January 2008

I heard the news today….Oh Boy!

I built a bookcase for a local primary school. It was a roll-around cart and employed brightly colored laminates of red, blue and yellow. I imagine it’s still there in the library, cheering up the children. What I should have constructed was a cart in shades of grey.

As I was going to work this past Christmas season, I listened to a local news story about a ‘managed care facility’ in town. [ I would call it an old folk’s home, but you know—not PC]. They were decorating the place for Christmas and had placed a traditional Christmas tree in the commons space. When they began adorning the branches with angels, and other iconic representations relevant to the birth of Jesus Christ, the management stepped in and decreed that all such symbols be removed. Globes and candy canes — ok. Crosses and nativities — verbotten. This would give offense to other religions.

Now keep in mind that this is not a public venue, where misinterpretations of the separation of church and state give rise to moral outrage at the display of the Ten Commandments in a courthouse routunda. [The noise you hear are the founding fathers spinning in their graves.] No, this is a private dwelling, much like an apartment complex, but with cooks and housekeepers. Given the demographics of the County, and the age of the residents, it is fair to say that the majority of them are Christian, with perhaps a smattering of Jews. The intrusion of such politics doesn’t generate anger in the residents as much as confusion.

In their time, the Catholic boys in New York would operate the elevators for the observent Jews on Saturday. Jewish employees would mind the stores while Christians went to church on Christmas. And as much as anything, each of them would at least respect the other’s religion, with at most a “Well, they’re a little strange, those Jews [Baptists, Methodists, Amish, ‘other’]”.

How can people celebrate ‘diversity’ when they seem intent to eliminate every cultural and religious aspect that makes diverse cultures interesting and reduce people’s existence to the least common and least interesting denominator — a shade of grey. What we should be doing is respecting other celebrations and rejoycing in watching others rejoyce in whatever inspires them. I am not Catholic, but my favorite piece of music is a 1610 Vespers, and when performed in a church resplendent with stained glass and liturgical symbology, one cannot help but be awed by the human effort to the spiritual .

Grey’s my favorite color. I felt so symbolic yesterday.

Counting Crows, Mr. Jones

During this past season I wanted to listen to Claudio Monteverdi at St. Johns, watch them light the candles on the menorah over Chanukkah, watch the feast of Idul Fitri in Jakarta, and in general participate in all of the wonderful things that make cultures and traditions unique — and not be symbolically grey.

Giving offense to no one offends all.

It turns out that The Atlantic—a magazine to which I have subscribed for the last ten years, though I really doubt I’ll ever make enough money to be in their demographic (at least based on the market research surveys I saw and the ads in the magazine)—recently decided to open its web page to everyone. This is really nice from my perspective because I can send people links to articles without wondering if they’ll be able to read them. Whether they will read them is, of course, a separate question, but I’m not kidding myself. It’s not like I read everything people send me either.

Not too long back, as Angry New Mexican noted, the New York Times dumped TimesSelect and opened up things to everyone. After NYT went to TimesSelect, I confess I stopped reading them and ended up moving to the Washington Post, which I prefer (with the exception of Science Times). I wonder how many other people went in similar directions and simply stopped reading the Times?

Salon.com also dropped most of its pay-to-enter (I recall the days before pay-to-enter) and allows viewers in if they watch ads. You can pay not to watch ads.

Rupert Murdoch—ever the conformist contrarian—seems like he wants to keep his newly acquired Wall Street Journal as subscription-only. Murdoch seems to make piles of money riding herd over contradictions such as Fox News, purveyor of culture-warriors like Bill O’Reilly and sleaze-shows to offend more schoolmarm-ish viewers on Fox Network so maybe he can make this work.

Seems like advertising is paying more than the subscription fees these days and that many popular writers chafe under firewalls.

