Holy fucking shit (?)

They discovered a first folio of Shakespeare in a library in France.

Denis Charlet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Is this like a big deal?

“This is huge,” said Eric Rasmussen, an American Shakespeare expert who traveled to France over the weekend to authenticate the volume.

Wow.  How huge?

Mr. Rasmussen pointed out the name “Neville,” inscribed on the folio’s first surviving page — a possible indication, he said, that the book was brought to St.-Omer in the 1650s by Edward Scarisbrick, a member of a prominent English Catholic family who went by that alias and attended the Jesuit college, founded when Catholics were banned from England’s universities.


The St.-Omer folio, Mr. Rasmussen said, also contains handwritten notes that may illuminate how the plays were performed in Shakespeare’s time.

Like… Hamlet has a happy ending now?

In one scene in “Henry IV,” the word “hostess” is changed to “host” and “wench” to “fellow” — possibly reflecting an early performance where a female character was turned into a male. “I’ve never seen this kind of gender switch in a Shakespeare folio,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

I’m very happy for Mr. Rasmussen, and wish him happy hunting. But if you ask me, the better story is of the hunt for the things, not the things:

Today, first folios are tracked like rare black rhinoceroses, right down to their disappearances. One is known to have burned in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; another went down with the S.S. Arctic off Newfoundland in 1854.

New ones come to light every decade or so, Mr. Rasmussen said, most recently in the library of a London woman who died without a will. “It was a mess, with a bunch of second-folio bits mixed in,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

The disgust in his voice.

The quest for a word for “female masturbation” in Swedish

TREMENDOUS respect for sex educator Kristina Ljungros agreeing to be the photo on this story. (Photo: RFSU)

There is no Swedish word for specifically female masturbation.  (Is there an English word for it?  What world language is richest in words for this practice I wonder?)  Anyway now there’s a contest to come up with one:

The idea for the contest emerged after a member of RFSU – a national not-for-profit organization which aims to promote an “open, positive view of sex and relationship issues” – brought up the absence of a specific word for female masturbation in the Swedish language at a bi-annual meeting of the group in 2013.

Rather than sit around amongst ourselves talking about it, we thought we would launch a nationwide competition,” Kristina Ljungros, a spokeswoman for the association told The Local.


Two girls discuss their entry into the contest along the Munkbroloden in Gamla Stan, Stockholm (photo by SC/Helytimes)

(ht the great Tyler Cowen):

“Klittra”, “pulla” and “selfa” are among the suggestions…

And what does he think?

Why it’s crucial:

“But the absence of one commonly used word for female masturbation suggests that we still don’t have gender equality here in Sweden,” [sex education group spokeswoman Kristina Ljungros] added.

“Hopefully this is another step towards that”.

Wholeheartedly agree, and support this cause. I even have some nominees:

  • purså
  • murledunk
  • burlisnuff
  • klaam
  • snurtlinattan
  • självberöring
  • nerelek
  • hemligskratt
  • fittabråkade
  • kvinnlig glädje
  • “kröna lucia”

Readers, I beg you to email helphely at gmail with further suggestions.

What would Lotta på Bråkmakargatan make of all this? (photo courtesy the Lisa Larsson collection at the Wrenshall Archives Of Theatrical Posters)

My Swedish is so bad, I don’t even know the Swedish word for male masturbation.  But I know who does:

Filip and Fredrik.  Highly recommend their podcast.  Their English is fascinating, articulate and technically flawless yet wonderfully strange. They’re also so intelligent and funny they must be at the far end of some kind of spectrum.

But boys, if you’re reading, you MUST update your wikipedia photo.  I use this one instead:


What is going ON in DC?

I gotta say, I agree with Peggy Noonan that this article in the New York Times, “Reid Is Unapologetic as Aide Steps on Toes, even the President’s,” is upsetting.  Here is Ms. Noonan’s summary of its contents:

Assuming the article is factually correct, and it certainly appears to be well reported, the president of the United States phoned the majority leader of the U.S. Senate during a legislative crisis to complain that one of the senator’s staffers is a leaker. Unbeknown to the president, the staffer was listening in on the call and broke in to rebut the president’s accusation.

Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

That’s the staffer there, David Krone.

(What should we make of Harry Reid’s portrait of Twain there?  There’s no way Reid is so dumb it didn’t occur to him what Twain would think of that, and him.  Is choosing that portrait a sage bit of humor and humility?  Or a cheap show at sage humor and humility? Plus bloody bloody Andrew Jackson?  anyway there’s no time to sort all that out.)  

