August 31, 2006

Woeblogging: PI

Today’s woeblogging1 complaint.

Poison IvyCacher’s Bane has afflicted me! aka. “PI” aka. “Toxicodendron radicans” aka. Poison-ivy.

I was clearing the trails around one of my geocaches to make them nice for fellow cachers and I cut a swath through some PI. I guess bits of the plant were flying all over the place, because I have specs of the rash all over. It’s been getting progressively worse since the rash first showed up on Monday. I was exposed Saturday, so it sure has taken my body a while to get this reaction going. And it’s pretty darn itchy.

I was able to keep the kids far back from the PI, although M got a little on the back of her leg. I scrubbed her with Tecnu when we got home, but I guess I missed a spot. I should have scrubbed myself with the stuff instead of just washing my hands with it.

I’ve had it a lot worse, so I’m just being whiny. But a little bit has got on my face, near my eye, and that’s new for me. It’s on my arm, chest, neck, ear. Itchy! I’m almost as blotchy as Bill O’Reilly!!! But I still have my sense of humor.

[1] woeblogging : When a blogger posts complaints of a mostly personal nature in the pursuit of sympathy. With the advent of words like “catblogging” and “pieblogging” and whatnot, I thought woeblogging was a lock. Zero hits on Google at the moment. But we at the Aces Full of Links community plan to change that, just like we did with “stupidentally.”

Posted by James at 2:20 PM | Comments (3)

August 30, 2006

Big Dig Cabbie Story

This story will probably only be of interest to Bay Staters.

When I was returning from visiting Palo Alto about 5 years ago, I was on a shuttle to the airport and the cabbie was telling me all about the renovations that were happening to SFO (San Francisco International Airport). He tried to tell me that the extensive changes to SFO were the biggest construction project in the country at the time.

I stopped him.

“Ah, I’m pretty sure that’s not right.”

“No, it’s definitely the biggest project going.”

“Maybe the biggest in California. The ‘Big Dig’ in Boston is the biggest construction project going on right now.”

“What’s the ‘Big Dig?’”

“It’s the central artery/tunnel project. They’re burying a six lane highway under Boston. It’s costing billions of dollars. I think it is the largest civil construction project in the history of this country.”

He glanced back at me incredulously.

“Well, it’s just a highway. It’s not as big as an airport.”

Posted by James at 12:17 PM | Comments (13)

August 29, 2006

My Brain Is Fried, Look Out For Vampires

Ugh - my brain is fried. I have a bunch of work to do and I’m having trouble concentrating.

I’m staring at my program’s code and the characters are all moving around on the screen.

And I have an urge to eat a bunch of doughnuts.

Calgon, take me away!

So, I’ll pick on some scientists.

Physics proves horror movies get it wrong

In this waste-of-time article, physics poke holes in stuff that pretty much nobody believes in anyway. And they do it badly.

They debunk ghosts:]

But Newton’s laws of physics suggest that if a ghost can walk it shouldn’t be able to pass through walls […] […] in order to walk, we apply a backward force on the floor with our feet, propelling the feet up and us forwards. But if a ghost can walk through walls, it must be “material-less”, the authors argue, and incapable of exerting force.

Bad debunking. Ghosts don’t need to actually walk to move any more than clouds need to walk to move. There are other ways of moving than friction between your feet and the floor. Not that I believe in ghosts, but if I did, I would just say “they’re not actually walking, it just looks like they’re walking.”

In any case, you can’t remove logically what was placed in someone’s mind by non-logical means. Horror movie fans don’t need or want physics explanations. That’s why it’s called fiction. That’s why Jonathan Edwards was on the SciFi channel… science FICTION.

Vampires?

They argue it would take just two and a half years for vampires to wipe out the entire human race from the day the first one appeared […]

If vampires feed once a month, the great grandaddy of all vampires would have killed one human and produced one vampire in the first month. So in total there would be two vampires and one less human, or a tally of vampires 2, humans -1. […]

After n months there would be 2 × 2 x 2 … x 2 = 2n, or a geometric progression with ratio 2.

“The vampire population increases geometrically and the human population decreases geometrically,” they say.

Using the principle of reductio ad absurdum, they conclude that vampires can’t exist as their existence contradicts the existence of humans.

By this logic, there are no diseases, since diseases spread in a similar contact model.

Movies don’t explain the limiting factors for vampires, but for the purposes of fiction and suspension of disbelief, if diseases somehow manage to succumb to limits it’s a very small concession to imagine that vampires do as well.

Dear Physicists:

I appreciate your desire to apply your knowledge and expertise to debunking. You’re in Florida. Consider contacting the James Randi Foundation to find out how you can go out and debug actual charlatans and crackpots, rather than movie monsters. I think you could make some headway there, and skeptics can always use the help.

Now, I need some fruit.

Posted by James at 5:12 PM | Comments (4)

August 28, 2006

Flickr Geotagging

Wasp ShadowFlickr now lets you place your photos on the map. See Flickr blog for details.

This means that if you’re interested in where I took a certain picture, you’ll probably be able to tell, since I plan to geotag many of my photos from now on. I won’t geotag photos where the location is unimportant.

I’ve gone and geotagged a number of my older photos, too. Look for the “map” link on the photo page (it will be on the right, and it will say something like “Taken in Rochester, MA (map).”

Or, you can check out my overall map of already-geotagged photos. It’s growing all the time! (Ironically, that wasp shadow is not on the map)

Knock yourself out.

I also have a new set called “Mental Pictures” which are photos chosen based on some unknown criteria. My own version of interestingness, I suppose. (Unironically, that wasp shadow is in Mental Pictures.)

Posted by James at 11:23 PM

Pluto Booted, But Astrology Still Nutty As Ever

Welcome to the nuttiest article about Pluto I read this week.

Sally Cregin, a Fitchburg-based astrologer, said Scorpios, who are having “unprecedented success this year,” may see a few more of their stars align now that gloomy Pluto has been demoted .

“I know many who resent Pluto’s rulership because they believe they are perceived as darker or more intense than they really are,” she said of Scorpios, who have been associated with sex, death and the control of money. “This may come as welcome news.”

Nothing personal against any of you who may be true believers, but astrology is complete bunk. In Massachusetts it’s wicked nutty bunk. And it bums me out that these people are from my state and saying this stuff to the Herald with a straight face. Of course… it is the Herald.

I mean, I’m a Scorpio. What’s this about Scorpios being about sex, death and the control of money? It sounds like I’m fated to die while paying for, um, a hooker. That’s just nasty!

In any case, the idea that the re-classification of a planet should have any effect on astrology is mind-boggling. But we can take something interesting from this nutfudgerry, at least, when we note that this renaming of Pluto shows some commonality between science and pseudoscience.

When a human endeavor is completely made-up (as in astrology), it doesn’t matter what you call anything. In fact, pretty much nothing matters. You can make it up as you go if you like. As long as you get enough people to buy what you’re selling, you’re OK. It can be completely silly. You can tell people that the alignment of impossibly distant planets governs their personality and their life. You can tell people they can fly if they concentrate and giggle hard enough. You can tell people the world is balanced on the back of a turtle. (I’ll stop there, but you get the idea.)

Calling Pluto a planet or not is not really science. It’s being decided by scientists, but as my friend Ed pointed out, it’s not science. It’s just naming. I think Richard Feynman would agree. It matters little to scientific research what we call Pluto. It has implications in the definition of planet, but big, fat, hairy deal. We didn’t just learn something new about Pluto. We just made a decision about how we use the word “planet.”

And if we someday find life among the gas clouds of Jupiter (improbable, but bear with me) and their scientists laugh at us because we consider our tiny, rocky wet dirtball a planet (after all, it’s not huge and gaseous) we won’t have learned anything new about planetary bodies. Only something about their languages and prejudices.

The idea of “planet” is completely made-up. Being a friend of science, I recognize that it’s made up with an actual purpose. But it’s still made up. And this flip-flopping over Pluto underscores it.

So, see, astrologers: even though I came at you hard, this whole Pluto business is not much better. Take some comfort in that. While I’m feeling charitable! Because I still think you people need to find another hobby.

Posted by James at 10:08 PM | Comments (2)

Around the News 'Nets


I don't have much time today, but there are a bunch of news stories going by that I wanted to at least mention. This would be a "You and James Read the News" post, except for the fact that I'm only skimming the news. If you want headline news, go to CNN. This is Dr. Momentum headline news.

Is The Importance of Homework Overrated?


According to a 2004 national survey of 2,900 American children conducted by the University of Michigan, the amount of time spent on homework is up 51% since 1981. [...]

