The French Scrabble champion who doesn’t speak French

Imagine winning a foreign country’s national Scrabble championship without speaking more than a handful of words in the native language.

Meet the Rainman of Scrabble:

Nigel Richards’ command of the language of Molière, as the French like to call it, stretches to “bonjour” and being able to count. However, the New Zealander who has been called “the Tiger Woods of Scrabble” certainly has a way with words – even French ones.

Despite his linguistic handicap, Richards has just won the francophone world Scrabble championships after reportedly memorising the entire French Scrabble dictionary in just nine weeks.

“He doesn’t speak French at all – he just learned the words,” his close friend Liz Fagerlund told the New Zealand Herald. “He won’t know what they mean, wouldn’t be able to carry out a conversation in French, I wouldn’t think.”

Richards, 48, who has won the English world Scrabble championships three times, the US national championships five times and the UK Open six times, beat a rival from French-speaking Gabon in the final held at Louvain-la-Neuve in Belgium on Monday.

During the match, which he won by two games to nil, he even successfully challenged his rival Schélick Ilagou Rékawé’s use of a form of the verb “fureter” (to snoop).

He was given a standing ovation by the mainly French-speaking crowd.

Wow. You must be really good when those snotty French give you a standing O.



Source: The French Scrabble champion who doesn’t speak French | Life and style | The Guardian

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich welcomes EPA administrator

The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is huge. What happens here matters to American Catholicism. But instead of being all fixated on naughty parts, our new archbishop was appointed by Pope Francis and things, they are a-changin’. 

Blase Cupich, the new guy in charge, is really taking the Pope’s interest in climate issues seriously. On July 24 he welcomed Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and constant target of Fox News and the climate denial crowd.

Cupich even issued a public statement about the meeting that said, in part:

Those who do not think religious organizations should have an opinion on climate change misunderstand the purpose of the former and the moral dimensions of the latter.

We are called to care for those sickened by pollution, house those displaced by environmental calamities and heal the spirits of those, especially our youth, who are disheartened by a world where human survival is now in question. 

We are eager to be part of the solution, but we share the burdens of an aging infrastructure, limited funds and increasing need with the other organizations represented here.

“So,” as the Holy Father urged, “let’s not be afraid to say it: we need change; we want change.”

Nothing less than a re-ordering of priorities will make a difference. We welcome environmental policies that balance the imperative to preserve human dignity with the need to encourage commercial success. We applaud regulation that recognizes that we are accountable for the common good not just to this generation or the next, but to those born in the next century and afterwards.

Wow.  Take that, climate deniers!

His Eminence (I think that is first time I have ever used that term) even sent out a string of tweets about the event, including this one:

And then this one:

Crazy, huh?

Professional gay-hating right-wing Catholic Bill Donohue must have his curlers in a bunch over all of this. 

Ha! I just pictured that in my head: Donohue in curlers painting his nails and talking to himself.

Anyway, the Archbishop’s Twitter handle is below. He is new in town and he might need some love from those of us who support what he is doing.

Sourch: Archbishop Blase Cupich statement regarding visit of EPA administrator to Chicago — Archdiocesan statement

Twitter: @ArchbishopBlase

Blase Cupich
The archbishop and the EPA administrator..

Battle of the wifi SSID

You have that neighbor. Yeah, that one. The loud one. Or the one who complains all the time. 

There was a time when you’d pound walls or yell through ceilings.

Now things are handled the way the tech age demands. You’ll make your point with your SSID.


The end of the San Francisco progressive dream?

All my San Francisco peeps (and anyone interested in the future of that great city) might find this article about its housing crisis as thought-provoking as I did.

The piece should be of interest to anyone who wants to read a well-written essay about how a city’s real estate prices spiraled so far away from reality.

Even people who own non-distressed real property there — in most other places your guarantee of a steady climb up the real estate ladder — often can’t afford to move into a nicer place in a better neighborhood.

I moved to San Francisco for its radical politics. Lots of people did, for generations. Maybe it was like moving to Los Angeles if you wanted to be a movie star: If you wanted to be part of the grand project of reconstructing the American Left in the petri dish of a single city, San Francisco beckoned.

The quirky, counter-cultural San Francisco so many of us fell in love with is almost gone now, destroyed by high housing costs. We’ve lost not only the politics, but all kinds of cultural experimentation that just doesn’t thrive in places that are expensive.

We are watching the old San Francisco slip away before our eyes. Every time a housing unit becomes vacant, it goes on the market at a price so high that no organizer, writer, teacher, activist or artist could dream of affording it. Trying things that don’t have monetary potential just isn’t possible anymore.

How did we get here?

