Archive for August, 2008

Election Burnout

August 31, 2008 - 4:39 pm Comments Off

Overheard at the Nerd Ranch:
“Please tell me the headline ‘GOP Maverick Bucks McCain’ was just part of a bad dream and Palin is still on the ticket.”

Is it over yet? I’ve had about enough fun this go round, thank you.

Labor Weekend Lightweight I

August 31, 2008 - 2:53 pm Comments Off

My mother-in-law cooked a (slightly belated) birthday dinner for me yesterday evening. Fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, and a delicious Mexican chocolate cake with hints of chile and cinnamon. The only part of the meal she didn’t make with her own hands was the fried green tomatoes, which were an impulse pickup at a restaurant they’d stopped at during a day of cruising.

Which means I can’t get the recipe out of her, which is a real shame as I woke up craving those damn tomatoes again. I’d never had fried green tomatoes, and these are NOT at all what I was expecting- far sweeter than I would have thought, with a hint of tart and wrapped up in a crunchy cornmeal coating much like the best kind of hushpuppy is made from. Delicious.

What’s the secret with these? How do I know I’m looking at a good recipe? What’s necessary with the tomatoes- are we talking any green tomato that isn’t still hard as a rock, or tomatoes that are within a few days of starting to blush pink, or what?

Stingray wasn’t nearly as thrilled with them as I was, but still… give a girl a hand, here.

Can't Get Upset About This One.

August 30, 2008 - 3:12 pm Comments Off

So, in amid the widespread high-fiving and general cheering on the right over McCain’s sassy new pick for VP, we have the expected scramble on the other side to find out what sucks about her. As a matter of full disclosure, I rather like Palin and did since before the pick (but not before I first saw bloggers mulling over the idea), and Stingray’s relaying to me of the announcement actually caused me to stop and sputter “But-but-but they couldn’t have! That would have been a SMART thing to do!”

In the spirit of realism, which in an election year can be very tough to distinguish from pessimism, I expect to like her a whole lot less the more I know about her. I’m not quite as excited as some over the pick, though it did make me raise eyebrows at the McCain camp for a very gutsy and calculated move, compared to the campaign they’ve been running so far.

In any case, one of the memes the other side seems to have come up with is that she’s a creationist, or that she thinks it would be a good idea if its cheap-Halloween-costume cousin, Intelligent Design, should be taught in schools. Specifically, because she said in this Anchorage Daily News interview that, as Wired quotes, “”I don’t think there should be a prohibition against debate if it comes up in class.”- although it inexplicably omitted the next sentence within the quote marks ADN provided, which was “It doesn’t have to be part of the curriculum.”- in the larger context of clarifying that she only meant the discussion shouldn’t be prohibited, not that it should be state education policy to include ID- which was part of the official Republican platform in the year she ran for (and achieved) the office of governor…. and that she stated specifically she would make no effort to make a reality, as governor.

Meh. Once you finish filtering through what she actually said- and very few sane evolution-in-education backers would actually advocate shouting “NEIN! VEE VILL NOT HAF ANY DISCUSSION OF ZEE GOD!” is a good strategy if a student brings it up in class- it sounds like boilerplate weasel words from a politician who does really not intend to enforce a plank of her party’s platform, either because she disagrees with it or because she thinks it’s a political liability. Likewise, she might have seen aligning herself firmly with Darwin as politically problematic- or she might really not believe in evolution.

And you know what? I honestly don’t care that much if she doesn’t. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, I don’t have any technical problem with people who, as a matter of pure faith, believe in the literal creation. I have a problem when they try to tell me the SCIENCE supports that, and I have a problem with people who try to use politics to force the issue in the classroom, to students still too uneducated in science to understand the debate on a level meaningful enough to really comprehend it. But it appears she doesn’t intend to and never did, so I pretty much stop caring there, absent evidence of actual efforts to legislate the matter- or to help others to, as she certainly had the opportunity to do, given how heavily Republican Alaska is. (This also makes her much more palatable to me than Bobby Jindal, who was rumored another likely McCain pick.) I don’t expect Palin to be a scientist- merely to leave them alone.

