Saturday, December 29, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I got kind of allergic to pistols being held to my forehead."

-Botanist Richard Felger, in a report on the impact drug smugglers are having on various scientific endeavors.


Reported in WorldNetDaily today.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Top Ten Lists


It's getting to be about that time, the time when people start looking back over the year. Wired News has already published not one, but two lists of the Top Ten somethings of 2007.

The first is their Top 10 New Organisms of 2007, organisms that did not exist on December 31, 2006. My favorite, of course, is the glow-in-the-dark kittens, which only made number 7 on their list.

The second is their Top 10 Scientific Breakthroughs of 2007. This one lists them more like a David Letterman Top 10 list, from 10 up to 1.

My least favorite breakthrough is number 4 (Enzymes Convert Any Blood Type to O), because I have Type O blood, and while I understand the benefits to mankind of being able to use anybody's blood for anybody, I'm a little bummed at losing my great desirablilty as a blood donor.

My favorites are numbers 2 and 1. In breakthrough number 2 (Chimpanzees Make Spears for Hunting), they go into detail about the horrifying truth of bloodthirsty chimps.

But number 1 (Researchers Turn Skin Cells to Stem Cells) was the best. The promise of the end of using embryonic stem cells is a great one.

And now, along the same--though non-scientific--lines, here is my Top Ten List of Places My Mom and I Visited in 2007.

10. Boston Duck Tour
9. Port Townsend
8. Oregon Coast
7. Barbeque Competition
6. St. Louis
5. Mystic Seaport
4. Yellowstone National Park (and here)
3. Glacier National Park
2. Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
1. Niagara Falls

Note: This list is subject to change in content and order, depending on when you ask me.

Shaggy Pig


He's a fine pig. An admirable pig. A sheepish pig. And the Daily Mail (UK) told all about him today.

He is a pig... but not as we know it. From those extravagantly insulated shoulders down, he looks for all the world like a sheep.

The four-legged Boris represents what Mr York hopes will be a renaissance for the Lincolnshire Curly Coat pig, often called the sheep-pig, and a breed which became extinct here 37 years ago.

In his quest to reintroduce the breed, he discovered British farmers had exported many Curly Coats during the early 20th century to Hungary, where their coat helped them survive harsh winters. There they were cross-bred with the Mangalitza, a similar breed, creating the 'Lincolista'.

Mr York found the sub-breed thriving in Austria, and brought 17 of the animals back to his Pigs Paradise farm near Stonehenge, Wiltshire, driving a trailer 2,400 miles across Europe to ensure they had regular food and water stops.

"It was a mammoth task," said Mr York. "It was no good acquiring just one or two. We drove hundreds of miles from farm to farm in an attempt to round up enough unrelated stock to build a good herd."


Mr. York's Curly Coats have one more thing going for them:

Hair from the pigs is popular in the U.S. where its ability to retain air bubbles under water makes it ideal for tying fishing flies.

What a great pig!

Wrap Rage

The AP reported on Christmas about a newly identified condition.

On Christmas morning, Lisa Addy's Orlando house resembles an assembly line. Her 5-year-old daughter unwraps a present, then hands it to Addy or her husband to open, a task that increasingly involves tools more suited for an electrician than a child.

"The worst I have found is the Barbies or any doll packaging," said Addy, 39. "Because they sew the hair to the box. You have to cut out the plastic things, so you get your wire cutters. And they have a wire wrapped around each wrist and ankle and sometimes around the body of the doll. I don't understand what the point is."

There's even a term for the anger and frustration that accompanies the bloody fingers, sore shoulders and teeth filled with plastic that come from trying to open these packages: "wrap rage."

"The challenge is how to have something that is easy to open but also hard to steal from," said Daniel Butler, vice president of merchandising and retail operations for the National Retail Federation. "It's a tough balance."

Yes, it must be a tough balance indeed, and they haven't got it right yet.

"Nothing is funny about seeing a grown woman leaving teeth marks in a toy package as the grandchild cries because Nana can't get the darn package open," Pat Northey, 58, a grandmother from Deltona, Fla., wrote in an e-mail. "I have had packages where even when you cut them with scissors, the package is so tight that when you pull them apart, you rip the flesh right out of your fingers."

Northey isn't alone. Injuries from plastic packaging and containers resulted in about 6,000 visits to the emergency room in 2006, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"Usually it's just a simple laceration of the hands," said Dr. Timothy Hendrix, the medical director for Florida Hospital CentraCare. "Sometimes they cut their hand deep enough to require sutures. Using a steak knife to pry it open probably isn't as good of an idea as using scissors."


Man, am I lucky my family got me what they did. So far, books and candy don't come in slasher clamshells.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassinated

I don't have much to say about the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, beyond how courageous she was in her return to Pakistan. She had to have known her life would be in danger, and the multiple assassination attempts before this one only confirmed that fact.

The story is all over the news. And some of the talking heads are trying to figure out how to blame President Bush for this. Did he put too much pressure on Pakistan? Did he put on too little pressure?

Enough already with blaming America for the world's ills.

Sparks From the Anvil has good coverage of the story. Also weighing in are:

Michelle Malkin
Hugh Hewitt
A symposium at the National Review
Powerline here, here, here, and especially here

Only time will tell what effects this assassination will have on conditions in the radical jihadist realm and in the world as a whole. I'm not about to hazard a guess.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Charges Dropped Against Steak-Knife Girl

The Orlando Sentinal reported today about a case against a 10-year-old girl.

The State Attorney's Office has decided not to prosecute a 10-year-old girl who brought a steak knife to school to cut her lunch. After a review of the child's school record, prosecutors determined charges should be dropped, Assistant State Attorney Ric Ridgway said today.

Teachers saw the child using a 4 1/2 inch kitchen knife to cut her steak at lunch on Dec. 13. They notified the Marion County Sheriff's Office and she was arrested on a felony weapons charge. She was also suspended from school for three days.

They arrested a 10-year-old girl on felony weapons charges because a teacher saw her cutting up her lunch. Unbelievable! To a normal person, anyway. But teachers don't seem to be normal these days.

Investigators with the Department of Juvenile Justice then interviewed the child and looked at her clean school and behavioral record. They recommended that charges should be dropped and the State Attorney's Office agreed.

"She has an excellent school history, no disciplinary problems, good grades and nothing whatsoever to suggest she was a troubled child," Ridgway said.

So, they arrested her and then they investigated. And if she had been a troubled child or had bad grades, would they have gone through with their prosecution of her for a felony? Sounds like it.

Let that be a lesson to all school children. If you have steak for lunch, eat it with your hands and rip it with your teeth. You'll disgust all the students and teachers around you, but you won't be arrested for a felony. Yet.

Senate Blocks Recess Appointments

With approval rates of Congress down in the tank (the latest polls I saw reported were from October, when Congress was at 11% positive), you'd think they might try to act more like the leaders their constituents expect them to be. But that would be asking too much. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's addiction to pettiness knows no bounds.

Agence France-Presse reported Monday on the Senate's latest antics.

The US Senate is holding special one man sessions throughout Christmas and the New Year to prevent President George W. Bush from making appointments without the approval of the Democratic majority.

With the bang of a gavel, Democratic Senator Jim Webb declared the first session open on Sunday morning before closing it seconds later, without any of his colleagues present in the hall.

The brief ceremony will be repeated every two to three days until January 18, when lawmakers resume their work after the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

The Democratic majority is staging the move to avoid any formal recess for Congress extending over several days. A recess would allow Bush to appoint ambassadors, judges and other top posts without seeking a Senate confirmation for his nominations.

Bush has previously used his authority to avoid drawn-out political battles with Democratic foes over controversial nominations, including that of foreign policy hawk John Bolton who was named in 2005 as Washington's UN ambassador during a congressional recess.

I saw this reported on the news last week, and they interviewed Senator Webb about it. He said he was chosen for the lonely task because he lives nearby in Virginia and he's got low seniority. In the AFP article, Webb is quoted this way:

"Presidential nominations for important positions within the Executive Branch should be carefully considered and debated before the Senate in order to ensure that the most qualified individuals are serving the American people," Webb said in a statement.

For a Senate newbie, Webb has already learned the Democrats' double-speak. "Carefully considered and debated" really means "blocked."

