

"We have mapped the human genome. Is it too much to ask for a definitive statement on Canadian letters?"

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 1/2/14 10:03]

My personal delight, the academic "Towards a..." locution achieves another Victory of Culture with the publication of Towards a Feminist Postcolonial Milk Studies.


Happy new year to all! [Ben A.: 12/31/13 16:15]

I could never quite figure out how to introduce the "tapir" pun into the QE debate. There was some finance honcho who at one point derided the "feral hogs" of the bond market but I missed the news cycle window on that. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/18/13 13:55]
It's like Groundhog Day at the Marriner Eccles building today. Will the tapir see his shadow? If so, 6 more month of money printing... [Ben H.: 12/18/13 11:10]
Carseat Non-Endorsement

If I ever decided to review the Britax carseat on Amazon, I have a good illustrative vignette about its ease of use. At the end of a Thanksgiving trip requiring installing and uninstalling it several times, I was working it into the back of a towncar for our trip to the airport. As I am grunting and pushing, David, who has watched every installation thusfar, points at the seat and says: "Daddy! Daddy! FUCK!" [Ben H.: 12/5/13 14:19]
Hey, at least you went pro-KR forthrightly and not by means of chin-stroking litotes like Lemann here! [Ben H.: 12/5/13 14:16]
Well, I find that hard to criticize, given that, at the same age and in the same place, I was founding the "Khmer Rouge, Blanc et Bleu," whose first order of business was to cut out comparative-literature professors' tongues. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 12/5/13 11:37]
The Past is a Foreign Country, Filled with Insane People

Respected author, former dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, New Yorker contributor Nicolas Lemann basically *defines* the educated class, no? . Check out this Crimson editorial from 1975:

With Cambodia it's an old dilemma--do we look at events in Indochina as Americans with liberal values or as the Indochinese must look at them? The Khmer Rouge can certainly no longer meet with our approval on our own terms, because they violate our feeling that anything worthy need not be accomplished through violence and cruelty. On their own terms they continue to be most of what we supported them for--staunch nationalists, socialists, remakers of their own society. It is a conflict that I am not ready to resolve.

As an aside, you can see the next-level reflection that made Lemann a success even in his college writing. [Ben A.: 12/4/13 01:24]
More than that, this shows that the goldenness of our golden era is so golden that even prior eras are retroactively gilded by it.

And, lest we forget, there is the "My Dinner With André" arcade game:

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 11/21/13 10:31]
Great Gatsby: The Video Game

We live in a golden age [Ben A.: 11/18/13 06:11]
My heart goes out to all those people, it really does, but you've gotta see how well this works above my fireplace

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 11/12/13 21:24]
"Marie Antoinette: the Prettiest Princess Ever!"

This is really a fabulous idea. I may commission an artist. We should be able to bang out the text in a weekend. [Ben A.: 11/7/13 11:05]
Ben A, very glad you could stop by today. One thing I failed to mention on the subject of not-overly-literary fiction -- since you guys had taken me to task here at one point for dismissing all of Wodehouse's non-Jeeves output, I went back to the free texts I had downloaded on my Kindle, and read Picadilly Jim. Entertaining! I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading the whole thing (maybe you already have) but there is a hilarious scene near the beginning about the plight of a baseball-loving American stranded in Europe in the days before streaming video. As it is off copyright, if you ever find yourself in need of a laugh, know that it's out there and downloadable.

Also I mentioned how hard it is to keep the "princess" virus out of your house if you have girls. This evening a tremendous idea struck me: a picture-book for first-grade girls called "Marie Antoinette: the Prettiest Princess Ever!" Lots of pink dresses and balls and palaces until the final page, where the color scheme turns decidedly to red. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 11/6/13 22:00]
Am looking forward to De Blasio taking NYC in a more progressive direction, by raising taxes on well-to-do citizens starting at household income levels 1% higher than our own. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 11/6/13 12:23]

"Chocolate penis"??

