The Rat
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
      ( 3:22 AM ) The Rat  
Leskov was grounded in the classics. The first storyteller of the Greeks was Herodotus. In the fourteenth chapter of the third book of his Histories there is a story from which much can be learned. It deals with Psammenitus.

When the Egyptian king Psammenitus had been beaten and captured by the Persian king Cambyses, Cambyses was bent on humbling his prisoner. He gave orders to place Psammenitus on the road along which the Persian triumphal procession was to pass. And he further arranged that the prisoner should see his daughter pass by as a maid going to the well with her pitcher. While all the Egyptians were lamenting and bewailing this spectacle, Psammenitus stood alone, mute and motionless, his eyes fixed on the ground; and when presently he saw his son, who was being taken along in the procession to be executed, he likewise remained unmoved. But when afterwards he recognized one of his servants, an old, impoverished man, in the ranks of the prisoners, he beat his fists against his head and gave all the signs of deepest mourning.

From this story it may be seen what the nature of true storytelling is. The value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only at that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time. A story is different. It does not expend itself. It preserves and concentrates its strength and is capable of releasing it even after a long time. Thus Montaigne referred to this Egyptian king and asked himself why he mourned only when he caught sight of his servant. Montaigne answers: 'Since he was already overfull of grief, it took only the smallest increase for it to burst through its dams.' Thus Montaigne. But one could also say: The king is not moved by the fate of those of royal blood, for it is his own fate. Or: We are moved by much on the stage that does not move us in real life; to the king, this servant is only an actor. Or: Great grief is pent up and breaks forth only with relaxation. Seeing this servant was the relaxation. Herodotus offers no explanations. His report is the driest. That is why this story from ancient Egypt is still capable after thousands of years of arousing astonishment and thoughtfulness. It resembles the seeds of grain which have lain for centuries in the chambers of the pyramids shut up air-tight and have retained their germinative power to this day.

—Benjamin, 'The Storyteller: Reflections on the Work of Nikolai Leskov'

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:22 AM

Tuesday, October 30, 2007
      ( 10:40 PM ) The Rat  

Halloween rioting plagued the ritual from 2002 to 2005, replete with tear gas-saturated finales. City officials last year finally decided to fence off State Street and charge admission fees, limiting attendance to 80,000. This year, Madison is tapping into corporate America in the hopes of turning a civic black eye into something its Visitors and Conventions Bureau can boast about.

Over the weekend, corporate sponsorship tents lined the blocks, and their logos were as ubiquitous as the plodding police horses. Mountain Dew set up an "Amp Lounge," where samples of its energy drink were passed out freely. City officials handed over much of the planning to Frank Productions, a large Midwest concert promoter that brought in, as the main act, the alt-rock band Lifehouse—whose music isn't exactly conducive to rioting...

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      ( 8:52 PM ) The Rat  
FISHERMAN NETS SHARK 200 KM FROM SEA. Worth reading principally for the ending.

A two-metre shark has been caught in a river in southern Iraq more than 200 km (160 miles) from the sea.

Karim Hasan Thamir said he was fishing with his sons last week when they spotted a large fish thrashing about in his net. "I recognised the fish as a shark because I have seen one on a television programme," he told Reuters. [...]

Locals blamed the U.S. military for the shark's presence.

Tahseen Ali, a teacher, said there was a "75 percent chance" Americans had put the shark in the water.

"This is very frightening for us. Our children always swim in the river and I believe that there are more sharks. I believe that America is behind this matter," said fisherman Hatim Karim.

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      ( 1:20 PM ) The Rat  
FUNNY, but a bit too close to actual experience for me to find it as hilarious as Manolo did.

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      ( 4:07 AM ) The Rat  
To put it in another way, when searching for a word which will revitalize an object, we pick a farfetched word, unusual at least in its given application, a word which is forced into service. Such an unexpected word may, depending on current usage, be either a figurative or a direct reference to the object. Examples of this sort are numerous, particularly in the history of obscene vocabulary. To call the sex act by its own name sounds brazen, but if in certain circles strong language is the rule, a trope or euphemism is more forceful and effective. Such is the verb utilizirovat' (to utilize) of the Russian hussar. Foreign words are accordingly more insulting and are readily picked up for such purposes. A Russian may use the absurd epithets gollandskij (Dutch) or moržovyj (walruslike) as abusive modifiers or an object which has nothing to do with either Holland or walruses; the impact of his swearing is greatly heightened as a result. Instead of the infamous oath involving copulation with the addressee's mother, the Russian peasant prefers the fantastic image of copulating with the addressee's soul—and, for further emphasis, uses the negative parallelism: tvoju dušu ne mat' (your soul not your mother).
—Roman Jakobson, "On Realism in Art"

# Posted by The Rat @ 4:07 AM

Monday, October 29, 2007
      ( 7:50 PM ) The Rat  
WORLD'S BIGGEST CHEESEBURGER. You just knew Asians would be involved somehow.

