Tuesday, December 23, 2003

I'll probably have more to say about this on my own blog, but I thought I'd send up a trial balloon here. In the course of the Lord of the Rings films over the last two years, I've seen the sentiment often expressed that the movies aren't merely excellent tellings of Tolkien's story, but superior tellings of Tolkien's story. For example, here's a representative quote from John Scalzi:

The filmed version of the tale is a better film than the book version is a book, because the storyteller in the film tells the story better. Middle-Earth is undoubtedly Tolkien's world. But Jackson is the better teller of this particular tale.

Part of Scalzi's argument is that the books are not great literature, an idea which I reject utterly, and in fact I've been holding off on responding to this because I don't want to foam at the mouth. Anyone else want to say anything on this? Are the books great literature? I, for one, think that they indisputably are, and as much as I love the films, I don't think for one second that they tell the story better than the books.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

"Why I Hate The Lord of the Rings", by some hack Hollywood writer. How much of a hack is he? He uses two different spellings of "Isildur" within three sentences of each other, and neither is correct. And more hackery on display, too!

And to think, this guy got paid for this piece.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Yeah, I'm pretty geeked for Wednesday

Some links in the meantime: What not to do during Return of the King, A Peter Jackson version of the Hobbit?, and Fellowship of the Nitpickers. Anyone else already got their tickets? I got mine this morning for an 8:30 showing Wednesday night at a Digital theater.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

I won't pretend to understand everything about it, but frozen light seems awfully cool to me.
As Good as Weblogging Gets

Everyone needs to go over to Byzantium's Shores to check out Jaquandor's excellent series of posts on Berlioz, which begins here.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

I've been enjoying quite a bit of historical fiction lately. I just read 'Gates of Fire' by Stephen Pressfield about the stand of 300 Spartans against thousands of Persians at Thermopylae. It was excellent. One of my favorites is 'Shogun'. I recently read 'Horatio Hornblower' and enjoyed them.

Do you read historical fiction? What are your favorites?

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The FDNY's "Dirty Little Secret": At least a dozen of New York's Bravest - some of them assigned to look after Sept. 11 widows - have left their wives for the spouses of their comrades killed in the terror attacks, sources told The Post.

"It's disgusting, heartbreaking what they've done," said Mary Koenig, whose husband, Gerry Koenig of Staten Island's Rescue 5 squad, ditched her and their two kids for Madeline Bergin, the widow of his friend and firehouse mate, John Bergin, after the World Trade Center attacks.

An insider who has worked with firefighter families and a counselor who worked for one of the FDNY services told The Post there are about a dozen cases similar to the Koenigs.

I can kind of see how this would happen, but it's pretty sad. I'm not sure that better counseling for surviving firefighters and widows would have a great impact, but I don't know what else could possibly work.

(via anil)

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Hmmmm....here's a brief movie called iPod's Dirty Secret. Interesting....for iPod users, is the "Dirty Secret" true, and if so, isn't this the kind of thing that usually draws accusations of Evil Incarnate if Microsoft happens to do them?

(via The Punning Pundit.)

OK, as long as I'm dusting the cobwebs out of here, I should direct any readers with connections to small liberal arts colleges located in Northeastern Iowa to check out Gregg Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, which is now hosted at NFL.com. Scroll down to "Obscure College Football Score of the Week #2".

Monday, November 10, 2003

This really blew my mind, Nigeria is one the few countries on the African continent that has shown a strong interest in building a better Africa - and this is how the US rewards them. As most of you know I'm usually a pretty strong Bush supporter, but this really dampens my spirits for this administration - I truly hope that this is some type of reporting error and not the true case. This is such a cowardly move - If the US wanted Taylor to face trial then send in our own troops,,,but to put up a $2 Million dollar reward to anyone - this basically incentive any type of low-level rebel gorilla group to go in and try to capture Taylor - which I'm sure would end in disaster.


Thank you for reading my rant. Good day.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

"Cash Infusion for Liberal Media Stronghold"

will be the spin given by some to Mrs. Kroc's $200 million bequest to National Public Radio. I love public radio, even when it bends over backwards to give conservatives a little airtime, so I'm glad they landed a big one.

My family always listened to NPR, but I really got hooked the summer after my first year of college. I spent long days as a painter for the U of Iowa Hospital (where Sean was a tuckpointer), and Barry, the guy I painted with, made a ritual out of listening to Fresh Air, Talk of the Nation, BBC imports like My Word, and the news. For a long time, I wanted to be Ray Suarez, and I must have annoyed the college freshman I taught with my TOTN evangelism.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

1. CBS makes a movie about Ronald Reagan.

2. Said movie isn't sufficiently fawning about Reagan for conservative tastes.

3. Said conservatives scream bloody murder about the "liberal media".

4. CBS caves; moves movie to Showtime.

So, is this the liberal media run amok, trampling the memory of a great leader? Or is this thin-skinned conservatives unable to stand the slightest criticism of their sacred cows?

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Time for the ever-popular "Where are you on the political spectrum?" quiz, which has me being pretty liberal and pretty libertarian. My results, and link to the quiz, here. (It takes five to ten minutes.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Timothy Noah on Amazon's new "search inside the book" feature. Is this feature useful? I'm really not sure that it is, and I definitely think that it needs an off-switch. For instance, if I just want to get a Stephen King book, should I be forced to wade through every book that somewhere in its pages includes the words "Stephen" or "King"? This thing strikes me as an example of rolling something out before it's ready. Thoughts?

Kevin Drum posts a couple of excerpts from the President's news conference yesterday.

It's probably a given that George W. Bush is not the best speaker out there -- he's adequate with a prepared text, but in my ears he's dreadful off the cuff. Is this important? What should be our reaction to a President of the United States who uses words like "unsticker"? Should we be amused, mortified, ambivalent? Does this indicate anything?

Russia has a new clinic for alcoholics.

Children alcoholics.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Oops!.. I did it again

Ever get an earworm? You know, those songs that get stuck in your head, sometimes for days? For the longest time Ms. Spears had a strangle hold on my brain. Chili's jingles also often plague me. For the exorcism of these malevolent musical maladies, I usually try to get a more appealing song to force the worm out. Too often though this humming to myself will not work, and I am stuck with it until I can gain access to a more apt aural antidote. The most persistent may require a full dose of Beck's Odelay.

Most of the time though, I don't mind the infestations, as they tend to be songs I enjoy (Mitsubishi commercials usually fall into this category). They can even help when there is no stereo around. Friendly earworms are always welcome on long motorcycle rides.

So what are some of your earworms, and how do you get rid of them?

(cross-poted to ABOHO)

Monday, October 20, 2003

Speaking of book clubs, do remember to complete this (inevitable) Brothers Karamazov Personality Test on your way out.
A blogger named "Slacktivist" has decided to do an exhaustive review of the Left Behind books -- start here and move forward. What's interesting is that Slacktivist is doing this not a book at a time, but a page at a time. Of course, I don't expect him to get all that far into the project.

Has anyone here read these? I haven't, but I've scanned them several times in bookstores, enough to be turned off by the prose and the ragged right-hand margins in the copies I saw.

The people have spoken. Well, the Brits anyways. In April, the Beeb's "Big Read" began the search for the nation's best-loved novel, and we asked citizens to nominate their favourite books. Find the results here and here. Top 21 are here and you can vote if you fake being across the pond.

And is this just an excuse to bump the Collab Book Club discussion up a little bit? You're damn right! So, I Claudius or Brief History of Time?

Sunday, October 19, 2003

OK, folks, is Mother Teresa worthy of Sainthood? (Depending, of course, on your level of hostility toward the whole idea of Sainthood in the first place.) Here's a MeFi thread about her.

Time for the ever-popular "Caption This Photo of the President"!

