Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Mars looks a lot like the Mojave Desert. That’ll thrill the hoaxers.

image of Mars

mojave? | 9:20 pm CDT
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Monday, August 6th, 2012

image of celebration following successful landing of Curiosity rover on MarsI crawled into bed at about one-thirty this morning after staying up half the night to watch NASA land a robot on Mars.

“Did your thing happen?” My Darling B asked dreamily, as I settled into a comfortable spot.

“Yes, my thing happened,” I told her. Space geekery is “my thing.”

Then tried to fall asleep. Mostly, though, I failed because WE JUST LANDED A GODDAMN ROBOT THE SIZE OF A FORD EXPLORER ON MARS! And when I say “we,” I mean “that bunch of very smart people of which I am not one at the Jet Propulsion lab,” the same way Green Bay Packers fans say “We won!” when what they mean is “a bunch of professional athletes we hired, and through which we participate vicariously in football, won!” They’re some articulate fuckers, those Packers fans.

I used to get up, or stay awake until odd hours to watch other rocket launches when I was younger, and my youthful exuberance kept me plenty jazzed to get me through those episodes, but I may be getting a little too old for this stuff now. My eyes were very heavy-lidded and stinging as I tried to keep them open way past my bed time.

Once we got to within an hour of landing, though, it was a little easier to stay awake. The enthusiasm of the flight team came across on the video feed and I was bouncing up and down with them when the rover finally sent back the thumbs-up that it was safely on the surface. And when it sent back a photo of its own wheel just minutes after landing, even a really tiny photo, well, that was just pandemonium.

They had to get back to work, though, because they had this robot on Mars to look after, and I had to get to bed because I had this job to go do at the office in the morning.

I did not dream of robots, naked or otherwise, thank goodness.

up and at em | 6:23 am CDT
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Sunday, July 29th, 2012

Even if a picture isn’t worth 1,000 words, this photo of a stack of plushies of the Olympic mascot Wenlock, whose name suggests dark incantations to raise the dead and whose single glaring eyeball is the stuff of my adolescent nightmares, explains better than I ever could why I won’t be wasting any of my time paying attention to the Olympic games:

image of Olympic mascot

I would prefer delirium tremens, thank you.

wenlock | 9:21 am CDT
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Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Virtual view of the panoramic view of Mars shot from the Opportunity rover:

image of MARS!

mars | 9:16 pm CDT
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Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Coming soon to your solar system: 7 Minutes Of Terror!

Invaders from another planet, that’s us!

seven | 4:37 pm CDT
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Monday, June 11th, 2012

Heard this on the radio this morning: “If you’ve ever wanted to give money to a politician, but you couldn’t get to your bank or your checkbook, you may soon be able to make a donation over the phone.” Well, thank goodness we will soon have another way to fork over our money to politicians! Why has it taken so long, anyway? You’d think that, by now, they would’ve figured out every single possible way to make that happen, and yet they somehow missed credit card payments over the phone. Bet that was a facepalm moment.

payout | 5:34 am CDT
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Friday, June 8th, 2012

We have been given eyes to see what the light-year worlds cannot see of themselves, Bradbury wrote. We have been given hands to touch the miraculous. We’ve been given hearts to know the incredible. Can we shrink back to bed in our funeral clothes?

Andy Chaikin, who has made a life out of writing about space explorers, remembers Ray Bradbury

requiem | 5:50 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, books, current events, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, play, space geekery
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Thursday, June 7th, 2012

On my way to work yesterday, I stopped by our favorite bakery to see what kind of traffic accident would make the operators close it down for a day, as they mentioned in a Facebook post that they were experiencing some technical difficulties.

It turns out a drunk driver crashed a car into it. Doesn’t that just figure? We finally get a really good bakery on this side of town and some douchenozzle comes along and screws up everybody’s good deal.

According to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal, a drunk driver was trying to make a getaway from the police when he lost control of his car. He must have been moving at a pretty good clip, because just before he knocked the corner off the bakery, he tore the front off an apartment building two doors up the street. Somehow, that wasn’t enough to stop his car from punching through the cinderblock wall of the bakery.

The good news is, nobody was hurt. Also, the bakery plans to move up the street soon anyway.

blammo | 6:07 am CDT
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Wednesday, June 6th, 2012


This has been a test of the State of Wisconsin electoral system. In the event of an actual election, everyone would have been able to cast their votes before a winner was declared, and candidates for office would have remained in the election until all the votes were counted. This has only been a test.


test | 5:39 am CDT
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Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Ten years from now, or maybe as little as five, really, I may not remember where I was or what I was doing when I heard the news that Maurice Sendak had died, but I hope I’ll always be able to recall some of the happiest moments of my life, and that I could live them only because Sendak was alive.

Here’s one of them: Reading Where The Wild Things Are to my youngest son, Timmy, while he sat in my lap. I loved the part where I got to say, “That very night, in Max’s room …” and then pausing, Tim’s cue to throw his hands over his head and shout, “A FOREST GREW!”

Or this: The many pages of The Wild Rumpus. There were no words, so as I turned to the first two-page spread I would bounce Tim up and down in my lap and he would join me in chanting, “Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpuussss!” Then we would turn the page and do it all over again.

Unless my memory’s gone south, Sean’s favorite Sendak book was In The Night Kitchen, probably because it was full of milk and cookies. Both the boys liked Chicken Soup With Rice, which is easily my favorite, right after Where The Wild Things Are.

When I heard of Sendak’s death today, I slumped in my chair and very nearly came to tears, until it occurred to me that it would be much more appropriate to make sure we all kept the wild rumpus going.

Rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpus, rumpuussss!

Maurice Sendak | 9:01 pm CDT
Category: books, current events, entertainment, O'Folks, play, Seanster, T-Dawg
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Monday, May 7th, 2012

Spotted on the way into town last Saturday: There is something not quite right with this picture.

I literally tromped on my brakes when I noticed that this van appeared to be parked abnormally close to the fence around the Dumpster – the little black coupe was not even visible until I circled around into the parking lot for a better look. And I didn’t notice that the van driver clipped the bumper off the Toyota in the right foreground until I stopped to take a picture.

The skid marks on the blacktop make it look like the little black coupe must have been parked at least two spaces back when the van plowed into it and shoved it up against the fence, snapping the fence posts clean off at ground level.

Not only did the van driver shove the little black coupe sideways at least twenty feet into a fence that he broke off and shoved another ten feet or so, he still had enough momentum to push two Dumpsters into the fence on the other side of the enclosure, which he also snapped clean off its posts – and into another car! Hat trick!

It looks horrific, but a couple guys I met in the parking lot said that the driver got out of the van under his own power and was talking with the police immediately after the crash. The wreck made a lot of noise, they said, but nobody else was involved. They weren’t sure what happened to the driver of the van. I’m guessing he spent the weekend in the hoosegow unless somebody came to bail him out.

plowed | 11:57 am CDT
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Saturday, April 14th, 2012

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Steve Curwood’s show, Living On Earth, explaining why sending people into space is a good thing:

CURWOOD: So, tell me, why should we explore space, with people?

TYSON: I’ve got my own reasons for exploring space, that I don’t presume others should have these reasons. I think we should explore space because it’s cool to do and that you discover interesting things tomorrow that you didn’t know today, and that’s enlightening. That’s why I like to explore.

But I’m not going to require others to want to write the checks for those reasons. We should do it because our economy is tanking right now and people need to recognize the role and value of innovation as a cultural directive on the health of an economy. And by innovation, I mean the capacity to dream about a tomorrow that doesn’t exist today, the capacity to want to accomplish something tomorrow. In space it would require some kind of application of science, engineering, and technology to do something tomorrow that you didn’t know how to do today and when you innovate on that scale, you invent the economies of tomorrow.

And when you do that, the kids want to become scientists because they can see what role, it’s writ large in the daily headlines, they see what role science and engineering fluency plays in the trajectory of your society. And then the entire country becomes a participant on that frontier rather than sitting on our hands watching the rest of the world do exactly what we used to dream about doing for ourselves.

