Thursday, December 27, 2007

The real meaning of Christmas

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) -- Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests attacked each other with brooms and stones inside the Church of the Nativity as long-standing rivalries erupted in violence during holiday cleaning on Thursday.
But the clean-up turned ugly after some of the Orthodox faithful stepped inside the Armenian church's section, touching off a scuffle between about 50 Greek Orthodox and 30 Armenians.

Baby Jesus is crying that these priests would come to blows over a site that almost certainly wasn't his birthplace.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Odds and Ends

This guy is the epitome of the high school football coach that all of us hated. Umm, relax, dude.

In an effort to confirm hasty generalizations I'll link to this story that says Kentucky has the highest proportion of those under 65 missing teeth. But, it actually is a serious problem that contributes to the cycle of poverty. Dental pain is the leading cause of children missing school and it can be difficult to get a decent job if you're missing teeth and can't afford dentures. This has led to "denture bootleggers" who practice without a license and sell them at a fraction of the cost. Another shining example of the American health care system. But, hey, why would we want to do anything to fix a system that is this broken? We don't want your European socialized medicine. I mean, you might have to wait a little longer! It's their fault for not getting insurance, right?

Well, except when the insurance company refuses to pay for a liver transplant for a 17 year old until public pressure shames them into agreeing only when it was too late to save her. Murder by spreadsheet. I really wonder how these people can live with themselves sometimes.

OK, I didn't really mean to go off on that rant just then.

If you're outside tonight you should check out the full moon with Mars just off to the side. Maybe you can trick some kid into thinking it's Santa or something. (Update: It looks like you missed it.)

Commercialism of Christmas got you down? Shopdroppers are making a statement.
This week an arts group in Oakland, the Center for Tactical Magic, began shopdropping neatly folded stacks of homemade T-shirts into Wal-Mart and Target stores in the San Francisco Bay Area. The shirts feature radical images and slogans like one with the faces of Karl Marx, Che Guevara and Mikhail Bakunin, a Russian anarchist. It says, “Peace on Earth. After we overthrow capitalism.”

Anyway, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Chanukah, Happy Festivus, Have a nice Tuesday!

FRANK: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reach for the last one they had - but so did another man. As I rained blows opon him, I realized there had to be another way!

KRAMER: What happened to the doll?

FRANK: It was destroyed. But out of that, a new holiday was born. "A Festivus for the rest of us!"

KRAMER: That musta been some kind of doll.

FRANK: She was.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

I just wish you weren't a liar

In his ridiculous speech on religion (that I've been meaning to freak out about for a long time) Mitt Romney said, "I saw my father march with Martin Luther King, Jr." He's made this claim a few other times as well and it all sounds really cool except for the fact that it isn't true.

Not only was Mitt actually in France when this was supposed to occur but it never actually occurred at all. After being called on this BS here's what the campaign came up with:
A spokesperson for Mitt Romney now tells the Phoenix that George W. Romney and Martin Luther King Jr. marched together in June, 1963 -- although possibly not on the same day or in the same city.

Oh, so, it wasn't actually the same day or even the same city but one thing we're fairly confident about is that they both marched somewhere in 1963.

I really don't have the energy to actually go line by line in this speech because it's just too much for me. In fact, you're probably better off just reading Christopher Hitchens' dismantling of it.

However, the line that really pissed me off was when he said, "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." What the fuck does that even mean other than to make idiots say, "huh..I like religion and I damn sure like freedom and that feller likes 'em both"? I honestly don't get it. It's just possibly one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. He may as well have said something like "Bananas require tacos just as tacos require bananas."

What about religions where people are forced to obey ridiculous dogmas like, I don't know, Mormanism? What about dictatorships in the Middle East where the huge majority of people practice Islam? I mean, you could go on and on with counterexamples.

