Monday, July 30, 2007

More on Lowe's and Home Depot

The discussions here and at other sites on the differing responses from Lowe's and Home Depot to complaints about Bill O'Reilly have settled onto a couple of common themes.

One, is that many people find the service and quality sorely lacking in all of the big box home project chains. Any complaint seemed like a good enough opening to warrant a general bitch session about how unsatisfied we are with the chains. For those of us old enough to remember actual lumber yards, the nostalgia was thick enough to cut with miter saw. As we have cut down the last old growth forests, the quality of lumber has declined over the years. This is a process that has been going on for over a century. Furniture makers were complaining about the declining quality of hardwood before the First World War. Meanwhile, the rise of big box stores has not only wiped out small businesses with ties to the community, is has deprived of of the expertise that lived in those stores. Small building trade-stores were staffed by professionals in the trade. Big boxes are staffed by retail clerks, mostly young people on their way onto a career in something else. When we go int big box stores we not only wait a long time for service, we wait a long time for indifferent, unknowledgeable service.

Others took their unhappiness up to the next level and ranted about how the big box corporations are generally bad corporate citizens.

In general, though, people's complaints broke down between those who think Lowe's and Home Depot are equally as bad, and those who think Lowe's is in some way better. No one seems willing to actually defend Home Depot.

I did find one interesting update to the original issue of my post. When John Aravosis first quoted the snotty letter from Home Depot, he said, "Somebody in corporate communications is going to get fired." That was my thought. I figured that letter must have been sent by the last guy in the office on Friday night, and that someone more senior would arrive today and be horrified at the "shut up and stop bothering us" tone. The essence of corporate communications is to put out fires with soothing words even when the real message is "shut up and stop bothering us." The irritated and dismissive tone of that letter is way out of line.

Ihateaphids, a reader at Pharyngula, wrote to Home Depot over the weekend and received the same letter. This means that it is a form letter that has been distributed to their customer service provider and that it must have had some kind of management approval (though how far up the food chain is hard to say).

To summarize: For me the issue is not that Home Depot sponsors O'Reilly and Lowe's does not. After all, Lowe's had no problem with O'Reilly a week ago. Any company that advertises widely is bound to advertise on a venue that offends someone. The issue isn't even that Lowe's responded favorably to our complaints and Home Depot unfavorably. No company can cave in to every boycott called by every web site on the internet and still stay in business. Lowe's should be rewarded for acting in favor, even if just by a nice letter. Home Depot's offense in this case is their contempt for their customers. We demand at least a polite response even if we don't get what we want. Our response to a curt dismissal should be another curt dismissal. If they can't give us some of their time then we don't need to give them some of our dollars. The correct response to "fuck you" is "fuck you, too."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I know where I'll shop

The current brouhaha of Bill O'Reilly versus Yearly Kos has just made my shopping easier. For those not following the feud, a few weeks ago, O'Reilly decided that Daily Kos was a hate group and that any candidate who appeared at the Yearly Kos convention was unfit to hold any office. He decided Daily Kos was a hate group by sending some staffers out to comb through the thousands of diaries and hundreds of thousands of comments at Kos to look for outrageous statements. His argument was that since Kos and the other members of the Kos community hadn't disavowed those comments they must approve of them, therefore they are all exactly the same as Nazis, the Klan, Al Capone, and Mussolini. Yes, he really used those comparisons; moderation in language is not one of our boy Bill's virtues. The rest of the Fox gang soon joined in the smear campaign.

So far, there is nothing new here. Pundits, especially conservative ones, have been trying to make a boogie man out of liberal bloggers for a couple years now. Cherry-picking outrageous statements and demanding the other side disavow them is a standard tactic in the politics of false outrage. The fun started when John Aravosis of AmericaBlog and some Kossacks began digging through the comments at and giving them the same treatment. Where O'Reilly and Fox were demanding Democratic presidential candidates repudiate Kos, Aravosis and the Kossacks brought his supporters opinions to the attention of his sponsors. Aravosis is highly effective at managing this sort of campaign.

As a homeowner in the middle of the repair project, I find the results of Aravosis' campaign very interesting. The home project chain Lowe's was quick to respond:
Thank you for your comments regarding the program, The O'Reilly Factor.

Lowe's has strict guidelines that govern the placement of our advertising. Our company advertises primarily in national, network prime-time television programs and on a variety of cable outlets.

Lowe's constantly reviews advertising buys to make certain they are consistent with its policy guidelines. The O'Reilly Factor does not meet Lowe's advertising guidelines, and the company's advertising will no longer appear during the program.

Compare that response to the one from Lowe's main competitor, Home Depot:
Our advertising campaigns have one simple objective to communicate with audiences in the most effective way possible. The Company is receptive to many forms and styles of media as we seek a balanced representation of programming to reach our customer base. Unfortunately campaigns like this one cause us to take time away from our sustainability goals and address a variance of political views.

Lowe's is pulling its ads from O'Reilly's shows while Home Depot wants us to shut up and stop wasting their time. I have both a Lowe's and a Home Depot within two miles of my little fixer-up house. This makes deciding where to spend my home project dollars much easier.

Update: In the comments, Rey Fox wonders what the Home Depot letter means when they mention "sustainability." Home Depot is undertaking a major rebranding effort to portray themselves as an Earth friendly corporation. The message of the full letter (available here) is that by distracting us from this important marketing work, we whiny customers are hurting the Earth. The message is both condescending and insulting.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Not good enough, Lisa

The Anchorage Daily News reported today that Sen. Lisa Murkowski will sell back the Kenai River lot she purchased from politically connected developer Bob Penney. Murkowski bought the prime recreational lot last December for approximately half of its actual value. Both Murkowski and Penney, a highly successful real estate developer, said they had no idea that the property was worth that much. Who would have dreamed that river front property on the most popular fly fishing river in the the busiest tourist area of the state would increase in value? Certainly not someone whose career was based on buying and selling property and certainly not someone whose career is based on selling the tourist attractiveness of the state to the rest of the country. No wrong doing here kids, so just move along.

As of this week, all three members of Alaska's congressional delegation are the subjects of federal corruption probes, congressional ethics complaints, or both. I hope Murkowski does not get away with killing the investigation by selling the Kenai land back to Penney. If Penney had given her a satchel full of cash, no one would have had a problem calling it a bribe and giving the bribe back would not have made the problem go away. Ever since territorial days, Alaskan politicians have been far too cozy with developers and the resource extraction industry. It's time for Alaskan politics to grow up out of its banana republic ways and take on some genuine accountability.

