Saturday, November 21, 2009


("Undercliff", a woodcut by Lynd Ward, 1948)

I have this woodcut hanging on my wall. It is among my favorite artwork.

Rewarding Good Works

Regular readers know that I'm frequently critical of my congresswoman, Ann Kirkpatrick. But in the interest of good government, I'm more than willing to compliment her when she takes positive actions. Her bill, H.R. 1834, has passed in the house. The bill provides aid to Native American small business:
The bill "amends the Small Business Act to establish in the Small Business Administration (SBA) the Office of Native American Affairs, administered by a new SBA Associate Administrator, to increase Native American entrepreneurship [and] authorizes the SBA's Administrator (acting through the Associate Administrator) to: (1) operate a Tribal Business Information Centers program that provides Native American populations with business training and entrepreneurial development assistance; (2) designate entities as centers; (3) contribute agency personnel and resources to the centers; and (4) make grants to the centers."

The bill was introduced by conservative Arizona Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, whose district includes the largest Indian reservation in the U.S. Every single Arizona Democrat voted for it, of course.

Given that this district includes a huge number of impoverished Native Americans, the bill could be a huge benefit throughout the region.
So, well done congresswoman! We thank you.

Serious Journalism

The WaPo's editor gets to what matters in This Fred Hiatt column:

And didn't candidate Obama promise to fix the college football Bowl Championship Series?

Many people indeed blame Obama not only for this year's lackluster football season but for all these other problems as well.

Obama hasn't fixed the BCS, so therefore his presidency is a failure. I'm glad Hiatt is covering the important news.
Added: Obama never said he'd fix the BCS; he said he'd prefer a playoff system. Ruling over the NCAA isn't really part of his job description.

Friday, November 20, 2009

UC Berkeley Protests

OK, it's not Mario Savio or Vietnam. But they still know how to have a protest:

A group of about 60 UC Berkeley students and supporters barricaded themselves inside Wheeler Hall early this morning in the most dramatic display of disobedience on the campus since the UC regents voted to raise student undergraduate tuition by 32 percent Thursday.

The group entered Wheeler Hall around 6 a.m. and three students were arrested immediately for burglary as they moved heavy furniture to block doorways on the second floor, according campus police.

Andi Walden, a student among those occupying the building, who spoke to The Chronicle by phone, said the protesters had enough food and water to last four days.

"We decided it was necessary to take action," said Walden, a Middle Eastern studies and political science major. "A lot of people have been saying, 'Who's university? Our university.' So we decided to put that into action."

A 32% hike in tuition will force quite a few students out of the University, so they have plenty of reason to act. You Go, Kids! Keep the Berkeley traditions alive!
(added on Sat. morning: The kids have been arrested. Bummer, but no surprise)

Resource Depletion Humor

We at Pygalgia are all too aware of resource depletion. We've read (ok, sometimes skimmed) all the reports and books and we know that air, water, oil, coal, metals (gold, silver, copper, platinum, phosphorous, etc) are close to running dry.

If you pick up any of these reports or texts, you'll be presented with the familiar and famous "Hubbert Curve" that depicts the general depletion of a particular resource base.

Many commentators in the world focus on plotting such resource depletion curves against things like GDP (US or World), or Per-Capita-Income, or some such measurement.

But there's something even more important: the collapse of oil production in relation to the collapse of the production of good rock-and-roll music.

The roots of "Rock" music can really be though of as starting in the 1950s, but didn't really gain ground until the 1960s (the growth and discovery years) and then continued on throughout the decades.

But, as the previous chart shows, basically rock-and-roll music shot its wad early and has declined precipitously ever since. That's why you were stuck with Toto during the late seventies and early eighties (that early eighties bump came not from the North Sea Field or Alaskan production, but from the influence of Punk Rock finally crossing the pond and gaining traction in the US).

Unfortunately, it's been on a decline ever since.

Now, I love the Beatles. I can still appreciate The Band, some good Clapton, The Dead, Three Dog Night or Creedence. Hell, because I can still appreciate them probably explains the fact that there's still so many "classic" rock stations around - the best, low hanging chords were strummed the first. Those previously mentioned bands lucked out because they were on the rise, at least in terms of production. Folks like the Boss or Elvis Costello had to ride the backside of depletion - it gives a lot more nuance to "Tramps like us, baby we were born to run" now doesn't it? And shit, half of Springsteen's songs were about the romance of the automobile anyways....

