31 October 2008

Happy Halloween




No more blogging today. Need to get ready for 80-90 trick-or-treaters due to begin arriving shortly. The photos above are of our "Oh No" and "vomiting" pumpkins from 2006, and the "electric porcupine" pumpkin from last year.

Bilingual road sign in Wales



When officials creating the sign asked for a Welsh translation of the text at the top, they thought the reply they received was what they needed.

Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated".

How to frame your dog's photograph

Anti-McCain media bias

Chan's megastick - longest insect in the world

Stretching to an extraordinary 22 inches, this newly discovered bug is the longest stick insect in the world. Named the Chan's megastick, it was discovered in the Borneo rainforests by a stick insect enthusiast and has been handed to the Natural History Museum in London…
Almost nothing is known about its biology and lifestyle, although it probably lives in the highest canopies of the rainforest, making it hard to spot. Its body without legs is 14 inches long.

In addition to its size, its eggs may also be unique in the insect world…The female sent to the museum was full of eggs, each had wing-like extensions on either side like a miniature golden snitch - the Quidditch ball from the Harry Potter books.

'Other stick insects lay their 0.5 cm eggs individually and flick them in to the air where they fall to the ground,' he said.

'It looks like these are flicked into the air where they can be picked up by the wind and carried away from the tree.

'It increases the dispersal of the eggs and means that the young don't climb up the same tree as the parents and start competing for the same food.'
Blogged not because of the size of the insect, but because of the remarkable adaptation of winged eggs to enhance egg dispersal. Ingenious and fascinating. Also very cool is the title of the person interviewed for the article: Dr George Beccaloni, curator of stick insects, cockroaches and grasshoppers. (!!)

Campaign sign hooked up to electric dog fence


Story here. I'll defer any commentary.

Interesting architecture


My cousin in Barcelona tells me that this is the Torre Agbar (AGuas de BARcelona), built by the city's water company. It is lit up in the evening for a few hours and is quite striking with its red and blue lights. The conformation of the building has been described in a variety of ways, which I will leave to your imagination... (image credit here)

30 October 2008

Can you guess what this ad is promoting?


Bicycle helmets. (Click to enlarge)

The most important photograph ever taken is...


...the "Deep Field" image, taken by the Hubble telescope. I ran across this video yesterday, and was sure I had blogged it before, but searching TYWKIWDBI I can't find it. So here it is.

Six minutes. Lots of Carl-Sagan-type numbers. Really, really, really, really big numbers. Something crossing the universe at the speed of light would require 78 billion years to do so. 500,000 million galaxies.

But then add the revelations of the "ultra deep field" image taken of an "empty spot," realize those are not stars - they are galaxies - and you have an absolutely humbling concept of our place in the universe. Anyone who believes that our earth possesses the only life in the universe lacks common sense and frankly belittles the magnificence of a God.

(thanks, Ovablastic, for posting this video)

The Economist endorses Obama


The Economist, a London-based 150-year-old business and economics publication that in the past endorsed Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush, now offers an endorsement of Senator Obama:

Back in 2000 America stood tall as the undisputed superpower, at peace with a generally admiring world. The main argument was over what to do with the federal government’s huge budget surplus. Nobody foresaw the seismic events of the next eight years. When Americans go to the polls next week the mood will be very different. The United States is unhappy, divided and foundering both at home and abroad. Its self-belief and values are under attack...

The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America’s self-confidence. But we acknowledge it is a gamble. Given Mr Obama’s inexperience, the lack of clarity about some of his beliefs and the prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress, voting for him is a risk. Yet it is one America should take, given the steep road ahead...

Mr McCain has his faults: he is an instinctive politician, quick to judge and with a sharp temper. And his age has long been a concern (how many global companies in distress would bring in a new 72-year-old boss?). Yet he has bravely taken unpopular positions—for free trade, immigration reform, the surge in Iraq, tackling climate change and campaign-finance reform...

That, however, was Senator McCain; the Candidate McCain of the past six months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated. The fiscal conservative who once tackled Mr Bush over his unaffordable tax cuts now proposes not just to keep the cuts, but to deepen them. The man who denounced the religious right as “agents of intolerance” now embraces theocratic culture warriors...

The choice of Sarah Palin epitomised the sloppiness. It is not just that she is an unconvincing stand-in, nor even that she seems to have been chosen partly for her views on divisive social issues, notably abortion. Mr McCain made his most important appointment having met her just twice...

Is Mr Obama any better? Most of the hoopla about him has been about what he is, rather than what he would do. His identity is not as irrelevant as it sounds. Merely by becoming president, he would dispel many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein; and far harder for autocrats around the world to claim that American democracy is a sham. America’s allies would rally to him: the global electoral college on our website [embedded above] shows a landslide in his favour...

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and outfought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right...

Political fire, far from rattling Mr Obama, seems to bring out the best in him: the furore about his (admittedly ghastly) preacher prompted one of the most thoughtful speeches of the campaign. On the financial crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain’s has been febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is a man who listens, learns and manages well...

Our main doubts about Mr Obama have to do with the damage a muddle-headed Democratic Congress might try to do to the economy... the risk remains that on economic matters the centre that Mr Obama moves to would be that of his party, not that of the country as a whole.

