Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Condolences from the Road

Despite the hopes and dreams of literally tens of readers, I yet draw breath and my blogging will continue. I'm in Ohio now, having survived my Sainted Girlfriend's family and now she is desperately trying to survive my own. My favorite cousin has already asked me if I'm planning to propose soon, and my other cousin (who is getting married tomorrow) has indicated that she likes my Sainted Girlfriend a lot. So, it's safe to say she's doing well. I, on the other hand, got into a series of arguments with my Sainted Girlfriend's uncle Max but, as a result, have a new paper brewing. I guess you could say it's been a good trip.

I'm just blogging to mention something brief. A good friend of mine lost her grandfather recently. He was a man who was known as "the People's Physician," due to his habit of treating the poor for free. He was similarly a gifted humanitarian and linguist who has done much for the world. I am truly sorry over her loss, and this loss to the world in general.

Additionally, a close friend of my family, who I will refer to as Mr. Harper, recently passed away. A retired teacher and father of two, he returned from a cruise with his wife and declared on Christmas eve that it was time for them to stop travelling so much and enjoy life at home with friends and family. The next day, Christmas morning, while taking a walk with his oldest son he suffered a massive heart attack. Reportedly, he suddenly clutched his heart, gasped out, "I love you guys," and then died on the sidewalk.

With Christmas so recently behind us, my cousin getting married tomorrow, and the New Year drawing nigh, it is a time for joy and celebrating new beginnings. Let us also remember the endings, and keep in mind that from one comes the other.

Take care, everyone, and happy holidays.

Trouble

Recently, the lovely Freya Vandenbossche, Belgium's vice prime minister, upset the Dutch government. She implied that their ministers are, to use the VRT translation:
"stiff necked, starchy and petty minded"

Karel De Gucht, Belgium's Foreign Minister had only shortly previous to that referred to Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende as "a mix of Harry Potter and stiff small-mindedness".

The whole thing sparked off a diplomatic row with the Dutch government desperately trying to look like it has a sense of humour. I am obviously partizan, but look at Freya:















Now look at Balkenende:





















Now look at Harry Potter:


Who is the starchiest of the lot? Who looks most like Harry Potter? Who is trying to kill off Dutch health insurance?*

Well obviously Daniel Radcliffe looks most like Harry Potter, true, and strictly speaking his picture was not necessary in this post, but hell, after Balkenende you need a bit of an antidote.

But seriously, Balkenende depresses me, and the Belgian tendency to take the piss cheers me up. Therefore I declare 1-0 to the Belgian government for being quite right to do so, and for having a smart, young, funny, quick working mother as its voice, rather than yet another fortysomething economist in a suit.

Even if she did apologise. Politics will be politics.

*Not as gratuitous as claim as it seems, though obviously a bit overdramatic. The Netherlands are undergoing major changes in health insurance, and working in HR I have been at the receiving end of some of the comments - care is getting quite a bit more expensive for most people and is being put more completely in private hands. Not very good private hands either, if the angry people here are anthing to go by. Generally there is an increasingly big difference between the care provided to people with modest incomes, and that provided to wealthier people. Same taxes, only without the solidarity. *sigh*

Monday, December 19, 2005

Here goes nothing.

Some of you will be noticing a sharp decline in blogging activity over the next few weeks. Okay, that's not wholly accurate- all of you who read this blog regularly and are not invulnerable to reason (unlike some people I could mention) and empirical reality will note a decline in blogging. First off, let me caution you not to get too excited- I am not departing the blogosphere. Rather, it is nearly time for Christmas Winter Break and I will be travelling a great deal during this period. How much, you ask? Well, let's see:

First, it's off to California where I will be spending around a week, including the Christmas holiday, with my Sainted Girlfriend's extended family. I don't mean just her parents and siblings either- I mean aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and so on. Given that my Sainted Girlfriend and I have this Dharma & Greg thing going on (Seriously, I have proof!) I expect that this visit should be rather interesting. Still, given that I'm from the South, I suppose I should just be glad we don't have a Hatfield & McCoy thing going on.

Then, following that we return to our place of residence for a scant 24 hours before flying out to Ohio for my cousin's wedding. This will, of course, expose my Sainted Girlfriend to my extended family so I reckon we're trading even this break. While there we'll be staying with my favorite cousin which should make things a little easier- not quite so much exposure to my parents, or my aunts and uncles.

When that's over and done with, we both get to ride south with my parents and my sister's dog. We'll drop off my Sainted Girlfriend in her hometown, allow my folks to meet hers, (Which may have interesting effects on spacetime) and then I will continue on to Florida to spend a few more days with my family. My sister and her husband will join us there (after they return from seeing his family in the U.K.) and I'll have a nice, brief visit before flying back to my apartment.

So, in any case, blogging will be sporadic for a while. Sorry about that but, hey, on the bright side, you can look forward to some fairly interesitng posts when they do show up.

Take care, and happy Agnostica!

Public transportation


I only just read Drek's latest Turner Tuesday. Crikey.

I laughed at the bit about subjugating Europe. If the US has subjugating us then it isn't doing a good job of keeping us in line. But never mind.

This last Saturday I was sitting on the train from Vienna to Budapest with Slag and we were minding our own business and discussing Britain's position in the EU when the man sitting opposite us, obviously English, launched into a diatrebe against the EU. Mainly his point was that because he had to plan any visits to the continent and could not just drive there, England was not part of the EU community, and the EU sucked because they made him take off his shoes in airports. He then stated that the English would be happy to have their island towed to the French coast so they could drive to Europe. But they really didn't want to be part of the EU, because the EU wanted to create a European superpower and they wanted no part of it.

At no point could either of us convince him that the thing about taking of your shoes was to do with airport security rather than with the EU.

It was one of those moments where I sat there, my eyes glazing over as he praised Reagan and Thatcher. Ordinarily I would of course have had his guts for a late night snack but it was too late, I was too tired and he had had too much punch.

