But please don't squish.

If an approaching weather system holds off, people in Northeastern Wisconsin may get a chance to see Jupiter, Mercury and Mars clustered together shortly before dawn this weekend.

About 45 minutes before dawn on Sunday the three planets will be so close that the average person's thumb can obscure all three from view.

It'd be a shame to lose all three at once.

These guys really do have a way with words, don't they?

Though he referred to the war in Iraq and the deaths of American troops in that country as “criminal” in a speech on the Senate floor last night, Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) insists he did not mean the word to imply the conflict was a breach of either domestic or international law, RAW STORY has learned.

Only metaphorically a crime, R.C. Hammond, a Smith spokesbimbo, says. Which is probably why he gets the big bucks.

Meanwhile Smith continues...
I would have never voted for this conflict had I reason to believe that the intelligence we had was not accurate. It was not accurate, but that is history.

In other words, tough luck.

No explanation for why Smith gets paid.

Woohoo! This could open up a whole new industry!

Celebrity x-rays! How cool is that?

The image is from a "backscatter" x-ray machine of the type the Transportation Security Paparazzi Administration plans to begin testing at the Phoenix airport in the next few weeks. And if it works there, well hey. That'll sort of redefine the phrase "candid camera."

Next, where? At the mall? The local high school (another new industry!)? Your church?

Can't be too safe.

(And by the way, is that guy cheating or is he wearing some kind of really funny underwear?)

Gassing bananas.

I'm at the grocery store today and they have a little bin of bananas labeled "no gas." They look to me about the same as most of the bananas in New England grocery stores: they're bright green and hard as rocks. And since they're the same price as bananas not labeled "no gas" (which I take to mean gassed) I buy a few, on the principle that in the food world these days "no" is good.

So now I need apples, it appears.
Bananas need exposure to a naturally occurring gas called ethylene in order to ripen properly. Homeowners can "gas" their own bananas by placing them in an airtight plastic bag with several apples, which naturally emit the gas.

Yeah, right. Apples and bags. That sounds a little weird to me. How do the monkeys do it, I'm wondering. Or, wait, maybe I don't want to know.

Anyway, plantains are next.

In Ohio, heroic consumers go to the mall.

MENTOR, Ohio Firefighters in Ohio say shoppers at a Dillards South store in Mentor kept buying even as thick smoke from an electrical fire filled the business.

Nor snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night.

Telco Follies: Even Verizon can't understand Verizon rates.

So what chance have you got, Bunky?



So now we're down to "worth a try" in Iraq.

From a report on the much-ballyhooed Iraq Study Group's efforts in today's Washington Post:
Baker and Hamilton proved to be unusual witnesses. They conceded that their 79 recommendations carry a good deal of risk, but they essentially said no one else had a better idea. "We think it is worth a try," said Baker, conveying the sense that the United States is down to its last chance in Iraq, and that the group had prescribed the least bad of several options.

"You don't have much to lose here," Hamilton added in defending the diplomatic recommendations. "Things are not going in a very good direction right now, and why not take some chance here in involving these countries?"

Or why not just flip a coin? Or, does anybody know a good palm reader?

I don't know, call me an old fogey here, but I'm not sure "worth a try" is much of a plan.

"Thank you, Lord, for our testosterone!"

Echidne of the Snakes, fabulous blog goddess, takes on the GodMen.

Even if you take your private spheres to the beach?

José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, rushed to the aid of his German Vice-President yesterday, saying that he expected “people’s private spheres” to be respected.

The vice-president in question, one Günther Verheugen, was photographed, private spheres and all, cavorting on a nude beach, accompanied by the private spheres of a certain female chief of staff.

He was, however, wearing a baseball cap.

(From Times Online.)

Definitely excellent.

From a blog called "the cool hunter," this advertising campaign promoting water conservation by Denver agency Sukle.

Wanna see tough?

(Via Monkeys for Helping)

Beware the bologna: Canucks lose their lunch.

