Friday, December 30, 2005

[random][geek] CSI: Kindergarten

So, what with this being winter break and all, we signed The Boy up for 2 weeks of science camp at the Pacific Science Center. Each week has been loosely organized around a single theme, and the second week's been mostly about light and sound. They're covering some basics about optics and acoustics, and part of what the camp does during the day is to go on mini-field trips to the part of the science center that most closely relates to whatever the topic of the day is. This week, they've been drawing largely upon the Whodunit exhibit:
Visitors walk into a robbery scene at the Memory Diner. When the police respond, the short-order cook is the only witness. How reliable is he? Are the crimes related? Did the suspect leave clues at the diner? Visitors gather evidence at the scene and visit hands-on stations to solve the crime. Stations throughout the exhibit have activities geared for all ages of visitors.
One of the stations within this exhibit is a virtual autopsy: an abstract, stark white mannequin lies on a table, while a video of a post-mortem being performed on a murder victim (small caliber gunshot wound to the chest) is projected upon its chest. It looks pretty cool, but the last time I was at the Science Center with The Boy, it was getting late, he was getting overtired, and I wasn't sure how he'd deal with the autopsy (I was pretty sure he'd be okay with it, but you never know) so I heeded the "Not recommended for small children" sign and gently steered him on to other things. So yesterday, I'm picking him up after camp, and as we're driving away, he says "Dad, I don't know why you didn't let me see the body being cut open - it was really cool." Well, scratch that parenting effort... "Oh? Did your teachers take you into it?" "No. But the older kids went in there, and I'm sure they had permission." Hmmm. I'm not, but, hey... okay. As a result of his self-selected learning experience, on the ride home we discussed (at his prompting):
  • Why people are squeamish about the insides of bodies
  • Why people are squeamish about the outsides of bodies (he didn't understand why the lower half of the corpse was covered by a sheet)
  • How guns work - what makes the 'bang', what pushes the bullet out
  • How bullets kill people if they're so small
  • Those were the in-depth discussions; we also touched upon ballistics and the forensics of tool marks (rifling on bullets). How's that for an afternoon discussion with a 5 1/2 year old? I'll say this - he certainly doesn't have a one-track mind...

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Carnacki said...

    That sounds like an interesting experience for you and him. Perhaps you have the makings of a young Sherlock Holmes.

    12/30/2005 08:44:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    We've got the makings for a something - I'm not quite sure what, though ;-)

    Hey, happy blogiversary!

    12/30/2005 09:43:00 AM  

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    Thursday, December 29, 2005

    [random] [deep breath]

    Ah, work... Sure, we can squeeze six weeks worth of dev work into three weeks - why not? It hasn't been fun, what with the holidays and all, but we're actually pulling it off without killing ourselves. And it's for a not-entirely-bad reason - we've been trying to build a relationship with this agency for a couple of years, so when they came to us for help it was hard to say no. Of course, it gets even harder to say no when one of the possible consequences of saying no is that said agency won't be able to even think about talking to us again for five years because of funding issues. So... We said yes. Eh. Whatchagonnado? And there's a metric snotload of stuff I've got percolating on the back burner, too: there've been a bunch of articles about space that I want to distill into at least one post, possibly two; there're some pictures I need to download from my digital camera and get up here and over on MotHV; there's some more stuff on video games I want to write about... Dunno when I'll get to it - it won't be this weekend, that's for sure. And before all that transpires, we'll be taking some time to enjoy ourselves as well... Grandma is in town, and is going to watch The Boy for the evening, along with one of his friends. We'll be going to dinner and a movie with the same family we went to the coast with this summer - it promises to be fun.

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    Tuesday, December 27, 2005

    [random] Damn... Now I feel old.