Listen to the whole show, see nifty pictures and read a transcript.

cool | 9:50 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, current events, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, play, show, space geekery
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Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Broccoli. I can’t open a newspaper, switch on the radio, or surf the internet without being reminded of the wisdom of supreme court justice Antonin Scalia, who wonders if the federal government will be forcing us all to buy broccoli soon.

Gee, Mr. Scalia, would that really be so bad for anybody? Considering what the federal government can already force me to do – fork over thirty percent of all the money I make every year, submit to a search every time I want to get on a commercial plane, pick up a gun and kill people – it would seem to me that making us all buy broccoli is, excuse the mixed metaphor, small potatoes.

mandate | 11:30 am CDT
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Sunday, February 19th, 2012


Some Wall Street investors made money as the mortgage market boomed; others profited when it fell apart.

Having reaped big gains during both of those turns, Greg Lippmann, a former star trader at Deutsche Bank, is now catching the next upswing: buying the same securities built from mortgages that he bet against before the financial crisis erupted.

Bonds Backed by Mortgages Regain Allure, New York Times

Seriously? Seriously? A worldwide economic collapse wasn’t enough to warn investors not to do this? I don’t know what I’m more disgusted by, the realization that this was never made illegal, the implication that investors seem incapable of learning from their mistakes, or the sad fact that a majority of the nation isn’t out in the streets with pitchforks and torches, bent on revolution.

collapse | 11:57 am CDT
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Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Finally! Somebody’s teaching robots to do something useful!

There are probably a lot of people who would look at this robot from a lab at UC-Berkeley and the first thought that would pop into their heads would be something like, “Well, that’s typical for an elitist institution, wasting time and money on building robots to do something as simple as fold towels.”

Then there are people like me who see this and the first thought that pops into our heads is, “TAKE MY MONEY AND GIVE ME ONE!” And the next thought is, “Does it clean toilets?”

Even if it can’t clean toilets, a robot that can fold clothes is more awesome than time travel! Unless of course the first thing you used time travel for was to go into the future and bring back a robot that did your laundry for you.

useful | 6:16 am CDT
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Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Leaders of various evangelical groups gave their endorsement to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, because he’s the tall, dark stranger they would most like to have a fling with before resigning themselves to political marriage with Mitt Romney.

I promise I’m not making that up. Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, figures that, “before we marry the guy next door, don’t you think we ought to have a fling with a tall dark stranger and see if he can support us in the manner to which we’d like to be accustomed? And if he can’t, we can always marry the steady beau who lives next door.”

Well, naturally! You might have been going steady for years, and you might be perfectly satisfied that he’s the one for you, but you sure don’t want to go into marriage without knowing what you might have had. If you do, you’ll only spend the rest of your life wondering, right? And, as Mr. Land pointed out, maybe that tall, dark stranger will turn out to be loaded with cash!

But, if he’s not, if it turns out he just wanted to boink you before moving on to his next conquest, well, you’ve always got the steady, dependable guy next door to fall back on. It’s win-win!

So have a good time partying with that Santorum guy, evangelicals! And when you wake up tomorrow morning, see his head on the pillow next to yours and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?” you don’t have a thing to worry about! There’ll always be Romney, the steady beau, waiting to forgive your impetuous actions and take you back.

By the way, Romney’s loaded too! Just in case you hadn’t heard.

fling | 4:38 pm CDT
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Thursday, January 5th, 2012

And now, a summary of every news bulletin, editorial and talking pundit I’ve heard on the radio this week:

Monday: Caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus.

Tuesday: Caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus caucus.

Wednesday: Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Romney Santorum. (Even though they were tied for first. Go figure.)

Wow, am I glad that’s over.

Today, when I turn on the radio: New Hampshire? Are You Kidding Me? This is never going to end, is it?

interminable | 6:41 am CDT
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Friday, December 30th, 2011

Oh I have just passed a most happy hour watching Brian Cox explain how atoms work. No, really. You may think you don’t have an hour to watch a video about a subject that you think you’ve never been interested in about knowledge you think you’ll never use, but just give him at least ten minutes of your time and see if you’re not infected by his enthusiasm.

I think my favorite moment is when he gets Jonathan Ross to help him calculate the probability that all the atoms in a diamond will leap five centimeters to the left. I’m sure a guy like Cox does this kind of math dozens of times a day, but I’m equally sure Ross doesn’t. Remember how to reckon numerators and denominators? No, neither do I.

Professor Brian Cox: A Night With the Stars

If I tell you one of the stars is Simon Pegg, would that make you want to watch it?

The best theory we have to describe matter is quantum theory.

Now, I understand why quantum theory can seem a bit odd. It makes odd statements. It says, for example, that things can be in many places at once. In fact, technically, it says that things can be in an infinite number of places at once. It says that the subatomic building blocks of our bodies are constantly shifting in response to events that happened at the edge of the known universe, a billion light years somewhere over there. This is all true, but that isn’t a license to talk utter drivel.

Quantum theory might seem weird or mysterious, but it describes the world with higher precision than the laws of physics laid down by Newton, and it’s one of the foundations of our understanding of nature. It doesn’t, therefore, allow mystical healing or ESP or any other manifestation of new-age woo-woo into the pantheon of the possible. Always remember that quantum theory is physics, and physics is usually done by people without star signs tattooed on their bottoms.

stars | 10:11 am CDT
Category: Big Book of Quotations, current events, daily drivel, entertainment, hobby, play, space geekery, television
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Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Neil deGrasse Tyson gets all worked up about why the study of quantum mechanics matters:

In the 1920s, quantum physics was discovered. That is the science of the small: the science of electrons, protons, neutrons, particles, nuclei. At the time, you’d say, This is just physicists burning tax money. Who cares about the atom? I got a horse to feed, I got kids, I got – you know, you got issues in society, yet it’s quantum mechanics that is the entire foundation of our entire technological revolution. There would be no computers. There would be no – none of what you take for granted – your iPod, your iPhone, cell phones, the space program – without our understanding of the laws of physics at that atomic and molecular and nuclear level. The chemist has no understanding of the periodic table of elements without quantum mechanics. To them, it’s just a list of elements. Quantum mechanics tells you why this column is there, and that’s there, and why this mates with that, and why that makes a molecule with that – that’s quantum mechanics, and it’s unheralded. You ask me, Is there any discovery that has changed how we live? It is quantum mechanics. And I make this point because there are people who say, Why are we spending money up there when we got problems on earth? People don’t connect the time-delay between the frontier of scientific research and how that’s going to transform your life later down the line. All they want is a quarterly report that shows the product that comes out of it. That is so short-sighted that that’s the beginning of the end of your culture.

quantum | 5:45 pm CDT
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Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

The whole world is on fire!

In a time-lapse video shot from the windows of the International Space Station, your home planet burns so brightly it’s hard not to wonder how anything can be alive down there. Cities are ablaze, lightning flares through the cloud tops, and the atmosphere itself swirls with the yellow-green flames of atoms charged by solar flares.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

flames | 6:21 am CDT
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Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

I’m a huge geek for space flight. I’m not sure why it’s called “manned” when there are women doing it now, and I’m as puzzled about calling it “flight” when it can and often is done without wings, but even so, I geek out in a major way whenever I run across a book or photo or web site that has anything to do with manned space flight. Geeking out isn’t about trying to make sense of it. It’s a Pavlovian response. Or is it? Maybe it’s not conditioned; maybe I was wired that way at birth.

Whatever. If I’d had the brains to do it, I would’ve gotten a couple PhD’s just for the privilege of working for a manned space flight program no matter how frivolous or questionable the motives for pursuing it are. I know the whole point of landing a man on the moon was to win a political argument. So what? It was still pretty cool. And our nation devotes a lot of time, energy and money to other political arguments – immigration, war, those kinds of things – that aren’t nearly as awesome as flying in space, supposedly because they’re important and space flight is pointless. “What are you going to do in space?” goes the argument. Well, you could live there. Takes a while and a lot of hard work to figure out how, but it could be done.