  • Are the days of pay web sites disappearing?
  • What are the upsides?
  • What are the downsides? I can think of a few, most notably the fact that advertiser influence may grow and make many media sites self-censor.
  • What fee sites, besides WSJ (and the huge number that are NSFW which we will leave to Angry Biologist to examine), aren’t likely to switch?
  • And the real question I want to know the answer to: Is Obama, the second political candidate to which I’ve ever given money, going to vanquish the Billary? 🙂 Having given money to McCain in the 2000 primary, I can be like all the fat cats who cover their basses by donating to both sides, only in slow motion and with a lot less $$$.

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ObFascism Tag: Well, much like other political groups out there, fascist ones, don’t usually charge… in coin. But you will pay with your soul…. (I won’t give them the satisfaction of the click-through, though not much shows up under the Google search for “fascism”.)

As a bit of variety for our readers, I’ve decided to throw together a periodic humor piece inspired by Simon Travaglia BOFH. It’s not exactly an angry rant… but it is Friday — you deserve a few laughs.

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It’s about 9:30 on Tuesday when I roll into the lab. We had a wicked bender last night at the little Irish pub in convenient stumbling distance from my couch, and so I’m pretty hung over (dark sunglasses and all). Disregarding my now fading headache (pounding 4 aspirins does make a difference), I plop down into my chair and try to log in to my account.

Only to find that I can’t log in at all.

Or for that matter ping the server, once I’ve rebooted into single user mode.

Not good.

I wander across the lab and give the server the ol’ three finger salute.


A hard reboot is equally as ineffective. Drat. I was actually intending on getting work done today — after I spent a little while getting caught up on friday’s BOFH.

After a quick stop by the hideously overpriced coffee shop down on the first floor for a half double-decaffeinated half-caff with a twist of lemon (which somehow came out as an Americano with a slice of orange… the bastards), I clear off a table in the lab by dumping the scattered papers into one pile in the corner. I’m sure the first year didn’t have any particular ordering scheme in mind for his paperwork. Within half and hour, I’ve completely field-stripped the server and have nearly busted out the multimeter when I see something a tad bit odd — a memory chip that’s clearly been cracked in half.

Say all you want about “thermal fatigue,” but memory chips don’t do THAT… which leaves me with one conclusion — somebody else did. But who?

Was it Amy, the theorist best described as an idiot savant — brilliant about theoretical physics and high-falutin’ mathematics, but utterly clueless about anything else in the world? No, it’s unlikely that she could figure out how to open the case, even if I showed here where the quick release was on the side panel.

What about Sasha, the surly Eastern European theorist? Also unlikely. She’s evidently just found Jesus and has been off partying with him all weekend. Not the sort of partying I’ve been doing, but if it makes her any less surly, I’m all for it!

What about Javier, the Puerto Rican experimentalist? No. Javier’s the only guy in the lab who works less than I do… and over a three day weekend, there’s no way Javier would’ve stumbled into the lab… unless he’d had enough booze to forget where his apartment was.

No, it could’ve been the first year… what was his name again? But he seemed to not realize that he was in grad school yet, and was probably boozing it up with Javier.

No, there’s only one other option — Li, the stereotypical workaholic Chinese grad student, who’s deathly scared of the commies revoking his visa. Now, I don’t like Li to begin with — workaholic foreigners are bad for us more laid-back American types. By having no life outside the lab (at least Li showers), they slowly convince professors that 16 hour work days are “normal” and suddenly your whole office is speaking Mandarin and you’re getting the pink slip for putting only 8 hours in a day. As I only put in about 4, this would be a big problem. Thankfully, Li isn’t all that good at science, so his overall productivity isn’t that high, but he’s still a threat. And if Li broke the server, I’m a threat… to him.

A trip by ECE stores has me billing a new memory chip to The Advisor’s grant. By lunch time the server is up and running, so I can check my email before I head down to Burrito Mucho Grande for my traditional Monday lunch (yes, it’s Tuesday, but three day weekends reset the lunch schedule). The internet was out all weekend because some idiot down in Central Computing gas-axed through the external line. You could almost see the light bulb above my head as I pour a bunch of dust in the card reader and headed to Burrito Mucho Grande. Whoever messed with the server did so because the internet was out… and thought it was a problem with the server… *my* server. And whoever that someone is will pay.

