Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fort Zombie

As I noted previously, I've gotten hooked on computer game play-throughs on YouTube. Not only can I waste a lot of time that way, I'm always tempted to buy the games, myself (so I can really waste a lot of time).

Well, last fall I started watching a Fort Zombie play-through by Revocane, and it really looked like fun. (I can't find the original series, but he's started a new one here.) I'm pretty bad at games like that, but heck, for less than $10 from GamersGate, why not give it a try?

As it turned out, the controls were terrible, at least for someone as inept as I am at action games. Some games, I just can't play at all, and this one was more frustrating than fun. So I set it aside and moved on.

Then, last week, I started watching another Fort Zombie play-through, this time with a melee character. And you know? That looked like it might work out better for me. And yesterday, I was really looking for some mindless fun.

Sunday, I went out to net one of my fruit trees, an Asian pear, and I discovered that I was too late. The birds had destroyed the whole crop. There were maybe four pears left on the whole tree that weren't bird-pecked and rotting.

So I decided I needed a day off. Yesterday, I decided to do nothing productive. Hey, I don't normally do much that's productive anyway, but yesterday, I did nothing. In fact, I spent most of the day playing Fort Zombie. And it was, indeed, a lot of fun.

On YouTube, Lethal Feline - thedeathcat - was playing a crowbar-only character. He vowed to use no other weapon, no matter what. Well, Fort Zombie characters always start with a crowbar, and it's supposed to be the best club in the game. So he could design a character to specialize in that.

For me, I wanted to play a melee character in general, but not to restrict myself to anything in particular. I don't need to make the game even harder on myself!

In fact, I wanted to use a bladed weapon, which tend to be more powerful than clubs, but you have to find one of them first. So I made a character with some club skill, some blade skill, and some firearm skills - a jack-of-all-trades who would start off using that crowbar, but switch to a better weapon when he could.

And that worked. Admittedly, I was lucky enough to find a broadsword, the best bladed weapon in the game, on my second day. But I find melee weapons easier to handle than firearms. And you don't run out of ammunition!

Ben Riley, your character, starts out in front of three chests containing food, some medical supplies, a crowbar, and a crappy handgun, with ammunition. His first goal is to get across town to the police station, where he can safely spend the night.

Note that you can't save the game except in the police station (or in one of the other locations, depending on which difficulty level you chose at the start of the game). But you don't want to hurry there. You need to scavenge for supplies as you go, not heading for home until your inventory is full.

That first day, I almost died at the police station. It was absolutely packed with zombies, far more than on any of my previous attempts, last fall. And they all came rushing out the front door as I approached.

I survived, but barely. And it's been a narrow thing ever since. I was down to 11% health at one point. I'm only on Day 4, but I lost health every day until this last one, when I finally had a few survivors backing me up.

At any rate, as a melee character, I learned from that video to walk everywhere, conserving my stamina. I play deliberately, taking my time. There are dangers in that, since time is always short, but it's been working for me.

In this game, zombies can carry weapons, and it's the policeman zombies, with pistols, and - especially - the army zombies, with assault rifles, which have been the big threat. My character has been shot and killed a few times (requiring me to restore a saved game).

Note that they're not very good shots - well, they're zombies, after all - but they never run out of ammunition. (And they never drop anything useful, either. You can't get loot from dead zombies.)

I do use guns myself, when necessary, but I'm not very good at it. I mean, my character isn't too bad at it, but I'm not very good at it as a player. For other zombies, my broadsword works very well, but when I get a mixed group - melee zombies plus police or army zombies - it's tough.

Well, as I say, I'm very, very bad at games like this. I hate the controls, too. But most people probably wouldn't have as much problem with them as I do. And it is fun. At least I can play the game this way - so far.

Each day, Ben Riley goes out looking for food and tools, weapons, or other survivors, depending on what's available that day. I usually take a survivor with me, for backup and to use as a pack mule. The other survivors stay busy at the police station, building barricades and/or traps.

We have a deadline. After 13 days, zombies will attack the fort en masse, and we have to be able to fight them off.

The town - Piety, Indiana - is procedurally generated. Every play is different, and every location is different, although built with the same buildings - businesses, homes, churches, etc., which become quite familiar.  Most everything is trashed, to a greater or lesser extent, but there's still loot to be found, if you search for it.

And zombies - lots and lots of zombies.

As I say, my character has been badly injured almost from the beginning. For the first three days, every day found me worse off than the day before. And part of that is because I've had trouble finding survivors. (Survivors with medical skills will heal me a bit every night.)

On the other hand, I've found an abundance of food. And as I say, I found a broadsword on Day 2. We still use guns, but relying on a melee weapon means that I don't run out of ammo. If I have a survivor with me, I equip her with a pistol, but restrict her to short range attacks. So she only shoots if I let a zombie get past me.

Again, I learned that from watching those YouTube videos. Who says YouTube isn't educational?

Saturday, July 28, 2012


I doubt if this will hurt Romney, though. The GOP base is dumb enough to think that it's great. And even moderate voters seem to have a cowboy idea of diplomacy.

Great Britain is one of our oldest and strongest allies, with a long, proud history. But why would we respect that?

Who cares what some "little country" like that thinks, right? Who cares if we elect another George W. Bush?

Oh, THAT government help...

Please tell me that the America people aren't actually dumb enough to buy Mitt Romney's lies.

Isn't there some limit to the ignorance and the gullibility of the American people? Isn't there some lie that's so outrageous that the mainstream media will finally speak up? Isn't there some claim so idiotic that Fox 'News' will be laughed into insignificance?

