December 31, 2006

Happy New Year

I wish all of you clarity and wisdom, health and comfort in the new year.


Posted by James at 6:56 PM

Waffle Pizza

Pizza and Stone

I like my pizza with lots

of crushed red pepper on top

Okay, more like pizza and waffles.

I have been doing some experimental baking this weekend. I’ll give you the short rundown.

First, I made a pizza dough, close to the usual recipe I use, but also close to Alton Brown’s recipe. Basically a ratio of 1.25 cups of water to 3.25 cups of flour, dry yeast, 1 Tablespoon of sugar and 1.25 teaspoons of salt.

However, I have been fooling around with both methods and ingredients. In this dough, I used whole wheat for about 15% of the flour. And I gave it some time to sit and ferment as a “sponge” before I mixed in any of the salt and most of the flour.

I made enough dough to make 2 pizzas and 4 large rolls. The results were great! The crust was fluffier than I wanted, but that’s because the dough was hard to stretch. However, it held ingredients well.

The rolls were flavorful and crusty (not as crusty as I would like, but better than usual color and texture of the crust). The girls seemed to like them despite the whole wheat. Of course, it was only 15%.

The pizza was still good the 2nd day after being reheated in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes (until it got crisp on the bottom). This crust resisted getting soggy in the fridge. That’s great!

It emboldened me to try something else I’ve wanted to do for a while: yeast-raised waffles. They have to be prepared overnight, so before bed I prepared the recipe.

You’re supposed to let it sit at room temperature, and I did that, but I chose one of the cooler rooms in the house.

In the morning, it had bubbled up and smelled pleasantly yeasty. I mixed in the eggs and added vanilla (I can’t make a recipe without changing it) and poured the liquid batter into my Belgian waffle iron. (Flip ‘n Fluff)

Whaddaya know? The waffles were light, crispy and buttery. It’s a big recipe, so I made the remaining waffles and froze them for later toaster-warming.

Yeast-Raised Belgians

Waffles, reheated the next day

Today, I’m trying Peter Reinhart’s pizza dough from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. You make this well in advance and keep it in the fridge for a day to 3 days. I thought I had learned patience, but bread baking (to my satisfaction) seems to require even more patience than I expected.

It’s funny, but there is a lot of beginner info out there that will tell you how to successfully bake a loaf of bread. It’s easy to do — that first loaf — with just a little instruction. But if you’re looking for something specific in your bread, like I am, it can take years… in my case over a decade, to feel like you’re getting close.

That’s partly because it has taken me a while to get my hands on the right advice. Bread baking is more about process than formula.

Still, if you have never baked bread before, I recommend you try. That first loaf is both easy and rewarding, and there is good instruction available.

Posted by James at 5:57 PM | Comments (1)


I don’t exactly have any New Year’s resolutions. At least, none that are special for the new year. I have plans and hopes, which can be the same thing, I suppose.

At this point in my life, I feel like if something is worth resolving to do, I shouldn’t be waiting for a specific date to make that resolution. Once you come to the realization that you need to make a change in your life, that’s when you ought to resolve to do it.

If you need the artificial feeling of a new beginning in a cycle, then you can look at every morning as a new beginning. I have already wasted enough time putting off things I want to do.

If you’ve taken this day as an opportunity to reflect on your life and you’ve noticed things you’d like to change, that’s fine — kudos to you. If it’s not on your list, let me recommend that you add “reflect more” to your list. No need to wait a whole year before reassessing. I can tell you, it’s on my list to keep reflecting. I actually do this somewhat regularly, but I don’t post about it because I doubt it’s interesting to others. But this is the popular time of year for it.

I hope my “resolutions” are going to be more like plans. Because it feels like I’ll be more likely to do them if they’re plans and not some vague directive. My hopes and plans are all somewhat selfish, because they each pretty much directly impact how happy I’ll be. But that’s the point of reflecting and then making this sort of list. What would make you feel more happy now if you had done it before? I want to be happy, so I’ll do this now for my later happiness.

  • I plan to bake more bread. Because I enjoy it, it relaxes me and good quality bread is expensive if you don’t make it yourself. I got a really great bread book for Christmas (Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice) and I have blogfriends that often refer me to great recipes, so now is the perfect time to bake more.
  • I plan to make sourdough bread for the first time. Probably before the spring, but definitely before summer.
  • I plan to eat out less for lunch, after, perhaps, and adjustment period once out offices relocate. Maggie and I both can cook food we really like. I’m going to find a better way to eat that food for lunch instead of expensive and often less healthy restaurant. If the new offices aren’t set up well for storing lunch food, I may have a problem. But I plan to find some way to both enjoy lunch and not spend much money on it.
  • I plan to continue to do fun stuff with the kids. But I plan to ask them more about what they want to do.
  • I plan to build a deck in the backyard. Yow. I should actually make a plan for this, as time is already ticking away.
  • I plan to avoid distraction by finishing things before taking on new things. I have to work hard on this one. I had the irresistible urge to straighten out the rug while I was writing this line item.
  • I plan to do more to help keep the house organized, because it stresses Maggie when the house is not in order.
  • I hope to learn what I need to learn to keep me efficient at my job.
  • I hope to have time to read more, and I plan to figure out a simple way to budget my time better by making a conscious decision when I’m about to engage in a “junk time” (time equivalent of “junk food”) activity regarding whether I really want to engage in that activity, if there isn’t something more rewarding I could be doing, and (if not) how long I will spend on the activity.
  • I plan to be kind. I hope I am. Making myself smarter has not necessarily worked, so I’ll aim for more kindness.