Upon my return (and after I pick up my next cup of coffee), the card reader is out — who would have known — so I head down to the office of the only secretary in the building with actual keys to the rooms (the university having moved to card readers to “save money” and not just because the chancellor’s cousin owned a card reader business in Skokie). She sighs and walks me back to the lab and is about to let me in when I trip, spilling my coffee and grabbing her swipe card (carelessly left inside her purse). I apologize profusely, she lets me in and I duplicate her card before leaving it by the potted plant outside the lab (so she can find it when she retraces her steps after realizing she “dropped” it).

The rest of the day passes fairly uneventfully as I restock the lab’s chemical supplies from central stores. The clerk wonders why I’ve ordered so much liquid nitrogen, but I tell her some cock and bull story about a new supercooling experiment until she lets me go my way. After 6pm when most of the building staff is gone, I head down to the secretary’s office and let myself in. Within a few minutes I’ve broken into her NT box and I’m loading up the cardkey log software. Thankfully it’s web-based and Miss Secretary has chosen the “remember this password” option in her browser, so within no time I’m looking over the access logs to the lab, which confirm my suspicions — Li was the only person in the lab this weekend. And now he needs to be taught a lesson.

I head back to the lab (who’s door I propped this afternoon) and rig up a tripwire with some fishing line tied to the valve on the liquid nitrogen canister. I pull the patch cable out of the server and quietly lock the door and walk down to the lobby, chatting with the janitor about the Uni basketball team when…


It looks like the server is down… and Li’s feeling worse. That’s what you get for messing with


On January 22nd, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their decision in the case of Roe vs. Wade. Thirty-five years later, we’re down to about 1.2 million abortions in the US per year (down from 1.5 million at the high point) and abortion is legal in all 50 states for almost any reason. This leaves me with but one conclusion: the pro-life movement has been a complete and utter failure.

After 35 years of voting for “pro-life” candidates (a code word often meaning “Republican”), the political arm of the pro-life movement has little to show for their efforts beside parental notification laws in 34 states and a partial birth abortion ban that Justice Kennedy practically begged someone to challenge. All, in all, the pro-life movement has had marginally more success than American Medical Marijuana Association despite the “support” over the years of many prominent politicians. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me for 35 years running, and I’m a pro-life activist.

To the credit of the pro-life movement, more and more people are realizing that doing the same thing over and over again will not yield different results. Germain Grisez admitted as much a few years back, but he never had the audience to make enough of a difference. On January 20th, in a move guaranteed to generate a firestorm of letters from irate EWTN fans, Fr. Benedict Groeschel invited a man to his show by the name of Msgr. Phillip Reilly, who was willing to speak the truth and unmask the pro-life movement’s work for what it is: a failure. Msgr. Reilly realized this a few years back and decided to try a radically different approach: no more shouting and yelling, no more making young mothers feel like they were evil incarnate because they were contemplating abortion. Msgr. Reilly founded the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. The weapons he chose were not sound bites, placards or the ballot box, but rather prayer and love… for the baby, the doctor and most especially, the mother, regardless of what choice she made inside the clinic. The approach is not particularly new — prayer & sidewalk counseling has been around for a long time — but his willingness propose it as a model opposed to the traditional shout and vote approach was quite impressive.

Whether folks will listen to Msgr. Reilly or not is anyone’s guess. But perhaps come January 22nd, next year, there will be be a little less failure… and a little more hope thanks to Msgr. Reilly. There are a lot of moms out there who could use it.

On top of the wonders of the 12 Angry Men Blog, we have our own special internal mailing list that occasionally produces amusing gems. Every so often, you know, when the stars are right (Cthulu ftahgn!), we choose to share these dialogues with you, our loyal readers.

