Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Friday, January 29, 2010

'Nother sort of beast

The video amusement du jour seems to be images of a house cat squaring off against a black bear and coming off the winner.

I can buy most of this except the idiotic headlines about "heroic cat defends household from bear," etc.

Bullshit. The cat (which in the video was off the porch like a rocket in pursuit as soon as the bear exited with what I assume was a bag of garbage) had two things in mind. First, making sure that the interloper wasn't making off with her food and second, giving hell to any creature that invaded the cat's personal space. I think the bear was an easy mark because it had people in mind. As a rule, black bears don't mind lifting something from humans as long as the humans aren't in a position to object strongly; say with firearms. If the people look like they can cause trouble, the bear is likely to exit. If you follow the video, you'll notice that once the cat had figured out that it wasn't her food, she was solely interested in self-defence and perfectly happy to let the bear pick up its bag of trash and beat it. Hardly heroic: Cats won't even move off the armchair for hoomanz without some mutual display of aggression. Also, this was not a huge bear. When it gets older, it may understand that the irate display of claws, teeth and fur in front of it could be a meal.

Or perhaps not. Where I grew up, it wasn't unusual this time of year to find signs in the woods that a wildcat had taken down a deer. The average wildcat is maybe half again the size of an average house cat, but far more muscular and with much nastier weaponry. The deer would be up to twice the size of that video bear. Those things happened when both animals were very hungry: the deer was weak and the wildcat was desperate.

All the same, Video Kitteh here had very little idea of how to take out an animal ten times her size like a wildcat does. Until she learns to sneak up from behind, jump on its back and go for the jugular, she's likely to end up as dessert.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Why the hell does nearly anything need to have a negative connotation?

The combination of my current bout with the Beast, and the weather, means that I spend most of my time indoors. When I begin bouncing off the walls enough to annoy the cats, I take the car and do something adventuresome like mall-walk. I cancelled today's plans when the first part of the week showed my current limit is one destination, rather than the three I'd planned. This would mean I could take the Blue line downtown, then turn around and come back. Nice.

But I digress. We have here a reasonably clinical definition of shut-in. I'm OK with this. However, the evil Wikipedia manages to throw a disagreeable spin on the situation. I'm sick, OK? When I'm crazee, I'll be sure to tell Wikipedia so they can get confirmation for their definition.
All this is one more reason to avoid Wikipedia, whenever possible, as a source for anything.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My turn on Avatar

Finally saw it today: Friday morning shows are a great solution to crowds.

I must also confess that having to take in an Imax 3-D film whilst on Klonopin adds an extra dimension to the experience denied to those who lack this medication. Still, reflection reinforces my first impressions, rather than the contrary.

Americans are raised on the idea of popular and overmatched uprisings against overwhelming power. Behind the narrative of the Revolution lies that of the Scottish Highlands, of the Northern Irish, of Owain Glyndwr, of Harold of England, of King Arthur, of Boudicca. When the Caucasians landed here, the resistance of King Philip, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and Geronimo fed into the same myth.

It doesn't really matter where the protagonist is from: the idea that the little guy can stand up to the big guy is in the national DNA. The storyline that seems so familiar was old before Dances With Wolves. The theoretically uniform British culture that provides the underpinnings of American mythology is a story of unceasing conflict between the small peoples and the large nation-state. It's familiar because the story is 2000 years old, and no screenwriter can ignore it, whether the motivation is conscious or not. I can't fault Cameron for re-telling it on an interplanetary level. It's also a narrative we ignore, in the present, at our peril.

Possibly I should try to see the film again when I don't have chemical assistance. The reality of the special effects seemed to be a logical extension of the somewhat altered state I was in when I was viewing it. However, I don't entirely see this working the same on an ordinary screen, much less at home.

I think Avatar was a better choice for me than Sherlock Holmes. I could approach the film de novo, whilst I've read Sherlock Holmes front to back about 43 times. I know already that liberties were taken: big ones.

Note: I must be off my feed or something. The only comment came in Japanese. When I ran it through the translator, I got back enough to see it was spam. Gotta love those engines.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

My mite in support of capitalism

When the entrepreneurial spirit surfaces in dark moments, one should of course support it. If you missed it, I refer to the t-shirt marked "I voted for Mike don't blame me." The site has a couple of other amusing products whose humour can be said to cut both ways.

This will do for yucks until the moment when Sarah Palin notices that her star power has been eclipsed by this Mr. Smith wannabe from Massachusetts. That will be the moment when we all discover the true meaning of the term "hissy fit."

I'd find some humour in the reaction I expect from British friends and relations, who still find it incomprehensible that the United States can't manage to treat the health of all of its citizens as seriously as it treats that of some of its domestic animals. Except that I anticipate the degree of earned mockery there will be in that reaction.

I'm afraid I've seen the future, and it isn't pretty. Government will solve nothing, because it will increasingly be composed of the celebrity politicians of the moment, with neither experience nor context to support them. When they inevitably fail, a populace obsessed with star power will replace them with its new favourites, and so on and so on until the whole apparatus comes apart at the seams. Nothing except the presence of a few competent politicians who aren't afraid to play the celebrity game is likely to stop it.

So Mr. Smith—oh, I mean Brown— what are you doing for your next act?

Late news: those wondering, as Ms. Crispix has, why no one has objected to the double standard that endorses Brown's nude pics, will be relieved to know that Joan Vennochi of the Globe has so objected.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Why lawyers suck

As an example, one might want to consider this lawsuit, one of several out there filed by persons claiming to have "electromagnetic allergies." We've been over similar ground recently, with reference to the unproven (and unprovable) cancer risk of cell phones.

Perhaps it isn't fair to single out lawyers, who after all just want to make a buck and aren't alone in both ignorance and lack of principles to do it. If we are shaking our heads at the tinfoil hat crowd, we really need to concentrate on the quack, hucksters and con artists who sell (I use the term deliberately) their pseudo scientific snake oil to the ignorant and gullible. Putting hucksterism in New Age draperies doesn't make it any less fraudulent.

There are plenty of trinkets out there to ward off evil electromagnetism. These plaintiffs would get the same results for less money if they bought some of them and didn't hand their life savings over to attorneys.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The clown car

Fox News has had this growing tendency to resemble a clown car. (To be precise, we refer here to the literal spectacle of a colourful small jalopy that arrives under the big top with a circus' entire clown payroll packed inside. If you have other associations, shame on you.)

It seems to me that if you're going to have a clown car, the logical thing is to have all the clowns in the one vehicle. In that context I think adding Sarah Palin to the Fox roster makes perfect sense. What makes the decision hilarious is both the timing—on the heels of Game Change—and the wild inconsistency.

Even if you work for Fox, it's a little hard to make a buck lambasting the mainstream media when you are part of the mainstream media. But that's where the greasepaint, rubber noses and stunt cars come in handy.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's wrong with hallucination, anyway?

The idea of eating and drinking prodded me out of my early evening hallucinations, just in time for the debate of the senatorial candidates. Alas, that show had nothing to do with TN medications. It was, in theory, real. It struck me as a poor remake of Night of the Living Dead.

I thing I'm going back to the Klonopin stories, if you don't mind: they're more entertaining and they make more sense.

Thought for the day. When one is bitten by the Beast during a visit to Whole Foods Market, what lessons should one take away from that?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The lost (or found) art of headline writing

It can hazardous to the elderly to read headlines that nearly make them laugh out of their chairs. I refer to today's brilliant AFP sally, "Air Canada ordered to offer nut-free seats."

The possibilities here may not be endless, but they are rich. We've just had a fortnight in which a wannabe jihadist nearly burnt his own nuts off, with supporting roles by a variety of simpletons either aboard aircraft or in airports. I ask you, why would I not want a nut-free seat? Make that a nut-free aircraft, if you don't mind.


Time for local news

Among the leading news items hereabouts is that the owner of a local excursion boat, and of a floating restaurant, is facing fines of $300,000 for dumping raw sewage into the harbour. If I understand the meat of the charges correctly, it happened because his company didn't want to pay to have the sewage tanks pumped out, as do ordinary mortals with floating real estate.

Moments like this make me glad I'm not in the reporting business any more, so that I can say it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

I first met this person in a business setting more than 15 years ago, soon after he'd established his floating restaurant. At that time, he made clear that he wasn't doing the floating gig as a unique selling proposition. Oh no; he said he did it because it made him exempt from local liquor licencing laws, as he felt he was entitled to be. Soon after, he decided that his evening jazz and booze cruises on his excursion boat were entitled to go where they pleased in either of the two crowded harbours they visited. It didn't matter to him that the navigational rights-of-way in these harbours had been laid out for the safety of all concerned. His company was entitled to do it.

Entitlement, or rather arrogance, has seemed to be the leitmotif that runs through this individual's life. I disagree with the people who think he won't miss the $300,000, but I sympathise with those who would rather see him behind bars. Unfortunately, being an asshole isn't a felony in Massachusetts. This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it would vastly increase the prison population. We'd have to turn all of, say, Lawrence, Fall River and Brockton into prisons. On the other, it would give the rest of us one hell of a lot of elbow room.

Let's just make him water ski behind his excursion boat as an incentive not to pump overboard.


Friday, January 08, 2010

All good things come to an end

Wel, mae poen da fi eto. And that's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

More fraud in headlines

Quick, what do you think when you see the headline "Footprints Force New Thoughts on Evolution"? Aha, I thought so, and that shows the extent to which we've all been brainwashed by so-called creation science.

