Friday, May 30, 2008

"Good relations with the Wookies, I have."

And here I thought that size wasn't supposed to matter. Gives new meaning to the term, "Fuzzball".

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Sooo… Rachael Ray is a terrorist loving, America hater who just happens to like coffee and donuts?

Many blogs and a few TV personalities like Keith Olbermann have jumped on this. I might as well join in. Here is a summary of what has transpired, so far, from HuffPo.

The Boston Globe reports that Dunkin Donuts caved to pressure from the conservative blogosphere — and the fear of a mass boycott — and removed the ad:

The company at first pooh-poohed the complaints, claiming the black-and-white wrap was not a keffiyeh. But the right-wing drumbeat on the blogosphere continued and by yesterday, Dunkin' Donuts decided it'd be easier just to yank the ad.

Said the suits in a statement: ''In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by her stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, given the possibility of misperception, we are no longer using the commercial.''

Malkin praised the decision in her column, writing,

It's refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists. Too many of them bend over backward in the direction of anti-American political correctness....

Fashion statements may seem insignificant, but when they lead to the mainstreaming of violence -- unintentionally or not -- they matter. Ignorance is no longer an excuse. In post-9/11 America, vigilance must never go out of style.

Malkin has previously lauded Dunkin Donuts for its support of immigration laws.

Many, many people have commented on how insane this actually looks. (Love you, Sadly No!) Michelle Malkin called for a boycott of Dunkin' Donuts because of a scarf? An Arabic looking scarf!?! My first thought (besides “give me a f**kin’ break) was, we have a national media personality asking for a boycott because of a fashion that MIGHT have come from some foreign country? I got news for you, MICHELLE. NOT ALL ARABS ARE TERRORISTS!! You are upset that anyone might actually wear some article of clothing that… Man,I can’t even begin to put this together. Jeeesuus Christ. You know, we are supposed to be friends with Saudi Arabia. Just ask George Bush. He's kissed them often enough, both literally and figuratively. Egypt? Not to mention all the Arabic Americans who are actually, like, AMERICANS.

You know what I would find refreshing, Michelle? Non-insane people!! I can only hope that all this insanity on the part of the rightwing goobers of this country is that they realize they are going down, they are in the process of losing whatever influence they feel they might have had, and they don’t much care for it.

One can only hope. Maybe, one fine day in the near future, they will be totally irrelevant.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Senator Clinton invokes the assassination of Bobby Kennedy as a reason to stay in the Democratic race.

And, according to Keith Olbermann’s commentary posted at Americablog, this isn’t the first time she has said this, either. Go read or watch the entire thing, it’s worth it. She implies that she needs to stay in the race because someone might assassinate Senator Obama, the first black man who is the frontrunner to become the next president of the United States. If she didn't mean that, I have absolutely no clue as to what she did mean. It isn’t like this isn’t a real concern, given the amount of hate filled people in this country who also have easy access to guns, or that they aren’t being stirred up already by the lunatic pundits and radio shock jocks. This country has already seen the assassination of Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers, leaders of the movement to empower black people of this country. And then, she has the audacity to apologize to the Kennedy family, but not Obama!

She is rightfully getting her butt handed to her in the press, by everyone. I do notice that the Democrats are among the most vocal. That’s one difference between the Democrats and Republicans. Republicans can say anything crazy they want and the party will find a way to dismiss it and bash the critics. Democrats say or do something beyond the pale and there is no hesitation in them getting nailed by their own party. But, that isn’t my main point here.

Clinton has become like every other politician that becomes too enamored of himself or herself, or else becomes too desperate. They feel that they are allowed to say anything that comes into their heads to justify their claims or actions, and it’s the audience’s fault if they take it somehow badly. I used to really like Senator Clinton. I once heard her speak and she was great. But she now sounds a lot like George Bush. Her rationalizations for staying in the race change on a weekly, if not daily, basis; just like Bush’s rationalizations for why we are in Iraq or why tax cuts for the rich are a good thing. She will say and do anything in order to advance her own goals, and she has lost sight of the fact that she is starting to resemble a complete and utter lunatic.

I can’t figure out Ms. Clinton’s psychological makeup here. I really can’t. Is she that much in thrall to her drive for power that she becomes blind to every other concern? I have a difficult time any one person could be that much of a narcissist. She apparently can’t even recognize the damage she is doing to herself, much less the Democratic party. She used to be one of the party “elders”, whether that label was deserved or not. She was respected and held a position of great influence within the party. She is rapidly making herself into a pariah. Is that what she really wants? Even if she were to somehow snatch the Democratic nomination from Senator Obama, does she not recognize the cost to both herself and her party?