At least it proved that, as they say in my home country, to which I shall presently adjourn, the train is always a bit of adventure, if not necessecarily the kind you were looking for. Having annoyed both of us for three hours the Englishman apologised for talking nonsense at the end of the trip, and said he was delighted to have met us. In fact, to be perfectly honest, he seemed like a decent enough bloke, in spite of his madly inconsistent politics and his awful view of marriage. Oscar Wilde is perhaps right - consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Good to know.

As our scene opens we find Drek the Uninteresting leaving a building on campus after having administered his final exam. Outside he finds several of his students, having recently completed the exam in question, talking on the sidewalk.

Drek: So, do I need to start running or something? I don't see any lead pipes.

Rebecca: Oh, no, don't worry. We were just talking about the test and we thought, and everyone else we've seen, thought that it wasn't as brutal as we were expecting it to be.

Tina: Yeah, it really wasn't a typical Drek test. I mean, this time I didn't sit down and look at the first page and think, "Holy BALLS! What the hell is all this?!"

Heather: Yeah, definitely not as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Drek: So, was it too eas-

Rebecca, Tina & Heather: NO!!!!

Heather: shudders

Heather: Oh god, no!

Drek: Well, okay then. Good to know.

It's that time of year, folks. I'm busy grading exams, so, you know, try and get along without me. I'm sure you'll find a way...

Oh, yeah, and while I'm thinking of it, go read this. Here's an excerpt:

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.


Yeah. We're spreading freedom. Right.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Truce.

Regular readers of this blog know that I tend to be fairly critical of things I disagree with. It's just part of my "charm" I suppose, though you are free to disagree. Yesterday, I took advantage of circumstances to take a shot at George W. Bush and his cronies. This is hardly new for me as I have, from time to time, been a bit critical of the Republican party. That is unlikely to change, given that I despise virtually everything the Republicans have done for years now.

Yet, despite all that, I don't want to rant about the Republicans today. Instead, I just want to wish the people of Iraq luck in today's vote. I didn't agree with the decision to go to war in Iraq, and I am disgusted by much of our conduct since the invasion. However, despite the unfortunate events that brought it about, I hope that what emerges is a stable, healthy government with which the Iraqi people are happy. I know that if this happens, Bush and the other Republicans will claim it as a vindication of their policies, and it may spell defeat for Democrats in the upcoming elections. Yet, still, I think such a trade would be a worthy one.

Good luck Iraq. I hope your elections are fair, and your future is more secure than your present.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

This picture is entirely genuine.



In a related story, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated that the world is also not helping with her cold sore. And this valtrex shit is not working at all.

Thanks to the Washington Post for this entirely genuine photograph. To the best of my knowledge, Secretary Rice does not have herpes. Can't you just believe it, though?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Turner Tuesday Volume V

Despite the rather lengthy hiatus, which was doubtless viewed with considerable pleasure by regular readers, it's now time for us to once more embark upon that semi-regular feature here at Total Drek: Turner Tuesday. This is, of course, our ongoing attempt to dissect and understand the infamous Turner Diaries, written by White Supremacist, and all around fun guy William Pierce.

As you might recall, last time our protaganist, Earl Turner, was living underground with the rest of his terrorist cell. So far they've acquired monetary resources through petty theft and murder, located a new hideout, recovered their secret cache of weaponry, and gotten laid. Well, not all of them- Earl has gotten laid because his co-combatant, Katherine, has apparently taken a shine to him. Apparently she finds a catastrophic lack of critical thinking skills to be quite arousing. We also learned last time that Turner's unit, which I will henceforth refer to as the "FluffBunnies," has been ordered to carry out a strike against the U.S. government. Thus, we finally get to see some actual terrorism instead of just Turner talking about terrorism.

Chapter Five

As has become standard since chapter three this chapter of the Turner Diaries opens with Turner giving us a lecture on terrorist tactics. (As a side note: try saying this three times fast- "Turner tells of terrorist tactics.") Specifically he is discussing how a potential insurgent might go about setting up a collection of alarms to warn them of the arrival of the authorities. Seeing as how the FluffBunnies are somewhat unpopular with the government, they see these defenses as quite necessary.

Along both sides and the back of the building I buried a row of pressure-sensitive pads, which are wired to a light and an alarm buzzer inside. The pads are the sort which are often installed under doormats inside stores to signal the arrival of a customer They consist of two-foot-long metal strips sealed inside a flexible plastic sheet, and they are waterproof. Covered with an inch of soil they are undetectable, but they will signal us if anyone steps on the ground above them.

This method could not be used in front of our building, because nearly all the ground there is covered by the concrete driveway and parking area. After considering and rejecting an ultrasonic detector for the front, I settled on a photoelectric beam between two steel fence posts on either side of the concrete area.

In order to keep the light source and photocell unnoticeable, it was necessary to place them inside the fence post on one side, with a very small and inconspicuous reflector mounted on the other. I had to drill several holes in one post, and quite a bit of tinkering was necessary to make everything work properly.

Katherine was a big help with this, carefully adjusting the reflector while I lined up the light and photocell. It was also at her suggestion that I changed the alarm system inside the building, so that it not only warns us at the instant an intruder steps on one of the pressure-sensitive pads or interrupts the light beam, but it also turns on an electric clock in the garage. This way we will know whether someone has been around while we were all out of the building-and we will know when.


Thus, we are given a lesson in how to secure your potential terrorist compound against intruders. The preceding is quite a practical guide as well, though it does perhaps miss one crucial detail: Why exactly is Turner taking such care to conceal his photoelectric detectors? After all, detectors of this sort have become ubiquitous, so why should he take such pains to hide them? Well, as it happens, there are two reasons. First, since their hideout is being leased illegally, the presence of obvious security technology would, itself, be suspicious. Second, since Turner is attempting to defend against deliberate police raids as well as accidental discovery, concealment is desirable. That Pierce didn't point both of these facts out either means that he considers the reasoning too elementary to bear repeating or, more likely, his constant monologues on tactics bore the fuck out of even him. I find this second interpretation pleasing, in that it means that he might have suffered from the process of writing this book almost as much as I'm suffering from reading it.

