The Rat
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
      ( 11:30 PM ) The Rat  
NOTES ON THE STATE OF EVERYTHING. Just gave my classmate and neighbor PE a lift home. Excerpt from our conversation:

PE. When I was at Stanford, I had this one professor who would come out with the most random things... Anyway, one day he was telling us about this former student of his, '—He's brilliant! He's tenured now, you know, at [extremely highly regarded university X]... and he once wrote this article about the crotches of the Founding Fathers.'

Rat. The...?

PE. Yes! He went through all these paintings, and he isolated... you know, and measured, the rise and fall of their genitalia in the portraiture...

Rat. You know... I would never write a paper like that—but to be honest, when you described it, I wished I had thought of that—because you just know everybody would jump all over it...

PE. Oh, I know! I mean no wonder he got tenure!!

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      ( 10:01 PM ) The Rat  
MEANWHILE, THE MAINLAND CHINESE HAVE ALSO BEEN pulling weird shit with divorce again. (You would think they'd have learned their lesson back when this happened.)

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      ( 9:59 PM ) The Rat  
WOMEN RECOGNISED AS CONFUCIUS KIN FOR FIRST TIME. Dude, I never even knew Confucius had sex.

Women are to be recognised for the first time as descendants of Confucius in a new family tree of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

"We have to adapt to the times," it quoted Kong Dehong, a descendant heading the fifth update of the family tree, as saying, adding that more than 1 million descendants of Confucius will be added...

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      ( 9:50 PM ) The Rat  
I KNEW IT! (Though evidently the less-fair sex could try to redress the problem via the judicious application of red wine.)

Too much testosterone can kill brain cells, researchers said on Tuesday in a finding that may help explain why steroid abuse can cause behavior changes like aggressiveness and suicidal tendencies.

Tests on brain cells in lab dishes showed that while a little of the male hormone is good, too much of it causes cells to self-destruct in a process similar to that seen in brain illnesses such as Alzheimer's. [...]

Ehrlich's team tried the same thing with the "female" hormone estrogen, just to be fair.

"We were surprised, but it actually looks like estrogen is neuroprotective. If anything, there is less cell death in the presence of estrogen," she said.

Writing in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Ehrlich and colleagues said their findings meant people should think twice about supplementing with testosterone, even if it does build muscle mass and aid recovery after exercise.

"These effects of testosterone on neurons will have long term effects on brain function," they wrote.

"Next time a muscle-bound guy in a sports car cuts you off on the highway, don't get mad—just take a deep breath and realize that it might not be his fault," Ehrlich said in a statement...

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      ( 9:05 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 11:13 AM ) The Rat  
Man, like to cassia, is proved best being bruised...
The Duchess of Malfi

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      ( 10:14 AM ) The Rat  

According to an ABC News–Washington Post poll released Monday, a significant majority of Americans believe the couple's persistent displays of affection, which include almost constant hand-holding, mutual giggling, and insufferably coy little kisses, were "fucking ridiculous." An overwhelming eight out of 10 polled said they wished the couple would die, preferably in a fiery automobile accident.

Though their initial May 30 joint outing went largely unnoticed, public opinion toward the couple dramatically shifted after it was revealed that DeSimone spooned frozen yogurt into Petrun's mouth during their second date three days later.

By the second week of June, their approval rating dropped below 40 percent in most national polls, after Petrun and DeSimone were spotted wedging their hands into each other's back pockets as they walked through an Oak Park neighborhood. By July, the rating plummeted even further after DeSimone asked Petrun which of her physical attributes he found cutest, and Petrun responded with a detailed list...

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      ( 10:02 AM ) The Rat  

The three burly, skin-headed members of the hip-hop group Woodpile want a bigger audience, but they know the odds are long.

They have no hope of cracking mainstream radio or MTV with songs like "They Hate Us" or "I'm a Wood," in which they rap menacingly about blasting enemies with shotguns. Further limiting their commercial prospects, their August album, "The Streets Will Never Be the Same," boasts of the group's affiliation with the Woods, a white power prison gang.

So the Arizona-based group's label is using a viral marketing technique to create word of mouth. Its goal is to connect with an influential constituency of taste makers.

Namely, people behind bars.

As the thinking goes, Woodpile gets buzz in the prison yard that translates into positive word of mouth, spreading beyond penitentiary walls as prison visitors and released prisoners carry the gospel of Woodpile to the streets.

For Brian Shafton, an RBC partner, jailhouse marketing makes obvious sense. "Prisons are great because you have an incredibly captive audience that has a lot of entertainment time on its hands," Shafton said...

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      ( 9:59 AM ) The Rat  

The days of the birthday cupcake—smothered in a slurry of sticky frosting and with a dash of rainbow sprinkles—may be numbered in schoolhouses across the nation.

Fears of childhood obesity have led schools to discourage and sometimes even ban what were once de rigueur grammar-school treats.

"They can bring carrots," said Laura Ott, assistant to the superintendent of Orange County's Saddleback Valley Unified School District, which this month started allowing non-nutritious classroom treats only three times per year. "A birthday doesn't have to be associated with food."

Such nutritional dictates have ignited a series of mini cupcake rebellions across the country, and Texas has led the way...

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      ( 12:28 AM ) The Rat  

On its own, the kurinji is a modest little flower, nothing you'd expect would send grown men into fits of rapture.

