The innocent can never last … — Lao Tzu
September is one of my favorite times of the year, and this is my favorite song about September. One listen, and it’ll be yours, too:
For the dozen years that I’ve been running this joint, Fred Gregory has been so much a part of it that despite our frequent disagreements we have been the (dys)functional equivalent of co-hosts. In real life, we met in the late 1980s when I was a cops reporter for the News & Record and he was a Drug Enforcement Administration agent. We’ve been friends since and spent 11 of those years as neighbors besides, and my daughter and his granddaughter became great friends.
The sneaky SOB didn’t tell me this in advance, but this morning he was honored with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest civilian honors, for his career service with the DEA, the Drug Tax Division of the N.C. Department of Revenue, and as a magistrate in the 18th Judicial District here in Guilford County. I congratulate him, and so should you.
Well, THIS is kind of cool. Jens Kruger, a banjoist and member of the Kruger Brothers band, has won the above-named prize, which comes with $50,000 in cash and the opportunity to appear onstage and on TV with Martin. The band’s PR is handled by my friend and classmate Julie Macie, whose job, I suspect, just got both harder and more rewarding. Here’s the news release:
NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Jens Kruger has been named as the fourth recipient of the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo and Bluegrass Music. Kruger is known for his innovative banjo composition and performance that integrates folk music with European classical music. Kruger is the first North Carolina resident and first winner that born outside of the United States.
Kruger is known for his inventive, hard to categorize musical style of composition and performance, which can be described as thoughtful and lyrical. His virtuosic playing style ranges from the very complex to the simple and profound. Jens Kruger and The Kruger Brothers have raised awareness about bluegrass music by writing and performing classical pieces that incorporate the instrumentation of banjo, guitar and bass. The Kruger Brothers consist of Jens Kruger (banjo, harmony vocals), Uwe Kruger (guitar, lead and harmony vocals) and Joel Landsberg (bass, harmony vocals).
Born in Switzerland, Kruger and his brother Uwe left home to become street musicians. As adults they were billed as the Kruger Brothers, adding the third “brother,” Joel Landsberg, from New York City. Their interest in the music of Doc Watson motivated them to relocate near where near Doc’s home in North Wilkesboro, NC in 2003. They had the honor often playing with Doc.
The Steve Martin Prize, created and endowed by Martin, includes a $50,000 honorarium and recognizes an individual or group for “outstanding accomplishments in the field of five-string banjo or bluegrass music.” Each year’s winner is selected by a committee of noted banjo players, including Martin, Pete Wernick, Béla Fleck, Alison Brown, J.D. Crowe and others.
Regarding the award, Kruger said, “Coming to this country as an immigrant and to be accepted so warmly is amazing, and quite humbling.”
A documentary, “Dear Mr. Watterson,” has been made about the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes and its creator, Bill Watterson. C&H has to be among the top five comic strips ever drawn, and when Watterson quit, he, like Jim Brown and Barry Sanders in the NFL, went out prematurely and on top. Moreover, he never licensed his characters, meaning that the literally millions of Americans who would buy “Calvin & Hobbes” t-shirts, coffee mugs, whatever (and I’m one of them) never got to give Watterson their money.
Scheduled release date for “Dear Mr. Watterson,” theatrical and video-on-demand, is Nov. 15.
Finally, finally, finally, the owner of a newspaper has told the geeks, waterheads, nematodes, mouth-breathers and knuckle-dragging readers who masturbate to gun ads but can’t STAND the possibility that their local newspaper might publish a story about two happy people doing something that’s none of their damn business to take their whiny, misprioritized complaints and shove them north toward their tonsils.
God, I need a cigarette. And I haven’t smoked in almost 35 years.
Our story begins when Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven — yes, that’d be two people with ladyparts — got married in, believe it, Jones County, Missafreakingsippi, the left ventricle of Bat Country. The Laurel Leader-Call newspaper did a front page story, acknowledging the historic (albeit legally unrecognized) nature of the event, and then basically letting the protagonists speak for themselves and for each other — not an approach recommended for political coverage, but perfectly acceptable for a wedding story. (Bonus pathos: Craven has Stage 4 brain cancer.)
