Thursday, April 29, 2004

Happy International Penguin Day!

Well, the Nature Violator will never violate our agreement again. The late Tweety was removed from between the wall studs with a shop-vac. I wouldn't wish that on any bit of wildlife even if it would serve as an example to all other would-be nature violators.

In other news, I submitted the last paper for my English class. Now, all I have left to do is the take-home final for that class next Wednesday and a 25-question Algebra final Tuesday and I'll finally be done. I started this degree seven years and three time zones ago, and I'm ready to have it done. Prepare yourself for an elated entry next week about this time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Miscellaneous Thoughts

1. The nature violator is apparently a bird, and he was back today, after Karen, bird person extraordinaire, managed to get him out of the ceiling last night.

2. Ever noticed that Alan Greenspan sounds like Winnie the Pooh?

3. Word from News from ME is that Carrie Nodell, Mart Nodell's wife of 60-odd years, has died. Mart Nodell (co-creator of Green Lantern) was the first comic creator I ever met at a comic book convention, and he's been at pretty much every convention I've been at since. Mrs. Nodell was never far from his side at any of them, keeping all his pens orderly while he sketched, and making sure he spelled names correctly on the original art and comic books he autographed for us fans. She also seemed to be the head one in charge of talking up the original art and Green Lantern merchandise he had for sale at his tables. If recollection serves, Mrs. Nodell was the one who convinced me to buy the reproduction art of Poppin' and Mrs. Fresh (AKA the Pillsbury Doughboy and his wife), another Nodell creation. One day when I have real walls in my kitchen, I'm getting that framed and hanging it up in there.

Monday, April 26, 2004

When Nature Attacks

I am at two with nature. I did my fair share of camping with my family in my younger days, before I married someone who shares my definition of "roughing it" as not having an in-room coffee maker. "Rugged" is having to walk across the parking lot to a restaurant. Not that I don't appreciate having seen temperate rain forest, Hell's Canyon, the Grand Tetons, or Yellowstone, but nature is full of bugs and dirt and things that want to eat you. Now that I am grown, I have made a deal with nature: I'd stay out of nature if it stayed out of my house. This pact has worked well so far. I don't go camping or hiking or do any other activities that would require me to invade the outdoors. In return, nature doesn't come into my house. However, my deal seems to have one minor flaw: I forgot to include my office in the forbidden zone. I was on the phone with a prospective student this evening when the acoustic tiles above my head started to make a sound that could best be described as "scurrying." Several things belong in the space above a ceiling: air ducts, electrical wires, fluorescent light bulbs, the phone lines, and insulation, for instance. You will note that there is nothing rodential, mammalian, avian, or alive in any way on that list. I'm not sure just what has taken up residence in my office ceiling, but whatever it is scurries, in spite of the fact that nothing that belongs in my ceiling should be animate, much less scurry-capable.

I'd tell nature that the deal is off, but that would require me to coat myself in sunscreen and insect repellent. Nothing is worth smelling like DEET.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Me Again...

I haven't been keeping up my daily blogging lately, and if I may say so myself, what I have written has not been all that interesting. It doesn't much matter to anyone why this is, and I don't care to make excuses for it. The important thing is that I'll be working harder in the coming weeks to improve the quality and frequency of my postings.

I may get some good blog fodder in the next few weeks if I can TiVo it off C-Span. Senate Republicans will hold a series of hearings on marriage in the next few weeks. Maybe it's the same urge that makes me try to identify roadkill, but I'm curious about what Senator Rick "man with dog" Santorum (R-PA) has to say on "The Benefits of a Healthy Marriage" and why this particular issue is being presented to the Senate Finance Committee. The guy must be an expert on healthy marriage. He's got seven children.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Happy New Coke Day!