Hell, I might even appreciate something like John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy!" as looking for ways out of our energy decline in the late 1970s. Plowin', farmin', playin' the fiddle, being sustainable - he does even mention limos as being uncool.

Now, all jests aside, we understand the importance of resource depletion. The next twenty years or so, as the resource base depletes even more rapidly, are going to be challenging for everyone involved. As people have to get used to doing with less - and more importantly, accepting doing with less, there is the possibility that many folks won't take kindly to it, to use a phrase.

That's why humor can be so effective in certain situations, and why I'm trying to be a little bit funny in this post.

To me, probably the best consequence of the development of the immense frontal cerebral cortex in the mammilian ape was the concept of humor.

Humor can overcome so many situations - by causing all participants to view a situation (somewhat) objectively and to provide contextual comments (sometimes humorous) about it, that I think it is crucial to our species survival.

That's why I so much like the graph (completely unattributed, although I think I got it off The Big Picture & Barry would have the link(s)).

Please, everyone, although the backslide of the Peak may be disheartening, remember that it could be worse: you have no gas in your car, but the radio still works and all you can get is..."When you get caught between the moon and New York City..." from Christopher Cross. Or some Milli-Vanilli.

Which, strangely enough, is about the pablum that our energy polices have been these past few decades

I rest my case.

From Bad To Worse?

Living in Arizona, I get to be represented by two of the worst senators in the country (OK, that's just my opinion; there are a lot of lousy senators to choose from). Jon Kyl is slightly less intellectual than the average eggplant, and St. Sleazy McCain appears increasingly senile with each passing day. So, leave it to Arizona republicans to find an even worse option:

A new Rasmussen poll finds that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) could potentially be in trouble with Republican voters back home in Arizona, where he's often faced criticism from the right for his views on immigration.

In a potential Republican primary for his 2010 re-election, the 2008 GOP nominee for President is in a dead heat with former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, a hard-line conservative who lost his seat in the 2006 Democratic wave.

The numbers: McCain 45%, Hayworth 43%, with a ±4% margin of error. A third candidate who is already in the race, former Minuteman leader Chris Simcox, gets 4%.

From the pollster's analysis: "For McCain, the GOP Primary appears to be his biggest challenge since no major Democrats in the state have stepped forward yet to run against him."

That's right, J. D. Hayworth! A former sportscaster who's even dumber than Kyl (or an eggplant), a congressional loser who's opposed to everything after 1958 (I've met him, and I'm trying to be as kind as I can). Proving that no matter how bad you think it is, it could be worse (and don't get me started on Simcox). At least McCain is (sometimes) coherent.
Sadly, there's no democrat candidate (so far) who has a snowball's chance in Phoenix of winning the senate seat in 2010. Janet Napolitano was our most likely hope until she accepted the homeland security gig. So far, nobody else has come forward who's a serious challenger.
Dear America.
We apologize.
Arizona Democrats (on the endangered species list since...forever).

Staring at a Boobie

It's not polite to stare at a Boobie. In fact, some consider it rude. But it seems to happen sometimes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Culinary Assistance

This post is a follow up to a conversation that Sweaterman and I were having with some other folks last week. Both Sweaterman and I consider ourselves pretty good cooks (actually, Sweaterman is a great cook), and we were discussing how to make meals with minimal ingredients on hand. If you have a good feel for how foods go together, it doesn't take a whole lot to make a decent meal. But several of the other people who were part of the conversation to say it politely...more culinarally challenged. One went so far as to say that she would never attempt to cook something without a recipe, while another resorts to fast food when unsure what to cook. So I'd like to share a wonderful resource with folks like them. Just go to and plug in whatever ingredients you have at hand, and it will spit out a recipe. It will also ask if you have certain other things available in order to offer additional ideas and options. While I don't personally need it, I've run some tests based on what I have in the cupboard and fridge and I've been impressed with the results. The recipes are all fairly simple and straightforward, not 'Julia Child' gourmet but easy, tasty, relatively healthy meals that most anybody can prepare.
(except Ducky, who has difficulty with the recipe for boiled water)

Palin: Even Dumber than Shrub

(pic from Album3)
I really would prefer to ignore her, but then she says something so mind numbingly stupid that my brain freezes and I must make a comment, if only to get un-stuck:

"We have allies who are as concerned about Ahmadinejad's actions as we are. We need to be working closer with France, and with Britain, and start, not just considering, but seriously taking steps towards the sanctions that we hear all about but we never see any actions towards, though.

