Monday, June 30, 2008

One bee...

Actually, I've seen one bee this year, a little nondescript bumblebee that got trapped by the front screen door.

Bumblebees are easy, their heads are full of sunshine. It brushed my bare arm on the way out.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

SCOTUS ratifies individual right to bear arms

Actually, that opinion is correct. The entire Second Amendment to the Constitution reads "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

The language is clear, and proclaims that "the people" have a pre-existing right to keep and bear arms. It does not grant the right; it prevents the Republic from snatching away a right which Great Britain could not stamp out, a right which now "pre-exists" (did it pre-exist in England?) and which, by the way, the ratifiers of the Constitution will insist shall remain permanent.

And why? Principally, because the right existed by force of Revolutionary arms, and the framers wanted to keep that hard-won right intact. In the service of this elephant in the room, an excuse is also offered, namely, that now and then "the people" may form a militia, essentially a largescale vigilance committee, to ensure the security of a free state, the example of 1776 looming large in everyone's imagination then as now.

Those who have sought to ameliorate the bad effects of guns in private hands have generally done so by reinterpreting the Second Amendment to mean what they aggressively hope it means. These unhappy supplicants have just had their arguments shoved down their throats by an unsympathetic Court, and frankly I share the view.

It may well be that the right of Americans to own weapons is anachronistic. Certainly, governments in particular exercise extreme caution about extending that right to cover arms sufficiently puissant to conduct an insurrection, or say, to resurrect a dormant civil war.

But the Second Amendment, unfortunately, is the Second Amendment, and the logic of the framers is inarguable. It is, in fact, the right of individuals to own weapons capable of successful armed conflict — AK-47 assault rifles, howitzers, Stinger missiles — that is specifically protected.

There are two resolutions for this perceived dilemma provided in the Constitution itself: First, AMEND the Constitution to repeal the second article of the Bill of Rights. Somewhat aghast, because it is the right solution, I can only say, "Be my guest."

The second solution, the wrong solution, so closely akin to what has been called America's Original Sin (i.e., slavery), is one the Founding Fathers had absolutely no problem whatsoever recognizing and even practicing: Simply delineate who is a member of "the people," as Justice Scalia coyly suggested — excluding convicted felons and the insane, for example, from gun ownership.

Today, the sociopaths, the mentally deficient. Tomorrow, the gay, the Spanish-speaking, the immigrant, the alien, the smokers, the fat, the powerless, the deprived, the Falstaffian, the distaffian, the pacifists, the Vulcans among us. Redrawing that fine line will be the Court's business for the next century.

My confidence in governments to reframe an ethical debate in exactly the most conveniently wrong way possible is unbounded.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Beep Beep!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

National Pollinator Week, June 22 - 28, 2008

I personally mourn for the bees we've lost in this country.

In fact, I'm rooting for the allegedly hyperaggressive "Africanized killer bees" because they seem like North America's last great hope to keep at least one prolific pollinator (and honey producer) going strong. Despite prejudicial hype, "killer" bees are simply the apiculturist's domesticated variety of choice in southern Africa, where they are preyed upon by the even weirder, wilder and parasitic Cape honeybee.

It's sad, but like the soaring, cathedral-like boughs of the existentially challenged American Elm, merely European honeybees have bought the farm. Maybe they all have.

My front lawn is full of clover — but no bees. I have a redbud tree in the front yard; every spring, it should be full of bees — but isn't. Even the little black or green native bees that sometimes come around have been missing from the turbulent seasons of 2008.

Opportunities for bees abound in this suburban neighborhood — honeysuckle is a weed in better hedges everywhere — but the feast is silent. The missing murmur of a million bees this summer is even more eldritch than Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Maybe it's sunspots. We're in a solar minimum right now. Or maybe there are clues in literature or folklore about bees absconding from their hives... [Technical Note: This is a pause so pregnant, you might as well try here. I prefer not to quote Whittier directly, for fear of getting stuck in that Victorian Age stuff the old man imported from the famous treacle mines in Pudsey; prefer honey, myself. Natural provenance.]

In a less jocular vein, here's a more scholarly reference book, a discussion of CCD and the politics of its possible connection to Israeli Acute Paralysis Virus (IAPV), a link to The Buzz, another link to the exotic Hawaiian Queen breeder site, plus a link to National Pollinator Week, June 22 - 28. Enjoy!