Following the description of the security devices, Turner also describes the beginnings of an escape tunnel for the FluffBunnies. Pierce understands the need for an escape tunnel, since no terrorist organization can count on remaining undetected, and this sequence neatly ties our current "plot" into an earlier chapter. Specifically, it explains how the Chicago cell of the "Organization" was able to escape a police raid in chapter three. This is, admittedly, a clever rhetorical trick on Pierce's part because it seems to show how regular people can accomplish the seemingly-magical stunt described in earlier chapters. In reality, of course, escaping a major police raid undetected is more of a challenge than Pierce would have us believe, but you have to admire his ability to sling the bullshit.

From there, Turner goes on to discuss the ongoing operation to destroy the FBI building. As you might recall, the FluffBunnies had been assigned the task of destroying the building with resources provided by other terrorist cells. What we get in the first part of this section of the chapter is a discussion of bomb making and deployment:

The people in Unit 8 had planned to raid a supply shed in one of the areas where the Washington subway system is being extended, but they didn't have any luck at all until yesterday- and then not much. They were only able to steal two cases of blasting gelatin, and one case wasn't even full. Less than 100 pounds.

But that solved my problem, at least. The blasting gelatin is sensitive enough to be initiated by one of my homemade lead azide detonators, and 100 pounds of it will be more than sufficient to detonate the main charge, when and if Unit 8 finds more explosives, regardless of what they are or how they are packaged.

I packed about four pounds of the blasting gelatin into an empty applesauce can, primed it, placed the batteries and timing mechanism in the top of the can, and wired them to a small toggle switch on the end of a 20-foot extension cord. When we load the truck with explosives, the can will go in back, on top of the two cases of blasting gelatin. We'll have to poke small holes in the walls of the trailer and the cab to run the extension cord and the switch into the cab.

Either George or Henry-probably Henry-will drive the truck into the freight-receiving area inside the FBI building. Before he gets out of the cab he will flip the switch, starting the timer. Ten minutes later the explosives will go off. If we're lucky, that will be the end of the FBI building-and the government's new three-billion-dollar computer complex for their internal-passport system.


This section is interesting for two reasons. First, it neatly describes some of the practical aspects of bomb-making: fuses, initiators, starter charges, and main charges. This is key because these simple ideas can make a backyard insurgency much more successful and, oddly, many people never seem to think of them on their own. The idea of a starter charge, for example, is often overlooked despite the fact that they are necessary in some of the biggest weapons ever produced by humankind. Hell, a hydrogen bomb uses an entire atomic weapon as a trigger, so this approach has a distinguished, and morbid, history. The second point to be taken from Pierce's discussion of bomb making, however, deals less with what he does say, and more with what he doesn't: that amateur bomb making is an exceedingly dangerous practice. As we know from insurgencies in Northern Ireland, Israel, and even in the United States, it isn't uncommon for terrorist bomb makers to blow themselves up while building their devices. Yet, Pierce's protaganist doesn't even mention this very real risk. This is part of Pierce's consistent pattern of trying to build up his readers' desire to emulate the book as well as their beliefs about their own probable success in doing so. As usual, Pierce misrepresents the likelihood of failure. In combination, what we have is a piece of outstanding propaganda.

After a brief discussion of national identification cards and the use of "controlling illegal immigration," as an excuse for them, Pierce goes on to explain some of the further ideology for armed rebellion against the United States government. This discussion of ideology is made necessary by the impending attack on the government. I mean, so far all the FluffBunnies have done is murder innocent people, but now that they're about to begin serious operations, Pierce needs to make sure his readers remain convinced of the terrorists' virtue. This section is so interesting, and so full of code words, that we need to go through it bit by bit. It starts as follows:

If the freedom of the American people were the only thing at stake, the existence of the Organization would hardly be justified. Americans have lost their right to be free. Slavery is the just and proper state for a people who have grown as soft, self-indulgent, careless, credulous, and befuddled as we have.

Indeed, we are already slaves. We have allowed a diabolically clever, alien minority to put chains on our souls and our minds. These spiritual chains are a truer mark of slavery than the iron chains which are yet to come.


This section is basically the setup for what is to come- it hooks the reader in by explaining that we are all already subjugated in our own minds. That we are not subjugated in body is, therefore, irrelevant. But how are we subjugated? Who has subjugated us? What is the "diabolically clever alien minority," that Pierce refers to? The answers are, of course, coming.

Why didn't we rebel 35 years ago, when they took our schools away from us and began converting them into racially mixed jungles? Why didn't we throw them all out of the country 50 years ago, instead of letting them use us as cannon fodder in their war to subjugate Europe?


This passage refers to two things: education and war. The education part refers to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court that ended the era of separate but equal education in this country. That this made schools "jungles" is quite the overstatement, but let's at least make sure we're clear about what is being said. But then, what about this war he refers to? Well, that would be World War II and the United States was, according to Pierce, the one doing the subjugating. I'm quite certain that Europeans in general and our own European Correspondent in particular might have a great deal to say about this. It's important to remember at this juncture that the Nazis under Hitler are the idols of Pierce, rather than fanatics and their insane dictator.

More to the point, why didn't we rise up three years ago, when they started taking our guns away? Why didn't we rise up in righteous fury and drag these arrogant aliens into the streets and cut their throats then? Why didn't we roast them over bonfires at every street-corner in America? Why didn't we make a final end to this obnoxious and eternally pushy clan, this pestilence from the sewers of the East, instead of meekly allowing ourselves to be disarmed?


Here we have, once more, the hysterical claim that our guns are being taken away. As nothing could be further from the truth, and because I've addressed this point previously I see no need to go into it again. What I will address is the added detail in here about the alien "enemy." This enemy who is "from the sewers of the East," and is referred to as an "obnoxious and eternally pushy clan," who might they be? Well, if you guessed Jews, you're right. As always, Pierce blames Jews for all the troubles of the U.S. without, you'll notice, any supporting evidence. Instead, as always, all we have is rhetoric and propaganda. Well, you know, that's enough to justify genocide, right?

The answer is easy. We would have rebelled if all that has been imposed on us in the last 50 years had been attempted at once. But because the chains that bind us were forged imperceptibly, link by link, we submitted.

