Friday, June 29, 2007

Imagine All the People...

...Living for today.

You don't have to be a dreamer, because these people seem to exist. They are called the Pirahã (pronounced pee-da-HAN). They are described in this New Yorker article:
...They playfully tossed my name back and forth among themselves, altering it slightly with each reiteration, until it became an unrecognizable syllable. They never uttered it again, but instead gave me a lilting Pirahã name: Kaaxáoi, that of a Pirahã man, from a village downriver, whom they thought I resembled. “That’s completely consistent with my main thesis about the tribe,” Everett told me later. “They reject everything from outside their world. They just don’t want it, and it’s been that way since the day the Brazilians first found them in this jungle in the seventeen-hundreds.”

But his [Dan Everett, an American linguistics professor's] work remained relatively obscure until early in 2005, when he posted on his Web site an article titled “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã,” which was published that fall in the journal Cultural Anthropology. The article described the extreme simplicity of the tribe’s living conditions and culture. The Pirahã, Everett wrote, have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition...

Unlike other hunter-gatherer tribes of the Amazon, the Pirahã have resisted efforts by missionaries and government agencies to teach them farming. They maintain tiny, weed-infested patches of ground a few steps into the forest, where they cultivate scraggly manioc plants. “The stuff that’s growing in this village was either planted by somebody else or it’s what grows when you spit the seed out,” Everett said to me one morning as we walked through the village. Subsisting almost entirely on fish and game, which they catch and hunt daily, the Pirahã have ignored lessons in preserving meats by salting or smoking, and they produce only enough manioc flour to last a few days...

...Everett hypothesized that the tribe embodies a living-in-the-present ethos so powerful that it has affected every aspect of the people’s lives. Committed to an existence in which only observable experience is real, the Pirahã do not think, or speak, in abstractions—and thus do not use color terms, quantifiers, numbers, or myths. Everett pointed to the word xibipío as a clue to how the Pirahã perceive reality solely according to what exists within the boundaries of their direct experience—which Everett defined as anything that they can see and hear, or that someone living has seen and heard. “When someone walks around a bend in the river, the Pirahã say that the person has not simply gone away but xibipío—‘gone out of experience,’ ” Everett said. “They use the same phrase when a candle flame flickers. The light ‘goes in and out of experience.’ ”

To Everett, the Pirahã’s unswerving dedication to empirical reality—he called it the “immediacy-of-experience principle”—explained their resistance to Christianity, since the Pirahã had always reacted to stories about Christ by asking, “Have you met this man?” Told that Christ died two thousand years ago, the Pirahã would react much as they did to my using bug repellent. It explained their failure to build up food stocks, since this required planning for a future that did not yet exist; it explained the failure of the boys’ model airplanes to foster a tradition of sculpture-making, since the models expressed only the momentary burst of excitement that accompanied the sight of an actual plane. It explained the Pirahã’s lack of original stories about how they came into being, since this was a conundrum buried in a past outside the experience of parents and grandparents.
No cultural art...I don't want to come off as a kind of cultural imperialist here, but this really tests the boundaries of my understanding.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Something Scary about Fred Thompson

This guy has his ex-wife and former girlfriends campaigning for him. This makes Karl Rove's mid-control ray-gun look like a Pez dispenser.

IN the battle for the women’s vote, Fred Thompson has a secret weapon against Hillary Clinton - the legions of former girlfriends who still adore him and who want him to be president.

The Hollywood actor and former Tennessee senator racked up an impressive list of conquests during his swinging bachelor days in the 1990s, but he appears to have achieved the impossible and kept their friendship and respect.

Lorrie Morgan, a country singer who dated Thompson and considered marrying him in the mid1990s, told The Sunday Times: “I couldn’t think of a bad word to say about Fred if somebody put a gun to my head...."

...he was also able to reassure them that he was on excellent terms with his first wife and home-town sweetheart Sarah Knestrick, whom he married in Tennessee at 17 and divorced 26 years later. Thompson said he had just spoken to her and she was intending to campaign for him.

“It says a lot about his character that his ex-wife and ex-girlfriends think he is fabulous,” said Mosbacher. “Character is important in a president.”


Morgan blames herself rather than Thompson for the break-up of their “serious” relationship. Although she is a Republican, the country singer believes that she was too politically incorrect to suit the role of senator’s wife. “Country music is all about glamour and shine and politics is a little more reserved,” she said. “I felt I had to change my whole wardrobe.”

