Beware this safety patrol cat

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Typically, cats only make it online when they’re adorable and can’t spell.

The subject of this post is not particularly adorable, but he probably could spell — and that’s been enough to earn him a pile of headlines in recent days (see Yahoo, Huffington Post, and ABC News, among others). And so I feel obligated to warn the internet — indeed, all humanity — of his danger. Take it away, Tri-City Herald:

Twice a day, every weekday, a large black cat named Sable trots from the garage where he lives to a nearby street corner in West Richland.

He plops down in a patch of grass and watches as children cross the street to and from Enterprise Middle School, earning him the nickname “the crossing guard cat.”

Now, when I say Sable could probably spell, I mean this cat is a Frick-en genius. My cat is indignant every single time he gets locked up for the night, and then spends a while meowing and scratching at the door as if that has ever gotten him out. Listen, Oban, maybe if you were smart enough to eat at the next-door neighbor’s, and didn’t reliably fall for the “come downstairs for dinner” trap every. single. night. maybe you’d manage to occasionally avoid the basement. But of course, you never learn. Sable, on the other hand:

Sable typically arrives at the corner about five minutes before the children — and he stays in on the weekend when children won’t be in school.

The article doesn’t address what Sable does on holidays or over the summer, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s got the calendar down too (even if he doesn’t appear in any 785 cat calendars available on Amazon; for the record, that’s 250 more than there are dog calendars). At the very least, I imagine he figured out when it’s Halloween.

But what makes Sable so intelligent? Is it that he goes to school every day? Or is it something more ominous?

I know you’re dying to see him — and, don’t worry; I know you can’t mention cats on the internet without providing a picture — so here’s what he looks like:

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Verizon should probably rethink this marketing campaign

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I’ve complained that Verizon ads are deceitful. I’ve complained that Verizon ads are annoying. I’ve even specifically complained about Verizon’s interactive online advertising. If I weren’t so consistently critical, I’d probably ask them to pay me for all this exposure. So I’m a little surprised at myself for writing about a Verizon ad from a place of constructive criticism rather than the usual “Get off my screen” (he says to Tracy Porter).

That’s because the campaign in question is not historically awful or annoying. It’s for Windows Phone 8 (full disclosure: I have the HTC 8X and it’s beautiful) and the idea behind it is to introduce you to some of the phone’s unique features. In its non-interactive form — e.g. on the television or the versions posted on Youtube — I have nothing to add. It’s just an ad, and the 30-second spots are straightforward and minimally painful:

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Newest YLS professor is kosher — literally

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It all started with a straightforward email from Dean Post:

I am delighted to report that Cristina Rodriguez has accepted our offer, and that she will be joining the YLS faculty effective January 28, 2013.  Cristina, who has been at NYU Law School since 2004, will come to Yale from her present post in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department in Washington D.C.  Cristina’s email is [redacted].  I’m quite sure that she would very much appreciate hearing from you.

Curious about Professor Rodriguez’s specialty, I decided to google her. And so, I discovered that she is glatt kosher*:

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NRA asks an impossible question – but I have an answer anyway

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Wayne LaPierre is in the headlines again after making the rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows. I have better things to do than watch Sunday morning talk shows, but I did take 20 minutes last night to watch his now-infamous press conference — and I couldn’t help but notice that LaPierre asked one question that doesn’t have a good answer:

Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away… or a minute away?

Obviously, it’s impossible to answer this question in any meaningful way, because minutes and miles are different units of measurement — imagine paying for a banana in light-years — but I’m going to give it my best shot (pun intended) anyway.

Assuming school zone speed limits, LaPierre clearly prefers the minute option to the mile. Under his plan, there would be no new restrictions on guns of any kind — and that wouldn’t be a problem, because an armed security guard would be no more than a minute away from stopping ever crazed gunman who decided to bring a semi-automatic to school.

I’m going to ignore for a minute all the obvious problems with his position — what if the guard doesn’t succeed? what if the guard is the bad guy with a gun? — and instead focus on what LaPierre is inadvertently telling us.

The position allows for a very simple calculation: according to ABC News, the type of gun Lanza used has “an effective firing rate of 45 shots per minute.” Forty five shots per minute, over one minute, translates out to roughly — and feel free to double-check my math here — forty five shots. And that’s on the low end, before the security guard has a chance to interfere, or anything else has a chance to go wrong.

45 shots per minute, over one minute: forget “effective firing rate.” The NRA just defined the “acceptable firing rate”* — and I think you’ll agree, it definitely sounds a lot safer than an assault weapons ban.

