Wednesday, February 27, 2008

On Buckley

William F. Buckley is dead. Though he was an entertaining character in the American cultural scene and a talented wordsmith, his politics were repulsive and the crop of acolytes he raised to prominence are a vile, mostly destructive, presence. There is a direct intellectual line from Buckley defending white privilege in the South to Malkin arguing in favor of nationality-based internment, or Goldberg arguing that FDR was a fascist. Movement conservatism and all it's excesses are his legacy. While I feel honest, liberal compassion (something his followers wouldn't understand) for the pain that those who knew him must be feeling, I don't share their pain. He did far too much damage to this country for me to miss him.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It tastes as good as it sounds

While shopping the other day, I happened to discover that Kellogg's is test marketing Whole Grain Pop Tarts. Is this:

A) About damn time.

B) A sign of the apocalypse.

C) Both.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Think twice before acting

Is this soon to be a classic case of not thinking through the consequences of your actions or of the solution to one problem bringing with it even greater problems?
If you're a land owner and animals such as coyotes or wild pigs are driving you hog wild, help may soon be on the way to control their numbers in a humane way -- in the form of a birth control pill for animals being developed at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. The concept would be to get it to wild animals through baited food, researchers say.

If we allow animals to learn about contraception, it will just make them promiscuous. Then we will have a new problem of our neighborhoods being overrun by deer sluts. When that happens, it's just a matter of time before God looks down upon the display of wanton ungulate immorality and is is driven into a righteous rage. Whereupon he removes His protective shield from America allowing radical Muslimoliberalfascist terrorist bad people to rain bad terror and hurricanes upon us. And the deer will still be eating the buds off of my mother's pear tree.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A New Low for Bush

George Bush finally broke through the glass floor.
George W. Bush's overall job approval rating has dropped to a new low in American Research Group polling as 78% of Americans say that the national economy is getting worse according to the latest survey from the American Research Group.

Among all Americans, 19% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 77% disapprove. When it comes to Bush's handling of the economy, 14% approve and 79% disapprove.

Among Americans registered to vote, 18% approve of the way Bush is handling his job as president and 78% disapprove. When it comes to the way Bush is handling the economy, 15% of registered voters approve of the way Bush is handling the economy and 79% disapprove.

I think this might be the first time he has broken through the twenty percent line in any major national poll. It might be a first for any president.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Obsolete Skills II

While writing the last post, I once had, but am now long out of practice on. Who knows the skill that includes the following jargon?
  • Thread
  • Soft ball
  • Firm ball
  • Hard ball
  • Light crack
  • Hard crack

Does anyone still use that skill?

Obsolete Skills I

Coturnix's Obligatory Readings of the Day for yesterday included a link to a list of obsolete technical skills. Both sites have interesting discussions and the concept has spawned, not one, but two wikis on the subject. I had most of the skills on the list at one time, but can't guarantee doing some of them anymore without poking someone's eye out. However, among thew amazing skills I can claim are:
  • Dialing a rotary phone
  • Counting change
  • Changing the ribbon in a typewriter
  • Threading a 16mm projector
  • Cuing a track on a vinyl record
  • Running a mimeograph machine
  • Doing long division
  • Trimming the tip on a quill pen
  • Tuning the picture on a television set

What amazing technical skills do you have?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Guns in space

In space, no one can hear you shoot.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station apparently have access to a gun.


Former NASA engineer Jim Oberg... wrote about the gun on his Web site. He said the gun has no place in an environment where people are under such high stress.

"There have been cases of severe psychological strain on people in space, strain that they have taken out -- that their shipmates worried about the ultimate actions," Oberg said.


Oberg knows an astronaut bent on orbital manslaughter could simply throw any number of switches to do the job, but he said the crews would be safer if the gun was locked up or left on Earth.

The gun is located in a survival kit between some seats aboard the Soyuz spacecraft. All the crewmembers know about it, and U.S. astronauts who fly aboard the Soyuz are trained to use it.

On his site Oberg describes the gun:
The triple-barreled gun can fire flares, shotgun shells, or rifle bullets, depending on how it's loaded. The gun and about 10 rounds for each barrel are carried in a triangle-shaped survival canister stowed next to the commander's couch. The gun's shoulder stock opens up into a machete for chopping firewood.


"It is a wonderful gun," agreed Mir veteran Dave Wolf. "I found it to be well balanced, highly accurate, and convenient to use."

It's unlikely that the gun would fire outside in the vacuum. Gunpowder needs air, specifically oxygen, to burn. The tiny amount of air sealed in the shell, would not be enough to properly fire the bullet. At best it might manage a smoky little fart that would shove the bullet away in slow motion, if it moved it at all. Inside the space station, shuttle, or Soyuz capsule, the gun could cause quite a bit of trouble. If a bullet punctured the walls, it could kill everyone there. Even if it didn't, there are delicate electronics everywhere that would not respond well to bullets.

