Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The War on Gore is Still Going Strong...

In case you forgot, just because Al Gore won an Oscar for his film about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth", does not mean that he is cool now. On the contrary, he's the biggest asshole who ever walked the face of the earth. Well, that's the view of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research as detailed in the following Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Al Gore, a leading voice in the fight against global warming, is being called a hypocrite by a conservative group that claims his Nashville mansion uses too much electricity. But a spokeswoman for Gore said the former vice president invests in enough renewable energy to make up for the home's power consumption.

Gore's documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar on Sunday for chronicling his campaign against global warming. The next day, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research put out a news release saying Gore was not doing enough to reduce his own consumption of electricity.

"We wanted to see if he was living by his own recommendations and walking the walk," said Drew Johnson, president of the think tank that pushes for conservative economic issues.

Okay. Fair enough. Gore HAS put himself out there, so let's see what is what.

Utility records show the Gore family paid an average monthly electric bill of about $1,200 last year for its 10,000-square foot home. The Gores used about 191,000 kilowatt-hours in 2006, according to bills reviewed by The Associated Press spanning the period from Feb. 3, 2006, to Jan. 5. That is far more than the typical Nashville household, which uses about 15,600 kilowatt-hours per year.

Damn! That sure as hell is a lot of energy consumption! I hope Mr. Gore has an explanation.

A spokeswoman for Gore said he purchases enough "green power" — renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and methane gas — to balance 100 percent of his electricity costs. "Sometimes when people don't like the message, in this case that global warming is real, it's convenient to attack the messenger," Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider said.

Gore participates in a utility program that sells blocks of "green power" for an extra $4 a month. Gore purchases 108 such blocks every month, covering 16,200 kilowatt-hours and helping subsidize renewable energy sources. Johnson said it's unclear whether global warming is caused by humans, and he said the threat outlined in Gore's documentary is exaggerated.

Okay, it seems as if Mr. Gore DOES have an explanation, and it appears to be a satisfactory one at that. Unfortunately, there is more...

The think tank said Gore used nearly 221,000 kilowatt hours last year and that his average monthly electric bill was $1,359. Johnson said his group got its figures from Nashville Electric Service. But electric company spokeswoman Laurie Parker said the utility never got a request from the policy center and never provided them with any information.

Hmmm. If the utility never got a request from the policy center, and thus never provided them any information, then that would make Drew Johnson a lying sack of dung, wouldn't it?

Parker said Gore has been purchasing the "green power" for $432 a month since November. Gore has said he leads a "carbon-neutral lifestyle." To balance out other carbon emissions, the Gores invest money in projects to reduce energy consumption around the globe, Kreider said. "For every ton of carbon they emit, he offsets that by doing investments in renewable energy sources," Kreider said.

Johnson said those efforts were unconvincing. "In general, I applaud his efforts to reduce energy consumption, but if he is going to be a spokesman for global warming, he has to be willing to make the same sacrifices," Johnson said.
Johnson said Gore's home has gas lamps lining his driveway, a heated pool and an electric gate — all of which would be easy to do without.

The Lying Sack of Dung, I mean, Mr. Johnson is one of those people who would never be convinced by Gore's efforts, even those efforts descended to Gore living in a lean-to in the woods and cooking his food by lighting his own farts over it. I wonder of it is okay with Johnson if Gore lives indoors with luxuries like floors? The bottom line is that Johnson is an asshole with an agenda, and it appears part of that agenda is lying to make what passes for his point.

This kind of nonsense haunted Gore throughout campaign 2000, and it played a HUGE part in getting President Deep Denial "elected". It will be interesting to see how the "Liberal Media" behaves with this story. I'd bet that the major networks will run stories that parallel the title of this article: "Group: Gore a hypocrite over power bill". But I predict that they will conveniently forget to point out either Johnson's lies about his information, or the fact that Gore's energy consumption is nowhere near as dirty as Johnson's group claims it is, all the while pretending that Al Gore is a crazy bastard who wants to make us all live in caves. Christ, it's as if we were back in 1999...

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Baseball's Hall of Fame Veterans Committee Elects...NOBODY!!!

The recently revamped Baseball Hall of Fame Veterans Committee has, once again, elected nobody to baseball's highest honor, enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NEW YORK - The Hall of Fame pitched another shutout. Ron Santo, Jim Kaat, Marvin Miller and all the other candidates were left out Tuesday when the Veterans Committee admitted no new members for the third straight election. The blank slate could lead to changes before the next vote in 2009.

"We're being blamed because something hasn't happened," Hall member and vice chairman Joe Morgan said. "If you're asking me, 'Do we lower our standards to get more people in?' my answer would be no."

I'll address this pompously idiotic statement at length later in the post...

Santo came the closest to the required 75 percent. A nine-time All-Star, the former Cubs third baseman was picked on 57 of 82 ballots (70 percent).

Kaat, a 283-game winner and strongly backed by Hall member Mike Schmidt, drew 52 votes. Gil Hodges, who hit 370 home runs, got 50 votes and three-time AL batting champion Tony Oliva had 47. Players needed 62 for election. Umpire Doug Harvey received 52 of the necessary 81 votes on the ballot for managers, umpires and executives. Miller, the union head who led players to free-agent riches, showed a strong increase in getting 51.

I'm not totally sold on Kaat. He was a good pitcher in a pitching-dominated era. Still, we wouldn't be lowering Joe's standards any by his induction. Hodges should be in. So should Oliva. He is hurt by a short career by Hall standards, but he led the AL in batting three times, in doubles four times, base hits five times, slugging percentage, runs scored, total bases and extra base hits once each. He most of that in the pitching dominated 1960's. I'm not sure about Harvey, but his reputation is legendary. Miller should definitely be in, and every player should be screaming for his inclusion.

The vets committee was revamped after charges of cronyism when it elected Bill Mazeroski in 2001. That marked the eighth straight year the 15-member panel sent someone to Cooperstown. After that, the panel was expanded to include all living Hall of Famers. The new committee votes every other year for players and every four years for the others.

"We are disappointed that no one has been elected in the three voting cycles," Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark said. "We will be evaluating this process and its trends at our next meeting, which is March 13, and discussing whether there should be any changes."

"The board may decide that the trends are not what we thought they were going to be. Perhaps this hasn't worked as well as some of the board members thought it would and maybe it needs a little bit of change," she said.

Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were elected to the Hall by the Baseball Writers' Association of America in January. They will stand alone at the induction ceremonies July 29 in Cooperstown.

The 84 eligible voters on the vets committee included 61 Hall members, 14 broadcasters, eight writers and one holdover from the previous panel. Morgan said he voted for the maximum 10 players.

"I feel there are some guys out there that belong in the Hall of Fame," he said. "The writers voted on these people for 15 years and they weren't elected. Why are we being criticized because we haven't elected someone?" Maury Wills, Joe Torre, Roger Maris, Luis Tiant and Bobby Bonds were among the 27 candidates on the players ballot.

"Noboby got in? That's too bad. I'm sorry to hear that," Torre said. "I'm not exactly sure what process they use. Don't forget, you've got the old guard and the young guard. People with different interests."