I wish this were over. Lord, I wish this were over.

Hillary Clinton photo from here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

So, American Airlines is going to charge to check bags, eh?

This is going to work really well. I have seen many things written about this already. I’m certainly not going to add much new to the discussion. However, I just want to say that this seems to be yet another example of not thinking through the possible ramifications! Just like the Iraq war! No one seems to believe that you might want to possibly consider all the bad things that can possibly happen before you do something, rather than just concentrate on all the ponies and ice cream you are going to achieve.

Jeez. Charging for checked bags, even the first one! All this is going to do is make everyone want to bring carry on bags. The overhead bins are already filled to capacity. I try to be one of the first ones in line (for my group, which is usually one of the last ones anyway), just so I can make sure I will have a place to put my luggage in the overhead bins. Guess what is going to happen now? And all those folks who now can’t find a place in the overhead? Are they going to have to pull out their wallets and pay the flight attendants $15 or $25 just so they can get their bags put in the cargo hold? And how long is this going to hold up departures?

I can’t believe that airlines just can’t charge for tickets a price that will guarantee the airlines will make enough money on each flight. This is an insane way to run a business, nickel and dime your customer to death. And keep in mind, the flying public is already pretty much saturated by long security lines, taking off shoes and belts, putting all your liquids in plastic bags, airplanes filled to capacity, delays measured in hours, tiny little seats, rude passengers, rude flight attendants…

If the price of oil, and therefore jet fuel, really is going to keep climbing and may double in price from the already astronomically high prices we are paying now, I got news for the airlines. Trying to pry as much as you can from your customers is not going to keep your stupid industry afloat. You are going to have to find someway else to keep your business running and the airplanes flying. All the ‘low hanging fruit’ has been picked. You are going to need to find a better way to make your profits.

Charging for checked bags. Hey, I guess they could go put vending machine type locks on the biffies. Passengers, make sure you have lots of one dollar bills on you before you get on the airplane.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Movie Review: Alien (Director’s Cut)

I haven’t written a move review in quite some time. I think I will throw one in here, just for a little variety. WARNING: Here be spoilers! (However, I can't imagine anyone not having seen this film by now. If you haven't and yet, are upset by the fact that you read anything that gives away how the film ends, I figure that's your problem...)

"Alien” is one of my favorite science fiction films. It is hard to believe that it was originally released almost 30 years ago (1979). The plot itself has some holes in it that I don’t particularly care for. For example, if “The Company” knew there was an alien there already and they wanted a specimen so badly, why didn’t they send out a real group of commandos to get what they wanted? Why send out a bunch of miners who had absolutely no idea what was going on? More than likely, things were going to go badly for everyone involved, since the Company lost a very expensive spaceship and they didn’t get the alien either. And, by the way, just how did the Company know there was an alien out there, anyway? There’s also the whole thing about space travel (really loooonng distances) and the effect of “time stretching”, for lack of a better word. Any spaceship sent that far out into space would have to be traveling near or at the speed of light to make things commercially worthwhile for the people involved. However, that would still cause the two different systems (Earth and the spaceship) to run on different time scales, which would cause all sorts of problems that aren’t really addressed in the film.

However, those plot problems aside, I love the film for the atmosphere. The ship is dark and grimy, the crew is a bunch of non-descript people who are in need of a shave. The whole approach to the film is one of foreboding and suspense. It’s a superb film in those respects. The monster in the film is one of the best ever, in that it is extremely organic looking and has absolutely no aspects of what we think of as "humanity" at all. Most of the film is creepy to the extreme, and there are several just out and out shocking moments, like the one captured in the picture above. It’s a great film and I have watched it many times.

I finally had the chance to see Ridley Scott’s “Director’s Cut” version. I was very much interested, as I was hoping to see the sequence where Ripley finds Dallas in the bowels of the ship, pasted up on the wall waiting to be implanted. As we know from the second film, “Aliens”, you actually need a queen to lay the eggs that produce the facehugger aliens that will implant the larval alien. This version did indeed have that sequence in there, and it, no doubt, would have been pretty shocking on the first viewing when I didn’t know what was coming. And it didn’t contradict anything that happened the second film and also sort of set the stage for what was to come later.

