Monday, December 29, 2008

Please, not OJ!

Mr. Simpson has been through enough.

These guys are really scary. Maybe they bomb orange groves.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nerd Elitism

When I was in high school last century (snicker), we had an open campus policy, which meant you could leave the school grounds to eat lunch, for example. There were a few businesses in the immediate neighborhood (besides Flame-N-Burger and Blimpie's) that we frequented, including a high-end home audio store in the next block. Home of the $1200 turntable, the $700-a-piece QUADROPHONIC speakers ("You can really blast your Bachman-Turner Overdrive, man!"), and your home plate, a receiver/equalizer combination, often the size of an expedition piece of American Tourister luggage. Remember kids, daddy didn't have any digital toys back then.

This is where I first became aware of the phenomenon of nerd elitism. You not only needed the finest turntable, you needed the needle that went with it--usually something constructed from the dew claw of a Tasmanian lemur. Sure, you can play your albums with that store-bought cartridge, but listen to the quality of the sound you get with that lemur claw--it's awesome! What . . . you can't hear the 17.5 dB difference in the mid-range?

I was reminded of this phenomenon as I read "A Better Brew,", an article on extreme beer brewing, a topic that makes the Trekkie experience look positively uninvolved. The extreme brewers of the world are those posers who like to concoct their beer from obscure and/or rare ingredients. Because . . . because . . . well, like the dew claw above, obscure is better, right?

The article profiles one Sam Calagione, owner of the Dogfish Head brewery of Delaware (motto: “Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People”), regarded as one of the best by extreme beer geeks. Here's a description of one of DH's more interesting brews, aged in barrels constructed of some bizarre species of Paraguayan wood:

. . . he had filled the barrel with a strong brown beer. It was made with three kinds of hops, five kinds of wheat and barley, a dose of unrefined cane sugar, and a sturdy Scottish ale yeast. It had a creamy head when poured, like a Guinness stout, and contained about twelve per cent alcohol—two and a half times as much as a Budweiser. Calagione called it Palo Santo Marron. . . There were hints of tobacco and molasses in it, black cherries and dark chocolate, all interlaced with the wood’s spicy resin.

"It was an extreme beer, he said, but to most people it wouldn’t have tasted like beer at all." Gee--you think so? The combination of molasses, Vick's Formula 44 cough syrup, chocolate, pine sap and Skoal probably would not, I repeat, would NOT taste like beer. To anyone.


No matter--Calagione pushes the envelope ever farther, the goal being to to make beers so potent and unique that they can’t be judged by ordinary standards (much less called beer). Hence, he uses ingredients like fresh oysters, arctic cloudberries, curry, coriander and lemongrass. He has in the past concocted a medieval gruit brewed with yarrow root and grains of paradise; an African tej made with bitter gesho bark and raw honey(yes, I was also ashamed that I did not know what a gruit or a tej was); there was even a green colored brew for St. Patrick's day that derived its hue from--mmmmm, blue-green algae. Why? Just because!

What is it that bugs me about this? I think it's the Emperor's New Clothes thing that smells it up for me (rather than the gesho bark and algae). It's the idea that if you throw a bunch of stuff in with the fermented barley, you're making some kind of tasty masterpiece. Maybe you're really just making a gag-inducing elixir that packs a liver-shattering wallop (many of Calagione's brews have a lot of alcohol) that you can charge your suckers--I mean, patrons, 20 bucks a snifter. And hey, if you can get 'em to belly up for your cleverly labelled swill again and again (Goatkiller, Hog's Vomit), why, then you can be a beer hero and pocket lots of money.

It's like a talking with a wine snob, but somehow seems worse. Or watching a Quentin Tarantino movie, and feeling small for not being in on the all the references to obscure 1970's Hong Kong martial arts movies. Or . . .

. . . in my teens, I could play a halfway decent game of tennis (suprising even to me). This one kid hung around the public courts, and always had the most expensive racquet, the vacuum-packed tennis balls, matching head and wrist bands, etc., etc. Challenging me to a game once, he snickered disdainfully at my beat-up wooden racquet and my Keds.

I mopped the court with his silly posing ass.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Global warming and severe storms--not so fast. . .

