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A friend sent me this tonight:

[My brother] repeated an ongoing argument defending a few of his right-wing acquaintances who are Romney supporters based on his assessment that they are educated and smart, just wrong-minded. He attempted to separate these Republican “elitists?” from the great unwashed, those of poor mental acuity, under-informed and religiously fanatic. “First,” I argued, “how informed are your educated Romney-voting friends if they’ve come to the same stupid conclusions as the nincompoop horde? Second, if those Republican smarties are equally ill-informed, then how effective has their education been for them? Third, if Romney’s rich, educated supporters consider Obama a Kenyan anti-colonialist, welfare-loving nigger (as educated Republicans I know believe) how does that distinguish them from the moron masses?” “Well,” he responded, “they’ve convinced themselves, that’s why.”

 
It seems to me that the contest tomorrow is going to be between ordinary people and the inhabitants of Oz.



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Here's the round-robin note I sent out to friends and family this morning:

Tuesday morning: We have power, which is unexpected (about 90% of the state is out), but no internet access (which means no phones either). We trogged out to the public library a little while ago to see if we could email from there, but it, like just about everywhere else, was closed. We can tell that the internet folk are trying to get us reconnected -- there are constant signals from my computer of a change in "connectivity status" -- so I'm typing this now ready to send as soon as we're back online.

Unless the hurricane takes a second stab at us, which is just feasible given its predicted path, we've come through unscathed, so far as we can tell. A couple of minor trees have come down at some distance from the house. The back porch, miraculously, hasn't. Much of the yard is ankle-deep in fallen leaves. But it's all small stuff. We do face the intimidating task of eating our way through all the emergency supplies we laid in . . .

Tuesday midnight: Still no internet/email. Withdrawal symptoms becoming acute.

Wednesday morning: This is getting grim. No access to the IMDB! Or the BBC! We've learned from friends that we're among a mere 90 or so to have power of all the NJ homes served by our electricity company. We are very fortunate! We're of course using as little as we can of that power.

Wednesday evening: There's a guy from the cable company due tomorrow, hopefully to get us connected.

Thursday: Cable Guy didn't turn up. Pam plans to be at the cable company's office at 9am tomorrow asking where the heck (I paraphrase) Cable Guy was. Be thankful you don't work at our cable company's office.

Friday: Still nothing.

Saturday: Oh joy! We have the internet -- at least for a while. So you're getting this.

In other news, it may be ten days or longer 'til most local residents get power back; put another way, this means the result of the upcoming election could be decided by Hurricane Sandy. The option of postponing the election for a month or so to ensure everyone can vote, and that their vote will be counted, is apparently not even being considered. Democracy, it seems, happens by magic.

All best and/or love (you know who you are).
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"Ooooooo, 'ello, Mr 'Orne! I'm Julian and this is my friend 'Urricane Sandy . . ."



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There's a facility on the IMDB site whereby you can search for all the movies that two people of your choice have worked on together: you can find the starting page here.

As you type each name into the box provided
-- John Smith, perhaps -- the search engine chunters a bit, then offers you a list of individuals to make sure it'll be searching for the right John Smith.

This evening, helping a friend with a query, I used the facility to check which movies Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff had worked on together.

I typed in "Boris Karloff" and the list appeared. The first name on it was, unsurprisingly, Boris Karloff. But the second was . . .

. . .

     . . .

          . . .

                . . . Ann Widdecombe.

Huh? Ann Widdecombe?
Yes, the string'em-up-but-for-gawd's-sake-don't-abort-'em socially conservative Conservative MP, a junior member of John Major's cabinet back in the days when John Major had a cabinet.

I mean, in a way it's quite fitting in that both could, in their heyday, have even hardened marines and stalwart professional wrestlers awakening from sleep with a scream, but it's hard to see the link otherwise.

Oh, Karloff and Nicholson appeared in two movies together, The Raven (1963) and The Terror (1963).


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Yikes! I've only just discovered that this year's Puddle Award voting is into its final round -- I've been so up to my eyes in the film noir book I must have missed the notification.

The Puddle is awarded in various categories, but this time around it's for Best Title, put forward by authors of their own finished or in-progress books. And one of the titles that's made it to the final is that of a project I'm working up at the moment.

I'm not going to tell you what that title is, should you choose to go and vote, but people who're acquainted with some of my recent books might be able to make a pretty astute guess . . .

