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31 October 2010

Postalo Vleeptron / 1st Day Issue: Anosognosia / it stings like hell, but I'm invisible! / she says she's my wife, she probably is

Click image for larger.

Postalo Vleeptron
First Day Issue


Have I posted a version of this stamp or anything about anosognosia before?

I had a hospital procedure the other day, and I'm so hopped up on dope that I can't remember. Also they used that Forget Drug -- I think it's called Versed -- in the anesthesia. 

I'm pretty sure the woman who drove me home was my wife; she said she was my wife, anyway.

But things have been pretty fuzzy on Planet Vleeptron this week.

~ ~ ~

The two armed bank robberies were low-rent and ordinary. But with a difference: The robber wore no mask, no motorcycle helmet. He made no effort to disguise his face.

So the Pittsburgh police began their investigation with perfectly clear security camera video of the robber's face. A very short time later, they had their suspect in handcuffs. He seemed upset and confused.

"But I wore the juice!" he told the cops.

"What juice?" the detectives asked.

"Lemon juice! I rubbed it all over my face! It really stings, but it makes you invisible to the bank cameras!"

Of course he was too smart just to swallow a street rumor like the power of lemon juice to render the wearer invisible to cameras. He needed proof. So he tested it. He rubbed lemon juice all over his face, took a Polaroid snapshot of himself, and claimed that his face didn't show up on the test photo.

That was good enough for him. He was ready for bank heists.

David Dunning, a professor of social psychology at Cornell, was fascinated by the Tale of the Invisible Bank Robber, and, with graduate student Justin Kruger, published (in 1999) a research paper about an apparently common, but previously unreported disorder:

Unskilled and Unaware of It:
How Difficulties of Recognizing
One’s Own Incompetence
Lead to Inflated Self-assessments

and termed the disorder they described


Deconstructing from its Greek roots, it means, roughly:

I'm so stupid
that I don't realize 
I'm really stupid.

Anosognosia seems to be both widespread and incurable.

But as a theory of intellectual disorder, it explains a great deal of human behavior that was previously mysterious and inexplicable.

Now, for the first time, it all makes sense.

The documentary filmmaker Errol Morris wrote about anosognosia in The New York Times. His remarkable essay begins HERE.

26 October 2010

the Ring Of Fire's Hot Spot: Mount MERAPI volcano, central Java, Indonesia, is smokin', tremblin' & boomin', expected to erupt, but only Merapi knows when and how big / BBC video

click HERE for BBC video report

Officials had issued a red alert, warning that an eruption was imminent

Indonesia's most volatile volcano is erupting, spewing plumes of hot ash and hurling rocks into the air.

Officials say Mount Merapi, in central Java, began erupting just before dusk on Tuesday.

Scientists warn the pressure building up beneath its lava dome could lead to one of the most powerful blasts in years.

Thousands of residents living on the volcano's slopes have been evacuated.

However, a further 13,000 people need to be evacuated from within a 10-mile (16km) radius of the volcano, officials say.
Burn injuries

Television footage showed thousands of people fleeing the area, some covered in the volcano's white ash which rained from the sky.

[image] People evacuated by boat from Mount Merapi Many thousands of people have yet to be evacuated
It is thought that 5,000 people live on or near the volcano.

The head of one village near the volcano said that many residents were stranded. He said rain loaded with volcanic ash had reduced visibility to just 5m (16ft).

"We are evacuating to the village square, around 14km from Mount Merapi slope. Some of the villagers are still stranded but we received text messages from them, saying that they are OK," Heri Suprapto told the BBC.

A doctor at a nearby hospital said at least six people had been badly burnt by the hot air rushing from the volcano, Reuters reports. One eyewitness said he saw people with bad burns being taken away on stretchers, the agency reports.

There were also reports that a three-month-old baby had died from breathing difficulties after inhaling volcanic material.

On Monday, officials monitoring the volcano raised the alert for Mount Merapi to the highest possible level.

Since then, more than 600 volcanic earthquakes have been recorded around the mountain.

"We heard three explosions around 1800 (1100 GMT) spewing volcanic material as high as 1.5km (one mile) and sending heat clouds down the slopes," government volcanologist Surono, who goes by one name, told AFP.

He warned that pressure was building up behind a lava dome near the crater.

"We hope it will release slowly," he said. "Otherwise, we're looking at a potentially huge eruption, bigger than anything we've seen in years."

He said this eruption was more powerful than the volcano's last blast, in 2006, which killed two people.

In 1930 another powerful eruption wiped out 13 villages, killing more than 1,000 people.
Sacred site

Thousands of people living near the volcano have been ordered to move to safer ground, but many are still refusing to leave.

Some are refusing to heed the warnings because they do not want to leave their livestock and properties behind.

Ponco Sumarto, 65, who arrived at a makeshift camp with her two grandchildren, said her children had stayed behind to look after their crops.

