Sunday, April 28, 2013

On Bunnies

    bunnies !!      !!

!!             !!                  !!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Let’s Have a Heart-to-Heart Talk about Mice

Who among us does not recall, and recite from memory, the well-known lines of überScots poet Robert “Bobby” Burns?  (Well, Henry doesn’t, but he can be left out of account.):

The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
     Gang aft agley,

Many people ask me, “What’s with that ‘gang aft agley’, anyway?  Where’s that at?”   And I answer:  Burns was a Scotsman, dummy, plaid to the core;   Scotsmen talk funny, as you can verify from any episode of “Monty Python”;  next question.

But the real reason I called you all here today, is to lay out the sober truth about a different, and little-noticed, problem with that poem:  the best-laid plans of mice.  Their plans (“schemes” in Scots) are not actually very well-laid, if truth be told.  Oh, they’re frisky little fellows, and furry enough, twitchy little whiskers and ears like a Mouseketeer -- but they don’t really specifically plan things.   They just sort of -- scurry around at random, and whatever happens, happens.   Perhaps if they would do just a little more planning, they wouldn’t be eaten so much, in abundance, mouthful after tasty “mouseful”, by just about every other animal you can name.   But -- Che será, será, says the mouse.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Solidarity Forever -- and especially Now

Solidarity with workers in Bangladesh:

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Thousands of garment workers rampaged through industrial areas of the capital of Bangladesh on Friday, smashing vehicles with bamboo poles and setting fire to at least two factories in violent protests ignited by a deadly building collapse this week that killed at least 304 workers.

A latter-day Triangle-Shirtwaist.

And a heads-up to the workers and first-responders  of  West, Texas …

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

“Legitimate Rape”

Crime is common.  Logic is rare.  Therefore it is upon the logic  rather than upon the crime  that you should dwell.”
-- Sherlock Holmes (“Adventure of the Copper Beeches”, 1892)

What! (you say) Is Dr Justice about to deliver a lazy late-hit, and -- quite superfluously -- join the ever-rising pious pile-on atop this season’s easiest target?

Not a bit of it;  nor shall I defend that hapless man.   But by way of linguistic hygiene, it is time to make a basic point.   There has been a lot of linguistically illiterate (or pretendedly so) chortling over that unfortunate phrase “legitimate rape”.    I assumed that folks were simply seizing the opportunity of taking a swipe at a political opponent in the inviting shape of a juicy asking-for-it butt;  yet the same semantic paltering is promoted in the lead editorial of this week’s New Yorker, so the matter needs a note.

Consider a phrase like a strong cup of coffee. 
I pause, while you see if anything seems amiss.  It does not.  Yet strictly, this is a case of what philologers call enallage adjectivi (en-AL-uh-jee ad-YEK-tiv-ee) -- logically, the modifier is misplaced.   The intended meaning is :  a cup of strong coffee;  the cup itself is neither weak nor strong, and indeed might serve  upon subsequent occasion  for a weak cup of tea.

Now consider a company announcement:
“In cases of legitimate illness, employees are permitted to…”   The intent is not a medical pronunciamento, classifying illnesses themselves, sheep- and goat-wise, into “legitimate” and “illegitimate”;  the refererence is to claims of illness :  cases where the worker is (as one might say) “legitimately ill” (which means no more than:  really/actually/indeed ill) as opposed to taking one of those “sick” days (I am told that such things exist, by a friend of a friend) that have less to do with pathology than with the fact that you’re expecting the cable guy, or you’re sulking in your tent because you didn’t get a raise, or it’s the opening game of the season.  A company might well have a policy to the effect that  cases of the latter sort will be indulgently overlooked if they don’t become too frequent, but that, if you personally have promised to deliver the keynote address at the annual stockholders’ meeting, or to scan the morning’s query against the imminent threat of the dirty bomb, then if you don’t show up, it had better be for some reason other than the cable guy.

So now to our phrase of the day.
“I’ve heard that, in cases of legitimate rape, a woman is able to…” whereupon follows some idiosyncratic endocrinology.   Deride the latter as freely as you please, it is nothing to our point;  but with our newly refreshed semantic sensorium, let us explicate what the ham-handed wordsmith intended by his ill-coined phrase.
We have not far to seek:  He meant, of course legitimate claims of rape;  that is to say, truthful assertions of the form “this fetus is the result of rape”.   He was not saying or thinking or implying that sometimes it is legitimate -- morally okay -- to rape someone;  and to pretend that he meant that, or that such is the natural construal of his words, is disingenuous.

Now -- the phrase, so construed, still does legitimately raise a red flag (er, raise a legitimate red flag, a flag of legitimate redness -- ah, you know what I mean).   For, that occurrence of “legitimate illness” made sense  only against a shared pragmatic background of knowledge that a fairish percentage of sick-day claims are not founded upon any actual physical illness (as opposed to coming down with a case of Primavera baseballia and the like).  So:  Is our politician maintaining -- or rather, not overtly maintaining, but assuming, as a discourse presupposition -- that many claims of having been raped are false? 
Actually -- follow me closely, now -- he need not be assuming anything of the sort, since the specific cases in question are not those of “I was raped” generally, but “This pregnancy resulted from rape” -- a far, far narrower class.   Is the speaker claiming (or rather  -- again -- taking the proposition as given) that a significant number of those (far rarer and more serious) claims are false?

