Friday, August 29, 2008

Quantity,not Quality

I've seen some conversation about the value, or lack of value, of preschool. I can think of some small justifications, if not actual benefits.

- The theory that the more you throw at the wall, the more likely something will stick. If the current length of schooling isn't getting it done, maybe adding more will help at least a few kids. The reports I've seen seem to indicate that this is dubious at best, and it may not justify the extra cost, but it is at least somewhat logical.

- Think of it as publicly-funded daycare. This may sound cynical, but any parent can tell you it's far from a trivial consideration. The chief source of objection to the recent change to a four-day school week at Stanley County was the increased need for daycare. We may want to think that preschool will take way parent/child interaction time, but for most people it will just put the kids with a different (for better or worse) babysitter.

A Bit of Fresh Air, If Nothing Else

So McCain picked Sarah Palin for VP. Some thoughts......

- An amiable governor of a small-population state who is little-known outside that state, basically solid but not overly right-wing GOP credentials, registers zero on the foreign policy scale..... If Mike Rounds were female he might have had a shot.

- I can't help but think that a Palin-McCain ticket would be more interesting than McCain-Palin. You would have a young reform-minded politician with an experienced Washingtonian to provide advice in areas in which the President lacks experience. Hmm.....sounds like Obama-Biden. (Or Bush-Cheney in 2000. Remember the Compassionate Conservative slogan?). As it is, I don't see what Palin can offer McCain except a reminder of lost youth. It's easy to see why a number of commentators have said this pick is about campaign dynamics, not governing.

- If nothing else, it at least brings freshness to the front of a party which needs it. With a 70+ nominee, a legacy President, a VP who worked for Gerald Ford, and a bunch of nomination-seekers who looked and acted like they had been put in a time capsule in 1984, new blood is definitely in order.

- As a Monty Python fan, it's good to see the name Palin in the spotlight.

Shakin' It at the Conventions

Dave Barry compares the rhythmic stylings of the political partiers.

I've been to every convention since 1984, and I have to say that Democratic delegates always manage to look good when they engage in group ``rock-n-roll''-style dancing, in stark contrast to Republican delegates, who always look like they're subjects in some kind of cruel mass experiment involving random-firing high-voltage buttock probes.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Backyard Bovine

A new trend.....your own cow. Not a full-sized one,of course.

For between £200 and £2,000, people can buy a cow that stands no taller than a large German shepherd dog, gives 16 pints of milk a day that can be drunk unpasteurised, keeps the grass “mown” and will be a family pet for years before ending up in the freezer.

Family pet for years before ending up in the freezer......I can imagine that causing some domestic awkwardness.

They can be more cost-effective for ranchers too.

.....the Lowline Angus, which has been developed by the Australian government to stand no more than 39in high but produce 70% of the steak of a cow twice its size.

In America, small cow breeds such as the mini-Hereford are catching on among professional farmers keen to save money as the cost of feed skyrockets. These Herefords consume about a third less feed than normal cows and produce proportionately more beef for the amount of grain they eat.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Love Online

Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt commented on courting online vs. in person.

After confessing with evident embarrassment that he met his wife in an online dating forum, an unnamed party I'll call M* felt it necessary to declare "it's just as good as meeting someone in a bar." Well, it depends, doesn't it? What sort of bar are we talking about? And what sort of online dating forum? Bars tend to attract and coalesce around certain kinds of people -- there are biker bars, hipster bars, gay bars, swinger bars, sports bars, bars that serve as the barely-concealed entry points to brothels, and so on. Likewise, there are online match-making sites intended for widely various audiences, tastes, and self-descriptions. Is any bar hookup less unseemly than any online meetup? Really? I don't think so.

I met my second and third wives online, the former at a chatroom, the latter via her Yahoo personal ad. I agree with Dale that overall the experiences are similar, but there were a couple of novel aspects.

- The ability to contact someone far away. This was the big difference. While both my wives were relatively close, they were still well outside my local area,and in places I never visited. I can't imagine how I would have met either of them without the internet.

- My experiences being before easy online video/photos, the first contacts were literal; that is, expressed in writing. Physical proximity came later. This is about as different from a bar meeting (which is how I met my first wife, incidentally) as possible. None of the physical aspects of attraction applied (which was to my considerable advantage as a shifty-eyed nerd) . Perhaps I should amend that slightly; the physical aspects still had some effect,but not until later, when we actually met. By then a connection had been established, so the impact was lessened somewhat.

A gift of gab still had some use, but it had to be translated into text which, as any writer can tell you, is a completely different skill-set. On the other hand, you could preview what you say, which cut back on the stupidity quite a bit.

- The ease of communication, by e-mail,chatroom or instant messaging, meant there could be much more of it. It was also easier to manage than the telephone, in that you could "chat" while doing something else and not compromise either activity, as opposed to watching TV while talking on the telephone.

In general, for a guy like me it worked pretty well, although the fact that I needed to use it twice shows that it's not perfect. In other words, as Dale said, just like the old ways.

Dave and James in Denver

Two of my blog-reading worlds collide in Denver. Dave Barry explains. His blog has photos. James Lileks' video is here.

I found out about this issue while hanging out at the convention center with my fellow journalism professional James Lileks. We were doing what journalists do at major news events, namely, whine that there is no news, when James got a text-message tip that there was a bird-porn protest going on in downtown Denver. ''Bird porn?'' I said. ''I have no idea,'' he said.

Time for eco-friendly transportation.

We immediately hailed a pedicab. Pedicabs are rickshaw-style vehicles pedaled by fit young people who offset your carbon by pedaling you around Denver in exchange for tips.