When the Republicans had a scant majority in the Senate, the Democrats filibustered President Bush's judicial and other nominations to prevent them from coming to a vote. This was the first time in US history that the filibuster was used on nominations who had enough votes in the full Senate to be approved, instead of just using it on legislation. So the President used recess appointments to fill some of the more crucial spots that were being left vacant by a recalcitrant minority in the Senate.

Now that the Democrats have the Senate majority, they have no need for the filibuster of nominees. The leaders of the Judiciary Committee simply refuse to hold the hearings that would allow the nominees to be "carefully considered and debated." So judicial posts are just as vacant as before.

Normally the Congressional recess over Christmas would give President Bush a chance to fill some of those vacant posts. Only this time, the petulant Senate Majority Leader Reid is sending his lackeys over to the Capitol building just often enough to keep the Senate out of recess. It's petty, and it's far beneath the standards we have a right to expect from the people we have elected to govern our country.

Reid and his cronies should be ashamed of themselves for this blatant act of obstructionism. But they've been without shame for so long, they wouldn't know it if it slugged them in the face.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cool Christmas Stuff

The kids have gone back home, and for today anyway, I'm glad they don't live here full-time. What a mess we made!

Here's a picture of what I got for Christmas:


My brother and his family sent us some maple candy (top) and chocolate (bottom) from Massachusetts. We like getting presents from them.

I also got two books, two DVDs, and Yahtzee. My kids have me trained not to buy any DVDs in December, so they can have something to get for me, and this year I was obedient. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End was on my list, and I got it. We watched that first. What wasn't on my list was Season Two of the 1970's Muppet Show, but I'm happy with it. Fozzie Bear is my favorite Muppet, probably because he's cheerful while being a little pathetic. I'm not quite sure what that says about me, and I'm not quite sure I want to know. But Season Two has such guest stars as Rudolph Nureyev, Bob Hope, Cloris Leachman, George Burns, and lots more. We watched a few episodes while we played Yahtzee (I won two games, and my son won two, so my daughter's going to need a rematch soon).

The first book is a coffee table book, The Biblical World: An Illustrated Atlas. It's got maps, and photos of landscapes and artifacts. And it uses that annoying dating scheme of B.C.E. You'd think since they're talking about biblical topics, the least they could do is use B.C. and A.D., but no. I think I'm going to like this book, though, in spite of its method of specifying the years.

The second book, the pale one on the left, was a surprise. A friend of mine had mentioned it to me only a couple days ago. It's How to Get a Date Worth Keeping, by Dr. Henry Cloud. My friend saw Dr. Cloud in a pre-conference workshop at this year's Women of Faith conference, and he talked about some of what's in his book. She recommended it to me (and herself), and I mentioned it to my daughter, and then it showed up among my presents this morning. It's amazing how fast my daughter can shop! She must take after her dad's side of the family that way.

We never got Christmas dinner. I was ready, with ham and potatoes and vegetables and cranberry sauce. But nobody ever got hungry. My son brought over some Cinnabon cinnamon rolls and a chocolate pie, so we had those and some of the candy, and eventually we ate frozen dinners (we cooked them first) just to get some real food inside us.

It doesn't really matter, though, because we had a great time. Christmas should always be this good.

For My Daughter

Happy 21st birthday, my darling baby girl!

Your tender heart and your faith will serve you well. I'm so proud of who you're becoming.

Much love,

Mom

Merry Christmas

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1 - 5, 14

Monday, December 24, 2007

Bad Shopping Day, and the Future

The St. Petersburg Times reported yesterday about a man's bad day at the mall.

Larry DiSalvo called Saturday the worst shopping day of his life.

There he stood in the Tyrone Square Mall parking lot, surrounded by three police cruisers and mall security. Police had searched and interrogated him. All the while, DiSalvo said, shoppers gawked, perhaps wondering whom he had killed.

The 57-year-old said he was guilty of one thing: forgetfulness. He lost his 1991 Grand Marquis in a sea of 6,000 parked cars.

But mall security thought he was wandering the parking lot looking for cars to break into.

The result: He's banned from the mall for life.

"They gave me the shopping equivalent of a life term without any parole," the retired real estate agent said. "I'm a mall person. I grew up in malls. I've never in my 57 years on this planet had a problem in a mall.

"Unfortunately," he said, "today my unlucky number came up."

Being banned from the mall probably wouldn't be too harsh a sentence for me, but if you're a shopper like DiSalvo, it's crushing.

My bad shopping day was yesterday, but I put it out of my misery quickly. I worked yesterday until 4:00 and then headed off to try finishing my Christmas shopping. I started at Harry & David and had to wait in line, but they made the wait enjoyable by bring by some samples of their chocolate-covered strawberries, which I tried but didn't buy.

Next was Best Buy, where I wanted to get a gift card, but the line was enormous. I asked the guy by the door what time they opened in the morning, and he said 8:00. Good enough for me. I left the store and decided to stop shopping altogether until today.

Instead, I went to the beach just after the sun went down, to the spot where I go when I need to have a serious talk with God. The tide was on its way out, and the lingering sunset made the beach look like liquid gold. I sat down on a foot-high "cliff" of sand to watch and listen.


My conversation with God wasn't about shopping, but about the future.

I'm still trying to decide what to do with myself. It's between Plan A (Nuclear Medicine Technology, at a school in Indiana) and Plan B (Bachelor's in Nursing, at a school here in California). I never really wanted to be a nurse, but the idea is starting to grow on me, especially after some lobbying on the part of my friend the cardiac nurse.

I've developed a love for Indiana from just the two times I've been there, because it looks so much like my heart's home from childhood, even though I hardly know anybody there. And when I talked to my nurse friend about all this, the words that came out of my mouth were, "...then I'd be stuck in California." Stuck. Even though my kids and most of my friends are here. It doesn't really make a lot of sense, so that's why I went to my spot at the beach.

It was tempting to leave the decision in the hands of whoever buys my house: If it's sold and closed before the end of April, I go to Indiana. If it's not, I stay here. But making a decision that way is a bad idea. I need to choose. If I choose the NMT program in Indiana and my house doesn't sell until after April, then I can move there when the house has sold and just delay the start of school until the following year. If I choose nursing, it won't matter when my house sells.

I didn't get any answers there at the beach last night, but I got some peace. The answers can wait a while longer.

And then today, I had a good shopping day. There were only two people in line at Best Buy when I got there. At the other places I went, there were just a few people ahead of me. I've finished my shopping, and all that's left is the wrapping.

And the Christmas Eve service at church, if I don't forget.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Men and Women and Humor

BBC News (UK) reported today on the results of a study on humor differences between the sexes.

Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.

Men make more gags than women and their jokes tend to be more aggressive, Professor Sam Shuster, of Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, says.

The unicycling doctor observed how the genders reacted to his "amusing" hobby.


Women tended to make encouraging, praising comments, while men jeered.

It's hard to find a less scientific study, with a more flawed conclusion, than this one.

Research suggests men are more likely to use humour aggressively by making others the butt of the joke.

And aggression - generally considered to be a more masculine trait - has been linked by some to testosterone exposure in the womb.

That part is fine. Testosterone is linked to aggression. From there, though, Prof. Shuster takes his study to the point of absurdity.

Professor Shuster believes humour develops from aggression caused by male hormones.

He documented the reaction of over 400 individuals to his unicycling antics through the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Almost half of people responded verbally - more being men. Very few of the women made comic or snide remarks, while 75% of the men attempted comedy - mostly shouting out "Lost your wheel?", for example.

This is really stupid. For starters, the good professor assumes that unicycle riding is funny, but maybe it's not as funny as he believes. He may have just looked ridiculous, prompting the men to mock him and the women (not wanting to hurt his feelings) to praise his skill.

As a general rule, men enjoy visual humor more than women do, in particular the kind of humor where other people get hurt, as in the Three Stooges. Women don't find hurting people to be funny, and they don't enjoy mocking other people as much as men do.

So Prof. Shuster was testing male humor, and when he found it, he declared men to be more humorous than women.

But an earlier study, from November of 2005, revealed some of the differences in the way men and women appreciate humor, which showed that indeed women have a sense of humor. It's just not the same as men's.