At some point, you have to wonder if there's any limit at all. This is a blatant lie from the Romney campaign. It comes on top of numerous Republican lies, but I don't know that I've seen any which were worse than this (a few that match it, yes, but none worse).

Is there no limit to the lies they can get away with? President Obama did not say that businessmen didn't build their own businesses. There's just no question about that. It's abundantly clear. It's just a cynical lie - a bald-faced, unethical, cynical lie, which really seems to imply that the American people are complete idiots.

Are we? Are we this stupid, that Republicans even have the gall to lie this blatantly?

Aliens are just like us

Yeah, that's the plan, huh?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Manly Texan shoots himself in the butt

You know what would make America safer? More idiots carrying guns:
Dallas police said they arrested a man whose gun accidentally went off inside a Walmart store, injuring two other customers. ...

KDFW-TV, Dallas/Fort Worth, said [Todd] Canady, who has a concealed-weapons permit, was reportedly reaching for his wallet in the checkout line but grabbed the pistol he was carrying instead. The gun went off, wounding Canady in the buttocks. The bullet then hit the floor and sent fragments into the other two victims.

The two other victims, incidentally, included a five-year-old child.

It's too bad he wasn't carrying an assault rifle or a machine gun, huh? If we could just get everyone packing weapons, we could be as safe as Somalia, even.

"The Wellstone" by Wil McCarthy

(cover image from Amazon.com)

The Wellstone (2003) is a re-read for me. It's the second book in Wil McCarthy's Queendom of Sol series, sequel to The Collapsium, but it's the first book I read.

And it works very well as a standalone read, since it takes place many years after the first book, and the characters are the next generation of the Queendom. (As it turns out, that's the whole point.)

Anyway, I was blown away by this book the first time I read it. I remember thinking that it was a plausible, yet remarkably optimistic vision of our future.

This time, as I was reading it, the book didn't seem so optimistic. It's funny, but I had a somewhat different reaction, at least during the first half of the book. (The last half restored my optimism, I think.)

But it wasn't just the end of the book vs the beginning, not really. What's really optimistic is the incredible technological achievements of the Queendom. They've pretty much conquered death itself - they have conquered old age - and even children can manipulate programmable matter to do almost anything.

No one wants for anything. If our own society would seem like a utopia to our ancestors, this one very definitely seems like a utopia to us (to me, at least). But human nature hasn't changed. And I'm not sure that human beings are really suited to utopias.

After an odd sort of prologue (see below*), The Wellstone begins in a camp for rebellious teenagers - 16- and 17-year-old boys, including the Crown Prince of the Queendom, who're the major characters of this book.

These kids aren't especially admirable, but then, if they're the worst their society produces, I guess this part of the book might be more optimistic than it seems. Besides, they're basically just unhappy. And they have reason for that.

Immortality might seem wonderful - certainly at a personal level - but what would that do to our society? These children of immortal parents face the prospect of being considered children forever.

[As I was reading, this theme reminded me of Cryoburn (2010) by Lois McMaster Bujold. The theme there is that time marches on, but also that it's probably necessary. We don't live forever,... and it might be a good thing we don't.]

The crown prince will never become king, because his parents will never die. Their generation will never move up, never take over responsibility for the world, because the older generation will never retire, never die, never leave to make room for them.

Some of them no doubt accept this - after all, they, too, get immortality out of the deal. But many chafe at the prospect. And the kids in Camp Friendly are the troublemakers, led by a brilliant young prince.

Without getting into details, let me just say that they stage a daring and desperate prison break. OK, Camp Friendly isn't technically a prison, but it certainly feels like it to them. And it's particularly dangerous, because the camp is on a miniature artificial planet deep in the Kuiper belt, billions of miles from Earth.

And death is still very real. Oh, sure, if you die, one of your stored patterns from months ago is activated. But is that clone really you? Certainly, he won't have your recent memories. And sometimes, our experiences change us in significant ways.

Note that that's also the theme in Farthest Star (1975) by Frederick Pohl and Jack Williamson, and I love it here as I loved it in that book. (Sorry, but I've read enough science fiction that I'm always being reminded of previous stories.)

In the Queendom, copies are normally reintegrated, so you retain the memories of both. But if 'you' die, you're gone. The fact that a (partial) copy will still exist somewhere might not be much of a consolation when you're struggling for breath.

At any rate, this is an exciting adventure. And the main protagonist of the story develops admirably. He's always sympathetic, but his experiences cause him to grow. In fact, he grows up, becoming not just a man, but a real hero. (And the prospect of his potential death, of all that growth being for naught, rightly frightens him and us.)

He's not the only admirable character, either. (Note that the girl, Xmary, is a very appealing character, too.) Not everyone is sympathetic, certainly not at first. But there are a lot of young people with a lot of potential.

At one point in the book, we encounter some young runaways, all naked (they're nudists) and colored pastel blue. They're weird, yes. But quickly, we see that they're vigorous, self-directed, hard-working, and intelligent. They'd be an asset to any society.

There's just no place for them in the Queendom. Kids today can have their fads - my generation certainly did! - and yet expect to grow up and take charge of their own society. In The Wellstone, they see immortality creating a prison which will never open up for them.

This is a brilliant book, highly entertaining and thought-provoking, both. I highly recommend it!

*PS. I did want to say a word about the prologue (as I consider it, although it's actually just Chapter 1). The book begins in the far distant future, and it has almost a steampunk feel to it. Conrad Mursk is still alive, guiding a tiny brass sphere - through muscle-power, no less - as it tries to land on a miniature artificial planet.