The onslaught comes despite the fact that an exhaustive review by the nation's top homework scholar, Duke University's Harris Cooper, concluded that homework does not measurably improve academic achievement for kids in grade school. That's right: all the sweat and tears do not make Johnny a better reader or mathematician.

My daughter gets lots of homework, so much that little time is left for anything else during the school year. Maybe it's necessary, but I wonder.

Tough Love Leads To Son's Death


Yikes.
Ashley's family say his parents wanted to teach him a lesson about the consequences of breaking the law. He had taken his mother's car without permission so they had him charged him with theft. [...]

But on the trip to Auckland Central Remand prison, he was believed to have been strangled and assaulted by two others in the van.

Waterboard Congress


Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has during his tenure approved the use of a dozen extreme interrogation methods above and beyond those previously permitted by the Pentagon, including, but not limited to, hooding, disrobing, placing detainees in stress positions and exploiting their "fear of dogs." When the resulting Abu Ghraib photos leaked out in 2004, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) declared that he was more "outraged by the outrage" than by the actual evidence of detainee abuse.

So: Inhofe should be blindfolded, put in a straitjacket and left in a room full of crazed chihuahuas until he explains why he believes that the U.S. military should not be constrained to follow the laws of the land, such as the Anti-Torture Act.
OK - that one's not a news story, it's an editorial. But any story with Sen. Inhofe and a bunch of crazed chihuahuas is going to get my attention.


Unknown creature was found by soldiers


I think this creature is a fake, but I dig cryptozoology. And the debunking of cryptozoology.


Posted by James at 2:47 PM | Comments (16)

People I Don't Know

There are billions of people I don’t know, whom I’ve never heard of, and whom I never hear about.

Please. I implore the world. Please may I add Paris Hilton to that list of people?

I know I can’t un-remember that I’ve ever heard of her. However, I’m willing to try if everyone else is willing to stop mentioning her.

My list of people I would like to un-celebritze is longer than that, but I know this request is a longshot and so I’m starting small. However, maybe we can get together in the comments section and all come up with a list of people we would like to fall off the face of our collective Earth. I bear them no ill will — they can go off and play out their lives in obscurity like the vast majority of inhabitants of this planet. I just want them out of my world.

The great thing about compiling a collective list is that there’s some give and take. Maybe I don’t mind hearing about celebrity X, but you hate him. I’d probably be willing to give up that celebrity if it meant also getting rid of Paris Hilton. And then we can fantasize that this list could actually be submitted to some authority and posted somewhere to remind people that NOBODY WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT THESE PEOPLE ANYMORE.

And to those of you who think we need these people around because “what would we do without the joy of making fun of Kevin Federline?“… to you folks I say it’s just a coping mechanism.

Help me out here. Who are you voting for? Feel free to vote both early and often.

Posted by James at 9:51 AM | Comments (31)

August 27, 2006

Escalator Warning

Foothand WarningWARNING: If you have a foot growing at the end of your arm, please place it an inch above the railing.

Spotted by my daughter M.

Posted by James at 12:24 PM | Comments (5)

Radio Kids

Maggie posts about the kids visit to WSAR on Friday.

M still is wearing her T-shirt (like a dress). She took it off so that we could geocache yesterday “so that it wouldn’t get caught on something and rip.”

Thanks, Kerri!

Posted by James at 12:20 PM | Comments (2)

August 26, 2006

Bob Loblaw's Frog Blog

OK - I made a slightly more dynamic frog video, for your viewing pleasure. Complete with music. Enjoy “Sam and Ella: Feeding Time”

Posted by James at 10:34 PM | Comments (1)

Dwarf Clawed Video

Our dwarf clawed frogs don’t move much when they’re sleeping. Experimenting with uploading video to Google, I made this way-too-dark clip, but at least you get to see some neutrally-buoyant frogs in “action.”

Posted by James at 10:32 PM

Lake Ontario No Longer A Great Lake

Lake Ontario No Longer A Great Lake

LANSING - Late Friday afternoon, four of the Great Lakes announced that what was previously the fifth Great Lake, Lake Ontario, was no longer going to be considered a "Great Lake."

In a brief public statement, Lake Superior explained that a number of factors led to Lake Ontario's ousting. "It's got the smallest surface area of the five lakes, and ever since the Zebra Mussels invasion, we've had our doubts about whether it was a good fit. We just think it really isn't working out as a great lake, although we appreciate the time it has spent with us. We hope there are no hard feelings."

Private sources have said that Lake Ontario was heavily lobbying to re-admit Lake Champlain to the exclusive club of Great Lakes. Lake Ontraio was disillusioned when Champlain, its close friend, had been declared a Great Lake by the United States Senate in 1998 only to have its status rescinded less than a month later.

"Champ," an inhabitant of the lake, confirmed that Ontario and Champlain had been in close communication over the years, and blames the falling out on Lake Superior. "Lake Superior is a bit of a control freak. He was afraid of the precedent Lake Champlain set."

Other sources point to speculation about a possible bid to have Lake St. Clair, a close friend of Lake Erie, to be admitted. Supporters of Erie, the shallowest of the five lakes, and now the smallest by area with Ontario ousted, claim that this is a direct warning to Lake Erie, who might have lobbied for St. Clair's admission. They have said it was only a matter of time until Superior flexed its muscles and re-established dominance. "Lake Erie is going to get this message loud and clear. Lake St. Claire has just lost its only important advocate."

Even so, this drastic measure was more than even the most pessimistic analysts expected.

After the announcement, the Great Lakes asked that the media respect their privacy for the near future. When asked about all the textbooks and other records that would need to be changed, Lake Superior was unsympathetic.

Lake Ontario could not be reached for comment.

Posted by James at 5:51 PM | Comments (2)

August 25, 2006

So, so late Shotgun

  1. Seven Puzzles You Think You Must Not Have Heard Correctly

    Are you interested in wasting the day trying to solve some tough puzzles?

  2. Weird Al E-card - Don't Download This Song

    No, go ahead and download it. Weird Al's latest song.

  3. Bryce 3D Free!

    Bryce3D is an incredible application for generating 3D landscapes. It was tons of fun years ago when I first got to play with it generating art for work. For a limited time you can get version 5 for free!

  4. ALL-ONE OR NONE!!

    Dr. Bronner Quote Generator

  5. The Steven Spielberg Model of Evangelism

    Heaven's Gates & Hell's Flames. Is it entertainment or brainwashing. Hey, why not both! It's a two-fer! We have this traveling religious fear-show come 'round every year. I wanted to write something about it, but this fellow did it much better than I would have. PLus, I don't want to hang out at that thing. And they probably don't want me there either.

  6. UTARC UX-1 Balloon Launch

    Check out "images from the payload camera." That's what happens when you attach a balloon to a disposable camera. Boo-ya!

  7. YouTube - Japan Candid Camera

    As BobMc said "it's a good thing they don't have lawyers in Japan" -- Unsuspecting naked people end up in ejection seats and (wait for it) rocket-propelled chairs.

  8. Blogmusik | Free Internet virtual ipod

    A free online virtual iPod? Can this be legal? It's certainly cool.

Posted by James at 4:24 PM | Comments (2)

Whiny Freedom-Loving Americans

I’ve been involved in many conversations (and been privy to many conversations) about our freedoms here in the United States of America and changes in those freedoms since we were attacked by al Qaeda operatives 5 years ago.

Some of these conversations have been with immigrants to this country. Immigrants are often fiercely loyal to their country of choice, and many of them have come from countries where they were suffering under restrictive governments. Many of them are fiercely loyal to the government, and some of them become Republicans.

More than once, I have heard someone say something like this: “I came from a country with an oppressive government. I’m glad to be here in the USA and it is not oppressive here. George Bush is not a dictator.”

When this is said in direct response to a liberal person who is expressing distress about losing freedoms he was used to having and thought were important to this shared idea we have of America, there is a subtext. That subtext is: “I know what a dictator is and you don’t. I know what an oppressive government is and you don’t. USA is better than the country I came from, therefore it is not oppressive. You’re overreacting. You don’t appreciate your country, and I do.”

I’ve got some problems with these opinions.

First, I want to talk a little bit about my observations regarding human nature and how people react to authoritarianism. Many people hate authoritarians. However my observations of people and relationships tell me that having a relationship with an overbearing authoritarian trains you to accept relationships with future authoritarians. I’ll admit that I’m not a psychologist, I’m talking about my own observations. And let me explain.

