Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It all makes sense now ...

This post from Andrew Sullivan's blog finally makes sense of Caroline Kennedy replacing Hillary Clinton as NY Senator.

The whole thing was confusing me - why would anyone want this person as their Senator?

Ah, but it's so simple. The Democrats were jealous of how close Sarah Palin came to the Vice Presidency. So, they're one-upping the Republicans. They've found someone even less qualified for public service to gift with a Senate seat.

Well played, cynical Democrats, well played.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I read the book Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali a few months ago, and just noticed I had this half-written review in my drafts folder. Unfortunately the book is not still fresh in my head so I won't do a full review, but I will offer this one point.
From the forward by Christopher Hitchens:
Here is the very encapsulation of the sado-masochosm of religion; it makes impossible demands on people and then convicts them of original sin when they fail to live up to them.
Via wikipedia, an excerpt from an Economist review:
much as she tries, the kind of problems that Ms Hirsi Ali describes in Infidel are all too human to be blamed entirely on Islam. Her book shows that her life, like those of other Muslims, is more complex than many people in the West may have realised. But the West's tendency to seek simplistic explanations is a weakness that Ms Hirsi Ali also shows she has been happy to exploit.
I'm with Hitchens, and I couldn't disagree more with the Economist review.

Ali clearly describes an array of liberal vs conservative interpretations of Islamic law. Her mother forbade the women and men of the family from praying together, but her father insisted they do pray as a family. Kenya was more liberal than Somalia, and the Islamic sub-culture in Holland was more liberal still. Some women were allowed to attend school, others not.

But in all cases, women were to be subservient to men, and were considered less valuable. And they were punished when they behaved otherwise. This culture was supported by both men and women, particularly in the older generations. The description of Ali's female circumcision is particularly harrowing. She was 5 years old, and her grandmother held her down during the procedure.

And don't even get me started on honor killings.

The only reason the issue is complex is because the Middle East is blinded by faith and the West is blinded by cultural sensitivity and moral relativism (plus, you know, all the oil they have). Muslim men treat women this way because it is tradition and because it is written in the scripture they hold sacred. And they know their neighbors will back them up.

So, I'm a closed-minded Westerner with a "tendency to seek simplistic explanations" if I violently oppose this behavior, and recognize the obvious connection with religious faith?

Fuck that shit.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Today I blog about cute baby animals

I know I'm a guy but, come on, is this not the cutest thing ever? And this one is just up the road from me.

http://www.zooborns.com/ is a cool site. For those times when you want to see something adorable, but you're just sick of house cats.

The Christmas Tree Rant

Following is an email message I received yesterday. It was sent to a group of about 10 of the sender's friends and family, plus me by mistake.


This is NOT a Holiday Tree

This is a Christ mas tree.
It is not a Hanukkah bush,
It is not an Allah plant,
It is not a Kawanza shrub
It is not a Holiday hedge.
It is a Christmas tree.
Say it... CHRIST mas , CHRIST mas , CHRIST mas
Yes. CHRIST mas - celebrating

The Birth of Jesus Christ!!!

Take a stand and pass this on !!

Jesus is the reason for the season... Amen!!!!!
Merry CHRISTmas to You!


'tis the season for the War on Christmas. It always amazes me how a group comprising 85% of the United States can manage to consider itself maligned by the minority.

I could understand if someone were referring to a nativity scene as a "Hotel Overflow Moment". But, pine trees covered with lights, anthropomorphic snowmen, "squishy winter huggies"" - it's silly to take offense that these don't prompt a "praise Jesus" from the congregation.

Anyway, here's the response I sent. And yes, I selected "Reply All".


First, I know this wasn't intended for me but I've received it and I'm going to respond. I'm not a Christian - shame on you for trying to make me and others feel like our beliefs are less compatible with this holiday than yours. I don't believe Jesus rose from the dead, but he seemed a decent fellow who never would have engaged in this type of rhetoric.

Second, [my email address] is NOT [RECIPIENT'S NAME]. Please, remove the errant entry from your address books. I'm sure she's a lovely lady who does the Tucker name proud, but I get an unwanted message intended for her about once a month. And think how sad it is that she's missing out on her share of divisive propaganda this holiday season.

Merry Christmas,

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Auto-detecting gamma ray bursts

Check out this bit of coolness:

That energy swept over the Earth just before sunrise on December 3. The gamma rays from the beams were detected by the Swift satellite, which promptly determined the burst’s position and sent the coordinates to Earth. Sent out via the Internet (srsly), telescopes across the planet responded to the call, and in northern California GORT swung its eye to the position of the gamma-ray burst. Within minutes of Swift’s detection of the burst, GORT began taking its images. The picture above was from just 7 minutes after Swift triggered.

To recap, a satellite detected gamma rays and sent a "hey, check this out" email to a bunch of photo-telescopes around the world, and 7 minutes later they captured the image. With no human intervention.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

W. Kumau Bell Curve

I attended a comedy show in San Francisco last night called the W. Kumau Bell Curve. He was named 2008 comedian of the year by SF weekly. Most of his material deals with racism in America. A sample:

The Climate Theater is a tiny venue - I doubt it sits more than 50 people. He had a laptop hooked up to a projector and worked some multi-media into the presentation - online news stories, youtube videos (he opened with the latest from O. J. Simpson). I liked the intimacy and relatively low-tech nature of the production. He even played us a voicemail he received right off his phone. He interacted with the audience, and even responded to specific comments.

I thought his strongest material was his personal stories. One moment I liked was comparing his own heritage to his white fiancee's. She's a mix of various European ethnicities, but she learned to speak Italian growing up, had visited Italy, and was particularly close to her Italian grandfather. So she described herself as Italian - to which he responded, "oh, you just get to choose ... must be nice". He juxtaposed this with his own experience as the only black kid in school, and his earliest realization that his classmates all saw him as belonging to a certain group whether he liked it or not.

The saga of getting along with his finacee's racist grandfather was well done. There's a whole segment involving his attempt to introduce their family to his culture through sweet potato pie. My mom made this every year for Thanksgiving - I always thought it was just a southern thing, not an African-American thing.

Much of the show addressed racism in current events, the bulk of which related to Barrack Obama's election. It was all funny, and most of it was insightful, but I disagreed with a couple things.

He related an experience while waiting to vote (at Starbucks - apparently they do that in some neighborhoods). A guy in front of them in line - a white guy Bell described as a stereotypical San Francisco hipster - began to accuse Bell of wearing a pro-Obama t-shirt, in violation of campaigning too near a polling station. When Bell pointed out it was actually a Richard Pryor t-shirt, the guy backed off.

Now, it's certainly funny that the guy mistook Pryor for Obama. And he was being an ass since he wasn't working for the polling station, just acting as "the hall monitor", as Bell pointed out. But I didn't hear anything in the story suggesting the hipster wouldn't have done the same thing to another white guy - I didn't get why Bell thought this was racism instead of simple asshole-ism.

