Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Stained Glass CD

"#5 Mansion Glass Photos"

"117 photographs of finished windows by the Mansion Glass Company in all shapes and sizes. Drawings are nice, but finished windows really show the unique beauty of stained glass. ... A useful tool for you and your clients."

There's a higher-resolution image of that particular example, but to get at the rest you'd have to buy the CD - for about $25, plus (probably) shipping and handling. The Lemming didn't check to see how much that would be.

The CD's description is aimed at someone who wants to impress clients: but it seems like something that would be fun to have for someone who likes to look at stained glass. And has $25-plus dollars to spend.

The Lemming isn't going to buy that CD - but it's still nice to look at that picture.

Related posts:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Iran, Internet, Freedom, and Getting a Grip

Wouldn't it be nice, if people could be protected from bad influences? If children could grow up without ever being exposed to corrupting ideas? If someone would just make sure that people could see or read anything they wanted - as long as it was proper?

The Lemming doesn't think so.

Folks have tried that in America: the 'good old days' before Woodstock, when television censors protected the nation's youth from women's navels; and later, when political correctness was in flower.

The Lemming didn't like it, either time.

Here's what got the Lemming started:

"Iran Vows to Unplug Internet"
Christopher Rhoads, Farnaz Fassihi, Top Stories in Technology, The Wall Street Journal (May 28, 2011)

"Iran is taking steps toward an aggressive new form of censorship: a so-called national Internet that could, in effect, disconnect Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world.

"The leadership in Iran sees the project as a way to end the fight for control of the Internet, according to observers of Iranian policy inside and outside the country. Iran, already among the most sophisticated nations in online censoring, also promotes its national Internet as a cost-saving measure for consumers and as a way to uphold Islamic moral codes.

"In February, as pro-democracy protests spread rapidly across the Middle East and North Africa, Reza Bagheri Asl, director of the telecommunication ministry's research institute, told an Iranian news agency that soon 60% of the nation's homes and businesses would be on the new, internal network. Within two years it would extend to the entire country, he said...."

In a way, what happens in Iran, and whether or not Iranians are protected from ideas their leaders don't like, doesn't matter to the Lemming. Not immediately, anyway. In the long run, the Lemming thinks that Donne's "no man is an island" idea is still valid - and that consequences propagate a lot more quickly now, than they did in 1624.

'Be Careful What You Wish For'

Good intentions can be nice - but may have unintended consequences.

For example, in the Lemming's youth, homeowners were warned against putting pennies behind fuses. This was before circuit breakers: when homes had fuses that would blow before an overloaded electrical circuit set the house on fire. Those fuses cost money: which added up over the years. Saving money is, in the Lemming's opinion, a good idea. Accidentally setting your house on fire isn't.

You'll still hear about the occasional daft business owner who sealed a fire exit. Making sure that folks using a service actually paid for it makes sense, in the Lemming's opinion. So does keeping merchandise from going out the back door.1 When people die because they can't get out - that's really bad for business. As well as raising serious moral and ethical issues.

Iran's leaders apparently want to protect their subjects from 'bad' influences.

Back to that Wall Street Journal article:

"...The unusual initiative appears part of a broader effort to confront what the regime now considers a major threat: an online invasion of Western ideas, culture and influence, primarily originating from the U.S. In recent speeches, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other top officials have called this emerging conflict the 'soft war.'

"On Friday, new reports emerged in the local press that Iran also intends to roll out its own computer operating system in coming months to replace Microsoft Corp.'s Windows. The development, which couldn't be independently confirmed, was attributed to Reza Taghipour, Iran's communication minister.

"Iran's national Internet will be 'a genuinely halal network, aimed at Muslims on an ethical and moral level,' Ali Aghamohammadi, Iran's head of economic affairs, said recently according to a state-run news service. Halal means compliant with Islamic law.

"Mr. Aghamohammadi said the new network would at first operate in parallel to the normal Internet—banks, government ministries and large companies would continue to have access to the regular Internet. Eventually, he said, the national network could replace the global Internet in Iran, as well as in other Muslim countries...."
(The Wall Street Journal)

If you're waiting for a rant about 'those people over there,' you'll have a long wait. The Lemming thinks that Iran closing its borders to foreign influences is a bad idea - but the Lemming is a little more worried, in the short term, with folks right here in America trying to do about the same thing.

Americans don't, in the Lemming's opinion, have to worry about a federal agency protecting them from western culture. This is where a fair fraction of the 'beer, bikinis, and designer jeans' stuff is coming from.

It's unlikely, again in the Lemming's opinion, that the powers that be in this country will decide to go with an 'American sites only' policy for Internet access.

On the other hand, there always seems to be someone who's convinced that 'the Masses' have to be protected from something. Generally, it seems, something the wannabe defender doesn't like or can't enjoy.

And that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:

1 This isn't a matter of siding with heartless plutocrats against the oppressed proletariat. It costs money to maintain a brick-and-mortar business - nightclub, hardware store, whatever. If some folks aren't paying for what they get - the ones who do pay will have to be charged more, to make up the difference. Which, in the Lemming's opinion, isn't good for the paying customers, isn't good for the business owner, and isn't - indirectly - good for the freeloaders.

And that's yet another topic.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Eagles' Nest in Decorah, Iowa: A Webcam

"Decorah Eagles"
raptorresource, Ustream.TV (live feed)

Streaming live video by Ustream
"The Raptor Resource Project brings you the Decorah Eagles from atop their tree at the fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa. Please visit our web site...."

The streaming video from this webcam is live 24/7 - with infrared 'night vision' when the sun is down. Eagles can't see infrared any better than humans can - so they're not bothered by the light.

The nest that the webcam is monitoring is about 80 feet up in a cottonwood tree. The tree is on private property, the fish hatchery is run by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and the eagles are a wild pair that's been together since the winter of 2007-2008.

The Ustream.TV page has links to YouTube videos of this year's eggs being laid.

Decorah Eagles streaming video starts after a 15-second commercial - and is interrupted now and then by other ads. This doesn't bother the Lemming, but your experience may vary.

Watching this webcam doesn't have quite the same sort of drama as reality shows - not that the Lemming is an expert on that television genre. On the other hand, it's real.

Somewhat-related posts:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend 2011

The Lemming did a serious Memorial Day post in another blog:Here in central Minnesota, it's a beautiful day. As shown in the Lemming's 'eye-on-the street' webcam:With that bit of blatant self-promotion out of the way, the Lemming is going to go outside and sit on the stoop.

Related posts:

Friday, May 27, 2011

Air France 447: How Not to Handle a Stall

Air France flight 447 was supposed to take 228 folks from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. Instead, it crashed into the Atlantic. Nobody survived.

That was in June, 2009.

Searchers found wreckage of AF 447 this year: on the floor of the Atlantic, more than a mile under water. They also recovered the flight's data recorders. Pieces of the 'black boxes,' anyway.

A French agency, the BEA, has been looking into why the Airbus fell out of the sky.

Part of the BEA report hit the news today.

Before getting into that, here's what the airline had to say about the accident, in part:

"...Air France praised the three pilots, who 'demonstrated a totally professional attitude and were committed to carrying out their task to the very end,' the airline said in a statement...."
(Wall Street Journal, via FoxNews.com)

That statement may be accurate.