He's seeking help from a man even older than he is, a man who's been alone for so long that he can't even recognize novelty. All we know is that there's war, terrible war, and that most of the technological accomplishments of the Queendom are long gone.

The entire book, then, is basically a flashback to the distant past. I don't normally like that sort of thing. And in this case, I especially dislike it because it seems clear that the series must not be optimistic after all.

Now, I haven't read the final two books, so I don't actually know if that's the case. But I'm pretty sure that this prologue is the reason why I didn't continue with the series. It just didn't make the next books sound appealing.

I would have preferred The Wellstone without the very beginning and very end, which simply hint at disaster without really adding anything to the story.

But there you go. This is not nearly enough to affect my enjoyment of the book. And who knows? I might feel differently once I do read the final two volumes.

Certainly, it shouldn't put you off from reading this superb SF novel. Just be aware that the real story here begins with Chapter 2.

Note: Here's my review of the third book, Lost in Transmission.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The price of inequality

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I don't usually post these extended interviews from The Daily Show, but this is too important to miss.

In America, "the land of opportunity," we now have the least equality of opportunity of any of the advanced industrial countries - including all of Europe, which so many of our ancestors fled for the opportunities here.

It's just incredible, isn't it? It's not just that we've become the most unequal developed nation, but that the opportunity to better ourselves has declined to that extent, too!

Well, that's what three decades of 'trickle-down' economics will do to you. Ever since Reagan, we've been giving tax breaks to the wealthiest of the wealthy, while chipping away at our infrastructure, our schools, our society.

Now, the "American dream" is a myth, for many people. Republicans believe it like they believe other myths. But then, they're faith-based, not evidence-based. And they'd rather blame black people, they'd rather blame Hispanic immigrants, they'd rather lie about Barack Obama, than face reality.

"The life chances of somebody - a young person born in the United States - is more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in any of the advanced countries for which we have data, much worse than even in Old Europe."

Just think about that. It's not a problem that Mitt Romney was born wealthy, or that his children were born wealthy. (They're starting out with a $100 million trust fund, for chrissake!) The problem is that those people now pay a much, much lower tax rate than you do (especially considering all the loopholes and tax shelters they've been given - likely, most of Romney's earnings aren't even considered taxable income, so they wouldn't show up on his tax forms even if he did release them).

Yet those taxes pay for the kind of society that lets people like the Romneys accumulate their wealth and enjoy it - things like police and fire departments, public schools, roads and bridges, a legal system, pollution control, health officials, the military, etc.

And we can't fund a decent educational system, available to all, that way. We can't build the kind of nation we need when the wealthy are given such windfalls. We can't even maintain the country we once had!

If you want the evidence for that, look at the last 30 years, ever since 'trickle-down' economics took hold of the Republican Party (and since the Republican Party, that's to their 'Southern strategy' of deliberately wooing white racists, has dominated American politics.)

"Wealth incumbency." Yes, that's a great phrase. And that's exactly what we're talking about here. We're creating a hereditary aristocracy in America. If you're born rich, you have all the advantages. If you're born poor, you have none.

And if you're born into the middle class, you've got a far better chance of dropping into poverty than of climbing up the ladder of success. The lack of a strong social safety net means that one unexpected setback can knock you out of the middle class. And the increasing expense of a college education means that your children will have less of a chance to better themselves than you did.

This is the price of inequality. And now that corporations are 'people' and money is 'speech' - according to the Republican majority on the Supreme Court, at least - this is getting worse and worse. (Note that corporate CEOs can use my money - and yours, if you own stocks or mutual funds - to buy politicians to give themselves tax breaks, and they can do it all without even telling us that's what they're doing with our money.)

Guess what? The wealthy don't like paying taxes. Well, few of us really like paying taxes, but some of us recognize why they're necessary. But it's always very easy to believe what you want to believe, so if you're rich yourself, you'll probably want to believe that tax cuts for the rich are good for everyone.

Ordinarily, that wouldn't be a problem. The rich, by definition, are only a tiny fraction of the American people. And we've got a democracy here, right?

Unfortunately, the rich have used their wealth to increase their control of our political system. And thanks to Fox 'News' and other media - and hundreds of millions of dollars in anonymous political ads - they've succeeded in convincing the ignorant and the gullible to support their agenda.

Sadly, we have a lot of ignorant and gullible people here in America.

Do we look stupid to the GOP?

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Crazy, isn't it? And Republicans are pushing this lie for all it's worth. Do they really think we're this dumb?

Are we this dumb? For god's sake, American voters aren't too bright, but please tell me we're not this dumb? Are we really going to buy these lies from the GOP?

Sure, they're pushing this night and day on Fox. But come on, even their viewers must get some information from other sources, don't they? Please tell me that even Fox 'News' viewers aren't dumb enough to swallow this lie!

I really like the last part of this, where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney "argue it out" - agreeing on everything Barack Obama said in that speech. Funny, huh?

But what does that tell you about Mitt Romney? That he has no ethics at all? That he has no moral center? That he'll say anything, agree to anything, in order to get elected? But you already knew that, didn't you?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hearts of Iron II

Yesterday, November 9, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Well, that's what the game tells me, at least. But I had battleships at Pearl Harbor, and I saw no sign of the Japanese - not there and not anywhere else, either.

But at least we're finally at war. After playing this game for three weeks, something has happened! :)

This isn't a new game, but it's new to me. I bought Hearts of Iron II Complete - the original game, plus two expansions - from GamersGate almost three weeks ago (naturally, it's on sale right now), and I've been playing at least a little bit every day. Until yesterday,  pretty much nothing has happened. I'm not kidding, either. It really is pretty funny.