But blanket entire hillsides and valleys with it—millions of blue and purple blooms as far as the eye can see—and suddenly civil servants are transformed into poets.

"We were walking in early morning and it was covered by mist, and suddenly the mist cleared as if somebody lifted a curtain," said S. Theodore Baskaran, a naturalist and retired postmaster. "And suddenly there was this vast landscape of flowers in front of us, the whole landscape up to the horizon covered in blue.... It was a very dramatic and kind of a transcendental experience."

Such kurinji-induced euphoria is an infrequent occurrence, and not just because the flower is found in only one place on Earth: the chain of mountains in southern India known as the Western Ghats.

Unlike the annual bloom of poppies in Southern California's Antelope Valley, the delicate kurinji appears just once every 12 years...

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:28 AM

Tuesday, September 26, 2006
      ( 12:14 PM ) The Rat  
[W]ith my usual base habit of cowardice, I shrunk into my sloth, like a snail into its shell, and alleged incapacity and impracticability as a pretext to escape action. If left to myself, I should infallibly have let this chance slip. Inadventurous, unstirred by impulses of practical ambition, I was capable of sitting twenty years teaching infants the hornbook, turning silk dresses, and making children's frocks. Not that true contentment dignified this infatuated resignation: my work had neither charm for my taste, nor hold on my interest; but it seemed to me a great thing to be without heavy anxiety, and releved from intimate trial; the negation of severe suffering was the nearest approach to happiness I expected to know. Besides, I seemed to hold two lives—the life of thought, and that of reality; and, provided the former was nourished with a sufficiency of the strange necromantic joys of fancy, the priviliges of the latter might remain limited to daily bread, hourly work, and a roof of shelter.

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      ( 11:23 AM ) The Rat  
SLATE PIECE on that weird, weird, weird new(ish) ad for the Ford Freestyle, which came on while TCB and I were watching TV, and left us both creeped out for the rest of the afternoon. I'm not completely on the same page with the Slate writer, but the piece gives a decent summary of the commercial (plus a link so you can watch it online).

The ad mainly left me feeling confused. Commercials have traditionally been about wish-fulfillment, after all—which is no small part of why I used to want to be in advertising—so the America we see in them tends (not always of course, but often) to be an idealized one. So when I saw the ad, what I couldn't help wondering was—are broken families now not only an unfortunate and occasional tragedy... but actually a normal part of even an idealized American landscape? And more to the point—do divorcé(e)s who see this ad actually feel a visceral response to it, without any intermediary sense of "This manufacturer is clearly trying to manipulate me by inferring things about my life and situation, based on whatever crude and overly-generalized demographic studies they've done"? It's hard for me to believe the answer to either of those questions could be "yes"—but Slate mentions some positive responses to Ford from "non-traditional families," so evidently I'm wrong...

My own hope is that the commercial doesn't really signify anything about America at large—only that Ford is about as good at making ads as they are at making cars. Isn't it enough we have to deal with Kenneth Cole marketing shoes and clothing using pro-abortion rhetoric?

The wife invites her estranged husband along for a weekend with their kids? Won't that make the poor kids hope for a reconciliation? You'd better know what you're doing here, Mom! And while we see Dad's overnight bag, we don't see the inevitable argument over whether he and Mom will share a motel room. ("I can't even afford my own room with these alimony payments!"; "I told you this was about the kids, not us!"; "Emasculating witch!"; "Quiet, the children!" This is the sort of thing the ad leaves out.)

More important, the spot makes no sense as an enticement to buy a Freestyle. Get this car and perhaps your tattered marriage will segue into an amicable separation? Get this car because it's big enough to fit ex-spouses and a passel of half-siblings? The spot itself isn't sure what it wants to be, masquerading as a tale about the Freestyle's fuel capacity before it veers toward this tacked-on twist ending. As the ad fades out, the viewer is left confused, and yes, even a bit forlorn...

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      ( 10:49 AM ) The Rat  

Security forces took over a Guatemalan prison controlled for more than 10 years by inmates who produced drugs, lived in spacious homes with luxury goods and even rented space for stores and restaurants...

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Sunday, September 24, 2006
      ( 12:40 AM ) The Rat  
Miss Fanshawe's berth chanced to be next mine; and, I am sorry to say, she tormented me with an unsparing selfishness during the whole time of our mutual distress. Nothing could exceed her impatience and fretfulness. The Watsons, who were very sick too, and on whom the stewardess attended with shameless partiality, were stoics compared with her. Many a time since have I noticed, in persons of Ginevra Fanshawe's light, careless temperament, and fair, fragile style of beauty, an entire incapacity to endure: they seem to sour in adversity, like small-beer in thunder: the man who takes such a woman for his wife, ought to be prepared to guarantee her an existence all sunshine.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006
      ( 1:29 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 12:42 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 12:18 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 1:32 AM ) The Rat  
RATTY'S FRIENDS KNOW that the only thing between her and the end of a rope is stories like this. Thanks to LT for sending.

A party at a US art museum got out of hand after the organisers promised revellers as many martinis as they could drink.

The martini fete at at Milwaukee Art Museum ended with drunk guests passing out, throwing up and clambering over artworks.

One reveller, Kathleen Christians, 39, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "It was crazy. People were shoving people over. People were getting sick, screaming, shouting, messing with the artwork."

Four young men climbed onto Standing Woman, a tall, bronze sculpture of a goddess-like woman by early 20th-century American artist Gaston Lachaise.

