11 Dec 2018

Bring Back Motorcycle Fenders!

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“Aerodynamics are for people who can’t build engines.”

-– Enzo Ferrari

11 Dec 2018

Sweet Valley High

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Nigerian-born Bim Adewunmi fell in love as a teenager with the characters and California milieu of the (My god! there were nowhere nearly that many Hardy boys books.) 181-volume young adult series Sweet Valley High.

Last night I dreamt I went to Sweet Valley again.

I dreamt I went to high school with Bruce Patman, Lila Fowler, Todd Wilkins, and of course, the most important fictional twins of my young life, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. I dreamt I knew those twins — identical in every way, right down to their perfect size-six figures, honey-blonde hair, and aquamarine eyes. At one point in my life, I thought about these twins and the assorted all-American boys and girls that made up their high school class as often as I did anything of significance in life. The novelistic tales of the Wakefields and their frenemies, pals, and rivals were interwoven with the fabric of my own real life in a way that felt close to irreversible. My school transcripts might suggest otherwise, but I know in my heart that I attended Sweet Valley High.

For those who weren’t there, or choose not to remember, Sweet Valley was the fictional town created by New York author Francine Pascal (now 80), and the setting for a series of young adult books that shook the world for generations of readers. The first of what would go on to expand to 181 books was published when I was barely a year old, in 1983, but I know that when I first got my hands on them, a decade later, everything still felt fresh, exciting, and, oddly enough, very relatable.

In the Wakefield twins — perpetually 16 years old or thereabouts — I found a sort of kinship. These blondes were as familiar to me as any single one of my friends at my all-girls boarding school in the southern Nigerian city of Sagamu, one state over from our home in Lagos. I knew them intimately and could probably have picked them out in a crowd of similarly blonde and peppy Californian teenagers with no difficulty. The sun beating over my head was a few time zones and thousands of miles away, but it was the same sun. And most days that was enough.


I can understand. When I was in elementary school, I absolutely loved the Rick Brant Science Adventure series. Who would not, as a small boy, want to live on an island, have access to a laboratory, get to help adult scientists, and own his own airplane?

Bim Adewunmi.

11 Dec 2018

A Catfishing Story with a Happy Ending

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“Ronnie” (left); Alan (right).

53-year-old short, balding Alan Stanley tricked twenty-odd-years-younger Emma Perrier into an on-line romantic relationship by “catfishing,” i.e. presenting a false photo (a picture of a young, hunky Turkish model) and a false identity on an Internet matchmaking app called Zoosk.

Pathetic and despicable? Perhaps, but oddly enough, the old deceiver’s trick led to a happy ending (though not actually the one the reader is likely to expect).

The Atlantic has the story.

Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories she’d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.

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She snapped the three selfies the app required to “verify her identity.” Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the city’s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love. …

As soon as her dating profile went live, Emma’s phone started to bleep and whistle with interest from strangers. The app allowed her to gaze at a vast assortment of suitors like cakes in a coffee-shop window, but not interact with them until she subscribed. That evening, a private message arrived in her inbox. It was from a dark-haired Italian named Ronaldo “Ronnie” Scicluna, who looked to Emma like a high-school crush. …

Ronnie seemed exciting, so she paid the £25 ($34) subscription to Zoosk.

Ronnie’s message materialized. It said: “You look beautiful.”

A rally followed. Emma discovered that she and Ronnie were two lonely Europeans working blue-collar jobs in England. Charming Ronnie attempted a little French, but when Emma wrote to him in Italian, she was surprised that he didn’t speak it. His mother was English, Ronnie explained, his Italian father spoke English too, “except when he swears.”

Their conversation moved from Zoosk onto WhatsApp, a free messaging app. Each morning on the train to work, Emma sat glued to her iPhone. She wondered how a guy like him was interested in her. “I’m very natural,” Emma said. “I mean, I’m nothing. I’m very simple you know … so I was flattered.” In her favorite photograph, Ronnie wore a leather jacket that made him look like a pop star. As a teenager, Emma had obsessed over the British boy band Take That. But Ronnie was the opposite of a celebrity; he was down-to-earth.