A few years ago, I bought Europa Universalis III, also by Paradox Interactive. That's a very impressive game, it really is. I'm still amazed by it. But I don't think I'm smart enough to play it. Or maybe I'm just not patient enough, I don't know. I really wanted to like it, but I never got very far with it.

But I was watching this playthrough of Hearts of Iron II on YouTube, and that looked like it might be a little different. For one thing, I know a little more about World War II history. And I thought the 1940s might move a little more quickly than the 1400s.

I really like the history in this game. It doesn't just start historically accurate, but historical incidents continue to occur as long as the situation hasn't changed too much.

And yet, differences do occur. In my game, Germany declined to sign the Molotov–Ribbentrop non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, although those two nations still haven't gone to war.

Indeed, the Soviet Union hasn't gone to war with anyone. The Winter War never happened, and Nazi Germany took all of Poland this time. (And the Spanish Republic beat the fascists in their civil war, this time.) So there are always differences.

A player can, with patience, do almost anything he wants. But it takes a long time to change a nation dramatically. The United States started out very isolationist (historically accurate), and as a democracy, even the president is very limited in what he can do.

As the power controlling the United States, I couldn't declare war in the early years. I couldn't even join the Allies early. So, from 1936 to 1941, I just built factories, air fields, and naval bases, researched technology, created military units,... and waited for something to happen.

It's not that I didn't expect this. After all, I didn't expect war with Japan until December 7, 1941 - or perhaps a little earlier (America decided to embargo oil to Japan in the summer of 1940, a full year before it happened in real life) - so I knew I'd have a long wait from 1936.

You can play any of these nations. Want to play Haiti? South Africa? Turkey? Go for it. (I wouldn't necessarily recommend those nations, but it is possible.)

But it's been a little frustrating not seeing what's happening in the rest of the world. Oh, I get the notifications - Germany annexes Poland, Germany annexes Norway, etc. - but I can only see the big picture. My naval ships don't even have the range to get to Europe (where I would be able to see the fighting in nearby provinces), and that's not the kind of game this is, anyway.

Even when I have to make a policy decision - which has been a rare occurrence - there's only ever been one rational response. It's not exactly a "decision" when one choice - the historical choice - gives me all sorts of bonuses, while the other just makes America even more isolationist.

Still, I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I expected this, and I even applaud it. I like the fact that the game is historical. I can change things very dramatically if I want, but I don't want to do that - not playing as the United States, at least. (And if I wanted to jump right into war, I could have played as Germany.)

Indeed, I even moved most of my battleships to Pearl Harbor, expecting to suffer a real reversal in the inevitable Japanese surprise attack. OK, they were my older battleships. Heh, heh. But still.

Yesterday, almost a month ahead of time, the Japanese declared war. Supposedly, they made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, but as I say, I saw no sign of it - or of any other Japanese attack. And I don't seem to have suffered any kind of setback (but maybe I'll see that soon?).

At the same time, they also declared war on Great Britain, so I joined the Allies myself. I assume that means I'm currently at war with Germany and Italy and the rest of the Axis powers, but I must admit that I didn't look. Heck, I haven't even been able to reach Europe with my ships, so Japan has been my major focus, so far.

You can see your troops or an ally's troops anywhere, but other units only where you have eyes.

I wanted to post this before I actually get into the war. So far, I've just been trying to prepare for it. For almost three weeks! (Or five years, however you want to look at it.) Everything takes a long time in this game - building an aircraft carrier takes almost two years - so if I've made any serious mistakes, I won't be able to correct them immediately.

My plan in the Pacific is basically to follow historical precedent. I've fortified America's holdings in the Pacific, except for Guam and the Philippines (the latter a puppet state), which I figured were lost causes anyway.

I know there are some powerful Japanese fleets out there, and there's a lot of ocean to cover. At the same time, I can't afford to spread myself too thin. As soon as possible, I need to take the offensive and start island-hopping, taking vital airfields and naval bases from the Japanese in order to get closer and closer to the Asian mainland.

This probably won't be easy, because Japan will be able to use those airfields to good advantage. Well, that's why they're so critical. And I'll have to protect my supply lines, too. That's absolutely essential in this game.

I have a different plan in the Atlantic. I don't think Germany can reach the American mainland with anything. Indeed, I haven't been able to reach Europe. Now that I have allies there, it's possible, but still not easy.

But I've been building up Puerto Rico for a push into Africa (Liberia is an American puppet state). I think I can reach Ascension Island, a British possession in the South Atlantic, if just barely, with my most modern ships. There's no port there, but if I can drop off troops, I should be able to pick them up from ships based in Liberia.

Alternatively, I might take French Guiana from Vichy France (and their islands in the Caribbean, while I'm at it) and try to build a port there. That might be close enough that I can reach Liberia directly.

But I'm not sure I'll be able to build a port there, since the province will probably revert to the Free French once I take it. (They're allies, but I probably can't build in their provinces.) I just don't know. One way or another, I think I can make this work, but I'll just have to see.

Africa is the soft underbelly of the Axis. Indeed, the Allies have been doing quite well there already. Everything north and east of Liberia is still controlled by Vichy France, but it shouldn't be difficult to advance quickly against them, given the situation. (Some African provinces have already risen up and declared for Free France.)

Of course, there's a real shortage of airfields in the Saharan Desert! And I don't have any tanks. (I couldn't research everything, and my priority has been to defend against Japan.) I still think this will work, but it might be slower than I'd like - thus giving the Axis time to react.