I have so many bohemian artist and entertainer friends in that city —along with some truly nice, highly paid tech types — and I don’t know how the former groups manage to do it. I think partly by moving to Oakland or having roommates for the rest of your life.

People are shocked by Chicago’s reasonable housing prices and ask me how it is so cheap for one of America’s largest cities. You will get different answers depending on a person’s politics and agenda. But one reason is simply this: even with massive Lake Michigan hemming it in on one side, Chicago has managed to grow in all other directions — especially up.

And there has been little in the way of coastal snobbishness about growth. It’s why you can walk down streets and find huge high-rises next to single-family homes. If you want to build it here, it appears you pretty much can with minimal height restrictions and very little, as near as I can tell, in the way of historic preservation except in the most obvious of circumstances. 

The people who own those single-family homes must surely be pissed about all this. But the affordable housing stock has thrived because vacancy rates in Chicago will never approach those of Boston and San Francisco. 

For cultural diversity considerations, that is a very good thing.

Source: How San Francisco’s Progressive Politics Led to Its Housing Affordability Crisis – CityLab

Chicago Fires Investigator Looking Into Police Shootings

Chicago is a city in dire need of a truly independent eye investigating its massive police department:

Fired police investigator Lorenzo Davis

The independent agency tasked with policing Chicago cops hasn’t released findings on several unjustified police shootings, and its leaders are more concerned with protecting officers than investigating citizen complaints, a fired employee said.

Lorenzo Davis, an Independent Police Review Authority supervisor who was fired this month, said Chief Administrator Scott Ando asked him to change his findings in three police shootings in which he had determined officers committed wrongdoing.

The authority was formed in 2007 amid mounting frustration with the city’s handling of police misconduct cases. The agency, independent from the police department and staffed by civilians, handles all allegations of misconduct against officers.

Davis said the authority is failing its mission to maintain “the highest level of integrity while conducting objective, thorough investigations, striving to reach a sound and just conclusion.”

“The Independent Police Review Authority is being used to deflect protest and criticism from the police department,” Davis told The Huffington Post. “What they’re concerned about is the careers of the police officers.”

This does not look good for the IPRA. Or the citizens of Chicago, particularly its black residents who are most often on the receiving end of police wrongdoing across the country.

Source: Chicago Just Fired An Investigator Trying To Hold Cops Accountable For Unjustified Shootings

The choice is simple: treat drug addiction now, or pay for it later


Drug addiction fuels so many other societal ills — homelessness, mental illness, crime, child abuse and neglect, and a host of other health problems — that you would think as a society we’d have come to terms with it as a problem that requires solutions that are complex yet relatively cheap compared to what it costs us down the road. A recovering drug addict is often a better parent. A more compliant parolee. A better student. A tax-paying citizen. An employee with health insurance that pays for their health care rather then leaving taxpayers with the bill.

Yet despite simple and overwhelming scientific evidence, it is a never-ending source of confusion for me when I hear people say, “The solution is simple. Someone just needs to be smart enough to stop abusing drugs” — as if having a PhD somehow inoculates someone from being an alcoholic or coke addict.

This article from the New York Times highlights just one part of a very large problem: how ignorant many judges and prosecutors are about addiction, or how their hands are tied by laws that restrict the types of punishment or treatment at their disposal.

WHEN an old offense caught up with 28-­year-­old Robert Lepolszki last year, he had a full­-time job and had kicked heroin. But Frank Gulotta Jr., the Nassau County judge assigned to his case, forced him to end the only treatment that had ever worked: methadone maintenance.

Judge Gulotta said that methadone does not enable a defendant “to actually rid him or herself of the addiction.” Complete abstinence programs were the only treatments his court allowed.

Not long after stopping the medication, Mr. Lepolszki was dead from an overdose.

The judge’s position on methadone is common among those who administer drug courts, which are aimed at helping defendants get treatment and avoid prison. Only a third allow maintenance use of methadone or a newer medication called buprenorphine (Suboxone) and 50 percent ban maintenance outright.

But they are ignoring medical evidence showing that maintenance is the best approach to opioid use disorders, which involve drugs in the same class as heroin, like OxyContin and Vicodin.

1920s --- A close up of a young woman snorting cocaine during the 1920s. --- Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS
A close up of a young woman snorting cocaine during the 1920s. — Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS


I am just one person, and I know of several people — good, kind, funny, intelligent people who were working and paying taxes and often making the world a better place — who have died of drug-related overdoses and incidents. I think of at least one of them every day.

Every dollar an addict spends on drugs is a dollar that will most likely cost society much more in the future.

The day most of us start responding that this is a medical problem rather than an issue of character or sheer will for incarceration to “solve” but often make worse is the day we start saving money and lives.

