Friday, May 29, 2009

The Ring of the Glimmerducks

Lake LaVerne at Iowa State University, with the Memorial Union looming in the background. If you follow the south shore west toward Friley Hall to the swan nesting area, a good metal detector may turn up my Josten's class ring (1969) in the muck underwater, just offshore. It's got an emerald cabochon and an old-fashioned heft that may be worth about $1000 at today's gold prices. I threw it to the glimmerducks back in 1970 — not bad for a mad black fit of unemployed hippie despair. Ah, the sturm. Ah, the drang. Ah, the wunderjar, possibly mayonnaise.


Thursday, May 28, 2009


I'm not sure Sonia Sotomayor is the liberals' greatest pick for SCOTUS. She's certainly better than Clarence Thomas. She's inevitably better than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But better than Anthony Scalia? I doubt it, just in terms of sheer candlepower. Worse for liberals, she'll probably turn out to be like Scalia, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Samuel "Bobblehead" Alito doesn't figure.

Personally, I like a conservative Supreme Court, and I diverge strongly from Keith Olbermann and his weird postmodern interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. The language of the Constitution means what it says, most likely, which means simple minds, naive minds, are able to interpret it, in spirit and denotation, with facility and accuracy. That document was written, you may recall, by men brought up on the King James Version of the Bible, with a long history (from Luther to Cromwell to Payne) of denying that plain speech needs an interpretive caste to reveal its mysteries to the unwashed.

Wottheheck, you gonna ask American soldiers to die for a "free speech" you gotta need a Phi Beta Kappa key from Princeton to understand? I don't think so. Natalie Maines and Carrie Prejean both got it right — when a chick, Dixie or California-style, can't shoot her mouth off, a lot of good men have died for nothin'.


Eighteen whole bucks?!

Remember this clunker? It's the first Apple iPod, the 5Gb scrollwheel model. I sold mine to Video Games Etc. yesterday morning for $18 bucks, including the Firewire cable and the wall recharger. IIRC, that set me back $380 in 2001, but (heh) I got a lot of fun out of it. I used the $18 bucks to get a haircut.

Truth? The old iPods had non-replaceable batteries, and they were never guaranteed to hold a charge. This thing was an expensive white plastic brick, and you had to use uncomfortable earplugs with it. $380 bucks does not disenamour one lightly, but eventually, yes. Oh, yes.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I'm not sanguine about humanity's prospects for the future, but it's one of those fun facts that Armand Hammer gave a copy of Hugo Rheinhold's Ape with Skull to V. I. Lenin, where it reposed on his desk until death. Hammer rather grandiosely claimed that Lenin died gazing at his gift; the laughter still echoes in the Kremlin.

I was afraid of nuclear holocaust when I was in high school. Funny thing is, Americans and Russians had vastly more in common than we ever let on — deep in our Philistine American souls, we knew no country that could produce the Bolshoi Ballet would ever blow up the world. It was Progress, in the old Victorian sense, that eventually emerged as the world killer — global warming, climate change.

Who knew? Of course, there's always Muslim fanatics to overcorrect that and send us all back to the Middle Ages. Given the almost limitless Muslim appetite for self-immolation (Moorish Spain comes to mind), and nukes in an increasingly brittle Pakistan, maybe meeting the advancing horrors of global warming with the insanely spastic terrors of nuclear winter will turn out to balance the Earth after all — balancing it on the skulls of the profitless.

Note to Mother Nature: Next time, no brains for apes!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Daze

I think the final judgement at Nuremberg was that only victors lay down the law, and that hanging a few war criminals is just a difference in degree from piling up the skulls of an entire vanquished population, a thing also known from history.

General Curtis LeMay said something similar about the firebombing of Japanese cities near the end of WWII (before Hiroshima and Nagasaki). IIRC, he expressed gratitude that us Americans won the war, so he wouldn't be held personally responsible for the individual atrocities of Japanese civilians burned alive.

Or as Sherman put it, war is hell. Pretty glib, this far from the Confederate State of Georgia.

Bill Mauldin's grunts made it through the Pearly Gates. They were just following orders. I'm not sure about Generals. Or Presidents. In the old cherry blossom days, or so I've heard, there was a Buddhist remark to the effect that a samurai's karma is so horrifically bad that he could not even be reborn as a dog — only as a samurai.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is There a Plastic Paradox?