He made some pretty sweeping statements, like all white people are responsible for racism (his argument is that we've all benefited from it even if we don't practice it), and white people should show appropriate pride and shame for actions of others of their race (at one point he put up a pic of Bush and asked if the white folks in the audience were ashamed of him).

First, is there an easier way to get applause than criticizing George Bush in San Francisco?

Second, I just didn't get this. I'm ashamed of much the current administration has done - I'm ashamed as an American, not as a white dude. I'm not any less ashamed of our state department's actions because it's headed by Condoleeza Rice.

I liked the show overall. Even the points with which I disagreed, I enjoyed being challenged in my thinking. As is often the case, humor is an excellent vehicle for engaging in controversial issues, and W. Kumau Bell does it better than most. Check him out if you get a chance.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

State mottos

I just read this story about an atheist group trying to change a Kentucky law that "requires Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge it can't keep the state safe without God's help". Some of the comments from the atheist group are laughable, the worst being:

It is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I've ever seen".

Guys, I'm on your side, but you lost me with that one. I find the language distasteful, too, but don't equate it with state laws that tangibly impinge on civil liberties.

Part of Kentucky's defense is that the state motto refers to God (this is an example of what we like to call "begging the question"). The state actually has 2 mottos. The "Offical Motto" has been United we stand, divided we fall since 1942. In 2002 they added an "Offical Latin Motto", Deo gratiam habeamus (Let us be grateful to God). The bill was the project of a group of home schooled latin students:

The bill, HB 857, was the project of a group of Lexington homeschool Latin students. They wrote the bill with help from State Rep. Tom Riner, (D-Louisville) the bill's sponsor. Several of the students came to Frankfort once a week to meet with legislators, and guided it through the process themselves, learning about state government as they went along. The bill passed with votes of 88-0 in the House and 29-0 in the Senate with several members from each chamber not voting. Signed April 11 into Law by Governor Patton.

Not a single dissenting vote. Not surprising, I suppose, but disappointing this happened as recently as 2002. The whole thing seems pretty laughable to me (got a big Latin-speaking population there, Kentucky?). Clearly a sideways attempt to get religious language into state laws.

I don't really have much else to say about this. But it did make me curious about state mottos, so I looked them up on wikipedia. Only 6 states explicitly mention "God", Kentucky plus:
  • Arizona - Ditat Deus (God enriches)
  • Colorado - Nil sine numine (Nothing without God's will)
  • Florida - In God We Trust
  • Ohio - With God, all things are possible
  • South Dakota - Under God the people rule
Two others make what are apparently references to a supreme being:
  • Connecticut - Qui transtulit sustinet (He who transplanted sustains)
  • Maine - Dirigo (I direct)

I'm surprised there are so few. Of course, I found many of the ones that did not reference God more inspirational. But, it seems to me the secular ones would be just as inspirational to anybody, regardless of religious beliefs. Even when I was a Christian, I would have preferred strong sentiments like "We Dare Defend Our Rights" (Alabama) or "The people rule" (Arkansas) to the passive (and not terribly related to the role of state) "God enriches" or "In God we trust".

A few interesting ones:

  • Kansas - Ad astra per aspera (To the stars through adversity)
    It would make a better motto for Starfleet Academy. It would be cooler if Kansas had anything to do with NASA or space exploration.
  • Michigan - Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice (If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you)
    This one just cracked me up.
  • New Mexico - Crescit eundo (It grows as it goes)
    Was Dr. Seuss from New Mexico? It grows as it goes, as everyone knows, from Carlsbad Caverns to Los Alamos. Probably doesn't rhyme in Latin.
  • Washington - Al-ki (By and by)
    If brevity is wit ...
  • Maryland - Fatti maschi, parole femmine (Manly deeds, womanly words)
    This is the worst one of all. It's clearly offensive to women, but I'm almost as offended as a man. What the heck is wrong with manly words?

My favorites:

  • Massachusetts - Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem (By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty)
    Are you listening, G. W.?
  • Minnesota - Quae sursum volo videre (I long to see what is beyond)
    The star of the North is the actual state motto. This is the territorial motto, but I like it better.
  • New York - Excelsior (Ever upward!)
    To infinity, and beyond!
  • North Carolina - Esse quam videri (To be rather than to seem)
    Both poetic and intellectually satisfying.

In the spirit of manly words that, apparently, aren't welcome in Maryland, my winner goes to ....

  • New Hampshire - Live Free or Die

Hell, yeah.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Let The Right One In

I went to see Let The Right One In last Tuesday. I probably should have written this review when the film was fresher in my mind, but it was an interesting movie so I'll do my best with week-old impressions.


Some disclaimers:
  1. It got 98% on rottentomatos.com, 192nd best movie of all time according to imdb.com, and two friends of mine highly recommended it. So, my expectations might have been unreasonably high.
  2. The film is in Swedish with English subtitles. I found some of the dialog and acting to be weak, but some of that might be in the translation.
  3. I must confess to an anti-vampire bias. Yeah, they're kind of cool - they get to stay up all night and live forever, they kill people but really they're just misunderstood. But how many friggin' movies do we need about them? I know this one's edgy and foreign and arthouse, but still ... again with the vampires?
Synopsis: Oskar, a 12-year-old social outcast and subject of school yard bullying, befriends his new neighbor Eli whom he sees only in their apartment's courtyard at night. She also is 12 years old, "more or less" - it turns out that's her age only insofar as she was 12 when she became a vampire. The movie focuses on the friendship between these 2 misfits.

When Eli first moves in she is in the care of an adult named Håkan. He's basically her Renfield, a loyal servant who protects her during the day and gathers fresh blood for her at night. Unfortunately he's incompetent. At first I thought this was lazy storytelling, since he couldn't have been providing for her very long acting this way. He etherizes people then hangs them upside-down to drain their blood, but fails to do so in secluded locales. Later it becomes clear he no longer has the stomach for his role in her life, so I chalked up his behavior more to weariness than incompetence.

Problem is, the other adults in the film behave as stupidly as he does. We see news reports of the killings, and on at least 2 occasions witnesses identify a young black-haired girl. But law enforcement is almost non-existent, and not until very late in the film does anyone connect her with the creepy new guy and his waifish daughter who just moved in next door. And at that point a guy marches into her apartment (which is inexplicably unlocked) toting only a pocket knife.

Eli also behaves carelessly when she takes to feeding herself. If she's really a 20-30 year old (the film is purposefully vague on this point - she could be centuries old for all we know), she'd have to be dense not to have learned better. I got the impression, though, that no matter how old she is, she's still stuck at 12. Emotionally, physically, and psychologically.