There were also some other good sequences that were not included in the original release. Some were very quick, such as the three crewmembers standing along side the landing gear struts of the lander before they set off to find the source of the radio transmission that showed how very large even the lander ship is, not to say anything about the rest of the ship still in orbit. There were some interesting sequences not in the original film showing the crew trying to pinpoint the source of the radio transmissions that are about to change their lives forever. There were also a couple that I could see why were not included in the original release, such as a the crew screaming at each other after Ripley had refused to let Dallas and the others in after Cain had been attacked in the alien ship but Ash had opened the door anyway. Some of that seemed very out of character.

That brings me to my main compliant of this “Director’s Cut”. The intent here seems to be just to release a “different version” of the film. It wasn’t better and it, in many places, it was definitely not as good as the original. In fact, the main purpose of the film seemed to be just as a vehicle to include all the footage that originally ended up on the cutting room floor. Those shots, I must admit, were very interesting to see. It was very odd to see all the characters I have come to know all of a sudden doing things I have never seen before. But, it was not a superior film. It definitely was not in the same league as the Director’s Cut of “Blade Runner", which was also directed by Ridley Scott. With and without a narrator does make a difference to the film. This one, well, I could have done without it. I favor the original version much more than this one. I would have thought, since Ridley Scott got to put his stamp on the final cut (my understanding is that most directors in Hollywood, unless they are really big shots, do not get to edit the final film), he would have taken the opportunity to do address some things that he didn’t like in the original version. And there were some scenes that were cut from the original version that I have no idea why they weren't included. My guess is that Scott wanted to keep the film under two hours and had to lose something from the original for everything that was added. This film just seemed, like I said earlier, to be an excuse to put in a bunch of things we hadn’t seen before.

I’ll give it a B minus.

(And, as a bonus film review comment here, I will just say that I cannot state how much I absolutely hated the third film in the series, Alien(3). Detested it. The filmmakers spent so much time making you care about the characters of Newt and Hicks in the second film, and then, the first thing that happens in the third film is they kill those characters off! "Oh, well, we didn’t need them anyway, and we need to have a reason to have a third film." Screw that. You don’t go killing a 12-year-old little girl that we have so much emotional energy invested in from the second film. I don't care if Carrie Henn was already grown up and out of the acting profession by the time the third film was made. Find a way, dammit! Screw you, Vincent Ward and David Fincher.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Another truly maddening case of "It’s O.K. If You Are A Republican" (IOKIYAR).

It’s truly amazing what Republicans (or Rethugs, as I like to call them, as that name sort of says it all) get away with. Things that cause the wingnuts to go incendiary are legion. Democrats make the slightest misstatement, or even make a perfectly reasonable statement that can be taken out of context and replayed over and over, and the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannities of the world send out the signal that their rabid listeners should start howling with outrage. The press picks it up and it becomes the story du jour for several news cycles, if not longer.

A good example of this is Michelle Obama’s comment when she said she was “proud of this country for the first time” after during her husband’s campaign. I understood perfectly what she meant. This country, after all, has a history of violent racism, subjugation and, going back a bit further, slavery of an entire race. O.K., it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that she meant, now that the country seems to be not only willing but desiring to elect her husband, a black man, as President of the United States, she is proud that the country may have finally overcome some bit of its racist past. That marks a pretty significant departure from our past. That was obviously the context in which she spoke. Yet, the wingnuts went wild. To illustrate, here’s a link to Faux News and another one to Michelle Malkin. (Note: the only reason I am providing real links are that I wanted to give real examples, not a second hand, unsubstantiated statement and I also know they aren’t going to get much in the way of traffic from my blog links.) Anything to manufacture a little outrage. Actually, a lot of outrage. And this is still going on. Listening to these idiots, Michelle Obama is a racist who hates America. Give me a frickin’ break.

Yet, Rethugs and their wingnut echo chamber get to make all sorts of statements and the press lets them get away with it, scott free. Here is something that ex-presidental contender Mike Huckabee said about Michelle’s husband, Senator Barack Obama. Via dday at Hullabaloo:

During a speech before the National Rifle Association convention Friday afternoon in Louisville, Kentucky, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee — who has endorsed presumptive GOP nominee John McCain — joked that an unexpected offstage noise was Democrat Barack Obama looking to avoid a gunman.

“That was Barack Obama, he just tripped off a chair, he's getting ready to speak,” said the former Arkansas governor, to audience laughter. “Somebody aimed a gun at him and he dove for the floor.”

Ha, ha. That’s really hysterical. Mike, your sense of humor is dee-lightful. Making jokes about shooting at the leading Democratic presidential contender AND a black man to boot. Wonderful. I just cannot stop laughing.

I can understand how there are always going to be people that have a rather sick sense of humor and stay very stupid and vile stuff. But when it comes to a public forum and high publicity value people like Mike Huckabee, why does our press continually let these people get away with this?