Shopping for value

What's the most expensive thing, by weight, that you can buy in a grocery store?

Many people reading that question will latch on to the word "weight" and start thinking about meat. Could it be a fine cut of beef or veal? Does your store carry dry aged, restaurant quality, prime beef? It doesn't matter if they do, the answer isn't meat. Not even if your store carries imported Kobe beef at well over a hundred dollars a pound.

Maybe weight was misdirecting and it's a liquid. Can grocery stores in your state sell wine? That doesn't matter either. Even if you shop at a high end yuppie store with bottles of wine that go into hundreds of dollars for 750 ml, you're not in the right section and you're still an order of magnitude off.

But bottles are the correct container. By weight, the most expensive thing in a typical grocery store are the spices. Even a common and easy to grow spice like oregano can sell for the equivalent of over a hundred dollars a pound. Yesterday, I calculated saffron at my nearest store at about twenty-two thousand dollars per pound, hough I doubt as if all of the bottles of all of the brands of saffron in the store would have yielded even two ounces. For comparison purposes, gold is currently selling for about thirteen thousand five hundred per pound.

Paella anyone?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Paul Hill Days omen

One of the sponsors of the execrable Paul Hill Days stunt taking place this weekend in Milwaukee died last week.

Rev. George L. Wilson, who founded the group "Children Need Heroes" to celebrate the actions of those assassins who have murdered doctors and others in the name of stopping abortion, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on Saturday morning. He was one of the sponsors of a gathering of anti-abortion extremists on the anniversary of the date on which Hill murdered Dr. John Britton and his escort retired Lt. Col. James Barrett, along with the wounding of Barrett's wife, June.

"Paul Hill Days" will include demonstrations at the women's health clinics in Milwaukee that perform abortions and a reenactment of Hill's crime. While a gathering of apologists for terrorism is appalling enough, Wilson's group is specifically dedicated to indoctrinating children to admire the terrorists and, presumably, to grow up and imitate them.

Coming as it does on the eve of this elaborate stunt, I hope Wilson's death will make the other supporters and participants take pause and wonder if maybe their god doesn't look quite as favorably on their actions as they believe. I hope that, but I don't expect it.

Angels in Norway

I suppose there is some consolation in the knowledge that we aren't the only country to be plagued by this kind of silliness.
Norway's Princess Martha Louise says she has psychic powers and can teach people to communicate with angels.


The princess, who trained as a physical therapist, says on the website for her Astarte Education centre that she has "always been interested in alternative forms of treatment".

Students at her centre, she says, will learn how to "create miracles" in their lives and harness the powers of their angels, which she describes as "forces that surround us and who are a resource and help in all aspects of our lives".

Friday, July 20, 2007

38 years ago today

As I was supposed to be packing up my comic books and preparing to move to Alaska, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. I didn't get very much packing done that day.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bad news for the old country

Glancing at Talking Points Memo this morning I see that they have stories on all three members of Alaska's congressional delegation. None of the stories reflects well on Alaska's taste in political representation.

First up we have Senator Ted Stevens. The entire Stevens clan has been under the microscope lately for their close ties to oil services company Veco. In Uncle Ted's case, the problem is that Veco may have paid for the renovation project that doubled the size of his Girdwood house in 2000. Earlier this week Ted offered a carefully phrased defense.
As a practical matter, I will tell you. We paid every bill that was given to us. Every bill that was sent to us has been paid, personally, with our own money, and that's all there is to it. It's our own money.

The contractor who actually did the work on the house, Augie Paone, says the billing process was that he sent all bills to Veco officials who would review the bills and then forward them to Ted. Ted would then send Paone a check from an account set up specifically for the project. No one has yet said whether the amount Ted paid Paone was the same amount Paone billed Veco or who made up the difference, if any. Paone has lawyered up and is no longer talking to the press.

Next we have Alaska's only congressman, Don Young, who, as I have said before, is possibly the stupidest man in congress. This week, Don attracted the attention of TPM by threatening to bite Rep. Scott Garrett, a fellow Republican, who he thought was trying to take money from Alaskan students in an amendment offered to the education bill. Or possibly he accused Garrett of eating his own children or perhaps he was threatening to kill Garrett. Language is not Don's best friend.

Finally, we get Alaska's newest member of congress, Senator Lisa Murkowski. Last December, Lisa bought a piece of riverfront property in Kenai from Bob Penney, a developer connected to Ted Stevens. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the price she paid for the prime recreational property, $179,400, is at least $120,000 less than the property is really worth.

When I lived there, I thought Alaskan politics were the best entertainment value to be had in the state. It looks like nothing has changed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How Britain became an island

A new high-resolution sonar map of the floor of the English Channel shows that the process which turned Britain into an island was a catastrophic flood and not gradual erosion.

It has long been known that when the level of the oceans lowered during various ice age maxima, Britain became attached to the European mainland. The North Sea and Channel were both above sea level then. The Somme and Seine rivers joined to form a single large river flowing west down the Channel valley while the Thames and Rhine joined to flow across the dry North Sea into a melt-water lake against the front of the ice sheet which formed a wall from Holland to the middle of England.

At the furthest advance of the ice sheet, most of the island would have been covered by glaciers. Only the southern part of England remained bare. As the ice retreated from England and Scotland, animals were able to walk over from the mainland to repopulate the newly temperate island. Even when the seas returned to the present level, geologists believe a narrow isthmus connected England and France during most interglacial periods. This allowed animals like hippos, which could not have lived through the ice ages, to colonize the island during the warmest periods.

This didn't happen after the last ice age or the one before it. Many animals than moved into northern Europe didn't make it into Britain. This has led geologists to believe that the isthmus disappeared rather quickly. While the fossil story is compelling, there has been very little direct geological evidence of the event that removed the isthmus until now.

Scientists at the Imperial College and UK Hydrographic Office used high-resolution sonar to produce a new map of the Channel bottom and have discovered deep grooves and streamlined features spreading out from the Calais-Dover ridge. These features are similar to the ones made in Eastern Washington by the Lake Missoula floods. That makes them believe the ridge was breached in a single catastrophic event.