There was a celebrity-related detour.

After we'd gone a few blocks, another pedicab driver, Colette Valery, zoomed up looking excited and said to Keiren, ``I'm on my way to pick up Daryl Hannah!'' James and I looked at each other. This was a moment of decision, a moment we had been preparing for, as journalism professionals, all our lives. ''Belay the bird porn,'' we told Keiren. ``Follow that pedicab!''

They did eventually get to the protest.

Minutes later we arrived at a busy street corner where a woman was holding up a sign that said, ''DEMOCRATS STOP BIRD PORN!'' She was with two men, one with a bullhorn, who were handing out leaflets that said, ''BIRD WATCHERS ARE VOYEURS!'' and ``LEAVE THE BIRDS ALONE!''

Furballs in Action

Jon Carroll clinically observes two kittens.

"Instead of dashing through the door, Subject A leapt on the bed, pounced on the sleeping Subject B, pummeled her briefly and raced off again, out of the bedroom and back toward me. Subject B, somewhat drowsy and perhaps uncertain as to what had just happened, furiously attacked her own tail. Apparently she caused herself pain, because she suddenly yipped, rolled over thrice, stood up on the bed and stared fixedly out the window.

"Subject B may be developing a theory of events, but she is looking in precisely the wrong direction, as if the crows outside were her nominees for the unprovoked attack upon her person, or upon her cat, whatever the correct legal term is.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Not Just Il,but Dead?

Once again, a casual post at the Chicago Sun-Times QT leads me astray.

Japanese researcher says North Korea's Kim Jong Il died five years ago, with a double making public appearances ever since.

The source article is here. Naturally the evidence is pretty thin and there's no corroboration, but the idea does create questions. The first one - why would they do that? - is actually not too hard to at least speculatively answer. From what I can find, there's no anointed successor in place; none of Kim's sons has been given the seasoning that Kim was given. So this would be a way for the ruling elites to buy some time to put a succession together.

Would it work? The commentators I read seem skeptical. They would have to maintain the deception long enough to build up the reputation of the next guy which, given the extraordinary conditions there, shouldn't be completely ruled out. But secrecy there isn't what it once was, and things have gone so far down the tubes since the son took over from dad that it seems unlikely that the cult of personality can be held together with a grandson.

Could they try to maintain power without a Kim at the top? I think it would be problematic. After so many years with a godlike figure to grip the populace, the transition to a Politburo-type situation would be hazardous. No one was sad to see Stalin go, but his successors never had his grip on power, and even he didn't have the level of worship enjoyed by the Kim family. It might work for a while, but I can imagine the same rot from within that the Soviet Union experienced, especially since the conditions are so much worse.

Which brings up the big question; what then? The possibilities mentioned are a takeover by the North Korean military, Chinese intervention, general internal chaos, or - the best possible outcome - reunification similar to Germany. My inclination is to go with a military takeover at first, followed by intervention by someone from the outside who's willing to do the massive rebuilding it will take. The Chinese have been footing the military bill there; will they want to take over and clean up the mess, or let the South Koreans have it? Fear of a strong,united U.S.-allied Korea will probably motivate China to step in and try to keep the lid on,which would increase our motivation to help South Korea try to get a hand in there.

It's tough to see a smooth, happy ending to that, which may be why Asian markets suffer whenever there's a rumor of Kim's death or illness. They realize that, as disgusting as North Korea is now, it's likely to get worse before it gets better.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Framing the Question

I’m not sure why I’m doing this; maybe I just want to focus the topic in my mind after all the years of processing the various arguments. Anyway, off with the lid and out with the worms.

First, a definition from Merriam-Webster.

Abortion - the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus: as a: spontaneous expulsion of a human fetus during the first 12 weeks of gestation — compare miscarriage b: induced expulsion of a human fetus c: expulsion of a fetus by a domestic animal often due to infection at any time before completion of pregnancy — compare contagious abortion.

The choices (as described by me): the medical procedure for a human abortion should be:

a) illegal under any and all circumstances.

b) available to medical professionals as a last resort under extreme circumstances.

c) available at the discretion of medical professionals and the patient, but only when direct medical benefit is demonstrable.

d) subject to no more legal restrictions than any other elective medical procedure.

Personally, I regard abortion as a repugnant procedure and believe every effort should be made to prevent the occurrence of the conditions that lead to it being considered. But I can imagine circumstances where it could be deemed necessary, and I don't like to impose rigid restrictions on doctor/patient decisions, so I tend toward choice c because I think it's flexible enough to handle most conditions. I can imagine many people thinking it's too flexible and could be fudged, but that's true of any law that isn't completely draconian.

In the end, of course, the law is as it is, and the Supreme Court isn't likely to completely overturn it's precedent, so this is strictly an attempt to coalesce a personal opinion by tossing something out there and seeing what comes flying back. But in my mind that's part of what blogging is about.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Automotive Incumbency

Peter de Lorenzo at Auto Extremist criticises General Motors for it's advertising cuts.

GM, like the other Detroit-based automakers, is in a desperate race to convince consumers that they’re building cars worthy of consideration.

This “perception gap”.....centers around the fact that GM (and Detroit) lost a generation of buyers to the Asian and German brands due to past years of building vehicles burdened with excuses, piss-poor quality and a stunning lack of imagination.

These consumers - and now their offspring - are not only reluctant to buy Detroit vehicles - they find it difficult to even muster the energy to give them a passing look, no matter how good the reviews.

I agree with Peter, but I think he left out an important point, one related to my previous post about elections.

