Monday, December 31, 2007

The top seven things I would like to ask Fundamentalist Christians.

Everyone seems to make lists at the end of the year. I am not sure why this is. Maybe it just puts some sort of order onto chaos. Maybe it’s just a tradition. Anyway, here is my entry on the plethora of lists at this time of the year. Here is my list of questions about which I would like to have answers from Fundamentalist Christians who believe that every single word of the Bible is true, and only true to their particular interpretation, including that the Earth is only around 6000 years old.

1. Fundamentalist Christians put mankind at the center of the universe, it seems. Everything revolves around us, just as humans would have believed 2000 years ago when we had no idea of what the universe we live in actually looks like. Yet, if you take a look at what we know of the universe now, even the galaxy we live is in just a speck in the vastness, and it takes light, traveling at 186,000 miles per second, over 100,000 years to get from one side of that one speck to the other. There are a hundred billion stars in our galaxy. There are billions of observable galaxies in the universe. Why would God bother with making such an immense and scarcely comprehensible universe, and at the same time, be concerned with every single individual and whether or not we believe in Him? This just seems so incredibly petty and small of a God that could create such a universe.

2. If, as you maintain, every single word of the Bible is “God’s Truth”, how do you explain the numerous contradictions and other inexplicable actions taken both by God and by his faithful? There are very obvious examples. Did Noah take two beasts of each kind? Or, was it “clean beasts thou shalt take to thee seven and seven, the male and his female”(Genesis 7.2)? It can’t be both, can it? Or, the famous question of, who was Cain’s wife and where did she come from, if Cain and Able were the only people in the world after Adam and Eve? Cain built an entire city and populated it only with his offspring? An entire city? Sounds pretty doubtful. I find the story of Joshua destroying the city of Jericho very cruel and bloodthirsty. Because Jehovah (God by another name) “gave” the city to Joshua (Joshua 6.1), it was acceptable then to destroy the city and either kill or expel all the city’s inhabitants, who had done nothing wrong in the least? That is a terrible, terrible thing to do to innocent people. Likewise, God commanding Abraham to kill his son, just to see if he would do it, seems like a terrible thing for God to do (Genesis 22.10). I would call that the ultimate “no win” situation. The Bible contains many requirements for burnt offerings, killing of those who are unlike you, etc. I want to hear how the Fundamentalist Christians explain all these very troubling and contradictory passages in God’s Truth.

3. Was the physical nature of the universe actually different than it is today? Having the sun rise in the west and set in the east is a physical impossibility and one, if it were actually to occur, would cause a catastrophe that would essentially destroy the Earth. Did this really occur, the Earth rotate in the opposite direction? Was the refraction of light impossible prior to the Great Flood? The Bible (Genesis 9.14) states that the rainbow is God’s promise that He will not destroy the Earth again by floods. Did the physics of light and refraction change? And, just as an aside, where did all the water go that was used to cover up all the surface of the Earth such that no dry land remained?

4. Much has been made about the animals that Noah took with him on his Ark. Fundamentalists have been forced to accept the existence of dinosaurs, since there is overwhelming evidence that they existed. The Bible never mentions them, but they must have existed. Therefore, fundamentalists, rather than try to work out how the Bible might be incorrect about time scales, just incorporated them into their own version of “The Truth”. That is, Noah took all the dinosaurs on the Ark with him. No further thought is required for this improbable hypothesis, it seems, but leaves unanswered the huge size of the beasts involved and the sheer numbers involved. It would be absolutely impossible to house even two of each kind of the dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and other animals that we know existed, given the Ark’s stated size (Genesis 6.15). Besides, maybe dinosaurs were “clean beasts”.

5. I want to know where Neanderthals fit into the picture. Neanderthals are just like dinosaurs. There is undeniable evidence that they existed in Europe and the Middle East, for over 100,000 years. Yet, Fundamentalist Christians ignore all this evidence, as it is just too difficult to work into their accepted biblical narrative. Neanderthals were definitely humans (not monkeys or apes) but not homo sapiens, either. They used tools. They buried their dead. Like the dinosaurs, did Noah carry Neanderthals on his Ark? Fundamentalist Christians like to make much of the hoax of the Piltdown Man (conveniently forgetting that scientists were the ones who uncovered the hoax, not Christians), but are totally silent on the subject of the Neanderthals.

6. How do all the heavily cratered objects in our solar system, such as the Moon, Mercury, and all the various moons of the gas giants, fit in with the theory that the Earth is only 6000 years old? Were all these other bodies already present, such that they reached their heavily cratered state (craters inside of older craters inside of older craters) prior to the Earth being created? It is not possible that these bodies were bombarded with millions of objects during their formation and the Earth was not. 6000 years is not enough time for even such as a geologically and meteorologically active place such as our Earth to fully erase the evidence of such bombardment. Where did all these bodies that impacted the major bodies in our solar system go, and why aren’t we hit every week or month by such an object?

7. There is ample geological evidence, which is visible to the naked eye and takes no formal training to understand, that discounts the notion of a very young Earth. How do Fundamentalist Christians explain things like the Hawaiian Islands, where the land building mechanism is easily observable? 6000 years is obviously not enough time for a volcanic “hot spot” in the crust of the earth create the chain of islands, each of which rises hundreds of thousands of feet from the ocean floor. Did God create all these islands and then just happen to create what just looks like geological evidence that would explain their creation? How are there fossils of forests and animals in Antarctica? Why are there places in Colorado which have dinosaur prints fossilized in solid rock, but are inclined at almost 90 degrees perpendicular to the surface of the Earth? How does the Bible explain plate tectonics and continental drift? Mountain ranges like the Himalayas just happened to be placed at the junction of these plates that are pushing against each other?

All attempts at explanations that the Bible seems to hold so dear seems to me to be an attempt my man who had very little knowledge of the actual world he inhabited. I can’t see any reason why I should take the story of Noah any more literally than I would a story from the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. They have a legend about the time when Whale fought with Bear, and much was destroyed. After putting many varying pieces of information together, it appears that this story was an attempt at explaining a very large earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which also inundated the coastline of Japan in the 1600’s or 1700’s, I am not sure which. The Native Americans of that time were attempting to explain something that they had no explanation for. Why is it not likely that the miracles and odd happenings in the Old Testament are along the same line? I cannot see that the inherent nature of our earth or our universe, or the fundamental laws of physics, changed since biblical times. So, why is what is in the Bible any more compelling than the legends of all the other religions?

I suppose religion is an individual’s way to try to get a handle on the universe, the uncertainty of our society, and, the ultimate question, what happens when we die. Obviously, our species has an inherent need for those kinds of explanations. We do not like uncertainty. But if you consult Occam’s Razor, the explanations that are coming from science, even though they are very, very strange (such as, how can an electron be a particle AND a wave at the same time), seem to make more sense to me that postulating a benevolent being that created the entire universe but seems to care about whether or not we believe in Him, on an individual basis.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

We are entering the last year of the reign of George W. Bush. What’s next?

