31 January, 2010

Look, It Was For a Good Cause, All Right?

Damn you, intertoobz!  All I meant to do was catch up on The Coffee-Stained Writer during dinner, and look what happened - I spent entirely too much time proving to the universe that I know lots about geography, English, and art.  But hey - someone's getting a bowl of rice out of it.

If you like quizzes and charity, FreeRice.com is the place for you.  Have fun!

30 January, 2010

Time to Be Fillin' the Hold

(Postdated for those who've only just got out of the taverns. New content be below.)

Captain Cujo be worried, me hearties: the hold be nearly empty, and the crew be nowhere in sight.  We have an unhappy captain:
At the risk of being a martinet, I'm not satisfied. We sail this weekend regardless, because I doubt I'll be able to do much next weekend, and if we keep pushing cruises back we'll eventually be so far back in time that we meet ourselves, or something like that.
We can't be havin' wi' this.  So allow myself to repeat myself:

Captain Cujo be lookin' for ye!

Once again, I'll be donning the funny hat and and as many pistols as I can carry as I host a cruise of the carnival. I'd love to see submissions from folks who haven't participated before, particularly if they're regular readers. If you submit your entry before January 29, that would be even better. I'll have more time to work on that narrative thing I heard about in composition class. January 29 is the deadline, however.

If you're still not sure what sort of article works as a COTEB article, click on the COTEB keyword and check out some past carnivals.

So, as Admiral Hunter says, send us your treasures, and we'll see you in a few days.

BTW, if you don't have a website, but you have an article that you've written, send it to me and I'll put it up here as a guest post.
We be expectin' a big crew this time, especially in light o' the fact so many o' us missed the boat after the holidays.  So get yer submissions in by January 29th.

Or suffer the shame o' missin' the boat.

29 January, 2010

Dear, oh Dear

I seem to have let time get away from me this evening.  At least I've got something to show for it:

Yes, it looks funky with the scale off to the side, but I've got reasons.  Namely, I'm not sure where land's going.  For the poles, that didn't matter so much, but for inhabited continents, one doesn't want a scale in the way.  And look at all that nice lovely room I'll have for legends and so forth.

Doing this takes an extraordinary amount of time.  To top that off, most of today at work was frantically busy, so I couldn't sneak in ye olde political reading in between calls.  But I gathered some snippets for your reading pleasure.  For instance, you really mustn't miss Judd Gregg's temper tantrum.  My, he gets testy when folks ask him for policy specifics rather than meaningless platitudes, doesn't he? 

The big news, of course, was the aftermath of the State of the Union address.  Rudy Giuliani has severe comprehension problems.  That's the charitable way of looking at it - the uncharitable view is that he's a lying little shit.  Take your pick.

All is not well in the world o' Teabagger conventions.  Not with Blackburn and Bachmann pulling out.  That leaves the organizers with no one but Sarah Palin to justify their $500 + attendance fees.  Tickets are still available!  Hurry, they're - well, not actually going fast, so no worries on finding a seat if you want to spend half a grand to listen to Palin's pablum.  I'd go, but I've got to pluck my nosehairs that day.

In good health care reform news, Pelosi's preparing to hit insurance companies where it hurts.  I like this idea of making them suffer the same anti-trust laws my own company has to follow.  It veritably warms the cockles of my heart.

I wonder how the Senate will fuck that up?

Speaking of the Senate and total fuck-ups, check out Evan Bayh's moral wrongs.

Pretty thin gruel today, I know.  But at least now you have time to go press-gang posts for COTEB, right?

28 January, 2010

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

Time flies when you're obsessing over a map.  Just ask Efrique how addictive it is.  So do forgive me for making this as short and sharp as possible.

All is not well in the state of Dumbfuckistan.  In fact, there seems to be a revolution brewing, courtesy of Teabagger fave Bachmann and her sidekick King:
The Sioux City Journal reports that Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are teaming up to introduce a “Declaration of Health Care Independence.” “We demand Constitutional protection of the right to make our own health decisions and our own health care choices free of government denials, bureaucratic red tape and greater intergenerational debt,” reads the declaration’s “Preamble.” When Bachmann first floated the idea a couple of weeks ago, King said it “lit up for me.” Bachmann, too, is quite fond of King, floating him as a potential presidential candidate last year. The Hill explains that Bachmann, King, and a few other right-wing congressmen have been meeting privately to collaborate on a plan to revolt against their Party leaders:
Conservative lawmakers, including Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Louie Gohmert (Texas) and John Shadegg (Ariz.), have been meeting privately to “foment revolution,” according to a source involved in the discussions. […]

King said the group’s effort is aimed at getting “aggressive” on pushing conservative policy alternatives. […]

One Republican member seeking anonymity explained that the group of rabble-rousers is frustrated not only with the conference leaders but also with the leadership of Republican Study Committee (RSC) Chairman Tom Price (Ga.).
And here is my hope for the future of my country: that the insanity of the Con party rips it apart before they can do any more damage to us.  I feel a wee bit o' optimism today.

Bonus King idiocy: trying to defend the indefensible.

Meanwhile, governing in a bipartisan fashion is still impossible with this bunch of nitwits.  Case in point:
The Senate voted yesterday on a proposal to create a bipartisan commission on deficit reduction. The effort failed -- "only" a 53-member majority supported the idea.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether the commission was a worthwhile idea, but if we put merit aside for a moment, it's worth noting what yesterday's vote tells us about Senate Republican attitudes right now.
Six GOP senators co-sponsored the legislation to create the commission, and then voted against their own idea. Asked for an explanation, the Republicans said the commission -- which was intended to push policymakers to make uncomfortable decisions -- might have told them what they didn't want to hear, and should therefore not exist.

Read the whole thing. It's an object lesson in the kind of fucktarded thinking that passes for policy positions with these morons.

In dumbfuck Dem news, it turns out Ben Nelson had a knife in hand, ready to plunge into the backs of his caucus:
For any legislator who wants to learn how to drive a bargain, check out this stunning interview Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) conducted with Life Site News.

Now that the Democrats have only 59 votes--insufficient to overcome a filibuster--Nelson is providing an inside look at his legislative strategy. And it's...remarkable. Nelson famously insisted that, to get his vote, Senate health care legislation would have to include restrictions on abortion financing. Now, however, he says his plan all along was to pull a bait and switch: Wait until the House and Senate met to merge their two bills and then push for yet tougher language.

"[O]nce it went to conference, as part of the conference, there was still another 60 vote threshold, and that is when I would have insisted... for my last 60th vote, it has to have [Stupak-like language]," Nelson said.

Raise your hand if you're surprised.

Steve Benen thinks he's full of shit and just trying to polish his Con cred for the conservative voters he hopes to woo.  This is one of those rare times I disagree: I think Nelson absolutely planned to do this, even though he'd lose.  He's proven time and again just how willing he is to betray his own.  But I have to admit one thing: the Dems really need to sit down with this asshole and learn how negotiation is done.

Moving on to things that aren't actually stupid or outrageous... I just want to point out something that gets lost in all the GOP noise: Dems aren't actually losing all their battles:
For instance, in this year of alleged Republican insurgency, the Democrats have actually won three congressional seats. Did you know that? I doubt that most people do.
That's one message.  Here's another:

It's understandable that policymakers would look to statewide elections to get a sense of the public's mood. Last week, a narrow majority of Massachusetts voters chose a conservative senator, and the political establishment took that to mean the electorate is shifting to the right.