I think people who grow up with authoritarianism grow to expect it. And when they grow to dislike it, I think they are more comfortable with another authoritarian who is less oppressive than the one they’re used to. However, they have a high level of tolerance for an atmosphere of authoritarianism.

This allows the person who previously lived under rigid authoritarianism to embrace an authoritarian administration (the comfort and familiarity factor) while holding the opinion that people who feel they’re losing their rights are ungrateful, or whiny, or just plain wrong.

Of course, not everyone fits this mold. I’m not saying this is true for every immigrant, or every oppressed person who reaches our shores. And, in fact, there are counter-examples.

The woman went away for 3 minutes, and she came back with a gray t-shirt reading “new york”. I put the t-shirt on and removed the price tag. I told the four people who were involved in the conversation: “I feel very sad that my personal freedom was taken away like this. I grew up under authoritarian governments in the Middle East, and one of the reasons I chose to move to the US was that I don’t want an officer to make me change my t-shirt. I will pursue this incident today through a Constitutional rights organization, and I am sure we will meet soon”.

I think there is at least one other dynamic at work.

Maybe the ones who come here from other oppressive governments, the ones who are used to authoritarianism, the ones who didn’t necessarily love the freedoms that citizens are losing, the ones who embrace authoritarian policies here… maybe they have less of a problem with authoritarianism if they’re not in a group targeted for scrutiny.

Posted by James at 12:19 PM | Comments (4)

Wait, That's Not dailyKos!

For generations, Republican politicians have spoken reverently of the rule of law. But since 2001, this hoary doctrine has been redefined to mean little more than the enforcement of the secret thoughts of the commander in chief.

Yawn, it’s more complaints from cut-and-run limousine liberals!

Or, an article in The American Conservative

While Bush supporters speak glowingly of originalist interpretations of the Constitution, Bush’s signing statements have far more in common with George III than with George Washington. The Constitution specifies that Congress shall “make all laws” and that presidents must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” But Bush—his ego swollen by swarms of groveling intellectuals—has embraced theories that convince him that the president alone may decree what shall be the law.

Yes, here at Aces Full we’re not shocked that this appears in a conservative magazine. We know conservative people who didn’t fall for Bush’s power grabs and thin excuses. But they were a minority.

Also covered in this article:

  • Bush has eliminated checks and balances.
  • Bush reneges on bipartisan agreements. (a uniter, my ass)
  • Bush stops investigations into reports of widespread fraud.
  • Bush targets whistleblowers.
  • Bush’s political argument that his power-hunger is just to protect you from islamofacists is demonstrably false.
  • Congress tried to protect the Bill of Rights, Bush excused himself from being bound by it.

And more!

Posted by James at 9:15 AM | Comments (2)

August 24, 2006

Tea Vindicated

According to researchers, tea is the “bomb-diggity.”

And, yes, I’m sure they used those exact words.

Reasons:

  • Tea is found to rehydrate as well as water does, rather than dehydrate as previously thought.
  • Tea has fluoride which helps protect your teeth from plaque and possible tooth decay.
  • Tea is good for your bones.
  • Flavinoids (a certain class of antioxidants) in tea are believed to help prevent cell damage, and possibly reduce your chances of heart attack.

Be a little careful, though, because tea can impair iron absorbtion, which is bad for people who are at risk for anemia. The solution is to avoid tea at mealtimes. Instead, drink tea at tea time. (duh!)

No word on the health benefits of cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, but who doesn’t love those?

As my daughter likes to point out, the Tea Act and subsequent boycott helped make coffee popular here in the colonies way back when. Perhaps enough years have passed that we can stop throwing tea into the harbor and start drinking it again.

Posted by James at 12:37 PM | Comments (3)

Plan B - Ability To Surprise Intact

FDA expected to back expanded use of Plan B contraceptive

The Food and Drug Administration will approve an application, possibly today, that would make the emergency contraceptive Plan B available without a prescription to women 18 and older, say sources long involved with the issue.

…and President Bush is quoted basically agreeing with this long-overdue over-the-counter plan.

“I believe Plan B ought to be — ought to require a prescription for minors, is what I believe. And I support Andy’s decision.”

“Andy” is incoming FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach. And the second this happened, Anti-Abortion groups went nuts.

I applaud the president for backing this, and actually expanding freedom. And I think it was a smart move for a number of reasons:

  1. Senators Clinton and Murray had vowed to block von Eschenbach’s confirmation, and this decision clears that hurdle.
  2. Bush is not very popular right now, and so his coattails are not very useful to conservative Republicans trying to get re-elected. The approval of this drug allows conservative congressfolk to go to their conservative districts and wave this issue around as a reason that a conservative voice is needed in congress.
  3. It gives people something to talk about other than the Iraq war.

Uncharacteristically good move, and a politically smart move. Remember, the political IQ of the Bush administration surges in election years.

(hat tip, Non Placet)

Posted by James at 8:55 AM | Comments (7)

August 23, 2006

OMG Cholesterol!


OMG Cholesterol!
Originally uploaded by Dr Momentum.
I don't think the people who created the packaging for these pita chips are familiar with online slang.

LULZ! OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Translation of the packaging: "Oh my GOD! Cholesterol!")
Posted by James at 12:35 PM | Comments (3)

August 22, 2006

Inhofe Watch - Iraq War Report Card

We know Senator Inhofe well around here in the SouthCoast. He’s the shill for the energy industry who tried to get our local bridge demolished.

In any case, he’s in the news again giving his opinion about Iraq.

According to the senator, the success in Iraq has been “nothing short of a miracle.” This proves that the senator is completely impervious to pernicious leftist propaganda regarding the death toll in Iraq, rising sectarian violence, political strife, a lack of a plan, and huge cost overruns. And a lack of adequate support for the veterans. Kudos to you, senator! The facts in Iraq have a distinct anti-administration bias, but don’t you fall for it.

The wit and wisdom of Inhofe extends to the UN peacekeepers, who, according to Inhofe, train girls to become prostitutes.

Inhofe defends the Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” pork barrel boondoggle. $320 million? I can think of no better way to spend that money, can you?

Inhofe is not without his softer side. He gets misty-eyed thinking back to the good old days; feeling “wistful for the Cold War.” Remember bach then? That was when we (America) supported the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan (called by Reagan “freedom fighters”) who eventually became the Taliban with more support from us for the purpose of opposing the Soviet Union. Yeah, I can see the nostalgia factor there. “Hey, remember when we helped fund the Taliban through Pakistan? And how they would later come back and bite us in the ass? Oh yeah, I miss those days. Good times, good times.”

Previously on “Inhofe-Watch”:

Posted by James at 4:20 PM

Road to Atlanta

We’re going to Atlanta!

Well, a bunch of the crew from work are going to Atlanta for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to give talks on technology and mathematics at the annual exposition. I am co-presenter on two talks, and we just had our proposals accepted. One talk is with SH on wireless classroom connectivity and one is with Derek on exponential functions. We’ll be there in late March of next year to talk for 90 minutes or so on these topics in front of an audience of teachers and other industry professionals.

Sara is also going, along with a couple of the teachers we work with. Wish us luck! We have between now and March to get our stuff together.

Dazzle with brilliance or baffle with bullshit? The audience will be the judge.

Posted by James at 12:51 PM | Comments (11)

August 20, 2006

MSL Research

Today in the car, K decided to read me some facts to me from one of her books. She rarely goes anywhere without some sort of nonfiction book.

“Dad, did you know that the average person knows between 5,000 and 6,000 words?”

I told her that I’d heard that, and then we started to discuss how many words we might each know. She wanted to list all the words she knows, and I didn’t want to dissuade her because, you know, that’s one good way to keep a kid busy.

But I interrupted her because I wanted to start a discussion on research. So I asked her “How do you think the researchers counted the number of words that average people know?” I figured that was a good starting point.

K, without even waiting a beat blurted out her guess

K: “They used monkey sign language?”

Me: “Er, what?”

I’m still trying to figure out what she meant.

Posted by James at 1:32 AM | Comments (3)

Startling Discovery on a Failed Expedition

On the way back from Rochester today, we stopped at Country Whip in Acushnet to get the kids some ice cream. I convinced Maggie to let me park the car close to a nearby cache and run to get it while they finished their snack.

I grabbed my gear and ran for where I thought the cache was, about 400 feet into some small woods. When I got in there I was surprised to find that the floor of the woods were covered with ferns. Starting just 1 foot off the trail in every direction, ferns were growing about 18 inches off the ground, out of the pine needles and rotting fallen trees. “Well, there’s a new twist” I thought.