The French BEA's early report shows that the Airbus engines were working normally when the airliner went into a stall: and during the three-plus minutes it took for the airliner to fall into the Atlantic.

The Airbus A330's pitot tubes, a sort of air speed sensor, are known to have trouble with icing. The pilots knew about that, or should have. The pilots also should have known what to do if the things iced up. And what to do if the airliner stalled.

Instead, they did the opposite.

Nose Down During a Stall: Not Up

"Black Box Shows Air France Captain Was Absent When Descent Began"
The Wall Street Journal, via FoxNews.com (May 27, 2011)

"The flight recorders from an Air France plane that crashed nearly two years ago show that the captain only arrived in the cockpit after the plane had begun its fateful 3 1/2-minute descent, officials said Friday.

"The initial findings of the French air accident investigation agency, the BEA, based on a reading of the black boxes recovered from the ocean depths, found that the captain had been resting when the emergency began....

"... 'At the time of the event, the two co-pilots were seated in the cockpit and the captain was resting,' a BEA statement says. The captain returned to the cockpit about 1 1/2 minutes after the autopilot disengaged at 2:10 a.m. and 5 seconds, Coordinated Universal Time....

"...Reacting to wildly fluctuating airspeed indications ... pilots of an Air France jetliner in 2009 continued to pull the nose up sharply - contrary to standard procedure - even as the Airbus A330 plummeted toward the Atlantic Ocean, according to information released Friday by French accident investigators.

"The long-awaited factual report, though it doesn't include any formal conclusions about the cause of the June 2009 crash that killed 228 people, provides details about a prolonged stall that lasted more than three and a half minutes. Throughout the descent, according to the report, 'inputs made by the [pilot flying] were mainly nose-up' and the 'angle of attack,' or the position of the longitudinal axis of the plane in relation to the airflow 'remained above 35 degrees.'

"If an airplane has entered an aerodynamic stall, which means its wings have lost necessary lift to remain airborne, from their earliest training pilots are taught to immediately push the nose down to regain speed, lift and maneuverability.

"The report also paints a somewhat unflattering picture of a seemingly confused cockpit, with the crew making extreme inputs to their flight controls and the engines spooling up to full power and later the thrust levers being pulled back to idle. At one point, according to the report, both pilots sitting in front of the controls tried to put in simultaneous commands....

"...Pilots are trained to avoid such simultaneous commands."

Oh, dear.

Figuring out what went wrong won't bring back any of the 228 people who died on Air France 447. But it might show how to keep another air crew from - apparently - making the same mistakes.

Related posts:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mars Rover Spirit: Not Bad for a Limited-Warranty Robot

"NASA Gives Up On Stuck Mars Rover Spirit"
Natalie Wolchover, Space.com (May 24, 2011)

"When there's no answer, again and again, at some point you have to stop calling. NASA announced Tuesday (May 24) that it will cease its daily attempts to contact Spirit, a robotic rover on Mars that went incommunicado last year.

" 'Planned communications will be done on May 25 but there may be some passive communication attempts after that,' NASA spokesperson Veronica MacGregor told SPACE.com today.

"Project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory told reporters today that the last commands will be sent up Wednesday, and orbiting spacecraft will listen for a return signal through the end of May. Spirit's electronics have likely become permanently damaged by Mars' harsh winter, however, and chances of a last-minute response are slim.

"The decision to let the Mars rover Spirit rest in peace marks the official end of its successful six-year mission.

"The rover far surpassed the space agency's expectations by functioning more than 20 times longer than predicted - its mission was planned to last three months - and driving 4.8 miles across the Martian surface, 10 times longer than planned...."

NASA gives a sort of overview of the twin Mars rovers' mission in its "Spirit and Opportunity" page. You'll find more links at the Mars Exploration Rover Mission home page.

Spirit mostly studied rocks and soil, winding up in the Columbia Hills of Mars: where rocks may have been affected by briny water.

Water on Mars is a sort of good news/bad news proposition.

The good news is that where there's water there might be life: which would be a major find. Even if Mars never supported life, water resources there mean one less thing to carry along if/when humanity decides to visit the planet.

The bad news is that water, when it freezes, can break things. Like pipes: or solar panels on the Phoenix lander. ("Phoenix Mars Lander Is Silent, New Image Shows Damage," Phoenix Mars Mission, Lunar and Planetary Science Laboratory/NASA (May 25, 2010))

Ending on an 'up' note, the Phoenix lander kept going longer than planned - and scientists are still going over data it sent back.

Related posts:
Other posts, about More:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Smart Landscape Design" - He's Probably Right

"8 Strategies for a Smart Landscape Design"
Paul McKenzie, Landscaping, HGTV.com

"The traditional view of landscape design is a detailed drawing specifying the location of each shrub and flower bed. In truth, each time you bring home a plant from the nursery you are engaging in the design process, either intentionally or unintentionally.

"Judging from the results I see, there are an awful lot of unintentional designers out there. Many landscapes look like a collection of randomly chosen and haphazardly placed plants. Not only do they lack cohesion, but even worse, the poorly placed plants become liabilities, requiring expensive pest treatments, frequent pruning or complete removal long before they have fulfilled their natural life spans.

"Although an overall plan is a valuable tool, there's nothing wrong with designing on the fly...."

The 'advice' article has some of the sort of design-philosophy content the Lemming expected - which is a good idea, if you're planning to do your own landscaping.

There's also what looks like basic, practical, advice. Like the first item:

"...Plan for equipment access. "It's important to anticipate future access," advises Liz Dean of New Leaf Landscaping in Durham, N.C., "whether it be mowers or stump grinders, or future building projects such as a porch or patio." At some point in the life of your home, you will be faced with a project or repair that requires some loud, monstrous machine to get into your backyard...."

Then the author gets into focal points, formal landscapes, and amoeba-shaped beds. Mr. McKenzie's advice about formal landscapes is: don't. Not unless you've got a really big budget for maintenance. For one thing, if you set up a symmetrical lawn, with matching evergreens, and one dies: you have to replace both, or have a funny-looking yard.

The Lemming's household has a yard that looks lived in. Our landscaping amounts to mowing the grass during summer and shoveling the sidewalk during winter: and that's about it. Obviously, the Lemming isn't an expert on residential landscape design. Not even close.

That said, this article looks like a pretty good, practical, place to start learning about how to set up a yard with relatively few unpleasant surprises.

Somewhat-related posts:

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

'Rapture' and a Rattled Raccoon

"That's a Wrap, Sure"
Not That Mike The Other Mike, Cute Overload (May 22, 2011 )

"Wait… we're all still here? N-nothing happened?"

(Peter/Not That Mike The Other Mike, via Cute Overload, used w/o permission)

"No earthquakes? No torrents of fire? No express elevator to Heaven?..."

"...Sender-inner Peter notes that he thought he was staking out an owl's nest, but this raccoon appeared instead. Perhaps the owl just (pause for effect) disappeared."

The Cute Overload post has three more photos - each slightly larger than this copy. You'll probably want to read the mouse-over test, too.

The Lemming thought this sequence of photos, the captions - and the 'alt' text - were funny. Your experience may vary, of course.

