25 July, 2006

Not suitable for post-prandial consumption

The Bush administration is rushing a delivery of precision-guided bombs to Israel, which requested the expedited shipment last week after beginning its air campaign against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, American officials said Friday.

The decision to quickly ship the weapons to Israel was made with relatively little debate within the Bush administration, the officials said. Its disclosure threatens to anger Arab governments and others because of the appearance that the United States is actively aiding the Israeli bombing campaign in a way that could be compared to Iran’s efforts to arm and resupply Hezbollah.

The munitions that the United States is sending to Israel are part of a multimillion-dollar arms sale package approved last year that Israel is able to draw on as needed, the officials said. But Israel’s request for expedited delivery of the satellite and laser-guided bombs was described as unusual by some military officers, and as an indication that Israel still had a long list of targets in Lebanon to strike.
This might be the perfect reference next time some idiot asks, "Why do they hate us?"


24 July, 2006

Tomato Hornworm!

I eliminated my first garden pest this weekend. In the past, my approach to pests has been pretty laissez-faire; my pest management technique has consisted mostly of laying down cedar mulch and growing some nasturtiums, and otherwise pretty much hoping for the best. Since I previously had more problems with squirrels than anything else, this has usually sufficed. City gardens probably don't attract the full complement of bugs in any case.

The droppings
But I found some remarkably symmetrical droppings on the ground beneath my tomatoes, which caused some alarm. A bit of investigation led me to the culprit, the tomato hornworm, which can end up burrowing into a fair number of ripe tomatoes and therefore probably needed to be "taken care of".

The offender
Eventually I decided to go out and actually look for the little bugger. He was actually pretty easy to find, because he was huge! The size of my thumb, at least. He was in the process of chewing on a tomato stalk (which he had already chewed the end off) and wouldn't desist even when I yelled at him.

I wrestled him into a glass jar with a stick (which was an epic battle of sorts - those little legs are remarkably tenacious), in the process of which he produced a great deal of green-colored, irridescent excretions (shitting himself with fear?) and made amazingly loud clicking noises. I stared at him for a while and showed him around to my roommates before beating him to death with some rocks.

This is about as exciting as my life gets right now.

20 July, 2006

Breaking news: American government doesn't give a shit!

MR. SNOW: The point here is they're firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. The Israelis are responding as they see fit.
Q Does the President thus far have any problem with what the Israelis have been targeting, given the fact they have hit a lot of civilians?

MR. SNOW: They have hit civilians. And one of the things we've pointed out is that it has been the deliberate tactic of Hezbollah to place assets in civilian areas, including sometimes in the homes of its own members, as part of the tactics so that they would not get hit. And we lament the death of innocents whether they be in Israel, or in Lebanon, or in Gaza, or anywhere else. So it is something of which we are keenly aware. And it is also a reflection of tactics that would have been unthinkable in other conflicts at other times, but there is a deliberate attempt on the part of Hezbollah to place civilians in harm's way. And, unfortunately, they are.
This, presumably, includes the Hezbollah stations built on Lebanese roads and bridges all across the country. Bridges are a great place for terrorist infrastructure, as are sea ports, air ports, cell phone communication towers, power plants, and trucks for drilling water wells. Once I saw a photo of a Hezbollah office in downtown Beirut that was built on the shoulder of a six-year-old boy, as well.

This is particularly horrifying:
MR. SNOW: What we want is the proper -- the cessation of violence in a manner that is consistent with stability, peace, democracy in Lebanon, and also an end to terror.

A cease-fire that would leave the status quo ante intact is absolutely unacceptable. A cease-fire that would leave intact a terrorist infrastructure is unacceptable. So what we're trying to do is work as best we can toward a cease-fire that is going to create not only the conditions, but the institutions for peace and democracy in the region.
In other words, we shouldn't stop until Hezbollah is finished, or at the least Nasrallah is dead.

Again, we're not surprised. We're also not surprised by the lack of perspective shown by American media. We are somewhat surprised, however, by the response from the Arab League, all but Syria expressing condemnation of Hezbollah. Fear of Iran and their own populations.

17 July, 2006

Goodness Gracious Me

Wow! I can't believe I went so long without knowing this existed. Here's a handy archive. And a funny sample for you lazy types:

16 July, 2006

In a dusty drawer

I recently pawed through my parents' Drawer of Important Documents, in search of my Social Security Card.* Therein I came across many old and wonderful memories, including old stories I and my siblings had written, my various graduation certificates and diplomas, letters my parents had written after they had fought, etc. There was a fairly representative history of my development as a cartoonist, which demonstrated to me that I have squandered a lot of talent.

I also found my journal from first grade, in North Plainfield, N.J. Therein is recorded my great love for He-Man and Transformers, a chronicle of what I accomplished in art class earlier that day, and the anticipation, aftermath, and enjoyment of the spoils of Christmas. The modal entry was "Yesterday I was bord.[sic] I had nothing to do." I seem not to have mastered the distinction between "b" and "d" by that point.

In a separate pile I found a much later product, a bit of humorous writing from after I had overcome my b/d handicap; I believe I was fourteen. I am somewhat dismayed to see that neither my wit nor my diction has grown any sharper in a dozen intervening years. Anyhow, I include it here, for your delectation:
We, being the human beings that we are, frequently need to urinate. This often causes stress in the form of bladder trouble, which is mistaken for stress at work. Then we become nervous wrecks (also attributed to stress at work) and shoot dead skunks with tin cans. This, too, is mistaken for stress at work. We then decide to leave work, and take a vacation.

So you make elaborate plans to go on a cruise to the Bahamas, but this will invariably be "rained out" by "rain". So you must make plans to visit another pleasant place, like grandma's house. This will usually mean a lot of cheek-pinching, and comments on how much little thirty-year old Timmy has grown.

You could visit someplace better, such as the Grand Canyon. This, we hear from our friend Mr. Alfred Geologist, is a tectonic formation resulting from erosion of the landscape due to the action of the Colorado river. To me, it looks like a big red ditch. A beautiful big red ditch, mind you, but a big red ditch nonetheless. Don't tell this to Alfred Geologist, because he is liable to hit you with an uppercut to the jaw.

Another delightful place is Grand Teton, which is just the opposite of Grand Canyon, being a mountain range. This wonderful area features such attractions as large rocks standing majestically in the background, making it the headquarters of half the world's postcard companies, and strange animals called moose which look and sound like cows but are not. One of the more interesting sights here is Jenny Lake, a three-mile wide lake which is remarkable for its clean water. Take many pictures of this water, especially if you live in New Jersey. This will tide you through the long months of drinking leaded water between vacations.

Of course, if you don't like nature, you can visit an amusement park, such as DisneyWorld, and get yourself chopped into little itty bitty pieces as the roller coaster mows over you where you fell onto the tracks after you went over that last loop.

Another alternative that I have not yet mentioned is a tropical vacation. This is simply where one takes a vacation in an area characterized by good climate and nice beaches. It is a good idea to bring with you a pair of sunglasses and a bag of Tostitos, because sunbathing is pretty boring, and you might as well make some money filming commercials while you are at it. It is also a good idea to bring items such as long underwear and a heavy parka, in case there is suddenly an Ice Age.

You can have your vacation where you pretend that you are doing something exciting for about a week, and then you must invariably return to your job, and do work. I find it deplorable how few children are willing to do work. They all want to relax, have a good time, have some grown person do the work. I think all the grown people should revolt, and overthrow their nine-year-old masters, and dump them in the Thames river to dissolve. I know this has no relevance to this article, but don't you think it's true?

At your job, you will of course be asked by your boss how your vacation was, and then sent to work photocopying a mound of papers big enough to fill the Titanic and enough typing to give you arthritis of the clavicle.

At this point, it would be a good idea to take a vacation.


* Which I was seeking because I finally decided to get a cell phone, and they wouldn't give me a credit check without it.

I acknowledge that I am betraying some sort of principle by succumbing to social pressure and getting one of these things, but I am no longer certain what that principle is (willfulness?).

12 July, 2006

Space, endpoints

Lately I've been playing a lot of video games. Actually, I've been playing a lot of video game: Halo 2, the $600 million-selling sequel to Halo: Combat Evolved. Halo is a sprawling space epic (or at least it tries to be - the format of first-person shooter is obviously somewhat restrictive). This is my first encounter with Bungie Software, which it seems has a long history of intricate games with detailed backstories and overstuffed plots. I can't say it's particularly inventive, since Halo is an agglomeration of hundreds of ideas pilfered from some of science fiction's best writers.* But there's neat work in that assemblage itself, which I think earns it a place in the annals of worthy science fiction.

This leads me to ruminate on the central appeal of all good (non-dystopian) science fiction, which I think boils down to "narrative". Not the internal narrative of, e.g., the Halo trilogy, which is compelling in its own right, but the implied, grand narrative for human history. The idea that we have some kind of future at all that doesn't suck. Or rather, that's still tense and full of conflict and purpose, that offers new vistas and directions.

Hungering for this sort of narrative is arguably a pretty juvenile impulse, one which might prompt more sober individuals to tell you to "grow up", and possibly to "get a job". But I've never been afraid of juvenile impulses; I'm probably dangerously attracted to them. In this instance, I think the impulse has extraordinary merit.

True, we're hardly in a position to be thinking about such things. It's absurd to even conceive of historical trajectories for humanity when we're parching the ground beneath our feet, and the majority of humanity refuses to acknowledge the humanity of the rest of humanity. But you're never going to cure myopia by staring at the end of your nose. Grand ideas are what's needed, to draw the gazes of us ants away from the dirt and towards the sky. Where, after all, we want to end up, right? We don't want to stay in the dirt.

The grander, the better; preferably, they should be so massive they have their own gravity. So that, even while we're distracted by the idiocy of our lives - our nationalities, our property, our families, our jobs - the individual vectors of our trajectories will tend towards a single direction, and, eventually, hopefully, form a tide.

I realize this is somewhat of a discredited notion, and we're supposed to be living in the end of history where nothing at all happens except possibly the purchase of a new pair of Manolo Blahniks, but I'm tired of postmodernism shitting on the mere idea of imagination. We NEED to imagine something, even if it's false, unattainable, or hopelessly stupid. If we don't imagine something, we're listless and boring. (You may have observed this in your own life. When you cannot imagine your own future, you become unspeakably dull.)

All of which is to bring me around to my fucking point, which is: where do you think we're going? Where do you want us to end up?

* It piqued my interest at first because it's set on a ringworld (the eponymous "Halo"), first conceived by Larry Niven in the book of the same name.

As Lao Tse said, "I don't grow up, I throw up. And when I look at you, I shut up." Insofar as "growing up" means calcification and death, it should be avoided.

10 July, 2006

Rig vote

The House voted a few days ago to allow offshore drilling in all outer-continental shelves in U.S. territory. That is, everything more than 50 miles offshore is open for oil and gas exploration and drilling development. The region between 50 and 100 miles is subject to ban by individual states before a specified time deadline (2009 for oil, a single year for gas), but since the bill mandates that 50% of royalties must be paid out to states (instead of almost entirely to the federal government, as it is now), many states might choose to forgo such a ban.

It's unlikely that the Senate would pass anything so grandiose, since offshore drilling favors major opposition from environmental groups, but it's important to remember that this is all happening in the run-up to election season. This year high gas prices are sure to be an important point of debate*, which will certainly contribute towards people making incredibly bad decisions in the name of easing the lives of consumers.

It therefore behooves us to review why offshore drilling is an incredibly bad idea.

Not so cute now, are ya?
Oil companies are fond of pointing out that oil spills, and offshore drilling in specific, make up a tiny fraction - less than 5% - of the total amount of petroleum pollution that gets into the ocean, and an even smaller fraction if you include natural seepage. Of course, in most of those situations the pollution is relatively diffuse and not nearly as destructive as in the case of an oil spill, when it coats everything and makes life very difficult for otters and other cute animals.

But never mind that; what concerns us is not improbable outlier events, but the routine activities of drilling. In brief: the basic protocol for oil exploration and drilling is: your rig (of whatever type) sets up where you want to drill. Then you cut into the ground, directing your drill where you want it to go until you've reached your source. After that you drop in tubes, seal it in place and start pumping.

The catastrophe you want to prevent here is blowout - when gases or fluids under pressure force their way out of the bore. Blowouts can be catastrophic. The worst oil spill in history occured in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Bay of Campeche when an exploratory well (Ixtoc I) blew out and was uncontrolled for nearly a year, spilling somewhere between 140 and 428 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The way you prevent blowouts is by maintaining pressure in the shaft using "drilling muds" or "drilling fluids". These are usually recirculated in the shaft and re-used, but a significant amount is deposited on the ocean floor. The high-density fluids used in drilling muds, as well as the drilling cuttings from the bore itself, may contain heavy metals like cadmium or mercury in order to give it weight. Needless to say, introducing such toxic metals into ocean environments is not healthy for them, especially in shallow-water environments. Drilling fluids also may contain extremely toxic hydrocarbon lubricants, although safer alternatives to many of these exist or are being developed.

A second important source of pollution is produced water released from the bore - this can contain hydrocarbons, metals, and most significantly, slightly radioactive compounds, like radium, which may precipitate out and settle onto the ocean floor.