On this 19th anniversary of New Coke, the second-biggest dust-up in the news is over today's Doonsbury strip, which contains the phrase "Son of a bitch!" It's a reasonable response considering the context. BD regains consciousness to find his lower leg missing. Over here, ME gives a rundown of the various responses of papers, including "bleeping" the strip, refusing to run it, and moving the strip over to the paper's editorial page.

The bigger dust-up is over the release and publication of 361 photos from Dover Air Force Base, where the remains of most of the overseas casualties arrive back in the States. They're over here. The proprietor of that website got the photos through the proper channels of a Freedom of Information Act request, which officials say was approved in error, but was approved nonetheless. A policy of not releasing photos of that particular subject matter has been in force for about 15 years now. The official argument for the policy is to protect the privacy of the family members and prevent the families from having a very sensitive moment put in the middle of a political debate. People opposed to the plan write that the government is not so much concerned with the family members as with the effect on public approval caused by photos of flag-draped caskets lined up eight deep.

I'm fortunate to have never lost a friend or family member to military action; my grandpa was wounded in World War 2, but came home alive. I have only the highest respect for people who have lost friends or family, and the soldiers who give their lives so I can go about my life safely and comfortably. In this world where the media faces stiff fines for indecency, perhaps we need these photographs to remind us that war causes the ultimate indecency.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Comic Strip Synergy

Two comic strips are doing story lines this week about soldiers being wounded in Iraq--specifically, both have characters losing a leg. Not surprisingly, one of the strips is Doonsbury (the story line starts here). Doonsbury is so political that several local papers in places I've lived ran it on the editorial page rather than in the comics section as a matter of course. You can click through at the above link to todays strip. It's a doozy.

The second comic strip is a bit unexpected. Get Fuzzy usually tackles the siamese cat-shar pei household dynamic, but here's the start of Get Fuzzy's Iraq story line. Rob, the shar pei and siamese cat's owner, finds out his cousin is coming back stateside because he's lost a leg. Darby Conly takes a completely different perspective on the story from GB Trudeau, with, as one might expect, a bit more humor while still capturing the essential fear of the family back at home.

I'll be waiting to see both strips tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


The big question isn't who put the bop in the bop-sha-bop-sha-bop, but what woman would fall in love with a guy because based solely on the bop-sha-bop-sha-bop?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Sorry, Mark...

Nearly three years ago, Mark Evanier wrote the following:

"It seems like every time we turn around, there's a new and better format available to us, as well as fresh, innovative hardware on which to play that format. Just in the last quarter-century, we have seen the narrowly-distributed 3/4" videotape recorder give way to the popular Betamax format, which was outdone by the more popular VHS format, which was improved upon by S-VHS and 8mm video, as well as Laserdisc and now DVD.

Many people believe that this technological surge is motivated by a primal, human longing to better that which already exists. This is not so.

No, the reason for all this progress is that someone wants to see how many times they can get me to buy Goldfinger."

ME has purchased Goldfinger in at least six different formats so far. Do I hear seven?

According to an article on CNN, "Both [movie studios and movie industry groups]...consider the DVD ripe for replacement next year."

They seem to have agreed that DVDs are on the way out. Now, they just have to agree on exactly what format they will use to make us purchase our entire movie collections over again, in much the same way that the Bush administration has decided to hand over sovereignty to someone Iraq on June 30, specifics yet to be determined.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

One Size Fits All?

In the course of making a purchase at tonight, I was asked to fill out a customer service survey for a company that does this sort of thing for several online stores. Obviously, they were using the same form survey for this retailer that they would use for, say, Needless to say, some of the survey questions became far more amusing than they would have been had I just purchased a new sweater or electric can opener.

Question 1: What did you purchase (check all that apply)? Potential answers on the list included automotive parts and, most disturbingly, pet supplies. If you're buying pet supplies at, poor customer service is not your biggest problem.

After the standard questions about how much the order was for and if this was my first online purchase, I came to the coup de grace: "Was this purchase for business or personal use?"

