Archive for May, 2007

Friday Quote & Hedgehog Blogging

This week’s quote is from Woody Allen’s sort-of-film-noir-parody, Play It Again, Sam:

I’m turning into an aspirin junkie – next thing you know, I’ll be boiling the cotton at the top of the bottle to get the extra.

And, of course, there’ll be other people’s hedgehogs…


May 25th, 2007 at 07:22am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Friday Quote & Cat Blogging

Follow-Up Thought On The Supplemental

A lot of people are calling the Iraq supplemental bill a blank check, but really, that’s ignorant and unfair.

See, the amount and payee fields are totally filled in. Take that, naysayers!

May 24th, 2007 at 11:02pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,War

Guess I Don’t Really Have To Say Anything Now…

Keith and Jane have already said it for me.

The bottom line is this: The Democrats were swept into power to end the disastrous and pointless occupation of Iraq, and they voted to prolong it instead.

The only way this can get worse for the Democrats’ 2008 chances is if some of the Republicans come to their senses and decide they’ve had enough. That would make the Republicans the war-ending party courageously defying their own president to come to the rescue of the weak, ineffectual Democrats. Sound nonsensical? Not after the corporate media’s done with it.

But at least the troops would get to come home, and the death clock would stop. For Americans, anyway – I’m afraid that nothing short of time travel will save the Iraqis from more tragedy, whether we’re there or not.

May 24th, 2007 at 09:40pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,Republicans,Wankers,War

Great Idea, But…

I think I might be missing something here…

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A few simple keystrokes may soon turn blather into books.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have discovered a way to enlist people across the globe to help digitize books every time they solve the simple distorted word puzzles commonly used to register at Web sites or buy things online.

The word puzzles are known as CAPTCHAs, short for ”completely automated public Turing tests to tell computers and humans apart.” Computers can’t decipher the twisted letters and numbers, ensuring that real people and not automated programs are using the Web sites.

Researchers estimate that about 60 million of those nonsensical jumbles are solved everyday around the world, taking an average of about 10 seconds each to decipher and type in.


”Humanity is wasting 150,000 hours every day on these,” said Luis von Ahn, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon. He helped develop the CAPTCHAs about seven years ago. ”Is there any way in which we can use this human time for something good for humanity, do 10 seconds of useful work for humanity?”

Many large projects are under way now to digitize books and put them online, and that’s mostly being done by scanning pages of books so that people can ”page through” the books online. In some cases, optical character recognition, or OCR, is being used to digitize books to make the texts searchable.

But von Ahn said OCR doesn’t always work on text that is older, faded or distorted. In those cases, often the only way to digitize the works is to manually type them into a computer.

Von Ahn is working with the Internet Archive, which runs several book-scanning projects, to use CAPTCHAs for this instead. Internet Archive scans 12,000 books a month and sends von Ahn hundreds of thousands of files that are images that the computer doesn’t recognize. Those files are downloaded onto von Ahn’s server and split up into single words that can be used as CAPTCHAs at sites all over the Internet.

If enough users decipher the CAPTCHAs in the same way, the computer will recognize that as the correct answer.

It’s an ingenious idea, but… How does it handle the first few people to type in one of these snippets? Are they on hold until enough other blog users type in the same answer, or are the first few users to get that snippet just given a free pass? The whole premise of the CAPTCHA process is that there is an absolute right answer which the CAPTCHA system knows.

Also, what happens if the system passes a snippet that is genuinely unreadable, or in a different alphabet, or not even text at all?

May 24th, 2007 at 08:42pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Blogosphere,Books,Coolness,Technology

Cut ‘n’ Ron

Letter Of The Day:

The prospective Republican presidential candidates have been practically canonizing Ronald Reagan. Interestingly, they leave out his response to terrorism.

In 1983, when our marines were blown up in their barracks in Beirut, what did President Reagan do? He didn’t stay the course. He didn’t surge. No, he pulled all the American troops out of Lebanon. That’s right, he cut and ran.

Since the candidates have been vowing to imitate President Reagan, where are the calls to leave Iraq (as Ronald Reagan doubtless would have done)?

Nancy Lowenthal
Hicksville, N.Y., May 23, 2007


May 24th, 2007 at 07:08pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Iraq,Republicans,Terrorism

What Buchanan Says

Okay, so it’s Mark Buchanan, but I think he’s onto something here:

The pattern is familiar. Polls show that most Americans want our government to stop its unilateral swaggering, and to try to solve our differences with other nations through diplomacy. In early April, for example, when the speaker of the House, the Democrat Nancy Pelosi, visited Syria and met with President Bashar al-Assad, a poll had 64 percent of Americans in favor of negotiations with the Syrians. Yet this didn’t stop an outpouring of media alarm.