[Ben H.: 11/4/13 10:54]
Good thing there isn't a French(Front National) setting; the oven would have a slightly different message: "Inserez des beurs!" [Ben H.: 10/25/13 12:29]
Got one of those plastic toy kitchens (used/free) that says things like "Let's bake a cake" when you turn various dials. It has three language settings but the French one is of limited educational value, since all the phrases are translated "Rajoutez du beurre!" [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/25/13 09:42]
What the strands of Mr. Koppel's hair piece might plead to him, if they were tangled or burned? (9)


[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/23/13 22:21]
Our 1st grader says substitute music teacher was teaching them how to beatbox [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/23/13 20:10]
Aaarggghhhh! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/21/13 08:55]
P.S. This Day of Rage is really important. We urge you to participate angrily! [Ben H.: 10/21/13 08:23]
Day of Rage

We declare October 21 to be the Day of Rage against donation-soliciting letters that end with a "P.S." that simply restates the solicitation [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/20/13 21:12]
Tea Party/Ayn Rand types plant bombs on McConnell's pork-project dam, but not deep enough to destroy. "Oh no ... the dam is rent too high!" [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/18/13 20:41]
Also Obligatory

... a hat-tip to Reid, Obama et al. for handing the IC's a complete humiliating defeat. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/16/13 20:41]
A luminously written novel that lavishly describes the cooking of Indian food might be characterized as cuminous. [Ben H.: 10/16/13 13:19]
I was about to write that numinous is the new luminous! [Ben A.: 10/16/13 12:58]
Also re. luminous prose, Carl V points out this: [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/16/13 09:45]
I never read past the Post's front page headline so I had been unfamiliar w/ Mr. Lumenick, but you're right, the next stage of the luminosity arms race could be having Lou Lumenick blurb your luminous prose. After that it's the nuclear option: a blurb about your numinous prose. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/16/13 09:16]
NY Post critic Lou Lumenick says The Luminaries is luminous and looms large on the literary scene and deserves lots of prize loot. [Ben H.: 10/16/13 09:04]
Speaking of Chat-Acceptable Spellings

Her 832-page tale of the 19th-century goldfields...

TL;DR [Ben A.: 10/15/13 21:20]
Luminosity arms race! Not enuf 4 novel 2 have blurb praising luminous prose; its own title must declare it luminous. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/15/13 20:55]

The celebrating cop is now a local legend. [Ben A.: 10/15/13 16:57]
Doug, I think you made an impression on David. When we read the book "Peepo", if I point to the father in the story and ask who it is, he says "Doug". On the other hand, in place of yelling "Peepo!" at each new page, he has taken to yelling "Penis!" so who knows what he is really talking about. [Ben H.: 10/15/13 09:40]
That's true, I should have seen that ... or maybe this is a good sign that cryptic-clue-construction is loosening its grip on my mind ... [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/14/13 20:23]
which is a phone used to dial up the spirits of dead middle-rank composers? Speaking of which, there must be a good &lit in the fact that Sousa = So USA. [Ben H.: 10/14/13 14:47]
I think it's more like a sousaphone. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/14/13 11:12]
So a Lusophone is basically an Obamaphone in certain coastal precincts of Rhode Island? [Ben H.: 10/14/13 09:31]
Just had an unexpected chance to use one of my favorite words, "lusophone" -- and in a PR statement no less! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/13/13 22:47]
So I did manage to make it to D.C. for my meeting at Treasury. Thanks to the shutdown, I had to enter the building through the Annex and I was not able to leave the meeting room without an escort. It was therefore a good thing that there was no drinks-and-cookies spread, as it reduced the probability of an embarrassing request for a hall monitor to take me to the toilets.

Kidding aside, the topic of the meeting has a certain irony. We were assembled to discuss changes to sovereign debt contracts in order to make sovereign defaults easier to deal with. Meanwhile, the sponsor of this effort to help EM countries is the issuer closest to default, and it turns out has bonds with basically no contractual terms. Nice work! [Ben H.: 10/11/13 08:52]
Now that I have my passport, my enjoyment of the suicide of the IC's is pretty much unalloyed. Satisfying! [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/10/13 22:02]
One thing I'll salute the GOP for its direct action to reduce inequality. Team Obama is all talk on this issue, whereas the GOP is taking a hatchet to the value of the owning class's ownership stakes. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/8/13 20:50]
Thanks for the offer Ben -- it turns out though that passport services are up and running and, indeed, we got our renewals back in record time. What caused me to back off my travel plans (accompanying Dao on her work trip Paris, perhaps with the older child in tow) was simply the hassle and expense. Four days of bleary weather, sore back (from trying to sleep in coach on a red-eye), a couple top-notch meals, and worrying that the kid(s) are being uncooperative at their grandparents' place: around $2500, or $4000 if older kid comes. Plan B, dinner at Le Bernardin or La Grenouille: maybe $500. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/8/13 20:42]
Burned by the Shutdown (Wish It Were Shuttier)!

