2005-09-27

They'll Put The Onion out of Business

Imagine the horror. You're a serious journalist, or at least you pretend to be. You work for Reuters, CNN, or the Washington Post. You value your reputation, and you want to command respect. You want to be taken seriously by the public. And then you have to report stories like this. And you have to do it with a straight face.
"No one's going to believe this bullshit," you say to yourself. "If I'd wanted to write this sort of thing, I would have worked for The Onion."

A week ago I would have laughed if The Onion had run this story. FEMA fucks up. FEMA's director resigns in disgrace. FEMA rehires former director as a contractor and tasks him with investigating his own fuckups. Former director finds himself not to blame.
This, my friends, is funny. What it should not be is real news.

Does anyone remember when Bush was first appointed president five years ago? Remember the article The Onion ran? You can no longer find it in their archives, but luckily Echidne of the Snakes has a copy in her archives. It's fantastic.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

and
Bush had equally high praise for Attorney General nominee John Ashcroft, whom he praised as "a tireless champion in the battle to protect a woman's right to give birth".

Unfortunately for The Onion (not to mention the rest of the world), this turned out to be more prescience than satire. This administration is going to make the entire genre obsolete. We must not let that happen.

2005-09-23

Evolution at Home

Much to my chagrin, my snail tank appears to have become a prolific fruit fly breeding ground. Now, there's no way for me to permanently solve this problem, that I can think of. I can clean the tank, but as soon as I do, some of the many flies that have escaped will get back in and start breeding again. And I can't effectively get rid of the population outside the tank with newly hatched flies coming out of the tank at a steady pace. My only hope is to do my best to encourage any fruit flies in the tank to leave, and then try to reduce the population outside the tank to manageable levels. I would try putting the tank outside for a couple days but it's supposed to be in the teens and low twenties and I'm afraid that would kill the snails (10tacle, care to weigh in on this?).

So. To get rid of insects inside the apartment the safest, cleanest, cheapest, and most effective way to do this is with diatomaceous earth. It's best suited for walking insects, but it also works with flying ones, just more slowly. The primary disadvantage to this method is that it makes your apartment look like a five-year-old has been scribbling on bits of it with chalk. Much as this may fit in with my decor theme (mess, mess, and more mess), I'd rather avoid it, so I decided to start with some very clever fruit fly traps a friend told me about.

You take some small, shallow bowls, fill them most of the way with a liquid the fruit flies will like (I used hot chocolate - dairy free so it wouldn't stink), and cover them with saran wrap. Then cut a slit in the saran wrap, so the flies can get in but, because they're flies and therefore stupid, can't get out again.

Well I tried it, and the damn things work like a charm. The two in the living room and one in the bathroom are filling up with flies (don't ask me what the flies are doing in the bathroom, where there's never any food. Flies are stupid). The one in the kitchen is still pretty empty but the kitchen is actually where the problem is least serious, so that's okay.

In observing my little fly traps, though, I noticed something. I appear to have two kinds of fruit fly. Anyone with high-school level biology (and probably most people without) will be able to guess what the two kinds are. Yup, red-eyed fruit flies and black-eyed fruit flies. BUT, I noticed something else. Now, I don't know if these traits are generally linked, or if it's just a coincidence of my populations, but the red-eyed fruit flies are tending to be less than half the size of the black-eyed ones. What this means is that the little buggers can make their way out of the traps. So while the traps are filling up quite nicely with large (relatively speaking), black-eyed fruit flies, they're just providing most of the little rede-eyed ones with a nice snack. Sure, a few of the stupider, less lucky red-eyed ones die, and a few of the smaller, luckier, black-eyed ones escape, the overwhelming majority of dead flies are the black-eyed ones. I predict that, although I started off with a large majority of black-eyed flies, in a couple days I will end up with a population that is overwhelmingly red-eyed and small flies. So what, you may ask, it shouldn't make a difference what color/size the flies are. But you'd be wrong! What, I ask you, is the defining characteristic of these red-eyed flies? It's not their eye colour, or even really their size (although that's relevant). It's their ability to survive my traps. In laying out these traps I am, pretty much by definition, creating an environment that selects for flies that can survive those traps, thereby making the resulting population harder to kill. To put it in more familiar (though less accurate) terms, I've created trap-resistant flies. Well damn.


And this evolution, yes evolution, of the fruit flies in my apartment is a fact. Not a theory, but a directly observable FACT. And anyone who can observe this phenomenon and not realise that the same forces driving it exist in nature, not realise that when you come down to it, the world we have (maybe not the exact world we have, but a world that shares the key property of being teeming with hugely varied life) is the highly likely, possibly INEVITABLE, result of the advent of a molecule that just happens to replicate itself (which in and of itself isn't a particularly surprising occurrence when you think of the sheer size of the universe) is a COMPLETE and UTTER MORON!!


(Sorry, I try not to get that heated on my blog generally. I guess I've been reading way too much Creationist nonsense lately.


Frakking dumsnuts.)

UPDATE:
In response to Q. Pheevr's response in the comments: It's true that this specific example is one of not-so-natural selection, rather than speciation, but speciation is the obvious and inevitable result of this process being repeated over and over, with multiple simultaneous selection forces, over a long period of time. There's no logical way around that, and it's the people who can't see that who are morons.

2005-09-17

Rogue!

The Rogue is finished. It's been nearly a year since I started it, and now it's done well before the weather turns cold again.

It was my first attempt at cabling, but I think I did okay. Check out the sleeve:


And the side panel:


For more pictures of the work in progress you can check out my Flickr set here.

I'll post a picture of myself wearing it on Monday when I'm back in Montreal.

2005-09-15

Make the Protesters Work for Us.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania has come up with a great way to raise money, as well as morale.

Now, I don't know what the numbers are, but it seems to me that most Planned Parenthoods in the US have problems with protesters standing outside, hurling insults at staff, volunteers, and patients alike. Not only does this cause distress (and occasionally physical harm, if things get violent) to the staff, it greatly increases their needed volunteer base, because they need people who will accompany patients past the protesters, and it makes some patients less likely to come to PP to get the care they need.

This may strike some protesters as a good thing, but what they probably don't realise is that when they heckle and shame people who cross their picket line, they're preventing more than just abortions. For many women, too poor to pay for health insurance, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, Planned Parenthood is the only option they have for healthcare, period. When you picket a PP clinic you make it harder for a lot of women to get basic medical care. And when you cause a PP to close, you make it impossible.

So, in order to raise morale, and make it easier for the staff and volunteers to face the stream of insults and epithets every day, PPSP has come up with the Pledge-a-Picketer program. From the website:

You decide on the amount you would like to pledge for each
protester (minimum 10 cents). When protesters show up on our sidewalks, Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania will count and record their number each day from October 1 through November 30, 2005. We will place a sign outside the health center that tracks pledges and makes protesters fully aware that their actions are benefiting PPSP. At the end of the two-month campaign, we will send you an update on protest activities and a pledge reminder.

Example:
If you pledge 30 cents per protester, and PPSP has 100 protesters in October and 160
protesters in November, your donation would be 78 dollars for the entire two-month campaign.

Similar to sponsoring a runner in a charity marathon, your pledge total can be capped at a pre-set amount, if desired.


I think this is a brilliant idea, and I encourage anyone who cares about women's health to give what you can, or at least spread the word.

(Via Chris Baldwin)

2005-09-08

2005-09-02

Yummy garden

Because I am the coolest ever, I actually managed to grow my own dinner. Go read about it