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Spooky Halloween tales from rural Louisiana, Part 1

[ 37 ] October 3, 2014 |

It is 4 a.m.

I am alone downstairs, when all of a sudden, in the kitchen, I hear someone saying, “Hello? Is anybody there? Hello?”

“Hello,” I reply, and walk in.

No one is there — except for my cat, Virgil, who is sitting on the counter.

I shoo him away, think it must have been the thunder, or the early hour, that confused me.

Then my roommate’s phone rings, and goes to voice mail. Rings, and goes to voice mail. Rings, and goes to voice mail.

Finally, I walk into the kitchen, grab his phone off the counter, and say, “Hello, this is my roommate’s phone. Can I help you?”

“Is everything OK?” a man asks.

“Why wouldn’t it be,” I reply.

“I got a call, heard strange noises, then a muffled voice calling for help.”

I assure him that everything is OK, and he seems satisfied. As I place the phone back on the counter, I realize:



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Friday Creature Feature: Spinosaurus

[ 21 ] October 3, 2014 |

When my son developed an interest in dinosaurs and pre-historic life, he awakened a latent interest in me. I often ask him what his favorite dino (T-Rex) is, so I figured I should have a favorite myself. I chose Spinosaurus.

And why wouldn’t I? Spinosaurus was the biggest land predator that ever lived; it was bigger than T-Rex. It had spines as tall as 7 feet on its sail and it had a beautiful, long, crocodilian jaw it used for catching…fish. Spinosaurus was the coolest. But until recently paleontologists didn’t know just how cool it was because the only known Spinosaurus fossil was destroyed during World War II.

It turns out that Spinosaurus was bigger, badder and weirder than we ever imagined.

“It’s so different than anything else around,” he said.

Ibrahim described the creature as “so bizarre it’s going to force dinosaur experts to rethink many things they thought they knew about dinosaurs.”

Indeed. Most dinosaurs were not thought of as particularly adapted to aquatic environments. But with its webbed back feet, fish-like sail and dense bones, it appears that Spinosaurus spent much of its time in the water. FREAKY AWESOME!!!

I have only question: What does this mean for what we know about Suchomimus and Baryonyx?

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Confucius Institute

[ 50 ] October 2, 2014 |

In the wake of Penn State’s decision to drop its Confucius Institute:

And so at risk of pursuing the mushy middle road, we in academia can grant that the Confucius Institutes represent an act of (not entirely disinterested) generosity on the part of the People’s of Republic of China, and we can do our best to take advantage of this generosity in both our research and on behalf of our students. The United States is not at war with China; it maintains correct diplomatic relations with Beijing and American business conducts commerce with China on a vast scale. At the same time, without worrying overmuch that we’re submitting to the “rhythm of totalitarianism,” we need to remember that the Institutes represent one (privileged) vision of China’s past, present, and future. The CI is not a center for disinterested research (although few places are), and we can’t expect academic even-handedness with respect to the critical political challenges affecting the U.S.-China relationship today.

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Tales from the New Gilded Age: IOC Edition

[ 154 ] October 2, 2014 |

Oslo is dropping out of bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics, leaving Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing as the only remaining cities seeking to host the event. Why? One reason is that people are starting to realize that spending mega-money to build sporting venues that may not ever be used again doesn’t make economic sense. Another is that the International Olympic Committee is a notoriously ridiculous organization run by grifters and hereditary aristocrats. Norwegian citizens were particularly amused/outraged (amuseraged) by the IOC’s diva-like demands for luxury treatment during the hypothetical Games. Here’s a piece in the Norwegian media about the controversy, with translation provided by a generous Norwegian reader named Mats Silberg:

They demand to meet the king prior to the opening ceremony. Afterwards, there shall be a cocktail reception. Drinks shall be paid for by the Royal Palace or the local organizing committee.

Separate lanes should be created on all roads where IOC members will travel, which are not to be used by regular people or public transportation.

A welcome greeting from the local Olympic boss and the hotel manager should be presented in IOC members’ rooms, along with fruit and cakes of the season. (Seasonal fruit in Oslo in February is a challenge…)

The hotel bar at their hotel should extend its hours “extra late” and the minibars must stock Coke products.

The IOC president shall be welcomed ceremoniously on the runway when he arrives.

The IOC members should have separate entrances and exits to and from the airport.

During the opening and closing ceremonies a fully stocked bar shall be available. During competition days, wine and beer will do at the stadium lounge.

IOC members shall be greeted with a smile when arriving at their hotel.

Meeting rooms shall be kept at exactly 20 degrees Celsius at all times.

The hot food offered in the lounges at venues should be replaced at regular intervals, as IOC members might “risk” having to eat several meals at the same lounge during the Olympics.

See the link for the IOC’s more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger response.

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Faith in Food: Roasted Cauliflower and Potato Smash

[ 38 ] October 2, 2014 |

Sometimes I wish I were a person of faith, if only so that I could say, on occasion: “Roasted cauliflower is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.”