By one theory, at least, oil is what dead zones in the ancient Permian oceans turned into. It is a grievous fossil, the residue of a global oceanic anoxia, a death spiral that almost killed off all life on the planet, the great Permian-Triassic boundary event, the only global catastrophe ever known to have caused insect mass extinctions.

Oil is the carbon sink that brought the zombie Earth back from the dead 251 million years ago. It belongs in the ground, forgotten.

We pump it up from oblivion like it belongs to us. We dissipate its carbon back into the air by burning it. We refine the process to inconceivable limits with unimagined consequences; for example Oil → plastic → plastic bottles (eyeglasses, bulletproof windows, etc.) → landfills — and all the time, Nature runs a self-correcting gene pool.

I wonder. Since all those plastic bottles are made out of oil, are we accidentally doing the right thing for the wrong reason, returning, as Nature intended, all that carbon back into the ground?


Friday, May 22, 2009

Hint: How to Beat Chaos this Memorial Day

The final boss in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow is downright unhinged. I'll give you a hint. Larry and Moe ain't gonna do it for you.

Hmmm... SSA stimulus check has arrived. BFD. Next time add a zero.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Move along, nothing to see here, go about your business...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I never promised you a Rose Garden, but...

Ain't we cute? No names, please, we're in the Intertubes. (Mother's Day at the Rose Garden, Des Moines, Iowa)

(Note the Ken Burns' style nostril shot. I hate that. It's a passive aggressive Puff the Magic Dragon threat display: Back off, or I'll shoot jalapeño jam at you!)


Monday, May 18, 2009

Star Trick

We hobnobbed at the Cedar Rapids Galaxy 16 long enuff to take in the Neo-Retro Star Trek this weekend. All the logical paradoxes came perilously close to snuffing the film out of existence before I had a snowball's chance of engulfing all my popcorn.

There is an interesting bit of wit at the end when Spock (the real Spock, Leonard Nimoy) tells Spock (the young upstart, Whatisname) that he (Nimoy, in character) will forego the usual Vulcan benediction and simply wish the kid (the actor, playing Neo-Spock), "Good luck" rather than "Live Long & Prosper." Too subtle by half, soitenly, but those of us who caught the drift enjoyed the pie-in-the-face moment.

Iowa has no canyons like that one, not even Ledges State Park near Boone, which is, in any case, filled with geological puzzles like thin brown Cretaceous coal seams and sandstone vortices viewed end-wise. Iowa is much too wooded in its river valleys to pass for the bastard child of Nebraska out of Arizona, even with the computer-generated corn.

I kept waiting for some kind of Back To The Future plot twist that would save Vulcan. Never happened. Vulcan is annihilated. Majel Barrett is whirling in her urn. Yeah, that was a spoiler, but then, this plot has more gratuitous twists than a butter churn; connect any two dots, then ask yourself, did it matter? No? Yes, matter it did not.

I'm not sure these characters can support a sequel, frankly. Nyota Uhura played hot? Zoe Saldana should jump to the X-Women franchise as a cat.

Kirk's sudden rise to the top is about as solid as foam on near-beer — however, the young Young Kirk is a scene-stealer. He belongs in a Final Fantasy XII movie franchise, between two viera kits.

Uhura's roommate, the green Orion sorority sistah (probably Kappa Kappa Gamma, if I remember the angle right), is positive proof this Saturday Night Special was made by two postgraduate vomit cometeers with no personal recollection of the old Roddenberry magick.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Zombies Make a Comeback

"Complete with romance, heartbreak, swordfights, cannibalism, and thousands of rotting corpses, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read." — excerpted from a ghastly editorial review at


Friday, May 15, 2009


Michelle Wie gets no respect. I just watched Sybase Classic coverage for an hour, and nobody mentioned Wie, who is currently tied for sixth place at 5 under par after the second round. The only girls on camera today were white, blonde losers, except for Lincicome, who's eleven under, and defending champion Lorena Ochoa now and then. Hey, them good ol' boys at ESPN2, right?


[Sunday Update (5/17): I dunno what planet ESPN2 is on. Wie finished tied for third with Paula Creamer, winning $118,824, which puts her over $290,600.00 in six starts with three top-ten finishes. She's ranked second in rookie points, she'll probably finish 2009 as LPGA Rookie of the Year, her driving is almost back to where it was before Leadbetter and William Morris ruined her as a natural, she's healed and healing, and all she needs is a sumo wrestler (or Odd Job) to carry her bag at arm's length without also carrying along a lot of other golfers' baggage. But from ESPN2's point of view, she's an underachieving uppity Punahau princess who's "never won" and can't play by anybody else's rules. Misogynist chauvinistic bigotry, says I.]