    To quote The Gunslinger, "...and the World moved on."
    Tuesday, December 27, 2005 1:52 p.m. ET By STEVE LeBLANC Associated Press Writer BOSTON (AP) -- Maybe it was the last greasy burger served at the Tasty Diner, or the final copy of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" sold at Wordsworth books, or the last Hohner harmonica discovered amid the dusty bins of sheet music at Briggs and Briggs. Ask longtime denizens of Harvard Square and they will be able to lament the exact moment the old square seemed to lose its bohemian charm, when a favored haunt or hole-in-the-wall vanished, often giving way to a national chain. Earlier this year, the Wordsworth bookstore, which introduced generations of high schoolers to the illicit pleasures of Henry Miller, William Burroughs and Anais Nin, sold its last volume. Now the Brattle Theater, which for half a century has catered to fans of American film noir, French New Wave and Russian avant-garde, is teetering on the brink.
    Given the 300+ years of Harvard history, fifty years is nothing. Even WordsWorth Books was just 30 years old, so 'generations' is perhaps a bit too glib. My favorite sci-fi bookstore in Harvard Square was but 20 or so years old when it closed in 1989 (Thanks for all your hard work, Spike! (And you too, Tyler, for carrying the torch w/ Pandemonium.)). But still... so much stuff is being, well, sanitized and commoditized. Stores. Album covers. You name it, there isn't anything that can't be made safe and non-threatening for consumers. Maybe 'old' isn't the right word. Maybe I'm just feeling crochety. Feh.

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    [politics] No, not 'Jacobean'...

    Okay, so there are a number of bloggers commenting on James Wolcott's piece about the bloodlust/warporn impulses expressed in so many of the writings of the right-wing blogosphere. (I think it was tbogg who I first read this morning, but I've seen a couple of others...) Here're my two cents... Maybe this comes of being not just secular but atheist; maybe this comes of being queer; maybe this comes of being married to a Jew - but the rhetoric that comes from so much of the right doesn't strike me so much as being Jacobean:
    Sometimes the punishment they seek is more Jacobean, as when Michael Fumento greeted Cindy Sheehan's threat to tie herself to the fence in Crawford, Texas to protest the 2000th military death in Iraq with the sentiment, Good, let her lash herself to the fence: "Leave her there and maybe the crows will do the world a favor and eat her tongue out."
    True, the turn of phrase 'Jacobean' does convey a sense of an era far less concerned with human rights than our own (and isn't that a phrase to give you goosebumps), but it fails to capture an essential element of much of this bile: the eliminationist element. Not merely violence, not merely bloodlust, not merely demands for punishment, but demands for elimination of all enemies, military and ideological, foreign and domestic. The latest expressions of this can be seen, for instance, in Ann Coulter's recent appearance on the Today show: not content to let Michelle Malkin grab all the concentration camp glory, Coulter praises illegal internment in the context of defending President Bush's policies. Unfortunately, I am unable to find a turn of phrase that fits quite as neatly as Wolcott's - I have, however, found a not-quite-contemporaneous era that seems much more fitting... We aren't looking at a crowd that envisions the excesses of the court of James I; rather, we're looking at a crowd that is looking for Huguenots. When is St. Bartholomew's Day again?

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    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    [politics] File this under "Mixed Blessings"

    On the one hand, it's a good thing that Homeland Security isn't fighting the Cold War as well as the so-called War on Terror: the story about DHS knocking on the doors of a student who ordered Mao's 'Little Red Book' through interlibrary loan is a hoax. On the other hand, the NYT revealed today that the NSA's scouring of domestic communication is even broader than originally thought. And on the gripping hand, Alito thinks expanded executive branch powers for domestic wiretapping is hunky-dory. Is it just me, or is anyone else out there being driven batshit by the fact that Bush and his cronies make paranoia seem, well, like aiming too low? I resent the fact that these guys make me feel like I need to wear a tinfoil hat... [original heads-up for the hoax is from Pandagon.]

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    [politics] Good tidings we bring...

    Shorter version of Dr. Jerry Pournelle's essay re: the so-called War on Christmas: Allow us to impose Christianity on you in the public sphere, or we'll kill you. How very... Rwandan.

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

    I don't think that's where Jerry was going with his essay.

