Saturday, February 24, 2007


A couple of random thoughts/questions on a wintry day...

Item 1: What is it with conservatives and global warming? Make that, "conservatives and the environment." I have never understood the insistence of so many right-wingers that anyone concerned about environmental concerns is just being an alarmist Chicken Little; that any evidence that shows we're wrecking the planet is perforce trumped-up "liberal" propaganda; that things can't possibly be as bad as "those liberals" say; or--my favorite--that it doesn't matter what we do to the earth since God has everything under control.

Wouldn't it make more sense for conservatives to be interested in, you know, conservation? Which brings me back around to the old, old question: Precisely what it is they're supposed to be conserving, anyway?

The above is sparked by yet another bonehead who, not content on being a bonehead for his friends and family, decides to prove his boneheadedness to others by sending a letter to the local rag, where other boneheads decide it should be printed. I can't lay hands on the letter at the moment--it was several days back, and if TLR archives these things it's not at all obvious and I am insufficiently motivated to spend any time looking--but the gist of it was, he's looking out his window and it's snowing, so how can anyone say there's global warming?

Golly, but it's hard to argue with "logic" like that.

Item 2: Having spent my entire life in the upper Midwest (where, despite global warming, it still occasionally snows), I have been in a position to observe what I have come to dub Midwestern Machismo. This mindset holds that to be concerned about winter weather is, in a nutshell, to be a pussy. No matter how dire the forecast--indeed, no matter how inclement the current conditions--those beset by Midwestern Machismo never conclude anything except "it doesn't sound so bad" or "it's not so bad" or "I've driven in way worse weather than this."

I got to observe a bit of this condition yesterday. The regional forecast for this weekend consists of nothing but rain turning to freezing rain turning to snow--six to eight to twelve inches across the area--with high winds to top it off. My son's drumline, Groove Inc., was to travel to Minneapolis-St. Paul for competitions today and Sunday. By noon yesterday, Weather Service bulletins were advising against travel in exactly the part of the world where we purported to travel. And yet there was some considerable resistance to canceling our plans. (I'm pleased to report that wiser heads prevailed--although I had decided that there was no way my family was going out into the teeth of the storm no matter what the group decided.)

Part of the "reasoning" seemed to be that, if we could cram everybody onto our bus (instead of bus and a caravan of private vehicles), all would be well...since everybody knows that motor coaches are immune to weather conditions.

Then there was the "not as bad as predicted" faction, those who innately know that whatever the National Weather Service and other meteorologists are reporting is by definition wrong...and that they know better by virtue of not being a meteorologist.

My favorite, though, was the friend who had spoken with a friend in Iowa who had been listening to a Twin Cities radio station that allegedly was reporting that the storm was going to hit several hours later than forecast. Okay. Setting aside for the moment that that information was not supported by any other sources, one is still left with the burning question: So freaking what? That might be of some help if we planned to go up Saturday morning and stay a few days. But since we planned to go up Saturday and come back Sunday afternoon, having the storm delayed a few hours isn't really of much help.

But it's all part of that Midwestern Machismo, which somehow sees shame in canceling plans for something a paltry as ice storms or blizzards. Indeed, there were those who argued for waiting until 4:00 or 5:00 this morning before making a decision. For crying out loud. How much advance warning do so people need? Better to disappoint the kids (and their parents!) than to knowingly risk life, limb, and lawsuit by heading into a storm that had been forecast well in advance.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Do Editors Read Headlines?

It is a question I often ask myself: Do editors read headlines? Or do they read the articles for which they are inventing headlines? (It appears to be an oddity of newspapers in particular that headlines are crafted by editors, not the writer of the piece. This, I believe, is how things like this, which actually occurred in my local paper a few years ago, happen: The headline is something like, "100s Sickened by Tainted Ice Cream" while the article begins, "Nearly 100 people became ill..."

Anyhow, here's this gem from ABC News: "Can Earth Dodge Asteroid Heading This Way?"

Um, it's only a guess, but I would have to answer no. I find the earth to be extraordinarily un-nimble when it comes to dodging things. It's pretty good at that rotation-and-revolution stuff, but that's all very predictable and, frankly, hidebound. I have no confidence whatsoever that the planet can move out of the way of an asteroid.

Later on, the article (which is here, by the way) tells us, "Scientists believe that if advance warnings of dangerous asteroids like Apophis can be made decades in advance, there will be enough time to try and knock them off course."

Setting aside the clumsiness of "advance warnings...decades in advance", one is left to wonder why scientists would believe that advance warning of dangerous asteroids will do any good. Were they not around when Hurricane Katrina struck? What makes them think that our political "leaders" will be any more prepared for a potentially bigger catastrophe?

Gotta Love 'Em!

As annoying as they are, I have to admit to a certain grudging admiration for spammers. For instance, now that I'm hip to a new (to me) technique of theirs, I find their ingenuity rather noteworthy. This technique involves sending e-mail that really, truly looks like a news item. The subject is always timely and, as far as I can tell, "real." I was first tooken in by what purported to be a report on the health of my state's senior senator, Tim Johnson. "Sen. Johnson's condition upgraded MORE ..." read the subject line; the sender purported to be "C. Mcgill - News Service", a monicker unfamiliar to me, but since it is a subject of interest to me...

Well, of course, it turned out to be yet another IPO come-on ("could be your big break!"), and since then not a day goes by that the inbox is not littered with similar "news" items. Annoying, yes, but ingenious!

(And lest you fear: I was not so gullible as to open a suspect message in my e-mail client: The item in question came to my workplace e-mail account, which is safeguarded by the truly remarkable Barracuda filter, and it was in the Barracuda window that I safely viewed the e-mail's spammy content.)

On the other hand, sometimes--lots of times--the spam mongers are just stupid. Or lazy. Or think their audience is (probably can't go wrong thinking that). F'rinstance, this morning I have no fewer than four items in my Yahoo! Mail "bulk mail" folder (out of 95) indicating a "4th Notice" that " You're a YAHOO winner!" Uh-huh. How can I have four "fourth notices" staring me in the face? And what happened to notices one through three?

As with so many things in life, why do it if you're not going to do it well? I mean, there you are in an internet cafe in Nigeria or someplace and you and your buddies are sending out spam to the big wide world out there--how come you're all using the same subject line? Does it not occur to you that your 500 pieces of spammery will all end up in my mailbox more or less at the same time, and that I might, just might be suspicious if I have 500 messages that all say "Urgent message for"?

Come on--you guys aren't even trying. And if you don't care about your work, well, why should I?