But if those results offered broader lessons about voters' attitudes, maybe this week's results in Oregon do, too.
Facing a budget crunch that threatened to close schools early, lay off teachers and slash healthcare benefits, Oregon voters ended two decades of tax scrimping Tuesday by approving higher taxes on corporations and wealthy families.

The two ballot measures passed handily in a referendum watched closely around the country as a signal of whether voters are ready to approve targeted tax hikes to bail out cash-starved state treasuries.

One can only assume that Republicans will see these results, notice that usually-tax-averse voters just endorsed tax increases, and interpret Oregon's vote as "sending a signal" about the kind of economic policies Americans want to see right now.

Or maybe not.
Considering it crimps their narrative, I'm plumping for not.  But it's a fact we should be shouting far, wide and loud.  Americans may not be thrilled with Dems just now, but that doesn't mean they've suddenly all turned Teabagger.  Important thing to remember.

And, finally, a link from Ezra Klein I found fascinating: "A lot of liberals in Congress seem to have bought into the odd premise that the benefits that they receive would somehow be a step down for the rest of the country."

It's just too damned bad we didn't tie health care reform to Congress' own health care plans.  If they'd been forced to switch to what they give us, and if their failure meant they'd lose their own insurance, we'd probably be on single payer right at this minute.

Something to keep in mind next time we're looking to improve our standard of living.

27 January, 2010

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

Someone opened the floodgates of stupidity today.  And it looks like the reservoir was full.  Hope everybody has flood insurance.

We begin with intrepid faux-investigator and sometime fake pimp James O'Keefe, who's decided that hidden camera operations aren't half as fun as trying to tap Congresspersons' telephones:

James O'Keefe, the young conservative filmmaker who was behind the undercover operations that led to the ACORN scandal last year, was arrested with three others for allegedly trying to bug the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) yesterday.

The FBI announced today the foursome have been charged with entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony.

The affidavit alleges that the botched phone bugging began with two of the four men -- Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan, both 24 -- entering Landrieu's office in downtown New Orleans in Village People-style construction worker garb, claiming they were telephone repairmen.

I hope they enjoy those federal felony charges, there.  At least they've got Faux News coming to their defense. There truly aren't any depths of stupidity that Faux News won't dive in to, are there?

Speaking of Faux News and depths, there's no limit to how low they will go:

Well, you'd think Bill O'Reilly would at least be a little embarrassed that Fox News Channel was the only news entity on cable TV not to broadcast last week's "Hope for Haiti" concert.

But no. Instead of apologizing or even mentioning some kind of lame excuse why Fox didn't air it, on his show last night O'Reilly actually went on the warpath against the benefit and its organizers, demanding "transparency" and a full accounting of where all the money's going.

What really got his dander up? The benefit's organizers "wouldn't or couldn't" provide a spokesman to come on his show and explain himself.
Awww, poor Billy.  He got his widdle feelings hurt by people who had better fucking things to do than stroke his ego.  Things like, y'know, concentrate on the folks who need help, and the folks who are willing to help them.

In upcoming election stupidity, McCain challenger J.D. Hayworth butters up the birthers by pretending the President never presented a certified birth certificate.  I particularly like his shout-out to sports fans, there, saying that football players have to pony up, so why not the Prez?  Alas for that argument, I'm relatively positive that high schools, colleges, and the NFL consider Hawaii's official short form certificate adequate proof of birth.  And Hayworth might possibly be bright enough to realize this, but he's got to play to the frothing inane portion of the Con base, and so we get even abjecter stupidity than we usually hear from this dumbshit.

Bonus fuckwittery in the AZ election: Teabaggers are furious at their darling Sarah Palin for supporting McCain.  Somebody pop us some popcorn - this is bound to be entertaining.

Turning now to Indiana, Sen. Evan Bayh's challenger had some fascinating fanaticism on display:
Richard Behney, an Indiana Tea Party activist and candidate for the Republican nomination for Senate against Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, made a striking pronouncement at a meeting late last year of the "Evansville 2nd Amendment Patriots": That if new people don't get elected to Congress in 2010, he'll be getting out his guns to face down the American government.

"That's the beauty of this, folks. We can do it before it gets to guns," said Behney, in praise of the electoral process. "All right, our founders brought out the guns. When they showed up at Lexington and Concord, regular folks, farm boys, doctors, merchant men, and they said you ain't taking our stuff. They stood up to the most powerful army in the world, and they bought our freedom, literally with their blood. And we don't have to do that yet.

"I believe personally, we're at a crossroads. We have one last opportunity. And I believe 2010 is it. All right? And we can do it with our vote. And we can get new faces in, whether it's my face or not, I pray to God that I see new faces. And if we don't see new faces, I'm cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I'm serious about that, and I bet you are, too. But I know none of us want to go that far yet, and we can do it with our vote."

Shorter Behney: "Elect me or I'll shoot."  There's a bumper sticker slogan for ye.  All I can say is, if this freak gets enough freaks and fucktards to the polls to elect him, I'm fetching my mother from Indiana and installing her here.  She deserves better representation than this violent little fuck.  And I never thought I'd say this, but: "Mom, if it comes down to a choice between Bayh and this asshat, vote for Bayh."


I wonder if he passes the GOP's proposed purity test?  One thing's for sure: as nuts as Scott Brown is, he isn't quite nuts enough.

And, in health care stupidity, the House Dems are ready to make a move as soon as the Senate assures them the most fucked-up bits of the Senate bill will be fixed via reconciliation.  The former kings and queens of the Senate are screaming bloody murder, but as Greg Sargent points out, "Because it only needs a majority, what those three have to say about it doesn’t really matter!"  This gave me one of the warmest, fuzziest feelings I've had in a long time.

Of course, Cons have already declared open war:

The GOP Senate leadership has privately settled on a strategy to derail health reform if Dems try to pass the Senate bill with a fix through reconciliation, aides say: Unleash an endless stream of amendments designed to stall for time and to force Dems to take untenable votes.

The aide described the planned GOP strategy as a “free for all of amendments,” vowing Dems would face “a mountain of amendments so politically toxic they’ll make the first health debate look like a post office naming.”

To which a former Senate parliamentarian sez their strategy is "patently absurd:"

But at least one former Senate parliamentarian is calling the strategy “patently absurd.” According to Robert Dove, who served as Senate parliamentarian until 2001, “In the Senate, the motion to go to that [reconciliation] bill is not debatable, and the bill itself is only debatable for 20 hours. All amendments must be germane.” “If there are differences between the two houses in their reconciliation bills, then you would either work out those differences through a conference, or through amendments as they bounce back and forth,” Dove told Lester Feder, who has been covering health care policy for The Nation and the O’Neill institute’s health law blog.

Dove also revealed that Vice President Joe Biden, not the Senate parliamentarian, is “the ultimate decider” of “what can stay in under the rules“:
But no vice president has tried to play that role in reconciliation. We haven’t had vice presidents that have tried to play important procedural roles for a very long time. The last one was Nelson Rockefeller, in 1975, and before him Hubert Humphrey, in the 1960’s. But no vice president has ever tried to play a role in reconciliation. Basically, since Walter Mondale was vice president, they have kind of been co-opted by the president and given an office down in the West Wing. Their interest in playing Senate politics has become attenuated. That has left the Senate parliamentarian in an extremely powerful position.
In this case, at least, as long as the Dems don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once again, it looks like the Cons can huff and puff all they want, but only until they take a punch to the solar plexus from ye olde rules.