After fumbling around for a few minutes, I wasn’t getting anywhere and I knew that time was running out. I couldn’t see through the ferns and the cache description led me to believe that the cache itself might be covered with pine needles, so I was wondering if I was going to have to trip over the cache to find it. I turned around and shuffled some underbrush to see if I could make contact with anything.

Suddenly, the ferns erupted right in front of me! I jumped back and banged my shoulder into a tree as I saw a small spotted fawn bounding away from me, back and forth toward a nearby hill. I pressed myself against the tree as my heart pounded from the shock, from hitting the tree and from the excitement. I’d never been that close to a wild deer before.

The fawn stopped at the crest of the hill, now about 70 feet away, and looked back at me. I didn’t have my camera, so I reached for my camera phone, but the trees and the distance were going to make it an iffy shot. As I moved to get a better angle, the fawn decided it had had enough and ran off. No picture.

I found this picture of a fawn hiding in foliage. Although that fawn appears to be hiding in some poison ivy, the one I saw was almost completely hidden by ferns. When I startled my fawn I was about seven feet away, give or take a foot. It was amazing.

I took a moment to try to regain my calm geocache-seeking mind, but then it occurred to me that if I couldn’t see a deer a few feet in front of me under the ferns then I wasn’t going to find the cache very quickly. I should do this cache when the ferns are less plentiful.

I returned to the car with only my story and no cache find. But that somehow felt OK.

Posted by James at 12:50 AM | Comments (5)

August 19, 2006

Snakes on a Plane (Review)


"Do as I say and you'll live."

I figured I'd start out with a quote because one of the things I read about this film was that it would be all about the quotes, so I feel the need to oblige. There aren't a ton of great quotes in this film, but there are a few that stand out.

For those that want to cut to the chase, I'll bottom line it for you and you can decide whether or not to skip the rest of my review.

Bottom line: This is a "low expectations necessary" film. If you wanted to see snakes, a plane, and Samuel L. Jackson, then this is the movie you asked for. If you were looking for a complete, over-the-top bad film, this isn't that either. But this is what-you-see-is-what-you-get.

Contrary to some reports, this isn't a rip-roaringly bad film, fit for MSTing. It's a mediocre film with passable SPFX (and somewhat intentionally bad SPFX, like the snake-view-cam). But what the filmmakers are banking on is the audience knowing Samuel L. Jackson's reputation (and popular culture inflation) as a smooth badass character and their appreciation for him playing off that character.

If they had intended to make a really bad film, then they could have. There are plenty of horrible examples. But doing that well is actually more creative work than making a mediocre film.

The acting in this film is slightly above what you can expect from your average action flick. If you disagree with that, then you haven't watched enough action flicks and you don't know how bad the average is. Sam Jackson plays it pretty low key, not over the top. He's just your cool version of Samuel L. Jackson and he happens to be an FBI agent who ends up on a plane full of deadly snakes.

The plot is thin, and there are huge holes in it. Par for the course for average action films. The only place it really goes beyond mediocre is in the ridiculous situations the plane passengers get into specifically so that they can be bit in satisfyingly shocking ways. Other than those, you'll notice all the usual airplane movie clichés. You know, the kids flying alone. The baby on board.

That said, I had a good time. I saw it alone and it would definitely have been an improvement to see it among like-minded friends. But the audience obliged by reacting at the appropriate moments and cheering when SLJ delivered his money line, the one that was put in specifically at the request of "the internets." Sometimes a movie is a pop culture phenomenon. Sometimes that's pretty much all a movie is. (See "The Blair Witch Project")



Posted by James at 3:38 AM | Comments (8)

August 18, 2006

Weensy Shotgun


Short this week. It's been a busy week!
  1. Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown - Google Video

    Wow, they really want Charlie Brown dead. Not necessarily safe for work.

  2. The A - Z of Rock & Roll Sex Scandals on Blender.com

    Chronicling the weirdness of rock. Not for the sexually squeamish.

  3. Karmasheetra

    Help in the bedroom

  4. Concert Ticket Generator

    Make your own gag concert ticket images.

  5. Extreme Dry Ice Bombs, 2 Close Calls

    Wow - here's a video of some kids playing with dry ice bombs. They don't get killed, but you'll be surprise that they survive to the end of the video.

  6. The Interweb Medley!!

    All the worst songs on the internet multiplied by each other.

And with that, we're off to kayak the mighty Taunton River. (Ok, just Broad Cove)
Posted by James at 9:22 AM | Comments (2)

August 17, 2006

Let That Be An Example



Let That Be An Example
Originally uploaded by Dr Momentum.
MYSTIC - Traffic lights fell victim to violent, armed anti-traffic militia activities in eastern Connecticut late last Friday.

After running afoul of the local groups, the traffic lights were hooded and hung along a main street as a message to other traffic lights. Some local residents have said that the message is clear, and they have modified their behavior to avoid feeling the wrath.
Posted by James at 5:22 PM

August 16, 2006

How Do They Explain It To Him?

When the president is sitting with his advisors, and all the people that egged him on to drag the country into the Iraq fiasco, and when they consider how unpopular he’s become over it and how unpopular the war is, does he ever ask his advisors “why is my popularity so low?”

And what do they tell him?

  • Do they tell him that John Murtha/Michael Moore/John Kerry or some other boogeyman has poisoned their minds?
  • Do they tell him it’s all the fault of the liberal media?
  • Do they tell him it’s because they’re mad about something else and just taking it out on him?
  • Do they just not tell him about the poll numbers at all?
  • Do they rig their own polls and only tell Bush about those polls?
  • Do they tell him that popularity is just around the corner?
  • Do they tell him that people are too stupid to realize a good thing when they see it?
  • Do they just discuss ways of scaring the people into a new post-9/11 bounce?

What do they make of this situation?

Posted by James at 6:07 PM | Comments (8)

Dartmouth Screws Self

Dartmouth voters strike down library, $750,000 for officer

So, Dartmouth voters decided not to build a new library. No huge surprise there, but this caught my eye:

Voters yesterday rejected both a $750,000 override to pay the medical expenses for a police officer who suffered a catastrophic injury[…]

The vote for a Proposition 21/2 override to pay the medical bills of David Mello, a 47-year-old officer who was severely injured in an accident last November, failed 2,119 to 1,962.

Since it was determined that Officer Mello was injured in the line of duty, the town is responsible for his medical expenses. Officials last night said the money now must come from the town’s regular operating budget.

Wow! So, people voted down the override which would have paid this officer’s medical bills by raising taxes slightly, spread out over a number of years. The town has to pay this debt, because the officer’s injury happened on the job. This vote wasn’t about whether to pay him or not, it was about whether to raise taxes to do it.

In rejecting the override, the cash-strapped town now has to pay this debt this year out of this year’s budget! Dartmouth had already cut the budget and reduced expenses by trimming the police and school payrolls (i.e. they let people go). So, now what do they do?

Fran Pettengill said he voted for the override because many layoffs would be likely if it didn’t pass. “If you don’t pass it, it will put the town in turmoil cause they will have to get the money from somewhere and with 85 percent of the budget in salaries … it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where they’ll get it from,”

That town is so screwed. First, they’ll probably cut after school programs that keep kids occupied in productive ways. Hey, maybe the kids can hang out at the mall now? Who needs after school programs when you’ve got a mall in town? They won’t be able to hang out in a new library.

I’m going to guess that you can’t get a 10th of the money just from cutting after school programs. So after that it’s teachers and police. Maybe the teachers and the police can hang out at the malls, too!

Voter turnout was very low, around 20% of the town. The vote was decided by about 100 vote different between for and against. Around 10% of the town have screwed the whole town over. But I’m sure that the Dartmouth voters had a good reason to put themselves into this situation.

Some who voted against it said they generally don’t like the idea of overrides, while others worried about the impact on their taxes. Town financial officials had said the average taxpayer would pay about $40 more per year in taxes.

Pure genius!

Posted by James at 5:26 PM | Comments (4)

Angry Baby



Angry Baby
Originally uploaded by Dr Momentum.
We saw this frighteningly angry and brutish-looking baby doll in the store the other day. I picture this baby moving about by its own power and growling out a demand for meat. You best heed the baby, lest it bite you with its two sharp little teeth and rend the flesh from your bones!

Scary baby!!!
Posted by James at 3:44 PM | Comments (8)

More Hirable Than Thou

We've railed on this blog before about how faith-based initiatives funded by public money are a horrible idea. But there are people actually going through this with their own jobs.

By "going through this" I mean that there is religious discrimination going on. This all started when Bush started to blur the lines that faith-based organizations used to use to keep public money from funding programs that push religion.

Transforming social welfare into conversion therapy was Bush's design when he made faith-based initiatives the priority of his administration's domestic agenda.   And his success has been astounding.

Before Bush upended things, religious groups had always been enlisted by government as providers of social services. They just had to wholly separate their religious mission from their government-funded services. Under Bush, there has been substantial blurring of the line.


As to hiring, the law always allowed religious groups to discriminate on religious grounds - so that the Catholic Church could hire Catholic priests, for example - but that exemption did not extend to employees hired with public funds to provide social welfare. It was a simple, clear rule. If you took public money, you hired on the basis of merit, not piety.


But Bush wiped away this calibrated distinction by issuing a series of executive orders early in his presidency approving taxpayer financed religious discrimination.


In the above article, Robyn Blumner also writes about Anne Lown, hwo had worked for the Salvation Army for 24 years while the organization had well-defined lines separating evangelism from social services. But with Bush's new rules she describes being asked to complete a form...

asking for list of churches she attended over the last 10 years and the name of her present minister. Lown says she was told that indicating "not applicable" was not an option.
There's a rude awakening for you.

If this article is too much opinion for you, you can always refer to the General Accounting Office report.

GAO Finds the Bush Administration's Faith-Based Initiative Lacks Safeguards Against Religious Discrimination

"This report shows that the Bush administration has sent billions of taxpayer dollars to religious organizations without accountability for how that money is spent," said Stark [...]

The GAO report found that federal agencies administering the faith-based initiative are not informing religious organizations of their anti-discrimination responsibilities under the law. [...]

The GAO report also found that 70 percent of the agencies it reviewed did not provide information on permissible hiring practices to grantees. [...]

[F]ive years into the initiative, the GAO report finds that the government has not examined whether programs administered by religious organizations are improving participant outcomes. According to the study, agencies have not completed - or even begun - outcome-based evaluations of most of the faith-based programs they fund. [...]

Opening the door to discriminatory practices and at the same time ignoring the need for accountability. The people who run this administration talk a good game, but when it comes to accountability it's amazing how the buck doesn't just get passed. It plain gets lost in the shell game of government. Feel free to read the whole GAO report.

On the Flipside


If this worries you, if you're concerned about how this tax money is being spent, if you think that it may be going to spreading religion rather than helping people in some cases, and if you're worried that discriminatory practices are being funded by tax money, you're not alone.

In fact, I posted this story to Reddit on Tuesday morning and it rocketed to the top of the front page (from up-votes placed by people who thought it was an important story.) Reddit is a merit-based link aggregation site, and this was the first time I'd posted a link and had it even come close to being the #1 link. So "redditors" were interested. But they aren't the only ones.

You might be surprised to learn that Jerry Falwell is worried! You won't be when you read why, sadly.

It also concerns me that once the pork barrel is filled, suddenly the Church of Scientology, the Jehovah Witnesses, the various and many denominations and religious groups--and I don?t say those words in a pejorative way--begin applying for money--and I don?t see how any can be turned down because of their radical and unpopular views. I don?t know where that would take us.

Pardon my language, but no shit, Sherlock. If you can get by his religious discrimination, what he's saying makes some sense; but you have to apply it to all religious organizations. I'm concerned about all the evangelizing that may go on using money that could have been helping people. But Falwell doesn't see this until he looks up while taking a break from kissing the president's rump. News Flash, Jerry. Maybe the idea wasn't so good after all.

Thanks, Chuck, for forwarding this link. It's one I ought to have been aware of already, but sometimes I'm not very observant. I think Chuck probably saw the story here, so hat tip there as well.

(P.S. A detailed story on what has gone on in the so-called "Battle of 14th Street" Salvation Army case is available in this publication. It's worth it if just to get to read the phrase: The road to Hell is full of good people.  You go, religious guy!)
Posted by James at 12:22 AM | Comments (2)

August 15, 2006

Rhode Island State Rock

Q: What’s Rhode Island’s state rock?

A: Doug White’s hair.

Doug’s hair always seemed unchanging, reliable, friendly and comforting, much like the personality he conveyed on the newscast.

It is with great and genuine sadness that I inform you that Doug White, long time WJAR Channel 10 news anchor has died.

Doug White, veteran Channel 10 anchor, dies at 61

Thanks for being part of our world, and for understanding that the hair joke was out of love.

Posted by James at 8:34 PM | Comments (4)

August 11, 2006

You Can't Have Terrorism Without Terror

terrorism

According to Brittanica:

Systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.

The terrorists can’t generate their “general climate of fear” without help.

But Bush’s Republicans hoped the raid would yield political gains.

“I’d rather be talking about this than all of the other things that Congress hasn’t done well,” one Republican congressional aide told AFP on condition of anonymity because of possible reprisals.

“Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big,” said another White House official, who also spoke on condition of not being named, adding that some Democratic candidates won’t “look as appealing” under the circumstances.

zefrank puts it better than I do. (video contains explicit language)

And I just plain resent Bush’s arguments like:

“It is a mistake to believe there is no threat to the United States of America,”

Who the hell is out there saying there is no threat from terrorism?

They say “make hay while the Sun shines.” Our president’s Sun is “islamo-fascism.” And whenever he gets enough hay together, he builds a strawman out of it.

Posted by James at 9:34 AM | Comments (2)

Bully Shotgun

  1. IGN: Bully Trailer

    It's not yet rated, but theres a video preview of it up on IGM... It's the new video game that good friend and Aces reader Rui has been working on for so long out at Rockstar Vancouver! "Bully"

  2. Bush Backrub - Presented by Addicting Games

    Bush's backrubs are saving the world. Get in on the fun.

  3. Fan death - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    In Korea, they think fans can kill you. True story.

  4. Star Trek Inspirational Posters

    A couple of these are pretty funny.

  5. A Beginners Guide To Faking Your Death On The Internet

    Learn the secrets of attention whores all over the 'net.

  6. PI humor

    Shades of the book "Contact" but funnier.

  7. Python's Camelot interlude, by Kirk and crew

    Holy Grain / Star Trek Mashup. Hil-arious. via Chuck @ ULev

  8. Wow - Darth Vader is a real Jackass

    We knew he was evil, but what a jerk!

Posted by James at 8:53 AM | Comments (4)

August 10, 2006

If I Felt Any Safer, I'd Be In A Straight Jacket

Congratulations to the Brits for foiling that bomb plot. Good show, chaps!

In the wake of this news, we have some new rules for flying.

  • No liquids
  • No gels
  • No toothpaste (your breath is going to stink when you get off that long plane ride)
  • Arrive at the airport 2 hours early
  • No iPods or laptops or phones if you’re departing the UK for the US.

The added inconvenience is certainly going to annoy people, especially seasoned business travelers. And some people are going to really be put out to have to pack their electronics into the rough-and-tumble world of checked luggage.

I have to admit, I don’t care much about the inconvenience, personally. I feel for the frequent traveler, but flying is all inconvenience for me because I am not used to it.

What “grinds my gears” is something else. Actually, it doesn’t really grind my gears so much as frighten me. Let me illustrate with a quote from another article.

Laura Yeager left four bottles of Gucci and Cartier perfume for the hotel maid before heading to the Atlanta airport for her flight back to Philadelphia. She still had to give up her lip gloss at the security checkpoint. She just shrugged and tossed it. “It’s better to feel safe. We thought it was going to be a lot worse.

So, what’s wrong with that? It sounds like she’s saying that the TSA is doing its job and she’s happy to know that. But I don’t read it like that at all.

In the wake of new restrictions, I’ve seen at least a couple of people I know online rush to say that the new restrictions make them feel safer — and you can add the woman in this article to the list. Loss of freedom = you feel safer. A segment of the population clearly associates freedom with danger and restriction with safety.

If an organization is inconveniencing you by restricting you, they must be doing it for good reasons, therefore you can go ahead and rest easy; feel free to feel safer. No question about whether the regulations actually work (these bomb plot suspects were not caught while trying to sneak anything onto planes). No question about anything. Go directly to feel safer.

Am I crazy to wish people would have more of a skeptical initial reaction, than a sort of brainwashed “just tell me how to feel safer” one?

Posted by James at 1:33 PM | Comments (32)

August 8, 2006

Compare and Contrast

Let’s compare the prospect of Weaver’s Cove LNG vs. Casino Gambling in SouthCoast Massachusetts. I’m not a huge fan of building more casinos, but this seems like a good time to have a bit of fun with this issue, since Chris Gabrieli is suggesting a casino to help fill the Massachusetts state coffers.



