Random Access Memories

January 29, 2009

NRA Wine Club?

by @ 4:50 am. Filed under Business, Personal, Politics

Now i’m not a big fan of everything the NRA stands for, but I am a believer in the principle behind the Second Amendment.

What I cannot fathom is the NRA “Special Offer” email I got today from their “Wine Club”.

I have to say it isn’t the most brilliant idea to pair a group of gun owners with alcohol (not to mention the fact that i’m sure 99% of them are beer drinkers with no interest in wine).

January 28, 2009

The truth about Somalia’s pirates.

by @ 7:11 am. Filed under Business, Politics

I stumbled onto this the other day, much of it was completely new information to me.

Johann Hari: You are being lied to about pirates

Some are clearly just gangsters. But others are trying to stop illegal dumping and trawling

Who imagined that in 2009, the world’s governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy – backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China – is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labelling as “one of the great menaces of our times” have an extraordinary story to tell – and some justice on their side.

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the “golden age of piracy” – from 1650 to 1730 – the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage Bluebeard that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often saved from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can’t? In his book Villains Of All Nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence.

If you became a merchant or navy sailor then – plucked from the docks of London’s East End, young and hungry – you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O’ Nine Tails. If you slacked often, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied – and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively, without torture. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls “one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century”.

They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed “quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal Navy.” This is why they were romantic heroes, despite being unproductive thieves.

The words of one pirate from that lost age, a young British man called William Scott, should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirateing to live.” In 1991, the government of Somalia collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

This is the context in which the “pirates” have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a “tax” on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence”.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But in a telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali: “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas.” William Scott would understand.

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We won’t act on those crimes – the only sane solution to this problem – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 per cent of the world’s oil supply, we swiftly send in the gunboats.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail – but who is the robber?


January 24, 2009

Les Stroud

by @ 3:39 pm. Filed under Personal

Well, I played hooky from work for 2 hours to go listen to Les Stroud speak today at REI.

He was gracious enough to sign his book for me as well.

Les and Lasivian at REI Seattle

He also gave a long rambling talk that was pretty good.

He made sure to mention that he did not “quit” survivorman like it has been reported. (I’m not sure why the show is canceled, probably just wanted to go on to other things).

He mentioned how in the episode “Temagami Hunting (Deep Woods)” he and Bob Wilson were actually running from the rescuers to try and get more filming in. Unfortunately for them the rescue teams were police officers. Once the rescuers realized the rescuees were actively attempting to ditch them they dumped their heavier gear and turned it into a manhunt. At the end where Les and Bob are standing by the lake and eventually “found” he said they were covered in sweat from running.

When asked what the scariest moment he had was he related a story about a solo survival trip in Canada before Survivorman. It was September and he was out without any survival gear (yeah, what was he thinking) on a canoe that he had stashed in the woods and then wandered off. He saw a female moose and tried to call it to get it’s attention. Instead he got a very angry bull moose that chased him around and up a tree. He eventually jumped out of the tree and managed to outrun it back to the area where his canoe was, but he was on the wrong side on an inlet so he had to sneak in the water to the mouth of the inlet. After loosing the moose he got lucky and flagged down a couple in a caloe and spent half an hour convincing them he wasn’t crazy. They gave him a lift back to his canoe and was very exhausted, cold and wet. But alive at least.

One interesting question that had been nagging at me was “What happened to the dogs that were released in the episode “Labrador”. He said they made it back to their owner without any trouble.

He also spent a bunch of time talking about the Spot GPS locator. “The manufacturers came to me and said they had 2 choices for spokesman really, one was the real deal and one wasn’t”. (Yeah, easy to tell who he meant there)

January 22, 2009

The run on ammunition.

by @ 5:52 pm. Filed under Business, Personal, Politics

So Jennifer (still in Phoenix, AZ) and I were talking.

She said her boyfriend tried to buy some handgun ammo the other day, but couldn’t. Wal-mart, Big-5, Sports Authority were all completely sold out.

It’s obvious why, but what is interesting is it has not been mentioned in any news source anywhere.

I wanna rock

by @ 1:45 pm. Filed under Personal

Well, to be precise I want “a” rock.

I noticed this cut crystal at a local rock shop the other day.

Stellated Dodecahedron Crystal

(Click it for a larger image)

For those 2 of you that are curious it’s a Stellated Dodecahedron.

They want 90$ for it, I think i’m going to snag it next month.

January 17, 2009


by @ 8:41 am. Filed under Personal, Religion

Unless you’ve been living in a cave you know that flight 1549 recently “crashed” into the Hudson River in New York.

The plane is reported to have suffered a loss of two engines due to a double bird strike, nobody died, and the worst injury was 2 broken legs.

People have been calling this a “miracle”.

Websters defines a miracle as:

“an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs”

While I agree this was an excellent feat of piloting, and a great deal of luck was involved, I do not believe there was any divine intervention to be mentioned.

Perhaps if the NTSB report says “God assisted in the landing” i’ll change my tune, until then i’ll just acknowledge the heroic efforts of the crew.

Chesley B. Sullenberger III
Jeffrey Skiles
Donna Dent
Doreen Welsh
Sheila Dail

Thank you.

January 16, 2009

HI-Chew Goodness

by @ 4:15 pm. Filed under Personal

Got this at fifty cents a stick (half off) just because it was a few months out of date.