Those would be the main things. I’ll, of course, reevaluate my expectations soon.

Posted by James at 2:14 PM | Comments (3)

The Pardon Bomb and It Sounds Good

Harry Shearer notes in his “Eat The Press” column that pundits have been excusing Ford’s pardon of Nixon by saying that Ford was motivated by his desire to “heal the nation.”

But Ford has revealed to Bob Woodward that the reasons he pardoned Nixon were purely personal.

“I looked upon him as my personal friend. And I always treasured our relationship. And I had no hesitancy about granting the pardon, because I felt that we had this relationship and that I didn’t want to see my real friend have the stigma,” Ford said in the interview.

And so there you have it.

On the subject of Ford’s actions, I don’t know if they were right or not. But I probably would have done the same in his position, if the person in question were truly my friend. Imagining that I was VP and one of those close friends was the president, I can easily see pardoning that person in many circumstances. And yet, this probably could be seen as taking advantage of my office. But here’s the thing — if your action as my friend is not enough for me to think I need to break off the friendship (in other words, you’ve not become a dangerous or destructive person to me) what does it mean to be a friend if you don’t save them when you can?

And isn’t this how the world works every day? If I weighed the need of my friend against the possible detriment to society and found that equation to be unbalanced, I would balance it by helping my friend. Well, that’s what it seems like I would do.

As for what Shearer says, I agree in part. Pundits speculated that the reason for the pardon was to heal the nation and ignored what should have been obvious to them: that this is how the world works.

And also, how the world works, is that people will come up for excuses that sound good enough for pundits to repeat, to excuse them for doing things they just plain wanted to do. And also how the world works, these pundits will eagerly repeat those excuses when the answer is both obvious and a pain in their ideology. And also how the world works is that the wink and nod turns into people actually believing those excuses. And then sometimes the people who started the excuses actually convince themselves.

I guess I’d have preferred if Ford had come clean on this earlier, because I think that the depth of this deception is related to a predisposition to corruption. It’s one thing to say “I’m helping my friend out” (and doing it legally as well) and another thing to get comfortable convincing yourself of elaborate lies.

Posted by James at 12:28 PM | Comments (1)

Quick - Before the Year Ends!!!

Since the time immediately following our caroling party, I’ve felt really anxious, mentally tired, dim, slow, dull, and down. I don’t know what to attribute it to, but one of the manifestations of that feeling is not wanting to post to the blog, or pretty much anywhere else.

It’s funny. When I’m busy I still want to post to my blog, and I often will stay up late if something is really on my mind and needs to get out (although I may not have time to do a post justice). But when I’m feeling emotionally low, suddenly the words dry up and nothing seems worth saying.

And even excuses to post seem like pressure, not opportunities. Anxiety can do that — turn opportunities into annoying and even overwhelming pressure.

Feeling “down” isn’t the same as clinical depression, but I am convinced that it is possible to work a good down mood into depression if you aren’t careful and if you’re already predisposed. When these sorts of feelings come on, I’ve learned that if I indulge them I am going to be in some trouble down the road. They definitely feed on themselves. The exact mechanism isn’t clear to me. I think my brain wants to give itself permission to go down a certain depressing path. If you’ve never had the feeling, it will be difficult for you to imagine it.

There is a technique in cognitive therapy which says that if you recognize this feeling, you can ward it off by shouting “No!” (in your head, but I guess out loud would work, too). Different things work for different people, and this seems to work if you time it right. I guess you only know that point if you’ve taken a wrong step on that path, sometime in your past.

In any case, I think it’s true in general that doing wards off a good deal of the type of down feelings I get. “Doing” includes posting to this blog. So, some pent up posts are about to get dumped. Not because it’s the end of the year, though.

No, I don’t see New Year’s Day as a new beginning. real events rather than calendar events are where I find my renewing moments. However, the holiday affords me some free time, and that is a significant factor.

Chuck - I hope you shake whatever has gotten a hold on you!

Here we go.

Posted by James at 12:07 PM | Comments (4)

December 29, 2006

Stealy Shotgun

Don't play the Cursor Thief game or look at the funny ads unless you have a lot of time on your hands. (I stole the ads from Maggie's site). Have fun!

Posted by James at 11:56 AM | Comments (1)

December 28, 2006

Useless Wisk Meanderings

I drove by Brooks this morning on the way to work and I saw on their marquee that they’ve got Wisk on sale. The sign just said “WISK” and then the price.

I thought to myself.

“Wisk” isn’t a word. But “whisk” is a word. They probably wanted people to think of brooms, not, say, whiskey.

I didn’t note the price. We use “Tide.” I thought it was odd for them to list a price, but not a size. I wonder what size it was.

I’ve never worked for a company where I might encounter my product up on a marquee. I worked for Raytheon, who made the Patriot missile, and then we used those missiles during Desert Storm. So that stuff was on the news. But I worked on a combat control system for submarines, not Patriot missiles.

I wonder where they make Wisk. I wonder what the people who make Wisk think when they see Wisk advertised where they live. Are they proud? Do they feel weird to see the thing they make up on a sign?

Once, when I was working at an energy engineering consulting company, I saw one of our products used when I requested that a state auditor come to do an energy audit of my house. It wasn’t the software I worked on - Chuck and I were stuck on an ancient legacy product; we weren’t even part of what was considered to be the “software development” division of the company. This in-the-field product ran on a laptop. That was cutting edge in those days. I felt some weird kind of pride, but then felt like an idiot because the product had nothing to do with me, even though I knew how it worked. I was “in the business.” Of course, why should the auditor care. I asked him what he thought of the software and he didn’t indicate that he thought much about the software he was using.