Speaking of religion there's been a lot hand-wringing by Republicans due to the surging Mike Huckabee campaign. Apparently the religious right who has been used and abused by the Republican elite has thrown off the chains like Frankenstein's monster and are running amok through the village. These elites don't want this type of creationist whackjob running the country anymore than the rest of us. Sure, they'll let people like Bush spout his nonsense but that's only to get votes and they know that his first priority is to make the rich even richer. Huckabee won't play that game so that's why you see guys like George Will and Robert Novak, among many others, trying desperately to tear him down. Meanwhile Huckabee has gone all out complete with campaign ads featuring "Silent Night" and a white cross behind him. Apparently subtlety is not his strong point. He may as well just say, "Hey, Iowa! I love Jesus just like you, not like those other abortion loving pretenders and that cult guy!"

Giuliani has completely bombed, Fred Thompson is still asleep, and Mitt Romney is falling behind and could be screwed if he doesn't win Iowa. So, that might leave Huckabee and the old man, John McCain, who is making a slight comeback as Republican voters survey the field and decide that at least he seems somewhat qualified to have the job no matter how much they really don't like him. Personally, I'm enjoying this. McCain could cause some trouble and Huckabee might too but I think he's too much of a religious guy for a lot of independents. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

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My year-in-review...kind of

Well, another year has come and gone and I thought I would send one of those letters where I tell you everything that happened in my life over the last year since we all love reading them.

Highlight of the Month: Not that exciting of a month but I enjoyed Boise State-Oklahoma, I guess.
Lowlight of the Month: Chiefs. They miraculously made the playoffs only to become a laughing stock by unleashing the least imaginative playcalling since "Draw to Davis" and not getting a first down until the third quarter.
RIP: Molly Ivins
Good Riddance: Barbaro
Favorite News Story: Mooninites shut down half of Boston
Basement Post of the Month: Separated at birth: Al Davis and the World's Ugliest Dog

Highlight of the Month: My Clone Cone. There's nothing better than Cyclone basketball and Clone Cones. Not so great was the negative temperatures and the Burger King trash on my windshield.
Lowlight of the Month: I think it snowed a lot.
Dipshit of the Month: Rush Limbaugh said people hate Rex Grossman solely because he's white.
RIP: Barry Stevens
Good riddance: Anna Nicole Smith
Basement Post of the Month: World Press Photo Awards

Highlight of the Month: St. Patrick's Day. The parade, growlers of Free State, college basketball, Kinetik's concert.
Lowlight of the Month: St. Patrick's Day. I can't drink all day like I used to. Also, the dumb anti-war protest I went to.
Wrong Number of the Month: There was a while where I was getting a lot of wrong numbers. Here's my favorite from this month.
Me: Hello?
Kid: Hello?
Me: Hello. Who's this?
Kid: ...Mom?
Me: I think you have the wrong number.
Basement Post of the Month: Good month for blogging. The OJ Mayo video. My eleven worst sports moments, part 1 and part 2.
RIP and Good Riddance: No one of any significance to me died this month so we'll go with the Armenian Prime Minister and the Cowboys fan known as "Crazy Ray."

Highlight of the Month: My birthday week: Royals game, KU Relays, the Decemberists show, and finally An Evening with the Combseseses. Kegs and Combses = good times.
Lowlight of the Month: The Royals' brutal start.
RIP: Kurt Vonnegut
Good Riddance: Boris Pickett, the man who gave us the "Monster Mash". OK, not really. I'll add Josh Hancock, the Cardinals pitcher. He was practically deified until it came out he was drunk and high on a bunch of drugs when he wrecked his car while the worst was assumed about Sean Taylor when he was just defending his family.
Basement Post of the Month: This post about Republican Fear Mongering where I manage to work in a Tecmo Super Bowl analogy.

