Monthly Archives: December 2008

Vietnam Was “The Television War”; Meet “The YouTube War”

I don't have anything to say about the outbreak of fighting in Israel/Gaza, other than you can put me down in the "Israel's-responsive-was-disproportionate-and-therefore-counterproductive" camp, that the Bush Administration's silence on the issue is (once again) negligent, and the only way this will end (and not escalate) is some serious efforts at diplomacy — and soon.

Okay, I guess I do have something to say.

Anyway, I find it interesting that the Israeli Defense Forces have opened up an account on Youtube, so that viewers can watch same-day IDF footage of rockets hitting their targets in the Gaza strip.  Interesting propaganda — I'm not sure what purpose it serves ("We're badass"?)

YouTube has pulled some of them down — maybe it intends to do so with all of them.  Odd that it should find itself in this internationally awkward editorial position.

“In Passing” 2008 Roll Call

2008 dead celebrities I really felt kinda bad about upon hearing that they had died:

Yes, yes.  I know others died (Heath Ledger, Charlton Heston, etc.).  But their deaths, while sad or surprising or whatever, didn't make me go, "Oh man!".

The First Draft Of The Bush Presidency

This Vanity Fair "oral history" is excellent.  It goes through key moments of the Bush Administration, and the story is not told through narrative, but rather, through the comments of Bush insiders.

Here, for example, are some insider comments about the time when the Bush Administration confronted (well, failed to confront) Katrina:

Dan Bartlett, White House communications director and later counselor to the president: Politically, it was the final nail in the coffin.

Matthew Dowd, Bush’s pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign: Katrina to me was the tipping point. The president broke his bond with the public. Once that bond was broken, he no longer had the capacity to talk to the American public. State of the Union addresses? It didn’t matter. Legislative initiatives? It didn’t matter. P.R.? It didn’t matter. Travel? It didn’t matter. I knew when Katrina—I was like, man, you know, this is it, man. We’re done.

Weblog Award Finalists Announced

Full list here.

It's a good place to go if you want to be exposed to various well-written blogs that you didn't know existed.

Yes, Virginia, there are well-written blogs out there.  The blogosphere is much much more than political rants and pictures of peoples' kittens doing the gosh-darn cutest things.

Senator Franken — Finally?

TPM:

It's now official that Al Franken is ahead in the Minnesota recount by 50 votes, after the state canvassing board finally approved a spreadsheet of all the ballots that have been counted, recounted and examined again over this very long process. And while it now appears to be almost certain that Franken will defeat GOP Sen. Norm Coleman in the end, it's hardly over.

The board did some last-minute reviews and corrections this morning, sorting out complaints from both campaigns of clerical errors in the allocations of some of the challenged ballots. And so Al Franken, who entered the recount down by 215 votes, is currently ahead by a margin of 0.00171% out of over 2.9 million votes.

That's an astoundingly close election.

Of course, it's not the official final result yet, and there is still more haggling to be done about rejected absentee ballots, inevitably involving the courts again.

Real Love Is Fiction

Oprah called it ""the single greatest love story, in 22 years of doing this show, we've ever told on the air." 


And she made the memoir of the story one of her books-of-the-month.  It has been featured on the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Television, and CBS News.

And the story is this:

The author, Herman Rosenblat, who is a retired television repairman now living in Miami, recounts his experience as a teenage boy during the Holocaust at Schlieben, a sub-division of the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp. In the winter of 1945, Herman meets a nine-year-old girl–herself a Jew masquerading as a Christian at a nearby farm–when she shows up one day outside the camp and tosses him an apple over the barbed-wire fence. For the next seven months, the girl at the fence delivers Herman food each day, until he is suddenly transferred to another camp. Fast forward to Coney Island, 1957: Herman, now in his 20s and settled in New York, reluctantly agrees to a blind date with a young Polish immigrant named Roma Radzicki. They speak of their time during the war. Roma mentions a boy she had helped to survive in a camp. She said she fed him apples. A flash of recognition. Months later, Herman marries Roma, his angel at the fence.


Nice story, except for the fact that the only place where the apples could have been tossed from the women's camp to the men's camp was right beside the SS guard bunker.

Also, the man told the woman he could no longer see her because he was being gassed the next day (because that's what he thought; he was transferred instead).

Nice story, except for the fact that Jews typically weren't informed in advance that they were to be gassed.

And, oh yeah, Schliebem didn't have a gas chamber.

So, yeah.  The hoax got exposed.

The Final Verdict On Abstinence-Only Sex Education

It doesn't work; in fact, it backfires:

The new analysis of data from a large federal survey found that more than half of youths became sexually active before marriage regardless of whether they had taken a "virginity pledge," but that the percentage who took precautions against pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases was 10 points lower for pledgers than for non-pledgers.

"Taking a pledge doesn't seem to make any difference at all in any sexual behavior," said Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whose report appears in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics. "But it does seem to make a difference in condom use and other forms of birth control that is quite striking."

Got that? The difference between teens who make abstinence "pledges" and teens who don't isn't the amount of sexual conduct, it's that those who make the "pledges" engage in more dangerous sexual conduct.

Is this news?

Not really.  The nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that abstinence programs do not affect teenager sexual behavior. A congressionally-mandated study, which was not only comprehensive but also included long-term follow-up, found the exact same thing. Researchers keep conducting studies, and the results are always the same.

Yet the federal government is continuing to invest in abstinence-only programs — $176 million annually.

Kevin Drum comments:

Simply telling teenagers not to have sex doesn't affect behavior, doesn't prevent unwanted pregnancies, and doesn't stop the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. Teens who receive comprehensive lessons of sexual health, with reliable, accurate information, are more likely to engage in safer, more responsible behavior.

And yet, GOP policy makers in Washington have invested billions over the last eight years in this failed social experiment, and conservatives want taxpayers to throw even more money at programs that don't work.

The Washington Post noted that Congress and the new Obama administration "are about to reconsider the more than $176 million in annual funding for such programs." It should be a no-brainer.

Maybe with some brains in Washington now, a more rationale policy will finally see the light of day.

The U.S. Will End In 2010

I guess that prediction would be laughable if it came from Nostadamus or some modern-day equivalent soothsayer.

But the guy who is saying is a respected analyst.  Then again, he's Russian:

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

He's been making this prediction for more than a decade, and now, with the economic collapse, people outside of Russia are listening to him.

Okay, so what's this guy actually saying?

He based the forecast on classified data supplied to him by FAPSI analysts, he says. He predicts that economic, financial and demographic trends will provoke a political and social crisis in the U.S. When the going gets tough, he says, wealthier states will withhold funds from the federal government and effectively secede from the union. Social unrest up to and including a civil war will follow. The U.S. will then split along ethnic lines, and foreign powers will move in.

California will form the nucleus of what he calls "The Californian Republic," and will be part of China or under Chinese influence. Texas will be the heart of "The Texas Republic," a cluster of states that will go to Mexico or fall under Mexican influence. Washington, D.C., and New York will be part of an "Atlantic America" that may join the European Union. Canada will grab a group of Northern states Prof. Panarin calls "The Central North American Republic." Hawaii, he suggests, will be a protectorate of Japan or China, and Alaska will be subsumed into Russia.

And the WSJ article even provides a handy-dandy picture of what a post-U.S. U.S. would look like:

Postus

It looks like North Carolina, where I live, is going to get all french-i-fied, since it is part of "Atlantic America". 

We'll have to start wearing berets and eating baguettes.

Although Panarin thinks this has a 55-45% chance of happening, I'd say that there is a 99.999-0.001% chance that Panarin doesn't have a clue about American culture. 

And Texas falling under Mexican influence?  I'm no expert on the Lone Star State, but I just don't see that happening.

And Alaska becoming Russian?  Oh, I don't think so.  Not with Sarah at the helm.  She knows how to kill a moose from a helicopter, and she can see Russia from the coastline.  Did Panarin factor that in?!?

Top 10 Lists

Yarrow, The Magic Folk Song Writer

So there's this controversy regarding Chip Saltsman, a GOP bigwig who is apparently under consideration for head of the Republican National Committee.  Saltsman, you see, sent out a CD to members of the RNC as a Christmas gift.  The CD contained spoof political songs, including one played by Rush Limbaugh during the campaign entited "Barack, The Magic Negro".

