Monday, March 31, 2008

Amusing political ad

Steve Novick, a U.S. Senate candidate from Oregon, stands only 4'9" and has another prominent physical disability, which he puts to good use in this commercial:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tiny hotel room

Um, this hotel with tiny rooms is just a refurbished and gussied-up SRO, right? There are a ton of those places in downtown L.A., as long as you don't mind staying with transients on Skid Row. With the name "The Pod," I thought it was going to be a capsule hotel. That would have been much cooler.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Who knew?

There is an asteroid named after Adam Carolla.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Changes to the World Map

Happy Easter! Alleluia!

Following up on yesterday's post on the upcoming dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, I've decided to do an update on my list of changes to the world map since the fall of Communism, which I don't believe I've ever shared on this blog before.

I remember when I was a kid growing up, world maps stayed basically the same. Most of the de-colonization of Africa finished by about 1980, when I had barely started school, so I missed out on all the rapid changes of the postwar years. Then, in high school, Communism began to collapse in Eastern Europe. All of a sudden, you could pinpoint when a map was created by whether countries like Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union were split up or together, and then things got really ugly in Yugoslavia. There's been a tendency to think of the world map as being largely static since then, but there have been a few changes. We all remember the struggle for independence in East Timor, and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia continues to this year with the independence of Kosovo, though that has yet to be universally recognized.

So I began keeping a mental note of changes significant enough to appear on a map of the world. The biggest changes would, of course, be the creation or dissolution of new countries. Also noteworthy would be:
  • Changes in borders,
  • Country name changes,
  • Capital relocations,
  • Significant changes in territorial status,
  • Renaming of capitals or other major cities,
  • Renaming of major physical features, or
  • Other changes of similar importance.
Here's my chronological list since the split of Czechoslovakia on January 1, 1993:
  • May 24, 1993: Eritrea becomes independent of Ethiopia.
  • October 1, 1994: Palau becomes independent of the U.S.A.
  • January 1, 1995: Kiribati changes time zones to consolidate the entire country onto one side of the International Date Line, effectively diverting the Date Line to the east. Many maps fail to show this, however.
  • 1995: Bombay, India is renamed Mumbai.
  • February 1996: The capital of Tanzania is moved from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma.
  • 1996: Madras, India is renamed Chennai.
  • May 17, 1997: Zaire is renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • July 1, 1997: Sovereignty of Hong Kong is transferred from the United Kingdom to China.
  • July 4, 1997: The Independent State of Western Samoa drops "Western" from its name to become simply Samoa.
  • 1998: Kazakhstan moves its capital from Almaty to Aqmola, newly renamed as Astana.
  • December 20, 1999: Sovereignty of Macau is transferred from Portugal to China.
  • 2000: The International Hydrographic Organization designates the Southern Ocean, though this is not universally recognized.
  • 2001: Calcutta, India is renamed Kolkata.
  • May 20, 2002: Independence of East Timor from Indonesia is recognized.
  • February 4, 2003: Yugoslavia becomes the short-lived State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.
  • November 6, 2005: Burma/Myanmar's capital is officially moved from Rangoon/Yangon to an unnamed new site in the center of the country.
  • March 27, 2006: Burma/Myanmar's new capital's name is announced as Naypyidaw/Nay Pyi Taw. (The military government's changes in names and capitals aren't universally recognized.)
  • June 3, 2006: Montenegro declares independence from Serbia.
  • June 5, 2006: Serbia declares itself to be the successor state to Serbia and Montenegro, naturally.
  • June 13, 2006: Nigeria agrees to transfer sovereignty of Bakassi to Cameroon, though this remains in dispute.
  • October 7, 2006: Palau moves its capital from Koror to the new town of Melekeok.
  • February 17, 2008: Kosovo declares independence from Serbia; this is recognized by 33 countries.
Wikipedia maintains a similar timeline of "country and capital changes" with a slightly different purview, which I didn't come across until I was almost finished putting this list together. I had forgotten about the Cameroon/Nigeria territory transfer until seeing their list.

Future expected or possible changes:
As a bonus, there have been two significant changes to the map of Canada in recent years:
  • April 1, 1999: The Territory of Nunavut is split off from the Northwest Territories.
  • December 6, 2001: The Province of Newfoundland's name is officially changed to Newfoundland and Labrador.
And in the United States, who can forget the New York/New Jersey border dispute around Ellis Island, decided by the Supreme Court on May 26, 1998 in favor of New Jersey?

Anybody know anything I missed?

Bonus trivia: Yugoslavia's old national anthem was called "Hey, Slavs."