If an incumbent is involved, the election is first and foremost a referendum about that person. Unless something compromises the incumbent's reputation, he'll probably get re-elected.

That applies even more strongly to purchasing a car,which is a bigger decision to most people than which politician to elect. If the customer is happy with the service he got from his old car, he'll probably buy another one from the same company. Toyota,Honda and company aren't giving their owners reasons to look elsewhere. GM can advertise all it wants and it won't matter. The car on TV may look spiffy, but it's the car currently in the driveway that will make the next sale.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Cool Molecules

A new idea for refrigeration.

The method works by repeatedly applying an electric field to long molecules called polar polymers.

Conventional refrigeration and air conditioning work by compressing a refrigerant, which grows cold as it is allowed to rapidly expand.

The new method instead takes its cooling power from the ordering and disordering of the polymers......In an electric field, the molecules spontaneously line up, creating heat. Removing the field causes the polymers to cool down again....

Change is rare in this field.

"The refrigeration industry has had a solution that works for the last 100 years, so innovation teams are usually quite small."

Time for Q-ships

More piracy near Somalia.

Pirates have seized two vessels - a Japanese tanker and an Iranian bulk carrier - off the coast of Somalia.....

The hijackings come just two days after a Malaysian oil tanker with 39 crew was captured in the same area.

Including Thursday's attacks, six vessels have now been seized in this zone since 20 July.

It's getting a bit silly. If I ran a shipping company, I'd be looking for some answers.

I think it's time to revive the old Q-ship - a heavily armed ship that looks like a normal freighter - to take on a few of these pirates. Once the potential price for taking a ship gets too high, they'll back off.

120 Generations

And you thought you had your family roots traced back.

The 3,000-year-old skeletons were in such good condition that anthropologists at the University of Goettingen managed to extract a sample of DNA. That was then matched to two men living nearby: Uwe Lange, a surveyor, and Manfred Huchthausen, a teacher.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Experience Preferred,but Impossible to Get

South Dakota War College recently mentioned a presidential poll that discussed something that has puzzled me a bit; the "experience" issue. Experience at what? Of the few jobs that remotely prepare someone for the Presidency, the candidates come out about even. Both McCain and Obama have legislative experience; McCain just has more. Neither has been Vice-President, a Governor, a Cabinet officer, or head of a large corporation. I suppose people could be thinking of life experience, but after a certain age you're not learning that much more; you're just trying to remember it.

There are only two Constitutionally eligible people with actual experience; Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Anyone else will be learning on the job. You may choose the candidate you think can learn it best, but as with past elections like this one, it will be a projection based on a lack of comparable information. The Republic has survived this system so far, and will again.

Heal Thyself

Graeme Wood describes how not to treat a puncture wound while in India.

I kicked a spike of coral with my bare right foot, puncturing my instep and sending what looked (underwater) like a little puff of brown smoke streaming out of the wound. I swore, swam back to shore, and hopped around while searching for toilet paper to staunch the bleeding.......a week later I returned to mainland India, barely concerned that the little gash had not yet scabbed over and had already gone through two distinct shades of yellow.

......I discovered that I would have to cross the river by foot.......As I took my foot out of its hiking boot, it started to throb, and I worried that if it wasn't infected already, it would be soon, after I dunked it in the mud and effectively let millions of Indians poop on it.

It finally caught up to him at a monastery.

The gash, initially smaller than a dime, now larger than a quarter, had turned green; its expanding fringes looked gray and brown, headed toward black.

Time for some self-doctoring.

I started by irrigating it again with squirts of water, this time while using the forceps to lift the edges of the wound to free up dirt and dead skin that had penetrated surprisingly far into the wound. I drizzled peroxide into it.......I took the forceps, lifted up the skirt of skin around the wound, and cut it all away with a few short and painful strokes, taking care to slice a millimeter or so into the live, healthily vasculated flesh so that no dead skin would remain to trap filth.

It worked.

What's now on my foot is a dark scar with uneven borders.

How To Con

Allison Schrager talks with a swindler.

It requires avid study of psychology and body language. It's an amazing paradox--a con man has incredible emotional insight, but without the burden of compassion. He must take an intense interest in other people, complete strangers, and work to understand them, yet remain detached and uninvested. That the plan is to cheat these people and ultimately confirm many of their fears cannot be of concern.
At some point, Mr Lovell realised he could no longer be an effective con artist. Perhaps he pulled one Cross too many. Once, when he visited a victim the day after to "apologise", he found the man crying about his mortgage, wife and kids. Mr Lovell actually felt sorry for him. Sorry enough to return some of the money: "Not all of it. I am not an idiot. But some." This seemed to foretell the end of something. "If you feel sorry you are dead in the water," he warns.

More Than a Fair Time

Garrison Keillor went to the Iowa State Fair.

A fair isn't about food, it is a carnival of ideas where the Lutheran booth sits between the "reverse osmosis" water purifier booth and the hot-tub booth.

Fifty feet away are the Methodists (Find Your Path, Share the Journey) and a display of bottled water (zero calories). And the antiabortion people, and the natural latex mattress booth (80 percent less tossing and turning), and a booth selling a GPS gizmo that provides weather info and also local movie times.

The beauty of a fair is conversation. You walk up to the Methodists and say, "What does that mean, 'find your path'? Is there more than one?" and you're good for 15 minutes. Talk, talk, talk, everywhere. Witness the rare art of barking, which is the art of rising inflection, and here is a crowd of overheated people in shorts and sneakers watching a green pepper being sliced and minced by a barker who made it seem thrilling.

