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Saturday, May 29, 2004
Huge Hive! Yellow Jackets Invade Mobile Home -- The sheer size of this hive is just disturbing. Article has a slideshow with more details.

Tales of Future Past -- This is a fascinating website with plenty of images of early 20th-century "futuristic" cities and technologies.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Tuesday, May 25, 2004
It's time to estimate the Iraq War toll again. According to MSNBC 5,558 Iraqi civilians have been killed under occupation. Add to this the 3240 documented cases from the invasion period and we have 8798. Now consider that major battle sites like Fallujah are excluded from both totals. A rough estimate of 10,000 dead civilians seems reasonable (probably an underestimate). Now for the battle-deaths. Allied forces have suffered 913 fatalities, according to the best Iraq War Casualties site. What about the Iraqi Army, pro-Allied police, and insurgents? Well the Iraq Army and associated militias seemed to have suffered in the neighborhood of 3000 killed, give or take a few thousand, by October 2003. Casualty ratios since them seem to be something like 5:1 or 10:1, suggesting that a period that has witnessed the death of 400 or so Allied troops also cost the lives of perhaps 2000 to 4000 insurgents. The last figure we need is Iraq police serving the Allies. Many hundreds have been killed according to press accounts, perhaps as many as 1000. If we add all of this together we get: Civilians: 10,000 Iraq Army / Iraqi insurgents: 5000 to 7000 Allies: 913 Pro-Allied Iraqi Police: 1000 making the total number of people directly killed by this war somewhere in the neighborhood of 18,000 -- almost certainly between 15,000 and 20,000.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Saturday, May 15, 2004
Eurovision Song Contest While I watched the performances I jotted down a few notes. Here they are -- I'm still waiting for the results of voting.... Eurovision 2004 reactions The presenters were awful. The streaming video was mediocre; Tiscali did not impress me. As for the show... 1. Spain What a weak beginning to the show. What was the point of having a guitar for three seconds at the beginning of the song? The song was as generic as they come, unworthy of note. 4 2. Austria The song was OK, but the endless repetition of its "hook" became grating towards the end. There just wasn't enough substance here -- it was like half of a decent song. 5.5 3. Norway Now here's a complete song, though of course it's campletely vapid. Still, it was the best song so far. 7 4. France What's with the chicks on sticks? Or was that a strange perspective issue? In any case, the song was OK but nothing to write home about. 6.5 5. Serbia & Montenegro This is a pretty song. The vocals are appropriately subdued, giving the music a chance to shine. I think I like this one better than Norway's entry. 7.5 6. Malta This is a nice old-fashined tune sung by a strange duo: one very perky pop princess and one operatic male. I don't sense the tiniest bit of chemistry between the two, but the song has quite a bit of variety. This one may have been better than previous entries, but it's close. 7.5 7. Netherlands This is the sort of song that would have been popular in the US in the early 90s. The lyrics are sweet enough, but the song is pretty dull. 6 8. Germany I know this is supposed to be soulful and jazzy, but I just found it tedious. I never much liked this sort of thing. The singer also had trouble carrying the tune in places. At least it wasn't completely generic. 6.5 9. Albania It was a bit too hard to make out the vocals behind the dance beat, which is a shame since I liked what I heard. The backup singers stank. I think this woman could be a star with some coaching and production work. 6.5 10. Ukraine What a nice song; it has rhythm and energy. I can see why there was so much advance buzz about these poeple, since they put on a great performance of a pretty good song. 8.5 11. Croatia This guy belongs in Vegas. His old-fashioned crooning is actually pretty good, but it's certainly nothing adventurous. I'm sure this plays well in his own country. 6.5 12. Bosnia & Herzegovina Someone's been watching Kylie videos. Alas, he seemed to have picked up some of her filler material. It's not bad, but a bit of creativity could make it so much better. 7 13. Belgium Apparently, disco lives on. This reminded me of something the Bee Gees would do -- and that's quite a complement. She seemed to run out of ideas halfway through the song, undortunately. It's still not bad. 7 14. Russia The junior-high cheerleading acrobatic moves are just distracting without being impressive. As for the music, it would have been better without the pounding backbeat. There seems to be a missing chorus here. In the end, it's just plain forgettable. 4.5 15. Macedonia This guy has heart, but his song is just so mediocre. I suppose this is better than Spain, but not by much. 5 16. Greece This was another hyped performance. It turned out to be a competent but unremarkable performance. It made me hungry for Shake 'n' Bake. Overall, this one was a disappointment. 6.5 17. Iceland This is a decent song, but the singer's voice sounded alternately muddy and off-key. He seemed to have avery narrow vocal range. His random staggering around stage added nothing to the performance. 6 18. Ireland This guy can sing, which means I added a point to his otherwise mediocre score. The song is nothing special, but the performance was more enjoyable than most. I wouldn't mind seeing him win even though I'm not sure he's the best artist here. 7.5 19. Poland This woman has energy in the second half of the song. Still, the rest of the material gets old really quick. There's only so many times you can chant the same four words before it becomes grating. 5.5 20. United Kingdom This isn't too bad, but it certainly isn't breaking any new ground. Mostly it's a bunch of sentimental tripe. I'm not even sure the singer is trying. 5 21. Cyprus I like this woman. Her voice reminds me of a cross between Olivia Newton-John and Jewel. She seems to be trying hard not to screw up. My only real complaint is aboput the song. I kept waiting for the interesting parts but they never came. It's pretty but unexceptional. 8 22. Turkey The song is very average. At least the performers look like they're having fun. These people want to win, but their material just isn't good enough. 6 23. Romania I'm scared of this woman. It was sometimes hard to make out what she was saying, and she didn't seem to be entirely on-key. The performance was around the same level as Norway. 7 24. Sweden There's no new ground being broken in this performance, but it's a decent song with a competent delivery. It's a cut above most Eurovision material. 8 No single song really stood out above the others this year. Ukraine had the best one in my opinion, but it was nothing special. The quality of this year's show seemed to be on par with last year and below the previous few years. My rankings: 1 Ukraine 2 Sweden / Cyprus 4 Ireland / Serbia & Montenegro / Malta 7 Norway / Bosnia & Hercegovia / Belgium / Romania 11 France / Germany / Albania / Croatia / Greece 16 Turkey / Netherlands / Iceland 19 Austria / Poland 21 Macedonia / UK 23 Russia 24 Spain This is pretty close to a normal distribution, which is to be expected. There were no appalling performances this year and no real standouts either.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Woman lives without portion of skull for months -- Ah, the joys of the American health insurance "system."