"They were standing on it, grabbing the boobs, and somebody was just taking pictures with a cell phone," said Laura Collins, 35...

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      ( 1:19 AM ) The Rat  
STRIPPER RANTS. And, via the same source, a related T-shirt.

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Friday, September 22, 2006
      ( 11:01 PM ) The Rat  

A fee of 25,500 euros ($32,000) is way too much for a woman to charge a man for fondling her bosom, a Finnish district court ruled.

The court jailed a couple in their twenties for more than a year for charging a 74-year-old who suffers from dementia a total of 25,500 euros to enjoy the woman's breasts on 10 occasions.

"Based on general life experience alone, it is indisputably clear that a 25,500 euro charge is disproportionate to the compensation in question," Judge Hasse Hakki, who heard the case, told Reuters Friday...

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      ( 10:58 PM ) The Rat  

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Thursday, September 21, 2006
      ( 9:51 PM ) The Rat  

Stimulating a certain area of the brain can produce a creepy feeling that someone is watching you when no one is, scientists said Wednesday.

Swiss researchers made the discovery while evaluating a young woman for surgery to treat epilepsy. They believe their finding could help explain feelings such as paranoia which afflict patients suffering from schizophrenia...

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      ( 12:09 PM ) The Rat  
WELCOME! to the reader who got here looking for "what does it mean to dream about a rat."

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      ( 1:20 AM ) The Rat  
NO SHORTAGE OF OIL AT THE L.A. COUNTY FAIR. How I would love to put ET on a plane bound for this...

The next year, 2003, Boghosian wanted to deep-fry a banana split. That didn't work, so he stuck to just frying bananas, topping them with chocolate syrup, whipped cream and rainbow sprinkles.

He followed the bananas with deep-fried strawberries, then deep-fried avocados with tomatoes, and this year, deep-fried olives and pickles.

He's already experimenting with some new ideas: deep-fried vanilla wafers and deep-fried Fig Newtons. Boghosian said he had success the other day peeling a peach, placing a scoop of ice-cream where the pit would have been, and then battering and deep-frying it...

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006
      ( 2:34 PM ) The Rat  
"ASK YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT TEQUILA!" Fun audio file, courtesy of LT.

Tequila may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use tequila. However, women who wouldn't mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it...

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      ( 2:06 PM ) The Rat  
MARIJUANA USE CAUSES EARLY PREGNANCY FAILURE. Story from back in August, though it doesn't seem to have been widely reported even then.

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      ( 2:04 PM ) The Rat  
RACE MAY BE A MOTIVE IN ABORTION KIDNAP CASE. Ooh, I would never have guessed.

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      ( 2:47 AM ) The Rat  

She lived alone in a tiny, top-floor apartment in one of the tougher sections of San Francisco. At 83, she was short and a bit stout. Diabetes took the sight in one of her eyes; arthritis left her leaning heavily on a cane. For long trips, she took a taxi.

Her husband had died. He was the love of her long life, a short, dapper man who had worked as a bartender and waiter at some of the city's larger hotels and was active in Jewish activities. They buried him in a Jewish cemetery outside the city.

He had been gone just a short while when the two officials from the Justice Department in Washington knocked on her door. They confronted her with a terrible secret that all these years she had managed to keep from him.

In Germany during World War II, a much younger, still-single Elfriede Lina Rinkel, the girl with the blue eyes and the striking red hair, had worked as an SS guard at one of the Nazi regime's infamous concentration camps. Called Ravensbruck, it was a slave labor prison for women, and during the year she worked there with a trained attack dog more than 10,000 women died...

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006
      ( 9:27 PM ) The Rat  
THE 30-SECOND BUNNIES THEATRE presents The Ring. (Not as good as their Exorcist—but then, what is?)

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      ( 8:22 PM ) The Rat  
PICASSO AND AMERICAN ART, at the Whitney from September 28 through January 28.

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      ( 5:34 PM ) The Rat  

Thai military forces launched a coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra today, declaring martial law nationwide and seizing control of television stations as tanks and armed soldiers surrounded the prime minister's residence.

Retired Lt.-Gen. Prapart Sakuntanak, a spokesman for coup organizers, addressed a stunned nation on television, explaining that the revolt was necessary because Thaksin's government had divided the country and corruption was rampant.

Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, who is known to be close to Thailand's king and is a Muslim in this Buddhist-dominated nation, will be acting prime minister, an army spokesman, Col. Akara Chitroj, told the Associated Press...

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      ( 1:50 AM ) The Rat  
PARENTS KIDNAP DAUGHTER TO HAVE ABORTION. Holy crap. Although, under the circumstances, I can't say I was surprised to hear what kind of car the parents drive.

Police charged a Maine couple on Monday of kidnapping their pregnant 19-year-old daughter, who was bound with rope and duct tape and bundled into her parents' car to force her to have an emergency abortion.

Nicholas Kampf, 54, and his wife, Lola, 53, were arrested on Friday in a New Hampshire parking lot after their daughter Katelyn escaped by persuading her parents to untie her so she could use a Kmart bathroom.

A court affidavit said her parents chased her out into the yard after an altercation, grabbed and tied her hands and feet together. Her father then gagged her and carried her to their Lexus and they drove toward New Hampshire.

[Mark Dion of Maine's Cumberland County Police Department] said the Kampfs, who were arraigned in New Hampshire's Salem District Court on Monday on kidnapping charges and held on bail of $100,000 each, appeared to have been angry that their daughter was pregnant by a man who is now in jail...