Better On Stage Than Off

During a column about the perils of being a comedian, Dick Cavett tells of a Judy Garland appearance on his show.

She was garrulous, witty and wickedly, wickedly funny. What they say was true. She made you feel you were an old friend, while keeping you in stitches.

But afterwards we couldn’t get her out of the dressing room. I left the theater and later walked back well after tape time, and she was still there.

She couldn’t make a false move on stage and so did all she could to delay leaving it; and, equally, leaving the cozy womb of the dressing room. She was home in those two places.Leave them, and you are back in so-called real life — where it seemed poor Judy made only false moves.

Out of Sync

Dom Joly tried, but just couldn't enjoy synchronized swimming.

It seems to be the sort of thing that people on day release are encouraged to do to keep them off the crystal meth. After half an hour I was longing for the sweet release of a crack pipe, suicide, anything to make it stop.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

He's No Richard Mulligan

This bit of trivia surprised me.

Michael Phelps shattered Mark Spitz's 36-year-old single Games record of seven gold medals on Saturday night, but wasn't quite strong enough to help NBC dethrone "Empty Nest" as the reigning king of Saturday night television.

Phelps came close. In an era when big media continues to splinter, NBC's ratings press release noted that the 31.1 million average viewers "represents the best Saturday night viewership of a program on the network since Michael Phelps was 4 years old. The 'Golden Girls' spin-off 'Empty Nest,' starring Richard Mulligan, drew 31.4 million viewers on Feb. 24, 1990."

I was working at KEVN at that time and I probably aired that particular show. The series was moderately entertaining, but wasn't anything spectacular. Even Mulligan was pretty modest about it; I remember when the series ended he said, "I just hope we gave people some laughs."

Maybe it says more about Saturday TV. The networks have tended to neglect it on the premise that the younger viewers they all fight over were out on the town. I always thought that was a silly idea, and NBC proved it at that time. Empty Nest was a spin off of The Golden Girls, which was (obviously) meant to attract older viewers, and both were wildly successful.

I know advertisers like the younger viewers because they can build long-term brand loyalty, but older folks spend money too. Most TV shows aren't around long enough to age with their viewers, and the few that do last are probably good enough to pull in viewers of all ages. It will be interesting to see how they handle the aging boomers, who are the last group with extended attachments to the old TV networks, and today's younger viewers, who have grown up with access to many more choices and aren't going to be easy catches.

Restore the Monarchy!

A coup attempt in Hawaii....

Iolani Palace remained closed to the public yesterday and officials could not say yet when it would reopen after a group calling itself the Kingdom of Hawaii, Nation locked the palace gates Friday, which was Statehood Day, entered the palace itself and attempted to sit its leader on the throne.

The group's leader, James Kimo Akahi of Haiku, Maui, called himself the king of Hawaii.

They ran into a small problem.

Yesterday, Akahi said the group was planning to chain him to the throne, but couldn't find the throne room because they had never been to the palace before.

They're not the first. May when another group, the Hawaiian Kingdom Government, locked out visitors to the palace.

Apparently attempted secession isn't that big a deal in Hawaii....

State officers arrested 23 members of the group Friday -- 15 were booked and charged on suspicion of second-degree criminal trespassing, a petty misdemeanor. All were released after posting $50 bail. They are expected to be arraigned in District Court four weeks from Friday.

The other eight, including the group's leader James Kimo Akahi, were booked on suspicion of second-degree burglary, a felony. Seven remained at the downtown cellblock yesterday evening.

Cola War in Bangkok

I'll bet even Michael Phelps doesn't have this happening.

Soft drinks giants Coke and Pepsi are slugging it out for supremacy outside the home of Thai Olympic boxing hopeful Worapoj Phetkum.....

PepsiCo's local distributor made the first move, erecting promotional tents at the police sergeant's home in the southern province of Surat Thani......

Coca-Cola's Thai agents quickly countered, offering the boxer's father, Thaweep, a deal -- on condition the Pepsi tents were removed.

It was settled amicably.

In a typically Thai compromise, both companies have been allowed to stay, providing they behave themselves. "If they make problems, both will have to leave," Thaweep said.

He won his first fight, incidentally. This is a another example of how a successful athlete from a small-time Olympic program can become a really big deal back home. I recall a swimmer from a small South American country who won a gold medal at a past Olympics....googling.... Anthony Nesty of Suriname at Seoul in 1988. He was flown home on the presidential jet and commemorated on a stamp and on gold and silver coins, and a bank note with a swimmer's picture was printed in his honor. Phelps will get serious publicity and endorsement deals, but I'm guessing the U.S. Mint won't be cranking out $5 bills with his likeness.

Canadian Pride

They may not be among the Olympic medal leaders, but they've got this.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved the Category 2 pay-television service on Wednesday, allowing Northern Peaks to become "Canada's first adult video channel offering significant Canadian adult content."

"I think as Canadians there is a bit of a tiredness in seeing all American stuff," Shaun Donnelly, president of Real Productions, said during an interview on Friday.

"There is always that thrill for something that is local and you get the sense that these are people you can meet at the supermarket."

Most likely in the produce section,I'd guess. Still, it's not a bad marketing angle, and they are going the extra mile.

The CRTC only required 15 percent Canadian content, but Northern Peaks agreed to provide "not less than 50 percent of the broadcast day and not less than 50 percent of the evening broadcast period to Canadian programming," according to the license.

I'm not an adult entertainment connoisseur, so I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be able to distinguish Canadian porn from American, unless they have some strategically placed flag tattoos.

No Diving

More Disney embarrassment.

