30 April 2008

Johnny Carson and the Mynah bird


What were you doing in 1972? If you were watching late-night TV, you might have seen this interaction of Johnny Carson with a talking bird. Classic, timeless comedy...

(credit to Look At This)

Superb Paleolithic art



I previously blogged about the deteriorating conditions of the famous cave paintings at Lascaux. On a more upbeat note, there is another extensive cave system - the Chauvet Cave - that also has spectacular Paleolithic art. Especially when you consider that the images embedded above were drawn 30,000 years ago - it's truly impressive artwork.

More info at THIS LINK, and at the Chauvet Cave interactive site. Credit to Scribal Terror.

How fast and far do moths fly?


It won't be long before this blog will start to incorporate some results of our "butterfly farming" (the black swallowtails should be emerging in a couple weeks). In the meantime, this informative bit from the Telegraph (U.K.):

"Moths... are not at the mercy of the wind but use a sophisticated internal compass which can help them travel up to 400 miles in a single flight... researchers from the UK and Germany have found that the insects can judge the best conditions for flight based on direction and windspeed, selecting the fastest moving layers of atmosphere so, with their own speed of 10mph, can cruise at speeds of up to 55 mph. ...moths only migrate on nights when wind direction is favourable. The most unexpected finding was that moths could compensate when wind direction was off target, suggesting they have a compass..."

It boggles the mind (my mind, at least) to contemplate that a creature with a brain the size of the period at the end of this sentence can navigate between continents, judging windspeeds and wind direction. I know the monarchs are heading my way from Mexico - but how they do it just leaves me stunned.

What an amazing world we live in.

How our government lies with statistics

I read an informative article in Harper's Magazine this month. "Numbers Racket" by Kevin Phillips details how the U.S. government distorts official statistics to fool the American public into thinking economic conditions are better than they really are. Herewith, some excerpts:
"...the use of deceptive statistics has played its own vital role in convincing many Americans that the US economy is stronger, fairer, more productive, more dominant, and richer with opportunity than it actually is.

The corruption has tainted... the monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI)... the quarterly Gross Domestic Product (GDP)... and the monthly unemployment figure...

...minor revisions in the data can mean major changes in household circumstances - inflation measurements help determine interest rates... and cost-of-living increases for wages, pensions, and Social Security benefits. And, of course, our statistics have political consequences too. Readers should ask themselves how much angrier the electorate might be if the media, over the past five years, had been citing 8 percent unemployment (instead of 5 percent), 5 percent inflation (instead of 2 percent), and average annual growth in the 1 percent range (instead of the 3–4 percent range)...

Let me stipulate: the deception arose gradually, at no stage stemming from any concerted or cynical scheme. There was no grand conspiracy, just accumulating opportunisms. As we will see, the political blame for the slow, piecemeal distortion is bipartisan—both Democratic and Republican administrations...

...starts after the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961, when high jobless numbers marred the image of Camelot-on-the-Potomac and the new administration appointed a committee to weigh changes. The result, implemented a few years later, was that out-of-work Americans who had stopped looking for jobs—even if this was because none could he found—were labeled "discouraged workers" and excluded from the ranks of the unemployed, where many, if not most, of them had been previously classified...

Lyndon Johnson had orchestrated a "unified budget" that combined Social Security with the rest of the federal outlays. This innovation allowed the surplus receipts in the former to mask the emerging deficit in the latter...

(Richard Nixon) asked his second Federal Reserve chairman, Arthur Burns, to develop what became an ultimately famous division between "core" inflation and headline inflation. It the Consumer Price Index was calculated by tracking a bundle of prices, so-called core inflation would simply exclude, because of "volatility," categories that happened to he troublesome: at that time, food and energy.

The Clintonites also extended the Pollyanna Creep of the nation's employment figures. Although expunged from the ranks of the unemployed, discouraged workers had nevertheless been counted in the larger workforce. But in 1994, the Bureau of Labor Statistics redefined the workforce to include only that small percentage of the discouraged who had been seeking work for less than a year. The longer-term discouraged—some 4 million U.S. adults—fell out of the main monthly tally...

"All in all," Williams points out, "if you were to peel back changes that were made in the CPI going back to the Carter years, you'd see that the CPI would now be 3.5 percent to 4 percent higher"—meaning that, because of lost CPI increases, Social Security checks would be 70 percent greater than they currently are...

The real numbers, to most economically minded Americans, would be a face full of cold water. Based on the criteria in place a quarter century ago, today's U.S. unemployment rate is somewhere between 9 percent and 12 percent; the inflation rate is as high as 7 or even 10 percent...

Undermeasurement of inflation, in particular, hangs over our heads like a guillotine. To acknowledge it would send interest rates climbing, and thereby would endanger the viability of the massive buildup of public and private debt (from less than $11 trillion in 1987 to $49 trillion last year) that props up the American economy. Moreover, the rising cost of pensions, benefits, borrowing, and interest payments—all indexed or related to inflation—could join with the cost of financial bailouts to overwhelm the federal budget..."
Let me reemphasize what the author said above. This is not an indictment of the current Bush administration; the statistical fiddling goes back for decades and includes both Democrats and Republicans. It's not a conspiratorial plot - it's just the pandering of politicians. Overall the content of the article is rather scary, even for someone as jaded and cynical as I am. If you want to read more, go to the Harper's link above for a pdf file, or to THIS LINK for an easy to read transcription. Or don't. You might sleep better not knowing.

