Friday, March 30, 2007

Because our life wasn't complex enough...

...we're adding a new teenager to the household temporarily.

Note: this post revised from its original version and greatly extended.

Natasha was one of the Kazakh kids we managed to bring to America for the summer a couple of years ago, and she was adopted by an American family. Unfortunately -- and this happens sometimes -- she was a terrible fit in some ways, and even though everybody has tried hard to make it work, everybody is more or less miserable more or less 24/7. So she's going to come live with us for a couple of months while everybody takes a breather and destresses and regains some decision-making ability; and then she and her parents can try to decide whether there's a good permanent solution to their conflicts, and if so, what that might be.

But it's not that big a deal because Kasia's off spending a semester with her grandmother; so it just means we're back to eight kids a little sooner than we expected...

It does, however, mean that the following picture, which I finally managed to load onto my computer only yesterday even though we took it a couple of months ago, is temporarily out of date already.

Back row: Me, Sean, Rusty, Kegan, Dessie
On my lap: Sally
Front row: Merry, Anya, Kinya, Kasia

Natasha knows us pretty well already, though, especially me. She and I spent a very long day together back when she first came to America. In fact we toured the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland together, she and I. She was a last-minute addition to a group of Kazakh kids we were bringing to America for the summer, and I couldn't get her onto the same plane I'd put Aigul (our twenty-one-year-old escort) and the other six kids on. So I switched my ticket to a different flight that connected through Cleveland rather than through Atlanta...and then on the day we were all flying, Continental's entire computer system went down, and they lost track of where all their planes were and who was supposed to be connecting were, and the ripple effect pretty much brought all American air traffic to its knees. Natasha and I made it to Cleveland on our original flight, and then we got lucky and managed to get seats on a flight that left only five hours later. But that gave us five hours to sit in Cleveland's airport; and although the Cleveland airport is a hoppin' place -- people route themselves through Cleveland and get intentionally long layovers just because the airport is so much fun to hang out in, I think somebody once told me -- we decided we'd still rather go see the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. (Note to persons who have never made a living as a 250,000-mile-per-year consultant and therefore are not familiar with every major airport in the country and most of the minor ones: the Cleveland airport is not really a tourist destination.)

But Aigulya and the other six kids? They weren't as lucky. They didn't get to leave the Atlanta airport at all -- no Hall of Fame for them, no walking along the shore of Lake Erie. And it took them a lot longer to get rebooked. In the end the host families and I met them at the San Antonio airport at two in the morning -- about twelve hours late. So their day really sucked. But mine turned out to be a whole bunch of fun, because Natasha was great company and we wound up having a ball.

Natasha will be eighteen in December. Since she's only in tenth grade, however, we now have "twin" sophomores (Natasha and the Princess) as well as "triplet" eighth-graders (Kegan and Kinya and Sean). Anya's delighted because she knows and likes Natasha (the two of them will now be sharing a room). But the person whose life has been instantly improved the most by Natasha's arrival (though said person doesn't yet realize it) is not really a person at all. Natasha is a card-carrying animal lover; so whatever else happens while Natasha's here, the dog at least will never lack for love and attention.

Update note: In my original post, dashed off hastily, I made it sound as though Natasha was leaving her family's house for good. It's important to make it clear that that is not the case; she may in the end not go back, but we certainly don't know that for sure yet. So I rewrote the post to correct that impression.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A blanket apology

I have been wretchedly sick for, what, maybe five days now...every time I cough it feels like somebody is trapped inside my chest and is trying to fight his way out with a machete. I've spent as much of my time as I could doped up and asleep, or at least lying in bed trying not to move any more than necessary, lest I trigger a coughing fit. (Not that I had that much of an opportunity to lie in bed because I do have eight children and there are things that have to be done whether you feel like doing them or not.) In an act of true desperation, I am actually going to a doctor tomorrow morning. So you know it's really bad.

At any rate, I am miles behind on my e-mail, which includes any comments people have left. I'll catch up as fast as I can.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Another Luis Miguel note

While I'm on the topic of Navidades, allow me to observe that Miguel's version of "Noche de Paz" is hands-down my favorite version of "Silent Night, Holy Night," and also one of the most effective album finales I remember hearing (excluding, of course, the fourth movement of Beethoven's Fifth). Imagine, if you will, a crisply lush version that's heavily influenced by a big-band swing sound and even more heavily redolent of a black gospel church on Sunday morning (complete with full swingin' and rockin'-back-and-forth-and-clappin' choir), with Miguel's expressive and perfectly controlled tenor soaring above it all in a wonderful Spanish translation of the classic old carol. If you haven't heard it, and you like either Luis Miguel (which I do), big band (which I do), or black gospel (personally I look more fondly back on my days in the Princeton Gospel Ensemble than on all but a very few other experiences in my life), then do yourself a favor and find a way to hear this song.

Need a bit of help 'cause my Spanish is rusty

There's a lovely song on Luis Miguel's Christmas album Navidades that I enjoy very much, but while my long-unused Spanish is good enough to catch the general drift, I'm stuck at a couple of places. Any help would be very much appreciated.

Here's the Spanish:

No, ya no pienses en llorar
De qué vale lamentar
Lo pasado pasó
Si ese amor terminó
Otro amor puede llegar
Nunca es tarde para amar
Y volver a ser feliz

No, para que la soledad
Cuando la felicidad
Puede hacerte sentir
Como es lindo vivir
Nunca dejes de soñar
Y mañana al despertar
Ve la vida con amor
Sonríe, Sonríe

No, nunca dejes de soñar
Y mañana al despertar
Ve la vida con amor
Sonríe, Sonríe
And my very bad translation follows -- corrections would be deeply appreciated.

No, don’t think of crying
What good does regret do?
What’s past is past
If this love has died
Another love can arise
It’s never too late to love
And to turn to happiness

No; so that solitude,
In your time of happiness
Can teach you to feel
How sweet life is,
Never stop dreaming
And tomorrow when you wake up
You see a life with love
Smile, Smile

No, never stop dreaming
And tomorrow when you wake up
You see a life with love
Smile, Smile

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bragging on the Princess

Brag the First:

A recent e-mail exchange between Kasia and myself follows.

First e-mail: Kasia forwards to me an announcement that the new TobyMac CD has hit the stores.

I reply:

Are you asking me whether you can buy this CD? (Yes, you may; get the money from Babushka and I'll send her a check.)

And then I get this response:

i dont particularly want it, i just thought you would like to know it was out in case you wanted it. its totally new, not a remix cd.
Which is to say, my teenaged daughter went to the trouble of e-mailing me about a CD that she wasn't asking me to buy, because she thought I would want to have it. There will now be a two-minute pause to allow my beaming proudly at the fine character of my very thoughtful teenaged daughter.

Brag the Second:

Kasia, who is in ninth grade, has given me permission to post her extemporaneous TASS essay on, "Describe a Person who has made a Lasting Impression on You."

"Et Earello Endorenna utulien. Sinome maruvan ar Hildinyar tenn Ambar-metta." "Out of the Great Sea to Middle Earth I am come. In this place will I abide, unto then ending of the world." The first time I heard Aragorn singing his famous coronation song in the huge, crammed theatre the joy and uplifted spirit boiling in me at this climax pushed me out of my seat with a shout of release. As the stunned moviegoers turned to stare at the rude, shouting child I gave a shaky smile and sat down amidst whispers of "good job" and "nice going, loud mouth." Despite the embarassment, my love of Tolkien was sealed.

The physical signs of my obsession are many. On my shelf sit 15 books related to Tolkien, a binder containing a course in Quenya, or High Elvish, and three notebooks containging the events of the trilogy mapped out chronologically. Marked on my LOTR calender are December 25th (for when the Fellowship leaves Rivendell), March 25th (when the Ring is destroyed), and September 22nd (Frodo and Bilbo's birthday), all very important LOTR days. A large map of Middle Earth and a "Return of the King" wall hanging decorate my wall. A collectible Arwen doll sits on my dark chest of drawers. To say that Tolkien has affected my life is proven simply by looking around my room.