Torre drew 32 percent of the votes based on his playing career. The New York Yankees
manager — and former NL MVP — is expected to be elected when his time in the dugout is considered.

"Joe Torre, when he retires and he has 8,000 wins or whatever, I think that people would vote for him," Morgan said. Dick Williams, Whitey Herzog, Walter O'Malley and Charlie O. Finley also were among the 15 names on the composite ballot. Morgan said it was hard to pick from those candidates.

What Joe means is that, if he is still on this committee when Torre retires, is that HE will vote for him, and probably put the arm on his colleagues to do likewise. He has two loyalties: His former Reds teammates, and the Yankees.

Marvin Miller received 63 percent, moving up from 44 percent in the previous election. "Personally, I would love to see him get in," Torre said at the Yankees' spring camp in Tampa, Fla. "He's made such an impact on this modern player and the game itself."

Union head Donald Fehr said it was "profoundly disappointing" that Miller did not get enough support. "Given the increased number of votes for Marvin this time, there is certainly reason to believe that the votes will be there in the future," he said. Two years ago, Santo and Hodges each came within eight votes of election in drawing 65 percent.

Santo was a five-time Gold Glove winner and hit 342 home runs. Hall member Billy Williams was rooting hard for his old Cubs teammate. "I kind of felt sorry for him because he was so looking forward to getting the call," he said. "I really thought the credentials that he has, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."

Well said Mr. Williams. Santo DOES deserve to be in the Hall. He should have been in long ago. He was the best third baseman in the NL when he played, and, in addition to the stats mentioned above, he led the NL in bases on balls four times, on-base percentage twice and triples once. For Morgan to insinuate that his committee would have to "lower standards to get more people in" is idiotic.

There are dozens of players in the Hall who couldn't carry Santo's cleats. Players like Ray Schalk, Rick Ferrell, Travis Jackson, George Kelly, Frank Chance, Johnny Evers, Joe Tinker and Chick Hafey come quickly to mind. Santo was better than all of these guys, and the fact that he is still awaiting induction while these guys enjoy baseball immortality is terrible.

A few years ago I recall Mike Schmidt mouthing off about not electing anyone THAT time by saying something on the order of, "If they deserved to be there they'd already be in", or some such nonsense. That statement (paraphrased) demonstrates why he was unsuited for this duty.

Lou Whitaker was dropped from the ballot a few years ago because, in his first year of eligibility, he failed to get the necessary minimum 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot. What Schmidt and Morgan imply is that, left up to them, he has ZERO chance of ever being honored, despite the fact that he was the best all-around second baseman in the AL for the Tigers in the 1980s. He hit 244 homers, scored 1,386 runs, drive in 1,084 and won three Gold Gloves. Why he couldn't get 5% of the vote his first time out is a mystery--almost as troubling as the fact that his double-play partner, Alan Trammell, is not yet enshrined (he clings to life on the active ballot).

I think I'd best tip the good folks at the Fire Joe Morgan web site (see blog roll) that he is still crazy as ever.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Soon to be Aired Jesus Documentary Under Fire

Just when you thought it was safe to make a documentary about the life of Jesus, James Cameron goes and proves it ain't quite so simple. This baby is supposed to touch on what are the alleged remains of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and even a son, Judah. This ought to be fun...

Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NEW YORK - Filmmakers and researchers on Monday unveiled two ancient stone boxes they said may have once contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but several scholars derided the claims made in a new documentary as unfounded and contradictory to basic Christian beliefs.

"The Lost Tomb of Jesus," produced by Oscar-winning director James Cameron and scheduled to air March 4 on the Discovery Channel, argues that 10 small caskets discovered in 1980 in a Jerusalem suburb may have held the bones of Jesus and his family. One of the caskets even bears the title, "Judah, son of Jesus," hinting that Jesus may have had a son, according to the film.

"There's a definite sense that you have to pinch yourself," Cameron said Monday at a news conference. He told NBC'S "Today" show earlier that statisticians found "in the range of a couple of million to one" in favor of the documentary's conclusions about the caskets, or ossuaries.

Simcha Jacobovici, the Toronto filmmaker who directed the film, said that a name on one of the ossuaries — "Mariamene" — offers evidence that the tomb is that of Jesus and his family. In early Christian texts, "Mariamene" is the name of Mary Magdalene, he said. The very fact that Jesus had an ossuary would contradict the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.

Most Christians believe Jesus' body spent three days at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem's Old City. The burial site identified in Cameron's documentary is in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood nowhere near the church.

This may be a reach, but, after the crucifixion, if that really happened, it would stand to reason that Jesus's family and followers might have wanted to remove the body before the Romans put it on display as an example to other would-be insurgents. That would explain the different location of these ossuaries.

In 1996, when the British Broadcasting Corp. aired a short documentary on the same subject, archaeologists challenged the claims. Amos Kloner, the first archaeologist to examine the site, said the idea fails to hold up by archaeological standards but makes for profitable television. "They just want to get money for it," Kloner said. Shimon Gibson, one of three archaeologists who first discovered the tomb in 1980, said Monday of the film's claims: "I'm skeptical, but that's the way I am. I'm willing to accept the possibility."

Yes, Mr. Kloner, that's exactly right. All the producers want is money. That is why it is being aired on that media juggernaut, the Discovery Channel. At least Mr. Gibson seems to be more open to new possibilities.

The film's claims, however, have raised the ire of Christian leaders in the Holy Land. Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film's hypothesis holds little weight.

"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," Pfann said. "But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear." Pfann is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun." Ancient Semitic script is notoriously difficult to decipher.

Kloner also said the filmmakers' assertions are false. "The names on the caskets are the most common names found among Jews at the time," he said.

This seems like a nonsensical argument to me. If, 2,000 years from now, a future society unearthed the remains of George Washington, but some scoffed saying that "George was a very common name at that time," would that make any sense? Of course it wouldn't. Besides, the ambiguity of the ancient language itself should provide these skeptics with enough ammunition to reflexively dismiss the findings out of hand.

William Dever, an expert on near eastern archaeology and anthropology, who has worked with Israeli archeologists for five decades, said specialists have known about the ossuaries for years. "The fact that it's been ignored tells you something," said Dever, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona. "It would be amusing if it didn't mislead so many people."

This statement is more revealing than you know. The entire premise of the early Christian church was based on deception. The early councils tell us how the differing factions of the early faith had often violent disagreements about how to spread the message of Jesus. Why then, would it be any different when it came to the disposition of his remains?

Osnat Goaz, a spokeswoman for the Israeli government agency responsible for archaeology, said the Antiquities Authority agreed to send two ossuaries to New York, but they did not contain human remains. "We agreed to send the ossuaries, but it doesn't mean that we agree with" the filmmakers, she said.