Want!!


Very cool toy. Presumably neodynium magnets.

When Helmets Make No Sense



I'm reluctant to glorify or memorialize foolhardiness in this blog, but the photos are impressive (there are several more at this link). What startled me even more about the story, however, was the location where these pix were taken. Look at the pictures again - it's hard to believe that that is Ireland. I enjoyed the Reddit commentary:

"in that situation, it's the bikes that don't make sense."
"Actually the title makes complete sense because the helmets are not protecting anything worth protecting (the bicyclists brains)."
"I think diapers would be more useful in that situation"
"those guys did that ride hungover after a pub crawl the previous night" (see Ireland link above).

A refreshing sports story

"Sara Tucholsky, a diminutive senior for Western Oregon, hit what looked like a three-run homer against Central Washington. Never in her 21 years had Tucholsky propelled a ball over a fence, so she did not have her home run trot in order, gazing in awe, missing first base. When she turned back to touch the bag, her right knee buckled, and she went down, crying and crawling back to first base.

Pam Knox, the Western Oregon coach, made sure no teammates touched Tucholsky, which would have automatically made her unable to advance. The umpires ruled that if Tucholsky could not make it around the bases, two runs would score but she would be credited with only a single.

Then Mallory Holtman, the powerful first baseman for Central Washington, said words that brought a chill to everybody who heard them:

"Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?"

The umpires huddled and said it would be legal, so Holtman and the Central Washington shortstop, Liz Wallace, lifted Tucholsky, hands crossed under her, and carried her to second base, and gently lowered her so she could touch the base. Then Holtman and Wallace started to giggle, and so did Tucholsky, through her tears, and the three of them continued this odd procession to third base and home to a standing ovation.

"Everybody was crying," Knox recalled Tuesday. "It was an away game, and our four fans were crying. We couldn't hit after that."

(More details HERE. Credit to Neatorama)

29 April 2008

I Wish You Love - Chrissie Hynde


It's nice to end my blogging day with a music video, because then people can listen to the music while scrolling down the blog (especially for this video which has unrelated Alfred Steiglitz images).

"I Wish You Love" has absolutely outstanding lyrics, as testified to by the greats of the music world who have recorded this song - Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, Jack Jones, Nat King Cole (and Natalie), and many many more. The lyrics are HERE, but you won't need them, with this presentiation in the crystal-clear voice of Chrissie Hynde (who recorded this for the soundtrack of the movie Eye of the Beholder). This goes out with best wishes to a variety of old friends, family, and colleagues.

A wind turbine disintegrates


"...located at Hornslet near Aarhus. According to the Telegraph, the 60m-high structure was ten years old and manufactured by Vestas. Engineers who attended the scene were unable to prevent the break-up, and wisely retired to a safe distance." The second such event in a week in Denmark. Metafilter provided this link to a slow-motion version.

Carved peach pits


"Dr. Weldon Petz' peach pit carving by a prisoner of war during the War between the States (American Civil War) of the 1860s."

Further details and more examples at THIS LINK; credit to Growabrain.

VERY impressive skull


"Hunterian Museum : London, England The skull of a young boy with a second imperfect skull attached to its anterior fontanelle. Sent to John Hunter from Bengal, India in the late 1780s."

Judging from the dentition, it appears this child lived to a respectable age, so he must have been well cared for (perhaps worshipped as recent events in India have shown).

Credit to Boing Boing; additional similar material available at Anatomical Theater.

Franz Richelt - Darwin Award WINNER!!


"Franz Reichelt was a tailor who was convinced that the next big thing was a coat that doubled as a parachute. So he got busy sewing and developed just that. To test the coat/parachute, Reichelt climbed up to the first deck of the Eiffel Tower. He told authorities that he was going to use a dummy to test the invention, but at the last minute he strapped himself in and jumped to his death in front of a large crowd of spectators."

The YouTube video above is a live video of the event; it's comprised of a minute of soundless boring posturing, followed by the fatal plunge, followed by an unintentionally humorous final image of spectators measuring the depth of the hole he created in the ground (!!)

(Credit to Neatorama for posting this as part of their "Five People Killed by their own Inventions)

Democratic primaries as seen overseas


A float in a German parade. Credit to Flickr.

Antony and Cleopatra's tomb found?


Cairo, 24 April(AKI) - Archaeologists have revealed plans to uncover the 2000 year-old tomb of ancient Egypt's most famous lovers, Cleopatra and the Roman general Mark Antony later this year. Zahi Hawass, prominent archaeologist and director of Egypt's superior council for antiquities announced a proposal to test the theory that the couple were buried together.

Hawass said that the remains of the legendary Egyptian queen and her Roman lover, Mark Antony, were inside a temple called Tabusiris Magna, 30 kilometres from the port city of Alexandria in northern Egypt. Until recently access to the tomb has been hindered because it is under water, but archaeologists plan to drain the site so they can begin excavation in November.

Among the clues to suggest that the temple may contain Cleopatra's remains is the discovery of numerous coins with the face of the queen. According to Hawas, Egyptologists have also uncovered a 120-metre-long underground tunnel with many rooms, some of which could contain more details about Cleopatra.

Cleopatra who also bore Mark Antony twins, committed suicide after his death in August 30 B.C.

Sales receipts in Russia are routinely ripped


"...one of the most interesting and unusual retail practices in stores there is the Russian sales clerks' habit of tearing almost every sales receipt before they hand it to you or set it down on the counter.

