Saturday, March 31, 2012

Science Doesn't Care Either

A new study from the University of North Carolina shows that conservative trust in science has hit an all-time low, with just 35% saying they had "a great deal of faith in science". As far as those losing trust in it, they increasingly find science to be as elitist and 'intellectual' (amazing how 'intellectual' has become an insult in some circles).

In January 2011, I wrote about how nature doesn't care what happens in politics. It's going to do what it's going to do and that's that. It doesn't have approval ratings. It doesn't debate. It simply does what it does and you just have to deal with it.

MSNBC's Maddow Blog wrote an entry yesterday entitled "Science need not be a partisan issue". It isn't. We may choose to make political hay of science, we may decide legislation and elections based on our perceptions of science, and the workings of science may be up for debate, but the actual science itself is not partisan. Just like nature, science doesn't care what politics thinks. Science doesn't take a vote. Trust it or not, but science will do what science will do whether we agree on what it does or not, whether we even understand what it does or not, and whether or not we govern our lives in a manner that agrees with what it does. The Earth did not cease to revolve around the sun just because the Catholic Church said it was the other way around. The Earth will not cease to warm up just because someone hired a lobbyist to say it isn't. Oil will not replenish itself on a timeline convenient to you just so you can keep driving to work.

This is true for pretty much any of the hard subjects. There are aspects of life and the universe that are governed by facts, absolutes, right and wrong answers, and things beyond plausible human control. Nature is one. Science is another. Math. History. You can try to cover up these things, pretend they are not there and that something else is, but they're still there. You cannot legislate those things away. Well, you can, but those things will still be true. You can't vote science out of office. You can't legislate pi as exactly 3, even though someone has tried. And what has happened in the past cannot unhappen, no matter how much one may try to hide, alter, or destroy the records. You may win a political debate about such things, but you're still going to be wrong.

In fact, even the attempt to bring law or politics into a scientific debate is enough to utterly demolish the credibility of an argument in the scientific world- if you feel the need to bring legislation or lawsuits down on the people you're debating with, the feeling is that you must know your argument doesn't hold up and now you're just doing nothing more than trying to 'win' instead of trying to be right.

One notable example of this, as Discarded Science by John Grant explains, came when Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann of the University of Utah made the announcement in 1989 that they had discovered cold fusion. After having published their findings, other scientists leapt on it to check their work and could not replicate the results. And as even the Mythbusters will tell you, if you can't replicate the results, it's no good. (Though some scientists think they have replicated the results, many more have not, and what might have happened is that they discovered something, just not cold fusion.) But more than anything else, Pons and Fleischmann went down in flames when the University of Utah started to threaten lawsuits against their critics. As Grant penned in Discarded Science, "It's an obvious rule of thumb that only a scientific illiterate would attempt to use a lawsuit to influence a scientific debate." Or as one of those critics, Dr. Michael H. Salamon, put it, "It's outrageous. It is really an unparallelled attack on academic rights. You don't threaten scientific colleagues with lawsuits. That just doesn't happen."

Trust or don't. But science, regardless of how or whether we understand it, is what it is and your opinion on what is, and the political opinions on what is, will not change that.

Friday, March 30, 2012

You Know That "Winter" We Had?

According to a new report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, winters like that may be the new normal. The 594-page report, with authors from 62 countries, has basically said that stopping climate change wholesale is pretty much impossible at this point, given woefully inadequate action taken by the world as a whole. Asia and low-lying areas are expected to take the brunt of it, particularly island nations and the Third World, but every nation is expected to take damage.

First against the wall among large cities is expected to be Mumbai, India, which the report warns could become uninhabitable. Miami was also singled out as a city at particular risk, as were Bangkok, Shanghai, Ho Chi Minh City, Kolkata, Yangon and Guangzhou.

And yes, there will be more, stronger heat waves. Stronger and stronger and stronger as the years go by.

The focus, according to the report, is now on trying to implement "low regrets" solutions over the next few decades. As Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution puts it, "That's a time frame where most of the climate change that will occur is already baked into the system and where even aggressive climate policies in the short term are not going to have their full effects."

Or in other words, 'you all spent too many years bickering over who ought to take responsibility and do something before everyone else first, nobody did anything, and now it's too late and people are going to die. Congratulations, assholes. Hope you're happy.'

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Teach Me How To Dugan

I think we've gone quite long enough without a TED talk around here.

So we're going to remedy that. I hereby hand you over to the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Regina Dugan. (And then I run off to sneak in some book work.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Random News Generator- Swaziland

Swaziland, that little dot carved out of the northeast corner of South Africa, is pretty much as scary and angry lately as everywhere else in the news.

Swaziland's mainstream press is severely hamstrung, ranking 144th in the 2011-12 Press Freedom Index out of 179 countries. As such, those unhappy with the ruling absolute monarchy of King Mswati III often go to Twitter and Facebook to express their displeasure over what is widely seen as a kleptocracy, with the monarchy cutting funds to education, pensions and disaster management, living extravagantly while the general population is beset by the world's highest HIV infection rate, showing a 26.1% infection rate among adults 18-49. In addition, there is 40.6% unemployment, with 81% of the population living on less than $2 US a day (62.9% live on under $1.25). Swaziland also suffers from the second-lowest life expectancy on Earth, one of only two countries- the other Mozambique- where someone born today is not expected to see their 40th birthday. The life expectancy is 39.6 years. (King Mswati III is 43 years old.)

They may not be able to rage about all this in social media for much longer, at least legally, as the monarchy is mulling making such acts illegal. According to one senator (Swaziland is an enforced one-party state), Thuli Msani, "It's like, the moment Swazi people cross the border to neighbouring countries they begin to go on a campaign to disrespect their own country and king. Surely there is something that must be done with them. There must be a law that can take them to task."

Given that protests are common and organized via social media, such as this one yesterday, onlookers do not see this as likely to be taken lightly. It's not like there's all that much left to lose.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The 'Dream Ticket'

If you'll think back to the 2008 Democratic nomination process, you might recall the phrase 'dream ticket'. This was used when considering the possibility of Hilary Clinton, second place in the nomination race, being the running mate of Barack Obama, the eventual nominee.

Rick Santorum has now invoked the possibility of being Romney's running mate.

This leads to one simple question: has this ever actually happened? Has any ticket ever been the 'dream ticket'- the runner-up being the running mate? And if so, what happened to that dream ticket in November?

(Thanks to Our Campaigns for providing some much-needed stats on everything that follows.)

In the first few elections, the answer was yes. In fact, it was mandated as such- each elector cast two votes, the person who gained the most votes became President, and the person with the second-most votes became Vice President.

In 1788 and 1792, this process gave George Washington John Adams as his VP. In 1796, John Adams got Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and Adams both technically had running mates, but under the rules of the day, they were on their own.

So that's not really in the spirit of what we're looking for. So let's discount those and keep going through the timeline, up to the point where candidates began to have formal running mates who stood to enter office with their nominees.

1800: There were only two candidates per party- Thomas Jefferson and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney from the Federalists, and John Adams and Aaron Burr from the Democratic-Republicans. The Constitution had not yet been altered to allow self-selection of running mates, so those were the tickets by fiat. Still not really what we're trying to get at.

From 1804, party bosses elected the running mate without input from the nominee. However, they were free to choose the runner-up or someone else. So this is where we can pick up.

1804: N/A. Neither candidate had effective opposition for the nomination.

1808: The Federalists had no effective opposition. Democratic-Republican nominee James Madison was given third-place finisher George Clinton. We need 2nd place. No dream ticket here.

1812: N/A. Neither candidate had effective opposition.

1816: Democratic-Republican James Monroe took noncandidate Daniel D. Tompkins. ('Noncandidate' in this context means 'did not run for the Presidential half of the ticket'.) The Federalists had no effective opposition.

1820: N/A. James Monroe was completely unopposed.

1824: Four candidates ran for President in a post-Federalist environment. The unanimous Vice President, John C. Calhoun, was none of these people.

1828: N/A. Neither candidate had effective opposition.

1832: The Democrats and National Republicans saw no effective opposition. The Anti-Masonic nominee was William Wirt, who took noncandidate Amos Ellmaker as his running mate.

