Archive for January, 2011

Bargain yogurt?

January 30, 2011 5 comments

I love that fancy Greek yogurt, that only comes in small containers and still costs more than the Dannon.  Which is, by the way, incredibly cheap at about $2 for 32 ounces!  Wow!  Yea Dannon!

Sort of.  The Greek yogurt is stiff and just bursting with flavor.  A small serving of it and you know you have eaten something.  The Dannon?  Not so much; it’s watery and lacks flavor.  I decided to find out just… how watery.  Here I’ve dumped an entire carton of Dannon into a sieve to drain into a bowl.  After a few hours I went back and put the yogurt back in the carton and poured the water into a measuring cup.

From a 32-ounce carton of yogurt I drained about 13 ounces of water.  My guess would be that Dannon has done years of A/B testing to determine the exact water content that consumers will tolerate before they start wondering if it should be labeled; “yogurt-flavored bottled water”.  But please to call it; “consumer research” so they can claim we like it that way.

(The picture is a little bit misleading in several ways.  But it was unintentional; this was a “materials-on-hand” investigation.  First, the water is in a narrower container, so in simulating the visual convention of a bar graph, I made it look like the Dannon yogurt was more than half water; not so.  In fact, the Dannon yogurt was only about 25% excess water.  Second, the measuring cup is closer to the camera than the yogurt carton, so it looks bigger still.  Third, the measuring cup is transparent while the yogurt carton is only translucent, emphasizing the water.  Fourth, I didn’t level the yogurt, and the eye tends to seek the lowest level, diminishing the apparent yogurt level.)

I must say the Dannon yogurt, once drained of excess water, isn’t bad at all.  And I had fun doing this.  But I still like the Greek yogurt better.

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Under the watchful eyes of Jesus

January 30, 2011 5 comments

Our doctor’s complex got bought by some Catholic institution; they sent us a bunch of brochures saying nothing would change.  No word on whether contraceptives would be available, or if needed, a D&C.

Yesterday was the first time I happened in there, to have my shoulder x-rayed.  But something had changed; these crucifixes are all over the place. This one is in the hallway by the elevator.


Oh, there are also a bunch of signs that inform us that they “Celebrate Life” now.

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Watched Sarah Palin. Ouch brain. UPDATE

January 27, 2011 32 comments

President Obama used the phrase “Sputnik moment” in the SOTU speech this week, and Sarah Palin thought it was a “WTF moment”:

That’s right: she thinks Sputnik bankrupted the Soviet Union.  She actually didn’t understand the reference.

How can anyone in political life be that ignorant of American life and culture?  How?  Do we just not expect people to know things anymore?

Admittedly picking out “the dumbest thing Sarah Palin ever said” is a target-rich environment.  Remember when she couldn’t think of a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v Wade?   You’d have thought Baker v Exxon might have rung a bell, or maybe Bush v Gore; but no.   Remember when she thought Africa was a country?  The nonsense about death panels?  About how proximity to Russia (presumably) made all Alaskans foreign policy experts?  Our North Korean allies? When she didn’t know what the Bush doctrine was? Those weren’t isolated incidents and they weren’t just verbal gaffes either.  And she’s a big freaking hero to Conservatives.

So tell me, why should we be “respectful” of anyone who listens to her?  After inflicting her on the US, why is John McCain still a senator?  Why hasn’t the whole Republican party risen up and tossed her and Beck and the whole know-nothing arm of the Conservative movement out the door?  Why does anyone listen to any of them? Once upon a time there used to be smart Conservatives; there really were.  What the hell happened?


