The Wonderful Wizard of … Mo?

Oz Was Just One of L. Frank Baum’s Invented Worlds

Oz Was Just One of L. Frank Baum’s Invented Worlds

If great stories constitute one of the riches of the earth, then America has nothing to be ashamed of. We may not have the Brothers Grimm, we might not have Hans Christian Anderson, we might not have Boccaccio—but we do have L. (short for Lyman) Frank Baum. He gave us not only The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) but sixteen sequels! (And they’re all pretty good!)

Then there are the other invented worlds, such as the one represented by The Surprising Adventures of the Magical Monarch of Mo and His People (1900), written the same year he created Oz. That’s only the beginning, for Baum’s fertile mind was busily at work for the last nineteen years of his life, and did not rest until he populated his fairylands with hundreds of characters and situations that not only amaze children, but not a few adults as well. Like me, for instance.

Now with the advent of e-books, it is possible to get virtually all of Baum’s work for free, or for pennies. You can try Kindle, or even Gutenberg.Com, which also contains the original illustrations. If you need cheering up, try one of his lesser-known books, which contain a wealth of treasures.


¡Cuidado! Falsificatión Peligro

The Blue Dollar Market Is Centered on Calle Florida

The Blue Dollar Market Is Centered on Calle Florida

There are at least two ways that tourists in Argentina can be passed counterfeit notes. Both ways are common enough that tourists have to know how to tell a real peso from a fake.

In June I wrote a post about Blue Dollars. There are two peso to dollar rates in Argentina: the official one and the “blue” dollar rate, which is available primarily from money changers on Calle Florida in Buenos Aires. When I wrote the post in June, the rate was 9.07 pesos to the dollar at the official rate and 13.00 pesos to the dollar on the blue market. Today the rate is 9.425 pesos to the dollar at the official rate, and 16 to the dollar at the blue rate.

If you stick to the official rate only, you will be paying more for everything; but you will probably not wind up with fake pesos—if you stick to major bank ATMs. (Money changers and dicey private ATMs are a different story.) First of all, to deal on the blue market, you need crisp, fresh Benjamins, that is to say, one hundred dollar notes. When dealing with a money changer, you have to indicate you want money at the blue rate, and you have to be willing to closely examine the bills you get in return. You can look at San Telmo Loft’s posting on “Fake Money in Argentina” for starter. And be sure to take their quiz.

Another common way of getting stuck with counterfeit notes is to use legitimate big bills and having the following happen: Let’s say you give a taxi driver a real 100 peso note. He turns around, gives it back to you, saying it’s a fake. In the meantime, he’s pulled a switch on you. Before handing over a big bill, be sure to memorize the last three digits of the serial number. That way you can accuse the driver of having passed a fake to you. You might not want to be standing where he can run you down at that point.

Fortunately, it’s easy to tell fake from real notes; but note that a lot of fake pesos are in circulation. If you get stuck holding them, there is no real recourse.



Mr. Sulu Has Morphed

Who Says There Are No Second Acts in American Life?

Who Says There Are No Second Acts in American Life?

Mr. Hikaru Sulu of the original Star Trek series has had more lives than a truckload of cats. Since he came out of the closet in 2005, he has become identified with gay causes. I like what he said around that time: “It’s not really coming out, which suggests opening a door and stepping through. It’s more like a long, long walk through what began as a narrow corridor that starts to widen.”

Since then, he has started a Facebook site that is perhaps one of the most popular, most amusing, and—at the same time—one that is at the same time of general interest without yielding one millimeter on his personal beliefs. And now he is coming out with a musical on Broadway called Allegiance about the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Takei not only directs, but he co-stars.

What is more, as a result of his experiences on he Internet, he has come out with two books: Oh Myyy! (There Goes the Internet) and Lions and Tigers and Bears (The Internet Strikes Back). I have read both books on my Kindle and enjoyed Takei’s wit, which is considerable.

If he keeps going at this pace, and if (God willing) he lives a long and fruitful life, I think we can expect to hear a lot more from “St. George,” slayer of dragons.

The Race to Germanistan

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó

As you may know, I am sympathetic with Hungary’s decision to close its borders to the prospect of uncontrolled mass migration. In doing so, it took a lot of heat from the European Community as well as the U.N. For some quixotic reason, Germany’s Angela Merkel has opened the doors wide to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. (Whether the German people will be quite so welcoming remains to be seen.)

