Sunday, May 17, 2009

Grand New Party

There has been a lot of buzz about the death of the Republican party. Yesterday, CNN had an interview with Carville titled:

GOP's effort to save itself
Can it happen in less than 40 years?

The story stemmed from Carville's book about the topic. To some extent, the CNN liberal exhuberance can be forgiven given the interviewee. But still, this is just too much. The Poe pendulum swings back and forth. The Dems looked like they were dying in 1980 and 2000 right after the Reagan and Bush elections, with all the same hallmarks, including defecting congressmen. It is too bad the same sensationalism keeps working.

Another Grand New Party will begin in only a couple days, over 7000 miles away, that being the bachelor party of my old friend David Leland. As best man, I had to organize it, which was good fun. It's a telling reflection of gender differences that grooms only choose one special friend, while women have a whole gaggle of bridesmaids.

My travel adventure, which begins at 6 AM (less than 6 hours away), is also new in that it is a record for the most bottles full of liquid I ever tried to transport. I have about 15 bottles full of pumpkinseed oil and schnapps - none in the same bottle, mind you, though it would make a potent salad dressing or a unique cocktail. I have only one suitcase. So it was a unique packing adventure; I have almost no clothes that do not surround bottles and are then encased in plastic bags for extra protection. We find out tomorrow evening (CA time) whether I pushed too far.

We all know the usual rules for gift selection. Gifts should be of high quality (or very convincing fakes), well suited to the recipient, unique or at least hard to find, and not a gift you already received, unless you can lie and avoid contact between the receiver and the original giver. It seems good to give something that lasts forever, but then, it has to be really useful or pretty or it's clogging your host's space, and then ends up in the trash or buried in storage, and thus doesn't really last that long at all. My 250 euros of gifts reflect two high priorities: novelty and transportability. Pumpkinseed oil is highly unique in California. Even my parents, who went to 76 countries, never had it. It is appealing to many recipients, although not permanent and not especially easy to transport. I am not sufficiently expert to tell for sure what is good, but relied heavily on my labmates' advice. Indeed, their recommendations were much more expensive than store-bought pumpkinseed oil. This could mean a lot of things, including I've been too obnoxious around the lab, or they get kickbacks, or they are also easily fooled by pretty bottles at obscure farmers' markets. Indeed, one of them farmer-salesmen sure did look a lot like Clemens. I'll move on. Austrian schnapps is technically also highly unique, but it probably not so different from an American equivalent, so I got fewer bottles. Mainly, I thought it more appropriate for the bachelor party, since shots of pumpkinseed oil don't get you drunk. Although I'm sure Gerv has tried. Then I got a bunch of different types of Austrian chocolate. Again, easy to find a comparable product in the US, but very easy to transport, and everyone loves them. And come to think of it, I never saw anything quite like the Mozart balls in America, which makes sense; he never traveled to the US, and he could only grow another pair so often. And I got a few other gifts to offset any drunken faux pas I might commit.

But for now, it's Bedtime for Bonzo, one of the more entertaining Reagan movies that (unlike my last blog entry) justified the claim that chimp fights get thousands of viewers.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Blogging for Squalor

I spent part of last week in Barcelona doing as little as possible. This took some adjusting. At first, I assiduously checked email and tried to keep up on work. Fortunately, I went to Barcelona largely to meet up with a couple American friends, and Bill quickly pointed out that I don't actually have to work when I am vacationing.

I also had to readjust to the comical rudeness of most Spaniards. Austrians are extremely formal and polite, and act as if people in the street are pedestrians with right of way. Spaniards absolutely never say please or thank you (even in their native language) and view streetwalkers as invisible. I walked into a crosswalk, after looking both ways and making eye contact with the driver, and almost lost my right knee.

One of the few drawbacks of doing nothing is: it doesn't make for good blog entries. And hence, this one is dedicated to Alex Beam, whose Op-Ed in the International Herald Tribune on May 6 got me going. I spent most of my post-Barcelona time writing articles and editing other scientists' book chapters, which always makes me yearn for some blogspirational material. I'd love to talk about work details. I think the work we're doing will trigger the first Kuhnian paradigm shift in BCI research, and the book chapters are so good I'd love to post most of them right here and now. But blogging about unpublished work, especially from other authors, is unwise for very many reasons.

Hence I'm Beaming about this op-ed article, "Blogging for dollars," which talked about making money from your blog. This requires increasing readership (currently at estimated at 5, a major increase due to a recent controversy about my blog). Beam quoted Walter Olsen, who said: "So far as I can tell, every post on chimpanzee attacks over the years has drawn thousands of new visitors."

Hey! Thanks!

So, um, just last night, a chimp attacked me!! I was sitting in my office, innocently pondering my Society for Neuroscience abstract, and heard some commotion outside. There was a chimp trying to break in to Clemens Brunner's office! He was doing a lousy job (the chimp, I mean). What do you expect? Chimps *do* have an inferior motor system, after all, and he kept dropping his glass cutter. I told him to quit monkeying around or I would call the cops. He ignored me. Now, don't try that old trick on me, I said! It may work on morons, but I happen to have seen several Disney movies. You understand English just fine. So he called my bluff by pointing out that nobody would believe me, and also that I could not translate "breaking in" or "glass cutter" or "chimp" to German. Well, he was pretty smart for a chimp. I heard that, he said, and then I remembered that chimps could understand telepathy too.

I then threatened to blogmock him. I told him he was not familiar with the power of a true blogmocking. I explained that the last victim of my online wrath was the Bremen duck population, and since then, not a single duck has found employment driving streetcars anywhere in Bremen. He said, well, then, how about you let me read it? OK, fine then! I'll just let you in and load it on Clemens' computer. So there! Fortunately, his office is a floor above mine, which gave me time to realize I was almost outsmarted by a chimp.

It was time to get nasty. I pointed out that I'm in contact with quite a few people with the technology and werewithal to drill holes in his skull for invasive BCI research. The chimp motor system is not *that* different. They could just stick a few depth electrodes in your primary, supplementary, and pre- motor cortices, and we can tell when you plan to fling poo even before you realize it. This was a mistake. Now he had an idea for a ranged attack, and I had no shield of any kind. I warned him that this was rather self defeating against an opponent who is bigger and eats more, and hence is far better armed. No luck. I had to go cower in my office to avoid getting hit, and probably getting swine flu from chimp poo.

See? I wrote that story in less than 10 minutes. If you thousands of new readers send me just 5 dollars (each), then I'll tell you the rest of the story. I will also accept payment to not post any more. If you think the monkeying around pun was bad, how 'bout this?

They said that pigs would fly before America elects a black president. And 100 days later, swine flew!

Just pay me, and I'll stop. I'll also accept payment in the form of a free trip to Mexico, where I imagine hotels are quite cheap nowadays. The media have once again succeeded in making a story out of nothing. Swine flu, while indeed bad for pigs, has terrified humans into wearing moron masks and avoiding travel. 100 people died from swine flu. More die each day driving to work, and far more die of regular flu.

OK, so, I just checked my bank account, and see no deposits for my blog. Oh wait, I have to click "publish post!" Then I shall retire.