Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fun With Recaptioning

Original here.

The Nobel for Whiny Egotism Goes To...

Silvio Berlusconi! Come on down!
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has described himself as the most persecuted person "in the entire history of the world".

Mr Berlusconi also said he was "the best prime minister we can find today".

In an impassioned statement, he then mistakenly told reporters he had spent millions of euros on "judges", before correcting himself to say "lawyers".
I haven't followed Italian politics as closely as I might have, and I thought his problems mostly involved paid "escorts," models, starlets and maybe sexual harassment. My own personal bias is against involving sex in politics- both are dangerously irrational to begin with, and combining them seems likely to lead to a critical mass of stupid behavior. But apparently, there have been some pretty serious allegations of corruption and bribery, and apparently Italy has had a policy of immunity for its Prime minister (which seems to be an open invitation to corruption). However,
Italy's top court lifted a law granting him immunity while in office.
Ruh Roe. I need to start following Italian news more carefully. It sounds even weirder than US news.
Mr Berlusconi said he was a "dam against the Left in Italy."
Ahh. Maybe not. Maybe it's just the same old, same old. Although I'll bet "the Left" in Italy is actually left, not just right lite.

Nobel Dissonance

Part of the reason I have found this story so engaging is that to a large degree, the responses of various commentators has been unpredictable. Well sure, there's Rush...
But barring any late entries, Rush Limbaugh's Quote of the Day will be tough to forget. "I think that everybody is laughing. Our president is a world-wide joke," the radio host said. "Folks, do you realize something has happened here that we all agree with the Taliban and Iran about and that is he doesn't deserve the award. Now that's hilarious, that I'm on the same side of something with the Taliban, and that we all are on the same side as the Taliban." quoted in Washington Monthly. Golly, I seem to remember a time not all that long ago when being on the same side as the Taliban and Iran was supposed to be a bad thing. Speaking of "Golly," Dr. Zaius provided some video of Rush reacting to the news:

It turns out, oddly enough, that the clearest explanation comes from the Nobel Prize Committee itself.
Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
And EB Misfit points out that the prize has, in the past, been given to strengthen a position of moral authority, rather than great accomplishments.
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for winning an election to be prime minister of Burma and then being denied the office. The Nobel Peace Prize is often awarded to give people moral authority, not for a long record.
Even given all that, I share the discomfort of many, in that it just seems too much too soon. Der Spiegel had a very good commentary piece yesterday. I would suggest that if you're fed up with this story this opinion piece is still worth the time:
Awarding him the Nobel Prize now is like giving a medal to a marathon runner who has just managed the first few kilometers. The situation in Iraq is still fragile; in Afghanistan, it has even got worse. Despite the massive efforts by the US administration, there seems little immediate prospect of reaching a compromise between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. The Iranian regime is still playing its nuclear games with the West at the diplomatic level, while at home one dissident after another is put on the scaffold. A nuclear-armed Pakistan looks close to collapse, while in North Korea, Dr. Strangelove is stroking his bomb.

The most surprise at Oslo's decision will be felt in the US itself.
The general theme of the above article is that the prize will be more of a burden than an honor or mark of authority. Yet I was still pleasantly surprised that some I might have expected to go all wing-nut were in fact quite gracious. For example, Elizabeth Hovde, one of OregonLive's in-house conservative commentators had this to say:
The committee clearly has -- both now and in the past -- taken a broad interpretation of Nobel's vision for the prize. Instead of going to recipients for their peace mediation efforts, the prize has been given to people for other worthy deeds, such as fighting poverty or bringing progress to environmental issues.
At the same time, Obama's detractors can take comfort in the fact that Americans are really the winners in Obama's receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Without a doubt, people around the world are, by and large, happier with America and more hopeful about its relationships with their own countries as a result of last year's presidential election. He has had a positive impact and that is good for Americans.

