Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from November 2006

The tiny pudu deer has a big fanblogger

November 29th, 2006 · Comments Off on The tiny pudu deer has a big fanblogger

Lots of photos, lots of fun prose, enjoy!

…the pudu (actual species name: pudu pudu) is the world’s tiniest deer, a two-foot-tall little ungulate with big wide eyes and a body that resembles a Vienna sausage balanced on four wobbly toothpicks…

Pudus have no natural defenses to speak of. When threatened, pudus usually try to find a log to hide behind or possibly climb. This works about as well as it sounds…

Bob Harris, I’m grateful and I hope your book about losing at Jeopardy sells a million copies!

Tags: Blog to Book

View from the backseat, ca 1989

November 28th, 2006 · Comments Off on View from the backseat, ca 1989

View from the backseat, ca 1989

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine.
This old car was one of two giant, brown, well-used station wagons we owned between 1983 and 1990. Frank was at Santa Barbara’s ITP–each summer, I’d drive both girls cross-country to see family in NH.

They were memorable trips, full of moonshine by night, the heat of each day leavened by dish towels dipped in icewater. (We didn’t get air-conditioned cars until years after the rest of the US was driving them.)

Amity and I both loved Little House on the Prairie. It seemed, then, like a normal decision to protect both girls from the sunlight with enormous poke bonnets. It seemed normal to outfit the backseat with two little slates, two pieces of chalk, and the full six-volume set of McGuffey’s Readers, to see if my ten-year-old might teach my three-year-old how to read. (She did.)

Many years later, Amity was a young lady learning about photography. One of the first pictures she took, and one that I cherish, shows the back seat of our old car, harshly sunlit, from the point of view of the little girl that she once was.

Tags: My Back Pages

Wow–what could for once be some great news from DC!

November 28th, 2006 · Comments Off on Wow–what could for once be some great news from DC!

Nancy Pelosi has a real opportunity to shine this week when she picks a new head for the House Intelligence Committee.

Josh Marshall points out that there’s an option besides the current no-win tossup of Hastings v. Harman.

There is after all, another member of the committee who used to work at the State Department monitoring nuclear weapons in North Korea, Iraq and the former Soviet Union and is also trained as a nuclear physicist. That’s Rep. Rush Holt (D) from New Jersey. Given our current focus on proliferation, those seem like decent qualifications for the gig.

Rush Holt was for years head of Princeton’s big plasma physics lab before, in a real Mr-Smith-Goes-To-Washington moment, deciding to run for US Representative.
Making a name for himself in DC since 1998, he’s made headlines (and this blog) for his work promoting a paper trail from voting machines.

Holt is smart, savvy, hard-working, experienced, and rock-bottom decent. By choosing him to head the Intel committee, Nancy Pelosi would herself look like the foe of corruption and business-as-usual America went to the polls this month to elect.

My fellow bloggers, let’s encourage Pelosi to look beyond the bad choices of Harman and Hastings.

In The Nation, David Corn strongly recommends Holt, saying

“…this would be a chance for Pelosi to send a signal: the Democrats do regard national security seriously and are willing to put aside political concerns to do the right thing. She would be saying, merit matters most when it comes to protecting the United States.”

You can contact Nancy Pelosi via this webpage.

Tags: Editorial

So many songs about rainbows…

November 26th, 2006 · Comments Off on So many songs about rainbows…

I recently stumbled across AN Wilson’s “Tolkien was not a writer“:

“Take the example of the Ents, the talking trees. It seemed obvious to me on this reading that the Ents in The Lord of the Rings have partly been suggested by the talking apple trees in the film of The Wizard of Oz, and more by the suicides who have turned into trees in Dante’s Inferno. Beside both originals, Tolkien’s imitation seemed feeble.”

Jeesh! Of course you’re not going to like Tolkien’s “writing” if you try to read it this way–if you can’t willingly feel swept away by the miracle and mystery of (just for example) talking Ents. It’s like eating limburger cheese while holding your nose–all very well if you’ve made your mind up you won’t like it, but not the right way to find out what’s so great about it.

One of my favorite don’t-be-a-culture-snob factoids is that after the death of Charles Dickens, he was despised by a whole generation of English highbrows–at the very time Dostoevsky was studying how Dickens got his effects and Tolstoy would feverishly re-read David Copperfield when he ran into trouble while writing War and Peace.

The magical talking trees of Middle Earth are enormously different from the magical talking trees of the Emerald Kingdom. There’s no shame for Tolkien in his being inspired, if he was, by such richly-imagined and well-loved popular culture as Wizard of Oz.

These ruby slippers live in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum, now closed for renovations. But you can see Dorothy’s slippers (and Abe Lincoln’s top hat and Thomas Edison’s light bulb and Jim Henson’s Kermit the Frog and more) at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in DC, plus a special all-the-items exhibit online.

Tags: Editorial

Lives of great scientists: Serendipity gets help from Machiavelli

November 25th, 2006 · Comments Off on Lives of great scientists: Serendipity gets help from Machiavelli

Herman Heine Goldstine (1913 – 2004) built the world’s first big computer (18,000 vacuum tubes!) at the Aberdeen labs during World War II.

But the serendipitous placement of the young mathematician in a lab that needed maximal calculations almost didn’t happen. As Goldstine recalled, in a much-later interview:

I got notification to go into the Army in July something of 1942, and I was sent to the Air Force in Stockton, California. …I got orders to leave Stockton from the Adjutant General [to go work on math at Aberdeen], and simultaneously I got orders from the local post to proceed to I’ve-forgotten-where on the way to Japan or some eastern place.

