29 December 2004

Mr. Magnanimous

Daily KOS points out that Mr. Magnanimous, in offering U.S. aid in the amount of $35 million for tsunami victims, is ponying up:
1. Less than will be spent on his impending coronation; and
2. About what 3½ hours of the Iraq war costs American taxpayers.

Lunatic Right

I would never claim that there aren't people of a "ranting and raving" disposition on the progressive side of things, but this letter in response to a very mild anti-war op-ed in USA Today by Al Neuharth shows a vehement strain of irrational hatred that I've only ever seen on the right. From this site.

Mel Gibbs: “The Patriot Act will put both of you (Al Neuharth and Greg Mitchell) on trial for treason and convict and execute both of you as traitors for running these stories in a time of war and it should be done on TV for other communist traitors like you two to know we mean business. This is war and you should be put in prison NOW for talking like this. Who the hell do you people think you are? You give aid and comfort to our enemies and aid them in murdering our proud soldiers. You people are a disgrace to America. Your families should be put in prison with you, then be made to leave and move to the Middle East ...You two guysare evil bastards…This is a great Christian nation and godwants us to lead the world out of darkness with great leaders likePresident George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Communists like Al and Greg will soon be in prison and on death row for your ugly papers. We won the election and now you are mad. We own America and all the rights, you people are trash, go back to Russia and Africa and take your friends with before we put you on death row after a fair trial.”

And they wonder why we on the reasoned left want changes to the Patriot Act.

28 December 2004

Word for the Day

disconsolate \dis-KON-s&-l&t\ adjective

1. Being beyond consolation; deeply dejected and dispirited;hopelessly sad; filled with grief; as, "a bereaved and disconsolate parent."
2. Inspiring dejection; saddening; cheerless; as, "the disconsolate darkness of the winter nights."

Midway through the course he came to the table with the disconsolateexpression of a basketball coach whose team had just been trounced.
--Bryan Miller, "Odd Couples Can Make Magic," New York Times, March 2, 1994

An eighteenth-century Fairfax, Thomas, lost the last of the land in theSouth Sea Bubble and the Fairfaxes were all but forgotten -- except forLady Mary who was occasionally sighted, dressed all in green, disconsolateand gloomy, and occasionally with her head under her arm for good effect.
--Kate Atkinson, Human Croquet

. . . King Midas, whose lips turn all they touch to cold, unnourishingriches, and who perishes alone and disconsolate, cut off by his wealth fromthe simplest necessities of life -- for bread, water, as well as his wife,his child and his little dog, all turn as he stretches towards them intothe gold he thought he desired more than anything else.
--Jane Shilling, "A golden ambivalence," Times (London), June 2, 2000

Disconsolate comes from Medieval Latin disconsolatus, from Latin dis- + consolatus, past participle of consolari, "to console," from com-, intensive prefix + solari, "to comfort, to soothe, to relieve."

27 December 2004

Please Help Asian Tsunami Victims

Relief International, Venice CA is accepting donations to provide immediate aid to victims of the Tsunamis in South Asia. So is Oxfam America. Also, Medecins sans frontiers. See this site for additional listings of responsible agencies .

This catastrophe is already being remarked as one of the worst in human history. It is especially critical to have aid available right away, particularly to agencies capable of delivering food, potable water, and medicines.

