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One Stewed Scribe

Being somewhat of a writer manquée and in this way not at all like the outspoken, talented late Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) and also somewhat of a dabbler in the fine art of the martini (in that I appreciate a well-made one) but certainly, again, not even approaching the same echelon as the aforementioned boozer, I have to (sheepishly) admit that I enjoyed this bit by him, which I found in an old issue of Vanity Fair, in a column called "Diary":
   There was a time when I could outperform all but the most hardened imbibers, a generous slug or 10 of Mr. Walker's amber restorative being by tipple of preference. It was between the Tel Aviv massacre and the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan. I now restrict myself to no more than a couple of bottles of halfway decent wine for elevenses, and then a couple more as an accompaniment to luncheon, with Mr. Gordon's gin firmly ensconsed in the driving seat for the remainder of the day. As an

You Must Remember This

Molaison in 1986                 J. Ogden, "Trouble in Mind"
New technology is being used on an old brain specimen to help us learn more about memory. Henry Molaison, whose identity was revealed after his death in 2008, had had portions of his brain excised in 1953 in a successful attempt to relieve his epileptic seizures. The surgery, however, also relieved him of his short-term and some of his long-term memory. Other memory functions remained intact, but he couldn't report internal sensations, such as hunger. Scientists have now cut Molaison's brain into 2,401 slices, which they photographed so that others can study it, too (story, video):
   An interesting piece about a neurologist who worked with Molaison, then known to the world as HM, for 46 years:

Of Coffee and Conflict

a Damascus suburb, Nov. 2012 Abed Al-Kareem Muhammad/Shaam News Network/HO Reuters/Landov
How does one keep going when one's world is falling apart? If you suddenly found yourself in an area of prolonged fighting, what would you do? Would you pack up and leave your home, your friends, everything you knew? Or would you stay, defiant, and try to live in those places from your past that make everything feel normal for a few moments? For Syrian novelist Khaled Khalifeh, who chooses the latter path, one of those places is the Firdoss cafe in Damascus:
   A related story, on the origins of coffee and how its popularity spread throughout the world, is fascinating:

Vlad the Prevailer

David De La Paz/EPA
The threat of terrorism has captured most of the attention regarding this year's upcoming Winter Olympics, and for good reason, of course. It plays against an interesting backdrop, though: These are Russian president Vladimir Putin's Winter Olympics, or he seems to see them as such. He sees them, too, as his and his country's big turn in the spotlight of the world stage. Will that spotlight also shine on Russia's well-entrenched and dangerous organized-crime networks and its government's nepotism and corruption?:

A Good Year for Blimps

Later this year, apparently, two blimps will rise and hover in the air above Baltimore. They will be equipped with radar that can detect aircraft in an area of about 363,000 miles around and ground traffic in an area of about 62,000 miles around. Here's how they work:

Sick Chic in Sochi

Roman Koksarov AP

One of the more enjoyable things about watching the Olympics is learning the stories of some of the athletes there. Some are moving, others amusing, and all are inspiring. Here's a column about a luger from a writer who remembers her personally ~ as a source of concern whenever he saw her bombing the steep streets near his home on her skateboard:,0,6551409.column#axzz2rWpOvAHV

Serious Comics

from "Supergatari," by Michael Gertelman
Comics are one of the most varied of the art forms. They can be funny, political, satirical, science fiction, informative, or simply sweet, single-, multi-frame, or in book form, color, black-and-white, or a mix of all the above. Here, inspired by the British Library's upcoming exhibit of comics, a selection of five that educate:

Big Babies

This is one of those things that sounds really weird at first but then, as one comes to understand the context, makes a little more sense. from

About 98% of adoptions in Japan are of males who are 25-30 years old. In 2008, for example, an estimated 90,000 adult males were adopted in Japan. The high percentage of adult male adoptions in Japan typically is the result of family-owned businesses wanting to have heirs to whom the companies can be passed down. Known as mukoyosh, it is considered to be a high honor in Japanese culture to be chosen. Family-owned businesses tend to not perform as well as other companies in most countries, but Japan is an exception. This is thought to be because blood heirs often are afraid of being replaced by adopted heirs.

More about adoption:
  • The international adoption rate worldwide declined by 50% from 2004 to 2013.

  • The highest adoption rate in history was in South Korea in 1985, with 1.3% of all children in the country being adopted by parents in other countries. More than 90% of all adopted children from South Korea are female, according to 2010 estimates.

  • More than half of all adoptive mothers are age 40-44, while less than 30% of non-adoptive mothers are in that age range.