Personally, I disagree with Michelle Obama. I am not very proud of this country, and haven’t been for about the last 25 years. The last seven, however, have been pure hell.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Shucks! I durn missed out on this here blog’s second annie-versrie.

I can’t believe I did that. It’s sort of like forgetting your child’s birthday. Well, not really. Actually, I do know how I let it slip by. I have been pretty busy at work and also, my wife has found a very compelling web site (for her, anyway) that leaves very little computer slack time available. Maybe the 20 minutes right before and after dinner, that’s about it.

Anyway, it’s been two years. Two very long, shortish years… Lots to complain about, lots of rather interesting pictures. I think I have done several pretty good posts. (See “Fav Posts” in the column on the right, if you are at all intrigued.) A couple of my posts actually even come up as Number 1 in the search list on Yahoo or Google, just so long as you type in the EXACT words necessary…

Based on my experience over the last two years, and also with installing SiteMeter, here are my secrets to having a number of people drop by your web site on a daily basis:

1. A blog title that includes the word “rabbits” and a post by the name of “enemies”. That’s a guarantee of at least four or five hits a day from people scouring the web to see what kind of nasty creatures out there prey on poor defenseless bunnies.

2. A post that contains a picture of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Very popular, indeed.

3. Don’t play cute with titles of the posts, like one called “Oops!” Say, instead, exactly what the post is about so that any searches will come up with yours as a possibility. Like for example, that one should have been called “Airbus A340 smashes into wall at Toulouse, France prior to delivery to Eithad Airlines.” That probably would have come up with a lot more hits on search engines than “Oops!”.

4. Include quotations from popular movies (like “Star Wars”) and television shows (like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). Those will get picked up in by a search engine.

5. Pictures of Audrey Hepburn are always nice.

6. Ditto, pictures of Shih-Tzu puppies.

7. Ditto, any really interesting photos like art from piles of trash, art from Legos, art from chalk drawings on sidewalks. Unusual photos are apparently MUCH more compelling than anything I have to say.

Actually, I find it amazing that I have kept this up for over two years now. I actually find this medium pretty interesting. You can do or say pretty much anything you want, and you have absolutely no idea what kind of audience you might get. If you just leave it to chance, then you might get no traffic at all or you might get a lot more than you expected. It is purely up to the worldwide audience (and I do mean, worldwide) to determine if your material is worth more than a 10 second glance. If you aren’t in this for the money or personal ego-gratification, then this is a pretty fun thing to do. Just toss whatever you think might be of interest to someone else out there and see what happens. It’s like fishing in a REALLY big lake. You know there are fish out there, but you aren’t sure exactly what would attract them. You keep tossing your bait out there until you find the right combination.

I wonder why I came up with that particular analogy. I don’t fish.

So, here’s to the last two years spent blogging. My only wish, and it is a fervent one, is that I have LOTS less to complain about come November.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

E-mail hoax? Amazing cloud formations before Katrina. Part II

UPDATE: O.K., I originally bit on the e-mail I received that contained these pictures. They were pretty astounding. But, I admit, even in this day and age, I am still a pretty gulliable person. It appears that these are fake. I haven't researched this. Photoshopped? Real pictures but nothing to do with Katrina? I don't know.

I was originally just going to delete these posts. However, the pictures themselves are so cool, I think I will retain them, just for the artistic value.

Here is the probable source of these pictures.

Please see Part I for more photos.

E-mail hoax? Amazing cloud formations before Katrina. Part I

UPDATE: O.K., I originally bit on the e-mail I received that contained these pictures. They were pretty astounding. But, I admit, even in this day and age, I am still a pretty gulliable person. It appears that these are fake. I haven't researched this. Photoshopped? Real pictures but nothing to do with Katrina? I don't know.

I was originally just going to delete these posts. However, the pictures themselves are so cool, I think I will retain them, just for the artistic value.

Here is the probable source of these pictures.

Please see Part II for... Part II.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The definition of propaganda, as practiced in the 21st Century by the United States?

Military “analysts”, briefed by the Pentagon, on all national media outlets before and during the Iraq war to sell the war to the American public. THAT’S what I call propaganda. Along with a lot of other people who are actually, you know, paying attention, I have been very upset with this story. Many bloggers have been writing extensively about this. See Harry Shearer and Jeff Cohen, both writing for Huffington Post for all the gory details. The national media? Nary a peep. That’s part of the scandal, in my mind.