21 December 2004

Why I am a Buddhist

Why I am a Buddhist
I am a Buddhist, because I have come to accept the value of Buddha Dharma as a vitally important aspect of my life. Buddhism takes many forms, and involves many supernatural and religious beliefs in many of its human institutions, but at its core, it is not a religion at all, but a way of life, and a practice of philosophy and practical living. There is no essential belief in revealed truth of any kind, nor is there at the core of the system of thought known loosely as Buddhism any need for belief in a supernatural or supreme being, or any special forces shaping history in a miraculous way.
Even as a young child, I had serious reservations about the doctrines of Western Religion. I was told that God created the universe. I remember, even at 6 years old, finding this unsatisfactory. "Why, then," I thought, "where did God come from?" I've never had a satisfactory answer to that either. I was told (though not too emphatically by my more or less agnostic parents) that God gave his only son, and that only those who believe in him are "saved." This has just never seemed believable to me. I apologize to Christians reading this who are offended or who must condescend to pity me. But I don't ask for your pity, for I simply don't buy this story, and I never have. But what Jesus says, in the Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes, is truly wonderful and transcendent. And I find that all of it, and more, the more being a lot of practical methodology, is present in Buddhism. So for me, the Dharma, or teachings of Buddhism, just make more sense and correspond to the reality I find myself living in.
The Story of the Buddha
The Buddha was a man, and not a god. He was born as Siddharta Gautama, the prince of small kingdom called Shakya (hence one of his designations, Shakyamuni, the Shakya prince) in northern India or present-day Nepal. Traditionally, until he was 29 years old, he lived the life of King's son - that is to say, he partied a lot, ate a lot, probably had sex a lot, and he remained protected from the seedier side of life outside the palace walls.
The story goes that one day the pampered prince accidentally saw a old sick man in the street, and Siddharta was overcome with horror at this unaccustomed sight of ugliness, disease, and decay. How could people ever be happy knowing that all life must end in death and decay? Siddharta remained in this deep funk until he one day encountered an ascetic holy man. In the midst of all the working-class depression, this man somehow managed to maintain a serene attitude. The prince became a follower of this holy man, and thus embarked on his spiritual career.
In Siddharta's day, being a beggar monk or mendicant, was an acceptable lifestyle; people respected these mendicants for giving up earthly ambitions and devoting themselves to a virtuous poverty. They received shelter and handouts of food from pious folk everywhere. There was a lot of disagreement, however, as to what exactly it means to be holy and virtuous. Ask a dozen different gurus and you'd get a dozen different answers. Which was the right way? Siddharta, having become a poor monk, joined the school of ascetics, who believed that mortification of the body leads to the purification of the mind and spirit. This is a major theme in spiritual practice of many religions. Starving yourself, sitting upright for days without sleep, poking needles through your body - this was all pudding and lollipops to the ascetics. Siddharta pursued this path to paradise with varying degrees of success until the age of 35. But finally, having reduced himself to a almost skeletal proportions, he realized that this self-denial wasn't any more rewarding or productive of englighened mind than his original lifestyle of ignorant hedonism had been.
Siddharta abandoned his vows of asceticism, much to the disgust of his fellow practitioners, and he strengthened his body and sat down under a fig tree to meditate. And that's when it happened: Siddharta Gautama realized the Middle Way between hedonism and asceticism, and came to understand completely how to train the mind to avoid the pitfalls of desire and attachment, and became, in the traditional formulation, enlightened. He was now the Buddha. Buddhist philosophers have espoused and developed on the teachings of the Buddha contained in the sutras, in a phenomenologically extremely subtle and complex system of thought, but the essence of it is not intellectual or terribly hard to understand: it is the process of recognizing the impermanence of phenomena and letting go of attachment to them, and of opening the heart to compassion, lovingkindness, joy in others' joy, and equanimity (see the brahma-viharas, below).
In India of the Buddha's time, there was a background of belief in reincarnation. the law of karma, and a variety of deities. These beliefs form a backdrop to traditional Buddhism. For modern Westerners, however, the literal belief in reincarnation and supernatural entities is easily dispensable.
The Buddha made no fuss about his experience of enlightenment, according to traditional accounts, but his former holy man pals, who were still annoyed with him for abandoning his ascetic vows, noticed that he seemed to be peculiarly serene and that his eyes seemed to shine with the light of understanding. So they gathered one day and asked the Buddha what was going on. That was when the Buddha gave his first talk as the Awakened One, the lecture which explained the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. These noble truths are the core of the Buddhist belief system; the only way to reach enlightenment (which is good) is to accept these Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths
The First Noble Truth
Life entails suffering. All human beings experience pain, loss, anguish, fear, hunger, disease, and death.
The Second Noble Truth
The origin of suffering is the craving for pleasure, existence, and non-existence. You get it in your head that you want things, and your mind then becomes an instrument for chasing those things. The actual objects you desire are irrelevant; wanting things - anything - severely circumscribes a person's capacity to be at peace and to experience happiness, which is what all people want. The body needs sustenance, but it's the self that craves pleasure, existence and non-existence, and it's the self that in wisdom will come to be seen as insubstantial. This is the Buddhist doctrine of anatman, no-self.
The Third Noble Truth