Says the Times:

For some on Capitol Hill, Mr. Krone is a manipulative megalomaniac. For others, he is a hero who has the financial independence to speak his mind. The one thing that everyone agrees on is that he is different.

(Krone is rich I guess from being a cable TV executive as a young man?).  I’m not liking this dude’s tone as presented in the article:

“I don’t remember anything about that,” Mr. Reid said in his chandeliered office on Nov. 13, a few hours after being re-elected leader of the Senate Democrats. “Do you?” he asked, turning to Mr. Krone, who was seated beside him in the “leader’s chair.”

“Umm,” Mr. Krone, who is rarely at a loss for words, said through a frozen smile. A few minutes later, Mr. Krone, dressed impeccably in a bespoke suit, walked a reporter out of the office, and, referring to the president’s call, jocularly exclaimed, “I can’t believe that you know that story!”

Krone’s wife is Alyssa Mastromonaco, former Deputy Chief Of Staff for Operations at the White House:

 photo of AM I found on Italian wikipedia.

One day, congressional leaders went to the White House to meet with the president. As they entered, Secret Service agents decided to screen staff members, who usually roll right onto the grounds with their bosses. According to a person familiar with the day’s events, Mr. Krone, incredulous, began shouting. He then called Ms. Mastromonaco, then his fiancée and the administration’s deputy chief of staff for operations, who arrived and apologized. (Mr. Krone said he did not recall the incident and suggested that he might have been misunderstood. “I have a sarcastic sense of humor,” he said.)

Adding to the tumult as the staff members and congressional leaders waited in the White House lobby, Mr. Boehner approached Mr. Reid and, upset by Mr. Reid’s attacks on him on the Senate floor, told him to “go [expletive] yourself.” Mr. Reid replied that he read only what Mr. Krone put in his speeches.

“He says, ‘Blame David,’ ” Mr. Krone recalled, chuckling. “And I was, like, ‘Don’t look at me!’ ”

There’s more weirdness.  Apparently the President and First Lady threw a party in honor of Mr. Krone and Miss Mastromonaco’s upcoming wedding, and Krone didn’t go:

Even as his relationship with the administration deteriorated, Mr. Krone set a wedding date with Ms. Mastromonaco for last November. As the big day approached, Mr. Krone’s good friend George E. Norcross III, the Democratic political boss of South Jersey, suggested a golf outing at his Palm Beach, Fla., home before the nuptials. Mr. Krone said his fiancée endorsed the idea, but a week before the trip said, “Don’t get mad, but they are throwing a party for us.” The “they” in question was Mr. Obama and the first lady, Michelle Obama, but Mr. Krone kept his engagement with Mr. Norcross instead. “I’m exactly where I wanted,” he recalled thinking during the Florida trip.

At the White House engagement party, the president spoke of Ms. Mastromonaco’s indispensability and referred to her as a “little sister.” Michelle Obama declared her to be like “part of my family.” The absent groom later admired a photo of the cake served at the party, describing it as “like taller than me.”

(Pete Souza/The White House)

Mastromonaco now works at VICE.  Reid, talking about Krone:

Mr. Reid fought back tears as he recalled the time he visited his wife, who had been injured in a car accident, and saw Mr. Krone at her hospital bedside. “David is someone I can say, and it doesn’t affect my manhood at all,” Mr. Reid said, “I love David Krone.”

This Times article has some unusually casual phrasing.  For example:

It is hard to imagine now, but Mr. Krone used to have a good relationship with the White House. Smart and insanely hard-working, Mr. Krone, with his direct manner and total empowerment by Mr. Reid, proved a valuable ally in the administration’s early policy lifts.

Anyway: Peggy Noonan is disgusted with all this.  She goes on to invoke The West Wing, on which she briefly worked:

The second thing the Horowitz story made me think of is this. I have remarked, and I think others have also, on the broad, deep impact of the television drama “The West Wing.” It spawned a generation of Washington-based television dramas. (Interestingly, they have become increasingly dark.) It also inspired a generation of young people to go to Washington and work in politics. I always thought the show gave young people a sense of the excitement of work, of being a professional and of being part of something that could make things better.

But it also gave them a sense of how things are done in Washington. And here the show’s impact was not entirely beneficial, because people do not—should not—relate to each other in Washington as they do on TV. “The West Wing” was a television show—it was show business—and it had to conform to the rules of drama and entertainment, building tension and inventing situations that wouldn’t really happen in real life.