I can't wait to view this. I'd like to see how closely it comes to the many volumes I've read about this subject. The Apocryphal Gospels are full of such "heresy". The bottom line is this: Like the new interest in this subject generated by books like the DaVinci Code, this documentary will be a polarizing event. people like me, who think that the standard story is a bunch of superstitious nonsense, and who wonder what the real story is, will watch this to see how comprehensive and consistent the information is. The true believers who watch will likely not have their views changed by what they see, and they should not feel threatened by anything if their faith is really as strong as they believe it is.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

ESA's Rosetta Comet Probe Passes Mars

The European Space Agency's comet probe, Rosetta, made a close flyby past Mars earlier today on its way to comet 67/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The flyby was an unplanned maneuver that appears to have worked. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

DARMSTADT, Germany - A European spacecraft executed a close flyby of Mars on Sunday, a crucial maneuver in its meandering, 10-year voyage through the solar system to make the first soft landing on a comet.

Applause broke out in the European Space Agency's mission control center as the Rosetta comet probe's radio signal was picked up after 15 minutes of silence as the craft passed behind the Red Planet. The maneuver, which used the planet's gravity to change course, sends the craft toward two similar flybys of Earth this year and in 2009.

The momentum gained from these flybys will sling the spacecraft toward its final rendezvous with the comet 67/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. The 3-mile long irregular chunk of ice, frozen gases and dust, is named for its discoverers, Soviet astronomers Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko.

The craft passed barely 150 miles from Mars. The navigation had to be precise, as a mistake could not be corrected. It was a maneuver the craft was not designed to make, taking it into Mars' shadow where its solar panels could not generate electricity to keep it alive. The original Rosetta mission would have taken it on a course where it did not fly through shadow but a launch delay forced a change to a different target comet.

I won't delve into the complexities of orbital mechanics as they pertain to flight plans such as this one. We've seen things like this happen with space shuttle launch and landing delays due to bad weather that sometimes keeps the astronauts in orbits for days longer than originally planned. Tweaking the program of this craft is a trickier thing to manage because the distances are greater, and the margin for error is smaller.

Rosetta flew from shadow into a Martian sunrise at 3:40 a.m. Sunday and regained solar power and a radio signal. Rosetta is scheduled to orbit the comet as it hurtles around the sun and release a small lander that will make the first touchdown on a comet. The lander will seek to drill into the surface and radio back an analysis of its makeup.

Because the comet's gravity is so weak, the lander will use a harpoon and spikes to anchor itself to the surface. Researchers hope the robotic explorer will be able to photograph the appearance of the comet's tail, a stream of gases and dust that arises when the icy body warms as it approaches the sun.

Comets are among the most primitive objects in the 4.6-billion-year-old solar system, and analyses of their composition could shed light on the system's early history. In 2004, NASA'
s Stardust mission flew by a comet, collected thousands of particles that streamed off its surface and returned them to Earth.

A year later, NASA's Deep Impact launched a probe the size of a coffee table that struck the comet Tempel 1 with tremendous force, excavating materials from deep within its interior. Instruments on the flyby spacecraft analyzed the resulting debris.

Rosetta's lander is designed to study comet surface for at least 65 hours, but could continue working for months.

Hats off to the crew that pulled this off. It's too bad we won't get the final results from this effort for another six years, but the potential information this probe may gather could give us more clues as to how the Solar System formed, and how comet and asteroid impacts shaped the geologic, oceanographic and atmospheric characteristics of early Earth.

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Friday, February 23, 2007


Hola Amigos and Amigettes,

I've just come from a viewing of the newly released film, the Number 23.
The film stars Jim Carrey and Virginia Madsen. Carrey offers an edgy side as Walter Sparrow, a dog catcher who gets lured into obsessing over the number 23 after his wife Agatha (Madsen) buys a novel for him for his birthday. Sparrow gets sucked into the story, which contains eerie similarities to his own life. Rather than spoil the film (especially for Mr. and Mrs. Kanniff, both of whom I've bothered about this subject), which I recommend for its suspense factor, I'll just touch on a few of the 23s that appear throughout.

Sparrow's birthday is February 3rd, or 2/3 as we write the date numerologically.
His house number is 1814. You can slice that up in the following ways: 18 + 1 + 4 = 23.
1 + 8 + 14 = 23. Also, 18 + 14 = 32, which is 23 reversed. There are all sorts of mentions to historical 23s, such as births and deaths of notable persons, 23s that happened on important dates in history, etc.
At one point, a professor friend, played by Danny Huston, reveals more of this enigma to Sparrow (such as the fact that the each parent contributes 23 chromosomes to the fertilized egg), who becomes even more obsessed.

My own experience with this number is more of a slightly more than passing curiosity.
I began to notice what I perceived as an inordinately large number of 23s around me.
I'd see them on TV, in movies, dates and whatnot. Then I read the late Robert Anton Wilson's classic book, Cosmic Trigger. He explored this topic in much more detail, which made me think there was more to it. I'd mention it, in a humorous tone, to friends, who naturally scoffed and cried "coincidence". But no sooner had the words subsided that another 23 would appear for all to see, and shake their heads in dismay.

At one point, in the first Wayne's World movie, when Wayne and Garth are in Rob Lowe's high-rise apartment building, they marvel at how high up they are and ask what floor they are on, to which Lowe replies "the 23rd". My friends then turned in their seats in the theater and asked me in a mock (?) accusatory tone "how the hell are you doing that?"

For those of you who are truly interested in doing your own research, there is the Disinformation web page devoted to the many facets of this phenomenon. Here are a few teasers to whet the appetite:

  • The '23 Enigma', as discovered by William S. Burroughs, presents itself as a good omen for some - disaster for others. Trying to convey the phenomenon to the uninitiated is as easy as describing the night sky to someone who has been blind from birth.
  • When Burroughs was in Tangiers, he knew a Captain Clark who ran a ferry over to Spain. One day, Clark told Burroughs that he had been doing the route for 23 years without an accident. That day, the ferry sank . . .that evening, while Burroughs was thinking about the incident, a radio bulletin announced the crash of Flight 23 on the New York-Miami route. The pilot was another Captain Clark!
  • Burroughs began to keep a scrapbook of 23s. When writing about Dutch Shultz, he realized that when the New York City gangster had put a contract out on 23-year-old Vincent 'Mad Dog' Coll, who met his end on 23rd St. Shultz himself died on October 23rd, 1935. As Robert Anton Wilson writes in 'Cosmic Trigger', the same night, Marty Crompier, another gangster was shot, but not fatally. "It's got to be one of them coincidences," he told police.
  • Speaking of October 23rd, Seventeenth century scholar Archbishop Usher reckoned that the earth was created on October 23rd, 4004 BC, while the Mayans believed the world will end on December 23rd, 2012 (which was mentioned in the film).
Have fun, and don't blame me if you can't get to sleep tonight...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dennis Johnson, Former Celtics Star (1954-2007)

Hola Amigos,

I'm back at the keyboard after a week in western PA that began with a twelve-hour stay at Logan Airport before being one of the few Jet Blue customers to ackshully fly on Valentine's Day in the middle of that HUGE snow/sleet/icestorm. So it is, with great sadness, that I report the passing of one of the key members of the Boston Celtics championship teams of the 1980s, Dennis Johnson. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

AUSTIN, Texas - Dennis Johnson, the star NBA guard who was part of three championships and teamed with Larry Bird on one of the great postseason plays, died Thursday after collapsing at the end of his developmental team's practice. He was 52.