Some people say that all this talk of suffering makes Buddhism a pessimistic religion; and in a certain sense this is true. However, the pessimism is tempered by the Third Noble Truth, the truth of the cessation of suffering; that there is a way to rid yourself of this suffering. This is the “Good News” aspect of Buddhism.
The Fourth Noble Truth
To rid yourself of suffering, you need to follow the Eightfold Noble Path pioneered by Gautama. The way is available to anyone, and effective, although difficult. It is not, however, impossible, and, unlike many ‘religions,’ there exists a large body of extremely practical methodology for progressing along the way to the transformation that can result in the cessation of suffering. What the Buddha himself said, on several occasions, is that it is difficult, and requires great effort, but that he would not ask it of his followers if it were not possible, and that he, having followed this path himself, could testify to it.
The Eightfold Path
The whole reason for becoming Buddhist is to make happiness possible, through enlightenment, which may be thought of as “opening of the heart.” In order to do this, you must follow the Eightfold Path. The eightfold path is not a recipe, but it is a method, and it works in baby steps. Like the “steps” in 12-step programs, it can be like a spiral, where you keep returning to and deepening your understanding of each of the stages.
  1. Right Knowledge: Strive to comprehend the first three Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths are not at all simple, and require much insight and understanding.
  2. Right Thinking: Consciously dedicate yourself to a life in harmony with the Noble Truths elucidated by the Buddha. The intentional direction of thought towards working on the path is right thinking (see right effort below, for the conscious direction of action in general).
  3. Right Speech: Use speech not to cause harm to others, but to direct them towards an open heart and the virtues.
  4. Right Conduct: For lay Buddhists (meaning Buddhists who aren't monks), Right Conduct means following the Five Precepts(see below). If you're a monk, there are some more rules for conduct, which detail how to conduct yourself in order to be free of impediments to serious progress. Lay people inevitably are compromising their spiritual path and settling for achieving peace and harmony, but not the cessation of all suffering.
  5. Right Livelihood: Go peacefully into the world and do no harm. This involves choosing a vocation or profession that does not cause harm to others. (Easier said than done).
  6. Right Effort: Conquer the flow of negative thoughts, replacing them with good thoughts. Direction of one’s efforts towards achieving these goals.
  7. Right Mindfulness: Achieve an intense awareness of your body, emotions, and mental states. Quiet the noises in your head and dwell in the present. This is the meditation of everyday life, in which you cultivate the awareness of your life in the context of the efforts to follow this path.
  8. Right Concentration: Learn about (and practice) various kinds of meditation, for which detailed procedural systems are in place, and which have a proven track record. There is nothing mystical here: meditation is nothing more than (or less than) a complete system of training the mind.
The Five Precepts
The Five Precepts are the basic rules of conduct for lay Buddhists-as opposed to monks and nuns, who have additional complex rules. The Five Precepts aren't commandments given to you by an angry God who threatens you if you disobey; rather, they are guidelines meant to improve your karma and help you along the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. These few rules keep you out of the worst kinds of trouble, ultimately making you happier. They are like, and yet unlike, the ten commandments; their goal is the happiness of people and the cessation of harm and suffering.
  1. Avoid the taking of life. This is at its most basic level a proscription against murder, but in deeper terms it means a reverence for all life, and the avoiding of unnecessary destruction of life of any kind, and a prescription to love the Earth and living things, and to protect them.
  2. Avoid the taking of that which is not given. This has deeper levels too… unnecessary ownership of resources others need is seen as causing harm.
  3. Avoid falsity of word and deed, and use of words to cause harm. Again, this contains deeper levels. Not only not to lie, but not to use language to manipulate, or to gossip about people to their detriment; or to conduct oneself so as to cause deception or to take advantage. This is a prescription for basic honesty, and minding of one’s own business.
  4. Avoid sexual conduct which causes harm. Room for interpretation here, but the main thing is to recognize that sex and sexual behavior are dangerous if great care is not given to ensure that others are not hurt by your actions.
  5. Avoid intoxicants, which cloud the mind and cause heedlessness. On its face, this is simple; but it can also apply to avoiding toxic thought and foods, as they work in the same way as drugs and alcohol to poison the mind and heart.
The Brahma-Viharas
An essential quality, or set of qualities, of all of the stages of the Eightfold path are the Brahma Viharas, or sublime conditions. These are the essence of Buddhist thought: they pervade everything, and are the essential condition, or quality, of bodhicitta, the heart of enlightenment. It is this bodhicitta that develops in you as you enter the stream and follow the teachings of the Buddha, and is itself the essence of the teachings as well as what makes them possible. The Four ‘Sublime Conditions’ are:
  1. Metta (Pali; Sanskrit, Maitri): caring, lovingkindness. Toward all you meet or reflect upon, your heart feels caring and lovingkindness.
  2. Karuna: compassion. This is the sympathetic pain upon encountering the suffering of others (or of oneself; karuna begins with oneself).
  3. Mudita: sympathetic joy, the happiness of seeing happiness in others.
  4. Uppekha (Upeksa): equanimity; the ability to accept others, as they are; and reality, as it is. Tricky sometimes, for it involves the phenomenon of karma. You are not responsible, and cannot possibly be responsible, for the suffering of others or the condition of the world. You do what you can (right effort, right mindfulness, the other brahma viharas), but you don't allow them to overwhelm and destroy you. Another way to think of this is "letting go."