There are two different parts to this; both of them are worthy of the bright light of detailed investigation by outside sources. The first is that these so-called “analysts” were actually part of the Pentagon’s propaganda effort to sell the war to the American public. That is what their job was, and the story, as it is coming out, fully confirms that. Take this quote, for instance, from Crooks and Liars:

Glenn Greenwald sheds more light on how the Pentagon was so very thrilled by these faux military experts.

The key issue here is that more and more, media analysts are having a greater impact on the television media network coverage of military issues. They have now become the go to guys not only for breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues. They also have a huge amount of influence on what stories the network decides to cover proactively with regard to the military. . . .

1.) I recommend we develop a core group from within our media analyst list of those that we can count on to carry our water. They become part of a “hot list” of those that we immediately make calls to or put on an email distro list before we contact or respond to media on hot issues

You can’t really get too much more precise than that about what they were attempting to do.

The second part of this is how complicit the national media is in this story, and continues to be complicit in the cover-up. The biggest criticism of the press BY the press on this has come from Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and on NPR. That’s about it. Every other national outlet, print and electronic, has been silent on their role in helping the Pentagon “shape” the public’s perception of the war. What’s just as frustrating is how anyone with a differing point of view, i.e., against the war or even being skeptical of some of the claims being made, was made into a into some sort of kook. Being skeptical of those claims or being flat-out against the war became an extremist point of view, and as such, was not invited on any national outlet to debate some of these so-called “experts”. That is a purposeful and successful attempt at limiting the discussion and driving it to a predetermined conclusion. That is, war was an inevitable as it was necessary and that anyone who said otherwise wasn’t worthy of even listening to.

And these same “news” outlets are now refusing to carry this story, as it shows them in a bad light. I can’t figure out if they are just too embarrassed to admit the truth, or they are still actively working to shape the public’s perception of the war and fully realize what they are doing and how they are doing it. I am actually betting on the second choice. That is a terribly thing to say, but I think our media (and not just Faux News, whose agenda has been obvious for some time) is actively working with the Bush administration and its gaggle of neo-con advisors to shape the public’s mindset. They all still believe, to this day, that the media was the reason the United States lost the Vietnam war, and they are determined not to let it happen again. I can think of no other reason than the New York Times hiring Bill Kristol, Newsweek hiring Karl Rove, CNN hiring Tony Snow, etc., etc. The national media has, for the most part, given up even attempting to be fair and even handed. Our national media has an agenda, and it isn’t to keep the public informed.

The citizens of the United States of America, to this day, continue to be led by the nose by the Republicans and neo-cons and willingly assisted by our press. And most of the public is buying this con job! That is what I find so frustrating and downright amazing. Seeing how badly this administration has handled the Iraq war, both getting into it and actually executing it, how it is very obvious that we have been lied to and mislead at almost every opportunity, we are still buying it. The case is being made for war with Iran. And we are letting it happen.

I cannot believe this country at this moment. What has happened to us, that we have so lost our way in every sense of the word?

Photo of Pravda from here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How expensive is gasoline going to get?

I have seen a couple of stories on this (this one is from Balloon Juice), probably from the same source, which essentially say this. Oil refineries have been shielding the gasoline buying public from the true cost of gas by the fact they have been hedging the price of oil for some time. I don’t really understand hedging. Here is the Wiki explanation:

In finance, a hedge is an investment that is taken out specifically to reduce or cancel out the risk in another investment. Hedging is a strategy designed to minimize exposure to an unwanted business risk, while still allowing the business to profit from an investment activity. Typically, a hedger might invest in a security that he believes is under-priced relative to its "fair value" (for example a mortgage loan that he is then making), and combine this with a short sale of a related security or securities. Thus the hedger is indifferent to the movements of the market as a whole, and is interested only in the performance of the 'under-priced' security relative to the hedge.

So, it would appear that the refineries have been pumping out gasoline and other petroleum-based products that are more in line with oil at around $85 a barrel. It is now running around $125 a barrel. That’s getting very close to being underpriced by about 50%. When the hedging runs out and the “real” cost of gasoline (not counting the oil companies rather obscene profits, of course) shows up at the pump, how do you think most Americans are going to react, especially if they haven’t been given any warning that this is coming? Gas is currently about $3.75 a gallon locally. I don’t know what it is in the rest of the country. I believe that Washington state is one of the highest places in the country, due to the taxes involved. But if, in the space of about a month, gas were to jump from around $4 a gallon to $6, that’s going to cause some people to really start freaking out. And that assumes that the price of crude oil remains the same, which it won’t, of course. These stories I have seen have predictions that the price of gasoline at the pump might hit anywhere from $6 to $8 a gallon, and possibly even beyond.

