Saturday, January 31, 2009

You Pick Them Up at the Cash Window

Chris Erskine's son asks the big question.

"How was I born?"
Like I'm an expert. Kids always want to know where babies come from. Not only are they curious about the process, they suspect that something illicit was involved. The secrecy is what eats them up.
I explain as best I can."Well, first your mother and I went to Vegas," I say.
"Then we kissed and stuff," I explain. "That created a gold nugget in her tummy, which was you. Nine months later you were born."
"In Vegas?"
"No, here."
"Wow," he says.My reaction exactly. I left a few parts out, but that is pretty much how babies are made. Honestly, I'm a little shaky on the details.

And There Was Much Rejoicing

Monty Python isn't going to put up with it any more.

For 3 years you YouTubers have been ripping us off, taking tens of thousands of our videos and putting them on YouTube. Now the tables are turned. It's time for us to take matters into our own hands.

We've launched our own Monty Python channel on YouTube. No more of those crap quality videos you've been posting. We're giving you the real thing - HQ videos delivered straight from our vault. What's more, we're taking our most viewed clips and uploading brand new HQ versions. And what's even more, we're letting you see absolutely everything for free. So there!

But we want something in return. None of your driveling, mindless comments. Instead, we want you to click on the links, buy our movies & TV shows and soften our pain and disgust at being ripped off all these years.

As a result, Python DVD sales have skyrocketed.

Praise be to John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Carol Cleveland, and the late Graham Chapman. Yes, I did that from memory, and no, I'd rather not consider what that says about me.

No More, No Less

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers articulates my thoughts exactly.

Atheism is a simple proposition: Sufficient, convincing evidence for existence of the Supreme Being(s) is lacking and claims that rely on the existence of God for their validity are therefore false. Atheism is not the idea that morality does not and cannot exist, it is simply the idea that God does not exist.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Can Too Much Make You Go Blind?

James Lileks explains Twitter to ignoramuses such as me.

Twitter is an addictive message service that lets you find out what 2,026 strangers put in their coffee that morning.

You ask: How is this different from a "blog," other than "blog" sounds like a drain obstruction and Twitter sounds like someone who's free-based espresso and helium? Well, you can go on for 934,045 words on a blog. Twitter limits you to 140 characters.If you say that no one can accomplish anything with 140 characters, I'd agree, if we were talking about the recent Star Wars movies. Otherwise, no. Short = good. Brevity, soul of wit.

I have come across many blog posts that lost me in about that many characters. James explains the terms.

Twitter is the service. Twittering is the general conversation. A "tweet" is an individual message, and yes, it's an infantile term. "I tweeted" is what a 3-year-old with gas might say. "I got a tweet" sounds like someone squeezed a budgie and mailed you a recording.

A prominent Minneapolis politician uses it.

Anyway, a while ago someone tweeted the news that Mayor Rybak is on Twitter; I decided to "follow" him, which is the term for subscribing to someone's tweets. He'd pop up every other day, announcing some initiative or conference. Then one day he tweeted his reelection bid, and that's when I thought: That might be a first.

I sent Rybak an interview request -- via Twitter, of course heaven forbid I pick up a phone. We spoke later. Are you the first mayor in this country to be on Twitter? "Let's say that I am and see if they argue," Rybak said. "I feel lonely that no other mayors are on it."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Art Closeout Sale

More Madoff fallout - a university has to make a tough decision.

Brandeis University.....has incurred the wrath of the art world for deciding to shut down its Rose Art Museum and sell off its famed collection, which was valued at $350 million in 2007.

The coffers are empty, and the choices are limited and ugly.

Peter French, Brandeis’s chief operating officer, explained that the university’s situation is far more dire than it appeared in news accounts.....He objected to the word “bankrupt,” but what would you call an institution with a projected deficit of $79 million over the next six years, a tapped-out reserve fund, a shrunken endowment and “quite a number” of big donors hit hard by the Madoff scandal?

Faced with the prospect of closing 40 percent of the university’s buildings, reducing staff by an additional 30 percent, or firing 200 of its 360 faculty members—any of which, French said, would drastically change the university’s mission and essentially cripple it—“We’d rather use Rose.”

It has caused a fuss.

The Association of College and University Museums and Galleries, and the much more important Association of Art Museum Directors (whose members include the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art), issued statements of shock, deploring the proposed sale.

Avoid the E-mail from Nigeria, Too

A computer pointer from A.L. Kennedy.

.....take my advice and never - should you have considered this - borrow someone else’s computer while you are away in an attempt to catch up on your email and websites of interest – especially if that computer is not, for example, in their living room, but in a large institution of some kind. And then never, in any way, click through on an entirely humdrum-looking link in an otherwise unimpeachable historical site and find yourself staring at donkey porn.

Now They Just Need to Give Up on Their Leaders

The Zimbabwe Government has thrown in the towel financially.

The announcement was made by acting Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa......."In line with the prevailing practices by the general public, [the] government is therefore allowing the use of multiple foreign currencies for business transactions alongside the Zimbabwean dollar," he said.

Not that they're giving up much.

The country is in the grip of world-record hyperinflation which has left the Zimbabwean dollar virtually worthless - 231m% in July 2008, the most recent figure released.

A 40-year-old Zimbabwean primary school teacher from the capital Harare, told the BBC news website earlier this week it cost nearly US$2 a day to travel to work, but inflation had reduced the average teacher's wage to the equivalent of US$1 a month. He said he now made a living reselling maize to families in high density areas, as it made more money than teaching.

Margin of Error

Andrew Sullivan pointed me to this new Gallup poll listing states by party affiliation. I found it interesting that South Dakota was listed as "competitive" with only a one percent difference in claimed affiliation. We do have a fairly large number of independents here, so trying to classify them one way or the other could be problematic. But I think there's a certain amount of "not walking like I talk" in this poll, because election results simply don't match those numbers.