    But how interesting that two people can look at the same bit of writing and come to different conclusions about it.

    12/28/2005 03:31:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    I don't really think that's what he meant - I read his first essay, thinking "Yes, but I think you're forgetting..." and "Well, sorta, but not really, but I can see where you're coming from..." As I read the second 'clarifying' essay, I was having more or less the same reaction until I got to the last lines, which I found quite chilling, particularly given how O'Reilly has been demonizing 'rich, secular Jews' as part of his Christmas tirades. (John Gibson hasn't crossed over into such overt anti-Semitism, but he's certainly nodded along in agreement...)

    If Pournelle's essay had been written in a different context, I probably wouldn't have reacted to it so strongly.

    12/30/2005 10:03:00 AM  

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    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    [random] Who knew?

    Modern-day body snatchers surgically removed the bones of the iconic broadcaster Alistair Cooke before he was cremated... to sell them to a company that makes dental and orthopedic implants. How disturbing is that? It makes you wonder how widespread the practice is, given the increased popularity of cremation in recent years.

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    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    [geek] 30-second science blogging - Resurrection on Ice: A Pleistocene Story

    To be published in the upcoming issue of Science: woolly mammoth DNA... partially sequenced:
    Scientists have mapped part of the genome of the woolly mammoth, a huge mammal that's been extinct for about 10,000 years. The breakthrough could lead to re-creating the creatures. A team led by Hendrik Poinar at McMaster University unlocked secrets of the creature's nuclear DNA by working with a well-preserved 27,000-year-old specimen from Siberia. Colleagues at Penn State sequenced 1 percent of the genome in a few hours and say they expect to finish the whole genome in about a year if funding is provided.
    How cool is that?

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    [politics] Credible threat: Terrorists considered use of previously undisclosed weapon

    Evidently, this horror of a weapon consists of... fags kissing:
    According to recent press reports, Pentagon officials have been spying on what they call "suspicious" meetings by civilian groups, including student groups opposed to the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual military personnel. The story, first reported by Lisa Myers and NBC News last week, noted that Pentagon investigators had records pertaining to April protests at the State University of New York at Albany and William Patterson College in New Jersey. A February protest at NYU was also listed, along with the law school's LGBT advocacy group OUTlaw, which was classified as "possibly violent" by the Pentagon. A UC-Santa Cruz "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" protest, which included a gay kiss-in, was labeled as a "credible threat" of terrorism.
    There - now don't you feel safer about domestic spying? They're making us safe from The Violent and Demonic Scourge of Anal Sex and, in a replay of an oldie-but-a-goodie, Mao's little red book.... (Updated 24-Dec-2005 4:10 PM PDT: The Mao story is a hoax) Hey folks, even if Godwin's Law hasn't been suspended, at the very least it needs some real serious amending. Update: They're also out to save us from The Vegan Menace. Addendum courtesy of AMERICABlog. [original news item courtesy of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN)] Update #2 - notice re: the hoax came from Pandagon.

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    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    [random] In my head there are waves like thunder