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      ( 12:38 AM ) The Rat  
WAS READING THE OTHER DAY about this new digital camera from Hewlett-Packard, which, among other things, has a feature that will automatically slim the subjects in your photos. And you thought online dating couldn't get any more fun!

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      ( 12:35 AM ) The Rat  
WHEN RATTY SAW this flask at the MoMA Design Store today, she knew immediately that the fellow who designed it must lack a proper appreciation for alcohol.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006
      ( 2:29 PM ) The Rat  
BALENCIAGA PARIS, at the Musée de la Mode et du Textile through January 28.

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      ( 1:25 PM ) The Rat  

Cancellations such as Selah's are fueling a new backlash against health plans. In a series of recent lawsuits, policyholders say they were illegally terminated, causing substantial financial hardship and jeopardizing their healthcare. State regulators are investigating and said they were preparing to take action against Blue Cross.

Dawn Foiles says an improper cancellation forced her and her husband to put their Riverside home up for sale. Steve Leyra says a cancellation—based on a condition he doesn't even have—cost him the chance to become a firefighter. George Nazaretyan and his wife are struggling to save their Van Nuys home and get care for their disabled twin daughters, even as their medical bills approach $1 million.

The suits accuse health plans of dumping sick policyholders without evidence that the consumers intentionally omitted information about their medical condition or history. They also accuse insurers of using applications that are vague and confusing by design, trapping consumers into making mistakes that can be used to cancel their coverage later...

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      ( 10:56 AM ) The Rat  
MAPPING RELIGION IN AMERICA, a Regions of Mind post from back in April. (Esp. check out the stuff about the distribution of Jews in Idaho and Colorado!)

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      ( 6:00 AM ) The Rat  
WHY I READ SUCH GOOD BOOKS. I've been meaning for awhile now to do a series of short posts about—to pick an arbitrary number—21 writers or works that are very personal to me; the idea would be to try and encapsulate why, for each, using somewhere between 10 and 450 words. It having finally dawned on me that there's never going to be a time when doing this is actually convenient, I've decided to just do it in dribs and drabs (and in no particular order).

1. Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu)—If I had to name a single favorite novelist, he'd be it. You could read him for his harrowing depictions of the experience of sexual jealousy; or for his humor; or because, hey, there just aren't that many canonical novels with scenes in S&M whorehouses. But I read him primarily for his descriptions. Edmund Wilson called the Search "one of the gloomiest books ever written"; I would say just the opposite. It may be perverse to say of this most secular of writers—but no other author makes me feel more inclined to believe in the existence of God.

Ruskin, a major influence on Proust, quotes the story of how Turner one day showed a naval officer a harbor scene he had just painted. The officer pointed out that Turner had forgotten the ships' portholes. "If you will walk up to Mount Edgecombe," Turner replied, "and look at the ships against the sunset, you will find you can't see the port-holes." The officer objected, "Well, but you know the port-holes are there." "Yes," said Turner, "I know that well enough; but my business is to draw what I see, and not what I know is there."

Proust aspired to do the same. He represents the world not as we know or believe it to be, but as we perceive it—he catches that moment of the awakening of consciousness, better than anybody else I've yet encountered. In doing so, he restores a strength and sensuousness to our experience of the world, and of being alive, that most of us last experienced around age five.

We inevitably have—all of us, however much we've been loved—memories of solitude and loneliness. For me the greatest thing about Proust is his ability to describe something quite simple—say, the way a beam of sunlight looks as it falls into an empty room—so uncannily accurately that when you think back to all the times when you yourself were alone in such a room... it no longer feels as though you were alone; someone else has understood your experience that thoroughly. The baroque way I have sometimes characterized this is: Proust's greatest power is that, through the beauty and accuracy of his descriptions, he retroactively annihilates loneliness. Reading him, one feels freed, temporarily, from the solitary confinement that is our regular experience of conscious life—the solitary confinement we sometimes can't shake off even in the presence of lovers or of our dearest friends. "The Search has the dimensions of a national, even an international, epic," wrote Roger Shattuck. "Yet no book could be more personal, as if addressed to me alone. There are times when I seem to be reading for my life."

2. Pauline Réage, Story of O (Histoire d'O)—Most women who have ever been in love will understand this book.

3. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady—I hated this book at age 19; ten years later, I could finally see the point of it. Some people like James's prose, but I'm not one of them—it's at least as tortuous as Proust's and, unlike Proust's, doesn't get any easier to read with practice. (I think some critic pointed out that James's sentences effectively have to be read, not from beginning to end, but from the middle outward. You can imagine how much fun that is after the 600th page...) Nor did I warm all that much to Isabel Archer (for all that swooning female English majors seem unanimously to have adopted her as their idol), in the decade that elapsed between my two readings of the book. However...

However, there is an aspect of getting older, that I have never seen captured as well anywhere else as it is in this novel. It would be oversimplifying to simply call it "regret," because it's a very particular shade of regret; when I clumsily tried to convey this feeling to ET (who has not yet read Portrait but who, ahem, needs to!), she heard me out, and then said meditatively that she thought she knew what I meant—that we sometimes discover that certain doors have closed that, up till then, we had not even realized were there. James is a maddening writer, and I need to claw through more of his novels (he is not as effective in short-story or novella format). But for now I'll just say, of Portrait, that it seems to me to isolate and bring to life that particular, and inevitable, declining of our options as the years pass, more effectively than any other poet or artist of loss—even Homer. This in and of itself puts the novel in my "21" list.