I've been participating for the past few months in a working group on Sovereign Debt convened by the Treasury. We had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday in D.C. I figured for sure the shutdown would scotch it, and I'd get to skip the required travel. I emailed the admin coordinating the thing and, sure enough, I got back an "auto-reply" noting that she'd be out of the office and email-touch for the duration of her furlough. Sweet! Then, two days later an email arrives from the senior Treasury guy running the group confirming the meeting. With one exception, all the Treasury folks involved are on the job. The big implication of the shutdown for this initiative is the following: if the government is still shutdown, we enter the Treasury through the Annex entrance, but if the government is reopened, we report to the front door! Doug, let me know if I can maybe pop over to the State Department and try to ferret out your passport. [Ben H.: 10/8/13 08:59]
That's the beauty of farm-to-table -- it doesn't have to pass through Congress. [Ben H.: 10/8/13 07:58]
I am finding it difficult to get suitably somber about the state of our nation due to the suddenly fantastic state of my neighborhood. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/7/13 23:37]
Apparently the Treasury Department's public affairs website is more "essential" than the poor USDA's whole web presence. Not only is it still on, it's churning out hefty reports about the impact of sovereign default! Are you telling me bond vigilantes are more important than farmers? I guess I should be flattered. And I guess we can assume that the Treasury has more of a hand than does the USDA in figuring out what the budget law considers "essential"! [Ben H.: 10/3/13 11:22]
A Worthy Successor to the O.J. Defense

"I'm gonna find the real killer" has enjoyed a 20-year reign as the most incredible defense offered by an accused famous athlete. A-Rod has come up with a pretty strong rival in his claim that he was administered steroids surreptitiously. The rented demonstrators offering support are a nice touch. O.J. only managed to have Al Cowlings, not a whole mob with signs. [Ben H.: 10/2/13 15:28]
The poor... they have Medicaid! I think you mean "legal residents under 65 with incomes above 133% of the poverty line but not otherwise high enough that they can buy health insurance for 9.5% of their income or less." Coincidentally, there is an old papal encyclical (De Familiis Quae Delaborant) that declares that this very same class of people is doomed to hell. (Basically, the thrust being that the Gospels are pretty explicit that "the poor ye shall always have with you", but they don't say anything about "legal residents under 65 with incomes above 133% of the poverty line but not otherwise high enough that they can buy health insurance for 9.5% of their income or less" so you can totally write them off). Let us hope that this more enlightened Pope and the ghost of Ted Kennedy can together save both their bodies and their souls. [Ben H.: 10/2/13 15:04]
Imagine a GOP leader for whom preventing poor people from seeing doctors was a core principle, to be sure, but not the supreme principle for which everything should be sacrificed. Some people say I'm a dreamer but look what seems finally to have happened to the papacy, w/r/t its sex fixations.
[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/2/13 13:52]
This story about the latest Swiss wargaming exercise has proven irresistible forwarding-bait on Bloomberg. The Swiss model a scenario where France goes bankrupts, fragments, and one of the successor states invades Switzerland for the purpose of plunder. It seems to me this is an easy wargame to win. The proper response for the Swiss? Wait until August, then counterattack. [Ben H.: 10/2/13 11:51]
An Irredeemable Piece of Feminine Anatomy Asks...

Wouldn't it have taken fewer employees to just leave the USDA website alone, rather than wall it off with a forlorn piece of late 90s HTML? Are the robots on furlough, too? Although, I guess I appreciate that they didn't give a $20mm contract to Booz-Allen to hire 50 poorly-screened nutjobs to build an interactive portal detailing how the arable land of the US will surely go barren without the benefit of USDA oversight for the next week.

Kidding aside, I find the tactical aspects of this shutdown very puzzling. It seems clear that the first few months of PPACA are going to be a shitshow. The exchanges aren't ready. The facebook meme-spamming I receive is almost entirely liberal, but even so I have already seen a few postings of the failed results of attempting to use an enrollment portal. Once the Republican "offer" came down to a one-year delay of PPACA, I would have thought it tactically advantageous for Obama to accept it. He gets a year to make sure PPACA's debut goes smoothly, and can spend 2014's campaign selling "vapor" against the reality of the unreformed healthcare system (now, I personally don't think PPACA does much to cure the root problems of it, but that's beside the point). PPACA vaporware can surely be presented as preferable to insurance reality-ware, while not-ready-for-prime-time PPACA reality-ware will not come off half as well. For their part, if the Republicans truly believe that PPACA will be a disaster -- or even if they believe only the short-term implementation will be a disaster -- shouldn't they let it take effect, and more in sorrow than in anger, point out in 2014 that "we told you so?"