The fact is that Republicans win big and Democrats win small here, especially in elections for state offices. A powerful Democratic personality can win against a lesser Republican, but in a race with candidates of similar stature, the Republican will likely win. Based on those numbers the Presidential race should have been close, but Obama never had a chance here. Only our inexplicable tendency to elect Democrats to Congress defies this, and that can be explained by the headliner nature of those elections. Democrats can come up with good candidates at the top, but the depth isn't there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Not Just a Contrarian

Andrew Sullivan has had ongoing posts about the Pope reinstating a Bishop who doesn't think the Holocaust was as big a deal as it has been claimed. Apparently it is being justified by the Vatican as a "healing" measure within the church, and that, as John Allen wrote....

Canonical experts also point out that, technically speaking, Holocaust denial is not heresy. It’s a denial of historical truth, not a truth of the faith, and hence repudiating it is not inconsistent — at least from a strictly logical point of view — with the Jan. 21 decree from the Congregation for Bishops ending the excommunication of the four Lefebvrite prelates.

However, he also wrote quite correctly....

That’s a fine distinction, however, likely to be lost on much of the world........

I highlighted "it's a denial of historical truth" because I think it alludes to a larger point. The man is disputing that a heavily documented, extensively witnessed historical event actually happened. This is indeed not a matter of faith; it's a matter of mental competence.

I realize that a certain amount of denial and/or equivocation is necessary in religious belief, especially to achieve higher status in a church organization, but no one who is capable of this level of delusion should be allowed to hold a position of authority in any organization.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Harder Than It Looks

Dom Joly went bobsledding.

We got a brief safety talk – "You'll feel up to 5G on the turns, not unlike looping the loop in a jet fighter. You'll find it difficult to breathe. Keep your head down, hands tucked beside you and, if we tip over then there's nothing we can do, we have to slide to the end and hope..."

The first three turns were actually quite enjoyable – a bit like doing a roller coaster in a sardine can. The fourth turn, however, was extraordinary. We suddenly picked up huge amounts of speed and everything went a bit blurry.

You can do the same thing at Lake Placid.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Americans On Parade

The UFO wasn't the only odd sighting at the inauguration. Dave Barry was also there, in the parade as part of a unique unit.

So when a group I belong to called the World Famous Lawn Rangers of Amazing Arcola was selected to march at Barack Obama's inauguration, our reaction, as Americans, was: ``The organizers of this parade must be smoking crack.'' I say this because we are not a traditional marching unit. We are an extremely random group of middle-age guys who carry brooms and push specially decorated show lawn mowers, which we use to perform synchronized broom-and-lawn mower maneuvers that always get a big crowd reaction (usually: ``Huh?''). As you can imagine these performances require intense mental preparation, by which I mean beer.

How did this happen?

In 2003, when they marched in the St. Patrick's Day parade in Chicago, they encountered Barack Obama, then running for the U.S. Senate. Obama picked up a toilet plunger -- in addition to brooms, senior Rangers carry plungers, symbolizing authority -- and brandished it over his head. A photograph was taken of this moment, although at the time nobody realized it was historic.

When Obama was elected president, Monahan remembered the photo, and decided to apply for the Rangers to march in the inaugural parade. Incredibly, we were accepted; as you read these words, the person responsible for that decision is probably en route to Guantánamo. But the point is that on Inauguration Day, the World Famous (and Extremely Cold) Lawn Rangers pushed their show mowers up Pennsylvania Avenue and passed in review before President and Mrs. Obama.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Handwritten: Still a Good Thing

January 23 was National Handwriting Day (and John Hancock's birthday). Kitty Burns Florey noted handwriting's decline, and wondered if it was that big a deal.

With the exception of the odd thank-you note or letter from Aunt Gertrude in Florida, we seldom see anything handwritten in our mailboxes. I suspect there are actually people alive today who have never received a letter written with a pen on paper and mailed in an envelope with a stamp.

When I stumbled on an article about how learning handwriting in school is being replaced by keyboarding instruction, my first reaction was the predictable horror of someone who spent large portions of her youth mastering Palmer Method under the tutelage of the nuns. Keyboarding? Who even knew that was a verb? No more Palmer Method? All those loopy L’s and fancy G’s–gone to the dustbin along with the blotter and the inkwell? I decided to write a book about it ("Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting"). And I resolved to remain open-minded. If handwriting is over, is that really so terrible?

The answer is that handwriting is still being kept alive, for a number of reasons.

Educators I talked to claim that kids master reading more easily when they write a word as they learn it: the writing process keeps their attention focused as they match symbol to sound.....Kids certainly need to learn to type on a keyboard, but they also need legible handwriting–for taking tests, writing reports, working at the chalkboard. Many schools have adopted some version of technology for these tasks, but far more haven’t the resources for it. Children are judged by their handwriting; if they produce indecipherable chicken-scratching, a teacher will not be sympathetic. And if writing hasn’t become easy and automatic, they’ll lose their train of thought, be unable to plan ahead as they write, and, in the end, dislike both aspects of the writing process: forming their letters and expressing their ideas.

My handwriting has always been terrible. Scratch that (heh) - when I first learned writing I was pretty good for my age. Maybe it went to my head, because I don't think I improved much. My daughter, on the other hand, has always had great handwriting; all through school her teachers commented that her rough drafts look better than most finished products. Her trouble has been that she obsesses about it so much that it slows her down. Only recently has she learned to lighten up for speed when needed.

Grind Your Own

Peanut butter, that is. As far as Meg Favreau is concerned, the recent salmonella scare is just one reason to make it yourself. Here again I must say that the jars of peanut butter we buy in stores have not been implicated in the scare. Her point is valid nonetheless.

In the U.S., peanut butters are only required to consist of 90 percent peanuts. I didn't realize what a huge difference that other 10 percent could make until I recently compared fresh, homemade peanut butter to the regular jarred stuff. I compared heaping spoonfuls of the peanut butter I’d made with Peter Pan brand, and that's when I realized that while I like peanut butter, and I like peanuts, I had never expected peanut butter to taste like peanuts before. Despite my positive, nostalgic memories of peanut butter, I considered it a spread in a category all its own, something that was invented as a food glue. But homemade peanut butter, while being a little grainier and a little thicker, really tastes like peanuts. It brings a bright peanut flavor to sandwiches, cookies, and snacks.

Not only is making peanut butter incredibly simple, but it's also easy to make your own “gourmet” flavors. Sometimes I like to add a tablespoon of honey to the mix, and you could just as easily add hot pepper flakes, melted chocolate, or maple syrup.

