Monday, December 22, 2008


One more reason to love lisp: it's a language where every function call is actually a funcall.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mice suspected in deadly cat fire

BBC is reporting on a fire in a Humane Society building in Oshawa:
"It's unfortunate and ironic that mice caused the fire that killed the cats," Toronto Humane Society spokesman Ian McConachie told the BBC News website.
"Unfortunately, the mice probably perished in the fire as well," he added.
Unfortunately? We think the little bastards got what they deserved.

Monday, December 15, 2008


  • Immaculate consumption -- period of the shopping calendar between Nov 1 and Dec 25 when stores see profits
  • Codless communists -- left-inclined inhabitants of Newfoundland

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Daily tips for good karma

Tip #1: When you're having people work for you on the weekend to meet a "critical deadline", go ahead and completely haul over the app code to work with a version of database that you branched from the head three weeks ago. Without actually doing any branching in the app code. In fact, forget about branching altogether! Oh, and that new database is missing all the testing data and dictionaries. And the changes to the app code are untested. Your developers will thank you for that. Because they don't feel challenged enough on the weekend without a pretty little surprise like that.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Age of Virtue is here, people!

Richard Handler has a great article discussing whether we should intervene in places like Sudan or Zimbabwe . First camp: Gareth Evans & Mia Farrow: human rights, basic human decency, we're on the verge of a breakthrough, age of virtue is about to begin, gotta intervene. Second camp, John Bolton, a former UN ambassador under George W. Bush, and Rick Hillier: interventions are complicated and have a huge financial and human cost, public is hypocritical about support for interventions and chickens out after the first 100 zinc coffins coming back home, look at Iraq & Afghanistan, are you personally prepared to sacrifice your/your family's life and standard of living.

I personally think we can reach a compromise on this. How about we just keep approving human rights, basic human decency and need for intervention, thus fulfilling our deep emotional need for feel-good rhethoric, and at the same time keep doing what we're doing right now: get the hell out of Afghanistan and never make the same mistake again. Works like a charm.

Update: Thomas Rose reporting on the same debate.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lolita in Ukrainian

Just spotted this right now on Alya Berlina's blog : Nabokov's "Lolita" in Ukrainian translation. Uber-cool.
Лолiта, свiтло мого життя, вогонь моїх чересел. Грiх мiй, душа моя. Ло-лi-та: кiнчик язика долає шлях у три стiбки з пiднебiння вниз, щоб на третьому тюкнути в зуби. Ло. Лi. Та. Вона була Ло, просто Ло, вранцi, п'ять футiв на зрiст (без двох вершкiвта в однiй шкарпетцi). Вона була Лола в довгих штанях. Вона була Доллi в школi. Вона була Долорес на пунктирах бланкiв. Але в моїх обiймах воназавжди: Лолiта.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A fat lot of good

My friend Greg Levonian is posting this beautiful quote on the value of Sovietology:
Quote From Defense Secretary Robert Gates from after the Russia-Georgia war:

"For the first time, both the United States secretary of state and secretary of defense have doctorates in Russian studies. A fat lot of good that's done us.
There are beautiful and very true verses by a Russian poet Fyodor Tjutchev:
Умом Россию не понять,
Аршином общим 
не измерить:
У ней особенная стать –
Россию можно только верить.
You will not grasp her with your mind
Or cover with a common label,
For Russia is one of a kind –
Believe in her, if you are able...
Der kühle, wägende Verstand
Kann Rußlands Wesen nicht verstehen;
Denn daß es heilig ist, dies Land,
Das kann allein der Glaube sehen.
Nul mètre usuel ne la mesure,
Nulle raison ne la conçoit.
La Russie a une stature
Qui ne se livre qu'à la foi.
I think these words should be written in every travel brochure about Russia, on every air plane ticket to Moscow, every Russian embassy and customs office. Hell, put it into the anthem! Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate. All hope abandon, ye who enter in.

