October 31, 2003

Political Spectrum

Here's where I fall on the political spectrum.

Economic Left/Right: -4.00
Libertarian/Authoritarian: -6.82
There's a shocker. Ok, no shocker. Feel free to take the test yourself if you haven't already. The cool New England kids have already started without you so hurry up.

So, what does this mean to me? It means I'm a economic semi-liberal who doesn't trust the government very much, apparently.

Posted by James at 10:38 PM | Comments (8)

Hamburgler Redux

In the last 2 days, more than 8% of the unique visitors coming to this blog via search engines got here by searching for "hamburgler." What does this mean? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps it's some Halloween thing. The King of Town dressed up as the Hamburgler this year. Coincidence?

Posted by James at 5:27 PM | Comments (4)

The New Crop Circle?

How does a 4-foot wide boulder find its way up an 80-foot tree? I love weird stories, but as soon as I heard this one, I thought "crop circles."

Posted by James at 2:24 AM | Comments (3)

October 30, 2003

Preemptive War: A definition

If the threat's imminent, then an attack can be preemptive. Claiming you are attacking preemptively implies you are dealing with an imminent threat. Otherwise, aren't we just talking about naked aggression? Absit Invidia has a post today clarifying the issue with some documentation from the United States Army War College. Thanks for an excellent catch, Steve.

Posted by James at 2:10 PM

Hogwarts Headaches

Reports are hitting the news about kids getting headaches from marathon reading sessions of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Perhaps a Harry Potter line of reading glasses should be in the works? Or maybe just better lighting. Hey kids: Read Harry Potter out on your porch. Get some fresh air, and enjoy the free solar lighting!

Posted by James at 11:45 AM | Comments (5)

Suing Nose To Spite Face

Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel threatened to sue the makers of the Simpsons over a spoof news ticker, the show's creator Matt Groening has claimed.
(story at Guardian Unlimited)
Posted by James at 9:54 AM | Comments (1)

Malloween

The Homestar Halloween Cartoon is out for 2003! Also, Marshie is sporting new Malloween colors in this advert. What's more, you can find Homestar-themed pumpkin carving stencils on the site, and a Malloween-themed videogame.

Posted by James at 1:42 AM

15 Minutes Into My Birthday

It's 15 minutes or so into my birthday.

If birthday wishes come true, Bush will be announcing he will not run for reelection. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Posted by James at 1:08 AM | Comments (5)

October 29, 2003

Hell House : Movie Review

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. (Romans 6:23)

This time of year, one thing that can be counted on (here in New England) is that someone is running a haunted house. They range from small, brief conference-room-sized affairs (like the one our local library runs for free) to elaborate multi-room affairs which cost a few bucks to enter and are geared toward a slightly older group (such as Fall River's "Factory of Terror").

The point of these haunted houses is entertainment, and not much more. It's a way to safely join in the fun of Halloween and scare a few people. For some organizations, it's a way to raise some funds. When I was a kid, my friends and I (who were avid horror movie fans and skilled in horror makeup art from reading industry magazines) sometimes volunteered our services at the Police Athletic League haunted house, or the one at Pottersville School.

But what if you could harness the interest in haunted houses to further a religious and political agenda? Instead of scaring people for fun, you could scare them with God's threatened punishment by showing them what's going to happen to them if they don't toe the line. What will happen to them if they're gay, or have an abortion, or flirt with people on the internet?

Well, some folks do just that. The movie "Hell House" documents one such godly house of horrors - the oldest running one, in fact, at Trinity Church just outside of Dallas, TX. The result is an important examination of a vein of fear which runs through our population. It's a fear that could be coming to your town someday, if you choose to ignore it.

From the first brainstorming process through the execution of the horrors and the prayer room that follows, the filmmakers chronicled the entire event. Further, they examine some of the personal lives of the hell house organizers to reveal some of the real demons these people are dealing with.

There are revealing glimpses along the way. In one of the planning sessions, there is discussion of placing a gay marriage scene into the show. If it were to follow the mold of the other segments of the house, it would probably have played the two gay folks up as stereotypes, and then had some tragedy befall the wedding party so that demons could be seen dragging the screaming homosexuals to their eternal doom as they loudly proclaimed that they wished they could go back and un-gay themselves. One woman objected to the ideas that were being bandied about and, to their credit, they nixed the gay segment. She cited that she had gay friends.

(BTW, Hell Houses have since taken up the slack on this issue. One existing house does indeed have a gay marriage-themed segment.)

The filmmakers show the sincerity of the organizers. And while they pull no punches in revealing the details of the Hell House, the organizers certainly come across as human, if a little misguided. The only time an opposing opinion to the Hell House is given is when some of the patrons objected to the message of the Hell House, prompting an argument in the parking lot outside. What follows is not much of a debate, and here is where we see the balance of the filmmakers. They allow the protestors to have their brief say, but don't wander off at that point to explore the protest in depth, or an opposing opinion. In this way, the film is kept pretty pure.

Sure, you're meant to come to some sort of conclusion. Certainly the filmmakers chose to show you the private life of one man whose wife left him after an internet affair, and how he is personally tormented by the one scene that nearly mirrors his own life. There is irony when one young girl is excited to play the "abortion gone wrong" or the "date rape scene."

Without batting an eye, a girl portrays a teen who is slipped a date-rape drug, and then is raped. Back in her room she faces her inner demons. The message is clear - she never should have gone to the party. There is no sympathy for this teen who (the demon reveals) was also molested by her father. Regardless, she is on the path to Hell.

The ignorance of the organizers sometimes takes center stage as when they are excited to include a date rape scene, but can't think of a date rape drug. One begins to wonder at the motivation behind the scenes chosen. Ostensibly, it is to deter people from sin. But after a while it starts to feel more like a way to express their own frustration with a world that frightens them. This is their cathartic voodoo-doll attack on their own demons (the gays, loose women, the internet culture, etc.).

By the end of the movie you will likely feel sorry for the organizers. They're truly trapped in their ideology and are motivated not by hatred (as opponents might assume) or by love (as they might tell you) but by fear. And it is that fear that the choose to give back to the community, in the form of the Hell House.

I highly recommend this film. This cultural phenomenon is not just a form of entertainment, but a bellwether. It's an inkblot of parts of America that are usually not accessible to the east/west coast culture. This is an opportunity to understand the fear that has consumed these people, and the helplessness that they feel.

The last two years of news have been dominated by America's reaction to terrorism. What is terrorism if not the child of fear and helplessness? Fear, combined with helplessness and a growing population of people who feel they have no future (unemployed, or marginally employed and surrounded by poverty) finds a home when it encounters a religion with apocalyptic overtones. Clearly, we ignore this at our own risk.

You might think "Well, I don't see this happening in my town yet." I thought the same thing, but then I realized that we have our own version of this. It doesn't happen to run during the Halloween season, but instead during the summer. It's called "Heaven's Gates and Hell's Flames" and is basically the same idea, without the Halloween themes. It's run by a local protestant sect which was started by a felonious preacher (whome they have recently disowned). Clearly, the idea of symbolically striking out at one's enemy through these events to reaffirm their own riteousness is a concept with legs.

Hell House The Movie Website
Hell House on IMDB
Related stories on Hell Houses: 1, 2, 3
NPR story
Brandon's Post @ Instick Musings

Posted by James at 10:59 AM | Comments (4)

October 28, 2003

Eric Durand Held in Child Slaying

Sometime after Brendon Camara cleaned up his urine, Durand alleges, the boy fell down a flight of stairs.[...]The next time that Paquette saw Brendon Camara, she told police, he was "laying on his bed with his eyes rolled back and his mouth moving as if he was trying to breathe."[...]Durand admitted to picking on Brendon because he was a "whiner" and he wanted to "toughen him up."
That's from the Fall River Herald. In another news story, the autopsy found that little Brendon's stomach had completely separated from his duodenum, apparently from some blow to the stomach which was not consistent with falling down the stairs. [Update: NECN report. Video ]
Posted by James at 4:30 PM | Comments (8)

Dude, where's my stuff?

The question that haunts Simon Watts isn't how somebody broke into his North Beach apartment while he was on vacation and stripped everything out of the two-bedroom unit -- dirty laundry, the sliver of soap in the soap dish, his daughter's wedding photo.
Thieves enter his home and clean him out completely.. and clean up after themselves.
[...]why would someone dismantle the 15-foot-long wooden shelf he custom-made for his office wall and lug it down 42 steps from his third-floor apartment to the sidewalk? And why would someone steal frozen peas out of his freezer?
Posted by James at 3:16 PM | Comments (2)

Happy Birthday, Sis!

October 28 is my sister's birthday - So Happy Birthday, Sis!

October is the month of birthdays. My wife's is on the 5th. Mine is the day before Halloween, the 30th. And I have good friends who celebrate the day, and a nephew. It seems odd there are so many birthdays from September to November, until you realize that 40 weeks before is the dead of winter. October 5th is consistent with a holiday season (New Year's Eve) pregnancy. Hmmmm.

Posted by James at 1:15 PM | Comments (2)

Mystic River - Review

Mystic River

I have mixed feelings when I walk into a theater to see a film based on a book I liked. There's the desperate hope that they don't screw it up royally and take the story far afield. But there's also the knowledge that a film has to stand on its own, apart from the book, and almost any liberties that the filmmakers take are justified if the end result is a film that entertains.