1 1/2 cups roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
Combine peanuts, oil, and salt in food processor. Blend until smooth.
Store in a tightly lidded container in the fridge.

Born To Be Bad At Math

Are you terrible with numbers? You could have the same problem as this woman.

Last November, Jill got herself screened for learning disabilities. She found that while her IQ is above average, her numerical ability is equivalent to that of an 11-year-old because she has something called dyscalculia.

This was actually good news.

The diagnosis came partly as a relief, because it explained a lot of difficulties she had in her day-to-day life. She can't easily read a traditional, analogue clock, for example, and always arrives 20 minutes early for fear of being late. When it comes to paying in shops or restaurants, she hands her wallet to a friend and asks them to do the calculation, knowing that she is likely to get it wrong.

People with dyscalculia, also known as mathematics disorder, can be highly intelligent and articulate. Theirs is not a general learning problem. Instead, they have a selective deficit with numerical sets. Put simply, they fail to see the connection between a set of objects - five walnuts, say - and the numerical symbol that represents it, such as the word "five" or the numeral 5. Neither can they grasp that performing additions or subtractions entails making stepwise changes along a number line.

The cause is mysterious, partly because the source of the ability to comprehend numbers is itself uncertain.

One school of thought argues that at least some elements of it are innate, and that babies are born with an exact-number "module" in their brain. Others say exact number is learned and that it builds upon an innate and evolutionarily ancient number system which we share with many other species. This "approximate number sense" (ANS) is what you use when you look at two heavily laden apple trees and, without actually counting the apples, make a judgement as to which has more.

But just knowing it exists can be helpful.

....simply recognising dyscalculia as a problem on a par with dyslexia would make a huge difference. As Jill says, now that she knows what her problem is, "it's easier to have the confidence and the perseverance to keep working until I get it".

Yes, We Can Eat Breakfast

The first Obama family morning in the White House, as "told" to Chris Joseph by the President.

First of all I humbly and gratefully accept a good morning kiss from my beautiful wife Michelle. Then I say hello to our daughters – our hopes for the future – who are bundled up in woolly sweaters and scarves. "Can't we turn up the heating just one degree, Barry?" asks Michelle. "It's minus 12 outside!" Solemnly but smilingly I shake my head. "We have squandered this planet's riches, and shirked these hard choices for too long. We must all work together to build a new age." Michelle rolls her eyes at the girls, who giggle.

Malia, meanwhile, is reading a math primer. For some time Malia had a nagging fear that failing her math test next week was inevitable. I told her there was nothing to fear but fear itself. I told her about her great-grandmother, who taught me about duty, respect, and long division. I told her about Martin Luther King, for whom the 11 times table was almost as important as Scripture. I told her two plus two is four. Eventually she agreed to study harder "as long as you just shut UP, Dad. Jeez." Kids. They humble you.

They Didn't Believe It

Via Dave Barry.....The audience for the Inauguration may not have been just worldwide.

News footage captured a shadowy object flashing across the sky before the new President’s speech.

UFO experts are convinced it shows an alien craft speeding behind the 555ft-high monument – but sceptics say it was a bird or a bat.

I can think of some reasons aliens would be there:

- They wanted to get in line for federal bailout money.

- All those drunk people in one spot makes for really efficient anal probing.

- They were supposed to take Dick Chaney back to the mothership to resume his command, but they showed up early.

- Most likely: they've been been monitoring us for long enough that they had to see for themselves that we elected a black man President.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Information Is Always Nice

Here's a good idea to assist with dealing with greenhouse gasses: gather some data.

The satellite, called "Ibuki" or "vitality" in Japanese, will enable scientists to measure densities of carbon dioxide and methane from 56,000 locations on the Earth's surface, including the atmosphere over open seas.

This would be a considerable increase, and obviously quite useful.

That would compare with just 282 land-based observation sites as of last October, mostly of which are in the United States, Europe and other industrialized regions....

"Being able to measure what is happening is incredibly important to developing a robust international climate change response," Yvo de Boer, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, told Reuters last week. "You wouldn't expect it in this modern day and age, but actually our ability to monitor greenhouse gas emissions is still relatively weak -- weak in industrialized countries but even weaker in many developing countries."

Did It Eat the Gun?

In Nigeria, a novel escape attempt is foiled.

"The group of vigilante men came to report that while they were on patrol they saw some hoodlums attempting to rob a car. They pursued them. However one of them escaped while the other turned into a goat," Kwara state police spokesman Tunde Mohammed told Reuters by telephone.Kwara state police spokesman Tunde Mohammed told Reuters by telephone.

Now the police are stuck.

"We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical. It is something that has to be proved scientifically, that a human being turned into a goat," he said.

I feel sorry for the officer who had to do the interrogation. Personally, if I had been the robber I would have passed on the goat idea, turned into a bird and flown away.

I seem to recall a past police/goat conflict in Africa.......ah, yes.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Humping It

Like people, some camels have it better than others.

The Dubai Camel Hospital opened in 1990 and is owned by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, who has a strong interest in camel racing. The hospital cares for 3,000 camels belonging to the Maktoum family and their friends and relatives. It is equipped with x-ray and ultrasound equipment, and operating tables.

Camel racing is a big deal there.

Camel racing has always been a Bedouin pastime, but over the last 30 years or so it has become a hugely popular event. A new television station, Dubai Racing Channel, dedicated to camel, horse and auto racing, has recently started broadcasting. "Camel racing is not only a sport; it is something that we have grown up," says Abdul-Rahman Amin, the channel commentator. "Before, we used it to celebrate at weddings or if we had good news. Now camel racing is similar to horse racing. There are strict rules and regulations".

The girls are the stars, and reap the rewards.

Females run faster than males, and at the optimum age of five years, they can run 8km (5 miles) the longest track distance, in 12 and a half minutes - a speed of 40 km/h (25 mph). Race camels retire at 11 years old and then good performing females are used for breeding. Careful planning goes into choosing a mate to produce the best possible racer.

There are notable differences from the Kentucky Derby.