In the case of a crew member going crazy and needing to be subdued, a gun would be just about the worst tool to use. A taser, would not be much better because of the electronics. If the crew isn't capable of physically wrestling a violent companion into a position where they could tie them up without help, a chemical weapon would be the safest thing to use. Though even that would have to be specially made for the special circumstances of a space craft. Off the shelf chemicals like pepper spray wouldn't work. In zero gravity an aerosol would keep spreading till it dispersed through the entire atmosphere, gassing everyone. They would need something like a sticky gel, so if of it missed the target, it would attach to the nearest wall for later clean-up. The gel would have to be formulated so it didn't penetrate into electronics, was non-corrosive, and didn't conduct electricity.

All in all, a roll of nickels in your fist might be the safest weapon to use in space until the sleep ray is perfected.

Note :An instant poll attached to the news story asks "Should the space station crew have access to a gun?" Fifty-nine percent of the respondents say yes. I'm not sure if that is a reflection of the irrational, but common, American opinion that any problem can be solved with more guns, or if it is a much more rational fear of surprise attacks by giant space squid. To be on the safe side, I think I'll continue to avoid contact with my fellow citizens.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Making the surveillance society fun

This makes the sixties paranoid in me want to start stockpiling canned peas and ammunition in my secret mountain hideout again.
Users of social network sites like Facebook will soon be sharing their exact whereabouts with their friends in real-time, owing to new technology that uses the mobile phone as a tracking device, experts say.

A new social network site, Gypsii, which launched this week at a phone industry trade show in Barcelona, allows users to search for and identify their contacts, be they in the neighbouring street or across the ocean.


"The real time location-based element of Gypsii adds a new dimension to the social networking phenomenon," said the founder and chief executive of the company, Dan Harple.

Anyone, at any time, gets to know the exact location and movements of everyone else in the network. This seems like the favorite dot net application for fearful parents, the government, pedophile stalkers, and those guys who run for the school board so they can tell kids to pull up their pants.

No thanks.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Today, on CNN

This map is on the front page of as part of their coverage of today's Potomac primaries. As a current resident of Washington state, I look at this map and think, "Hmmm. Something's missing." We had our caucuses last Saturday. Well, the Democrats did; the Republicans are still trying to decide if they have to count all of the votes Huckabee got, or if they have to give McCain a do-over, or if two high ranking members of the Party should go into a closed room and decide who won by a round of rock-paper-scissors., However, as a former Alaskan, I look at this map and think, "Hey! The remembered us! Cool!"

The New Arms Race

Lately, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been warning of a new global arms race and said Russia may target its missiles on Ukraine if the latter joins NATO and accepts the deployment of the US missile defense shield.
Speaking at a news conference at the Kremlin on Tuesday, Mr Putin said he had advised Ukraine not to join NATO, but admitted he would be unable to interfere in any such move.


"I am not only terrified to utter this, it is scary even to think that Russia, in response to a possible deployment of... [parts of the] missile shield in Ukraine... would have to target its offensive rocket systems at Ukraine," he said.


In a televised speech to the Russian State Council last week, Mr Putin had warned that a "new phase in the arms race is unfolding in the world".

He said other countries were spending far more than Russia on new weapons, but that it would respond to the challenges of an arms race by developing hi-tech weaponry.

One of the explanations commonly given for the fall of the old Soviet Union is that Western leaders cleverly pushed them into an arms race that they couldn't afford, eventually bankrupting the Communist block with bloated military budgets that caused all other sectors of their economy to suffer. There are some problems with that narrative. The most important flaw being the implication that the Western leaders had the slightest idea what they were doing. The next biggest flaw being the idea that such a policy, if intentionally pursued, would be anything except an extremely dangerous and unlikely gamble. Empires with bloated militaries, who feel their influence and position slipping are more likely to risk everything in one big gamble than to quietly accept the inevitable. The only reason we got out of the Cold War in one piece is because the Soviet Union was run by Mikhail Gorbachev and not Kaiser Wilhelm II. In history, Wilhelms are far more common than Gorbachevs.

When I say we made it out of the Cold War in one piece, I mean "we" in the most parochial sense--Americans and Western Europeans like me. People in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America did not get out of the Cold War unscathed. They had the unenviable role of fighting and dying in proxy wars so the self-proclaimed superpowers wouldn't fight each other directly.

Today, the United States spends more on its military than the entire rest of the world combined. Our current president, the party that supports him, and a large faction of the opposition party all believe that we must continue our military expansion and they are willing to sacrifice anything in the pursuit of that goal, including social services and economic infrastructure. Now our former opponent says he is willing to engage us in an arms race...

Friday, February 08, 2008

Dobson Endorses Huckabee

Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson, has endorsed Mike Huckabee in a last ditch effort to stop John McCain from becoming the Republican nominee. Earlier this week, Dobson announced that he would not vote at all if the choice was between McCain and a Democrat. Since one of the candidates this fall is sure to be a Democrat, Dobson's statement was widely viewed as a rejection of McCain. Dobson explained that both announcements were his choices as a private citizen and not an official position by Focus on the Family. Then he e-mailed the statement to all 110,000 on the Focus on the Family mailing list. The words "subtle" and "ironic" do not exist in Mr. Dobson's vocabulary.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Hitler's lost U-boat fleet found

No, it's not the one that took Adolf and Eva to their secret lair in Antarctica; it's a different lost fleet. The remains of three German U-boats have been found off the coast of Turkey at the bottom of the Black Sea. The submarines were hauled overland during the war to the Romanian coast to harass Soviet supply lines across the sea. When Romania changed sides near the end of the war, the boats were stranded with no friendly port and no way home. The crews scuttled the boats off the coast of Turkey and tried to make their way home on foot, but were all caught and interned by the neutral Turks. I love seeing these stories that bring attention to the obscure campaigns of the war.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Dobson throws a tantrum

Influential fundamentalist leader James Dobson said in a letter published today that John McCain is an enemy of the conservative movement and, if he is the Republican nominee, Dobson will not vote for the first time in his life.
I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative, and in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are. He has sounded at times more like a member of the other party. McCain actually considered leaving the GOP caucus in 2001, and approached John Kerry about being Kerry's running mate in 2004. McCain also said publicly that Hillary Clinton would make a good president. Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does NOT make the medicine go down. I cannot, and will not, vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience.

But what a sad and melancholy decision this is for me and many other conservatives. Should Sen. McCain capture the nomination as many assume, I believe this general election will offer the worst choices for president in my lifetime. I certainly can't vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama based on their virulently anti-family policy positions. If these are the nominees in November, I simply will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life.

Dobson said this statement was just his view as a private citizen, but he did make a point of making that view as public as possible. He is clearly trying to influence someone by threatening to sit this one out. But if he is making a threat to take his ball and go home, who is he making the threat to? The nomination is no longer decided by a group of white men in a smoke filled room; it is decided by millions of people who identify themselves--for a wide variety of reasons--as Republicans. Many of those millions would be overjoyed to see Dobson go. They think the takeover of the Grand Ol' Party by the religious right has been a disaster for the Party (they're right, by the way). The voters who most care about Dobson's threats are already on his side in opposing McCain. So what is the point in this threat?

He's acting out. He's throwing a tantrum in public. If he can't have his way, he'll hold his breath till he turns bluer than the next congress. If his his tantrum has any purpose at all it is to set the seed of a narrative that the election was lost because the Party lost the favor of Dobson. If they want to win again, they had better do a better job of sucking up to him in the future. But that returns us to my question: who is he blackmailing? Does he really think tens of millions of Republican voters are going to change the way they vote in 2012, just to please James Dobson?

Dobson himself tells us what should be done with willful children who throw tantrums in public. They should be disciplined, beaten actually, with a "rod of correction" until their will is broken and they behave in a decorous manner. I'm not suggesting that Dobson be taken out and horse-whipped, I'm not sure who that duty would rightly fall to (his parents aren't alive, are they?).

Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report suggests who Dobson is really performing for and who could administer a punishment that would make his little eyes tear up.
Dobson, on the other hand, collects checks from donors who expect him to help drive the Republican agenda. If he can’t even stop an annoying senator from getting the Republican nomination, why would his followers bother sending him more money?

On a related note, of course, Republican leaders won’t be afraid of him anymore, because they’ll see his threats don’t amount to much. Why jump when Dobson demands it if he has no real electoral influence?

Dobson can't change the behavior of millions of voters, and probably doesn't believe he can (though I'm not entirely sure on that point). If he can convince enough people of the narrative that the election was lost because the Party lost the favor of Dobson, then he will maintain a influence with the people who matter, the pundits and Party leaders who flatter him and the little people who are impressed when they see him flattered and send money to him to continue to be a big man representing their agenda. He doesn't need to actually accomplish anything to advance that agenda to keep the checks flowing in; he just needs to maintain the illusion that he could accomplish something in the very near future if--and only if--the checks keep coming.

Dobson, his influential friends, the Dobson flatterers, and the Dobson wannabes are scared this year. This profitable structure that has been almost forty years in the making is starting to crack and crumble. Dobson is fighting for his life. His tantrum and the narrative of his influence are a desperate throw of the dice. The whole edifice of the religious right and the conservative money machine won't go in one election but, if we're lucky, it will be considerably diminished after November. When the pundits and conservative opinion makers get together to decide what happened, there will be a lot of finger pointing, and someone (several someones) will need to be purged. I expect the ax to fall hard on the religious right, but there will be plenty of blame for others to. Dobson might be able to save his precious influence with this act, but it's just as possible that he will find himself among the purged and retire from politics. It was an ungodly place to begin with, we can expect to hear him sniff.

Just for the record, I'm not one who thinks we are seeing the break-up of the marriage of convenience between the religious right and the rest of the Republican coalition. At present, they have nowhere else to go. But in a Republican Party with diminished influence and power, we can be sure the knives will come out and it will be a very rough marriage for a while. And, for we liberals, secularists, and yellow dog Democrats, it will be very entertaining to watch.