The adding of any single, new link to the chain was never enough for us to make a big fuss about. It always seemed easier -and safer-to go along. And the further we went, the easier it was to go just one step further.

One thing the historians will have to decide-if any men of our race survive to write a history of this era-is the relative importance of deliberation and inadvertence in converting us from a society of free men to a herd of human cattle.


So, Pierce basically says we've come to folly because we ever compromised on anything. That is a simply wonderful attitude to have in a democracy and leads us to wonder further about the type of government he wants his white supremacist terrorists to build. Here's a hint: it starts with "D" and ends with "tatorship." Interestingly, though, Pierce is probably right about the best way to enslave a previously free society- with progressive small reductions in freedoms. This is, of course, why there has been such heated opposition to the Patriot Act.

After rambling on a bit about our "spiritually debilitating lifestyle," Pierce finally arrives at his main point:

The Enemy we are fighting fully intends to destroy the racial basis of our existence.

No excuse for our failure will have any meaning, for there will be only a swarming horde of indifferent, mulatto zombies to hear it. There will be no White men to remember us-either to blame us for our weakness or to forgive us for our folly.

If we fail, God's great Experiment will come to an end, and this planet will once again, as it did millions of years ago, move through the ether devoid of higher man.


And so we come to the end- Pierce's explanation that the "enemy" is attempting to destroy all "white men" and, in so doing, end the reign of "higher man" on Earth. This is, in a word, heinous. To assert that only white people constitute higher forms of hominid life is to employ the crudest possible understanding of evolutionary theory. Moreover, accepting this argument of racial war and white supremacy is to justify nothing less than genocide. Are any of us really prepared for that on the flimsy "evidence" of Pierce's poorly-written fiction? Fuck, I hope not.

Now, let's look at the above excerpts again, but with the flowery language deleted:

If the freedom of the American people were the only thing at stake, the existence of the Organization white supremacist terrorists would hardly be justified. Americans have lost their right to be free. Slavery is the just and proper state for a people who have grown as soft, self-indulgent, careless, credulous, and befuddled pluralistic as we have.

Indeed, we are already slaves. We have allowed a diabolically clever, alien minority Jews to put chains on our tolerance and reason in our souls and our minds. These spiritual chains lessons are a truer mark of slavery than the iron chains which are yet to come.

Why didn't we rebel 35 years ago, when they the Supreme Court took our schools away from us and began converting them into racially mixed jungles upheld the Constitution? Why didn't we throw them the Jews all out of the country 50 years ago, instead of letting them use us as cannon fodder fighting in their our war to subjugate Europe defeat Hitler?

More to the point, why didn't we rise up three years ago, when they the government started taking our guns away mandating a waiting period before purchasing a lethal device? Why didn't we rise up in righteous fury and drag these arrogant aliens Jews into the streets and cut their throats then? Why didn't we roast them the Jews over bonfires at every street-corner in America? Why didn't we make a final end to this obnoxious and eternally pushy clan ethnic group, this pestilence from the sewers of the East, instead of meekly allowing ourselves to be disarmed?

The answer is easy. We would have rebelled if all that has been imposed on us in the last 50 years had been attempted at once. But because the chains that bind us were forged imperceptibly, link by link, we submitted.

The adding of any single, new link to the chain was never enough for us to make a big fuss about. It always seemed easier -and safer-to go along. And the further we went, the easier it was to go just one step further.

One thing the historians will have to decide-if any men of our race white men survive to write a history of this era-is the relative importance of deliberation and inadvertence in converting us from a society of free men bigots to a herd body of human cattle reasonable people.

...

The Enemy people we are fighting fully intends to destroy the racial basis of our existence marry us and have children with us.

No excuse for our failure will have any meaning, for there will be only a swarming horde of indifferent, mulatto zombies people to hear it. There will be no White men to remember us-either to blame us for our weakness or to forgive us for our folly.

If we fail, God's great Experiment will come to an end, and this planet will once again, as it did millions of years ago, move through the ether devoid of higher man white people.


I trust my point is clear?

In any case, after this half-assed philosophical justification, we're back to the impending attack on the FBI. The remainder of the chapter, despite being somewhat lengthy, is really not interesting enough to discuss. Feel free to read it if you want, but it basically just explains that they feel compelled to destroy the FBI building as soon as possible, and that they're lacking enough explosives to go with their original plan. This does serve to set up the normal "white supremacists triumph despite all odds" theme that Pierce adores so much, but isn't worth discussing.

What is worth mentioning, though, is the composition of the weapon that's going to be used on the FBI building:

Instead, what we have is a little under 5,000 pounds [of explosives], and nearly all of that is ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which is much less effective than TNT for our purpose.

...

...Unit 8 made a night raid on a farm-supply warehouse near Fredericksburg, about 50 miles south of here. They found no explosives, as such, but did find some ammonium nitrate, which they cleaned out: forty-four 100-lb. bags of the stuff.

Sensitized with oil and tightly confined, it makes an effective blasting agent, where the aim is simply to move a quantity of dirt or rock. But our original plan for the bomb called for it to be essentially unconfined and to be able to punch through two levels of reinforced-concrete flooring while producing an open-air blast wave powerful enough to blow the facade off a massive and strongly constructed building.


Some of you are already realizing why this is interesting. For those who aren't I'll explain: Turner is basically describing the explosive device used in the Oklahoma City bombing. This is relevant for two reasons. First, it shows just how much impact this book might well have had on Ameircan radical groups. Secondly, however, it drives home the lie of Pierce's message. The Oklahoma City bombing was not a blow for freedom, or a moment that galvanized a disgruntled America- it was cold-blooded murder of innocent people. No revolution emerged, no popular resistance. Instead, the bomber was caught and executed, and life went on.

As we will see next time, this operation of the FluffBunnies will go forward and, sadly, we'll notice even more similarities to Oklahoma City.

So where are we? We've received a set of twisted philosophies, been introduced to still more terrorist tactics, and have impending bloodshed waiting for us in the next chapter. Goodie.

