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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Quote of the day

Most of the time, when someone says "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" he really means, "Your intelligent observation is the enemy of my bad idea."
-Steve VanDevender

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Friday, June 09, 2006

Ann Coulter challenges president of Iran to "insane comment contest"

Conservative Pundit, Iranian Madman to Face Off on Live TV
(From the Borowitz Report)

Conservative pundit Ann Coulter today challenged Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to what she called "an insane comment contest" on live TV to determine who is the insane comment champion of the world.

Appearing on Fox News this morning, the sharp-tongued darling of the right wing said that while she respects Mr. Ahmadinejad's work, she believes he will be "no match" for her arsenal of crazy, unhinged remarks.

"I've heard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nutty rants in the past, and while I think he comes off like a total bananahead, in a one-on-one with me he will be the picture of sanity," Ms. Coulter said.

In Iran, President Ahmadinejad accepted Ms. Coulter's challenge and said that while he was "confident of victory" he recognized that besting her in an insane comment contest "would not be easy."

"In any competition involving verbal lunacy, Ann Coulter is the favorite going in," Mr. Ahmadinejad. "I will need to train for this for months."

But even as the rules for the insane comment contest were being set, North Korean president Kim Jong-Il and televangelist Pat Robertson expressed outrage that they had been excluded from the competition and demanded to be invited.

Within hours, Ms. Coulter apologized for omitting President Kim and the Rev. Robertson but said that the omission would be corrected: "Me, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Pat Robertson and Kim Jong-Il: that's the Final Four."

Elsewhere, President Bush hailed the elimination of terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, telling reporters, "The world has been rid of a tricky-to-pronounce name."

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"Nothing left to lose..."

A remarkable interview:

(CNN)- The U.S.-led coalition's No. 1 wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi- who conducted a campaign of insurgency bombings, beheadings and killings of Americans and Iraqi civilians- was killed in a U.S. airstrike.

A gruesome video was posted on Islamic Web sites in May, 2004, depicting a man believed to be al-Zarqawi beheading Nicholas Berg, an American businessman who was working in Iraq.

CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien talks to Nicholas Berg's father, Michael Berg, by phone from Wilmington, Delaware, for his reaction to the news.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Berg, thank you for talking with us again. It's nice to have an opportunity to talk to you. Of course, I'm curious to know your reaction, as it is now confirmed that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the man who is widely credited and blamed for killing your son, Nicholas, is dead.

MICHAEL BERG: Well, my reaction is I'm sorry whenever any human being dies. Zarqawi is a human being. He has a family who are reacting just as my family reacted when Nick was killed, and I feel bad for that.

I feel doubly bad, though, because Zarqawi is also a political figure, and his death will re-ignite yet another wave of revenge, and revenge is something that I do not follow, that I do want ask for, that I do not wish for against anybody. And it can't end the cycle. As long as people use violence to combat violence, we will always have violence.

O'BRIEN: I have to say, sir, I'm surprised. I know how devastated you and your family were, frankly, when Nick was killed in such a horrible, and brutal and public way.

BERG: Well, you shouldn't be surprised, because I have never indicated anything but forgiveness and peace in any interview on the air.

O'BRIEN: No, no. And we have spoken before, and I'm well aware of that. But at some point, one would think, is there a moment when you say, 'I'm glad he's dead, the man who killed my son'?

BERG: No. How can a human being be glad that another human being is dead?

O'BRIEN: There have been family members who have weighed in, victims, who've said that they don't think he's a martyr in heaven, that they think, frankly, he went straight to hell ...

You know, you talked about the fact that he's become a political figure. Are you concerned that he becomes a martyr and a hero and, in fact, invigorates the insurgency in Iraq?

BERG: Of course. When Nick was killed, I felt that I had nothing left to lose. I'm a pacifist, so I wasn't going out murdering people. But I am- was not a risk-taking person, and yet now I've done things that have endangered me tremendously.