I called the commanding general, and he said, “Which do you want to do? ” I said, “I want to take the Aberdeen post.” And he said, “Well, the orders from the Adjutant General in Washington obviously take precedence over the orders from a post adjutant in some fort in Stockton, California.” “Son” he said, ”if I were you, I would get out of the camp, if you’ve got an auto,” he said, “I’d get in the auto, and start driving. Let the paper work catch up later on, because otherwise you’ll just have an impossible time.” So I got in the car and drove east.

Goldstine’s interviewer Albert W Tucker was not only a great eliciter of other people’s stories, he was also a great story-teller himself–Tucker invented the Prisoners’ Dilemma “story” to make a game theory paradox more accessible. If you enjoy reading scientists’ stories first hand, I recommend the many interviews Tucker did for Princeton’s math history project.

For more Goldstine stories, I recommend the recent Biographical memoir (pdf file) in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, June, 2006.

Tags: Science

mmmm, Thanksgiving (blog) leftovers

November 24th, 2006 · Comments Off on mmmm, Thanksgiving (blog) leftovers

Thanksgiving is too big a holiday for just one blogpost–here are some of my other favorites today….

Whoa–let’s stop the season right here–I’m not ready for that!

Tags: Metablogging

Thanksgiving goofs–just part of what families need

November 23rd, 2006 · Comments Off on Thanksgiving goofs–just part of what families need

So, this year i ran out of flour on Thanksgiving morning.

Eeee! as the clock ticks toward guest arrival time, and you start to make biscuit-crust pie, not to mention gravy, flour is not just necessary, it is nnnnnnnneeeeeeeeeeeded!

After a brief search for substitutes, during which we considered pancake mix, corn starch, and a forgotten box of Bisquik that had expired in 2004, the girls headed off, both laughing, to Sarah’s Market, blessedly open even on Thanksgiving morning.

Last year, my Thanksgiving goof was burnt stinky popcorn. And who knows what craziness will befall us next year?

I’m thankful that shared happiness survives imperfection.

Tags: Wide wonderful world

Thankful you’re not this dog, or (more so) this cat

November 22nd, 2006 · Comments Off on Thankful you’re not this dog, or (more so) this cat

DogCatThanksgiving: Cat in Pilgrim outfit and dog with feather headdress.

From my email inbox this morning–thanks, Aunt Billie!

Tags: Wide wonderful world

What kind of American English do you speak?

November 20th, 2006 · Comments Off on What kind of American English do you speak?

My family is solid New England, and I grew up here except for a couple of years in Michigan, back when I would have been going to kindergarten if they had kindergarten in our little town there.

I remember being laughed at by little Michiganders for my New England accent, and then being laughed at by little New Hampshirites for the Michiganisms I’d worked hard to master.

So I was intrigued when Rebecca Blood linked to an American dialect quiz–and here’s what I scored, how about you?

Your Linguistic Profile:

45% Yankee
35% General American English
10% Upper Midwestern
5% Dixie
0% Midwestern
What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

Tags: Learn to write good

Phony plea bargain with NH phone-jammer Shaun Hansen

November 17th, 2006 · Comments Off on Phony plea bargain with NH phone-jammer Shaun Hansen

MiniElephant: Elephant, labeled "GOP Phone Jammer Follies", crushing telephone. I was there (and “real reporters” were not) in NH Federal District Court on November 16, when 34 year-old Shaun Hansen pled guilty to two felony counts arising from the 2002 NH phone-jamming scandal.

Ten days after the Democrats’ national landslide victory, Bush-appointed US Attorneys in both NH and Idaho pledged not to question Shaun Hansen any further about his role in jamming NH phones on Election Day 2002.

Hansen’s deal with the feds, and his vague and evasive “factual plea” warrant scrutiny which the press has not given it–so here’s the PDF file.

And here, for eye-opening comparison is Hansen’s list of affirmative defenses.

Just a few smoking guns…

Guilty plea, page 4: The Department of Justice recommends sentencing leniency “based upon the defendant’s apparent prompt recognition and affirmative acceptance of personal responsibility for the offense.”
Prompt? Hansen jammed phones in November 2002. His “prompt” response to his 2006 indictment was an attempt to get the charges dismissed–or, failing that, to point out the lines of guilt connecting it through the Republican hierarchy all the way to the White House.

Affirmative defense, page 3: Hansen “had performed services for GOP Marketplace in the past and, based on its name and the type of work the business had been contracted to
perform, he reasonably assumed that GOP Marketplace was a governmental entity or at least that the activities that his business was being asked to perform had been approved in advance by the national Republican party.”
Search Hansen’s guilty plea in vain for any effort by the US Attorney to uncover the story behind these intriguing statement. Heck, search it in vain for the word “Republican”!

Affirmative defense, page 2: If the case comes to trial, Hansen “will present evidence that he and his business partner, Lee Leblanc, were parties to a conference call in which Messrs. Raymond and Cupit and an unknown ‘attorney’ provided further assurances that the acts which they and their business were contracted to perform in November 2002 were completely legal.”
Search Hansen’s guilty plea in vain for any information about this intriguing phone call, or for any clear details about dates or people involved. Guilty plea, page 10: “In or about late October or early November of 2002, a coconspirator telephoned Hansen to discuss a project.” That’s the level of detail of Shaun Hansen’s confession.

What this plea bargain looks like to me is a last-ditch attempt to close down the phone-jamming inquiry before Democrats get to ask Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about his six-months-and-counting non-response to their request for a special prosecutor.

NB. DOJ Attorney Andrew Levchuk, who headed the prosecutorial team against both Hansen and James Tobin, deserves kudos for hard work under adverse conditions. But Levchuk’s boss here is the US Attorney for the State of NH, Bush appointee Thomas Colantuono, whose many ties to the people being investigated and even to the lawyers defending those people in the Democrats’ civil suit have raised many eyebrows over his role in this case.

Tags: New Hampshire!