Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dear People

...Who Inject Silicon Into Their Foreheads So As To Look Like They Had A Bagel Implant: do realize you have to go to your job looking like that, right? Or, alternatively, apply for work looking like that? Or alternatively, do everything in your life looking like that until and unless you have a bout of sanity and get that back out of your forehead?

EDIT: know what, just disregard this. I was half-asleep (at 1 PM, yes; I spent most of the morning drifting in and out of sleep) and missed basic things in the piece like, oh, say, it being a temporary body modification. This will teach me to be half-asleep looking for something to write about. I could try and go 'but the picture's on the Internet and that's all it takes', but... no, that's no excuse for failing in the most basic of fact-checking. I screwed up and I'm copping to it.

I could delete this post entirely, but I won't. I'm just going to leave this note here reminding myself of what a giant screw-up I am and use it as a warning to be more careful in the future.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why Sports Matter

The ending of Monday's Packers-Seahawks game has taken on many names. The Fail Mary. Golden Gate. The Inaccurate Reception. Each and every one of them carries the imagery of what is one of, if not the, single worst call in NFL history.

Occasionally, after a particularly heartbreaking loss, Bill Simmons, ESPN's Sports Guy, will mention that he really shouldn't care about sports so much. Easy for him to say. Prior to this season, I bought a $250 share of Packers stock for my dad for Christmas that, if sold (and it can only be sold back to the team), would bring a pittance. One of the first things that happened after he opened it up was that he expressed a desire to be buried with it. And the first season after its purchase is greeted with The Shield doing everything it can think of to make the resale price of that stock and its true worth as closely in line with each other as possible.

The first full day after the game was primarily spent as part of a nationwide, leaguewide support group, spanning every site that ever even thought of talking about sports, CNN International, and apparently, the You Don't Know Jack Facebook game, which announced, "Any right answer provided by a player in Wisconsin will be credited to someone in Seattle. Too soon?" I was watching, and participating in, a deadly-serious debate as to whether, on the suggestion of Packers guard T.J. Lang, the Packers should have deliberately taken a knee on every play in future games until the real referees were restored and the replacement refs sent back to Foot Locker where they belong. The debate, thankfully, was rendered moot by the deal struck Wednesday, but still, the fact that a professional sports team and their fans were seriously and openly debating whether or not to throw a game in ethical protest was a very uncomfortable position to be in.

So the incident wound up putting me in Bill's position. Why? Why do I care so much? Do sports really matter this much in the grand scheme of things?

Yes. I submit to you that they do.

I can already hear you. 'Really? Does the world really, truly need highlight reels and people making millions playing kids' games and etc.?' I respond that you are thinking too small.

For starters, let's go back to Seattle. The headline on Fark that told of the game read, "Wisconsin learns why unions are important". Wisconsin, as you may know, is governed by Republican Scott Walker, who led his administration last year by gutting the negotiating rights of unions, an action that led to an attempt at recall that, while it gave Democrats control of the state senate, failed to remove Walker himself. And here, Wisconsinites of all political affiliations were taken advantage of by non-union scab workers. The term 'replacement referee' in and of itself obscures the issue. When they're "replacement referees", you start feeling that these are people worth feeling sorry for because they're in over their head. But when you call them what they are- scabs- that evokes an entirely different image, of amoral strikebreakers trying to screw over people better suited for the job they're doing than they are, and driving down the payscale to do so.

It should come as little surprise that, when Survey USA polled residents of Washington state about the play, Republicans were more sympathetic towards the referees than Democrats. But it put Walker in an awkward position when he, the governor who made his name on breaking unions, found himself calling for the restoration of the union referees. After all, he's a Packers fan too.

Paul Ryan, also a Wisconsin resident and Packers fan who wants the real referees back, may be a different story. He took heat in August for waving a Terrible Towel, a hallmark of the Pittsburgh Steelers, at a campaign event in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. It's not the first time it's happened in a campaign, but it catches attention every time. It's a somewhat underrated way to determine a political candidate's courage in their convictions; their ability to honestly state what they truly believe in. After all, as the old saying goes, you can change your family, you can change your underwear, but you never change your team. Rick Santorum, a Steelers fan, may have been condemned for poor convictions, but earlier in the Republican primaries, he passed the same test, refusing to put on a cheesehead at a campaign stop in Wisconsin. Santorum, ironically, said in the refusal, "It's like asking a Packers fan to wave a Terrible Towel. You can't do that."

So this game does in fact matter in the larger scheme of things. But again, perhaps we are still thinking too small. Perhaps we need to get out of the narrow focus of the Packers-Seahawks game.

Let's start with the fact of the Packers' existence. Much has been made of the fact that they exist in Green Bay, Wisconsin, by far the smallest market in major North American professional sports. Much has been made of how much the city depends on the team not just as a cultural institution, but as an economy, as a way to put themselves on a level playing field with the biggest, largest cities in the country. But the same is true of any one-team town. Green Bay is simply the most dramatic example. Having a professional team in town is a way to say your city matters. It puts you on the map, even if no other aspect of your city normally would. Jacksonville, Florida enjoys such a status with the presence of the Jaguars, and Oklahoma City recently gained with the relocation of the Thunder. (As do, within the United States, Sacramento, San Antonio, Orlando, Memphis, Raleigh, Newark, and if you don't count Major League Soccer, Columbus, Portland and Salt Lake City.) Losing that one team relegates you to a lesser civic status, as Sacramento currently fears should they lose the Kings. They risk going on the scrap heap of former major-league towns such as Hartford, Connecticut; Providence, Rhode Island; Worcester, Massachusetts; Troy, New York; Pottsville, Pennsylvania; Anderson, Indiana; Decatur, Illinois; Portsmouth, Ohio; Waterloo, Iowa; Sheboygan, Wisconsin; and Duluth, Minnesota.

Las Vegas, Nevada, despite its prominent status, knows deep down it will always be considered somewhat of a lesser, a place somehow outside the sports world despite being so intimately involved with it, until and unless it attracts a major-league team. You often see them among the founding cities of several startup leagues, the XFL and UFL being but two examples, as they keep hoping that one of them, eventually, will catch on.

Even among cities safely within the professional sphere, you see a battle of pride, with cities gaining prestige for every team they gain and every league they become part of, and losing it for every team departed. Los Angeles feels incomplete without an NFL team. Seattle feels incomplete without the Sonics. New York feels something of a birthright to two teams per league. Anaheim was insistent that the Angels carry their name somehow (thus, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.) A special kind of status is afforded to those cities that have managed the complete set- an NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL team. (That's New York, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Denver and Detroit. If you count MLS as well, drop Detroit and Miami.)

In each and every one of these cities, sports is a modern version of the ancient concept of combat by champion. My city is better than your city, and in order to prove it, we have gathered the greatest athletes we could possibly find to represent us, and we will pit them against the greatest athletes you could find to represent you in a test of athletic ability. In ancient times, that test might have been the ancient Olympics, but it might also have been a fight to the death; whether or not the disputing factions abided by the result is another issue. In modern sports, the tests are regular, scheduled, and produce peaceful results. That is to be expected in North America... but again, you think too small. New York and Boston are not about to start shooting at each other. With places like North and South Korea, India and Pakistan, and the former Yugoslavian states, that is a much less assumable thing. The idea even has an unofficial name, 'football diplomacy' (at least when it's soccer doing the job). Any time places legitimately at odds with each other can settle things on a soccer pitch or a cricket oval instead of a battlefield, I think we can all agree that's a plus.

