Time Off for Halloween

HalloweenI’m out of town. I had to go down and visit my sister. Her daughter (my niece) is getting married next Tuesday, and I am here to help. Or I’m on vacation. It isn’t really clear. The truth is that when I’m at home, I have a very hard time not working. It’s just so easy to slip into work for lack of anything better to do. But given that the last couple of years have been pretty thin on paying work, it is welcome. Of course, I am working, as you can tell from this post. And I’m doing some of the paying stuff too.

As I’ve noted before, Halloween is probably my favorite holiday. I just love the iconograph. I also love that it is a nighttime thing so the world doesn’t come to a stop for it. And I love decorating for it and giving out candy. That’s another thing. I’m well known for being a “bad influence” on children. It’s really just that I have no trouble getting into the same head-space as kids. And given that I don’t have to be responsible, I can encourage them to be just what they want to be. Fun for me — but not generally for their parents.

So it is nice to be able to give candy to children in a socially acceptable way. And it is nice to be able to scare them in a totally non-threatening way. My favorite things are ghosts. They are fun to make. But I did something different this year. My brother-in-law is way into pumpkins. So we carved three pumpkins. I don’t remember doing this since I was a kid. This is odd. But I just don’t think in terms of pumpkins, even though they are one of the best things about the holiday.

I noticed that the bigger you make a mouth the friendlier it is. If you limit the amount of light that gets gets out of the pumpkin, the more sinister that it gets. I could see myself getting into this — buying a dozen pumpkins and trying different things. And that’s what it would take, given that I’m not that good with visual stuff. Speaking of which…

My sister recently got distance glasses. I tried them on and I was amazed: the world had returned! My eyes have gotten steadily worse and worse. I’m to the point of using my reading glasses all the time. That means the world more than a couple of meters out is blurry — whether I have glasses on or not. But wearing these distance glasses made my eyes young again. It was wonderful. And not just because I could see long distances, but because I knew that there was a technological fix to my problem. Very exciting — a wonderful holiday gift!

So I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween. Decorate your home. Stockpile loads of candy so you will have plenty left over so you have plenty candy — What are you going to do? Throw it away?! — while you watch a “scary” film. I recommend House on Haunted Hill:

More and More Oil as Global Warming Continues

Smoke StacksEarly this month, I wrote, Global Warming and the Insanity of the GOP. In it, I discussed this recent series of articles from Inside Climate News that documented how Exxon’s own scientists had been warning the company about global warming 40 years ago. What did they do? “Exxon and the other oil companies responded in exactly the same way that the tobacco companies had responded to the research that showed it caused cancer: denial.” That’s not hard to understand. But even I have a tendency to forget just how big the incentives are in this regard.

If you are my age, you remember back to the 1970s and the gas lines. That had nothing to do with actual physical gas shortages. The government had simply implemented price floors. But it didn’t stop people from talking about oil shortages and so on. The truth is that we are not looking at physical oil shortages any time in the near future. We are still discovering huge oil fields. For example, in 2000, the Kashagan Field in Kazakhstan was discovered. It contains an estimated 38 billion barrels of oil — 13 billion recoverable. That represents upwards of a trillion dollars. And that’s one oil field, discovered quite recently.

Similarly, the Lula Field off the coast of Brazil was discovered in 2006. It has almost 8 billion recoverable barrels of oil. That’s roughly half a trillion dollars. This is not just a tremendous amount of money. This is a tremendous amount of money that no one even knew about a decade ago. There is no way the people who work in the oil industry are going to stand aside and say, “We’ll pass on this money for the sake of the world.” They are going to use all the tools available to them to manipulate science, public opinion, and politics to keep this money flowing out of the ground.

This all takes me back to Chad Stanton and his idea of Impulse Control and Global Warming. We are constantly told that the problem with poor people in this country is that they lack impulse control. But global warming is a perfect example of how the rich have no impulse control. The idea of doing something for the long term is anathema to the capitalist way of looking at things. What’s the overall sustainability of the planet compared to a small number of people making a lot of money over the next quarter or year? This is the equivalent of eating your seed corn, except in this case, it is one or two people who eat it, so there isn’t even widely shared short term benefit for the long term tragedy.