Angry Overeducated Catholic
What I always wonder about is why these secret cabals have such bizarre goals. Exterminate 99% of humanity in a nuclear holocaust. Brutally enslave 99% of the world. Ruthlessly (but secretly) hold power in all nations of the world through shadowy college fraternities.

I mean, in every case either just plain crazy (nuclear war) or, really, far too much work for any sane person to want to do (everything else).

I too believe there are international conspiracies of bankers, financiers, secret society members, etc. I am confident that groups like the Trilateral Commission, the Rothchilds, the Bilderberg Group, and the Skull and Bones all exist, all have actual members and actual meetings, and have an actual agenda. And here is their deep, dark, secret, terrible agenda: ensure we all get/stay rich, keep meeting in awesome exclusive locations, and keep up a steady supply of good booze, good food, and pretty girls.

Now that’s an agenda I can see a rich, powerful, sneaky bastard actually embracing as worthwhile…

After all, everyone conspires, and for pretty much the same things. Rich people just do it more effectively…

Angry Immigrant
So how about groups that avoid that agenda by their very charter — like Opus Dei? They’ve got to be all about the aliens and total world dominance…

Angry Midwesterner
Well according to a South Park episode I saw, I’d imagine they are after good booze, good food, and pretty boys…

Oops, sorry, I mixed them up with the Republicans…

Angry Overeducated Catholic
…though really this only applies to the Closet Gay wing of the Party, please. There’s also the large “Openly Interested in Pretty Girls” wing, but we try to keep things quiet because the CG wing really hates to be reminded about how much fun we’re having. Also, we don’t want them to know about our stash of good drugs and booze because then we’d have to share. Also, we don’t like to mingle with them because, well, they’re just really creepy, you know. (I mean, geesh, just look at Craig for crying-out-loud)!

Anyway, gotta go, need to arrange the strippers for the bash at Cheneys…

Angry Midwesterner
I’d think a stripper bash would kill Cheney. Besides, isn’t he more interested in watching people kill puppies?

Mildly Piqued Academician
Dude that’s why you take nitro pills. Bringing some candid shots of Larry Craig might work as well.

What happens in a secure undisclosed location STAYS in a secure undisclosed location.

Angry Overeducated Catholic
(Re: Dick Cheney watching people kill puppies)
No, that’s a vicious slander by his enemies. Cheney has no interest in watching people kill anything. He’s a player not a spectator…

And when he gets the urge, it’s not animals he sets his sights on…

Angry Midwesterner
What now you’re going to claim lawyers are humans?

Angry Overeducated Catholic
No, but bloodsucking monsters aren’t animals, the last time I checked…

Angry Virginian
And if bloodsucking monsters don’t even qualify as animals, then lawyers definitely don’t.

Mildly Piqued Academician
LINK: Che-ney t-shirts

Angry Overeducated Catholic
Heh, heh, heh…

If I were Cheney I’d totally buy one of these shirts to wear around the house…

Mildly Piqued Academician
You could look snazzy doing a “Cheney speedball”: Alternating between strippers and pictures of Larry Craig and Barney Frank, the first as a substitute for uppers and the second as a stunningly good substitute for downers. 🙂

The Che-ney thong is pretty good. I was disappointed that my homie Radical Jack didn’t have a Che thong, but I’m sure that if I looked hard enough, one could be found.

Angry Overeducated Catholic
Heh. With a Che thong you could express your trendy leftist contempt for capitalism, your trendy conformity to fashion trends, and your trendy objectification of women—at the same time! A bargain for you!

Mildly Piqued Academician
*Three* birds with one stone!

If that’s not worthy of a “Mao More Than Ever” slogan, I don’t know what is! Time to make a revolutionary poster!