3/24/08 UPDATE: In all the attention I paid to the Netherlands Antilles, I neglected to learn that right next door, Saint-Barthélemy and the French part of Saint-Martin separated from the French Overseas Department of Guadeloupe to become their own separate Overseas Collectivities. I have no idea what the different terminology means in practice, but this at least means that they are now governed separately.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Say goodbye to the Netherlands Antilles

Geography buffs, take heed: The Netherlands Antilles will be dissolved on December 15 of this year. Curaçao (home of Dodger Andruw Jones) and Sint Maarten will become their own countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, similar to Aruba's current status (and the current status of the Netherlands Antilles as a whole).
The three smaller islands forming the Netherlands Antilles will become more closely associated with the Netherlands, forming "special status municipalities." It's kind of unclear what exactly this status means. It looks like they won't be fully part of the Netherlands, yet they will be able to vote in Dutch national elections.

Arrangements like this kind of blur the line between independence, dependency, and full integration with the parent country. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just confusing. For example, the Overseas Regions of France (Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Réunion) are, legally, as much a part of France as Hawaii and Alaska are a part of the U.S., yet people still make a distinction between Metropolitan and Overseas France.

Charles Murray defends Obama

Charles Murray, co-author of the notorious The Bell Curve, tells his fellow conservatives who dismissed or mocked Obama's speech on race to get their heads out of their asses and actually listen to what the man said:
Of course you can go after him in all the ways that people have gone after him—if what you want to do is go after him. But suppose you approach Obama’s text under the twin assumptions that (a) he is trying to communicate with you, and, (b) your obligation is to make a good-faith effort to understand his meaning.
He goes on to say that he's not going to vote for him because he doesn't agree with his politics. That's a perfectly legitimate position. But this notion that Obama is some kind of slick-talking huckster is just wrong. Imagine a politician actually being honest!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Interesting things found on the Web

Because that's what blogs are all about, right?

1. The subprime crisis is explained in rudimentarily-drawn web comic form.

2. John Gray writes on "The Atheist Delusion" in The Guardian.
A great deal of modern thought consists of secular myths - hollowed-out religious narratives translated into pseudo-science. Dennett's notion that new communications technologies will fundamentally alter the way human beings think is just such a myth.
3. Here is a big, comprehensive superdelegate tracker.

4. Wikipedia reports on Greek philosopher Diogenes of Sinope.
Diogenes scorned not only family and political social organization, but property rights and reputation. The most shocking feature of his philosophy is his rejection of normal ideas about human decency. Exhibitionist and philosopher, Diogenes is said to have eaten (and, once, masturbated) in the marketplace, urinated on some people who insulted him, defecated in the theatre, and pointed at people with his middle finger.
Also, be sure to periodically check my list of links on the right; you never know when I'll have added something new that will strike your fancy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Hyperactive TV investment guru Jim Cramer was perhaps less than prescient about Bear Stearns:

UPDATE: If the caller just had an account with Bear Stearns, rather than investing directly in them, there's no problem, at least according to this guy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's rebuke

Here's the full text of Barack Obama's rebuke of the offensive racial comments his pastor made and his further thoughts on race in America. It strikes exactly the right tone and hits many very good points; it's so much better than the standard defensive, unilluminating "I denounce this" speech that public figures so often give. It could become a key point in his campaign, but will the public listen? I hope so.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dick Cheney vs. reality

Dick Cheney visits Baghdad and declares the Iraq invasion a "successful endeavor." Meanwhile, a female suicide bomber in Kerbala kills 25 people and wounds 50 others.

It's also worth noting that John "integrity" McCain was in Iraq at the same time, in a taxpayer-funded trip that I'm sure was in no way an effort to burnish his Presidential credentials.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

On Hillary and her campaign

1. Ryan Wu lays it all out for you here. Basically, pre-campaign, Clinton and Obama were roughly equal. Then, Hillary runs one of the most dispiriting, scorched-earth primary campaigns we've seen, and Ryan's (and my) opinion of her takes a nosedive.

2. Michelle Goldberg on the bizarre turns that old-guard feminists have taken in this election. Shouldn't it actually be a victory for feminism that young women are evaluating Hillary (who, incidentally, wouldn't be in the running without her husband) based on her merits and not merely on "solidarity" because she's female?

3. Frank Rich writes on Hillary's "Audacity of Hopelessness" campaign.

4. All that being said, I can't agree with this sentiment here on Andrew Sullivan's blog. She's not a monster. She's a good politician who's running a terrible campaign. She's made the mistake of doing the Republicans' job for them, beating down the Democratic frontrunner instead of staying within the bounds of an in-party contest. She's said that the Republican nominee is more qualified than Obama in a desperate attempt to win at any cost. She's hurting the Democratic Party and she's hurting the Clintons' legacy, and she needs to stop.