Unlike horse racing, there is no betting and also no rider. To keep the camels sprinting, an electronic robot is attached to their hump wielding a rotating stick, and owners drive alongside in 4x4s hitting their horns and shouting, leaving the stands empty.

Who Wouldn't Want To Change That Diet?

One type of dung beetle has decided it prefers food that hasn't already been eaten, and will kill to get it.

A ferocious scarab species has been filmed in Peru attacking and eating millipedes 10 times its length. D. valgum no longer dines on faeces. Instead, the nocturnal predator prefers to decapitate live prey with its armour "teeth" and then devour their insides.

They completely gave up their old habits.

The beetles were never seen rolling dung balls. Instead, they used their powerful hind legs to drag a killed millipede to a safe site and then begin devouring it.

I'm not sure about eating millipedes, but I can certainly understand giving up the dung. This particular species does have advantageous differences from its relatives.

Dung beetles' heads are usually flat and wide like a shovel in order to roll balls of dung but D. valgum has a narrow, pointy head which it uses to get right inside the millipede's body and feed on its insides. It also has sharper "teeth", which are used to prise open the body and sever it into smaller pieces.

It has understandably intrigued scientists.

"It seems like such a huge jump - from a scavenger to a hunter-predator - so the real story is, how did it get from A to Z?" said Dr Adrian Forsyth of the Blue Moon Fund, a co-author on the paper. "We knew plenty of dung beetles which are attracted to dead insects - drawn by their potent cyanide-rich odours. And now we find a species which just couldn't wait."

More Priestly Malfeasance

Just what the Catholic Church needs.....

Two Roman Catholic priests have been accused of stealing $800,000 from the collection plate of their church in the US state of Florida.

One of the priests, Fr John Skehan, 81, abandoned his not guilty plea, but Fr Francis Guinan, 66, denies the charges.

It's allegedly worse.

US law - the statute of limitations - prevents the priests being charged with thefts that occurred before 2001. But the auditors say that up to $8m might have disappeared over a period of 20 years. It could be the biggest embezzlement case to affect the Catholic Church in the United States.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm Sure It Was Fun

Well, I wasn't the only one messing about with my computer yesterday (see previous post). James Lileks was having just as much fun.

It was all set back by the joys of ISP switchover day - this morning the internet went out at 8:35, and since I have come to rely on it in the sense one relies on finding a foot at the end of your leg when you get out of bed in the morning, this was bad.

He does have an advantage that I don't enjoy with my desktop: mobility.

I went off to a neighborhood coffee shop to work.

But then things didn't go as well for him as for me.

My work done for the day - in addition to blogging I’d managed to upload that inaugural address compilation to the paper at the coffee shop - I decided to get the New internet up and running. Got a tech right away. Nate, in Eden Prairie. Nice clear connection. Ahhh, the benefits of a local ISP. He asked for the modem make and serial number. I told him., Sharp intake of breath. “Ah, I don’t think we support those.” A red curtain descended.

I had a similar experience; the Midcontinent ISP person noted that my modem was of ancient vintage (as I recall I bought it from the Gateway store in North Sioux City in 2000) and that an upgrade might be desirable in the future. However, she also said that it seems to be working fine now, so I may as well stick with it. James seemed to have good luck as well.

But he said he’d try, and sure enough, he found a tech-spec page; we found our way into the settings and updated its logon info.

But good luck rarely lasts with electronics.

Long story short: everything worked, and then it didn’t, and somehow setting up the wireless network destroyed everything and unsheathed the sword of Ragnarok, etc. Back to troubleshooting tomorrow.

He also noted this....

Picked up daughter from the bus stop. What did you do in school? They watched the inauguration all day, in every class, including music.

Now I must make a startling confession. I did not watch any of the Inauguration or it's ancillary events. Not out of any animus, political or otherwise; I'm as relieved as anyone at the way events have unfolded,and I hope the Obama Administration is wildly successful (but then like most people I've always wished new Presidents well; it seems silly to do otherwise, doesn't it?).

I didn't watch for the same reason I don't watch trophy presentations after major sporting events. The election was the actual big deal; yesterday was an extended handing over of the keys to the offices. Besides, I'm simply not moved by speeches, parades, awards ceremonies, etc., especially on television, and this was a combination of all of those.

Perhaps it's a result of the years I spent in television airing such events. I was usually occupied with the technical aspects of making sure it went well, which usually involved much hyperventilation and putting out of fires, figurative and literal. It's also possible that I'm one of those short-attention-span types who hates sitting still long enough. Whatever the reason, I had no desire to view yesterday's proceedings and pomp. My interest is in what comes next.

Beyond Help

Ah,the second of two days off without the need for some sort of road trip or other time- or energy-consuming venture. It's good to have added another Christmas to the Past category.

I did try to induce an aneurysm by attempting to venture into the sordid world of computer diagnostics, but I wasn't even able to get to started. Past attempts to install XP service pack 3 had resulted in a blue-screen-level message of doom followed by an automatic uninstall when I restarted the computer. My plan was to write down the message and contact Microsoft. This time,however, the attempted installation managed to kill my internet connection and failed to restore the system after restart. After a lengthy telephone call with Midcontinent's ISP people - who were incredibly helpful and patient - confirmed that it was probably some sort of software blockage, I manually attempted to restore the system to three different points before one worked, putting me back where I started.

So it seems that this computer has reached the age where automatic updates are not an option anymore. From now on it's manual updates (which I haven't tried and which may not work any better) or flushing everything out, reloading the operating system (for which I don't have the disks) and rebuilding everything. I did the latter on my previous computer, but if I have to locate disks anyway I may move to Vista or 7 since Microsoft has already taken XP out behind the barn and is just waiting to shoot it when the kids aren't looking. Of course once that point is reached it may do just as well to buy a new computer since this one is about (gasp!) 5 years old (said the man with an 11yo car that functions quite nicely).

On the other hand, my second wife's computer reached a similar point a few years ago (with a similar internet-killing symptom) and I was able to manually install updates until the divorce made it her problem. In the end it'll probably come down to disgusting filthy lucre.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Family Fraud

A prominent Indian artist runs into problems at an exhibition.

.....he was "stupefied and outraged" to find that many of his paintings at a show he was inaugurating were fakes.

even more embarrassing......