As for the other things she’s been attacked for- pro-life? Given that every time I contemplate abortion, I wind up with a passionate pro-choice position and a passionate pro-life one WITHIN MYSELF, this is not a dealbreaker for me- in fact, I appreciate that her position is so internally consistent, as it suggests to me that it’s a position she’s truly thought out rather than the bizarre politically-constructed contortionist act oh, 99% of Democrats OR Republicans have. I’ve seen several people point to her opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest as an “extremely radical one”, but I’ve also pointed out in the past that, if you truly believe that personhood begins at conception, there is no moral or logical way to make special exceptions for fetuses conceived under any sort of circumstances at all. In fact, I used that logic when arguing from the pro-choice side- in order to demonstrate that a great many of the pro-lifers themselves did not grant a fetus full personhood, or else they could never support that position.

Embroiled in a political scandal at home? Well, the scandal is supposedly that Palin leaned on an appointee of hers to fire her brother-in-law, a state trooper, and that when the guy remained on the rolls, Palin went after the appointee. The poor, innocent, abused, in-law? Well, according to the state troopers’ own investigations, he tasered his ten-year-old stepson, was caught drinking on the job, and threatened to kill Palin’s father-in-law if he helped his daughter (Palin’s sister) get away from the guy. (And this is only the records the troopers AGREED to release- the rest, the department considers confidential.) For this? Under pressure from the union, five days of suspension. Palin is dealing with the investigative heat by.. releasing such a flood of records and documents that the legislature that ordered the probe didn’t have to subpoena anything or even ask twice. This sounds less like a scandal than a political “stands up to corrupt Alaskan politics” political ad for Palin.

Supports drilling in ANWR? Legitimate issue. Given the TransCanada pipeline arrangement she doesn’t exactly seem to be in the pocket of American oil companies, but that doesn’t mean that energy interests don’t still dominate Alaska politics- and I’m not exactly thrilled by her environmental credentials. Unfortunately, ANWR in general is an issue where I’ve seen very damned little honest discussion of the environmental issues that wasn’t very clearly partisan*. I’ve seen it discussed by pro-drilling advocates… that seem to think that since it’s a “barren wasteland”, it’s of no environmental import. Sorry, I need a hell of a lot better than that. Likewise, most of the arguments I’ve seen against seem to rest in the “drilling anywhere anytime is a terrible idea” mindset, with precious little discussion of the actual logistics of the caribou calving grounds and whether or not it could be possible to arrange any sort of compromise. However, if people think this is a serious weakness for Palin or for McCain in having picked her… they haven’t been watching the polls. The people for whom this would be a genuine dealbreaker are, for the most part, already voting for Obama- and the issue may yet peel a few of the most wavery on the Obama side. Energy is HIS weak flank, not McCain’s.

Inexperienced? Ah, this is where it gets INTERESTING. It is true that the McCain campaign has been hammering Obama for his lack of experience- but if Democrats truly believe that his selection of Palin takes this issue off the table, they haven’t thought it through. Palin represents for McCain for Biden does for Obama- a nice, big shot of shoring up for his weaknesses. Among his weaknesses? Age and the perception that he may be a Washington insider, more of the same in a time that change is necessary. Palin is certainly a change, and she is young, and she’s definitely not a Washington insider- and the arrangement on the ticket puts the experience at the TOP of the ticket, not the bottom as Biden’s nomination does. And while Obama technically has more experience in government, he has zero executive experience, whereas even a small-town mayor has to make more decisions and be surer of them than someone who can vote “present” and take off for lunch. And while his Senatorial career is slightly longer than her gubernatorial career… he’s also spent two years of his three in the Senate doing a lot more campaigning for President than truly working on the national level. It undermines McCain’s main wedge against Obama, but it also undermines Obama’s campaign theme that judgment matters more than experience in those who would lead, every single time they try to attack Palin for it. I believe McCain isn’t defusing the charge or the tactic- either one- he’s deliberately making it the issue of the day… which must mean he believes he can win this battlefield. Golf applause from over here. He is by no means necessarily correct, but it’s very far from the blunder Democrats seem to think it is.

