"The only blog we have to fear is blog itself."

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Always Follow the Rabbits 

How Did Animals Escape Tsunami?
Wild animals seem to have escaped the Indian Ocean tsunami, adding weight to notions they possess a sixth sense for disasters, experts said Thursday.

Sri Lankan wildlife officials have said the giant waves that killed over 24,000 people along the Indian Ocean island's coast seemingly missed wild beasts, with no dead animals found.

"No elephants are dead, not even a dead hare or rabbit," said H.D. Ratnayake, deputy director of Sri Lanka's Wildlife Department....

"There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence about dogs barking or birds migrating before volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. But it has not been proven," said Matthew van Lierop, an animal behavior specialist at Johannesburg Zoo. "There have been no specific studies because you can't really test it in a lab or field setting."


Not to make a depressing week of news even more so, but... 

Iraq 2004 Looks Like Vietnam 1966:
Generational contrasts are implicit today when casualties in Iraq are referred to as light, either on their own or in comparison to Vietnam. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, for example, last July downplayed the intensity of the Iraq war on this basis, arguing that "it would take over 73 years for U.S. forces to incur the level of combat deaths suffered in the Vietnam war."

But a comparative analysis of U.S. casualty statistics from Iraq tells a different story. After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.
Obviously making such comparisons are fraught with difficulty. But still, there's little that's hopeful in this analysis. It's just the degree of "bad."


After Washington State Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi suggested a revote after apparently losing by 129 votes:
"This ain't golf. No mulligans allowed here, folks," said [Democratic candidate Christine] Gregoire's spokesman, Morton Brilliant. "It's irresponsible to spend $4 million in taxpayer money on a new election just because you don't like losing this one."
"Morton Brilliant"? C'mon!

What is he, one of those pre-Beatles British pop stars managed by Larry Parnes (whose roster included Tommy Steel, Johnny Gentle, Billy Fury, Dickie Pride, and Georgie Fame)?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Seven Bad Album Covers 

Bob Welch, French Kiss (1977)
Otis Redding, Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (1966)
The Rolling Stones, Dirty Work (1986)
Donny & Marie, Goin' Coconuts (1978)
Warrant, Dog Eat Dog (1992)
Grand Funk Railroad, E Pluribus Funk (1971)
Abba, Arrival (1977)
What were they all thinking?


This is from an article that appears to have been published on December 14:
Volcanic landslides that generate huge and devastating tsunamis tend to occur during historically warmer times on Earth, a new study suggests. Scientists don't know exactly why, but since the global climate is warming as you read this, the apparent connection was tossed out this week as a reason for scientists to be concerned about the threat now.

Tsunamis are waves that race across the ocean without much fanfare but grow to frightening proportions when they reach land. The waves are deep, and while they may appear just a few inches or feet tall on the open ocean, they can soar to the height of a multi-story building as they are forced upward near the shore.

A tsunami can be generated by the sudden uplift of the seafloor in an earthquake, or by the paddle-like effect of a landslide crashing into the sea from, say, an island volcano. Yet while quake-generated tsunamis have been observed from their genesis to the disastrous end, scientists have never witnessed a significant open-ocean tsunami generated by a landslide.
Although it's describing a "megatsunami" caused by a volcanic landslide instead of an earthquake, and a destructive phenomenon even worse that what was seen in the Indian Ocean, some of the "warning signs" mentioned seem rather prophetic with hindsight.

Regardless of the coincidence, we in the U.S. would be smart to heed the conclusion (made, please remember, weeks before the current tragedy):
So should we worry? "Maybe," says McMurtry. He thinks that a tsunami, which can race across an entire ocean in a matter of hours, is a real threat to urbanized coastlines. Other experts agree that a large tsunami would be bad news for, say, Los Angeles or New York City. And tsunamis are not parochial. One originating in Alaska in 1964 killed people in California and generated damaging surges clear down in Chile.

McMurtry believes the threat is greater than from an asteroid impact, but asteroid research has managed to lure more funding. More money should be spent to monitor the stability of oceanic volcanoes, McMurtry argues.

"Mauna Loa is as big as it's ever been, so the energy is there" for a giant submarine landslide, McMurtry said. He's even attached some odds to the threat: "The probability of a megatsunami in Hawaii in the next 10,000 years is about 50 percent."

Ye Merry Gentlemen 

Porn On Christmas Morn:
A northeast Ohio family hoping to see choirs perform holiday music on Christmas morning instead saw adult programming on the local public access television station.

"I turn it to Channel 15 and there's this naked lady on the screen -- I mean full-frontal, get-the-hell-out-of-here pornography," said David Umana.


Chris Thomas, the cable company's director of government affairs, believes the wrong tape was put in a machine set to play that morning. A church program was scheduled, he said.

"I don't think the church group submitted that," Thomas said.
Santa's a complicated man.

Interesting Times 

The BitTorrent Effect:
"All hell's about to break loose," says Brad Burnham, a venture capitalist with Union Square Ventures in Manhattan, which studies the impact of new technology on traditional media. BitTorrent does not require the wires or airwaves that the cable and network giants have spent billions constructing and buying. And it pounds the final nail into the coffin of must-see, appointment television. BitTorrent transforms the Internet into the world's largest TiVo.

One example of how the world has already changed: Gary Lerhaupt, a graduate student in computer science at Stanford, became fascinated with Outfoxed, the documentary critical of Fox News, and thought more people should see it. So he convinced the film's producer to let him put a chunk of it on his Web site for free, as a 500-Mbyte torrent. Within two months, nearly 1,500 people downloaded it. That's almost 750 gigs of traffic, a heck of a wallop. But to get the ball rolling, Lerhaupt's site needed to serve up only 5 gigs. After that, the peers took over and hosted it themselves. His bill for that bandwidth? $4. There are drinks at Starbucks that cost more. "It's amazing - I'm a movie distributor," he says. "If I had my own content, I'd be a TV station."
As the article points out, the clip of Jon Stewart on Crossfire was probably seen by upwards of 2.5 million people online (although mostly via iFilm.com) while viewers of the show on CNN number only around 867,000.

This information suggests that traditional media are slowly becoming content creators only, while the distribution of that content is shifting to individuals using new technologies.

