Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pop Quiz

I may be muscling in on Mustang Bobby's act here, but today seems like a good day for a completely irrelevant question. Sometime relevance is overrated. So, here goes:
Who were the great pop music composers of the twentieth century--the ones who will last well into the next century, or should?

The only rules are these: we're talking pop music, not serious music; we're talking writers, not performers or producers; and we're talking about a body of work, not just one or two great songs. Since most of our experience is likely to be Anglo and rock/jazz/show centric, extra points will be awarded for other culture, other genres, and forgotten masters. I'll spot you, what I think are, ten obvious ones.

Cole Porter
Duke Ellington
Irving Berlin
Lennon and McCartney
Bacharach and David
Richard Rogers
Stevie Wonder
Anonio Carlos Jobim
Fats Waller

Who else belongs on the list?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

In case you were running out of things to worry about

What happens if the pilot on your flight loses his mind after you're in the air?
An Air Canada flight made an emergency landing in Ireland after a pilot apparently suffered a mental breakdown.

A passenger said the pilot was carried from the plane shouting and swearing, saying he wanted to talk "to God".

The flight from Toronto to Heathrow landed at Shannon airport after its crew declared a medical emergency.

Short answer: the rest of the crew mutinies and ties him up. Then they hoist the Jolly Roger and take up a life of buccaneering on the Spanish Main. Okay, I made that last part up.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

News from the underground

The People's Trust for Endangered Species is preparing to take a census of moles in Great Britain. The trust says moles are misunderstood and provide a valuable service by eating insects and aerating the soil with their tunnels. To insure that there is no fraud in the mole count, all moles will be required to present a current driver's license or other government issued photo ID. Mole's rights advocates say this requirement presents an unfair obstacle for moles, since very few moles have driver's licenses. Most licensing boards are hesitant to issue driver's licenses to moles because of the common perception that moles are not safe drivers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Language Dies

Sad news from the old country. Marie Smith Jones, believed to be the last native speaker of the Eyak language of Alaska, died at her home in Anchorage. The Eyak lived along the Gulf of Alaska between Cordova and Yakutat. The Eyak language was a distinct branch of the Athabascan-Eyak-Tlingit family. Jones helped by Michael Krauss of the University of Alaska compiled an Eyak dictionary, so that future generations might resurrect the language. Even before Europeans arrived, the Eyak were in the process of being absorbed into the Tlingit from Southeast Alaska. Small indigenous languages are dying all over the world. With them also disappears a wealth of knowledge about local plants, animals, and history. It is expected that half of the languages in the world will vanish in this century.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Fire breathing cows

The Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala has received 3.8 million kronor ($590,000) to study the greenhouse gases released when cattle belch. Most research up till now has focused on greenhouse gases coming out of the other end of the cow. But the wily Canadians are researching cattle burps and the Swedes are afraid of a belch gap developing between their countries. For the project, twenty cattle have been fitted with a special collar containing an instrument to measure the methane level in the air around them which they will match to different diets for the cattle.

I didn't know methane came out in belches; I though that was mostly carbon dioxide and that methane was produced lower in the gastrointestinal system to be released in the other type of gaseous emission. This opens up some great possibilities. If cows belch methane, doesn't that open up the possibility of fire breathing cows? In his novel Glory Road, Robert A. Heinlein mentioned the possibility of fire breathing dragons in the form of a Tyrannosaurus type dinosaur that belched gut methane and ignited it with sparks from rocks in its gizzard. Recently, some young earth creationists (notably Kent Hovind) have adopted this idea and converted the Leviathan of Job into a fire breathing T Rex. Ken Ham prefers a fire breathing Kronosaurus.

Fire breathing cows imperiling a small dairy town in Wisconsin would make a really cool horror movie.

Afterthought: Don't let Bush or the neo-cons hear about this. They'll probably decide the Swedes (who we all know are immoral, gay atheists) are developing the cows as weapons of mass destruction. Then we'll have a sudden need to deal with this threat by bombing and invasion before the election. Any Democrats who say otherwise are objectively pro Carl XVI Gustaf. Don't those Defeatocrats know that Sweden has fissile materials that could be weaponized and, with a population almost as big as Los Angeles, they form a threat to world peace, freedom, and prosperity greater than that posed by Hitler, Yankee abolitionists, and transfats combined?!!???

The perils of a south-facing house

Today is sunny but cold day in Seattle. A storm passed through over the weekend and swept away all of the pollution. The sky is a gorgeous shade of blue. I love this type of weather except for one thing: my house faces south. Right now the sun is streaming in through the front windows and the cats have staked out the best spots to sun themselves. It's almost seventy in the living room and the furnace hasn't kicked on in over an hour. But, while the thermostat is enjoying the solar powered splendor at the front of the house, the bathroom has cooled down to about fifty degrees and is still dropping. My butt thought it had escaped such conditions when we left Alaska.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

We don't have Duncan Hunter to kick around any more

Duncan Hunter has abandoned his bid for the Republican presidential nomination following his single digit showing in the Nevada caucuses. Hunter never developed a following because he never offered anything original. His positions were all generic Republican/conservative, he was unknown outside his own neighborhood, and he wasn't visibly insane enough to stand out in the debates. Those of us who enjoy picking on the also-rans will have to turn our cruel jokes against Alan Keyes. At least until Ralph Nader decides that voice in his head is his country calling to him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Big Bill wants to help

I often use this blog to mock and insult Bill O'Reilly. I think he's a pompous nincompoop and a dead weight on our national discourse, dragging it deeper into the outhouse pit. I join hundreds of other bloggers in their outrage and amazement ever time he does something like announce that he personally brought France to its knees with a boycott, accuse WWII vets of atrocities against German troops, invite terrorists to blow up San Francisco, demonstrate his ignorance of the difference between the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, or describe how he personally defeated the forces of secularism in our war against Christmas. Granted, he's a bully, a buffoon, and a bombastic blowhard--just to mention the B's--but perhaps I've been to hard on him. Perhaps I have failed to give credit to his compassionate side.

Last night he offered to personally house every homeless vet in the United States.
Progressive radio talk show host Ed Schultz went on The O’Reilly Factor (Why, Ed? Why?) to give his views on the Democratic half of the presidential slate. Never one to pass up the chance to bring up past stupidity, when the talk went to John Edwards, Billo brings up the ridiculous assertion he made when John Edwards was on that there are no homeless veterans.

ES: I think (Edwards’) message is strong and he has tremendous conviction, but I think he needs a little bit more material than just the “Two Americas” talk, he got to get a little bit deeper…

BO: Well, we’re still looking for all the veterans sleeping under the bridges, Ed, so if you find anybody, let us know, because that’s all the guy said for the last three nights…

ES: Well they’re out there, Bill. Don’t kid yourself.

BO: They may be out there, but there’s not many of them out there. Okay? So if you know where one is, Ed…

ES: Well, actually…Now, wait a minute…one in ..

BO: Ed, Ed. If you know where’s a veteran, sleeping under a bridge, you call me immediately, and we will make sure that man does not do it. Is not there.

I know, you're saying, "that's a rather ambiguous statement. Maybe he plans to send a couple of his producers down with ax handles and dogs to chase the homeless vets away from our bridges." But the theme of this post is giving Bill the benefit of the doubt. Let's take him at his word. He intends to house any homeless vet that he hears about. The National Alliance to End Homelessness that there are about 200,000 homeless vets in the US. That's a lot. But O'Reilly is a multimillionaire, so he should be able to house them all for a few nights.

Nicole Belle of Crooks and Liars suggests finding a homeless vet in NYC, where The O’Reilly Factor is taped and having them show up to FOXNews HQ to thank Bill in advance for helping them. That's a good idea, but as several commenters pointed out, the vet would be unlikely to get past the station guards and Bill would never see them. And while it might give our inner monkey wrencher a giggle to imagine hundreds of homeless vets laying siege to Fox stations around the country looking for the shelter O'Reilly promised them. It would be cruel to the homeless to build up their hopes like that, when Fox almost certainly would not give them shelter.

I think a better way to make homelessness real to O'Reilly would be to put some names to the statistics. If you know a homeless vet or a homelessness advocate, give them Bill's e-mail address ( and have them send their story to The O’Reilly Factor. Normal letter to the editor rules apply: be polite and be brief.

Maybe if he got letters from a few hundred or a few thousand real people in trouble, it might put a crack in that wall that he keeps between himself and reality. I don't for a minute think he would have a sudden conversion and become a nice person, but it would be worth while to make him face one fact that he can't just flippantly deny or spin away.

Other coverage of this story is here and here.

Who's the kid

Last proved what Andy Warhol said: in the future, everyone will be the comeback kid for fifteen minutes. I can't wait to see who the press anoints as the comeback kid next. Maybe Nevada will be Alan Keyes turn.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A moment of refreshing honesty

Mike Huckabee doesn't like it when people question him about his religion. He assures us that he won't try to force his religion on us if he becomes president. He wants us to take his word on that and just shut up about creationism. This is his idea of not forcing his religion on us:
"I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution," Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. "But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that's what we need to do -- to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view."

Say goodbye to pork, shimp, blended fabrics, and start collecting rocks to deal with all those rebellious children and women taken in adultery. At least he plays the guitar and has a folksy manner, because that's what's really important.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Hello, Mercury

Tomorrow, the MESSENGER spacecraft will pass within 125 miles of Mercury's surface on the first of three flybys before settling into orbit in 2011. This is only the third time a spacecraft has made a flyby of Mercury and the first in over 30 years. Despite being much closer than Mars or the gas giants, we have never landed on Mercury or put a satellite in orbit around it. We have mapped less than half of its surface. Even this one fast flyby will vastly increase our knowledge of the tiny planet. And all for far less than we spend on one day in Iraq.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Two questions

How is Netflix able to bypass the pop-up blocker on my Firefox browser and why does Netflix think this kind of behavior will make me think favorably of their service?

Feel the Duncmentum!

Duncan Hunter just won a delegate in the Wyoming caucuses! Of course, no one is paying the least attention to the Wyoming caucuses and ABC decided not to invite Hunter to their debates, but I'm sure the Duncan fans will enjoy the day.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Your yellow press at work

On the CBS News website, the top headlines include storms in California, Britney's latest breakdown, the Labor Department monthly jobs report and this: Accused Clinton Neighbor Admits Affairs.

The story is about one Carlos Perez-Olivo, a man in New York who is accused of killing his wife over a year ago. Prosecutors in the case released evidence of Perez's infidelity without comment, though the implication that it might be motive is clear. The story is a local crime with no national significance, but there are enough interesting elements in the story that it might have made the back pages of some larger papers on a slow news week. The only connection to the Clintons is that the Perezes lived near them. That is enough. Not only is the Clinton connection mentioned in the headline, the first sentence of the story makes it clear that the only reason the national news media care is because that connection.
The neighbor of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton who is accused of murdering his wife admitted to police he had a 10-year affair with another woman and had sent her flowers two days before his wife was shot.

The story that CBS ran is off of the Associated Press wire. The AP sent the story out with a less sensational headline: New Details in Death of Clinton Neighbor. Apparently the temptation to use "Clinton" and "Affair" in the same headline was more than the CBS web editor could resist. The Poughkeepsie Journal also ran the AP story and succumbed to the same temptation: Clinton neighbor accused of killing wife admits affair. United Press International also mentioned the Clinton connection in the headline to a story on Perez, but never mentions their names in the body of the story.

A Google News search produced two dozen stories over the last month that mentioned the Clinton connection, almost always in the headline. The Clintons have nothing to do with the murder of Mrs. Perez and nothing to do with Mr. Perez's affairs. It's the worst sort of distortion and sensationalism. Should we frame every crime in Manhattan as happening to or by a neighbor of Donald Trump? We deserve better.

All you need to know about the man

Today the Labor Department released its monthly report of employment statistics that said hiring practically stalled in December and the jobless rate rose to a two-year high of five percent. Bush pooh-poohed the report as cause for concern saying, "While there is some uncertainty, the report is that the financial markets are strong and solid." Got that? Hiring has stalled and unemployment is up, but investment income the source of wealth for his supporters and others of his class, is still safe so he's not worried. He went on to say that the important thing was that we not panic and raise taxes on his friends and their businesses.

It sure has been a long time since he had much to say about "compassionate conservatism."

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Let's do this election right

A few years back, a common cliche among people of my age and class (boomers) was to announce their political independence with the statement, "I'm a social liberal, but a fiscal conservative." The idea was that we were dripping with compassion for the less privileged, but were also concerned about the deficit. The cruder subtext was that we cared, but not enough to actually pay for anything. In voting this was supposed to mean we supported Democrats for their compassionate social policies and Republicans for their practical fiscal policies.

Now after seven years of Republican rule--six of them with control of all the levers of power--we find ourselves with the dollar at lows not seen in a generation, oil at an all time high, the largest national debt in history, and revenue shortfalls as far as the eye can see. Yesterday, trading on Wall Street was the worst in 25 years. The last time we had a balanced budget was when we had a Democrat in the White House.

Sticking with cliches (switching from political cliches to journalistic ones), my next paragraph should be one that strikes an ironic balance by pointing out how Democrats have dropped the ball on social policy and Republicans are the defenders of the helpless. A pox on both their houses. The more things change... Blah, blah, blah. But that's not the case this year. While Republicans suck on fiscal policies at the moment, they suck even more on social policy. We are at war, and they won't provide adequate care for returning vets. The regulatory structure for food safety is undermanned and overwhelmed. The government's response for disasters is disastrous. The number of uninsured goes up every year. After years of decline, the rate of teenage pregnancy is rising again. With the slump in the building industry, we will be sure to face a spike in unemployment next summer and nothing has been done to prepare for it.

The cliches of a golden balance don't always reflect real life and this is one of those times. Another cliche might have it that as the Republicans have declined, the Democrats have risen to the challenge of being all things to all people. It hasn't happened. The Democrats have remained the same mixed bag of nuts that they always were. But instead of two equally mediocre parties, we now have one mediocre party and one really bad one. If there was ever a throw the scoundrels out moment this is it. Maybe a few years in the wilderness will restore to the Republican Party whatever virtues they once had. There is no reason for anyone who cares about fiscal policy or social policy to vote for a Republican for anything this year.

When you get your chance to caucus or primary, get out there; vote early, vote often, and vote Democrat.

The real me

Mustang Bobby started this. Thanks to HeroMachine 2.5, camera-adverse bloggers can create a reasonable facsimile of what they look like in their minds. In real life I'm shorter and dumpier, my head is larger than my fist, and the cat would be hiding behind my leg.

Michael of Musing's Musings is also playing and much more interesting than Bobby or me. If we can get one more to play, we'll have enough for a set of blogger trading cards or a meme.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Liberals want your kids to get clapped up

Why not start the new year with an example of what we mean when we refer to movement conservatives at not being part of the reality based community.

Wendy Wright is president of Concerned Women for America, a group that was originally founded by Beverly LaHaye as a counter-balance to the dangerous feminist tendencies of the National Organization for Women. They are a well financed group that is against gay rights, Harry Potter, abortion, sex-ed, most forms of birth control, pornography, stem cell research, the United Nations, vaccinating girls against the human papillomavirus (HPV), and hate crime legislation. They are for prayer in public schools, teaching intelligent design, abstinence-only sex-ed, the Biblical design of the family, and treating homosexuality as a dangerous, but curable, mental illness. They have been a major player on the religious right for almost thirty years.

Appearing on the December 31st edition of Fox News’ Special Report Wright had this to say about those who support comprehensive sex ed in the schools:
In fact, they want to encourage [kids to choose to have sex] because they benefit when kids end up having sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancies and then they lead them into having abortions, so you have to look at the financial motives behind those who are promoting comprehensive sex ed.

Interestingly, she was not laughed out of the studio.

When their arguments fail, scoundrels turn to besmirching their opponents' motives. We only support sex-ed because we all stand to make big profits from tricking kids into getting venereal diseases. Damn! We've been exposed. Oh well, at least if my income from teenage VD futures dries up, I'll still be able to collect my Soros bucks for undermining patriotism.


I'm excited to announce that I made it into the Open Laboratory 2007 anthology of the best English language science blogging of the year. They chose two of my mammoth pieces that I now need to fuse into one piece. The book should be out in about three weeks and will be available through Amazon, the Publisher, and a a few other book stores. I'm especially thrilled to be allowed into the company of real science people, since I'm only a history school drop out.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

It's 2008

I'm relieved to see that the new year made it as scheduled last night. Neither bad weather, high fuel prices, nor a helium shortage were able to delay it. I should be so dependable.
  • Remember to write 2008 on all your checks, if you still use checks.
  • Change the battery in your smoke detector.
  • Update the copyright date on your websites or blogs.
  • Call an old friend out of the blue.
  • Don't get carried away with resolutions.
  • Do something nice for a stranger.
  • Get involved.
  • Find an excuse to pamper yourself.
  • Learn a new trick.
  • Keep reading archy.