Archive for January, 2004

Today’s exploding whale (caution: graphic photographs) is brought to you by dumb researchers at the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan:

Residents of Tainan learned a lesson in whale biology after the decomposing remains of a 60-ton sperm whale exploded on a busy street, showering nearby cars and shops with blood and organs and stopping traffic for hours.

The 56-foot-long whale had been on a truck headed for a necropsy by researchers, when gases from internal decay caused its entrails to explode in the southern city of Tainan.

I say “dumb” because this kind of problem can 1) be reasonably expected, and 2) be at least somewhat contained by covering the dead whale with a tarp or something.

You may be wondering what other exploding whales I have in mind that I would call this one “today’s” exploding whale. Well, there was a now-infamous incident in Florence, Oregon that occurred in 1970.

What was remarkable about that incident was not merely that the authorities decided that TNT was an ideal method for disposing of a beached whale carcass, nor the fact that large chunks of whale were subsequently responsible for damage to nearby cars, but that a local news crew caught the entire incident on video.

Dave Barry, not surprisingly, wrote a column about that one.

But the thing about the exploding whale in Taiwan that really makes it special, is this:

“More than 100 Tainan city residents, mostly men, have reportedly gone to see the corpse to ‘experience’ the size of its penis,” the newspaper reported.

I am, of course, resisting the urge to make a really bad joke about a certain Melville novel, the species of the whale in that novel, its name, and the MSNBC headline on the story.

UPDATE: The video link above now goes to a site that actually downloads the film in less than a zillion years.

I’d be ashamed to admit how much time I’ve already wasted with this.

Now I’m off to waste some more.

This is completely brilliant:

Danish researchers said they have produced a plant that can help detect hidden landmines by changing its colour from green to red when its roots come in contact with explosives.

The genetically-modified plant changes its colour from green to red within three to five weeks of growth when its roots come in contact with NO2, a chemical group present in explosives.

Yet another example of the positive use of genetically modified plants. These particular plants cannot spread without human help, thus controlling where they grow so they won’t take over the local ecology.

For several years I’ve been intrigued by revolutionary methods for detecting landmines and buried explosives, because this is such a tough problem from an engineering perspective. The world is littered with landmines left over from forgotten wars, and also in places where hostilities are still active but serve mainly to threaten the lives of innocent civilian populations in rural areas.

Trained dogs are one method, although it is labor intensive to train the animals and they require a skilled handler. There’s the brute force method employed by a mine clearing machine (basically a bulldozer that triggers landmines and safely contains the explosion inside a shielded shell).

More elegant is the portable metal-detector-like device made by Quantum Magnetics, which works using quadrupole resonance technology (it gently disturbs the molecules in explosives with a radio wave and detects the disturbance). It has the significant advantage of being a device that one person can transport and operate over rough terrain, and can be reliably used by someone with minimal training, such as soldiers or civilians.

But something like plants that change color is innovative for many reasons. It’s environmentally non-disruptive, can operate passively for long periods of time (eliminating the need for active scans or patrols), and the signal is pretty much idiot proof even to local residents; the plant turns red.

So tell me again how genetically modified plants are evil?

One of the upsides of being a secular rationalist is being amused by snarky riffs on the oddity of religion, as seen in the post below. One of the downsides is that one’s cultural opponents always seem to have better music. To date, nothing has come closer to making me religious than choral hymn music. And now, on top of that, I find this. (Thanks to OxBlog for the pointer.) The Soviet Union was a totalitarian nightmare, but some of their art was magnificent.

I take some comfort in the fact that to date I haven’t found any good music from the Islamicists, but now that I’ve mentioned it I’m sure I’ll find some tomorrow.

God says he loves me. In fact, he killed his only son to show just how much he loves me. There’s no place I can go to escape him. He says he knows that even if I claim not to return his love if he waits long enough eventually I’ll realize that I do love him too.

If a human being acted like that we’d say he was an obsessive and delusional stalker and slap him with a restraining order.

This story about a white kid being nominated for “Distinguished African American Student Award” at a high school in Omaha is fascinating:

A small group of Westside High School students plastered the school Monday with posters advocating that a white student from South Africa receive the “Distinguished African American Student Award” next year.

The posters were removed by administrators because they were “inappropriate and insensitive,” Westside spokeswoman Peggy Rupprecht said Tuesday.

Trevor, who was pictured on the posters, was suspended for two days for hanging the posters. Two of his friends also were disciplined for hanging the posters. A fourth student, she said, was punished for circulating a petition Tuesday morning in support of the boys.

Apparently a number of students at the school, presumably black, were hurt and offended by this poster campaign. But here’s the best part, Trevor is an African American. He’s from Africa. He just isn’t black.

Administrators have even gone so far as to say that the award is always given to a black student. Ok, then why isn’t it called the “Distinguished Black Student Award”? Or the “Distinguished Colored Student Award” (you can’t tell me that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People isn’t a weird name for an organization in this day and age) or something equally precise?

It’s called the “Distinguished African American Student Award.” Trevor is an African American. He just happens to also be white. Anybody detect any, oh, racism or prejudice operating here?

