I'll probably be alone in considering this the most important article of the day.
Bitch, Ph.D., does not quit smoking:
Don't congratulate me, please.

Because, in defiance of all the crappy advice out there about how to quit smoking, I did not set a "quit date"; I did not get rid of my lighters (or even the empty packs, which are still sitting in the porch); I did not tell anyone I was doing it. (Mr. B. didn't notice for three days.) In fact, I did not decide to quit, and I don't think I actually am quitting.

What I think is this. 1) Having run out of the brand of cigarettes I prefer last Wednesday; 2) being unable to get them in Tinytown; and 3) not having a car that's reliable enough to drive to Big City, I am A) too goddamn lazy to take a bus in order to buy fucking cigarettes; B) too goddamn picky to continue to spend money on crappy smokes; and C) too stubborn to allow myself to smoke for any reason but pleasure. Oh, and PK started bugging me to quit a while back, and I told him I would.
This is almost (except for the influnce of a pseudonymous kid) exactly how I ended up quitting smoking. The grocery store which I habituated for its low price on Winstons as much as for its convenience closed, and I was too obstinately stingy to pay drugstore prices for cartons, and too lazy to figure out where the next cheapest merchant was. And, indeed, the first serious temptation I've had in a year was when I saw a gas station here in Memphis advertising cartons at twenty-four dollars. I could party like it's 1997!
So I need to get myself back to the point of being a "social smoker." Which means not smoking lame cigarettes just for the sake of smoking. Only smoking one or two occasionally, when I'm out with someone who happens to have my brand (yes, I know that "social smokers" are the bane of real smokers everywhere, but tough shit: I've always been a generous smoker to my "non-smoking" friends, so now my smoking friends can be generous to me). Only buying a pack my own goddamn self once in a blue, blue moon and then making it last for a couple of weeks.
Of course, I was better positioned than Dr. B. for the next important step: not having friends.

Meanwhile, over at Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen presents his symmetry thesis, which is cheering and jovial and possibly entirely wrong; I'm quite taken with the phrase "low-key intertemporal seduction."
While Googling in preparation for the possible adjudication of a dispute in a CalPundit comment thread, I came across the introduction of a coffee table book entitled Cats of Cairo. I could not imagine a cuter collection of sappy Orientalism.
[E]very visitor to the Islamic world is aware of the innumerable cats in the streets of Cairo - and of Istanbul, Kairouan, Damascus, and many other cities. Virtually everywhere, one is reminded of the saying popularly attributed to the Prophet Muhammad: "Love of cats is part of the faith."

[ . . . ]

The life of a cat has always been considered precious throughout the Islamic world: in Turkey it has been thought that even to build a mosque was not sufficient to atone for the killing of a cat, and in Muslim Bengal only eleven pounds of the most precious commodity, salt, was acceptable blood money for the death of a cat.

[ . . . ]

But in the urban areas of Arabia and of other countries that became Islamized in the seventh and eighth centuries, cats played an important role, and folktales abound. For example, everyone knows how, according to folk tradition, the Prophet Muhammad cut off his coat sleeve because he had to get up for prayer and was loath to disturb his cat Muizza, peacefully sleeping on the sleeve; or how a cat gave birth to her kittens on the prophet's coat, and he took care of the offspring. Therefore, numerous friendly sayings about cats are attributed to him. For the future generations of Muslims, it was essential to know that the cat is a clean animal - even if she drinks from the water in a bowl, this water can still be used for the ablutions before prayer (while the dog's saliva renders everything impure). Thus we often find cats in the mosque, and they are gladly welcomed there not only because they keep the mice at bay, but also because the pious think that the cat herself performs ablutions, while purring is often compared to the dhikr, the rhythmic chant-ing of the Sufis.

