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October 2004

World Fantasy Award Winners

Cheryl Morgan, blogging from the World Fantasy Con in Tempe, Arizona, has the list of World Fantasy Award winners.

Beth Gwinn has also been blogging from the convention. Her page has pictures.

(Were it not for the perennial unwillingness of successive WFC con committees to make arrangements for child care, I would be there, too. As my husband is chairman of the board of the organization that oversees the convention, I know the issue is raised with each con committee; he chaired the annual board meeting held this morning. But the subculture interested in running such conventions is not interested in making it practical for people with kids.)


Let's Do It!

I have this warm, happy feeling that we're going to do it; we're really going to do it. We're going to rise up and go to the polls and vote George W. Bush out of office. I'm no longer interested in the nuances of polls, though they send much the same message. I just feel it. I feel like we've all joined hands and are going to walk in on Tuesday and do it.


The Strange Case of the Veiled Thylacine

Speaking of thylacines, there is something I've been meaning to write about. In general, I really like the Smithsonian's new Hall of Mammals. But there is one thing about it that really irritates me: the thylacine is displayed behind a curtain. There is a dingo in the foreground, and dimly visible behind it is the outline of the thylacine. The Darwinian visual argument is that the thylacine was driven to extinction by the more highly evolved dingo. If you push a button, a light illuminates the thylacine so you can see it a little better, though still not very well. Here are a couple of pictures.

First, here is the thylacine's bottom, which you can see if you crane your head a bit.

Smithsonian thylacine's bottom

The Washington Post remarks that the museum staff had some problems with mounting the thylacine:

Extinct animals that are represented include the thylacine, an Australian mammal known as the Tasmanian tiger or wolf, which was wiped out by the dingo, a wild dog. The thylacine, a carnivorous marsupial, was also the hardest animal for the staff to mount and preserve. The museum received the skin in the 1920s, but the fur was in bad shape and needed major reconditioning.

Note that the Washington Post staff writer, Jacqueline Trescott, is under the mistaken impression that dingoes caused the thylacine's extinction. Dingoes may have wiped it out in Australia, but the thylacine's final demise in Tasmania, its last range, walked on two legs, not four. It is one of the really clearcut cases of a species driven to extinction by human action. The online Thylacine Museum's discussion of the thylacine's history from 1805 to 1933 concludes:

Guiler (1966) states that the last confirmed wild thylacine was shot at Mawbanna in April of 1930.  That year, a closed season on hunting was granted for December, the alleged breeding season.  On 7 September 1936, the last captive died in the Hobart Zoo.  Ironically, in that same year, thylacines received total legal protection.  By then however, it was far too late.

We can see hairless patches on the hindquarters; the Smithsonian's thylacine is not in great shape. But there can't be many out there to see. The Thylacine Museum lists only two on display in North America: the Smithsonian's and one at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

The majority of the Smithsonian's visitors will never have seen a thylacine before and never will again. This is all they get: a veiled indistinct animal hiding behind a curtain presented as an evolutionary dead end -- a deserved extinction.

Smithsonian thylacine

This second picture was taken while I stood on one foot, keeping my other on the button to keep the light on. It is the best of several shots. Once I was finished attempting to take pictures, all the children had escaped and there was no time to read them the plaque. (The back of the dingo is in the foreground.)

So how did the thylacine come to take the veil? Was the Smithsonian embarrassed by its motley specimen? Was the person in charge of designing the "interactive" aspects of the Hall of Mammals given too much power and authority? Is the Smithsonian embarrassed to have acquired the pelt so soon before the species went extinct? Did someone with no concept of the scarcity of thylacine specimens design the exhibit? Did someone feel a sexual attraction to it perhaps? (Was Ashcroft struck with a desire to mount the thylacine?) Or is it a visual pun -- curtains for the thylacine? Who knows.

From the perspective of the future of mammals on this planet, the thylacine is one of the most important specimens in the Hall of Mammals, since on our current trajectory, many other species exhibited may soon share its fate.

Take down the curtain and face the Sixth Extinction.


How to Make a Thylacine Costume

Peter_thylacine

Peter wanted to be a thylacine  for Halloween. (A thylacine is an extinct marsupial carnivore also known as the tasmanian tiger; its closest living relative is the tasmanian devil.) I made some non-committal noises and changed the subject. That sounded like real work, and I am quite overwhelmed at the moment.

But yesterday morning, a vision of how I could make a thylacine costume quickly and easily came to me. The key element of a thylacine costume is the tail: a long, stiff stripped tail. I knew I needed foam rubber, a material that would make a suitable thylacine hide, and something to stripe it with. After disappointing visits to a fabric store and an upholstery store, I would my materials at the hardware store: a yard of 72 inch-wide tan naugahyde, a linear foot of 18 inch-wide white foam rubber, and a role of dark brown duct tape. Peter is 48 inches tall, so one yard of naugahyde was enough. For someone taller, you'll need more.

When Peter got home from school, I measured the naugahyde against him and folded it over so that the doubled portion was long enough to make a jacket. I made a slit opening on the front and then cross-wise slits for the neckline. Then I draped the folded naugahyde over his shoulders (wrong side out) with his arms out to the sides and I drew in where the seams needed to be. I quickly sewed the seams with the eager children looking on. (This involved a certain amount of barking and snarling on my part: Don't step on that pedal! Put down the scissors! etc.) I had never sewed naugahyde before and I was much easier than I had expected. Then I clipped the extra fabric away from the arms and torso and drew the remaining cutting lines for the tail using the full length of the fabric, which when initially cut out looks a bit lite the tails on a tux. I sewed the two sides of the tail together and then turned the whole garment right side out. Next, I stuffed the tail with foam rubber so it was good and stiff.

Peter and I worked together with the duct tape to make the stripes on the tail and the back. Then I clipped the edges of the jacket portion to give it a more pleasing shape. Next, I set the kids up with something else to do and used the brown duct tape to finish seams and edges. I used foam rubber and duct tape to pad the shoulders and the chest so that the jacket hangs better.

After the tail and the stripes, a thylacine's other most striking features are its jaws -- which opened amazingly wide, its ears, and its dark eyes. It is my belief that a picture of a thylacine with its mouth way open was one of the inspirations for the alien in Alien. It was a scary-looking creature which is, I think, one of the reasons it is now extinct.

The design for the head is a hood in which the child looks out through the open mouth. I snipped some frightening teeth out of the foam rubber. I got Peter's raincoat and looked at the construction of the hood to see how to make the head. I made a naugahyde hood based on that. Then I made big ears out of two naugahyde triangles using duct tape and them sewed them to the hood using the machine. The two rows of teeth were attached to the inside of the hood using the duct tape. Then I snipped the (somewhat anime-influenced) eye shapes out of duct tape and stuck them to the head. I added a visor to the hood to lengthen the snout and made the dark nose with duct tape over lumps of foam rubber left over from making the teeth.

I'll take some pictures this evening when he wears it to a Halloween party. This morning -- after the fact -- it occurred to me to look for other designs for thylacine costumes on the web and I didn't find any. So I though as a public service I ought to write this down before I forget how I did it. I'm really pleased at how it turned out.

Thylacinetkd


The Brains of Rats

The Rat Nervous SystemOut of the Amazon.com collective unconscious leaps this fine message I just found in my Inbox:

Dear Amazon.com Customer,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased The Brain Atlas : A Visual Guide to the Human Central Nervous System by Thomas A. Woolsey also purchased books by George Paxinos. For this reason, you might like to know that George Paxinos's The Rat Nervous System is now available. You can order your copy by following the link below.

The Rat Nervous System
George Paxinos
List Price : $249.95
Price : $249.95

To learn more about The Rat Nervous System, please visit the following page at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/0125476388/ref=pe_snp_388

More to explore...

