My friendly, apolitical Sunday has been ruined, I hope yours is, too...

>> Sunday, August 31, 2008

The blog entry for today--and the only blog entry for today--was supposed to be a cute piece about "Chinese People Discover Fortune Cookies!" There's a funny video, John The Scientist has already shared an awesome comment expanding on the history of cookies-of-fortune in Japan, everything was going to be nice.

And then I made the mistake of looking at news.

The minor item that would otherwise be funny and negligible, is that "somebody" began massive edits of Governor Sarah Palin's Wikipedia entry just before the official announcement of her nomination. This is, of course, typical of the shenanigans that occur in politics--Democrats do it, Republicans do it. It's patently ridiculous. And nobody pointing out what's happened to the Palin entry should act offended, except to the extent that it's offensive that the entries of Senators Biden, McCain and Obama have been similarly "cleaned."

What is pathetic and would be funny, though, is that one supporter, apparently thinking people are idiots and obviously subconsciously disappointed by Governor Palin's paper-thin résumé, decided to pad out the Governor's entry with photographs of the Governor visiting soldiers, playing with a flight simulator, and doing other "military" things. (And here I find myself with a tough proposition: I would rather not sound like a sexist, but it's hard not to notice several photographs appear to have been chosen for their tight t-shirt/active soldier ratio--a subliminal message is possibly being attempted, though one skimming the photos out of context might be excused for assuming Governor Palin was a Playboy Enterprises employee traveling with a USO delegation and not a popular, reformist state Governor. Ahem.)

(A cached version of the August 30 edits can be found here as of this date, August 31, 2008; I haven't been able to dig up earlier cached versions to see what the page looked like prior to the announcement of her candidacy. Readers catching this entry in later days may see an even later cache by clicking on the link.)

Anyway this is no big deal. Happens all the time. Funny, yes. Sad (in that funny way we mean when we talk about dumb crooks and Darwin award nominees), yes. Important, no. But depressing in light of what is important:

Police in the Twin Cities have apparently engaged in Gestapo tactics against people who are presumed protesters of the upcoming Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The New York Times covers the story here, and Glenn Greenwald here (with video). Armed police officers entered several homes, allegedly with warrants permitting them to seize anything from "political pamphlets" to Molotov cocktails, did in fact seize computers and other items from the homes, and arrested several people for the charge of "Conspiracy To Commit A Riot." (I'm still trying to imagine exactly how one conspires to commit a riot.)

Police in Minnesota, it seems, are allowed to detain people for 36 hours without charging them with anything; how much do you want to bet that a number of possible protesters are locked up for three days and then released without being charged, or with charges that are quickly and quietly dismissed after they're handed over to the District Attorney's office.

At this date, there is less evidence that any of these people were involved in violent protest than there was that three meth heads were conspiring to murder Senator Obama in Colorado last week, a threat that's properly being seen as "not credible" (and one expects any charges will involve the drugs and armaments seized from the so-called "conspirators," and not their idle chatter). So we have the police raiding people's homes in the morning, sometimes with warrants (and possibly, it looks like, without warrants in some instances), seizing political pamphlets, photographs, cameras, computers and maps--and in no reported cases seizing anything more dangerous than a firecracker.

Who knew Minneapolis would make Colorado's speech cages look like marvels of free expression? In Colorado, they pen you up for your demonstrations; in Minneapolis, they break into your home the day before, steal your shit, and lock you up in jail.

The revision of Governor Palin's public history seems less amusing in the context of police raids on suspected political enemies. It may seem like a leap, but it's not: in isolation, the Wikipedia edits are a prank. In light of other events, they become a part of a mindset (not necessarily held by Governor Palin herself, but by her party and political class) that "free speech" is a weapon to be used for the ends of the privileged leaders and the public-at-large to be disarmed if they have anything to say against them. I'm not even going to say that this is an attitude unique to the Republicans, though one finds it showing up with disturbing frequency in politicians who follow their names with capital "R"s; I have no doubt that there are Democrats who have similarly fascist--and yes, I'm using that word in it's historic sense to describe the ideology that would have a boot crushing a human face forever, not merely someone I dislike--tendencies.

There is a saying going back to the Spanish Civil War: "If you tolerate this, your children will be next." This is what we have come to, where we have arrived. I have seen a great deal of writing this week that Governor Palin is a nice human being and would make a good Vice-President or even President. As an individual that may be true--she played no part in the assaults upon the rights of protesters and I doubt she played a part in the attempt to rewrite her public record. But the bait-and-switch the Republican Party engages in with her selection as a Vice-Presidential candidate is just that, to put a smiling face on a party that has become increasingly dishonest and repressive in its tactics. Vote for the nice human being in the second slot on the ticket, get the party of jack-booted thugs in Minneapolis. And your children will be next.

So much for my pleasant Sunday.

UPDATE 2008-09-01, 12:23 A.M.: Greenwald is reporting on his blog at Salon that the FBI was involved in planning and executing this past weekend's raids. Well. Isn't that nice of them.

UPDATE 2008-09-02, 11:34 A.M.: It appears they're arresting journalists, now.

In the comments, Nathan points out that similar tactics were used at the Democratic National Convention several years ago. I'd forgotten the full-extent, but of course he's right. I also don't remember whether anything like this occurred, with a reporter being arrested and charged with "conspiring to riot" while trying to assist her producers, who also appear to have been arrested unlawfully.

I don't know Minnesota law, but North Carolina law is pretty clear: advising someone who is under arrest is not a crime. (Combined with some other overt act, it might be: attempting to talk to someone who is under arrest is probably not illegal, but attempting to brush aside police officers and to climb into the back of the squad car might be.) Given that the issues are fundamentally Constitutional--the right of free speech being the primary one--I think it's a reasonable assumption that Minnesota courts have reached the same conclusion as North Carolina's: that it's not illegal to ask why someone is under arrest and to try to offer lawful advice and assistance to the detainee.

To be absolutely clear: this is not primarily a partisan issue. One fears that this escalation of police state tactics will ratchet up: the Democrats in New York have a massive police presence, the Republicans in Minnesota raise with preemptive arrests, the Democrats raise with some other disgusting tactic, until finally somebody goes all-in. On the other hand, it is partisan to the extent that wonders why there's not more outrage from the Right--or is there, and I'm missing it?

Disturbing times.


Agents of fortune

Time for a quick cultural quiz: where was the fortune cookie invented?

I'm not going to put the answer in this paragraph, because there's good odds your eyes have already skimmed down to the sentence you're reading right now, in which case you would have already seen the (probable) answer. An answer which you might not have known unless you were John The Scientist, who is on a personal mission to evangelize the virtues of stinky tofu. (I kid--not even John is a fan of stinky tofu.) No, the answer to our question shall appear in the next paragraph.

The birthplace of the fortune cookie: probably Japan.

Which brings us to the next question (one you may know the answer to if you read Boing Boing or The New York Times online): what happens when you introduce the quintessential American Chinese restaurant food to actual Chinese people in China? Answer: they're understandably baffled that Americans wrap their paper in cookies:

(Have a great Sunday!)


Falling to pieces

>> Saturday, August 30, 2008

Here's an interesting tidbit: scientists at Purdue University are suggesting that nuclear decay rates on Earth may vary with the planet's distance from the sun. Apparently, after years of measuring radioactive decay in silicon-32 and radium-226, they've been able to measure a noticeable difference in decay rates that they've been able to correlate with Earth's annual orbit.

They don't seem to have an explanation for the phenomena: several hypotheses present themselves, including neutrino flux. It should be interesting to see where this goes.

I suppose there's some added interest to me because of something I tend to say in response to creationist arguments: that science is of one piece, and that young-Earth creationist-types (YECers) will insist the world was invented around 6,000 years ago but don't seem bothered by what this means for fission reactors and atomic triggers in nuclear weapons--if atomic decay doesn't work the way we think it does, it invalidates carbon-dating and atom bombs. The Purdue work, obviously, suggests that atomic decay doesn't work quite like we thought we thunk it. And it seems likely that YECers will seize on this work as evidence to support their views.

Of course, they'll miss a few things when they do so.

First, they'll miss the fact that a challenge is not an alternative; that is, even if further research shows that nuclear decay rates are in constant flux, that only tells us that atomic decay may be an unreliable indicator of age in fossils and geologic formations. A complete unraveling of carbon-14 dating methodologies wouldn't prove the universe was created, nor would it have any relevance to astronomical evidence suggesting a vast age for the rest of the universe.