Supposedly, this practice goes back to the Soviet days, when most stores had the merchandise behind counters and glass cases. To make a purchase, you would ask an employee to get the merchandise for you and prepare a sales receipt, which you take to a second employee/cashier. After you paid, you would take the receipt back to the first employee to pick up your stuff. Then that employee would tear the receipt, to finalize the transaction, and prevent customers from trying to come back and get a second item later for free.

(Found at Carpe Diem)

28 April 2008

It sucks to be the younger brother


Found at Popgive.

This is a chaperon


"The headgear this man is wearing is called a chaperon -- related to the modern French word chapeau... The picture is from the Chapel Saint-Erige, probably completed in the year 1451, a time when chaperons were extremely fashionable throughout Europe.

It was not until the early part of the eighteenth century that people began to use the word chaperon or chaperone to designate elderly aunts, ladies-in-waiting, or other persons charged with making sure that young people didn't get into the sort of mischief they are likely to get into when left to their own devices.

Apparently, the term was originally metaphorical. The chaperon protected the young person the way the hood protected the head."

(Full credit for image and text to Scribal Terror)

Did eaten songbird claw hawk to death??


This is bizarre. I'm sure there's a more rational explanation than the one suggested in this MSNBC article, but I can't work it out right now, and will just post extracts from the text:

"A hawk was found dead along a California highway with the claw of a songbird protruding from its chest... A pouch in the hawk's chest area called the crop had ripped open and the songbird, which had been a meal for the hawk, was spilling out... "We removed a good portion of [the songbird], which was partially digested..." The hawk had apparently just finished downing what might have been a sparrow. " Birds of prey, like sharp-shinned hawks, typically leave behind the legs and head of their avian meals..."

I for one welcome our new songbird overlords. And I hope this post will at least give a moment's pause to those French barbarians who consume ortolan.

(Credit to Neatorama for finding and posting the story)

"Urban mining" for gold

"A tonne of ore from a gold mine produces just 5 grams (0.18 ounce) of gold on average, whereas a tonne of discarded mobile phones can yield 150 grams (5.3 ounce) or more..."

Full story at Reuters. And, as they note, "..the same volume of discarded mobile phones also contains around 100 kg (220 lb) of copper and 3 kg (6.6 lb) of silver, among other metals..."

A "water cat"


This video has been on the net purporting to show a pet that ran up a $300 water bill. The story is bogus, as explained here in Snopes, but the video is real. Most "water cats" are content to play with dripping faucets; this one was more inventive.

Alcohol does not make you beautiful

Limiting a Google search to recent items


I've used Google for searches since its inception, and had it as my browser's home page until Wikipedia came along. One problem with Google is its gargantuan range; a search for a simple topic may yield 730,000 hits. A proper search for the most relevant item may require using Google's "advanced search" function, which can be daunting. Several websites, including THIS ONE by Google, facilitate specialized searching.

An extremely useful filter that I had not encountered before was posted on Presurfer this morning and is illustrated above. It allows one to search only for recent information - an incredible advantage when searching for current events. The original article is here at tech-recipes.com, but I'll excerpt the instructions below.

First go to google.com and search for your search term. Next, just add &as_qdr=d to the end of the URL and press ENTER. This triggers a Google dropdown box to appear (see image above). With the dropdown box you can select a time filter for limiting the search. Also, you can change the =d to d5 for 5 days, or w5 for 5 weeks or y5 for 5 years.

Let me add two personal tips. First, the &as_qdr=d has to be added to the URL, NOT the Google search term (it took me about 5 minutes to figure this out).

Secondly, I would personally never remember something like &as_qdr=d, so an easy workaround is to do it once with a common term (perhaps in ALLCAPS), and then bookmark that search as "time-limited Google searches." For future searches, go to that bookmark and just change the term in ALLCAPS in the url.

Enjoy.

26 April 2008

Brewer defends "Legal Weed" bottlecaps

Federal alcohol regulators have ordered a California brewer to stop using bottle caps with the words "Try Legal Weed" because it's a drug reference that misleads consumers.

The beer is brewed in the town of Weed, California (named after Abner Weed, a timber baron and former state Senator). The town's school bus has the words "Weed High" and a sign on the road out of town reads "Temporarily out of Weed."

The federal regulators do not appreciate jokes about drugs, and say that their labelling regulations are meticulous. The brewer has pointed out that they must certainly be aware of the most famous beer advertising slogan in America... "This Bud's for you."

His appeal is pending.

Extreme tree shaping


For centuries people around the world have trained trees and other plants to grow into "designed" shapes. The best known example would be the Japanese art of bonsai. Topiary has been done in Western cultures since Roman times. Perhaps the most innovative current practitioners are the Pooktre Tree Shapers of Queensland, who fashion chairs, benchs, picnic tables, and surreal art forms from living trees. Their website is HERE, and THIS LINK has many additional interesting photos.

Addendum April 2009: Wikipedia now has an entry on this subject.

Everyone enjoys stories like this one

"Armed only with a screwdriver, a 95-year-old woman in a wheel chair kept a burglar from breaking into her home by repeatedly stabbing his hand.

It was 3 a.m. when a 95-year-old Bartlesville woman heard somebody break the glass on her front door and push the door open. When a hand came inside and tried to unlock the door, she stabbed it. Again and again. She stabbed that hand many times over the next hour, say Bartlesville Police. The woman would not leave the door for fear the man would break in while she was calling for help.