Phil Plait is at it again. In a post earlier today, he claims that a recent study gives strong evidence to support the idea that warming global temperatures are associated with more severe storms. This is an idea often cited by climate change alarmists, including AlGore, who claimed that Hurricane Katrina's destructiveness and power was definitely a product of global warming. One would have thought this idea was already well-founded, being part of the climate change litany for some time, but this recent data makes it double super-duper well-founded. Or does it?

The study (from JPL) shows that very high clouds, which are associated with severe weather, are more frequent when the ocean is warmer. The correlation they found was very strong; "for every degree Centigrade the oceans warm, they saw a 45% increase in the number of these clouds!" exclaims the BadAstronomer excitedly.

But there's nothing to get excited about. Despite the post claiming a link between global warming and severe storms, the study only shows a link between warming ocean temperatures and high altitude clouds. I'm not sure how strong the association is between high clouds and severe weather, but the equation is warmer ocean = more high clouds, not warmer ocean = more high clouds = more severe storms. And there is a world of difference.

Even Plait admits that linking clouds, rain, and global warming is incredibly difficult because rain is very difficult to model. But that's okay: "This new result bypasses that, using the clouds as a proxy for storms." That's a pretty big leap right there--I'm not sure that you can just "proxy" your results that way. There may be a whole lot of influences and variables that we haven't uncovered yet between the high clouds and the severe storms part of the equation. There's even evidence that the hurricane forming region in the Atlantic is actually cooling down.

It kind or reminds me of the development of fetal heart rate monitoring in obstetrics back in the 1970's. It made perfect sense to think that if we could somehow monitor a baby's heart rate during the labor process, we could identify babies in "distress" and deliver them in a timely fashion. There was even a feeling that this monitoring would somehow decrease the number of C-sections. Of course, things did not turn out quite so rosy as expected, and many attribute the rise in unnecessary C-sections directly to fetal heart rate monitoring. The point is some of our best scientific ideas and assumptions turn out very differently in the end.

The whole climate change issue has become extremely politicized, unfortunately, from both ends of the political spectrum. Alarmists like Gore and Hansen, and deniers like Inhofe have done much to obscure the very real work that is being done and have helped inflame the passions of those on both sides of the issue, to the detriment of clear thinking on the subject. The climate is incredibly complex, and is certainly deserving of further study. It is folly to deny that the earth is warming (most "global warming deniers" do not deny this fact at all). But it is equally dangerous to proceed with large-scale, costly solutions that do not have a firm scientific basis to begin with.

Research like this is important, no doubt. But claiming that it establishes a strong link between global warming and severe storms is simply bad science from the BadAstronomer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Just friends

I don't think anyone is saying that President-elect Obama is directly tied to the sale of his recently vacated Senate seat by Gov. Blago. Most of the MSM and even the boys at FoxNews have been careful to preface their reporting on this story by remarks to that effect.

But for some reason, Obama has steadfastly claimed that no one on his staff had any contact with Blago about the Senate seat. It is quite clear that it would not have been illegal for Obama or anyone on his team to have had discussions about his replacement (as long as they didn't discuss pricing options). But it is becoming clearer that members of Obama's staff did indeed have contact on this issue with the beleaguered governor, perhaps with some of them being taped. I am baffled as to why Obama has seemingly backed himself into a corner on this issue.

I believe that there are some good politicians in the State of Illinois, just as there are a few here in the State of Louisiana (it sure is nice to have someone else wearing the mantle of Most Corruptedest State Evah for a change). I believe it is possible to play in the political mudpit without getting too soiled, although it probably requires superhuman effort. The Illinois scandal has the potential to engulf the President-elect unless he is completely forthcoming and ready to jettison anyone who had a direct role to play in the illegalities.

For someone who didn't realize how rabid his own pastor was, and then had only a fleeting idea that Bill Ayers had done something wrong a long, long time ago--well, maybe it is possible that he had no idea that Gov. Blago was a scum-sucking invertebrate bottom-feeder.

Monday, December 15, 2008


This clown is being hailed as a "hero" by many in the Arab world, after chucking his shoes at President Bush at a press conference in Baghdad.

"Thanks be to God, Muntazer's act fills Iraqi hearts with pride," his brother, Udai al-Zaidi, told Reuters Television.

"This was a spontaneous action by an Iraqi citizen who was showing his dismay at seeing the president of the country which is occupying our nation," said Liwaa Sumeissim from the anti-American Sadr movement.

According to one report, Al-Baghdadiya television played endless patriotic music, with Zaidi's face plastered across the screen.

Among those leaping up to support al-Zaidi was Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam's former lawyer, who said he was forming a team to defend the journalist and that around 200 lawyers, including Americans, had offered their services for free.

I found this comment from a Canadian named Allen King over on the Al Jazeera English site: "Al-zaidi's act will long be remembered in history, same as when an unarmed student stood before a tank in Tianaman Square in Bejing."

Some people have a different view of what heroic really means. No matter what you may think of Bush, there is a vast difference between a lone man facing down a tank and this journalist "expressing" himself.

Something tells me--and it's probably just a silly hunch--that for some strange reason, Manolo Boy (or how about Buster Brown? al-Thom McCann?) never contemplated tossing his Blahniks at the former leader of Iraq; I wonder why? I wonder how many lawyers would have rushed to aid his defense if he had thrown his shoes at Saddam.

Most likely, he would not have needed a lawyer at all. Just someone from forensics to ID his remains.

UPDATE (12/17/2008, 4:47 PM): I ran across this quote that someone left as a comment on another blog:
The reporter knows deep down that he can throw his shoe at Bush only because of Bush and it shames him. He can’t forgive Bush for that.

I thought that was another interesting take on the situation.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Burning churches and Bush and the Muslims

A few unrelated items of interest:

First, Sarah Palin's church in Wasila was set on fire by an arsonist Friday night. There were several people in the church at the time, including two small children. It is pure speculation at this point to assign motives for the fire--whether it was related to the church's stand on homosexuality for example, or Palin's politics, or some other reason. I will predict that not much will be made of this event by the mainstream press. I can almost guarantee that if the fire had been set at someone else's church, especially while children were present, the outcry would be deafening.

Second, I am not (despite howls from some to the contrary) Geroge Bush's greatest fan. I think much of how the Iraq war was handled, especially after the invasion, was bungling and chaotic, to say the least. Ultimately, there has been a remarkable turnaround, and the country is a much better place than it was in 2001, or for that matter in 2006.

I ran across this interesting post last night. The title itself drew my attention: "Rescuing 50 Million People From Brutal Regimes Has Given Bush a Bad Name With Muslims." Indeed, the article quotes this AP story about the laundry list of horrors that Bush is responsible for:
The U.S. image globally has taken a deep hit during President George W. Bush's two terms in office, primarily because of opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, harsh interrogation of prisoners, the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and mistreatment of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
(emphasis added)
Just above this quote is an embedded video with the label "Warning: very graphic" attached to it. Watch it carefully and with that warning in mind, but do watch it, please. These are the people that Bush freed the Iraqis from. Exactly how does something like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo even compare?

I hope Obama can help change this impression that the Muslim world has of us. But this is not strictly Bush's fault; it is far more complex and far deeper than that. A simple change of face at the White House, even with "Hussein" as a middle name, is not going to do it. No better example of this can be found than Al-Qaida's al-Zawahri referring to Obama as a "house negro" (see my post November 19th).

This story also from the AP via the Knoxville News Sentinel begins this way:
President-elect Barack Obama, relatively young and inexperienced, is facing a rapidly growing list of monumental challenges as he prepares to take the reins of a nation in turmoil.

Funny how just a few weeks ago, "young and inexperienced" was actually "fresh and dynamic."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Medical marijuana

The latest The New Yorker (December 1, 2008) has Sasha Frere-Jones' article on Steven Ellison, a "a tall, soft-spoken twenty-five-year-old who works under the name Flying Lotus." He is part of a growing movement that is guiding hip-hop into the next decade via a road paved with a "fractal spidering of sounds, a backdrop of crackles, and prickling, feverish rhythms no human hands could play." I was actually intrigued by this description of his music. Although I am no fan of rap/hip-hop, I like the reincorporation of musical ideas into new compositions, like Eno and Byrne's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, or some of the better mashup artists like CCC. So I began reading the article.

The article describes the interior of Ellison's Northridge L.A. apartment, "typical of the twenty-first-century musician: a collection of laptops, keyboards, and processing units, none of them large and most of them portable." There is also this decorative touch:

A series of pharmacy bottles lined the wall behind his equipment. The clear orange cannisters were familiar, but not the names on the laser-printed labels: Grape Ape, Purple Haze. “Medical marijuana,” Ellison explained.