Well, Leader-Call readers freaked out. They called. They wrote. They virtually spat on the paper’s Facebook page.
So how did the paper’s owner, Jim Cegielski, respond?
Did he pretend there was no controversy? Or that if there was, it was OK to ignore it? Did he, God forbid, send an underling out to lie to people about his position or lack thereof instead of manning up and doing his job?
He stood up. He took responsibility. He told the people who were wrong that they were wrong. He told them to stop misbehaving toward his employees just because they’d read a story they didn’t like. And he told them that if they didn’t like all of the above, they could get bent. (If the link doesn’t go directly to Cegielski’s column, flip to page A5, where it’s at the top.)
And the horrible financial price the paper paid for this optimally competent exercise of its privileges and duties? Fifteen canceled subscriptions. Even in Laurel, Mississippi, that’s the equivalent of a few households going away for a long weekend.
So here’s a suggestion to people who want to run newspapers that both make money and bond with with their communities in ways that make long-term profitability even possible: Do your jobs. Be right. And when you are right, take no shit from those who are wrong, particularly when it’s aimed at your underlings. Even most of those who disagree with you will respect that; wanting your boss to have your back is a nonpartisan policy goal in and out of newspapers.
I’m sure Warren Buffett’s BH Media already has some decent ideas about how to dig the News & Record out of the hole it has dug for itself in the past five or so years (not all of which, I hasten to add, is local talent’s fault). But I’m betting that sending someone to Laurel to buy Jim Cegielski lunch and listen to him talk for an hour would not be a bad strategy at all.
Civility has its place, but honesty over civility, accuracy over politeness. Alternatively, if you define “civility” in part as showing respect for the truth, a liar has broken the implicit contract of the debate/discussion, and as a moral matter should be called out. (Not that that happens much in the Village, but boy, it’s awesome when it does.)
And just in time for Halloween, too! From LiveScience:
Death will come for us all one day, but life will not fade from our bodies all at once. After our lungs stop breathing, our hearts stop beating, our minds stop racing, our bodies cool, and long after our vital signs cease, little pockets of cells can live for days, even weeks. Now scientists have harvested such cells from the scalps and brain linings of human corpses and reprogrammed them into stem cells.
In other words, dead people can yield living cells that can be converted into any cell or tissue in the body.
Now, here in real life, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve got some skin in the stem-cell game, so to speak. But there is still a part of me saying, quietly but insistently, that we’ve seen this movie before and it didn’t end well.
Commenter Frank Armstrong at Charlie Pierce’s place: “I think tonight Barack’s name was Inigo Montoya, and Willard did something bad to his father.”
Two years ago, my sister-in-law Christine Alexander and her brother Mason Kunze published in book form the journals kept by their grandfather, a Wehrmacht infantryman who had fought on the Russian front during World War II. The hardcover version of the journals, which began just before the June 1941 German invasion and continued through mid-1943, sank without a trace,. That didn’t surprise me — small publisher, labor of love and all — but it did disappoint me because the book was compelling enough to appeal to a wide audience, even people without any particular interest in World War II. The writer wrote simply, from a grunt’s-eye view, and he wrote without flinching about what he witnessed. As the kids say, it was about as real as sh*t gets.
However, the Kindle version did better. Much better. In fact, unbeknownst to any of us until earlier today, back in mid-August the Kindle version hit No. 8 on the Wall Street Journal list of best-selling nonfiction e-books.
If you’ve got a Kindle and 10 bucks, download it. I’m not going to swear that you’ll enjoy it, but I promise you you’ll have a hard time putting it down. And when you’re done, take a minute and think about the fact that sterile terms like “pre-emptive strike” and “collateral damage” boil down, in real life, to the savagery you’ve just read about.
How about a whole new life?
Between what’s in this video and the Mars landing* this morning …
… I think maybe we need to remind ourselves that amid all the horrible news about the economy and politics and climate change and nuts with guns, we live in an age of wonders, and that, if we can avoid killing ourselves and throw off the short-sighted, greedy bastards now dampening our affairs and blinkering our vision, we may yet achieve even greater wonders, on this world and beyond.