Behind the physical signs, though, are the emotional and mental marks Tolkien has left on my soul. Before Tolkien Kasia was an outgoing, immature child. She had no deep connections, a leaf blowing on the wind, floating through her days unaffected and shallow. Then one day she went to see a small movie called "The Fellowship of the Ring." By the end of the movie a fiery feeling had flared from the tips of my toes to the hairs on the top of my head. Over the next two months I pushed my sixth grade mind through the LOTR books. The difficult reading pushed my mind into a deep and mature environment. My shallow spirit found something worth delving into. I matured more over those two months than the last two years.

Today I am much deeper. My friends are all as close as family. My interests in language, music, and literature run very deep. (I have studied 5 languages, listen to music in 7 languages, and have actually read Beowulf on my own!) Thanks to Tolkien, this leaf is now firmly attached to the human tree, and I won't be blowing away anytime soon.
Which ain't bad for fifteen minutes, or however long they get to write those things.

And then there's Brag the Third, which isn't really a brag so much, I guess, as a sharing. For various reasons, our family has had an awfully rough time for the last couple of years, though I try not to whine too much on the blog; and it certainly hasn't been easy on Kasia. Here is a recent journal entry she shared with me tonight:

As the Princess Bride said, (and I know this quote isn't perfectly correct, but it's close) "our love is bound so strong that you cannot track it, not with 1000 hounds. And you cannot break it, not with 1000 swords." I agree, although my bond is not to the Dread Pirate Roberts. In fact, it is not with any mere guy. My bond is with my family. Sure we have problems, more than most in fact. It may appear to others that we are falling apart. For a long time, I believed that the swords of Satan, much stronger than Humperdincks, were breaking our bond. But we are still strong. We are a family. My stressed-out depressed father who never fails to show us all how much he really loves us and will do for us; my strong, caring mother who has lived her life for us; my new older sister Anya who is still discovering who we are; my untrusting, scared sister Kinya who is trying to find her place; my incredible brothers Sean and Kegan who are finally realizing that they actually do like us; my annoying selfless sister Merry who keeps me from my pride; my thoughtful sweet brother Rusty who is only beginning his lifelong struggle; and finally my strong stubborn Sally who has learned to care. We are bound together and despite all troubles, inside and out, we will hold true. Mom, Dad, Anya, Kinya, Sean, Kegan, Merry, Rusty, Sally, and I will stay strong past all swordfights with Satan because of God's Love that has bound us together so tightly.
To which Kasia appended the note, "So I don't know if this will help or not, but I started out writing a completely superficial journal entry simply for a grade, and ended up putting my real feelings on the page. Amazing how that works, huh?"

Yep. It does seem to work that way. Though not with this blog, I hasten to say -- all the feelings expressed on THIS blog are totally made up and insincere.

Skip this post if you're bored with the global warming topic

An anonymous commenter, responding to an earlier set of musings about global warming, asked:

2. What good does it do to deny it? Does it help reduce pollution, increase renewable energy - which would increase reliablilty in energy sources, increase understanding in sciences and education, help increase research into better cars, etc.?
In a follow-up post, I tried to make clear that the measures proposed by folks like Al Gore -- which are not necessarily the measures my commenter would support -- would do a great deal of harm, especially to people whose lives are far harder and far less blessed than the wealthy (by global standards) Westerners who make most of the noise about global warming. As an example, I pointed out that the post-haste construction of cheap and reliable fossil-fuel-powered generators throughout Africa would certainly increase mankind's carbon footprint, but would also have an immediate and dramatic positive impact on the woefully high child mortality rates and woefully low life expectancy of the millions of Africans living in electricity-deprived poverty (a particularly relevant example, I thought, since one of my commenter's examples of why we should stop global warming was how severely inconvenient (s)he had found it to have to go a couple of days without electricity).

Then either the same commenter or a different anonymous commenter gave his own tongue-in-cheek partisan-snark answer:

Ignoring global warming is good for the republicans politics.

Easy as 1,2,3.
Not that I have any particular objection to partisan snark -- I indulge in it gleefully myself from time to time, and indeed I enjoy it so much that every so often I even snark against what my anonymous commenters probably consider to be my own side. Cheerful and affectionate mutual snarking is one of the spices of life, IMHO. (This is assuming that said commenter wasn't deadly serious, in which case one merely feels pity for the person imprisoned in such a constrained and insular mental and emotional landscape, and moves on with as little rubber-necking as possible.)

I could obviously have responded in kind, something like:

What, and fanning the flames of global warming hysteria doesn't play right into exactly what Democrats want to believe anyway?
But I think actually there's a valid point underlying the snark, albeit one that goes both ways. So I'll take that comment a bit more seriously than I was meant to and run with it a bit.

Here's the thing: I personally believe that increased meddling by the government in ordinary citizens' economic decisions, and wholesale attempts to head off the decisions of the free market, almost always have bad results (usually on people whom those pushing the increased meddling don't really give a damn about); and therefore if you're going to do that you'd better have a bloody clear case that the benefits are going to be worth the costs. The global warming crowd doesn't come close to meeting that standard -- they carry on about people who are theoretically going to suffer fifty years from now and in the process, it seems to me, ignore the very real and immediate suffering of extremely non-hypothetical people right now today. And by one of modern politics' more ludicrous ironies, they prioritize this hypothetical future suffering over the very much non-hypothetical present-day suffering in the name of -- get this -- empirical science. Um, it's pretty hard to get less empirical than to prioritize hypothetical future suffering five decades in the future over real live suffering that you can fly to Africa and touch with your own hands tomorrow -- at least, you can if you have a sufficiently sizable bank account, and if you have no more compunction about pumping jet fuel emissions into the atmosphere than Al Gore does. So, insofar as you say this "fits into Republican politics" -- well, ignoring for a moment the fact that I'm not much of a Republican, I would agree that a skeptical attitude toward the apocalyptic claims of the Al Gores and IPCC's of the world is in line with the conclusions that experience and study have led me to adopt about what is best for the ordinary common man, and what is most in line with the claims of justice. This doesn't mean that global warming isn't happening -- it just means that when a person from the Left says, "What harm does it do to try to stop global warming?" my answer is, "If you're trying to stop it by government regulation and violence, a whole helluva lot; so you're going to have to really show me something to convince me that the benefits you think you're going to get are worth the price you intend to impose."

On the other hand, if you're someone who has grown up thinking that industry is generally speaking a bad thing, and that only the intervention of noble and selfless politicians and bureaucrats keeps the selfish and power-hungry and callous Big Businessmen from making slaves of us all, and that it's a good thing for Democratic governments to impose their values on dissenting citizens (though of course it is the height of Hitleresque evil for Republicans to impose their values when the political tables are turned), and if your environmentalism has already convinced you that we should be taking public transit rather than driving cars or whatever, why then global warming is a perfect excuse to insist that the government force everybody to do the things you want them to do anyway -- but that they stubbornly keep not doing. And therefore you will feel that the bar for proof of global warming should be set very low, because even if global warming turns out not to be true it will have been a very useful mistake -- we'll all be better off for having believed this useful, even if untrue, theory.

Obviously I'm taking my turn to be cheerfully snarky (no offense or real disrespect is intended, I assure you), but there's a serious point underneath it. And perhaps I'm not being fair here even when you take the snark out. So let me ask those of you who think that global warming is a looming disaster a seriously-meant question, and I promise I will listen to your answer with an open and inquisitive mind.

Let's say I go to a random one hundred people who believe that global warming is going to bring down the Apocalypse upon us and that Action Is Called For Now Before It's Too Late, and I ask them, "What do you think we should do to stop it?"

1. Isn't it true that the answer of the overwhelming majority is going to be a list of things that Democrats have been trying to convince us we should all do anyway, ever since the Baby Boomers collectively decided that John Lennon was a wise and profound Deep Thinker?