Thompson not only charmed her but also the women in her family. At the time, she had two young daughters who are now in their twenties. “My children thought the world of Fred and my mother thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread,” Morgan said. “He has such charisma. He can go to a down-home Southern-fried chicken dinner and later that evening eat the best caviar and drink wine with an ambassador.”

So not only does this guy alley-cat around in his 50s, but his ex-girlfriends and their mothers love him!

Don't point that ray at me Fred!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Can No-one Stop Them?

Hard on the heels of reviews that Rattatouille is the best Pixar-Disney film since Monsters, Inc., comes news about their 2008 release: WALL * E.

You know, I'd have bad deja-vu about Short Circuit, but so far it seems that Pixar won't let themselves release a dog.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

He's Got Global Warming in His Hands...

The Constant Reader knows of my dismay when Churches leave the realm of bearing witness to the Good News and enter the realm of trying to get on the Nightly News. This dismay is illustrated in the following snark from National Review Online's Planet Gore blog.

Stephen Hawking Opposes Designated Hitter Rule [Jim Manzi]

Apparently the Southern Baptist Convention has just approved a statement that questions the role of humans in creating global warming, and has come out against government-mandated limits on carbon emissions. I assume this is at least in part a response to the National Council of Churches June 7th statement that the unequivocal role of human activity in creating global warming demands, among other things, legislation to reduce US carbon emissions by 15 – 20 percent by 2020.

In related news, NASA has released a statement affirming the Trinitarian nature of God, and the Modern Language Association has published a new Global Climate Modeling textbook — presumably as a direct response to Paris Hilton’s recent research papers questioning the lack of robust Bayesian analysis of parameter uncertainty in long-term temperature forecasts.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Jeff's Dead

Few reading this blog (with the exception of Mrs. Panjandrum) remembers Jeff. Jeff was my best friend in High School and my first years of college. We were opposites in many ways but shared the alienation of being outsiders to the popular crowds at school. We were Marching Band geeks. We both had crushes on Joyce Wright.

Jeff was one of the few people I knew at my own wedding. That was the last time I saw him.

We were a Mutt and Jeff team (and Jeff often pointed out that he was, after all, Jeff.) I was tall and thin, Jeff was short and round. While I looked at the world like a wounded puppy dog, Jeff affected and air of sophisticated cynicism. I was Art Carney, Jeff was Jackie Gleason.
Gleason is tremendous; if you’re my age you grew up with Gleason as the TV variety show fellow with the away-we-go schtick. You learned about the Honeymooners later, at which point your appreciation expanded greatly. Gleason had that same skill Roscoe Arbuckle possessed in such amazing quantities: lightness and grace. But Gleason had gravity, too. Modern fat comics haven’t had that skill; Belushi was just amped and revved, which is different from having, uh, inner buoyancy.... John Candy was heavy, period. Chris Farley was an overinflated kickball still bouncing off the walls an hour after it was thrown. Gleason was different. He had – what’s the word? Buoyant innards.
That was Jeff.

I remember summer days when we would hop in his old Ford Econoline van, fill up on $0.35 gas and drive aimlessly all over Southern California -- from Grapevine Hill to the Mexican border, from watching girls in bikinis on Huntington Beach to shooting cans on the high desert with a .357 magnum. We would have wide-ranging conversations that multiplexed from music to metaphysics to what we saw ahead for our lives.

Jeff, a Jack Mormon, introduced me Beefeater's gin and Black Watch cigars. I never did take a shine to gin.

Jeff came up with a brilliant plan to sneak hooch into our Senior Party. The party was a multi-school event to be held in Disneyland. Jeff knew that there would be a shake-down at the gate for contraband that night, so we paid to enter the park the day before, packing several flasks of Beefeater's. We rode the Storybook Land Canal Boats ride and, as it passed near the bank in a secluded spot, stuck the bottles in the shrubbery. The night of the party, we rode the ride and grabbed the flasks. Good times.

It's often said that guys never form friendships as close as ones formed in school years or in the military service. I can attest that this is the case with me. For respiratory health reasons Mrs. Panjandrum and I moved away from Southern California in the early 1970s. With the demands of a new career and family and the tyranny of the immediate, it was very easy to let contacts slip away. Pre-internet it was difficult to re-establish contacts.

But for a couple of years I have been trying to re-establish those ties with family members and friends. So I googled Jeff's name now and again. Last Thursday I came across a site that was an on-line forum for alumni of my old high school. Once again I scanned the registered members looking for Jeff's name. Then I saw a scan of a program for a 30-year reunion dinner. I browsed the photos, trying to pick out familiar faces. On one of the last pages was a "Memoriam." There on the list of departed classmates was Jeff's name.