    Not a lot going on... Okay, there's been a flurry of activity - holiday parties, work, going to see The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, getting the Christmas tree, yet more work, decorating aforementioned tree, (did I mention work?) preparing the house for holiday guests, planning last-minute shopping runs, figuring out who's taking The Boy what afternoons and when and so on - but there hasn't been anything extraordinary happening. But whatever hasn't been happening, there's sure been a lot of it. And for whatever reason (and there are probably bunches of them), I'm just feeling plain old melancholy this evening. Y'see, the title comes from a song by a band I'd completely forgotten about all these years - 'Submarine Song' by the Candyskins. I was sitting in front of the TV, not quite paying attention to something I'd TiVo'd from PBS, when I decided to flip on over to the newish XM Radio streams DirecTV is offering these days. Toggling between some of the alternative stations, I was zoning on the couch, a large black dog sleeping contentedly against my thigh. Through a little bit of a pinot-gris-induced haze, I heard this song that I haven't heard in, oh, 15 years or so. And did I hear it - I flashed back to my senior dorm in college, visions of me lying on my too-small bed in a room sweltering in the heat of spring. It was quite vivid, and, well, kind of unsettling. I could picture the layout of the room quite clearly, recalling details which, like the song, haven't crossed my synapses in more than a decade. I let the song finish, but that was too weird a sensation for me to just keep sitting there. I snapped off the TV and got a mournful look from the dog in return. Ignoring her silent entreaties, I headed upstairs to load the dishwasher. The earlier load wasn't finished running yet, so I sat down on the couch in the living room, lit solely by the newly-decorated Christmas tree. Mistake. The smell of the tree, the shadows on the wall cast by branches through lights - more visions, older ones, from decades past. I sat there for a while, letting thoughts and memories dance in the half-dark of the room, in the half-light of my memory. And as I sat there, the earlier lyrics dovetailed with my mood and the experience perfectly...
    In my head there are waves like thunder, I can hear them every day. I'm not drowning I'm just going under, Swimming's not my scene anyway.
    All in all, too weird for me. Eh. I don't know if I'm going to keep this post or not; it isn't polished, it's awkwardly worded and haphazardly structured, and, well, it doesn't even come close to expressing how I felt. Maybe I've just been handed some more fodder for my fiction blog which has been sitting dormant for too long; we'll see...

    2 Comments:

    Blogger Carnacki said...

    I like it. Disjointed in a good way because it gives a sense of the memory flashback.

    Certain pink floyd songs take me back to whiskey drinking hazes.

    12/20/2005 09:19:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    Thanks... As per usual, I've got a ton of stuff swirling around in my head, so who knows if I'll rework it - but there's a germ of an idea there that could probably be shaped and refashioned into something better.

    12/20/2005 11:08:00 PM  

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    Friday, December 16, 2005

    [politics] Finally, some protection?

    Maybe we aren't quite as fucked as I'd thought...

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate on Friday rejected attempts to reauthorize several provisions of the USA Patriot Act as infringing too much on Americans' privacy and liberty, dealing a huge defeat to the Bush administration and Republican leaders. In a crucial vote early Friday, the bill's Senate supporters were not able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a threatened filibuster by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and their allies. The final vote was 52-47.

    We'll see... CNN has a listing of the 16 provisions that are set to expire here.

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    [geek][politics] The "largest single threat to modern civilization"

    So, what do you think constitutes the "largest single threat to modern civilization"? The West's disproportionate consumption of natural resources? Nope. Global warming? Uh-uh. The possibility of Peak Oil having been reached? Bzzzt; guess again. Increasing competition and friction between China, India, and the West? Man, are you far off. How about the escalation in sectarian strife we've seen of late? Culture wars, fundamentalist vs. humanists? I'm sorry, according to our judges, no and no. Give up? It's the video game:
    No definitive link has ever been discovered showing violent video games cause violent behavior. Even so, thousands of law-enforcement officers on our streets are being told otherwise. Meet Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, one of law enforcement's most in-demand speakers and trainers. Grossman, an ex-Army Ranger and West Point psychology professor, has been on the road 300 days a year since 2001, speaking mostly to law-enforcement departments and academies. He's booked solid through late 2006. One of Grossman's key messages is that "violent media and video games are the largest single threat to modern civilization." Grossman claims to be one of the "world's foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime." He is founder and director of the Killology Research Group, a police and military consultancy, and since the Columbine massacre, he's become one of the game industry's most fervent critics.
    "Killology." What bullshit. Okay, so maybe the culture war answer was partly correct, we'll allow partial credit on that one. I won't link to the schmuck - check out the full Wired article if you're interested in reading his blather. All I could think while reading this is that this is just like DARE, only with even less data to support it...

    6 Comments:

    Anonymous Erwin said...

    Having read his book "On Killing", I can definitely say that Grossman is not a schmuck.

    The book carefully and closely argues that throughout history, soldiers have been reluctant at best to kill other people. Only 5% of the soldiers in the field can actually bring themselves to pull a trigger and end a life.