  • Ed Darrell at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, apparently he of more durable brain, does the heavy lifting on this one:

    “…So, when President Obama refers to a “Sputnik moment,” he isn’t referring to a foolish expenditure of money for space junk that bankrupts the nation.  He’s referring to that time in 1957 when America woke up to the fact that education is important to defense, and to preparing for the future, and did a lot about improving education.  Between the G.I. Bill’s education benefits and the NDEA, the U.S. became the world’s leader in science and technology for the latter half of the 20th century.
    But we’ve coasted on that 1958 law for too long…”

  • …followed immediately by reflection on Santayana’s Ghost
  • ***Dave has a number of questions for Sarah, including; “Does the Divine Ms. Half-Term Governor actually know what “WTF” means, even?”
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Pain in the dream theater last night

January 26, 2011 9 comments

I’ve gotten pretty good at managing chronic pain but occasionally it gets away from me.  While I’m sleeping, my dreams often invent explanations for it.  There’s the “hip pierced by sheet metal after auto accident” dream, and the more common “legs crushed by collapsed building” one.  I’ve spent a few nights dreaming that my shoulder or hands were crushed, to wake up in pain.  Not a recipe for restfulness.

Last night was a new one that I hope isn’t loaded into the dream projector again.  My hands had somehow gotten pierced by little sheet metal bits, some 1cm deep, and I was sitting at a picnic table pulling them out one by one with needle-nosed pliers.  An old friend from Tennessee was there watching; we were on the lawn in front of his church up in the hills there.

I only woke up when I pulled the last bit.  It was still dark and Diane was breathing slow and regular.  My hands were hurting like crazy, with some accompaniment from my shoulder.  I’ve been up for an hour and moved around a bit; they’re mostly better.  Going to have to be a bit more rigorous in the pain management.  Waking up this tired makes for bad days.

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“Don’t it always seem to go – you don’t know what you got, til it’s gone…”

January 23, 2011 2 comments

Would electrically-powered public transportation seem like some kind of futuristic dream?

Bloomington/Normal, Illinois, had streetcars.  From 1867 to 1936.  The system went electric in 1890.  It served both wealthy and working-class neighborhoods. Imagine that!  The city’s leaders riding with rail-yard workers and shoe-store clerks.

The "Subway" underpass connecting West Beaufort and West Vernon still exists today. Streetcars are gone, though. Photo courtesy McLean County Historical Society via The Pantagraph

Systems like this one were common across the country.  But as wealthy people bought automobiles, ridership naturally declined. GM was eager to speed the process along by buying up streetcar systems.  Conspiracy-oriented people called it a “premeditated” program, though that word makes it sound like a crime and it certainly wasn’t illegal.  It was just business.  In retrospect, very good for GM.

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The Narrative Loop of Reckless Risk

January 23, 2011 Comments off

Naomi Klein on oil drilling, DDT, war, energy production, investment banking, climate change… there’s no wall for us to hit. Keep shopping!

“Being constantly told that you are gifted, chosen, and born to rule, has distinct societal downsides.” The story of endless growth, like all stories, is going somewhere. We appear to have forgotton that what goes around, comes around…

(h/t Greg Laden)

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Important note from the Normal Police Department

January 22, 2011 1 comment

I think this message was meant for the Uptown Normal Business Association but it got forwarded around and somehow ended up in my inbox.  I am therefore sharing it with you.  Julius Assange, eat your heart out!

Sunday January 23rd the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will play a game in Solider Field. (May the best team win.)
The Normal Police Department is asking that all businesses located in the Uptown be sure all outside furniture and/or sandwich boards are secured. Removal would be preferred. They will monitor the Uptown and encourage the celebrations to remain outside the area but are planning for the overflow of excitement.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact NPD at (phone number).

The message is well grounded in our town’s experience with riots over the relative fortunes of spheroid-throwing teams. Our town has also had riots over beer.  We are, after all, Normal.  I guess.

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“An armed society is a polite society”

January 20, 2011 17 comments

Aphorisms are brief, pithy statements that distill some perceived truth from observation.  An example might be James Madison’s “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” Aphorisms draw conclusions, or they can be considered starting points.  When you hear one, you might ask; “How’s that work?” and the speaker might explain; “A threat from outside can become a pretext for granting powers normally considered dangerous for one group to have” and the discussion goes on from there.