My title isn’t really 100% truthful, as Chimpy will still be in place for a few weeks in January of 2009. However, we will know who will be replacing him. I’m just beginning to wonder what comes next? Are we going to get Nero after Caligula? (For those not fully up on your Roman Empire similes, although Caligula was pretty bad, Nero was far worse.)

I, personally, think that Hillary Clinton would make a very good president. By all accounts, she has been a very good senator. Although it is by no means a given that she will get the Democratic nod, I am thinking that the odds of her being the Dem nominee are running about 3 to 1. I would really like it to be John Edwards or Chris Dodd, but I am thinking that isn’t going to happen.

There are two things that can come of Hillary being the Democratic nominee. The first is that she wins, and the next 4 or 8 years are pure hell for her, and a lot of the country, because the Republicans and all their attack dogs in politics AND the media see it as their duty to try to rip to shreds any Democrat that becomes too prominent. This happened to both Al Gore and John Kerry, they tried to do it to Nancy Pelosi with limited success. It won’t matter who is the next Democratic president. However, if it is Hillary, then I foresee all the attack dogs getting rabies and going all frothy at the mouth. Bill O’Reilly and everyone like him will all go nuts, blaming everything that has ever happened on President Clinton (her, not him, well, probably both, actually) and forget that Bush had eight years in the White House and the Republicans had a lock on both houses for I don’t know how long. All that will be forgotten. And all the Republican members of the House and Senate will do everything they can to bring the Democratic agenda to a grinding halt. They have already succeeded in doing that, of course, and they will continue with their obstructionist ways. I don’t really see a veto-proof Democratic majority. Maybe, but I still think that, between the 30% Republican base of this country and whatever dirty tricks that they can conjure up on election day will probably prevent a Democratic veto-proof majority.

The other possibility, of course, is that Hillary will turn out to be so polarizing that whatever advantage the “Republican Party” has given the Dems over the last eight years won’t matter, and the Republican nominee will be elected. Now, this possibility scares me a great deal, as there are some truly insane people over on the Republican side. The only one that I truly think might come close to doing a good job is John McCain, even though he is a long way from his “Straight Talk Express” days. These other people, well… Gulliani would be a continuation of the Bush’s administration, only amped up, like George Bush after four or five Red Bulls in the morning. In other words, a total disaster for this country. We really could end up with a fascist government after eight years of him. It’s hard to tell what might happen with Romney, as he says whatever comes into his mind that he thinks the people who will elect him want to hear. So, it’s really hard to tell what he might actually do if he becomes President. He may not even know himself, other than appoint a bunch of conservative judges. Huckabee… Same thing. I know I am very concerned about his overt religiosity. I don’t particularly want another person in the White House that thinks he is doing “God’s Will”.

I haven’t even begun to touch anything that might happen with domestic and foreign policy. I just believe that any Republican will continue on the path set by George Bush to make the United States a pariah in the eyes of the rest of the world. The current definition of Republican thinking seems to include the firm belief that the other countries of the world only exist to somehow benefit the United States. That kind of thinking will eventually get this country in deep, deep trouble. I can’t see anyone really starting a preemptive war on us, just because they are worried what we might do to them in the future. But I can see Europe banding together with Russia and other countries around the world to freeze the U.S. out. Once our economy is no longer the juggernaut that drives the world’s economy, there really won’t be a pressing reason for them to play ball with us. And this is another road the U.S. seems determined to go down.

I suppose my conclusion is that, even though I think it is imperative that a Democrat is the next president (unless somehow Chuck Hagel would run as an independent), there is no way that I think we are going to enjoy the next few years even if we do manage to get a Dem elected. It is going to take twenty to thirty years to repair all the damage that Bush and the mass conglomeration of conservative media outlets has done to this country. And the Dems may not be given that chance.

Prophesizing is a risky business. I just hope the next ten years aren’t what I am thinking they might be.

Sorry to have been away for so long.

My computer picked up a spyware monster and totally hosed it up. Not being one who gets along with computers, I had to take it into the shop. Computerless for a number of days, and I started to go through withdrawal.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A front row seat to a cosmic game of billiards?

Man, this could be a very interesting show. From the LA Times, via the Everett Herald.

An asteroid similar to the one that flattened forests in Siberia in 1908 could plow into Mars sometime in the next few weeks, scientists said.

Researchers attached to NASA's Near-Earth Objects Program, who like to call themselves the Solar System Defense Team, have been tracking the asteroid for days.

The scientists, based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., put the chances that it will hit the Red Planet at about 1 in 300. That's better odds than any known asteroid has ever had of hitting Earth, except for the Siberian strike, the scientists said.

The unnamed asteroid is about 160 feet across, which puts it in the range of the famous Siberian rock. The largest impact event in recent history, that explosion felled 80 million trees over an area of 830 square miles.

Concerns about another strike on Earth led to the creation of the Near-Earth Objects Program and the pursuit of research into possible ways of deflecting a killer asteroid.

Scientists say it's unclear what the effects of such an impact on Mars would be. The Martian atmosphere is so thin that an asteroid would likely plummet all the way to the surface instead of breaking up above ground, as happened in the Siberian event.

Once it hit, it would probably create a large crater and send plumes of dust high into the atmosphere, scientists said. Depending on where it hit, the plume could be visible through telescopes on Earth.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is currently mapping the planet, would have a front-row seat. NASA's two JPL-built rovers, Opportunity and Spirit, might also be able to take pictures from the ground of the impact's effects.

So, don’t tell me that we aren’t moving toward a fascist police state in the U.S.

Here is an absolutely horrifying story (via Digby at Hullabaloo), about a 24-year-old woman from Iceland who was subjected to some truly outrageous crap, just because she overstayed her visitor’s visa by three weeks, back in the mid-90’s! THIS is a reason to put someone who obviously is not a threat into handcuffs and leg irons, parade them through the airport, and subject then to pretty harsh conditions that you wouldn’t normally think of outside a maximum security prison?!?

During the last twenty-four hours I have probably experienced the greatest humiliation to which I have ever been subjected. During these last twenty-four hours I have been handcuffed and chained, denied the chance to sleep, been without food and drink and been confined to a place without anyone knowing my whereabouts, imprisoned. Now I am beginning to try to understand all this, rest and review the events which began as innocently as possible.

Last Sunday I and a few other girls began our trip to New York. We were going to shop and enjoy the Christmas spirit. We made ourselves comfortable on first class, drank white wine and looked forward to go shopping, eat good food and enjoy life. When we landed at JFK airport the traditional clearance process began.

