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.

Doesn't Natalie Portman look strikingly like Audrey Hepburn?



Saturday, November 03, 2007

Train wreck at Montparnasse, France in 1895

The engineer, to his horror, found out that he had no brakes while approaching the station in Montparnasse and could not stop in time. The train barreled through the station and ended up going out the window on the other end.

It's sort of like the ending of "Silver Streak", only without Gene Wilder. And the tracks happened to be on the second floor.

It’s not a chupacabra. I must say I am disappointed.

From Yahoo News.

SAN MARCOS, Texas - The results are in: The ugly, big-eared animal found this summer in Cuero is not the mythical bloodsucking chupacabra. It's just a plain old coyote.

Biologists at Texas State University announced Thursday night that they had identified the hairless doglike creature.

San Antonio television station KENS provided a tissue sample from the animal for testing.

"The DNA sequence is a virtually identical match to DNA from the coyote (Canis latrans)," bioligist Mike Forstner said in a written statement. "This is probably the answer a lot of folks thought might be the outcome. I, myself, really thought it was a domestic dog, but the Cuero Chupacabra is a Texas Coyote

It would be nice to have one of these mythical beasts actually be real, one of these days.