Monthly Archives: January 2013

It’s Not as Obvious as You Think

The Explainer blog on Slate tackled this interesting question: “When and how did humankind figure out that sex is what causes babies? It’s not exactly the most obvious correlation: Sex doesn’t always lead to babies, and there’s a long lead time between the act and the consequences—weeks before there are even symptoms, usually.”

The responses cited societies even in the 1900s which didn’t see a relationship between sex and children. Does anyone else find this interesting?

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Gun Violence and Slippery Slopes

In a few hours, the White House will announce their ideas for curbing the gun violence epidemic. I think I can safely (and cynically) predict that the NRA and other gun rights organizations will oppose every single idea, as they’ve been doing with tiresome predictability.

I’m mostly a gun rights person, but I’m really disturbed by their total intransigence. They respond to every idea by saying, “It won’t work. It wouldn’t have stopped….” and then they name one of the many massacres that have occurred. Argument by anecdote. I realize that these organizations are less about gun owners than they are about gun and ammo manufacturers, so that’s a problem. And it’s pretty clear that the Republicans can block most anything from getting through Congress, so you have to wonder, “What’s the point?”

On the other side, Hollywood and videogame makers will also oppose anything aimed in their direction, citing First Amendment concerns.

I’m not an NRA slippery-slope person. In fact, the only slippery slopes I see involve more and more guns, fewer and fewer restrictions, an ever-increasing saturation of violence in entertainment media, and more frequent mass shootings. That’s the reality of American society, clear for all to see. Do we want to keep going down those slippery slopes?

Come on, people, there’s common sense stuff we can do.

UPDATE: I read through all of the materials put out by the White House. I don’t see much cause for concern from gun owners. The president didn’t order up a new fleet of black helicopters to swoop in and confiscate everyone’s guns. Universal background checks are totally reasonable, and the Republic will not collapse if people’s gun magazines are limited to 10 bullets. A good share of the recommendations dealt with sharing of information between law enforcement agencies, school preparedness, and mental health issues (which will be real thorny).

On Piers Morgan, a woman gun rights advocate was asked, “Is there ANYTHING in what the president recommended that you agree with?” She said, “No.” That type of closed-mindedness drives me nuts.

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A Wonderful Twist on the Golden Rule

I’m reading through the New Testament in “The Message.” I came to the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, which I grew up hearing this way in the KJV: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

I loved how Eugene Peterson rendered it in “The Message”:

“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.”

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A Speech We’re Glad Nixon Never Gave

MentalFloss published “12 Historical Speeches that were Never Given.” Most are quite fascinating, ranging from FDR to Sarah Palin.

The first one was written for President Richard Nixon by William Safire, in the event that Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin crashed and died while trying to land on the moon. Here is that beautifully written, and thankfully unneeded, speech:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

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The Big Republican Cave-In

Interesting tidbit from Joe Scarborough this morning. A couple years ago, idealistic Republicans turned down a great deal from President Obama–$1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts. The other day, they settled for $43 in tax increases for every $1 in spending cuts.

It’s funny hearing Grover Norquist try to rationalize that Republicans didn’t actually vote for a tax increase. His whole existence is predicated on his famous no-tax pledge. If Republicans have now repudiated the pledge, Grover becomes irrelevant. So he’s trying to contort reality to convince people that his pledge is still in place, and he therefore counts.

Meanwhile…I wouldn’t want to be John Boehner right now. Everybody, right and left, is shooting at him.

And then, this gem from columnist Ezra Klein:

“What’s the record of the 112th Congress? Well, it almost shut down the government and almost breached the debt ceiling. It almost went over the fiscal cliff (which it had designed in the first place). It cut a trillion dollars of discretionary spending in the Budget Control Act and scheduled another trillion in spending cuts through an automatic sequester, which everyone agrees is terrible policy. It achieved nothing of note on housing, energy, stimulus, immigration, guns, tax reform, infrastructure, climate change or, really, anything. It’s hard to identify a single significant problem that existed prior to the 112th Congress that was in any way improved by its two years of rule.”

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Book: “The Troubled Man,” by Henning Mankell

mankell-troubled-manIn 2012, Swedish writer Henning Mankell brought to a close his 12-book series on inspector Kurt Wallander. Actually, he concluded the series in 2009, but it took a couple more years to reach America. For that, Mankell used English academic Laurie Thompson, who translated three other books in the series, including the best one, “The White Lioness,” as well as about five other Mankell books. Thompson also translates the excellent Inspector Van Veeteren series from Hakan Nesser.

I had read about “The Troubled Man” well before it was published in April 2012 in America under the Vintage Black Lizard imprint (responsible for nearly all Mankell books). I had learned that this would be the final Wallander book, and that though Wallander wouldn’t die, it would be obvious why he couldn’t continue doing what he did. It became apparent very early in “The Troubled Man” what the issue would be, and Wallander struggles with it throughout the book even as he plods through his final case.

The case involves a retired naval officer who disappears, but only after a cryptic conversation with Wallander. The officer is the father-in-law of Wallander’s daughter, Linda, thus the connection. Wallander becomes embroiled, on his own time, in determining what happened to the man. There is a spy, Cold War theme.

The book moves along slowly, much more so than other Wallander books. But there’s a reason. A lot of things are happening, and they are happening with exceptional care under Mankell’s pen. This may be his most literate book, the most tenderly written, as he bids goodbye to his hero. There are references to earlier books, previous cases, including a final disposition of his long-distance Latvian soulmate, Baiba Leipa, which traces back to the second book, “The Dogs of Riga.”

Yes, it’s a slow book. The main plot doesn’t involve a whole lot of action. But I was entranced, finding myself clearly in the hands of a master writer who was intent on doing justice to the character he had created and nurtured so well. I didn’t care how slowly the story moved. I was soaking it all up.

The plot resolution was not unexpected, though it kept me guessing. However, the book continued well after the case was settled, as Mankell ties up loose ends in Wallander’s life. And the final paragraph, and especially the final sentence, close the story–close this life I’ve come to know so well–with dignity and grace. It was a totally, completely satisfying ending.

The Wallander books were among the first books I read in the Black Lizard imprint, which I’ve come to love. I’ve read 14 Mankell books now, including all 12 Wallander books. “The Troubled Man” was a milestone for me, the 150th Black Lizard book I’ve read. I saved this book for number 150, knowing it would be special. It seemed appropriate.

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