We were screened and went on to passport control. As I waited for them to finish examining my passport I heard an official say that there was something which needed to be looked at more closely and I was directed to the work station of Homeland Security. There I was told that according to their records I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995. For this reason I would not be admitted to the country and would be sent home on the next flight. I looked at the official in disbelief and told him that I had in fact visited New York after the trip in 1995 without encountering any difficulties. A detailed interrogation session ensued.


I was exhausted, tired and hungry. I didn't understand the officials' conduct, for they were treating me like a very dangerous criminal. Soon thereafter I was removed from the cubicle and two armed guards placed me up against a wall. A chain was fastened around my waist and I was handcuffed to the chain. Then my legs were placed in chains. I asked for permission to make a telephone call but they refused. So secured, I was taken from the airport terminal in full sight of everybody. I have seldom felt so bad, so humiliated and all because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law.

They would not tell me where they were taking me. The trip took close to one hour and although I couldn't see clearly outside the vehicle I knew that we had crossed over into New Jersey. We ended up in front of a jail. I could hardly believe that this was happening. Was I really about to be jailed? I was led inside in the chains and there yet another interrogation session ensued. I was fingerprinted once again and photographed. I was made to undergo a medical examnination, I was searched and then I was placed in a jail cell. I was asked absurd questions such as: When did you have your last period? What do you believe in? Have you ever tried to commit suicide?

I was completely exhausted, tired and cold. Fourteen hours after I had landed I had something to eat and drink for the first time. I was given porridge and bread. But it did not help much. I was afraid and the attitude of all who handled me was abysmal to say the least. They did not speak to me as much as snap at me. Once again I asked to make a telephone call and this time the answer was positive. I was relieved but the relief was short-lived. For the telephone was setup for collect calls only and it was not possible to make overseas calls. The jailguard held my cell phone in his hand. I explained to him that I could not make a call from the jail telephone and asked to be allowed to make one call from my own phone. That was out of the question. I spent the next 9 hours in a small, dirty cell. The only thing in there was a narrow steel board which extended out from the wall, a sink and toilet. I wish I never experience again in my life the feeling of confinement and helplessness which I experienced there.

I was hugely relieved when, at last, I was told that I was to be taken to the airport, that is to say until I was again handcuffed and chained. Then I could take no more and broke down and cried. I begged them at least to leave out the leg chains but my request was ignored. When we arrived at the airport, another jail guard took pity on me and removed the leg chains. Even so I was led through a full airport terminal handcuffed and escorted by armed men. I felt terrible. On seeing this, people must think that there goes a very dangerous criminal...

I just cannot express enough outrage about this kind of crap from our government. What POSSIBLY justifies this kind of action? And this is only just one incident. There are many, many more that I have read about. What kind of country are we turning into?

I am truly sick about this. And having these feelings during the Christmas season only heightens them. All the festive lights and, supposedly, everyone is full of “good will toward men”. Yeah, only if you are white and have your papers in order.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Today’s 10 minute history lesson: Railroad tracks.


Here’s a question (maybe not a particularly interesting question on the face of it, but a question nevertheless) that you probably have never considered before. Why are the rails on American railroads such an odd distance apart (4 ft, 8 ½ inches or 1435 millimeters)? That seems a very unusual number. Why couldn’t whoever came up with that use a more round number? If nothing else, it would seem that a round number for the track gauge would make it easier for people to remember and to more easily set measuring tools.

You have probably guessed that I would not ask such an odd question without being ready to divulge the answer. So, here it is.

- The American railroad system has its origins in the English railroad system and, therefore, each use the same gauge of track.

- The English railroad system, when in its infancy, didn’t have a large manufacturing base ready to churn out larges amounts of railroad equipment. It was much easier to adapt other equipment that was readily obtainable. These were, of course, the horse-drawn wagons and coaches of the day, and those wagons and carriages had this odd standard for their wheel measurements. The early English manufacturers of railroad equipment just kept the wheel gauge the same, as it was far easier that way. They only had to remove the wagon wheels and install flanged railroad wheels on the same axle system. This became the standard wheel gauge for early English railroads.

- The wheel measurements on the wagons and carriages came from the fact that many of the roads in England were paved in stones. After long periods of use, the stone paving starts to exhibit wear patterns in the form of groves in which the wagon wheels fit. Thus, it became the standard to make wagons and carriages with this measurement so that they would easily fit into the groves worn into the roads. Anything else besides that distance between the wagon wheels would have made a wagon almost unusable on heavily traveled paved roads.

- A very large number of wagons in England were imported from Rome, during the Roman occupation of England (approximately 40 A.D. to 400 A.D.). This was the standard for the Roman army, and later became the standard for civilian wagons and carriages in early England. The Romans, of course, brought to England the same types of carriages and wagons they used in Italy and the rest of their empire.

Thus, the inescapable conclusion of this historical trail is that American railroads use a very odd standard for the gauge for their tracks is because ancient Roman wagons and chariots were built with that gauge. Ben Hur to the Union Pacific.


UPDATE: From the comments, Wolfman (good buddy that he is) pointed out that I missed the last link in the logical chain. The width of Roman wagons and chariots was set not by some ancient craftsman just picked that width because he liked it. No, the width of the Roman wagons was set because that's the width of two horses butts, standing side by side. Now, THAT'S history.

So, apparently the Rapture is not happening anytime in the near future.

Jerry B. Jenkins, co-author of the Left Behind series of books, is also an owner of the Phoenix Mustangs, which, I take it, is a minor league hockey team. This guy is so confident that the End Times Are Near!, he is talking with local officials about building a $40 million hockey area (for minor league hockey?) and an adjacent hotel. Yep, that certainly sounds like a person who is all ready to be raptured away. Maybe he just doesn’t know what do to with all the money he has raked in and is being philanthropic toward that highly abused and underreported group, Canadians Possessing No Other Employable Skills.

This story is done with a little more snark at Whiskeyfire.

Huckabee, President for the Moronic Apocalypse. The Moracopalypse. Dumbageddon. And the worst part is that I agree with HTMLM -- this is the best the GOP has to offer: a fan of the Left Behind books. Wheeee.

UPDATE: Just thinking, the guy made millions from books that explicate his sincere idea that the world is going to end in a couple of years. Fine. OK. But then he goes and invests millions in a hockey arena.

This clearly suggests that according to the Bible, the only sport that will survive the Apocalypse is ice hockey. Quick, everyone, grow mullets and forecheck, and ride that Zamboni to your Eternal Reward!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

My annual post of Postmodernism Christmas confusion.

I don’t “get” Christmas.

Oh, I “understand” Christmas on about three different levels. There is the obvious Christian tradition of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, even though there is ample evidence that Jesus wasn’t born anywhere near December 25. Rather, the holiday was moved to the end of the calendar year to supplant the older, pagan holiday celebrations (such as Saturnalia) centered around the Winter solstice. And there is, of course, the orgy of consumerism, where everyone in the entire country is bombarded with advertisements about how you must buy gifts, of ever increasing value, for everyone you know, or else you will be branded as a bad and uncaring person. And then there is the end of the year aspect, where most people believe that, after working all year long, we all need a party, a break, something to celebrate, a reason to really cut loose and no one will look at you askance for doing it. Christmas (and its tag-along poorer cousins, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day) serves all those purposes well.