The Mouse Brain in Stereotaxic Coordinates, Deluxe Second Edition (with CD-ROM)
http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/012547637X/ref=pe_snp_388

The Human Nervous System
http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/0125476264/ref=pe_snp_388

Manipulating the Mouse Embryo: A Laboratory Manual
http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/0879695919/ref=pe_snp_388

Sincerely,

Amazon.com

(The Brain Atlas was a birthday present for my son last year. I wonder if he would like Manipulating the Mouse Embryo for Christmas.)


Broken Seals

You probably already know that you should be reading Josh Marshall at least once a day for his marvellous coverage of the missing explosives story. Here's my favorite bit of his new post:

Listen to what Kay said when Brown asked him whether the debate over when the explosives were taken is now over ...
Well, at least with regard to this one bunker, and the film shows one seal, one bunker, one group of soldiers going through, and there were others there that were sealed. With this one, I think it is game, set, and match. There was HMX, RDX in there. The seal was broken. And quite frankly, to me the most frightening thing is not only was the seal broken, lock broken, but the soldiers left after opening it up. I mean, to rephrase the so-called pottery barn rule. If you open an arms bunker, you own it. You have to provide security.

Now, note one other thing. Kay is quite cautious in noting that it's only a slam dunk for the one bunker that appears in the video he's being shown.

But look at what one of the reporters who was there when the video was shot said earlier Thursday evening on Paula Zahn's show ...
Well, I should be clear. I don't think -- I'm not saying for a minute that I know that the munitions and the explosives that we stumbled upon were in fact the munitions or the explosives in question.

All I can say with certainty is that, on that day, there were bunker after bunker after bunker of explosives, tons of them, that were unguarded. We went in and looked at some of them. I don't have the sort of expertise to tell you whether or not those were exactly what they're talking about when they say that these -- how many odd tons of explosives went missing.

So, apparently, there was bunker after bunker with the same stuff Kay was sure about in the one bunker he saw video of.

MEANWHILE, Salon has more on Bush's bulge. And don't miss this Lovecraftian take on the nature of the bulge. (Via Bush Wired.)


It's Lonely at the Top

Check out one of the new Bush commercials, which could easily be titled "It's Lonely at the Top" (actually entitled "Whatever It Takes"). Bush plays for our sympathy, telling how hard it is to president when bad things happen. Get a whole box of kleenex before watching. It's got a real tear-jerker sound track! Can someone redo it with the Randy Newman song in the background?

This one strikes me as really grasping at straws. Let's put him out of his misery, relieve him of the terrible suffering of being a wartime president, and vote him out of office.

(The other two ads, The Choice and No Limits, are just low-end attack adds more at home in a campaign for state legistlature than in a presidential campaign.)

UPDATE: I find I can use iTunes to play the Randy Newman song and also view the commerial simultaneously. You can hear Bush fine, but Newman drowns out the sappy music. Newman croons the refrain, It's lonely at the top at just about the same time the face of the stricken blonde widow comes on. Works real well.

Meanwhile, mithras the prophet at dailyKos notes that in the commercial Bush is apparently addressing an army of clones. You would think the campaign could afford someone better at Photoshop.


So, Is Bush Really the Anti-Christ?

Remember Anthony LoBaido, the self-published Christian fantasist and mercenary groupie I wrote about the other day? Well, he's got another series, this time for The Sierra Times ("An Internet Publication for Real Americans "), this one austensibly about the Texas A&M bonfire disaster. But being the kind of writer he is, by the end of Part 1, he has wandered pretty far afield from his original topic:

In my aforementioned Iraq II column I also stated Bush Jr. might well come to be seen as the "Mabus" Nostradamus called the "third Antichrist." (Linking Bush Sr. and Jr. to Mabus was NOT my own revelation, but that of another person who published this theory on the internet.) This notion about Mabus makes a lot of sense when you consider there is no "h" in Latin. Turn the "a" upside down and invert the "m" and you have G.W. Bus(h). Nostradamus often wrote in anagrams to hide his work form the Spanish Inquisition - the culture that spawned the Conquistadors. "Mabus" might well be the amalgamation of Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. Or is it merely an anagram of "Saddam?"

This is not to say poor George Bush Jr. is the singular Antichrist. Would the Antichrist put a stop to partial birth abortion, fight against pornography, stand up to Mainland China, cast a hard eye on Zimbabwe and Venezuela and/or fail to send a representative to the re-inauguration of South Africa's Marxist and America-hating President Thabo Mbeki? But there is a spirit at work in this regard and it is a force affecting all of us in some way. The Spirit of (the) Antichrist is an ancient and very real phenomenon. . . .

Let's ask if there will be a future draft? It would take away many home-schooled American children, ending the last hope of a free, moral America. The Congress recently voted down the draft bill idea by a 400-plus to virtually nil vote. That's good news. But we need more troops. We're even taking a third of our troops out of South Korea to use them elsewhere. Recently South Africa's Afrikaners sent 1500 white mercenaries to fight for America and the UK in Iraq. We have Russian immigrants and women on the front lines. Like Rome at the end of its reign, we have become dependent on mercenaries. Nations that rely on mercenaries usually meet with big troubles; France, Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea, Angola, Burma and many others to name a few modern examples.

Of course we know that no real man would either send or tolerate women on the front lines. That is how cowardly our nation has become. That is how cowardly our leaders (Bush Sr. and Co.) are. Our military academies are not teaching men to be leaders like the warriors of old. American Indians would never send their women into combat. They knew and still know women are sacred, whether they (women) acknowledge it or not.

This whole line of "reasoning" leaves me quite speechless. But hey, if he can wonder if Bush is the Anti-Christ, you can too. Let's all do it!

(In case you're wondering, I think LoBaido is for real.)


Hunter S. Thompson on the Campaign

Hunter S. Thompson writes about the presidential campaign:

Fear and Loathing, Campaign 2004

The genetically vicious nature of presidential campaigns in America is too obvious to argue with, but some people call it fun, and I am one of them.

His essay is great fun. While reading it, I did a lot of cackling and slapping the arm of my chair. I am tempted to quote selected bits. But really, to get the full mood-elevating effect, you should read the whole thing.

(Via The Yorkshire Ranter.)

MEANWHILE, David is packingup to go to World Fantasy Con in Arizona. Since I have no childcare on either end that would make it possible for me to attend the program, I'm staying home. I was explaining to Elizabeth that her daddy would be out of town and I would stay home and celebrate Halloween with the kids. She replied: "Daddy go on trip and I be a monster."


Afshar's Paper Now Available on the Web

A preprint of Shariar S. Afshar's paper, Sharp complementary wave and particle behaviours in the same welcher weg experiment, is now available on IRIMS archives:

Bohr’s principle of complementarity predicts that in a welcher Weg (“which-way”) experiment, obtaining fully visible interference pattern should lead to the destruction of the path knowledge. Here we report a failure for this prediction in an optical interferometry experiment. Coherent laser light is passed through a dual pinhole and allowed to go through a converging lens, which forms wellresolved images of the respective pinholes, providing complete path knowledge. A series of thin wires are then placed at previously measured positions corresponding to the dark fringes of the interference pattern upstream of the lens. No reduction in the resolution and total radiant flux of either image is found in direct disagreement with the predictions of the principle of complementarity.

The PDF is here.

Also, Afshar is now entertaining questions about his paper on the Official Afshar Experiment Blog.