The underwear, made for ‘tween girls, invited the the reader to ”Dive In” and was, according to company officials, themed for a swimming pool scene from the Disney Channel hit movie,”High School Musical 2.”

Ahh to have been in that product brainstorming session!

I don't think brains were actively involved at any point in the production process. The company does demonstrate the ability to comprehend the obvious after it has been pointed out to them.

“Unfortunately, an oversight was made and the text on the underwear was used out context,” Disney said in a statement. “This product will not be part of any forthcoming collections and the remaining product has been removed from shelves.”

I'm struggling to think of an appropriate context.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Reason To Change

I've been perusing the latest Rasmussen Poll results (link courtesy Dakota 21) showing Tim Johnson well ahead of Joel Dykstra by a margin pretty much unchanged since they've been asking. None of the numbers is a big surprise, although I found the last two to be mildly interesting.

The incumbent earns support from 92% of Democrats and 33% of Republicans in South Dakota. Dykstra is backed by 61% of Republican voters and 5% of Democrats.

Among unaffiliated voters, Johnson leads 57% to 36%.

Johnson leads Dykstra 65% to 29% among women and 53% to 44% among men in South Dakota.

I'm not nearly qualified to analyze them beyond the obvious (Democrats like Johnson a lot more than Republicans like Dykstra), but they did remind me of something rather embarrassing.

When my wife and I first saw the Johnson ads that led to my first post on this race, we realized that we didn't know who was running against Johnson; we hadn't seen anything on Dykstra's behalf. I also realized that it hadn't occurred to me until then to try to find out, which I guess meant that I hadn't been concerned enough about Johnson to investigate alternatives.

This led me to recall something I've heard frequently about elections. If an incumbent is involved, the election is first and foremost a referendum about that person. Unless something compromises the incumbent's reputation, he'll probably get re-elected. (Or she; I see that Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is also projected to win again.)

Even if the incumbent gives people a reason to consider someone else, that someone has to overcome the inherent advantages in resources and visibility possessed by the incumbent, then give voters reason to think he'll be better at a job than someone who is already doing it.
John Thune had previous statewide success, but he also benefited from the perception that Tom Daschle had become more about DC than SD. Johnson himself had the same prior success, but voter fatigue with Larry Pressler also provided an opening for him.

Joel Dykstra obviously hadn't caught my (admittedly lazy and politically uncommitted) eye at all; I've seen more of Chris Lein, but I'd be hard-pressed to tell you why he'd be a better Congressman than Stephanie. Of course it's only August, and it doesn't take much to spread the word in South Dakota, so there's still time to connect with voters, even inattentive ones like me.
But saying "Here I Am" is one thing; selling "I Am Better" is another.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tough Old Lady

There could be a decent movie in this woman's story.

Possibly Stress-Related

I can imagine that job being tough on the old ticker.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is recovering from heart surgery in the US, Iraqi politicians say.

The operation took place at the Mayo Clinic on 6 August, an official from his party said. News of the procedure was only released eight days later.

The Mayo Clinic? There was no place between Baghdad and Minnesota that could do it?

Correspondents say there is a growing list of senior Iraqi politicians with health problems.

I consider that to be a sign of progress. A few years ago they weren't living long enough to have health problems.

Party in Mongolia

A history maker....

Mongolia claimed its first ever Olympic gold medal after judoka Tuvshinbayar Naidan beat Kazakhstan's Askhat Zhitkeyev in the men's -100kg class.

Up next, each competitor tries to spell the other's name.

The Other Border

BBC reporter Humphrey Hawksley (great name!) talks with US/Canada border enforcers.

In recent years, Canada has become a global hub of organised crime, run by mostly by Asian and motorcycle gangs. They have set up an intricate network to smuggle marijuana, counterfeit goods and guns into the US.

They have plenty of potential spots to cross.

The US-Canada border runs for more than 5,000 miles (8,000km) through some of the remotest areas in the world. It's often marked simply by a line cut in scrubland or a small obelisk.

But agents do what they can, both high-tech....

Even so, since 9/11, the US has been building what it describes as a "virtual fence" with an array of gadgetry that ranges from radiation detectors for nuclear weapons, to seismic sensors to catch people illegally sneaking across and number plate recognition so that immigration officers know pretty much who you are before you pull up at the booth.

and low-tech.

Every agent of the US Border patrol is a trained tracker.

Agent Pinkerton and his team ride mustangs caught in the wild then broken in, because these horses are especially good at moving through rugged terrain.

Any Birmingham is Fine

At least they got the city name right.

Birmingham City Council has admitted sending out leaflets which showed its US namesake's skyline instead.

It's OK with them.

The mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, Larry P Langford, said he took the mistake as a compliment.

He said: "People have a tendency, as you well know, to get all bent out of shape over stuff. "

"Life is too short. I thought it was flattering. And please continue to use the skyline - it doesn't bother me."

It Can Be Done

It's nice to see a dispute handled without all-out war, especially in Africa.

Nigeria has handed over the potentially oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, bringing an end to a long-standing dispute over the territory.

It hasn't been completely peaceful, or without emotion.

Over the past year about 50 people have been killed in clashes.

"The government has abandoned its duties," said Kayode Fasitere, the lawyer acting for some displaced from Bakassi who sought to have the handover delayed.

A spokesman for Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua said the process was "painful... for everyone including the president", but added that Nigeria had made "a commitment to the international community and we have a responsibility to keep it".

Keeping an international commitment; what a novel idea.

Vacation in Abkhazia

If the whole Russia/Georgia war thing isn't a big problem, perhaps you'd like to visit another disputed area there. Graeme Wood rather enjoyed his trip.