2. Isn't it true that the list of things we're supposed to do To Save The Planet From The Wrath To Come, is a bunch of things that Republicans and libertarians think -- not from selfish calculation, but from sincerely held philosophical and empirical convictions -- are extremely destructive to the public welfare? And don't those Republicans and libertarians generally think that the destructive consequences of those policies fall disproportionately on those who can least afford them?

3. Isn't that agenda an agenda that the Democrats have pretty much failed to sell to the American people on other grounds? I mean, Hummers and Suburbans sell really well in America and mass transit (especially in the West) has hardly been eagerly embraced. So, without the rhetorical ammunition that global warming provides, wouldn't the odds that Americans would adopt the environmentalist agenda be awfully low?

It is, therefore, natural that Democrats will be eager to rush to embrace the idea that there is bearing down upon us a global apocalypse that very conveniently happens to support precisely the agenda they have tried in vain to sell to the American public. I don't for a moment mean to suggest that Democrats know that global warming is a fraud and are cynically pushing it anyway. I mean that the Democrats sincerely believe that those measures are necessary on other grounds, and therefore even if global warming isn't true, it ought to be -- and it certainly will do no harm to act as though it is. "What good does it to to deny it?" seems to me to be pretty much the same as, "What does it matter whether it's actually true or not?" And if you think everything global warming tells us to do, we oughta be doing already, I can see the temptation to react that way. (To switch to a different context, I know lots of evangelical Christians who think that it's better for a person to accept Jesus as a result of illogical and silly arguments than for him to see through the b.s. and decline to be convinced. And of course I can see their point, given the things they believe are true about what are one's choices in eternal destination and how that choice gets made.)

But it is just as reasonable -- and no more hypocritical or "political" -- for Republicans to say in their turn that the bar of demonstration needs to be set pretty damned high before we impose upon tens of millions of free citizens a set of measures likely to be very destructive of the well-being of America's and the world's least fortunate people.

But you can call principled disagreement with your own views "Republican politics" if it makes you feel better or if you like teasing me. It won't hurt my feelings in the slightest.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I discover that I actually have an opinion about the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case other than that it's hilarious

A couple of days ago I put up a post about a recent Supreme Court case that I find fairly amusing; but I didn't really have any opinion on the case at the time other than it was funny to watch the lawyers for both sides collapse into helpless self-contradiction under the withering fire of the Justices' questions. But I discover now that I actually have an opinion.

See, I'll tell you what strikes me as absurd about all of this -- since I'm poking fun at the lawyers it's only fair to give people a chance to make fun of me. Now if you know me at all well you know I think the war on drugs is stupid and counterproductive, and also that it's a terrible idea to have the government involved in any capacity in the education of children, and therefore that this whole thing is a case of stupid laws creating stupid lawsuits. But set aside my general philosophy here for a moment and let's just look at this case -- this case that Ken Starr solemnly swears is about Keeping Our Children From Falling Prey To The Drug Fiends, and that Douglas Mertz swears is about Keeping Our Children Free To Express Political Opinions.

The first thing that just leaps out at you -- isn't it that this was just a joke from a kid trying to get on TV? I mean, with all due respect to Mr. Mertz, the young jackass wasn't carrying out some noble First Amendment duty to attempt to better our nation's laws. And, with all due respect to Mr. Starr, the young jackass wasn't trying to recruit kids into drug addition. He's just a kid trying to get some attention (in which pursuit, as you may have noticed, he was spectacularly successful). He was being a jackass, and he knew perfectly well the school wouldn't let him do it, and he skipped school in order to do it, and the principal made him take the sign down and slapped a two-week suspension on him, which the superintendent knocked down to five days. How in God's name does this wind up at the Supreme Court???? Our legal system really has gone more or less completely insane. And, a question for Mr. Mertz, who claims to adore the First Amendment with something of the reverence that Polish nuns have for the Blessed Virgin Mary: can trivializing the First Amendment in this way really do anything in the long run but lessen the general populace's reverence for it?

One other thing -- it occurs to me that, if my memory doesn't betray me, P. J. O'Rourke sat in on oral arguments for Texas vs. Johnson, one of the landmark First Amendment cases that preceded this one. (This was the flag-burning case.) His account is, like most of P. J.'s stuff, laugh-out-loud funny. You can find it in Parliament of Whores.

And a Russian song I can't find on YouTube

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find one of my current favorites, Diskomafia's "Дайте денег," which I would translate as, "Gimme some money." In fact, I think I'll take a shot at translating (quite freely!) this hilarious song, despite the fact that humor doesn't usually translate well out of one language into another. (You should know that Seryoga is a Russian rapper who had a big hit called "Chorniy Boomer" = "Black Beamer" not long before this one came out; and "A nu-ka!" is a mild Russian exclamation that means something like "Oy!" or "Woo-hoo!" fact I think I'll just translate it as "yee-haw." Close enough, even if it is a somewhat bizarre way of pretending that this particular Russian pop band is composed of rednecks.)

If you can track the song down someplace, and you're old enough to catch the musical allusions in the song, you'll note instantly that the song starts off with the guitar riff from "Pretty Woman" (gotta admit that's one of the great all-time riffs), and then goes into a musical takeoff from the old Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs song "Wooly Bully." Which just makes it that much more fun for old dudes like me.


I heard that Seryoga got a black Beamer cheap
And I was a bit envious (aha) -- not dying or anything --
And everyone knows, that his super-hit helped him out
So now the boy has gotten really very famous
Well, here’s my deal – I want a Mercedes!!!
Ladies and gentlemen, who can pony up that much!?! Hey, yee-haw!!


Gimme some money
A bit more money
Gimme some money
A bit more money (give me the money, give me the money)!!!
No need to be snobby; just help me get rich, YEAH!!!

So now my smash hit’s ready (aha),
A couple of chords on one of my songs,
And on TV (and on TV), my song just keeps on playing,
So why does this John dude call me every evening
Saying, “Buddy, you’re a genius!!”
Well, I fired right back, “Thanks a lot, sure, but I’d rather you give me the money!” Hey, yee-haw!


Gimme some money [“John”: yee-haw, Gimme some money]
A bit more money [“John”: gimme, gimme some money]
Gimme some money [“John”: can’t do nothin’ without the cash]
A bit more money [“John”: that’s the way it works around here]
Hey, yee-haw, anything tangible helps out on the material side!!!
Right? (RIGHT!!) Ay, you da dudes!


So, back to the fashionable parties, the city casino (aha)
To my girlfriend I’m a superstar; she proposed, we booked the flight, (oh yeah)
A two-week honeymoon, bright sun, azure coast!
And look here, now she says all sweet-like – [her, in her best eyelash-fluttering little-girl tones] “Baby, gimme some money!!” [him] Auugghh!!


[the girls]: Gimme some money
[him: aha, aha]
A bit more money [sounds of her faking passion],
Gimme some money
A bit more money,
Gimme some money
A bit more money, gimme the money!!

Guys: Gimme some money [Girls: Gimme some money]
A bit more money [Girls: a bit more money]
Gimme some money [Girls: Gimme some money]
A bit more money [Girls: a bit more money]
You don’t have to worry about leaving with the money, YEAH!!!
Gimme some money (thank you, thank you)
A bit more money (aha, aha, well, yee-haw!)
Gimme some money
A bit more money (gimme the money, gimme the money!)
Gimme some money
A bit more money, gimme the money!!

Now those of you who know Russian can tell me how well I did:



Слыхал, не дорого взял Серёга черный бумер
Я даже чуть–чуть от зависти (ага), не умер,
И люди понимают, что помог ему лишь супер хит,
И стал пацан реально очень знаменит,
Ну, мой интерес – я хочу Мерседес!!!
Дамы и господа, кто сколько сможет!!! А ну-ка!!


Дайте денег
Побольше денег
Дайте денег
Побольше денег (деньги давай, деньги давай!!!)
Не надо суетиться, помогите обогатиться, ДА!!!

А вот уже и типа шлягер готов (ага),
Парочка аккордов на одном из ладов,
И на ТВ, (и на ТВ) – моя песня звучит,
И почему – то этот Джон мне каждый вечер звонит,
И говорит – парень – ты гений!!
Ну я ему так прямо ответил, спасибо конечно, но лучше – дайте денег! А ну-ка!