“You could easily have picked someone else,” Ronnie told her one day.

“No. You’re the only one I wanted to talk to … I paid because of you,” she replied.

“As soon as I saw your picture I wanted you,” he wrote.

“Makes me happy to know that,” Emma replied.

When four red heart emojis appeared on her screen, Emma was thrilled. Unlike her ex-boyfriend, Ronnie seemed mature and attentive. Ronnie was easy on the eyes, funny, and caring, but there was one problem: He did not exist.

Ronaldo Scicluna was a fictional character created by Alan Stanley, a short, balding, 53-year-old shop fitter—a decorator of retail stores. Alan lived alone in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. Like one of the Bard’s shape-shifting characters, Alan used a disguise to fool women into romance, and to prevent himself from getting hurt. His alter ego “Ronnie” was a ladies’ man, charming, and attractive—everything Alan was not.


10 Dec 2018

Russia Lining Up Tanks Near Ukraine Border

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Defense Blog:

Satellite imagery from Google Earth taken on November shows hundreds of Russian main battle tanks at a new military base on the outskirts of the Kamensk-Shakhtinsky.

The large-scale military base only 18 kilometers away from the border with toward rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine. Images show hundreds of main battle tank like as T-64 and also T-62M, while a thousand military trucks, artillery systems and tankers are located slightly higher.

Russia has been ramping up its forces near the border with Ukraine since August and now poses the greatest military threat since 2014, the year Moscow annexed Crimea, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

Muzhenko said Russian troop levels were at “the highest” since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and then deployed forces to eastern Ukraine.

“In front of us is an aggressor who has no legal, moral or any other limits,” he said. “It is very difficult to predict when it will occur to him to begin active combat actions against Ukraine.”

10 Dec 2018


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Women Boxing on Roof, New York City, 1930.

10 Dec 2018

“Baby, Just Go Outside!”

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09 Dec 2018

Dead Missionary & Murdered Jews

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David Cole demonstrates the Jewish cultural penchant for over-intellectualizing things by somehow or other connecting the recent homicidal reception of a would-be missionary by the primitive Sentinelese with the calculated exploitation of Jewish victims in the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings. Still, it’s an amusing read.

By now you’ve probably heard the knee-slapper about the millennial missionary who sneaked onto a forbidden island inhabited by the earth’s last uncontacted, pre-neolithic tribe of humans in order to convert them to Christianity. To John Chau, proselytizing was an extreme sport, something to be done while wearing expensive North Face gear and live-blogging with your GoPro for your monetized YouTube channel (“Don’t forget to hit ‘subscribe’ after you accept Jesus as your lord and savior!”).

Sadly, Mr. Chau was slaughtered by the xenophobic, bare-assed, red-tribal-paint-covered savages he came to convert. Major fail video, dude.

Today’s live-blog of the conversion of the Sentinelese troglodytes has been canceled on account of an arrow in the face. Please follow John Chau’s funeral on Instagram.

I’ve long questioned the ethics of keeping primitive tribes cordoned off and isolated. Yes, I get it, we’re making up for past excesses, when civilized Westerners forced developmentally arrested protohumans out of their trees and into fine suits and stuffy, soul-killing schools and churches. But people love replacing one extreme with another. So now we fence the poor bastards off, forever preventing the “mixing” and “diversity” that are supposedly the essential elements of any great society.

I wonder about that Sentinelese tribe. Could they ever actually “assimilate” even if they had to? I mean, in the earliest days of human existence we were all that primitive, and it took many, many millennia for us to reach the evolutionary high point where we could wear skinny jeans, master the vape stick, and appreciate Hall and Oates ironically. Have the Sentinelese remained primitive for too long? Are they permanently stunted? And to what extent can any genetically related group of humans become so locked into a way of thinking, and a way of living, passed down from one generation to another, that traits that are not per se immutable become immutable?