1836: The Democrats had no opposition. The Whigs wound up with four candidates and two tickets, but both nominees, William Henry Harrison and Hugh Lawson White, took noncandidates as their running mates.

1840: Democratic nominee Martin Van Buren somehow wound up without a running mate. Whig nominee William Henry Harrison got noncandidate John Tyler as a running mate.

1844: The Whigs had no effective opposition. Democratic nominee James Polk got noncandidate George M. Dallas as a running mate.

1848: Whig candidate Zachary Taylor got noncandidate Millard Fillmore. Democratic nominee Lewis Cass got William Orlando Butler, who never placed higher than fifth in the convention balloting. Free Soil nominee Martin Van Buren took fourth-place finisher Charles Francis Adams, Sr.

1852: Whig nominee Winfield Scott took noncandidate William Alexander Graham. Democratic nominee Franklin Pierce took noncandidate William R. King.

1856: Democratic nominee James Buchanan took noncandidate John C, Breckenridge. Republican nominee John C. Fremont took noncandidate William L. Dayton. Know Nothing nominee Andrew Johnson took noncandidate Andrew Jackson Donelson.

1860: Constitutional Union nominee John Bell took fourth-place finisher Edward Everett. Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln took noncandidate Hannibal Hamlin. Northern Democratic nominee Stephen A. Douglas took noncandidate Herschel V. Johnson. Southern Democratic nominee John C. Breckenridge took noncandidate Joseph Lane.

1864: Republican nominee took noncandidate Andrew Johnson. Democratic nominee George McLellan took noncandidate George H. Pendleton.

1868: The Republicans had no opposition. Democratic nominee Horatio Seymour took Francis Preston Blair, who topped out at fourth place during convention balloting and wasn't among the final five receiving votes.

1872: Liberal Republican nominee Horace Greeley took Benjamin Gratz Brown, who started in fourth place and dropped out early in convention balloting. The Republicans had no opposition.

1876: Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes took noncandidate William Wheeler. Democratic nominee Samuel J. Tilden took runner-up Thomas A. Hendricks. DREAM TICKET #1. We'll get back to them at the end.

1880: Republican nominee James Garfield took noncandidate Chester A. Arthur. Democratic nominee Winfield Scott Hancock took noncandidate William Hayden English.

1884: Republican nominee James G. Blaine took John Logan, who came in fourth in balloting. Democratic candidate Grover Cleveland took Thomas A. Hendricks, who came in third in balloting.

1888: The Democrats had no opposition. Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison took noncandidate Levi Morton.

1892: Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison took noncandidate Whitelaw Reid. Democratic nominee Grover Cleveland took Adlai E. Stevenson, who came in fifth in balloting.

1896: Republican nominee William McKinley took noncandidate Garret A. Hobart. Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan took noncandidate Arthur Sewall.

1900: The Republicans had no opposition. Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan took noncandidate Adlai E. Stevenson.

1904: Republican nominee Teddy Roosevelt took noncandidate Charles W. Fairbanks. Democratic Alton B. Parker took noncandidate Henry G. Davis.

1908: Republican nominee William Howard Taft took noncandidate James S. Sherman. Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan took noncandidate John W. Kern.

1912: Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson took Thomas R. Marshall, who topped out at fourth place in convention balloting. Republican nominee William Howard Taft took noncandidate James S. Sherman, and then replaced him with noncandidate Nicholas Murray Butler. The Bull Moose Party had no opposition.

1916: The Democrats had no opposition. Republican nominee Charles Evans Hughes took Charles W. Fairbanks, who topped out at fourth place in balloting.

1920: Republican nominee Warren Harding took Calvin Coolidge, who topped out at sixth place in balloting. Democratic nominee James Cox took noncandidate Franklin D. Roosevelt.

1924: Republican nominee Calvin Coolidge took noncandidate Charles G. Dawes. Democratic nominee John W. Davis took Charles W. Bryan, who topped out at 10th place in convention balloting. The Progressives saw no opposition.

1928: Democratic nominee Al Smith took noncandidate Joseph Taylor Robinson. Republican nominee Herbert Hoover took Charles Curtis, who came in third place in balloting.

1932: Republican nominee took noncandidate Charles Curtis. Democratic nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt took John Nance Garner, who topped out at third place in balloting.

1936: Republican nominee Alf Landon took Frank Knox, who came in somewhere indiscriminate behind runner-up William Borah. Democratic nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt stuck with noncandidate Garner.

1940: Democratic nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt took noncandidate Henry A. Wallace. Republican Wendell Willkie took noncandidate Charles W. McNary.

Right about here is when we shift to noting the results of primary elections and not the convention itself. Also around this point: the nominee was starting to get to have their choice of running mate.

1944: There was no Democratic opposition. Republican nominee Thomas Dewey took third-place primary finisher John W. Bricker.

1948: Republican nominee Thomas Dewey took primary vote leader Earl Warren. (Dewey, despite being the front-runner by convention time, had finished fourth in the primaries.) DREAM TICKET #2. Democratic nominee Harry Truman took noncandidate Alben Barkley. The Dixiecrats had no opposition.

1952: Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson took noncandidate John Sparkman. Republican nominee Dwight Eisenhower took noncandidate Richard Nixon.

1956: There was no Republican opposition. Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson took runner-up Estes Kefauver. DREAM TICKET #3.

1960: Democratic nominee John F. Kennedy took Lyndon B. Johnson, who technically ran but didn't campaign, attempting to be a compromise candidate in case the leaders ate each other alive; Hubert Humphrey would be the runner-up. Republican nominee Richard Nixon took noncandiate Henry Cabot Lodge.

1964: Democratic nominee Lyndon B. Johnson took 13th-place finisher Hubert Humphrey. Republican nominee Barry Goldwater took noncandidate William E. Miller.

1968: Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey took noncandidate Edward Muskie. Republican nominee Richard Nixon took noncandidate Spiro Agnew.

1972: Democratic nominee George McGovern took noncandidate Thomas Eagleton, then replaced him with noncandidate Sargent Shriver. Republican nominee took noncandidate Spiro Agnew.

1976: Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter took noncandidate Walter Mondale. Republican nominee Gerald Ford took noncandidate Bob Dole.

1980: Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter took noncandidate Walter Mondale. Republican nominee Ronald Reagan took runner-up George H.W. Bush. DREAM TICKET #4.

1984: Republican nominee Ronald Reagan took noncandidate George H.W. Bush. (He's not the runner-up this time. Harold Stassen was.) Democratic nominee Walter Mondale took noncandidate Geraldine Ferraro.

1988: Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis took noncandidate Lloyd Bentsen. Republican nominee George H.W. Bush took noncandidate Dan Quayle.

1992: Republican nominee George H.W. Bush took noncandidate Dan Quayle. Democratic nominee Bill Clinton took noncandidate Al Gore. There was no Reform opposition.

1996: Democratic nominee Bill Clinton took noncandidate Al Gore. Republican nominee Bob Dole took noncandidate Jack Kemp.

2000: Democratic nominee Al Gore took noncandidate Joe Lieberman. Republican nominee George W. Bush took noncandidate Dick Cheney.

2004: There was no Republican opposition. Democratic nominee John Kerry took runner-up John Edwards. DREAM TICKET #5.

2008: Democratic nominee Barack Obama took sixth-place finisher Joe Biden. Republican nominee John McCain took noncandidate Sarah Palin.


So. Paring it down to just the dream tickets from 1804 on, you've got:

1876: Samuel J. Tilden/Thomas A. Hendricks, Democrats. The ticket lost to Rutherford B. Hayes 185 electoral votes to 184, but only after an Electoral College dispute in which the Hayes ticket stole enough electoral votes to win election.

1948: Thomas Dewey/Earl Warren, Republicans, and, well, Dewey Defeats Truman. Truman and Barkley got 303 electoral votes, Dewey/Warren got 189, and Dixiecrats Strom Thurmond and Fielding L. Wright snagged 39.

1956: Adlai Stevenson/Estes Kefauver, Democrats. They were spanked by Eisenhower and Nixon 457-73.