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      ( 4:09 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 12:56 PM ) The Rat  
FOX NEWS ANCHOR OR PORN STAR? I got 5 out of 10.

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      ( 2:49 AM ) The Rat  

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      ( 2:44 AM ) The Rat  
The record of the thoughts which assailed him in the street is even more minute and abundant. They seem to have rushed upon him with the greater freedom because his thinking powers were no longer crushed by Haldin's presence—the appalling presence of a great crime and the stunning force of a great fanaticism. On looking through the pages of Mr. Razumov's diary I own that a 'rush of thoughts' is not an adequate image.

The more adequate description would be a tumult of thoughts—the faithful reflection of the state of his feelings. The thoughts in themselves were not numerous—they were like the thoughts of most human beings, few and simple—but they cannot be reproduced here in all their exclamatory repetitions which went on in an endless and weary turmoil—for the walk was long.

If to the Western reader they appear shocking, inappropriate, or even improper, it must be remembered that as to the first this may be the effect of my crude statement. For the rest I will only remark here that this is not a story of the West of Europe.

Under Western Eyes

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:44 AM

Sunday, October 28, 2007
      ( 10:06 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 10:03 PM ) The Rat  

An Australian barmaid has been fined for crushing beer cans between her bare breasts while an off-duty colleague has been fined for hanging spoons from her friend's nipples, police said Wednesday. [...]

The barmaid and the hotel manager were both fined A$1,000 ($900), while an off-duty barmaid was fined A$500 for helping to hang spoons from the woman's nipples, police said.

"It sends a clear message to all licensees in Peel that we will not tolerate this type of behavior in our licensed premises," local police superintendent David Parkinson said.

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      ( 9:56 AM ) The Rat  

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Friday, October 26, 2007
      ( 9:38 PM ) The Rat  

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Thursday, October 25, 2007
      ( 11:07 PM ) The Rat  
PARIS. I will leave you to look at these while I go off somewhere and sob quietly... (But there is hope—between Jan. 15 and Feb. 29, North America-Europe roundtrips will cost a mere 35,000 miles [discounted from the standard 50,000] on U.S. Air!)

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      ( 4:31 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 3:12 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 3:06 PM ) The Rat  

As every Oscarologist knows, academy voters adore actresses who play hookers. (And nuns, too, but that's another matter.)

Oscar's taste for tarts became a topic in a (unintentionally) funny game played in our forums when posters were challenged by our moderator Darrin "DoubleD" Dortch to "name 20 actresses (10 for lead, 10 for supporting) who have been nominated, but did not win, for playing prostitutes or 'loose' women"...

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:06 PM

Wednesday, October 24, 2007
      ( 1:01 AM ) The Rat  
SNAFUS AND FUBARS, AN OWNER'S MANUAL. Worth a read, especially if you tend to get, uh, stressed out.

After falling down stairs or arguing with a co-worker, we make every effort to keep our eyes, voices, and hands steady, determined to show through our physical motionlessness that we're in complete control of our bodies, moods, and lives (no matter how many Xanax this requires).

Levine noted that people who have physical emergency reactions often cope better with crisis, and show fewer symptoms of trauma afterward, than people who hold still. Stress compels action; in snafu situations, Mother Nature gives just one instruction to all her children, and that instruction is, "Move!"

When the unexpected strikes, find a private space and let your body do whatever it wants. Heave, kick, shake your head like a wet cat. Then let that energy flow into constructive action, whether it's contesting a credit card charge, yanking cactus spines out of your child, or slapping duct tape on a broken pipe...

# Posted by The Rat @ 1:01 AM

Tuesday, October 23, 2007
      ( 1:25 AM ) The Rat  
It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity. Which seems to me self-evidently true; but I suggest that the writer who is out-of-country and even out-of-language may experience this loss in an intensified form. It is made more concrete for him by the physical fact of discontinuity, of his present being in a different place from his past, of his being 'elsewhere.' This may enable him to speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal.

But let me go further. The broken glass is not merely a mirror of nostalgia. It is also, I believe, a useful tool with which to work in the present.

John Fowles begins Daniel Martin with the words: 'Whole sight: or all the rest is desolation.' But human beings do not perceive things whole; we are not gods but wounded creatures, cracked lenses, capable only of fractured perceptions. Partial beings, in all the senses of that phrase. Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved; perhaps it is because our sense of what is the case is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to the death. The Fowles position seems to me a way of succumbing to the guru-illusion. Writers are no longer sages, dispensing the wisdom of the centuries. And those of us who have been forced by cultural displacement to accept the provisional nature of all truths, all certainties, have perhaps had modernism forced upon us...