Anyway, the polling page is here. Tell your friends!


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TruthOut's excellent political columnist William Rivers Pitt has a good piece on the third presidential debate, the one in which we were supposed to learn about the candidates' views on foreign policy.

Well, we learned some things. In a moment of deja vu to Sarah Palin's failure to realize that South Africa was an actual country, not just the southern part of the African continent, there was this:

And then, only a few short minutes later, the Republican candidate for President of the United States of America, in a debate on foreign policy, said exactly this: "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea."

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Willard Mitt Romney - a man who has been running for president since the Mesozoic Age, who has spent an enormous amount of money to surround himself with people who are supposed to explain stuff like geography to him - sat there on national television and showed us all that he still does not know how to read a map. Almost all of Iran's southern border verges on the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, giving them plenty of access to, y'know, the sea...but even if that were not the case, Syria would not be Iran's "route to the sea" because of the giant chunk of land between them called Iraq.


There were other embarrassments. But the biggest embarrassment was not for Romney but for the US, because this supposed debate on foreign policy used a definition of the term designed for children and idiots, one that to a great extent omitted such foolish notions as diplomacy, international aid, cultural outreach, human rights endeavors and trade in favor of the activities of what Orwell dubbed the Ministry of Peace.

Pitt again:

The perfect, horrible irony of this was seen when Mr. Schieffer allowed Romney to run out about a third of the clock by repeating all of his tired nonsense on the economy during a debate on foreign policy...but when the subject came around to the insanely bloated "defense" budget, Romney was allowed to call cuts to that budget "devastating." Obama, for his part, said, "The budget that we are talking about is not reducing our military spending. It is maintaining it."

Neither Schieffer, nor Romney, nor Obama dared to say anything "radical" like, "A very, very small cut in the defense budget would immediately resolve a large amount of our concern over the economy, would immediately halt all this talk of ending Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defunding public schools, closing post offices, and privatizing health care, because a very, very small cut in the defense budget would give us all the money we need, and more, to keep these things solvent. We're not actually broke, America. We just need to realign our priorities."

See how that works? Romney talks about cutting all sorts of programs, Obama fights him on it, but neither they nor the moderator has any interest in discussing the giant, bloated, over-weaponized solution sitting in the middle of the room.


Pitt quotes a paragraph by Charles Pierce of Esquire that seems to have gone viral today; certainly, I've come across it several times, including in an email circular from Alan Grayson, whom I'll further quote below. Here's Pierce's commentary (and his whole article's worth reading) on the infantile definition of "foreign policy" that seem to have come to dominate our thinking in this area:

Trade is foreign policy. The environment is foreign policy. Energy policy is foreign policy. Human rights are foreign policy. Drought is foreign policy. Starvation is foreign policy. War is generally only foreign policy when one of those other things I mentioned get completely out of control. However, as I suspect we will see argued enthusiastically from both sides tonight, war, and not its historic causes, has come to define foreign policy. Increasingly, it has come to define us as a nation as well. This is a problem that, I predict, will not be addressed at all this evening in Boca Raton, where the rich people play and the children of their gardeners fight our wars.

And here's the context Grayson gave it:

Here is a list of the topics last night: (1) Libya embassy attack. (2) War in Syria. (3) Why we shouldn't cut military spending. (4) Israel or the U.S. attacking Iran. (5) The war in Afghanistan. (6) "Divorcing" Pakistan. (7) What is the greatest future threat to our security?

In other words, seven variations on the same theme: xenophobia. Fear of foreigners.
. . .

So how is it that a "foreign policy" debate can be devoted entirely to the single, narrow subject of who is going to kill whom? It appears that the military-industrial complex has not only occupied huge chunks of the federal budget, but also huge chunks of our political discourse, and even our thinking.

Why is it that every candidate for public office keeps pressing that big, red PANIC button? Isn't there anyone out there who will try to put a little love in our hearts?

Here are some questions that should have been asked last night, but weren't:

(1) What should we do about the 10+ million undocumented people in this country, more than half of whom came here from Mexico?

(2) Speaking of Mexico, the drug war in Mexico was the most deadly armed conflict in the world last year, killing more people than the war in Afghanistan and the civil war in Syria combined. What should we do about it?

(3) We have run the largest trade deficit in the world every year for roughly the past 20 years. This year, it's half a trillion dollars, again. Other developed countries like Japan and Germany run consistent trade surpluses. What should we do about this?