Are the Wisk-makers happy when it’s on sale, or does that bug them?

Is there a Wisk factory? Do the people who work there even care about Wisk at all? They know they’re making Wisk, but do they really feel a connection to the brand Wisk? What do the executives think? Do they care at all whether they make Wisk vs. some other clothing detergent?

If there is a town with a plant where they make Wisk? Is there a difference between a plant and a factory, or is “plant” just a more modern word for “factory?” Do people prefer to use the word “plant?”

Do the people in the town where they make Wisk feel pride when they buy Wisk? Are they supporting the town? I bet there’s one family who prefers Cheer. Do they go through the self-checkout because they don’t want other people to know that they buy Cheer vs. Wisk? Wouldn’t it be funny if there were a secret club in the town of people who use Tide, Cheer, Era, Bold, Gain…

Posted by James at 11:22 AM | Comments (5)

December 27, 2006

Website Slowdown

I hope it’s just a passing thing, but the blog scripts running on my website have been prohibitively slow for the past few days. I don’t know why. Holiday season traffic?

This has made posting and commenting an exercise in patience. Either this will pass or I’m going to have to change the hosting. We’ll see what happens.

Thanks for bearing with me!

Posted by James at 12:39 PM | Comments (3)

December 26, 2006

Cheap As Free Books

I am lucky enough to often receive books as gifts for my birthday and Christmas. However, shelf space here is limited. That means I have to scour my books every so often and decide which ones to part with. I've already gotten rid of a lot of the bottom of the barrel, and still need to free up space. So, I've tossed them up on where they will languish and never sell (I've sold many DVDs and games on but never any books.)

In any case, I'd rather give them away. These books will probably end up being given to a library or the Quaker meeting book sale. Or perhaps I will release them via Bookcrossing.

I'm going to list them here to see if any of my readers will be interested. If I can hand any of the books listed in this post off to you, that book is yours for free. If you live far away and want the book shipped to you, you can have it for the price of the Media Mail shipping alone. I'll spring for the mailing container.

These are all books I enjoyed, but don't have the room for. First to contact me gets the book. In about 2 weeks, I'm getting rid of the lot of them one way or t'other. Have at it. Email me or comment. (My email address is available on the blog's "contact me" page.) Have at it!

If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote They'd Have Given Us Candidates: Jim Hightower (Hardcover, 2000)
ISBN: 006019393X | Comments: Hightower entertains and informs with his liberal and amusing point of

There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos: Jim Hightower (Paperback, 1998)
ISBN: 0060929499

Downsize This!: Michael Moore (Hardcover, 1996)
ISBN: 051770739X

The Play of Words: Richard Lederer (Hardcover, 1990)
ISBN: 0671689088 | Comments: Great word puzzles and activities from an expert. Good for adults (or kids)

Adventures in a TV Nation: Kathleen Glynn (Paperback, 1998)
ISBN: 0060988096 | Comments: One corner bent. Moore's experiences touring the country.

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right: Al Franken (Hardcover, 2003)
ISBN: 0525947647 | Comments: It's Al Franken's (IMHO) best book. Skewering blotchy O'Reilly and the rest

The Man With the $100,000 Breasts: Michael Konik (Paperback, 2000)
ISBN: 0767904451 | Comments: Bizarre yet true poker-related stories, including a man with breast

Quack!: Bob McCoy (Paperback, 2000)
ISBN: 1891661108 | Comments: Great book on medical pseudoscience

The Science of Everyday Life: Jay Ingram (Hardcover, 1989)
Comments: Short, interesting and light articles about everyday science topics.

Posted by James at 7:51 PM | Comments (6)

December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

So, I’m offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although its been said
Many times, many ways

Merry Christmas To You!

Posted by James at 7:16 AM | Comments (1)

December 23, 2006

Christmas Cards

My daughters and I drew Christmas cards for all the readers of Aces Full of Links. Hope you're enjoying the holiday season.

Christmas Card

Christmas Card

Christmas Card

Posted by James at 10:16 PM | Comments (3)

Christmas Adam, Blasphemous Pondering

There are plenty of days to celebrate, this holiday season. Today is Christmas Adam.


I don’t know who first came up with Christmas Adam, but the story goes that Adam came before Eve, so Christmas Adam is the day before Christmas Eve. And there you have it.

Many Celebrations

A week ago we rang in the holiday with many of our close friends, singing carols and basking in a warm glow of goodwill. A couple of days ago, on the 21st, we celebrated the Solstice with my cousin Bull and his wife Sarah and their children and friends. Appropriately, we gathered around a fire which stood in for our Yule log. Friday was the office party, as people acknowledged the end of a long year and we mustered our sense of purpose and gathered our energies for the new challenges to come.

And the 23rd, today, is Christmas Adam, a day that this year has become an opportunity for the immediate family to have our own private celebrations before we launch out to the hectic extended family festivities that will take place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The 23rd is also HumanLight, the humanist winter holiday.

I like the idea of HumanLight, an event defined by humanity, reason and hope. I consider myself a Humanist, so it owuld make sense to celebrate HumanLight. I guess our family will note the day, but I don’t see that much reason to celebrate a specific day for Humanism when Christmas is so close. We’ll celebrate Christmas, because I already see it as a Humanist holiday.

Xmas Reason

Is that odd? I’m not a Christian, at least, not in the sense of worshipping a Christian God. (I will skip getting into what I believe about what I understand Jesus said, and how it heavily overlaps with my Humanist beliefs). Whether I call myself a Humanist, an Atheist or an agnostic, there are plenty of different ways (and reasons) for celebrating Christmas.