Not-completely-unrelated posts:

Seriously, though: The Lemming realizes that a fair number of folks in America believed Mr. Camping, the radio preacher who made the latest 'Rapture' prediction. Some of them spent money like there was no tomorrow - and May 22, 2011, came anyway. That's not funny.

The Cute Overload photos and captions? That, for the Lemming, is funny.

Why does the Lemming react this way to yet one more 'End Times prophecy' not coming out as-advertised? Maybe these posts in another blog by the Lemming will explain:Or, maybe not.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Joplin, Missouri, Tornado: Minneapolis, Too

The Lemming isn't about to start a 'disaster blog,' full of bad news and angst.

What happened in Missouri yesterday, though, is quite unusual. Also tragic and sobering.

The Lemming plans to do a fluffier post next. Maybe a picture of a cute gerbil or something.

Joplin, Missouri: Worst Twister Since 1953

"Tornado devastates Joplin, Missouri, leaves 89 dead"
Kevin Murphy, Edition: U.S., Reuters (May 23, 2011)

"A monster tornado nearly a mile wide killed at least 89 people in Joplin, Missouri when it tore through the heart of the small Midwestern city, ripping the roof off a hospital and destroying thousands of homes and businesses, local officials said on Monday.

"U.S. weather officials said the tornado that hit at dinnertime on Sunday may have been the single deadliest in the country since 1953...."

"...More than 500 people were confirmed injured, many with massive internal injuries, officials said. The number of dead and injured was expected to climb as rescue workers dig through collapsed homes and businesses...."

"...The city's residents were given about 20 minutes notice when 25 warning sirens sounded throughout the southwest Missouri town around 6 p.m. CDT, said Jasper County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammers.

"But the governor said many people likely were unable to get to shelter in time. "The bottom line was the storm was so loud you probably couldn't hear the sirens going off." He declared a state of emergency and called out the Missouri National Guard to help...."

Folks living in other parts of the world might wonder if the Missouri governor is making excuses, or exaggerating. The Lemming doesn't think so. Warning sirens here in the American Midwest are loud. But so are the storms. Particularly since folks aren't likely to step outside in high winds, driving rain, and hail to listen - the Lemming thinks it's quite unlikely that some of the folks simply didn't hear the sirens.

As for not being able to get out of the way?

Buildings in Minnesota and the Dakotas - the parts the Lemming's been in, anyway - generally have basements. The Lemming, for example, lives in what used to be a farmhouse: and we've designated part of the basement as our storm shelter. It's a smallish room with field stone walls on three sides: not tornado-proof, maybe; but the Lemming thinks it's tornado-resistant.

Not all folks in the Midwest have built like that, or been able to. Soil conditions, economics, and the occasional daft development decision are factors. In the Lemming's opinion.

The death toll in Missouri - the Lemming's heard that it's 90, but hasn't verified that - is unusually high these days.

Weather Satellites, Radar, Tornadoes, and the 'Good Old Days'

"Factbox: Deadliest single tornadoes in U.S. history"
Edition: U.S., Reuters (May 23, 2011)

"The Joplin tornado is the deadliest single twister since Worcester, Massachusetts in June 1953.

"Here is a list of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history:

"1. Mar 18, 1925 Missouri/Illinois/Indiana; 695 dead

"2. May 6, 1840 Natchez, Mississippi; 317 dead

"3. May 27, 1896 St. Louis, Missouri; 255 dead..."

Of the 21 storms listed, one is this weekend's Joplin, Missouri, tornado; three were in 1953:
  • May 11, 1953 Waco, Texas
    • 114 dead
  • June 3, 1953 Flint, Michigan
    • 115 dead
  • June 9, 1953 Worcester, Massachusetts
    • 90 dead
The others happened in the first half of the 20th century, or before.

One reason that the Lemming doesn't miss the 'good old days' is that the Lemming remembers when life was 'simpler and more tranquil.'

That was before:
  • Weather satellites kept an eye on global weather patterns
  • Radar showed what was happening inside clouds
  • Meteorologists worked with
    • Massive amounts of data
    • Powerful software
  • Weather forecasts were
    • Pretty good for the next 24 hours
    • Good-enough for the next five days
The warning sirens help, too, in the Lemming's opinion.

Is the system we've got in America perfect? Obviously not. About 90 people were killed in Joplin last evening. Folks have to notice the warnings, be able to move fast enough, and have a hardened shelter to move to.

The Lemming thinks that folks will never have a 'perfect' system. Not while the universe is the way it is now. It's just not in the nature of things.

We can, however, learn what didn't work, what did, change what needs changing, and get ready for the next emergency. In the Lemming's opinion.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis

"2 Dead, Minneapolis Tornado Devastates North Side"
Mike Durkin, FOX 9 News (May 23, 2011)

"A north Minneapolis tornado killed one person and injured 31 others Sunday, while displacing hundreds of residents and leaving their neighborhoods in ruins. A second person died during the cleanup efforts.

"One person was killed when a tree smashed through a window of their minivan during the storm. Two others were seriously injured in separate incidents. North Memorial Medical Center saw 31 patients following the storm, admitting two -- a pregnant woman who was evaluated and released, and an 83-year-old who was treated for asthma-related breathing difficulties.

"The second tornado-related death was a man who brought his chainsaw next door to help his neighbor, despite having his own home destroyed in the storm. According to family members, 52-year-old Rob MacIntyre collapsed from either a heart attack or stroke. He had no underlying health problems.

"At least 100 homes were significantly damaged on the city's north side, but downed power lines remain one of the biggest public safety concerns. To keep the public safe, all exits off Interstate 94 to downtown Minneapolis are closed, and a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew will remain in effect for several days....

"...About 200 northsiders displaced by the tornado are staying at the Northeast Minneapolis Armory and are receiving food and medical care, along with assistance of mental health professionals and the police chaplain service. You can help tornado victims by donating at www.redcrosstc.org .

"Patrick Henry High School, North High School and Folwell Middle School are also open for shelter and clean water....

"...Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was joined by Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Keith Ellison and other city leaders on a tour of tornado damage Monday morning. Rybak made a plea for employers to remain flexible in the wake of the storm. He said many people at the shelters overnight were worried about getting to work, on top of having no home or car....

"..Xcel energy says 22,000 customers in the Twin Cities lost power at the height of Sunday's storm, with mos of the outages in Brooklyn Center, Fridley, Golden Valley and north Minneapolis. Xcel spokeswoman Mary Sandok said about 10,000 customers were still without power Monday morning....

"...There were reports of looting in north Minneapolis in the wake of the storm, but the only confirmed case of looting was at Broadway Liquor Outlet, where cash, cigarettes and liquor were stolen...."

The article says that emergency responders were going block by block through the wreckage, looking for gas leaks and downed power lines, and checking for structural damage.

Considering what happened down in Missouri, Minnesota's storm was comparatively minor. Still, there's a huge mess to clean up.

(FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

(FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

(FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

(Heidi Bergdahl, via FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

(Nathan Robinson, via FOX 9 News, used w/o permission)

Now, the Lemming's off to find some nice, breezy item.