In a needless subplot, Eli bites but does not finish the kill on a woman. This, of course, turns the poor woman (subtly named "Virginia") into a vampire. We see her get attacked by a throng of cats then commit suicide by exposing herself to sunlight and bursting into flames. Both scenes had some interesting special effects, but were laughably over the top and out of sync with the rest of the film. They added nothing to the story. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to expand on the trying life of a vampire, but isn't one of the advantages of making a vampire flick that you don't have to explain all the rules?

One strength of the film was the creepy-cool special effects used on Eli. When we first meet her she jumps of the top of a jungle gym onto the ground, and I'm not sure but I think some film trickery makes her almost imperceptibly land softer than would be natural, as if she floats to the ground. Her eyes grow slightly larger when she's in vampire mode, her skin tone changes based on how well-fed she is - she is sometimes a sweet little girl and sometimes a grotesque predator. All very well done visually.

The heart of the film is the friendship arc between Eli and Oskar. They bond in part because neither has any other friends. She agrees to be his girlfriend in a scene that is sweet because neither of them really know what it means, and ironic because she's not a girl (down to the anatomical level, the film later makes graphically clear). When Oskar learns her true nature, he is at first cruel and petty, but softens when confronted with some of the suffering she must endure.

She convinces him not to judge her for her murderous ways. She kills to feed herself, while he constantly fantasizes about killing for revenge. This argument works on Oskar, but not on me. She could feed without killing (she has plenty of money she could pay folks for blood transfusions). At the very least she could drain more blood out of each victim so she doesn't have to kill so often. And she makes absolutely no attempt to choose her victims discriminantly - she could act as a vigilante if she wanted to make her kills win-win. Either she's lying to him and her behavior is cruel and selfish, or she's just too immature to see an alternative. I'd lean toward the latter.

In the film's climax, Eli saves Oskar's life from the bullies, killing 4 more victims in the process. It's clear she can stay safely in this town no longer. The film closes with Oskar taking Eli (safely encased in her daytime crate) on a train to start over somewhere else.

I basically saw the film as the completion of Eli's parasitic cycle. Not necessarily in a malicious way (although one could view it that way), but more likely as a consequence of her nature to which she willingly submits. There's a seen between Eli and Håkan early in the film where she gently caresses his cheek. This, combined with his portrayal as a man who's had the life sucked out of him, and Eli's inability to say how long she's been a vampire, had me interpreting their relationship as having started many years ago when Håkan was young, perhaps Oskar's age. Oskar and Eli's relationship is sweet when they're 12 (at least, as sweet as a pair of pre-adolescent serial killers can be), but he'll age and she won't. Someday soon he's going to have a sex drive that she can not satisfy. She's saved his life, so his guilt will never let him leave her. Eventually he'll be old enough to be her father and the whole relationship will just be awkward.

Another way of looking at it is that Oskar, as an outcast kid filled with impotent rage, has found the only lifestyle with which he can safely fulfill his homicidal fantasies. Maybe bloodlust and vampire companionship is all he'll ever need to make him happy, and that makes them a perfect match. Ah, kismet!

Either way, it's a dark tale even for a vampire flick. It was good, excellent in parts. It could have been much better with smarter writing for the adult characters. And they should have snipped the Virginia subplot. But I had fun interpreting the ending in different ways.

I recommend it, but it's over hyped. No way this is one of the best 200 films ever made.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I'm 37. Im not old.

I just realized I am now the exact age referenced in one of my favorite comedy bits:

King Arthur: Old woman.
Dennis: Man.
King Arthur: Man, sorry. What knight lives in that castle over there?
Dennis: I'm 37.
King Arthur: What?
Dennis: I'm 37. I'm not old.
King Arthur: Well I can't just call you "man".
Dennis: Well you could say "Dennis".
King Arthur: I didn't know you were called Dennis.
Dennis: Well you didn't bother to find out did you?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Prop 8 Protest

I went to San Francisco yesterday for the Prop 8 protest at City Hall. Crowd size was estimated at 7500. It was a good-natured bunch, and the nature of the speeches was overall a positive one. Protest peacefully, we'll win because we're right, history is on our side - these themes seemed to be the main focus.

There was lots of focus on "love". It's about love, our love is just as valuable as yours, etc.. Even though it's catchy and heartwarming, I'm not sure it's the best messaging. It seems to me it's not about love, it's about rights. The state's stamp of approval will never do anything to augment any relationship I will ever have, but it does inhibit same sex couples' rights in terms of inheritence, custody, and enforcement of living wills.

One speaker championed the rights of "intersex" Americans, which I had explained to me is basically the politically correct term for hermaphrodites and others born with ambiguous sexuality. A lot of folks, both gay and straight, seemed to be shaking their heads during this, not quite sure what to make of it. But I think he made some interesting points about the blurry edges of our identities and, hence, our laws.

Some of the more entertaining signs people brought:
  • A life-size cardboard cut-out of Beyonce (if anyone has a clue on this one, I'd love to hear it)
  • Queer not gonna take it
  • We can't all marry Liza Minelli
  • Please curb your god
  • If you let us marry each other we'll stop marrying you
  • Joseph Smith had 34, Brigham Young had 56, I just want one

Friday, November 14, 2008

Civil marriages (or, why I hate America, children, and puppies)

See my previous post on a proposal to do away with civil marriages. This post touches on more personal matters.

I have found that, when mentioning this idea to friends, it has oft met with visceral opposition. In general (and this is anecdotal based on my own experience with 10-12 people - please don't read this as prejudicial of either group), Christians and women have violently opposed the idea.

Christians have tended to see it as a dissolution of American values. So the argument goes - marriage is the core of a nuclear family, and that is the foundation of our society, and so the state must support and define it. I just don't get this. Marriage was originally an issue of property - the man owning the woman. That's why fathers still "give away" brides. I think clinging to tradition for tradition's sake is overrated.

If providing children with a stable home is really are the reason for civil marriages, then it should only be allowed to couples who are capable of and plan to have children,. And divorces should be a LOT harder when kids are involved.

But few would argue that a person stuck in an unhappy or abusive relationship should be further punished by the legal divorce process. And few would argue that a loving marriage between a man and a woman for 50 years should have any less weight because the union never produced offspring. That would be insulting. And the current system is just as insulting to anyone else not allowed to marry.

As far as the response I've seen from women to this idea - to be fair, a few of them I was dating at the time. This is one of those examples where I favor honesty over sensitivity, and it bites me in the ass.

One of them I even wound up marrying, and the suggestion that we postpone the civil union until we have children (you see, this would have saved us money on the license, decreased our income tax, and in retrospect a load of divorce bills) - no practical argument mattered - it just meant to her that I didn't love her enough. My commitment to her wasn't sufficient, I had to commit to the Commonwealth of Jamaica, too.

But I just don't get it. I don't get how one can value love, value marriage, be willing to proclaim love and devotion and commitment to a partner and in front of families and friends - how is any of that augmented by the seal of the state? Why is that necessary? And why can I not even speak of it without being viewed as anti-family, anti-commitment, selfish, or unloving?