The War on Terror & How We Feel

A lot of the rightwing blogs are linking to John Leo's column Democrats and terror which can be summarized as Even that pinko Andrew Sullivan admits that the Democrats can't be trusted to run the War on Terror. Why not? Apparently ecause Democrats aren't sufficiently terrified. This argument, that only the right Truly Understands terrorism, is in itself is a familiar trope of the Bush campaign. But the details of Leo's argument made me feel as though I was reading an op-ed piece from an alternate universe in which Bush had actually concentrated on the War on Terror, instead of settling old family scores and fighting a war more closely related to securing access to a certain natural resource; not to mention creating any number of "friendly" private militias who will be back to haunt us later when their contracts run out. There is a certain kind of blathering punditry that I am sheltered from because we don't have TV access. Last weekend, when we were at a convention, the TV was on in the hotel bar. When Bob Novak came on, my first astonished thought was That man still has a job? I mean, yes, intellectually, I knew Novak was still employed. I even linked to a remark of his a few weeks ago. But it is one thing to notice his comments on the web, and quite another to witness him showing his face in public. Returning to John Leo's column, he barely mentions Iraq -- which is why it seems to come from an alternate universe. And when he does, the view that underpins is the unreconstructed Cheney position, that Saddam was the source of the 9/11 attack. What has Glenn Reynolds -- who led the charge to link to this flight of fancy -- to say about it? Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems to exist in another alternate universe, one in which our military never had a chance to capture Osama bin Laden, and therefore has made no mistakes that want admitting, and cannot be held accountable for the fact that bin Laden is still at large. Josh Marshall has been following this remanufacturing of history with a certain predatory fascination that I really admire. William Gibson, who has also been watching Marshall track this down, remarks yesterday:

posted 7:07 PM
How strangely fragile, these days, is our communal grasp of even the most recent history. Josh Marshall links to this Christian Science Monitor account of bin Laden's escape here.

posted 9:18 AM
It never ceases to amaze me, how Josh Marshall can keep this administration's lies sorted, handily enough to cite and refute them, crisply and authoritatively, day after day. This must amount by now to knowing two entirely different versions of history off by heart, the one genuine, the other an endlessly (and indeed artlessly) exfoliating "tissue of sheerest horseshit*"

Here, today, he does it again, skewering the sort of shameless (not to say surreal, grotesque) revisionism that no long even causes our jaws to drop. Myself, were I to daily and directly subject myself to the full blast of ill-crafted lies issuing from the White House, I would quickly grow punchdrunk and confused. I simply wouldn't have the stomach for it. Not so Josh Marshall. Long may he wave.

*Wm. S. Burroughs, 1914-1997

The crux of the story of the Bush administration's failure to capture seems to me the extent to which they subcontracted the capture. Here is my favorite passage from the 3/4/02 Christian Science Monitor piece:

The battle was joined, but anything approaching a "siege" of Tora Bora never materialized. Ghamsharik says today that he offered the US military the use his forces in a "siege of Tora Bora," but that the US opted in favor of his rival, Hazret Ali.

Indeed, Mr. Ali paid a lieutenant named Ilyas Khel to block the main escape routes into Pakistan. Mr. Khel had come to him three weeks earlier from the ranks of Taliban commander Awol Gul.

"I paid him 300,000 Pakistani rupees [$5,000] and gave him a satellite phone to keep us informed," says Mohammed Musa, an Ali deputy, who says Ali had firmly "trusted" Khel.

"Our problem was that the Arabs had paid him more, and so Ilyas Khel just showed the Arabs the way out of the country into Pakistan," Mr. Musa adds.

So of course the Bush administration learned from its mistakes and didn't subcontract so much in Iraq -- no wait, they didn't learn anything. They took a failed policy and ran with it.

It seems to me very peculiar that at this late date Leo is arguing that the success or failure of the War on Terror hinges on How We Feel. John Leo and his ilk are welcome to watch the twin towers fall on their VCRs every night before bed time and to maintain themselves in whatever state of deep anxiety that they like. But the Bush administration feels like pushing military privatization at all costs even in the most inappropriate contexts and lying about it afterwards because Bush doesn't feel like admitting mistakes. I feel we shouldn't have to put up with this.


Oh, Those Wild and Woolly Privateers!

I love this one. Apparently Halliburton was selling, rather than destroying, warheads -- and assuring the purchasers that the transactions were perfectly legal. David Hudak, a Canadian who bought some for his at his counterterrorism training school, spent 17 months in jail awaiting trial before being acquitted of illegally stockpiling warheads. He's out of jail, and he's mad as hell. He's suing Halliburton:

David Hudak's federal lawsuit, filed October 13 in Albuquerque, also claims that Halliburton, its former Jet Research Center subsidiary and another military contractor, Tennessee-based Accurate Arms Co., sold thousands more of the warheads to others in similar transactions.

The companies should have paid to have the warheads destroyed, as required by their military contracts, the lawsuit contends.

So Halliburton was pirating warheads. But because they're in good, judging by the outcome of other PMF transgressions, nothing will happen to them so long as Bush stays in office.


Vote for George W. Bush and support the War on Trees!

I just watched the new Bush Cheney Wolves ad. Ignoring for a moment that Bush has to read "I'm George Bush and I approve this message" from a piece of paper at the very end (did the batteries run out on the thing in his ear?), the real message of the add seems to be that trees are scary. The wolves at the end are way too cute to be menacing, and also aren't on camera for nearly long enough.

But those evil-looking trees . . . wooo . . . makes me scared to go out in the yard. We've got some really BIG trees out there. They may look rooted to the ground, but those trees are OUT THERE just waiting to take over America. Vote for George W. Bush and support the War on Trees!

(And while Bush is winning the War on Trees, he'll also be protecting us from endangered species, too. Just imagine: I'm George W. Bush and I approve of this extinction.)

UPDATE: See also Wolfpack for Truth.org and the Poor Man's story boards. (via Atrios).


Patrick O'Leary Sets It Straight

Patrick O'Leary (in email) makes sense of the Bush/Pat Robertson hoohah:

First, Pat Robertson says God told him
Bush would “win in a blow out.”(January 2004)
Now he says Bush will eek out a victory
By the slimmest of margins. He also said
Bush told him “There would be no
Casualties in Iraq.” (Salon 10/21/04)
Bush’s press secretary scoffs and denies that The President said it.

Given the above, and using logic, we can only conclude.

1. God is liar.
2. Pat Robertson is a liar.
3. George Bush is a liar.
4. All three are liars.
5. Pat Robertson misunderstood God.
6. Bush doesn’t know the meaning of the word “casualties.”
7. Press Secretaries lie.
8. There have been no casualties in Iraq.
9. Bush mistook the word “casualties” for’ “Weapons of mass destruction.”
10. God was fucking with Pat.
11. God can’t count.
12. When he said “Blow out” God was talking about Bush bombing certain voting districts.
13. These are too many options. I should end soon.
14. If God talked to you—would you tell anyone?
15. Imagine a world where the holiest men tell lies about the highest figure of good and support a man who reflexively lies every other time he opens his mouth but because he talks tough and sends young men and women to their deaths he is respected and praised which really means as long as somebody is killing brown people who resemble the brown people who murdered 3000 people on 9/11/01—we feel safer. Much safer. Oh please god tell us anything but let us somehow feel safer.
16. Why do we hate America so much?

(In fact, many of those mercenaries were black Africans.)

WorldNetDaily is running a peculiarly sympathetic series on "white mercenaries in black Africa" by Anthony C. LoBaido, author of the self-published Christian fantasy Our Name is Legion which the author says "takes up where the popular 'Left Behind' series left off."

The first two parts of the series begin with a flattering introduction to  LoBaido's protagonist:

The  Part 1 begins:

"Mercenaries have always been misunderstood," says Bert Sachse. He knows from whence he speaks. Mr. Sachse is a 34-year veteran of the old Rhodesian and South African special forces. Moreover, Sachse commanded the world's most recent mercenary war during the mid-1990s in the troubled West African nation of Sierra Leone.

Sachse is a part of an ancient legacy of mercenaries, such as the white, Christian Serbs who served the Ottoman Sultan over the course of several centuries, the Swiss Guards who have and still guard the pope, the men who expanded Napoleon's Empire, the myriad of faces who forged the French Foreign Legion and the Gurkhas of Nepal, who still serve in the Indian and British armies. Of course, there exists the latest and most special breed of mercenary soldier  the white African. 

And here's the opening to Part 2:

When it comes to mercenaries, it could be fairly said that South African Bert Sachse is "the real thing." Sachse is an elite special forces soldier who can handle everything from logistics to intelligence gathering to diplomacy, air-to-ground special forces tactics and even the close up "hard killings."

A charming and wiry man with bright eyes, this writer remarked upon meeting him: "I "had been expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Sachse simply smiled and flexed as though in a bodybuilding pageant. Clearly, being a special forces soldier involved far more than muscles.

