Friday, April 30, 2010

Random News Generator- Aruba

Today the Random News Generator hits Aruba, where...

...errrrrrr... hoo boy, the RNG backfired today, didn't it?

...ooh, ooh, no wait, here's something. The Ministry of Tourism's launching a new website! Now you'll be able to much more easily see that Aruba is nice and pretty and sunny and you should go to Aruba right now! Don't you want to go to Aruba right now?!

...well, valuable lesson learned. If ever this eventuality comes up again- if the Random News Generator ever decides to be suitably ornery to where it pops out a country in which there is really, truly nothing of consequence happening- we'll just spin again until we DO get actual news. Such instances will be noted.

Stupid RNG. Could have given me Mexico or Greece or Spain or Iran or China or Iraq or North Korea or Afghanistan or Thailand or South Africa or the UK or the US, the front page of Google News's World section shows Belgium, Bhutan, Lebanon, Nepal, Israel, India, Pakistan, Australia, Vietnam, Russia, Japan, the Vatican... and Aruba? You give me Aruba?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Good Idea, Bad Idea

And now it's time for another Good Idea, Bad Idea.

Good Idea: Protesting Arizona's new immigration law by calling for the 2011 MLB All-Star Game to be pulled out of Arizona.

Bad Idea: Protesting Arizona's new immigration law by boycotting Arizona Iced Tea, which is made in New York.

The End.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Watertown's Most Famous Resident

My hometown has three citizens of note over its history. If you came to Watertown, you'd see two of them displayed prominently.

The first one is Carl Schurz, a former US Senator and Secretary of the Interior famous for the saying "My country right or wrong; if right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right." He also served in the Union Army during the Civil war, taking part in Gettysburg, Chancellorsville, and the Second Battle of Bull Run, and, as ambassador to Spain, kept that country from supporting the South. Unfortunately for Watertown, this was only one of several places Schurz hung his hat; he was born in Germany and died in New York City, and when he was elected to the Senate, he represented Missouri, not Wisconsin.

But, we named a street and an elementary school after him.

The second one is Dan Brandenstein, an astronaut who logged 32 days, 21 hours, 3 minutes in space over his career over four separate missions, serving as pilot and commander. He's still alive, age 67, but he's gotten a park named after him, and a prominent park at that on one of Watertown's more prominent streets. I might say more about him, but I'm not very up on my astronaut terminology. It is, after all, rocket science.

But this is surely the first you've heard of Dan Brandenstein unless you live in Watertown, and quite possibly the first you've heard of Schurz as well.

Do you know who Fred Merkle is?

(Every baseball fan in America is reacting in some way, shape or form.)

Fred Merkle is the primary reason the Chicago Cubs' World Series drought is ONLY 102 years. In 1908, his rookie season, the Cubs and the Giants were fighting it out for the NL pennant. On September 23, the Cubs were visiting the Polo Grounds (which back then did not yet have walls totally enclosing the outfield, but rather a rope behind which was essentially a parking lot).

Bottom of the 9th, two outs, the score is tied at 1. Merkle comes to bat with Moose McCormick on first. Merkle singles and advances McCormick to third. Al Bridwell, batting behind Merkle, hits another single and drives McCormick home.

Game over, right? The fans thought so; they stormed the field.

Except Merkle had left the basepaths before reaching second, heading for the clubhouse as soon as McCormick had crossed the plate. McCormick's run would not count until and unless he touched second. Cubs second baseman- and future Hall of Famer- Johnny Evers took note, found the ball- or at least A ball- touched second, and appealed to the umpire to call Merkle out. The ump agreed, McCormick's run didn't count. They couldn't restart the game due to all the fans on the field and the fact that it was getting dark, so the game would have to end in a tie.

Evers had done a similar thing previously in a game against the Pirates, but didn't get the call that time; his appeal on Merkle was helped by the fact that the umps knew it might be coming. And as luck would have it, the ump in particular, Frank O'Day, was the specific ump Evers had warned.

As luck would have it, the Cubs and Giants ended the season in a tie for first, and so everyone went back to the Polo Grounds to replay the game. This time, the Cubs won 4-2, the Cubs putting the game away early with all their runs coming in the 3rd, and relying on Three Finger Brown to carry the day on his end after starting pitcher Jack Pfiester couldn't find the plate in the 1st, hitting one, walking two, and allowing a run. The baserunning error that caused it all has since been called "Merkle's Boner", and Merkle would never live it down.

Fast forward to the 1912 World Series. The Giants were facing off against the Boston Red Sox, in Game 8 of a seven-game series.

No, that's not a typo. Game 2 went 11 innings and ended in a 6-6 tie due to darkness.

Game 8 is at Fenway Park. It's the bottom of the 10th with the Giants up 2-1. Christy Mathewson- who also pitched the 1908 tiebreaker game for New York- had pitched well, allowing seven hits but stranding seven on base as well. It wouldn't be his pitching that got him in hot water.

Clyde Engel, leading off the bottom of the 10th for Boston, hit a fly to center that outfielder Fred Snodgrass couldn't hang onto. It was now Snodgrass' turn to be eternally linked to an error, this one known as 'Snodgrass's Muff'.

But it wasn't even the biggest muff of the inning.

Engle would reach second on the error. The next batter, Harry Hooper, gave the ball a ride, but this time Snodgrass was ready for it, making an amazing catch and saving what might had been the end of the game right there. Mathewson would walk Steve Yerkes, and then came Tris Speaker, who Mathewson got to pop up into foul territory on the first base side. Three people converged on it- Mathewson, catcher Chief Meyers... and first baseman Fred Merkle.

Absent any instruction, this was Merkle's ball. But Mathewson called him off and signaled for Meyers to catch it. Meyers, however, didn't hear Mathewson, and deferred to Merkle. The ball landed harmlessly.

Through no fault of his own, Merkle was involved in his second pennant-losing choke.

Speaker had a second life, and knew it, taunting Mathewson, "Well, you just called for the wrong man, and it's gonna cost you the ball game!" He then made good on his taunt, singling home Engel and sending Yerkes to third, followed by an intentional walk to load the bases and Larry Gardner sacrifice-flying Yerkes home. Series over. Red Sox win.

Watertown doesn't make much note of Merkle, aside from one local baseball diamond across from Webster Elementary, labeled in a subdued manner, 'Fred Merkle Field'.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fun With Magnets, Ink and Vegetable Oil

After two consecutive walls o' text, you deserve a nice compact video.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Does Death Prevent Death?

Last night, this story came over the Fark wires, showing that California has 700 inmates on Death Row, and has executed only 13 since 1977.

Fark being Fark, inevitably the first guy to make it to the thread said that it was "time to add an express lane", which was variously interpreted as both 'streamline the appeals process so it doesn't take so long' and 'execute them faster; what are we waiting for'.

One of the 'execute them faster' proponents mentioned that the death penalty is meant to be a deterrent.

Sounds like my kind of hypothesis.

What we're going to do today is simple. In practice, the death penalty is nearly exclusively applied to murder cases. The last execution in America for any crime that did not include a murder was on September 4, 1964, when James Coburn was put to death for robbery in Alabama.

Knowing that, the best way to go about investigating the power of the death penalty as a deterrent is to compare murder rates. Specifically, we will compare the murder rate in states with the death penalty to the murder rate in states without.

