It's Probably a Good Thing Rachel Maddow is a Lesbian...

August 27th, 2008

Honesty (joke)

August 25th, 2008

A young man works on the farm with his father. Because the "back 40", a parcel of farmland well away from the house, is located so far from the house, the father constructs an outhouse next to the creek at the edge of the property. And when working out on that parcel he forces his son to use the outhouse, rather than waste fifteen minutes walking back to the house and fifteen minutes walking back out to the field.

The son hates the outhouse. It's filled with spiders, it smells bad, it's just generally unpleasant. So one day he resolves to get rid of it.

On a Saturday, when his father is gone, the young man walks out to the back 40. He looks around, sees that he is alone, and runs full speed into the outhouse, knocking it into the creek. He watches it start to sink, and runs away.

That evening, his father comes up to his room.

"Son," the man asks, "did you knock the outhouse into the creek this afternoon?"

Ashen-faced, the young man 'fesses up. "Yes, father, I did."

"Well then, go outside and fetch a switch, because you are in for the whipping of your life."

"But father! Didn't you just last week tell me about George Washington, who when his father asked who had cut down the cherry tree, replied 'I cannot tell a lie - I cut down the cherry tree.' Shouldn't I be rewarded for my honesty - like George Washington?"

"Well, son," the father replies, "that's true. But George Washington's father wasn't in the cherry tree when George cut it down..."

Oil Prices

August 21st, 2008

Oil prices have recently gone from a high of $147 a barrel down to $115. Of course, this is all up from $25 a barrel in 2002.

Now, as oil and gasoline prices began to pinch, various talking heads began to blame the high prices on "speculators". I largely discounted this position for two reasons:
1) It's obvious that global demand for oil has been increasing, supply has remained flat, and hence prices should rise.
2) The people blaming speculators tended to be Republican apologists, and as such are complete and utter liars and exceedingly prone to blame someone, anyone, for anything that people find uncomfortable, so long as that person is not themselves or the conservative idols at whose feet they grovel.

So I felt that the bleating about evil speculators forcing up gasoline prices was the usual right-wing effluent that emerges whenever the conservative media opens its mouth.

Well, I may have been wrong.

(About the role of speculators, not the nature of Republican apologists. Republican apologists remain wholly mendacious; even pathological liars accidentally speak truth now and then.)

However, as regards speculators: "The [Commodity Futures Trading Commission] now reports that financial firms speculating for their clients or for themselves account for about 81 percent of the oil contracts on NYMEX..."

Wow. 81 percent of the oil contracts are not held by firms actually wanting future delivery of oil, they're held by speculators. That's... impressive, and disturbing.

Anyhow, it's not a smoking bullet, and it remains true that the fundamental global economics of oil are forcing higher prices. But maybe the worries about speculators and their role on prices are not wholly misplaced.

On another note, my wife (a professional economist) observes that the very recent fall in oil prices coincides almost exactly with the Chinese Olympics. And China has, as you are probably aware, turned off large swathes of factories, banned half the cars from Beijing's roads, and in general is really fervently watching the Olympic games.

So, is the dip in oil prices due to the Olympics? Probably not solely, but I'll be watching avidly to see if prices resume their upward march after next week's closing ceremonies.

Reviews: The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony, World War Z, Sovereign, and Hellboy: The Golden Army

August 19th, 2008

The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony by John Scalzi - 7.5/10 and 7/10, respectively

The sequels to the earlier-reviewed Old Man's War return us to the interesting universe Scalzi has cooked up. Lots of good action, and a plot where all sides believe themselves to be the good guys. Well-written, enjoyable, though lacking the thrill of discovery from the earlier book. The Last Colony suffers from tired-author syndrome - it feels as though Scalzi spent the time wanting to be done already. The plot lashes around like a rattlesnake's ass, setting things up then completely changing the paradigm again and again. So, worth reading, but could have been better.

World War Z by Max Brooks - 8.5/10

A recommendation from fellow Republic blogger Neal, World War Z was excellent. Told in a post-cataclysm interview style, it grabs you from the first page and holds your interest throughout. Although I would disagree with many of the speculative events presented in the book, the writing is so good that logical quibbles are merely speed bumps. Even for those who turn their nose up at zombies it's a good read; my wife read it on the plane back from Syracuse and enjoyed it as well.

Sovereign by C.J. Sansome - 8/10

Another good Tudor-era mystery by C.J. Sansome, better I think than Dark Fire and on a par with Dissolution. Well-written and interesting, accessible yet period; my only major quibble would be that Sansome doesn't include enough major characters, to the point where I saw the ending coming from only a third of the way into the book. Other than that, though, quite good.

Hellboy: The Golden Army - 7.5/10

Good, but not awesome. Stellar visual effects, a decent plot, but there was an unnecessary and unresolved tension between the real world and the fantastic world. Either have it be understood and accepted, or mysterious and hidden, but unless the plot revolves around revealing the fantastic world to the mundane, don't try to work that in. Please.

The bleh of discovery

August 13th, 2008

My grandfather worked for the US Forest Service. He spent most summers of his working life tramping around the Sierra Nevada mountains, uprooting gooseberries or overseeing construction or surveying roads etc etc.

So one day he's out in the high Sierra and he walks into this little vale, and lo and behold there's a teepee. This was in the 1940s, and it was dilapidated and falling apart but it was an actual teepee. As he approached it, he found on the ground an obsidian spearhead, six inches long and beautifully worked, and he thought to himself "Good lord, what might be inside this thing?"

Well, it was full of beer cans and cigarette butts and all the crap left by the decades of people who had found it before him.

I listen to the radio, and now and then I hear a song I haven't heard before which I actually like. And about every six months I sit down at the Internet and discover which new artists have produced these new songs that I hadn't heard before.

Tonight it was "Radio Nowhere" and a song whose lyrics I recalled, and using those to search I found that it was titled "So Hott".

By the cool new artists Bruce Springsteen and Kid Rock, respectively.

At least the teepee was cool.