For example, there is force of habit. Not necessarily the most thoughtful reason, but traditions can give life a rhythm, or a meter, that helps to connect you to the calendar and to other people. And that’s a good thing.

Another reason (one that I have never actually emphasized) is that even without a belief in God, I find a lot to celebrate in Christian teachings that are attributed to Jesus of Nazareth. Since the Church chose December 25th as the day for the feast of the birth of this man, there would be value in celebrating that. Not Jesus as a savior or redeemer, but Jesus as a Humanist. The message of hope and even salvation is completely compatible with Humanism. The supernatural stuff isn’t but nothing in life is perfect.

And then there is the fact that Christmas as it has developed in America is just not incompatible with Humanism or any belief system for that matter. If you want the details, seek out the book The Battle For Christmas or see the History Channel special “Christmas Unwrapped.” But I’ll give you the really broad strokes as a summary. You may already know some of this.

You Can’t Keep A Good Festival Down

Long ago, there were winter celebrations which took place near the solstice. Such celebrations existed thousands of years before the birth of Jesus. These celebrations were varied, but many involved traditions we would recognize today because they are symbols of hope, rebirth, an end to winter and a return of the Sun. Fires were burned, revelers danced, ate and were merry.

Much later, as Christianity was spreading, the Church chose a date near the solstice for the Nativity - the birth of Christ. Was it moved there to coincide with the long and vigorous solstice celebrations? That’s what I suspect, but it doesn’t matter much. What matters to me is that there were clearly existing celebrations, and these traditions were carried along as Christianity spread and the name “Christmas” came into existence. Christmas was not a celebration at that time, it was a mass, just as the name states. But the celebrations were concurrent, and lines were blurred.

In England, the celebration of Christmas was extremely rowdy. These winter celebrations had always been pretty extreme. Puritans objected to the unruly and lewd behavior that coincided with the marking of the Nativity. When they came to the New World in Massachusetts, they outlawed the celebration of Christmas. This was an attempt to keep the observance solemn, and untouched by the bawdy revelry. But documents show that people’s urge to cut loose was irrepressible, especially in the lower classes in the form of drunken wassailing — a kind of trick-or-treat home invasion. With singing, I guess.

Christmas became more and more rowdy. By the 1820s, people’s (the upper class’) tolerance for riots had worn out. A transformation happened and Christmas was re-invented to suit America’s needs. Instead of the poor turning the social order upside-down to demand things from the rich, a consumer version of Christmas emerged that was more compatible with commerce. The focus became gifts to children rather than begging. New things were invented to feel old fashioned. Some old customs were adopted as if they had always been practiced here; the evergreen symbol that was popular in Germany became an American Christmas symbol. People thought they were re-adopting old traditions, but in reality, America was creating a new Christmas that would spread from here back to the rest of the world.

The transformation has been so successful that people have forgotten the riots and revelry. They’ve forgotten that Christmas has transformed from a barely controlled time of social chaos into a beast that is tamed by commercialism and the desire to connect to a non-existent past.


There is a reason that I’ve hardly mentioned religion in this story. That’s because these developments had little or nothing to do with religion. These new-old-fashioned traditions were mostly secular. Christians were successful at getting the name to stick to the Christmas celebration, and that’s about it. When they tried to quell the partying with religion, that didn’t work. Not even when they fled to a new land. Despite that, Christmas has been a secular celebration.

Within my lifetime I’ve seen paintings of Santa kneeling to the baby Jesus. I’ve seen “Jesus is the Reason For The Season” bumper stickers. These are not calls to return to the way Christmas used to be; these are latest attempts to make “Christmas” more than just name.

My understanding makes me reluctant to surrender the holiday celebration… the Christmas celebration to religion. Whether Christians like it or not (and I imagine most of them don’t care) there is a secular Christmas. American (secular) Christmas is compatible with observing the Nativity. But it’s separate. The bumper stickers are an acknowledgement that effort is necessary to pair the two; they are not naturally one because they never were. Those two things are easily separated.

Reason For the Season

Celebrations are hollow without meaning. Christians get their meaning from their religion; thus Jesus is grafted onto their celebration. Humanists get their meaning from themselves and other humans, and in concepts like hope and charity and good will. Pick whichever way works for you. I can tell you the meaning for me.

  1. Family and friends. Making contact with the people in your life who help to give your life meaning. Visits, calls, Christmas cards, parties.
  2. Renewal. Our traditional decorations and the activities we engage in remind us that winters are finite, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
  3. Charity. The spirit of giving. There is real joy in giving of oneself. Whether it is indulging your child with a toy, donating to charity or just doing something nice for someone else. It helps to feel a sense of hope about humanity when you enjoy and share in a spirit of giving.

The success of Christianity means that the name for this holiday has stuck. But I don’t mind that so much.

Our American Christmas was created here and spread to the world. On the eve of this transformation, the Puritans distinguished their solemn observance from the drunken mobs. Going back further still, to the Adam, we find that as far back as we can remember, people felt a need. When there was nothing, they cast off the darkness by celebrating the light.


Posted by James at 3:00 AM | Comments (2)

December 22, 2006

Holiday-ish Shotgun

Enjoy these holiday links while you sit at work, bored.

Make the snowflake online, but then I recommend going home and doing it for real. It's fun!

Posted by James at 8:10 AM | Comments (3)

December 21, 2006

Top Christmas Tunes

These are the tunes that most tickle my holiday ear this year. Most are repeats from years past. In no particular order.