17 December 2004

Donald Luskin wrong wrong wrong

An anonymous comment to the following piece on "reform" in social security refers to this piece by Donald Luskin in the right wing National Review. I think it's interesting that this right wing lobbyist (see the qualifications at the foot of the article... he works for the Investment Industry) resorts almost at once to ad hominem attacks on Mr. Krugman.

I believe, in any case, he's quite mistaken about the prospects for Bush's program. This is a BIG issue, and with the AARP, almost all Democrats, and most even reasonably socially conscious organizations opposed to wrecking the program, I think "privatization" of social security is not only not in the bag, its prospects are not good at all. And for this, I am thankful.

Social Security "Reform"

Krugman has another excellent piece on social security in today's Times.

I agree with Krugman. The entire idea of social security is to have a guaranteed minimal pension for old people, REGARDLESS of their knowledge and ability to make investment choices, and regardless of the vagaries of the market. It's a pretty meager minimal income, at that. Reducinig the benefits guaranteed is just mean and typically Republican.

As Krugman points out, the only real beneficiary of "privatization" is Wall Street, which stands to reap huge management fee income. His earlier article (last week) on the subject also pointed out that the idea that social security is in crisis is simply a myth, propagated by vested interests. The Government's own actuaries predict solvency at the current (high) rates of payroll taxes (which disproportionately fall upon the middle and lower-middle classes), the present benefit system, complete with projected cost of living increases, will remain solvent until 2042.

"Privatization" would greatly INCREASE the cost of the program. Social security is a system of current workers paying for current retirees... a tax-based transfer program, in economic terms.... not an insurance program. This is what it ALWAYS HAS BEEN.