Second, there's a question at this time as to whether any correlation is causal. Some posters at the arXiv posting note that there may be observational discrepancies such as relativistic effects as the Earth's orbital velocity changes over the course of a year. (For those who have forgotten their Kepler: Kepler's Second Law tells us that a line between a planet and sun sweeps equal areas over equal time--i.e. that a planet moves faster the nearer it is to its parent star.) Other suggested observational artifacts that will have to be eliminated include matters such as seasonal temperature variances.

Third, if there is a causal correlation (and there are reasonable objections to a causal correlation mentioned at arXiv, including consistent output by the power sources of our interplanetary probes as they move farther or closer to the sun per their mission objectives and trajectories), the YECers would be obliged to show that a mechanism is relevant. That is to say, for instance, if it should turn out that radioactive decay is inhibited or sped by, say, neutrino flow from the sun, surely the YECers would need to show some evidence of historic increase or decrease of neutrinos for a young-Earth claim to have any merit. (This is something of a restatement of the first point in some regards--the first point being that it's not enough to nitpick and the third point being that you have to show your work in producing a viable alternative.)

All that aside, it's an interesting development if true.


More proof that Republicans think "irony" is a kind of golf club...

>> Friday, August 29, 2008

I really would rather not dignify Senator McCain's obvious (and mostly successful) attempt to distract the media from Senator Obama's excellent acceptance speech with an acknowledgement of Senator McCain's existence, but how do you pass this up? It seems the Senator has selected as his running-mate the Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, a state that is in the process of assigning much of its own legislature to the task of re-stamping Alaskan state license plates with the new motto What's A Little Graft Between Friends?

MSNBC quotes Governor Palin as saying:

"I've been blessed with the right timing here," Palin said before the election. "There's no doubt that Alaskans right now are dealing in an atmosphere of distrust of government and industry."

...which has to be one of the richest quotes I've seen in awhile. Aside from the fact that one of Alaska's Senators in Washington has recently been indicted, and that Governor Palin is herself under investigation for allegedly misusing her influence to get her ex-brother-in-law shitcanned from the Alaska Highway Patrol, there's also the fact that the very first thing that comes up when you Google "Alaska corruption" is a Wikipedia entry on that very topic. I mean, corrupt Alaskan politicians literally have their very own encyclopedia entry. (A similar Google search for my home state merely brings up the various news items you'd hope for--not a bleeding encyclopedia article on the subject. I am floored, to be honest, really floored by the result I got from the "Alaska corruption" Google search.)

Alaskans mistrust their government? No! Say it ain't so!

Shall we analyze what this choice says about McCain? Shall we?

(Oh, let's!)

Pundits are already saying that Senator McCain's choice is a deliberate pander to disgruntled Clinton supporters who are miffed that Senator Obama passed over Senator Clinton for the veep (after stealing the nomination from her, of course). But this is a fairly shallow analysis in light of Senator Clinton's gracious and graceful gestures at the Democratic National Convention, both in her speech and in her appearance on behalf of the New York delegation to move for Senator Obama's nomination by acclamation. (Yes, it was pure political theatre, but it was good political theatre.) By now, all of Clinton's real supporters have thrown their support behind Obama (however reluctantly) and any immature, whining, pathetic "supporters" who are so bitter and shallow they'd rather vote for the anti-reproductive rights, anti-equal opportunity candidate weren't voting for Obama, anyway. No, I have a better explanation--one that may not be true, but is certainly more fun; one that is as good for the Republican gander as it might be for the Democratic goose when the Republican pundits swing away.

I think the proper explanation is that McCain went for a nominee who would be a kindred soul.

See, as I'm sure all of you doubtlessly already know, one of Senator McCain's most famous lifelong achievements was being one of five men who heroically exerted improper influence on the federal regulators who were attempting to relentlessly pursue a fellow named Charles Keating after he merely robbed investors of quite a lot of money and mismanaged a savings-and-loan into the ground (actually, I think he set it on fire first and pissed on the embers, but whatever). Senator McCain wasn't reprimanded or censured, but he was criticized for poor judgment. (Mr. Keating, for his part, was provided with free room-and-board at the taxpayers' expense for four or five years.)

With that in mind, consider: out of all the states in the Union, three leap to mind when one thinks of corrupt business and politics. There's Louisiana, but the Republicans are no longer as welcome as they might have once been, post-Katrina. And there's Illinois--but surely Senator Obama will carry his home state! No, when one looks for a place where those of questionable ethics and judgment might feel most at home, one must think of Alaska, with its noble Bridge To Nowhere and Corrupt Bastards Club.

Yes, Senator McCain didn't choose Governor Palin because she's a woman--has the Senator ever shown himself to be especially concerned with or active in the advancement of women in America? Outside of entering his wife in a stripper contest, I mean?

Nor did Senator McCain choose Governor Palin because of the votes she'll bring him. Convicted felons can't vote.

No, Senator McCain chose his running mate because he likes the company.

UPDATE, FRIDAY EVENING: After writing this, I read a blog entry by an actual, bona fide Alaskan I respect (yes, it was Jim Wright, how did you know?), offering another take on things. Specifically, that the corruption charges against Governor Palin are horseshit and apparently she's a helluva good Governor.

Alright, I guess that's the kind of thing that happens when you pick a nationally unknown politician as your running mate--some asshole who's never heard of her writes a foamy piece full of cheap shots at her as a roundabout way of rattling old skeletons in your closet. What they call collateral damage.

I'm not going to retract this piece: it was too much fun to write, and I think I acknowledged at least twice (in the body of the post and in the tags for it) that I was going out of my way to be unfair. And I'll acknowledge here that I'm a bit hypocritical in doing unto the Republicans what they've so often done unto the Democrats. But I am encouraging you to go read Jim's post if you haven't already--here's the link again, if you're too lazy to click on the one in the first paragraph of this update.

Among the several reasons for reading it: this woman has a realistic shot at being the first female President Of The United States. McCain isn't young, and the Presidency tends to age men before their time. Just saying.

Now, go read Jim!


Having a come to Buffy moment in the United Kingdom

>> Thursday, August 28, 2008

The headline from last week's Telegraph, though a bit sensationalistic and misleading (not to mention the fact the story is really kind of non-newsish in a way), is awesome:

There you have it folks, the latest threat to Christianity in Britain (and who knows if it will spread to American shores?): Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And what is this threat, pray tell?

No, it isn't Joss Whedon-and-gang's clumsy and erratic treatment of Christianity in the "Buffyverse," where the attempt to include traditional tropes of vampire lore and the ecumenical needs of network television and Whedon's personal atheism all collide in a sodden mess. Fans of the show may well be aware that the power of holy objects to repel or destroy the undead have varied from season-to-season: in one season, we learn that the crucifix's power over vampires is somehow based on the vampires' subjective fears, despite the fact that earlier episodes (for instance) show us a vampire exploding after he's tricked into unknowingly drinking a vial of holy water. Apparently, the power of Christ compels thee whenever it's convenient for the writers, but whatever--it was still an awesome show for five years.

Incidentally, and before we get back to the Buffy-induced crisis of faith in the English church, one may wonder why an atheist (yours truly) might be bothered by poor religious continuity in a TV show. Let's put it this way: if you tell me in one movie trilogy that there's a magical power that binds all living creatures and even links people (and yodas) to the rocks in a swamp, and then try to tell me in subsequent sequels that the magic power is really cooties, it bothers me. Similarly, if you tell me in one movie that some people are immortal for strange, unknowable, mystical reasons, I'm down with that; please don't turn around in subsequent continuity and try to tell me, no, it's really that the immortals are aliens: do not want. Will not eat.

With that, I can totally get into the idea of an all-powerful, omnipresent and omniscient and benign deity as part of a fabulous premise, whatever you might want to call it. I can totally accept that God and Satan are duking it out in New Hampshire or Las Vegas or even at a traveling sideshow. And vampires, when you get down to it, have a religious context: whether Christian icons have an effect on vampires or they don't or they only do sometimes is a kind of religious commentary, one that can sometimes be the entire point of a vampire tale. (As an aside: all of the stories, books and television shows Wikipedia-linked in this paragraph are well worth seeking out if you haven't already read or seen them, even the ones by people you might be understandably sick of these days.)

In short: if a vampire is repelled by the cross, it says something about the universe. And if he isn't, it suggests something else. And Buffy kind of missed that and flubbed it over the course of its run.