(Though, FYI, it doesn't alleviate my longing to smack the heroine, and all the people who want to use her as the standard-bearer for a particularly histrionic and bratty kind of feminism.)

# Posted by The Rat @ 6:00 AM

      ( 5:54 AM ) The Rat  
And Levin, a happy father and a man in perfect health, was several times so near suicide that he hid the cord, lest he be tempted to hang himself, and was afraid to go out with his gun, for fear of shooting himself. But Levin did not shoot himself, and did not hang himself; he went on living.
Anna Karenina

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Saturday, September 16, 2006
      ( 9:20 PM ) The Rat  
After all, he said to himself, it is probably only insomnia. Many must have it.
—"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place"

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Friday, September 15, 2006
      ( 8:27 PM ) The Rat  
THE NAKED COWBOY is working on a debut album!

Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, NC tried his luck in other cities before bringing his act to Manhattan, where he's only been arrested twice—one time for trying to lead the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and another for crashing a red-carpet event...

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Thursday, September 14, 2006
      ( 8:07 AM ) The Rat  
Beware of the foul and exciting romance. All that is said above will apply with tenfold intensity to this class of reading, for which it paves the way. The writer of modern romance chooses his scenes from the places of debauchery and crime, and familiarizes the reader with characters, sentiments, and events, that should be known only to the police...
—"Beware of Bad Books," American Tract Society (ca. 1840)

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006
      ( 11:05 PM ) The Rat  

Clearly, this fishing village and others near the mouth of a bay on China's southeast coast suffered catastrophic damage when Typhoon Saomai blew through on the afternoon of Aug. 10, a Category 4 storm packing sustained winds of 240 kilometers, or 150 miles, per hour. Yet the following day, initial reports listed only 17 people dead and 138 missing in all of Fujian Province.

In a visit to the area two days later, the Chinese deputy prime minister, Hui Liangyu, praised the local authorities for their "proper direction, for effectively limiting the damage, for strong measures and for orderly rescue work," adding that "the Party is here" to support you.

In the storm's aftermath, however, a very different account of events has gradually taken shape. Although it is unlikely that an accurate death toll will ever be established, the actual numbers appear to far surpass the official totals.

An internal news agency report compiled in the days after the storm and intended just for the authorities, bluntly contradicted the official picture. In succeeding days, Chinese news media also took an increasingly skeptical view of the official accounts.

After consulting with local fishermen, these publications, among them Chinese Newsweek, concluded that about 900 boats from the area had been lost at sea. Since each fishing boat typically has a crew of two, they estimated that in the vicinity of 2,000 people had died just in the immediate area...

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      ( 9:57 PM ) The Rat  
THE KIND OF SHIT THAT COULD ALMOST MAKE ME READ SAID. To quote TA, "Just learn the fucking language!" Also check out the Hanzi Smatter blog, "dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in Western culture," here. Coincidentally, the Onion is also taking a whack at Asian fetish this week.

Sports Illustrated recently featured a spread on N.B.A. players' Chinese tattoos, quoting the Chicago Bulls center Tyson Chandler as saying he checked with Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets before getting a tattoo meaning "love."

Britney Spears was apparently not so cautious. She reportedly got a tattoo she thought said "mysterious" but actually meant "strange."

At the root of the craze for Chinese tattoos is the same fascination for Eastern traditions that has fanned interest in feng shui and Asian-theme clothing and décor. But by imprinting the Chinese characters indelibly into their skin, the owners of the tattoos take their Asian fetish, and the consequences of less-than-perfect knowledge, to a different level.

Errors are common enough to be good business for tattoo removal specialists, and to fuel a blog,, which posts photographs of botched tattoos accompanied by sardonic commentary from Tian Tang, a Chinese-born engineering student.

One elaborate tattoo posted shortly after his blog's inception in late 2004 means "power piglet," according to Mr. Tang's translation. Another, on a woman's lower back, says "motherly beast blessing."

Marquis Daniels, of the Dallas Mavericks, thought he was getting his initials in Chinese characters but what his arm actually says is "healthy woman roof," Mr. Tang said. Similarly, Shawn Marion of the Phoenix Suns was under the impression that his nickname, "the Matrix," was tattooed on his leg, but Mr. Tang says the inscription translates as something like "demon bird moth balls."

Some hanzi tattoos, Mr. Tang explains on his blog, are nothing but gibberish. A few appear to have been copied backward. And to a Chinese or Japanese person's eyes, the calligraphy is almost always atrocious.

To Angela So, 27, a Canadian from Hong Kong who reads Hanzi Smatter regularly, people who get Chinese tattoos without researching the meaning are trivializing a language with a storied literary tradition and a written record going back well before the birth of Jesus...

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      ( 9:24 PM ) The Rat  

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      ( 8:56 PM ) The Rat  
THE MONTH OF CHERRY BLOSSOM. Nicely done New Statesman piece on Yasunari Kawabata; worth reading for anyone with an interest in Japan and Japanese aesthetics. (Yes, TCB, I'm talking to you.)

Kawabata does write beautifully—he's one of the couple dozen writers (in any language) whose available works I've read in their entirety—though I'm sure much is lost for those (like me ...because I suck) who can't read Japanese. It's been a few years since I've read him, but on the basis of single readings, the works I was most struck by were "House of the Sleeping Beauties" and Snow Country. Thanks to ET for flagging this article for me.