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bic Razors and Baka Birds

There's a baka bird outside my picture window. It's a little English chipping sparrow who's been attacking its own reflection all day, every day, for a week.

There's a baka boid in my bathroom mirror. It's a fat American testosterone job who's been attacking his beard with a twin-edged "comfort strip" Bic disposable razor.

Why I am a baka bird. Because, until just now, I hadn't noticed that twin-edged razors clog up with whisker stubble faster than single-edged razors, comfort or no, which means it stops shaving sooner and gets thrown away faster.

Cunning Bic. Stupid me.

Cunning, cunning Bic. You can still buy the single-edge disposable. But it comes in a cootie-colored orange package too ambiguously, too leggily feminine for manly stubble. Who wants to buy into that??


Monday, May 11, 2009


How Juries Decide

There's a great article in the May 9th issue of Science News concerning how, in the absence of gigantic brains, swarming honeybees decide where to establish a new colony. No brains might seem like a handicap, but bees, with just enough brainpower per individual to light up their own billionth of an amp of awareness, manage to make some remarkably astute decisions when acting in concert.

The rules seem to be:
  1. A few hundred experienced bees leave their naked and unprotected swarm and scout the countryside for likely real estate to colonize.

  2. Maybe only 20 or so scouts find suitable candidate sites.

  3. These scouts return to their swarm, recruit supporters for the new location and direct them to the new site by waggle-dancing.

  4. The new supporters check out the site and become converts (or not), waggle-dancing in competition with all the other scouts and their converts. Satisfied, the original scouts stop dancing.

  5. The candidate colony site which is still buzzing when all the lesser colonies have lost their advocates by natural attrition is the winner; the winning consensus is reached, and the colony moves to its chosen location.
The curious thing is, the site chosen is nearly always optimum — well-suited for a real world where evolution and natural selection take a mordant bite out of bad decisions.

This astonishment naturally begs for comparison with the English common law jury system, which has no evident author either, but which seems to function well in most cases. "Twelve good men, tried and true, is a good system," one of Agatha Christie's protagonists remarks (Colonel Arbuthnot with the Truism in Murder on the Orient Express) Is it an accident that juries have twelve members? Who decided that? The number twelve has a remarkable property; it can be divided by 6, 4, 3, 2 or 1, rather like the number of groups that gradually coalesce into unanimity. Other numbers may contain both odd and even groups, like either three groups of 4 or four groups of 3, but twelve seems neatly packaged.

Does the judge issue instructions to the jury to teach them the law? Or to ensure that the jury sees every possible outcome? If jurors restrict their options prematurely to "obvious" choices, thumbs up or thumbs down, hands down it is not just the outcome but the justice of the decision that is in doubt. If you have four or five opinions distributed usually (but not invariably) according to severity of the offense then more positions find advocates, more discussion occurs, more time elapses and more hotheads quench themselves in the cool deliberations of the main jury pool.

The one jury I was ever on proceded exactly along this course. My opinion at the beginning was exactly the same as the decision that was reached, but I wore myself out arguing against the not inconsiderable number who favored immediate acquital. Everyone got tired of arguing, and in the end, as if by magic, in the heat of the afternoon, through the blinding migraines, an "obvious" consensus was reached (guilty of a lesser charge). That happened to be my opinion, but I hardly owned that moment. The entire jury wrote that verdict, memorable only for its utter triviality (as I recall, a bouncer may have used too much force ejecting an unruly patron from a bar). It seemed important at the time.

A system so mindless, so chaotic, so correct can only have evolved. No one could imagine it.

One wonders if rules similar to those used by swarming honeybees governed the Pilgrims' journey to Plymouth Rock, or the Amish to Kalona, the Mennonites to northwest Missouri, or Christian Metz's 19th century German Inspirationists to the seven villages of Amana near Iowa City?

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Thursday, May 07, 2009


Mallard Fillmore this morning was detestably laughable, as contrasted with hilarious. When I was at ISU back in the late Sixties, I knew a few members of the Students for a Democratic Society (the "SDS" Mallard refers to), but that was the joke — a few members. There was never a link between local journalism and national protest; that was the other joke — the nearly impossible struggle to get the Des Moines Register, e.g., to cover student protest, or how to get enough warm student bodies to an anti-war rally to make it worth a reporter's time to show up. (Sort of like "teabagger" rallies... I do sympathize.)

I did once meet a real firebrand radical, Bernadette Devlin, who might have been married to someone as violent as the Weather Underground apparently was — but she was Irish, from Northern Ireland, and had just been elected to the Westminster parliament, where she slapped a British Home Secretary's face for calling the Bogside Massacre "self-defense," if I recall correctly. She was fundraising in the States on a tour that brought her to Des Moines. My memory is a bit hazy, but I seem to recall a fair-sized crowd and Arlo Guthrie-style guitar music — which she despised, having, as a Catholic in Ulster, more in common with Black Panthers in this country than young, privileged, student (or even faculty) war protesters.

My own politics at the time was a bit mixed; I'd read Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative, and in 1966 I volunteered for the draft but was classified 1-Y (same as 4-F, but if Ho Chi Minh invaded Merle Haye Mall, they'd call me to arms).

Later, still smarting over the 1963 photo of the Vietnamese monk who set himself ablaze, I eventually took a position against the war — in 1971, following the Kent State massacre — although I think no one noticed my input much, besides my own family and a few friends.

Kent State turned me into an angry, activist Democrat.

Eventually, of course, journalism did indeed end the war in Vietnam, when the picture of the naked girl screaming from napalm burns on her back and running ahead of soldiers (South Vietnamese, as it turned out) was published. Even Tom Harkin's tiger cage pictures in Life magazine contributed to revulsion against the war — but aside from a few mossback conservatives and one pistol packing drunk that Harkin staffer Dick Thomas wrestled to the ground (back in the Seventies), no one remembers that as a hugely important moment, unlike this one:

That 1/125th of a second (note the blur in the boy's hand) changed the world. Real capital-J Journalism and War do not mix, which is why I really, really, really appreciate Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann these days. Those people have real jobs.

Mallard Fillmore, on the other hand, still can't see it as it is, let alone call it like it was. Yes, veterans are (and were) often disgusted with pictures like these — not because they're shocking, which they are, but because they're commonplace and we "hypocritical war protesters" don't even know it. These images, Mallard's "something or other", sear our consciences, but frankly, we ignored the seared (and smeared, and annealed) psyches of the vets we blithely drafted to drop down the Moloch maw of Vietnam. The bravest veteran I ever saw was a guy at Iowa State, whose name I never knew, who came back from Nam with a red scar stretched over the front and side of his face and jaw; he didn't smile, except with his eyes. He was shockingly cheerful, considering. That sort of gets to you.

So don't compare teabags to napalm, Duck. They're not the same.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I scream koan

John Horgan's critique of Buddhism in Slate is worth mentioning, along with a set of rejoinders.

I have to admit, Buddhism leaves me cold from time to time. Taoism, especially the version in Chop Socky Kung Fu movies (and much anime) is even worse. I have to think about these things from the inside out — the point is not what you believe ("you," in the vast scale of things, are after all expendable), but how you reflect your membership in family, society, environment, world, universe... Do you belong to the barnacles, Bootstrap Bill?


iBrow Comedienne

Rachel Maddow, you're no Corky Sherwood-Forrest!


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Rubber Ducky

Flotsametrics, no doubt, explain the rubber ducky floating in the water just to the right of the Vic Viper at Somnus Reef, Order of Ecclesia. The oceans of the world are all connected, you know.

Rumor also has it, the rubber ducky shows up in a bathtub full of tears (or salt water?) somewhere in Aria of Sorrow. [Update 5/22: Really? I've beaten the game with 98.1% of the castle down the hatch, and I still haven't seen the duck. Maybe they mean Dawn of Sorrow, the sequel?]


Monday, May 04, 2009

17 kyu!

I am now a lowly, but non-provisionally rated, 17 kyu at KGS! Every go player I've ever met plays online at KGS; it's very popular.

[Update: Nooooooo... I've fallen (to 19 kyu) and I can't get up!]


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Foundations of Civilization: The Spinner


Saturday, May 02, 2009

White Phosphorus in Gaza

Friday, May 01, 2009

Foundations of Civilization: Indoor Plumbing

I've got two words for you: Gerber Viper. That thing's a hoot, even if does look like a bathroom fixture from the Bates Motel.

That, and Louis Armstrong's Swiss Kriss, make just about the homeliest bits of folklore I've ever passed on.