And Obama opponents should give the president a break. After all, he didn't force this prize upon himself. And even if people disagree with the committee's wisdom in sending the Nobel Peace Prize his way, most would have to agree that he reacted to the surprising news in a way worthy of admiration and respect.
And many more-or-less liberal writers seem more strongly convinced than I that this prize is undeserved for the time being:
President Obama's only real diplomatic accomplishment so far has been to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy from unilateral bullying to multilateral listening and cooperating. That's important, to be sure, but not nearly enough. The Prize is really more of a Booby Prize for Obama's predecessor. Had the world not suffered eight years of George W. Bush, Obama would not be receiving the Prize. He's prizeworthy and praiseworthy only by comparison.
The BBC seems to be saying that, in fact, simply being "not Bush" is strong enough qualification for the award.
As so often, the mystery clears up if you bother to read the text, in this case the citation. The committee praises him for intentions that were key to his whole campaign. It singles out working through the United Nations, for putting the emphasis on negotiations, international diplomacy and co-operation, for creating a new climate in international politics. In other words, because he's not President George W Bush and has steered American foreign policy, or at least its strategy if not its aims, in an opposite direction.
I did find it interesting that in an online poll at The Guardian, the numbers were not supportive of Obama's win. Fair disclosure: I voted "no" to see the results, but was pretty conflicted about it.
By the time I got to some of the NYT articles, they didn't add much to my understanding or thinking about the issue, but I do think they raise a fair point here:
Several prominent Nobel observers in Oslo said the Nobel committee had put the integrity of the award at stake. But Mr. Jagland seemed to savor the risk. He said no one could deny that “the international climate” had suddenly improved, and that Mr. Obama was the main reason.
But of course, the meaningfulness of the Peace Prize has been questioned many times, even in my memory (think Henry Kissinger). And the right certainly condemned Jimmy Carter's win seven years ago.

One of the most interesting takes was from an astronomy and physics blog, Cosmic Variance, arguing that Obama deserved the prize for his commitment to rationality and science.
From the scientific perspective, Obama has had tremendous impact (the Peace Prize singles out his “constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting”). His appointees are first-rate, and there is a feeling that we are finally starting to move in the right direction. It is hard, of course, to point to tangible scientific results that have arisen because of Obama. There simply hasn’t been time enough. But this does not negate his impact; the momentum is apparent and encouraging. It is a similar story in international diplomacy. Obama also benefits from eight preceding years of Bush. Within the scientific community, the Bush administration represented a dark age. Any subsequent reasonable policy would seem to be enlightened. Thus to have a truly exceptional policy, informed by actual science and scientists (instead of cynical political aims), has a profound effect on the state of affairs. It is a similar story in international diplomacy.
In this context, giving the Peace Prize to Obama is an inspired choice. They are hoping to give him more stature and leverage to help him achieve his goals; they want to help make the world a better place. It affirms the importance of American leadership on the world stage, and endorses our President’s vision of a world at peace. All Americans, regardless of political affiliation, should celebrate this.
And the State Department's take was pretty inspired:
"Certainly from our standpoint, this gives us a sense of momentum — when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes."

That's the take of Hillary Clinton's State Department on President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, according to her spokesman, Assistant Secretary PJ Crowley.
So in the end, I still don't really have a strong stance. I feel it's early, and that there's plenty of time for him to show the world what he's got. Though it dawned on me yesterday that the Noble is never given posthumously, and seeing the rabid right, the committee members may in fact be worried. Grim, yes, but realistic. On the other hand, what is being held up for attention is an entirely different approach to wielding American power: negotiation and discussion, cooperation and multi-lateralism rather than bluster and threats, ultimatums and exceptionalism. And while it may simply amount to being "not Bush," it's a relief to me, and apparently much of the world. Further, as pointed out by Brian in a comment to the Nobel post yesterday, this could be seen as a peace prize for the American Voter who chose not to elect "not 'not Bush'" in the form of McCain and Palin. If that's the case, let me offer my sincere congratulations to Obama, and with grace and humility, accept my tiny nubbin of credit.

Of Sparrows and Curtain Rods

Here's a comment that I shunted off onto the back burner a few days ago, hoping to find a larger context to place it in. However, after consideration, I think the statement actually does an excellent job of describing the political context in which our country finds itself:
“The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of whom will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.”
Attributed to commenter Davis X. Machina, in a post at Balloon Juice. This post is one in a growing number contributing to a wonderfully funny, snarky, and often thought-provoking political lexicon. Here's the whole list.


Visage: Fade to Gray

Gary Numan and Tubeway Army: Are Friends Electric

The Police: Spirits in the Material World

Followup 2:00 PM: This is playing here at my favorite coffee shop; it's a nostalgic blast from the past, and entirely out of sync with the sorts of music choices most often made here... I have to post this:

Yay! We're Doomed!

McCain-Palin in 2012!
Lukovich, via Balloon Juice.

