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Biodegradable August 11, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture.
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This is very funny.

Stone sculptures need nutrition. Who knew?

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Great 8! August 8, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Message in a Bottle, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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The lightness of summer topics is upon me, I guess. I just thought to celebrate with you that today we hit a moment in time that won’t return (so to speak) for 100 years: Today it is the eighth day in the eighth month of the eighth year of the century, and eight minutes after 8 am it will be the 080808, 0808 moment. Besides, today we should reach 16,000 hits on this blog of ours, which is of course 8000 doubled up. And 8 is an ancient sacred number, probably related to the stability and balance inherent in 4, so 4 doubled up. The Cardinal points, the stability of the universe, etc. The sweep of world mythologies is touching down today! Can I get any more irrelevant and speculative? Anyway, enjoy this summer day in the sign of the Great 8… (Finally got an opportunity to use the “Message in a Bottle” category!)

I have to add the following: Of course this hasn’t gone unnoticed worldwide: The Chinese start up the Olympics today on the most fortuitous date and time, at 080808, 0808 PM. And apparently a large number of people are getting hitched today, assuming that fortune will follow them because of Lucky 8! Babies born today are among the luckiest of people, and so on and so forth. Since the Western tradition tends to favor Lucky 7 over Lucky 8, I guess some people missed the opportunity last year…

The Thing That Won’t Die In The Nightmare That Won’t End August 7, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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The Terminator, once again, tries to live up to his name.

In order to put pressure on negotiators trying to resolve California’s budget impasse, Governor Schwarzenegger has ordered that thousands of state workers be laid off and many of the remaining employed be paid minimum wage.

Happily the state comptroller, John Chiang, who unlike the killer bot seems to have a conscience, has refused to comply with the reductions in pay, although there is not much he can do about the layoffs.

But this current budget snafu is no accident befalling a state with a moribund economy. It was a deliberate policy manufactured by a political clown whose act is finally getting the goring it deserves.

One of Schwarzenegger’s first acts upon taking over the office of Governor in 2003, following his tax-cut demagoguery in the campaign to oust Grey Davis, was to roll back the vehicle license fee. That single act of political showmanship, that saved each of us a few hundred bucks, this year will cost the state nearly six billion dollars, almost half of the current state budget deficit, according to the California Budget Project.  Next year when the schools shut down and state services collapse we can console ourselves by fondling those few, crisp Ben Franklins that fall like confetti from Sacramento.

Schwarzenegger’s administration has been one political stunt after another–most of them terminated on the big-top floor, splattered like discarded popcorn. But at least in this role, The Governorator performs his own stunts.

Of course, if we were to look behind the facade of this greatest show on earth, we would be reminded of another great performance artist from the silver screen–Oz, the “Great and Terrible”.

From cocksure muscle man, to clown show master, to pathetic humbug. Isn’t that the narrative arc of all Republican administrations?

Joseph Duncan Update August 3, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Criminal Justice, Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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If you go back to April 30, 2008, you’ll find my post on the serial child-killer Joseph Duncan and his wish to represent himself in his federal sentence hearing. I have an update for you, but I’ll forego a repetition of who he is and what he has done—the April 30 post was fairly specific. Suffice it to say that he has, faced with overwhelming evidence and his own statements, confessed to the 2005 killings of 9-year old Dylan and his older brother, as well as their mother and her fiancé, and the kidnapping of Dylan and 8-year old Shasta. Shasta was the victim of weeks of sexual abuse by Duncan, and in addition she was forced to watch him murder Dylan. Shasta survived, and her taped testimony against Duncan is on file, but because of legal squabbles it is now inadmissible. Duncan petitioned earlier this year to be his own defense attorney in his federal death penalty hearing, where his sentence will be determined by a jury: Life without the possibility of parole, or death. The court, obviously reluctant to grant him this constitutional right, ordered a new psychiatric evaluation of him.

A short while ago the results were made public: Duncan is legally sane, and can thus proceed with the preparation of his own defense. Voir Dire (the jury selection) which had been underway, will be restarted this week so he can question the jurors himself. And, in addition, it is expected that he will indeed do what everyone feared might be his entire purpose for this charade: call Shasta as a witness. There is now nothing to prevent him from doing this—nothing that will protect Shasta from having to face this man who ruined her life, at his pleasure.

            Legal commentators point to the fact that now his death sentence seems more likely than ever—because the jurors will turn on him in an instant, knowing that the question isn’t a matter of guilt, but of whether there are mitigating circumstances. And a man who chooses to continue the torture of his victim, in public, with the help of the Constitution, hardly seems to deserve leniency. Unless, of course, he intends to use the podium to fall on his sword, have the little girl stand up and point to him, Hollywood-style, and accuse him, upon which he will demand the death penalty for himself. Anything is possible. But either way, this will be Duncan playing the court according to his own fantasy, and the victim of all this will, again, be Shasta.