Johnson, coach of the Austin Toros, was unconscious and in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived at Austin Convention Center, said Warren Hassinger, spokesman for Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services.

"He was one of the most underrated players in the history of the game, in my opinion, and one of the greatest Celtic acquisitions of all time," said former Boston teammate Danny Ainge, now the Celtics' executive director of basketball operations. "D.J. was a free spirit and a fun personality who loved to laugh and play the game. We had spoken at length just the other night about basketball and his excitement about coaching the Austin Toros."

Johnson, a five-time All-Star and one of the top defensive guards, was part of the last Boston dynasty. He spent 14 seasons in the league and retired after the 1989-90 season. He played on title teams with the Celtics in 1984 and 1986 and with the Seattle SuperSonics
in 1979, when he was the NBA finals MVP.

Johnson was a favorite teammate of Bird's, and the two were part of one of the most memorable plays in Celtics history. During the fifth game of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, Bird stole Isiah Thomas' inbounds pass under Boston's basket and fed Johnson, who drove in for the winning layup. Boston won the series in seven games but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers
in the NBA finals.

"Dennis was a great player, one of the best teammates I ever had, and a wonderful person," said Bird, now president of the Indiana Pacers
. "My thoughts and condolences are with his family at this difficult time."

Bill Laimbeer, the center on that Pistons team, remembered Johnson as a "great player on a great ballclub. He played with passion and grit," Laimbeer said. "It was fun to play games like that. You always enjoyed it. It made for not only great games, but great entertainment."

In the 1984 finals, Johnson guarded Magic Johnson effectively in the last four games. In 1985, he hit a last-second jumper against Los Angeles that won the fourth game. In 1986, he was part of a team that featured four Hall of Famers — Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton. "He was truly one of the good guys to play in the NBA, and he was a great teammate who was fun to be around," McHale said.

Johnson had a reputation for delivering in big games. "I hate to lose," he once said. "I accept it when it comes, but I still hate it. That's the way I am."

He averaged 14.1 points and 5.0 assists for his career. When he retired, he was the 11th player in NBA history to total 15,000 points and 5,000 assists. Johnson made one all-NBA first team and one second team. Six times he made the all-defensive first team, including five consecutive seasons (1979-83).

Johnson was born Sept. 18, 1954, in Compton, Calif. He played at Pepperdine and was drafted by Seattle in 1976. Johnson was traded to Phoenix in 1980 and Boston in 1983. He is survived by his wife, Donna, sons Dwayne and Daniel, and a daughter, Denise.

DJ was money, pure and simple. He read the floor like few players of his era, and that helped him click on a team that was as scary as any in NBA history. I recently watched a profile of the Celtics 1986 championship team on ESPN Classic. This was during the current team's historic losing streak, and I was struck by the difference between the way the game was played then, and the way it is played now. The Classic footage showed actual passes from leading scorers like Bird and Magic to supporting cast guys like DJ and Michael Cooper, who would just as often pass off to Kevin McHale or Kurt Rambis. These teams found ways to score that involved everyone, not just one or two guys like Jordan or Shaq, and DJ was a part of this flow that is missing from much of today's game. It is my hope that this style of play is not completely gone, and that remembering what DJ did can help bring some of that style back to the NBA.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kansas Changes Education Stance. Will Begin to Warm Up to Evolution!

In what I hope is a positive change, the Kansas state Board of Education went against last year's capitulation to the religiously insane, and voted today to reinstate realistic science guidelines in their public schools. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

TOPEKA, Kan. - The Kansas state Board of Education on Tuesday repealed science guidelines questioning evolution that had made the state an object of ridicule.

The new guidelines reflect mainstream scientific views of evolution and represent a political defeat for advocates of "intelligent design," who had helped write the standards that are being jettisoned. The intelligent design concept holds that life is so complex that it must have been created by a higher authority.

The state has had five sets of standards in eight years, with anti- and pro-evolution versions, each doomed by the seesawing fortunes of socially conservative Republicans and a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans.

The board on Tuesday removed language suggesting that key evolutionary concepts — such as a common origin for all life on Earth and change in species creating new ones — were controversial and being challenged by new research. Also approved was a new definition of science, specifically limiting it to the search for natural explanations of what is observed in the universe.

"Those standards represent mainstream scientific consensus about both what science is and what evolution is," said Jack Krebs, a math and technology teacher who helped write the new guidelines. He is also president of Kansas Citizens for Science.

The state uses its standards to develop tests that measure how well students are learning science. Although decisions about what is taught in classrooms remain with 296 local school boards, both sides in the evolution dispute say the standards will influence teachers as they try to ensure that their students test well.

John Calvert, a retired attorney who helped found the Intelligent Design Network, said under the new standards, "students will be fed an answer which may be right or wrong" about questions like the origin of life. "Who does that model put first?" he said. "The student, or those supplying the preordained 'natural explanation'?"

Is Mr. Calvert serious? If HIS model prevailed, the answer to his question would clearly be "those supplying the preordained 'creationist' explanation", which is exactly what he and his followers want. That is because under Mr. Calvert's scenario there would be no need to ask questions or to conduct experiments - all would be as God wills it.

Unfortunately, under these constraints, there would be none, or almost no progress of any kind in any human endeavor. Is that also what Mr. Calvert wants? I hope not, and the rest of us should be glad that the educators in the state of Kansas have awakened to that fact and given their children a better chance to successfully navigate their lives in this increasingly complex world. I just hope I'm not typing another screed mocking these folks next year of they happen to flip back to the side of ignorance and superstition.

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Bush to Cut Veterans Benefits AGAIN

Preznit Flight Suit Fantasy has, once again, submitted a plan to cut health care benefits for veterans. Remember that this is the guy who said "help is on the way" to crowds of military personnel while he was on the 2000 campaign trail. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to cut funding for veterans' health care two years from now — even as badly wounded troops returning from Iraq could overwhelm the system. Bush is using the cuts, critics say, to help fulfill his pledge to balance the budget by 2012.

Whoa! This fool took Clinton's surplus and, through the careless combination of irrational spending and irresponsible tax cuts for people like Bill Gates, the result was budget deficits that would have made even Ronald Reagan cringe, and NOW he's concerned about balancing the budget?

After an increase sought for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head. Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing rapidly — by more than 10 percent in many years — White House budget documents assume consecutive cutbacks in 2009 and 2010 and a freeze thereafter.

The proposed cuts are unrealistic in light of recent VA budget trends — its medical care budget has risen every year for two decades and 83 percent in the six years since Bush took office — sowing suspicion that the White House is simply making them up to make its long-term deficit figures look better.

"Either the administration is willingly proposing massive cuts in VA health care," said Rep. Chet Edwards
of Texas, chairman of the panel overseeing the VA's budget. "Or its promise of a balanced budget by 2012 is based on completely unrealistic assumptions."

Edwards said that a more realistic estimate of veterans costs is $16 billion higher than the Bush estimate for 2012. In fact, even the White House doesn't seem serious about the numbers. It says the long-term budget numbers don't represent actual administration policies. Similar cuts assumed in earlier budgets have been reversed.