It’s easy enough to focus on things like the Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia, which was discovered in 1948. It remains the largest oil field in the world with production of 5 million barrels per day — roughly $100 billion per year. It’s just oil that is sitting around. But ExxonMobile and the rest are not just waiting to extract the oil that we know about. They are pushing forward to find ever more oil. And it is there to be found! And I fear that as long as there is big money to be made, they will continue to do so.

Morning Music: Yat-Kha

tuva.rockWe get to the end of our week of my boss’ selections. Unlike similar weeks, I think this one has worked really well. The music has been great. It makes we want to check out more of this kind of music. That’s especially true of the music of the Sahara. But we are going to stay in Asia for the last day. In this particular case, we are listening to Yat-Kha from Tuva — pretty much Mongolia.

It does a lot of different music. In general, it is pretty west-friendly. But the vocals are very much throat singing. I think it works pretty well, but it still bugs me. This is “Coming Buddha” from their 2003 album, tuva.rock.

Anniversary Post: Halloween

HalloweenIn the United States, Halloween is the favorite holiday of many — adults and children alike. Celebrated on October 31. All Hallows‘ Eve originated from the ancient Celtic festival Samhain (for some reason pronounced “say-win”) which celebrated the end of the Gaelic harvest season. The Gaels believed that on that day the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead became fluid, allowing the dead to come back to life, bringing illness and other evils. Masks and costumes were worn to appease the dead. Of course, the living were also capable of wreaking havoc. Trick-or-treating, for example, began as a fun bit of extortion: give us a treat or else.

Scottish immigrants brought their versions of Halloween when they came to North America in the 19th century. Other western countries didn’t embrace the spooky fun until the late 20th century, developing all the imagery of witches and ghosts, bats and ghouls that delight and terrify.

A similar holiday, celebrated November 1 and 2, comes from southern and central Mexico: Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos). The indigenous peoples also believed that, at midnight on October 13, the boundaries between the living and the dead opened, not to let evil into the world, but  to allow the spirits of angelitos (deceased children) to reunited with their families for 24 hours. On November 2, the spirits of the adults come to enjoy the festivities prepared for them. That afternoon families go to the cemeteries to clean tombs, listen to music and reminisce about the loved ones no longer with them.

The holiday also corresponds with the annual migration of monarch butterflies, which, according to traditional belief, are the souls of ancestors returning to earth for their annual visit. Such a beautiful thought.


It’s a charming variation of Halloween, based on close family ties and community. It’s filled with sugar skulls (calaveritas de azúcar), ornate costumes, flowers and food. If you’ve never seen an ornately painted sugar skull, you’ve missed out. My paternal grandmother was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. I don’t know if she ever celebrated this holiday as a child since her father was German, but I’m sure she must have experienced some of the treats.

I found an image at ColoringShapes.com that I modified to possibly embroider.



Mexican Sugar Skull
Halloween History

Why Make Things When You Can Just Steal?!

Fraud AlertI was talking to my editor the other day, and she mentioned that she was sending out take-down notices to some websites that had “borrowed” some of our content from one of our sites. After all these years, I still find it shocking that people steal other’s content. I know that in a lot of cases, it is just a matter of naive people who think that everything on the internet is free. But it is also a lot of people who really do know better. With my non-business approach to the internet, it isn’t the legal side of things that bothers me. I just think it is rude.

But it is very much a concern that there are so many people out on the internet who think that the way to make money is to do it on the backs of others. The truth is that it’s really cheap to hire a writer. So why not just hire a writer? The websites that do this kind of thing really do have money. Somewhere they just figured out that it would be cheaper to steal, because most places are not as careful about protecting their content as the people I work for. For example, I generally have no idea if anyone is using my content because I don’t check.

Then, of course, are the spammers who make the internet decidedly worse in the name of what must be tiny margins. Conservatives present this meme that liberals are anti-business. That is not true, of course. In general, liberals are pro-business as we normally think of business. We might have a problem with very large businesses, in as much as they abuse their power. Above all, we would like to encourage good businesses that offer value to society. But certainly since the 1980s, the dominant idea in business is to make money anyway you legally can. And if that involves getting laws changed so that truly horrible practices are legal, so be it.

