Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Where's Toto?

I'll save my April Fool's Day news for tomorrow. Meantime... Thanks, Deviant Art!


Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The NASA Night Launch addon theme renders my Firefox 3.0.18 pages better than the default theme does! What's that all about? Not that I care. I've been trying to see crisp and clean Firefox content for years.


Sunday, March 28, 2010

War Between the Foxes and the Greys

Thirty years ago these little gray squirrels were in Iowa City, with nary a fox squirrel to be found. Fifteen years ago when we came to Cedar Rapids these larger, reddish fox squirrels were all over the big maple tree in our back yard, with nary a grey squirrel to be seen. Things have changed. The greys are moving north. The foxes have been making a stand, with varying degrees of success.

The last month or so, battle lines have been drawn in the big blue spruce in our front yard. The greys are very aggressive, and despite their smaller size they'll go head to head with their bigger adversaries. The fox squirrels are litigious and quarrelsome, chattering noisily at me whenever I step onto the front stoop. I get the impression they're yelling about those upstart greys and demanding to know what I intend to do about it, but that's anthropomorphic — if true. The red fox squirrels seem to be losing the war. I suspect the greys fight dirty. It's the tiny Berettas that give it away. The reds just pass out leaflets and shout slogans.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sarcastic battleaxe chunks again

It's hard to take Ann Coulter out of context — she sort of wears her own musk like a Neanderthal wolfpelt — but it's clear that her "camel" flipoff came as a sarcastic retort to the crowd exhorting her to "Answer the question!" posed by Fatima Al-Dhaher, a 17-year-old Muslim student at Canada's University of Western Ontario.

You do sort of get the impression that Coulter learned her provocation early. It's every woman's right to drop a perfumed handerchief, of course, but very few have the satchel to toss it into a bear pit. She was born in the right culture for it. Americans like a smartass woman, evidently. Genghis Khan would have nailed Coulter's tongue to the tabletop by now.

Coulter says her sarcasm was "satire." Nonsense. This is satire; what Coulter does is sarcasm. It's all about scale. If a big man carries a Louisville Slugger to protect himself from a kitten, that's sarcasm. If the kitten carries a bottle of aspirin to cure the headache afterward, that's satire.

The kid used an open mike to ask Coulter a pointed question — that's not even heckling. Coulter, nonplussed, lost her cool, forgot where she was, and came out swinging like a punch-drunk palooka. Her target was all of Canada, by that point, and the world laughed at her. Paranoid much?

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ok, WHEN will Medicare be "fixed"?

I'm skeptical. It may be the law of the land, but how long will it be before "the hated doughnut hole" in Medicare is finally out of Medicare? When can I walk into my local pharmacy and see Rx prices actually drop?


Monday, March 22, 2010

What happened?

Is Kathy Sebelius, President Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services, scratching her head this morning? I certainly am!

Fifty years of Republican obfuscation, obstruction and damn lies about "health care reform" have left the country wondering if a reform bill actually passed last night, or whether all we got was another small leap, one of many, over another annoying Republican hurdle in a never-ending steeplechase to oblivion.

As I understand it, yes, some sort of health reform passed last night. Something is the law of the land. But what is it?

The "reconciliation bill" that now goes back to the Senate is a not-so-crazy quilt of sanity patches designed to drive the lard monster out of the promised land and out of the law. If that fails, Republicans will have to live with the "bad" health reform they never thought would pass.

In other words, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Republicans' bluff — and won.

So, cable news pundits, what have we got if "reconciliation" fails? And what have we got if it passes? What is Kathleeen Sebelius, our 21st Secretary of Health and Human Services, implementing right now, this morning, assuming worst case and reconciliation gets tubed?

Do I get a break on prescription drug costs sometime soon? If my doctors tell me this shadow on my MRI scan is cancer this Wednesday, will my best option to save my wife's bank balance and my daughter's education still be a slow walk on a snowy night with a bottle of Bacardi to dull the chill?


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Graffiti of the Opera

Andrew Lloyd Webber is ebber so clebber;
the tune that he wrangles in so many angles
has so many barbs in its various tangles,
he may lose his rhythm. Then he gets his rhyme back,
just barely in time, back in time
by mentioning the hatsize of his mime.


The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Motoko screws up her future by going back to her past. It's at Amazon.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

What's the Difference?

Do you recognize the great standing Buddhas of the Bamiyan Valley in Afghanistan? They were a cause celebre when the Taliban, before 9-11, destroyed many or most of them with field artillery, in a savage act of world-defying iconoclasm breathtaking in its stupidity and malice.