I don’t know why something as simple as tossing some cauliflower together with salt, pepper and oil and roasting it is almost enough to make you believe in the divine. It seems like something so unadorned and easy should not be as complex and sweet and nutty-wonderful. But it is. I should leave well enough alone, but here I am gilding this lily in a most spectacular fashion. Hey, when the produce bin beckons, it beckons. I don’t let food go to waste.

Roasted Cauliflower and Potato Smash

  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 3-4 medium unpeeled potatoes of your choice, cut into medium chunks
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4-1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/2 tsp. good quality dried thyme or a few springs fresh time, if you have it.


  1. Preheat oven to 425. In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes and cauliflower. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the thyme and toss everything together until the veggies are well-coated with oil and seasonings.
  2. Lay in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until potatoes and cauliflower begin to brown and get fork tender.
  3. Remove from oven and transfer everything to a mixing bowl. Smash with half and half and sour cream to the consistency of your choice. Stir well.

Eat and you just may become a believer.

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“Gentlemen, To Evil!”

[ 39 ] October 2, 2014 |

Shorter America’s Worst Governor: “I have principles.  But in the unlikely event that I have a principle that isn’t horrible, my friends the Kochs will make sure I find a new principle.”

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Sexism and the “New Atheism”

[ 275 ] October 2, 2014 |

I’d like to say I’m surprised that Sam Harris would give us the “but I married one!” routine and that Richard Dawkins would engage in rape apologia that would be entirely at home in the pages of the National Review, but…

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Thug To Spend Life In Prison Despite Creative “Imaginary Shotgun” Defense

[ 125 ] October 2, 2014 |

How implausible does a white man’s self-defense claim have to be before he can be convicted of killing a black teenager by a mostly white jury in Florida?  Michael Dunn found out:

Mr. Dunn had said that Mr. Davis, who sat in a Dodge Durango parked next to Mr. Dunn’s car, pointed a shotgun in his direction and tried to get out of the car with it. The police never found a firearm and witnesses never saw one.


This time, prosecutors homed in more forcefully on Mr. Dunn’s actions after the shooting, behavior that they said cloaked him in guilt. Mr. Dunn fled the scene and never called the police, not even after he learned that someone had died. Instead, he and the woman who was then his fiancée drove to their hotel, where he walked the dog, poured himself a rum and Coke and ordered a pizza. The next day he drove two and a half hours back to his house in Satellite Beach, where the police, who by then had his license plate number, arrested him.


Prosecutors damaged his credibility by putting Rhonda Rouer, Mr. Dunn’s former fiancée, on the stand. In tearful testimony, Ms. Rouer, who was inside the store when the shooting took place, said Mr. Dunn complained about “thug” music. And in the night and day after the shooting, he never once mentioned that a teenager had pulled out a firearm.

What’s amazing is that this risible story was enough for a mistrial the first time. Glad to see there was a jury whose credulity had limits this time.

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Modi’s India: Please Multinational Corporations, Exploit Our Workers

[ 24 ] October 2, 2014 |


Above: The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, i.e., Narendra Modi’s vision of the Indian economy.

I understand that workers in India need jobs, but I’m not sure that Narendra Modi going full neoliberal is going to build the kind of growth that will be good for India:

Responding to big business complaints that India has not done enough to open up its economy to foreign investment, and that its regulations limiting layoffs and plant closures are “onerous,” Modi declared “India is open-minded. We want change.”

The US business leaders subsequently sang Modi’s praises. GE CEO Jeffrey R Immelt told the Indian Express, “My interaction with him was outstanding. I am certainly looking forward to further investments in India as the climate for investments has switched to positive once again.’’ According to Indian press reports, Modi planned to signal to Immelt that his government is open to amending India’s nuclear liability law, which US energy companies have denounced because it could force them to pay significant compensation were they responsible for a catastrophic nuclear accident.

Regulations limiting plant closures! Why that might hold corporations accountable for their actions. Onerous indeed!

What does Modi have in mind to replace these odious regulations?

At the end of July, Modi’s cabinet cleared 54 amendments to the “Factories Act, 1948,” the “Apprenticeship Act, 1961” and the “Labor Laws Act, 1988.” Under these amendments, women would be eligible for night-shift work, the ceiling for overtime hours will be increased from 50 hours per quarter to 100 hours, and employers will no longer be liable to imprisonment for violating the Apprenticeship Act.

As a test case for the gutting of labour laws nationwide, the BJP state government in Rajasthan has pushed through amendments to the “Industrial Dispute Act”, “Factory Act” and “Contract Labor Regulation & Abolition Act.” These would raise the ceiling for the number of workers in a factory where employers can retrench workers without government approval from 100 to 300 and make it much more difficult for workers to form trade unions with collective bargaining rights.

The amendments to the Contract Labor Act would strip most contract workers of any protection under the labor laws, as contractors employing less than 50 workers will no longer be subject to its provisions. During the past two decades, Indian employers, including government-owned corporations, have vastly expanded their use of contract labour, so as to slash wage and benefit costs, circumvent restrictions on layoffs, and divide the workforce.

In the race to the bottom, I promise my nation will be at the bottom! Give it your best shot Bangladesh. We don’t mind if apparel companies kill 2000 of our workers. Multinationals, please come exploit us!