So Mr Obama in that respect is a gamble. But the same goes for Mr McCain on at least as many counts, not least the possibility of President Palin. And this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear. In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency.

Is incoherency better when set to music?

Anti-aging skin cream advertisement

Wonderful philosophy of life

“If you want to believe in something, then believe in it. Just because something isn’t true, that’s no reason you can’t believe in it … that people are basically good, that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything, that money and power mean nothing, that Good always triumphs over Evil … that true love never dies.

You remember that, boy… doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, you see. A man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.”


-- Robert Duvall, in Secondhand Lions.

Hooligans maul elderly flamingo

Four teenagers in Australia have been charged with an attack on an almost blind greater flamingo, thought to be one of the oldest of its kind alive.

Police and zoo officials said the flamingo's head and beak were injured and it was bleeding from an eye. The bird, aged at least 75 years, is in a critical condition, zoo staff said. The bird has been at the zoo for most of its life and, with its Chilean partner, has been one of Adelaide zoo's most popular exhibits.

Police said four men aged between 17 and 19 were charged with aggravated ill-treatment of an animal and released on bail to appear in court at a later date.

The exact age of the flamingo remains unknown, as proper records from his arrival in the 1930s do not exist. "The bird arrived at the zoo in 1933 and was a mature bird at that stage..."

Blogged because of the impressive age of the bird. One is not surprised by an aged tortoise or large mammals like elephants and whales. But I had never expected to encounter a bird older than I am.

Cruelty to animals is a known predictor of serial killers. These young men need professional counseling. If I'm judging the mood of the public down under correctly, this might also be a good time to revive the pillory.

Deathmatch


"...the photo was just a snapshot in the struggle between a tree-frog and cat-eyed tree-snake that lasted for hours through the night in the tropical forests of Belize."

Excerpts from "Eunoia"

"Eunoia" - the shortest word containing all five vowels - means "beautiful thinking." It is also the title of a book in which each chapter uses only one vowel. Excerpts:

Hassan Abd al-Hassad, an Agha Khan, basks at an ashram - a Taj Mahal that has grand parks and grass lawns, all as vast as parklands at Alhambra and Valhalla. Hassan can, at a handclap, call a vassal at hand and ask that all staff plan a bacchanal - a gala ball that has what pagan charm small galas lack.

Westerners revere the Greek legends. Versemen retell the represented events, the resplendent scenes, where, hellbent, the Greek freemen seek revenge whenever Helen, the new-wed empress, weeps. Restless, she deserts her fleece bed where, detested, her wedded regent sleeps. When she remembers Greece, her seceded demesne, she feels wretched, left here, bereft, her needs never met.

Hiking in British districts, I picnic in virgin firths, grinning in mirth with misfit whims, smiling if I find birch twigs, smirking if I find mint sprigs. Midspring brings with it singing birds, six kinds, (finch, siskin, ibis, tit, pipit, swift), whistling shrill chirps, trilling chirr chirr in high pitch.

Loops on bold fonts now form lots of words for books. Books form cocoons of comfort - tombs to hold bookworms. Profs from Oxford show frosh who do post-docs how to gloss works of Wordsworth. Dons who work for proctors or provosts do not fob off school to work on crosswords, nor do dons go off to dorm rooms to loll on cots.

Gulls churr: ululu, ululu. Ducks cluck. Bulls plus bucks run thru buckbrush; thus dun burrs clutch fur tufts. Ursus cubs plus Lupus pups hunt skunks. Curs skulk (such mutts lurk: ruff, ruff). Gnus munch kudzu. Lush shrubs bud; thus church nuns pluck uncut mums. Bugs hum: buzz, buzz.

29 October 2008

Autumn foliage


Whenever possible I like to end my blogging day with a beautiful or impressive photo, because that's what will greet TYWKIWDBI visitors when they arrive. The image above (credit here) is that of a Japanese maple in the full glory of its autumn colors. This particular variety is probably a "laceleaf" cultivar. (click to enlarge)

Tsunami of early voting



There are probably many such reports and images from around the country. HuffPo has reports from a dozen different states quantifying the incredible turnout. I didn't find long lines at my local city hall, but when you go to links like this one, you can see collections of photos (like the two above) of lines of hundreds of voters, enduring sometimes 5 hours in line - and this a week before election day.

It wasn't that long ago that pundits and the media used to decry the "apathy" of the American public when it came time for elections. This election will put those stories to rest for a while; when it matters to them, people vote.

The Pont Neuf bridge - a gender test

An example of how men and women view photographs differently.
Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge in Paris and took 26 years to build. Construction began in 1578 and ended in 1604. ‘Le Pont Neuf’ is actually made of 2 independent bridges, one with seven arches and the other with five arches.
In the photo at the link, the bridge (located in Toulouse, not Paris) is partially obscured by foreground material. Women are usually able to see the bridge instantly; men, however, seem to require a much longer time to locate it.