Sachse's story is a long and amazing road that sheds a great deal of light on the exploits and motivations of the modern mercenary. 

There are certain literary tropes I begin to recognize in non-fiction favorable to mercenaries, and among them are comments about how charming these fellows are and what amazing lives they've lead, as though they were movie stars. (When stuff like that is published or broadcast, I sometimes get notes from impressionable young men asking how they can join up.) Judging from his earlier stories, LoBaido has been a mercenary groupie for a while.

I'm almost tempted to read his novel to see what role mercenaries play in the rightwing Christian imagination. His novel was published by 1stBooks Library, now known as AuthorHouse, "the leading self-publishing company in the world." (For a full discussion of this kind of publisher, I direct you to the fine archives of Teresa Nielsen Hayden's Making Light. See, for example, her most recent post in her popular series on self-publishing and the self-published: Motivation and doubt.) There are many good reasons to self-publish-- surely on a self-published blog I would not condemn self-publishing. Judging from the excerpts of his books available online from his publisher, were these books commercially published, Dave Langford would find much to appreciate in them for the Thog's Master Class column: He dove headlong into Lake Baykal, the deepest fresh water lake in the world, reaching a depth of some sixteen hundred meters. My, what long arms!

I note from checking out his publisher's web site that he has has three books out from 1st Place Libarary. The first is The Third Boer War:

American journalist Trooper Grace is recruited into the shadowy Boer Republican Army, South Africa’s extreme right-wing paramilitary organization, to assassinate the RSA’s newest president–the man they claim to be the "Antichrist"–who will soon rise to the position of global Fuhrer with the blessing of the United Nations.

The second is Our Name is Legion:

Petra England is no ordinary British tourist. In fact, the pristine southern islands of Thailand have never seen the likes of this British Intelligence MI-6 agent before. When Petra’s grandfather Lord Wellington is assassinated in Burma while trying to help the persecuted hill tribes of Southeast Asia, she is stripped of her intelligence access, protection and even her vast fortune.  Petra then journeys to the island paradise of Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand, where she meets Jean-Claude, a handsome and mysterious soldier, who has gone AWOL from the French Foreign Legion. Jean-Claude is harboring a terrible secret – a secret generated by the CIA's supposedly defunct MK-Ultra program. But MK-Ultra continues and is directed by Legion, the powerful demon mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. The same demon Christ was forced to confront.  Jean-Claude’s secret will send Petra on her most dangerous mission yet, into the Killing Fields of Cambodia, where the hell unleashed only a generation ago is merely an appetizer for Legion’s plans for all of mankind in the near future.

Our Name is Legion is a novel for everyone who ever felt alone, abandoned, betrayed and helpless, only to realize that the Lord was about to grant them an incredible victory they could never have imagined.

His third book is his autobiography.

I presume WoldNetDaily cleans up LoBaido's prose when they publish his articles, though perhaps not quite as well as they should. (Recall the line, A charming and wiry man with bright eyes, this writer remarked upon meeting him: "I "had been expecting Arnold Schwarzenegger.")

Part 3 of the series invokes one of the standard tropes of the white makes right argument: cannibalism. Sachse is back to tell it like it is:

"There is a lot of cannibalism in Sierra Leone," said Bert Sachse, a 34-year veteran of the South African special forces and commander of the mercenary war during the mid-1990s in the troubled West African nation.

"If you capture the enemy, you want to interrogate them. For the Sierra Leone army, they wanted to eat the heart and or other vital organs of their enemies. We would have to fly out the prisoners we wanted to interrogate on the helicopters back to Freetown so they wouldn't be eaten. The MI-17 would fly over and the Sierra Leone soldiers would look up and say, 'There goes dinner.' They would look upset. In certain parts of Sierra Leone cannibalism is rife." 

This is not to say that LoBaido's articles aren't full of facts. He often includes them even when they get in the way of his argument. Consider the second paragraph in this passage:

Sandline/EO became a political wrangle in the UK as previously mentioned, and this problem festered throughout the operation in Sierra Leone. The whole issue of legalizing PMCs probably got a good boost from the whole affair. After all, who is against stopping limb-hacking rebels?

Consider that in 2000, British troops returned to Sierra Leone after United Nations troops were overrun by the same RUF troops Sandline/EO had only recently vanquished. The British army retook the country again, and some 45,000 rebels were disarmed. It was like a cul-de-sac of sorts. Rebels attack. Mercenaries sort them. Mercenaries leave. Rebels take the country again. British army comes in to the former colony and disarms rebels. Rebels capture soldiers. SAS comes in and sorts rebels. There was a certain rhythm to it all, an ebb and flow. Yes, a cul-de-sac of violence. As Plato said, "Only the dead are the end of war."

Says Sachse, "People could see a private military company operating in a theater could be a good thing and beneficial, and be sanctioned by the government. There is the question of why the idea did not catch on. If you use PMCs, you don't need to send in British troops. If the troops are killed, the families are naturally very upset. The government sending in troops could lose votes and support in operations the citizens were not in support of." 

Interestingly,  in a parenthetical remark, he notes, "(In fact, many of those mercenaries were black Africans.)", though only in the second-to-last paragraph of the third part of three. I was wondering when he'd mention that. He concludes the series with the line "It is hoped this report will help to bring out more of the truth about the embattled history of Sierra Leone."

I am left with many questions, mostly about LoBaido's audience. Does he have an audience? Do they, too, connect mercenaries with Christian fantasies about Africa? Are mercenaries in any way central to fundamentalist Christian thought about how the world ought to be run, or is this LoBaido's own obsession?


Cameroon Au Pair Scam

I've been poking around Greataupair.com, looking into the ins and outs of hiring live-in help. In the sidebar, there was a link to an item which I had not noticed before; Au Pair Scam Warning:

Do not send cash, Western Union or MoneyGram payments to aupairs in Ghana, Cameroon or other developing nations.

We have had several reports of families being scammed by people posing as an aupair or nanny and requesting that families send money via Western Union, MoneyGram or cash for airfare or other needs so that the candidate could meet the host family.

Schemes may be elaborate, involving supposed travel agents, professors, deans, parents and other false references. Verify the IP addresses of emails you receive from all references to make sure they originate from the place of work or country where the reference supposedly lives.

I had already concluded that hiring from overseas on my own without the assistance of an agency was something I was not willing to take on. I must admit the possibility of being scammed did not enter into my ruminations.


Very Plain

Presidential clarity:

He said that, after a debate with Kerry, "I made it very plain. We will not have an all-volunteer army." The crowd fell silent. "WE WILL have an all-volunteer army," Bush said, quickly catching himself. "Let me restate that. We will not have a draft."

(Via atrios)

PS: Michael Bérubé is really fun on the subject of Lynn Cheney here and here. This is not to slight the inimitable Fafblog.


I Got Mine: A Flu Shot Odyssey

As you may recall, right after the the flu vaccine shortage was declared, I got on the phone to round up shots for myself and my kids; Elizabeth got hers within two hours. I made an arrangement for myself through the county. I called the number the county gave me to sign up for a shot and left a message on their answering machine, giving my name and that I wanted a flu shot etc. I called a couple of times and never got a live human being. No one called me back.

So October 12th rolled around. The flu shot clinic was scheduled for 1 to 3 PM. My doctor's office had still not faxed me the note stating that I was high risk and needed the shot; the county required such note as documentation in order for me to get a shot, since I am not even close to 65. I called the office at 10 AM and was told the doctor would write the note as soon as he was done with the current patient. At 12:45, when I left to pick up my daughter, no fax had arrived. When I returned home at 1:15, there was still no fax, so I tried to call the doctor's office and got only their machine saying that they were in the office but were currently unable to answer the phone. The message said if it was a medical emergency, I could hold for the answering service. This went on for 15 minutes as I called repeatedly trying to get through. I decided to go there in person, since I was running out of time.