Related post:More:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Heavy Weather Weekend

"Heavy storms maul Minnesota; 1 dead, 22 hurt"
CNN (May 22, 2011)

"High winds and possible tornadoes struck Minneapolis and other parts of Minnesota on Sunday afternoon, leaving at least one person dead and injuring nearly two dozen others, police said.

"The system was part of a line of severe weather that swept across the Midwest on Sunday. The National Weather Service warned of tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds from the Ozarks to the Great Lakes as the storms moved in...."

This probably won't affect the whole country as much as flooding at the other end of the Mississippi River, but today's storm is a whole lot closer to the Lemming's home.

Which may not be the best reason for writing a post, but it'll do for the Lemming.
"Mpls. sets curfew, offers help for tornado victims"
KARE11 (May 22,2011)

"Chaos has triggered a curfew on the north side of Minneapolis, where police and public safety crews are working to help victims of a suspected tornado Sunday.

"Police will enforce that curfew for a wide section of the North Side beginning at 9 p.m., and ending at 6 a.m. Monday. The area under curfew stretches from Penn Avenue to Interstate 94, from Dowling Avenue to Plymouth Avenue....

"...'Our number one concern is for the health and safety of our residents,' said Mayor R.T. Rybak. 'Emergency responders have been working hard on the scene, going door to door to check on the well-being of folks in this area.'...

"...The city has set up a shelter at the Northeast Armory, near the intersection of Broadway and Central, and is sending so-called 'rescue buses' out to transport residents who have been left without shelter as a result of Sunday's storm. The first two buses, each carrying nearly 3 dozen people, arrived at the armory shortly after 7 p.m.. The shelter has a capacity of 400, and more people are expected to pour in when the 9 p.m. curfew kicks in.

"A Family Assistance Center is also open at the Northeast Armory at 1025 Broadway St. NE. Family members who want to check on loved ones should not go to the neighborhood, but instead should go to the center or call 651-268-8537...."

There's a few angles the Lemming could play up on the KARE11 article, including but not limited to:
  1. Shock and dismay at police threatening the residents of Minneapolis
  2. Interest in the Northeast Armory shelter and 'rescue buses' carrying folks there
  3. Sadness at the death of someone in today's storms
The Lemming's picks are numbers two and three, for what that's worth.

Meanwhile, in Kansas

"Kansas tornado kills 1, destroys 20 homes"
Rick Martin, CNN (May 22, 2011)

"One person was killed and at least 20 homes destroyed after a weekend tornado that struck a town in eastern Kansas, state officials said.

"The storm also damaged another 200 homes around Reading, about 100 miles southwest of Kansas City, said Sharon Watson of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. She said the agency received a report of a tornado touching down at 9:15 p.m. Saturday.

"The agency said five others were injured in addition to the fatality, and power was knocked out to much of the town of about 250. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback issued a disaster declaration for 16 counties on Sunday, a step toward getting state and federal aid for the affected areas...."

The Lemming will omit the obvious, and insensitive, references to Dorothy and Toto. Saturday's Kansas storm isn't funny. Certainly not for friends and families of the person who was killed.

After catching up on the news, this weekend's rain and drizzle here in central Minnesota doesn't seem quite so important.


2011 Spring Flood, Wild Weather, and the Lemming

Spring, 2011, hasn't been a good season for folks living on the lower reaches of the Mississippi River. Other folks in America may get affected by the flood, indirectly, as crops that didn't get planted, products that didn't get manufactured, businesses that didn't buy supplies, and shipments that took longer and cost more, affect prices.

The Lemming hasn't been posting much about this year's spring flood. National news in this country has been doing a pretty good job of keeping track of what's flooded and who's affected. There's a sort-of-related post coming up, though, so the Lemming figured this would be a good time to get a 'link page' set up:

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fukushima Worker's Death, News, and the Lemming's Thoughts

'Mysterious Death At Atomic Power Plant!!!'

Actually, not all that mysterious. In the Lemming's opinion.

Someone working at the Fukushima nuclear power plant died, abruptly, while on the job. He seems to have had a heart attack.

Hats off to news services - the ones the Lemming's read, anyway - for not playing up the 'drama' in this story:

"Japanese Worker's Death Not Linked to Radiation"
Martin Fackler, Asia & Pacific, The New York Times (May 14, 2011)

"A worker at Japan's crippled nuclear plant died Saturday of causes that appeared to be unrelated to radiation, the plant's operator said.

"The operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, said the contract worker, who was in his 60s, died after carrying heavy equipment in a waste disposal building of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The company said that he was wearing radiation-protection clothing and a mask when he collapsed, and that his body did not show high levels of radioactive contamination.

"Japanese news media reports later quoted a doctor at the plant as saying the man had apparently suffered a heart attack. The death is the first by one of the workers struggling to bring the Fukushima Daiichi plant under control since it lost power and cooling functions after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami...."

If you think this wasn't the first death at the Fukushima power plant, by the way: you're right. Two workers died during the disaster. Looks like they got in the way of the tsunami that started the trouble with the reactors' cooling systems.

Millisieverts, Detail, and Common Sense

"Worker at Fukushima nuclear plant dies"
The Japan Times (May 14, 2011)

"A worker at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant died Saturday after collapsing while carrying equipment at a waste disposal building, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

"The cause of death wasn't immediately known, but Tepco said no radioactive substances were detected on his body....

"...The death is the third at the plant since the crisis began. The bodies of two workers who disappeared March 11 were found floating in the basement of reactor 4 later that month, having died from injuries sustained on the day of the disaster.

"The man had started working at the plant Friday and was wearing protective gear, including a full face mask, at the time of his collapse, Tepco said.

"He was exposed to radiation totaling 0.17 millisievert - a level considered to have little effect on health - while no radioactive substances were detected on his body, the utility said...."

The Lemming's gone on - and on - about millisieverts and background radiation before. Bottom line, it looks like folks working at the TEPCO plant - the part where this man died, anyway - were taking reasonable precautions.

The Lemming's a bit surprised at two things in news from Japan's Fukushima power plant:
  • Reporting that's
    • Comparatively calm
    • Occasionally informative
  • A remarkable lack of immediate health problems
Under the circumstances, that last is really remarkable. In the Lemming's opinion.

Over the next years - decades - will we be reading about what 'really' is happening to folks living in that part of northeastern Japan? Likely enough. Some of it may be true; some may be true, but edited to enhance drama; some may have more to do with technophobia than the Fukushima reactors.

And that's another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:
In the news:More:

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tarantula Feet, Silk, and Research

"Tarantulas Shoot Silk From Their Feet, Researchers Find"
FoxNews.com (May 18, 2011)

"Talk about fancy footwork!

"British researchers have discovered that adult tarantulas can climb sheer walls by shooting strands of silk from their feet -- enabling the hefty arachnids to save themselves should they risk falling from a height. Tarantulas, it turns out, are actually quite fragile.

" 'The animals are very delicate. They wouldn't survive a fall from any height,' explained Claire Rind from the University of Newcastle in the U.K. Teaming up with undergraduate Luke Birkett, Rind made the surprising discovery using three ground-dwelling Chilean rose tarantulas.

"Gently placing one of the animals in a very clean aquarium with microscope slides on the floor, the duo cautiously upended the aquarium to see if the tarantula could hang on...."

It did.

It wasn't supposed to, but it did.

