Space invaders?

We may or may not be targeted by evil space aliens, but the Richmond (California) City Council has us, or at least their 52 square miles, covered:

After listening to horror stories from more than a dozen people who believe that government agencies and other parties are watching them from outer space — including one speaker who was “targeted” just before arriving at Richmond City Hall — the council voted 5-2 to approve a resolution to discourage the use of space weapons on earth dwellers.

This move is not entirely unprecedented:

The resolution approved on May 19 refers to an attempt by a U.S. Congressman 14 years ago to ban space-based weapons. In 2001, then-Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, introduced the “Space Preservation Act” and “Space Preservation Treaty” that would have banned spaced-based weapons.

The Richmond resolution from Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles doesn’t merely support those attempts to ban space-based weapons, it does so “to ensure that individuals will not be targets of space-based weapons.”

In other news, Dennis Kucinich has a legacy.

Mayor Tom Butt, on the losing side of the 5-2 vote, later got a disturbing letter from a constituent:

“My son suffers from mental illness and believes that Voice-Skull or electromagnetic waves generated by groups who target individuals” plague him, the woman told Butt. “He keeps using [the council’s decision] to support his theory that the reasons he hears voices is that he is being targeted! Of course, I find this hard to believe, but I can’t convince him otherwise. He often refers to and cites the Richmond Police and City Council.” She said the council’s vote is helping her son justify his beliefs and avoid taking his medication.

I suspect this will play out in the time-honored fashion: should you tell the Council majority that there has been a marked absence of earth-shattering kabooms, they will reply “See how well it works?”

(Via Rand Simberg.)

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The Sino-Swedish sedan

Remember when “Made in Japan” was synonymous with “complete and utter crap”? There are now people in these United States who bewail the loss of Japanese-sourced Camrys and Accords, which were supposedly “better” than the cars built by those same companies Stateside.

For a brief period after Japanese ascendancy, South Korean cars were dismissed as the worst kind of shoddily assembled crap. That doesn’t happen anymore: Daewoo has been subsumed by General Motors, Hyundai/Kia have proven themselves in the American market, and we simply haven’t heard from the rest.

So now it’s China’s night in the barrel, and the first circulation of the upcoming fecal cyclone is on the radar:

Volvo Car started exporting S60 sedans built in China to the United States last week as part of its plan to expand sales and market share globally.

The vehicles, which are produced at Volvo’s plant in the southwest China city of Chengdu, will be transported to Shanghai for shipment to the U.S.

The S60 will arrive at dealership showrooms in the United States in about two months, Volvo said. The company did not indicate how many vehicles it intends to export.

Volvo’s parent company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group of China, has been calling the shots for five years now, and this is not a new S60: it’s the same one Volvo has been building in Sweden, in Belgium, and even in Malaysia fercrissake. I suspect that none of Volvo’s American customers will notice the difference. Some of their avowed non-customers, however, are already up in arms at the announcement. An example:

When you have situations like with Takata, a company that’s from a culture where shipping crap-that-will-kill-people should be a problem, and it ends up happening anyway and is subsequently covered up, I’d be pretty leery of buying a product originating in a place where the existing corporate culture is absolutely renowned for viewing basic competence in construction as an afterthought. No matter how much Volvo tries to make sure it’s not a problem, I’m not quite ready to stake my family’s life on their having figured it out.

Takata, of course, is Japanese, so this translates to “If I can’t trust Japan, I sure as hell ain’t gonna trust China.” Not everyone, however, is quite so adamant:

There is nothing magical about Chinese assembly. Either it will be carefully managed and will work fine, or it will be sloppily managed and turn out a lot of defective products. We’ve seen plenty of examples of both in China, as well as in America (was a 1981 Cadillac Fleetwood a shining example of assembly quality?). Actually, I’d expect this first batch of Volvos to be impeccably assembled, because Volvo will have something to prove.

And at least it’s coming over under an established brand name. Geely hasn’t tried to sell any of its own designs in the States, and probably won’t for a while, although I suspect some hipper-than-thou Americans would queue up to buy London taxis — which vehicle Geely also owns. Then again, this incident alone could keep Geely-branded cars at bay for another couple of years at least.


Really getting up there

My grandfather on my mother’s side was born in 1899; he earned his three score and ten, and then moved on to whatever was next. Incredibly, to me anyway, there are three people born in 1899 who are still alive today:

Recently crowned as the oldest person in the world, Michigan resident Jeralean Talley turned 116 years old on Saturday.

Talley is one of three living members of the 19th century club, having been born on May 23, 1899 in Montrose, Ga. In 1935, she moved to Michigan, where she married her husband, Alfred, who died at the age of 95 in 1988.