The taste of succulent albacore with a hint of wasabi and soy sauce… Eel perfectly laid out over rice… A tasty roll of crab, expertly wrapped in fresh seaweed. For many, sushi is a tasty way to break free from the tyranny of bland, generic American cuisine. But wait just a minute Ms. Sashimi! Before you have another bite, realize this: When you dine on sushi, you dine with the Reverend Moon!

That’s right, that tasty bit of fish puts you in league with the Unification Church, and it’s leader the enigmatic Rev. Sun Myung Moon. But what do you mean, Angry New Mexican? I don’t believe in mass weddings, the insufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice courtesy of John the Baptist’s failings or a literal kingdom of God on earth. I mean, I don’t even read the Washington Times, a redoubt of the Moonies since its founding. How can I possibly be in league with the Moonies?

My dear sushi-eating readers, you are in league with Rev. Moon, and I’m about to explain why. To start off with, none of this is “new.” The Chicago Tribune and the East Bay Express pointed this out several years ago. But time and time again, I’ve found the American people woefully unaware of their role in the New World Order [Moonie Edition]. You see, Rev. Moon’s route to your California roll was revealed to the world in 1980 with his speech the Way of Tuna. In it Rev. Moon outlines his plan to build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth starting first with the oceans, hence the Way of Tuna. The means is simple — build a Korean chaebol, of the likes of Samsung or Hyundai (whose yes-men seem to alternate control of South Korea’s government), but build this chaebol in fish. The building of ships, fishing and distribution network in the US and Korea will all exist in one big happy (Moonie) family, under the guise True World Foods.

Rev. Moon started assembling his empire in the late 70’s, buying key companies and slowly taking over the town of Gloucester, MA. The Moonie fisherman have since also moved into Bayou La Batre, AL and Kodiak, AK. Gloucester does much of the processing and their 22 distribution centers are located in places like Elizabeth, NJ and Elk Grove Village, IL. According to The Trib, TWF brings in $250 million dollars a year in revenues. While not a monopoly, TWF does have a substantial market share, and taking direction from Rev. Moon, has played a key role in the sushi explosion in the US in the last 30 years. On the TWF site, I found a choice quote, I felt our readers would enjoy:

“What we believe makes True World Foods LLC unique in the marketplace is our corporate culture. Its underlying principles are that we look to live our lives for the sake of others, believe in the philosophy of oneness and instill the idea of teamwork to all our employees.”

Oneness indeed… how wonderfully Moonie. So before you have that next yummy California roll, just remember: The Reverend Moon thanks you for your investment.

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Aside: You may notice the “Hates America” tag. I have decided, following the Mildly Piqued Academician (in homage to Angry Midwesterner), to tag all my rants with “Hates America” from here on out. I give it a fig leaf of justification by noting that readers of the Washington Times are part of the Grand Neoconservative Conspiracy (TM), and therefore must hate America.

Without debating whether the Central Intelligence Agency has become a bastion of mush-brained liberalism, politicized to a fare-thee-well, it is instructive to consider a maxim of operational intelligence:

In the absence of knowledge of an enemy’s intent, one must plan based on his capability.

There are several points of concern about this maxim. Is Iran an enemy of the United States? Do we have knowledge, or absence thereof, of Iran’s intent? Do we have an understanding of Iran’s capabilities?

The ‘people’ of Iran not withstanding the hyperbole of its rulers, Mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seem to be decent people trapped in a overbearing, self-destructive and intolerant political system. The ongoing efforts of the reformists, the continuing saga of student political prisoners, and the jailed media representatives suggest that the ‘enemy’, if in fact it is an enemy, consists solely of the Mullahs, the government and its direct representatives [Iranian Revolutionary Guards]. Any people will, from time to time, express nationalistic pride, and one can hardly hold that against a population— the fact that Ahmadinejad stands up against the US and postures has some component of this. The fact that Ahmadinejad was directly responsible, in that he participated in the 1979 hostage situation at the American Embassy, is of more concern. As are his continual tirades against the US, comments advocating the extinction of Israel, and his participation in conferences with Hugo Chavez — participation which brings potential consequences of an alliance much closer to home. Given Ahmadinejad’s public stance, his history with the US, and the general antipathy of the Mullahs for western civilization, categorization of Iran’s ruling class as ‘enemies’ is certainly warranted. And since the ruling class is in control of its military, weapons program and a delivery means, caution is warranted.

