February 22, 2007

Better call the calling-off off

Filed under: Literati and Cognoscenti, The Gray Lady — tomemos @ 1:43 am

File this under “Po-tay-to, Po-tah-to,” and also under “Requiring Little Comment”: the following letter to the New York Times from Wendy Stoll, a school librarian who (among others) decided not to stock a Newberry-winning children’s book because it contains the word “scrotum” :

As an elementary school librarian quoted in your article, I resent being portrayed as pledging “to ban the book.” There is no mention of serving our community.

I have not stocked the last three Newbery Medal winners because they are not appropriate for the patrons of my library, not because I am interested in banning books.

Hey kids! Bored on a rainy day? No good children’s literature in your library? Play Wendy Stoll Spins, the fun way to couch closed-mindedness in positive language! Here are a couple to get you started:

“I have not hired minorities to fill any of the positions because they are not appropriate for the patrons of my business, not because I am interested in being racist.”

“I have not allowed the man of a different religion to marry my daughter because he is not appropriate for my family, not because I am interested in discrimination.”

“I have not put my gay son in my will because he is not appropriate for the contents of my estate, not because I am interested in disowning him.”

Make your own! The only rule is imagination!

February 13, 2007

There ain’t no time to wonder why

Filed under: Laws and Sausages, The Old Dirty War — tomemos @ 4:28 pm

Updated 2/14/07, 6:20 p.m.

A month ago, I found myself depressed and terrified by a Glenn Greenwald post I read that laid out, in a way I found very convincing, the reasons to believe that the United States may be deliberately heading towards war with Iran. The article, like most of Greenwald’s work, is highly worth reading, but the salient points were:

•that a number of unambiguous signs, including military decisions and Bush’s own rhetoric, suggested that the Administration was attempting to make war with Iran both thinkable and possible;

•that the apparent insanity of such a war was no evidence that the Administration wouldn’t pursue it, as evinced by its decision to escalate the war in Iraq even after widespread repudiation; and,

•that Congress and the American people were not likely to have any say in the matter, since the Administration seemed to be maneuvering for an (apparently) accidental conflagaration; according to Greenwald, “some grand announcement by the President that he wants to start a war, followed by a debate in Congress as to whether such a war should be authorized” was “the least likely way for such a confrontation to occur.”

You can see why I found all of that frightening, and my first reaction to reading it was to blog about it. However, I didn’t want to be an alarmist, and it was hard to know if what Greenwald was saying was really credible, or if it just seemed so due to his strong writing and my anxious and dim view of neoconservative foreign policy. Plus, I didn’t really have much to add except to say that I was scared and frustrated. So all I ended up writing was the following disclamatory fragment:

“Of course, this is a worst-case scenario. There was a time, Julie reminded me, when the government and its mouthpieces was triumphantly signalling that we weren’t going to stop with Iraq; we were going to show Syria who was boss as well. (Of course, Syria was also mentioned in the speech last night.) There was a time where I linked to reports that Bush was pushing Saudi Arabia for lower gas prices and pushing Afghanistan and Pakistan for the capture of bin Laden in advance of the 2004 election; neither of those materialized. Never has an administration gotten so much enjoyment out of bragging about the things it can do, whether it does them or not, and my hope is certainly that that’s what this amounts to. Nevertheless, given the enormous stakes involved—we may be talking about war consuming the entire Middle East for generations, war that could well involve the use of nuclear weapons—even the idea that the Administration may be keeping the option of war with Iran on the table is more than alarming, it’s outrageous. And the fact that there is nothing we can do about it, even after we elected a whole new Congress, makes me feel helpless and afraid.”

In the month that’s passed since then, the President has unilaterally sent 20,000 more troops to Iraq and once again accused Iran of aiding insurgents, this time in the State of the Union address. The Administration, in a flashback to 2002, has been asserting Iran’s culpability through anonymous sources, and the New York Times has published those untraceable assertions on its front page. Newsweek has published a cover story entitled “The Secret War with Iran.” And a Republican Congressman, speaking on national television (scroll down a bit), has said that not only should Congress not take war with Iran “off the table” (echoing my unpublished hand-wringing above), but that the President, and not Congress, has the power to declare war.