The other two:

Georgia resident Susannah Mushatt Jones (born July 6, 1899), and Italian citizen Emma Morano-Martinuzzi (born Nov. 29, 1899).

All women, of course. (The oldest man still around is Sakari Momoi, of Japan, who’s 112.)

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Way after Walt

I have made exactly one trip to Walt Disney World in this lifetime, circa 1980: we loaded up everyone into a Large Automobile — a Large Diesel Automobile, at that — and made the seemingly endless trek from here to there. As I recall, getting into the park was inexpensive enough, but thereafter we were nickeled and dimed to death by individual attraction tickets, from A (for stuff you wouldn’t even watch on television) to E (for the stuff that mattered). So I’m not too awfully put out by the new $105 single-day admission charge, especially since those tickets are gone and discounts can be had by sharp shoppers.

Warren Meyer remembers:

This is a great case in pricing strategy. Around 1980, the Bass family bought into a large ownership percentage of Disney. The story I am about to tell is often credited to their influence, but I am not positive. Nevertheless, someone had a big “aha!” moment at Disney. They realized that families were taking trips just to visit Disney World. These trips cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. The families were thus paying hundreds of dollars per person to enjoy Disney, of which Disney was reaping … $9.50 a day. They had a stupendously valuable product (as far as consumers were concerned) but everyone else in the supply chain was grabbing most of the value they created. So Disney raised prices, on the theory that if a family were paying over a thousand dollars to get and stay there, they would not object to paying an extra $50 at the gate. And they were right.

When you’re running the single most popular resort in the world — something like 50 million visitors a year — you can charge pretty much whatever you darn well please.

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Gwendolyn went in for a spa day this week, and the dealership sent me off in a Q40, which nobody admits but everybody knows is the old G37 with a new badge. (I said something to this effect while signing out the car, and got a stare worthy of Fluttershy.) At least it’s familiar, always a useful trait in a borrowed car, and there’s a “3.7” emblem in front of the doors, just in case you didn’t catch on.

Then again, this wasn’t the stripper G they usually relegate to loaner duty: this one had the full nav package, which I looked at just long enough to realize that our street grid, or Nissan’s graphic representation of it anyway, appears to have been designed by Piet Mondrian on Quaaludes. Otherwise, it’s the same tried-and-true machine, which is undoubtedly why Infiniti kept it around even after its replacement, the Q50, was introduced: at under $40k, it’s a decent price leader.


Dryness and the profit therein

An item from last fall:

BC Clark Jewelers, founded (as every Oklahoman already knows) in 1892, instituted a program in 1998 called Pray for Rain:

When you buy your engagement ring from BC Clark Jewelers and it rains (or snows) an inch or more on your wedding day, BC Clark will refund you the price of your engagement ring up to $5,000. Just ask one of our 140+ Pray for Rain winning couples!”

So in sixteen years they averaged about nine winners a year. Then the Rainiest Month in History befell them:

According to Mitchell Clark, Executive Vice President for BC Clark, they had another Pray For Rain winner on Tuesday, May 19, and five more winners on Saturday, May 23.

That makes 14 winners in the last four weeks, and 17 in total for the year, Clark said.

And the year isn’t even half over.

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Not the middle of nowhere

We’re talking far off to the edge. This was just another item from RadioInsight, but it led me to other stuff. Prepare for Major Tangent Exploration:

Gambell, AK is located on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait closer to the Russian mainland than North America. The Nome Seventh-Day Adventist Church has applied to bring the first radio station to Gambell operating with 90 watts at 9 meters on 89.3. The new station would operate as a satellite of 89.3 KQQN Nome (Coverage Map).

Wikipedia reports on the town:

St. Lawrence Island has been inhabited sporadically for the past 2,000 years by both Alaskan Yup’ik and Siberian Yupik people. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the island had a population of about 4,000.

Between 1878 and 1880 a famine decimated the island’s population. Many who did not starve left. The remaining population of St. Lawrence Island was nearly all Siberian Yupik.

Checking out the island itself (current population about 1,300):

The island contains two villages: Savoonga and Gambell. The two villages were given title to most of the land on St. Lawrence Island by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. As a result of having title to the land, the Yupik are legally able to sell the fossilized ivory and other artifacts found on St. Lawrence Island.

Savoonga, you should know, is the Walrus Capital of the World. But this story from Gambell tore at the old heartstrings:

In 1982, George Guthridge brought his wife and two young daughters to Gambell, Alaska, a small village on the edge of the remote blizzard-swept St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, one of the harshest and most remote places in Alaska. Guthridge was there to teach at a Siberian-Yupik school — a school so troubled it was under threat of closure.

For its own reasons, the school district enters the students into one of the most difficult academic competitions in the nation. The school has no computers and very few books. The students lack world knowledge and speak English as a second language. Still, George resolves to coach them to a state championship. But the students have an even greater goal of their own.

And I have to grin at Guthridge’s bio:

I have published over 70 short stories and five novels, and have been a finalist for the Hugo Award and twice for the Nebula Award, for science fiction and fantasy. In 1998 my coauthor, Janet Berliner, and I won the Bram Stoker Award for the year’s best horror novel.

I am probably best known for having coached ten students from the Siberian-Yupik (Eskimo) village of Gambell, on blizzard-swept St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, to national championships in academics. They became the only Native American team ever to do that — and they did it twice.

Oh, and this is what they did.

If you’re curious, Guthridge and Berliner won that Bram Stoker award for Children of the Dusk, the third and final novel in the Madagascar Manifesto series.

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Greatest hit

Said I last week:

[T]ruth be told, I’ve flourished on Twitter, if only because I am practiced in the art of the one-liner.

That said, lest anyone think I’m some sort of Social Media Avatar, this is my single most popular tweet ever, and it’s pure fluff:

I trust you weren’t expecting an exegesis of Reinhold Niebuhr.

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No new missing planes

So this is what’s left to cover:

In other news, Count Chocula has apparently been busted to Baron.

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Forever foxy

Forty years ago:

Pam Grier on the cover of New York magazine

Then the queen of so-called “blaxploitation” films like Coffy and Foxy Brown, Pam Grier left an indelible stamp on the industry; Quentin Tarantino argued that she might have been the first female action star in cinema, and she proved that she still had the stuff in his Jackie Brown in 1997. She’s kept busy ever since, perhaps most notably with six seasons of Showtime’s The L Word. Here we see her in a panel discussion from 2014:

Pam Grier talks acting

Still got that smile, yes indeed.

Oh, and she’s in Grand Theft Auto V: she’s the DJ from The Lowdown 91.1. Today she turns sixty-six.

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Male privilege in action

This spring, I haven’t done a whole lot of relaxing in the sun: the weather has seen to it that I am none too relaxed, and, well, there’s hardly any sun. So I haven’t had a whole lot of odd moments to look over my personal physical plant — not that this matters greatly, since there’s a full-length mirror in the hallway and I pass it often enough to notice that I’m still walking more or less upright.

So I’m pulling on a pair of sandals, my hand passes over my shin, and it dawns on me: this leg (it was the left one) is utterly hairless. I check the other: ditto. Apparently hair has stopped growing everywhere below the knee. It’s not like I make a point of shaving this particular zone, either; I think I’ve taken a razor to my legs three times in the last two decades, mostly for purposes of costumery. It’s like Hair Central just can’t be bothered. I can, of course, believe that, since no effort has ever been made to fill the ever-widening bald spot on top of my head.

In women, this particular phenomenon can apparently be a by-product of menopause, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t the explanation that works for me, given my lack of feminine hardware.

So I’m working with the theory that it’s some combination of drugs and hormonal changes, and I’ll probably go with that, if only because I can’t see any point to sidling up to a woman my age and asking her if she still shaves.

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Serial faker

You saw this in last week’s QOTW, from the editor of the Lancet:

The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. We aid and abet the worst behaviours.

If your immediate response was “Yeah? Name one,” here’s one:

In April of 2000, the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia published a letter to its editor from Peter Kranke and two colleagues that was fairly dripping with sarcasm. The trio of academic anesthesiologists took aim at an article published by a Japanese colleague named Yoshitaka Fujii, whose data on a drug to prevent nausea and vomiting after surgery were, they wrote, “incredibly nice.”

In the language of science, calling results “incredibly nice” is not a compliment — it’s tantamount to accusing a researcher of being cavalier, or even of fabricating findings.

“Incredible,” after all, is the opposite of “credible.”

But rather than heed the warning, the journal, Anesthesia & Analgesia, punted. It published the letter to the editor, together with an explanation from Fujii, which asked, among other things, “how much evidence is required to provide adequate proof?” In other words, “Don’t believe me? Tough.”

This is the “double-down” technique made famous by dozens of really inept politicians. And Fujii stood his ground, until:

Over the next two years, it became clear that he had fabricated much of his research — most of it, in fact. Today he stands alone as the record-holder for most retractions by a single author, at a breathtaking 183, representing roughly 7 percent of all retracted papers between 1980 and 2011. His story represents a dramatic fall from grace, but also the arrival of a new dimension to scholarly publishing: Statistical tools that can sniff out fraud, and the “cops” that are willing to use them.