[Answer after I have had dinner.   In the meantime, write down your own analysis, using a well-sharpened number-two pencil.  Or post a Comment.
C U soon …]


[So!  Back from my humble repast (rich in proteins, and well-watered by wine) -- time for some post-prandial ratiocination.]

The political background is this.
Nowadays, post-Roe-v.-Wade, abortion is (at least legally) relatively easy to obtain.  (Whether it is easy in practice, depends on personal circumstances; after all, a lot of people have difficulty either finding or affording adequate dental care, though there is no law against dentists.)   In this context, there are basically two camps:

(1a) “ “Pro-Choice” “, supporting “abortion on demand” (sometimes sharpened into (1b) “free abortion on demand”, which makes about as much sense as “free root-canals on demand”).
(2a) Moderate “ “ Pro-Life “ “, urging the criminalization of abortion except in cases of rape or incest.

Our logical readers will have noticed that (2a) is neither the contrary nor the contradictory of (1).  And indeed, there is a faction -- let us call them the “Ultras”, who uphold the direct antithesis:

(2b)  No abortions.  No exceptions.  Period.

It is into this latter camp  that our ill-starred wordwright  falls.

(Please continue to bear in mind that, politically, I am not here advocating or opposed anything, since, to that debate, I have nothing to add, beyond logico-linguistical clarity.)

[Whoa!  "The Big Broadcast" -- Johnny Dollar.  Gotta go.
 Not claiming a "sick day", just taking a break.]


[Intermezzo caprizioso]   A word on that fixed phrase, “rape or incest”, inscribed in stone like “peanut-butter and jelly” or “Laurel and Hardy”.   Sociologically, morally, the collocation makes perfect sense.  But practically, there is a certain redundancy:  for, in practice, any claim of having participated in incest is also accompanied by a claim of having been raped.  No-one simply shrugs and says, “Sure we got it on, so what?  You don’t understand -- My dad is really hot.  Only  I don’t want a kid with two heads.”

Now, most conservatives fall into (2a).   So, any proponent of (2b) has his work cut out for him, since he must face the massed forces -- strange bedfellows -- of both (1) and (2a).  What to do?

Obviously, he must somehow attack the rape-exception.  (The matter of incest  may, for reasons noted above, be left aside.)  What to do?

The honest way would be to make the unimpeachably logical point  (let us call it “Argument A”) that such an exception would constitute a “moral hazard” (I don’t mean “moral i.e. sex”, I mean the technical legal term that applies, for instance, to 100% federal deposit insurance).  For, before such a proposed ban on abortion, women had no incentive to claim rape (let alone incest).  But under (2a), they could not obtain an abortion -- unless they claimed rape.  Such claims are difficult (and politically untouchable) to disprove(**); hence -- again logically -- a moral hazard would obviously exist (and this, apart from some possible contingent anthropological fact that no woman, ever, anywhere, would ever lodge such a false claim (perish the thought ....) ).
[** Difficult, since, for the claim to prevail, the claimant need by no means identify or convict the perpetrator, any more than an insurance claim for a murdered spouse  is impaired, unless the beneficiary can bring the murderer to justice and obtain a conviction.   The logical bar is very low, much lower than for the already notoriously thickety “She said -- He said” class of actions, for in this case there need be no identified “he” who might respond. Whoso should say “Ortcutt did it”, incurs a burden of proof;  but “Someone did it” incurs nothing of the sort.]

Now, most of my readers undoubtedly fall into (1) or (2a), simply by statistics.  But I do hope that you can see that Argument A is, for someone who (for whatever reasons) holds (2b), both politically necessary, and logically unassailable; and that, furthermore, if for some reason (divine revelation, or whatever -- just take this as a temporary axiom here, for the sake of logical argument) (2b) were in fact the correct position (in some transcendent realm of fact), then deploying Argument A would be justified -- nay, imperative.

But our phrasemaker did not do this (at least, not in the passage quoted out of context, which is all anyone is going on, myself included).   What he put forward instead  was really quite illogical.  He maintained (contrary, apparently, to gynecological reality, though that contingent point is irrelevant to the logic of our argument) that, for such and such contingent physiological reasons, cases of actual impregnation by rape  are rare or nonexistent.
But if that were the case, why sweat it?  Why not simply join the (2a) camp, which has a much better chance of making its case?  -- As, suppose that the only politically possible constitutional amendment before Congress said, “No abortion except in cases of pregnancy induced by space-aliens via anal probes.”   A few wackos would object even to that (come to think of it, the objectors would largely fall into that sector of the voting public  most vulnerable to UFO abduction);  but most conservatives would probably say, Y’know, we can live with that.