1980: Ronald Reagan/George H.W. Bush, Republicans. They smoked Carter and Mondale 489-89. They then easily won re-election in 1984 as a non-dream-ticket.

2004: John Kerry/John Edwards, Democrats. They lost to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney 286-251.

So if Romney were to take Santorum on board, it wouldn't be unprecedented. It has happened before. However, dream tickets have a won/loss record of 1-4. One of the losses really should have been a win, but at the end of the day, it was still a loss. On average, the dream tickets have picked up 237.2 electoral votes. Their opposing tickets have averaged 264 electoral votes.

The dream ticket isn't quite as much of a dream as the name might imply. If the nominee is taking the runner-up, it may not be a matter of giving their party the best of both worlds, so much as it is done to keep the party from going at each other's throats and getting so divided that the opposition party cruises past them. As much as the best-of-both-worlds rationale may be played up- and it will- simply holding the party together is a large part of why it was considered in 2008, and it may play into Santorum's evoking it now.

The next question: will Romney take the chance?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Next SOPA Clone Down The Pike

Yep, we've got another one to shoot down.

The next one is called ACTA, or the 'Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement', and the name belies the fact that this one is international instead of purely American in scope.

And if this one doesn't go through, some Internet service providers are prepared to just go over the heads of the legislature and perform the intended actions themselves. According to the CNN link, a proposed format being tossed around is called the Copyright Alert System, also known as the 'six strikes' system: on suspicion of copyright violation, your service provider would give you a warning. (Not necessarily an actual violation, just something that looks suspicious.) On the sixth red flag raised, your ISP would dramatically throttle down your Internet speed and redirect you to a page telling you to contact the ISP.

So that's your outrage alert for the day.

I've got a dentist appointment tomorrow to handle a chipped tooth, I'm going to schedule an off day because I don't know how long that'll take or what mindset I'll be in afterwards.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

How To Be A Successful Criminal

Step 1: Don't be a criminal.
Step 2: If you must be a criminal, do not rob a bank across from the federal courthouse in downtown Milwaukee.
Step 3: If you must rob the bank across the street from the federal courthouse in downtown Milwaukee, pay attention to your escape route. If three blocks into your escape route, you notice a police car up ahead, select a different route.
Step 4: Do not run alongside the police car.
Step 5: If you have a book in your possession titled "How To Be A Successful Criminal", do not bring it with you to the robbery.
Step 6: Please note that the book does not actually give such instructions, but rather attempts to steer at-risk youth away from a life of crime altogether, or failing that, attempts to explain how the skill sets used in a life of crime can be redirected towards more legitimate pursuits.

When the cops joked about the criminal not reading the book, it's possible they had read it themselves, but more likely, they hadn't and simply didn't know how right they were.

Friday, March 23, 2012

You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Last night on Fark, one of my submitted links got greenlit. Normally, not a huge deal. It's my 196th. The link in question concerns Richard Hanna, a House Republican from New York, calling on women to give their campaign donations to Democrats this election cycle because of the words and actions taken against women by Hanna's own party.

What happened in the thread turned out to be just as interesting as the subject of the link itself: several Farkers started unearthing old print ads with an underlying theme: rampant sexism. And that got me poking around to see if there were any larger collections of such ads.

Turns out there are. It appears as if the most ads in the fewest links can be accessed with links to here, here, here, here and here. And the Fark thread, actually, which has come up with a couple ads not found in any of those five places.

We're still running sexist ads today, to be sure. But at least we're far enough along that we're no longer able to run ads asking "Is it always illegal to kill a woman?" or consoling her by saying "At least you didn't burn the beer!"

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Good News And Bad News

First the good news. You're in all likelihood aware of the ratcheting-up of rhetoric between the Iranian and Israeli governments, spurred on by some in the United States. What's been coming in a tad under the radar, though, is the fact that this is showing to not be a total reflection of the general populations of Israel and Iran. Some of those against the idea of war between Israel and Iran have gotten online and started an anti-war lovefest with each other, promising not to bomb each other.

For example, here's Israel-Loves-Iran. And here's Iran-Loves-Israel. And then there's a neutral 'Love And Peace'.

Because Iran's on a media blackout and Facebook is officially unavailable there (which would probably explain why Iran-Loves-Israel has a smaller population than Israel-Loves-Iran), it's possible to get around the blackout- pretty much any online blackout can be avoided if you're good enough- and while it can't be certain that the Iranian messages are coming from Iran, the messages pass all the smell tests.

They're still not all that big by Facebook standards and it's unclear whether it's actually going to have any effect whatsoever. But, hey, online movements have gotten quite a lot accomplished in recent years. Why not this too?

Now for the bad news: there's a shortage of the yeast spread Marmite in New Zealand. An earthquake in November forced the closure of the only factory that made a certain version of Marmite specifically for New Zealand, which means they can't just go grab a foreign supply and now "Marmaggedon" has gripped the population. Online auction sites are seeing a ridiculous markup on what jars of Marmite remain.

Wait, this is actually good news. Never mind. Yay! No more Marmite!

Unless they switch to Australian rival Vegemite. Then we're back to bad news.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Remember two weeks ago when I theorized that the Japanese movie Battle Royale would likely never hit American shores because of the rise of The Hunger Games and the two are so similar that Battle Royale would come off as a ripoff?

Guess what I just found released to store shelves today at work.

In conclusion, the universe keeps liking to make me wrong at things.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Who's The Slut Again?

So we all know by now about Rush Limbaugh's comments towards Georgetown student Sandra Fluke, I wager; the comments about her being a "slut" and "prostitute" who "wants to be paid to have sex" and that she's "having so much sex, she can barely walk" and that "if we're gonna sit here, and if we're gonna have a part in this, then we want something in return, Ms. Fluke: And that would be the videos of all this sex posted online so we can see what we are getting for our money."

And then the advertisers ran for the hills, not just from Limbaugh but from any radio host deemed "offensive or controversial".

I think we're all pretty familiar with it by now. But I do have one aspect to add to the saga: scientific rigor.

Because there have, in fact, been official scientific experiments devoted to determining which gender is sluttier.

I direct your attention to one of the titles in my bookshelf arsenal, Elephants on Acid by Alex Boese, as well as this much-cited study, called "Gender Differences in Receptivity to Sexual Offers", by Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield. (PDF) It was published in 1989, though the actual experiments were conducted in 1978 and 1982; it just took that long to get someone to want to publish a study like this in a scientific journal. Hatfield's role was mainly in helping to get it published; Clark did the legwork and further validated the study with a revisit in 1990.

In 1978, Clark was teaching a class at Florida State on experimental social psychology. (PDF) He was referring to another study that measured whether people at a bar perceive members of the opposite sex as prettier as it gets toward closing time. (As it turns out: yes, but only if you're single. You probably know this as having beer goggles.) One woman in his class mentioned that maybe more attractive people showed up later in the night. After noting that this had been accounted for in the study, Clark said:

"A woman, good looking or not, doesn't have to worry about timing in searching for a man. Arrive at any time. All she has to do is point an inviting finger at any man, whisper 'Come on 'a my place,' and she's made a conquest. Most women can get any man to do anything they want. Men have it harder. They have to worry about strategy, timing, and 'tricks'."

This did not endear him to his female students, one of whom chucked a pencil at him. To keep the peace, Clark proposed that they design an experiment to prove or disprove his statement. Okay, fine, said the women.

What they came up with is this: five women and four men fanned out across the campus of Florida State. The attractiveness of these nine students was found to have no effect on the results. They would look around for students of the opposite sex that they deemed at least moderately attractive; a sample size was predetermined at 48 men and 48 women. Each of the nine students in the study carried a notebook which, when they found someone suitable, they would flip to the next page to see which of three possible questions they would ask the subject; each was asked to 16 men and 16 women.

All three questions began: "I have been noticing you around campus. I find you to be attractive..."

*"Would you go out with me tonight?"
*"Would you come over to my apartment tonight?"
*"Would you go to bed with me tonight?"

This is why the students only went after the at-least-moderately-attractive campusmates. They'd been instructed to stick to subjects that, given the chance, they would actually be willing to "go to bed" with.