Well, as I say, my priority has been to build ships and planes for war in the Pacific. I expected - and still expect - to use the time it will take me liberating Africa to create a land force which will have some chance against the Germans. (Right now, even Italy would probably kick my butt.)

The real wild card is the Soviet Union. In our history, Germany invaded Russia in June, 1941. So far, that hasn't happened here. The Soviet Union hasn't done anything but build up their military. And they really, really dislike me. :)

I don't know what they think of the rest of the Allies, but it hardly matters. If a nation declares war on one of us, we're all in it. The possibility that the Soviet Union might join the Axis is... troubling. Heh, heh. Well, I lie. The fact is, I could work to improve America's relations with them if I really wanted to.

But I don't. This is just a game, after all. No one really dies in a pretend war. So the more enemies the better, right?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sally Ride, 1951-2012

"That's what we call discrimination. And that's why we fight against it."


Mitt Romney vs Muhammad Ali

"Doesn't it feel good to get both sides of the story?" :)

Aurora and gun control

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The NRA has every politician, on both sides of the aisle, completely buffaloed. We can't even talk about gun control? It's "insulting" to even bring it up?

As Jon Stewart says, this is a complicated issue. But when guns are completely off the table, when we can't even talk about gun violence, how are we ever going to find a solution to this kind of thing?

Instead, we'll ban costumes. Maybe we should put restrictions on buying comic books. After all, guns don't kill people, so it must be comic books, right?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

More critter wars


It was 100° F yesterday (pretty much an average day this summer), so of course I worked out in the hot sun for almost eight hours.

I started at 10 AM - early, for me - and finished at 6:30 PM, without even stopping for lunch (although I did take a beer and computer game break for almost an hour).

The problem was that my red grapes were starting to change color, and I knew what would happen then. Indeed, in just the few days since I noticed that - days when I was busy elsewhere, unfortunately - the robins had already eaten about a third of them.

Yes, I've already mentioned my war with the squirrels, but they're my biggest problem, not the only one.

In this case, I'd already netted my early grapes, but I can't completely block off the grapes without netting the entire row. There wasn't much of an opening there - I'd blocked it as best I could - but birds will find any opening at all.

Usually, they'll find a way inside, but no way to get out again. This time, though, the red grapes were near the end of the netting, so they didn't have that problem. And in just a few days, they'd wiped out cluster after cluster of grapes.

So yesterday I extended the netting - not quite to the end of the row, but at least to my gate (that leaves a much smaller opening that's a long way from the grapes that are starting to ripen). I also pruned and netted my little Pink Lady apple tree.

The apples, too, have been pecked to death by birds. And given how wormy they seem to be - for some reason, I just hate to spray, so don't get it done early enough or often enough - it was probably a waste of time, anyway.

But the tree is right next to my grapevines, so I just netted the whole thing. That might make it a little easier to pick grapes when the time comes, too.

But this story is mostly about rabbits. Rabbits don't usually cause me problems, because I've covered my chainlink fence with chickenwire (against the fence, it's pretty much invisible - most people don't even notice it).

I've got hardware cloth on the bottom of the gates, too, so rabbits can't normally get inside. But if they do get inside, they can be almost impossible to get out again. A couple of years ago, I actually chased a young rabbit around my yard until it died of heat stroke.

Well, it turned out yesterday that there was a rabbit nest right alongside the fence where I was working, very close to the gate.

As parched as my lawn is - we haven't had any rain in a long, long time - you wouldn't have thought rabbits could have been hiding anywhere, but it doesn't take much! And they stayed still for a long time, though I must have been stomping around right next to them.

Finally, a baby rabbit jumped out right from under my feet, then two more. Now, I'm always very careful to keep the gate closed, just for that reason. But these rabbits were very small - small enough to squeeze through the chickenwire, with difficulty, if they were highly motivated.

The first one ran to the south and got stuck trying to get through the chickenwire. As I say, it wasn't easy even for them. He started squealing (causing his mother to come running), but by the time I got there, he'd pulled loose and found a better place to get through my fence.

As I ran to get the first baby rabbit, I saw the second one scoot through the fence into my backyard, too. I don't know where the third one went. I just hope he didn't do the same thing.

At any rate, I was able to catch the first bunny and release him in the front yard. I hope his momma will find him there. But I couldn't find the others, not at first.

However, just before I went inside for the day, I thought I'd try something else. I took the hose and sprayed the area along the fence (from the inside), which cause the second bunny to move enough that I could spot him.

Note that this is the area under the grapevines which I had just netted off, so there was a temporary chickenwire fence on both sides. That temporary fence wasn't much of an obstacle for the baby rabbits (there were gaps all along the bottom), but it made things rather difficult for me.

When I tried to grab the bunny - or scare him back through the fence, which was more likely - he got stuck. He'd picked the absolute worst place to try to get through it, and he got so stuck I wasn't sure I'd ever get him out.

Of course, he just squealed and squealed as I worked to get him free, lying on my belly with one hand extended. (Again, his mother came running. I must say that I was impressed. What's a rabbit supposed to do, anyway, against, well,... anything eating her babies? But she got as close as she could.)

After working all day in the heat, I was just exhausted - and dripping with sweat. But eventually I got the bunny free, pushing him through the fence to join his mother.

As I say, I don't know what happened to the third one, but I sure hope he's not still in my yard somewhere. In another few days, they'll be too big to squeeze through the chickenwire, and my backyard is rabbit heaven. I'll never get him out, not until fall, at least.

