Saturday, June 9, 2007


An Irishman walks into a Dublin bar, orders three pints of Guinness, and drinks them down, taking a sip from one, then a sip from the next, until they're gone. He then orders three more.

The bartender says, "You know, they'd be less likely to go flat if you bought them one a a time."

The man says, "Yeah, I know, but I have two brothers, one in the States, one in Austrailia. When we all went our separate ways, we promised each other that we'd all drink this way in memory of the days when we drank together. Each of these is for one of my brothers and the third is for me."

The bartender is touched, and says, "What a great custom!"

The Irishman becomes a regular in the bar and always orders the same way.

One day he comes in and orders two pints. The other regulars notice, and a silence falls over the bar. When he come to the bar for his second round, the bartender says, "Please accept my condolences, pal"

The Irishman says, " Oh, no, everyone's fine. I just joined the Mormon Church, and I had to quit drinking."
(from: Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes)

A tragedy

The ongoing Iraq debacle has created so many tragedies that this might be overlooked:,,2098272,00.html

Fly into the American air base of Tallil outside Nasiriya in central Iraq and the flight path is over the great ziggurat of Ur, reputedly the earliest city on earth. Seen from the base in the desert haze or the sand-filled gloom of dusk, the structure is indistinguishable from the mounds of fuel dumps, stores and hangars. Ur is safe within the base compound. But its walls are pockmarked with wartime shrapnel and a blockhouse is being built over an adjacent archaeological site. When the head of Iraq's supposedly sovereign board of antiquities and heritage, Abbas al-Hussaini, tried to inspect the site recently, the Americans refused him access to his own most important monument.

Yesterday Hussaini reported to the British Museum on his struggles to protect his work in a state of anarchy. It was a heart breaking presentation. Under Saddam you were likely to be tortured and shot if you let someone steal an antiquity; in today's Iraq you are likely to be tortured and shot if you don't. The tragic fate of the national museum in Baghdad in April 2003 was as if federal troops had invaded New York city, sacked the police and told the criminal community that the Metropolitan was at their disposal. The local tank commander was told specifically not to protect the museum for a full two weeks after the invasion. Even the Nazis protected the Louvre.

I realize that the human toll in bloodshed is the real tragedy, but the destruction of history is also tragic.

The national museum is not open but shut. Nor is it just shut. Its doors are bricked up, it is surrounded by concrete walls and its exhibits are sandbagged. Even the staff cannot get inside. There is no prospect of reopening.

Hussaini confirmed a report two years ago by John Curtis, of the British Museum, on America's conversion of Nebuchadnezzar's great city of Babylon into the hanging gardens of Halliburton. This meant a 150-hectare camp for 2,000 troops. In the process the 2,500-year-old brick pavement to the Ishtar Gate was smashed by tanks and the gate itself damaged. The archaeology-rich subsoil was bulldozed to fill sandbags, and large areas covered in compacted gravel for helipads and car parks. Babylon is being rendered archaeologically barren.

Meanwhile the courtyard of the 10th-century caravanserai of Khan al-Raba was used by the Americans for exploding captured insurgent weapons. One blast demolished the ancient roofs and felled many of the walls. The place is now a ruin.

Outside the capital some 10,000 sites of incomparable importance to the history of western civilisation, barely 20% yet excavated, are being looted as systematically as was the museum in 2003. When George tried to remove vulnerable carvings from the ancient city of Umma to Baghdad, he found gangs of looters already in place with bulldozers, dump trucks and AK47s.

When the histroy of the Iraq war is written, we will look less civilized than the Mongols.

It is abundantly clear that the Americans and British are not protecting Iraq's historic sites. All foreign archaeologists have had to leave. Troops are doing nothing to prevent the "farming" of known antiquities. This is in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention that an occupying army should "use all means within its power" to guard the cultural heritage of a defeated state.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Iraq explained

I think this diagram should clarify the situation in Iraq:

Now that we see who's with us and who's against us, it should be easy to come up with a workable plan, right?

Lost in Translation

You would think that we would use any Arabic translators that we can get. Wrong. Gays need not apply.
From Stephen Benjamin's op ed in today's NYT:
The lack of qualified translators has been a pressing issue for some time — the Army had filled only half its authorized positions for Arabic translators in 2001. Cables went untranslated on Sept. 10 that might have prevented the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Today, the American Embassy in Baghdad has nearly 1,000 personnel, but only a handful of fluent Arabic speakers.

I was an Arabic translator. After joining the Navy in 2003, I attended the Defense Language Institute, graduated in the top 10 percent of my class and then spent two years giving our troops the critical translation services they desperately needed. I was ready to serve in Iraq.

But I never got to. In March, I was ousted from the Navy under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which mandates dismissal if a service member is found to be gay....

Consider: more than 58 Arabic linguists have been kicked out since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was instituted. How much valuable intelligence could those men and women be providing today to troops in harm’s way?

I'll add a personal note. I tried to get a translator job with the State Department in 2002, but because I have a (minor) criminal record I couldn't. While I'm not fluent in Arabic, I read and speak it well enough to be useful. But we must follow those conservative values first.

It's Friday

So it's Boobie time:

Happy Friday.

Moving Sweaterman

Helping Sweaterman move yesterday, I was struck by two things. One, the man has good taste in furniture. Two, that means heavy furniture. We'll be finishing the move today, but thankfully most of the heavy stuff is done. Sometimes I wish I had lighter friends.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Better Solar

I started seeing this material at alternative energy conventions a few years ago, and I'm glad to see more of it.