When police arrived, they found the bloody suspect passed out on the front porch with dozens of stab wounds to his lower arms and hands... "

Credit to Neatorama; full story and video HERE.

25 April 2008

What's going on here?


These are American children reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance." The hand gesture is the "Bellamy salute," created by and named after the man who wrote the pledge. It was instituted in 1892 and continued for the next 50 years. In 1942 the gesture was replaced by the hand over the heart.

Interestingly, the Wiki discussion notes that before Pearl Harbor, when Charles Lindbergh opposed American entry into WWII, his pro-intervention detractors photographed him making the Bellamy salute during the Pledge of Allegiance but the flag was left out of the photos to suggest that Lindbergh was offering a Hitler salute.

Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks


I haven't posted a music video in ages. Back in the '70s, when I lived in Texas, someone introduced me to the music of Dan Hicks. It's hard to describe the style to someone who hasn't heard it; the Wiki biography suggests that it is a "blend of folk, jazz, and country," which isn't a bad description. The song above is from the "Last Train to Hicksville" album (1973), and is fairly representative of the discography, plus it has a nice violin solo by Sid Page.

This isn't a "music video" in the modern sense (It looks like a set from Austin City Limits), so there isn't much to watch; I suggest clicking on it while you move down the blog to read about praying mantids in amber. You will either really like the music or not care for it - but it's worth clicking on to find out.

Cretaceous praying mantis found


I have previously blogged about the amazing preservation of a baby mammoth in Siberian permafrost. But that was "only" preserved a few tens of thousands of years. To keep something intact for millions of years, nothing beats amber. The image above is from a report by National Geographic of the discovery of an 87-million-year-old mantid in amber. It was found 6 feet below the surface in a Japanese amber mine (wouldn't you love to dig in a place like that!).

From a scientific standpoint it's interesting not because of the age of the specimen per se, but because the mantids of that period had not yet evolved the 5 or 6 spines on their forelegs that help them trap prey; this one had two spines plus hairs.

Somewhere I've got another fascinating link re amber insects in my "to be blogged" folder. Will find and upload it later.

The Gray Lady is "bracing for a bloodbath"

"The New York Times newsroom is bracing for a bloodbath in the next 10 days." So says NY Post columnist Keith Kelly. The word from inside is that approximately 50 unionized journalists have accepted the buyout proposal... That means the ax could fall on as many as 30 editorial people in the company's first-ever mass firing of journalists in its 156-year history. Executive Editor William Keller had said originally that he was looking to cut 100 people from the Times staff in response to the dismal newspaper advertising environment...(More info at the Raw Story website, which is citing the NY Post.)
I don't have a personal opinion on this - just blogging it because I thought it is an interesting development. But I liked these comments on the Reddit discussion board:

Xtal: "I remember the newspapers dying like huge moths. No one wanted them back. No one missed them." (citing Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)

pillage: except nothing replaced those newspapers, well, except for TV screens the size of walls, but that's pure science fiction....

msdesireeg: Yeah, that could never, like, happen.

24 April 2008

Dick Cheney was a genius... in 1994...


...when he explained lucidly and convincingly that an American invasion of Iraq and occupation of Baghdad would lead to a quagmire and unacceptable American deaths.

Search and Destroy

From search terms entered into Google on a computer belonging to the family of Melanie McGuire, who was convicted last year of murdering her husband by shooting him with a gun obtained in Pennsylvania.

instant poisons
undetectable poisons
instant undetectable poisons
pesticide as a poison
insulin as a poison
insulin overdoses
toxic insulin levels
fatal insulin doses
euthanasia
tranquilizers
barbiturates
state gun laws
purchase guns
how to purchase guns illegally
how to purchase guns illegally in nj
how to purchase hunting rifles in nj
where to purchase guns without a permit
how to purchase guns in Pennsylvania
how to commit murder

(from Harper’s Magazine, May 2008, p.30)

Is Rush Limbaugh trying to incite riots?

Talk show host Rush Limbaugh is sparking controversy again after he made comments calling for riots in Denver during the Democratic National Convention this summer. He said the riots would ensure a Democrat is not elected as president, and his listeners have a responsibility to make sure it happens..."

Several callers called in to the radio show to denounce Limbaugh's comments, when he later stated, "I am not inspiring or inciting riots, I am dreaming of riots in Denver."

Limbaugh said with massive riots in Denver, which he called "Operation Chaos," the people on the far left would look bad."There won't be riots at our convention," Limbaugh said of the Republican National Convention. "We don't riot. We don't burn our cars. We don't burn down our houses. We don't kill our children. We don't do half the things the American left does."

He believes electing Democrats will hurt America's security and economy and appeared to call on his listeners to make sure that doesn't happen."We do, hopefully, the right thing for the sake of this country ... and riots in Denver, at the Democratic Convention will see to it we don't elect Democrats. And that's the best damn thing that can happen to this country, as far as I can think," Limbaugh said.

"Making the city work"


Doesn't work - study it....

Look out, bird!

Playing with kittie-cats

Teenage activism

Play at your own risk...

Truck vs. car


Truck wins

Tree versus car


Tree wins

Unfortunate book title

Won't she be flattered....

Midwestern windsurfing


I was just about to post yet another socially-relevant cry for justice when I realized the next post would be the 400th of this blog. In commemoration of this admittedly modest milestone, I decided that rather than continue what has been a rather somber tone recently, I'll switch to a more festive mode and post a series of images from my Humor file. Ten of them. Going up from here.