But on to those wacky Brits and their Buffy conversion: I knew Buffy had a tremendous following in Great Britain, but apparently I had no idea. Buffyphilia is so strong, it drives formerly-religious Brits from the faith of their mothers and into the arms of Wicca. Or not exactly. Actually, what the article seems to tell us is that women in Great Britain are dropping out of traditional religions, and that one faith they're turning to is Wicca, because of "favorable" presentations of Wicca in various entertainments, including Buffy. This starts to sound silly, but we are talking about the character Willow's faith on the show, and Alyson Hannigan is totally hot, so I suppose I shouldn't speak too dismissively too quickly about dropping one's church because of a TV show; cute girls have led me to make dumber choices. (And the shouted vow, "Never again!" sounds so shaky and hollow in my own head.)

Read further in the Telegraph article, and you find that the defections seem to have less to do with a belief in the unlikely proposition that covens are full of adorable magical redheaded girls (well, hell, I'd consider converting, too) and more to do with traditionally patriarchic church hierarchies, repressive sexual attitudes and archaic views of gender being a major turnoff to--well, probably anyone with post-1960s sensibilities, actually. But women, it seems, in particular.

This, of course, is neither new nor news.

Nonetheless, it is a fun story if only for the opportunity to riff on religion in vampire stories and to imagine hordes of women flocking to covens as a result of a television program. Indeed, like many such stories, it's actually fun to imagine what things might be like if the headline were true: picture a country full of Buffy-adoring witches; Buffy witches at work, Buffy witches in restaurants, Buffy witches representing their nations at the next Olympics, Buffy witches in space. The first Buffy witch to be elected to Parliament unsuccessfully lobbies to have Sarah Michelle Gellar's birthday made a national holiday, and on the other side of the Atlantic, Republicans in Congress froth themselves into a lather at the spread of the Buffy witch-cult to American shores. The family of a Buffy witch who died in the Second Abkhazian Conflict successfully sues the U.S. Armed Forces to have a pentagram (already, I think, allowed as a Wiccan religious symbol) and a picture of Saint Sarah Michelle etched into her gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery. In 2130, Orthodox Buffians leap ahead of New Reformed Jedi as the most popular religion in the Transatlantic Federated Union, knocking Catholicized Baptists permanently into third place, a direct cause of the War Of Ioian Quaker Secession in 2142.


Neverwednesday Nights

>> Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Looking back at the Neverwednesday entry featuring Hole's "Northern Star," it occurs to me that Love's reference to "running to the pines" is quite likely a reference to the traditional song "In The Pines," (also known as "Where Did You Sleep Last Night"), made famous by Lead Belly.

Why would Love be referencing this classic folk/blues number about death and betrayal?

From Nirvana's MTV Unplugged performance, the other famous version of "In The Pines." I hope you enjoy it: I find it harrowing and--is there a word for something that is beautiful and disturbing, for a kind of lovely suffering? (The Germans or French probably have one, I'm sure; in English the best phrases I come up with suggest some sort of sick sadomasochism.) Anyway, I find it beautiful, you may just find it nasal and whining.

Happy Wednesday, and may your loved ones remain un-decapitated. May they remain capitated? Stupid language.


The mad heat and the relentless rains

>> Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I don't know what it is--whether it's the rain getting in my head or what. I have a numb ache and I think my soul might be taking on water. But I got nothing, utterly nothing. And it's 9:30, past 9:30 and I can't think of a damn old thing.

I hate to do this--after all, last night was fake trailers and tomorrow night, should all go well and my mates up for some gaming, tomorrow should be a long-overdue (and pre-posted weeks ago) Neverwednesday Nights. But this probably sums up the mood I'm in... and that might be a terrible thing even aside from the weakness of another video post--this song comes from a dark place.

"Papa Won't Leave You, Henry," Nick Cave:

("Papa Won't Leave You, Henry" originally appeared on Cave's Henry's Dream, but the Live Seeds version is vastly superior.)


On my "must-see movie" list

>> Monday, August 25, 2008

Right, so it's Monday and I have a headache, and the best I can offer today is a pair of movie trailers for films I very much want to see. Yes, I know one is a sappy, sentimental, family-friendly film, but in my defense the other looks really scary and violent--the kind of supernatural horror thing I'm totally into.

(And yes, I know both of these have been out for awhile now. Headache. Monday. Might be the rain. Might be the Monday. Either way, here's to a better tomorrow.)


Photos: August 22, 2008

>> Sunday, August 24, 2008

Out on the USNWC trails Friday after work. Beautiful weather, a little overcast. Here are five photographs from the trek (five being a number selected because of Blogspot's defaults, basically; it could just as easily be four or seven if Blogger's menus were constructed differently).

Little has been done with the photos: some tweaking of white balance instead of sticking with the camera defaults. Conversion to JPEG, of course. One unusual thing I did (for me) was to go ahead and use a flash on the spider photograph: I hate doing this in the woods, as it seems a bit intrusive--but it was an overcast day and I really didn't think Ms. Spider was in a position to mind too much. At some point I need to go ahead and just spend the money on a monopod or easily portable tripod--then I can take a nice tack-sharp picture of a spider that doesn't involve blinding it.

It wasn't quite the best of walks or sessions. For instance, I think I would have loved to really get down on the ground to try to get a face-to-face with the butterfly if it would have let me, but I really didn't want to get down and low after last week's teeny spider bites, which basically stopped itching yesterday--an annoyance which won't keep me from getting in the dirt again, it was just too soon for a possible repeat, y'know? And I wasn't real happy with most of the pictures I did get, but these weren't too terrible. (I'm not fishing for compliments with that line: you should have seen what I deleted while I was picking these five. No, that's not right: you shouldn't have seen those shots, and I'm glad you didn't, and that's why they've been deleted.)

Anyway, enjoy!


Hasbro gives classic detective game new characters, weapons, rooms, and suck

>> Saturday, August 23, 2008

So the announcement is that Hasbro, the gaming industry's equivalent of the Borg (your diversity will be assimilated and will service us) has announced that they're overhauling Clue, aka Cluedo, the classic 60-year old game of mystery, deduction, and juvenile single entendres about what various colorfully-named characters were doing with each other and assorted household objects in the many rooms of Boddy Mansion.

The point of the new edition is purportedly to "update" the game's image by making the characters younger and giving them trendier jobs. Because clearly that's what's sorely missing from the game's theme and ambiance--when I think of Edwardian manor-house murders, I inevitably wonder why there aren't more football players and video game designers. This is what people mean when they claim Agatha Christie couldn't write three-dimensional characters to save her life. Sure, Murder On The Orient Express is an okay locked-room mystery (and yes, I know it takes place on a train and not in a country manor, duh), but think of how much better it would have been if one of the characters had been a hip, urban token black guy "African-American 'with all the ins.'"

Oh, also they're apparently adding new rules. Because if there's one thing a new generation of board gamers that Hasbro obviously believes lacks the imagination and attention span to get into a game set a century ago needs, it's more cards to play.

But before you groan and get upset--which I think is a natural reaction--let's talk about what this really is all about. See, Hasbro probably doesn't want you to remember this, but they've done this before. There was Master Detective and the VCR Mystery Game and a few dozen versions for wee children that replaced poor Mr. Boddy being violently done in with missing puppies and similarly innocuous scenarios. They've added weapons and taken them away again, doubled the size of the board and then halved it again, tied the game into various hot franchises (e.g. The Simpsons) and let the licenses lapse, added gimicky battery-powered doohickies and stripped the game to its essential pieces and shoved them into an "old-fashioned" tin box. (Actually, the tin box is quite nice; I have it.) All to spur interest in a reliably-selling title--"reliably selling" meaning "beloved classic" or "slow seller" depending on variables like whether you're a grandparent or a gaming company, or which financial quarter you're in.

What this means is--and I could be wrong, but if I were placing a bet, here's my prediction--what this means is that eventually Clue will be back to the six original characters, the six old-timey weapons, and familiar nine rooms. It will be called "Classic Clue" or something like that, and it will have a fancier-than-normal box and "updated retro" art and cost twice as much as most games for about a year before dropping down to a routine $9.95 or whatever games retail for in 2010 or 2012.

So why is Hasbro announcing a revamp that will "replace" the current game?

The problem for the gaming industry is that it's a worse-than-flat business model. This is why things like collectible card games and miniatures games create a cracklike addiction in gaming companies and not just players.

See, let's say you like playing games, like me. And your friends do, too. One of your friends buys a game. The game is awesome. Everyone loves playing it. So do you go out and buy a copy, and do all of your other friends get copies too?

Probably not. If you're like most people with most games, what you do is go over to the one person's house, or you invite him over a lot and tell him to bring Game Of Awesome with him. With the exception of faddish games (take the Trivial Pursuit craze of the '80s) or old classics like Monopoly, gaming companies pretty much get to sell one game for every half-dozen players they have. And once a group of players actually has the game, that's the only unit that will be sold to that cluster--it's not like most people are going to go buy a replacement Monopoly set every six months.