Like the birds, rabbits will find any opening you leave them. The first few years taught me that! But I've got all the holes plugged up now, I'm sure. But that works both ways. If they can't get in, they can't get out.

Normally, baby rabbits won't leave the nest until they're too big to get through the chickenwire. They won't leave momma that early, certainly. And they'll stay in the nest unless you're right on top of them (or until the lawnmower is right on top of them, which is all too common).

It was just my bad luck - and theirs - that I'd needed to net those grapes then, and not a few days earlier or later. Oh, well, I hope they made it. I don't want to hurt them, I just don't want them inside my fence. There's plenty of room in the front yard for them.

Today, it's suppose to be 105°, and I need to finish netting the last of the grapes. Unfortunately, it's also supposed to be windy today, so that might not be possible. Well, I have plenty of work to do out there.

Any maybe I'll actually pick some grapes today. My earliest grapes are ripe, mostly. And let me tell you, they are worth the effort.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Young women

No comment, except to say that this guy is really funny, don't you think? Check out his YouTube channel for more.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Heavens! How could you imagine that?

Who John McCain could have been

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Sorry you had to see Anthony Weiner's bulging briefs again (Jon Stewart really needs to retire that photo!), but there's a point to this. Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, is Muslim, and she works for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Yeah, she's perfect loon-bait, huh? And she caught a bunch of them, not just Michele Bachmann. But what makes this noteworthy - after all, it can hardly be considered news when Bachmann says something crazy - was the response from John McCain:
Everything was going swimmingly for Bachmann and her compatriots Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Thomas Rooney and Lynn Westmoreland, who sent letters to five separate Inspectors General demanding an investigation into the Islamic kudzu spreading throughout the federal government, since the only folks complaining about the baseless accusations were liberals like Keith Ellison (also MUSLIM).

But then Senator John McCain had one of his moments of virtue that was not motivated by bitterness at losing an election and spite directed toward the winner (see the maverick-y version of McCain in 2001 for an example of that). Instead, he was just… decent, for decency sake, as he addressed the accusations against Abedin on the Senate floor…
Put simply, Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully. I am proud to know Huma, and to call her my friend.

Recently, it has been alleged that Huma, a Muslim American, is part of a nefarious conspiracy to harm the United States by unduly influencing U.S. foreign policy at the Department of State in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist causes…

To say that the accusations made in both documents are not substantiated by the evidence they offer is to be overly polite and diplomatic about it. It is far better, and more accurate, to talk straight: These allegations about Huma, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.

That is eloquent and righteous and… good. What has the Muslim Brotherhood done with the cranky, sore-loser McCain?

The sad thing about it is that John McCain had the chance to be this kind of person, but he wasn't brave enough or honest enough or selfless enough to take it.

Instead of standing up to the crazies in his own party, instead of using his 2008 presidential nomination to lead the GOP back to sanity, he chose to go with the flow. This self-described "maverick," this moderate who flirted with joining the Democrats, chose to embrace the fanatics who've taken control of the Republican Party, rather than fight back.

It wasn't just that he chose Sarah Palin as his running-mate. No, the real problem was that he didn't stand up and lead.

A few times on the campaign trail, he feebly attempted to correct the especially embarrassing crap coming from the GOP base, but he was pathetically ineffectual. Well, when you've cravenly sold your soul for political ambition, I suppose it's hard to stand up for anything after that.

When he lost the presidential election, there was another chance for McCain to take a principled stand, but he ran away from that, too. He could have stood up to the right-wing fanatics during his Senate re-election bid, but instead, he sucked up to them just as hard as he could.

Apparently, he was so scared of losing the nomination in the GOP primary that he was willing to say and do whatever it took. Frankly, it's a wonder that John McCain has any self-respect left!

That's why this is so sad. It's not that Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert are crazy. We've always had crazy people and always will (though it is sad that they've been elected to high public office).

No, this is sad because it shows the kind of person John McCain could have been. It shows the kind of political leader John McCain could have been, with just a little more courage and a little more political virtue.

Could he have returned the GOP to sanity? Maybe not. But it would have been a worthy effort, successful or not.

And without principled leaders, men and women willing to risk their political ambition for what is right, the Republican Party may never recover from what their 'Southern strategy' has done to them.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Read all this, and then we'll talk

Coincidentally, I received a similar response in my local newspaper recently, so I thought that was funny enough to post this cartoon.

Sure, there are plenty of books written about this stuff. You could probably spend your entire life trying to get through all of them. But how about just telling me in your own words what's so convincing about them?

If you understand them, you should be able to explain the argument well enough, don't you think? And if you don't understand them, then what made them so convincing to you? Was it just that they agreed with what you want to believe?

If you've got a book you think I'd like, then by all means let me know. I love books, I really do. But if you're trying to convince me of something, just tell me. After all, if you don't understand your own argument, I think I can safely dismiss it and save myself a whole bunch of time.

Wouldn't you agree?

Fox News pretends to blow a gasket

Terrible, isn't it? Of course, Fox deliberately edited Barack Obama's quote so that it seems to say something different than what he really said:
"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

"So we say to ourselves, ever since the founding of this country, you know what, there are some things we do better together. That’s how we funded the G.I. Bill. That’s how we created the middle class. That’s how we built the Golden Gate Bridge or the Hoover Dam. That’s how we invented the Internet. That’s how we sent a man to the moon. We rise or fall together as one nation and as one people, and that’s the reason I’m running for President -- because I still believe in that idea. You’re not on your own, we’re in this together."

According to Fox, that's un-American  Does that really seem un-American to you?

Well, Fox edited that quote to say only, "If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen." It seems like Barack Obama is saying that you didn't build your own business, doesn't it?