In one way, this flood would have been different than the Lake Missoula floods. The latter floods, caused by the almost instant collapse of an ice dam, took place in a matter hours. The Channel Floods would have taken a few weeks to carve the ridge down to it's present level.

The scenario they paint for the Channel goes something like this: Near the peak of an ice age, when the ice sheet in the North Sea was furthest south, the melt-water lake filled by the Thames and Rhine would have been filled to near the present day coast line, while the Channel would have been several hundred feet lower. Once the water topped the narrow ridge between the lake and the Channel valley, perhaps assisted by a small earthquake, it would have rushed down the west side causing massive erosion and lowering the ridge. The event would have spiraled out of control. As the breach got larger, more water would get through tearing it larger still and allowing sill more water. The entire North Sea lake would have drained in a few weeks carving the most of the present Channel, which is thirty meters deep and thirty kilometers wide. For the rest of the ice age and future ice ages, the path for migrating wildlife would be blocked by the Rhine River flowing through this canyon.

This type of flood also appears in the geologic record. Sixteen thousand years ago and inland sea called Lake Bonneville breached a ridge between Utah and Idaho and flooded down the Snake River. Ten years ago, Walter Pitman and William Ryan made news suggesting that the Black Sea was catastrophically filled from the Mediterranean about 7,600 years ago. Ryan has a history of this sort of announcement. In the sixties, he and Kenneth Hsu announced the biggest flood of them all, the filling of the Mediterranean itself when the Gibraltar dam was breached five million years ago.

More recently, we have the example of the collapse of Teton Dam on June, 5 1976 (film and pictures here). This was a 305 foot tall earthen dam in Idaho that failed as it was being filled for the first time. Film and pictures taken on the day it failed show a small leak developing into major erosion and the collapse of the dam, with forty percent of its mass being washed away, over about four hours time. Other famous dam ruptures, like the Johnstown Flood, were the result of the same type of catastrophic erosion.

There are still many pieces of the English Channel story to be discovered. No one quite sure when the breach took place. They only have it narrowed down to 200-400,000 years ago. That spread includes at least two ice ages. I'm looking forward to more information on this one.

Kung fu a loo lop, a womp bam boom

Being over fifty and in bad shape, Clever Wife and I have been talking about getting more exercise. Actually, we've been talking about it since we were forty and in bad shape. Usually, I'm able to kill such crazy talk through clever use on misdirection (Look! A kitten), but this time Clever Wife stayed focused and signed us up for a Tai Chi class. As exercises go, this is about as close to the perfect exercise for me as we are likely to find. It's quiet, non-competitive, low impact, and we each move at our own speed. If the studio was air conditioned and they served beer and calamari, it would be perfect.

The class takes place in a studio owned by a local Kung-fu club. We start our class in one end of the studio and a bout a half hour later the Kung-fu guys come in and start working out at the other end of the room. While Tai Chi is a martial art with no hitting or shouting, Kung-fu has all of the hitting and shouting.

For the last half of our class, I get to listen to their cries. Contrary to what I expected from teevee and movies, they just don't cry "aiee" or "heeyah" as they go. Each move appears to have its own cry. While I concentrate on my moves, the rhythmic cries of their workout inevitably begins to intrude on my thoughts and I begin humming old blues and doo-wop songs. For example, during one exercise a sort of block and punch one-two move, the Kung-fu guys shout "hoo! Hah!" After about three repeats, I start to hum, "That's the sound of the men working on the chain ga-a-ang..." Another move is accompanied by rapid repetitions of the syllable "dit," which leads to, "dit, dit, dit, dit, dit, dit, dit, dit, run, run, run, run, run, run, run, run. Get a job. Sha-na-na-na, Sha-na-na-na-nah." Other exercises work well to "Runaround Sue" and "Yakkity Yak." I'm still looking for exercises to match up with The Diamonds' "Little Darlin'" and The Marcelles' version of "Blue Moon."

Meanwhile, I keep it all to myself. I can't imagine that the Kung-fu guys will see this as the right attitude. They are so serious.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

There are no diamonds in Uranus*

I'm not sure who first suggested the possibility that the atmospheric pressure on gas giant planets might create diamonds, but it has been a staple of science writers and editors for years. And why shouldn't it be? The images are irresistible. Picture millions of tiny diamonds falling from the sky in a gentle rain or a single moon sized diamond forming a planetary core beneath thousands of miles of colored clouds. Push those images out of your mind. The latest word out of Amsterdam--and really, who knows more about diamonds--is that it probably isn't true.
Physicists at the Universtiet van Amsterdam and the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in the Netherlands performed a numerical analysis showing that at the temperatures and pressures in gas giant planets like Uranus, arrangements of carbon atoms would be much more suitable for creating tiny bits of graphite rather than diamond.

For some reason, a gentle rain of pencil lead doesn't have the same appeal.

On the other hand, we don't need to completely give up on our diamond dreams yet.
In white dwarfs, on the other hand, the simulation shows that the conditions would cause the carbon atoms to line up in configurations that are much more amenable for diamond crystallization. The conclusion is consistent with the 2004 discovery of a cooling white dwarf star that appears to have a solid diamond core 4000 kilometers across.

We just need to go farther to look for them.

* Insert bawdy joke here.

Just a suggestion

Every time I read the phrase "the Seattle-based Discovery Institute" I feel like hanging my head in shame for my adopted home. Isn't there some way to phrase this that makes it clear that this wasn't our idea? How about "the inflicted-upon-Seattle Discovery Institute?"

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

The rudeness of Christian nationalists

When the Virginia bill for establishing religious freedom was finally passed, a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal.

Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion."

"The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination."

-- Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, 1821.

A small group of religious right activists invaded the Senate chambers Thursday morning to shout down the priest who was giving the morning prayer. The three protesters, all members of the anti-abortion group Operation Save America, drove all the way from North Carolina for this purpose. Why were they so intent on disrupting someone else at prayer? Because he wasn't a Christian.

Thursday morning should have been a proud moment for us. For the very first time in US history, a Hindu was to deliver the morning prayer in one of the houses of congress. Hindus and Indians are among the fastest growing minorities in America. The prayer was to be a recognition that they are a recognised part of the starnge mix of peoples that make up this country. The cleric, Rajan Zed, had already made history by being the first Hindu to give an opening prayer to a state legislature in Nevada. Now he was set to make history on the national stage.