Join us next time when Pierce's writing takes an ominous, and rather noticeable, turn for the worse: "An instant later the blast wave hit us-a deafening 'ka-whoomp,'"

"Ka-Whoomp," indeed. Until then...

As a personal note, I just want to be honest with y'all about something. I am finding it increasingly difficult to continue writing this series. It isn't because I'm having dreams about becoming a white supremacist- I mean, I'm not. It also isn't because of the disgusting content of this novel. It's pretty wretched but, frankly, I'm somewhat fascinated by the dark parts of human nature (explaining my interest in religious thinking) and thus am not unduly repelled. No, my problem stems from that fact that this has to be the most boring goddamn book I've ever read. Seriously, people, I've read Ayn Rand and Dan Brown for crying out loud, so I know bad writing. I'm just saying, don't blame me if I need a few weeks off between each installment. I can only take so much.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Return of Drek's Deadly Spawn II

Back when I was in high school I used to host B-movie nights. The theme at these events was, basically, to rent a selection of truly hideous flicks and mock them as they played- in a very MST3K kind of way. These evenings saw the viewing of quite a large selection of hideous films including, but not limited to, Starcrash, 2020 Texas Gladiators, Slaughter High, and the venerable Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn.

Among these others films is a movie that has come to be known as "The Return of the Alien's Deadly Spawn II" although that isn't its proper name. Its proper name seems to be Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn, but we more or less renamed it in a more ridiculous fashion in the tradition of the classic Night of the Day of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Terror. In any case, this movie (the alien movie I mean) was so bad that they actually used both a shadow puppet for the monsters in some scenes, and a diorama for the distance shots. So, you know, real quality.

I was thinking about this movie this morning because a series of comics over on Applegeeks has given me, I think, a preview of what my own progeny are going to be like. Yes, for those of you who are currently feeling a creeping horror moving up your spine, that does mean that I intend to reproduce. Sorry about that. Anyhoo, I have this weird feeling that I'm going to end up with daughters and, knowing how things tend to go, I think I might just end up with a little girl who is rather a lot like this one. Doubtless she will be as mad as she is persistent, and will make raising her quite a chore. Oh, doubtless she will always have reasons to account for her unholy rage but, nonetheless, she will be a handful.

I could be wrong about all this, but I don't think so. Judging by Brayden's kids (Brayden of Pub Sociology) the children of Sociologists are likely to bear a striking resemblance to their parents. Hell, if you've seen any of the pics of Brayden's son Parker that were up on Brayden's old blog, you know they could be clones. So, I think I should prepare for my own little megalomaniac. And, in the meantime, it gives me something to blog about while I'm too busy to write anything, you know, good. And that's enough for me.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Volscho Blog is Dead; Long Live the Volscho Blog!

Yesterday I mentioned a few blogs that had gone the way of all flesh, including one previously written by Tom Volscho.

Well, as it happens Tom is still blogging, just at a slightly different location.

Welcome back, Tom. I'm just sorry I didn't find out sooner.

"Fiscal Responsibility," "Compassionate Conservatism," and other Republican Oxymorons

Some of you who keep up with Total Drek on something approaching a regular basis (and may I just compliment you on your stomach for pain if you do so) are aware that I recently wrote a post gently chiding the Republicans for their fifty-billion in spending cuts that derived primarily from social service programs.

At the time, the Republicans claimed that these cuts were designed to help reduce the budget deficit that the United States is currently running- a deficit that was run up by the Republicans under Bush. As you might guess, for someone who was raised in a Republican household when Democrats were taking the blame for budget overruns and Republicans were presenting themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility (i.e. me) the current state of affairs is darkly humorous.

More recent events, however, have given lie to the earlier Republican claims. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a set of tax cuts that not only meet, but actually exceed, the amount "saved" by the earlier reductions in social spending. Or, as the Washington Post explains in their article:

The House approved yesterday $56 billion in tax cuts that would keep alive the deep reductions in the tax rates on dividends and capital gains passed in 2003, but the measure is certain to be challenged by senators who have so far balked at the tax cuts for investors.

The bill passed largely along party lines, 234 to 197, after a rancorous partisan debate over whether the tax cuts would chiefly benefit the rich or sustain economic growth. Nine Democrats joined 225 Republicans for passage, while three Republicans -- Reps. Sherwood L. Boehlert (N.Y.), Jim Leach (Iowa) and Fred Upton (Mich.) -- sided with 193 Democrats and independent Bernard Sanders (Vt.) to oppose it.

The tax measure's cost would more than offset the savings in a tough budget approved by the House last month, which would trim federal spending by $50 billion over five years by imposing new fees on Medicaid recipients, squeezing student lenders, cutting federal child-support enforcement and paring the food stamp rolls.


Of course, as you might expect, the Republicans do have a "good" explanation for their recent behavior: it will stimulate the economy and, thus, create a rising tide that will lift all boats.

But the centerpiece of the bill is the extension, through 2010, of the capital gains and dividend tax cuts, which lowered the tax rate on investment income to 15 percent, from as high as 38.5 percent. This extension alone is projected to cost $20.6 billion over five years and $50.8 billion over 10 years.

...

"Lower tax rates on savings and investment have benefited millions of Americans of all income levels either directly -- through lower taxes on investment returns -- or indirectly through new and better jobs and greater economic security for families," [Treasury Secretary John W.] Snow said.


Sounds pretty good, right? Well, as everyone has probably noticed this is another example of Supply-side Economics, which has thus far proven quite dubious in improving economic outcomes. What is particularly disturbing is the breakdown of benefits by demographic groups:

The Tax Policy Center, run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, has concluded that the bottom 80 percent of households would receive 15.8 percent of the House tax cuts' benefit. The top 20 percent would receive 84.2 percent of the benefit. Households earning more than $1 million a year would get 40 percent of the tax cuts, or an average reduction of nearly $51,000.


So, the Republicans have basically cut spending for social service programs so that they could subsequently give the most wealthy 20% a tax break- and in so doing managed to actually increase spending. Indeed, well done my brothers and sisters in the GOP. While the concept of "deficit reduction" appears to be eluding you, the alternative concept of "spoils system" is one with which you appear quite familiar. Granted, some of the tax breaks you have enacted or extended are probably fairly useful- like the tax-incentives for employing welfare recipients- but these are small change. For the most part, this is just another episode of voodoo economics.