    Up until Vietnam. Thanks to the work of Skinner, the army introduced operant conditioning- trainees shot at human likenesses instead of bullseyes. Bayonet dummies spurted fake blood. As a result, the kill rate shot up dramatically- and so did the incidence of PTSD among soldiers who killed by reflex, men who in another war never would have been able to kill.

    He argues that this training to kill is a forerunner of the video games we buy our kids. And this is where, for me, his argument falls apart.

    He argues that video games train killers, but his whole point is that operant conditioning bypasses thought and morality at the moment of decision. But he goes further to complain that we're training a generation of sociopaths. I can't make the connection stick in my head. The Vietnam vets who came back with PTSD couldn't reconcile their morality with their reflexive killing. So why would a kid, even with video game training, be any more likely to make the conscious choice to kill?

    If all Americans constantly walked around with a pistol in their hand, and video game players were quicker to fire at any sudden noise, he'd have a point.

    12/16/2005 01:57:00 PM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    Not having read his book, I can't comment on his scholarship per se - but that leap from conditioning to killing is way too big. IMLTHO, that rates being called a 'schmuck'.

    Something to keep in mind with regards to PTSD is the relative newness of the diagnosis. My grandfather definitely had PTSD when he returned from WW2, and he did what so many vets did/do: he self-medicated. In Vietnam, this meant alcohol, pot or heroin; in WW2, alcohol only (unless you lived in San Francisco or NYC). The diagnosis didn't exist at that time; combat stress was seen as an acute condition, not a chronic one...

    I'm also not sure that you can make a convincing link between the training methods of the modern military and increase in PTSD. Better access to services and improved awareness of the condition will lead to more diagnoses of PTSD; fluid and unstable combat conditions with no clear division between the front lines and the rear, along with a difficult-to-identify enemy result in higher rates of PTSD. PTSD rates in Iraq are running higher than they did in Vietnam; they are also running higher than they did in Gulf War 1, and our military was definitely a ruthless killing machine in GW1.

    You've definitely given me some food for thought, though. Despite my initial reaction, I may have to see if I can pick up a used copy of Grossman's book.

    12/16/2005 02:17:00 PM  
    Anonymous Erwin said...

    I recommend it highly! At least the first few chapters, when he's discussing how difficult it has historically been to make people kill on command. It's really, really, really interesting.

    12/19/2005 07:33:00 AM  
    Blogger protected static said...

    I'm assuming you've read Chris Hedges' War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning? It'd be interesting to do a side-by-side reading of the two...

    12/19/2005 10:25:00 AM  
    Anonymous Erwin said...

    Never read that. I'll look into it!

    And here's a little piece of news that Grossman will shortly be cramming down the barrel of his media blunderbuss, if you'll forgive a militaristic metaphor-

    http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8449&feedId=online-news_rss20

    12/20/2005 10:18:00 AM  
    Blogger Brian Dunbar said...

    Erwin - PTSD in Vietnam may be down to things other than operant killing. Training after 1967 was slipshod bordering on criminal for officers and enlisted, focusing on ramming bodies through the system. Once there you were dropped into a unit with no emotional support etc.

    Poorly trained draftees, no unit coehesion and lack of support when you get back is a prime recipie for PTSD.

    I lack links to the studies but some battalions were cycled through Vietnam as coehesive units - they trained, deployed and came back together. PTSD incidents were lower for those units.

    It is probable that your attitude going into a stressful situation is an indication of how you handle said stress. Lions (to quote Gene Duncan) don't get PTSD. Victims do.

    At any rate while I did (1985 - 1993) spend a bit of time shooting at man-shaped sillouhettes I've never seen bayonet dummies spurting blood. Frankly I can't imagine that working in boot camp for logistic reasons.