So how is the aphorism; “An armed society is a polite society” supposed to work?  I often hear people use it who advocate universal access to firearms as a solution to social problems.  What form, exactly, would that politeness take?  And what would happen if it were violated?  What would the result be in very crowded places?  How would it work out for people who cannot conform socially? What about the exchange of ideas considered by some to be inherently rude?  How would social innovation ever take place? A bit of imagination is in order and for that we might turn to a very imaginative author.

The saying occurs often in the writings of Robert Heinlein, who is one of my favorite authors.  It is well expounded in the 1942 story; “Beyond This Horizon“, about an adventurer living some centuries from now in a technologically advanced society.  Cultural evolution has moved to Heinlein’s ideal of all adult males going armed at all times in public, or wearing a special brassard that marks them as unarmed and thus having essentially the social status of children and not to be taken seriously.

In this incident, a young man in  a crowded restaurant has behaved rudely toward the protagonist, Hamilton Felix, who by convention must then respond with deadly force.

Beyond This Horizon, by Robert Heinlein

They were exchanging bows and were about to resume their seats, when a shouted remark from the balcony booth directly opposite interrupted them. “Where’s your brassard?”

They both looked toward the source of the disturbance; one of a party of men — armed citizens all apparently, for no brassards were to be seen — was leaning out of the booth and staring with deliberate rudeness. Hamilton spoke to the man at the table below. “My privilege, is it not, sir?”

“Your privilege. I wish you well.” He sat down and turned his attention back to his guests.

“You spoke to me?” asked Hamilton of the man across the ring.

“I did. You were let off lightly. You should eat at home — if you have a home. Not in the presence of gentlefolk.”

Monroe-Alpha touched Hamilton’s arm. “He’s drunk,” he whispered. “Take it easy.”

“I know,” his friend answered in a barely audible aside, “but he gives me no choice.”

“Perhaps his friends will take care of him.”

“We’ll see.”

Indeed his friends were attempting to. One of them placed a restraining hand on his weapon arm, but he shook him off. he was playing to a gallery — the entire restaurant was quiet now, the diners ostentatiously paying no attention, a pose contrary to fact. “Answer me!” he demanded.

“I will,” Hamilton stated quietly. “You have been drinking and are not responsible. Your friends should disarm you and place a brassard on you. Else some short-tempered gentleman may fail to note that your manners were poured from a bottle.”

There was a stir and a whispered consultation in the party behind the other man, as if some agreed with Hamilton’s estimate of the situation. One of them spoke urgently to the belligerent one, but he ignored it.

“What’s that about my manners, you misplanned mistake?”

(“Easy, Felix.” “Too late, Cliff.”)

“Your manners,” Hamilton stated, “are as thick as your tongue. You are a disgrace to the gun you wear.”

The other man drew too fast, but he drew high, apparently with the intention of chopping down.

The terrific explosion of the Colt forty-five brought every armed man in the place to his feet, sidearm clear, eyes wary, ready for action. But the action was all over. A woman laughed, shortly and shrilly. The sound broke the tension for everyone. Men relaxed, weapons went back to belts, seats were resumed with apologetic shrugs. The diners went back to their own affairs with the careful indifference to other people’s business of the urbane sophisticate.

Hamilton’s antagonist was half supported by the arms of his friends. He seemed utterly surprised and completely sobered. There was a hole in his chemise near his right shoulder from which a wet dark stain was spreading. One of the men holding him up waved to Hamilton with his free arm, palm out. Hamilton acknowledged the capitulation with the same gesture. Someone drew the curtains of the booth opposite.

Hamilton sank back into the cushions with a relieved sigh. “We lose more crabs that way,” he observed. “Have some more, Cliff?”

From Beyond This Horizon, © 1942, 1948, by Robert Heinlein pp 15-16.

In this incident, violence ensues when the antagonist looks at the protagonist the wrong way (staring) and speaks rudely (accusing the protagonist of uncouth behavior not fitting in polite society).  I leave it to present-day proponents to defend the actual desirability and workability of this social model.