In Sukhumi, the capital, I can see why the Georgians have refused to give up Abkhazia without a fight. Wars break out naturally over territory gorgeous enough to fight for. And Abkhazia — a palm-lined coast supervised by a snowy green sierra — is cursed, like Helen of Troy, with enough beauty to inspire bloodshed of epic duration.

Still today, all Russians know Abkhazia as the balmiest coast in the otherwise frigid ex-Soviet empire -- "a corner of Spain or Sicily," wrote one 19th-century explorer, "dropped at the foot of Old Man Caucasus."

There are hazards.

The Soviet Union had exploited Abkhazia's climate — as agreeable for apes as for Politburo members — to conduct medical research, some of it secret. Ex-staff remember cages labeled "Beware AIDS." During the civil war, the Georgians rocketed the old monkey-house, and about 7,000 baboons and macaques made an unprecedented primate jailbreak.

But after an evening of drinking and chatting with some locals, he felt good about the experience.

This, I thought, was the Abkhazia that had lured me in the first place, the country worth crossing a battle line to visit. I went to sleep content, the taste of consonants and backyard vino still strong in my mouth.

Don't Poke the Bear

I've been trying to find some relatively concise background information amid all the gaseous emissions about the Russia/Georgia confrontation, and I came across this New York Times article. The Russians didn't seem to have been planning this particular action.

“It doesn’t look like this was premeditated, with a massive staging of equipment,” one senior American official said. “Until the night before the fighting, Russia seemed to be playing a constructive role.”

However....there had been signs for years that Georgia and Russia had methodically, if quietly, prepared for conflict.......They included the Kremlin’s military successes in Chechnya, which gave Russia the latitude and sense of internal security it needed to free up troops to cross its borders, and the exuberant support of the United States for President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, a figure loathed by the Kremlin on both personal and political terms.

An article from last November makes that last statement slightly amusing.

Mr. Saakashvili has begun to draw comparisons to a leader who has chosen a different path to lift his nation: President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Georgia’s neighbor, former overlord and, these days, frequent adversary.

So it seems Mr. Saakashvili got an inflated ego, helped along by the Bush administraion.

The risks were intensified by the fact that the United States did not merely encourage Georgia’s young democracy, it helped militarize the weak Georgian state.

Not that we didn't warn him, as one official said.....

Mr. Saakashvili had acted rashly, he said, and had given Russia the grounds to invade. The invasion, he said, was chilling, disproportionate and brutal, and it was grounds for a strong censure. But the immediate question was how far Russia would go in putting Georgia back into what it sees as Georgia’s place.

“We always told them, ‘Don’t do this because the Russians do not have limited aims.’ ”

Chinese Rock

Dave Barry visits a a club.

When we arrived, the party consisted of maybe 150 youth of China, many wearing Beijing rock-n-roll-hipster attire, which features fedoras, shorts, long hair and ironic T-shirts.
As you can imagine, our group, the Middle-Aged Tourist Party of America, blended smoothly into the scene, virtually unnoticed, like buffalo in a submarine.

The bands' English lyrics were interesting. of the members of our party, sportswriter/author/international media conglomerate Mitch Albom, after listening intently for a while, said, ''I believe this one is called,'' (Bad word that rhymes with 'duck') the Postcard.''
So we all listened, and sure enough, on every chorus, the lead singer appeared to be shouting, with great passion and loudness, ''(Bad word) the postcard!'' It was a catchy tune, and on the next chorus we Americans joined in, thrusting our fists into the air and shouting ''(Bad word) the postcard!'' We were crazy rockin' rebels, Beijing-style.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Wash Your Own Diapers

James Lileks at led me to this.

The last cloth diaper home-delivery business in the metro area is closing and is in the midst of its final rounds.

We tried this in Rapid City in 1991 with my daughter. It worked OK at first, but two factors defeated it for us:

1) My wife went back to work, which led to complications with the daycare handling the diapers, especially the dirty ones.

2) The increased load, so to speak, as our daughter grew overwhelmed them.

From the comments.....I don't recall these being available, or we might have tried them.

The cloth diapering mothers that I know prefer pocket cloth diapers and all-in-one cloth diapers which are shaped like disposables, right down to the velcro, are super easy, and come in adorable prints.

As James says...... People hate disposables, mostly because they think of a mile-thick stratum of compacted diapers in a landfill somewhere, but they work, and that’s why people use them.

Traveling Out of Necessity

Since (as a co-worker once said) most South Dakota medical facilities are triage until you can get to Rapid City or Sioux Falls, my wife and I took another one-day trip to Sioux Falls and back yesterday for a doctor's appointment; seven hours of driving for a one-hour visit. To be fair, this was to see a gastroenterologist, not a GP, but then I live in what is supposedly another major city, the State Capital. It is another example of life here; if you want anything beyond basic services of most types, you go to Sioux Falls or Rapid City. Most other municipalities are just small towns with extra people.

A former co-worker used to say that he was all in favor of the "Buy Local" idea, and was willing to pay a little extra to do it. But when he could drive to Rapid City to purchase the various items he needed at sufficient savings over the local retailers (if they had what he wanted at all) to more than pay for the trip, even allowing for his time, buying locally was just stupid. My needs are generally more basic and harder to justify travelling to fulfill, but while we were in Sioux Falls we stopped at Hobby Lobby so my wife could purchase yarn she was unable to find in Pierre. Not yarn made from Yeti hair or dyed some exotic multicolored hue; just basic yarn in colors appropriate to her project.