Highlight of the Month: No River City Show at the Rhode Island House. Great, great, great evening.
Lowlight of the Month: The Crazies that are trying to take over my family reunion.
Freakout of the Month: The cop who ate pot brownies with his wife and called 911 because he thought he was dying and wanted to make sure the score of the Red Wings game wasn't a hallucination.
Failure of the Month: Don't Buy Gas Day did nothing to reduce the price of gas but did manage to annoy me.
RIP: The shark born to a virgin mother in the Omaha zoo
Good Riddance: Jerry Falwell
Basement Post of the Month: My Prayer Hankerchief


Highlight of the Month: Summer, I guess.
Lowlight of the Month: I worked a lot and everyone seemed to be gone all summer.
Basement Post of the Month: Wow, only 4 to choose from but I liked "Did Arcade Fire Steal this Man's Basketball?"
Worst Legal Opinion of the Month: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said, "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Are you going to convict Jack Bauer? Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so."
RIP: Steve Gilliard
Good Riddance: Chris Benoit

OK, that was way more work than it was worth. First, my memory is terrible and I know I'm forgetting stuff. Second, it got kind of boring for me. We'll see if I get enough motivation to complete the year.


When Iowa and YouTube meet

I'm really not sure what to say about this video. Part of me admires his dedication while another part of me is concerned that he would dedicate himself to...that. Either way, no Ionia?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hey, look at that.

Wow, this kangaroo really seems to have found something he likes down there.

Wild animals on the golf course, newscasters wearing bizarre dresses, and masturbating kangaroos as the play of the day. To paraphrase Russia's third most exported product, Yakoff Smirnoff, "what a country!"

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Glow-in-the-Dark Kitties

The big news in science this week has been the South Korean scientists that have transgenically created cats that will glow under UV light. While the fact that these cats glow is pretty cool in and of itself the real point is that they managed to insert a gene that was then expressed throughout all the cells of the cat.

This type of thing has been done for a while with mice and the developers of that technique won a Nobel Prize for their efforts in pioneering those so-called "knockout mice." These are useful to scientists who wish to determine a specific gene's function or the effect that a mutation in that gene will have. One of my professors is using this to study what happens with a gene that is associated with colon cancer in humans.

The simplified explanation is that stem cells from a mouse embryo are taken and mutated to get rid of the desired gene and then inserted into another embryo. If things go according to plan this mutated stem cell will be taken up by the embryo and differentiate into many various cell types. Mice exhibiting characteristics that show this has happened (splotches of different coat color) are then bred. If the mutation is expressed in a germ cell that mutation will be expressed in half of the chromosomes of the offspring. Further inbreeding should eventually produce mice that only express the mutated gene.

The problem with mice is that they aren't always a good model for humans so it's beneficial to have a method for doing essentially the same thing with other animals. In this case the scientists transfer the nucleus of one cell into the egg of another cell and grow it from there. It's the same technique that has been used to clone sheep.

So, the purpose of the glowing is just to say, "hey, it worked!" In my lab I'm currently working on using the same type of marker to tell us when and where a certain protein is expressed in a cell that has been infected with various types of mutant herpes viruses. Now that they've shown that this works other scientists can use the method to introduce human models of diseases into cats. Pretty cool stuff.

Also interesting to me is the fact that in the last few weeks two major breakthroughs in research involving stem cells came from Asia. A lab in Japan (working with a lab in Wisconsin) found a way to create the equivalent of embryonic stem cells from regular skin cells. For a long time the United States has benefited from a steady stream of talented scientists coming here to study but labs in the rest of the world are quickly catching up and new rules making it more difficult for international students to get visas to come here and 7 years of the most anti-science administration in generations are taking their toll on US science. A healthy worldwide science community is beneficial to everyone but there's no reason for the US to begin to lag behind.

Perhaps the most troubling is that the United States ranked 29th(!) in science literacy among teens behind such traditional beacons of enlightenment as Latvia, Estonia, and Slovenia.
Emmett Duffy says:
But one has to ask: How can this be? The US is the richest nation on earth, home of most of the world’s greatest universities, first to put a man on the moon, the nation that invented the automobile, the airplane, the personal computer, the internet, the post-it note, you get the picture. Time was, this country was the mecca for aspiring scientists worldwide, and for the most part it still is. So why can’t 15-year-old Johnny figure out which end of the microscope to look through?