I'm going to go whack myself in the face with a hammer for a while. If anyone out there with more expertise in these matters (For example... Tom) would like to comment on this, by all means. I do sincerely hope it isn't as bad as I think it is.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Welcome and Farewell

Today on Total Drek we're going to take care of some administrative tasks. Specifically, I'm going to clean-up the Blogroll and introduce y'all to some new blogs, as well as salute some blogs that have sadly drifted into functional oblivion.

First, let's deal with the depressing part.

The blogs Prairie Sociology, Procfreak, and Tom Volscho have been added to the "gone but not forgotten" section at the top of the blogroll. These are distinguishable by the fact that they're crossed out on the list. All of these blogs will be missed and, sadly, they all come from the family of sociology blogs.

On a more positive note, the blog Milchbubi has moved out of the "gone but not forgotten" section as its author has recently been posting again. This is the last remnant (that I ever paid attention to) of the tempestuous, and now defunct, Wisconversation blog, and I'm hoping it keeps staggering drunkenly onwards.

Now, for the more fun news: new entrants to the blogroll.

First, we have the Evolution Blog, which is written by Dr. Jason Rosenhouse. Jason is an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at James Madison University and is a contributor to both CSICOP's Skeptical Inquirer and to the magazine Skeptic. Jason is one of the most dedicated, and readable, voices on the pro-evolution side of the Evolution/Wacky-Pretend-Science debate. Some of you may have noticed that Evolution Blog snuck into my blogroll a while ago, but I don't think I ever formally welcomed him.

Next, we come to Aetiology, written by Tara C. Smith. Tara is a scientist (a biologist, I think) and a mother with a specialty in infectious disease. Speaking personally, I can see how being a mother might enhance an interest in infection. Aetiology also advocates for Evolution, but includes new and interesting posts on a variety of biological subjects on an almost daily basis. Highly recommended. There's a particularly interesting post over there right now on a disorder that sounds somewhat like a case of hysterical contagion. It's worth reading about, even if Tara referred to Sociology as one of the humanities.

Then we have Mathieu Deflem's Sociology Blog which, as you might guess, is written by Dr. Mathieu Deflem, an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Deflem writes primarily on the issue of Public Sociology, of which he is somewhat critical. Longtime readers of my blog realize that Dr. Deflem and I have crossed paths before, but this is the first time I've ever actually added him to the blogroll. As a final note, I'd just like to congratulate Dr. Deflem on both his recent successful petition to become a candidate for the American Sociological Association council, and on his new profile photo, which is much more flattering than the old one.

Next we come to The Panda's Thumb, which is another pro-evolution blog. This blog is supposedly a group effort organized by the University of Ediacara but often includes reprints of posts from both Evolution Blog, and Aetiology. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Then we arrive at Stone Court written by Fred & Mary, who are a Law Professor/Litigator and a Demographer, respectively. Stone Court deals largely with issues of politics and law, with a healthy sprinkling of sarcasm added for flavor.

Finally, we come to Uncommon Descent, written by William Dembski, whom I have mentioned before. Uncommon Descent is a pro-Wacky-Pretend-Science blog and includes a prolific update schedule, even if the updates tend to be short and largely composed of direct reprints of other people's work. Still, as long as I have three pro-evolution blogs in the roll, one anti-evolution blog is probably reasonable.

And I believe that does it for us. So, for those blogs that are departing into the dustbin of history, we'll miss you. For the others who have just arrived, welcome.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tit and Tat

Over on Uncommon Descent* William "Wild Bill" Dembski** recently remarked on a comedy act that ridicules religious fundamentalists and creationism. Specifically, it mocks the sort of literal creationism that asserts that the Earth is approximately 20,000 years old. Dembski introduces this act with the statement, "For an excellent illustration of why we are indeed in a culture war, look here:"

As you might guess, Dembski's usual mob of sycophantic commenters has much to say on the subject, although they're more reasonable than normal. For example:

Bill Hicks has long gone to meet his Intelligent Designer. One hopes He appreciates his comedy as much as Hicks’ fans do.

Whatever the case, Hicks is a good example (at least to me) of how objections to things like ID, christianity, and religion are rooted more in emotion than clear thinking.


Leaving aside the blatant idiocy of the entire "Culture War" label (I mean, honestly, were the civil rights and feminist movements not worthy of that label? They were certainly far-reacing) I think we should try and keep this culture war in perspective. The literal creationists may get mocked in some circles, but apparently anti-Intelligent Design academics are getting assaulted:

Kansas University religious studies professor Paul Mirecki reported he was beaten by two men about 6:40 a.m. today on a roadside in rural Douglas County. In a series of interviews late this afternoon, Mirecki said the men who beat him were making references to the controversy that has propelled him into the headlines in recent weeks.

“I didn’t know them, but I’m sure they knew me,” he said.

Mirecki said he was driving to breakfast when he noticed the men tailgating him in a pickup truck.

“I just pulled over hoping they would pass, and then they pulled up real close behind,” he said. “They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out.”

He said the men beat him about the upper body with their fists, and he said he thinks they struck him with a metal object. He was treated and released at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.


For those of you who are unfamiliar with the man, Paul Mirecki is a Kansas University professor who recently gained some notoreity for planning to teach a course that was to have been titled, "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies." The course was approved, though its title was altered to only, "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism." Given recent events in Kansas this course provoked quite an outcry- which is hardly surprising considering what the Kansas schoolboard is like. So, it would seem, matters have gone beyond merely mocking and crossed over into physical violence.

Now, Mirecki has done some things that do not speak very well of him, but that is no excuse for attacking him. Or, at least, that's what I as an Atheist say. Some of Dembski's commenters apparently don't agree with me:

Mirecki’s got a big mouth on him as demonstrated by the email about slapping fundies in their big fat faces. By his own admission he confronted those men when he could have driven away. Maybe he thought he was going to slap them in their big fat faces and instead got his own big fat face slapped.