Within five years, solar power will be cheap enough to compete with carbon-generated electricity, even in Britain, Scandinavia or upper Siberia. In a decade, the cost may have fallen so dramatically that solar cells could undercut oil, gas, coal and nuclear power by up to half. Technology is leaping ahead of a stale political debate about fossil fuels.

Anil Sethi, the chief executive of the Swiss start-up company Flisom, says he looks forward to the day - not so far off - when entire cities in America and Europe generate their heating, lighting and air-conditioning needs from solar films on buildings with enough left over to feed a surplus back into the grid.

The secret? Mr Sethi lovingly cradles a piece of dark polymer foil, as thin a sheet of paper. It is 200 times lighter than the normal glass-based solar materials, which require expensive substrates and roof support. Indeed, it is so light it can be stuck to the sides of buildings.

We need more and cheaper solar power, so I really hope these guys succeed.

The "tipping point" will arrive when the capital cost of solar power falls below $1 (51p) per watt, roughly the cost of carbon power. We are not there yet. The best options today vary from $3 to $4 per watt - down from $100 in the late 1970s.

Mr Sethi believes his product will cut the cost to 80 cents per watt within five years, and 50 cents in a decade.

It is based on a CIGS (CuInGaSe2) semiconductor compound that absorbs light by freeing electrons. This is then embedded on the polymer base. It will be ready commercially in late 2009.

"It'll even work on a cold, grey, cloudy day in England, which still produces 25pc to 30pc of the optimal light level. That is enough, if you cover half the roof," he said.

"We don't need subsidies, we just need governments to get out of the way and do no harm. They've spent $170bn subsidising nuclear power over the last thirty years," he said.

2,000 visits

Hey, I just checked the old sitemeter. We passed 2,000 visits! That's about 1,900 more than I ever hoped for when I started this little blog. Thanks!

The Animas Trip

Here's a raft entering Smelter rapid. I can tell you it was a rush. Last year the Animas was running about 1250 cfs. This year it was at 3750 cfs. Last year I was in a big 16' raft. This year I was in a little 12' duckie. I don't have much experience in duckies, and hadn't ever run one through rapids as big as these. Talk about adrenaline. All the runs went well, and I had a blast once the pulse returned to normal. Also, the parties...

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

I'm back

My computer is back to a working post system. I'll put up some Animas photos as soon as I download them.

Monday, June 4, 2007

pet advice from zymurgian

If i ever won the lottery or something, the first thing I would purchase would be a very small dinosaur. Not too cumbersome or voracious. If I had a pet dinosaur, I would keep him in my backyard, which would inevitably render him furious , with great gnashing of feet and crashing of fangs.
He's a good enough pet dinosaur. I named him "Noam".
Noam the Dinosaur's favorite snacks are:
sneakers on the urban trail
children on the urban trail, wearing sneakers.
the occasional SUV
Actually, I haven't told you guys the whole story... You see, Noam is female, and she just gave birth to a cute-ass dinobaby. Thing is, Noam never got knocked up. Far as i know, she is the only dinosaur in Flagstaff. My pet had an immaculate conception!
Now I have two pet dinosaurs to feed. This means many more saunterings to the urban trail and along I40 very late at night. But hey, they don't bark much.

i really like tater-tots

"The people who have conquered the world now have two interests- bread and circuses. "
-Juvenal, Roman satirist.

What if our society wasn't hell bent on convincing us to adore professional sports, movies, TV, fast food and driving everywhere with a cellphone clamped to our heads?
Sometimes when I go to the bar, there is not one dern television on, but FOUR.
The principles of The Declaration Of Independence, and The Constitution, were first discussed in taverns throughout the American colonial era. Shit, I bet ya The Magna Carta came straight outta meadhalls!
This is not a post to proclaim alcohol as championing social change. Actually, it is. I will contend - intellegent people gathering for drinks can and does and did change the world. I mean, beer thirst isn't denominational, right?
The blood in my veins runs melancholic with this- discourse at the modern tavern drowned by the din of Taco Bell commercials.
we all talk to each other less. and less. and less.

added: this was not mine.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

It Is With Deepest Regret...

... and profound sadness that I have to inform Pygalgians of the death of Steve Gilliard, yesterday June 2, 2007 after a long battle with illness.

I first read Steve after he'd been front-paged at DailyKos, and I immediately learned to how to read (and look forward to) his posts. He was unapologetic, loud and ascerbic, but damn he knew how to write. When he began his own blog, the writing only got better and better as the Gilly community grew and grew. How could it not, when a blogger picks a slogan ("We Fight Back!") so provocative? If a Dem could ever have him as a speechwriter, the neocons and the Republican party in general would collapse into dust overnight.

And the topics! From an incredibly astute study of history, to food, to social forces, politics, war, technology, futbol, and most importantly Iraq, Steve was so spot-on that it scared you, as well it should for he was correct far more often than not. If I was ever to try my hand at blogging (not likely, mind you), Steve's blog, The News Blog, is the ideal I would strive towards.

All of us were hoping our most fervent wishes that Steve would make it out of the hospital soon, but it was not to be. There are far better tributes other places on the internets - check firedoglake or DailyKos or wikipedia - but I feel that when one who fights the good fight falls down, we honor them and throw our weight to their fights, because that's the way we, as a community work. We value the contributions of each of us, and when one of us cannot continue, we continue on for them, because we believe in the justness of their cause.

I had a high-school history teacher, who, lamenting the state of America in the late 70s, would sigh and say foolish things like, "There were giants in those days," as if we'd all fallen down since then. Well, let me tell you there were giants in these days too - and Steve Gilliard was one of them.

R.I.P., Steve, Godspeed and FTFY.