Tunguska “Trench” Found

The Tunguska asteroid of 1908, discussed here, is often referred to as an “event” of unspecified origin because no crater had been identified.   Now, it appears, one has been found. 

In their new study, a team of Italian scientists used acoustic imagery to investigate the bottom of Lake Cheko, about five miles (eight kilometers) north of the explosion’s suspected epicenter.

lake-cheko.jpg“When our expedition [was at] Tunguska, we didn’t have a clue that Lake Cheko might fill a crater,” said Luca Gasperini, a geologist with the Marine Science Institute in Bologna who led the study.

“We searched its bottom looking for extraterrestrial particles trapped in the mud. We mapped the basin and took samples. As we examined the data, we couldn’t believe what they were suggesting.

“The funnel-like shape of the basin and samples from its sedimentary deposits suggest that the lake fills an impact crater,” Gasperini said.

The crater is not round, but elongated, like a trench.  The mental picture I get is of a wheel-shaped chunk, spinning and rolling and then diving into the muddy ground.

If the chunk survived the explosion long enough to create a trench, wouldn’t that mean it’s still down there somewhere?  

The Emerald Isle, Land of the Dork and the Doozy

…and the gimmick and the scam and the sucker and the geezer, where you “cry uncle,” have a knack for malarkey and the mug of a slob.

I had no idea how many of my favorite American slang words, the old ones, apparently come from Ireland, according to author Daniel Cassidy, interviewed this week in the NY Times.  

“The whole project started with a hunch — hunch, from the Irish word ‘aithint,’ meaning recognition or perception,” the verbose Mr. Cassidy said in an interview on Monday at O’Lunney’s, a bar and restaurant on West 45th Street. He has worked as a merchant seaman, a labor organizer and a screenwriter, and he lives in San Francisco, where he teaches Irish studies at the New College of California.

He pulled out his pocket Irish dictionary and began pointing out words that he said had been Americanized by the millions of Irish immigrants who turned New York into an extension of the Ghaeltacht, or Irish-speaking regions of Ireland.

“Even growing up around it, little shards of the language stayed alive in our mouths and came out as slang,” he said, spouting a string of words that sounded straight out of a James Cagney movie.

“Snazzy” comes from “snasach,” which means polished, glossy or elegant. The word “scram” comes from “scaraim,” meaning “I get away.” The word “swell” comes from “sóúil,” meaning luxurious, rich and prosperous, and “sucker” comes from “sách úr,” or, loosely, fat cat.

Out here in California, I do my bit to keep a lot of these words alive.  I say “gee whiz” and get looks as if I’ve just stepped out of an episode of “Leave to Beaver.”  But that’s from the Gaelic.  It’s not (as many assume) a sanitized way to avoid taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Of course, living near the beach, I couldn’t help but pick up a little surfer talk.  I’ve been known to call someone a “dude.”   So, what a surprise to learn this:

“Even the word ‘dude’ comes from the Irish word ‘dúid,’ or a foolish-looking fellow, a dolt,” Mr. Cassidy said. “They called the guys dudes who came down to the Five Points section of Manhattan to chase the colleens.”

He showed a passage in his book that notes that the Feb. 25, 1883, edition of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the coining of the word “dude,” referring to, among other things, a man who “wears trousers of extreme tightness.”

“You dig?” he said. “‘Dig,’ as in ‘tuig,’ or understand.”

Norman Mailer, R.I.P.

mailer-on-life.jpgTwo writers obsessed me in my youth, and inspired me to want to write:  William Faulkner, who was long dead by the time I first heard his name, and Norman Mailer, who died today at 84. 

I admit I felt a little queasy when my wife announced this to me, as shocked as one can be when an elderly hero dies.  I was sure he would roll on for another decade.  His latest book, a novelized treatment of Adolph Hitler’s early life, was supposed to be the first in a trilogy.  To announce a trilogy is a kind of vow.  Maybe Mailer thought making this vow would buy him a little more time.  

Mailer was a guilty pleasure, in several ways.  First, his sentences were literally delicious.  Other writers might have had a more powerful style — Faulkner for example — but few seemed to take such joy at constructing great sentences.  His ideas might even be absurd, but his sentences kept you on board.  He wrote like a combination of Muhammad Ali and Gene Kelly.  Strength, style, grace and a wily humor. Reading Mailer at his best was almost too much fun, especially for an English major who was expected to get through The Faerie Queen or Henry James. 

At the time I started reading him, he was widely reviled, especially in Berkeley, as a “male chauvinist pig” — an epithet that feminist author Kate Millet invented initially just to describe him.  I don’t think Mailer is sexist.  I think he is, or was, a provocateur battling the future, a “left conservative” whose problem with the prevailing feminist ideology was not its call for justice, but its claim to remake society abruptly, based only on a handful of observations and principles.  For Mailer, at one time a Marxist, feminism simply did not explain enough, and had not wrestled with its contradictions in the way, he might argue, socialism had.  