Palin will need to prove her judgment- and pass the “unknown” hurdle, as Obama had to (and which has caught him amidships several times, as the contrast between his rhetoric and his actual political past becomes starker)- over the next few months. I don’t think I’ll come out of it liking her as much as I do now, but I am damn interested to watch. Pass the popcorn.

*Yes, this is a request.

Naturally

August 29, 2008 - 4:21 pm Comments Off

Through one of Steve Bodio’s excellent link roundups, I found this article through Never Yet Melted.

The upshot of the article is that after the Indonesian nature park on Komodo island invited the Nature Conservancy to help them manage their park, the Nature Conservancy deemed that the villagers put an end to a number of the traditional practices that had allowed them to co-exist with the Komodo dragons of the island for the last several centuries. (The dragons have gone extinct on the few other human-populated islands it was native to.) End result? The dragons have turned maneater, killing livestock and occasionally children.

Here’s the money quote from the Nature Conservancy’s Indonesian policy wonk, who may well have been behind the original policy changes:

“We don’t want the Komodo dragon to be domesticated. It’s against natural balance,” says Widodo Ramono, policy director of the Nature Conservancy’s Indonesian branch and a former director of the country’s national park service. “We have to keep this conservation area for the purpose of wildlife. It is not for human beings.”

What is very interesting about this statement is that it displays an astonishing lack of thought and reflection this puts first into what is natural for Komodo dragons, and second what is natural for the island.

For background, the major pillars of the policy change that has resulted in such disaster: first of all, the villagers are no longer allowed to hunt deer in the forest. The reason given was that on other islands, poaching decimated small and fragile populations of deer and hastened the exit of their dragons. The practice had actually been prohibited by the Indonesians before the Nature Conservancy ever got there, but they were responsible for making sure it was actually enforced. However, the deer populations are and presumably had been stable. (If they had not been, the Nature Conservancy would no doubt have said so rather than citing what happened on another island.) Note that it had been traditional for the natives participating in the hunt to leave a substantial chunk of any deer taken for the dragons- which very well might not have been traditional on the other, less fortunate island.

The second major policy change was that the locals were no longer allowed another traditional practice, that of feeding the dragons in ritual livestock sacrifices- which had become popular with tourists looking for photo ops. The third major change was that dogs were declared an alien species and therefore banned- when previously, village dogs did most of the work in keeping the dragons away from the villages.

Now, the dragons aren’t staying in the preserve and eating deer, they’re coming into the villages and eating the easier-to-catch livestock- and, opportunistically as large generalized predators will, children. The villagers have requested dragon-proof fencing, but as it would cost roughly five thousand per village to do so, the park has dragged its feet on actually fulfilling the request, though they are outwardly sympathetic.

This much is completely natural behavior for a Komodo dragon, or for that matter a saltwater crocodile, another large reptilian top predator: to expend as little of its energy as possible (and they don’t have as much as a hyper-metabolism-fueled mammalian predator) hunting, and to grab whatever’s in reach whenever they’re hungry. For centuries, the easiest way to hunt was to accept goats and deer from the villagers and do some hunting for themselves, and avoid the loud, fast, and pesky dogs that would make coming in and taking livestock too much of a hassle*. Even hunting themselves was a relatively low-effort enterprise, compared to the athletic efforts of a wolf pack or big cat: they have an extraordinary bacterial stew in their mouths that makes any bite suffered by the prey nearly certain to become lethally infected, so that after the first bite, all the dragon had to do was track the scent and take the victim at their leisure. Or grab someone else’s sick and dying victim- living on a small island with a bunch of other predators is nice that way.