If you can't sell supplements, expansions, bonus packs and the like, you're going to have to keep a tight belt and expect pretty slow growth (if any) as a gaming company. And the industry is littered with the wrecked husks of companies that went out of business, sold out to competitors, or cut themselves down to mere haunted shadows of their former ambitions. It's not an unusual story at all to hear that one of the biggest game companies of a long-past decade now consists of one guy in his basement filling orders on eBay. Even former giants like Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley and Avalon Hill are now nothing more than trade dress (all three "companies"--at one point the three biggest gaming companies in the United States and fierce rivals--are now nothing more than brand names for Hasbro product lines).

So here's Hasbro's game (ha, that was a good one): they're telling you that Clue as you knew it is about to cease to exist. This may prompt you to buy a copy while it's still available--and notwithstanding the crass manipulation, that may be a good idea if you need a new copy of the game and can't stomach "Jack Mustard" (ha-ha, another good one; no, I know it isn't). Then there will be the new edition, and maybe you'll get a copy of that at some point for your kid or nephew or niece or in-laws, or even for yourself. And then when "Classic Clue" hits the shelves in five years or whatever, maybe you'll buy that too. It's kind of like when DC Comic convinced all the non-comics readers they were really killing Superman and the Big Issue would be worth owning someday--they weren't ever really going to get rid of their Most Important Character, and the "Death Of Superman" issue generally isn't worth piss (certain runs of the issue in mint condition are exceptions to the rule); Hasbro is kind of hoping they can trick you into buying two or maybe even three copies of Clue because they know (just as well as anyone) that you only need one for your whole family and/or five closest friends.

Anyway, that's where I'd bet this is going. If I'm wrong... if I'm wrong, I'll always have my tin box.

An obligatory disclosure: do I sound like someone who's ever been obsessed by Clue? Does Professor Plum always go last? Clue was one of my favorite boardgames throughout childhood, and retains a place in my heart for all its faults. If that jaundices my view of Hasbro's latest ploy, so be it.


Friday night movie

>> Friday, August 22, 2008

Okay, this is fun. Sudden Stop Films and director Ryan Kightlinger have produced a charmingly over-the-top bit of silent-movie steampunk in the form of "Professor Dantes and the Severin Conundrum". Thrill as Professor Dantes journeys to assist his old nemesis Severin in wondrous Science! Tremble as the professor and his erstwhile servant Bullsworth face Severin's inevitable betrayal! And face the chilling conclusion in which Professor Dantes and the loyal Bullsworth must deal with the horror of... The Creature!

Have a good Weekend!



>> Thursday, August 21, 2008

A coworker of mine brought me a loaf of homemade sourdough bread today and you can't have any.

Homemade bread is awesome.

Just saying.


Revenge Of The Nerds

I'm not even sure whether or not I'm supposed to feel insulted, because I don't even understand what's been said. But I'm starting at the end, I should rewind.

It appears that some fellow at Daily Kos decided to insinuate that an anecdote Senator McCain relates from his days in a prisoner-of-war camp is extremely similar to an incident related by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. Which is one of those "okay, whatever" kinds of things, as far as I'm concerned: Senator McCain's account might well be true (it seems like the kind of thing that could happen to just about any prisoner anywhere at any time, really), and even if it's not, it turns out I just don't actually care that much. The Senator says that while he was a POW, a guard etched the sign of the cross in the dirt, which I suppose means he'll balance military spending or has a plan to stabilize Afghanistan now that another pigeon has come to shit on our heads with Pervez Musharraf's resignation in Pakistan. What am I supposed to say? I respect the sacrifices Senator McCain made for his country forty years ago, and I think it's a tough break he had to endure so much serving his country in a war it never should have been in--but it's increasingly hard for me to see what his service has to do with his suitability for elected office. And if he did (or didn't) meet a fellow Christian in the person of a guard, so what of that? So there were Christians in Vietnam--well no shit, that's one of the things that caused us so much trouble to start with--am I missing the point here?

I mean, the only possible significance of Senator McCain's anecdote that I can come up with--true or not--is that it's an emotional appeal to the kinds of people who have a blind emotional reaction to that kind of thing. Significantly, these are the same people who don't really give a crap what Daily Kos says about anything and who aren't going to have their eyes dried by any amount of proof if the story really is untrue, and how would you prove that, anyway? (Parenthetically, there are a lot of people who don't really give a crap about the Kos--I'm a kneejerk liberal and this latest dustup was the first time I've looked at the Kos in recent memory--and I linked into it from a Republican webpage.)

So, anyway: there's this whole thing about a story which might be true and if it isn't it's not like somebody's going to come up with a videotape of Senator McCain's daughter accepting flowers from a North Vietnamese prison guard while Sinbad and Sheryl Crow hang out nearby. But of course the Republicans, naturally, have to reply, a task apparently assigned to Michael Goldfarb at the McCain website--and this is what actually inspired this post and my confusion; Goldfarb writes:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement [emphasis added], but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others. John McCain has often said he witnessed a thousand acts of bravery while he was imprisoned, and though not every one has been submitted into the public record, they are remembered by the men who were there (one such only recently reported by Karl Rove though it escaped mention in any of Senator McCain's books). But as Swindle said, this is a "desperate group of people trying to make something out of nothing."

Now wait just a damn minute... I resent the hell out of that. I think. Do I?

First of all, I have never resided in a basement, and the only gamers I can think of who ever did reside in basements were not living with their mothers, and indeed were renting or subletting the spaces in question (one of them was in college at the time). But I kid--this is mock indignation; more to the point, what the hell? I don't even understand where that came from, and not even from some kind of biased, gamer, played-Dungeons And Dragons-most-of-my-life point-of-view. I mean, I can construct this convoluted explanation--I think Mr. Goldfarb is trying to call the pundits and shitslingers at Kos nerds, but my brain kind of hurts when I try to stretch it around his... point... or whatever the hell it is.

I don't know, have I been insulted? As a liberal? As a self-confessed nerd and geek? As a gamer who's spent plenty of time behind the screen and blogged about D&D? I don't even know.

This reminds me of nothing more than Karl Rove's bizarre characterization/dis of Senator Obama as a popular dude making fun of him at a country club. The smell it gives off is desperation mixed with cluelessness and self-projection (I imagine this smell is identical to the odor of decomposing vinyl that builds up inside an old car that's been parked for awhile). When one read Mr. Rove's comments, one's first reaction was bafflement (how many people go to country clubs?) and one's second reaction was pity, since Mr. Rove was clearly describing an incident (gawkily walking into a country club where he didn't fit in and being made fun of by a cool dude with a hot girlfriend) that had happened to him at least once in his life. (Possibly more--I mean, look at the guy. He's exactly the sort of man who would go to a country club and actually give a shit about everyone there looking down on him.) Similarly, Mr. Goldfarb triggers two reactions: a what? followed by the impression that Mr. Goldfarb is a bit insecure. One wonders if he was one of those jocks who liked to terrorize us nerds in junior high, or whether he still fears he will be outed as a secret geek and dreads the prospect of having to move in with his mom.

Oh, the imponderables.

In any case, we now have an insight into the McCain campaign's new strategy: they apparently want to recast the election in terms of the legendary college rivalry between the fraternities Alpha Beta and Lambda Lambda Lambda. I can see the similarities: Lambda Lambda Lambda had strong ties to the African-American community and the Alpha Betas had a lot of members who were sorta dumb. What the McCain campaign may be missing, though, is that in the end the Alpha Betas were clear losers to the vastly more intelligent and cooler "tri-Lambs," who successfully stole the lead Alpha Beta's girlfriend and kicked the Alphas out of their home (which the Alphas originally obtained by theft and by blatantly rigging the appeals system--ye gods, the ceaseless similarities continue to confound and amaze!). In other words, I suspect this new strategy is doomed to failure: we nerds are much better with computers and music and possess strong bedroom skills despite our obvious difficulties getting laid, and Republicans who keep fighting the last war are liable to end up in history's dustbin.


Two things you should read

>> Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Looking at the news this morning, I ran across two editorials in The Washington Post that I think are worth reading, so I'm passing the links along in case you missed them.

Kathleen Parker comments on the recent, appalling religious test the Presidential candidates recently submitted to in "Pastor Rick's Test--The Candidates Submit, and a Principle Suffers".

David Ignatius writes about the price of bravura, and whether Senator McCain really has the chops to deliver a responsible foreign policy in "The Risk of the Zinger".