Still, this doesn't characterize all of Dembski's commenters. Some of them don't think Mirecki got atttacked at all. For example:

Mirecki’s story isn’t passing the smell test. “White guys in pickup truck” is too neat, too stereotypical. It fits too neatly into the leftist playbook of gaining sympathy as victims of conservative right-wingers. Mirecki’s response when his version of the story — “the right wing wants blood, period. They’re not going to stop until they see blood. They’re not into anything else” — uses a political defense to a questioning of facts. My money’s on this being another hate-crime hoax…


So, it's been an exciting day. Now, I don't know if Mirecki was actually beaten or not. I confess I find it plausible, and see no reason to doubt the man until and unless additional evidence surfaces, but I don't know one way or another. I am comfortable going with the battlecry of one Dembski commenter who
remarked, "Intelligence to the rescue! Let us follow the evidence (or lack thereof) wherever it may lead." I must concede that I don't think the I.D. community has done a very good job of following the evidence so far but that's beside the point.

My issue is this: with the exception of the one commenter I just remarked upon, neither Dembski nor any of his commenters have condemned this beating. If it is true, then their "side" of this debate has just physically assaulted someone and they're apparently fine with it. I know Mirecki said some things that angered some folks but, you know what? I've been pretty pissed by utterances from Pat Robertson over the years, and I haven't gone and beaten him. Nor would I condone anyone who did so. As a result I'm more than a little unimpressed by Dembski's righteous indignation over the "Culture War."

Can we at least all agree that physical violence is a bad thing?

Well, I guess not.

UPDATE: Wild Bill has finally sort of responded to the alleged beating of Paul Mirecki. How has he responded, you ask? Oh- just by posting a link to another blog that speculates somewhat more elaborately on the possibility that Mirecki is lying. Otherwise, there is no commentary from Dembski. I am less than impressed.

* WARNING: Uncommon Descent is a particularly fragmentary pro-I.D. blog. Don your hip-waders before going in. **No, he's not really nick-named "Wild Bill," but, frankly, I think I like it.

Downhill

A special guest post from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

Yesterday, Dec. 7, 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.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.


And to think of where we were then, and where we are now. I salute the veterans of World War II and current serving military personnel.

But I weep for our Republic.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

To err is human, to doubt is divine.

Once upon a time there lived a social scientist by the name of Stanley Milgram. Milgram was a nondescript, gentle man who became famous for what has become known as "the Milgram Experiment." In this study, he convinced his subjects that they were administering electric shocks and, using only the limited verbal coercion of a researcher, was able to induce his subjects to "shock" another human being to the point of unconsciousness and beyond.

Of course, in reality, no humans were being harmed by the shocks, but the subjects believed that there were. As a consequence many of them displayed the sort of mental anguish that you might expect from someone who is being compelled to harm an innocent. Of course, by "compelled" in this case I mean "Told to continue in rather antiseptic terms without the threat of force," but, hey, compelled is a pretty broad term, right? Regardless, before the experiment a panel of psychologists predicted that fewer than one person in a hundred would go all the way with the experiment. In fact, sixty-five percent of the subjects continued administering increasingly severe shocks, despite protests from the recipient, through to the maximum shock included in the experiment. This experiment, initiated as part of an attempt to explain the the Holocaust, had succeeded only too well.

I've often used the documentary film Milgram made about this study in my sociology classes and often witness the surprise and horror of my students. They almost always seem shocked that regular people would do such things while subjected to so minimal a level of coercion. Indeed, when watching the film it is easy to tell yourself that you would have behaved differently. Unfortunately, while this may give you a warm and secure feeling inside, it is almost certainly wrong. Most people are taught from a very early age to respect and obey authorities and, as such, have a difficult time disobeying even when they know they should. Sadly, we don't need to look very far to find confirmatory evidence that this is the case.

A recent report on ABC News sadly, and dramatically, reconfirms that Americans are just as obedient today as they were when Milgram conducted his experiments. Specifically, a McDonald's manager named Donna Summers received a telephone call from a man claiming to be a police officer, who then described a person who supposedly had stolen a purse while wearing a McDonald's uniform. The description apparently matched one of Summers' employees, Louise Ogborn (18). On learning this, the voice began to give instructions:

Ogborn was called into assistant manager Donna Summers' cramped office and told that Summers was on the telephone with a police officer.

"She said, 'Here she is. This is the girl you described,'" said Ogborn. "She told me to shut the door."

Summers told Ogborn that the officer on the phone had their store manager on the other line and that he had described her and accused her of stealing a purse from a customer.

"I was like, 'Donna, I've never done anything wrong,'" Ogborn said. "I could never steal — I could never do anything like that. I don't have it in me."

But inside the back office, which had now become an "interrogation room," Ogborn's protests fell on deaf ears.

"She said, 'Well, they said it was a little girl that looked like you in a McDonald's uniform, so it had to be you.'"

It was Ogborn's word against the accusation of a man claiming to be a cop, and she was given a choice: submit to a search or be escorted to the police station.

Listening to 'the Voice'

Ogborn was told to empty her pockets and surrender her car keys and cell phone, which she did. Then the caller demanded that Summers have Ogborn remove her clothes — even her underwear — leaving her with just a small, dirty apron to cover her naked body.

Summers says she never second-guessed what she was being asked to do, as she firmly believed the person she was talking to was a police officer. Ogborn says she trusted her manager to do what was right.


The article, of course, goes on and reaches a level that I suspect many of us would not have believed:

Within fifteen minutes, Summers' fiancé, Walter Nix, entered the office [Summers was instructed to call him by the voice on the phone] where Ogborn tugged at the small apron that barely covered her top and exposed her legs up to her buttocks.

Again, Summers says she didn't question the caller and completely trusted her fiancé to be left alone with the girl.

Ogborn says she wanted to run, but that it would have been too humiliating to run through the restaurant naked.

Nix, a 43-year-old exterminator, began following the caller's commands, ordering Ogborn to drop her apron, bend over and stand on a chair.

Then — as ridiculous as it sounds — he told her to do jumping jacks to shake loose anything she might be hiding. Ogborn says that was just the beginning of two more hours of torment.

