Tongue Tied

We went to the beach yesterday, and while my kids were playing with some friends they made, I found myself in a game of football with a little girl who wandered by. She was maybe two years old, with blue eyes so pure they made Paul Newman look like a rheumy old man (well yes, of course he is now, I mean in his heyday.)

She spoke very fast, and after a while of not understanding a word I decided that she was probably speaking French. And the thing is that she was so sweet, and her eyes so very hypnotic, that I got embarrassed for not understanding. Eighteen times older than her and she could stare me down without effort. I dread to think what she’ll do to guys when she’s nine times as old as she is now.

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RSS Feeds

Four Steps to feedreading happiness:

1. Use Google Reader
2. Install Google Gears so that you can use it offline (and let me pause for a second to say “How cool is that?!” – I have no doubt that it’s not a huge technical challenge, but the key thing is that somebody’s actually done it). Sadly this doesn’t (yet) work on Camino, so most of you can be cooler than me. Again.
3. Install this theme, because it’s gorgeous.
4. Add the following snippet of code to the greader.css file to get rid of a huge flaw in Google Reader, a ‘mark all as read’ button that’s way too easy to click on by mistake:

#mark-all-as-read {
display:none !important;

Qualifications and Signing Statements

Here’s something from a while back (I’m tidying out my rss reader). The current president has shown great innovation in the field of signing statements, essentially amendments to laws that he signs explaining what he understands by them. I’m not sure what purpose they could constitutionally serve – the law is the law, interpretation is for the courts, the executive should just implement – though arguably they could set an early standard for what exactly what ‘implementation’ means in each case. That’s not quite how President Bush has chosen to use them, however.

Our example comes from The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act of 2007, section 503(c)(2), describing the qualifications required of a FEMA Administrator (i.e. the head of FEMA):


In response we have the President’s signing statement:

Section 503(c)(2) vests in the President authority to appoint the Administrator, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, but purports to limit the qualifications of the pool of persons from whom the President may select the appointee in a manner that rules out a large portion of those persons best qualified by experience and knowledge to fill the office.

If I was looking for a FEMA boss I’d consider the conditions in the Act to be an absolute minimum. I’m at a total loss to think what qualifications someone might have that would suit them for the role, but wouldn’t meet those conditions. Anyone from the emergency services, Coast Guard, border patrol, National Guard, or government departments dealing with public safety would easily qualify on the first count. And the second is an entirely reasonable requirement for someone leading an organization as important as FEMA.

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I was listening to a podcast about microbes this morning. For some reason the fact that we have more microbe cells in our bodies then human cells has become quite a popular fact at the moment; it’s understandable, as it’s pretty damned freaky. A related fact from the podcast was that the average pinch of soil contains more microbes than there are people on Earth (and by extension, that the average tablespoon contains more microbes than there have ever been on the planet).

The most striking thing, though, was that to study microbes, until very recently, step 1 was to culture large enough quantities that you could work with them. And only around 1% of microbes can be cultured. That means, as one of the interviewees pointed out lest there be any doubt, that we know nothing about 99% of microbes. In the last couple of decades we’ve advanced to the point where we can analyze the DNA of the microbes to learn something about that 99%, but the technology and our understanding are still young.

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