Both commentaries say everything I would have said, more eloquently and with better editing--right down to Ms. Parker's invocation of Jefferson, who--if he were running for President today--would have properly declined to show up at the Saddleback Church affair and would have been slaughtered by the pundits for it. So I don't have anything more than a head nod to add, and I hope you get something from the pieces.


Three words; an insomniac's meditation

There is a cliché one sees in movies and on TV and even in some books that ought to know better. "The three most important words in the English language," a character solemnly says, "are 'I love you.'" This is frequently followed by either a kiss or a sudden turning away of two star-cross'd lovers; sometimes both.

Perhaps I've been single too long, but I think the sentiment is most likely horseshit.

The three most important words in the English language are, if I had to pick three, "I fucked up."

You get older, and you start to realize you own your choices, they don't own you. You man up and take responsibility for the things you've done and whatever it is you're doing or you might as well lay down and die for all the good you are to anyone. It's not an easy thing to own your failures, and owning up to your successes is a helluva lot more pleasant, no surprise there. But your misbegotten children are still your offspring, they're still yours.

It may seem like a funny thing to hear from someone who spends a lot of his time passing along excuses, frequently weak ones. "He/she was with the wrong people" is an especially popular one in my line of work, but you hear all sorts of things from people, some of them sheer crazy and you start wondering where some of these folks are from because it seems unlikely you're from the same planet. Allowances ought to be made and sympathy to be given to those who just don't know any better and never had a chance to. A lot of the people making those crazy, lame excuses are fifth generation Midases-in-reverse, as it turns out, men and women from a long line of men and women who had the misfortune to be born with the ability to turn anything they touched to shit. And many of those folks, frankly, just aren't that bright; one is repeatedly and unfortunately reminded of a classic exchange from This Is Spinal Tap:

Ian Faith: Nigel gave me a drawing that said eighteen inches. Now, whether or not he knows the difference between feet and inches is not my problem. I do what I'm told.
David St. Hubbins: But you're not as confused as him, are you? I mean, it's not your job to be as confused as Nigel.

Some people are just born confused, it's practically their job, really. But even those folks end up owning what they've done, sooner or later, one way or another.

You're the things you do, as much as anything else, I guess.

And that's why those words are vital words, critical words. Because recognizing what you've done is about knowing who you are, and knowing you've fucked up is the first step in not fucking up again, which I hope we all aspire to. "I fucked up" is a first step into a larger world. (Yes, geek that I am, I just paraphrased Obi-Wan Kenobi. Sue me. I'm judgment proof.) A child can say "I love you." The ability to say "I fucked up" is part of being an adult.

This is a credo, or an aspiration. I'm not sure I'm man enough to own my fuckups; it's not something I'm very good at it but I try, I really do try and sometimes I even manage to do it. If you're boss at it, good for you--I hope you're being honest with yourself, though. This is one of those things where most of us tend to consistently think we're better than we are. Saying we fucked up is so hard, it's sometimes easier to convince ourselves we said it even when we never really meant it, and our opinions of ourselves get slowly skewed into the self-delusional.

Don't even ask what prompted this. (And no, it's not in reference to anything I did, not this time, anyway.) And don't bother pointing out if it's a little incoherent. It's one of those things you write at at 12:30 a.m. and consider deleting, and then decide maybe to throw it out there anyway and see what happens.


The truth is out there...

>> Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It's astonishing news. You may have heard about the gentlemen who recently held a press conference to announce their discovery of Bigfoot remains. You may also have heard that self-professed "skeptics" labeled the conference a "bust" simply because the remnants "look like" a costume. (Guess what? George Washington looked just like somebody wearing a George Washington costume. Does that mean George Washington was a fake, too? I don't think so! By which I mean, he did exist, not that I think he didn't--look, never mind. Logic, people! It's your friend!)

Well, it looks like the naysayers are going to have to eat their deaf, dumb, and blind, pinball-wizard words, because the remains have been tested by science, and science has given us a remarkable conclusion: the DNA tests prove:

One of the two samples of DNA said to prove the existence of the Bigfoot came from a human and the other was 96 percent from an opossum, according to Curt Nelson, a scientist at the University of Minnesota who performed the DNA analysis.

Explain that, Bigfoot deniers! Part human and part opossum? Something that's part opossum and part human would be humanoid, furry, kind of lazy, and have big feet... that's right, it's Bigfoot!

Now, I have to admit this is a little bit surprising. To some of you, at least (I, myself, have not made too many assumptions, because assumptions make an "ass" of "u" and... "mptions"... wait, is that right?). It's been popular to think that because Bigfoot is apparently a hominid, he must be a great ape species, notwithstanding the almost complete lack of any kind of evidence whatsoever of a colony of apes living in the high latitudes of the North American wilderness. But this DNA testing answers many of the questions raised by the erroneous "ape" hypothesis. Why aren't there conclusive signs of a pack of Bigfeet? Because Bigfoot's opossum nature makes him solitary. Why haven't hundreds of researchers been unable (until now) to find Bigfeet? Because they've tended to look during the daylight hours, when Bigfeet are lethargic and tend to stay in their trees. Why aren't people tripping over Bigfoot corpses all the time? They have, but have mistaken the matted furry remnants along the roadside for exceptionally large possum corpses. (It can be hard to get an accurate estimate of size when a three-dimensional object is squashed as flat and round as a manhole cover with a tail.)

The question that remains unanswerable at the present time is whether Bigfoot is a hybrid--the offspring of man and marsupial--or whether Bigfoot is proof that man and marsupial share a surprising common ancestor. Indeed, it may well prove that we are descendants of Bigfoot, in a manner of speaking.

Nonetheless, the important and exciting point remains: if the tested materials had been some kind of stupid costume, the DNA test would have been for... polyester. Or whatever it is they make those things out of. Don't bother me with details. But they didn't: the samples tested positive for something unknown to science until now, something undreamed of: an opossum-human hybrid!

A great day for science!


Open the pod bay doors, Hal. Hal? Open the pod bay doors.

>> Monday, August 18, 2008

How long could you survive in the vacuum of space?
Created by OnePlusYou - Online Dating

(All hail Janiece for bringing this one to my attention!)


Here's a hint: if I don't learn about new music, I can't buy new music

The story in the Washington Post is that negotiations between SoundExchange, internet radio stations, and the federal Copyright Royalty Board have broken down, and webcasters are looking at the apocalypse. This isn't exactly news so much as it's "ongoing news," a slow-motion disaster that's been unfolding for more than a year now. The short version is that SoundExchange--the organization representing the record labels--wants providers of streaming audio to pay twice as much in royalties as satellite radio, and to pay royalties that even commercial meatworld broadcasters--traditional radio--don't have to pay. Since most streaming radio stations subsist on sponsorship (including listener donations) or love, they don't have the revenue streams to give to the music industry corporations.

Which is the point. Anybody who thinks this is about anything else hasn't been paying attention. The industry will say it's about artists' rights and "fair compensation," but that's a load of crap. What this is really about is control: the business model of the traditional record industry is based on the industry's ability to be a gatekeeper for public tastes and popular interest, and any form of technology that marginalizes their role as gatekeepers has much the same effect on the corporations as a pointy piece of wood has on Dracula's black, bloodless heart. If I hear about an unsigned band online and buy their album on CDBaby, I've cut Universal Vivendi or EMI or SonyBMG completely out of the process--and out of the lion share of profit they'd score on a CD they told me to buy.

Sooner or later--perhaps later, from the way the wind is blowing, this model will change. When the rock hit the Earth sixty-five million years ago, the dinosaurs didn't drop off all at once: they staggered and choked and slowly died of starvation and dust over the course of days or weeks or months; as species, they died over the course of years. And so it is for the big labels, for the music industry as it's been constituted for the past ten or twenty years. They're going to die. They can't live in this environment. The plain and simple reality is that SoundExchange can delay the inevitable, but with so many people intertwined on the web and so many artists discovering they don't need to sign to a big label for exposure (much less distribution), the labels' role as arbiters of the popular taste is on the decline. Eventually they're going to have to find a way to be happier with fewer sales, and to accept that they can no longer manufacture pop superstars and slam them down our gullets because we have nothing else to listen to.

The funniest line in the Post piece is this one:

"Our artists and copyright owners deserve to be fairly compensated for the blood and sweat that forms the core product of these businesses," said Mike Huppe, general counsel for SoundExchange.