WASHINGTON -- It's the kind of hearty fare you might find in any bag lunch: a bologna sandwich, maybe a burger, a can of soup and a piece of fruit.

But for a growing number of the truckers who are plying routes across the Canada-U.S. border, packing a lunch has become risky business.

Drivers say they've been fined, detained for hours and threatened with confiscation of their U.S.-issued identity cards for trying to enter the United States with seemingly innocuous, but undeclared food items.

(Globe and Mail)

I know these Rs have some weird fetishes, but...

what is it with the "first war of the 21st Century" thing? Dubya has some sort of spooky I-can't-believe-my-good-luck thing going when he says that. He said it again the other day at a press conference with his poodle - "We will stand firm again in this first war of the 21st century," he said - not making it entirely clear what he means by "again." If "clear" is a word we can use.

It just seems to me like something not to be quite so proud of, is all.

Had it right.

Barack Obama, now a United States senator, September 2002: “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.”
Others, too, points out Susie, Suburban Guerrilla.

No! Up! Up!

I'm not kidding. The temp went down in the last hour or so. That's just wrong, dude. It's supposed to go up. But no. It's now only 16 degrees. F. 16 freakin' F.

Ever look at a weather map? See where all that cold stuff comes from? Yeah. It's those Canucks that do it. Their fault.

So much for running away to Canada, I guess.

There's just a lot of really kinky stuff on the web, huh?

Harold McGee, some sort of food writer for the New York Times, confesses...
My heart leaps when I collect my mail and spot the blue-sky cover of The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

So they can't count. Either.

GNN reports 100,000 "contractors" in Iraq.
The survey finding, which includes Americans, Iraqis and third-party nationals hired by companies operating under U.S. government contracts, is significantly higher and wider in scope than the Pentagon’s only previous estimate, which said there were 25,000 security contractors in the country.

Out with the new, in with some stuff that might actually work.

Raw Story reports:
"By the 2008 presidential election, voters around the country are likely to see sweeping changes in how they cast their ballots and how those ballots are counted," write Ian Urbina and Christopher Drew, "including an end to the use of most electronic voting machines without a paper trail.

Looks like all the money's been made.

Why do all those cowboys just hang around with their horses? Is that what you're wondering, Bunky?

In Bellmead, Texas, reports a local (News Channel 25) ABC affiliate, a 4 year-old hugs a teacher's aide, gets slapped with an "in-school suspension" for "inappropriate physical contact."

Corporadoes sink the Coast Guard. Too.

From the Washington Post (via Spiiderweb™), a report on how the Coast Guard's "Deepwater" modernization program's going.

Not well. With 25 percent of its cutter fleet "fully mission capable" and eight of its Island-class patrol boats out of action due to maintenance problems and "refurbishment" failures, the Coast Guard estimates it'll fall short of its operational target by about 20 percent.
The ["modernization"] program's failures are spelled out in a series of Government Accountability Office and Department of Homeland Security inspector general's reports and in congressional testimony, which point to the leeway given to the program's contractors, Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Through their joint venture, Integrated Coast Guard Systems, the companies declined to comment, referring all questions to the Coast Guard.

Lotta physics in that.

Shakespeare's Sister rants this morning about perceived (seems like rightly perceived, to me) sexism at the Discovery Channel Store and in passing presents us with this informative photo.

The girls of Central High display their love of SCIENCE.



Washington State uses anti-spyware law to sue anti-spyware company, wins.
Secure Computer president Paul Burke will now pay $200,000 in penalties, make $75,000 worth of restitution to Washington residents, and pay another $725,000 to cover the state's attorneys' fees. The irony of an anti-spyware law being used against an anti-spyware vendor was not commented upon.

(Ars Technica)

(So the settlement is $1 mil, of which nearly three-quarters goes to the lawyers. Better make that a double gotcha, is what I'd say.)

So now even the blind can get blind.

The world's first beer for blind people has been released in Germany.


Honcho homeowner: Stick it on your bumper, dude.