But still, I don’t “get” Christmas. There are just too many contradictions for me to deal with comfortably, and I am not talking about the fact that I am not a Christian and do not for a minute believe that Jesus was the Son of God. No, I am talking about things like the fact that huge amounts of people put up Christmas trees to celebrate the holiday, when, in actual, people have no idea what that means. Why do it? Is putting sparkly things on a tree, real or artificial, somehow honoring the memory or ideal of Christ? On the contrary, the origins of Christmas trees rather murky, but seems to be derived from a pagan symbol of fertility. But that seems to matter to no one. It’s the Here-And-Now that matters. It’s the “done thing”, regardless of its origins.

I don’t get why people feel so pressured to go out shopping at 4 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving to get a jump on their shopping. Of course, retailers know that this is a huge shopping day, so they are not going to be too inclined to give shoppers a break on the prices. No, they are going to charge the maximum the market will bear, as they know they have a motivated crowd of customers. I don’t get why people work themselves into a frenzy, just so they can keep with all the demands of the season; holiday cards, gifts, decorations, baking, visiting. A post-coital letdown in the middle of January is inevitable. Then everything is forgotten until October and the gradual buildup into another season of excess.

I don’t “get” Christmas. Thank God, however, I have all my cards mailed and gifts purchased. I just need to get a FEW more things for the Christmas stockings...

One reason I like blogs that include lots of links to other blogs.

You never quite know what you are going to find. There is some very good, very snarky stuff out there. This is from a blog named Kung Fu Monkey, where the issue of the constant use of fear and terrorism by the right wing power mongers is discussed. This is a paraphrase of similar confrontations with evil from our country’s past.

FDR: Oh, I'm sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we're coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How's that going to feel?

CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We'll be in the pub, flipping you off. I'm slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I'm sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.

US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike ... NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

Kung Fu Monkey now earns an honored place in my blog roll.

Monday, December 17, 2007

And why is high speed internet so damned important, again?

I have high speed internet at my work station, and I am not able to load many of the blogs that I used to like. Huffington Post now partially loads and then freezes. The Washington Post is the same way, except it also tries to pop up a new page at the end, which always fails my web browser. Therefore, I must hit the Escape key BEFORE this new page tries to pop up but AFTER the entire text of the page I want to read has been loaded. And every web site that has advertisements up on the top make absolutely certain that the ads load first, regardless of how long that might take, how much animation is involved, etc. etc. Gotta get that money up front, make sure these viewers see the ads. Americablog takes forever to load.

Crap, money has, once again, taken the fun out of something that used to be easy. I don’t even bother looking at some of these sites anymore. Which rather defeats the point of web sites, don’t you think?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

And what exactly are the requirements for being a Presidential Press Secretary?

Oh, yeah. Complete and utter toady, willing to say anything and stonewall, even in the face of looking completely ridiculous. However, they really shouldn’t make it this easy.

Appearing on National Public Radio's light-hearted quiz show "Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me," which aired over the weekend, (Dana) Perino got into the spirit of things and told a story about herself that she had previously shared only in private: During a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis -- and she didn't know what it was.

"I was panicked a bit because I really don't know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis," said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. "It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure."

So she consulted her best source. "I came home and I asked my husband," she recalled. "I said, 'Wasn't that like the Bay of Pigs thing?' And he said, 'Oh, Dana.' "

Yes, making light of the fact that she knew absolutely nothing about one of THE most important events of the entire Cold War. "It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I'm pretty sure." Yep, now THAT’S a stretch of the imagination. Nothing really important. She really wants to get back to her day job of ridiculing reporters for asking what she thinks are impertinent questions.

At least Tony Snow knew what the heck he was talking about. Ms. Perino seems sadly out of her league. Actually, I just had a thought. Reporters should start throwing in historical bits into their questions, just to see if she knows what they are talking about. “Dana, would you care to compare Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Premier Nikita Khrushchev, in their willingness to threaten other nations with nuclear weapons?”

O.K., that’s one damn big bug.

From the Discovery channel web site.

This was a bug you couldn't swat and definitely couldn't step on. British scientists have stumbled across a fossilized claw, part of an ancient sea scorpion, that is of such large proportion it would make the entire creature the biggest bug ever.

How big? Bigger than you, and at 8 feet long as big as some Smart cars.
The discovery in 390-million-year-old rocks suggests that spiders, insects, crabs and similar creatures were far larger in the past than previously thought, said Simon Braddy, a University of Bristol paleontologist and one of the study's three authors.

"This is an amazing discovery," he said Tuesday.

"We have known for some time that the fossil record yields monster millipedes, super-sized scorpions, colossal cockroaches, and jumbo dragonflies. But we never realized until now just how big some of these ancient creepy-crawlies were," he said.

The research found a type of sea scorpion that was almost half a yard longer than previous estimates and the largest one ever to have evolved.

I am refraining from making all sorts of comments about those 50’s giant bug movies. Well, I would make a comment, if I could come up with one that was really funny. Let’s just say that those weren’t all that farfetched. “AAAAA!!! THEM!!”

Saturday, December 08, 2007

It’s time for another political post, I suppose.

I don’t suppose anyone has noticed that this blog has been full of really trivial stuff lately. Rather interesting at times, but really trivial. It’s difficult writing the political stuff for several reasons. One is that I am not even editorializing. I’m just bitching and moaning, in a somewhat readable manner. Another is that I am not doing a lot in the way of research and digging around. I just see a topic that upsets me and I take off on it. Other people do it much better than I do, and usually quicker. (Although Atrios, who seems to enjoy a very fine reputation as a insightful blogger, usually posts one liners that say “Wanker”, “Wheeee!!” or something along those lines. Jeez, I can do that.) So, it seems rather futile to get all worked up about a subject where I just read something by someone else who just wrote about it in a much better way than I ever could.

But here’s the real deal. There is just too much bad crap out there. It’s not even every day, it’s every flippin’ hour some new revelation comes up that just astounds me. Or else doesn’t astound me, just because they are coming fast and furious as part of an easily discernable pattern. I am just overwhelmed and am truly depressed about the state of this country and its inhabitants. It’s not just how truly despicable that the Bush administration has turned out to be. It’s also that the “conservatives” of this country refuse to see it and continually try to blame the Democrats and liberals for anything and everything that happens. If something really bad happens that they can’t duck, then they just pretend it doesn’t exist and manufacture another “crisis” (e.g., the “General Betrayus” ad, “let’s have a Congressional committee investigate, shall we?”) in order to deflect the attention from the truly embarrassing crap that they have just gotten caught doing.