Flowers for Helen Thomas


Readers of this blog who are not from the U.S. may be unfamiliar with Helen Thomas, so I'll begin with some data from her biography in Wikipedia. Helen is an 87-year-old member of the White House press corps. Born in Kentucky to Lebanese immigrants, she studied journalism, then began her presidential coverage with JFK and "was the only female print journalist to travel with President Richard Nixon to China during his historic trip in 1972. She has traveled around the world several times with Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush, and has covered every Economic Summit, working up to the position of UPI's White House Bureau Chief, a post she would hold for over thirty-five years." She resigned from UPI the day after it was taken over by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, becoming a columnist for the Hearst Newspapers.

Helen is famous both for her knowledge of how Washington and world geopolitics works, her integrity, and her bold outspokenness in the face of Presidential authority. She has openly challenged President Bush on the Iraq war and has said "I'm covering the worst president in American history." Former Press Secretary Tony Snow thanked her for expressing the "Hezbollah view" of the war. She has also been critical of the U.S. Congress, which she calls "gutless" and her press colleagues, whom she considers timid and subservient to corporate and political authority.

That's the prologue. Here's the recent development. Two weeks ago, ABC news reported that President Bush's advisers had approved the use of "harsh interrogation techniques" at Guantanamo Bay, and the President then admitted he approved of these techniques. However, none of the White House press corps have brought up this topic at the White House press briefings - until Helen Thomas did so yesterday. Here is the 1.5 minute confrontation with Dana Perino:

Perino reiterates the White House position that the techniques were not "torture." Helen Thomas asks "how can you deny that torture occurred when there are pictures of it?" Perino rebuts that Thomas is "misconstruing" events. Cut off from the end of thevideo segment embedded above is Helen Thomas' appeal to her colleagues in the room “Where is everybody? For God’s sakes.”

The "left," as exemplified by Think Progress and Crooks and Liars has covered this story with an abundance of outraged comments. But the Reddit discussion board is doing something about it. They have started a fund to send flowers to Helen Thomas, along with words of support; this has been done at least once before. There's ongoing discussion at Reddit re which flowers and what comments, but as I write this on Thursday afternoon, the fund has accumulated over $1,500.00!!! While it's true that the funds could be used for more pragnatic purposes via various charities, the point here is to make a statement showing support for Helen that might (but probably won't) be picked up by the media. I've just contributed via my Paypal account. Anyone interested in participating can access the Chipin at THIS LINK.

(Photo courtesy Palm Beach Post)

Update: New webpage created to address this project. (and donations now about $3,000)

Update 04/29: Donations now over $4,000 - and flower deliveries started today. Photos at this Flickr page.

Third update: see post here.

23 April 2008

The Python "Dead Parrot" sketch (1969)

"Argument Clinic" - classic Python

The mother of all RC planes


Everyone has probably seen a remote-controlled plane - you know, those little models that people take to the park and fly in circles. This video is of the biggest model plane I've ever seen - a B-29 - and it has a small jet plane (X-1) hanging under its wing. Even if you don't like planes, this video is interesting to watch.

22 April 2008

Youngme - Nowme



A very clever concept for a website. The webhost asks people to send in photos of themselves as children, plus photos of themselves as adults reproducing the pose in the childhood photo. There are hundreds of these pairs, and they are interesting to peruse, at THIS LINK.

Railroad tank car implodes


Implodes. Not explodes. This was apparently part of an instructional video for employees learning how to clean these cars. The video only lasts 19 seconds; it's worth the click. I had expected the tank car to crumple gradually - I was surprised by the rapidity of the process....

Barack Obama's race speech

Barack Obama is not winning the Pennsylvania primary tonight; the only remaining question is the margin of Clinton's victory. The ramifications will be discussed and dissected by the pundits for the next couple weeks. Tonight I'll just blog a reference to the "race" speech Obama gave several months ago. Not the content of the speech; that was viewed by all analysts as superb. As others have noted "it is just plain flat out brilliant—rhetorically, but also in capturing a lot of nuance about race in America. It is so far above the standard we're used to from our pols."

The point I'll make about that speech tonight was first noted in Daily Kos. Obama wrote the speech himself. It wasn't written by a speechwriter, or a committee. It was written by the candidate himself. It's been almost 40 years since a President or presidential candidate wrote a speech for himself. As the Daily Kos said, "It is possible that we will have a President who not only will speak in full, complete sentences, but who will do so in a manner that is eloquent, and who will also be articulate and eloquent in delivering words he is intelligent enough to know, understand, and use in a speech he is capable of writing himself."

He wrote it himself. Think about that.

Why are there letters on these girls' foreheads??



The images above are two of dozens of young girls, each of whom has letters written on her forehead. The pictures were taken between 1959 and 1969 and were found without attribution as to source or purpose. Is this part of a medical study by a dermatologist or plastic surgeon?? Despite hundreds of comments at the website and years of followup, no one has come up with a definitive answer. The pictures are posted at Swapatorium: A Journey Through Junkland. After you scroll through the photos, I think you'll inevitably be drawn to the discussion thread below...

A MUST-READ for "boomers"

I have no illusions about why the people who visit this blog are here. You don't come for Enlightenment (and I seldom provide any). Most are here for the humorous 2-minute video, the funny cartoon, the esoteric fact they wouldn't otherwise ever see, the ephemera that entertain or puzzle or briefly enrage - and then people move on to other things, other websites, other activities.