Bicycle accident


"Apparently there may have been a line of riders, maybe 6 - 10 riders, two abreast, going approximately 25 mph, and the rider’s bike in front of him kicked up a branch, and you can see the results. The branch did not have a spear point at the end that went through his leg. That is why it broke his bone..."
More details at the link, including (refreshingly) the patient lying on an E.R. gurney, smiling, and waving at the cameraman. The +2 annotation on his foot means his dorsalis pedis pulse is intact and the viability of the foot is not in imminent danger. The discussion thread at the link includes suggestions that perhaps this image is Photoshopped. No way (and no need to); anyone who has worked in ERs or the military has seen this kind of stuff or worse. It is, however, quite impressive...

Explaining the mystery chord in "Hard Day's Night"

Whether it is the "most famous chord in rock 'n' roll" is arguable, but it certainly is well-known. Don't quite remember it? Here it is (just the first couple seconds, then you can pause the playback...)

The reason it's famous in the musical world is that for 40 years no professional musicians have been able to identify what chord George Harrison was playing. Now a mathematics professor has "decomposed" (??) the sound by applying a Fourier transformation and has come up with the answer:
“George played a 12-string Rickenbacker, Lennon had his six string, Paul had his bass…none of them quite fit what I found,” he explains. “Then the solution hit me: it wasn’t just those instruments. There was a piano in there as well, and that accounted for the problematic frequencies.”
More explanation at the link.

Raunchy Tarzan toy


He's probably supposed to be beating his chest, but that's not how it looks. SFW, but he looks more like Onan than Tarzan.

McCain in trouble in Arizona


So is that (D-AZ) caption on Fox News a simple typo, or are they trying to help him out... (image credit here)

Goblin shark video


What's really startling are the protrusible jaws. They resemble those of moray eels (or the probably more familiar alien who faced Sigourney Weaver and dribbled drool as the interior jaw reached for her face...) Those jaws reportedly are sold to collectors for thousands of dollars.

That long "beak" on the shark, that looks like an appendage a dinosaur would be proud of, is apparently a "rostrum" (snout) designed to sense electrical fields (and thus help it hunt prey). A great adaptation for a resident of the dark bathysphere.

(Video found posted at Ovablastic)

Obama's birth announcement


It shouldn't really be necessary to waste time on stuff like this. The blogosphere has been littered with accusations and implications that Barack Obama is not qualified for the presidency because he was not born in the U.S. More recently there have been rumors that the state of Hawaii is suppressing the relevant information from public view.

In the first place, it doesn't matter where he was born. His mother was indisputably a citizen, and the relevant law states that "before the child was born, the U.S. citizen parent must have been physically present in the U.S. and its possessions for at least 10 years, 5 of which must have been after the parent turned 14." Some goons on the right fringe suggest that he was born in Africa, then "smuggled" into the U.S. That's not true, but it wouldn't matter if he had been born while she was circling the earth in a space capsule; he's still a citizen.

His birth announcement was published in the Honolulu Advertiser. I've embedded the lower left corner of the newspaper page above. Those who want to view the whole page can view a pdf by going to Wikileaks and clicking on the link.

It is also not true that the state of Hawaii has "sealed" his records for nefarious reasons. The Hawaii Governor's office has issued a public letter explaining that the birth records of ALL Hawaii citizens are nonpublic because of the risk of identity theft.

This kind of damnation by innuendo keeps popping up, not unlike a child's "Whack-a-mole" game. I'm not going to spend any more time rebutting them.

Candle technology


A 5-minute science video. Nothing earth-shaking, certainly. This fits more into the category of "you learn something every day." What you might learn (if you don't know them already) are two things:

1) Why does the wick of a candle curve? What problems might occur if the wick went straight up?

2) When you blow out a candle, there is a wisp of white that rises from the wick. That's NOT SMOKE. What is it? I remember decades ago having fun seeing how far down that wisp a flame would travel if you put a lighted match at the top. Now I know why it happens.

Corollary to #1 - go to Wiki (there's a subtle pun there...) and learn that the original candle snuffers were NOT meant to snuff the candle.

Does the video remind you of something on television? Watch Mr. Wizard perhaps? Funny you should mention that...

Watch Mr. Wizard


Part of a half-hour episode from 1954. You'd have to be 60 years old or more to have seen this segment live, but younger visitors may remember later episodes or the Canadian revival in the 70s, or the updated Mr. Wizard's World of the 1980s.

For many adults, this was our introduction to "hard science" and the concept that science could be interesting (and comprehensible). I suppose it would be different now; teacher probably wouldn't be allowed to place a hand on Johnny's shoulder, and they probably couldn't make something explode on live camera by aerosolizing lighter fluid and igniting it.

This segment is about 10 minutes long; try watching the first 3-4 minutes and see if you aren't tempted to watch to the end, even though you already know "how engines work." (If you're totally fascinated you can find the end of the program - and other programs - on YouTube).

Today I was reminded of an old joke...

A man is waking up from anesthesia after a procedure, and his wife is sitting at his bedside.

His eyes briefly open, he looks around, glances at his wife and says, "You're absolutely gorgeous.” Then he falls back asleep.

His wife had never heard him say that, so she stays by his side. A few minutes later, his eyes flutter open again, he looks up at her and says, "Hey, you're cute!"

The wife decides to tease him because of his choice of words: "What happened to 'beautiful'?"

The man replies, "I guess the drugs are wearing off."

I'm having a colonoscopy today


So I won't be blogging. TYWKIWDBI encourages all visitors over age 50 to do the same thing. (Image credit here)

Addendum: colonoscopy normal. Fentanyl worn off; back to blogging.