Muslims, as indeed most educated peoples of the world, would regard the destruction of Al Aqsa, the mosque located on the southern wall of the Temple Mount, by arson, neglect, bulldozer, rezoning or nuclear holocaust just as blasphemous as the Taliban's treatment of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism refers to this location as "Solomon's Stables," although it scrupulously blames the Knights Templar for any off-handed allusions to the labors of Hercules. I don't know who is more offended by that bit of psychiatric warfare unless it's Solomon himself, but frankly, anyone who loves history, architecture and art, who values civility and civilization irrespective of religion, would place either Al Aqsa's or the Dome of the Rock's destruction in the same Dantean circle of barbaric culpability as the shelling of the Bamiyan buddhas.

The Dome of the Rock, photogenic, fabulous & fascinating to Christians, Muslims and Jews alike (it says in the brochure), is the other great mosque which, together with Al Aqsa, comprise the Noble Sanctuary. Curiously, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism calls this location "the mountain where Abraham tried to sacrifice Ishmael (not Isaac as Jews and Christians believe)". DNA analysis shows the children of Abraham as alike as pea #1 and pea #2 in the same pod, except of course that the children of Isaac have nuclear weapons and, with a few lunatic fringe Christians, a fatal attraction to Armageddon. Given my choice of progenitors, I'll take Odin. Nice twelve-day holiday. Lots of little colored lights. Good friends. Happy shopping tunes. Fruitcake. Air so cold, so cold it bites.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010


The brothers DALZIEL were the platemakers who did Sir John Tenniel's pre-press, engraving his famous Alice illustrations on wood for publication. For instance, in the Jabberwock plate, their name is just to the right of Tenniel's famous monogram, bottom left. Curiously, the original plates, long in the public domain, nowhere mention the Brothers Disney, who were not Irish either.

Erin go bragh!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Totoro in English

"I can't watch [My Neighbor Totoro] in Japanese; I feel like I'm killing a part of my childhood!"
                                  — TJO, age 16

This from a kid who has been trained from birth to prefer subs not dubs in her anime! I went wrong on that one, I'll admit. There was no Disney version (i.e., no version with subtitles) when she was very young.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Chic Flic

Disney's latest ooze over Reverend Dodgson's Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass property values turns out to be a Gyne-o-Dyne®™ chick empowerment flick starring Alice in the role of Jean d'Arc. Relevant continuities were plundered from Sir John Tenniel's Jabberwocky plate, not filched whole cloth from Lewis Carroll.

Lots of anxious, pre-apocalyptic weirdness, in keeping with the mood of the Twilight generation, but entertainly done. I'd still ding Disneyville for having the effrontery to typecast its shiniest new acquisition, C. S. Lewis' gallant firebrand mouse Reepicheep, in the role of Carroll's famously hibernating rodent, the Dormouse, so it's 2¾ stars at best. The 9-year-old girl four seats down from us shrieked with laughter at J. Depp's hysterical Hatter scenes — most appropriate. (Although, truth be told, the Hatter's high-strung wackyfoot victory dance á la pinocchio at the end looked more like post-traumatic stress disorder than a St. Vitus humoresque.)

If Disney touched his nose fleetingly toward two hugely rewarding future conquests — Dame Rowling's Hogwarts empire (currently on display at Universal Orlando, so she can be bought), and all of China — such subliminal foreshadowings are lost on most Americans who will never believe they're in the film.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Honeybee drones revalued

Naturwissenschaften, Volume 97, Number 3 (March, 2010) has an interesting article about honeybee drones. For decades, if not centuries, the prevailing wisdom about drone bees was that they contribute nothing to the welfare of the hive, aside from mating with virgin queens — a bit of Industrial Revolution nonsense owing more to Calvinist fables about sloth and hedonism than to any actual observation of honeybees. Old ways die hard.

Any honest Darwinian will realize immediately that drone bees are the vectors which sift the honeybee genome through the green strictures of local ecology. Queens, who are themselves exposed but for less time (on a single mating flight) to the same harsh local ecology as the drones, gain the experience and genetic contribution of male bees, whether from their own or nearby hives, which have survived an entire golden summer in what John Calvin would have been very pleased with himself to call a fool's paradise. Nothing of the sort.

Nor are drowsy, buzzy summer days a worker's paradise. Worker bees are even more vulnerable to their local ecosystems than drones or queens but their experience doesn't count. There's a catch; workers do not share their genes. Mutable or not, mutated or not, worker bees have no stake in the genetic future of their hive. Even worse, their queens are sequestered and never see the sun unless mating or swarming. The hive's only direct contact with its local environment, in any way that would allow it to adapt to local conditions, is through its drones.