Shit, the whole thing wears me out.

Civil marriages, do we need them at all?

I've long been of the opinion the the state should not be in the business of issuing marriage licenses. And with Prop 8 passing, and now being protested in CA, the topic has been on my mind.

I believe marriage is a personal, communal, moral, and for most a religious endeavor. I think any steps by our legislature to define it encroaches on our liberties. I don't believe any man or woman loves their spouse any more because the state endorses it. Neither do I believe parents love their children any more.

Marriage laws permeate our legal system, so we'd have to make other adjustments to account for this.
  • If civil marriages go away, so do common law marriages.
  • Inheritance: We already have to deal with sticky inheritance issues when couples are not married, so our legal system can handle it. Wills would be more important for married couples. But, they're a good idea anyway. If they prove too expensive for some Americans, we could easily take some of the money we save by eliminating the civil marriage bureaucracy to make sure every American over 18 can have one.
  • Child custody: Again, we already have to deal with thorny custody battles when parents aren't married. Children should go to the parent who can best care for them - nothing else should matter.
  • Social Security: I believe it is unfair that married couples are allowed to leave their social security benefits to a spouse, but single (legally single, which includes those in marriages not recognized by the state) folks do not. I think the benefits should either end when you die (which would have the added benefit of decreasing the burden on an entitlement doomed to collapse), or each individual should be able to choose a beneficiary.
I'm no lawyer, and I'm sure there are more issues than these, but I think the change would simplify our legal system and make it more fair.

I'd love to hear discussion from others on this. And, please don't think I'm delusional enough to think this has any chance in reality. I just think its a good idea.

My next post will touch on the response I've seen to this idea before.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Targeted Facebook ads

I've been in a relationship for a little over a year and a half, and it recently ended. I subsequently updated my Facebook status from "in a relationship" to "single". I also just had a birthday, and Facebook knows this too.

This morning, I'm going through my Facebook photos, and I notice this ad on the side:
37 and still single?
To which my inner voice replied, "Why, yes I am. And fuck you for asking."

I also got this one on a subsequent page:
10 Mistakes Guys Make: The 10 most dangerous mistakes you probably make with women and what to do about it.
I can tell you one mistake I made - using Facebook when I am in absolutely no mood to be told what's wrong with me.

I'm a capitalist at heart. I don't blame Facebook for allowing targeted ads. Google pays my bills with the same thing in search and GMail. And I certainly can't argue with the effectiveness of their targeting mechanism. Blasting the recently singled with dating advice is, I'm sure, marketing gold.

But it still pissed me off.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How should I feel about the election?

So, I'm digging the "yes we can" videos and Obama's acceptance speech. I look forward to not cringing every time my nation's leader speaks. I anticipate being much less ashamed of our leadership, especially in regards to torture and civil rights. I think Obama has a real chance to improve our image overseas. And we don't have a vague open-ended occupation in Iraq ahead of us.

But, there's a lot nagging at me, too.

Let's look at all the Republicans had going against them this election:
  • An incumbent with one of the lowest approval ratings ever. A republican (the supposed fiscal conservatives) who's nearly doubled our national debt in 8 years.
  • The worst financial crisis of the last several decades, at least. Worst since the depression, if you believe the most pessimistic views.
  • A VP pick who - geez, I won't even go into it all. In short, the least qualified VP candidate ever. And 2nd place isn't close. Republican insiders were sniping at each other over her selection in the last few days before the election, and even more dirt is emerging now.
  • Republicans had no clear consistent message, divisive ads, and angry racist rhetoric at rallies that seemed to go mostly unchallenged. The democrats ran a much much cleaner and smarter campaign.
And McCain still got 46% of the popular vote. He really might have won this thing without the financial crisis. 

I want to believe we've turned a corner, big step forward in race relations, crushing defeat to Rovian tactics, yadda yadda yadda. But I'm afraid we might have just gotten lucky.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

2008 election, inside the numbers

Projected electoral votes for Obama (somewhere between 349 & 375 once MO and NC are called). This article argues we shouldn't call it a landslide. Why?

Electoral votes for Reagan over Mondale in 1984. 525-13. Cripes, I didn't remember it was that lopsided.

Sadly, this might have helped California's proposition 8 pass. Its success was fueled in part by a large African-American turnout (10% of voters) who were strongly in favor of marriage discrimination (70%, vs 49% for caucasian voters). I guess I'll have to stick with women if I want to get married any time soon.

# presidents who were younger than Obama will be when inaugurated (JFK, Bill Clinton, and Grant).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Worst Movie Title Ever

Quantum of Solace.

As Lisa said in response to "Yahoo Serious Festival" on a marquee, "I know all those words, but that makes no sense".

Monday, October 27, 2008

Texas Education Jumps the Shark

The Texas Board of Education has a six-member panel in charge of choosing textbooks.

You know where this is going ...

... wait for it ...

... three of them, including the chairman, are now creationists.

Local Dallas coverage here. A response from sane Texans here.

The title of this article from the Houston Chronicle is a triumph of understatement, "Board's actions could put students at a disadvantage." Could?

The chairman also believes in abstinance-only sex education.

I don't live there any more, so I don't care as much as I used to. But, damn, they're giving Kansas a run for the money on being the U.S. poster child on scientific ignorance.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

McCain letter to Obama

From 2006, this letter illustrates some of McCain's disdain for Obama. I don't know what private assurances Obama gave McCain, and the former should be held responsible if he did break his word. But the letter is dripping with sarcasm. I sure wouldn't want this sort of rhetoric coming out of the White House. Can you imagine?

Dear Mr. Putin,

Thank you SO much for invading Georgia. I can't tell you how relieved I am to be disavowed of the false notion that Russia is a responsible world power.


P.S. Sarah says "hi".


A friend of mine from Dallas (thanks, Chad!) sent me this.

Obama and McCain do comedy

Obama and McCain at a roast in NYC. Kind of bizarre, but it is funny. Apparently they do this every year, but I'd never heard of it before. Obama's is better, both in audio quality and content. They both make many of the same jokes: Joe the Senator, # of of McCain's houses, "that one", "Obama = messiah".

Obama's is stronger toward the beginning than the end. He's got good writers. A few awkward moments, though. His comment about AIG drew some awkward applause. It ends on a serious and eloquent note.

McCain spent a few moments offering praise of Obama, which drew strong applause from everyone in the room except Obama. I don't know if this was bitterness, or if he just didn't want to seem like he was applauding himself. He ended on a funny gag about setting unreasonably high expectations for Obama.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the (not so much a) Plumber

This is funny in many many ways:

"Joe the Plumber" ...

- is not a plumber, at least not a licensed one. He's been practicing illegally.
- is named Sam.
- asked a question about having to pay more taxes that, according to this article, Obama's plan would not require of him. And, he currently owes back taxes.