Imaginary Homelands

# Posted by The Rat @ 1:25 AM

Monday, October 22, 2007
      ( 9:25 PM ) The Rat  

[The] study, published in the journal Neurology, tracked memory loss in a group of elderly people from New York City's Bronx borough before they were diagnosed with Alzheimer's or another form of old-age dementia.

Every year of education delayed the accelerated memory decline that precedes dementia by about 2-1/2 months, according to the researchers at Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

But once this memory loss began, the rate of decline unfolded 4 percent more quickly for each additional year of education, the researchers said.

Someone with 16 years of schooling might experience memory decline 50 percent more quickly than another person with just four years education, based on the findings...

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      ( 4:51 PM ) The Rat  

A man paralyzed in a 1994 shooting died of complications linked to the attack, and police arrested the woman who shot him on suspicion of homicide, police said Saturday.

Sheila Burton, 37, who is homeless, was arrested near Fifth and Crocker streets in the Skid Row area, not far from where she shot 44-year-old Markie Anderson in 1994, Los Angeles police Lt. Paul Vernon said.

"This is an infrequent occurrence," he said. "But once the coroner tied Mr. Anderson's death to the shooting that crippled him, his death became a homicide"...

# Posted by The Rat @ 4:51 PM

      ( 12:20 AM ) The Rat  
THE SPINNING DANCER AND THE BRAIN. Okay, I can spin her either way now (which somehow makes me think of that Bloom County line: "You, sir, are an ambisexual walnut.") Again via Manolo.

Actually, the spinning dancer is an example of something called bistable perception. It's in the same class of illusion as the Necker cube and the face-vase. When presented with stimuli that have two valid, mutually contradictory interpretations, your brain just picks one. Then, for reasons that we still don't understand, it picks the other. This is not just a visual phenomenon, either—there's an audio version called the tritone paradox...

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:20 AM

      ( 12:19 AM ) The Rat  
I packed a bag and was headed out. I was headed out down a long bone-white road, straight as a string and smooth as glass and glittering and wavering in the heat and humming under the tires like a plucked nerve. I seemed to be over the road just this side of the horizon. Then, after a while, the sun was in my eyes, for I was driving west. So I pulled the sun screen down and squinted and put the throttle to the floor. And kept on moving west. For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and see the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar's gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.

All the King's Men (quoted here)

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:19 AM

Sunday, October 21, 2007
      ( 8:19 PM ) The Rat  
Then California.

Then Long Beach, which is the essence of California. I know because I have never seen any of California except Long Beach and so am not distracted by competing claims. I was in Long Beach thirty-six hours, and spent all of that time in a hotel room, except for forty minutes in a barbershop off the lobby of the hotel.

I had had a puncture in the morning and so didn't hit Long Beach till about evening. I drank a milk shake, bought a bottle of bourbon, and went up to my room. I hadn't had a drop the whole trip. I hadn't wanted a drop. I hadn't wanted anything, except the hum of the motor and the lull of the car and I had had that. But now I knew that if I didn't drink that bourbon, as soon as I shut my eyes to go to sleep the whole hot and heaving continent would begin charging at me out of the dark. So I took some, took a bath, and then lay on the bed, with my light off, watching the neon sign across the street flare on and off to the time of my heartbeat, and drinking out of the bottle, which, between times, I set on the floor by the bed.

I got a good sleep out of it. I didn't wake up till noon the next day. Then I had breakfast sent up and a pile of newspapers, for it was Sunday. I read the papers, which proved that California was just like any place else, or wanted to think the same things about itself, and then I listened to the radio till the neon sign began to flare on and off again to the time of my heartbeat, and then I ordered up some food, ate it, and put myself to sleep again.

The next morning I headed back.

I was headed back and was no longer remembering the things which I had remembered coming out.

For example. But I cannot give you an example. It was not so much any one example, any one event, which I recollected which was important, but the flow, the texture of the events, for meaning is never in the event but in the motion through event. Otherwise we could isolate an instant in the event and say that this is the event itself. The meaning. But we cannot do that. For it is the motion which is important. And I was moving. I was moving West at seventy-five miles an hour, through a blur of million-dollar landscape and heroic history, and I was moving back through time into my memory. They say the drowning man relives his life as he drowns. Well, I was not drowning in water, but I was drowning in West. I drowned westward through the hot brass days and black velvet nights. It took me seventy-eight hours to drown. For my body to sink down to the very bottom of West and lie in the motionless ooze of History, naked on a hotel bed in Long Beach, California.