Дайте денег (ну-ка, дайте денег)
Побольше денег (дайте, дайте денег)
Дайте денег (не можем без банкноты)
Побольше денег (такая вот работа)
А ну-ка все реально - поможет метерьяльно!
Да? (ДА!!!) Ай, молодцы!


И снова модные тусовки, казино города (ага)
Для своей подруги я супер звезда, она предложила, мы полетели, ( о – е)
Медовый месяц на две недели, яркое солнце, лазурный берег!
И вот тут она мне ласково так – котик дай мне денег!! А!!


Дайте денег (ага, ага)
Побольше денег
Дайте денег
Побольше денег,
Дайте денег
Побольше денег, денег Дай!!

Дайте денег (дайте денег)
Побольше денег (побольше денег)
Дайте денег (дайте денег)
Побольше денег (побольше денег)
Не надо вам бояться, с деньгами расставаться, ДА!!!

Дайте денег (спасибо спасибо)
Побольше денег (ага, ага, а ну-ка)
Дайте денег (у-у-у-у-у)
Побольше денег (деньги давай, деньги давай!)
Дайте денег
Побольше денег, денег Дай!!

Another Russian video Dessie and I have always gotten a big kick out of

I like the cheerful peasant choir the most, I think, but the restaging of the paintings is fun too, as is Valyeriy Meladze's shameless hamming it up on his throne. The guy makes great videos, in large part because he doesn't take himself too seriously even though his music is first-rate. (No telling how long this one will stay up on YouTube, by the way.)

Oh, and the three girls? They're the Russian girl-band "Via Gra" -- which you should carefully pronounce "viaGRA," not "viAGra," despite the similarity of their effects on the average guy.

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest

Cathy Seipp has finally lost her long war against lung cancer. That's our loss. If you never read her stuff, that's yours.

Here's some heartfelt praise from Susan Estrich -- who was hardly from the same spot on the political spectrum as was Cathy -- that does great credit to them both.

A lovely song and a touching (and gorgeous) video

The song is sung by the young Kazakh artist Qaraqat (listen, that name probably sounds ugly if you're an American guy used to American names, but that impression will not survive the video). It's in Kazakh; so you won't understand it. But the story the video tells, and the specific emotion it captures, don't require words. (After the video I've put what one of the YouTube commenters said was the story, but you ought to watch it first without the help -- because the video doesn't need the help.) Plus you get to see the inside of a yurt all dolled up, and lots of Kazakhs wearing lovely traditional Kazakh clothing and really quite impressive silverwork, and you get to see what a Kazakh bride traditionally looked like on her wedding day. I think it's well worth seeing even if you don't have my interest in Kazakhstan (or if, like Anya and Kinya, you are an emphatically Russian Kazakhstani).

Several YouTube commenters have asked for somebody to translate the song, and one Kazakh responded:

This song about grandmother. It is called "Asyl azhe", which means My dear Granny". The words are beautiful. It tells about how she loves her granny who upbrough her and gave all her love. If I can get the words I can translate into English. In our Kazakh tradition a girl is angel and parents take care of her like that. The honored place is always given to a daugher. By this vedeo, they showed Kazakh tradtion.
Of course, you can generally count on at least one person to fulfill the worldwide stereotype of the clueless American (I'm chuckling good-naturedly here): somebody called "chantistar" felt compelled to ask, "do people really dress like this all the time?", this is traditional folk dress.


A trailer for the Kazakh film Nomad, coming soon to a DVD within mail-order distance from you. (If you know Russian then you will probably prefer the original Russian trailer here, in which you can actually hear what the actors are saying.)

I used to have the book this movie is based on, having purchased it on my first trip to Kazakhstan; but it didn't make it through one of the moves since then.

Love Story Dept

My good friend Chris Perry, unregenerate child of the Sixties and all-around good guy, sends along the following tragic story of love gained only to be lost. And yes, I admit that it's a partisan snark. ;-)

The Introduction

The Courting

The Rejection

Cui bono?

"Who benefits?"

That's the first question you look at when you're trying to decide whom to believe on any subject where you lack the expertise to figure it out for yourself. Global warming ("global climate change" takes too long to type and everybody knows what I mean anyway) enthusiasts accuse anyone who disagrees with their orthodoxy of being "in the pay of oil companies" or some such thing, showing that they recognize the basic principle. I've just been directed to a post by David Friedman (Milton's son) who expresses perfectly my deep skepticism as to the motives of the Al Gores of the world -- and as well goes to the point of why I think it's a very bad thing when people start saying, "Well, even if global warming isn't such a problem, we still ought to do all these things anyway."

Money quotes:

1. Governments, and people in government, seek power for obvious reasons. Over the past fifty years the intellectual justification for the large expansion in government power from about 1930-1970 has largely collapsed. The belief that capitalism is inherently unstable and inefficient and must be fixed with large elements of governmental intervention and central planning is no longer taken very seriously by either the general public or economists.

Environmentalism in general and global warming in particular provide new arguments for expanded government power, new taxes, and the like. That does not mean, of course, that those arguments are wrong, but it does mean that there are a lot of people who have an incentive to support them whether wrong or right...

2. Global warming provides arguments for things that a lot of people, mostly left of center, want to do anyway — shift lifestyles away from automobiles towards mass transit, reduce consumption of depletable resources, and the like. Environmentalism is in part a real argument, in part a religion, in part an aesthetic; the second and third parts make people too willing to accept the first...

Simply put, I am skeptical of conclusions that appear to go well beyond the scientific evidence, pushed by people who have reasons to want other people to believe them.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"And You Think America Has Too Many Lawsuits?" Dept

I believe I mentioned that New Zealand is so far as I know the only signatory to the Kyoto agreement that was stupid enough actually to make a serious attempt to abide by what it signed. Here, in case you need more evidence, is further proof that living in the Antipodes is not necessarily conducive to optimal brain function.

HT: Mr. Barry, again. (Dave's comment: "You win some, you lose some." And sometimes both at once, it would seem.)

Bong Hits 4 Jesus; or, Fun at the Supreme Court

Originally posted at 19:35 19 March; bumped to the top because I decided I actually have an opinion on the case itself and did some more rambling.

I think the Supreme Court is a pretty entertaining bunch of folks -- because here are these nine very smart people, and every time they hear a case this is what happens:

1. The lawyer for one side gets up and starts arguing, and the Supreme Court Justices start interrupting with this barrage of questions that (since they have him outnumbered nine to one) pretty much inevitably make him look like a complete fool. This warms the cockles of such members of the other side as have never seen the Supremes in action, because they are sitting there thinking, "Oh, hoh, that guy is so stupid, we have this in the bag."

2. Then the lawyer for the other side gets up and starts presenting his case -- whereupon the nine Supremes promptly proceed to tear HIS arguments to tatters as well.

Again, you're talking nine to one, and the Supremes -- even the ones who are grotesquely intellectually dishonest -- are not likely to take a back seat to anybody on sheer brainpower. So I don't care who it is that's going up against them, at least one and usually more of the Supremes are going to find the flaws in his argument and just blow him up. Which is highly entertaining, IMHO.

3. Then time runs out and the Supremes disappear into their mystic chambers and, I don't know, consult Ouija boards or something, and a few months later they give their opinion -- which is usually in a form that any reasonably intelligent person can blow holes in, since the Supremes are as daftly biased by their own hobby-horses as anybody else is. (At least, the Supremes have been thusly daft ever since Congress decided that judges should be chosen not on their competence and objectivity but instead on the likelihood that they will take what Congress considers to be the "right" side on political issues.)

My point? Well, if you're smart enough, you can probably find a weakness in just about any argument put forward by anybody whose name isn't God, because there are very few truly perfect arguments in the world. But just because you know you wouldn't do any better if you got shoved into the same spotlight, that doesn't mean it isn't fun to watch the circus.

