The Wires

Washington Post: "Cheap Chinese caviar is flooding the U.S. market, causing prices to plummet, and with it, the product’s cachet. Wholesale prices have fallen more than 50 percent since 2012, down 13 percent just in the past year. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the import price has gone from $850,000 per ton in January 2012 to $350,000 per ton in November 2018." Mrs. McC: This makes me very happy. I love caviar (I've only had the cheaper kind), but I seldom buy it because of the expense. I have some in the pantry now, but I'm going to check the price at the grocery store now in hopes it's something I can enjoy more often. Status symbol? I couldn't care less.

New York Times: "Pulitzer Prizes were awarded on Monday [April 15] to news organizations that uncovered instances of malfeasance and outright fraud in President Trump’s financial past, a nod to journalists’ perseverance in the face of the president’s ever-sharper attacks on a free press. The New York Times received the explanatory reporting prize for an 18-month investigation that revealed how the future president and his relatives avoided paying roughly half a billion dollars’ worth of taxes. The Wall Street Journal won the national reporting prize for disclosing clandestine payoffs by the president’s associates to two women who were said to have had affairs with Mr. Trump in the weeks before the 2016 election. The South Florida Sun Sentinel won the prize for public service, considered the most prestigious of the Pulitzers, for documenting the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The paper’s in-depth articles revealed a series of failures by local officials and law enforcement that, the paper wrote, cost children their lives."

Medlar's Sports Report. New York Times: "Tiger Woods’s comeback from personal and professional adversity is complete: He captured his fifth Masters title and his 15th major tournament on Sunday, snapping a championship drought of nearly 11 years. It was a monumental triumph for Woods, a magical, come-from-behind win for a player who had not won a major championship since his personal life began to unravel on Thanksgiving night in 2009, when a marital dispute led to a car accident and a succession of lurid tabloid headlines. On the golf course, he had a series of back and leg injuries that led to an addiction to painkillers and culminated in pain so searing that, before surgery in 2017, he had questioned whether he could play professionally again." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Oh yeah? Trump can beat Tiger any day.

Tom Jones of Poynter picks the top 25 movies ever about journalism.

New York Times: "For 340 days, Scott Kelly circled the Earth aboard the International Space Station, gathering data about himself." His twin brother Mark Kelly, planted on Earth, did the same. "On Thursday..., NASA researchers reported that [Scott Kelly's] body experienced a vast number of changes while in orbit. DNA mutated in some of his cells. His immune system produced a host of new signals. His microbiome gained new species of bacteria. Many of these biological changes seemed harmless, disappearing after he returned to Earth. But others — including genetic mutations and, after his return, declines in cognitive test scores — did not correct themselves, provoking concern among scientists."

Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times: now does his first drafts of columns as well as other traditional writing tasks by speaking into his phone. "I open RecUp, a cloud-connected voice-recording app on my phone.... Every few days, I load the recordings into Descript, an app that bills itself as a “word processor for audio.” Some of my voice memos are more than an hour long, but Descript quickly (and cheaply) transcribes the text, truncates the silences and renders my speech editable and searchable.... New advances — like smarter and more ubiquitous voice assistants; better text-to-speech synthesis; easy-to-use audio and video production apps like Descript and Anchor; and gadgets that burrow the internet into your ears, like Apple’s AirPods and Amazon’s reported forthcoming AirPod clones — point to a profound shift in computing. Soon it might be possible to conduct a large slice of digital life, including work, without being glued to a screen."

New York Times: "In a cave in the Philippines, scientists have discovered a new branch of the human family tree. At least 50,000 years ago, an extinct human species lived on what is now the island of Luzon, researchers reported on Wednesday. It’s possible that Homo luzonensis, as they’re calling the species, stood less than three feet tall. The discovery adds growing complexity to the story of human evolution. It was not a simple march forward, as it once seemed. Instead, our lineage assumed an exuberant burst of strange forms along the way.Our species, Homo sapiens, now inhabits a comparatively lonely world. 'The more fossils that people pull out of the ground, the more we realize that the variation that was present in the past far exceeds what we see in us today,' said Matthew Tocheri, a paleoanthropologist at Lakehead University in Canada, who was not involved in the new discovery."