The World Cup and Olympics, at least theoretically, run on such an idea. It's part of the glue that holds them together. The idea is, however much we hate each other, no matter how much we want to kill each other, no matter how much the world appears to be spinning out of control, the World Cup and Olympics are an occasion in which we all just put it aside, sit down, grab a beer and watch sports together for a few weeks. And if we can manage to pull it off for a couple weeks, maybe we can keep it going longer than that. Of course, it often doesn't work out that way, but it's worth continuing to try. This is part of why NBC received the scorn that it did in London, and has during virtually every Olympics they have aired: too much emphasis on American athletes to the exclusion of almost everyone else. Yes, the United States was at the top of the medal table, but that doesn't mean the other nations are simply there to be foils. They compete as well. They send their best athletes as well. The medals they get are proof that they have also produced winners.

And besides, the Olympics are not about finding winners and losers. It is about having competed. As we noted during the Games themselves, if you saw the live feeds and watched preliminary heats of whatever event, you would often see representatives of less-heralded nations with little hope of even avoiding last place in the heat, let alone medaling. They were not forgotten. Without fail, after the other athletes had completed the heat, the PA announcer would turn his attention to that last-place athlete and exhort the crowd to cheer them home. And without fail, the crowd would cheer them home. Because it's about having come to the Olympics and having done their absolute best. That's all.

Not that some nations see things quite that way. Politics routinely intervene. Iran, for example, refuses to compete against Israeli athletes in the Olympics because they do not recognize the nation's existence, and athletes will withdraw from competition should they be drawn against Israel. For other nations, nothing less than victory will do. Sports is, again, one way to gain prestige for your city or your nation, and some nations will go further than others to gain that prestige. And once on the world stage, they will place athletes under immense pressure to avoid causing the nation to lose face with a poor performance. More repressive nations go particularly far in that pursuit. China is most infamous for this in the Olympic universe, but they're not the only one. North Korean athletes who make the Olympics or World Cup are regularly threatened with being sent to the gulag should they lose. East Germany was notorious for its use of steroids on Olympic athletes, whether they made the athletes aware of it or not. Three different nations- Haiti, Chile, and Zaire- bullied their way to the 1974 World Cup on the backs of support and/or intervention by the regimes of Jean-Claude Duvalier, Augusto Pinochet, and Joseph Desire Mobutu, respectively.

I never said anything about sports being an entirely positive influence. Just that it matters.

In Eastern European soccer, you will often find clubs with the name 'Dynamo'. Dynamo Kiev is the most prominent, but you'll also find Dynamos and Dinamos and former Dynamos in Moscow; Minsk; Riga; Zagreb; Berlin; Dresden; Bucharest; Tirana; Prague; Sofia; Baku; St. Petersburg; Tbilisi; Odessa; and many other cities littering the region, mainly in Russia and Ukraine. They were all part of the same sports society run by the local secret police, and they often would take all the best players available to them. That's the key word. Take. They were the secret police, after all. Needless to say, they tended to win a lot... much to the chagrin of the general population, who typically were not free to speak out about it in general society.

But in the environment of a sporting arena, they were free to root for Dynamo's opposition. What would commonly happen is the opponents of the regime would pick one opponent- Union Berlin to take on Dynamo Berlin, for instance; or Hadjuk Split to take on Dinamo Zagreb- and rally behind them. They would use the cover of rooting for their team to air their various grievances against the regime in a relatively safe setting.

This also occurs and has occurred outside the Iron Curtain. FC Barcelona, for example, draws some of its history from being the club that stood against Francisco Franco's favorite club, Real Madrid. In Uzbekistan, Pakhtakor is the foil to the state's choice of Bunyodkor. In Jordan, one of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables shows how the rivalry between East Bank-supported Al-Faisali and Palestinian-supported Al-Wahdat is used as a fig leaf for Al-Faisali fans to express displeasure towards Jordanian leadership, in particular the Palestinian-born Queen Rania.

In Libya, Al-Saadi Gadhafi, Moammar's son, saw the Libyan domestic league built around him to the point where only his name would be announced by the PA announcer, to where teammates were given incentives to repeatedly pass to him, and to where games were fixed in their favor. In 2000, Al-Saadi was playing for Al-Ahly Tripoli, and the league had just been fixed to ensure rival Al-Ahly Benghazi's relegation. On the final day of the season, upon a dubious call awarding a penalty kick that would send them down, Benghazi fans invaded the pitch (and forcing an abandonment), dressed a donkey in an Al-Saadi jersey in protest. For this crime, not only were fans arrested and jailed (three of which were given the death penalty, though not carried out), but Benghazi's stadium was bulldozed with the fans forced to cheer the bulldozers. The club was then banned from playing indefinitely, with 'indefinitely' turning out to mean five years.

Politics can be used to positive effect as well, though.

Within the United States, you need look no further than Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 broke baseball's color barrier and struck a high-profile blow for black civic rights, perhaps accelerating the overall rate of change. In so doing, Robinson tore down the wall set up by Cap Anson in 1883 when he drove Moses Fleetwood Walker and George Stovey from the field, catalyzing the "gentlemen's agreement" made by the owners the same day... an agreement that didn't stop Anson from consenting to play against blacks in semipro ball in 1907 and 1908, well after his career with the Chicago Cubs had ended. Without Robinson, and without Anson, the fortunes of blacks in America would still have risen and fallen, but at what pace? Baseball's influence in those eras must surely have given weight to their words and actions. How far would blacks have fallen without Anson? How fast would they have risen without Robinson? Would they have risen fast enough to, 60 years later, allow for the election of Barack Obama?

A few years before Robinson was World War 2, which saw hundreds of players from the major and minor league ranks go to war. The government had the ability to cancel any wasteful activity during wartime, and baseball wasted potential manpower, but on the request of then-commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his support for the game, as a way to provide some sense of normality. The quality of play was admittedly going to dip, but the fact that there was baseball at all would serve as a reminder of the way of life the nation was fighting for.

Brazil also had a nation to fight for. In 1964, Brazil had been taken over in a military coup. In 1982, the military regime was still active, though waning, only at that point allowing the first multiparty elections since the coup. Enter the soccer club Corinthians in Sao Paulo, led by midfielder Socrates, team captain of the Brazilian national team that same year. Clubs at the time were commonly locked up in hotels for days before games, a symbol of the rule they lived under, and Cortinthians, for one, was quite sick of it. The elections were on May 15. The 1982 season wrapped in April. So Corinthians decided to take the field in jerseys that read on the back 'DIA 15 VOTE'- 'Vote on the 15th'- and carried banners reading 'Democracia'- 'Democracy'. The move, known as 'Corinthians Democracy', is credited as being one of the most effective get-out-the-vote campaigns of the entire election. And it worked. The elections went against the military regime, and by 1985, the regime was gone.

But perhaps a simple get-out-the-vote effort is not enough to suit you. Fair enough.

Let me tell you a story about South Korea, then.

In 1981, South Korea was also living under a military dictatorship, then led by Chun Doo-Hwan, who took over after his predecessor, Park Chung-Hee, was assassinated in 1979. Park had been a major catalyst in bringing the nation along from a largely agricultural existence to its current cosmopolitan status, and he had come up with the idea to bid for the Olympics as a further boon. He died before the bid could be submitted, which left Chen to do it on the hope that the Games would give legitimacy to his rule. He was lucky in that Seoul only had Nagoya, Japan to beat, and won the Games easily.

He was unlucky in that the people of South Korea had other ideas about what the Olympics ought to mean for their country. And their ideas included democracy. As the preparation years passed and the Games approached, student demonstrators got more and more aggressive about the matter, until things came to a head in 1987. The students knew the world was watching, and battled state police repeatedly, knowing that if Chun cracked down too hard on them, he risked having the Olympics taken away. The IOC was already questioning, in seeing Chun's continued dictatorship, whether they had made a mistake awarding Seoul the Games in the first place. When Chun named coupmate Roh Tae Woo as his successor, they were more or less convinced they had, and the students launched into massive protests. Chun, facing the united pressure of the IOC and the students, backed down enough to allow elections, which Roh won due to lack of a big-name opponent. Roh, though, had no chance to be the leader Chun wanted him to be. Instead, on June 29, 1987, he amended the national constitution to allow democracy. The first democratic elections took place that December. just in time for the Olympics nine months later.

Without the Olympics- without sports- how would that part of the world look different today? Would South Korea be a democracy? What would their economy look like- formidable anyway, or would something have happened to revert their progress? What would their relationship be with the United States? With North Korea? Would their cold war still be going on, or would the war have turned hot?

And speaking of cold wars.

During the days of the Soviet Union, they and the United States repeatedly clashed on the stage of sport, usually in the Olympics, one more proxy war in a half-century full of them. The 1972 basketball final in Munich. The Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid. The 1980 American boycott of the Moscow Games, and the revenge Soviet boycott of the Los Angeles Games four years later. But their highest-stakes matchup did not take place on the field. It came when a field was merely found.

In 1970, an American U-2 spy plane took reconnaissance photos of Cuba. Among other things, it found a soccer pitch in the city of Cienfuegos, near a wharf and a set of barracks. Henry Kissinger took one look at the pitch and knew immediately what it meant. He showed the photos to White House Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman and announced "Those photos could mean war, Bob. Cubans play baseball. Russians play soccer."

It wasn't an entirely accurate assertion- after all, Cuba qualified for the World Cup in 1938- but Kissinger's conclusion was correct. The pitch was part of a Russian facility under construction, an effort to sneak back into Cuba after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Had the base not been spotted in time, a second Cuban Missile Crisis could easily have kicked off.

As it happened, about a week of pressure was enough to get the Soviets to cease construction. But had it not been for the simple fact that Cuba and Russia prefer different sports, would Kissinger have noticed the base's significance? Had he not, would Nixon have been able to defuse a missile crisis as Kennedy had done eight years earlier? Would we even still be sitting here right now?

There are matters we haven't even gotten into. Football as a catalyst into concussion and brain research. Sports of all stripes as a way for products of poorer families to get into college and secure their futures, be it football, soccer, basketball, boxing, track and field. Youth outreach clubs the world over that give children a peaceful outlet, such as Elman FC in Somalia, a branch of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center. Other children being tricked by unscrupulous soccer agents and trafficked to Europe, only to be stranded in an unfamiliar land when the agent abandons them.

But the next time a big game is decided on a bad call, and you ask me how a silly little game could possibly matter in the grand scheme of things, I will ask you back, how could it not?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yet Another Reason To Not Eat Asparagus

Today we are once again hitting up Journeyman Pictures for a report. I can't hunt down where the following video is originally sourced, so it might be an original from them. In any case, this is a report on human trafficking of Romanians working as slaves at an asparagus farm in the Czech Republic, run by the company Bohaemer Spargel Kultur, or BSK. BSK was previously investigated on the practice in 2009.

Here's the blog EatingInPrague, in which, in April 2010, the blogger unwittingly visits the exact same farm you're about to see in action. He sees nothing, and buys a pound of white asparagus directly from the farm. He gets one comment on the article... from someone claiming to be with BSK, wishing to contact him further.

The producer is someone going only by 'EO', which probably means I shouldn't go delving further into it.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dear Stuyvesant High School Students

Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. Can we talk a sec? Because the New York Times just looked into your school and found a whole bunch of cheaters.

Cheat on a test in school, and that's kind of a bad thing. Like a really, really bad thing. Don't do it, even though a bunch of your alumni have. I know Stuyvesant is a tough school. I get that. I know the bar is set high and that good grades in a school like that results in Ivy League acceptance and all sorts of future perks.

But there's a reason the school's got the reputation it does: because the alumni later show themselves to be as smart as their grades show them to be. If you all start cheating, and helping each other cheat, and sometimes pressuring each other to help each other cheat, that may inflate your grades, but when you get found out- and hi, a random dude in Wisconsin's writing about you, so yeah, you've been found out- that simply deflates everyone's diploma. It makes it less valuable. We have quite enough cheaters running things in the world. We don't need to be instilling the value that you have to cheat to get ahead.

And if the value of the high school diploma's deflated due to the place being overrun with cheaters, what Ivy League school is going to want that? Or, if they find out you were one of the cheaters, future employers?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Moving Mountains

That isn't metaphorical. That's literal. What does it take to literally move a mountain? Bulldozers? Dynamite? Large crews of workers?

No. Not really. Just give one guy a pickaxe and a shovel and sit tight for 22 years. It'll get done.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Six Better Decisions Than Those Made In Last Night's Packers/Seahawks Game

*'The fans will come back if we cancel a second NHL season, right?'
*'I am convinced that this plane would be better if you could roll the windows down.'
*'You know where a good place to sleep would be? The floor of this house I'm busy robbing.'
*'My students are "dumb as hell." I know! I'll help them cheat on their tests!'
*'How old am I, officer? 19. No, 21!'
*'Hey, let's spraypaint 'bitch' on this lady's SUV! ...hey, how do you spell 'bitch'?'

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dispatches From Science Land

Today we're doing a recap of recent science developments. No big buildup, let's just hop right into it.

*First, a new collaborative study led by S. Jay Olshansky of Illinois-Chicago, viewable here if you've got $13 laying around, has shown a drop in life expectancy among less-educated American whites. Typically, a bad result is 'not going up as fast as we'd hoped'. Here, though, the least-educated are actually dying sooner than they did before. (The best-educated are seeing their life expectancies rise unabated.) The researchers are now trying to figure out why, giving theories about such things as obesity and smoking, but really, let me save them the hassle. Here's why the stupid die sooner: stupidity kills. All the risk factors they can point out are inevitably going to have a thread leading back to simple stupidity.

*Doctors in Sweden have performed the world's first mother-to-daughter uterus transplant. (There are some women that lose the use of them to cancer, or are simply born without them. It's not a high number, about half a percent, but it does happen.) What appears to have happened- I have to put that caveat in, because I'm a guy and therefore not in possession of a uterus- is that this isn't the first uterine transplant overall, but before this they used cadavers as donors. There was also a transplant with a live donor in Saudi Arabia back in 2000, but the uterus was rejected in three months. Unlike other transplants, they're also temporary: you'll have the uterus until you give birth with it (in Sweden, you can give birth twice with it), and then you have a hysterectomy to take it back out so you don't have to be put at unnecessary risk from the anti-rejection drugs. In this case, the transplanted uteri have been loaded up with embryos and they'll wait a bit to see how they work out.

Which just leaves the ethical issues to work out. Which, again, I'm not going to step into because I'm a guy, but for the sake of it, here's an 'anti' view.

*As for the men, well, you can now stick your dick in this until sperm comes out. Moving along quickly.

*Finally, there was an impromptu experiment two years ago on Facebook. Perhaps you took part in it. If you voted early, and changed your profile image to 'I Voted', you took part in it. The idea was to create a bit of peer pressure to get out the vote, and apparently, it worked. I had done it as well in the Penny Arcade boards; it worked there too. It's a very simple, silly little thing to do, and if it works, it works. So go Google an 'I Voted' image and have it ready to go after you vote.

You ARE voting, right?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Superman Is A Hack

But wait, there's more!

Now, with a headline like that, you know there's got to be some sort of explanation. This isn't a tabloid. Superman as a superhero is, of course, pretty much beyond reproach. He is the go-to, first-choice, most archetypical superhero there is. His basic power set- flight, super-strength, invulnerability, what have you- has been copied so often that it's gotten its own name, 'flying brick'.