Apparently folks 'knew' that tarantulas couldn't hold on to a vertical surface: but the tarantula in the tank wasn't quite so well-informed. So to speak.

Even a gentle shake didn't dislodge the outsized spider. It slipped a little, but found footing again.

Back to that article.

"...Looking at the glass by eye, Rind couldn't see anything, but when she and Birkett looked closely under a microscope, they found minute threads of silk where the spider had stood before slipping...."

Long story made short, moults - the cast-off exoskeleton of Fluffy the tarantula - and scanning electron microscopy showed tiny, reinforced, silk spigots on the spider's feet. Quite a few of them.

Which explained how Fluffy got little threads of silk tying her feet to the glass.

It's possible that not all tarantulas spin silk from their feet. But since the three species checked by the researchers all do, and aren't very closely related: it looks like foot-silk may be a 'tarantula' trait.

All of which won't help you find a shorter route to work, make your teeth whiter, or find you a successful and rewarding career. But the Lemming thinks this sort of thing is fascinating.

The Lemming also thinks it's noteworthy that these British researchers decided to see whether or not tarantulas could hold on to a vertical glass surface. Instead of reading what an 'expert' said.

And that's another topic.

Finally, if you check the tags for this post you'll find "insects," and "animals." Spiders aren't insects, but this blog has a whole lot of tags already, and I'm not going to start a new "arachnid" one.

Spiders are animals, though: although many folks who speak the same dialect of English as the Lemming mean "mammal" when they say "animal." Which has the same number of letters. And most of the same letters. It's the "i" and "n" that sets "animal" apart.

Then there are words like eukaryotic: and that is yet another topic.

Not-completely-unrelated posts:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse: CDC's Tongue-in-Cheek Disaster Preparedness Advice Post

"CDC Warns Public to Prepare for 'Zombie Apocalypse' "
Joshua Rhett Miller, FoxNews.com (May 18, 2011)

"Are you prepared for the impending zombie invasion?

"That's the question posed by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a Monday blog posting gruesomely titled, 'Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.' And while it's no joke, CDC officials say it's all about emergency preparation.

" 'There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for,' the posting reads. 'Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That's right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you'll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you'll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.'

"The post, written by Assistant Surgeon General Ali Khan, instructs readers how to prepare for 'flesh-eating zombies' much like how they appeared in Hollywood hits like 'Night of the Living Dead' and video games like Resident Evil. Perhaps surprisingly, the same steps you'd take in preparation for an onslaught of ravenous monsters are similar to those suggested in advance of a hurricane or pandemic...."

First of all, the CDC hasn't gone bonkers. And this doesn't have anything to do with radioactive Nazi zombies from Japan invading the west coast. Actually, it does, sort of - but I'll get back to that.

The post (emergency.cdc.gov/socialmedia/zombies_blog.asp, or maybe it's blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/) is titled "Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse," and is - quite clearly, in the Lemming's opinion - written with tongue firmly in cheek. The reader will (or should) pick up on that in the second, third, fourth, or fifth paragraphs.

Seriously, folks: the CDC isn't trying to scare Americans into believing that there's a zombie invasion heading our way. In the Lemming's opinion, of course.

Back to the FoxNews.com article, with background on how that post got started.

"...The idea behind the campaign stemmed from concerns of radiation fears following the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan in March. CDC spokesman Dave Daigle told FoxNews.com that someone had asked CDC officials if zombies would be a concern due to radiation fears in Japan and traffic spiked following that mention.

" 'It's kind of a tongue-in-cheek campaign,' Daigle said Wednesday. 'We were talking about hurricane preparedness and someone bemoaned that we kept putting out the same messages.'..."

So, how's the 'zombie' post doing?

"...While metrics for the post are not yet available, Daigle said it has become the most popular CDC blog entry in just two days...."

And now, the Lemming's giving that post a little more publicity.

There's pretty good advice in the CDC 'zombie' post. Turns out, being prepared for a zombie invasion is pretty much like being prepared for a hurricane, tornado, blizzard, or pretty much any other large-scale problem.

The Lemming likes this approach, because it's such a refreshing change from the dry-as-dust advice - sometimes written in bureaucratese - that infested government publications once upon a time.

Finally: no, zombies aren't expected on the west coast; neither is Godzilla.

Not-completely-unrelated1 posts:
1 They're all in this blog, anyway.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Gliese 581d: Rocky, Close (sort of), and Liquid Water (could be, maybe)

"Is the Rocky Alien Planet Gliese 581d Really Habitable?"
Mike Wall, Space.com (May 17, 2011)

(Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation, via Space.com, used w/o permission)
"The orbits of planets in the Gliese 581 system are compared to those of our own solar system. The Gliese 581 star has about 30 percent the mass of our sun, and the outermost planet is closer to its star than we are to the sun. Gliese 581d might be able to sustain liquid water on its surface."

"A rocky alien planet called Gliese 581d may be the first known world beyond Earth capable of supporting life as we know it, a new study suggests.

"Astronomers performing a new atmospheric-modeling study have found that the planet likely lies in the "habitable zone" of its host star - that just-right range of distances that allow liquid water to exist. The alien world could be Earth-like in key ways, harboring oceans, clouds and rainfall, according to the research.

"This conclusion is consistent with several other recent modeling studies. But it does not definitively establish that life-sustaining water flows across the planet's surface.

"The new study assumes that Gliese 581d, which is about seven times as massive as Earth, has a thick, carbon-dioxide-based atmosphere. That's very possible on a planet so large, researchers said, but it's not a given. [Video: Life-Sustaining 'Super Earth' Gliese 581d]..."

Gliese 581 is quite close to Sol, our sun: light from Gliese 581 takes only about 20 years to get here. That's close, compared to nearly every other star in this galaxy - but it's still a respectable distance.

The Lemming's posted about Gliese 581's planetary system before: including Gliese 581 g, the planet that either exists - or doesn't. The last that the Lemming heard, astronomers are still discussing whether the numbers add up to a planet - or a sort of statistical blip in observations.

Even though 20 light years is 'close' by galactic standards: it's still a long distance, and those comparatively small planets don't have all that much effect on their star.

The Lemming's excited by the possibility that there's liquid water on Gliese 581d - but let's remember that the dense carbon dioxide atmosphere is possible, not observed.

Another detail, discussed in the article. Gliese 581d is (probably) tidally locked, with one side always facing Gliese 581, like Moon has one face always facing Earth. When the planet was detected, astronomers assumed that it'd be baked on the sunward (starward?) side, and frozen on its night side.

Since then, folks who study atmospheres put together a more sophisticated model - and found that winds could carry heat from the hot side to the cold side, and cold back around to the day side.

Gliese 581d, even if it had that thick atmosphere, and water, and life, still wouldn't be the sort of 'class M planet" of Star Trek - but then, Earth may not be a 'class M planet, either. (May 2, 2011, December 5, 2009)

Related posts:
Links to yet more posts:

Lemming Tracks: France, the IMF, and Special Rules for Special People

The Lemming will be back with something else, later today.

First, though, a look at cultural values:

"Is Polanski haunting the Strauss-Kahn case?"
BBC News (May 18, 2011)

"Comparisons between the legal troubles of the film director Roman Polanski and Dominique Strauss-Kahn are being made on both sides of the Atlantic. Could the case of Polanski - given sanctuary in France after fleeing sex charges in the US - have any impact on the fate of the IMF chief?