New York Times: "At 9 a.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, [April 10,] a group of astronomers who run a globe-girdling network of radio telescopes called the Event Horizon Telescope are expected to unveil the first-ever images of a black hole. For some years now, scientific literature, news media and films have featured remarkably sophisticated and academic computer simulations of black holes. If all has gone well, the images today will reveal the real thing, and scientists at last will catch a glimpse of what had seemed unseeable."

      ... Update: "Astronomers announced on Wednesday that at last they had observed the unobserveable: a black hole, a cosmic abyss so deep and dense that not even light can escape it.... To capture the image, astronomers reached across intergalactic space to Messier 87, a giant galaxy in the constellation Virgo. There, a black hole several billion times more massive than the sun is unleashing a violent jet of energy some 5,000 light-years into space."

"A commemorative print from 2008 of Mr. Robbins’s original paint-by-numbers creation in 1950, an abstract still-life. His boss then asked him to make something more representational, and an industry was born." CLICK ON PICTURE TO SEE LARGER IMAGE.New York Times: "Dan Robbins was no Leonardo da Vinci. But he copied one of the master’s basic techniques and thereby enabled children to grow up believing that they, too, could paint 'The Last Supper.' Mr. Robbins, a package designer who died on Monday at 93, helped to conceive what became known as paint by numbers. He copied the idea from Leonardo, who numbered the objects in the background of his paintings and had his apprentices paint them with designated colors. With paint-by-numbers kits, young baby boomers in the 1950s followed the same mechanics as those Renaissance artisans, coloring inside the outlines of images of everything from seascapes and the Matterhorn to kittens and Queen Elizabeth II. The process opened up art to the masses — another notch on the continuum of a limitless democratic American ethos that promised “a chicken in every pot” and 'every man a king.'”

Guardian: "In the 50s, the American art world took itself extremely seriously. Abstract painters such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko painted sublime slabs that were praised in hushed voices. Painting-by-numbers may not have been intended as a parody of this modernist reverence – but it sure looked that way. Robbins designed quaint scenes of farmhouses and mountain valleys that anyone could complete – they were good, solid pictures for good, solid middle-American homes. Yet the relationship between painting-by-numbers and modern art is more complicated than it looks. The earliest kit Robbins devised was a cubist still life in the style of Picasso, for the sharp planes of colour were, he said, easy to adapt. He called it Abstract No 1. It was his boss at the Palmer paint company in Detroit, where he worked as a package designer, who insisted he create homely American scenes instead. Robbins was thrilled when, as he remembered: 'Someone entered a completed Abstract No 1 in an art show and won. The judges were quite embarrassed, but the prize resulted in lots of debate about the concept of art …'”

NBC News: “Researchers who used DNA to identify ... the bones [of] Casimir Pulaski, hero of the Revolutionary War and the pride of the Polish-American community..., are convinced the gallant Pole who died fighting for America’s freedom was either a biological woman who lived as a man, or potentially was intersex, meaning a person whose body doesn’t fit the standard definitions of male or female. That’s the eye-opening takeaway from a new Smithsonian Channel documentary titled 'The General Was Female?,' which premieres Monday and is part of the 'America’s Hidden Stories' series.”

Constant Comments


Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H. L. Mencken (probably)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling


It Ain't Swan Lake. First Lady Michelle Obama hosts a remarkable series of dance performances honoring Judith Jamison of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.