Friday, October 9, 2009


This has turned out to be a very interesting story. Lots of unexpected takes, ranging from polite conservative congratulations to left wing fury: how dare they trivialize the Nobel Peace Prize by bestowing it on Obama. I understand better now why the committee chose to award the prize to Obama, but I still think it's premature. I'm not upset by it, or offended by it, it's just not clearly justifiable in my mind. The word I've used in discussions several times today is "odd." Hopefully, I'll get up a more thorough discussion tomorrow, but in the meantime...

The Obamas Meet the Osbournes

Well, actually, it's the Spanish First Family. No particular reason for this, but it came to my attention that many of my friends here at the coffee shop haven't seen this picture. It was released a couple of weeks ago to lots of posting at the pop-culture sites like BuzzFeed and BoingBoing. I first saw it at BuzzFeed, I think, but I'm not going to track the post down.

Speaking of Obama, most of the people I've talked to this morning are a little bemused that he won the Nobel Peace Prize. I haven't read any reports or commentary on the issue yet, but I'm hearing from those who listen to NPR that outside the US, this award has strong support. Again, without knowing the particulars, I'm not sure he's actually done anything yet to deserve it. It looks to me like "the soft bigotry of low expectations." As if he's getting the prize simply for not being an ignorant, disinterested, egotistical warmonger.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Walmart Bingo

From Darius Whiteplume's tumblr. If you find this amusing, you may also enjoy People of Walmart. I don't follow the latter site; I find it depressing more often than amusing. On the other hand, I have seen some very funny pictures that others have reposted from that site. For example...

What Is Important

More climate denialism from the right. Upon hearing that PG&E, Exelon and Apple have broken with the US Chamber of Commerce over Global climate change policy, Thomas Donahue announced:
"We are not changing where we are," he said. "We've thought long and hard about what is important here and we are not going anywhere."
Well, Mr. Donahue, I hate to break it to you, but you are going somewhere: the future. What that future looks like is in large part up to the decisions that you and billions of others make in the next few years. What is important to you is apparently an unrestrained ability to make absurd amounts of money. What is important to me and most others is to ensure the planet is still habitable by humans. But far be it from me to criticize your infatuation with little green pieces of paper.

Tide Pool Mass Grave

Dungeness crabs washed ashore at Cape Perpetua as the ocean off Oregon experienced "dead zone" conditions in the summer of 2004. Researchers said today such dead zones will likely occur every summer.
According to an article in OregonLive,
The Pacific Ocean off Oregon experienced low-oxygen conditions for the eighth consecutive summer, Oregon State University researchers said today, an indication that the "hypoxic" conditions that kill crabs and other creatures on the ocean floor are here to stay.
This phenomenon does seem to have become a staple of late summer and early fall Oregon science news. I've always found it a little hard to believe. Our coastal waters are so cold (which means their ability to dissolve and carry gases like oxygen should be high compared to warmer water), and so rough (which means they have plenty of opportunity to contact and dissolve oxygen), that it seems oxygen depletion should be the least of our worries. I'm guessing that eutrophication at deeper levels simply overwhelms the ability of oxygen-rich surface water to mix in. Upwelling of nutrient-rich deep water is characteristic of the PNW coast, and is not a new phenomenon; the annual dead zones appear to be new. I can't help but wonder, though, if it's mostly a matter of scale and severity- a matter of degree- rather than an actually "new" phenomenon.

The picture of the tidepool full of dead crabs is riveting, an image that brings the message home more powerfully than all the articles I've read about this issue.

Poor Birdies

Well-fed bird feeder
moar funny pictures. Recaption of this one.

Congress Should Lose Its Health Care

...Progressive Magazine wrote: “At present the United States has the unenviable distinction of being the only great industrial nation without universal health insurance."
According to Nicholas Kristof in his column today, those words were written in January of 1917.
There was a lag of 19 years after the Nixon plan before another serious try, and a 16-year lag after the Clinton effort of 1993. Another 16-year delay would be accompanied by more than 700,000 unnecessary deaths. That’s more Americans than died in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq combined.
Yeah, but here's the thing: wars are cool. Maybe if people exploded when they died, we'd be more worried about health care. But the bottom line is "If there's no 'splodey things, we don't care."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Punk Night at The Interzone

Friday, October 9, 7:30 PM. $3.00 suggested donation. Featuring:
  • Tourist
  • The Taxpayers (from Portland)
  • The Wobblies
  • Angries
  • Bad Terms
I don't deal well with loud music, nor especially with crowds, so I will most likely not stick around. But from what I hear, this should be a fun show.