My hunch is that both sides dramatically overestimate the stickiness of new entitlements. It is true that after a decade or two, special interests entrench themselves in front of government programs, and the economy reshapes itself to accommodate them, such that their removal would prove disruptive even if politically feasible. But badly implemented programs can and do get the quick hook. Remember the Medicare Catastrophic Care Act of 1988? [Ben H.: 10/1/13 08:46]
Opinions differ on whether this shutdown will have substantial political consequences. Obviously in the present USA there's a pretty low limit on the political consequences of anything. Most people either already realize that Republicans are irredeemable cunts, or are themselves such cunts. If you want to change opinions of the remainder, you have to do so with a visceral image that requires no reasoning to grasp. That's why I think the shutdown will have (within this limit) a substantial impact; only one side's champion read Green Eggs and Ham on the senate floor, providing a searing image of insane irresponsibility:

[Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 10/1/13 08:02]
Yeah, but for this $305mm, he actually promises to run to first base. [Ben H.: 9/26/13 16:06]
The Cano Ask: 10 Years $305M

Sooooooo great.
[Ben A.: 9/26/13 14:02]
Wow. That reminds me of a second- or third-hand story I may or may not have posted before. One of my co-workers was a (very good) programmer named Mike -- well, I think officially Mikhail. Apparently his dad was in the Soviet military at some point, and was part of a group that moved nukes around the country by truck. For safety, they always moved in convoys of identical trucks, and only the top people knew which one actually had the nukes in it. Now apparently everyone involved in this transport process was drinking vodka continuously. At one point the driver of the "real" nuke truck was so drunk he ran off the road or got lost or something, and everyone was freaking out trying to find it. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 9/24/13 20:55]
It's a Miracle We're Alive

From an interview about the safety of the nuclear arsenal:

"I spoke to people who had been involved in sensitive nuclear positions who were smoking pot at the time. You don't want people smoking pot and handling nuclear weapons. So those are some of the crucial takeaways"

The Cold War really was insane. [Ben A.: 9/24/13 12:17]
GOP Govt Shutdown Threat

Gail Collins today:

Representative Ted Yoho of Florida told The Times’s Ashley Parker and Jonathan Weisman that he was ready to stick to his guns: “It only takes one with passion — look at Rosa Parks, Lech Walesa, Martin Luther King.”

I am mentioning this partly because it isn’t often you hear someone equate eliminating health insurance for the poor with Rosa Parks. Also because I like to write “Representative Ted Yoho.”

This time they might actually inconvenience me; I had sent in a passport renewal application in what I though was enough time for a long weekend in early November, and now I am not buying tickets until things become a lot clearer. Perhaps the fault is mine; perhaps a Real American would take all his vacations in Branson, Missouri. And in a more serious sense too -- one of the ways Republicans are like cockroaches is that if they're inconveniencing your househould, it's because you weren't sufficiently aware of their existence or proactive in protecting yourself from them. I procrastinated way too much on the passport renewal. [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 9/21/13 10:31]
Well done -- I have refined this one a bit (thanks to Carl V for suggestion) --

Jim Morrison's group retains M. Ysa˙e without letter of introduction; they all intone "[This Is] The End" (10) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 9/17/13 20:42]
Doo[mysaye]rs [Ben H.: 9/17/13 15:51]
Here's one, starts with D:

Doors embrace M. Ysa˙e without letter of introduction; they sing "[This Is] The End" (10) [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 9/17/13 14:10]
Yeah, you may have the division this year, Ben, but if MLB, like the PGA, had a senior tour, the Yankees totally would have won it. [Ben H.: 9/16/13 10:53]
Gloating Is Wrong

But I will note that this song was heard at Fenway last night:

[Ben A.: 9/16/13 09:32]
We live near the Texas School for the Blind, so all the major crossings have audible indicators. Some of them do both the machine-gun sound and play a recorded message, including a countdown of the walk indicator. There is something Strangelovian about walking down the street and hearing "three, two, one..."

David really loves to carry a stick when he walks and he often pushes it in front of him, scraping in on the pavement. I feel a little self-conscious when he does this right in front of the school for the blind, as somebody might perceive it as a kid taking the piss out of blind people. Of course, they can't see him doing it! I do wonder if his obsession with this activity comes from having observed the numerous visually impaired people using white canes on the streets of our neighborhood. [Ben H.: 9/6/13 10:18]
Keeping NYC Gritty

Crossing Broadway at 65th St., you may be startled by the sound of muffled machine-gun bursts. This is the aural "walk sign" for blind people. I'm familiar with this concept from other cities, but usually it's synthesized bird chirps or beeps. I'm not certain I can reconstruct the thought that went into the choice for 65th and B'way. "OK, I'm laying down covering fire, make a run for it before the snipers pop out again!" [Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable: 9/5/13 19:37]



Ben A.
Ben H.
Gombrecht the Irrefrugnable