  • Baby, It’s Cold Outside (Johnny Mercer and Margaret Whiting)
    • No mention of Christmas, so this one’s good all the way until March.
  • Mele Kalikimaka (Bing Crosby)
  • Christmas Wrapping (The Waitresses)
  • The Chipmunk Song (The Chipmunks)
    • OK, it’s a dumb song. But it reminds me of when I was a little tyke.
  • Carol of the Bells (Harry Connick Jr.)
    • This jazzy piano version of a classic piece has a Christmasy groove.
  • That Spirit of Christmas (Ray Charles)
    • I’ve loved it ever since I saw National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  • The Christmas Song (Nat King Cole)
    • aka. “Merry Christmas To You”. I love to sing this one, but I can only dream of having a voice like Nat King Cole.
  • The Twelve Pains of Christmas (Bob Rivers)
    • This comedic version of the 12 days gives you a nice break from the stresses of Christmas.
  • Walking in the Air (Cincinnati Pops Orchestra)
    • Eerie song from “The Snowman” Christmas special always raises the hair on the back of my neck. Dreamy and magical and full of mystery and potential.
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas (Vince Guaraldi)
    • At our house this is practically the soundtrack of Christmas. The whole album.
  • Christmas in Heaven (Monty Python, not Tony Bennett)
  • A Christmas Carol (Tom Lehrer)
Hark the herald tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!

So let the raucous sleigh bells jingle,
Hail our dear old friend kris kringle,
Driving his reindeer across the sky.
Dont stand underneath when they fly by.

Actually I did rather well myself, this last christmas. the nicest present I received was a gift certificate good at any hospital for a lobotomy. rather thoughtful.
Posted by James at 8:03 AM | Comments (14)

December 19, 2006

Political Trailers

Image Hosted by

Rick Scarborough. Patriot Pastor.

Freedom Friar. Minuteman Minister

Sometimes, it’s fun to take a break and look at the slate of upcoming movies, and speculate about them and such. Which ones am I looking forward to, which ones look like stinkers.

Yeah, that would be a cool post for some other time. But this post is about a political trailer.

“If the Republican Party wants to send the social conservatives home for good, all they have to do is nominate Rudy Giuliani,” said Rick Scarborough, a Southern Baptist minister and president of Vision America. “It’s an insult to the pro-Christian agenda. . . . He’s going to spend a lot of money finding he can’t get out of the Republican primaries.”

Ooo. I have a feeling I’m really going to enjoy the Republican primaries! Especially if this preview is at all representative of what the Republicans are going to deliver for entertainment. Can they pull it off? Can they deliver a well-scripted primary battle that’s got action, comedy, blood and guts? They can leave out the romance, as far as I’m concerned.

At the very least, it’ll be fun to watch crackpots like Scarborough try to wrastle up his version of legislated morality and pass it off as a blanket “Christian Agenda.” If I were a practicing Christian, I wouldn’t pick this buffoon as my spokesmodel.

Posted by James at 10:09 PM | Comments (2)

The Torture Scenario

There are parts of our national debate on torture that are complex, and deal with law, definitions, biology, psychology and history. But recently, I’ve been more interested in motivation and the reasons people come to the conclusion that it’s OK to inflict pain on other people for the specific purpose to extract information.For general purposes, I’m going to call this “torture” even though I realize there is a whole debate about what constitutes torture.

Torture bothers me, and I have been interested in why it doesn’t bother others. I have come to some conclusions, but they are based on some heavy assumptions, since they are about what other people are thinking and feeling.

But I would like to separate my thoughts even more from the debate about the definition of torture. I tried to do this in a thread at EAForums about a month or so ago. I didn’t want to get into an unresolvable discussion about “what is torture” because I am not experienced in the historical definitions of torture, nor am I familiar with the effectiveness of various coercive interrogation methods which may or may not be considered torture. To get at the discussion I was interested in, I wanted to eliminate those variables and have a discussion on motivation.

I was thinking of the torture scenario examples that proponents use, how perfectly they are crafted, and how far-fetched. “What would you do if you could save 3,000 lived by torturing a known terrorist!” Note: you know for certain somehow that he’s a “bad guy.” Note: you know for certain he knows something of value. Note: you know for certain you can extract the information successfully. Note: you know for certain you can prevent the attack once you have the information. Note: you know for certain how many people you will save.

So I went for an alternate question. Let’s say you knew for certain that you could save a certain number of lives if you did ethically-challenged medical research on the known terrorist. Let’s say they don’t have any useful information, except that they are human beings with human biology. So the useful information they have to offer is their body’s reaction. Would you, or should you allow these tests, knowing the number of people who could be helped by that medical knowledge?

My question is unfair in the same way that the original question is unfair, because it is somewhat contrived. However, in a sense there are fewer assumptions in my question. You don’t have to assume the person knows something of value — we know human biology has plenty of commonality that makes testing valuable. You don’t have to assume you have an effective means of extracting information — we know that medical science can turn research into knowledge. We don’t know how soon that knowledge will pay off, or how, but that depends on the specific thing you’re testing for,

This question is flexible. If you want to re-introduce shades of cruelty, you need only adjust the type of testing. Maybe you are only giving the terrorist a cold. Maybe there’s a 60% chance they will die from the test. Maybe they won’t die, but they’ll be in considerable pain. You can adjust the benefits on the back end as well — the efficacy of the treatment your seeking. The severity of the disease you are curing. The number of people who are stricken with the disease. And whatnot.

The point is, if we’re talking tradeoffs, what is the motivation to ask “should we torture” and is that motivation anything more than the saving of lives? And if it does boil down to the saving of lives, why do we not apply the same logic more widely?