Russia 1; Sovietology 0

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp, Lisp

On the fat thieves of the publishing industry

There's a cute group called "Join if you think textbooks are overpriced" on Facebook. Just cause I think I'm so clever I'm reposting my comment from there here.
Good job joining this group everybody! Now go flip some hamburgers so that you can afford the book for your "Culture of Protest" course.

Wait, maybe that money could be better spent on the book for the course "The Merits of Idealism"! Because of course, just by voting, starting up a Facebook group and maybe wearing a T-shirt we will be able to control an uber-profitable textbook publishing industry!

Face it, people, it's just empty words. If you want to make a difference, go scan your copy of "Nursing: Advanced Applications" and post it on or Or maybe go talk to your prof and ask them to release their course notes under Creative Commons.

And by the way, guess where you can already download Stewart's "Calculus" and a bunch of other useful books?

And for those people who wrote that $900 will get you X liters of beer, I think the publishing houses have a valid argument when they say you also owe them your liver.

On the nuances of ideology

From the memoirs of the late General Alexander Lebed':
...товарищ Медведев, главный идеолог партии, как мне казалось, должен был быть оратором как минимум выше среднего, уметь доводить до широкой аудитории свои мысли, навязывать свою волю и понуждать к выполнению каких-то постулатов, даже если ты с ними не очень-то согласен. Когда Медведев вышел на трибуну, [322] выяснилось, что он вообще никакой оратор. С массой трудностей, поминутно обращаясь к шпаргалке, он кое-как довел до конца корявую речь. С явным напряжением, далеко не блестяще ответил на вопросы от микрофонов, а при переходе к ответам по запискам просто оконфузился. Какой-то злонамеренный тип написал в записке: «Тов. Медведев, какая разница между идеологией и сексом?»
Ну пробеги записку глазами, отложи ее в сторону с возгласом: «Это не корректно, это шутка» или там: «Это не серьезный вопрос», и все бы было в порядке. Но товарищ Медведев огласил текст записки, поднял жалостливый взгляд на зал и, растерянно улыбаясь, потерянным голосом сказал: «Товарищи, если о первом я еще могу говорить с вами, то на второе я уже не способен!» 
I expected at that time that comrade Medvedev, the main ideologue of the party, would be an orator above average, would know how to pass his thoughts on to the audience, to impose his own will and how to force the implementation of a given thesis, although perhaps not agreeing with it himself. When, however, Medvedev appeared on the tribune, it turned out that an orator he was not. With a great deal of effort, stopping to look at his notes every minute or so, somehow he still managed to bring his awkward speech to an end. His answers to the questions at the microphones were strained at best, and when he started answering the questions passed to him from the audience on the sheets of paper, he managed to make a complete fool out of himself. Some ill-meaning type wrote in a note, "Comrade Medvedev, what is the difference between ideology and sex?"
Had he first looked over the text of the note and moved on to the next one, remarking that the question was inappropriate, everything would be fine. But Comrade Medvedev made the text of the question public. He then looked up from the note and, smiling with a pitiful expression on his face, said with an intonation of a five year-old: "Comrades, whereas I can still discuss the former with you, the latter I'm utterly incapable of".
Update: this is not the Medvedev you're thinking of. He writes about a time before 1990. There are lots of Medvyeds (bears) and Medvedevs in Russia.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Soviet block jokes

I'm looking through this 1970 book about Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland by Ivan and Mary Volgyes, and it has a few neat soviet-era jokes worthy of reproducing:
Czech:  Who are the slowest people on Earth? -- The Soviets. We asked them to move in their troops in 1938, but by the time they got here it was 1968!
Magyar: Stalin dies and goes to the gates of Heaven. St Peter meets him there and refuses him entrance. In a few days, as Peter is dozing off merrily in the sun, he hears an awful racket outside the gates. So he wakes up, opens the gates and observes a horde of little devils standing in front of the gates. "And what the hell are you guys doing here?", he asks. The answer -- "Us? We're the first refugees of the Stalinist Terror." 