Mailer was, as I recall, a fan of Edmund Burke, and no Burkian could tolerate a revolution based on what was then a new movement that left so many questions unanswered.  In Mailer’s mind, revolutions of that kind end up dehumanizing everyone. His most scorned essay The Prisoner of Sex was, as I recall it, less an assertion of male privilege than of creative freedom, the right of an artist to draw upon his (or her) individualism, including their sexual identity, as a source of ideas, without fear of censorship or official opprobrium.  Looking back, it was the first cry against political correctness.  Even though it had its fair share of stupid statements, I loved it. But I kept quiet about my enthusiasm.

Mailer wrote so much about his aspirations as a novelist.  To him, to be a novelist was not just a craft, it was an entire worldview, a powerful combination of intellectual and artistic gifts that he used to understand anything and everything.  Early in his career, he claimed he might outdo Melville, Twain and Hemingway, and saw his own career as a battle with his novel-writing contemporaries, most of whom he snidely dismissed.  Ironically, at the outset of his greatest period of non-fiction writing, Mailer wrote this:

“If I have one ambition above all others, it is to write a novel which Dostoevsky and Marx; Joyce and Freud; Stendahl, Tolstoy, Proust and Spengler; Faulkner, and even old moldering Hemingway might come to read, for it would carry what they had to tell another part of the way.”

But I didn’t really like his novels, and that was another source of guilt.  If I’d ever met him, I’d have to admit I mostly couldn’t finish them. For all his gifts, I think he had a difficult time inventing believable characters who weren’t him.  Dialogue was another weak spot, because that involved more than one character, and they couldn’t both be him.  And, as was the case with many novelists of his generation, his imagination didn’t measure up to the true stories of his lifetime, the real events he covered so well in his non-fiction writing.  Think of the people he wrote about:  John F. Kennedy.  Ali.  Marilyn Monroe. Gary Gilmore, the murderer who was the subject of his greatest book, The Executioner’s Song. Lee Harvey Oswald. Adolph Hitler. Jesus Christ.

What Mailer offered during his most fertile period is the opportunity to engage with the real world of our own imaginations–the fantastical and rapidly changing world we mostly absorbed through the media–processed by a fascinating, sometimes perverse dreamer/intellectual/participant/bullshitter; one who constantly delivered the most surprising and elegant sentences to encapsulate his ever-evolving thoughts and perceptions. 

I started to believe I had outgrown him at some point in the 80s, so I must confess I don’t know much of his work past The Executioner’s Song. He seemed to have decided that if he was going to be America’s greatest novelist, he’d better devote his precious time to novels; but from the perspective of a Mailer non-fiction fan, it was kind of like he’d retired.  Some day, I’ll have to catch up on the novels he wrote during the past 25 years to see if he even came close to what envisioned himself capable of.   Here’s a “no” vote, FWIW.

To get into the Mailer who thrilled me, read Advertisements for Myself, The Presidential Papers, Cannibals and Christians, The Armies of the Night, Miami and the Siege of Chicago, Of A Fire on the Moon, Marilyn, The Fight and The Executioner’s Song.  He has a pretty good book on the craft of writing, The Spooky Art, which came much later.  That’s the book I’m going to pull off my shelf today in his honor. 

If you’ve got time for only one book, that would have to be The Armies of the Night, a memoir of his involvement in a famous protest against the Vietnam War.  It is the book where everything he’s got comes together.  His plays his massive ego for laughs. The grandeur of his speculations  is matched by the apocalyptic moment he describes.  He captures the political furies unleashed by that war as well as anyone, simultaneously deflating the pomposity of the phalanx of intellectuals who, like himself, could not escape the accusation of posturing from a safe distance about a bloody battle far away.

If you want to read about Mailer the WWII novelist, Mailer the drunken wife-stabber, Mailer writing for the money, Mailer biting off part of actor Rip Torn’s ear, more about Mailer battling feminists, or Mailer the advocate for the release of a killer who then killed again, it’s all here in the New York Times obituary.  I found the obit’s final grafs affecting:

Interviewed at his house in Provincetown, Mass., shortly before (his final) book’s publication, Mr. Mailer, frail but cheerful, said he hoped his failing eyesight would hold out long enough for him to complete a sequel. His knees were shot, he added, holding up the two canes he walked with, and he had begun doing daily crossword puzzles to refresh his word hoard.

On the other hand, he said, writing was now easier for him in at least one respect.