His answer...religious fundamentalism. He wonders, as I do, what consequences this will have on our country in the future. But, that's another post for another day.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don't entrap me, bro!

A long time ago I wrote about the ethical issues involved with police "creating" opportunities for crimes and then arresting people. The examples then were police posing as horny 14 years olds (I really hope I don't get a bunch of search hits from THAT) on the internet or leaving a car parked with the keys in it. Yes, what the people were doing might technically be a crime but there's really no crime to commit unless the police were there setting it up.

Well, apparently police in New York have been leaving bags and wallets at various places in the subway system. An unsuspecting person picks it up and fails to contact the owner and they are under arrest for stealing from the police department. That may seem shady enough but they've now taken it up a notch by adding credit cards to the wallet.
Now the [strategically dropped decoy bags] contain real American Express Cards, issued under pseudonyms to the Police Department. Theft of a credit card is grand larceny, a Class E felony, so anyone cops believe has the intention of stealing the decoy wallet or bag could face up to four years behind bars.

So, you pick up an unattended bag and suddenly you're staring a felony charge in the face? How long exactly do you have to try to find an owner? Apparently not long.
Freelance photographer Carlos Alayo says he was late for a business meeting when he spotted a wallet lying abandoned on a subway platform bench.

He picked it up and put it in his bag, with every intention of later finding its owner, but as he rushed to board the 6 train last Wednesday at Grand Central, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"Where's the wallet?" the undercover cop asked him.


After giving the officers the wallet, he was frisked, made to put his hands against the wall and hand over his identification so they could do a criminal history check.

"It wasn't even crossing my mind what was inside [the wallet]. I was trying to get to my appointment," Alayo said.

"It made me feel like I was a criminal, like I did something wrong. The look on [the cop's] face, it was like he already knew that I was arrested.

"He said, 'Don't lie to me, just tell me how many times you've been arrested.'

"That just stabbed me right there in the heart."

Alayo, who is from Peru, felt the eyes of all the rush-hour commuters on him as he was searched by officers.

"I was so ashamed, my face went red and people were looking," he said.

"God knows what they were thinking, a Spanish guy on the platform surrounded by cops. It made me feel very uneasy inside.

"I've been in this country 17 years and not felt discriminated against until that day," Alayo said.

I can't for the life of me understand how this can possibly be legal.

Also in the linked piece is a bit about more Cops Gone Wild with Tasers. Since 2004 70 people in the US and Canada have died from tasers and police in Wichita just tased a deaf man as he was getting out of the shower. They busted into his home on a false report. The man came out in a towel to see police with their guns pointed at him.
“I kept going to my ear yelling that I was scared. I can’t hear! I can’t hear!”

Officers were worried about their own safety because at the time it appeared Williams was refusing to obey their commands to show his hands. That’s when they shot him with a Taser.

Can't hear? Too bad, we've got tasers and you're just a deaf African-American standing there in a towel. Zap!

Don't want to pay your parking ticket? Zap! Here's a YouTube video of a cop in Utah tasing a guy over a speeding ticket. The guy that got the ticket is an idiot but the cop seemed way too eager and way too proud about tasing this guy.

Then there's "Don't tase me, bro!" guy at the Kerry event. Getting upset with a political figure and then freaking out when police start dragging you out? You better belive that's a zappin'!

I realize these things are supposed to be nonlethal and it can be better than shooting someone with a real gun but that doesn't give you the right to start using it on every asshole you meet.

But, I don't want to just rip on police in this post so I'll finish with some good news from Minnesota. The St. Paul police are apparently taking a sensible approach to this summer's protests at the Republican National Convention.
There will be no police officers infiltrating protest organizations, Bostrom promised. Police will be in uniform, not war-like tactical gear, he said. There will be no contract cops, similar to the Blackwater security forces. St. Paul police, not the Secret Service, will be in charge of policing outside the convention site at Xcel Energy Center.

"The city of St. Paul is a free-speech zone," Bostrom said. "I say that proudly. I was disappointed when I saw what Boston did (in handling protesters at the 2004 Democratic Convention). I don't understand this idea of putting people in a pen someplace so they can express themselves. That's not the way we will do things."