A woman flees the volcano in Kaliurang village, Indonesia

"I just have to follow orders to take shelter here for safety, even though I'd rather like to stay at home," the Associated Press news agency quoted her as saying.

BBC Indonesia correspondent Karishma Vaswani says that for many Javanese, Mt Merapi is a sacred site.

Officials say some of the villagers are waiting for the local "gatekeeper" of the volcano to tell them that the increased activity at Mt Merapi is dangerous.

Described as a medicine man, he is believed by many villagers to have a spiritual connection to the volcano.

He has reportedly said he will not leave yet, but is urging villagers to make their way to government shelters, our correspondent says.
- 30 -

Are you the area? Have you been affected? Send us your comments using the form below:

At no time should you endanger yourself or others, take any unnecessary risks or infringe any laws. In most cases a selection of your comments will be published, displaying your name as you provide it and location unless you state otherwise. But your contact details will never be published.

25 October 2010

Afghanistan's Karzai seeks treatment for addiction to big bags stuffed with cash

Agence-Vleeptron Presse / A-VP
(newswire, Planet Vleeptron, Earth)
Monday/Bangerday 25 October 2010


Karzai checks into 
rehab for 
cash addiction

KABUL (A-VP) -- The office of the president of Afghanistan announced today that President Hamid Karzai had checked himself into a rehabilitation facility for treatment of an increasingly serious long-standing disorder, his addiction to accepting bags and suitcases stuffed with cash.

To assure Karzai's privacy during treatment, which is expected to last several weeks, the identity or location of the rehabilitation facility will not be disclosed, the presidential spokesman said.

"The problem began more than a decade ago when Mister Karzai assumed the top leadership role in the Northern Alliance," the spokesman explained. "Around that time, agents from several nearby, European and North American governments seeking to topple the Taliban regime began bringing housewarming gifts, usually trashbags stuffed with Euros or US dollars, and Karzai began experiencing growing difficulty refusing the gifts. 

"Mister Karzai thought it would be rude, and the bearers of the cash gifts might be offended or misunderstand his unwillingness to accept large amounts of cash.

"From those small, simple beginnings, President Karzai's addiction to large bags of cash just grew worse and worse," the spokesman explained. "He was surrounded by enablers, and sometimes was offered three or more bags stuffed with cash a day. Things just spiralled out of control. Now he's seeking help with the problem."

An expert in the treatment of Cash Acquisition Syndrome Habituation (CASH) said treatment typically involves sessions with play money or Monopoly money, and the addict is slowly taught how to refuse to accept the cash substitutes. 

Later, the addict progresses to accepting modest amounts of cash, with no strings attached, counting the cash, writing signed and dated receipts, and then giving the money to authorized relief agencies and bona-fide government projects.

- 30 -

PIZZAQ! the gorgeous new statue of Admiral Znrdzooq, hero of the 2nd Garlic War ... or uhhh maybe not. Who is it, where is it, who made it?

Click on statue, gets bigger maybe.

The Zeta Beam is on the frizz again, but I've left Lenny and Spike, the intergalactic hitchiking high school dropout weasels, in charge of Agence-Vleeptron Presse, and told them to publish photos of famous tourist spots on Planet Vleeptron.

So they sent me this. They say it's the new statue of Admiral Znrdzooq, the hero of the 2nd Garlic War, in the vest-pocket park across the street from the Shoe Mirrors Underway station in Ciudad Vleeptron.

The trouble, of course, is that Lenny and Spike are probably drunk or stoned or something. They aren't exactly the most reliable temporary editors at A-VP.

So maybe this ISN'T Admiral Znrdzooq. And maybe it's not in Ciudad Vleeptron.

So who is it? And where is it? And who was the sculptor?

6 pizza slices with anchovies and shallots.

HINT: There's a rumor that you better enjoy this fine statue while you can, the statue might not be around for much longer.

22 October 2010

He broke NPR's ethics code: Be bland, boring, mediocre, have nice manners and good grammar..

Comments on:

NPR's Firing of Juan Williams Was Poorly Handled

Juan Williams isn't very bright; he's a mediocre, bland, inoffensive "thinker," and thus fit in perfectly at NPR. Under ordinary circumstances, he could have proudly bored NPR's listeners for decades.

And that's NPR's problem: It's always been constitutionally terrified of authentic originality, authentic talent, or authentic controversy. Good grammar and nice manners suffice at NPR.

Williams cluelessly failed to understand the difference between NPR and Fox. He skipped back and forth between them as if they were somehow equivalent news agencies with equivalent aims.

He's scared to fly if Muslims are aboard. He's dumb, bland, easily frightened, and easily manipulated by O'Reilly.