I am a much pushier person than I was when I moved to New York 20 years old. The old Kathryn, fresh from Seattle, would not have gone to the office and demanded the note. But there I was, in my doctor's office. The note had not yet been written because he couldn't remember why I needed a flu shot. I refreshed his memory; the note was written, and by a little before two, I was on my way to look for the clinic.

I had never heard of the Fox Center, the place the shots were to be given. So, before I left the house, I called the Mt. Kisco town offices for directions. You would think they would be able to give me the exact street address of their Senior Center, but all I got were some bad directions (as best I can figure out I was given two sets of incomplete directions) and a street name but no street address. I consulted Mapquest before leaving home, so I thought I'd be OK. Well.

I drove up and down what I thought was the entirety of Carpenter Street and could not see anything that looked like a Senior Center. It seemed to be a short street, so I parked my car, put sleeping Elizabeth in the stroller, and set out to find it on foot. I asked one person after another where the place was and got any number of sets of wrong directions. I even asked the oldest most wrinkled-up woman I could find. And she didn't know where the place was. At a certain point, I began to feel that this was all so absurd that a camera crew ought to be following me around through this odyssey. It would have made good television.

Eventually, I figured out that there was more to the street -- it took a 90 degree turn at the place where its name seemed to change. Then I began asking again and found someone who actually knew where it was. I went back and got the car and drove there. It turned out to be in the middle of a subsidized housing development. There was a reason no one I'd asked knew where it was: I was asking the wrong class. None of them ever went to that part of town. (Westchester town planners tend to put poor people in parts of town that are hard to find.)

Since it was after 2:30 when I arrived, I was worried that they might have run out of vaccine by the time I arrived and was prepared for the possibility of not getting a shot. The scene when I arrived at the Senior Center was a bit of a shock: an irritable short brown-haired woman from the county health department was yelling at a crowd of old people telling them to sit down and wait until their names were called. It took me a few minutes to process this scene properly. Yes, the woman was irritable, but I think she was yelling because many senior citizens are hard of hearing. I wasn't on the official list of those signed up (apparently, I'd needed to reach a live human at the phone number I'd been given); neither were a lot of other people in the room. We needed to fill out our forms and wait to find out if there were no-shows, in which case we would get our shots.

I waited around for about twenty minutes while this sorted itself out taking in the scene. I watched a group of the elderly arguing with a nurse from the county about whether they needed to pay $15 to get their shots. They felt the county should bill their insurance companies or medicare or some such. The nurse explained repeatedly that if they did not pay the $15, then they could not get their shots. At one point, I had my hand opn my check book and was going to volunteer to write a check for someone, but the negotiation concluded and the man paid his money and went to get his shot. I don't know if anyone was ulimately declined a shot because of inability to pay, but in a situation of shortage and rationing of flu vaccines, it seemed to me that the county health department should have had a better solution at hand.

It turned out that there was an abundance of no-shows (maybe people who couldn't find the place?) and so all of those whose names did not appear on the list got our shots shortly before 3 PM.

So I got mine, and I didn't have to stand in line for 6 hours like the people I've been reading about in the newspaper. But this was in no small measure due to my persistence and stamina. If I had been in the kind of shape I was in the winter of 2001-2002, I would not have been able to get my shot. Or if I had been 90 years old and too dotty to remember my checkbook. Or. Or. Or. It was not a reassuring experience. Why did that flu vaccination clinic have so many no-shows? I doubt it was because people got their shots elsewhere. How many of those people will be able to make other arrangements? How many of them will get the flu?


Our Path to Extinction

The BBC has been doing an excellent series on recent extinctions and the loss of biodiversity. This is a topic that engages my interest so tightly that I cannot just get up in the morning and toss off a blog entry about it. And it is another really important topic I've been meaning to blog.

They have a new piece up on amphibian extinctions, related to the Global Amphibian Assessment, which Meteor Blades blogged over at Kos. It is a topic my son and I work on together. Here is what I wrote about one of our projects last June.


Yes, But How Did His Suit Hang?

I did prowl through the morning-after debate stuff, and it was fun. But I have to admit, what I most wanted to know wasn't there: How did Bush's suit hang? Any further fuel for speculation?

After a little while, I poked around for pictures and watched clips in the Washinton Post web site. While Bush's facial expression often looked oddly rumped, the suit stayed still. It didn't move much. It looked to be made of thick wool. And the main body of the suit jacket looked heavily lined. Also, since the candidates stayed at their lecturns, there was little opportunity for prying eyes to get a look at Bush's back. I did see a brief flash of his back in a distance shot, but there was no illumination on the candidates' backs.

Can those who saw the whole thing fill me in? Were there any good looks at Bush's back? What did they show?

Oh, there it is; Salon's on it. He can run, but he can't hide! He had to come out from behind that lecturn sooner or later!

I wonder who the blonde woman is behind Bush. She seems to be giving the bulge a good look. And lookie at all that puckering around the arm holes. In a $5,000 suit. He did not buy it at Sears, people. Clearly that suit is accomodating something for which it wasn't tailored.


Political Rape

There are a number of things I've meant to blog recently, but not gotten around to, partly because my plan to hire live-in help has not yet come to fruition, and partly because of the subject matter.

The one most in need of blogging is the spate of disturbing tales of political rape. I find that I bounce off of news stories about rape, especially systematic rape in far-away places, and I just don't want to think about them. Here is a brand new one from the BBC: Rape 'a weapon in Colombia war':

Women and girls are being increasingly caught up in Colombia's armed conflict, as rival groups rape, mutilate and kill them, Amnesty International says.

Then there is the coverage of the Pitcairn rape trails. Pitcairn is a small island near New Zealand where rape had apparently become a way of life. A large group trial is going on under New Zealand judges. I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it. And yet I keep thinking I really need to blog it. ZHow did this situation get so out of hand that an island with a tiny population needs a trial on this scale?

And then there is the large-scale investigation going on in Kenya. The BBC story that caught my eye is Body exhumed in Kenya rape probe:

The body of a teenage Kenyan girl, whose parents say she died after being raped by British soldiers, has been exhumed by forensic experts.

The parents of Mantoi Kaunda, who was 16, say she and her sister were attacked after collecting firewood.

The girls were at Archer's Post, in a remote central part of the country close to Mount Kenya.

The UK has ordered an investigation into allegations by hundreds of Samburu and Masai women that they were raped.

British Royal Military Police Special Investigations Branch and Kenyan police have been looking into 650 claims dating from the 1980s and 90s.

Again, how did this situation get so out of hand? Why do 650 claims have to accumulate? Why does a rape probe have to involve exhumations? Why wasn't this stopped? I don't have an answer for that because I don't want to look at the world that way.

Then there is Nicholas Kristof's NYT piece, Sentenced to be raped, the account of a Pakistani woman who was sentenced by local authorities to be raped for a supposed crime of her brother's, after which she was supposed to obligingly commit suicide. She chose a different path.

I bring this to your attention because I find it hard to keep it in mind. I think I need to get better at it.


Mercenaries' Attorney Dies of Malaria

The attorney for the mercenaries on trial in Equatorial Guinea has died of malaria:

Malabo - The lawyer for eight South Africans implicated in a coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea died here on Tuesday of malaria, his family  said.

Fernando Mico Nsue, who also suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, died in Malabo at the age of 62, his eldest son, Alberto Nguema said.

"He had not been feeling well over the past few days. He was suffering from malaria and when he had a relapse this morning, we decided to take him to the hospital. He died while he was being driven to the hospital," the son added.

A mercenary in jail in Zimbabwe for his part in the plot died of meningitis earlier this month. And a German member of the Equatorial Guinea group died of malaria in March. I imagine that the mercenaries sitting in jail all feel there is a strong chance they'll die there whether they receive a death sentence of not.

MEANWHILE, CACI's lawyers try to initmidate The New Standard when they report on the lawsuit against CACI filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights over the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. The New Standard responded Clint Eastwood style. The CACI fig leaf consists of the claim that the government's unwllingness to prosecute civilan contractors over Abu G clears CACI of all wrong-doing. Why hasn't John Ashcroft been fired yet? Let's all sing a round of "You're So Vain" for the CACI executives.