And in pursuit of that mildly amusing pasttime, I give you Dahlia Lithwick's -- I just have to interrupt myself for a moment here to say, is that a great name or what? -- anyway, I give you Dahlia Lithwick's account of a recent Supreme Court case that sported (in the great tradition of Supreme Court cases' making very odd bedfellows indeed) a whole bunch of conservative Christians showing up to argue on behalf of the kid who got in trouble for waving a sign recommending "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." (Warning: there's a VERY bad word in the very first sentence, but after that she mostly behaves herself.)

Or you could just read the transcript here. I love the way Roberts has clearly just been waiting for the bong kid's lawyer to get up there so he can blow him up just two sentences into his spiel:

MR. MERTZ: Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court: This is a case about free speech. It is not a case about drugs.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: It's a case about money. Your client wants money from the principal personally for her actions in this case.

Or there's this exchange not much further on:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: But there's a broader issue of whether principals and teachers around the country have to fear that they're going to have to pay out of their personal pocket whenever they take actions pursuant to establish board policies that they think are necessary to promote the school's education mission.

MR. MERTZ: That is indeed a legitimate fear, Your Honor [I am less than wholly convinced that Mr. Mertz personally fears that it will be too easy for lawyers such as himself to talk silly persons into filing absurd lawsuits, but we'll pretend to believe he's sincere - Peril], and we believe the existing law takes care of it by requiring before qualified immunity can be breached that there be a demonstration that under the existing law at the time available to her [the principal] --

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: And you think it was clearly established that she had to allow a student at a school-supervised function to hold a 15-foot banner saying "Bong Hits 4 Jesus"?

Ken Starr's arguments are at least as bad but he's so all over the place it's hard to get a nice short funny quote.

Anyway, for those of you who share my oddball sense of humor, I think you'll get a kick out of that transcript.

Another global warming musing (short one)

Don't more people die from brutally cold winters than die from brutally hot summers?

And if so, how come we don't expect to save more lives in the slightly-warmer winters than we would expect to lose in the slightly-warmer summers?

Just wonderin'.

Useful Invention of the Day

How about a bird feeder that has a weight limit, so that if something heavier than a bird -- say, a squirrel -- hops onto the feeder and tries to steal the food, Strong Measures Are Taken?

Hat Tip: Mr. Barry

Saturday, March 17, 2007

More on the Global Warming thing

A very nice anonymous commenter has responded at length to my previous little post on global warming, indeed probably at rather more length than it deserved. I have a slight problem: I'm not quite sure what my anonymous friend wants me to do; so I'm not sure exactly how to respond. But I'm reasonably sure (s)he and I disagree on one point: my commenter doesn't seem to think it does much harm to try to stop global warming even if global temperatures aren't something human beings actually influence -- that is, even if the religion of Stopping Global Warming has no basis whatsoever in fact.

There are lots of different ways the conversation could go from here. Here are several alternatives; if you want, you guys pick the one that interests you.

(By the way: if my anonymous global warming commenter is my old torture-of-terrorists friend "Arnie," I should take this chance to apologize that the pressures of real life have kept me from ever getting around to talking about the misuse of the Golden Rule and the role of uncertainty in political ethics.)

1. Tremendous, immediate, and absolutely non-hypothetical increase in human welfare, and decrease in human suffering, stand to be gained in grossly poverty-stricken parts of the world like Africa – but only by means of rapid industrialization fueled by greatly increased consumption of fossil fuels. If somebody genuinely cares about human suffering, and genuinely values the empiricism that is the root of all genuine science, then to me it would seem very hard for that person not to set up a balance scale that looks something like this:

On the one hand, if the speculative model-driven foretelling-the-future form of “science” that is the specialty of the IPCC is right, and if we don’t do anything about global warming, and if the free market (which over the last half-century has created technological improvements that nobody could possibly have imagined in the ’40’s and ’50’s) doesn’t come up with perfectly good solutions that don’t happen to have occurred yet to the Vice-President In Charge Of Environmental Scare-Mongering at Newsweek magazine...if all those Might-Be’s come true, then there is a possibility (though one that has no real empirical evidence behind it to date) that a couple of million people a couple of generations from now could get sick and maybe even die. Which would, I agree, be a bad thing. If it actually happened. But then again, maybe this decade’s Great Big Oh My God We’re All Going To Die Unless The Government Gives Me Enough Grant Money For Me To Find A Solution To The Problem That I Assure You Exists, And That Is Clearly The Fault Of Republicans And Big Business And The Great Satan America, And That Did I Mention Requires You To Give Me Heaps Of Taxpayer-Funded Grant Money? -- maybe, I say, this decade's "scientific consensus" of Armageddon, isn’t going to turn out to be any more accurate a prophecy than the Great Global Cooling scientific scare-consensus of the Seventies, or the good ol’ Population Bomb of the Sixties. According to the news media, the “scientific consensus” has been assuring us that modern man’s pernicious habit of making life better for himself and his family was going to bring destruction upon us all, ever since the Baby Boomers began congratulating themselves on the twin discoveries that (a) they were infinitely smarter than their oh-so-square and oh-so-inadequately-self-indulgent parents and (b) New-Age-ey do-it-yourself nature-worship conveniently declines to impose the obligation of self-discipline, either in the realm of intellectual rigor or in that of sexual self-constraint. Thus the empirical track record of the anti-technology “scientific consensus” is slightly less impressive than that of astrologers and gamblers whose hunches have led them to attempt to draw to inside straights. But if they happen to be right this time (as even blind pigs sometimes are), and if the sun doesn’t happen to calm down its sunspot activity and start pushing our temperatures back down faster than global warming is pushing it up, and if modern technology suddenly stops advancing and utterly loses its ability to figure out previously unimagined solutions to problems theretofore perennially considered to be insoluble...why, then a couple of million people might, possibly, get sick and maybe even die. Eventually.

On the other hand, the longer we wait to take all the oil and coal that’s in Africa and use it to bring on line rapid and cheap electricity to the millions and millions of unimaginably poor Africans who don’t have it, the longer we will continue to see millions of Africans lives shortened. That includes, in particular, the lives of thousands upon thousands of African children who die each year from respiratory diseases (since they inhale smoke from the indoor cooking fires that could be replaced by electric stoves) and water-borne infections (since they have no such thing as hot water) and digestive diseases and parasites (since they have no refrigerators in which to keep food). And these aren’t hypothetical deaths – we see them happening right now, and we know exactly what it would take to make them stop happening – namely, the creation of a whole bunch of power plants capable of churning out energy as quickly and cheaply as possible. Which ain’t gonna happen with solar and wind, because solar power and wind are much more inefficient -- which is to say, much more expensive on any meaningful scale -- than are coal- or gas-fired power plants. And although pampered American environmentalists sometimes have trouble remembering it, Africa is poor -- that is, "expensive" is a synonym for "ain't gonna happen anytime soon."

Hmmm...avoiding highly hypothetical deaths of people two generations from now, plus ensuring that middle-class (which, by the standards of the rest of the world and of all human history, means obscenely rich) American tourists on family vacations get their full money's worth out of this year's Grand Canyon vacation; or else putting an end to an empirically verifiable epidemic of deaths that are taking place right now, today. Boy, that’s a tough choice there...on second thought, it’s just poor black African kids that nobody cares about – so let’s get to work on making that Grand Canyon prettier before my next vacation.

That last bit, by the way, is not aimed at my anonymous commenter (except insofar as I'm teasing him by using one of his examples in an unfairly unflattering juxtaposition), but is rather aimed at the talking airheads who make all the global warming noise -- you know, like Al Gore and the Oscar voters. I admit that I am yanking the chain pretty cruelly there, however; and I will try to behave myself for the rest of the post. In all seriousness, I certainly don’t really believe that my commenter cares more about having good vacation pictures for his website than he does about the thousands of African children who die each year from causes directly traceable to the lack of electricity. After all, there aren’t very many Americans left who remember how radically cheap electricity and the internal combustion engine changed the brutal lives of our rural poor. (Though my East Texas farmboy father, who grew up plowing behind horses rather than seated on a tractor, and who went back home from college and installed electricity in his mother’s house so that she would no longer have to put her iron on the old black cookstove to get it hot, certainly remembers it. And oddly enough, he’s not a big proponent of hamstringing the advance of the free market and modern technology for the sake of hypothetical future grandchildren – it's almost as if he thought his very real present-day grandchildren are vastly better off thanks to the free market and modern technology. Pretty weird, huh?)