This Report from the Ombudsman -- why is it even here? You have no authority to rehire Williams. All you can do, and all you have done, is regretfully sugarcoat a fait accompli, and try to rationalize why Williams failed to live up to NPR's charter of inoffensive boredom. Your part of this tempest in a Foxpot does NPR no credit.
Friday, October 22, 2010 5:16:59 AM


Juan Williams
Stephen Voss/NPR Juan Williams

Juan Williams once again got himself into trouble with NPR for comments he made at his other job, at Fox News. And NPR's reaction has unleashed an unprecedented firestorm of criticism directed not at Williams – but at NPR.

NPR fired Williams Wednesday night after 10 years with the network for comments he made about Muslims on Fox News.

Thursday was a day like none I’ve experienced since coming to NPR in October 2007. Office phone lines rang non-stop like an alarm bell with no off button. We’ve received more than 8,000 emails, a record with nothing a close second.

NPR’s initial story garnered more than 6,800 comments, many supporting Williams and others asking why it took so long to fire him. Here's Thursday's story.

At noon, the deluge of email crashed NPR’s “Contact Us” form on the web site.

The overwhelming majority are angry, furious, outraged. They want NPR to hire him back immediately. If NPR doesn't, they want all public funding of public radio to stop. They promise to never donate again. They are as mad as hell, and want everyone to know it.  It was daunting to answer the phone and hear so much unrestrained anger.
  The latest, and final, episode involving Williams took place Monday on Fox's The O'Reilly Factor. He and host Bill O'Reilly discussed whether America had a "Muslim dilemma."

In response to a provocative question from O'Reilly about Muslims, Williams said:
“I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.”
Later in that segment, Williams did challenge O'Reilly's apparent contention that every Muslim on the planet is an extremist bent on attacking America.

It took a day for Williams' remarks to bleed into the blogosphere. But then, it was like opening a fire hydrant.  Hundreds wrote or called demanding that NPR fire Williams or at least discipline him.

Many have been troubled over the years by the dual role that Williams has played: balanced news analyst on NPR; more opinionated pundit on Fox.

"On the Radio, Williams is somewhat of a thoughtful though superficial moderate while on FOX he shows his politically correct submissive Pro Fox bigotry for a few dollars more," wrote Mohamed Khodr, a doctor from Winchester, VA, who was among scores who contacted me Wednesday.

"NPR must and should take a stand against this bigotry and tell Williams' he must choose NPR's code of ethics or be let go to join the racist bigoted fearmongerers of FOX,” continued Khodr. “NPR can't have it both ways."

NPR's management acted. In a statement released at 12:27 a.m. Thursday, NPR said Williams' remarks “were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR.”

This was far from an isolated incident.

Williams’ appearances on Fox News, especially O’Reilly’s show, have caused heartburn repeatedly for NPR over the last few years. Management said he’s been warned several times that O’Reilly is a professional provocateur and to be careful.
In early 2009, Williams said on O'Reilly of Michelle Obama: "She's got this Stokely Carmichael-in-a-designer-dress thing going. If she starts talking . . . her instinct is to start with this blame America, you know, I'm the victim. If that stuff starts to coming out, people will go bananas and she'll go from being the new Jackie O. to being something of an albatross."

After other inflammatory comments on Fox, in April 2008 NPR changed Williams' role from news correspondent (a reporting job) to news analyst. In this contract position, he was expected to report, think quickly and give his own analysis – while carefully choosing his words on any given subject.

One reason he was fired, according to Vivian Schiller, NPR’s CEO, is that the company felt he wasn’t performing the role of a news analyst:

“News analysts may not take personal public positions on controversial issues; doing so undermines their credibility as analysts, and that’s what’s happened in this situation,” said Schiller in an email to NPR member stations, some of which are upset about Williams' firing.

“As you all well know," she continued, "we offer views of all kinds on your air every day, but those views are expressed by those we interview – not our reporters and analysts.”

In 2008, I received 378 emails complaining about remarks Williams made on Fox – but I heard very little about his comments on NPR. My February 2009 blog post on the Stokely Carmichael incident drew 216 comments – many asking why NPR put up with Williams' dual role.

In fact, since I became Ombudsman in October 2007, no other NPR employee has generated as much controversy as Williams.

That said, Williams provided a valuable voice on NPR.  His long experience as a journalist and background as an authority on the Civil Rights movement enabled him to offer insights that often enriched the network's reporting.

Ultimately, however, it seems management felt he had become more of a liability than an asset. Unfortunately, I agree.

It can’t be overlooked that this episode is occurring in a toxic political environment where people are quick to take sides and look for hidden motives. I fear some will look for racial motivations in NPR's decision to fire Williams, who is African-American and one of the few black male NPR voices.

It's not about race. It's also not about free speech, as some have charged. Nor is it about an alleged attempt by NPR to stifle conservative views. NPR offers a broad range of viewpoints on its radio shows and web site.

