200 years in 4 minutes

(Thanks, Jake, and Merry Christmas to all.)

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Temporary hiatus

The blog is closed for the moment while I do a personal reconnaissance of the current status of Obamacare. I shall return soon, as they say, Insha’Allah.

In my absence, I will make my link page sticky.

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Ain’t goin’ nowhere


Season’s Greetings

Winter solstice tonight, also full moon — what a coincidence is that? — and if that’s not enough, there’s a total eclipse (visible in North America at least) and a return of the Ursids meteor shower.

Good luck finding the information though. There is a world map of the eclipse here. (Our friends in Europe and Australia will be able to see a partial eclipse.) North American eclipse times are listed at Wikipedia. This website gives moonrise and moonset, along with the cardinal directions for planning your viewing spot or photo angle, you can search for your city. Here is a link to info about the Ursid meteor shower, visible in the northern hemisphere only.  The meteors are in the northern sky and appear to come from within the Little Dipper,  between Polaris and the Big Dipper.

The eclipse starts here at 11:27 pm, peaks at 2:17 am, and is total between 12:40 am and 1:53 am. I’m not sure that’s worth getting up for. The radar shows some clouds coming in, so who knows if it will be too overcast to see anything.

Okay, here’s more links. The website NASA links to is down, but here is the google cache, with start and end times for GMT and the Pacific. And for real eclipse geeks, from google cache of NASA’s eclipse pages, you can also find links to times for “predicted umbral immersion and emersion times for 20 well-defined lunar craters”.

[photo credit: NASA]

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ZOMG! Wikileak! Jordanian Soccer Game canceled!

I can only read about something for so long before it becomes necessary to go to the original and see it for myself. Were the Mohammed comics blasphemous? What about Mark Twain? Ahhh…banned books.

The time has come to do that with wikileaks. I’ve finally stumbled across the links for accessing them directly, and what is in the first banned cable I read, but the story of a bitter soccer rivalry in Amman penned by an attentive bureaucrat. The Jordan Times was never this entertaining.

First, the links. The Guardian has a great interactive map of the world with the location of cables indicated by clickable dots. This is the one for me, although some may prefer NYT. The sketchflow blog has more links, focusing on visualizations and graphics, always an interesting topic. Now back to the soccer.

[Obligatory Disclosure: I have a friend whose son plays for Wihdat.]

A 28 July 2009 cable details the cross-city rivalry between the Palestinian Wihdat team from the Wihdat refugee camp on the east side of Amman and the Faisali club which represents the East Bankers. I’m not going to paste secret information here, those who want to see it can follow the link, but suffice it to say a game was halted, with fines and public chastisement all around.

Except for the nationalities, the story could be about London soccer teams. I remember when I went with a Swedish journalist back in 1988 to see Arsenal play another London team. We saw the game with Arsenal fans and had to actually get off at a different subway stop from the other team’s fans. Once we exited the underground, a line of police on both sides of the road made sure we entered our part of the stadium without detours.  Oddly enough, just last week, Canahan sent me a link to a story about a riot in Jordan between the same two teams.  What I say is this: Thank Allah for Football.  Now if we could only get Lebanon, Palestine, and The Other Side to face off against each other in soccer and limit their ferocities to the playing field.

One last detail.  The soccer rivalry cable was classified by a charge d’affaires who added in the heading  “for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)”.  Of course the policy numbers might just refer to reasons for secrecy, but as someone who might be accused of occasional hypergraphia, it intrigues me to think that a bureaucrat might have to have a reason before writing something, and that the reasons might be rigid enough to require the setting down of policy numbers before setting out to write.

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Stopping by woods

…on snowy morning.

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Blogosphere kneedeep in Wikileaks

In the last few days Wikileaks has dominated the blogosphere. Even the XKCD comic has gotten into the act.

If you want to read something uplifting, go straight to Study Hacks, and read about how to use recent research into extrinsic motivation to help you do work that matches your deeply-held values and to make the Romantic Scholar lifestyle a reality.

Otherwise the rest of this is about Wikileaks.

I finally read the Wikipedia article about Wikileaks–interesting background reading, especially the part about it being started by Chinese dissidents who can face long jail terms or even death for writing about for instance Tiananmen Square.

Over and over, progressive bloggers are linking to Anglachel’s article, which points out the current round of selective leaks was done to a Democratic administration, and looks for Republicans hiding under the bed:

The fact that the cables are now in the open allows the Neocon noise machine to safely reference them to beat the drum for war with Iran, secure in the knowledge that contrary information of comparable validity cannot be provided because of diplomatic concerns. How can contrary information be leaked and to whom without it blowing up in the face of whomever tries to engineer that release? The release of the documents into the wild means there is a “source” for “Oh, look what we just now found!” kinds of revelations. The partial release on the wikileaks site itself always ensures that more can be found when there is a need for a strategic leak. The cables that identify security interests – which are of concern to more than the US – turn into fodder to gin up more domestic fear about terrorism, and to request more money for that purpose.

There is no down-side for the right with the release of these documents.

Iran, huh? Zogby also focuses in on Iran, and finds Israelis under the bed:

From the day the first batch of WikiLeaks appeared in the international press, the Israelis were crowing “this is good for us”. Seizing on documents demonstrating that some Arab leaders bear ill-will toward Iran, the Israeli spin machine went into action. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted that “Our region has been hostage to a narrative that is the result of 60 years of propaganda, which paints Israel as the greatest threat”, claiming that Iran had, in fact, eclipsed the Palestinian issue as the number one concern of the Arab World. Another prominent Israeli official gloated that “Iran was now ten times more important than Palestine” and that it was now time to shelve the “peace effort” and focus attention on Iran.