Once when I briefly worked on the show, there was a scene in which the press secretary confronts the president and tells him off about some issue. Then she turned her back and walked out. I wrote a note to the creator, Aaron Sorkin, and said, Aaron, press secretaries don’t upbraid presidents in this way, and they don’t punctuate their point by turning their backs and storming out. I cannot remember his reply, but it was probably along the lines of, “In TV they do!”

“The West Wing” was so groundbreaking, and had in so many ways such a benign impact. But I wonder if it didn’t give an entire generation the impression that how you do it on a TV drama is how you do it in real life.

And so the president calls the senator and the aide listens in and cuts the president off. And things in Washington are more like a novel than life, but a cheap novel, and more like a TV show than life, but a poor and increasingly dark one.

Over at Gawker they love to call Peggy Noonan things like “doddering” and “an 800 year-old broken record”  and “lunatic.”  That is not helpful. It only reveals Gawker to be dummies who think they’re smarter than they are, Peggy Noonan is 10x more skillful at writing than anyone at Gawker.

She’s so good at writing/rhetoric/storytelling that she can slick you by assumptions that might not hold up.  Here, in this same blog post, she tells the story of hearing of Monica Lewinsky:

At this point I said, “Whoa. Whoa.” Because my instinct was that it wasn’t true, presidents don’t do things like that, this sounds more like a novel than life. Maybe the girl is just someone with an extremely odd and active fantasy life.

But my friends believed the story, and I could tell that they felt a little sorry for me that I didn’t get it.

Which I didn’t. Because no president would act like that. It took days and weeks for me to fully absorb it. And then I got mad, because the people involved in the scandal were acting as vandals and tearing down things it took centuries to build.

My only personal experience of the White House was of two men, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, for whom such behavior would have been impossible.

If you work for American presidents who are good men, you will inevitably carry forward in your head the assumption that American presidents will be good men. Your expectations will be toward high personal standards and normality. If you started out working for leaders who are not good men, on the other hand, you can go forward with a cynicism and suspicion that are perhaps more appropriate to your era.

Well sure maybe they weren’t getting bjers but Reagan almost certainly was demented and both of them either didn’t know or lied about knowing how military officers in their White House were selling weapons to Islamist revolutionaries and using the money to fund right-wing murderers in Central America.

Maybe that’s worse?

That thing about tearing down things it took centuries to build, tho.  I’m with her on that.

Thinking as I go here but: it’s cool and hip and really important sometimes to be “disruptive.”

But: perhaps in my dottage I’m becoming a grumpy old crank, but:

There’s also wisdom in a lower-c “conservative” respect and protective instinct for “things” it took centuries and great sacrifice to build.  Things that preserve important, maybe even eternal values.  Things like the American Presidency, which has a dignity earned for it by brilliant, inspired men, starting with George Washington, and yeah he owned slaves and that is extremely fucked as even he seems to have known but his greatness is undeniable because he was, seemingly at all times, thinking of something bigger than himself, offering his life to a larger vision that extends all the way to us and beyond.

Among the people that followed George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson in that office there was not one who wasn’t deeply weird and full of puzzle and contradiction.  There was at least one wicked criminal who deserved to be dumped in an open sewage canal.  But taken together they built up and left behind a legacy, a “thing” of brilliance and endurance and dignity and honor and pride that benefits us, protects us, improves and broadens and enriches our lives.  That deserves some kind of deep reverence.

Not worshipful reverence, not fanatical reverence.  Even Reid knows he’s supposed to remember Twain too.  Maybe reverence is the wrong word even.  Maybe what it should inspire is humility.

That’s what’s missing here.  A guy who interrupts the President and then brags about it to The New York Times isn’t being humble.  He’s being an asshole.

Conversations With Kennedy

IMG_5902Ben Bradlee, then a reporter for Newsweek, and John Kennedy, senator and then president, were good pals.  Their wives, Toni and Jackie, were pals as well.  This book is full of incredible detail.  The night of the 1960 West Virginia primary, Kennedy and Bradlee go to a DC movie theater and see a porn:

This wasn’t the hard-core porn of the seventies, just a nasty little thing called Private Property, starring one Katie Manx as a horny housewife who kept getting raped and seduced by hoodlums.  We wondered aloud if the movie was on the Catholic index of forbidden films (it was) and whether or not there were any votes in it either way for Kennedy in allegedly anti-Catholic West Virginia if it were known that he was in attendance.  Kennedy’s concentration was absolute zero, as he left every twenty minutes to call Bobby in West Virginia.  Each time he returned, he’d whisper “Nothing definite yet,” slouch back into his seat and flick his teeth with the fingernail of the middle finger on his right hand, until he left to call again.