All of this is a sign of just how much power corporations have in dictating terms of employment today. Capital mobility is a powerful thing and the CEOs know how to use it.

This is also a good piece on Modi’s neoliberal beliefs
that should make him a good friend of corporate leaders if he keeps the anti-Muslim rhetoric to a minimum.

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How Times Have Changed

[ 39 ] October 2, 2014 |

Thirty years ago, environmentalism was a strong enough political force that Mitch McConnell had to pretend to care about coal’s impact upon the planet. Times have really changed.

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Kissinger and Cuba

[ 26 ] October 2, 2014 |


Augusto Pinochet–Henry Kissinger’s kind of Latin American ruler.

Henry Kissinger’s response to Cuba sending troops to Angola in 1975 was quite rational and appropriate, showing how this Nobel Peace Prize winner is someone who still needs to be taken seriously today.

Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations with Havana. But in late 1975, Mr. Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.

That move infuriated Mr. Kissinger, who was incensed that Mr. Castro had passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of pursuing his own foreign policy agenda, Mr. Kornbluh said.

“Nobody has known that at the very end of a really remarkable effort to normalize relations, Kissinger, the global chessboard player, was insulted that a small country would ruin his plans for Africa and was essentially prepared to bring the imperial force of the United States on Fidel Castro’s head,” Mr. Kornbluh said.

“You can see in the conversation with Gerald Ford that he is extremely apoplectic,” Mr. Kornbluh said, adding that Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.”

The plans suggest that Mr. Kissinger was prepared after the 1976 presidential election to recommend an attack on Cuba, but the idea went nowhere because Jimmy Carter won the election, Mr. LeoGrande said.

“These were not plans to put up on a shelf,” Mr. LeoGrande said. “Kissinger is so angry at Castro sending troops to Angola at a moment when he was holding out his hand for normalization that he really wants to, as he said, ‘clobber the pipsqueak.’ ”

The plan suggested that it would take scores of aircraft to mine Cuban ports. It also warned that the United States could seriously risk losing its Navy base in Cuba, which was vulnerable to counterattack, and estimated that it would cost $120 million to reopen the Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico and reposition destroyer squadrons.

The plan also drafted proposals for a military blockade of Cuba’s shores. The proposal warned that such moves would most likely lead to a conflict with the Soviet Union, which was a top Cuba ally at the time.

“If we decide to use military power, it must succeed,” Mr. Kissinger said in one meeting, in which advisers warned against leaks. “There should be no halfway measures — we would get no award for using military power in moderation. If we decide on a blockade, it must be ruthless and rapid and efficient.”

Hard to see how that could have gone wrong.

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Things that probably shouldn’t have been put in writing

[ 78 ] October 1, 2014 |

Speaking of slow motion crashes suddenly accelerating, the latest from the flaming train wreck that is Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. Back in July leaders of Mars Hill admitted that non-trivial portions of the millions donated to their “global fund,” ostensibly to aid in missions in Ethiopia and India, was in fact being pumped into the Church’s general fund, and whatever undisclosed salaries it supports. Today we learn, via Brendan Kiley, that Warren Throckmorton has got his hands on some internal memos suggesting that was the plan all along. From the memo:

The Global Fund could be beneficial in a number of ways, besides the obvious gain of increased funding:
• For a relatively low cost (e.g. $10K/month), supporting a few missionaries and benevolence projects would serve to deflect criticism, increase goodwill, and create opportunities to influence and learn from other ministries.

• Many small churches who may consider joining Mars Hill hesitate because they do not believe we support “missions.” While we need to continue to challenge the assumptions underlying a claim, the Global Fund would serve as a simple, easy way to deflate such criticism and help lead change in these congregations.

• The ability to communicate and interact with supporters of Mars Hill Global provides an avenue for promoting events, recruiting leaders, and developing Mars Hill core groups in strategic cities

Here’s at LGM we’ve managed to obtain an image of the meeting where the plan for the global fund was constructed. Context for the “low cost” estimate of 10K a month: as of May, the fund was taking in 300K a month. What’s most striking to about this memo isn’t the plan it reveals, which is more or less what I’ve come to expect from that organization. It’s that it was actually written down in some sort of formal memo. I’m legitimately curious about the intended audience for this memo. It was a group of people that, on the one hand, must have been assumed to be sufficiently cynical about the nature of the Church that such frank admissions wouldn’t be jarring or alarming, but at the same time, be deemed to be sufficiently trustworthy that they could be trusted with such a potentially damning document. How big was that group?  If I were running this scam, my concern would be that people who meet the first criteria were unlikely to meet the second, and vice versa, such that the number of people I would trust to have their hands on such a document must be very small, and the risks associated with putting something this in writing couldn’t possibly be worth it. The memo doesn’t appear to be dated, but it must have been sometime prior to the launch of Mars Hill global fund, which I believe was sometime in 2012. That would place this document most likely in 2011 or early 2012, well after Driscoll’s consolidation of power, but before ex-members and pastors started speaking publicly and critically about the Church in significant numbers, which makes this memo a striking artifact from the high water mark of an extraordinarily successful long con, just before the fall.

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