Unwise Mining Practices and Their Consequences

Don't build large open-pit mines on the shoreline. Water tends to push downhill, and it's not good to be downhill from the ocean, unless you're many miles inland.

I just found out that Dave's Landslide Blog posted this video clip nearly a year and a half ago, but I hadn't seen it before today, via TYWKIWDBI.

There is also a Wikipedia entry for this event with a little more information, and a link to the Google Earth Map of the area.

A Pick-Up Line for All You Lonely Guys

I'm certainly not going to use it, so I may as well pass it on.

"So did you hear that scientists have discovered that a chemical in human sperm may slow the aging process by 25%? I can give you some, if you'd like..."

And in case you're wondering, yes I did think twice about posting this. In the end, my pleasure with blatant bad taste overrode my disdain for sexual politics.

Happy Barcode

This is the Google Doodle today. The Barcode was patented on October 7, 1952, according to sources that claim to know. Hunh. Who'da thunk?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Aftermath in Sumatra

The Big Picture has a set of 40 photos from the aftermath of last week's earthquake in Sumatra. Warning: several pictures are disturbing photos of dead victims. The above is a landslide (or set of landslides) triggered by the quake.

Paleozoic Amber

Chemical paleontology didn't really exist when I was an undergrad, or if it did, it was in its early stges of development and didn't get much attention. Various kinds of chromatography can separate organic molecules left over from dead organisms and preserved in rocks, to give us clues about how those organisms related to each other and to things alive today. Some organic molecules don't last very long, but some are extremely persistent. The New York Times is reporting that amber that appears to have a composition characteristic of flowering plants has been discovered in a coal seam. Said coal seam was deposited 200 million years before flowering plants are thought to have appeared. Abstact from Science here, but the terminology would have meant little to me without reading the news article first.

All Dinosaurs Go to Heaven

So dogs go to heaven, rocks go to heaven, is this really a surprise?Tee from Threadless!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Something Just Dawned on Me

Yeah, he pisses me off regularly, but this is now an established fact, for three weeks and counting.

There IS Such a Thing as Too Cute

This doesn't quite get there, but it's close.

I've never heard of Lulu and the Lampshades before, but I love well-done acapella music. This works for me.

Sunday Funnies

evil lolcat at the un
see more Political Pictures
I sense a potential meme here. Skull Swap
(Some assembly required) LOLTheist
I would have never suspected... Criggo
Automated ads can be very funny. Or very creepy. Or both. Probably Bad News
Criggo Real Estate is bouncing back, and the rental market is improving too!Awwww... Urp! Skull Swap
Pundit Kitchen
The Onion
And meanwhile, the poodle was getting a blue perm... Don't Judge My Hair
Skull Swap
Waitaminit... which one's Paul? Probably Bad News
Problem Solved. Skull Swap
I've always been suspicious of the people who drive around in big boxy trucks. Criggo
Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures
see more Political Pictures, Via Library Grape.
mahmoud ahmedinejad
see more Political Pictures. This is what happens when a nice young Jewish Boy decides to grow up to be a holocaust denier.
Norah O'Donnel doesn't trust TV news any more, either. Skull Swap.
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures
Luke Surl
Misery Loves Sherman
My First Dictionary
Next time call the... Oh. Those are the professionals? That Will Buff Out
Groan alert. Skull Swap
The ammonites didn't go extinct! See, that one's eating a young lady's head. Don't Judge My Hair
Halloween is coming up... I expect there will be lots of pictures like this in the weeks ahead. But few as disconcerting. Picture is Unrelated.
Skull Swap. This is just how mammoths look in science museums.
Skull Swap
Yes I am. OregonLive
Nicely photographed, too. I Can Haz Cheezburger
Skull Swap. I want this as a sticker on my computer.
Swisswich A La Mode: Nestle tollhouse cookie ice cream sandwhiches stuffed with Swiss Rolls and Nutella, smothered in hot fudge. Quite frankly, this would probably kill me... but that doesn't stop me from drooling. I could make it healthy by putting some banana slices in there too, right? This is Why You're Fat
With Bill Clinton, no less. What a trip! Criggo
Skull Swap
Saturday Bulletin