All told, the VA expects to treat about 5.8 million patients next year, including 263,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. The White House budget office, however, assumes that the veterans' medical services budget — up 83 percent since Bush took office and winning a big increase in Bush's proposed 2008 budget — can absorb a 2 percent cut the following year and remain essentially frozen for three years in a row after that.

"It's implausible," Sen. Patty Murray
, D-Wash., said of the budget projections. The White House made virtually identical assumptions last year — a big increase in the first year of the budget and cuts for every year thereafter to veterans medical care. Now, the White House estimate for 2008 is more than $4 billion higher than Bush figured last year.

And the VA has been known to get short-term estimates wrong as well. Two years ago, Congress had to pass an emergency $1.5 billion infusion for veterans health programs for 2005 and added $2.7 billion to Bush's request for 2006. The VA underestimated the number of veterans, including those from Iraq and Afghanistan, who were seeking care, as well as the cost of treatment and long-term care.

The budget for hospital and medical care for veterans is funded for the current year at $35.6 billion, and would rise to $39.6 billion in 2008 under Bush's budget. That's about 9 percent. But the budget faces a cut to $38.8 billion in 2009 and would hover around that level through 2012.

The cuts come even as the number of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is expected to increase 26 percent next year. In Bush's proposal to balance the budget by 2012, he's assuming that spending on domestic agency operating budgets will increase by about 1 percent each year.

Simply put, this is shameful behavior. For all the talk about the supposed upcoming non-binding resolution that says Congress supports the troops, but not the idiotic "surge" Preznit 31% Approval Rating wants, and, at least according to Designated Liar, Tony Snow, its potential harmful effect on troop morale, does it not make sense to examine this issue in the same light? If I was in the military, I'd sure as hell be pissed off at the cavalier way this little emperor disregards those he has sent into battle (forget about whether or not you agree with why they have been sent to Iraq). It seems to me that every bad decision this administration has made, and is continuing to make, would have a much more negative effect on troop morale than anything Tony Snow claims in in this resolution.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Giuliani Shoots Self in Foot with Gun Control Comment

Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani made a statement about gun control at a Saturday news conference that is certain to get the NRA moving to block a potential GOP presidential run in 2008. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

SACRAMENTO - Rudy Giuliani addressed a potentially troublesome issue with conservative voters, saying his policies as mayor to get handguns off the street helped reduce crime in New York.

"I used gun control as mayor," he said at a news conference Saturday during a swing through California. But "I understand the Second Amendment. I understand the right to bear arms." He said what he did as mayor would have no effect on hunting.

Asked when he would make a formal announcement that he is a candidate for the Republican nomination, Giuliani said: "Well, formally announce? I don't know." He then alluded to making an announcement in multiple locations "so we get more attention" but provided no details.

Rational people will read what Giuliani said in the second paragraph of the excerpt and fully understand the distinction he is making. However, NRA supporters will likely ignore the latter part of his statement, and attempt to apply pressure on him to change his stance if he starts to poll well (if and when he finally announces that he is a candidate).

At that point, Rudy will either: One, stand by his original statement and back it up with evidence from his time as NYC mayor. Or two, he will capitulate to the Guns for Jesus crowd and apologize for his intransigence.

Giuliani has a lot of problems for conservatives, especially extreme Christian conservatives. Chief among these: He has been divorced. He is pro-choice in the abortion debate. He is, or at least has been, in favor of reducing the availability of guns to criminals. Time will tell how these things play with the current GOP base.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

MLB Announces Baseball New Storage Standards

Major League Baseball announced today, that it would adopt a uniform standard for the storage of baseballs at a constant temperature and humidity index. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NEW YORK - Baseballs will keep their cool this summer. The commissioner's office is telling teams for the first time that balls must be stored at a uniform temperature after they are delivered from the manufacturer.

The specifications that Rawlings recommends are a 70 degree temperature and 50 percent humidity," baseball senior vice president Joe Garagiola Jr. said Friday.

"We have contacted all 30 of the clubs, and they have all confirmed to us that they will all be storing their baseballs in a temperature-controlled facility. We're not going to have humidors everyplace, but every place will be temperature controlled, and so I think there will be a very high degree of uniformity."

The decision was made following debate generated by the Colorado Rockies
use of a humidor at Coors Field. The ballpark ranked first in the major leagues in scoring in its first eight seasons, starting in 1995, but dropped to second in three of the last four years behind Arlington's Ameriquest Field (2003), Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park (2005) and Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium (2006).

Colorado said in 2002 that it had installed the humidor. The Coors Field scoring average, which peaked at 15.0 runs per game in 1996, dropped to 10.7 last season, the lowest ever, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

In recent years, fluctuations in home runs and scoring have led to greater scrutiny of baseballs. Since 2000, the commissioner's office has arranged annual tests at UMass-Lowell Baseball Research Center.

Ever since 1998, when Roger Maris's single-season record of 61 home runs was topped by both Mark McGwire's 70, and Sammy Sosa's 66, there has been talk that the balls were juiced. That, combined with a second round of expansion in four years (1993 - Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins, and 1997 - Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays) saw offensive production soar. Of course, the steroid factor is also part of the mix, but what is going on here is an attempt to keep clubs from messing with the baseballs.

It makes sense, if you play for the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers or New York Mets, to keep the balls in a cool, dark place. Those three parks are dream places for pitchers, so doing this will keep the ball from traveling if a hitter gets a hold of one on the sweet spot. Conversely, it makes just as much sense for clubs like the Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers to keep the balls resilient, since these parks are hitting havens. What I don't understand is why, after all the criticism of Colorado as a joke for pitchers, that baseball would not allow the Rockies to continue to keep balls in a cooler environment. After all, as the excerpt shows, after having done this for the past few years, total run production has dropped to something approaching the high end of normal. I'd think baseball would want to continue that trend.

A few years ago, I think Rob Neyer of ESPN proposed a "Colorado Only" baseball with raised seams so that pitches like curves and sliders would actually break in the higher altitude. That proposal was never going to be accepted, but I see nothing wrong with what the Rockies have done in their attempt to normalize offensive output. What is the alternative? Make Coors Field even more spacious so that you need outfielders who are track stars to catch up to pitchers mistakes? Anyway, we'll see how this plays out, but I'd be willing to bet that run production will increase in Colorado next season, and we will be back to calling baseball in Coors Field a joke once again.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Reds Show Arroyo and Harang the Money

Former Red Sox pitcher, and key member of the 2004 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS, Bronson Arroyo was given a two-year, $25 million deal the day after the Reds gave a four-year, $36.5 million to fellow starter Aaron Harang. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

CINCINNATI - In their biggest spending splurge since they brought Ken Griffey Jr. home, the Cincinnati Reds have locked up their top two starting pitchers for the next four years. It's a sign of how priorities have changed.

Right-hander Bronson Arroyo got a two-year extension Thursday that will pay him an additional $25 million and keep him under contract through at least 2010. There's a team option for the following season.

The agreement came two days after top starter Aaron Harang avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $36.5 million, four-year deal that also includes a club option for 2011.