But, as soon as he began his invocation, he was interrupted by the loud voice of Ante Pavkovic in the gallery: "Lord Jesus, forgive us father for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight. This is an abomination. We shall have no other gods before You."

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), as the presiding officer for the morning, ordered Pavkovic and his two fellow protesters, his wife Kathy and their daughter Kristin Sugar, removed from the chambers. As the guards hauled them away, they continued to shout, "No Lord but Jesus Christ!" and "There's only one true God!"

Zed recovered and continued his invocation, but the moment had been soiled. What should have been remembered as an historic first, will now be remembered as an obnoxious display of un-American intolerance.

A press release from Operation Save America proudly took credit for the criminal act of rudeness.
Ante Pavkovic, Kathy Pavkovic, and Kristen Sugar were all arrested in the chambers of the United States Senate as that chamber was violated by a false Hindu god. The Senate was opened with a Hindu prayer placing the false god of Hinduism on a level playing field with the One True God, Jesus Christ. This would never have been allowed by our Founding Fathers.

As the quote at the top of this post shows, their opinion of the founding fathers can only hold water if they first eject Thomas Jefferson from the fold.

Operation Save America was not the only religious right group to be disturbed at the thought of a non-Christian offering a prayer in congress. The American Family Association quoted the founder of WallBuilders in an action alert to their members that encouraged them to let Congress know about their displeasure.
WallBuilders president David Barton is questioning why the U.S. government is seeking the invocation of a non-monotheistic god. Barton points out that since Hindus worship multiple gods, the prayer will be completely outside the American paradigm, flying in the face of the American motto "One Nation Under God."

Barton demonstrates the ignorant myth making typical of Christian nationalists. "One Nation Under God" is not the motto of the United States. It is a line from the pledge of allegiance, and a line that was not written by its original author Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and socialist, in 1891. The words "under God" were added to the pledge by an act of Congress on the prompting of the Knights of Columbus in 1954. The object was to highlight the contrast between us and the godless Communists. The official motto of the United Staes is "E pluribus unum." Barton claims to be an historian and constitutional scholar, but public statements like this show to be either a completely dishonest scholar or a very bad scholar.

Just for fun, Google the name Ante Pavkovic, one of the protesters. You'll get a few hundred results; there are a few Ante Pavkovics in the world. Depending on how you misspelled his name, the Google spell checker might ask if you really meant to hunt for Ante Pavelic. I'll save you the trouble. Ante Pavelic was the leader of Croatia during WWII. He was a former seminary student and petty politician who took over the Croatian national movement in the early thirties and converted it into a fascist ethnic movement--the Ustasha. For his part in helping to dismember Yugoslavia, Hitler rewarded him with his own country that included Croatia, Bosnia, and a corner of northwest Serbia called the Srem (Syrmia or Srijem). During the war he attempted an ethnic clensing of the Serbs and deported Jews to German death camps. He escaped at the end of the war and was sheltered by Franco for the rest of his days.

To point out the similarity in their names is more than a cheap shot on my part. Pavkovic is not only engaging in brownshirt tactics (he is a fairly old hand as a professional protester in the pro-life movement); he is attempting to bring the sins of the old world into the new by embracing the idea that an American nationalism must be exclusive rather than inclusive. While most European nationalities are primarily defined by language, the Serbs and Croats of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries drew a line between themselves based on religion; they speak the same language (imagine if the Germans had done this). Pavkovic and most of the religious want to define "American" based on a certain form of conservative Protestantism (they tolerate Catholics as allies right now, but if they ever defeat us secularists, Catholics will be the next to go). Pavkovic has carried his Balkan battles over to America and applied them to a new enemy.

It's often been observed that recent converts are the most obnoxious religious types; the same is true for nationalism. The founders of the American republic had many differences, but they all wanted to leave Old World politics behind them. And to the vast majority that meant state sponsored religion. Even the deeply religious saw state sponsored "official" religion as a threat to the country they were building. That is why the Constitution specifically prohibited religious requirements for office or any mention of America as a Christian country.

Nation building and nationalism always involves a shameless rewriting of history. In this respect, the current Christian nationalists are no worse than the teachers who taught me that American history was a happy march of progress that accepted anyone into its "melting pot." While both versions of history are equally wrong, they are not equally pernicious. The cheery melting pot I grew up with was inclusive it taught that given enough time everyone would be welcomed into the big American family, even the Irish. Christian nationalism is exclusive, it limits membership into the American family to a select few while designating all others as tolerated foreigners or targets for expulsion. While both versions of history might be equally subject to condemnation for being wrong, as programs for the future, the ideologies they represent are not equal. We must choose between inclusion or exclusion a goal for America. I choose inclusion.

The Pavkovics are associated with the group that sent teen-aged girls to Terri Schiavo's hospice to stand around wearing red duct tape over their mouths. Too bad they didn't bring their tape with them Thursday.

Yet another Republican sex scandal

Yikes! It's getting so that we need a scorecard to keep track of them all.
A day after four of Sen. John McCain's top political strategists stepped down, the co-chairman of his Florida campaign was arrested Wednesday for allegedly offering an undercover police officer money for a sex act, Titusville police said.

Florida state Rep. Bob Allen faces charges of solicitation for prostitution after he was arrested in a Titusville city park that had been under surveillance, police said.

He allegedly offered an undercover police officer $20 for the unspecified act. His attorney, Philip Lupo of Titusville, said the charge was a second-degree misdemeanor.

Allen told CNN affiliate WFTV the incident was "a very big misunderstanding."

Obviously, McCain is trying to pick up some of that Giuliani mojo that comes from having indiscreet boobs running his Southern state committees. By the way, isn't it about time for Vitter to announce that he's a sex addict and check into rehab?

We should enjoy this while we can. Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt claims to have over twenty investigations of sexual hypocrites in the government and that his list includes both "high-ranking Republican and Democratic members of the Senate and the House." Whatever we may think of Flynt otherwise, he is very careful in making these exposes. When he goes after someone, he has the facts ready and indisputable. I'm sure the Democrats are in line to take a few bullets in this. Still, Flynt's main crusade is against hypocrisy and the party of family values has more to lose in that respect.