09 Dec 2018

France’s Rightful King Sides with the Gilets Jaunes

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Louis Alphonse Gonzalve Victor Emmanuel Marc de Bourbon, Duc D’Anjou, should be: King Louis XX of France.

Proclamation on Facebook:

Français, mes chers compatriotes,

Alors que se développe de semaine en semaine sur toute l’étendue du territoire national, le mouvement de protestation et de contestation des « Gilets Jaunes », je tiens à exprimer ma solidarité et ma profonde compassion pour ceux qui souffrent, dénués de ressources, écrasés de charges, humiliés et privés d’Espérance, et qui n’ont d’autre moyen d’expression que de se lever comme un seul homme pour manifester leur déception, leur angoisse et leur colère. Ces Français, c’est la majorité silencieuse qui se tait depuis des décennies et dont certains avaient oublié l’existence. Aujourd’hui c’est le peuple de France qui se dresse pour défendre son mode de vie et sa dignité.

Il est essentiel de l’entendre, essentiel de prendre en compte ses légitimes aspirations.

Bien sûr, il faut condamner et bannir le recours à la violence de certains groupes extrêmes qui cherchent à exploiter ce mouvement profondément populaire pour déstabiliser l’Etat. Cette violence coupable et stérile ne peut que favoriser la cause de ceux qui ne veulent pas entendre le cri de tout un peuple.

En ce jour de l’Immaculée Conception, je confie la France à Notre Dame qui est la vraie Reine de France.

Que Dieu protège la Fille aînée de Son Eglise, que Dieu vienne en aide aux Français malheureux, démunis et souffrants. Qu’Il leur rende l’Espérance et la foi en l’avenir de notre pays qui doit se relever et renouer avec tout ce qui en a constitué la grandeur autant que la paix des cœurs et la douceur de vivre.

Duc d’Anjou


French, my fellow countrymen,

As a week-to-week development throughout the entire national territory, the protest and protest movement of “Yellow vests”, I would like to express my solidarity and deep compassion for those who suffer, without resources, crushed by charges, humiliated and deprived of hope, and who have no other means of expression than to rise as one man to manifest their disappointment, anguish and anger. These French are the silent majority that has been silent for decades, some of which have forgotten existence. Today it is the people of France who stand up to defend their way of life and dignity.

It is essential to hear it, essential to take into account its legitimate aspirations.

Of course, we must condemn and ban the use of violence by certain extreme groups that seek to exploit this deeply popular movement to destabilize the state. This guilty and sterile violence can only promote the cause of those who do not want to hear the cry of a whole people.

On this day of the immaculate conception, I entrust France to our lady who is the true queen of France.

May God protect the eldest daughter of her church, may god help the unhappy, poor and suffering French. Let them give them hope and faith in the future of our country that must rise and reconnect with everything that has made it greatness as much as peace of hearts and the sweetness of living.

Louis, Duke of Anjou.

Fire Macron, hire him.

08 Dec 2018

Saul Bellow, “Insufferable, Spoiled Monster”


Saul Bellow on the Subway in NYC.

Marc Greif reviewing Zachary Leader’s second volume of the Life of Saul Bellow: Love and Strife, 1965-2005 concludes that, Yes, success really did turn Bellow into a pretentious total prick.

Here in Volume 2, “Love and Strife,” the novel “Herzog” is published on the very first page and reaches “No. 1 on the best-seller list, supplanting John le Carré’s ‘The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.’” Never again would Bellow, about to turn 50 years old, lack for wealth, power, awards or flunkies to stand by him, ready to take his coat and do his bidding. The temptation for someone in his position was to become an insufferable, spoiled monster.