And if the argument against manned space flight is even more basic, if all that the argument against it boils down to is, “Why?” I’d answer, Because somebody is going to do it. In the whole of history, we’ve climbed into ships and gone as far as we could, and now that we’ve figured out that we can go to space, the move to working and then living in space is inevitable. It has to happen, because that’s what we do.

Actually, it’s happening. Right now. There are people living on a space station in orbit above us. They’ve been living in it for years, and will go on living in it for years, and they’re doing it mostly to figure out how to go on living in space for generations to come. If you think that’s not freaking awesome, then what is?

I got all wound up about this after astronomer Pamela Gay, appearing on a panel at the annual TAM science meeting, got shut down by astrophysicist Neal de Grasse Tyson after she made the comment that manned space flight was “kind of awesome … but there isn’t the budget in the world right now to do it right.” You cannot say that kind of thing around Neal (he lets me call him Neal) without expecting a broadside in return:

I’ve got to rebut that: To say there’s no budget in the world – the federal budget is three point something trillion dollars … It’s not that we can’t afford it, it’s that we have chosen to not afford it. … The U.S. bailout of the banks exceeded the 50-year budget of Nasa. If you want to do something with three and a half trillion dollars, you can do whatever you want, whatever you judge to be important to the profile of the nation. The Nasa budget is four-tenths of one percent of a tax dollar. If I cut into a tax dollar four-tenths of one percent, it doesn’t even get into the ink! So I will not accept the statement that we cannot afford it.

Yeah. What he said.

ink | 11:04 am CDT
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Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

To The Editor:

In your editorial comment, Capitol Common Sense (Oct 11, 2011), you wrote:

Here’s how a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald made the argument this week for allowing concealed weapons inside the state Capitol.

“So long as the Capitol remains open, our members, their staff and the public have a right to defend themselves,” John Jagler said.

Defend themselves? What about the right of members, their staff and the public to a safe environment?

We backed concealed carry in Wisconsin … Under the law … Municipalities can prohibit weapons in government buildings … weapons can’t be banned from parks and public grounds.

At least John Jagler was being consistent. If legislators believe that the citizens of Wisconsin are responsible enough, given some training, to carry concealed weapons, then why should there be a prohibition against carrying weapons into the capitol? Or any other place, for that matter? If a citizen is deemed responsible enough to carry a concealed weapon into a public park, why not a public building? And certainly anyone should be able to carry concealed weapons into the very building where the legislature that availed us of this right carries out their daily labors.

But if the Editor objects that carrying concealed weapons into the capitol will transform it into an unsafe environment for the legislators, their staff and the public, then why does the Editor endorse a policy of carrying concealed weapons anywhere else? How is the capitol less safe than other public buildings and lands when citizens bring concealed weapons into them? How is the public endangered in a capitol where concealed carry is allowed, yet somehow safe in a public park where concealed carry cannot be prohibited? I would very much like to know how you justify one, but not the other.

consistency | 7:11 pm CDT
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Friday, September 30th, 2011

So, the thing that really amazed me about the news that neutrinos might possibly travel faster than light (I’m not convinced) was not that this would change all physics forever and make Einstein a dooty-head as well, it was that physicists were using the Large Hadron Collider in Bern, Switzerland, like a particle-beam cannon to shoot volleys of neutrinos at Italy! Wouldn’t that be awesome? I didn’t even know it could do that! I thought the particles stayed inside the accelerator, for the most part. I didn’t know they could lob an occasional broadside at a target in another country. “Who should we blast full of neutrinos today?” “Well, I’ve always wanted to irradiate Kalamazoo.” Man, I wish I’d paid more attention in physics class.

Speaking of which: A couple of particle physicists joined Tom Ashbrook on his radio show yesterday to talk about the neutrino thingy, and when they got to the part of the show where callers phoned in to dump on the guests, one of them began to explain away the supposed extraordinary speed of neutrinos by saying, “If I recall my high school physics correctly…” Oh! Hey! We never thought of that! Man, if we’d only gone back to high school physics, none of this controversy would ever have come out! Thanks, high school physics caller! That cleared everything up!

zap | 6:24 am CDT
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Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

National Public Radio has been presenting a series of articles about growing old and retiring that don’t make it sound all that appealing. As a matter of fact, they make it sound like a great big bummer.

“Retirement: Reality Not As Rosy As Expectation” is all about how retirement was not at all what people expected it to be, because deteriorating health, or poor financial planning, or both forced them to live on the ragged edge of existence.

And “Boomers Delusion About Health In Retirement,” which leads with a photograph of a line of grayhairs playing Wii bowling, tells us all about what a great, big bummer it is to fall apart as we grow old. “That’s what getting older is eventually about. We’re all going to have serious health problems in retirement, and eventually really serious health problems,” says a consultant asked to comment for the record.

Hey, thanks, NPR! Thanks so much for giving me something to look forward to!

bummer | 6:31 pm CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, damn kids!
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Friday, July 22nd, 2011

image of space shuttle Atlantis' re-entryI know our problems down here on earth are so very huge that it seems nobody has the enthusiasm left over to care about what’s going on it orbit or on the moon or even on Mars, but take a gander for just a moment, won’t you, at this awesome freaking photograph. (If you click on it, you’ll get a mind-blowing 1.8 MB enlargement to peruse at length.) It was taken by one of the crew members aboard the International Space Station who was looking out the window when the space shuttle Atlantis streaked by underneath, heading for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

This is what photographers call a night shot. The face of the earth is in shadow, so the guy with the camera took a very long exposure, maybe ten seconds, maybe thirty or more, to get enough light to fall through his camera lens so he could record this moment.

The length of the exposure is the reason the earth looks a little blurry. The space station is hustling along at about twenty thousand miles per hour, so it moved far enough in ten seconds (or whatever) to make it impossible to get a clear shot of the cloudcover. But the long exposure made it possible to record Atlantis’ re-entry as a long, fiery streak which, now that I think of it, might have been there even if they had taken a shorter exposure. The streak is ionized gas, a visible trail of the enormous amount of energy the shuttle sheds by crashing into the atmosphere. It’s hitting the atmosphere so hard that the gasses that make up the air are not merely set on fire by the friction, their electrons have been excited to the point that they’re emitting visible radiation. This is the kind of fire that alien invaders will use to roast us like ants when they finally arrive to harvest the earth on their journey toward total galactic domination. Gunpowder and bullets are sticks and stones compared to setting the atmosphere on fire at the atomic level.

Air isn’t something you normally think of as a solid object but, at the speed the shuttle is moving, it is. You can see the boundary of the atmosphere in the photograph as a thin, green line that astronauts call “airglow.” The sun (or the moon, not sure) is illuminating it from behind, so you get to see it here as a shell around the planet. * It’s about sixty miles thick, which seems like a lot until you learn that the breathable stuff is a layer barely a mile and a half thick. That’s why airplanes have to power dive and those comical-looking plastic masks drop out of the ceiling if a window blows out. The rest of what is considered atmosphere is just dead weight holding the breathable stuff against the surface of the planet, and – here’s the part that should interest you – it’s slowly diffusing into space. The breathable stuff has to be replenished by the activity of the plants and animals here on the surface, and that’s why rock stars, tree huggers and biologists keep yapping about carbon emissions. The carbon they’re talking about is, basically, aerial shit. We’re shitting into the breathable stuff. Plants and animals are not made to breathe shit.

If I seem to have wandered from the topic, I humbly submit that you are mistaken. If you’ll just look at this photo, you can see why it’s important to explore other worlds, or just to go into orbit where we can look back at our own home planet. Even if you don’t know about the ions and the carbon and gas diffusion, you can see them in action in this photo. It’s photographs like this, and other ways of gathering information, that give us a source of data to work out the puzzle of how the universe works.