We're not discussing that. No, no. That'd be too simple.

We're discussing Superman's career at the Daily Planet, as Clark Kent.

You know the basic drill: Clark Kent has to hold down a job, so he works at the Daily Planet and oh-so-conveniently is always first on the scene to Superman's various exploits, unless he's saving Lois Lane, in which case Lois is first. Either he or Lois get all the exclusive interviews with Superman, and that pretty much powers Kent's career as a reporter.

Lois doesn't quite need the help, as she's out covering the stories that Superman has to end up saving her from, but she's not about to turn her nose up at the byline. Clark, though, is a different matter. Officially, Clark works the Daily Planet's crime desk, but you never really see him covering stories that aren't Superman-related. The crimes he covers just so happen to be the same ones Superman gets involved in. This is because Clark uses the crime desk as a way to quickly find out about crimes still in progress that require Superman's presence. Reading about them in the paper the next day is rather inconvenient.

So why is he a hack? After all, in-universe, he's described as having won a Pulitzer.

Watch what happens when Superman gets depowered.

For one year from 2006-2007, May to May, DC Comics produced the series '52', in which they made one comic a week for an entire year. (That's kind of a lot.) The idea was that the major DC characters were out of action for the year for a variety of reasons, leaving the detritus of the DC universe to come in off the bench. Superman was out of action due to losing his powers at the end of the previous story arc, 'Infinite Crisis', so he spent the year as Clark Kent working on the crime desk.

Here's the thing about Clark Kent's pieces. Think about what they actually are at the end of the day. Clark Kent is essentially writing about the bad guy he just kicked the crap out of, going into probably loving detail about every tooth that got knocked loose and every rib that got cracked. (Superman has X-ray vision. He'd know if bones got broken.) After bragging about the ass he just whooped, he essentially talks to himself- in an exclusive story, meaning nobody has the chance to beat his writeup- and feeds his own ego in front of the whole of Metropolis. He's never going to talk about if Superman used excessive force or anything like that. Getting bullied by your own paper is Peter Parker's job. (Which, by the way, he's a photographer. You can't sleepwalk through that quite as much. If you get the shot, you get the shot and that's really all there is to it.) And of course Superman's never going to say a bad word about Clark.

Clark isn't really practicing journalism so much as writing a diary. Nice work if you can get it.

So in 52, Superman is out of action, meaning Clark Kent has to ACTUALLY work the crime desk for once. As it turns out, Clark simply can't do it. He's too used to having stories basically get written for him and talking up his own alter-ego. When asked to do the legwork everyone else is doing, he can't keep up and constantly gets beat to the punch.

Within ten weeks, after a failure to get a story on a new superhero, Supernova, editor-in-chief Perry White is ready to fire the former Pulitzer-winning Clark Kent for poor performance. Clark only manages to save his job by leaping out a window and counting on Supernova to fly in and catch him... and scoring an exclusive. Again with the exclusives. Even the types who subsist on daily hour-long interviews with celebrities occasionally let other people speak to the celebrity too. The occasional exclusive is a coup. Exclusives as a business model means you stop caring about the product out of a knowledge that people are going to buy it anyway (see also: the Madden franchise).

No wonder so many journalists love Superman. They're better at their job than he is.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

It's Not A Big Truck

It's TED talk day, as you'd know by looking at the calendar and seeing Whenever The Hell I Feel Like It scrawled in crayon where your calendar used to be because also I stole your calendar. On deck is Andrew Blum of Wired, who spoke in Edinburgh, Scotland in June about the Internet.

Not the thing you and I are using. The actual, physical Internet. You know, the series of tubes, and just how durable the thing is.

As a companion piece, back in May, Scott White of Gizmodo wrote about how one would go about destroying the Internet. The answer, in short: with great difficulty, and please do not try to destroy the Internet at home.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Game Is Not Over

Didn't think I'd be on the Romney implosion twice in a row. But I would like to address a particular line of retort from some of those who are sticking with him. There are a few places we could go for this sentiment, but for our purposes, let's use this Atlantic piece from Ron Fournier entitled '5 Reasons Not to Write Romney Off'.

All five reasons are variations on the theme of 'the campaign isn't over yet; something could still happen to close the gap'- namely, bad economic news, bad foreign-policy news, Obama stumbling in the debates, Obama making a big gaffe, or Romney just somehow turning it around for some reason. This last one was literally justified with the phrase "odds are they'll figure out a way out of this spiral".

This is the political equivalent of saying 'a wizard will do it'.

The thing here is that, with the four non-wizard scenarios, you are counting on something to happen that may not actually happen. You're buying a lottery ticket and hoping it pays off. And furthermore, none of those four are within Romney's direct sphere of influence; all but the debate are completely out of that sphere. He is, as you'd say in a playoff race, not in control of his own destiny.

And even the debates carry a unique lack of the kind of control Romney needs right now. The 47% video came in a moment where Romney was not aware a camera was present, and was speaking exclusively to people supporting him enough to give him $50,000. The debates have cameras present, and Romney knows people are watching who neither support him nor even so much as make $50,000 in an entire year. Or multiple years. Two. Three. More. The kind of trust Romney needs to rebuild is simply impossible to do in a prime-time simulcast moderated debate. The kind of trust he needs to rebuild- assuming that it can even be rebuilt at all- can only be done over a long period of retail campaigning, a period of time he doesn't really have at this point.

You ever watch Press Your Luck? I'll presume here that you have. (If you haven't, you'll want to watch an episode at this point to get familiar with the analogy that's about to ensue.) In Round 2, it would sometimes happen that one of the first two players to take their spins would end up hitting a Whammy on their last spin. Unless it was their fourth Whammy, Peter Tomarken would tell these people, 'X Whammies, no spins, no dollars, but the game is not over." Which it wasn't. After all, someone else still had spins to take. Maybe they could get passed to the player and they could keep going on those.

Here's a clip with an example of that happening. Embedding is disabled on this one, so it's a link.

In this case, the player is named Bob. He hits his third Whammy on his last spin at 4:15 in the clip, and Peter tells him the game's not over. But then keep watching, and see what the camera does. For a while, Bob still has a shot, because the player next to him quickly picked up his third and was at risk of going out. But then the remaining spins consolidated into one group. Passed spins get passed to the leading opponent (or the player's choice, if the two opponents are tied), and if you've got no money, there is virtually no chance that this is going to describe you. And when you hit your fourth Whammy, any spins you have left go away right along with you. Long story short, while Bob wasn't out of the game, there was no way he was going to get to spin again.

So eventually, the camera cut Bob out of the picture entirely.

The chances of coming back from that situation to win the game are so remote that the cameraman didn't bother to entertain them. Tomarken had to say something encouraging to players in such a predicament, since they were sitting right there. He couldn't tell them "X Whammies, no spins, no dollars, your chances of winning are about the same as Walter Mondale's." The cameraman didn't have to be quite so nice. As soon as they deemed a player as basically out of the running- and especially as soon as someone Whammied out- they got cropped out of the shot.

Romney cannot be cropped out of the shot here. You can't crop it down to one player. But with key campaign staffers beginning to abandon the campaign and downballot candidates distancing themselves from Romney and complaining that he's going to take them down with him, he has three Whammies, no spins, no dollars, and Obama's, oh, say, $50,000 up on him.

But the game is not over.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Loose Lips Sink Mitts

So.... Mitt Romney.

Wow. Just wow.

There is a very good chance that, for everything that has happened and all his efforts to win the Presidency, Romney's eventual legacy will be the statistic '47%', in the way Michael Dukakis' legacy came down to a tank ride, the way Larry Craig's legacy came down to foot tapping in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall, and the way Gary Hart's legacy came down to a boat called 'Monkey Business'. Politics is cruel like that. Whatever good or ill you may have done in your career, sometimes your downfall is all that people remember in the end.

But the 47% part of Romney's remarks, viewable as part of an hour-plus worth of video that David Corn of Mother Jones has compiled here, is not where we'll focus today. You have untold thousands of places to go for that analysis. You don't need me.

Our focus is on another part of the video, which was picked up on by, among others, the Chicago Sun-Times. It's little surprise they did. The quote they picked up on was:

"If I were Iran, if I were Iran -- a crazed fanatic, I'd say let's get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we'll just say, "Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we're going to let off a dirty bomb." I mean this is where we have -- where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don't have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon."

But that's really all they did- mention the fact that he used their hometown as the example city. Joe Cirincione of Foreign Policy gets more in-depth as to the details. The main front of outrage here is that dirty bombs don't use fissure material, and Cirincione rips into Romney on this. There is also the matter of Iran being full of "crazy people"; Cirincione hits on this line of thinking as well, noting that as antagonistic as Iran's government is being, they at the very least know what they're doing and are attempting to advance their geopolitical position. "Crazy people" would simply do whatever the hell with no rhyme or reason.

A secondary front of outrage, though, a little further off the radar, is that Romney is giving Iran ideas; Whether or not Romney knows what he's talking about, one worry is that Iran might not have thought to put a dirty bomb in Chicago until Romney brought it up, and gee, thanks, idiot, now we have to worry about that.

Let's just focus on the 'thanks for giving them ideas' point. It may or may not have merit per se in this case. I don't know whether or not it does, though it can't be dismissed out of hand. The circumstance does come up; in World War 2, that was the entire point behind the phrase 'Loose Lips Sink Ships'.

But if you do buy into it here, you should know that Romney is not the only candidate running for federal office this year who has run into such a problem.

Tommy Thompson, running for the Senate in Wisconsin against Tammy Baldwin (and polls say it's a close-run thing), left his post as governor in order to become Bush 43's first-term Secretary of Health and Human Services. He left as part of a large-scale Cabinet personnel swap at the end of Bush's first term, a typical circumstance for two-term Presidents (which, assuming Obama wins in November, don't be surprised if you see eight or nine Cabinet members leave, because that's normal). On his way out, he made the following comment:

"I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do. And we are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that."

Thompson also noted that, though they had increased the amount of inspection of food imports, "it is still a very minute amount that we're doing." He caught hell for it, as he was all but placing a neon 'ATTACK HERE' sign on the nation's imported food supply, but as he was already leaving, there wasn't much that could be made of it in the end, especially since it was the period between elections and inaugurations, when the voters have already spoken and there's not much more they can do to anyone who acts up.

Thompson had that luxury then. Neither he nor Romney do now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Here Comes The Boom

Apparently, I have nothing better to do today. So I have opted to create a top-10 list. The intended lesson here is to not be that idiot that runs onto the field at a sporting event. Most of you are not that idiot, and do not need such a lesson, so for you today is just a bit of stupid fun. You will almost certainly get caught (though there has been the odd case of a guy that gets away), especially considering the fact that, while you may be outside, you are still in an enclosed structure and are on what is usually a flat plane where there is nowhere to hide. The way to start hiding is to get off the field, and since you're probably drunk and certainly stupid, that won't occur to you.

Also, you probably will not get on TV, as giving you TV time will only encourage other people to run onto the field in the future in the hopes that they'll get on TV too.

What is the top-10 list of? The top 10 absolute total deckings, at least those which I could find in a YouTube binge, of fans who have run onto the field. Did I mention you are running into a gauntlet of highly-trained athletes in peak physical condition who would love to use you as target practice? And security? And cheerleaders? And referee? And mascot? You are free game for every last one of them. And believe me, there are few things more humiliating than having a clip go up on YouTube of you being leveled by the mascot.

Consider this a public service announcement. Run onto the field, and what awaits you is pain.

From #10:

#10: Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC (This comes from a WCW Nitro taping. Seriously, you run onto the field at a pro-wrestling event? The hell do you think is going to happen? The mandate is to pummel you if you try to run into the ring. The 'just stop him, cuff him and lead him off' apprehension is rare in pro wrestling. They WILL beat on you first.)

#9: Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland, OH

#8: Joan C. Edwards Stadium, Huntington, WV

#7: Fenway Park, Boston, MA

#6: The Gabba, Brisbane, Australia

#5: Turf Moor, Burnley, England

#4: Bloomfield Stadium, Tel Aviv, Israel

#3: Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa (this is the 2010 World Cup final, and that is the trophy)

Fun fact about the victim here: he doesn't learn his lesson. Ever. This guy's a Spaniard who calls himself Jimmy Jump, better known as Oh God, Him Again; you'll know him by the fact that he comes out with a red foofy hat on his head and will probably try to stick it on the head of one of the athletes. Needless to say, security was not about to let him get the hat on the World Cup trophy. He's also been clobbered at, among others, the UEFA Champions League final, the Copa America, the French Open, the Davis Cup, and a Formula 1 race.Why sporting events the world over do not have a 'do not sell to this person' mugshot in the ticket booth is beyond me.

#2: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA

#1: Colisee de Quebec, Quebec City, Quebec

Any questions?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Random News Generator- Netherlands

Obviously, the major recent story out of the Netherlands is the recent election, which took place on Wednesday. The top three parties in the legislature, the House of Representatives, maintained rank, with the top two gaining seats from last time. (The Dutch use proportional representation.) The People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) took first place with 41 out of the 150 seats (up 10 seats from last time), and with the second-place Labour Party gaining 38 seats (up 8 from last time), that's enough to form a coalition. That shuts out the third-place Party For Freedom, which pulled out of the coalition formed in the previous election in 2010 over- what else- the pan-European financial crisis. The VVD (center-right) and Labour Party (center-left) were on board for sticking with the Eurozone gameplan; the Freedom Party (right-wing) wanted to pull out of the euro and go back to the guilder. In all, nine parties won at least one seat, the same nine as last time.

VVD and Labour have to hammer out exactly what will happen now that the Freedom Party is out of the coalition (down 9 seats, from 24 to 15), with the austerity-vs.-stimulus debate taking center stage. That's still taking place. But the feeling is that they've basically excised the crazy from a position of power. Geert Wilders, the Freedom Party leader who triggered the election in the first place, is widely seen as the biggest loser of the election, having made a major tactical blunder.  In addition to his anti-euro platform, the election also deals a blow to his accompanying anti-Islam and anti-immigration platform planks.

Two other big losers on Wednesday were Christian Democratic Appeal (center-right), which fell from fourth place and 21 seats to fifth place and 13 seats; and GreenLeft (left, duh), which dropped from a tie for sixth and 10 seats to eighth place and 4 seats. VVD and Labour accounted for all but three seats worth of gains on the night. The Pirate Party, which focuses on freedom of information, was hoping to get a seat in the House, but came up just short in tenth place.

Instead, for now the Pirates, and their multinational brethren, will just have to keep focusing on shooting down SOPA clones.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

If You Don't Like The Weather, Trade With Someone Else

There is a saying in Wisconsin that goes "If you don't like the weather in Wisconsin, wait five minutes; it'll change."

Some of you are now wondering why we stole your phrase. Or why you stole it from us. Or why we all stole it from Mark Twain, who in its original form was referring to New England.

Here's a basic fact of weather: it changes. All the time, everywhere. Even in places that have a pretty stable climate- San Francisco, perhaps- it still gets sunny and cloudy and rainy and foggy and the temperature does still fluctuate to some degree.