Hard to believe the Mac is 30 years old, but there you have it. Equally hard to believe is the fact that the man who gave it to the world is no longer with us. On the anniversary of the birth of Steve Jobs's game-changing baby, journalist Steve Levy is releasing an "essentially unexpurgated" version of his conversation he had with the man on the eve of its explosion onto the scene:

You'll Hate This

Don't have a nice Opposite Day on Jan. 25:
   And certainly don't read this moronic and banal tale about the logical conundrums that such a day can engender, because you won't like it:

Just Because: 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'

When I was a lowly copy editor at ~ was it the Herald? or California Magazine? anyway, one of the places where I once worked that have since folded ~ I would occasionally catch a glimpse of Rian Malan, a writer whose prose was, IMHO, so perfect that when it chanced to cross my desk, I knew I wouldn't have much to do but luxuriate and marvel. As enlightened and enlightening as his writing was, though, the man who produced it seemed to me to be sad and somehow haunted. I knew he was from South Africa and guessed that his past there may have had something to do with it, but that's about all I knew.
   Many years later, I heard that he had come out with a book. For me, the title pretty much explained it all ~ My Traitor's Heart: A South African Exile Returns To Face His Country, His Tribe and His Conscience. I was happily busy being a new mom at that point, and I never read it, but I heard it was good. The other day, I was in the library at UC Berkeley, and what did I catch a glimpse of as I perused the bookshelves but Malan's latest, The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Other Stories of Africa ~ and this time, I have time to read it. So, disclaimer: I have not yet finished the book, which is made up of individual essays written over the past several years. Still ...


         The early 1990s was a time of agonizing crisis for Afrikaners. After 350 years in Africa, we'd come to the end of the line. Nelson Mandela was free, the country was burning, and President F.W. de Klerk was negotiating the terms of our surrender. Some Boers were willing to follow him into an uncertain African future. Others said, Over our dead bodies. It was in this climate of massive psychic dislocation that I stumbled upon the parable of Tannie Katrien, a little old lady whose experience defied at least some of our myths about darkest Africa.
   Once upon a time there was a British colonial family named Hartley who had a magical farm in Africa. It lay on the slopes of Mount Meru, a cool green island in a sea of sun-blasted yellow savannah. Twice a year, monsoon winds deposited heavy rains on Meru's leeward slopes, which were clad in dense rain forest, full of rhino and buffalo and elephant. Several swift, clear streams came tumbling out of the jungle and

They Are Seven

from darachweb
We associate the Celts with Ireland and Scotland, mostly, but there are actually seven regions with Celtic roots ~ and two of them aren't even in the British Isles (slideshow):

Elsa's Encore

Elsa Schiaparelli. The name isn't as familiar to most these days as that of Coco Chanel, but Schiaparelli (1890-1973) was arguably Chanel's biggest rival. Hers is also a name you might be hearing more and more now, as her brand is back on the runways:
   In many ways, Schiaparelli reminds me of Isabella Blow ( Both women were individualists who made their own fashion and could not have cared less whether it was "fashionable" at the time or not. They knew that, eventually, it would be: and

Nor Any Drop To Drink

Nicholson's Jake Gittes surveys a parched waterway.
The other night, we watched an old movie I'd never seen ~ a real classic, Chinatown, with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. It is often referenced in conversations about Los Angeles history, and particularly the politics of water, which has always been huge in an urban area with not enough of its own. To this day, you'll see signs all up and down the central valley, like "Congress Created Dust Bowl," damning politicians for taking water from agriculture. This is all particularly apt now, as the state faces a major drought.
   The fact that this area of L.A.'s background is dirty and filled with nasty little secrets we probably will never uncover is the stuff of legend, but the truth is, the movie is only very loosely based on real events (story, with link to free downloadable history tour of the Owens Valley!):
   And here's another interesting article about the truth behind the movie, which gets a little more into the actual characters, like William Mulholland:

Just Because: 'Let America Be America Again'

On this Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, a poem by Langston Hughes (1902-1967), courtesy of Poem-A-Day. In addition to his poetry, Hughes wrote short stories, novels, and plays. He was a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,


Having hydroplaned off a slick, wet country road and into a pile of railroad ties in North Carolina while I was in college, I was interested to see that one company has come up with a tire that doesn't totally lose its tread as it ages:

On the Ball 2

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scored 33 on the Wonderlic. Nick Laham/Getty Images
Ahead of the NFL's Championship Weekend Jan. 19 and the Super Bowl Feb. 2, and as a kind of follow-up to my recent post about brain injury in football players (, how about a quiz to determine whether you're as smart as an NFL quarterback. It's actually selected questions from the Wonderlic aptitude test given to rookie players (and p.s., I'm not):

Where Smaller Is Better

screen shot (obviously!)
At the Consumer Electronics Show 2014, Intel showed off a fully self-contained processor the size of an SD card, set to be released this summer. Imagine what something like that can lead to in the area of wearable technology and other kinds of portable "thinking" gadgets (video):

The Extended Family

screen shot
This is a wonderful website whose purpose is best described, I think, in its About section: "The Global Lives Project is a volunteer-based creative collaboration focused on the cultivation of empathy across cultures. We curate an ever-expanding collection of films that faithfully capture 24 continuous hours in the life of individuals from around the world." For example, I just watched a short film that followed a young girl in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2009. There is no narration, only the conversation of the girl and those with whom she interacts, and her answers to questions put to her by an interviewer. The camera follows her seemingly at her height so we see what she sees. Some of the other subjects are from Indonesia, China, Brazil, USA, India, and Serbia:

Every Move You Make

Everything you always wanted to know about data gathering and who knows what about whom, including you:

I'm Looking Through You

screen shot
Nick Veasey puts a high-powered X-ray machine to artistic use, and the results are clearly beautiful (video):

Nature Tech, Unlimited

Luke Casey for Bloomberg Businessweek
Back in March, I wrote about the work being done at a Chinese company called BGI ( That story was about its "genius baby" program. Turns out, that's not the only tinkering being done there. The company produces 500 cloned pigs every year. Most of them have been genetically modified so that they can be used in medical studies:

'A Very Odd Mix'

Janet Delaney
Like so many big-city neighborhoods, the area of San Francisco called South of Market has been changing, part of a cycle of redevelopment and gentrification encouraged by the city. For years, photographer Janet Delaney has been documenting that change (story, slideshow):

So You Want To Win an Academy Award

Here's what you need to know and do (and not do), according to an analysis by UCLA sociologists. The group looked at data from 3,000 films over a 24-year period and came up with an algorithm that can predict a movie's chances of joining the august lineup:

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Building

The inimitable James May and his team build a life-size motorcycle out of Meccanos, which he calls "the most iconic instructional toy of the 20th century." Why? Why, to test out on one lap of the TT (Tourist Trophy) racecourse on the Isle of Man, of course (video):

The More Things Change ...

screen shot
Comparing London sites 86 years apart taken from the exact same place and angle, in stills and video from Claude Friese-Greene (1927) and Simon Smith (2013). The interesting thing here is how little has changed, really, and where it has, it's been made better or the changes have been subtle:

A Child's Life

Tim Houlihan
In Belgium, euthanasia for adults has been legal since 2002, and the number of cases has climbed steadily since then, with most being those of cancer patients. Now, Belgians are wondering whether children should have that same right:

On the Ball

Recent articles about the deleterious long-term effects of repeated concussions and other brain injuries on certain athletes resuscitated among some the old assumption that because football, in particular, is such a physical game, football players are probably not all that brainy to begin with. Not so, according to Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is quoted in this piece. "When people see the game, they think we’re meatheads; they think of the way jocks acted in high school. But we spend more time studying than we do on the field”:

Laughing Inside the Box

The laugh machine, or Laff Box, was invented by Charles Douglass (1910-2003), an American sound engineer who, previously, had had a hand in developing a shipboard radar with other scientists when he was in the Navy during World War II.
   Here's the translation of the story:
   "The idea of using an audience during the taping of programs existed as far back as the time of the radio. It added life to the program and gave listeners the feeling of not being alone in enjoying it. The practice continued after the invention of television.
   "The problem was that it required a large number of people, and therefore very large studios in which to hold them. Sometimes the studio audience laughed too much, sometimes not enough or not long enough, and there was always someone who had a bizarre laugh. In short, it cost a lot and was never perfect.
   "The studios therefore started using cassette tapes of laughter, but they tended to all sound the same and didn't adapt well to different situations.
   "Then, in the 1950s, Charley Douglass invented and perfected a special machine that

A Spoonful of Sugar


Sugar helps wounds heal better and faster than antibiotics do, according to medical professionals who have revived the ancient use of sugar as a wound treatment. Applying sugar to wounds is a practice that is thought to date to the ancient Egyptians. It is believed that sugar absorbs the fluid in wounds. Bacteria multiply more quickly in moist environments, so the fluid absorption by sugar might help prevent infections in wounds. Drying the wound might also help facilitate the faster growth of new tissue to make it heal more quickly. Using sugar to treat wounds tends to be more common in Europe and Africa, and critics claim that there are other, more advanced and more effective treatments available.