Further foraging (at

A Spring without Bees: How Colony Collapse Disorder Has Endangered Our Food Supply (Hardcover), by Michael Schacker.
"...On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rachel Carson, the world faces a new environmental disaster, from a chemical similar to DDT. This time the culprit appears to be IMD, or imidacloprid, a relatively new but widely used insecticide in the United States...." The author blames the Bush EPA for environment-hostile pesticide deregulation. Maybe so, at that. Alert consumers will recognize IMD as the latest active ingredient in flea and tick collars.
60 Minutes - What's Wrong With The Bees? (February 24, 2008) (DVD)

Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis (Hardcover), by Rowan Jacobsen.

Bees Besieged (Paperback), by Bill Mares.

A World Without Bees (Hardcover), by Alison Benjamin, Brian McCallum.
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left."  — Albert Einstein
Bad Beekeeping, by Ron Miksha.

NOVA: Bees - Tales From the Hive (2000)

The Bees of the World (Hardcover), by Charles D. Michener. [$$$ !]

Beekeeping for Dummies (Paperback), by Howland Blackiston.

The Backyard Beekeeper: An Absolute Beginner's Guide to Keeping Bees in Your Yard and Garden (Paperback), by Kim Flottum.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008


The common cormorant, or shag,
Lays eggs inside a paper bag;
The reason, you will see, no doubt,
Is to keep the lightning out.
But what these unobservant birds
Have failed to notice is that herds
Of bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
-- UNIX Fortune Cookie

The common cormorant (or shag)
Lays eggs inside a paper bag,
You follow the idea, no doubt?
It's to keep the lightning out.

But what these unobservant birds
Have never thought of, is that herds
Of wandering bears might come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
-- Christopher Isherwood, Exhumations (1966) "Common Cormorant"

To which I say, thank God! I was afraid I'd accidentally written this viral ditty myself, about twenty years ago. Isherwood can have all the blame for this one!


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tour, evening

Though I am fat and stupid, my town was not. But Cedar Rapids' downtown stinks like the third circle of Hell, the cess of ordure and filth reserved for the gluttonous in Dante's scheme of things hereafter.

Downtown, homes and businesses alike stand with open doors, front and back, the contents shoveled into piles lining the streets, trash flung in neighborly sorrow in one long undifferentiated line of chairs, tables, sticks, bags, appliances, sodden baggage. The open doorways, darkness even in the daylight, are a plea: "Take something. Take it away! Please!"

It's not a personal best, though. The Kansas City stockyards flooded in 1951 when the Kaw River surged out of bounds, and I was there to smell that. I suppose only war itself could top that one.

So far, we've avoided the various plagues that would have come downstream in centuries past — typhus, cholera, tetanus. All we've got is mold spore. I could smell the spore when the floods began. Now I can't. But my asthma is the worst it's been in fifty years.


Monday, June 23, 2008

grikdog says...

Q. How many environmentalists does it take to screw in an energy-efficient light bulb?

A. One. One to begin screwing the bulb in, one to criticize its mercury level and potential long-term effects on the city landfill, one to begin screwing the bulb back out, one to reconsider the bulb's mean time to failure and projected long term energy savings, and one to remember she got her B.A. in Home Economics.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wanda the Fish says...

Q: How many existentialists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: Two. One to screw it in and one to observe how the light bulb itself symbolizes a single incandescent beacon of subjective reality in a netherworld of endless absurdity reaching out toward a maudlin cosmos of nothingness.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Vista Died!!???

Vista upped and died on me yesterday. The symptom was, a screen from Dell Direct Media splashed onscreen, then Windows boot shut down to "protect your system". Gosh... Denial of service really does protect my system all right.

I ran the diagnostic tools and everything passed, so I tried to reinstall Windows from OEM dvd's, and failing that, I installed Ubuntu. Still have 90% of a working computer, I guess.

Very disappointed.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It's still roundabout but...

Going from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City on back roads is possible after all. You take US 30 to the C Street SE exit and go towards Ely. The Ely road takes you south part of the way, but then you have to take the gravel Seven Sisters Road to Polk Avenue, also gravel, and from there to 140th Street NE, a paved road, back east to Iowa Hwy 1, then south to Solon. Trucks over 8 tons are banned from the gravel sections, all of which need to be graded. This "detour" is just barely marked, by the way. There's a red flag on signposts along the way, and the occasional white pasteboard from County Supervisors about restricted access. On Iowa Hwy 1 just north of Solon, there was/might be a county mounty sitting at the Road Closed sign; the only way to go is west, unless you turn back to Iowa City.