"I honestly didn't think they were going to even talk to me about a contract this offseason," said Arroyo, who had two years left on his current deal. "But they were serious."

"Most baseball people agree that with Bronson and Aaron Harang, the top of our rotation is as strong as any in baseball," owner Bob Castellini said. The two contracts amounted to the team's biggest spending splurge since 2000, when previous owner Carl Lindner gave Griffey a $116.5 million, nine-year deal to play for his hometown team. The downside of that deal was that it forced the team to scrimp on pitching to stay within its budget.

In the following years, the Reds also gave big contracts to two other position players: shortstop Barry Larkin (three years, $27 million) and first baseman Sean Casey (three years, $20.4 million).

"When you look at all the Braves' winning years, you look at their rotation," general manager Wayne Krivsky said. "Your starting pitching is so important to the success of your team. It's nice to have these two guys signed for the period of time we do now."

Harang, 28, became only the eighth NL pitcher since 1960 to lead the league in wins (16) and strikeouts (216). He started 35 games, pitched 234 1-3 innings and had a 3.76 earned run average. Arroyo, 29, was nearly his mirror image. He went 14-11, also started 35 games, pitched a league-high 240 2-3 innings and had a 3.29 ERA.

The Reds got Arroyo from Boston for outfielder Wily Mo Pena during spring training last year. Arroyo initially missed the big city, where he pitched in a World Series and launched his music career. "Last year in the beginning of the season, I was still watching a lot of Sox games and I was kind of still caught up in the middle emotionally about being traded," Arroyo said. "After being here a year and going through what we went through last year with having a chance to make the playoffs, I'm a Red through and through now."

The Reds finished 80-82 — their sixth straight losing season — but were in contention until the final weeks in the NL Central. Arroyo was one of 36 players acquired by Krivsky after he got the job last February. Arroyo enjoyed the city and developed a local following for his musical career. The singer/guitarist has played several concerts in the area, the first of which was sponsored by the Reds' community fund.

"I think the team here definitely has embraced that part of me a little more than Boston did," he said. "I think Boston discouraged it from the fact that they thought it was a little bit of a distraction to me."

'Scuse me? Boston embraced you just fine. You were probably the fifth most popular player behind Johnny Damon, David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling during you stay with the Sox. Not only that, but I don't recall the Sox discouraging you from playing your music at all. In fact, I recall just the opposite. In fact, you were plugged as a main attraction at Peter Gammons's annual jam, where you joined him, GM Theo Epstein, and teammates (and guitarists) Lenny DiNardo and Tim Wakefield on stage. Likewise, you used those guys, plus Kevin Youkilis and Johnny Damon on your debut album of cover songs, "Rounding the Bases". What gives?

Arroyo gets base salaries of $4,125,000 this year and $3.95 million in 2008, figures set under the old contract. The extension includes a $2.5 million signing bonus that will be paid next year. Arroyo will get salaries of $9.5 million in 2009 and $11 million in 2010. There is a club option at $11 million for 2011 with a $2 million buyout. The option can escalate to $13 million, based on innings. As part of the agreement, Arroyo dropped provisions in his existing contract that could have increased his 2008 income by $650,000.

Not a bad deal for a guy that the Sox stole from the Pirates before the 2003 season as a minor-league free agent. Arroyo is still the only man in International League history to have pitched a perfect game, which he did as a member of the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox before he was eventually called up to the big club. Sox fans will always remember the corn-rows, the funny leg kick and frisbee-like breaking pitches, and A-Rod slapping the ball from your glove in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS. Come to think of it, Arroyo was also the starter in the Sox-Yankees game in which A-Rod and Jason Varitek slugged it out after A-Rod was hit by a curve that didn't break, so Bronson was no stranger to controversy in his two-plus seasons with the Sox. Well done Bronson. Stay healthy, effective and earn that money!

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Libby Versus Russert (Liar, Liar?)

In today's episode of "Who's Lying Now?", aka, the I. Lewis Libby trial, media whore extraordinaire Tim Russert took the stand yesterday and disputed Libby's account. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

WASHINGTON - NBC newsman Tim Russert testified Wednesday he never discussed a CIA operative with vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, contradicting Libby's version to a grand jury in the CIA leak investigation.
The testimony came as prosecutors prepared to rest their perjury case against Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff.

Russert, the host of "Meet the Press," testified about a July 2003 phone call in which Libby complained about a colleague's coverage. Libby has said that, at the end of the call, Russert brought up war critic Joseph Wilson and mentioned that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

"That would be impossible," Russert testified Wednesday. "I didn't know who that person was until several days later."

That discrepancy is at the heart of Libby's perjury and obstruction trial. He is accused of lying to investigators about his conversations with reporters regarding Wilson's wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame

During Libby's 2004 grand jury testimony, he said Russert told him "all the reporters know" that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Libby now acknowledges he had learned about Plame a month earlier from Cheney but says he had forgotten about it and learned it again from Russert as if new.

Libby subsequently repeated the information about Plame to other journalists, always with the caveat that he had heard it from reporters, he has said. Prosecutors say Libby concocted the Russert conversation to shield him from prosecution for revealing information from government sources.

Speaking of other journalists, where the hell is Robert Novak? He's the one who broke the goddamned story in the first place.

Plame's identity was leaked shortly after her husband began accusing the Bush administration of doctoring prewar intelligence on Iraq
. The controversy over the faulty intelligence was a major story in mid-2003. Given that news climate, defense attorney Theodore Wells was skeptical about Russert's account.

"You have the chief of staff of the vice president of the United States on the telephone and you don't ask him one question about it?" Wells asked. He followed up moments later with, "As a newsperson who's known for being aggressive and going after the facts, you wouldn't have asked him about the biggest stories in the world that week?"
"What happened is exactly what I told you," Russert replied.

Whether or not Russert is lying, you have to hand it to Mr. Wells for not only asking that question, but for asking it in exactly the way Russert does when he pretends to be outraged at some insignificant thing he likes to inflate into an impending disaster. Bravo, Mr. Wells!

Russert originally told the FBI
that he couldn't rule out discussing Wilson with Libby but had no recollection of it, according to an FBI report Wells read in court. Russert said Wednesday he did not believe he said that.

Though President Bush was publicly stating that nobody in the White House was involved in the leak, Libby knew that he himself had spoken to several reporters about Plame. He said he did not bring that up with Bush and was uncertain whether he discussed it with Cheney.

Libby did remember one conversation with Cheney, however, in which the vice president seemed surprised when told by his aide where Libby had learned Plame's identity.

"From me?" Cheney asked, tilting his head, Libby recalled. Libby said he had forgotten that Cheney was his original source until finding his own handwritten notes on the conversation. The notes predated the Russert phone call by more than a month.

At lunch today, at my wage-slavery containment facility, I had the opportunity to engage a colleague, who, although he is a right-winger, he has recognized what a disaster his president and the stupid policies in which he has engaged us, have been a complete and utter failure. He even went so far as to suggest that some of the stories about Iran contributing to the escalating insurgency might be either exaggerated or manufactured by Preznit Mission Accomplished.