I ran into this same kind of thing this week. I got a letter from the Fictitious Business Name Renewal Center. It looked just like things that come from the state of California. And it informed me that my fictitious business name was expiring. And for $150, they would renew my name. It all looks above board and the address of the company is indeed in Sacramento. Still, it was a bit fishy. The amount of $150 is pretty high — a lot higher than what I paid in the first place. And fictitious business names are dealt with on the local level, not the state. So I contacted my local office and they were very much aware of this little scam.

I actually owe $40 for the renewal, and it isn’t due until next March. The Better Business Bureau has a complaint listed. This company apparently has an F rating. On the Sonoma County fictitious business name page, at the very top is the following:

→ → Consumer Scam Alert ← ←

And if you go to Google Maps, you will see that this company is in a suburban strip mall. In fact, it might just be a box at one of those mailbox places. All very shady and unpleasant. But I assume the company is legitimate enough that it actually does do what it claims — even if the service isn’t worth a third of what they are charging. Of course, our conservative friends would tell us it is worth exactly what people pay for it. (According to Sonoma County, some companies charge as much as $500 for this “service.”)

What bugs me about the whole thing is the idea of it. Rather than come up with a useful product or service, these people come up with a scam. According to Sonoma County, they will send me an actual renewal notice in about four months. So the Fictitious Business Name Renewal Center offers absolutely no value whatsoever. This may not meet the legal standard for fraud, but it is fraud by my standards — and by the standards of most people, I would think. These are not desperate people. The operation is sophisticated and highly calculated. It has been going on for years. And it is perfectly legal — like much else in the business world.

Christian Nationalists Running for President

Kentucky Clerk Kim DavisDo you ever worry that Sharia law is coming to the United States? If you are like most Americans, you don’t even know what Sharia law is — other than some Muslim equivalent to Levitical laws. Regardless, most people don’t worry about Sharia law because, well, there are very few Muslims in America. In fact, there aren’t many more Muslims than there are Hindus. Worrying about Sharia law is about as rational as worrying about Vishnu law. Of course, no one worries about Vishnu law or Buddha law or whatever. There’s really only one group that worries about Sharia law in the US: fundamentalist Christians.

Not surprisingly, it is a matter of projection. You know how it goes. Ever since Watergate, the Republicans have been obsessed with fake scandals involving Democrats because they just know the Democrats must be up to the same things they are. Or look at organized voter fraud. Every time an actual case comes up, it turns out to be Republicans. This is why Republicans know there is widespread voter fraud: because they’re doing it! And when it comes to worries about Sharia law, it comes from the Christian nationalists — because they want nothing so much as to force Biblical law onto our nation.

Case in point: Kim Davis. She’s the charming woman who refused to grant any marriage licenses because God’s law trumped the law she was paid to administer. Well, recently, the Associated Press got its hands on her office email (it is available by Kentucky law). And it shows a woman who is deeply delusional. For example, “I know it, but God is still alive and on the throne!!! He IS in control and knows exactly where I am!!” I still find this kind of thing odd. In the past, people thought that God actually helped them, say, win a war. Now, it doesn’t matter how low they sink, they still think God has their back.

But this is the kind of thing that really disturbs me, “September 1 will be the day to prepare for, if the Lord doesn’t return before then.” For one thing, it is such hubris. As if God really does circle around the trials of Kim Davis’ life. This is what Jesus has been waiting all these years for: someone like Kim Davis to step up and take a bold stance against secular marriages that most churches don’t respect. This is, in fact, my biggest complaint about American Christians: this unwarranted certainly that comes ultimately from them believing what others have told them. Does the Bible say that the soul enters the fetus at conception? No. It’s just something a preacher they trust says.

What’s terrifying is that Kim Davis is not just some freak. We have four men (Of course!) running for the Republican presidential nomination who are also Christian nationalists: Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal. And most of the rest of them support the same policies, and would doubtless become Christian nationalists if they saw it as a way to win the Republican nomination. And it is certainly possible that one of these men could become president. Like I said: terrifying.

Morning Music: Altan Urag

Made in Altan UragMy boss has ripped us out of the American continent and transported us to Asia — specifically to Mongolia. And things change in a big way. I’m not that fond of throat singing, but today’s music really is different. This is Altan Urag — according to Wikipedia, they are a Mongolian folk rock band. What does that mean? Well, you’ll just have to listen because I am in no position to explain.