As I suspected, Iowa Hwy 1 was washed out south of Mount Vernon at the Cedar River Bridge. Currents ripped out the roadbed, making it a total loss.


Monday, June 16, 2008

One-sheet broadside

Allow me to gleefully point you to Corridor, Cedar Rapids' "All-In-One" website for all kinds of information about the flood.

There's not a lot there, huh? This always happens when amateurs think they can throw up a website overnight and "do journalism" there. The geeks make the pages and walk away, thinking their job is done. But nobody fills the pages up with news. Nobody knows how. Nuzlogs are just not as easy as rip and read.

In other words, the global village is disconnected from the 'net down, a perfect example of McClueless McLuhanismo.


Knock on wood

Our news anchors at KCRG-TV, who have gotten loopier and loopier (and sometimes funnier) as their 18-hour stints went on and on for day after day, seem to have gotten a little down time to catch up on sleep and personal hygiene. The water is off the downtown streets, if not entirely off the bridges. And apparently, the City has managed to restore another of the submerged wells, so we're running at half-capacity instead of quarter-capacity. No more flushing toilets with rain water (and just when I had it down to a system, too!)

Currently, we're only at the "catastrophic" flood level, still way above the 20 foot level set clear back in 1929. Pity the communities downriver, because it's coming.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ok, how do I backdate this?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

You can't get there from here

I'll spare you the details, but having your town diced up by a 500-year flood plain full of water to the 800-year mark means getting around town is a puzzle, and getting from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City is pretty nearly impossible right now.

I can't get across our local road, Mt. Vernon Road, to the highway on the east side of town, Hwy 13, without going through the secondary Indian Creek flash flood, so Mt. Vernon Road is closed. If I could get to Hwy 13, I couldn't get to Hwy 30, because Hwy 13 is flooded south of here and north of there. If I could get to Hwy 30, I couldn't get to Mount Vernon and Hwy 1, because Hwy 30 is flooded east of here and west of there. If I could get to Hwy 1, I couldn't get to Iowa City because Hwy 1 crosses the Cedar River just south of Mount Vernon, and — Badabing! — the Cedar River Bridge is either closed or washed out by now.

The direct way is no better. If I could get onto I380 headed south, I couldn't get to Iowa City because I380 is bumper to bumper and stalled the entire way. I'm not sure of the details, but there's a rumor that water is over the road south of here and north of there.

Which is why I didn't go to work today. [Update: Friday neither.]

[Update Update: Saturday, June 14th We've only got four days of drinking (or fire hydrant) water left, with a flood expected to subside to pre-1929 levels by Friday next. Strictly speaking, this a purely bureaucratic Sahara caused by far-sighted city fathers who put three out of four city wells smack down in the middle of the flood plain — sort like putting City Hall, the County Jail and the County Courthouse on Mays Island, smack in the middle of the river. Ba-Rill-Yunt.]


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The One You Feed

"One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, `My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.`

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: `Which wolf wins?`

The old Cherokee simply replied, `The one you feed.`"
— Unknown


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Illegal Immigrants

It turns out that New Zealanders take a dim view of all furriners, but especially the non-native brushtail possums which "destroy 20,000 tonnes of NZ bush every night!!!"

The brushtail-type illegal immigrants were brought over all the way from convict-infested Australia about 150 years ago.

Commerce has a solution — Genuine Possum Fur® Link

New Zealand possums are not to be confused with those nasty rat-like American "O-possums!"


Monday, June 09, 2008


Sunday, June 08, 2008

Republican Talking Points

1. Barak Obama should spend days on end beating his brains out in unwinnable states such as West Virginia.

2. Hillary Clinton's delegates will change their minds in the next couple of months and launch a "Draft Hillary" campaign, when it becomes obvious that Barak Obama is a rank beginner at (*caff*) Hardball Politics.

3. It is vitally important that Barak Obama should engage John McCain in weeks of Town Hall meetings in rural settings throughout America, to establish Barak's credentials as a legitimate candidate with the stature to run opposite a genuine war hero.

4. Etc.

You can already hear this kind of bilge on nutjob rightwing radio. Everyone wants to micromanage Barak's campaign "for his own good."

Actually, Barak can just ignore McCain. McCain's a dyspeptic, angry old man with a short fuse who's been unable to hide a few obvious senior moments already. When he's got himself under control, he's got the most intensely boring speaking style since Al Gore. Barak can probably afford to give him three or four national debates on the major networks, but common decency should shield McCain from too much public scrutiny of his drooling habits, metaphorically speaking.

As for war hero, I suppose. Most of his medals seem to have been won for being shot down and enduring five years in the Hanoi Hilton. That sort of thing takes a toll. Let's hope McCain, who is after all a senior, is up to the kind of minute scrutiny and pressure he'll get in an American Presidential campaign.

I've heard from some who should know that that kind of race, so similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome in its effects, can change a candidate's body chemistry — sweat takes on an acrid ketone odor. Can an old-fashioned fighter pilot accustomed to taking "Air Force prescription" goofballs avoid the quick fix, even during televised late-October national debates when every twitch, pause and nuance matters?

McCain, the maverick who graduated 5th from the bottom of his class at Annapolis, has nevertheless every reason to feel overconfident. He doesn't need Bennie Goodman anymore. He'll be just fine.



I was going to decant a little political vintage, when I got a comment (below) from an old friend in New Zealand. That was such a bright spot my decanter suddenly resembled an old-fashioned vinegar cruet (cut crystal, to be sure), so today I simply enjoy a rainy morning, in a world that has such people in it... :)

The thunderbunnies are cavorting again, the way they did in 1993, by the way. I'd be worried if I were me.

Yes, bunnies. Tumbling in the sky. I suppose most people would see Chinese-style dragons up there. I see thunderbunnies, cute like "the wee good people," as in you wish. Don't wish at them! They have minds of their own and an evil sense of ironic retribution.


Friday, June 06, 2008

WeatherPixie is back :)

One of my favorite bits of eye candy is the little WeatherPixie over on the right, there. Last week, she was gone for several days, apparently because of a fire at a server farm in Texas. Welcome back.

The WeatherPixie


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ubuntu is Swahili for Meerkat Berries

Ubuntu 8.04 is definitely not ready for prime time. In fact, after several weeks of letting it run native in its own partition, I can report that Ubuntu sucks. It's fragile, it breaks, it's undocumented ("support" means somebody who can answer your questions 24/7, not Ubuntu Forums!), and it's hazardous to the health of your hard drive.

Yesterday, under Gnome, my Appearance manager lost the ability to select a background image by clicking on it with the mouse (arrow keys navigation worked, though, sort of). That should have been a clue, like the first crack in the dike. (Actually, the first indications were various screen artifacts that suggest somebody is not playing nice with null pointers — squares of garbage instead of icons, entire screens of text hiding behind sandstorms, etc.)

This morning, my Updates Manager choked, said it could only provide "Partial Updates" and said it could find no way to authenticate a list of twenty or thirty common (but non-Ubuntu) utilities. Then gave up, without apologizing or suggesting a fix or work around.

When I attempted to reinstall Ubuntu from the distribution CD (previously used to install in the first place), the disk partition step choked. Windows Vista now thinks it has the entire hard drive and I haven't dared try to boot Ubuntu.

Now I've got a master boot record infested with Grub, but at least it boots Vista.

[Update: MbrFix seems to work nicely. Nice, quiet boot straight to Vista, no waiting and no nasty Grub left over. However, this utility is DANGEROUS! You didn't hear about it from me!]


Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Favorite Firefox add-ons upgraded!

Two of my favorite Firefox add-ons are now ready for Firefox 3:
  • Sage (as "Sage-Too")
    RSS news aggregator similar to a dozen other such utilities. I like this one because it displays the contents of a news feed in a neatly organized two-column display. Not the same as Sage (Firefox 2 only), but maybe better.

  • Rikaichan 1.02
    This is the fabulously nifty context-sensitive Japanese-English lookup tool that uses Jim Breen's edict and enamdict dictionaries. Be sure to also install PolarCloud's special versions of these dictionaries if you install rikaichan!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Whaddaya know, Obama IS the one!

Next stop, Labor Day!

Heh, just kidding. Now that the halos have been polished and held up high (on both sides) for everyone to see, it's time for the Swiftboat crews to crawl out of the dark and limber up for October. That crackling sound, like a lobster being cut in half, is the noise of a hundred arthritic spines turning this way and that, preparing to take up the oars.

I would like to offer a contrarian opinion: Hillary Clinton played a bare-knuckle game, rather soft and sweet compared to the brass knuckles stuff John McCain will offer. Be prepared for that old favorite, the padlock-in-a-sock, and if the alley's dark enough, pencils up the nose. What makes McCain dangerous is that badboy maverick streak.

They don't allow the bottom of the class to graduate from Annapolis for nothing.


Monday, June 02, 2008

Getting Old

Somewhat unexpectedly, I've arrived at the age where my 64th birthday looms in the not too distant gloaming. I didn't expect to get old. I expected to die in some kind of stupidly arbitrary medical emergency — asthmatic attack, heart attack, paranoid delusion, murder, impact with somebody's engine block or whatnot — but such was not to be. Any kind of romantic expiration date with Death, in fact, but not this. Who wants to get old?

Age is not being kind to me. I haven't gotten wisdom. I don't get a great deal of respect. I haven't learned much. I'm not lettered, except for the B.S. In fact my life, my mind is fading. I'm grumpy and disgruntled. My days they are a-dwindling. I haven't accomplished much, except for my family.

On the plus side, if I rattle off the things I like, then I can pile up quite a little trove of bright, shiny stuff my magpie's eye has lighted on and I have carried away. I've read all of Terry Pratchett and most of James H. Schmitz. I read Arthur C. Clarke's Against the Fall of Night ten or twenty times, and found John Wyndham's "Crown of Creation" screed the Jefferson Airplane used. I learned 6502 Assembler and how to program the Apple ][+ with it. I owned an Osborne I and a Kaypro 10. I loved Apple Pascal, then Turbo Pascal which made me read Niklaus Wirth. I was disappointed by DB Master, fascinated by dBase II and MySQL. I fell in love with WordStar, and Open, and SQLite. I learned CP/M and MS-DOS, top down and object oriented programming (in C and C++, Perl and Ruby).

I played Colossal Cave adventure for ten thousand hours, found Zelda, Star Ocean and Final Fantasy, immersed and vanished from this world. Cannot play Go at that level to save my life. Linux: Slackware, Redhat, Ubuntu 6 and 8. I wrote a couple of freeware programs that went around the world (one of them still runs on this Dell Inspiron under DOSBox), and some stuff in Clipper that was anthologized at CERN and referred to during the great Y2K heebiejeebies of late 1999 (I found this out much later. It seems to have evaporated now, though: Information entropy.)

I went to Washington, D.C. and prowled the tunnels under the Cannon HOB. I sat in the gallery when Carl Albert swore in the Freshman Class of the 94th Congress — a couple of yards away, Ralph Nader was annoyed at being recognized. Years later, I lost my ID card; it had an air cushion back with a faded blue photo of the Capital. High tech for those days. I've written some anonymous viral phrases that still pollute odd corners of the internet.

I've made some colossal mistakes in my life — trusting Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception or anything by Carlos Castaneda being two — and I regret my stupidity, and I regret my losses in the heavy games of Lightheartedness, Life and Love — but mostly I deserved to lose those, and I learned eventually why there's honor in that "In your dreams!" I hope I left a little confidence in my wake, confidence man that I was.

I don't regret a single sunset, a single moment lost in my guitars, my cars or my computers; a single rainy day of reading, a single book, a single friend, a single minute with some of you. But yes, I've been a magpie, accumulating a magpie's odd, untelegenic hoard -- just the kind of shiny bric-a-brac, broken marbles, gum wrappers and portable glittering mysteries I like.

A parole officer I once knew, friend of a friend sort of thing, told me I'd wind up homeless on the street. Fair warning. The last I heard he was sailing on a freighter on Lake Superior; I admire the verve, but not the judgement. I never discuss my family in this blog — the web is full of weirdos, and I may be one of them — but I live in a home created by the girls I love, and it's warm inside.


Sunday, June 01, 2008


I'm a sucker for the old Crowther & Woods text adventure games. I run most of the old MS-DOS stuff in Wine (or DOSBox), but one of my favorites ran on my Osborne I and Kaypro 10 luggables, under CP/M 2.2. The trick is, how to get that up and running under Ubuntu 8.04 "Hardy Heron"? QED, as you can see! I've even got my ancient ZorkNotes database for this game running — it's a Perl script using SQLite now, but it was written in and for dBase II and ZIP.COM back in the old days.

Here are the hints:
I don't give away my ZorkNotes, sorry.