28 October 2008

Why there are "robocalls"

Baby cockatoo


Image credit to Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge.

Kudos to Florida's Governor Crist

Florida Governor Charlie Crist, to the shock and dismay of Florida Republicans, just moved to extend early voting hours, a move likely to widen the Democrats' lead under a program on which the Obama campaign has intensely focused.

"He just blew Florida for John McCain," one plugged in Florida Republican just told me.

The Buzz reports:

At a hastily arranged news conference, Crist said the right to vote is sacred and that "many have fought and died for this right." He said he consulted a leading Democratic legislator, Rep. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, before issuing his order, and that Gelber knew of a similar order issued by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002 that dealt with helping voters deal with new equipment.

As to the perception that more early voting helps Democrats, Crist said: "This is not a political decision. This is a people decision."

Democrats had urged the extension, which means that votes will be cast 12 hours a day, not eight hours a day.

Captain Obvious now working at a hotel


(found at Eyesights in Time)

Logging truck vs. power line


Power line wins.
"...a driver securing his load of timber outside Jackson, TN tossed a cable over his trailer not paying attention to the power lines looming over his rig. Of course, he caught one, sending 7200 volts coursing through the entire affair..."

Voting machine flipping votes - watch the video


"Video the Vote went to Jackson County, WV, in response to numerous reports of machine vote flipping. The local county clerk showed us the machines in question, but the demonstration left us with serious questions, as the machine continued to malfunction even after it was calibrated."

New world record for apostrophe errors!


But are you on the list - perhaps as a "high fullutent sophisticated swine?"

(Image credit here)

Getting drunk on "superjuice"

Moonshine beverages such as fermented "bean juice" have long been common in the ostensibly "dry" communities, but superjuice, which first started appearing about four years ago, raises intoxication to new, dizzily dangerous heights.

The main ingredient is SuperYeast, a fast-acting yeast available in home-brewing stores. Mixed in a pail with sugar and water, one pouch can make 25 litres of superjuice in just a couple of days. The standard price of a two-litre bottle of superjuice is $80.

People drunk on superjuice are prone to violence, wild emotional outbursts, suicidal thoughts and frequent blackouts, Wood said. "With regular alcohol you can know what you are doing up to a point, but with superjuice you can't control yourself," he said.

"A lot of the times you can hear them screaming in the police holding cells (because) the stuff is still fermenting in their stomach," he said. "It keeps them drunk too because it is still in their system and still cooking..."

Magna Carta revoked


Not the entire document, mind you - just the part about collecting firewood:
The right of people to collect wood from Britain’s forests that was created under the Magna Carta has been overturned due to health and safety fears. The Forestry Commission has scrapped the right, enshrined in the “Great Charter” at Runneymede in 1215, in order to stop people picking firewood from woodland.

Instead they suggest people buy wood from local firewood merchants allowed into the forest...

“The Magna Carta states that a common man is allowed to enter forests and take deadwood for firewood, repairing homesteads, fixing tools and equipment and making charcoal.” He added: “Now they’ve stopped issuing licences and they are giving the reason as health and safety issues."
More details at Arbroath, where there are a bunch of other good things today, so I've linked to the homepage, not the specific article.

(The image above is not a woods in Britain; it's my favorite woods in northern Minnesota, where there is an abundance of "windfall" wood available.)

McCain/Palin support falling in almost every group

In mid-September (Sept. 9-14), McCain held significant advantages among those earning more than $75,000 a year, white evangelical Protestants, whites who have not completed college, and white men. Today, he maintains a significant advantage only among white evangelical voters, and has lost the lead or seen it shrink in most other categories.

For example, among voters earning $75,000 a year or more, McCain held a 53% to 39% advantage in the Sept. 9-14 survey. Now, Obama leads by 52% to 41%. After the conventions, McCain held a 52% to 38% edge among white voters. Today, he and Obama are running evenly at 44% each. In September, McCain held a 56% to 34% advantage among white respondents with some college education. Now, the candidates tally 46% each.

(It's over - barring a black ops terrorist attack. The "fat lady" seems to be clearing her throat.)

Addendum: just found an article that reviews the history of October surprises.

Which voters read blogs?


"Liberal Democrats also are far more likely than others to watch online campaign videos or find election information on the internet. Six-in-ten liberal Democratic voters say they have watched some form of campaign video (debate, commercial, etc.), compared with 33% of conservative Republicans. In addition, 43% of liberal Democrats say they read blogs about politics and the campaign; only about half as many conservative Republicans (22%) say they have read political blogs." (Text and graph from Pew Research)

Neave television



I found this after midnight, so haven't fully explored it. It's not television, but rather seems to be more of a video art project, and it appears to be SFW as far as I can tell.

HERE's the link. (The picture above is just a random screencap).
Click to start, then click your mouse to change pseudochannels.

There are also some links at the top to flash games and other diversions.

27 October 2008

Nothing says "autumn" like bush chrysanthemums


This one sits by our front sidewalk to greet trick-or-treaters later this week. It looks almost like a red pumpkin. This display is the reward for the work of repotting plus lots of feeding and watering and judicious pruning by my wife.