This blog entry is about an article you should read if you're a Baby Boomer (if you don't know whether you're a Boomer... you're not. Skip this and go to the next blog entry).

Last month I was on a long car trip and heard an interview on (I think) NPR or BBC or somewhere else on the satellite radio. The interviewee was Michael Kinsley, whom I vaguely remembered from his appearances on Crossfire and various other media appearances. He was one of the founders of Slate, which I visit daily. The interview was prompted by the fact that Kinsley has written an essay in the New Yorker with some thoughts about "the meaning of life as we know it." It's a SUPERB piece of writing. Period.

Kinsley has a certain insight into the "boomer" mentality, sharply accentuated by the fact that at age 42 he developed Parkinson's disease. He sees Parkinson's as "an interesting foretaste of our shared future—a beginner’s guide to old age."

Herewith, some excerpts:
"...of all the gifts that life and luck can bestow—money, good looks, love, power—longevity is the one that people seem least reluctant to brag about. In fact, they routinely claim it as some sort of virtue—as if living to ninety were primarily the result of hard work or prayer, rather than good genes and never getting run over by a truck... Between what your parents gave you to start with—genetically or culturally or financially—and pure luck, you play a small role in determining how long you live. And even if you add a few years through your own initiative, by doing all the right things in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, vitamins, and so on, why is that to your moral credit?...

Ask yourself: what do you have now, and what do you covet, that you would not gladly trade for, say, five extra years?... To begin with, you’re still alive, which gives you a leg up. Or are the real winners in our youth-obsessed generation the boomers who died young, like John Belushi? Well, perhaps, but you’ve missed that boat. There may be glamour in dying in your early twenties. There is no glamour in dying in your late fifties...

The last boomer competition is not just about how long you live. It is also about how you die. This one is a “Mine is shorter than yours”: you want a death that is painless and quick. Even here there are choices. What is “quick”?... Sometimes I feel like a scout from my generation, sent out ahead to experience in my fifties what even the healthiest boomers are going to experience in their sixties, seventies, or eighties. There are far worse medical conditions than Parkinson’s and there are far worse cases of Parkinson’s than mine. But what I have, at the level I have it, is an interesting foretaste of our shared future—a beginner’s guide to old age... Many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease resemble those of aging: a trembling hand, a shuffling gait, swallowing—or forgetting to swallow, or having trouble swallowing—a bewildering variety of pills...

Decades before the nursing home, though, we all cross an invisible line. Most people realize this only in retrospect. If you have a chronic disease—even one that is slow-moving and non-fatal—you cross the line the moment you get the diagnosis. Suddenly, the future seems finite... As you enter adult life, values change and the deck is reshuffled. You get another chance, and maybe, if you’re lucky, the last laugh. But it isn’t the last laugh. The deck is shuffled again as you enter the last chapter. How long you live, how fast you age, whether you win or lose the cancer sweepstakes or the Parkinson’s bingo—all these have little to do with the factors that determined your success or failure in the previous round."

I encourage the Baby Boomers who visit this board not to use the excerpts above as a quick cop-out substitute - go to the original essay at THIS LINK and read it. I know we're all busy and have lots of things to do, and perhaps we consciously or subconsciously avoid pondering our own mortality and morbidity - but this is an excellent essay. Take 10 minutes. Read it.

Creative barcodes


No, not the one above, which is clever but not a real barcode. Some Japanese designers have modified traditional barcodes in a way that retains the underlying practicality, but adds some (typically whimsical) artistic merit. Some examples embedded below; for more, see the original story at Dark Roasted Blend.

An $18,000,000 house... is a teardown!!!

"Greenwich, CT is in an uproar over a mysterious Russian billionaire's proposal to buy an $18 million home, tear it down, and build what would be the biggest home ever built in the tony Connecticut enclave - a 27,000 square foot... Just last month he finished purchasing a huge beachfront lot in Israel, combining 5 neighboring properties, for about $17 million... He'll be tearing down existing homes there, too. The expansive plans for the new Connecticut home include 26 bathrooms, a billiards room, game room, Turkish bath, Finnish bath, a wine cellar and a dog grooming room."

I'm sure its his "right" to use his money as he wishes, but it's still an obscene display of wealth.

A Welshman invented the equals sign =


Robert Recorde was a Welsh physician and mathematician. In his 1557 book The Whetstone of Witt, he introduced the equals sign thusly:
And to avoide the tediouse repetition of these woordes: is equalle to: I will sette as I doe often in woorde use, a parre of paralleles, o: Gemowe lines of one lengthe, thus: == because noe 2 thynges can be moare equalle.
The scientist in me would have to quibble that parallel lines are not a priori equal in length (though perhaps Gemowe lines are defined as such), but in any case his innovation was eventually accepted and has been used for nearly half a millennium.

Credit to The New Shelton wet/dry for the info and Laputan Logic for the image.

Snickers, the Castaway Dog

Blogging while watching primary election returns can be mind-numbing. Sometimes - for the sake of whatever readers are out there, as well as for my own sanity - I have to "come up for air" with a heartwarming story. This is such a story, as related in Nothing To Do With Arbroath. The 8-month-old dog spent three months adrift in the Pacific with his owners and a parrot until their sailboat ran aground on one of the coral atolls of Kiribati. Snickers and Gulliver had to be left behind when their owners were picked up by a cargo vessel that didn't permit pets. When Kiribati officials announced that the animals would have to be destroyed, an SOS was sent out via a boating journal, and in response staff from Norwegian Cruise Lines rescued Snickers, and Hawaiian airlines delivered him to Hawai'i - for free. Now a network of bird lovers is working on a rescue for the macaw.