In short, he's about as qualified for the title applied to him by Senator McCain as "Sarah the Vice President".

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reason for hope

This hit me today.

Barrack Obama's father is from Kenya. He's black. His first names ryhmes with Iraq. His middle is Hussein. His last rhymes with Osama.

He's running against a war hero with lots of experience, including 2 presidential runs.

And, although nothing is certain, he is by all accounts going to win by a Reagan v Modale landslide.

He's winning for many reasons, not the least of which is the extreme unpopularity of the sitting Republican regime and current economic crisis. Maybe any Democrat could have won this election.

But he had a sizable lead even before the Wall Street dive. He's winning largely because he is more charismatic, more intelligent, and cooler under pressure. He exhibited these traits against both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. He's run a better campaign than either of them.

The superiority of his VP choice has been well documented.

I guess it just deflates some of my cynicism to see a candidate, who had all kinds of bad reasons to lose, winning for mostly the right ones.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why presidential debates should be more like game shows

Keri (my girlfriend) commented last night that the moderator needs a buzzer to keep the participants from continually speaking beyond the time allotted. Tom Brokaw did a poor job of enforcing this - just saying "come on guys, play by the rules" over and over again accomplished nothing. This is free national publicity, of course they will speak as long as they can. An annoying buzzer, a gong, or perhaps the Oscar-esque "get off the stage" music would help.

Other ways in which the debates would be better if they were more like a game show:
  • The audience votes on 5 words or phrases each participant is not allowed to use.
    - McCain, you can't say "maverick", "earmark", "special interests", "pork-barrel", or "Miss Congeniality" (we'll have to add "cronyism" next week - that was a new one).
    - Obama, you must do without "20th century solutions to 21st century problems", "worst financial crisis since the Great Depression", "using a hatchet where you need a scalpel", "tax cut for 95 percent of Americans", and "I agree with Senator McCain".
    A candidate who uses one of these must down a shot of liquor (specific liquor to be chosen by the opponent).
  • Anyone using "Wall Street" and "Main Street" in the same sentence has to spend 2 minutes in a phone booth full of slugs.
  • Before the debate, each participant must provide to the moderator all accusations to be made - voting record, public speeches, whatever. The network will display a near-real-time summary of the straight dope on each of those accusations as they come up during the debate (I know I could look them up online myself, but I'm lazy). If you make an accusation not on that list, you must retract the statement and speak clearly these words - "perhaps my opponent deserves to be President more than I do".
  • Bonus points for correct pronunciation of "Ahmadinejad" and "nuclear".
  • If the moderator has time for, say, 20 questions, he or she will pick 40 of them and supply them to one of the candidates (chosen either randomly or based upon the winner of a thumb war). That candidate gets to split the questions into 2 piles of 20, and the other candidate gets to choose which pile of questions is used during the debate.
  • Live audience members get to shoot the candidates with water guns if they don't like what they're hearing. Or maybe one of these.
  • David Petraeus, Henry Kissinger, and Warren Buffet must be on camera during any portion of the debate in which they are mentioned, and each must either nod or shake his head disapprovingly in concert with how the candidate portrays him.

Can you think of more?

Saturday, October 4, 2008


I went to see Religulous last night. Very fun movie. I was cracking up the whole time (except the last ~10 minutes - I'll get to that later).

It wasn't a good documentary. Things were edited to make most of the interviewees look as bad as possible. Comments were often followed with film clips of cartoons, famous movies, or low budget passion movies. He went for the cheap laugh too much for the film to have any journalistic integrity.

I did find it educational though. I learned some things, for example, about the myths predating Jesus from which the gospels borrowed (especially Horus).

It was more personal than I had anticipated. Bill Maher spoke of his upbringing - he was raised Catholic, but his mother was Jewish. They quit going to church when he was in Jr. high. There was a section where he interviewed his mother and sister - his mother was pretty funny. He also spoke of how he's addressed religion through comedy over the years.

Maher's skilled at calling bullshit on people while still engaging in civil conversation. Most of the film was focused on Christianity, but he also covered Judaism and Islam (no eastern religions). His general M.O. was to approach religious folk and ask them questions about their faith, then point out what he saw as inconsistency or just plain silliness. It was a good style, as he generally gave people enough rope to hang themselves.

The last 10 minutes or so got very heavy handed, focusing on the dangers of religious belief in a time of nuclear proliferation. It wasn't a bad message, but the radical switch in tone was awkward.

The main point he drove home at the end is that doubt is good. It's a much healthier state of mind than certainty in fairy tales. I could not agree more.

I don't expect the film to convert anyone. But I hope it at least spawns some meaningful debate. 

But mostly, it was just damned funny.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Biden vs Palin, VP debate

In short, Palin exceeded low expectations, Biden played nice but got some good shots in.

The moderator (Gwen Ifill) didn't push either candidate for clarification as much as Jim Lehrer did last week. This was disappointing, but it did mean they got to cover more topics.

Palin made a comment early on that she wouldn't necessarily answer the question of the moderator or Biden, that she was going to talk from the heart straight to the American people. This American person would prefer she just answer the dang questions of the moderated debate in which she's participating. She's a VP candidate, she can gab a mike whenever she wants to talk straight to us. She also complained later about her previous interviews being clouded by media bias. I sure hope nobody bought any of that. And I sure hope she's serious about answering direct questions from the electorate from now on.

Biden mostly hammered on how wrong McCain's been about everything. I thought his strongest moment was near they end when he called "bullshit" on McCain being a "maverick", after the 3rd or 4th time Palin used the term.

Palin called the Obama-Biden plan for pulling out of Iraq, and setting a timeframe for the pullout, is like "waving a white flag of surrender". I wish they would have expanded more on this. If leaving now equals surrender, that means we haven't won yet. And if we haven't won yet, I'd like to know what the criteria for victory is. Palin did make one comment like "we won't leave until the Iraqi government shows it can govern itself", but that's to vague.

This was about the folksiest debate I've ever seen. From the streets of Wasalia to the diners of Wilmington, we got to hear a lot about how these two were out there talking to "real people facing real problems", "average Americans", "middle class", yadda yadda yadda. Palin actually used the terms "hockey mom" (since when did hockey become such an all-American sport?) and "Joe six-pack". Biden's remarks resonated a little more with me than Palin's, but I don't much go for scripted sentimentality from anyone.

I did find it interesting that he struck emotional chords better than her - that should be her strength. Especially when he bordered on tears talking about a child struggling to survive.

My new desktop picture

Star Wars actually doesn't rock any more, since Lucas spat all over it with the three prequels, but it still gives me a nostalgia fix.

Chewbacca on the drums is the best.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Heroes Season 3

Spoiler warning ...

I liked Heroes Season 1, even though I thought it fizzled after Five Years Gone. It was silly, and every time Mohinder opened his mouth about evolution I wanted to claw my eyes out, but good TV with strong comic book inspiration.