I'm a woman, and there are a lot of things I find funny, but a man riding a unicycle is probably not one of the top ones. In the mall near me, they used to have a Frederick's of Hollywood store right next door to a shop that sells maternity clothes. That's funny.

The Princess Bride is funny. The Jeep-in-the-airport-radar scene in Rat Race is funny. The restaurant scene with Felix clearing his sinuses in the Odd Couple is funny.

But a unicycle-riding man masquerading as a serious researcher is not only NOT funny, it's too stupid for words.

Chief UK Scientist Warns Women

The Telegraph reported Monday on the latest warning issued by the British government's chief scientist.

Women must stop admiring men who drive sports cars if they want to join the fight against global warming, the Government's chief scientist has urged.

Professor Sir David King said governments could only do so much to control greenhouse gas emissions and it was time for a cultural change among the British public.

And he singled out women who find supercar drivers "sexy", adding that they should divert their affections to men who live more environmentally-friendly lives.

"I was asked at a lecture by a young woman about what she could do and I told her to stop admiring young men in Ferraris," he said.

"What I was saying is that you have got to admire people who are conserving energy and not those wilfully using it."

I've never been one for fast cars and their drivers. Sports car drivers--not every single one of them, I suppose--strike me as too self absorbed. You see them driving down the road, the convertible top down and their nose in the air just enough so you know they're thinking, "I'm driving this cool car, and that makes me hot, and you know it, and you want me." Ugh!

I prefer a man with a truck. But Sir David probably wouldn't approve of that either.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Dolphins Can Talk

There are days that go by when the news is full on nothing but the usual stupid celebrity tricks and political tedium. And there are other days when all kinds of interesting things are being reported. The past couple days are among the latter.

The Telegraph (UK) reported tomorrow about the latest in dolphin research.

Dolphins have their own language, according to a scientist who has identified almost 200 different sounds they make.

Liz Hawkins, of the Whale Research Centre in Australia, spent three years listening to bottlenose dolphins living off the west coast of the country and recorded a total of 1,647 whistles from 51 different pods of dolphins.

When a pod was travelling, for example, 57 per cent of the whistles they used were "sine" whistles, rising and falling symmetrically.

When the dolphins were feeding or resting, however, they did not make nearly as many of that type of whistle.

While socialising, they used almost exclusively flat-toned or rising whistles.

Dr Hawkins also identified a whistle that the dolphins used while riding on the waves created by her boat, which she said could be the equivalent of a child going "wheeee!"

It's good to know that dolphins are communicating with each other. And having fun. Maybe it will turn out that Douglas Adams was right, and the dolphins were in charge all along.

Sniffer Rats

Apparently, the story about the giant rats wasn't enough news about the vermin. The Telegraph (UK) reported yesterday about sniffer rats in Mozambique.

They are almost universally despised as disease-carrying vermin and are attacked wherever they are found.

But in an experimental scheme in Africa the special talents of the rat are being harnessed to help save lives.

The process of clearing land mines is slow, pain staking, and of course dangerous. In fact, using a metal detector, it takes one person roughly a week to clear a 100 square metre area of mines.

But in a pioneering project it has been found that a rat, because of its acute sense of smell and after intensive training, can find all the mines in the same patch in less than half an hour.


We've all heard about sniffer dogs. Then there were sniffer bees and sniffer wasps. Now we have sniffer rats. Since the rats are detecting land mines, Princess Diana would have been pleased.

Vacuuming Kills Fleas

Reuters reported yesterday on the results of a study on flea-killing.

Vacuum cleaners kill fleas just as well as any poison, surprised researchers said on Tuesday.

They said a standard vacuum cleaner abuses the fleas so much it kills 96 percent of adult fleas and 100 percent of younger fleas.

So no need to worry that a vacuum cleaner bag may turn into a fleabag breeding ground for the pesky, biting creatures, said Glen Needham, associate professor of entomology at Ohio State University.

This is really great news for pet owners, as long as your pets don't keep bringing new fleas into the house. Of course, you might have to actually vacuum your house to get this kind of result...

Putin Named Time's Person of the Year

The AP reported today on Time Magazine's choice for Person of the Year.

Time magazine on Wednesday named Russian President Vladimir Putin its 2007 "Person of the Year."

The nod went to the Russian leader because of Putin's "extraordinary feat of leadership in taking a country that was in chaos and bringing it stability," said Richard Stengel, Time's managing editor.

There was a push in conservative circles to have General Petraeus named Man of the Year, but Time obviously would have none of that. They'd rather ignore that fact that, in an extraordinary feat of leadership, Petraeus took a country (Iraq) that was in chaos and brought it stability.

No, better for them to honor Putin, whose coming departure from the Russian presidency and ascension into the Prime Minister slot smacks of the kind of stability brought to the former Soviet Union by Stalin, Kruschev, and Brezhnev. Or maybe it's more like Cuba's stability under Castro. I'm not holding my breath for Putin to ever hand over the reins of power to anyone but his puppet(s).

Still, I suppose I should be glad Time didn't give the honor to Al Gore, who was also in the running. We wouldn't want anyone to have to clean up the mess after the Goracle's head exploded from the excessive swelling after too many awards in one year. No, that wouldn't have been pretty.

Pull Your Pants Up

I found this over at Michelle Malkin's blog.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Job

I've been goofing off a lot since I got back to my house for the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas, not some generic "holidays" that really only means Christmas). In fact, I've been been getting good at goofing off, which has become a concern. There are many skills I aspire to improve, but pointless idleness is not one of them.

I had submitted my application to Barnes & Noble at the beginning of the month and watched as the guy added my form to a tall stack of other people's applications. He had said they'd be calling people for interviews the following week, but they didn't call me.

I thought of applying at Staples, because they had a "Now Hiring" sign out front, but as much as I like paper, I just couldn't muster up enough excitement to go through the application process. So I just let that idea slide into oblivion.

But my daughter, who works through a temp agency, mentioned that I should register with her temp agency, and she could get a referral bonus. She's brilliant! So I called them yesterday, told them I was only available for a couple weeks and asked for an appointment. The girl told me they had an opening on Friday.

"Well, that kind of defeats the purpose," I said. She found a spot for me late this morning, emailed me a link where I could do much of the applying online, and told me to bring my resume, Social Security card, proof of eligibility to work in the US, and some identification.

I printed my computer-programmer resume (changed the Objective to "Temporary or seasonal position") and my tour-director resume (changed the Objective to "Temporary or seasonal position"), filled out the online application, and looked all over the house for my Social Security card, which their website said was required. I didn't find it, so I figured it must be in my safe deposit box at the bank.

This morning I left early and went to the bank, where the teller who came to help me couldn't find my signature card. She called over the manager, who showed her the section where the "Mc" names are filed separately from all the rest of the "M" names, and we were back in business.

Inside the vault, I handed her my key, but it wouldn't go into the slot for the box. She fought with it for a while, then went back out to get the manager again, who showed her that there are two sets of boxes with the same numbers, and the old boxes have a "9" stencilled next to the box number and that's the one the teller was trying to open. Mine was the new box on the other wall.

This time it worked, and I found my Social Security card on the bottom of all the papers and put it in my purse.

At the temp agency, I handed her my passport as ID and proof of US citizenship. She never asked for my Social Security card.

They had me watch a video about the agency and about safety in the workplace (if you need to reach for something high, use a step ladder, not a chair, especially not a chair with wheels) and then take a quiz about what I watched. I missed one out of 25, but they didn't throw me out. Then I had to sign a huge wad of papers that the receptionist had printed while I was watching the video. Then I waited to be called to talk to someone about any opportunities.

By this time, I'd heard the receptionist telling people on the phone that they're usually pretty slow in December, especially the week between Christmas and New Year's when a lot of businesses close completely, so I wasn't holding my breath.

But when I talked to my Account Executive (and told her right up front that I was referred by a friend, who happened to be my daughter, and she wrote down my daughter's name), she said that one of the malls near here needs someone to help out in the office where they sell the gift cards and help people find stores (like I'd know that, since I avoid shopping at malls). But I'm willing to help out, and they'll pay me for my kindness.

So I work four hours tomorrow, four hours Friday, and six hours Sunday (unfortunately, I'll miss church). I won't make a whole lot of money, but it'll be something, and that's a beautiful thought.

"Lost World" of Giant Rats and Mating Birds

First I saw yesterday's Telegraph (UK) article about a new species of giant rat in the province of Papua in New Guinea (not in Papua New Guinea, which is a different country). But that article had a link to an earlier Telegraph article (February 8, 2006) on the discovery of a "lost world," where the giant rats were later found.

The term, "lost world," is a misnomer. It makes it sound as though that area of ground had picked itself up and wandered off for a long time, before searchers found it and returned it to its proper place. It was only lost in the way that a rich uncle you've never heard of--and who has always known exactly where he was all his life--shows up on your doorstep to announce his presence. "Unknown," not "lost," is the better term.

So this previously unknown world was discovered last year, and scientists have been studying it since. Their discoveries are fascinating, although the Telegraph's reporting is a bit confusing. This is from the earlier article:

There was another surprise: a "lost" bird of paradise, Berlepsch's six-wired bird of paradise (Parotia berlepschi), last seen by outsiders in the 19th century and previously known only from the plumage of dead birds collected by native hunters from an unknown location.

Several previous expeditions to the interior had failed to find it.

On the second day of the latest month-long expedition, the team of American, Indonesian and Australian scientists watched amazed as a male Berlepsch's bird of paradise performed a mating dance for a female in the field camp.

OK. I'll give them "lost" for a bird, though I still think it isn't exactly the right word. But I can't quite tell if the male Berlepsch's bird of paradise danced his mating dance for a female bird of paradise or for a female scientist. Reporters really should be more precise than they were in this case. And in the next one:

This was the first time a live male of the species had been observed by western scientists, and proved that the Foja mountains were the birds' true home.

What? Birds can't fly to other places? And how does the observation of a live male by western scientists prove a bird's true home? Are eastern scientists too stupid to be able to prove anything, so it takes a westerner to validate the findings? Or is it the live male that proves it? But that doesn't really make much sense, since I would expect nests to be found in a "true home," and nests usually have the female birds nearby, not the males. Unless maybe birds of paradise have the males tending the nest, but Wikipedia doesn't say anything about that.

It's not that I doubt the Foja mountains are the birds' true home. It's that either the scientists did a poor job of explaining themselves to the reporter, or the reporter got too sloppy with his writing to be clear enough to prevent confusion. In any case, I wish I understood the details of the article, because then I could happily dwell on the joys of birddom and ignore yesterday's article about the giant rats. But no.

"The giant rat is about five times the size of a typical city rat," said Kristofer Helgen, a scientist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

"With no fear of humans, it apparently came into the camp several times during the trip."

Eeew!

There was another discovery, this one of a pygmy possum (no, Chris, they didn't spell it "opossum"), which is WAY cuter that the foul fiends that hang around my neighborhood. Here's his picture. Isn't he cute, in a sad sort of way? (That's his buddy, the Ornate fruit dove, below him.)


"It's comforting to know that there is a place on earth so isolated that it remains the absolute realm of wild nature," said Conservation International's vice-president, Bruce Beehler, who led the expedition.

"We were pleased to see that this little piece of Eden remains as pristine and enchanting as it was when we first visited."

The Foja Wilderness is part of the great Mamberamo Basin, the largest untouched tropical forest in the Asia Pacific region.

The scientists plan another expedition to the area in late 2008 or 2009, when they expect to discover more species of mammals, frogs and butterflies.

They don't mention hoping for more rats.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Busted!

Monday is Garbage Day around here.

We're supposed to have our stuff at the curb on Garbage Eve, but I usually wait until Monday morning, because the garbage truck never comes until the afternoon. I'll hear the recycling truck go by in the morning, with its telltale clink of glass at each stop, and then I'll be reminded to take my can out to the curb. It works.

Until today.

I heard the truck arrive shortly after 9:00, but without the usual glass sound. So I ran to the window, and it was the real garbage truck. Luckily, my next door neighbor had a ton of extra junk this week, so the truck was stopped between our houses for a while. I threw on some shoes, emptied the wastebaskets, and carried my garbage can to the truck next door.

The guy was nice about it when I told him I was used to him coming in the afternoon. He said they're adjusting the timing on the route. Then he pointed out that we're supposed to have our stuff out the night before, and I said I've gotten lazy. I told him about the recycling truck, and he asked, "You use that as a signal?" Yes.

Not anymore, though. It's going to have to be Garbage Eve from now on.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Al Gore's Gospel of Hypocrisy

I love Henry Lamb's columns, and his column yesterday scored a home run.

In many ways, Al Gore is like the charismatic preacher who mesmerized his congregation every Sunday, but during the week, ministered privately to the needs of neglected housewives to satisfy his own appetite. While sermonizing before the Nobel Committee – and an international television audience – Gore described the hellfire and brimstone of global warming damnation and pointed the way to planetary salvation: the world must have a mandatory "cap-and-trade" regime, he said, administered by the United Nations.

Were Gore's wildest claims of global catastrophe absolutely certain, the remedy he proposes would be the worst possible way to confront it. Gore, and most of the international community, wants a U.N. treaty that gives power to an international body to set emission limits on developed nations, and enforce monetary penalties for non-compliance which would be redistributed to developing nations such as China, India, Brazil and others.

China? Doesn't China have enough of our money already?

Sorry. I got sidetracked.

This method would give to an international body not simply the power to limit the output – emissions; it would also convey the power to limit the input – available energy supplies. Without abundant, available energy, prosperity in developed nations would plummet. This, of course, is the goal of international socialists who see social "equity" as one of the highest objectives. Environmental protection, and a managed global economy are the other objectives of what is called "sustainable development."

An international body empowered to control the use of energy, the use of natural resources, as well as economic activity, would be a hell far worse than anything that could possibly result from a free society, pursuing individual happiness, in a free economy.

Like the charismatic preacher who paints vivid pictures of the consequences of sin, Al Gore and his ilk, preach their gospel of doom and gloom to scare their admirers into actions that benefit only the preachers – not the action takers. Global warming has become a multi-billion dollar industry that enriches the preachers at the International Panel on Climate Change, the bureaucrats at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, thousands of scientists who feed at the global warming trough, and thousands of delegates who are paid by the U.N. to attend these endless conferences at locations such as Bali, Kyoto and other exotic destinations.

Henry Lamb nailed it. Al Gore, with his rabid environmental screaming, is a greater threat to the world than any of the disaster scenarios he paints with his preaching.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Making Cookies


My daughter and I made Cream Wafer cookies today, our Christmastime favorite. The recipe is here, but we always double the dough and quadruple the frosting. That way there are enough cookies, and there's enough frosting to be generous.

The cookies melt in your mouth, because they're made with butter and whipping cream, with a buttercream filling. This year, though, they're taking longer to cook than usual, because my kitchen is warm. So I keep having to put the dough back in the fridge for a while to let the cut-out cookie circles get firm enough to pick up.

One of the steps is important, but easy to forget. You have to poke the cookies with a fork 3 or 4 times before baking, because if you don't, the cookies will flake apart when you try to spread the filling. My daughter was excellent at remembering to poke the cookies.

This year we tried something new. We put some peppermint extract in the pink frosting, and it's a nice touch. The green frosting is regular, except for the color. My green food coloring leaked out of the bottle sometime in the past couple years, so we had to try making green with the blue and yellow, and olive green is the best we could do.

We've got one more batch to go tonight, and then tomorrow after church we'll try making cookie-cutter cookies. That's the plan, anyway.

British Muslims Want Christ Back in Christmas

The Christian Science Monitor reported Wednesday that in the UK, sanity may start to prevail.

Muslim leaders joined Britain's equality watchdog Monday in urging Britons to enjoy Christmas without worrying about offending non-Christians.

"It's time to stop being daft about Christmas. It's fine to celebrate and it's fine for Christ to be star of the show," said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.


Mr. Phillips, reflecting on media reports of schools scrapping nativity plays and local councils celebrating "Winterval" instead of Christmas, worried the unintended consequences of secularizing the holiday would "fuel community tension."

Quite right. It's time to stop being daft in the U.S. as well.

Here's what leaders of some other faiths had to say about it:

Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Shayk Ibrahim Mogra said, "To suggest celebrating Christmas and having decorations offends Muslims is absurd. Why can't we have more nativity scenes in Britain?"

"Hindus celebrate Christmas, too. It's a great holiday for everyone living in Britain," said Anil Bhanot, general secretary of the UK Hindu Council.

Sikh spokesman Indarjit Singh said: "Every year I am asked 'Do I object to the celebration of Christmas?' It's an absurd question. As ever, my family and I will send out our Christmas cards to our Christian friends and others."

It's such a shame that great nations have to be told they're being stupid about Christmas, but at least Great Britain is being told. That's better than what's happening here in the States. My overall impression of the news stories I've seen is that schools and city governments are avoiding entirely the possibility that maybe somebody might conceivably be offended by the existence or mention of (gasp!) Christmas.

Last time I looked, Christmas was the official name of a federal holiday. December 25th hasn't been renamed to be "Winter Holiday" or just the generic "Holiday." People don't go back to work on the 26th and ask their buddies, "Hey, what did you get for Holiday?" But I'd be willing to bet that at some of the schools where the mention of Christmas is banned, teachers will be avoiding post-Christmas conversation as though the topic is as distasteful as the sudden appearance of fecal material on the classroom floor.

It's good to see that, at least somewhere, good sense is starting to prevail. Let's just hope they spread the good word. That word is "Christmas."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Carter Embarrassed by US Human Rights

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that former President Jimmy Carter is upset by current US human rights policies.

Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that current U.S. human rights practices are an "embarrassment" and are far from policies he put in place as president to make human rights a priority for U.S. foreign policy.

Carter said U.S. detention centers in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and in Iraq may one day have infamy as historic places where human rights were abused such as in Argentina, Chile, Poland, South Africa and the former Soviet Union.

"This is an embarrassment to the people in my country to know that my own nation's government now disavows the principles that were in the forefront of the world's consciousness in the late 1970s," said Carter, who was speaking Wednesday evening at The Carter Center during a discussion of civil rights in the former Soviet Union and the U.S.

"We have a very serious problem here," the former president said.

The problem Carter seems to be pouting over the most is that President Bush's policies aren't still stuck in the 1970's.

I'm having trouble understanding how Carter can equate Gitmo--where the prisoners get halal meals, exercise, and a copy of the Koran--with Auschwitz. Oh wait. The prisoners at Auschwitz got lots of exercise, a little bit of food, and a bonus serving of some really nice gas for the special ones. Yeah, Gitmo's just another Nazi extermination camp.

Contrary to Carter's delusions, the Bush administration has not disavowed human rights principles. It just believes we're in a war and treats the prisoners accordingly. Carter, on the other hand, would rather throw national security to the wind and put the detainees (and our tactics) on public trial. Good thing nobody but the enemies of our country are listening to him.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

First Map of America on Display

Photo credit: REUTERS/Jim Young

Reuters reported Monday on a new display at the Library of Congress.

The only surviving copy of the 500-year-old map that first used the name America goes on permanent display this month at the Library of Congress, but even as it prepares for its debut, the 1507 Waldseemuller map remains a puzzle for researchers.

Why did the mapmaker name the territory America and then change his mind later? How was he able to draw South America so accurately? Why did he put a huge ocean west of America years before European explorers discovered the Pacific?

"That's the kind of conundrum, the question, that is still out there," said John Hebert, chief of the geography and map division of the Library of Congress.

The map was created by the German monk Martin Waldseemuller. Thirteen years after Christopher Columbus first landed in the Western Hemisphere, the Duke of Lorraine brought Waldseemuller and a group of scholars together at a monastery in Saint-Die in France to create a new map of the world.

The result, published two years later, is stunningly accurate and surprisingly modern.


I love maps, and this one is something else. There's a five-photo slideshow in the upper left corner of the article. I picked this one, because it also shows part of the Library of Congress.

I'm not kidding, if you visit Washington, DC, you must include the Library of Congress on your itinerary (contact your Congressman's office to arrange a visit--it's what you pay them for). The decor is fabulous. And now they have this map on display. Perfect.

Thieves Get a Surprise

Ananova reported November 23, 2007, on a purse-snatching in Austria. Here's the whole story:

Muggers snatched an Austrian woman's handbag unaware that it contained nothing but a dead rabbit.

The two thieves struck as Hilda Morgenstein, 42, was about to catch a train at Baden to the countryside with her daughter to bury the pet.

She said: "They saved us the trip - I told my daughter they were angels and were taking bunny to a better place."

Police are still searching for the pair and the remains of the rabbit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NASA's New Discoveries About Northern Lights


Photo credit: Daryl Pederson

NASA reported today on the latest discoveries about the Northern Lights.

NASA's fleet of THEMIS spacecraft, launched less than 8 months ago, has made three important discoveries about spectacular eruptions of Northern Lights called "substorms" and the source of their power. The discoveries include giant magnetic ropes that connect Earth's upper atmosphere to the Sun and explosions in the outskirts of Earth's magnetic field.

The discoveries began in March less than a month after the five THEMIS satellites had been activated. "On March 23, 2007, a substorm erupted over Alaska and Canada producing vivid auroras for more than two hours." A network of ground cameras organized to support THEMIS photographed the display from below while the satellites measured particles and fields from above.

Right away the substorm surprised investigators: "The auroras surged westward twice as fast as anyone thought possible, crossing 15 degrees of longitude in less than one minute," says Angelopoulos. The storm had traversed an entire polar time zone in 60 seconds flat!

"The satellites have found evidence for magnetic ropes connecting Earth's upper atmosphere directly to the Sun," says Dave Sibeck, project scientist for the mission at the Goddard Space Flight Center. "We believe that solar wind particles flow in along these ropes, providing energy for geomagnetic storms and auroras."

A "magnetic rope" is a twisted bundle of magnetic fields organized much like the twisted hemp of a mariner's rope. Spacecraft have detected hints of these ropes before, but a single spacecraft is insufficient to map their 3D structure. THEMIS's five satellites were able to perform the feat.


I don't really understand all of this, but it's still really cool. The Northern Lights are amazing, but the idea that magnetic ropes are connecting our atmosphere to the Sun is just mind-boggling. I hope NASA keeps up the good work.

NASA's aurora photo gallery is here.

Animals in Trouble

A couple animal stories have been hiding in the news the past couple weeks, and I just discovered them at Ananova (UK). I wish they had pictures.

Brief-eating dog:

Ananova reported November 27, 2007, on Taffy the springer spaniel and his addiction.

A springer spaniel needed an operation after swallowing his 40th pair of underpants.

Taffy has also wolfed down 300 socks and destroyed 15 pairs of shoes belonging to his owners Eubie and Sharon Saayman and their son Liam, three.

He even once ate the keys to their Mercedes car, reports the Daily Mirror.

Normally, everything he eats come out the other end naturally - but the last pair of undies would not budge.


Lucky for Taffy his owner, Eubie, is a veteranarian who was able to operate.

"His stomach was swollen and, during the operation, just as I thought, there was a pair of my son's Bob the Builder pants that had got stuck."

Taffy is doing fine, though the Saaymans have spent over £500 replacing the stuff he's eaten.

Mean-talking Mynah bird:

Ananova reported December 3, 2007, on a zoo's response to a bad-mouthing mynah bird.

A zoo caged a cheeky mynah bird for 15 days for being abusive to tourists.

Eight-year-old Mimi was put in solitary confinement at Yuelishan Park in Changsha city, after a visitor complained.

She had to stay in a darkened cage and listen to recordings of polite conversation in a bid to improve her behaviour.

"I was playing with her, and suddenly she said: "You're a stupid man"," the tourist, Mr Du, told the Chongqing Evening News.

"She also called me an ugly man."

A park spokesman said: "When she swears, the feeder refuses to feed her. And while she's confined, we play her tapes of polite speech."

The park says the sentence has cured Mimi of her habit, and that she is now welcoming guests pleasantly.

"We hope tourists won't teach her to swear again," added the spokesman.

They don't say what punishment the tourists will get for teaching Mimi more bad words.

Christmas Toilet Paper Trouble

Ananova (UK) reported yesterday about trouble over toilet paper in Poland.

Polish consumers are organising a petition demanding Christmas loo roll be banned.

The festive toilet paper on sale in Lublin by pharmacy chain Rossman has been branded "repulsive and base".

It features pictures of reindeers and stars and little messages in English saying "Merry Christmas".

"You use Christmas cards for sending greetings and you use toilet-roll for your backside," said Lublin shopper Mieczyslaw Kasper, 51, after signing the petition.

Kasper is exactly right. Loo roll is for a person's backside, and using Christmas greetings on your backside is, well, repulsive and base. But that hasn't stopped businesses from selling repulsive, base goods to the kind of people who like that sort of thing. So I'm not really sure I want the Polish petition drive to succeed.

Still, it's nice to see Christmastime anger being handled so peacefully. It's much better to circulate a petition than to shoot your neighbors because their dog wrecked some of your Christmas decorations.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Kangaroo Bacteria for Global Warming

Last year reports came out blaming cows for contributing excessively to global warming.

Now it appears they may have found a solution. The Telegraph (UK) reported yesterday on kangaroo bacteria.

Scientists in Queensland say they have isolated special bacteria in the stomach lining of kangaroos which, if replicated in sheep and cattle, would significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gas and improve the productivity of farms around the world.

The research team estimates that methane from cattle and sheep accounts for 14 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emission - second only to coal- and gas-powered power stations.

It has been estimated that the average bullock produces 250 litres of methane a day or enough gas to fill a 44 gallon drum.


"By replicating this bacteria not only would they [sheep and cattle] not produce such methane, they would actually get something like 10 to 15 per cent more energy out of the feed they are eating," said Dr Athol Klieve, a senior research scientist with the Queensland Government.

This is great news, especially the extra energy for the cows. If they can get cattle to have this kangaroo bacteria, they can reduce the greenhouse gases, and then maybe Al Gore and all his worshipers will shut up about it.

Sean Penn Endorses Kucinich

Hollywood keeps providing us with such rich material.

NBC11 reported today that Sean Penn has officially endorsed Rep. Dennis Kucinich in his bid for the presidency.

Penn made what had been billed as a "major political statement" at San Francisco State University.

Penn was set to deliver "a blistering indictment of political leaders and an impassioned endorsement of Presidential proportions," according to a Kucinich press release.

In the speech entitled, "Piano Wire Puppeteers," Penn railed against not only President Bush, but Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

"While I'm not a proponent of the Death Penalty, existing law provides that the likes of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice, if found guilty, could have hoods thrown over their heads, their hands bound, facing a 12-man rifle corps executing death by firing squad," Penn said.

"I found the (recent Democratic) debate infuriating, nearly an argument for fascism with few exceptions, key among them Dennis Kucinich," Penn said. "Of course as a strategic politician, Mrs. Clinton pulled out her set of Ginzu knives and dominated once again on 'centrist' political strategy."

I love how people on the Far Left, like Sean Penn, can push aside their aversion to the death penalty just long enough to apply it to Bush Administration. They'll hug fascist dictators but speak fondly of the death of the leader of the free world.

Yes siree, let's take our political advice from Sean Penn.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Romney's Mormon Speech

I missed the speech, but Hugh Hewitt has the full text and his analysis here.

The speech, which had a precedent in 1960 in JFK's "Catholic" speech, was announced late last week. My take was that it was largely driven by the press, which (in the name of "the voters," of course) couldn't quit asking him inappropriate questions about Mormonism--as though without their constant attention Romney might spontaneously produce a Second Lady and maybe even a Third Lady to join him in the White House. Idiocy, thy name is the National Press Corps.

Hugh Hewitt, on the other hand, believes the "Mormon" speech was planned from the beginning by the Romney campaign to coincide with the beginning of New Hampshire's absentee voting (December 10th). It doesn't really matter why Mitt Romney gave the speech. It was beautiful. Here are some excerpts:

There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America's 'political religion' - the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.

There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

There's more, of course. Read it all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Environmentalists Go After Hanukkah

Global Warming continues to be in the news. This time it's Hanukkah that's under attack.

The Jerusalem post reported yesterday on an Israeli environmental group going after Hanukkah candles.

In a campaign that has spread like wildfire across the Internet, a group of Israeli environmentalists is encouraging Jews around the world to light at least one less candle this Hanukka to help the environment.

The founders of the Green Hanukkia campaign found that every candle that burns completely produces 15 grams of carbon dioxide. If an estimated one million Israeli households light for eight days, they said, it would do significant damage to the atmosphere.

"There are many people who just light candles for the tradition and for their children," he said. "To tell a child on the eighth day that we are not lighting the last candle as a sacrifice for the environment is an act that is not only educational but also will prevent the release of a huge amount of carbon dioxide that would hurt the environment."

Some people worry about the stupidest things. Soon other environmental groups will get the idea to ask churches to light one less Advent candle. Then they'll be picketing outside the Yankee Candle Company's headquarters, then going after campers and their bonfires, fires in fireplaces, outdoor grills, and who knows what else...

Shas MK Nissim Ze'ev said he was not convinced by the environmentalists' argument. He warned that the campaign would take away from the light of Torah that each and every candle symbolizes.

"The environmentalists should think about how much pollution is caused by one solitary diesel truck on the road," Ze'ev said. "They should be fighting the trucks instead of Judaism. This is so trivial, so anti-Jewish and so anti-religious that even the worst anti-Semites couldn't think of it. Just like the Helenists, they are trying to extinguish the flames of the Jewish soul."

Environmentalists will extinguish the flames of everybody's soul if you give them the chance.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Photo of the Day


Photo credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque


There is nothing like a little kid's smile. I love this one.

The Reuters caption reads:

President George W. Bush and Malik Lawson, 7, exchange smiles during a children's holiday reception and performance at the White House in Washington December 3, 2007. At left is first lady Laura Bush.

Merry Christmas, Malik!

Fake Olympics Stuff Irks China

This is rich!

Reuters reported yesterday on China's battle against counterfeit Olympics gear.

Beijing is battling to stamp out illegal sales of 2008 Olympic merchandise on dozens of unauthorized Web sites seeking to cash in on the Chinese public's Games fervor, local media reported on Monday.

Authorities had investigated about 80 commercial and personal Web sites selling fake Olympic merchandise, or lacking licenses to sell the legitimate product, the Beijing Youth Daily said, citing an Olympic e-commerce official.

Beijing Olympic organizers have targeted making $70 million from merchandising from the 2008 Games, from a range of about 4,000 products.

There's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing people get their comeuppance. Seeing China get it is especially sweet:

China is considered the world's most prolific counterfeiter, causing billions of dollars in lost sales to makers of everything from music and movie DVDs, designer clothes and consumer electronics and software.

May they lose their shirts.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Smoking Ban Causes Global Warming

The threats to the environment aren't limited to divorce. The Telegraph (UK) reported today of the dangers brought about by banning smoking.

Pubs are likely to pump hundreds of thousands of tons of additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as a result of the smoking ban.

Policy advisers predict that emissions from patio heaters in pubs and restaurants will increase from 22,200 tons of greenhouse gases a year to up to 282,000 tons - the equivalent of flying a jumbo jet 171 times around the Earth.

Environmentalists say the heaters must now be banned if Britain is to meet carbon dioxide emission targets.

Tony Juniper, of Friends of the Earth, said: "The impacts of the smoking ban are positive, but this should not cause more problems for the environment. Either smokers will have to give up smoking or simply put on a jumper."

That's right. Put on a jumper. Or a sweater, if you live in America. Global warming is more important than saving you from hypothermia.

There's nothing like the law of unintended consequences...

Divorce is Destroying the Planet

As a victim of divorce, I don't have to be told it's bad for everyone involved. But the Sunday Times (UK) reported today that divorce is also hurting the planet.

UNHAPPY couples used to stick together for the sake of the kids. Now they can make the best of a bad marriage in the name of being environmentally friendly.

Scientists have quantified for the first time the extent to which divorce damages the environment. The researchers found that the combined use of electricity across the two new households created rose 53% while water use was up by 42%.

Across America – one of 12 countries studied – divorced households used 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2005 that could have been saved if the families had not split up. That is equivalent to about a fifth of Britain’s consumption.

Broken couples also increase demand for housebuilding and infrastructure such as new roads. “The global trend of soaring divorce rates has created more households with fewer people, has taken up more space and has gobbled up more energy and water,” said Jianguo Liu of Michigan University, who carried out the latest research.

Divorce is horrible. God hates it, and so do I. But until now, people who lean left haven't hated it. Feminists especially saw it as a way for women to escape the shackles that chained them to the oppression of men.

I'm not foolish enough, though, to believe this study will change the minds of environmentalists in favor of the institution of marriage. No, I expect to start hearing calls for new regulations. They'll want to force people to into house-sharing--or else have them pay a hefty environmental-damage tax for individual residences. Let's just hope the planet can survive the global warming activists' divorce from reality.

Mark Steyn on Australia's John Howard

Mark Steyn's column in The Australian tomorrow (HT: Hugh Hewitt) is a tribute to Australia's former Prime Minister John Howard.

First, the prime minister grasped the particular challenge posed by Islam. "I've heard those very silly remarks made about immigrants to this country since I was a child," said the Democrats' Lyn Allison. "If it wasn't the Greeks, it was the Italians ... or it was the Vietnamese." But those are races and nationalities. Islam is a religion, and a political project, and a globalised ideology. Unlike the birthplace of your grandfather, it's not something you leave behind in the old country.

Indeed, the pan-Islamic identity embraced by many second and third-generation Muslims in the West has very little to do with where their mums and dads happen to hail from. "You can't find any equivalent in Italian or Greek or Lebanese or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad," said Howard, stating the obvious in a way most of his fellow Western leaders could never quite bring themselves to do.

"Raving on about jihad" is a splendid line which meets what English law used to regard as the reasonable-man test. If you're a reasonable bloke slumped in front of the telly watching jihadists threatening to behead the Pope or Muslim members of Britain's National Health Service ploughing a blazing automobile through the check-in desk at Glasgow airport, "raving on about jihad" fits in a way that President George W. Bush's religion-of-peace pabulum doesn't. Bush and Tony Blair can be accused of the very opposite of the traditional politician's failing: they walked the walk but they didn't talk the talk. That's to say neither leader found a rhetoric for the present struggle that resonated. Howard did.

Likewise, Peter Costello. Sympathising with Muslims who wish to live under sharia law, he mused: "There are countries that apply religious or sharia law: Saudi Arabia and Iran come to mind. If a person wants to live under sharia law these are countries where they might feel at ease. But not Australia." It's a glum reflection on the times that such an observation should be controversial.

Yet it stands in marked contrast to, say, the Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner, who remarked that if the electors voted to bring in sharia he'd be OK with that, or the Swedish politician who said that Swedes should be "nice to Muslims while we are in the majority so that when they are in the majority they will be nice to us".

Steyn has an uncanny ability to put his finger on the pulse of a situation. Plain-speaking leaders like Howard and Costello are a breath of fresh air in a world full of mealy-mouthed blabberers like President Bush, when it comes to addressing the jihadis. I hope Australia's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd continues the plain speaking from Down Under.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Better Mental Health In Republicans

Gallup reported a new poll today (HT: WorldNetDaily) showing that Republicans report better mental health than Independents or Democrats.

Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats. This relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health persists even within categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education.

Page 2 shows the graphs with the breakdowns by the different categories. Page 3 gives the proper caveat that this kind of study only shows correlations and can't give the cause of the results.

It makes sense to me (a Republican) that Republicans report better mental health. (I'm going to be generalizing here, so don't go nit-picking about the exceptions.) Republicans tend to believe in strong marriages and families, and people are generally more satisfied with their lives when they're married and in good families.

Democrats tend to believe in non-traditional families being just as good as traditional ones. They seem to be constantly fighting to change society into their ideal, which is an uphill battle and can wear people down so they have lower mental health. If they can get non-traditional families accepted, they'll notice that too many people smoke around children. Or that too many people are still using incandescent light bulbs and not recycling enough, so the planet is going to hell in a handbasket. It's all so depressing when you're a Democrat.

Yes, Republicans are a lot less angry than Democrats. And a lot happier. And a lot healthier.

Let's all be Republicans and make the world a better place!

Twenty-five Christmas Questions

I saw this at Bekah's Bits, and I wanted to play too. Twenty-five questions about Christmas:


1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping paper, unless I must use a gift bag.

2. Real tree or artificial? I prefer real, but I don't have room for one, so it's a small fake one now.

3. When do you put up the tree? When I get around to it. Usually before Christmas.

4. When do you take the tree down? When I get around to it. Usually after Christmas.

5. Do you like eggnog? I don't remember.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? Nothing stands out from when I was little. In high school, though, my parents got me a 10-speed bike, and I was thrilled because the bike I'd been using was a dork bike. I took the new bike outside and rode it in the snow.

7. Do you have a Nativity scene? Yes. Clear glass.

8. Hardest person to buy for? Everybody. I'm not a shopper.

9. Easiest person to buy for? Nobody. I'm not a shopper.

10. Worst Christmas Gift you ever received? When I was in high school, my brother got me some lavender cologne. It smelled good in the bottle, but it stunk on me. I don't blame him (how would he have known?), but it didn't work out.

11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Christmas cards? Huh?

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (yes, I know, it was a TV show not a movie).

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? When I must.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? No.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Cream wafer cookies. Little flaky sandwich cookies that melt in your mouth because they're all whipping cream and butter. Hmmm. We're going to have to make some this year...

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Colored.

17. Favorite Christmas song? O Holy Night. And among the rest, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, because I like the lyrics and also the fact that it's in a minor key--so different from all the rest of the Christmas carols.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Home.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Yes but only if I sing the song.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? With the little tree, neither. The angel & star are too big.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Christmas Morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Shopping.

23. What is the 'corniest' family tradition you do, or miss doing? Putting "Sputnik" on the Christmas tree. It's a dreadfully ugly ornament I made when I was in Blue Birds in about 4th grade, with velvet ribbons & beads & golden-headed hatpins stuck in it all over. It always goes on the tree near the top so we can see it.

24. Ugliest Christmas Decoration ever invented? Sputnik.

25. Which looks best theme trees or homey trees? Theme trees look best, but they're for businesses. Homey trees belong at home.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jesus & Mary in a Pancake


Photo credit: Dana O'Kane


The St. Petersburg Times reported November 20, 2007, on the latest sighting of Jesus. This time, He was seen with His mother in a pancake.

The grainy image emerged from a batch of Great Value pancake mix, bought at Wal-Mart for $1.25 - a suitably humble beginning for a wanna-be apparition.

Port St. Lucie resident Dana O'Kane said she discerned the outline of Jesus and Mary in the mottled pancake and took it as a reassuring sign from her recently departed father.

Two weeks ago, her mother was about to apply chocolate powder to a batch of pancakes when she noticed headlike shapes at the edge of one.

Her mother, though, did not want to be associated publicly with a Jesus pancake. But she did telephone her daughter, who lives nearby, to come for a viewing.

O'Kane said a halo over one figure tipped her off.

"I know it's Jesus and Mary," she said. "It's unmistakable."

I've mentioned this kind of Jesus sighting before, and I have to say the pancake is unmistakably NOT Jesus and Mary. It looks more like the wide-mouthed Creature from the Black Lagoon (right) and the girl he carried away (or did he only try to carry her away, it's hard to remember the details of the movie).

I don't know when the news media is going to stop reporting the sighting of indiscriminate blobs as Jesus. The Bible says He dwells in the hearts of the people who believe in Him. He doesn't dwell in pancakes or kitchen cabinets or the stain on your favorite jeans.

O'Kane's mother is the smart one here, for not wanting "to be associated publicly with a Jesus pancake."

Related Note:

It looks like they're doing a remake of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, set for a 2008 release date. IMDB says the movie is still in production.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Trip - It Comes Tomorrow!

Shortly after I got home from Texas, I loaded the dishwasher and turned the knob to fire it up. It made noise, but not enough noise and not the right kind of noise. No water happened inside. I tried several times, just in case. Nothing.

There are two routes I could have taken. First, I could call a repairman, pay lots of money for him to show up and look at it, then pay more for him to (hopefully) fix it, and by the time it would be over it would have cost as much as a brand new, but cheap, dishwasher. Second, I could (or might be forced to, after the repairman arrived) just go and buy a new one. I opted for the second route.

Last Tuesday (over a week ago) I called my mom, because she gets Consumer Reports, and she found the dishwasher issue and told me what they picked as the CR Best Buy: Whirlpool, Hotpoint, Maytag, and Kenmore.

At Best Buy, I checked prices and features, then went over to Sears to look at the Kenmore and compare prices to Best Buy. They had a sign that guaranteed "next day installation," which was perfect for getting it in time for Thanksgiving, but the salesman assured me that didn't apply to the holiday season. Bummer. It turns out their "next day installation" only applies to non-built-in appliances, like freestanding stoves and refrigerators. Definitely not dishwashers.

I picked a basic (inexpensive) model, since that's what was in the house already, and had to laugh a little when the salesman asked me if I wanted the extended warranty. I had already explained that my house was for sale, so I told him again before declining the offer. He said the dishwasher wouldn't even be in the warehouse for the installers to pick up until Friday, and then the installers would call me to arrange installation.

They called me the next day to tell me that the soonest they could bring it out was the 29th, and (I asked) they didn't give priority to people with broken ones over people who just wanted a newer one. This afternoon they called with my installation window: tomorrow between 2:00 and 5:00.

I can't (but must) wait! I've been doing dishes by hand since I got home. Nobody should have to suffer such a fate, especially with the Thanksgiving dishes.

So tomorrow I'll be sure to dirty some dishes so I can put the new dishwasher through its paces. I'm more than ready for it to get here.

Update (Thursday 6:00 pm):

I have a new dishwasher and it works! What a great day.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Illuminated Lane Markers


Photo credit: Astucia
Autoblog reported Wednesday on a new invention that's improving driving safety in Great Britain.

Night-time travel is a necessary part of the busy world in which we live, but due to decreased visibility, traveling in the dark can be dangerous. The British have shed some light on night driving with the invention of the Astucia SolarLite flush road stud. The stud emits LED light, which is powered by small solar panels. The new stud tech is present on 120 British roads, and night-time accidents are down a dramatic 70% since the devices were installed. Amazingly, the SolarLite road stud gives drivers 900 meters of visibility, which increases reaction times to over 30 seconds. Reaction time with standard reflector studs is just 3.2 seconds.

This looks really great, especially for California's freeways. Anything that improves the safety of night driving can't come a minute too soon.

Iraq War is Hell on Box Office

So says Joe Garafoli in his San Francisco Chronicle column Friday.

Despite A-list casts - including Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones - and generally good reviews, war-related dramas tanked this fall at the box office, failing to attract a substantial audience during Hollywood's serious film season. And now, with the lighter holiday movie fare blanketing screens beginning this weekend, the cultural window to bring narratives about the war to multiplex patrons is closing.

But to some Iraq veterans, like [Army National Guard sergeant Jabbar] Magruder, who have tried to raise awareness about the war's perils, the apathy represents a larger disconnect many Americans feel toward the war. Implicit in the Redford, Streep and Tom Cruise film "Lions for Lambs" is a challenge to filmgoers to become impassioned about the war.

"I thought that with the casts (of these films), at least a portion of America would go to see them," said Magruder, a 24-year-old who is taking premed classes at California State University Northridge and is the Los Angeles chapter president of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Like many soldiers, he joined the service out of a sense of duty and, because his family had limited financial means, to pay for college.

"America doesn't want to deal with Iraq, period," Magruder said. "There's just apathy. And that's what a lot of veterans, no matter what their position on the war, are finding when they come back home."

It's typical that this story is coming out the the San Francisco area, where people "don't want to deal with Iraq" or the military. What Magruder wants from America is for them to oppose the war the way he does, the way Hollywood does.

Hollywood these days loves to make movies that show America and Americans as the bad guys. In their eyes, the military is nothing but a bunch of hormone-raged killers and rapists, and their movies reflect that view. The problem for Hollywood, though, is that most of America doesn't share their jaded hearts.

I love going to movies, but I try not to go until I know it's safe. If there's a question about the viewpoint of a film, or about how heavy-handed it is, I'll wait until I hear from someone who has seen it before I decide whether to go.

Wednesday, I caught the last hour of Michael Medved's radio show, and he talked about the movies that were opening this weekend, two of which are about the war in Iraq. He said In the Valley of Elah is a "hateful film." And Redacted is almost as bad. Lions for Lambs (already out) is another film that blames America first, which seems to be why columnist Garafoli and the anti-Iraq-War Magruder like it so well.

The Iraq War movie I want to see is the movie Hollywood doesn't want to make. I want to see the We Were Soldiers of the Iraq War, a movie that tells of the bravery of our soldiers and the difference they made over there. I want to see a movie about the best of who America is, but Hollywood only wants to tell us about the worst of who we are.

It's not that the Iraq War itself is hell on the bottom line for the box office. It's that Hollywood's version of the Iraq War is. But Hollywood and the anti-military crowd just can't figure that out.

Other movie notes:

Some of the other movies Michael Medved mentioned were:

The Mist: "A dog." It's a Stephen King story, but the (liberal) reviewers have said the Christian character is scarier than the monsters out there in the mist. Another anti-Christian movie portraying Christians as one-dimensional rabid zeaolts. I won't be seeing it.

Enchanted: "Delightful." A fairy tale princess and her prince get zapped into modern New York City. I'm planning to see it with friends after church tomorrow.

The Golden Compass (coming soon): Michael Medved didn't talk about it, but the publicity surrounding it says it's an anti-God, atheism-promoting film. They won't get a penny from me for this movie.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is scheduled for May 16, 2008. Such a long wait...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mixed Emotions at Thanksgiving

My daughter called me a couple nights ago after she left one of her night classes at the community college. She was at a standstill in traffic and wanted to know if I'd heard anything on the news about it. I hadn't.

She called later to tell me that a helicopter had just landed on the freeway, and my heart sank for what that said about the victims of the accident. I still didn't know anything, though. And then she said they were making the cars leave the freeway by way of the on-ramp. When she got to my house, she looked on the local news websites, but didn't see anything about what had happened.

The next morning I heard about it on the radio news. A pickup hit a van on the westbound side of the freeway around 9:30 pm, causing the van to flip. A woman and a child were thrown from the van. The woman landed on the road on the eastbound side, where she was hit by a car and killed. The child was hospitalized with very serious injuries, and another child was also hospitalized, though with less serious injuries. They didn't say if the woman was related to the children, but it sounds likely.

It's Thanksgiving now, and as I go through my preparations, my thoughts keep going back to this family that must be reeling from the loss of a mother while they stand watch over children in the hospital, helpless to do anything for them beyond praying for healing. How fleeting life is.

It sets my Thanksgiving celebration in perspective.

I've got a twelve-pound turkey, and my kids are coming over. My daughter told me she wants to prepare dinner, to give me a break this year. I told her that I like cooking some of the dinner, but at the same time, I had already thought that she needed some practice cooking a turkey for someday when she gets married. So I'll let her do the work this year, and I'll supervise.

My son is willing to help where he's needed. Last night, after my church's Thanksgiving Eve service, the three of us made pumpkin pie. It's hard to divvy up the pie-making tasks, but I had my son mix the dry ingredients (the sugar was lumpy after being left to its own devices for so long, so it needed some good pounding) and my daughter mix the wet ones. I made the crusts, and my daughter rolled out the second one while my son and I ran to the grocery store for a can opener for the pumpkin (I had taken mine to Texas for the trip, but we threw it out because it was getting too creepy to use anymore).

The pies are in the fridge, and I'm waiting for the kids to arrive, and I can't begin to say how thankful I am for every moment I get to spend with them.

And I'm so incredibly thankful that I decided to take the trip with my mom, for the time we've spent seeing places together and just hanging out (plus the entertainment value that Scooter offers). I'm thankful for the people we've been able to visit on the way--meeting blogger buddies, seeing old friends, and visiting family. And I'm thankful for the chance it gave me to clear my head and decide on a plan for the future.

At the Thanksgiving Eve service, they didn't have live musicians but used videos for the songs we sang. Those videos showed scenes of the country, and I found myself reliving parts of our trip. Super-speed shots of driving down the highway through the desert (we did that, only within the speed limit), clips of Niagara Falls, clouds on skyscrapers, lush green countryside from the air. I'm thankful that so many of those scenes felt personal.

But most of all, I'm thankful for the love and grace of Jesus, my Lord and my God. Without Him, I don't know where I'd be.

Happy Thanksgiving.