What he should have said is:  If we allow a rape-exception, it will be abused, much as claims of sick-days are abused, or as every other loophole has been abused  throughout legal history. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Requiescat in pace la différence …

In the following essay

    La nostalgie de la boue

we cast a jaundiced eye at the attempts, by a certain Manhattan paraphiliac coterie, to conflate matters  properly distinct. 
And now this morning, more such rubbish, ladled-up from the same bin:  once again from the New York Times SundayReview, and once again accompanied by an androgynous graphic, wretched  though not so repellent as the one we reproduced at the link above.

Time and interest permitting, we shall append a peppery polemic;  in the mean time, this placeholder-post.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Rites of Spring (Re-resartus)

Today  I hauled the old lawnmower out of the shed, where it had long lain hibernating.   (I say “the” shed  since the reference is in fact unambiguous:   unlike Arthur ‘Two Sheds’ Jackson, I personally possess only one shed.)  I gassed ‘er up, and, in lieu of actually oiling anything or “replacing the plugs and points” (what is a point, exactly?), since I don’t understand anything about lawnmowers, I contented myself with prodding it here and there with my toe, and eyeing it with a masculine, propriety air -- with just a hint of asperity to it, along the lines of, “Let’s not have any of that won’t-start-up nonsense this time, shall we?”
For we have here that annually recurring agony of vernal uncertainty.   You set your stance, seize the ripcord, let loose your mightiest tug, and… it either leaps to life with a throaty roar, or… splutters impotently, mocking you, and then you’re hosed.
(I must here explain for the ladies, who would otherwise scarcely understand, that failure of one’s lawnmower to start, is humiliating for a man.)
Yet lo!   With a deafening neigh  worthy of Bucephalus,

Dr Justice, taming his lawnmower

and a forward leap recalling Pegasus,

My trusty mower, defeating the weeds

the noble mower sprang into action -- the very first on our cul-de-sac, this season, to do so!
Thanking the gods, I strode forward, laying low the uppity tussocks  and insolent weeds,  like Hector mowing down Myrmidons, relishing in Man’s estate.
In ancient Rome, it was considered a most auspicious omen, when one’s lawnmover started right up  in the spring.

~   ~
For an exhilarating parable
in which Spring becomes general,
and dry twigs  send forth  green leaves,   see
Murphy and the Magic Pawnshop
~   ~


Prospects in Proctoscopic Philosophy

We did our best to trounce a certain excrementitious version of ultra-reductionism, that of those known as "eliminativists" (nomen omen), here:
            Eliminative Materialism

By way of afternote, or pousse-café, these tidbits:

Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979), p. 373:

The wholehearted behaviorism, naturalism, and physicalism I have been commending in earlier chapters  help us avoid the self-deception of thinking that we possess a deep, hidden, metaphysically significant nature  which makes us ‘irreducibly’ different from inkwells or atoms.

To which we can only reply (after mature reflection):  Bite Me.


I wield this term proctoscopists as a handy epithet of hearty abuse, wherewith to belabor the shoulders of those who deserve it:  but it some cases it turns out to be eerily accurate.  For the ineffable Norman “O.” Brown, “all thinking comes from anal erotism”, reports Frederick Crews in a painstaking essay, reprinted  in Out of My System (1975), p. 29.   (This previously best-selling author and cult figure is seldom referred to simply as "Norman Brown", but invariably with that unexplained “O” in the middle.   What it stands for is never made clear;  presumably it represents a sphincter.)

[That same volume reprints an excellent essay distinguishing the (good) reductive from the (bad) reductionistic, in literary criticism, “Reductionism and its Discontents”.]

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Word of the Day: “sophistical”

Morris Cohen & Ernest Nagel,  An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method (1934), p. 381, chapter “Sophistical Refutations”:

The word “sophist”, which originally denoted a wise or learned man (like the word “savant”) has, through historical accidents, come to mean one who argues to make the worse seem the better cause.

Savant itself has survived intact in its original French, in the sense of ‘scientist’;   but in English has suffered a sad fate, becoming a synonym of idiot-savant.  The latter is a precise term, and very useful, though a bit long;  yet the promotion of its second member to synonomy -- and with it, the destruction of a fine old word -- is probably due more to Politial Correctness, since nowadays one is not permitted to apply the term idiot to those who (in the traditional medical usage) are in fact idiots, but only to fools.

pejoration.  We have seen how the pejoration of savant came about -- a trajectory peculiar to this term.  But what of sophist, and its (commoner and) equally pejorative derivatum, sophistry?  (Btw -- pronounce these as SOH-fist, vs. SAH-fis-tree.)
Our authors dismiss the causes as “historical accidents”;  but while that term might reasonably apply to the special fate (in English only) of savant, in the case of sophist, there is rather more regularity at work. 
Compare the semantic trajectories of casuistry, dogma, and pedant, which originally were positive words.