At any rate, the serious point underlying my silliness here is that rich Westerners who are out to save the environment have a nasty habit of grossly underestimating the degree to which their environmentalism is a luxury of the wealthy. They have a nasty habit of underestimating the very real human cost that comes from environmentalism-motivated restrictions on freedom and capitalism, the two great engines of the prosperity of the Anglosphere in general and America in particular – which prosperity is, ironically, the precondition for all the spare time that Western environmentalists have on their hands in which to promote environmentalism.

2. I think that the fostering of gullibility and intellectual laziness on the part of the public is a vastly greater threat to human welfare than global warming will ever manage to be, and the global warming brouhaha is promoted in ways that are clearly intended to play to human gullibility and intellectual laziness rather than to rationality and a prudent skepticism. There are few forces on earth more destructive, more catastrophic, more apt to Satan’s hand, than the good intentions of a fool. We don’t have a nice long list of actual deaths and human misery directly attributable to global worming; but as far back in the annals of human history as you can go, you can find societies destroying themselves through society-wide folly and gullibility. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the foolish intellectual habits that are manipulated by the global warming propagandists, have a far more deadly potential than does global warming. (For just one example of the empirical cost of the folly of democracies whose voters are easily gulled by eloquent idiots, go look at the example of the English electorate during the days of Neville Chamberlain.) And therefore, if The Great Global Warming Crisis is not really a crisis, then I think it’s a disaster for people to get fooled into thinking it is – and I would think that, even if I thought the things people propose as solutions for global warming would be good ideas on other grounds.

For example, you wouldn’t believe how many people I know that..well, let’s put it this way. (1) They want to argue that we need to cut back on our consumption of fossil fuels, despite the fact that the astonishing improvement in American health, life expectancy, infant mortality rates, and even our average height and strength, have all been made possible by the enormous economic advantages afforded by our harnessing of the energy in fossil fuels. Try running a steel mill – or a major medical research hospital – on solar power sometime, or try generating enough wind power to run the air conditioners that keep two or three million Houstonites comfortable in the summer even though a measly little 100-degree heat wave is enough to hand over to the Grim Reaper almost fifteen thousand aged Parisians. (2) In defense of this position they trot out the argument that our dependence on foreign oil causes petrodollars to flow to various nasty people like the oily (in multiple senses) Saudis or murderous loonies like Chavez, and argue that we need to make the price of oil fall. Now, I think this is an excellent point, and am happy to agree with them, and indeed to adduce all sorts of evidence to show that far more human misery has been caused in the twentieth century by petrodollar-funded Islamofascism than is likely to be generated in the next two centuries by all the global warming the IPCC can dream up. At which point I observe that this is a first-rate reason to open up the continental shelves and Anwar to oil production...and do you know, it’s just astonishing to see how instantaneously my conversational compatriates cease to be concerned with the security risk posed by American dependence on foreign oil production. Well, a nation full of people capable of that kind of intellectual self-deception, is a nation that pretty much deserves the fate that always ultimately befalls democracies full of the foolish.

In a word, I believe it is far more important for a democracy to ostracize people who are dishonest about their motivations, than it is for a democracy to ostracize people who do not adequately conserve their fossil fuels.

3. I don’t for a moment believe that my commenter really thinks there’s nothing wrong with saying, “We ought to do X because if we don’t, Y will happen,” and then when somebody points out that it’s not at all clear that Y will really happen, you say, “Well, that doesn’t really matter because we ought to do X anyway.” I think he was just a little careless in the way he expressed his position. But I can imagine that there are ends-justify-the-means types who would say, "So what's the problem here?" and for those folks, here’s the test case: would you buy the following defense?

IPCC: We must immediately begin enforcing the provisions of Kyoto, despite the immense economic cost that would be inflicted if the provisions were actually to be enforced (which not even any of the governments who went ahead and signed the thing, other than the New Zealanders, have up to now actually been ass enough to do); because otherwise global warming will kill lots of our grandchildren.
ME: Um, I don’t see any particular reason to think that global warming will kill our grandchildren.
IPCC: Well, even if global warming wouldn't actually kill any more of our kids than Rachel Carson's bête noire of DDT has managed to kill, it doesn’t matter, because there are lots of other good reasons for us to impose the restrictions we want to impose.

Would you buy it, I mean, if it were a different person making exactly the same defense?

DUBYA: We have to go invade Iraq, because otherwise Saddam will kill lots of people with his WMD’s.
DEMOCRATS: Hey, wait a minute – turns out Saddam didn’t have any WMD’s! What’s up with that?
DUBYA: Oh, well, it’s okay because I had lots of other good reasons to go in there. I just appealed to the WMD thing because if I hadn’t, you wouldn’t have done what I wanted to because the other reasons I had weren’t going to be enough to convince you.

Something tells me most global warming fanatics would, even in the face of the it’s-okay-because-there-are-other-good-reasons defense, complain with a certain amount of vigor that “Bush lied.”

4. I think that the expansion of the ability of governments to use violence to frustrate the ability of free citizens to make their own economic and moral decisions, is almost always a cause of human misery and a roadblock to human health and happiness – and the global warming political movement has everything to do with expanding the scope of government coercion and no interest whatsoever in reducing the ability of bureaucrats, politicians, and funded-by-coercive-taxation grant-scavengers – or, to sum it up, in a single phrase, the various types of parasites on human society – to do their blood-sucking. (But I can’t tell whether my commenter is personally advocating an “increased role” of governments à la Kyoto or not. If all my friend is trying to say is, “We should all voluntarily turn out the lights when we leave the house,” rather than, “We should start putting guns to the heads of formerly free citizens and forcing them to pay greenhouse-gas taxes every time they drive to the grocery store,” then this particular exceptionally bad consequence of the global-warming scare is not at all relevant to my friend's line of thought.)

So, anyway, there's an off-the-top-of-my-head response that is careless and stream-of-consciousness and not at all charitable and backed by practically no decent research at all -- which is to say, it's precisely the sort of response that a global-warming parrot rag like Newsweek (though not my excellent commenter) pretty much deserves.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Some common-sense musings on global warming

Having very little respect for the trustworthiness of popular authority in general and the wisdom of the chattering classes in general, I don't pay much attention to what the popular press chooses to trumpet as "scientific consensus." So here are a couple of questions that have always loomed large in my mind whenever people carry on about how the world is going to end because of global warming.

See, it seems to me that we are vastly more capable of dealing with climate change than any previous generation. Just look at the air conditioning of Houston, for example, and how drastically that has changed the livability of the Texas Gulf Coast. So let's just think about a couple of things that -- if we had a remotely decent educational system -- every American would know perfectly well from his history classes.

1. Three or four hundred years ago it was so cold in England that the Thames froze solid, year after year after year. Now that's gotta mean that the average temperature back then was significantly lower -- not some measly one or two degrees -- than the temperature now. And the people of that time had unimaginably less in the way of resources to deal with cold weather than we do now.

Yet the human race survived, albeit with some difficulty. So if our ancestors could deal with that seriously cold period, don't you think we could handle it if the temperature dropped a few degrees? I'll admit that you could argue that it would still be rough; but then (a) I'd argue that the best way to minimize human suffering in the face of a new Ice Age would be to press ahead as rapidly as possible on the task of spreading the wealth the capitalism generates to as many people in the world as possible, and (b) global cooling was the official scary scientific consensus of thirty or forty years ago, not today.

2. Why is Greenland named Greenland? A hint: because when the Vikings found it, it was, um, green. Back in medieval times things were a lot warmer than they were during the Little Ice Age. You don't have to go look up the temperature records -- the Vikings thought Greenland was a great place to set up farms, and they had thriving communities there. How much warmer would the world have to get in order to make Greenland green again? And yet our medieval ancestors, with no air conditioning and none of the conveniences of modern technology, not only survived -- they thrived. So, now that we do have vastly greater resources to deal with climate problems...a couple of degrees is going to cause the world to come to an end?