(Via Daily Kos.)

Finally, though I'm having a rough couple of weeks there is a lot more to tell. I hope to follow with my rollicking adventures stalking a flu shot AND the continuing saga of my sister and her lead-contaminated plumbing. But for now, I must sign off.


Tax Evasion and a Self-Proclaimed State

Alex at The Yorkshire Ranter directs our attention to this weird little news story, about which he says:

A curious tale reaches the Ranter from darkest Papua New Guinea, that nation the size of Germany but without roads and with betel nut, rugby league, over 700 mutually incomprehensible languages and a lot of pigs. It all started when a Cessna Citation business jet landed without telling anybody at the airstrip on Bougainville, home to the world's biggest nickel mine and a long-running rebellion. Due to rebels, neither the mine nor the airfield have worked since 1989. But that didn't put them off. Two men left the aircraft and headed for rebel country.

Later, the PNG government got wind of this. The pilots were arrested and the plane impounded. Investigations linked the whole thing to a curious tax-evasion scheme involving a self-proclaimed state, whose website can be found here: link Apparently, the passengers were on their way to visit a rebel who calls himself King of Bougainville, and is possibly the same man as a fraudster who was involved in various political scandals in PNG.

It gets weirder. Read the whole post.


Come on People, Act Like Grownups

This morning, Atrios (Duncan Black) is off on a tear about Danny Okrent's column How Would Jackson Pollock Cover This Campaign?, which discusses the many complaints the New York Times has received about its election coverage. Here is the paragraph that sent Atrios into orbit:

But before I turn over the podium, I do want you to know just how debased the level of discourse has become. When a reporter receives an e-mail message that says, "I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war," a limit has been passed.

That's what a coward named Steve Schw%nk, from San Francisco, wrote to national political correspondent Adam Nagourney several days ago because Nagourney wrote something Schw%nk considered (if such a person is capable of consideration) pro-Bush. Some women reporters regularly receive sexual insults and threats. As nasty as critics on the right can get (plenty nasty), the left seems to be winning the vileness derby this year. Maybe the bloggers who encourage their readers to send this sort of thing to The Times might want to ask them instead to say it in public. I don't think they'd dare.

I really wish Atrios had thought about this for a week before posting his rant in response. It seems to me that bloggers ought to encourage their readers to act like responsible grownups, not like Junior High bullies. I am willing to believe that the NYT is getting more low, vile, hate mail from the left that the right at the moment. I'm sure it varies from news source to news source. I imagine that CBS's inbox looks a little different. The NYT probably has tracking of traffic to their site that is at least as sophisticated as what I use, allowing them to track down blogs that send forth a wave of hate mail. I imagine that Okrent's remark made Atrios feel personally criticized, hence the hasty reaction.

But slow down. Take a careful look at what he's saying. NO ONE should send the kind of mail Okrent describes in that passage. And NO ONE should encourage readers of their blogs to send that kind of mail. We are grownups. We live in a participatory democracy; encouraging passionate participation is all for the good. Encouraging readers to complain about bad reporting is changing the face of journalism for the good even if it does make Okrent tired sometimes. But NO ONE should be encouraging the harassment of journalists.

Perhaps, Atrios's reaction to Okrent naming Steve Schw%nk is a legacy of having written pseudonymously for a long time. But I personally applaud Okrent outing a letter-writer who is harassing a journalist, even a bad journalist. The law in New York State is quite constraining on law enforcement; those on the receiving end of harassment do not have a lot of recourse. Outing is one of our best tools.

Also, I want to amplify Okrent's point about female journalists. Outspoken women of any kind receive are much more likely to receive really vile threats and insults. These tactics are simpleminded intimidation, and will not produce an improvement in journalism. NO ONE should send sexual insults or threats to a journalist. Furthermore, NO ONE should send anything to a journalist suggesting that his or her kids should die. Please, people, act like grownups.

(Note: After discovering though Sitemeter that this page had become one of the top Google and Yahoo hits on the poor fellow's name, I have replaced the "e" in his name with a "%" throughout.)


Live Cooking #1

OK: It's in the oven now. This is what I did: I bought some really nice looking chicken breast at the Farmer's Market direct from the farmer. I marinated it for an hour in fresh lime juice and agave nectar (agave is a cactus used to make tequila; but this is just a thick syrup that looks like honey). The resulting marinade is reminiscent of Maragaritas. But I hadn't decided what to do yet when I set it to marinate.

We have some cashews, and they go well with chicken. So what to do? One of my siblings bought a really large jar of mango chutney when they came to visit in August, so I have mango chutney in quantity.

This is what I did: I spread the chutney on one side of the chicken and sprinkled it with cashews and then folded it over. Then I put it in a castiron baking dish, sprinkled the top with coconut, and put the lid on. It is baking at 350 now. I'll let you know how it turns out.

In another baking dish in the oven along with the chicken is acron squash: cut in half with th insides scooped out; baked with butter, pomegranate juice, honey, and a cardamon seed filling the hole in each half.

SO HERE'S HOW THINGS TURNED OUT: Predictably, the chicken was delicious (and very popular with the kids). Next time, I'll use small metal skewers to secure the folded chicken because, of course, it unfolded as it cooked. The squash was also very good and went great with the chicken.

All of this was upstaged by the brussel sprouts made with my famous sprout sauce (made with butter, lemon, caraway seeds, celery seeds, and crumbs).


Novak: Bush Not a Ninny

At home alone with two small kids and no TV reception, I opted out of trying to watch the debate last night. So I'm poking through last night's coverage. My favorite quote I've come across so far is Bob Novak's summary:

I thought Bush won the debate. Kerry didn't make any major gaffes but Bush showed he wasn't the ninny that he appeared to be in Florida.

Because of space considerations Novak did not go on to admire the President's ability to fog a mirror or marvel at his possession of all four limbs.

My goodness: Let's print bumper stickers! Let's make buttons! That can be the new Bush campaign slogan: Bush isn't the ninny he appeared to be in Florida. With all due respect to administration mouthpiece Bob Novak, I think the office of President of the United States requires a little more than an absence of obvious brain damage.

My second favorite is the Bush psycho-stalker horror footage that Oliver Willis has up. (Also, did I get another glimpse of that rectangular object between Bush's shoulder blades? There is a moment when Bush has his back to the camera at a slight angle in that clip.) Where did Bush get the idea that physically intimidating Charles Gibson was a good debate tactic?

Bush arguing the case for his own infallibility is very strange. (Washinton Post video clip here.) It seems unlikely that he wasn't coached on how to admit to mistakes.* It is one of the job interview basics. People get asked that question even when interviewing for minimum wage jobs. So, clearly, he resisted any coaching he received on how to address this aspect of the debate format. Who would hire a CEO who can't admit he ever makes mistakes? Most of us wouldn't even hire a baby sitter who couldn't deal with that issue.

Here's the scene as described in the NYT editorial:

One of the uncommitted voters in the audience sensibly asked President Bush to name three mistakes he'd made in office, and what he had done to remedy the damage. Mr. Bush declined to list even one, and instead launched into an impassioned defense of the invasion of Iraq as a good idea. The president's insistence on defending his decision to go into Iraq seemed increasingly bizarre in a week when his own investigators reported that there were no weapons of mass destruction there, and when his own secretary of defense acknowledged that there was no serious evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Even worse, the president's refusal to come up with even a minor error - apart from saying that he might have made some unspecified appointments that he now regretted - underscores his inability to respond to failure in any way except by insisting over and over again that his original decision was right.

Well, it is a good thing he's not a ninny, but it would be better if he could answer a basic job interview question.

______________
* (Unless Rove & Hughes believe he's God's Own PresidentTM. But that would be crazy!)


POTUS, Batteries Not Included.

Surely, you don't believe that THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES would cheat during a presidential debate? How could Salon suggest such a thing?