*UPDATE: My online friend John Burns, a fellow Davidson alum, posts on Facebook:
Hey, rest of the world. Nice job in the Olympics, really. You’re doing great. Great to see all countries competing in the spirit of harmony. Hey, that reminds me, how did YOUR landing of a 2,000 pound robotic vehicle on another planet go? What’s that? You don’t have one? [Drops mike]
Not only has NASA inherited a pair of Hubble-class space telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office (one of the black-budget agencies). These shorter telescopes with a wider field of view — thus the nickname “Stubby Hubbles” — turn out, Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice tells us, to be just right for the next thing we want and need to do in astronomy.
Chris Christie may be fat, but he ain’t Santa Claus. In fact, he seems unable to decide if he is New Jersey’s governor or its caporegime, and it may be a comment on the coarsening of American discourse that his brash rudeness is often taken for charm. In February, while discussing New Jersey’s newly amended income-tax law, which allows the rich to pay less (proportionally) than the middle class, Christie was asked about Warren Buffett’s observation that he paid less federal income taxes than his personal secretary, and that wasn’t fair. “He should just write a check and shut up,” Christie responded, with his typical verve. “I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he’s got the ability to write a check—go ahead and write it.”
Heard it all before. At a rally in Florida (to support collective bargaining and to express the socialist view that firing teachers with experience was sort of a bad idea), I pointed out that I was paying taxes of roughly 28 percent on my income. My question was, “How come I’m not paying 50?” The governor of New Jersey did not respond to this radical idea, possibly being too busy at the all-you-can-eat cheese buffet at Applebee’s in Jersey City, but plenty of other people of the Christie persuasion did.
Cut a check and shut up, they said.
If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.
Tired of hearing about it, they said.
Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.
What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.
I’m not going to argue that King makes a great logical argument in favor of higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy. (And that’s OK; the Krugmans and Buffetts and DeLongs and Bakers of the country have that covered.) But he does at least three other worthwhile things here.
First, he leads by example. He and Tabby give away $4 million a year, and not to Deerfield Academy, either, but to local fire departments and such.
Second, although rich and influential himself, he’s using that wealth and influence to force people who don’t want to have this converation to have it anyway, which, in reverse, is what they’ve been doing to us for the past 35 years. Since the Reagan era, a lot of conservatives have implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, taken the position that anyone who disagrees with them on the merits of their policy goals shouldn’t even be allowed to be part of the conversation. To a frightening extent, particularly on economic policy, they’ve achieved that goal: It is not impossible, but it is very, very difficult, to get views other than the orthodoxy of the wealthy expressed, and issues covered, in 21st century America’s corporate-controlled mainstream media. And this fact alone is causing needless human suffering, because what this country needs to do right now to fix the particular set of economic problems we face is actually quite well known not only among economists but among a large subset of the subset of Americans who regularly pay attention to politics and policy. And yet those positions, compared with, say, pro-austerity arguments, get vanishingly little public-sphere display even as austerity is demonstrably making things worse. So it is heartening, to say the least, to watch King — who, while he may describe himself as “baby rich,” actually has what most of us would consider “f— you” money — wade into this argument and say: No. No, we’re NOT going to stop talking about this, because we’re right and you’re wrong and so the least you sorry, selfish sonsabitches can do is sit here and listen to us for a few minutes.
Second, he demolishes a particularly stupid argument against higher rates in a way that, because it’s simple and because it’s Stephen Effing King saying it, a lot of people are going to see who otherwise wouldn’t.
Third, he restates forcefully and without apology a truth the Randian apologists desperately wish didn’t exist: We’re all in this together:
Mitt Romney has said, in effect, “I’m rich and I don’t apologize for it.” Nobody wants you to, Mitt. What some of us want—those who aren’t blinded by a lot of bullshit persiflage thrown up to mask the idea that rich folks want to keep their damn money—is for you to acknowledge that you couldn’t have made it in America without America.* That you were fortunate enough to be born in a country where upward mobility is possible (a subject upon which Barack Obama can speak with the authority of experience), but where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged.