Also, it’s cool. Really cool.

*I’ve learned since I posted this drivel that airglow is not just the light of the sun or the moon being diffused through the atmosphere. The air around our planet actually glows.

glow | 7:50 am CDT
Category: current events | Tags: , ,
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Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Well, I’m stuck. I have no idea what to write about. Whenever I try to think of a subject worth writing about, Michelle Bachmann pops into my head. Talk about writer’s block. It doesn’t get any more blocked than that.

I had the same thing when Donald Trump was running for president. Whenever I tried to focus my thoughts on something I could only get so far, and then Trump! Totally blocked. It was maddening.

We’ve got this idea that anybody can grow up to become president, but really, come on. This has got to stop.

blocked | 9:05 pm CDT
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Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

We finally have a law allowing everyone in Wisconsin to stuff handguns down their pants if they want to. This is so very important that the fine people of our state legislature passed this law before they passed a budget.

And of course the law comes with the usual restrictions: You can’t take a gun into a courthouse, or into a school, or past the security checkpoints in an airport. I don’t get that. People who want to carry a concealed handgun have to undergo a background check and must show they’ve been trained, whatever that means. So they’re licensed, they’re trained and they have no criminal record. What’s the reason for restricting them?

bang | 6:36 pm CDT
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Saturday, May 28th, 2011

This literally makes my head hurt: Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, listening to testimony regarding man-made climate change, asked a witness if any thought were being given “to subsidizing the clearing of rain forests in order for some countries to eliminate that production of greenhouse gases?” Ouch. Really? Ouch. Yes, really. Ouch.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not climate change is being aggravated by human activity, I thought that everybody that’s ever been to school knew that trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. I thought everybody knew that trees store carbon dioxide, but emit it as soon as you kill them by cutting them down. I thought everybody knew that there is no way to dispose of a tree that does not emit carbon dioxide.

I thought every person with a basic grade-school education knew these facts. I’m pretty sure I learned about photosynthesis as early as third grade, and I know they threw it at us more than once in grade school, junior high and high school. Just as an aside, it seemed like every time somebody made a film about photosynthesis, and it felt like they did that about once a week, they sent it to our school to try it out on us. Which is why I kind of assumed that anybody with a grade-school education had heard of photosynthesis, but now I’m not so sure.

Maybe Congressman Rohrabacher is not an educated person. Or he went to school but he was sick the day they explained photosynthesis. Or he was there and he read it, but he didn’t believe it. Or, the teachers at the school he went to didn’t explain it because of budget cuts, or because they didn’t believe it, either. The possibilities are endless, really. And they still make my head hurt. Ow.

Mr. Rohrabacher doesn’t believe carbon dioxide causes global warming, as his press statement makes clear (ouch), although the rest of it is confusing. “I simply asked the witness, Dr. Todd Stern, … if he was considering a policy that would address naturally emitted carbon dioxide, which makes up over 90% of emissions.” So even though he doesn’t believe carbon dioxide is a problem, the amount of naturally emitted carbon dioxide is still a concern, for some reason. Ouch.

ouch | 9:12 am CDT
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Friday, May 27th, 2011

I just heard a right-winger and a left-winger on a morning talk show debating the latest political circus acts here in the great state of Wisconsin, the most recent being the enactment of a law requiring citizens to present two forms of photo identification in order to vote, but touching on other topics such as the elimination of collective bargaining for public worker unions and the proposal to allow everyone to carry concealed handguns regardless of whether or not they’re trained to use them. The left-winger and the right-winger had nothing new to say, really; I’ve heard the party positions so many times that it doesn’t make me think about the issues so much as it just pisses me off, so I don’t know why I even listen to their crap any more.

The legislature virtually eliminated collective bargaining because, as the governor repeated endlessly, the state is broke. The voter ID law was enacted to eliminate voter fraud. Oddly, there’s very little evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin. Evidence from the recent recount backs this up and suggests, in fact, that the procedures used by clerks and poll workers to handle ballots are pretty sloppy, but yeah, let’s enact a multimillion-dollar voter ID law.

Hey, I thought we were broke.

I’m sick and tired of that refrain. State government is not a business. Legislators can raise revenue, or they can lower spending, but the state cannot go broke and there’s no semantic issue of laws being the product, or our vote giving us the same kind of choices that consumers get. I’m a voter, not a consumer, and elected officials are not offering us a product that we have any choice in buying because voting one legislator out of office so that another one can shove his product down our throats is not a choice. They’re not asking us for our input any more, they’re telling us what we have to buy. That’s not business.

And the idea that requiring us to show ID to vote is somehow reasonable because businesses ask us for ID when we cash a check doesn’t wash with me, either. First, same reason as above: The government is not a business. I’m not cashing a check, I’m voting. I should be able to walk in and say ‘aye’ and walk out again. That’s voting. Having to prove who I am before I am even allowed to speak is, well, you know what that is. And if your argument is that a vote is so much more important than cashing a check that I should be in favor of more ID, not less, then my argument right back at you is, if it’s that important, then you shouldn’t be asking for an ID card that anybody with a computer printer can make counterfeit of. A nationwide database of every citizen’s DNA would be the only sure-fire way of proving our identities. Would you be willing to have your throat swabbed every time you cast a vote? Don’t even think of saying yes.

Second, have these legislators even been to a store lately? I haven’t presented my ID card to make a purchase by check or charge in I don’t know how long. Nobody asks me to show ID any more. Card goes in, money comes out. The checker at the Menard’s doesn’t even look at me when I pay with a card.

Third, if the state’s going to require that we present two forms of photo identification in order to vote, then they damn well better provide each and every voter with two kinds of photo ID free of charge. make it possible for every last citizen to acquire two forms of photo ID free of charge. As it is now, a driver’s license, the de facto photo ID issued by the state, costs thirty-five bucks. So now we’re required to pay a fee in order to vote. Ever heard of a poll tax?

Lastly – well, no, not lastly. I’m sure I can think of lots more, and though this may be last for now it is certainly not least: Requiring people to show ID whenever a government employee asks for it is the kind of shit we used to make fun of the Soviet Union for, yet for reasons that I cannot grasp, most Americans think this is okay now. It’s so weird. I enlisted to fight the Cold War, and was told that we won. How did I wake up in the Twilight Zone?

[edited to add the part about free voter IDs – and a tip o’ the hat to My Darling B!]

twilight | 12:00 pm CDT
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Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Nathan Bootz, Superintendent of Ithaca Public Schools, in an open letter to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in the Gratiot County Herald

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Fucken A well told.

consider | 7:37 pm CDT
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Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Jumping on the internet bandwagon, here are the few thoughts that buzzed through my brain cell at the sight of TSA goons frisking an eight-month-old baby:

Ah. Well. They’re doing that to be fair. Yeah! That’s the ticket! They grope everybody else, so it’s only fair that they give the baby a patdown, too. Babies aren’t any different from the rest of us! There are lots of really good reasons to pat down a baby. Yeah!

Most Obvious Reason: Baby Splosion Terrorists could shove several pounds of highly-explosive explosives down a baby’s diaper. Heck, after the underwear bomber, diaper could be highly explosive. And the mother could be the terrorist who’s just posing as a mother but she’s not, really, she just bought the baby on craigslist so she could stuff it full of explosives. That could happen.

Or maybe that’s not the most obvious reason. Maybe TSA thinks that terrorists stuffed a gun in the baby’s diaper. Might not be a very big gun, and it would be really gross after it’d been down a baby’s diaper after any length of time, but they’re terrorists, they’re capable of anything.