You'll forgive me if I refuse to allow my common sense to be outvoted by the United Nations and the journalists of Newsweek.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A family dispute

Kinya insists that Shakira (who is of Lebanese/Colombian descent) is naturally blonde. I claim that the blonde is bottled, baby. Anybody wanna weigh in on this one?

And can we at least agree that brunette works better for her as far as attractiveness (though I admit it doesn't make nearly as good an album cover)?

Russian MTV memories

Sometimes you just feel stupid.

Dessie called me up from her mom's, where she and the kids are spending spring break (I myself have to work so I couldn't go), to ask, "Are you aware that you can see any Russian music video you want on YouTube?"

To which I had to answer, "Um, no, though now that you mention it, it's obvious that they would be."

So I went straight to the computer to look up a couple of music videos from back in 2003 when we first went to Kazakhstan -- one that I just really liked because I liked what they did with the story, and the other...well, I already told that story once (though not on this blog) but it's worth telling again. And sure enough, I found 'em right away.

First, the story. This is an excerpt from the story of our first adoption experience in Kazakhstan.

...Besides, I am typing while listening to my new Blyestyáschiye (Blis-YAH-shee) album, and while this particular girl-group does very good disco music (“disco” in the sense of “non-American nightclub”), it’s hardly conducive to serious reflection.

I’d been hearing one particular Blyestyaschiye song frequently on the radio and liked it quite a bit (you have to remember that I cheerfully admit to liking the first two Britney Spears albums). Then I wandered into Marina Yurievna’s living room, which is Kid Central pretty much 24/7, just in time to catch the music video for this particular song. Out of politeness to the kids I tried very hard to keep from lying down on the floor and laughing myself silly. Talk about an exercise in fantasy...the four twenty-something girls, who are admittedly drop-dead gorgeous when not punked up for their CD-cover art, were supposed to be stewardesses who had been hired by the Russian mafia to smuggle great big suitcases of money across some border, since security guards do not (at least in the MTV world) search stewardesses. I believe that “stewardesses” is an appropriate term in this context rather than the more politically correct “flight attendants,” because I don’t think the women who insist on being called “flight attendants” are in the habit of performing their duties in shorts that extend from their waist all the way down to, um, well, about halfway down their buttock cheeks. Nor do I think they generally strut through airports with their shirts completely unbuttoned in order to make sure that everyone knows that they prefer the black-bra look. (Plot hole the first of many: as if any girl that good-looking and built on those lines and (un)dressed like that, is going to make it through a checkpoint staffed by male security guards without being well and truly searched – “hey, sorry, but you’re an obvious security risk, babe.”)

By the end of the video the girls have used duplicate suitcases to double-cross the stereotypical mafia goons who were the drop recipients, leaving the goons to stand on the highway waving bras and panties around in baffled bewilderment while the girls and their four hunky boyfriends dance around with the money, for all the world as if the mafia don’t know who they are or where they live. The whole thing was so ludicrously silly it had to be a deliberate goof-off fantasy, one long high-spirited joke riff, especially since I don’t think the song itself has a thing to do with air travel or the mafia. I do admit, of course, that for all I know the black underwear might play a prominent role in the lyrics, since my Russian isn’t good enough to tell one way or the other.[1]

At any rate, none of the kids were laughing, so I politely refrained as well.

After seeing that video I had to get that song – because it really is a fun little dance-groove song, well-executed, and besides it had now been promoted to the status of trip memorabilium. But I didn’t know the name of the group or the name of the song and couldn’t remember any of the lyrics and only remembered two lines of the melody of the chorus. So I went back to Tsum, to the little shop where a cute and friendly and highly amused young lady had helped me select a couple of CD’s two or three days earlier, with no guidance other than, “Well, I like Ariána and want some more Russian or Kazakh music to take home.” The same girl was there and obviously remembered me, as she carefully suppressed a giggle as soon as she saw me coming. All I could tell her was, “I don’t know the song or the group, but the group is four girls and the song goes: bom, bom, bom-bom-bom-bom, bom, bom, bom-bom-bom-bom.” (Inside joke for Kim Sumner: just call me Ed. “You know, that song! YAY!”) You have no idea how impressed I was when she actually figured it out. Also it’s pretty cool that I got twenty songs, from a group that’s one of the hottest groups on the radio right now, on a perfectly good quality CD, for $3.50 or so. I’ve been desperately trying to locate the latest Shania Twain in hopes of saving myself thirteen big ones, figuring that since “Ka-Ching” is getting as much radio play here as any other song I’ve heard in the last four weeks, she’d be obtainable.[2] But so far I just get laughed at when I ask – even by the store that had a big selection of Leann Rimes albums. I gather that while they listen to lots of American music, there’s a certain randomness to the supply thereof. For example, numerous people by now have asked me whether I like this American artist or that American artist, and the name that has come up most often is Aerosmith. I’m not kidding. Aerosmith? They’re still making music? Okay. Didn’t know that. Guess you learn something new every day...

Here, at long last, I can present the video for "А я все летала" ("A ya fcye lyetala"), so that you can see whether or not my description was a good one.

Having bought that album, however, I found (unsurprisingly) that out of the twenty songs on it, some were better than the one that had caught my attention. A year or so later my Columbian friend Edgar Castro (no relation so far as he admits) asked me what I was listening to on my headphones as I coded away on my laptop next to his desk on the trading floor. "Russian salsa," I answered.

"You liar," he said with a grin. So I handed him the headphones and watched his eyes widen as he listened to "За четыре моря" ("Za chetirye morya"), at the end of which he exclaimed, "Hey, that's really good!" And off he went, shaking his head that Russians could do salsa like that. YouTube has disabled embedding on this one, so you'll have to go watch it here -- and you should go do that now. Very fun song and also you get a taste of Russian live pop concerts.

That's one thing I like about Russian pop music -- they pull in musical styles from all over the globe, providing much more musical variety than you get on (frankly pretty boring) American pop music stations. Here's a current big hit by the same group, called "Восточные сказки," with some Middle Eastern sound laid into the pop. (Picture quality is terrible -- probably video-camera'ed straight from a TV. But you can get the flavor of the music.)

And then here's my favorite Russian video from that first trip: Дискотека Авария ("Diskoteka Avariya," which I would translate as something like "Discoteque Wreck"), singing "Небо" ("Nyebo" = "The Sky"). I like the song, but I really like what they did with it in this somewhat silly, but surprisingly sweet little video.

[1] My Russian has gotten better, and I can now tell you that the song does not have anything to do, strictly speaking, with air travel or black underwear. However, it talks a lot about “flying around in the clouds” as a metaphor for being in love, which I suppose was the pretext for the airplane plot.
[2] It didn’t occur to me until later that the reason American music is so cheap, is because it’s all pirated.

Criminal Mastermind of the Day Dept

When low-life scum keep stealing your carefully cultivated cannabis plants, who ya gonna call?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

T-shirt of the Day

Seen in the local coffee shop, on the back of local guitarist extraordinare and all-around nice guy Gabriel Montoya, the following T-shirt:

WISCONSIN: A Great Place to Live.
Come Smell Our Dairy Air

(If you don't get it, try reading it out loud.)

Dad fails to be cool

Talking to Kasia on the phone last night (she and Anya are at Babushka's house), I suggested that she go listen to "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins", and I mentioned that I hadn't been able to find most of the videos she showed me. This bemused her:

Kasia: But Dad, I just go to the search engine and type "LOTR humor" and it all comes up.
Me: [light dawning] Ah, okay, that's the problem -- I wasn't typing "LOTR;" I was spelling out "Lord of the Rings."
Kasia: [in that tone a teenager daughter uses when her dad is being a complete idiot and totally, hopelessly uncool, but she loves him anyway] Well, duh, Dad.