If the price to fill up even a small car that gets good mileage starts hitting $60 or $70 each time up pull up to the pump, this country is going to really start feeling some fallout. I think we are already to that point. It hasn’t started really hurting yet. I am, in no way, marginalizing the impact on low and middle class families that rising fuel costs and food prices are having. There are many, many families that are already struggling. They are facing choices of how to pay for food and utility bills. This is a terrible thing for many people. I am talking more about the impact at a national level, however cold that might seen to the people already in trouble. I haven't even factored in the still very real possibility of an economic meltdown due to the sub-prime mortgage mess.

When 80% of the regular commerce which could be called “optional”, such as going out to the movies or sporting events, going out to dinner, buying new clothes, furniture and home appliances, the economic impact is going to be severe. People are just not going to be able to keep up with anything except the basic necessities, such as food, energy for getting to work and keeping the house warm in winter. And this assumes they still have jobs. Those jobs are going to dry up when there aren’t any customers left.

I am hoping I am wrong, but this could end up resembling the Great Depression or perhaps Italy after World War II. It won’t be pretty. And what really worries me is that there are lot of very angry, very wound up conservatives with guns who have been essentially told by the nutjobs on radio and television that they are absolutely right to be upset, it’s someone else’s fault they are in this predicament and they should go out and do something about it right now!

That possibility, however small, really has me concerned.

Friday, May 09, 2008

I’ve heard it said that the duckbill platypus proves that God has a sense of humor.

I wouldn’t argue that point, if I happened to believe in God. Well, not the God of the Hebrew Bible and the many manifestations that have sprung from that source. But what I want to know is, does the existence of the platypus prove or disprove evolution? Because, either way, it’s pretty strange.

Here we have a nominal mammal, yet it has an actual bill like a duck. It lays eggs and they hatch outside the mother’s body. The mother lactates milk to feed her young, yet she has no nipples. The platypus produces a poison, like a reptile, but stores the poison in the legs. And as weird as that all is, the scientific findings are even weirder!

From a story in the Seattle Times (also the source of the photo):

One of the more surprising elements was the animal's system for sex determination. Most mammals have two sex chromosomes, either two X chromosomes (to make a female) or an X and a Y (to make a male). Not only do platypuses have 10 instead of two, but some of those resemble the Z and W chromosomes of birds more than standard-issue X's and Y's.

Moreover, the key gene on the Y chromosome that confers maleness in most mammals is not present on any of the platypus' sex chromosomes. It is on another chromosome, where it seems to have nothing to do with sex. In its place, another gene seems to be central to sex determination in platypuses, evidence of a shakeout of various evolutionary efforts to settle on a system of sex determination in early mammals.

Other genes show how platypuses were transitional creatures on the road from egg laying to internal gestation. There is just one gene for one kind of yolk protein, for example, while chickens have three.

That is consistent with the idea that the platypus represents a shift in strategy toward providing more nutrition after hatching.

I understand that evolution of species, as it is currently envisioned, is not a nice, concise thing that has an orderly progression from one stage to the next. Lots of wrong turns, dead ends, distant relatives that look alike, close relatives that don’t look alike. But the existence of the platypus and the fact that have 10 sex chromosomes compared to the 2 that all other mammals have, well, that’s just plain strange. What kind of twist down the evolutionary tree could have possibly resulted in a mammal with a duckbill and venom that looks remarkably like snake venom delivered by little spurs on its legs? Something like that does not seem to have anything natural to trace to.

It’s just one more mystery that we will probably never understand. Unless, of course, you accept that thing about the sense of humor.

Wolfman: When the wheels won't come up...

Feb 20 2008

The day started early, with a 4 AM wakeup call to get on the early morning flight (UA896) from Singapore to Hong Kong. Although I was a bit tired and heavy eyed, feeling the residue from last night’s Thai dinner and Chinese/Lunar New Year celebration, the flight was fine, with a very courteous United cabin crew, mixing mostly Japanese and Chinese flight attendants with one very out of place German. I think he was the token Caucasian (and male) on the team. Since I had boarded early and was sitting upstairs (row 15-G) and there was not much happening, the Captain invited me into the cockpit while we were still sitting at Changi airport. That’s always a cool visit, and generally it is one of the times I wish I had a camera with me when I travel. Not much that was memorable about the flight itself, except a bit of turbulence as we passed the East coast of Vietnam, roughly half-way between Da Nang and Saigon. OK, I know it’s now called Ho Chi Minh city. Sorry, but old habits die hard...

