Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wild In The Urbs: Thanksgiving Edition

A hard rain fell on Thanksgiving morning in San Diego. After the rain, the yard smelled like redwood and sage, and the birds came alive with singing. Small somethings to be thankful for.


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This I Believe ...

I believe I'll have another plate of turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Padres Go For Broke.

The San Diego Padres are in some kind of a meltdown. The team lost 99 games last year. Published stories indicate that payroll next year will be in the $40 million range, which is a bit more than half of payroll last year.

The team has let Trevor Hoffman go. To be frank, that's probably the right thing to do. Hoffman has lost his edge. Plus, he's a closer. Even when he's on, he's no good to the Padres unless the team has the lead entering the ninth inning. Better to put the money elsewhere and give Heath Bell a shot at closing.

The real heartache for fans is the effort to push Jake Peavy out the door. Peavy is the team's front line starter. Without him, there's just one truly top of the line starter on the team in Chris Young. With Peavy, the Pads have the edge going 2 out of 5 games they play.

Peavy trade talks are going nowhere, which is hurting the team's effort to rebuild the rest of the lineup.
"And for a team coming off a 99-loss season in 2008, there are several areas that need to be filled, as general manager Kevin Towers wants to add starting pitching, relief pitching and shore up his bench for 2009.

"But not knowing if the team can or will move Peavy and his $11 million contract for 2009 has all but left Towers in a standby mode until the future of the 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner is decided.

"'That's pretty much it,' Towers said. 'It's certainly a large sum of money we would be moving. Once that's decided, we will have a better idea of what holes we would be plugging.'" (Here.)
It's obvious to anybody that Padres management is moving Peavy purely for financial reasons. The team needs to shed payroll. The question is why?

My guess is it's tied to owner John Moores' divorce. California is a community property state and so everything he and his wife owned must be split 50-50. (Well, there can be exceptions to that, but let's not worry about those.) My guess is that shedding payroll is part of an effort to drive down the value of the Padres to improve John Moores' bargaining position when it comes time to swap assets with his wife in the property settlement. The less the Padres are worth, the less John Moores has to give up in exchange, if he wants to keep the team for himself.


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Space: The Arts Program.

One of the most appreciated but unremarked benefits of Earth's space programs are the beautiful photographs. For instance, this one of Mars: The smiley face crater is Galle. Or this one of Saturn's moon Dione: Or this photo of Saturn taken by the Cassini probe: You won't see that from Earth.

Two days ago the Boston Globe published a set of photographs taken in near Earth orbit of the International Space Station. (Here.) The images are striking.

It's a cliche to refer to the blackness or darkness of space. So, it's interesting to see how bright space appears in the photographs. Presumably, even in the darkness of space, it's going to be bright outside when your orbit takes you to the day side of the Earth. What with the sun being just 93 million miles away and all and no atmosphere to speak of to diffuse the sunlight.

Anyway, go to the link and enjoy.


Republished once to correct premature publication.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Is That Cute Or What?


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Monday, November 24, 2008

Wild In The Urbs: Going Native.

Southern California is a dry land. Okay, all land is dry land, but Southern California's land is especially dry. We don't get a lot of rain and we don't have much of our own water. Well, there is that giant ocean just to the west, but it's got all that salt in it, and don't get me started about the lack of desalination plants in this region. So, let's pretend the Pacific Ocean isn't there. That's what San Diego's City Council is doing.

Water supply is so bad that San Diego, thanks to the City Council, is going to start recycling waste water into drinking water. So, if you live elsewhere and have thought about moving here because you see how wonderful the weather is every time you watch a Chargers or Padres game from San Diego, think again. You'll be drinking cleaned up toilet water. Yummy, yummy toilet water. Not quite Tang but just like NASA!

Anyway, all that's a round about way of getting to the point. Those beautiful green lawns that define the suburbs consume way too much water for this region. That doesn't stop everybody from having one. But if the consequence of everybody having a lawn is everybody getting to drink toilet water, well, maybe it's time to go native and start replacing our lawns with native plants. You know, the plants that evolved to thrive in San Diego's low water ecology. Don't buy that argument? Then how about this one: the plants that God in his infinite wisdom perfectly created to grow here.

So, here's the home in the suburbs the week after moving in last February. And here's the same home today, two days after putting in all native plants. And here's a side angle shot.

Not too lush or green just now. (Clicking the photos to enlarge them helps.) But the picture doesn't capture the slight fragrance of sage, either. And the plants just went in. There are close to 100 new plants in the yard and each one produces either flowers or berries. Once the yard is established there will be an abundance of reds, and greens, and blues, and yellows, along with butterflies, hummingbirds, and other seed eating birds.