Repeal Day

Ladies and gentlemen, did I really suggest that we make December 5 the International Brooklyn Bagel Day? Well, I'm really really sorry, I must have been drunk out of my mind. We will have to look for another day for the Brooklyn Bagel -- and no, I have not been intimidated by violent ninjas, it's just that December 5, 2008 happens to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of America's failed experiment with alcohol prohibition.

Wall Street Journal had
an article by Ethan A. Nadelmann on Dec 5 that used this opportunity to ask the question of why, in light of such an evident failure of the alcohol prohibition experiment, is America still so resistant to reconsidering the immeasurable ill effects of the failed war on drugs that has by now become so ingrained into the legislative culture of the country.
It's not because alcohol is any less dangerous than the drugs that are banned today. Marijuana, by comparison, is relatively harmless: little association with violent behavior, no chance of dying from an overdose, and not nearly as dangerous as alcohol if one misuses it or becomes addicted. Most of heroin's dangers are more a consequence of its prohibition than the drug's distinctive properties. That's why 70% of Swiss voters approved a referendum this past weekend endorsing the government's provision of pharmaceutical heroin to addicts who could not quit their addictions by other means. It is also why a growing number of other countries, including Canada, are doing likewise.
Yes, the speedy drugs -- cocaine, methamphetamine and other illicit stimulants -- present more of a problem. But not to the extent that their prohibition is justifiable while alcohol's is not. The real difference is that alcohol is the devil we know, while these others are the devils we don't. 
He goes on to suggest moreover that the contrasting behavior of UK and other countries during the time when US chose to try the prohibition has produced results that bode very well for a potential universal decriminalization of drugs.

Well, one day, perhaps, common utilitarian sense will prevail the backwards puritanical attitudes both in the States and up here. Until then, I guess I can blog about it.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Poland, Ukraine Not Dead Yet

Growing up in post-USSR Moldova and frequently visiting my grandparents in the Odessa region of Ukraine, I heard many times a joke exploiting a particular feature of the first line of the Ukrainian national anthem. "Ukraine isn't dead yet, and nor its glory, its will", it goes, but simply by changing the intonation of the first part as you can do in Ukrainian or Russian, you get a meaning of "So, isn't Ukraine dead yet?". True, times were tough, and, I remember, at one time there was an ad running on a TV channel called 1+1 saying "There are 52 millions of us!". That was true from around 1991 to 1994, but today the figure is down to 46 million, due to migration and a demographic crisis with the fourth greatest population decrease rate in the world.

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to write about: just recently, in my ignorance, I have learnt that Ukrainian national anthem isn't unique in eagerly lending itself to mockery. Polish national anthem starts with the words, "Poland has not perished yet / So long as we live".  In fact, Polish and Ukrainian anthems are remarkably similar in meaning, which isn't surprising, given the long and tumultuous history of both nations' struggle for independence and unification:


Ще не вмерла Україна, ні слава, ні воля,
Ще нам, браття-українці, усміхнеться доля.
Згинуть наші вороженьки, як роса на сонці,
Запануєм і ми, браття, у своїй сторонці.

Душу й тіло ми положим за нашу свободу
І покажем, що ми, браття, козацького роду.

Станем браття, в бій кривавий, від Сяну до Дону
В ріднім краю панувати не дамо ні кому.
Чорне море ще всміхнеця, дід Дніпро зрадіє,
Ще на нашій Україні доленька наспіє.

А завзятта праця щира свого ще докаже,
Ще ся волі в Україні піснь гучна розляже.
За Карпати відіб'ється, згомонить степами,
України слава стане поміж народами.


Ukraine has not perished, neither her glory, nor freedom,
Upon us, fellow--Ukrainians, fate shall smile once more.
Our enemies will vanish, like dew in the morning sun,
And we too shall rule, brothers, in a free land of our own.

We'll lay down our souls and bodies to attain our freedom,
And we'll show that we, brothers, are of the Cossack nation.

We'll stand together for freedom, from the Syan to the Don,
We will not allow others to rule in our motherland.
The Black Sea will smile and grandfather Dnipro will rejoice,
For in our own Ukraine fortune shall flourish again.