"Barack, The Magic Negro" is set to the tune of "Puff, The Magic Dragon".

Now, the use of the term "negro", as well as the song itself, is being considered racist, and it has ruffled a few feathers.

So now we hear from Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul & Mary), who co-wrote the song.

[NOTE:  Yes, "Puff the Magic Dragon" had writers.  What — did you think that song just happened?]

Yarrow says:

I and my co-writer of "Puff," Lenny Lipton, have been eagerly awaiting an end to the mean-spiritedness, outright disrespect and bigotry that was commonplace prior to this last presidential election. What might have been wearily accepted as "the way it was" in the campaign, is now unacceptable. Obama is not a candidate. He is the President-Elect, and this song insults the office of the Presidency, the people who voted for him, as well as those who did not — and taking a children's song and twisting it in such vulgar, mean-spirited way, is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism.

A cogent point, well argued.  But then Yarrow loses me:

It is almost unimaginable to me that Chip Saltzman who sent the CD, would seriously be considered for the top post of the Republican National Committee. Puff, himself, if asked, would certainly agree.

Damn hippee.

Speedy Trials? Not In These Bad Economic Times

This is bad:

The economic storm has come to this: Justice is being delayed or disrupted in state courtrooms across the country.

Financially strapped New Hampshire has become a poster child for the problem. Among other cost-cutting measures, state courts will halt for a month all civil and criminal jury trials early next year to save $73,000 in jurors' per diems. Officials warn they may add another four-week suspension.

"It brings our system almost to a screeching halt," said county prosecutor James M. Reams. His aides are scrambling to reschedule 77 criminal trials that were on the February docket.

Perhaps it saves $73,000 in jurors' per diems, but I imagine a lot of those savings will be eaten up by having to house criminals an extra month in prison.

Then again, if they do it in January and February, I'll bet they save a bundle on heating costs for the courthouses.

Fueling Your Car With Your Fat

It's possible:

Love handles can power a car? Frighteningly, yes. Fat–whether animal or vegetable–contains triglycerides that can be extracted and turned into diesel. Poultry companies such as Tyson are looking into powering their trucks on chicken schmaltz, and biofuel start-ups such as Nova Biosource are mixing beef tallow and pig lard with more palatable sources such as soybean oil. Mike Shook of Agri Process Innovations, a builder of biodiesel plants, says this year's batch of U.S. biodiesel was likely more than half animal-derived since the price of soybeans soared.

A gallon of grease will get you about a gallon of fuel, and drivers can get about the same amount of mileage from fat fuel as they do from regular diesel, according to Jenna Higgins of the National Biodiesel Board. Animal fats need to undergo an additional step to get rid of free fatty acids not present in vegetable oils, but otherwise, there's no difference, she says.

In fact, someone gruesomely has done it.  Beverly Hills doctor Craig Alan Bittner turned the fat he removed from patients into biodiesel that fueled his Ford SUV and his girlfriend's Lincoln Navigator. The prpblem is, it's illegal in California to use human medical waste to power vehicles, and Bittner is being investigated by the state's public health department.

Gillespie Working Hard On Bush’s Legacy

There's much to dispute with Ed Gillespie's article "Myths & Facts About The Real Bush Record", a deceptively written article which, while heavy on facts and numbers, also obfuscates many more important facts. 

For example, Gillespie points out that, under the Bush Administration, we had 52 consecutive months of job growth.  What he ignores are the statistics that, under the Bush Administration, much of that "job growth" is attributable to elimination of better jobs.  For example, if you fire someone making $20/hr with benefits and replace them with two temps earning no benefits making $8 or even $7/hr then according to the government jobs were "added".  Also, many of the jobs created are second jobs, and crappy ones at that. Someone laid off from a $30/hr manufacturing job with healthcare, who is then forced to work two burger-flipping jobs, represents "job growth."

It's also relatively easy to have economic prosperity when you triple the size of the national debt.  Listen, if my credit card had no limits, and I used it like a man with 6 months to live, I would appear to be "prosperous" too.  But it's not real wealth.  It's debt.

Gillespie also attempts to shoot down the notion that only the rich benefited from Bush's policies, pointing out that Bush policies got many people off of welfare.  That may be, but still:

Bestinequalitygraph_figure1_version3    

The chart shows average inflation-adjusted incomes of the poorest 20%, middle 60%, and top 1% of households since the 1970s. The incomes include government transfers and subtract taxes. For the bulk of American households, incomes have increased moderately or minimally. For those at the top, by contrast, they have soared.

So there is kind of an Enron-like numbers game going on within Gillespie's article.

But Gillespie ends with the worst "fact" ever touted in favor of the Bush Administration's legacy:

And one last fact: Our homeland has not suffered another terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. That, too, is part of the real Bush record.

Wrong.  Flat out wrong.

First of all, we had an anthrax attack that killed seven people shortly after 9/11.  Here.  On the "homeland".  What — that doesn't count?

And more importantly, this whole notion that the Bush Administration began on 9/12/01 is silly.  It's kind of like saying that presiedntial security was successful during the Lincoln administration, as evidenced by the fact that Lincoln wasn't shot again by someone following the event at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865.

The fact is that when you take the entirety of the Bush Administration, his record on preventing domestic terrorism is the worst of all the other previous administrations combined.

Nice spin though, Ed.

Sarah Palin: Conservative Of The Year

According to conservative Human Events magazine, Governor Sarah Palin is the 2008 Conservative of the Year. 

And Ann Coulter has the honor of explaining why Palin is the 2008 Conservative of the Year, in an article more telling than Coulter probably imagined.

The reason why Palin is 2008 Conservative of the Year?  Apparently because she annoys liberals.  Seriously!  Read Coulter's article!  After griping about the unfair media scrutiny Palin received from the lie-beral media, Coulter can offer no reason why Palin represents the best of conservatism other than the fact that she makes liberals' heads explode.

Apparently, this is what "conservatism" means now: bugging the crap out of liberals.  Conservatism is no longer a political ideology designed to improve the life of Americans; it's now just a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Coulter's article reinforces the notion that conservatism has no ideological basis other than to oppose and demonize progressive politics.  Even when conservativism was in its heyday (up to and including 2004, I'd estimate), it was primarily based on opposition to liberalism, and little else.  No wonder movement conservatism is dead. 

Crackpot Conspiracy Theories

Remember how the Clintons murdered Vince Foster?  That tripe was peddled around for years by conservative talk radio, and many still believe it today.

As the New York Times pointed out yesterday, conservative talk radio is salivating now at the prospect of an Obama presidency.

And already, they're rolling out conspiracy theories.  We've already heard (endlessly) about how Obama's parents, the government of Kenya, and the State of Hawaii conspired — back in 1962 — to fake the location of Obama's birth (because, supposedly, they all knew back then that Obama would be running for President one day).

Now the latest crackpot conspiracy — to wit — the entire economic downfall was engineered by Democrats in order to get Obama elected.  And heading the charge?  Limbaugh, of course:

Here’s how Limbaugh’s conspiracy theory goes: Schumer caused on run on IndyMac bank in California this summer, in order to create a feeling of financial panic amongst the public. Democrats then capitalized on this panic with electoral wins in the White House and Congress. The purpose of gaining this power, according to Limbaugh, was to nationalize U.S. industries:

LIMBAUGH: Who’s benefiting? Aside from the people being bailed out. The Democrat party and Barack Obama are benefiting.

They got elected, they increased their numbers in the House, they increased their numbers in the Senate, they got the White House now, and they’ve got a crisis that people think can only be fixed with the all-mighty and powerful government interceding to save this or to save that, when in fact, the government is going to nationalize the automobile industry. It’s going to nationalize some banks. It’s going to nationalize the mortgage industry, and may end up nationalizing the automobile industry.

This theory is quickly becoming a right-wing favorite. Karl Rove and Bill O’Reilly also recently claimed that the economic crisis was deliberately manufactured — not by Democrats but by journalists who wanted to help elect Obama.