Instead, this latest incident with Williams centers around a collision of values: NPR's values emphasizing fact-based, objective journalism versus the tendency in some parts of the news media, notably Fox News, to promote only one side of the ideological spectrum.

The issue also is whether someone on NPR's payroll should be allowed to say something in one venue that NPR would not allow on its air. NPR’s ethics code says they cannot.

Many emails asked for an explanation of how these latest comments were specifically outside NPR's rules and expectations – especially since Williams was being honest about his prejudices and fears.

(Williams also said, on a Fox News segment that aired Thursday, that he asked for, but was not given, a specific explanation of how his remarks crossed the line.)

NPR, like any mainstream news outlet, expects its journalists to be thoughtful and measured in everything they say. What Williams said was deeply offensive to Muslims and inflamed, rather than contributing positively, to an important debate about the role of Muslims in America.

Williams was doing the kind of stereotyping in a public platform that is dangerous to a democracy.  It puts people in categories, as types – not as individuals with much in common despite their differences.

I can only imagine how Williams, who has chronicled and championed the Civil Rights movement, would have reacted if another prominent journalist had said:

"But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see an African American male in Dashiki with a big Afro, I get worried. I get nervous."

In an appearance on Fox News today, Williams defended his controversial remarks, saying he simply had intended to convey his "honest experience" of anxiety.  He also said he was told his contract was terminated without an opportunity to come into NPR and discuss the firing.

If he is correct, that’s too bad. I think NPR owed him a chance to explain himself.
I’m not privy to the why this announcement was so hastily made. NPR could have waited until his contract ran out, or possibly suspended him pending a review. Either way, a more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare.

Even though NPR handled this situation badly, the fact remains that NPR must uphold its journalistic standards, which, after all, provide the basis that earned public radio's reputation for quality.

18 October 2010

The Islamic Center 2 blocks away and around the corner from Ground Zero / Whoopi Goldberg & Joy Behar tell Bill O'Reilly to shove his nazi hate mouth up his ass / God Bless 30 Percent of America

Yeah, click on the flag postcard,
maybe gets larger.

"The View" is a Monday-through-Friday daytime TV show with a bunch of women sitting around on living-room furniture talking about the things that a bunch of women sitting around on living-room furniture talk about. It's been on American TV forever and is wildly popular. I've watched it maybe 3 times, I like the episodes where some of the women get up and try to punch Elizabeth Hassendorfer in the tits, and then she starts to cry.

Most of the time it's a really nice tea party with linen napkins and beverage coasters, and nice people talking about nice things, and usually trying not to say vulgar or barnyard things, but every once in a while Elizabeth Hassenpfeffer says something so stupid, ignorant and offensive that some of the other women start to punch her in the tits, but so far the production staff has prevented any actual punching or kicking. Elizabeth Klaggenzupper was a college softball player and married a professional (USA) football player, and I think she was dropped on her head from a big height when she was a baby.

(Okay, her name is really Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and she got famous on that stupid reality show "Survivor." She's on "The View" because they had to find one woman in the USA who could say nice things about George W. Bush, the Republican Party, Sarah Palin, banning abortion, and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They found Elizabeth Hasselbeck.)

If Joy Behar jumped out of an alley and tore out my gall bladder, I wouldn't know who she was or why she was famous or was one of the women sitting around on living-room furniture on "The View." There are some real smart, witty women on "The View," but as a general rule it's pretty light on Nobel Economics Prizewinners and quantum physicists. They talk about shoes and cosmetics and hair a lot, and sometimes a guest cooks them a new recipe.

If a famous man -- politician -- gets caught cheating on his decent, devoted wife, and it's a really icky extramarital scandal, and the guy really did many absolutely despicable things, and "the other woman" was 26 years younger than the wife and mother of his (legitimate) children, "The View" will devote the entire month of April to what this guy did and how smarmy it was, and what, in a just and decent world, ought to happen to this guy, and what ought to happen to his young hottie Kikki La Bamboom. The words "castration" and "gelding" have come up more than once. "The View" has very serious and consistent feelings about Holy Matrimony, and about noisy public deviations from this valuable social convention.

The Big Brain on "The View" is actress/comedian Whoopi Goldberg. It's a dream job. Imagine getting paid Big Bucks just to shoot off your mouth about anything or anybody. In most real human experience, that's the express train to getting fired or divorced or arrested, or declared Persona Non Grata.

A few days ago, the guest on "The View" was Bill O'Reilly from Murdoch's Fox News Channel.

O'Reilly usually doesn't make guest appearances on other programs. He's most comfortable barfing out his belief system on his own Fox show "The O'Reilly Factor," because nobody interrupts him or calls him a liar or an idiot.

O'Reilly chose to tell the ladies on "The View" why America shouldn't allow New York City's Muslims to build an Islamic Center/Mosque about two blocks from "Ground Zero" -- the site of the former World Trade Center.