When asked out on a date, things worked out pretty evenly- 56% of the women and 50% of the men said yes. Given the 16-person sample size, that's nine women and eight men. Within the margin of error, really.

And that's all you're going to hear about silly little margins of error.

When asked into the student's apartment, 69% of the men agreed, which means 11 of the men. Only a single solitary woman agreed- 6%.

And when asked for sex, 12 of the men- 75%- were willing to bed the female student. The other four apologized, as they tended to respond that they were already taken. Those who agreed immediately tried to work out a time- as in, "Why do we have to wait until tonight?"

How many women were ready to have sex with a stranger? Not even one. The male students were unanimously shot down, shot down in flames at that, as most of the women recoiled at the request.

A follow-up study, same campus, same sample size, was done in 1982. The men responded identically to 1978, the only difference being one fewer guy who said yes to sex (which still makes for 11 out of 16). As for the women, while this time eight agreed to the date (as opposed to nine in 1978), achieving parity with the men, this time the male students couldn't get any of the women to so much as go to the apartment, much less agree to sex.

In 1990, a follow-up (this one's hidden unless you buy it), again using the same sample size, measured the impact of AIDS on the numbers. If there was an impact, it was minimal and muddled. The women, once again, offered no sex. Seven agreed to dates and two were willing to go to the apartment. 11 of the men were still willing to have sex with the female questioner, eight were willing to go to the apartment, and 11 were willing to date.

All combined, (PDF) out of 48 of each gender in each situation over the course of three studies:

*Out of 48 women, not a single one agreed to an impromptu offer of sex. That's in comparison to 34 of the men (71%).

*Three women out of 48 agreed to go to the apartment (6%). 30 of the men agreed (63%).

*24 women out of 48 (50%) agreed to a date. 27 men (56%) did so.

Basically, both genders were willing to give half a chance to a date, but as things get more intimate, women get dramatically more cautious, while the men become more willing.

There's been a biological justification for the numbers presented in the studies: because sex leads to children, and the women are the ones carrying the child in question for nine months, they have to be very selective about who they allow to mate with them. Men, meanwhile, can, at least biologically, just bed the women and go on to the next one.

Which- and I'm sure you've been waiting for me to say it for a while now- leads to the conclusion that women are not sluts.

Men are sluts.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pop Quiz

It's going to be a rainy, icky day. Perfect to get some book work in.

But seeing as you need something to do while I'm off driving myself crazy telling one Albanian club named Flamurtari from another, let's make it a four-round quiz day.

ROUND 1: You've got a list of 22 North American cities, with three of their professional sports personas categorized. For example, if Wisconsin were to be included, you might see 'Deer, Factory Workers, Alcohol Industry Workers' and you would have to get 'Bucks, Packers, Brewers' out of that. You have six minutes to name the cities. (My score: aced it with 34 seconds left on the clock.)

ROUND 2: Name all the Price Is Right pricing games. Retired games included. (At least, all the ones before Rat Race and Pay The Rent came along.) You've got 15 minutes here. (My score: 57 out of 103.)

ROUND 3: For each state in the United States, you are given one former Senator. Name their home states. You have 8 minutes. (My score: 36 out of 50.)

ROUND 4: Name the 50 most common languages by native speakers. You have six minutes; if you come up with a language that didn't quite crack the list, you'll be credited for it but it won't officially count. (My score: 22 out of the 50, with seven also-rans. Most of the ones I missed, I'd never have gotten in a million years.)

Have fun. I got a book to work on.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Human Synapse Firings Gone Wild

When you go buy an animated movie, how much attention do you pay to what movie you're buying? Like, when you go out intending to buy, say, Cars, are you making sure that that's the movie you're actually buying?

Don't laugh. This is an actual question. And apparently, for some of you out there, the answer is "no".

Meet Video Brinquedo, an animation company out of Brazil. Their website may be in Portuguese, but you don't need to speak Portuguese in order to immediately see what these guys do for a living: cheap ripoff movies that are only barely legally distinct from the original properties. Hey, look, there's anthropomorphic cars at a racetrack! There's a silly panda with a headband in a Chinese kung fu setting! There's Snow White and Cinderella and Princess Jasmine and Tiana and I don't even know what the hell they're doing to even try to make those four distinct aside from an art style vastly inferior to Disney's!

Here (in link form as embedding is disabled) is the English trailer for a movie by Brinquedo called "Ratatoing". Yes. Ratatoing. Why do I provide the trailer? Because I hate you.

Other Video Brinquedo samplings are available through that, and going through the rest of their catalog, you will see other offerings such as "Little Cars", "Little Bee", "The Little Panda Fighter", "Tangled Up", and "What's Up: Balloon To The Rescue". They even turned "Little Cars" into a play.

Yes, folks. This happened.

They aren't the only place that exists primarily to try and take money that was intended to go to someone that actually put in an effort. TV Tropes has an entire category dedicated to the genre- there's enough examples to qualify as a genre- calling them 'Mockbusters'. They're awful, they know they're awful, the actual product they put out is only vaguely resemblant of the source material they're ripping off... except for the box cover. The box cover is made to look as similar to the source material's box cover as possible. Again, this is a ripoff we're talking about. The only way they're going to make any money is by fooling you long enough to get you through the checkout line. By the time you get home and see something that is decidedly not what you thought you were buying, it's too late.

Pretty much the only reason they don't get the bejeezus sued out of them is that they're not even worth it. They don't steal enough sales or gain enough attention to justify the legal fees it would take to shut them down.

It's not hard to thwart these guys. It takes, like, two seconds to make sure you've got the right product. They stake their existence on you not doing so. Or you being the guy that buys their stuff so others don't have to. Or you being the guy that brings them up just to say how bad they are so that they get free publicity.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Random News Generator- Mauritius

Mauritius is one of those islands off the southeast coast of Africa. Unless you're British and have been watching MasterChef this season, the bulk of what's in the news there is economic in nature- the yield on T-bills, the possibility of Moody's raising their credit rating, exports being down 4%, that kind of thing.

Geez... let's see... let's see... news out of Mauritius... well, IBM's opening a branch office in Port Louis. That's a thing, right? about them signing a joint agreement with Seychelles to share jurisdiction over 396,000 square kilometers worth of Indian Ocean? It's the first time two island nations signed a jurisdiction agreement without needing to bring in someone from outside! Yay, I'm pretty sure!

God, I hate when I draw one of these nations. It's like hauling out the Bat-Signal for a cat stuck in a tree.

Friday, March 16, 2012

You Still Have To Pay $2,000 For Rent

If you've ever been planning on visiting the boardwalk on Coney Island and haven't, you might want to do so now. Because if the current renovation plan approved on Monday by the NYC Design commission goes through- that's an if, the recommendations are nonbinding- it's not going to be a boardwalk anymore, but rather a big concrete and plastic walkway due to them not being able to find a sustainable enough source of wood. A pilot program is planned for one part of the boardwalk; if it's implemented and deemed successful, it will be expanded to the rest of the boardwalk save for four blocks next to the amusement park.

At least you still have your hot dog eating contest that's gone from a fun little 4th of July tradition to a disturbing exhibition of extreme gluttony, right?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Not Reality, Actuality

Prison documentaries happen all the time in America. Like, all the time. MSNBC is notorious for knocking off for the weekend and just airing prison documentaries every week, refusing to come back to work for anything less than the death of a major celebrity. But typically the documentaries boil down to general life inside prison- the gang culture, the constant edginess, the efforts by the cops to keep control, etc.

Death row, however, is a pretty lightly-visited topic. You don't see too many death row documentaries. When you do, you're likely to hear about the build-up to the moment of execution, the goodbyes, any efforts at pardons or stays of execution, any nearby protests against the death penalty, and pretty much everything about the process except footage of the actual execution. It is invariably a one-time thing; a Very Special prison documentary.

(Contrast to TruTV, formerly CourtTV, which now, instead of the legal process, primarily concerns itself with stupid people, Wipeout, and reality shows consisting of re-enactments of things you'd see if there were an actual reality show going on.)