The fact that some are beginning to think in this way about this matter is important because it looks like the Preznit's hard-on is itching to start some shit in Iraq, and if we are as lazy about examining the case for invading that nation as we were during the run-up to the Iraq debacle, then we are truly morons who deserve the scorn and hatred of the rest of the world.

But back to the story at hand. I can't stand Russert. He's a smug, self-important little bastard who pretends to be a bulldog, but, in this case, he is either a lazy sack of shit, or lying his ass off. It's hard to root for anyone in this scenario. Libby is scum, and Russert is a fool. It looks like Libby is doomed. The only questions that remain are, how many people will he take down with him and how high will this carnage go? Stay tuned, because it can only get weirder.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Religious Right in Africa: Display of Turkana Boy Steeped in Controversy

Apparently the religious insanity that grips the USA far too solidly is also alive and kicking in other places around the world. Take Kenya, Africa. Apparently, the Religious Right of that nation is less than happy to be displaying the remains of Turkana Boy, which also happens to be the most complete prehistoric human skeleton ever recovered. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

NAIROBI, Kenya - Deep in the dusty, unlit corridors of Kenya's national museum, locked away in a plain-looking cabinet, is one of mankind's oldest relics: Turkana Boy, as he is known, the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found.

But his first public display later this year is at the heart of a growing storm — one pitting scientists against Kenya's powerful and popular evangelical Christian movement. The debate over evolution vs. creationism — once largely confined to the United States — has arrived in a country known as the cradle of mankind.

"I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it," says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya's 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. "These sorts of silly views are killing our faith."

No Boss. That's not what is killing your faith. What IS killing your faith is your stubborn adherence to progress, and to ideas that do not fit comfortably into your narrow world view. Besides, the faith will never completely die because there will always be stupid people for you to easily dupe with your simple minded attitudes.

He's calling on his flock to boycott the exhibition and has demanded the museum relegate the fossil collection to a back room — along with some kind of notice saying evolution is not a fact but merely one of a number of theories.
Against him is one of the planet's best-known fossil hunters, Richard Leakey, whose team unearthed the bones at Nariokotome in West Turkana, in the desolate, far northern reaches of Kenya in 1984.

Mr. Adoyo sounds like the African answer to Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.

"Whether the bishop likes it or not, Turkana Boy is a distant relation of his," Leakey, who founded the museum's prehistory department, told The Associated Press. "The bishop is descended from the apes and these fossils tell how he evolved."

Among the 160,000 fossils due to go on display is an imprint of a lizard left in sedimentary rock, dating back 200 million years, at a time when the Earth's continents were only beginning to separate.

Dinosaur fossils and a bone from an early human ancestor, dating back 7 million years, will also be on show along with the bones of short-necked giraffes and elephants whose tusks protrude from their lower jaws. They provide the clearest and unrivaled record yet of evolution and the origins of man, say scientists.

But the highlight will be the 5-foot-3 Turkana Boy, who died at age 12 and whose skeleton had been preserved in marshland before its discovery. It will form the center stage of the exhibition to be launched in July following a $10.5 million renovation of the National Museums of Kenya, financed by the European Union
. The EU says it has no concerns over the displays and that the museum was free to exhibit what it wished.

Followers of creationism believe in the literal truth of the Genesis account in the Bible that God created the world in six days. Bishop Adoyo believes the world was created 12,000 years ago, with man appearing 6,000 years later. He says each biblical day was equivalent to 1,000 Earth years.

Adoyo's evangelical coalition is the only religious group voicing concern about the exhibition. Leakey fears the ideological spat may provoke an attack on the priceless collection, one largely found during the 1920s by his paleontologist parents, Louis and Mary Leakey, who passed their fossil-hunting traditions on to him.

The museum, which attracts around 100,000 visitors a year, is taking no chances. Turkana Boy will be displayed in a private room, with limited access and behind a glass screen with 24-hour closed-circuit TV. Security guards will be at the entrance.

These are major finds that tell us some of the story about who and what we are. It is too bad that, as usual, a small, vocal minority is, once again, meddling in things it does not understand in an effort to keep that which they fear from making people actually think about these matters.

It is also a shame that, as 2007 has barely begun, we are still having this mind-numbingly idiotic debate. I sometimes feel, especially after reading articles like this one, that we have not moved one millimeter from where we were at the time of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and for that we should feel deeply ashamed. Religious insanity is keeping the world dumber, and more divided than ever before. I shudder to think that we actually believe ourselves to be the epitome of existence.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Goodbye Wisconsin "Wonder Spot"

The Lake Delton, Wisconsin "Wonder Spot", a place where the normal laws of physics go sideways in a very literal sense, is soon to be history, as the owner of the location is selling it. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

LAKE DELTON, Wis. - In a wooded ravine tucked away from the water parks, restaurants and mega-resorts that dominate this tourist town, a piece of history is quietly dying.

After more than half a century of wowing tourists (and causing probably more than a few cases of nausea), the Wonder Spot, a mysterious cabin where people can't stand up straight, water runs uphill and chairs balance on two legs, is no more.

Owner Bill Carney has sold the iconic attraction to the village of Lake Delton for $300,000. The village wants to build a road through the crevice where the Wonder Spot has stood since the 1950s. Now, the Wonder Spot, one of more than a dozen sites around the nation dubbed "gravity vortexes" and a throwback to postwar, family-oriented tourist attractions, has a date with a bulldozer.

"We're kind of wondering how the town is going to deal with the gravitational forces under the road. That might be an issue with driving and how you bank a curve," joked Doug Kirby, publisher of, which catalogs odd tourist attractions.

Kirby's site lists the Wonder Spot as one of 21 so-called "mystery spots." Lake Wales, Fla., has Spook Hill. Irish Hills, Mich., has the Mystery Hill. California has the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz.

The story behind each one is similar — gravity doesn't work in them. People seem to grow smaller, can't stand up straight and can barely walk. Promotions boast that strange forces in the spots trump the laws of physics. Others say they're just elaborate hoaxes.

"It seems like to spend a lot of scientific effort to debunk these places you're just sucking the fun out of a tourist attraction a lot of people enjoy," Kirby said.

The Wonder Spot lies just off U.S. Highway 12, the main drag between Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells in south-central Wisconsin. Together, the two cities constitute Wisconsin's answer to Las Vegas. The corridor between them is packed with water parks, giant resorts, museums, hotels and restaurants. The area convention bureau boasts the region is the water park capital of the world.

Louis Dauterman of Fond Du Lac took out the first permit for the spot in 1952, making it the longest-permitted attraction in the area, said Romy Snyder, executive director of the Wisconsin Dells Visitors and Convention Bureau. The spot itself is a plain, worn gift shop at the top of a ravine and a crooked cabin built into the slope.

According to a sign proudly placed at the base of the ravine, the Wonder Spot was discovered June 16, 1948. People who enter the spot, the sign warns, won't see correctly, stand erect "or feel quite normal ... in fact, on the cabin site the laws of natural gravity seem to be repealed."

Kirby called the Wonder Spot one of the top five most-visited mystery spots. Generations of people have stopped to see it. Children who visited would return grown up, their own children in tow, Carney said. During the mid-1990s, he saw up to 50,000 people per summer.