And Bellow quickly gave in to temptation. “Bellow’s bad temper in the late ’60s was by no means directed exclusively at would-be biographers, radical students and aggrieved wives,” Leader begins a sentence, apologetically, on just Page 65. Bellow had so many targets to attack, whether insulting them face to face or in blistering letters or put-downs circulated through intermediaries. One of his favorite one-liners ran: “Let’s you and him fight.” The most salient recipients of Bellow’s bad temper in this biography were his three sons, each from a different mother — the oldest 21 when this volume starts, the youngest just 1 year old and about to be abandoned after yet another divorce.

As previous biographers have discovered, it’s difficult to write an endearing biography of Bellow. “Was I a man or was I a jerk?” Bellow inquired on his deathbed. Leader put the question on the first page of Volume 1, and it bookends this two-volume opus. Nevertheless, he has managed to write a sympathetic, judicious, 700-page second volume here, which one can recommend on its own merits. I even came to admire Bellow more at the end than the beginning. How on earth did Leader do it?

One means is those sons. I found myself reading for the reappearances of Gregory Bellow, Adam Bellow and Daniel Bellow, who are richly realized as characters and emerge as thoughtful commenters on their father’s life. The sons’ humiliations climax with the oldest, Gregory’s, tumultuous speech at a luncheon after Bellow accepted the Nobel Prize. He announced, generously, that he finally realized his father loved him after all, but his father’s way of loving was to work so hard and single-mindedly. Bellow, rather than embrace his firstborn, walked in front of the crowd to his middle son, Adam, shook his hand, and said: “‘Thanks, kid, for not saying anything.’ And off he went, in a stretch limo, entourage at his side.”

Equally vibrant are the characterizations of the adult women who intersected with Bellow. Two of his five wives, Alexandra Tulcea and Janis Freedman, sat for wide-ranging interviews and come through admirably. So do many women Bellow dated in the 1960s and 1970s. The celebrated writer kept romances alive in different cities, two or three at any given time — with students and faculty divorcées at the University of Chicago, assistants at The New Yorker, even his housecleaner. Half a century later, women like Maggie Staats and Arlette Landes are affectionate but frank in remembering the half-liberated ’60s milieu, and make the otherwise dreary train of affairs surprisingly captivating.


Personally, I’ve never read a Bellow novel that I liked. I’ve always thought him to be an enormously over-rated terrible writer who received vast amounts of undeserved attention owing to ethnic favoritism.

08 Dec 2018

If O. Henry Wrote DNA Testing Stories…

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Her husband’s crude and direct approach to eating convinced Jen Gilman Porat that DNA testing would prove he had Neanderthals lurking in his woodpile.

A couple of years ago, I purchased a pair of 23andMe kits for myself and my husband, Tomer. I intended to scientifically prove that Tomer’s most irritating behaviors were genetic destiny and therefore unchangeable. I’d grown tired of nagging him — oftentimes, I’d hear my own voice rattling inside my brain in the same way a popular song might get stuck in my head. I needed an out, something to push me toward unconditional acceptance of my husband. My constant complaining yielded zero behavior modification from on his part; on the other hand, it was changing me into a nasty micromanager. I briefly considered marital therapy, but that’s an expensive undertaking, costing much more than the $398.00 one-time fee for both DNA kits. Plus, couples’ therapy could take a long time, requiring detours through our shared history. In much appealing contrast, 23andMe, promised to launch us straight back to our prehistoric roots, to an earlier point in causality, one that might provide Tomer with something akin to a formal pardon note, thereby permitting me to stop fighting against him, once and for all. I imagined we could help others by way of example too, for what long-married woman has not suffered her husband’s most banal tendencies — the socks and underwear on the floor, the snoring? Not me, actually, because my husband puts his used clothes in the hamper, and I’m the snorer. Really, I’m probably blessed as far as masculine disgustingness goes. But my husband is flawed in one repulsive way: his barbaric table manners.