Friday, May 07, 2004
The Misunderestimated Man - How Bush chose stupidity -- This is an unusually insightful take on the "Bush is dumb" hypothesis.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004
CDI - Center for Defense Information -- There's lots of anti-military stuff here but occasionally they have really interesting tidbits. This one is from the May 3, 2004 CDI Defense Monitor. The US installed "Permissive Action Links" on its nuclear warheads in the 1960s when Robert McNamara was Secretary of Defense. These locks physically prevent the detonation of a nuclear weapon if one doesn't know the combination. Apparently, the Air Force was concerned that the President (and whoever else held the unlock codes) might be killed by an enemy strike, leaving US forces unable to respond. Their response? The Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Omaha quietly decided to set the “locks” to all zeros in order to circumvent this safeguard. During the early to mid-1970s, during my stint as a Minuteman launch officer, they still had not been changed. Our launch checklist in fact instructed us, the firing crew, to double-check the locking panel in our underground launch bunker to ensure that no digits other than zero had been inadvertently dialed into the panel. SAC remained far less concerned about unauthorized launches than about the potential of these safeguards to interfere with the implementation of wartime launch orders. And so the “secret unlock code” during the height of the nuclear crises of the Cold War remained constant at 00000000.

Darwin-Free Fun for Creationists -- Because everyone knows there's nothing kids love more than theology

Pat Tillman was a hero. And his brother is pissed off at those who distort his views. -- "Pat isn't with God,'' he said. "He's f -- ing dead. He wasn't religious. So thank you for your thoughts, but he's f -- ing dead.''

Monday, May 03, 2004
Why your bank wants you to use your debit card -- The average consumer pays hundreds of dollars each year in private taxes -- erm, banking fees -- for the privilege of letting someone else hold their money, invest it, and keep the resulting profits.

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