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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Take That John Scalzi!

The last Alaskan Sunset of 2008.

 

A while back John Scalzi published a picture of sunset in Ohio.

In response, I published a picture of sunset here in Alaska.

John was not impressed.

Jealousy, obviously, pure and simple and green eyed. It’s never pretty. Scalzi has always been intimidated by my sunsets. But even he will have to admit to the incredible awesomeness of this one. I think it’s pretty damned cool (literally, it’s –25F at the moment, and falling).

Sunset 1 I am, of course, just kidding.   Happy New Year, all.  Even you, Mr. Scalzi.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

And While We’re At It…

California is about to become the 6th state to ban a particular form of stupidity.

Texting While Driving.

That’s right, texting while driving. Texting. While driving.

Go ahead, say that out loud. Texting while driving. See?

Seriously, it’s bad enough that people talk on their cell phones while barreling down the freeway at 90MPH in their monster behemoth SUVs swerving in and out of traffic. But texting? Seriously folks, what the hell is so important that you’ve got to communicate by typing cryptic one-liners with your thumbs while staring into a tiny screen in the first place? Let alone while operating a motor vehicle. I mean you’re holding the phone, why the hell don’t you just call the other person?

A number of folks have pointed out that we shouldn’t have to have such a law. It’s fairly obvious to anybody with a reasonable amount of common sense that texting and operating heavy equipment at high speed isn’t a good idea. Just like drinking and driving, or taking too many cold tablets and driving, or wearing a shopping bag over your head and driving. Basic common sense, that’s what these people are talking about.

But see, that’s the problem right there, common sense.

Of sure, there are a lot of people with good common sense – but there are a hell of a lot more people without one damned shred of sense, common or otherwise, in any way shape or form. These people are idiots, pure and simple, and a lot these chowderheads have a driver’s license (a significant number don’t, but that doesn’t keep them from driving).

These booger eaters are the ones that think a ‘conversation’ consisting of:

U gng b @ the party 2night? LOL

srsly. U? LOL

Fck yeah, biotch. LOL

ROTFLMAO LOL!!!!!!!

LOL!

LOL x2!

is worth risking the lives of everybody in four lanes for.

And because there are one hell of a lot of these dolts on the road, well, we need laws like the one California just passed. The problem is not that the law attempts to curb (ba dump bump) stupidity, it’s that it doesn’t go far enough.

I’d like to see some additions:

First, lets quit screwing around and make this a federal law. Nation wide. Otherwise there will always be states that just won’t do it. The stupid states. Full of stupid people. The big square states, right in the middle of the country full of corn gasoline and creationists. Unless we make this a federal law, those states will become safe havens for blockheads. And the problem is, of course, that they’re sitting square on top of the only way to get anywhere worth going to, i.e. we have to drive through places like Kansas and Indiana in order to get to more worthwhile and interesting and non-geometrically shaped places. Unless this law is federally mandated, those places will be full of hillbillies with enormous muscular thumbs and no insurance.

Second, lets not stop at texting. I lived in Southern California. I commuted on the I5 and the I15 every damned day for four years. I lived in Maryland and commuted into Washington D.C. on the M6. I’ve driven this continent all the way around, from Maine to Alaska via Florida and Texas, four times. I’ve driven in every major city in North America – and I’m going to tell you all something, Texting is the least of the baboon-assed, bald faced, worm eating, six-toed, cross-eyed, buck-toothed, kicked in the head by a mule stupidity I’ve seen.

So, while we’re at it, let’s make it illegal to do a few more things while driving shall we?

Let’s start with watching TV. Who the hell came up with TV’s for cars? That bastard needs a swift kick. Oh sure, it sounded good, TV in the back seat to keep the kids quiet. Two major things the designers didn’t think of: 1) after an hour of listening to Spongebob’s squealing voice from the backseat the typical driver becomes suicidal and starts thinking about just driving his Minivan straight into a fucking bridge abutment. And 2) eventually, some jackass would mount the TV in the front seat so the driver can watch porn. TVs need to be removed from cars. Period. Give the kids a shot of cough syrup and let ‘em sleep all the way to Grandma’s house. Or better yet, let ‘em fight for entertainment the way we did, “Mom! He’s looking out my window!” Of course, that leads to beating your kids in the backseat while driving, and that’s whole other issue. Be safe folks, pull over first, then beat your kids.

Applying make-up while driving should be illegal. I swear to God, I don’t know how many times some late-for-court lawyer on the 808 damn near killed me while steering her BMW torpedo with one hand and curling her eyelashes with the other while staring into the rearview mirror. Also, curling your hair with a propane powered curling iron while driving. Also drying your hair with a cigarette lighter powered hairdryer. Also changing clothes. Also putting on nylons. For the love of God, Ladies, get dressed before you leave the house, really. None of us actually give a crap what you’re wearing anyway, we mostly care what you’re not wearing. Just saying.

Eating anything other than a sandwich one handed while driving should be illegal. Look, everybody needs to eat behind the wheel sometimes, but Goddamnit folks, you need to have at least one hand on the wheel. Here’s what I want to know, what idiot at McDonalds came up with serving pancakes and syrup on plate at the drive-through? Pancakes and syrup? On a flimsy Styrofoam plate? How the hell do you eat something like that, plate in one hand, spork in the other, while driving a car? How do you cut the pancake with the fork, holding the whole mess - and you just know they’re going to spill the syrup on themselves and then swerve all over the road as they frantically rustle through the bag (which is laying on the floor in front of the passenger seat) looking for a napkin while trying hold on to that stupid plate, the spork, and a cup of Ronald McDonald’s 5000 degree coffee in the other hand. Which is usually when the phone rings. This is why you shouldn’t put a clown in charge of your menu, they think that shit is funny. Some places, at the drive-in window, serve soup.

Reading the newspaper. Yes, that’s right, reading the newspaper. Like you’re at home, in your Barcalounger with your pants unbuttoned after a good meal. Unless you’ve got a big square hole cut in the middle of the sport section, you can’t see the road. I know, shocking. Look, I’ve twice piloted a 9000 ton Navy cruiser through San Diego harbor in the blind. Once coming in, once going out with paper taped over the windows to simulate total loss of visibility. I had an entire navigation team feeding me rudder orders, radar, and GPS, and inertial guidance systems, charts and compasses, and safety spotters on the bridge wings – and it still scared the shit out of me. The probability of driving safely while reading the newspaper, a map, a book, or a fucking Blackberry is a lot like a blind mouse finding it's way through a pinball machine during the world cup final pinball battle.

Computing. Faxing. Collating. Filing. Sorting papers. Stuffing envelops or stuffing your secretary. Your car is not an office, even if it is as big as one.

I once damned near got hit head on by an old guy and his wife in a Lincoln Continental on the Gulf Coast Highway at Navarre Beach on Florida’s Panhandle following Hurricane Ivan. The guy was driving – while leaning out of the window and filming the wreckage with a video camera. On a road filled with the debris of houses and that was barely cleared enough to walk on. Apparently, his wife in the passenger seat, couldn’t, you know, operate the camera or the car. And what the hell is it with these control freaks anyway? Five people in a car, who’s the one on the phone? Yeah, the driver. Always.

California’s law is a good one, and we need more of it.

Srsly. LOL.

What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever seen on the road?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Offline

I'm going to be offline for a while.

Apologies.

I may be back today. Maybe not. We'll see.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sins of a Solar Empire

Bad news folks (or good news for some, I guess, depending).

I’ll probably stop blogging.

In fact I’ll probably stop sleeping, eating, and showering. I’ll probably be found wild eyed, emaciated, and raving.

See, I’ve discovered something more addictive than heroin.

This:

image

Well, OK – I’ve never been addicted to heroin, so I don’t actually know that Sins of a Solar Empire is actually more addictive, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I’m not big on computer games.

My son has a Playstation, and we’ve thought about getting him a Wii. I’ve tried to sit down and play with him, but ten minutes of car chases, or motocross, or Lego Star Wars combat – and I’m bored. I can’t help it. It just feels like such a waste of time, and I have no interest in it at all. That and that damned head splitting, car crash music. Gah.

But, Sins, well, Sins of a Solar Empire is something else entirely.

My son gave it to me for Christmas, so I loaded it up last night and fooled around with it. I downloaded the latest updates from the maker, Ironclad. Read a bit of the manual – then started fooling around with it.

And I promptly got my ass handed to me.

Really, you need to do the tutorials – especially if you’re a middle-aged guy like me who is not up on the latest gaming technology.

What I am up on though, is military strategy. Hell, I wrote actual military strategy and executed it in combat. I was a CIC officer, I’m used to military interfaces and computerized battle management software. And I’ll say this – the pentagon needs to start talking to game makers like Ironclad. Because we need interfaces like this. We really, really do.

Sins is a science fiction real-time strategy game. The graphics are fantastic, especially in ultra hi-resolution on my big honking HD monitor. The complexity is unbelievable and there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of limits. So far I’ve only played in a single player mode, but it can be played in multi-player mode through the Ironclad site or over a VPN. I don’t think I’ll ever get that far though, in two days I’ve barely scratched the surface in single player mode – I don’t think I want to go up against somebody who takes this stuff seriously.

This isn’t any kind of review of the game, as I haven’t gotten far enough to actually evaluate it yet. And may not for some time (though I did hold my own against a full dozen pirate attacks this morning).

I just wanted you to know why you won’t be seeing much from me, at least for the weekend.

Well, yeah, that and the fact that I’ve got to go move several tons of snow.

And I’ve got a dozen jobs in the shop.

And there’s some pressing research.

Yeah.

Screw that. If you need me, I’ll be fighting the pirates.

Avast!


So, what did you get for Christmas? Bet it wasn't your very own interstellar empire.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Festivus!

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the White House

Not a Republican was stirring, not even about the liberals to grouse;

The bailout bill was set in the Oval Office on a chair

In the hopes that Congressional funding would soon be there;

The President was snuggled all safe in his bed,

While Dick Cheney slept at an undisclosed location, undead.

And the Secret Service in their dark suits and glasses

patrolled the perimeter, watching for evil terrorist jackasses;

When down in the situation room there arose such an alarm

The president sprang from his bed to see what was the harm.

Away to the briefing room he went saying, This isn’t cool,

He tore open the folders, and listened to Wolfowitz The Tool.

The glare of the lights on the glossy reconnaissance photo

Gave the luster of legitimacy to the intelligence show;

When what to ole George’s watering eyes did appear,

But a bearded man in a red hat, with a face to fear.

That’s him! shouted George, that’s where he’s been hidin’

He knew in a moment that it was Osama bin Ladin.

More rapidly than eagles the sycophants they came,

George ranted and raved and called them by name;

“Now Scooter! Now, Karl! Now Gonzo and Rice!

On Wolfie! On Bolton! Somebody call Rummie, Gates is too nice!

To the heart of Iraq! And to Afghanistan!

Call Haliburton! Call Blackwater! And on to Tehran!

As black CIA Predators before the wild hurricane fly,

Ready the press releases, fake the intelligence and prepare to lie!

And then, in a twinkling, George heard up on the roofs,

Prancing and pawing and it sounded like hoofs.

George lifted his head as the alarm began to sound,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas (esq) came with a bound.

He was dressed all in Brooks Brothers from his neck to his foot,

His shoes were Italian and his silk tie was the color of soot;

A copy of the Constitution he held in his hand,

George, he said, you’ve been a very bad man.

His eyes - how they glowed! His wrath was anything but merry!

He said I represent the people, every Tom, Dick, and Harry!

His listed the offenses, and there were a lot, and then he spoke the names of the dead.

George began to tremble, his hands shook and his heart was full of dread.

War, torture, the lies, the deception, and pandering to the far right,

one by one St Nick ticked them off, George’s administration was a blight!

But it’s over now, St. Nickolas did proclaim.

Obama’s been elected, no more of the same.

You’ve only got a couple of weeks left, let’s not try for a new low,

Seriously, George, don’t fuck up anything else or I’ll send you to Gitmo!

No move aside, remember what I said and try to stay out of sight

After a long eight years, it’s Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.




Yeah, yeah. It’s silly. But it was fun. Merry Christmas all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stonekettle Station’s List Of Acclaimed Movies That Actually Sucked

I just got back from the Post Office.

As always, that little chore has put me in a foul mood.

There were over a hundred people in line waiting on the slug-like postal employees of the Palmer, Alaska Post Office and it took over an hour to pick up one lousy package. (Actually, in retrospect, that comment is an insult – to slugs. Slugs have a purpose, they’ve got a plan, they’re motivated and they’re doing the best they can. Compared to the Palmer Postal Employees, slugs could be considered speedy)

So, anyway, I was in line. For a long time.

A couple of folks behind me were loudly discussing what they considered to be great movies. I had to bite my tongue to keep from joining in, because this group of people were just plain goofy.

What’s that you’re saying, Jim? I hear you ask in the whiny tone that just annoys the hell out of me. People, you say, are entitled to their opinions when it comes to entertainment. So they like something different than you, what’s it to ya? Art, it’s in the eye of the beer holder and etcetera and so on and so forth. Blah blah.

You’re wrong.

Listen, remember that parable about the con artist, the magic cloth, and the parade with the naked King? Exactly. It’s bad enough when our political leaders wander around naked (Think Cheney. Yeah. Now you’ve got that image in your head. You’ve got no one to blame but yourself, I warned you I was in a foul mood). But seriously, way too many good flicks aren’t getting made, because studios keep green-lighting movies about naked kings. These movies are loved by the snobby critics, and they’re touted by the entertainment industry – and they trick people into spending gobs of money on movie tickets and DVD’s and that, my friends, is the real reason for the economic decline. People know these movies suck, but they’re too embarrassed to admit it.

Well, I’m not going to take it any more. That’s right, I’ll say it.

The emperor has no clothes.

Now I’m not talking about movies that suck, and everybody knows they suck – like say Battlefield Earth, which basically defined an entirely new level of horrifying sucktastic. Or movies that suck and nobody cares, like say Sunshine. Or movies that are all hyped up and cost enough millions to feed all the starving brokers on Wall Street, but everybody knows are going to suck anyway, like say The Mummy: Tomb of the Franchise. No I’m talking about movies that people gush over in line at the post office with total strangers. I’m talking about movies that win awards, Academy awards, Sundance awards, and especially awards from that festival in Cannes. Frankly, it’s a pretty good bet that if coked-up Hollywood stars and beret wearing Frenchmen like the movie, well, it sucks.

Let’s start with this piece of crap, shall we?

Cloverfield: “Scary, Delivers the Thrills!” “A terrific movie filled with spectacle and humor.” “A heart racing experience.” Seriously? Cloverfield was 84 minutes of dark, jiggling blurs and lousy sound – the only part that scared me was how much I spent and the thought that it would never end. The director, J.J. Abrams, could have gotten the same, exact, movie by downing a couple of six-packs and wandering through a frat party with a handycam dangling forgotten from a strap around his wrist. The screams and moans from the upstairs bedrooms are the same, the blurry explosions from the frat boys out back recreating scenes from Jackass the Movie are the same. Scary? I’ll tell you what’s scary about this monstrously sucky piece of celluloid, the 1998 Matthew Broderick remake of Godzilla is actually decent entertainment compared to Cloverfield.

300: “This is Spaaaaaaaarta!” Please. No it’s not. Not even close. The Battle at the Hot Gates, i.e. the Battle of Thermopylae, is one of the greatest, most noble, most heroic, and most studied of the ancient epics. What’s more, it’s a true story. 300 isn’t that story. 300 is some kind of bizarre semi-erotic fantasy for teenaged boys who learn history from comic books. I don’t demand that my movies be accurate representations of history, but Jesus H. Christ is it too much to ask for some plotting? Or maybe acting? or a coherent storyline? 300 is a ninety minute animated comic book, once you get past the artwork and the effects – there’s really nothing else. As to the effects, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow did it better.

A History of Violence: “You won’t know what hit you!” Yeah. I’d say that about sums up this movie. Violence = Bad. Got it. Of course, that’s why people went to see it, for the violence. Oooow, violence is terrible - now, show us some more! Listed as the “Best movie of the year” by Entertainment Weekly. Makes you wonder what the other choices were.

Children of Men: "Gripping Thriller!” Yeah. Gripping. “Magnificent…a unique and totally original vision.” Totally original if you haven’t actually read any post-apocalyptic science fiction, that is. More handheld camera work, apparently nobody knows how operate a steadycam in the future. And then there’s the endless long shot. Christ, I felt like I needed a pair of binoculars.

Lost in Translation: You know, I miss Bill Murray, I do. I miss the old funny Bill Murray, the guy from Meatballs, Stripes and Scrooged. Hell, I even miss the Bill Murray from The Razor’s Edge. I miss his dry wit and subtle everyman humor. What the hell happened to him? I couldn’t even watch this movie. I kept falling asleep. I don’t even know what this movie was about, unless it was intended to cure insomnia.

Solaris: Please, God, do not ever let George Clooney wear the batman suit with the nipples again, or act in a Science Fiction movie. If there is anything more boring than Lost in Translation, it’s Solaris. Good God! 90 minutes of introspection with George Clooney. I wanted to gouge my eyes out. People claim this piece of crap is powerful and thought provoking – the only thoughts it provoked in me were powerful thoughts of suicide.

War of the Worlds: Great, great depiction of the Martian tripods – which did not in any way make up for that squealing kid. Be honest, how many of you would have fed Dakota Fanning to the Martians? Tom Cruise too. I swear to God, an hour into the movie I was cheering the Martians and shouting at the screen “Over there! You stupid tree frogs! They’re hiding in the basement! Over there! Get ‘em.”

The Constant Gardener: Two hours of constant boredom. Is it just me, or does anybody else find Rachel Weisz annoying? She was OK in the Mummy movies, cute and endearing even, but seriously in anything else her voice and unblinking doe-eyed stare is like a fork on a blackboard to me. I can’t buy her in anything, she always seems completely miscast to me, Enemy at the Gates, The Fountain, Constantine (and seriously here, when Keanu Reeves has more emotional depth of expression, you might want to think about backing off on the Botox).

The Golden Compass: Holy freakin’ crap, for all the hoopla about atheism, I can’t even remember what the hell this movie was about. There were blimps, I remember blimps – but that’s about it. If Christians are threatened by this piece of shit, well, maybe they should go watch Narnia some more.

V for Vendetta: Yeah, brainwashing. It’s like cheering for Tania, ur, sorry Patty Hearst. At least they blow up Hugo Weaving in the end.

And finally, by far the biggest piece of crap I’ve been suckered into in a long, long time:

No Country for Old Men: And here you have the actual Emperor of Naked Parades. Every person who got hoodwinked into seeing this turd wants to claim that they ‘get it.’ It’s supposed to be a deep, deep movie that trumpets the brilliance of the brothers Coen. Ask ‘em what it means though, and they raise one eyebrow archly and say, “if you don’t get it, then you’re just stupid.” Ok, outline the plot then. “If you don’t get it, you’re just stupid.” Ok, I’m stupid, tell me what the ending, or lack of ending, means. “If you don’t get it…” Yeah, if you can’t see the Emperor’s new suit, you’re an uncouth heathen. I’ve heard the same thing about blobs of paint thrown at a canvass. When a kindergartener does it, it’s amusing, when Jackson Pollock does it – well, it’s supposed to be art. Truthfully though, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference. And it’s the same here, the difference between the horribly violent Country and Robert Rodriguez films like Desperado, is that Desperado actually had a plot and fairly decent acting. It was also amusing. It was also entertaining. It also had a fucking ending. (it also had Selma Hayek, yozer!) The ending of Country isn’t deep. It isn’t clever. It isn’t brilliant. It’s crap. It’s a cop out. It’s the fact that the Coen brothers can’t actually write. It’s not that I don’t get it, I do – I just don’t think it’s particularly earth shaking.

Anyway, there you have it. Stonekettle Station’s top ten acclaimed movies that actually sucked.

Now, tell me why I’m wrong – because I know you will.

Go ahead, but I warn you, I’ve been to the Post Office and I’m not in a good mood.

Please Stand By

It's two days before Christmas.

I have last minute things to do.

I have to go to the Post Office. Yes, I have to go to the Palmer Post Office. Two days before Christmas. To pick up packages. I have to go.

Ahhhhhhh!

I may need to be shot with a tranquilizer dart gun.

I have to take the kid with me, as in he can't be left alone to snoop around the house - if you're getting my drift here.

If I'm not arrested for murder and mayhem, you may see an actual post in a couple of hours.

Or you may be seeing some interesting news.

We'll see how it goes.

Monday, December 22, 2008

You Know What’s Amazing?

This:

It’s amazing to me how much technology has changed the world just within my lifetime. Hell, just within the last couple of years.

Art has always pushed the boundaries of technology, even if that technology was little more than powdered pigment blown onto a cave wall with a hollow reed. But now, now artists can create entire worlds.

The above short film, Legacy, is the third such created by Grzegorz Jonajtys, a 36 years old VFX artist and animator/director from Warsaw, Poland who now lives in San Francisco. He’s no amateur, having worked on a number of high end projects for Digital Kitchen, Cafefx, Syndicate, and Industrial Light and Magic, but still – Legacy is what he does in his spare time, and his second short film, Ark, won the Siggraph Electronic Theater Best of Show Award in 2007 and was nominated for a Golden Palm at Cannes.

Even ten years ago, the depth and lifelike detail of a little film like Legacy would have been impossible - short of several million dollars and a cadre of special effects wizards – and it still wouldn’t have been as good. These films and those like them represent an emerging generation of artists who use computer systems, software, and the Internet as a medium of expression - as paint is for painters and clay is to sculptors.

While it’s true that nearly anybody can create realistic images using tools like photoshop and digital animator, it takes an artist and a story teller to do what Jonajtys did above.

I wonder if some day, little films like this will be regarded the same way sketches and doodles by Van Gogh, Da Vinci, or Picasso are regarded today?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Strange Behavior

I was fooling around with Stonekettle Station's HTML template last night.

Specifically I was adding in Google Analytics code.

Obviously I hosed something up.

You'll notice the 'recent comments' feed is acting wonky. So is the RSS feed. So is the gmail notification feed. This may not bother you, but it bugs the hell out of me.

I've got things to do this morning and no time to play with the code. Please ignore the ill-behaving comments feed until I get it fixed. I'm going to let the GA code run for a bit and see if I like it enough to fix the code compatibility issue, or whether I'd rather just delete it altogether.

So, far I'm not particularly impressed.

I like the analytics software I already use, and GA doesn't appear to give me anything I don't already have - but it does have some pretty graphs. And I like graphs.

If anybody uses GA with blogger and you want to tell me why it sucks, or why it's the greatest thing since BBQ Pork Rinds and Beer, go right ahead. Thanks.




For those of you following along in the discussion on yesterday's post about the auto industry bailout, I've added my comments which basically constitutes today's post and the thread is active. Please feel free to jump in.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

He Who Has The Gold, Makes The Rules

The Big Three US automakers will shut their factories starting this month.

Without $14 Billion in government bailout they can’t keep going.

Literally millions of jobs are on the line here – and it’s worse than that.

Far worse.

The collapse of Wall Street was bad enough - but the investment and banking industry will recover sooner or later. With or without government help the market will recover. And if history is any guide, like any forest that burns, the recovered market will be larger and stronger without all the smoldering deadwood.

A lot of former investment brokers and bankers are out of a job. Even if you allow that some of them got exactly what they deserved, a far larger number didn’t – they were just cogs in a machine that’s still tearing itself apart. But here’s the thing, most of those people are educated, and even if they don’t return to banking when the industry recovers, they will still be able to find a way to make a decent living sooner or later. Will those jobs come with million dollar bonuses and complementary rides in the company helicopter? Maybe not, and a rather large number of those people who rode the whirlybird to a weekend home in the Hamptons are going to have to make some serious downgrades in lifestyle, but they will survive. Most of them. If they have the willingness to do what is necessary. Hell, they might even end up happier and more fulfilled for it – probably not, but hey far stranger things have happened.

I have serious doubts that the bailout will do much to stop what’s happening in the banking industry. $700 Billion seems like a lot, but compared to the trillions in play on Wall Street, it’s really like trying to stop a forest fire with a garden hose. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, it’s human nature to tilt at windmills – and sometimes you can put out a forest fire with a garden hose. Yes, you can. The trick is to aim the hose as soon as the first wisp of smoke comes drifting up – not to stand around toasting your marshmallow until the whole damned forest is a hellish conflagration.

And that takes us to the auto industry.

The auto industry bailout is different in one significant way. Wall Street isn’t going anywhere, it may be smaller, it may be more lean, but it isn’t going away and it will continue to grow. The auto industry? When is goes, it goes. Once the factories are shut down, once the supply chains are gone, once the dealerships are bankrupt – it’s over. The industry is gone. Look around, see any textile mills? Electronics manufactures? Steel mills? Same deal here.

We’ve known for a long time, all of my life in fact, that the oil is going to run out. This year, next year, a decade from now, a century. Whatever. Sooner or later we’re going to have find a different source of motive power for our civilization, or go the way of Rome. Now, a hell of a lot of people seem to think that until the oil does indeed run out, well, we’ll have plenty. The pumps will keep pumping, the tankers will keep tanking, the refineries will keep refining – all at full capacity – until the last barrel is sucked from the sand of Saudi Arabia. And until that happens the price, the demand, and the politics will remain pretty much the same. We know the low fuel level light is on, but we just keep driving 70 miles per hour until the tank runs dry. This attitude shows an astounding lack of understanding when it comes to the laws of supply and demand in general, and scarce commodity/critical commodity macro economics in particular. Maybe we should be worried less about whether or not the schools are teaching about Rachel’s Two Mommies and start making sure people have a reasonable understanding of basic economics – but I digress. The warning signs, the little wisps of smoke, have been around us for thirty years now. Embargos, price hikes, lack of capacity, increasing difficulty of supply, conflict, outright war – all of these things are indicators.

Now, those executives who run the auto industry do have an understanding of economics, they just don’t give a damn – as long as they’ve got a fiddle they’re going to keep playing while Rome burns around them. They also understand the basic rules of supply and demand – and have bent those rules to the breaking point in an effort to manipulate demand into something they could supply at maximum profit. Now, before you start screaming and sending me email, I’m all about capitalism and I don’t think it’s any kind of crime to maximize profits. Profit is what makes the wheels of business turn. But there comes a point where the pursuit of profit becomes all consuming greed, and that all consuming pursuit of maximum immediate return will destroy you in the long run. And that’s what’s happened in the auto industry (and Wall Street, for that matter). Unlike the old days, CEO’s don’t own the companies. Modern CEO’s have no long-term interest in the company. They’ll run the place for a couple of years, long enough to reorganize a few things, liquidate a division or two, make a few acquisitions and pull in a twenty or thirty or fifty million bonus – and then move on to some other CEO position in another industry, or a million dollar motivational book deal and speaking gig. They don’t give a damn what happens to Ford, or GM, or Chrysler (or Lehman Brothers, or Merrill Lynch or…) ten or twenty years from now. That’s somebody else’s problem. And it shows.

Twenty years ago, there really wasn’t anything like the SUV. The Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer, the Ford Bronco maybe, but those were working machines – bare bones, minimum amenities and accessories. Only hairy legged women and cowboys drove those things. Unless you were a construction worker, park ranger, or oil rig wildcatter on a remote site in Alaska, you probably never rode in one of those monstrously ugly Chevy Suburbans (which all seemed to come pre-rusted and with a missing window covered in plastic sheeting). The average commuter sure as hell wasn’t interested in 4x4 or cargo capacity. The young ones wanted sports cars – Cameros, Mustangs, Firebirds. The older ones wanted something safe, reliable, roomy. The problem was that the car companies didn’t make much profit on those types of vehicles. The profit margin was fairly narrow – as it always is. But then, some bright guy noticed that the profit margin on those Cherokees, Broncos, and Blazers was huge. Huge. See those machines didn’t cost nearly as much to manufacture as the Firebirds, Novas, and Pintos – remember they weren’t making a lot of them, they didn’t have fancy paint jobs, or chrome, or plush upholstery, at best they got an FM radio and a cigarette lighter – BUT they could be sold at twice the price of those fancy cars – and that difference was pure profit. In 1995 it wasn’t unusual for a car dealer to make ten grand on an SUV, when the profit on an average sale was more like $1500 to $2000. And once the industry realized that, everybody jumped on the bandwagon, exactly the same way everybody on Wall Street jumped on the mortgage bond idea. Everybody started making SUVs and convincing the public that in order get that anorexic centerfold in the bikini on the car commercial you needed one. Then they added chrome. Then they added stereo. And cruise control. And then entertainment systems. And they keep making them bigger. Until even Cadillac had a gargantuan, gold plated, limited edition luxury cruise ship on wheels – and dealers are back to making less than a grand of profit again, a lot less actually. This is a tenuous situation. One market sag, one poor investment, one bad quarter, one spike in material prices, one major strike – or a failure on Wall Street – and you’re bust. There is no margin.

Just like the investment market, and for many of the same reasons in microcosm, the auto industry is going belly up. Millions of jobs hang in the balance. But unlike the vast majority of former brokers, bankers, and investors – those auto factory workers aren’t well educated (look, we can talk around it or we can be blunt about it. And the truth is that most assembly line workers barely have a high school education. If it makes you mad to hear me say so, tough, getting offended won’t change the facts or solve the problems). They don’t have a hell of a lot of options. A lot of them have worked in the auto industry all of their lives, just like their folks before them, and their grandparents before that. That limits their options. Their union isn’t helping matters. For the UAW it’s all or nothing, no compromise, no concession – but when those factories do close (and some of them will, bailout or no), well, the union really isn’t going to be a hell of a lot of help. The UAW isn’t going to pay for a million mortgages, or a million pairs of braces, or put food on a million tables. What will happen is this – several million folks will suddenly be jobless. That’s several million not paying taxes, local taxes, federal taxes. That’s several million not paying union dues. That’s several million folks who will need tax-payer funded assistance. It’s likely that some towns based around the auto industry will become ghost towns – just like when the steel industry went belly up, or the textile industry, or when the mine played out, or, well you get the idea. Drive through Rome, New York sometime, or any other boarded up single industry cowtown, if you need an example of what I’m talking about. The ripple effects from a collapsed auto industry, combined with the disaster on Wall Street, could very well be the final straw – the push that sends us out of recession and into a full blown depression.

We’ve been surrounded by those wisps of smoke for a long, long time. We’ve stomped out a few brush fires here and there – and we’ve let others rage until they were out of control. It’s long past the point where a garden hose and a couple of squirt guns will have any effect. We’re going to need to get off our collective asses and break out the shovels, air tankers, pumper truckers, the 3” hoses and get dirty. We need to start cutting some fire breaks.

First, it should be fairly obvious that we have to bail out the industry. It’s in our best interest. We either pay those people to make cars, or we pay them not to make cars - i.e. we pay them to collect unemployment and welfare, we buy their houses when they default on the loans. We pay their medical bills when they lose their insurance and have to start taking their kids, all five million of them, to the local emergency room instead of to the doctor. And like that. Letting the industry go bust is cutting off our nose to spite our face.

Second, what may be less obvious is that we have an opportunity to fix the real reason for this economic crises, energy. After twenty years of cranking out increasingly larger SUVs, after twenty years of a dedicated information warfare campaign to make Americans want increasingly larger SUV’s, there’s a hell of a lot of inertia in the industry. Changing direction isn’t something that any CEO can undertake solo. One manufacturer takes a risk on smaller, more economic, more energy efficient vehicles and it’s career suicide. The stock holders aren’t willing to take a risk, especially a major risk, like that.

Congress wants to attach strings to the bailout package, but what they really keep talking about is paying it back. Usually they wouldn’t care, it’s not their money after all, but voters have recently demonstrated what happens when you piss them off. Congress wants some insurance they can use to placate the angry voters. The CEO’s aren’t happy about that. And neither is the Union. Give us the money and let us go back to building SUVs. Again, a remarkable lack of understanding of basic economics and the basic causal effects that precipitated this crisis in the first place: i.e. if the industry isn’t making a profit, and you loan them money, and they don’t change anything – they are very likely to remain unprofitable and therefore even more likely to never pay back the loan. And they are very likely to go out of business anyway, because is addition to their poor business plan they’re now saddled with a fifteen billion dollar debt on top of their other bills.

And that’s the lever, right there.

We’ve got all three of the American car manufactures, and by extension a large part of the energy industry, over the barrel right now.

That’s right.

We have them over a barrel, they don't have us.

Note the title of this post. We, the taxpayers, have the gold, therefore we make the rules.

And the rules should like something like this:

We’ll give you the money. That’s right, give. But:

1) No more short term CEOs. No more swoop in, pillage, and depart. We give you money and we buy a controlling interest, you sign for it personally. Take charge of your organization and more importantly take responsibility. If you pay us back, well, then you can do whatever you like. But until you do, you’re going to play by our rules.

2) The union needs to compromise. No, shut up. The union needs to compromise. If you’re my relative and you’re in financial trouble and I loan you money to help you out, money I really can’t spare, money that puts a hardship on me – well, you’d better be making some sacrifices too. In this case, the union can start by waiving union dues until the industry recovers. And the union needs to talk about negotiating a pay cut for the duration of the crises – yes, that’s right. In fact that pay cut should be exactly the amount of each worker’s union dues. You tell me what you’d rather have, a pay cut, or no job and no chance of finding a job because you’ve got no education and there’s a million other swinging dicks looking for unskilled jobs too? Yes, both options suck, but one sucks a hell of a lot less than the other. The union needs to get humble real damned quick. Because, frankly, if the industry goes bust – well, there aren’t going to be a hell of a lot of dues paying auto workers, are there? But here’s the thing, if the union waives its dues, and the negotiated pay cut for each worker is the amount of his or her union dues – then the worker see no change in take home pay. If the union has the best interest of labor in mind as they claim, well, they need to put their money where their mouth is.

3) No bonuses for executives. None. Once you pay back the bailout, you can do what you want. But until then no bonuses. No corporate jets. No corporate retreats. No company cars. Start selling those assets boys, you need to have a yard sale. Same as with the union, sacrifice is required. You make the big bucks, you make the bigger sacrifice.

4) Stockholders. Time to reinvest back into the industry. Until the loan is paid off, a percentage of your dividends belong to us. Put it back into the industry for retooling and reorganization.

5) No more SUVs. No more purely petro-fuel internal combustion power plants. No more nine miles per gallon and no exceptions. Everything coming off the assembly line gets 30+MPG for the next five years, then 40+MPG or the equivalent, then 50. Tough? Yep. Technologically challenging? Yep. Remember, we’re the country that got from zero to the moon in nine years. It can be done. Now’s the time and there will never be a better opportunity. Crank up America’s vaunted technological superiority and get to work. If we can build a Predator that can loiter for twenty hours over the battlefield, we can build a car that gets 35MPG (and I’m not talking that bullshit MPG rating that dealers give, I’m talking real MPG). Give a bonus, tax break, loan payment relief, whatever to the manufacturer that produces the highest product net energy efficiency for each year, i.e. not just the most efficient vehicles, but also making people want them. Make competition work for us, screw Dr. Demming and his competition is bad bullshit TQL business model. Again, it can be done – we’ve convinced people that putting a paper tube of burning leaves in their mouth is a good idea even if it kills them, we’ve convinced people that rocks are pets, we’ve convinced people that they need a four ton, 4x4, four door behemoth that gets nine miles per gallon. Zoom, zoom, baby, call marketing and figure it out.

6) The petroleum industry needs to pony up. Exxon made $36 billion in profit last year. But their wagon is coupled to the auto industry. Now even if the American auto industry goes bust, Americans won’t stop driving cars, they’ll just buy them from somebody else. However, sooner or later the oil is going to go away and it’ll be the energy companies pandering for a bailout. The auto industry and the oil industry are coupled at the hip, and the oil industry is solvent at the moment. It’s in their best interest to make some loans, refloat the car makers and start figuring out what the motive power of the future looks like. Then build it.

We either stand here and watch our country burn, or we can do something about it.

We’ve got the gold, we make the rules.

We give them the money, then they work for us.

We can retool, we can make our industry more efficient and competitive, we can make people want American made cars again, we can fix our energy problems, we can create new jobs in the supply industry for the new cars and in the energy sector.

Fifteen billion dollars ought to buy us something better than a bankruptcy postponement.

Fifteen billion dollars ought to buy us the future.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Can You Imagine If We'd Walked The Whole Way?

Blatantly stolen from Rodgers at Ku Fu Monkey.

Because, well, you'll see...

Keep On Tryin’

I'm doing some updates and maintenance to my network systems, so I'm going to be offline for a bit.

Oh stop your whining, it won't be long. An hour or so. Or two. Or three.

Maybe.

Well, OK. There is the remote possibility that I will suffer a catastrophic meltdown, since some of the installations I’m doing are Microsoft betas.

Yes, I know.

No, I haven’t gone soft in the head.

I’m interested in a number of their “Live” series products and I want to take a look at them – especially the upgraded Live Writer Beta which will allow a Twitter plug-in that automatically tweets blog entries (and if you don’t know what that means, don’t feel bad, neither do I). This is in addition to a couple of other updates and some maintenance that I’ve been putting off (you really, really, need to shut down every once in a while and blow the cat hair and dust bunnies out of the cooling system. Really).

I'm also having some equipment problems in the shop that I have to deal with while network systems update. I'll blog about those later - just in case there's anybody out there who needs to know how to fix a jammed Shopsmith MKIV idler/control sheave assembly (hint, penetrating oil, wooden wedges, and a mallet).


However, in the meantime, have some Bones.

Most TV I can take or leave, but Tuesday nights are shaping up, intelligent entertainment wise. I’m a fan of the new TNT series, Leverage. Intelligent and funny – it reminds me in spirit of the old Mission Impossible series (not those horrendously bad Tom Cruise movies). If you haven’t seen it, and you like intelligent, funny, and thoughtful entertainment from a terrific ensemble cast headed by Timothy Hutton, then you should check it out. The writing is terrific and John Rogers has done a great job with this show, which sort of makes up for Cat Women. (Sorry, John, you rock and Kung Fu Monkey is on my daily must read list – but, seriously man, Cat Woman. Ack.) John talks about the writing of last night’s episode here.

Following Leverage, comes one of my favorite shows ever, Bones. I love nearly everything about this show – but especially the interplay between Bones and Booth. Then, last night during an extended scene the soundtrack was Keep on Trying by Poco. Now, I’m not a big Poco fan – especially the current version – but, hey, you can’t argue with the talent in the band’s original line-up: Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield), Jim Messina (Buffalo Springfield, Loggins and Messina), Randy Meisner (The Eagles), Tim Schmit (The Eagles), and George Grantham. The harmony in Keep on Trying is terrific – late 60’s Rock and Country fusion, which is, of course, what Poco was known for. The video is a montage of clips from Bones, and if you haven’t seen the the show, you probably ought to:

Following Bones is Without A Trace. Which I also like, though I sometimes think it takes itself way too seriously, but still it’s pretty damned good.

Well, anyway. So far the upgrades are installing fine. Things are looking pretty good for a Microsoft installation – and in fact I’m writing this under Live Writer (haven’t installed the new plug-ins yet). Two of the computers are cleaned out, and I’m about to head out to the shop to blow the goo out of the keyboards with the air compressor. This machine is pestering me for a reboot, so that’s next.