Friday, October 17, 2003

Keeping with the automotive theme, is anyone else here, like myself, a big fan of Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers? I love their show, especially the Puzzler and "Stump the Chumps!" Here are some of their classic clips.

Here's an article (a fairly commercial article, but an article nonetheless) about the return of the station wagon. So, what do we all drive, would we drive a station wagon, are minivans really inherently uncool, and what vehicle did we hate the most?

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

OK, here's a question via Bookslut that I found intriguing. You're on a first date, you go to the person's apartment or home and while they're in the kitchen you glance at their bookshelf. What book's presence on that shelf would make you end the date as quickly as possible, tear up their phone number, and never contact them again?

(Yeah, lots of us here have wives already. Pretend. And if there actually are any women reading this blog still, because we've been so incredibly lax in keeping it up, feel free to answer too. It's not necessarily a "male" question.)

Stolen from MeFi, but an interesting question: What's the biggest mistake of your life so far? Here's how some prominent Brits answered that question.

OK, time for my periodic return to posting here, when I basically go, "Hmmm, I haven't posted to Collaboratory in a while...."

Anyway, there are nine announced Democratic presidential candidates. (Hmmm....nine of 'em....depending on your political allegiance, I guess the Dem Prez hopefuls are either the Fellowship or the Nazgul!) Of the nine, only six apparently have a legit shot at the nomination. (The odd ones out are Kucinich, Sharpton, and Mosley-Braun.) So, for those of you who might lean Democratic, have any of these guys tripped your trigger yet?

Monday, October 13, 2003

Because we all love lists, don't we? The Guardian Observer's list of the 100 Greatest Novels of all time (read about the list here). So, thoughts?

Is here where I fess that I've not read any of the top 16, other than excerpts of Gulliver's Travels? I have read 20 of the overall list though....

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

One aspect of the American economy that's starting to get a bit more than lip service these days is jobs moving overseas. It's a familiar tale, of course -- we all know about manufacturing companies shutting down factories so they can employ incredibly cheap, non-union labor in another country. But now it's the service jobs, the ones that have been keeping America's economy afloat as manufacturing has declined.

Is there anything that can be done about this? Should anything be done about this?

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Put back right good postpones
and you will hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful voyage
which started starting from this tropical port
on board this tiny boat.
The companion was a powerful man of navigation;
the courageous and sure captain.
Five passengers placed the veil this day
for a three hours excursion.
a three hours excursion.

To obtain started in rough weather.
The tiny boat was thrown in the air.
If not for the courage of the courageous crew,
Minnow would be destroyed.
Minnow would be destroyed.

The boat failed on the shore of this
uncharted the island of desert
with Gilligan, the captain, therefore,
the millionaire, and his wife.
The star of cinema,
the professor and Mary Ann
are here on the island of Gilligan.

translation courtesy of Matthew White

The Bush administration seems to be following an axiom that guided many of its predecessors: To keep negative headlines to a minimum, release bad news on a Friday.

On a Friday last November, the Environmental Protection Administration said it would relax enforcement of the Clean Air Act so older coal-fired power plants could renovate without having to install anti-pollution equipment.

On a Friday in January, the administration said it would consider removing Clean Water Act protections from up to one-fifth of the nation's streams, ponds, lakes, mudflats and wetlands.

The resignations of Army Secretary Thomas White and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill were announced on Fridays.

Last December, Census officials admitted on a Friday that the 2000 Census undercounted the nation by 3.3 million people.
Busy, busy, busy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Starbucks Imperialism, the economics of

The ubiquity of American movies, brands and franchises around the world tends to make people draw certain conclusions about America and American power. These range from fanciful myths like "no two nations with McDonalds outlets will ever fight a war" to America as a voracious "cultural imperialist" that is determined to impose its trashy and decadent culture on the rest of the world.

All of these views seek to draw inferences either positive or negative about American cultural "values", either for 'em: they want "our way of life" or their envious of "our way of life" or agin 'em: America and American multi-national corporations are engaged in a war of aggression against "our culture".

There is, however, another interpretation which takes no account of the cultural significance of exporting American "values" and instead looks at the economics of the chains and franchises themselves. Australian economist, John Quiggin blogs that chains require a certain degree of cultural homogeneity in order get established and, to put it simply, the largest and most homogenous market in the world is the United States.

One of the traps for writers on 'soft power' is that, observing the proliferation of McDonalds, Starbucks and so on, they imagine that everyone in the countries they visit is a customer of these enterprises. This is, roughly speaking, true in the US, but the market share for these chains is smaller everywhere else.

Monday, September 22, 2003

On Doing Your Job

As the winds from Hurricane Isabel swept over Arlington National Cemetery, the soldiers who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns were given — for the first time in history — permission to abandon their posts and seek shelter. “They told us that. But that’s not what’s going to happen,” said Sgt. Christopher Holmes, standing vigil on overnight duty.

When I was in 10th grade, I went with my father to DC. He went for a conference, and I went to visit museums, ride the subway, listen to soapbox shouters on the Mall, and so on. It was great. Perfect Fall weather every day, amazing stuff around every corner, and the freedom to wander. No school for a week! I loved it.

One of the last places I visited was Arlington. I wasn't looking forward to it much; I wanted more time to hang out in museums, and a trip to Arlington would take up a good part of the day. I was working up a sulk.

It turned out differently. The sentinels pacing their rounds, the changing of the guard, the near-silence--it got to me in ways my high school mind hadn't expected. I remember trying not to imagine who was in the tomb, what life he had led before going to war, how he had met his end. The people who missed him.

Of all the incredible things I saw on that trip--lunar modules, dinosaurs, Picassos--nothing has stayed with me like the hours I spent at Arlington.
I'm really fuzzy as to what exactly this guy's crime was. Are we moving toward prosecuting people for what they think?

(It's a guy who was prosecuted on child-pornography laws for journals he wrote which basically detailed fictional accounts of...well, ugly stuff he thought about.)

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Via MeFi: It's Banned Books Week. As always, many of the titles on the Most Challenged 100 Books List are surprising: How To Eat Fried Worms? Well, I recall not liking it in fourth grade, but banning it? Yeesh....anyway, the Judy Blume quote at the top of the page laments books that won't get written because they might end up on this list. Maybe I'm warped, but I'm the type to try to write books that are likely to get on this list.

Anyway, read a challenged book sometime!

Friday, September 19, 2003

MrWong's Soup'Partments

There's more...
I know you're dying to know the answer to this one...

Why don't we try to destroy tropical cyclones by nuking them?

During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms. Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems. Needless to say, this is not a good idea.

Now for a more rigorous scientific explanation of why this would not be an effective hurricane modification technique. The main difficulty with using explosives to modify hurricanes is the amount of energy required. A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20x1013 watts and converts less than 10% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 1013 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.

If we think about mechanical energy, the energy at humanity's disposal is closer to the storm's, but the task of focusing even half of the energy on a spot in the middle of a remote ocean would still be formidable. Brute force interference with hurricanes doesn't seem promising. [more]

-- Frequently Asked Questions at the Hurricane Research Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Monday, September 15, 2003

It's caption time!

For those of you into the whole ten-plus dimensions thing.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Based on this article, and the one that recently got Sean rather upset, I think we should get a pool going on what will be Christopher Hitchens's next subject. My money's on "Why Not Eat Puppies?"

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Media Planning based on a new demographic
"It's not that we're necessarily going to run ads for skinny people on shows that skinny people watch," she explains. "It's more about understanding what the marketing implications are for people of different weight classes and then building a media strategy around that."

For example, she says it would have huge implications for food marketers-particularly fast-food chains-if regulators were to move forward with plans to regulate certain types of food advertising, much the way they did with alcohol and tobacco ads.

