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[ 92 ] April 9, 2016 |


Delicious and interesting!

Life isn’t easy for a tiny baby oyster.

Because they are so small and defenseless without a fully formed shell, oyster babies are often gobbled up by other marine life.

To ensure the survival of their species, oysters respond to this threat by ejaculating ungodly numbers of sperm and eggs into the water (where the gametes mix and form oyster embryos).

Every season, an adult female oyster can produce 50 to 100 million eggs. Males produce so much sperm that it’s basically uncountable. “Sperm counts … certainly range into the tens of billions,” Allen says. “They are maybe the most fecund of species on the planet.”

Now consider this: An oyster reef can house around 100 to 500 oysters per 10 square feet. An acre of a healthy oyster reef can house 600,000 of them, and some oyster reefs can stretch hundreds of acres. Let’s just say there aren’t enough digits on a standard calculator to determine how much oyster sperm that is.

3) Oysters can change gender multiple times throughout their lives

Almost all oysters start out their lives as male, but as they grow larger, many of them will switch genders. (Because there’s so much more sperm than eggs, this helps ensure a growing oyster population.)

And occasionally they can have both sex organs at the same time. Allen says how this happens isn’t well-understood, but they seem to change genders based on environmental factors. It’s possible that the gender determination is influenced by water temperature and by the relative health of the oyster reef (more productive reefs favor females). But “nobody really knows what the mechanism is,” Allen says.

Also, never ever ever ever put freaking cocktail sauce on your oysters. A squeeze of lemon is all the need. Or some other vinegary substance if you are getting fancy. But you might as well dip them in straight ketchup if you are using cocktail sauce.


Right to Work: Unconstitutional

[ 8 ] April 9, 2016 |


A Wisconsin judge ruled Wisconsin’s recent right to leech work bill unconstitutional, agreeing with unions that it is an unconstitutional seizure of property because unions have to represent the leech workers without them paying for it. I am of course no lawyer but this seems a solid legal strategy for unions going forward. Of course Scott Walker and his minions are going to appeal and the ultimate question will primarily be decided by judges’ poliitcal leaning rather than any meaningful interpretation of the Constitution. So we’ll see. But good news in the short term anyway.

Foreign Entanglements: Central Asia Survey

[ 0 ] April 9, 2016 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Natalie speaks with Katie Putz about Central Asia, and about the future of journalism:

Kids [sits in backwards-facing chair] we need to rap about rap

[ 169 ] April 8, 2016 |

Actual photo of bspencer

In my last thread I saw a couple people talking about rap–how they never liked it, how they liked it back in the day, notsomuch now. It made me sad because I love rap, and while I’m sometimes nostalgic for the days of Public Enemy and Beastie Boys, and Tribe, I still think there are artists out there making great, innovative, evocative rap/hip-hop. I want to share a few artists I think are doing fun things with the genres, and I hope you’ll do the same if you’re a fan. Let’s spread the good word.

Agriculture and Commerce ^and Hate

[ 82 ] April 8, 2016 |

Tennessee has taken steps to protect the religious freedoms (a dog whistle that dropped to 10 kHz the first time it was used) of anyone who wants to call himself a counselor.

HB 1840, which is awaiting the governor’s signature, states in part

No counselor or therapist providing counseling or therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the counselor or therapist; provided,that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy.

It protects

any person, whether or not such person is licensed, registered, or otherwise regulated by this state.

I assume unlicensed persons = ministers, because you know how gay people are always lawyering up when their pastors refuse to help them as they struggle to figure out who they are or how to come out to their parents. Also – I’m guessing – the creeps at those make sure your pregnancy is a crisis centers.

Organizations such as the American Counseling Association and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy opposed the bill, but I’m sure there are licensed counselors in the Volunteer State who can’t wait to deny treatment to someone they find offensive. And since the bill doesn’t even contain an exception for a patient who is in crisis, they can refuse to do their jobs in a emergency without fear of repercussion. Thank goodness states like Tennessee are willing to protect hateful troglodytes from imaginary menaces by harming people who committed the heinous crime of being different, in order to gratify those voters who aren’t happy unless they’re certain the state is taking steps to make sure that someone, somewhere is being oppressed.

And talking of troglodytes, how about Jeremy Durham, one of HB 1840’s sponsors?

House Speaker Beth Harwell announced Thursday that she is moving Rep. Jeremy Durham’s office to the ground floor of a building across the street and that his access to committee rooms and the House chamber will be limited to when meetings are taking place. The move comes amid a state attorney general’s investigation into the Franklin Republican’s “pattern of conduct” toward women.