The Dhoomimal Art Gallery closed its show as soon as Mr Raza pointed out the fakes but said it had sourced them from the painter's family.

Justifiable Segregation

More hilarity at Balloon Juice from commenter J.....

As it is supposed to be a day of service, I am doing TWO, that’s TWO, large loads of laundry in honor of MLK, though I guess I still have a ways to go as I am washing the whites and the coloreds separately.

Scanning Too Well

Martin Luther King Jr's of those holidays, as opposed to Holidays, at least in South Dakota. State government offices are closed, but a lot of businesses and some schools are open. I guess that's not too surprising; as I mentioned in the past .......

According to the last census, there are 4685 black/African American people in South Dakota, putting them as a minority group in a virtual tie for third with Asians,well behind Native Americans and Hispanics. It is still quite possible to grow up here and never meet a live black person. When you talk race relations here, it almost always involves Native Americans.

I know King's work resonated beyond African-Americans, but his core constituency has never had much presence here.

On another topic, Andrew Sullivan pointed me to an article by Rob Horning about what old photos have that digital images lack.

Part of what makes photos worth saving is not their content alone, the image itself, but also the history that the object itself accumulates as it becomes like a heirloom. And as printing an image becomes more onerous and unnecessary, old photos seem to become valuable in and of themselves, as souvenirs of lost technologies, like old 78s or rotary phones.

Commenter RonCo had this to say.....

For the past couple of years, I’ve been scanning and annotating a big collection of family photos, working chronologically from the earliest ones (c. 1875) to, so far, the 1950s. I see it as a matter of preserving the photos, not replacing them.

The photos themselves contain a lot of cues about the era they came from: their size, the film quality, the print paper logos and developer marks on the back. The notes on the back may be the only examples we have of some family member’s handwriting. It all goes a long way to help you connect with the historical reality of peoples’ lives in the days before you knew them (if you knew them at all).

The digital versions have their charms, too. Looking at the pictures at screen size rather than at their original sizes has a curious equalizing effect that makes you take smaller, less formal pictures more seriously. You can zoom in to details you hadn’t otherwise noticed.

This reminded me of a former co-worker who was having trouble scanning photos of her daughter's wedding. She said that no matter how high she set the resolution on her scanner the digital images were just plain bad. I told her to try setting the scanner to a lower resolution, and things improved. The scanner had been amplifying the effects the photographer used to produce the pictures, resulting in them overpowering the image.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What About Timothy B.Schmidt?

Two priceless comments in the Balloon Juice open thread about the Eagles-Cardinals NFL game (21-6 Cardinals as of this post).

Mike Jones - I think the key is for the Cards to contain Don Henley. Glenn Frey has never been known for ability to play in bad weather. I’m predicting big games for Egan and Mahoney.

KG - True Mike, but you got to also spy Joe Walsh, guy always seems ready to go off on his own.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Still Setting the Low Standard

As bad as things are getting just about everywhere, Zimbabwe still leads the way down.

Zimbabwe is introducing a Z$100 trillion note, currently worth about US$30 (£20).....Other notes in trillion-dollar denominations of 10, 20 and 50 are also being released to help Zimbabweans cope with hyperinflation.

Correspondents say prices can double every day, and food and fuel - for those without US dollars - are in short supply. Last month, the daily bank cash withdrawal limit - which at one stage was only enough for several loaves of bread - was abandoned. However, most banks do not have enough cash to meet demand.

Most groceries are brought in by Zimbabweans from neighbouring South Africa, Botswana or Zambia, further driving up prices.

There is more than 80% unemployment in the country and those with jobs find their salary is worthless unless they are paid in foreign currency.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Next Up: Photon Torpedos

Researchers have taken another step toward matching the Klingons.

"Cloaking technology could be used to make obstacles that impede communications signals 'disappear,'" said David Smith of Duke University in North Carolina, who worked on the study published in the journal Science.

It is made from a so-called metamaterial -- an engineered, exotic substance with properties not seen in nature. Metamaterials can be used to form a variety of "cloaking" structures that can bend electromagnetic waves such as light around an object, making it appear invisible.

The first applications are likely to be more mundane.

Smith said the goal was not to make something visible disappear. Cloaking, he said, can occur anywhere on the electromagnetic spectrum......"You might have two or more antennas trying to 'see' or receive signals, one being blocked by the other," he said. "You could imagine adding cloaks that would make one antenna invisible to the next, so that they no longer interfered."

But down the road.....

Smith said the notion of a device that makes objects invisible to people is still a distant concept, but not impossible. "This latest structure does show clearly there is a potential for cloaking -- in the science fiction sense -- to become science fact at some point," he said.

Just Don't Vomit On Anyone

Is a taste for spirituous beverages interfering with your ability to keep a job? Move to Peru.

The Constitutional Tribunal ordered that Pablo Cayo be given his job back as a janitor for the municipality of Chorrillos, which fired him for being intoxicated at work.

The firing was excessive because even though Cayo was drunk, he did not offend or hurt anybody, Fernando Calle, one of the justices, said on Wednesday.

Perhaps the justices should have been tested for intoxication.

Cult of Personality

News of Steve Job's health problems may cause legal problems for Apple.

Although securities lawsuits usually arise from companies' false statements about material aspects of their businesses, Apple could run into trouble by falsely allaying investors concerns about whether Jobs would remain at its helm.

It would be a tough sell, though.

Plaintiffs and defense attorneys said this type of fraud allegation would be hard to prove and a first of its kind.

"It is extremely difficult because it is the most private part of his life," Steve Williams, a plaintiffs attorney for Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy, said. "At the same time, Apple is Steve Jobs."

Former U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissioner Joseph Grundfest said Apple crossed no line if it failed to provide thorough disclosures about Jobs' health unless company insiders traded on the knowledge before it was disclosed publicly.

No securities rules and no legal precedents directly address CEO health but Grundfest acknowledged that investors could argue that Jobs' status as CEO was critical to their decision to invest in Apple.