You might want to check out the song Blue Mark to get more of an idea of the throat singing in a very modern context. But I’ve chosen an instrumental piece, RaaKH II. Both are from their album, Made in Altan Urag. I’m better able to analyze western music. But even when I can’t analyze, I can still tell quality work. Anyway, this one has a beat and you can dance to it.

Anniversary Post: The Rumble in the Jungle

The Rumble in the JungleOn this day in 1974 was The Rumble in the Jungle. It was the iconic boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). Everyone expected Foreman to destroy Ali. Foreman was stronger and arguably as fast. But Ali seems to have developed his rope-a-dope strategy while in the ring. Using it, he managed to wear down Foreman, who collapsed in the eighth round.

I remember standing in a bookstore reading the introduction of a book about Muhammad Ali. It was written by George Foreman. Foreman talked about the fight. He said if he knew what he knows now, he thinks that Ali still would have figured out a way to beat him — that Ali was just that great and intelligent a boxer. All I could think was that Foreman was one class act. And he might well be right. But clearly they were both among the greatest boxers of all time.

Most of what I know about The Rumble in the Jungle comes from the film When We Were Kings. It’s well worth checking out if you get a chance. Most of it is not directly about the fight. There was so much going on around the fight — especially music. And the politics are well on display with all of the paranoia of the villain Mobutu Sese Seko.

Using the Title Attribute With Anchor Tags

YouTubeI want to take a moment to talk to you about anchor titles. If you are like most people, you probably now have an image of an old-fashioned anchor from a Looney Tunes cartoon. But if you live in the world of computers, you know I am talking about website links. When a link is present in a document, it is done with an anchor (<a>) tag. This is, quite literally, what the web is built on. There would be no “web” without the anchor tag. So we really need to take it seriously.

But here’s the thing: no one likes a link to be a mystery. Before clicking, most people put their mouse over a link to see where it points to. There are lots of reasons for this. For me, avoiding direct links to The New York Times is important, because I only get ten articles per month. (I have a way of avoiding this, but it’s a bit of a pain.) But other reasons include just not being that interested or not trusting the writer to provide useful links. A lot of writers provide silly links — or jokes.

And speaking of jokes, Charlie Pierce provides “optional musical accompaniment” for a lot of his posts. That’s all well and fine, but I want to know what they are. In general, I’m not interested in listening to the song while reading his article; I just want to know what little joke he’s making. And this is in general the case with YouTube — which is notable because it is so common. Unless the writer is very explicit about the content of the video, it is an unwelcome mystery.

The issue came up today because I was editing an article about marketing. The writer had provided a YouTube link with the text, “For example, maybe your brand embodies attractive young people having fun.” What was the video about? It could have been a documentary about the media war between Coke and Pepsi. But it was instead just an old Coke commercial with “attractive young people having fan.” It wasn’t exactly necessary, given that we’ve all seen these kinds of commercials. But I was annoyed that I had to click over. I suspect most readers would have just skipped it.

As a writer or other content creator, it never hurts to assume that your visitors are working. They don’t want to spend a bunch of time figuring out why you linked to a particular thing. Blogs are usually good about this. For example, this page can be linked to like this: Using the Title Attribute With Anchor Tags. That link reads like this:


But it could also be linked like this: Using the Title Attribute With Anchor Tags. This is the actual URL — the one the system uses:


If a URL is relatively self-documenting, I don’t think link titles matter. But when they aren’t, they really do deserve a title. And it isn’t difficult to do. It is just a matter of adding title=”whatever” to your anchor tag. So, for example, a link to Frankly Curious would look like this:

<a href=”http://franklycurious.com” title=”Greatest Website Ever!”>Frankly Curious</a>

And then the world will be a better place.

No Evidence Will Convince Global Warming Deniers

James InhofeJonathan Chait brought my attention to some exciting news, Snowball-Chucking, Science-Hating Senator May Crash Paris Climate Talks. Yes, it’s our old friend James Inhofe — back in the news to bring the Truth™ to the people of the world. That Truth™ is, of course, that global warming is a hoax and that he can prove it because it snows in the winter. Inhofe is thinking of going the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, “I’ll repeat what I’ve done several times before, which is to go over and be the bad guy, the one-man truth squad, and tell the truth, that they’re going to be lied to by the Obama administration.”