And, um … uh … I can’t think of any more reasons, but those two are some pretty damn good ones right there! Babies could be highly dangerous to airline travel! You can’t be too careful! This is for your own good!

baby! | 7:40 am CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, yet another rant
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Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

I turned on the radio this morning and guess what? Osama bin Laden’s been killed! When did that happen? How did I miss that? I must’ve been in a coma! Or maybe it’s because I’m living under a rock! Wow! I sure hope I can catch the news at the top of the hour so I can find out more! Maybe there’s something on the interwebs in the meantime …

Surprise! | 5:56 am CDT
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Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Bin laden bin laden bin laden. Bin laden bin laden. Osama bin Laden. Bin laden bin laden osama bin laden.

“Osama bin laden bin laden osama bin laden,” osama bin laden bin laden bin laden.

Osama bin laden bin laden osama osama bin laden bin laden. Bin laden bin laden osama bin laden.

Osama. Osama bin laden.

Bin laden osama, osama bin laden, laden bin osama, bin osama laden.

Osama. Bin. Laden.

Being bin Laden | 6:23 pm CDT
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Thursday, April 28th, 2011

I understand somebody in the royal family of Britain is getting married. I had this admittedly vague bit of information stashed away in the back of my brain cell, ready to whip out in case I heard somebody talking about it, but nobody did, so I pretty much forgot about it until this week.

This week suddenly everybody I worked with was talking about the royal wedding. Mostly they were talking about how sick to death they were of hearing about it, which ironically required them to talk about it, forcing the rest of us to hear about it a lot which was what they were sick of in the first place.

Coincidentally, all the radio shows I listened to started to talk about how much the news has been oversaturated with trivia about the royal wedding, pegging the irony meter once again.

Then I started to hear about it on television, which is really hard for me because I don’t watch television. I watch just one or two television shows, like The Daily Show, on the interwebs. Actually, I watch just that one show. If I see any other television, it’s sound bites and short clips of morning news shows on wonkette. And yet I was suddenly inundated with news clips featuring the royal wedding.

In the space of three or four days I knew who Kate Middleton was. I had never heard of her before. In a week, I won’t be able to remember her name, but I know it right now. And apparently she’s marrying Wills. I’m guessing that would be Prince William. That’s the extent of my knowledge of the royal wedding. It’s probably yours, too, but I’ll bet you’re hearing it repeated every day, just as I am.

The royal wedding is like winter in Wisconsin: The end is just around the corner, and yet somehow it drags on and on.

Royally | 8:18 pm CDT
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Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

I should stop paying any attention at all to the news. It only pisses me off. Once again, they’re calling for snow in the weather forecast. This late in the year, when the month of April will shortly be replaced by the month of May, they should be telling us only that it’s going to be sunny and warm and we’ll have nothing but blue skies and rainbows every day for the rest of our lives even if it’s a lie. Even if there’s a whiteout blizzard tomorrow and there are glaciers approaching the border, I only want to hear good news, like nobody out there really thinks Donald Trump should be president, or that we should all have to carry government-issued identification cards to vote. Blue skies, nothing but blue skies…

FTS | 8:54 pm CDT
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Thursday, April 7th, 2011

I’ve got an idea that could help government at the state and federal level break out of the Republican-Democrat gridlock we’re seeing everywhere. It’s going to sound a little weird at first, but go with me for a little bit and see if it doesn’t make some sense after all.

The trouble that I’m seeing here in our great state of Wisconsin, as well as way up at the federal government level, is that votes are split right down partisan lines, am I right? If I’m not, just pretend I am for the sake of argument because otherwise there isn’t much point to reading the rest of this post and I’ll feel like I went to the trouble of writing it for nothing.

So what I’m thinking is, why don’t we elect one Republican and one Democrat to each of the offices that are up for election? If they can’t vote along party lines they’ll have to actually work toward a solution, which I admit is such a radical idea that they may have trouble grasping the concept, but there’s an even chance they’ll eventually get the idea and maybe even fix a few of the things that are wrong with the country before lobbyists find a loophole and fuck things up again.

I know it sounds like making government bigger but that’s not at all what I’m proposing. My idea is like splitting stock. To use the senate as an example, we’ll still have two senate seats for each state, but we’ll elect one Republican and one Democrat to each seat. Each senator will have half a vote. They’d have to split the salary and benefits down the middle and time-share an office. It might be worth doing just for the fun of watching them fight over who gets to sit in the big chair.

We’d do the same thing to every other elected official. Every governor, every judge, everybody who owed their job to a slimy attack ad. They’d go from having all the political power of their parties to having virtually none, because the advantage every one of them had would be canceled out by the other wheel squeaking to be greased. Suddenly the Republicans and Democrats would all be about as powerful as the Greens.

I really don’t see a down side to this. How about you?

Gridlock | 8:13 pm CDT
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Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Watching the legislature work is like watching The Three Stooges trying to fix leaky plumbing. Larry does one thing, Shemp does another, Moe wangs them both over the head with a monkey wrench, yelling “Because I said so!” and makes them do it his way. In the next scene the botched job blows up in their faces and they have to start all over again, except this time substitute Shemp with Curly just to make things even more confusing.

We’ve got this new law in Wisconsin, maybe you’ve heard of it. The governor called it his “budget repair bill” and a key piece of it dismantled the state worker’s union, which he said time and again was necessary to balance the budget. Trouble was, he couldn’t get it through the senate because half the Stooges fled the state to keep Moe from bashing them over the head with it.

As long as the bill had all that stuff about the budget in it, he needed all the Stooges to call a vote, but if he tore off the part about the budget, all he needed was Larry and Shemp. Curly could hop around in the corner and holler “Whoowhoowhoo!” all he wanted. And he did, but the rest of the Stooges voted to pass the bill.

Then Moe signed the bill and we had a new law … or maybe not. The various Stooges can’t seem to agree on this. It was published on Friday in spite of a court order barring its publication. I’m not sure why it has to be published; I thought an act of congress became a law when the executive signed it, or at least that’s what I learned watching Schoolhouse Rock.

But apparently to make it the law of the land it has to be published, whatever that means. Anybody can “publish” it by standing on a corner and reading it aloud, or printing it on handbills that they then staple to telephone poles, which would suit the Three Stooges theme just fine here. The legal definition of “published” seems to be up for grabs, though. At least one news story I read said it had to be published in a newspaper. A newspaper? In 2011? Is that really what the state statute says? I don’t know; I couldn’t find it.

And it appears to make no difference. The administration (Moe) is going ahead as if this new legislation is law (“Because I said so!”) and will let the courts sort out whether or not they checked all the boxes that make it legal even though they’ve done an end-run around a legal injunction to show how much stock they put in the court (“Whoowhoowhoo!”).

The pie fight starts on Monday.

Stooges | 10:37 am CDT
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Sunday, March 13th, 2011

image of rally in Madison WI 3-12-11

My Darling B and I spent all day yesterday in downtown Madison and all we saw was a lousy two hundred thousand union supporters rallying around the capitol! Man, did we feel ripped off!

We started off the day normally enough, washing up and heading into town to stock up our pantry with various and sundry items from the Dane County Farmer’s Market and, while we were there, we filled our bellies with a delicious breakfast: burritos, hash browns and a few leafy greens. Leafy greens might sound a little unusual to those who have not eaten at a farmer’s market. I thought they were at first, too, but after you’ve eaten breakfast at a farmer’s market for a couple years you not only get used to it, you feel a little guilty if you don’t eat your leafy greens, like maybe you’re cheating. “Hiding your leafy greens under the table mat again?” “No, Mom, honest!”

While My Darling B was shopping I had to run down the street to get first aid for an eyeglass emergency. At first I was just going to duck into Dorn’s Hardware to see if they had any of those little screwdrivers you can attach to your keyring. That would’ve been the quickest and easiest way for me to fix my glasses, if Dorn’s had been open, but they were not, so I ran shuffled on down to State Street to an optometrist’s shop on the intersection with Gorham Street. I’m going to give C. G. Schanel & Associates a plug because not only was he the most pleasant optometrist I’ve even dealt with, he didn’t just hand me a screwdriver and leave me to fix it myself. Instead, he took my eyeglasses over to his little workbench, made sure everything was put together and lined up correctly, cleaned off the glasses and handed them back to me at no charge. “Just come back to me when you need glasses,” he said with a big smile. And I will.