I italicized Mr. Williams' quote because that is the heart of the matter. I'm trying to think of another example of a company as heavily defined by the boss as Apple. One that remotely fits was Lee Iacocca at Chrysler in the 1980's, and for similar reasons; both men pulled their companies from the brink with innovative products. But Iacocca never dominated the operational culture of his company or attained cult figure status like Jobs.

Like Chrysler, Apple has always had to be nimble and inventive to stay afloat, and Jobs is seen as the driving force. Apple is in a far better position that Chrysler, which may be done. But Apple would do well to remember what has kept them going; innovative products.

Not Even Trying

It's looking like the Madoff investment fund may have been not just fraudulently hyped, but complete fiction.

An industry-run regulator for brokerage firms said on Thursday there was no record of Madoff's investment fund placing trades through his brokerage operation.That means Madoff either placed trades through other brokerage firms, a move industry officials consider unlikely, or he was not executing trades at all.

Each month, Madoff sent out elaborate statements of trades conducted by his broker-dealer. Last November, for example, he issued a statement to one investor showing he bought shares of Merck & Co Inc, Microsoft Corp, Exxon Mobil Corp and Amgen Inc among others. It also showed transactions in Fidelity Investments' Spartan Fund. But Fidelity, the world's biggest mutual fund company, has no record of Madoff or his company making any investments in it's funds.

There also appear to be discrepancies between monthly statements sent to investors and the actual prices at which the stocks traded on Wall Street. For example, his November statement showed he bought software maker Apple Inc's securities at $100.78 each on November 12, about a month before his arrest. But Apple's stock on that day never traded above $93.24. The statement also showed he bought chip maker Intel Corp at $14.51 on November 12, but Intel's highest price on that day was $13.97.

Life Under Fire

A Gaza reporter's family shrinks, then grows.

Twelve days after my father was killed by an Israeli airstrike, our first baby has been born, healthy at 3.8 kilos, with dark hair, just exactly as her mother wanted.

While waiting for the birth, he went to the front door of the hospital.

From a civil defence fire engine, I saw eight wounded people taken out, all were civil defence staff still in their fluorescent jackets. A house near their base had been hit by a missile.

All day yesterday, the Israelis intensified strikes on Gaza City and, at the emergency wing of the Shifa hospital, away from the calm of the maternity ward, the ambulances never stopped arriving. For 20 minutes, I watched the injured and dying coming in non-stop convoys of ambulances, ordinary vehicles, civilian cars, pickup trucks, anything that could be used to transport the casualties......Most of the victims seemed to be women, girls, and children including a very small baby, wrapped in white blankets.

My mother joined us in the hospital. She managed to hold back the tears but I knew she was sad, thinking of my dad who would have been so happy to see his new granddaughter.And yet, I know that as one family member leaves us, another is born. It reminds you that life is a circle, a continuous thing.

Put It In a Dora the Explorer Cup

This item at caught my eye.

"Failed compliance checks. Jerry's Foods, 5125 Vernon Av. S., and Chuck E. Cheese, 7505 France Av. S., failed alcohol compliance checks by selling liquor to a minor.

I have never been to a Chuck E. Cheese, so it surprised me to learn that they sell alcohol. A quick google shows it's common; as of March 2007 Seventy percent of Chuck E. Cheese across America sell alcohol.

Stupidity Invites Scrutiny

Remember the three-year-old boy who had trouble getting a personalized birthday cake because his idiotic parents named him Adolf Hitler? Apparently something is amiss in the household.

Adolf Hitler Campbell and his sisters, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, were taken from their Holland Township, N.J., home on Friday by the state's Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS), Sgt. John Harris of the Holland Township Police Department told

The people who know why can't say.

Kate Bernyk, a spokeswoman for the DYFS, said confidentiality laws barred her from commenting on the case or even confirming that the Campbell children were involved.
"DYFS has their reasons and they normally don’t release any information, so we kind of have to go on faith with them," Harris said. Police were not told what the agency was investigating.

"I’ve dealt with the family for years and as far as the children are concerned, I have never had any reports of any abuse with the children," Harris said. "As far as I know, he’s always been very good with the children."

Speaking generally, Bernyk said the state's "decision to remove a child is based on the safety and well being of the child and the risk to that child, and that decision is made in conjunction with the courts and the county family court judge......"DYFS would never remove a child simply based on that child's name," Bernyk said.

Hmmm...dealt with the family for years? Of course, I imagine they got noticed when they turned in that first birth certificate. Nothing screams "potential problem" like naming your kid after one of history's great evildoers.

hat tip to Marginal Revolution and The Volokh Conspiracy

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Movie Recycling

I obviously need to expand my website reading repertoire, because I don't recall seeing anything about demand for this.

Jackie Chan is in negotiations to star in the remake of 1984 hit movie The Karate Kid......The martial arts star would take on the role of mentor Mr Miyagi......Jaden Smith, the son of Hollywood actor Will Smith, has already been cast as the boy to be mentored by the martial arts expert.

Who thought this should be done? It's not like the original has faded into obscurity, or needs updating. The article notes that it will be filmed in China, which may provide a clue; Chan is a massive star there and could do whatever he wants. It's hard to picture him in Pat Morita's role; he has always come off as too goofy.

A really bad idea just came to mind; the two previous Karate Kids, Ralph Macchio and Hilary Swank, in a romantic adventure-comedy with a martial arts flavor.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ocean Seeding

I hadn't previously encountered this idea.

Within weeks, the ship's crew hope to dump 20 tonnes of ferrous sulphate into the Southern Ocean. Plankton need iron to grow, and the aim of the expedition is to trigger a plankton bloom and boost the amount of carbon that is sucked out of the air and locked up at the bottom of the ocean.

The team, led by Victor Smetacek of the Alfred Wegner Institute, Bremerhaven, Germany, will also monitor the population of krill to see if their populations also increase. These small crustaceans feed on plankton and are an important food source for many marine species. So, if the population grows, this could give fisheries a boost.

It's not unopposed.

If this iron dump goes ahead it will be in clear defiance of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity," warns Jim Thomas of ETC Group. The CBD resolution makes an exception only for small coastal experiments, but Smetacek says his expedition has been approved by the German environment ministry.

It sounds like a big operation, but expectations should be kept low.....