What appears to be the chief criteria for gaining this phrase is that the location has the following two weather phenomena:

1) Sometimes it rains.
2) But sometimes, it doesn't rain.

So let's just clear this up now. What follows is a list of every location I was able to track down that has used the magic words (or slightly altered the time period) to describe their area, in alphabetical order. This is absolutely an incomplete list. At some point I just had to stop.

Alberta, Canada
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Auckland, New Zealand
Bangkok, Thailand
Beijing, China
Boquete, Panama
British Columbia, Canada
Chicago, IL
Faroe Islands
Innsbruck, Austria
Little Rock, AR
Los Angeles, CA (with a 'drive five miles' variation)
Machu Picchu, Peru 
Manitoba, Canada
Maritime Provinces, Canada
Melbourne, Australia
Nanjing, China
Nevada (someone has actually invoked this on Las Vegas, contrary to everything known to man about Las Vegas' actual climate, and gotten 3,483 likes on Facebook over it)
New England
New Orleans, LA
New York 
Outer Banks, NC 
Patagonia, Argentina 
Mitt Romney... no, he is not a location, but the joke's been used on him too, so in he goes
San Francisco, CA
Saskatchewan, Canada
Seattle, WA
South Dakota 
Spokane, WA
United Kingdom
West Virginia

If I have missed your home region and you have seen the phrase used as well... for God's sake, get a new saying.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How To Shut Up Talkers In Movie Theaters

Ninjas. The answer is always ninjas. Ninjas are the answer to everything.

Friday, September 14, 2012

If You Die In The Game, You Die For Real

Probably the most-maligned weapon in the United States' current military arsenal is the drone, the pilotless plane that flies over a target area and, on the instruction of a person controlling it remotely, rains death from above. The controller, meanwhile, is never in any physical danger.

Which is basically the meat of the controversy: the drone is seen as unsporting. The perception is that someone can just fly in a robot and kill whoever without even the possibility of repercussions. Which isn't the point of a military conflict- everyone wants things to be as unfair a playing field in their favor as possible- but it runs up against ethical concerns. It especially stings when the drone takes out innocents. People who had nothing to do with what's going on around them get killed and their homes blasted to bits without even the opportunity to defend themselves, or know anything about why this is happening beyond 'the Americans put that thing in the sky'. It's unfair.

And it's not an unprecedented gripe. The idea of a theoretical sporting chance is persistent throughout history. The comparison we're going to go with, though, involves hunting season. In 2004, a hunter from Texas named John Lockwood offered the idea of online hunting. You go to a web site, load up a live feed, and when a deer comes around, you move your mouse pointer to the deer, click, and bang. The now-dead deer would be shipped to your house. For an additional fee, you could also have someone strip it for you.

And as gun-happy as America is, nobody was up for it. States quickly moved to ban online hunting before it even got a foothold... including Texas. Safari Club International- which deals in trophy hunting and has been hit with the occasional allegation of poaching- joined in the fight against it. Why? It wasn't fair. That wasn't, as they viewed it, real, honorable hunting. You can load up with the most ridiculously overpowered arsenal in order to bring down Bambi, and that's fine... but they expect you to actually go out there, find your prey, and shoot it in person. Nobody really expects a deer to have a chance in hell against the hunter even if it did decide to fight back, but it at least has that option. The hunter is at least in some sort of theoretical danger, if little actual danger. It's a joke of a sporting chance, but it's enough to be comfortable with.

Retranslated back into a warzone scenario, this would be comparable to the drone versus, say, a fighter jet. There's still no chance in hell of a village on the ground actually fighting back, but, well, maybe someone has an RPG they can fire. Maybe there's some sort of mechanical problem with the jet. Maybe the pilot comes in too low. There's that element of theoretical danger.  That doesn't exist with a drone. A drone is America just dropping out of the sky and doing whatever they want. What is this, a video game or something?

Not quite.

As a lifelong gamer, I have dealt with the video-game comparison repeatedly over the years. The undying perception- and it still isn't dead; look at any given report about someone in the United States who goes on a shooting rampage and see how often the news story on it mentions whether or not videogames were found in their house- is that someone who plays videogames becomes unable to discern the game from reality. That suddenly one day they're going to decide everything is a demon spawn from another dimension and massacre their way to a high score. (Which, who uses a high score these days outside of the social-media realm?) You never see that perception with, say, Tetris, or Mario. You see very few people these days who believe their fellow man is going to shoot bouncing balls of flame at turtles.

You should give gamers that much credit. They can discern the difference between what's on the screen and what's real. ...well, maybe ITV can't. Games may look realistic, but you ultimately know it's just a game. Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson, for example, found this out when he did a segment in which he took a Honda NSX around the Laguna Seca track in Gran Turismo 4, and then tried to beat his time in real life with the same car and same track. He couldn't do it. The reason for that was, ultimately, he knew that if he crashed in Gran Turismo, he could just reset and try again, and thus he felt comfortable taking risks. But he knew that was not the case on the actual track, and that knowledge made him too cautious and risk-averse to launch a serious assault on his Gran Turismo time.

Of course, for a drone operator, there is no difference. What's on the screen IS what's real. And they're well aware of it. They may not physically be present, but piloting the drone and aiming the gun requires getting a close, up-front view of the area. Which means the operator sees exactly what havoc they are wreaking, in real life, when they push the button. In fact, they see more than some of the soldiers actually out in the field. (Think about it: what kind of viewpoint does a sniper have? They're nowhere near the action. That's the whole idea of a sniper.) A survey conducted last year showed that nearly half of drone pilots exhibit what was referred to as 'high operational stress', about 10% higher than Air Force logistics and support staff. (Pilots of manned Air Force planes weren't tested.)

When I typed in 'drone operator' in Google, the fourth AutoComplete result I got was 'drone operators ptsd', which is something about 4% of operators are at high risk of (compared to the 12-14% rate of those on the ground, but 4% is still 4%). The first result for that was this Wired article from June by David Axe on that precise topic: the relationship between a pilot and their drone, and how much culpability they internalize for any mayhem that results when the button gets pushed. David also explores the possibility that maybe a little stress is a good thing in this case: while too much stress will result in PTSD- and nobody wants that- too much detachment from what they see on the screen- or too much culpability transferred to the drone- could result in more possibility for unnecessary mayhem. You know. Like a videogamer would cause.

Granted, no gamer credits the controller when they win, and few blame it when they lose. And either way, nobody buys it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Unsaved Store Edition

Last year, we noted here that Book World, one of my two local bookstores, was in danger of closure. It was saved on that occasion.

It's not being saved this time. It closes its doors at 1 PM tomorrow. Yesterday, I went down and made a final run of the place. I ended up getting two things. First was a copy of the magazine FourFourTwo, mainly as a test drive.

The other item, an actual book, is The Official Filthy Rich Handbook (How The Other .0001% Lives), by Christopher Tennant.

See you, Book World. It's gonna suck to lose you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Random News Generator- Thailand

Last year, severe flooding in Thailand, some of the worst the country has ever seen, killed some 800 people. In the wake of that flooding, the government has come under fire for not doing enough to shore up the nation's defenses in time to prevent a recurrence. Some people are still waiting for compensation.

The preparation time may be up. Northern Thailand saw flooding start up again on Monday, and levees in Sukhothai, an ancient northern capital, failed, releasing about three feet of water into the city. Four people are reported dead as of last report. The amounts of water being dealt with are so far smaller than last year's, and Bangkok is not under a flood advisory, at least not yet, but people are understandably on edge and scrambling to get what they can done before the floodwaters get downstream to their areas.

That's the major item. Meanwhile:

*Thailand is working with India and Myanmar to attempt to create a trilateral commission, which will of course watch you while you sleep, have tracking devices follow you on Twitter, and corner the market on concentrated orange juice-- I mean build a highway. A normal, not-out-of-the-ordinary-at-all highway.

*Migrants from Myanmar- which are to Thailand roughly what Mexican migrants are to the United States- have been beginning to weigh whether conditions in their country have improved enough that they can safely go back home. As it stands, they've been shacking up in Thailand, doing the kind of menial and physical labor shunned by Thais. This is not to say they're actually going. They're just thinking about it. They're still pretty wary.

*And in the Bangkok suburb of Pathum Thani, a man has been arrested for raising six tigers on the roof of his house. As you do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Big, Stretchy Balls

I figure some of you might want non-9/11 material to be looking at today. So... would you like to learn how to turn a ball inside-out? Yes, you would. Stop saying silly things like 'no' and 'stop asking me that' and 'you're in violation of the restraining order'.

The easiest way would be to poke a hole in the ball and pull the inside of the ball out through the hole. But it is possible to do it without poking any holes, or making any creases.

You just need an infinitely stretchy ball.

And also you need to be a superhero. Shadowcat of the X-Men, specifically.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

And Green Bay Is Still In The Middle Of Nowhere

It's the first full day of the NFL season, and opening day for the Packers. So I'm not really paying too much attention to blog matters today. I do, though, want to have something for the non-football fans to do.

So I'm going to direct you to Robert D. Kaplan of the Wall Street Journal, who explains how, as small as the world has become due to the advent of technology (I mean, look at me; random guy from Wisconsin randomly dropping in on Guyana or the Cook Islands or someplace whenever he feels like it and going 'hey, what's shakin'?'), geography still must be taken into account. Where things are, where things are in relation to other things, what used to be somewhere but is now somewhere else, how easy it is to get from Point A to Point B, whether or not you want whatever's at Point A to be able to get to Point B. We still talk about who neighbors who in the Middle East. We still talk about nations trying to build missiles and the ranges of those missiles. We still talk about border crossings, their lengths, the terrain of the border, the ease in crossing them.

Heck, it's Week 1. We talk about how well fans travel to away games. We talk about college conferences that bear increasingly tenuous resemblances to the regions they purport to represent, and often do so in the pros as well when it comes up. (The Atlanta Braves used to be in the National League West. The Winnipeg Jets are in the NHL's Southeast Division.) We talk about what sits next to or otherwise near stadiums, and any potential weather effects that might have to be taken into account (e.g. the variable winds at Wrigley Field; the thin air at Coors Field; the climate of any cold-weather NFL city or any city with a retractable-roof stadium). And how do you think rivalries form half the time?

Go get 'em, Pack.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dear Porn Afficionados

My knowledge of Swedish law is not the greatest, owing largely to my lack of being Swedish. However, I am casually acquainted with American law, owing largely to my proficiency in being American. And it seems to me that, seeing as accessing a porn site is not illegal in and of itself in the United States, it wouldn't be illegal in Sweden either. If someone tries to e-mail you saying you need to pay a fine for visiting a porn site, don't listen to it. Report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

And if they try to up the ante by claiming that you've visited a child porn site and gussying themselves up to look like the government, that may in fact be the result of a computer virus. Because I would think you would probably know if you've actually visited a child porn site or not. On top of not giving into the blackmail of paying the fine, the act of doing so here would have the same end effect as you taking an e-mail from deposed Nigerian royalty seriously: some guy gets your banking account number, drains it and runs off. And then you have to go have a fascinating conversation about what just happened to all your money.

If the government thought you had child porn, they wouldn't screw around with a fine-by-e-mail. They'd just come into your house and take your whole damn hard drive to see just how much you had. They might take you too. That's not exactly the kind of crime where the cops stop at a mere fine.

Let us recap: porn site, not a crime. Child porn site, not a crime where the cops settle for fine-payment-by-e-mail. Either way, it's a scam.

Friday, September 7, 2012

We Live In The Future

As you go about your day today, know this. As cold as the world may sometimes be, however uncaring and hateful and manipulative and callous your fellow man may be, however bleak things get, however hopeless life may seem, know that we now, using nothing more than a hacked-up Star Wars-branded EEG headset and an air cannon, have the ability to blow up watermelons with our minds.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Congratulations, You're The First Customer

Today is September 6. As you can see from the date mark right up yonder. There are, like every day, some notable birthdays and anniversaries- birthdays for Jeff Foxworthy, Pippa Middleton, Chris Christie, Roger Waters, Carly Fiorina, and anniversaries of the Olympic massacre in Munich, Leon Czolgosz assassinating William McKinley, and the independence of Swaziland. Notable to be sure, although really, as dates go, not too impressive a lineup compared to many of the other days of the year.

Yet. Given the importance of women's issues in this upcoming election, there's one anniversary we need to single out.

142 years ago today, on September 6, 1870, Louisa Ann Swain of Laramie, Wyoming, at the time age 69, became the first American woman to legally vote in a general election since 1807 (when unmarried women who owned property stopped being able to vote in New Jersey)- a local municipal election, specifically. It was a matter-of-fact thing; she was running errands and figured, hey, the polling place is right there and why not. The polls weren't actually officially opened yet, but the polling place in turn figured she's right there and why not. So she voted, and then went about her day. That's all she had to do: stop by and take a minute or two out of her day.

In 2008, Congress declared September 6 Louisa Swain Day. There's a statue of her in Laramie, complete with the little pail she was running errands with (she was going out to get yeast) and the state flags outside of a whole entire foundation started in her honor of not only Wyoming, but also Virginia where she was born, and Maryland where she died. That just for showing up and marking a ballot.

What was your excuse for staying home again? I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Look But Don't Touch

Women in Togo, organized into a group called Let's Save Togo, have called for a week-long sex strike against the government of ruler Faure Gnassingbe. The Gnassingbe family has been in power since 1963, when Faure's father Eyadema instigated a military coup, and is your standard African strongman regime. The idea is that, by withholding sex, the regime will be undermined, and Gnassingbe will be under pressure to resign and allow free elections. Opposition leader Isabelle Ameganvi provides further explanation here.

Now, you may remember back when Republicans in Virginia's state legislature were bringing forward the vaginal-ultrasound bill earlier this year. During the floor debate on that, David Albo related a story about how, in response to his having supporting the bill, his wife wouldn't have sex with him. People just kind of shrugged it off as a cheap laugh. I remember saying on Facebook afterwards to a couple of the women on my friends list that, no, seriously, don't laugh, Albo's wife was on to something. Their response was essentially 'Really? You're kidding, right?'

No, I was not. Men, it is well documented, are horny. Women can be horny too, but on the whole, they figure they can outwait the men, because it's always the women launching the sex strikes, never the men. Sex strikes are not an unknown thing, and they have actually been known to work. They even have an alternative name, 'Lysistratic nonaction', named for an ancient Greek comedy in which the eponymous main character launches such an initiative to try and put an end to the Peloponnesian War. They just don't work all the time is all... including the play itself. The play depicts the tactic working, but in reality, the war was still ongoing when the play was written, and would drag on another seven years afterwards.

There appear to be a few factors that affect the odds of success:

*The duration of the sex strike should be long enough to get the point across, though it shouldn't have to last so long that interest is lost. The longer it lasts, the higher the odds that people drop out of the strike, which undermines it.

*The women in the society in question have to have enough pre-existing power to be able to tell their husbands no. Going on sex strike doesn't really work if the men can just take the sex while society looks the other way.

*At the same time, the society should not be so progressive that there's too much individual independence to get the entire society of women on the same page. Solidarity is key. Adding in the anecdotes provided by The Week, and more provided here and here, you'll see that two efforts in Colombia and one each in Kenya and the Philippines worked, one in Liberia mainly just got the story in the news (though the goal it was working towards was successful and inspired the effort in Togo), and Belgium, Colombia, Italy and Virginia saw failed efforts.

Togo's society falls into the category where they could theoretically get it to work. But it also matters as to what you're asking to have happen. The bigger the ask, the lower the odds. Things like demanding a road get built can be obtained. Asking a dictator to step down after 49 years of familial power? That might be a bit tougher.

But we'll see.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The RIAA Will Sue For $47 Billion If You Download This Quiz Illegally

Last night, I decided to make a run at creating my own Sporcle quiz. It'd be a bit of a waste if I didn't link to it here. The category is record labels who have charted at least one song at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 since its inception in 1958, and going up to the song currently at #1. My count came out to 168.

And no. No, I would not do well on my own quiz. I would completely suck at it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

We Need to Talk

It's TED talk day around these parts. Today we feature Caitria and Morgan O'Neill, who run They spoke in Boston in June on disaster recovery.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Jenny At Least A Couple Places These Days

Batman and Superman belong to DC Comics. Spiderman and the X-Men belong to Marvel. If you were to want to do anything involving them or the vast majority of other superheroes you'd want anything to do with, you'd have to deal with that basic fact. There is, though, one superhero character that belongs to you. Like, you reading this right now. The same character also belongs to me. And anyone else.

'Did someone call for me?'

And there she is. Meet Jenny Everywhere, the world's first open-source superhero.

'Hi. Am I on some guy's blog?'

Yes, you're on some guy's blog.

'Okay, then; that's a new one. Usually I show up in webcomics. Well, blog guy, before you go any further, I need you to read this.'

...okay. "The character of Jenny Everywhere is available for use by anyone, with only one condition. This paragraph must be included in any publication involving Jenny Everywhere, in order that others may use this property as they wish. All rights reversed."

All rights reversed?

'Yeah, that means I'm not copyrighted. Back in 2001, a Canadian cartoonist named Steven Wintle was trying to find an open-source or public domain superhero. He didn't find one, so he decided to make one. He recruited people on the forum he was at, Barbelith, and they all hammered out a character, which wound up being me. Steven's present in the thread as 'moriarty'.'

What'd they end up doing?

'Well, first thing they did was give me this nickname, 'The Shifter'. There aren't too many people that really use it in practice, I notice, but there it is.'

Which came because...

'As part of the process of making me open-source, I needed to have a superpower that permitted me to be used in anyone's work in any capacity and in any universe. The way they did that was to have me be able to shift between realities, or alternatively, to already be existing in every reality. Either one is considered correct. Hence the nickname. That means anything I appear in is canon, no matter what work it is or who's writing it. This included.'

So if, say, Nintendo wanted to put you in a videogame, for instance...

'They could do so, provided they just put that paragraph in somewhere. And Microsoft and Sony could each independently make their own games with me in them at the same time, without consulting Nintendo or each other, and they could all be different representations of me, and release on the same day, and all three would be canon. I'm not holding my breath, though. Though I'd like that. The only thing they could not do is try to claim some sort of exclusivity on me.'

You were given a personality, though. Like a basic template so there wouldn't be you as a supermodel in one work and a lizard person in the next work and an anthropomorphic airplane in the next.

'Well, if they wanted to do that, they actually could. But yeah, there's a template. My basic description was written as follows: "She has short, dark hair. She usually wears aviation goggles on top of her head and a scarf around her neck. Otherwise, she dresses in comfortable clothes. She is average size and has a good body image. She has loads of confidence and charisma. She appears to be Asian or Native American. She has a ready smile." And people generally adhere to that.'

"Asian or Native American", huh?

'You're friends with an Asian from Sacramento, aren't you?'

That's not really the same thing. Besides, wasn't I 'blog guy' a little while ago?

'Yeah, funny that.'

So what did people end up doing with you then?

'Surprisingly, there was very little nudity. The most prominent thing anyone's had me do- at least, the most prominent thing that hasn't vanished off the Internet- was be a regular on Webcomic TV, though that petered out in 2010. There have been a lot of cameos where I didn't do much except just kinda... be there saying things, or tell people how open-source I am.

You mean like now?

'Hey, it keeps the lights on. After a quick spurt of interest out of the gate- I got mentioned in the New York Times and everything- things tailed off, though never really to the point where I've completely gone dormant. Even if it's just a cameo, it at least keeps me going. There's this one site, The Shifter Archive, that keeps track of where exactly I've been used. Again, it's mostly been webcomics, though there have been some written works.'

What is this it's saying about a 'Jenny Everywhere Day'?

'Once a year, people start drawing me in bulk; that was August 13th this year.'

Are there any recurring enemies you've got or is it just you kinda tooling around?

'Kinda. One guy, a Brit named Nelson Evergreen, came up with the idea for a villain named Jenny Nowhere, and that was basically the entirety of her template. I'd rib the guy, but he did play a big part in getting me off the ground, so I'm lucky to even have a villain at all. Other than that, my storylines most often seem to either have me sitting around in coffee shops, shooting dinosaurs with a raygun, or just dropping in and saying hi.'

Anything else you want to bring up, while I've got you?

'Anyone wants to give me work, that'd be cool. I know Doctor Who has pretty steady employment.'

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Vote For Lehew Zuhur

On Monday, John C. Turmel (website) will stand as a candidate of the Pauper Party in a Canadian provincial by-election in the Kitchener-Waterloo district in Ontario. (American readers, think state legislature.) The election is for an open seat, replacing outgoing Progressive Conservative Elizabeth Witmer.

Her partymate in the byelection is Tracey Weiler, who is running against Eric Davis (Liberal), Catherine Fife (NDP), Stacey Danckert (Green), and six other candidates, including Turmel. Turmel is not expected to win.

But then, Turmel is never expected to win. This is the 77th time he has stood for elective office. And on Monday, for the 77th time, he will surely fail. He is the Guinness world record holder for the most elections contested and most elections lost, with an unblemished record of failure dating back to 1979. His losses actually only add up to 75, but that was because election #67, another by-election in 2008, was halted because a federal election was called, overriding the by-election. (Needless to say, he ran in the federal, making it election #68. And lost.)

During election #58, a federal election in 2004, a documentary was done on Turmel. Part 1 is here; the others can be hunted down easily.

Turmel has never come close to winning. He has never come close to close. His best result was in election #20, a municipal election in 1985, when he garnered 7.25% of the vote in Nepean, a town now disincorporated and part of Ottawa. His next-best result was in election #28, when he got 3.88% of the vote in a 1988 mayoral election in Ottawa. In his 75 completed elections, he has topped 2% only six times, and topped 1% ten times. He has not topped 1% since 1997, in election #44.

Why does he lose? For one, once you get saddled with the 'perennial candidate' label, there's really no way back from it. Nobody votes for the perennial candidate. Perennial candidates are seen as comic relief from the real candidates who might actually win. For two, he's the kind of guy who would put out a YouTube video like this:

In 1980, Turmel ran in five different elections (#2-6). He's run in four elections each in 1981 (#7-10), 1982 (#11-14), 1988 (#26-29), 2000 (#49-52), and 2006 (#60-63). He has only sat out in 1989 and 1992, probably only because there weren't any seats up for grabs in Ontario those years, at least none that I could find.

At one point, he found time to go on the show 'The Dragons' Den'. (You ever watch Shark Tank on ABC? Same show, a couple of the same investors even, different name.) He lost so badly he was relegated to a montage segment (skip to 34:20). Then he sued. He lost some more.

At least he's won the record for losing. A record he will pad on Monday.