...ain't that a hoot? You do see the laugh-line, don't you? Mr. Huppe guilelessly mentions "copyright owners" desserts alongside the artists; apparently Mr. Huppe is prone to some form of honesty or he didn't get the memo telling him the issue is entirely about artists' rights and compensation. It's not at all clear how it's fair that a corporation that has acquired somebody else's copyright is entitled to compensation--it may be legal, but that's hardly the same thing, and you shouldn't have to be a lawyer to recognize that. Many of us, actually, find the prospect of a multi-billion dollar company profiting off the blood and sweat of others--others who historically have often been ripped-off victims of lousy contracts and shitty deals--more than a little unfair, morally offensive, even. (An aside: however, those who use this moral offense to legitimize piracy miss the point and/or break the law whether it's moral or not.)

Nor is it immediately clear how a streaming internet channel denies anyone of compensation they're due, unless you're of the mindset that anytime anyone hears a work, someone must be compensated. This is the mindset that leads to tortured mental constructions like the claim that somebody who overhears music played through a rolled-down car window is "stealing" music. The viewpoint, really, is that music is meant to paid for, it's not meant to be heard. That surely is not what Victor Hugo intended when he led the push for copyright reform that became the Berne Convention. It's not even a rational viewpoint at all.

SoundExchange also retorts that the streaming audio providers aren't doing enough to raise funds for themselves; if they go extinct, it's their own damn fault for not being sufficiently like the commercial radio stations that are increasingly unpleasant to listen to and are likely to see diminishing returns as alternatives like satellite radio become more commonplace in cars. I'm confident that SoundExchange understands that part of the appeal of satellite and internet radio is that they are commercial free, and they don't have to devote seventeen-to-twenty minutes out of every thirty to advertising. If internet radio listeners are driven away by advertising, all the sooner the stations' demise and people can go back to listening to what the Big Four told them to listen to, by God. And while we're on the subject of being told what to listen to and revenue sources: no doubt SoundExchange members would be happier with internet radio if the stations were as desperate for funds as their meatworld counterparts--desperate enough to need the quasi-legal "promotional" methods that have seeped into the gap left by the Payola scandal decades ago (or, happy thought: perhaps the internet stations can freely engage in Payola schemes with the big companies, since they're not subject to federal regulation--everyone, and by "everyone" I mean the record industry, wins!).

Most of the Post article focuses on Pandora, a service that sounds interesting although I've never used it; I'm more worried, just so you know, about my beloved SomaFM, a group of indie stations that subsists on donations and endures on love. (Lollipops and crisps, Radiohead might say.) SomaFM provides links to in their playlists, so you can click on a song you're listening to or just heard and immediately purchase it from an online retailer (I assume Pandora offers something similar). As far as fair compensation goes, it's harder to imagine fairer compensation than making a sale immediately and instantly, something meatspace radio can't offer. Look at the "Recent Music" sidebar on the right side of the screen, and on the date this entry is published the list of seven items includes three artists I learned about through SomaFM (Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, Iron And Wine, and Calexico); the remaining four happen to be acts I've listened to since high school or college. All seven records/sets were purchased, none are bootlegs or pirates. So, out of seven recent record purchases, nearly half were artists who got my commerce via free, commercial-free streaming internet "radio." That can't be an unusual pattern.

But none of the acts on the list are whoever SoundExchange's clients are pushing this week. So I guess they don't count.

I'm looking forward to the death of the dinosaurs, and the life of good music.


And then the story began to get really interesting...

>> Sunday, August 17, 2008

Right, so first the story was that a woman named Bernann McKinney had spent fifty grand to make five clones of her favorite pit bull, "Booger," which frankly didn't seem like something worth that much commentary: crazy lady clones pit bull, okay, whatever. Some people, you know, have more money than sense. And while there certainly is a technical achievement in cloning animals, the other part of the story was that a woman decided to bypass all the abandoned animals in shelters and cute puppies given up in neighborhood adoptions in favor of spending a helluva lot of money in an attempt to Xerox a dead pet.

So, you know, it was sort of interesting from a geek/tech standpoint and sort of disgusting from just about every other standpoint, so I didn't bother throwing out a comment.

Then the story began to get a little interesting.

You see, turns out that Ms. Bernann McKinney is the same person as Joyce McKinney, a woman who stalked and kidnapped a Mormon missionary in 1977, for the purpose of chaining him to a bed so she could repeatedly have sex with him.

No, you read that correctly the first time.

Seems Ms. McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming, became obsessed with the young Mormon and decided to have her way with him. So she tracked him to England, abducted him, chained him to the bed, and... well....

For her part, Ms. McKinney always claimed everything was consensual.

For his part, the gentleman said, "I didn't wish it to happen. I was extremely depressed and upset after being forced to have sex."

(Well, you know, he's a Mormon. They wear special underwear and stuff. No, I'm not saying I believe him... look, I'm just quoting him, okay? That's what he said.)

In 1979, Ms. McKinney jumped bail and fled Britain, resurfacing here and there over the next few years.

International Sex Fugitive Clones Puppies. Now, even I have to admit that was a much more interesting subject of discussion. And yet I still wasn't going to discuss it here. I mean, yes, it has science and beauty queens and kink and ridiculous excess, but it's still pretty much a story about a crazy woman who sells her house and travels to South Korea to clone a dead pup, when she pretty much could have just driven down to the pound and paid a vaccination fee.

And then the story began to get really interesting. No, seriously.

It seems that Ms. McKinney, who raped a Mormon, fled from justice, popped up again to clone a pooch, it seems she wasn't completely inactive in the meantime. It appears that she also is wanted by authorities in Tennessee for planning a burglary intended to procure the money to purchase a false leg for her horse.

No, you read that correctly the first time, too.

It seems Ms. McKinney had a three-legged horse. (I want you to know that I am having extreme difficulty typing this.) Which she loved. (Being loved by Ms. McKinney appears to be a pretty remarkable thing, considering the lengths she goes to for her loved ones.) So she talked a 15 year-old boy into breaking into a house for her, so she could get some money. To purchase a prosthetic leg. For the aforementioned three-legged horse.

I give up.

So, here you go: Puppy-Cloning International Sex Fugitive With Three-Legged Horse Wanted In Tennessee. Happy now? Let's see how long we have to wait until I update this with yet another bizarre addition to the ever-growing headline.


Soooooy un per-de-doooor

>> Saturday, August 16, 2008

And why do I have the chorus of Beck's classic rolling through my head right now? Oh, come on, take a guess. If you guessed that I just read the news that Senator Hillary Clinton's never-say-die legion of sore losers have whined their way into a role-call vote at the Democratic convention in Denver, you called it. Possibly in one.

I'd really like to stop writing about this woman at some point before the year is up. Give me a few months to sorta forget about her, maybe--although I'm not really sure it's possible--give me enough time to heal up and fondly recall the days when I liked her. At the risk of sounding like one of the sexists who supposedly cost the Senator her shot at the '08 nomination, Senator Clinton could be kind of like one of those ex-girlfriends who put you through utter, devastating hell when you were dating but who, years later, eventually becomes someone who isn't remembered too badly. Who perhaps is even remembered well; yes, we fought a lot back when we were seeing each other, but she was cute and funny and smart, and we had some good times. No, really--we did! And all your buddies roll their eyes and even quote some of the mean things you said at the time, and you protest, "Well, yeah, but that was a long time ago and I was drunk when I said that!"

In other words, I don't want to rule out the possibility the Senator and I might sort of run into each other on the street, maybe have a few drinks, maybe even hook up; probably wouldn't amount to much, but no regrets on either side and a lot of hatchets buried (along with the mouldering corpses they're in). Metaphorically, I mean. You get the idea, I hope.

I don't want to rule it out, but the fact the Senator keeps acting like crazy-ex-girlfirend isn't helping. And--because this whole issue is so freaking fraught with accusations of sexism--please allow me to rush to assure any female readers that you can substitute "vindictive-shithead-ex-boyfriend" into the conversation at appropriate moments and the point will be exactly the same; indeed, let's rush to be ecumenical and to clarify for gay or lesbian readers that you can make whatever substitutions you'd like for "lunatic I formerly dated" and this will all be worth the same at a one-for-one exchange rate.

This, incidentally, is the madness of the Clintonian black hole. By penning the above paragraph, I have clearly demonstrated to any Clinton partisans dropping by that I am a sexist, fascist conservative who feeds infants to bears. Mean bears. Mean bears with pointy teeth. Mean bears with pointy teeth who were formerly on the board of Enron. Dick Cheney, in other words. I am Dick Cheney. Thank you, hate machine.