"Twenty tonnes of iron particles in the vast ocean is very much drop in the bucket and is unlikely to have a lasting effect," says Ken Caldeira of Stanford University. "The rational concern is that experiments will lead down some slippery slope - that small experiments could be scaled up without any regulation."

Ocean fertilisation and other geoengineering schemes, says Caldeira, should be seen as potential short-term solutions that could cool temperatures while humans switch to non-fossil sources of energy.

About Like Ordering a Pizza

Interested in applying for some of that federal bailout money? Mother Jones looked into it.

It turns out that the application for TARP funds is surprisingly simple. Interested parties can find the complete guidelines for the TARP Capital Purchase Program here. The application is just two pages long. As a test, we decided to fill it out. Including the time it took us to explain this project to our chief financial officer, the TARP application took a mere 27 minutes to complete.

Of course only certain organizations are actually eligible.

The CPP is available to bank holding companies, financial holding companies, insured
depository institutions and savings and loan holding companies that engage solely or
predominately in activities that are permissible for financial holding companies under relevant

In other words, given the current state of the mentioned law, just about any sort of moneychanging alchemist with a pulse and a smoldering pile of a balance sheet, as long as the proper schmoozing with the right people at the Treasury Department is done. It was this casual attitude toward finance that contributed to the current mess.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Back in the High Life?

Tyler Wilson ponders an American staple.

Miller High Life has been brewed for over 100 years, and is often considered the forerunner to the modern American lager.

I often get too caught up in trying all the expensive imports and microbrews. In this economy, I’d thought I’d revisit an American classic instead of another $8 six-pack of Fancy Pants Silly Name Ale.

It was a big-time player.

At its peak in 1979, High Life was the number-two beer in the nation behind Budweiser.

I recall it being the beer to drink in my hometown bar in the 1970s, although I was a Schmidt drinker,the Big-Mouth glass bottles in particular. But nothing lasts forever.

Since the early 1990s, there’s of course been a backlash against your father’s beer. Imports and microbrews have ruled.

He's optimistic about the future,though.

It may not be too cool to drink your father’s beer, but it’s OK to drink your grandfather’s beer. So I look forward to finding and rediscovering these classics, starting with the High Life.

What does he think?

Miller has a clean taste that’s nice enough — my initial thoughts were that it had a kind of wang to it, but after a few drinks I was happy enough with the taste. Not hoppy or anything, but a little sweet.

I also tried the High Life Light.......The Light tasted pretty similar to the regular High Life.......High Life Light is a nice enough beer to drink while playing backyard bocce once the weather warms up. Refreshing and light.

Back to the Push-up Bra

Another industry where business is,uh, sagging.

...the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported in 2007 that American consumers spent more than $12 billion on cosmetic surgery. But now the society reports a 62 percent overall decrease in cosmetic surgery from 2007 to 2008.

It had been a good run.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that the number of breast augmentations in the US increased 657 percent from 1992 to 2003.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Scary Computers

The digital age comes to Nepal, with more than a little trepidation.

Kamal Prasad Sharma, aged 12, a student at Saraswati Secondary School in a small village not far from Kathmandu, was afraid when he saw a computer for the first time.

"I didn't go near it. I was worried it might explode and kill me. It was only when the teacher called me saying it was harmless that I went into the room, but I still hesitated."

Things have changed now, he adds. "I'm feeling much better. The E-library has helped with my studies...... It's not only that - we can also play games and have fun."

The general reaction was similar.

Kamal says his parents were very excited when he told them about the computer and came to watch the very next day.

It was not only Kamal. His computer teacher, Shankar Prajapati, says all the pupils were afraid.
"They all worried they would catch some virus and fall ill or even die. But now they are familiar with computers," he says. "Even we teachers are gaining knowledge from the E-library. It's really helpful for us, too. "

It's part of an ambitious project.

The E-library concept was initiated by Help Nepal Network (HeNN), a non-governmental organisation. Its goals are to provide literacy and awareness about the use of computer and information technology, and to set up one E-library in each of Nepal's 75 districts, which range from the high Himalayas to the hot plains.

.....HeNN is setting up the libraries with the use of what is called the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP). This is a free and open-source (accessible to everyone) package which connects one powerful central server in the school, using the Linux operating system, to a number of diskless low-end computers. When linked to the server, each computer receives a full Linux desktop.

This reminds me of my first dealings with computers; the mainframe-terminal setup at the School of Mines back in the early 1980s. They seem to be fascinating just about everyone in Nepal.

In front of the little shops on the rough village streets, men gather to play cards and drink tea. But even they have developed a fascination for the computer. So the school has arranged some computer classes for them, too.

It's not easy to set up.....

Villagers and students carried the computers up and down the steep hills and valleys to the Shree Koldung Devi secondary school, nearly two hours' walk from the main road.

....but they think it will be worth it.

Roshendra Dhoj Khadka of Help Nepal Network is very optimistic about the E-library project.
"I believe this information and communication technology project is essential. It may not be a basic requirement, but it's a tool to uplift the health and education sectors."

Romeo and Juliet Were Late Bloomers

It's an old story; a young couple try to elope. However.....

Two German children - aged five and six - have been stopped by police from eloping to Africa to tie the knot in the sun, reports say.

The budding lovebirds, identified as Mika and Anna-Lena, packed bathing costumes, sunglasses and a lilo and headed for the airport. They even had the presence of mind to invite along an official witness - Anna-Lena's seven-year-old sister.

Why Africa?

The young couple were "very much in love" and had decided to get married in Africa "where it is warm", police spokesman Holger Jureczko told the AFP news agency.

They gave a good effort. their parents slept, the intrepid trio walked 1km (0.6 miles) to the local tram station at Langenhagen, where they hopped aboard a tram for Hanover central station. But the group aroused the suspicion of a guard as they waited for a train to the airport, and police were called in.

I suppose the lack of passports was a giveaway. It wasn't a total loss for the kids.

Officers persuaded the children they would not get far without tickets and money, but consoled them with a free tour of the police station, where they were shortly picked up by relieved parents.

A dream delayed, but not necessarily denied.

"They can still put their plan into action at a later date," AFP quoted the spokesman as saying.

More Suicidal Shame

This time in Germany.