"Prosecutors were among the first to draw parallels between the two cases, arguing in court on Monday that if Dominique Strauss-Kahn were to leave the US, France would be under no obligation to send him back to face trial.

" 'He would be living openly and notoriously in France, just like Roman Polanski,' said chief assistant district attorney Daniel Alonso.

"Judge Melissa C Jackson quickly dismissed the idea.

" 'I will note that Roman Polanski has nothing to do with this,' she said. 'I am trying to be objective, and I am not going to judge this individual on the basis of what happened with Roman Polanski.'..."

As a general rule, that actually makes sense: not judging one individual on the basis of what another individual did.

On the other hand, Roman Polanski was sheltered by France. After the brilliant and talented film director, ah, 'seduced' a 13-year old girl.

And Americans wanted to prosecute Mr. Polanski: imagine!

'Beyond Good and Evil?'

France, being much more open-minded about such affairs, realized that Mr. Roman Polanski was a brilliant and talented film director - and shouldn't be inconvenienced by those Americans:
I've discussed Mr. Polanski, tolerance (French style), and differing cultural values in another blog:
I'll admit that, in a sense, I'm quite intolerant. I do not think that there should be special rules for folks who are very talented, or who have lots of money.

Which puts me at odds with French values. The values of some 'proper' French folks, anyway:
"...The French culture and communications minister, Frederic Mitterrand, said he 'learned with astonishment' of Polanski's arrest. He expressed solidarity with Polanski's family and said 'he wants to remind everyone that Roman Polanski benefits from great general esteem' and has 'exceptional artistic creation and human qualities.'..."
(CNN (September 28, 2009))
Attractive as the notion might seem, I really do not think that 'superior' persons are "beyond good and evil."

Also, as I said yesterday, I hope that France is culturally diverse - that the IMF chief's good old boy network isn't typical of all French citizens.

America isn't France

"Strauss-Kahn arrest: Maid 'scared but will testify' "
BBC News (May 18, 2011)

"The maid who has accused International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault is "scared" but will testify against him, her lawyer says.

"Jeffrey Shapiro says when the 32-year-old woman discovered Mr Strauss-Kahn's identity a day after the incident she feared for herself and her daughter...."

"...The woman came originally from the West African state of Guinea. She arrived in the US seven years ago with her daughter and had been in her job at the Sofitel hotel for three years...."

I think it's possible that IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn might have once gotten away with (allegedly) abusing a hotel maid - particularly one from Guinea, west Africa - in America. A half-century or so back.

I was born during the Truman administration, and remember the learning curve this country country has been on. I think that over the last several decades, many of us have gotten more comfortable with the idea that folks don't have to look 'European' to be taken seriously. We also got used to rock music, but decided to let disco die - and that's another topic.

America is not, as I wrote yesterday, perfect. I'm quite certain that you'll find jerks here. But, like I said, we've learned that a hotel maid from Guinea deserves to be heard.

Enough said.

Related posts:
In the news:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Lemming Tracks: Culture, Values, and 'She Asked For It'

I generally write as 'the Lemming' in this blog. I've explained why before. (April 18, 2011) This post is more serious than most, though, so I'm dropping the 'editorial we' stuff.

A rich, influential, man was accused of trying to rape a hotel maid. He apparently left a cell phone and DNA at the scene. The gentleman was detained on an airliner, which prevented his return to a country which might have shown him more consideration.

I think some reactions to this accusation may be due to cultural values in the gentleman's home country. I also think that rape isn't nice.

The 'Good Old Days' - Weren't

I was born during the Truman administration, and I remember what some folks here in America seem to regard as the 'good old days.' I don't mind a spot of nostalgia now and then. But I remember the trailing edge of Happy Days - and idyllic it wasn't.

The "double standard" for men and women was a very real part of America. We had a set of values that:
  • Accepted phrases like
    • 'she's as smart as a man'
    • 'He's a man, so that's different;'
  • Expected husbands to spend their nights drinking with 'the boys'
    • But were shocked when a woman did the same thing
  • Congratulated young men who 'scored'
    • While devaluing the young women who gave points
It wasn't all about sex. I remember the 'good old days' when being drunk was often a socially-acceptable excuse for almost any behavior: from groping your secretary to killing someone in a hit-and-run. In my opinion Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and other organizations, did us all a favor by pressuring America's judiciary into treating drunk driving as a crime.

The '60s happened for a reason, I think - and that's almost another topic.

I spent my teen years in the decade of grooviness, and still think 'those crazy kids' made some valid points. Like there being more to life than making more money, and having the most expensive house, car, and wife on the block.

Rule of Law, Equal Rights, and Other Inconveniences

America is not perfect. Definitely. There have been times when I took a long, hard, look at leaving. I live where I do today by choice. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (July 3, 2008))

Again, America is not perfect. On the other hand, this country has a legal system which is supposed to take the rights of the accused into account. Even if the accused is someone on the low end of the economic scale. There have been times when the principles of equal treatment were not honored. Moving on.

This country also allows folks who aren't wealthy, and who do not have prominent social status, to bring charges against others. Even if the person charged is someone 'important,' and the accuser is a 'mere' laborer.

Even if facing the accusation is inconvenient for the person charged.

That, and our 'innocent until proven guilty' principle, are high on the list of reasons I stayed in America.

'She Asked For It'

I haven't followed this particularly aspect of American culture closely, but I think the 'she was asking for it' excuse for rape has worn a tad thin. Still, I could be wrong.

Before someone who was the victim of a badger game has a fit: yes, I know. Some women are not entirely scrupulous. So, for that matter, are some men.

I'll even concede that some women exhibit lack of good judgment which, directly or indirectly, has led to sexual assault.

But - and I realize how judgmental this may sound - in my opinion:
  • Rape is not nice
    • And people shouldn't do it
  • 'She asked for it' isn't an excuse
  • Women are people
    • Even poor ones

The Gentleman and the Hotel Maid

It's possible that Dominique Strauss-Kahn left his cell phone and DNA at the Sofitel hotel for quite innocent reasons. And had no idea why he was caught before getting out of the country.

It's even possible that the hotel maid who says he tried to rape her is making the whole thing up. I doubt it, but it's (remotely) possible. In my opinion.

Or maybe the sex was "consensual," and she later changed her mind. Again, it's possible.

Or - and I think this is possible, too - maybe a very rich, very influential, very important man who has a very important job, saw a hotel maid and decided to have a little 'fun.'

Not realizing that America is 'puritanical' when it comes to rape.

Different cultures, after all, have different values. As alleged honor killings, and the rape and subsequent abandoning of an eight-year-old child in America have demonstrated.1 (Please note! My ancestors are all immigrants - most recently to North America. I do not feel that all immigrants smell bad, dress funny, and break laws. Some do, but the same can be said of 'regular' Americans.)

Foreigners, Rape, and the Frontal Cortex

I'm slightly sympathetic with folks in France who seem furious that one of their own was accused of rape - and treated like any other person accused of a serious crime.

Americans are "foreigners" everywhere except in part of the North American continent. I suspect that many folks are not at all comfortable when a 'real person' who shares their language and culture is detained by foreigners.