Hong Kong itself was rather uneventful. Of course there was he usual dash from the first flight to go back through security and head over to the next departure gate. Not enough time to have a drink in the Red Carpet club, but enough time for a Marlboro (or two) in the smoking lounge right next to the gate.

As in the old railway days, it’s time to cry “All Aboard” to get this train rolling for Chicago and home. Now the passengers stream into their seats, and some struggle to fit one more oversized piece of hand carry into the already stuffed overhead bins. Upstairs it’s quiet, everyone has settled in, exchanged names, and gone through their personal rituals as they prepare for a 14 hour flight. For me, that would be 2 aspirin (to prevent blood clots) and 2 over-the-counter Sominex sleeping pills.

Takeoff time, accelerating down the runway, V1, V2, rotate, wheels in the air, and we are going up. Hear and feel the landing gear coming in, flaps are being adjusted.

Oh-oh, we have a problem ! This is bad !! Something is really wrong ! Seriously wrong. Alarm bells are going off in my head.

Sound of a hydraulic pump in overdrive, being turned on/off. The plane is noticeably (to me) banking and listing to the left. Wind and engine sounds are all wrong. I suspect a flap has malfunctioned out on the left wing.

Still gaining altitude, but not as fast as we should. I look at the flight attendant in her seat facing me across the exit row. She looks at my face, and I look at hers, and we instantly know that the other one knows. This is not good. We have a real problem here. Obviously we are OK on airspeed, so it’s not critical. Otherwise we would already be swimming in the middle of a (probably burning) large fuel spill outside of Hong Kong harbor. Flight attendant phone rings, she talks for a few seconds, hangs up. She looks at me, then looks at my lap, and draws her seatbelt tighter. I do the same. Her tense chin says it all.

A few more minutes go by. The more seasoned travelers all know something is not right. Announcement now. One landing gear will not retract. The crew is attempting to bring the gear up. In the meantime we are still climbing, and circling south-east of the city out over the ocean. Safe for now. Obviously we can’t go to Chicago like this. Not as obvious to most passengers is that the gear may be stuck halfway, and it might not be safe for landing either.

After a half-hour the Captain announces it can’t be done, the gear is stuck, and it can not be retracted. We will have to dump our fuel over the ocean and return to Hong Kong. The good (?) news is that they think that the gear is down and locked, so they expect that we can land OK.
This time the passengers are really listening and paying attention as the crew repeat the safety instructions they had just performed an hour ago. Nobody is talking or reading a newspaper, all eyes are on the crew. Upstairs, here in the exit row, all four of us are each being given a one-on-one demo on exactly how to open up the large doors and activate the slides. This time, when they ask if we feel we can assist in an emergency we know this is not just an idle question. We clear out all the papers, carry-on items and anything loose, like headphones, from the areas around our seats and the exit row. The crew verify that we have our shoes on, and that the laces are tied. Nobody is smiling now. This is as real as it gets.

This is Gut-check time people. You are on a plane with a defective main landing gear, possibly it is not in the locked position, and you are getting ready to land at over 180 mph with 400 passengers and crew in a 400,000 lb airplane on runway 7-left in Hong Kong.

And there is absolutely nothing you can do to influence what is about to happen.

(A brief intermission ensues)

Later in the day I’m in a hotel room at the Marco-Polo in downtown Kowloon. The day is almost over, and I have helped some new friends destroy the better part of a bottle of Courvoisier cognac. Obviously we landed OK, but the gear could not be fixed quickly, and we have been delayed for 24 hrs on our flight to Chicago. United put everyone up at a variety of hotels, with the coach/economy passengers getting rooms at the airport transit hotel (a big block of grey concrete). That was not my fate. Given a choice by the ground crew, I picked the Marco, which is right on the water’s edge in Kowloon, near one of my former favorite hotels in HK (the now demolished Hyatt on Nathan Rd.), and close to great nightlife spots and dining.

OK, so in the end everything worked out. I arrived in Chicago, and got home to Maine about 24 hours later than expected. I racked up some hotel points that I was not expecting. Had some very nice meals in HK/Kowloon at United’s expense, and ended up with an interesting travel blog. Hey, do you know what it says on my new baseball cap from Hong Kong ?

“Life is Good”

Saturday, May 03, 2008

You think the national television medium sucks? Try local newscasts for a while.

There are endless posts and more than a couple of books about how badly the mainstream media has fallen down on the job. I wholeheartedly agree. I can’t add much to that discussion other than an additional dose of disgust and anger. But I was thinking the other day about how bad the local news programs are. That is something I haven’t seen much about, so I’ll take a crack at that subject.