The best part is, once the yard is established, it won't need watering, except for the occasional sprinkle with the hose using the beer can method. The beer can method, for those not in the know, is this: grab a hose, grab a beer, and water the yard until you're done drinking the beer. Sounds like the perfect Southern California lifestyle to me.


PS: Props to Clayton Tschudy of Tschudy Ecological Designs for the design and the plant selection of the yard. He's got the right vision. The plants came from Las Pilitas Nursery, a native plants nursery, north of Escondido. Here are the names and links to the nursery's website for the plants in the yard. (You're going to have to cut and paste to see the pictures of the plants fully grown and descriptions.)

Galvezia "Firecracker"--
Viguiera laciniata--
Eriogonum umbellatum polyanthum--
Eriogonum arborescens--
Eriogonum grande rubescens--
Mahonia nevenii--
Salvia "Pozo Blue"--
Iris douglasiana--
Muhlenbergia rigens--
Ribes viburnifolium--
Diplacus puniceus--
Zauschneria californica--

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Americans Flunk Civics Test. Again.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has an online civics test. Go to its site at and take the test. (Here.) When you're done read the ISI's depressing press release and compare your score to the scores of your fellow Americans. (PDF Here.)

Apparently, Americans don't know much about their own government. My favorite finding? A college education doesn't help. My second favorite finding? Elected officials scored worse than the general population.

I took the test and scored 32 correct out of 33 questions, for a percentage of 96.97 correct. I answered question 33 incorrectly. My excuse is that I misread the multiple choice answers for that question. Or maybe it was the last question and I saw the open barn door, lost my focus, and broke into a gallop. Whatever, it was still a wrong answer, dammit.


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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

God's Will Or God's Guiding Light.

Sarah Palin's faith and her expressions of it have rankled the Christophobes in this country. This quote from her about a possible future run for higher office will no doubt push more buttons among them:
"'I'm like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I'm like, don't let me miss the open door,' Palin said in an interview with Fox News on Monday. 'And if there is an open door in '12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I'll plow through that door.'" (Here.)
The AP story interprets Palin's quote this way:
"Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin says she wouldn't hesitate to run for the presidency in four years if it's God's will ..."
That's not exactly what she's saying. What she's actually saying is that she'll run for higher office again if she concludes that it's good for herself, her family, her state, and her country. When she talks about God, she's talking about God showing her the right path. She's talking about enlightenment.

Palin's prayers are for enlightenment so that she can make a decision that will do the most good. She's praying that God shows her when an opportunity arises so that she can seize it, if it's the right thing to do. She's not saying that she'll run for President if God wills it, nor is she saying that if she does run for President it will be because God wills it.


Republished once to fix egregious grammatical error.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sweating The Small Stuff.

Barack Obama's campaign staff ran a very disciplined operaton. Rarely, were they off-message. I don't know what message the Obama family's wardrobe sent on election night but look at the photo here. Every member of the family is wearing red or black or both. Their clothes complement each other. It's a message of unity, perhaps. The choice of clothing can't be an accident. No detail was too small for that campaign.


Assuming that fair use applies to permit posting it, here's the photo as published in the San Diego Union-Tribune on November 9, 2008. Photo credit goes to TIMOTHY A. CLARY / Getty Images.

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God Or Evolution? Whichever, Nature Works.

Biomimetics involves applying the techniques of nature to technological products. (Here.) It makes sense because whether you believe God created nature or evolution made nature what it is today, the bottom line is nature works. Biomimetics has applications for human exploration of space.

Radiation in space can be deadly to astronauts. Here on Earth, people are protected from radiation by the magnetosphere. The problem for space travelers is how to duplicate that protection on spaceships traveling the long distances between planets. One proposal that's been kicked around for a while is to imitate nature by surrounding the spaceship with an artificially created magnetic bubble. Recent experiments show it could work.
"Researchers at the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the Universities of York, Strathclyde and IST Lisbon, have undertaken experiments, using know-how from 50 years of research into nuclear fusion, to show that it is possible for astronauts to shield their spacecrafts with a portable magnetosphere - scattering the highly charged, ionised particles of the solar wind and flares away from their space craft.

"Computer simulations done by a team in Lisbon with scientists at Rutherford Appleton last year showed that theoretically a very much smaller 'magnetic bubble' of only several hundred meters across would be enough to protect a spacecraft.

"Now this has been confirmed in the laboratory in the UK using apparatus originally built to work on fusion. By recreating in miniature a tiny piece of the Solar Wind, scientists working in the laboratory were able to confirm that a small 'hole' in the Solar Wind is all that would be needed to keep the astronauts safe on their journey to our nearest neighbours." (Here.)
On the other hand, imitating the snail might not be the best idea.


Republished once to add content.

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Night Of The Living Dims.

The Minnesota Senate race is headed for a recount. Senator Norm Coleman leads former comedian Al Franken by a narrow margin after the machine count. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is covering the story. (Here.)

