Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto Demoted!

The Mandarin was saddened to learn that Pluto has been demoted:

Leading astronomers declared Thursday that Pluto is no longer a planet under historic new guidelines that downsize the solar system from nine planets to eight.

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is — and isn't — a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one.

However, all is not lost for Mickey's pal:

[Pluto] will be reclassified in a new category of "dwarf planets," similar to what long have been termed "minor planets."

We may have lost a planet, reducing the total in our solar system from nine to to the classical eight, but -- looking at the bright side -- Snow White has gained a dwarf.

How timely! As the Mandarin read recently, "three quarters of Americans can correctly identify two of Snow White's seven dwarfs while only a quarter can name two Supreme Court Justices."

So, the Mandarin proposes -- to avoid cultural confusion -- we keep the number of Snow White's dwarfs constant at seven, and improve the name recognition of Supreme Court Justices by 50% with one simple step: Pluto will join the Seven Dwarfs, replacing Dopey, at which point Clarence Thomas will officially change his name to Dopey (which the other eight Justices already call him anyway).

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

"Have I turned blue yet?"

The Mandarin found Shrub's session with the press yesterday fascinating.

This is from the Associated Press report:

[Shrub] said Monday the Iraq war is "straining the psyche of our country;" but leaving now would be a disaster.

[He] served notice at a news conference that he would not change course or flinch from debate about the unpopular war as he campaigns for Republicans in the fall congressional elections.

Then, as evidence of how much the war has strained his own psyche, he told reporters that he was going to hold his breath and turn blue unless they stopped asking him negative questions about Iraq, about his low poll numbers and especially until veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas stopped looking at him with her "evil eye" all the time.

Original photo caption: US President George W. Bush listens to a reporter's question as he conducts a press conference inside the White House Conference Center across the street from the White House in Washington, DC. Bush called for urgent deployment of a peacekeeping force in Lebanon to salvage a UN-brokered truce that halted 34 days of warfare between Israel and Hezbollah.(AFP/Paul J. Richards)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Better air travel through chemistry

The Mandarin was in Mexico on holiday when the latest gang of crackpot British al Qaeda wannabees were rounded up for talking about thinking about plotting to blow up airliners with binary explosives made in the air by combining carried-on liquids disguised as a Starbucks Venti Latte and a bottle of lip gloss.

Beginning the return trip with more than the usual trepidation, the Mandarin found the luggage searching process at the Guadalajara airport to be quite manageable, as it turned out. So, happily, the Mandarin managed to return to the land of the Red Threat Level in one large piece. Thank you, Mexico's Michael Chertoff, whoever you are -- you're doing a heckuva job.

Anyway, now the Mandarin reads an article that explains just how binary explosives, in this case the versatile TATP (triacetone triperoxide), would be assembled in, say, an aircraft lavatory.

It makes fascinating reading, and the Mandarin for one, will be ever vigilant from now on in case he sees someone sneaking an ice bucket, a thermometer, a large beaker, a glass stirring rod, a medicine dropper and bottles of acetone, hydrogen peroxide and (you guessed it) sulfuric acid into the first class lav and then staying in there for several hours with nasty-smelling toxic fumes coming out from under the door now and then.

Money quote:

Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide / acetone mixture into the ice water bath (Champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you'll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.

After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two.

The genius of this scheme is that TATP is relatively easy to detonate. But you must make enough of it to crash the plane, and you must make it with care to assure potency. One needs quality stuff to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale," as Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson put it. While it's true that a slapdash concoction will explode, it's unlikely to do more than blow out a few windows. At best, an infidel or two might be killed by the blast, and one or two others by flying debris as the cabin suddenly depressurizes, but that's about all you're likely to manage under the most favorable conditions possible.

Boys and girls, it's just that easy.... Don't you feel safer now?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

While the Mandarin is on holiday for a week or so.....

Perhaps one of his loyal readers can explain what the hell is going on in this picture. The Mandarin knows that Katherine Harris, both a proponent and an example of intelligent design, is fighting for her political life in the Florida Senate race, but what does paying $400 for a possum have to do with it?

The press description wasn't completely enlightening on the point:

You're not likely to catch Katherine Harris doing this in her hometown of Longboat Key. But she was a long way culturally and geographically from her well-heeled seaside community. She was in the middle of the Possum Palace holding a scruffy-looking marsupial by the tail, adroitly shaking it to prevent the creature from crawling up her arm. She paid $400 in an auction for the privilege.

And the U.S. Senate candidate was impressing the locals with her possum-handling skills. "That gal knows how to shake a possum," the auctioneer drawled.

Original photo caption: U. S. Congresswoman Katherine Harris, R-Florida, holds up a possum she purchased at the Wausau Possum Festival, Saturday, Aug. 5, 2006, in Wausau, Fla. Harris is a candidate for the U. S. Senate.(AP Photo/Phil Coale)

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Boob descending a staircase

The Mandarin imagines that whenever Shrub is going up or down the Air Force One stairs, photographers must just put their cameras on rapid fire. They know sooner or later they will get a money shot like this one. The upper middle frame is a particularly fine example of the "Curious George" genre.

The Mandarin's apologies to all the teen-aged blog crawlers who thought the "boob" in the title meant the more usual kind. For them, there is an ample endowment of Pam Anderson shots bouncing around on the web this week.

"Curious George takes a tumble" was the Mandarin's runner-up caption, but sometimes life must imitate art. So, apologies also to Marcel Duchamp for stealing the title of his iconic 1912 paining "Nude Descending a Staircase #2."

Original Shrub photo caption: In this combination photo, President Bush reacts as he stumbles while walking off Air Force One after returning to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Monday, July 31, 2006. (AP Photos/Haraz N. Ghanbari)