Do we have knowledge of Iran’s intent? Iran has publically supported Hezbollah and delivered arms and ammunition to them in Gaza. Iran has publicly stated that the destruction of Israel is on the agenda. Hezbollah has initiated attacks, using Iranian provided weapons, including advanced missiles, on Israel displaying a general pattern of consistency: I say X, I do Y in support of X. This pattern is repeated in Iraq where advanced IED and self-forging projectile weapons were provided by the IRG for use against American troops. The pattern is repeated again with regard to the Persian Gulf and the capture of a British patrol boat.

Iran has repeatedly stated its intent to obtain nuclear weapons, has demonstrated before the IAEA the capability to produce weapons grade material, has increased its capacity to produce that same material, and has tested complex explosive devices and detonators whose only purpose can be to trigger a nuclear weapon. Again the consistent pattern: I say X, and I do Y in support of X.

Consequently, overt intent appears to be in place. Now consider the absence of intent. We have an bureacuracy of the United States, tasked with the collection and analysis of foreign intelligence stating that it appears that Iran has suspended (not given up) its weapons program in 2003 in the face of international pressure. If, in fact this is the case, why would Iran not make statements in an international venue designed to reduce pressure on the trade and financial restrictions already imposed. Further, given the decision was made in 2003, why maintain the hyperbole through the last several years? The CIA’s finding doesn’t state that the intent is not to obtain weapons — just to suspend the attempt to do so. The CIA’s finding in its NIE doesn’t establish absence of intent.

But even so, say that it did. The maxim states that in the absence of intent, use capability. What are Iran’s capabilities? Iran has already obtained fissionable materials. They have already obtained designs and working models of separation centrifuges. They have already designed and tested critical explosive components. The only thing that hasn’t been mentioned is any attempt to obtain tritium. [No modern weapons designer would forgo the yield improvements a boosted core would provide.] A quick Google search reveals an attempt to do just that with their ARAK heavy water facility.

Add to these specific components the general component of physics and engineering education. Iran has certainly produced its share of PhDs, some at American Universities. Iranian designers are clearly as capable as other national designers, especially augmented with information from Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan.

Finally, Iran as demonstrated the capability to deliver weapons with their 2000 km range Shahab-4 missiles. Delivery is most often neglected in the analysis of nuclear weapon systems overshadowed by the physics package of the bomb itself. Iran has tested a trans-stage bus design. This is the component that allows a (heavy) payload to be successfully launched. In short, Iran has the capability to design, manufacture, and deliver a nuclear weapon. The only thing missing is the weapons test, which would be a dead giveaway.

As such, given the maxim, the only prudent thing any administration can do is to assume based on the capability, and plan accordingly. Many political pundits and international optimists have fixated on the poorly written NIE and it’s assertion that Iran has stopped WMD fabrication and have pushed for policy to reflect that misguided belief. Our allies in the region are waiting to see how the administration will respond in policy statements (often in bewilderment as to how an administration could even allow such a document to be released). Our only reasonable reaction is to continue to assess Iran as the threat that it is. Deriding this administration, or any administration for that matter, for proceeding in accordance with a capability assessment, is policy suicide.

The current trend towards touch screen voting, which was touched of by the 2000 presidential election debacle, appears to have peaked, but without anyone actually having learned anything. I figure that by the time the New York times runs an article on why touch screen voting is a bad idea the whole thing has peaked.

Although the article correctly notes that touch screen voting sucks for all of the reasons computers suck — they don’t work — it doesn’t even consider that problem is really with what we want. In other words, like the couple that wants to live near a train station but not near train tracks, what we want is stupid.