Our persistence and our sincere toils will be rewarded,
And freedom's song will resound throughout all of Ukraine.
Echoing off the Carpathians, and rumbling across the steppes,
Ukraine's fame and glory will be known among all nations.


Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła,
Kiedy my żyjemy.
Co nam obca przemoc wzięła,
Szablą odbierzemy.

Marsz, marsz, Dąbrowski,
Z ziemi włoskiej do Polski.
Za twoim przewodem
Złączym się z narodem.

Przejdziem Wisłę, przejdziem Wartę,
Będziem Polakami.
Dał nam przykład Bonaparte,
Jak zwyciężać mamy.

Jak Czarniecki do Poznania
Po szwedzkim zaborze,
Dla ojczyzny ratowania
Wrócim się przez morze.

Już tam ojciec do swej Basi
Mówi zapłakany
Słuchaj jeno, pono nasi
Biją w tarabany.


Poland has not perished yet
So long as we still live
That which alien force has seized
We at sabrepoint shall retrieve

March, march, Dąbrowski
From Italy to Poland
Let us now rejoin the nation
Under thy command

Cross the Vistula and Warta
And Poles we shall be
We've been shown by Bonaparte
Ways to victory

Like Czarniecki Poznań regains
Fighting with the Swede,
To free our fatherland from chains
We shall return by sea

Father, in tears
Says to his Basia
Just listen, it seems that our people
Are beating the drums

Isn't it remarkable how semantically similar these two anthems are?

Just recently, in 2003, Ukraine has made a neat change to their anthem, making it shorter, changing the first line to say "Neither Ukraine's glory nor its will is dead yet (Ще не вмерла України і слава, і воля)", and taking out all of the text saying how, supposedly, in the future, all of the land "from Syan to Don" will be United Ukraine because, of course, now all of that land is in independent Ukraine. The new anthem, in my opinion, is much stronger.

Polish anthem, in comparison, contains names and details that are no longer relevant for a modern Pole -- and the mention of Bonaparte is a dead giveaway of its origins as a military song written in 1797, the high point of the Napoleonic era. And that's even after (rather diplomatic) omission of two more verses mentioning Germans and Muscovites.

That, however is nothing out of ordinary in the anthem tradition around the world: I always get a kick out of thinking about how French primary schoolchildren get to sing about how "the tainted blood / will drench our furrows" and how "against us / the tyranny's bloody banner is raised". If they went on to sing all of La Marseillaise, of course, there are lots of little gems there that I dare say wouldn't be rated PG-13. Here's a part that says that Frenchmen are magnanimous warriors and spare their enemy's life, except for...

Mais ces despotes sanguinaires,But not these blood-thirsty despots,
Mais ces complices de Bouillé,These accomplices of Bouillé,
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,All these tigers who mercilessly
Déchirent le sein de leur mère !Ripped out their mother's breast!

And so on. So I guess we can forgive the Poles a little nostalgic reference to Swedes, Italy and Czarniecki here and there. And if you don't like the lyrics, you can just conveniently sing the pan-slavic anthem "Hey, Slavs" to the same music. Groovy!
For more information, Wikipedia has a lot of material on Polish and Ukrainian anthems.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The press's reaction to proclamation of International Brooklyn Bagel Day

Our archnemesis at is loudly protesting that the Montreal bagel is supposedly superior to Brooklyn bagel in every way imaginable. Well, that's ok, we welcome dissent here at Musing Among the Vegetables. First we welcome it, then we crush it unequivocally, crudely and ruthlessly.

Greg argues that the wikipedia article about Montreal bagel is longer and there have been reports of people supposedly taking Montreal bagels to space and to the center of known universe -- New York. Well, big deal. I say, if a bagel needs to be taken to space and have a PR campaign run for it, that bagel has an inferiority complex. Quite likely too, that bagel is eager to kill his father and marry his mother.