Limbaugh's conspiracy theory is a rather transparent effort to write an incorrect first draft of history, so that 4 years from now, he (and others) can claim that the economic crisis (which Obama got us out of) was actually Obama's fault in the first place.  The problem is that is, well, is bullsh*t.  Have you ever heard of the IndyMac bank?  Me neither.  And it's a pretty safe bet that most of the electorate hadn't either, when they went to vote.  But no matter.

Of course, we know better about the roots of the economic crisis:

There are plenty of culprits, like lenders who peddled easy credit, consumers who took on mortgages they could not afford and Wall Street chieftains who loaded up on mortgage-backed securities without regard to the risk.

But the story of how we got here is partly one of Mr. Bush’s own making, according to a review of his tenure that included interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials.

From his earliest days in office, Mr. Bush paired his belief that Americans do best when they own their own home with his conviction that markets do best when let alone.

He pushed hard to expand homeownership, especially among minorities, an initiative that dovetailed with his ambition to expand the Republican tent — and with the business interests of some of his biggest donors. But his housing policies and hands-off approach to regulation encouraged lax lending standards.

Mr. Bush did foresee the danger posed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance giants. The president spent years pushing a recalcitrant Congress to toughen regulation of the companies, but was unwilling to compromise when his former Treasury secretary wanted to cut a deal. And the regulator Mr. Bush chose to oversee them — an old prep school buddy — pronounced the companies sound even as they headed toward insolvency.

As early as 2006, top advisers to Mr. Bush dismissed warnings from people inside and outside the White House that housing prices were inflated and that a foreclosure crisis was looming. And when the economy deteriorated, Mr. Bush and his team misdiagnosed the reasons and scope of the downturn; as recently as February, for example, Mr. Bush was still calling it a “rough patch.”

The result was a series of piecemeal policy prescriptions that lagged behind the escalating crisis.

I find it odd and somewhat contradictory that Limbaugh can argue that the Democrats, and Democrats alone, had such power to create a worldwide economic disaster in such a short period time.  If Democrats were able to do this, why didn't they in 2004?

Of course, I'm thinking reasonably.  Rush Limbaugh and his ilk cater to Americans who don't think, much less think reasonably.

*Sigh*.  It's going to be a long 4-8 years, putting up with this garbage.

Answer: “A Good Beginning”

Question: "What do you call a thousand cats transported by train to Guangdong each day?"

Cat-what GUANGZHOU, China – While animal lovers in Beijing protested the killing of cats for food on Thursday, a butcher in Guangdong province — where felines are the main ingredient in a famous soup — just shrugged her shoulders and wielded her cleaver. "Cats have a strong flavor. Dogs taste much better, but if you really want cat meat, I can have it delivered by tomorrow," said the butcher, who gave only her surname, Huang.

It was just this attitude that outraged about 40 cat lovers who unfurled banners in a tearful protest outside the Guangdong government office in Beijing. Many were retirees who care for stray felines they said were being rounded up by dealers.

"We must make them correct this uncivilized behavior," said Wang Hongyao, who represented the group in submitting a letter urging the provincial government to crack down on traders and restaurants, although they were breaking no laws.

The protest was the latest clash between age-old traditions and the new sensibilities made possible by China's growing affluence. Pet ownership was once rare because the Communist Party condemned it as bourgeois and most people simply couldn't afford a cat or dog.

The protesters' indignation was whipped up by recent reports in Chinese newspapers about the cat meat industry. On Monday, the Southern Metropolis Daily — a Guangdong paper famous for its exposes and aggressive reporting — ran a story that said about 1,000 cats were transported by train to Guangdong each day.

The animals came from Nanjing, a major trading hub for cats, the newspaper said. They were brought to market by dealers on motorcycles, crammed into wooden crates and sent to Guangdong on trains. A photo showed a cat with green eyes peering from a crowded crate.

Some people in Nanjing spend their days "fishing for cats," often stealing pets, the report said.

More On Warren

Really, I don't get this controversy, which is going on its third week.

For those distracted by the holidays, you're not missing much.  Basically, it's this:  President-elect Obama picked Pastor Rick Warren to speak at his inauguration.  Pastor Rick Warren opposes gay marriage.  Gays are upset, seeing this as a symbolic slap in the face.  Today, for example, WaPo columnist Richard Cohen discusses his (gay) sister's reaction:

Not that he was planning to attend, but Barack Obama should know that my sister's inauguration night party — the one for which she was preparing Obama Punch — has been canceled. The notice went out over the weekend, by e-mail and word of mouth, that Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation had simply ruined the party. Warren is anti-gay, and my sister, not to put too fine a point on it, is not. She's gay.

She is — or was — a committed Obama supporter. On the weekend before the presidential election, my sister and my mother drove from the Boston area, where they both live, to Obama's New Hampshire headquarters in Manchester. There my mother made 76 phone calls for Obama, which is not bad for someone who is 96, and gives you an idea of the level of commitment to Obama in certain precincts of my family.

***

I can understand Obama's desire to embrace constituencies that have rejected him. Evangelicals are in that category and Warren is an important evangelical leader with whom, Obama said, "we're not going to agree on every single issue." He went on to say, "We can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans." Sounds nice.

But what we do not "hold in common" is the dehumanization of homosexuals. What we do not hold in common is the belief that gays are perverts who have chosen their sexual orientation on some sort of whim. What we do not hold in common is the exaltation of ignorance that has led and will lead to discrimination and violence.

Finally, what we do not hold in common is the categorization of a civil rights issue — the rights of gays to be treated equally — as some sort of cranky cultural difference. For that we need moral leadership, which, on this occasion, Obama has failed to provide. For some people, that's nothing to celebrate.

The party's off.

That is one person's take, and not an invalid one.

But I still see the "offense" as symbolic at worst.  That's why I can't get all exorcised about it.  Isn't the problem real honest-to-God discrimination against gays?  Isn't that something that needs to be addressed, rather than getting bent out of shape about the cosmetic battles involving invited speakers to ceremonial events?

And Warren?  My understanding is that he is not one of your froth-out-the-mouth close-minded evangelicals.  He's the newer breed.  Not quite a Jim Wallis, but certainly no Falwell.

But see, I'm not gay.  So I haven't walked a mile in those (exquisitely tasteful) shoes.  So, I tell myself, maybe I'm just missing something.

And along comes Melissa Etheridge to set me, uh, straight:

I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say "In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him." They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.

When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.

Brothers and sisters the choice is ours now. We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket. But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change. Maybe in our anger, as we consider marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world.

Maybe if they get to know us, they wont fear us.

That strikes me as correct.  The notion of censoring those you disagree with is so… so…. so… 2000's Republican.  Bigotry, including bigotry towards gays, has ignorance at its core, not hatred.  And the way you combat ignorance is to engage those who disagree with you, not isolate them.

So let Warren speak.  Have the public dialogue.  Educate him, educate his reasonable followers (because, as I said, he's not like Falwell et al).  That's the only way to bring about change, which (as I recall) was what the Obama campaign was all about.

Winston-Salem: Center Of The Sexual Technorevolution?

First I read this:

Fake-orgasm-meg-ryan Scientists are developing an electronic "sex chip" that can be implanted into the brain to stimulate pleasure.

The chip works by sending tiny shocks from implanted electrodes in the brain.

The technology has been used in the United States to treat Parkinson's disease.

But in recent months scientists have been focusing on the area of the brain just behind the eyes known as the orbitofrontal cortex – this is associated with feelings of pleasure derived from eating and sex.

A research survey conducted by Morten Kringelbach, senior fellow at Oxford University's department of psychiatry, found the orbitofrontal cortex could be a "new stimulation target" to help people suffering from anhedonia, an inability to experience pleasure from such activities. His findings are reported in the Nature Reviews Neuroscience journal.

Neurosurgery professor Tipu Aziz, said: "There is evidence that this chip will work. A few years ago a scientist implanted such a device into the brain of a woman with a low sex drive and turned her into a very sexually active woman. She didn't like the sudden change, so the wiring in her head was removed."

He added however that the current technology, which requires surgery to connect a wire from a heart pacemaker into the brain, can cause bleeding and is "intrusive and crude".

He continued: "When the technology is improved, we can use deep brain stimulation in many new areas. It will be more subtle, with more control over the power so you may be able to turn the chip on and off when needed.

"In 10 years' time the range of therapies available will be amazing – we don't know half the possibilities yet."