What I am referring to is the local television market, the one that reaches just as much as their broadcast area covers. Since I live in Seattle, that is the local news that I see. However, “news” is a relative term. “Infotainment” may be a better term. I’m actually surprised to see that Microsoft Word knows how to spell that, so it must be entering the English lexicon. Plus, whenever they can throw in some sordid bits of sex scandals, blood, violence and grieving relatives, so much the better. The old hack statement, “If it bleeds, it leads” is really quite true. Plus, our particular location makes any possibility of snow into a festival of overcoats and gloves, and reporters breathlessly reporting things like, “Well, Dan and Kathy, I’m in Lynnwood, where it was snowing JUST five minutes ago. But as you can see, it has turned into rain.”

Now, to be fair, they do some reporting of some good stories now and then. Those are the ones that fall into their laps and that there isn’t a need to do much in the way of serious analysis. Pictures and just straight reporting of the facts (“As you can see, the house behind me has burned down.”) work well for television news. But, for the most part, local television newscasts are a joke.

What I object to most is how anything to do with sex becomes a subject worthy of in-depth reporting. I blame it on Mary Kay Letourneau, the local schoolteacher that became a national news story for repeatedly having sex with a very young student. Since then, it’s pretty much all sex, all the time. I feel that they can report on the newsworthy facts of any case like that, but they really don’t need to dwell on the sordid details. Yet, that is where the local news departments seem to think they get the most mileage.

For instance, there was a very sad situation that happened recently here, where a local high school teacher and track coach vanished. He could not be found for several days. Then his car was found, parked along side the road with a door open and the keys still inside. Then, his body was found a few miles from the scene. He had been shot to death.

Details came out about some adult oriented web site that he had been a member of. I didn’t think much of it. I was much more upset by the fact that someone could shoot an unarmed man like that. It was reported that the authorities were looking into this web site to see if that might have anything to do with it. Once the television stations got that particular detail, boy, Katy bar the door. They started reporting that the victim had been advertising for sex, and in particular, sex with multiple partners. One newscast I saw actually showed a screen capture of they guy's web page with all the stuff he was into and what he was looking for. All sorts of sordid details about the person started coming out. It started to become more of a story than the fact that he was murdered in cold blood. Luckily, the police apprehended a couple that they termed, “persons of interest”. It looks like those are the people who did it, although the motive remains unclear.

However, the victim’s friends and family, and all the students at his high school have now been bombarded with all this crap that is probably not related to the crime, and his reputation is now more about that than the fact he had been a very popular figure at his school, well liked and well respected. I firmly believe that what consenting adults do for their jollies in private, so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else and involves adults and not kids, is their own business. The only time I have written about this kind of behavior is when these great hypocrites, the bastions of American society, say one thing and do another. In the past few years, that has mostly been Republicans (e.g., David Vitter, Larry Craig) but more than a few Democrats have been caught as well (e.g., Eliot Spitzer). But, in private, it should remain private. I think that the local television newscasts really had no reason to delve that publicly into this aspect of the case. What’s the point, other than titillation and sensationalism? It also makes sometimes for a news story that is worthy of an "R" rating. I really don't like my 12 year old daughter to hear some of this. I would rather not have to explain this particular subject right now, and I wish the TV stations would consider who is probably in the living room before they actually say some of this stuff on their programs.

I know that funds for local television news departments are not extensive. But I feel they really should do a better job of reporting important local news stories in depth. All this emphasis on the trivial is ridiculous. A news story that gets no more than a couple of inches on page 7 of the newspapers becomes the lead story on the local news. I don’t even bother anymore. I knew that things were really bad when I saw a promo for one of the local news broadcasts having to do with psychics for your pet. Yep, that one is really “news”.

I also object to the local newscasters just repeating anything that the Bush adminstration says. And remember, Seattle is one of the more liberal areas of the country. I really had a problem whenever one of the local stations had a story about the war in Iraq, the background graphics said "War On Terror!" Dammit, how many times do they have to hear that Iraq really has NOTHING to do with terrorists? Jeez. To be fair, they haven't done that for a while. I guess I should give them a break, because 95% of the media in the country fell for that one as well. Still, I do wish the local news departments would put a LITTLE thought into what they reporting, instead of just taking 20 seconds per story to read two paragraphs out of the local paper.

I have given up. If there isn't anything in the first three minutes of the local news (which starts at 4:57 p.m., instead of straight up 5:00), then figure that nothing has really happened today, and I switch over to MSNBC and watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann.