Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Woo-Hoo! (I Hope)

After the misadventures of the last couple days, I think my computer is cured. I hope. I'm being wary and somewhat untrusting still...

When I booted up this morning, I got a "specified module could not be found" error box, and the file it was looking for was named suspiciously like all the other "infected" filenames from yesterday. I closed the box and checked my email.

As I tried to click on one of my email messages, an ad popped up, followed by a second one. I closed them and did my breakfast-time blog reading, getting more ads to pop up in pairs every ten minutes or so. After I finished reading and knew my virtual world was in order, I pulled up McAfee Security Center and did a Firewall Lockdown.

With my system locked down (no incoming or outgoing internet traffic) I did not get any pop-up ads. I also did not get to read the news. Or find job openings online. Or listen to talk radio. Or blog.

I waited to call McAfee to fix the Adware virus until I had a good block of time, which was good because I waited on hold for about 30 minutes. But Joshua (good, solid Indian name) was worth the wait, and he hunted down more ugly-named files (pretend you smashed your fingers all over the keyboard--that's the kind of names the viruses use), and I told him that I didn't recognize a couple of the filenames that he was skipping over, so he went back and got rid of them too. He must not have recognized them either.

After he finished up and removed his virus-killer software from my system, I rebooted and held my breath for the first of the ads to pop up, which they usually do within a minute of getting internet access. They didn't come.

It's been about half an hour since I rebooted, and there have been no pop-up ads.

My fingers are still crossed behind my back, but I think I can safely say: Life is good!

Update (Thursday morning):

No more ads. No more Antivirus 2009. Nothing popping up that shouldn't.

I noticed last night that I was doing a lot of deep cleansing breaths around the house. I hadn't realized I'd been holding my breath, so to speak, in case the ads came back. When I finally knew they were really gone, it's as though my body needed to exhale all the stress that had built up. It's good to be back to normal again.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What a Day!

I'm talking about the last 24 hours, not just today.

Yesterday afternoon, I was in the mood for some inspirational music, the kind that makes you feel like putting the pedal to the metal and flying down the road. Wind in your hair and a smile on your face kind of music.

My daughter has some playlists on her computer, so she sent me to playlist-dot-com, where I started building one of my own, starting with Crazy On You by Heart. It's not quite a driving song, but it's my all-time favorite of theirs. Barracuda and Kick it Out are Heart's driving songs. And of course, there's Radar Love by Golden Earring. That's cruising music. (nodding head to the beat...)

Then I looked around for other non-driving songs that I liked, but they didn't have a lot of my favorites. They seemed to always have the song by a given artist that I didn't like so well. For example, for Gary Lewis and the Playboys I always liked (She's) Just My Style the best, but Playlist only had Everybody Loves a Clown. Ick. In the instrumental guitar category, my favorite was Apache--forget Wipeout. I found Apache by Jurgen Ingemann, played it to be sure it was the right version (they had it by The Ventures too, but that one suffers in comparison), and then added it to my playlist.

And then my daughter and I had to run off to a meeting, but before I shut down the laptop, I noticed that pop-up warning box that signals the invasion of the virus that had completely disabled the desktop computer. It says that my system is at risk and invites me to run "Antivirus 2009." I have McAfee. I closed the pop-up and shut down my laptop.

We got back home pretty late, but I got to work on a seek-and-destroy mission before the virus had a chance to invade every crevice of my computer. I got the latest updates from McAfee Anti-Virus and started running a scan, but partway through, some warning message showed up that I thought was from the virus, so I went to Task Manager to stop that application, but it shut down my virus scan at the same time. Oops.

McAfee's Security Center had a link somewhere (I have no idea how to find it again) to a Microsoft Nasty-Virus Removal Tool (my words, not theirs), and I had to have it. I downloaded it, but I couldn't make it do anything. There was something on the Microsoft website that said it updates it every Tuesday with the latest info, so maybe it will run itself sometime today. But that didn't help me yesterday.

There was another link on the Microsoft site that was a free scan of my system for viruses, so I got that running. They said it would take 80 minutes, and at 11:30pm, I didn't exactly like the idea but I really wanted my computer cleared of its invading hordes.

I waited up for it, in case it found something and wanted me to tell it what to do (destroy it, of course!).

As background, my daughter is the one who first introduced the virus to the now-dark desktop when she clicked on a stranger's message on her MySpace page. She normally will only correspond (or whatever you call it--I don't do MySpace or Facebook or their ilk) with people she knows in real life, but this stranger caught her at a weak, brainless moment, and she clicked. The message was just a series of dots, and not too long after that, we started getting pop-up anti-virus messages, and not too long after that the Blue Screen of Death came to visit and then to stay.

She recently bought a laptop with Windows Vista (my laptop and the desktop are XP), and that one got the Antivirus 2009 pop-up, which caused her much alarm, since she didn't open any stranger's message on MySpace. But within a day, her computer told her that it had found a Nasty Virus, called "Antivirus 2009" and had it trapped and what did she want her computer to do with it? She told the laptop to obliterate the darn thing, and then she sent a message to all her MySpace friends (no strangers) telling them she was deleting her MySpace page and asking them to email her their email addresses so she could stay in contact. MySpace just isn't safe anymore, and now neither is Playlist.

Well, about an hour after I started the Microsoft scan, another vile-looking thing popped up (an ad for Bank of America), so I killed it with Task Manager and killed my scan in the process. Aargh! So I restarted the scan and decided to let the ads show themselves and hope they weren't malicious.

The scan finished about 3:20am and found nothing wrong with my computer.

I got the latest McAfee updates, ignoring the Antivirus 2009 pop-ups when they came, started McAfee's scan, and went to bed.

This morning (I didn't wake up until 10:00), McAfee told me it found nothing wrong with my computer, and then Antivirus 2009 popped up in front of the status display to mock me.

I shut down my computer by way of the power button, just to make sure I didn't encourage the stinkin' virus any, and after I rebooted, I tried to check my email. But all I got was Google (my home page), and when I entered the yahoo mail address, Internet Explorer wouldn't go there. It wouldn't go anywhere. So I opened McAfee's Security Center and found something that looked like it would help, and it took me to the internet to McAfee's website, where I found virus-removal options. I chose the one where you call them up and they take control of your computer and remove the virus. It costs $89.95, and I was happy to pay it.

I waited on hold for about 5 minutes, then I was connected to Daniel, in India (do they have their Customer Service people take American-friendly names the way we had to take a French name in French class?). He helped me help him take over my computer, and while we were working on that, my house started shaking. It did three or four lunges side to side several inches then slowed to a light shifting/rolling of the ground, and then it lunged again a few more times and shifted/rolled, and then it was over. Nothing fell, not even the loose papers hanging over the edge of the desk, which is good, because I've opted not to have earthquake insurance. I heard that it really doesn't cover minor damage. It's there in case your house gets flattened--then you're covered.

I was a little too shaky from the adrenaline to type well, but I eventually got my composure back, and Daniel ran some special tools that found the "infected" files so he could delete them. One of the first tools he used showed a list of 3 bad things. The first two were Trojans, and the third was either Adware or Spyware, named, "Apache." I'm not sure I had all of those or if it was a list of what they were looking for, but that Apache was suspicious...

The infected files fought him for a while, but he had some tricks up his sleeve, and then he brought out a sword (the software has a big sword logo) and destroyed them all. After he rebooted, I gave control back to him, and he did the last little clean-up. He told me that if the virus shows itself again in the next 48 hours, I get to call back and have them finish the job.

So then I came here to tell my story and to warn you away from MySpace and Playlist. Anytime a website becomes popular, the bad guys in the world will take advantage of that popularity to use it for attacking the unsuspecting populace. And their desire to remain in your computer is so overwhelming that they'll even bring on earthquakes or other plagues to keep you from removing them.

Don't say you haven't been warned!

Update (nearly 10:00 pm):

At 9:50 pm, when I was in the living room reading a book and my daughter was playing the piano, my laptop in the family room started singing and playing music. I hadn't been on the computer since before we had watched Just Like Heaven earlier in the evening.

There were two ads displayed, describing the joys of something I was too annoyed to look at, and a pop-up warning box, which I closed. Then McAfee popped up to tell me it found some Ad-ware and gave me a few options, and I chose the one that most closely resembled total destruction. Then I used Task Manager to close the ads.

If ads reappear, I'll call McAfee's Technical Support again and see if Daniel or his colleagues can root out the rest of the evil and throw it into the lake of fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. If they can't, the weeping and gnashing of teeth will be in my house, and that's not something I want to contemplate.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Son Charged with Parents' Murder

The AP reported today that James A. Soares Jr., was charged with the murder of his parents, James Sr. and Marian, after their bodies were discovered buried in the backyard cesspool.

Police would not comment on a motive but said they believe Soares attacked and killed his parents July 9 with a heavy digging tool known as a grub hoe. Police said he then dragged their bodies into an in-ground cesspool at the family's home in Warren, a small town southeast of Providence. Soares lived with his parents.

"It's incomprehensible to think that someone could kill someone that brought them into the world," police Maj. Steven O'Donnell said.

On Saturday, police used a backhoe to dig up the Soares' backyard and found the bodies. O'Donnell said the grub hoe was found under the senior Soares' body.

Now, a grub hoe is not the same as a normal garden hoe. This website describes various trail-clearing tools, one of which is a grub hoe. Apparently, grubbing has nothing to do with digging up grubs to eat (what a relief!) but is the process of clearing the ground of remaining roots and stumps, so a sturdy, narrow, unsharpened hoe is used. The "unsharpened" part of the hoe description makes the crime even more horrible.

As a response to the nature of this crime, Democrat leaders in Congress have begun talking about an immediate ban on the sale and possession of grub hoes, while recognizing that there will be opposition.

"It's a regional thing, it's a cultural thing and it's a sad thing, but it's some type of cult," [Senator Charles] Rangel said. "'Don't touch; don't take the hoe from my dead, cold hands…' and I don't understand it, but obviously there is a political difference about that."

Rangel may not understand it, but some other Democrats do, especially those from rural districts where grubbing is a family sport and grub hoes are thought of as tools.

The lack of Second Amendment protections for tools is expected to be problematic for hoe owners.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Victor Davis Hanson on Obama's Berlin Speech

I vented my spleen already today about Barack Obama's "We Are the World" speech in Berlin, touching on all the main points he made that set my teeth on edge. Then I read Victor Davis Hanson's analysis of the speech, and it's so good that I think I'll just tuck my tail between my legs and go curl up in my bed. There's a reason these guys make the Big Bucks and I don't.

Here is the first part of Hanson's column:

What disturbed me about Barack Obama's Berlin speech were some reoccurring utopian assumptions about cause and effect — namely, that bad things happen almost as if by accident, and are to be addressed by faceless, universal forces of good will.

Unlike Obama, I would not speak to anyone as “a fellow citizen of the world,” but only as an ordinary American who wishes to do his best for the world, but with a much-appreciated American identity, and rather less with a commonality indistinguishable from those poor souls trapped in the Sudan, North Korea, Cuba, or Iran. Take away all particular national identity and we are empty shells mouthing mere platitudes, who believe in little and commit to even less. In this regard, postmodern, post-national Europe is not quite the ideal, but a warning of how good intentions can run amuck. Ask the dead of Srebrenica, or the ostracized Danish cartoonists, or the archbishop of Canterbury with his supposed concern for transcendent universal human rights.

With all due respect, I also don't believe the world did anything to save Berlin, just as it did nothing to save the Rwandans or the Iraqis under Saddam — or will do anything for those of Darfur; it was only the U.S. Air Force that risked war to feed the helpless of Berlin as it saved the Muslims of the Balkans. And I don't think we have much to do in America with creating a world in which “famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands.” Bad, often evil, autocratic governments abroad cause hunger, often despite rich natural landscapes; and nature, in tragic fashion, not “the carbon we send into atmosphere,” causes “terrible storms,” just as it has and will for millennia.

Perhaps conflict-resolution theory posits there are no villains, only misunderstandings; but I think military history suggests that culpability exists — and is not merely hopelessly relative or just in the eye of the beholder. So despite Obama’s soaring moral rhetoric, I am troubled by his historical revisionism that, “The two superpowers that faced each other across the wall of this city came too close too often to destroying all we have built and all that we love.”

I would beg to differ again, and suggest instead that a mass-murdering Soviet tyranny came close to destroying the European continent (as it had, in fact, wiped out millions of its own people) and much beyond as well — and was checked only by an often lone and caricatured US superpower and its nuclear deterrence. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no danger to the world from American nuclear weapons “destroying all we have built” — while the inverse would not have been true, had nuclear and totalitarian communism prevailed. We sleep too lightly tonight not because democratic Israel has obtained nuclear weapons, but because a frightening Iran just might.

Obama is bereft of rational thought, and Hanson nails it.

All that remains at this point is to see how the American voters react to what Obama said, and there's no point in judging by my reaction. A snowball has a better chance of surviving in hell than Obama has of getting my vote, and it didn't take this speech to turn me against him.

But I would like to know how the independent and undecided voters feel about Obama's campaign. Did his talk in Berlin sway them? Or is this just one more gabfest that they'll be ignoring, along with all the rest, until October comes along and it's time to start thinking about deciding?

Update (before I crawl to my bed):

For a good chuckle (unless you're missing the humor gene or are a rabid Obama supporter), read Gerard Baker's take on Obama's trip abroad in today's Times Online (UK). Sorry, no excerpts. You need to read it all at once.

Obama - Savior of the World

Senator Barack Obama gave his much awaited speech in Berlin yesterday. It wasn't at the Brandenburg Gate as he had originally requested. Instead he delivered it at the Siegessäule monument, one of Hitler's favorite locations for his speeches because of its symbolism of German domination over her neighbors. Indeed, as Tennyson Hayes's wonderful Photoshop masterpiece declares, Obama can only say, "Ich bin ein Beginner." (HT: Michelle Malkin)

He manages to start offending Americans almost from the get-go. Immediately after he thanks various Germans for welcoming him, he says this:

I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.

First he slips in the subliminal references to Kennedy and Reagan as the "countrymen who have come before." (Look at me! I'm presidential!)

And then that whole "citizen of the world" crap (pardon my language) really annoys me. It's the same leftist claptrap that I've been hearing and reading since my kids started grade school and the mission statement of their school declared its desire to make them into productive citizens of the world. Whatever happened to America, for Pete's sake? Let's make our children and our President into good American citizens, and as a result the world will be better off.

(deep calming breath)

When Obama tells his personal story, the part about his father "seeking freedom and opportunity," he ascribes those qualities to "the West," as though to include Europe. But the rest of it makes clear that Dear Old Dad never looked for freedom in Germany or anywhere else but America:

And so he wrote letter after letter to universities all across America until somebody, somewhere answered his prayer for a better life.

The father knew the truth better than the son does.

Obama describes the Berlin Air Lift, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and then he mentions 9/11:

The terrorists of September 11th plotted in Hamburg and trained in Kandahar and Karachi before killing thousands from all over the globe on American soil.

He makes it sound as though everyone was the target, when 99% of the deaths were American. There's nothing like downplaying the effects on your own fellow citizens in order to ingratiate yourself to others, many of whom don't much like America anyway.

Obama then talks about the differences that we've allowed to divide us across the Atlantic, and the need for us to come together globally to solve the world's problems, because no nation can do it alone. After all, "this is the moment." (cue smarmy pop song)

Now the world will watch and remember what we do here - what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time?

Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words "never again" in Darfur?

Will we acknowledge that there is no more powerful example than the one each of our nations projects to the world? Will we reject torture and stand for the rule of law? Will we welcome immigrants from different lands, and shun discrimination against those who don't look like us or worship like we do, and keep the promise of equality and opportunity for all of our people?

People of Berlin - people of the world - this is our moment. This is our time.

Oh my gosh. Gag me with an axe!

Does Obama really intend to do something about poverty in Bangladesh, refugees in Chad (the French might be offended that we're encroaching on their do-gooder territory), AIDS all over the globe, tyranny in Burma, oppression in Iran, political violence in Zimbabwe (I guess the forced starvation of the people is OK with Obama, as long as the starving people get to vote), and genocide in Darfur? And how much is all of this going to cost the American taxpayer? Because you can count on this: Nobody else is going to pay a dime to help.

If Obama doesn't actually intend to fix the world's woes, then his speech is a hurricane of hot air, and his suit is not only empty but vacuum-sealed.

Gayle left a comment at Sparks from the Anvil that describes who Obama really is in this campaign (hint: not the savior of the world).

He's a post turtle, Wordsmith.

I got the definition of a post turtle in an e-mail:

"When you're driving down a country road and you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle. You know he didn't get up there by himself, he doesn't belong up there, he doesn't know what to do while he is up there, and you just wonder what kind of a dumb ass put him up there to begin with." :)

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Plasma Bullets and the Northern Lights

Southern Lights. Photo credit: J. Dana Hrubes

NASA reported the news today:

Duck! Plasma bullets are zinging past Earth.

That's the conclusion of researchers studying data from NASA's five THEMIS spacecraft. The gigantic bullets, they say, are launched by explosions 1/3rd of the way to the Moon and when they hit Earth—wow. The impacts spark colorful outbursts of Northern Lights called "substorms."

"We have discovered what makes the Northern Lights dance," declares UCLA physicist Vassilis Angelopoulos, principal investigator of the THEMIS mission. The findings appear online in the July 24 issue of Science Express and in print August 14 in the journal Science.

This is good news, although I hadn't realized they didn't already know what caused the Northern Lights.

The discovery came on what began as a quiet day, Feb 26, 2008. Arctic skies were dark and Earth's magnetic field was still. High above the planet, the five THEMIS satellites had just arranged themselves in a line down the middle of Earth’s magnetotail—a million kilometer long tail of magnetism pulled into space by the action of the solar wind.

That's when the explosion occurred.

I posted a while back on the magnetotail and how it affects the moon, but now we can see how it affects the earth as well.

Although the explosion happened inside Earth's magnetic field, it was actually a release of energy from the sun. When the solar wind stretches Earth's magnetic field, it stores energy there, in much the same way energy is stored in a rubber band when you stretch it between thumb and forefinger. Bend your forefinger and—crack!—the rubber band snaps back on your thumb. Something similar happened inside the magnetotail on Feb. 26, 2008. Over-stretched magnetic fields snapped back, producing a powerful explosion. This process is called "magnetic reconnection" and it is thought to be common in stellar and planetary magnetic fields.

The blast launched two "plasma bullets," gigantic clouds of protons and electrons, one toward Earth and one away from Earth. The Earth-directed cloud crashed into the planet below, sparking vivid auroras observed by some 20 THEMIS ground stations in Canada and Alaska. The opposite cloud shot harmlessly into space, and may still be going for all researchers know.

An artist's concept of the THEMIS satellites lined up inside Earth's magnetotail with an explosion between the 4th and 5th satellites.

Pretty. Darn. Cool!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Listening to Amy Winehouse

It's just the one song.

I can't remember what the conversation was about last night, but someone said something that reminded me of La Shawn Barber's post back in March with a couple Amy Winehouse songs. This one really got hold of me, and I go back every month or two to listen again. Her voice reminds me of a quieter Shirley Bassey, strong and smooth.

I hadn't heard of Amy Winehouse before, except that I kept seeing articles in the Daily Mail about her going into and out of rehab, and it made me wonder who this woman was that the British press cared about her activities and the way the booze and drugs have given her bad skin. (The only music radio I listen to is Christian.) She won five Grammys, and having heard her, I can understand why.

Amy, please, clean yourself up! Better yet, come to Jesus and let Him clean you up. Then love won't be a losing game anymore.

SeeqPod - Playable Search

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Congress Prepares to Raise Gas Taxes

The AP reported today that Congress is sharpening its favorite back-stabbing knife.

The political vision of a summer gas tax holiday died a quick death in Congress, losing to a view that federal excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel will have to go up if they go anywhere.

Despite calls from the presidential campaign trail for a Memorial Day-to-Labor Day tax freeze, lawmakers quickly concluded — with a prod from the construction industry — that having $9 billion less to spend on highways could create a pre-election specter of thousands of lost jobs.

Now, lawmakers quietly are talking about raising fuel taxes by a dime from the current 18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline and 24.3 cents on diesel fuel.

The fuel taxes go into the Highway Trust Fund, which is used for road construction and repair and mass transit.

Just three years ago, that trust fund enjoyed a surplus of $10 billion. Even without a tax freeze, the fund is projected to finish 2009 with a deficit of $3 billion. That that could grow as Americans drive less and buy less gas because of higher pump prices.

We can't win. Environmentalists and their Democrat puppets want policies and gas prices that will make us drive less. Well, they got what they wanted, but they didn't want the unintended consequences. Unfortunately for us in the car-driving public, Democrats in Congress believe our money is theirs, and they'll do whatever they can think of to make us fork over as much of our cash as they can.

Senate Democrats in May tried to add $5 billion to an aviation overhaul bill to replenish the highway trust fund next year; Republicans objected. Democrats tried again in June, but this time for $8 billion; Republicans objected to that, too.

Congress should first reduce spending on pet projects, known as earmarks, argued Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. "I'm not going to let the Senate spend all this money when nobody is looking, especially when we refuse to stop wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on earmarks."

Oberstar, D-Minn., said his committee is working on the next long-term highway bill. He estimated it will take between $450 billion and $500 billion over six years to address safety and congestion issues with highways, bridges and transit systems.

"We'll put all things on the table," Oberstar said, but the gas tax "is the cornerstone. Nothing else will work without the underpinning of the higher user fee gas tax."

To put it kindly, Oberstar is sadly lacking in imagination. He should listen Senator DeMint, who is now one of my favorite senators. The last thing we need is even higher gas prices.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ugliest Animals

Photo credit: Anthony Bannister/Gallo Images/Getty Images

While I was reading about the dreaded Doomsday Scenario that plagues ABC News personnel in their sleep, I spotted this slideshow of the 12 ugliest animals in the world. The warthog, pictured, is number 11, but I don't know if they're shown in any particular order.

When I was in high school, either in Biology or Wildlife Biology (the only science classes I took), I had to write a report on some animal. I chose the aardvark, because I liked the name and had once seen an adorable picture of a baby aardvark that had been born at the San Diego Zoo.

This was in the days before personal computers, before typewriters, and even before quill & ink pens, so I couldn't find enough information on aardvarks to write a long enough report. That's when I switched to Plan B: the warthog.

The caption for the above picture reads, "Warthogs are wild pigs that live in Africa. They use their sharp tusks as weapons to ward off predators. They are also very fast runners." That part about their being fast runners did not appear in my report. The interesting detail I discovered is that warthogs live in abandoned aardvark holes! How perfect is that?

The other thing I noticed is that "objective" sources like the Encyclopedia Britannica described warthogs as, "this hideous beast." How unfair. They have a certain... charm, and they don't look nearly as bad as some of the other specimens in the slideshow.

Neither does the aye-aye, photo number 2. He's not quite cute, but he's got big eyes and teeny little fingers and wild hair like Einstein, sort of. I wouldn't classify him with all the rest of the ugly guys--mostly fish.

Enjoy the slideshow, and if you like, you can let me know in the comments which one has your vote for the Number 1 Ugliest Animal in the World (N1UAW).

ABC News Scaremongering Election

ABC News reported yesterday that the presidential election in November could result in a tie. They called this possibility the "doomsday scenario." (cue scary music here)

"Given how close it's been in the last couple years, there are some reasonable scenarios that you could get to a tie," said John Fortier, a political scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of "After the People Vote: A Guide to the Electoral College." "It's not the most likely scenario, but the states can add up that way where you have nobody getting to 270."

Under the sometimes wild and woolly American system of democracy, a presidential candidate must achieve at least 270 votes in the 538-member electoral college to win the White House.

If, for example, Obama wins all the states Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., won in 2004, and picks up Iowa, Nevada and New Mexico, McCain and Obama would each win 269 electoral college votes -- locking the presidential election in a tie.

Yes, that's the frightening scenario that has put ABC News into a tizzy, declaring that it would be Doomsday. Why, we would have to--gasp!--look at the Constitution to see what to do next.

Under the 12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, if one candidate does not get 270 votes, the decision gets kicked to the House of Representatives, where each state gets a vote -- a formula that would likely guarantee an Obama victory.

So why is ABC News so upset? Their guy would win. They should be hoping for a tie.

The only Doomsday I can see is if the House can't get its act together and ends up in a tie, and then the Senate can't get its act together to select the Vice President, then the normal succession would kick in and put in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as acting President until either the House or Senate or both figure out how to break the tie.

Which would be the worse Doomsday, Barack Obama or Nancy Pelosi in charge of the country? I can't decide.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dutch Windmills Making a Comeback

The International Herald-Tribune reported yesterday that windmills are returning to the Netherlands.

The Dutch are building windmills again. Up and down the coast, out from port cities like this one, you can see them: white and tall and slender as pencils, their three slim blades turning lazily in the North Sea breeze.

These ones generate electricity, of course, rather than grinding grain. The government has already built one enormous farm of mills far off the coast, where they are inoffensive to tourists, and plans a second.

That's only because Ted Kennedy doesn't have a home on the coast of the Netherlands. ("These ones"??? Is that proper British English? Because it sure isn't correct in American English.)

Yet it is also building, and rebuilding, mills like the squat, homely ones that have seemingly always dotted the Dutch countryside and reflect as much the nature of the country as do tulips or Gouda cheese.

But the fast pace of change in (sic) is reviving interest in the old mills. As immigration changes the face of Dutch cities and globalization spreads its veil of uniformity over life in the Netherlands, many among the Dutch are looking for their roots. "It's a little bit of national pride," said Lukas Verbij, whose company, Verbij Hoogmade, is a leading mill builder and restorer.

Some of the renewed interest in mills is driven by the search for traditional food and drink. Patrick Langkruis, whose bakeshop, Het Bammetje, features 28 kinds of bread and 35 different rolls, uses only flour ground by a traditional mill. "The taste is fuller, there's more flavor," he said. "It's also because the grains are ground slowly."

The article describes more of the restoration of the mills and doesn't devote as much space to the wind turbines offshore.

Curiously, though the revival of the mills is a back-to-the-roots thing, many customers are natives of a wide range of countries, Streumer said, including Ethiopia, Morocco and Turkey. "Eighty percent of my customers are not natives of the Netherlands," he said.

One of them is Samson Tesfai, whose restaurant, The Taste of Africa, specializes in dishes of his native Eritrea, which he fled in 1986 because of the fighting between his homeland and Ethiopia.

Each week, he said, he buys mashela, sorghum, ground corn and wheat flour from Streumer to use in the ethnic dishes he prepares. "We can find it elsewhere," said Tesfai, 43. "But this is a good address, with a good product, so why go somewhere else?"

We hear so much about immigrant problems in Europe, which is understandable since bad news gets reported and good news only gets mentioned once in a while. So it's good to see a story that shows not just a peaceful co-existence among cultures in a European country, but a place where the cultures come together to benefit each other.

Let the windmills (and the wind turbines) turn...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Criticizing the Boy Scouts in Philadelphia

Stephen A. Glassman's column in the Philadelphia Inquirer last Thursday took Rick Santorum to task over his support for the Boy Scouts. In spite of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that the Boy Scouts have the right to decide who they allow in leadership, Glassman wants the Boy Scouts to pay for their "discrimination" against gays.

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations enforces the Fair Employment Practices Act, which requires that we treat all people fairly and equally in the city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. We are very fortunate to live in Philadelphia, the nation's first capital, where liberty and freedom ignited the flames of revolution for which our forbearers fought and died in a war of independence.

The Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, for example, is headquartered right here in Philadelphia. They are apparently looking for a new home. Therefore, I propose a novel solution to this problem. Why not give the Boy Scout's headquarters, which they have occupied rent free for the last 80 years, to the Big Brothers and Big Sisters who welcome everyone into their programs to help young people in need of positive role models, and let the Boy Scouts pay fair market rent in the location where the "BIGS" are currently located?

Glassman's selective reporting is misleading, to put it mildly. Here's how the Boy Scouts describe the way they occupied their headquarters "rent free for the last 80 years:"

A move to evict the Cradle of Liberty Council also would unjustly enrich the City at Scouting's expense. Boy Scouts built the Council's headquarters in 1929 using its own funds and in the 79 years since has invested millions of dollars to renovate and maintain the building. The Council spent more than $1.5 million of its charitable resources for substantial renovations in 1994, and presently spends about $60,000 each year just to maintain the historic building.

Maybe if the city of Philadelphia reimbursed the Boy Scouts for the millions spent on the building, that would be fair. Or the Big Brothers/Big Sisters could buy the building from the Scouts. But taking it without any compensation would be wrong.

Of course, for Glassman the whole point is to punish the Boy Scouts for taking a constitutional stand to protect young boys from harm. He's not interested in fairness.

Update (07/17/2008):

Here's an article on the Philadelphia/Boy Scouts issue from the International Herald-Tribune of December 6, 2007. It has some good detail on both sides of the question.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On Flags and Skin

La Shawn Barber's post yesterday on dinosaurs (of the non-biological variety) raised the issue of the Confederate flag, and my response to one of the commenters got me to thinking about larger questions.

The flying of the Confederate flag has two meanings, according to the media. To blacks in America, the flag is racist. It screams to them that the people flying it are longing for a return to the days of slavery. To the Southerners who fly it, their flag stands for states' rights and has nothing to do with slavery.

I believe both sides are missing the real reason the Confederate flag flies.

I've watched Braveheart quite a few times, and I identify a little with the story because my paternal grandfather was in love with being of Scottish ancestry. We come from the MacDonald of Sleat clan, which included Flora MacDonald, the woman who smuggled Bonnie Prince Charlie out of Scotland by disguising him as her maid.

The much earlier story of how William Wallace, followed by Robert the Bruce, united the clans of Scotland would likely not have happened if the Scots hadn't had a common enemy: England's King Edward I. Without his (or similar) invasion, the clans would likely have destroyed each other. Fighting was what they did best. Instead, though, they unified against England and after pushing out the English, Scotland got her first king, Robert the Bruce as King Robert I. Scotland remained independent for a few hundred years, until James IV of England also became Scotland's king.

Even though Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are all part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the Scots (and I suppose the Irish and Welsh) remain fiercely non-English. My take is that, having once tasted glory, a people group will resist even the slightest hint of assimilation into the conquering culture.

This is true for Texas as well. For a period of nine years there existed an independent country called the Republic of Texas. In 1845, the United States of America annexed Texas, and although a majority of Texans approved the merger, they still retain the collective memory of their nationhood even to this day.

In Texas people fly the state flag, which by strange coincidence is identical to the Republic of Texas flag. There are at least as many Texas flags flown in Texas as there are American flags flown.

My theory is that people cling to their highest glory. High school football stars hold on to their trophies. Somewhere in a box is the bronze medal I won at the big speech tournament my senior year of high school. And Texans, who are now just ordinary Americans like the rest of us, fly the flag that reminds them they were once a free nation.

I think that's what stirs Southerners to fly the Confederate flag. It's not racism or a desire to return to slavery. It's a desire to recapture a former glory. Once, for four brief years, they were revolutionaries, independent, fighting against the tyranny of a Congress stacked against them. They had their own president. They had their own heroes. They had their own flag. They were a free people ruled by no one but themselves, and it was glorious.

And then they lost the war. Their flag was taken away and replaced with the flag that symbolized the tyranny they had rebelled against. Their way of life was destroyed, their homes taken, and their independence turned into only a memory, but a memory that still stirred their hearts, a memory they passed down to their children. The Confederates may have been the losers, but their children and their children's children fly the flag of remembered glory.

For blacks in America, however, there is no shared glory to remember. Thrust into slavery by enemies in West Africa, shipped across the ocean, and forced into hard labor for life in a new world, most blacks here knew only loss and hardship. Even after slavery was abolished at the end of the Civil War, blacks weren't permitted real equality in much of the country. Individual blacks rose to prominence, but as a group they've had no shared moment of greatness.

Until Barack Obama became a serious contender for the presidency.

There are reports that black conservatives are considering voting for Obama in November. This despite Obama's record as the antithesis of conservatism. This paragraph describes the issue well (emphasis added):

Another "very likely" McCain vote, but a more moderate one, will come from Richard Ivory, founder of the blog HipHopRepublican. Ivory has a different view of the Republican Party, one that downplays the past and focuses on building the party up from a local level and bringing in urban African-American voters. "My blog was about starting a dialogue—basically get people to understand some Republican concepts from an urban perspective," Ivory says. And like Varner at Howard University, Ivory finds that some are miffed by his Republicanness and don't quite understand why he would support a "white old guy." But with the general election in full swing, he has found a good way to express his feelings: "I tell my friends, my heart is with Obama, and my brain is with McCain," Ivory says.

For many blacks in America, Barack Obama is the flag of Scotland, the flag of Texas and the flag of the Confederacy rolled into one. He is the hope of glory for a people who have had no such hope before, and as such he may be irresistible.

Update (07/16/2008):

Check the comments for more on this topic, especially with THEBIGDODDY and ChuckL. In combination, their comments have prompted me to remove the Confederate flag from the top of this post. As Chuck said, "I still would not fly or publicly display a nazi banner (I do not own one). And because of the mixed messages and ease of misunderstanding, neither would I fly a Confederate flag."

He's absolutely right. Even though I believe there's much more going on in the hearts of the Confederate flag wavers than pure racism, the hurt that flag stirs in other hearts is too great. I will not be displaying the Confederate flag again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

President Bush Lifts Ban on Offshore Oil Drilling

President Bush lifted the Executive Order banning offshore oil drilling today. That won't make a practical difference, since Congress has an offshore-drilling ban in place and so far has refused to lift it.

Putting pressure on congressional Democrats to back more exploration for oil, President Bush on Monday promised to lift an executive ban on offshore drilling that his stood since his father was president.

But the move, by itself, will do nothing unless Congress acts as well to lift its own drilling ban. There are two prohibitions on offshore drilling, one imposed by Congress and another by executive order signed by the first President Bush in 1990.

"For years, my administration has been calling on Congress to expand domestic oil production," Bush said. "Unfortunately, Democrats on Capitol Hill have rejected virtually every proposal. And now Americans are paying at the pump."

The full text of President Bush's statement is here.

Over at the Capitol, the Don't Drill Democrats are in fine form. reported the Congressional leadership's response today.

But Democrats who control both houses of the US Congress rejected Bush's mostly symbolic appeal, effectively dooming a proposal that appeared to enjoy broad US public support some four months before the November elections.

"The Bush plan is a hoax. It will neither reduce gas prices nor increase energy independence," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who urged Bush to bring some of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve stockpile to market.

"We cannot drill our way out of this problem," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who charged that big oil companies are "not using more than half of the public lands they already have leased for drilling."

Bush's announcement came two weeks before lawmakers leave for their month-long August recess, at a time when four out of five Americans tell public opinion surveys that sky-high gasoline prices cause considerable economic pain.

"As the Democratically controlled Congress has sat idle, gas prices have continued to increase. Failure to act is unacceptable. It's unacceptable to me, and it's unacceptable to the American people," he said.

That's right. Fat lot of good having it be unacceptable does, though.

Pelosi and Reid have a lot of chutzpah calling oil drilling "a hoax" and saying "we cannot drill our way out of this problem." They have to know the only way to get more oil is to drill for more oil--unless they're stupid, which I'd believe of Nancy Pelosi (though she's not as stupid as Barbara Boxer, who is wisely keeping her mouth shut at the moment).

The only explanation for the Democrats' recalcitrance about drilling is that they want to keep oil prices high so they can blame Bush (and McCain by association) and use the issue to help get Obama elected. Then they might (but I wouldn't hold my breath) start drilling and declare themselves the saviors of the American driving public.

Making News

Hat Tip: Sparks from the Anvil

Vote for me!!!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Tony Snow, R.I.P.

Tony Snow lost his battle with colon cancer this morning. The Washington Post has the story and describes Snow's career and personality better than I can (HT: Hugh Hewitt).

I loved watching him on Fox News, and I loved watching his press briefings when he was President Bush's Press Secretary. Not too many press secretaries reveal the kind of wit and love of the job that Tony Snow brought to the post. He will be missed.


Michelle Malkin has more, including an excerpt from this article Tony Snow wrote for Christianity Today last year.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Throw the Democrats Out

(HT: Hugh Hewitt)

This chart is sadly out of date by now. The cheapest Arco station near me has just dropped two cents to $4.359 from a high of $4.599 not too long ago. I haven't seen a "3" at the start of a gas price in way too long.

Bottom line: The Democrats want you to keep paying higher gas prices. The Republicans want to bring the gas prices down. If you have a gas tank that needs filling up once in a while, then let your vote reflect which side of the gas price question you're on.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wild Goose Chase

I've been looking for work. Every Thursday, the California Employment Development Department (EDD) sends out a list of job openings they have in an email distribution in the form of a spreadsheet. I got on that mailing list a while back, and today when it came I spotted a really cool job that doesn't involve either IT or administrative work.

Apparently Legoland in Carlsbad is opening an aquarium attraction in August, and they need people who will do a variety of work there, including leading groups of children and their teachers around the aquarium and teaching them about the undersea critters on display. Part of the job description said the right people would have to be able to put their hands in fresh or salt water for extended periods of time and be nice as they handle the creatures. They would also have to be okay with creature-poop and the stink that can come from there.

Well, I've raised kids and I take nursery duty at church once a month, so I can handle stink. And I absolutely love to tell people about things like how to get out of quicksand, exploding toads, and swans that fall in love with gigantic swan-shaped boats. I'm sure I could learn stuff to tell about the fish and crustaceans they'll have on display at Legoland's aquarium, called "Sea Life."

The job description said to "apply in person" on Mondays and Thursdays between 2 and 5 pm at Legoland's Human Resources, so I checked mapquest (never having gone to Legoland before) to find the way. I updated my resume a bit to say that I like to do this kind of work (even though most of my working life has been at a desk), got dressed up nice, and took off for Legoland.

The directions took me TO Legoland, the part where they want people to pay $10 to park. Seeing that I was trying to get a job, I didn't think I should have to pay to park, so I showed the lady in the booth the job sheet from the EDD's CalJobs website and asked her where Human Resources was.

She said I was in the wrong place. I needed to make a U-turn, go back to the traffic circle, turn left, then turn left on another street and one more left (I started losing track of the street names), and I would see a sign saying, "Legoland Human Resources." She didn't make me pay.

I followed her directions the best I could, but most of the buildings in that business park area were nameless. I drove all around, looking for Legoland, and then got stuck in a left turn lane that put me on a road I knew was the wrong one and that had a center island to keep me from turning around anytime soon.

When I could, I headed back to the business park and drove some more, until I had gone past every building in the area. Finally I stopped and asked a lady, who was taking a giant gift basket out of the back of her minivan, where the Legoland Human Resources building was. She said it used to be around there, but it isn't anymore. She suggested I go back to the main entrance to Legoland.

Well, that seemed pointless, since that's where I started, but I didn't have a lot of options.

Back at the same booth with the same lady, I told her that I couldn't find the building she sent me to, so she told me to follow that green line around the parking lot, and it would lead me to a brown booth, and I should ask the people there to tell me where I should be going. She still didn't make me pay.

I followed the line, which stopped a couple times, and I stopped at the same spots to look around for it to start up again. At one point, I passed a pale (not brown) security shack that looked deserted, but the green line kept going, so I did too. And then the green line stopped for good in the middle of the parking lot, not near any buildings, so I turned around and went back to the nearest parking spot to the security shack, parked, and walked over to the door of the shack.

A security guard was inside, and I showed him the job listing and asked if I was in the right place. He said it was the right place, but they weren't holding open applications now, since a lot of the positions have been filled. He called over to (I presume) Human Resources (wherever they are) to ask what he should do with me. Should he send me in, or send me back home?

The answer was that I should definitely not come in. The security guard gave me a little business card with the website address on it and told me to fill out the application online. So I walked back to my car and drove to the place where the Exit sign pointed, but there was a gate-arm across it, and the arm didn't lift. So I backed up and drove around the parking lot some more until I saw an Exit sign pointing in a different direction and went that way, where the road was open and I could get out and go back home.

I got home a little before 5:00.

But the day wasn't a total loss, because I met a friend for dinner at 5:30, and she had invited another friend as a surprise. The three of us used to carpool together back when all our kids were little (they're all in their 20s now). So we had a wonderful time of catching up over great food and laughter.

Even after all the wild-goose chasing, I have to say: Life is good.

Iraqis Mopping Up al Qaeda

The Times Online (UK) reported Sunday that the Iraqi Army is leading the final purge of al Qaeda in Iraq.

American and Iraqi forces are driving Al-Qaeda in Iraq out of its last redoubt in the north of the country in the culmination of one of the most spectacular victories of the war on terror.

After being forced from its strongholds in the west and centre of Iraq in the past two years, Al-Qaeda’s dwindling band of fighters has made a defiant “last stand” in the northern city of Mosul.

A huge operation to crush the 1,200 fighters who remained from a terrorist force once estimated at more than 12,000 began on May 10.

Operation Lion’s Roar, in which the Iraqi army combined forces with the Americans’ 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, has already resulted in the death of Abu Khalaf, the Al-Qaeda leader, and the capture of more than 1,000 suspects.

The group has been reduced to hit-and-run attacks, including one that killed two off-duty policemen yesterday, and sporadic bombings aimed at killing large numbers of officials and civilians.

American and Iraqi leaders believe that while it would be premature to write off Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni group has lost control of its last urban base in Mosul and its remnants have been largely driven into the countryside to the south.

Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, who has also led a crackdown on the Shi’ite Mahdi Army in Basra and Baghdad in recent months, claimed yesterday that his government had “defeated” terrorism.

“They were intending to besiege Baghdad and control it,” Maliki said. “But thanks to the will of the tribes, security forces, army and all Iraqis, we defeated them.”

The number of foreign fighters coming over the border from Syria to bolster Al-Qaeda’s numbers is thought to have declined to as few as 20 a month, compared with 120 a month at its peak.

This is excellent news. Of course, it comes from a UK news source. What do the American papers have to say about the al Qaeda situation?

Umm... I don't see anything about it in the Washington Post or the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times. Maybe they have more important things to report.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Offending Muslims With a Puppy II

As I reported this past Thursday, Muslims in Scotland were offended by a postcard with a picture of a puppy on it. My warning was that capitulation would mean dhimmitude.

Well, as reported yesterday by the Times Online (UK), dhimmitude there is now complete.

Police sniffer dogs will have to wear bootees when searching the homes of Muslims so as not to cause offence.

Guidelines being drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) urge awareness of religious sensitivities when using dogs to search for drugs and explosives. The guidelines, to be published this year, were designed to cover mosques but have been extended to include other buildings.

Problems faced by the use of sniffer dogs were highlighted last week when Tayside police were forced to apologise for a crime prevention poster featuring a german shepherd puppy, in response to a complaint by a Muslim councillor.

Police dogs at present are issued with footwear only at scenes of explosions to prevent them injuring their paws on broken glass.

If the Muslim houses have broken glass, by all means put the dogs in booties, but there's no need for booties otherwise.

Ibrahim Mogra, one of Britain’s leading imams, said the measures were unnecessary: “In Islamic law the dog is not regarded as impure, only its saliva is. Most Islamic schools of law agree on that. If security measures require to send a dog into a house, then it has to be done. I think Acpo needs to consult better and more widely.

“I know in the Muslim community there is a hang-up against dogs, but this is cultural. Also, we know the British like dogs; we Muslims should do our bit to change our attitudes.”

I like this guy! He is now officially my favorite imam. People who move to Britain should be willing to adapt to British society. People unwilling to adapt to British society should not move there. It's that simple. (Same goes for America.)

Besides, since doggie-slobber is the problem for Muslims, how will rubber booties help? Better they should put slobber-cups (does anybody make those?) on the sniffer dogs in Muslim homes and leave their feet alone.

Identifying Baby Racists

The Telegraph (UK) reported today that the British government has new bureacratic guidelines aimed at identifying racism in children as young as age 3.

The National Children's Bureau, which receives £12 million a year, mainly from Government funded organisations, has issued guidance to play leaders and nursery teachers advising them to be alert for racist incidents among youngsters in their care.

This could include a child of as young as three who says "yuk" in response to being served unfamiliar foreign food.

The guidance by the NCB is designed to draw attention to potentially-racist attitudes in youngsters from a young age.

It advises nursery teachers to be on the alert for childish abuse such as: "blackie", "Pakis", "those people" or "they smell".

Staff are told: "No racist incident should be ignored. When there is a clear racist incident, it is necessary to be specific in condemning the action."

Nurseries are encouraged to report as many incidents as possible to their local council.

I hope the NCB has poured plenty of funding into the country's local councils to help them handle the deluge of baby racism reports. Little kids say "Yuck!" to all kinds of food, especially vegetables, foreign or otherwise.

I can understand the desire to be alert for overt racial name-calling, because that can indicate prejudices instilled by the parents. My nephew, when he was almost two years old, knew what he wasn't, because his dad taught him:

DAD: Son, are you an Aggie?

SON: (Horrified) NOOOOO!!!!

An Aggie, by the way, is not a race. It is someone at/from Texas A&M, and as far as I know, this exchange will not get my nephew or his dad into any trouble with anybody except Aggies. But if my nephew had been taught to be horrified by being a "blackie" or a "Paki" and mentioned it in nursery school by calling the dark-skinned kids these names, then that would be a problem.

I'd go along with having the nursery school teachers gently correct the racists-in-training that "We don't use words like that," but reporting them to the local councils is going way too far.

Will the teachers be reporting the Pakistani and black students who call the white kids "those people"? Will they report foreign-born toddlers who say "yuck" to haggis as racists?

The drive to stigmatize our kids as racist in the interest of stopping racism is absurd. What's next? Giving a criminal record to babies who squint ("See? He's a hater.") in their brand-new newborn photos?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Soldiers' Angels Germany posted these pictures (actually the same picture) June 25, 2008 (HT: Michelle Malkin). The caption reads:

U.S. Army Task Force Regulators 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment Staff Sgt. Fred Hampton, of Lexington, Ky., kneels on a knee to talk with a young Iraqi boy at the future site of Regular 6 Park in the Thawra 1 section of the Sadr City District of Baghdad on June 20. Photo: Tech Sgt. Cohen Young, Joint Combat Camera Center Iraq.

Time after time we see pictures like this, of Iraq's children wanting to be with America's soldiers. They trust our military, as evidenced by the closeup below of the boy's feet.

The NRCC is asking Americans to fill in the blank: "I'm proud of my country because ______." (also HT: Michelle Malkin)

I'm proud of my country because, despite her flaws, America is the greatest force for liberty in the world. May we truly celebrate the great blessings we have living in the United States of America.

Happy Independence Day!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Preparing for the Fourth

Yes, tomorrow is Independence Day. That means picnics, and "picnic" in some areas means yellow jackets. So in the interest of helping you, I remind you of what I learned from the caterer at my mom's high school reunion last year.

As a caterer/restaurateur, however, her concern was less about the honeybees and more about the yellow jackets, who are the scourge of outdoor eating events, which is what my mom's reunion was. And indeed it was a yellow jacket going for the candy corn. But she has (through much trial and error) discovered a highly effective way of keeping the yellow jackets away from the party:

Before she unwraps the food, she takes a piece of meat and hangs it from a tree away from the party but close enough to attract the yellow jackets. When she sees that the pesky creatures have congregated on the meat, she knows they'll leave the party alone, and she unveils the food. One or two strays may hang out at the party, but the rest stay occupied for the night. She said the yellow jackets devour the piece of meat by the end of the evening (like flying piranahs), but by then, she's cleared all the dirty dishes and cups, so they won't attract the bugs back to the party.

It's a slick trick, and I offer it to you as a public service announcement. A bowl of apple juice will also attract them, where they'll drown (or at least not be able to get back out). And fishermen can toss a small fish--one not worth bothering to clean and eat--to the side to keep the yellow jackets away from the keepers.

After the picnic, as sunset approaches, look to the western sky. Two planets and a star will be in alignment, giving a lovely show:

Source: NASA

I'll be working at the Del Mar Fair, and my job will have me facing east. So I'll have to turn around and take a peek behind me once in a while to catch a glimpse. Provided the marine layer of clouds doesn't decide to get in the way.

Offending Muslims with a Puppy

I have a fondness for puppies. "Puppy" is part of my blog name. Puppies are adorable, and it's hard to go wrong when you align yourself with puppies. But that's no longer the case.

The Daily Mail (UK) reported Tuesday that Muslims in Scotland are outraged by this puppy:

A postcard featuring a cute puppy sitting in a policeman's hat advertising a Scottish police force's new telephone number has sparked outrage from Muslims.

Tayside Police's new non-emergency phone number has prompted complaints from members of the Islamic community.

The advert has upset Muslims because dogs are considered ritually unclean and has sparked such anger that some shopkeepers in Dundee have refused to display the advert.

Dundee councillor Mohammed Asif said: 'My concern was that it's not welcomed by all communities, with the dog on the cards.

'It was probably a waste of resources going to these communities.

'They (the police) should have understood. Since then, the police have explained that it was an oversight on their part, and that if they'd seen it was going to cause upset they wouldn't have done it.'

I understand that the unclean-to-Muslims part of a dog is its saliva, and I find dog drool offensive as well. But a photo of a puppy has no drool, and the puppy in the photo is not drooling, so really!

If the police department gives in on this, they'll have officially become dhimmis. Stand firm, Tayside Police! Keep Rebel on the postcards!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cane Toads Killing Crocs

Photo credit: Mike Letnic/ University of Sydney

New Scientist reported June 27, 2008, on a wave of deaths of freshwater crocodiles in Australia.

Dead freshwater crocodiles in Australia's Northern Territory were once a rare sight. But since 2005, locals have witnessed mass die-offs in some semi-arid regions of the territory. Researchers now say the toxic and invasive cane toad (Bufo marinus) is to blame.

Two surveys, in 2005 and 2007, suggested that the mass croc deaths have progressively moved inland from the mouth of Victoria River, at a pace that matches that of the cane toad invasion. The toads secrete a milky-white toxin which is lethal to many predators from glands behind their eyes and on their backs.

Mike Letnic of the University of Sydney and his team say a massive 77% of some populations of freshwater crocodiles – or "freshies" – have died since 2005.

The numbers are particularly worrying, says Letnic, because removing top predators like freshwater crocodiles (Crocodylus johnstoni) can boost the number of their prey and trigger a cascade of ecosystem changes that are difficult to predict.

Scientists haven't positively identified the cane toads as the cause of the crocodile deaths, because crocs digest amphibians quickly. But the circumstantial evidence is pretty clear.

Cane toads were introduced to Queensland in 1935 in the hope that the toads would eat cane beetles that were harming the sugar cane crops. I don't know if they were successful in helping the cane crops, but the toads thrived in their new home and began to spread.

What the crocodiles need is for someone to find a profitable use for cane toads. Maybe some cane toad cowboy boots and purses, or cane toad venom as a botox substitute. If there's enough money in it, the trappers will descend on the amphibian pests and snatch them away from the jaws of double-death.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Noises in the Neighborhood

For several months now, the neighborhood mockingbird has been seranading us all night long. That's OK with me, because I'm not a light sleeper. Once I'm asleep, Mr. Mockingbird can't wake me up.

The past several weeks have given those of us who live near Camp Pendleton some booming of artillery during the daylight and early dark hours. It can be startling at times. At other times, though, it's simply a background sound of bass drumming.

Just over a week ago, I went to my church in the late afternoon. The church is up on a hill that looks out toward Camp Pendleton, where a fire was burning, no doubt started by the shelling.

My daughter's friend has a Marine boyfriend, and he just left for Africa somewhere to prepare for his coming deployment to Iraq. The artillery noise coming from Camp Pendleton seemed to slow down about the time he left for Africa, but that's not on his account, because he's in a maintenance/support unit.

I don't mind the noise from base unless it's especially loud. Like the mockingbird's singing, it doesn't keep me awake. There's an understanding that comes with the artillery sounds, that our Marines are being trained and prepared for battle, so when the fight comes to them in Iraq, they'll be ready to hold their own and take out the enemy. I like that thought.

The past day or two I've heard the neighbor dogs going nuts. This isn't just the usual terrier-mutt dog across the street who doesn't like anybody and tells you about it something fierce if you come near his gate. No, it's the chorus of howling dogs that starts when sirens go by, except there haven't been any sirens. I don't know if some kid on summer vacation got himself a painful dog whistle for entertainment or what, but those dogs sound like they're hurting for the short time they howl.

The worst noise, though, is a neighbor cat in heat. I don't know why the cat's owners don't keep her in the house. That would be really nice for the rest of us, but maybe they can't stand hearing their cat yeowling in the enclosed space of their house. But that's no excuse for letting her go outside.

I say, if you can't stand your cat's heat-yeowling, GET HER SPAYED!!! Your neighbors might learn who her owners are, and you don't want to know what they'll do when they find out!