Huh? The picture accompanying the article shows a robust young man, leaning back in his chair and laughing heartily. He certainly didn't appear to be a cancer victim, or a glaucoma sufferer. Just what are the indications for medical marijuana usage?

According to Wikipedia, medical cannabis was shown to have established effects in the treatment of nausea, vomiting, unintentional weight loss, and lack of appetite. It is also indicated for treatment of certain types of glaucoma. So far, so good. The Wiki article goes on to note that marijuana is "indicated" in a variety of other conditions, such as epilepsy, asthma, migraines and arthritis. I can think of a number of drugs that are "indicated" as first-and even second-line therapy for these conditions, but I am unaware that there is extensive literature to back up the "indication" of marijuana usage in any of them. But that's okay, 'cause Dr. Tod H. Mikuriya of California has compiled a list of over 250 conditions that he has treated with medical marijuana, including (I kid you not) sedative dependence and opiate dependence. I am so behind the times, man.

As a person in recovery myself, I am baffled as to why anyone would consider treating substance abuse with another mind-altering drug.

The Wiki article does mention some of the concerns that the medical community has about smoked marijuana, specifically an Institute of Medicine study that concluded that smoking cannabis is not recommended for the treatment of any disease condition. The FDA has approved Nabilone and Marinol for the treatment of unresponsive nausea associated with chemotherapy, and the use of a vaporizer has been mentioned as a delivery vehicle for the active components of marijuana.

Perhaps there are valid indications for the medical use of marijuana, other than glaucoma and nausea. In this era of evidence-based medicine, more trials are needed to establish its usefulness as a treatment. To claim that it is somehow useful in such diverse conditions as PMS or Grave's disease or (and again I kid you not) Writer's Cramp (International Classification of Diseases 9 Code 300.89) is farfetched based on our available evidence.

The push to legalize medical marijuana has been couched in terms that suggest opponents to its use are mean-spirited prudes who would want to see cancer-ridden bulimic glaucoma sufferers waste away into an even earlier grave than is their due.Unfortunately, Mr. Ellison, with his drug store bottles neatly lined up next to his water-operated “gravity bong,” paints quite a different picture.

Far out, man.

(BTW, I did check out the Radiohead "Reckoner" remix on the Flying Lotus MySpace page. Not bad, but not great, either.)

I am proud of you, New Orleans

Bill Jefferson got his pink slip Saturday night from the good folks in LA's 2nd Congressional district. It's long overdue, as "Dollar Bill" has been an embarassment for some time (even before the cash-in-the-freezer incident). The district will now be represented by Anh Cao, America's first Vietnamese-American congressman. Interesting also is that he will be a Republican representing a predominantly black district.

So, two of Louisiana's top elected offices are occupied by people of color, specifically Asians. I am always impressed by the racial progressiveness of the South, which is often looked upon by the rest of the country as backwoods sheet-wearers. The recent murder by a collection of ignorant Klan wannabes received worldwide press coverage. I can only hope the AP reports favorably on Mr. Cao's election.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hello--still here . . .

Haven't had much of a chance to do much posting as of late, but I'm still here. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving--all of the food tasted exceptionally good, even a rather improvised turkey chili the next day.

Our attic conversion is complete, and functioning quite well, especially now that there is a TV and a Wii console installed. The mellifluous strains of Sponge Bob are but a distant fading memory.

On other construction news, Anya is getting ready to enter her 28th week. The baby is quite active, which freaked out Emma the other day, when she first felt some kicks. We are entering the home stretch--yay!

In addition to growing a new human being, my multi-talented and beautiful wife is also painting fairly prolifically (esp. when the girls are busy with school). She has revamped her website, too, so you should check it out. The old link should take you to the new place.

So now the holidays are rapidly approaching. Both the girls are in school plays, which makes our afternoons a little hectic, as they are both part-time ballerinas. BTW, our oldest daughter Sarah, is tapdancing her way to fame and fortune this afternoon in Washington DC at her dance recital. Just like Lisa in "Last Tap Dance in Springfield" . . .

My mother and my youngest brother and his family will be hanging out with us for Christmas, and I am truly looking forward to their visit. My other sibling will be joining his band Five Eight on stage in Athens, GA on New Year's Eve--it will be an incredible show and everyone should go if they can.

So--a little catching up. :)