I'm tired of saying this, but it's especially disgusting that bills like this one are being passed while there has been no substantial Congressional action to encourage conservation, which could probably offset the bulk of increased production from offshore drilling with relative ease. And, as has been continually pointed out, since oil is traded on a pretty ideal global market and most major oil companies are multinational, there is absolutely no difference in terms of price to the consumer to increasing production at home or abroad.

* For some stupid fucking goddamn idiotic reason.

07 July, 2006


Genuine, no-joke press release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, dated yesterday:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

*Germany to Help Provide Clean Energy*

Contact: Roxanne Smith, (202) 564-43XX / XXXXX@epa.gov (media only);
Erin Birgfeld, (202) 343-90XX/ XXXXX@epa.gov (technical questions only)

(Washington, D.C. - July 6, 2006) Germany has become the 18th member of the
international Methane to Markets Partnership, a Bush Administration initiative
that promotes the recovery and use of methane to provide clean energy. Germany's
participation in the partnership will help reduce methane emissions and promote
global energy security.

"The Bush Administration has an unparalleled financial, international and
domestic commitment to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
programs, like EPA's Methane to Markets Partnership, are achieving significant
reductions by taking methane waste and turning it into wealth," said EPA
Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "By working with Germany to promote advances
in clean technology, President Bush is helping turn strong economic partners
into good global neighbors."
Hello, is this Erin Birgfeld? Yes, I have a technical question. If two lines are unparalleled, and one is going the right direction, which way is the other one going?

Gotta love those unparalleled commitments. It reminds me of two speedskaters, one bolting with determination for the finish line while the other pours salt on the ice, moons the camera, and wanders off into the crowd. "My commitment to victory is unparalleled!"

Or to put it another way (PDF):
German emissions are 18.5% below 1990 levels, within reach of its 21% emission reduction target. Germany is expected to meet its targets without the use of flexibility mechanisms such as international carbon trading. Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroder has offered to set a target of reducing German emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 if the EU accepts a 30% reduction target. The new coalition government under Chancellor Angela Merkel has maintained a strong stance on climate change action...
As of 2003, the report says, Germany needed to cut another 3 percent from its carbon emissions to meet its Kyoto commitment. The USA needed to cut 21 percent, a number that rises with every record month for gasoline consumption. Hooray for April! We sure stuck it to Exxon that month!

Smells like election season

Gosh, two terrorist plots in a month. The FBI at work, protecting the homeland.

The agency's top-notch cybersleuthing skills were on display. Just a day after a consultant pleaded guilty to hacking the bureau's computers and acquiring the password and social security number of each employee including the director! The FBI regained the advantage over cybercriminals. The bureau found these criminal masterminds by monitoring what my sources call "open Internet chat rooms."

Other sources, within the FBI, tell me that enforcement actions will increase in September. As schools reopen, college sophomores across the U.S. will be arrested for quoting aloud from the first paragraphs of The Communist Manifesto while preschoolers, having built tall towers out of wooden blocks and Legos, can expect to be questioned if they levy credible threats against the structures.

The agents who will be assigned to Operation Schoolyard will become available after the FBI disbands 110-member Unabomber task force. Its continued existence was criticized earlier this year after an agent found the bomber at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. The bomber was turned in by his brother in April, 1996, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Following the high ethical bar of my competitor, the New York Times, I must disclose why I granted these sources anonymity. They didn't want their names used because they are my imaginary friends and it would embarrass me to have everyone know what I call them. Right pooky-monster?

03 July, 2006

Summer photo season

I just had to snap this off at the Triborough Bridge in New York.

Terror alert Yellow

I'm glad I took off my kaffiyeh.

01 July, 2006

Violence, violence!

Dennis Perrin has a good bit about the latest nonsense in Israel/Palestine, including a nice debate between Norman Finkelstein and some guy from AIPAC.

Our own government has responded about as expected. This:
Israeli forces entered the southern Gaza Strip this past week as part of efforts to free [captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit]. Israeli forces also detained more than 60 officials of Hamas, the Islamic militant group, which won the last Palestinian election.
prompted this:
President Bush says the key to ending the crisis in the Gaza Strip is freeing [Shalit].
This, following Israel tearing in and shutting off all power in Gaza (read: hospitals and water supply).

Virgin deaths?

Screw virgin births - how many people who live to puberty die as virgins? My guess - 0.7%. But I have no idea how to confirm this.

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