But the commenter on Sullivan's blog (remember, he still claims to be conservative and doesn't really get the benefit of the doubt on sexism charges, anyway) wants to turn this into an uglier campaign than it already is, wishing to see Hillary win the nomination but lose in November merely to beat her down and teach her a lesson. The election in November has to be about repairing the damage done by George W. Bush and moving America toward a better future.

The Drifters

Do you remember the Drifters, the doo-wop singing group from the 50s and 60s (actually, they're still active today) whose biggest hit was "Under the Boardwalk?" I guess their name is supposed to evoke an airy, easy feel, like they're drifting on a cloud or something. But what about the more common meaning of the word "drifter?" You know, somebody who moves aimlessly from town to town, job to job? It seems that would be more suitable for a punk band, or maybe a group of hobos with harmonica. It's a very different image.(Drifter illustration by Gavin Hargest.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

News of the Weird

This is both very strange and very sad... a woman in Kansas had to be pried from a toilet seat by emergency responders because she had a phobia about leaving the bathroom and had stayed on the toilet for two years.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Rachael Ray Conquers the Animal Kingdom

Not content to grin her way through her daytime talk show, magazine, regular Food Network shows, and the rest of her lifestyle empire, tonight the TV Food Network will bring you Rachael Ray Feeds Your Pets. FYI, this involves her cooking food for dogs, not being fed to them herself. NOOOOO!!!!

Fun with Stock Footage

For that campaign commercial in which Hillary Clinton asks you to believe that she's the one you want answering the phone at 3 A.M., she used some stock footage of kids sleeping, apparently just waiting to be pounced upon by terrorists Barack Obama can't stop. One of those kids will be of voting age next month, and is actually a precinct captain for Barack Obama's campaign.

KROQ's Bean's take on this ad.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Airborne: Yep, it doesn't work

Paul C. just added a comment to an old post:
Did you hear that the courts recently decided that Airborne was essentially useless, and now they'll have to reimburse buyers to the tune of roughly $23 million? When you're right, you're right.
Oh yeah. Sweet, sweet victory. What is it about human psychology that makes so many people trust this stuff while at the same time vilifying the companies that make actual lifesaving medicine? Maybe people wouldn't believe the pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo about vaccines causing autism if instead of getting a painful shot you had an exciting fizzy pill that came in a box with nice, reassuring art by Lloyd Dangle.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

R.I.P., Gary Gygax

So, Gary Gygax died today. Officially, he was merely the co-creator (with Dave Arneson) of Dungeons and Dragons, but considering that he wrote the core rulebooks and many other items for the game, co-founded the company, and has persisted as the public face of D&D even 23 years after he left TSR, there's no question that he's the one man most responsible for the existence of role-playing games as a hobby.

I played D&D and other role playing games quite heavily from 4th grade through about 9th or 10th grade; eventually I drifted away as my friends and I found other things to do on the weekend, but I look upon those days and the time I spent role-playing with great fondness. In fact, just a few weeks ago I was feeling nostalgic and started digging out my old D&D books, and I've even been using eBay to fill in gaps in my collection. Right now there's a big box full of role-playing games and several stacks of modules and rulebooks sitting on my living-room floor. (Consider that a few weeks ago Steve Gerber died when I was midway through The Essential Man-Thing, and we may consider that my interest may be some kind of a bad omen for geek icons.)

I think one of the most wonderful things about the game was its interactivity. You didn't just open up the box and play the game; there was always a lot of improvising on the parts of the players and DM, not just in order to perform their roles, but also in tweaking the rules, discarding rules that were too cumbersome (like most of the rules designed to make spellcasting more complicated), coming up with new monsters and character classes, designing dungeons, etc. A lot of the role-playing games that followed in D&D's wake had rules that were more internally consistent or otherwise made more sense, but in a sense the hodgepodge of charts and seemingly arbitrary limitations meant that adding your own new rules for things was just being faithful to the spirit of the game.

The September 2006 issue of The Believer had a good story about the history and impact of Dungeons and Dragons, all tied in to a trip by the author to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to play D&D with Gary Gygax.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Jack Nicholson for Hillary

Apparently this is real. Jack Nicholson endorses Hillary Clinton in a collection of clips, and the effect is pretty weird. Surely Nicholson must realize that he creeps people out, right? That's what he built his career on. Is creeping people out an effective way to support your candidate?