And Tom Udall has joined the anti-filibuster crusade.  Even if it goes nowhere, it still shines a spotlight on some rather unprecedented abuse by Senate Cons, and might make a few otherwise clueless voters realize why we used to hear of legislation passing with less than 60 votes.

Looks like pollyticks is getting fun again, my darlings.  Stay tuned.

26 January, 2010

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

Happy Hour's back, but I can't say it's actually happy.  Reading political news lately has been one long experience in repetitious dumbfuckery.  I'd hoped Dems would extract their heads from their asses after the initial shock of seeing a Teabagging shitheel elected to Ted Kennedy's seat, but no such luck - they're still acting like the world's ended.  This tells me that there's far too many who are merely using the loss of one Senate seat as an excuse to do what they've wanted to do all along: take the coward's way out.

And this means we'll probably have Cons in charge of the country, merrily finishing the demolition they'd begun under Bush, because the American electorate isn't wise enough to primary the stupid fucks causing the current problems and elect people who can actually get useful shit done.

I'm not going to amplify the noise.  We all know how fucking useless Dems are being at this moment, and so I will merely direct your attention to Steve Benen's manifesto and be done with it.  There's their road map out of the wilderness.  If they're too stupid to use it, and if the Democratic base is too stupid to use primary challenges to their advantage, there's not much I can do about it.

But I do want to highlight this bit o' advice: if Cons want to obstruct, then by all means, Dems should let them obstruct.  Fuck cloture, let's see some actual filibusters (h/t):

Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania has some advice for his fellow Democrats skittish about health care reform in the wake of the Republican upset in that Massachusetts special election.

“My message to those Democrats is don’t be afraid,” Rendell told ABC News. “Listen, you got elected because you wanted to do something to change the quality of people’s lives -- here we have a chance to do something historic and if it means some of us are going to lose because of that so be it. At least you will have lost your office fighting for something and accomplishing something.”

He tells his fellow Democrats in Washington, DC, to “get that best bill as strong and as tight as you can then send it back to the Senate and let’s see if they (Republicans) are going to filibuster.”

“Make them filibuster,” he told ABC News in an interview for Good Morning America this morning. “Make them go before America people.  Make the American people look at a modern day spectacle of what a filibuster would entail. I think it’s time to call their bluff. I think it is too easy to throw up your hands and say, ‘We don’t have 60 votes.’ Remember its 51 votes for passage, they have to filibuster. Make them filibuster.” [emphasis emphatically added]
Actually making the 41 fucks standing in the way of the majority's will stand up there and actually filibuster everything they want to filibuster rather than just capitulating to their every threat, thus pretending this democracy can't pass legislation without 60 votes, might actually show the public exactly who's at the root of the problem.  Yes, Dems are acting the perfect spineless sissies, but Cons are the ones actually fucking the country over.  As per usual.

So, no more filibuster 2.0.  Let's get back to basics.  It'll at least be good for the adult diaper industry.  And it could put a downward crimp in this chart:

And as for the endless whining, what Greg said:
House Dems say they’re frustrated with Obama for not forcing them to pass the Senate health bill with a fix later. Dear House Dems: If you want to pass the Senate bill, stop whining about Obama and pass the Senate bill.

Grow up, grow a spine, and grow a fucking pair.  Then perhaps people will want to vote for you.

Moving on.  When I talk about electing better Dems, that's a little vague.  You know what we're looking for: progressive champions who aren't afraid to mix it up, who come out swinging rather than go down cowering, and who don't kick sand in the base's face in a craven attempt to win the approval of "centrists" and the right.  And I can tell you exactly who we're not looking for.  His name's Harold Ford:

Ford identifies "four simple steps we must take immediately to put us, and the nation, on a better course." The list includes dropping the kind of comprehensive health care reform that Democrats have already voted for -- he thinks protections for those with pre-existing conditions can be done on its own, proving he hasn't done his homework -- and also promotes passing immigration reform.

But the real fun was noticing how the other two of the four points complement one another. Ford, for example, believes Democrats should cut taxes some more...
[C]ut taxes for businesses -- big and small -- and find innovative ways to get Americans back to work. We can start by giving any companies that are less than five years old an exemption from payroll taxes for six months; extending the current capital gains and dividend tax rates through 2012; giving permanent tax credits for businesses that invest in research and development; and reducing the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent.
...and a few paragraphs later, Ford goes on to encourage Democrats to focus on deficit reduction.
[W]e need to address budget deficits now rather than waiting for some ideal future economic situation.
That cutting taxes makes deficit reduction largely impossible doesn't seem to bother the former congressman, probably because he's not especially serious about public policy.
Sorry, Harold.  The Dem caucus doesn't need a gigantic embarrassment on the level of Michael Steele.  We've already got one.  His name's Joe Lieberman.  And I do indeed hope he ends up running as a Con, for several reasons: it would be highly entertaining to watch the Teabaggers attack him, it might prove to his bestest buddies that he really truly is a two-faced fucktard, his inevitable defeat would end his self-important grandstanding, and it would remove a stain from the Dem caucus.  I know, Harold, I know you think you'd be the ideal man to step into Lieberman's shoes, but those shoes are getting taken out back and burned just as soon as we can extract Lieberman's feet from them.  Thank you for playing, now go the fuck home.

Most of the focus of this past week has been on Dems, considering they're acting like absolute fools, but that doesn't mean Cons have stopped acting stupid.  Far from it.  And it seems the stupidity is deeply ingrained indeed (h/t):

If you're the kind of person who reads this blog, you're probably already familiar with the churlish Republican practice of refusing to call the Democratic Party by its true name. Disiplined GOPers will instead refer to "the Democrat Party," or "the Democrat agenda." But yesterday on ABC 's "This Week," Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, whom Michelle Cottle recently profiled in TNR's pages, took this practice to a comically nonsensical extreme:
DEMINT: We can't promote freedom and democracy by repressing free speech. That's not the way to do it. I think people should be able to come together in associations and organizations and spend money to get their message out. I think that's going to promote the democrat process, instead of really what we've got now, is where you essentially give the labor unions carte blanche over our system, grassroots as well as spending.
The democrat process? DeMint has so thoroughly conditioned himself to avoid the label "Democratic" that he apparently now has trouble uttering the word even when it comes with a small 'd.'
The "democrat" process.  How very precious.  Almost as precious as handing al Qaeda a propaganda victory:

After the failed Christmas terrorist plot, Republicans and conservative detractors of the administration worked quickly to characterize the unsuccessful attack as a "success" -- a word both Brit Hume and Bill Kristol used soon after the decidedly unsuccessful incident. The point, of course, was to try to further undermine the administration.

Adam Serwer noted this morning that the rhetoric has, not surprisingly, bolstered terrorist propaganda.
Alleged underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab didn't hurt anyone but himself, and he was quickly subdued by unarmed civilian passengers. But the Republican reaction -- hyping the failed bombing as a victory -- was so successful that Osama bin Laden claimed the failed operation in a recent videotaped message.
Marc Lynch added:
Osama bin Laden has released a new tape to al-Jazeera claiming responsibility for the attempted Christmas Day bombing, linking it to Gaza and declaring that America would not be secure until Palestinians were truly secure. Bin Laden's ability to frame an entire tape around a failed bombing attempt demonstrates how badly the American public's over-reaction played into al-Qaeda's hands. It should not be surprising that bin Laden would claim responsibility on behalf of al-Qaeda Central or threaten new attacks, whether or not it's actually true. [emphasis added]
The point isn't to characterize the Cheneys and other GOP attack dogs as terrorist sympathizers; it's to note that, in their zeal to weaken Obama's presidency, they're inadvertently giving U.S. enemies exactly what they're looking for.
I know that far too many of my fellow Americans find thinking a difficult and distasteful activity, but you don't have to think long and hard before realizing that handing the reins of power back to this bunch of freaks is a horrible idea, and best avoided.

Alas, I fear even thinking short and easy may prove too strenuous for voters.  

25 January, 2010

It Be That Time Again

(Postdated - new content be below)

Ahoy, ye Elitist Bastards!  Captain Cujo be lookin' for ye!

Once again, I'll be donning the funny hat and and as many pistols as I can carry as I host a cruise of the carnival. I'd love to see submissions from folks who haven't participated before, particularly if they're regular readers. If you submit your entry before January 29, that would be even better. I'll have more time to work on that narrative thing I heard about in composition class. January 29 is the deadline, however.

If you're still not sure what sort of article works as a COTEB article, click on the COTEB keyword and check out some past carnivals.

So, as Admiral Hunter says, send us your treasures, and we'll see you in a few days.

BTW, if you don't have a website, but you have an article that you've written, send it to me and I'll put it up here as a guest post.
We be expectin' a big crew this time, especially in light o' the fact so many o' us missed the boat after the holidays.  So get yer submissions in by January 29th.

Our Lady of Perpetual Patience

I'm pleased to announce that the cantina now has its very own official patron saint.

PZ has good reason to nominate his Trophy Wife for sainthood.  Since the Catholics take forever in these matters, and since as atheists we don't have to wait for some musty old church to comprehend the obvious, I hearby proclaim the deed done.  Congratulations, St. Mary!

If PZ could tip us off as to her favorite liqueur, I'll come up with an official St. Mary cocktail.  It will, of course, be called the "Hail Mary."  In the meantime, raise a glass full o' your poison o' choice to Our Lady of Perpetual Patience.  Just don't pester the poor sainted woman with prayers - she's got quite enough to deal with, what with being PZ's long-suffering spouse.

How I Spent My Weekend

Aside from battling it out with Windows, which has had some interesting ideas about its form and function since the format, I did manage to get some useful work done:

Now, I know what Efrique's gonna say: if he knew the projection (not scale - see how much I know?), he probably could've crunched the numbers and designed a little something.  That would have been lovely, and I adore him for offering.  Problem is, I know bugger-all about projection.  And considering I know bugger-all about projection and other aspects of map making, it's probably best working from known quantities anyway.  Y'see, making templates from existing maps means I can look at the existing map for a sense of how things should work.  My continents will be different, stuffed in different places, but it's still useful to have some basis for extrapolation.

This is what you have to do when you're a mathematical numbskull with horrible spatial visualization skills.  Besides, the other benefit is that it gives me practice drawing lines on something that's pretty hard to fuck up, which will prove useful when I have to actually draw the continents in.  Always pays to practice with the tablet.  Or so I'm telling myself.

In other news, George wanted to know if I had a Linux guru nearby who could set up my machine.  The answer is yes.  Yes, I do.  And he would love to get Windows out of my life.  But let's just put it like this: Mrs. DoF and I have something in common.  Windows I can fight with, and occasionally I even win the argument.  Linux I'd have to learn, and it's a summer project if I ever decide to do it at all.  Sure, Windows sucks, but it's a suck I'm familiar with.

For those of you who've emailed me: I'll be catching up on the backlog here soon.  For now, I must away to the shower, because while politics stinks, that doesn't mean I should....

24 January, 2010

And the Week Just Got Weirder....

So, lessee... Scott Brown got elected, Dems lost their heads, spines and balls, my computer went kablooey, Aunty Flow arrived, and then there was the dream.

I had a hard time getting to sleep last night.  Mild cramps, y'see, just noticeable enough to keep me awake.  So I read for a few hours.  Finally drifted off in the happy knowledge that I'd get at least four hours of good, solid sleep.

Or not.

I had one of those hyper-vivid dreams with most senses engaged.  I was driving around Hawaii, and for some reason had decided to watch a volcano erupt.  Those who know me realize this is an unlikely state of affairs - I have a phobia, and the idea of standing close enough to watch lava go zipping by my feet is right out.  I'm not a vulcanologist for a reason.  Yet there I was, driving right up and parking within spitting distance of an eruption.

Which had seemed like a good idea until the volcano started putting out rather more lava than expected, and cutting off escape routes.  Cut me off from my car, it did, and so there I was, scrambling around looking for a safe place to stand, wondering if my poor auto would survive the experience. 

At one point, as I was scrambling down a hillside path, I saw a stream of lava go cascading over a former waterfall.  That was a particularly awe-inspiring part of the dream.

For some reason, there were a lot of really annoying lechers in this dream.  I spent almost as much time fending off unwanted advances as I did outrunning lava flows.

At some point, I reached a town, and ran into a salty old Park Ranger who was absolutely, utterly fearless.  One of those outdoorsy, frontier-type older women with the gravelly voice, leathery skin, and tendency to scoff at any suggestion that anything might be wildly dangerous.  When she found out why I was on foot, she just sort of half-smiled and dragged me off to collect her off-road vehicle, some jury-rigged oddity that looked like a three-wheel motorcycle welded to an industrial cart.  In this, she assured me, we could get up the mountain and fetch my car, just as long as the flows hadn't completely taken out the road.

White-knuckle adventures, which I don't rightly remember, ensued.  We were chased by a few flows, though.

By the time we got back up there, the volcano was putting on quite a show, with huge fountains of lava spraying from its flanks.  And the road was gone.  No matter, the ranger said.  I'd parked in a place where the car should be relatively safe, it being high ground, and when the flows cooled, I could just drive right over them.  Then she took me to a run-down motel where we could watch the show in relative safety.  We met up with another of her ranger companions there, a somewhat more cautious woman who seemed like a relief after someone who thought nothing of heading straight into crazy danger. 

We'd decided to watch from inside, as the heat and cinders were getting a bit intense.  And there we were, safe behind glass with all the other watchers fled, and the fearless ranger outside on the porch, when a series of gawdawful explosions began.  I could feel the ground shaking.  And then volcanic bombs started raining down all round, and took out half the roof.  By the porch.

Fearless ranger lady, I feared, was dead.  But when masonry and roof beams stopped falling, slightly-sensible ranger lady sort of laughed as we scrambled for the porch to assess the damage.  She wasn't worried about her friend, who, she said, wouldn't let a little thing like this harm her.  And lo, she had not.  She was sitting under the one part of the porch roof on that side still intact, with fallen supports and sagging roof all round, smoking a cigarette and staring at the mountain as if daring it to try again.

A few seconds later, we heard a pathetic little cry, and there was a shaggy puppy crawling out of the forest, terrified.  Fearless ranger lady strode out, scooped him up, and we all three went inside to clean the poor thing off, while the mountain started a fresh round of bomb-throwing.  And at this point, I woke up, panting as if I'd really just gone through all of this chaos, explosions ringing in my ears, visions of lava dancing in my head, and found I'd been asleep for just over an hour.  It took me an additional hour to get over the excitement and fall back to sleep, by which time I less than two hours before I had to be up and getting ready for work.


And I'd call it a nightmare, only it was more exciting than terrifying.  Oh, sure, there were scary bits, but for the most part, it seemed like a grand adventure.

Still not going to Hawaii to watch volcanoes erupt.

Then, tonight, after a long nap, I tried turning on the computer only to discover it's still having issues and wouldn't boot up.  We're past that for now, but who knows what the future will bring?

So that's the state o' affairs in the Hunter household.  I'm ready for a nice stretch of boredom now, please.

23 January, 2010

Supreme Stupidity

Isn't this special?  The Supreme Court has decided that the poor corporations don't have enough influence over our political system:
Rick Hasen has a very good piece in Slate today on today's Supreme Court ruling, and the significance of the 5-4 decision.
It is time for everyone to drop all the talk about the Roberts court's "judicial minimalism," with Chief Justice Roberts as an "umpire" who just calls balls and strikes. Make no mistake, this is an activist court that is well on its way to recrafting constitutional law in its image. The best example of that is this morning's transformative opinion in Citizens United v. FEC. Today the court struck down decades-old limits on corporate and union spending in elections (including judicial elections) and opened up our political system to a money free-for-all. [...]
What is so striking today is how avoidable this political tsunami was. The court has long adhered to a doctrine of "constitutional avoidance," by which it avoids deciding tough constitutional questions when there is a plausible way to make a narrower ruling based on a plain old statute.... What we have in Citizens United is anti-avoidance. Kennedy's majority had to go out and grab this one.
Of particular interest, Hasen notes that Kennedy's ruling "wrongly assumes that corporations or unions can throw money at public officials without corrupting them. Could a candidate for judicial office, for example, be swayed to rule in favor of a contributor who donated $3 million to an independent campaign to get the candidate elected to the state supreme court?"

Dahlia Lithwick added, "Even former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist once warned that treating corporate spending as the First Amendment equivalent of individual free speech is 'to confuse metaphor with reality.' Today that metaphor won a very real victory at the Supreme Court. And as a consequence some very real corporations are feeling very, very good."
This has got to be one of the dumbest rulings ever.  Treating corporations as people is an inane idea to begin with.  Treating them as people who can advocate for a particular candidate is even more inane.  Hell, even many corporations agree:
Yesterday, “all five of the [Supreme] Court’s conservatives joined together … to invalidate a sixty-three year-old ban on corporate money in federal elections,” a move that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said “opens the floodgates for the purchases and sale of the law” by big corporations.

Today, in response to the Supreme Court’s catastrophic decision, “dozens of current and former corporate executives” from corporations including Delta, Ben & Jerry’s, and Crate & Barrel sent a letter to Congress asking it to immediately pass the Fair Elections Now Act, which would publicly finance all congressional campaigns out of a special fund created by a fee levied on TV broadcasters:
Roughly 40 executives from companies including Playboy Enterprises, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s, the Seagram’s liquor company, toymaker Hasbro, Delta Airlines and Men’s Wearhouse sent a letter to congressional leaders Friday urging them to approve public financing for House and Senate campaigns. They say they are tired of getting fundraising calls from lawmakers — and fear it will only get worse after Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling. [...]
“Members of Congress already spend too much time raising money from large contributors,” the business executives’ letter says. “And often, many of us individually are on the receiving end of solicitation phone calls from members of Congress. With additional money flowing into the system due to the court’s decision, the fundraising pressure on members of Congress will only increase.”
Even before the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, corporate special interest money was making a huge impact on the legislative process. From 1998 to 2009, the financial, insurance, and real estate lobbies spent nearly $3.8 billion in Washington, successfully deregulating Wall Street, passing huge tax cuts for the wealthy, barring Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices, killing mortgage cramdown legislation, and weakening financial and health reforms.
Now's probably a very good time to sign this petition for the Fair Elections Now Act. Not that I believe it likely a Congress that can't even pass a fucking health care bill can manage to pass this, but at least we can remind them that corporations aren't people who go to the polls.

Cons, of course, are delighted by this idiotic turn of events.  But before they get too excited, they might want to consider looking for the fly in the ointment (h/t):
This Could Become A Big Problem for Republicans.  The Republicans have picked themselves off the floor in recent months by running as champions of the middle class.  Having big corporate America come in on behalf of a candidate will almost certainly guarentee that a candidate becomes tarred as taking the side of big corporations against the average guy, something this cycle that could be deadly.  The GOP better think twice about their newly populist brand before celebrating this decision too much.
We'll see if that makes any difference.  American voters haven't proven themselves too intelligent lately - after all, they elected Wall Street's buddy Brown, despite their worries about the economy.  

You know what I hope comes of this?  I hope Stephen Colbert runs for the Senate this fall with corporate sponsorship.  He's good enough at playing a Con shitheel that he'd probably get elected, and I can think of few things that would be better for the Senate than having Stephen Colbert in there proving the whole thing's become a very big, very unfunny joke.

And if that happens, I'll be throwing a party celebrating the ruling.

Not Homesick Right Now

Once in a while, I miss my old hometown.  Earlier this week, in fact, I was waxing nostalgic over Arizona.  Sometimes, I even think that, when John McCain is no longer plaguing the state, and the populace has become sensible enough to elect a decent governor, and I've seen all I want to see in Washington State, I might just move back.

Tonight, however, I have changed my mind.  This is what Wayne Ranney, my favorite author in Arizona, is dealing with:

Four fucking feet of snow.

And it's still snowing.

It's snowing so much that roofs are collapsing.  The old Safeway on Cedar Street didn't make it.  Neither, alas, did Bookman's:

This, to me, is a tragedy - Bookman's is one of my favorite places on the entire face of the earth, and one of the main reasons I get homesick.  We don't have any used bookstores as good as this up here.

Wayne reports that the fiction section suffered the worst of it.  I hope it was concentrated around Romance. 

Other roofs I recall have also succumbed - the ice rink, where a friend and I suffered an ego-deflation courtesy of a small child; Dillard's, where I found the first pair of jeans that ever fit me right; Planet Nissan, where I first fell in love with the Sentra...

This is pretty intense for Flagstaff.  But at least I guess it means they won't have to worry much about the forest burning down this summer.  It'll be too soggy.

Good luck digging out, my Flagstaff friends.

Technical Issues Day the Third

Whelp.  We're very nearly back up and running, aside from the very annoying "the system could not log you on" message at startup.  It couldn't log me on, and yet it does once I hit "ok."  Argh.  If anyone knows how to fix this, I'll be pathetically grateful.  And if it's a fix whose directions even an amateur such as myself can follow, I'll owe you dinner when next you're in Seattle.

Other than that minor detail, things seem to be nearly back to normal.  Of course, there was the endless slog through MSCONFIG looking for all the goodies Apple likes to autostart after downloading the new version of iTunes.  That was fun.  And downloading all of the programs I lost, but need.  And cleaning up all of the now-useless shortcuts.  And running virus scans to make sure nothing snuck in before I reinstalled those.  And... argh.  I still haven't rearranged my desktop or modified my start menu. 

On top of all this, Aunty Flow decided to come visit. 

As I hobbled up the stairs at work, I half-expected the building to fall down.  It would be par for the course this week.

On the plus side, the new version of Avast! is easier to use, Spybot's been merciless about those sneaky little programs advertisers use to target a soul, and the computer's running faster now that there's not a bunch of useless crap and ten billion registry errors clogging up the system. 

Things will be back to normalish round here after the weekend.

I hope.

21 January, 2010

Yet More Technical Difficulties

I've just spent the entire day rescuing my computer from a near-fatal error.  Fortunately, our own Cujo knows this shit, and was available for consultation.  Thanks to him, we're (mostly) back up and running, complete with original data.  Woot!

For those of you who might be considering whether or not to register your expensive Photoshop software, do it.  Especially if you're prone to believing you've put the serial number in a safe place and discovering otherwise at the wrong damned time.  Normally, I don't register shit.  In this case, fortunately, I broke my habits, and that is why Photoshop Elements is back up and running on this machine.

We'll be catching up on all the political nonsense I missed tomorrow.  In the meantime, there's some more missing software to reinstall, custom settings to reset, a cat to catch up with, and a sadly neglected bed to visit.

Thanks for understanding, my darlings!

20 January, 2010

Technical Difficulties

Last night was a night filled with rampant stupidity.  Tonight is a night filled with technical difficulties.  Since the Con in Mass has been elected, nothing has gone right.  Coincidence?  Yes, but I choose to blame him anyway.  It makes me feel slightly better.

Alas, said technical difficulties mean we're off the air for the rest of the night whilst I try to get various bits sorted out.  I'll make it up to ye tomorrow, my dear readers.

In the meantime, those hankering for some good political nonsense should head by Steve Benen's placeEzra Klein was also particularly merciless today.  And since merciless is the mood I'm in, I assume at least a few of you feel roughly the same way.

See ye tomorrow, my darlings.  Unless, of course, the Curse of Scott Brown strikes again.

I Can Haz Templates - And So Can You

At least something useful happened today.  They isn't perfect, but they is blank map templates complete with latitude and longitude:

All ready for continents to be drawn in and everything.  As to scale, as Efrique asked, hellifiknow.  One first has to determine the size of the world, I suppose.

Thanks to all of you who commented on the last post regarding map templates!  It's nice to know you're there - especially when I'm squinting at a screen, filling in fiddly bits and wondering just what the fuck I'm doing.  Even if all it did was make you giggle at my silliness, it was worth it.

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

One of the most liberal states in the country had the spectacular lack of judgment to elect a Teabagger to the Senate.  This is how bloody fucking stupid the majority of this country is.

I hope this comes as a wake-up call, but I doubt it. 

I'm done for the night.

19 January, 2010

Let's Not Repeat the Con Years

I should be drinking myself into oblivion just now.  Unless Massachusetts voters smarten up overnight, it looks like they're poised to elect a certified Con to the Senate.  Just to give you an idea of this man's priorities, he decided golf courses were more deserving of state funds than Red Cross workers, right after 9/11 - and he stands by that belief today.  He's a noxious little jackass who'll return us right to the bad old days of Con rule, because the Senate no longer functions on majority votes.  Apparently, Mass voters believe the state of affairs that gave us 9/11, two useless wars, torture, warrantless wiretapping, stagnant wages and nearly no job growth, deficits that soared to the stratosphere, and an economic crisis the likes of which we've not seen for nearly a hundred years is so desirable they want to return to those inglorious days ASAP.

And if that's what they believe is best for the country, I have just two words for them: FUCK YOU.

I know the Dem base is disappointed with the pace of progress so far.  I know they're disillusioned.  But returning us to Con rule is a dumbshit thing to do.  It's not the way to register your displeasure, people.  You want Dems to wake up and listen to progressives?  Primary the fuckers:
So, how do liberals exert what power they have and have the results be interpreted the way we want it to be? The first would be through protest votes for a third party that resulted in Republican victory. (There is virtually no chance that any third party will ever gain real power short of a fundamental change in the way we elect our representatives, so protest is all it will be.) It's been done before. And if you can live with the idea of voting in a Republican party in the thrall of extremists that make Bush and Cheney look like Rockefeller Republicans, I suppose that might be the way to go. I won't judge you, but I am personally unwilling to put the world through any more of this failed right wing experiment at the moment.

There is a fairly compelling theory in political science that says that after political parties come into power, fulfill some pieces of their agenda, get fat and bloated and are finally removed from office, they then tend to deny the reality of their loss and blame it on everything but themselves until they lose enough elections that they finally realize that their ideology has failed. The current GOP is not there yet by a long shot. They are still in the process of doubling down on their radical agenda at a time when the economy is still in ruins, the effects of globalization are being fully felt, the planet is in peril and about to reach a tipping point, and a radical fundamentalist movement is trying to blow people up. I don't think the world can take any more of the right's prescriptions for these problems right now: Lindsay Graham is considered too liberal and neo-Hooverism is their economic program. Yes, the Democrats are corrupt and inept. But the other side is batshit insane.

However, that doesn't mean that there's nothing we can do but wring our hands about how the system is broken and fret ourselves into intertia. The other way to send messages to the Democratic party is through the unsatisfying and often thankless process of primary challenges. Nobody can have any problem understanding that message, not even Adam Nagourney.

It's hard to find challengers and it's no wonder. It's expensive, time consuming and after all your hard work you will probably lose. It takes real commitment and a desire to not only win a seat in congress but do it by way of unseating an incumbent of your own party with whom you disagree, an act which is guaranted to make you an odd man out among the party hierarchy. But if you win, it can send shockwaves through the system.

And guess what? We are in the most favorable year for primary challenges in recent memory. The insane teabaggers aren't going to allow any rational Republicans to run and the anti-uncumbent fever is going to be as high as it's been since 1994. The Democratic base has an energetic activist faction, the netroots can raise money and there is a burning desire to show the party establishment that they cannot take liberals for granted. It's a perfect environment for successful primary challenges.

And lucky for us, there are some brave progressives already out there taking on incumbents and there very well may be more. This time a few of them may win, and believe me if that happens, the Democratic party will not be able to spin those victories as being a sign that the party needs to move to the right.

Blue America has helpfully set up an Act Blue page with all the progressive challengers who have announced and we'll add to it as more come forward. We're calling it "Send The Democrats A Message They Can Understand."

If you want a Democratic scalp, these candidates are out there offering to do the work to get it done. And you won't be giving Adam Nagourney or Cokie Roberts or Glenn Beck what they want in the process. It's a win that even the villagers and the party establishment can't spin as good news for Republicans.
See?  No need to elect batshit fucking insane shitheels who will return to looting the country and shredding the last remaining bits of our Constitution and our dignity as soon as they're back in power.  You can send the Dems a clear message without doing anything so stupid as electing the arsonists fire chief.

I'm going to conclude this screed with John Amato's wise words:
There's an impulse to say screw it all and not show up anymore because "they're all the same," but I can't do that. For the most part, politicians will let us down because they are...well, politicians, but they aren't all the same. There have been plenty of books written about Florida in 2000. If ballots had been properly labeled so that voters who wanted Gore instead of Pat Buchanan could have done so, we might have had a more fair election. And then the Supreme Court would have been left to watch election night like the rest of us and Bush wouldn't have entered the White House in 2000.

Think of what that would have meant for the country:
  • The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would never have been a reality.
  • I doubt we would have had the attacks of 9/11 because President Clinton warned that the greatest threat America would face was terrorism and Gore would have not ignored him like Bush did. But if we did get attacked, then you can bet that Gore would have handled it as an adult. He wouldn't sought "revenge" against Saddam Hussein and prioritized control of all that oil. Gore wouldn't have let Osama Bin Laden get away and the world would still be sympathetic to us.
  • Our efforts to put Afghanistan back together would be finished by now, assuming we even would have tried nation-building there.
  • More troops and people would be alive and we would have exited the Middle East with our heads held high.
  • America would never have invaded and occupied Iraq and over 4,000 troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians (if not millions) would be alive today.
  • Abu Ghraib would never have happened.
  • Terrorist recruitment would have stalled.
  • Torture would not be part of the American lexicon and the likes of Dick Cheney and John Yoo would never have descended upon the offices of the VP and OLC.
  • John Roberts and Sam Alito would not be on the Supreme Court and the makeup would probably be 6-3 against the radical Scalia-conservative agenda. A ruling on Citizens United is coming soon. Would the court ever have accepted that case? Not a chance and soon corporations will have a stranglehold on our election system much more than they have now.
  • George Bush would have been back home in Texas leading the state into secession along with his pal Alberto Gonzalez.
  • Nobody would have ever heard of Terry Schiavo.
  • A much swifter and more effective response to Hurricane Katrina would have been implemented.
You get my point. These are but a few things that would have been different if conservatives didn't get their hands on the White House. Many of us are fighting for liberal and progressive values everyday and will continue to do so. But when our party fails us, I need to work harder to make sure the party stays on a liberal course, not throw up my hands and dismiss them as all the same.
More and better Dems, people.  Not Cons.

Let's make it so.

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

My darlings, I do believe it's pitchfork-and-torch time.  These dumbshits just aren't getting it:
Now that major banks and financial institutions are seeing huge profits, and paying out multi-million-dollar bonuses, President Obama has proposed a new "Financial Crisis Responsibility Fee." The industry is not fond of the idea.

The president believes the banks accepted the bailout money when they were on the verge of collapse, but have since recovered nicely, so it's time for the industry to pay Americans back for the money we loaned them.

To show their gratitude for Americans bailing them out after their irresponsibility brought the global system to its knees, Wall Street executives are considering a lawsuit to fight the fee proposed by Obama.

It's takes a lot of fucking nerve to turn to the government to bail you out of your own reckless stupidity, then sue that government when the government proposes a modest tax to make sure at least some part of your obscene profits go to paying off your debt to the taxpayers who, because of you, are still losing their homes, jobs, and hope.

And yes, let's stifle their fucking creativity:
I don’t always agree with Naomi Klein, and I don’t always disagree with David Frum, but Klein wins this one hands down: Frum worries that financial regulation might crush “the creativity of the system,” Klein counters that “we could all do with them being a little less creative.”

This is usually framed, less colorfully, in terms of “financial innovation”, but the point needs to be repeated again and again: at this point, there is no reason to take it on faith that cleverness in the financial industry is a net social good. Unless you can provide some clear evidence of productive innovations since regulation began to unravel — and ATMs don’t count — the balance of the evidence suggests that smart people have been devising ingenious ways to concentrate risk and direct capital to the wrong uses.
I don't want these fuckers being creative at all anymore.  They want to be creative, let them go take art classes.  Their financial "creativity," enabled by the Con idea that regulations aren't necessary, just about destroyed us, and is still causing untold pain.

Yet the bankers think they're entitled to go right back to gambling, without penalty and without restraint, and some fucktards want to revise history entirely:
On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Time's Mark Halperin raised a fairly provocative observation about President Obama -- that the knock on him from the 2008 presidential campaign was largely backwards.

As a young senator running for the White House, Obama was derided by detractors as someone who could inspire people with a great speech, but wasn't prepared to lead an administration. Halperin argued that one year in, the opposite appears to be true.
"He's done, I think, an extraordinary job running the government ... under difficult circumstances. He managed the economic crisis and kept the world from going into a depression. He staffed the government with very quality, quality people. He showed he could be commander-in-chief and manage these two difficult wars. What I think, ironically, the problem has been is he's not inspired the country to feel a sense of optimism and renewal and to be unified in a bipartisan way. Those are the things I think people thought he would excel at."

But what was especially interesting was the knee-jerk partisanship of former Bush aide Karen Hughes, who responded to Halperin by saying, twice, that Obama "misread the country" by trying to enact the agenda he ran on, thereby "exacerbating" the public's "anxiety." She added:
"I have to disagree with you, Mark, about rescuing the economy, I think that happened before President Bush left office when they took the action that they did on TARP, and the banks have now repaid much of that money, but that's what stabilized the economy and prevented the collapse of the financial system."
Be on the lookout for this one -- as the economy improves and the Bush Recession ends, Republicans will try to convince people that Bush, not Obama, deserves credit for rescuing the economy. While the evidence is overwhelming that it was the stimulus that created economic growth and pulled the economy bank from the brink, Karen Hughes -- and soon, her cohorts -- would us believe that the economy had already been rescued before Obama took office.

And if that's true, then why did job losses remain in freefall until Obama's stimulus package kicked in, eh?

You know the saddest thing?  Far too many Americans believe all this bullshit.  

I despair for my country sometimes.  Now is one of those times.  I don't know how we can turn this ship around when so many in the public are so quick to blame the wrong fucking people, listen to the wrong fucking talking points, and vote for the fucking Cons who jumped right to the banks' defense when a modest little tax to get taxpayers' money back got proposed. 

If anyone has any ideas for shaking sense into people, I'm all ears.

18 January, 2010

I'm Still Alive, Only Very Badly Strained

Map drawing day is a very dangerous day.  At least, it is if you're drawing by hand.  And having to do a lot of fiddly bits.  And if you're not all that brilliant at drawing to begin with.

But it's fun.  Even though all I'm doing at the moment is removing the outlines of continents from a world map so that I have a blank template with lines of latitude and longitude, and then repairing the bits of the lines that were damaged when continents were removed.  No, I couldn't just draw up such a template myself.  I tried.  I failed.  The programs I've got don't let me bend lines in nice, even, shallow curves, and as for doing that freehand... ha.  Right.  And it appears no one in the universe has any idea that SF writers might possibly want a map template without Earth's continents drawn in.  Argh.

So we make do with what we have.  And take breaks so that eyestrain doesn't become the death of us.  I say "us" because most of this has proven immensely entertaining for the cat, and she's been "helping."  Fortunate me.

So... what news have I missed whilst playing with pixels?

17 January, 2010

The Nocebo Effect

We've all heard of the placebo effect, when sham treatments (sugar pills, toothpicks instead of acupuncture needles) are just as effective or indeed more effective than the real treatment being tested.  But how many of us know about the nocebo effect?  Did you know that placebos can cause side effects?  I surely didn't.
The best moment was Dr Peter Fisher from the (NHS-funded) Royal London Homeopathic hospital explaining that homeopathic sugar pills have physical side-effects – so they must be powerful.

Can a sugar pill have a side-effect? Interestingly, a paper published in the journal Pain next month looks at just this issue. It found every single placebo-controlled trial ever conducted on a migraine drug, and looked at the side-effects reported by the people in the control group, who received a dummy "placebo" sugar pill instead of the real drug. Not only were these side-effects common, they were also similar to those of whatever drug the patients thought they might be receiving.
Next time I experience some vague malaise while taking a treatment, I'll have to remember that the faint nausea, the headache, or what have you might actually be caused by my expectations, not the treatment itself.  Fascinating.

And the next time somebody babbles about how awesome homeopathy is, here's a useful tidbit for ye:
There were comedy highlights, as you might expect from any serious inquiry into an industry where sugar pills have healing powers conferred upon them by being shaken with one drop of the ingredient which has been diluted so extremely that it equates to one molecule of the substance in a sphere of water whose diameter is roughly the distance from the Earth to the sun.

Ben Goldacre's whole article is worth reading.  As are all his others.  Definitely don't miss the possible role of aliens in siting Woolworth's stores.  Bad science has never been so good!

(Tip o' the shot glass to Matthew Cobb, who's doing a stellar job filling in for Jerry Coyne)

Humanists Helping Haiti

I'm sure most of you have seen this on Pharyngula, but for the one or two folks who don't hang on PZ's every word, here's the link for godless giving.  Your donation goes to Doctors Without Borders and the Red Cross.  And now we have a nice central gathering spot for all those godless donations.

Meanwhile, the horror in Haiti keeps bringing out the burning stupid in people:
I heard a nice chat on the BBC World Service the other evening. Roger Heering was naturally very worried that the people of Haiti might have lost their 'religious faith' due to the recent unpleasantness, and he and a woman from a faithy charity group talked about it. 'You might think this would undermine it,' he said to her anxiously, but she was quick to reassure him. 'It actually seems to have strengthened it,' she said in a pleased tone. They hugged themselves in glee, and then Roger Heering turned to the sports.

But that's interesting, isn't it - having all the buildings fall down and tens of thousands of people die and tens of thousands more lying around screaming in agony is another point for God. Well if that's the case, what would be a point against God then? What would God have to do to make everyone decide God was a shit? Not just letting children lie under a slab of concrete for hours and hours crying in pain and fear and misery and then die. So, what then? It's frankly quite hard to think of anything. If that kind of thing goes in the credit column, it's hard to think of anything that would be considered a demerit.

I guess we're going to have to come up with a corollary to the IOKIYAR rule: IOKIYAG.  It's okay if you're a god.  Put it like this: if someone came to me with proof that god (any god) exists, and further proved that he's omniscient and omnipotent as advertised, I'd no longer be an atheist - but I'd surely be telling them to shove the worship where the sun don't shine.  Sadists and murderers aren't worshiped round here, thankyewverymuch.

Meanwhile, back in reality, rescue crews are still finding the occasional survivor in the rubble - and not getting to other survivors in time.  Food is getting to survivors - but sometimes not.  Order and chaos still coexist amidst the stench of rotting flesh.  But help is flooding in.  Things may get much worse before they get better, but at least the world is reaching Haiti, and more help is on the way.

And President Obama did the right thing.  Undocumented Haitians in the United States now have Temporary Protected Status.  That's on top of all the other right things he's done, mind.  I am so very, very happy we have an adult in charge again.

16 January, 2010

Haiti: Help Slow in Coming

When you've had a major earthquake in a poor country, getting aid to the survivors in the disaster zone is a nightmare.  And while the world's been focused on Port-au-Prince, there are a great many other towns that have been just as badly affected and are even more inaccessible.  Here's just a small glimpse of the horror: patients abandoned as medical personnel are evacuated; bodies in mass graves, when they're in graves at all.

And what's the most useful thing Rep. Steve King thinks can be done?  He wants the U.S. to deport Haitians so they can be "relief workers."

Meanwhile, Glenn Beck babbles about how President Obama's rapid response is "dividing the nation."  Only a total fucking batshit insane partisan fool thinks a swift, competent response to a major disaster is "divisive."

Paging Roger Ebert: now that you're done spanking Rush Limbaugh's fat arse, maybe you can take on those two dumbshits. (h/t Chris)

The vast majority of my fellow Americans are kind, decent, and compassionate people.  Most of our current government is responding with competence and compassion.  Alas, when it comes to right-wing shitheels, it seems even a major tragedy isn't enough to knock some decency into them.

Haitians still need our help, so if you haven't had a chance to do so, please consider choosing a well-deserving organization from the list and sending some cash their way.

I Saw This and Thought of George

I can't wait to hear our own dear George's thoughts on this swank bit of photographic equipment:

Yes, that is a huge-ass lens taped to a cell phone. 

Something tells me it ain't gonna help the picture quality.

Blogs and Books

Writing a book?  Thinking of blogging only to promote said book?  Read this first:
Blogs created to specifically promote books don't seem to get very far. Often times I have seen authors generate a flurry of early posts in the wake of a book release only to abandon the blog relatively quickly. Then they come back a few months later, with a promise to get back to blogging, but this is often more of a last gasp than a true comeback. As Tom aptly points out, while these attempts might not hurt they do not seem to do anything to help a book that is already struggling to find an audience.

And, might I add, it's really annoying for those of us who actually wanted the writer to update the damned blog.

Besides, it's not like there's an instant audience.  If your book's not doing well, your blog won't magically make things better.  The intertoobz are vast, and there are many blogs: you're just another face in the crowd.  Jumping up and down screaming "I published a book!  Buy my book!" won't do jack diddly shit for you.  It takes time and effort to build an audience for your blog, just like it takes time and effort to build an audience for your books.  And your blog, like your book, has to offer a quality product that people want to spend time with if it's going to succeed.

Blogs and books are two different animals.  And they both make outrageous demands on your time.  If you don't have the time or the interest to split your focus, don't split your focus.  You'll end up doing both your books and your blog a disservice if you're not actually interested in being a blogger.  Stick with Facebook instead.

(Of course, Facebook has its own hazards.  Anyone who's gone on to post a simple update and ended up sucked into about 5,000 Facebook games knows what I mean.  Use at your own risk.)

Now, as for using your existing blog for shameless self promotion.... do it.  Let me use Brian Switek, author of the above-linked post, as an example: I learned he was writing his book because of some modest little posts he wrote early on.  He kept us updated on the process as he wrote, edited, found a publisher, wrote and edited some more, and now can triumphantly announce that, should all go well, we're going to have the opportunity to hold his book in our very own hands sometime this fall.  If he'd kept his mouth shut, we wouldn't have anything to look forward to other than his wise and wonderful posts.  And while his posts are wise and wonderful, it's even more wonderful to know that they're not the only written words we're getting from him. 

Note also that Brian hasn't fallen down on his blogging duties.  His posts have continued being wise and wonderful even when he's overwhelmed by work. 

So, upshot: if you're going to blog, do it for more than promotional purposes, and give your readers something of value.  But if you're already blogging, don't be afraid of a little shameless self promotion.