(An aside: Yes, I know that incarceration after a drug binge has been what is widely termed as “rock bottom” for many people — the point where they know they are messed up and finally seek help. I am not implying that incarceration never works. But our personal stories are not scientific data nor proof of anything other than the fact that incarceration works — some times. But if you look at data about those same people who quit and then did not enter into any sort of counseling or treatment program to keep them safe and sober, you’d discover that the recidivism rate is dismal. The problems that brought them into substance abuse are still there, waiting in the shadows, to snag them again. Drug treatment is not simply about stopping drugs. It’s also about figuring out what caused you to start abusing in the first place and then learning to deal with those issues either psychosocially or medically or both.)

via Every Drug Court Should Allow Methadone Maintenance — New York Times.

Police: Man breaks into NJ home, hides under bed, charges 4 phones

If you think about it, it wasn’t so terribly long ago in geological terms that if you mentioned “charging my phone” to someone it would have meant nothing to them whatsoever. It was only 1984 when people were lining up to buy a gigantic brick of a consumer cell phone —the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X— for $4,000.

Now we charge them at work, school, with portable chargers— and sometimes in strange places we discover just in the nick of time.

One night last winter I forgot this guy’s address on my way to where he was waiting for me to go to dinner. Then my phone shut off with the red battery of death just as I was about to use it to refresh my memory about his exact address — on the very street where I was standing.

What to do? I had already accidentally blown this guy off for a previous date. One date is forgivable. Two, and your are out the door.

The possibility crossed my mind to start knocking on random doors.

“Excuse me, do you know a guy around here who is about this tall <hold up hand> with black curly hair and nicely built named James? I have a date with him, can’t remember his address, and my phone…”

<door slam>

I was in a strange neighborhood. There were no open businesses in sight.

Finally, an idea: I assumed someone along the way had the foresight to put an outlet on their garage so they could vacuum their car, run electric hedge clippers, etc.

So I walked through an alley until I found a garage with an outlet on it. And there I stood, trying to look nonchalant in case anyone called the cops.  (“I know it looks strange, officer, but I prefer to charge my phone outside at night in the dead of Chicago’s winter.”)

It worked. Finally.

Anyway, here’s a guy in New Jersey who takes the I-need-an-electrical-outlet thing even farther than that jerk who charges his phone on-stage during Broadway plays. (See  below for video about that incident.)

Police in New Jersey announced details late Tuesday of a bizarre break-in that took place in May.

Authorities say the suspect, Jason Hubbard, broke into the Adamcewicz home on Ellenel Boulevard in Spotswood and camped out under the bed in a spare room for as many as five days.

Just before 7 p.m. on May 10, police responded to a 911 for a report of an intruder in the house.

Upon arrival, officers came in contact with Hubbard in the home. Police subsequently placed him under arrest for criminal trespass.

“He was hiding upstairs underneath the bed, in my daughter’s bedroom,” Margaret Adamcewicz said. “He used to date my daughter five years ago…It didn’t end well…He didn’t say why he came back. He just picked our house to hide out in. He didn’t have a home to live in.

“Further investigation revealed that Hubbard entered the home through an open door when one resident was taking out the garbage. After entering the house, he proceeded into the spare bedroom, where he stayed under the bed for days. He also began charging his four cell phones utilizing an electric outlet under the bed.

Four cell phones? Perhaps a down-on-his-luck phone salesman? Drug dealer in a sales slump? International spy hiding out under a bed in suburban New Jersey?

Source: Police: Man breaks into Spotswood home, camps out for days, charges 4 phones |

Jennifer Lopez celebrates her (gulp!) 46th birthday

Not such a huge deal.

Which of us couldn’t pull that look off at 46?

Happy birthday, Jennifer Lopez! Jenny from the block turns 46 today, July 24, and we don’t think she looks a day over 26! Let’s help her celebrate her special day!

I love Lopez and always will. I don’t want to bash her because looking great is part of her job description and, hey, if you got it, flaunt it.

But the gushing in the Hollywood press about how great she looks for her age? Like it’s a miracle of some sort?

Women everywhere could look not “a day over 26″ at 46 if they had gobs of money, home gyms and personal trainers and make-up artists who travel with them wherever we go.

You just know there are people out there who are going to feel terrible about themselves because they are going to compare their 46-year-old self with Lopez. 

Ah, Hollywood. Setting impossible personal appearance standards for women everywhere. 

I want to know how she looks sans make-up after being kept awake all night with an insomniac child. Still pretty good (see home gym, above) I would guess. But not like she looks for a People Magazine cover shoot or walking a red carpet.

It is rumored that Lopez had to stop during the middle of a concert recently because she kept losing microphones and couldn’t find her keys.