For Kawabata, Go was not simply a game; at its best, and especially as played by the Master, it was an art with a certain oriental nobility and mystery. As with Japan in the immediate postwar years, the game was changing (though begun earlier, this book was not published until 1951). "From the way of Go the beauty of Japan and the Orient had fled," Kawabata wrote. "Everything had become science and regulation. The road to advancement in rank, which controlled the life of a player, had become a meticulous point system." So The Master of Go is less a celebration of a great games player or work of dramatic reportage than a highly refined elegy of a kind that would come to define Kawabata in the second half of his life.

Kawabata was born in the industrial town of Osaka in 1899, the son of a doctor. His early childhood was marked by trauma and bereavement: his father died when he was one and his mother when he was two. He went to live with his grandmother, who died when he was seven. Two years later, his only sister died as well. When he was 15, his grandfather died, prompting him to remark that, already at a young age, he had become a "master of funerals." His first important novella,
The Diary of a Sixteen-Year-Old, offers a harrowingly realistic account of how he tended his grandfather on his deathbed.

Much later, after the atom bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Naga-saki and Emperor Hirohito had unconditionally surrendered to the Americans to end the war in the Pacific as well as the myth of his own quasi-divine provenance, Kawabata, by that time middle-aged and established as a writer, wrote of how, "since the defeat, I have gone back into the sadness that has always been with us in Japan."

Was this sadness common to all Japanese, as he would have us believe? Or was it something much more personal, an expression of Kawabata's own ontological perplexity—the sadness of the adult who was once an orphaned child, lost and alone in the world? Whatever the origins of this sadness, Kawabata decided that, with the war's end, he would write only elegies; and so, on the whole, he did, producing some of the strangest and most memorably affecting fiction in 20th-century literature, the last major writer to work in the "classical" Japanese tradition. Today, the Japanese writers most familiar to western readers, from the Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe to Haruki Murakami, are inter nationalists in style, attitude and ambition, their politics largely leftist or liberal and their familiarity with popular culture—with Hollywood, the American vernacular, pop and the buzz of new technologies—obvious...

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:56 PM

      ( 1:05 PM ) The Rat  
AM I THE ONLY ONE who thinks this sounds like hell on earth?!

Greenstone Media, a radio company whose founders include social activist Gloria Steinem and actress Jane Fonda, has launched an all-women, all-talk network across the United States...

# Posted by The Rat @ 1:05 PM

      ( 10:21 AM ) The Rat  
SOMETHING TELLS ME this isn't going to be as entertaining as it was in Aristophanes.

Fretting over crime and violence, girlfriends and wives of gang members in the Colombian city of Pereira have called a ban on sex to persuade their menfolk to give up the gun.

"We met with the wives and girlfriends of gang members and they were worried some were not handing over their guns and that is where they came up with the idea of a vigil or a sex strike," mayor's office representative Julio Cesar Gomez said.

Gomez said the city, in Colombia's coffee-growing region, reported 480 killings last year.

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:21 AM

Tuesday, September 12, 2006
      ( 3:56 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:56 PM

      ( 3:18 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:18 PM

      ( 3:14 PM ) The Rat  
It's just endless what you can learn from a single work of art. You can fill up the crevices of your life, the cracks of your life, the places where the mortar comes out and falls away—you can fill it up with the love of art.
—Vincent Price

(Although, less so if you're in grad school...)

# Posted by The Rat @ 3:14 PM

Monday, September 11, 2006
      ( 8:23 AM ) The Rat  
IT'S 9/11. How about getting off your butt and sending a care package to a soldier? (Letters and packages for "Any Service Member" are no longer allowed because of security concerns, but a number of associations can put you in touch with a recipient—e.g., here, here, here, here, here, etc.)

By the way, TCB advises me that soldiers are required to write back to letters from people they don't know—so, nice as a letter would be, if you are going to "adopt" a soldier, I would go ahead and send some loot while you're at it.

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:23 AM

Sunday, September 10, 2006
      ( 11:57 AM ) The Rat  

The hotel bathtub is going down the drain.

Hilton, one of the world's largest hoteliers, has yanked bathtubs from two of its marquee properties, the Beverly Hilton and Hilton New York. One of its chief rivals, Marriott, also is hauling some tubs to the trash.

When the upscale Sofitel Los Angeles finished a $40-million renovation in June, only 77 of its 309 rooms were left with tubs.

"Given time constraints and things today, people don't have time for the 30- to 40-minute bath," Brent Martin, Sofitel's general manager, said...

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:57 AM

Saturday, September 09, 2006
      ( 6:29 PM ) The Rat  
GOD IS DEAD. OR IS THAT JUST MY BATTERY? Just got about my fourth or fifth survey, this one electronic, from the manufacturer of the vehicle I purchased this spring. More than any of its predecessors, this one really tries to psych you out, with occasionally hilarious results. On one page, for instance, you're asked to rate (from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree") a long list of statements, 1 through 17 of which I reprint below. (I know why they put no. 17 in, of course—they're trying to scope out their demographic—but still...)