The most charitable assumption is that people pro-torture

  1. Want to save American lives
  2. Believe the government when the government identifies a terrorist
  3. Believe (maybe) that the government uses very mild torture, or methods that do not amount to torture in their minds
  4. Believe that these methods are effective
  5. Have a very big heart when it comes to innocent lives, project that heart onto the government and assume that the government has exactly the same interests

#5 is the lynch pin that holds that set of assumptions together. I say “charitable” because, stemming from #5, this theory is one based on empathy for possible American victims, and it is this empathy that may be clouding judgment on the other points, if judgment is being clouded.

This morning I read Jim Henley’s article at Reason Online called “Ticking Bombast”. It seeks to skewer the “what would you do” question, but in a more clear way, getting to the point where I stopped short.

I wasn’t seeking to put words into mouths. I wanted to see the reaction to the question. There was a small reaction, comparing my suggestion to what the Nazis did, for example. I don’t know if the Nazis were trying to save lives, but I think their experiments were pretty horrible. I’m not interested in that comparison because I think anything associated with “Nazis” throws you into an emotional realm where it is difficult to be reasonable. The Nazis are famous for unethical medical experiments, which means that you can’t discuss such experiments without the Nazi spectre appearing. If the Nazis were famous for water boarding, I doubt we’d have a debate in this country regarding whether water boarding was torture. The effective emotional counter argument would be “isn’t that what the Nazis did to all those people” and nobody wants to be like a Nazi.

In any case, I got no reaction beyond that. Maybe some people thought I was serious in my suggestion; maybe some just thought I was joking.

Henley’s article makes an interesting point that I missed.

But you’re also sure this particular terrorist is a pervert! And he tells you that if you’ll rape your own child in front of him, he’ll tell you exactly where the bomb is and how to disarm it. And you’re sure that he will, because your intelligence is that good in exactly that way.

That’s one rough situation. But when you enter the world of hypotheticals, this is what you’re in for.

The point he makes, (and read the article for yourself, it’s short) is that a hypothetical can be anything you like. So it reflects the desire of the proponent. His hypothetical (and my hypothetical) are not the ones you hear on conservative radio because the people in charge are not trying to sell medical experiments, nor do they have any desire in convincing people they should be allowed to rape their own children.

The rhetorical device of the anti-doomsday torture scenario is not logical at all, it’s an appeal to emotion. It turns a question of what power we allow the state to use against individuals into a question where you are personally faced with a situation that nobody is likely to be in. The motivation behind the question is not to save the lives of the people; it’s not one of empathy. The focus is on getting you to agree to torture somebody; to make torture more acceptable to you. The question is more Rorschach test than logic. I’m not saying that tons of people actually want to personally torture somebody. But in my view they are revealing something that is more emotional than practical or logical.

Let me go back to Nazis as I wrap this up.

A hypothetical question has been asked many times, to the point where it has even been written into many stories. “If you could go back in time to before the Holocaust, before World War 2, would you kill Hitler?” Why are we so fascinated by this question, in this form? It assumes you have the power to travel in time and get close enough to Hitler to kill him. Why do we never hear the question “If you could go back in time to before the Holocaust, before World War 2, would you nonviolently prevent Hitler’s rise to power?”

It’s so unsatisfying. You don’t get to kill anybody.

[Addendum: Link to the EAForums thread that started me thinking]

Posted by James at 12:21 PM | Comments (8)

December 18, 2006

Would You Rather: Xmas Present Edition

This is a super-sized special edition “Would You Rather. It’s multiple choice!

Assume you are going to receive a gift from someone you know. You must keep the gift for a year, but you don’t necessarily have to use it. The person giving you the gift is excited to have you open the gift — they really think they’ve got you pegged. Even if you need it, this is something you never asked for or discussed. They have chosen it based on their opinion of you, not a specific desire on your part.

  • Which gift would you least like to receive?
  • Which gift would you least hate to receive?
  • Which gift would you be the most embarrassed to give, if you were arriving at a party, your spouse had bought the gift for the host without your knowledge, and the host unwrapped it in front of you?

Choose from this list:

  • nose hair trimmer
  • clown art painted on velvet
  • exercise video
  • one-size-too-small pair of pants
  • wrinkle cream and a makeup consultation (for a woman) Rogaine cream (for a man)
  • itchy underwear
  • rock hard fruitcake
  • a bright yellow Spandex jumpsuit
  • ear wax camera
  • drugstore cologne
  • fancy multicolored epaulets
  • tickets to a small venue performance by Kevin Federline (one that the giver is also attending)
  • book on how to improve your parenting
  • Listerine (original “flavor”)
  • “I brake for angels” bumper sticker
  • A big American house flag with “These Colors Dont Run” in big letters, in quotes, and with the apostrophe missing from the “don’t.”

Discuss in the comments.

Posted by James at 9:57 AM | Comments (14)

December 17, 2006

Lamer Every Year

I’m referring, of course, to Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

This year they’ve made “You” person of the year.

They claim to be highlighting the person persons who most shaped the news on any given year. Is there any doubt that on some years we have had some seriously notorious news-shapers who were conspicuously overlooked by time? Not to me there isn’t.

This “You” person of the year comes after a couple of years of George Bush (but not Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda). I can understand not wanting to give the terrorists attention, but maybe they ought to drop the ruse and just don’t tell people “this is the man, woman, couple, group, idea, place, or machine that for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year.”

This year, I agree with Brent Budowski (found via Keri) who says the Republican Party should have been the person of the year. If we could have “the Whistleblowers” one year, we should be able to have the corrupt hypocrites this year who lost the public’s confidence and support after doing their darndest to run the country into the ground (except for the richest Americans.)