He blamed the terror attack of 9/11/01 on Muslims. Hating all the world's Muslims works really well on "The O'Reilly Factor," so he thought he could have a Hate-All-Muslims party on "The View."

Things got heated, and although O'Reilly tried to use his copyrighted debate style -- he's famous for screaming "Shut up!" to guests -- Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg most assuredly did not shut up, and finally they just walked off the set, after making it abundantly clear that they thought O'Reilly was a sick fuck and right-wing moron.

The Goldberg-Behar walk-off became a huge cause celebre. It almost seemed, for a moment, that something important had actually happened on "The View."

We now return you to a recipe for chicken pepper casserole, and new makeup that's environmentally safe and friendly.

I like Whoopi Goldberg a lot. (Almost enough to make me want to watch "The View" again.")

I think Bill O'Reilly should be shoved in a rocket and sent to be the permanent USA Ambassador to Pluto.


Stop me before I leave a comment on "The View's" message board again. I'm ...


Submitted by jameskpolka 17/10/2010 11:53 am PDT 


O'Reilly said 70 percent of the American people don't want the Islamic Center built.

Freedom of religion is in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- the Bill of Rights -- to remove it once and forever from the momentary whims of a religion Popularity Contest.

If Fox News Channel's on-line Question of the Day asks:
Do you think the Islamic Center 
should be built? [NO] [YES]

... and 99 percent of the mice click [NO], the First Amendment guarantees that the Fox Digital Lynch
Mob's results have no bearing or influence on the right of NYC's Muslims to build their Islamic Center.

And, thanks chiefly to George Mason and James Madison, the First Amendment will also guarantee the right of Jews to build a synagogue where they wish, the right of Mormons to build a Temple, the right of atheists to build an Atheism Center, regardless of where Fox's Hate-o-Meter needle points next week.

For Fox and O'Reilly, it's all about the hemmorhoid cream ads on their most popular Hate segments. At Fox News Channel, Muslims are tied with immigrants from Mexico and Central America, if hating them ratchets up ratings.

70 percent don't want it built? Fine. I'm going to wear a red-white-and-blue t-shirt that proudly says:

That's 93,000,000 Americans. I shouldn't feel too lonely. And they're probably a very nice, mellow bunch.

11 October 2010

PizzaQ! Fnd my calculus mistake / hmmm okay i think i fixed it ...

 Click image for larger.

Okay I think I fixed the subtle little mistake.

By the way, I think this is just Wonderful!

Grrrrr there's a minor little itty-bitty mistake here somewhere, but it doesn't affect the final result. But grrrrrrr anyway, I hate it when I'm not perfect.

Here's how to get Ἀρχιμήδης's ratio 

volume of inscribed sphere
volume of right circular cylinder 

-- one tennis ball that just fits in a cylindrical can -- with elementary integral calculus (which Ἀρχιμήδης probably knew, even though it wouldn't officially be discovered for another 1920 years).

Find and fix my itty-bitty little mistake and ... uhhh ... I'll give you 3 slices of square no-tomato-sauce pizza.

08 October 2010

The Financial Times (UK) eloquently hails the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the imprisoned Chinese human-rights advocate Liu Xiaobo / 劉曉波

The Financial Times
London UK business daily broadsheet
founded 1888
Friday 8 October 2010

A Nobel Peace Prize 
to celebrate

With its decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to the jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has reinserted itself into the best traditions of the award.

In its greatest moments, the peace prize has given heart to and roused support for individuals struggling against the overwhelming force of an oppressive state or an unjust social order: Carl von Ossietzky, Andrei Sakharov, Lech Walesa, and Aung San Suu Kyi in the former case; Martin Luther King in the latter.

Mr Liu deserves to be in their company. He has fought peacefully for decades to win for his fellow Chinese the basic right to think what they want, say what they think, and criticise the party apparatchiks that wield power over them. He participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations where many protesters were murdered by the government’s crackdown. He is a founding signatory of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for greater civil rights, modelled on Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77.

For his role in the Charter, Mr Liu is languishing in a Chinese jail on a conviction for inciting subversion of the state. He has done no such thing: his activities have aimed not at overthrowing the state but of making it serve its people by granting the rights that -- as the prize citation usefully points out -- China’s own constitution formally guarantees.

What happens next will depend on Communist party rulers now smarting with embarrassment. They had made a prize for Mr Liu more, not less, likely, by clamping down so hard on him. In the mould of other authoritarian regimes, Beijing put pressure on Oslo not to give him the prize, betraying the insecurity behind the facade of strength. If China now snarls at the outside world -- or worse, punishes other dissidents -- it will set back a long way the respectable global image it so craves.

China’s progress on that front reflects its undeniable economic achievements. But it has just as much to do with an obsessive control of media coverage and with foreign leaders’ preference to ignore the country’s human rights abuses as they curry favour with Beijing. Thanks to the prize, western capitals may now find this a little more awkward.