Substantial payroll tax increases, EACH OF THEM of significantly larger proportion than what would be needed to extend the solvency of social security INDEFINITELY into the future (again, by the Government's own estimates) have been imposed REPEATEDLY in the past... in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1990s. (The one in the 90s was huge, and was supposed to solve social security's solvency problems permanently).

I simply do not believe that the presently proposed "reforms" are justified by any reasonable economics. They are favored by those who support them for purely ideological reasons, or, in the case of the Investment industry, out of sheer greed. The damage which would be wrought by these "reforms" would require a few years down the line a whole new system of "reforms" to make sure there was some kind of old age pension left. The all-but-certain result: lower benefits for future retirees at higher cost, and large transfers of wealth not from the revenue to recipients, but from revenue to special interenst vendors (brokerage houses and banks).

If you want to consider real reforms to social security, designed to make the system solvent till the end of the 21st century, I can suggest three:

1. Repeal Bush's tax cuts on those earning more than middle class incomes, which have had the effect of shifting the burden of government down the income scale; and prevent the government from borrowing without interest against social security revenues; use the social security revenues to gain income for the future program by issuing interest bearing bonds earmarked for social security trust fund. (Repealing the tax cuts for wealthy Americans would have the added effect of easing the pressure on the budget deficit and helping the government to return to fiscally conservative balanced or nearly-balanced budgets);

2. Means test social security benefits for those earning more than a middle class retirement income; let's say income over $75,000 per year adjusted for inflation going forward would begin a phaseout of benefits; those earning more than $90,000 would receive no benefits.

3. Increase retirement age one time only, to 68, for those born after 1965 or so.

These measures would result in a completely solvent, efficient, and effective, social security system for the indefinite future, and make a HELL of a lot more sense than Bush's special interest proposals.

Word for the Day

equerry · 'i-kw&-ri, i-'kwer-i · noun (plural –ries)

1 : an officer of a prince or noble charged with the care of horses
2 : an officer of the British royal household in personal attendance on the sovereign or a member of the royal family

Etymology: obsolete escuirie, equerry stable, from Middle French escuirie office of a squire, stable, from escuier squire; compare esquire

16 December 2004

Word for the Day

veridical · (va-RID-i-k&l) · adjective

1. Truthful.
2. Real; corresponding to facts; representing reality.

[From Latin veridicus, from verus (true) + dicere (to say).]

"It's both surreal and veridical, whimsical and graphic, straightforward and sly."
--Charlotte O'Sullivan; Up to No Good; The Independent on Sunday (London,UK); Sep 29, 2002.

"If split-brain patients are given such tests, the left hemisphere generates many false reports. But the right brain does not; it provides a much more veridical account."
--Michael S. Gazzaniga and John W. Karapelou; "The Split Brain Revisited;" Scientific American; Jul 1, 1998.

15 December 2004

Word (well, suffix) of the Day

-aceae · ei`-si-ei · noun plural suffix (technical; Botany)

: plants of the nature of a type genus, e.g. Rosaceae, "plants like roses;" standard suffix in names of families of plants. Some older family names which did not follow this form have been supplanted with new, conforming names: e.g., the former Leguminosae (pea family), is now the Fabaceae, after the genus Faba.
Etymology: New Latin, from Latin, feminine plural of -aceus "–aceous."
Today’s word is not properly a word, of course, but a latinate suffix.

14 December 2004

Time is on My Side

Somehow these days one feels adrift. Lassitude sets in. Out here in the Western Blue States, we feel as if we were the remote territories of an alien nation, like the Colonial America vis-à-vis the British. While commerce and daily life continue, most people's lives are not imminently affected by the destructive and stupid policies in Washington. It's frustrating and one feels disconsolate, but there is an overarching sense of both dread and powerlessness. It's hard to avoid.

Still, the arc of history has usually turned against those whose arrogance of power thrust them to a zenith, just as this pinnacle has been achieved. I believe that the power of the Right in America is now at its zenith, and the job of the opposition, at this point in history, is to minimize the damage, and await the inevitable return to sanity.