Now, the easiest thing to do is to go into the dog-free villages and take livestock (or unfortunate children) themselves. The cultural mechanism of symbiosis with the dragons the native Komodo villagers had developed would almost certainly never work in a place that wasn’t a small island, or where the native top predator was not a reptile with a need for food much smaller than a mammalian predator like a grizzly bear or tiger (which is why sane park policy almost everywhere else is completely right to forbid feeding the predators); however, it is a small island, the dragons are reptiles, and it appears to have worked- until now.

It’s easy to see why the Nature Conservancy made policy the way it did; ordinarily, feeding top predators CREATES this situation, leading the animals to associate humans with food and actively seek them out- taking food when it’s not offered, one way or another. Ordinarily, dogs are a very destructive element on an island, being (like humans ourselves, and like rats and pigs, two other island-killing alien species) omnivorous, efficient generalized predators. Ordinarily, poaching will be the swift death of an island population, which tend to be quite fragile and unable to withstand the large oscillations that are normal ecology for mainland populations of predator and prey.

However, it appears that very little about this island, these dragons, and these villagers was ordinary. The villagers were not new immigrants, they had been there, sharing the island with a top predator perfectly prepared to see humans as food, for centuries if not longer- as had, quite possibly, their dogs, as the Indonesian islands are part of the general pattern of southward dispersal of humans and dogs together out from Asia and down all the way to Australia- thousands of years ago. (Where the end result was Aborigines and dingos.) I can’t find any specific information on how long the dogs have been there, but there’s no reason to assume they are recent aliens- and how long does a population have to be somewhere before they are integrated into the local ecology, and considered natives?

The original Nature Conservancy policy wonk’s quote, however, does inspire some deeper questions. In the discussion over at Querencia response to “We don’t want the Komodo dragon to be domesticated. It’s against natural balance… We have to keep this conservation area for the purpose of wildlife. It is not for human beings.”, Matt Mullenix- one of the blog’s authors- mused:

“Yet so many today would make a place where the separation is complete—where all the people somehow live in cities and all the wilderness surrounds them. Where no animal is tame and no people are wild.”

It’s one of Matt’s favorite themes, and it’s one that I thoroughly agree with: it’s a dichotomy as poisonously false as could be. It’s wrong when it’s scared urban dwellers who assume that all wildlife is toting a flamethrower and a machete and craving human blood (or the opposite misconception, that wild land is like a nature-themed Disney park and wildlife is as portrayed in “Bambi”), it’s wrong when a certain strain of environmentalists assume the only way for humans to live in the world is to interact with it as little as possible, with the presumable ideal end goal being humans living in Jetsons- like bubble worlds with no impact whatsoever on the rest of the world around us- preferably on some other planet with no native life of its own, one gets the hint. It’s wrong when people assume they are the Godly-ordained masters of the planet, to take what we can as we please and the other slimy and furry and toothy critters can go hang, the ideal life is in an air-conditioned house eating factory-farm-raised beef.

It’s a fantasy. Humans are animals, and thus we are part of nature. We may be a particularly self-aware, intelligent, creative, and sometimes destructive one, but we use nothing that we did not derive in some way from natural materials and natural law, we do nothing that some part of our natural inheritance of intelligence and emotion does not allow us to, and nothing we produce is truly outside of nature. Even New York City has a thriving ecosystem of urbanized animals of its own; from the pigeons (or Rock Dove, as the wild species that found cities so inviting and abandoned the wilderness for them was once known) to the rats to, now, the hawks and falcons that have followed their smaller prey and figured out how to nest in steel and concrete. San Francisco- and many other cities- have urbanized parrots, where previously they had become extinct in North America. Countless others have fully urbanized coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. You may consider them “alien” in some way, but they have moved in, found a living, and would not be there if it were truly unnatural- adapting to new food sources and advantageous new environments is what made them successful species in the first place, the same way it did for us.