But the last paragraph catches my eye:

An electronic machine, named the Orgasmatron, taken from the 1973 Woody Allen film Sleeper, is already under development by a North Carolina doctor, who is modifying a spinal cord stimulator to produce pleasure in women.

North Carolina doctor, you say?

Tapa-tapa-tapa.  Google is my friend. 

I discover this article from 2003:

Some time after the snickers have subsided, when fewer people wink knowingly about the new meaning of "O! Winston-Salem," Dr. Stuart Meloy sees in his so-called "Orgasmatron" a promising future — as a business.

Meloy's device, which he has already patented and is indeed trying to trademark under the name Orgasmatron, has the power to give women a sexual climax. It's Woody Allen's "Sleeper" come to life, only instead of a walk-in booth, a tiny spinal cord stimulator delivers the pleasure.

He thinks that just as women dig into their own savings to pay for face lifts and breast implants, they likewise would fork over the estimated $17,000 to have an Orgasmatron, not unlike a pacemaker in size and function, permanently embedded in their lower backs. A hand-held remote control turns the device on and off.

Then maybe 1,000 women would flock to his Winston-Salem clinic each year for such a procedure.

But that was five years ago.  And the "O! Winston-Salem" campaign failed gigantically.   Did the Orgasmatron meet the same fate?

Well, the 1,000 women per year thing apparently didn't happen.

And the NASF (neurally augmented sexual function) website — http://www.nasfonline.com/ – seems to be belly-up.

But our local hero hasn't given up — apparently there's still some work to be done.  Volunteers anyone?

VHS Is Dead

Vhs There is only one company in American still supplying VHS videos.

And they're closing their doors.

"It's dead, this is it, this is the last Christmas, without a doubt," said Kugler, 34, a Burbank businessman. "I was the last one buying VHS and the last one selling it, and I'm done. Anything left in warehouse we'll just give away or throw away."

Full story here.

FUN FACT:   The last major Hollywood movie to be released on VHS was "A History of Violence" in 2006.

Swank-ified

Swank Oh, how I love the columns of the Rev. Grant Swank

What will God do with Rick Warren's inaugural invocation?

Isn't that the real question?

Um, not really.  But if you need a premise for a column, I'll let you run with it.

What will God do with the prayer offered by pro-life Rick Warren, pastor?

You talking to me?  I'm not a pastor, but I appreciate the gesture….

Warren has been picked by B. Hussein Obama to deliver the inaugural invocation.

Grant Swank wants y'all to know Obama's middle name is Hussein.  In case you weren't aware yet.

Liberals are in a snit.

I would characterize it more as a tizzy…..

Who cares what liberals or conservatives think about a prayer offered to the eternal throne of the Almighty God?

Not me.

What should concern us as a nation is what will the Creator God think of the words presented him in January?

I am not sure that is a question?

Will the words matter?

Will the position of the heart of the pray-er matter?

Will heaven make any changes regarding this country because of that invocation?

Will a pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage God decide to listen to the prayer, let alone act upon it?

And….[insert dramatic organ chord]… what about Naomi?

All this fuss about the mortal speaking the prayer at the podium.

Obama tried to get a deity to speak, but the fees were just too high.

Well, if it were a Muslim, we all should be quite concerned. Allah is not the deity of America's Judeo-Christian heritage.

Right.  Can't have that.

If it were an atheist offering a "prayer," we should likewise be most concerned.

Right.  Can't have that.

And if it were a Unitarian-Universalist, likewise. Most of them are atheists who belong to a Society that has stated it does not want to be included within Christendom, hence its official name not including the word "Church."

Right.  Um, whatever.

But with California minister Warren standing there in the freezing cold of Washington winter, what should concern the genuine believers of this continent is what the divine response will be.

…when Warren goes "brrrrrrrrr"?

Further, what will the divine response be to the left-of-left B. Hussein's reign from the White House? And what will be the Lord's action following a theologically liberal-stacked US Congress?

Send a hurricane to wipe out New Orleans maybe?

I have a feeling that no matter what Warren says or does not say, the Almighty is going to have His act together.

He's got new material, a better back-up band, and an adaptable set that will play well in arena theatres as well as smaller venues.

And only the genuine believers can wait with faith and patience to witness the unfolding of the divine reactions to much that has gone on in this nation lately.

And we'll have Pastor Swank to point them out as they come along.  "You see that tornado wiping out that Kansas town?  That was because of B. Hussein's decision to keep gays in the military."

God is not circumscribed by Warren or any other human being. Mortals write the minor lines. Deity writes the major lines. That's why history is finally His-story. Check the biblical record for the substantiation of that premise.

Couldn't find it, but my googling skills are perhaps sub-par.

Anyhow, the media is up to its usual frantic over Rick Warren this and Rick Warren that, B. Hussein's constituents' mad responses to a Warren talking to the Lord God in public, the homosexuals especially having a fit over the whole scene.

And linguists are now having a fit over your decription of the scene.

That said, I think the controversy is not about Warren (a mortal) talking to God, but about Obama's selection of a homophobe to speak at the inauguration.

Interesting, isn't it, how the liberal media can get so caught up in what is totally insignificant.

Right.  More Sarah Palin stories please!

Genuine believers know that mad media has no clue as to how to focus in on what is reality importance when it comes to God and Earth, Creator and America, our past and our future.

Right.  Like the lede article at World News Daily — Chuck Norris weighs in on "Jesus jacking".

LBJ Was So Classy

From an actual audiotape, August 9, 1964.  President Johnson is ordering pants from Joe Haggar:

Operator: Go ahead sir

LBJ: Mr. Haggar?

JH: Yes this is Joe Haggar

LBJ: Joe, is your father the one that makes clothes?

JH: Yes sir – we're all together

LBJ: Uh huh. You all made me some real lightweight slacks, uh, that he just made up on his own and sent to me 3 or 4 months ago. There's a light brown and a light green, a rather soft green, a soft brown.

JH: Yes sir

LBJ: and they're real lightweight now and I need about six pairs for summer wear.

JH: yes sir

LBJ: I want a couple, maybe three of the light brown kind of a almost powder color like a powder on a ladies face. Then they were some green and some light pair, if you had a blue in that or a black, then I'd have one blue and one black. I need about six pairs to wear around in the evening when I come in from work

JH: yes sir

LBJ: I need…they're about a half a inch too tight in the waist.

JH: Do you recall sir the exact size, I just want to make sure we get them right for you

LBJ: No, I don't know – you all just guessed at 'em I think, some – wouldn't you the measurement there?

JH: we can find it for you

LBJ: well I can send you a pair. I want them half a inch larger in the waist than they were before except I want two or three inches of stuff left back in there so I can take them up. I vary ten or 15 pounds a month.

JH: alright sir

LBJ: So leave me at least two and a half, three inches in the back where I can let them out or take them up. And make these a half an inch bigger in the waist. And make the pockets at least an inch longer, my money, my knife, everything falls out – wait just a minute.

Operator: Would you hold on a minute please?

[conversation on hold for two minutes]

LBJ: Now the pockets, when you sit down, everything falls out, your money, your knife, everything, so I need at least another inch in the pockets. And another thing – the crotch, down where your nuts hang – is always a little too tight, so when you make them up, give me an inch that I can let out there, uh because they cut me, it's just like riding a wire fence. These are almost, these are the best I've had anywhere in the United States,

JH: Fine

LBJ: But, uh when I gain a little weight they cut me under there. So, leave me , you never do have much of margin there. See if you can't leave me an inch from where the zipper (burps) ends, round, under my, back to my bunghole, so I can let it out there if I need to.

JH: Right

LBJ: Now be sure you have the best zippers in them. These are good that I have. If you get those to me I would sure be grateful

JH: Fine, Now where would you like them sent please?

LBJ: White House.

JH: Fine

It's the "(burps)" that makes it comedy gold.

Stuff To Think About

Why don't humans have a mating season?

Why do the women gymnasts walk around between events with that goofy arm-swing gait?

Why are pandas' names doubled? Ling Ling, Tuan Tuan, Yuan Yuan….

Is it just me, or do all national anthems the world over, no matter how rich and exotic the culture, seem to sound like European marching-band music? Wouldn't one expect China's national anthem be more "plinky"? Shouldn't Iraq's national anthem sound a little more "Arab-y"?