(4) The United States is the only industrialized country without universal healthcare, paid vacations and paid sick leave. Why is this? What should we do about it?

(5) Climate change obviously is a worldwide issue. Should the United States participate in efforts to mitigate it? If so, how?

(6) There is tremendous suffering now in both Greece and Spain, with unemployment of 25%+. Should we do anything to help people in those countries?

(7) In poor countries, three million people die each year of respiratory infections, 2.5 million die each year of diarrhea, and two million die of AIDS. Virtually all of these deaths are avoidable. Should we avoid them?


Grayson could have extended this list very considerably, as I'm sure he's perfectly aware.

But it's not the fault of the candidates that the topic should have been so infantilized -- not entirely, anyway. To a far greater extent it's the fault of a "news" media that's in the habit of ignoring many of the most important topics voters should be considering and dumbing down the rest; the selection of questions made by last night's moderator, Bob Schieffer, both offers a snapshot of and is a product of this media-wide failure of professional responsibility. But where the fault really lies is with a widespread intellectual laziness, an assumption that the best way to solve any international problem is to drop a fucking bomb on it -- "best" because it's easiest, because it's a solution you can shout to loud applause in a bar and then go home to watch TV, your duty done.

It was this climate of apathetic ignorance that allowed the Bush II administration to lie the country into the invasion of Iraq, with the loss of thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, trillions of taxpayer dollars, and an unquantifiable but very large amount of international prestige and good will as America abandoned its self-appointed beacon-of-democracy role to become a torture state. It was this climate that permitted -- that required -- the inadequacies of last night's debate.


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"Declaring something an act of terror does not necessarily mean you are declaring it a terror attack."
     ----Megyn Kelly, FOX News




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“The porn industry is flourishing because the Obama administration has given it a green light to distribute hardcore porn to every man, woman, and child in America.”

---Patrick Trueman, President of Morality in Media,
reported in Los Angeles Times

Doubtless all those folk who send emails from Nigeria are clamoring for Mr. Trueman's e-address.




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I'm going to be interviewed about Denying Science and related subjects at about 8:00pm ET this coming Thursday evening (the 11th; "about" because they tell me they usually run a little late) by Chuck Gregory and Mike Palacek on their weekly The New American Dream Radio Show.

This can be listened to online here (click Listen Live once you get to the page) and thereafter will be available as a downloadable podcast here
-- the perfect cheapo Xmas present?



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A West Indies cricket fan waking up tomorrow morning.

Why?

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Courtesy of the Bridge Project, here's a transcript of some remarks made by Rep. Paul Broun (R-Georgia) of the Science Committee of the House of Representatives -- I repeat,
of the Science Committee of the House of Representatives -- a few days ago:

God's word is true. I've come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell. And it's lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior. You see, there are a lot of scientific data that I've found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I don't believe that the Earth's but about 9,000 years old. I believe it was created in six days as we know them. That's what the Bible says.

And what I've come to learn is that it's the manufacturer's handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually, how to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all of public policy and everything in society. And that's the reason as your congressman I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I'll continue to do that.

The Bridge Project page has further details plus, for the strong of stomach, a video.



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. . . is the headline at Daily Kos, where Joan McCarter expands upon the issue.

Unemployment among veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq adventures is substantially higher
(over 40% higher) than the national average, at ~11%. The bill, which was bipartisan, was designed to try to redress that through various measures.

Since the Republicans are desirous that our lots should be as miserable as possible in the lead-up to November's election, they voted to kill the bill. Their calculation is that, the more hardship people suffer, the more likely they are to blame Obama and vote Republican. It's a strategy that makes the assumption that voters are extremely stupid and/or illiterate.

But the bit that really gets to me is this. Obama has mentioned the bill as an example of how people on both sides of the political divide can do good things if they work together.

So four of the bill's Republican co-sponsors voted against the very bill they had helped to write. How puerile and petty can you get?

It seems you can take the Republican legislator out of the 3rd Grade but you can't take the 3rd Grade out of the Republican legislator . . .


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Two big international wins for Scots this month.

First there was Andy Murray's long-awaited victory at the US Open, following up on his Olympic Gold. What makes this special for me is that I have people in Murray's home town of Dunblane.

Second -- and to my embarrassment rather overshadowing Murray's achievement -- there's been my own winning of the AIR Limerick Competition.