Notice how the eyes follow you around the room


The phenomenon of the eyes in a portrait "following" the viewer as he/she walks by in an art gallery has been known for generations. A number of articles have been written about this, and the classic example cited in Hals' The Laughing Cavalier.

But the above photo illustrates the point even better, I think. It was taken several years ago, showing Hillary Clinton standing next to one of her celebrity supporters - Natalie Portman. Notice how those eyes follow you around the room...

The "unrecountable" Pennsylvania primary

On Tuesday night, you will be told who the winner of the Pennsylvania Primary is. You will accept it. You will have no choice. No matter who the winner really is. Or isn't.

This Tuesday's crucial contest will be primarily run on 100% faith-based, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen or push-button) e-voting machines across the state. There will be no way to determine after the election whether the computers have accurately recorded, or not, the intent of those voters who voted on them. As VerifiedVoting.org summarizes the crucial contest, it "will be essentially unrecountable, unverifiable, and unauditable."

Credit to the Bradblog, where there is further discussion. And as WhatReallyHappened postulates, you should get ready for a "surprise upset victory" by Hillary....

Voting problems in Pennsylvania

You would think a country that prides itself as a democracy and tries to export that type of government to other (reluctant) countries would be able to hold elections flawlessly and transparently. Every step of the primary election process has been marred by at least irregularities, if not outright illegalities.

THIS ARTICLE links to reports describing problems occurring in Pennsylvania today.

Beneath contempt


In the first place, this particular slander is months old. The Obama/Osama similarity has been exploited even by mainstream media, but that subsided long ago. Secondly, churches retain their tax-exempt status only by remaining outside the realm of politics; if they try to influence voters their income can be taxed. The pastor of this Tennessee church claims
"the sign is not meant to be racial or political but rather to make people think. "His name is so close to Osama I have a feeling he might be Islamic therefore he doesn't recognize Christ.
It's not meant to be political?? I'm too polite to use the word "bullshit" in the description of a church sign, so instead I'll just refer to the church sign in the blog entry below this one.

Oh, and one final note. It's not just the pastor who is wandering in darkness:
"Pastor Byrd told News Channel 7 he would ask his congregation to vote on whether to keep the sign. They voted unanimously to keep the sign up Sunday night. Jonesville Church of God does not have any African American members."
Why does the last comment not surprise me?

This church sign says it all...

Hillary shows her credentials for the presidency

After spending six months trying to scare the American people into voting for her, Mrs. Clinton has now exceeded even Rudy Giuliani's fearmongering that I blogged months ago. Yesterday, as the BBC reports, she "was asked how she would respond if Iran launched a nuclear attack on Israel. She replied that: "If I'm the president, we will attack Iran... we would be able to totally obliterate them."

She probably should have said "we will wipe them off the map." That would have been a more telling geopolitical metaphor.

So, she has the fear-mongering and the saber-rattling down pat. More importantly, her financial acumen fits well with a presidential profile. As CNN reports,
"Clinton began April in debt, according to financial reports filed over the weekend with the Federal Election Commission. She had about $32 million cash on hand, but only $9 million of that total represents funds that can be spent in the primary races... The reports also showed Clinton owes more than $10 million, meaning she was in the red even before stepping up TV advertising... "The numbers are what they are," Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson said on a conference call with reporters.... "We will of course be honoring the debt in the coming weeks and months."
Operate in the debt mode and plan to pay it off with future profits. Sound like the American economy for the past decade... Scary.

John McCain receives disability payments

There is no argument about this; he does receive the money. As the L.A. Times reports, "when McCain released his tax return for 2007 on Friday, he separately disclosed that he received a pension of $58,358 that was not listed as income on his return."

And I'm not questioning whether this disqualifies him for the presidency. As recent officeholders have repeatedly demonstrated physican and mental impairments do not preclude holding the office as long as the president has adequate staff to think and act for him.

And I'm not questioning whether it was granted inappropriately; he undoubtedly returned from the Vietnam P.O.W. camp with physical impairments.

The questions are 1) is he still impaired and disabled? In defending his run for the Presidency, he has repeatedly bragged about his robust health and has claimed he is strong enough to hike the Grand Canyon. So is he still disabled???

And, secondly - should he still receive financial benefits? My 90-year-old mother will have her Social Security income reduced if she receives earned income from other sources. If the McCains have 8 houses and multiple millions in assets and income, should the government still be paying him benefits?

Perhaps these questions will be addressed during the real presidential campaign. Maybe my blogging it will help get the question circulating.

(Credit to J-Walk)

21 April 2008

Spring has arrived in Wisconsin...


...as defined by the arrival of pasqueflowers. The state flower of South Dakota, and according to Wiki a potent abortifacient, it's the first wildflower to bloom here in south-central Wisconsin. I found eleven of them along the University of Wisconsin arboretum trails this morning.

If you like wildflower photography, the image above is definitely worth clicking on to enlarge. You have my permission to reuse my photo for noncommercial purposes as long as credit is given to this blog.

10-yo girl's keyboard recital


Not a piano recital - it's an electric organ. The music is Kansas' "Carry On Wayward Son." As you listen, remind yourself that this Japanese girl is ten years old. Ten years old....