Or take the matter of the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Most media figures seem to consider the very idea as issuing from the unhinged imaginations of a lunatic fringe. But according to a recent poll, 39 percent of Americans in fact support it, including 42 percent of independents.

A common explanation of this tendency toward distortion is that the beltway media has attended a few too many White House Correspondents’ Dinners and so cannot possibly cover the administration with anything approaching objectivity. No doubt the Republicans’ notoriously well-organized efforts in casting the media as having a “liberal bias” also have their intended effect in suppressing criticism.

But I wonder whether this media distortion also persists because it doesn’t meet with enough criticism, and if that’s partially because many Americans think that what they see in the major political media reflects what most other Americans really think – when actually it often doesn’t.

Psychologists coined the term “pluralistic ignorance” in the 1930s to refer to this type of misperception — more a social than an individual phenomenon — to which even smart people might fall victim. A study back then had surprisingly found that most kids in an all-white fraternity were privately in favor of admitting black members, though most assumed, wrongly, that their personal views were greatly in the minority. Natural temerity made each individual assume that he was the lone oddball.


In pluralistic ignorance, as described by researchers Hubert O’Gorman and Stephen Garry in a 1976 paper published in Public Opinion Quarterly, “moral principles with relatively little popular support may exert considerable influence because they are mistakenly thought to represent the views of the majority, while normative imperatives actually favored by the majority may carry less weight because they are erroneously attributed to a minority.”

What is especially disturbing about the process is that it lends itself to control by the noisiest and most visible. Psychologists have noted that students who are the heaviest drinkers, for example, tend to speak out most strongly against proposed measures to curb drinking, and act as “subculture custodians” in support of their own minority views. Their strong vocalization can produce “false consensus” against such measures, as others, who think they’re part of the minority, keep quiet. As a consequence, the extremists gain influence out of all proportion to their numbers, while the views of the silent majority end up being suppressed. (The United States Department of Education has a brief page on the main ideas here.)


Over the past couple months, Glenn Greenwald at has done a superb job of documenting what certainly seems like it might be a case of pluralistic ignorance among the major political media, many (though certainly not all) of whom often seem to act as “subculture custodians” of their own amplified minority views. Routinely, it seems, views that get expressed and presented as majority views aren’t really that at all.

In a typical example in March, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported that most Americans wanted to pardon Scooter Libby, saying that the polling “indicates that most people think, in fact, that he should be pardoned, Scooter Libby should be pardoned.” In fact, polls showed that only 18 percent then favored a pardon.


As most people get their news from the major outlets, these distortions – however they occur, whether intentionally or through some more innocuous process of filtering – almost certainly translate into a strongly distorted image in peoples’ minds of what most people across the country think. They contribute to making mainstream Americans feel as if they’re probably not mainstream, which in turn may make them less likely to voice their opinions.

This analysis really resonated with me, as I have noticed that the media is very insistent about telling us not just what we should believe, but what we supposedly already believe, which I find even more sinister, like peer pressure on a grand scale. The media is so obsessed with this bogus “What the American people think” narrative that I simply cannot believe they are just innocent dupes who have fallen prey to the Republicans’ claims of “subcultural custodianship.” No, they are actively pushing the Republican message that progressive views are fringe and marginal, held only by Michael Moore and Barbra Streisand and the radical bomb-throwing leftists at MoveOn, not like you, the sensible salt-of-the-earth American viewer at home.

Does it work? Well, sort of: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen commenters (especially the ones from conservative states or districts) at liberal blogs express their relief at discovering that they were not alone. But it’s a lot. The blogosphere is a valuable reality check for progressives who see and hear and read nothing but Republican propaganda in the mainstream media and begin to doubt their own sanity. Of course, they have to find it first, or some other kind of support system, like friends or family or significant others or local political groups.

I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live a life where you know everything you’re reading and hearing is wrong, but you think you’re the only one who thinks so. I think it would be very tempting to just let go and decide that, well, if everyone else thinks that way, they can’t possibly be wrong…

2 comments May 24th, 2007 at 06:14pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Media,Politics,Republicans

Great Moments In Dubyatalk

Breaking News: Bin Laden determined to strike at U.S. reporters’ children!

