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Born today in 1739: Writer and economist Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours


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Newt Gingrich’s secular delights

I have a feeling this entry will be lucky to enjoy the shelf life of a banana, but here goes.

LATE UPDATE (July 18): I stand corrected.

As a bit of background for our non-US visitors and others disinclined to pay much heed to Sunday morning talk shows or political scuttlebutt in general, the following has recently been disclosed: Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, whose career nowadays mainly consists of promoting himself and periodically threatening to run for president, has at one time or another carried an approximate $500,000 balance on his revolving account with the swank jewelry retailer Tiffany & Company. Not to mention, at times, up to $50,000 on his American Express card.

There’s certainly nothing wrong in principle with living large if one is fortunate enough to aspire to such things. Heck, we’d all like to. But the embarrassment for Gingrich in particular is how remarkably these sybaritic hankerings contradict his longstanding diatribes against “the elites” and against all things secular, his general sanctimony about out-of-control spending, and his professed 24/7 dedication to the common workaday folk.

Now if the Gingriches should eventually tire of Tiffany’s offerings — or barring that, should we spontaneously warp into a parallel though still similarly Gingrich-bedeviled universe — here are some attractive alternatives for their half-million-dollar discretionary budget:

Gingrich Champagne
For one thing, maybe he and Callista could use some Champagne. Let’s suggest a Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 1990, Millennium 2000. At roughly $18,000 for a 6-liter Methuselah bottle, $500,000 would buy* 28 of those.

Gingrich Krugerrands
A South African Krugerrand holds one troy ounce of gold. But let’s not settle for those ordinary, scratchy old Krugerrands. The proof editions are individually struck with impeccable mirror-like surfaces and reeding (that set of closely spaced notches around the edge) that’s twice as fine, scrutinized for flaws, and handled only with gloved hands. Darn, they practically glow in the dark. As of this writing, his for around $2000 each; half a million gets him 250.

Gingrich Coffee
As a third choice, no late-night strategy sessions with Ralph Reed and Randy Evans would be complete without the very best coffee. That would be have to be Kopi Luwak — famous for its intimate but most essential pre-roast association with the Asian Palm Civet.

I understand the University of Florida has invented a way to cut the furry helpers out of the process, but nothing can be as good as the real thing. At about $320 per pound for one of the more interestingly named brands of Kopi Luwak, Newt’s $500,000 would stock his pantry with about 1500 of them.

* At least theoretically, since in reality they’re only auctioned off one at a time.

An Ambien®-proof CAPTCHA?

You know those wonky alphanumeric bitmaps that websites challenge you with to assure themselves you’re not an automated email-harvester, spambot, or some other soulless cyber-riffraff?

Well, for certain applications maybe someone could carry this concept a bit further so that you can protect yourself from emailing, twittering, or Facebook-updating anything you might regret later owing to any inhibition-numbing substances you might have consumed. Alcohol and/or cannabis, of course, but far more insidiously that sleep-inducing wonder pill Ambien [Zolpidem].

Go Fish

It’s just amazing what sorts of creative somnambulant misadventures people can get into after a little Ambien if they don’t hit the hay immediately afterwords, and — due to something called retrograde amnesia — how little they remember about it the next day.

Go Fish

These wouldn’t be impossible to solve, just troubling enough to require a touch of reasonably nimble web surfing. Better safe than sorry? I luuuuuv ya, man.

Three unusual afflictions you don’t usually hear about

Empty nose syndrome

Inside our nasal passages on each side there’s a set of three roughly parallel horizontal folds called turbinates. Since the early 1900s people suffering from serious nasal blockages have undergone surgery to cut away some of this tissue.

It turns out that the turbinates induce a necessary turbulence into the airflow through the nose and help slow evaporation, and that overly zealous excision of these structures can paradoxically make the patient’s nose feel even more stuffed up than before. This can be fiendishly distressing and has been referred to as empty nose syndrome. Treatment typically involves restoring the moisture inside with a saline mist.

Zero stroke (or cipher stroke)

Weimar Hyperinflation
This was first identified in patients by their doctors during the German Weimar Republic hyperinflation of the early 1920s. The constant stress of having prices rise so feverishly — at the peak of the crisis they doubled every 90 hours — caused some people to pass into a sort of trance and obsessively write down row upon row of zeros on sheets of paper.

The Weimar hyperinflation hasn’t been the worst, though. That honor belongs to the Hungarian version which maxed out in July 1946 when prices were doubling about every 15 hours.

Situs inversus

It’s exceedingly rare, but some people are born with all their major internal organs flipped horizontally so that their heart is on the right, their liver is on the left, and so on. Normally this doesn’t produce any symptoms and the patient only learns of this state of affairs through a routine x-ray or while being prepped for an organ transplant.

But there are partial versions of situs inversus in which, say, the heart is on the left side as normal (levocardia) with everything else flipped or the heart alone is on the right (dextrocardia) with everything else in the normal location. Either of these invariably give rise to serious circulatory problems.

Global warming myopia

You hear a lot of debate about global warming these days. Traditionalists by and large argue that either (A) global warming isn’t real, or (B) it might be real but if so it’s certainly not caused by human (“anthropogenic”) activity. Progressives, along with most of the scientific community, argue that (C) global warming IS real AND anthropogenic.

Since anything that gets in the way of short-term profits for multibillion-dollar corporations is automatically anathema to traditionalists, they tirelessly lobby against any form of carbon emissions trading and, ideally, any legally compelling restrictions on industrial effluent at all.

They’ll point out that the polar bears have always managed just fine without us, and (apparently innocent of the concept of long-term averages) that any recent airport-closing snowstorm that comes along simply helps pound another nail in the pro-global warming coffin.

So in summary: If global warming IS real and IS anthropogenic we should do something about it; otherwise, we should shut up and continue business as usual.

Well, no. Not exactly.

Since the promoters of position (A) above either belong to the academic fringe, are bankrolled by entrenched smokestack interests, or both, I have no problem seeing that global warming is very real. Even if position (B) above turns out to be accurate, it doesn’t matter who or what causes it. Even a subtle overall temperature rise will alter the climates and sea levels upon which we and the entire biosphere have always been precariously dependent and we need to do everything physically possible to halt or at least mitigate it.

And although it sometimes seems like hardly anyone has mentioned it around here since the Carter administration, there is the related and equally dire issue of pollution in general. Measures that reduce net CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions almost invariably curb that along with it.