Why do cockroaches flip over on their backsides when they die?

And the most perplexing, in my view….

Who made up the rule that if you wore a shirt all day, went home, and washed it, you can't wear it the next day?

[Source]

Short Answers To Simple Questions

A friend writes:

I have made a new observation while in Target this afternoon. Is it just me, or do people no longer have a spacial awareness of other people?  I was staring at the DVD wall and, no joke, four people not only crossed in front of me without pardoning themselves, but they stopped and stood directly in front of me. Um, really?

No, it's not you.

Dumb Analogy Department: Caroline v. Sarah

I'm reading this sentiment a lot these past few days:

In fact, Sarah Palin was more qualified to be vice-president than Caroline Kennedy is to be a Senator.

Well, duh!  Seriously, the only qualification to being vice-president is to have a pulse.  (The stickier issue, and one that dogged Sarah Palin, is that the vice-president could conceivably become president, and for that, Sarah Palin was less qualified than me).

But the notion that Ms. Palin is even in the same league as Ms. Kennedy is a joke.  Just do a thought experiment.  Put the two of them onstage side-by-side discussing matters of policy.  On any political subject; your choice.  You know Sarah would do?  Winky-winky and talk all folksy about how they do things in Wasilla, you betcha. 

Kennedy, on the other hand, would actually speak to the issues.  She's intelligent and coherent.  What's more, I think Kennedy would (unlike Palin) be able to articulate the specific things she wants to do in public office.

Is Kennedy inexperienced as an elected representative?  Sure.  But so was her Uncle Bobby and Hillary Clinton, both of whom occupied that same Senate seat.

I’m Beginning To Think Of Alaska As Just One Large Trailer Park

Thank you, Sarah Palin, for educating me.

You all remember Levi Johnston?  The baby-daddy to Sarah Palin's pregnant teenage daughter?  [UPDATE:  The baby is due tomorrow, and the announced wedding strangely hasn't happened yet]. 

Well, Levi's mom is having some legal troubles:

A 42-year-old Wasilla woman was arrested Thursday at her home by Alaska State Troopers with a search warrant in an undercover drug investigation. Sherry L. Johnston was charged with six felony counts of misconduct involving a controlled substance.

Johnston is the mother of Levi Johnston, the Wasilla 18-year-old who received international attention in September when Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, announced their teenage daughter was pregnant and he was the father. Bristol Palin, 18, is due on Saturday, according to a recent interview with the governor's father, Chuck Heath.

Troopers served the warrant at Johnston's home at the "conclusion of an undercover narcotics investigation," said a statement issued Thursday by the troopers as part of the normal daily summary of activity around the state.

Troopers charged Johnston with second-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance — generally manufacturing or delivering drugs — as well as fourth-degree misconduct involving controlled substances, or possession.

I think the extended Palin family is due for a booking on Jerry Springer.

Minnesota Senate Seat Still Ridiculously Close

Norm Coleman's lead over Al Franken melted away during the Board of Canvassers' deliberations on Coleman-challenged ballots yesterday. According to the Star Tribune, it is down to five votes. According to the AP, it is down to two.

UPDATE:  Now we're hearing that Franken is, for the first time, ahead.  The Minnesota Star-Ledger has a real-time running (re)count.  As of 11:38 a.m., Franken is up by 166 votes.

About this data Coleman Franken Other/rejected
Challenged ballots awarded by board 262 616 230
Current vote count including awarded ballots 1,209,197 1,209,363

UPDATE:  Oh, look, a real-time widget:

Why Do We Celebrate Christmas on December 25th?

The Bible doesn't mention the birth date of Jesus.  It probably wasn't in winter, because shepherds would not be tending their flocks in wintertime.

The simple reason we celebrate it on December 25th is because, in the 4th century, Pope Julius 1, said so.  Christianity had become the official religion of Rome, and he declared that the birth of Jesus should be a holiday.

Okay.  But why the 25th?  Well, Julius was no dummy.  There were already festive celebrations during that time all around the world – celebrations of the winter solstice by pagens.  In Scandanavian countries, for example, the pagen holiday was known as "Yule" during which a log was burned from the 21st until the new year.

So, Julius basically usurped the already-existing pagen holiday.  No other reason.  The choice of date certainly had nothing to do with Christ's birth.  Instead, it was a calculated attempt to change the nature of already-existing celebrations.

Over the course of several centuries, the choice of date finally paid off, and by the Middle Ages, this time of year was known more for its Christmas celebrations, rather than pagen celebrations.

Christmas trees didn't come onto the scene until the 16th century (a German custom which caught on), and Santa Claus didn't arrive until the late 1700's-early 1800's (originating from the Dutch's Sinter Klaas).  Rudoph, of course, was non-existent until 1939.

So remember, Christmas celebration has its roots in pagen festivities having nothing to do with Christ's birth. 

Just my little contribution to the War on Christmas.

You're welcome.

RIP Majel Barrett Roddenberry

Majel2big Better known as Nurse Chapel in the original Star Trek, the mother of Troi in Star Trek – The Next Generation, the voice of virtually all the computers in all of the Star Trek iterations (including the soon-to-be-released film), and the wife of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.

All of which earned her the moniker "The First Lady of Star Trek"

She passed away in her sleep yesterday morning.

A Legal Analysis Of “It’s A Wonderful Life”

The Case of The Missing Deposit:

Unclebilly What about that banking issue? When he returns to the “real” Bedford Falls, George is saved by his friends, who open their wallets to cover an $8,000 shortfall at his savings and loan brought about when the evil Mr. Potter snatched a deposit mislaid by George’s idiot uncle, Billy (Thomas Mitchell).

But isn’t George still liable for the missing funds, even if he has made restitution? I mean, if someone robs a bank, and then gives the money back, that person still robbed the bank, right?

I checked my theory with Frank J. Clark, the district attorney for Erie County upstate, where, as far as I can tell, the fictional Bedford Falls is set. He thought it over, and then agreed: George would still face prosecution and possible prison time.

“In terms of the theft, sure, you take the money and put it back, you still committed the larceny,” he said. “By giving the money back, you have mitigated in large measure what the sentence might be, but you are still technically guilty of the offense.”

He took this a bit further: “If you steal over $3,000, it’s a D felony; 2 ½ to 7 years is the maximum term for that. The least you can get is probation. You know Jimmy Stewart, though, he had that hangdog face. He’d be a tough guy to send to jail.”

Wait a second.  With all due respect to the District Attorney for Erie County, Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey didn't steal anything.  The Bailey Building and Loan, through one of its employees (Uncle Billy), lost the $8,000 bank deposit.  Losing money isn't a crime. 

I suppose their argument is that the criminal charge of theft could still be pinned on Stewart, even though we (the audience) know he is innocent and the money was merely lost.  

But again, they're wrong.  First of all, it wouldn't be "theft", it would be "embezzlement" (that's when you steal from your own company).

And secondly, what evidence would there be that George embezzled the funds?  Certainly, the doddering Uncle Billy would testify that he lost the money (and there are witnesses, like the bank teller, who will back that up).  And where did that money go?  Where did George spend it?  Any evidence?  Certainly George didn't put it into refurbishing the house; the banister knob won't even stay on.  So it's a thin case. 

Bottom line: Any indictment against George just wouldn't stick.  A judge would throw it out before it even gets to trial.

Now, as a fiduciary overseer of the Bailey Buliding and Loan, George may be liable for a civil suit brought by the B&L depositors, investors and shareholders, even if the "fault" for the monetary loss was Uncle Billy's.  But that issue was laid to rest when the whole town ponied up and replaced the "missing" money.  Put simply, the depositors were "made whole" and suffered no loss.

I'll tell you who is potentially screwed criminally, and that's Potter.  Potter stole the money.  Yeah, Uncle Billy mislaid it, but Potter discovered it (within mere seconds after it was mislaid) and Potter knew what it was.  And rather than return it, he kept it. 

You remember the sequence: Uncle Billy goes into the bank with the envelope containing the deposit.  He sees Potter.  He takes Potter's newspaper and reads the headline which boasts about Harry Bailey being a war hero (tweaking Potter a little bit).  He returns the newspaper to Potter and walks away to the bank teller.  Potter opens the newspaper and discovers that Uncle Billy inadvertently gave him the envelope (containing the deposit money) with the newspaper.  And Potter, ever scheming, says nothing.  Does nothing.  And keeps the money. 