The real danger is that too many scandals leads to "they are all the same" cynicism in the public. Ironically, too much scandal among the Republicans tends to drag down the Democrats.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Box and/or can meals

Since Mustang Bobby and I seem to be having supermarket week, let me try one last question: what is your favorite modified mix meal? For example, last week Badtux the Lazy Cook Penguin gave his recipe for modifying a box of Zatarain's Jamalaya Mix. This just happens to be one of my favorite fast meals (though I add shrimp and broth). One of my best friends from high school was a genius at dressing up a package of ramen. So, what's your best lazy meal? The only rule is: you can't fix it according to the package directions; you have to improve it.

A few months ago I discovered Alessi Risotto mixes. Alessi is imported by the same company that brings us Vigo rice and bean dishes. For my recipe, I take a pound of boneless chicken thighs, a large yellow onion, some broth, olive oil, and a package of Alessi Risotto alla Milanese. The result is a saffron chicken risotto that would pass for a perfectly fine hot dish, stew, or cassarole at any Lutheran pot luck.

The only prep is a few minutes to dice the onion and slice the chicken into strips about the right size for stir frying. Naturally, you will have a preferred size for both the onion and chicken.

First, I heat up a large sauce pan and then add the olive oil. I add the onion and cook till it starts to turn translucent, keeping the heat on High.

Next, I add the chicken and stir while it starts to cook. I don't bother to completely cook or brown the chicken since it is going to be cooked in liquid anyway. If you like the extra flavor from browning the chicken, you might want to start it in the oil before the onion.

Third, I add the liquid. The package asks for two and a half cups of water. I use chicken broth.

Immediately after adding the liquid, I add the contents of the Alessi Risotto alla Milanese package, stir it all together, bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to Low, and cover the pot.

I have about eighteen minutes to waste. This means a cold drink and checking out a few blogs.

After eighteen minutes I return to the kitchen, take the pot off the heat, uncover it, and stir all of the ingredients together; they will have settled out during cooking. Now I leave it for another five minutes to thicken.

I serve it in a shallow bowl garnished with coarse ground black pepper. It is a perfect dish for a cold day or a person with a cold.

What's your favorite lazy dish?

The war gets wierd

A new combatant has joined the fray in Iraq.
Word spread among the populace [of Basra] that UK troops had introduced strange man-eating, bear-like beasts into the area to sow panic.

But several of the creatures, caught and killed by local farmers, have been identified by experts as honey badgers.

The rumours spread because the animals had appeared near the British base at Basra airport.

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area.

The honey badger, or ratel (Mellivora capensis), is a seperate species and genus related to the American and European badgers. It's range spreads from Southern Africa to Northwestern India and has historically included Iraq. They haven't been seen in the Basra area for many years, but the restoring of the marshes has caused them to move to dryer ground, including land around the city. They are omnivorous (but mostly carnivorous) and eat many animals that other hunters leave alone, including porcupines, poisonous snakes, and small crocodiles. Because they will take on such prey, they have a reputation for fearlessness. The males can grow to about thirty pounds. They wouldn't hunt a human, but they could carve one up pretty badly if cornered. They are also cute as the dickens.

The Basra Badgers would be great name for a sports franchise.

Is this the face of a maneater?

I can't wait for the White House to tie the badgers to al Qayda. After that it would only be a matter of time before al Qayda sent out a podcast to say "we don't need no stinking badgers to bring down the decadent West."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Is there something you'd like to tell us?

Sen. DeMint was quoted in today’s Washington Post regarding Sen. David Vitter’s exposure in the DC Madam scandal:
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), approached by a group of reporters outside the lunch, offered an unexpected defense. "All of us have to look at it and say that we could be next," he said in answer to a Vitter question. "We all think that we’re not vulnerable to something like that happening, but the fact is this can be a very lonely and isolating place."

It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Happy blogiversary

Today is the fifth blogiversary of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, the legendary coiner of the word "blogtopia™," among other fabled accomplishments.

Science marches on

I noticed today the announcement a new high profile scientific journal, Chocolate Pudding Letters Review.

We are now accepting papers for the 1st issue of CPLR! DO NOT MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY! Leading scientists anticipate that CPLR will become the premier outlet for major breakthroughs in the study of chocolate pudding (CP) and other viscous edible creations (VECs).

Specific topics of interest include, but are not limited to, 1) theoretical reviews, 2) empirical works, 3) recipes, 4) novel appropriations of/ways to smear CP/VECs, 5) interesting pictures of CP/VECs, 6) implications of CP/VECs for genetic research, 7) mirror neurons and CP/VECs, 8) and the localization of CP/VECs in the normal adult brain.

It's about time that this important subject finaly got the attention it deserves.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Policing other peoples' pants since 1999

This should be fun:
First term Senator David Vitter (R-LA) admitted Monday night that his phone number was on the phone records of the so-called "DC Madam."

"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," said Vitter in a statement. "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there-with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."

What do we know about Sen. Vitter? In 2004 he campaigned for the Senate as a "family values" candidate. In the run-up to the 2006 election he hectored his colleagues in the Senate to act on a bill. "I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one," he said of it. Was it the reconstruction of New Orleans? No. Was it higher standards of security for refineries and oil platforms in his state? No. Was it better screening of containers entering the fifth largest port in the world, which is in his state? Don't be silly. It was getting a constitutional amendment passed to ban gay marriage.

Vitter is the Southern Regional Chair for the Giuliani campaign. Rudy sure can pick 'em--coke heads, racists, and now whore mongers. He also had ties to Jack Abramoff during the Indian casino lobbying scandal.

In his defense, Vitter points out that he was only a House member when he abandoned his marriage vows to blow his pay on high class hookers. That hardly counts at all.

Yearning for lost cookies

Mustang Bobby's Question of the Day involves shopping habits and brand loyalty. This brings up lots of interesting possible digressions. Here's mine.

Every year the food industry launches thousands of new products. In the fight for shelf space most don't make it. Other products are retired by their producers after a while due to styles changing or other business reasons Is there a particular failed product or lost brand that you especially miss?

It seems that whenever someone releases a fruit pastry product, blueberry is the first test flavor to be withdrawn. Apple and raspberry never go away. But I love blueberry. The cruelest of these was Blueberry Newtons. Nabisco released and withdrew them twice, once when they initially tried alternate flavors to fig and once when they launched "low fat" Newtons. They're just playing with my feelings.