Consider this example from “The Limits of Software: People, Projects and Perspectives” by Robert N. Britcher. While designing an air traffic control some ninny thought it would be a good idea to allow controllers to customize their font sizes. Sounds like a good idea at first blush — you want controllers to be comfortable, right? Well, it turns out to be a really bad idea with unintended complications. In air traffic control software it turns out to be really important to know what can be seen by the controller. If you don’t know how large the font is in advance it turns out to be really hard to ensure something can be seen.

What Americans want with their voting system is pretty similar; a nice idea at first blush, but in reality, stupid. We want to know the election results instantly, to make sure that every vote counted matches the intent of the voter, and no fraud. That’s what we want, right?

Well, yes, it is what we want, and it is pretty stupid. For starters, the 2000 election demonstrated that we can do just fine not knowing who the president will be until December. Somehow we survived.

Asking for absolutes in a country with 170+ million registered voters is foolish. Even trying to make sure every votes matches voter intents is stupid — on the order of trying to move a mountain with a teaspoon. It would be better to specify a percentage.Trying to remove all fraud is stupid — we should try to minimize it instead (after all, what would Chicagoans do as a hobby without voter fraud?)

So, what’s the solution? It’s pretty simple.

Simple, arbitrary standards for counting votes. We don’t have to agonize over dimpled or hanging chads, or agonize over how optical ballots are counted.

We don’t agonize over the 18 years who missed voter registration by a day, do we? Or the 17 year olds who would do a better job voting then some 60 year olds. No, we set a simple standard and stick to it.

For punch cards the “system” would involve very large posters at polling places that say:

  • Hanging chads count as votes.
  • Dimpled chad’s don’t count as votes.

You could throw some pictures of bad ballots up too. It doesn’t really matter what the rules are, so long as they are clear and formulated before the election.

Yes, this would disenfranchise some people. I don’t care — the rest of us have some right to an orderly election too.

Danny Thomas (born Amos Alphonsus Muzyad Yaqoob), Jan. 6, 1912-Feb. 6, 1991.

Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.

—Danny Thomas

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Many Americans today have probably never heard of Danny Thomas, as he belonged definitively to the twilight of the Golden Age of Cinema (starring in the 1952 remake of The Jazz Singer) and the dawn of the Golden Era of Television (starring in, what else, The Danny Thomas Show and producing such shows as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Mod Squad). And before all that, he was a stand-up comic touring the Midwest nightclub circuit under an anglicized form of his given name, Amos Jacobs.

In any event, it is not for Danny’s entertainment talent that we honor him today. Of all his long work in the studios, only a couple of his many shows are still shown frequently. But though most do not know him by name, nearly everyone knows him through his greatest legacy: The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

At an early moment in his career, when the nightclub circuit was looking particularly grim (he was languishing in Detroit, no less), Danny knelt down in prayer and asked St. Jude Thaddeus (patron of hopless causes) to “show me my way in life.” Soon Danny found himself in Chicago and his career finally moving. When he next went to St. Jude in prayer at another turning point, he pledged to build a shrine if he ever had the means to do so.

His career took off, and Danny found himself wondering just how to fulfill his vow. Working with a group of businessmen in Memphis, he hit upon the idea to build a research hospital dedicated to curing the most catastrophic diseases afflicting children. A key point here: Danny Thomas didn’t just found a hospital—which after all can only treat the children that come through its doors—he founded a research institute dedicated to researching, applying, and publicizing cures for free.

And Danny did more than just found the place, he returned to the community of his birth, Lebanese Americans, to secure ongoing funding. From his efforts, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) was founded—with the sole purpose of supporting St. Jude. Today, ALSAC—still exclusively dedicated to St. Jude—is America’s third-largest health-care charity. Thus, the efforts of Danny Thomas and the Arab-American community produced a fundraising powerhouse that today transcends ethnicity, geography, and ideology to reach across America.