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The manliest man there ever was

This thing in Death Valley is called Manly Beacon
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You know how sometimes you get the sense that a person’s name was his destiny, that he went into some profession, or did some thing in particular, just because of his name? Like Larry Page and pageviews. Library Investigations Officer, Mr. Bookman. I can’t think of other specific examples off the top of my head, but I come across one of these a few times a year, and I have no doubt you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, you’ll get the idea from the rest of this post.

I read The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism on my Wednesday flight from Chicago to Seattle, and came across my favorite example of a name turned destiny. For the purposes of this post, ignore the part where there are two people involved. Rogers doesn’t matter. Maybe he would be relevant had he gone on to become a pirate (jolly rogers and all that), but for now, focus on Manly and this tale of his incredibly manly feats:

The Death Valley ’49ers, of 1849, the desert’s most famous lost pioneers, had neither golden thread nor bread crumbs, but they did have a map promising a shortcut through the desert, via the Walker Pass, taking five hundred miles off their journey from Salt Lake City to California, where the Gold Rush was in full swing. The phrase “I know a shortcut” should strike fear in the heart of any serious walker.

The ’49ers started out as part of an expedition led by Captain Jefferson Hunt, under the auspices of the Mojave San Joaquin Company, known as the Mojave Sand Walking Company, a name that gives me pleasure every time I think of it, although this started out as a wagon train rather than a walking expedition.

Hunt’s progress was too slow for some, and there were various splits and regroupings, some temporary and some permanent, before a faction known as the Bennett-Arcane party, following the dubious shortcut map, at last found themselves lost, stranded, exhausted, and helpless in the heart of what is now Death Valley.

Two of the younger, fitter men — William Manly and John Rogers — decided they would simply walk out of the valley on foot, cross the Panamint Range, get help, and return to rescue the survivors, if any. This, incredibly, they did, although Manly confessed in print that it had crossed his mind never to return for the others.

In any case, Manly and Rogers did the right thing. They walked 250 miles from Death Valley to the San Fernando Valley, here they obtained supplies, along with two horses and a mule. They were intending to ride at least part of the way back, but both horses died en route, so it turned into another walking expedition. Once they’d saved the people left behind, they all had to walk the route once again.

Manly eventually wrote his account of events in the book titled Death Valley in ’49. It is the story of his life as well as the story of the ’49ers, and parts of it read like a primer on the pains of walking and adverse walking conditions. He writes: “Walking began to get pretty tiresome. Great blisters would come on our feet, and, tender as they were, it was a great relief off our boots and go barefoot for a while when the ground was favorable.” “This valley was very sandy and hard to walk over.” “All the way had been hill and very tiresome walking.” “At times we walked in the bed of the stream in order to make more headway, but my lameness increased and we had to go very slow indeed.”

Why yes I did just type up 444 words out of a book. But for those of you keeping score at home, Manly walked about 750 miles through the desert. He left no accounts of bear-wrestling, but we can sort of just assume.

And it is my sincere hope that the pain the ’49ers feel walking off the field this Sunday will exceed anything Manly ever felt in 1849. Go Hawks.

I now realize what a close call I had at my graduation

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One student graduating from Grand Valley State University (in Michigan) made it big this evening with a shoutout from Anonymous:

The graduation reminded me a lot of my own: from the parade of students down to the man and woman switching off with the names they’ve never read before in their lives. That’s never a recipe for something good.

At GVSU, the card-reader card-read with surprising fidelity — but it didn’t have to be that way. In May 2010, my graduation readers had some difficulty with even the simplest names; no “Emily” or “Jacob” was too common or too simple for them to read error-free.

As the butchered names were ticked off slowly, one by one, I naturally expected the worst. A librarian once read my name “Malikai”, and she reads for a living! Fortunately, because the name-mangling was so predictable, I had taken special pains to communicate just how to pronounce the “ch.” And in the end, it paid off: my name came out perfect, largely thanks to my crystal-clear clarification — even down to the proper Ḥ:

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But if I’d been blessed Kelsie’s reader — that is, someone who reads first and thinks later — I might have been in trouble. I imagine “ch as in choot-spa” would not have gone over well with my assembled family members (assuming, of course, that they could hear anything — shoutout to Grandpa!).

So thank you, Kelsie, both for being frick-en-awesome, and for helping me come to appreciate my card-reader’s competence more than I already did. And congrats on graduating. You’ll go far, kid.

Vindication is a beautiful thing

What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers
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The other day, I wrote about Liel Leibovitz’s piece for Tablet Magazine, Why Israel Has No Newtowns. I had a lot of objections to what he wrote, but the biggest one by far was his inexplicable exclusion of mass murderers like Baruch Goldstein, Eden Natan-Zada, and countless Palestinian suicide bombers from his reckoning of Newtown-like events in Israel. I wrote:

Doubtless, these attacks were motivated by a sense of nationalistic something, rather than whatever drove Lanza or Holmes to do what they did. But at the end of the day, any mass killing reflects a deligitimization — a dehumanization — of the other, some disconnect from reality, a sociopathic disregard for human life. In the United States, where everyone hails from a different corner of the globe, where it is easy to feel a deep sense of alienation from as nextdoor neighbor or even a family members, where there is no clear “other” — everyone is “other” — and a worthwhile target can be as close as the nearest movie theater. In Israel and the West Bank, identifying “the other” is easy — just cross the wall. Mass killings don’t cease to count just because the “other” presents a more obvious target.