Back on topic. This role-call vote. Who is it to benefit, exactly? Oh yes, I know who they say it will benefit: it's to provide a cathartic moment for the Clinton partisans who continue to make excuses and blame everybody except Senator Clinton (and her husband) for the Clinton-death-spiral of earlier this year. Here is a definition for catharsis from, just for the record:

ca·thar·sis /kuh-thahr-sis/
1. the purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, esp. through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music.
2. Medicine/Medical. purgation.
3. Psychiatry.
a. psychotherapy that encourages or permits the discharge of pent-up, socially unacceptable affects.
b. discharge of pent-up emotions so as to result in the alleviation of symptoms or the permanent relief of the condition.


[Origin: 1795–1805; < NL < Gk kátharsis a cleansing, equiv. to kathar- (var. s. of kathaírein to cleanse, deriv. of katharós pure) + -sis -sis]

Now, I have to confess: I reproduce this not so much because I couldn't define the word myself, but because it amuses me that the definitions allude to such unfortunately appropriate matters as relieving "socially acceptable affects" and to the purging of emotions through tragedy; had the definition said through travesty, it would have been spot on.

Why am I worked up about this? Because this is ridiculous and reflects badly on Clinton by suggesting (yet again) that her supporters are whiny bad sports who are not mature enough to accept the fundamental truth of winner-takes-all political contests: that one person wins, and the other (by definition) loses. Senator Obama--love him or hate him--ran a sufficiently capable campaign that he was able to take the spoils, all of them--and Senator Clinton, because there had to be a loser and because she did not run nearly as effective a campaign, lost and takes nothing, not even her ball to go home with as her supporters clearly want to do with their sham of a protest vote--I mean cathartic last hurrah. What bullshit. Senator Clinton's supporters' actions demonstrate that they--hopefully unlike their candidate--are not ready to play with the grown-ups.

Oh, but what of the sexist media and the way the media fawns over Senator Obama? You know, accepting it's true (a debatable proposition, but why not?), so fucking what? No, seriously, so fucking what? Fair? No. Right? No. But them's the breaks, the rules you play by. It's not fair when one team has the sun in their eyes or one team doesn't have as much money to recruit top-notch players. Or choose another metaphor if you'd like. If a professional sports team showed up and whined about the gross unfairness, they would be mercilessly mocked, and properly so. If Senator Clinton had secured her party's nomination, hostile press bias (if it existed, if it were noted) would have been rightly crowed as a triumph over adversity. (And do we need to go over, again, all the advantages of being a little-known black candidate with a funny-sounding name that's uncannily similar to not one but two of the most hated enemies of America of the past twenty years? I.e. should Obama follow up winning the nomination with winning the office, surely his win will be a triumph over certain obvious disadvantages going in.)

This is not catharsis that the Clinton partisans want. It is protest. It is whining. They will not be any happier after they've shouted their candidate's name during the role call vote. In catharsis, the bad feelings go away once they've been given voice--that's the whole point, you see. The Clintonites are not going to shout the Senator's name and then say, "Phew! Now I love Obama!" They're going to shout their Senator's name and then they're going to piss and moan some more. They will go away still mad.

Son perdedores.


Constituting what is in all likelihood the only acknowledgment I'll make on this blog that there's a major sporting event occurring...

>> Friday, August 15, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, I have heard rumors that there is a major international sporting event in progress somewhere in the world, possibly the mysterious and exotic Far East. In recognition of this, I call your notice to this record of a far more significant sporting event:

Insufficiently Olympian? Here's a bonus:

From all of us at SOTSOGM SPORTS CENTRAL, have a good weekend!


The bad, the ugly, and the worst

>> Thursday, August 14, 2008

The 2008 Bulwer-Lytton results are in. As everyone surely knows, this the annual contest to come up with the worst possible opening line to a hypothetical novel, the contest being named after Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who began a novel with the immortal phrase, "It was a dark and stormy night."

The winner, in case you don't want to click the above link, was Garrison Spik with this submission:

Theirs was a New York love, a checkered taxi ride burning rubber, and like the city their passion was open 24/7, steam rising from their bodies like slick streets exhaling warm, moist, white breath through manhole covers stamped "Forged by DeLaney Bros., Piscataway, N.J."

As always, the winners, runners-up and dishonorable mentions are a mix of awful prose, groaning puns, strained phrasing, and paragraphs that actually sound like something you actually wouldn't mind reading. Which is a little disturbing, since this is a contest for awful prose. For instance, if I picked up a book in the bookstore, opened it to page one, and read this opening line by Arndt Pawelczik:

As a cold winter sun was just rising above the lonely French village of Vicres-le-Buffeur, the forlorn figure of a man dressed in rich Arabian silks could be seen crouching in the center of the market square, crying softly and cradling in his arms the limp and lifeless body of what appeared to be a large hamster.

...I'd probably buy it. No, seriously. I'd at least keep reading it to see if it continued to live up to the rich promise of a man weeping over a deceased hamster in the town square. And Malcolm Booth's entry sounds a bit like something the late and sorely missed Douglas Adams might have penned:

Creeping slowly over the hill, the sun seemed to catch the small village nestled in the valley by surprise, which is a bit unusual really, as you'd think that something with a diameter of 865,000 miles and a surface temperature of 5780 degrees Kelvin, and which is more normally seen from 93,000,000 miles away, wouldn't be able to creep anywhere, let alone catch anything by surprise.

Then again, there's Joe Schulman's winning entry in the science fiction category, a commendable example of the kind of cringe-inducing, stale writing that plagues so many cheap paperbacks--kudos, Mr. Schulman, for:

Timothy Hanson, Commander of the 43rd Space Regiment in the 52nd Battalion on board the USAOPAC (United Space Alliance Of Planets Attack Carrier) and second in command to Admiral L. R. Morris of the USAOP Space Command, awoke early for breakfast.

Well played, sir, well played.


Good news and bad news...

Two quick news flashes from the geektacular intersection of law, art and technology known as "intellectual property law":

First the bad news: nine states this year have passed legislation enabling the taxing of digital downloads, with more likely to follow suit. Lovely, no? There's something about taxing virtual property that seems fundamentally off. Intellectually, I can bring myself to see that there's not a difference between taxing an online transaction and a meatworld transaction, but viscerally I can't quite equate taxing something I hold in my hands in a store located in a territory with some numbers I copy onto my computer from a location that could be anywhere.

And the snarky response, naturally, is to ask if the states intend to tax real estate in Second Life next? Perhaps the monies can go to fund online correspondence schools.

Presumably a tax on online transactions is less regressive than other forms of sales tax--a downloaded song, book or movie is undeniably a luxury when compared, well for instance, to food. Here, then, is where the technologically-inclined, affluent fellow gets into an internal fight with his good old liberal self: I don't wanna pay a tax on downloads! You cad, that money supports necessary services that are best provided for by the collective efforts of the People! But they're taxing my MP3s, whiiiiiiiiine.

(If your response at this internal strife is a smug, ideological "I told you so," please don't. Not today. We can argue about conservativism and liberalism later, some other time, just not now.)

So yeah, anyway, there's that.

And now the good news, and this is nice news indeed, an early Christmas present from the Federal Courts: the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has upheld free licenses of intellectual property. That is to say, the Federal Court chiefly responsible for deciding questions of intellectual property law in the U.S. has said that licenses like the Creative Commons license are legally enforceable--something published under such a license (this blog you're reading, for instance), is protected by copyright and if the conditions of the license are violated, the violator is in breach of copyright.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn't. Although various open source and shared-use licenses have been around for years, there was some debate over whether the conditions in them were enforceable or whether publication under those licenses was tantamount to a waiver of rights. So, for instance, if someone republished a posting of this blog without attribution or for a commercial purpose in violation of this site's CC 3.0 license ("The text of Standing On The Shoulders Of Giant Midgets is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license."), would there be anything I could actually do about it or would I be left wailing and gnashing my teeth in the wilderness. Turns out the answer is yes, there is something I could do about it: I could sue the infringer for appropriate relief--potentially including damages--just as surely as any other victim of a copyright violation.

That is good news.


Putting things in perspective

>> Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I don't think they [the Bush Administration] expected to launch these historic war-crimes trials, the first war-crimes trials since World War II, with an acquittal on the more serious of the two charges. The whole importance of war-crimes trials is their symbolic significance, the message they send the world. If the first guy who had been trotted out at Nuremberg had been acquitted on one of two charges—first of all the notion that the first guy at Nuremberg would have been a driver for Hitler is on its face kind of laughable—but then the notion that he would have been acquitted would have been an international embarrassment, frankly.

-Jonathan Mahler, discussing the trial of
Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hamdan,
in an interview with Dan Ephron
in the August 11, 2008 Newsweek


Worst. Timing. Ever.