Walking into Mystic River, I had those concerns. But, when I saw Tim Robbins take the screen a few minutes into the film and I saw what kind of acting that the director was getting out of his cast, I relaxed quite a bit. Mystic River goes beyond a film that entertains to a film that stays with you.


If I had the time to write a long review, I'd tell you a lot more about Dennis Lehane. He wrote the book that the screenplay is based on. He's one of my favorite fiction authors -- my favorite writer of gritty detective novels. He co-wrote the screenplay with Brain Helgeland, an Academy Award-Winning screenwriter who graduated from UMass Dartmouth. I don't need to tell you anything, really about the director, Clint Eastwood.

That pedigree put this film on my "Must See" list, and the actors who lined up to take the major roles (Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Sean Penn, Laura Linney, Laurence Fishburn) gives you the idea that this film project got people's attention.

It's the story of three school-age friends living in a neighborhood of Boston who have drifted apart and are brought together years later by a horrible tragedy. Jimmy is the kid from the wrong side of the neighborhood. Sean's father had a white collar job, which made him different somehow. Danny was always on the periphery. In the present, Jimmy is a corner store owner, responsible father and ex-gang leader. Sean is now a state police detective. Danny... we're not too sure about Danny.

Each person must face something inside himself which has been there since childhood but has now come to the surface as a result of the events of one night, when death comes to the neighborhood.

The story is quite good, but it is the characters who drive this film forward. There is an element of mystery, but where many other mystery writers fail in their characters Lehane succeeds, pushing many questions to the back of our minds. We're quite busy feeling the emotions of the characters.

There are some misses in the film, some places where elements of the book could have been left out. I can see the screenwriter's problem, though. There are three main characters in the book and the film sought not to marginalize one of them. A lot of the book happens in the head of characters and Eastwood and gang have done a great job putting those thoughts onto film through dialogue and through the face of Sean Penn in the best performance I can remember.

Mystic River is a movie I find difficult to review. It's the sort of film that is better seen, and discussed afterward. You may want to discuss some of it simply to work out your own emotions.

Posted by James at 1:01 PM

October 27, 2003

Jack O'Lantern 2003


Click for larger image.

Posted by James at 2:39 AM | Comments (1)

Mini Roundup

Unrelated or semirelated short things. Some of them goofy. Some, not-so-goofy.


  • I went to the movies the other day to see Kill Bill Vol.1. Non Seqitur of the month:
    Me: One ticket for Kill Bill.
    Girl: That will be nine dollars please.
    Me: Has it started yet?
    Girl: We're still running the trailers.
    Me: OK
    Girl: You wouldn't happen to want to buy a ferret, would you?

  • A squirrel is eating a pumpkin we left outside. He's getting quite fat now. I wonder if his breath smells like pumpkin pie. No, I didn't check.

  • We went to see Mystic River yesterday with Julie. The woman next to Julie cried for much of the film. Three seats down I could hear her sniffling.

  • My daughters ran a haunted house for us. At one point, I was made to eat celery. I was told it was a spine.

  • Chuck's birthday was last Friday. I didn't forget it, but I was pissed at myself for not remembering it sooner in the day. By the time I called he had gone out to dinner. I wish my friends all lived much closer. Oddly, the furthest friend moves to New Bedford next week (from Florida) and will now be the closest of my college friends. Weird. (I should note that my furthest longtime friend, my cousin Bill who was stationed in the middle east, has temporarily moved to Maine. But he will be stationed in Washington state all too soon.)

  • I didn't realize the top was off the oregano and poured a little mound of it onto my pizza. Michelle Sherillo once told me that conservative use of oregano was key in Italian cooking. I wonder where she is now. Is that her, with the Webster Lake association? Is she working for NovaSoft? I ought to drop her a line and say "Hi." One of those "Are you that person who I think you are?" emails. NovaSoft is in Burlington, where Xenergy was -- I bet that is her Chuck probably knows.

  • I've sent a number of "Are you that person?" emails. I've only once sent one that turned out to be to the wrong person. I've never gotten one that was not meant for me, and have gotten a couple that were meant for me.

  • One wrong "is it you" message I sent was when I was trying to say "Hi" to an old high school friend. He happens to work in film and he shares his name with a very close personal friend of Raymond Burr. The man I mistakenly contacted now owns and manages Mr. Burr's namesake wine label. He replied to my message very kindly. This took place around 1995.

  • It only occurred to me later that the girl with the ferret might either be flirting with me or might be a secret agent and that ferret line was the first part of a code phrase intended to identify her contact. The far more likely explanation is the secret agent one.

Posted by James at 2:04 AM | Comments (4)

Bush Lies Laid Bare

David Corn has authored a book "
The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception." I think this book is going to be a huge resource for Democrats and simply anyone who wants a sane government for which they can have a shred of respect.

John Dean reviews the book in a FindLaw article "Has George W. Bush Met His Own Ken Starr?" I find Dean's review interesting because he reaches into other resources to look at presidential lies in general, accepting that all presidents lie. Taking this realistic approach, the lies can be analyzed for their severity or whether or not some of them were justified. The review is a decent read, and it recommends the book well.

If you want more of a taste of the book, the author (Corn) has his own website where he plans to add value to the book by continuing the chronicle of Bush lies. One of the pages I found most interesting is this list of Bush's top ten lies. That would be, top ten worst, I suppose. It's not only easy to digest, it may remind you of older lies you might have forgotten. As Bush seems uncontent to rest on the laurels of previous misleading statements and outright prevarications, you start ot forget that the lies are a pattern.

While we're on the subject, I want to address the idea I keep seeing float by that "Bush never said X" where X happens to be something that everybody pretty much assumed he meant from his speeches or the statements of his administration officials. Yes, on the face of it I agree that an individual is not accountable for things that people merely think he said.

However, it is an infantile evasion to say that people are unfairly characterizing your statements when your statements are so misleading that so many people consistently interpret them to mean the same thing.

Look at advertising for an example of this. Many companies make misleading claims in their ads (free checking, mobile phone plans, stuff like that). People catch on to the misleading hucksterism eventually. Usually some company will put in their ads that "our free checking is really free checking" or "we roll over your minutes, so no misleading charging for minutes you haven't used." People regard hucksterism very dimly. But the companies who made the misleading claims can nearly always claim that if you read the fine print, their buts were covered. It's bull, and consumers know it. They put it in such a way as to squeeze cash out of you.

In some cases, Bush's words were clearly counter to the truth. In other cases, he applied more art to his dodging.

When we look to Bush's implications that Saddam was an imminent threat to this country (thus justifying a preemptive war) we might not see him use the word "imminent." Is that really the point? Of course not -- it's not the use of one word that launched public opinion of the war here. It's the consistent portrayal of the threat as significant, bearing down on us, and linked to Al Qaida. Saddam was a major league asshole, and the world is better off without him. There is little need to argue that. What we do need to argue is the distortions necessary to justify a preemptive war, how the administration justifies its manipulation of public opinion, and whether we can trust this administration as far as we can throw it.

Frankly, right now I'd rather see how far we can throw them.

(tip of the hat to Lies.com for the links)

Posted by James at 12:18 AM | Comments (2)

October 24, 2003

Quick Reviews

I've seen a few movies lately and haven't really had a chance to post full reviews. It just takes me too long. So, instead, I'll post some quick mini-reviews FYI.

Continue reading for reviews of Kill Bill Vol.1, Rat Race, and 28 Days Later.

Kill Bill vol.1 - I'll preface this by sayign I'm not a huge Tarantino fan. That is to say, I don't go see a movie just because it's directed by Tarantino. I saw this film because his influences are coming from a place that I find very entertaining - the asian martial arts movie genre.

This is a film primarily about revenge. Uma Thurman is out to destroy the people who destroyed her life. Tarantino gives her plenty of motivation, but the extreme stylism of the film, seems, to me, to be the goal. The story, the characters, the movement, and the violence are almost like hues of paint on a canvas, resulting in a sort of painting. It's less complicated than Pulp Fiction, but perhaps that because its main character is so single-minded. I can recommend this film to people who like Japanese films, or chinese kung-fu movies. But people looking primarily for story probably are going to be a little disappointed. Plus, this is only the first half of the tale. THe second half will be showing in February.

Look for a near-unrecognizable Daryl Hannah who will probably feature more heavily in the second movie.

--

Rat Race - You can feel the Zucker influence in this film now and again, but this is not another Airplane. Rat Race is a pleasant, stupid comedy that grows on you as you watch it. It's an outrageous film along the lines of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (which, incidentally, I can't believe was made before I was born). John Cleese is the owner of a casino who has awarded the rest of the cast with a chance at 2 million dollars. Whoever gets there first can keep the money. It's not quite as predictable as it sounds, but almost. But, somehow, that doesn't ruin the fun much. Truth be told, it was just amusing to watch all these stars run around at their darned goofiest. From Cuba Gooding and his bus full of Lucy impersonators to Jon Lovitz and family driving Hitler's car. You'll shake your head at many of the jokes, but many you'll shake your head at and then giggle. Currently on DVD.

--

28 Days Later - It's a zombie film where the easy scares are passed over for more emotional worries. England has been infected with a virus called "Rage" which turns "the infected" into unthinking killing machines. Jim (Cillian Murphy) wakes from a coma into this world uninfected and eventually finds a few other people staving off the crazed monsters who now roam the streets at night, and sometimes in the day. Jim and his friends are forced to fight off the creatures and later to deal with the motivations of the remaining uninfected.

There is a theme underlying here about human violence. The infected quickly become part of nature's wrath. They lose their rationality and emotions. In short, they lose their humanity. But they are far from the only source of violence in this film and on the planet. But the film is not really preachy. Rather it wants to put you in this bleak situation and let you deal with the ramifications of this version of hell. As such, this is not an uplifting film. As horror films go, the most potent sort of horror is not the scare of a cat jumping out at you, it's your knowledge of what could be if the barriers we place between us and nature and between each other were to fall away.

Posted by James at 5:08 PM | Comments (2)

Child's Death Ruled Homicide

I snuck out last night to see a movie, and just before 10 PM I saw news trucks setting up in front of the Somerset police department. I don't usually see the local news, so I searched and found this horrible story:

The death of a 4-year-old boy who fell down a flight of stairs has been ruled a homicide following an autopsy, officials said.
Unbelievable. Although I'm perplexed as to why some of the news stories listed this 4-year-old as a toddler. A 2-year-old is a toddler. This boy was a preschooler. In any case, this is obviously only the beginning of the most horrible local story to hit Somerset in a long time.

Posted by James at 4:20 PM

Hatred of Success

Stephen at Absit Invidia points out:

We all know that upwards of 330 Americans have been killed in Iraq but, suspiciously, we've never seen arrival ceremonies for deceased soldiers on their return to American soil. No flag draped coffins, no honor guards, no solemnity, no tears.

Know why that is? Because your government has banned any press coverage of those events.

He asks "Where's the outrage."

Where's the outrage? Right here, buddy. Right here.

If I posted my first reaction to the news every day, my entire blog would be about Bush.

I have been a Bush opposer for a long, long time. But I look back at some of the silly things Bush has been criticized for and I almost think that somewhere along the line, Bush said "You want something to criticize? I'll give you something!" and went on from there. But, seriously, I noticed during the 2000 election cycle that Bush seemed to go nutso under pressure. The veneer would crack when things didn't seem to go his way. And I've seen the whole of the Bush-supporting nation exhibit a similar response. Yeah, there's the slime and defend we've heard so much about. But it's worse than that. They get shrill. They seem to abandon what previously were core values.

My recent conclusion hearkens back to why many of these same people hated Clinton. "Yes," they had ideological differences. And "yes" there was the whole Monica affair. But before that they hated him. And I realize now that they hated him for the same reason that some say the terrorists hate us. They hated his success.

They hated everything Clinton didn't fail at. They wanted a president who they could provide as an example of a conservative success - an answer to Clinton. Instead, they got Bush. And they never imagined he would provide so many opportunities for criticism. Heck - even I never imagined it. When I see so much contradiction and confusion in Bush-support-land, I have to think that there is a deep-seated disappointment there. The hatred of Clinton now becomes fury with the folks that didn't share their Clinton hatred who are now attacking their avatar.

I recall the SNL skit from before the election when glimpses of the future were offered as to what would happen if Bush, Nader or Gore were elected. In the Bush alternate future, the president, wild-eyed and stressed out declared "The Great Lakes are on fire. Even I know that's not good!" And reality has proven to be worse than that.

And with the Bush administration's betrayal of much that people thought they stood for, and the apparent confusion, warring and shenanigans which are happening within their ranks, the resentment that they deserve for letting their supporters down is turned elseward. Liberals are treasonous. You're with us or you're against us. Slime and defend. Free-floating anger.

I thought the close election of 2000 was completely understandable. I didn't like Gore much either. But, having had a taste of Bush, I will be perplexed if he is re-elected. Someone will really need to explain it to me.

Conservative or liberal, at the very least we need a leader we can trust. "Leader" and "trust" both being operative words.

Posted by James at 3:59 PM | Comments (5)

Beanie Explosion and Haunted Paint

Chuck sent along this amusing auction from eBay. (Note: that link probably won't be active long).

Boo!Luckily, some folks collect goofy eBay auctions. My favorite is the one with this quote in it (edited by me):

WHEN WE RECEIVED THIS PAINTING, WE THOUGHT IT WAS REALLY GOOD ART. A " PICKER " HAD FOUND IT ABANDONNED BEHIND AN OLD BREWERY. AT HTE TIME WE WONDERED A LITLLE WHY A SEEMINGLY PERFECTLY FINE PAINTING WOULD BE DISCARDED LIKE THAT. ( TODAY WE DON'T !!! ) ONE MORNING OUR 4 AND 1/2 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER CLAIMED, THAT THE CHILDREN IN THE PICTURE WERE FIGHTING, AND COMING INTO THE ROOM DURING THE NIGHT. [...] WARNING: DO NOT BID ON THIS PAINTING IF YOU ARE SUCCEPTIBLE TO STRESS RELATED DISEASE, FAINT OF HEART OR ARE UNFAMILIAR WITH SUPERNATURAL EVENTS. [...] NOW THAT WE GOT THIS OUT OF THE WAY, ONE QUESTION TO YOU EBAYERS. WE WANT OUR HOUSE TO BE BLESSED AFTER THE PAINTING IS GONE, DOES ANYBODY KNOW, WHO IS QUALIFIED TO DO THAT?
It's really a shame the photos are not there anymore.

[UPDATE: Here's a page that purports to show the original pictures. Thanks to poor spelling, a Google search turns up more on this goofy story. Maybe a future Aces post will deal with the intersection of the paranormal and eBay.]

Posted by James at 2:01 PM | Comments (4)

October 23, 2003

Obscurity Has its Privileges

Being a fairly obscure blog, I don't get a heck of a lot of comment spam. But I've heard some blog authors going out of their mind deleting ads from comments. Almost as bad are inane posts like "that's because your a retard" that you find on some really old post. (Thank you Verizon customer 141.154.183.131). Crafty solutions to comment spam are cropping up daily now.


Blessed are the spam-blockers. I mean it. I love these people who are working on ways to block spam to help our lives become more signal and less noise. they are the warrior-angels of the information age.

I've previously mentioned POPFile for email filtering. It's great. A little work to set up, and it runs on your machine all the time, but it is worth it to me to not have to deal nearly at all with spam at home. However, spam on your blog comments is a little more complicated, and can be tougher to deal with. Here are some solutions.

  • MT Blacklist appears to be a great one-stop solution for filtering comment spam. It's free and requires no modification to your Moveable Type files. Administration happens through a web interface. This looks like the closest thing to a holy grail of blog spam solutions.
  • Close Comments Script allows you to shut comments off on old posts. This reduces the stupid comments people make when they wander in via search engine. You choose how long before comments are turned off. I'd probably go for 60 days. (Link via Ten Reasons Why -- look for where it mentions the "close comment script.")
  • Actually closing all comments off. This is a radical commentectomy. I'd rather not do this. The comments are most of the fun. And I certainly haven't gotten enough spam to warrant it.
  • Making users register (authentication) before commenting. Nah. Pain in the neck.
  • Just relax and enjoy the spam. Not an option. Spam begets spam. When spammers see your URL in their referrer logs, it's like sharks smelling blood. You have to delete all your comments spam.
  • Make it easy to delete unwanted comments as they appear. Since we blog authors often get email notification of comments, here's a way to add a link in the email that takes us directly to the delete comment screen in MoveableType. (scroll down to tip #6).

With these solutions, I'm hoping I can stop blog spam before it ever becomes a problem for me. Thank you, blog pioneers!

Posted by James at 4:32 PM | Comments (2)

Kungaloosh

Maggie and I spent out honeymoon at Disney World and had a real blast. One of our favorite attractions was Pleasure Island, which has changed quite a bit over the years. The most fun we had in Pleasure Island of 1991 was hanging out in the Adventurer's Club. At one point, Maggie even ended up on stage performing in a mock radio program. And they served a fun frozen drink called the Kungaloosh. I've never seen a recipe for it until now.

Kungaloosh Recipe

1 1/4 ounce Malibu Rum
1 1/4 ounce vodka
3/4 ounce Midori
2 tablespoons pineapple juice
1 splash cranberry juice

Mix well.

I can't tell if that's the same drink, but it certainly sounds similar. Even if I mix this beast, I have no idea whether I will remember the flavor of the original.

Here's a question. Why does pineapple juice come in cans and not bottles or jars? I it may come both ways, but I only see it in cans at the local supermarket. Is it because it's easier to transport from faraway lands in a can?

Posted by James at 3:22 PM | Comments (4)

October 22, 2003

Crumpled Mess

At 10:25 AM on Monday morning, two cars were idling at the intersection between Faunce Corner Road and Rte.6 in North Dartmouth, next to the Harbor Mall. They were waiting for the lights to change just as I do nearly every morning. Suddenly, a car came down Faunce Corner road traveling south and rammed into both of them, pushing them out into the intersection. The collision happened with enough force to turn the three cars into scrap. It nearly did likewise to the body of the driver of the moving car. She was removed from the wreck, blood issuing from a number of parts of her body, according to reports.

A few minutes later, I passed by and was detoured.

I don't know what sort of car that purple one is, but when I saw it I could not imagine what had happened to it. I saw all three cars, of course and knew that something out of the ordinary had happened to cause a three-car collision there. And, indeed, it is unclear what happened to Maria Machado, the driver who rammed them, and why the collision occurred. I passed within a few feet, but failed to properly rubber-neck. And stopping to take pictures didn't seem right.