At one time it was the supermarkets and large stores that separated bigger cites from smaller ones. Now with Wal-Mart everywhere it's the specialty stores that make the difference, selling things that mass-market operations don't carry (such as yarn; I've been told Wal-Mart is gradually phasing out it's craft section) .

Friday, August 8, 2008

Dave at the Great Wall

More Dave Barry....

We parked at the base of a mountain, next to the Great Row of Great Wall Souvenir Vendors. As we emerged from the taxi, we were greeted by a chorus of voices shouting the traditional Chinese welcome to foreigners: ``Hello! T-shirt!''

We also wound up meeting a lot of Chinese people, because literally dozens of them wanted to have their pictures taken with our 8-year-old daughter, Sophie. Groups of people would come up to us, point at Sophie, then point at their cameras; then one by one they'd have their pictures taken standing next to Sophie, as if she were Santa Claus or the Washington Monument. I'm still not sure what this is all about, but the same thing has happened to Sophie a number of other times since we got to China. I'm just hoping we'll be allowed to take her home.

AIR POLLUTION UPDATE -- It turns out that I was mistaken: There is no air-pollution problem here. I know this because I read it in China Daily, the official English-language newspaper of the Chinese government. And if we can't trust the Chinese government to be objective about this, who can we trust? For two days in a row, China Daily has run front-page stories stating that the dense yellowish-gray atmospheric glop blotting out the sun is merely ''haze.'' OK? So let us have no more talk about ''air pollution.''

Big Stinky Flower

Someone at Reuters knows how to write a headline.

Giant smelly flower puts on sex show in Belgium

I recall The Simpsons having this plant in an episode.

Anything Harry Potter

It never stops.

A book featuring a new Harry Potter tale by JK Rowling has become the fastest-selling collection of short stories of all time in the UK.

It's not really about Harry.....

The untitled Potter prequel is set three years before Harry's birth.

The 800-word story revolves around the schoolboy wizard's father James Potter and his friend Sirius Black in their teenage years, tearing around on a magical motorbike.

Phone book producers should check to see if someone named Harry Potter is in their listings; they may be missing out on a marketing opportunity.

Just Keep Trying

The BBC reports the findings of an infertility study.

UK guidelines recommend the drug clomid and artificial insemination for couples who have trouble conceiving despite no known cause for their infertility.

But trials of 580 women in Scotland found the treatments were no better than trying to get pregnant naturally, the British Medical Journal reports.

This sounds familiar....

The treatments have both been offered for many years because "doing nothing" is an unpopular choice among patients, the researchers said.

A lot of antibiotics used to get prescribed for the same reason.

Earthquake Etiquette

Chris Ayres notices problems with people's reactions to an earthquake.

.....when tectonic plates collide, the official advice from the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave is to cower under your desk......there have been approximately 140,000 earthquakes in Southern California since the last one that did any significant damage (this being the Northridge rumble of '94, which killed 72). If you had cowered under your desk during every single one of them, you would almost certainly have been sent away by now to live in a rubber-walled cell with a man who wears his underpants on his head and thinks he's a toaster.

However,this is probably not the ideal response.....

Take my friend Tom (not his real name). On the morning of July 29 he was sitting at a large conference table in the financial district, surrounded by important people with important-sounding acronyms instead of job titles. When, all of a sudden, the very fabric of the Universe seemed to be coming apart at the seams, he panicked. Spectacularly.

Tom is still unable to give a full and accurate account of his behaviour, but from what I can gather, he sprang out of his chair, flapped his arms around a great deal, shouted a variety of sexual obscenities, then proceeded to grab the woman sitting next to him and pull her violently under the nearest door frame (Fema says that this is the next best thing to a desk). The jeers from his colleagues almost drowned out what was left of the tectonic rumbling, and his boss (who later accused him of sexism) didn't speak to him for days.

Good Old-Fashioned Stupidity

Andrew Sullivan shows a few pictures of idiocy with a link to others. His favorite: running an extension cord through a swimming pool.

Owl Turf War

Jon Carroll reports that the Spotted Owl just can't stay out of trouble.

.....the spotted owls are in danger again. Their numbers are declining rapidly. The villains this time are not humans, nor any activities sponsored by humans. The villains are - another species of owl.

The barred owl, a sort of distant cousin to the spotted owl (they are alike enough to interbreed, producing the "sparred" owl), has been moving westward for some time.

What's more, there are documented instances of barred owls chasing spotted owls out of their territory. Barred owls have even killed their tinier relatives. They're just doing what comes naturally. Is it possible to make some kind of moral distinction between the big bad barred owls and the sweet saved-from-extinction spotted owls? Of course not. They're birds. They do what they do.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Testing the Chinese Interent Watchdogs

Dave Barry is in China.

The Olympics are a HUGE deal for China. Everywhere you look in this teeming capital city, you see vague shapes in the distance that might be large impressive Olympic things if you could actually get a good look at them, which you can't because the air is swarming with toxic particles the size of Milk Duds.

You need a lot of help here, since most of the writing is in Chinese, which is basically a giant secret code designed to prevent you from having any idea what the hell is going on. For example, as I type these words, I'm drinking some kind of beverage, but I don't really know what it is, because the only words on the label that I recognize are ''100 percent.'' I suspect that Chinese authorities are watching me on a hidden camera and going, ``He's DRINKING it! Ha ha! Tomorrow we will give him transmission fluid.''

Likewise, when I get into a taxi, I show the driver a slip of paper with Chinese writing on it, helpfully written by a hotel staff person. I think this writing says, ''Please take me to (name of destination).'' But it could just as easily say, ``I wish to fondle a panda."