I thought about trying to count the individual blossoms, then decided to stop being so compulsive and just enjoy the spectacle. (The picture does enlarge to fullscreen for anyone who wants to try counting or estimating; I would guess something like 800-1000 individual blossoms.)

The delight of voting early


A variety of news media have warned of the possibility of near-havoc at the polls next week, not because of malfeasance or incompetence, but simply because of an overwhelming turnout of voters, especially first-time voters who will require more attention and assistance.

For that reason many cities (and the Obama campaign) have been actively promoting early voting as a way to make next Tuesday more bearable. Already there are reports of lines two hours long - and this ten days before election day.

I don't live in a large city (it's a smallish town suburb of a metro area), and it's filled with what Sarah Palin would call "real Americans" who relish their voting right to the extent that even during the primaries there were lines winding through the building and outside the door. Anticipating a huge turnout next week, my wife and I stopped by the town hall this morning to process absentee ballots.

We were greeted by the scene above. Four clerks ready to check IDs and eligibility and to sign people in, two more to print the form, plus a gentleman to explain the ballot-processing procedure. No one in line, zero minutes waiting. Voting was an absolute pleasure.

I'll drive by next week; I expect to see a line stretching from the firehouse to the cornfield.

Addendum: When I posted suggestions last week about How to vote early, one of the (numerous) McCain supporters who visit this blog appended a cautionary suggestion in the comments section regarding the risk of "buyers remorse," since voting early precludes adjusting one's decision based on October surprises or singing by the proverbial fat lady. This is true, and I do encourage other Republicans to heed that advice. Wait - don't vote now. And if any candidates give half-hour presentations during primetime TV this week, have a listen; you might change your mind.

African lioness encounters Hartebeest fetus


The lioness kills the pregnant Hartebeest [from the Dutch hert, meaning "deer" + beest self-evident], and while eviscerating it discovers a fetus. The sequence of events is documented in a series of 12 pictures at this photoblog.

The danger of suction toilets


There are a variety of stories re the hazards of vacuum toilets or suction toilets. Some are urban legends, such as the one debunked by Mythbusters re an obese person becoming stuck to an airline toilet. Others have been validated in the medical literature, including an account of partial evisceration on a cruise ship toilet.

With that unpleasant introduction, we turn to an account of a man getting his hand stuck in the toilet of a TGV bullet train.
A man trapped his hand in the u-bend of a TGV toilet. Firefighters cut him free after his arm became lodged in the u-bend after he tried to retrieve his mobile phone.

"He came out on a stretcher, with his hand still jammed in the toilet bowl, which they had to saw clean off," said witness Benoit Gigou...

The service was delayed for two hours after the 26-year-old victim, hunting for his lost telephone, fell prey to the powerful suction system which drains the loos on board, the rail network's regional office said.
Full credit for text and image to Nothing To Do With Arbroath.

Historic electoral maps


For those who are not bored "up to here" with politics, Gerard Vlemmings at Presurfer today found a fascinating assemblage of maps showing the distribution of electoral votes in U.S. presidental elections dating back to 1789, when Washington beat Adams (back then the runner-up became Vice-President; imagine what would happen today if Obama won and McCain became his Vice President!).

Nothing here relevant to the current election, but for those with an interest in history, the maps are informative.

The Financial Times endorses Obama

This isn't one of the American left-wing liberal newspapers. This is the Financial Times, the London-based paper that is viewed as one of the premier finance/economics newspapers in the world. You can read the entire editorial here, but since it requires a (free) subscription to view, I'll excerpt the relevant portions:

We have learnt a lot about Barack Obama and John McCain during this campaign. In our view, it is enough to be confident that Mr Obama is the right choice.

At the outset, we were not so confident. Mr Obama is inexperienced. His policies are a blend of good, not so good and downright bad. Since the election will strengthen Democratic control of Congress, a case can be made for returning a Republican to the White House: divided government has a better record in the United States than government united under either party.

So this ought to have been a close call. With a week remaining before the election, we cannot feel that it is.

We applaud his main domestic proposal: comprehensive health-care reform...

Mr Obama is most disappointing on trade. He pandered to protectionists during the primaries, and has not rowed back...

In responding to the economic emergency, Mr Obama has again impressed – not by advancing solutions of his own, but in displaying a calm and methodical disposition, and in seeking the best advice. Mr McCain’s hasty half-baked interventions were unnerving when they were not beside the point.

On foreign policy, where the candidates have often conspired to exaggerate their differences, this contrast in temperaments seems crucial. For all his experience, Mr McCain has seemed too much guided by an instinct for peremptory action, an exaggerated sense of certainty, and a reluctance to see shades of grey...

His choice of Sarah Palin as running mate, widely acknowledged to have been a mistake, is an obtrusive case in point. Rashness is not a virtue in a president. The cautious and deliberate Mr Obama is altogether a less alarming prospect.

Rest assured that, should he win, Mr Obama is bound to disappoint. How could he not? He is expected to heal the country’s racial divisions, reverse the trend of rising inequality, improve middle-class living standards, cut almost everybody’s taxes, transform the image of the United States abroad, end the losses in Iraq, deal with the mess in Afghanistan and much more besides.