  • You can read the whole incident with more context, plus more about Robert Heinlein, in the 2000 Cabell Prize essay, “The Heir of James Branch Cabell” By Bill Patterson, at the Virginia Commonwealth University library.  The whole paper is worth reading but for this incident scroll down to the section titled “Gallantry”.  The author notes: “It is an axiom of the novel that ‘an armed society is a polite society.’”
  • The weapon in question is a Colt .45 – quite an anachronism in the distant future.  On page 11 the protagonist introduces it this way: “It’s a terror weapon. You wouldn’t even have to hit with your first shot.  Your man would be so startled you’d have time to get him with the second shot.  And that isn’t all.  Think… the braves around town are used to putting a man to sleep with a bolt that doesn’t even muss his hair.  This thing’s bloody.  You saw what happened to that piece of vitrolith.  Think what a man’s face would look like after it stops one of those slugs.  Why a necrocosmetician would have to use a stereosculp to produce a reasonable facsimile for his friends to admire.  Who wants to stand up to that kind of fire?”
  • I enjoy Heinlein’s stories immensely, though his writings should no more be mistaken for serious political discourse than the antics of a romantic comedy should be mistaken for relationship advice.   Practically everyone has read Stranger In A Strange Land but don’t miss out on The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or Have Spacesuit, Will Travel.  Or just pick up the wonderful collection of short stories, The Past Through Tomorrow.
  • See also, NYT blogs, The Freedom Of An Armed Society
  • and Dave Hill, An Armed Society Is A Polite Society and Simple Gun Answers Are Generally Simplistic Gun Answers.
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Justice is bigger than vengeance

January 19, 2011 1 comment

Professional dolt Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (motto: “Everything was just fine back in the bronze age, so let’s go back”) says that any change-of-venue request for Jared Loughner would be an affront to Justice.  His basic point is that the people “with the most intense level of motivation to see that justice is done” should be the ones to carry it out.

Really.  I guess Justice means “the actions of people blinded by rage”. He really, actually says that Justice and Vengeance are the same thing.

But then he quotes Martin Luther King on Justice:

As Martin Luther King, Jr. would say, borrowing the words of the ancient prophet Amos, “Let justice roll down (in Tucson) like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

Oh, my.  Read the whole chapter, Bryan.  It isn’t about executing schizophrenics; it’s mostly about economic justice.  A Cheap-Labor Conservative like you would melt like the Wicked Witch of the West in that kind of Justice. The words of Amos, and of MLK, turn to poison on your lips.

With people like Fischer wired into our national sense of Justice, it’s no wonder the poor populate our prisons, and that we imprison a higher percentage of our population than any other modern nation.

One of my Mennonite friends has a bumper sticker that says; “If you want peace, work for justice”.  He’s part of a community where people spend anywhere from weeks to months a year rebuilding hurricane-damaged homes of people on the Gulf coast.  The church has a Head Start in it.  Most of them favor universal health care.  They’re anti-war.

Yes, Justice might include punishment, carried out fairly and dispassionately.  But it’s hardly the whole picture.


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Bringing down bike thieves

January 17, 2011 Comments off

I hope I never come upon anyone stealing a bike; it’s a seriously lousy thing to do and I don’t want to find out what my reaction would be.

A bike rack cut by hacksaw at our university library. Inset: detail. Bike could have the best lock in the world but all that is really protecting it is a half-inch of mild steel. That's thirty seconds with a hacksaw (which was used here) or five seconds with a bolt cutter.

But my heart was gladdened by this story about a police department that takes bike theft seriously: Rock Hill “Baited” bicycles catch Winthrop campus thieves. Bikes with GPS devices on them.  Thief takes, police pursue, thief is caught.

By the end of 2008, police had made 28 arrests on 85 stolen bikes. In 2009, reports of stolen bikes dropped to 55, and police made nine arrests, said UW-Madison Police Sgt. Aaron Chapin. He said the decline is due to a growing awareness of bike baiting.

There are other benefits, too, Chapin said, including identifying people who are “on campus to steal stuff.” Bike thieves aren’t usually limited to stealing bikes, he said.


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