Verizon Math Dept

By way of Christoblog, I found my way ultimately to George Vaccaro's astonishing experience with a building full of Verizon customer service representatives who kept insisting to him that 0.002 dollars is the same thing as 0.002 cents.

If you want to save time -- it's twenty-seven minutes of hilarity but we don't all have twenty-seven minutes lying around the house -- you can go to The Consumerist, which has a transcript.

And back at Christoblog, we have what caught my attention in the first place:

Bonus points to the first geek who figures out how much the check is actually for.
Expand the post forthe answer.

And the answer is:

$0.002, two-tenths of a penny. (It's pretty easy to figure out that if you add 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 + 1/32 + 1/64..., etc., you can get as close to 1 as you want to if you just go far enough, which makes the limit 1. But unless you have gotten reasonably far in calculus you're not going to know perhaps the most fascinating of all mathematical coincidences: the fact that if you take e (the base of natural logarithms) and raise it to power of pi (the most important constant in trigonometry) times i (the square root of negative one, which is at the heart of complex numbers), you get -1. So, 0.002 - 1 + 1 = 0.002.)

This has been your geek-out moment of the day. You may now return to normal life.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Lord of the Rings funny stuff (mostly courtesty of Kasia)

The Princess knows more about The Lord of the Rings than I do, which is saying something. She has a collection of YouTube comic favorites that left me howling...but I can't figure out where to find them all now.

Here's one that Kasia didn't show me: Leonard Nimoy sings "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" in a jaw-droppingly awful music video.

And since we're temporarily on the subject of Star Trek, here's a Kasia contribution: the original crew of Star Trek doing the Monty Python number "Camelot." Excellently well done.

Or we can have Lord of the Rings accompanied by that other classic Monty Python, no, no, not "Every Sperm is Sacred." I, not "The Lumberjack Song," either. Stop guessing! It's that great piece of advice, "(Always Look On) The Bright Side of Life."

Or you could combine Monty Python with Star Wars:

And then we'll wrap up with this deadly parodic slam on George Lucas by imagining what The Lord of the Rings would have been like if George had gotten the movie rights.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Creative Answers Dept

My friend Doug sends along the creative efforts of young persons who have found themselves staring at a test question that they know they have not a snowball's chance of getting right.

This is certainly one way to do a binomial expansion.

I suppose this is a possible explanation.

Anybody who has ever studied calculus knows the feeling of seeing each iteration make things worse instead of better. This guy just expressed it more eloquently than most.

If you can't win the game, change the rules. (I can see Sean coming up with something like this...)

And this is by far my favorite. In the what's-so-hard-about-that? department:

Brilliantly Insightful Question of the Day Dept (with shameless parental bragging to wade through first)

I have the approximate artistic skill (when it comes to drawing and painting and such) of a mildly spastic Chihuahua. So it is a complete mystery to me how it came about that Kasia and Sean and Kegan are all tremendously artistically talented. I mean, scary-good. (For those of you who don't know it, Sean and Kegan are my 13-year-old identical twin boys, who are about three months away from being taller than I am.)

Anyway, Texas holds this sort of state championship of art every school year -- I can't remember the formal name of it, but let's call it the Capitol Art Show, because if your stuff makes it into the show then it spends the entire month of march on display in the rotunda of the Texas state capitol building. The way it works is this: every elementary, middle, and high school in the state gets to pick two works of art from all the art that all the students have done that year, and they enter those two pieces in the contest. (There are some 4.5 million children in Texas public schools; so if you figure a thousand kids per school, which I think is way conservative, that's about 4,500 schools. But that last number is a pure guess on my part. And I imagine not all the schools submit entries. I think what we can safely say is that the number of kids doing art in Texas public schools, and therefore eligibile for the show, is roughly comparable to the number of kids playing football in Texas high schools, and therefore eligible for the state championship in football.)

From all those pieces of art, one hundred are chosen for the show. (I know there's not much suspense to this story -- obviously one of my kids made the show -- but humor me here and pretend not to know what's coming.)

So Sean and Kegan came home several weeks ago and told us about the contest. The reason they told us, was that of the two pieces McMeans Junior High school had chosen to submit, one was by Sean and the other was by Kegan. There are about 1,200 students at McMeans (though of course not all of them take art); so we were quite proud of this. Sean, however, was honked off. He informed us bitterly that he wasn't going to win because his art teacher had picked the wrong piece -- "I've done several that were way better than that." And frankly, I would agree that he's done better work -- there's one self-portrait that is a study in shadow using (I think) charcoal over some sort of moody green base that just knocks me out -- but then I'm hardly the kind of person they're going to pick to judge a statewide student art contest.

Well, the pieces were sent in, and we looked at the odds, and we congratulated the boys for having had the best pieces in their school, and then we promptly forgot about it.

Then a couple of weeks ago Dessie sat down to go through the mail and found an envelope from the Texas Education Art Association (name probably not right). She opened it. It was an invitation for Sean to come to the awards ceremony at the Capitol, as one of the hundred Texas students whose work had been selected. I won't even try to describe how she felt at that moment.

Then she looked back at the stack of mail. And there was another letter from the Texas Education Art Association. She opened it; and there was an invitation for Kegan to come to the awards ceremony at the Capitol, since his piece also had been selected for the show.

-- Okay, major shameless bragging alert. You have been warned. --


This is, according to the nice lady who handed out the medals at the hour-long awards ceremony, the first time two siblings have both made the show, at least in the same year. Our family supplied 18% of the eighth-grader works in the show, which I think gives us a claim to a peculiar kind of family record. (But then, considering that most families don't have eight kids to throw into the mix, I suppose our accomplishment has to be discounted at least a little bit.)

So, we go to the awards ceremony last Sunday. Sean and Kegan aren't exactly dandies, but we had gone out and bought new dress clothes for them, and their mom informed them that they were going to do something with their hair. They both settled on a short little Orlando Bloom pirate ponytail, though since they are inordinately tall, skinny and blond, it's unlikely that Orlando Bloom is the image that leaped into the heads of the spectators as Sean and Kegan walked across the stage.

The kids' names are called out one at a time, and each walks across the stage to cheers and applause to where some politician whose name I forget stands waiting to hang a gold medal around the kid's neck, while their piece is projected onto a screen above the stage. Then the next kid's name is called as the previous kid exits the stage. They had the youngsters arranged in order by school district, and then by last name, and in the case of Sean and Kegan by first name; so Kegan's name was called first.

"From Katy ISD...and I'm sorry, this is my first time seeing, Keegan Pierce." The tall, skinny, blond-ponytailed Pierce boy from Katy walked composedly across the stage to the accompaniment of an uncouth amount of noise from his family, shook the politician's hand, accepted his medal, and turned to pose for the photographer. This was the signal for the presenter to read the next name: "From Katy ISD, Sean Pierce." The tall, skinny, blond-ponytailed Pierce boy from Katy started walking composedly across the stage to the accompaniment of an uncouth amount of noise from his family, and the presenter's eyes widened and her jaw literally dropped open. She reached out and snatched Kegan's arm as he passed her on his way off the stage, and asked the Brilliantly Insightful Question of the Day:

"Is that your brother?"

By the way, in case you haven't picked up on this: I'm sorta proud of my boys.

UPDATE: Okay, so the part about Dessie opening the mail...I wasn't there when the letters got home, so I just sort of made something up to fill in the story. But because I do care about accuracy, I asked Dess once I got home, and here's what actually happened.

Sean came home from school and told Dessie, "Mom, I have something you have to sign." This happens all the time, of course, with seven kids still in public schools. Sean handed Dess two envelopes and wandered off -- being Sean, he had no clue what was in the envelopes. So Dessie really did open the first envelope with no idea of what it's just that it got delivered by Sean instead of the mailman. Though if the mailman had delivered it, it's entirely possible that the mailman would have had a better idea of its contents than Sean did.

Apparently the art teacher had been trying to get Sean and Kegan to take those letters to us for, like, a week or so. They might not have gotten their art talent from me, but it certainly seems that my air-headedness is hereditary.