Besides, in some circles 'everybody knows' what those Americans are like. And that's almost another topic, again.

I've been told that there's a sort of inverse relationship between emotional intensity and activity in the frontal cortex, where we do much of our thinking. Rational thinking, that is: not the sort of emotion-soaked free association that makes for ripping good stories and effective marketing. My opinion.

Briefly, I'm told that as emotions rise, the frontal cortex shuts down.2

I suspect that some of the wilder statements coming out of France are associated with that phenomena. Plus, I understand there's an election coming up over there. One here in America, too. Yet one more topic.

And now, some of what I've been reading:

Brazil is 'Puritanical,' Too??

"Brazil wants IMF chief from emerging nation: source"
Edition: U.S., Reuters (May 17, 2011)

"Brazil believes the next head of the IMF should come from a large emerging market country, but does not plan to pressure actively on the issue because Europe is likely to keep its 'stranglehold' on the job, a senior government official told Reuters on Tuesday.

" 'We think it would be appropriate to have someone from emerging countries,' the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

" 'We believe India and Brazil would be good options. But we also believe that Europe is likely to keep its deep stranglehold on the position, and so we're not planning to push very hard on this issue for now,' the official added.

"The future of the International Monetary Fund's leadership has been in doubt since Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on Saturday in New York and charged with attempted rape...."

I wouldn't mind seeing another French citizen in the top IMF post, provided the person was qualified - and knew that assaulting hotel maids is considered gauche in some countries. Or, rather, allegedly assaulting (alleged) hotel maids. I'll get back to "alleged" and American news.

I wouldn't mind seeing an American citizen in the top IMF post, with the same reservations.

I also wouldn't mind seeing someone from Brazil, India, or Singapore running the IMF - provided the person was competent and honest.

Not that I expect to see a non-European or Euro-American in the post soon. I have the impression that the 'proper sort' in America, at least, haven't quite come to terms with the idea that "natives" aren't "natives" any more.

And never were.3

Shock, Elections, and "Alleged"

"French reaction to IMF chief's arrest ranges from shock to sympathy"
CNN (May 17, 2011)

"The arrest of International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn on charges he allegedly sexually assaulted a New York hotel housekeeper sent shock waves through France, where he was widely seen as a front-runner in the country's 2012 presidential race.

"As Strauss-Kahn sits in New York's Rikers Island detention complex, however, reactions in France ran the gamut -- with some questioning whether he was the victim of a political set-up and others concerned over what they see as a rush to judgment by Americans and the U.S. media in particular.

"Many French were disturbed by published images of Strauss-Kahn in handcuffs. A French law passed in 2000 prohibits the publication of images of suspects in handcuffs or in court in order to protect defendants' presumption of innocence.

"In America, where there are no such laws, Strauss-Kahn's arraignment was televised and clips played on various networks. 'Perp walks,' in which defendants -- accompanied by police -- walk in front of photographers handcuffed, are standard fare...."

Again, I don't think America is perfect. I'm quite certain that America changes. We're not the same country that we were in 1776, 1865, or 1967. The "perp walk" may disappear.

What folks in France may not realize is that news media in this country is - controlled is such a strong word.

Let's say that there are legal inducements that encourage broadcasters and journalists in America to make sure that viewers know that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that the alleged actions mentioned in a legal accusation are just that - alleged - until proven in a court of law.

Happily, the shakedown period during which those rules were introduced is over, and we don't hear alleged every second alleged sentence or so in alleged coverage of alleged trials - you get the idea. There was a mercifully-brief period where superfluous "allegeds" were worthy of parody. In my opinion.

I have some sympathy for folks in France who were "disturbed" by photos of their IMF head being treated as if he was an American citizen. On the other hand, I don't think folks in this country would be enthused over changing our rules when wealthy, influential, 'important' people are caught trying to leave the country. After being accused of a crime.

Of course, the French gentleman allegedly had no idea that he'd tried to have sex with that hotel maid.

And it was her idea, anyway.

I'll get back to that.

He's Got Money, Why Shouldn't He Leave?

"IMF chief, denied bail, prompts shock in France"
Edition: IN, Reuters (May 17, 2011)

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn spent a third night in a New York jail, prompting expressions of shock among some in France that the IMF chief had been denied bail on attempted rape charges that may scupper his French presidential hopes.

"His allies in the Socialist party, some jockeying for position ahead of a primary contest which had been tipped to hand the candidacy to Strauss-Kahn, met for crisis talks on Tuesday but said they would not change the selection timetable.

"French politicians and commentators reacted with surprise and anger at the New York judge's decision to remand Strauss-Kahn, once the biggest threat to conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy in an election due next April. His parading in handcuffs before the world's media, bedraggled and unshaven, appeared particularly stark.

" 'He is a brave man on whom a contemptuous fate has been inflicted,' former Socialist culture minister Jack Lang told Europe 1 radio, complaining of a 'lynching'...."

As I noted before, there's an election coming up in France. Enough said.

As for bail? That can be denied if a court decides that the accused is a flight risk.

Considering that Strauss-Kahn was caught on an airliner headed out of the country? Assuming that he might want to go where his friends are isn't all that crazy, in my opinion.

I also believe that wealth does not give a person the right to assault another, and then avoid consequences.

Rape Isn't Seduction?

"The 'Seduction' Myth: What the French Still Don't Get About Sex"
Judith Warner, Time (May 17, 2011)

"Dominique Strauss-Kahn has not been convicted of any crime. Neither would it be appropriate to indict French society - the pervasive sexism parading as a celebration of 'difference,' the self-indulgence of the 'caviar left,' of which he is a prime exemplar - for his (alleged) behavior. To do so, after all, would be to fall into the same facile trap as the various French commentators who, in the days since the International Monetary Fund chief's arrest in New York for sexual assault and attempted rape, have fallen all over the case as an example of American sensationalism and, of course, classic 'Puritanism.'

"But still.

"The arrest of the 'great seducer,' as Strauss-Kahn is commonly known in France, on charges of notably unseductive behavior toward an immigrant single mother working as a hotel housekeeper, while shocking as a violent criminal act, didn't come entirely out of the blue for those who have closely observed his behavior toward women over the years. And that behavior has occurred in, and perhaps been encouraged by, a culture that takes a complacent, even complicit attitude toward inappropriate, sometimes predatory sexual behavior on the part of powerful men, normalizing it, even sometimes romanticizing it, under the catch-all cliché of gallic seduction...."

I've mentioned cultural differences before.

As for the tone of this op-ed? Judith Warner is, after all a woman - and - - - enough said?

A trifle more seriously, I hope that France is a culturally-diverse country. And that the IMF chief and his friends are not typical of all French society.

'It Was Consensual Sex'

"IMF Biggie's Lawyer: Sex With Maid Was Consensual"
MyFox New York (May 17, 2011)

"International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's defense attorney looks set to claim the French politician's alleged assault on a Manhattan hotel maid was actually a consensual sexual encounter.

"During Strauss-Kahn's arraignment hearing Monday lawyer Ben Brafman told a packed criminal courtroom, 'The evidence, we believe, will not be consistent with a forcible encounter.' The New York Post cited a source as saying, 'There may well have been consent.'