The demands became more and more bizarre. When Ogborn says that when she failed to address Nix as "sir," the caller tells him to hit her violently on the buttocks over and over. At one point on the video, Ogborn was "spanked" for almost 10 full minutes.

...

Ogborn says that after more than three hours of dehumanizing treatment, Nix — again on the instructions of the caller — forced Ogborn to perform a sexual act.


Of course, not everyone involved in this event was equally susceptible to the demands of an unknown caller:

This time, she had Thomas Simms, a 58-year-old maintenance man who worked at the restaurant, get on the phone with the caller, but Simms refused to comply with the caller's strange demands.


Yet, despite the refusal of Thomas Simms as well as 27 year-old Jason Bradley to take part, the humiliation of Louise Ogborn continued until Summers called her own manager. In total, this incident lasted more than three hours and was sparked by nothing more than an individual on the phone claiming to be a police officer. Given the staggering behavior of Summers, Nix, and others, we can only conclude that, contrary to their own self-image, Americans remain as vulnerable to authority figures as ever. Given this, how can we look at recent actions by the U.S. government and blame them on a few "bad apples?" Moreover, how can we continue to weaken our constitutional protections when we are so obviously incapable of defending them without institutional support?

In truth, I do not know what to do about this situation. On one level, I doubt that this weakness in human beings can ever be fully remedied. We are, like all other species, a product of our evolutionary history, and that history includes a certain reverence for hierarchy. Yet, knowing that, I think there is at least one thing we can do: teach our citizens to respect authority a little less. Those who know me, or who read this blog, know that I can quite safely be labeled a skeptic. As such I can assure you that skepticism entails a certain lack of respect for authority as authority. This does not mean that skeptics are unwilling to accept what people say, but rather only that we tend to demand proof or logical argumentation to back it up. As an instructor, I try to cultivate skepticism in my students, both by teaching them to question what they read, and to question me. If I am, indeed, qualified to impart wisdom to my students, then I should have nothing to fear from their questions.

Am I saying that inculcating skepticism will solve this problem? Will it prevent the Louise Ogborns of the future from cowering naked in offices at the whim of faceless strangers? Probably not. On the other hand, I think it can't possibly hurt and is probably worth a try. Skepticism isn't a panacea, but it is a good way to get people to question authority before the mitts come off, and before they find themselves deprived of essential freedoms. This makes skepticism a valuable tool in any democratic society.

But don't take my word for it. Decide for yourself.

Special thanks to Jesus' General for originally bringing this story to my attention.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Professional choices and broccoli

Drek,
Personally I think you should call yourself Dr. Strangelove - a tad predictable perhaps - but too good an opportunity to miss.
Meanwhile I seem to have landed myself a face to face interview for a new job in Oxford. Among other tasks, I'd be scheduling a team of engineers. The questions, can I deal with engineers on a day to day basis?
Looking at this maybe I can:
Mothballs, 1747 mpg Cars
and Almost Self-Balancing Skate Boards

Engineers. They promote broccoli. No, seriously, they do (ok, so that is not strictly by engineers only, but still cool).
Maybe I should take this job.

Friday, December 02, 2005

An important professional question.

Lately as I've been buried up to my ass in work, a particular question has occurred to me: what professional name should I use? This is an issue I'd never really contemplated but, as one of my articles inches closer to publication with nearly geologic rapidity, I'm realizing that I need to know.

Now, I could use my actual last name but, frankly, hardly anyone likes it. Not to mention the rather dramatic mistakes people tend to make in spelling it. I really don't want to spend my professional life with a hard-to-spell, boring old name. Nor, really, do I want to use my blogging name. Certainly "Dr. the Uninteresting," has a ring to it, but I'm not sure it really sends the right message. I don't want to send the message that I'm dull, but rather that I'm a mover and shaker. I want people to feel respect and, yes, perhaps even awe when they hear my name. I need a professional name like "Ripper" or "Deathstrike." I mean, how cool would it be to see "Dr. Deathstrike" printed in a course catalog? How about on a conference schedule? If nothing else, it should cut down on the stupid questions.

So, today, I just want to offer y'all a chance to vote. Go check out the lefthand margin and let me know which prospective professional name YOU think I should use.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Another Total Drek News Brief...

This just in:

Scientists working at the California Institute of Technology announced yesterday that they have determined how it is that honeybees are capable of flight. This has been a puzzle since the 1930's when French researchers calculated that the flight of the honeybee was aerodynamically impossible.

New research from Michael Dickinson of the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues finally explains how Apis mellifera flies. Unlike other flying insects, honeybees use short wing strokes of less than 90 degrees and a high number of flaps every second to stay aloft. The researchers found that when challenged to fly in difficult conditions, such as a mixture of oxygen and helium that mimicked air density at more than five miles up in the atmosphere, the bees resorted to wider strokes but maintained the same high flapping frequency.


While this revelation is mostly of interest to zoologists, and physicists, it has caused a tremendous uproar in the field of inspirational speaking.

"The honeybee has long been one of our most treasured examples," reports Chip Winklestump, inspirational speaker-for-hire, "I can't tell you how many audiences I've inspired by commenting that, 'According to science the honeybee can't fly but, gosh darn it, those little guys do it anyway. Don't ever let someone tell you what you are and are not capable of,' Now that scientists have been able to show why it is possible for the honeyee to fly, I'm going to have to find a new hackneyed metaphor!"

The main U.S. professional organization for motivational speakers, Special Humans for Inspirational Talk (S.H.I.T.) has, as yet, released no official comment on the study. Inside sources, however, report that they are hard at work developing a next-generation metaphor that involves a squirrel on water skis. Meanwhile, rival organizations are using this as an opportunity to suggest alternatives to the status quo.

Only time will tell if the inspirational speaking sector can recover from this setback, and what economic consequences this will have for the rest of the country.

Unsurprisingly, I made up the quote from Chip Winklestump and there is not organization for public speakers named "S.H.I.T." that I am aware of. If you are named Chip Winklestump... holy fuck, I'm so sorry. The story about the honeybees, though, is entirely real.

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