Mr Liu’s Nobel is a recognition that peace is only secure when conflicts, between countries or within them, are resolved within a system where the rule of law protects everyone’s freedom. That is a truth of which rulers everywhere need always to be reminded.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010.
- 30 -

~ ~ ~
Charter 08


This year is the 100th year of China's Constitution, the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 30th anniversary of the birth of the Democracy Wall, and the 10th year since China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A "modernization" bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a "modernization" under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.

06 October 2010

First Day Issue: Tierra de los Sueños / TdSPosta / Εὕρηκα! Bob finds the Lost Tomb of Ἀρχιμήδης

Click image to enlarge.

First Day Issue:
Tierra de los Sueños / TdS•Posta

Bob travels to Siracusa,
sees erupting volcano Ætna,
finds Lost Tomb of Ἀρχιμήδης

2...volume of Inscribed Sphere
- = ---------------------------------
3...volume of Right Circular Cylinder

Cara S****,

Grazie for inspiring me to have a little fun. Your friend Baron von Munchausen was fantasizing about travelling to Sicilia to see Aetna erupt, and find the Lost Tomb of Archimedes. So I made one of my incredibly talentless and stupid faux postage stamps about it. 

I could not find any grappa bottles on the Web, so I used chianti.

This is my art -- Refrigerator Art. I am a huge fan of the American faux postage artist Donald Evans ... except he was a brilliant artist, and I am the Drunk Driver of Art. Fortunately the USA does not require artists to have a government license, or talent.

Tierra de los Sueños/TdS•Posta is one of my Postal Issuing Authorities, another is PostalÖ Vleeptron.
Oh but I am SO SORRY I got Archimedes' Ratio wrong! It's 2/3, not 1/3 ! I am really rusty and my memory is getting undependable.

To compare volumes of different shaped objects, Archimedes made wooden models of the objects -- a wooden sphere of a size which would fit inside a wooden cylinder -- and then weighed them. (You just have to use the same kind of wood.) He was a very smart guy. 

He seems to have been a cousin of the Tyrant (King) of Siracusa, Hero.

Pythagoras lived nearer to you, in Crotone. (The neighbors burned down Pythagoras' cult compound twice. People today, particularly students, feel the same about mathematicians.)
Single-handedly the old man Archimedes -- around 70 years old -- held off the Roman Army from Siracusa for about three years, with his catapults and giant grappling hooks and glass lenses which set the Roman ships on fire. After a while, all he had to do was throw a rope over the city wall and the Roman soldiers would all scream and flee.
Hope you enjoy the silly stamp.


03 October 2010

Ach, das wär ein Leben, das wär ein Genuß / wenn man vergessen könnte, daß man verwandt sein muß / the song of the little orphan with the big suitcase and the wonderful dream

Everybody knows how much I love Kurt Weill's music, that's no secret.

But this is my favorite of all his songs. When I first heard Teresa Stratas sing it in German, I didn't understand a word, but it grabbed my heart and shook my soul instantly, violently. It still does. 

This is one of the very few Weill songs which contain musical echoes of the composer under whom young Kurt Weill studied: Humperdinck, composer of the opera "
Hänsel und Gretel"  (premiered in Weimar in 1893, Richard Strauss conducted; a year later Gustav Mahler conducted it in Hamburg.)

Here again the composer leads a little child into the forest and uses music to guide the child through terror and peril.

But now, a third of a century past Humperdinck's Happily Ever After Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead fairy tale/Kinderm
ärchen, the child wanders through a very different forest, and encounters very different terrors and perils: Europe in the years after World War One.

There's a little ambiguity about the role of Fennimore, is this a little orphan boy or a little orphan girl? It doesn't seem to matter. Maybe Weill and Kaiser wanted to combine Hänsel und Gretel into a single lost, imperiled child.

Georg Kaiser was a poet and playwright (the influential impressionist "Gas" trilogy) and pal of Weill's in Weimar Berlin. He introduced Weill to a young Berlin actress and singer, Lotte Lenya. YouTube had this treasure: Lotte Lenya singing "Fennimores Lied." The recording is from 1956/57, but Lenya, who was Fennimore in the Leipzig premiere, sings it as it was arranged and sung in 1933 in Weill and Kaiser's opera

Der Silbersee: ein Wintermärchen
The Silver Lake: a Winter's Fairy Tale


Der Silbersee was premiered on 18 February 1933 simultaneously at the Altes Theater in Leipzig, the Stadttheater in Erfurt and the Stadttheater in Magdeburg, just 3 weeks after the Nazi Party's Machtergreifung on 30 January 1933. It was directed by Detlev Sierck and conducted by Gustav Brecher (Leipzig). It was the artists' last production in the Weimar Republic before they were forced to emigrate, and it was banned on 4 March 1933 by the Nazis after having been performed 16 times.

