Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Vote for me

As long as everyone else seems to be running for chairman of the Republican Party, I figure I should thrown my hat into the ring too. At first glance, it might look like I'm a long shot: I'm not a Republican and don't like the Republicans. But look at my qualifications: I'm a male, I'm a white male, I'm an over fifty white male, I'm more internet savvy than most of the other candidates, I'm unemployed, so I could start immediately. My platform is that I would help them close the store and fade off into history with a modicum of dignity. They could do worse.

Luxury or necessity?

Here's a fun little poll to play with and ponder during the resolution season. Chris at AmericaBlog came across this Pew Research Center survey from two years ago that asks which everyday consumer products are luxuries and which are necessities. The items on the list are:
  • Cable or Satellite TV
  • Car
  • Car Air Conditioning
  • Cell Phone
  • Clothes Dryer
  • Clothes Washer
  • Dishwasher
  • Flatscreen TV
  • High Speed Internet
  • Home Air Conditioning
  • Home Computer
  • I Pod
  • Microwave Oven
  • TV

I've alphabetized the list to randomize it a bit. Glancing over it, you'll see that some items are dependent on others; you're not likely to have air conditioning in your car if you don't have a car or to have cable unless you have a TV (unless you're using it for your internet connection).

For me there's nothing on the list that I couldn't live without, and I have, in fact, lived without every item on the list at one time or another in my life. I currently do not have a cell phone, home air conditioning, flatscreen TV, iPod, or dishwasher. I lived without a car until I was 42 (that's not a big deal in a city with decent mass transit, but it's quite an accomplishment in most of the West). Even though I live in the middle of Seattle, I've only had a high speed connection for a short while (the connectivity in my neighborhood is terrible). Since I use the computer both for work and play, a computer with some kind of connectivity is probably the only really indispensable thing on the list. After that, either a car or a washing machine is important. Having neither and hauling your laundry on the bus to the nearest laundromat really sucks (though I have done that).

A few of the others, while not necessities, are good ideas if you can afford them. A good washing machine, dishwasher, or microwave can be a lot more energy efficient that the manual alternatives. They're also genuine time saving devices. I've considered dropping my land line for a cell phone just to eliminate the solicitations and robocalls. In Seattle, there are only about ten days out of the year when I could really use air conditioning, so there is no way I could justify a complete system, but I have considered getting a tiny portable unit to cool the bedroom enough so I can sleep during those ten days (I don't sleep and become very cranky during those days, so people around me might consider it a necessity). Among the rest, beyond the things I already don't have, the ones I could give up the easiest would be the clothes dryer and TV.

Of course, when you get right down to it, the only "real" necessities are food and shelter. But who wants to live by hiding in a hole in the ground and sneaking out at night to steal turnips from the farmer down the road? So, how enslaved are you by your gadgets?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Meaty controversy

Here's an item that turns stereotypes on their heads and should be seen as a profound embarrassment by our food industry and government.
Mexico suspended purchases from 30 U.S. meat plants due to sanitary issues, which sent U.S. cattle and hog prices sharply lower on Friday... Many of the banned plants are owned by the largest U.S. meat companies, including Cargill Inc, Tyson Foods Inc, JBS, Seaboard and Smithfield Foods.

This where thirty years of Republican deregulation and eight years of Bush's dismantling of the inspection agencies have brought us. The country that we often mock as the home of "Monetezuma's revenge" food poisoning now says our meat is too dirty and unsafe to allow into their country. The article goes on to say that the action of the Mexican government more of a protest over new American labeling laws than it is about a genuine concern over food safety, but the fact this excuse is even available to them is a national disgrace.

It is one of my most fervent hopes for the new administration that they will reverse the trend of irresponsible Republican deregulation and make our food, water, workplaces, and transportation safer again. I know many gutless Democrats went along with this, but the ideological drive behind deregulation came from the Republicans. Maybe with the right leadership, the Democrats will protect the interests of all Americans rather than the bank accounts of a privileged few.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A timely warning, revisited

This is a rerun of a post I wrote around this time a few years ago. I think it's still relevant.


The men in black (MIB) entered UFO lore in 1956 in a book entitled They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers. The author was one Gray Barker who had been a member of one of the first American UFO groups, the rather ambitiously named International Flying Saucer Bureau (IFSB). Though Barker's book dealt with a number of paranormal topics, the largest part of it dealt with his former boss, IFSB founder Albert Bender.

In 1953 the IFSB was about two years old with a few hundred dues paying members (called "investigators") who all received the Bureau's newsletter Space Review. The group was doing well enough when, in October 1953, Bender suddenly stopped publication of Space Review, and dissolved the IFSB. The last issue of the news letter gave only this explanation.
STATEMENT OF IMPORTANCE: The mystery of the flying saucers is no longer a mystery. The source is already known, but any information about this is being withheld by order from a higher source. We would like to print the full story in Space Review, but because of the nature of the information we are very sorry that we have been advised in the negative.

According to Barker, the reason Bender had so abruptly ended the group was that three mysterious men in black had visited Bender and warned him off. But before they did, the MIBs were good enough to explain at least part of the true secret of the flying saucers. UFOs, they said, actually come from Antarctica. They have bases in both polar regions and regularly fly between them. Bender told a different story in his own book in 1963.

Enough UFO stories end with the craft departing due north or south that Barker's version of Bender's visitors has been adopted by conspiracy theorists who believe in a decidedly terrestrial origin for saucers. My personal favorite version is that saucers and MIBs are Atlanteans from within the hollow earth, but the theory that they are Nazi refugees from super-scientific bases beneath the ice cap has its devotees, too.

The MIBs are the key to the mystery. The most mundane explanation that has been offered is that they work for the American government and that they are trying to hide the truth about the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs. But that could itself be disinformation. No government has the ability to do what the MIBs do. Think for a moment about the men in black. They have appeared all over the world. They have a special interest in unidentified flying objects and in protecting the polar regions. They seem to actually know what is in the minds of the people they visit. Who has the ability to manage an intelligence network like that? Ask yourself: Who has the ability to travel everywhere, at any time, and even seemingly to appear in two places at once? Who has a special interest in protecting the polar regions? Who knows when you are sleeping? Who knows when you are awake? Who knows if you've been good or bad?

I think you know the answer.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and be good for goodness sake.

The last stand

In a last ditch effort to stop Christmas from coming, I have sent a giant kitten down to terrorize this quaint Dickensian village.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Warren, yet again

Today, the Seattle Times published a letter of mine about Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. I repeated many of the argumentss that I have made here, but I think some of the commenters missed the points I was trying to make, or I wasn't very clear about making them in the first place. So, to sum up the problem.

First, this isn't just a gay issue. There are plenty of other reasons to object to Warren, even for people who agree with Warren on that issue or who don't care about it. Warren has spoken in favor of assassinating foreign leaders (imagine the outcry if an Iranian mullah who called for Obama's assassination were honored in this way). He denies evolution. He has expressed admiration for the terrorist supporting government of Syria. He has flatly told Jews to their face that they will go to hell if they don't convert. He calls moderate Christian leaders "Marxists." When called on these things, he lies and tries to destroy the records of his bigotry (by getting YouTube to remove incriminating clips or by editing his church's website). New evidence of his extremism comes to light every day.

Second, someone this confrontational and offensive to so many groups is not a consensus building choice. There are many moderate evangelical leaders that Obama could have reached out to. Instead he chose a far right extremist. If Obama was trying to build unity and show that he is the president of all the people, how does kicking his most loyal supporters to the curb accomplish that goal? How does embracing a lying bigot accomplish that goal?

Warren was a bad choice and a major tactical mistake by Obama. The far right will not be brought into the fold by a symbol or a token and Obama's supporters have not been disappointed and injected with cynicism.

That said, I don't expect Obama to revoke his invitation. The Washington pundit corps loves to see Democrats slap down liberals and, in fact, frequently demands that they do so. Obama will gain nothing from the left by changing his mind. The damage is done; the cynicism is there. He has a lot to lose across the rest of the spectrum by pulling his invitation. The pundit corps, the Republicans, and the right would all paint such an action as caving in to a small special interest. As I have said before, the religious right has done such an effective job of portraying themselves as the spokesmen for all American Christianity that any repudiation of their extremism will be seen as an insult to all Christians. It's not, but the same alliance of pundits, Republicans, and religious extremists will make that false claim and many moderates will buy it.

The only way the left is going to get anything out of this affair will be by blackmailing* team Obama. Those with a bigger bully pulpit than mine should pressure Obama to compensate us by making at least one unambiguously liberal appointment to the few remaining high profile jobs. Although the Warren insult is not exclusively a gay issue (and I think we're making a big mistake by letting it be treated that way), the gay community is the most clearly hurt by this and the appointment should be of someone favorable to that cause. We need to make lemonade out of this lemon. I wonder if we could find a gay, Jewish evolutionist to head the civil rights department at Justice.

* Blackmail is such an ugly word, Sykes. I prefer to call it extortion.

Boston Charlie

In honor of the season, I give you the lyrics of the greatest Christmas carol ever written.* The first two verses are the best known; the rest are alternative verses that have surfaced over the years. And now, with out further ado: Boston Charlie by the great Walt Kelly.
Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don't we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don't love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker n' too-da-loo!
Hunky Dory's pop is lolly gaggin' on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!

Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloup, 'lope with you!
Chollie's collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Duck us all in bowls of barley,
Hinky dinky dink an' Polly Voo!
Chilly Filly's name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly's jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, Woof, Woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, Goof, Goof!

Tickle salty boss anchovie
Wash a wash a wall Anna Kangaroo
Ducky allus bows to Polly,
Prolly Wally would but har'ly do!

Dock us all a bowsprit, Solly --
Golly, Solly's cold and so's ol' Lou!

Now, get out there and shop like your job depended on it.

* Or perhaps it's the greatest War on Christmas carol ever written.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

They like to hurt people

Hilzoy is pondering the latest development in the Proposition 8 drama.
Ever since I heard that supporters of Proposition 8 had filed suit to invalidate all the gay marriages that have taken place in California, I've been trying to wrap my mind around the fact that someone, somewhere had to actually initiate this process. That means that someone, somewhere must have decided that the best use of his or her time was not to perform some act of kindness or generosity, not to stand up for justice or to comfort the afflicted, not even to try to turn a profit, but to decide to get together a lawsuit in order to break thousands of people's marriages apart.

Yes on 8, the group that originally put Proposition 8 on the California ballot, have brought in Kenneth Starr to argue their case. Starr, you will recall, was the Independent Counsel hired to look into the Clintons' Whitewater land deals who, unable to find any wrongdoing there, expanded his probe to look at Bill Clinton's sex life. During that brouhaha, Starr was accused of pressuring witnesses to purger themselves and later investigated for leaking grand jury testimonies. Starr became a hero to the right and was rewarded with a chair at the Pepperdine University School of Law paid for by Richard Mellon Scaife. This, no doubt, will maintain his standing among movement conservatives of the extreme right.

Most American laws a not retroactive. To be so is considered a threat to the concept of of basic contract law, the ability of people to make binding agreements. More importantly, in this case, their effort to void 18,000 legal marriages is a dangerous intrusion into people's private lives. The right to privacy is something conservative legal theorists have argued against for decades, and it is a right that is already endangered by eavesdropping, sneak-and-peek warrants, and other actions that the Bush administration have committed under the guise of a war against terror.

The goal of this new effort in California is breathtakingly vindictive and mean-spirited. Starr and the religious right want the courts to invade the lives of 18,000 couples and break up their marriages. It's not enough merely to insult these people by telling them their marriages are something wicked that should never have been allowed to happen, Yes on 8's backers want to use the power of the state to hurt 36,000 people that they have never met. It's a common conceit among the religious right that they "hate the sin, not the sinner." It's an important bit of rationalization for them as it is the only way they can square Jesus' message of love and forgiveness with their own deeply felt prejudices. This bit of viciousness puts the lie to that claim.

People voted for Proposition 8 for a variety of reasons. Many believed the lies that trusted authority figures like Rick Warren told them. Many were motivated more by fear and confusion than by full-throated hatred. But anyone who supports Starr's move is no better than that arch-hater Fred Phelps and his gang of thugs. This is causing pain for its own sake and nothing more.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More on Warren

Steven Waldman at The Huffington Post thinks Obama's decision to invite religious right megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration is a wise choice. While recognizing that Warren is a fierce conservative who opposes almost everything Democratic voters believe, Waldman thinks Warren's good works on poverty balance all that out and make him a "bipartisan choice." This kind of triangulation is pure Liebermanism and a perfect example of the conventional wisdom of the Washington pundits' corps, which holds that the Democrats always need to prove their centrism by smacking down their most loyal supporters. Naturally, I think he's one hundred percent wrong.

Reaching out to the far right, especially the religious right, is a waste of time. They will not be appeased by symbols or tokens. They are more likely to view such actions as a sign of weakness and a validation of their importance and strength. The second part of that equation is particularly important. For the last thirty years, the religious right has tried to portray themselves as the standard measure of Christianity in the United States. Most of them no longer use their denominational name and refer to themselves as simply "Christians". That was a brilliant strategic move. First, it underlines the basic claim that they are normal Christians and all others are diverging from their standard. Second, any criticism of them can be framed as attacks on "Christianity" forcing all other Christians into their defensive camp. Third, it forces the press to reinforce their message by constantly describing their extremist message as "what Christians believe." The long term effect has been to convince other Christians to either support their program as good Christians must, or explain why they do not. The great majority of more moderate American Christians have been put on the defensive and essentially silenced.

Obama had a chance to reverse that trend. He could have provided a forum for mainstream Christians. He could have marginalized and silenced the extremists. The religious right is not representative of American Christianity. They are not even representative of evangelical Protestantism. According to Christine Wicker, the religion reporter for The Dallas Morning News, they represent about one third of evangelicals or seven percent of the population. In a futile effort to appease an unappeasable seven percent of the population, Obama has delivered a swift kick to his most faithful supporters and condemned the majority of American Christians to silence and impotence. This is not a wise choice; this is bad strategy, bad politics, and a bad beginning.

Update: There is some evidence that I was correct in my prediction that the extremists of the religious right won't be appeased. Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly quotes some angry letters to Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. Of course, the compulsive centrists will claim that anything that offends both side of the aisle must be hewing to the golden mean and therefore a good idea. I believe than anything that offends everybody is kind of pointless and, in politics at least, a bad idea.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Obama has chosen Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguartion. This is the same megachurch pastor who says he hopes he can convince Obama to abolish legal and safe abortion. The same Rick Warren who made ads in favor of California's Proposition 8 which re-outlawed gay marriage. The same Rick Warren who told lies to support Prop 8 (legal gay marriage would lead to pastors who "he didn’t think homosexuality was the most natural way for relationships" to be prosecuted for hate speech). The same Rick Warren who uses the "some of my best friends" argument to claim he isn't homophobic.

This is not a first for Obama. My initial reservations about Obama's candidacy was based on his forays into being a moral scold for Democrats and claiming we needed to cosy up to extremist evangelical conservatives. This kind of knee-jerk Lierbermanism is bad for the Democratic Party, bad for America, and deeply disappointing to me. But then, he isn't trying to make me happy. Too many of his people have bought into another key tenet of Lierbermanism: that it's always a big win and a sign of bipartisanship to kick liberals in the teeth. I still have hope that he'll be a great president on other issues, but I expect to remain disappointed whenever religion comes into it (such as church/state separation and culture wars).

Update: On a happier note, he's invited Aretha Franklin to sing at the inaugural.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Obama wins the election

The Electoral College voted today and Obama won! But even that isn't official until January 6 when Congress finally tallies the votes. How's that for dragging out the suspense?

CEO government

When Bush was appointed president in 2000, he promised us a CEO government. Many assumed he meant a sort of business technocracy, government by experts who would keep a clear eye on the bottom line and make government more efficient. Eight years of ballooning debt has disproved most of that assumption. A new revelation about the Wall Street bailout should put to rest any remaining illusions as to what he meant.
Congress wanted to guarantee that the $700 billion financial bailout would limit the eye-popping pay of Wall Street executives, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules.

But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money.

Now, however, the small change looks more like a giant loophole, according to lawmakers and legal experts. In a reversal, the Bush administration has not used auctions for any of the $335 billion committed so far from the rescue package, nor does it plan to use them in the future. Lawmakers and legal experts say the change has effectively repealed the only enforcement mechanism in the law dealing with lavish pay for top executives.

He's given us government by the CEOs, of the CEOs, and for the CEOs. Even in dealing with the worst economic crisis in sixty years he's managed to reward his friends with our money and screw the American people.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The geologists' 100 things meme

This is one of those lists where you bold the things you've seen or done. I was surprised at how well I did (26 and a couple halves) considering I'm not a geologist and not especially well traveled. Fortunately, the northwest corner of North America is a very geologically rich territory. I could have done even better. When I was a kid, my family traveled through a few more places on the list and either didn't stop or had no idea what we were seeing. Chris Rowan, the main geology blogger over at ScienceBlogs got 38 and a couple halves.

1. See an erupting volcano. [I've seen Mts. Illiamna and Spurr in Alaska spew ash and smoke]
2. See a glacier. I've stomped around on several in Alaska and British Columbia]
3. See an active geyser See an active geyser such as those in Yellowstone, New Zealand or the type locality of Iceland. [Yellowstone several times as a kid]
4. Visit the Cretaceous/Tertiary (KT) Boundary.
5. Observe (from a safe distance) a river whose discharge is above bankful stage.
6. Explore a limestone cave. [Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana]
7. Tour an open pit mine. [I visited the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana when it was still operating]
8. Explore a subsurface mine. [I've never been deep inside one, but I have nosed around the opening to some abandoned mines in Alaska, Idaho, and Montana]
9. See an ophiolite, such as the ophiolite complex in Oman or the Troodos complex on the Island Cyprus.
10. An anorthosite complex, such as those in Labrador, the Adirondacks, and Niger (there's some anorthosite in southern California too).
11. A slot canyon. Many of these amazing canyons are less than 3 feet wide and over 100 feet deep. [Tokkum Creek in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia]
12. Varves, whether you see the type section in Sweden or examples elsewhere.
13. An exfoliation dome, such as those in the Sierra Nevada.
14. A layered igneous intrusion, such as the Stillwater complex in Montana or the Skaergaard Complex in Eastern Greenland. [not sure if this counts. I went camping in the Stillwater as a kid, without knowing what it was]
15. Coastlines along the leading and trailing edge of a tectonic plate. [Only one side, so far]
16. A gingko tree, which is the lone survivor of an ancient group of softwoods that covered much of the Northern Hemisphere in the Mesozoic.
17. Living and fossilized stromatolites (Glacier National Park is a great place to see fossil stromatolites, while Shark Bay in Australia is the place to see living ones)
18. A field of glacial erratics. [Alaska, of course]
19. A caldera. [Yellowstone again]
20. A sand dune more than 200 feet high.
21. A fjord. [Southeastern Alaska and British Columbia]
22. A recently formed fault scarp. [we moved to Alaska a few years after the Good Friday earthquake of 1964 and there were two good fault scarps still visible in Anchorage]
23. A megabreccia.
24. An actively accreting river delta. [not a big one, but lots of little ones on Alaska]
25. A natural bridge.
26. A large sinkhole.
27. A glacial outwash plain [Alaska and Canadian Rockies.]
28. A sea stack. [Oregon and Washngton coasts]
29. A house-sized glacial erratic. [the biggest I've seen was about the sise of an old Buick]
30. An underground lake or river.
31. The continental divide. [many, many times]
32. Fluorescent and phosphorescent minerals.
33. Petrified trees. [no whole sections of trees, but I have some chunks of petrified wood that I collected as a kid]
34. Lava tubes. [in a couple places in sotheastern Idaho].
35. The Grand Canyon. All the way down. And back.
36. Meteor Crater, Arizona, also known as the Barringer Crater, to see an impact crater on a scale that is comprehensible.
37. The Great Barrier Reef, northeastern Australia, to see the largest coral reef in the world.
38. The Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, to see the highest tides in the world (up to 16m). [Cook Inlet Alaska has the second highest tides, up to about 14m]
39. The Waterpocket Fold, Utah, to see well exposed folds on a massive scale.
40. The Banded Iron Formation, Michigan, to better appreciate the air you breathe.
41. The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania,
42. Lake Baikal, Siberia, to see the deepest lake in the world (1,620 m) with 20 percent of the Earth's fresh water.
43. Ayers Rock (known now by the Aboriginal name of Uluru), Australia. This inselberg of nearly vertical Precambrian strata is about 2.5 kilometers long and more than 350 meters high.
44. Devil's Tower, northeastern Wyoming, to see a classic example of columnar jointing.
45. The Alps. [I flew over them, they look a lot like the Canadian Rockies, but smaller]
46. Telescope Peak, in Death Valley National Park. From this spectacular summit you can look down onto the floor of Death Valley - 11,330 feet below.
47. The Li River, China, to see the fantastic tower karst that appears in much Chinese art.
48. The Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, to see the original Karst.
49. The Gorge of Bhagirathi, one of the sacred headwaters of the Ganges, in the Indian Himalayas, where the river flows from an ice tunnel beneath the Gangatori Glacier into a deep gorge.
50. The Goosenecks of the San Juan River, Utah, an impressive series of entrenched meanders.
51. Shiprock, New Mexico, to see a large volcanic neck.
52. Land's End, Cornwall, Great Britain, for fractured granites that have feldspar crystals bigger than your fist.
53. Tierra del Fuego, Chile and Argentina, to see the Straights of Magellan and the southernmost tip of South America.
54. Mount St. Helens, Washington, to see the results of recent explosive volcanism.
55. The Giant's Causeway and the Antrim Plateau, Northern Ireland, to see polygonally fractured basaltic flows.
56. The Great Rift Valley in Africa.
57. The Matterhorn, along the Swiss/Italian border, to see the classic "horn".
58. The Carolina Bays, along the Carolinian and Georgian coastal plain
59. The Mima Mounds near Olympia, Washington
60. Siccar Point, Berwickshire, Scotland, where James Hutton (the "father" of modern geology) observed the classic unconformity.
61. The moving rocks of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley
62. Yosemite Valley
63. Landscape Arch (or Delicate Arch) in Utah
64. The Burgess Shale in British Columbia. [This is one we drove past, when I was a kid, without knowing what was there]
65. The Channeled Scablands of central Washington
66. Bryce Canyon
67. Grand Prismatic Spring at Yellowstone
68. Monument Valley
69. The San Andreas fault
70. The dinosaur footprints in La Rioja, Spain
71. The volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands
72. The Pyrenees Mountains
73. The Lime Caves at Karamea on the West Coast of New Zealand
74. Denali (an orogeny in progress)
75. A catastrophic mass wasting event.
76. The giant crossbeds visible at Zion National Park .
77. The black sand beaches in Hawaii (or the green sand-olivine beaches).
78. Barton Springs in Texas.
79. Hells Canyon in Idaho
80. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado.
81. The Tunguska Impact site in Siberia.
82. Feel an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 5.0. [several in Alaska and one in Seattle]
83. Find dinosaur footprints in situ.
84. Find a trilobite (or a dinosaur bone or any other fossil).
85. Find gold, however small the flake. [gold panning was one my regular summer pastimes as a kid]
86. Find a meteorite fragment
87. Experience a volcanic ashfall.[Mts. St Augustine and Spurr in Anchorage]
88. Experience a sandstorm.
89. See a tsunami.
90. Witness a total solar eclipse. [only partials]
91. Witness a tornado firsthand (Important rules of this game).
92. Witness a meteor storm, a term used to describe a particularly intense (1000+ per minute) meteor shower
93. View Saturn and its moons through a respectable telescope.
94. See the Aurora borealis, otherwise known as the northern lights. [many times]
95. View a great naked-eye comet, an opportunity which occurs only a few times per century. [Hyahkutake in 1996]
96. See a lunar eclipse. [both full and partial]
97. View a distant galaxy through a large telescope
98. Experience a hurricane.
99. See noctilucent clouds. [maybe]
100. See the green flash.

If they're going list atmospheric phenomena, I think I should get credit for sundogs and solar halos.

They like him, they really like him

When the Bush administration took us to war, supporters gushed that we would be greeted as liberators across the country and that the grateful Iraqis would erect a statue to Bush in the central square Baghdad. That's not quite how things have worked out. The country has been in almost total chaos for the last six years. Much of the violence has been aimed at the US and the new government that we put in place. Just three weeks ago, thousands gathered in the central square Baghdad to burn Bush in effigy (giving hundreds of headline writers the excuse to use a "burning bush" pun).

Today, Bush made another of his surprise visits to Baghdad to admire his work. The reception was not what he might have hoped for. At press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a television journalist named Muthathar al Zaidi threw his shoes at Bush shouting "This is a farewell kiss, you dog." CNN correspondent Michael Ware reported that:
it just sailed past his head and while the man was dragged out of the room, President Bush is said to have remarked that, "This was a size 10 shoe he threw at me you may want to know," even as the man was heard screaming in the hallway.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino apparently received a black eye in the scuffle while her boss was making jokes. While assaulting a foreign leader is no trivial matter in any country, I hope some of the Baghdad foreign correspondents keep track of the fate of al Zaidi. How he is treated and whether he receives due process will be a very real measure of the success of Bush's claims to be able to spread democracy at the tip of a bayonet. My own feeling is that foreign press attention is al Zaidi's only hope of surviving this.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

You're the best

Thanks to everyone who wrote of commented to express their sympathy over the death of my mother and the loss of Clever Wife's job. Knowing someone cares really does help at times like this.


Not being from the area, I don't have to any original insights about Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's arrest this morning. All I can add is that I have zero tolerance for corrupt politicians. Some people will defend guys from their party right up to conviction and beyond on the "he may be a bastard, but he's our bastard" principle. I go more for the "not even an appearance of impropriety" principle. I think politicians who are under investigation should step aside for the good of public confidence in the democratic process. Let them clear their names on their own time. When they hang on, defiantly shouting "I haven't been convicted yet!" like William Jefferson or Tom Delay, they contribute to cynicism and ultimately give comfort to those who would cats aside democracy in favor of the first authoritarian who raises the banner of "clean government." Political corruption has been the justification for more coups and revolutions during my lifetime than I care to count.

Powerful people seem to think they can bluff their way out of any problem. They have a sense of personal exceptionalness. They believe they are entitled to power and that rules are for the little. Those accused of unethical behavior always take refuge behind the claim that didn't do anything illegal. Those accused of illegal behavior take refuge behind the claim that haven't been convicted. Those who feel the the most entitled, like Ted Stevens, push the bluff right up to insisting they should hold on to their power until they start serving their sentence. They are bad for the country and bad for the cause of democracy. I say, throw the bastards out.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Meanwhile, in mammoth land

Over the last few months I've neglected woolly mammoth news because I was distracted by the election and my mother's health. It's time to get back to work.

Nicholas Wade was on the Colbert Report talking about cloning woolly mammoths. Colbert asked the obvious question of why we don't just staple shag carpeting to an elephant? There are numerous technical problems involved, not the least of which is possible objections from the elephant. Shag carpet has the wrong texture and length and doesn't have the three layer architecture that mammoth hair had. Due to the current downturn in construction, the carpet industry doesn't have nearly the resources to engage in the massive research effort that would be necessary to develop mammoth carpet. It probably would be cheaper and faster just to stick with cloning mammoths.

What do they want?

My friend David Neiwert has a nice little summary of the Obama birth certificate conspiracy crowd up at Crooks and Liars. Naturally, this conspiracy theory has been embraced by the white supremacist/nationalist crowd. Several groups treated the election as a big recruiting telethon, but, now that the black guy actually has been elected, the fun is over and they're scared. The citizenship silliness is their last hope of keeping him from becoming the most powerful person in the United States after Warren Buffet, Oprah, and the judges on "American Idol". There is a strong overlap between the anti-immigrant, white supremacist, militia, and anti-tax crowds. Bob Schultz, one of the primary promoters of this conspiracy theory, is, in fact, an anti-tax nut whose main business has been selling his schemes to gullible white supremacists and militia members. By championing this cause he increases his visibility among his client base.

It's easy to understand Schultz's possible mercenary motives and to understand the fear of the out-and-out racists, but what about the others? This wacky theory has been picked up by others who are not especially racist. What do they expect to happen if they're right and some court goes along with them? Declaring Obama ineligible to become president won't make McCain the next president. We don't vote for presidential candidates; we vote for the electors who choose the president. If Obama is ineligible the Democratic electors will simply choose another Democrat to be president--probably Biden, but there is nothing that would prevent them from picking Hillary Clinton or me for that matter (though I admit I'd be something a dark horse candidate). It strikes me that this is just a tantrum on the part of some wingnuts. They're going to kick and scream and hold their breaths until they turn blue to stop the country from turning blue. They need to grow up.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

States' rights

Matt Yglesias revives the possibility that the other Washington might be ripe for statehood under the new administration. Congress has the power to create new states without a constitutional amendment. The population of DC wants it. A compromise was actually worked out during the last congress but not acted on. The only problem to its passage was the fact that Republicans in the Senate would almost certainly have filibustered the bill out of fear that it would result in the Democrats getting two more Senate seats (in the last election everyone in DC voted for Obama, with the exception of Pat and Bay Buchanan). That compromise could pass in this congress with the support of one of the senators from Utah (the compromise involved giving Utah an extra House seat for the Mormons on overseas missions). The discussion in Yglesias' comments raises and answers most of the relevant questions. They are:

Do we need to cut a smaller federal district out of the new state? Yglesias thinks we do and even has a map of his proposed tiny district. Several commenters and I think it's unnecessary. Most European capitols are just cities with no special jurisdiction. The original point in a federal district was that, in a federal system, the state with the capitol would have an unfair advantage over the other states. The compromise was to see that no state had the capitol. Several countries with federal systems, besides the US, have gone down this path, but plenty of others have not and incurred no special problems from making that choice.

How do we arrange the stars on the flag to fit fifty-one? That's already been figured out. The answer is alternating rows of eight and nine stars. To make it esthetically balanced it helps to lengthen the blue field. Another possibility is to give up on the star-for-state motif and go back to the circle of thirteen stars.

What will we call the state? Columbia seems kind of redundant. There is already a country of that name in the Western Hemisphere and a province of that name in Canada. Greece objects to letting the country to their north use the name Macedonia because they have a province of that name. They claim anyone else using the name is an implicit claim on their territory and a threat to their territorial sovereignty. I don't think Columbia or Canada is quite that insecure, but why risk it? This is a chance to add a new name to the map. Washington is taken. Don't even think about something lame like East Washington. Potomac is a good possibility. Anacostia (the name of a small river that runs through the south side of the city) is nice. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

Will they need to have a separate state and city governments? No. There is no law preventing a state from being a single incorporated municipality. Many countries have city states/provinces. Rather than build a second set of government buildings for the state government, It's perfectly okay to simply change the names of everything; the mayor becomes the governor and the assembly becomes the legislature. It's not even necessary to have a state senate; Nebraska has a unicameral legislature and does just fine. The biggest expense for the new government would be ordering new stationary.

Should these people get to have the same vote as everyone else in the country? Some one actually asked that question. SamChevre wrote, "I’m in favor... as long as we get an amendment that no one getting a government check that represents more than half their income may vote." Of course if this rule were applied to all states, as it would have to be, it would mean that all civil servants, active military, Congress, their staffs, welfare, social security, unemployment, and military pension recipients would be disenfranchised. there was, in fact a time when the military and the residents of DC were not allowed to vote. DC finally received the right to vote for president in 1961 and the last state laws against military voting were finally thrown out in 1971. SamChevre's comment gives voice to a trend I noticed among conservative pundits during the election, who seriously suggested that this democracy thing should be rolled back. Some advocated removing the right to vote from certain groups (those inclined to vote Democratic). Others suggested giving additional votes to more "deserving" voters (the rich). This is a very disturbing trend that we should keep an eye on.

Are you really sure we don't need an amendment? Not according to my reading of the constitution. The twenty-third amendment regulates the voting rights and (limited) representation of the district, but doesn't require us to have a district. Article one, section eight gives Congress power over a federal district, but I don't read that as requiring us to have on. Perhaps any constitutional scholars out there can shed further light on the question.

Any other new states on the horizon? Puerto Rico is the leading contender. Statehood for Puerto Rico would deal a near fatal blow to the English national language movement and would be worth it just for that. The independence movement is almost as strong as the statehood movement in Puerto Rico. The Pacific island territories of Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas are more distant contenders. The problem for all of the island territories is that we have created so many economic advantages for them in their current statuses that it would be a step backward for them to trade those in for a few seats in Congress. Finally, if Canada ever breaks up, the Maritime provinces would be ripe for joining, though Ontario and the western provinces would be more inclined to go it alone.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I had just finished the previous post when Clever Wife called to say her whole office had been laid off. They're offshoring the work to China. I'm so happy for China.

Thanksgiving with, and for, Mom

My whole family gathered at Mom's for Thanksgiving. My sisters flew down from Alaska. My niece, who had a baby three weeks ago, brought the first great-grandbaby over so Mom could hold him and they could pose for the obligatory four-generation picture. Clever Wife and I drove over from Seattle. Number Two Sister made a dinner that couldn't be beat. Some of Mom's friends dropped by to have a bite and toast the hostess. We watched a movie with the kids. We took turns holding Mom's hands while she died. Today should have been her eighty-fifth birthday.

In 1911 my grandfather graduated from college with a degree in electrical engineering. He was the first college graduate in his family. He loaded his things into the sidecar of an Indian motorcycle and headed west to seek his fortune. After a few years spent installing and repairing equipment in the mining camps of Montana, he met a schoolteacher and they were married. The Great War interrupted their plans to settle down. He enlisted and spent a year training recruits at Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, WA. After mustering out he and his bride returned to Montana and the mining camps. Soon after, they had two kids, a boy and then a girl.

My mom had a pretty good childhood. With two college-educated parents--a rarity in those days--she grew up exposed to fine culture and acquired a life-long love of theater and words. Most of the pictures I have of her as a child are of her on the back porch of their home, showing off a new costume that her mother had sewed for her. The houses changed, but the pose remained the same.

Campfire Girl, 1933

By the end of the twenties, her father was able to open a shop in Great Falls. Although the Depression had hit by then, he was the only person between Spokane and Minneapolis who could rewind an electric motor, so he was guaranteed a trickle of work. When things got tight, he knew they just had to wait and sooner or later something would break at the telephone or telegraph offices, along the railroad, at the mines, or, later, at one of the big government works projects like the Ft. Peck Dam. Life was secure with her calm, confident father. Mom went to college just before The War broke out. She studied theater and English for a couple years and then got a job as a Rosie the Riveter, fixing aircraft that were being sold to our Russian allies.

After the war ended, she finished her degree and moved back in with her parents to take care of them. In 1946, her father took a year-long job installing equipment on the Ft. Peck Dam. She moved there with her folks. At a community dance, soon after arriving, she was introduced to a veteran, the son of a cowboy, who was drifting through minor government jobs while deciding what to do in civilian life. They hit it off and were married the next year. That, of course, brings the story back to my sisters and me.

As our mom, Mom was a great mom. She practiced momming in an old fashioned way. She cooked everything from scratch. She was a great baker. All of us kids are cooks and love to experience new foods. She sewed many of our clothes. One of my sisters is a prize-winning seamstress. She was involved in our educations and encouraged us to do kid things back in the days before preschoolers worried about filling up a resume. We learned lots of arts and crafts. We are all voracious readers. She was the den mom for my Cub Scouts. She loved to go dancing. I never picked up that skill, but I can draw.

She was involved and active right up to her last weeks. Even in her seventies, I had trouble keeping up with her and needed a few days to depressurize after visiting her. Just two weeks ago, when I took her to the doctor, she had to fuss over her appointment book to arrange her medical appointments among her club meetings and holiday plans.

Damn, I miss her.