—I enjoy discussing vehicles with my friends

—I get deeply involved in the purchase of a new vehicle

—I purchase my vehicle based on the manufacturer that gives me the best deal

—Japanese vehicle manufacturers better understand my needs more than domestic manufacturers and other imports

—I want a vehicle that is bold and stands out from the rest on the road

—My friends would describe me as a car or truck enthusiast

—I seek out vehicles with powerful, spirited engines

—Owning a vehicle you really like and feel passionate about is part of leading a full life

—I want a vehicle that has an innovative design

—I want a vehicle that has outstanding pickup or acceleration from a stop

—I want a vehicle that can seat 5 adults comfortably

—I want a vehicle that is a highly versatile vehicle suitable for a variety of purposes

—I prefer to buy/lease a new vehicle every 3-4 years

—The Japanese make vehicles of much higher quality than the Americans

—I think minivans are NOT just for families with kids

—I would consider an alternative-fuel vehicle with less performance to reduce pollution

—Without the church, morality would collapse

# Posted by The Rat @ 6:29 PM

      ( 2:05 PM ) The Rat  
MADRID BANS TOO-THIN MODELS FROM CATWALK. Interesting, though the banning of models below a U.S. size 8 (mentioned in connection with a different show) seems pretty extreme.

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:05 PM

      ( 11:46 AM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:46 AM

      ( 11:25 AM ) The Rat  
BEEN READING a lot of WaiterRant lately—hey, Raymond Chandler, probably his nearest literary progenitor, is an old weakness of mine. The Waiter can slip easily from sublime to maudlin, of course—just like Chandler—but sometimes even when he does, you have to forgive him just for the sake of the story, as was the case for me with this post. Other good stories (minus the maudlin-ness) here, here, here, here, etc.

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:25 AM

Friday, September 08, 2006
      ( 6:40 PM ) The Rat  

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger apologized Friday for saying during a closed-door meeting that Cubans and Puerto Ricans are naturally feisty and temperamental because of their combination of "black blood" and "Latino blood." He said the tape-recorded comments "made me cringe" when he read them in Friday's Los Angeles Times.

"Anyone out there that feels offended by those comments, I just want to say I'm sorry, I apologize," Schwarzenegger said. He added that if he heard his children make similar comments, "I would be upset."

# Posted by The Rat @ 6:40 PM

      ( 2:40 PM ) The Rat  
"AND THUS THE TREASURE VALLEY BECAME A GARDEN AGAIN, AND THE INHERITANCE WHICH HAD BEEN LOST BY CRUELTY WAS REGAINED BY LOVE." Was reminded earlier today of Ruskin's "The King of the Golden River," one of my favorite fairy tales. I have probably linked to the full text before, but here it is again anyway (with lovely illustrations, too!).

The story is also reprinted in this anthology.

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:40 PM

      ( 10:36 AM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:36 AM

      ( 10:28 AM ) The Rat  
YOU SHOULD SEE ME WHEN I'M NOT SUPPORTIVE! Ratty, while watching TCB put down a new laminate floor in the living room: "It's kinda like watching someone do a jigsaw puzzle for retards."

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:28 AM

Thursday, September 07, 2006
      ( 6:02 PM ) The Rat  
APRIL USA TODAY PIECE on the waiter rule, which Ratty has sworn by as long as she can remember.

Office Depot CEO Steve Odland remembers like it was yesterday working in an upscale French restaurant in Denver.

The purple sorbet in cut glass he was serving tumbled onto the expensive white gown of an obviously rich and important woman. "I watched in slow motion ruining her dress for the evening," Odland says. "I thought I would be shot on sight."

Thirty years have passed, but Odland can't get the stain out of his mind, nor the woman's kind reaction. She was startled, regained composure and, in a reassuring voice, told the teenage Odland, "It's OK. It wasn't your fault." When she left the restaurant, she also left the future Fortune 500 CEO with a life lesson: You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she treats the waiter.

Odland isn't the only CEO to have made this discovery. Rather, it seems to be one of those rare laws of the land that every CEO learns on the way up. It's hard to get a dozen CEOs to agree about anything, but all interviewed agree with the Waiter Rule...

# Posted by The Rat @ 6:02 PM

      ( 4:57 PM ) The Rat  
BLACKS MAY GAIN AS UCLA MOVES TO ALTER ADMISSIONS. The rhetorical dance being done around Prop. 209 in this article is actually kind of entertaining.

The changes in admissions, pushed by acting Chancellor Norman Abrams and several faculty leaders, would be the most dramatic at UCLA in at least five years. They would move the Westwood campus toward a more "holistic" admissions model—much like UC Berkeley's—in which students' achievements are viewed in the context of their personal experiences.

UCLA officials emphasized, however, that the campus would continue to abide by the restrictions imposed by Proposition 209, the 1996 voter initiative that barred California's public colleges and universities from considering race in admissions or employment.

[Abrams and faculty leaders] emphasized that although UCLA's low numbers this year for both African American and Latino freshmen helped spark the changes, it was not clear what effect they would have on those figures. And they said the reforms were not geared specifically at raising those levels.

"In my view, this should not be done—and under California law, cannot be done—to improve our African American admissions numbers, but because it's desirable to improve our processes overall," Abrams said...

# Posted by The Rat @ 4:57 PM

      ( 4:54 PM ) The Rat  

Three months before the release of the new Leonardo DiCaprio film "Blood Diamond," the diamond industry is mounting a publicity campaign to highlight steps it has taken to reduce the flow of illegally traded "conflict diamonds" that have helped finance brutal regimes in Africa.