I had to listen to "Fennimores Lied" over and over. Eventually I figured out what the singer was singing about.

Fennimore is a little orphan who has to schlep a battered old suitcase back and forth between uncles and aunts who mistreat the child and knock the poor relation in the head.

Fennimore has a dream, a special dream, a favorite dream:

I'm not related to ANYBODY!


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Fennimores Lied

from "Der Silbersee" ("The Silver Lake")
libretto: Georg Kaiser
music: Kurt Weill

Ich bin eine arme Verwandte
und gehöre zu andern dazu.
Ach, wenn sich doch keiner um mich kümmern wollte!
Doch das tuen Onkel und Tante,
und nichts freut sie, was ich auch tu'.
Das ist kein Leben, das ist nur verdruß,
den man, was soll denn werden, ertragen muß.

Ich hab' einen Koffer voll Habe,
den schleppe ich überall hin.
Ach, wenn ich mich doch seiner entledigen könnte!
Weil ich mir die Finger wund schabe
und auch nicht die Kräftigste bin.

Und nirgends will man mich behalten,
weil ich nirgends gern geseh'n bin.
Am liebsten möchte ich einfach weglaufen
und mein bißchen Dasein verwalten
nach meinem eigenen Sinn!
Denn das ist kein Leben, das ist nur Verdruß,
den man, was soll denn werden, ertragen muß.

Manchmal könnt' ich das träumen,
ich wäre gar nicht verwandt.
Und keiner dürfte mich holen und schicken,
ich müßte mich nicht mehr ducken und bücken -
ich drückte dem Nächsten freudig die Hand,
ich bin ja nicht mit ihm verwandt.
Ach, das wär ein Leben, das wär ein Genuß,
wenn man vergessen könnte, daß man verwandt sein muß.

~ ~ ~

Anybody want to take a whack at translating this into any other lingo? English translations exist, but I can't find one on the Web to filch ready-made. Someone certainly translated this into French. The challenge to the poet and the singer is to be a 14-year-old orphan boy with a big old suitcase and a wonderful dream.

01 October 2010

News About People Named Merkin to Whom I Am Absolutely Not Related

Click image, unrelated people get bigger.

One time, long before the Bernard Madoff weirdness, when This Merkin Family just meant Huge Wealth & Big Philanthropy & Top-Tier Manhattan Dignified Honor & Respect, we stayed in a hotel next to Lincoln Center in NYC. The hotel was one block from the Merkin Concert Hall, endowed by J. Ezra's parents.

We just registered as a couple of ordinary out-of-towners named Merkin.

Maybe the hotel gave every guest the 6-Star Red Carpet May We Help You Sir & Madame treatment.

Or maybe it was that last name. 

But we had a Great Fucking Time. Extra pillow mints, instantly swept to a very fine table in the restaurant, champagne compliments of the management, yadda.

J. Ezra is the brother of novelist and New Yorker magazine writer Daphne Merkin

Some years ago I wrote her suggesting we start an Association of Novelists Named Merkin. We could hold an annual dinner in a fancy restaurant, and give one another awards -- Best Essay by Somebody Named Merkin, Best Short Story by Somebody Named Merkin, etc. I never heard back from her. There is other evidence not involving me personally that suggests Daphne is a rather Low-Humor or Humor-Lite or Zero-Laughs individual.

I asked a friend to read Daphne's novel "Enchantment," and she agreed to be a test rat for me, something like a Food Taster for an emperor. If she read it and recommended it to me, I'd give it a whack.

My Food Taster said "Enchantment" was a 250-page Whine.

My mother used to refer to people like the Madoffs and these Merkins as "meshugineh Frumm." Translation available on request.
And now the News About People Named Merkin to Whom I Am Absolutely Not Related.

~ ~ ~ 

The Jewish Daily Forward
(published New York City / twin Yiddish-language edition)
Wednesday 29 September 2010

With Madoff in Jail, 

Merkin Is New Target

by Josh Nathan-Kazis

Some investors in the hedge funds managed by J. Ezra Merkin that were decimated in Bernard Madoff’s massive investment fraud could get money back in the next few months.

But as the first disbursement is prepared, the legal battle over the scraps of the billions 

[ 1 billion = 1,000,000,000 ]
 once invested in Merkin’s funds has devolved into a complicated web of overlapping and competing lawsuits. Merkin is a defendant in at least 5 active lawsuits relating to his management of the investment funds.

“It’s entirely unsurprising,” said Barry Adler, a professor at New York University School of Law. Adler said that while he has no knowledge of the details of this case, in financial scandals such as this, “the incentive of each trustee is to sue everyone else who might have money, because that might make his beneficiaries less victimized than the other guy’s.”