No. It can't be. There must be another explanation for the rectangular bulge between his shoulder blades. The obvious explanation, that should put all tinfoil hatted moonbatted paranoia to rest, is that that is where the D batteries go in.

Didn't you even read your ballot in 2000? Perhaps your ballot was defective, but mine clearly stated in 6 point type "Batteries not included." under the name "George W. Bush."

It is a sad and moving episode in the Bush family drama. Not only did little Robin die in childhood; George did, too. Barbara was so stricken with grief that the whole aerospace industry was brought together to solve the problem. We can rebuild him, they said. We can make him stronger, faster, smarter. OK, I'm kidding. They didn't say smarter. This was the old days, and the miracle is that they did it at all, and that George 2.0 managed -- yes -- even to become President.

Please don't drag the Bush family name through the dirt by suggesting that the President of the United States needed to receive whispered answers to know what to say during the debate. He doesn't need that. The radio hardware is all internal. And please don't make fun of him for being a little different because he needs a dozen D batteries to function.

Have some common decency and admire him for what he is. The finest president money can buy.


Robert Alonso at Starbucks

A while back, Hobson's Choice had a lot of interesting stuff about the attempts to recall Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. So this little item on Robert Alonso, brother of actress Maria Conchita Alonso, caught my eye.

He is alleged to have allowed anti-Chávez mercenaries to use his Venezuela ranch as a training camp. And now he's in Miami and gave an interview to the Miami Herald to let us all know he wants political asylum in the US. Venezuela wants him extradited. Why give an interview in a Miami Starbucks? Why not just hire an immigration lawyer?

It occurs to me to wonder whether his merry band was part of Wolfowitz's network of friendly militias; yet another attempt to privatize the business of regime change. So why does a wanted man give an interview? Bush's poll numbers aren't looking so good. And a new regime in the US might feel differently about Mr. Alonso.


I Want My, I Want My MT-Blacklist

A few weeks ago I upgraded to Movable Type 3.11. When I did that, I was really looking forward to upgrading MT-Blacklist. The version I was running was getting a bit tattered at the edges with the growing size of even the default blacklist, not to mention the items I'd added.

Once I was ready to install MT plug-ins, I was very disappointed to discover that my ISP's Perl install was one version too old for the system requirements of the MT-3 compatible version of MT-Blacklist. I wrote my ISP about this and was told that they were testing a new server with the current version of Perl and everything else, and it would be in place in "a few weeks."

So I've been patiently waiting. MT runs slowly on the older version of Perl. Because of the lack of MT-Blacklist, I've been going back and forth about whether to keep Comment Moderation turned on. On the one hand, it discourages spammers and keeps me from finding my comments swamped with come-ons for consumer electronics or unnatural acts with animals. On the other hand, it discourages legitimate conversaion. Since I never did get Type Key to work with my MT install, when Comment Moderation is turned on, I have to approve even my own comments. Meanwhile MT runs very slowly, so the approvals are ridiculously time consuming.

Yesterday or the day before, I changed the name of my comment script yet again (the spammers had caught on to the previous name). Meanwhile comment moderation delayed comments by Rivka and Alex, which I would have wanted to go right through. So I turned Comment Moderation off. So this morning I wake up to comment spam and a profane remark by a physics troll that my good olde MT-Blacklist install would have blocked.

Peter Wainwright, who came to visit us in Pleasantville this weekend, suggested I install the new Perl on my own, rather than waiting for my ISP. I am thinking about doing that. But I'm also thinking that it sounds like something I'll describe in retrospect as "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Also, installing Perl is probably not something I should do in the presence of small children, since I need to give such things my undivided attention.

In the meantime, until I get Perl upgraded one way or another and get MT-Blacklist back in service I'm going to have to leave Comment Moderation on, no matter how tiresome it is.


Karen's Run-in with the DC WASA Lead Pipe Repalcement Program

My sister and I have been discussing the lead contamination of the Washington, DC water supply for a while, since she lives in DC and her household water clocks in at a lead level of 240. She was waiting to find out what the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority planned to do about this. Day before yesterday, she found out. Go read her outraged screed: District of Columbia Water & Sewer Authority Drops in to Raise the Level of Lead in My Drinking Water. Though her blog usually deals with issues of space policy concerning the Moon, I encouraged her to make an exception for the DC WASA.


On Finding Flu Shots

A couple of days ago, when I was driving home after picking up Elizabeth from preschool, I heard on NPR that one half of the US flu vaccine supply was not going to be delivered because the plant in the UK that manufactures it had abruptly lost its certification. Since both Peter and I need one (we are in the high risk category), and Elizabeth is under two, I immediately started making phone calls to round up shots for the kids and I. I was able to get one immediately from the pediatrician's office for our daughter, Elizabeth. Peter is on the pediatrican's high risk list for flu shots, but the shots for the over-4s weren't in yet. I expect I'll be able to get one for him next week.

See also my more recent post, I Got Mine: a Flu SHot Odyssey

My doctor's office called back yesterday morning to say that their shots would be in the third week of October. A few hours later, they called back to say that they weren't going to be able to get ANY flu vaccine after all and suggested I get my shot though one of the local supermarkets that offers flu shots. (Presumably, the person calling me was aware of my multiple hospitalizations for lung issues.) This began to sound like a serious problem, so I went to the county health department's web site to see what could be done about it. As I suspected, the county has vaccination days in the various towns. With a note from my doctor that I am high risk, I can get my shot in Mt. Kisco next week.

UPDATE: The adjacent county, Rockland County, has cancelled their vaccinations because their supply was purchased from Chiron:

The Rockland Department of Health yesterday canceled all of this year's flu shot clinics because of an international vaccine shortage and told residents to expect severe rationing of the limited doses that are available.

"We just don't have an adequate supply," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Joan Facelle, who was consulting with state officials about the shortage. "We're putting everything on hold unless something changes."

The Health Department was contacting private physicians, local hospitals and nursing homes yesterday to determine the status of their vaccine supplies.

Local residents who were doing the same yesterday already knew the answer.

"No one has it," said Suffern resident Samye Isenberg, who gets the shot every year. "I've called my doctor, my cardiologist, the hospitals, the pharmacy. They all say the same thing. It's very upsetting."

The county had hoped to offer residents 11,000 doses of vaccine as protection against the flu. But most of those doses — 9,000 — were purchased from Chiron Corp. The company was barred Tuesday from shipping the medication after British health officials found manufacturing flaws at the factory where the vaccine was produced.

N4610 Mercenary Died of Meningitis

One of the mercenaries serving time in Zimbabwe for a conviction related to the Equatorial Guinea coup plot has died, apparently of meningitis (IOL):

Harare - The Zimbabwe government said on Wednesday that a South African man serving a prison sentence in connection with a coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea died in a Harare hospital after a bout of meningitis.

Ngave Jarukemo Muharukua, 35, who was serving a one-year sentence, was admitted to the intensive care unit at a Harare hospital on Sunday suffering from meningitis and died the following day, said Zimbabwe's information department.

The prisoner had first complained of nose bleeds and dizziness on September 9 and was examined by a prison medical officer before being taken to a hospital ward in the top security Chikurubi prison.

"His condition worsened on October 2, 2004 and he was referred to Harare Central Hospital," said the statement.

"He was admitted at Harare Central Hospital Intensive Care Unit on October 3, 2004 suffering from clinical meningitis" and died the following day, the statement said.

Meningitis is an infectious disease that causes inflammation around the brain and spinal cord.

A post mortem is to be carried out to establish the exact cause of death, the statement added.

MEANWHILE, in Equatorial Guinea, the trial of the other group of mercenaries alleged to have been involved in the coup plot remains stalled, awaiting a deposition by Mark Thatcher.

Libreville - The trial in Equatorial Guinea of 19 people including 14 suspected mercenaries accused of plotting to overthrow President Teodoro Obian Nguema will not resume on Monday as previously announced, sources there said.