Succeeding in those endeavours would require more than uplifting oratory and presidential deportment even if the economy were growing rapidly, which it will not be.

The challenges facing the next president will be extraordinary. We hesitate to wish it on anyone, but we hope that Mr Obama gets the job.

Warning sign

Bumper snicker

The joy of milkweed seeds



One of the pleasures of youth (or of adulthood when you don't care what people think) is to shake milkweed pods and watch the fluff fly away. The photos above were taken at the Pheasant Branch Conservatory last week.

For the eternally pragmatic-minded there are some other aspects to consider. The milkweed floss itself has excellent insulation properties (actually better than goosedown). In the 1860s, residents of Salem used milkweed as mattress filling, and during WWII, when Japan cut off the supply of kapok, a nationwide drive collected millions of pounds of milkweed for the manufacture of Mae West lifejackets. There have been modern attempts to farm milkweed and process the down, and instructions are available at Mother Earth News to make your own milkweed down jacket.

Blogged for my Aunt Charlotte, who during WWII was one of thousands of schoolchildren who harvested milkweed from the barnyard and took bagfuls to school for the "Two bags save one life" program.

This is why I don't blog celebrities

Republican "change"


A year ago I thought the Republicans could never mount an effective campaign in the face of an unpopular sitting president and a deteriorating economy. During the summer in what I viewed as an inspired tactical move they tried to coopt the "change" theme with a "change is coming" mantra. As this political cartoon from last month illustrates, the public seems not to have been convinced. (Click/enlarge image to read the fine print)

26 October 2008

Sarah Palin "going rogue"


Excerpts from the most-viewed article on CNN today:

Several McCain advisers have suggested that they have become increasingly frustrated with what one aide described as Palin "going rogue."

McCain sources say Palin has gone off-message several times, and they privately wonder whether the incidents were deliberate. They cited an instance in which she labeled robocalls... "irritating" even as the campaign defended their use. Also, they pointed to her telling reporters she disagreed with the campaign's decision to pull out of Michigan...

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party..."

"Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic," said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the "hardest" to get her "up to speed than any candidate in history."

"She's no longer playing for 2008; she's playing 2012," Democratic pollster Peter Hart said. "And the difficulty is, when she went on 'Saturday Night Live,' she became a reinforcement of her caricature..."

The world's largest nuclear bomb

Not Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Bigger. The 50 megaton yield is equivalent to ten times the amount of all the explosives used in World War II combined, including the Little Boy and Fat Man, the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively.

Illustrative of the insanity of nuclear war.

Bomomo. It's hard to explain...


You go to THIS LINK, and various drawing tools appear; the coolest one is the "fan." You have some control over them, but not completely. Just click, and mouse around, and a drawing emerges. Not a good drawing, mind you...

Queue jumpers

Queue jumpers are generally a weasily and cowardly lot who like to pick on the weak. In contrast, I'm a big stocky bloke with a shaven head. It doesn't matter that on the inside I'm a nerdy bloke who generally wouldn't hurt a fly, when John McQueuejump skulks into view he generally scurries quickly past me avoiding my gaze and looks for better prey.

This was exactly what happened one day, when I found myself part of the aforementioned queuing at Victoria during a Tube Strike.

A suited, and obviously late, business man bustled up from the closed tube entrance, took one look at the queue and then sighed. I was ten feet away from him virtually at the front of the queue, and from that moment I knew he was going to queuejump.

And queue jump he did. He walked to the front, carried on walking past the various blokes and was about to push in ahead of a lady with a push chair who was two people in front of me when he suddenly realised I was looking straight at him with that most dreaded of English expressions - RAISED EYEBROWS (dun dun dun!).

He changed his mind, lowered his gaze and walked quickly past me before cutting back in line ahead of the old lady directly behind me.

I turned round and said, politely, that there was a queue here and that perhaps he'd missed it.

"I'm in a Hurry." He said.

I pointed out that a lot of people in the queue were in a hurry but they seemed to recognise the need to queue, so maybe he should consider heading to the back of it.

"Mind your own fucking business." He said.

Well obviously I did the only sensible thing a man can do in that situation.

I turned to the old lady behind him, smiled sweetly at her and said:

"Would you like to go in front of me madam?"

And she did, the queuejumper being forced to shuffle back as I did to let her in.

Then i turned to the bloke who had been behind her, and said to him:

"Want to go in front of me mate?"

And he did as well.

In fact, the next sixty or seventy or so people all replied in the affirmative as well, and slowly but surely I (and the queuejumper) shuffled further and further back the line until we reached the end of the line and the end of our strange comedic queue-based dance, me holding eye contact with him the whole time.

By the time we got there he was furious, but was still unwilling to risk saying something to me.

Then as the bus finally pulled up, from the front, came a shout. It was the old lady who I'd first let in front of me.

"Young man! Do you want to go in front of me?!"

"That would be lovelly - thanks!" I shouted back, still holding eye contact with the queuejumper. I shot him my warmest (and smuggest) smile...

...and suddenly he snapped.

With a roar of primaeval anger he lunged at me, fist swinging. Luckily I'm quicker than I look and managed to sidestep just in time. His swing whistled past my nose, missing by milimetres. Overbalanced and unable to stop, he tumbled arse-over-tit onto the ground as everyone looked on in a mixture of shock and amusement.