Here we have the President of the United States trying, once again, to manufacture a crisis from a situation that, yes, does need attention but is nowhere near a problem that demands a THIRD WAR at a time that the first two aren’t going exactly well, to make a huge understatement. And now, of course, the Republicans in Congress are all up in arms because the NIE on Iran states that they have mothballed their nuke weapons program years ago. Did they get all frothing at the mouth mad when all the books were cooked to stampede this country into an unnecessary war in Iraq? No. No one gave a flying fig about that. But boy, if we get a report that undermines the right’s bloodlust and desire to kill thousands of more innocent people, then it’s Katy, bar the door! How DARE 16 intelligence agencies come up with intelligence (you know, the stuff that intelligence agencies are supposed to produce) that goes against the wishes of the Bush administration, at the same time Bush has the lowest approval ratings for a President for the longest period of time, ever. No, it’s obviously the intelligence agencies fault. Bush and Cheney obviously know more than they do. (Which brings up the question, if they are disbelieving everything all 16 agencies are saying, just where are they getting all this information about Iran anyway? Another “Curveball” that helped Bush make a case for war in Iraq?)

It’s all so transparent, and yet, many in this country cannot see it. They have been so brainwashed that their actual enemies are the citizens of the United States who disagree with them, they just cannot fathom that they are being outright manipulated or are so dishonest that they know exactly what they are doing but feel no remorse when doing it. Three quarters of the national media have taken sides with the Republican party, and there isn’t even any pretext of them fulfilling their investigative responsibilities. They now see their job as mouthpieces for the government. It’s much more interesting, in their eyes, to make an issue out of John Edward’s $400 haircut or Hillary’s boobs. Real reporting? Naw. That’s too damn hard. Plus, it wouldn’t allow many of them, like Lou Dobbs or the entire Fox Network, to pursue their agenda of promoting their own ideas.

This is not freedom we have here. This is the pre-pubescent version of Mussolini’s Italy. It isn’t there yet, but you can see where it is headed.

That’s why I post trivial pictures of car wrecks and Lego Escher. How we have come to this point, I just cannot begin to understand.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Another awesomely cool scientific related post, this time about a mummified hadrosaur named Dakota.

Dinosaurs fascinate me. Probably all young boys were into dinosaurs at one time or another, a la Calvin. I find it just so amazing that these animals wandered around our planet for, oh, 165 million years, give or take. We humans think we are such hot sh*t, and we have only have a written history of our species of maybe, what, 6000 years? Dinosaurs were king, baby. Ain’t no mistakin' that fact. My mind is boggles at that fact. 165 MILLION years, dinosaurs ruled the earth. They still would be, if it weren’t for an unfortunate (for them, anyway) comet or meteor.

This new find is amazing; a dinosaur fossil that is more than just fossilized bones. The surface of the skin is preserved, including different sizing of scales which would probably indicate that these animals were striped in color. Internal organs are probably preserved as well. The entire fossil is being scanned in the world’s largest CT scanner, which will probably yield some really interesting results.

Some wrecks are really difficult to explain.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

How close are we really getting to a Soviet style state here in the U.S.?

It seems as if, every day, we get indications of how the Bush administration is taking the government, supposedly “for the people and by the people”, and making into an instrument that is meant to control the general population. The scandal, that is still mostly untold in the mainstream media, about the telecoms listening in on conversations and reading e-mail of private citizens without warrants is still unfolding, with many people dedicated to not letting what happened really get out. We hear stories about the government wanted to know what books we check out of the libraries or a recent story about the government wanting to relinquish the lists of recent purchases, by regular citizens.

This government we have is obsessed with the idea that they must spy on its own citizens. Why they think they need to do this, in many cases what seems to be a clear-cut case of breaking the law, is a mystery. And, based on some recent reports, many of these activities started occurring BEFORE 9/11. That is, Bush and his cronies decided they must spy on the citizens of the U.S., in violation of the law and without even any evidence that any wrongdoing has occurred. They are just snooping around, just in case they might turn something up.

Here is the lastest outrage, reported by, naturally, the Telegraph in the U.K.

A scheme to train firefighters in major cities to look out for terrorists has raised fears that their iconic standing in American society could be damaged.

Unlike police, firemen and paramedics do not need warrants to get into homes and other buildings during technical inspections of emergency facilities, making them particularly useful for spotting signs of terrorist planning.

The Homeland Security Department has been secretly testing a pilot scheme in New York in which firefighters are trained to identify suspicious material or behaviour. If successful, the programme will be extended to other large cities.

However, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says that using firemen to gather intelligence is a step toward limiting people's privacy

He said that Americans "universally abhorred that idea", adding: "If in the conduct of doing their jobs they come across evidence of a crime, of course they should report that to the police. But you don't want them being intelligence agents." The plan would be particularly hazardous in communities already under police scrutiny, he said. "Do we want them to fear the fire department as well as the police?"

Do the people instituting these programs not understand how much it makes us look like the old Soviet Union? Do we really want a society where everyone must be concerned about being spied upon by the government? Here we have the federal government training local firefighters to gather potential evidence of “un-American activities”.

The standard bromide given by the right on this is, of course, something like, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, then you don’t have anything to worry about.”

This is a very strange stance by the same people who won’t give an inch on any of their issues, such as gun control, as they see it the beginning of the government restricting their rights. It’s the old “camel’s nose under the tent flap” argument. If you allow the camel to poke its nose under the tent, pretty soon, the entire camel is in the tent. That is their argument. Yet, here they are, defending the right of the government to investigate, without warrens and in total secrecy, any aspects of our lives that they feel like.

I am of the belief that the right thinks like this because they believe the government will only be using this power on people who really deserve such scrutiny, such as all those scary brown people who are out to knock down our skyscrapers, take our jobs and make everyone speak Spanish. They cannot even begin to fathom that this power, once unleashed, is a genii that will not be put back in the bottle easily. Once things go under the cover of secrecy and without any checks and balances to make sure that unlimited power is not abused, things tend to get out of control very easily. I also firmly believe that many on the right are for giving this power to the government, as well as for supporting torture and suspending the right of habeas corpus, for the sole reason that their political opponents, those “evil liberals”, those dirty f**king hippies, are on the other side of the argument. I swear, I believe that if liberals starting arguing that the sky is blue and the sun will come up tomorrow morning, the far right conservatives of this country would feel compelled to disagree in a vehement fashion, and probably accuse us of being unpatriotic and giving comfort to the enemy, just for good measure.

I, for one, do not want to live in a redo of the Soviet Union or East Germany. We better wake up to what is going on around us.

Friday, November 30, 2007


The report I read on this incident said that this was a brand new airplane at the Airbus facility at Toulouse, France, yet to be delivered. The technicians were doing what is called an on-ground engine run. That's pretty standard stuff. However, "the plane started moving at a slow speed" and soon thereafter, impacted the retaining wall. The damage to this airplane looks like it was moving at a bit more than a "slow speed".