Under tobacco marketing rules, tobacco brands are not allowed to purchase ads in magazines that have a significant composition of underage readers. "Let's hope it doesn't get that far, but if it does, we may not be allowed to advertise certain food products on shows that reach a high composition of overweight people," Nathan predicts.
How ethical is this and should it be regulated? To what extent?

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Scrabblog. Nice creative use of the medium.
I wonder what kind of conversations might transpire, in the Great Beyond, between the father of the H-bomb and Hitler's personal film-maker.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Land of the Chocolate Makers

Map by uggabugga.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Keep Looking Up

Over the weekend I was able to get a good look at Mars through the 120+ year old, 15.6 inch refracting telescope at UW Madison's Washburn Observatory. The skies were less than ideal, but I was easily able to make out the southern ice cap, and some of the dark markings on the surface. The disk appeared to be slightly larger than a quarter held at arms length. It was certainly no Hubble view, because of the cloudy skies the red planet appeared mostly gray, but it was still well worth the wait in line. Between Mars, and my recent Lunar Eclipse cum Jovian encounter, I am really hoping to be able to buy a decent telescope in the near future. Here are some other night sky targets if you've been bitten by the bug too. Of course, you can always turn to Jack for weekly naked-eye targets.

Friday, August 29, 2003

I'm supposed to be on a blogging hiatus for a couple of days -- shhhh! -- but I didn't say anything about posting to Collaboratory, and anyway, this is too cool not to share right now: Warren Ellis had something called "Worldwide Wednesday" the other day, in which people sent him snapshots from their digital cameras or webcams or whatever for an entire day. Start here (this is the last entry in the series), and work your way back for some nifty bits of impromptu coolness.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

On the 40th anniversary of its delivery, the annotated "I Have A Dream" speech.

So, to revisit John's post, how many of us have actually done any Mars-gazing?

Monday, August 25, 2003

Well, I don't know how it happened, but somehow I was allowed membership to this elite group. I'll take the opportunity of my first post to provide my profile.

On July 4th 1972, I was born in Des Moines, Iowa (firecracker kid, yankee-doodle dandy, yes I've heard them all), and lived in the (ahem) glorious capitol city through high school. I attended Wartburg College with Jaquandor and Sean (I really didn't know Sean, but I knew of him). I played in the Concert Band and Jazz Band with Jaquandor, although my first encounter with him actually came during my senior year of high school when he hosted me for the Meistersinger Honor Band. His roommate was gone for the weekend, so Jaquandor graciously allowed me to sleep on said roommate's bed, contrary to explicit instructions forbidding such slumber. One sore point from that weekend was that Jaquandor failed to warn me to avoid a certain religion professor’s classes. I still hold a grudge.

I started out as a Music Education major, but soon realized that I really wasn't a good enough player to make it through my required recitals (I really think would be a lousy teacher anyway). I did however have a knack for theory and composition. So I abandoned the Bachelor of Music Education path in favor of a straight Bachelor of Music, with an emphasis in composition rather than an instrument. I would still have to meet the recital requirements, but I wouldn't have to play, just write the music. At this point I suppose I should mention that my main instrument was trombone. I had switched from trumpet my sophomore year in high school when playing trombone meant a guaranteed spot in the top jazz band.

Somewhere along the way I started hosting a few radio shows on the college radio station (including a couple of all Beatles specials co-hosted by my advisor/theory professor) and developed an interest in broadcasting. I was never particularly that good on-air, but I did enjoy the production aspect of it all. The thought occurred to me that this might be a way I could earn a living in my post-Wartburg days. I certainly didn't see anybody paying me for my analysis of Alban Berg's "Wozzeck." I added a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Journalism (electronic media emphasis) at the beginning of my fourth year. Working on two degrees, a fifth year seemed to be in the cards. During the course of my journalism studies my focus shifted from radio to video. Still concentrating on the production end of things I became quite a decent videographer and editor. I did have an interest in the journalism side, but my lack of on-air talent precluded me from following a career as a reporter, and my journalistic standards were much too high to allow me to make it as a producer. So, I stuck with the creative/visual side of things.

Midway through the second semester of my fourth year I heard rumor that my music advisor, and sole teacher of nearly every course required for that degree, would be leaving at the end of the year. When I asked him about this he simply said with a grin "I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be." OK. I decided within an hour that I would drop the Bachelor of Music, and try to get out in four and a half years. Who really needs two bachelors degrees anyway? I talked my journalism advisor into an independent study, and it was all set. I still needed a science credit, but that was easily taken care of in the spring at Des Moines Area Community College, saving me a fair bit of debt.

While at Wartburg I also met my future wife Krista. She was also a music major (both education and performance) and played in the concert and jazz bands. Her main instrument is the marimba, as well as all other percussion. We were married in the summer of 1995. We live in south Minneapolis, near Lake Nokomis, in a house that we bought two years ago. I am a video editor at KSTP-TV, the ABC affiliate, where I have been for nearly eight years. Krista teaches percussion and piano (as well as the occasional wind instrument) for the Children's Yamaha Music School.

I tend to have too many hobbies. We played together in a rock band called “44” for several years (one song is still available at mp3.com). Krista was the drummer, and I played guitar, bass, and horns. So, in addition to working on our house, we are also trying to get a home studio set up to start recording some music. In these summer months a lot of time is spent bicycling and riding my motorcycle. I also enjoy photography (despite my being a total hack), and would love to get a telescope one of these days. There is also the possibility of a short independent film (making, not watching) somewhere down the line.

I don’t read as much as I should, but my favorite authors include Tolkien, Kerouac, and Vonnegut. My musical tastes vary widely. There is no genre that doesn’t have something for me (with the possible exception of the whole boy band/pop diva thing). To list just a few: The Beatles, Beck, Bj?rk, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Cash, Tori Amos, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk (my cat is named Monk), Dave Matthews, and the list goes on.

As far as politics go, I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat, and I do not consider myself a centrist. My views tend to fall far to the left or far to the right, depending upon the subject. I won’t go into detail here, I will simply let it all come out as time goes on.

Now what brought me to Blogistan? The incessant nagging of Jaquandor nearly every time I would comment over at Byzantium’s Shores, “You should have a blog of your own.” So, I got a blog of my own. As you will notice, my posting is rather spotty on my own weblog, and I can guarantee that the same will be true here (how long has it been since Sean added me to the sidebar?) But I will try and bring something to the table.

Was that long enough?

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Question: Is the current situation in the California recall more a result of

a) incompetent USAmerican politicians?

b) USAmerican's stupid obsession with 'celebrities'?

c) something else?

I know this much, it feels more like something out of Philip K Dick than reality. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Earth imageThis is the first image of Earth (top and middle) taken from another planet.

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water..

—War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells (1898)

At 5:51 a.m. EDT on Aug. 27, 2003, Mars will be within 34,646,418 miles (55,758,006 kilometers) of Earth. This will be the closest that Mars has come to our planet in nearly 60,000 years.

Prior to the 1988 close pass, the two planets were even closer in 1971, just 34.9 million miles (56.2 million kilometers) apart. The 2003 approach is less than 1 percent closer than the one in 1971, Standish points out.

"So it's not like you're going to see something gigantic in the sky," he said. "It’s not like Mars is going to look like the Moon or anything [although I understand that you only need a fairly modest telescope (75 power) to make it appear so - JH]"

Mars will appear strikingly brilliant, however. It will be about as bright as Jupiter ever gets. It will shine like a beacon in its characteristic red or orange, in stark contrast to most of the other planets and stars, which exhibit little color.

Officially, Mars will reach magnitude minus-2.9 on a scale used by astronomers to denote brightness. Lower numbers indicate brighter objects, and negative numbers are reserved for the very brightest.