Word for the Day

dulcet · DUHL-s&t · adjective

1. Pleasing to the ear; melodious; harmonious.
2. Generally pleasing, soothing, or agreeable.
3. (Archaic) Sweet to the taste.

[Most typically used in cliché expression "dulcet tones"].

If you want to catch up with our most famous songster, the nightingale, just visit Minsmere at the end of April, or early May, and stand on the edge of the car park. You’ll soon hear the dulcet tones of the poets’ favourite bird.
--Stephen Moss, "Birdwatch," The Guardian, October 23, 2000

Amanda . . . rages at her young ‘uns in a voice that may have been full of dulcet notes when she turned the heads of her gentleman callers in her youth, but has now grown hard-edged and ringing, like a cracked bell.
--Hal Hinson, Washington Post, November 11, 1987

Just as my eyelids started to get heavy and my brain began to relax its hold on wakefulness -- bam! -- the less than dulcet tones of Britain’s top breakfast DJ started to emanate from my radio alarm.
–"Secs in the City," The Guardian, July 30, 2001
Dulcet comes from Old French doucet, diminutive of dous, "sweet," from Latin dulcis, "sweet."

13 December 2004

Judith Regan, hypocrite extraordinaire

The following is lifted verbatim from Eschaton, with apologies.

From various Fox News appearances:

REGAN: Absolutely. I don't think there's any question. I mean, here's Hillary who's been standing by her man all these years and allowing him to behave in this reprehensible fashion.

REGAN: You know, look at Monica Lewinsky talking about being suicidal, being on antidepressants, you know, gaining this huge amount of weight. This is clearly a woman who has suffered and
is suffering inside because she has no depth of feeling and no morality whatsoever. And so, I decided, after being involved in this ugly negotiation, which I found morally reprehensible, that we should make fun of the whole thing, and we should make a comment about the amorality of everybody.

REGAN: I would never tell. Unlike Monica Lewinsky, I keep my secrets and take them to the grave.

REGAN: I don't know. I mean, I think that they're going to move forward here, and I think it's alarming to me that the country is not concerned about having an amoral man in the White House.

REGAN: I said, "You know what? There's a really great morality tale here with a great, great moral lesson," and nobody's really said that.

REGAN: Well, partially, but it's also an "amorality tale" because the one thing that's missing from "Monica's Story" is, you know, deep thinking about her own amorality, which we saw -- was in ample evidence during the Barbara Walters love fest the other night. I mean, here's a woman who clearly knows a lot about sex, but knows nothing about right and wrong.

REGAN: You know, the amorality tale, "Monica's Untold Story," is about her amorality, and the amorality of all of the people in this ugly story. But one of the things that was remarkable about her two hours is her utter lack of sincere remorse. And in that case, I would say she is a true soulmate of Bill Clinton because the two of them -- she learned a lot about spinning. She learned a lot about publicity. You know, she learned a lot about changing her image. And she tried to do another Barbara Walters show, but I don't know if America's buying it. I'm sure not.

Ms. REGAN: Well, I think that the social fabric of this country has become completely unraveled. I think the sexual revolution had a lot to do with that. I think that we are in terrible shape. I think we have a country where half the kids are being raised by single mothers. A lot of that has to do with male behavior. We look at the men in this country who do not want to be accountable to their wives, do not want to be
accountable to their children and we have as a president a man who could be a symbol of everything that is good; he could be a wonderful husband, he could be a wonderful father. He is in a position of great authority to show this country and to lead this country in a way that is much more important than economically.

Ms. REGAN: ...to this kind of fame, don't grow up thinking, You know, what I really want to do is to be a good citizen, to be loyal to my friends, to care about my neighbors, to get married, to be faithful to my husband, to have a family.' These are not the things that we're teaching.

Ms. REGAN: We can conquer others with force but to conquer ourselves we need strength.' And this is really what we need in America today. We need to conquer our own impulses. We need to
understand that we can't act on them all the time because it feels good for us. We have to care about the other.