            So I appreciate having this opportunity to vent—because this is nauseating to me, as a private person. But as a blogging philosopher (which I hope doesn’t make me less of a person) I’d also like to use this infuriating story to launch a further discussion. We’ve already talked about whether Duncan is evil. But there are at least two other subjects that are tied to this story: (1) the nature and definition of sanity, and (2) the question of victims’ rights vs. defendants’ rights. What to most people would qualify as insanity is outrageous and harmful behavior they wouldn’t engage in themselves and find repugnant, but since this is a very subjective issue, the court has a narrower definition. Legally, Duncan is sane because he has an understanding of the consequences of his actions, and of the moral rules of society, and he doesn’t have a severe mental illness. That’s all it takes, folks. It is known as the McNaughton Rule, with modern modifications. When the hearing gets underway this fall, I hope to give you another update, and perhaps we can get into the rights question at that time.

Happy Danes Are Here Again August 1, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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I, too, must apologize for the infrequency of my postings lately; like Dwight, I spent part of this summer in Europe, in the Happiest Place on Earth. No, not EuroDisney, but Denmark (hence the blogs about Danish Conditions), and while I could spend time analyzing Danish beer (because it is good, and plentiful), I want to reach higher (or lower) and look at the consequences of good beer, or perhaps the root causes. This is my roundabout way of getting to the issue that keeps popping up: the numerous surveys confirming that the Danes are the Happiest People on Earth, lately a 60 Minutes show from Feb.17/June 12, and the recent annual survey of the National Science Foundation.

Is it true? Are Danes happier than others? There is something curious about not only the question, but also the answers. You’d think that Danes would love to hear that they’re so happy, but they don’t. It makes them downright unhappy, and causes a flurry of counter-surveys where Danes try to prove to themselves that they’re a miserable, suspicious lot. They point to the high suicide rate, the lousy weather, the high taxes, the bureaucracy, and so forth. Intellectual Danes prefer to think of themselves as Kierkegaardian melancholics with an ironic distance, pondering existential issues in noble suffering. But they’re actually quite level-headed, even so, and people outside of academia, without the ambition of living up to a tradition of seasonal depression, are really fairly contented. And here we reach the issue of the question itself: While all these surveys agree that Danes are “happy,” few seems to bother defining what they mean by “happy.”  Perhaps that’s because they’re not philosophers. Is it a constant, or even occasional, feeling of ecstasy? Is it a bubbly, bouncy, joyous undertone to one’s life? Is it a general “feeling good” about things? A confident expectation of good consequences? Or is it simply absence of misery? Believe me, Danes aren’t bouncy, or ecstatic, any more than the rest of you guys. They like to laugh, but that doesn’t make them perennially lighthearted. But there is a significant absence of misery, inasmuch as the country has had a stable social system for over 150 years, with a clear focus on a safety net for most if not all, and social engineering involving a +50 percent income tax rate, in addition to the near-20 percent VAT (value added tax). Equality is a big thing in the Danish public spirit and history, as an ideal, if not an actual fact these days, and there is a common belief (not quite justified anymore) that nothing can go totally wrong, because the System will watch out for you. So there is an absence of abject fear of the future—even right now, with the Danish housing market nose diving, people still have faith that “it’ll all work out.” Which puzzles economic analysts.

But there is something else: the size of dreams. In this country we’re used to big dreams, big successes, and also big disappointments. Some of us like it that way. In Danish, however, I can’t recall any equivalent expression for “The sky is the limit.” But there is Danish expression, “God has made it so the trees don’t grow into the sky.” In other words, one doesn’t strive beyond the realm of what one considers feasible. Is that a sign of a mature culture? Or a culture cooped up in a very small place, having to adjust to close neighbors? I know what Nietzsche would say—“herd mentality”! That doesn’t mean he’d be right, but if a small place creates small-scale dreams, it means one’s expectations aren’t too high, and one doesn’t get easily disappointed. This answer was actually featured in the 60 Minutes show, but it had already been circulating on the web for a few years, among expatriate Danes.

Let’s end on a less serious note. That brings me back to beer. One of the expectations that Danes do have, is the accessibility of excellent beer. Microbreweries are abundant, and the classics, Tuborg and Carlsberg (supporter of the arts) are still around, too. As much as Denmark prepares to be a wine producing country within the next 20 years and expected heat waves, beer is still king. Do people make beer because they feel good? Or do they feel good because they make beer? I remember a particularly long hot summer many years ago in Denmark, when the breweries went on strike—picking their timing well. Then the Danes were miserable; everything was wrong, they didn’t trust the government, they feared the future—in other words, they acted like we do on a regular basis. Have we found the missing element, the secret to the Danish happiness recipe? Hmmmm……….