Two explanations immediately suggest themselves, which, though polarly opposed, may yet both be in play:
(a)  Intellectuals (boo) tend to be given to hand-waving flim-flam.
(b)  Intellectuals (yay) are insufficiently appreciated by the peasantry.

But there is yet a third, more sinuous path to semantic devolution, well illustrated by the term cretin.
The term has latterly fallen out of use;  whether from the taboo that successively struck its near-synonyms idiot and imbecile, I know not.   But its origin is extraordinary:  the word is an etymological doublet of Christian.
So meteoric a decline(**) cannot be explained by parallels to (a) and (b), in particular since it took place entirely within Christian communities:  we’re not talking about some City College intellectuals deploring the nescience of the Bronx.   And the pejoration proceeded, by what only intitially appears a paradox, by its seeming opposite:  euphemism.   This original use of Christian was not to defame the village idiot, but to express compassion.
The sinking of well-intended euphemisms to sneer-terms  is inevitable, so long as popular attitudes to the referents remain unchanged.  Every so often the Speech Police come along and tell us not to use this word or that, but this neologism instead.  For a while the civic-minded comply, while the playgrounds simply scoff:  “That’s -- so -- gay …”

(**) For some reason, people usually speak rather of meteoric rise.  Now, rocket-like rise would make sense;  but meteors have no internal engines, and they obey the law of gravity.  They …. fall, folks ….


Interesting as well, and quite different, is the disparate evolution of the derived adjectives, sophistical and sophisticated.  The former word is now rare, but, to the extent that it is used, is pejorative;  how closely it is any longer tied in speakers’ minds with the common term sophistry, is unclear. Sophisticated, by contrast, is a word of common currency, and quite unsplattered by the derogatory implications of sophist and its other derivata.   This, despite the fact that, by its very meaning, it seems ripe for the sort of social decline that struck genteel and (in some contexts) refined, instead, it retains the admiring overtones  still found in German raffiniert.

For other cases where bland word-endings pack a semantic whallop, check out these essays:

Pawn Sacrifice in the Peninsula

[Update 13 April 2013]  The IC is at odds over North Korea’s capabilities:

On the hawkish end is the Pentagon’s intelligence arm, the Defense Intelligence Agency, which fears that North Korea could threaten American troops with a nuclear weapon on a crude missile. On the skeptical end is the State Department, which has more doubts about Pyongyang’s capabilities. And somewhere in the middle is the Central Intelligence Agency.

Still more puzzling is -- Why rattle this untried sabre now, and at so many formidable adversaries at once?
By a stroke of good luck, the fabled World of Dr Justice “Black Team” has managed to penetrate the nursery housing Kim Jong Un, and reports the following:   Someone forgot to change His Heinies’s diapers;  he became chafed and irritable.

Photographic proof:

~ Original post ~

One peruses in vain  the annals of history, for a precedent matching the absurdity of the current gratuitously bellicose fulminations of the North Korean dwarf-king.    The closest parallel might be sought rather in literature:   in Gulliver’s Travels -- the quarrel between the Big-enders and the Little-enders.  But even that is not exact, inasmuch as there, the contention was symmetrical.  Whereas here, the Big-Enders have been quite content to let the Little-Enders go their own way (and indeed have proffered many gracious gestures, remembering their birthdays and knitting them sweaters), but for some reason, all of a sudden  the Little-Enders propose mutual mass suicide.

None of that will matter much to our troops who are deployed there.  American forces have been stationed in South Korea for over half a century. to less and less  purpose  with each passing year.   Politically, our presence is motivated by considerations of Cold War balance of power that no longer applied since the Sino-Soviet split many decades ago, and which  has become downright fantasial since the Soviet Bloc collapsed and once-would-be-Communist China is evolving towards the status of Macao Writ Large.   Our significant expense and sacrifice  no longer even earn us any diplomatic brownie-points:  the younger generation of Koreans have long delighted in biting the hand that protects them.  And operationally, our military mini-presence  is simply absurd.

And, one might add, demeaning to those so deployed upon the green baize table, by politicians pushing them about  with little sticks.  They are not there to win a war;  they are their to lose their lives, in the event of a sudden all-out North Korean attack.   Now, that is no soldier’s conception of his mission.  As was drawn sharply to the nation’s attention during the debate on the role of Women in Combat, a combat soldier, a warfighter, is not someone who simply gets shot at, but rather someone who is in a position  effectively to shoot back.   By that measurte, our soldiers near the DMZ are not in a combat role, they’re in a Sitting Duck role.

The geopolitical game-theoretic idea behind this stance  is, of course, that of the game of Chicken:  We examined how that works out in our essay about the Fiscal Cliff.  It says to the NorKors:  “We have placed some Americans into the path of potential destruction, so that they can be collateral damage in the event of an assault of the North upon the South.   The American psyche being what it is, such a loss on our part -- even though deliberately engineered by us (like the Tonkin Gulf incident) -- will leave us no psycho-oolitically possible alternative but war.”
The problem with this is that we have designedly cramped our future freedom of action.    We wish to appear to so bind ourselves, so as to intimidate the North Koreans, while secretly retaining a free hand.   Seen thus, an at-least-equally effective -- and much less expensive -- countermove, would be to deploy no soldiers at all, but rather to offer the President’s, Senate Majority Leader’s, and House Speaker’s first-born as pawns in their place.

