Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween, My Way

I imagine that, since it's Halloween, you're celebrating being scared by zombies and vampires and ghosts and witches and all manner of whatever fantastical creatures. And then there's candy. But at the end of the day, you and whoever it is you're celebrating with are ultimately safe from harm. Candy and socializing and costumes and just all a bunch of fun.

I am not a horror writer. But allow me to attempt to scare you.

Imagine, if you will, being part of a group of 92 migrants attempting to escape Niger for a better life in Algeria. Life in Niger is wracked by poverty, famine, droughts, floods, and the little food that is grown can easily be taken by locust infestations. The annual per capita income sits at $360. That's $360 that you have to last you the entire year. The country, though it may be a democracy now, is frequently prone to being ruled by military regimes. Desperate, seeing no hope of even scratching out a simple survival, you, a resident of Zinder, near the southern border with Nigeria, pack up your loved ones, and make the decision to attempt to cross the Sahara Desert to reach something, anything, that isn't this. To do so, you entrust your lives to a group of traffickers. Whether they have your best interests in mind, you don't know. And you don't care.

However, during the trek, somewhere between Agadez and Arlit, in the northern half of the country, one truck in your caravan breaks down, unable to handle the rough terrain. And then disaster strikes: instead of attempting to fix the truck, your traffickers simply abandon you.

And there is where you are now stranded. You aren't quite alone, your loved ones are with you, but that only makes matters worse. Alone, it would only be you who is lost, desperate, starving and facing a trek, on foot, across the hellish, unforgiving, barren expanses of the Sahara Desert. But now, your entire family is facing it as well, right alongside you. You must now watch them slowly waste away as you search for some kind of sanctuary, shelter, water or food, or at least another vehicle to salvage for parts with which to repair the truck, and they must do the same with you.

No vampires. No werewolves. No zombies. The zombies are you. The hunger just as overwhelming. And there's nothing on which to feed.

Eventually, inevitably, members of the group begin to drop, unable to go on. With nobody able to carry themselves much less a corpse, there is nothing that can be done except to leave people where they fall. Some are at least fortunate enough to find a tree, so that they may die of thirst in the shade. Others are not so lucky. Some mothers choose to die alongside their children. Other children die alone. And eventually, in the pursuit of a well, you join them in death. Little by little, spot by spot, you and 91 other migrants who hoped to escape a hellish life in Niger instead perish within it in conditions even more hellish than before.

But even had you survived, as 40 members of the caravan managed to do, it would not have mattered. After reaching Arlit, 19 members of the group would continue to Algeria, but after reaching the town of Tamanrassett, they were promptly deported back to Niger, carrying the awful knowledge that the entire ordeal, the abandonment in time of need, the deaths, the misery, the starvation and thirst and exhaustion and loss of loved ones, was all, ultimately, for nothing.

And it all actually happened. Those are CNN, BBC and Guardian links sitting there. That's a trek being made with increasing frequency these days. Someone else may and probably will live out every bit of this scenario again before long.

Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sporcle Day

Okay, folks, it's time for an American history quiz. I'm going to give you eight minutes, and a series of historical events. For each event, I want you to tell me who was president of the United States when it happened.

Oh, and every event just happens to be the independence of a foreign country. Hope that's not too much trouble for you.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ha Ha, Loser

You know what schadenfreude is: taking pleasure in someone else's suffering. You're familiar with the concept; you've likely experienced it at some point. A group of researchers at Princeton, led by professor Susan Fiske, have now put it to paper, as per the thesis of student Mina Cikara, who is now an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon. The question wasn't so much will they find it as much as why does it happen and can they predict who will have that response.

It was published in the September edition of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. It's one of those articles you're going to have to pay a bunch of money to read. Didn't catch how much it's going to run you.

Here's how things went down:

*In the first experiment, subjects were hooked up to an EMG, which measures electrical activity in your facial movements. They were then shown a picture of some stereotypical person such as a drug addict, a student or a rich person, paired with one of several possible activities, such as winning $5 or getting splashed by a taxi. They were then asked, for each pair, how they would feel if the given event happened to the given person. People may have said the right things, or they may not have, but regardless of what they told the researchers, their faces showed what they really thought: they liked bad things happening to rich people. And they hated good things happening to rich people. The rich in general brought the strongest responses either way.

*In experiment 2, subjects were hooked up to an fMRI- functional magnetic resonance imaging- which measures blood flow in the brain. They were then shown the same photos and activities as in the first experiment, and asked to give a number, from 1-9, regarding how okay they'd be with the event happening to the person. This went just like the first experiment did: the subjects were out to eat the rich. The same subjects came back two weeks later and took an online survey in which they were presented the option of giving electric shocks to certain people in order to spare several others.

The results of that: shocky shock shock. The researchers didn't think the subjects were willing to go quite that far, but apparently so.

*In the third experiment, things got played with a bit. The people that subjects were shown in the first two experiments were picked out based on their ability to generate a particular emotion: the rich generated envy, for instance; students generated pride; the elderly evoked pity; drug addicts evoked disgust. (Those appear to be the only four emotional responses they were looking for.) This time, the stereotypes got swapped around, as the people shown were given various different scenarios regarding the same pictures: one subject would be told the banker was in fact the stereotypical banker (generating envy), but another would be told he was doing pro-bono work (generating pride), another would be told he was funding a drug addiction with his salary (generating disgust), and another would be told he was actually unemployed but still dressing to go to work (generating pity). The question here, of course, is do the subjects follow the picture or follow the background. The subjects followed the background.

*Then came the final experiment, regarding the initial inspiration for Cikara's thesis in the first place. Cikara, you see, is a Red Sox fan. What had happened was that Cikara went to Yankee Stadium to watch her Red Sox play the Yankees. If you've ever gone to a rivalry game as a fan of the visitors, you know exactly what kind of treatment she got. It was a perfect subject to use: you might be able to tell a researcher what you think they want to hear regarding what you want to see happen to someone else in general life, but you're not going to be able or willing to hide who you root for at a baseball game. All subjects here were prescreened for fandom of either the Red Sox or the Yankees, hooked up to an fMRI, and then asked to watch a Red Sox/Yankees game, with their brain activity monitored in accordance with what was going on in the game. As one might predict, when fortunes went in favor of their team, it got positive responses. I don't think you really needed to be told that.

After this, both fandoms were shown games in which the two teams played a neutral opponent, the Baltimore Orioles, against which neither team has a strong rivalry. When their own team played the Orioles, there wasn't all that much of a response either way, as, again, neither fanbase has much of anything against the Orioles. Then they were shown a game in which their rival lost to the Orioles, and oh, they loved that part. Two weeks later, the subjects were given an online survey and said they were more likely to heckle, insult, threaten or even hit a rival fan while watching.

The ultimate takeaway was that generally, people just try to go along to get along and even if you feel envy towards a group, if they're not out to get you, you're not out to get them back. When the groups are placed in direct competition with each other, be it economically, in a job search, in a sporting event, then the knives come out, because the other person's failure is, in a way, your success. The researchers even tied this to the perception of the United States abroad: namely, we're the rich guy people want to see splashed by a taxi.

It's best left to sports.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Extreme Toys

When I was in Los Angeles back in May, I visited the LA County Museum of Art. Among the exhibits there was a sculpture called Metropolis II, by Chris Burden. What Burden did was take about 1,200 toy cars and construct a perpetual track and city for them to cycle through. It was, to be short with it, awesome and I probably took as many pictures of that as of the rest of the trip combined.

However, that was done using a custom-built track. What I'm wondering is, what might someone do with an actual Hot Wheels track? And, for that matter, how big can you take other construction-type toys?

I already know the answer to one such toy, Legos, as James May had an entire house constructed, and then lived in it for 24 hours. The entire story behind it is here, but the finished product is below.

And for that matter, May did an entire six-episode series around this concept, including a bridge made out of Meccano- think a British equivalent of an Erector set:

and the world's largest slot-car track:

So... what else can we find where toys get taken to ridiculous extremes? Let's start with, yes, a true Hot Wheels track.






DOMINOES (the current world record holder for most dominos toppled in a rally)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Oh Yes, It Can Get Worse

What kind of abortion debate stems from this is up to you-- oh, let's not kid ourselves; there's rarely a debate of any kind down in the comments. But hopefully there's at least some consideration of the rights of the woman carrying the fetus. I could get into Wisconsin and the case here where one Alicia Beltran was forced by the state into a drug-treatment program despite passing a drug test, and where her fetus got legal representation while she herself was refused it. And that's certainly the case closer to home. But right off the bat in that linked article, it in turn relays the story of El Salvador.

Nina Lakhani of the BBC wrote this piece a week and a half ago, and if you haven't seen it, it's some pretty grim stuff. The way El Salvador runs things, the baby is expected to be carried to term and delivered healthy. No exceptions. No excuses. Period. Even if it's to save the life of the mother. If there is even so much as a miscarriage, the woman gets thrown in jail for murder, on the assumption that she must have intentionally induced the miscarriage somehow in order to not have to call it an abortion. The public hospitals are so keen on enforcing this, and so unwilling to give any benefit of the doubt or hear any kind of stories from the women- rape or deformed fetus included- that pregnant women have become simply too afraid to use them.

According to the Mayo Clinic, some 10-20% of known pregnancies end in a miscarriage, with many more likely due to occurring so early in the pregnancy that the woman doesn't even realize she's pregnant in the first place. With those kind of odds, one can understand why even a healthy woman with a healthy fetus might want to steer clear of the public hospital and resort to private healthcare.

The article lists Nicaragua, Chile, Honduras and the Dominican Republic as also disallowing the termination of a pregnancy under any circumstances, though Malta is in the same boat. An international rundown can be found here, in map form and in list form (PDF). You can go there and find a place where the abortion laws punch you personally in the eyeballs.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Space Arms Race

So... a company called Elysium Space is offering funerals in which a loved one's ashes will be shot into space.

We as a species are consistently concerned about space shooting asteroids at us, particularly given that one asteroid in particular that caused almost everything to go extinct.

We, by which I mean Japan, are going to shoot an asteroid with a cannon.

The sun has just shot at us with plasma.

What do we shoot at the sun, and do we want to risk something else firing back?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Surprise Store-Closing Sale Edition

Earlier today I went on a bookstore crawl in Madison. I went off my normal path and included a place called the Frugal Muse in the itinerary, which turned out to be closing one of its two Madison locations and slashed the price in half for all the books at the closing location. That and Half Price Books made up the final haul.

Purchased today:

*Abbott, Elizabeth- A History Of Celibacy
*Bathroom Reader's Institute- Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Book of Love
*Brockway, Robert- Everything Is Going To Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead
*Jennings, Ken- Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs
*Kaplan, Philip J.- F'd Companies: Spectacular Dot-Com Flameouts
*Murgatroyd, Sarah- The Dig Tree: A True Story of Bravery, Insanity, and the Race to Discover Australia's Wild Frontier

Thursday, October 24, 2013

CISPA's Back

Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss are working to revive CISPA in Congress.

I know, not much of anything can get through Congress right now, but can you go help make sure this isn't the exception?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

'Tasteless' Is A Fitting Word

Shark fin soup, popular chiefly in China as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong, has got to be the most controversial meal on the planet, and for good reason. It's not so much what it tastes like as how you get it. Namely, you yank a shark out of the sea, slice its fin off, and either dump the rest of the shark back in the water to die or use it as bait to go catch more sharks. Not only is it cruel to the shark, not only does it drastically reduce shark populations, it's also outrageously wasteful.

It sure as hell isn't about the taste. Those who have actually eaten shark fin soup, such as Gordon Ramsay- who did so in the course of making a documentary about the practice- tend to find it actually tasteless, as in, not tasting of anything at all. In fact, Ramsay found the fin to be a detriment to the rest of the soup, which he noted could have been flavored with anything, anything at all, and been just fine. It's purely a prestige thing, something to brag about to others rather than to actually enjoy on its merits. You had a better meal last time you ordered out for pizza.

Gordon's bowl of soup cost $145.

His full report from 2011, 'Shark Bait', is below. If you don't yet know anything about shark finning, this is a good place to get caught up to speed if you don't mind being put off your lunch.

For those of you who are familiar with shark finning, there's an update to the story. It seems that sharks aren't providing sufficient amounts of bait... so the shark finners have graduated to hunting dolphins for the purpose off the coast of Peru. An investigation has revealed that some 15,000 dolphins are killed off of Peru's coast in order to provide shark bait; that number doesn't include the 3,000 additional dolphins killed for straight human consumption in Peru. Neither of these is acceptable under Peruvian law, which banned dolphin killing in 1997. This is saying nothing of what may be happening off the coast of other nations. This is only counting Peru. The impact on the aquatic ecology should be rather obvious.

Which makes this one highly-valued aquatic creature being slaughtered so that another highly-valued aquatic creature may be more efficiently slaughtered so that complete tools with more money than sense can ruin a perfectly good soup. And you are paying more for fish in general, due to depleting fish stocks, partially so this can take place.

Kids, sorry in advance about the uninhabitable windswept hellscape we're leaving you. At least someone ate something that tasted like nothing. Totally worth it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Global Slavery Index

This looks to have been pretty widely passed around so far, but it's a good link, so let's pass it around some more. What we have is the first annual Global Slavery Index. What the Global Slavery Index seeks to do is provide a worldwide estimate of the number of slaves currently existing in each country on the planet. Obviously, it's going to be a tough task to count slaves, as, especially these days, that's not exactly something slaveowners are going to be open about. They're either going to hide them or call them something other than slaves.

In order to make the count, they essentially combine the definitions of three treaties, none of which were universally accepted but all of which were widely accepted: the Slavery Convention, the Forced Labor Convention and the UN Trafficking Protocol. By their count, they have it at 29.8 million people currently enslaved around the world. That is roughly equivalent to the entire population of Malaysia.

Mauritania comes out ranking 1st- aka worst- in the index. That link goes into detail about just how bad it is; I'll leave you to that. The rest of the top 10:

2- Haiti
3- Pakistan
4- India
5- Nepal
6- Moldova
7- Benin
8- Cote d''Ivoire
9- Gambia
10- Gabon

On the happy side of things, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Iceland share joint top honors at a tie for 160th. New Zealand comes in behind them at 159th, and then there's another logjam encompassing Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. The full rankings are here.

Monday, October 21, 2013

For Science!

When we were kids, if you took a magnifying glass and fried an ant with it, technically you were demonstrating the principles of refracting light. But it was just seen as being mean to ants.

Good kids got ant farms, but the colonies were by nature restricted to the shape of the container, and besides, the ants were likely to die in short order. So you may not have actually learned too much.

But if you go to school, and study hard, and get a degree from Florida State, one day you will gain access to molten aluminum, as has former biology professor Walter Tschinkel. You will be able to pour it into an anthill and fry all of the ants. But now it's not mean anymore! You're just getting a cast of an ant colony, honest! It's science! No, it's ART! Like in that one Roger Corman movie! What was it called? A Bucket Of Blood?

Tshinkel used to use plaster, which didn't fry the ants, but the problem was that plaster's more fragile and he had to glue it all back together afterwards. So aluminum it was.

Or... you could always get a really big anthill and start pouring in 10 tons of cement over the course of three days.

The documentary, available here on Hulu, never said exactly where it was; however, the Daily Mail pegged it as being located in Brazil and populated by a leafcutter ant colony that had abandoned it by the time of the Cement Apocalypse. Though most people who deal with leafcutter ants may wish the ants were still in there.

Arian Foster Update

Arian Foster has aggravated a hamstring injury.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

This Is Not A Keeper League

You probably are aware of the Green Bay Packers' community-driven approach to ownership, with fans owning shares of stock in the team which don't pay out dividends but none of the stockholders care because they own a part of the Packers. You might even be aware of the occasional other club offering shares of stock that work more like a normal stock; most of the ones currently doing so are major European soccer clubs such as Manchester United or Juventus.

But now, we, at least potentially, have the first stock in an individual player, namely running back Arian Foster of the Houston Texans. How do you buy stock in an individual, you ask? The way the company attempting this, Fantex, has it worked out is as follows: Foster will be paid $10 million. In exchange, he will give 20% of his future earnings to Fantex, and they will use that money to pay dividends to stockholders. Which in essence means that a stockholder, who would pay $10 a share (and is allowed to buy no more than 1% of the available shares) is betting that Foster will make at least $50 million (20% of which is $10 million) over the remainder of his career from salary, endorsements, etc. Or they can trade the stock to someone else on the same basic principle. Should Foster retire prior to October 17, 2015- two years from the date of the contract he signed with Fantex- he'll have to pay them back $10.5 million, minus any money handed back to Fantex over the next two years.

Of course, anyone who has ranted about the risks of offering a player a long-term deal, or who knows the shelf life of an NFL running back, or who even watches sports regularly, knows already how dicey a proposition that stock offer is. And even if Foster has a long, fruitful career, this isn't exactly something you can just buy and forget about. A corporation can easily live on without any one person. You could buy a share of Coca-Cola today and potentially pass it down to your grandkids. Arian Foster stock is, and this might come as a shock, entirely reliant on Arian Foster. He snaps his knee, stock goes poof. His performance drops and he tumbles down the depth chart, stock goes poof. Nobody comes to him for endorsements or an on-camera desk job after he's done playing, stock goes poof. The hits pile up and he becomes another cautionary tale, stock goes poof. A drunk driver plows into him in the offseason, stock goes poof. He pulls an Aaron Hernandez, stock goes poof.

And then there's the matter of whether you will even get to actually buy the stock at all. Foster's stock, and others that Fantex will be selling, won't be on a nationally-recognized stock exchange. That means they must file with each individual state in which they wish to operate, and they've only filed with "6 or 7" so far, with not all states expected to approve.

Fantex is at least honest about the prospects here, noting right on their main page that "This offering is highly speculative and the securities involve a high degree of risk. Investing in a Fantex, Inc. tracking stock should only be considered by persons who can afford the loss of their entire investment." And someone, eventually, inevitably, will in fact be left holding the bag on it. Pro Football Talk calls it a 'legal Ponzi scheme', but that's a little unfair, as stockholders aren't going to be trying to continually recruit people below them; they would merely be trying to sell the stock and get out of the investment. And nobody is claiming that this'll be a huge moneymaker forever and ever. It's more like, by buying the stock, you are entering into a game of Fantasy Football Hot Potato, with the more shares sold, the more potatoes in play.

So. How's your trigger finger?

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Quick Note On TV Show Teasing

On November 11, the latest public-establishment-rescue show will hit the airwaves, namely 'Church Rescue' on National Geographic. Yep, struggling churches get the turnaround-artist treatment, and for the record, it does not appear as if anyone but Christians will be served here. Whether this show is anything you want to watch is a matter for another day, but I can tell you I already know what will happen.

That is not a statement of cynicism. I am not going 'oh, the same thing always happens in these damn things'. I literally already know, a month in advance, what will happen. This is a statement of fact, drawn from that marketing major of mine. Why? Because National Geographic has already said what will happen in their press release. They spent their press release going into enough detail about the first three episodes that they spoiled the synopses and endings. In fact, I don't know if you can even technically call it a 'spoiler' if it is literally among the first things that are revealed about the show, in the same statement that first announces that the show even exists.

Here. Take this synopsis from the first episode, which I again remind you is part of the press release announcing the show's presence:

Church Rescue: Country Salvation
Premieres Monday, November 11, 2013, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT
A charismatic minister of a Baptist church calls on the Church Hoppers to help revive his decaying sanctuary. They discover that the pastor refuses to invest any money into repairs, plus his lengthy sermons and uncomfortably hot sanctuary make it a deterrent for any potential new members. The Hoppers put together a plan to help the pastor shorten his sermons and reconcile with a former deacon. Though the church makeover is seriously delayed by poor weather conditions, the final day arrives and the pastor is amazed by the changes that have been made. He delivers two short, meaningful sermons, impressing the Church Hoppers and his congregation. And he makes peace with his former deacon and gives him back the deaconship, allowing him to have more time to take care of the church.

Read through that and tell me if you honestly feel like you need to watch the episode anymore, assuming for the sake of argument that you wanted to do so in the first place. You've been told the problems, you've been told the nature of the fixes, you've been told the fixes worked and the church is on the road to recovery and personal problems solved hooray! What tension remains that I need to tune in to see if it's resolved or not?

See, this is the thing about these rescue shows. Sometimes the fix DOESN'T work. Sometimes the place CAN'T be saved. Even if it probably will, you don't come out and say it, not if you want to give people a reason to watch. People watch because people want to see what happens. If you straight-up tell them what happens, all there is that's left to do is talk about it around the water cooler. What the press release ought to have done is cut the synopsis right after 'make it a deterrent for any potential new members', and settle for asking a teaser question regarding whether the Church Hoppers- the turnaround artists, obviously- will be able to turn the place around. Leave questions.

Because right now, the only question is 'why would you do that to your own show?'

Thursday, October 17, 2013

At Least They Ate Their Veggies

And speaking of people stretching rules to their breaking point, as discussed with Congress yesterday, it appears I have a story across my wires along those lines.

In 1990, Pizza Hut opened its first restaurant in China. As of 2011, they had 520 in China. Some are take-out only, some are sit-down. Just like in the United States, China has a salad bar in their sit-down places. Now comes the difference: in the United States, you're permitted as many trips to the salad bar as you wish. In China, though, you only got one plate and one trip. Your basic no-refills policy.

It's a pizza place, right? People are there for the pizza. What could go wrong?

(via Kotaku; the image file says it's from

That. That could go wrong.

With only one trip to the salad bar, the Chinese customers decided they were going to make that trip count. You might expect someone to stack up food in a semi-large pile. You don't expect people to undergo frankly impressive feats of botanical engineering such that the amount of food and the aesthetic appeal of the tower, and uploading the result to the Internet, becomes clearly more important than whether or not you're actually going to eat it. That one picture is merely a sample. Others are shown here. One imagines the employees at these Pizza Huts burying their face in their hands muttering 'Oh, geez, not again' every time they noticed someone lingering at the salad bar. There were how-to videos and everything, such as this one from 2006.

You see, this is, at least according to my research (and I could very well be wrong; it's mostly personal anecdotes), how any buffet works in China. As I've had it explained it to me, when Chinese restaurant customers are offered an all-you-can-eat buffet, odds are that they will not only pile up food in this fashion, they will then try to smuggle additional food home. The whole 'buffet food must be eaten inside the restaurant rule' is either disregarded or nonexistent, and even if it did exist, the customers just leave giant piles of uneaten food on their table. It's more about the acquiring than the eating.

Eventually, Pizza Hut learned their lesson. The salad tower shenanigans put enough of a dent in Pizza Hut's budget- and patience- that in 2009, they announced they were shutting the salad bars entirely. Which just encouraged people to make more towers before they were gone, because we just can't have nice things.

Original reporting indicated that the salad bars all closed. A follow-up visit by Kotaku's Eric Jou noted that at least some of the salad bars are still around; however, the point has gotten across, as the salad towers have ceased.

It should be noted that the closedown happened in 2009. For some reason, this anecdote really flared up this past July and has often been portrayed as something that's just happened recently or is even still ongoing. I'm guessing someone got a look at it one day around that time and it just got up into the media jetstream from there.

Not only that, but a couple articles over the years came out with titles like 'Salad Bar Hacking' and 'Engineers show diners how to beat the salad bar', as if the wanton acquisition of more food than you could possibly eat in one sitting was something to strive for. As it happened, in the process of hacking the salad bar, they largely beat it to death.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

World Probably Not Destroyed, Now What?

Hopefully, fingers crossed, barring one last act of complete and total stupidity that drives us over the deadline, it appears we might have a deal to end the shutdown and push the debt ceiling past the new year, and though everyone is immediately dreading having to go through this whole fight all over again at that point, for now people are beginning to exhale. It seems redundant, just one more voice among many, preaching to the choir even, to detail just how avoidable this all was. How easily this fight could have been made to not happen.

I suppose one could raise an argument about whether the debt ceiling is even necessary; how if we simply removed it, we wouldn't have these fights anymore. The problem is, we would. The debt ceiling was created for World War 1. Until that point, Congress had to pass a fresh piece of legislation authorizing a specific amount of debt every single time the President wanted to spend money on something. World War 1 caused a problem, because nobody had any idea how much the war was going to cost. The debt ceiling was created as a way to simplify the process; if they guessed wrong, they could always raise it. It was going to be shelved after the war, but then World War 2 came along and the budget for that was essentially 'all the money'. So the debt ceiling was kept, and by the end of that war, it was pretty much around for keeps, having been around long enough now that everyone was used to that system of accounting. If the aim is to reduce fights over the funding of the government, all that would happen is a long string of fights over every individual thing that the President wishes to fund.

One of the lessons we ought to take from this- I guess this might be my contribution to things- is that, when you create a system of governing or discharging the duties of governing, imagine that any system you create to complete that task will be exploited to create the biggest partisan fight it is possible to create with it. Essentially, you want to ask yourself, 'what would happen if I placed this way of doing things in the hands of total assholes?' If you cannot come up with an answer, ask around. Perhaps you've missed something.

Is this the way we should look at things? Of course not. We SHOULD be looking at doing things in the way that will best enable us to be the best nation we can be, and facilitate the best world we can contribute to. But we cannot, in doing so, ignore the way things actually are. To do that would be to naively open ourselves up to abuse. And I think we can agree, we've had quite enough abuse for a while.

Which is to say nothing of what abuse is forthcoming if this deal blows up somehow.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Today's Horrifying NSFW Fanfic Subject

Edward Snowden.

First you support the dinosaur-bestiality arts and now Edward Snowden erotic fanfic. I get the whole Rule 34 thing. The Internet has porn of everything. But... does everything have to mean everything? Does it have to mean a... lemme skim this article... GOOD SWEET JESUS THERE'S A SNOWDEN/JOHN BOEHNER/NANCY PELOSI THREEWAY WHY WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT.

So much for getting away from Congress for a couple minutes. I think my brain just defaulted.

Monday, October 14, 2013

How To Drive Drunk

1. Do not drive drunk.
2. Do not drive with your tail lights out. The people behind you kind of need those, because who still sticks their hand out the window to signal?
3. Do not drive while drunk with your tail lights out.
4. It is widely regarded as a very bad idea to represent yourself in court. Even if you yourself are a lawyer. People who do this usually lose, typically because they have no idea what the hell they're doing.
5. Jesus does not go around telling people to pour alcohol into their ears.
6. Pouring alcohol into your ears does not heal deafness.
7. Pouring alcohol into your ears does, however, make it bypass your liver and enter the bloodstream faster, thereby making you more drunk. It's the same effect as if you poured it into your eyes or up your butt or whatever other horrifying location you've decided to insert alcohol that isn't your mouth.
8. A breathalyzer may not be able to pick up the alcohol poured into your ears, but it can pick up the three beers you actually poured into your mouth, and some of the fourth beer you'd had earlier in the day.
9. Not that it came up here, but even if a breathalyzer doesn't register your ear alcohol, that is not the only test police use. Once at the police station, they also have the option of calling for a blood test. Which they will do if they suspect there's something the breathalyzer isn't picking up.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Being Less Numerically Stupid

Because I'm going to be off watching football here fairly soon, I'm making it TED talk day. Today I bring you James Flynn, a New Zealand researcher speaking on the escalation of IQ scores over time. As in, if you went through the years and gave each generation the same IQ test, more recent generations would score higher, something called the Flynn effect, after him. The talk, given in February in Long Beach, CA, centers on what this might mean: are we in fact getting smarter, or are we merely getting better at taking IQ tests.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Not Their Best Stuff

I presume you're familiar with all those little sources of trivia factoids. Those tiny did-you-know things, like, 'Reno is west of Los Angeles'. One place you'll find such bits of trivia is the underside of a Snapple cap. Snapple calls them 'Real Facts', and the list of them can be found here.

Except The Atlantic went and fact checked enough of them to conclude that Snapple ought to stick to beverage manufacturing. A lot of what shows up is outdated, unverifiable, or one of those things you get passed in an e-mail and which can be countered in about 30 seconds of Googling. Or repeats. I'll leave alone the ones The Atlantic specifically mentioned; they left a lot of room to operate.

For instance, one of the facts, mentioned on an episode of 30 Rock, was #140, "Holland is the only country with a national dog". Someone had better tell Malta. Or Mexico. Or Cuba. Or Madagascar.

Let's run down the list and take ten others that jump out:

#145: "Lake Superior is the world's largest lake." A lake is simply any completely-enclosed body of water. Which makes the Caspian Sea the largest, with Superior being runner-up. (Though the Caspian does lie over an oceanic basin (PDF) and it at one time wasn't completely enclosed.) Don't believe me? Just ask fact #229: "The Caspian Sea is actually a lake." (Oh yeah, there's some contradictory stuff in here too.)
#146: "The smallest county in America is New York County, better known as Manhattan." Manhattan is, again, in second. The smallest, at 11.99 square miles to Manhattan's 22.83, is Kalawao County on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.
#1: "A goldfish's attention span is three seconds." Myth busted.
#77: "No piece of paper can be folded more than seven times." Myth also busted.
#234: "Great Falls, Montana, is the windiest city in the U.S." They rank 12th. Brockton, MA is windiest.
#266: "Manhattan is the only borough in New York City that doesn't have a Main Street." It does have one; it's just on Roosevelt Island. Roosevelt Island is counted as part of Manhattan.
#904: "If done perfectly, any Rubick's Cube combination can be solved in 17 turns." Leaving alone the fact that they spelled Rubik's Cube wrong, the magic number is in fact 20.
#897: "The Mayflower only held 102 People." 102 PASSENGERS. Apparently the crew doesn't count.
#151: "The fastest served ball in tennis was clocked at 154 mph in 1963." Not anymore it's not. Samuel Groth destroyed that record by uncorking a 163.4-mph serve last year. (He lost the match.)

Long story short, if you're reading those Snapple caps, you may want to stop. Or at least look it up.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Malala Won Anyway

Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting to go to school around this time last year but who managed to live and who is now attending school in England, has gotten more buzz and more public campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize- she is the youngest-ever nominee- than anyone else I can remember. Far more. She's the first one in my frame of memory that's engendered a bona fide movement to encourage that she be given the prize. She's been doing the media rounds lately, and everywhere she's gone, she has charmed the pants off just about everyone she's met, with some very well-connected people, who meet with powerful and influential people all the time, feeling honored to be in her presence.