"However, in a conflicting report, France's RMC Radio said Strauss-Kahn's legal team had evidence he was at a restaurant with his daughter at the time of the alleged assault. His lawyers maintained Strauss-Kahn left the hotel at midday Saturday, had lunch and then took a taxi to the airport, according to the report...."

'It was consensual sex?' That's a fairly common defense here in America: I notice it most often when a celebrity tries to rape someone - and the victim isn't properly awed. When testimony and physical evidence are against the accused, it's probably the best of a set of unpalatable choices for a defense attorney.

As for being elsewhere at the time of the alleged assault? That might be true. If so, Dominique Strauss-Kahn's lawyers had better have witnesses. Other than his daughter. Security footage with a time stamp, showing Strauss-Kahn arriving at and leaving his alibi would help the defense. A lot.

Bail, Hallway Nudity, and the IMF

"IMF chief faces pressure to resign as scandal ripples across Europe"
CNN (May 17, 2011)

"Austria's finance minister suggested Tuesday that the head of the powerful International Monetary Fund should consider stepping down after his arrest over an alleged sexual assault at a posh New York hotel.

" 'Given the circumstances that his bail was not granted, he should think about whether he is damaging the institution,' Maria Fekter told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, during a meeting of European finance ministers.

"A haggard-looking Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a man who has helped bail out desperate countries in need of cash, was himself denied bail Monday by a Manhattan Criminal Court judge. He will spend the next few days in an 11-by-13-foot cell at New York's Rikers Island jail complex.

"Authorities say the IMF chief has had just one visitor, but declined to elaborate.

"The accommodations are a far cry from a $3,000-a-night luxury suite where he allegedly chased a housekeeping employee down a hallway while nude and sexually assaulted her. The IMF chief paid a hotel room rate of $525, according to IMF spokesman William Murray...."

I don't know all that much about French culture or politics - but my guess is that Dominique Strauss-Kahn still has a shot at the presidency.

Apparently he has a 'good old boy' network back in France to explain how he's a hero who's being mistreated by foreigners.

With the right spin, this trial might actually work in Dominique Strauss-Kahn's favor.

As for his job at the IMF? That may not be secure. Sure, he's French: but some folks in other countries don't seem to be quite as impressed with that as they could be.

"An Unbearable Cruelty" - Good Old Boy Gets No Respect?

"If found guilty, IMF chief could face upto 25 years in prison"
Vaiju Naravane, The Hindu (May 16, 2011)

"France today woke up to shocking pictures of the usually well-groomed and dapper IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn being led away, handcuffed, unshaven, tie-less and grim faced from the Harlem police lock-up where he spent the night for DNA tests that will ultimately prove or disprove his case. Mr. Strauss-Kahn, popularly referred to as DSK in France, has been charged with attempted rape, unlawful imprisonment following accusations by a hotel chambermaid in New York that he sexually assaulted her.

"More than the handcuffs, the scruffy look or that he was on a grubby New York street accompanied by police officers rather than in the gilded salons of high finance surrounded with bankers and courtiers, it was the look of utter devastation on Mr. Strauss-Kahn's face that so shattered his countrymen.

"Socialist leader Manuel Valls said: 'I've never seen anything like this in my thirty years in politics. Never have I felt so shaken. He is a longtime friend and the pictures I saw this morning were of an unbearable cruelty that brought tears to my eyes.'..."

I sympathize with Manuel Valls - a little. Change - being forced to confront new or unfamiliar circumstances - can hurt.

Perhaps it truely was "an unbearable cruelty" to see pictures of a good old boy: jailed just because he got frisky with some no-account hotel maid. Allegedly.

Power, Position, and Zipper Issues

"Sex, lies and the reckless choices of the powerful"
Caren Bohan and Tabassum Zakaria, Edition: IN, Reuters (May 16, 2011)

"Sex and power are no strangers. History is littered with tales of the powerful and privileged felled by sex scandals.

"But make no mistake. If IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is found guilty as charged of attempting to rape a hotel maid in New York City, he would be in a league virtually of his own.

"Few have been accused of a violent crime like Strauss-Kahn. The world financier and French presidential hopeful was charged on Sunday with criminal sexual act, unlawful imprisonment and attempted rape in New York City after a hotel maid said she was assaulted.

" 'Politics and power and sexual harassment certainly have a long history,' said Michele Swers, associate professor of government at Georgetown University. 'This being an attempted criminal rape is, I think, of an order of a different magnitude.'

"There is no shortage of powerful leaders who fell from grace for affairs, prostitutes and groping. Sexual indiscretions have weakened governments and buried political careers on both sides of the Atlantic, today and in ages past...."

Attempted criminal rape is, I think, a serious charge.

But then, I'm an American. From some points of view, I would say that.

High-profile people with zipper issues are - as the professor said - nothing new. The current governor of California, for example, has been supporting an illegitimate child for about a decade. (CNN)

For what it's worth, I think cheating on one's spouse is not right - but at least the governor acknowledged the child. And that's almost another topic, yet again.

As for the IMF chief? I don't think 'but everybody's doing it' is a good excuse.

Pakistani Village Honour, IMF Executive Status, and Getting a Grip

"Pakistani rape victim fears silence after acquittal"
Rebecca Conway, Edition: IN, Reuters (April 24, 2011)

"A Pakistani woman who was gang-raped and became a human rights campaigner says she worries other women will not speak out after Pakistan's highest court upheld her alleged attackers' acquittals.

"Mukhtaran Mai was allegedly gang-raped in 2002 to settle a matter of village honour. Unlike most rape victims in Pakistan, who rarely speak up, she filed a criminal case against 14 men. Six were convicted and sentenced to death later that year.

"But the Lahore High court later acquitted five and commuted one sentence to life in prison in 2005. On Thursday, Pakistan's Supreme Court upheld the Lahore court's decision.

"She said the verdict could prevent other women from speaking out against Pakistan's culture of punishing women through violence, mutilation and sexual assault.

" 'I feel now women will not speak out,' she told Reuters. 'They will stay in their homes ... Other women will not speak out because people in their area will look on them badly and they will not get justice.'

"But, she said, 'it becomes like a chain -- if one woman gets justice, then the others will'...."

'That's different,' or maybe not so much.

In Pakistan, you have an alleged gang-rape to uphold village honor.

In New York City, you have an alleged attempted rape for unknown motives.

In both cases, you have a woman who apparently lacked the social standing to be treated seriously - although I think there's evidence that the American court system is acting as though the hotel maid deserves attention.

Other than the sort of attention she allegedly got in the alleged hotel.

I think Mukhtaran Mai got it right: "...'it becomes like a chain -- if one woman gets justice, then the others will'...."

Somewhat-related posts:
News and views:

1 The term "honor killing" is not considered polite in some circles, here in America: but I think it is an adequate, and easily-understood, term to describe situations where a man kills a member of his family because he's in a snit.

I've discussed this, and other cases of clashing cultural values, in other blogs

Again, please note. I do not believe that all immigrants are criminals, or that all Americans beat up people they don't approve of:
2 I've discussed emotions, thinking straight, and related topics, before:
3 The phrase, "white man's burden" may be out of fashion: but I suspect that the attitude is still with us:
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