Hypothetical Casino
LNG Tanks on the Taunton River
Southcoast residents gamble with their disposable income.
Hess gambles with the lives of SouthCoast residents, considering them disposable.
The casino always puts the odds against you, but citizens still can win sometimes, or at least have fun playing.
SouthCoast residents can’t win, because they seemingly have no say. The odds of surviving an LNG explosion are even slimmer than winning on double-zero in Roulette.
A riverboat casino could maximize the underused waterfront on the Taunton River.
LNG tankers could maximize the traffic when they close the bridges going over the river.
If SouthCoast residents make a killing at the casino, they’d really have a blast.
The blast of an LNG tanker could kill residents a mile away from the river.

Posted by James at 4:30 PM | Comments (10)

Stuck On You

Thinking I was being funny, I wrote “I love you” on a note and stuck it on my daughter while she was watching TV, just before I had to leave the go somewhere with my sister and brother-in-law. She giggled as I left our office.

When I left the house, she ran after me with with her arms outstretched to give me a hug before I left. I was only going down the street for a few minutes, so my brother-in-law said “wow, I guess she can’t bear for you to go away!” and I explained that I had just given her an “I love you” note and that she’s really affectionate.

I ended up being gone for about a half hour, talking to my sister in her front yard as we waved to her neighbors who were out and about for the afternoon. Just before I left I realized why M had wanted to run after me. For the last half hour I’d been wearing a post-it note on my back that said “I love you!”

Posted by James at 3:38 PM

Aid Cannot Get To Those In Need In Lebanon

IDF warns UN troops will be attacked if they repair bridges

Israel also threatened to attack UN peacekeepers if they attempted to repair bomb-damaged bridges in southern Lebanon. UN officials contacted the Israeli army to inform them that a team of Chinese military engineers attached to the UN force in Lebanon intended to repair the bridge on the Beirut to Tyre road to enable the transport of humanitarian supplies.

According to the UN, Israeli officials said the engineers would become a target if they attempted to repair the bridge.

Senior UN officials reacted angrily to the destruction of a temporary causeway over the Litani river overnight. “We must be able to have movement throughout the country to deliver supplies. At this point we can’t do that,” said David Shearer, the humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon. “The deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure is a violation of international law.”

We had relatives in Tyre at one time. Where are they now? I don’t know.

Not allowing aid in is a collective punishment of the Lebanese people, not a war on terror.

Posted by James at 3:11 PM

You and James Read the News

Some news stories from around the internets.

GOP Can't Ditch DeLay


The GOP have tried desperately to get an indicted Tom DeLay off the ballot in Texas before the elections with a last minute switcheroo. The legal avenues have been exhausted , and DeLay will now either have to run or back a write-in candidate. Time to revv up the bandwagon? As one campaign begins...

Bob Ney Quits Ohio Congress Race Amid Corruption Scandal


...another campaign ends.
``Ultimately this decision came down to my family," the six-term congressman said in a statement on his campaign website. ``I must think of them first, and I can no longer put them through this ordeal."
It's heartwarming to hear him refer to the Republicans as "his family."

Pro Life, But Bullish!


Senator George Allen is against a woman's use of the morning after pill, but is hedging his bets by proffiting from investments in that pill's sales . One face for the cameras, and another one for your financial advisor.

Hope For the Next Generation


Among youths aged 18 to 24, Bush's popularity is hovering around 20%, which is bad news for the German scientist banking on society's need for an anti-stupid pill.

We Welcome Our Jellyfish Overlords


Warmer seas and a drop in jellyfish predators are making the world one big party for jellyfish.
Holidaymakers heading for Mediterranean beaches are being warned to prepare for an unprecedented invasion of the invertebrates whose sting can, in extreme cases, cause heart failure.
Thank global warming and industrial fishing.

Harsh State Gun Laws Fail! (with a little help from the NRA)


States with harsh gun laws often have high firearm murder rates, NRA supporters are quick to point out. So, tough gun laws don't work! Hold the NRA victory celebration for a moment. It turns out that guns used in those crimes are coming from states with lax gun laws. So the problem is back to a lack of restrictive gun laws. We know this thanks to a lawsuit filed by the state of New York which, after an out-of-court settlement, allowed officials access to two Georgia gun dealer's records. But the NRA doesn't want you, or law enforcement, to know how lax gun laws are contributing to crime.

New York's sting operation refutes the National Rifle Association's fairy tale that guns fall from the skies into the hands of criminals, and the NRA's response has been telling. It is now pushing Congress to pass a law that would prohibit the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from releasing gun trace information to anyone but a police department investigating a particular crime.


Had that prohibition been in place, New York never could have conducted its sting operation.


Even more incredible, the gun lobby wants to jail police officials who share gun-tracing information with other law enforcement departments. A New York officer who talks to a New Jersey state trooper about a crooked gun dealer could go to jail for five years under the proposed legislation.

They must really be afraid of this dirty little secret getting out!

And with that, I bid you good day.
Posted by James at 9:56 AM | Comments (4)

August 7, 2006

Peasant X

M and K have begun to play online games. I asked M what her name was in one of the games.

She said, “I’m ‘peasant17.’ I wanted to be ‘peasant12’ but it was taken.”

I have no idea why she wanted to be “peasant12.” But it’s good to have “peasant17” as a fallback.

Posted by James at 8:35 PM

Democrats For Your Rights

“Gee I wish Democrats in Congress would speak out about the President’s track record of deception and abuse of presidential power.”

They did last week. It’s called The Constitution in Crisis; The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Coverups in the Iraq War, and Illegal Domestic Surveillance

It’s an over 350 page report on how this president is screwing up the country. So there you have it.

Posted by James at 11:51 AM | Comments (1)

PGP - Pretty Good Pomegranate

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usContinuing down the road of pomegranate-flavored drinks, we veer off from using the juice of the fruit and discover pomegranate liqueur.

I recently discovered Pama - the first pomegranate-flavored anything that does a decent job actually tasting like pomegranates. I’ve had it straight, and it doesn’t go well that way. So I threw this together, and it’s turned out to be a great, refreshing choice for hot summer days. I call it by the geeky name of PGP (stands for Pomegranate, Ginger, Peach).

PGP

  • 1 1/2 oz. Pama Liqueur
  • 1 oz. Stolichnaya Persik
  • ginger ale
  • ice

Put a couple of ice cubes in a tall glass (3 cubes if it’s a pint glass). Pour the Pama and the Stoli over the ice, then fill the glass with ginger ale. Stir gently and enjoy.

I’ve been drinking this with diet ginger ale, and it’s not bad at all. I’d like to try it with ginger beer as soon as I can get my hands on some. The pomegranate flavor is not that strong at all in this, but it does balance out the peach.

Posted by James at 2:12 AM | Comments (4)

August 6, 2006

The Descent

A small group of adventure-seeking women venture into a cave system and get more of an experience than they planned for. This is the basic premise of the new film The Descent (trailer).

The premise brought to mind another recent film now in DVD release, The Cave. I recall renting The Cave from a Redbox a few weeks ago, taking it home, and falling asleep in front of it. Horror movies are rarely original and The Cave seemed to me to be a watered down version of “Pitch Black” with a different (completely predictable) twist at the end.

The Descent has been compared to Alien, but I think The Thing is a more apt comparison.

Choosing an all-female cast makes it necessary to have halfway-decent and varied female characters, and this film does a good job of that. By the time that the cave-diving begins, we already know quite a bit about the three most central female characters. Sarah has been through a horrible life-shattering loss. Beth is the supportive friend who was there for her in the aftermath. Juno has set up the expedition to help Sarah get back to her previous hobby of extreme activities and put her past behind her, but she harbors some regret for not being more supportive when Sarah needed her. Once the expedition begins and starts to go bad, personal weaknesses and conflicts bubble to the surface.

Whereas the cinematography of The Cave was expansive, The Descent is claustrophobic, which mirrors Sarah’s psyche. She’s trapped in her head by the memories of her past. When Sarah is wedged into a passageway and Beth has to help her through, it’s an obvious metaphor, and what follows is a result of that crisis. Touches like this make The Descent a much more interesting and thoughtful movie than I’m used to in recent horror, but will that be lost on the gore-seeking horror moviegoer? I don’t think so; I think many horror moviegoers are looking for different experiences rather than the same ones over and over again.

Once the film takes a gruesome turn, it remains there. The film makes ample use of opportunities to shock, with plenty of blood to go around. But where many films just treat the characters like fodder for the monsters, The Descent remembers that it has characters, and drives toward an emotional resolution.