[regrettably a newer actress, “Catie Minx,” makes further research here come to a circuitous end.]

How much did JFK drink?

Normally he sipped at a scotch and water without ice, rarely finishing two before dinner, sipped at a glass of wine during dinner, rarely had a drink after dinner, and he almost never had a drink in the middle of the day.


says an impressed Bradlee.  From a footnote:

Kennedy was justly proud of the uncanny ability of the White House telephone operators to find anyone, anywhere, at any time of the day or night.  Once, he dared Tony and Jackie and me to come up with a name of someone the operators couldn’t find.  Jackie suggested Truman Capote, because he had an unlisted telephone number.  Kennedy picked up the telephone and said only “Yes, this is the president.  Would you please get me Truman Capote?”  – no other identification.  Thirty minutes later, Capote was on the line… not from his own unlisted number in Brooklyn Heights, but at the home of a friend in Palm Springs, Calif., who also had an unlisted number.

A recurring theme:

Philosophically, Kennedy worried out loud about the widening gap between the people who can discuss the complicated issues of today with intelligence and knowledge, and those he later referred to as “the conservative community.”  It is a theme that fascinates him, and one to which he returns time and time again: a kind of Dialogue of the Deaf, growing and disturbing, between the comparative handful of people truly knowledgeable about the increasingly complex issues our our society, and the great majority who just don’t understand these issues and hide their lack of understanding behind old cliches.  (He made an important speech on this subject at Yale University.  It was never far from his thoughts.)

How much did JFK swear?:

Jackie’s question, “What is a Charlie-Uncle-Nan-Tare, for heaven’s sake?” [re: reporter Dick Wilson] went unanswered.  (Kennedy’s earthy language was a direct result of his experience in the service, as it was for so many men of his generation, whose first serious job was war.  Often it had direct Navy roots, as above when he used the signalman’s alphabet.  He used “prick” and “fuck” and “nuts” and “bastard” and “son of a bitch” with an ease and comfort that belied his upbringing, and somehow it never seemed offensive, or at least it never seemed offensive to me.)

May 29, 1963, the President’s birthday party, a cruise on the yacht Sequoia down the Potomac:

Kennedy has not gotten the word that the “twist” is passe; any time the band played any other music for more than a few minutes, he passed the word along for more Chubby Checkers [sic].  he was also passing the word all night to the Sequoia’s captain.  Apparently through an abundance of caution in case he wasn’t having a good time, Kennedy had ordered the skipper of the Sequoia to bring her back to the dock at 10:30 PM, only to be ordered back out “to sea” – which meant four or five miles down the Potomac.  This happened no less than four times.  Four times we moored and four times we unmoored.  The weather was dreadful most of the evening, as one thunderstorm chased us up and down the river all night, and everyone was more or less drenched.  Teddy was the wettest, and on top of everything mysteriously lost one leg of his trousers some time during the night.

September 12, 1963, Kennedy in Newport:

The president arrived thirteen minutes late, timidly carrying a felt hat. I had never seen him wear a hat, but he told us “I’ve got to carry one for a while… they tell me I’m killing the industry.”


November 23, 1963:

The sledgehammer news that President Kennedy had been shot came to me while I was browsing through Brentano’s bookstore on my lunch hour.

Six months earlier, over dinner at the White House:

It’s so hard to answer the question, “What’s he like?” about anyone interesting, with all the contradictions in all of us.  “That’s what makes journalism so fascinating,” the president commented, “and biography so interesting… the struggle to answer that single question, “What’s he like?”


Hot Cross Buns

Finding a leftover roll in my house reminded me of the sad, funny sound of elementary students playing “Hot Cross Buns” on their recorders. I went looking for it on YouTube:

This video has 11,221 views.

Is it OK to love Serial?



Last week I was driving around the Pacific Northwest.


To pass the time I listened to seven episodes of Serial, the podcast where Sarah Koenig and her team investigate a murder that occurred in 1999 in Baltimore County.

It’s incredibly well-done storytelling.  Compelling, entertaining, and now wildly popular.  Serial is fun.

But is it ok?  

As with all things there’s a backlash.  I read this attack, which comes at Sarah for “white privilege,” and it didn’t ring valid at all to me (but then again I ate white privilege mixed in with my chocolate chip pancakes every Saturday morning as a kid).