I've been shot at. I've been showed horrible pictures. I've been called all kinds of names and threatened by all kinds of people, and yet I feel that I have nothing left to lose, so I do those things.

Now, take someone who in 1991, who maybe had their family killed by an American bomb, their support system whisked away from them, someone who, instead of being 59, as I was when Nick died, was 5-years-old or 10-years-old. And then if I were that person, might I not learn how to fly a plane into a building or strap a bag of bombs to my back?

That's what is happening every time we kill an Iraqi, every time we kill anyone, we are creating a large number of people who are going to want vengeance. And, you know, when are we ever going to learn that that doesn't work?

O'BRIEN: There's an alternate reading, which would say at some point, Iraqis will say the insurgency is not OK- that they'll be inspired by the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the sense of he was turned in, for example, we believe by his own No. 2, No. 3 leadership in his ranks.

And, that's actually them saying we do not want this kind of violence in our country. Experts whom we've spoken to this morning have said this is a critical moment where Iraqis need to figure out which direction the country is going to go. That would be an alternate reading to the scenario you're pointing to. (Watch how Iraqi leaders cheered after learning about al-Zarqawi's death- 4:31)

BERG: Yes, well, I don't believe that scenario, because every time news of new atrocities committed by Americans in Iraq becomes public, more and more of the everyday Iraqi people who tried to hold out, who tried to be peaceful people lose it and join- what we call the insurgency, and what I call the resistance, against the occupation of one sovereign nation.

O'BRIEN: There's a theory that a struggle for democracy, you know...

BERG: Democracy? Come on, you can't really believe that that's a democracy there when the people who are running the elections are holding guns. That's not democracy.

O'BRIEN: There's a theory that as they try to form some kind of government, that it's going to be brutal, it's going to be bloody, there's going to be loss, and that's the history of many countries- and that's just what a lot of people pay for what they believe will be better than what they had under Saddam Hussein.

BERG: Well, you know, I'm not saying Saddam Hussein was a good man, but he's no worse than George Bush. Saddam Hussein didn't pull the trigger, didn't commit the rapes. Neither did George Bush. But both men are responsible for them under their reigns of terror.

I don't buy that. Iraq did not have al Qaeda in it. Al Qaeda supposedly killed my son.

Under Saddam Hussein, no al Qaeda. Under George Bush, al Qaeda.

Under Saddam Hussein, relative stability. Under George Bush, instability.

Under Saddam Hussein, about 30,000 deaths a year. Under George Bush, about 60,000 deaths a year. I don't get it. Why is it better to have George Bush the king of Iraq rather than Saddam Hussein?

O'BRIEN: Michael Berg is the father of Nicholas Berg, the young man, the young businessman who was beheaded so brutally in Iraq back in May of 2004.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

About that guy mauled by lions...

Referenced here, Conan O'Brien noted that, unfortunately, the lions had been praying for some time that an idiot would crawl into their cage.

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Motivational thought of the day

The thing that makes you exceptional, if you are at all, is inevitably that which must also make you lonely.
-Lorraine Hansberry

(Note that bad teeth, body odor, and the inability to form complete sentences probably doesn't qualify you as being "exceptional" in the intended sense of the term.)

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Nice try, PA legislature...

But you're going to have to come up with a bigger diversion than gay marriage.

"Pennsylvania has Philadelphia at one end, Pittsburgh at the other, and Alabama in between."
-James Carville

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Quote of the day

Like many of you, I have a liberal arts degree, which is to say, I have no actual skill.
-Anderson Cooper, addressing the Yale University class of 2006.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Dead serious

As part of the property settlement agreement in my divorce, I'm transferring the plots and vaults we have at Jefferson Memorial Park to my future ex-wife's sole ownership. This decision was based upon my assumption that if she had problems buying into the whole "'til death do us part" concept, the afterlife was probably off the table as well.

So I sent a letter to the cemetery asking for instructions to implement the transfer. Over a week later, the letter was returned to me (see above), marked not deliverable as addressed- unable to forward.