The notion dovetails with a discussion at a radio conference I attended back in August. Survey data was presented which suggested that, contrary to popular wisdom, radio stations have more to worry about from iPods and filesharing than record labels: the new technologies tend to threaten the established distribution channels, not necessarily the original publishers/broadcasters.

Of course, as to whether the content creators (like CNN or the record labels) can continue to create that content with the revenue generated by their distribution channel (like the advertising on the cable broadcast or retail music sales) is an entirely different issue.

Monday, December 27, 2004

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly 

The Good
Why There's No Escaping the Blog: It all used to be so easy; the adage went "never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel." But now everyone can get ink for free, launch a diatribe, and—if what they have to say is interesting to enough people—expect web-enabled word of mouth to carry it around the world.
The Bad

The Ugly
Post-"coke-nutbag breakdown," [Courtney] Love teams with Billy Corgan: ...Back to Billy for a second: The chord arrangements that he does are so brilliant. He brought it to me and Lisa [Leveridge, guitarist in Love's band, the Chelsea]. He's not simple at all -- I mean, Billy could never write a half-rock song even if he was trying to. Like that Dave Grohl song, (sings) "Don't want to be your monkey wrench" -- it's, like, the stupidest. You know the one I'm talking about? It's like, "Fuck you! So easy to write, I could have written that in my sleep." And I bring it up because that particular song really bugs me because it's just big and dumb.

Post-script to Christmas 

Tip: Egg nog used instead of milk or cream in your coffee can be a tasty holidat treat?

Another tip: Too much of same can make one's digestive tract feel remarkably Grinch-like!

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Flair for the Obvious 

"Touchdowns win football games, especially in the playoffs."

~~CBS Sports commentator Brent Jones
during the Steelers-Ravens game, 12/26/04

Huh. He schooled me. I thought scoring was coincidental to winning. And what's this about winners determined differently during the playoffs?

Freaky Government Offfices 

When I lived in New Jersey, the use of the term "Freeholder" as a county office became routine. The word, describing a member of an elected county supervisory board, is pretty much limited to the Garden State. The board itself is frequently called, rather archaically, the "Board of Chosen Freeholders." This is all said (generally) with a straight face.

But I was just reading a somewhat amusing news item, and I ran across the "First Selectman." A First Selectman is, apparently, a variation on Mayor. This position, which seems to be a Northeastern phenomenon, generally is used in municipalities where there's a Board of Selectmen (although many towns with such Boards do not have a First Selectman).

So I tried to find other quirky local/county level office names. The only one I came up with was Alderman (and a variant: "Alderman-at-Large").

Any others?

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Old Jacob Marley 

"I do," said Scrooge. "I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?"

"It is required of every man," the Ghost returned, "that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world -- oh, woe is me! -- and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!"

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain, and wrung its shadowy hands.

"You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why?"

"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?"

Scrooge trembled more and more.

"Or would you know," pursued the Ghost, "the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!"

Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.

~~Charles Dickens
via Project Gutenberg


Friday, December 24, 2004

Holiday Plenty 

Be glad this holiday dinner that your food and travel was relatively easy to come by.

Foodstuffs rocketed to space crew:
A cargo spaceship has taken off carrying vital foodstuffs to the International Space Station, where supplies are running dangerously low.

The Progress craft launched from the Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan early on Friday and is due to arrive at the space station on Sunday.

It is carrying 2.5 tonnes of food, water, fuel and oxygen, and Christmas presents for the two astronauts.

Their mission will have to be aborted if the supplies do not reach them.
Iraqis' Dismay Surges as Lights Flicker and Gas Lines Grow:
"There were days when we spent the night here," said Abdul Razzaq Matrood, who counted himself lucky after spending a mere 12 hours in a gas line two miles long. "We brought our blankets to sleep in the car."

Energy shortages of every stripe bedevil this country, which sits atop the world's second-largest petroleum reserves. Electricity shuts off for whole days. Prices of scarce cooking fuel have risen nine-fold. And gas lines this month reached new lengths, creating yet another venue for violence. At least two men have been killed in Baghdad over places in line or allegations of watering down the goods.
I know being thankful was that last holiday, but as we wind down 2004, we should all be thankful we don't have to wait in 2 mile long lines or need our food rocketed to us.

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Cloney Cat 

Cloned Cat Sale Generates Ethics Debate:
The first cloned-to-order pet sold in the United States is named Little Nicky, a 9-week-old kitten delivered to a Texas woman saddened by the loss of a cat she had owned for 17 years.

The kitten cost its owner $50,000 and was created from DNA from her beloved cat, named Nicky, who died last year.
The only instructions which came with the cloned cat were (1) don't get it wet, (2) don't feed it after midnight, and (3) keep it away from bright lights. Or else it turns into a Joe Dante film.

Buy those gifts wisely... 

Toys have lasting impact on brain:
Toys that stimulate a young child's mind could permanently boost their brain function, according to research.

Scientists found skills learned very early in life may trigger permanent changes in the structure of the brain.

The findings, based on a study in owls, underline the importance of choosing the right toys for children, even at the earliest stages of life.
Meanwhile, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots are known to reduce brain function 37%. Well, at least in owls.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Not-so-random Cracker lyrics 

I was having a good sleep in my car
In the parking lot of the Showboat Casino Hotel
I said, "I remember you--you drive like a PTA mother."
You brought me draft beer in a plastic cup.
I'm feeling thankful for the small things today
I'm feeling thankful for the small things today

Happy, happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday to me, and to you.
Happy, happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday to me, and to you.

I'm feeling thankful for the small things today.
I'm feeling thankful for the small things today.

I said "I remember you, I crashed your wedding.
With some orange crepe paper and some Halloween candy."
Sometimes I wish I were Catholic--I don't know why
I guess I'm happy to see your face at a time like this.

Happy, happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday to me, and to you.
Happy, happy birthday to me.
Happy birthday to me, and to you.

Happy birthday baby, to me.
Happy birthday baby, to me.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Dead Brando Gaming 

Brando 'to appear on video game':
Late film star Marlon Brando is to reprise his famous Godfather role on a new video game, according to the Hollywood Reporter newspaper....

Brando, who died in July at the age of 80, has already appeared in an advance trail[er] for the Godfather game.

EA obtained the rights to use Brando's likeness before his death, and is working alongside Paramount Pictures on the project.
Let's say it all together: they made him an offer he couldn't refuse.