Sorry, but that's theft.

Which makes the SNL "alternate ending" very befitting:

(fade in to clips from the film of the famous "You are now entering Bedford Falls" sign, as well as the equally famous shots of the Christmas-lit streets of Bedford Falls. Cut to the Bailey home, where the good citizens have convened to rally behind their neighbor George Bailey in his time of need. As we fade in, we see Ernie emptying a basket full of cash onto the table as George and his family look on in awe.)

Mary Bailey: They've been coming all evening. They didn't ask any questions – all they said was, "if George Bailey needs help, we're here to help him!"

George Bailey: (holding Zsu-Zsu in his arms) Wh-wh-why Mary–I never realized I had so many friends! A-a man wh-who has a friend is a rich man, that's what Clarence said, and by golly he was right!

Dave: I wouldn't have a roof over my head if it wasn't for you, George!

George Bailey: Thanks, Dave! Thank you!

(George's brother Harry Bailey, dressed in his airline pilot's uniform, makes his way through the crowd)

Harry Bailey: 'Scuze me! Pardon me–Hello George, how are you?

George Bailey: Harry! Welcome home, Harry!

Harry Bailey: Thanks, Merry Christmas, George! (to the crowd) Now wait a minute, everybody! I got a telegram here I wanna read–from London! (reads) "Dear George. Stop. Mr Gower cables you need cash. Stop. My office instructed to advance you up to $8000. Stop. (crowd reacts) Hee-haw and Merry Christmas! Sam Wainwright"!!!

(crowd cheers and everyone breaks into a joyous rendition of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing".)

Crowd: (singing)
"Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King
Peace on earth and mercy…."

(Uncle Billy is heard offstage, screaming–"George! George!", before finally bursting into the room. He has a string tied around his finger)

Uncle Billy: Quiet everyone! I remembered! I remembered what I did with the money–the $8000!

George Bailey: Why that's great, Uncle Billy! What did you do with it?

Uncle Billy: (frantic) I was in the bank–I had it in a newspaper–I remember giving it to someone!

George Bailey: Well, who? Who'd you give it to?

Uncle Billy: No, wait! I just called Clarence at the bank. He told me that Old man Potter deposited $8000 right after I left! IT WAS HIM!!!

(crowd is outraged)

George Bailey: Well–what're we waitin' for? Let's go get him!

Crowd: Yeah!!!

(background music changes from bright and Christmas-y to dark and ominous, as the bloodthirsty citizens of Bedford Falls make thier way to Potter's office.)

(cut to Potter's office. Potter looks out his window to see the baseball bat and crowbar-wielding mob arriving at his door–which they proceed to batter to pieces with thier weapons. An angry George appears in the doorway)

Mr. Potter: Stay where you are, George Bailey, you're in enough trouble already…

George Bailey: You made one mistake, Mr. Potter: you double-crossed me and you left me alive!

Mr. Potter: Now, wait just a second–I'll give you the money back!

George Bailey: I don't want the money–I want a piece of you, Potter! (tips Potter's wheelchair over, spilling him onto the floor. George then begins kicking him ferociously) You think the whole world revolves around you and your money–well it doesn't, Mr. Potter! In the whole vast configuration of things, you're nothing but a scurvy little spider!

(The mob gasps in amazement as Potter pulls himself off the floor and onto his feet)

George Bailey: Why, you're nothing but a fraud! You're not even a cripple!

Mr. Potter: Now wait a second–I can explain this!

George Bailey: Harry! Mary! Hold him for me!

(Harry and Mary comply, each grabbing an arm as George pounds Potter repeatedly in the gut. A final punch to the jaw sends Potter sailing over his desk. George goes to the back of the desk and drags "Potter"–now a stuffed dummy–back around for more punishment).

George Bailey: I'm not through with you, Potter! Harry–Mary–have a piece of this!

Mary Bailey: Yeah, baby–you know it!

(she pounces on "Potter", punching him in the head and body. Harry gets a few kicks in. George does a WWF-style, elbow-drop onto the hapless "Potter". He then picks him up and throws him against a wall. Mary, Harry, and George each grab crowbars and/or 2x4s and proceed to bludgeon "Potter", as Uncle Billy leads the mob in a few bars of "Auld Lang Syne":)

Mob: (singing)
"Should old acquaintence be forgot
And never brought to mind
should old acquaintence be forgot
and days of auld lang syne!"

(Harry, Mary, and George continue to beat "Potter" to a pulp, as the movie fades out, and "The End" card from the movie flashes on the screen.)

So the idea that Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey would have faced "gotten 2-1/2 to 7 years" is just plain wrong.  And even if the townspeople hadn't come forth with the missing money, Bailey would have just gotten a no-strings-attached government bailout.  I mean, isn't that what you do – in the real world – when your financial institution is undermarginalized and contains toxic assets?

I will agree with one thing in the article: the alternate-universe Pottersville looked like a hell of a lot more fun than dreary Bedford Falls, and one wonders why Jimmy Stewart, who longed for the bright lights his whole life, didn't warm up to it.

Looks Like “Pal Joey” Isn’t Going To Save Broadway Either

And I had high hopes.  But when the New York Times review says something like this:

When Ms. [Stockard] Channing, as the alcoholic society matron Vera Simpson, sings the show’s most famous song, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” it might as well be titled “Benumbed, Bummed Out and Bored Silly.”

***

I’m assuming the numbness in this “Pal Joey” is deliberate, that [Director Joe] Mantello wants to show down-and-outers who, at the end of their tether, are too tired to care or to try. But watching the cast go through its motions is like watching a “Marat/Sade” in which the asylum inmates have been pumped full of Thorazine.

Okay.  That's not good.

Dugger Family Now Has Two Baseball Teams

From this blog, on August 3, 2007:

I've blogged about them before, so regular readers of this site might be interested to know that the Dugger couple just welcomed the birth of their 17th kid — a daughter, named Jennifer.

Jennifer joins siblings Joshua, 19; John David, 17; Janna, 17; Jill, 16; Jessa, 14; Jinger, 13; Joseph, 12; Josiah, 11; Joy-Anna, 9; Jedidiah, 8; Jeremiah, 8; Jason 7; James 6; Justin, 4; Jackson, 3; Johannah, almost  2.

In the words of Groucho Marx: "I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth once in a while.”

Well, I guess you can figure out what I'm about to write.

Yes, Mrs. Diggins just had their 18th kid.

18duggar 

Her name is Jordyn-Grace Makiya, keeping with the J-naming tradition.

This gives me an excuse to repost this popular Internet poster, featuring the Duggin family:

249270409_664e6841fa

Top Ten Astronomy Pictures of 2008

Amazing photos, especially when you read the entertaining words that accompany (and explain) them.

6-kablam-web 

Above are two pictures of gamma-ray bursts which are, essentially, stars collapsing and creating an explosion.

But not just your run-of-the-mill explosion.  Mega-huge explosions.  Even though these explosions lasted mere seconds, each one puts out more energy in their explosions in those few seconds than the entire output of our Sun since the history of time.

And the gamma burst on the right?  That's 12.8 billion light years away.  That means that the explosion in the photograph actually happened 12.8 billion years ago — before the formation of Earth, before the formation of our Sun, before the formation of our galaxy.  The light is only now reaching us.

And although I've posted this before, here's my favorite astronomy "picture" of 2008.  Throughout the history of mankind, we've seen the Moon go across the sky.  And the Sun go across the sky.  Occasionally, we see the Moon cross in front of the Sun (a solar eclipse), or we see the shadow of the Earth on the Moon (a lunar eclipse). 

But no man has have never seen an actual image of the Moon transversing the Earth.  Until last month, when we received these images from a deep space probe:

Kewl.

Rick Warren As Invocation Speaker

A-list blogger acknowledge that Barack Obama is Time's Person of the Year, and then imposes on him Wanker of the Day.

Why?

Because of Obama's decision to have Rick "A Purpose Driven Life" Warren give the inaugural invocation.