Martine and I watched an interview on BBC with Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó, a young well-spoken diplomat. The interviewer, Stephen Sackur, kept trying to pillory the Hungarians for acting in a way reminiscent of the darkest days of World War II. (All the while, Britain is less than willing to accept the onslaught of migrants waiting in Calais to stream through the Chunnel.)

Szijjártó correctly sees mass disorganized migration as a violation of sovereignty. He doesn’t want to see his country trashed, its crops trampled down, and its law enforcement officials beaten up for trying to restore order. You can see the 20-minute interview by clicking here.

My own opinion is that the mass migration of 2015 will not end well, neither for the participants, nor the countries along the way, nor for the ultimate destination: Germanistan.


What, No Tarzan Yell?!

Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper and Carol Burnett as Her Daughter Eunice

Vicki Lawrence as Thelma Harper and Carol Burnett as Her Daughter Eunice

As you have heard me say on a number of occasions, I do not watch television—but I used to. That was back when the audience was less fragmented and less monopolized by navel-gazing “indies.” And, as the siege of furnace-level heat continues in Southern California, Martine and I decided to pay a visit to the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.

The last time we were there, about four or five years ago, it was call the Museum of Television and Radio. A lot has changed since then. For one thing, it is much easier to use the library. Instead of just calling for videotapes to be mounted by some operator in the basement, some 40% of the content is now digitized and can be accessed by an interface similar to YouTube.

While Martine sat at one console watching the old Lassie show, I was watching 1970s comedy in the form of the Carol Burnett Show and Saturday Night Live. From the same console, it is also possible to call up old radio programs.

We enjoyed our visit so much that I signed Martine and I up as members, which gives us additional privileges.

If you perchance find yourself in Beverly Hills, the Paley Center is worth a visit—particularly if you enjoy old television and radio. An extra bonus: It’s located on the same 400-block of North Beverly Drive as Nate ’n Al’s, a Jewish deli that is as old as I am (Pleistocene Era) that has managed to maintain a high level of quality.

Traveling by Mexican Rules

Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City

Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City

It all started in 1979. My brother and I were booked on a flight to Villahermosa, Mexico, one of the less enchanting cities of that great land. Suddenly, our flight disappeared off the departure screens, followed by a garbled PA announcement in Spanish. Dan and I looked at each other, and right then and there, we developed the notion of traveling by Mexican Rules.

Consequently, we hunkered down in our seats and waited for new developments. We disbelieved all announcements until we heard one (that was actually clear) that said our “canceled” flight was boarding at Gate 72. We hurried over to the gate and, sure enough, the flight was boarding; and its destination was the unlovely swamp city of Villahermosa. Within two hours, we were landed.

(It turned out that was only the beginning of our problems: We had to find a room in a city where all hotel rooms were block-booked by the Pemex oil monopoly employees. But that’s another story.)

The point I am trying to make is that one has to make allowance for mass confusion, not only when traveling, but even at home. A week ago, we had a freak rainstorm that forced the evacuation of the high rise in which I work. Until I received authoritative word from the building management, I heard no end of estimates of how long it would be before we could return to our offices. They ranged from one hour to two or three hours to half a day. In the end, the building was shut down for the day until the fire department and the Department of Water & Power was sure the transformer in the parking garage would not be flooded.

So when I am in Argentina and Chile in November, I will still be traveling by Mexican Rules. It’s the only way to fly.


The Doofus Factor

Three Male Teenagers Looking at Mobile Phone --- Image by © Ole Graf/Corbis

Three Male Teenagers Looking at Mobile Phone — Image by © Ole Graf/Corbis

For over twenty years, I worked as a specialist in census demographics. One of the most surprising things I learned during that time is that, whereas there are 26 boys born for every 25 girls, by the age of twenty-one, girls outnumber the boys. Why is that? The answer is very simple: There are a number of factors that disproportionately increase the mortality of teenage boys.

An article in the August 31, 2015 issue of The New Yorker entitled “The Terrible Teens” by Elizabeth Kolbert treats young men and women the same, but she does not account for the gender factor. Still, what she says is interesting:

Teen-agers are, as a rule, extremely healthy—healthier than younger children. But their death rate is much higher. The mortality rate for Americans between fifteen and nineteen years old is nearly twice what it is for those between the ages of one and four, and more than three times as high as for those ages five to fourteen. The leading cause of death among adolescents today is accidents; this is known as “the accident hump.”