German billionaire Adolf Merckle has committed suicide after his business empire ran into trouble in the global economic slowdown.

He did lose big money.....

Mr Merckle ran up losses of about 400m euros (£363m;$535m) last year due to wrong-way bets on Volkswagen shares.

But considering......his wealth, estimated by Forbes magazine last year to be $9.2bn....It hardly seems to be sufficent motivation for suicide.

His family, which had reported him missing after he failed to return home, said in a statement: "Adolf Merckle lived and worked for his family and his firms."

Apparently losing money justified abandoning the family. Sad.

Taz in Trouble

Officials are considering drastic action to save a uniquely famous animal.

Australian scientists say they want to build a fence on Tasmania to prevent the spread of a cancer that threatens the Tasmanian Devil with extinction.

The situation is dire.

The scientists say there is no cure for the contagious disease which has already infected two-thirds of Tasmania's devil population.

They warn that unless action is taken the world's largest marsupial carnivore could be extinct within 20 years.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Just Hide in the Closet Until It's Safe

From James Lileks at

“Animal complaint. A woman called to report that there was a fox near her mailbox 30 minutes earlier, on the 1600 block of Granada Avenue. The woman said the fox was not aggressive and did not look sick.”

AhhhOOOOHGAH! Now hear this! Now hear this! Nature intrudes on human development! Be on the lookout for actual creature! Fox does not talk, stand on hind legs, or otherwise resemble foxes from movies, repeat, fox does not appear to be voiced by a celebrity.

This reminded me of a call taken by Minnehaha County dispatch and passed to me from a person reporting wild geese in a tree strip in a field in rural Lincoln County. The caller was concerned that they would eventually move onto the road and become a traffic hazard. I decided against alerting Game, Fish and Parks officers.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Weight Loss, Pro and Con

Jon Carroll claims to be on an um.... interesting diet.

Every week, I get a dietetic shampoo administered by a trained shampoo-ologist, which clears the pores and allows the fat to escape through my head. I also eat nothing but grasshoppers and dandelion greens, which so frightens the extra pounds that they make straight for my scalp. Also, there is counseling. There'd better be, right?

He's getting results,and seeing benefits.

.......I have now lost a 5-year-old child. Not a real child, you understand; merely human tissue that could become a 5-year-old child had it not been excreted through my scalp.

All of a sudden, shirts and pants that had pined away for years in drawers unopened since the first Bush administration are brought forward to the light of day and, fashion being what it is, discovered to be perfectly appropriate for a modern gathering. At the same time, one finds good-as-new belts that had long before been discarded as inadequate to the task at hand. It's a whole new wardrobe, free for nothing.

However, a downside emerged at a party.

I am an apple-shaped person, and I was losing my apple, so to speak, and nature did not provide me with any other protuberances upon which a belt could rest. At my ideal weight, I am essentially cylindrical.

As a result.....

I am dancing around the room, laughing with my head thrown back, my hands firmly grasped by others, and my pants are slowly falling down, down past rap-star fashionable, down past misdemeanor-appropriate, down - they had to be stopped. I broke the grip of my jolly neighbors, and, pretending to be both invisible and graceful, I pulled my pants back up.

Periodical Aesthetics

I've subscribed to many magazines off-and-on over the years, but only three long-term; Car and Driver and Road and Track since 1979, and The Sporting News since the late 1980s. Recently something has happened with The Sporting News, though; since a recent redesign I can't stand to look at it. I don't mean in a content-related, they-don't-know-what-they're-talking-about-anymore sense; I truly can't bear the look of the magazine.

When they first made this most recent change I didn't think anything of it. They didn't do anything particularly radical; they've made much bigger changes in the past, notably the switch from a newspaper-like paper to a glossier look. I can't even really describe what they changed. But since then whenever I've sat down to read it I struggle to get through the whole thing. I haven't even opened the last two issues.

I think this may be a last-straw development. The magazine isn't what it used to be, at least for me. They seem to be trying to go in a Sports Illustrated direction, which isn't what I want; I stopped getting that magazine a long time ago. I liked The Sporting News because they were more like a newspaper; less fluff and more news. I suppose like many newspapers they're struggling to survive, and are trying whatever they think will keep them in business. But I'm afraid in the process they've lost me.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Packing Up For the New Year

Finally, the first post of 2009. Once again the Real World has held things up here. We went to Sioux City to pick up my daughter after her week-long stay with her mother. It was a milestone of sorts; the last time we'll be making that trip based on the school calendar. Come graduation on May the whole situation changes, although exactly how has yet to be determined. The daughter has only the vaguest idea what she wants to do; at the moment she and her best friend plan to get an apartment and jobs and take some classes at the "university center" here. We'll see what happens. I just want to get her pointed in a reasonable direction in life, and go from there.

On the way back Saturday we finished up the holidays with a family get-together at my Dad's home in Centerville. It was the usual raucous time with the kids amassing considerable swag. The drive back that evening started OK, then turned nightmarish; northbound on highway 81 visibility deteriorated to the point that my wife watched for the white line on the edge of the road while I worried about the center line. Our speed varied between 10-40 mph for over an hour. I-90 westbound was better but still had enough bursts of zero visibility that we stopped for the night in Mitchell. We had no need to be back that night and I was just tired of it. The drive Sunday was clear and uneventful.

We officially ended the holiday season that afternoon with the dismantling of the tree. James Lileks did the same thing.

We stripped the tree, which is always done with an inverse amount of personal attention as you give to the initial festooning. There aren’t any songs you can play while you strip the tree. There aren’t any traditions. You don’t think of the stories behind each ornament. It all goes in the box and you know it’ll seem like just the other day when you pull them out again. The tree goes out today; I’ll prop it up, trunk in the boulevard glacier, so it can pretend it’s a real tree again for the next four days. It will fall over. I’ll put it back up. “Weekend at Bernie’s” for evergreens.

We have a plastic tree, so it was dismembered, put into a giant container with the decorations and carried out to the shed. I agree with James about the general sentiment; you just try not to break anything, while marvelling at how the various strings of lights and garland were somehow applied in such an intricate weave. It does provide a good stopping point for the season and the year,though. Onward into 2009; next major stop, the daughter's graduation.