Can you imagine what the poor internet security flunky thinks when he reads Dave's stuff?

The Big Speedo

Sara Dickerman tried out the latest in competition swimwear.

I was expecting the LZR Racer to be as hard to put on as the wetsuits I've worn for open-water racing—a pain-in-the-ass wriggle that makes you confront some of the more problematic parts of your body. But getting into the Speedo suit is much harder, like a lobster trying to molt backward.

Even before I hit the pool, the first effect of the LZR is evident: It is one hell of a girdle.

I should reiterate that the LZR is designed for the world's fastest swimmers. My taking one out for a spin is as dilettantish as a go-kart dabbler borrowing a Formula One race car for a test drive.

More Tim

My reaction to the Tim Johnson ads initiated some discussion at Dakota 21 and South Dakota War College. (It's nice to be noticed.) I agree that I may have overstated their possible negative effect; I may vote for him anyway myself. It's also certainly possible,as some commenters said, that the forthrightness shown in the ads, the willingness to present his condition as it is, may have a positive effect. I have seen another ad noting that he hasn't missed any votes since his return, so they are addressing the health issue directly and pragmatically.

My reaction was mostly just that; reacting to what I saw. I hadn't followed Tim's condition that closely, so it was like noticing how someone you see infrequently has aged. Other people I know have had a similar reaction. The recent Brett Favre kerfuffle also comes to mind. Not necessarily Favre himself, but the general aging or repeatedly injured athlete scenario; he may be capable of playing, perhaps even playing well, but you wonder if it's in his long-term best interest. As a number of commenters noted, we will have to see more of Tim to make the best assessment possible.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Bit Too Secret

James Lileks at on some recently appearing crop circles in Wisconsin.....

Was it aliens or pranksters? I’m going to get out the strop and Occam’s Razor and come down on the side of pranksters here. As fascinating and mysterious as crop circles are, I’ve always had a hard time believing that aliens have traveled vast distances to use the Earth as an Etch-a-Sketch. Oh, but they're trying to tell us something! They're leaving secret messages! Again, this is like walking to Hindustan to paint emoticons on cows and expect the locals to get the idea.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

I Just Called To Say I Just Called

I suppose this could be considered an extension of the stereotypical Hollywood phoniness.

I was the victim of the latest trend in Los Angeles: “antisocial networking”. In other words: people wanting to give the illusion of staying in touch - while going to great lengths to eliminate the risk of any actual interaction taking place.

.....a service called Slydial, launched a week ago and already proving to be hugely popular. To make it work, you call a freephone number......listen to an advertisement, then enter the digits of the person you don't want to reach. It puts you straight through to their voicemail while delivering a missed-call message to their phone, thus creating the illusion that you at least made the effort to have a conversation.

If you're interested, go here. They list defensible uses for it (short on time, don't want to bother someone).

Tim's Speech

I' ve seen two Tim Johnson campaign ads on TV lately, and they concern me a bit. The content isn't a problem; they're both pretty much feel-good PR spots. It's Tim himself, or more specifically his speech. He only says a few words, and it sounds like he had to work to get it to sound as good as it does, which frankly isn't very good. Other people who have seen them have said the same thing. (For you out-of-state readers who don't recall, he had a stroke or something like it in December 2006.)

I recall a general concern being expressed when he announced he was going to run again. He really didn't look up to it. People just hoped his doctors and he knew what he was doing. He definitely looks better, although for a TV ad they can do remarkable things in that area. But the fact that his speech is still so obviously impaired is going to be a concern to voters. Tim is generally well-liked (a Democrat has to be well-liked to get elected statewide here), and that may actually work against him. People who see those ads will worry about him and wonder whether he should be trying to get back to the Senate. I saw poll numbers indicating that he's comfortably ahead, but that poll was taken before these ads.

Almost everyone has at least known someone who has had a stroke and the time and effort it can take to recover, if the person ever does. I think those ads are only going to increase public concern about Tim's recovery.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Automated Phone Tag

Geez, I went all weekend without getting on a computer. I did spend Sunday afternoon with a granddaughter sleeping on my chest, so it wasn't a complete waste.

I received two interesting phone calls. Both were automated and intended for my step-daughter.
I answered one and was treated to the silken sound of a recording telling her to call their number during business hours. The other one left a message telling my voicemail that "by staying on the line you are acknowledging that you are Jennifer" and to call them.

Do these calls actually work? I'm guessing they were collection agencies, probably for some old medical bill. I disregarded both of them, and not just because they weren't for me. Any collection agency that wants money is going to have to actually make an effort, not expect to be called for permission to pay it. Even if they had been for me, the only reason I would call them would be to find out where the bill originated so I could pay the source. It really annoys the collection agency, but I didn't do business with them.

It is slightly irritating that some businesses make so little effort to bill before selling it to a collection agency, especially when insurance delays are involved. By the time the insurance settles up the business stops sending bills. It creates a big headache trying to keep track of who is owed what, compounded by getting separate bills from everyone but the bedpan cleaner. I'm of the opinion that if the hospital hired some other outfit to do something for them, then they should pay for it and add it to their bill.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Cheech and Chong

Together again.

The US comedians said they decided to reform because neither of them "are getting any younger".

They decided that reuniting for a comedy tour would be "the most fun" and "the least hassle".

That seems consistent with their persona. I must say Chong was inspired on That 70s Show, even it was just another version of his character.

Braille Playboy

Marginal Revolution pointed me to this. I checked the Library of Congress website and it is true.