“The waste is less,” he said. “The elements of mania and depression are diminished. Writing is a serious and sober activity for me now compared to when I was younger. The question of how good are you is one that really good novelists obsess about more than poor ones. Good novelists are always terribly affected by the fear that they’re not as good as they thought and why are they doing it, what are they up to?

“It’s such an odd notion, particularly in this technological society, of whether your life is justified by being a novelist,” he continued. “And the nice thing about getting older is that I no longer worry about that. I’ve come to the simple recognition that would have saved me much woe 30 or 40 or 50 years ago — that one’s eventual reputation has very little to do with one’s talent. History determines it, not the order of your words.”

Shaking his head, he added: “In two years I will have been a published novelist for 60 years. That’s not true for very many of us.” And he recalled something he had said at the National Book Award ceremony in 2005, when he was given a lifetime achievement award: that he felt like an old coachmaker who looks with horror at the turn of the 20th century, watching automobiles roar by with their fumes.

“I think the novel is on the way out,” he said. “I also believe, because it’s natural to take one’s own occupation more seriously than others, that the world may be the less for that.”

Mailer died in New York City’s Mt. Sinai Hospital of acute renal failure, just a few weeks after he had surgery to remove scar tissue from his lung. He was previously hospitalized in September for asthma, checking himself out to attend his youngest daughter’s wedding.  He had heart bypass surgery in 2005.  

Biofuel and Starvation

Occasionally, I might invite you over to read a post at my other blog, From 50,000 Feet.  This is a good time to go over there, if only to read this post about biofuel.  Biofuel is gaining popularity, but it is quickly showing itself to be a rather frightening menace to the people of the developing world. Not enough attention on this issue for sure. So please read it and if you think anything of it, pass it along.   

Herr Russert, der Fuhrer?

One thing that’s new about this presidential election:  Candidates being urged by their potential followers to refuse to participate on certain mass media outlets, even though the exposure will help them.   Democratic candidates’ collective withdrawal from a Fox News-sponsored debate struck me as “vanity politics” earlier this year.  Now, the blogosphere is hunting down NBC’s Tim Russert for being … well, read this from The New Republic’s blogger Linda Hirshman:  

Last summer the Nevada Democrats pulled out of a debate sponsored by Fox News.  Loaded, racist and all the rest, the Dems

(Not to be a stickler for grammar, but the phrase “loaded, racist and all the rest,” which she intended to apply to Fox News, she mistakenly applies to “the Dems.”)  

decided it was incoherent for them to pretend Fox was a media outlet like any other.

Tim Russert is worse,

What??  Worse than “racist?” (I’m not sure what she means by “loaded.”  Stoned?) Even if you accept the rather extreme premise that Fox News is “racist,” what can it possibly mean for a news anchor and debate moderator to be worse than a racist?  Well, stay tuned:

because he has the mantle of the venerable NBC, network of Nipper, the radio dog. Bulletin to Democrats: Just Say No to Russert. 

See my piece at the Guardian.

I’d like to but the link doesn’t work.

Then she lists a number of other blogospheric attacks on Russert from sources like The American Prospect, Firedoglake and Ezra Klein.  One might think these posts would support the “worse than racist” charge.  But no, actually they don’t. 

There is sharp criticism of Russert’s style of questioning from The American Prospect’s Paul Waldman, but his post is hardly even partisan.  Taylor Marsh accuses Russert of being unfair and possibly sexist, and to prove her point she counts up the number of questions Hillary got in the recent debate; but Marsh is easy to refute.  The fact is, Hillary Clinton has a 31-point lead in the polls.  She is far and away the front-runner.  Given that, if a moderator distributed the questions evenly among all the candidates, they would be giving the front-runner an enormous advantage. 

If Joe Biden is asked to respond to the campaign positions taken by Dennis Kucinich, who cares? The fact is, it’s Sen. Clinton’s race to lose now, and there is a great public interest in finding out more about her.  She has earned the added scrutiny by the likelihood of her success.

Which makes Tim Russert, according to Ms. Hirshman, writing under the imprimatur of the venerable New Republic, a…wait for it…Nazi!!!!  Here, read for yourself: Continue reading

Shredding

I took three bags full of paper to a postal store last night on Torrance Boulevard that advertised that they do document destruction. 

Like anyone else who reads this blog, we have so many pieces of paper in our home that have our address or other personal information, and we don’t want that to fall into the hands of identity thieves who pick through trash and recycling bins. 

We have a little shredder here at home, but it can only handle so much paper before it starts begging for mercy.  If we’d fed it a little every day, we wouldn’t have gotten into this position, but everyone procrastinates, and before you know it, you’ve got three trash bags full of these bits of paper.