Snyder, who grew up in the Dells, visited the Wonder Spot when she was a girl. "We thought it was very cool. We always tried to figure out how they did that and never could. We did it all. We sat on a chair and it was only suspended by its back two legs, the ball rolling uphill, hanging from a doorway and your body slanted," Snyder said.

Carney, who bought the Wonder Spot from his sister in 1988, said he loved watching people's reactions. "I don't know how many times I heard, 'Do you sell Dramamine?'" he said.

When people asked what caused the Wonder Spot, Carney's guides blamed it on igneous rock or simply replied they didn't know. He's seen people at the spot studying it with instruments who declared a force was at work. When pressed, though, Carney said it's all an optical illusion. "We said don't try to figure it out," Carney said. "Just have fun."

The fascinating thing about places like this is that they defy explanation. Armies of scientists descend upon such places to run all kinds of tests that only seem to confuse matters more than they were before they began their experiments. I think it sucks that this is happening. Places like this should remain open for the curious among us to explore.

I wish I could remember who came up with this theory (it might have been David Hatcher Childress, author of many exotic engineering books for Adventures Unlimited Press), but I recall reading that the Great Pyramid of Egypt might have been built by harnessing some of the strange properties of a spot similar to the Lake Delton Wonder Spot. The riff went like this: The ancients somehow figured out a way to manipulate the fluctuating gravity of these areas to use in lifting and placing the huge limestone blocks that make up the Great Pyramid.

Of course, the next question then becomes this: How did a bunch of Bronze Age people figure out how to perform such a task, assuming that it could have been done? Did they have some kind of innate knowledge we modern folks now lack? Were the Atlanteans, or an even more remote race of supermen responsible? Aliens? I have no idea, but those people managed an engineering feat that we would be hard pressed to imitate today. It seems to me that we should be preserving this and other Wonder Spots, if for no other reason that they prove Arthur C. Clarke's adage that "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine!"

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007)

Sometimes you get a bit lazy surfing the web, and today I've discovered that such laziness can result in grim consequences. I visited one of my favorite sites, the Robert Anton Wilson web site for the first time in a while to play a little catch-up, only to have discovered that Mr. Wilson had passed away on January 11th. The following is the Yahoo News Canadian Press excerpt of his obituary:

CAPITOLA, Calif. (AP) - Robert Anton Wilson, co-author of the cult classic "The Illuminatus! Trilogy," a science-fiction series about a secret global society, has died. He was 74.

Wilson died peacefully of natural causes at his home Thursday in Capitola in Santa Cruz County, his daughter Christina Pearson said Saturday. Post-polio syndrome had severely weakened Wilson's legs, leading to a fall seven months ago that left him bedridden until his death, Pearson said.

Wilson wrote 35 books on subjects such as extrasensory perception, mental telepathy, metaphysics, paranormal experiences, conspiracy theory, sex, drugs and what he called quantum psychology. He wrote the "Illuminatus" trilogy with his friend Robert Shea in the late 1960s, when they were both editors at Playboy.

The books "The Eye in the Pyramid," "The Golden Apple" and "Leviathan" were all published in 1975. They never hit the best-seller lists but have never gone out of print. Shea died in 1994.

Perhaps his most famous is "Cosmic Trigger" (Pocket Books, 1977), a bizarre autobiography in which, among many other tales, he describes episodes when he believed he had communicated with extraterrestrials while admitting he was experimenting with peyote and mescaline.

Wilson contended people should never rule out any possibility, including that lasagna might fly. On Jan. 6, in his last post on his personal blog, he wrote: "I don't see how to take death seriously. I look forward without dogmatic optimism but without dread."

"I love you all and I deeply implore you to keep the lasagna flying."

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., 1932, Wilson attended Brooklyn Polytechnical College and New York University. He worked as an engineering aide, a salesman and a copywriter and was an associate editor at Playboy from 1965 to 1971.

Wilson was a terrific writer. His books were full of humor and offbeat insight. My first encounter with his work was when I purchased a copy of Prometheus Rising. I was immediately hooked and began to scour the offbeat book stores for as many of his books as I could find.

I met the man in the summer of 1996 at a convention in upstate New York. His keynote lecture was entitled "How To Tell Your Friends From The Apes". Mr. Wilson seemed more subdued than I had expected him to have been, but he was a close friend of Dr. Timothy Leary, who had passed away just before the convention, so I put that down to his still being in mourning for his friend. But that didn't stop me from being insolent enough to present him with a short story I'd penned about time travel and the Roswell Alien conspiracy. He was kind in his praise of my style, while at the same time having taken the time to point out some logical inconsistencies that had gotten by me.

For my money, his best works were the aforementioned Prometheus Rising, Cosmic Trigger and the Historical Illuminatus Chronicles (The Earth Will Shake, The Widow's Son and Nature's God). Wilson embraced the obscure and the offbeat, and seemed to tackle his subject matter with a healthy dose of agnosticism. I will miss his irreverent and independent spirit.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Call for Action

This post is an unintended follow-up to yesterday's post about a lousy, agenda-riddled article that ridiculed global warming and Al Gore. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has sounded a call to action to slow down the phenomenon, based on the summit report issued this week. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

PARIS - Fear of runaway global warming pushed 46 countries to line up Saturday behind France's appeal for a new environmental body that could single out — and perhaps police — nations that abuse the Earth.

"It is our responsibility. The future of humanity demands it," President Jacques Chirac said in an appeal to put the environment at the top of the world's agenda. He spoke at a conference a day after the release in Paris of a grim report from the world's leading climate scientists and government officials that said global warming is so severe that it will "continue for centuries" and that humans are to blame.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report sparked calls for fast, planet-wide action and was embraced by Europeans. A total of 46 countries agreed to pursue plans for the new organization, and to hold their first meeting in Morocco this spring.

But key world polluters — including the United States, China, India and Russia — steered clear.

Without naming the United States directly, Chirac expressed frustration that "some large countries, large rich countries, still must be convinced." They are "refusing to accept the consequences of their acts," he said.
Chirac, 74, is seeking to leave his mark on international affairs before he leaves office, likely in May, though his environmental record over 12 years as France's president is spotty.

Former Vice President Al Gore
, whose documentary on the perils of global warming has garnered worldwide attention, cheered Chirac's efforts. "We are at a tipping point," Gore said in recorded remarks shown at the conference. Friday's report was "yet another warning about the dangers we face. We must act, and act swiftly. ... Such action requires international cooperation."

Many questions remain about the proposed environment body, including whether it would have the power to enforce global climate accords. Chirac's appeal says only that the body should "evaluate ecological damage" and "support the implementation of environmental decisions."

Many countries have failed to meet targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions laid out in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The United States has never ratified the pact. In a published interview earlier this week, Chirac warned that the United States could face a carbon tax on its exports if it does not sign global climate accords.

There you have it. Maybe the threat of economic sanction will make the US and other major polluting nations take the notion of global warming seriously. Nothing else seems to have done so. As far as the US is concerned, we will look to the 2008 Presidential elections for signs of hope that we can turn around six-plus years of Bush using the world as if it was his personal commode.

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