Merkin, a wealthy philanthropist from a prominent New York Modern Orthodox family

[ which is absolutely in no way related to me ]

, was identified in the unraveling of the Madoff scandal two years ago as having operated some of the largest so-called feeder funds fueling Madoff’s mega-Ponzi scheme. One of the funds, called Ascot Partners LP, was invested almost entirely in Madoff’s firm; the other two, called Gabriel Capital LP, and Ariel Fund LTD., were substantially invested in Madoff.

As a result of a suit brought against Merkin by the Office of the New York State Attorney General in April 2009, two separate receivers were appointed by the court to oversee the Merkin funds, one for Ascot and another for both Gabriel and Ariel.

According to the most recent report filed by David B. Pitofsky, the receiver for the Ascot fund, of the $1,700,000,000 that was purported to be in the fund before Madoff’s scheme was revealed in December 2008, only $9,000,000 remains -- and that has been frozen by the judge in a case brought by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee in the Madoff bankruptcy.

Merkin chaired the investment committee of Yeshiva University, which had investments in Ascot with a purported value of $110,000,000. He was also vice chairman of the Ramaz School, which his children attended and which had investments with a purported value of $6,000,000 in Ascot. Neither of those institutions, nor any others that invested in Ascot, stands to recover any funds in the upcoming disbursements, which will go to investors in Ariel and Gabriel.

The Forward Association, which publishes the Forward, was invested in a fund of funds that had, in turn, invested in Ascot.

Meanwhile, Bart M. Schwartz, the receiver for Ariel and Gabriel, filed his own suit against Merkin on September 16. The new complaint accuses Merkin of collecting $300,000,000 in what it calls “unwarranted” fees as the manager of Ariel and Gabriel. The suit alleges that although Merkin told investors that he would manage the funds himself, he in fact turned over the money to Madoff and to a separate firm called Cerberus Capital Management, LP.

“Merkin was not an investment guru, but instead, nothing more than a glorified, albeit undisclosed, marketer for Cerberus and Madoff,” the complaint alleges. Although there is no allegation that Merkin knew Madoff’s firm was running a massive Ponzi scheme, the complaint does accuse Merkin of “gross negligence” in his dealings with Madoff.

Merkin has yet to file a response to the charges, and his attorney, Andrew J. Levander, did not respond to a request for comment. But Merkin has denied similar allegations brought in other cases.

While filing this new lawsuit, Schwartz has also set in motion a process to distribute $200,000,000 among investors in Ariel and Gabriel, which still retain a little less than half their purported combined 2008 value of $2,700,000,000 .

According to an August 3 press statement by Schwartz, the two funds control $1,000,000,000 in as yet unliquidated assets beyond the $200,000,000 being disbursed. Another $95,000,000 is being set aside to cover expenses and pending legal claims against the funds.

Picard represents one of those claims. His case against Merkin and his funds includes a demand for the return of assets withdrawn from Ariel and Gabriel’s Madoff accounts. In a heated exchange of memoranda, Picard and James C. McCarroll, Schwartz’s attorney, have battled for months over Picard’s right to Ariel and Gabriel funds. 

In a filing January 25, McCarroll wrote that Picard “has unilaterally and inexplicably decided that justice with respect to Madoff’s unprecedented fraud is best served by seeking to victimize further some of his largest innocent victims -— enormous net losers such as Ariel and Gabriel.”

Related Articles

    * Should Madoff’s Winners Give Back to Losers?

    * The Long Arm of Halacha: Jewish Law and the Madoff Scandal

[ halacha = religious law (Hebrew) ]

    * Merkin Seen as Enabler for Madoff

“Almost everyone who invested through [Madoff] has been victimized, and many have been victimized far more severely than” Ariel and Gabriel, Picard shot back February 24. “If anything, Defendant Funds deserve less sympathy than many other victims,” he wrote, citing the sophisticated nature of the funds’ investors.

“Sadly, in his zeal, the Trustee also seems to have lost the necessary objectivity even to distinguish between the victims and the villains of the Madoff fraud,” McCarroll responded March 17.

In an interview, Picard said that he didn’t object to the upcoming disbursement of Ariel and Gabriel funds to investors, given that Schwartz is setting aside the $95 million reserve fund. “The reserve covers, among other things, what we’re asking for,” Picard said. “We certainly don’t have an objection to him giving out the surplus.”

Claims in the Ariel and Gabriel disbursement were due September 20. Pending court approval, the disbursement will occur before the end of the year.

In an entirely separate proceeding, an individual investor in Ascot, named Noel M. Wiederhorn, won $1,500,000 from Merkin in a decision August 19.

And in related Madoff news, Madoff feeder-fund manager Stanley Chais died September 26 after a long illness. The Securities and Exchange Commission, the California Attorney General and others sued Chais over his role in the Madoff case. According to one filing, his phone number was found at the top of a speed dial list in Madoff’s office.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at Follow him on Twitter @joshnathankazis.

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