It's lucky that there were only several minor injuries.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Karl Rove, inventor of the infinitely-lengthed nose.

The people who inhabit Universe Bush do not seem to function with any semblance of any of the following:
- Logic
- Memory
- Shame
- Embarrassment
- Guilt
- Conscience
- Morals
- Truth
- Fairness
- Humanity

How else can you explain the following (via Dan Froomkin) from Rove’s interview on the Charlie Rose program?

Rove told Rose that "one of the untold stories about the war is why did the United States Congress, the United States Senate, vote on the war resolution in the fall of 2002. . . .

Rose: "Because your argument -- your argument is you would have had maybe more inspections. You would have been able to build a broader coalition. You could have done a whole lot other things if you didn't have to have a vote, right?"

Rove: "Right, right, exactly."

Yes, exactly. Congress rushed Bush and his band of insane neocons into a war with Iraq that they didn’t really want, all because Congress authorized the use of force against Iraq. Bush really wanted to give Hans Blix more time for his search for WMD. It was that dastardly Congress who really should be blamed! (And Rose should be banned forever from interviewing anyone on television, ever again, just on the basis of that spoon fed question.)

I really do feel I have ended up (to mix Disney movies if not metaphors), just like Alice, down the rabbit hole. This is an example of why I find it so hard to write anything for this blog anymore. To really get up and complain about something, you sort of need some sort of expectation of logic and fair play. With Bush and his cronies, we might as well be complaining that black holes aren’t logical, for all the good that would do.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fourteen Characteristics of Fascism

A political scientist named Laurence Britt wrote an article about fascism. He studied the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto and Pinochet. He summarized his findings into fourteen points.

It appears to me that the United States has begun its journey down that long, dark path into fascism. The only question, to me, that remains to be answered is if we are going to continue to go down that path, or are we collectively going to come to our senses and pull back from the brink.

Britt’s 14 characteristics are:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism -- Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights -- Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need". The people tend to 'look the other way' or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause -- The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military -- Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism -- The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6. Controlled Mass Media -- Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or through sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in wartime, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security -- Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined -- Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected -- The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed -- Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts -- Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment -- Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses, and even forego civil liberties, in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption -- Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions, and who use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections -- Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against (or even the assassination of) opposition candidates, the use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and the manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

I don't really know what kind of research was done to come up with this list. However, from what I know of most of those very nasty regimes, this list makes perfect sense. They all sound absolutely dead on. At the same time, I could also believe that this person could have come up with almost this exact same list just by looking at what has been going on in the United States since the beginning of the Bush adminstration, and actually, even longer, without even going back and looking through recent history. All the signs are there now.

These kinds of observations should stop most thinking people dead in their tracks and start to reevaluate their actions and the actions that the government has been taking in their names. However, I am sure that the overwhelming reaction of most on the extreme right would be, "How DARE you compare the U.S. to Hitler! You are a coward and a traitor!"

That rather fits in well with point number 3.

Someone had a lot of time on their hands.

M.C. Escher in Legos.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Yep, let’s support those ol’ troops, shall we?

(Updated below)

Although I have seen this in several places now, this one is from Mahablog.

The U.S. Military is demanding that thousands of wounded service personnel give back signing bonuses because they are unable to serve out their commitments.

To get people to sign up, the military gives enlistment bonuses up to $30,000 in some cases.

Now men and women who have lost arms, legs, eyesight, hearing and can no longer serve are being ordered to pay some of that money back.

Uh, welllll.... That certainly seems like a good idea. Sure, the treasury might recoup some of that half trillion dollar deficit by getting back maybe a couple of million dollars by making severely wounded veterans give back part of their signing bonuses that they were given. Even if they have some sort of contract or signed agreement with the military, doesn’t anyone stop and think that this MIGHT not be such a great idea? This is at a time when military enrollment is lagging and the current forces are severely strained, almost to the breaking point. This will certainly be one more thing to make more people join the military.

This is just one more straw in a whole pile of straws that should have broken the camel’s back long ago. Poor care and terrible conditions for vets at Walter Reed, waiting months, if not years, for psychological help for returning vets, no money for head trauma research, no funding for the team trying to deal with IED’s that maim and kill our forces. The “turning everything to crap” list, like everything this administration touches, goes on and on.

And yet, it is still Democrats and liberals who aren’t “supporting the troops” when we question the wisdom, or lack thereof, of this war.


UPDATE: I heard that the Pentagon has changed this policy and is no longer asking injured vets to refund part of their signing bonuses. I don't suppose all the bad publicity had anything to do with it, of course. They just changed their minds because it was the right thing to do. (I can't find the sarcasm font here. Those last couple of sentences really need it, though.)

In which I receive yet another sign that we non-believers are not very welcome in today’s society.

This last week, I was meeting with a lady about a work related subject. I know her rather well, and perhaps I don’t consider us friends but we do get along well together and have worked together on many occasions. We were meeting at a Starbucks, and had our computers and notes all laid out for the better part of two hours.

As we were packing up to leave, I asked her if she was traveling much. She laid out her impressive travel schedule and said something about not knowing if one major trip would occur or not. Here is how the conversation went after that. (This is paraphrased, of course. My memory isn’t that good that I can remember a conversation word for word.)

Her: Well, I am not worried about it. If I don’t go, I know that I wasn’t meant to go.

Me: What do you mean?

Her: I know that someone is looking out for me and there is a reason that I didn’t go.

Me: Oh. Well, I am of the opinion that life is just one long string of accidents. One of my favorite quotations (unfortunately, I cannot remember the source) goes, “The universe is just one of those things that happen from time to time.”

Her: So, you think there is no meaning in any of this?

Me: No. Life just happens.

Her: Boy, that must suck. Why do you bother? (Exact quote)

Me: What?

Her: Well, you don’t have to do anything. You don’t even have to be nice to people.

Me: No, that’s not correct at all. There are standards and civilities. I have my own moral compass. Have you ever heard of the Golden Rule?

Her: Naw, that’s hogwash.

There was more, but that was the gist of it. As you can see, she is a very outspoken person. She pulls no punches in work related items, and she obviously doesn’t in other matters as well. I let it drop, as we need to work together, probably for the rest of our careers. However, while driving home, the more I thought about it, the more frustrated I got. Here is someone who has known me for years and we get along fairly well together. But the first moment that she discovered that I didn’t believe in some “higher power” and that there was an inherent, external meaning in all aspects of life, then she immediately discounted every value I maintain for myself. What I believe is worthless, unless it is backed up by some belief in a higher power. And, for her, it was obviously the One Christian God.