"Cutting off the imports into Iraq, of their refined petroleum products. They're reliant -- 40 to 45 percent of their energy supply is reliant on those imports. We have some control over there.

"And some of the beneficial international monetary deals that Iraq benefits from -- we can start implementing some sanctions there and start really shaking things up, and telling Ahmadinejad, nobody is going to stand for this."

As if Iraq hasn't suffered enough.
OK, we know this was a simple mistake. Ms. Palin probably merely misspoke. Unless she truly is unable to distinguish between Iraq and Iran, a distinction that even Shrub was able to grasp...barely.
(video at the link, just so you know that I'm not making this up)

Dot Connecting

Children's books often include exercises to "connect the dots". If you connect them properly, a clear picture emerges. Of course, if the dots are connected improperly all you get is a meaningless jumble.
In the investigation of the Ft. Hood shootings, the question that keeps being repeated is "was there a failure to connect the dots?" (For this post, I'm ignoring the issue of terrorism vs. mass murder. The problem of 'dot connecting' is the same regardless of motivation.) Could the slaughter have been prevented? Were there enough warning signs that authorities should have taken action?
We go through this process whenever a massive tragedy occurs. After the Virginia Tech shootings, there were revelations that the shooter was deeply disturbed. The investigation of 9/11 revealed that there were many pieces of evidence that the plotters were working up to something big. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing reams of evidence came out that Timothy McVeigh had spent months building up to a massive anti-government act. In all these cases there were many pieces that in hindsight were "dots"; the question is whether they should have been "connected" in such a way as to reveal the picture that would prevent the ensuing tragedy.
During the years that I worked as a mental health counselor, one of the most important parts of my work was suicide prevention. The population of psychiatric clients includes a very high percentage of people at high risk for suicide. Sadly, despite our best efforts and 'expertise', some clients did commit suicide. When a suicide did occur, the treatment team would meet to review the case; to try to "connect the dots". While the goal was to hopefully find ways to prevent future suicides, there was the natural human tendency to assign blame: somebody failed to "connect the dots".
As I'm watching the process unfold (again) with the Ft. Hood shootings, I'm remembering how difficult it is to actually connect dots. In hindsight, here are a whole bunch of disturbing signs; do they add up to a clear picture of impending violence? Is there enough evidence to take action to intervene? Is the goal to prevent future incidents, or to blame somebody for the incident that occurred?
Example: You have a neighbor, "Mr. X"; he's anti-social, often angry. He blames "Y" for all that is wrong in his world. He might have weapons. What signs would be clear enough for you to call the police about "Mr. X"? How do you differentiate between an eccentric crank and a potential killer? Remember that our society respects an individuals freedom (in theory, anyway), and that "Mr. X" hasn't done anything yet. How many dots connect and what picture (if any) do they reveal?
Intervention is a very inexact "science"; you never really know what might have been "prevented" because there is no way to measure a "non-incident". Maybe a tragedy has been prevented, but maybe prejudice and hysteria have needlessly disrupted a persons life or deprived them of there individual freedom.
I don't have any answers; I hope the investigation will focus on trying to find ways to prevent future tragedies by helping people who are deeply disturbed, rather than degenerating into finding someone to blame. The reality is that life is full of uncertainties and that tragedies occur daily. Preventing atrocities is an admirable goal, but not all dots connect into a clear picture.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Extreme Beer News

Anybody who knows me knows that I love a good hoppy beer. But in reading about some of the new "extreme" beers, I encountered one that sound like an "extremely" bad idea:

But don't confuse "extreme" with "strong," Koch says. "Extreme is bringing something new to the brewing process. It's like creating a whole new genre of music, as opposed to just playing the same music louder."