Continuing in the Swiftian vein, we offer this Modest Proposal:
Instead of offering the first-born of top decision-makers as hostages to fortune (their innocent lips still wet from mother’s milk), we should put forward just three individuals:   Donald Trump, Sheldon Adelson, and Dennis Rodman, tied high on poles at the DMZ.  We shall explain to the North Koreans that these are the most illustrious of our citizens, those we should be most distressed to lose.  The North Koreans will readily believe this:  it matches their mentality perfectly.   Hence it should have an impressive dissuasive effect -- much more so than the proposed sacrifice of our footsloggers:  after all, the Korean leadership thinks nothing of the lives of its own troops, so how should they  emphathically sense that we do value ours?   (Indeed, many actions of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld Axis of Idiocy  suggest that we do not.)
This stratagem has the brilliant advantage that, should the NorKors strike, our hands will still be entirely free -- indeed, likely engaged in high-fiving, with grins all around:  Good riddance to bad rubbish.   And then, with Olympian calm, we can decide whether or not it is in our national interest to get mixed up in a nuclear war between the Koreas.


An ex-Marine writes in:

I've nothing against withdrawing from S. Korea as long as we give reasonable notice; haven't given any thought to be what would be reasonable. But if we do that we've no business telling the S Koreans that they can't go nuclear.

Dr J replies:

At the time we intervened  in the Korean civil war (for such it was, until we entered, thus inviting China), it was unclear whether our national interest was well served by our intervention:  not only in terms of our sacrifice in blood and treasure, but because of the wing-nut demons unleashed by the adventure:  calls for a pre-emptive nuclear strike  -- or rather, not even pre-emptive, since the NorKors did not then have nukes, but simply:   because it felt good, to certain generals who (their body-fluids sapped by Liberalism) had not managed to get it up for many years.   Later, our intervention in the Vietnamese civil war  (a wretched been-there/done-that re-run of the earlier failed French adventure)  made clear that the balance was negative.
And when, the war finally over, we left troops behind, it was no-one’s understanding that this semi-occupation would last for more than a few months … a few years … a few decades … going on a century now ….   How is fifty years for fair advance notice?

As for the nuke issue, you are quite right.  A different morally and politically defensible stance  might in principle have been possible:  but not since we, in the case of Israel’s immense nuclear capacity, not merely failed to prevent it, or even to try to prevent it, but actually fostered it.   (Where else did they get all that weapons-grade nuclear fuel, and the supersecret submarine technology?  And all the other TS shared tech, that turns a pipsqueak  into a powerhouse.)    The Dubya administration’s recent (though barely noticed, and already forgotten) abetting of nukes in India -- in the volatile India-Pakistan cockpit -- is another example.  We have no shred of credibility left.


A well-informed reader of the Los Angeles Times  comments as follows:

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is Western educated. He has seen the wealth of modern societies and the poverty of North Korea. The amount of aid needed to modernize his country is more than North Korea can muster and more than anyone will provide.
Except that provided by the United States after victory in war.

This is the scenario of the classic movie from 1959,  The Mouse that Roared”.   Its plot: “The Duchy of Grand Fenwick decides that the only way to get out of their economic woes is to declare war on the United States, lose and accept foreign aid.”  But then, in a wrinkle that exactly parallels the peripeteia of the movie “The Producers”,  it … wins …
Very funny (Peter Sellers) and, like “Dr Strangelove”, “Seven Days in May”,  and “Wag the Dog”, a permanent cinematic contribution to the vocabulary of political science.

The Rat that Roared:  R U Basis is B Wrong 2 Us !!

[Update 8 April 2013]  This thing is like a failed soap-opera, with lousy acting and miserable scripts, which we are nonetheless forced to watch  weekly:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sacrificial Lions

They’re not lambs -- let’s not get glurgy -- they are lions,  or  by rights  should be.   But the treatment of our soldiers sometimes resembles more the etiquette of the slaughterhouse, than the veldt.

It has been widely reported that, last year, more GIs died by suicide  than in battle.  But why?  Here is the latest, from the pen of a professor of clinical psychiatry, Richard Friedman:

The military evidently responded to stress that afflicts soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan primarily by drugging soldiers on the front lines. … There has been a giant, 682 percent increase in the number of psychoactive drugs … prescribed to our troops between 2005 and 2011 — despite a steady reduction in combat troop levels since 2008. … The number of prescriptions written for potentially habit-forming anti-anxiety medications rose 713 percent between 2005 and 2011. The use of sedating anticonvulsants increased 996 percent during this period.
The military tests prospective enlistees with an eye toward screening out those with serious psychiatric disorders. So you would expect that the use of these drugs in the military would be minimal.