People scream about “genetically modified organisms”- and especially GMOs meant to be food- but we have been genetically modifying organisms since the Neolithic, as soon as we became anatomically modern. We began with dogs, moved on to cereals, pigs, chickens, and cows, and eventually to fruit and vegetables. Since more and more evidence points to show that Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, which domesticated nothing, suffered no gap in intelligence or technology with the contemporary Homo sapiens sapiens (anatomically modern humans), and there seems to be little to no evidence of direct conflict or interbreeding, some anthropologists even theorize that it was this ability to relate to and change other species that gave our subspecies the competitive advantage. If true- and it has some truth even so- this would make domestication (or, if you will, simply changing other species and adapting them to us- as we also adapt to them) not only natural to us, but what may have CREATED us as our capabilities are today.

If we somehow remove ourselves from nature by building cities, what does that make a termite, whose mounds are such enduring and elaborate marvels of natural engineering that they can be a bigger and more permanent feature of the African landscape than trees? Because we domesticate plants and animals? Insects have found farming fungus for food so lucrative it seems to have independently evolved in several different lineages, across ants and termites and beetles. Some ants will “dairy”, keeping aphids for regular “milking”. Because we can cause massive ecological change? Elephants are why Africa is famous for its plains rather than its dense forest and jungle. Bison (and a number of other large herbivores we drove extinct when humans first wandered across the Bering Land Bridge) are why North America has its own Great Plains.

Because we’re better at all these things? Because we know we’re special, and can conceive of being so special that we left it all behind? When thousands of us are still regularly killed off by hurricanes, tsunamis, and insect-borne diseases, how can we truly believe that?

The Garden of Eden that we left to become humans-as-we-know them is not a metaphor that describes our departure from nature, it is a metaphor that describes our departure from innocence- and our gain of knowledge of ourselves and of the world that we are very much a part of, as much of a piece as the dogs or the dragons- or the apples.

*The dragons, like crocodilians, are perfectly happy to take dogs as prey when the opportunity lands in their lap, but again, we’re talking about the easiest option. One reason dogs are the oldest domesticated animal is that, like humans, they band together for safety as well as offensive ability…

Campaigning

August 29, 2008 - 10:36 am Comments Off

Normally I eschew putting up political signs or bumper stickers. After the election, you’ve got a big pain in the rear to scrape off your car, or now-useless thing taking up a bunch of space in the trash, and before the election they just make your yard look crappy. Well, I bent my rule a bit and got some of Tam’s Keep the Change stickers taped to the rear windows on the ol’ horseless carriages (so they can come of easily after November). Now I’ve finally found a yard sign I’d be willing to sport as well. Even better, it’s reusable for any election.

goaway

I put on my robe and wizard hat…

August 28, 2008 - 2:14 pm Comments Off

“Ok, who brought the cheetos?”
“Yo.”
“Sweet, we’re all set. Everybody got their characters rolled?”
“Yeah, what’s this run again? Will there be decent gold? I need more gold.”
“Shaddup. You know you’ll find out when you’re in there. All right. It’s morning and your party is preparing to adventure.”
“My sysadmin orders a barrel of coffee.”
“My programmer lights a cigarette.”
“The first challenge approaches. A digital anachrotroll draws near, brandishing the smoking ruins of the laptop you prepared for last week’s adventure.”
“Jesus, already? That’s a new record for hosing my work by a long-ass ways. This is gonna be ‘fun,’ I can tell already. Ok, my sysadmin casts email tech support and tries to walk him through the low-level stuff without getting too close.”
“The laptop remains broken.”
“All right. My sysadmin casts information request.”
“Rolling… you receive gibberish.”
“Damnit. My sysadmin arranges a pickup on the machine.”
“The troll misses the pickup and grows irritated.”
“Screw it. Your turn.”
“My programmer arranges a pickup.”
“The troll arrives with the laptop and deposits the smoking yet still slimy remains on your best pack.”
“Delightful. Will you have your damn sysadmin fix this thing already and get rid of the troll?”
“Yeah yeah. I’m rolling. Crap, the dice are not friendly today. At least it’s fixable, technically. Ok, my sysadmin returns the laptop in working order.”
“With a shimmering ripple, the image you see shifts before your eyes. No longer are you facing a digital anachrotroll. Before you now stands a Pretentious Flaming Douchebag. He opens his filthy nozzle and sprays you with a boiling spray that sounds like:
I have tried to be patient through out this all! So let ME tell you what
what I have been experiencing. I do NOT WORK for you. I have been on
computers longer then you have been alive. GET IT! DO NOT leave my
computer on “Administrator” as I am not the administrator. YOU ARE NOT ME!
Put MY computer to me understand! How many passwords do you think I have
to remember let alone sign on IDs. I am on 3 different computers, at lest
12 different systems, which each have passwords and sign-on names.