Of course, if you read even the short sentence preceding that, you'll understand Obama was saying that you hadn't, yourself, built the roads and bridges that you use. We all built them. We all invested in roads and bridges.

How is that un-American? How is this un-American?
"The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don’t do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires."

But Fox has no interest in the truth. Fox is determined to elect Republicans, no matter what it takes. A deliberate lie is certainly nothing new at Fox.

Here's another video clip of Fox 'News' pushing this lie, this manufactured outrage, for all they're worth. I wonder how it feels to have no conscience, no morality, no ethics? How does it feel to lie for a living?

The red scare

As a fellow redhead, I urge this candidate to abandon the bigots on the right. In the Democratic Party, your hair color is your own business. :)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Welcome to the Endarkenment

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Yes, kids should come out of school as ignorant as they entered it. We don't want teachers messing with their "fixed beliefs," do we?

Well, you can understand Republicans, can't you? Reality isn't how they wish it was, so they just believe whatever they want. And I'm sure it's embarrassing to have their children laughing at them.

The solution? Make sure that their children are as ignorant as they are, of course. (Or they could just educate themselves, but they don't want to do that, do they? It's not that they're dumb, but that they want to believe what they want to believe.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bain damage

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Jon Stewart was on vacation for two weeks, but he came back with a bang, didn't he?

Republicans are faith-based, so they expect that we'll take Mitt Romney on trust. He's supposed to be a businessman, but he's keeping all that behind a curtain.

The Senate won't even confirm a Cabinet member without seeing his tax returns, but we're supposed to pick a president on faith?

Note that John McCain did see Mitt Romney's tax returns, when McCain was looking for a vice-presidential candidate. As James Carville said, "The only person who has seen Romney's taxes is John McCain and he took one look and picked Sarah Palin."

Mitt Romney gets tax breaks for taking his horse to the prom, as Jon Stewart puts it, and he thinks that's just fine. He thinks the rich should pay a lower tax rate than you do. And he thinks that shipping American jobs overseas is the kind of business experience a president should have.

But it's really hard to imagine how the Republicans can convince anyone else that's true. On the other hand, they've got a lot of money from billionaires to push their guy night and day (not to mention all of Fox 'News').

PS. Here's Stephen Colbert's take on the same issue.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

God and the existence of evil

This is Clay Farris Naff, from here in Lincoln, Nebraska. (He's on a panel - the other panelists had a religious perspective - speaking to an ethics class at Doane College.)

I liked the lightning statistics, which is why I'm posting these two video clips. But there's a third clip to the series here, if you're interested.


"By anyone's standards, that is an epic fail. And you'd really hope that an international conspiracy of evil billionaires could do better than that. It's depressing. I mean, if evil billionaires, with the vast resources they possess, can't achieve their goals, what hope is there for the rest of us?"

Heh, heh. I also liked where he's just fine with "any attempt at widespread human cull." As long as we're not the ones culled, right? :)

iPhone 4s Mitt Romney ad

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Q&A with Chris Rock

You know, I have zero interest in celebrities. But I stumbled upon this interview with Chris Rock, and I thought his answers were very interesting.

Re. Barack Obama:
Dude, being the first black anything sucks. But the country was in shambles, and he's cleaning it up. If you properly clean a room, it gets dirtier before it gets cleaner. Ever come back to your hotel room before the maids are finished? My God! Republicans are complaining. Romney's complaining. But Romney's rich. He doesn't know shit about cleaning.

Re. the Trayvon Martin shooting:
When you get old, it's like, "Damn it, I've seen this." I'm from Bed-Stuy. I marched for Yusuf Hawkins, you know? I don't totally agree with Bill Cosby. He said it wasn't racial, it's a gun issue. Well, it's a gun-racial issue. You know what makes you approach a six-foot-three black guy in the middle of the night? A gun.

Re. money:
My first year on SNL, I made $90,000 dollars. And I bought a red Corvette for $45,000 dollars. I'm thinking, "I've got 45 grand left!" Taxes didn't even come into my equation. At the end of the first year of making 90 grand I was 25, 30 in the hole. We live in this baller, spend-money culture. But they never show you the outskirts of Vegas or Atlantic City. That's what most of the country is becoming.

Re. his childhood:
I was bused to a school in Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn in 1972. I was one of the first black kids in the history of the school. There were parents with signs: nigger go home. For all intents and purposes, the United States had been practicing apartheid until '68. I was spit on every day. I had water balloons with piss thrown at me. I was fucking Carrie.

That last part is what got me. Sorry, but I don't think of 1972 as being that long ago. Do you think those racists aren't still around? Do you think they didn't raise children?

Remember, in 1972, the Republican Party was busy wooing white racists in their notorious 'Southern strategy.' That was their brilliant plan to take control of the South and then control America.

And it was brilliant - politically, at least. It worked like a charm. Those racists are now the GOP base. The Republicans took the South from the Democrats and, with relatively brief exceptions, have dominated politically ever since. They've turned America to the right, the hard right. Even the Democrats have moved to the right.

Now, sure, they didn't bring back segregation. That was a lost cause. They don't even argue for such things anymore. They're very careful to pay lip service to racial equality, even as they wink and nod.

They're busy losing on other fronts, too - like gay rights. But they've used their political power to get what the GOP establishment really wanted (like tax cuts for the rich, plenty of wars, and a Supreme Court that equates money with speech).