To see what "free speech" looked like in Boston go here.

Anyway, this Bostrom guy seems pretty cool. He's a native of St. Paul and graduate of St. Thomas and says he just wants everyone to leave with a good feeling about the city. And he's also either very committed to taking everything seriously or has a great, dry sense of humor.
To date, Bostrom has shown he's a good listener and extremely patient. For instance, after a long, passionate speech about the "atrocities" committed by the Bush administration, a local career activist had this question:

"Why don't you arrest the criminals inside the convention center and stop worrying about the good people on the streets?"

After listening, without interrupting, Bostrom answered calmly. "So the question is, 'Why don't local police officers make arrests based on international law?' We don't have that authority."

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Huckabee hitting hard in Iowa

This is hilarious.

So, we're getting down to crunchtime for the Iowa caucuses and Huckabee and Obama seem to be making a push but you can't really poll those things very well. I'm such a political nerd that I was actually disappointed when I realized that the caucuses were the same night as KU playing in the Orange Bowl. How can I keep track of CSPAN showing some confusing caucus with horrible audio from Des Moines and a BCS game at the same time?

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Making my bunnies

Making fun of stupidity on The View is kind of like making fun of Mangino for being fat. It's really easy yet still really fun.

First we have the "New Star Jones." No, not the real one that is all of the sudden skinny but the new fat, sassy African-American woman. Only this one is way dumber.
You can watch the video here but I'll quote from the Huffington Post to tell you what happened.
For whatever reason, the ladies on "The View" were discussing ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus this morning. Naturally, talk soon migrated to the topic of religion, and Sherri "I don't know if the world is flat" Shepherd came out to play. More specifically, to spew ignorance and a complete lack of understanding of basic world history! Discussing whether Christians were around during Epicurus' time (Epicurus lived from 341-270 B.C.), Sherri chimed in, "[The Greeks] had Christians 'cause they threw them to the lions."

When Whoopi tried to cautiously navigate her through the timeline of basic world events, saying, "I think this might predate that," Sherri responded, "I don't think anything predated Christians." Joy's attempt to explain the Greek-Roman-Christian chronology was futile, as Sherri insisted, "Jesus came first before them." Sherri's argument was all the more powerful due to her convincing "use your finger to write on the table" trick, but she can't fight the facts. Perhaps if Barbara were on today she would have explained THAT WHOLE B.C. THING (you know, as in, Before Christ).

"I don't think anything predated Christians."

Oh my. So, I guess that would mean that there were Christians around before Jesus' parents had even met? "Hey, I just want to say I'm really looking forward to the founder of our church being born so we can finally figure out why we all have crucifixes and celebrate something called Christmas."

I mean, that's just stupid on so many levels. I could almost forgive her more if she was spouting some fundie Christian talking points on evolution and all of that but not only is she clueless on history, but she's clueless on the theology and history of her own religion.

Then there's this picture of KU coach Mark Mangino (left) with the Obie, the Orange Bowl Orange (right).

Whoa. You know you're a large man when freaking spherical-shaped mascots stand next to you because you make them look skinny. That orange is seriously excited about it too. Although one thing is troubling me. Are we sure that this orange isn't really the Kool-Aid mascot with a funny hat and a slightly different color? I mean, they've got to be related at least, right?

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Now There's a Party in my Tummy! So Yummy! So Yummy!

Up until a little while ago I'm not even sure I knew that Nick Jr existed as a television network and now I really wish I had it and the only reason for that is Yo Gabba Gabba.

Yo Gabba Gabba is this completely amazing children's television show that is basically the exact opposite of everything we were bitching about in the Sesame Street post below. Picture the lessons and muppets of the original Sesame Street mixed with the insanity and inside jokes of Pee Wee's Playhouse. The show was created by hipster types who thought there's really no reason kids shows have to suck balls so they took out a bunch of money to create their own. I'm going to post a bunch of YouTube videos so watch what you want but I really recommend the vegetable one and maybe the "Pick it up" one at the end to get a good representation in case you don't want to waste all of your time watching them like I do.