Posted by James at 12:04 PM | Comments (2)

Feel the Rush

Somehow I got on the list of a few major retailers, and I generally don’t mind getting emails from them once in a while notifying me of special sales and such.

However, in the time approaching Christmas, they’re redoubled their efforts to get my attention. Even that I don’t mind so much.

What I do mind is that they are rushing me through the holiday season as seems determined to do.

Last week I got a message with the subject “Feel the rush!” urging me to order stuff now. Today I got a message “This is it: Last chance for shipping on just-in-time gifts.”

Yes, I know it’s a mail order business and they’re trying to warn me about the shipping time. But I’d rather enjoy the season than feel the rush.

Posted by James at 8:42 AM

December 15, 2006

Service Shotgun

And this bonus:

Bad service at a restaurant or other place of business me off. But you know what pisses me off worse? When people don't at least cut other people a little bit of slack, as when a customer gets unreasonably upset at a meek and/or inexperienced worker. See: Two Phrases That Destroyed American Culture

Posted by James at 11:31 AM | Comments (6)

The Long Arm of Cetacian Veterinary Care

The story makes perfect sense; it’s just not a headline you read every day.

World’s Tallest Man Saves Two Dolphins

Doctors employed the world’s tallest living man to reach in with his long arms and remove plastic from the stomach of two dolphins who were experiencing some digestive distress. Thus, proving himself to be one of those kooky “save the whales” liberals!

But his is like some sort of super hero story. Tall man uses his powers for good. I’d call it a “feel good” story, except that I don’t think the innards of a dolphin actually feel all that good. And it takes a while to wash that fish smell off your arm. Which makes his actions all the more laudable.

Posted by James at 7:15 AM | Comments (1)

December 14, 2006

Darn You, Toothface!

As you know, I collect these theme Toothface glasses from Newbury Comics.

I just got their snowman Christmas glass this week. (I have yet to photograph it. Watch Flickr for updates, if you care.)

But now, Sara tells me that they have another Newbury Comics/WFNX Xmas glass this year that is being handed out in limited quantities, if you present them with this certificate, on certain days, in certain locations!

Ack! I'm never at any of those places. Fie!

Posted by James at 3:28 PM | Comments (11)

Dialing For Zardoz

Has anybody seen my blue pants? I’ve misplaced them.

Last weekend, Julie came over to watch Futureworld with us. Futureworld is the sequel to Westworld and that’s basically the main reason we were subjecting ourselves to it.

But we noticed on the Comcast onDemand that the movie Zardoz was available. So we watched the dirst 10-or-so minutes of it. I hadn’t remembered how bad that movie is.

I have vague memories of it being on (I now realized it was a censored version) as the afternoon movie on a local station’s movie show: “Dialing for Dollars.” George Allen was the host - no, not the “macaca” George Allen, this was a friendly-looking and patient fellow who brought cinematic entertainment into your home.

Mr. Allen would get a local phonebook, cut it up and place all the slips of paper into a contraption which would mix them up in the air. He’d reach in for one of the slips, dial it and then ask them what the movie was on channel whatever.

Hi, [pause] Hello there! Is your mom or dad home? Is your mom or dad h— okay thank you. [pause]

[to the audience]He’s getting his mom.

Hello, this is George Allen calling from Dialing for Dollars, may I ask if you’re watching TV this afternoon?

May I ask what you’re watching?

Oh, I’m sorry! Oh, you do? All the time? Well, I’m putting your number back into the drum and maybe we’ll call you again when you’re watching. Ok. Thank you! Bye now.

Well, they weren’t watching. Now back to Beneath the Planet of the Apes!

They’d have a theme week and go through all the Planet of the Apes movies in a week. What my wife and I would today call “historical documents.” And I feel like a bad parent now because I haven’t made my kids watch Planet of the Apes yet. How can they develop into mature adults without knowing that apes can run an entire planet on their own and that a whole movie franchise can be built upon a circular time travel anomaly that makes no sense?

So, Zardoz. It’s a horrible movie, but possibly worth watching if you need a laugh. In the first 10 minutes you’ve got a floating head (talking to you like you’re about to watch Shakespeare, not a crappy sci-fi movie. Then there’s a giant stone floating head monument thing that spits out guns and ammo and tells its followers to use their guns instead of their penises. The confusing part is that the followers aren’t called “Republicans” (zing! - come on, you know you saw that one coming).

Then, the floating head guy shows up and a bare-chested Sean Connery shoots him, and suddenly you have the strong urge to either change the channel or balance your checkbook. No, really.


  • This wasn’t easy to find, but someone else remembers George Allen.
  • If you must, read about Zardoz on Wikipedia.
  • The Christmas Shoes is still a lousy song. Even if Rob Lowe is on the DVD. Perhaps, especially because Rob Lowe is on the DVD. Nothing to do with Zardoz, except they need to make a new DVD of Zardoz, but with the same theme as The Christmas Shoes. Rob Lowe in an orange diaper would definitely revitalize the Zardoz fan base.
Posted by James at 1:15 PM | Comments (14)

December 13, 2006

Guns, Guido and Goodness Me

I attracted a comment on Keri’s blog from a fellow who calls himself Guido. He refers to my rant from yesterday when I was blowing off steam about the shooting.

Guido said…

I read Dr. Momentum’s commentary and it’s just plain sh*tty.

When will you people learn? Even if you ban these types of weapons, the morons that commit these types of assaults will still continue to execute them. Period.