... AP, related (sort of): "Women are most attracted to male dancers who have big, flamboyant moves... British scientists say in a new study." The article's lede centers on John Travolta's moves (tho to be fair, Uma Thurman is the real leader of this dancing couple):


Of War and Peace, Here and There

Maureen Dowd writes about a controversy concerning Fort Stevens, a Washington, D. C., site where Lincoln stood, at some peril, to watch a Civil War battle. A local church wants to build a community center next door, but the Civil War Preservation Trust claims the church's building will "cast a shadow" on the historic site. A friend of mine, a frequent commenter on Times op-ed columns, wrote that not much could be said about Dowd's column, which is partially a memorial to her youth, lived near to Fort Stevens. The Constant Weader, as ever, rose to the challenge:

As the Shadow Turns

Is sanctifying yet another memorial to the Civil War really more important than helping needy people of today? Since the church's planned building only casts a shadow on Fort Stevens & does not actually encroach upon the land, how terrible is that? Lord knows Mr. Lincoln's war cast a dark shadow on the nation. Which is worse -- for a church to cast a shadow on a war memorial or a war to cast a shadow on a nation?

If Civil War monuments were established to remind people of how terrible a war among brothers is, they might be of value. Unfortunately, they are more about glorifying war. They have inspired men with too much time on their hands to get into costumes, arm themselves with paint guns & re-enact the glory days of war.

I've been to Washington, D.C. many times & have never stood at Fort Stevens to wonder at the spot where a tall, distracted President made a target of himself while checking on the progress of his disastrous war. Now that I know about Fort Stevens, I might enjoy a brief visit, another chance to shake my head at man's inability to settle disputes in rational ways. I hope when I get there the Emory Methodist Church center is up & running. I'll drop in & make a small donation in tribute to people who are doing something positive for the country.

Perhaps some of those Civil War buffs will do the same. It's time for folks to put away their uniforms & cast their lot with progress. The Civil War has been over for 145 years. It's shadow is far too long. 

British baritone Benjamin Luxon sings the original "Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya." The song, with altered lyrics published in 1863, became "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," a rousing hit for both sides in the Civil War:

Meanwhile, Tom Friedman casts his shadow on the longest war -- the one in the Middle East. Friedman repurposes a 2002 conversation he had with then Prince, now King, Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in which Tom & the Prince agreed on a peace plan which required the Israeli leader to come to Riyadh to "accept" a Saudi peace proposal. Friedman sees the "emotional" benefit of such a scenario.

The Constant Weader comments:

Ah, Tom has been to Riyadh to see the King. Now that Mr. Friedman & King Abdullah have come to an agreement on just how the peace process should proceed, it does seem important for the Tom Friedman Peace Initiative to go forward. And such a good idea! Any plan that requires the slightly proud Bibi Netanyahu to go hat-in-hand to Riyadh is bound to be a winner.

Since you & Abdullah have shared such pleasantries over your initiative, Mr. Friedman, why not call of Mr. Netanyahu & suggest it? You could get several more columns out of your personal negotiations with the Prime Minister. As for your proposed theatrical review in Riyadh, I don't know how "emotional" such a song & dance would be, but for overblown theatrics I'd give it high marks.

Or here's another idea. Why not let the peace process, as conceived, continue? There are already plenty of players at the table. I'm sure they'd all be happy to read any faxes King Abdullah sent their way.

There won't be much glory for Tom Friedman if the current scheme succeeds, so I suppose that makes the peace process seem a bit dull & "unemotional." But in the end, what's more important? (1) Middle East peace for the first time in the history of the world, or (2) Tom Friedman?

Friedman & I may not agree on the answer to that question.


The Commentariat -- September 8


Along with tax cuts for the wealthy, the other party's main economic proposal is that they'll stop government spending. ... But ... when these same Republicans – including Mr. Boehner – were in charge, the number of earmarks and pet projects went up, not down. These same Republicans turned a record surplus that Bill Clinton left into a record deficit. Just this year, these same Republicans voted against a bipartisan fiscal commission that they themselves proposed. And when you ask them what programs they'd actually cut, they usually don't have an answer. -- Barack Obama