To show mercy to animals, and in particular to cats, was considered meritorious. A lovely Sufi tale tells how Shibli, an Iraqi Sufi of the tenth century, appeared to someone in a dream after his death, and recounted how God Almighty had shown mercy to him. Being interrogated by the Lord as to whether he was aware which of his acts had gained him forgiveness, Shibli - so he told the dreaming person - had enumerated a long list of virtuous acts, supererogative prayers, travels in search of knowledge, fasting, almsgiving, and much more. "But the Lord told me: 'Not for all this have I forgiven you!' And I asked: 'But then why?' And He said: 'Do you remember that winter night in Baghdad, when it was snowing and you saw a tiny kitten shivering on a wall, and you took it and put it under your fur coat?' 'Yes, I remember that!' 'Now, because you had pity on that poor little cat, I have mercy on you.'"
Running in parallel is the introduction to Zen Cats, which may conflate the notions of nirvana and sleeping for twenty hours a day.
I'm peeling the banana from both ends today. I've decided that this should be a new idiom, a complement to the frayed, frazzled lucubration of "burning the candle at both ends," a zesty, breakfasty metaphor for eagerly embracing the day. Not that I'm zesty or eagerly embrachial, just inspired by one of Steve Landsburg's Slate articles (pointed out by Fred Clark):
My friend Petal peels her bananas from the bottom. Well, it's the top, actually, since bananas grow upside down. Come to think of it, that's not quite right either—bananas grow the way they grow, which should be right-side up by definition, even if we think of them as upside down. So let me start over. Petal peels her bananas from the end without the stem.
Halfway through slicing my morning banana onto my oatmeal, I decided to try this. The lack of nature's own pull-tab is immediately apparent, but easily overcome through judicious application of the thumbnail. I am agnostic as to the purported relative ease of string-removal. The trial subject was the last of last week's bananas and so a little on the soft side. Further research will be required.
Soul Sides today has Revolutionary Mixtape: Songs That Made the Movement, an annotated collection of tracks from the Civil Rights era. Go listen.
Reading [livejournal.com profile] thedan's LJ tends to depress me, so I'm very pleased by a certain four seconds today.

And, by the way, 48:47 for the Atlantic Puzzler.

Gene Healy amuses:
Sons of famous dictators tend to be an amoral and profligate bunch: raping women, torturing athletes, and racing fast cars, like Whoday and Whatsay, drinking expensive cognac, kidnapping favorite film directors, and building up an extensive Daffy Duck movie collection like Kim Jong-Il. So what's the story with Bashar Assad, ophthalmologist? What was the thinking there? "Well, if this inheriting-the-Baathist-dictatorship thing doesn't pan out for me, at least I'll have something to fall back on"?
Adam Cadre:
When I was in college, there was an absolutely amazing pizza place in town called Zachary's. Calling it pizza is actually somewhat misleading, since the legendary stuffed pies at Zachary's have little to do with Neapolitan flatbread and nothing at all to do with the space-age polymers served up at Domino's. These are mind-blowing creations that, when I was actually enrolled, we saved for special occasions — birthdays, graduations. But here's the thing. After I graduated, I stuck around for an extra year, and I had a car and could eat anywhere I wanted, and it occurred to me... Zachary's is ten minutes away. For eight dollars I can get a stuffed pizza that will feed me magnificently for two days. Why shouldn't I go there all the time? When I mentioned to my friends that I'd started to go to Zachary's twice a week, they were horrified — doesn't that make it less special? one asked. Hell no! Delicious is delicious. I wouldn't want to eat there every day, but you'd better believe that if it weren't 3000 miles away I'd still be going twice a week. There was absolutely no extra value in only enjoying it rarely.
I remember one week in which I ate at V&T's six times . . .
At the end of her post on the new horror story from the war on terror, Unfogged's new blogger Alameida highlights the following assessment of guilt:
"He was probably associated with people who were associated with al Qaeda," one U.S. government official said.
Guilt by association -- that works, right?