Could this be the least helpful headline ever printed?

Even more good science news.

They've got water on Mars.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 6 — Pictures of Martian gullies taken several years apart strongly suggest that water still flows at least occasionally on the surface of the planet, scientists announced Wednesday.

And we've got stuff to dump.

A perfect match!

Nothing on your mind today? Is that your problem, Bunky?

Consider it solved.

Tamara Faulkner, media spokesbimbo, nominated for dopiest spoke award.

Earnestly explaining to the press an Inspector General's report that revealed a growing number of "Homeland Security" employees arrested for financial fraud, witness tampering, and sundry other offenses Ms. Faulkner (as reported by Raw Story) thusly spoke:
[Many of the arrests] "were due to oversight associated with the inter-departmental oversight involved with the recovery process of Hurricane Katrina."

Even more many, of course, were not. But let's not get all picky here. Ms. Faulkner, would be my guess, pretty much nails the situation there at the good ol' DHS.

Heck of a job.

County supervisor cracks, bets machines can't be.

From the Brad Blog:
Riverside County, California, Supervisor Jeff Stone laid down the gauntlet to Election Integrity advocates at a public meeting on Monday, betting them "a thousand to one" they can't hack into the county's electronic voting machines made by Sequoia Voting Systems....

It is unclear whether or not Stone is aware of either Sequoia's "Yellow Button" issue or, as we reported earlier this year, that Dr. Michael Shamos of Carnegie Mellon University accidentally hacked into a Sequoia system while demonstrating how such systems couldn't be hacked.

Woohoo! Let the fun begin.


Yeah. I knew there was some reason I didn't try out for the debate team.

I don't see a civil war in Iraq....

...I see debates among Iraqis.

Oh. Right.

That's some guy named William Caldwell IV writing in the Washington Post. An op-ed piece entitled "Why We Persevere." Only I'm pretty sure he's not including Iraqis in that "we." Maybe he figures the Iraqis are already too busy debating or something, I don't know.

Or maybe William Caldwell IV is a nitwit. I'm just saying here, could be,.

Beware the meme, the frumious meme.

“The one thing they thought was absolutely important was to rebuild a sense of national unity on this, and that was their overwhelming objective,” says Tony Snowjob (and reported by The Carpetbagger), adding yet another layer to the frumious bi-partisan meme, as in "the voters want kissyface in Congress" and "they're conservatives, those new Ds." But as The Carpetbagger capably points out, there already is a sense of national unity on a great many matters, just not the exact same unity Bushco has in mind.

At Congressional Career Day, Rs told it's time to suck up.

(HUFFPO) - A closed-door panel of defeated and retiring members, including Katherine Harris, R-Fla.; Clay Shaw, R-Fla.; Mike Bilirakis, R-Fla.; Anne Northup, R-Ky.; J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz.; and Ed Case, D-Hawaii, turned up in the Longworth Building on Tuesday for a career advice panel called "Life After Congress."

"The main idea is you're making the transition between being the grovelee versus the groveler," said former Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, who now helms his own lobbying shop. "Before you were a Democrat or Republican. Now you are bipartisan beyond belief."

Sounds like great advice, former Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston. Can't be a grovelee forever, huh?

But is it weaponized?

As WIIIAI notes, DOOFUS accepted the Iraq Study Group report today and said, in the Cabinet Room (eat your heart out, Wolf):
The country, in my judgment, is tired of pure political bickering that happens in Washington, and they understand that on this important issue of war and peace, it is best for our country to work together.

Pure political bickering, that is, something that has not been seen in Washington since the administration of Bill Clinton Jimmy Carter FDR Abraham Lincoln James Madison - oh, you figure it out for yourself - not just miscellaneous bitching, you understand, but the high powered Faux News-grade stuff. HAZMAT suits all around.

Personally I think it's all Nancy Pelosi's fault, but that Howard Dean could be in on it too. Whatever. It sounds like a job for the Bickeringbusters to me.

