news clippings

Ba-a-a!

Also in the news recently, the Seattle City Council is considering whether to allow the licensing of pygmy goats as pets. While I’m in favor of the measure—the more cute ungulates the merrier, I say—I’m a little puzzled by Councilmember Richard Conlin’s explanation for why he wants to legalize minigoats: “They are already a common pet, and they have some sustainability benefits in that you can grow your own milk and cheese.”

I think “sustainability benefits” is Conlin’s way of saying that it’s more efficient for city-dwellers to make their own cheese than to buy it at a supermarket. This seems unlikely to me, unless you assume that city-dwellers’ time and labor have no cost.

But, hey, that’s a digression from the real issue:

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Humanity continues to amuse me

In today’s New York Times, an article about classic Israeli porn:

It was one of  Israel’s dirty little secrets. In the early 1960s, as Israelis were being exposed for the first time to the shocking testimonies of Holocaust survivors at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a series of pornographic pocket books called Stalags, based on Nazi themes, became best sellers throughout the land.

Read under the table by a generation of pubescent Israelis, often the children of survivors, the Stalags were named for the World War II prisoner-of-war camps in which they were set. The books told perverse tales of captured American or British pilots being abused by sadistic female SS officers outfitted with whips and boots….The most famous Stalag, “I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch,” was deemed to have crossed all the lines of acceptability, prompting the police to try to hunt every copy down.

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Calling Shelob

Yesterday’s New York Times carries the wonderfully creepy story of a giant spiderweb crawling with “millions of spiders” that has been discovered in a North Texas park:

Sheets of web have encased several mature oak trees and are thick enough in places to block out the sun along a nature trail at Lake Tawakoni State Park, near this town about 50 miles east of Dallas.

The gossamer strands, slowly overtaking a lakefront peninsula, emit a fetid odor, perhaps from the dead insects entwined in the silk. The web whines with the sound of countless mosquitoes and flies trapped in its folds… Mr. Dean and several other scientists said they had never seen a web of this size outside of the tropics, where the relatively few species of “social” spiders that build communal webs are most active.

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Author of MS Word barred from World Series of Poker

Via extempore, news that Richard Brodie, the guy responsible for the red squiggly line that appears under misspellings in MS Word, has been barred from all Harrah’s casino properties. Since this includes the Rio, the site of the 2007 World Series of Poker, he won’t be playing this year.

Brodie’s story of the barring appears on his blog. Note for Trek fans, the “Wil Wheaton” in the comments is indeed li’l Wesley Crusher from ST:tnG, all growed up now.

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There’s evil afoot

No, I’m not talking about the Virginia Tech shootings, the latest bombings in Iraq, or Governor Corzine’s decision to go speeding without a seat belt.

According to a report in today’s Seattle P-I, elements of the chocolate industry are lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to change the legal definition of chocolate so that it no longer needs to contain cocoa butter (or, in the case of milk chocolate, actual milk).

The headquarters of the Resistance is here.

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“Why do you keep asking me a question that I’m giving you an answer to?”

Via Andrew Sullivan, a transcript of an interview between radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt and retired U.S. Army General William Eldridge Odom. Odom thinks the U.S. should pull out of Iraq as soon as possible, and his arguments make interesting reading—this is not your typical lefty anti-war rhetoric—but what really struck me about the conversation was the overall tone. On the one hand, you’ve got a conservative pundit who clearly doesn’t like what he’s hearing but respects the person he’s hearing it from too much to just blow him off, and on the other, you’ve got a no-nonsense career officer who seems baffled and more than a little annoyed by the notion that it matters whether you like your options.

As an aside, Odom’s comments on the difference between liberal and illiberal democracies reminded me again just how lucky I am to have been born in America—and no, I’m not being sarcastic.

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Better than a vanity license plate…

Last Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review had a story (“Who’s Your Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddaddy?”) about how people have begun using genetic testing to find out whether they are related to any famous historical figures. For a couple hundred bucks and a cheek swab, a lab will do a profile of your DNA, the results of which can be entered into a genealogical search engine. The Times article mentions an accounting professor in Florida who discovered he is a likely descendant of Genghis Khan, and a man from Hawaii who found out he shares a common ancestor with Marie Antoinette. (Not all genetic searches end happily; it seems there are a slew of Lees living in the deep south who have been crushed to learn that, no, they aren’t related to Robert E.)

You can also do a “deep ancestry” search—if you want to know what part of the world your ur-grandmother was living in 20-40,000 years ago, mitochondrial DNA will tell the tale.

The testing companies mentioned in the article are Relative Genetics, located in Salt Lake City, and the U.K.-based Oxford Ancestors. Of the two, Relative Genetics seems to have a wider range of services (and better prices), but Oxford Ancestors has funnier ad copy: right now they’re offering a Father’s Day special on Y-chromosome analysis.

Better than a vanity license plate… Read More »