I'm glad to know that our national security establishment has discovered that most useful of tools, the Bacon number.
Enough with DC's comics; it's time to throw out some Marvel links:
[livejournal.com profile] arethusa2 recently linked to a trifecta of fannish Lego sites, Boing Boing had a Lego Abu Ghraib a few weeks ago, and Maud Newton today brings us The Brick Testament, a reconstruction (in, yes, Legos) of the Bible. These are all measured against the Lego Escher project, which is unfortunately off line, though you can get a taste of it here and here.
Yahoo! has the trailer for A Scanner Darkly. Philip K. Dick. Richard Linklater. The production design of that a-ha video. I can't wait!

(Via Avedon Carol.)
I have just had what may be the geekiest dream in history. I was reading Matthew Yglesias's new book (which I think had to do with how the Left throws better parties but the Right throws parties with maximized strategic value), and I was going through the endnotes. After a long section of citations from Star Trek: Voyager, I came across the story of how Gordon Dickson once surgically altered the corpse of Terry Carr's dog to cover up its death by stabbing, a story apparently most authoritatively recounted in the 1999 SpeedIF entitled We vaguely appreciate that this may be hard to justify in the morning . . .

I so need to get a dreamlife . . .
I like to think that I'm up on my stereotyping, but having just, due to some positive reviews and a chance link, impulsively downloaded Sunday's Simpsons, I was quite surprised to hear Lisa insinuate that Ethiopian restaurants are notorious lesbian pick-up joints. You know, in all the times I've eaten in Ethiopian restaurants, I had never noticed.

I'm having quite a lot of fun with BitTorrent. It has had one unintended consequence, though: I've been so conscientious about seeding that I haven't turned off my laptop for three days. And this sucker gets hot. Last night, I ended up taking both the battery and the CD-ROM drive out and leaving the computer upside-down so it wouldn't burn out while running all night.

(Apparently, I am the sort of person who has no compunctions about violating Time Warner's copyrights, but feels painfully guilty if I do not get my share ratios up to 1.000.)

My BitTorrent binge was occasioned, by my intent to get caught up with Justice League, and I can for once claim that I've seen every episode factored into the arc of Sunday's "The Doomsday Sanction." Watching the watchmen? It seems the government has just finally cottoned on that Superman is a dick. (Via Avedon Carol. Several of these covers have been bouncing around the internet for a while, but isolated, individual, they lack a certain cumulative force. I could not stop laughing during the run of eight classic Batmans starting here, but my absolute favorite must be this.)
I had made one New Year's resolution: to update my journal at least once each day. However, yesterday came and went, and today has squirmed and struggled its way towards freedom, so I believe that resolution can be consigned to the recycling bin. I have considered treating the resolution to be as binding as Ramadan-fasting -- i.e., not in effect while travelling -- but I've only gone so far as Michigan and I don't do much but sit in front of the computer anyway.

I had another of my rural Michigan misreadings today. Outside of the Felpausch Food Center, where I had secured the last available New York Times between Jackson and Kalamazoo, a group of local students had erected a table. Painted on the posters wrapped around the front of the table were the words:

MARSHALL MIDDLE SCHOOL
POP CAN DRIVE &
BAKE SALE

This made me immediately think, "My father can drive too, but you don't see me crowing about it."

Now by geography, you'd expect that I'd be more familiar with the term pop as applied to soft drinks, but I've always respected the brand names; Coke to me is just "Coke." Sprite is "Sprite" and Pepsi is just not imbibed in polite society. And while eighty percent of my county calls the stuff "pop," I suspect that my neighborhood was a linguistic outlier. Most of my friends had grandparents in the New York area: solid "soda" territory. For my own part, my mother's home county is over 50% "Coke"-speaking; my father's over 80% "soda." (I may have picked up Coke from my mother, but my y'all is all affectation.)

The link to the map, by the way, was taken from I read the comics so you don't have to; the author uses it to figure out where Snuffy Smith really lives.