Ms. REGAN: Let me tell you something, my father has never cheated on my mother, my brothers have never treated cheated on their wives. I come from a big Italian Irish Catholic family and I have to say that for the most part, they have not cheated on each other. My others
were virile...Sadly no transcripts exist of the Fox show she hosted for

Judith today.

Former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik conducted two extramarital affairs simultaneously, using a secret Battery
Park City apartment for the passionate liaisons, the New York Daily News has learned.The first relationship, spanning nearly a decade, was with city Correction Officer Jeannette Pinero; the second was with famed publishing titan Judith Regan.

His affair with Regan, the stunningly attractive head of her own book publishing company, lasted for almost a year....The tumultuous Regan-Kerik romance carried on for months, through the writing, publication and promotion of his autobiography, "The Lost Son: A Life in Pursuit of Justice," which Regan's company published.

Word for the Day

perfervid · p&r-FUR-vid · adjective

:ardent; impassioned; marked by exaggerated or overwrought emotion.

Good movies evaporate, while the market is flooded with inanity. critics can’t do much to stop this, but when you read perfervid reviews of the latest commercial offerings it’s plain that they do little to cool things down.
--Armond White, "Best Movies, Saddest Culture," New York Press, July 5, 2000

Years ago Philip Roth published a perspicacious essay on the pitfalls of writing satire, the gist of which was that the daily absurdities in our morning newspapers too often outdid even a novelist’s most perfervid imaginings.
--Mordecai Richler, "Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind," New York Times, April 11, 1999

Or under the button-down exterior of a familiar Westchester suburbanite was there a giant cockroach eager to mud-wrestle a man in black? Or was this merely a quirk of Miss Polk’s perfervid imagination?
--Mel Gussow, "Novelist Fires Off Opening of Fictional Relay on Net," New York Times, August 2, 1997

Perfervid is from Latin per-, "through, thoroughly" + fervidus, "boiling," from fervere, "to boil."
This word is remorselessly stolen from A Word a Day, www.wordsmith.org.

10 December 2004

Hell, No, to Bush Plan to Wreck Social Security

I sent the following to my Congressman, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.)

Please read Krugman's column in the December 10, 2004 New York Times.

The Bush administration's proposal to "privatize" Social Security is ruinous and foolish in the extreme. Not to mention a cynical attempt to force the effective destruction of the most successful social program in the history of the World. If there is ONE issue Democrats in Congress need to rally and say, "NO! This we will not allow!," this is it.

Word for the Day

tarn · 'tarn · noun
: a small steep-banked mountain lake or pool
Etymology: Middle English tarne, of Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse tjorn; small lake

09 December 2004

Black Brillion

If you like quirky, funny, and sardonic speculative fiction, in the manner of Jack Vance, without all the gadgets and rocketships, I highly recommend Black Brillion by Matthew Hughes. His prior titles, Fools Errant and Fool Me Twice were in a lighter vein, more comedic. This latest book is meatier. It takes place in an unspecified far future (the Penultimate Eon, we're told...) when the Sun has gone orange and everything that can happen already has, many times before. In a single word, marvelous.

Word for the Day

adit · 'ä-d&t · noun

1: a nearly horizontal passage from the surface in a mine
2: an approach, or entrance (literal antonym of exit)

Etymology: Latin aditus approach, from adire to go to, from ad- + ire to go. See issue

08 December 2004

Word for the Day

noosphere (noösphere) · 'nO-&-"sfir · noun

: the sphere of human consciousness and mental activity especially in regard to its influence on the biosphere and in relation to evolution

Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary noo- mind (from Greek noos, nous) + sphere; sphere

07 December 2004

Another New Word

chambrasoie · sham-bra-swa · noun [literary coinage]