As he fell I felt a strong but firm hand on my shoulder and turned to see a member of the London Constabulary there with a huge grin on his face. Him and his partner had been watching amused from a distance as the whole scene had unfolded.

"You want to press charges?" He said, laughing.

"Nah." I replied, "Not fucking worth it."

"Fair enough," He said, "You better go get your bus. Don't worry about tosspot here - we'll make sure he won't forget today in a hurry anyway."

"I fucking HATE queue jumpers" His partner muttered, as he held the guy down on the ground. "Should be a law against it..."

(story found at Metafilter)

Anchorage, Alaska newspaper endorses... Obama


Anchorage is Alaska's largest city (Wasilla is a bedroom community about 40 miles away). In terms of politics, "Anchorage leans heavily Republican in both State and Presidential elections." Here are portions of the editorial from the Anchorage Daily News, the city's leading newspaper:
Alaska enters its 50th-anniversary year in the glow of an improbable and highly memorable event: the nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential candidate...

Gov. Palin's nomination clearly alters the landscape for Alaskans as we survey this race for the presidency -- but it does not overwhelm all other judgment. The election, after all is said and done, is not about Sarah Palin, and our sober view is that her running mate, Sen. John McCain, is the wrong choice for president at this critical time for our nation.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, brings far more promise to the office. In a time of grave economic crisis, he displays thoughtful analysis, enlists wise counsel and operates with a cool, steady hand. The same cannot be said of Sen. McCain...

He is both a longtime advocate of less market regulation and a supporter of the huge taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailout. His behavior in this crisis -- erratic is a kind description -- shows him to be ill-equipped to lead the essential effort of reining in a runaway financial system and setting an anxious nation on course to economic recovery...

Gov. Palin has shown the country why she has been so successful in her young political career... Yet despite her formidable gifts, few who have worked closely with the governor would argue she is truly ready to assume command of the most important, powerful nation on earth. To step in and juggle the demands of an economic meltdown, two deadly wars and a deteriorating climate crisis would stretch the governor beyond her range. Like picking Sen. McCain for president, putting her one 72-year-old heartbeat from the leadership of the free world is just too risky at this time.

Disposing of a dead body


...the national Catholic Cemetery Conference is raising alarms about a potential option for disposing of human bodies in which a lye solution dissolves tissues into a sterile, syrupy substance that can be safely flushed down a drain.

"I guess I don't know how to say it any better than it's a desecration," Deacon Tylutki said. "The process has no dignity and respect for the human body. In our faith, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit."

...Tylutki said the church accepted the practice of cremation in 1963 but taught clearly that it was not a sign denying the sacredness of the human body. The cremated remains are to be treated with reverence and interred, not kept in an urn in the house, scattered on the seas or kept in a locket.
What utter rot. I have to imagine that such words come from people who think that human bodies after death remain in a state of purity like the preserved saints. They need to familiarize themselves with the process of decomposition. The process is much less dignified than having a corpse consumed by vultures.

And re disposing of cremated ashes, my uncle's ashes have been recycled in the Gulf of Mexico, my father's in the harbor of a lake, and mine will fertilize a woods (or be sprinkled in the cats' litter box if I misbehave).

Source link found at J-Walk. Image credit here.

Brooms banned for Halloween


And these are not even the infamous vibrating Harry Potter broomsticks. These are ordinary brooms. As noted at Arbroath:
Langham Pre-school near Colchester, Essex, announced it was barring brooms from its annual Pumpkin Party on Sunday after a child was hurt last year.

The fancy-dress party has been running at the village’s community centre for more than six years and is the nursery’s main fundraiser, attracting about 100 children and their families.

John Smith, committee chairman and a primary school headteacher, said: “It was not a whim, it was a considered decision. Last year, a child brought a full-size broomstick and another child got hurt."
They are also banning devil forks. Pretty soon, only criminals will have broomsticks and devil forks.

Image credit here.

"Charlie's dead"



You learn something every day. A BBC article about a new fashion trend of exposing underwear as outerwear included this tidbit:
When I was at school, the whispered warning "Charlie's dead" alerted a girl to the fact that her petticoat was showing...

There are various theories as to where that curious phrase came from. It seems to date from World War II, and my own favourite explanation is that in the 1940s, the window-blinds were lowered whenever there was a death in the house.

The dipping half-slip was like a lowered window-shade. More fanciful versions involving Bonny Prince Charlie or Charles II, are, I am afraid, historically implausible...
A Google search yields about 3000 hits for "Charlie's dead," including some referring to expired pet goldfish. These are the only relevant bits I could find ...

In my youth, we used to say "It's raining in Paris" in such circumstances. I have no idea why. The French said "Tu cherche une belle-mere" (you're looking for a mother-in-law) which makes much more sense.

"It's snowing down south" is listed in Eric Partridge's "Dictionary of Catch Phrases American and British." Partridge says it's Australian, current during the late 1940s and the 1950s "but rapidly less since then," and it may have reached Australia from the U.S. It was known in the U.S. as early as the 1930s, Partridge says.

found some other sayings: Mrs White is out of Jail, Saturdays longer than Sunday.

"Your cat's died!" was an expression said when I was a child to mean a girl/ladies petticoat was showing below their skirt/dress or it meant a boy/man's trousers were too short. [???]