Temp down, grump up.

It was, like, 15 degrees this morning when I first logged in. Bah.

And over in front of CVS the Salvation Army woman has given up ringing her bell and taken to playing plastic Christmas jingles on her boombox.

Inside - what's with that? I mean it, CVS must have hired some kind of top-drawer weirdness consultant to figure out where stuff goes. I can usually find what I'm looking for (stop for directions? moi?) most places - but there? No way. Takes me half an hour to find the toothpaste every time, and I've just plain given up on soap. They probably have some soap in there somewhere, don't you think? But who knows where it is.

Which reminds me, I have to go to the grocery store today.

Meanwhile the guys-who-take-two-weeks-to-install-a-freakin-hard-drive down in Northampton are still...well, whatever they do. Which is apparently too much for them.

But it's supposed to be warmer tomorrow.

Oh thanks, Mrs. Grinch.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- A fed-up mother had her 12-year-old son arrested for allegedly rummaging through his great-grandmother's things and playing with his Christmas present early.

The mother called police Sunday after learning her son had disobeyed orders and repeatedly taken a Game Boy from its hiding place at his great-grandmother's house next door and played it. He was arrested on petty larceny charges, taken to the police station in handcuffs and held until his mother picked him up after church.

Coal in her stocking, for sure.

And all the cops who played along.


Fewer than half of voters are getting screwed: Good enough, says panel.

GAITHERSBURG, Md. -- A federal advisory panel on Monday rejected a recommendation that states use only voting machines that produced results that could be independently verified....

The failed resolution, proposed by Ronald Rivest, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist and panel member, closely mirrored a report released last week warning that paperless electronic voting machines are vulnerable to errors and fraud and cannot be made secure....

More than half of all voters used machines with paper records during the 2006 elections.

Joseph Stalin said "He who votes decides nothing; he who counts the votes decides everything."

Let's call them "advisors" - hey, there's an idea.

I'm kinda thinking it didn't work too well the last time but that was someplace else. This, now, is Iraq, a place where they really want to be like us. As soon as the stop with the bombs and stuff. Whatever. Meanwhile...
Commanders say they believe that a major influx of American advisers can add spine and muscle to Iraqi units that will help them to move into the lead in improving security.
So there you go. Commanders say. (That's sort of like "dentists say," come to think of it. Or "homemakers say." But that would be advertising and this is... OK, just forget I brought that up.)

Anyway, spine? What's with the "spine" here? They're not saying... OK, forget I brought that up too. Let's just call the troops "advisors" and - woohoo! - our problems will be solved!

Fine. I'm in a grumpy mood. First, it's snowing. Sure, just a little, and sure, it's going to be back in the 40s tomorrow (but cold again by the end of the week), and yeah, it's December, yada yada. But I say it's snow and I don't want it.

What I do want is my iMac back but it's still in the shop, tomorrow is the earliest date they will give me and even that's an "if" - we're talking eight freakin working days to replace a hard drive here. I could do it myself in 20 minutes given the part. Ten minutes with a PC tower. I am not a happy camper here.

Of course I have my 12" PowerBook to work on, for my money one of the best laptops ever built (so of course they've stopped making it). But I have a desktop publishing job to do and a 12" screen is not the ideal place.

There are gonna have to be some changes made.


There'll always be an England.

LONDON (AFP) - An eatery in Sheffield, central England, called the 'Polonium Restaurant' is getting more business from local customers in the aftermath of the poisoning of a former Russian spy, a tabloid reported.

Get human.

"Gethuman 500 database" lists ways to bypass those pesky telephone menus at major companies and talk to real people.

Whattsa matter wit me?

Kick back with Lou Carter, the Singing Cab Driver.

(It's a music file, just so you know. From WFMU (A Radio Station That Bites Back). Check out "April in Peoria" and "I Got a Rose Between My Toes."

In Sweden, "War on Christmas" spurs arms race.