Back in a bit.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Sphincter Says What?

Bill Cosby used to tell this story:

My parents like to give my children money. Money. For the children. Come over here and let's see what grandpa has in his pocket for you! This is the guy who when I asked for a dollar told me how he walked ten miles to school, barefoot in the snow, uphill, both ways. He told me how he killed a bear with his loose-leaf notebook. Now, he's giving money to my children. And I want to tell them, my children, look these are old people - they're trying to get into heaven now.

We're down to a couple of weeks, or maybe a little longer.

Thirty five days, actually.

And the outgoing administration is feeling a little reflective.

A number of folks in the Bush administration have admitted to regret at how things turned out, and the president himself admitted that he was unprepared for the challenges of his office. Specifically, he said he was unprepared for war. That didn't keep him from starting a couple though. And he said that maybe, just maybe, that was a mistake, maybe he wouldn't have ordered the invasion of Iraq if he'd had decent intelligence (and you may take that any damned way you'd like) and had known for sure that there were no weapons of mass delusion.

A little humility, finally. Not much, but a little. It only took a national vote of no confidence. It only took a resounding republican defeat. But finally, finally, there's just a little humility around the White House. Too little, too late, but still...

And, then, well then there's Dick.

Vice President Dick Cheney is not regretful, at all.

Dick didn't make any mistakes. Others did, but not Dick. Fuck 'em all. Dick's going out a winner. Or at least that's the impression I get from his recent exclusive interview with abc News.

Oh, he says he has changed a bit, but not in any fundamental way. He hasn't had some pansey-assed Robert McNamara epiphany. No crisis of conscience, not for Dick Cheney. He's not suddenly awash in regret or guilt stricken or anything. Dick doesn't have regrets. He's still the same dick we started out with eight years ago.

"Have I changed?" Cheney said. "Well, not in the sense that I've gone through some fundamental psychological transition here, but I have been, since that day, focused very much on what we needed to do to defend the nation, and I think the policies we've recommended, the programs that we've undertaken, have been good programs. I think those have been sound decisions, and if that's what they mean by saying I've changed, I'm guilty."

Still the gansta of love, is Dick Cheney. Sound decisions. Good programs. No regrets. Proud of his actions. Asked by ABC if he approved of the use of torture Cheney said he thought it was an "appropriate means" of getting information. Asked if he, personally, had authorized the use of waterboarding in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind behind 911, Cheney said,

"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."

Boy, that sure sounds like a guy who's proud of his actions, doesn't it. Did you authorize torture? Weeeeell, we call it a program. I supported the program. I was aware of the program. They talked to me and some others about the program...

Too much to expect a yes or no answer, I suppose. But that's OK. It's all justified by the War on Terrorism.

Because, see for Cheney, and the Bush administration - it's all about the terrorism. All of it. They see terrorists everywhere. At home. Abroad. In the airports. On the street corners. In the schools. Everywhere. Terrorism. Booga booga.

And the threat of terrorism justifies everything. And the threat of terrorism is all consuming. And the threat of terrorism is the first thing they think of when they wake up in the morning and the last thing they think of before they drop off into the sleep of the just and righteous.

Asked about President-elect Obama's national security picks, Cheney said he thought it "was a pretty good team." and "I think keeping Gates at Defense is excellent." Well, he could hardly say otherwise, could he? But then he went on to say that the new administration must carefully assess the tools put in place to fight terror. And there it is - everything leads back to terrorism for Dick Cheney.

But all of that was just the warm up.

See, Dick said something profoundly interesting. Something the interviewer didn't catch - and neither has anyone else that I'm aware of. See if you can spot it:

Cheney and the interviewer were discussing the war in Iraq. The interviewer mentioned that disgraced presidential advisor Karl Rove said during an interview earlier this month that he [Rove] did not believe the administration would have gone to war had the intelligence revealed Saddam did not possess WMDs. George W. Bush himself said much the same in his own interview and list of regrets. Dick said,

"I disagree with that. As I look at the intelligence with respect to Iraq, what they got wrong was that there weren't any stockpiles. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock. This was a bad actor, and the country's better off, the world's better off with Saddam gone, and I think we made the right decision, in spite of the fact that the original NIE was off in some of its major judgments."

Do you see it?

For five years now Bush, Rove, Rice, Powell and all the rest have said publicly that the reason we went to war was specifically the threat of WMD's. The speeches are a matter of public record. Now all of those folks have said, hey, sure, turns out the intelligence was wrong - but the decision to invade was justified at the time based on what we knew. It's regrettable now, that the invasion can't be justified in light of the evidence on the ground. Hindsight is a bitch. Saddam was a monster and a tyrant, but that would not have been grounds for going to war. But if there is any blame to be had, it's on the head of the US intelligence apparatus - not the administration.

Dick says, "I disagree with that." Dick says the invasion was justified anyway. Dick says we would have gone to war in Iraq even if we knew there were no weapons of mass destruction.

Go watch the interview for yourself. Tell me I'm wrong.

A lot of people have suspected for a long time that George W. Bush intended right from the start to finish the job his father failed to do.

Dick Cheney basically confirmed that.

Holy Shit.

Bush may be showing a little contriteness now, like Bill Cosby's joke, he's worried about getting into heaven here in the final days - well, maybe not heaven, but at least worried about what history will think of him.

Cheney on the other hand, well he's right.

He hasn't changed at all.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Consider A Spherical Scientist...

Something Dr. Phil said in a previous comment set me to thinking.

How would I do on a general science literacy test?

The kind Dr. Phil gives to college physics students? And hopefully one that includes a question about the movie Forbidden Planet.

I'm certainly no scientist, but I am pretty well educated, particularly in science, engineering, and technology. I read widely. I'm experienced in real world applications - especially in the areas of electronics, communications, and cryptography. I'm fairly good at basic math, and advanced math in the specific areas of radio wave theory and electronics - not so good in other areas. I've got a working knowledge of astronomy and I can plot a position on the surface of the earth using traditional stellar navigation equipment. I understand the basics of things like hydrodynamics (believe me, when you're driving a 9000 ton warship at speed a hundred feet away from a 30,000 ton tanker loaded with fuel and explosives during an underway replenishment, you learn about the non-compressibility of seawater, drag, and the venturi effect real damned quick you betcha. For extra fun try maintaining lifeguard station on a carrier during flight ops. Or hunting down a submerged nuclear submarine. Or predicting an H-60B flight envelop using a moboard, windbird, the binnacle, and a #2 black pencil). I understand the basics of biology, chemistry, physics - though I'm no expert in any of them. I'm familiar with the history of scientific advancement - though mostly from a military viewpoint. In my prior profession I was required to be the absolutely best at what I did in a highly technical field, which required that I know a bit about everything, sort of a specializing non-specialist if you will. Twenty years in the Navy, living inside one machine or another, traveling the world, blowing shit up - you learn things.

So, I was curious.

I figured I'd dig up one of those online quizzes I like to post around here, and while you all played around with that I'd go write today's real blog post.

It didn't go quite as planned.

There are a lot of those online quizzes, dealing with everything from how you'd fare against a horde of the shambling undead, to how many five year olds you could take in a fight, to whether or not you'd be good to eat should you and your friends somehow become trapped in a blizzard on a mountain in the Andes. There are quizzes testing your degree of gayness. There are quizzes to determine your political orientation or whether you're more of a dog person or a cat person (this is also a test of the gayness apparently). There are tests to determine if your dog is gay. There are quizzes to determine what action hero, or supervillian you'd mostly likely be in an alternate reality. There tests to determine which Star Trek character or Firefly crew member you'd best be suited for (couldn't resist, I'm Captain Malcolm Reynolds - it was the shoot first question and lack of scruples, I'm sure).

What there aren't a lot of though, are tests regarding basic scientific literacy.