At today’s presser, President Bush told reporters that lack of support for his policies would put their own children in danger:

Asked by NBC’s David Gregory why anyone should view him as credible on the war, Bush gave an answer that included this about the terrorists:

“They are a threat to your children, David.”

And in response to The New York Times‘s Jim Rutenberg, who asked why Bin Laden is still at large, Bush gave an answer that included this about terrorism:

“It’s a danger to your children, Jim.”

I’m a better daddy-protector than you are — now that’ll make ’em think again about asking tough questions! If you do, the Prez names you on national TV, suggests he understands the threat to your own kids better than you do. Sadder and sadder…

…oh, and I know Rutenberg, he doesn’t have kids, Mr. President.

So… in response to a question about why he hasn’t caught the world’s #1 terrorist, Dubya says that terrorism is a threat to Rutenberg’s nonexistent children? Is he saying that he actually hates children and wants the terrorists to get them, or just reporters’ children? After all, the fewer reporters there are in the world, the better it is for Republicans.

Also, if your non-nonexistent children are eligible for military service, then I would submit to you that the preznit is a much bigger threat to them than terrorism will ever be.

1 comment May 24th, 2007 at 03:00pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Media,Terrorism,Wankers

Almost Makes Me Want To Visit…

Wow. Just amazing:

PETERSBURG, Ky. – The entrance gates here are topped with metallic Stegosauruses. The grounds include a giant tyrannosaur standing amid the trees, and a stone-lined lobby sports varied sauropods. It could be like any other natural history museum, luring families with the promise of immense fossils and dinosaur adventures.

But step a little farther into the entrance hall, and you come upon a pastoral scene undreamt of by any natural history museum. Two prehistoric children play near a burbling waterfall, thoroughly at home in the natural world. Dinosaurs cavort nearby, their animatronic mechanisms turning them into alluring companions, their gaping mouths seeming not threatening, but almost welcoming, as an Apatosaurus munches on leaves a few yards away.


[H]ere at the $27 million Creation Museum, which opens on May 28 (just a short drive from the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport), this pastoral scene is a glimpse of the world just after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, in which dinosaurs are still apparently as herbivorous as humans, and all are enjoying a little calm in the days after the fall.

It also serves as a vivid introduction to the sheer weirdness and daring of this museum created by the Answers in Genesis ministry that combines displays of extraordinary nautilus shell fossils and biblical tableaus, celebrations of natural wonders and allusions to human sin. Evolution gets its continual comeuppance, while biblical revelations are treated as gospel.


It is a measure of the museum’s daring that dinosaurs and fossils — once considered major challenges to belief in the Bible’s creation story — are here so central, appearing not as tests of faith, as one religious authority once surmised, but as creatures no different from the giraffes and cats that still walk the earth. Fossils, the museum teaches, are no older than Noah’s flood; in fact dinosaurs were on the ark.

Okay, so all fossils are exactly the same age, and Noah’s Ark was apparently several times bigger than a cruise ship or aircraft carrier (also, I thought the flood was supposed to explain how the dinosaurs became extinct?). No problem – carry on.

There are 52 videos in the museum, one showing how the transformations wrought by the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 reveal how plausible it is that the waters of Noah’s flood could have carved out the Grand Canyon within days.

Fascinating. So… was Mt. St. Helens filled with water, or was the Flood made of lava? Sorry, I’m nitpicking again, don’t mind me…

Whether you are willing to grant the premises of this museum almost becomes irrelevant as you are drawn into its mixture of spectacle and narrative. Its 60,000 square feet of exhibits are often stunningly designed by Patrick Marsh, who, like the entire museum staff, declares adherence to the ministry’s views; he evidently also knows the lure of secular sensations, since he designed the “Jaws” and “King Kong” attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.

For the skeptic the wonder is at a strange universe shaped by elaborate arguments, strong convictions and intermittent invocations of scientific principle. For the believer, it seems, this museum provides a kind of relief: Finally the world is being shown as it really is, without the distortions of secularism and natural selection.


But for a visitor steeped in the scientific world view, the impact of the museum is a disorienting mix of faith and reason, the exotic and the familiar. Nature here is not “red in tooth and claw,” as Tennyson asserted. In fact at first it seems almost as genteel as Eden’s dinosaurs. We learn that chameleons, for example, change colors not because that serves as a survival mechanism, but “to ‘talk’ to other chameleons, to show off their mood, and to adjust to heat and light.”

Seems like it would require a pretty remarkable chain of coincidence for chameleons’ communications, moods, and “adjustments” to correlate so closely with the coloration of their surroundings, eh?

The heart of the museum is a series of catastrophes. The main one is the fall, with Adam and Eve eating of the tree of knowledge; after that tableau the viewer descends from the brightness of Eden into genuinely creepy cement hallways of urban slums. Photographs show the pain of war, childbirth, death — the wages of primal sin….

The other catastrophe, in the museum’s view, is of more recent vintage: the abandonment of the Bible by church figures who began to treat the story of creation as if it were merely metaphorical, and by Enlightenment philosophers, who chipped away at biblical authority. The ministry believes this is a slippery slope.

Start accepting evolution or an ancient Earth, and the result is like the giant wrecking ball, labeled “Millions of Years,” that is shown smashing the ground at the foundation of a church, the cracks reaching across the gallery to a model of a home in which videos demonstrate the imminence of moral dissolution. A teenager is shown sitting at a computer; he is, we are told, looking at pornography.

There you have it, folks: Go to the Creation Museum or your kids will become addicted to internet porn.

I don’t have any problem with Christians in general, but the sheer volume of science, observation, and common sense that you have to throw away to believe in creationism is truly frightening. As bad as intelligent design is, at least it acknowledges the age of the Earth, and the gradual development and transformation of the lifeforms on it.

While not a Christian myself, I really don’t see what the problem is with saying that God created natural selection along with all the other underlying principles that shape our world and universe – it’s a pretty slick piece of work.

May 24th, 2007 at 11:54am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Religion,Science,Weirdness

Belated Wednesday Softball Blogging

Last night was my first Wednesday night game of the season, and it went uncharacteristically well. I usually suck on Wednesdays, but last night I went 4-for-5 with a triple, a run, and 2 RBI (I probably would have had more RBI if the guy in front of me hadn’t kept hitting home runs….). Except for one ball that got past me, I was fairly solid on defense, although I really didn’t get a whole lot of chances.

2007 Stats: 2 games, .636 BA (7-11), .818 SLG, 0 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 1 run, 2 RBI.

Career Stats: 49 games, .595 BA (198-333), .808 SLG, 32 2B, 6 3B, 9 HR, 110 runs, 87 RBI.

Kind of a strange-looking swing… but very effective.

Really nice catch.

May 24th, 2007 at 07:24am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Photoblogging,Softball


I’m writing this on the bus on my way to softball, so it will be necessarily brief, vague, and unlinky. It also means I won’t have a chance to take a close look at Monica’s testimony for a while, but my impressions of what I’ve seen so far have been pretty underwhelming.

My understanding is that when a Fifth-taking potential witness is granted immunity so that they’ll testify, they have to tell the prosecutors what beans they’re going to spill, so the prosecutors can decide whether it’s worth it. Sometimes the prosecutors will make an exception, as Fitz did for Ari Fleischer, but I understand that that is pretty rare, and the witness has to convince them that they have some really blockbuster stuff.

Now, I’m pretty sure I read that Monica Goodling went through this process to get immunity for her House Judiciary Committee testimony, and I have to ask: Just what was it that she promised them?

Based on what I’ve seen so far (again, admittedly not complete), these are the beans she has spilled in exchange for her get-out-of-jail-free card:

o She, um, may have broken the law with her hiring practices, but she just got carried away and she totally didn’t mean to.

o Even though she was the DOJ’s White House Liaison, she had very little contact with anyone important at the WH, and never talked to Karl or Harriet about any USAs.

o The WH was involved, but she didn’t know anything about it, it was all McNulty. Or Sampson. Or someone else who’s already gone…

o Gonzo tried to have an oh-so-subtle let’s-get-our-stories-straight conversation with her.

o Some of the things that Gonzo and DOJ did were pretty damn inappropriate.

That seems kinda… thin to me for giving her that kind of a free pass. Did the Dems know that that was all she was going to say and gave her immunity anyway, or did she double-cross them? Or did they give her immunity on blind faith? Or was there some major bombshell that I’m missing here?

Also, a lot of what I saw sounded pretty dodgy to me – will the Dems go after her for perjury?

May 23rd, 2007 at 06:19pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism,Democrats,Politics,Republicans

Heckuva Job, Pervy

You can add Pakistan’s dictator to the long list of anti-democratic Mini-Mes who Bush props up long after it becomes clear that they are incompetent, toxic, and destructive. Because those are apparently traits he admires.

May 23rd, 2007 at 11:52am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Corruption/Cronyism,Politics,Terrorism

Quote Of The Day

From an NYT story about shark parthogenesis:

I would be concerned about a lot of other things than whether or not a female shark can get a date for an evening.

Scientists have no empathy at all.

May 23rd, 2007 at 11:39am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Quotes,Science


The Democrats appear to have completely forgotten why they got elected in 2006, which was to end the war and clean up the culture of corruption that the Republicans have cultivated in Congress.

Right now it looks like they’re 0-for-2. If they don’t show any results, if they continue to look like they’re dragging their feet or missing their spines, then the 2008 election will be a huge disappointment. Base voters will feel betrayed, the converts who voted for them in 2006 will feel like they were ripped off and lied to. Most importantly, the Democrats won’t be able to tie war and corruption around the Republicans’ necks, because they are now enabling them. Brilliant.

1 comment May 23rd, 2007 at 07:19am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Corruption/Cronyism,Democrats,Iraq,Politics,Wankers

Wednesday Why-I-Love-The-Weekly-World-News Blogging

Apparently, Jewish mice are not to be trusted…

BROOKYLN, N.Y. — While preparing for Sabbath services at the Brocheh of Our Fathers Synagogue, Rabbi Bernard Weinstein discovered an unusual group of rodents scurrying across the pulpit.

“I spotted five or six mice racing toward the Ark, where the Torah is kept,” said Weinstein. “They were all carrying shiny objects in their forepaws as they darted into the wall.”

Weinstein grabbed a flashlight from his office and shined it into the small hole in which the mice had fled.

“It was a treasure trove,” said Weinstein. “There were dozens of coins, lapel pins and even some jewelry. This explained where missing valuables had gone. I’d assumed that congregants had lost them elsewhere or they were accidentally collected by the custodian, since we never found any lost items.”

It turns out these enterprising pests had also stored large amounts of matzoh, challah and kosher cheese in the mouse lair.

“Obviously, those things had been taken from the kitchen,” Rabbi Weinstein said. Though determined to return the valuables to their owners, Weinstein couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in the hardworking mice.

“These rodents have done very well for themselves,” said Weinstein. “I’ve always heard that church mice are poor. The same obviously can’t be said for synagogue mice.”

I’m feeling vaguely offended…

May 23rd, 2007 at 07:11am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Weekly World News

It Was Necessary To Destroy Falwell’s Funeral In Order To Save It

This is some seriously messed-up logic right here:

…Campbell County authorities arrested a Liberty University student for having several homemade bombs in his car.

The student, 19-year-old Mark D. Uhl of Amissville, Va., reportedly told authorities that he was making the bombs to stop protesters from disrupting the funeral service. The devices were made of a combination of gasoline and detergent, a law enforcement official told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas. They were “slow burn,” according to the official, and would not have been very destructive.


Three other suspects are being sought, one of whom is a soldier from Fort Benning, Ga., and another is a high school student. No information was available on the third suspect.

Firebombs for Jesus!

4 comments May 23rd, 2007 at 12:07am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Religion,Republicans,Terrorism,Weirdness

Career Change

No, not me. This guy:

When he retired in 1993 after more than 30 years as a disguise specialist for the Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Barron wasn’t ready to stop doing the work he loved. The Bluemont resident founded Custom Prosthetic Designs in Ashburn.

The one-man shop specializes in lifelike silicone prosthetics for people with birth defects or missing features. Barron has sculpted an ear for a 5-year-old born without one, a nose for a cancer survivor and fingers for a survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

If his work, shown in before-and-after photos on his Web site, appears startling in its verisimilitude, that’s because Barron worries the details, down to the hairs visible on an ear and the freckles on a nose. “It’s just like in the Agency,” he says. “I wouldn’t issue [agents] a disguise if their life would be in jeopardy” as the result of a less-than-perfect disguise.

Now that is an excellent repurposing of one’s skill set. Check out the photo gallery with the story – it looks like he really does love his work, and the detail is just amazing.

This guy could have made a fortune in Hollywood, but chose to help people instead. I’m sure he’s not exactly starving, but good on him anyway.

1 comment May 22nd, 2007 at 09:39pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Technology

Lincoln Thinkin’

This is ultimately kind of a pointless exercise, but I found it fascinating:

If Ford’s Theatre had been in Baltimore, if the patient had been taken to the state Shock Trauma Center and if 1865 were 2007 . . . Abraham Lincoln might have survived the gunshot wound to his head.

If he had lived, he would at the very least have been partially blind, unsteady on his feet, numb in certain regions of his body and inarticulate. Nevertheless, he might have been able to think and, after much rehabilitation, communicate.

What that might have meant to the United States at the dawn of reunification after the Civil War — well, the string of imaginary events can be unspooled forever.

In their annual examination with the flexible retrospectoscope, medical experts last week took on the case of Abraham Lincoln at the 13th Historical Clinicopathological Conference, sponsored by the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs hospital.

“We probably see a dozen gunshot wounds to the head each year where people survive. He had a non-fatal injury by 2007 standards,” said Thomas M. Scalea, a surgeon and the director of the Shock Trauma Center.

Though almost all previous analyses have called Lincoln’s wound unsurvivable under any circumstance, Scalea believes evidence to the contrary is in plain view. Lincoln survived for nine hours.

Lincoln was shot about 10:25 p.m. on April 14, 1865. He lived long past the “golden hour” when stabilization of vital functions — principally, respiration and blood pressure — is essential. Throughout the night his condition waxed and waned, until brain swelling and blood loss tipped him inevitably toward death, which occurred at 7:22 a.m. the next day.

“For him to have lived today would not be an extraordinary thing,” Scalea said.

John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, shot the 16th president with a muzzle-loading derringer pistol. The bullet — apparently a .41-caliber slug fired from the .44-caliber weapon — pierced the lower rear part of the skull, called the occipital bone, and traveled roughly straight forward.

It tore a path through the left side of the brain, including through the fluid-filled lateral ventricle. But it did not hit the brainstem, which controls such essential functions as breathing, did not cross the midline, and stopped before entering the frontal lobes, the seat of reason and emotional control.

The story has detailed descriptions of the (surprisingly good) treatment that Lincoln received, and of the treatment that he would have received had the shooting occurred today.

If that’s not enough, you can check out the chat session with the reporter, which touches on the other three assassinated presidents (Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy), and the fact that Lincoln’s bodyguard was in a bar across the street when Lincoln was shot(!) No mention of whether Reagan would have survived if he had been shot in the 19th century, which might be an interesting question in itself. It sure sounds like Secret Service agents trained to jump in front of bullets didn’t come along until much later…

And yes, a bunch of people pointed out that if Lincoln had been shot with a modern gun with the same range and location, he would have been toast.

There is also some discussion about what would have happened if Lincoln had survived in an incapacitated state, as there was not yet any Constitutional provision for transfer of powers.

May 22nd, 2007 at 07:04pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science

WTF Is Wrong With These People???

Gee, I can’t imagine why anyone would ever want to get a restraining order against a prince of a guy like this:

BOSTON – A father told a would-be hit man he’d have no regrets about having his own family killed – even his 7-year-old daughter – but he did have some requests, authorities said.

John Orlowski wanted his estranged wife and mother-in-law shot twice in the head, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. For his little girl, Orlowski wanted one shot to the chest so she could have an open-coffin funeral, court records said.

Orlowski appeared in federal court yesterday, charged in an attempted murder-for-hire plot uncovered last week when the mother of the gang member who was asked to do the killing called the FBI.

The gang member, who belongs to the Crips and has a long criminal record, was troubled by the plot, especially the prospect of killing a child, the FBI said.

Orlowski, 49, met the prospective hit man while in jail after his second arrest for violating a restraining order his wife had taken out on him.


Working with the FBI, the man met with Orlowski on Friday and taped a conversation in which Orlowski allegedly specified how many bullets he wanted in each victim.

That’s so sweet that he wanted his daughter to have an open coffin funeral. Nothing but the best for Daddy’s little girl, I guess. Arrrgh.

The fact that his wife had a restraining order on him and he wanted his own daughter dead makes me wonder if the full story might be even more horrible than reported. Not that I really want to know – I’m still recovering from the Ted Klaudt, “I’m not a gynecologist, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express” story.

May 22nd, 2007 at 06:03pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Uncategorized

Books That I Must Have


The images arrayed here come from “The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss” (University of Chicago Press, 2007), by Claire Nouvian, a French journalist and film director. In its preface, Ms. Nouvian writes of an epiphany that began her undersea journey.

“It was as though a veil had been lifted,” she says, “revealing unexpected points of view, vaster and more promising.”

The photographs she has selected celebrate that sense of the unexpected. Bizarre species from as far down as four and half miles are shown in remarkable detail, their tentacles lashing, eyes bulging, lights flashing. The eerie translucence of many of the gelatinous creatures seems to defy common sense. They seem to be living water.

On page after page, it is as if aliens had descended from another world to amaze and delight. A small octopus looks like a child’s squeeze toy. A seadevil looks like something out of a bad dream. A Ping-Pong tree sponge rivals artwork that might be seen in an upscale gallery.


One shows a dense colony of brittle stars, their arms intertwined and overlapping, their masses in the distance merging with the blackness of the seabed, alive, inhabiting a place once thought to be a lifeless desert.

Craig M. Young of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology writes in the book that the diversity of life in the abyss “may exceed that of the Amazon Rain Forest and the Great Barrier Reef combined.”

Do be sure to click through to the review and check out the slideshow for more bizarre creatures. And tell me that the yellow dumbo octopus doesn’t look just like a Pokemon.

2 comments May 22nd, 2007 at 11:07am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Books,Coolness,Science,Weirdness

B&W Demolition Blogging

The only thing photographically cooler than construction is… demolition. You’ve got more chaos, more rough edges, more exposed guts, more pathos. Um, none of which is really on display in these photos.

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Some salvaged masonry.

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The doomed building itself.

May 22nd, 2007 at 07:38am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Photoblogging,Pittsburgh

Another Kind Of Timeshift

What precious natural resource goes from wild abundance to nonexistent scarcity every 24 hours?

Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, [Mark] Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

…Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.


“At a dedication ceremony for the first four schools in June 2006,” Mr. Gardner said in an e-mail message, “we noticed that a lot of the children had upper respiratory problems, part of which is likely due to the use of wood, charcoal, candles and kero for lighting in the small homes they have in Kibala.”

The Awty International School, a large prep school in Houston, has sent hundreds of the flashlights to schools it sponsors in Haiti, Cameroon and Ethiopia, said Chantal Duke, executive assistant to the head of school.

“In places where there is absolutely no electricity or running water, having light at night is a luxury many families don’t have and never did and which we take for granted in developed countries,” Ms. Duke said by e-mail.(…)

With a little research, [Bent] discovered that close to two billion people around the world go without affordable access to light.

Of all the privations that Africa is associated with, light is typically not one of them – but if you don’t have electricity or fuel, then your life pretty much shuts down after sunset. Much applause for Mr. Bent.

May 21st, 2007 at 06:29pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Technology

This Was Just A Warning

Like I said, we need to leave the bees alone:

LIGONIER, Ind. (AP) — A swarm of honeybees temporarily disrupted a charity fundraising event, but no one reported being stung.

Authorities evacuated the area Saturday after the swarm of about 3,000 bees emerged from the woods around the West Noble High School football field, where 700 people were participating in a fundraising walk for the American Cancer Society.

The bees landed on a large umbrella shading the campsite of one of the more than 60 teams taking part in the 24-hour event in the town, 40 miles northwest of Fort Wayne.

A local beekeeper, Matt Green, used a smoke machine to calm the bees and coax them into a beehive he brought to the field. The event was delayed about 45 minutes.

Don’t make the bees angry. You wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.

Also: Bees can be coaxed into beehives other than their own? I find that surprising, but I am admittedly not an expert on bees.

4 comments May 21st, 2007 at 05:36pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Environment

Mama Don’t Take My Autochrome Away

Color photo by Edward Steichen. From 1908.

At first glance the two pictures seem to be gorgeous anachronisms, full-color blasts from the black-and-white world of 1908, the year Ford introduced the Model T and Theodore Roosevelt was nearing the end of his second term.

But they are genuine products of their time, rare ones, among the few surviving masterpieces from the earliest days of color photography, made using a process developed by the Lumière brothers in France and imported to the United States by the photographer Edward Steichen a century ago this year. They were taken by Steichen, probably in Buffalo, and are thought to be portraits of Charlotte Spaulding, a friend and student who became his luminous subject for the portraits, which resemble pointillist miniatures on glass.


Eastman House has a substantial collection of Steichen works, including 22 of the same kind of color photographs, known as autochromes. But when Anthony Bannon, the museum’s director, received a call last summer from a Buffalo lawyer, who said his client, Charlotte Albright, a 96-year-old painter, wanted to donate three examples of what were probably antique glass-plate negatives, Mr. Bannon assumed they were the works of her mother, Charlotte Spaulding.


Mr. Bannon said that because the photographs had sat for so long out of the light, their colors remained particularly vivid. “They’re in just as perfect a shape as you could expect from something from almost a century ago,” he said.

Autochromes are positive images, meaning they are unique and not negatives that can be used to create prints. They were made using a complex process in which tiny dyed grains of potato starch were spread across a piece of glass and light was passed through them to a photo-sensitive plate.

The three colors of the starch grains — bright blue-violet, bright orange-red and Kelly green — worked together to produce a wide range of realistic-looking colors, in the same way that combinations of red, blue and green dots produce a color-television picture.

“If you did it right, you had the basic colors you were looking at when you took the picture,” said Mark Osterman, the photographic-process historian at Eastman House.

Very, very cool.

4 comments May 21st, 2007 at 11:17am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Art/Architecture,Coolness

Monday Media Blogging

Oh my. Insane psychedelic music videos by Hifana, by way of Pink Tentacle:
Fat Bros.


5 comments May 21st, 2007 at 07:35am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Monday Media Blogging

Clean Bees Are Happy Bees

I guess this is less than surprising…

Sharon Labchuk is a longtime environmental activist and part-time organic beekeeper from Prince Edward Island. She has twice run for a seat in Ottawa’s House of Commons, making strong showings around 5% for Canada’s fledgling Green Party. She is also leader of the provincial wing of her party. In a widely circulated email, she wrote:

I’m on an organic beekeeping list of about 1,000 people, mostly Americans, and no one in the organic beekeeping world, including commercial beekeepers, is reporting colony collapse on this list. The problem with the big commercial guys is that they put pesticides in their hives to fumigate for varroa mites, and they feed antibiotics to the bees. They also haul the hives by truck all over the place to make more money with pollination services, which stresses the colonies.

Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. And, have we here a solution to the vanishing bee problem? Is it one that the CCD Working Group, or indeed, the scientific world at large, will support? Will media coverage affect government action in dealing with this issue?


We’ve been pushing them too hard, Dr. Peter Kevan, an associate professor of environmental biology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, told the CBC. And we’re starving them out by feeding them artificially and moving them great distances. Given the stress commercial bees are under, Kevan suggests CCD might be caused by parasitic mites, or long cold winters, or long wet springs, or pesticides, or genetically modified crops. Maybe it’s all of the above…

In other words, maybe we should just leave the poor bees the hell alone.

(Chain of hat tips: The Sideshow -> Emphyrio -> GroovyGreen)

9 comments May 20th, 2007 at 09:12pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Environment,Science

Sunday I’m-Going-To-Hell Blogging
The Dr. Seuss Bible.

And if that’s not enough, I offer the following question:

Does a military chaplain ever wear an Army surplice?

1 comment May 20th, 2007 at 12:30pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Puns,Religion,TV

We’re All Doomed

Steve Benen finds something scary:

The AP had an interesting item today, highlighting Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ perspective on being close friends with the president. As the embattled Gonzales sees it, his close relationship with Bush, which spans decades, is inherently “a good thing” for everyone.

“Being able to go and having a very candid conversation and telling the president: ‘Mr. President, this cannot be done. You can’t do this,’ — I think you want that,” Gonzales told reporters this week. “And I think having a personal relationship makes that, quite frankly, much easier always to deliver bad news.”

“Do you recall a time when you (were) in there and said, ‘Mr. President, we can’t do this’?” Gonzales was asked.

“Oh, yeah,” the attorney general responded.

“Can you share it with us?” a reporter asked.

“No,” Gonzales said.

Now, I think there are two ways to look at this.

1. Gonzales is lying about this little story, and there’s never been a time in which he’s had to keep the president from going too far. He’s the quintessential “yes man,” who does as he’s told.

2. Gonzales is telling the truth, and the Attorney General/WH Counsel — the one who’s approved of abandoning the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law — believes some of the president’s other requests are beyond the pale.

Boy howdy, just think how big a yes-man Gonzo would be if he weren’t the president’s good buddy.

4 comments May 19th, 2007 at 09:48pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Corruption/Cronyism,Republicans

Random B&W Photoblogging

Some completely unrelated pictures:

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Kind of a skylight thingy.

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Tunnel/overpass. Shiny!

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The end of the railing.

May 19th, 2007 at 05:51pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Photoblogging,Pittsburgh



This is rather long, but absolutely fascinating. By way of Phila at Bouphonia, it’s a New Yorker story about the “Antikythera Mechanism,” an ancient Greek clock/lunar calendar/orrery that by all rights should never have existed (the ancient Greeks were not supposed to know much about gears).

If you’re into archeology, antiquity, astronomy, or [synonym for technology which starts with A], you really must read it.

1 comment May 19th, 2007 at 11:55am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Technology

An Exciting First


Our long wait is over:

On May 18, buildup Co., Ltd. unveiled the Tamanoi Vinegar Robot, the world’s first robot designed to make presentations about vinegar.


8 comments May 18th, 2007 at 10:51pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Technology,Weirdness

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