I have no doubt this is a genetic situation, for even back when we were first dating, I’d shuddered upon seeing my father-in-law poke through the serving bowls of a family-style meal with his bare hairy hands. My husband’s father has also been caught eating ice cream directly from the carton (the thought of which I now appreciate for its built-in binge deterrent). Moreover, my father-in-law eats like a caveman-conqueror, reaching across dinner plates to pluck a taste of this or that from his mortified tablemates. A family dinner looks like a scene straight out of Game of Thrones, minus any crowns. And so, when my husband first began to exhibit similar behaviors, I had to wonder: Had I suffered some rare form of blindness previously? Did some barrier of unconscious denial gently shield my eyes each day, year after year, but only at mealtimes? It was as if a blindfold suddenly fell from my face, or as if Tomer had finally removed a mask from his own. My gentleman turned into a beast, seemingly overnight.

I watched with horror, one Sunday evening, as my husband served himself a plate of meat and vegetables with his hands. His fingers ripped skirt steak in lieu of cutting it with a knife. He abandoned his fork altogether, and I lost my appetite.

Had Tomer suffered some obscure symptom of the mid-life crisis? Or was this a regressed state? During a phone conversation with a close friend, I described my father-in-law’s vile eating manners and wondered if his pre-existing condition had grown contagious. She suggested Tomer’s change of behavior might indicate an epigenetic effect; she’d read somewhere that some aspects of our genetic code lie in wait and get activated along the way. Apparently, some inherited traits remained invisible for years, hiding patiently in our cells until: Surprise! Just when you hit middle age and are totally comfortable in your own skin (despite the new fine lines around your eyes and those brown circles that are hopefully age spots and not melanoma), some new biological fact of your genetic code makes itself manifest, waking you up from your mid-age slumber.

Another interesting detail I could not ignore: Around the same time Tomer stopped liking forks, he’d adopted the Paleo diet, (versions of which are known as the caveman diet). He’d cut all processed foods from his intake, eating nothing but meat, nuts, vegetables, and fruit. Prior to going Paleo, he’d suffered from a severe case of irritable bowel syndrome and relied on bread products, thinking that challah and croissants were the softer, gentler foods. I suspected a gluten allergy and told him to lay off all the Pepperidge Farm cookies. I probably even told him to “eat like a caveman,” but I only meant for him to eat a more natural and gluten-free diet, in order to heal him, which in fact, it did.

“My stomach is no longer a quivering idiot,” Tomer said, and he said it more than once, to countless friends and family members, until he’d worked up a complete narrative on how he’d triumphed over his very own stomach. And each time he told this story, he lifted his shirt, pounding his fists upon his midsection. His proud smile began to appear, well, wild and hungry, as if he’d tamed his digestive system but in doing so, had activated a primitive gene and sacrificed his own civility.

Shortly thereafter, I came across an article pertaining to Neanderthal DNA. According to modern science, the Neanderthals and our prehistoric ancestors mated, leaving many of us with a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA. I did more Googling and learned that 23andMe can tell you how much Neanderthal DNA you carry. Although they do mean different things, in my mind’s eye, the words “Neanderthal” and “Caveman” summoned identical images: that of savage meat-eating maniacs ripping raw meat from bone with fat fingers and jagged teeth.

And this was it — the thing that sold me on 23andMe: the chance to determine one’s degree of Neanderthal-ness. Without any consideration of all the possible consequences of submitting one’s DNA to a global database, I ordered two kits, grinning and convinced that my husband’s result would show a statistically significant and above average number of Neanderthal variants in his genome. Since Father’s Day was only a month away, I decided I’d giftwrap the kits upon arrival too. I’d kill two birds with one stone.


08 Dec 2018

It’s a Mystery


“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.”

— W.H. Auden

07 Dec 2018

Sleeping Beauty After #MeToo

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HT: Karen L. Myers.

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