This explains why artificial insemination of honey bee queens grown in the deep South, from similarly-bred CSA* drones never exposed to, and completely inexperienced with, the harsh winters of Wisconsin, the fungal environs of New Jersey, the new Florida of climate change or the microfauna of Story County, Iowa, is such a pestilential notion.

Like robot war and nuclear arsenals, such grand leaps to the frontiers of the possible as artificial insemination, which only seems comic in honeybees until you realize that pollination services by fewer than 500 artificial clades of industrial honeybees create many billions of dollars in agricultural wealth annually, overlooks a devilish lot of nasty consequence — perhaps including CCD (colony collapse disorder). Not everything that can be done should be done. But studying drones (see the Naturwissenschaften article, above) is one of those things that need doing.

Kind of a crude overstatement, really. Worker bees carry most bee pests into the hive, including residual broad-spectrum pesticides and herbicides, microfauna, bacteria, fungi, respiratory parasites, viruses, and whatnot. If these kill off the queen, or destroy the hive via CCD, e.g., then workers can create a certain limited genetic havoc in the local clade akin to decapitation. But I'd argue that pathology is a different case; since workers don't have sex lives, they can't push forward an adaptive generation.

*Confederate States of America, i.e.

Ignoring a peculiar South African honeybee, and those "primitive" bees, if any, that have never heard the rule. Mere parthenogenesis counts as hive pathology.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Soft Focus

I'll try to put this as gently as I can, Beaky... Some people gather together the objects of their obsession because they are connoisseurs of a peculiar passion. Others accrete stuff the way a ship's bottom collects barnacles. I'm a sucker for prickly juxtapositions, myself. You?

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Buy Old Gold

(...but you won't like my prices.)


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Loofahs aren't sponges, they're cucurbits!


Monday, March 08, 2010

Floyd of Rosedale

This year's luser is Fantastic Mr. Fox.

I forgot we went to see Up last year, thanks to incipient Alzheimer's.

The whole subject is slowly fading away as I type, not to confuse this with writing.

Ah. There...


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Game Day

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Saturday, March 06, 2010

And the winner is...

Terry Pratchett. I'll be reading Unseen Academicals Sunday evening.

That said, isn't it funny how ordinary folks get sucked into the buzz, as though normal people had a personal stake in the outcome of a S.A.G. beauty contest?


Friday, March 05, 2010

Good Luck

Four-leaf clovers, these —
   but not so plentiful as
      those my mother found.

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Justice served!

A slice of cheese (according to court documents) cost MacDonald's €4,200 when a Dutch court ruled they couldn't sack an employee for putting a free "slice of cheese" on a co-worker's hamburger, thereby transmuting your basic gutbomb into a "cheeseburger." Holy Deuteronomy 25:4, Batman!

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Go yodel

The thing that's really irritating about Go, is that no matter how well you think you understand it, some kid can clean your clock and you won't know how they did it. The rules are so simple. The demonstration of your own futility is so swift, so inevitable, so sharp.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Canada didn't "own the podium..."

Just the top step, which was solid gold. Surprised me ;-) That, and Kim Yu-Na. She raised the bar impossibly high, just like Peggy Fleming did in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble. It'll be awhile.

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The little tsunami that wasn't

In 1960, Hilo caught some damage from a tsunami caused by an earthquake in... well... Chile, but fifty years later, the water just sloshed around in Hilo Bay like tipping an old tin bath tub back and forth a couple times.

Na'atheless, our tubes were clogged all morning with breathless halipocalypsis from Fox Snooze, CNN, MSNBC, etc., with cameras urgently scanning the horizon for the Big One. Naturally, the media, who'd just got caught dropping non-existent dead donkeys every fifteen minutes, were not happy with those scientists who (rather responsibly, I thought) issued a tsunami alert. But from the tone and tenor of the dancing urgency of the gotta-go-now TV coverage, nothing less than The Wrath of Neptune would have satisfied our periwhites anyway.

Greatest non-event since Dan Rather called the 2000 election for Al Gore.

In similar news, there's evidently a new iceberg the size of Luxembourg calved off Mertz Glacier on the coast of Antarctica, part of a vast pinball game called (you guessed it) global warming. The new one got clocked by B9B, another speed demon big boy berg. Look out Patagonia, it's headed your way!!!

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