As of now, Ms. Machado is listed in critical condition. A woman who was driving one of the other cars has died after having been reported as only sustaining minor injuries. A man who was driving the other car still appears to be OK. I don't know if Ms. Machado herself has regained consciousness since the accident.

Two people were just waiting for the light and one of them is now dead. I wonder if she knew what happened to her? How long before she realized she'd been in an accident. One moment she is just sitting there. The next moment she's... where? Sitting in the intersection? In the ambulance? The hospital?

It could have been anyone. It certainly could have been me. And then I wouldn't be going to pick up milk to put in the fridge so that the kids can have their cereal tomorrow morning. I wouldn't be going to play cards tonight. I wouldn't be compiling a new version of MathWorlds for work. I wouldn't be looking forward to seeing the Return of the King, or Matrix Revolutions, or Indiana Jones on DVD, or reading the end of Harry Potter to the kids, or finishing working on the house with my wife...

Who knows?

Posted by James at 6:34 PM | Comments (3)

Arnold, Lost in Translation

Mui!No explanation necessary where none can help. Even so, I really wish I knew what the heck they were saying. Simply note, Quicktime is needed.

Posted by James at 3:51 PM | Comments (2)

Your TV: Kill or Be Killed

Patti has a decent comment on the Cable Science Network post. She ends it with:

TV is overrated. I'm not a "kill your TV" person--the box has its place. I'm just not interested in being a slave to what my mother always called "the boob tube."
She also points out that TV takes time away from other activities, like reading. It's an excellent point.

I have to say that when I have a serialized story TV show I like to watch, I sometimes feel like a slave to the tube. I really don't watch much broadcast television at all. At our house, the TV is mostly used for watching DVDs. Maggie completely avoids the TV, except for every few years when we are doing renovations. She gets an urge to have Home Garden TV on while she's working, but spends limited time at that.

The kids have a limit set on their TV viewing, and they only complain while they're watching TV. Deprive them of TV for a couple of days and they don't miss it anymore. They do play a video games, often with me (a race game, or a board-type game like Mario Party II).

But we're really talking here about 2 things.

  1. the quality of broadcast TV
  2. time spent on better things
My broadcast TV viewing used to happen (and is starting to happen again) when I am exercising. I use it as an incentive to use the treadmill. I figure, if I am going to feel hooked to a show, I may as well try to use that to motivate myself. Thats why I have a slightly harder time staying on the exercise schedule when the shows are off-season.

There is quality TV out there, it's just in the minority. And I don't really want to sit through the junk to find out what it is. It's easier to just let the critics and viewers decide and then rent the shows when they come to DVD. (As with The Sopranos).

Ideally, the TV ought to be a resource, not a taskmaster. That's why so many people like TIVO. Instead of being chained to the TV, you can approach it like a menu from which to dine. I manage this situation manually by recording every single show I watch and time-shifting it. I don't watch anything live anymore. I waste less time (no commercials) and I don't have to be a slave to the tube because I can drop the show in a second to do anything else. No commitment whatsoever.

No, Patti, I don't think your comments came off as snotty. TV is a vast wasteland, and we're not lying to our kids when we tell them that it shrinks their brains. The challenge in TV is using tools to separate the wheat from the chaff (there is some wheat there, I think we all agree), and it is all too easy to get sucked in to a mediocre show. in some ways, that makes it like a drug. Another opiate of the masses.

TV news is a whole separate subject. I think the "10 minutes of news" your journalism professor was talking about has now been reduced to about 40 seconds of news.

If there were a real science channel with informative documentary content, I'd have to seriously consider getting TIVO. Even now, NOVA is consistently the most interesting show I fail to watch every week (it's tough to watch documentaries because the captions are tougher to read while you're running -- most other TV has fewer words).

But TV cannot educate people. People educate themselves, and they can use the TV to help do that.

Sometimes I wonder about all the things people could have done if they weren't watching TV. But, then again, what about all the not-so-great things that people might have done if they weren't distracted by that opiate. The balance depends on what you think the inclination of the masses is. Just what would people do with their free time if TV were to suddenly disappear tomorrow, for an entire year?

Posted by James at 3:29 PM

Least Favorite Blog Post

I read a number of other blogs. My least favorite blog post of all times is "I know I haven't been posting so much lately" or "sorry I haven't posted much in the last few days." Most of my favorite bloggers don't do that.

It's not that I don't think it's a sentiment that should never be expressed, it's just that if anyone reads your blog daily, or close to that, they already know you haven't been posting so often. And once you read the post you're getting information you already know and you're disappointed because the post you got was a lousy one. This is completely different than "I won't be posting so often for the next week, because..." That's actually an informative post.

Truthfully, I guess I just don't like hearing from favorite bloggers that they know they haven't posted in a few days.

"I haven't posted in a while." Thanks for the update.

To continue on the blog topic, Mike linked to someone's manifesto the other day entitled "Why I Fucking Hate Weblogs!" I won't link directly to it because it seems to me to be an obvious way to get attention - insult practically everyone who has a weblog, and thus they will all link to your opinion when they rail back against you. If you really need to read it, wander around on Mike's curious frog until you find the link. You'll have more fun wandering around Mike's blog anyhow.

One contention the author had was that the name "blog" is stupid. Can't argue there. It sounded stupid to me the first time I heard it. But you can't tell me that "spoon" sounds intelligent. That's no reason not to use spoons.

The success of blogs (and A-list blogs are obviously successful, but even this small blog is successful in allowing me to communicate with my friends) proves that another contention of his (that blogs are lousy communication) is empty-headed. There is room for many different types of communication. And the medium of blogging is better than others for many types of communication.

But enough about blogging for now...

Posted by James at 2:13 PM | Comments (2)

Stereotyping Rednecks With Guns

Red mist, baby. Red mist.
(Warning - links to some gun enthusiast pages)

Posted by James at 12:19 PM | Comments (1)

October 21, 2003

Unambiguous Gestures

Reuters ran a story yesterday under the simple headline "Unbelievable." The subject of the story? A judge in France was suspended for discreetly lifting his robe and doing something that is inappropriate to do in a courtroom.

But I can't help but laugh at the phrase the reporter used to describe what he saw that tipped him off to what the judge was doing. He called them "unambiguous gestures."

It occurs to me that we should all strive to be unambiguous in our communications. But sometimes a little ambiguity might be a good thing.

(Thanks, Ryan, for the laugh)

Posted by James at 12:38 PM | Comments (5)

Movie: Lost in Translation

I love Bill Murray's work. I love it so much, I'm willing to watch the stupid movie Kingpin repeatedly. So it was nearly a sure bet that I was going to like Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola's third directorial effort following the critically acclaimed The Virgin Suicides.

Bill Murray is Bob Harris, a film actor who has long ago passed his peak. Though his fame endures, the phone really isn't ringing all that often, if you know what I mean. Married with children, he takes a lucrative weeklong job making commercials for a japanese whiskey to pay the bills.

It is there in Tokyo he encounters Scarlett Johansson's Charlotte. She's a young newlywed who has accompanied her photographer husband to Tokyo for no other reason than there is nothing else for her to do. While her husband rushes around at work and displays an unfamiliar superficial side, Scarlett wonders where she's going.

The emotional heart of the story lies in Bob and Charlotte's stumbling through their week. In their slow-motion flailing, they grab on to each other.

Ms. Coppola said that she basically stalked Murray to be in this film. You can tell that she had him in mind, since Bob's character makes full use of the cynical side of Murray's personality. Behind that cynicism is the creative personality, trapped by age and circumstance. Charlotte has doubts about the life she has just embarked upon, and Bob confirms some of her worst fears.

The humor of the film is nearly all Murray. Tokyo provides a number of opportunities for Engrish, but a special nod has to go to Anna Farris (of the Scary Movie series) as Claire, a vacuous actress and acquaintance of Charlotte's husband.

The intriguing thing about Bob is that he's only apparently dead from a distance. Close up he's constantly throwing off small sparks. When they fall on tinder, they explode into a karaoke rendition of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." There is plenty of life there, and hope for Charlotte to exist as herself lost within the foreign world of her marriage.

Posted by James at 10:24 AM | Comments (3)

October 20, 2003

NRA List

The NRA Blacklist website has posted a direct link to the NRA's list of folks who they view as their enemies, or, in their words: "Many of these organizations were listed as "Campaign Partners," for having pledged to fight any efforts to repeal the Brady Act and the Clinton "assault weapons" ban. All have officially endorsed anti-gun positions."

Who are the folks/organizations on the list? A sample: Sean Connery; American Academy of Pediatrics; Sigourney Weaver; U.S. Catholic Conference; Eli Wallach; Bruce Springsteen; American Psychological Association; Rosemary Clooney; B'nai B'rith; Julia Child; Doug Flutie; Denis Leary... Well, it's a long list so you'd probably best look at it yourself.

Someone ought to tell the NRA that Rosemary Clooney passed away last year. I'm sure they'll be happy to know it was not a gun-related death.

I've seen criticisms of this site for calling the NRA's list a "blacklist" since they don't appear to be advocating specific action against these folks/organizations. I think those criticisms miss the obvious story. This list is the NRA's own chronicle of the people who appear to be for sensible gun control like the Brady Act and the assault weapons ban (which they naturally label as "the Clinton 'assault weapons' ban"). My reaction is: Wow. Long list. We're not looking at fanatics here. This list tells me that a helluva lot of Americans want sensible gun laws. The story is not what the NRA plans to do with this list (I'm sure plenty of organizations, conservative and liberal, have lists of their opponents). The story is how many sensible people think that they're nuts.

(BTW - hat tip to Bob for the story)
[Update: The NRA culled the dead folks off the list about a day after I posted this.]

Posted by James at 2:35 PM | Comments (4)

Rush to Judgement

I knocked on the open door. He smiled. I introduced myself and he stopped smiling and started to sputter, using the royal "we." "Listen, Rush, I just want to say thanks for the compliment. You're broadcasting on 400 stations nationwide and I am on one station in the smallest state and you're afraid of me. "
- Mary Ann Sorrentino: My in-person meeting with Limbaugh
Posted by James at 12:25 PM

October 19, 2003

Ashcroft's Political Cudgel: Your Country's Laws

Ashcroft is reportedly seeking to punish Greenpeace by dredging up a law that hasn't been used in well over a century to stop "Sailor-Mongering" - the luring of sailors off a ship by means of liquor and prostitutes. A conviction would basically hamstring the organization. But hwat is amazing is the contortions Ashcroft is willing to go through using the law to punish this administration's political enemies.

The Greenpeace case is particularly chilling because of the extraordinary effort to find a law that could be used to pursue the organization. The 1872 law is a legal relic that must have required much archeological digging through law books to find.

It is also notable that other organizations have not faced such attacks. For example, in this same judicial district in Florida, the Cuban American group Democracy Movement organized a protest in which members sailed into a government-designated security zone. Although the members were charged, the organization was not. Similarly, other groups viewed favorably by the administration - such as anti-abortion groups - have not been subject to criminal indictments of their organizations for such protests.

The extraordinary effort made to find and use this obscure law strongly suggests a campaign of selective prosecution - the greatest scourge of the 1st Amendment.

- LA Times (free registraiton required)

This is the guy investigating the administration for leaks. Sounds politically impartial to me.

Posted by James at 3:39 PM | Comments (1)

October 17, 2003

Cable Science Network

Is a cable channel for real science an idea whose time has come? I think it's obvious. We have so many lame channels, why not an informative one? But I fear that, no matter how it begins, it will end up in sensationalism. It seems that every other "educational" channel on cable goes that way.

Posted by James at 10:40 PM | Comments (8)

ARGH!!!!!!!!!

But what the hell did I expect? The Red Sox have once again ripped the heart out of the chest of fans everywhere in New England. And they did it in the most painful way possible. 7 games, blew a 4 nothing lead, 11th inning...

As Strong Bad would say, "Today's forecast is total crap."

Questions to ponder:

  1. How can we possibly have lost?
  2. What was Pedro doing pitching in the 8th?
  3. What the hell??!?!

Posted by James at 1:11 AM | Comments (16)

October 16, 2003

Don't Quote Me On This

Bush told his senior aides Tuesday that he "didn't want to see any stories" quoting unnamed administration officials in the media anymore, and that if he did, there would be consequences, said a senior administration official who asked that his name not be used.
Yeah, the news is getting funny. Link via Lies.com.

I noticed this about Bush during the campaign. When things aren't going his way, the curtain slips a little. In this case, our president is reduced to whining like a kid:I bite you!

On Monday, reacting to reports of internal conflict among his top advisers, the President told one regional broadcaster: "The person who's in charge is me."
Sir, who are you trying to convince?

Posted by James at 11:27 PM

Unenlightened Self-Interest

Homer's BrainWhy did people support Bush's tax cut even though it would result in very little benefit to them as individuals, a larger rich-poor gap, and budget deficits?

In the most extensive analysis yet available, Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton University, gives a simple but persuasive explanation: "unenlightened self-interest." Middle- and lower-income Americans supported tax cuts they suspected went largely to the rich because they thought they, too, would benefit, if only by a small amount, and because they failed to connect the tax cuts to rising inequality, their future tax burden, or the availability of government services
The story in the NYT explains "Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind."
Larry Bartels concludes that "most Americans support tax cuts not because they are indifferent to economic inequality, but because they largely fail to connect inequality and public policy." In this sense, Homer Simpson had it backward when he said, "Just because I don't care doesn't mean that I don't understand."

Posted by James at 11:38 AM | Comments (4)

Faith-Based Intelligence

"The main problem was that the senior administration officials have what I call faith-based intelligence. They knew what they wanted the intelligence to show." - Greg Thielmann, former expert on Iraqi WMDs
A story on 60 Minutes II, The Man Who Knew deals with Thielmann and others who were surprised to hear Colin Powell's about-face on Iraqi WMD intelligence.
"I had a couple of initial reactions. Then I had a more mature reaction," says Thielmann, commenting on Powell's presentation to the United Nations. "I think my conclusion now is that it's probably one of the low points in his long, distinguished service to the nation."

Posted by James at 9:33 AM

Fans

This has to be one of my favorite baseball-playoff-related blog posts, at A Whole Lotta Nothing.

The post is short and sweet, and the update is, sadly, priceless.

Posted by James at 12:50 AM

October 15, 2003

All Access

Frustrated by your limited access? Feeling a bout of anarchy coming on, or just slightly paranoid? Or perhaps you're just a curious person like myself and are fascinated with gadgets and skills that most people don't have. Here are some links to tickle your fancy:

Posted by James at 1:00 PM

Killer Japanese Seizure Robots

Here are two (NWS: sound) websites to help you reach altered states of consciousness in mere moments.

Don't indulge yourself too much.

Posted by James at 12:41 PM | Comments (3)

The Rundown - a review

As Schwarzenegger ascends form wielder for fake movie weapons to wielder of political power, a gap is left in the Hollywood pantheon. A number of people have speculated about whether or not that gap is in the shape of Dwayne Douglas Johnson, the man made famous by wrestling as "The Rock."

I admit to having a bias against The Rock after seeing the horrible "Return of the Mummy" debacle. I skipped "The Scorpion King" altogether. So I can't explain why I decided to actually pay to see "The Rundown" - the recent vehicle for the musclebound up-and-comer.

"The Rundown" has a simple enough formula, a variation of which is used in a favorite film of mine: "Midnight Run." The Rock plays go-to-guy Beck who, in debt to a ruthless man, plies his expertise at retrieving collateral from other debtors. Given a chance at working himself free and clear, he agrees to retrieve the man's son Travis, played annoyingly here by Sean William Scott.

Big tough guy retrieves annoying little guy. Mayhem and hilarity ensue.

But from the opening introductory scene, we know that the humor is going to mostly be found in the fight scenes, which are dressed up enough from wrestling fights that they actually are quite entertaining. Leveraging off his ability to look goofy getting beat up and then coming back to lay the smackdown, The Rock as Beck portrays a likeable, if frustrated, main character.

His quasi-evil foil Hatcher played twitchingly and campily by Christopher Walken doesn't figure into the film more than to deliver some choice lines and provide some closure at the end. Still, he adds spice to a film that does a good job of filling the time without getting monotonous.

My mistake with The Rock was that I didn't realize he had personality, or (even better) the ability to act and pretend he has a personality. He's no DeNiro, sure, but as a fan of films like "Total Recall," "Commando," and others like it, I can safely say that The Rock has a future and that you'll see the potential. And if you really like "The Running Man" you have to agree that "The Rundown" surpasses a number of Arnold's films. That alone makes it worth seeing for the passing of the torch (which happens sneakily in the beginning of this film. Don't blink or you'll miss it).

Even so, I doubt "The Rundown" will be remembered much in 5 years. But by that time, someone will have made a really noticeable movie with The Rock.

Posted by James at 12:18 AM | Comments (5)

October 14, 2003

Officer Polite

I95So, I got stopped by the police last Friday leaving Bob and Patti's house at about 1 AM. I'd decided not to go 495 to return home, but instead to just drive East until I hit 95/128.

Well, I guess I was driving a little fast because I barely got 3 miles before a patrol car made a U-turn behind me and turned its lights on. I pulled into a parking lot and fished out my registration.

The man identified himself as a local officer of that town and warned me of the numerous changes in speed limit on that road. Truth be told, I was not going all that fast, but certainly was exceeding the speed limit. Part of why I had decided to avoid 495 was that I wanted to drive a little more slowly and see a bit of the back roads of massachusetts at night, while the state is asleep. I told him I was visiting friends and I was on my way home.

He ran my license and returned, letting me know that it would have been an expensive ticket. I acknowledged this.

"I'll try to be more careful. I didn't realize this was a 35 mph zone. I guess I just missed the sign."

"You really have to watch for those signs." he said. "And it's a twisty road. It's a long drive home for you."

"I know. I decided to come this way instead of 495 because I don't really feel like driving 495."

"Hey - you don't have to explain! It's a free country."

A free country? I've never had a police officer say anything like that before.

"Uh, OK officer. I guess I'll take it easy the rest of the way."

"Alright. Have fun."

"Have fun?" Who is this guy? All in all, a very strange stop. I came away without even a written warning. Bizarre. In the next town I was followed by a second cruiser from the time I entered the town until the time I crossed the next town line. Needless to say, I heeded the speed limits all the way home.

Posted by James at 4:58 PM | Comments (6)

October 12, 2003

Mystery Bug

I saw this insect the other day in front of my office in Dartmouth. The head and thorax looked a lot like an ant, but the abdomen is pretty crazy. That end looks more like a beetle. There are two tiny shapes on top of the abdomen that look like wings or wing covers. And the thing was a shiny blue-black.

Looking it up in Patti's Peterson Guide, the closest I could come up with was that it was a "blister beetle" but the description wasn't quite right and the drawing was a little off. However, a search on the 'net shows pictures of blister beetles that exactly match my little guy.

Apparently, they contain a substance called "cantharidin" which can cause skin irritaiton and blistering. When ingested, it is a poison similar in toxicity to cyanide or strychnine.

Cantharidin is a vesicant which has been used to remove warts. You might know cantharidin under a different name. The dubious aphrodisiac, "Spanish Fly."

Posted by James at 11:29 AM | Comments (5)

October 11, 2003

Which Homestar Runner Character Are You?


Strong Bad Image

Which Homestar Runner character are you?
this quiz was made by jurjyfrort

Posted by James at 4:02 PM | Comments (10)

Badger, Badger, Badger, Badger...

OK - I've seen this enough places that I just have to blog it. A whacked-out flash animation that my daughter has been chanting for the last couple of weeks. Link found via curious frog and milk & cookies.

This reinforces 2 things for me:

  1. I need a weird stuff page. Best of the links section on my website. (I can't find Hercubush on my site, and that is bad)
  2. It would be nice to have a "just links" sidebar.
  3. There is no three. It's a list of two things. Why are you still reading?

Posted by James at 4:40 AM | Comments (2)

Maronites In The Crosshairs

This story in the Jerusalem Post tells part of the story of the Haifa bombing that hasn't really been stressed in the news much -- that the targets of the Haifa bombing were largely Christian Lebanese (Maronites). These people, are, ethnically "my people" on my maternal side.

Lebanese Maronites are descendants of ancient Aramaics, also known as Phoenicians. As a group, they have resisted the onslaught of the Arab-Islamic conquests for more than 13 centuries. Now, defeated in 1990 after a 15-year war with the PLO, Syria and the Islamists' network, the Christian community has fallen under occupation.

[UPDATE: If you don't want to sign up to read that story, get to it this way without signing up. The story is called "Stalking the Maronites."]

Posted by James at 4:07 AM | Comments (8)

October 10, 2003

Swedes puzzled by butter-filled shoes

it's possibly the strangest headline ever.

Posted by James at 11:28 AM

Sign of the Times

He gave an excellent talk, and just when I thought I wasn't going to get to congratulate him, they sped things up at the end so that everyone could get their book or DVD signed. Much more later, when I have a chance to write it up.

Posted by James at 10:28 AM | Comments (10)

Ya Gotta Trust Faith

A previous post netted a comment that I am a religious atheist.

The religious will sometimes claim that atheism is a religion. Look at the way it's presented: "You're beliefs are based on faith, too!" It's as if our telling them that their religion is based on faith is some sort of insult, so to attack back we are accused of having our own faith. The comment would appear to be more about insecurity than anything else.

Look - if I say your religion is based on faith, I'm not insulting you. In fact, isn't that agreeing with you? And shouldn't I tell the truth and say I don't have your faith?

I am simply not a theist. I lack belief. There is no replacement belief in there that sneaks in to take up space. You don't have to believe in something in god's stead. But some people can't fathom that.

I do not deny god exists. I am a "weak" atheist. I have reviewed the improbable hypothesis of a supreme being found the evidence wanting. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And such proof ain't there. No proof of hell. No proof of an afterlife. No proof of god observing and meddling in human affairs.

For someone to adopt belief, a motive is needed. Other people have their own motives, and I respect that. I may get annoyed if their motives drive them to beliefs that cause other people problems, but the fact that they have arrived at a different set of beliefs bothers me not at all. Without motive, I have come to call myself an atheist. I think scientific evidence is a good motive. And when that fails (as I described above) you have to have faith to make the leap beyond scientific proof. I don't have that faith in my heart, so no proof + no faith makes me an atheist.

To say I willfully ignore evidence is absurd. I've heard the religious go as far as say that an atheist must willfully deny the evidence because otherwise it would shake him to the core! Well, I'm a pretty flexible guy. I'm sure that a sudden belief in god would not destroy me. I believed once. Heck, I have believed in a lot of things and had my belief change. It's called learning. So, I laugh at the idea that atheists are willfully ignorant to protect their psyches. I admit, they may ignore people constantly bugging them with religious pestering for the sake of their sanity, but just because I keep hanging up on credit card telemarketers does not mean I am afraid of switching credit cards.

I'm also comfortable being accused of plain ignorance. If it helps someone feel better about himself by claiming I'm ignorant, go ahead. I know I don't know everything, but quite a few things have come across my desk, and I think I'm old enough to come to a few of my own opinions.

One of those opinions is to be wary of people selling something, whether it be credit cards or a religion. I have spent too many naive years letting people "educate" me when they had some info that I was ignorant of which supported their particular religion. It was garbage every single time. If you, dear reader, have not gone through that process, I do not discourage you from looking at the tracts, books, websites or whatever that are proffered. Along the way you learn something about human motives and human nature. But you will get to a point when you say "enough." And then you will do what I do with telemarketers: "I'm sorry, but I don't do business over the phone unless I have initiated the call." Saves a lot of wasted time and garbage.

Back to misinterpreting atheism. Some people find it easier for them to view others through the lens of religion because they are so steeped in it. In my personal journey there is no need for the idea of a supreme being in my life. It's a superfluous idea. So, adopting such an idea on little evidence may make you do things that you would not do otherwise. Some of those can be bad things, some can be good things.

Thanks, but no thanks. I'll stick to the simpler explanation. My goal in life is to be a decent father, citizen, and friend. To try to leave things a little bit better than when I encountered them. To take a good look at the world. I can do all that without a belief in a supreme being.

On the overlap of religion and science, religious belief is generally not falsifiable. Religion is based on faith and so much of it is inherently un-falsifiable. Science is always falsifiable.Science tends to chip away at the falsifiable parts of religion, and when it does parts of the religion tend to fall off. Religion is safer when it retreats into the non-falsifiable faith-based belief. The Sun goes around the Earth, planets are gods, young Earth, etc. were all falsifiable and fell prey to scientific falsification.

Some people feel the need to prove to themselves that god exists because they have faith, but faith is not enough for them. I wish them luck. I hope they either find the proof that allows them to rest, or come to a different conclusion. That faith, in itself, is enough for a religious belief.

I, personally, feel no such need. I have no god faith. Without that and without compelling evidence, no theism materializes. I am a godless heathen, not an other-godded heathen.

Posted by James at 3:32 AM | Comments (9)

Ka-ching!

Why do I get flashbacks to the mid-eighties when I saw the (bad) movie "Brewster's Millions?"

A billion here, a billion there ans soon we're talking about real money. But just how much money are we talking about? Let's look...

Posted by James at 1:24 AM | Comments (1)

October 9, 2003

MIA

Looking at the scorecard here so far.

  • The person/people responsible for sending anthrax through the mail, infecting at least 22 people and killing 5: Still missing, 2 years later
  • Osama bin Laden: Osama bin Hiding - Still missing
  • Saddam Hussein: Saddam Misseing - Nowhere to be found
  • The person or people who outed Valerie Plame: Missing, administration working hard to lower our expectations on the investigation
  • News of Al Qaeda Terror cells brought down by homeland security: Beyond the Lackawanna 6, Missing from TV, print, Internet and radio
  • WMDs in Iraq posing imminent threat to US, justifying war: Missing presumed dismantled at the very last minute, though people in Iraq with information regarding this are also apparently missing
  • Tax money for the rebuilding of Iraq: Missing, presumably to be borrowed from our children's futures
  • Support from the world community for Bush's Iraqi adventure: Missing, along with our diplomacy and credibility
  • The president who campaigned that he was "a uniter, not a divider" and that he would return honor and dignity to the White House: Missing, presumed fictional
  • The Budget Surplus: Missing
  • The 1.4 million jobs Bush claimed he would create on top of the projected 4.1 million that a growing economy would create: Missing, along with than 2.7 million jobs that have evaporated during Bush's tenure
  • Any apparent progress on the Israeli/Palestinian/Mideast conflict: Missing, and now shooting across the Lebanese border and strikes into Syria have commenced
If only we could hang a picture in the post office.

Posted by James at 5:09 PM

Helping the Sox

What's a fan got to do to help the Red Sox?

And don't ask me to square the Curse of the Bambino with my naturalistic worldview. I don't believe there is anything supernatural to the curse, so nyah, nyah.

Posted by James at 1:31 PM

Debrighted

So, I'm not actually an island.

I don't personally know anyone who thinks that the Brights Movement chose a good name for their umbrella organization of folks who have a naturalistic worldview. (For those who missed it and care, see previous Brights posts)

I've been on the Brights email list, and they addressed the problems with the name. But as time went on and they seem to have left the problem behind even though it lingers, I've decided that their response was insufficient. I can understand sticking to your guns, but I think you have to choose better battles.

So, maybe I do need a ton of bricks to fall on me, or maybe you just reach a tipping point when so many of the people you respect (Starting with Greg way back and finishing up with Chuck S. and Patti M.) think the name sucks.

All you folks have changed my mind. So I remain an atheist, and support a naturalistic view of the world. But I won't be calling myself a Bright any time soon.

Since I do believe in the idea behind what they're doing, it really bothers me that they didn't anticipate the reaction they were going to get and think it through a little more. Maybe they figure it's better to be made fun of for your name than it is to be feared and maligned for your beliefs. But I don't.

Posted by James at 10:22 AM | Comments (12)

Moore Tonight

Moore is at the university tonight. I'll be there, paying attention. Hopefully I'll have time to form a decent post about it tomorrow.

Posted by James at 10:10 AM

October 8, 2003

Sox Fans at UMD

At Umass Dartmouth, My alma mater, some Red Sox fans proved that the group is extremely inclusive, and no intelligence test is given to become a Red Sox fan.

And at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth campus, police reported that about 200 students took to the dorm courtyard after the game. Campus police reported that a car window was smashed and some light poles knocked down. [Channel 10 News]
That was on Monday when they beat the A's. What will happen if a more momentous occasion presents itself?

What's the deal with some fans? How is breaking a window and destroying property "celebrating?"

Posted by James at 9:42 PM | Comments (1)

Nazi Flags are a Faux Pas

Texas Band Chief Apologizes for Nazi Flag

Yeah. Okay. When does it seem like a good idea to display a nazi flag to a bunch of people and play an anthem Hitler used? It doesn't occur to this guy beforehand that, if he's going to do this he'd better have some halfway decent justification?

We have freedom of speech in this country. But, really, think a little bit before you express yourself, too. (Thanks for the link, Chuck)

Posted by James at 2:32 PM

October 7, 2003

Sox Move Along

Yes, I am an end-of-season Red Sox fan. So sue me.

I listened to last night's game, and got a really tight feeling in my chest for the 7th on once Jackson collided with Damon. I thought it was the end. Check out what Bil had to say on the game. And we learn why Stephen has been so quiet on the matter. I have a feeling we're not going to hear from him for another while on the matter, because...

Now it's Sox vs. the Hated Yankees.

[UPDATE: Fixed the link to Bil's during-the-game blog entry. Check it out.]

Posted by James at 5:20 PM | Comments (6)

Sugar Stamps

I may not have mentioned it before, but I feel no shame in admitting when I don't have an idea for what I will post to my blog until I go over and read someone else's. If you read my blog frequently, then you know what blogs I check every day. I hope those folks take it as complimentary rather than consider me a blog-stalker or blog-troll of some kind. I generally ignore blogs I don't think are worth it. And lately I've found a number of underrated blogs. Thus, we have another response to Absit Invidia.

Over there today, Stephen has got what is familiar complaint anecdote relating a purchase someone has made on food stamps. And he's wondering aloud about liberals (actually, his liberal friends) take on the situation. I feel friendly enough toward Stephen, though I've never met him IRL, so I'l oblige.

My parents (conservative Catholic BTW) always taught me that allowing people some dignity is important, and that that adage applies to public assistance. Im not sure what, exactly, their thoughts are on welfare because I haven't asked them lately. However, they are compassionate people and that has rubbed off on me.

Stephen sees someone on food stamps buying a lot of soda. Let's ignore the possibility that we are judging someone who might have been planning a birthday party of something like that. Let's further ignore the fact that she was overweight, since we don't know anything about her metabolism.

The heart of the matter is, it's not healthy for her to be drinking a bunch of soda, and we're supporting that habit with tax money.

Stephen's question, specifically, was:

I wonder if my liberal friends would agree that government food handouts should be limited to substantial and nutrional foods? Or do you support taking money out of your neighbors' pockets to support a snack food jones?
So, let me consider limiting the use of the food stamps to "nutritious" foods.

There are a number of reasons I don't think I would support it off the cuff.

There is sure to be a debate about the definition of nutritious food (a little more on that later). If food stamps have significant economic impact, some food manufacturers are going to feel a sting when their products are no longer approved food stamp purchases. Capitalists believe in the marketplace. In the supermarketplace, foods compete with each other based on flavor, nutrition, appearance, marketing, texture, packaging... Tinkering with food stamps is an admission that the marketplace is not serving the nation's health needs well. If that is the case and it's OK to muck with the marketplace, why not impose a tax on non-nutritious food and make everyone healthy? This is not a slippery slope -- the arguments are extremely close.

Limiting what food stamp holders can purchase (beyond things that are already fairly regulated and restricted products like cigarettes and alcohol) complicates the food purchasing process. It puts a burden on the supermarkets to enforce the policy.

So far this is not looking like a very libertarian idea.

How about compassion-wise? People going on public assistance are already in a bad situation. This may not be the best time to try to get them to change their food-purchasing habits.

From a practical standpoint, will the idea work to make people more healthy? I don't think so. I don't think you can legislate health in this way. Eating is only a small part of the health equation. Restricting their diets alone doesn't necessarily make people healthy.

What's a nutritious food? Lets say they can't buy Ring Dings. OK. Well, they could buy a devils food cake mix, milk and eggs, can't they? Whose to say that they won't cook up 5 cakes and eat them. Sure, it's not as convenient, but they have ones you can just pop into the oven. You don't even need a pan. So, say you ban those. Is it worth the price of making it more difficult for this welfare mom to somehow get her son his birthday cake?

And this is really what it comes down to. Perception of the harshness of society.

Just so you know, Stephen, I am not attributing the following analysis to you personally. I don't know your motivations. In aggregate, however, I see some ideas coming to bear in this issue. You're not the first person to relate such a story, and many people who have expressed negative views on welfare to me have done so much more strongly, some with ridiculous vehemence that exceeds Scrooge's "let them die and decrease the surplus population." So, though you triggered this response, it is not a response to you.

I don't know exactly what a liberal is, but I figure that people think liberals want to be too nice to the poor. People should be punished for being poor. That way, they won't want to be poor anymore, as if poverty isn't enough of a motivational factor for those who can be motivated. In many ways, we're a nation obsessed with punishment. The unconscious reasoning goes something like this: That person is using my money (tax money, even though it is not yours, is often viewed in this country as being yours) to enjoy a luxury they don't deserve. I don't like to pay taxes, so they should be punished, and the most handy justification is that their purchase is contributing to ill health.

Yes, I am assuming the motivation has very little to do with health, and everything to do with the way we think about tax-funded programs, our own taxes, punishment, and what you deserve vs. what I deserve. Penalizing the regular citizen for buying a candy bar (sin tax) is seen as a ridiculous, liberal idea. Penalizing the person on public assistance is a more acceptable idea because she's spending your money.

She's not spending your money. We necessarily pool our resources to some extent to maintain our society. Funding programs requires collecting taxes. Those taxes are the price of a stable society. This system works. But, once you pay your taxes the money is no more yours than the $9 you gave to the movie theatre is yours when you went to see Lord of the Rings. You paid for it. But do we hear much about what the studio is doing with our money? Can you vote for where Miramax decides to spend the income from their latest release?

I was recently talking to a citizen of Canada who was telling me he's starting to hear "it's your money" applying to taxes there. It was the first time his friends had heard such an argument. He told this to me and knew I would be amazed, because around here it's a perennial canard.

It's not your money. If you cancelled the program, you would lower your taxes, but it still wouldn't be your money. Try asking the Air Force to fly a fighter jet purchased with "your money." I don't think they look at it that way.

The need to punish people is another essay for another time.

Back to Stephen, I think you were annoyed in line, saw this woman's size and the soda and thought this was a bad situation. And you're probably right. But we can't cure this ill with more government. Take it from a liberal. Yes, the money should be provided. But if she wants to commit suicide slowly with it with diabetes, that's the way it goes. And the money goes to some soda company exec's golf membership, so it's all good.

Posted by James at 5:10 PM | Comments (5)

October 6, 2003

Don't Hate Me Because I'm A Bright

Don't hate me because I'm a Bright.

Hate me because I'm... oh, well there are plenty of reasons once you get to know me.

Here I am: JP - defender of the Brights. Well, not really. They don't need my defense.

Over at Absit Invidia, Stephen writes:

They're calling themselves a movement, which always makes me suspicious, (and that 'great diversity of persons' line didn't help much either.) Referring to themselves as marginalized suggests that they sense oppression and victimhood so they'll, no doubt, be lobbying for protected class status in the not-too-distant future.

I share your suspicion of the word "movement," especially because I often imagine the word "bowel" ahead of it. However, I think the idea itself is not a bad one.

I've blathered on about it a few times:

Marginalized? Maybe. But Brights don't want pity at all, as far as I can tell. It just isn't obvious to most people how central a belief in god is to many things, and how important superstition and supernatural beliefs are to many people.

It's not oppression, but it is a sort of group-ism. "Atheism" is almost a dirty word to many people. Can you imagine an avowed atheist getting elected president? I can't in today's society. There is something wrong with that, considering that PotUS is a secular job.

God ManNo, no pity is needed. But what the Brights feel is needed is to call attention to the lack of superstitious belief as valid, and the benefits of such (not for prostelitizing, but just recognizing why someone else would be a Bright) . Looking at the goals you list in your post I'm in complete agreement with what they are saying. Especially the second one:

Gain public recognition that: persons who hold such a worldview can bring principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance.
I say "especially" because sometimes I think that people think of atheists as something like Billy Bilings in this Ruben Bolling God-Man comic. "Gosh - I can do anything and God-Man will never know!" As if there is no reason to behave with goodwill if you do not believe in a supernatural force which will punish you if you do not.