In the early eighties I read a story about Harlan Ellison. The company that manufactured his favorite candy went out of business, so Ellison went to the local distributor and bought up all of their remaining stock. He had refrigerators full of the stuff, which he carefully rationed out to last years.

Has there been any lost food in your life that you wish you could have done that for? Green cakes left in rain don't count.

Credit where credit is due

Last week I was contacted by someone called DoctorDefense who argued in favor of Pro-Choice terrorism to balance out doctor killing Pro-Life terrorists. I was appalled by the idea and said so. Our side does not need the help of murderous thugs. I wrote at the time, "A creep is a creep even when that creep claims to be on our side." Today I was pleased to discover that others share that feeling.

Last week Wisconsin Right to Life issued a press release condemning the vile Paul Hills Days stunt scheduled for Milwaukee later this month.
Wisconsin Right to Life has learned that four groups, who wrongly call themselves "pro-life, will be in Milwaukee from July 26-29 to honor Paul Hill, a terribly misguided individual who was executed in Florida for murdering abortionist John Britton in 1994.

The three day event is being called "Paul Hill Days" and will include an "reenactment of 7-29-1994," (referring to an reenactment of the murder of Britton by Hill thirteen years ago on that date.)

"It is terrifying that a 'reenactment' of the murder will take place in our state. It should be condemned by pro-life people of good will everywhere," said Barbara Lyons, Executive Director for Wisconsin Right to Life. "Wisconsin Right to Life has consistently spoken out against violent individuals like Paul Hill who inappropriately use the name of the pro-life movement in carrying out their deplorable acts."

The organizations sponsoring "Paul Hill Days" are
"Paul Hill Memorial," "Children Need Heroes," "Street Preach," and Pro-Life Virginia.

The pro-life movement is guided by the belief that each and every human life has intrinsic value and that the efforts to protect human life should be carried out in a peaceful, legal, non-violent manner.

This debate is painful and unconstructive enough as is. Neither side will be helped by more violent extremists. I'm glad that we can maintain enough sanity to stand together in condemning out and out murder, even if we can't agree on the definition of murder most of the rest of the time. Wisconsin Right to Life could have stayed silent on this; we should thank them for speaking up.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

It's a small world

I'm feeling a little crowded after reading this:
German researchers say their discovery that the Earth is smaller than originally thought may have serious ramifications for climate change.

The difference is minute -- all of five millimeters -- but that is crucial to studying how climate changes the Earth, said researchers at Bonn University.

Five millimeters (0.2 inches) is less than half the width of an average finger, which may seem negligible in comparison to the earth's diameter of 7,926.3812 miles.

But "it is essential for the positioning of the satellites that can measure rises in sea level," said lead researcher Axel Nothnagel. "If the ground stations tracking the satellites are not accurate to the millimeter, then the satellites cannot be accurate, either."

Nothnagel's team worked for two years using radio waves to measure the Earth's diameter, Deutsche Welle reported Friday.

I don't really have much to say about this except that it is unbelievably cool that we are even able to manage such a thing with such precision.

This article gives a little more technical background on how they did it.

Friday, July 06, 2007

This is good news

Speaking of "no one cares what you think."
Washington DC FM talk radio station 106.7 WJFK yesterday announced it was dropping Bill O’Reilly’s nationally syndicated show, and replacing it with a sports-talk program. The Washington Post reports today that O’Reilly’s cancellation is a “case in point” of how poorly conservative radio programs have fared in DC:
With the exception of Rush Limbaugh, conservative talk-radio hosts have struggled for years to find a wide audience on the local dial. While Limbaugh’s afternoon program remains popular on WMAL (630 AM), not many other conservatives’ programs have.

Yet despite their underwhelming performance, numerous right-wing radio hosts have been given repeated opportunities to succeed in DC. “Such radio stars of the right as Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage at times have literally had no ratings in Washington, as measured by Arbitron.”

Does schedenfreude make me a bad person?

More letters

Someone else has decided to weigh in on my condemnation of anti-abortion terrorists. David Rydholm has been around for a while, making appearances in chatrooms, blog comments, and on letter-to-the editor pages. He is a supporter of doctor killing terrorists like Paul Hill, and appears to fancy himself something of a Biblical exegete. I'm not qualified to comment on the value of his Biblical scholarship, but we don't appear to have much basis for a meeting of the minds in politics, social policy, or the morality of assassination.

Let's take a look at what he has to say.
Mr. McKay,

Your opinion is worthless. Why should anyone care what you say?

Why? That's a question you should answer for us, Mr. Rydholm. Why did you take the time to find my little blog? Why did you take the time to stick around and insult me? Surely there are much bigger pro-choice fish in the sea that you could have insulted. Why do you care what I say?
By your approval of legalized killing of children in the womb, you take personal responsibility for the deaths of over forty million of these children in the USA alone, not to mention the hundreds of millions of others who have been killed in other nations.

It's an interesting argument, but I don't accept it. First of all, I do not "take personal responsibility" for killing hundreds of millions. You might want me to and you might feel that I bear responsibility for the decisions of millions whom I have never met, but I don't accept that responsibility. Sorry.

I'm not even sure I understand the mechanism by which I should bear responsibility for so much. I was not on the Supreme Court when Roe vs. Wade was decided. I wasn't old enough to vote at the time. I have never lived in a state where a vote was taken on the issue. To the best of my knowledge, I have never been the cause of a woman getting an abortion, either through paternity or through the power of my arguments. It seems that your sole basis for assigning so much responsibility to me is that I do not actively oppose the concept of women having a right to choose whether or not to have an abortion and that I do not condone the use of assassination to prevent them from being able to get one if the decide the want one. This puts me in company of the vast majority of Americans.
In the face of that, do you think anyone will take seriously that you care about the deaths of a few born people?

I don't have to think think anyone will take me seriously; I know they do. I actually go out now and then and meet people. People write to me and make comments on this blog. None of them have ever questioned my empathy or compassion. At the risk of repeating myself, Mr. Rydholm, you took me seriously enough that you felt you need to stop and heap abuse on me.

You might not want people to take me or my position seriously, but merely asserting that they do not does not make it so.
You like to throw around the word, "Psycho", as if it didn't describe you.

If the word "psycho" describes me, merely because I believe a woman has a right to decide whether or not to have an abortion, then it also describes over seventy percent of the American public. It must be very scary for you to live here believing that. If I am a psycho because I don't believe Americans should settle disagreements over social policy by assassinating other Americans or their families--I'll bet those who agree with me are in the high ninetieth percentiles. You must be terrified. Do you even leave the house?