Ok, saving rolls?”
“Shit, no good.”
“Me either.”
“You are both now affected by WTFery for your next turn.”
“My sysadmin begins casting Detailed Rant.”
“My programer casts silence on the sysadmin.”
“The fuck?!”
“What, are you trying to cook us all? You know your rants carry +40 fire damage, and we’ve got all this boiling douchery all over. It’ll all go up like the Hindenburg if you’d gotten that spell off.”
“You see the sysadmin’s lips moving rapidly – ”
“Yeah, yeah. I also put some points in lip reading, remember? …wow, Darwin-defiant children and Cuckoo birds? That would’ve been a good one.”
“As I was saying, you see your sysadmin’s lips moving furiously, but the only sound to come out is ‘Let’s work synergistically for a positive integrated digital outcome.'”
“I thought you cast silence, not manager-speak.”
“We’re not on fire, are we?”
“Fine.”
“Ok, I cast Summon VP. This Douchebag shouldn’t even be in this cave.”
“The strange 1s and 0s glow around you, and with a cheerful call of “Hey, how’s Monday treatin’ you so far?” the… hang on, rolling. The Soft Fluffy VP appears.”
“That one is usually pretty good. My sysadmin casts buff resume, just in case.”
“Better than nothing, that’s for sure. Ok, I give the SFVP copies of the battle-log.”
“The SFVP reads the background. Rolling… She agrees with the sysadmin. SFVP says she’s ready for battle and that the Pretentious Flaming Douchebag should take it up with offshore manufacturer tech support from now on.”
“Ok, I send in the SFVP.”
“Rolling… damn, the dice just do not like you guys today. The SFVP comes back with a glazed expression and tells you that an apology will be forthcoming, but that the sysadmin must enter the inner lair of the Pretentious Flaming Douchebag and harmonize the ambient waves as originally described.”
“What the fuck? My programmer casts detect bullshit.”
“Your programmer catches the faintest whiff of Hippy VP, but with a curiously burned note. The Pretentious Flaming Douchebag had summoned Hippy VP to battle SFVP, but did not have the power to control her. The HVP blocked your SFVP’s firing attack and thought we should all just get along, hence the lair quest. The good news is that the Pretentious Flaming Douchebag looks severely weakened, and cannot cast summon VP again without rolling a 20. The Douchebag opens his nozzle again, since the SFVP was able to cast Force Apology on him.
‘Just to let you know I come from a background of 16 years of emergency
response and it is not uncommon for firefighters, OSCs, Coast Guard,
Police, and hazmat personnel to speak very roughly with each other. This
is a bad habit on my part and I am trying to moderate it.'”
“Did you rig the fucking dice or something? ‘I’m sorry you’re a pussy’ is the best we get?”
“Like I said, they do not love you today. What’re you gonna do?”
“Flip you for who goes in. I can cast Schedule Conflict if anybody bitches about it being me instead of you.”
“No, I want to see how fucked up his stuff is. I know I put enough points in on my end that it has to be his crap that’s doing this.”
“My programmer begins summoning a barrel of margaritas and casts a masking spell of project staff meeting on it. Should be ready at the end of the day.”
“Thanks.”
“All right, my sysadmin enters the Pretentious Flaming Douchebag’s lair.”
“The Pretentious Flaming Douchebag is attempting to charm Less Gullible VP, who has been sent to make sure no blood is spilled. He’s describing setting up a crosstalk network in San Fransisco in the 70s.”
“San Fransisco in the 70s? That explains so much. My sysadmin puts on the Cloak of Indifference. The one with the 17 charges of You Don’t Matter and examines the laptop.”
“Hey, a break. The dice say the Pretentious Flaming Douchebag stops trying to sound technically literate and focuses on red tape with the LGVP. Nice move.”
“No whammy no whammy….yes! My sysadmin discovers the network configuration issue is in the router and casts Unsupported Hardware!”
“The Douchebag still has questions.”
“Damnit. Fine.”
“The Douchebag wishes advice on how to properly configure things, or should he buy a new router?”
“*snerk* Yeah, find the most expensive one on the market too. Either that or try digging through the documentation.”
“Did you just tell a Pretentious Flaming Douchebag to RTFM?”
“Yup.”
“Nice.”
“Thanks.”
“The LGVP casts release. You are free to go. The Douchebag shrinks in size and becomes a Petulant Drama Prick. He’s harmless for now, but the slightest whiff of Drama and he’ll grow back to twice his original Douchebag size.”
“Great. Now can we get our freakin’ reward and get out of this damn cave?”
“Sorry, no rewards. At least you got some good XP though.”
“You’re never DMing again. Gimme those cheetos and somebody whip up some real margaritas.”