The Red Planet will present a large enough disk for backyard astronomers with good-sized telescopes to discern some of the planet's features, such as the polar ice cap, dark surface features and perhaps even storm clouds.

-- Orbital Oddities: Why Mars will be So Close to Earth in August

Hubble Space Telescope took this picture of Mars during an opposition on June 26, 2001, when Mars was approximately 43 million miles (68 million km) from Earth.

The winter rains had been impeding my view of Mars until the last couple of days but since then the sky has been clear (and icy cold). Mars is bright and unmistakable and it's very conveniently rising at nightfall and rising during the course of the evening. Also conveniently for sky gazers, apparently there won't be a moon visible on the 27th.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Housekeeping notes:

You won't believe it, but I actually updated the sidebar. I added: Jason's long awaited weblog under his name; Cody; and Aaron. C and A, would you please both write a little profile like the rest of us did so it can be linked? I invited Sam a while ago, so if he ever comes, I'll add him to the sidebar as well.

To do: I'd like to add an RSS feed so Collaborator would show up as updated on BlogRoll, but not today.

Anything else we need? A new template was mentioned, once upon a time...
When confronted with a fairly new and unusual set of circumstances and you don't know what to do, you should call someone who's dealt with similar circumstances before. Case in point: It's the middle of August, it's really hot, your entire metropolitan region has just suffered a complete loss of electrical power. Who should you call for advice?

The Iraqis, of course.

Though, given this happened in New York City and parts of New Jersey, I suspect we've got Item #2 on their advice-list covered.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Pardon the self-link, guys and gal, but I can't post this on my personal blog and I wanted to share the news. I've got a new blog. I've obviously gone far over the brink of insanity. But shhh. My dad can't know.
Greatest Americans?

I've only received three lists (including my own) of the seven to ten greatest Americans (IYHO, of course). Jaq? Sean? Cody? Hardy, you want in on this? If I don't get at least five total (or two more) then I'll scrap the project. Don't be so lazy! e-mail them to me: nospamnospamssecrest48 AT hotmail DOT com. Remove the "nospamnospam". Gracias.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Why not keep Iraq for ourselves? I'm still not sure what the long-term plan for Iraq is, I know that publicly we keep saying that we want to turn control over to a new democratic iraqi government - but honestly I don't think that's what the iraqi people want. I think the Iraqi people would rather have an iranian style government, where the religous leaders have most of the control. Obviously the US would never let that happen, and frankly I would be frightened of such a government. So instead of implementing a puppet government in which the US pulls the strings, why not install a US led government and be upfront about all of it? We don't necessarily have to make it the 51st state, we could keep it like puerto rico or guam. On that note - what is Iraq's current status, is it still an occupied territory, is it still an independant nation, or is it a US territory?

Thursday, August 07, 2003

I'm sure we've all heard the comparisons of political candidates, especially popular in Presidential elections, of the form:

[Candidate X] is the new [Current or past office holder of note]!

Along these lines, Howard Dean is apparently the new....well, it's multiple choice.

A growing pastime, born of GPS technology, is striking out to see just what there is at places where latitude and longitude meet, and a whole website, Confluence.org, documents this fascinating subset of world travel.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Ever since I started publicly listing my email address on the web1 I have been steadily receiving more and more spam. Nowadays, on average I get betwen forty and fifty a day. If I signed up to each and every one of these offers, I tell you boys and girls, my penis would have been lengthened to twice the circumference of the Earth by now! (I just thought you'd like to know that.)

Initially I started screening spam before I downloaded it from the server by looking at the subject lines or sender addresses but eventually the task became too laborious so I switched to an email spam filter like SpamAssassin (set up as an email proxy SAProxy which ran locally on my windows box). The results were pretty good but after a while I noticed that quite a lot of emails were managing to circumvent it.

Recently I switched from using IE/Outlook Express to Mozilla/Mail. The Mozilla project admittedly took a bit of while to get ready for Prime Time but I'm pleased to report that it's there now and that I'm no longer dependent on a Microsoft product for doing such an important job2.

It took me a little time after I started using it to realise that the program actually has quite a nice little spam filter already built in to it. The filter is a Bayesian one and it employs the statistical algorithm described in an August 2002 article by Paul Graham : "A Plan for Spam".

Unlike conventional spam filters which recognize certain tell-tale features of spam (such as keywords: sex, teens, free, credit etc), Bayesian filters start with no preconceptions of what spam should look like at all. When a spam email arrives you simply mark it with the "junk" flag (and optionally have it automatically move it to a "junk" folder). After a while - and it takes at least fifty messages before it really starts to get a handle on things - the filter will automatically start marking certain messages as junk all by itself.

In this early stage you may need to unmark some of these emails, in my cases it erroneously marked a few HTML newsletters, one or two mail server notification message etc. But after quite a few weeks of using this filter, I've found that it does an excellent job. Now only a few spams a day manage to slip through to my inbox and while I still check the junk folder for false-positives I haven't found any more legitimate emails wrongly put in there.

So how about you? What's your daily dose of spam like and what strategies have you been using to deal with it?

1 - the Collaboratory is coming up for its first birthday in two weeks btw
2 - I'm also using OpenOffice which is quite a respectable and free replacement of Microsoft Office

Monday, August 04, 2003

The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill is raising quite the debate by asking incoming students to read "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America". I know that at least Jaq and Jason have read this book (as have I). Is this fair game as required reading or is it too biased towards an agenda? Can politically charged books make for good reading for students or should they seek these out on their own time? Would you still feel the same iif it were a Bill O' Reilly book?

Sunday, August 03, 2003

John Hardy fixed the sidebar. Three cheers for John!

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

A common meme in American political discourse is that our country is divided sharply between the liberal, Democratic outposts of the Northeast, Upper Midwest, and Pacific Coast, with virtually everything in the middle being solidly conservative Republican. This is commonly demonstrated by simply referring to the electoral map in the 2000 election:

But, the truth -- as is always the case -- is more complicated than that, and indicates that we're not as split an electorate as some might insist. The 2002 election results, which resulted in a pretty even split in Congress despite the conventional wisdom that the Democrats suffered a massive bloodbath, bears this out. If you instead combine the percentages of "red" and "blue" -- say, assigning 54% red and 46% blue to Ohio, just to make up an example off the top of my head -- you end up with what Brad DeLong calls "a purple nation". Check this out:

And, for Republicans who like to think that all that geographical space in their red area is impressive (or for Democrats who look at their tiny little blue area and suffer some kind of Freudian envy), there's this map in which state size is represented by the number of electoral votes.

Blogstop - each entry must be an acronym for the next post. (via mefi). Anyone up for an attempt?
Interesting special flash-based interactive guide to the fence that Israel is trying to build between itself and the Palestinians. Some Israelis view this with relief while others fear that it will reinforce the legitimacy of the pre-1967 borders. Palestinians claim it will exacerbate the economic apartheid they currently suffer

Initially opposed to the fence and urging compliance with the "road-map to peace", President Bush is now backing out of the debate.

To begin the (brief but informative) Guardian tour, click here.
This morning's headlines:

:: Memo Warns of New Hijack Plots

:: Air Marshals Pulled From Key Flights

Well....allrighty, then.

UPDATE: A new headline appeared just now: Flip-flop on Air Marshal Schedules. I'm glad that wisdom has prevailed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

China needs breathing room. Russia's got too much breathing room.

A novel solution.

Gambling on terrorism... I'm going long with Osama, but I plan to short Sadam

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Have You Seen Me??

Have you seen Sidebar??

"Sidey" was lost in the blogspot area earlier this month and his loving
owners hope he was taken in by a well meaning person who just doesn't
know how to contact them.

Please contact either Sean or Scott if you have seen him.


Friday, July 25, 2003

I just sent invites to Sam and Cody, so bring it on, fellas!

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Further to Scott's post below...

More on Louisiana's MASSIVE erosion problem

Louisiana 1803

land area: 828,000 sq miles

Louisiana 2003

land area: 51,843 sq miles

Taken over a two hundred year period this represents an annual loss of just under 1.3%. This is a very serious situation indeed.

As Scott's article says:
In 2000, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, Chip Groat, said: “With the projected rate of subsidence, wetland loss and sea-level rise, New Orleans will likely be on the verge of extinction by this time next century.”

101 Facts About Earth

Is the state of Louisiana growing or shrinking? (#74)

Does Earth have the worst weather in the Solar System? (#80)

The answer to these and 99 more ranging from basic knowledge to "whoa, that's cool" found here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Into the Deep

Tanya Streeter broke the world free-diving record on Monday as, on a single breath lasting three minutes and 38 seconds, she descended 400ft (121 metres) towards the ocean floor and resurfaced using only a pair of giant flippers for propulsion.

She is still a little tired after Monday's dive, which saw her heart rate slow to 15 beats per minute, her lungs compress to the size of scrunched-up plastic bags and her blood cease circulation around her extremities.


Monday, July 21, 2003

I did very poorly on this

The very pedantic and difficult Economist style-guide quiz. I broke in the "needs improvement" rating, but there were some things in there I hadn't thought about in a very long time.
TJ I can understand, but Reagan? Really?

Right-wing bloggers take a vote and rank their twenty greatest figures in American History. It'd be interesting to conglomerate a list of our own. Send me your top, um, let's say 5-10 via e-mail (ssecrest48 AT hotmail Dot com) and I'll put it together and post it next Monday.

Sunday, July 20, 2003

Thirty-four years ago today:

Isn't it about time we went back?

Friday, July 18, 2003


"That invisible hand of Adam Smith's seems to be offering an extended middle finger to an awful lot of people." - - George Carlin

Here's a fascinating intersection of science and art: astronomers have figured out when Van Gogh witnessed a particular astronomical event which he later painted.

More here, including a photo of the actual painting.

Wow. Wow, wow, wow.

(It's a dolphin.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Collaboratory's been sucking wind a little bit lately, wouldn't you say? Cody is interested in joining us, and i'm interested in having him, but I don't want to invite him to something that's languishing. What do we do?

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Come again?

An American archaeologist yesterday urged her compatriots to kill the looters who are pillaging archaeological sites in Iraq.

"I would like to see some helicopters flying over these sites, and some bullets fired at the looters," Elizabeth Stone, head of archaeology at Stony Brook University in New York, said in London yesterday. "I think you have got to kill some people to stop this."
(via ArtsJournal.com)

Monday, July 07, 2003

Comment counting should be back now.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Last words of fictional characters.
The post below is my first with the new Blogger. Noticed that when previewing the post, one of the buttons is labelled "Re-edit." I'm trying to work out why "Edit" is not sufficient, but I can't come up with anything.
Bread and Roses

Spend a little time browsing through the pictures here. To me, they're sad and uplifting at the same time.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Gene Wolfe wrote an essay on his love of Lord of the Rings for this book, and his essay was rejected.

If Wolfe, one of SF and fantasy's greatest living writers, didn't make the cut, it kind of makes me want to get that book and find out what did....

Here's one of those ultra-cool "VR" tours, of an Egyptian Pharaoh's tomb. Ultra-cool, even at 56K. (Yeah, I'm still on dial-up. And I'm quite happy with it, because I do very little downloading of big video files and I don't do filetrading of any sort. So there.)

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

My own theory is that some people prefer the dessert to the main.

Monday, June 16, 2003

"Rose Pipe" Didn't Make the Cut

The American Heritage Student Dictionary suggests that parents help kids "maintain and enhance" their vocabulary over the summer. In fact, they've made a list of words they think middle schoolers (grades 6-8) should know.

Any thoughts? (One writer's reaction.)

I like words, and I think kids should know how to use more of them. But I can't remember ever learning a word and using it because it was on some list. In fact, when I was 13, that may have been a strike against an otherwise fine word. I did spend a lot of time digging through my parents' lovely, old-fashioned, two-volume dictionary, though. Why? As I read, I found words that I needed to know.

How about a list of words parents should know?
Instead of confronting pressing national problems, our president lands airplanes while Rome burns.

Senator Jim Jeffords (Ind., Vermont) recently gave a speech that neatly summarizes why so many of us are, shall we say, less than satisfied with President Bush. And he's not even a Democrat.

(link via Ruminate This.)

I have a recurrent feeling these days, that I'm living in the wrong trouser-leg of time.

And, going even farther, SF author Charles Stross commented the other day on why he's less than satisfied with the 21st century.

(crossposted on Byzantium's Shores.)

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Suppose, when he went to Gettysburg to dedicate the cemetery there, Abraham Lincoln had been able to employ the wonderful abilities of....

....(wait for it)....


No, but if you hum a few bars, I can fake it.


Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Necessity Addiction the mother of invention . . .

In related news, deputies involved in "Operation Rose Pipe" in St John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, found that 14 percent of [270 5th-7th grade] students associated the glass rose tubes with smoking crack cocaine. So yeah, cursive drills are maybe not the most important thing to have kids do while you've got them in the classroom.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

A scientist studies what may be the mummy of Queen Nefertiti of Egypt.

(Note to self: Check previous posts before posting....oh well, at least I got a picture!)

What if Superman were a Red?

What if he had landed in the Ukraine instead of Kansas? An interesting take and very creative endeavor. (Review: may contain spoilers).
A consequence of the computer age: cursive is apparently dying.

Every so often I'll attempt to scrawl a bit in cursive, and it always takes me several minutes just to recall how to make every letter. I believe I was in my early college years the last time I actually used cursive for anything longer than my signature. Even though I do a lot of longhand writing, none of it is cursive. (I print in italics.)

Should we still teach cursive, or has it become irrelevant?


I hope this isn't what Andrew Carlssin was talking about over at Laputan Logic.

Beauty Check?
Find out about:
* why some faces are more beautiful than others;
* how scientists help unravel the mystery of beauty; and
* the dangerous relationship between a beautiful body and social power.


Sunday, June 08, 2003

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture (via plep on MeFi). Of course, ol' languagehat has already been there.

Your assignment: pick a favorite site? (and we aint talkin web here, baby.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

What is the Matrix?

Friday, May 30, 2003

This aint near penance enough for my utter lack of posting over here, but why not break the trend now?

Clinton says term limits should be for consecutive terms, not a lifetime.

Now that's an interesting idea (relative to him). I think he's right that it won't happen for him, but would you vote for him?

Saturday, May 10, 2003

So you want to have an outdoor wedding. But you still want the trappings of a church, and your addiction to connectivity means that you'll still want to be able to check your e-mail and see if your favorite blogs have updated during the reception.

But how can you have your day to remember, and still have all this too? It's easy!!

First, you pick the field for the ceremony and reception.

Second, you rent one of these:

Third, you solve your connectivity-at-the-reception problem by just stocking the reception area with these:

Fourth: if you seriously consider doing any of the above, smack yourself with one of these:

Friday, May 09, 2003

Find the fake food!

Incredibly, some of the foods in this list are not on any menu. Someone made them up. See if you can figure them out. (Answer inside.)

a. black-truffle lollipops
b. polenta ice cream
c. white chocolate and loganberry couscous
d. seawater mousse
e. pulverized Fisherman’s Friend lozenges
f. spaghetti noodles made from Parmesan cheese
g. suffocated peaches in aspirin sauce
h. foie-gras sorbet

(Inspired by this article, via aldaily. I am what some people call a “foodie”—compliment? not sure—and am willing to try almost anything people tell me is delicious. Almost.)
MemeWatch: Andrew Carlssin

The Collaboratory needs more hits, I think, so I thought I'd add it to the growing list of echoes of the current meme. This is a story about a story.

I first heard of Andrew Carlssin back in March this year in a story posted in Yahoo News:

Wednesday March 19, 2003


NEW YORK -- Federal investigators have arrested an enigmatic Wall Street wiz on insider-trading charges -- and incredibly, he claims to be a time-traveler from the year 2256!

Sources at the Security and Exchange Commission confirm that 44-year-old Andrew Carlssin offered the bizarre explanation for his uncanny success in the stock market after being led off in handcuffs on January 28.

"We don't believe this guy's story -- he's either a lunatic or a pathological liar," says an SEC insider.

"But the fact is, with an initial investment of only $800, in two weeks' time he had a portfolio valued at over $350 million. Every trade he made capitalized on unexpected business developments, which simply can't be pure luck.

"The only way he could pull it off is with illegal inside information. He's going to sit in a jail cell on Rikers Island until he agrees to give up his sources."

The past year of nose-diving stock prices has left most investors crying in their beer. So when Carlssin made a flurry of 126 high-risk trades and came out the winner every time, it raised the eyebrows of Wall Street watchdogs.

"If a company's stock rose due to a merger or technological breakthrough that was supposed to be secret, Mr. Carlssin somehow knew about it in advance," says the SEC source close to the hush-hush, ongoing investigation.

When investigators hauled Carlssin in for questioning, they got more than they bargained for: A mind-boggling four-hour confession.

Carlssin declared that he had traveled back in time from over 200 years in the future, when it is common knowledge that our era experienced one of the worst stock plunges in history. Yet anyone armed with knowledge of the handful of stocks destined to go through the roof could make a fortune.

"It was just too tempting to resist," Carlssin allegedly said in his videotaped confession. "I had planned to make it look natural, you know, lose a little here and there so it doesn't look too perfect. But I just got caught in the moment."

In a bid for leniency, Carlssin has reportedly offered to divulge "historical facts" such as the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden and a cure for AIDS.

All he wants is to be allowed to return to the future in his "time craft."

However, he refuses to reveal the location of the machine or discuss how it works, supposedly out of fear the technology could "fall into the wrong hands."

Officials are quite confident the "time-traveler's" claims are bogus. Yet the SEC source admits, "No one can find any record of any Andrew Carlssin existing anywhere before December 2002."

Weekly World News will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. Keep watching for further developments.

but it was only after I happened upon this page that I suddenly realised what kind of Internet super-celebrity he has become since then.

The fact that the story was posted in the Entertainment section or that the story was syndicated from Weekly World News should have been enough of a warning for most people you'd think but, no on the contrary, the story of Andrew Carlssin has been running hot continues to be copied verbatum from newspaper to newspaper.

Here's a rundown on the story's progress so far and, of course, as you might expect Carlssin now has his own webpage.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

SDB is annoyed that the University of Massachusetts is considering changing its mascot from a Minuteman to a gray wolf. Of course, he seizes on the single sentence in the article he cites that mentions "gender, firearms and ethnicity issues" to complain about political correctness, and completely ignores the article's larger point -- that the Minuteman-bearing merchandise just isn't selling these days.

Is this PC-run-amok, or is this just the free market at work?

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Grammar Hotshot Takes Down PSAT Question

I heard the lead-in for this on Talk of the Nation, but I didn't catch the discussion. Here's the question in question (the object is to choose which part of the sentence, if any, contains an error):

Toni Morrison's genius enables (A) [her to create] novels (B)[that arise from] (C)[and express] the injustice African Americans (D)[have endured]. (E) No error.

The intended answer was E. The teacher argued that A is the correct response. The question is whether "Morrison's" can serve as the noun antecedent for the pronoun "her."

My response? BS! Only a cast-in-the-die grammar cluck could argue for A with a straight face. "John Hardy's weblog enables him to share amazing facts and astounding theories with people on other continents." Anybody's got a problem with that sentence, I'll see them outside.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Gee, if Frodo had only checked this site, he wouldn't have had to mess around with that smelly ol' Strider guy after all.

Shuttle's Worms Found Thriving in Debris
As NASA begins closing down its primary shuttle debris collection sites, a surprising and symbolic find has heartened the team tasked with the grim and challenging chore of piece together the wreckage: worms, packed aboard the shuttle as an experiment, not only survived Columbia's breakup and free-fall, but thrived.

"It's really wonderful," said Terri Lomax, director of NASA's fundamental space biology program at the agency's Washington, D.C. headquarters. "We never expected this."

Lomax's research team at Ames Research Center in California received the first samples on Wednesday — pencil-tip sized nematodes that had flown in Petri dishes to test a new synthetic nutrient solution designed to extend the critters' lives.

Evidently it works. The worms, known by their scientific nomenclature as C. elegans, were in their fourth or fifth regeneration since being packed aboard the shuttle for launch on Jan. 16.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Automated Denial-of-Service Attack Using the U.S. Post Office

In December 2002, the notorious "spam king" Alan Ralsky gave an interview. Aside from his usual comments that antagonized spam-hating e-mail users, he mentioned his new home in West Bloomfield, Michigan. The interview was posted on Slashdot, and some enterprising reader found his address in some database. Egging each other on, the Slashdot readership subscribed him to thousands of catalogs, mailing lists, information requests, etc. The results were devastating: within weeks he was getting hundreds of pounds of junk mail per day and was unable to find his real mail amongst the deluge.

Ironic, definitely. But more interesting is the related paper by security researchers Simon Byers, Avi Rubin and Dave Kormann, who have demonstrated how to automate this attack.

If you type the following search string into Google -- "request catalog name address city state zip" -- you'll get links to over 250,000 (the exact number varies) Web forms where you can type in your information and receive a catalog in the mail. Or, if you follow where this is going, you can type in the information of anyone you want. If you're a little bit clever with Perl (or any other scripting language), you can write a script that will automatically harvest the pages and fill in someone's information on all 250,000 forms. You'll have to do some parsing of the forms, but it's not too difficult. (There are actually a few more problems to solve. For example, the search engines normally don't return more than 1,000 actual hits per query.) When you're done, voila! It's Slashdot's attack, fully automated and dutifully executed by the U.S. Postal Service.


Wednesday, April 16, 2003

History textbooks in the United States have long been sanitized to promote the "correct" view of America. Now, apparently they're doing the same thing in Europe.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Scientists have finished mapping the human genome.

In other news, the stars have started winking out....

(Oh, and I get up in the morning, check "Collab" over my morning coffee, and get a nice shot of Donnie Rumsfeld's grinning, skull-like visage! Aieee!!)

I take it back. It's not good news in Baghdad at all.
It's a unmitigated fucking disaster.

"The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over, and over, and over, and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase, and you see it 20 times, and you think, 'My goodness, were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?'"

Laugh it up laughing boy. History will never forget you.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Good news in Baghdad, no doubt about it.
Nevertheless it's an occupation, hopefully a very short one.

"These are not the droids you're looking for, move along."

Shamelessly stolen from The Infrequent Itinerant

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Big-Ass Squid (not the official scientific name) captured in Antarctic waters. Rumors of a sudden upturn in Red Lobster stock were unconnected.

Here's an update to my post a few weeks back:

Mystery bug doctor dies

The World Health Organization expert who first identified the mystery pneumonia that has claimed dozens of lives has himself died of the disease, the UN agency has announced.

Dr Carlo Urbani, a 46-year-old Italian and an expert on communicable diseases, had identified Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in an American businessman admitted to hospital in Vietnam in February.