    12/28/2005 03:42:00 PM  

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    [politics] After all, it's just "a goddamned piece of paper"

    This item from Capitol Hill Blue has all of a sudden taken on a whole new gloss given the revelations over the last couple of days:
    GOP leaders told Bush that his hardcore push to renew the more onerous provisions of the [Patriot Act] could further alienate conservatives still mad at the President from his botched attempt to nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. “I don’t give a goddamn,” Bush retorted. “I’m the President and the Commander-in-Chief. Do it my way.” “Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in this law undermine the Constitution.” “Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”
    So, now that we've learned that the Pentagon has been engaged in domestic spying and that the NSA has conducted extrajudicial surveillance of Americans inside America's borders, and that the President may have broken the law to accomplish all this, it has become clear to me just what kind of paper Bush thinks the Constitution is: from Getty Images' royalty-free collection [Capitol Hill Blue piece found via Mitch Ratcliffe]

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    Wednesday, December 14, 2005

    [politics] Ford does the right thing

    At the very least, the initial response is very encouraging:
    You asked us specifically to reaffirm our principles of nondiscrimination and inclusiveness. We agreed, without any reservations, and issued a statement immediately after the meeting in which Bill Ford did so personally. We pointed out that Ford Motor Company and its brands value diversity among all of our constituents and pride ourselves on strong and clear values - respect for our customers, communities, employees, suppliers and dealers; acceptance of our differences; inclusion of different people with different perspectives; and integrity. That commitment is unchanged and we believe it is reflected in our policies, practices and marketing. You asked us to comment on reports that we had placed creative restrictions on the way our brands could speak to gay and lesbian audiences. We expect our brands to create advertising that supports their brand image and is appropriate and effective in connecting with the intended audience. That is unchanged. But we do not have to deal with this topic in the abstract. The best answer to your question will be in the ads themselves. I would ask you to judge our intent by what you see. You asked directly whether Ford Motor Company will continue to support nonprofit groups and events in the GLBT community. While we will still support certain events, I know you understand that the business situation will limit the extent of our support in all communities in 2006. We will continue all of our workplace policies and practices in support of Ford GLOBE members and supporters. That is unchanged.
    An Adobe PDF version of the full letter may be found here. Oh, and Wildmon? I've just got one thing to say to you and your hate-mongers at the oh-so-poorly-named American Family Association: The Man in Black says it all...

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    Friday, December 09, 2005

    [geek] Robert Sheckley, RIP

    Robert Sheckley, one of the grand masters of science fiction, died this morning following a long battle with illness. [via tnh @ Making Light]

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    Tuesday, December 06, 2005

    [politics] Oh, silly me!

    I'm just easily confused!
    “The Bush administration policy is against torture of any kind; it’s prohibited by federal criminal law,” said John Yoo, a University of California-Berkeley, law professor. As a Justice Department lawyer, he helped write internal memos in 2002 designed to give the government more leeway in aggressive questioning of terrorist suspects. “The debate is whether you can use interrogation methods that are short of torture,” he said. “Some who have been critical of the Bush administration have confused torture with cruel, inhumane treatment.”
    Gosh! Who knew that institutionalized crule and inhumane treatment didn't constitute torture? Not me! Evidently, this makes me 'confused'. Yoo's gem is from the same article mentioned in my previous post.

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    [politics] Then again...

    Perhaps I was being too optimistic with my last post... Approx. 60% of Americans think torture is okay, at least under some circumstances. (And remind me to never piss off the South Koreans: 90%!!! Yoiks!)

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    [random][geek] A positive sign

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    Friday, December 02, 2005

    [politics] Hey, Rocky!

    B: Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!
    R: Aw, that trick never works!
    I feel like I'm watching Rocky & Bullwinkle, only not as well drawn and with much worse writing:
    ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The operational commander of al-Qaida, possibly the No. 3 official in the terrorist organization, was killed early Thursday by a CIA missile attack on a safehouse in Pakistan, officials have told NBC News.
    Again!?

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    Thursday, December 01, 2005

    [politics] Action Makes a Difference

    25+ years and counting... Get involved:
  • Globally
  • Nationally
  • Locally
  • Support World AIDS Day

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