All the King's Men (quoted here)

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      ( 5:38 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 3:37 PM ) The Rat  

Also don't miss (no, really): urban camouflage.

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Saturday, October 20, 2007
      ( 10:40 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 9:50 PM ) The Rat  

Huge portraits of Engels, Marx, Mao, Lenin and Stalin adorn a back wall and Chinese propaganda posters hang on pillars and side walls, showing chipper workers, peasants and soldiers toiling. Blocky, red characters painted on the rafters implore: "Be self-reliant, work arduously" and "Use your own two hands to have ample food and clothing."

The eatery here in the capital of the booming southern province of Guangdong is a throwback to the Mao era, modeled on the communes that dotted the countryside from the 1950s to 70s.

Staff dressed like the Red Guards of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution serve peasant fare. Revolutionary songs play in the background.

Scores of similar restaurants have opened around the country, recalling a turbulent period in China's modern history that many remember with bitterness but which also evokes feelings of nostalgia for what some say was a simpler time...

# Posted by The Rat @ 9:50 PM

      ( 11:34 AM ) The Rat  
HEE! Well, this certainly explains just about every interaction I've ever had with Delta Airlines.

There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is haunted by the fear that he might be one of them.

Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities—more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

'I began to think that there were probably lots of things that I was bad at, and I didn't know it,' Dunning said.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence...

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:34 AM

Friday, October 19, 2007
      ( 4:31 PM ) The Rat  
IN A WORD: AWESOME. More details here.

She was fined and got a suspended jail sentence, but Mona Shaw says she has no regrets about using a hammer to vent her frustration at a cable company.

Shaw, 75, and her husband, Don, say they had an appointment in August for a Comcast
technician to come to their Bristow home to install the company's heavily advertised Triple Play phone, Internet and cable service.

The Shaws say no one came all day, and the technician who showed up two days later left without finishing the setup. Two days after that, Comcast cut off all their service. At the Comcast office in Manassas later that day, they waited for a manager for two hours before being told the manager had left for the day, the Shaws say.

Shaw, a churchgoing secretary of the local AARP branch, returned the next Monday—with a hammer.

"I smashed a keyboard, knocked over a monitor... and I went to hit the telephone," Shaw said. "I figured, 'Hey, my telephone is screwed up, so is yours.'"

# Posted by The Rat @ 4:31 PM

      ( 3:56 PM ) The Rat  
To the right was the wide low slope, where in the old days the black and white cattle, especially when seen against the sky, brought to mind the condensed-milk labels we had known as children in Trinidad; and brought to mind especially a coloring competition for schoolchildren that the distributors of the condensed milk had organized one year. The drawing or outline to be colored was an enlarged version of the label itself. What pleasure, to get as many sheets of the outline as one wanted! What landscapes came to the mind of a child to whom cattle like those in the picture and smooth grassy hillsides like those in the picture (clearly without snakes) were not known!

Always on a sunny day on this walk, and especially if at the top of the slope some of the cattle stood against the sky, there was a corner of my fantasy in which I felt that some minute, remote yearning—as remote as a flitting, all-but-forgotten cinema memory from early childhood—had been satisfied, and I was in the original of that condensed-milk label drawing.

The Enigma of Arrival

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:56 PM

Thursday, October 18, 2007
      ( 2:58 PM ) The Rat  

In the first experiment, 55 kindergarten-age children were told simple stories designed to measure their level of emotional understanding—in particular whether they grasped the idea of mixed emotions. In the second, the researchers observed 52 four-year-olds at play for 20 minutes with a close friend, then presented the pair with a "desirable toy" and watched how they "handled a situation of limited resources."

In both experiments, the children whose parents showed differing levels of support fared best, showing greater emotional understanding and less conflict with friends. Children whose parents were both highly supportive actually fared worse.

Offering a low level of support didn't necessarily mean a parent reacted in a harsh or punitive way, McElwain noted...

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007
      ( 3:56 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 2:20 PM ) The Rat  

I am a man of simple conservative values, values I learned sitting around the kitchen table with my grandfather. It was there, at the age of 9, that he told me, "Boy, one day, you will find true love with a woman who will be born in about 15 years. Promise Jesus that when you marry her in your late 50s you will be true."

I intend to honor that promise...

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007
      ( 10:54 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 2:12 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 1:05 PM ) The Rat  

Schulz also maintained a keen sense of competition. Though always eager to help young cartoonists, he also liked to show them not to underestimate the old man.

"When I told him that I was in 2,000 papers, he said 'I'll see you in the Louvre,'" "For Better or For Worse" cartoonist Lynn Johnston told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation...