Interviews with 34 current and former lawmakers, lobbyists, staffers and interns included allegations that Durham made sexual comments and inappropriate physical contact with women working at Legislative Plaza, according to Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s memorandum to Harwell.

The allegations outlined in Slatery’s memo also say Durham used his position of power to:

  • – Obtain personal contact information from women.
  • – Initiate contact about non-legislative matters and try to meet women alone.
  • – Involve alcohol in his interaction with women.
  • – Make comments of a sexual nature or engage in inappropriate physical contact.
  • What a sterling example of humanity. If humanity were composed of Dick Cheney and puddles of sick that had learned to walk around and talk.

    Here’s an example of his earlier work to defend religious freedom.

    Durham’s colleagues also questioned previous behavior that included writing a letter on House stationery on behalf of a former pastor who pleaded guilty to child porn possession and statutory rape of a 16-year-old parishioner.

    The GOP, party of moral clarity.

    It’s Friday, Everybody! Let’s Get Angry at bspencer!

    [ 237 ] April 8, 2016 |

    Nikita, Fidel, and Mao…

    [ 19 ] April 8, 2016 |

    mao2My latest at the Diplomat surveys some of the latest lit on how the Cuban Missile Crisis affected Chinese domestic politics:


    Cuba provided an ideal arena for sparring between Moscow and Beijing. In a developing country long under the thumb of the United States, the Castro brothers’ revolution accorded perfectly with Mao’s vision of conflict between the capitalist and socialist blocs. But China lacked the military and economic power to support the Cuban Revolution; only the Soviets had the means to protect the Castro regime.

    The GOP encapsulated encore une fois

    [ 75 ] April 7, 2016 |

    After having decades to think about it, Dennis Hastert still has no idea how he went from [passive voice mumble about bad things] to being the superfab and groovy guy who didn’t see anything wrong with one of his colleagues hitting on minors did lots of swell things and everyone loved him.

    Perhaps I am being cynical, but I sometimes suspect the ability to feel remorse disqualifies one from membership in the GOP.

    New York Values

    [ 228 ] April 7, 2016 |


    Not Ted Cruz’s values, and score one for New York.

    On the Hag

    [ 98 ] April 7, 2016 |


    A few disorganized thoughts on the death of Merle Haggard.

    This death is a tremendous blow to the world of American music. One of the finest singers and songwriters of any genre in American history, what to me makes Haggard stand out from the crowd is his directness. There’s very little of the pablum that infects country music in Haggard’s music. Yes, he can engage in nostalgia, but it’s a different sort than the backwards-looking rural romanticization so common in country music, a sensible position by the way for many of those musicians to take given that such a large part of their audience were themselves recent urban migrants. But Haggard’s nostalgia is both sweet and bitter because of the tremendous poverty he grew up in. Of course people respond to poverty in different ways. Many try to escape it. But Haggard (same goes for Loretta Lynn) didn’t. Instead, he tried to give dignity to the Okie working class of California in the 1930s and 1940s. That was ultimately his core nostalgic theme. So you have songs like “California Cottonfields,” “Tulare Dust,” and “Mama’s Hungry Eyes,” which is just a tremendously powerful piece of work.

    What Merle was of course most famous for is his anti-hippie songs, primarily “Okie from Muskogee” and then his less defensible “Fighting Side of Me.” And then he also became well-known for his occasional liberal stances in his late life. What was the political Haggard? Like most of the rest about him, it was a ball of contradiction. He could go from supporting Obama in 2008 to saying Obama was destroying the Constitution through the ACA to supporting Obama again and there was little reason to bat an eye. This was the same in his music. What Merle Haggard fundamentally believed in was writing hit country songs without selling out to bad music or bad production. That meant he was all over the map. He could from the horrible “Fighting Side of Me” or the utterly execrable “I’m a White Boy” to writing powerful songs about racial injustice like “Go Home” and “Irma Jackson” within a matter of months. The real lesson about Haggard and politics is not to look to musicians for political guidance (see also Neil Young and his Reagan support). Judging Haggard by his bad politics is just as big a mistake as judging him by his good politics–this mass of contradictions is just not the kind of political lodestar you want to be following. He claimed he renounced “Fighting Side of Me” but then played it at pretty much every single show up to the end of his life. Just accept the great songs and reject the bad ones.