For those not familiar with HI-Chew it’s kind of like Laffy Taffy or Starburst.

(But of course far superior, heh)


January 6, 2009

Salesforce splatter

by @ 3:09 pm. Filed under Business, Technology

Seems that the giant “software as service” system Salesforce.com was completely down for around 45 minutes today.

What do you when you’re entire business had moved into the cloud, and then the cloud crashes?

Charles Singleton

by @ 6:26 am. Filed under Crime & Justice, Politics

Let’s take a moment to remember Charles Singleton.

He was convicted of murder by Arkansas in 1979 for stabbing store clerk Mary Lou York twice in the neck. He was executed by the state on January 6th, 2004.

While that was a terrible crime and he should have definitely been punished for it the part of this I want people to remember is how the state managed to kill him.

In 1986 the Supreme Court proclaimed it illegal to execute people unless they understood that they were being put to death and why.

An appeals court based in St Louis ruled in February 2003 that the constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment would not be violated if the authorities forcibly gave antipsychotic medication to the inmate, Charles Laverne Singleton. It was this decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court later that year.

So in short if you’re crazy we can still execute you by making you take medication so that we think you’re sane enough to execute, regardless of your mental state when you commited your crime.

If you don’t think this is a gross violation of people’s civil rights then you should not be reading this website.

January 5, 2009

Abstinence ignorance

by @ 7:40 am. Filed under Politics, Religion

I have no disagreement, the idea of training children in only abstinence is silly at best.

Abstinence-only sex education has totally failed the nation’s teens

Programs mandated to teach only “the social, psychological and health gains (of) abstaining from sexual activity” have been awarded failing grades for truth and effectiveness. The programs that work best combine honest information about sexuality, including contraception.

By Ellen Goodman

Syndicated Columnist

BOSTON — I hate to bring this up right now when the ink is barely dry on your New Year’s resolution. But if history is any guide, you are likely to fall off the assorted wagons to which you are currently lashed.

I don’t say this to disparage your willpower. Hang onto that celery stick for dear life. And even if you stop doing those stomach crunches and start sneaking out for a smoke, at least you can comfort yourself with fond memories of your moment of resolution.

Compare that to the statistic in the newest research about teens who pledge abstinence. The majority not only break the pledge, they forget they ever made it.

This study of teens and pledges comes from Johns Hopkins researcher Janet Rosenbaum, who took a rigorous look at nearly 1,000 students. She compared teens who took a pledge of abstinence with teens of similar backgrounds and beliefs who didn’t. She found absolutely no difference in their sexual behavior, or the age at which they began having sex, or the number of their partners.

In fact, the only difference was that the group that promised to remain abstinent was significantly less likely to use birth control, especially condoms, when they did have sex. The lesson many students seemed to retain from their abstinence-only program was a negative and inaccurate view of contraception.

This is not just a primer on the capacity for teenage denial or the inner workings of adolescent neurobiology. What makes this study important is simply this: “virginity pledges” are one of the ways that the government measures whether abstinence-only education is “working.” They count the pledges as proof that teens will abstain. It turns out that this is like counting New Year’s resolutions as proof that you lost 10 pounds.

We have been here before. And before that. And before that.

When he was running for president, George W. Bush promised, “My administration will elevate abstinence education from an afterthought to an urgent goal.” Over the past eight years, a cottage industry of “abstinence-only-until-marriage” purveyors became a McMansion industry. Funding increased from $73 million a year in 2001 to $204 million in 2008. That’s a grand total of $1.5 billion in federal money for an ideology in search of a methodology. And half the states refused funds to pay for sex mis-education.

By now, there’s an archive of research showing that the binge was a bust. Programs mandated to teach only “the social, psychological and health gains (of) abstaining from sexual activity” and to warn of the dangers of having sex have been awarded failing grades for truth and effectiveness. As Rosenbaum says, “Abstinence-only education is required to give inaccurate information. Teens are savvy consumers of information and know what they are getting.”

Our national investment in abstinence-only may not be a scam on the scale of Bernie Madoff. But this industry has had standards for truth as loose as some mortgage lenders. It manufactures a product as ill-suited to the environment as the SUV. All in all, abstinence-only education has become emblematic of the rule of ideology over science.

The sorry part is that sex education got caught in the culture wars. It has been framed, says Bill Albert of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, as a battle between “those who wanted virginity pledges and those who wanted to hand out condoms to 14-year-olds.”

Meanwhile, six in 10 teens have sex before they leave high school and 730,000 teenage girls will get pregnant this year. We see them everywhere from “Juno” to Juneau — or to be more accurate, Anchorage, where Sarah Palin, advocate of abstinence-only education, just became an unplanned grandparent.

The overwhelming majority of protective parents don’t want a political battle. They want teens to delay sex and to have honest information about sexuality, including contraception. The programs that work best combine those lessons.

Soon Congress and the new administration will be asked to ante up again for abstinence-only programs. As Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood says, abstinence-only education was “an experiment gone awry. We spent $1.5 billion and can’t point to a single study that says this helps. If it doesn’t help, why fund it?”

Teens are not the only masters of denial. But we are finally stepping back from the culture wars. We are, with luck, returning to something that used to be redundant — evidence-based science. That’s a pledge worth signing … and remembering.

Ellen Goodman’s column appears Friday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is ellengoodman@globe.com

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