The New York-based World Diamond Council took out full-page advertisements in major publications here and abroad on Wednesday announcing the creation of an Internet website,, that is designed to educate consumers about "conflict" or "blood" diamonds, which are illegally traded diamonds that have been used by rebel movements in parts of Africa to finance wars against legitimate governments.

Eli Izhakoff, who chairs the World Diamond Council, said that since the industry and diamond-producing countries in Africa implemented the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme six years ago, the flow of conflict diamonds has dropped from roughly 4% of the world's output in rough diamonds to less than 1%. Izhakoff said the council's goal is to eradicate all conflict diamonds.

Amy O'Meara of Amnesty International U.S.A., which has campaigned against conflict diamonds, applauded the recent reduction in the trade of such diamonds, but she said the industry's statistics are difficult to verify because the industry monitors itself. "Without third-party monitoring, there is no way to be sure that the system is working," she said...

# Posted by The Rat @ 4:54 PM

      ( 2:51 AM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:51 AM

      ( 2:08 AM ) The Rat  
IF RATTY EVER MOVES TO ENGLAND, it's going to be because of the LRB personals. A few recent examples:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this personal advert puts me firmly on the map. Box no. 17/10

I am not as high maintenance as my highly polished and impeccably arranged collection of porcelain cats suggests, but if you touch them I will kill you. F, 36. Likes porcelain cats. Seeks man not unused to the sound of sobbing coming from a bedroom from which he is strictly prohibited. Tell me how attractive I am at box no. 16/08

This ad is emblematic of, yet somehow transcends, my entire body of work. Magician and part-time shrimp peeler (M, 36). Tring. Box no. 16/02

Years of cigarette smoke can put one hell of a patina on a guy's complexion. F with hot soapy water, coarse brush and a poor sense of smell/sobriety required by jug-faced M, 57. Box no. 16/03

Blonde, 26, wants boyfriend to 45 what can read and spell and all that. But isn't, like, totally up themselves either.

A few more here and here.

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:08 AM

Wednesday, September 06, 2006
      ( 11:11 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 11:11 PM

      ( 2:59 PM ) The Rat  

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:59 PM

      ( 2:47 PM ) The Rat  
Literature, as one among the arts, acquaints us with a special and intensified repertory of feelings and events and possibilities. Later, when we ourselves encounter an event similar to one of them, we may have a counterpart already at hand, forgotten, but available. And the movement of our mind is to say, 'Here it is.' For we have virtually experienced it already. [...]

Literature, then, like all the arts, plays a formative or preparatory role in training our sensibilities. In a limited way it supplies the first beat of a duple rhythm of existence. It offers not true life, but the potentiality of true life if we go on to complete that rhythm. The Search and War and Peace do not represent the wasted effort of authors who can offer us no more than skillful diversion. As Proust's optical figures insist, true literature does not divert but directs. The great books affect the economy of life for many individuals by allowing them to achieve personal experience sooner, more directly, and with less groping. This sense, this secret, is what allows certain people to live life at all times as an adventure...

—Roger Shattuck, Proust's Way

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:47 PM

      ( 2:43 PM ) The Rat  
Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.
—Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

# Posted by The Rat @ 2:43 PM

Tuesday, September 05, 2006
      ( 8:15 PM ) The Rat  

Mutations in the sperm of older men could be a major contributory factor that leads to a significantly higher risk of having children with autism, say researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, USA. They found that men over 40 have a much higher chance of fathering children with autism, compared to men under 30...

# Posted by The Rat @ 8:15 PM

Monday, September 04, 2006
      ( 10:21 PM ) The Rat  
No single theory or approach will make Proust easily and quickly available to all inquiring minds. The very resistance of his work to simplification and analysis constitutes its most evident general characteristic. Beyond this feature, however, we discover endless contradictions in the Search. Walt Whitman lived at peace with the fact that he contradicted himself. He said that he contained multitudes. Proust asks the next question. How much of one's multitudinous self can a person reveal or embody at a time? The first answer is plain common sense: it all depends. It depends on many things, from chance and volition to memory and forgetting. The second answer is categorical. No matter how we go about it, we cannot be all of ourselves all at once. Narrow light beams of perception and of recollection illuminate the present and the past in vivid fragments. The clarity of those fragments is sometimes very great. They may even overlap and reinforce one another. However, to summon our entire self into simultaneous existence lies beyond our powers. We live by synecdoche, by cycles of being. More profoundly than any other novelist, Proust perceived this state of things and worked as an economist of the personality...
—Roger Shattuck, Proust's Way

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:21 PM

      ( 5:48 PM ) The Rat  
Habit devours works, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war. 'If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been' [from Tolstoy's Diary]. And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar,' to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.
—Victor Shklovsky

# Posted by The Rat @ 5:48 PM

      ( 12:45 PM ) The Rat  
A la recherche is eloquent in persuading its reader that human beings, real or fictional, carry within them an inner book as richly inscribed as its hero's...
—Gerda R. Blumenthal, Thresholds: A Study of Proust

# Posted by The Rat @ 12:45 PM

Friday, September 01, 2006
      ( 10:23 PM ) The Rat  
PERHAPS A HEDGEHOG could be buggered, after all, after getting stuck in a McDonald's cup!

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:23 PM

      ( 10:15 PM ) The Rat  
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend
You told me again you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception...
—"Chelsea Hotel No. 2"

# Posted by The Rat @ 10:15 PM

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

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