*A subject I addressed recently here.
Stephen King won’t win this war singlehandedly. No one will; that’ll take all of us. But it is a war, even if most of us didn’t choose it and had no idea it was coming. And it’s nice to know that in a war against the side with all the weapons, the side that gets to make most of the rules, we at least have a few folks like Warren Buffett and Stephen King on our side.
My friend John Graham’s daughter Katie is a freshman at Davidson. Here she is with the college Jazz Ensemble, under the able direction of William “Doc” Lawing just as when I arrived in 1978, performing Jerome Kern’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man.”
I think the kids are alright.
OK, that was nice. Back to my research project.
My friend David has figured out a way to get rich the Romney way. I am in awe:
Based on the two main things I have learned from Mitt Romney as a bishop in the Mormon church and CEO of Bain Capital, I have stumbled on a sure fire, high profit business model. A paradigm shift in investment grade financial instruments which can make us all filthy rich, but will NOT damage the environment, or break any existing laws.
My plan is simple:
We sell Mormon souls to the devil.
Hey, I know what your first question is going to be, “But David, you can’t sell someone else’s soul to the Prince of Darkness.” Silly commie liberal, you don’t understand the business concept of “leverage” or other modern investment strategies like those used by Bain Capital.
You NEVER invest your OWN money in a business venture, you invest OTHER PEOPLE’S money.
In this case, why sell our own souls, when we can sell other people’s souls?
Of course, anything that can be monetized also can be collateralized, and such financial instruments must be rated for investors. David’s way ahead of you: “Obviously souls of politicians and Mormon Elders would not be investment grade.”
If S&P or Moody’s were rating them, I bet they would be treated as investment grade, but I think the regulatory authorities in this field have many more teeth than does the SEC. Not to mention claws.
Here’s just a little reminder of how wonderful people can be against all the odds, and what a great country this can be when we don’t always let the the jackasses get the last word.
Here’s another such story, with a 45th anniversary coming up in June.
Not to worry. The regular misanthropy will return on the morrow.
[h/t: John Cole]
This, kids, is the kind of thing that made me get all squeeee!!! about the Web when it was new.
Meet my brother Frank.
Frank bet employees at one of his plants that if they met a 100% efficency goal, he’d shave his head.
So they did.
So he did.
Gimmick? Well, yeah.
On the other hand, 100% efficiency. And a boss who visibly keeps his promises.
I’m just sayin’.
So, the recent report that scientists had found particles traveling faster than the speed of light? The one that was going to blow up Einstein’s theory of relativity?
Maybe not so much, actually.
Oh, it’s not that the neutrinos in question weren’t traveling slightly faster than 186,200 miles per second. They might have been. It’s just that that might not actually be the top speed of light, depending on what light is going through.
In a Q&A with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marvin L. Marshak, a professor of physics at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, breaks it down:
Q. Could Einstein and his immensely famous ratio, E=mc2, really be wrong?
A. I’ve convinced myself that this could actually be real. If it’s real, I don’t think it overthrows relativity completely. It could be basically telling us that the constant that Einstein proposed—namely, the speed of light—is not actually the right constant. In other words, when light goes through material, it slows down, and so it could be that what we think is a vacuum is not actually empty. And that’s not that shocking, because for the last 10 years or so we’ve been talking about dark energy. We’ve been talking even longer than 10 years about the Higgs field. So the possibility is that a vacuum is not empty, and therefore, just like light going through glass, light is slowed down relative to neutrinos, which don’t have electromagnetic interactions, and therefore could possibly go a little faster.
Q. But there’s still some ultimate speed limit at which matter converts into energy?
A. Right. There’s still some point. And in any event, for us here, the exciting thing is that we have the only other experiment that could really check this result, and that’s the neutrino beam that goes from Fermilab to northern Minnesota. This is an existing experiment that actually published a result four years ago on this topic, but not with sufficient accuracy to detect the effect at the level that the people at CERN are claiming exists. So now our plan is to improve our timing and go back and look at this with a different setup.