Because all the ballots will now be counted by hand, metaphysics and mind-reading will guide the vote counters as they attempt to discern the mysterious "intent of the voter." For the vast majority of voters who follow the rules and cast legal votes, the intent will be clear. Those voters filled in the bubbles to cast their lawful vote.

For a small number of voters who didn't fill in the bubbles but made other marks, the Minnesota Secretary of State has created a graphic to show the kind of marks that now will count as votes. The graphic is reproduced by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. (Here.) It's worth looking at the examples to see the kind of non-votes that will be counted as votes because "the voter's intent is clear."

Six examples are shown and only two are clear examples of voter intent. In the first three examples the voter, rather than filling the bubble, circled the bubble, circled the candidate's name, or put a check mark in the margin next to the candidate's name. These marks are persuasive evidence of voter intent only if the voter did the same thing for every other candidate on the ballot. If the voter voted correctly in every other race, the marks are less likely to be votes and are more likely indications that the voter was unsure and put a place mark on the ballot as a reminder to make a decision after voting in every other race. The fact that the bubble wasn't filled in indicates that the voter chose not to vote in that race.

The fourth example is a check mark in the bubble. Again, if the voter filled every other bubble correctly, a check mark shouldn't count as a valid vote. It only indicates voter intent if the voter put a check mark in every other bubble.

The final two examples are the only ones persuasive of voter intent. In those examples a bubble next to one candidate is filled in, but another candidate has a bubble filled in then scratched out, or filled in and partially erased. That is persuasive evidence that the voter changed his or her mind. But what the evidence doesn't explain is why the voter didn't get a new ballot to correct the error.

If it were up to me, I wouldn't count improperly cast votes at all. The process of voting isn't hard. You fill in the little bubbles with the pen provided. If you don't fill in the bubbles but instead circle names or use check marks, or what have you, you're not voting, you're playing games, you're wasting your time, the state's time, and taxpayer money. And if you make a mistake, you ask the poll worker for a new ballot. It's not hard to do. We should expect more from voters.

In baseball, a balk is not a pitch. In politics, an improperly cast vote should not be a vote. Only properly cast votes demonstrate the voter's intent beyond doubt. Letting election officials count incorrectly prepared ballots as votes gives those officials the power to cast votes and to decide the victor in close races.


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Oooooo, Love To Love You, Baby.

Barack Obama's not been sworn in as President yet and already he's compared to our greatest Presidents. For example, there's the story headlined "Like Lincoln and FDR, Obama faces nation in crisis." (Here.) Can we let him get sworn in first before we decide that he's another Lincoln and not, for instance, James Buchanan? A President who did nothing to avert the Civil War and who also faced a financial crisis in the beginning of his Administration. He's considered one of the worst Presidents to serve.


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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Part Of A Great Tradition.

The rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights are not the greatest gifts the Founding Fathers bequeathed us when they wrote the Constitution. Instead the greatest accomplishment of the Founding Fathers was writing into our Constitution a system for peacefully transferring political power through regularly scheduled elections. Since its founding the United States has lived up to that constitutional mandate and never missed an election. Tonight America continued that great tradition and elected a new President. A new President whose policies run 180 degrees in the opposite direction from those of the current President. Despite those political differences the outgoing Administration has been working on the Presidential transition for almost a month. (Here & here.) Come January of 2009, political power will pass to Barack Obama from George W. Bush. Obama was not my candidate but he will be my President.


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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Our Diversity Is Our Strength.

Move along. All cultures are equal. Nothing to see here. From a press release of Amnesty International USA.
Child of 13 stoned to death in Somalia

"Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was accused of adultery, but sources told Amnesty International that she had in fact been raped by three men, and had attempted to report this rape to the al-Shabab militia who control Kismayo. It was this act that resulted in her being accused of adultery and detained. None of men she accused of rape were arrested.

"She was detained by militia of the Kismayo authorities, a coalition of Al-shabab and clan militias. During this time, she was reportedly extremely distressed, with some individuals stating she had become mentally unstable.

"Amnesty International has campaigned to end the use of the punishment of stoning, calling it gruesome and horrific. This killing of Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow demonstrates the cruelty and the inherent discrimination against women of this punishment." (Here.)
To say nothing of the society that allows it and the religion that endorses it.


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Wild In The Urbs.

Life hangs on and does what it can to survive. There have been a lot of spiders this Fall. This web in the front lawn is outlined by the morning dew about a month ago. The lawn is gone so the spider will have to find something else to build on. This snail used to drink from the bird bath every day. Today, I went to water the plants in the back yard. This praying mantis was resting on the wand and refused to give up its spot. It remained on the wand the entire time I watered. It got so complacent it took to grooming itself. Isn't that cuuute!? -tdr

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