In addition, as some states have the death penalty but are reluctant to use it, we'll further separate states by the date of their most recent execution. We'll set a cutoff of three years, giving us three total categories:

1. States actively using the death penalty (have executed since April 26, 2007)
Alabama (last executed June 11, 2009)
Arizona (May 23, 2007)
Florida (February 16, 2010)
Georgia (October 20, 2009)
Indiana (December 11, 2009)
Kentucky (November 21, 2008)
Louisiana (January 7, 2010)
Mississippi (July 23, 2008)
Missouri (May 20, 2009)
Ohio (April 20, 2010)
Oklahoma (January 14, 2010)
South Carolina (May 8, 2009)
South Dakota (July 11, 2007)
Tennessee (December 2, 2009)
Texas (April 22, 2010)
Virginia (March 18, 2010)

2. States inactively using the death penalty (have the death penalty, but have not executed since April 26, 2007)
Arkansas (November 28, 2005)
California (January 17, 2006)
Colorado (October 13, 1997)
Connecticut (May 13, 2005)
Delaware (November 4, 2005)
Idaho (January 6, 1994)
Illinois (March 17, 1999)
Maryland (December 5, 2005)
Montana (August 11, 2006)
Nebraska (December 2, 1997)
Nevada (April 26, 2006)
New Mexico (November 6, 2001)
North Carolina (August 18, 2006)
Oregon (May 16, 1997)
Pennsylvania (July 6, 1999)
Utah (October 15, 1999; there's been one in the news that's been scheduled, but it hasn't happened yet, so this is where Utah goes for now)
Washington (August 28, 2001)
Wyoming (January 22, 1992)

3. States without the death penalty, for which there is a moratorium, or have not executed since the 'modern era' of capital punishment began in 1976 with the Supreme Court case Furman v. Georgia)
Kansas (June 22, 1965)
New Hampshire (June 14, 1939)
New Jersey
New York
North Dakota
Rhode Island
West Virginia

This gives us 16 states in Group 1, 18 states in Group 2, and 16 states in Group 3, which by lucky happenstance is just about as close to perfect as we're going to get as far as evening up the sizes of the groups.

Step 2 is to compare everybody's murder rates. The most recent information is from 2007 according to (warning: Excel file), measuring number of murders per 100,000 people. The national average is 5.6.

Group 1 is bolded, Group 2 is italicized, Group 3 is standard. Their group numbers are also placed beside them.

14.2- Louisiana (1)
9.8- Maryland (2)
8.9- Alabama (1)
8.2- New Mexico (2)
8.0- South Carolina (1)
7.5- Georgia (1)
7.5- Nevada (2)
7.4- Arizona (1)
7.1- Mississippi (1)
6.7- Arkansas (2)
6.7- Michigan (3)
6.6- Florida (1)
6.5- Missouri (1)
6.5- North Carolina (2)
6.4- Alaska (3)
6.4- Tennessee (1)
6.2- California (2)
6.1- Oklahoma (1)
5.9- Illinois (2)
5.9- Texas (1)
5.8- Pennsylvania (2)
5.6- Indiana (1)
5.3- Virginia (1)
4.8- Kentucky (1)
4.5- Ohio (1)
--------note this line for later--------
4.4- New Jersey (3)
4.3- Delaware (2)
4.2- New York (3)
3.9- Kansas (3)
3.8- Nebraska (2)
3.5- West Virginia (3)
3.3- Idaho (2)
3.3- Wisconsin (3)
3.1- Colorado (2)
3.1- Wyoming (2)
3.0- Connecticut (2)
2.9- Massachusetts (3)
2.7- Washington (2)
2.2- Minnesota (3)
2.2- Utah (2)
2.1- South Dakota (1)
1.9- North Dakota (3)
1.9- Oregon (2)
1.9- Vermont (3)
1.8- Rhode Island (3)
1.7- Hawaii (3)
1.6- Maine (3)
1.5- Montana (2)
1.2- Iowa (3)
1.1- New Hampshire (3)

Obviously, there's some noise in the data, partially due to the way this was set up- after all, even if you've only executed one person in the last 50 years, if that one happened last week, you're in Group 1. Group 2 is all over the place.

But look at Group 1 and Group 3. Note that demarcation line placed between the 4.5 of Ohio and the 4.4 of New Jersey; it separates the states 25/25. You'll find a very clear separation, with almost all of Group 1 on Ohio's side and almost all of Group 3 on New Jersey's side. And remember, Groups 1 and 3 are of equal size, 16 states apiece.

Among states with at least 4.5 murders per 100,000:
Group 1: 15
Group 2: 8 (including five of the six most recent executions in the group- North Carolina, Nevada, California, Maryland and Arkansas; Montana's below the line)
Group 3: 2 (Michigan and Alaska)

Among states with under 4.5 murders per 100,000:

Group 1: 1 (South Dakota, which among states in Group 1 is the second-closest to slipping into Group 2)
Group 2: 10 (including the five longest waits in the group since their last execution: Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado and Nebraska)
Group 3: 14

That's a result. Parse however you wish, but that's a result. The death penalty, from this data, does not appear to be an effective deterrent to the crime it punishes.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

An Open Letter To Potential Assassins


Apparently, a number of individuals in this country have thought it acceptable to openly threaten violence, or even commit violent acts, against elected members of the federal government. It's well-documented at this point. The gas line of Tom Perriello's brother's house being cut by someone who thought it was Periello's house and had the wrong address. 'If Brown Can't Stop It, A Browning Can'. 'We Came Unarmed This Time'. If you don't like these examples, just scan the next Tea Party gathering near you and there are fair odds of seeing someone similar. Or check out this, or this.

If any reader out there happens to know one of these people, bring them on yonder because we need to have a bit of a talk.

Hi, potential assassin. (As this is what you are.) Have a seat.

First off, let's address the obvious: what you're thinking of doing is completely and utterly morally wrong. But I wager you're not going to be convinced to put down the gun on moral grounds. You're no Manchurian Candidate. Nobody who gets this far down the line, to the point of considering murdering an elected federal official, has any real moral uncertainties. In fact, you probably think I'm the crazy one. If you have any moral qualms about what you're doing, rest assured you're putting the brakes on any plan of action far before it gets around to 'hey, let's assassinate the President of the United States'. By this point, you legitimately think it's a good idea.

So let's dispense with the sermon and instead walk through why this is a BAD idea.

Your first and biggest mistake is estimating your level of support for this kind of thing. Surely, you are positive that history will look at you as the hero.

As Obama is naturally going to be the primary target- being the President and all (and noting that only four sitting members of Congress have ever been assassinated, with one of them, Leo Ryan, killed in Guyana during the Jonestown massacre; and two others, Robert F. Kennedy and Huey Long, having Presidential ambitions; the other was James M. Hinds)- let us go over the list of Presidential assassins and attempted assassins to this point, and see exactly what kind of company you're going to be joining. We'll limit ourselves to those who have put an attempt into action, and omit those apprehended in the planning stages. We will also omit attempts from external sources.

1835- Richard Lawrence, attempted to kill Andrew Jackson
1865- John Wilkes Booth, killed Abraham Lincoln
1881- Charles Guiteau, killed James A. Garfield
1901- Leon Czolgosz, killed William McKinley
1912- John F. Schrank, attempted to kill Theodore Roosevelt
1933- Giuseppe Zangara, attempted to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt
1950- Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, attempted to kill Harry Truman
1963- Lee Harvey Oswald, killed John F. Kennedy (no, we are not getting into the whole conspiracy thing)
1974- Samuel Byck, attempted to kill Richard Nixon
1975- Squeaky Fromme, attempted to kill Gerald Ford
1975- Sara Jane Moore, attempted to kill Gerald Ford
1976- Chester Plumber, attempted to kill Gerald Ford
1981- John Hinckley Jr., attempted to kill Ronald Reagan
1994- Francisco Martin Duran, attempted to kill Bill Clinton
2001- Robert Pickett, attempted to kill George W. Bush

The first thing to note is that Lawrence and Schrank were eventually declared insane, and many of the others on the list had emotional issues as well. The second thing to note is that most of the rest ended up dead themselves, either from being killed in the act, at the scene, soon afterwards, or from a formal execution; this was the fate of Booth, Guiteau, Czolgosz, Zangara, Torresola, Oswald, Byck and Plumber.

As for the rest, Collazo was to be executed as well, but Truman commuted his sentence to life, and Jimmy Carter pardoned him after 29 years. Fromme was given life in prison, but released after serving 34 years. Moore was paroled after 32 years. Duran was sentenced to 40 years and is currently serving that out. Pickett, who was shot by a Secret Service agent on-site, got three years.