The WHO said Dr Urbani's early detection of SARS had led to increased global surveillance, enabling the identification and the subsequent isolation of those with the disease to slow its spread.

At least 54 people are known to have died of the disease, and more than 1,400 people to be suffering from it.


Schools closed in Hong Kong, 1000 people quarantined, complete media blackout in China and denial of access to World Health Organization doctors...

Like I said, this doesn't sound good.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The taste of fugu is incomparable. If you eat it three or four times, you are enslaved...
Anyone who declines it for fear of death is really a pitiable person.
-- Kitaoji Rosanjin

Shinto priests offer prayers to appease the soul of this departed fugu.
Digital Globe

I'm completely obsessed with overhead satellite images. This site has quite a few. The image above is Bora Bora, French Polynesia.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Imagine it's six months from now. The Iraq war is over. After an initial burst of joy and gratitude at being liberated from Saddam's rule, the people of Iraq are watching, and waiting, and beginning to chafe under American occupation. Across the border, in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, our conquering presence has brought street protests and escalating violence. The United Nations and NATO are in disarray, so America is pretty much on its own. Hemmed in by budget deficits at home and limited financial assistance from allies, the Bush administration is talking again about tapping Iraq's oil reserves to offset some of the costs of the American presence--talk that is further inflaming the region. Meanwhile, U.S. intelligence has discovered fresh evidence that, prior to the war, Saddam moved quantities of biological and chemical weapons to Syria. When Syria denies having such weapons, the administration starts massing troops on the Syrian border. But as they begin to move, there is an explosion: Hezbollah terrorists from southern Lebanon blow themselves up in a Baghdad restaurant, killing dozens of Western aid workers and journalists. Knowing that Hezbollah has cells in America, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge puts the nation back on Orange Alert. FBI agents start sweeping through mosques, with a new round of arrests of Saudis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Yemenis.

To most Americans, this would sound like a frightening state of affairs, the kind that would lead them to wonder how and why we had got ourselves into this mess in the first place. But to the Bush administration hawks who are guiding American foreign policy, this isn't the nightmare scenario. It's everything going as anticipated.

-- Joshua Micah Marshall

I'm not sure what bothers me more: what is apparently the underlying geopolitical strategy of the war in Iraq, in which Iraq becomes just a beach-head -- the Normandy of the US-versus-the-Islamic-World War -- which has been touted by people like SDB and the neocons who have Bush's ear, or the incredible cynicism that the Administration won't discuss it with the American people.

Yee-haw, it's time for the true March Madness!!!

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Jane Galt asks: do executives necessarily make good or bad Presidents? This is one of her more interesting posts.

For myself, I tend to agree with her sentiment that there probably isn't any job out there that really qualifies one to be President -- but going a bit farther, I have to admit to a certain distrust of any person, whether they're on my side of the political fence or not, who actually wants the job. I just find something inherently scary about any person who actually aspires to the power of the Presidency, regardless of what he or she wants to do with it.

Friday, March 21, 2003

The military has clear guidelines for just about everything, including their saddest duties of all.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Man, have I even been lax in posting here....

Anyway, some of the mealy-mouthed discussion of post-war Iraq that's taken place has centered on, as example, the reconstruction of Japan and Germany after World War II. Of course, some cite those instances as examples of what we won't do -- "We won't be there for years like we were in Japan, we're gonna win the war and bugger off as soon as the Iraqis can stand up straight" -- at the same time as being cited as examples why we should be just hunky-dorey about an American invasion, since after all, "After WWII we rebuilt Japan and now they're just our best friends!" Curious disconnect, there, and I find it interesting that if a Japanese-style post-war occupation is to be our model, our Administration won't tell us so. Interesting, but hardly surprising -- after all, they're just the most forthcoming Administration in Washington since....2001, anyway.

Oh, yeah -- links and such. I've been thinking about this stuff for a while, and Josh Marshall has written an article and a further commentary on Talking Points Memo about why the Japanese and German occupations might not be very good indicators of future results. (Read the article first, then the blog post.)

Google targets blog text ads

This is a lot smarter than anything Pyra could have done with banner ads. You've probably already noticed that since the takeover, ads for free blogspot sites have been replaced with lightweight Google text ads which appear in a floating frame rather than some clunky GIF. This is a very welcome change for slow loading pages like mine, but there's an additional feature to this, the ads are targetted to readership based on what Google perceives to be the content of that blog.

For example, Laputan Logic is now running ads for biblical archaeology sites. Evidently, it has picked up the theme in my last couple of posts and from the archaeological slant in general. Joshua Legg's site is all about war and peace and Byzantium's Shores today is running ads for freelance jobs and ... swimwear (wtf?).

Some of the ads are targetted to the reader's location (via IP address I imagine). I noticed a number of ads for Australian products which had nothing to do with the content of the blog I was reading. When they can't work out to display, apparently they display ads for charities.

Anyway, as part of the grueling research that I have put into this post, I noticed (finally) that the Collaboratory no longer has a banner ad. How long has it been gone? Please don't tell me its been six months.

Does anyone know who paid for it?

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

The Arrogant Empire

Okay, apologies in advance for yet another post about the current crisis1 although I thought this was a particularly good article.

I think it goes a long way to explaining from an American perspective the nature of the diplomatic mess that the Bush Administration has created for itself. America faces unprecedented opposition to its policies around the world, not just from its traditional enemies but from its allies as well and especially from the populations of those countries. I think this map nicely sums it up.

Before being tempted to reach for tired cliches like "knee-jerk anti-Americanism" to explain this, it's worth reflecting that it hasn't always been this way.

But in its campaign against Iraq, America is virtually alone. Never will it have waged a war in such isolation. Never have so many of its allies been so firmly opposed to its policies. Never has it provoked so much public opposition, resentment and mistrust. And all this before the first shot has been fired.

Watching the tumult around the world, it’s evident that what is happening goes well beyond this particular crisis. Many people, both abroad and in America, fear that we are at some kind of turning point, where well-established mainstays of the global order—the Western Alliance, European unity, the United Nations—seem to be cracking under stress. These strains go well beyond the matter of Iraq, which is not vital enough to wreak such damage. In fact, the debate is not about Saddam anymore. It is about America and its role in the new world.
1 - Though if you'd like to see something else posted on this blog, well, what's stopping you?
This doesn't sound good...

Mysterious illness may be new disease

A mysterious, flulike illness that has stricken scores of hospital workers in Southeast Asia has stumped a battery of tests for known bacteria and viruses and most likely represents a new human disease of unknown origin, federal health authorities said Monday.

At least 14 cases bearing some resemblance to the illness are being evaluated in the United States, including that of an unidentified patient, recently arrived from travel to Asia, who turned up in a Los Angeles County emergency room with a high fever and difficulty breathing.

Patients with the disease come down with a particularly dangerous case of pneumonia -- fluid filling their lungs -- and many of those sickened in Southeast Asia have had to be placed on ventilators.

World Health Organization epidemiologists have already given the disease a name -- SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome -- and have confirmed four deaths and 167 cases worldwide.

Under prodding by the United Nations' health agency, China has disclosed an outbreak of 305 cases from November through February that appear similar to SARS. There were five deaths in China, but none of the cases are included yet in the official WHO count.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told reporters that 10 of the 14 suspected cases in the United States were "almost certainly not" SARS, but that "it would not be surprising" to find the illness soon in the United States.

Cases have been confirmed in Canada, where two members of a Toronto family have died after returning from China. One member of that family subsequently visited Atlanta. Cases are also suspected in Switzerland, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Gerberding said she was confident that laboratories in the United States or in eight other nations testing for the disease would pinpoint its cause. But the disease detectives are now fairly sure it is a bug they haven't encountered before.