State Street was a steady stream of people walking up to capitol hill and by the time got back to the neighborhood where the farmer’s market is held I was starting to worry that I would never find My Darling B in the crowd. I milled around for a bit in the parking lot, then went into the market itself and looked around, but eventually had to admit to myself that I was never going to spot her and, as it turned out, I was right. She was going to spot me. She came out of the ladies’ room just a fraction of a second after I came out of the men’s room and chased me down. So we didn’t have to wade into the mass of people congregating around the square.

The first time we showed up there it must’ve been about ten o’clock. There were already quite a lot of people crowding the sidewalks around the square, so many that they were already filling the street as they walked around in the customary counterclockwise direction. I wonder who started that, and why? Anyway, we milled around for a bit, collecting pro-union buttons and checking out the signs before we were swept up by the crowd and marched hand-in-hand up Carroll Street to the top of the hill where Hamilton intersects at an angle with the square in front of the Inn on the Square. That’s where we backed up to the curb to wait for the tractors.

This was what My Darling B was most interested to see this morning. Farmers brought about two-dozen tractors (and the inevitable manure spreader — that was sort of required, wasn’t it?) to parade around the square. Real farmers. We knew several of them from the farmer’s market. The parade was headed by an old green fire truck and I’m pretty sure I saw Dan Nichols in the bunch that stood on the back shouting, “This Is Grassroots!” The crowd quickly took up the chant and amped it up to a deafening roar.

As the tractors came up Hamilton Street one by one and turned to head down Main Street at a slow crawl the crowd raised a cheer to each one of them, and when a farmer raised a hand in salute or otherwise acknowledged the crowd they were rewarded with a round of “Thank! You! Thank! You! Thank! You!” from the crowd. It was quite a moment.

After the last tractor turned down Main Street the crowd closed in behind it and marched along in the road. I don’t think we got any farther than halfway down the Pinckney side of the square in a half-hour of marching before we decided to mill around some and see what was going on. What we found was mostly a hundred thousand or so people milling around to see what was going on. Various people were making speeches from the platform set up near the base of the stairs on the State Street corner of the square, but we were too cold by that time to stand still and listen to them, and when My Darling B suggested we pop into Merchant’s to warm up a bit I eagerly agreed.

Merchant’s is a relatively new restaurant on the high-visibility corner of Pinckney and Doty, right across the street from Johnny Delmonico’s. We snagged two stools at the bar and, a few moments later, the attention of the bartender to beg him to fortify us against the cold. B was somehow hungry already, and as soon as she said that I was, too, so we split an open-faced sandwich and chased it with our favorite libations, a Hopalicious from Ale Asylum for me and a glass of Malbec for B. With a fresh supply of antifreeze coursing through my veins I was able to take my coat off … thirty or forty minutes later. I was really cold.

While we enjoyed our brunch, demonstrators streamed past the windows, most notably a long line of bright yellow cabs from the Union Cab Company, honking their horns in syncopation with the chant, “This is what democracy looks like!” (an earworm that no one in Madison can get out of their heads these days) and waving hand-made signs from the windows. When the red light at the corner of King Street stopped traffic, cab drivers would pop out of almost ever cab to take photos of the line. You can google “union cab madison wisconsin” and come up with any number of photos of the cabs lined up in the street yourself right now.

As our brunch came to an end we had to decide: go home, or stay to witness The Return of the Wisconsin Fourteen? The wouldn’t make their appearance until three o’clock, so we would have to find something to do for a while. We debated for a little while longer over another round of bellywarmers, just to keep the juices flowing in the cold, don’t you know, then wrapped ourselves up and headed back up to the square. After a quick stop at a book shop where My Darling B searched but was sadly unable to find just the right kind of journal she was looking for, we plowed back into the crowd to see what we could see.

Not much, as it turned out. It was about two-thirty and by this time the square was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. I’ve read estimates of the crowd at about one hundred thousand. Pssht. If it was anything less than a quarter million, I’m a greedy union thug. Oh, wait. I am. Well, I still say it was closer to a quarter million, but maybe that’s my uncontrollable need to collectively ask for too much.

And while My Darling B and I were standing on tippy-toe trying to see who was at the podium, the lady next to me nudged me with her elbow and said in a conspiratorial whisper, hooking her thumb at the gentleman standing in my way, “Do you know who that is?” He looked maybe a few years older than me and wore plain denim work clothes. Could’ve been anybody from anywhere in Wisconsin. I turned back to the lady and shook my head no. “That’s Tom Barrett,” she said. Barrett ran against Scott Walker in the gubernatorial election and lost by a narrow margin. I wouldn’t have recognized him if he’d turned around and introduced himself, but many people in the crowd reached out to shake his hand and give him their regards, and after that happened a couple dozen times the crowd itself turned their cameras from the podium to Barret, snapping away and shouting, “Hello, Mister Mayor!” If you can find any of those photos on someone’s Facebook page, you’ll probably see My Darling B and I standing right behind him.

When the Wisconsin Fourteen finally returned, they were literally welcomed by the crowd as returning heroes. The crowd was signing a hymn to their return. I swear I am not making that up. To the strains of God Bless America they marched up the stairs, took their place at the podium, and one by one thanked everyone for everything.

And of course there was Jesse Jackson. I think he stops by every Saturday now to say a prayer. This Saturday he asked us to pray for the people in Japan and even I ducked my head to thank goodness that the friends I had in Japan were okay.

Tony Shalhoub was the Hollywood star this week, a good pick, I thought. You can’t get any more native to Wisconsin than Green Bay, but I say that with a touch of bias, having grown up in Green Bay myself. He brought his sister Amy along because she’s one of those overpaid teachers you keep hearing about.

We began to make our way off the square at maybe four o’clock, cold and exhausted but happy we stayed. Being part of a crowd like that will be a memory that will stick with us for a while.

Oh, just one more thing: Cows.

Tractors. Cows. 14. A Monk. | 10:42 am CDT
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Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

I’m going to call bullshit on our current economic crisis. I think I’ve done this before, but the latest round of budget cuts made by “fiscally responsible” elected officers is really starting to chap my nads and they’re already kind of tender.

The flag-pin politicians who keep repeating “we’re broke” like it’s a mantra are overlooking a key point: The government isn’t a money-making business. It doesn’t go broke. It can spend as much as it wants.

Don’t believe that? Then answer this question for me: How does the war get paid for? (“We’re at war?” “Yes, for the past ten years. Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you. Go back to sleep.”) The government literally spends more money than you can imagine on the bullets and beans to keep that war going, and a huge chunk of that money is “off-budget.” They literally pull money out of thin air!

How do they do that? I have no idea. Maybe the adage “wishing can’t make it so” is a flat-out lie, or maybe it doesn’t apply to money. But time after time politicians have waved a wand over their big magic top hat, reached inside and pulled out stack after stack of million-dollar bills. When they can do hocus-pocus like that, the argument that the government doesn’t have the money to pay for medical care or teachers’ salaries doesn’t make sense.

Another catchphrase I’m already tired of hearing: “I can’t allow the taxpayers to be on the hook for paying teachers who are not teaching.” Taxpayers are not “on the hook” for anything. Taxpayers just pay what the government tells them to. The taxpayers certainly aren’t spending the money. That’s what the government does. If anyone’s on the hook, it’s mealy-mouthed politicians. If taxpayers were the ones “on the hook,” I think you’d see some real changes to how they money was spent.

Frugality schroogality | 6:30 am CDT
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Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Saith James Madison, writing as Publius to the people of New York, November 23, 1787:

The latent causes of faction are sown in the nature of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity, according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.

And ever shall it be so.

– The Federalist No. 10

Party Politics | 6:50 am CDT
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Friday, January 7th, 2011

image of congressional dorkwads

Congressional dorkwads spent the day reading aloud from the constitution, for no good reason that I can think of. Did they think I didn’t believe they could read? Did they think I believed they’d never read it before? Did they think I would never have guessed they could pull off such a blatantly patronizing show? What does this prove? Who does this impress? How is this productive at all? I can’t believe we let these clowns tax the shit out of us, then pull shameless stunts like this to demonstrate how they’re only doing what we want them to do. What a crazy mixed-up country this is.

We, The People | 9:12 pm CDT
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Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

A man in Milwaukee was killed on Tuesday when he was hit by a refrigerator thrown off a fourth-floor balcony.

Wow. Talk about a cosmic FU. How do you ever see something like that coming? That guy was living his life, minding his own business, when BAM! Refrigerator. Just thinking about it makes me feel even more insignificant than staring at a million trillion stars on a clear night.

Refrigerator | 8:24 pm CDT
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Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

I have no idea where I was or what I was doing the night I heard John Lennon died. I remember seeing plenty of television news stories with video of people weeping and lighting candles, but when I try to recall the first time I heard about it, I just can’t. It simply didn’t make as big an impression on me as it did on other people.

Actually, I don’t have a lot of associations like that. My memory seems to be association-free. I don’t remember where I was when I heard Reagan was shot, or Ford was shot at. I only remember where I was when I heard about the 9/11 attack because I was in an airplane over Alaska where we were grounded for four days, and I remember that I was at a tech school in Munich when I heard the Challenger blew up because the class wiseass greeted me on the street with, “Hi, Dave! The space shuttle just blew up!”

“Yeah, right,” I said in reply. When I got back to my room the only thing on television, of course, was that video of the explosion, replayed over and over again.

I’m pretty sure I must’ve been in Eau Claire, where I was going to school, when I heard about Lennon, but even with that hint I can’t put myself in place or time. Most of the 80s are a blur to me, anyway. It’s a completely lost memory, as so many are.

Memory-free | 5:59 pm CDT
Category: current events, entertainment, music, play, space geekery
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Monday, November 29th, 2010

There’s a television show called I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant. You probably knew that already. I’m coming late to this conversation because (stop me if you’ve heard this) I don’t have cable, a dish or a digital converter box. Television used to be free when I was a lad, so I’m not going to pay for it now. Also I won’t watch programs on the interwebs until they can figure out how to get me a picture that doesn’t freeze up or pixillate and is bigger than a pack of cigarettes. Until television is free again, or the internet works all their bugs out, I am and will continue to be a television celibate.

Most of the time. If I go to a bar where there’s a television on – and what bar doesn’t have at least three, right? – I stare at it compulsively while I gum the one forkful of food I managed to get into my mouth before all my brain cells shifted to WATCHING TELEVISION! It’s the way I’m wired. And another reason I don’t want to have television in my house any more. I’m pretty sure I’d never get anything else done. Dishes would pile up in the sink. My clothes would rot in the hamper. The cats would starve. I’d forget to go to work. Okay, so there’s one good thing, anyway.

I’d even watch I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant, no question about it. Shows like this make me worry less about how out of touch I am with humanity. There’s no way I could possibly be as out of touch as a woman who had another human being gestating inside her for nine months without realizing it. I’m really very grateful for them.

If you visit the web site, hit the link to the top ten reasons for not knowing you’re pregnant. Please note that these are only the top ten, the implication being that women have given more than ten reasons, possibly many more, that were not as ludicrous as the ten that made the list. Don’t feel you have to restrict yourself to them when asked. Go ahead and improvise. Here are just a few to start you off:

I thought it was a cyst or a tumor. You had what you thought was a tumor that grew and grew for months, made you physically ill and was big enough to see, but somehow it wasn’t serious enough to ask your doctor about? Were you thinking he would shrug it off? “Oh, that. People get eight-pound basketball-sized tumors all the time. Call me when you’ve got real problems.”

I used a home pregnancy test and it was negative. “Well, sure, I missed nine periods in a row, suffered heartburn that would light every house in the city of Cincinnati, and my belly stuck out far enough to set my dinner plate on it, but I got a double-blue dot when I tried one of those home pregnancy tests, so how could I be pregnant?”

I have an irregular cycle. Nine missed periods in a row is not “irregular,” it’s a freaking sign.

I was using birth control. You carried a baby for nine months. Come up with a better excuse than this.

I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant | 9:10 pm CDT
Category: current events, entertainment, play, television
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image of supercell thunderstorm

If I ever saw a supercell thunderstorm all up close and personal, I’m pretty sure I would:

a) shit a brick

b) drop to my knees and babble like a baby girl

c) tear all my hair out and eat it

d) throw myself on the ground and roll spastically in the mud

e) jump six feet straight up into the air like a scared cat

f) run a thousand miles an hour in the opposite direction

g) all of the above

I Would Lose My Shit | 6:12 am CDT
Category: current events
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Sunday, November 28th, 2010

Get ready, I’m climbing up on my soapbox.

Manually searching people in airports is wrong first and foremost because it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Not because it’s a health hazard, not because it’s demeaning, not because it’s worthless security theater. Those are valid concerns and I agree with them, but searching people who aren’t suspected of a crime is, at its core, a violation of a basic constitutional right. I don’t mean to belittle the fear of irradiation or the humiliation of being groped in public, but those are emotional appeals that sensationalize an argument that is already pretty sensational. Could we please stay focused on our basic Fourth Amendment rights?

At times like this I wish I’d gone into law so I’d have the education to back up my argument, but do I really need it? The Fourth Amendment is so straightforward, relying on none of the flowery language that makes some other articles and amendments of the constitution difficult to understand:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers, houses and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

I am an American citizen, and unless the federal government suspects me of criminal activity, they have no cause to search me. If they have cause to search me, they must present a warrant issued by a judge that states the reason they have to search me and the things they expect to find. Citizens are presumed innocent, not guilty. It’s as plain as that.

As I understand it, the only hitch to the Fourth Amendment is you. You are the barometer that courts use when defining a reasonable search, and if you submit to being searched on the excuse that “this is for the security of everyone on the airplane,” or that “if you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide,” you’re changing the definition. Scanning and groping becomes reasonable because that’s what you expect. That’s supremely important because, after the definition has shifted, we’re all stuck with it for quite a while.

Right now, the standard has been lowered to this: Whether or not you “opt out,” you have allowed that it’s reasonable for uniformed officers of the federal government to stick their gloved hands down your pants, up your bras, in your children’s crotches. I’m not trying to cast them in the role of sexually depraved monsters; they’re only doing as they were told. I’m just stating in plain language what you’re allowing them to do. You’ve allowed them to demand that citizens exhibit their feminine hygiene pads and their urostomy bags. You have even allowed them to take citizens aside to “privacy rooms” to be searched, as if that wasn’t scary at all. This is the current definition of “reasonable search” that you have all agreed to by obediently shuffling through their increasingly invasive security checkpoints.

I beg you not to let this go on because, if it does, then uniformed officers will soon be scanning and searching us before we’re allowed to get on trains and buses, using the same standards of reasonable search that will have been long established and accepted. And how long will it be after that that they’re stopping automobile traffic at checkpoints on the interstate, a federal highway system? You think that could never happen. Did you ever believe we’d have to submit to a full-body search just to travel freely inside our own country? We’re giving them our okay to do that just so we can catch our flight.

And I’m not asking you to make a big, loud show at the airport of standing on your rights. Civil disobedience doesn’t have to involve arguing with an officer who’s only doing his job, or going to jail or carrying a sign or wearing a tinfoil hat. I don’t travel by air because it would be pointless. I would never make my flight, because I won’t let them scan me and I won’t let them use their “enhanced pat-down techniques” on me. My brand of civil disobedience is as simple as that.