AIR is the acronym for Annals of Improbable Research, the folks best known for organizing the famed Ig Nobel Awards; this year's Ig Nobels ceremony was held just a couple of days ago and you can read about it here.

Each month AIR runs a competition for a limerick based on a particular research paper that has caught the editors' attention. The August competition was as follows:

The traditional rivalry between fire ants and carrion flies inspires this month's limerick competition. To enter, compose an original limerick that illuminates the nature of this report:

"Exclusion of Forensically Important Flies Due to Burying Behavior by the Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) in Southeast Texas," Natalie K. Lindgren, Sibyl Bucheli, Alan Archambeault, Joan Bytheway
<http://goo.gl/YsJ5D>, Forensic Sciences International, vol. 204, nos 1-3, January 2011, pp. e1-3. <http://goo.gl/GuoE3> The authors report:

"the remains of an adult male were partially buried at the Southeast Texas Applied Forensic Science Facility at the Center for Biological Field Studies, Sam Houston State University, Texas. The individual was buried except for a small portion of the left abdominal region. A postmortem incised wound was created in the exposed area with the intention of attracting carrion flies. Worker ants of a colony of Solenopsis invicta Buren 1972 (red imported fire ant) filled in the wound with soil, thereby monopolizing the exposed area of the corpse and excluding expected carrion insects from the wound."

And in the September issue of AIR, released mere days before the Ig Nobels ceremony, the judges made their momentous announcement:
 
The winner is the team of INVESTIGATORS PAUL BARNETT and JOHN GRANT, who write:

Each of us, after he dies,
If buried with ample supplies
     Of soil for adhesions
     To cover his lesions,
Gets ants in his pants, but no flies.

 

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In most democratic societies, deliberate vote suppression is a crime; there's little effective difference between vote suppression, ballot stuffing, and just burning the votes placed for the candidate you don't like.

In the US, for reasons I cannot fathom, vote suppression seems to be regarded as perfectly legal -- even in instances, such as the current one in Pennsylvania (shame on that great state), where the declared aim of the electoral purge is to win the state for Romney.

It's the kind of crap that doesn't go down well in Uzbekistan or Belorussia, yet apparently it's good enough for the US.

Earlier this year, the defenders of democracy took the ruling of the state of Pennsylvania's Republican legislature to court, only to be told by a Republican-appointed judge that there was nothing wrong with the practice because it could not be proven the rule would disenfranchise people.

In fact, most calculations show it's likely to disenfranchise as many as three-quarters of a million people.

The excuse for the vote suppression is that it's to minimize voter fraud (where people vote twice, or vote under a false name, or vote when they're not entitled to), depicted by Republican legislators, Republican pundits and FOX News as a major problem.

Is it? A few days ago the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania Supreme Court, while not insisting the measure be instantly repealed and the damage redressed pronto, merely threw the decision back at the original no problemo Republican-appointed judge with instructions to reconsider his reasoning.

This was despite the fact that, in addressing the issue of voter fraud, the Supremes found as follows (my emboldening):

The Commonwealth stipulated[:]
1. There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states;
2. The parties are not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in-person voter fraud elsewhere;
3. [The Commonwealth] will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania or elsewhere . . .

 
In other words, so far as anyone can reasonably determine, there's no evidence that Pennsylvania has suffered one single instance of voter fraud.

Two of the Supreme Court judges, to their infinite credit, recognized that merely batting the decision back down the ladder was in itself anti-democratic. Their dissent, penned by Madame Justice Todd, is worth reading:

The majority correctly sets forth the standard of review that we, as the appellate court, are to apply in reviewing a lower court's order granting or denying a preliminary injunction. We review for an abuse of discretion. Yet, the majority utterly fails to apply that standard to this appeal. My application of the required standard leads me to the inescapable conclusion that the lower court indeed abused its discretion in failing to find that irreparable harm of constitutional magnitude — the disenfranchisement of a substantial number of eligible, qualified, registered voters, many of whom have been proudly voting for decades — was likely to occur based on the present structure, timing, and implementation of Act 18; in my assessment, the lower court should have granted a preliminary injunction. Therefore, I would reverse.

Like the majority, I am not “satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials.” But, unlike the majority, I have heard enough about the Commonwealth's scramble to meet this law's requirements. There is ample evidence of disarray in the record, and I would not allow chaos to beget chaos. The stated underpinnings of Act 18 — election integrity and voter confidence — are undermined, not advanced, by this Court's chosen course. Seven weeks before an election, the voters are entitled to know the rules.