[Here is our original post on this theme, from 15 April 2012] 

For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.

Not: “25% more”, but:  twenty-five times as many.

[Update 22 April 2012]
SINCE the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been a large and steady rise in the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among our troops. One recent study of 289,000 Americans who served in those countries found that the rates of the disorder jumped to 22 percent in 2008 from just 0.2 percent in 2002.

Again (the figures are so incredible, they can easily be misread):  That is a jump, not of a mere hundred percent, but -- a hundredfold.

The possible role of Ritalin and Adderal in all this:

[Update 26 April 2012] And now this, re chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

[Update 9 June 2012]

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Word of the Day: “mimolette”

Admit it -- unless you are a foodie (which I emphatically am not), you have never heard this word.  Nor had I, until a moment ago.

The brilliant Wikipedia has a typically engrossing article:

A cow's-milk cheese … its name comes from the French word molle, meaning "soft". This refers to the softness of the crust when young  …. It has a grey crust and orangish flesh. The orange colour comes from the natural colorant, annatto. The cheese has a similar appearance  … to a cantaloupe melon.
The greyish crust of aged Mimolette is the result of cheese mites intentionally introduced to add flavor by their action on the surface of the cheese.

That last bit sounds rather like adding weevils to flavor the flour, or maggots in meat.  But hey -- foodies.

Only, apparently some U.S. customs agent was alerted to this fact, made a wry face, and held up a shipment of this mighty-mity cheese at the dock.
Now, why mention this at all, among the millions of interesting factoids?  Because, although this is totally not news in America, which cavalierly ignores such things, there is a sort of trade-war going on, between ourselves and France, centering upon this modest table-garnish.  As witness:

La mimolette est-elle menacée aux Etats-Unis? Les dernières importations de ce fromage français orange, qui se déguste plus ou moins vieilli, sont retenues depuis plus d'un mois aux frontières américaines sans explication logique, selon l'importateur.

Plus de 500 kg de mimolette sont ainsi retenus par la FDA (Food and Drug Administration) dans un entrepôt du New Jersey (est), a indiqué à l'AFP Benoît de Vitton, responsable USA de l'entreprise normande Isigny Sainte-Mère, qui a envoyé l'an dernier 60 tonnes de mimolette aux Etats-Unis.

"On importe de la mimolette depuis une vingtaine d'années mais depuis début mars, les inspecteurs de la FDA nous donnent du fil à retordre. Nos mimolettes ne passent pas les analyses", ajoute le responsable. Selon M. de Vitton, les inspecteurs ont fait savoir que les "mites à fromage", des cirons, sortes d'acariens microscopiques cultivés à dessein sur la croûte pour affiner le fromage, étaient allergogènes.

Or, ces mites ont toujours existé, s'étonne ce responsable à qui un inspecteur de la FDA a indiqué que le "taux de mites était supérieur au taux autorisé, sans pouvoir me dire quel était ce taux autorisé". Je "n'ai aucune explication si ce n'est cette histoire d'allergie", ajoute M. de Vitton, qui a fait stopper les arrivages de France et selon qui certains fromagers de New York sont en rupture de stock.

The alert and literate Le Figaro readers  tartly reply:

* Pas grave... : = ) la mimolette plus elle est vieille, et dure, meilleure elle est et aussi plus chère ! Au final, les Américains l'auront vieillie sans la payer trop cher !!!

* Encore une de ces mesures de protectionnisme déguisé pratiqué par les USA. Si nous avions le courage de revenir sur les accords de la fin de la guerre sur le conéma en interdisant comme ils le font le doublage des films américains, ils verraient les conséquences.

although one, more reflective, cautions:

* 500kgs c'est vraiment pas la mer a boire...

So, hopefully, this incident will not lead to any Franco-American War of 2013 (our plates  already full of the North Korean nonsense).  But if it does -- you heard it here  first.

De patre

My brother and I have each reached our 60s:  a threshold that our father never glimpsed, as he died swiftly upon reaching 55.  And so it is the time to reminisce -- the moreso as, just offstage, the Reaper sits, meditatively whetting his scythe.

My brother wrote in as follows:

Did you ever hear Dad curse?  If he didn't like someone, he'd call him a "flathead."  When something was going well, he'd say "whoop-de-doo!"  I believe I once heard him say "shit."  I think Mom said "Oh, damn" once.  Is this why I don't curse, or is it because my 6th grade teacher, who I respected a lot, said that only stupid people curse, because they can't think of other words.

I replied at length, and shall share the results, since they are less the memory of one man, than of the time in which he lived;  and not so much the portrait of his young sons, as of all the budding boychildren  time out of mind.