Don't think that 1972 is gone and forgotten. Chris Rock hasn't forgotten it, I'm sure. I haven't forgotten it. Those racists haven't forgotten it. Even if you weren't born then, the past is in all of us. As William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Presidential home shopping

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jonathan Krohn - the end of a GOP crush

Andrew Breitbart, Jonathan Krohn, James O'Keefe, and Karl Rove.

That was Jonathan Krohn at 13, when he was the conservative wunderkind, the great white hope of America, the talk of CPAC.

TPM has a whole slideshow of this kid hobnobbing with Republican celebrities (including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Bill O'Reilly, among others).

It's really pretty funny now, four years later, given the uproar over his changed political views:
Jonathan Krohn, the teen conservative idol turned liberal heretic, is on the receiving end of a world of abuse from right wing pundits this week. Fine by him. But please folks, lay off his mom.

“My mother had a friend today who said she can’t be friends anymore because of me,” said Krohn, who described her as close to tears. “She texted her and said ‘Have a nice life.’ It’s a friend she’s known since before I was born!” Krohn told TPM Tuesday.

Republicans had largely forgotten about Krohn since turning him into a star speaker and author in 2009 at the tender age of 13. But that didn’t mean they were happy to let him go, reacting to a Politico interview in which he said he now supported President Obama with a torrent of unrestrained rage.

The Daily Caller led the charge. Gregg Re started things off with a profanity-filled screed from a spurned conservative who attended Krohn’s big CPAC speech in 2009 and apparently demanded anonymity to tell Re the 17-year-old was a “douche.” ...

“Nothing’s really stung me, all of it's just so absurd,” he [Krohn] said. “My favorite was someone who tweeted at me ‘You betrayed God and William Bennett, you little bastard!’ Because apparently they’re on the same plateau in this person’s mind.”

Well, you know how nasty these breakups can be. Teen crushes can seem so serious to Republicans and 13-year-olds! But the hysteria surrounding a teenager changing his mind seems a little... um, crazy, even for the right-wing, don't you think?

Luckily, Krohn seems to be keeping this all in perspective. Here he is in a column at Salon:
My involvement at such a young age happened for manifold reasons: I always enjoyed writing (I had gotten my first paid writing gig when I was 9), I enjoyed politics (or at least the theory of politics), and I grew up in Georgia, where conservative ideologues dominated the radio and the populace. Mix those things with the naïveté of a kid and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a fresh, right-wing pundit. My star role worked out well for a while. I didn’t have to question any of the talking points I’d made in my speech, and I got to drone on and on about them at numerous Tea Parties and other conservative gatherings. I felt justified in my beliefs if for no other reason than no one actually told me I was wrong. Instead, men like Bill Bennett and Newt Gingrich hailed me as the voice for my generation and a hope for America.

But then, earlier this week, Politico released an interview in which I announced I wasn’t a conservative anymore — and the proverbial crap hit the fan. Since then, I have been treated by the political right with all the maturity of schoolyard bullies. The Daily Caller, for instance, wrote three articles about my shift, topping it off with an opinion piece in which they stated that I deserved criticism because I wear “thick-rimmed glasses” and I like Ludwig Wittgenstein. Why don’t they just call me “four-eyes”? These are not adults leveling serious criticism; these are scorned right-wingers showing all the maturity of a little boy. No wonder I fit in so well when I was 13. ...

I was tired of the right using me as an example of how young people “get” what they’re talking about — when it’s obvious that I didn’t get what I talking about at all. I mean, come on, I was between 13 and 14 when I was regurgitating these talking points! What does a kid who has never paid a tax bring to the table in a conversation about the burden of taxes? What does a healthy child know about people who can’t afford healthcare because of preexisting conditions? No matter how intelligent a person might be, certain political issues require life experience; they’re much more complicated than the black and white frames imposed by partisan America.

Here's that interview at Politico that got the right into their bullying mode:
But a quick rundown of his current political stances suggests a serious pendulum swing away from the right.

Gay marriage? In favor. Obamacare? “It’s a good idea.” Who would he vote for (if he could) in November? “Probably Barack Obama.” His favorite TV shows? “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” His favorite magazine? The New Yorker. And, perhaps telling of all, Krohn is enrolling this fall at a college not exactly known for its conservatism: New York University.

“One of the first things that changed was that I stopped being a social conservative,” said Krohn. “It just didn’t seem right to me anymore. From there, it branched into other issues, everything from health care to economic issues.… I think I’ve changed a lot, and it’s not because I’ve become a liberal from being a conservative — it’s just that I thought about it more. The issues are so complex, you can’t just go with some ideological mantra for each substantive issue.”

Come on, he's still only 17. He can't even vote yet! So who knows where his political views will end up?

Unfortunately, Republicans don't take rejection well! "You're either with us or against us." You're either a right-wing true believer or a socialist, a terrorist, a traitor. And I guess that's the case even if you're just a kid.

Still, the reaction to the end of their crush really is pretty funny. I'm sorry that Jonathan Krohn is on the receiving end of all this, but I still have to laugh.

Behind the curtain

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Monday, July 9, 2012

Betty Bowers explains abortion

Don't watch if you're easily offended. :)

I must admit that Christianity and anti-abortion activism seem like a weird match to me. Don't these people know their own Bible?

Heck, don't Catholics know the history of their own church? The idea of personhood at conception is a relatively recent invention of the Catholic Church.

But the answer in both cases is no, they don't. Supposedly, this is the most important thing in the world to them - heck, the world itself is just a minor detail - yet they can't be bothered to learn anything about it.

Well, that's far from the only thing that makes no sense about religion,  huh?

The difference between a cult and a religion

Via Pharyngula, of course.