The gentleman at the postal store weighed my bags.  Two were 11 pounds, and one was 13 pounds.  Document destruction costs $1.95 per pound.  So we paid $68.25 to get rid of our potential identity thief bounty.  It was probably almost a year’s worth, but still….

After the weigh-in, the postal store guy started stuffing my paper into a narrow slot on top of a locked, wheeled trash bin.  He swore he didn’t have the key.  The idea was, I would watch him jam this stuff into the bin, which Weyerhauser would pick up later.  It took him about 10 minutes.

It ended up being kind of a social occasion.  We talked a lot about paper, shredders, and the things people mail us that create vulnerability.  Like credit-card offers.  You’d think it would be illegal by now to send out credit card applications with pre-printed addresses. This is an open invitation to identity theft and destruction of your credit rating.  Catalogues embed your name and address not just on the mailing label, but also the order form deep inside.  If you’re like me, your first reaction at seeing this part of the order form filled out was, “aren’t they clever?”  It’s not clever. Getting too much of this kind of unsolicited mail can cost you $68.25.

Okay, I’m Back

I’ve been thinking about how to get this blog back up and running, even though I’m supposed to be focusing mostly on my new blog, From 50,000 Feet.  That’s a blog about business, which means it’s about almost anything I want it to be, since everything is business and business is everything. But it’s not about me.

The problem is simply this:  When I was committed to this blog on a daily basis, I wrote what were essentially articles.  They were bloggy, but because I’ve written journalism and PR most of my life, I couldn’t let anything go if I hadn’t at least done some research on it and thought about how I wanted to present it.  Even if the search was purely personal, I still wanted people to take information from it, information you could use.  

Now, that article-writing mentality is switched to my new blog.  I just don’t have the time or energy for two such projects.  And, well, the other one…I’m getting paid to do it.

But in the two years of steady work on this blog, as I labored over my posts, oh how I envied those great models of blogging, LA Observed, Instapundit and DodgerThoughts for their concision, for their gift of open-endedness, their willingness to just let a thought or an idea live on its own, without all the struts and supports that I felt mine needed.  For Kevin Roderick and Glenn Reynolds, that meant they could do 4, 5, 10, 20 posts a day sometimes, while I struggled to do one.

It’s been my problem as a writer for as long as I’ve been a writer. Not writing fast — I’m a whiz, actually — but writing too much.  Probably, I should blame my math teachers who drilled into my head that I must “show my work.”  But it’s not a #2 pencil world anymore.  You’ve all got calculators, and the great thing about calculators is once you’ve got the answer, how you got there doesn’t matter anymore.

So that’s how it’s going to be.  I’m not just going to get to the point on this blog. It’ll be all “point” and no “getting to” it.

So what am I thinking right now? 

That I need to go for a swim.

That I need to take some paper to be shredded.  Three bags full, accumulated over a year or more. 

That my feet are cold.

That I can’t believe I’m agreeing with the Dodger management about their hiring of Joe Torre.

That Maureen Dowd’s column on Hillary Clinton is a major return to form for a seemingly burned out writer.  A lot of pundits are getting blood transfusions with the approaching end of the Bush era, where the intellectual air had gotten pretty stale. 

Keep in mind, if I had to guess right now, I would guess I’m going to be casting my presidential ballot for Mrs. C.  But, still, this was good:

When pundettes tut-tut that playing the victim is not what a feminist should do, they forget that Hillary is not a feminist. If she were merely some clichéd version of a women’s rights advocate, she never could have so effortlessly blown off Marian Wright Edelman and Lani Guinier when Bill first got in, or played the Fury with Bill’s cupcakes during the campaign.

She was always kind enough to let Bill hide behind her skirts when he got in trouble with women. Now she deserves to hide behind her own pantsuits when men cause her trouble.

We underestimate Hillary if we cast her as Eleanor Roosevelt. She’s really Alfonse D’Amato. Not just the Senator Pothole role, but the talent for playing the aggrieved victim.

D’Amato pulled off a dramatic upset in ’92 against Robert Abrams, the New York attorney general, by pouncing when Abrams slipped one night and called D’Amato a “fascist.” Though never a sensitive soul about insulting other ethnic groups, D’Amato quickly cast “fascist” as an insult to Italian-Americans, producing an ad with scenes of Mussolini.

“It was sheer gall,” Anthony Marsh, D’Amato’s media consultant, proudly told The Times’s Alessandra Stanley.

Like Alfonse, Hillary has the gift of gall. She can be righteous while playing brass-knuckle politics. She will cozy up to former enemies she can use, like Matt Drudge and David Brock, and back W.’s bellicosity if it helps banish her old image as antimilitary.

There is nowhere she won’t go, so long as it gets her where she wants to be.

That’s the beauty of Hillary.

Well…gotta go to the gym!