But that was just armchair psychology. I offered no basis for the assertion that there was no fundamental difference between a mass murderer who shoots up a school and who blows up a bus — it just felt right. They’re both mass murderers, and they probably have a lot of the same problems.

Then, I came across this article in the New York Times, What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers, by Adam Lankford, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama. On the basis of “interviews, case studies, suicide notes, martyrdom videos and witness statements,” he concludes:

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My book club has some seriously good timing

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I don’t often use this space to write about the books I read IRL.

When I do, it’s typically because of some fun coincidence. Once, my experiences in Nepal helped me appreciate a passage about an erotic Indian temple (How much Sutra is too much? — this is a Hebrew pun). Twice, two passages in a single book reminded me of a memorable phrase in one of my favorite TV shows (This obscenely tasteless post goes out to all you Arrested Development fans ).

But those ones were easy. To truly appreciate the coincidence described in the present post, you’ll have to take yourself back a month and a half or so. I had been inexplicably granted a week off school leading up to Thanksgiving, and was resolved to use that time really productively.

That didn’t happen.

I spent the week with my brother in Queens, and aside from one brief excursion (Book of Mormon!), kept mostly to the inside of his house. At one point while he was out the door on his way to class, I asked if he had any recommendations for something to do nearby. He suggested the cheap, local movie theater that was showing Argo, which had been in theaters for about a month, and which he strongly recommended.

All I knew about Argo was that Ben Affleck had recently visited Jon Stewart to promote it (an event that seemed to me quite recent because — as recently noted — I fall chronically behind on my TV-watching while school is in session), and I confused the movie with Cloud Atlas, because Tom Hanks had visited Stephen Colbert to push that at around the same time.

I never made it to the theater, but I did manage to do my brother’s suggestion one better. At exactly that time, I was in the middle of a novel by Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light, which won the Hugo in 1968. As I read, it occurred to me that the book would make a great movie, so when I finally finished it, I checked out the Wikipedia page to see if that had ever happened. It turned out I was not the first person to get that idea:

In 1979 it was announced that Lord of Light would be made into a 50 million dollar film. It was planned that the sets for the movie would be made permanent and become the core of a science fiction theme park to be built in Aurora, Colorado. Famed comic-book artist Jack Kirby was even contracted to produce artwork for set design. However, due to legal problems the project was never completed.

[Editor's note: You can see Kirby's design for Science Fiction Land by scrolling back up.]

But as I read on, things started to get a little weird:

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Ten things I learned during my first semester of law school

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I’m about half an hour away from heading to the airport at the end of my first semester of law school. Granted, first semester isn’t over — we start finals on January 7 — but while I seek to delay accomplishing anything productive, here’s a list of ten interesting things I learned while classes were in session. Some came up during assigned reading, others while researching on my own, and still others were only tangentially related to my law school experience.

My apologies in advance if these are things you already knew all about. Hopefully you’ll learn at least one new thing from the list. In no particular order:

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Hulu is a liar. And pathetic. And alone in life. And mean. And mean. And mean.

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My first semester ended at 4PM yesterday. By 6:40, I was all caught up on Stewart and Colbert — for the first time all semester. Yes, I watched every episode of the two shows over the course of the semester. No, it is not easy to keep up with the telly while school is in session. Over the past four months, I’ve been within one week of catching up only twice.

Which is why I rely on Hulu for a little bit of a cushion with my other shows. In theory, the five most-recent episodes of Parks and Recreation are available for free. In practice, not so much:

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The text inside the green circle clearly states that five episodes of Parks & Rec are available at a time. The colored numbers indicate whether or not those episodes are, indeed, available for free. As you can see, they only go to up to 4 (#s 5 and 6 both have the little green Hulu+ requirement in the upper left-hand corner).

Jerry!

Contrast that with The Office, which is thankfully able to count:

Hulus sometimes not lying

My guess is they didn’t leave Kevin in charge of the counting.

Listen, I know you can find any and all of this stuff online with no time restrictions and ad-free (including, in this particular instance, NBC’s own website). But I’m also more than happy to support the shows by watching them through legal channels — just not TV channels. I would just appreciate a little more accountability.

And now, I have a few weeks to catch up on Season 2 of Homeland.