Eight South Africans, six Armenians and five Equato-Guineans, including a former deputy minister, went on trial in Malabo in August for allegedly plotting to oust Obiang, who has ruled the small central African country since 1979.

The case was adjourned on August 31 at the request of the state's attorney general, Jose Olo Obono, to get "further information" after the arrest of Mark Thatcher in South Africa.

Mark Thatcher has been fighting a South African court order that he give a deposition to EQ authorities.

AND the President of Uganda ventures his own solution to the mercenary problem (News24):

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday suggested that the easiest way to deal with mercenaries in Africa was to shoot them.

"Mercenaries, you just shoot them. This is a simple matter, it's not a big problem," he said in response to a question at a news conference.


Afshar Experiment Update: A Note from Afshar

See the preprint of Afshar's paper on IRIMS here.

Here is the latest from Shariar S. Afshar (and here's the backstory, for those who missed it):
I have the great pleasure of informing you of the publication of a feature article on my experiment with the title "A great leap forward" in today's copy of the prestigious British newspaper "The Independent." Below are the links to their web page and the article:

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_technology/story.jsp?story=569155

Additionally, the British quarterly "Philosopher's Magazine" has
published an article on my work and its philosophical implications in
the Oct.-Dec 2004 copy. Here are the links:

http://www.philosophersnet.com/magazine/

http://www.philosophersnet.com/magazine/article.php?id=819

I also noticed that El Cultural (perhaps a Spanish
magazine?) has also done a piece:

http://www.elcultural.es/HTML/20040909/default.asp

http://www.elcultural.es/HTML/20040909/Ciencia/CIENCIA10206.asp

(I'm working on deadline right now, and so haven't had a chance to follow these links myself, yet.)


Pre-Election Groupthink

Kos talks of growing pains on his site, DailyKos. I haven't been following the comments section over there, so I'll take his word for it. But in his discussion, aimed mostly at the Kos community in turmoil, there are a couple of paragraphs that seem to me to address, very specifically, what is plaguing the liberal blogosphere:

There's another dynamic that is currently causing a lot of grief -- the desire to close ranks close to an election. "Groupthink". And while I am no paragon of party unity, it's not a desire I'll fight. We should close ranks before an election. Those who insist on fighting those battles now are merely distracting from the ultimate goal. Eyes on the prize, and all.

Once the election is over, we can get back to fighting over policy, whether to tackle the DLC, hating Greens or welcoming them to the fold, being a "Wellstone democrat" versus "Dean Democrat" versus who knows what else, etc.

For now, if you come here and trash a Democratic candidate, expect to be trashed back (just like I get trashed when I criticize the party). If you can't take the heat, then don't write that post or diary. Or consider returning after November 2. It's that simple. This is a Democratic blog after all.

This isn't just a problem in Kos's comment section. It's a problem across the board: Though we feel free to discuss in detail every nuance of Bush's facial expressions, there is a generalized restraint of candor about Kerry the candidate. I am very uncomfortable with this. I go far out of my way to read the Kerry campaign emails and those from allied organizations, looking for things to say to put a favorable light on his candidacy. I don't feel the Kerry campaign gives me much to work with.


Outsourcing Torture

Not content to outsource torture to private contractors, Republicans are apparently pushing a bill to make it legal to outsource torture to other countries.  This is called "extraordinary rendition." Obsidian Wings has the story.

It's not as if to some extent having other countries do our torturing for us isn't done already: See, for example, Samuel M. Katz's book Relentless Pursuit: The DSS and the Manhunt for the Al-Qaeda Terrorists, pages 201-202 on the torture of "an Arab male."

(On the lighter side, see also Fafblog. Fafblog & Michael Bérubé are keeping me sane through election day.)


From London to Beslan

There are two news stories concerning a man named Kamel Rabat Bouralha and the Beslan attack. The Sofia News Agency's story, UK Suspect Arrested over Beslan Attack, reports that Bouralha has been arrested in connection with the attack:

A British citizen has been arrested on suspicions of involvement in Beslan school massacre in which 300 people, half of them children, died.

A member of the group responsible for the Beslan school massacre last month is a British citizen who attended the infamous Finsbury Park mosque in north London, The Observer reported.

Then there is the Guardian/Observer story -- London mosque link to Beslan -- that the Sofia News agency names as its source:

A member of the group responsible for the Beslan school massacre last month is a British citizen who attended the infamous Finsbury Park mosque in north London, The Observer can reveal.

Two other members of the group, loyal to Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, are also believed to have been active in the UK until less than three years ago. They are suspected of taking part in the raid on the school in which 300 people, half of them children, died.

Russian security sources described Kamel Rabat Bouralha, 46 years old and the oldest of the three, as a 'key aide' of Basayev, who has a £5.5 million price on his head. Basayev has boasted of training the men who took control of the school and wired it with explosives. Investigators believe that the three men, all Algerian-born, travelled to Chechnya from London to take part in fighting there in 2001.

Russian investigators are thought to have now identified most of the 33 men who occupied the school in Beslan last month. They include two Algerians in their mid-30s called Osman Larussi and Yacine Benalia. Both are thought to have been based in London until recently. Like Bouralha, they too are believed to have attended Finsbury Park mosque and to have joined the network of groups loyal to Basayev on arrival in Chechnya.

General Ilya Shabalkin said that Bouralha had been detained while attempting to leave Russia for medical treatment in Azerbaijan. 'He says he is innocent, but there is strong evidence of his involvement in a grave crime,' Shabalkin said.

It is not clear to me what is being claimed. Is Bouralha thought to have been one of the attackers? Or just one of the organizers? Do I also gather that two of the dead attackers' bodies have been identified as Osman Larussi and Yacine Benalia? Is the Guardian story just poorly written? Or is it the situation (rather than the writing) that is murky?

It seems to me that this arrest and its surrounding narrative have to be regarded in the context of Putin's desire to portray the attack as al Qaeda-related rather than as a reaction ot his policies in Chechnya.


No Ear for Parody

Foxnew.com:

Editor’s Note:

In an version of this article that was published earlier, the Communists for Kerry were portrayed as a group that was supporting John Kerry for president. FOXNews.com’s reporter asked the group’s representative several times whether the group was legitimate and supporting the Democratic candidate, and the spokesman insisted that it was.

(Via Duncan Black.)


Aegis Contract Survives Protest by Dyncorp

Over the strong objections of the Irish community and a protest lodged by Dyncorp, Tim Spicer's company Aegis has managed to hold onto their huge contract to provide security in Iraq:

Spicer contract gets U.S. nod

A controversial contract between the Pentagon and a British-owned private defense company has been given the go-ahead by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Aegis Defense Services secured the $292.5 million contract for security work in Iraq.

The contract, awarded in May, is one of the largest for such work in Iraq and was given to Aegis in the face of six initial rival bids, including one by a U.S. company, Dyncorp.

It was a protest brought by Dyncorp that put the Aegis contract on hold and resulted in an investigation and legal determination by the GAO, the congressional and federal government financial and legal watchdog, which, until recently, was known as the General Accounting Office.

Aegis is headed by former British army Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, who commanded the Scots Guards regiment in Belfast when teenager Peter McBride was shot dead in September 1992.

McBride was shot in the back and his death remains one of the most controversial of the troubles.

President Bush has been urged to cancel the Aegis contract because of the questions swirling around Spicer, not just in relation to his service in Northern Ireland, but as a result of later business ventures around the world involving so-called "private military companies," a term widely viewed as merely a sanitized way of describing mercenaries.

I expected this. Despite some suggestion that the awarding of the Aegis contract was the result of incompetence, it has seemed to me a result of deliberate policy. The Pentagon knows what it's getting: a certain style of military action behind a contractual cloak of deniability.

UPDATE: Govexec.com has more details:

GAO found that DynCorp's proposal was "marginal, and ineligible for award without significant revision" and therefore, the company had no standing in the protest. The contract was awarded on a "best value" basis, based on technical and management capability, past performance and cost. The request for proposals had advised contestants that technical and management capability would be rated slightly higher than past performance, and that the two factors together would rate higher than cost.