Source: Jennifer Lopez Birthday: J.Lo Turns 46 On July 24 – Hollywood Life

John Russell Houser: Tea Partier who hated Obama, admired Hitler and wanted women to shut up in church

john russel houser

It’s all well and good to use so much space in the excerpted article to make fun of this guy, but harping on the fact that he was the wackiest of wacky right-wingers misses the main point.

In no way do I believe that most Tea Partiers are like this guy. They may have more than their share of whack jobs because they attract the chronically aggrieved and angry, but most of them are not homicidal misanthropic maniacs.

This guy was deeply, profoundly mentally ill.

The question becomes how did he get guns when he was this batshit crazy?

The answer: it’s just not that difficult.

The gunman who killed two moviegoers and wounded nine others had a prolific online commenting history that revealed a fascination with censorship, Iran, and right-wing politics.

John Russell Houser, of Phenix City, Alabama, posted frequently across a variety of online forums — from political discussions to message boards for Oldsmobile enthusiasts — where he complained about “moral decay” and media brainwashing.

“America is so sick that I now believe it to be the enemy of the world,” he wrote under the name Rusty Houser in a December 2013 comment on Fellowship of the Minds. “I know next to nothing about Iran, but the little I do know tells me they are far higher morally than this financially failing filth farm.”

The 59-year-old Houser, who told acquaintances that voting was waste of time, was less active on Facebook and Twitter, although he left behind some clues about his beliefs on those social media networks.

“If you don’t think the internet is censored, try reading a newspaper from a country that hates liberals the way I do,” reads his second — and last — Twitter post, from June 2013. The first argues that “Westboro Baptist Church may be the last real church in America [members not brainwashed].”

His Facebook account shows just two likes — the “I hate liberals!” political organization, which uses an avatar that reads “Stand with Rand,” and the Crossroads Irish-American Festival.

Posts on his Facebook page reveals an interest in limiting women’s influence over the church, a hatred for American culture, and complaints about liberals “brainwashing” Americans into hating their own country.“

The bible doesn’t ask me to like what it says, only to obey it,” Houser wrote. “Death comes soon to the financially failing filth farm called the US.”

Everyone seemed to know this guy was a powder keg. Yet he still got a gun.


The NRA has blood on its hands for this one and every killing like it because they fight the tightening of gun control laws no matter their form.

Gun owners —not necessarily the same things as gun nuts — ought to lead the charge to tighten these sorts of regulations. 

Source: La. gunman was a Tea Partier who hated Obama, admired Hitler and wanted women to shut up in church

Lincoln Park: The only way I can live in this place is if I marry well

Lincoln Park
What a dump!

I’ve had some very wealthy friends in my life — Fortune 500 list wealthy — and while their wealth insulated them from the day-to day financial worries of the rest of us, their lives always seemed to be ringed with a bit of sadness because they were at any given time being approached by people who wanted to be friends with them for their money. 

It made those wealthy friends a bit paranoid to the point that even many of their true friends drifted away because who wants to deal with someone who’s always making you prove your friendship to them?

So they tended to only hang out with other monied people — or fabulously good-looking people whom they knew were little more than gold-digging eye candy because how many of us wouldn’t be tempted by that? It all makes for a somewhat empty shared existence with the boring and narcissistic, punctuated by all the high points money and substance abuse can provide.

So I’ve been ambivalent about wealth and fame because the costs can be so high and studies prove you can be just as happy without money.

But then I see real estate with a deck like this place in Lincoln Park in Chicago, featured on Curbed Chicago — well, I can’t help but feel a tinge of envy. What a showplace.

Perhaps they have a servant’s bedroom for rent. I’d wash floors and do laundry for that view.

Summer’s finally here but it won’t last forever. It’s crucial to spend as much time outdoors during these few weeks, and if you’ve got access to a rooftop deck like this, consider yourself very lucky.

This large, private rooftop deck belongs to the spacious, top floor, two bedroom duplex timber loft it sits on top of. The loft itself is nice, and checks off all of the boxes, but it’s nothing to write home about. However, its rooftop deck is really the gem here. The deck space was designed by dSpace Studio and sports exotic woods, an outdoor kitchen, a bar and plenty of spaces to lounge. A storage space and one garage parking spot are included in the deal.

The ask? $699,000.

And for all of my friends who live in San Francisco, New York and Boston, look at that asking price for that house in a nice neighborhood.

Chicago is like that. Great city. Huge city. But not crazy prices.

Source: This Lincoln Park Duplex Loft Has One of the Best Roof Decks – Lofty Living – Curbed Chicago

An idea that is not dangerous is not worthy of being called an idea at all. — Oscar Wilde