I can’t get involved in whether this is really Hae’s brother, so let’s forget about that too.

What I’d say makes me a little queasy is the tone. Is it ok to have a great, fun listen as the kids play Nancy Drew about a teenage girl who was strangled and left in the park?

All across American media we turn murders into entertainment.  Is this one any worse?

How many murders are depicted on TV in America in a year?  A thousand?

I truly dunno.  But Serial did make me think of this long, deeply sad article by Eric Schlosser, author of the incredible Fast Food Nation, which is about what happens to the family of a person who gets murdered.

If you like Serial, I give my highest recommendation to Popular Crime: Reflections On The Celebration Of Violence by Bill James.  Maybe my favorite book read in the last five years.

Go ahead, read an excerpt.  

Anyway, I was glad to have Serial as I drove around.



Where does LA tap water come from?

Where does LA’s water come from?

Although the exact percentages can change dramatically from one year to the next, generally L.A. gets about half of its water from Northern California and the Colorado River, 10 percent from local groundwater sources, and a third from the Owens Valley

says this helpful post on KCRW’s blog.  (Only adds up to 93%, which is worrisome.)


The Owens Valley looks like this:


photo taken at great risk of injury/snakebite by helytimes

That’s the Owens River, and it feeds into Owens Lake.  If Owens Lake sounds nice to you, terrific, apparently it was, once.  There are accounts of clear water, and great ducks that swam there, ducks exploded in yellow fat when shot.  Here’s what Owens Lake looks like now:

Photograph taken on 5 April 2009 by Charles W. Hull and posted on DVInfo.

Here’s another picture of beautiful Owens Lake:

Here it is on my Raven Map of California:


It’s crazy how far away it is from LA:


How did LA get this water?:

Eager to find water for the growing metropolis, Los Angeles had agents pose as farmers and ranchers to buy water and land rights in the valley.

People in the Owens Valley are still pissed about this water thievery.  Here is my bud in front of an LA DWP sign sternly claiming this watery spot some 196 miles from downtown LA:


If you can’t read the graffiti it says “Fuck LA and the horse it rode in on.”

But, progress.  That quote comes from this LA Times article I happened to pick up.


LA has sucked the Owens Lake so dry that the big problem there now is dust.  The old way they used to suppress the dust, was, weirdly, flooding.  Now they’re switching to a new method:

It involves using tractors to turn moist lake bed clay into furrows and basketball-sized clods of dirt. The clods will bottle up the dust for years before breaking down, at which point the process will be repeated.

This is way better, apparently:

The new process, which starts in December, is expected to save nearly 3 billion gallons of water its first year, rising to nearly 10 billion gallons three years later. Most of that water will be put back into the aqueduct.

So, good on LA Mayor Eric Garcetti.  But the real hero here seems to be Ted Schade, the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District enforcement officer:

City officials singled out Schade for praise Friday. Garcetti described him as “a truly great environmentalist.”

The comments marked a reversal by a city that just a few years ago made him the target of a barrage of DWP lawsuits, including one accusing him of issuing unreasonable and unlawful orders. The city asked to have him barred from presiding over decisions affecting the city.

Ron Nichols, DWP general manager at the time, said in a statement then that “our water consumer will no longer be victimized by an unaccountable regulator.”

Schade was abandoned by many Owens Valley community leaders and environmental activists who feared that standing up in his defense would risk retribution from DWP.

That federal court lawsuit was dismissed a year later.

This week, Schade, 57, stood on a berm in a portion of the dry lake recently tilled to test the effectiveness of the new dust suppression method.

“I’ve been at war with the DWP for 24 years, two months and 15 days,” he said. “The fighting is over, and the path forward is clear. So, I’m resigning in December. My job here is done.”

Ted Schade, enforcement officer for the agency in charge of Owens Valley’s air quality, is a longtime nemesis of the DWP. But L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, in announcing the new agreement, praised him as “a truly great environmentalist.” (Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

Cool dude, sounds like.

Owens Lake isn’t even the biggest massive dried up lake in California.  That honor (?) belongs to Tulare Lake.


from an 1871 Southern Pacific railroad map in the Historical Atlas Of California.


Tulare Lake was the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River and the second largest freshwater lake entirely in the United States, based upon surface area. The lake dried up after its tributary rivers were diverted for agricultural irrigation and municipal water uses.

That’s way up in the tule country.  And don’t even get me started on the Salton Sea, which I guess is the reverse of a shrinking lake.

Here’s another pic from the Owens Valley:



Let’s hope they have snow like that again.