Public Service Announcement: No, You Have Not Seen a Goatsucker.

This is coming a bit late, but in case anyone missed it, here is a debunking of the ‘Panamanian Blue Hill Monster’. It’s a sloth, people. A friggin’ sloth.

And you know all those Montauk Monsters that were popping up on lake shores last year? Raccoons. All of them. Raccoons that had taken too long of a soak in the bath.

I hate how news outlets go crazy whenever someone spots a fox with mange and starts yelling that they found a chupacabra. At least the pulsating sewer alien from North Carolina was completely awesome in its own right, even if not an alien.

Read the rest of this entry: Now, to make up for the poor dead Blue Hill Monster… »

Now I really want to find a global McMap.

Via Strange Maps, there’s a visualization from here showing the lower-48, as depicted by McDonalds locations.

The most McIsolated location in the contiguous U.S. is just north of Glad Valley, South Dakota, and is 145 miles by car to the nearest McNuggets six piece.

I love how you can see U.S. settlement patterns just from a map of McDonalds locations. The major cities are obvious hubs, but even cooler are the gaps — you can distinctly see the Okefenokee as a small gap in Southern Georgia, and then at the bottom edge of Florida, just above the Key West McDonalds, you can see where the Everglades are.

As for the gap midway up the east coast, I guess that’s maybe Albermarle sound, in North Carolina? You can very clearly follow down the coast from New York-Pennsylvania-Baltimore/D.C.-Richmond-Virginia Beach, so south of that, at the point that juts out most eastward, would be about right. Plus the little pinchers that stick out around the gap would be the barrier islands around it. I find it curious you could see Albermarle Sound clearly, though, while Chesapeake Bay, which is much bigger, is barely a thin wriggle.

You can also see a big gap in the West Virginia mountains (the Monongohela?), the only McGap of its size anywhere on the east. You’ve also got a gap at the Adirondacks farther up north, and below that, there’s a jutting squiggle… It’s about the right place for the Allegheny National Forest, but the shape of it doesn’t seem quite right, so not entirely sure what explains the lack of Maccas there.

Unfortunately, I’m not familiar enough with the west portion of the U.S. to really pick out any features, but it is cool how you can very clearly see the skeleton of the interstate system dotted out. You can see a few on the east, too — check out 1-20 stretching out east from Dallas towards Atlanta, and I-81 between Knoxville and Richmond — but they’re not as clear.

And around North Dakota, it totally starts to look like a bunch of cells in the midst of mitosis. Maybe that’s how McDonalds chains reproduce.


The Economic Agendas of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors, Vol. 1 — Jack London

Note: I wanted to write a series of posts about the economic and political beliefs found in the science fiction and fantasy novels of China Meiville, Isaac Asimov, Terry Goodkind, Robert Heinlein, and a few others, but I found I was having a hard time doing it purely from memory. Unfortunately, most my books are back home in Atlanta, and Jack London was the only author outside of copyright protection and thus the only one whose works I could find online. So Jack London is first. For the rest, I’ll either settle for writing posts from memory, or wait until I’m back home for Thanksgiving to pick up the books. (Actually, Cory Doctorow will probably be next — thanks to the fact he’s happy to give up on restrictive copyright protections, his work is out there for free too.)

Jack London:

Although most famous for his Alaskan wilderness fiction, Jack London also wrote a fair collection of science fiction short stories and four scifi novels. I grew up on Call of the Wild and White Fang, and obsessed over his  short stories (it’s a good thing I didn’t end up naming my first dog Bâtard!), but it wasn’t until much later that I started paying attention to his non-wolfdog-based fiction.

And so I never realized as a kid that Jack London was very much a socialist. And not the fluffy kind, either. In his resignation from the socialist party, he wrote:

I am resigning from the Socialist Party, because of its lack of fire and fight, and its loss of emphasis upon the class struggle. I was originally a member of the old revolutionary up-on-its-hind legs, a fighting, Socialist Labor Party. Trained in the class struggle, as taught and practised by the Socialist Labor Party, my own highest judgment concurring, I believed that the working class, by fighting, by fusing, by never making terms with the enemy, could emancipate itself.

Since the whole trend of Socialism in the United States during recent years has been one of peaceableness and compromise, I find that my mind refuses further sanction of my remaining a party member. Hence, my resignation.

These views very much influenced his fiction. And although London is beyond a doubt one of my favorite authors of all time, my love for his stories is often tempered with uneasiness with the themes they are promoting.

Far less forgivable than his socialist views is his embracing of Social Darwinism and Rudyard Kipling-style racial paternalism.  (I’m being charitable here; at times, his racism was much more severe than that, and he was not opposed to eugenics.) His opinion of women was little better, and in London’s fiction, females are often very much fungible goods. If you lose one, just find another — or better yet, steal it. The number of instances of wife-stealing in his stories is staggering.  His tepid support for women’s rights was not based upon any belief in their equivalency to men, but rather as a way to bring about an end to alcohol. In John Barleycorn, the memoir opens with London announcing that he voted for women’s suffrage — not because he agrees particularly with the idea that women should vote,  but rather because “[w]hen the women get the ballot, they will vote for prohibition[.]”

But because discussing economics is more fun than detailing the moral failings of a historical figure I still have respect for, I’m going to ignore his social views and instead focus instead on two of his speculative fiction short stories with communist themes: Goliah and Strength of the Strong.

Continue reading

I bet if you said to the protesters “Hey, let’s go protest the G-77!” they’d probably yell back “Yeahhh!!”

I have no truck with G-20 protesters. They have less coherency than a Paulian Tea Party and dumber catchphrases than Saturday morning cartoons. Seriously, “No borders, no banks”? Wait, are you claiming that if we don’t have borders, we won’t have banks? Or that you don’t want either borders or banks? Or that G-20 countries are somehow a bigger fan of borders than any other nation? And let’s not even get into “We all live in a fascist bully state” sung to the tune of Yellow Submarine.

But I do kind of love this little film clip of a bunch of protesters getting a canister of what press reports claim to be pepper spray thrown at them.

It’s hard to tell from the footage if throwing the pepper spray was actually justified; elsewhere, there are reports that protesters were throwing trashcans at cops and breaking police car windows, so it’s unclear. And I’m more than willing to believe there were encounters with the protesters where the police were unnecessarily aggressive.

But look at the protesters. They’re laughing. They get freaked out for a moment, then laugh and whip out cell phones, while cheering like it’s smoke from Fourth of July fireworks. Probably amazed at their coolness — damn, to be honest, if I’d been at a protest that got gassed, I’d probably feel like a bad ass too. But you just know they all went home after that to write a twitter post about it.

And in some ways, even more than their ill-planned protest signed or questionable clothing choices, that’s the biggest obstacle to their protest being taken seriously. That we live somewhere they can protest, and police presence isn’t a danger to them but instead makes for a cool story for the dorm room later.

C’mon, protesters, try a little harder, please. If you’re using the police action at the G-20 protest today as proof that ‘we all live in a fascist bully state,’ it’s no wonder your whole cause is DOA.


I have a hard time trying to imagine two more random countries getting into a catfight than Libya and Switzerland.

After hearing about the amazing Libyan resolution before the United Nation calling for the dissolution of Switzerland (because “it’s a world mafia and not a state”), I started noticing a lot more random, petty incidences Swiss-hatin’ by Libya. And while writing the last post, I came across an article on how complying with Libyan requests intended to further a boycott against Switzerland would not violate export laws.

What the heck could Libya have against the neutral-as-beige Swiss? It was bizarre enough to be worth looking up, and coincidentally, just a couple hours ago there was new Libya-Switzerland drama unfolding, as Libya announced it has essentially kidnapped and detained two Swiss citizens:

For more than a year, Switzerland has known that two of its businessmen have been prevented from leaving Libya. But they are now being held “for their own security” because there is a “threat that Switzerland might free them militarily,” the Swiss Foreign Ministry quoted a Libyan letter as saying.

It turns out it all stems back to a 2008 incident:

Police were called to the five-star Hotel President Wilson on July 15 after two hotel employees, from Tunisia and Morocco, accused Hannibal Qaddafi, 32, and his expectant wife, Aline, of beating them with a belt and a coat hanger.

Qaddafi spent two days in custody, while his pregnant wife was under police supervision in a clinic in Geneva. They were released on $490,000 bail two days later and left Geneva.

Qaddafi, who is a skilled grudge-holder, is now waging a one-nation campaign against Switzerland. Meanwhile, an arbitration panel is being established to examine the circumstances surrounding Hannibal’s arrest.

And the Swiss incident wasn’t Hannibal Qaddafi’s first time acting like a punk while in Europe. “In 2004 he was arrested in Paris for driving along the Champs Elysées at 140 km per hour. The following year, also in Paris, he was convicted and fined for assaulting his then girlfriend, a Lebanese model.” At least he hasn’t charged into Italy on elephant-back yet?


Shocking News Break: Saudi Arabia Still Doesn’t Like Israel

The Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) prohibit U.S. persons from cooperating in any boycotts of foreign states that the U.S. does not support. The primary purpose of these regs is to attack the Arab League’s boycott of Israel.

The Jerusalem Post recently came out with an article showing that, despite these antiboycott provisions, attempts by Saudi Arabia to gain compliance from American businesses with it boycott activities are on the rise.

A review of US Commerce Department data conducted by the Post found that the number of boycott-related and restrictive trade-practice requests received by American companies from Saudi Arabia has increased in each of the past two years, rising from 42 in 2006 to 65 in 2007 to 74 in 2008, signifying a jump of more than 76 percent.

In addition to being a violation of domestic U.S. law by American businesses, this is also pretty clearly a violation of Saudi Arabia’s commitments to the WTO:

In November 2005, the desert kingdom pledged to abandon the boycott after Washington conditioned Saudi Arabia’s entry into the World Trade Organization on such a move. A month later, on December 11, Saudi Arabia was granted WTO membership.

The WTO, which aims to promote free trade, prohibits members from engaging in discriminatory practices such as boycotts or embargoes.

It looks like the Jerusalem Post article might be spurring Congressional action:

[Democrat and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Howard] Berman declared that he would take action on the issue.

“I intend to pursue this matter with the administration,” he said.
Across the aisle, Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana, who chairs the House Republican Conference, also criticized Riyadh for its duplicity.

“Saudi Arabia’s disregard of its 2005 pledge to end the boycott against Israel is unacceptable,” Pence told the Post.

“Congress and the administration must hold Saudi Arabia accountable. The United States cannot stand by and continue to witness this mistreatment towards the peace-loving people of Israel,” he said.

Over at International Trade Law News, there’s a graph up showing boycott activity among Arab League nations in 2008. Saudi Arabia ranked fifth among boycott requests, while Jordan remained alone in having no reported boycott activity.


The Saga of the Arctic Sea Continues

The Arctic Sea has gone missing again, though this time under Russian control and presumably heading for Russian port. Spain never let the ship into Las Palmas due to the presence of military personnel on board.

Meanwhile, although 11 of the 15 Russian crew members were eventually released, the remaining 4 are still on board the Arctic Sea — and according to their wives, being held captive there:

Captain Sergei Zaretsky and three crew members have not been allowed off the Arctic Sea more than a month after a Russian warship seized the vessel from eight suspected pirates.

Their wives appealed to the International Red Cross and the governments of Spain, Malta, Finland and Russia to intervene, saying that the men were in poor health two months after the Arctic Sea was supposedly boarded by an armed gang in the Baltic Sea.

I can’t figure out exactly what sort of help the crews’ wives are asking for, but at any rate they are very unlikely to receive it.

Back in Russia, the lawyers for the hijackers are now portraying this as some sort of National Lampoon’s Russian Spring Break. The hijackers — ecologists, in reality — got their boat swamped, and the Arctic Sea just happened to be passing by. The crew of the Arctic Sea offered them a lift, and they all then sailed down to Cape Verde, cavorting in the sun and playing in their pool. The poor ecologists had no idea the ship was missing or even that they were now off the coast of Africa, except that it was getting “warmer,” so they assumed they’d sailed south. Alleged hijacker Dmitry Bartenev, on crew-pirate relations:

“The crew were very friendly. When they realised we were Russians, they took us to the saloon bar and cracked open a bottle of vodka. There was a lot of booze on the Arctic Sea: whisky and strong alcohol of all kinds.”


Update on the State Secrets Privilege

Over on Volokh, there’s a much better forecast on what the actual results will be of the DOJ’s policy change regarding the state secrets privilege.

By voluntarily checking its own assertion of the privilege, the Administration may have slowed the momentum by these other two branches to establish greater restrictions on executive use of the privilege. For those, like myself, who are concerned about the privilege’s abuse in the hands of any executive, the new policy is a mixed blessing. Yes, I am happy to see the Administration voluntarily establish constraints on its use of the privilege, but I am hesitant to leave the privilege completely to the executive’s discretion. Ironically, then, the very policy shift that limits the privilege today may be the one that prevents courts and Congress from limiting abuse of the privilege in the future.

This seems very right to me. I do think the ultimate effect will be just this, that the Executive branch gave up a little ground today in order to fortify its position for tomorrow — and ultimately, it will retain a state secrets privilege of greater scope than it would if have had it not been publicly seen to retreat a few steps now.


Acronym Evolution

Via language log, the internet has claimed another victim — the Wisconsin Tourism Federation. Compare the old and new logos below.

It’s really a pity that the Southern Tenant Farmers Union no longer exists. Otherwise we’d get more great lines like the one from this book, “Communist efforts to capture the STFU,” or this one, “Without the STFU, these people may not have dared to exercise these rights of citizenship.”