It's not as if she's been nominated for simply surviving. Malala would be a richly deserving winner. She's pounded the pavement becoming an advocate for women's education. She runs an organization in that vein, the Malala Fund. And the attitude she has taken towards those who shot her has been nothing short of astonishing. Her appearance on The Daily Show has been particularly notable, as when Jon Stewart asked her what she did when she realized the Taliban had made her a target, this was her response:

"I started thinking about that the Talib would come and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do, Malala? Then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him. But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib.' You must not treat others with cruelty and that harshly; you must fight others through peace and through dialogue and through education. Then I said, ‘I'll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I would tell him, ‘That's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'"
And the camera cut back to Jon, who was visibly shocked.

However, the Nobel committee opted to go in a different direction, instead awarding the prize to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is currently operating in Syria. It is, to be sure, disappointing to not see Malala win. Anyone that wasn't Malala would have been a bit of a letdown after the worldwide cheerleading she got. But if Malala couldn't be the winner, you could really do far worse than the OPCW. For several years now, the world has been wringing its hands trying to figure out what to do about the place, ultimately doing nothing but recoiling in horror every once in a while. It does make sense to award the people who finally went in with the intent of helping put a stop to the most terrible of the acts committed. Have they actually removed the chemical weapons yet? No. Will it stop the war even if they do? Goodness no. But are we talking about Syria and chemical weapons again? Oh yes. Does the Peace Prize force spotlights like that? Yes. Might that have been the idea? Perhaps.

And meanwhile, Malala has hit a point where, even without winning the prize in title, she's already won it in spirit. She has achieved global adoration (aside from the Taliban, but nobody asked them). She has proven to be just the most peaceful, graceful soul. She has legions hanging on her every word. She knows that regardless of the actual winner, she went into the announcement with the world rooting for her. She has, ironically, been given access to a far better education than the one the Taliban originally attempted to deny her; a better one, in fact, than that which anyone on Earth, male or female, could purchase with money. She has won everything that matters in the end. She has everything except the little hunk of metal, and besides, she's half the age of the youngest peace laureate so far. She's got plenty of time to get the hunk of metal too. Someone is certain to nominate her again next year; maybe she'll get it then.

In the meantime, the cash prize attached to the Nobel is about $1.2 million. If you think Malala got jobbed, there is always the option of heading over to the Malala Fund and kicking in towards that amount of your own accord.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Random News Generator- China

Well, I've certainly slagged on China enough around here without the RNG prompting me.

And yes, they have expressed concern over the potential default, as has everyone else with a brain. But let's set that aside... and slag on China a bit more:

*Over the summer, journalist Liu Hu blogged about corruption in China's government. He's been arrested at his home in Chongqing and charged with "defamation".
*We have a count, freshly announced, of just how many people are employed to monitor China's Internet. As it happens, it's about two million people. To compare, China's active military is estimated at 2,285,000 people.
*China has passed the United States as the world's largest oil importer. According to new data from the Energy Information Administration, China's oil production in September was 4.6 million barrels per day, and they consumed 10.9 million per day, resulting in a deficit of 6.3 million. (The United States, meanwhile, came in at 12.5 million produced and 18.6 million consumed, a deficit of 6.1 million barrels per day.)
*They're also on pace to import a record amount of gold this year, importing 861.40 metric tons from January through August via Hong Kong. Topping 1,000 tons is believed to be sufficient to set the record.
*There's a dispute between five nations over territory in the South China Sea: Brunei, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, centering around the Spratly Islands. You can also count Taiwan if you wish. A map of the claims can be seen here; the Spratlys are that big grey blob just north of Malaysia and Brunei. You will note that the claims all overlap each other, but you will especially note that China, furthest of the five from the Spratlys, lays claim to basically the entire sea, to the consternation of everyone that isn't China. The United States has until now steered clear of the dispute; however, after the Philippines opted to pursue an arbitration case with the United Nations, Secretary of State John Kerry made a comment that nations do in fact have that right. Which is the mildest statement ever, but it was enough to make China's angry.
*Here's an article noting how China's lost over half of its rivers since the 1950's.
*The Uighurs in the northwest: still being oppressed.
*The Tibetans in the southwest: still protesting and still being shot. China denies both halves of that statement.
*The Playstation 4 you're gearing up to buy: built by college interns for course credit. Course credit that they needed in order to graduate and would have been denied to them if they didn't volunteer for internship making Playstation 4's.
*And let's wrap up with BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES. Hornets, which have killed 41 people since July and injured some 1,600 people in Shanxi Province. Factors being blamed include warmer weather and urbanization that have destroyed the hornets' natural habitat.

Just a ball of fun over there, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Getting Our House In Order

One of the root issues surrounding the shutdown (and the upcoming debt ceiling, only nine days away), one of the things that end up getting blamed when people dig down beneath the things argued about on the surface, really isn't too far below the surface at all. Namely, gerrymandering: much of the Republican delegation in the House has been drawn into districts so safe for their party that the only thing they need to worry about is a primary challenge from the right, and with those worries being very real, it behooves them to run as far to the right as possible with no concern for how much the rest of the country despises them.

Now, we've talked about gerrymandering before here, earlier this year, but back in January the topic of concern was a call to delve into the limits of gerrymandering and how far you can draw a district in your favor before the map stops being able to help you. Evidently, we're about to find out in real time what the answer is to that. (That was for academic purposes, people. I didn't want real-world experiments.) The reason I focused on that was because I figured too much time was being spent on basing districts on, often, ultimately unrealistic mathematical constructs focusing on perfectly compact districts. But now I figure I should offer up a suggestion of my own that I reason might be more realistic.

Why do I figure it to be realistic? Because we've already done it. Or at least a version of it.

In the early days of American history, several states allotted multiple seats in the House used a system called general-ticket to fill them. States, in effect, made all of their House seats at-large seats, voted on by the entire state. There were two alternate ways of doing that: either by making each race its own entity, same as now; or by throwing all the candidates into a jungle format and permitting voters to select as many candidates as there were seats, with the top-ranked candidates being seated. This system was phased out with the exception of newly-admitted states, who would use it until they were first able to draw districts.

I say bring it back. The major problem here is that districts are drawn wonky to achieve unrepresentative results. So just get rid of the districts. Everyone that wants to run runs in the same race, and can pick out their own constituency. Take the top votegetters until you fill up the seats.