In fact many, particularly in the gay and lesbian community, are NOT happy about the selection of Warren.  For example:

This selection is clearly not about “change”—it’s about making a high profile decision to give the stage over to a known homophobe; choosing Rick Warren is tantamount to asking any of the professional anti-gay “Christian” set to stand up there. There is no excuse for this; given there are so many leaders of the faith community that are in alignment with equality for all.

True.  He's not the best choice.  But viewed in the proper light, this is really more of a slap in the face to the religious right — those of the James Dobson and Pat Robertson ilk.  Warren may not be progressive on gay rights, but he’s been out front on a number of issues of global justice.  He's at the forefront of getting rank-and-file evangelicals invested in "creation care" environmentalism and the fight against global HIV/AIDS.  He's far more moderate than the religious leaders we've come to know (and disdain) for the past few decades.

And it's not like Warren is going to be dictating social policy… on gays or other issues.  Obama clearly doesn't subscribe to Warren's views on gays:

Besides, it's just an inaugural invocation.  So I can't find myself generating the outrage that others seem to.

P.S.:  The Inauguration will also involve Reverend Joseph Lowery, who will be delivering the official benediction at the Inauguration. Reverend Lowery is a giant of the civil rights movement who boasts a proudly progressive record on LGBT issues. He has been a leader in the struggle for civil rights for all Americans, gay or straight.

Brain Tumor Turns Out To Be Foot

A 3-day year old baby born in Colorado Springs had what doctors believed was a brain tumor.  He underwent a delicate operation, and the tumor turned out to be a fully-developed foot.

Yes, a foot.  And possible another foot, hand and thigh.  All embedded in his brain.

Full story here.  Spoiler alert: happy ending.

Hitler Youth

Me head esplode:

The father of 3-year-old Adolf Hitler Campbell, denied a birthday cake with the child's full name on it by one New Jersey supermarket, is asking for a little tolerance.

You name your child after the world's most, uh, intolerant (to say the least) man in history, and then ask for tolerance?

I.  Don't.  Think.  So.

Heath Campbell and his wife, Deborah, are upset not only with the decision made by the Greenwich ShopRite, but with an outpouring of angry Internet postings in response to a local newspaper article over the weekend on their flare-up over frosting.

Here comes the irony quote of the day…..

"I think people need to take their heads out of the cloud they've been in and start focusing on the future and not on the past," Heath Campbell said Tuesday in an interview conducted in Easton, on the other side of the Delaware River from where the family lives in Hunterdon County, N.J.

He defends his decision to name his child Adolf Hitler this way:

"They need to accept a name. A name's a name. The kid isn't going to grow up and do what (Hitler) did."

It's true:  Adolf Hitler is a name, and a name is a name.  You know what else is a name?  Frank.  George.  Mike.  Steve.  There's literally thousands of names.  Let's not pretend that the selection of "Adolf Hitler" was mere happenstance, okay, buddy?

And yes, it's true that the kid probably isn't going to grow up and do what Hitler did.  Instead, the kid is going to grow up getting his ass kicked.  And not finding employment.

And speaking of names, Adolf Hitler Campbell has a sister with the name — I'm not making this up — JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell.

Yeah, get over it, people.  "Aryan Nation" is just a name.  Doesn't mean anything.

Caroline Or Change?

Caroline2 Several A-list liberal bloggers are quite unhappy with the prospect of Caroline Kennedy taking over Clinton's Senate seat:

  • Firedoglake's Hamsher: "It seems Caroline Kennedy has decided she'd rather have a US Senate seat than a pony for Christmas. […] It appears Ms. Kennedy thinks that US Senate seats are something to lobbied for amongst political elites when one decides one wants them, and that the public should be happy to simply fall in line. The fact that one has a family political machine currently in the process of steamrolling David Paterson and a famous last name should be enough for the little people. I thought at least she'd get out before the cameras and start making her case to the public before she announced her intentions, because simply lobbying your well-connected buddies just oozes an outrageous sense of entitlement and insufferable pomposity."
  • Open Left's Chris Bowers: "Frankly, I consider [Kennedy] to be undeserving of the seat, given that she has never won an election and that basically her only qualification would be her family name. Further, at a time when Democrats are suffering from a major corruption scandal over Senate appointments, appointing a dynasty candidate would only add fuel to that fire. Republicans will run in 2010 on an argument that one-party rule leads to waste and corruption, so nepotism like this would be a bad idea."
  • Mother Jones' Kevin Drum: "Rich and famous people already have a huge leg up when it comes to winning political office, but at least they still have to run and win. Appointing them instead so they can avoid the whole messy business of engaging in a campaign is just a little too Habsburgian for my taste. Needless to say, I've got nothing against Kennedy. But appointing her to the Senate just isn't the right thing to do."
  • Daily Kos' Moulitsas: "When you're rich and come from a political family, and are heir to American royalty, you can apparently dispense with dealing with pesky voters by simply ringing up the governor. […] Kennedy might very well be a favorite of Democratic primary voters in a contested race (and current polls suggest that), but that would require her to run, and elections can expose candidate weaknesses not readily apparent before the harsh glare of the spotlight is trained on them. In 2002, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend lost her bid for the governorship of heavily Democratic Maryland despite entering the race with a 27-point lead in the polls. In 2004, Sen. Jean Carnahan lost the special election to the seat she was appointed to in 2002 after her husband was tragically killed in an airplane accident. But running for office is an icky process. It's hard work. Much harder, of course, than merely picking up the phone and calling the governor."

I respectfully dissent.  I think she would be an excellent choice.

Sure, she's a Kennedy, but I don't think that makes her less qualified than otherwise.  She's certainly been around politics her whole life; there's no learning curve there.  And it's not like she's going to be a Kennedy in the womanizing and getting-drunk sense.

Furthremore, she's a Columbia Law graduate and co-author of two books: In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action and The Right to Privacy.  Having a senator cognizant of the Constitution is a good thing.  She will also be a champion for education and funding for the arts.  She's served on several prominent boards, including Obama's transition team.  And her "celebrity" status might bring some light to key progressive bills and legislation that might not otherwise be there.

Yes, it's true that she could have decided to be a politician decades ago.  And yes, she chose other paths, never having run for elected office.  But again, how does that make her a less able senator than someone who has been a career politician?  It's worth noting the seat she is seeking was held by both her Uncle Bobby and Hillary, neither of whom ran for political office before becoming a senator either.

RELATED:  In an article at Politico, discussing the "nepotism" of the Democratic Party (e.g., Caroline taking Hillary's seat; Jesse Jackson Jr. taking Obama's seat; Beau Biden taking Biden's seat), we find this quote:

“Democrats seem to lack a common man who can just win a good, old-fashioned election,” said Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “They’ve got seat-warmers, seat-sellers and the making of pillows for the seats of royalty. No wonder the public wonders what’s going on in Washington.”

Excuse me?  Who is currently the president, and what was his father's prior occupation???

Questions That I Have For The Secret Service

From 236.com:

1. Shouldn’t you have jumped in front of that shoe?
2. Shouldn’t you have jumped in front of that second shoe?
3. Second shoe = the one thrown after being removed from foot after first shoe was thrown.
4. Let’s say people had three feet. Would you have allowed a third shoe to fly unimpeded?
5. While the shoe was in the air, were you like, “Oh, its just a shoe.”
6. Same question about the second shoe.
7. Do you think this is funny, “Throw a shoe at me once, shame on–you. Throw a shoe–you throw a shoe, you can’t throw a shoe again.”
8. Is there not “protection training” for lunatics launching objects?
9. Let’s say there isn’t training for that–but do they tell you that if someone does throw (or shoot) something to be on the alert in case they want to repeat this behavior?
10. Where were you?

BONUS QUESTION: Do you think the Iraqis want us there? (Hint: their journalists are throwing their shoes at Bush)

Shoe-Throwing Fallout

The world is abuzz at the now-famous shoe-throwing incident, and everyone is looking for the perfect pun.  ("The insurgency is in its last throws")

Conservative pundits are quick to point out that the shoe-throwing would have never happened under Saddam.  So, therefore, $800 billion in U.S. taxpayer money well-spent, I guess.