Since the world's tallest bridge is now open, what's next for Guinness Record-minded engineers?

How about the world's tallest building:
The construction of what will be the world's tallest building is set to begin in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The building contract was awarded to a consortium led by the South Korean Samsung Corporation on Thursday.

The Burj Dubai tower will stand 800 metres tall - just 5 metres shy of half a mile - once completed in 2008. That will be nearly 300 metres taller than the tallest floored building in the world today, the Taipei Tower in Taiwan.

The new tower’s unique, three-sided design will ascend in a series of stages, around a supportive central core and boast a total of 160 floors, accessible via a series of double-decker elevators. Its shape will be integral to its impressive size. The design is intended to reduce the impact of wind and to reduce the need for a stronger core - allowing for more space - as it ascends.

"It's almost like a series of buildings stuck together," says Mohsen Zikri, a director at UK engineering consultants Arup. "As you go up you need less and less lifts and less core."
It will also be taller than the CN Tower.

The article mentions that the tower will be used for "offices, residential apartments, hotels and shops and will be surrounded at its base by a man-made lake." Really? Apartments? Would you want to live in the world's tallest building? And one with a de facto moat around it?


From the Stalactite Research Desk... 

The Platonic Form Of Stalactites:
No matter whether they're big, little, long, short, skinny or fat -- classic stalactites have the same singular shape.

Almost everyone knows that stalactites, formations that hang from the roof of caves, are generally long, slender and pointy. But the uniqueness of their form had gone unrecognized.

"There's only one shape that all stalactites tend to be. The difference is one of magnification -- it's either big or it's small, but it's still the same shape," said researcher Martin Short of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Short and his colleagues have developed a mathematical theory that explains how stalactites get their shape.

"It's an ideal shape in nature and in mathematics that had not been known before," said Raymond Goldstein, a UA physics professor and senior author on the research report. "The Greek philosopher Plato had the concept that there are ideal forms underlying what we see in nature. Although any particular stalactite may have some bumps and ridges that deform it, one might say that within all stalactites is a idealized form trying to get out."
First of all, does researcher Martin Short lapse into Ed Grimley whilst in the field?

Secondly, perhaps I'm missing something, but "duh." Isn't it obvious that stalactites would be formed in fairly regular conical shapes?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Short Attention Span News Roundup 

International Desk.
Iceland offers Bobby Fischer visa: The ex chess champ is detained in Japan and wanted in the U.S. for violating sanctions against Yugoslavia in 1992, playing a rematch against old rival Boris Spassky.

National Desk.
Cops Find 610 Pounds of Pot in Coffins: The marijuana-packed caskets were in a truck stopped by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol for breaking the speed limit by 6 mph.

Science Desk.
Scientists find new Indian monkey: The hitherto unknown species of the macaque family was photographed in India's Arunachal Pradesh state, thus giving the name Arunachal macaque.

Entertainment Desk.
Director Sidney Lumet is to receive an honorary Oscar at next February's ceremony. Meanwhile, while on his first visit to Turkey since the film, Oliver Stone has apologised for "over-dramatizing" his screenplay for the 1978 Midnight Express.

Sports Desk.
The Steelers continue to rock!

Record Label Promises Less-Functional Products! 

New CD copy-lock technology nears market:
A new kind of copy-protected music CD will likely hit U.S. shelves early next year, as record label SonyBMG experiments with a technology created by British developer First 4 Internet, according to sources familiar with the companies....

"We're not keen to rush," First 4 Internet CEO Mathew Gilliat-Smith said. "We have always focused on a high level of protection, but we've waited until there aren't any playability issues."

The new SonyBMG experiments are a further sign that copy protection on music CDs may be moving closer to the mainstream U.S. market. The practice is much more common in European and Asian markets.

For several years, the major record labels have sought a way to protect CDs against unrestricted copying and "ripping," or transforming songs into files such as MP3s that can be swapped widely online. Early experiments proved unpopular, prompting reports that the discs could not play in certain kind of stereos, or might even damage computers.
As someone who has been spending the past week ripping audio from my own CDs for personal use on my own home computers and portable devices, this is like an announcement that my car will only drive on certain streets in the future.

'Tis the Season... 

...for journalists bearing holiday-themed cliches!
  • ZD Net: "TiVo giveaway has lump of coal for Comcast"
  • Jackson (TN) Sun: "Someone's asking for a lump of coal..."
  • Houston Voice: "A real lump of coal: The first original production for here! TV, ‘Too Cool For Christmas,’ is a holiday dud that will yield little Christmas cheer."
  • Arizona Republic: "'Christmas With Kranks' is cinematic lump of coal..."
But wait! there's more...
Oh, please disabuse yourself of the notion that I'm finished!
  • Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "No ho, ho, ho's for Santa pols..."
  • KLTV/Tyler, TX: "That's Christmas music to Nancy Wiggins, since her families make the difference between ho-hum and ho-ho-ho."
  • Boston Herald: "Ho, ho, ho, it's Santa Tom Brady, delivering a little holiday payback to all the bad little boys on his offensive line at Sonsie the other night!"
There's more, but frankly, I'm feeling a little nauseous. I think I'd better stop now.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Auction News 

Beatles' 'killer axe' to auction:
A guitar used by George Harrison and John Lennon at some of the Beatles' most important recording sessions is set to test auction sale records when it goes under the hammer this week.

The only obstacle to a spectacular price might be the bad karma that appears to be attached to the instrument. All the musicians who have played it have died.

The cherry-red Gibson SG guitar, dating from 1964, belonged to Harrison and was used by him for the last three years of the Beatles' existence, including sessions for the Revolver album, which included "Eleanor Rigby" and "Here, There and Everywhere."

Lennon played the guitar during the so-called White Album sessions in 1969. Harrison then gave it to Pete Ham of Badfinger, a group on the Beatles' Apple record label that had a hit with "No Matter What" and wrote the No1 hit "Without You" for Harry Nilsson.

When Ham hanged himself at the age of 28 in 1975, the guitar was stored away for 28 years by his brother, John Ham. It was rediscovered two years ago when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, contacted Ham in preparation for a Badfinger retrospective. He allowed it to be displayed for two years before deciding to sell it.

Auction house Christie's, which will sell the guitar in New York on Friday, has put an estimate of $US500,000 ($664,000) on the instrument.
Don't put too much stock in this "bad karma" theory; I generally don't trust theories of writers who can't even get their facts stright. The sessions for The White Album were in 1968.

Meanwhile, Christie's to auction copy of Hawthorne's masterpiece:
[Natick, Massachusett's] historical society hopes to make more than $250,000 when it auctions a rare copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" this week -- not bad for a manuscript that spent more than a century in a file drawer before someone recognized its significance.

Natick resident Lucy Bigelow Mann, who was related to Hawthorne by marriage, donated the corrected page proofs in 1886 to the organization that became the Natick Historical Society. The pages are covered with more than 700 proofreading corrections and comments, many believed to be in Hawthorne's own hand.

The gift wound up in a drawer, where it spent the next 118 years before trustee Roger Casavant came across the pages earlier this year while cataloguing the society's collections. He identified it as the oldest existing copy of "The Scarlet Letter."

"This is unique. No other proof pages of any of Hawthorne's novels or stories survive," said Chris Coover, senior specialist in rare books and manuscripts at Christie's in New York, which will auction it Thursday along with 17 other rare documents belonging to the Natick Historical Society.

He called the manuscript "one of the most important items of 19th century literature to appear in the market this year."
I've got to start finding things like this in drawers.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Martian Weather Postcast 

Spirit claims Mars water prize:
Robot Mars rover Spirit has so far been eclipsed in its mission by its "twin" Opportunity, which found rich evidence of a wet history at its landing site.

But now Spirit has found compelling evidence that liquid water also flowed at Gusev Crater, the rocky basin it is exploring on the Red Planet.

Spirit has discovered a mineral called goethite in the bedrock at Gusev which forms only in the presence of water.

Details were outlined at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, US.

"Goethite, like the jarosite that Opportunity found on the other side of Mars, is strong evidence for water activity," said Dr Goestar Klingelhoefer, lead scientist for the Moessbauer spectrometer instrument on the rovers, which analyses iron-bearing minerals.
"Moessbauer spectrometer"? Is that anything like an Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Millau Span March 

Inauguration for tallest bridge:
The world's highest road bridge is due to be inaugurated in southern France by President Jacques Chirac before opening to traffic later this week.

The Millau bridge over the River Tarn in the Massif Central mountains will carry cars across a 2.5km (1.5 mile) valley at a height of 270m (885ft).

The highest point of the seven-pillar bridge stands at 343m (1,125ft) tall.

Completing a new motorway link between Paris and the Mediterranean, it removes a bottleneck at the town of Millau.
As mentioned here back in May. Check out that photo (click for a larger version)--that's the suspension towers and roadway rising above the valley mist. Amazing. See another one here.

UPDATE: Here's a story on the bridge's opening to traffic.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Revenge of the Gauche 

Left-handers win in hand-to-hand combat:
Left-handed people may be better equipped for close range mortal combat than those who rely on their right hands, according to researchers.

Charlotte Faurie and Michel Raymond of the University of Montpellier in France examined the number of left-handed people in unindustrialised cultures as well as the homicide levels within each culture.

They discovered a correlation between levels of violence and the proportion of the left-handed population – the more violent a culture, the higher the relative proportion of left-handers. The cause for this, the researchers suggest, is that left-handers are more likely to survive hand-to-hand combat.

The news could provide comfort for those who routinely struggle with right-handed scissors and can-openers, but some experts are unconvinced by the link.

Left-handed people are more prone to some health problems, suggesting the trait ought to disappear naturally over many generations through natural selection. But left-handers continue to make up a small proportion of the human population, hinting there could also be some evolutionary advantage to being left-handed.

And the ratio of left-handers to right-handers is higher in successful sportspeople than it is in the general population, suggesting there is definite advantage to favouring the left hand or foot in competitive games, such as tennis.
My left-handed Grip of Death will best you in mortal combat! Mwahahaha!

Huh? Oh, sorry--don't know what came over me there.

The "Bird Song Experiments" 

Singing In The Brain: Songs Are Stored As Snippets In The Minds Of Birds:
University of Utah scientists taught baby sparrows to sing a complete song even though the birds were exposed only to overlapping segments of the tune rather than the full melody. The study provides clues about how musical memories are stored in the brain and how those memories help birds learn to sing.

The results also may have implications for how people learn language, says Gary J. Rose, a University of Utah professor of biology and principal author of the study published in the Dec. 9 issue of the journal Nature.
Very interesting article on how songbirds learn their songs.

"That's what I like: little things, hitting each other!" 

So what do you do if your country's name gets replaced by the word "freedom" in the U.S.A.? Start daydreaming about back when your nation was a conquerer:
Amid a new frenzy of Napoleon fever, [his will], dictated by the emperor on his deathbed in 1821, sold for €111,000 (£77,000) in Paris last week. A copy of his memoirs - atrociously misspelled but providing a vivid insight into his campaign to conquer Europe - sold at the same sale for the record sum of €250,000.

France is experiencing a wave of nostalgic enthusiasm for the megalomaniacal leader, 200 years after he had himself crowned emperor. This interest has inflated prices for even the most tawdry of Napoleonic relics. A sale of around 800 items of paraphernalia - nightshirts, hip flasks, medals and toothpicks - has raised a total of €2.4 million this autumn, double the amount estimated.
Granted, this wave of Napoleonic fervor probably has more to do with the bicentennial of his accession this month. But one wonders if the recent Franco-American diplomatic rows, which denigrated France as "old Europe" and saw a wave of anti-French sentiments sweep parts of America, adds fuel to the nostalgia.

Of course, elements of this Napoleonic passion veer straight into cult-of-celebrity territory:
[Collector Pierre-Jean] Chalençon, 34, has built up a collection of portraits, chairs, and undergarments belonging to the emperor, as well as locks of hair chopped from the head of his wife, Josephine. A tapestry depicting Napoleon hangs above his bed and in a locked side room in his flat on the Rue de Rivoli, he keeps the coronation sword. Somewhere in a pile of boxes containing some of the emperor's most intimate possessions, Chalençon has a lump of Napoleon's toothpaste.
How the hell, one wonders, can the authenticity of Napoleon's toothpaste be verified? That's one collector's market in which caveat emptor become caveat emperor.

Land of Make-Believe 

Most School-Aged Children Have Imaginary Friends:
Approximately 65 percent of young children befriend imaginary companions, and nearly one-third continue to play with them through age 7, new research shows.

Also, although many believe children outgrow imaginary friends early in life, school-aged children were just as likely to have pretend companions as preschool kids.

"It turns out that this is very common," study author Dr. Marjorie Taylor of the University of Oregon in Eugene told Reuters Health.
People like to think they outgrow their imaginery friends, but in reality, they just convert them into more abstract concepts. Like imaginery lottery winnings. People play with that imaginery "friend" for hours and hours.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

A Warning Shot Over the Bow 

Wal-Mart Sued Over Evanescence Lyrics:
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which promotes itself as a seller of clean music, deceived customers by stocking compact discs by the rock group Evanescence that contain the f-word, a lawsuit claims.

The hit group's latest CD and DVD, "Anywhere But Home," don't carry parental advisory labels alerting potential buyers to the obscenity. If they did, Wal-Mart wouldn't carry them, according to the retailer's policy.

But the lawsuit claims Wal-Mart knew about the explicit lyrics in the song, "Thoughtless," because it censored the word in a free sample available on its Web site and in its stores.

The complaint, filed Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court, seeks an order requiring Wal-Mart to either censor or remove the music from its Maryland stores. It also seeks damages of up to $74,500 for each of the thousands of people who bought the music at Wal-Marts in Maryland.

"I don't want any other families to get this, expecting it to be clean. It needs to be removed from the shelves to prevent other children from hearing it," said plaintiff Trevin Skeens of Brownsville....

The lawsuit also names as defendants Wind-up Records LLC, the New York-based company that recorded the music and decided not to apply parental-advisory stickers; and distributor BMG Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, of New York.
The courts had better throw this one out faster than a spinning CD.

Look, I am a fan of neither Wal-mart nor Evanescence. I would be ecstatic if both simply vanished. But suing them for selling a CD using the f-word is completely without merit.

First of all, the parental advisory sticker is a voluntary system. There is no law to compel any CD creator to use this sticker, and there is no law preventing anyone from selling CDs with this sticker to anyone, including minors. There may be circumstances in which contractual obligations prevent a store from selling such a stickered CD, as perhaps in a mall lease, but this is not the case here.

Second of all, there is a legal right under the First Amendment for a musician or anyone to use the word "fuck" (except in some situations involving broadcasting). It may not be polite or decorous, but it is our right.

So the band's got a right to say (and therefore record) the word. The record label has a right to sell the recorded word to the store. And the store has a right to sell it, in turn, to the public--even covertly and with no warning.

What's going on here, then?

Well, one of two things. First, it's just gold-digging. As the final paragraph I quoted mentions, Wind-up Records and its distributor BMG Entertainment were also named in the suit. This could be an attempt to get one of the several deep-pocketed companies named to toss some hush money the plaintiff's way.

But the more pernicious possibility that this is actually an attempt to chill expression of unsavory words and ideas in popular music. The FCC's recent, post-Janet moves against broadcast indecency have been highly publicized and may have embolded those who feel that we should simply eliminate, by law, all such indecorous language.

The warning signs of heading once again into Tipper Gore country are slowly emerging. Fans of even remotely controversial artists (Evanescence isn't exactly Marilyn Manson) and friends of freedom of expression should probably gird themselves for battle.

UPDATE: While such a warning shot about language used in music is fired, the broadcasting indecency quagmire keeps getting deeper and deeper. Now comes word that the Olympic opening ceremonies have offended someone:
In response to one or more indecency complaints, the Federal Communications Commission has asked NBC to send it tapes of its coverage of the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies in Athens, the network confirmed late yesterday....

An FCC rep declined to comment on the specific request. But one source familiar with the FCC's investigative procedures explained that a request for a tape is generally the first step to help the commission determine whether a complaint has enough merit to warrant further inquiry.

It's unclear what aspect of NBC's coverage of the ceremonies has knotted the knickers of someone who has corresponded with the FCC.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Not Monkeying Around 

Tool use confirmed in monkeys:
UK researchers have collected the first hard evidence of monkeys using tools, Science magazine reports.

Cambridge researchers observed wild capuchin monkeys in the Brazilian forest using stones to help them forage for food on an almost daily basis.

Scientists have already known for some time that capuchins use tools in captivity, but have only occasionally observed them doing so in the wild.

But the latest findings confirm that the tool use was habitual, or routine.
Among most capuchin monkeys, the hottest tool this season is the Dremel 400 Series XPR. It's just brachiating off the shelves in most Habitat Depot stores.

iPod U2 vs. Negativland Special Edition 

EBay Negative on Negativland IPod:
EBay removed a modified U2 iPod from its auctions Monday after Apple Computer complained of copyright violations, to the wonder of several intellectual-property attorneys.

Francis Hwang, an artist and director of technology at Rhizome.org, purchased a U2 iPod and loaded it up with seven albums from Negativland, a collage band that mixes original music with audiovisual clips from other artists and corporations. Hwang wanted to make an artistic statement about sampling and free culture, and planned to donate the proceeds of the sale to Downhill Battle, a music-activism group.

"This unauthorized iPod modification is an artful mashup of the forces of corporate megarock and obscure experimental music, and a provocative symbol of the ongoing struggle between those who would confine culture and those who would free it," Hwang wrote in the auction listing. "With the recent release of Apple's iPod U2 Special Edition, and the continuing legal battles over the sampling and copying of music, there has never been a better time for such a tribute to the impact of technology on the flow of culture."
For background on Negativland and the U2 affair, see here. To download a track from Negativland's latest work, click here: "No Business." Hi-larious!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Holiday Shopping Report I 

[At least in England] Parents are dreaming of a retro Christmas:
After years in the doldrums, overlooked at Christmas in favour of electronic games, traditional toys like Fuzzy Felt, Buckaroo and Mouse Trap are back with a vengeance, according to the latest sales figures.

As ''thirtysomething'' parents attempt to recapture the Christmases of their youth, stores are reporting massive sales of 1970s toys and games.

Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo are having their best December in years, while Raleigh chopper bikes – reintroduced after a 30-year gap – are said to be speeding off the shelves.

Although parents – and fathers in particular – have always been guilty of buying their children the toys they want themselves, the popularity of retro toys has surprised retailers.