Then there's China, where the Henan Legal Channel- a regional channel- just wrapped up a five year run of the show 'Interviews Before Execution'. This is exactly what it sounds like. The host, Ding Yu, will take a condemned prisoner about to face execution- sometimes literally just about to face execution, as in they will go straight from the interview to the execution itself- and she will conduct an interview about it. The interviews go about as you'd expect them to go when the subject is always someone staring down the barrel of execution: pretty intensely emotional. (On occasion, one of the subjects would get a pardon and have their sentence commuted to what amounts to a life sentence.)

It was put on the air for the same reason you see bait-car videos here: as a deterrent. At least, that's the line from China. But it seems not to have stood up to very much international scrutiny. Once the BBC and PBS came out with a documentary about the show entitled "Dead Men Talking"- which has actually yet to air- and once the show picked up notice as a result by news organizations outside Chinese borders, all of a sudden Interviews Before Execution ran into "internal problems" and was abruptly cancelled.

Knowledge of the show has also spurred something of a guessing game in trying to determine how many people are executed in China every year. They're the only country, North Korea included, that doesn't release their numbers or at least try to claim a certain count. All anyone is sure of is that the number ranges in the thousands, miles ahead of anyone else. What happened was, people calculated the number of interviews (226), the tenure of the show (five years), and the region involved (Henan Province), and started trying to figure out how many executions that works out to nationwide (even taking into account that not all prisoners on death row were likely to have been interviewed). Which, and this is pure speculation, might have been one of those "internal problems". They aren't releasing the numbers, but the show gave outsiders an opportunity to start counting.

And that might be a little more reality television than China was counting on.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

This Used To Be A Funhouse, But Now It's Full Of Evil Clowns


Is it really a color? I mean, really? When you get right down to it?

According to one Robert Krulwich of the public-radio program Radiolab, pink does not exist. We've just made it up. He cites this edition of something called Minute Physics:

So, no pink. Just a red/violet combination that doesn't actually exist in the rainbow.

I might not have seen this save for the fact that Time picked it up and it is currently the most popular item on their site. In Time's article, the dissenting voice comes from Michael Moyer of Scientific American, who they note that all color, rainbow or not, is merely a product of our brains.

They do not note that he also says that you don't get any color whatsoever by attaching the two ends of the wavelength spectrum to each other. You don't get a mix of red and violet. You get a mix of infrared and ultraviolet, both of which are invisible. Not that you can do such a thing as attach the two ends of a wavelength spectrum in the first place.

Let me try to attack this there-is-no-pink thing from a different angle.


That's your 'minus green'. That's why your printer uses 'cyan' and 'magenta' and not red and blue. Magenta absorbs green light; yellow (or at least a specific shade of light yellow) absorbs blue light; cyan absorbs red light.

Pink is technically between red and violet. That part is fine. But it's also between red and magenta. Or, if one chooses, between red and white, as any kid with crayons could tell you. Or between all three.

Oh, and by the way, even if it were in fact pink that was just the leftovers of white light when you take out the green.... YOU JUST ADMITTED THAT PINK EXISTS, YOU DOLT!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Very Unnecessary Surgery

The ongoing major conflict in Egypt right now is, of course, the ongoing political instability stemming from the military's continued control of the country. A soccer riot coming from a match between Al-Masry and Al-Ahly on February 1st fed into larger general protests; the rest of the season has been cancelled. In its place, a friendly tournament will take place; Al-Masry will not participate. A 40-day mourning period marking the deaths of 74 people in the riot has just concluded. A presidential election has been called for May; however, fears have arisen that the military will play a heavy hand in determining the winner.

The military is not, however, the only group Egyptians need to worry about. There are also Bedouin gangs who are out for not only people's money, but their organs as well.

Fouad Hady of SBS in Australia (and found via Journeyman Pictures) explains. (Heads-up; there's going to be some graphic content.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

In Which Basketball Proves Some Schools Are Better

It is the day after Selection Sunday. So you get my bracket today. That simple. (NOTE: I've barely watched any college basketball this season and am relying largely on the Yahoo Sports scouting reports to tell my Xaviers from my Gonzagas.)

Western Kentucky over Mississippi Valley St.
BYU over Iona
Vermont over Lamar
Cal over South Florida


(1) Kentucky over (16) Western Kentucky
(8) Iowa St. over (9) Connecticut
(5) Wichita St. over (12) Virginia Commonwealth
(4) Indiana over (13) New Mexico St.
(6) UNLV over (11) Colorado
(14) South Dakota St. over (3) Baylor
(10) Xavier over (7) Notre Dame
(2) Duke over (15) Lehigh

(1) Michigan St. over (16) LIU-Brooklyn
(9) St. Louis over (8) Memphis
(12) Long Beach St. over (5) New Mexico
(4) Louisville over (13) Davidson
(6) Murray St. over (11) Colorado St.
(3) Marquette over (14) BYU (don't complain about the draw, BYU; you made the Selection Committee put you here because of you being, like, the very last significant sports organization in America to not play sports on Sunday)
(7) Florida over (10) Virginia
(2) Missouri over (15) Norfolk St.

(1) Syracuse over (16) North Carolina-Asheville
(8) Kansas St. over (9) Southern Miss
(12) Harvard over (5) Vanderbilt
(4) Wisconsin over (13) Montana
(6) Cincinnati over (11) Texas
(3) Florida St. over (14) St. Bonaventure
(7) Gonzaga over (10) West Virginia
(2) Ohio St. over (15) Loyola (MD)

(1) North Carolina over (16) Vermont
(8) Creighton over (9) Alabama
(5) Temple over (12) Cal
(4) Michigan over (13) Ohio
(11) North Carolina St. over (6) San Diego St.
(3) Georgetown over (14) Belmont
(10) Purdue over (7) St. Mary's
(2) Kansas over (15) Detroit


(1) Kentucky over (8) Iowa St.
(5) Wichita St. over (4) Indiana
(6) UNLV over (14) South Dakota St.
(2) Duke over (10) Xavier

(1) Michigan St. over (9) St. Louis
(4) Louisville over (12) Long Beach St.
(6) Murray St. over (3) Marquette
(2) Missouri over (7) Florida

(1) Syracuse over (8) Kansas St.
(4) Wisconsin over (12) Harvard
(3) Florida St. over (6) Cincinnati
(2) Ohio St. over (7) Gonzaga

(1) North Carolina over (8) Creighton
(5) Temple over (4) Michigan
(11) North Carolina St. over (3) Georgetown
(2) Kansas over (10) Purdue

(1) Kentucky over (5) Wichita St.
(2) Duke over (5) UNLV
(1) Michigan St. over (4) Louisville
(6) Murray St. over (2) Missouri
(4) Wisconsin over (1) Syracuse
(2) Ohio St. over (3) Florida St.
(1) North Carolina over (5) Temple
(2) Kansas over (11) North Carolina St.

(1) Kentucky over (2) Duke
(1) Michigan St. over (6) Murray St.
(4) Wisconsin over (2) Ohio St.
(2) Kansas over (1) North Carolina

(1) Michigan St. over (1) Kentucky
(2) Kansas over (4) Wisconsin

(1) Michigan St. 76, Kansas 61

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bonanza Farms

98% of all farms in America are classified as family farms, most of them small things. The other 2% is a big 2%, making up 14% of agribusiness in the country, but... 2%. They do have something in common: in order to remain in operation, when possible, both types of farms try to diversify their crops. They divide their fields into multiple sections, each handling a different crop, so that if the weather doesn't cooperate for one, they're not totally screwed. They rotate the crops from year to year so as not to deplete the nutrients in the soil.

So what would happen if someone with a larger farm- say, one of the factory farms in the 2%- decided to just throw all that in the garbage?

You'd get a bonanza farm.

When the railroads arrived in North Dakota in the 1860's (so as to dodge anything even resembling the South; this was the decade of the Civil War, remember), people suddenly took interest in the fact that North Dakota has quite a bit of flat land, as does neighboring Minnesota. And because North Dakota is... well, North Dakota, and was still wild frontier at the time, land came cheap. But, of course, it first went to the railroad itself, that being the Northern Pacific Railroad. They in turn sold off land in the Red River Valley- that's eastern North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, centered on Fargo-Moorehead- in order to keep themselves afloat. (Didn't work, by the way. They went bust in 1870. And then went bust a couple additional times for good measure.)

A homesteader could only take 160 acres of land, and they had to live on the land for five years to be able to get it. However, if you were buying land from someone who already owned land- a railroad, perhaps- you could gobble up as much as you wanted. And so some entrepreneurs decided to buy in bulk.

These people were not, by and large, farmers. But they could hire people who were. Thousands of people. Migrant workers, probably. What they were after was, of course, money. Lots of money. Hand over fist. And in order to do so, there was to be none of this diversification silliness. After all, 1873 had a bumper crop of wheat! Time is money! Plant the money crop and stuff the farm with it! And so the bonanza farm was born. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people would work a gigantic farm devoted to one single crop- again, usually wheat. In the process, they'd be utilizing all the latest developments in large-scale farming, alongside new techniques on wheat milling once it got to market in Minneapolis.

And as long as the weather cooperated and the soil held out, all was well. The bonanza farm would live up to its name. You'd get thousands and thousands of acres of wheat (the record was 63,000 acres, though on average it was more like 3,000-7,000) and obscene amounts of profits. Throughout the 1880's, there existed what was known as the Dakota Boom.

As long as everything held up, that is. Sooner or later, though, something wouldn't. If the weather got you, and your crops failed, you'd take a huge financial bath and there was a good chance you were done. It was like a poker game where you went all-in on every single hand. If the wheat market was down, you were completely screwed. And eventually, the soil just can't take any more wheat production; that took about 25 years to happen. If not for the fact that American midwestern soil is some of the most fertile on the planet, it would have happened much sooner. And once the wheat crops weren't coming in anymore, it was game over. The investors got out, and the farms were busted up into family farms. A couple farms held on past 1900, but those few hardy survivors who somehow made it to the 1920's got stopped dead in their tracks by the Great Depression.

Save for one, sort of. In 2005, the Frederick A. and Sophia Bagg Bonanza Farm in Mooreton, North Dakota was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 9,000 acres at its peak and started in 1915, after the bust came for all but those few survivors, it is no longer an actual bonanza farm; it's dipped to its original size of 15 acres. It's supposed to be representative of all bonanza farms.

Dead, gone and broken up.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What's One Less Island Chain, Right?

The nation of Kiribati is eyeing a plan to purchase 6,000 acres of land on Fiji's primary island, Viti Levu. Why? Because their population of 103,000 people may have to end up living there. Rising sea levels have gotten to the point where Kiribati, which lies very close to sea level, is seeing its freshwater reserves being increasingly contaminated by seawater coming inland. Or at least what passes for inland in Kiribati.

They're hoping it doesn't come to that. Nobody's hoping it comes to that. But it's looking increasingly likely that it will.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Coming This Fall On Fox

On March 23, The Hunger Games will hit theaters. It would be surprising if it didn't do well at the box office. It's the new young-adult-book-crossover juggernaut-to-be, a status Harry Potter recently enjoyed and that Twilight still does. By now, we should all be familiar with the basic plotline even if we haven't read the books (and no, I have not or else I'd have said something here about it).

Once a year, a post-apocalyptic society set sometime in the future holds the Hunger Games, an event put together by an oppressive government. Teenage kids from various parts of the world volunteer (or, more to the point, get volunteered) to be 'tributes' to the Hunger Games. This involves being thrown into an arena and made to fight to the death while the world watches on TV, and May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor. Last one standing gets all famous and stuff, but also gets seriously messed up in the head from the experience.

Again, I haven't read any of the Hunger Games books, though I'm sure they're perfectly fine. I've never been that big of a fiction reader; note how rarely fiction shows up in the Rapid-Fire Book Club. However, even if I was, there's little chance that The Hunger Games would have ended up on my shelf anyway.

Why? Because I have seen this plot before. Several times.

The first thing likely coming to your mind is The Running Man, where an oppressive government has Richard Dawson send Arnold Schwarzenegger into an arena to fight to the death for television. But not me. First off, it's a country mile away from the plot of the Stephen King novel it was based on. In King's version, the contestant has the free run of the country, but must elude capture for 30 days from bounty hunters and ordinary citizens who get a cash prize if they off him or provide information leading to same. They also have to send in videos regularly which will keep the studio and viewers updated on his whereabouts. Prize: a billion dollars. With a B. Show record, leading into the events of the book: nine days.

But second, the movie's version is too far away from the format of the Hunger Games. It's one guy (okay, eventually four) against a series of 'stalkers', recurring opponents employed by the show. It's not one entire cast fighting to be the last one standing.

We can do better.

There is. at this time, one fiction novel on my shelf. Just the one. But its concept just happens to be a reality-show-to-the-death as well. It's called 24/7, by Jim Brown, written in 2002. This game's premise is as follows:

Your standard set of 12 reality-show types are placed on an island with your standard hammy awful punchable reality show host. The TV and audience votes them out, one by one, but the players can thwart the audience through the use of 'Safety Stones', which is 24/7's immunity mechanic. You win Safety Stones either through challenges or by finding them strewn around the island- including one 'personal challenge' per contestant, tailored to each contestant's personal fear; that one's worth five stones if you come across it and beat it. Each Safety Stone allows you to remove 10% of the audience vote against you in a given round (obviously, you use them before you know the vote totals). Use ten and you're immune. The contestant with the most votes after Safety Stones used are taken into account is eliminated. Prize for the last one standing: two million bucks, plus "your heart's desire", a personal prize that each contestant would individually be playing for. Name something you want that a TV network could feasibly arrange. You're playing for that.

Personally, I'm actually pretty surprised nobody has used the Safety Stone concept in an actual reality show; it's a very neat mechanic. Ten used stones makes you immune, but then, that's a lot of stones you just used up; could you have gotten the job done with fewer? How many is it going to take? Will the guy next to you use enough to push you into elimination territory? How do you respond to that? Or not respond? And how much do you budget for later on? Someone, get on that.

But that aside, cut to the season premiere when the hammy punchable host is explaining the rules while being hammy and punchable, and one of the contestants is being annoying, and all of a sudden the hammy punchable host dies horribly from some sort of virus I'll spare you the description of because ick. That's right: a terrorist has taken over the show. He goes by the name 'Control', and he announces that the game is still on, but the stakes are kicked up a bit. For starters, the challenges have been made a tad more terribly deadly. Also, more to the point, the cast is infected with the same virus the host died from, and will die from it if they don't get an inoculation every 24 hours. Luckily, Control has some for everyone... except the person who gets eliminated each day. Along with the announced prizes- which Control will still honor- the winner gets cured. Good luck.

Spoiler alert: the annoying guy immediately transforms into the 'we're all gonna die' guy. He's the very first one out the door. Or turned into a screaming puddle of bones on the floor. Either way.

I have some experience with this game concept. Like I said, I liked the concept, and way back in the days of Yahoo Groups and Geocities, I decided to use it myself, in an online reality game based on the book. I, of course, took the role of Control, as some of my readers will actually recall, because a couple of you were my former contestants. It lasted three seasons.

But the 24/7 plotline also veers too far from the Hunger Games plotline. The cast applied for the show; none of them were forced onto the island or the game. They were only forced into the final format the game ultimately took. Also, it was in fact a game, not a straight-up battle to the death.

We can do better.

There's another online reality game- a roleplaying one, yet- titled Survival of the Fittest. It's looking to be gearing up for Season 5. What we have here as a concept is, the contents of a high school class- and I don't mean 'classroom', I mean as in 'class of 2008'- gets kidnapped during an end-of-year trip by another terrorist organization, this one led by one Victor Danya. He hits them with knockout gas, they wake up on an otherwise-deserted island and are told to kill each other until only one is left standing.

For television, of course. Cameras all over the island, as usual. Some people even think it's not actually people actually killing each other.

To aid in this task, each of them is given a randomly-assigned weapon. Perhaps you're given a hatchet. Perhaps you're given an AK-47. Perhaps you're given a cookie. Whatever you get, you take that weapon and bash someone's brains in with it. In addition, each student (never mind the faculty; they all get unceremoniously offed in the pregame) is fitted with a collar around their neck. Do not remove this collar. If you try, collar goes boom. Boom might rip your head clean off your shoulders. Also, do not destroy a camera, or collar goes boom. Do not piss off Danya, or collar goes boom. Do not attempt to escape the island, or collar goes boom. And also, every so often, Danya will announce the presence of 'danger zones' around the island in order to keep things moving. If you're in a danger zone, get out of it pronto, or collar goes boom.

Needless to say, most of any given class sees their grip on sanity and basic decency go out the window right quick, to say nothing of the student that gets to the end alive (on the knowledge that the winner of an unaired test season was actually brought back by Danya for Season 1 because he didn't directly kill anyone). Which is all good TV, after all.

We're getting pretty close to the Hunger Games now, but there is one little improvement we can make: how did we get to terrorists running the game? The Hunger Games are run by the government. Can we return to that?

Yes. We can do better.

Survival of the Fittest is based off a movie from 2000 called Battle Royale, which in turn was based off a 1999 book by Koushun Takami; this one's Japanese in origin. The game format of Battle Royale is, naturally, pretty much the same as Survival of the Fittest, right down to the randomly-assigned weapons. However, instead of a terrorist, it's the military of an alternate-history fascist Japan, who began what they call "The Program". Every six months since 1947, the military swipes a high school class, sticks them on the island, and tells them to get to work.

I see nothing to suggest that this is televised; even if it were in the Battle Royale universe, it likely wouldn't get high ratings, as nobody's under any illusion that this is for entertainment purposes. The only reason nobody does anything is that it's gone on for so long that apathy and the sense of being used to it have taken hold.

Obviously, the lack of TV makes for a difference, but otherwise, you've now got things really close to The Hunger Games. In fact, it's actually a little more dramatic than The Hunger Games- while The Hunger Games (and 24/7) use a group of people from various disparate parts of the world, Battle Royale (and Survival of the Fittest) use a single group of high schoolers that know each other already. It's a coincidence, but it was close enough to where when Suzanne Collins was made aware of Battle Royale during her writing of The Hunger Games, her editor told her not to read or see Battle Royale, because "I don't want that world in your head." As of April 2011, Collins had yet to see the movie or read the book.

While a Japanese movie was created, things bogged down when it came time to think about importing Battle Royale to America. When it was created, it was a little too soon after the Columbine school shooting to be able to send it to America right away. Now, though, with The Hunger Games taking center stage, you'll probably never see Battle Royale in America at all.

After all, what a ripoff of The Hunger Games that would be.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

30 North Koreans, 1 Ugandan

I was going to be doing something else today, but then I got hit with two different things from a gazillion different angles all at once, both far more urgent than what I was going to go on ranting about.

Now, we've already covered the Lord's Resistance Army here back in October. (With bonus Rush-Limbaugh-being-stupid chaser, as if you didn't have enough of that lately. I know I haven't.) We've already run 48 minutes of things that will make you question what Lord would allow such things.

What seems to be going viral, though- Taylor Swift joining in on her Twitter feed certainly helps matters, seeing as she has 11.5 million followers- is a profile of the leader of the LRA, Joseph Kony. The half-hour video is called 'KONY 2012', and so as to do my bit, I link to the video here.

The other video comes via Lisa and Laura Ling, viewable here. What Lisa and Laura wish to bring to your attention is the plight of 30 North Korean defectors who have been caught by China and face repatriation to North Korea. Being caught and repatriated generally means death for not only you, but your family as well. These 30 are in particular risk, as they're the first to be caught since Kim Jong Un took over.

Lisa and Laura are asking people to place whatever pressure on China that they can, in an attempt to essentially embarrass China into letting the 30 defectors go- and given that China could send them back at any moment, you need to be quick about lending a hand. There is of course a petition, along with a hashtag, #savemyfriend. Do with them what you will, and if you have more to add to the effort, by all means feel free.

In both cases, with Kony and the defectors, the objective is to get the word spread far and wide and quick like bunny. Go. Move.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Adventures In Wishful Thinking

Turkish Airlines has opened a commercial route from Istanbul to Mogadishu, with a stopover in Khartoum, Sudan. This is the first commercial flight from outside eastern Africa in 20 years.

According to Somalia's foreign minister, Abdullahi Haji, "It will also make it easier for the Somali diaspora to come home. It will bring us closer together."

I'm trying to figure out a way in which this ends well, but so far they all rely on blind luck.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Yes, Yes, Very Tragic, But What About The Soccer?

This is pretty much how this soccer book has forced me to think on occasion.

See, when you get deep enough into a book about the history and culture of soccer, inevitably, you are going to run into the history and culture of the world in general. It doesn't seem like it would, here in America, because it's just sports after all. The thing is, though, sports are as important as people deem them to be. And in much of the world, it's important enough that religion and race and class tensions and international tension and national pride and even the presence or absence of democracy get dragged into things.

In recent days, you can add the massacre in Homs, Syria to that list.

Massacre is really all you can call what's been going on in Homs over the past month. Unless you wish to call it 'genocide', which I'm noticing is a term increasingly used. Every day, more and more graphic images of Homs being shelled by the forces of Bashar al-Assad indiscriminately, concentrated on the neighborhood of Baba Amr, come out. More accounts of residents fleeing to the nearby Lebanese border, if they even can leave their house without risking sniper attacks or function in a state of pure, utter terror, knowing that if you don't leave eventually, someone will sooner or later kick the door down and shoot you where you stand. The fact that these accounts from residents still inside and refugees inside no longer are virtually all that exists as accounts now, given that the professional journalists have been run out of town for fear of being specifically targeted themselves. The Red Cross being refused entry to town, and at least one hospital that is in use being converted into a scene of torture. The endgame possibility of Homs being torn down to the ground and wiped off the map entirely.

And most distressingly, the growing feeling that it's become too late to stop, that by the inaction of the rest of the world, Homs has turned into the next Rwanda or Srebenica, where the world looked on, remarked about how tragic it all was, and then sat back and ultimately did nothing while innocent people were slaughtered like animals by the thousands. Any action taken, if any was taken at all, was only taken after the damage had been done.

Soccer, of course, is very, very low on the priority list. I don't even want to think about it at a time and place like this. But I have a book on soccer to write, it has a section on Syria, and as it happens, the Syrian club I had earlier chosen to profile, Al-Karamah (as I'm trying to do at least one per country), just so happens to be based in Homs. So as dirty as it makes me feel, in order to do this book properly, at some point I have to set the massacre aside and focus, on some level, on how this affects the club and soccer in Syria in general.

As it happens, Syria's top-tier league has not one, but two teams from Homs: Al-Karamah and Al-Wathda; both share a stadium, Khaled bin Walid Stadium, on Homs' west side. While I don't know for sure, it's very possible that the stadium is being used right now as either a prison or an execution site, as is, at least according to some tweets out of the area, the case with another stadium in Homs, al-Basil Stadium, south of Khaled bin Walid. This was also the use to which other stadiums in Syria were applied earlier in Syria's civil war.

Which makes what I'm seeing on a little strange.

Here's where we need to shift to thinking soccer. Unfortunately.

The way Syria's top-tier league has been working this season is this: the 16 teams in the league are split into two groups of eight. Those groups play amongst each other in a round-robin. After that, the top four teams in each group are placed in a second-round 'Champions Group' and play each other in a second round-robin for honors. The bottom four per group are placed in a 'Relegation Group' and play each other to remain in the top tier.

Homs' two clubs were placed in separate first-round groups, and both breezed into the Champions Group. Al-Wathba won their group, while Al-Karamah (shown on FIFA's league table as Al Karama) finished second in theirs. Both can be thought of as title contenders.

The first round took place during calendar year 2011. Calendar year 2012 shifted things to the second round. The other 14 teams have gone on as normal; in fact, there were games just yesterday. However, the two Homs teams have not played any second-round games. Their matches are listed as 'postponed'.

You'd expect that the Homs teams couldn't play. I'd be shocked if they did. But the thing is, I'm shocked that the other 14 teams are going on without them. It's not as if the rest of Syria is free of violence. And, again, other stadiums have been, or are currently being, used as prisons and execution sites. Presumably that would include the stadiums used by the other 14 clubs in the league. So how is this league still going on? How has this season not been cancelled? Seasons have been cancelled before all over the planet in times of war. The Syrian league was put on hold in April last year, during this same conflict, and ultimately cancelled. In fact, the cancellation is why this season has 16 teams instead of 14; they didn't get a chance to relegate anyone last season.

I'm not exactly expecting anyone to look seriously into it, given that there are a thousand things more important. But it does seem weird that something that would stop everyone a year ago wouldn't stop anyone but the Homs teams now.

That is, assuming that when it's all said and done, there will still be a Homs in which to play.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Don't Tell Me Your Food's Cold

And after you're done fighting for freedom of speech in Morocco, why not head to Spain and eat off of an active volcano?

Coming off Treehugger, who themselves got it from Oddity Central, a site I'm definitely going to have to look further into, we're today told about El Diablo Restaurant on Lanzarote, part of the Canary Islands, sitting due west of Morocco, towards the border with Western Sahara.

A dormant volcano doesn't mean a dead volcano. The classification of volcanoes into active, dormant and extinct is actually a bit messy, scientifically speaking, though generally if a volcano has erupted in the last 10,000 years, it's considered active, and you're not extinct until you've lost your lava supply.

El Diablo Restaurant sits in Timanfaya National Park, where the Wikipedia page notes eruptions between 1730-36, meaning we're well within the boundaries of being an active volcano (though Treehugger labels it dormant). There are no eruptions thought to be coming in the near future or else nobody would have built a restaurant there.

Okay, well, maybe an artist would. Namely, artist/architect Cesar Manrique, who started the restaurant in 1970, four years before the park was established. What he did was, he took a spot where volcanic heat seeps up from the ground- it gets to 400 degrees Celsius (752 degrees Fahrenheit) 6 meters underground- and then he built a grill right on top of it, and then built a restaurant around the grill. The photos supplied indicate you can walk right up to the grill and have a look for yourself.

Manrique picked a good spot. Right next door is the Islote de Hilario, a geyser which has the most underground heat in the park. Park attendants pour water in the hole to provoke it for the tourists.

Presumably, your wine has not been down that hole prior to serving. Hopefully.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Of All The Sex Shops In All The World...

Leave it to the Internet to not only have an article like "Morocco opens its first sex shop", but to draw enough interest from someone to want to investigate further.

On its face, it looks like just one more random little stupid piece. Hey. A sex shop. Sure don't have enough of those around. But there are two things to note. First, it's in Morocco, an Islamic nation, and Islamic nations are famously conservative. Sex shops in conservative nations aren't really much of a thing (sex products are sold in Morocco, but according to an Al Arabiya link further down, they are commonly sold under the disguise of being "cosmetics"), and so the opening of one could be taken as a sign that the country is, at least in one semi-subtle way, lurching in the direction of liberalism. It's kind of like measuring the economy through underwear sales or blacked-out football games or immigration.

The second thing: it turns out that when people went to see this sex shop- for normal reasons, of course- they couldn't find it. An address was provided, but when someone went to check it out, it turned out to be in a working-class neighborhood that would never allow such a thing, and the address itself was that of a family's house; the family within didn't know what the hell was going on. And now questions are being asked; suspicions are that it may be part of a plot by left-leaning activists, namely the February 20 Movement, spawned last year as part of the Arab Spring, to embarrass the new Prime Minister, Abdelilah Benkirane.

One question, of course, is what are you doing investigating a sex shop. Among some other recent freedom-related happenings in Morocco, to underscore the point:

*A man in the city of Nador was sentenced yesterday to six months in jail for flying an Israeli flag over his house.
*Another man, from Taza, was given three years in February for a YouTube video insulting King Mohammed VI.
*A week before that, another man was hauled into court for insulting the king on Facebook.
*An edition of a Spanish paper, El Pais, was banned last month because it, too, had a cartoon criticizing the king. Among other recent censorings listed in that link.
*A group handing out leaflets urging the boycott of elections in November were, according to Human Rights Watch, arrested and held for trial for "distribution of written material that does not bear the name and address of the printer." The Moroccan government denies arrests have taken place.

In an effort to stem the tide of the Arab Spring, Morocco instituted some level of reform, and among those reforms was that the king would no longer be considered under the nation's constitution to be 'sacred'. As you can see, if there's a difference between then and now, the February 20 Movement fails to see it. The trick is, those reforms came through vague, pliable language, language that on the surface appeared to increase freedom of speech, but in practice offered no such thing. For instance, not only was the king considered 'sacred' in the old constitution, he was also considered 'inviolable', meaning you can't criticize him. He is no longer sacred, but he remains inviolable. Samia Errazzouki of Jadaliyya takes you here through the gory details.

Given this, the presence or absence of a sex shop doesn't really stand out much. But given that the February 20 Movement lost some steam due to the reforms, or at least perceived reforms, they may be looking to re-force an issue or two.

Friday, March 2, 2012


Today's example of why Japan is different than us comes to us via Kazutaka Kurihara of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and Koji Tsukada of Ochanomizu University. Their project is officially called SpeechJammer, but it's promptly gotten a more widespread name: the 'Shut Up Gun'.

What you have is a directional speaker and a microphone, along with come computer parts. You point the Shut Up Gun at someone, and it will play their own voice back to them using delayed auditory feedback- you'll hear what you're saying about .2 seconds after you've said it. You know back when you were a kid and you and your sibling did the 'Stop repeating everything I say' game? That's basically what's going on here, in gun form. It'll do that until you decide to stop talking.

Unless you make a meaningless prolonged sound like 'aaaaaaarrrrrrgggh'. Then it doesn't work.

PC Mag also noted another well-known method of getting people to shut up: at awards shows, when they play off people whose acceptance speeches are starting to drag on. PC Mag did not note my favorite playing-off, that of the Ig Nobel Prizes.

The Ig Nobels utilize a little girl, who is called 'Miss Sweetie Poo'. When an acceptance speech starts to get lengthy, Miss Sweetie Poo walks right up to them and starts to repeat the phrase "Please stop. I'm bored." She will do this until the speaker stops boring her. In addition to working, it has the effect of being consistently hilarious.

But of course, you can't carry a Miss Sweetie Poo around all day. Or at least really really shouldn't.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Craziest Candidate In America

I don't care what you've seen. I don't care what you've heard. I don't care how much insanity has been spewed this election season.

When you've got a straight-up Holocaust denier declaring his candidacy for Congress, the Holocaust denier, by simple virtue of the fact that he is a Holocaust denier, is crazier than every single one of them. His name is Arthur Jones, he's an insurance salesman from Lyons, Illinois, and he's running in Dan Lipinski's district.

I bet Lyons' customers are just thrilled to find out more about who's been selling them insurance.

Lyons is running as a Republican; however, to their credit, the GOP has tried to keep him off their end of the ticket. Not even they're that nuts. However, Lyons somehow, frighteningly, found 1,000 people willing to sign his candidacy petition, and we do not disqualify candidates for office in this country based on their views alone, so he's on the ballot whether anyone likes it or not. He's thus going to be in the Republican primary, against the GOP's actual candidates, Jim Falvey and Richard Grabowski.

This is not the first time Jones has been in the public eye. In 1976, he ran for mayor of Milwaukee, and got predictably pasted in the primary by Henry Maier by a percentage margin of 93-7. In 1993, he appeared on the Jerry Springer Show alongside Milwaukee alderman Michael McGee. McGee punched Jones in the face. This will be Jones' ninth run for office and his seventh run for the seat in Illinois' third district; his record is, thankfully, 0-8. However, in his five previous attempts, he's garnered an increasing amount of the vote each time- 2.64% in 1992, 10.34% in 1996, 12.39% in 1998, 29.38% in 2006, and 33.15% in 2008.

Illinois, your primary is March 20. We in Wisconsin apologize for giving you this guy. Could you please clean up this mess we left you? Again?