I cannot fathom this approach to life. Many people seem to think that if this life doesn’t have some basis, some EXTERNAL meaning, then it is worthless. What a load of rubbish. Life is what you make of it. It can be terrible and depressing. Or, it can be fulfilling, inspired and uplifting. Life is what you make of it. I do not understand why people must force an external framework on it for them to feel happy and secure. There isn’t meaning in a newborn baby? Or inspired works of art and music? Or watching a hummingbird flit around the garden? The list can go on and on. Yet, many people seem to think that if they don’t have the Christian God backing up their every move or are able to look forward to heaven, then everything is worthless.

I was reading a newspaper story the other day, which was really heartbreaking. An older couple had already lost their house, due to the very serious illness of the wife. I believe it was cancer, and she was probably not going to survive it. They truly were going through some terrible times. But one quote by the husband threw me. He said something like, “Our faith is the only thing that is keeping us going. If we didn’t have that, we might as well jump off a cliff.”

I found that astounding. If there isn’t a God or a Heaven, we might as well all kill ourselves right now....

I suppose that one statement, along with the conversation I had with my co-worker, shows why the Religious and the Non-Religious will never understand each other. They can’t understand why we non-believers want to go on living if we don’t believe in any supernatural deity. We can’t understand their view that, if they don’t have this belief, they would find life not worth living.

Just another reason I find living in today’s society so damn depressing.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pretty amazing photos from the Hubble

The Crab Nebula

NCG 602

V838 Monocerotis

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Conservatives like country and gospel music, hate jazz. Why don’t I find that surprising?

There is a very interesting post up at Down With Tyranny about the musical preferences of conservatives and liberals. The bottom line is that we may have a new litmus test for conservatives and liberals. Pro-life? Pro-choice? Think that torturing people without charging them with anything is abhorent or a moral imperative? No, it's none of those! It's the music you like! Here is a bit of that post.

The Norman Lear Center teamed up with Zogby to conduct an extensive national survey examining political beliefs and entertainment preferences

• Out of 15 musical genres, conservatives were more likely than the rest of the respondents to listen to only two of them: country and gospel. What genre are they least likely to listen to, compared to the rest of the respondents? Not punk or hip-hop, as you might expect, but world music. World music is also the music genre where we see the greatest difference between conservatives and liberals.

• Conservatives are the least likely group to listen to jazz (34% vs. 44% vs. 53%) and reggae (8% vs. 20% vs. 26%).

• Over 90% of conservatives said they never enjoy reggae, electronic music or Latin music. Over 95% said they never enjoy world music and punk music.

• Liberals, on the other hand, are more likely than other respondents to enjoy almost every music genre, including world, punk, Latin, hip-hop and rap, blues, reggae, electronica, R&B and soul, jazz, folk and traditional music. Rock was the most popular genre among liberals (67%).

So, let me try this new litmus test out on me. I like jazz. Check. Folk and traditional? Check. World music? Yes, I have some, not too much, but I still put it in my “like” category. Check. Rock. Check. Except REO Speedwagon. Hated them. They were overly pretentious to the point of being ridiculous. Blues? Well, some. Some female blues singers can cause a meltdown, with the right song. Latin? Yeah… Brazilian music is fine. About the only thing on that list that I am not really into would be reggae, punk and rap. Country? Well, I think it is mostly overly emotional crap with really twangy pedal steel guitars and male performers seem to be required to wear cowboy hats. There is some cross-over country that is pretty enjoyable, and I do like some of the Dixie Chicks, for no other reason than they have the guts to say what they think. But overall, I would put Country down for a big whopping no. Gospel? Uh… Not really. Atheists, for the most part, probably don’t listen to gospel music much.

Guess that makes me one of those damn liberals.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Rainmaker?

There is a very familiar stage play and film of that name. (No, not the John Grisham airport novel one. The one with Burt Lancaster.) The basic premise is that if you were to go around to enough places and charge people to make it rain, you can either get the money, no rain happens and then you bug out before things get too bad. Or, you can hit the jackpot, it rains and people really do believe you can make it rain. Please note that either one of these possibilities makes you a con man. In neither case, do you expect to actually make it rain. You are just taking advantage of the probable outcomes.

I am wondering which one Governor Sonny Perdue of Georgia is. From Crooks and Liars:

What to do when the rain won’t come? If you’re Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, you pray.

The governor will host a prayer service next week to ask for relief from the drought gripping the Southeast.

“The only solution is rain, and the only place we get that is from a higher power,” Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said on Wednesday.

Then again, it might be that the good Governor really does believe that if he prays to God, God will make it rain and therefore avoid the responsibility of having government, which is administered by humans and not cherubim, actually having to take real actions to address real problems. After all, as all good Republicans know, government is the cause of all problems and cannot be counted on to fix anything. Therefore, Master Sonny might actually just be skipping the formalities and skipping directly to the final step. Pure desperation. Maybe if he were to sacrifice a white bull, or throw in some goat’s blood. If you are going to try to appeal to God, you might as well really try to get His attention.

Grover Norquist just might not have any water with which to fill his bathtub.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Rock and Roll on the Washington State ferry system

I would love to give some attribution to these photos. They are pretty incredible. Unfortunately, I received these in an e-mail after the original sender's information had long been removed.

UPDATE: The author of these photos is Ross Fotheringham. He e-mailed me about his photos showing up on my web site. I am adding his web site to my blog roll over to the right. It has some fine photography on it. I urge anyone who likes these photos to check them out.

I had a small tree come down in my yard during this storm, and lost power for about three hours. Here is what Ross said about them.

On Thursday October 18th Western Washington was hit with a 50+ MPH wind storm. Here are my pictures of the event.

After work I made my way down to the Mukilteo Lighthouse Park where I witness the Mukilteo to Clinton ferry taking a pounding.

These Issaquah 130 Class ferries are over 300 feet long and 78 feet wide and weight in at 2477 tons (4,954,000 lbs) unloaded......

Ah, the Christmas Spirit of the 21st Century is now upon us!

Sort of like looking forward to that first snowfall of the year. Via Whiskeyfire:

Exclusive: FBI: Al Qaeda May Strike U.S. Shopping Malls in LA, Chicago

The FBI is warning that al Qaeda may be preparing a series of holiday attacks on U.S. shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago, according to an intelligence report distributed to law enforcement authorities across the country this morning.

All right! Egg nog, crass materialism, Baby Jesus, guilt, lights, tinsel, major traffic jams around every mall in America, and now, Fear of Terrorists! The Christmas Spirit has taken us all.

The story from ABC News blog then goes on to say.

The alert, like similar FBI and Department of Homeland Security terror alerts issued over the past five years at holiday times, raised questions about the credibility of the information.

Really? Damn.... Who would have thought THAT? I mean, who would want to spoil our Christmas of Fear of Terrorists Blowing You Up While Shopping by pointing out that the government has been using terrorist plots as boogymen ever since 9/11?