Will anyone survive the cave system and make it to the outside world? Will those who are trapped escape? I wasn’t even wondering about this, as the situation seemed, to me, to be completely hopeless. That’s part of why I compared the movie to <The Thing which also featured a pretty insurmountable problem. Often in life you simply can’t escape. Sometimes survival is your only option.

If you see this film and like it, but thought it held back I recommend the similarly crafted but much more shocking High Tension (2003). I had meant to write a review for High Tension but never got around to it. As you can see from the review, I’d rather post a rambling discussion than a focused movie review. However, I think there are some interesting comparisons here. The Thing for the character interplay and sense of futility, High Tension for gritty feel and psychological aspects, and The Cave for a (contrasting) movie that went for flash instead of giving you something the audience could connect with.

Posted by James at 11:49 AM | Comments (2)

August 4, 2006

Ouch, That Hurt

It was a night of surprises (mostly bad) at McCoy Stadium.

After 4 innings, the PawSox were scoreless to the Syracuse’s 3 runs. But back-to-back home runs in the 5th put them on the board. Another run in the 6th tied the game and I thought “This is the most exciting PawSox games I’ve seen in a while.” (My previous two outings were pitcher’s duels, and the PawSox lost those matches.)

Nothing in the 7th inning, but in the 8th everything went “pear-shaped.” Syracuse loaded the bases and had no outs, when we started allowing guys to come home on walks! Six runs were scored while the crowed watched in horror.

And that wasn’t the extent of the punishment. The stands began to empty into the parking lot in the 9th inning which looked an awful lot like the 7th inning at the start. Walks, runs, and they’d stopped selling Dell’s Frozen Lemonade by this time, so there was no relief in sight. I half expected them to re-open the beer concession so that fans could drown their sorrows. It was about this point when my daughter K insisted that the PawSox allow her to pitch, or at least to bat. It couldn’t have hurt, I’m sure.

But the PawSox held the hemorrhaging at 3 additional runs in the 9th. On second though, that’s not holding the hemorrhaging, that’s a trip to the bloodletter’s.

In any case, the PawSox didn’t make up the 9 needed runs in the 9th and the game mercifully came to an end. There was no traffic leaving McCoy because the vase majority of people had already left.

Still, we had fun yelling for a comeback with 1 out left in the 9th.

Posted by James at 8:04 AM

Slightly Salty Shotgun

  • THE TASTE TESTS (health, reference, food, nutrition)
    • Is your body low in electrolytes? I recall the time I got faint in the heat and a friend (Manny) made me eat salt. I felt better immediately. Which one of you is going to test this out (i.e. deprive yourself of magnesium and then take the test)?
  • Treadmill Dance (exercise, dance, video, music)
    • Synchronized treadmill dancing video. Probably not as much of a workout as if they had just been running. But still, fun to watch.
  • Popular Atheist Quotes (reference, atheism)
    • Atheists say the darndest things
  • workFRIENDLY - BETA (hacks, antiproductivity, tips, tools)
    • Want to surf Aces Full of Links when you're supposed to be working? Shame on you! But if you use this clever website, you can read all you want and it looks like you’re using MS Word.
  • Hello Vader (funny, parody, photos)
    • Vader turns to the pink side of the Force.
  • DICEWARS - Flash game (flash, game, war)
    • Great diversion. This addictive game has simple rules, but plays out in a complex fashion.
  • Jay is Games: Dice Wars Instructions (flash, fun, game)
  • Free Movies Fallen out of Copyright (Public Domain) (film, movies, video, free)
    • Amazing list of free movies hosted online. Some surprising recent docmentaries, and classic old films as well.
  • MEAT CAKE! (cooking, food)
    • I'm going to let you check this one out on your own. I have to say, it’s inspired.
Posted by James at 8:02 AM | Comments (2)

August 3, 2006

I Condemn

I condemn, in the strongest terms possible, all of the the deadly rocket attacks that Hezbollah has made on Israel, like the the rocket attacks Thursday that killed six people in northern Israel and wounded many.

I also condemn, in the strongest terms possible, the Israeli attacks on Lebanon. Air strikes have killed many Lebanese civilians and children, like the bombing of Qana which killed 22 adults and 34 children.

I was in the car when I heard a conservative tool say that people would call into the show to condemn Israel for its attacks on Lebanon, but not for Hezbollah attacks. Cutting through the bullshit, I think what he meant was that liberals weren’t flooding his board with calls when Hezbollah rockets are reported to have killed 6 Israel civilians. Because, of course, he was getting plenty of callers who were defending Israel. I guess he wanted liberals to call in.

But I noticed something interesting. His war supporters were calling not to condemn the attacks which resulted in the deaths of Israel civilians. They were calling in support of attacks on Lebanon. I’ll come back to this.

In the past when Israel has used force to crush opposition, a more determined armed militia rises from the ashes of previous Israel-led drubbings. This hasn’t been good for Israel nor the world.

  • Israel’s attacking of Lebanon is disproportional. Israel might have thought that this is politically not a problem, but when Israel began its attack there were Arab countries condemning Hezbollah for its actions and criticism of Israel as conspicuously lacking. That changed when the ferocity of Israel’s response became apparent.
  • People everywhere would be happy to see Hezbollah destroyed, including a lot of the Lebanese. That is the ostensible purpose of this Israeli (and US) policy of violence. But it isn’t working. Politically, Hezbollah is getting stronger, which is, in my view, bad for everyone. And Hezbollah seems to have been dug in and ready for Israel so disrupting its command and control structure does not get rid of Hezbollah in the short term.

So, we have a policy that will not fulfill its purpose and, in fact, may accomplish the opposite in the long run. In the short run, it accomplishes the deaths of Lebanese civilians.

“What should we do?”

Great question. But it’s a question, not an answer to repeat to the TV in response to pictures of dead Lebanese children and Israeli civilians. One answer might be to stop a policy that isn’t working and is killing innocent people. How about we start there?

OK - back to the conservatives on the radio.

I noticed that the focus is not on condemning Hezbollah, although if you ask them point blank, you’ll get condemnations, sure. The focus is on how much approval that they heap on the Israeli bombing. They are happy that Israel is striking Lebanon. They can barely contain their glee. Lebanese children are “terrorist children” or “Hezbollah children.” This is the danger I see — that these people have the ear of our government. People who aren’t as concerned with practical solutions or peace, but rather whether someone they don’t like is getting blown up in pretty explosions. Any practical solution that doesn’t involve killing is considered wimpy. The idea that disproportional force has resulted in tenacious, violent, decentralized organizations which engage in asymmetric warfare is ignored or painted over by barking more rhetoric about “terrorism.” This is all a wonderful killing experiment. These people don’t have the combination of balls and intelligence to give up violence and seek other solutions. They criticise the Lebanese government for not whipping Hezbollah into shape while they sit safely in the US, ignoring that Lebanese presidents have tended to get killed lately.

By suggesting Bush might have done something about this, I am opening myself up to the perennial criticism of “So you think everything in the world is Bush’s fault!” It’s funny, they’ll call Bush the leader of the free world until something bad happens. Bush plays a role in world affairs, and he plays a role in the current cycle. Israel and Lebanon are victims of this cycle, fueled by Hezbollah (and Syria, but mostly Iran this time around). This cycle is familiar to gamblers all over the place.

Someone offers you a bad bet, but you think it’s a good one. So you take the bet and lose. You think, if I can get up enough money, I can win all my money back. So you bet more money on a bad bet and lose again. Now you have to collect even more money because you just know you can beat this game if you keep at it! You lose. Maybe the bet just isn’t a good one. People in this situation need a friend to tell them that it isn’t working and that they’re in trouble.

You go into Lebanon to get your enemies, and it’s a gamble because you can’t do it without civilians. You kill some, you lose some of your own and you leave Lebanon. It turns out that it didn’t work, and now the problem is worse. So you go back and you’re going to kill more civilians, strike even harder. But it doesn’t work, and now Hezbollah is formed… now you have to go back in even more brutally. You’re sure you can beat this, and now your pride is at stake as well. This is the point at which the leader of the free world ought to really step in and say, hey — this isn’t working. All you’re accomplishing at this point is a lot of killing. But the US doesn’t have that sort of wisdom at the moment. All we seem to be able to do is offer more bombs.

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I worry about Lebanon and I worry about Israel. I worry that they are the victims of Hezbollah. And, to some extent, they’re the victims of people who say they are friends of Israel but sit as cheerleaders for this round of bloodshed, cheerleaders for the cycle of violence.