"We are not suspicious this is a common microorganism, or we would have found it by now," she said. It was unlikely to be some form of influenza, because Hong Kong hospitals are skilled in identifying even exotic strains of that deadly diseases.

While ruling nothing out -- including bioterrorism -- Gerberding indicated that the epidemic was behaving like that of a viral illness spread by "close contact" with infected patients in the home or hospital. SARS appears to be highly contagious but requires contact with droplets of infected body fluids through cough or sneezing.

Health Organization Stepping Up Efforts to Find Cause of Mysterious Pneumonia

...[T]wo features of the mysterious illness led the World Health Organization to sound an alarm last week.

"One was the high degree of contagion to health care workers," Dr. Gerberding said.

She cited the case of an American businessman who became ill while in Hanoi and who died after he was transferred to a hospital in Hong Kong. He inadvertently spread the illness to many health care workers. The extent of spread was much more "than we typically see with most infectious diseases" in the health care environment.

One factor in the greater degree of spread was that the hospital in Hong Kong where the businessman was treated used different infection control measures from those used in the United States, Dr. Gerberding said.

The second feature was the rapidity and severity with which pneumonia developed in some patients. Even among patients who suffer a system illness with influenza, "it is quite unusual to develop pneumonia," Dr. Gerberding said. "Here we had a very high proportion of individuals developing pneumonia, and that signaled something unusual," requiring a closer look.

I have two very close friends who have just recently returned from Vietnam. One of them is a health worker who, as part of his trip, worked in a hospital in Hanoi. Needless to say I'm watching this one closely.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Things like this really matter it seems.

So while you're munching on that plate of delicious Freedom Fries, you might be interested to know the etymology of that wretchedly named "French" Toast.

Could the cursed French really have come up with such a culinary wonder?
Earnest patriots Walter Jones and Bob Ney learn those hateful frogs a lesson.Now feeling I was getting somewhere, I moved on the my American edition Larousse Gastronomique:

French Toast (PAIN PERDU)

A dessert consisting of slices of stale bread (or brioche or milk bread) soaked in milk, dipped in eggs beaten with sugar, then lightly fried in butter. French toast is usually served hot and crisp. It was formerly called pain crotté, pain à la romaine, or croutes dorées. In the south of France, it was traditionally eaten on feast days, particularly at Easter. Originally intended to use up crusts and leftover pieces of bread. French toast is usually made with milk bread. It may be accompanid by custard cream, jam or compote.

Now, was there a well attested American origin to French toast, I should certainly think my Larousse would mention it. Instead, I find a set of references to traditional French culinary practices. Furthermore, upon doing a search for pain crotté, I find that it is unanimously considered a Picardian tradition, and Picardy borders Belgium. At the other end, I find a number of references to pain perdu as New Orleans-style French Toast, suggesting that the English term "French toast" may in fact refer to the Louisiana French who prepared this recipe.

So, although my search could hardly be definitive without checking out the OED or the FEW (Oxford English Dictionary and Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch - the two most comprehensive etymological references for English and French), I find no support in the secondary sources for an American origin for French toast, and considerable support for an origin in contemporary Belgium or France.

It may be of some consolation to some patriotic souls to realise that the French word for the dish, Pain Perdu, actually means "Lost" Bread. How appropriate for a nation of primates capitulards et toujours en quete de fromages!!

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Rainy day FUN!

Found on the back of a Superman comic from 1965.

Mom seems to be suprisingly supportive of Dad's whacky ideas.
One has the impression that he gets quite a lot of them.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Iraq is not Japan

I know this is kinda obvious but sometimes it's necessary to say the obvious.

Starting last fall, we began to hear that U.S. policymakers were looking into Japan and Germany after World War II as examples or even models of successful military occupations. In the case of Japan, the imagined analogy with Iraq is probably irresistible. Although Japan was nominally occupied by the victorious “Allied powers” from August 1945 until early 1952, the Americans ran the show and tolerated no disagreement. This was Unilateralism with a capital “U”—much as we are seeing in U.S. global policy in general today. And the occupation was a pronounced success. A repressive society became democratic, and Japan—like Germany—has posed no military threat for over half a century.

The problem is that few if any of the ingredients that made this success possible are present—or would be present—in the case of Iraq. The lessons we can draw from the occupation of Japan all become warnings where Iraq is concerned. [More]

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Myers-Briggs? BOR-ing!


Saturday, March 01, 2003

You know the old joke about stupid people breaking their computer's "cup holder"?


(I'll bet Sean puts this on his Wish List, pronto!!)

Saturday, February 22, 2003

It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault. It's all Clinton's fault.

Except, though -- it's not.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Via an e-mail loop I'm on, some Japanese computer-error messages that are naturally in the form of haiku.

The Web site you seek
Cannot be located, but
Countless more exist.
Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.
Program aborting:
Close all that you have worked on.
You ask far too much.
Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.
Yesterday it worked.
Today it is not working.
Windows is like that.
Your file was so big.
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.
Stay the patient course.
Of little worth is your ire.
The network is down.
A crash reduces
Your expensive computer
To a simple stone.
Three things are certain:
Death, taxes and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.
You step in the stream,
But the water has moved on.
This page is
not here.
Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.
Having been erased,
he document you're seeking
Must now be retyped.
Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind.
Both are blank

One must have a mind of winter . . .

Iceboating has great aesthetic appeal, and the top speeds are out of this world. It sounds like a blast. Want to build one? Here are some free plans. (I love the disclaimer: "Warning! Risk of injury, death, drowning!") Fringe: an iceboat stamp with a 19th c. image of iceboats. The same idea, only on land.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Opposing War Is Good, But Not Good Enough

Faleh A. Jabar is an Iraqi dissident who offers an interesting perspective especially if you oppose the war but are also against leaving Iraq to stew in its own juices until Hussein dies of old age (a.k.a. the "containment" policy).
Opposing the war in itself is good but not good enough. Letting the Leviathan off the hook is a grave mistake for which we will pay sooner rather than later. Opposing war, which is an instrument of politics, should not lead us to forget the crux of the things political. It is not weapons of mass destruction that count most; what really counts is the political system that controls them. Ignoring this fact by the forces of peace simply serves the war camp.

Dozens of nations have chemical and biological weapons. None has deployed them, except Saddam's regime, first against the Iranian forces, later against Iraqi civilians. Governments should be held responsible for such crimes. Ironically, the United States let Saddam get away with no punishment for the actual deployment of chemical and biological weapons back in 1988, but it is now adamant about confronting him for a possible deployment of such weapons in the future. This is the logic of preemption. Yet there is no law, domestic or international, that permits a prosecutor to go after an ex-convict for a future, would-be offense. There is every law to bring a culprit to trial for actually breaching human norms in the first place.

In all the decades of struggle and international lobbying, one approach has never been tried: a meaningful political process to disengage the various components of the regime from each other--above all, a drive to split the ruling class-clan.

Here's what I think ought to happen. One, threaten Saddam with indictment. Two, give him an alternative for safe passage at the same time; this may create a crack in the ruling class-clan. Three, send a list of thirty or so of his aides who are persona non grata and demand that they leave the country with him. This ought to convince the rest of the class-clan members that they are not threatened en masse--only those who were most responsible for the offenses of the regime. Four, encourage this class-clan to oust Saddam into exile and sweeten the deal by offering a mini-Marshall plan. This mini-Marshall plan would be made available provided power was transferred to a civilian, interim government.

Such continued pressure, a political onslaught, should be backed by threat of force. A few warning shots may well be sufficient. This would help split the ruling group and embolden the people to take matters into their hands. A painfully slow process of regime disintegration has already been going on, and this political pressure would hasten the process along. An invasion, on the other hand, would wrench matters out of Iraqi hands and would risk untold consequences.