Nanny State, an "imperial mild" from the BrewDog microbrewery in Fraserburgh, Scotland, is the anti-Utopias, but just as extreme. It measures 1.1 percent alcohol; you'd be hard-pressed to get tipsy on a case of it. But it is crammed with hops. The brewer's claimed level of 225 international bitterness units is the most extreme I've ever heard. (IBUs measure a beer's level of alpha acids, the primary bittering compound in hops. For purposes of comparison, Budweiser measures about 12 IBUs; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, 37; a typical imperial IPA, 75 to 100.)

Just the name "nanny state" is enough to keep me away, but 225 IBU's for 1.1% alcohol? Why bother? Just drink unfermented hop juice.
Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

Upcoming Right Wing Screaming Point

I'm slightly surprised that this one hasn't been exploited yet: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's American college years:

After just a semester at Chowan, Mohammed thought his English was good enough to move on. So he transferred to North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro. It's Rev. Jesse Jackson's alma mater. And it's where Mohammed began studying mechanical engineering.

Yes! Jesse Jackson and terrorists all in one neat package! Coincidence? The wingers won't think so. I'm offering a (very small) prize for the first right wing pundit to make the connection.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Tolerance of a Small Elephant

Over the years I've learned that I have a very high tolerance for drugs, and today's colonoscopy (no, I'm not going into any details) reinforced that. As with my surgeries in January and February, the amount of sedative that was supposed to "knock me out" failed miserably, and a second dose was required. And even that wore off too soon. After the procedure, the nurse insisted that I would be "impaired" for the next 24 hours by the gotta be kidding me. I'm not even mildly buzzed. It's the same with all medications that "may cause drowsiness"; I'm more likely to fall asleep from reading David Broder. When I had the shoulder surgery, I maxed out on the allowable amount of morphine and spent the night beating the security guard at chess (to be fair, he wasn't all that good a chess player).
It was true with the illicit drugs of my youth, and it's true with pharmaceuticals today: I have the tolerance of a small elephant.

Monday, November 16, 2009

On This Day

LSD was first synthesized on November 16, 1938. Let's just say that I found it to be a wonderful discovery.

Sarah Who?

Sarah Palin's latest work of fiction comes out tomorrow. In an example of cosmic coincidence, I'm scheduled to have a colonoscopy tomorrow. Which is probably a more pleasant way to spend the day.
But it does give me an excuse to re-run one of my favorite Palin photoshops:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Afghanistan Assessment

I think that Steve Hynde of The NewsHoggers has a very good assessment of the administration's thinking on Afghanistan, so I'm passing it on:

There's been a substantial change in Obama administration rhetoric in the last week or two, which has only accelerated after Gen. Eikenberry put his spanner in the escalationists' works. Hillary Clinton, talking to ABC News this Sunday, gives the clearest indication yet that the administration is looking for an exit.

"We're not interested in staying in Afghanistan. We have no long-term stake there. We want that to be made very clear," she told ABC news.

"We agree that our goal here is to defeat Al-Qaeda. That has been a clear goal and a mission from the president ever since he made his commitment of additional troops back in the spring."

"And we understand that the Afghans themselves need help in order to defend themselves against the Taliban. Those are mutually reinforcing missions but our highest obligation is to the American people," she said.

Gone is any talk of being there for as long as it takes to defeat the Taliban, or of success being something that "we'll know it when we see it". Instead, the Taliban are clearly Afghanistan's problem and Al Qaeda is America's - and a "mission accomplished" banner can be hung around the latter, at least as far as Afghanistan goes.

Here's what I now expect when Obama finally announces his decision: Afghanistan will get "help in order to defend themselves against the Taliban", more troops but the bulk with a clear training mission, and at the same time Karzai will be handed a three to five year set of benchmarks and a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

Obama has no intention of heading into the 2012 election with no end in sight on Afghanistan. Thankfully, political necessity in this case matches with the smart thing to do strategically.

By stressing the need for an exit strategy rather than endless escalation, Obama is clearly trying to stay (somewhat) true to his campaign positions. And trying to get re-elected in 2012.