"It is impossible to burn [the city of Gavle's 43-foot tall Christmas straw goat] to the ground this year, although you might be able to singe its paws," said Anna Ostman, a spokeswoman for the committee in charge of building the goat. "After 40 years, we think we finally found the solution."

The company providing the fireproof treatment is so sure of its resilience that its spokesman Freddy Klassmo told newspaper Aftonbladet that "not even napalm can set fire to the goat now."

As the Associated Press explains...
The 43-foot-high goat — a centuries-old yule symbol that preceded Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts to Swedish homes — has been burned down 22 times since it was first set up in Gavle's square on Dec. 3, 1966.

Not to mention had its legs cut off and been run over by a car.
The vandals are seldom caught, but the 2001 culprit — 51-year-old American Lawrence Jones — was convicted and spent 18 days in jail.

The 2005 vandals — who witnesses said were dressed up as Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Man — remain at large. The pair fired flaming arrows at the goat, reducing it to its steel skeleton.

YA hack splats, cont.

(American Prospect) - Since Bolton took the helm of the U.S. mission to the UN, he has been a singularly pernicious influence on American foreign policy. As an unnamed diplomat told the Economist a couple of weeks ago, "It is extraordinary how badly he has served American interests. To be embraced by America is now seen as a kiss of death."

Bolton, the Prospect reports, is seen likely to "write a book blasting the Bush administration for abandoning ultra-conservative foreign policy principles."

That'll be a page turner, huh?

Oh dem Dems...

...dem cranky Dems.
"They chose to obstruct his confirmation, even though he enjoys majority support in the Senate, and even though their tactics will disrupt our diplomatic work at a sensitive and important time," Bush said. "This stubborn obstructionism ill serves our country, and discourages men and women of talent from serving their nation."

It's John Bolton the DOOFUS is talking about there, the not quite a US ambassador to the United Nations, the very John Bolton whose most recent sensitive and important diplomatic work included refusing to sign a resolution celebrating the end of slavery in the western hemisphere and who is now preparing to slink away into some so-called "conservative" tank of think, no doubt, or perhaps a to a regular slot on Faux News Tonight. And let us all praise stubborn obstructionists.

Obstructionism in the cause of liberty is no vice.

More of the stories Faux News doesn't tell you.

This time from the Christian Science Monitor:
While Mr. Pitcavage was surprised the Krar case did not receive more attention, "It is a fact that a lot of stories involving domestic extremists get undercovered," he says. He points to a case he calls one of "the major terrorist plots of the 1990s" in which militia from around the country converged in central Texas allegedly to attack a military base. They were arrested at a campground near Fort Hood on the morning of July 4, 1997, with a large collection of weapons and explosives. "There was virtually no media coverage of that incident either," says Pitcavage.

Featherston speculates that the Krar case got little attention because the arrests were made just after the war began in Iraq. "Excuse me, a chemical weapon was found in the home state of George Bush," says Levitas.

Ummm...chemical weapon? Well, yeah. And more.
Inside the home and storage facilities of William Krar, investigators found a sodium-cyanide bomb capable of killing thousands, more than a hundred explosives, half a million rounds of ammunition, dozens of illegal weapons, and a mound of white-supremacist and antigovernment literature.

This guy Krar is not the guy from Tennessee who got 30 days for planning to blow up Congress. They haven't even got around to sentencing Krar yet. Meanwhile, there's hope:
His attorney, Tonda Curry, says the US government has no reason to be afraid of him. "It looks a whole lot worse than it is. He had a lot of things that most people would never have any desire to have, but much of what he had was perfectly legal."

Faux News might tell you that.

Maybe we're just on the wrong side.

(LATimes) - Instead, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's 9th Mechanized Division and their American trainers had walked into a deadly ambush Friday. From upper-story apartments, insurgents stopped the soldiers' advance with grenades and shoulder-fired rockets. Others launched coordinated mortar strikes, hitting one of two nearby Iraqi field posts.