Season 2 was okay, but a letdown. I was disappointed they couldn't come up with a better storyline than a new future catastrophe to avoid (season 1 was a nuke in NYC, season 2 was a virus). I forgave it, though, since the writer's strike cut it short. The main weaknesses were:

  1. Splintering into too many storylines.
  2. Heroes were getting too powerful, especially Sylar and Peter who absorb others' powers. It gets to the point where you can't even remember everything everyone can do, and every few minutes you wonder, "why didn't he/she just use X to avoid situation Y?"
  3. Everyone's related to everyone else. The first few, "oh my goodness, you're actually my mother!" moments are okay, but when it happens every episode, it loses its punch. Plus, like tracking the powers, it's just a headache keeping up with the connections.
Now it's season 3, and it's pretty much the same thing. Yet another catastrophe to avoid, heroes keep getting more and more powerful (c'mon writers, you steal everything else from comics - there's a reason Kryptonite was created), still more familial ties. And characters just do things that don't make sense. Like, why didn't Sylar escape at the bank in episode 2?

And I can't stand the Mohinder storyline. It's a ripoff of the fly, he's always been a horrible portrayal of a scientist (though I will grant that this is consistent with most comic book scientists), and it's just not interesting how he stumbles onto discoveries instead of figuring them out. Now we've got the ability to give everyone in the world powers - maybe they'll do something interesting with this plot line, but I don't think so.

There is some good - I always like the Hiro storylines, and the interaction between Hiro, Ando, and speedy-girl is fun. I am curious to learn who Tracy is. I hope she's not just Jessica, that there are a dozen or so clones running around. And I look forward to Claire's development into a badass.

I'm still into it enough to keep watching it, even though it's been on a steady decline since the end of season one.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Palin & Couric

I just watched a few of these on youtube.com. They're all pretty pathetic, but this one really stood out:

This is the Republican candidate for vice president, one month away from the election. The Republican Party is broken.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama vs McCain, first debate

After watching the debate last night and reading some blog reactions today, my thoughts:

McCain seemed vigorous enough, I didn't get a sense that he's too old for the job (he seemed rather docile to me in the primaries).

But he sure seemed bitter and insecure, and he showed nothing but contempt for Obama. He began several statements with "what Senator Obama doesn't understand", and called him naive at least once. He just seemed annoyed with sharing stage with his opponent. Much has been made of his lack of eye contact (even when shaking hands) and refusal to follow Jim Lehrer's pleads for the candidates to engage one another directly.

Obama didn't much follow Lehrer's nudges for direct engagement either, but he did address McCain directly at least once, and he made clear eye contact. He mentioned several times that he agreed with McCain on a certain point, then pivoted to draw a distinction on their stances.

He was perhaps too deferential. I would have liked to have seen him react more strongly to some of McCain's accusations, but he did point out times when he felt McCain has been wrong ("dead wrong", was Biden's main post-debate talking point).

Overall, Obama liked talking about the last 8 years, McCain liked talking about the last 30. And Obama seemed slightly more focused on the future. Obama frequently distinguished between 20th century and 21st century problems and solutions.

McCain clearly wants to paint himself as the more bipartisan candidate. He gave several examples of his successes working with senate democrats. I thought his best line of the night was "It's hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left," calling out Obama for his very liberal voting record. This might have resonated with me, except, if he's showing no respect face to face with the democrats' choice for president, how am I supposed to buy that he'll work well with them as president?

I did like Obama's response to the "reach across the aisle" jab: "John mentioned me being wildly liberal. Mostly, that's just me opposing George Bush's wrongheaded policies since I've been in Congress."

Domestic affairs ...

I got very little out of the first 40 minutes when they focused on the economic crisis. I liked that Obama was more willing to look at the problem from a wider lens, looking back over several years, to see where mistakes were made. McCain claimed he would place a freeze on spending except for military, veteran's benefits, and entitlements.

I like the idea of smaller government, but I have trouble trusting anything McCain says, and it seemed like a simplistic reaction he pulled out of his ass. I don't think Obama's going to do everything he claims either, but at least his proposals seem believable.

Foreign affairs ...

McCain tried to paint himself as the more experienced candidate, especially on foreign affairs. He highlighted his more extensive travels, familiarity with foreign leaders, and direct experience with every foreign conflict since Vietnam. Much was made of Henry Kissinger being on his staff.

This was another example of something that almost resonated with me. I just can't get his idiot running mate choice out of my head. He's clearly got all kinds of knowledgeable contacts and political allies, and he's put Iraq front and center in this campaign. It just really hit home with me - he's got Henry friggin' Kissinger on his staff, and he's placed Sarah Palin a heartbeat away from the presidency. If he were really serious about doing his best to lead this country against terrorism and nuclear proliferation, he would have made a different choice.

Post-debate ...

Just before or after Joe Biden's response, I saw at least 2 different networks make it very clear that Sarah Palin declined the opportunity to appear. One network had Giuliani giving the response - not bad. But another had some unknown campaign staffer. C'mon guys, act like a serious political party, will you?

Summary ...

Overall, I'd say Obama won. I was pretty squarely in his camp (at least, squarely in the anti-McCain/Palin camp) already, and this debate solidified my position. Despite McCain's vast advantage in years of experience, Obama seems like he would handle the presidency better.

Until this year I've always favored the socially liberal part of the democrats and the fiscally conservative part of the republicans. Right now, the democrats actually seem like the more fiscally responsible party, so my choice is easy.

Next debate ...

I can't wait to see Biden tear into Palin. I'll be sorely disappointed if he doesn't offer at least three jabs that have me saying "oh, snap!" (in my head - I know I can't pull off saying that out loud). You know, something like, "I can see the moon from my house, but that doesn't make me an astronaut."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mixed messages from The West Wing

I'm a big fan of Aaron Sorkin. At least I was before Studio 60. Sports Night and his years on The West Wing are some of my favorite TV ever.

I've been re-watching the first season of The West Wing on DVD lately. I just watched a season 1 episode titled "Take This Sabbath Day", which is basically Sorkin's take on the death penalty and the relationship of religion and politics. Most of the episode involves the president and other White House staffers having deep philosophical discussions with each other and their religious leaders about capital punishment.

The end of the episode has the president speaking with his childhood priest, Father Cavanaugh (the president is Catholic). He offers the president two nuggets of advice:
“‘Vengeance is mine,’ sayeth the Lord.” You know what that means? God is the only one who gets to kill people.

A few minutes later, the president says he has prayed for wisdom but none has come. In response to that, Cavanaugh replies:
You know, you remind me of the man that lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was going to rush up and flood the town. And that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” The waters rose up. A guy in a row boat came along and he shouted, “Hey, hey you! You in there. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.” But the man shouted back, “I’m religious. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” A helicopter was hovering overhead. And a guy with a megaphone shouted, “Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this ladder and I’ll take you to safety.” But the man shouted back that he was religious, that he prayed, that God loved him and that God will take him to safety. Well... the man drowned. And standing at the gates of St. Peter, he demanded an audience with God. “Lord,” he said, “I’m a religious man, I pray. I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?” God said, “I sent you a radio report, a helicopter, and a guy in a rowboat. What the hell are you doing here?