· [presumptive] translucent fabric or fabric treatment used in draperies

The boardroom was the most beautifully decorated space that had ever felt the presence of Luff Imbry. The balance of proportions and colors was masterful. Every detail, from the quality of the light filtering through the chambrasoie curtains to the exquisite mix of colors in the carpeting, bespoke an epitome of tasteful assurance that the fraudster, whose own standards were not unrefined, found quietly intimidating.
--Matthew Hughes, Black Brillion (2004)

06 December 2004

Democratic Manifesto

I believe in Christian Values, without regard to faith:

· Humility

· Compassion

· Caring for the Poor, the aged, the sick

· Caring for and educating the young

· Loving your neighbor as yourself

I am a Conservative:

· I believe in conservation and protecting our precious environment

· I believe the government should pay as it goes, and not accumulate enormous debt to burden this generation’s children and grandchildren and harm our nation’s economy in the World

· I believe taxes should be fair, and not unduly benefit the wealthy with tax advantages

· I believe our country should be strong and should defend its interests, but it should not be the world’s policeman

· I believe in Fair Trade, which favors American jobs for Americans, not the interests of multinational corporations

I am a Patriot and I believe in the Constitution:

· Elections should be fair, congress should reflect the will of the people

· I believe in Freedom of Expression, even when I disagree or am offended, because it makes America stronger

I am a Democrat

03 December 2004

Lord Dunsany yeah yeah yeah, but how about Jack Vance, a true American Original?

I sent the following letter to the editor of The New Yorker. Matt Hughes suggests that if they were to hear from a few more dedicated Vanceans, they might conceivably actually think about the idea seriously. Apologies to any fans of Dunsany; sorry, I just can't abide his ponderous style. Matt also pointed out that JV might consider a "retrospective" a bit premature; but it needn't be the final word, after all.

I read Laura Miller's thoughtful piece (Dec. 6) on Lord Dunsany with interest, although I've never been able to understand what anyone saw in his writing. In reading Ms. Miller's piece, I wondered if any consideration has ever been given to doing a retrospective piece on Jack Vance. Vance just published what may [or may not!] be his last novel, Lurulu, at age 88. He's lived and worked in Oakland, California for sixty years, publishing a distinguished series of works of "fantasy" and "space fantasy" (as opposed to science fiction, which he dismisses as "gadget stories"). All have a piquant humor all too rare in these genres.

He is substantially more popular in England and Europe than he is in the United States, where most of his work is out of print. Still, he has a coterie of intensely loyal fans, on both sides of the Atlantic. To my taste, he is the only long-established writer of this kind of material who has ever really achieved over a long career an authorial voice, a real command of character, or the ability, plainly put, to be really interesting.

02 December 2004

Word for the Day

empyrean \em- PIIR-ee-&n; - pai-RII- \ noun

1. The highest heaven, in ancient belief usually thought to be a realm of pure fire or light.
2. Heaven; paradise.
3. The heavens; the sky.
:of or pertaining to the empyrean of ancient belief.
She might have been an angel arguing a point in the empyrean if she hadn’t been, so completely, a woman.
--Edith Wharton, “The Long Run,” The Atlantic, Feburary, 1912

In the poem -- one he had the good sense finally to abandon -- he pictured himself as a blind moth raised among butterflies, which for a brief moment had found itself rising upward into the empyrean to behold “Great horizons and systems and shores all along,” only to find its wings crumpling and itself falling -- like Icarus -- back to earth.
--Paul Mariani, The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane

In my experience, the excitement generated by a truly fresh and original piece of writing is the rocket fuel that lifts Grub Street’s rackety skylab -- with its grizzled crew of editors, publishers, agents, booksellers, publicists -- into orbit in the
--Robert McCrum, “Young blood,” The Observer, August 26, 2001

Empyrean comes from Medieval Latin empyreum, ultimately from Greek empurios, from en-, “in” + pyr, “fire.”

01 December 2004

Word for the Day

Garda Síochána · [gar`-da sch-awna`] · proper noun ·
also gardai [gar`-di]· noun
:Irish national police force
Gaelic, "Guardian of the Peace;" "guardians"