I mailed the letter to the address on the original documents. It never occurred to me that after 28 years, they might have a different post office box number. Not that it should make any difference, since Jefferson Memorial Park is a big, honking 340-acre cemetery taking up about one-fifth of Pleasant Hills Borough's 2.7 square miles.

I'm assuming there's some obscure postal regulation that prohibits delivering mail addressed to an entity at the wrong post office box number. But regulations shouldn't trump common sense. It's obvious where the letter was supposed to go. To return it as "undeliverable" is just another sterling example of bureaucratic stupidity.

While frustrating, this episode was not without value. Instead of purchasing another vault and lot, I'm changing my post-mortem instructions so that after my cremation, my remains will be poured into an appropriately-sized Hefty bag, stuffed into an eBay box and mailed to Jefferson Memorial at the defunct post office box listed above, with the correct postage... but without a return address.

It gives a delightfully literal meaning to the term "dead letter office."

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Gee. I hate when this happens...

KIEV (Reuters) - A man shouting that God would keep him safe was mauled to death by a lioness in Kiev zoo after he crept into the animal's enclosure, a zoo official said on Monday.

"The man shouted 'God will save me, if he exists', lowered himself by a rope into the enclosure, took his shoes off and went up to the lions," the official said.

"A lioness went straight for him, knocked him down and severed his carotid artery."

The incident, Sunday evening when the zoo was packed with visitors, was the first of its kind at the attraction. Lions and tigers are kept in an "animal island" protected by thick concrete blocks.

In view of the fact that God limited the intelligence of man, it seems unfair that he did not also limit his stupidity.
-Dean Acheson

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Time to check the basement for pods...

As bizarre as it may seem, the sample jars brimming with cloudy, reddish rainwater in Godfrey Louis's laboratory in southern India may hold, well, aliens.

In April, Louis, a solid-state physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University, published a paper in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Astrophysics and Space Science in which he hypothesizes that the samples- water taken from the mysterious blood-colored showers that fell sporadically across Louis's home state of Kerala in the summer of 2001- contain microbes from outer space.

Specifically, Louis has isolated strange, thick-walled, red-tinted cell-like structures about 10 microns in size. Stranger still, dozens of his experiments suggest that the particles may lack DNA yet still reproduce plentifully, even in water superheated to nearly 600 degrees Fahrenheit . (The known upper limit for life in water is about 250 degrees Fahrenheit .)

So how to explain them? Louis speculates that the particles could be extraterrestrial bacteria adapted to the harsh conditions of space and that the microbes hitched a ride on a comet or meteorite that later broke apart in the upper atmosphere and mixed with rain clouds above India.

If his theory proves correct, the cells would be the first confirmed evidence of alien life and, as such, could yield tantalizing new clues to the origins of life on Earth.

Last winter, Louis sent some of his samples to astronomer Chandra Wickramasinghe and his colleagues at Cardiff University in Wales, who are now attempting to replicate his experiments; Wickramasinghe expects to publish his initial findings later this year.

Meanwhile, more down-to-earth theories abound. One Indian government investigation conducted in 2001 lays blame for what some have called the "blood rains" on algae.

Other theories have implicated fungal spores, red dust swept up from the Arabian peninsula, even a fine mist of blood cells produced by a meteor striking a high-flying flock of bats.

Louis and his colleagues dismiss all these theories, pointing to the fact that both algae and fungus possess DNA and that blood cells have thin walls and die quickly when exposed to water and air.

More important, they argue, blood cells don't replicate. "We've already got some stunning pictures- transmission electron micrographs- of these cells sliced in the middle," Wickramasinghe says. "We see them budding, with little daughter cells inside the big cells."

Louis's theory holds special appeal for Wickramasinghe. A quarter of a century ago, he co-authored the modern theory of panspermia, which posits that bacteria-riddled space rocks seeded life on Earth.

"If it's true that life was introduced by comets four billion years ago," the astronomer says, "one would expect that microorganisms are still injected into our environment from time to time. This could be one of those events."