By remanding to the Commonwealth Court, at this late date, and at this most critical civic moment, in my view, this Court abdicates its duty to emphatically decide a legal controversy vitally important to the citizens of this Commonwealth. The eyes of the nation are upon us, and this Court has chosen to punt rather than to act. I will have no part of it.

Mr. Justice McCaffery joins this dissenting statement.


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Over on eBay a three-day auction has not long started for that most excellent of charities, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders). Three of my own books are there -- and to my great relief have attracted a few bids! -- but there's lots of good stuff as well from the likes of Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne.

Here's that link again. Bid early, bid often . . .


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There's a very good article by Ilyse Hogue in The Nation this week called "The Danger of Laughing at Todd Akin."

Akin, as we all know, is the GOP Senate candidate who advanced the medically imbecilic notion that the bodies of women who're being "legitimately" (i.e., "forcibly") raped have a way of shutting down the possibility of conception; if, in other words, a rape victim finds herself pregnant, it's probably because, despite her protestations, she was enjoying herself during the act.

He claimed that he'd been told this "scientific fact" by doctors.

Yep. Right.

The trouble for the GOP is that this miserable distinction between "real" rape, where the victim has the shit beaten out of her or her throat cut and is then raped, and "consensual" rape, where the woman decides to skip the preliminaries, is one that only morons or habitual watchers of snuff movies could posit. Everyone else knows that, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a rape is a rape is a rape. (Yes, of course there are grey areas. But these are exactly what friend Akin isn't talking about.)

Another problem for the GOP is that the cosponsor with Akin for a bill in the House maintaining the distinction between "forcible" rape and all the other rapes was, oops, Paul Ryan.

The folk in Missouri apparently think Akin's sole fault was to mischoose his words. That is, of course, nonsense -- a sign of how far our corrupted "news" media have dumbed people down. The problem's not Akin's wording, not even his misogyny, but his arrogant lying about the science of the matter.

No doctor outside a straitjacket will tell you the female body has a way of shutting out rapist sperm, yet Akin felt free to tell this lie because he was doing so within a GOP milieu of telling flat lies about scientific conclusions.

It's generally accepted in the developed world that (a) climate change is real and (b) it's our carbon emissions that are causing it. Climate scientists are more in agreement about this than biologists are about evolution; the consensus is that strong.

Yet, according to the GOP and significant segments of the US public whose minds have been polluted by the big-bux campaigns of Exxon and Koch Industries, among others, the science of global warming is still dubious. It may even be a hoax mounted by climate scientists who, clever as they are, reject the vast sums they could earn for doing nothing as shills for the Heartland Institute, etc., in favor of the far lesser grants they can get out of the US and other governments for doing actual research.

The rejection of climate science by the GOP was something that was started in the loonie fringes, traveled inward via demagogues like the moronic Rush Limbaugh, and has now reached the stage that no GOP presidential candidate can tell the truth on the issue.

What will almost certainly happen over the next few years is that Akin's scientifically baloney notion will, likewise, be absorbed into the mainstream discussion by lazy journalists.

Most Americans I know get their news from the BBC, who by and large reject this crap, rather than from CNN, who think they should give equal time to bullshit as "balance".

Is this situation not faintly . . . embarrassing?








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My novella The Lonely Hunter, just out from PS Publishing, has received its first review. The novella's probably the nearest I'll ever get to writing a Claude Chabrol movie, and so, reasonably enough, the review comes from a crime-fiction site. The reviewer is Mario Guslandi, the site is Gumshoe, and the review concludes:

 

Grant skilfully shuffles his cards and muddies the waters throughout the novella, playing with the readers’ credulity and leading them on the wrong track. He controls and handles his characters as an expert puppeteer, thus producing a memorable book where love, hate, seduction, and ambition blend in a powerful, intoxicating cocktail.

Fans of detective stories will find Grant’s elegant and efficacious prose and his insightful approach a refreshing change. Lovers of good mainstream fiction will enjoy the aura of intriguing mystery enveloping a superbly told human affair. Either way, highly recommended.

 

The book's available from PS Publishing here in the standard hc edition and here in the posh, limited, signed edition.
 

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"Almost at once he's icked up by the cops . . ."





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