I was shocked at how much I was shocked. My cohort is now well into the half-century mark and news of another passing is a more and more frequent occurence. But I was really saddened that I won't be able to catch up with Jeff.

Kim Jong-il Contemplates The Silken Pony

I'm so far behind these guys, I'm embarrassed.

From Reason Magazine's Hit & Run blog, quoting Shawn Macomber:
Poor John Edwards. His personality cult is all personality and no cult. One imagines Kim Jong-il sitting in an undisclosed hermetically sealed room somewhere in Pyongyang lecturing an audience of apparatchiks. "Can you believe this Edwards guy?" he squawks, lifting his sunglasses to show his own wide-eyed shock. "Is his ego out of control or what?"

Strategic Pork Reserves

Sometimes the real world outstrips my poor ability of mocking.

via Best of the Web:

Lard Have Mercy

The New York Times reports that China is in the midst of "an acute shortage of pork," which is affecting the international economy:

Steep increases for pork loins and bacon are the most tangible sign that after a decade in which prices have fluctuated but not moved significantly upward, inflation is creeping back into China. In response to this pressure at home, Chinese companies are starting to raise prices for exports, removing what has been a brake on inflation in the West...

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited the pork counter at a supermarket in Xian in central China on May 26 and called for local governments to pay pig farmers to increase production. The commerce ministry has raised the possibility of distributing pork from China's strategic pork reserves.

Strategic pork reserves? Let's hope the U.S. Congress doesn't get any ideas.

Good Riddance

And shame on those that gave this bad man a pulpit to pound:

He wasn't an Army Ranger. He didn't earn a Purple Heart. He didn't witness war crimes in Iraq.

The truth about Jesse Macbeth? He's a fraud, and he's now facing prison.

Macbeth, 23, pleaded guilty in a Seattle federal courtroom Thursday to making false statements to the Department of Veterans Affairs and altering his discharge papers.

Kicked out of boot camp after 44 days, Macbeth instead portrayed himself as a decorated soldier who served in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was discharged due to post-traumatic stress disorder...

For several years beginning in 2003, Macbeth became a star of the anti-war movement by claiming he saw and participated in war crimes in Iraq.

He gave interviews to news reporters and was popular in blogs and the alternative media. In a video that was widely distributed on the Internet, a frail Macbeth dressed in camouflage told of killing hundreds of civilians. "We would burn their bodies ... hang their bodies from the rafters in the mosque," he said.

As part of the plea agreement, Macbeth admitted he had been lying. Anti-war Web sites have pulled his video.

Jetson's Fashions

At Rio Fashion Week:

The Gratuitous Humiliation of our Would-be Kings

Charles Krauthammer gives two-and-a-half cheers for our seemingly endless political primaries:
In Britain, Canada, and other civilized places, national elections are often called, run, and concluded within six weeks. In America, election campaigns go on forever.

While we can grow weary of the endless stumping, it does serve a purpose:
The final function of the endless campaign, and perhaps the most psychologically important, is to satisfy the American instinct for egalitarianism. We have turned the presidential campaign into a pleasingly degrading ordeal — pleasing, that is, to the electorate. The modern presidential campaign is meant to be physically exhausting and spiritually humbling almost to the point of humiliation. Candidates spend two years and more on bended knee begging for money, votes, and a handshake in a diner.

Why do we inflict such cruel and unusual punishment? Because our winner is not just chief magistrate but king. True, the kingship is temporary, but its glories and perks are beyond compare — the pomp and pampering of a head of state, married to the real political power of controlling the most important state on the planet.

The bargain we offer the candidate is this: We will make you Lord, circling celestially above us on Air Force One, but because we are flinty Jeffersonian yeomen, we insist that you flatter us first with a very extended show of camaraderie and commonality with the Iowa farmer, the New Hampshire alderman and the South Carolina good ol’ boy. Aboriginal tribes have slightly different rituals for those who pretend to kingship, but the idea is the same: ordeal before dominion.
As similar thought concerning local politics is expressed in this cartoon by David Horesly:

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Latest Democratic Primary Debate

Actually, no. But it would have been a lot more fun this way. Japanese contestants try to say a tongue twister under "duress."

Or, why I'll never appear on a Japanese Game Show, Part XIII

In other commentary:

...a key constituency among Democratic primary voters in 2008 will be insane people.

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