A good bagel, of which there's only one kind, Brooklyn, needs no publicity, only admiration.

And in response to your outrageous proclamation of superiority of Montreal Jews over Brooklyn Jews... I'll have my Jews call your Jews.

International Brooklyn Bagel Day

They made me an everything bagel with egg, bacon, swiss cheese and butter at Marcello's this morning. And I got to say, it was a reasonable, respectable bagel, and they tried very hard to do what they could with that bagel to make it taste good. And I would've enjoyed it, if not for the nostalgia that, like a clever assassin on a December night, had sneaked* up close behind my back and, holding its breath, plunged the full length of a knife of chagrin into my heart. I thought of Brooklyn Bagels.

Figure 1. A Brooklyn Bagel -- picture courtesy of Katheryn Rice 

The Brooklyn Bagel... it's the mother of all bagels, it is also their father, their rabbi and a shining star of hope for all of us humble bagel-loving mortals all over the globe. To compare any other bagel to a Brooklyn Bagel is automatic blasphemy, punishable by anathema from the Brooklyn Bagel to full extent of the law. Few people know it, but the Obama'08 logo actually portrays a celestial Brooklyn Bagel with a strip of bacon on it. What better than a Brooklyn bagel to inspire hope?

Figure 2. Brooklyn Bagel in popular culture

So I hope that you agree with me by now that the Brooklyn Bagel is God's parting gift to Creation. And if you do, I hope you will also be outraged that we still don't have an International Brooklyn Bagel Day. It's really a shame, isn't it, that we are ready to celebrate anything and everything but the important things in life that make us the people we are. Well, no more, I say, no more, my brethren in bagel! I hereby declare today, December 5th, the International Brooklyn Bagel Day. I say, we need to raise Brooklyn Bagel awareness on this continent and across the world and then, one day, the world may be a better place, a place in which there's a place** for delicious substance and a place*** for void. As an added bonus, the International Brooklyn Bagel Day will in the long run replace the lame and laughable Day of the Ninja which by a strange twist of fate is on the same day.

So go get your own Brooklyn Bagel and let's celebrate! If you don't have a Brooklyn nearby, give a call to these guys here at Brownstone Bread and Bagel Co (personally approved by me). I'm sure they won't mind throwing several dozen bagels in a cardboard box and shipping them to you overnight. And when they do, please don't forget to share a bagel with your UPS delivery man -- the Brooklyn Bagel Day is about bagels, but it's also about sharing. Why would God put a hole in a bagel otherwise?

And now, take your Brooklyn Bagel into your right hand and say the customary Oath of Allegiance to Brooklyn Bagel, after which I will be finally able to pronounce you man and bagel, till death do you part. Hint: it will probably be due to an artery clogged thanks to the delicious fat and carbs of a Brooklyn Bagel. There are worse ways to die.
* Apparently, "sneaked" is the correct past and past perfect participle form of the verb to sneak. Oxford dictionary goes on to mention that, indeed, the form "snuck" (which sounds much more natural to me) had appeared about a century ago in American English and had been looked down at as jocular and uneducated ever since. Today, interestingly enough, "snuck" is used as often as "sneaked" and has been unofficially accepted as an alternative -- but, of course, not in Britain, where "it is unmistakably taken to be a jocular or non-standard form". Well, of course, if you have been reading this blog long enough you know that it's all about sophistication of the highest degree, so we certainly cannot allow our readers' eyes to be insulted by the usage of the form "snuck". In fact, from now on, when you are reading these blog entries to yourself, imagine me speaking with an aristocratic High British accent. Because you, my dear reader, deserve no less. Incidentally, here's a link to the cucumber bagel sandwich recipe .

** This phrase has been nominated for a Guinness record for "most uses of word 'place' within a meaningful 8-word sentence segment".

