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April 21, 2007

bees bees bees

I've been asked by a confederate to keep an eye on the bees.  We were discussing the Colony Collapse Disorder phenomenon over dinner, and describing the implications of it out loud (as opposed to writing about it) drove home that it could be a big big story indeed (though we hope not).  I gave myself a mean case of the willies.

First of all, the "no bees, no trees, no people" meme may be a bit overly simplified and alarmist.  It makes a bit of linear sense, but to stress the role of bees in the agricultural cycle of the planet without stressing that such agricultural cycle has proved to be very resilient over the past couple thousand years is irresponsible.  So, it's not so much that "the sky is falling" as it is "there is a small but measurable amount of curious shit falling out of the sky".

Specifically, as far as US agriculture goes, almonds and apples look to be in rough shape if the bees disappear.  Other crops apparently have alternate methods of fertilization.  A very excellent bit of comprehensive research can be found here, and it includes a handy graph showing the varying risk factors distributed among different crops.  Also check out this update to the above link, which contains a nice rundown of the possible culprits.  In addition to the cellphones (my favorite), other possibilities include pesticides, GM crops and climate change.  And an angry vengeful God, of course.

Also, you may have heard that very scary quote from Albert Einstein, about mankind being gone in four years if there were no more bees.  In light of my desire to sleep through the night, I thought I'd try to track down that quote for verification purposes.   Happily, a gentleman has beat me to it.  It seems no one's found it yet.  So if someone actually did say it, it wasn't someone as smart as Albert Einstein, which is good news.

Unless it was Tesla, in which case, very bad news.

More as I hear it.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:49 PM

surf's up: dinesh d'souza

Hmm, it seems a chair-fight is brewing.  Of the varied opinions espoused in the aftermath of the VA Tech shootings, this specific bundle of ideas has caught the attention of a few folk.  In it, Dinesh D'Souza tries to use the shootings as an exhibit in an argument against atheists.  After all, in Monday's aftermath, did any of the mourners invoke not-God as a calming presence?  So you see, D'Souza is smarter than all of us.

Naturally, some people with online writing habits have taken exception.  Worth a read.  And if the idea of a couple of righteous atheists gives you the willies, try to couch it more in light of the science vs. faith eternal conflict.

(Though, oddly, I'm currently reading a little RAWilson that would argue that the science vs. faith conflict is reducible to two different flavors of fundamentalism poking each other in the eye about whose fundamentalism is more fundamental.  This is neither here nor there, of course.  Go atheists/scientists/whatever you want to call yourselves.)

If you're not familiar with the body of work left in the wake of D'Souza, just know that he is one of the leading anti-logicians of the American Conservative movement.  His most recent book "The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left And Its Responsibility For 9/11" was based on the premise that:

The cultural left in this country is responsible for causing 9/11 ... the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the non-profit sector and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world.

That is a hefty sentiment, but comically easy to kung-fu onto its ridiculous little ass, as in, "If you can demonstrate how the cultural left is responsible for military presence on the Arabian Peninsula in the past fifteen years, then your premise is valid instead a hateful stinkin' bucket of dumb-assery."  Plus also, if you stretch his thesis to its logical conclusion -- that if America adopts Sharia then the terrorists will stop hating us -- then D'Souza gets extra special points for taking his stinkin' bucket of dumb-assery to heroic new heights.

(No, I haven't read his book, but only out of the fear that any sustained effort at cultural literacy on my part would cause someone to fly a plane into a building.  I like planes; buildings too.)

That's maybe the only positive thing about these senseless tragedies -- they serve as duck calls, flushing academic mouth-breathers like D'Souza out of the brush, so that we all have something to revile.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:52 PM

April 20, 2007

smug-yet-stupid asshole

This about sums it up.  Please enjoy this wire photo (as ganked by Wonkette) which wraps up the storylines of yesterday's testimony by a bitter, drunken Barney Fife AG Alberto Gonzalez.  Namely:

A) The Gonzales Fan Club is not so much made up of fans of the Attorney General as it is fans of clubbing the Attorney General; and

B) If you have AG Gonzalez on your rotisserie league equivocating team, you're looking at a pretty good week.

Also important to note that Wonkette, who has shown a penchant for the sarcastic nickname (WALNUTS, Barry Hussein Obama) has decided to saddle AG Gonzales with the stark (yet pure) "smug-yet-stupid asshole".  That's like only being called a "dirty cocksucker", repeatedly, at your own roast.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:08 AM

April 19, 2007

bush administration rigs elections

All of my creating-new-posts time is being swallowed up by following reports of Attorney Gonzales' Senate testimony.  I know I'm just a potty-mouthed dayjobber with an unlikely hobby, but I'm gonna put on my big-boy pants and give "framing" this event a shot.

The controversy necessitating the AG's appearance is not derived from a personnel issue, and it is not manufactured by a vindicative and partisan Congress.  It's not even a perjury issue, though it may well come to that.

It is about the Bush Administration politicizing the Department of Justice and directing it to use "voter fraud" as a machanism to depress voter turnout, thereby rigging elections.

Bush Administration, DoJ, depress voter turnout, rig elections.

Bush Administration, rig elections.

That is all the people need to know, as Baron Von Raschke might say.  And I'm not the only one saying it -- this morning, the story has been run by an actual news organization, staffed by people with training and actual J-school degrees.

So when Johnny Strawman stops you on the street: Bush Administration rigs elections.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:44 PM

way ta go, nbc

I watched the news last night, oh boy.  And I really gotta hand it to the NBC news division.  I've never read the Handbook of Network News Broadcasting, but whichever page says, "When a mass murderer mails you manifesto materials, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS air them," must be highlighted, underlined and exclamation pointed in NBC's copy.

Oh yeah, I watched it like everyone else, so I am a morally dubious narrator (though complex enough to at least feel icky afterwards).  But I'm not making a buck off it, now, am I, NBC?

These days our national interest is pretty much only prurient.  I'd love for a story to push this one off the front page, but, sadly, it'd take a commensurate senseless tragedy.  Or, wait!  A dead celebrity would do it!

Please bring with the dead celebrity so that the ghouls of America can be sated and VA Tech can tend to their own without a microphone in their face.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:30 AM

April 18, 2007

jumping the snark

I dunno where I stand on this.  A muckety-muck of the New York Times has put a hit out on the word "snarky".  Not that the NYTimes is focused on matters of literary style, no, but somehow a lowly bit of slang caught the muckety-muck's eye, and the eye was not pleased.

On the one hand, I feel that every word is sacred, no matter how dooky or highfalutin.  To arbitrate over which words can be used and cannot be used is the act of a cruel and cold-hearted individual.  The words, like information, just want to be free -- why you gotta be all like that?.  Of course, in a publication like a newspaper profanity is an issue, but a word like "snarky is only profane in its ubiquity.  So what that the transit of "snarky" has crossed junior high schools in Utah?  Sometimes, an overused and vulgar bit of idiom, well-placed, is what pushes that sentence right over the top!

On the other hand, "snarky" wasn't ever not just a dumb word -- kind of like "blog".  And while I use (and am accused of) both, there are long furrows in my hallway where I dragged my feet on the way there.  The Times dude makes a good point:

The currently faddish meaning can easily be conveyed without resorting to colloquialism or sounding as though we're trying too hard to be hip.

That's just what I don't want to be!  Trying too hard to be hip!  Hell, I don't even know what a cuddle party is.  When I was a teen, cuddling was an activity you engaged in with the objective of extra-cuddling activity.  So maybe when I drop a "snark" bomb, all the registered Gawker commenters kids out there are sniggering at me behind my back.

Though, of course, if there is a stampede to abandon a word, is abandoning this word a wise thing to do?  These usage questions are just a backlash to the smart set -- it is now fashionable to jettison jargon as soon as it is coined, so one does not get caught using that clever little turn of phrase that one devised a quarter hour ago.

Basically: do you conform with the conformists, or the non-conformists?

A big question indeed.  (The answer is, "Yes.")  For the time being, yes, use of "snark" (and "blog") will be discontinued, unless circumstance allows me to use them stealthily, in a way that attracts no attention from the registered Gawker commenters kids and the New York Times, and in an edifying manner to the public discourse.

The good news is, at least there will be no more public agonizing over the use thereof.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:39 PM

10ccs crackberry methadone, stat

There's a little too much coincidence happening around here.  Sunday night, in the middle of a Nor'easter dumping seven inches of rain, the deli on the first floor of my building burns up, with the attendant firefighters and smoke and panic and all that.  Yesterday, I complain of a personal media brownout, and four hours later, Blackberries go down across the Western Hemisphere -- and I'm the only one in my office without a Blackberry!

Coincidence!  Light aftertaste of irony!

Is it possible that a sudden influx of coincidence could be considered a coincidence of a higher order?  Like a four dimensional coincidence?  Or a Platonic form, "Coincidence"?

Stop watercoolering about VA Tech and answer my question!

Posted by mrbrent at 9:16 AM

April 17, 2007

tomorrow happens quicker than the days come

Today my office (hello, office!) was without phones/net/email up until just now.  The nominal reason for this is the flooding associated with the Nor'easter of this weekend, but, between you and me, I feel like the subject of some sociology experiment perpetrated without my consent.  Going sens-dep for a half day may sound like a relaxing opportunity, but my hives are finally going down.  When I find this secret sociologist, I am going to karate-chop him or her right in the nerve cluster.

Plus also, I am predicting that these service interruptions are going to become more the exception and not the rule.  Infrastructure older than your grandparents plus increasingly volatile weather thanks to Al Gore equals Frontier Cubicle Living.  And don't forget sunspots!

The future may be yummy, but between the phone cables disintegrating and the bees evacuating, I doubt it will be expedient.

Absence of information has made me more impudent than usual.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:13 PM

April 16, 2007

the last word on imus before the next last word

It was gratifying this weekend to take a spin around the Internets and to see so many web-presences that I agree with take a position contrary to mine.  I don't want to name names (to avoid the risk of poking anyone with a stick), but I would say, without rigorous research, the majority of progressive sites would oppose my refusal to cheer Imus' firing.  Which is fine by me, in this age of the echo chamber.

It's a whiff of what life could be like were we all not primarily engaged in engaging a murderous and deceitful oligarchy determined to put the theory of the Salvaged Remnant to the ultimate test -- reasonable discourse, various viewpoints, absence of rigorous orthodoxy.

Oh well.

But there is at least one dude who takes up the point that I support: James Wolcott:

Reading the Huffington Post last week was like watching a Shirley Jackson stoning party, each gatheree fishing a designer rock out of the goodie bag before avenging the honor of Gwen Ifill.

I would like to be like Wolcott when I grow up, assuming that hasn't happened already.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:57 PM

alberto gonzalez lies poorly

Very many developments over the weekend w/r/t United States Attorneys being shoved aside for the sinecured talentless, and an Attorney General who is an embarrassingly bad liar.  Especially for a lawyer.

All of these developments are detailed at the exhaustive Talking Points Memo, so I'll save us all time by saying, "Go there to catch up," instead of reiterating their excellent coverage.  (Yes, this is the portion of the post where I praise TPM.  Ta da.)  I especially recommend this bit of reader mail that, while breaking no news, frames the upcoming testimony of AG Gonzales pretty well.

Speaking of which, you may have seen AG Gonzales' sneak peak of his testimony in the form of a Washington Post op-ed.  It's a blandly-worded attempt to muddy the waters with shockingly bad writing.  Plus also some blatant stabs at twisting the law into a pretzel.  A relevant portion of his op-ed:

During those conversations [the topic of which is immaterial for these purposes], to my knowledge, I did not make decisions about who should or should not be asked to resign.

My dayjob only involves cursory incursions into contract law, so, it would be unethical of me to present myself as some kind of attorney.  Having said this, the qualifier of "to my knowledge" as used in the AG's op-ed is the flimsiest bullshit I've seen ever, and I deal in music contracts, where the bullshit flows like wine.  "To my knowledge" is a qualifier that is used as a contingency referring to events that could reasonably be unknown -- specifically, events beyond the parties control.  For example, if you are representing that the thing you wrote does not violate anyone's copyright, it is reasonable to have the qualifier of "to my knowledge", as you, an ink-stained wretch, have not inspected every copyrighted work ever, and it would not be reasonable to expect you to do so.

To claim the qualifier regarding your own volitional act, then you are asking the adjudicating authority to believe that somehow you might have acted without your own knowledge.  There may be some court of competent jurisdiction that this could pass muster, but if there is, I haven't heard of it.  More specifically, if an individual has the capacity to (or, is liable to) make decisions without that individual's knowledge, then that individual is probably not qualified to greet Wal-Mart shopper, let alone hold a Cabinet-level position.

Hopefully, if a moron with a dayjob like me can pick up on this, the Congress won't be far behind.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:36 AM

April 15, 2007

bees declare war; win

Maybe this is how the world ends: being talked to death.  Lord knows I've felt the world ending any number of times, in the grocery, waiting for the ATM.

You may have heard that smarty-pants agriculturists are scratching their heads, as colonies of bees are up and disappearing at an alarming rate.  (Though I don't think this news has hit the Yahoo! Top Headlines, or Nancy Grace, so that means it really hasn't happened yet.)

This may seem like one of the one-off episodes of "The X-Files" that you never particularly cared for, but actually the implications of CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder, as they call it, are pretty staggering, when you consider that agriculture is one big planetary engine with all these biological moving parts.  Bees are the delivery mechanism for pollen.  No bees, no pollination, no fruit.  And if there's no fruit, then not only do we all get rickets, but, eventually, no more reproduction of fruit-bearing plants.  Which is the zero-ist of the zero sum game, if you think about it.

So consider bees the U-joint in your steering column, or your brake pads, and then try to operate your motor vehicle without them.

Well, recent research has suggested that the cause of these bee colonies to up and go away is electromagnetic pollution, or, more directly, all those radio waves bouncing in and out of your cell phone:

The theory is that radiation from mobile phones interferes with bees' navigation systems, preventing the famously homeloving species from finding their way back to their hives.  Improbable as it may seem, there is now evidence to back this up.

First of all, when the author cites "radiation", think radio waves and not kryptonite.  And second of all, I don't see how this is improbable at all.  If you assume that bees use some non-visual information to locate themselves (say, magnetic fields), and then you take this information away, then it would be the same as you trying to operate your disabled motor vehicle above while wearing a blindfold.

It's just a study and nothing's definite, but it's starting to feel like the moral of the story of this new century is the Law of Unintended Circumstances.

[This story is linked everywhere, but I saw it first at B&E, so hat-tip to Dan G.]

Posted by mrbrent at 12:16 PM