These people are taking all the fun out of Christmas. Next thing, we will get told that the terrorists might not really want to behead the Easter Bunny after all.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A giant, pinkish-white three foot long worm?

This sounds a bit like the search for the giant squid, except it involves really big worms. We know that they each exist, by the fact we have found dead versions of the animals. But catching one alive is turning out to be a very elusive quest.

From the Seattle Times:

COLFAX, Whitman County (Washington state) — When searching for one of North America's most elusive creatures, it helps to have state-of-the-art equipment, jokes Jodi Johnson-Maynard.

The University of Idaho soil scientist is walking up a gentle hill in southeast Washington, on a quest for the giant Palouse earthworm. In her hand is a tile spade, a narrow shovel that's about as high-tech as it gets in the worm-hunting business.

"It's our basic tool," Johnson-Maynard says, leaning on the spade like a walking stick. The long handle is great for chasing away rattlesnakes, she says, and the sharp edges slice through turf.

Unfortunately, they also make mincemeat of worms. Two years ago, a graduate student unearthed one of the rare wigglers on this same hill, but accidentally cut it in two.

"We need better methods to look for these worms," Johnson-Maynard says.

That's especially true now that conservationists are seeking endangered-species protection for the pinkish-white worms, which may grow to 3 feet long and were once abundant in the deep soils of the Palouse. Only four sightings have been confirmed in the past 30 years, and experts had feared the species was extinct.

For those of you outside the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the Palouse is the rolling hills region of Washington state that butts up to Idaho.

I also wonder about that graduate student who cut one of these beasties in half. “Hey, Professor! Um, I have some good news and some bad news! This won’t affect my grade, will it?”

Monday, November 05, 2007

Edvard Munch

Most people, even those who are not terribly interested in art, are familiar with at least one of Munch’s works, “The Scream”. It has been copied, parodied and has ended up in several contemporary television advertisements (which I find despicable, but not very surprising). Of course, Munch has a very large body of work, many of which can be seen at this web site.

As with many artists (such as Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin), Munch the person is about as fascinating as his paintings. His early works, such as "Morning, Girl at the Bedside" appear to have many similarities to other masters of Impressionism. Many of his later paintings are very oppressive and speak of torment and suffering. The faces of his subjects begin to blend into the background, to such an extent that they actually have no discernable facial features, such as in “Anxiety”. Many of his paintings are autobiographical, such as “The Death Chamber” and “By the Deathbed”, which show his family gathered around Edvard’s sister, Sophie. as she lay dying.

“The Scream” is, of course, Munch’s central work, and I find it fascinating. Munch’s described the basic experience behind the painting as follows:

I walked one evening on a road - on the one side was the town and the fjord below me. I was tired and ill – I stood looking across the fjord – the sun was setting – the clouds were colored red – like blood – I felt as though a scream went through nature – I thought I heard a scream. – I painted this picture – painted the clouds like red blood. The colors were screaming.

That sounds very much like someone that is deeply troubled. Usually, when people see a very vibrant sunset, they find it beautiful and uplifting. Munch found it painful and reminiscent of blood. "The colors were screaming." That is a very evocative description and gives quite a bit of insight into Munch's pysche. Munch apparently agreed. In Munch’s handwriting in the upper red area of the painting is written:

Can only have been painted by a madman.

As an aside, this painting was stolen from the museum in Oslo in 2004 by masked gunmen who just stormed the museum with drawn guns and made of with this and one other painting. It was later recovered unharmed.

Information from “The Masterworks of Edvard Munch”, Museum of Modern Art, New York was used in this post.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Lichtenberg Figures

The pictures and text on this post were obtained from a very interesting blog called CrazyTopics. Unfortunately, it looks as if it has gone permanently inactive. These pictures were so interesting and unusual that I wanted to preserve them in my blog, in the event that the CrazyTopics blog page is removed.

Lichtenberg Figures are branching electric discharges (or electrical trees) that are sometimes preserved on the surface or the interior of a solid dielectric. They are named after the German physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who originally discovered and studied them.

One way that they can be produced is as follows: A sharp-pointed needle is placed perpendicular to a non-conducting plate, such as of resin, ebonite, or glass, with its point very near to or in contact with the plate, and a high voltage Leyden jar (a type of capacitor) or a static electricity generator is discharged into the needle. The electrification of the plate is now tested by sifting over it a mixture of powdered flowers of sulfur and red lead (Pb3O4 or lead tetroxide).

The negatively electrified sulfur is seen to attach itself to the positively electrified parts of the plate, and the positively electrified red lead to the negatively electrified parts. In addition to the distribution of color thereby produced, there is a marked difference in the form of the figure, according to the polarity of the electrical charge that was applied to the plate. If the charge was positive, a widely extending patch is seen on the plate, consisting of a dense nucleus, from which branches radiate in all directions; if negative, the patch is much smaller and has a sharp circular boundary entirely devoid of branches.

Modern Lichtenberg Figures can also be created within solid blocks of acrylic plastic (polymethyl methacrylate or PMMA) using a beam of electrons from a linear electron beam accelerator (or Linac, a type of particle accelerator). Inside the Linac, electrons are focused and accelerated to form a beam of high speed particles. Electrons emerging from the accelerator are moving an appreciable fraction (95 - 99+ percent) of the speed of light (relativistic velocities). The electron beam is then aimed towards an acrylic specimen. When the relativistic electrons hit the acrylic, they easily penetrate the surface, slowing down as they collide with the molecules inside the plastic, and finally coming to rest deep inside the specimen. Since acrylic is an excellent electrical insulator, the electrons inside the specimen are temporarily trapped. Under continued irradiation by the beam, the excess electrons form a plane of negative charge inside the specimen. As the charge builds, the effective voltage inside the specimen can reach millions of volts. Ultimately the huge electrical stress exceeds the dielectric strength of the plastic, causing it to suddenly become conductive in a process called dielectric breakdown.

Once breakdown occurs, branching tree or fern-like conductive channels are rapidly formed within the plastic, allowing the trapped charge to suddenly rush out in a miniature lightning-like flash and bang. Electrical breakdown of a charged specimen may also be manually triggered by poking the plastic with a pointed conductive object. The powerful electrical spark leaves thousands of permanent branching chains of fractures behind - creating a Lichtenberg figure. Although the internal charge within the specimen is negative, the actual discharge is initiated from the positively charged exterior surfaces of the specimen, and the resulting discharge actually creates a positive Lichtenberg figure within. These rare and beautiful objects are sometimes called electron trees, beam trees, or lightning trees. As the electrons rapidly decelerate inside the acrylic, they also generate powerful X-rays. These X-rays darken the acrylic by introducing defects (color centers) in a process called solarization. Solarization turns acrylic specimens an amber or brownish color, although older acrylic blends sometimes turn a lime green. The color usually fades over time, and gentle heating, combined with oxygen, accelerates the fading process.