It took a while for a studio to pick it up but they did and it's taken off since then. One of the creators is the lead singer for the Aquabats so they have used some of his contacts to have bands like the Aquabats, Shiny Toy Guns, and the Shins on an upcoming episode. Biz Markie teaches kids to beat box, Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo and Wes Anderson films) teaches kids to draw, and Elijah Wood teaches kids to dance like a puppet.

Then there's the regular stuff like putting lessons for the kiddies to some nice hip hop beats. Carrots and green beans are sad if they aren't invited to the party in your tummy.

They also bring in some indie animator types for Super Robot Martian Girl, Halloween type stuff, and this totally awesome piece about the importance of keeping your room set to a great ska track.

Anyway, I'm just really happy that people are attempting to expose kids to good television and especially that they're doing it with good music and all of the best creative types. I can only assume that shitty kids music leads to shitty adult tastes in most kids.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Score one for the American educational system

I think if you believe there's even a chance you might not be smarter than a fifth grader you probably shouldn't go on the show. Ugh. That is embarrassing. So, is Jeff Foxworthy by the way.

Stephen A. Smith: Loves Cheese Doodles but Hates Bloggers

Stephen A. Smith recently had this to say in an interview. Now, I'm not entirely sure if this is supposed to be written in English or is some sort of jumble where we have to rearrange the words to make a statement that actually makes some sense but here it is:
"And when you look at the internet business, what's dangerous about it is that people who are clearly unqualified get to disseminate their piece to the masses. I respect the journalism industry, and the fact of the matter is ...someone with no training should not be allowed to have any kind of format whatsoever to disseminate to the masses to the level which they can. They are not trained. Not experts."

Now, he's hardly the first traditional media member to feel threatened by the prospect of job elimination at the hands of evil bloggers. In fact, I'm sure there's a cranky newspaperman somewhere that writes one of these things every day. Apparently they feel that free speech and an open market of ideas is only good when they are the only ones that can talk.
...someone with no training should not be allowed to have any kind of format whatsoever to disseminate to the masses to the level which they can. They are not trained. Not experts.

I had to read this line about five times but he's essentially saying that unless you are trained you should have no "format" to express your views. I'm kind of curious what those that have spent their lives training to be some sort of television broadcaster think about Stephen A. screaming his VERY....IMPORTANT.....OPINIONS on television every week.
"Therefore, there's a total disregard, a level of wrecklessness that ends up being a domino effect. And the people who suffer are the common viewers out there and, more importantly, those in the industry who haven't been fortunate to get a radio or television deal and only rely on the written word."

Absolutely! The common viewers are suffering every time we see you on TV.
"And now they've been sabotaged. Not because of me. Or like me. But because of the industry or the world has allowed the average joe to resemble a professional without any credentials whatsoever."

I'm really not sure why these guys are so threatened by bloggers? Because it might show that you can get intelligent commentary on a team without buying a newspaper or turning on ESPN? Journalists that go to games and ask questions as press conference will always have some sort of role (how else will we get our cliched responses?) but just because someone doesn't have a journalism degree doesn't mean they can't have insight.

If you're worried that bloggers sometimes get things wrong how many things has ESPN been wrong about? You only need to go back to last weekend when their website had two different headlines saying exactly opposite things about what Les Miles was going to do. Or, if you want to look at the political/hard news world just look at the New York Times apologizing for blowing their coverage leading up to the Iraq War.

I should point out that there's a large distinction between something like this blog and something like Daily Kos or Deadspin. Those are actually very well done and this is where I come to write 20 minute rants for 10 people to read. There's a reason they get millions of hits and I don't...because they're good and the public recognizes that. Give the people a little credit and assume that they can find worthy voices out there without having to let a producer of CNN or ESPN decide for them.

So, how about you just stfu and have some more CHEESE DOODLES and I'll keep bitching about you.

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