When you get to the story, you'll see that it has nothing whatever to do with human evolution, or with any reconsideration of the idea of evolution, or with proving that humans and dinosaurs walked together, or any other bit of fundamentalist nonsense. It has to do with when creatures left the water and began to walk. The discoveries, which are without doubt important and fascinating to paleontologists, do not deserve to be presented under such a deceptive headline.

Note to Yahoo livescience: if you can't make the story interesting without deception, maybe you shouldn't lead with it.

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A simple solution

The wingnuts are fairly frothing at the mouth over the political subtext of Avatar. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen it yet, but it's high on the list.) Their reactions, in fact, remind me of my own initial responses to "reality" TV shows in general and Survivor in particular.

Where we differ is that I didn't suggest to anyone that reality TV was un-American merely because I didn't like either it or its subtext of human haplessness. I didn't imply that it should be censored or otherwise forcibly removed from audiences. Instead, I employed a simple but radical solution to my dislike of these shows.

I didn't watch them.

I commend this to the entire Right as a way to deal with a film they don't like.

55 inches of

ABC News is all agog about the 55 inch snowfall since, I think, New Years Day in Fulton, NY. The inhabitants are playing up to the cameras, and we're getting lots of (ahem) "shocking*" pictures of five-foot tall people standing chin-deep in their driveways and busily shoveling in front of their houses.

The point is, you can see the houses.

Fulton, Oswego, and environs are Ground Zero for lake effect snow. The whole county makes Buffalo look like Palm Springs. Fifty-five inches of snow is bupkis in a region that frequently sees four feet of snow in 24 hours. In February, 2007, parts of Oswego County had ten feet of snow from one storm, over a similar period. Whole houses disappeared and people were clearing their roofs with snowblowers.

I don't know whether this week's story originated with some Oswego County opportunist, or with a New York City producer who said "go get me a snow story." Either way, it's a good illustration of the value of context. Or, putting it another way, of the old adage about not letting facts get in the way of a good story.

* Speaking of facts. Journalism classes regularly mock adjectives that the news overuses, and "shocking" generally heads the list. Should we consider it shocking that most journalism graduates forget the lessons immediately upon graduating? Stay tuned.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Oh come on

I didn't think the Boston Bruins' season was so bad that they had to resort to doing a pact with Satan. Previously, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres had resorted to deals with Satan, but we all suspected that, of course. And we read also that Satan is on the Slovakian Olympic team. One would have thought the Transylvanian team would be more appropriate.

However this turns out, it's going to be good news for those of us who deal in cheap verbal hilarity. Evidently, we're not supposed to pronounce it "SAY-tan,"but "sah-TAHN." So how many excitable Bruins hockey announcers will remember that in moments of high drama? This will make hockey very interesting.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

About GPS

One of the oldest known factors preventing successful use of electronics is operator error. The recent spate of lost-in-the-woods with GPS incidents shows that operator error is alive and well. GPS receivers are many things, but they are not a cure for stupidity or for America's endemic geographic illiteracy.

It seems likely that car-mounted or hand-held GPS devices represent another instance of technology more sophisticated than most of its users. On the one hand, it requires a high level of obstinacy, stupidity or both to continue going forward when one finds oneself on an unplowed dirt road in a foot of snow. On the other, it is useless for company reps or the Air Force to say that users should always cross-check the device against maps or charts. Nine out of ten Americans can't read even the simplest map. But the makers don't want to dwell too much on this, I think. They know, or ought to know, that people buy GPS devices as a substitute for geographic literacy. They can't say "don't buy a GPS unless you can read a map and exercise common sense," because they'd be out of business if they did.

I can read road maps, topographical maps and nautical charts, so I find the GPS device a very handy tool. I have no hesitation about overruling the device's recommendations when it's clear they are unwise. Even sophisticated users can get into trouble if they don't.

Some years back, I was crew on a rescue boat accompanying sailboat races in these parts. It was early in the season, with rough seas and reduced visibility. The skipper, a retired Navy type of vast experience, decided it would be best to enter the locations of key navigation marks in the GPS as we passed them on the way out.

On returning, we began to notice that the device was giving us buoy locations that weren't squaring with observations. We also noticed that the new electronic fluxgate compass wasn't working properly. It took no time to decide to ignore the GPS and navigate by observation, since all aboard knew the local waters very well. If the visibility had been a little worse, we might have been in trouble.

A few days later, the skipper told me what had happened. The GPS was fine, but the fluxgate compass had been installed within a couple of feet of the GPS. The resultant conflict of magnetic fields threw both devices off (very much like the situation in the previous link). Once this was resolved, both compass and GPS worked fine.

Several people should have known better. The installer should have been more alert and should have tested both devices. At least two us aboard should have observed from the start that the two electronic devices were too close together: this sort of thing was within our experience.

If two former Navy people with electronics experience could be fooled by an installation error, what happens to a consumer with no experience at all? If they don't at least exercise common sense, they get lost in the snow.

You should not do magic that you do not understand, or at least learn to read a map.