# Posted by The Rat @ 1:05 PM

      ( 12:51 PM ) The Rat  
AN INTERNET LOVE MYSTERY. I'm still wavering as to whether this story is real, or a fictional experiment, à la "LonelyGirl"!

"Audrey"'s blog is here.

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:51 PM

      ( 1:03 AM ) The Rat  

A new study shows that people are influenced by gossip about others even when it contradicts what they’ve seen with their own eyes...

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Monday, October 15, 2007
      ( 11:27 PM ) The Rat  

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Sunday, October 14, 2007
      ( 12:36 AM ) The Rat  
This journey began some days before my eighteenth birthday. It was the journey which—for a year—I feared I would never be allowed to make. So that even before the journey I lived with anxiety about it. It was the journey that took me from my island, Trinidad, off the northern coast of Venezuela, to England.

There had, first, been an airplane, a small one of the period, narrow, with a narrow aisle, and flying low. This had given me my first revelation: the landscape of my childhood seen from the air, and from not too high up. At ground level so poor to me, so messy, so full of huts and gutters and bare front yards and straggly hibiscus hedges and shabby backyards: views from the roadside. From the air, though, a landscape of logic and larger pattern; the straight lines and regularity and woven, carpetlike texture of sugarcane fields, so extensive from up there, leaving so little room for people, except at the very edges; the large, unknown area of swampland, curiously still, the clumps of mangrove and brilliant-green swamp trees casting black shadows on the milky-green water; the forested peaks and dips and valleys of the mountain range; a landscape of clear pattern and contours, absorbing all the roadside messiness, a pattern of dark green and dark brown, like camouflage, like a landscape in a book, like the landscape of a real country. So that at the moment of takeoff almost, the moment of departure, the landscape of my childhood was like something which I had missed, something I had never seen.

Minutes later, the sea. It was wrinkled, as in the fragment of the poem by Tennyson. It glinted in the sun; it was gray and silver rather than blue; and, again as in the fragment by Tennyson, it did crawl. So that again the world in which I had lived all my life so far was a world I had never seen.

The Enigma of Arrival

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:36 AM

Saturday, October 13, 2007
      ( 4:55 PM ) The Rat  
The brightly colored cars, the hum and hiss of the milking machine (the cows, even with their dung, reduced to machine-managed objects), the tense young men, conscious of their style, their jeans and shirts, their mustaches and cars—they were all aspects of the new, exaggerated thing that had come upon us.

Twice a day the milk tanker went grinding up the hill, up the resurfaced lane, to empty the refrigerated milk tanks of the new milking parlor. With the farm tractors and the motorcars of the new workers, my walk in the lane beside the windbreak was at times like a walk on a public road; I had to watch for traffic.

On the public road, the thatched cottage with the pink walls and the straw pheasant on the ridge of the roof lost a little more of its first character. So pretty, so like a postcard, when I had first seen it, so like something one had always known, with its rose hedge and its small, polished windows. The dairyman would have loved it too, I am certain; but, like me at the beginning, he would have seen its beauty as a natural attribute of the country setting; and he had lived in the house as he might have lived in a house in the town from which he had come, without any feeling that anything was owed to the house in which he and his family lived; having all his life considered houses, even those in which he lived, as belonging to other people. Basins and pots and pans and bits of paper and tins and empty boxes had been left out in the garden; and some of those things had stayed there even after the dairyman and his family had gone.

Now part of the hedge and the wire fence were taken down, so that the car of the new couple could be parked off the public road. The car was important to the new people, more important than the house. They were young people, without children; and they handled the house in a new way. It was a place of shelter, no more: temporary shelter for a temporary job. The wife sunbathed in the front garden whenever she could; and perhaps this was why the front door was often open. That open front door was very unsettling.

The Enigma of Arrival

# Posted by The Rat @ 4:55 PM

      ( 12:35 PM ) The Rat  
'To hell with you. You just don't want to admit it. Those people, they're animals. They want to see someone's brains on the road, that's why they turn out. They'd just as soon see yours.'

'That isn't the point,' McVries said calmly. 'Didn't you say you went to see the Long Walk when you were younger?'

'Yes, when I didn't know any better!'

'Well, that makes it okay, doesn't it?' McVries uttered a short, ugly-sounding laugh. 'Sure they're animals. You think you just found out a new principle? Sometimes I wonder just how naive you really are. The French lords and ladies used to screw after the guillotinings. The old Romans used to stuff each other during the gladiatorial matches. That's entertainment, Garraty. It's nothing new.' He laughed again. Garraty stared at him, fascinated.

'Go on,' someone said. 'You're at second base, McVries. Want to try for third?'