    And then there is prison. Of course Haggard, even well after his prison days, was a crazy man. He was nearing the point in his life where he was going to be involved in murder, as his friend who he thought about escaping from prison with ended up. He actually saw one of Johnny Cash’s prison shows live. So when he got out, he managed to turn his life around. He always had a complicated relationship with his prison time. He evidently didn’t really like to talk about, but he did like to sing about. And he did that very well. Some of this was self-mythologizing. But while that was a big part of the outlaw country movement in the 70s, he did it in a lot less egotistical way than say, Waylon Jennings who wrote a lot of songs about how rowdy he was and how his wife needed to wait in line for him and the like. Instead, he wrote those prison songs with the same straightforward nature that he did the rest of his music. “Mama Tried” is of course an all-time American song classic, but there are so many others–“Sing Me Back Home,” “Lonesome Fugitive,” and many others.

    But in the end, outside of genre or politics or his crazy life, Merle Haggard was just a great writer and performer. I saw him twice, once in Knoxville in 1999, which was great. The other was on the blacktop of a New Mexico casino parking lot on July 4, 2004 (I think). It was crazy hot and the stage had Merle facing into the sun and it wasn’t all that great, but who could blame him for that. The only time I ever sang karaoke was at Farley’s dissertation defense. I figured there was just no way to deny the man at that moment. There was only one song I could sing, arguably one of the finest songs in all of history.

    I will one more Haggard post (at least) detailing my 10 favorite songs. Right now though, just keep listening to this great voice of American music.

    Here Come the North Koreans?

    [ 74 ] April 7, 2016 |
    Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum Monument4.jpg

    Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum Monument, Pyongyang. By Hanneke Vermeulen –, CC BY-SA 3.0

    Some thoughts at the Diplomat on what a dissolution of the Korean People’s Army might mean for private military firms around the world:

    The end of the Cold War led to the largest military demobilization since the final days of World War II. Between 1988 and 1999, the Soviet Union alone reduced its military personnel by about three million men (although some of these found employment in the armed forces of successor states). The rest of the Eastern bloc went through a similar experience, followed by the NATO alliance.

    This demobilization left a massive, floating population of trained soldiers, often without any good economic prospects. This pool of military labor helped feed the growth of private military firms, operating in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. In some cases, Russian and Eastern European soldiers served on different sides of the same conflicts, often bringing equipment along with them.

    Given the changing nature of military technology, it is unlikely that we’ll ever see a global military demobilization of similar magnitude. Mass armies have gone out of style, except for in one place: the Korean Peninsula.


    Obama Cracks Down on Inversions

    [ 47 ] April 7, 2016 |


    I like this Obama. Can we reelect him this fall?

    The drug giant Pfizer wanted to cut its taxes through a $152 billion takeover of the Dublin-based maker of Botox. And Halliburton sought to buy a major rival in the business of selling equipment to oil drillers for nearly $35 billion.

    But this week, the Obama administration took on both deals — and it has claimed at least one trophy so far.

    Pfizer walked away from its proposed merger with Allergan on Wednesday, complaining that new tax rules from the Treasury Department sharply curtailed the benefits of that deal.

    And the Justice Department sued Halliburton and Baker Hughes on Wednesday, arguing that putting the two together would cut competition in the oil field services industry to unacceptable levels. The two companies plan to fight the suit.

    In both cases, the administration showed how it has been increasingly willing to challenge giant takeovers, reflecting a belief that the corporate world goes too far in its pursuit of megamergers.

    “The concern we have is the leaders of some corporations who are looking to take the best of America without making a contribution to the success of our country,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday when asked about Pfizer and Allergan. “That’s wrong.”

    The government’s challenges raise questions about the strength of what had appeared to be a surging market for mergers, particularly after a banner year in 2015. Transactions valued at about $4.7 trillion were announced last year, according to Thomson Reuters data, smashing records.

    Recent moves by the administration, though, are already tempering plans for big, risky transactions, lawyers and bankers say. Monsanto, which last year had pursued a failed takeover of a rival that analysts cautioned could draw antitrust scrutiny, told investors on Wednesday that it was abandoning “large-scale” mergers as a strategy.

    “A board that’s considering a transaction has to reassess what are the outer limits of what the government is prepared to do,” said Richard Brand, a mergers and acquisitions partner at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft. “If it’s a politically unpopular transaction and the government has the tools to block it, they might block it just because they can.”

    Stopping inversions that become just another way to increase shareholder profit at the expense of the American people is precisely what the government should be doing. I am very glad to see Obama use his powers to fight it.

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