(Credit to Neatorama, and p.s. Wiki points out that there is no "my" in the song title)

19 April 2008

High Tech Noon


Very clever "updating" of the classic movie.

Footnote - I'll be busy with other chores for the next 48 hours. Have several hundred things bookmarked for future use, so I'll probably do a blogathon to get caught up. See you in a couple days.

stan

18 April 2008

That's a HOUSE in the center of the photo


I won't take time this morning to try to explain Kudzu to those who are unfamiliar with it. Wiki has a good introduction to the plant, which includes the map below, which shows the extent to which it has spread. The image above is from the website entitled Kudzu-covered houses.

Abortion "art project"

This news item can serve as the poster child for my tag category of "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot":
A Yale University art student is causing a national controversy with her senior art project that revolves around self-induced abortions. Aliza Shvarts says she artificially inseminated herself “as often as possible" in order to become pregnant and reportedly used herbs to cause abortions. Shvarts, a senior art major, intentionally caused the death of the babies with the herbs.

Afterwards, she allegedly saved her blood and the blood from each of the babies she killed to create an art display. Shvarts mixed Vaseline with the blood to prevent it from drying and placed the blood between sheets of plastic wrapped around the cube that hung from the ceiling.

But that was yesterday's news. According to a statement released by the university today, Aliza Shvarts ’08 was never impregnated. She never miscarried. The supposed senior art project of the Davenport College senior was a “creative fiction.”
Oh, and by the way, "Shvarts said she did not intend the project to have "shock value" or to generate controversy." Right.

(Credit to Nothing To Do With Arbroath)

17 April 2008

The last snow photo for this season


Deer photographed in Eveleth, Minnesota (up on the Iron Range) during last week's April snowstorm. Credit to Scribal Terror.

Golden eagles hunting/killing goats


Documentary film footage with dialogue en espanol, but the events require no explanation. Notable for the aerobatic skills of eagles, the bravery of a parent goat defending its young, and the brutality of the kill.

Warning re the latter - remember the internet meme....
What Has Been Seen Cannot Be Unseen.

Ceramic For Mix teacup


As reported in Nothing to To with Arbroath this morning:
The teaspoon could become a thing of the past after the invention of a mug that can stir liquid by itself. All a drinker has to do to work the clever cup is gently swirl it. This sets in motion a ceramic ball positioned at the bottom of the mug that stirs the contents... "The ball is put into a slightly protruding base to keep it in place when stirring and drinking. Users gently move the cup, like you would when swirling a glass of cognac, and the action pushes the ball around. The ceramic ball mixes all various sugars and milk at the same time, thus eliminating the need for a spoon. When you drink it the ball is blocked by the gravity in the recess of the glass. This eliminates the need for a spoon."
To anyone who has ever worked in a lab, this appears to have been inspired by the magnetic stir bars in the bottom of a Pyrex flask. Very clever.

16 April 2008

Anti-Clinton YouTube video


As described by thenation.com, "the video is effective because unlike many attack ads, the devastating parts all stem from Clinton's own statements:
The most effective part of that film was that is was entirely in her own words. Occasionally there were questions or something from the audience, but there was no announcer coming in and dubbing over or reading statements, this is straight from the source."

A different kind of Iraq war atrocity...

Remember "Saving Private Ryan" - about retrieving a soldier from the WWII combat theater when he was the last surviving son of a family? Here's the updated version...

Army Spc. Jason Hubbard, 33, and his youngest brother, Nathan, enlisted while they were still grieving for their brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Hubbard, who was 22 when he was killed in a 2004 bomb explosion in Ramadi. In August, 21-year-old Cpl. Nathan died when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed near Kirkuk. Jason was part of the team assigned to remove his comrades' bodies from the wreckage. Jason was then a sole survivor and was forced out of combat.

Then because he was no longer in active service ... the military cut off his family's health care, demanded that he repay $6,000 from his enlistment bonus and was denying him up to $40,000 in educational benefits under the GI bill.

(More details at this CBS News link.)

Oslo's new Opera House


The roof goes down to the waterline at the harbor. Patrons and visitors can walk on the slanting roof from the waterline to the top of the building. Thirty more images and more info at this link.

Eliminating the income tax


Presidential candidate congressman Ron Paul articulating his unique viewpoint during a surprisingly sympathetic interview by Ron Insana on the CNBC business news channel.

Cruelty to ... plants

offered without comment...

GENEVA (AFP) - Plants deserve respect, a group of Swiss experts said Monday, arguing that killing them arbitrarily was morally wrong -- except when it comes to saving humans or maybe picking petals off a daisy.

In a report on "the dignity of the creature in the plant world," the federal Ethics Committee on non-human Gene Technology condemned the decapitation of flowers without reason, among other sins.

Still, commission member Bernard Baertsche suggested at a press conference the body weighed such cruel acts on a case-by-case basis, noting "the simple pleasure of picking the petals off a daisy might suffice as a reason."

The first 1040 form


With the annual ordeal of filing income taxes behind us, it seems appropriate to post here the first 1040 form - from 1913. The instructions indicate that if one's income after exemptions exceeded $20,000, the tax was 1%. Using an inflation calculator based on the Consumer Price Index, that $20,000 income in 1913 would be equivalent to an income of $420,000 in 2006. Below that income level - no income tax due. How things have changed.
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