Both are examples of standard folksy wisdom I heard a hundred times growing up in church. God is the sole arbiter of justice, and "the Lord helps those who help themselves". I doubt very many Christians, or other theists for that matter, would disagree with either sentiment.

But it wasn't until this last viewing that I realized how completely contradictory they are.

The first says, let God decide who lives or dies. Don't interfere, he can handle it. The second says, God is active in your life, but he often works through others. A man in a rowboat is as much the hand of God as an angel swooping to your rescue.

So, if God does want to kill someone, why wouldn't he work in the same way? Why would he not use, for example, the U.S. judicial system?

Of course, when any people of faith decide to kill, whether it's capital punishment, or war, or ethnic cleansing, they always think they're doing God's will. So, "vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord" is catchy, but it's a lame argument against anything.

In the end, the president chose to put his own feelings on captial punishment aside and not interfere with the legislative and judicial branches. Not a bad episode, but not one of Sorkin's strongest. Still, the 1st 4 seasons of The West Wing rock - you should watch them if you haven't.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gibson Palin interview

From Andrew Sullivan:
Gibson: Do you agree with the Bush Doctrine?

Palin: In what respect, Charlie?

Gibson: What do you interpret it to be?

Palin: His worldview.

This is from the actual interview, not the Tina Fey skit

She is threatening to surpass Dan Quayle as the most entertaining VP candidate to lampoon.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Sad story from India

Via Discover, this shit depresses the hell out of me.
A teenage girl in central India killed herself on Wednesday after being traumatized by media reports that a "Big Bang" experiment in Europe could bring about the end of the world, her father said.

It would have been a funny story to laugh at the silly culture that takes unfounded doomsayers too literally, or a media outlet over selling the credibility of kooks for better ratings, except for the fact that a teenage girl is dead.

Now, the fact that she did this obviously shows she had some mental health issues to start with, so I'm not blaming others for her death. But I was particularly bothered by this quote from her father:
"We tried to divert her attention and told her she should not worry about such things, but to no avail," he said.

Divert her attention? I could maybe buy that as reasonable parenting if there were a real threat that they simply couldn't do anything about, like a tsunami or something. But in this case, we have a world of credible, demonstrable evidence available that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. All he had to do was treat his daughter like an adult, which is, unfortunately, about the last resort many parents will take.

He wasn't the only idiot around though:
But in deeply religious and superstitious India, fears about the experiment and the minor risks associated with it spread rapidly through the media.

In east India, thousands of people rushed to temples to pray and fast while others savored their favorite foods in anticipation of the world's end.

I don't know how much MSNBC is over selling this point. I'd be interested what percentage of Indian citizens really took the threat seriously.

Giant Basalt Crystals

These are pretty cool. If I ever make it Ireland or Iceland, I want to check these out.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I learned something yesterday ...

Traveling in automobile exhaust actually feels pretty good when biking on a cold evening in a t-shirt and shorts.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin and the Republican Party

I already had a strong preference for Obama over McCain, but the choice of Sarah Palin for VP and ensuing comments from Republican supporters has me questioning whether the Republican Party has any integrity at all.
McCain's VP choice has some do do with Palin's youth (in contrast to the ancient McCain) and her charisma (former beauty pageant contestants always play well on TV), and the fact she is female seems an attempt to go after disgruntled Hillary supporters (although I can't see how her staunchly pro-life stance will play well with any of them).

But I think the real truth lies in her ties to the religious right (including her belief that God - that's the Christian God, mind you - wants us in Iraq). I'm guessing that's the main reason she was chosen. The religious right continues to exert more and more power over the Republican Party (and the Democrats too - I still can't believe the first televised presidential debate this year was in a friggin' church).

Which is why I will not vote for that party any time soon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Bad week for my hands

It was a bad week for my hands.
  1. Last Sunday I planted some bushes and herbs in my garden. I had to hack up three bush stumps with a hatchet, resulting in a couple bad blisters on my right hand.
  2. As I leave my condo I always swing my front door shut then reach back to lock it. On Thursday, in too much of a hurry, I reach back and smashed my left middle finger in the closing door. Cripes, did that hurt!
  3. On Friday, playing softball, I fielded a high hop and didn't quite get my glove on it, so I stopped it with my bare right hand, resulting in a bruise near the base of my index finger.
  4. Yesterday, while moving a pile of dishes that had accumulated in my sink to the dishwasher, I nicked my right ring finger on a knife.
I can be, in general, a clumsy person, so this isn't entirely surprising. But I don't know why it's gotten worse recently other than coincidence.

On the bright side, I've taken the opportunity to witness some pretty cool things our bodies do to take care of us.
  • I'm always fascinated by watching scrapes and blisters heal. The scab covers the area to protect it form germs (sometimes helped along by first aid cream and a bandage), after a few days the skin slowly repairs itself. It's just a little over a week later, and the skin is almost fully healed.
  • The smashed fingertip was the worst of the lot. It hurt like crazy for the first ~20 minutes, then settled to a dull throb. I wouldn't notice it for a while, then it would pop up again and remind me of the pain. This sort of degrading alert system reminded me of monitoring we have for production systems at work. I also noticed that, within a few days, I was already subconsciously adjusting to the damaged finger. When I would pick up an item with my left hand, without thinking about it, I would hold that finger back and use the other 4 (this after a few times when I didn't do that, and I painfully stubbed the tender fingertip).
  • The knife cut has, in less than 24 hours, already sealed closed.
Thank you, evolution!

Orson Scott Card on religion and science

I'm about halfway through Speaker for the Dead on audio book right now. I don't like it quite as much as Ender's Game, which is one of my favorite novels, but it's still very good.

Religion is a much more prevalent issue in the sequel, which takes place about 3000 years after EG. Unfortunately since it's on audio book I couldn't earmark the passage, so I don't have the precise text handy. But, the passages that caught my attention were:
  1. The Catholic Church has returned to its medieval prominence (or, close to it) in culture and government. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part, but I sure hope that isn't the case 3-4 millenia from now.
  2. In describing the faster-than-light communication technology known as the "ansible", he writes that even though humanity has learned to utilize this technology, nobody really understands how it works. I'm not sure what Card was getting at here, but it smacked of a flaky "science is just another religion" viewpoint. I suppose one could argue our understanding of quantum mechanics is like that now, but I would think by the time we're able to integrate quantum theory into common technology we'll have a better idea how it works.
  3. When the main character first arrives at Lusitania, the planet whose colonists are overseen by a Portuguese Catholic theocracy, he's greeted by the local mayor. He has a reputation for being a raging atheist, but he surprises the mayor by espousing his appreciation for religious belief. Near as I can tell, he thinks religion is an "opiate of the masses", and that's a good thing.
It's too bad, I really like the characters, and I like Card's writing.