“Flathead” was his favorite expletive, generally directed at the occasional rogue driver.  He himself always drove in a careful and moderate fashion;  his outburst struck me at the time as unusual, since it was so uncharacteristic of him:  nowadays, with all the Road Rage around, he would count as a Traffic Pacifist.
I never heard him use stronger language, and have the sense that it simply hadn’t been part of his family growing up, and that he never acquired the habit later on, any more than he later took up the ukelele.
I’m quite sure I never heard him say “sh*t” when we were young, because of the circumstances -- which I vividly recall -- of the first time I heard this word.  I was walking home from school with a classmate, one whom I did not particularly consider a friend (and all the less so, after this incident).  Slyly writhing like Uriah Heep, he snickeringly uttered -- not the word (that was beyond our wildest daring, back in our Eisenhower boyhood), but its spelling, “ess aitch eye tee”: awaiting my shocked or snickering reaction.  Instead I was puzzled.  I was a pretty good speller by then, but had never heard such a word.  Had he misspelled it?  Had I misheard it?  Dubiously, I ventured, “  `Shit’???’ “ -- as who should say:  “ `Ophthalmologist’??” 
He gaped and gasped:  You said *** !!!”   At which point I realized that it was an example of a rumored but never previously sighted species known as Bad Words (native habitat: Siberia).  Conclusion:  We never heard such things around the family hearth.

A more dramatic anecdote of Dad and Dirty Words  occurred some time earlier.  We were up in the tree fort, and a semi-friend from the neighborhood (who, harbinger of Sh*tboy,  no doubt later came to a bad end) was telling us our very first Dirty Joke.  It involved traveling salesmen and a farmer, along with (though not in a speaking role) the female offspring of the latter (presumably of tender age, though this was not spelled out).   The commercial travelers arrived seriatim on successive evenings,  requesting lodging for the night  from the rural husbandman.  To the first of these, that worthy agriculturalist replied hospitably enough,  “You can spend the night, but don’t f*ck my daughter or I’ll cut off your dick.”
Now, already this much justified the guilty-pleasure giggling up there in the fort.  “Dick” was not actually a bad word in our milieu:  it was a normal expression linguistically, though its referent was of course a bit louche. 

So, what happened during those nocturnal watches, when all good citizens are sound abed?  Well, the same thing that has been happening ever since God created Eve and Adam, ever since the Fall.  And so, the next morning, the sturdy Son of the Soil -- stern but just -- inquired of the doomed commercialist, in which particular branch of industry was his father employed, among those traditionally available to the Sons of Men?  “He’s a lumberjack,” replied the salesman, resigned to his fate.  “Then” intoned the granger with Solomonic appropriateness,  “I shall chop off your dick.” 

(Whether this rigorous sentence, sharia-like in its equisitive matching of punishment to crime, was ever carried out, or whether an angel of mercy intervened -- conceivably that very daughter, who, on bended knees, her white arms wrapped around the unbending denim-clad knees of her sire, begged for her lover’s life, swearing by all that is holy and it was the best night she’d ever had … was not recorded in this telling. 
Likewise our readers, classically trained as they are, will immediately recall that play of Aristophanes, in which Cleon, the tanner, is threatened being chopped up to make leathern shoes for his enemies the Knights.
But let us return to our narrative -- soberer, sadder, but wiser men.)
The next day -- in a remarkable coincidence -- another commercial traveler put in an  appearance at that distant croft and requested lodging.   Apparently having learned nothing from the events of the previous evening, our farmer acceded to the request, and on the same terms. 
The next morning, the salesman looked nervous, the farmer wroth, and the farmer’s daughter had a dreamy expression on her face  that told all.  Again the inquiry was made as to the paternal profession (evidently they did not have Social Security Numbers back in those days, and so this biographical particular was used for identificational purposes);  and upon being told that the miscreant’s father was a carpenter, a fitting sentence was passed:  The arcadian cadi would saw off the offending member.
By this point in the narrative, the mirth and merriment up there in the tree fort can better be imagined than described.


The telling of jokes to children   serves an important instructional function, tutoring young minds in the literary themes and folkloristic motifs of their tribe.   And one of the invariants of jokes in the genre of the above  is that these things happen in threes (in Euro-American circles; among Amerindians, four is the favored number).  And thus it was that, in a case of serial coincidence that would otherwise strain the credulity of all but the most credulous (to wit:  our young selves), yet a third traveling salesman showed up at that very same rustic farmhouse -- whether accompanied by a samples-case of Fuller brushes, is not recorded -- and put forward the identical request for nocturnal lodging to that very same tiller of the soil.   Upon which, that same cottager, with an amnesia that baffles the psycho-historian (although the daughter appeared to suffer no such mnemonic lapse, to judge by her anticipatory smile and bedroom-eyes) spluttered:  Lodging?!?  Do I look like Mr Hilton?  This is a farm!!”
No no, of course he didn’t say that.  Such a peripetaia in the narrative would constitute a subversion of the whole genre, a post-modernist critique of ludic-literary conventions.   Such would have been seriously pre-mature for the place and time, since you and I were around five, and Grandpa Ike smilingly occupied the White House (so aptly named).
Once again, the silence of the darkened farmhouse was broken -- did one but hark -- by muffled thumps and giggles;  and when at last  brave HELIOS rose in the east, spreading his grateful rays  over the fields of wheat  whereby our reluctant amateur innkeeper earned his bread by the sweat of his brow, the scene around the breakfast table was plain to read.   The maiden -- or rather, daughter (maiden no more) -- applied herself to the eggs & b. with a more than usually voracious appetite;  the farmer had his suspicions;  yet the salesman, this time, seemed strangely untroubled, even cavalier, as he speared another slice of buttered toast (his fork expertly piercing the very center), washing it down with a third cup of strong black country coffee.
Upon accusation, the salesman freely, even genially admitted the charge.  Once again the farmer sought example in the wisdom of Solomon, that the lex talionis might be scrupulously applied;  at which point the salesman, satisfied in every fiber of his being, and langorously fingering a fat sausage, replied:


At that point, some passing hobo might have discerned a gasp of delight and astonishment  coming from the region of the leafy branches that shielded the tree fort.  And then the three boys, in unconscious imitation of the concupiscent salesmen who had arrived seriatim (rather like the Magi, if it comes to that), exited the sylvan scene of their enlightenment, climbed down single-file, and went about their business upon the surface of the good earth.


Here we pause -- as our Muse insists -- for a spot of literary theory, before returning to the narrative of the Two Boys and their Uncursing Dad.

It is frequently to be met with (at least, so I have concluded, after a lifetime of ludic research) that  even in the coarsest locker-room jape, there may underlie  a philosophical, even theological dimension:  and such is surely the case here.  And the inculcation of this loftier perspective, upon the bare wax tablets of the youngsters’ minds, was ennobling, and far made up for  any possible indelicacy of the raw details of the joke.
For notice:  The salesmen arrived and left independently -- for theirs is a solitary trade.  They had no opportunity to compare notes on their experiences at that rural grange.   Yet each as a matter of course  accepted the relevance of paternal occupation to the resolution of the case:  and this motif embodies and reinforces that heritage of guild and feof whereby our island race has lived and procreated and gone to their final rest, since time immemorial;  the lesson thus smoothly and swiftly delivered by this joke, was worth any number of history classes treating of the systems of apprenticeship or socage.   And none objected to the just severity of the sentence pronounced:  This illustrates our Protestant roots in the Old Testament (since tempered -- laus deo -- by the mercy of the Historical Church).   But thirdly, and most remarkably  -- consider how outlandish this would be, really, outside the chivalric fairyland of jokes -- the third salesman knew in advance, before any sentence had been passed, not merely that the punishment would be emasculation (that much anyone might guess  from the simple principle whereby, in the lands of the Mohammedans, the hand of the thief is forfeit), but that the means whereby this should be carried out, would exactly and elegantly mirror the particulars of the paternal occupation!   How could he possibly have known this?  Why,  either by some deep-rooted racial memory, reaching back to the time of the ur-horde, or by that very same ethical intuition that is instilled into each of us by our Maker, so soon our souls have been fashioned, and instilled into the base and aching clay!  The joke assumes and thus implicitly proclaims the existence of a sort of structured moral canopy, overarching all.


To resume.
This joke -- our very first in the “dirty” category -- was too splendid not to share;  and so I rushed into the kitchen of our ranch-style dwelling (little resembling actual ranches, but so designated in the quaint vocabulary of the day), where our father was seated at the humble table, enjoying some spare repast.
“Heydadheydad, yawanna heara dirty joke,  hmm, huh?”
Mildly he turned, and expressed a willingness to hear out the juvenile offspring of his loins -- his someday inheritor, and present care.
“Wellsee, this salesman and a farmer and he said Don’t fuck my daughter or I’ll cut off your d-d-dick (!) (omigosh) and then, then, what does your daddy do, and he does stuff, and so, I’m gonna chop it off, and then -- Mydaddyworksinalollipopfactory you’llhavetosuckmineoff Ha Ha HA HA HA !!!”
With perhaps a touch of sadness, born of long experience, and on a tone of gentle concern, he asked:
“Do you … know what … fuck means, David?”

At once, my blood froze in my veins;  the world went black before my eyes.  I had no idea -- or rather, had had no idea, prior to that very instant;  yet something now told me -- some ancestral whisper, reaching back to an age when sileni and naiads copulated in the foam, when Zeus descended upon Leda  and did ravish her in the form of a swan -- that it was far deeper, and mysteriously more taboo, than that schoolboy “dick” business, and that I was suddenly in way over my head.

“You see,” he said, leaning back pedagogically (and perhaps making a steeple of his fingers, though we shall never know, for by this point a glare and haze obscured my sight, not unlike that of Saul on the road to Damascus)  “when the father puts his penis into the mother’s vagina …”
))) nononononononono thisisnthappening nononopenisthing nonothatsomethingotherthing   nonono   nononooo  kthxdad nomorenow,k    kthxbai …. (((