The words "movement, " "diversity," and "marginalized" (and the fact that many of them are liberals) shouldn't frighten you because of the way they have been used by others. You won't see these folks suing for reparations any time soon. I suspect they're just looking for a little social validation in what they see as a world sometimes hostile to them. And I believe you can take their goals at face value.

Posted by James at 6:12 PM | Comments (5)

LotR at BMoS

A huge Lord of the Rings Trilogy exhibit is coming to the Boston Museum of Science. Currently, it's still in London, but Boston is a scheduled stop. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements of when this is actually coming to the states. I'll make an announcement here when I learn more.

Posted by James at 4:54 PM

Card Sharks, MeFi and the Paranormal

Somebody probably ought to be keeping me away from this site. (Link found via MetaFilter)

Speaking of MetaFilter, (and here is where my train of thought jumped the rail and took off) there's a recent entry on pareidolia, a phenomenon I mentioned back in my Old Man Of The mountain post last month.

If you look in the archive of pareidolia photos on the Folklorist.com (referenced in the MetaFilter article above) you'll find a subsection on ghost photography. This is something that always fascinates me -- photographs that people mistake for ghosts, or intentionally fake to suggest ghosts. And as we approach Halloween it becomes seasonally applicable.

So, on to my personal experience with ghost photographs lately...

One type of ghost photo (and possibly the least creepy) is the "orb" photo. This site has a good example. The "orbs" are one or more round-looking translucent light-colored patches in the image. In ghost-photography circles, these are supposed to represent spirits, or spiritual energy.

In the world or reality, they represent dust on your lens, and they tend to appear when bright light hits the dust lens, as when you use a flash indoors.

See, I've been getting tons of orbs in my home renovation photos lately. One could say that our renovations have disturbed the spirits in this century-old house. Or, one could say that while doing a whole lot of sanding floors and furniture, there is something like a ton of dust in the air, and some of that dust came to rest on the lens of my camera.

Who can tell? (tongue lodged in my cheek)

But even though I'm pretty sure there are no ghosts in my photos, I still love to look at old spirit photography. I don't know why it all fascinates me. I guess, people fooling other people, and people fooling themselves is what it comes down to. That "foolery" which happens under the umbrella of "the paranormal" is certainly strange and commands attention. But since people also fool themselves into believing other things they want to believe (like what a politician is telling them, or that they are a good person if they support killing some other type of person) it can become a very important subject.

Recently, someone I know was contacted by a person who was seeking information on her past life. She was certain she was killed in a particular catastrophic historical event and is hoping to sift through the names of the victims looking for her past self, and that of her daughter. This person is serious -- I could tell by the email. And it turns out that her occupation is to "help" people spiritually. In other words, she's a psychic.

How do people come to believe these things? They are not all charlatans, cynically exploiting the beliefs of their clients. Some actually believe they have a gift which allows them to perform feats that cannot be explained, extracting information about dead loved ones or past and future (!) lives. What is going on in there?

Posted by James at 2:54 PM

Parrots in Law

What is it about Parrot courtroom stories that compel us so?

I give you the story of Loulou, a lost African gray belonging to David DeGroff. The saga begins when a friend of DeGroff's neglected to wear her glasses and pushed through a screen door, providing an escape route for the bird. Soon after, an African gray was adopted by Nina Weaver from the local Humane Society animal shelter.

DeGroff seeks to prove that the adopted bird is his, and is suing for the bird's return.

DeGroff said he drove to Weaver's home, but no one answered when he knocked on the front door. He said he saw a bird through the window and felt a connection.
He hopes to identify the bird by getting it to mimic the Andy Griffith theme song or to say "Daddy's got to go to work" on the witness stand.

A third party, parrot breeder Sue Morrow, was asked by Weaver to examine the bird in the hope that it would help her prove to DeGroff that it is not his.

The only things Morrow heard Weaver's bird say were a cryptic "Toby" and a less-cryptic "Shut up, Toby." [...]

[A Humane Society Representative] also said the bird they found "never whistled the Andy Griffith song." It did utter one memorable phrase: "What's that smell in here?"

In an unrelated story, let me be the first to wish you a happy "Oh My Sweet Lord, Arnie is the Governor of California"-eve. (Thanks to Ryan for bringing that to my attention).

Posted by James at 1:33 PM

October 5, 2003

Hidden DVD Features

Two websites which are good for folks who like to buy DVDs and like ot know what extra features/hidden features are on those disks:

For those of you asking, "What's an Easter Egg?" - an Easter Egg is the name given to little surprises hidden in software. It used to be that low-level programmers would hide their names in software so that when someone hit the right combination of keys (or something similar) their names would appear. Or, when a certain date was reached, something would happen (like a Christmas tree appearing on Christmas).

Nowadays, you can find these things in DVDs as well as software, although the studios put them intentionally into the DVDs.

Posted by James at 11:33 PM | Comments (1)

October 4, 2003

Kennedy To Receive Bush Award

According to an article on a Texas A&M Website, Senator Kennedy is to receive an award for excellence in public service from the George H. W. Bush library.

"During his remarkable career spanning over four decades, Senator Kennedy has consistently and courageously fought for his principles - and has rightly earned the respect of his Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle," said Bush Foundation Executive Director Roman Popadiuk. "His commitment to excellence in public policy and his devotion to public service serve as an inspiration to all Americans and make him a superb recipient of the Bush Award."
Our own governor Romney is not quite as respectful of the popular senator, but knows when to backpedal.

Posted by James at 8:38 AM | Comments (2)

October 3, 2003

Suspension of Disbelief: WMDs

Kay's Findings So Far: No Weapons
Chief U.S. weapons searcher David Kay reported Thursday he had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a finding that brought fresh congressional complaints about the Bush administration's prewar assertions of an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.
Keeping a stiff upper lip:
"I'm not pleased by what I heard today, but we should be willing to adopt a wait and see attitude ˜ and that's the only alternative we really have," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
That's the spirit, Pat!
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday "it will be unfortunate" if it turns out that intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq turns out to have been seriously flawed.


And those "mobile weapons labs"... it turns out they were probably for filling weather balloons with helium. Maybe Saddam was going to start giving speeches in a high-pitched voice.
The jury is out indefinitely for Bush supporters. That's the message I get when I talk to them. They'll wait as long as it takes to hang their hat on some scrap they find. No one will ever prove there weren't WMDs and the chances diminish daily that WMDs on the scale advertised by Bush & Co. will be found. But the jury is out indefinitely.

Considering the time spent thus far, the access we've had and the paltry results, I think it's reasonable to accept a tentative belief that the ability for Saddam to launch an attack in 15 minutes was not there. I think it's reasonable to believe that Saddam was not close to having nuclear capability which posed an imminent threat. As more and more time goes by, those that continue to believe that Saddam did pose an imminent threat do so without evidence. All they have is suspension of disbelief. Which, coincidentally, also happens to be important in enjoying fiction.
Posted by James at 11:11 AM | Comments (11)

October 2, 2003

Streaking With Frank The Tank

FrankIf you haven't seen Old School, this will make little or no sense to you. If you have seen Old School you have to play "Streaking with Frank The Tank" the video game.

Posted by James at 1:31 PM | Comments (2)

Rush... Our National Treasure

Whiskey Bar reminds us of Bush's thoughts on Rush from a couple of years back:

"The president noted Rush Limbaugh is a national treasure," one senior White House staffer said.
If a buffoon like Rush is all we can muster for a national treasure, then the country must be bankrupt. But at least we know Bush is a fan.

Posted by James at 12:01 PM | Comments (1)

A World of Spin (& Druggie Rush)

Yesterday, the blog world saw the explosion of the Wilson/Leak story, a story we'd been concerned about here since July 17. But the most amusing part of this whole thing is watching some of the diehard Bush supporters I know spin like tops.

The best conspiracy theory yet is that this is all a Clintonite plot to bring down Bush & Co. Novak was so stupid, he was actually talking to some anonymous person who only claims to be an administration official. Yes, someone actually voiced that opinion.
Of course, there have been less outrageous spins from the slightly less deluded, and other people are getting full enjoyment out of them. But, really, if you haven't yet, I urge you to talk to a serious Bush supporter. If you've ever seen that original series Star Trek episode where the Enterprise crew gets Harry Mudd's robots to overload.

Some of the best spin was coming out of Rush Limbaugh. I won't link to it here, though because it's not fit for consumption by reasonable people.

Speaking of Rush, he recently started his dream job as an ESPN football commentator. And, he recently lost his dream job as a football commentator for approaching the job with the same journalistic integrity he applies to everything else. And, to add to it all, he's being investigated for a illegal drug purchases. How the hateful have fallen.

Is it schadenfreude, for me to pass this news along to you? Perhaps a bit. But, really, my sincere hope is that people stop listening to the distorting "entertainer."

Posted by James at 10:10 AM | Comments (7)

October 1, 2003

Cats, Plumbing and Sex?

Want to reduce the time you spend on cat maintenance? Install one of these beauties. Hammacher Schlemmer offers the automatic flush, No-Litter cat box.

In other cat news, you can catch a virus from cats which changes your personality. This virus makes women more prone to spend money on clothing and more "frisky." Latent toxoplasmosis infections in females seem to make them more intelligent and less prone to guilt. Think it's a joke? Apparently, these personality changes have been documented.

Posted by James at 12:11 PM