John Lewis yesterday revealed that board game sales had increased by 20 per cent on 2003 - while sales of Scrabble, recently endorsed by Robbie Williams, had shot up by nearly two thirds.
You know it's a news item from the U.K. when Robbie Williams is mentioned as a celebrity endorser.

The article also referrs to Snakes and Ladders, the Brit version of Chutes and Ladders. I've always wondered why that change was made.

Also, Cluedo is the original U.K. version of Clue.

UPDATE: This site mentions other alternate names for Snakes and Ladders as Serpents et Echelles and Torah Slides and Ladders. It describes game history thusly:
Traditional game from ancient India was first commercially published in the USA by Milton Bradley. Players travel along the squares sometimes using ladders, which represent good acts, that allow the player to come closer to nirvana while the snakes were slides into evil.
Meanwhile, this annoying site says, "The name is a reference to playground equipment - children climb ladders to go down chutes (slides)." Typical of the U.S. to eliminate the aspect of the game which suggests a foreign tradition of morality (the snakes) in favor of a familiarity (the playground) which ultimately make zero sense (the object of a ladder in the playground is to go down the "chute"; in the game, the chute is the pitfall). Sigh.

Language Update 

English 'world language' forecast:
A third of people on the planet will be learning English in the next decade, says a report.

Researcher David Graddol says two billion people will be learning English as it becomes a truly "world language".

This growth will see French declining internationally, while German is set to expand, particularly in Asia.

But the UK Education Secretary, Charles Clarke, has warned against the "arrogance" of English speakers who fail to learn other languages.
Plus, check out the Free Dictionary project, an attempt to create a collaborative, free comprehensive set of dictionaries for languages from English to Chinese to Esperanto. (warning: this site is not very user friendly as of yet)

Star Wars update 

For the discerning Star Wars fan for holiday gift-giving...

Star Wars helmet up for auction:
A Star Wars stormtrooper helmet made for the film's creator George Lucas goes under the hammer on Tuesday at Christie's auction house in London.

The helmet was bought for £7 at a car boot sale 12 years ago but is expected to fetch up to £7,000.

The helmet was one of six used as props by Lucas to pitch his original film idea to movie executives.
And for the Star Wars fan seeking a new theatre experience...

The One Man Star Wars Trilogy:
A one-hour, high energy, nonstop blast through the first three Star Wars films. The catch is, there's only one cast member.

Charles Ross, the writer and solo performer, spent too much of his childhood in a galaxy far, far away- adulthood has been similar. Ross plays all the characters, recreates the effects, sings the music, flies the ships, and fights both sides of the battles.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Alcohol-laced roadways safer? 

In a manner of speaking, yes.

Firm serves sweet brew for de-icing roads:
It was discovered by an Eastern European scientist at a vodka factory. Deep into a Hungarian winter, the chemist noticed a startling sight: The pond behind the distillery -- where the sugary, leftover swill from the factory had collected -- never froze.

The chemist figured out how to turn the mash into a potent syrup that could be poured over rock salt to thaw icy roads, and Magic Salt was born. This winter, at least 25 towns in Massachusetts, as well as some colleges and hospitals, are spreading their roads with Magic Salt, concocted in upstate New York from the leftover mash of alcohol distilleries....

Officials at Innovative Municipal United States, the company that makes Magic Salt, say that the sweet brown syrup is so environmentally safe that it is edible before it is sprayed on rock salt. The sticky coating makes treated salt adhere to the road better than ordinary salt, which means that highway officials can use less, they say. And unlike untreated rock salt, Magic Salt works when the temperature dips below 18 degrees Fahrenheit.
And sea monkeys love it!

Wow, this is like chocolate-covered pretzels for roadways, mixing sweet and salty to do the trick. (road-licking not recommended)

We R gud w/ Sppeling + gramer! 

"I updated the Status report for the four discrepancies Lennie forward us via e-mail (they in Barry file).. to make sure my logic was correct It seems we provide Murray with incorrect information ... However after verifying controls on JBL - JBL has the indicator as B ???? - I wanted to make sure with the recent changes - I processed today - before Murray make the changes again on the mainframe to 'C'."
That's an actual work email from a tech-related company in Palo Alto, California, quoted in a shouldn't-be-surprising-but-still-a-little-shocking article about the severe lack of writing skills in U.S. adults.
Kathy Keenan, a onetime legal proofreader who teaches business writing at the University of California Extension, Santa Cruz, said she sought to dissuade students from sending business messages in the crude shorthand they learned to tap out on their pagers as teenagers.

"hI KATHY i am sending u the assignmnet again," one student wrote to her recently. "i had sent you the assignment earlier but i didnt get a respond. If u get this assgnment could u please respond . thanking u for ur cooperation."

Most of her students are midcareer professionals in high-tech industries, Keenan said....

Don Morrison, a onetime auditor at Deloitte & Touche who has built a successful consulting business, is among them.... "I had a predilection for underlining words and throwing in multiple exclamation points. Finally [my writing coach] threatened to rip the exclamation key off my keyboard."
Some of the examples in the article are entertaining in a rubbernecking sort of way, but there's also an interesting undercurrent in how both language shapes our thought processes and how technology shapes language.

Plus, the article refers to emoticons as "experimental writing devices."

You gotta love that! :-D

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Put on your thinking caps! 

'Brainwave' cap controls computer:
Four people, two of them partly paralysed wheelchair users, successfully moved a computer cursor while wearing a cap with 64 electrodes.

Previous research has shown that monkeys can control a computer with electrodes implanted into their brain.

The New York team reported their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The results show that people can learn to use scalp-recorded electroencephalogram rhythms to control rapid and accurate movement of a cursor in two directions," said Jonathan Wolpaw and Dennis McFarlane.

The research team, from New York State Department of Health and State University of New York in Albany, said the research was another step towards people controlling wheelchairs or other electronic devices by thought.
I think this is pretty cool. It's certainly great for folks with disabilities, and I have no doubt there are practical applications for everyone.

Er, there's only one slight side effect. Here's what one will look like after years of using such a device:
But I'm sure there's some makeup, or possibly a very large hat, which can obscure the cranial gigantism.

"Every road tells a story..." 