Recommended Reading

Click here for a thought-provoking alternative viewpoint on police brutality. It makes references to incidents in Portland that never made the national headlines, but you don't need the particulars of the events to understand the fundamental questions. The last one she asks is the most thought provoking. When did individual rights completely trump public safety?

The answer, in an academic discussion, is that public safety should always trump individual rights. Ideally, the balance point between individual rights and public safety would be the libertarian philosophy that "my rights end where another person's begin," or, as Mr. Spock said, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." That's the ideal. Please email me if, being really honest with yourself, you are willing to be one of the few whose needs are outweighed. There are two types of errors that a system of jurisprudence can make: either it imprisons the innocent or lets the guilty walk. In principle, we would rather not imprison the innocent and that is how the system is set up; however, in practice, we'd rather not let the guilty go free if it gives them the opportunity to perpetrate harm against us again. It's simple human nature for self-preservation.

Fundamentally, the problem of creating balance comes down to deciding what is a genuine threat to public safety. On one hand, we don't want anyone running loose who may want to blow us up; on the other hand, we also do not relish the possibility that someone might deem us a potential terrorist if we buy fertilizer for the flower bed and fill up on diesel fuel in the truck. We want to keep our children away from pedophiles, but we shouldn't doom a person to a lifetime of notifying neighbors that he is a child sex offender because when he was 16, he had sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend whose parents pressed charges of statutory rape when they found out their daughter was fooling around. We want to protect people from domestic violence by making legal protection from the abuser as easy as possible, but the system of rubber-stamping restraining orders for everyone who alleges domestic violence makes an alleged perpetrator guilty until proven innocent and has opened the floodgates for parents going through a bitter divorce to slap restraining orders on spouses, keeping the other parent away from the children--sometimes permanently--even if he or she has never, in reality, raised a voice or hand against the children or spouse.

One of our fundamental American principles is that we won't lock people up just because of what they might do. Unfortunately, this means that they have to do something, prove that they are a threat to public safety by violating that public safety, before we can legally suspend their individual rights. In short, one of us has to be harmed before we can protect everyone else from that source of harm. However, no one wants to be that one person who takes the hit to protect the rest of us. I certainly don't.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Better Late Than Never...

According to the Associated Press, Karl Rove now regrets the "Mission Accomplished" banner behind Bush on the aircraft carrier nigh on a year ago.

"I wish the banner was not up there," Rove is quoted in the article as saying. "I'll acknowledge the fact that it has become one of those convenient symbols."

No kidding.

Test Post

I'm posting this to test a new setting.

Grandma, email me if you get this.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

As if Tax Time Didn't Have You Depressed Enough...

Amount the Bush tax cuts saved President Bush and Vice President Cheney (and their respective spouses) on this year's tax bill: $42,000

Median household income for 2002, the most recent year for which figures are posted at $42,409.

For the statistical-analysis-impaired: Bush's tax cuts saved him and his Veep just about as much as half the households in the country make in a year. For the record, the Bushes saved $31,000 and Cheneys saved $11,000.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

I'll Have the Spam, Spam, Spam, Xanax, and Spam

My spam seems to come in subject matter cycles. Some times, I get a lot of home-loan messages--I've been tempted to see what kind of rate I can get to refinance my apartment--while other times the spam has subject lines I will not discuss further in the interest of keeping Penguin Perspectives PG-rated. For some reason, the spammers lately seem to think I am in need of pharmaceuticals. I got a message today with the subject line "Hate the doctor's office? You have another option to get those meds." Yep, I'm sure it's an irrational fear of medical professionals that drives people to buy prescription drugs from ""

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


Yes, I watched the President's press conference--live even, which is quite rare since I have TiVo and rarely watch anything when it is broadcast. No, I have nothing to say about it.