Q. So what does this mean for Einstein and relativity?
A. I don’t want to minimize the impact on physics of this, but personally, I think it could fit into Einstein’s basic framework with some relatively small modifications. What the implications of those modifications are, that would be still significant.
So: significant, but not quite “What if everything you thought you knew was wrong?” significant.
… then think again.
Bonus points for the visual reminder that it was a union crew that landed US Airways Flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River after both engines were disabled and evacuated the aircraft with no loss of life.
People are complaining about the fact that the Postal Service loses money and is an Internet Age anachronism, even though the Constitution requires that the government provide, you know, postal service. Hmmm. What to do …
Commentor MikeJ, via Cole’s earlier Netflix post:
Hmmm. Congress complaining that the Post Office isn’t a profit centre, even though it’s mandated in the constitution. Not enough broadband available. PO losing customers because nobody except junk mailers use it any more.
I say let the USPS lay fibre to the curb and [forget] Comcast.
To which commentor Omnes Omnibus replied:
Win. Jobs… Broadband access… Constitutional mandate (arguably wrt this)… Screwing over cable companies… Yeah, I like it.
And commentor Judas Escargot added:
One could make an argument that fiber/copper fits the definition-in-spirit of a ‘Post Road.’
Hmmm. I particularly like the “[forget] Comcast” part.
UPDATE: Edited for clarity.
Kevin Guskiewicz, who is leading research at UNC into the permanent, long-term brain damage caused by playing football, got a MacArthur “genius” grant today. Good for him.
… but this, too, happened:
The nomination of the first openly gay man to serve on the federal bench would at one time have been a flashpoint in the culture wars. But Paul Oetken was confirmed without a word of objection on the Senate floor and with hardly a mention in the commentariat.
Even some of the chamber’s most ardent social conservatives – Tom Coburn, John Cornyn, Jeff Sessions, Jon Kyl – cast votes for Oetken. [So did N.C.'s Republican senator, Richard Burr. Our Democrat, Kay Hagan, for some reason did not vote. -- Lex.] When the lopsided vote tally of 80-13 was read out, there was no cheer or reaction of any kind. Senators continued their conversations as if nothing unusual had happened.
A part of me is tempted to grump a bit about how it might have been nice to nominate someone other than one more corporate lawyer to the federal bench, but I am going to squelch that part and say instead, “You see, kids? It gets better.”
A nice piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on (roughly) the centennial of the Mount Wilson observatory in California, which — using both trained astronomers and dedicated amateurs — has taught us much of what we’ve learned during that period about our solar system, galaxy and universe.
Go ahead, joke all you want. I did (see post title). But the fact remains that for the many, many of us who will completely give up eating meat only at the point of a gun, this approach could be beneficial not just for us but for those who have to share the planet with us.
That’s because raising animals for food, ethical considerations for the animals aside, is hard on the planet. It takes a lot of land, a lot of water and a lot of feed crops, and those animals leave an awful lot of poop behind before they move on to the supermarket, all of which has to go somewhere. (Here in N.C., which vies with Iowa for the national lead in hog production and where hogs outnumber people, this is an important environmental issue, particularly when things go wrong.)
Right now, the Netherlands is eating our lunch, so to speak, on this area of research. We ought to be leading the world at this: It would let us have our bacon and eat it, too — we could keep eating what we like, at substantially less cost to the health of our planet, and the research would create jobs.
Who should pay for the research? Well, let’s see. The railroads didn’t think they were in the transportation business, they thought they were in the railroad business, right up to the point at which they weren’t in business at all. I’d say the sooner the hog industry realizes it’s in the food business rather than the hog business, the better off we’ll all be — in terms of good food that’s less toxic to both the planet and our politics.
UPDATE: A friend writes, “‘Cuz Oscar Mayer has a way/With b-o-l-o-D-N-A.”
Zombie Marie Curie weighs in on women in science. Teach your children, yo.
Theme: Rubric. Get a free blog at WordPress.com