Not a Muslim? Well then, 30 days, says judge.

Imagine, for a moment, what would have happened if a Muslim extremist with an apparent hatred of the American government had been apprehended in, say, Tennessee, and charged with plotting to blow up Congress with a briefcase bomb.

Read what did happen to a guy apprehended in, say, Tennessee, and charged with plotting to blow up Congress with a briefcase bomb at Crooks and Liars.

Mike Pence, Congresscritter, is all wore out.

"Contrary to popular belief, members of Congress are human beings. They have a certain shelf life and a certain amount of energy to be drawn on. We're tired," Pence complains.
The year is likely to end with no final action on a number of major issues, including Social Security and immigration reform and tighter ethics standards for lawmakers. . . . This year, Congress will probably end up meeting for about 100 days — an average of about two days a week in return for a salary of $165,000.

Glenn Greenwald has more at Crooks and Liars.

Not to worry, they'll fit right in.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi women still can't drive cars, but they can sell them. Potential buyers can go to an all-women showroom where, for the first time, other women will help them choose a car and answer questions about horsepower, carburetors and other automotive features.

And you think that guy down at the dealership would drive the turkey he sold you?

More on England's WOT.

Ummm...no, not that. War On Teens.
Pink lighting may be introduced in towns in Lancashire in a bid to stop teenagers committing crime.

Makes the zits look worse.

Picking clean the bones.

(Sunday Telegraph) - The gulf's two military powers, Sunni-Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, are lining up behind their warring religious brethren in Iraq in a potentially explosive showdown, as expectations grow in both countries that America is preparing a pull-out of its troops.

The Saudis are understood to be considering providing Sunni military leaders with funding, logistical support and even arms, as Iran already does for Shia militia in Iraq.

Count your blessings.

(Times Online) - Half a dozen senior figures, including former prime ministers, Cabinet members, and even the heir to the Iraqi throne, have relocated to fashionable areas of London. Scores of other politicians living in Iraq have kept second homes in London as possible bolt holes.

The move has angered Iraqis back home, who complain that they are the same exiled politicians who argued hardest for the US-led invasion.

Just hope they don't try again.

(And BTW, you notice none of them are moving to the US.)

File under "Too Little, Too Late."

[David] GERGEN: Yes, I do. I think Nick Kristof is bright on this. But I must tell you that the pendulum has swung on this. There was a sense, in the lead-up to the war, in which the press, I think, was guilty of cheerleading. We were waving the flags and it was almost unpatriotic to question the possibility of war with Iraq. And then during the time of the invasion itself, when the reporters were embedded, you know, many of them fell in love with the military and I think they reported very accurately.

Video at Crooks and Liars.

Avoiding the dread fruit float.

Who figures this stuff out? I'm making a sort of lemon cheese pie with sliced fruit and pineapple Jello on top. So the recipe says, after the cheese part is all done and the fruit slices where they're supposed to be you pour just a little Jello on the thing and refrigerate it shortly until it's slightly set but not firm. WTF? Is that unslightly firm? Unfirmly set? Firmly unset? Just sorta runny?

Go figure. And if you get it wrong the fruit will float.

Yikes! And I coulda made cookies!

Oh well. It might not make any difference in the end. This thing has only got crust on the bottom - either that or I didn't make enough crust stuff - so I don't know, when the sides of the pan come off, if I'll have a cheese pie or a giant blob. And then what difference will a little floating fruit make anyway, is all I'm saying.

And that's before the Christmas sale discount.

(NYTimes) - Commercially, Web sites and companies sell many products based on polonium 210, with labels warning of health dangers. By some estimates, a lethal dose might cost as little as $22.50, plus tax.

Well at least it'll get noticed.

(HUFFPO) - A secretive Air Force facility in Colorado Springs tested a radio frequency this past week that it would use to communicate with first responders in the event of a homeland security threat. But the frequency also controls an estimated 50 million garage door openers, and hundreds of residents in the area found that theirs had suddenly stopped working.