I will say that I don't necessarily fault anyone for not "connecting the dots." Connecting the dots to make a coherent, accurate picture isn't quite that easy when the dots aren't numbered and you only get to see five dots at a time.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Cross Purposes

Two vaguely penguin-related Associated Press headlines for today:

"Americans Carving Road to the South Pole"
"Tourists Put Antarctic Ecosystem in Peril"


I have now officially resisted the temptation to purchase Peeps for an entire Peep season. I no longer actually eat them. A much better use of the sugar-coated blobs of sugar is to watch them puff up like the Goodyear Blimp when you microwave them for about 30 seconds. You need not use Peeps to see the show--any standard issue marshmallow will work--but the chick-esque shape of a Peep does enhance the effect. A word of caution, though: always microwave your Peeps on a paper towel or similar disposable microwavable surface. The sugar coating of the Peeps tends to slightly liquefy and the underside will fuse to plastic plates, leaving you with a permanent pink or yellow splotch. No amount of soaking will get rid of Peep Smear.

UPDATE: Do NOT, I repeat DO NOT Google "peep smear."

Sunday, April 11, 2004


Why did the Empire build the Death Star with all those long drops and no handrails?

So that may not be one of the great cosmic questions of all time, but unlike the meaning of life, I think I may have an answer to this one after having watched the last half hour of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones on HBO last night, for about the 15th time (being fair, only five of those times were in the theater). The Death Star is a Geonosian design. Geonosians, being insectiod, can fly. If you could fly, would you waste your time putting handrails around every precipitous drop?

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Mark Your Calendar--And Move

Some time in the next 1,000 years, Greenland is going to melt and flood much of Florida.

Click here for the article, and start packing your bags.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

News Item

Ten states--Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin--are considering passing laws that would allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions legally written by licensed physicians if the pharmacist objects to the medication on moral or religious grounds. While these laws theoretically could apply to any prescription, in practice, your pharmacist is not likely to have a moral objection to, say, antibiotics or your blood pressure medication. In reality, these laws (already on the books in the progressive bastions of Arkansas and South Dakota) are used to exempt pharmacists from dispensing birth control or the morning after pill to women.

Bluntly, ten states are planning to allow the people who control the dispensing of medicine to say, "I don't believe in birth control, so you can't use it" to the approximately 17% of women ages 15-44 who use oral contraceptives. The pharmacists are supposed to refer the patient to another pharmacist or pharmacy if they have objections to the medication. Thus, a pharmacist's personal beliefs will place the onus on a patient to drive all over town in search of their legal, prescribed pharmaceuticals--that is, provided that the patient lives in an area where more than one pharmacy is available that is covered by her prescription drug plan.

I have a better idea. Allow pharmacists to not dispense medications that they object to morally; however, any pharmacy that employs a pharmacist who refuses to dispense any medication must, upon hiring said pharmacist, mail notice to any customer who has those prescriptions with that pharmacy to tell the customers that the pharmacy may not be able to fill their prescriptions at certain times. Further, the pharmacy should be required to post at their entrance a list of medications that may not be available and the times that the refusing pharmacist is on duty. That would allow people to know before they enter whether that pharmacy would be able to fill their prescription or if they should save time and go to a competing pharmacy. It's really a matter of full disclosure of available services to patients. Sure, such notification requirements might have the side effect of making certain pharmacists less desirable in the job pool, as the employing pharmacy would know that those pharmacists are not willing to do all the same work as other job candidates. Then again, maybe certain patients would decide to patronize certain pharmacies if they know that the pharmacist will not dispense prescriptions that they, too, find morally objectionable.

I don't often agree with the National Organization of Women, but I think their VP has a point: if a pharmacist has a problem with prescription birth control, don't refer the patient to a new pharmacy; refer the pharmacist to a new occupation. A huge part of their job is providing access to medications that must be dispensed by prescription only, and if they will only do that half-assedly, maybe they should go into automotive repair.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Punctuation Police

The dash plaque in the auction of the previous entry should read, "Yes, it's fast. Yes, it's mine. No, you can't drive it."

When will people learn the difference between "it's" (contraction of "it is") and "its" (belonging to it)?