One final note, I puzzled at the location that chose in which to vilify me. I have several other posts where I condemn doctor killers and their supporters, but you chose to leave you comments attached to a post in which I condemn those calling for a pro-choice reign of counter-terror. My use of the word "psycho" was to describe DoctorDefense, a loon who has for years been trying to get someone to massacre Paul Hill's widow and children. Why would you drop by and insult me for opposing that? I would think that not murdering Karen Hill is the one thing we can agree on. Is it that you want a pro-choice terrorist to emerge in the hopes that it will push more people over to your side?


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4, 1776

During the 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy era, my father worked for Atomic Energy Commission. The AEC was created right after WWII to maintain civilian government control over the field of atomic research and development. In 1954 it entered into a partnership with some civilian companies to research the possibilities for atomic power. In the sixties it added space research to its portfolio. In the seventies the AEC was folded into the Department of Energy and has shuffled around through various subagencies since then losing responsibilities along the way. Dad left the AEC in 1968, after Nixon became president, because he was sure a Republican administration would cut the budget for pure research. He was right; in the next year most of my friends had to move away. I might have missed them, but I was one of the first to leave. My Dad found a new job in Alaska.

Dad was a cowboy from Montana. He didn't fit in well with the culture of secrecy and conformity that government employment enforced in those days. At some point in the 1950s, a co-worker brought in a petition and asked his fellow government science workers to sign it. As Dad described the petition, it read something like this:
All men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable Rights. To secure their rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Most of his fellows denounced it as Communist propaganda and hastened to get away from the document. Dad, who knew the words and their author, signed the document. It is the introduction to the Declaration of Independence shorn of its most recognizable phrases. In the 1950s certain Americans had created such an atmosphere of fear and suspicion than most Americans would rather denounce one of our most sacred documents than endorse the concept that established our country: the right of a people to choose their government.

In 2004, the people chose that same fear when they went to the polls. The very concept of self-determination was made to appear treasonous by a self-serving few. Fear and insecurity made us fall for an evil demagoguery. We were wrong. Today, Americans are once again rejecting the demagogues who have despoiled our sacred rights. Yet as they reject the despoilers, I'm not confident that they have reclaimed those rights.

Read the Declaration of Independence. Read the Constitution. Read the Bill of Rights. Think about what they mean. They are all very short documents. It doesn't take very much time. Read a commentary on each one and read a commentary that disagrees with the first commentary.

On the fourth of July, we do not celebrate the passing of the Declaration of Independence--that was July second. On July fourth we celebrate the publication of the Declaration of Independence. That is an important difference. If we celebrated on the second of July, as John Adams predicted, we would be celebrating document and the revolution it launched. By celebrating the fourth, we are celebrating the act of a government sharing it's deepest motivations with the public. We celebrate transparency in government. We celebrate government by the people for the people.

Read the documents and compare them to the government of Bush and Cheney. They stand for secrecy and for hiding the motivations and actions of government from the people. They stand in opposition to Adams and Jefferson (not to mention Thomas Paine and a lot of other rebels). They might sand for the America that some Americans want in the future, but they stand against the America that the founders wanted in the past. They stand against my Dad and I stand with him.

Flowers for Algernon

Well, at least one flower.
In a case of life imitating art, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) reported today that they had successfully reversed mental retardation in mice, just as scientists did in the classic 1966 novel Flowers for Algernon. ... Now M.I.T. scientists report in Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences USA that they ameliorated brain damage in mice caused by a genetic disorder known as fragile X syndrome by blocking an enzyme involved in cellular development.

Fragile X affects one in 4,000 boys and one in 6,000 girls. It is caused by a mutation in the fragile x mental retardation 1 gene (FMR1)—located on the X sex chromosome— that results in the loss of the fragile x mental retardation protein (FMRP). The resulting illness is characterized by hyperactivity, attention deficit, repetitive behavior, anxiety and cognitive difficulties ranging from learning disability to mental retardation.

The study points the way toward developing a gene therapy that would reverse fragile X mental retardation as soon as it is diagnosed in babies giving them the promise of a normal life. Many on the religious right hate genetic research and treatments (unless they can prevent gayness, which they also insist is learned, not genetic). Much of their opposition comes from an ick factor at tinkering with the way we were made. The cure for this discomfort is to learn more. Unfortunately, these same people have an instinctive suspicion of learning. In the long run, I suspect hope will win out over both ick and suspicion.

More Paul Hill madness

A creep is a creep even when that creep claims to be on our side.

Over the weekend, this showed up as a comment on one of my posts about the execrable Paul Hill Days stunt scheduled for later this month in Milwaukee. It's written by someone using the pseudonym DoctorDefense.
Those who support terrorism should themselves be terrorized. It's time to engage in counterterror.

Paul Hill wrote that he delayed killing in order to prevent his family from being charged as accessories. Evidently he could have been deterred indefinitely [sic] by a plausible threat to the safety of his family. Our goal should be to let right-to-lifers everywhere know: if you terrorize, your family will pay the price. The best way to affirm this is by example.

Paul Hill's wife, Karen, and his children, Justin, Gloria, and Joy, were last heard from in Memphis. A hero, perhaps THE FIRST PRO-CHOICE TERRORIST, will track them down and kill them.

To be sure we get the point he/she/it left a second comment.
When he does, their assassinations will not be murders, but justifiable homicides.

My hope that this was a hoax and that I was too ground down by the violence to get the irony of it was disappointed after a few seconds of Googling. DoctorDefense has been around since at least 1998 appearing in abortion related chatrooms and blog comments and may be the same person as someone calling themselves SOMG in the same venues.

DoctorDefense's recommendation of collective justice, hostage taking, and assassination is an anathema to civilized behavior everywhere. Of course DoctorDefense knows this and, despite the claim that this would constitute justifiable homicide, that is why he/she/it embraces the term terrorist.

Since, despite the threats, DoctorDefense has not actually acted in over nine years, we can thankfully assume that this act is mostly adolescent bluster. His/her/its demands for Old Testament justice unto the seventh generation are a pose calculated to shock. DoctorDefense is no different than the conservative bloggers and Republican presidential candidates who try to one up each other in their faux macho demands of greater brutality in the war on terror.

The danger of this sort of childish rhetoric is not that the speaker, be they Mitt Romney, Pam Atlas, or DoctorDefense, will actually go out and commit crimes against humanity in the name of their cause (though that is not entirely out of the question); the real danger is that they will inspire someone even less stable or mature than them to take action. Most terrorist movements consist of two levels, the leaders and theorists who come up justification for violence and who goad others into action, and the killers themselves.

My point isn't to call DoctorDefense a coward or otherwise challenge he/she/it into action. I'm glad DoctorDefense does stick to internet fora. My point is to say that he/she/it is wrong. Sure, I think assassination is wrong, but the more important point is that this plan will not work. The doctor killers are extremists. They have moved beyond caring about consequences. If our side escalates the violence, the other side will counter-escalate. The cycle of vendetta and retribution does not work.

It is a great disappointment to find that our side can generate grisly psychos like DoctorDefense, but it is not a surprise. In a way that is the greatest disappointment of all.

PZ in Seattle

PZ Myers, better known as Pharyngula to some, dropped by the regular meeting of the Seattle Drinking Liberally last night. He brought his kids, Alaric and Skatje, both good looking and well behaved, and two nephews who looked a little bemused at all of the nerds. And it was a nerdapalloza. There were science nerds, liberal nerds, skeptic nerds, blogging nerds, atheist nerds, and microbrew nerds. Being Seattle we were all mellow. Everyone politely waited their turn to meet PZ and mention their blog. No fights broke out and no one was trampled in the rush to be the first to greet him. Just for the record, I was first because I recognized Alaric. I've only been to Drinking Liberally a few times, but it was the biggest crowd I've ever seen there. I'm sure the restaurant owners were happy for the trade on an otherwise slow week night.

For the curious, he doesn't really have tentacles; that's an illusion caused by the rays of light given off by his presence.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Why we write

Grrlscientist is wondering why people write.
I have noticed that there is truly nothing new under the sun in the world of writing. What I mean is this; in all of your own literary journies, have you ever noticed how all writing, whether it is non-fiction, fiction, poetry, articles and essays, or even blog writing, basically tells the same story, although usually from a different angle?

Okay, I am speculating, so you'll have to let me know if I am simply blowing smoke here. Basically, I think that all writing is a retelling of one universal story that is common to all of us, an all-encompassing story that we all share at a collective, almost genetic, level, regardless of when we lived, our ethnicity, race, religious background, sexual orientation or gender. What is this story? I think it is a quest, it is the story of seeking .. something, whether that something is knowledge, either scientific knowledge or self-knowledge; or an experience, or even the desire to preserve one's status quo -- but writing is all about the journey that is undertaken in the search for something, and in the process, the main character (when there is one), and the reader, are forever changed or transformed in some way.

There is probably a small library available on this topic, but I decided to take a quick shot at it.

I think the function of writing (the noun, a product) is to preserve information--that would be an anthropological stance--while the goal of writing (the verb, an activity) is to communicate with others not present. Combine those two and the purpose of writing is to communicate across time. Put more existentially, the eternal narrative behind all writing is a quest for immortality. In putting our words down we hope to preserve something of our thought so that it might outlive the moment and perhaps outlive us.

The goal of all biological life is to continue through individual or group survival and through reproduction. Once we achieved self-awareness, we added a new dimension to that urge to continue. We wanted something to last beyond us to proclaim "I was here." That awareness transforms a mere urge to continue into a quest for a legacy.

Biological reproduction is enough for most.To be a part of a continuous biological line and to dutifully see that line into the next generation is legacy enough. To add a completely unnecessary side issue into this, these people are still integrated into an older community of tribe, clan, and village (I mean all three of those in the most positive sense). In this this world being part of a group carries with it a guarantee of continuity. They stay closest to our biological roots and are satisfied if they see their genes carried forward.

But for a less satisfied few, that isn't enough. The "I" whose existence we want to proclaim to the universe is more than a pattern of DNA, it is a set of thoughts and personality. Perhaps their desire for a more personal legacy is caused by being in some way divorced from the older community of tribe, clan, and village. They have entered the modern world--a world which began about twenty three centuries ago--of atomized and alienated individuals. Without the stability of a timeless group, they can't count on biology for legacy and immortality.

And so they look to something they produce to create their legacy. They make things or start institutions, which, ironically, some of their members find comfort in as their own timeless groups. Some destroy things in their quest to be remembered (Bakunin was hinting at this when he proclaimed "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.") Finally, some try to communicate their ideas to the future. Even communicating from now to five minutes from now liberates the me of this moment from vanishing when the moment passes.

Or maybe we write because we like words. What do you think?

Maybe we are that bad

It's an article of faith among the religious right that the US is a godless society where they are regularly persecuted by the likes of me and my friends not saying Merry Christmas. We usually laugh at their claims, but now comes some evidence that the US might really be a godless land--or at least a goddessless land.

Until last week, ten year old Sajani Shakya was the living goddess of Bhaktapur, a village in Nepal.
A Kumari is chosen between the ages of two and four, always from the same Buddhist clan. Tradition holds that she must hold 32 attributes, including thighs like those of a deer and a neck like a conch shell.

She lives a confined life, only coming out of her palace three or four times a year until she reaches puberty when another Kumari must be found.

This main outing coincides with a festival of thanks to the local rain god and as always, her feet must never touch the ground unless there is a red carpet beneath them.

Being a goddess means she is a local celebrity. And being a celebrity can only mean one thing these days. That's right, she had to come to the US on a tour promoting her movie. The local elders did not like her visiting our godless land and decided that being exposed to us had so tainted her that she was no longer a goddess. If you think your two to four year old daughter is the most divine thing ever, there is a village in Nepal with a job opening for a goddess.

So there you have it, just being in the same country as PZ Myers is enough to destroy the divinity of a goddess. We're bad.

(Oddly, the BBC, who carried this story, don't mention the name of her movie.)

Monday, July 02, 2007

Not much I can add

By now you know that Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence. You've probably also been to eleven other sites that have pronounced it disgraceful. If any one still harbored any doubts that Bush is nothing more than a sock puppet with Cheney's hand inside, this is the time to put those ideas aside. Though it does make me feel bad over all those nasty things I said about Paris Hilton. Looks like she had the wrong friends.