Isn’t there something inherently racist about assuming that all Africans are black? I mean, technically, a student named Mohammed born and raised in Cairo is also an African American, even if he would be considered Arab by most people who look at him. Or is the implication here that blacks should be accorded special recognition because they’re somehow intrinsically disadvantaged and need boosts to their self-esteem? The whole attitude leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth, as there is a nasty voice in the back of my brain saying, “What they really mean is that niggers are stupid and lazy and we have to give them a special prize when they do something as well as a white kid does.”

But see, I’m not supposed to say that out loud.

But “African American” is the current politically correct word for blacks, therefore to call them anything else is “racist” or “demeaning”. So you can’t really be accurate and call it an award for a black student, because that sounds kinda condescending. And while this sort of condescension is indeed part and parcel with the current liberal ideology, it’s gauche to be too obvious about it.

UPDATE: Fox News has picked up the story. If you would like to express your opinion to the Westside Community School District, you may do so at: westside@westside66.org

Tacitus has comments, and many answering comments from readers.

Today’s auto-Darwination is brought to you buy some stupid kids in Mississippi:

West Marion High School student Marshall McCleod was critically injured and later died at a local hospital after his friend Tyler Thomas shot an army ammunition box with a 20-gauge shotgun. The box was apparently filled with dynamite.

Okay. So these kids decided to use an old ammunition box for target practice. Without checking to see what was in the box. A box that used to be filled with gunpowder. A box that was now filled with dynamite.

It sounds like a Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

It’s not often that I run across such a prime example of abuse of power, coveting someone else’s possessions, and outright theft:

A Pine Lawn officer found the cash when he arrested Smith on suspicion of drunken driving April 28.

Back at the police station, Mayor Wright observed as police counted the money, according to the official report.

“Wright stated that he would like to purchase the previously mentioned $1,000 bill as a novelty item, as few people have ever had the opportunity to see a bill in that denomination,” the report said.

Wright went to the St. Louis Community Credit Union and withdrew 10 $100 bills, the report explained. Police switched the money and deposited it in an account for seized drug assets.

The city issued Smith a check for $3,231 to cover the $1,000 bill plus his other cash.

Yes, you read that right. The mayor of Pine Lawn stole a collectible bill from a person who was ultimately never charged with drug dealing. The bill would have been considered evidence. What is a politician doing in personal possession of evidence — buying evidence?

And if the bill is no longer evidence, why won’t they give it back? These bills are very rare and have a collector’s value considerably above the face value, therefore it isn’t just some random paper currency.

I’m really pissed off about this. I intend to contact the Pine Lawn, MO Mayor’s office and the Police Chief. If you would also like to do so, you can find the information here.

Of further interest is the fact that Pine Lawn has apparently been the scene of a variety of other forfeiture law thefts in times past, as reported by the Drug Policy Alliance and F.E.A.R., and as indicated by this report of a local Pine Lawn citizens’ protest, which details the transgressions.

I have been trying to obtain access to the original articles by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (“Hooked On the Drug War”) but may have to go to the library for that. If anyone can provide additional information, I’d be grateful.

UPDATE:

A man’s treasured $1,000 bill was returned by police who swapped it for more common currency at the mayor’s request after the trucker was arrested.

Pine Lawn officials gave no explanation for returning the note, which Smith got from a banker friend 20 years ago. But the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s office said earlier the city’s keeping of the note created the appearance of impropriety.

Uh huh. What do you wanna bet they got a whole lotta complaints from people on the internet after this story appeared on the AP wire and on Fark.com? ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks to Melinda for finding this follow up.

Our office just got the most intriguing coffee machine. Mars, Inc. (yes the ones that make candy bars) has created the Flavia Beverage System.

This thing looks a lot like a regular coffeemaker, except that the coffee (and tea and cocoa and creamy topping) all come in little pouches. You stick a cup in the cubby, put a pouch in the drawer, press a button, and 30 seconds later you have a cup of cappucino, or espresso, or latte, or an espresso shot, or Chai tea… You get the idea.

No more $5.00 Starbucks coffee. Foamy would be proud.

There are days where I can hardly believe I made it to work with my vehicle intact. Today was one such day. You can use Mapquest to play along if you like (San Jose, California).

1. Branham northbound by my house is blocked off from Almaden Expy to Navaez (about a half mile) by the police. Cops everywhere. Flares everywhere. One minivan in the center median with a blown airbag. Another car on the other side of the lanes facing 180° the wrong way. Ouch.

2. Several schools in the area, as well as 3 freeway connections. Result: traffic fucking sucks in every direction.

3. I turn right, try to find back streets to another route. Minivan 4 cars ahead of me pulls over. Minivan behind it stops, blocking the street, for no obvious reason for upwards of 30 seconds before both drivers get out and start talking to each other. WTF. Get out of the fucking way!

4. I end up going the other direction on Navaez. Cross intersection. Cringe at the sound of tires screeching behind me as I am almost (but not quite) rear-ended.

5. SUV in front of me stops dead in the street. Driver and passenger get out and switch places, fire drill style. O-kay…

6. Asshat in giant pickup truck nearly runs me down on 87 North trying to make me go faster in bumper to bumper traffic.

7. Asshat trying to merge onto 101 North from Airport Pkwy comes to a dead stop in a lane of 60mph traffic. I swerve to avoid him.

8. Get to First Street waiting to turn left. There are 2 left turn lanes. Problem comes when 3 lanes of cars turn left. 3rd car being driven by asshat with a map over the steering wheel trying to read and drive at the same time.

I finally get to work wondering if it’s a full moon.