Greyhound has inconceivably bad luck in rolling out a new slogan:

Greyhound has scrapped an ad campaign that extolled the relaxing upside of bus travel after one of its passengers was accused of beheading and cannibalizing another traveler.

The ad's tag line was "There's a reason you've never heard of 'bus rage.'"

You know, honestly, I think I'd rather just have someone flip me off on the highway. Just saying.


The journalists and the "dissenters"

>> Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Over at Slate, Ron Rosenbaum has a typically lengthy piece about the duty of science journalists to cover dissent. His starting point is to note that two items in a recent Columbia Journalism Review seem to be in contradiction to one another: an editorial in the magazine discusses the importance of giving equal time to dissent, while a subsequent piece in the same issue deals with the responsibilities of journalists reporting on global warming issues, and the author's advice to give weight to the consensus opinion that anthropogenic global warming is occurring.

Rosenbaum has difficulties with the second item. He loves the editorial, agreeing wholeheartedly that journalists should cover dissent. But as for the second: relying largely on Popper and Kuhn, Rosenbaum writes:

... The history of science repeatedly shows a "consensus" being overturned by an unexpected truth that dissents from the consensus. Scientific truth has continued to evolve, often in unexpected ways, and scientific consensus always remains "falsifiable," to use Karl Popper's phrase, one any science reporter should be familiar with. All the more reason for reporting on scientific dissent, one would think. ...

In fact, the history of science frequently demonstrates that science proceeds when contradictory—dissenting—studies provoke more studies, encourage rethinking rather than being marginalized by "the consensus" or the "consistency" of previous reports.

Indeed, the century's foremost historian of science, Thomas Kuhn, believed... that science often proceeds by major unexpected shifts: Just when an old consensus congealed, new dissenting, contradictory reports heralded a "paradigm shift" that often ended up tossing the old "consensus" into the junk bin.

Of course, it can be argued that Kuhn is a critic of Popper, and there are critics of both who make solid cases that both scholars' understanding of how science works is shaky at best. Kuhn's theory of "paradigm shifts" within science is especially questionable, an explanation that looks better as a descriptive model from a distance than prescriptively from a contemporary standpoint--that is to say, when one looks at, say, the Galilean "revolution" narrowly and not closely, Galileo's work looks like a radical departure from the fold; but when one looks broadly and closely at what Galileo and other 16th century scientists were up to, one notices that Galileo's "revolution" was arguably a part of a large structure built by many artisans, many of whom made incremental additions to the data and methodology, a few of whom made the epic contributions that stand out so brilliantly when you don't get close enough to see the whole picture.

In similar fashion, Einstein certainly wasn't the "great dissenter" that pop culture has required him to be. Indeed, Einstein's work was tested and assimilated with extraordinary rapidity. Why? Because it had become quite clear that 19th century physics was fundamentally broken somewhere in the works. When the little patent clerk identified what was gummed up, all but a relatively few holdouts exclaimed, "Is that...? Yes! He found it!"

The bitch of it is, the real story is actually a pretty interesting one, full of exciting failures and brilliant successes. But it isn't a classic storyline, one where a plucky underdog or lone hero goes forth against the slings and arrows of adversity and triumphs against the odds, against the world. The conventional story would have Einstein sitting alone in his little room, scratching out figures on pieces of paper; it doesn't work, it doesn't work--and then in a "Eureka!" moment he's got it, he goes and presents it to the Elder Figures Of Physics and they scoff and mock until one young man with vision picks up Einstein's work and decides to test it during the next eclipse; he succeeds, the Elders go through apoplexy en route to grudging acceptance, and Einstein triumphantly becomes a hero who gets the rewards his fiercest critic ached for. That's a swell story, and it's all horseshit. The real story is one in which a whole lot of intelligent people all over the world are asking each other questions--via letters and journal articles--trying out experiments and scribbling on blackboards, and one especially brilliant member of the community, working as a patent clerk while applying for teaching positions, hacks some of the problems like any other intelligent person, with time and hard work. It's still a great story, but it requires some investment from the storyteller and the audience: there's some backtracking to explain what people thought in the 1880s, and dipping into Newton, and here's what was happening somewhere else while Einstein was in Berne, and you need to mention that--and it's not one bit the Campbellian monomyth.

But I may be getting a little far afield. The problem with Rosenbaum isn't really that he gives too much credit to Popper and/or Kuhn, whose insights were valuable and useful even when questionable and possibly wrong (Popper and Kuhn, indeed, may be better exemplars of the value of dissent than the usual suspects that Rosenbaum trots out to make his case).

The problem is that while Rosenbaum is right that dissent is good in science and in political debate alike, that doesn't mean that dissent is necessarily twice as good in politicized scientific debate. You see, the problem that we seem to be having quite a lot these days is that folks whose agenda isn't "dissent" but obfuscation and obstruction have chosen to use dissent as a cloak for what they're really up to. That is to say, there are a number of global warming critics who have as much interest in "debating" global warming as creationists intelligent design proponents crazy religious fundamentalists have in reasonably discussing current views on the origin of species. There are some anthropogenic global warming "dissenters" (not all of them, but a significant group) who have earned the quotes in that phrase: they are not concerned with scientific accuracy or sound policy nearly so much as they're concerned with maintaining the status quo for the benefit of existing business interests, or (in a few loud instances) simply with arguing (particularly with Al Gore, who they fault less for being sloppy with his data and arguments than they do for being a prominent member of the liberal intellectual elite).

This isn't to say anthropogenic global warming is or isn't occurring, or that there's no point in talking about it. But the attention to be given to dissenters on the subject ought to be based on the merits of their arguments and data and not on some stupefying sense of what ought to be fair or, worse yet, that a mound of horseshit might be concealing a pony somewhere. If an anthropogenic global warming critic is indeed engaging in dissent, marshalling accurate facts and figures in the service of truth, fine. But it doesn't follow from there that shills for Exxon-Mobile deserve the time'o'day, much less equal space in a newspaper article.

Real dissent, great. But manufactured "dissent" for the sole purpose of shit-stirring? No.

And surely Rosenbaum doesn't mean it, does he? Does he really think creationism should be given equal time in articles about paleontology? Flat-earthers equal time in the latest article about a satellite launch? If somebody who denies the germ theory of disease or a proponent of the notion that aliens built the pyramids dolls himself up as a "dissenter" from the medical or archaeological "establishment," do we now credit his views in the interest of fair debate and discussion about the subject?

One more point. Part of the problem with Rosenbaum's notion, of course, is that he's wrong in part because he's not wrong. There is something to be said for giving marginal ideas some time in case they might prove right or simply so they can be debunked in public. Only problem is that a newspaper is a cruddy place to try to do that. Part of this is because of the education and ability of the typical journalist, who usually knows more about writing on deadline than he does about specialized subjects like science (or law, medicine, technology, et al.). Part of this is because the general public lacks background for various reasons--even if the public is intelligent, it's frequently uninformed. And part of it is inherent to the newspaper format, which attempts to distill complicated subjects down to x number of column inches for a front-page headline and y number for a back-page feature.

By way of an illustration, a non-scientific book: if you look at the sidebar around the time this blog entry is being written, you should see an entry for Vincent Bugliosi's brilliant and thorough Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Bugliosi's project, in large part, is one of giving time to several of the major dissents to the consensus explanation of John Kennedy's murder (that a lone nut shot the President), and responding in turn to each one. The kind of project Rosenbaum might be thinking of when he talks about the importance of dissent and skepticism for the official narrative.

Bugliosi spent some twenty years writing the book.

The final result is 1,648 pages long and weighs five pounds.

Except it isn't really 1,648 pages long.

That's because it would have cost too much to print Bugliosi's footnotes and references.

So the book includes a CD-ROM with two PDF files on it.

The two PDF files are something like 800 pages each.

So the real length of Bugliosi's book, where he gives time to the skeptics and responds to them, is something like 3,200 pages or thereabouts. And one can still find fault with some of Bugliosi's replies to the skeptics, dissenters and critics, points where he just throws up his hands dismissively and replies to somebody's decades of research (well, "research," really) with a single, short, caustic sentence. Who can blame him? At some point, when you're spending two decades writing a book as a kind of hobby with no firm deadline, even then you get sick of the whole damn thing.

Point being, newspapers are ill-suited for debate, if debate is even what a self-styled critic is seeking. And if you have to encapsulate a complicated matter into a few paragraphs before tomorrow morning's paper goes to print, you're going to have to make choices about what to include and what to cut; choose wisely, and if someone's views are a waste of your time and the reader's, and just confuse things to boot, maybe they don't need to be in your article.

I sympathize with Rosenbaum's views. But I think he's mostly wrong.


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