Flu Away


It's that time of year when we start hearing more and more about the flu. This year again, it seems it's the H1N1 that's causing the most consternation so far, at least in the U.S. ( So here are some tips and resources that, with a little luck, will keep you healthy all season:

Forever ~ on Film

British photographer Jimmy Nelson takes us behind the scenes of the striking pictures he took with his 50-year-old camera of members of vanishing tribes. He spent more than four years traveling to various corners of the world for these shots, which are in his book Before They Pass Away (story, video):

The Wearin' o' the Green Ethic

Deanna Clark: greater government oversight
Aurelie Popper, Jade Harwood: localization, simplicity
Chemicals in the cotton, worker safety, pollution, waste, rampant consumerism ~ Thirty-seven VIPs of the sustainable/organic movement predict what we'll be (or should be) wearing and what fashion-related issues we should pay attention to in the year to come (slideshow):

War Without End

It was "the war to end all wars."
History books tell us that World War I began in 1914 and ended four years later, but it didn't. In so many ways, we continue to live with it today. It saw the beginning of modern, mechanized warfare, of chemical warfare, and of the photography chronicling their results. Borders were redrawn, new states were born, empires fell, and the seeds of World War II were sown in the treaty that putatively ended the first. The ghosts, the mistakes, the horrors, and the broken promises of that war haunt us still, 100 years later:

Back to Black

mosasaur Platecarpus fossil
Sure, the fossilized remains of ancient creatures showed us their shapes, sizes, and even skin types, but we were never sure about their colors. Now, thanks to mass spectrometry and scanning electron microscopy, we know that the sea reptiles of old ~ we're talking 190 million years ago ~ were very dark brown or black, which makes perfect sense, when you think about it:

Just Because: 'Think of Others'

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) is a Palestinian poet whose life mirrored that of his people and that of so many, many victims of war and all that is basest in the human character. With thanks to my son, who turned me on to the man.

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others.
Don't forget to feed the pigeons.
As you conduct your wars, think of others.
Don't forget those who want peace.
As you pay your water bill, think of others.
Think of those who have only clouds to drink from.
As you go home, your own home, think of others.
There are people who have no place to sleep.
As you liberate yourself with metaphors, think of others,
Those who have lost their right to speak.
And as you think of distant others,
think of yourself and say,
"I wish I were a candle in the darkness."

   For more about Darwish and his life, go to, and to hear Darwish reciting this poem in its original Arabic, go to (video):

Death and the Brain

the family of Jahi McMath (facebook)
The recent case of Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old who underwent surgery to remove her tonsils, adenoids, and uvula and was declared brain dead three days later, is tragic indeed. Her parents seem to be insisting that there is hope for her, that she may wake up. I know I would do the same. But a subhead in the paper version of the Los Angeles Times, "Reports describing the teen, who is brain dead, as possibly alive complicate a thorny issue, experts say" (,0,5643888.story#axzz2pmOa8fPU), had me wondering how objective such a diagnosis is. And what's the difference between brain death and a coma? How long should someone be kept alive by machines when there is no electrical activity in the brain? (story, video):


"It's not education, it's torture," says Laurel Sturt, author of Davonte's Inferno: Ten Years in the New York Public School Gulag (where, I'm guessing, "Davonte" is the name of one of her students). After a decade in a school in "a very poor neighborhood," she came to feel that the only place where one can start in order to hope to make any lasting difference is at the very beginning. "It’s a failure of the system to address the poverty that creates the achievement gap," she says in this interview:

Ayn Rand, Handwriting Analysis, & the Singularity

from PictureBox's commercial for Infomaniacs                                screen shot
A most entertaining and wide-ranging interview with Matthew Thurber, author of the graphic novel Infomaniacs, which is about the singularity and the end of the Internet, among other things:

That Electoral College Again

George Washington was sworn in on April 30, 1789.
Well, this is interesting. From, I learned that the first presidential election was held on Jan. 7, 1789. On the site, it says, "Voters cast ballots to choose state electors; only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. As expected, George Washington won the election and was sworn into office on April 30, 1789." Encyclopedia Britannica reports that "Following the ratification of the Constitution by the necessary nine states in July of 1788, Congress set January 7 of the following year as the date by which states were required to choose electors. Those chosen would cast their votes a month later, on February 4." From wikipedia: "The United States presidential election of 1788–1789 was the 1st quadrennial presidential election. It was held from Monday, December 15, 1788 to Saturday, January 10, 1789." And from "Sure enough, on February 4, 1789, the Electoral College voted unanimously to elect George Washington as the first president of the United States."
   Putting this all together ~ and you probably already know this and are wondering why I don't ~ it was around now that the states named their electors and on Feb. 4 that the