Roads Gone Wild:
It's the confluence of two busy two-lane roads that handle 20,000 cars a day, plus thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians. Several years ago, Monderman ripped out all the traditional instruments used by traffic engineers to influence driver behavior - traffic lights, road markings, and some pedestrian crossings - and in their place created a roundabout, or traffic circle. The circle is remarkable for what it doesn't contain: signs or signals telling drivers how fast to go, who has the right-of-way, or how to behave. There are no lane markers or curbs separating street and sidewalk, so it's unclear exactly where the car zone ends and the pedestrian zone begins. To an approaching driver, the intersection is utterly ambiguous - and that's the point.

Monderman and I stand in silence by the side of the road a few minutes, watching the stream of motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians make their way through the circle, a giant concrete mixing bowl of transport. Somehow it all works. The drivers slow to gauge the intentions of crossing bicyclists and walkers. Negotiations over right-of-way are made through fleeting eye contact. Remarkably, traffic moves smoothly around the circle with hardly a brake screeching, horn honking, or obscene gesture.
Noble ideas, indeed. Forgive me if I'm completely skeptical.

Though the article even quotes from a New Jersey Department of Transportation exec, it fails to note that NJ has traffic circles which are fairly signless in regards to right-of-way. Far from the utopian experience described in the article, NJ's circles are often exercises in vehicular Darwinism, where the nerviest and most aggressive drivers sail through with barely a thought. The careful drivers are left patiently waiting for their opening that might never come--sweat pouring down their foreheads, honking cars piling up behind them, their children yelling from the back seat to "just go."

Forcing people to negotiate right-of-way through "fleeting eye contact" is one which has a lot of appeal in an insular and disconnected society, and it's perfectly appropriate for some places. Here in Pittsburgh, it's fairly common to make such non-verbal right-of-way negotiations--especially when it comes to the "Pittsburgh left" turn (a time-honored, but by no means a universally-honored, tradition of allowing the first car turning left at an intersection to go ahead of the straight-headed car with legal right-of-way).

But there are drivers in many areas who would rather run you over than look at you, and this makes such "fleeting eye contact" difficult. The only eye contact these drivers make is to make an instant, subconscious evaluation as to how much damage your car can do to theirs, whether you look likely to sue, and what their chances are to successfully speed away without leaving a positive ID.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Internet continues to chop at TV's knee 

Broadband challenges TV viewing:
A study by analysts Jupiter Research suggested that broadband was challenging television viewing habits.

In homes with broadband, 40% said they were spending less time watching TV.

The threat to TV was greatest in countries where broadband was on the up, in particular the UK, France and Spain, said the report.
Hell, yeah. I don't even have broadband anymore and my TV viewing is minimal compared to my online habits. But, then again, I'm a crank.

This article is about Europe, but I would be surprised if it didn't reflect U.S. trends as well.

Ersatz Holiday 

O (fake) Christmas tree; Artificial popular, but some want real:
The growing appeal of the fake trees (manufacturers prefer artificial) reflects relaxed trade barriers and technical advances. The latest models include branches that fold out like umbrellas for easy setup, lights strung onto branches, and shimmering fiber-optic needles that appear to change color.

Gender differences also play a role: Women prefer plastic; men the real McCoy. Retailers and others say that's because women often wind up watering and cleaning up after real trees. Men prefer the scent of real trees and don't like to set up the fakes.
The article also including a good thumbnail history of the tradition:
The first Christmas tree appeared in 1510 in Riga, Latvia, according to the growers' group. Scholars disagree about the tree's exact religious symbolism but one theory has that the decorated trees represent the Garden of Eden. The tradition became popular by the 1600s, with the first Christmas tree appearing in America at a Moravian settlement in Bethlehem, Pa., in 1747, according to the University of Illinois. And they were technically fakes: "wooden pyramids covered with evergreen branches decorated with candles."

Modern artificial trees started to turn up in the late 1800s, some even made with feathers. During the 1930s, Addis Brush Co. made the best-known artificial tree, using the machinery it had to make toilet brushes, according to amateur historians. Aluminum trees were shown in the 1965 animated feature "A Charlie Brown Christmas" as a symbol of the holiday's growing commercialism. (Charlie Brown bought a spindly real tree.)
My preference? Neither.

To me, the tree is just something to hold the lights, which are the true symbol of the season. Since it's the time of year with the least amount of sunlight, festive artificial lights buoy the spirits and soothe the psyche.

And I've got walls and such to hold up my lights, thank you.

Other interesting tidbits from the article:
A big supplier is Santa's Own Inc., a division of Lighthouse Products of Brunswick, Ohio, which imports trees from a network of factories it partly controls in China and Thailand, according to Richard Cohen, its representative in Rhode Island. Another manufacturer is a unit of Carlyle Group, best-known for investments in military contractors.

In Abington, The Christmas Place doesn't sell real trees and doesn't need to. The holiday retailer has one showroom dedicated to a brilliant, ersatz forest that smells more like petroleum than conifer. One of its best-selling fakes is called "Santa's Best Balsam Natural" whose dense network of branches makes it look fuller than many natural trees. "Very rarely do you find one on the tree lot that actually looks this good," manager Rick Dubois said.
Okay, several comments...

"Santa's Own"? This is exactly the kind of B.S. branding that annoys the hell out of me. Santa would prefer an artificial tree? Gimme an f-ing break! I picture Santa riding up to companies like this on his sleigh and then turning to the camera with a tear rolling down his fat cheek like the Indian in the old littering commercial.

And this Rick Dubois sounds like Eldon Tyrell: "Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell! More human than human is our motto."

Of course, the most ominous item in the article is the mention of Carlyle. "Christmas, a Division of The Carlyle Group."

Yeesh. That sounds like Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in reverse.

Origami Bombing 

Thais drop origami 'peace bombs':
The Thai government has dropped an estimated one hundred million paper origami birds in an unusual peace bid.

The birds were dropped by military planes over the country's Muslim south after a surge of violence in the area.

Ordinary Thais across the nation have folded and written peace messages on the paper cranes in a campaign devised by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

But those critical of the campaign say it will not solve the complex problems that have caused the violence.
This has to be one of the most inspired pieces of political ridiculousness since the Yippies tried to levitate the Pentagon in 1967.

Can you imagine if the U.S. President declared such an initiative? People would suspect he was smoking whatever Bush took a hit of before his first debate with Kerry. Er, or something.