Liberals were not the only ones unhappy with Wikileaks. Merriam-Webster’s “Word Well Used” feature showcased the word “frisson”, used by conservative Theodore Dalrymple, writing about Wikileaks in the City Journal. Dalrymple’s concerns are more generic:

The actual effect of WikiLeaks is likely to be profound and precisely the opposite of what it supposedly sets out to achieve. Far from making for a more open world, it could make for a much more closed one. Secrecy, or rather the possibility of secrecy, is not the enemy but the precondition of frankness. WikiLeaks will sow distrust and fear, indeed paranoia; people will be increasingly unwilling to express themselves openly in case what they say is taken down by their interlocutor and used in evidence against them, not necessarily by the interlocutor himself. This could happen not in the official sphere alone, but also in the private sphere, which it works to destroy.

Not all conservatives have something abstract, obscure, and negative to say about Wikileaks. This circumlocutory video from The American Conservative is unambiguously positive about Wikileaks.

There is some general agreement that the one good thing to come out of Wikileaks was the leak of the Apache helicopter attack video. Glen Greenwald focuses on the inhumane prison conditions of the presumed leaker, Bradley Manning. While high profile Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, possibly the creepiest boss since Dov Charney, was released from jail after only a week, for the last 7 months Manning has remained locked away by himself 23 hours a day without recourse and  without so much as a trial:

Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime. Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months — and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait — under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture. …
From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement. For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell. Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions. For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch). For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs. Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.

The last word about Wikileaks goes to myiq2xu, writing at the Confluence:

Ever seen a puppet show? While Punch and Judy might appear to be fighting and arguing with each other, if you peek behind the curtain you’ll see one puppeteer with a hand up each puppet’s ass.

I know a puppet show when I see one, and this whole Wikileaks affair is a big one with lots of puppets, bells and whistles. What I don’t know is the identity of the puppeteers and what their goals are.

Make no mistake, they DO have goals, even if it’s only to distract and entertain while pickpockets work the crowd.

So before you decide anything, take a peek behind the curtain.

Tucked up warm

Sooner or later I will have to go outside, but for now I am content to view the aftermath of the midwest snowstorm from my toasty aerie.

Borrowing a little bandwidth from the nearby elementary school, I glean from Google all I need to know about the weather. The temperature is 22 °F. There is no wind. So far, in December we have had 0.45in of snow, although areas in nearby Indiana have had as much as 6 inches.

I have always thought Chicagoans to be a bit wimpish about weather. Here, -17°F is a record cold, but where I grew up, it has to get down to 30 or 40 below before anyone is impressed.  And the snowbanks have to be above the cars.  Also, it may be a local cliche, but I did walk a mile to school through blizzards.
Two squirrels, one on the wire and one on a branch, frolic in the sunshine.

The downstairs neighbor cleans the windshield of her van.  Perhaps she is wondering why she ever left Mexico.

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Garrison Keillor’s car starting song

Before Garrison Keillor made the big time, he used to have a morning  show at Minnesota Public Radio in Minneapolis. I listened to it every morning while getting ready for electronics class. Being live radio and unscripted, sometimes he would get hopelessly tangled up in some topic or spoof that was impossible to extricate himself from. On those occasions, with sidekick Jim Ed Poole cracking up in the background, he would cut to the Beach Boys’ “Help me Ronda”.

In the winter, by popular request, he would play the car starting song. In those days cars had carburetors instead of fuel injectors and a frozen car could be started by removing the air filter and pouring a little gas-line antifreeze (trade name Heet) down its throat. And yes, we did sometimes plug in the car overnight to make sure it would start in the morning–there was some sort of engine heater with a plug hanging out of it, or you could get a portable one with a magnet that would stick on any iron engine part. That was back before they figured out how to get cars with fuel injection and aluminum engine blocks to run in this cold of a climate.

The Car Starting Song is almost impossible to find on the web. I found it by googling “O cold and misery”. Turns out it was written by Charlie McGuire and the title is coincidentally “Oh cold and misery”. It’s even on an album, Harbour Lights: The Second Voyage, and you can hear the first verse here, after a short talking lead-in.

I have to add that this was a fairly typical kind of music we listened to when we went out to The Land in the summer. In the 70’s, Wisconsin communes didn’t have electricity (it has solar cells with an array of 12V batteries now), so no electric guitars or rock and roll, but there were a few people who could play a mean guitar, bass, or banjo, and still do.  Sometimes after much beer was consumed, the musicians would become horizontal, but they never stopped playing.

So here is another link to the car starting song, in hopes that it will be forever immortalized.

Oh cold and misery

It was early morn’ like so many before

C Am
Oh cold and misery

Am C G Am
I put on my coat and walked out of the door

G Am
Standing alone on the frozen ground

Additional verses:

I went to the place where my beast lay asleep
(Oh cold and misery)
On four tires of rubber a long cord in its teeth
(Standing alone on the frozen ground)

I opened the door and I jammed in the key
Not a sound did I hear, nor exhaust did I see

So I went to my neighbor and to her I spoke
She soon came a ‘ riding on white clouds of smoke

On it’s terminals bare, long cables I placed
And I gave it a charge with revenge of my face

It coughed, and it rumbled then let out a roar
Lashing it with gas pedal harsh commands I swore

The smell of the ether ether did hand in the air
And empty “Heet” cans lay about everywhere

And when we were moving its anger was gone
From its radio voice, came music and song

But tonight when the dark comes to its moving parts
It will again be the beast with the ice in its heart

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Not just any port in a storm

Australian port. Reminds me of apple orchards.

I tried Portuguese port once when I couldn’t find Australian. Never again.

But which is better, the Willowglen or the Whiskers Blake? Must taste further…