Daily Digest: Peace, explosions, sneezing in the rain, and book-learnin’

by Mike Mullen

— We begin in China, where Liu Xiabao, Friday’s winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, will sit in prison during the ceremony in Norway, becoming the first peace winner to miss his award ceremony since Germany’s chancellor had a boxy little mustache. Xiabao is a longtime dissident to the Chinese government, and was one of the authors of Charter 08, the paradigm-tipping protest document that calls for total reform of public life in China. The Charter, which was eventually signed by 10,000 petitioners, advocated for First Amendment-style reforms, and stated: “The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.” In lieu of his attendance, Xiabao has a poem published in this morning’s New York Times. He writes, “Countless nights behind iron-barred windows/and the graves beneath starlight/have exposed my nightmares.” It becomes clear why the recent Wikileaks dump of diplomatic cables showed China terrified of the internet: so long as the words can spread, you’ll never defeat your poets and prophets.


— Stop me if you’ve heard this one. The San Diego County police will set fire to what has been described as a “bomb factory.” Last month George Jakubec was arrested in Escondido, Cali. for having what authorities suspected was the largest cache of homemade explosives in American history. (Please, God, let them be right.) As the LA Times wrote this morning, “Officials hope that a fast, high-temperature blaze will destroy the dangerous materials inside without explosions and that the smoke will drift east over a largely unpopulated region.” (“Hope?”) Jakubec’s wife, the Times reports, “has told reporters that she feels he is mentally unbalanced.” Hey, hey, let’s not rush to judgment. Maybe he needed to do a little landscaping (okay, a lot), or finally begin work on that backyard coal mine.


— National Geographic’s editors have selected its “Ten Weirdest New Animals” of the year, and there are some real, uh, winners in there, including a big-toothed leech whose “naughty bits are rather small.” (I wasn’t aware that was a trade-off.) Among the standouts: “Yoda Bat”, with its enormous eyes and adorably backward style of speech (“Discovered, I’ve been”), and the cursed Sneezing Snub-Nosed Money. That monkey, NatGeo writes, had such a poorly-shaped snout that it sneezes whenever it rains, and totally ruined this great outdoor John Mayer concert. It gets worse: “The only scientifically observed specimen (pictured) had been killed by local hunters the time researchers found it—and was eaten soon after.” Oh, Sneezing Snub-Nosed Monkey, we hardly knew ye.


— Finally, in Time Magazine, a person called Andrew Rotherham asks, “Is the Golden Age of Education Spending Finally Over?” Rotherham sees the widespread crisis in state budgets as a future crisis in education spending, much of which takes place at the state level. He points out wasteful spending in public education, and flawed policies in the firing process before giving a plug to a charter school. I don’t have solutions here, and I’m all for shaking things up. But I went to public school. Not impressed? So did Hemingway. Steinbeck. Bob Dylan. And on, and on. Fix them, reorganize them, fire teachers (I’ve got a couple you could start with), do whatever needs doing, but I’m not convinced that the problem is that the schools are public. Besides, private school kids wear uniforms that make them look like dorks. (Sorry about that. Blame it on my public education.)