The next significant step, explains University of Sheffield microbiologist Milton Wainwright, who is part of another British team now studying Louis's samples, is to confirm whether the cells truly lack DNA. So far, one preliminary DNA test has come back positive.

"Life as we know it must contain DNA, or it's not life," he says. "But even if this organism proves to be an anomaly, the absence of DNA wouldn't necessarily mean it's extraterrestrial."

Louis and Wickramasinghe are planning further experiments to test the cells for specific carbon isotopes. If the results fall outside the norms for life on Earth, it would be powerful new evidence for Louis's idea, of which even Louis himself remains skeptical.

Jebediah Reed, Popular Science, Friday, June 2, 2006
(via John Bonnano on the alt.quotations Usenet newsgroup.)

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Quote of the day

You know what's interesting about this whole thing (gay marriage)? According to polls, 51 percent of Americans do not approve of gay marriage, but 70 percent of Americans do not approve of President Bush. So, gay marriage is actually more popular than he is.
-Jay Leno

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Shifting priorities

Have you noticed there have been no elevated terror alerts since the last Presidential election? That the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that includes the rocket scientists at FEMA, has decided that New York City has no iconic structures and slashed its anti-terror grants by 40 percent? Overall, the government will spend $750 million less for security this year than last year.

As Zay Smith notes in his column in the Chicago Sun-Times, that $750 million is what Bush spends every 63 hours for the Iraq debacle.

I guess we're spending the money over there so we don't have to spend it here.

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Graffiti seen in men's rooms in Pittsburgh bars, #31

(Scrawled above urinal, at the bottom of the "Employees Must Wash Hands" sign:)

A wise man washes his hands after he pees. A wiser man doesn't pee on his hands.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

While you're enjoying a special effects blockbuster this summer...

... remember Arthur Widmer, the guy who invented the blue screen travelling matte process which made it all possible. Film effects are produced digitally these days, not optically, but they implement the concepts developed by Widmer at Warner Bros in the early 1950s.

Widmer died of cancer last week. He was 92.

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Whatever happened to Farrah Fawcett?

Be nice. Technically, posing for the Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure is a form of modeling.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Particle physics humor of the day

Q: What is the definition of a tachyon?

A: It's a gluon that's not completely dry.

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Quotes of the day

I don't know if they've told you what's been happening in the world while you've been matriculating. The world is waiting for you people with a club.

The best advice I can give you is to get your own TV show. The hours are good, it pays well, and eventually, some nice people will give you a doctor of fine arts degree for doing jack-squat.
-Stephen Colbert, speaking at Knox College commencement ceremonies.

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It's not easy being green

(From the June issue of Park News, South Park, PA)

"May 15 - An employee from Donte's Pizza on Brownsville Road called SPPD to report an assault. SPPD discovered that a female was dressed up in a Shrek costume promoting the grand opening of the pizza shop when an unknown male tackled her. After tackling the promotional character, the suspect fled on foot down Norrington Drive. The SPPD is reviewing surveillance tapes from the neighboring 7-Eleven and have developed a suspect in the assault."

(Maybe a Disney intellectual property attorney. Or a donkey on the edge.)

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Violators will be prosecuted.
So there.  
The kgb@kgb.com e-mail address is now something other than kgb@kgb.com saga.
kgbreport.com used to be kgb.com until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up kgb.com and adopting kgbreport.com created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the kgb.com domain name in 1993, and had since that time used kgb@kgb.com as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that kgb@kgb.com was no longer kgb@kgb.com but rather kgbarkes@gmail.com which is longer than kgb@kgb.com and more letters to type than kgb@kgb.com and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than kgb@kgb.com but actually just as functional as kgb@kgb.com? I sent e-mails from the kgb@kgb.com address to just about everybody I knew who had used kgb@kgb.com in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the kgb@kgb.com change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which kgb@kgb.com was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for kgb@kgb.com would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that kgb@kgb.com no longer is the kgb@kgb.com they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. kgb@kgb.com. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...

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