And many more…

August 28, 2008 - 12:12 pm Comments Off

hippobirdietwoewe,
hippobirdietwoewe,
hippobirdiedeerlab_rat,
hippobirdietwoewe!

Useful Word # 27

August 27, 2008 - 7:31 pm Comments Off

Courtesy of Jeff Foxworthy and rednecks everywhere, the word of the day is “usetacould.”

I usetacould get up a truly incandescent rage when appropriate and carry it along like a nice well stoked boiler for as long as necessary. These days, situations which generate the nigh-tangible aura of “get out of the way” start to burn out after a good 72 hours (though when the temperatures finally go down at night, the 0th law of thermodynamics means I radiate more efficiently and can work up a good surge).

I usetacould carry that nice white-hot pit of hate and hook it up to just about anything and blow productivity levels straight through the roof. Guess I’m gettin’ older. As such, running out the tail end of some epic level fuckery at work, one which I give you my word that all cops, paramedics, and other first responders reading this should be deeply offended by (but sadly can’t elaborate on here), the tank is currently more than a tad low. Hell, the little dashboard light came on about fifty miles ago, to stretch the metaphor.

Long story short, content tomorrow. At least I’ve got an idea for once.

Unforced Errors

August 26, 2008 - 2:08 pm Comments Off

I’ve seen this term used several times this year- if it was already in common media parlance before this election cycle, I didn’t notice- and it seems to be a nice way to say “candidate X just took a machine gun to his own feet”.

I am increasingly coming to believe that it matters less how well a candidate campaigns himself- Americans are very jaded by political promises and have mixed reactions to negative advertising- than how many of these his opponent makes and how many he does.

As the spotlight is on the Denver convention and America is waiting for Barack Obama to become something they can be more sure about- as the polls are a dead heat in a year when it should have been impossible for a Democrat to lose unless, as the saying goes, he was caught with a dead hooker or a live boy- he seems to be making a number of them. This does not give one a warm and fuzzy feeling, if unsureness about Obama is mostly due to concerns about his thin resume and potential judgment or lack thereof. (Obviously this is not the case for me- I’m very sure I disagree with most of his policy positions and am finding him increasingly difficult to respect- my only unknown is whether I’ll be able to suppress my gag reflex well enough to vote against him.)

First and foremost is his treatment of his rival from the primaries, which were unusually close- and bitter. No matter how one feels about Hillary Clinton and the Clintons in general, she DID get 18 million votes, the Clintons ARE still major Democratic power brokers, and a great many of her supporters ARE incredibly pissed off both about her loss and the way they feel she was treated by the Obama campaign (and the media). If Obama were running against George W. Bush, that wouldn’t be a problem, but he’s not- he’s running against a Republican whose distaste for Bush (and independent streak) is such that there was a brief flirtation with the Kerry campaign in 2004 over the idea of him joining the Kerry ticket. McCain is one of the very few Republicans out there who would be remotely capable of peeling off any Democrats at all- if they were pissed off enough.