Rock on, Prime Minister Shinawatra!

Friday, December 03, 2004

Torus! Torus! Torus! 

The Poppy-seed Bagel Theorem:
If you run into Ed Saff at a cocktail party and ask him what he does for a living, the mathematician is likely to reply that he is working on a "method for creating the perfect poppy-seed bagel." Then he'll pause and add, "Maybe that's not the most accurate description, but it's the most digestible."

More accurately, Saff, who is a mathematics professor at Vanderbilt, has been working with his colleague Associate Professor of Mathematics Doug Hardin to come up with a new and improved way to distribute points uniformly on various types of surfaces. Plotting a large set of equidistant points on a flat surface doesn't take a mathematician: Any draftsman can do it. Throw in a curve or two, however, and the problem gets much tougher. For complex surfaces like spheres and bagels (which form a shape that mathematicians call a torus), it becomes so hard, in fact, that mathematicians have not found a way to do it with absolute precision.
If there's only one article you read this month that mentions the word "toroidal," this is the one.

And, it has practical applications that exceed the poppy-seed bagel case. Although, in this humble blogger's eyes, helping to design the theoretical "nearly perfect" poppy-seed bagel is a noble and worthy goal itself.


The "Arnold" Amendment 

Should the Constitution be amended for Arnold?:
Could America's infatuation with Schwarzenegger lead to passage of a constitutional amendment that would drop those bans - an idea that has died in Congress more than two dozen times since the 1870s? Probably not, but Schwarzenegger's rise in politics has led members of Congress and a few of the governor's wealthy California donors to launch a long-shot campaign that they have cast as an effort to guarantee equal rights for millions of foreign-born Americans.
Why is this even entering into legitimate debate? If there's any rule-of-thumb that we should apply to potential Constitutional amendments, it's that changes made to benefit ONE PERSON should be laughed right out of any serious conversation.

Yeah, I know that others will benefit besides Schwarzenegger, but the motivation, the intent, and the desired result of the people pushing for this are to change America's founding document for one individual's situation. This is a monumental bad idea.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

From the Ethicist Desk... 

Scientists debate creation of hybrids of animals, humans:
Biologists call these hybrid animals chimeras, after the mythical Greek creature with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail. They are the products of experiments in which human stem cells were added to developing animal fetuses.

Chimeras are allowing scientists to watch, for the first time, how nascent human cells and organs mature and interact - not in the cold isolation of laboratory dishes but inside the bodies of living creatures. Some are already revealing deep secrets of human biology and pointing the way toward new medical treatments.

But with no federal guidelines in place, an awkward question hovers above the work: How human must a chimera be before more stringent research rules should kick in?


The potential power of chimeras as research tools became clear about a decade ago in a series of dramatic experiments by Evan Balaban, now at McGill University in Montreal. Balaban took small sections of brain from developing quails and transplanted them into the developing brains of chickens.

The resulting chickens exhibited vocal trills and head bobs unique to quails, proving that the transplanted parts of the brain contained the neural circuitry for quail calls. It also offered astonishing proof that complex behaviors could be transferred across species.

No one has proposed similar experiments between, say, humans and apes. But the discovery of human embryonic stem cells in 1998 allowed researchers to envision related experiments that might reveal a lot about how embryos grow.
Next stop: Brundlefly.

Blackboard Jungle 

Principals freaked out by students' dance, dress:
While each generation pushes the limits, some parents feel that pop culture, fueled by the Internet, Hollywood and cable television, has prodded teenagers further across the line of decency than ever imagined in the 1950s when some wanted to ban Elvis Presley.

These days, some schools are banning certain kinds of dance moves--or canceling dances altogether. Educators are setting strict dress codes as early as elementary school, forbidding girls from wearing skin-bearing outfits such as low-rider jeans, thong underwear and midriff tops and banning attire for boys such as oversized T-shirts and pants that sag, often exposing their backside.

Sandra McGary-Ervin, principal of Sandtown Middle School in Atlanta, said such hip-hop attire, for example, is not only distracting to learning but is potentially dangerous.

"If we were in a crisis and the children had to get out of the building, they couldn't get out quick enough because their pants would trip them up," McGary-Ervin said.
Sheesh, is there some class they teach in principal school since WWII on this? Because it comes up every generation, as if on cue.

And, c'mon! Sagging pants as an impediment to fire drills? So could, in theory, flip-flops, tight skirts, heels, and any number of other clothing items.

"Ah, these uniforms are godsend. Horseplay is down 40%, youthful exuberance has been cut in half, high spirits are at an all-time low." ~~Principal Skinner, on Springfield Elementary's mandatory uniform rule

"Gullible People Looking for Miracles" 

"The Castle Argh! Our quest is at an end!"

~~Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Interesting story from the BBC about the ongoing quest for the Holy Grail:
Could an obscure inscription on a 250-year-old monument in a Staffordshire garden point the way to the Holy Grail - the jewelled chalice reportedly used by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper?

That is one theory entertained by Richard Kemp, the general manager of Lord Lichfield's Shugborough estate in Staffs.

Kemp has called in world-renowned code-breakers to try to decipher a cryptic message carved into the Shepherd's Monument on the Lichfield estate.

The monument, built around 1748, features an image of one of Nicholas Poussin's paintings, and beneath it the letters "D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M."
The denouement to this part of the story is extremely abrupt, but it's an worthwhile read nonetheless (much of it is about the history of the Grail quest and the media attention to it).

Drunkenness at the AP? 

I was just reading an Associated Press story (via Yahoo) about the recent stabbing at the Vibe Awards, and this is what was printed about Suge Knight and Dr. Dre:
Knight entered the awards show without an invitation and sat just a few feet behind Drew, who was receiving a lifetime achievement award.

Attorney Milton Grimes, who once represented Knight and now represents Johnson, denied any involvement by Knight.

"As far as I know, my client has not ties whatsoever to Suge Knight," Crimes told the Los Angeles Times.
"Drew"? "Not ties"? "Crimes"?

What are they drinking over there?

They might clean it up soon, but it was the 12/1, 8:30PM ET posting of the story. Here's ABC carrying it.

Although maybe simply it's Dr. Drew Pinsky, who is now a neckwearless rapper who rhymes "Crimes" and Times." What do I know?

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