I did a little research on him and found he's an outspoken Mormon advocate (and a homophobe, to boot). In this article, he explains his belief that Mormonism is better than other religions because it's more scientific. This part sounds good:
... all scientific "knowledge" will eventually be found to be at least incomplete and quite possibly flat wrong, so if any area of science remains unquestioned, that is where the errors will accumulate.

Real scientists are unafraid of questions and never stifle them. The evidence of honest experiment will either affirm the existing belief or replace it with a better understanding. What's to fear in that?

There are no final answers in science, and anyone who thinks he has found one is no scientist.
Excellent sentiment. We should always be willing to test existing knowledge. But he loses me here when he says his church uses the scientific method to discover
The LDS faith is an experimental religion. We use the scientific method. No one is asked to rely on other people's faith; we are expected to ask the questions ourselves, and then "prove" and "test" the answers we are given.
This is laughable given some of the basic tenets of his religion, excellently satirized by South Park.

I suppose his outlook is better than those who do not question their faith at all. I only hope that many of them come to the conclusion that they can hold onto the valid and powerful aspects of their faith (e.g., their strong emphasis on family and community) while discarding the silly ones.

Ah well, he still writes good sci-fi.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


From The Onion (which originated at The University of Wisconsin, I learned recently from my Badger alum girlfriend):
In brightly hued tights, it will be harder for people there to ignore him when he takes on his new planet's lobbyists, auto manufacturers, and enemies of justice.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Happy Birthday, Humanae Vitae

It's the 40th Anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the 1968 Catholic document which, among other things, forbids abortion and contraception.

From Richard Dawkins' blog, several groups of Catholics have taken the opportunity to petition the church to change its stance on contraception, in particular highlighting the role the Catholic Church's stance has had in the spread of AIDS.

While I appreciate the need for this effort, I stand baffled by the notion that they choose to remain Catholic and fight the establishment. From a purely practical standpoint, throngs of would be tithers leaving the church would have much more of an impact than a petition. But the main thing I don't get is why they would choose to remain members in an organization that takes at best decades and at worst centuries to catch up with the moral sensibilities of the modern world.

I'm curious to know what these protesting Catholics think about Catholic morality. Supposedly this morality comes from God. Has God changed his mind? Was Pope Paul VI simply off his rocker? It doesn't seem to me that human nature has changed. We all want to have sex really badly (even those that believe it's a sin) and don't want to get diseases from it.

I dunno, I guess it saddens me that the progressive Catholics seem, in some ways, loopier than the staunch conservatives.

Friday, July 25, 2008

This might be the flakiest thing I've ever seen

Taken at the East West book store in Mountain View.

Type 1 Civilization

Via Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer pens an article for the LA Times in which he argues that more efficient harnessing of the available energy on our planet is crucial to human survival. We need to reach "Type 1", he argues. The definitions of types 1-3:
Type 1 can harness all of the energy of its home planet; Type 2 can harvest all of the power of its sun; and Type 3 can master the energy from its entire galaxy.

This seems vague and arbitrary to me. What about harnessing the rotational inertia of nearby planets? Or other cosmic radiation not generated by the sun, but not limited to the galaxy? And what does it mean to harness all the energy of a planet? And it's unclear how the energy conversion of plants and animals fits into this.

I do get the point that we're not as efficient as we can be, and that our efficiency bears on our survival. If anyone can explain these metrics to me, please do.

But here's where he really loses me, as he breaks down our progress from 0.1 to 0.7 (where we are now, supposedly) to 1.0 historically:
Type 0.1: Fluid groups of hominids living in Africa. Technology consists of primitive stone tools. Intra-group conflicts are resolved through dominance hierarchy, and between-group violence is common.

Type 0.2: Bands of roaming hunter-gatherers that form kinship groups, with a mostly horizontal political system and egalitarian economy.

Type 0.3: Tribes of individuals linked through kinship but with a more settled and agrarian lifestyle. The beginnings of a political hierarchy and a primitive economic division of labor.

Type 0.4: Chiefdoms consisting of a coalition of tribes into a single hierarchical political unit with a dominant leader at the top, and with the beginnings of significant economic inequalities and a division of labor in which lower-class members produce food and other products consumed by non-producing upper-class members.

Type 0.5: The state as a political coalition with jurisdiction over a well-defined geographical territory and its corresponding inhabitants, with a mercantile economy that seeks a favorable balance of trade in a win-lose game against other states.

Type 0.6: Empires extend their control over peoples who are not culturally, ethnically or geographically within their normal jurisdiction, with a goal of economic dominance over rival empires.

Type 0.7: Democracies that divide power over several institutions, which are run by elected officials voted for by some citizens. The beginnings of a market economy.

Type 0.8: Liberal democracies that give the vote to all citizens. Markets that begin to embrace a nonzero, win-win economic game through free trade with other states.

Type 0.9: Democratic capitalism, the blending of liberal democracy and free markets, now spreading across the globe through democratic movements in developing nations and broad trading blocs such as the European Union.

Type 1.0: Globalism that includes worldwide wireless Internet access, with all knowledge digitized and available to everyone. A completely global economy with free markets in which anyone can trade with anyone else without interference from states or governments. A planet where all states are democracies in which everyone has the franchise.

He's equating socio-political systems with energy efficiency. This seems like a dangerous path to go down if you're arguing for political reform. I don't have any numbers, but I bet there have been some wickedly efficient fascist regimes in the past.

I'm all for democracy and I'm all for clean energy, but there are much better arguments for both.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dark Knight

I went to see the new Batman movie last night.

It's 95% at Rotten Tomatos. I don't get it.

The film wasn't very good. I had about the same response I had to the original Batman with Nicholson and Keaton - the Joker was great, everything else was mediocre or crap. Most of the supposed difficult moral conundrums are laughably contrived, and it gets way preachy at the end. The actions scenes aren't very good, and Bale's deep throaty Batman voice (which I found mildly annoying in the first film, but I wrote it off as a young Bruce Wayne trying to learn how to be scary) is even worse in this film.

Maggie Gyllenhaal had me pining for the complexity of Katie Holmes.


There were 2 good performances - Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart. Eckhart's Harvey Dent was a compelling do-gooder politician who wasn't above temptation to break the rules, but the wheels came off once he became Two-Face. His performance wasn't bad, but the writing just absolutely sucked for the last 30 minutes or so (at 2.5 hours the film was too long anyway). I didn't buy his descent into madness at all.

Ledger's performance is a little over hyped due to his untimely death, but he really did steal every scene he was in. I found him quite believable both as a criminal genius and a madman, which makes for quite the frightening villain. As much as I disliked about the film, I'd recommend it just for his performance.