Maybe it’s not going to happen.

But I will say that if it does happen, they’re not going to give us warning this time. We’re not going to hear about weapons inspectors or deadlines; Condi Rice is not going to address the UN holding white powder in a vial. It will be the Tonkin Gulf again: we will wake up one morning and read that Iran has struck (or allegedly struck) in Iraq, or that the Administration has decided that the Iranian government has been building insurgent bombs, or that the line has been crossed in any one of a thousand different ways. And the bombers will already be in the air.

Update: Here comes another one, here it comes again, here comes another one, when will it ever end: Bush now says that it doesn’t matter whether or not whether the Iranian government has been supplying the insurgents (“What’s worse?  That the government knew, or that the government didn’t know?”—actual quote), and says, “I intend to do something about it.”  Note that “I.”

February 8, 2007

What do I look like, someone who’s not lazy?

Filed under: Funny Stuff, General Me, Science and Technology — tomemos @ 2:27 am

When I was in Oxford for my year abroad, I had a persistent problem with oversleeping. I’ve never been a morning person, and in Oxford this problem was compounded by two factors. First, I had to write a paper for each of my two tutorials every week, so I had invariably been up late writing the night before. Second, tutorials in the British university system are one-on-one meetings between student and professor, so if you oversleep, the class doesn’t go on without you; there’s just a professor sitting in their office, looking at the clock. Faced with this humiliating consequence, and in fact experiencing it quite a few times, I tried everything—short of, you know, planning my week so I could write the paper and still get a good night’s sleep. Drinking coffee just before getting into bed, booby-trapping my alarm clock with a tower of empty aluminum cans…it all ended the same way, with furious pedalling mixed with panicked swearing.

One night, finally lying down at 4 a.m. or so, I was kept awake, or half-awake, by the certain knowledge that in five hours my alarm clock was going to go off and that I wasn’t even going to dream about it. “If only there was some way to keep my alarm clock from turning off until I was out of bed,” I thought. “Maybe if my bed contained a scale, one that was hooked up to my alarm clock. Then, the alarm clock wouldn’t be silenced until it detected that my body weight had left the bed!” I drifted into sleep, not realizing until much later that I had just proposed, if only to myself, a $15,000 device to help me get up in the morning. I was probably late for my tutorial the next morning.

I tell that story to get a laugh, but part of me has always thought it was a neat idea, one that served a real need in an over-the-top way. And tonight I’m feeling vindicated, because while science hasn’t yet gotten around to the AlarmScale (suggestions of better names welcome), it has finally realized that an alarm clock should make you get out of bed:

If a screeching buzzer is not enough to get you moving in the morning, consider Clocky.

This alarm clock doesn’t just make noise, it breaks the snooze-button habit: after the first snooze period, Clocky rolls off the nightstand and runs away.

Clocky generated Internet buzz in 2005 when it was just a conceptual design project by Gauri Nanda, then a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is now an actual product, available for $50 at

The clock can survive a two-foot drop and the alarm beeps randomly, ensuring that its frantic squalling won’t be easily forgotten. It comes in white, light blue and light green.

Now, I’ve improved considerably since my time in Oxford, certainly beyond the point that I could justify owning a $50 ambulatory alarm clock (though if anyone’s looking for a kooky birthday present…). Nonetheless, Clocky here goes to show that there is always money to be made catering to the lazy. After all, there are entire companies that have become hugely successful simply by manufacturing extremely comfortable chairs, some of which can give you massages. It’s about time someone used technology to address one of laziness’s more prominent downsides.

Update (2/8/07, 10:30 p.m.):  Just in case this post isn’t self-deprecating enough already, Julie assures me that she told me about Clocky months ago, when it first came out.  Clearly my alertness has not improved as much as I’d like to think.

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