Of course, shoe-throwing isn't really a very good sign that democracy and lawfulness have come to Iraq.  After all, what would happen if an American, on American soil, threw his shoes at the president, especially in this post-9/11 world?  Probably Gitmo… or worse.  In any event, it's assault, and not exactly something to be tossed out as a sign of "progress".

Meanwhile, reactions from Iraq to the shoe-throwing incident (shoe-throwing is a sign of contempt in the Muslim world) are coming in.

In Najaf, for example:

In the holy Shiite city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, demonstrators chanted: “Bush, Bush, is a cow, your farewell was by a shoe,” and, “The shoe got its goal straightly, but Maliki turned it away.”

I'm assuming those chants sound better in the original tongue….

UPDATE:  Background on the shoe-thrower here.

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Election ’08 Turnout

The Electoral College meets today to choose our next president.

Yeah, you thought we did that last month, didn't you?  But we didn't.  We just elected electors to the Electoral College who gather, and — oh, screw it.  It's arcane and stupid.  But it happens today.

And with that, the New York Times informs us that '08 turnout was the highest in 40 years.   

More than 131 million people voted this time around, the most ever for a Presidential election, compared to a little more than the 122 million who voted in 2004. Overall, 61.6% of the nation's eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots. That's the highest turnout rate since 1968, when Republican Richard M. Nixon defeated Democrat Hubert Humphrey and native son George Wallace.   Four years ago in the Bush-Kerry race, 60.1% of those eligible voted.

All told, the number of voters increased 7.4% in the United States in the 2008 Presidential election over 2004.

The state which saw the biggest increase in turnout compared to 2004?  North Carolina. We had competitive elections for president, governor and Senate, so we jumped from 57.8% in 2004 to 65.8% this year. Obama won North Carolina by 14,177 votes, out of more than 4.3 million cast.

Early voting also hit a new high, with about 41 million people — or more than 31 percent — voting before Election Day, either by mail or at designated sites, according to returns compiled by The Associated Press. Early voting accounted for 22 percent of the votes cast in 2004.

Shrek Reviews

Shrekmusical With Broadway slowing drying up under the bad economic times, many wondered if "Shrek: The Musical", recently transported from the west coast, would fare well.  It opened last night to "eeehh" reviews, but time will tell if the latest Disney (actually "Dreamworks") venture will be recession-proof.

I'm thinking "no".

New York Times:

“Shrek” does not avoid the watery fate that commonly befalls good cartoons that are dragged into the third dimension. What seems blithe and fluid on screen becomes lumbering when it takes on the weight of solid human flesh.

The pop-cultural jokes and “Fractured Fairy Tales”-like spoofery that are the currency of “Shrek” (and Mr. Lindsay-Abaire sticks close to the screenplay) passed in the wink of a mischievous eye on screen. Onstage they seem to linger and grow old. And morals about inner beauty and self-esteem that went down easily enough in the movie stick in the throat when amplified into power ballads with lyrics explaining that “What makes us special makes us strong.”

Then there’s the issue of performers having to dress up to resemble fantasy illustrations, a process that, to put it kindly, tends to cramp expressive acting.

***

Fiona is fun. No wonder Shrek falls in love with her. And when Mr. James responds to her, you realize that there’s a winning character (not to mention a very fine actor and singer) inside that fright suit. I know, I know, that’s what the show’s about: the beauty within. But it seems to me that if “Shrek” had more generally heeded its own advice about substance versus surface, it might have come closer to casting the spell that lets Broadway shows live happily ever after.

Newsday:

"Shrek the Musical" is sweet and busy, nice and big, and, every so often, extremely lovable. In yesterday's economy, this lavishly down-the-middle adaptation of a movie franchise would probably have been a sure thing for the big-ticket family market.

The fact that "Shrek" makes us think more about its market than its achievements, alas, says something about the shortage of real inspiration in the show itself.

***

Surprisingly, for too much of the show, the folk-tinged pop music by Jeanine Tesori ("Caroline or Change") is less individual than serviceable. Given the derivative nature of the pastiche – including some vaudeville and trios of overused soul-music divas – each character has more songs and the show has more aimless production numbers than the plot can support.

NY Post:

As it happens, it takes nearly all of Act 1 before "Shrek: The Musical" starts to sing. And when it does, it truly comes alive.

Until then, Jason Moore's staging seems like a blueprint for some "DreamWorks on Ice" version, with its by-the-numbers readings from the 2001 film and greenery that looks left over from "Tarzan."

Variety

Unlike other toon-to-tuner translations such as "The Lion King" or "The Little Mermaid," the show favors literal representation over stylized solutions, right down to the fat-suits and green prosthetic head-masks donned by Brian d'Arcy James as Shrek and Sutton Foster as his part-time ogre sweetheart, Princess Fiona. For the most part, the approach works, primarily because any theme-park cutesiness is offset by the mischievous humor in David Lindsay-Abaire's book and lyrics. The production's real achievement, however, is that the busy visuals and gargantuan set-pieces never overwhelm the personalities of the actors or their characters.

The ensemble is talented and the four leads, in particular, couldn't be better.

Washington Post:

Here Comes 'Shrek'.  Hold Your Nose.

You know what, though? It's also a pretty bare-bones fairy tale, stretched to 2 hours. Turns out you do need some super-sparkling work from the digital design guys to make you beguiling.

Associated Press:

If the show, which opened Sunday at the Broadway Theatre, sometimes settles for efficiency over inspiration, so be it. That's one of the pitfalls of closely identifying your product — and these days musicals aspire, above all, to brand-name profitability — with its original source material. You have to satisfy the fans of the film as well as theatergoers who may never have heard of the movie or the William Steig book on which it is based.

***

Yet despite its celebration of snark (the production slyly tweaks other Broadway musicals), "Shrek" wants to honor heart as well. The show's ultimate message — it's what's inside that counts, not the outer wrapper — while not exactly new, is a fine one. And "Shrek" ends with a little sermonette of its own, sung by those outcast, eccentric fairy-tale creatures.

"Let your freak flag fly" goes one of the musical's more persistent lyrics. Maybe "Bein' Green" isn't so bad after all.

Backstage:

After a decade of somber snoozes, trinket factories, and Disney's family-friendly frauds, the mega-musical has been rescued by the most unlikely of heroes: an ogre in shining armor. Like the popular film that inspired it, Shrek: The Musical is an honest-to-god, across-the-board crowd pleaser.

So why does Shrek work when so many other super-sized tuners don't? Part of it is the look: The show actually looks worth the millions lavished upon it, with Tim Hatley's set and costume designs faithful to the film without being slavish imitations. Part of it is the humor: Shrek is legitimately funny. But Shrek's biggest asset is a well-credentialed coterie of cast and creatives that actually seem to believe in what they've created. They may play with the expensive toys their budget affords them, but they never forget that Shrek is fundamentally about abandoned children and learning to "let your freak flag fly."

Chicago Tribune:

A children's musical with a budget of about $25 million! One wonders how many more of those we'll be seeing. But frankly, recession might bring artistic relief.

It's not that "Shrek the Musical" is a disaster. Not at all. Given the givens, there's a lot to admire and enjoy. It just can't sufficiently relax into itself. Its source material lays too many traps. And the world has changed beneath it.

Turning the beloved animated movie into a musical might look like the latest in a long-cartoon-to-stage pipeline, but "Shrek" is a far tougher assignment than "The Little Mermaid." Disney titles are mostly straightforward romantic melodramas; "Shrek" was, arguably, the first of a whole new genre—kids' movie that simultaneously spoof kids' movies. "Shrek" lumbered out in a moment of huge economic and cultural confidence in the summer of 2001. You try re-creating that feeling on a stage right now.

This creative team has been grappling with this huge beast of a show for some seven months. No wonder it takes so long to find its stride. No wonder the actors look exhausted.

***

The show's biggest misstep was the decision to spoof other Broadway musicals, a device that's weary and out of sync with this singular, imaginary world. And no solution was found for the fairy tale characters, who here come off as a shrill bunch.

But when it comes to the lead trio of warbling misfit wanderers, you find yourself rooting for this demonstrably well-meaning show, which avoids cynicism and opens its veins. To its credit, "Shrek the Musical" even seems embarrassed by its own size and budget and the associated impossible expectations of adding a new theatrical layer to a very tricky animated onion from an easier era.