Garraty didn't have to turn. It was Stebbins, of course. Stebbins the lean Buddha. His feet carried him along automatically, but he was dimly aware that they felt swollen and slippery, as if they were filling with pus.

'Death is great for the appetites,' McVries said. 'How about those two girls and Gribble? They wanted to see what screwing a dead man felt like. Now for Something Completely New and Different. I don't know if Gribble got much out of it, but they sure as shit did. It's the same with anybody. It doesn't matter if they're eating or drinking or sitting on their cans. They like it better, they feel and taste it better because they're watching dead men.'

"The Long Walk"

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:35 PM

Friday, October 12, 2007
      ( 8:44 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 4:04 PM ) The Rat  
RIGHT BRAIN VS. LEFT BRAIN TEST. Manolo, whose blog I got this from, was able to see the dancer going in both directions at different times, by applying various strategies (also see the reader comments), but for me she's going very very determinedly counterclockwise; I can't even make her change direction for a few seconds.

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      ( 1:15 AM ) The Rat  

Imagine carrying around an entire research library on an iPod. Such a feat suddenly seemed feasible as of earlier this month, with the news that IBM physicist Stuart Parkin is close to perfecting an advance called "magnetic random access memory," or MRAM, which will enable us to store exponentially more data on the tiniest of hard drives.

Parkin's development, which should reach consumers within a few years, is the latest installment in our eternal quest to preserve and supplement the human memory, which has taken us from the cuneiform slab to the cassette tape to the Ginkgo biloba tablet washed down with the day's first cup of coffee.

As digital-storage capacities reach seemingly boundless proportions, however, some thinkers are becoming nervous about the unintended consequences of memory technology. Certainly Google's enormous reserves of user information, stored in dozens of secretive data centers across the world, and the literally photographic memory of the Internet Archive, which preserves billions of defunct Web pages for posterity, are enough to leave anyone rattled. New forms of memory are permanent and accessible from anywhere. As their reach grows, scholars are asking if now—perhaps for the first time in human history—we need to find ways to forget...

# Posted by The Rat @ 1:15 AM

Thursday, October 11, 2007
      ( 7:17 PM ) The Rat  

Most Americans surveyed for a poll released yesterday think either AIDS or malaria is the top killer of young children around the world. They are wrong.

Childbirth complications, pneumonia and diarrhea—age-old causes of death that can be prevented with cheap, proven methods—are actually the biggest culprits, according to the World Health Organization.

The poll, sponsored by a coalition of groups trying to raise awareness of child mortality, found that 42 percent of Americans guessed that AIDS killed the most children. But the disease is responsible for only 3 percent of the 9.7 million deaths a year of children younger than 5.

Eighteen percent of Americans thought malaria was the deadliest, but it killed 8 percent, or about 800,000 young children.

The reasons for this misapprehension are varied, but they most likely include health advocates’ recent success in focusing politicians and news organizations on the undeniably horrific toll from AIDS and malaria...

# Posted by The Rat @ 7:17 PM

      ( 7:16 PM ) The Rat  

Ms. Samuelson’s running was beautifully smooth. Mr. Salazar’s was not.

“He looked terrible,” said Jack Daniels, an exercise physiologist at the Center for High Altitude Training at Northern Arizona University, who studied both runners in the 1980’s. “She looked great.”

Not only that but Ms. Samuelson also had an amazing ability to use oxygen to fuel her body, Dr. Daniels said. Even though women’s maximum oxygen consumption, or VO2 max, is typically lower than that of men, hers was as high as Mr. Salazar’s. Maximum oxygen consumption was often considered one of the best predictors of performance in distance events.

But Mr. Salazar always ran faster than Ms. Samuelson. The difference between them turned out to be one of the least understood and most mythologized aspects of performance: economy of motion...

# Posted by The Rat @ 7:16 PM

      ( 12:28 PM ) The Rat  
AUSCHWITZ THROUGH THE LENS OF THE SS, an online exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. The NYT piece, which I got from ET, is here.

As Ms. Erbelding and other archivists reviewed the album, they realized they had a scrapbook of sorts of the lives of Auschwitz’s senior SS officers that was maintained by Karl Höcker, the adjutant to the camp commandant. Rather than showing the men performing their death camp duties, the photos depicted, among other things, a horde of SS men singing cheerily to the accompaniment of an accordionist, Höcker lighting the camp’s Christmas tree, a cadre of young SS women frolicking and officers relaxing, some with tunics shed, for a smoking break.