If I'm an independent voter ... I sure as heck am worried about people who want to do away with the 14th amendment. I'm sure as heck worried about people who don't think the president was born in the United States of America. I sure as heck am worried about people who think that workers are staying home because of unemployment benefits. They are nuts. They are flat-out crazy. -- Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, on Republican Congressional candidates

Torture Training, U.S. Style. Adam Goldman of the AP: "A former CIA officer accused of revving an electric drill near the head of an imprisoned terror suspect has returned to US intelligence as a contractor training CIA operatives. The CIA officer wielded the drill, which was bitless, and an unloaded handgun — unauthorized interrogation techniques — to menace suspected USS Cole bombing plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri inside a secret CIA prison in Poland in late 2002 and early 2003...."

Mark Thompson of Time: in case you didn't notice, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with President Obama Tuesday. Thompson gives an account of Rasmussen's discussions with reporters -- his meeting with President Obama was hush-hush. ...

... What We're Fighting For. New York Times: "Kabul Bank sits at the center of a financial crisis that has exposed the shadowy workings of the country’s business and political elite, and how such connections shielded the bank from scrutiny. The panic surrounding Kabul Bank is threatening to pull down the Afghan banking system and has drawn in the United States."

In an extraordinary New York Times op-ed, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf invokes the Love Commandments. ...

How did '9/11 victim' become sloppy shorthand for 'white Christian'? -- writer Alissa Torres, whose husband Eddie died in the World Trade Center attack

"Fuck the UAW!" Michael Moore writes an open letter, in which he gives an economics lesson, to Rahm Emanuel.

There is so seldom good news coming out of the White House that this item came as a welcome surprise. Jackie Calmes of the New York Times: "President Obama on Wednesday will make clear that he opposes any compromise that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond this year, officials said, adding a populist twist to an election-season economic package that is otherwise designed to entice support from big businesses and their Republican allies." Here's Lori Montgomery's entry in the Washington Post. CW: Oh, let it be Veto Time!

When the Solution is Worse than the Problem. Ken Dilanian in the Los Angeles Times: "...the Border Patrol is grappling with a spate of misconduct cases in its ranks, which have expanded from 4,000 agents in the early 1990s to 21,000 today. In the last 18 months, five Border Patrol agents have been accused or convicted of sex crimes.... Another agent ... is jailed in San Diego on $10-million bail, awaiting trial on attempted murder charges in a hatchet attack that paralyzed a man."

Robert Reich: President Obama's cynical corporation tax cut proposal sends the wrong message & is a big mistake -- especially if Republicans call the President's bluff & pass it.

Charity Begins in Congress. Eric Lipton: "A review by The New York Times of federal tax records and House and Senate disclosure reports found at least two dozen charities that lawmakers or their families helped create or run that routinely accept donations from businesses seeking to influence them. The sponsors — AT&T, Chevron, General Dynamics, Morgan Stanley, Eli Lilly and dozens of others — contribute millions of dollars annually in gifts ranging from token amounts to a check for $5 million." ...

... New York Times Editorial Board: "...charities set up by a score of lawmakers from both parties have become an important — and completely unregulated — way for corporations and lobbyists to get their voices heard and to curry favor on Capitol Hill.... The real purpose [of the "donations"] is to make lawmakers look good while skirting limits on campaign contributions and open another door to Washington’s pay-to-play culture."

Dave Clarke of Reuters: "President Barack Obama is expected to announce as soon as this week his nominee to lead the [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau], a position which requires Senate confirmation." But, especially if Elizabeth Warren is the nominee, Republicans may make the confirmation process "protracted," which could cause a "setback in establishing the authority of the" agency.

"Wall Street Buys Some New Friends." In Salon, Andrew Leonard argues that Wall Street is backing Republicans now, not because the boys on the Street are disappointed in Democrats but because, as usual, they're going with the winners.

On Leno, Valley Girl Meghan McCain disses everybody, including Sarah Palin. McCain is a complete ditz, but she's more entertaining & thoughtful than most well-known Republicans:

     ... Here's a related CNN story.