Speaking of statistics, here’s one: if Fujii’s 183 withdrawn papers represent only 7 percent of the retractions, there were something like 2,600 papers retracted in those twenty-one years. That’s a lot of backpedaling.

(Via @pourmecoffee.)

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As the years go by

The clock keeps ticking, until such time as it stops altogether:

How getting old sucks is perfectly obvious: your body starts to fall off. And sometimes, and therefore, your mind too. And it’s simultaneously happening to all your friends. Nature is through with you and starts looking for a way to kill you. And it is perfectly clear to you that it is not a matter of if, but when, and how, and how bad. From now on you’ll be occupied with tossing parts of yourself you can live without to Captain Hook’s crocodile to postpone the inevitable; then, you’ll be smashing the crocodile in the snout with your rifle butt as its bad breath engulfs you. It’s the price of life. And it’s amazing to arrive at the threshold of old age and discover how very little of a dent the triumphs of science have made in it. Okay, more of us now make it to our three score and ten. And then, if not before, the shit starts hitting the fan, right on schedule. Knees are replaced, stents put in, breasts and bladders turn cancerous …

I’m not particularly concerned with efforts to kill me, except to the extent that I’m aware that one of them will eventually succeed. The skies have been taking potshots at me pretty much this entire damn month.

Still, one contemplates matters other than one’s eventual demise:

What’s more amazing to discover, though, is that it isn’t all loss and fear. If you have your mind. If you have your mind, it becomes like a study glowing with burnishing lamplight, with a deep, comfortable chair, with shelves of books on all sides receding into the darkness of the infinite. As you sit in that chair you have a magical arm that can reach out past Alpha Cygni in a languid gesture and pluck just the right apple from the farthest twig of the great tree.

Those who don’t have their minds, of course, will eventually have to retire from political office.

I remember coming back from the Monday grocery run — delayed from Saturday due to inclement weather — and thinking: Remember how Rainbow Dash memorizes what’s on the ground while she’s flying? I need some way to learn where all the new potholes are.

Obviously I’m not completely insane. Yet. The morning’s panic attack, however, makes me wonder if I’ve started on the downhill slope.


Cheesy suspension parts

Perhaps even dangerously cheesy:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: How much deos it to fix a 2004 Nissan queso axle?

Truth be told, I would be surprised if the garage in fact has any cheese at all.


Is this not what you asked for?

I mean, that’s what you said, isn’t it?

I swear, these boys are so damn finicky.

This generation of Hijet seems like a shrunken Toyota Previa: rear-wheel drive, engine somewhere in the middle. It could also be had as a panel van, a pickup truck, or as a bare chassis on which you’d install your own box.

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A white lab coat of enamel

The Z Man, for one, welcomes our new mechanized practitioners of medicine:

It seems to me that one place where the robot future should be a reality is in basic medical care. Instead of paying an arm and a leg for disinterested humans to act as a go between, let the patients talk to the robots direct. A mall kiosk could be used for blood pressure, urine and blood work. While you’re there you answer questions on a touchscreen. A week later the robot e-mails you the results and any recommendations.

Of course, the robot would also have access to your DNA. As we march into the humanless future, DNA will become the touchstone of medical science. Connecting the dots between genes and a wide range of diseases is a data problem, in most cases. Cheap collection devices in public places means masses of data to sort of collate.

Robot care would inevitably be cheaper and that means more people would get regular checkups by their local neighborhood robot doctor. If this sort of service were $50 a shot, most people would do it twice a year. Extend the services to things like flu shots, and nuisance things like colds and allergies and most of your basic care could be done on the cheap by the machines.

And if there’s one thing that’s not happening now, it’s basic care done on the cheap:

Of course, none of this is going to happen because the medical rackets are neatly aligned with the ruling liberal democrats. America does not have a government run system like Britain; it’s more of a partnership between the industry and the state. That way, we get the worst of both worlds. On the one hand there’s the avaricious private suppliers and on the other the mindless idiocy of government.

Yeah, but Big Business is generally happy to operate under Uncle’s thumb: they know that Uncle can sweep away competitors with a flick of his wrist — preferably his other wrist, but that’s the chance you have to take.

I’m fond of pointing out that we have all around us one of the greatest health care system on earth. American veterinarian medicine is better than what most humans enjoy on earth. It’s also cheap and plentiful. That’s because it is largely government free and parasitic lawyer free. Maybe when the robots take over, they can just kill all the lawyers and bureaucrats. Then maybe medicine will because a normal business again.

Dick the Butcher, your update is ready.

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