See y'all next year!
From [livejournal.com profile] yhlee and Ogged of Unfogged, a meme in which one moves from A to Z over the internet. The variation here is to type each individual letter into the address bar and take the first site that comes up.

A: amygdalagf.blogspot.com/
B: bloglines.com/myblogs
C: coldfury.com/reason
D: dutchfurs.com/~haze/islove/?step=generate
E: evolvethought.blogspot.com/
F: fafblog.blogspot.com/
G: google.com/
H: highclearing.com/
I: imdb.com/
J: j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/
K: kinja.com/user/dHerblay
L: livejournal.com/userinfo.bml?user=dherblay
M: markarkleiman.com/
N: nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/
O: oracleofbacon.org/cgi-bin/oracle/movielinks?firstname=Bacon%2C+Kevin&game=1&secondname=robin+sachs
P: poptext.blogspot.com/
Q: query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10913FB3B5A0C738FDDA80994DC404482
R: reason.com/hitandrun/
S: scalzi.com/whatever/
T: theagitator.com/
U: us.f503.mail.yahoo.com/ym/ShowFolder?rb=LiveJournal
V: voy.com/14567/
W: washingtonmonthly.com/
X: xrrf.blogspot.com/
Y: yglesias.typepad.com/matthew/
Z: zip4.usps.com/zip4/zip_responseA.jsp

I understand where all these blogs come from, and tabbed browsing means that my home pages provide five of the letters. It is, though, readily apparent which letters drove Firefox to desperation.

What URLs starting with D, O, Q or Z should I add to my daily surf?
I learn from one of the new Agitators that Jon Ronson, author of the amusing romp with terrorists Them, has come out with a new book about bizarre US military projects.
One operation details President Clinton's order for a Psychic Spying Unit to find the Loch Ness monster using telepathy. The operation cost 15 million pounds, which in today's dollars translates into over $28 million.
Though, to be fair, the dollar was much, much stronger during the Clinton administration.

I am reminded of the advertisement the CIA ran in my college newspaper for its summer internship program. It listed fields of experience they were interested in: philosophy was not one of these. "Remote viewing," on the other hand, was. I remember thinking at the time that remote viewing was something abstrusely technical, involving perhaps satellites or ultrasound or thermal imaging; certainly something you could major in only at CalTech or MIT. Little did I know that remote viewing was actually out in Uri Gellar territory. I know that some people have trouble accepting the softer side of the CIA as presented by Alias, but maybe there's something to the fascination with all the Rambaldi stuff. Maybe that's the true secret of the post-William Colby, pre-Porter Goss CIA; it was just a bunch of crystal-swinging, incense-burning new-agers . . .
I'm sure that by now everyone has seen the jibjab Flash animation of George Bush and John Kerry singing "This Land Is My Land." Well, according to No Rock & Roll Fun, its makers are being sued for breach of copyright. This brings up the vexing question: "This Land Is My Land" isn't public domain yet? And the vexing answer: anything younger than Mickey Mouse will always be covered by copyright laws as long as Disney can pay their lawyers. In any case, it's a fair case for sardonicism that every American second-grader's introduction to a socialist disregard for individual property should provide the occasion for a ridiculous overapplication of intellectual property law; and, indeed, Woody Guthrie himself said, back when Mickey Mouse was, oh, my guess is 28 years old, "This song is copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do."
Brad DeLong points out that the Bush administration, bastion of laissez-faire that it is, has announced new tariffs on shrimp imported from China and Vietnam. Bush, of course, has a long history of using trade regulation to political advantage -- I think he's campaigning in Ohio as the workers' friend by mentioning that he imposed tariffs on imported steel and in Michigan as the workers' friend by saying that he lifted those same tariffs. However, I just don't know what advantage he expects from this decision. Are Louisiana and Mississippi suddenly swing states?

I have to come to the reluctant conclusion that this is not at all related to electoral advantage but is instead one more example of rampant theocracy.

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April 2009

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