Happy Tunguska Day!

>> Monday, June 30, 2008

On this day, in 1908, a remote Siberian forest was hit by a:



...whatever it was, Happy Tunguska Day! How do we celebrate Tunguska Day, you wonder? Why, you can celebrate Tunguska Day simply by continuing to exist! That's right!

That might not seem like much, but think about it: any of those things, even the completely-made-up items on the list, could have destroyed the human race if they'd been bigger or happened somewhere a little more crowded than Siberia. But we're still here! Take that, universe! And if any of those things ever do happen on a larger scale or in some place that draws crowds, like, you know, London or Tokyo or New York City or São Paulo or New Delhi or Beijing--pfft! (and imagine a throat-slitting motion with the hand, please): lots of us, maybe all of us, could be dead. The end! And we're not!

So that's how you celebrate Tunguska Day. By not being one of several million or billion people to die in a:

  • fireball
  • massive "nuclear winter"-style global cooloff
  • alien invasion
  • riot/mass suicide triggered by the maddening sound of daemon flautists
  • gravitational anomaly that implodes the Earth
  • condensate of all terrestrial matter into a Earth-sized goo of strange matter
  • temporal flux
  • monster's belly


Hooray! Happy Tunguska Day!

(I feel funny soliciting comments, but you can also help celebrate Tunguska Day, if you really want to, by suggesting a Tunguska Event Theory not mentioned in this post, or additional ways in which the entire human race could die of external causes--i.e. not by baking or gassing or nuking ourselves, but something the real or imaginary universe can unexpectedly throw our way!)


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I'm really hoping Batman kicks Batman's ass, because Batman really has had it coming....

>> Sunday, June 29, 2008

Via Cracked:







Seriously, though: I am so anxious for The Dark Knight to come out already, I can't stand it. I really can't stand it. Three freakin' weeks I gotta wait--and you know they've finished the damn thing and they're just withholding it to tease us. Bastards!

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When there's no room in Hell, Republicans will walk the Earth....

>> Saturday, June 28, 2008




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Friday night movie

>> Friday, June 27, 2008

Recently featured on Boing Boing, Joaquin Baldwin's weirdly affecting "Sebastian's Voodoo." It's creepy and sad and kind of beautiful--hope you like it.



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Gorillas will whup my ass

>> Thursday, June 26, 2008





see also:
Jim Wright: "But What About The Zombies?"
Tania: "Since Jim's Doing It"
Michelle: "Time Wasting"

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Taking one for the team

There's been a lot of discussion about gay marriage lately, a result of the recent California holding striking down a statewide ban on gay marriages and the inevitable effort now being made by some conservatives to get a renewed ban effected by a referendum ballot. Jim Wright's got some nice thoughts on the whole thing here and here if you missed it, and there are some good comments on both threads so make sure you don't miss those.



(I don't think of it as pimpage so much as cross-pollination, and anyway why should I labor a point that someone else has already covered so well?)



Anyway, with all the discussion, it's inevitable that people are taking the "homosexuality isn't natural" tack, and that's where we come to the subject of this post: a team of researchers has just published a study that, if their findings are accurate, provides a damn good evolutionary explanation for male homosexuality.



What the researchers found is evidence that male homosexuality is driven by genetic selection for what Slate's William Saletan aptly describes as androphilia (i.e. "male-loving"), not homosexuality. Here's what the researchers discovered, as described by Saletan (I started to summarize it myself, but Saletan does it very nicely):



First, male homosexuality occurs at low but stable frequency in a wide range of societies. Second, the female relatives of gay men produce children at a higher rate than other women do. Third, among these female relatives, those related to the gay man's mother produce children at a higher rate than do those related to his father. Fourth, among the man's male relatives, homosexuality is more common in those related to his mother than in those related to his father.



The simplest explanation for this pattern is sort of stunning: natural selection for genes that make it more likely that females will procreate at the incidental expense of related males' ability to do so. This kind of pattern is referred to as sexually antagonistic selection, a notion postulated by Richard Dawkins and observed in other species, mainly insects.



Many folks--particularly boneheaded critics in the creationist camp--point to traits and ask how is it possible that an obviously detrimental trait would be the product of natural selection? The implication naturally being that God must have created the creature with such obvious liabilities. (No, I don't quite understand that line of reasoning either--perhaps they think God was hung over at the time.) What those folks fail to see is the larger picture: natural selection can be described as a process of favoring the duplication of certain genes over others, regardless of what actually happens to the creature at a macro level. That is, a creature that sacrifices its life to breed is logical from an evolutionary perspective if that sacrifice optimizes the critter's ability to scatter copies of its genetic material all over the place--what Dawkins infamously referred to as "selfish genes," i.e. the genes don't care what happens to the vehicle that carries them.



From this point of view, a trait that causes 75% of a genotype to successfully and repeatedly copy itself at the expense of 25% is a ringing success. That is, if a woman has three daughters who are, bluntly speaking, sluts, and one son who is, shall we say, an enormous Judy Garland fan, the androphiliac genes win. The genes even win if the male just happens to reproduce--his androphiliac genome is passed on either way. In short, the hypothesis is that homosexual males are essentially taking one for the team, sacrificing individual reproductive opportunities for the sake of their biological families.



I'm not one of those people who believe we are our genes: as an idealist, I find that notion horribly limiting. Nor does it seem all that consistent with observed human behavior. If you point a gun to my head and force me to only choose one, nature or nurture, I'd rather take nurture if I could, please. But the unavoidable truth is that we are both; our genes define the raw material that life sculpts us into. A chunk of granite might be chipped and chiseled into all sorts of things, but it will also always be a piece of rock.



What this study and the research team's explanatory hypothesis offers us is an insight into how a predisposition that's a reproductive dead-end for men is an evolutionary benefit for the species. I can offer nothing more eloquent than, "that... is so... cool," in response. If the hypothesis suffers a flaw, it may be that it's so elegant one has to wonder if one is judging it by the evidence or by how obvious it seems after you've heard about it.



What this study and the hypothesis also offers is a ready rebuttal to arguments about what is "natural." Androphiliac genes, if they exist, don't force anyone--of either gender--to go out and have sex, but they do mean that some people will have a strong predisposition for loving males. What they do about it is another matter--perhaps this is where nurture re-enters the picture--but it seems grossly unfair to tell women they can follow their urges (at least within the socially-approved construct of the nuclear family), but that there is no socially-appropriate or recognized means for men with the same genetic trait to do the same.



Naturally, a limit to that rebuttal is that many of the people who think homosexuality is unnatural and a sin don't have much use for the science of evolution. Ah, well.



And it should also be noted that this study doesn't address female homosexuality at all.



The study also doesn't provide a course of social guidance. Saletan, for instance, seems concerned that male homosexuality might come to be seen in the same light as sickle-cell anemia, as a medical condition to be cured. I think he's reaching: sickle-cell anemia has the kinds of medical consequences that are hard to associate with gayness. E.g. death. It's also not clear what, if anything, could or should be done to keep parents from using some futuristic gene therapy to guarantee their posterity's genome, should the technology ever become available to do so. The whole point of medical science is to largely prevent Nature from taking its course, and that horse left that particular barn around the time some dim ancestor of ours decided to shove mud into his wounds instead of bleeding to death the way Nature intended for a man gored by a mammoth to. If--and we're talking science fiction here, but what the hey?--if you're going to allow prospective parents access to gene therapy to avoid autism it seems like you'll just have to accept that they may want grandkids, too.



At any rate, it's an interesting study and a fascinating hypothesis, and it offers yet another reason not to discriminate against people because of who they love. What's not to like about that?





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Neverwednesday Nights

>> Wednesday, June 25, 2008

As a sequel to last Wednesday's Genesis video and last Sunday's Kate Bush treat, here's Peter and Kate performing "Another Day":



I stumbled across it on YouTube. A little bit of digging on Wikipedia reveals it's a Roy Harper cover that was performed for Kate's 1979 Christmas Special for the BBC. There's little more I can tell you about it, other than that it's lovely and sad.


(Roy Harper remains someone who is something of a hole in my musical education. The only thing I know I've heard "by" him isn't: his guest vocal on Pink Floyd's "Have A Cigar" on the album Wish You Were Here; and then of course there's Led Zeppelin namechecking him on the fine "Hats Off To Roy Harper" off Led Zeppelin III. And did I hear he spent some time in an asylum at some point? Other than that--damn, I should probably get some Roy Harper sometime and check out his work.)


It also raises a vital question that I would like Ms. Bush and Mr. Gabriel to answer by what ought to be a simple deed, even for anally-retentive perfectionists like themselves who have been known to take more than a decade between albums: after all the fine work they've done together (most famously their duet "Don't Give Up" on Gabriel's 1986 So), why the hell don't they record an album together? Something like Emmylou Harris's and Mark Knopfler's All The Roadrunning. The only excuses I can think of--like, "The unearthly beauty would unnerve men in women to such an extent that civilization might collapse"--really don't seem sufficient. Fuck civilization if I get to listen to that record just once. It could be an album of covers, you know? Or originals, obviously I'd love originals, but those two voices serve each other so perfectly I'd take anything.


Here's to the hope the vagaries of Google somehow bring this post to the attention of someone who might raise the question to their eminences--I know that's unlikely and I don't mean to be pretentious, but "God Of The Tapeworms" somehow came up high on a list so who knows what could happen. To Whom It May Concern: Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush should record an album together, and I have no objection to it being a 2-CD set like Ms. Bush's recent Aerial. Thank you in advance; Sincerely, Eric at Shoulders Of Giant Midgets. P.S. If they could release it in January, it would be a really awesome birthday present. Just saying.



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Any god will do

>> Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Earlier this week, Janeice Murphy wrote a nice piece on Pat Buchanan's new book, the one where he apparently reveals his utter cluelessness about the history of World War II. (Mr. Buchanan apparently argues that the Second World War wasn't really any of our business, that it was more of a European affair. In all fairness, I do have to offer this defense of his thesis: it's true that after a first-turn attack on Hawaii, the Japanese usually turn their offense on British and Russian holdings in Asia, which theoretically allows America to simply turtle for a few rounds--a risky strategy if either the British collapse during the second or third turn due to bad dice or the Japanese attempt a ballsy invasion of Britain's unprotected Canadian holdings... what was that? I'm thinking about Axis And Allies, like Buchanan. Huh? He was talking about the actual war? Are you sure? Damn. You're right, he is a retard.)



That's not what this post is about, though. Sorry, didn't mean to bait and switch you. (You should go read Janeice's post, though, her blog's quite good.) No, I was thinking about it because of one of the comments I made to her post, where I happened to mention that Buchanan probably doesn't sound as crazy or moronic if you don't know what he's talking about: that is, if you don't know history or geography then Buchanan probably sounds knowlegable and articulate to the exact same degree he sounds ignorant and nutty if you do know anything about what he's talking about. And unfortunately, we Americans have this appalling tendency to be ignorant about history.



We readily forget all sorts of things about ourselves in lieu of the elaborate myths we've drawn up for ourselves. The French are ungrateful cowards we saved from the Germans in WWII, not the people who paid for the American Revolution and were instrumental in winning it. The British are our oldest friends, not the people who burned down the White House in 1814. The Civil War was a noble crusade waged by heroic generals, not a vicious bloodbath in which poor people (many of them draftees) were slaughtered by idiot generals trying to fight the last war with the bleeding-edge of (then) modern weapons (essentially the same recipe that shredded men in WWI). Our nation is a godly one (despite no mention of a deity in the Constitution) founded on principles of equality (as long as you were a white male; others need not apply). Etc., etc., etc., ad nauseum; I could keep going, but you perhaps know this or have already been offended. And anyway, that's not what this post is about, either. Not exactly. (Fooled you! That's twice!)



No, the big inspiration for this post is actually this news about this new survey that's been done about religion, the one where Americans are devoutly religious but optimistically pluarlistic, believeing in God and identifying themselves with various sects but most of them don't feel their religion is an exclusive path to the afterlife or whatever it is they nebulously believe in.



On the one hand, I suppose this is good news. The American Experiment showing one of its successes, you might think: on the subject of religion, we have this mostly-tolerant society that isn't subject to the religious wars that plagued Europe for centuries or the factionalism that has plagued Ireland in the recent past (ongoing, but it seems to have simmered down a bit) or countries like Denmark and France in the present (with religious riots being a frequent bit of news as Christians and Muslims struggle to adapt to each other).



On the other hand, I can't help taking it as not-good news even if I wouldn't call it bad news. Because I don't think it's so much about tolerance as it is about ignorance (and now we tie it all together, eh?). I can't help thinking that what's really reflected in this survey is the fact that we're simply not a deep and thoughtful people, we undervalue education, we don't spend much time thinking about the things we think about nor do we bother informing ourselves before we leap to conclusions. How else do you explain the pollsters' claim that "21 percent of self-identified atheists said they believe in God or a universal spirit, with 8 percent 'absolutely certain' of it"? Wait--whaaaat? Do those respondents actually have the faintest idea what that word even means? I suppose "atheist" certainly doesn't mean you can't believe in some kind of mumbo jumbo--The Force, maybe, or that glowing lifejuice from Final Fantasy VII--though common usage implies you don't, but I'm fairly sure that any parsing of the word means you're sans deity, that is what you get when you put the neutralizing "a" in front of the Greek theos. Clearly, twenty-one percent of self-identifying atheists are clueless semiliterate jacktards (and if the pollsters read the questions over the phone, I guess I can no longer presume semiliteracy on the part of the jacktards).



Similarly, what exactly is the point of being a Christian if acceptance of Christ is sort of unessential to the whole business of life, the universe, and everything after? And among Christians, why bother being a Protestant if the Catholics aren't wrong? And among Protestants?



The idea that there are many roads to the truth--I suppose that should be big-t "Truth"--is convenient, and I'm happy that people hold to it if it keeps them from killing each other. So I suppose it's a bit ungenerous of me to scratch my head and complain that it's a bit ridiculous. (Change my mind about Iraq and I'll end up sounding like Christopher Hitchens, and then my Dad will come over and wring my neck; unpleasantness ensues.) Perhaps I should be lauding the fact my countrymen are so lazy, thoughtless and ignorant that they don't especially care that Jews, Christians and Muslims have been killing each other for centuries over the very fate of the human race and perhaps the universe (all three have claimed to be a chosen people and that God will eradicate the infidels--the Old Testament even alledgedly provides documentation of the Big Cheese doing just that at various times, e.g. the Deluge, and the New Testament offers a preview of it happening again in Revelations; should, say, the Real Chosen People--whoever the Hell they are--ever vanish from the Earth, it's safe to assume all the rest of us are capital-f-Fucked, no?). (In America, we like to kill each other over melanin content and not the Will Of God--like that makes a whole lot of sense.)



The problem, I suppose, and the reason I find it so teeth-grittingly frustrating, is that we do this shit all the time. Deciding that the universe is big and confusing but it would all be not-too-bad if there was a benign God out there and maybe a shiny afterlife, and it doesn't matter if you call Him God or Jehovah or Allah or Vishnu or maybe nothing because you're a Buddhist and that's alright, too--none of that is noticeably harmful whether you thought about it or not, especially if you mostly keep it to yourself. But when you make all of your decisions with the same casual disregard for knowing what you've decided, that's a problem.



I wrote "the problem," when I should have written "a problem." Because here's another: Professor Lindsay of Rice University is quoted as saying, "There's a growing pluralistic impulse toward tolerance and that is having theological consequences"; he's right, of course. A Christian who believes there's a back door for Jews (and perhaps Muslims) to get into Heaven is making a clear theological statement whether he bothered to think about it or not. Furthermore, said statement is itself logically exclusive: that is, a belief that Jews will go to Heaven is incompatible with the belief they will not, just as a belief that there are many ways to the truth is incompatible with a believing acceptance of Jesus is the only way.



So long as everyone shares similarly ambiguous views, it's not hard for everyone to get along. The tolerant Catholic who goes to mass because his parents did can live next to the habitual Muslim and cultural Jew and the Christmas-and-Easter Protestant and the grumpy atheist and it's all copacetic.



The problem is that not everyone shares those views. Some people don't just follow the traditions of the religions they claim for themselves, but they heed the teachings, and at that point things frequently get ugly, as in things actually start literally (not metaphorically) blowing up with the assistance of high-grade fertilizers and jet fuel.



It's at this point that I wonder what the point is. Hey Eric, you're an atheist, why do you even care what other people believe? (I suppose it affects me when they act on their beliefs. I guess I wish my people would think through their beliefs before they acted on them.) Speaking of which, Eric, you do realize you've been horribly unfair to some educated and well-intentioned people who have given a great deal of thought to their beliefs and have taken the broadly ecumenical view even when it's inconsistent with how they self-identify (including some of your own relatives, you douche)? (Yes, I guess I have been. And I hate to say that how they self-identify isn't too consistent with what they actually identify with, though they may be thoughtful, and they may mean well.)



Call it a rant, then. Call it a wish. Call it the puzzlement of a tired and confused man. Call it a yearning for those hoary old Enlightenment ideals that always keep failing us, that fall from the tree and never ripen. Call it one more asshole with a blog.

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Deaths

>> Monday, June 23, 2008

When I woke up to NPR this morning, the obvious piece of news to blog about was the death of George Carlin. But I didn't get to the blog until around eleven tonight, and of course everyone's already said everything you could about Mr. Carlin and I don't have much to add.


Of course he was brilliant, everyone knew that. And socially edgy and legally relevant. He usually made me laugh. I have a copy of the seven words bit on my big hard drive full of audio, from a box set of American stand-up comedy I own. But I guess I'd be a bit of a poser if I painted myself as an enormous Carlin fan now. He was someone I laughed at and I'd watch his stand-up specials when I used to have HBO a few years ago and he was doing special after special after special, but he was never someone I felt a burning desire to see live and I never had any of his albums, and--yes, I know it's ungenerous to say this right now, but I want to be honest--there were a lot of times in his specials or in interviews where I sort of just found him cranky.


But he'll be missed, of course he will.


And then the other death-related news today was about a gathering to honor Stan Winston yesterday. Winston was the man behind the curtain in most of James Cameron's movies, in a way he was the man who made Jurassic Park--not to take anything from Spielberg, who's one of my favorite directors, but we all know the magic in that film was watching dinosaurs do dinosaur things on the big screen; you could have taken out all the plot, story and most of all those damn kids and you still would have had something awesome with all of Winston's footage. I wanted to say something special about Winston last week, you might remember, and I'd still like to but I still don't have the right words and I probably won't. It's good to know he was listening to music he loved, and that he was close to his friends and family in his last few days. There's probably not much more any of us can ask for. Last week I was distracted. I don't suppose I have that excuse today. I'm not sure I have any excuse at all today.


Is this a tip of the hat or just a bit of emptiness. Not even a video to show off the respective works of these two titans: you've seen them, or everyone else has them on their blogs already. Though that didn't keep me from putting up three Harvey Korman videos when he passed on.


I don't know what else to say, so I'll stop.




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Busy whole weekend, actually...

>> Sunday, June 22, 2008

...but that's a good thing. Friends are well, things are good. And despite that, we'll go with another downer video of sorts--more Polly Jean Harvey, this time with Nick Cave: their duet from Cave's brilliant Murder Ballads, "Henry Lee". For those who don't know: there's nothing idle in the title Murder Ballads--the album consists of nine murder ballads* and one cover of a Bob Dylan hymn ("Death Is Not The End"); the contextual irony of the Dylan inclusion should be obvious from the title alone.



Am I the only one who thinks this video puts Cave and Harvey into the running for sexiest goth couple ever? There's such a sexual charge in their interplay--not bad for a song about a woman who seduces a man and dumps his corpse in a well the following day....


Hope you're still having a good weekend!






*Anyone who bitches about how much violence there is in music "these days" doesn't know shit about music history. Aside from all those bloody operas that used to be so popular, the popular folk music of the day contained an entire genre of songs about murder, rape, slaughter, and vengeance; the gangster rap of the Appalachians and Scottish Highlands, of the German mines and rolling English hills. Stabbings and shootings and poisonings; disgraced women, wrathful fathers, deceitful wives, jealous husbands. Nothing new under the sun, 'cept maybe the beats.




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Busy Saturday

>> Saturday, June 21, 2008

Around midnight, contemplating what I will have to do later today before I go to bed. Busy Saturday ahead--another walk on the USNWC trails, home to clean up before going out to visit with some friends I haven't talked to in a year, then over to another friend's to talk about a movie he's putting together for a local contest. Probably not much time near a computer, not much time to blog, anyway.


Was listening to P.J. Harvey in the car just a little bit ago. White Chalk. This is the title song:



Hope you're having a good weekend.




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The problem with the little whatsit with the eccentric orbit on the edge of the solar system

>> Friday, June 20, 2008

As I'm sure some of you are already aware, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has recently decreed that everyone will wear their underwear outside their pants--no, wait: I think that was the insane dictator in Bananas. No, what the IAU declared last week was that Pluto was now something called a plutoid, a label lots of astronomers already hate. It's also a label that seems to be a little confusing to at least some of the journalists covering the science beat: one writer summarized the new definition of "plutoid" as "small round things beyond Neptune that orbit the sun and have lots of rocky neighbors," a definition that kind of excludes Pluto from the category of plutoids (Pluto spends much of its time inside the track of Neptune's orbit). (The official definition as quoted within the same article does include the language "in orbit around the sun at a distance greater than that of Neptune," which is technically true of Pluto; the official definition's statement that a plutoid is also an object which has not cleared the neighborhood of its own orbit is a little bit of a head-scratcher, however--if you count objects in resonance, e.g. Lagrange partners, then isn't every planet a plutoid?)

There's a lot of silliness about all this, and the debate's gotten a little boring. There's some good sense to be found in Venetia Phair's attitude that Pluto is what it is. You could start calling it a hawk or a handsaw and it would still be this cold rock from the Kuiper Belt that Clyde Tombaugh found in photographs in 1930. Personally, I'm likely to say "planet" just out of habit and because my very educated mother just served us nine pizzas. (I suppose in the future she could serve noodles, but wouldn't you rather have the pizzas? Maybe she could slay urban ninjas--I suppose that would be kind of cool.)

At least that's where my head was until I read this other thing this morning, this article about how educators are dealing with Pluto's name change. Textbooks are being revised, lesson plans are being changed, and then Gerry Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association said:

"Basically, it's a teachable moment for science teachers, because it shows the dynamic nature of science," Wheeler told SPACE.com. He added the NSTA will spread news of the plutoid category to science teachers in the fall.

...and I nearly banged my head into my desk. Repeatedly. No it's not. I mean, yes, it is a teachable moment. It's a great teachable moment in fact--but not because it shows "the dynamic nature of science." What it's a great moment for is that you can get your kids to talk about the reification fallacy, you dolt.

See, dynamic moments in science are the ones where we figure something out that turns everything we thought we knew sideways. The demonstration that light is a wave and a particle was a dynamic moment in science. Figuring out that everything that defines the basic physical structure of a living creature can be traced to four chemicals twisted into a laddering double-spiral was a dynamic moment in science. An in-house fight over what to call Pluto and things like Pluto isn't a dynamic moment in anything except branding--in the grand scheme of things, the only difference in how you label Pluto comes down to the common vocabulary scientists (and others) use to communicate with each other. You can call Pluto a twizzle or a gromfookle or a rambuladabar just as long as everybody else knows and pretty much agrees the label can be used, so that you can write, "The team discovered eighteen new gromfookles using the predictive power of the new model" and everyone who reads the journal article can say, "Oh, they found eighteen new things that are like Pluto because the hypothesis they're using to search tells them where to look."

If the result of the IAU's grand debate is that people are going to think the universe has changed because the words we use to describe it have changed, they need to just stop it. Right now.

The story, the real story of the new label is that astronomers are expecting to find a lot of things that are more like Pluto than they are like Earth or Jupiter, and they're pre-emptively trying to make a box they can put them in--they're trying to come up with a label that will help humans manage the concept. Teach kids about that, and you can help them think about thinking, about how our brains work and how we frame what we think we know, and the limitations of that framework. You can compare the Pluto controversy to the ways in which the definition of "species" has shifted or to the argument over viruses and the definition of "life" within the field of biology, for instance. You could get your kids to discuss whether changing what Pluto is called changes what Pluto is and whether the label is important or merely confusing. You could use the matter as a crossover-point with English/Language Arts class or History class or Math/Logic class, perhaps creating a lesson plan with other teachers.

But calling it a "dynamic moment in science"?

If that's how we're teaching kids, no wonder it sometimes seems we're getting stupider.

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Of low down dirty dogs...

>> Thursday, June 19, 2008

I'm glad I'm not representing this douchebag:




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Neverwednesday Nights

>> Wednesday, June 18, 2008

You know who's a band I really, really hate? Genesis. "We Can't Dance"? Well you sure can suck. And what the fuck does "Invisible Touch" mean, anyway? They're two completely different senses, you twits. Phil Collins is a shitty frontman and who the fuck told Mike Rutherford he could play guitar, anyway?


No, you want to talk about a really good band, you should try listening to Genesis. Peter Gabriel is a fucking genius. And their drummer, Phil Collins? Phenomenal on the skins, really is, and a solid harmony voice. You throw in some mind-blowing shit from Tony Banks on the keys, solidly backed by Steve Hackett on guitar and Mike Rutherford on bass and rhythm, and you've got yourself one of the most interesting bands of the prog era. Be a shame if something happened, somebody ever left, say, allowing the remaining members to limp on in a totally sucktacular fashion.


Yes. Yes, I am one of those people. I'm sorry. Well, sort of. And by "sort of" I guess I technically mean "not really." The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is pretty much the last Genesis album you need to own, and I don't really need to hear how Abacab is alright or about how, how, how--oh hell, I just don't even want to hear the band existed after 1975, okay? Because they didn't. Genesis broke up in 1975 and then Peter Gabriel recorded a bunch of really awesome albums with cool people like Kate Bush and Tony Levin and Robert Fripp. There was no such thing as Genesis during the 1980s, I don't have time for your damnable lies. My fingers. In my ears. Nananananana. I. Can't. Hear. You. Alright? We clear about that? I don't care what you think you saw on MTV with the puppets, you're probably thinking of, I don't know, a Sesame Street episode or something. MTV? It was probably a Sifl And Olly episode. (Sifl and Olly rock. Again, I will brook no argument on this point! Shh!)


Meanwhile, here's a bit of live Genesis--the awesome band Genesis, not the craptacular band Genesis--from 1973. Peter Gabriel is not dressed like a flower in this one, but he does appear to be blue. Also, he has that sort of reverse-mohawk thing he was doing at the time. And he mimes pushing a lawnmower. And yet none of that is quite as strange as the fact Phil Collins actually had hair at the time. Anyway, "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)", a bit of mischief from 1973's Selling England By The Pound, an album that I personally think might be the band's masterpiece (tho' I can understand the case for Lamb Lies Down):




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How to start an interview on the wrong foot

Note to self: self, if you're ever in the position of talking to Powell's Bookstore about your new book, do not start the interview by saying something so utterly stupid that it becomes impossible for anyone to take anything you say seriously (even if you manage to say something that isn't banal). For instance, here's what not to do in an interview:

Danielle Marshall: What inspired you to write about Los Angeles at this time in your life?

James Frey: Before living there, I had all these preconceived notions of what kind of place L. A. is. After I moved there, L. A. lived up those notions for a short period of time, but then I discovered a city that wasn't what I expected it to be. It was a really cool, interesting, incredibly diverse place that didn't have a whole lot to do with movies or TV, which is all anybody ever thinks about. So I wanted to write a book about it.

I also didn't think anybody had ever really taken it on. There are books where cities are central characters — Paris or Rome or New York or Chicago — but no one ever made L. A. the central focus of a book, in all its glory and its horror. So I did it, or I tried. I wanted to go after it because I think it's an interesting place. It becomes more relevant in America the more we move along in our history. L. A. is growing at an incredibly fast rate. It's the most diverse city in America; it's got the largest immigration population — both in-country and foreign — in the country. I thought it was an interesting place to write about.

Good grief! He's right! Why hasn't anyone ever thought of making L.A. the central focus of a novel set in L.A.? James Frey is a genius! Of asshattery! What a douche.


The full interview can be read here. That is, if you want to read some additional banal "insights" into writing, fame, and the City Of Angels in order to satisfy some kind of masochistic quota. I haven't read any of Frey's work, but this perpetuates the impression I've had from reviews and from his post-scandal interviews that he can't be any good.

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Science is not always cool

>> Tuesday, June 17, 2008

I mean, it is, it's just that I'm not sure I needed to hear about the wasps that lay their eggs in caterpillars, where they hatch, feed on the caterpillar (nothing unusual here), and then leave the caterpillar alive as a zombie bodyguard after they emerge from the host to finish developing into wasps.


Ick. I mean, that's about all I can say about that.


Well, not quite all. Normally when I think about Nature, I think about the magnificence. And then you hear about something like this, and you're reminded that Nature is not only magnificent, but also gross and disgusting and cruel. And that's about when I wonder if I'm the only person who's noticed that things like this are just one more piece of evidence against the existence of a benign and beneficial deity. Oh, obviously it doesn't preclude the existence of a Supreme Creator who is One Sick Fuck, but the usual depiction we have around here of the kindly grey-haired geezer with his finger out to poke Adam into life? Nuh-uh.



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Wonders of the wirelessly connected world

I had to leave work early today to get a window fixed on the bug. I brought my laptop along, figuring I could get in a few minutes of gaming if I got bored, and what do I discover? Power outlets and an open wireless server! Hoorah! I'm still online, kids! And clearly it doesn't take much to impress me, does it?


So, waiting... waiting... waiting. And not a whole lot to say before I'm paying, paying, paying.




I'm tempted to make this a separate entry, as I did for Harvey Korman and others, but I can't quite think of what I should say: Stan Winston died this weekend.


Winston is one of those special effects geniuses in that select elite who practically become household names, or at the very least have done work that everybody has seen. Douglas Trumbull comes to mind as a peer, but Winston was maybe even more of a well-known figure after all his work through the years with James Cameron.


One of the things with Winston that's kind of cool is that he remained known for his mechanical effects even after most of his work had shifted over into CGI.




In the middle of that little stream of thought, I was interrupted by the fellow coming over to tell me that the repair would be about twice what I mentally had prepared myself for. Well, it was going on a credit card anyway.


Still, it's a bit distracting, and now Stan Winston's accomplishments and whatnot have just been shoved right out of my head. It's not exactly like I have a choice about the repair--it's just the rear driver window, which won't go all the way up or down and indeed won't move at all unless you get out and pull it. I could go to Carmax, I suppose, and object to whether it's covered by the warranty, but I came to the VW dealer for quick, competent service, and that's what I'm paying for.




I suspect this is one of the things about being a lawyer for a living. I was thinking about it on the way over. I have this tendency to go for the simplest thing in day-to-day living because, honestly, why be confrontational on your free time. In the courtroom, maybe, maybe it makes you a diligent adversary and advocate for your client. Most of the time elsewhere, it makes you a prick.


It's easier to just pay the money and be done with it than it is to shop around and hope it doesn't rain or that nobody decides to go for the easy car stereo.


Anyway, on to other things:



One of the things NPR mentioned while I was getting up was that today is the anniversary of the Watergate break-in in 1972.


Think about this: you have a President who orders military actions far in excess of what Congress authorized him to do, who engaged in widespread domestic surveillance, who single-handedly did more than any of his predecessors to erode confidence in the Executive branch of our government, and in the end he was forced to resign because of an inept break-in of the Democrats' headquarters in Washington D.C....


Why, oh why couldn't President Bush order an incompetent break-in of the Democrats' national headquarters!




It seems this entry is a bit slim on content, you know? I should probably say something witty and clever about Janeice's UCF organizational chart. Or about Nathan's painstakingly crafted 3D model (which is extremely dimensional, I do have to say). Or perhaps I should say something about the Elf-cat's big adventure yesterday having his teeth cleaned. (My cat now has bald spots on his legs--they had a hard time putting him to sleep for the cleaning and then had to put in a catheter to hydrate him after he had a reaction to the anesthetic. Don't worry about him: he went from fetal position to literally trying to smash through the bars of his pet carrier as soon as he realized he was in my garage--within seconds of being inside his actual home, Mr. "He Has A Slight Fever Call The Vet On His Cell Phone If He Doesn't Perk Up" was strutting around and pushing his bowl across the floor when he'd emptied it of the extra portion he got last night for being a good soldier.) But no, I got nothing.




Hey, the repair might be under warranty after all! I guess we'll see in a few minutes....


In the meantime, I think I will play a video game for a little while. Cheers.




Hoorah! The warranty covers it and I'm only out $75.00! Oh frabjulous day!




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When someone on the internet figures out you're a dog...

>> Monday, June 16, 2008

Lori Drew, the really horrible person who pretended to be a teenage boy online so she could say mean things to one of her daughter's ex-friends, with the result that the girl in question hanged herself when her parents weren't paying attention, is scheduled to be arraigned today in Federal court. Being a childish dirtbag, I'm actually happy to say, isn't against the law in Missouri (or anywhere else as far as I know), so Ms. Drew naturally isn't being prosecuted in her home state by state authorities, who properly determined that while what happened was tragic and stupid, it wasn't illegal. No, Ms. Drew is being prosecuted in California--for “Accessing Protected Computers To Obtain Information" and "Aiding And Abetting And Causing An Act To Be Done.” Hey, I don't make this crap up, folks.


The essence of Ms. Drew's crime, of course, is that she invented a sock puppet on MySpace: unlike every single other person on that wonderful website, Ms. Drew had the insidious ingenuity to sign up with a fake name, not to mention other false information--she even lied about her age and gender, something else nobody has ever done on the internet! Fiend!


It's hardly a defense of Ms. Drew to say this is ridiculous: she's a horrible little person who should never get a good night's sleep again, and people in her community who choose to shun her have the right idea. However, depressing a teenager hardly requires Gaslight-caliber machinations: tell him his poems suck or casually repeat what her friends said about her new skirt after she left and hide all the sharp objects in the household. If we're going to prosecute Ms. Drew for being an immature bitch, it seems only fair to consider charging the dead girl's parents for culpable negligence: this is what happens when you don't pay sufficient attention to your children's internet use and/or moodswings.


None of which brings back the poor dead kid; nothing will, and people will just have to live with their remorse, as they should. The larger issue with what Our Stupid Government had decided to do is with the erosion of internet privacy that a successful conviction of Ms. Drew may bring.


Anonymity doesn't generally bring out the best in people, but its often a necessary evil. One doesn't necessarily want every company one does business with online to know everything about oneself, for starters. Apparently, if one uses a fake e-mail address to log onto a website so that one may leave a comment or view an article, one is "Accessing A Protected Computer To Gain Information," a federal crime. And if others on the internet are so naïve as to think you're exactly who you say you are behind a thicket of phonelines and fiber optics, well, that's your fault, too. It's a hallowed internet tradition that online, nobody knows you're a dog. Should our government convince a Federal judge that this is a violation of the law, I imagine we'll all be expected to bark our identities as loudly and often as possible.


Personally, I don't think there's much to the Feds' case, but what do I know? We'll see whether this one has legs or not. Let's hope not.

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Another busy day...

>> Sunday, June 15, 2008

I don't really foresee having time to do a "real" blog entry today, so I'm leaving you with another embedded video from YouTube. Today, it's the divine Ms. Kate Bush's video for "Cloudbusting" from 1985's Hounds Of Love, starring Donald Sutherland and co-conceived (but not, contrary to what some have said, actually directed) by Terry Gilliam.


"Cloudbusting" is loosely inspired by the life and fall from grace of one Wilhelm Reich, a disciple of Sigmund Freud's who broke with his master after deciding that human behavior was governed almost entirely by sexual energy, which he dubbed "orgone." Had Reich stopped there, he might have been no more of a crank than Freud or Carl Jung, but Reich took it another step and decided that orgone wasn't merely a conceit but an actual thing in the world that could be drained, stored, topped-off, whatever, and that everything marvelous and terrible in the world could be attributed to orgone surpluses and deficits. When he tried to market orgone-based cures for cancers and other ailments, the FDA stepped in, and eventually Reich ended up in prison with a good bit of his property burned (including, unfortunately, the books he tried to sell, which more than anything helped make him something of a martyr in some circles and was admittedly heavy-handed).


One of the things Reich claimed you could do with orgone is make and break clouds with it, causing clouds to disappear entirely or making it rain if you wanted to. "Cloudbusting," the music video, has a Reich-like figure (played by Sutherland) making a working orgone gun and putting it on a hilltop. Any phallic imagery you may notice when the loaded cloudbuster is fired is doubtlessly intentional and apt--that's what orgone was all about, using your libido to cure cancer and make rain.


Anyway, the video:



Enjoy, and keep having a good weekend!



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Unbelievably half-assed entry

>> Saturday, June 14, 2008

Busy, busy, busy. Here's Radiohead. "Street Spirit." Great video, but I didn't have time to check it out before embedding it, so I can only hope the person who put it on YouTube didn't clip the ending.


Hope you're having a good weekend.



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Friday night movie

>> Friday, June 13, 2008

It's been a while since we had a Friday Night Movie up. For one thing, I've been in the past few Fridays (confession: a Friday night movie is frequently a Thursday evening post, as you may have realized). For another, I just haven't had anything come up as a good candidate.


Matter of fact, tonight's FNM is digging into the past quite a bit, and it's one most of you have probably seen more than once. Nick Park's Oscar-winning "Creature Comforts" came out when I was still in high school, back in 1989 and has regularly shown up time and time again since then. But there's a reason it's a modern classic, and I'm throwing it up here because it's an old favorite of mine by one of my favorite animators.


In the unlikely event you're unfamiliar with the concept, here's what they did: an audio crew went around various locations, including a zoo and a rest home, and recorded comments from various random people who were willing to talk into the mike. Then Aardman Animations's brilliant resident Nick Park and his crew came up with plasticine animations to go with the interviews: animals in the zoo talk about feelings of security, how much better it would be to live in a warmer climate, and whether a fondness for steak and chips necessarily means you'd like to eat a lion, among other things.


"Comforts" is made available from AtomFilms, but Atom's embed code is inevitably wonky. I think I've figured out how to edit out the wonky parts, but if the film doesn't appear below (or fails to play, or malfunctions, or coughs up a washing machine from out of the spacetime continuum), you can watch it here at the AtomFilms website. And now, "Creature Comforts":







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Habeas

If you're not one of the UCF/Whatever folks (e.g. "Hi, Dad!"), or if you somehow missed Jim Wright's recent post on the Supreme Court's habeas ruling regarding Gitmo detainees this week, do yourself a favor and go read it. My thoughts can more-or-less be summed up as "what he said," except I'm much less optimistic about the President noticing it, much less taking it as a kick in the crotch. Other than that, I'm with him 100% and couldn't have said it better. Now, go; read.

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"It is a nice conceit, I think one would say."

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Loving

>> Thursday, June 12, 2008

I wake up to NPR every morning--that's what the clock radio is set to, which doesn't necessarily help me get up since I've been known to lay there for awhile listening to the news or commentary or same old shit as the case may be. But it's one of the ways I try to stay informed, since I don't make use of my TV to do that, and I did hear something interesting today that I hadn't realized and wouldn't have noticed: today is Loving Day.


I don't know if observers of Loving Day use the italics, but they should. Not to emphasize it, but because that's how you generally write a title, as in: Loving Et Ux. v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). Today, June 12, 2008, is Loving Day, the forty-first anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court of the United States struck down every miscegenation statute in the United States of America by declaring Virginia's law against mixed-race marriages unconstitutional by a unanimous vote, with eight Justices joining Chief Justice Earl Warren in declaring the statute a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Justice Stewart concurring in the judgment with the broader view "that 'it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend on the race of the actor.'" (Loving at 13, citing McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 198.)


Forty-one isn't a round number, but coincidentally it's a special anniversary indeed: John Ridley, who commented on the occasion this morning in the story I listened to while getting up, observes that this year, 2008, we have a Presidential candidate, Barrack Obama, who is a child of marriages like Mildred and Richard Loving. Sadly, too, it's a special year for Loving Day because Mildred Loving passed away last month on May 6, at age 68.


The New York Times obituary, linked to above, offers this account of Mildred and Richard Loving's treatment under the laws of the time:


By their own widely reported accounts, Mrs. Loving and her husband, Richard, were in bed in their modest house in Central Point in the early morning of July 11, 1958, five weeks after their wedding [in Washington DC, which permitted interracial marriages], when the county sheriff and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip, burst into their bedroom and shined flashlights in their eyes. A threatening voice demanded, “Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?”


Mrs. Loving answered, “I’m his wife.”


Mr. Loving pointed to the couple’s marriage certificate hung on the bedroom wall. The sheriff responded, “That’s no good here.”


As a consequence of their decision to live together as husband and wife, Mildred and Richard went to jail and, after pleading guilty in court, were exiled from the state of Virginia for twenty-five years (another Fourteenth Amendment violation, actually).


There are any number of pertinent things. First, that one wonders what business it is of government that consenting adults want to ratify their relationship and receive the legal and economic (and perhaps emotional benefits) of official recognition. That's not to say that any particular church has to officiate over ceremonies that offend their delicate sensibilities; on the other hand, while we're on the subject, I don't see why state and federal governments ought to be obligated to ratify anyone's choices of roommate or sexual partner--I have no objection to the government refusing to recognize gay marriage so long as they applying the exact same standard to straight marriages. Ratify all non-incestuous marriages between consenting adults or ratify none of them, frankly it's pretty much the same to me (and if we go the "none of them" route, I have no objection to the churches being left to handle divorces as they see fit, if at all--if a church allowed two idiots to ill-advisedly muddle their lives together, they can certainly work out for themselves how to fix it when buyer's remorse sets in, eh?).


I believe I can safely say--and I hope I'm not wrong--that our culture has evolved to the point where we now look back on miscegenation statutes like the one overthrown by Loving and feel the same repugnance that many unenlightened bigots felt about the issue of mixed marriages forty-one years before the decision. Chief Justice Warren, in setting forth the facts in Loving wrote:


On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge [of miscegenation] and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in an opinion that:


"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay [sic] and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his [sic] arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he [sic] separated the races shows that he [sic] did not intend for the races to mix."


...


In upholding the constitutionality of these provisions in the decision below, the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia referred to it's 1955 decision in Naim v. Naim as stating the reasons supporting the validity of these laws. In Naim, the state court concluded that the State's legitimate purposes were "to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens" and to prevent "the corruption of blood," "a mongrel breed of citizens," and "the obliteration of racial pride," obviously an endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy. [Citations omitted.]


You know, Chief Justice Warren didn't really need to quote the sentencing judge's opinions on the matter--they're not particularly relevant to the outcome or the law, and the only reason for the Chief Justice to throw it in is because the sentiments clearly offended him. And you can almost imagine Warren's teeth grinding as he quotes Naim. The direction of the wind had shifted in 1967, the idea of "the corruption of blood" already seeming not merely sinister and outdated, but ignorant, as primitive in a thick-skulled, witless way as faith in trepanation as a cure-all for what ails you. It's not hard to imagine our current national hysteria over gay marriage looking just as in a few decades: hey, look, we allowed gay people to marry each other and the world didn't end, the sky didn't fall, the ground didn't heave open and hurl us all ass-over-head into the deepest bowels of Hell.


The second major thing, one of the main points of Mr. Ridley's commentary, is this other slow progression: one of the two candidates for the office of President of these United States isn't merely an African-American, but indeed a product of this supposed "corruption of blood" that the fools in Naim were on about. One's instinct is to decry that forty-one years seems a long time, but in fact it's an amazing thing: Senator Obama is of the first generation of children born to parents whose marriage was legally recognizable in all fifty states. Indeed, when the decision in Loving was handed down, Barack Obama was two months shy of his sixth birthday--had his parents attempted to visit the state of Virginia (or the fifteen other states with similar statutes at the time) as husband and wife, they would have been subject to arrest, and little Barack himself would have been considered an illegitimate child (among other things) at the time. Today he's a viable Presidential candidate. (And it's not without irony that there's been discussion about the possibility that one of the swing states in play for him is... Virginia.)


So happy Loving day. And happy loving day, too--the aptness of the Lovings's name may be a bit trite at this point, but it's sweet nonetheless. Here's to the hope that progress and human decency aren't beyond our grasp, and that as far as we've come within a man's lifetime, we can go as far again in the lifetimes of this generation of children.



Postscripts: doing some rounds, I see Michelle has noted the date as well, at Random (but not really).


Vince's comment has drawn my attention to a nice piece Janeice wrote in May at Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men to honor Mildred Loving when she passed away.


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Neverwednesday Nights

>> Wednesday, June 11, 2008


(With thanks to Boing Boing for bringing this to my attention.)


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Looky, looky, looky!

It looks like some free blogging website has added an official blogroll widget to their toolset, doesn't it? With updates to recent posts and icons, even. Well, well, well, aren't we special? The new version of the "friends and neighbors" sidebar is to your right. To your right on screen, duh. Underneath the "about me" panel. Look down. Not that far. Scroll up a little. There you go.


If you're not already part of our happy little Whatever-derived family (and, ironically, I've hardly visited el Scalzi's blog in weeks--I sort of skimmed the recent updates in my RSS reader yesterday and was surprised how much and how little has gone on), go visit some of those other blogs, eh? Or, for that matter, if you're not one of the two World Of Meat people on the list, the two people I hang out with in realspace who also occasionally do the blogging thing.* (In one case, very occasionally: it's probably been a month or more since she last updated, but she's on the list.)


We'll see how well the new widget works. And if you're a regular and you're not on the list, why not? Remind me, I probably was just a neglectful and bad friend, and ought to be (gently) chided for my oversight.


And thanks, Blogspot! Really, this was awesome of you and the Googlians you slave away for!


(Oh, by the way: the blogroll widget lets you sort by most recent post. Which means... yes, it's a competition! A vicious, bloody battle to the death to see who will hold onto the top slot by posting more recently than anyone else! Ha! Entertain me! I am the puppetmaster who calls the tunes and you will play the game to its bitter final act! Also, I like mixing metaphors! Ha! Haha! Hahahhahahaha!)




* I really can't help feeling that there's no way to write that sentence without sounding like I have no friends. I know plenty of people who don't blog, thank you very much. Oh great, now I sound defensive. This is that whole "Freudian rebuttal" thing, where responding to something makes you sound guilty, right? Ack! Now I sound even more like a loser. I should stop typing, should have stopped typing seventy-one words ago. Quit while I'm behind and all that. Dammit. I always do this. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Why do I always do this? Wait, who am I writing this for? Everyone already stopped reading. I guess this is as good a time as any to stop and scratch my


I thought you--were you reading this the whole time? Did you see.... Look, I'm really sorry about that. I didn't know you were still here. Um. Do you think we could... uh... maybe not mention to everyone else that you saw me... er... it wasn't anything nasty, I just needed to scratch and I thought I was by myself, okay? It's a guy thing, alright? Look, I really don't see any reason you have to, you know, mention this to anyone, okay?

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National embarrassment

>> Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Well how do you like that? A representative in the United States Congress has introduced thirty-five articles of impeachment against President George Bush, and do I see the news on the front page of MSNBC? Do I hear it in the headlines on NPR when my clock radio goes off? Do I see it on CNN's front page?


Of course not. I read about it on Boing Boing. A Google News search brings up a blog at the Village Voice and four-paragraph pieces at CBS (another blog entry) and six paragraphs at Reuters.


CNN is happy to tell me that McCain has made some kind of verbal misstep about vetoing beer, and MSNBC tells me that McCain and Obama are trading blows over the economy. (Rival candidates for President arguing about the economy? No! Really! Tell me more!)


Okay, so the congressman in question is Representative Kucinich, and House Speaker Pelosi has made it abundantly clear that the Democrats are spineless wimps will not engage in divisive tactics while they seek to unify the country during this important election year. (Or something like that. Why did I cross out "spineless wimps" again?) So these articles of impeachment will go nowhere. And therefore this isn't a story, right? Unlike "Waterspout captured on camera off Florida coast" (MSNBC) or "Eastwood tells Spike Lee to 'shut his face'" (CNN).


This is pathetic, you know. We have a President who manipulated intelligence and misled the public to get the nation to get into a war that we may have no way to get out of short of the dishonorable (but perhaps necessary) tactic of simply bringing the troops home and allowing Iraq to collapse from within or tumble from outside pressure from its neighbors. We have jeopardized the legitimate war in Afghanistan, squandered the international sympathies from our allies and even from some of our enemies that the events of September 11th, 2001 provoked. We have created a culture of domestic spying and intimidation where the Executive Branch has taken measures to spy on its own citizens to a degree that hasn't been seen since the early 1970s. The Executive Branch has authorized interrogation measures that violate the strictures of the U.S. Constitution, our obligations under international treaty, and common decency and our national honor and heritage. We ought to be having a national discussion about why we're not impeaching President Bush--if perjury or breaking an invalid law is sufficient, surely violating the Fourth Amendment and our duties under the Geneva Conventions ought to, just maybe, perhaps, possibly be sufficient to consider the situation.


Oh, but let's be pragmatic, right? Impeachment proceedings might fail, or would drag on past January 20, 2009: the defendant will no longer be President. Fine, but this is really a commentary on the state of the national dialogue, or lack thereof. Anyone here remember how Nixon's resignation closed the book on his national disgrace and shut everyone up? And how President Ford's weird pre-emptive pardon passed without notice or discussion? If you don't, it may be because that's not what happened: Congress enacted laws to deal with Nixon's excesses, journalists and gadflies continued to publish books about it, and the nation continued to be generally pissed off. Whether Ford's pardon hurt him more in the 1976 elections than the sluggish economy is maybe beside the point--that pardoning Nixon for vague and unspecified naughtiness didn't help him one bit.


We should be ashamed. Our leaders should be ashamed. The media should be ashamed. The story isn't that Representative Kucinich has introduced articles of impeachment; the story is that it's not at the top of every front page in the country. It's a disgraceful story, full of yawning silences and weaseling shrugs, about a nation that probably gets exactly what it deserves and is too mush-minded and apathetic to understand it had it coming. There's blood, and terror, but it ends with a whine, not a bang.

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Elfquest

>> Monday, June 09, 2008

The day started uneventfully. That might have been a clue--you know what they say, that cheesy cliché: "It's quiet, too quiet." It was discovered later that he didn't even eat his breakfast, the poor bastard.


A friend betrayed him. Not at first. At first it was the usual hubbub, the coffee machine decanting and the sounds of the Elf's roommate showering. It wasn't until his roommate began shoving him into the tiny plastic and wire cage that he suddenly realized something was amiss. He yowled and struck out, landing a solid blow on his roommate's nose that his roommate wouldn't even notice had drawn a tiny bead of blood for hours. But he went in the cage, inevitably. And the cage moved, swung from one level to the next, into the caverns below where the bright green monster cowered silently in the darkness. He quivered in fear as they approached, his roommate consummating the treachery by prying open one of the green monster's maws to shove the cage inside.


The monster rumbled and roared. Our hero trembled inside its pale guts, too terrified to even look for a means of escape, too frightened and wounded by his roommate's nefarious acts to do more than occasionally call out. The strangest, most terrifying thing during this horrible interlude was the fact that over the rumble of the beast's innards and the roaring outside the beast's armored hide he could hear music, music playing inside the beast. What did he make of it? What could he make of it?


The cage was disgorged from the beast. But his heroic journey was not done, no. The hero must suffer, must be a martyr during the mid-point of his labors and this heroic quest was no different. The Elf was dragged into the chrome-decorated torture rooms where he was poked and humiliated. Much of the time he was left in a steel cage with only a bowl of water, to suffer in silence--or so he thought, thought he was suffering. He discovered it was worse when he was dragged from the cage to be poked and prodded. They stole his blood for their arcane rituals and injected him with the plagues that devastated so many of his race. They even studied his shit, as if there were some obscure signs to be divined through arduous copromancy, and took his urine for some dark rite.


The traitor returned that evening. He spoke to the Elf's captors in their strange tongue.


"Elvis looks really good," the lead torturer announced to the betrayer in their foul and clumsy language, "we gave him his three-year and we took some blood, which we should have back in a couple of days, we'll let you know if there's anything. Also, you've done a really good job with his weight, he's lost three pounds since we last saw him, I'm really pleased with that."


"It's that 'catkins' diet you recommended last year," the conniving roommate simpered. The Elf didn't understand a word of it. He stared out through the wires of his cage at the other prisoners, perhaps wondering if he could forge some alliance with the wounded and frightened inmates of the prison. He heard his roommate add, though he didn't understand a word, "Oh, she said something about a teeth-cleaning on the phone?"


"There's a little bit of tartar buildup," the torturer said, "and he's old enough for his first cleaning."


The Elf's heart soared with hope as he was finally taken outside the prison! But no! There was the green monster, lying in wait with its hunched back and black paws! The Elf was devoured again!


But strange: this time the journey ended not in some new place of horror, but a familiar one--the cave in which the green beast slumbered. The Elf began to push himself at the wires of the cage, searching for some weak point. And at last he found it! His cage was taken into the familiar lands of the Elf, his domain where he was the master, and suffered the treacherous roommate to take his meals and make his coffee and sleep on the Elf's vast bed! And here, at last (with no help from the still-treacherous roommate, who was obviously distracted and certainly didn't use his misshapen paws to unfasten the latches of the cage), the Elf pushed free and escaped the confines of his trap. Freedom! And revenge to follow. The hero, triumphant, returned to his homeland, the heroic quest complete!


Little could the Elf-cat realize he's going right back to the vet next Monday for that teeth-cleaning.


Our triumphant hero rests after his arduous journey through Hell and back.

Update 06-11-2008: Had a message from the vet when I got home. Nothing bad, quite the contrary: who has normal blood? Who has normal blood? Yes he does! Yes he does!

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Happy birthday, modern PC or laptop!

>> Sunday, June 08, 2008

On June 8, 1978, Intel introduced the 8086 microprocessor, the first X86 chip and a direct ancestor to pretty much every CISC (complex instruction set computing)-chip currently in use on the planet.


In other words, unless you're still (improbably) using a fifteen year-old Apple with a Motorola RISC chip, you're probably using either a lineal (Intel) descendant of the 8086 or its cousin (an AMD chip using similar code to the X86 lineage) on your PC or laptop. Yes, there are a few alternatives, but not many. And the 8086 was the first in a line of relatively inexpensive, powerful chips that made the "PC revolution" possible. The 8086 was cheap enough, powerful enough, and simple enough to become a flexible template for the microchips at the heart of the machines on every desktop and in every bookbag. Absent the dominance of the X86, the contemporary computing landscape might look much the way it did in the late '70s and early '80s: a lot of incompatible, almost toy-like machines like the variety of products by Commodore, Texas Instruments, Tandy, Atari, et al., the incompatibility of which hardly invited the universality we take for granted today. Every Wintel machine is more or less just like every other Wintel machine not merely because they share operating systems, but because the commonality of the computers' brains makes it possible for them to share operating systems. So the birthday of the 8086 is kind of a big deal: the fact that you have an affordable laptop or desktop at home that's similar to the affordable laptop or desktop you use at work or in a public library or whatever is something that goes back thirty years this day.


On a not-wholly-related note, I read somewhere that the space shuttles still use 8086s because that's what they were built and tested with, and nobody wants to find out there's a critical flaw in, say, the 686 microprocessor while you're trying to land a multi-billion dollar space craft with seven human beings onboard. It sounds absurd that NASA might be using thirty-year-old technology until you remind yourself that the shuttle is thirty-year-old tech and using compatible and reliable and established technology is eminently sensible.


In any event, happy birthday X86 architecture! Where would we be without you? Probably not blogging about X86 architecture! Happy thirtieth!




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Delicious filler, mmm

>> Saturday, June 07, 2008

Great, it's 3:30 here and I haven't posted and I don't have anything to post. So here's some of what I've been listening to today, from three CDs that arrived the other day. Have a good Saturday.


Jenny Lewis With The Watson Twins, "You Are What You Love" from Rabbit Fur Coat:



Iron And Wine, "Boy With A Coin" from The Shepherd's Dog:



Calexico, "Cruel" from Garden Ruin:



(Purchase links to Amazon.com for all three albums can be found in the "Recent Music" sidebar.)



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Now that's just sad

>> Friday, June 06, 2008

So, apparently there's this nursing home in Germany that's solved the problem of elderly residents trying to run away. How? By setting up a fake bus stop in front of the home: senile patients see the bus stop and sit down and sit down to wait for a bus that never comes. Eventually, someone from the home comes out and asks the fugitive if he or she wouldn't want to come in for tea or coffee.


Now that's just sad. I mean, come on.


On the plus side, maybe it will be like Ghost World, and a bus from nowhere will come along someday, sometime.


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As if I didn't already have enough reasons to adore Justice O'Connor...

>> Thursday, June 05, 2008

Additional reason to adore retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor No. 605,081: She's kind of sort of a gamer chick. Or at least she's collaborating with some folks on a video game. Okay, admittedly, it's an educational game for kids and those almost always suck and always have back to the day when I was a kid. I don't care. Let me have the happy thought, 'kay? I suppose I always knew that if there was ever a Supreme Court Justice who was up for an all-night LAN party fragfest, it would have to be Justice Sandy. Because Justice O'Connor is a badass.*


Additional reason to adore retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor No. 605,082: Because she says shit like this while she's promoting her video game:


"We hear a great deal about judges who are activists -- godless, secular, humanists trying to impose their will on the rest of us. Now I always thought an activist judge was one who got up in the morning and went to work."


Slam!


If I find out Justice O'Connor's new game has ninjas, she's going to have to take out a restraining order against me.


Seriously, though--or more seriously, because my tongue is only partly in cheek--she really is and was my favorite SCOTUS Justice. I didn't always agree with her opinions, but I almost always knew why I didn't agree with her when I disagreed with her--I mean in a kind of thoughtful way, as opposed to a "What the fuck, it hasn't been 1789 for more than 200 years, now I think I'm going to go slam my head into a cinderblock wall until the pain stops" kind of way. People knock Justice O'Connor's opinions for being too this or too that--"too case specific" or "too emotional" (I even remember one law professor implying her opinion in Casey was "too cosmic," though I'm not entirely sure he meant that as a negative, really). I almost always found the O'Connor opinions that were allegedly "too whatever" to be a bit on the wise side, actually. Justice O'Connor, I think, understands both the limitations and responsibilities of a judge in a way that some smart-aleck theoreticians really don't; along with that, I think she also remembered Emerson's aphorism about foolish consistencies†--unlike some purportedly wise men who think they have the One Good Theory That Dictates The Outcome Of Every Case. (Not, mind you, that these folks are really that consistent, foolishly or otherwise, since they also seem to be the Justices most likely to make themselves hypocrites by deciding cases along nakedly partisan lines even when their pet theories of Constitutional interpretation might dictate a different result.)


Anyway, let's close by restating our premise, as that's what I've heard you're supposed to do when writing topically and what all. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is awesome and I love her. The end.





*Yes, I know she says she doesn't play videogames. That's because she's fronting. I mean, come on, she probably gets a hard enough time from Republicans already without them knowing how much time she's spent in the past several weeks playing GTA IV.


†"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," quoth Mr. Emerson.




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Neverwednesday Nights

>> Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Wednesday online gaming sessions with friends are scheduled to resume, so I'm posting this... well, actually, I'm posting this on Monday. But I don't expect to be available, so we're going to have a music video tonight.


Or a concert clip, actually, from a 1977 episode of The Old Grey Whistle Test. One of America's most angelic voices addresses itself to one of America's greatest singer-songwriters. Emmylou Harris performs Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho And Lefty."


Emmylou's version on Luxury Liner is the best version of "Pancho And Lefty" is, as far as I'm concerned, the best version of this song ever. Of course, I could be wrong: there have been quite a few versions of the song, by quite a few brilliant performers, including Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Hoyt Axton, Bob Dylan, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, et al. And I haven't heard all of them--I think I'd especially like to hear Welch's and Axton's versions sometime. But it's hard to imagine any of them--even Gillian Welch's--competing with Emmylou; Emmylou sings like an angel.


There's only one problem with the clip, though. I don't know what the fuck was wrong with her drummer (1977, I have a few guesses), but I swear he's speeding up and slowing down throughout the whole clip. If it's just me, feel free to let me know, but I'm telling you, this is a bad version of the best version, and it's all the drummer's fault. Emmylou's voice is as divine as ever, and that's why we're going ahead and embedding this clip, stoned drummer be damned. Enjoy:





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