More Online Time Wasters

Sometimes, for fun, I troll eBay for spelling errors. It's amazing how many items you can find at a good price by searching for misspellings. Right now, there is an auction for 20 pengiun items. Strange that no one has bid on it yet. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that if you're looking for penguins, this doesn't come up. In addition to the deals, though, trolling for errors is great for your self-esteem. After all, you'd never do anything so stupid if you posted an eBay auction.

This auction is a new apex of "how could they do that" eBay errors. The item is listed as "Studabaker Emblem Dash Plaque (Its Fast)." The item this person is selling in the auction clearly reads "Studebaker," which is the customary spelling of that particular defunct automobile manufacturer. How does one misspell the key word in an item listing when the correct spelling is right there on the item?

Monday, April 05, 2004

Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Running of the Sheep

New Zealand's answer to Pamplona: send 2000 sheep chasing after guys on quadbikes. It's meant to celebrate the 20th anniversary of New Zealand's Shearing Championship.

Two thousand sheep running down the street, or competitive sheep shearing--I'll let you decide which one is more disturbing.

Click here for the article.

In one of the grand understatements of the time, Running of the Sheep organizer John Grainger said, "It's pretty hard to get permits for this sort of thing."

Last Chance...

Did you remember to set all your clocks back? Is the VCR now blinking 1:00 instead of 12:00?

For the longest time, I didn't wear a watch, until Elie bought me one because he couldn't see how I operated without one. At work, I sit underneath a clock. I have a little clock on my computer's taskbar. If I'm going somewhere, I have a clock in my dashboard. It's the same logic by which I do not have a cell phone: why carry one with me when I'm never more than 3 feet from one all day? A short list of things we had to reset in our house last night:
-wristwatches (it's useful for remembering which way is left)
-alarm clock
-Batman clock in living room
-counter-clockwise clock in office
-DVD recorder
-coffee maker
That does not count the five devices that reset the time themselves.

We have 15 functional timekeeping implements in an apartment with only six doors. Daylight Saving Time (not "Savings") tends to make one notice just how obsessed we are with knowing what time it is.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Not Today...

I'm not even going to try to write anything coherent here. It seems that what I thought was just a seasonal case of the sniffles easily attributed to the start of Spring hay fever season was actually the first wave of Penguin Death Flu that hit with leopard-seal-like vengeance last night. I'm feeling much better now, but I'm a bit hopped up on Day-Quil. See you tomorrow.

Friday, April 02, 2004

When Did God Get An Advertising Budget

For the last three weeks, every Friday, a direct mail circular has arrived in our mailbox addressed to "Dear Neighbors" from 10:35 Community Church, exhorting me to join them for lively worship conveniently located at a local elementary school. This week's slogan: "Get nine holes in and still make it on time. We don't start until 10:35." So, if I'm reading that correctly, the main benefit of this church is that they've managed to arrange services so that professing one's beliefs won't come at the expense of shaving a few strokes off your game. That whole pesky religious devotion thing shouldn't inconvenience one's weekend.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Wrap Your Head Around This One

They actually make sugar free Vermont Maple Syrup. I saw it at Cracker Barrell tonight.

Now, I have never personally made maple syrup, though I have eaten quite a bit of maple candy in my life and I have read descriptions of the syrup-making process. I may be wrong, but maple syrup pretty much is sugar. Sugar-Free Vermont Maple Syrup would be like caffeine free Mountain Dew or Twinkies without the trans fats and preservatives. You could, but what's the point?

Who Do You Call? Hamster-Busters!

When the kitten is stuck in a tree, call the police. Who do you call when your fat hamster gets himself stuck in your printer? In Flensburg, Germany, extracting corpulent rodents from PC components falls to the police.

No, I'm not kidding. I do not like April Fool's pranks and would never play one on you, unlike a certain person (and you know who you are) who wrapped me and my bed with toilet paper while I slept.