Oh, I found a number of those dumbed down ten question Cosmo type quizzes, you know the ones that ask you if the sun goes around the earth, or is it vice versa? There are plenty of the "Are you smarterer and more intellectualated than a fifth grader" or "Do you know eighth grade science or did you spend high school drinking the bong water?" But there doesn't seem to be any general science literacy tests designed to test the basic knowledge of the average American adult (or any other type of adult for that that matter).

I find this odd.

And even the grade school level quizzes that I did find are interesting in an odd fashion, not for what they include, but for what they exclude - i.e. any question involving evolution, species origin (ours or anybody else's), or estimated age of the Earth/universe/life and etc. Biology questions seem to be limited to photosynthesis and whether or not garter snakes ball up for warmth. Physics and chemistry questions stir clear of controversial subjects - like can jet fuel burn hot enough to soften the steel skeleton of a sky scraper, for example or why does there appear to be two (or more) light sources in the Apollo 11 moon landing photos (understand, I'm not saying that scientific literacy tests should test only conspiracy theory nonsense, what I'm saying is that I don't see the type of questions that would indicate that the test taker has the critical thinking skills to determine quackery from legitimate observation).

Hardly a scientific analysis, I know, but still...

I was hoping to find quizzes that included questions regarding common misconceptions, or the type of science commonly debated in the media, evolution, stem cells, space flight, super colliders, the Northern Pacific Gyre, global climate change, the energy crises, and like that. Understand I wasn't looking for quizzes that asked about those specific subjects, but rather the basic scientific knowledge common to all of them - i.e. not do you "believe" in global climate change, but maybe something like "what are the contributing factors in the decision to place the polar bear on the Endangered Species list?" or maybe "besides the obvious addition of water volume to the oceans, how do melting freshwater glaciers contribute to rising sea levels?" or maybe better yet "What does the word 'theory' mean in the context of science?"

Out of the tens of thousands of online quizzes, I find nothing that tests basic scientific knowledge in the areas that Americans thought were so damned important during the recent presidential race.

I did find plenty of references to recent validated studies showing a marked decline in science and math among American students. But you know, I think the lack of online quizzes, the type of trivia tests that many people enjoy even in areas far outside their own expertise, says something too. I think that it indicates not only a decline in general scientific knowledge among Americans, but a decline in interest.

Oh sure, it would be pretty bad science to try and plot a curve from a single point - a point generated incidentally through fairly superficial data gathering methodology (i.e. I screwed around with Google for a while) - but there is a pile of corroborating data from fairly rigorous studies that also points in the same direction.

I find this disturbing on many levels.

I think it's the height of ignorant stupidity to argue things like oh, say, stem cell policy, when the vast majority of Americans couldn't even tell you what a stem cell is (other than to wave their arms around vaguely and say that stem cells have something to do with abortions) and have no interest in finding out either. I think it's pretty damned silly indeed to think we, or our kids, are going to solve the energy crisis (crises? What crisis? Gas prices are falling. Crisis averted, resume building SUV's Woohoo!) when most people seem to think their gas mileage can be increased by adding "magnetic alignment" modules to their car's fuel line or that oil comes from melted down dine-O-sauruses or that converting food crops into gasoline at less than five percent overall efficiency is a good idea.

And this goes right up to Capital Hill and the White House. Among many, many, many other reasons I'm glad to see the current idiot out of office on January 20th is his administration's utter disdain and lack of support for both basic and advanced science.

President-elect Obama had a solid and highly regarded group of science advisors during his campaign, much more so than John McCain - I'm very curious now that most of his cabinet has been named, who he will select for National Science Advisor. It's long past time to turn this trend around and establish a solid, practical, and innovative national science policy and education policy based on real science and not the politics of those who can't pass an fifth grade general knowledge test and have no interest in doing so in the first place.

And it's long past time to get rid of leaders who think that implementing a standardized testing battery in public schools was a great idea - and then proceed to ignore the results of those self-same tests when they don't return the answers politicians want to hear, or think that punishing poorly performing schools by denying them funding for basic programs is the way to improve testing scores.

Let's hope this new president can do better.

_________________________________

And just for the record, how did I do on that fifth grade science test?

Pretty damned good actually.

Score report for

Item Objective Student Correct Student's
Number Measured Expectations Answer Answer

1 01 5.1 (A) D +
2 03 5.8 (C) H +
3 04 4.11 (A) B +
4 01 5.4 (A) J +
5 01 5.3 (B) C +
6 02 5.9 (B) F +
7 01 5.2 (B) B +
8 03 5.5 (B) F +
9 01 5.4 (A) B +
10 02 5.9 (A) F +
11 02 3.8 (B) C +
12 04 5.12 (A) J +
13 04 3.11 (C) D +
14 01 5.2 (A) H +
15 02 2.9 (B) D +
16 03 5.8 (B) F +
17 01 5.2 (C) D +
18 02 3.8 (C) G +
19 04 5.6 (B) A +
20 01 5.2 (C) 2 +
21 03 5.7 (B) A +
22 04 3.11 (D) H +
23 02 5.10 (B) A +
24 04 5.11 (A) G +
25 01 5.2 (A) B +
26 04 3.11 (C) H +
27 03 3.6 (A) C +
28 02 5.9 (A) G +
29 01 5.2 (E) A +
30 04 3.11 (D) G +
31 02 5.5 (A) B +
32 02 5.9 (C) F +
33 01 5.2 (D) A +
34 03 5.7 (A) G +
35 04 4.6 (A) A +
36 03 5.8 (D) F +
37 01 5.2 (A) B +
38 03 5.7 (A) H +
39 01 5.2 (B) B +
40 03 5.7 (D) G +

+ = student's answer correct
NR = no response, student did not answer

Your total number of items correct by objective:
Objective 1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the nature of science.
13/13
Objective 2: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the life sciences.
9/9
Objective 3: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the physical sciences.
9/9
Objective 4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the earth sciences.
9/9



____
Total:
40/40

_________________________________

So, you know, if the new president needs somebody to run a science program for ten year olds, I'm your man.

See how you do - even if you're a real scientist (of which, there's more than one floating around here).

Oh, and if you find a good adult science literacy test (because I know you'll all regard this as a challenge, because I know how you people are), drop a link in the comments section.

Friday, December 12, 2008

One more thing...

...before I leave for Anchorage.

Got a package today.

This is the second package I've received from the same person in as many days.

I'm not going to tell you what was in it. Yet. I need to take a few pictures.

However, I will say this - Random Michelle is my new favorite person in the Universe.

Today's Woo Woo Science Test

You know, I really don't have time to do this justice.

I've been on the phone all morning and I've got places to be shortly. So basically, I'm out of blogging time today. It's just been that kind of week.

However, as always I am loath to leave you without entertainment and this subject is fraught, fraught I say, with endless possibilities for ridicule, laughter, snickering, and just general mockery.

See, I was reading the news this morning, and an MSNBC review of the movie The Day the Earth Stood Still caught my eye.

Now, understand something, next to Forbidden Planet, Day is probably one of my favorite Science Fiction movies. I just watched a fully restored version of Day in upconverted HD Widescreen DVD night before last - brilliant, brilliant movie (Hell, even the film's black and white format is perfect, like Casablanca). And the short story it is based on, Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates, is one of the best of the Golden Age. The final line of that story hits you like a hammer between the eyes.

With that said, I've been sort of looking forward to the new Keanu Reeves remake. No, seriously. Reeves' acting ability is limited - especially when it comes to emotion, but see Klaatu is an alien and Reeves weird alien mannerisms are just about perfect - plus he even sort of looks like Micheal Rennie. In the right vehicle, Reeves is excellent - say, like Constantine - and I was hoping the remake of Day would be a good fit for him. Well, the reviews are mixed and I haven't seen the movie yet, though I'll probably go this weekend if I can find the time (which is very unlikely, sigh).