With an initial focus on pediatric cancer, St. Jude has helped increase the cure rate of acute lymphocytic leukemia from 4% to 80%, seen its budget grow from $1 million per year to $235 million, and branched out to study HIV-AIDS (devastating the children of Africa) and numerous cancers. Today it engages in cutting edge gene and stem cell therapies and is a highly rated scientific institution.

Leaving aside the 4900 patients seen each year, St. Jude has saved the lives of thousands upon thousands of children around the world through its contributions to basic and clinical research. Protocols developed at St. Jude have helped raise the survival rates for childhood cancers from under 20% to around 70%, with several key cancers having survival rates 90% or higher. And now it sets its sights on the diseases and therapies of the 21st Century. In the best American fashion it does not simply treat the symptoms of the ills it fights, it seeks to eliminate the root causes.

All from the vow of a stand-up comic, with help from a few Memphis businessmen and the unstinting assistance of the Arab-American community. Danny Thomas represents precisely what is right about America: he had opportunity, seized it, succeeded, and then stopped to consider how he could use his success to improve the world.

Of course, as with our other Great Americans Walt Disney and George Marshall, there are detractors. Some point to the sheer impossibility of curing childhood diseases and the tendency of charities to metastasize over time. To these folks the size and scope of St. Jude aren’t strengths but weaknesses—weaknesses that a group of smaller more focused institutions wouldn’t have. Others point out that as nasty as the diseases St. Jude fights are, they’re nothing compared to the childhood deaths from starvation, war, and exploitation. Wouldn’t all those millions be better spent fighting these more lethal, but far less scientifically “sexy” killers? Doesn’t St. Jude commit the classic American blunder of the Big Plan when less ambitious, more targeted efforts would work better?

There’s a point to all the carping, to be sure, but it still misses the point. Here, as always, the perfect is the greatest enemy of the good. Trying too hard to get the perfect solution is a great recipe for doing nothing. While others carp, hopeless cases still find hope at the place Danny built.

Still, I don’t think Danny would mind if those critics of his got busy building their competing visions. They might give ALSAC a run for the money, but I can’t help but think that Danny would just look down and urge them on.

After all, there’s still more than enough childhood misery to go around, sadly.

In a massive clash of cultures and climates, the gloriously orange Fighting Illini — fresh off their invention of the transistor, the LED, youTube, and all web browsing known to man — faced off against USC, who are fresh off their recent re-invention of … football.

Good – Illinois in the Rose Bowl
Bad – against USC
Good – enough friends in town with extra tickets that Mrs. Angry Immigrant and I get to go!
Bad – …to a game against USC.
Good – ~25,000 orange shirts, and lots of college nostalgia
Bad – ~60,000 red shirts on local thugs who pretend they went to USC.
Awesome – seeing one of these idiots pick a fight with an Illinois guy, call his friends to join him in the argument, then watching the LAPD haul all three USC guys off in handcuffs. (Mrs. A.I. would want me to point out that the big “tough” guy of the group was arrested by a girl — a tiny female officer who could easily have whooped him.)
Ugly – no Chief Illiniwek
Halfway Decent – The USC head coach being a nice enough guy to not use his time outs to push in one more touchdown at the end of the game, and set a record for points scored…
Really Reaching for a Silver Lining – Slightly improving on our 1984 score (UCLA 45 – Illinois 9).
Los Angeles – More ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ from USC than from O.J. Simpson.
Los Angeles – 90K fans, probably about 50K cars… 2 hour wait to leave the parking lot.

Happy New Year to y’all!


PS – the USC band is called the “Spirit of Troy”. It occurs to me that the actual “Spirit of Troy” involved picking a fight, only to be fooled by literally the oldest trick in the book, having your citizenry slaughtered to a man, and having your city burned to the ground so thoroughly that no one seriously believed it really existed until 20 centuries later.

USC – Celebrating a tradition of credulity and historical ignorance since 1906! Fight on!

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