In fact, this is less feasible due to scale, but ideally I'd look for the entire House to be one big general-ticket election. State lines, in a sense, serve as accidental gerrymandering, splitting like-minded communities across state lines. What would happen here is that the entire United States would become one gigantic district. Go court anyone in America who you feel you represent. On Election Day, you might have little booklets- perhaps reusable to cut down on costs- listing off all the oodles of candidates and, as a way of differentiating between the inevitable similarly-named candidates, hometowns as well. A voter would go into the booth and vote for... I'll give them up to five candidates. The top 435 candidates get seated.

You would definitely see at least a couple third-party candidates scrabble together enough votes to ensure one or two seats (not a full-fledged multiparty setup, though; the Senate and Presidential elections remain unchanged). You would also see some unshakable fringe factions such as the Tea Party. The thing is, though, that fringe is all they would get to be. The issue of the Tea Party driving other members right for fear of a primary, I don't think, would come up. They could try, but it would fail, because the race wouldn't work that way. The House that resulted would gravitate away from the two-party format of first-past-the-post and more towards a coalition-building model common in parliamentary systems. The (hopefully) saner whole could build a coalition without the fringe. You cede a few seats to save the whole.

And I don't think the ideological makeup would be the only factor. Perhaps it doesn't take all that much to cross the goal line and become the last person who makes the cut. Congratulations! You've made it into Congress! But you came in 435th and everybody knows it. Everybody knows you have zero margin for error with the voters and are extremely susceptible to being voted out. There isn't much point in giving you very much power or influence. Not until you make yourself a little safer by climbing up the ladder next election. The real influence would more likely go to the people who finish in the top couple dozen, those who gained the most approval from the voters. Those on the bubble would be more likely to be relegated to the backbench, headcount at voting time and little more.

No matter what voting system you use, those fringes will still be there. That can't be fixed by this or any other system. After all, this is supposed to be reflective of the will of the people, and if the people vote for idiots, idiots are what we shall have.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Random Stories Affected By The Shutdown

This is just a general roundup of news today, with one caveat: every single thing you see here is affected in some way by the government shutdown.

*James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Sudhof, all Americans working at American universities (Yale, Cal-Berkeley and Stanford, respectively) have become the first Nobel laureates of 2013, winning the physiology/medicine prize for their work in figuring out how cells transport molecules throughout the body. Congratulations!.... except that the shutdown will prevent them from getting grant money to do further work. They're lucky: they're in academica. Government scientists, having been furloughed, cannot attend or speak at conferences, as they cannot legally work without pay.

*King crab season is set to begin on the Bering Sea, which means the latest season of The Deadliest Catch is set to begin filming!.... except there's nothing to film, because there's nobody available to supply fishing permits.

*A sugar-daddy site, openly setting up rich people with attractive people, is reporting a 50% increase in traffic over the past week. Guess what's being blamed.

*A nearly complete Tyrannosaurus-rex fossil is currently getting ready to leave Montana to be installed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.... well, not currently it's not. Because the museum's shut down. The fossil transport has been put off until April.

*Lake Mead in Nevada is also closed, which explains what a bunch of boats were doing cruising down the Las Vegas Strip last night.

*Food trucks in Washington may be pulled off the street in about a week, due to all the government employees who aren't there to buy from them.

*Facial hair is becoming more popular... because people are growing shutdown beards, allowing their beards to track the length of the shutdown.

*San Francisco 49ers safety Donte Whitner, in response to a growing reputation for delivering hard hits, announced that he wishes to legally change his last name to Hitner.... except the paperwork can't be completed because take a wild guess.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

96 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall

I don't drink. However, I assume plenty of you do. Thus is the basis for today's Sporcle quiz.

You know those bars where they have a bunch of different bottles up on the wall behind the bartender? You will be shown a wall of that nature containing 96 different brands of beer. On each bottle, the brand name has been covered up with the word 'BEER'. Your task is to name the brands on that wall. You have 9 minutes.

I managed only 15. Missed a lot of brands that I've even heard of too. You can't beat a guy who doesn't even drink, you fail.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Can't Go Home Again

Probably the most enduring legacy to the Chernobyl disaster, aside from Chernobyl itself, is the town of Pripyat, only a few miles from the plant and home to plant workers. The residents of Pripyat were not immediately evacuated after the Chernobyl meltdown, but an evacuation did occur within 36 hours. The town of Slavutych was hastily founded as a replacement town, 28 miles east of Pripyat. Residents were told that they could only take essential items with them, as it was thought they would be returning in three days, and were not allowed to bring pets due to the contamination that may have been in their fur. The 50,000-strong town was empty in three hours. It has since been thoroughly ransacked.

Pripyat was actually lucky. It got to remain standing. Smaller surrounding towns that also were within meltdown radius were simply bulldozed flat with a sign stuck in the ground memorializing them.

As Martin Fackler of the New York Times reported on Tuesday, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Fukushima disaster has left similar ghost towns. The report comes from Namie, the largest of the towns, and thus likely to be the face. Namie sits five miles from the plant. As with Pripyat, when towns were evacuated, it was under the initial impression that it would be temporary, but also as with Pripyat, the reality is beginning to set in that former residents will never live in those towns again. The problem is that the Japanese government is reluctant to admit it, as they hope to restart Japan's other nuclear plants and admitting that towns nearby Fukushima have been rendered permanently uninhabitable would seriously hamper such efforts. However, failing to make that admission itself hampers efforts to find those affected permanent replacement housing; as of now, many are still receiving small subsidies in temporary housing. Some residents, mainly the younger ones, have given up on their hometowns; others, mainly the older ones, are still heading back during daytime to perform some kind of upkeep on their old homes that they know deep down to be futile but don't want to admit it either.

These are not the only two permanent nuclear evacuations. Between 1945-63, the British government conducted nuclear tests in Australia, at Maralinga, South Australia. Maralinga was inhabited by two aboriginal tribes, the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara; the site had religious significance to them. Seven major tests were conducted and publicized, but a large number of smaller tests were kept secret, and it's the cleanup of one of these tests, the Vixen B series, that caused the land to become uninhabitable due to the sprinkling of 22.2 kilograms of plutonium-239 and 47.3 kilograms of americium-241.

Well, okay, maybe it wasn't permanent. The tribes did eventually get their land back. In 2009. With it still in a state that, despite the talk, wasn't exactly pristine. But it will eventually get back to normal.

After all, americium-241's half-life is only 432.7 years, and plutonium-239's half-life is a paltry 24,100 years.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Anti-Jellyfish Hive Mind

So let's say you have a jellyfish. Let us say that your jellyfish is being a bad jellyfish. It's clogging fishing nets, it's eating plankton intended for fish as well as actual fish eggs, it's shutting down a Swedish nuclear reactor, it's defying the icy black hand of death that will one day enslave us all, it's pooping on the lawn and blaming the fish. You want your jellyfish to behave. What do you do?

You shred the living hell out of it with robots, of course.

See, jellyfish have been tormenting the southwest coast of South Korea for some time now, and in response, KAIST- the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology- has been working on a soulless, cold-blooded jellyfish murder-o-tron which they call the Jellyfish Elimination Robotic Swarm, or JEROS. What you have is a bot propped up on a pair of pontoons. Below those pontoons are some propellers with which it steers. JEROS has a GPS on it, telling it where jellyfish blooms are. Without further human intervention, JEROS, along with a couple of other linked-up JEROS bots, then gets itself to the site of the bloom, at which time those propellers become WHIRLING BLADES OF JELLIFIED DEATH.

If you think I'm being over-the-top here, I will have you know that no less than USA Today used the phrase "Flesh-shredding robots that can devour 2,000 pounds an hour". As the lede. May I just say that when your job is to write that phrase, you are having an awesome day.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Gunfire At The US Capitol

Well, isn't this just the perfect time for this, huh. Capitol is currently on lockdown along with basically everything nearby. If you're here, go away and go somewhere that can actually tell you something, and right now, nobody knows much of anything yet. So be wary of speculation.

EDIT: The gunfire, as info has come in, turned out to come from the Capitol Police, after a woman, a dental hygenist from Stamford, Connecticut, rammed a barrier at the outer perimeter of the White House with her car, with a 1-year-old child on board. Officers gave chase as she sped off, firing on the vehicle, with the chase ending a mile and a half later near the Capitol. The woman, confirmed dead, is suspected of having some sort of mental health problems; she was unarmed. Two Capitol Police officers were hurt: one having been struck by the woman's vehicle, the other after the officer's car struck a barrier. There is no connection to terrorism, so put that thought out of your head.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

You Miserable Bastards

Why. Why are you buying books about women seducing dinosaurs. Why is 'dinosaur erotica' a thing that author Christie Sims believes you would actually purchase. Why do I have the sickening feeling she's right. WHY IS DINOSAUR BESTIALITY A TOPIC I FIND MYSELF MENTIONING RIGHT NOW.

People. If you buy dumb stuff, people are going to make dumb stuff.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Going Into The Shutdown

So the government shut down last night. (A lot of it, anyway. Those performing functions deemed "essential" or who can't easily be sent home- such as soldiers overseas, or astronauts on the International Space Station- will keep working; there's an infographic here for you.)

Now, there are several ways we could go with this. We could go into the blame game and delve into who's at fault, but there isn't much to be said there, because as Rachel Maddow dissected last night, the Republicans are not merely at fault but have actively taken credit for and campaigned on shutdown. So you can just go to Maddow and let her lay it out for you; there's not much value I can add to that.

We could go into how this affects the next round of elections, but that doesn't take too long either. Though both parties are catching heat from voters, ultimately the balance of Congress is a zero-sum game, with third parties only gathering up one or two seats these days, so the real question is who comes out ahead of the other on the day. The Republicans, as long predicted, are going to take the bulk of the heat here, the so-called 'generic ballot' is getting uglier by the day, but the odds of a House flip to the Democrats remains rather long, at least for now, solely because of the 2010 redistricting that was gerrymandered well and truly in the Republicans' favor. Retaking the Senate is at this moment likely to be a very tall order for the Republicans if not outright unrealistic. It's a long way out, so specific numbers are going to be tough to come by for a long time yet, but there you go.

We could go into the fact that Congress will still get paid throughout this, but that involves more creative application of swear words than I'm really willing to do today.

We could go into the fact that, even though this shutdown was brought upon us in an effort to derail Obamacare, Obamacare has, lo and behold, rolled right along with or without the government. (48% of the Department of Health and Human Services is, after all, still working, along with 96% of the Department of Veterans Affairs.) The website opening the health insurance marketplace opened the very second the government shut down, and here it is. It's actually been under some load strain today due to all the traffic the website has received, which isn't out of the ordinary for an online launch day if you're popular enough and nothing that Team Obama hasn't had to deal with before; I recall they managed to cripple quite a few servers in, for instance, the 2008 campaign. Things ought to be running smoothly within a few days if history is any guide.

We could go into if the Republicans are going to do this with the debt ceiling as well. But that answer is easy too: yes, unless either enough Republicans defect for fear of going down that path, or unless Speaker of the House John Boehner gets fed up and relaxes the Hastert Rule that he's been following requiring a 'majority of the majority' (e.g. a majority of Republicans) to get anything done. Doing so would virtually guarantee a Republican primary against him, because the Tea Party is just like that, but the side question is whether at this point they would primary him anyway, as they've been listening to Ted Cruz over Boehner lately.

We could go into the fact that Republican members of Congress, led by David Vitter of Louisiana, are intending to cut their own staffers' healthcare, which is just the height of stupidity if you want the people who read your mail and handle your schedule to have any sort of loyalty to you. Boehner, for his part, is opposed to that plan.

In fact, I guess we just got into all those things, didn't we? Thinking out loud accomplishes a bunch sometimes.I guess that's really the best way to go into it: take all the different facets of this debacle, touch on each of them, and lay them out in a group.

But I guess the thing I want to highlight most is the fact that, even now, after all this time, after a long national debate and a Supreme Court case and an election that was effectively a referendum on Obamacare and multiple shutdown threats and now a real, actual shutdown over Obamacare, after all this time and all this talk... there are people who STILL have so little of a clue as to what's going on that they do not know that 'Obamacare' and 'the Affordable Care Act' are the same exact thing. Jimmy Kimmel, of all people, has put this disconnect in perhaps the greatest relief thus far with the following segment on last night's Jimmy Kimmel Live.