Angel's Flight

Matada stowed away in a plane's wheel well.                                 screen shot
The story of Jose Matada, the barely-27-year-old from Mozambique whose body was found on a street in west London in 2012, has almost come full circle, as his family and a former employer with whom he had kept in contact have finally been found. Equally importantly, the reason behind his desperate decision to stow away in the undercarriage of a plane has come to light. Matada, whom his former employer called "a really good person" with "a really soft manner about him," was hoping for a better life. Now, his body lies in an unmarked grave in Twickenham. His family cannot afford to have it flown back for burial at home. "I am struggling since he died," says his mother, Eugenia. "His father died a long time ago, but even though we are poor, I had my children—that's the only consolation I had." It is probably too much to hope that such stories may one day help to soften the way first-world countries look on immigration (story, video):

Doggie Dictionary

screen shot
Seriously! ~ at least I think so. A Scandinavian group, The Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery, is working on doggie headgear (just imagine trying to get your cat to wear this!) whose EEG recorders have been programmed to recognize certain of the brain's electronic frequencies as indicative of a certain mood. This is then translated into human language. Suggestion: How about one of these for people, too? (video):

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
If life gives you snow and ice, make sculptures. Harbin, China, has been recording temps of -17 and such, which makes this the perfect time for the city's annual nod to nature's supremacy. The Harbin International Snow and Ice Festival is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with creations that actually make freezing one's nose off look like a good thing (story, lots of great pix):

Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue

Woah! from

Scientist Greg Homer has invented a process known as the Stroma procedure to make it possible to change eye color through laser surgery. The technology only works in changing brown eyes to blue. A laser is used to remove the thin layer of brown pigment tissue, known as melanin, over the iris of the eye to reveal the blue pigment that all humans naturally have. The laser procedure is estimated to take about 20 seconds, but the removal of the melanin happens gradually over two to four weeks. The surgery was still in the testing process and had not received approval for widespread use as of late 2013. 

More about eye color:
  • Men with brown eyes are viewed as being more trustworthy than men with

Beanie Billionaire

Karen Blumenthal, Wall Street Journal
If you were or had a child growing up in the '90s, chances are good that you still have a Beanie Baby or two somewhere in your house. We have a plastic bin full of them. The man who created them, Ty Warner, was always very secretive about himself and his company, but that's all over now. Once you end up in court, as Warner did for tax evasion, your life's pretty much an open book, so we now know, for example, that he apparently had a very difficult childhood and that he worked as a busboy, bellman, car parker, and door-to-door salesman, among other things, before finding his calling:

Think About It

brain activity captured on screen                                                    screen shot
Mind-controlled technology may take center stage at the opening of the 2014 World Cup in June, when a teen who is paralyzed from the waist down will (if all goes as planned between now and then) make the first kick with the help of an exoskeleton (story, interesting video except that they probably thought that switching to animation to show the experiment with the monkey would make it more palatable ...):

Blue Monday, Green Trees

screen shot
Apparently, Blue Monday, the first Monday after the holidays, which this year falls on Jan. 6, is the most depressing day of the year ( Therefore, as a public service, I am posting this link to a serene, beautiful video of a year in the life of a forest. It was made by a filmmaker who blended together 40,000 photographs he took from his front window over a 15-month period:
   Here's the filmmaker, Samuel Orr, describing how he made the film, plus an excerpt from a documentary he made that focuses on a nest of Eastern Phoebes under his eaves (sure to get you out of your funk):

Keep Calm and Cabbie On

going, going, gone                                      Helmut Meyer zur Capellen/Corbis
They've been around in this particular iteration since 1945, but now London's iconic black cabs are being replaced by an updated version from Nissan that is, we hear, greener and more spacious. The company's first stab at the cab was rejected as looking too much like a delivery van (which it pretty much was), so it made a few revisions, and the new cabs will be on the streets by the end of the year (story, slideshow):
   Herewith, some interesting trivia about London's cabs. For example, they must be tall enough to accommodate someone wearing a bowler hat! Wonder if the new ones have to meet that same requirement: