Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why isn't he dead yet

Senator Mitch McConnell, who has civil service insurance and is old enough to be on Medicare, warns us that government run insurance kills people.
I think if you have any kind of government insurance program, you're going to be stuck with it and it will lead us in the direction of the European style, you know, sort of British-style, single payer, government run system. And those systems are known for delays, denial of care and, you know, if your particular malady doesn't fit the government regulation, you don't get the medication. And it may cost you your life.

This is another one for the "follow-up questions you wish reporters would ask, but you know they won't" file.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mammoths in the news

A Spanish-German-Dutch research team has announced the discovery of the remains of four woolly mammoth skeletons in southern Spain. The location, Padul near Granada and about a hundred miles northwest of Gibraltar, is the furthest south woolly mammoth remains have been discovered in Europe.

Woolly mammoths, as opposed to their cousins the Colombian mammoths*, only lived in tundra regions close to the ice sheets and on the mammoth steppes immediately south of that. To get to Southern Spain, there would have had to have been an unbroken belt of steppe extending all the way across Spain. This is the most important aspect of the find, according to the team that excavated them; until now, there was no evidence that the mammoth steppe extended that far south. It means Southern Europe was colder during later part of the last ice age than we previously thought. The carbon dates for the mammoths, twenty-five to thirty-five thousand years old, also show that this climate wasn't just a short cold snap. An alternative theory is that the mammoths had timeshare vacation condos in Padul and were vacationing there when they died. So far, this theory has not garnered much support.

This is the second announcement this year that has made us need to adjust our models of the range mammoths in Europe. Last summer, a team in England dated some remains from Shropshire and discovered they came from seven thousand years later than any other find in Northwestern Europe. They believe that the find implies mammoths went extinct in that part of Europe during the Last Glacial Maximum and then returned to their old range several thousand years later. Taken together, the two finds reassert the main lesson of almost any area of academic study--it was a lot more complicated than we thought.

PS If someone with access to the Paleo 3 article wanted to send me a copy, I wouldn't complain.

PPS Two copies just popped into my mailbox at the same time. Thanks all.

* Colombian mammoths covered North America from the edge of the mammoth steppe into Central Mexico.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Imagine my shock and surprise

Lieberman has stabbed the Democrats (and the American people) in the back on healthcare.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mammoth toes

Brian Switek has a colorful post up on a recently discovered site of mammoth scavenging. You should read his post, but here is the short version.

Virginia's Saltville Valley has been a productive source of Pleistocene fossils for decades. For some reason, the paleontologists have worked on the site till now have given most of their attention to big herbivores, such as our friends the mammoths, and ignored (or failed to find) the carnivores. Recently, a team working there came across the bones of a short-faced bear. Short-faced bear were one of the largest bears that has ever lived. One of their distinguishing features is their smashed in muzzle (but you had already figured that out, right?). At the same time, they found a mammoth calcaneus (heel bone) that shows teeth marks of a bear. Brian asks, "why would these carnivores have been gnawing on the mammoth's feet? Surely there were meatier parts of the mammoth's body that would have been preferred by these large scavengers." I have a possible answer to that question.

Michael Adams recovered the first of the great frozen mammoths in 1806 and it was also the first intact skeleton of a mammoth to be recovered and mounted. When he arrived at the carcass, scavengers had already eaten or carried off all the organs and most of the flesh. He specifically mentions polar bears as one of the scavengers. The only unscavenged parts were the least meaty parts of the head (scalp and upper part of the face) and two of the feet. It appears that the thick, calloused skin of the sole kept scavengers from going after the feet right away. It might be that Saltville bear was late to the buffet and that the feet were the only things left.

When Wilhelm Tilesius mounted the skeleton, he left the skin on the feet. This annoyed many anatomists of his day, who were more interested in the skeletal structure, but it's helpful to us.

Detail of a mammoth's hind feet from Tileseus' original etching of the Adams mammoth. Notice the thick sole.

Fore feet of an Indian elephant, the closest li8ving relative of mammoths. Note the tip-toe posture.

As Brian points out, there is quite a bit of meat and fat on an elephant's foot. Like camels, elephants walk on tip-toe. Their feet have a thick sole and a large fat pad between the sole and the palm. This acts as a shock absorber when the come down with their great weight in each step. To visualize the mechanics, place you hand on a flat surface like a table or deck top. Now raise your palm so only the tips of your fingers touch the surface. If you places a tennis ball under your palm, as a pad, you'll have a rough analogy for an elephants foot. That ball of fat would have been a tasty source of energy for any scavenger who took the time to gnaw through the sole of the foot. However, as long as there was easier flesh to be had, they would probably have ignored the feet.

Of course, it might have been that the Saltville bear just liked feet. Who knows what a bear thinks?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Unclear on the concept

Lindsey Graham on Fox News yesterday:
There will be no climate change bill with my vote unless you have offshore oil drilling. I won't vote for any climate change bill that doesn't allow a dramatic increase in nuclear power. I'm not going to vote for any climate change bill that doesn't allow us to use our coal deposits.

Got that? No climate change bill unless it allows us to burn more oil and coal.

Tenther nonsense

When Michele Bachmann made her conspiracy theory comments about the census, I thought she would be laughed off the stage. Every census, some nuts on the farthest fringes make that claim that the Census Bureau can't do anything except count people, but only conspiracy nuts and libertarians take them seriously. Bachmann is a bona fide conspiracy nut so no one of any responsibility should have taken her claims seriously. However, not only have so called grownups paid attention to her, they have now built on her arguments to claim healthcare reform is unconstitutional.

Their argument is that the Tenth Amendment prohibits the federal government from doing anything except for the very few things specifically mentioned in the body of the Constitution. The Tenth Amendment reads, in it's entirety:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

That's it. "Powers" is a very vague word. They choose to define it as meaning only those very specific tasks and responsibilities mentioned in the body. If the Constitution doesn't specifically mention healthcare, then the Federal government can't do anything about it.

For the census, here's what the Constitution says in Article I, Section 2, the section on the elction of members of Congress.
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers ...[this part, about slaves counting as three fifths of a person, was deleted by the Fourteenth Amendment]. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.

They read this to mean the Census can only ask questions about how many people live at a given location. They can't ask their names. They can't write down the address. They can only count. The part about "in such Manner as [Congress] shall by Law direct" must mean something like whether the census counters have to count on their fingers or use paper.

The writers put Congress first in the Constitution--Article one. They must have thought Congress was pretty important, but the tenther line of argument doesn't leave the Congress much to do. They get to pass a budget, declare war, run the Post Office, determine whether census counters count on their fingers or use paper, and not much else.

Over the years, the same argument has been raised whenever the government is doing something that conservatives don't like or that provokes some kind of populist paranoia. In the thirties, conservatives and Republicans pulled out the Tenth Amendment argument to fight the New Deal and declaired that Roosevelt had ended constitutional rule and become a lawless tyrant. Southern politicians pulled out the Tenth Amendment argument during desegregation and declaired that Eisenhower had ended constitutional rule and become a lawless tyrant. When Medicare was being debated in the sixties, Ronald Reagan recorded a speech declairing that Johnson had ended constitutional rule and become a lawless tyrant. You get the idea.

These things sound ridiculous to most of us, but many Republicans are still fighting those battles. Newt Gingrich would like to repeal most of the social legislation of the sixties. Other Republicans are still trying to repeal the reforms and initiatives that Roosevelt used to end the Depression. When the sane among us try to laugh at the tenther argument by pointing out that, by their logic, Social Security, Medicare, veterans' hospitals, and the interstate highway system are unconstitutional, a frightning number of office-holding Republicans will look us in the eye and soberly answer that that, yes, they do think those things are unconstitutional.

Asking them about big government programs doesn't really expose the complete irresponsibility of the tenther argument. There are lots of things that the federal government is involved in, in one way or another, that are not specifically mentioned in the body of the Constitution. Among them:
  • Murder
  • Kidnapping
  • Predicting the weather
  • Texas secceeding
  • Terrorism
  • The Air Force
  • Child pornography
  • Preventing flooding on the Mississippi
  • Helping people after flooding on the Mississippi
  • The definition of marriage
  • Public schools
  • Illegal immigration
  • Fighting forest fires
  • The war on drugs
  • Air traffic control
  • People putting poison in our food
  • Abortion

I think everyone can find something on that list that they think the government should not be involved with, but only the most over the edge libertarians would say they shouldn't be involved anything on that list. Somehow, mainstream Republicans have decided they need to pander to that fringe of the fringe.

One power that is specifically delegated to the government is to "fix the Standard of Weights and Measures." This means that while the government cannot do anything to fight child pornography, it can standardize shoe sizes. That's the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. That's how it should be.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A mammoth repair job

I've been working on the Adams Mammoth lately. Every time I Google, trying to track down some detail, I come across the Wiki page for it. Now, it's cool that Wiki has a page for that one mammoth, even if it was a pretty short entry, but I was being driven to distraction by the fact that it had the wrong mammoth for an illustration

The real Adams Mammoth

Yesterday, I signed up at Wiki just so I could fix that damn illustration. While I was there, I rewrote and expanded the article. I guess that's how Wiki is supposed to work. Now I'm looking at all the other articles that in any way refer to mammoths and being tempted to fix them all. I suppose that's also how Wiki is supposed to work. Just what I need, another internet time suck. The cats are already complaining that I don't spend enough time with them...

Vile hyperbole

Over the last few years, the rhetoric used by Republicans, right-wing pundits, and other conservative leaders to demonize the left has become more and more extreme. Ever since Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism was published, no slur has been off bounds. Even the most middle of the road Democrats are regularly accused of wanting to destroy the economy or surrender to the enemies of America. Republican representatives take to the floor congress to call the president a socialist. Conservative talk show hosts call anyone to the left of Ben Nelson would be tyrants, communists, fascists, often both, and embrace the most ridiculous conspiracy theories. Leaders of the Republican Party rush to pander to the most unhinged members of the right. With that state of affairs, this shouldn't surprise me, and yet it does.

Operation Free is an organization of veterans trying to educate Americans on the potential threats to national security posed by dependence on foreign oil and ignoring climate change. They have, like everyone these days, organized a bus tour to take their message to towns across America.* Along the way, they try to meet with local legislators. Here is the letter from Republican Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe declining their invitation:
I believe that any veteran lending their name, to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control more of the wealth created in our economy, through cap and tax type policies, all in the name of national security, is a traitor to the oath he or she took defend the Constitution of our great nation!

Remember Benedict Arnold before giving credibility to a veteran who uses their service as a means to promote a leftist agenda.

Drill Baby Drill!!!

Keep in mind that this is a letter to the veterans calling them traitors and not an offhand comment to someone else about the bus tour. This is what we have come to, Republicans are calling veterans traitors for not supporting the anti-science position of the Republican Party.

Correction and Update: Metcalfe did not send his despicable letter to Operation Free, he sent it to every member of the Pennsylvania State House. Metcalfe, who sits on the House Veteran Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, not only has refused to apologize, today he repeated his claim that supporting cap-and-trade legislation is a violation of a soldier's oath to uphold the constitution and that makes them traitors. This isn't the end this conflict; Pennsylvania newspapers and fellow statehouse members have started to condemn Metcalfe for his slur.

* I wish I'd had the foresight about two years ago to invest in the comapanies that lease out tour buses. Their investors must be rolling in dough about now.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Killer robots? KILLER ROBOTS!!

Matthew Yglesias points out this exchange from and interview of Reihan Salam by The Economist.
DIA: What are some areas where you think Republicans can successfully work with Democrats in the future.

Mr Salam: In the far future, I imagine that there will be bipartisan cooperation on space colonisation and efforts to terraform Mars. In the nearer term, I’d like to see Republicans work closely with the Obama White House on education, an area where Jeb Bush and Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, agree on everything important. I’d also like to see cooperation on Medicare reform, but that won’t happen.

Yglesias takes eception to part of Salam's response.
On space colonization, I’m afraid I have to strenuously disagree. The problem is that the Spacers will inevitable become politically independent of earth, and then use their command over superior natural resources and robots to oppress us.

I have to question Yglesias' conclusions. Surely, Democrats and Republicans could work together to resist an invasion of killer robots--after they stopped trying to gain points by blaming each other, that is.

Killer chipmunks? KILLER CHIPMUNKS!!

A horde of killer Russian chipmunks, hundreds of thousands strong, is terrorizing the British countryside and the authorities are helpless to stop them. That fine journalistic source The Sun has the story.
VICIOUS killer chipmunks that escaped from a British park four years ago have never been found - and could now have bred into a horde thousands strong, The Sun can reveal.

The news will confirm experts' worst fears that the disease-ridden rodents, which are plaguing northern France, have already established themselves in numbers here.

About 30 of the deadly critters went on the run from Wellington Country Park on the Hampshire/Berkshire border in 2005.

Eighteen died and eight more were found or shot - but disturbingly FOUR remained free.

The BBC has tried to diminish the threat by interviewing "scientists," but the Beeb has ties to government and is clearly trying to drown out those citizens who have sounded the alarm for purposes of the administration.

Russia has a small nuclear arsenal designed for the specific purpose of dealing with threats from Russia. It would be an easy matter to deal with this treat by vaporizing Berkshire. However, that option creates the risk of creating a horde of radioactive, mutant, killer chipmunks which, while totally awesome, would be a bit disconcerting for those living near the former Berkshire.

Fortunately, we're safe. Our swarms of deadly killer bees and escaped pythons would make short work of killer chipmunks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Too stupid to live

Once again, Republicans from South Carolina lead their party in its lemming-like march into oblivion.
There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves. By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina and instead using actual bills, DeMint is watching our nation’s pennies and trying to preserve our country’s wealth and our economy’s viability to give all an opportunity to succeed.

− Edwin O. Merwin Jr., Chairman, Bamberg County Republican Party
− James S. Ulmer Jr., Chairman, Orangeburg County Republican Party

What would you add?

Rob Simmons of Connecticut is the latest Republican to try and reinvent himself as a far right demagogue. When Simmons was a member of the House, he was rated as one of the least conservative Republicans there. Now, he wants to challenge Chris Dodd for his Senate seat and has decide the way to get his party's nomination is by pandering to the nutty fringe of the conservative movement. He has been repudiating some of his previous voted in the house and has this to say to the teabaggers:
This state and this country needs people like you. [...] I’ve made it a habit over the years to carry my Constitution in my pocket as a reminder of what this country and what this country’s government is all about. But more recently because of the participation of many of you, I’ve added something to my Constitution. I’ve added a tea bag.

This, of course, brings up the question of what you want to add to your constitution. In the past, this question has almost always involved an amendment. However, Simmons has opened up a whole new line of speculation. If you could add one food item to the constitution, what would it be. I'm torn between beef jerky and aged cheddar cheese.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The next right wing victory

They tried to warn us!!! The Muslim usurper in the White House is planning to abolish Christmas!!!1! The only thing that can save us now is a swarm of unsigned chain e-mails.
Thought you might be interested in this information from the White House. This isn't a rumor; this is a fact.

That's reassuring. If you can't trust chain e-mails to tell you the facts, who can you trust?
We have a friend at church who is a very talented artist. For several years she, among many others, has painted ornaments to be hung on the various White House Christmas trees. The WH sends out an invitation to send an ornament and informs the artists of the theme for the year.

She got her letter from the WH recently. It said that they would not be called Christmas trees this year. They will be called Holiday trees. And, to please not send any ornaments painted with a religious theme.

Eeeeek!! Holiday! They said "Holiday!" Henry Ford and Bill O'Reilly were right! The Marxist/Jewish/Fascist/Muslim/Kenyans are planning to destroy Christmas by saying "Holiday."
She was very upset at this development and sent back a reply telling them that she painted the ornaments for Christmas trees and would not be sending any for display that left Christ out of Christmas.

Just thought you should know what the new residents in the WH plan for the future of America. If you missed his statement that "we do not consider ourselves a Christian Nation" this should confirm that he plans to take us away from our religious foundation as quickly as possible.

More eeeeek!!

Sigh. This has already been well debunked, but has been even better distributed. The tree has already been ordered. It will be a called a Christmas tree. It will feature all types of ornaments. The frustrating thing is that, once word gets out that the White House will be celebrating Christmas, the people who believed this nonsense and sent letters to the White House, blogged about it, or just griped and forwarded the e-mail--these same gullible people will believe it was their firm defense of Christmas that forced the Obama's to back down from their grinchly plans to stop Christmas from coming. And, next fall, the same e-mail will start a new round of warning the faithful, the gullible, and the unbudgeable Obama haters.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cosmic driveby

A small asteroid will zip past the Earth later today. The asteroid, with the catchy name of 2009 TM8 (I think I'll call it Timmy), was discovered yesterday by the Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona. Timmy will pass within 216,000 miles of Earth. That's inside the orbit of the moon, or razor close by astronomical standards. Timmy is only about 30 feet across. It's pretty amazing that we are able to spot something that small moving towards us 18,163 mph. One day warning isn't enough time to send Bruce Willis up to stop it. However, a bigger asteroid would be spotted further out and a dinosaur killer would be spotted years, probably decades before it hit, giving us time to deploy dozens of Bruce Willises.

What would happen if Timmy hit? Not much. Timmy is small. Asteroids that small don't get very far into the atmosphere before they explode. Timmy would produce about a four kiloton (thousand tons of TNT) blast. The Earth gets hit by asteroids of this order of magnitude a couple dozen times each century. Last fall, 2008 TC3 exploded over Sudan with a force of a little over one kiloton. In 1993, an asteroid exploded over Northern Italy with a force of about ten kilotons producing no damage at all. If a Timmy sized asteroid hit the daylight side of the Earth, there is a good chance no one would notice--except for the Catalina Sky Survey and their crack team of Bruce Willises.

Theological question

Can a Pastafarian believe in the Great Pumpkin?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The plastic jug meme*

Zuska, the Science Blogger, just had a great idea. I'll let her explain.
In August I did some writing about health insurance, and in particular about the Pittsburgh shooting victim whose friends and family held a car wash to help raise funds to pay for her medical expenses. picked up on that post, and Robin Stelly commented on the post as follows:
Every person at birth should be issued a big plastic jug. When people become ill, they should tape their most endearing photos and a brief description of their illnesses to their plastic jugs. Then all they have to do is display the official containers at a local pizza shop - or something similar - and problem solved. More seriously ill people can apply to receive more big plastic jugs. I'm pretty sure that Sen. Coburn (R-OK) is planning to introduce this plan in response to "Obamacare" when the Senate returns from the district work period. I for one look forward to codifying our status as a nation of desperate beggers.

That comment really stuck with me. I'm sure we've all seen these types of containers at one place or another, and tossed some money into them here and there. After reading Robin's comment, I thought maybe I'd start photographing them whenever I run across them.


So herewith, my first offering of Big Plastic Jug Photos. If you are so inclined, take a photo of one in your neighborhood, and send it to me by email. Be sure to include a bit of info - general geographic location, what type of establishment it was found in.

[Several heart-rending, or infuriating, examples]

I plan to keep taking pictures if I can, and I encourage you to as well. Even better, contact your senator and/or congressperson, and ask him or her if they think this is how those struggling on the margins of our society ought to be expected to get by when medical disaster strikes. Do we really want to be a Blanche DuBois nation, depending upon the kindness of strangers to pick up the tab for society's least fortunate?

I think this is a great idea. It should be a movement and all bloggers should take part in it. Photograph these appeals whenever yo see them and post them on your blog or Facebook page or whatever. Then send the picture and story to all members of your congressional delegation. Yes other groups are pressuring them in their own ways, but one more vector of pressure can't hurt.

Zuska offered to repost some photos on her blog, but I don't think she meant the whole country to send them to her. If she looks overwhelmed, send them to me. And pass the idea on.

* And, no, plastic jugs is not a reference to the Miss California competition. You should be ashamed of yourself for thinking that. This is serious stuff.

Nasty and mean with a side of stupid

There is still far too much of this kind of thing going on in America. Here's the nasty and mean part:
Dave Burk, who teaches [high-school] consumer education, is accused of making the comments by his students during an Oct. 5 lecture on tax money involving the National Endowment for the Arts.

"How would you feel about your tax dollars going to pay some black fag in New York to take pictures of other black fags?" Burk allegedly asked, according to student Jordan Hunter.


Hunter, who reported Burk to the administration, wants Burk fired.

"If he wants to talk about a poor place to put our tax dollars, I think his salary is a poor place to put our tax dollars," said Hunter, who is gay.

Hunter said several other students have contacted him, saying Burk repeated the same phrase in all his classes.

New York bashing is fairly standard conservative fare. Even the most moderate Republican has no problem bashing New York, Berkeley, San Francisco, and, now, Chicago on the floor of Congress (though they would demand instant censure for any Democrat who made the same kind of comments about "the Heartland"). Gay bashing is also fairly standard conservative fare, though some conservatives have broken ranks and most office-holding Republicans aren't honest enough about their fear and hatred to say "fag" in public. Bashing modern art is standard conservative fare. It's the other part of the formulation that should raise eyebrows. Mr. Burk didn't seem to think giving tax money to a "fag in New York" raised enough outrage, upped the ante to "black fag in New York."

In the conservative mythos, New York represents a foreign, immoral place that looks down on the self-proclaimed "real America." The fear that someone, somewhere is looking down on them, and the anger that that thought engenders, is the core element of the politics of resentment. Artists share the same foreign and immoral status as the cities in which they live. Hollywood and modern artists are seen as conspiratorial forces seeking denigrate all that is good and pure in "real America." Fag is a caricatured other meant to evoke fear and revulsion. There are enormous literatures for both of these.* Tying the them together is a no-brainer for a twentieth century conservative because all three are acceptable, and perennial targets for conservatives.

This brings us back to black. Black represents a third acceptable target: the undeserving. Deserving is an important qualification in the conservative conception of compassion and charity. An impoverished widow with children is more deserving of charity than an impoverished mother who was never married. A raped virgin is more deserving of compassion (and possibly an abortion) than a sexually experienced woman who is raped. Deserving usually involves a strong element of moral judgment. It also involves a strong element of class and regional prejudice. Urban poor are less deserving of compassion and charity than rural poor. People who start out poor are less deserving of compassion and charity than members of the middle classes who slip into poverty. What is usually left unsaid, but implied, is the race of the urban, coastal, and chronically poor--the undeserving poor. What was the race of Reagan's Cadillac driving welfare mother? She wasn't white. Burk broke a strong taboo by saying out loud that the despised other stealing the taxes of hard-working real Americans is black.

The racist angle is almost lost in the story and comments. That surprises me. The headline for the story is "Geneva High School teacher accused of anti-gay remark" with a subtitle of "Gay high school student wants him fired." The only mention that the racist aspect is the first sentence: "A Geneva High School teacher is being accused of making anti-gay and racist comments in his classroom." The comments on the story also focus almost entirely on gay slur, with the the commenters split between "no prejudice is acceptable" and "it's PC run amok, the little faggot should stop being such a crybaby." There has been a noticeable increase in white resentment since the election, but most of it has been couched in dog-whistle terms like Reagan's Cadillac driving welfare mom. Has open racism in America managed to become so pervasive in a mere ten months that when someone complains about "some black fag [taking] pictures of other black fags" that no one notices the black part?

I probably went on too long about that. Here's the stupid part:
Burk's attorney, D.J. Tegeler, said Monday he was not personally aware of the terms Burk used to his classes, but that Burk apologizes for any offense.

"Mr. Burk is cooperating fully with both the principal, the dean of students and the school board," Tegeler said. "Mr. Burk's biggest problem is he does not want to intentionally offend anybody and if he did, he apologizes."

This the the classic non-apology. Burk's attorney is not saying his client is sorry he said it; he's saying he's sorry if anyone was offended. If no one was offended, does that mean he's not sorry? It puts the onus for the whole situation on the offended for being offended. It's like the old joke about getting a child to apologize: "John, tell your sister your sorry for calling her stupid." "Okay. I'm sorry you're stupid." That isn't an apology.

Tegeler adds a new level of stupid to the formula when he says "Mr. Burk's biggest problem is he does not want to intentionally offend anybody." Shouldn't not wanting to offend anybody be a good thing? Burk wouldn't have a problem if he was more confident in his offensiveness? Tegeler clearly has the right stuff to be a Washington insider. He should say goodbye to Geneva, Illinois and get himself a job as spokesman for a Senator--preferably a white, heterosexual one with no artistic ability.

* Artists and gays also involve the whole issue of fear of pollution, culturally and bodily, but I've already gone way too psychological and social sciencey here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The neverending problem

Every year I go into my site template and try to fix the feed. Every year I do exactly what the Blogger instructions tell me to. Every year it fails.

I use the Google Reader as a test. When I enter the URL for archy, I'm told they can't find it. If I go to archy, click the Atom feed link, copy the URL from there and paste it into Google Reader, it works. I added archy to Feedburner (who had the same problem finding me) and that didn't help.

I'm assured that my traffic would increase ten-fold--perhaps more--if I could get the feed to work. Badtux alone would visit hourly and and bring his well dressed horde with him. Coturnix's Coturnici would hang on my every silly pronouncement. It would become worthwhile to clutter the place with advertising. The FCC would keep a close eye on me to make sure I published a disclaimer every time I washed my hands with a bar of Clever Wife's gentle, exquisitely scented, and very reasonably priced Howling Pig soaps. I would become an important mover and shaker courted by the powerful, the influential, and the would-be powerful/influential. But none of this will happen unless I get the damn feed to work!!!

Any suggestions?

Friday, October 09, 2009


Within hours of Pres. Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, we launched an unprovoked attack on the moon.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Unexpected consequences

Almost everyone who thinks about healthcare knows that members of congress have great insurance. This leads to frequent calls to end that insurance and make congress go out and get their own insurance so they have some idea of what the rest of us go through. I've had that thought. However, sending them out into the marketplace would be a feelgood measure that would backfire in a big way. Would they really have to go out into the marketplace and shop for insurance? Of course not! Insurance companies would beat a path to their doors and fight over who could offer the best coverage for the lowest price. It would amount to a legalized way for the insurance industry to bribe congress. And once they had these dream plans, do we really think they'd have to go through the same red tape that we do? What insurance company is going to deny coverage to a Senator who sits on a committee that exercises oversight on their industry? The end result of throwing congress off of civil service insurance would most likely be to give them an even more skewed idea of what the rest of us experience than they have now.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Alamo was like Custer's Waterloo

Glenn Beck's grasp of history is as weak as his grasp of reality in general. Steve Benen says pretty much everything I have to say on Beck's latest display of historical ignorance, so I'll just quote him.
Earlier this week, after nearly breaking down in tears (again), Glenn Beck told his television audience that they're not alone: "It's you and me and the Fox News Channel -- the Alamo for truth."

If this sounds familiar, it's because Roger Ailes, Fox News' chief executive, told Glenn Beck in January that he wanted to bolster the Republican network's opposition to the Democratic administration. "I see this as the Alamo," Ailes said, according to Beck. "If I just had somebody who was willing to sit on the other side of the camera until the last shot is fired, we'd be fine."

Um, guys? As I recall, the Alamo didn't turn out too well. Most of the Americans who fought in the battle were killed.

If Fox News is "the Alamo for truth," doesn't that mean it's the place where the truth gets killed?
The only thing I can add is, it wasn't "most of the Americans" who were killed, it was all of them. If that's the position where Beck sees Fox and himself, I can only hope he's right.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Not the greatest generation

Ryan Watkins, guest posting at Think Progress, caught this little tid-bit in an interview of former Ron Paul economic adviser Peter Schiff that appeared in the Washington Post yesterday. Schiff is running as a Republican for Connecticut’s U.S. Senate seat which is currently held by Chris Dodd.
I'm interrupting my career. It's not like I want my new career in politics. But I'm willing to interrupt it the same way that somebody interrupted their career and joined World War II and went off to fight the Nazis. I don't think that I'm that heroic, and I don't think I'm risking as much as a soldier. But it's the same principle.

You gotta love the qualifications: I'm not saying I'm heroic; and I'm not saying I'm making the same same sacrifices as the Greatest Generation(tm); and the money is better in politics, so's the food, and the shoes; and I didn't mean to imply that anyone is a Nazi (okay, maybe I did); and I get to spend a lot more time with my wife/mistress/boy-toy than a GI would have; and I'm fighting against other Americans rather than for all Americans; but, other than that (and a bunch of other things), it's exactly the same!

Medical advice

With the winter cold and flu season coming on and the possibility of millions dying in an uncontrolled pandemic of swine flu being hyped by the yellow press (and it's all yellow these days), many people are a little jumpy about feeling ill. Don't panic, not every sniffle or ache is a sign of swine flu. It might be a brain tumor.

My hypochondriac motto is "anything could be a brain tumor." Headache? Brain tumor. Pain in the elbow? Tumor in the part of the brain that registers elbow pain. Shortness of breath? Tumor in the part of the brain that controls breathing. Mood change? Clearly a brain tumor. Little lights on the edge of my vision? Actually, that's migraine coming on. I'd rather have a brain tumor. With vision effects, we move on to the subject of glaucoma panic, which is a whole other field of hypochondria.

Saturday, October 03, 2009


I just finished two weeks of translations; Monday I return to writing. Most of what I translated was in German, but the last document was in Danish. It looked a little weird at first, but it wasn't too hard to get the hang of after lots of German documents. The only thing that puzzled me was their tendency to stick null sets (Ø) in the middle of words. I suspect it has something to do with Nils Bohr.

Friday, October 02, 2009

And another thing...

Anyone who has ever suffered clinical depression will see Broun as a person who is beyond contempt; who deserves nothing less than our damnation. Does he have the slightest clue what clinical depression is? What does he expect an emergency room worker to do for someone with clinical depression? Slap them and shout, "snap out of it! Other people have worse problems that you do!" Maybe he thinks they can hand out magic happy pills without a proper interview and no follow up. Since he puts depression and chronic illness in the same comment, does he think a lifelong mental conditions can, or should, be treated by a simple visit to the emergency room? If he does, he is painfully wrong. You cannot tell a depressed person that all they need is to put aside their painful inertia and go to a noisy, brightly lit place to say a few words to someone who is rushed and keeping one eye on the line behind them and everything will be fine. It would be much kinder and more effective to go with the slap and shout treatment.

Treating this as the outrage du jour will not help depression sufferers. Nor will treating any other medical condition as a rhetorical volleyball help people with those conditions. I'm not sure what the answer is. Bringing in people to be used as visual aids during speeches is a cliche that no one pays attention to any more. Calling hearings makes the sufferers feel good for a moment, but rarely results in change. Camping out on a Senator's doorstep doesn't make them more sensitive to your issues. And so it goes through protests and petitions and rallies and the whole repertoire of political theater. It's just theater. Consciousness raising spectacles almost never raise consciousness and rarely plucks consciences. We need something that will break through the shells that movers, shakers, and even spectators build around themselves and find a way to actually get their attention and make them feel, at a gut level, the pain and desperation that real people feel.

Of course, if I could figure that one out, I'd have the holy grail that all activists seek (at least liberal ones). In a moment, I would become the most sought after consultant in the land and I'd be rich enough that I would never have to worry about healthcare.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Insensitive and ignorant

Zaid Jilani at Think Progress gives us all the background we need.
One of the most radical opponents of health care reform is Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA). He has said that a public option would "kill people." Last Tuesday, Broun was confronted by a constituent at a health care town hall who explained that he has has gone into debt because he can’t afford insurance for his major depressive disorder. In response to his constituent’s story, Broun said that "people who have depression, who have chronic diseases in this country ... can always get care in this country by going to the emergency room." That comment prompted boos from the crowd. Towards the end of Broun’s answer, a constituent yelled, "That’s why we need a public option!" which brought cheers from the audience.

Broun's comment about emergency rooms is pretty common fare from the opponents of healthcare reform. No one in America is without healthcare, they say, because the sick can always go to an emergency room. Plenty of people have explained why that argument is indefensible. Letting medical conditions escalate until they need emergency room care is dangerous and often fatal. Using emergency rooms for primary care drives up the costs for the whole healthcare system. Emergency room workers are overworked enough without having to deal with non-emergency situations and further overtaxing them means fewer resources for real emergencies. I'm sure you can add more to that list.

Broun deserves our contempt in general for using the emergency room argument, but he deserves a double and triple dose of our contempt for using it in this context. The top level of his statement is extremely irresponsible: "people ... who have chronic diseases ... can always get care in this country by going to the emergency room." The very nature of chronic diseases is that they are, you know, chronic. They come back again and again and need regular monitoring by the same physician, not by whoever happens to be in the room at the time. Is he really saying that diabetics or people with glaucoma should, or even could, get their tests done in an emergency room?

Most people will see this story and see it as just another case of a Republican congressman being a jerk by telling a worried constituent to go to the emergency room and get over it. It might be worth adding to a greatest hits video, but otherwise it doesn't even rise to the outrage of the day. At best, if today had been a slower news day, this might have been worth some faux outrage and demands for apology. Maybe that is all that it it is in the broader perspective of the healthcare debate. And, treating it as the fill-in-the-blank outrage du jour would have been doing the reality of depression a great injustice. The same can probably be said about every condition that has been mocked and diminished by the anti's "get thee to an emergency room" dismissals and the pro's "I'm shocked you said whatever it was you just said" cynical coup counting. Just as throwing the words "fascism" and "holocaust" around mock and diminish the reality of Fascism and the Holocaust, so too does using real medical conditions as political volleyballs obscure the reality of people suffering from those conditions.

This isn't a game, you bastards.

Update: To make my point clearer, I've removed an incoherent paragraph that specifically dealt with depression and made it into a separate post.