And a restaurant on Petticoat Lane details the Prince Charlie/King Charles I/II theories.

Image credit here.

24 October 2008

And it's not really a gooseneck lamp...


(image credit here)

Candidate for the Darwin Awards

TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) – A man died just as he was about to win a university binge eating contest in Taiwan, scoffing down two buns filled with rice and cheese as well as some of his teammate's food, the college said on Friday.

The 23-year-old, described as tall and strong, vomited relentlessly, passed out and died on Thursday during the "Big Stomach King" contest at Dayeh University in central Taiwan. He had pulled ahead of 30 other teams.

"I can't say why he died," said Huang Te-hsiang, the university's dean of student affairs. "He had been in the contest before. He was a strong guy."

The graduate student, surnamed Chen, may have eaten too fast rather than too much, a campus publicist said. Chen was on course to win the five-year-old annual competition, she said. He would have won ... $60.

(Is "scoffing" the correct slang term? Cause of death ?esophageal rupture secondary to vomiting?)

A restored Raphael


Three separate undated photos show the restoration process of Italian artist Raphael’s 1506 oil-on-wood painting “Madonna of the Goldfinch,” which had been shattered into 17 pieces then nailed back together following a house collapse. After 10 painstaking years of work, the Italian Renaissance artwork is returning to the public. (Reuters/Opificio Delle Pietre Dure/Handout)
"The goldfinch is a symbol of Christ's future violent death. St. John offers the goldfinch to Christ in warning of his future."

What never ceases to amaze me is the enhanced brilliance and coloration of restored paintings, murals, tapestries etc. Those of us who grew up visiting old museums have a muddied view of how things looked in the distant past. But goldfinch = violent death?? Who is it that comes up with the meanings of symbols in paintings??

Questions about 9/11 - from an air traffic controller


This is Part 6 of a 10-part series. The other parts can be accessed at YouTube.

Lithopedion - a "stone baby"


"In 1955 in a small village just outside Casablanca, 26 year old Zahra Aboutalib is pregnant with her first child. She was looking forward to giving birth, but after 48 hours of painful labour, she was rushed to the local hospital. Doctors informed her that she would need a caesarean section. On the ward Zahra saw a woman in terrible pain die in child-birth. She fled the hospital fearing she would meet the same fate if she remained.

In the days that followed, Zahra continued to suffer excruciating labour pains but the baby remained resolutely in her womb. After a few more days the pains ceased and the baby stopped moving.

In Moroccan culture, it is believed that a baby can sleep inside the mother to protect her honour. Zahra believed this myth and put the pregnancy out of her mind. She adopted three children and in due course they made her a grandmother.

Many years later when Zahra was 75 years old, the pains suddenly returned. Her son being concerned for his mother's well-being wanted her to see a specialist. For this they had to travel to Rabat where they saw Professor Taibi Ouazzani. He suspected the protruding belly was being caused by an ovarian tumour and arranged for her to have an ultra-sound scan. This revealed a large mass that he could not identify.

He referred Zahra to a specialist radiographer for a second opinion. He could see it was a calcified structure of some sort, but it took a detailed MRI scan to reveal that it was the baby Zahra had conceived 46 years earlier.

Zahra had an ectopic pregnancy where the egg had implanted in the fallopian tube. The foetus that developed, burst out of the fallopian tube and continued to develop in the abdominal cavity…

When they operated they discovered that the foetus had calcified and was a hard, solid lump. It was, essentially, a stone-baby."

(Text and image credit here.)

Words fail me

An explanation of "walking around money"

From the often-interesting Slate Explainer, a discussion of a term that will be heard more frequently as election day approaches:

"It's cash that's given to help get people to the polls. The money can go toward perks like coffee and doughnuts for door knockers, gas for volunteers to chauffeur elderly voters, or pocket money for kids who distribute fliers and sample ballots on Election Day. Also known as "walking-around money" or "get-out-the-vote money," it's most common in poor areas of Philadelphia; Chicago; Newark, N.J.; Baltimore; Los Angeles; and other big cities. Both parties use street money, but it's more common among Democrats, who tend to be better represented in the areas that rely on it...

In Philadelphia, the candidate sends a check to the chairman of the city's Democratic Party, who then divides the money up among the 69 ward leaders, who in turn divvy up their cash among the 50 or so committee people in each ward. In 2004, John Kerry spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Philadelphia street money, and ward leaders received checks for as much as $8,000. Individual volunteers can generally expect anywhere from $10 to $200, depending on the location and the type of work they're doing.

The practice is legal everywhere—it's protected by the First Amendment—but some states have tougher restrictions than others. In Philadelphia, committee people can hand out cash for any reason, as long as they're not paying someone for their vote. (The U.S. Code prohibits vote purchasing.) In New Jersey, campaign officials have to pay the workers in checks and their names, addresses, and amounts paid must be submitted to the Election Law Enforcement Commission. Presidential campaigns are always required to report the money to the Federal Elections Commission..."

(Much more at the link. I've always been amused by the prohibition against buying votes while candidates from both parties compete to see who can promise voters the biggest tax decreases...)

Yes, I know it's a training session...


... but it still looks funny...
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