I condemn the cheerleaders of violence.

Posted by James at 10:59 AM | Comments (8)

August 2, 2006

Obit Meme

I thought I’d lighten things up a bit with an internet meme quiz thing.

QuizGalaxy!
‘What will your obituary say?’ at QuizGalaxy.com

Wait - that’s not very light. Blame Karen for making me aware of this link.

Posted by James at 2:23 PM | Comments (16)

Iraqi Civil War?

I’m still trying to decide exactly what a civil war is. A helpful person at EAForums insisted that Iraq wasn’t in civil war because it isn’t being waged by cohesive populist groups with a predetermined goal in mind. He described it more as “gang warfare” which does seem to characterize the somewhat more chaotic nature of Iraq’s current situation.

However, many definitions I’ve found of “civil war” are not dependent on how organized the factions are, and it seems that Iraq at least qualifies as having been split along populist lines (sectarian lines, in Iraq’s case). And since the US basically controls the Iraq military, we have prevented the army from splitting along those lines. But organizations where our influence is not felt have succumbed to the influence of militia leaders.

One could say that our preventing the military from turning on itself is preventing civil war. But the sectarian fighting is alive and well. The more accurate view is that Iraq is in civil war, and our control of the military is merely hiding a symptom of that civil war and not a requirement of it. Don’t these loosely organized gangs still need to be part of of a unified and peaceful Iraqi for the war to end?

Calling a Spade a Spade in Newsweek identifies a bitterly divided population that is also seeing segregation along these warring lines.

Across the country, Shiites and Sunnis have abandoned what for decades have been mixed neighborhoods and retreated into ethnically pure enclaves. […]

“Sunnis and Shiites look at each other with hostile views,” says Baghdad-based political analyst Aziz Jabur, “They are returning behind their own lines, their own history, their own religion. It’s now a civil war. The reality is there.” […]

U.S. and military officials in Baghdad admit that “tit-for-tat killings” are occurring, but on a limited scale. But what is “limited” about an estimated 6,000 civilians killed in May and June alone, according to a recent United Nations report on Iraq’s violence? Or that some 27,000 Iraqi families had registered for relocation since February, according to reports from the Ministry of Displacement and Migration? […]

And in the Sunni western desert, Shia are hated even more than the Americans. They are seen as purveyors of an Iranian agenda and accomplices in the despised American occupation. These facts lead to a simple conclusion: where there is even the slightest potential for sectarian conflict in Iraq these days, war on the very fabric of Iraqi civilization erupts. […]

Can there be a civil war when the Army hasn’t turned on itself, or the government? It’s a fair question. But Iraq’s nascent military couldn’t turn on itself even if it wanted to. […] That is not the case with the police, the Facilities Protection Services, or the various other security forces that operate largely out of sight for ministries and other government patrons. These forces are riddled with infiltrators who answer to militia leaders first. Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has admitted that getting rid of the militias is “complicated” because of their spidery reach into nearly every organ of Iraq’s government.

At the top, there have been political reasons for not calling this a civil war (and opponents are motivated into calling it a civil war). However, I’ve heard non-partisan non-political reasons on both sides. Last week I would have said that I just don’t know. But, thinking of other conflicts in Lebanon and the Balkans - wars we have called civil wars, it seems to me that Iraq’s problems which were previously held in check by a brutal dictator have blossomed into a postponed civil war. We’ve removed the dictator, but not the problems. And war is occurring over those ancient lines. It really looks to me like civil war. And saying we plunged another country into civil war does not sound like “Mission Accomplished.”

Posted by James at 2:31 AM | Comments (8)

What You Know About The Middle East

…is probably more than the President, if his words are any indication. If you’ve spent two minutes thinking about the middle east, you’re probably one up on him. Consider this:

(Sheer boredom may have sent him tumbling to new depths of ignorance.) “There’s a lot of suffering in the Palestinian territory,” Bush mused, “because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy.”

It is? Has Bush forgotten that Hamas came to power as a result of elections that he insisted the Palestinian Authority hold? […] He returned to the theme later in the press conference: “One reason why the Palestinians still suffer is because there are militants who refuse to accept a Palestinian state based upon democratic principles.”

That’s absurd. The president appears to be totally unfamiliar with what is perhaps the single most-discussed topic in international politics. Nothing gets people disagreeing quite like the subject of how to apportion blame for the Palestinian peoples’ considerable suffering. But absolutely nobody blames Arab militants opposed to democratic principles. Terrorists opposed to Israel’s very existence? Sure. Israeli intransigence? Why not. But only someone paying no attention whatsoever would subscribe to Bush’s theory.

The President’s Ignorance Is Dangerous

As he revealed in the famous on-mic conversation, he seems to think that Syria has some sort of control over Hezbollah, and so Syria is the key to stopping them. However:

  1. It ain’t true. While Syria has provided support to Hezbollah, it’s not clear at all that they could do anything about the armed militia short of re-occupying Lebanon against the UN resolution that helped send them packing the last time.
  2. If it were true that Syria could stop Hezbollah, shouldn’t our government be trying to convince Syria to do that? Somehow? But we’re not.
  3. Apparently, Kofi can just speed-dial Assad and nip this whole middle east problem in the bud. According to our president.

I have an idea. Why not get a bunch of pro wrestlers together and form a MEWF (Middle East Wrestling Federation). We’ll name the different wrestlers after middle east countries and organizations. Then we let Bush watch as different wrestling matches tell the story of middle east politics and war in a sort of pantomime form.

…and that’s how wrestling saved the world, Billy!

Posted by James at 2:15 AM | Comments (8)

August 1, 2006

Zefrank and His Show

By now, you know what a video blog is. I don’t watch many video blogs, but I feel compelled to tell you about one of them in particular.

That’s zefrank’s “the show”

He’s witty, well-informed and a little bit loony. I’m jealous of how much fun his video blog is, even considering it’s mostly just him talking to the camera. Check out his short daily entries (look over the last couple of weeks) and tell me what you think. Sometimes it’s about world events. Sometimes he gives really lucid explanations of complex subjects. And sometimes he’s just plain fun.

After you’ve checked out the show, wander around the rest of his site. He’s got games and humor galore. This is one creative fellow who deserves your webtraffic.

Posted by James at 11:15 PM | Comments (1)

Zogby's Lebanon Solution

Ben Zogby writes about an Irish-style roadmap for solving the problem of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Though there are expansive differences in the ideology and objectives of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and Hezbollah, the two armed-militant organizations share a common history by way of tactics: both groups launched mortar and rocket attacks, engaged in kidnappings of soldiers and operated over the years within the bounds of a country not directly linked to the campaigns of aggression. Lebanon has been Hezbollah’s nest and for the IRA, the Republic of Ireland was the same. To eliminate this phenomenon in Lebanon Blair should move to establish an independent commission much along the same lines as that of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD), which had as its task overseeing the relinquishment of weapons and arms by the PIRA.

He suggests a UN Security resolution and motivating the Shiites with a prisoner swap, and Israeli withdrawal from the disputed Shebaa farms. Lebanese politics would then need to include more representation for the heavily Shiite southern Lebanon so that the government’s sovereignty extends to the whole of the country.

He also suggests pressure on state legislatures and city councils to call for an immediate cease fire and to implement a plan like the one above to keep Lebanon from falling into another civil war or remaining fertile ground for violent and heavily armed militias like Hezbollah.

Posted by James at 10:09 PM

Tastes Like Because It's Made From

Splenda’s advertising says “Splenda tastes like sugar because it’s made from sugar!”

Now, I like Splenda at least as much as the next guy, but some people have criticised that slogan as being a little misleading.) I was thinking, if that slogan works, why not apply the logic to other products?

Bacon tastes like pigs because it’s made from pigs!
Jell-o tastes like leather because it’s made from leather!
The Sistine Chapel ceiling looks like paint, because it’s made from paint!
Cologne smells like deer glands because it’s made from deer glands!
Sugar tastes like beets because it’s made from beets!

Feel free to contribute your own. Or read about the fallacy of composition.

Posted by James at 8:54 AM | Comments (5)

Drive-In Convenience Pioneered in Warren

Guy almost gets run over while cashing in a lottery ticket when an SUV drives into a convenience store in Warren, RI. Don’t miss the video.

Police said the teenager was pulling into the parking lot of Warren Convenience Store at 640 Metacom Ave. at about 9:45 a.m. when the SUV went through the front door and window. A security camera inside the store recorded the crash.
Posted by James at 8:47 AM | Comments (1)