*** And also most uses of word 'place' within a meaningful 14-word sentence segment.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

BG publishes today an e-interview with Boris Grebentschikov , the most insightful and enlightened person of anybody whose music is popular in Russia today. It's really too bad that his poetry is hardly translatable and his music, while being very good quality singer-songwriter music, isn't self-sufficient.
Perestroika has ushered in a new era of opportunity for rock musicians; several of the more prominent ones got breaks in the West. BG's came from Dave Stewart (ofEurythmics fame). Stewart-produced "Radio Silence" was released in 1989, featuring covers of Alexander Vertinsky's "China" amid songs by BG, including a song written to Sir Thomas Malory's "Death of King Arthur". Annie LennoxBilly MacKenzie and Chrissie Hynde helped out, as did several of BG's bandmates from Aquarium.
The name of the album proved self-ironic in the extreme as it hasn't made so much as a dent in the charts. Part of the failure can be attributed to the fact that unlike the Anglo-American rock-n-roll culture, the Russian song tradition heavily emphasizes lyrical complexity over hooks or drive, which reinforces the not entirely fair comparisons between BG and Dylan. (from here) [..In the end, BG was disillusioned about the possibility of exporting Russian songwriting tradition to the West..]
In other words, if you're looking for a reason to pick up or improve your Russian, BG is a pretty good reason,  probably one of the best among other phenomena of contemporary Russian culture.

Pick your own TLD

Today is a glorious, glorious day in the history of Musing Among The Vegetables blog, because today we get not one, but three domain names for you, our loyal readers, to pick from. Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to give you

That's right my friends, for the longest time I could not decide whether I'm a business, an organization or a network entity. Or maybe even a person. In the end, I decided that being as multifaceted as I am, I should register all of the above, plus redirect my other domain to this blog. 

In the end, my dearest readers, I think it is you who win, because now you have the liberty of accessing this blog in harmony of your interpretation of me, as a com, org, net, or ca. Use this power wisely and remember, com can also be interpreted as "communist". So choose your TLD wisely.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Hard times

Be afraid... be very afraid.

From here 
Well, at least the transportation industry is doing ok.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Radio pays

Why hasn't anybody told me about Marian McPartland's "Piano Jazz" radio show on NPR before? It's absolutely amazing! This kind of live interaction with the people you usually only hear on the records, it's like having them sit right here in your living room - which is exactly why I think radio is a much, much personal and intimate medium than television. (Oh, I saw Woody Allen's Radio Days just recently. As always, highly recommended. With original music by Dick Hyman . Go check it out now. Oh and there's a recent episode of "Piano Jazz" with Dick Hyman where he talks about Radio Days.)

So anyway, my soundtrack for tonight's work is Ray Charles chatting with Marian from 1990 and playing and singing and doing that thing he can do and laughing in his idiosyncratic way. Groovy!

Oh, by the way, NPR is a perfect example of how it's actually possible to create excellent programming while fairly balancing public and private funding:

According to the 2005 financial statement, NPR makes just over half of its money from the fees and dues it charges member stations to receive programming, although some of this money originated at the CPB itself, in the form of pass-through grants to member stations.[8] About 2% of NPR's funding comes from bidding on government grants and programs, chiefly the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; the remainder comes from member station dues, foundation grants, and corporate underwriting. Typically, NPR member stations raise about one-third of their budget through on-air pledge drives, one-third from corporate underwriting, and one-third from grants from state governments, university grants, and grants from the CPB itself.
Over the years, the portion of the total NPR budget that comes from government has been decreasing. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the majority of NPR funding came from the federal government. Steps were being taken during the 1980s to completely wean NPR from government support, but the 1983 funding crisis forced the network to make immediate changes. More money to fund the NPR network was raised from listeners, charitable foundations and corporations, and less from the federal government. (from here )
Hear that, CBC? I mean, I love CBC radio, I think it's one thing we can be proud of as Canadians, but my gut feeling is that only around 20% of Canadians actually think it's fair that it's completely funded by their taxes (number based on an Ipsos gut survey from Nov 30, margin of error 3%, 19 times out of 20). NPR in my view presents a much more democratic model of culture funding, where the people support the things they love with their own cash.

And now, back to Ray. Geoooorgia!