The third thing to note: these people are either viewed as crazy, history's villains, or this is the first you've heard of them at all. The sole exceptions are Collazo and Torresola, looked upon fondly by the Puerto Rican independence movement. (And Fidel Castro, whatever you wish to make of that.) A movement that seeks to break off from the United States, which only is a fair analog to you if you seek secession.

We'll get to that later.

The fourth thing to note: none of these things actually has led to anything larger. If you actually do seek secession, look towards Booth. If anyone was going to bring about secession (or at least a recharge in Southern enthusiasm; the states were still seceded) it was him, as the Civil War had just ended. It didn't happen. Collazo and Torresola? Their act was in 1950. Now, in 2010, Puerto Rico is the exact same status that it was in 1950.

So it's not going to lead to anything, you're in all likelihood not getting vindicated by history, and you'll probably die trying.

What's your goal, assuming mental stability? (And it cannot be assumed; according to the US Attorney's Manual, approximately 75% of all threats on the President are made by the mentally ill.) Is it regime change? Get a Republican in office? Because if it is, you'd need a lot of accomplices. Six of them, in fact. I'm assuming you're a Republican here (or an "independent" that's just So Fed Up with a group of people that, if you listed them off, would turn out to be just a bunch of Democrats with maybe the occasional moderate Republican mixed in; whatever you want to call yourself to make yourself feel better). The first Republican in the line of succession right now is Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense. In front of him are Obama, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Robert Byrd, Hillary Clinton, and Timothy Geithner. If you prefer the other Republican in the line of succession, Ray LaHood, that would require eight additional accomplices to take out Gates, Eric Holder, Ken Salazar, Tom Vilsack, Gary Locke, Hilda Solis, Kathleen Sebelius, and Shaun Donovan.

This would be a tad difficult, as it should be noted that no Vice President has yet been assassinated, never mind the effort involved in killing the six highest-ranking people in America at the same time, let alone the 14 highest.

So Biden's President now. And you think he'd just stumble around like Dan Quayle 2.0 until he could be driven from office, right? Obama didn't pick him for his mouth. There's a brain in there that his mouth just happens to outrun. While in the Senate. Biden chaired the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees, the latter of which he chaired during the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Not a guy you'd like very much. Aside from that, he drafted the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, created what became the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and led efforts to get involved in the Balkans in the 90's. Since becoming Vice President, it was Biden who leaned heavily on Specter to flip parties, and he's the guy the administration relies on to convey expectations to Iraqi leadership. (Whether Iraq meets those expectations, that's not Biden's problem.)

Long story short, there's a reason his verbal gaffes always get shrugged off.

And if you do get Obama and Biden... President Nancy Pelosi. I know you don't like the sound of that one, and that's before you take into account that she'd take the 'first woman President' title, and as a woman, she would have absolutely no problem laying into Sarah Palin without having to worry about looking like a chauvinist pig. Obama can't hit a girl, you say? Biden can't hit a girl, you say? Pelosi sure as hell can.

Are you after an overthrow of the government? Do you think the military will side with you and turn the administration out of office? Put your side in, remake the country in your image? Well, in your attempt to remake the United States, you've pretty much ended the United States as we know it, but never mind your pipe dream. Here's what's actually going to happen.

You get the stuffing knocked out of you. That's what's going to happen.

Note that even with the size of the Tea Party movement now, there isn't much of anybody in the military joining in. There's one officer refusing to follow orders because of birther-related concerns, and that guy's simply getting court-martialed. If an actual movement were to take place, don't expect very much military support. Maybe you get a couple scattered people to break off, and maybe they bring their weapons with them. Maybe they attach to whatever local militias have taken up the cause.

That still leaves the rest of the military. That still leaves all the gigantic military toys that scattered desertions can't simply walk off with. That still leaves, if it were to come to it, all those missile silos that somebody has the launch codes to, and that somebody isn't going to be you. It's going to be the high-ranking officers loyal to the Commander-in-Chief. And if they leave and take the codes with them, they better call for the missiles fast, because the codes are very likely to be changed almost as fast.

A smattering of local militias, probably a couple hundred guys at best, against thousands and thousands of military professionals in addition to local police. The former probably has some fairly impressive guns at their disposal, admitted, but the latter has impressive weaponry too. And tanks. And airplanes. I'm willing to wager not many local militias have tanks laying around. And if things got into a sustained gunfight, the militias are running out of ammo first.

Are you trying to get your state to secede? Please note that the Civil War was not originally fought as a war over freeing slaves (though it eventually became so, and slavery was the core issue at hand), but as a war over preserving the Union. Secession, it should be noted, is in fact unconstitutional. Right after 'we the people', you'll note the phrase "in order to create a more perfect union". This was in reference to the Articles of Confederation, which talk of a "perpetual union", which should really be self-explanatory.

Unfortunately, some people were confused about that little clause. The Supreme Court laid it out bare in the 1869 case Texas v. White, in which they ruled 5-3 that the Confederacy never actually left the Union during the Civil War, because states can't secede.

So even if you get your state to secede, you haven't seceded. All you've done is commit treason. And treason tends to be frowned upon in our modern times.

Do you simply not like Obama because he's black? I already had words with you a couple months ago.

So you've been squashed. You manage to survive the altercation, and are arrested (as you should well expect). No matter, even if you didn't manage to complete the assassination, you can just vote out your quarry normally anyway, right?

Wrong. Oh so wrong.

Simply making threats on the President's life is a class D felony under US Code Title 18, Section 871, punishable by five years in prison. And the Secret Service isn't known for being picky about what constitutes a threat. An actual attempt, well, that's straight-up attempted murder all by itself, before you add in the whole Presidential thing.

Felons aren't allowed to vote. Through your actions, you've simply reduced your electoral ranks by one, and given your opposition that much more breathing room.

But let's say, knowing all that, knowing the odds against you, you succeeded. Let's say you actually do manage to kill the President.

Who's to say the events of the aftermath won't backfire on you? Who's to say that your target- and here we loop back around to that original error of overestimating your level of support- won't gain a slew of sympathy points, thus making them, or at least their policies, even more popular, thus taking the country even further from your worldview at an even faster rate? Reagan got that treatment. Kennedy became mythical. Teddy postponed going to the hospital so he could use his attempt in a scheduled campaign speech, which turned out to last an hour and a half, and added it to his already-burgeoning legend. (He didn't win the race, but he wasn't going to win anyway.) And let's not even get started on Lincoln.

So there you go. You're going to get crushed, you're not going to get away, you're going to pay dearly- possibly with your life- you won't accomplish anything by it other than potentially cause a lot of people a lot of grief, you will in all likelihood go down in history as crazy or worse- if you go down in history at all- and even if you complete your task, in trying to silence your target, you may very well give him a larger voice than you could possibly imagine.

Put the gun down.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Random News Generator- Macedonia

Having just done an RNG update, let's go ahead and run a new one. Today, the RNG lands on Macedonia.

Macedonia has wanted to be part of the European Union since 2005. They're in the process of scheduling talks on how exactly they're going to go about getting in.

As you're probably well aware, the EU is the cool kids' club. They don't let just anybody in, because with everyone using the euro, and everyone tied together in other, more subtle ways, one economic basket case has the capability to stymie the entire group.

One of those more subtle ways is what's kept Macedonia at bay to this point. If you want to be in the EU, you have to go along with what the current members want you to do. You don't go along, you don't get in. It's that simple. And Macedonia has not done enough to please EU member Greece.

Specifically, it's Macedonia's name, the 'Republic of Macedonia', as stated in their constitution. Greece has a province also named Macedonia, and believes that Macedonia-the-country's name as currently stated makes undue claims on Macedonia-the-province. If, however, Macedonia-the-country were to rename itself 'Northern Macedonia', or what it's called at the UN, the 'Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia', that would be enough to please Greece. The same problem has also kept Macedonia out of NATO, which they'd also like to join.

What's in a name? In the eyes of Macedonia, national pride. As EU Observer reports:
"By objecting to our chosen title, Greece shows that their demands do not end with the constitutional name of the country but go beyond and touch the forbidden zone of individual and national rights to self-determination and national identity", [Macedonian foreign minister Antonio] Milososki complained after the Greek reaction.
That's the short version, anyway. Here's the long version.

This has been going on since 1991. They'd like to have the issue hammered out by the end of June, but posturing still abounds. According to Bulgaria's Focus Information Agency, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is scheduled to arrive in Athens next week for a conference organized by The Economist, but as Gruevski's plane reads 'Republic of Macedonia', it's up in the air as to whether he will be allowed to land the plane on Greek soil.

Hopefully they can hammer it out, but we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sharjah Update

It's high time to give an update on an earlier story covered here concerning 17 Indian workers in Sharjah, UAE facing the death penalty for the death of a Pakistani. When we last left off, the condemned were awaiting an appeal to be filed by their home nation.

That appeal has been filed, and as it happens, the Indian government will pick up the legal tab.

That's not all that's happened since we last checked in. The group Lawyers for Human Rights International made a visit to the condemned, and they allege torture. Quoting from India Blooms:
LFHRI said the prisoners reported that none of them was arrested from the spot [the act was committed in 2008; the prisoners have been incarcerated for nine months] and on their arrest they were brutally tortured by giving beatings to them for continuous 9 days by police men of CID branch [Criminal Investigation Department].

They were beaten with Golf clubs & plastic pipes and were also given electric shocks. They were made to stand on one foot and not allowed to sleep and asked to make confessions to the crime, which as per their version they never committed," Navkiran Singh, who is LFHRI general secretary, told IBNS [India Blooms News Service].

However in spite of brutal torture, they never confessed. Some of these prisoners also showed their injuries received by them in the police interrogation and also disclosed that the said injuries are contained in their medical reports, said Singh, who visited the prisoners in the jail.
I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

WTF, Arizona

I hereby urge a boycott of the state of Arizona for business, tourism or anything that gives them money, until such time as they decide to move away from the police-state mentality that has clearly taken hold.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Let's See You Memorize THESE, You Smarmy Fourth-Graders

If you're reasonably up on your American history, you might know that Washington wasn't always the capital. Philadelphia served as the original capital while Washington was being built.

Fun fact, Congress met in other places besides Philly while they got their feet under themselves, and any place they met starting with the First Continental Congress in 1774 is counted as a capital. This means that, in addition to Philadelphia and Washington, the United States also saw its capital as:

*Baltimore, MD (2nd Continental Congress)
*Lancaster, PA (2nd Continental Congress)
*York, PA (2nd Continental Congress)
*Princeton, NJ (Articles of Confederation)
*Annapolis, MD (Articles of Confederation)
*Trenton, NJ (Articles of Confederation)
*New York, NY (Articles of Confederation, Constitution)

We have states, too. A lot of them have gone through their own bit of capital-shuffling. Even counting only the time a state served as its own entity as opposed to someone else's (Wisconsin, for example, would be counted from 1836, when it became the Territory of Wisconsin, and not from 1788, when it was part of the Territory Northwest of the River Ohio), most states have had at least one capital change, and sometimes a whole mess of them.

Every one of them had to happen for a reason. You don't just do something like swap capitals on a whim. So, let's talk about four of those past capitals.

*Bannack and Virginia City, Montana
Bannack is a ghost town now. Why are they a ghost town?

Well, why were they chosen as a capital, first off? Simple: gold. Why are they a ghost town? The gold ran out. The town ended up more of an Old West battlefield than anything else, and that's Bannack's real history.

Why was Virginia city the new capital? Gold. Loads of gold. Why aren't they the capital anymore? They ran out of gold.

Why is Helena the capital now? Give you one guess.

*Guthrie, Oklahoma
When Oklahoma was a territory, Guthrie looked pretty good. It looked like a modern town on the rise, helped along by Hobart Johnstone Whitley, aka the 'Father of Hollywood'; he came up with the name 'Hollywood', and his stamp of civic development can be seen all over Los Angeles. It's estimated that he founded some 140 cities, and in every one, he made sure to build a hotel and a bank. All in all, a very good name to have on your side. Guthrie certainly thought so, asking him to be the first governor of the state. Whitley in turn petitioned Congress to make Guthrie the capital, as it was ultimately their call. Congress went along with it.

Then Oklahoma gained statehood.

Suddenly it wasn't Congress' call anymore. It was the state's. And the state, according to the book 'Oklahoma: A History of Five Centuries', preferred Oklahoma City, voting it the capital over Guthrie and Shawnee in a blowout. Oklahoma City would get 70.8% of the vote, Guthrie only 23%, with Shawnee getting the other 6.2%. Not only was Guthrie out, but the state seal was moved out of Guthrie in the dead of night, ala the Baltimore Colts being moved to Indianapolis.

Guthrie went to the US Supreme Court to try to get the capital back, on the basis that the move was made immediately in 1910 as opposed to the date the move was supposed to happen as per the state constitution- 1913- but in the 1911 case Coyle v. Smith, the Court ruled 7-2 that a state could in fact determine its own capital and that the state constitutionally-mandated delay was itself unconstitutional.

Guthrie never got over the loss. To this day they still identify chiefly with the fact that they were once the capital of Oklahoma.

*Belmont, Wisconsin
There was a gigantic fight, when Wisconsin gained territory status, about who would get to be the capital. It couldn't be the one they were using as part of the Territory of Michigan, because that was Detroit. It shouldn't come as much of a surprise to learn that everybody wanted the capital to be in or near them. Cassville was proposed, Prairie du Chien, Racine, Fond du Lac.

Then Andrew Jackson appointed Henry Dodge to be the territorial governor. Dodge had absolute veto power, and would have a huge edge in picking the capital.

And Henry Dodge selected Belmont, a tiny place in southwest Wisconsin that actually wasn't even really a town so much as a speculation, ostensibly on the basis that it was at the time in the middle of the territory. Even the Wisconsin Blue Book calls out Dodge's stupidity here, wondering why he didn't just pick the nearby and already-established Mineral Point.

Dodge caught a ton of flak for the choice, and backpedaled within a month, saying he'd go along with anywhere the legislature could agree on. But for now, it was Belmont. The legislators would hammer out a state constitution there.

'There' turned out to be a couple of buildings in the absolute middle of nowhere, with the legislators crammed into two buildings which would be fine housing single families, but were completely unsuitable for dozens of people at once. And also there wasn't any heat or water. And it was winter. In Wisconsin. In 1836. And the food sucked. According to the Dubuque Visitor, "Empty stomachs make clear heads, but not good laws. The Lord deliver us from a set of hungry legislators."

Enter James Duane Doty, a land speculator that had surveyed Madison, traveled to Belmont promoting it, and by the end of the session had sold deeds to 16 legislators, two clerks and Dodge's son. It was open lobbying, everyone that caught wind of it was disgusted by it, but then, every other city in the running had a Doty of their own. Doty's just the guy who won the day. Madison then had to fend off votes replacing it with just about every city on the map- Milwaukee, Racine, Belmont, Cassville, Mineral Point, Portage, Platteville, Koshkonong, Peru, and on and on and on.

Madison, however, had to be built itself, and Burlington in what is now Iowa would serve as a placeholder until... well, until Iowa became a state and snapped up Burlington, forcing an early move to Madison.

What of Belmont? It couldn't even get the attention of the railroad afterwards; when the tracks were laid three miles to the southeast, the entire town simply packed up and moved to where the track was. You have the two buildings still standing, but otherwise it's farmland on a back road.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Partial list of Hello Kitty Merchandise

To my knowledge, every last one of the following Hello Kitty-branded items has been approved, at some level, by Hello Kitty's parent company, Sanrio. This is a partial list.

Antivirus software
Baby perfume
Banana cover
Bathroom mirror
Beer stein
Bento box
Bicycle tires
Blood pressure gauge
Boiled egg shaper
Bottled water
Bowling ball
Bowling shoes
Box cutter
Bubble bath
Business card
Car seat
Circuit board
Clothes hanger
Coffee maker
Computer keyboard
Credit card
Eye mask
Fire extinguisher
Golf ball
Golf ball holder
Golf club
Gumball machine
Hole punch
Ice cube tray
Jelly Bellies
Karaoke machine
Kitty litter
Lady Gaga (various)
Louis Vuitton bong
Mahjong set
Memo pad
MP3 Player
Panty liners
Paper shredder
Plush doll
Portable body fat meter
Power sander
Press-on nails
Razor scooter
Rectal thermometer
Roll-up piano
Rubber duck
Sandwich shaper
Sewing machine
Shower radio
Skin meter
Skin water
Sleeping bag
Space heater
Toilet paper (meant as display item)
Toilet seat
Tongue stud
Tote bag
Urinal target
USB fish tank
USB lap warmer
Vegetable cutter
Washing machine
Water cooler
Wedding dress
Writing utensils
Yoga mat
Yogurt maker

For documentation of some of the more unorthodox items, please direct your attention to Hello Kitty Hell. That blogger has my deepest sympathy.

Please note that his wife is the one collecting all of the Hello Kitty merchandise, far past the stage of 'hobby' or even 'obsession' but rather into 'hoarding'. Like, call TLC.

So... There's These Hikers.

While I prep the next feature-lengther, turn your browsers yonder this way. Quoting from the main page:

Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal have been detained in Iran since July 31, 2009, when news reports say they accidentally crossed an unmarked border during a hiking trip in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. They were in a peaceful region of Iraq that is increasingly popular with Western tourists.

The three young Americans, all graduates of the University of California at Berkeley, are being held in Evin Prison in Tehran. No charge against them has been presented in a court of law and they have only be able to contact their families once.

Shane, Josh and Sarah care greatly about the world in which we live. They admire and respect different cultures and religions and share a love of travel that has taken them to many countries. That is why they went to Kurdistan, not because they wanted to enter Iran.

We hope the Iranian authorities understand that if Shane, Sarah and Josh were in Iranian territory there is just one reason: because they made a regrettable mistake and got lost. Please let them return home as soon as possible.

As of this post, they've been in captivity for 262 days, give or take a few hours. Head on over to the Free the Hikers site and any way you could help out would be much appreciated, even if it's just signing the petition.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rationale and Inhibition, or Lack Thereof

Unless your moral compass is utterly beyond reproach, every so often there's a little voice, somewhere in the deep recesses of your head, that at least openly wonders what would happen if you engaged in an extreme, sociopathic reaction to some mundane act, or to no act at all in particular. Not just what we know as the id, but the most drastic possible form of id. What would happen if I took my half-eaten hotdog and smashed it in the face of the guy next to me who won't stop mugging for the Jumbotron. What would happen if I slammed on the brakes and forced that tailgater to ram into the back of my car. What would happen if I did this. What would happen if I did that.

Most of us quickly disregard these thoughts, though, as we know these actions to be immoral and wrong.

Most of us, anyway.

Now, perhaps you play video games, and perhaps you've gone on an indiscriminate rampage in Grand Theft Auto or something. The rules are different for video games; that's a controlled, ultimately safe environment in which nobody actually gets hurt. That is not what's at hand here. We're talking about real-life actions.

Nor are we talking about actions for which some sort of rationale, however twisted or flimsy, is provided. Even the examples provided at the top of this article don't really qualify. 'But he wouldn't stop mugging for the Jumbotron' and 'But he was tailgating me' are at least reasons. Bad reasons, but reasons. That is having a rationale. The issue at hand here is not a twisted rationale for sociopathy. The issue at hand is a total, utter lack of social inhibition control. The action for the sake of the action, and nothing more.

And it has happened. We'll examine here two such cases.

First, there's Thomas Venezia. Venezia in 2003 was given a five-year ban from hunting anywhere in the world, and was banned from Canada for life.

Venezia has claimed to have the "K chromosome", being quoted as saying "I love to kill. I have to kill." Luckily for us humans, for Venezia, that primarily means birds and deer.

Unluckily for us humans, Venezia would step on any toe to gain access to the grounds where he could shoot them. And Venezia stepped on a lot of toes, more or less the entire hunting community of Vermont. He would nudge people off longtime hunting grounds they'd used for years. He would park right next to people that beat him to a hunting spot he wanted. He would, in an activity where silence is paramount, scream "Lock and load, boys!" or "Come over here and I'll give you the nasty sting of steel!"

And it didn't end with straight hunting. According to an article from the Ludington Daily News,
Once, Venezia spontaneously leaped from a truck and started firing at ducks, then later at pigeons because, he said, he needed action because he had gone an hour without killing anything.

After the sentencing, Venezia was pretty much shut out of the community, to the point where one person in the linked Atlantic article, Saskatchewan investigator Ronald Maynard, hesitates to call him a hunter at all. But it hadn't altered Venezia's mindset. When reporter John Vaillant met Venezia after the sentencing, a group of pigeons flew overhead. When Venezia looked up at them, Vaillant asked Venezia what he was seeing, and Venezia- who remember was starting a five-year worldwide hunting ban- responded "Fodder." He went on to nod at them and say "See those pigeons?... Now they're in range. (beat) That one's dead. So's that one."

Second, there's a pair of girls in Perth, Australia, whose names went unpublished as they were below the age of majority at the time. This is the purest possible form of a lack of social inhibition. The two, during a sleepover, discussed what it would be like to kill someone, decided they'd feel no remorse, and then duly set upon a friend, Eliza Davis, in a cold, detached manner. At the ensuing trial, no further reasoning was given, no further emotion supplied.

They were both given life in prison, eligible for parole after 15 years due to their age. In addition, the two were separated on the rationale that they would pose an unacceptable threat to others as long as they remained together.

Normally, you'd try and analyze something like this by trying to discern why. But when the sake of the act IS the reason, it's exponentially more difficult.

But it has to come from somewhere, doesn't it? No matter how heinously or seemingly inexplicably one behaves, there are prior events and experiences in their lives that combined somehow to lay some sort of groundwork for it. One is not born a monster, and to dismiss someone as such is to disregard possible clues as to how they became who they became, thereby permitting others to follow similar paths in the future.

What might cause someone to completely lose their sense of social inhibition like this? Feel free to chime in below if you've got a theory.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Tommy Thompson, former governor of Wisconsin, has declared that he is out of the Senate race against 3-term incumbent Russ Feingold, and is all but exiting the political arena entirely.

There are three other candidates definately in against Feingold:

*Terrence Wall (R), real-estate developer from Middleton (which, coincidentally, is also Feingold's hometown)
*Dave Westlake (R), small-business owner from Watertown
*Rob Taylor (Constitution), city alderman from Cumberland

There are four other names potentially in, all Republican:

*Ron Johnson, small-business owner and founding member of Oshkosh's local tea party
*Ted Kanavas, outgoing state senator from Brookfield
*Dick Leinenkugel, Wisconsin Commerce Secretary from Chippewa Falls, and if you've ever drank a Leinenkugel beer, the name isn't a coincidence
*Tim Michels from Oconomowoc, Feingold's opponent in 2004

If you aren't from Wisconsin, take it from a lifelong cheesehead: none of these people have a chance in hell. Michels got pasted last time out. Leinenkugel only has the beer to give him any name recognition at all, and nobody else has anything going whatsoever. Wall has the money to run the occasional ad, but he's making all the impact of a pebble on a block of concrete. I live in Watertown and I had never heard of Westlake before he made himself a candidate. I've SPOKEN to him, his kids go to my old elementary school, and the only thing I can tell about him is that he decried the tone of rhetoric currently pervasive in politics but stopped short of saying he'd break a filibuster even if he did get in.

We still like Thompson. We liked him as governor, wept and gnashed teeth when George W. Bush tapped him for Secretary of Health and Human Services, and have more or less ignored his ensuing slow slide into where the rest of the Republican Party currently is. He's been downright sepia-toned. 'Oh, Thompson, why did you have to go and leave us with Scott McCallum and Jim Doyle? Come back! We'll give you candy!' He was showing as beating Feingold in several polls despite not really doing much of anything beyond sitting there and letting us be all nostalgic about him.

Now that he's gone- now that the only Republican in the state of Wisconsin that could have given Feingold a game is gone- Russ has a free run to November.

Which leaves us to focus on the governor's race, which right now is showing as Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett (D) vs. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker of Wauwatosa (R), with Walker holding probably about 5 points on Barrett but unable to create significant daylight. Barrett has a more-or-less free run to the Democratic nomination, but Mark Neumann, former Congressman from Nashotah and part of the 1994 Republican Revolution, is waiting in the wings should Walker falter.

Wisconsin primaries take place in September; the filing deadline is in July. There's a long way to go.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Strangest Wii Fit Injury Ever

Amanda Flowers of Manchester, England has developed persistent genital arousal disorder after falling off her Wii Fit balance board.

And before you say anything along the lines of 'boy, I'd like to have that injury' or 'so she's a sex addict now?'... no, no, no, Amanda hates you now, and no. It's the kind of thing for which there is a support group.

I wouldn't be able to do the disorder justice here, so I'm just going to shut up and say click the links.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Note On My Name

Yes, this needs to be noted. It's more common for someone to get it wrong than for someone to get it right.

My last name is pronounced 'ALL-er-mann'. 'ALL' as in 'All My Children'. Not 'AL-er-mann' as in 'Al Bundy'. The last two syllables, 'er-mann', are pronouced- and spelled- exactly the same as that of Keith Olbermann. There are two N's in my last name, not one. And definately not three.

Ways my last name is not pronounced:


And while we're at it, 'Aaron' is pronounced the same way as everyone else's 'Aaron'. It is not pronounced 'A-RON'. It is spelled with two A's, not one.

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Caravan Conkers

Today we learn that most important of things: if you ever find yourself slamming caravans into each other to see which one falls apart first, which caravan is most durable?

Luckily, Top Gear is on the case.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Will of the Constituents

What is the job of an elected official in the United States? To carry out the will of the people? To vote exactly like we tell them to, right?


This is a common misconception in fact one of the most pervasive in politics: why elected officials are there in the first place. To simply follow the will of the people is to essentially rule by referendum. That's a direct democracy. What we have is a representative democracy. The task is not to follow the will of the constituents. The task is to do right by the constituents.

Here's the difference.

Most people simply do not have the time to be up on every issue that an elected official might need to know about. And trust me, you're not. I'll prove it. Let's use Congress as our sample for the remainder of this article; you were going to anyway.

How well-versed are you on the subject of health insurance?
Now how are you on solar energy?
How about inner-city schools?
The largest employer in your district?
The local water supply?
Trade relations with Morocco?
The Western Sahara?
The crime rate in your district? What crimes are more common than others?
What can be handled by you, and what has to be handled at the state or local level?
Gay rights?
The condition of various infrastructure, particularly roads and bridges?
Patent law?
Net neutrality?
Eminent domain?
The local poverty rate?
Mountaintop removal?

This is just for starters. A member of Congress is expected to know about all of these issues and many more. We elect someone and send them to Washington to be a central hub for all the information one needs to make informed decisions on these issues. We place them in close proximity to an endless array of experts (they may be in lobbies and think tanks, but they are still experts), in a building not far away from a collection of every single book ever published in this country, along with all manner of other institutions of information and learning. In addition, we supply them with news from home at every opportunity.

And then, with all of that information in one place, a privilege the vast majority of constituents don't have, this member of Congress is asked to play it all off of each other, consider everything they've learned along with any personal experience, and then, we trust them to do right by us.

And the right move isn't always the move the constituents want.

Let's face it: sometimes, voters are stupid. This is not retail. The customer is not always right. California gives voters some of the most direct and extensive control over the direction of the state in the country, and California is nobody's idea of a well-run state.

As stated earlier, a direct democracy is little more than voting by referendum. And given referendums, voters will show two major things:

1. They want everything.
2. They don't want to pay for anything.

Needless to say, this is not a sustainable way of governing. Too many referendums in this vein have put California in a serious budget crisis. (This is not helped by the fact that it takes a two-thirds majority to pass a budget in California. There is an effort to remove that, but removing it requires a two-thirds majority and a referendum. Natch.)

This is why it is sometimes necessary for a representative to buck the will of the constituents: essentially, they must be willing to save the voters from themselves. Unfortunately, all too often the representatives don't get it right either. That is obviously partially on them for not properly interpreting the information presented them, or for knuckling under to interests that go against that of their constituents.

But it's also partially the fault of the voters. Sometimes the voters simply vote in the wrong person to represent them. Sure, sometimes the voters are fooled or manipulated, but sometimes the voters just plain screw it up. And the 'we only have two choices' argument doesn't hold water when, again, one looks at California. We've already brought the 2003 recall up in this space, but it bears mentioning again. After Gray Davis was recalled in 2003, California voters had a bewildering 135 options before them, in addition to the choice to keep Davis, effectively a 136th option. And that doesn't count the write-ins.

Given all of these choices, the voters selected: Arnold Schwarzenegger, primarily known for starring in movies where he makes lots of things blow up. In the process, the voters also placed Larry Flynt in 7th place, Gary Coleman in 8th, porn star Mary Carey in 10th, and comedian Gallagher in 16th. In 5th, 6th and 11th were candidates that had already withdrawn from the race. 2,536 people voted for billboard icon Angelyne, good for 29th place, despite the fact that she is notorious for not providing any information about herself.

Do you think any of those Angelyne voters have enough of a grasp on the issues to even contemplate being in a position of leadership?

I would love to test them.

A fair number of the people that think elected officials suck at their job undoubtedly harbor the opinion that they can do better. Unfortunately, without voting them in, there's no way to know for sure.

Well, almost no way. I present to you a reality show concept. Let's take a group of people who have never held elective office that think they can do the job of Congress better than Congress:

*One person from each Congressional district to play the part of the House. (Plus one person from DC. Get them participating.)
*Two additional people from each state to play the part of the Senate.
*One person to play the part of President, and a partner to play the part of Vice President.

This totals 538 people. (We'll call it 'The FiveThirtyEight' and get Nate Silver to host.) We'll have the show play the rest of the parts. The 538 would be placed into a simulated legislature and White House, and spend two years- the length of one Congress- dealing with the real-life job responsibilities of the actual offices. They'd write laws, debate issues, deal with constituents (viewer mail, perhaps), deal with the media, deal with lobbyists, and anything else that might come up. We'd see if they could actually do the job, or if they'd end up in way over their head.

If they end up in over their head, they come away with a kind of appreciation for the job. If they do well, hey, perhaps they could get into the real Congress one day.

It would be important to make it realistic. You really do want to see some of the 538 succeed, but you can't treat them with kid gloves either, just in case someone does eventually make it into the real Congress.

Anyone out there want to give it a go?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Random News Generator- Nepal

Time once again for the Random News Generator. Every square inch of Earth and we pick up the front page of one place at random. And today we land on Nepal.

In Nepal, one finds Mount Everest. And there are two pieces of Everest news worth mentioning.

First, there's Jordan Romero, age 13, from Big Bear, CA, aiming to become the youngest person ever to scale the mountain. In the process, he will also become the youngest person to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents. He would smash the current record of 16, held by Nepal's Temba Tsheri. Romero knows enough to realize Everest can kill, and is prepared to turn back if something were to happen.

Hey, you've got three years to break the record, Romero. It's fine if you want to pace yourself. You can wish him luck here.

Secondly, we turn our attention to he who came first, Sir Edmund Hillary. (And his sherpa, Tenzing Norgay.) There was a plan in place to have Hillary's ashes on Everest.

However, Everest is considered sacred to Buddhist lamas, who warned of bad luck should that plan proceed. To placate the lamas, the ashes of Hillary, who died in 2008, will instead be kept in an area monastery.

The lamas take the mountains seriously. A few Himalayan peaks have never been conquered not because of their difficulty in climbing, but because they are considered too sacred to be desecrated by climbers. Most notable among them are Khumbila and Mount Kailas. Khumbila is thought to be the home of a local deity, while Kailas is regarded as the origin of the Ganges River, the place where the water of the Ganges flows directly from heaven. (That last link comes highly recommended,)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

To Say The Least... has not been a good morning:

*The bodies of the final few miners in West Virginia have been found; the final death toll has been brought to 29. At least, according to early indications, they barely knew what hit them.

*Meanwhile in Poland, the president, his wife, and a number of top officials have all died in a plane crash in Russia amidst heavy fog. 97 have died; there were no survivors. As if that wasn't bad enough, the plane was headed to a memorial for the Katyn massacre, 70 years ago to the day, when some 22,000 Polish officers were killed by Soviet secret police. Some of those on board were relatives of victims.

The crash occured in the Katyn forest.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Speaking of Lisa Ling...

...she won an Edward R. Murrow Award, apparently yesterday, for her piece on KCET's program SoCal Connected, 'Young and Uninsured'. Congrats to you, Lisa.

You can see that piece here.

Idiots Throughout History: Alexei Larionov

Okay, gang, it's time for a pop quiz, taken from information mostly supplied by the Guinness Book of Historical Blunders. Most of the online sources telling of it are in Russian, but they're there, sources of this Wikipedia page.

1. You are Alexei Larionov, leader of the Riazan oblast (an administrative division, like a state) in the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev's 'Virgin Lands' policy of opening new regions to farming in order to increase agricultural production has, after a few years of miserable failure, gotten lucky with a good 1956 harvest. There was a lot of wasted resources eating up potential yields, but there was still enough through sheer velocity to blow by the goal of 20 million tons of grain. He has now turned his attention to increasing meat production. Do you:

A: Gauge your current situation and set ambitious but achievable and realistic goals.
B: Pledge to triple production in one year, from 48,000 tons in 1958 to 150,000 tons in 1959.

2. You have, against all common sense, chosen B. Khrushchev has dangled a nice promotion in front of you if you can pull it off. He's had your promise published in Pravda. He's given Riazan the Order of Lenin pre-emptively, showing up in person to present it. But when you slaughter all the cattle set to be sold as meat, it's not enough. Do you:

A: Bail out and take your lumps.
B: Slaughter the dairy herds and breeding stock too.

3. You've slaughtered the dairy herds and breeding stock. It's not enough. Do you:

A: Bail out.
B: Order all privately owned animals to be surrendered for slaughter.

4. You have slaughtered all the privately owned animals. It's not enough. Do you:

A: Bail out.
B: Buy meat from other oblasts and call it part of the harvest.

5. You've bought outside meat and called it part of the harvest. It's not enough. Do you:

A: Bail out.
B: Divert your entire oblast's budget for everything- machinery, creditors, even payroll- towards acquiring more meat from other oblasts through any means, legal, quasi-legal or otherwise.

6. The other oblasts are getting jittery about you and your insatiable thirst for meat. Do you:

A: Bail out.
B: Turn a blind eye to the Old West-style cattle-rustling and gunfighting.

7. No. No, it's still not enough. Do you:

A: Bail out.
B: Introduce new taxes payable only in meat.

8. You have the schools and hospitals and police paying you taxes in meat, buying meat from the state, giving it to you, with you then giving the meat back to the state. Despite this somehow counting, it's not enough. Do you:

A: Bail out.
B: Buy meat on the black market and sell it back to Khrushchev for pennies on the dollar.

9. You are buying black market meat. It finally pushes you over the top. You've stripped Riazan oblast pretty much barren of livestock, and of dairy products to boot, and pretty much are broke because you've spent all your money on meat, but you've reached 150,000 tons. Do you:

A: Bail out, realize you have pressing engagements in Brazil, and run like hell.
B: Promise 180,000 tons next year.

Needless to say, Larionov chose B every time. Also needless to say, he couldn't get anywhere close to 180,000; in fact, Riazan struggled to only 30,000. He was busted, and chose to shoot himself in his office rather than take his chances with Khrushchev.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The South Shall Rise Again (Or At Least Erect)

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, breaking from the precedent set by the previous two governors, has brought back Confederate History Month in the state. He also managed to omit the word 'slavery' from all traces of the proclamation, for which he caught so much heat that he ended up apologizing.

Despite the apology, you would be mistaken if you're inclined to think this kind of thing stopped with McDonnell. Whitewashing the Civil War and race relations, or even glorifying the Confederate side, is a problem throughout the South.

Nathan Bedford Forrest has 32 historical sites dedicated to him in Tennessee, more than any other American in a single state. Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, is most famous for his command at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, during the Civil War. According to 'Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong' by James W. Loewen, which speaks extensively on our topic today, the Union surrendered, but Forrest was not inclined to offer quarter. Or at least, he was not inclined to offer quarter to the black Union soldiers. 64% of black Union soldiers died compared to 33% of the whites. Some black soldiers attempted to get on their knees to the Confederates, but they were ordered back to their feet, then shot. Acording to a later Congressional inquiry, some soldiers were buried alive, and others were crucified and burned on tent frames.

In Louisiana, there is a statue called, alternately, 'Uncle Jack' and 'The Good Darky'. It depicts a disheveled black man with poor posture, tipping his hat in content subservience. Originally standing in Natchitoches, and reading "Erected by the city of Natchitoches in grateful recognition of the arduous and faithful services of the good darkies of Louisiana," has been since moved to Baton Rouge's Rural Life Museum, and has since seen the inscription covered up, but that only leaves the statue with no context at all.

And then there's Stone Mountain, Georgia, which sees three people carved into the mountain: Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee, a project undertaken by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (who are responsible for a large quantity of historical monuments glorifying the Confederacy, though this one proved beyond their financial means), and has over the years been used repeatedly for KKK rallies. One incarnation of the Klan was in fact founded at Stone Mountain. For everyone else, it's a nice picnic area. With fireworks.

These are only three examples, but similar occurrences can be found throughout the South; monuments that seek to deny racial injustices or atrocities, or even glorify them.

They should be monuments of apology. Or maybe, not even monuments at all.

The Post That Wasn't

Bob McDonnell, governor of Virginia, screwed up the post I was going to make today. So while I retool to suit new developments, please enjoy this Chuck Jones cartoon.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Welcome, Golden Eagles

It appears as if I'm getting an influx of visitors from Marquette, after having this blog plugged by Lisa Ling during her speech earlier today in Milwaukee. (Thank you, Lisa, by the way; it's much appreciated.)

This blog, so you're aware, works on the concept of learning something. Anything. No knowledge is bad knowledge. Sometimes it's extremely relevant and important, sometimes it's completely random and seemingly useless. Believe me, no knowledge is useless. You never quite know for sure what knowledge you'll end up using at some point in your life or for what purpose. Sure, some things you will absolutely need to know, and you know how, but there are countless times in my life that my brain has unearthed some random piece of trivia in order to help a more relevant topic make more sense. Sometimes that random piece of trivia becomes relevant in its own right.

Remember Balloon Boy? That was the little silver balloon in Colorado that we all thought contained a kid, floating a fair ways at screamingly high altitudes, and then it turned out there wasn't actually a kid inside. A couple weeks later, the show Mythbusters aired a 'Balloon Boy Special'. The 'special' turned out to be a rerun of the episode wherein they proved, several years earlier, that in order to lift even a 3-year-old kid just barely off the ground, you would need a quantity of balloons- and, thus, helium- closer to what you saw in the movie Up.

The knowledge was there. It had been gathered. We just forgot about it.

Anyway, for the Marquette newcomers, we'll expand on Lisa's topic of choice for her speech, that is, the state of journalism. I'll point you to a previous post, concerning the focus on acquiring sponsors and eyeballs at the cost of the actual reporting, and leave that topic at that.

That aside, I'd like to add an addendum on the topic of story choice. Lisa talked about 'American-style glasses', where you don't really hear about a lot of international stories in the American media except if it's something shocking and massive and often don't hear about it at all unless there are Americans involved (note how a death toll always makes sure to include how many Americans were killed, even if it's in a ridiculous ratio such as '100,000 dead, including three Americans'), and a lot of domestic stories don't get play either.

To me, a part of the problem she didn't address is repetition.

You've probably heard an old joke about how it's amazing that the amount of news just fits into a half hour/hour/newspaper. That joke stems from back when you just had the three network broadcasts. Today, with 24 hour cable news, you would think there'd be a much wider variety.

The problem is that there isn't. If you watch enough, you'll start to notice that the actual amount of news presented by a cable news channel in a day probably covers two, maybe three hours. Four at the most. The rest of the day is usually spent rehashing those two, three hours, ostensibly for the benefit of those just tuning in, and often only one hour's worth of news, the same five stories or so, will get saturation coverage for the day and everything else just fights for elbow room on the ticker.

This is not to say that you should never give anything that kind of saturation coverage. Far from it. Some stories absolutely deserve it. In fact, as Lisa said, some deserve more saturation coverage than they get, and for longer duration. You only hear little bits and bites about Haiti at the moment, as if everybody went 'Well, Haiti's over, great job, all.' (They do still greatly welcome donations, if you're so inclined.)

But... it's a big world out there. There's a lot of stuff going on. I recently introduced the Random News Generator based on that- I make a list of all the countries on Earth plus a number of territories and dependencies, pick one at random, and report something from there. And so much of it gets squeezed out because of this imaginary cutoff line after which everyone apparently has to loop back around to the top stories. The only difference throughout the day is who's reporting the story and what their personal take on it is. We're gonna report the news like this. We're gonna report the news like that. We're gonna report the news this other way you won't see anywhere else. And then all three end up doing the same set of stories.

And if you switch to another channel, at least in America, you'll get much the same set of stories. Perhaps they're rearranged, but it's still the same stuff.

This is one reason (of many) I personally respect Lisa so much. She makes a conscious effort to go report on something else. Something that didn't quite make that cutoff. The fact that she does an outstanding job of it makes me respect her all the more.

Lisa said in the speech that those stories are out there; you just have to look. Couldn't agree more. There are some really great stories, some really great reporters and writers out there if you know where you're looking. This is why I pepper my bookmarks with aggregators, places whose primary purpose is to put all that news in one place so your task of finding the good stuff is that much easier. As a nice side effect, it serves to get you in front of a wide variety of sources, which is good, because that way you can stave off the echo-chamber effect that has a nasty tendency to take hold if you only get your news from one source, a small cluster of places.

Specifically, I've got three aggregators bookmarked:
*Fark. You'll find me posting here as 'Gosling'. (Warning, though; lately there's been a problem in the Politics tab with a large quantity of taglines whose sole purpose is to create a flamewar in the comments thread. I've talked to owner Drew Curtis about it; remains to be seen if he's gotten the message to tone it down.)
*Google News. It's Google, but with news. Enough said.
*wwiTV. This is an aggregator of TV channels, often live streams, available online, news included. In addition to all three major channels- Fox News, CNN, MSNBC- you've also got a variety of local stations and a myriad of foreign channels. BBC and Sky News of the United Kingdom, Al Jazeera of Qatar, France 24, NHK World of Japan, CCTV of China, channels from India and Saudi Arabia and Argentina and South Africa and Panama and even North Korean state television if that's what you really want to look at.

We really do need more contrarian reporters in Lisa's vein. With everybody falling all over each other to cover the same stories, there gets to be a competition over who can report it in a more interesting manner, and the result is the quality of reporting comes down all around. Not enough journalists take the approach of simply covering something new.

It's not all that hard once you know the trick to it:
1: Be intellectually curious.
2: Keep your eyes open for something you didn't know before.
3: Find out as much as you can about it.
4: Tell everyone what you learned.

The quality of writing will come the more you work at it. I once had a humor column for a high school newspaper, also carrying the name 'Random Human Neural Firings'. (It just sounded good.) You don't want to read those old columns. I don't want to read those old columns. That's a pretty good sign that you're improving as a writer: when you look back on your own past writing and cringe.

Marquette, you guys are new, you guys are green, you don't have any bad habits yet. Make sure you don't pick any up.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Mine Collapse in WV

The Massey Coal Mine in West Virginia has collapsed; six are confirmed dead. The fates of 21 more are uncertain.

These are always the worst. Hoping we can get the other 21 out okay.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Worst Pope Ever

No, it's not Ratzinger, though he is getting to be in the team photo.

I'm fighting off a cold and am extremely loopy at the moment, so any writing I do is going to be rough at best, so I'll leave you a link to a really detailed bio on my candidate, John XII.

To put it simply, he ruled during a period known as the "Pornocracy".

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In Which Horrible Things Happen To Candy

It's Easter, and so we must have Peeps.

For science.

You can do anything you want if you shout "For science" beforehand.

Peeps in a microwave. For science!

A Gummi Bear in a test tube of potassium chlorate, set to Chipmunks music. For science!

54 Gummi Bears in a microwave. For science!

A candy cane meeting the potassium chlorate. For science!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Random News Generator- UAE

Let's try something new today. I have a list of countries, territories and whatnot. It numbers 230. I'm going to have a number randomly chosen, and then we'll cover a piece of news from that location. If context must be provided, so be it.

I introduce the Random News Generator, which today lands on... the United Arab Emirates.

And for that, off to Jalandhar, where 17 Indian nationals have been sentenced to death for the murder of a Pakistani during a fight and are currently asking for- and recieving- assistance from the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Muslim religious leaders. As it stands, 11 days remain to file a formal appeal, though nothing can be done until at least Sunday due to a bereavement in the Indian royal family. The 17, 16 of them from the state of Punjab, maintain their innocence.

According to the accusation, these 17 were part of a metal bar-wielding mob, fighting for control of a liquor business in January 2009. They are also accused of selling some of that liquor in and around Al-Sajaa, a local labor camp. In the emirate of Sharjah, where this happened, liquor is illegal and sharia law is in effect.

According to one of the group, Aravinder Singh, ""We don't know anything about the fight. We just used to work in Dubai as labourers for whatever little we got. At 2:30 in the night police arrested us and asked us to sit silent. After 3 days in jail, we were told of the case against us. When we said that we haven't committed the crime, they asked us to remain silent. I was kept with my brother with 7 days and then separated. I was told that I have been sentenced for 3 months and then I will be sent to India,"

Foreign workers in the UAE have few rights. There are so many foreign workers that Arab nationals make up only 16.5% of the population; in Dubai, the number is only 5%. Locals feel their culture threatened by the massive numbers of foreigners, both workers and tourists, coming to the UAE. This case comes amid a growing push to reclaim cultural control.

The workers are attracted to the UAE on the promise of an easy life, a tolerant nation, great weather, and the proximity of wealth. But once there, they often find themselves having been lied to. Forced to sign on much worse terms than promised, workers are underpaid- if paid at all- in debt via recruiting fees, and unable to speak or read the language, become citizens, form unions, strike, obtain quality healthcare, or even quit, as their passports have been taken by their employer. Steps have been taken to improve the situation, but the measures are small, such as a booklet handed out to workers to inform them of the rights they do have.

We'll see how it turns out for the 17.

And On The Weekend, Ball Gags For Everyone

This was clearly an honest mistake, but considering the week the RNC has had, this is a very, very unfortunate honest mistake.