The photos provide a stunning counterpoint to what up until now has been the only major source of preliberation Auschwitz photos, the so-called Auschwitz Album, a compilation of pictures taken by SS photographers in the spring of 1944 and discovered by a survivor in another camp. Those photos depict the arrival at the camp of a transport of Hungarian Jews, who at the time made up the last remaining sizable Jewish community in Europe. The Auschwitz Album, owned by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, depicts the railside selection process at Birkenau, the area where trains arrived at the camp, as SS men herded new prisoners into lines.

The comparisons between the albums are both poignant and obvious, as they juxtapose the comfortable daily lives of the guards with the horrific reality within the camp, where thousands were starving and 1.1 million died.

For example, one of the Höcker pictures, shot on July 22, 1944, shows a group of cheerful young women who worked as SS communications specialists eating bowls of fresh blueberries. One turns her bowl upside down and makes a mock frown because she has finished her portion...

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:28 PM

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
      ( 8:49 PM ) The Rat  
REPORT ON AIRLINES LISTS WORST AMONG EQUALS. Big shock. I guess there's always Continental...

In sixth through tenth place, however, are carriers which are among the country's largest, and whose service lapses are widely felt.

American, the world's largest airline by some measures, is the second worst of the major carriers, behind US Airways and ahead of United and Delta.

It would be comforting to think that if your usual airline scored among the worst performers, you'd at least have the option of choosing an alternative. You know: Vote with your pocketbook. But with American, Delta, and United all ranked high on the lists of both the largest and the worst airlines, many travelers will be hard pressed to find convenient alternatives with appreciably better service levels.

So until the situation improves, it'll be less about voting with your pocketbook and more about keeping a stiff upper lip.

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:49 PM

      ( 3:26 PM ) The Rat  
'GUIDE TO HIRING WOMEN,' 1943. Via Cruel Site of the Day.

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:26 PM

      ( 3:18 PM ) The Rat  
AVERAGE JOB TENURE (in Europe and America).

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:18 PM

      ( 3:14 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:14 PM

      ( 12:31 PM ) The Rat  
TODAY IS BOTH Giacometti's birthday, and National Day in Ratty's semi-ancestral homeland.* Woot! There's more about Taiwan's bid for U.N. membership here.

*(Both sides of the family came over from the mainland in the 19th century. Mistake us for mainland Chinese, however, and we will mess you up.)

The most significant issue on which the international community is in complete denial is the way Taiwan has been "banned" from the UN, just like undesirables in apartheid South Africa. Taiwan is refused membership, not granted observer status and doesn't figure in the UN's statistical databases. It is denied any form of participation in the World Health Organisation, which means 23million people are cut out of global health policy discussions, exchanges on technology and best practices, and monitoring and prevention of epidemics. Japan and the United States are the main backers of Taiwan's increased involvement in WHO.

In July, Taiwan applied, yet again, for admission to the UN. It satisfies all the normal criteria of a state: territory, people and effective control by a stable government. Moreover, as an island it has a natural demarcation. But a week later the UN Office of Legal Affairs returned the application. The decision has little to do with the applications' merits and everything to do with the geopolitics of China, a permanent member of the Security Council...

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:31 PM

Monday, October 08, 2007
      ( 12:54 PM ) The Rat  
The children who work in counterfeit factories are usually housed by the owners; the kids in the raid I witnessed lived across the courtyard in slum dorms. When a counterfeit factory is raided and the owner arrested, the children are left not only out of work but also homeless. One investigator who often assists on raids in China was so moved by the plight of the child workers that he and a handful of colleagues founded a charity, which helps place the children from shut-down factories in schools and underwrites their education and living costs.

Sometimes the cases are truly horrific. 'I remember walking into an assembly plant in Thailand a couple years ago and seeing six or seven little children, all under ten years old, sitting on the floor assembling counterfeit leather handbags,' the investigator told me as we drove away from the raid. 'The owner had broken the children's legs and tied the lower leg to the thigh so the bones wouldn't mend. He did it because the children said they wanted to go outside and play.'

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster*

*(No time to go into detail, but I can't say enough good things about this book. Even if you never buy luxury goods, at least have a look at chapter 9, on counterfeiting—it could well turn you off buying fake watches, bootleg DVDs, etc., forever.)

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:54 PM

Sunday, October 07, 2007
      ( 4:10 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 4:10 PM

      ( 2:13 PM ) The Rat  
SOME PARTICULARLY GOOD CARDS at Postsecret this week.

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:13 PM

      ( 12:06 AM ) The Rat  
The brief Gautier provided was extremely brief: the name Un Jarden sur le Nil. 'I had an idea in my head of what the perfume should be—jasmine, orange flower, lotus flower, spice, and saffron—because these are the smells I imagined you smell in Egypt,' Ellena told me. Then he traveled to Aswan, Egypt, to confirm his idea and discovered there were no jasmine blooms, no orange blossoms, and no lotus flowers. 'It caused me great anxiety,' he said. 'I couldn't sleep that first night because I had to wipe this idea completely out of my mind.'

The next morning, Ellena set about constructing a new recipe. He went to the Aswan souk, where he saw lotus root soaking in glass bowls filled with water. He took a whiff and found that the water smelled of lotus flower. He went for a hike on Elephantine Island, across the Nile from the Old Cataract Hotel, and pulled leaves off the trees and bushes and scrunched them to release their odor. He was most taken with the scent of sycamore. 'I kept that smell,' he said. He went down the Nile to a Nubian village where the mango trees were covered with ripe fruit. He found that odor enchanting and decided to make it the theme of the perfume. He returned to Paris, wrote down the formula that was in his head, and gave it to his assistants. It was 70 percent of what became the final perfume in the bottle. 'In the beginning of the twentieth century, perfumery was more figurative. It was floral bouquets,' he told me. 'Now we are in narrative: the perfume tells a story.' Next, he says, perfume will be olfactive: you will be able to smell a place. Like Un Jardin sur le Nil. You can smell the souk, the mango groves, the heat, and the dry desert. 'You will travel with perfume,' he said.

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:06 AM

Saturday, October 06, 2007
      ( 6:11 PM ) The Rat  
BLOGGING WILL BE SPARSE for about the next month. Happy October!

# Posted by The Rat @ 6:11 PM

Wednesday, October 03, 2007
      ( 1:55 PM ) The Rat  
There is a—let us say—a machine. It evolved itself (I am severely scientific) out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold!—it knits. I am horrified at the horrible work and stand appalled. I feel it ought to embroider,—but it goes on knitting. You come and say: 'this is all right; it's only a question of the right kind of oil. Let us use this,—for instance—celestial oil and the machine shall embroider a most beautiful design in purple and gold.' Will it? Alas no. You cannot by any special lubrication make embroidery with a knitting machine. And the most withering thought is that the infamous thing has made itself; made itself without thought, without conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without heart...

It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time, space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions—and nothing matters. I'll admit however that to look at the remorseless process is sometimes amusing.

—Conrad, in an 1897 letter to R.B. Cunninghame Graham

# Posted by The Rat @ 1:55 PM

Tuesday, October 02, 2007
      ( 7:50 PM ) The Rat  

The other reason I'd returned to Ranong was to find some isolation so I could finish a magazine article that was weeks overdue. The adventure stories I'd written two years earlier for the Major American Luxury-Travel Magazine had attracted the attention of a Major American Adventure-Travel Magazine, and I'd been discussing possible assignments with an editor for months. Unfortunately, no story I proposed—exploring fishing villages along the upper Cambodian Mekong, mountaineering in Turkish Kurdistan, visiting the isolated tribesmen of the Andaman Islands—seemed quite right for him. We'd finally settled on a how-to feature about "classic adventures" in Asia. I'd spent much of the previous three years adventuring through the distant corners of the Asian continent, but this experience had put me at a weird disadvantage in reporting the story. "You're giving us too much geography," my editor would tell me every time I submitted a new list of destination summaries. Readers of Major American Adventure-Travel Magazines, he told me, didn't want to read about journeys that were obscure or complicated; they wanted exotic challenges wherein they might test—or, at least, imagine themselves testing—the extremes of human experience.

For weeks, I had trouble understanding exactly what this meant, and my increasingly irritated editor returned my story drafts marked with comments like, "Is there a helicopter service that can get you there faster?" and, "Would you recommend some cutting-edge outerwear for this kind of trek?" and, "Can you think of any celebrities who've visited the region recently?” In time, I discerned that adventure itself was far less important to the magazine than creating a romanticized sense of adventure—preferably with recommendations on where to buy a cappuccino and a Swedish massage afterwards. The Major American Adventure-Travel Magazine, it seemed, wanted me to create a tantalizing recipe for the exotic and the unexpected, but only the kind of "unexpected" that could be planned in advance and completed in less than three weeks.

# Posted by The Rat @ 7:50 PM

      ( 5:07 PM ) The Rat  
RODENTS IN THE NEWS. I did not know this:

Rats are blamed for causing about half the extinctions of various species worldwide since the 1600s...

# Posted by The Rat @ 5:07 PM

Monday, October 01, 2007
      ( 4:24 PM ) The Rat  
ITALIAN ARCHBISHOP CLOSES CONVENT AFTER NUNS COME TO BLOWS. We all need news stories like this on a Monday. Via IKM.

# Posted by The Rat @ 4:24 PM

A page I'm starting to get the overlords at to stop $#@! bugging me

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