You would think that Obama would find it important just as a matter of political pragmatism (something he has proven to excel at in other areas, given the rapidity with which he broke inconvenient promises from the primary) to make at least a superficial peace with the Clintons and their supporters- and Hillary’s pledged delegates- but he and his campaign don’t seem to. In fact, they’ve gone out of their way to snub her, not even bothering to give her a courtesy vetting during the VP selection process. Hillary has returned the goodwill, by not even bothering to tell her delegates to vote for Obama, leaving it as a “personal decision” for them- and a nontrivial proportion of them don’t want to. It’s obviously not enough to unseat Obama as the nominee, but it does send up a giant red flag as to how successful Obama has been at “healing” the divide in the party- and raises the question in the minds of voters that if he can’t even unite Democrats, how does he propose to get anything done in the country when he has to work with Republicans, even a minority of them? Still not particularly in the mood for a group hug, Bill Clinton has already helpfully raised that question.

Meanwhile, as for the candidate Obama DID choose to be his running mate… the way he revealed the decision- at three a.m. by cell text message on a Friday, actively ticking off a number of his own supporters- has led to some of the major media outlets that adored him three months ago actively speculating that he intended to bury his own announcement, knowing how weak a running mate Biden is. (They also speculated that he was turned down by a stronger candidate that would have made more sense as his actual first choice.) And he is weak, make no mistake- he doesn’t actually HURT the ticket so far, but he doesn’t remotely help it, either. Worse than that, he had to drop out of the 1988 Democratic primary race because he couldn’t stop eating his own feet, taking multiple media black eyes for his temper, tendency to wildly exaggerate his own accomplishments, and plagiarism of another politician’s speech materials. Obama is good enough at gaffes all by himself without adding another gaffemaster to the ticket. The GOP is ecstatic, and speaking of the bitter Clintonistas, there are rumbles that they have deemed him a “death wish” for the campaign. (I normally try not to link to partisan blogs rather than some at least remotely nonpartisan media source, but the link there doesn’t seem to lead to the original article anymore. Take with as many grains of salt as you wish.)

Meanwhile, in the land of “far less consequential for now”, a few bored conservative bloggers have noticed the new design for Obama’s campaign website- specifically, the background image, reachable by looking at the page properties from the main site. Pretty background, no? It looks oddly familiar to the pseudo-presidential seal that got one of Obama’s earliest true media backlashes. He was heavily mocked for his presumption even by those normally quite friendly to him, and the seal was rapidly retired and buried. But now it seems to be back in a less obvious place, and with the amusing detail that while the traditional seal- and the earlier one- had an eagle with olive branches in one claw and arrows in the other, this new Obama seal is all olive branches. (Except for the one on his Fight the Smears, site, which is all arrows.) There’s no possible mileage the GOP could get out of that, with a candidate who is percieved by the unsure as weak on foreign policy and a bit arrogant… right? Right? Does Obama need his very own “O”-centric seal so badly that he neither learned from the earlier media reaction nor understands this kind of thing is not healthy for his campaign?

In John McCain’s wildest dreams, he could not be any better at damaging Barack Obama than Barack Obama is.

Cool Thing of the Week

August 25, 2008 - 4:46 pm Comments Off

Since I don’t speak Japanese other than the eigth-assed bit I picked up for one semester in college, I have no idea what the narrator is saying. The translation in my head is roughly “Hey, look at this really cool and underappreciated shark. Not much is known about this elusive deep-water shark, compared to other species but they do have several unique HOLY SHIT I DIDN’T KNOW IT COULD DO THAT! Hey, come check this out!”

Of course, my translation skills are a tad rusty.

I knew “normal” species of sharks can do some fairly nifty gymnastics with their jaw structures, but this just puts them all flat out to shame.