What prompts this post though, is the review on MSNBC, which isn't bad, and isn't good (sort of like MSNBC itself) - or rather the comments under the review. One, by a certain V. Schauberger in particular is just so, um, damned funny I'm going to quote the whole bit right here:
Faster Than Light Travel does not violate relativity ... Contact from some human and non-human races has occurred for many decades between our government, and many human and non-human ET societies. This has been kept above TOP secret to protect the Fossil-Fuels industris, and energy-industries. Free-energy from vacuum (Vacuum is pure massless-CHARGE) and field-effect propulsion has been ruthlesssly suppressed despite being discovered and invented in many countries for the better part of a century. Rocetry is obsolete, and has been so for 80-years. We shall NEVER go far in space as a species if we depend of rocketry and internal combustion and heat-energy for energy and propulsion.SETI is a joke. Bilogical-signals that travel many-times in excess of the speed of light have been detected. Radio may not be an ideal form of communication for other cultures!Scalar-waves (Tesla-wave) have many advantages over radio, chief of which is they can travel at any spped, to infinite velocity depending on modulation. We now know of over 300 extra-Solar Worlds. administration with NO ties to Big-Oil. The beginning of clean energy and propulsion, that will take Earth-Humans to the stars, this century.
Favorite line? Vacuum is pure massless-CHARGE. Heh. Priceless.

Think he's kidding? Maybe a little tongue in cheek goading of the MSNBC readership? Think again. He's dead serious. He's discovered the secret of flying saucer field effect propulsion - and he's willing to sell it to you, just go to Applied Electrogravitics to lean all about beamship technology. The Applied Electrogravitics test site is easy to find, even if you're riding in on Tesla Tech from Zeta Reticuli, they are quite, quite, specific about their location - or at least the location of the beamship picture on the webpage. Quite specific.

In particular, check out the Frequently Asked Questions page, specifically the answer regarding the definittion of "Anti-gravity." Members of the UCF should be familiar with this type of scientific knowledge.

Notice that while they say the altitude of the beamship is 'unlimited,' they didn't answer the question "Why doesn't my beamship fly in vacuum if it's powered by anti-gravity?" or maybe "Why doesn't my beamship fly when there's a piece of plastic wrap stretched across the open well in the middle of the craft? Wow! I didn't know Saran Wrap stops gravity!"

So, here's your science woo woo test:

Why doesn't my beamshp fly in vacuum? If it's, you know, powered by anti-gravity and all?

Hint: A beamship, ordered from this outfit, was demonstrated on an episode of Myth Butsters.

Do you know the answer?

I do (and I did before I saw Myth Busters) - and I'm pretty damned sure you'd have a hard time getting Keanu Reeves off the ground with it, let alone a flying saucer.


For extra fun, type "Beamship" into Google and see what you get. Want to be amused? Try this guy, who has manged to combine woo woo beamship propulsion, UFO's, and Co-Planetarians (You know, Co-Planetarians, the people who live inside the Earth. 'Cause it's hollow. You know, Co-planetarians).

I'd like to get all snarky on this - but, you know, it just sort of doesn't need any help from me.


I've got a feeling that The Day the Earth Stood Still is going to look pretty damned realistic in comparison.

Really.




Oh, you may also discuss your favorite classic Science Fiction movie. Please, have at it. But I warn you, you'll have a hell of a time convincing me that anything beats Forbidden Planet.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Definitions

You know, some songs just define a generation.

It's different for everybody, I suppose.

But I hear this, and I'm instantly back in 1967, surrounded by long haired Hippies, bell bottoms, Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and some truly great music (yes, yes, some truly horrific music too - not nearly has horrific as what would come in the '70s though and I'm not just talking about Billy Don't Be a Hero, but Disco is a totally separate post, on another blog, far far away from here).




Originally written by Darby Slick of Great Society, Somebody to Love was performed by the band around the San Fransisco Bay Area throughout 1966. Great Society included Darby's sister in law, Grace Slick who sang vocals and played piano. The song didn't get much notice outside of the hippie club scene and would most likely have faded away in a cloud of pot smoke along with Great Society, except Grace departed the band in 1967 (and departed Darby's brother too) and joined Jefferson Airplane - and she took the song with her, along with her own tune, White Rabbit.

Somebody to love became Jefferson Airplane's first big hit, charting at #5 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Frankly I can't think of a single song from the 70's, 80's, or 90's that transports me back in time the way this tune does. And I'm not sure the new century even has music anymore - I suspect the kids nowadays just pipe psuedo-randomly modulated microwave energy directly into their brainstems from their iPods. Really. I suppose I think of the 70's when I hear anything by the (shudder) Bee Gees - in a Hey! Wasn't I getting a root canal when this song came out sort of way - I can't listen to that falsetto crap, I turn the radio down, not up the way I do with 60s tunes. I hated the 70s, really, especially the music - well that and paisley.

I think that officially makes me old.

But you know what? I officially don't care.


So, what songs define a decade for you?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I can't see my feet... (updated)

I'm busy this morning.

I've got to go move about a foot of snow out of the driveway - understand, I'm not complaining about this. I'm not thrilled, mind you, but at least the damned wind has stopped trying to rip the house off its foundation. In fact it's dead calm out at the moment here at Stonekettle Station, though the Palmer Airport windbird is showing 8MPH from the north.

Then I've got a project in the shop that has to be finished today. Period. And that's going to take me a while and it involves some very meticulous work with precious metal inlays. So, I need to get started on that right after the plowing is done.

However, being loath to leave you without a least a modicum of entertainment, try this quiz.

What action-hero are you?

Me, well, I'm not sure if I agree with the results. Oh, don't get me wrong - Lara Croft rocks. But here's the thing, I work on the lathe, a lot. Which means I need to be able to look down and see my hands. And Croft, well, I'm not sure she can actually see anything below chest level. Just sayin'. On the other hand, what view she does have is pretty spectacular. If you enjoy that sort of thing. Which I do. Just not from that perspective. On the gripping hand, I am going to a party in a museum tonight - I'll try to avoid any tomb raiding, however I'm not going to just stand by if the mummified priest zombie ninjas wake up and start munching on the party guests. No sirree.

The second choice, Indiana Jones, I'm good with that too, I always admired Indy - well, that and I look good in a hat. I'm not sure how we jump from Indy to Maximus exactly, but I'm good with it. James Bond? I don't like martini's, shaken or stirred, but man, I dig that Aston Martin V12 Vanquish. William Wallace? No hell no. Not big on the whole drawing and quartering and having your entrails burnt before your face while you're still alive. Really, screw that. Zorro? Yeah, Zorro is a class act. I'd wear the mask and fight the Don's. When did the Terminator become an action hero? Oh, yeah, the first sequel, right. Neo? Batman? Meh. Captain Jack Sparrow? Uh, the man has a serious lack of personal hygiene, and I'm not big on wearing eyeliner - Lady Croft doesn't wear any. The bottom choice, Spiderman, yeah that definitely belongs on the bottom, I always thought Spiderman was just stupid. Whiny baby in pajamas. Angst boy with a can of silly string up his sleeve. I pass.

So how about you? What action hero would you be?

Don't limit yourself to the test. What action hero would you be, and why?



You Scored as Lara Croft

A thrill-seeking, slightly unscrupulous, tough-as-nails archaeologist, Lara Croft travels the world in search of ancient relics perhaps better left hidden. She packs two Colt .45s and has no fear of jumping off buildings, exploring creepy tombs, or taking on evil meglomaniacs bent on world domination.

Lara Croft

79%
Indiana Jones

71%
Maximus

67%
James Bond, Agent 007

63%
William Wallace

58%
El Zorro

54%
The Terminator

50%
Neo, the "One"

50%
Batman, the Dark Knight

46%
Captain Jack Sparrow

46%
The Amazing Spider-Man

46%





Update: In the comments, Karl asked what Super-Villain I'd be. I make a better villain than a hero, apparently. You know, I'm totally good with this. Really:

What Super Villain Are You?

Sephiroth

Also referred to as the one-winged angel, Sephiroth is one of the top villains there on the charts, and one of the most dangerous beings you will ever encounter. Possessing fighting skills beyond that of any sword-fighter alive, this white haired, dark hearted warrior can turn anyone into cold cuts in seconds. The perfect villain who weilds a 3 meter long katana and uncommon strengths, anyone who dares face him will meet a grim end at the end of his cold, hard steel.

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