Fortunately for them, girls are less likely to make stupid mistakes that end of killing them than boys are.

We tend to remember most vividly the experiences we had during those teen years, even if they were dumb. It has something to do with our pleasure centers being more intense at that point than later in life. In today’s news, for example, we hear of one of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s youthful stunts, namely putting his penis into the mouth of a dead pig while a student at Oxford. At least, he survived. But what about those teens who, upon getting extremely drunk, drive around town with a bunch of similarly affected teens and wind up in a gruesome wreck?

Kolbert continues:

Many recent innovations—cars, Ecstasy, iPhones, S.U.V.s, thirty racks [cases of beer], semi-automatic weapons—exacerbate the mismatch between teen-agers’ brains and their environment. Adolescents today face temptations that teens of earlier eras, not to mention primates or rodents, couldn’t have dreamed of. In a sense, they live in a world in which all the water bottles are spiked.

Sometimes I think the reason I survived is that I spent my entire adolescence suffering from a pituitary tumor that isolated me from more normal teens. By the time I was operated on at the age of twenty-one, I was mostly out of danger from the doofus factor.





Martial 10.47

Roman Poet Marcus Valerius Martialis

Roman Poet Marcus Valerius Martialis (Martial)

I haven’t quoted any poetry from Laudator Temporis Acti for altogether too long a period of time. The following is a recent translation by James Michie (1927-2007) of Martial 10.47 on the subject of happiness:

Of what does the happy life consist,
My dear friend Julius? Here’s a list:
Inherited wealth, no need to earn,
Fires that continually burn,
And fields that give a fair return,
No lawsuits, formal togas worn
Seldom, a calm mind, the freeborn
Gentleman’s health and good physique,
Tact with the readiness to speak
Openly, friends of your own mind,
Guests of an easy-going kind,
Plain food, a table simply set,
Nights sober but wine-freed from fret,
A wife who’s true to you and yet
No prude in bed, and sleep so sound
It makes the dawn come quickly round.
Be pleased with what you are, keep hope
Within that self-appointed scope;
Neither uneasily apprehend
Nor morbidly desire the end.

Yes, It Does Make Sense …

Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals

Martin Shkreli of Turing Pharmaceuticals

There used to be a comic strip appearing in the sunday paper called “Hatlo’s Inferno” drawn by Jimmy Hatlo whose intent was to show annoying people in hell who are being pointed out to those touring Hades, presumably in air-conditioned buses. (See illustration below.)

Well, I would like to add a whole circle to the inferno for a young ex-hedge fund manager who purchased a drug company called Turing Pharmaceuticals which manufactured Daraprim, which is used to treat life-threatening parasitic infections in pregnant women and immuno-compromised individuals such as AIDS patients. Mr. Martin Shkresli—may his name go down in infamy—promptly raised the price of Dataprim from $13.50 per dose to $750.00 per dose.

Hatlo’s Inferno Cartoon

“Hatlo’s Inferno” Cartoon

Then he had the cojones to claim that the 5,500% increase wasn’t too much, considering. “It really doesn’t make any sense to get any criticism for this,” Shkreli claims.

Nonetheless, the criticism is coming in fast and furious, to the extent that Mr. Shkreli probably regrets his insatiable greed.

La Bandera Oficial

The Official Flag of Argentina

The Official Flag of Argentina

Today, Martine and I went for a walk on the spectacular campus of Pepperdine University in Malibu. It was a hot, but crystal-clear day with clear views toward Catalina and Palos Verdes. What was different today was a display of some 3,000 flags, mostly the stars and stripes. I guessed that they represented the students on campus and their country of origin. Instead, it was a commemoration of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, in which 2,996 people died. The non-American flags represented the country of origin of the victims of the Al Qaeda terrorists.

Toward the end of the display, I stopped by a flag of Argentina. At the same time I felt sad for the Argentinian victim of the attack, I felt a warm glow in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Argentina and Chile in November.

It was Manuel Belgrano who designed the flag in Rosario in 1812 during his country’s war of independence from Spain. It was officially accepted as the nation’s official flag at the Congress of Tucumán on July 20, 1816, complete with the stylized image of the sun. An alternate ornamental version of the flag is minus the sun.

At one point last week, I fell afoul of a clique of rabid Little Englander trolls by suggesting that this flag should by rights be flying over the Falkland Islands. I have since decided to moderate my enthusiasm for all things Argentinian and cede the archipelago to the Brits.