As long as I’m on my soap box anyway: The last time I flew, in June of 2005, I was appalled to have a uniformed officer swab my bags, searching for explosives. I was not only a citizen bearing the passport of the United States, I was traveling under the orders of the United States Air Force, a non-commissioned officer sworn to uphold the constitution. They had no probable cause to search my person or my bags, yet I was treated as if I were a criminal suspect.

Down off my soapbox now. Thanks for lending me your ear.

The Cheapening of the Fourth Amendment | 11:16 am CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, travel, yet another rant | Tags: ,
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Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

It’s National Opt-Out Day! Organizers have set up a Facebook page and a web page to enlist the public’s help in protesting the the, what shall we call it, enhanced security techniques used by TSA. I can’t wait to see how this unfolds. While we’re waiting, here’s my growing collection of links to stories that illustrate how our federal government violates, in the most demeaning ways possible, our fourth amendment rights, to say nothing of personal dignity. Enjoy!

10/20/10 | Pilot Refuses Full-Body Scan: “I’m just not comfortable being physically manhandled by a federal security agent every time I go to work.” – pilot Michael Roberts, as reported by CBS

10/29/10 | For The First Time, the TSA Meets Resistance: “I was the very first passenger to ask to opt-out of back-scatter imaging. Several TSA officers heard me choose the pat-down, and they reacted in a way meant to make the ordinary passenger feel very badly about his decision. One officer said to a colleague who was obviously going to be assigned to me, ‘Get new gloves, man, you’re going to need them where you’re going.'” – journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in The Atlantic

11/1/10 | Opt Out of a Body Scan? Then Brace Yourself: “I was marched from the metal detector lane to one of those nearby whole-body imagers, ordered to take everything out of my pockets, remove my belt and hold my possessions up high. Then I was required to stand still while I received a rough pat-down by a man whose resume, I suspected, included experience at a state prison.” – journalist Joe Sharkey, writing in The New York Times

11/4/10 | The Airport Security Grope: “As a working photographer and lecturer, I fly a lot. The escalating levels of airport security and luggage (read camera gear, not clothing!) restrictions became just another annoying aspect of air travel, a necessary trade-off for rapid access to remote destinations. But this week TSA tightened the screws a little more, and now they’ve gone too far.” – photographer George Lepp, writing in Pixiq

11/4/10 | American Airlines Pilots in Revolt Against the TSA: “There is absolutely no denying that the enhanced pat-down is a demeaning experience. In my view, it is unacceptable to submit to one in public while wearing the uniform of a professional airline pilot.” – pilot David Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association, in a letter to members

11/12/10 | Protests Mount Over Safety and Privacy of Airport Scanners: “I don’t think anybody would argue the point that the individual risk is small. Whether it’s one in 10 million or one in 100 million, it’s very small,” [Dr. David Brenner] said in an interview. “But multiply that times 700 million people – the number of people getting on planes currently – and that’s the public health risk.” – Shots, the NPR Health Blog

11/13/10 | TSA Encounter at SAN: “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” – John Tyner, writing in his blog Insert title here

11/21/10 | TSA Strip Searched 5-year-old Boy: “Are they harassing that kid? Nice.” – YouTube video

11/22/10 | My TSA Encounter: “We shouldn’t be required to do this simply to get into our own country.” – Matt Kernan, writing in his blog No Blasters!

11/23/10 | Next step for body scanners could be trains, boats, metro: “I think the tighter we get on aviation, we have to also be thinking now about going on to mass transit or to trains or maritime. So, what do we need to be doing to strengthen our protections there?” – Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, quoted in The Hill

Group Grope! | 6:59 am CDT
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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

image of B's laptop bandaid

My Darling B got tired of her laptop staring at her while she’s surfing food porn web sites. It’s got a little built-in camera at the top of the flip-up screen that she could use to take photos or record videos of herself if she were so inclined. Since she is most vehemently not, she has used it just once, to record our New Year’s wishes to our adoring crowds last year. So it’s really no more than a novelty item that gets used once in a blue moon, usually when alcohol’s involved. (This appears to be typical for many a video on internet.)

She never thought much about it since then, even when stories surfaced in the news about people using laptop video cameras to watch users in ways that did not not at first seem all that creepy until sitting down in front of a laptop with a camera lens staring at you. A few seconds of that and you’re sure the whole world is watching you.

At first, B tried to use common sense. “It’s got a little red light that comes on,” she reasoned, or whistled in the dark, take your pick. “Nobody would be able to hack into my laptop and turn on my camera to watch me without turning on the little red light.”

“Riiiiight,” I answered her, patting the back of her hand, “that would never happen.”

She stubbornly stuck to her common-sense, rational approach to her video camera until yesterday, when we heard a story on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me about the Kinect, Microsoft’s new game accessory that lets you control your XBox by standing in front of it and gesturing. Not only can it see you and recognize what you’re doing, it could also (according to Microsoft), or absolutely would not under any circumstances (according to, again, Microsoft) be used to send targeted advertisements to your television set.

Coincidentally, after B heard that, she covered her video camera lens with a band-aid. She still maintains she doesn’t think anybody’s watching her, but why take the chance? It’s Pascal’s Wager applied to Big Brother.

I See You | 9:49 am CDT
Category: current events | Tags: , , ,
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Friday, November 12th, 2010

Oh, hai. I don’t have the willpower to make myself drivel tonight, so let me just introduce to you John Shimkus, congressional dorkwad. He’s on a committee that listens to the testimony of people talking about global climate change, so the first thing he did was whipped out his Bible and read aloud from Matthew 12:34, “And lo, I do not hear you la la la la la.” Why do we let people like this run our country? Have we no pitchforks? Have we no torches?

john shimkus | 9:51 pm CDT
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Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Here’s the headache of daylight savings from my perspective: I was stationed in Berlin, Germany, for two years, and at an RAF base in the middle of a field near Lincoln, England, for another two years, and you wouldn’t think of either of those places as being in the great white north, or even any colder or snowier than, say, Saint Paul, Minnesota, but citizens of both are about six hundred miles closer to Santa Claus than the good people of Saint Paul. Everyone who said “No Way!” go ahead and google that, I’ll wait. And while you’re doing that I’ll just stick in here parenthetically that, even though Berlin doesn’t get much in the way of snow, it more than makes up for it in bone-chilling cold. I have rarely been as cold anywhere else in my life. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

Twice every year we, and by “we” I mean “those of us who aren’t as smart as the guys in Indiana and parts of Michigan who told the feds to go stuff their daylight savings,” have to go through this national convulsion where we set our clocks forward in the spring, then gripe about it for at least a week, then set the clocks back in the fall, then gripe about it again for at least a week. The griping is starting to annoy me almost as much as changing the clock. There’s a guy on afternoon talk radio who devotes a whole hour every time the clocks change to not only griping about it, but inviting listeners to call in a gripe about it, too. My take on that is, if you aren’t going to gripe to somebody who can actually change the law, then shut up and color.

I arrived in Berlin in February, when the days were already getting longer, although I had no freaking idea how much longer they were going to get. There comes a fine summer day when you wake up at five o’clock in the morning to full daylight. Not dawn. I’m talking about the kind of bright sunshine that comes blazing through the kitchen window of a television advertisement for Windex. If you’re anything like normal, it’ll make you glance at the clock to make sure you read it right, then look out the window again, frowning. Or, if you were like I was then, a young airman chronically unable to get to work on time anyway, you did like I did and shit your shorts believing you had slept until lunchtime and would be facing administrative punishment instead of a mild ass-chewing.

The change to bright, sunshiny mornings is gradual, but for some reason you don’t realize it. All at once, it seems, the sun’s up at five o’clock, and stays up until about nine in the evening. Talk about messing up your mind-clock. Daylight savings still makes me grumpy, but with that kind of weirdness in my past, I don’t let it get to me.

Late For Work | 6:12 am CDT
Category: current events
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