This is sounding kind of hollow now. After all, it isn’t just Obama who takes global warming seriously. The governments of India and China and pretty much every other place on Earth take it seriously. Inhofe probably acts as a kind of argument for doing something about climate change. It’s the same as crazy people marching the streets shouting, “The end is nigh!” They always make me feel that everything is okay. If they weren’t so obviously crazy, I might be worried. Of course, the people of the world might start worrying about America in a general sense, but I can’t say that is unreasonable.

Such a stunt sounds so much like what a bunch of born again Christians would do. He’s certain he knows the truth. There is literally no way he will ever be convinced. I have to admit, that I’ve been somewhat deluded these past few years. I’ve thought that in ten or twenty years, all these global warming deniers would be unable to resist the plain facts. But that isn’t true. James Inhofe will never accept that global warming is happening, just as George Will won’t. It really doesn’t matter how long they live or what they see.

I talk a lot around here about how reasoning doesn’t work the way that we think it does. In general, people decide on something and then use their mighty brains to rationalize why they are right. But it does seem that not all people are alike in this regard. Some people are more open to new information than others. In particular, there are ways to turn off reflection. Fideism is a good way to do this. And it really doesn’t matter if it is through a dogmatic religion or an ossified ideology. In this case, we are not even talking about conservatism or “free market” absolutism. In Inhofe’s case, it is just a rejection of anything that he sees as liberal.

So imagine twenty years from now and global warming mitigation is costing the world trillions of dollars ever year. Inhofe is already 80 years old. He’ll be dead. George Will is 74, so he’ll probably be dead. But there will be a lot of living global warming deniers from today. And they’ll have a reason that they were right all along. There’s always a reason. If you are determined to believe something, you will find a way. But it doesn’t matter, because the damage will have been done. What’s more, even if all the Inhofes and Wills beg for forgiveness, they will still be out there denying any new threat to our safety and preaching their convenient Truth™.

Morning Music: Abigail Washburn et al

Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow QuartetFasten your seat belts, because we have to take a quick detour to the United States. I said that my boss was interesting, not consistent. So we are out of the Sahara and into the mid-west with Abigail Washburn. She is a noted banjo player and singer. And Toni sent along the follow link to a live performance by Sparrow Quartet of “Kangding Qingge” (Old-Timey Dance Party) from their 2008 album, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet. It’s a great song and Washburn is wonderful and all but…

It should be really clear listening to this that Washburn is not the star of this band. The real star in the Sparrow Quartet is Béla Fleck. In fact, he is so great that I really think I’m going to have to do a week of his music sometime soon. But for now, let’s enjoy this beautiful piece of music. It really is lowly.

Anniversary Post: Internet

InternetOn this day back in 1969, the internet was born. Really. That was the day when the first successful message was sent between two of the ARPANET Interface Message Processors. The rest is just details. It was the first system that implemented TCP/IP. And I suppose it is a good time to point out that TCP/IP is what we use, but it is hardly perfect. Like VHS and Microsoft Windows, it is good enough. As my pappy used to say, “Good enough is… good enough.”

There was a time when conservatives used to talk about the internet being this great example of private enterprise creating new technologies. The truth was that ARPANET was a government project. And up to the mid-1990s, the internet was this thing you used if you were at a college or a national lab. Sure, you had it if you were at Sun Microsystems. But in general, it was always this publicly funded thing. As always used to happen, the government nurtured the technology for years until it got to a point where people could make money from it.

Think about this. The position of conservatives — libertarians most especially — is that collective action is always bad. And so they will casually throw out the internet as an example of how the profit motive works so well. And the profit motive does indeed work really well in those cases where it works really well. But it is clear that it doesn’t work really well all the time or in all markets. But if we want to move into the future slowly, then we should follow the advice of the conservatives.

But if we want to move into the future quickly, we need collective action. And once we arrive with a new technology, we can allow the market to work it out so we have, for example, two kinds of smartphones that we can choose from. But the idea that the profit motive is what will move us into the future is nonsense, pushed by people who understand neither technology nor business.