Take the guns away and some chemical engineer somewhere with a grudge against an old waitress girlfriend will put a couple of drops of some mixed concoction into a restaurant’s water supply, possibly killing dozens.

What then? Stop teaching chemistry in our schools? Close all restaurants and live in a box?

This blog gets more entertaining daily. Please keep me laughing.

Well, there’s a reason I called that post a “rant,” but this comment is a few notches lower than one of my rants.

I don’t remember anybody making the argument that getting rid of these types of weapons would stop people from killing people. But that’s a common straw man argument that people throw about whenever gun access discussions come up. It’s easier to argue against that than to face the question about whether or not these weapons ought to be available.

Guido can’t really expect people to believe that guns save us by preventing chemical engineers from poisoning too many people in their killing sprees. I’m thinking that he’s joking on that.

But the one thing that’s hard not to notice is that nobody seems to want to answer the question Keri was asking: why does someone need an assault weapon?

The reason nobody wants to answer is because they don’t like the answer, which is obvious to everybody.

Nobody needs one of these assault weapons. Honest people who own one of these weapons should be able to admit it.

But instead of that, we get distractions like “‘Assault weapon’ is a political term, so it doesn’t mean anything. Gun collectors don’t use that term.” That’s not an argument. And it doesn’t matter where the term originated. It really doesn’t. Yes, “assault weapon” is not the same as “assault rifle” and it may make you feel better to blame politicians (liberal politicians!) for the confusion, but it still doesn’t explain why anyone needs an assault weapon. They don’t.

They want them, though. Maybe they should be allowed to have them and maybe they shouldn’t. But to even have that discussion with someone, I think that person needs to admit that they don’t need them.

Posted by James at 9:10 PM | Comments (13)

Radioactive Tsunami

Apparently, you can be in danger from waves even if you’re really, really high up. Waves of radiation, that is.

A violent solar explosion sent a dangerous wave of radiation through space late Tuesday, prompting NASA to order the crews of Discovery and the International Space Station to take shelter overnight.

It’s the Star of Bethlehem’s angry cousin. See current space weather info here.

This was an “S2” (moderate) solar radiation storm. Here’s a story about an S3 (strong) coronal ejection from 2000. See the cool animated gifs.

Over the next 24 hours there will be increased auroras in the sky as our planet is bombarded with electrons and protons from the Sun, an event which deforms the Earth’s magnetosphere.

(photo by joerg73 some rights reserved)

Posted by James at 2:46 PM

Caps Lock

In the last 6 months estimate for me how many times you’ve hit the caps lock key on purpose vs. hitting the caps lock key by mistake.

I think I press the caps lock key on purpose about .01 percent of the time. That’s one time out of 10,000.

Shouldn’t the caps lock key be, I dunno, like way on the other side of the keyboard? About a foot away?

Posted by James at 8:26 AM | Comments (26)

December 12, 2006

Shooting Up The Strip Club

By now you’ve heard about what happened at the Foxy Lady on Pope’s Island.

A gunman sprayed the Foxy Lady strip club on Popes Island with bullets from an M-16-style rifle early this morning, killing two club employees.

The gunman, Scott C. Medeiros of Freetown, injured two New Bedford police officers in a chaotic firefight outside the club before eventually going back inside the club and killing himself, police said.

I’ve always thought that stretch of road was actually in Fairhaven, not New Bedford. I guess Pope’s Island is in New Bedford.

I’m blogging late on this, since I was without internet for most of the day. I relied on WSAR for all coverage, Keri and Jason were on the horrible scene since the early morning.

ThirdMate makes a great point; this isn’t the SouthCoast we’re used to. Not the New Bedford we know and love.

Keri, who has a blog entry on it, and devoted her show today to this, asks an excellent question: how does someone end up with a permit to legally own an M-16, and I’ll add: why aren’t there any alarm bells that go off for anyone who knows him BEFORE he gets to the point where he’s dressed like he’s in downtown Baghdad taking shots at police and strip club patrons?

WTF, people?

Regardless of how you feel about strip clubs (they depress the hell out of me) someone should be able to go to one, even on a Tuesday morning, and not expect to get shot with a military weapon.

Seriously, M-16s? Being bought by people and justified under the 2nd Amendment? You know, I think a Star Trek phaser gun is cool, too, but I don’t think people ought to be able to own one if they were real. Seriously, people. What sort of defect are we talking about here? If you want to shoot M-16s, goddamn it join the military. They need people. None of this lamer play-acting bullshit.

A civilian owning an M-16 is like a guy dressing up in a Star Trek uniform and going to work at the office every day in it. ANd thinking he’s really a starfleet officer every time he strokes his phaser. Yeah, like that except dangerous. Wankers and asshats.

And that’s my rant.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims and to the injured police, who just showed up and were shot through their cruiser window.

[Edited: I didn’t have a reference for some of the things I said previously, so I have removed those statements because the original media reports have gone missing. Also, the weapon was not an actual M16, but a replica weapon that enthusiasts collect.]

Posted by James at 9:01 PM | Comments (7)

Killer Squirrels?

killerI just caught this story of canine-killing squirrels, apparently traveling in a bloodthirsty pack, in Russia:

Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park, local media report.

Passers-by were too late to stop the attack by the black squirrels in a village in the far east, which reportedly lasted about a minute.

They are said to have scampered off at the sight of humans, some carrying pieces of flesh.

As reported by the BBC.

I'm a little skeptical. Don't squirrels get hungry here in the states, what with our rapid expansion of human-inhabited areas? Why have we never seen killer squirrels here?

Or is this just a phenomenon I've never heard of? And have they ruled out alien beings disguised as squirrels?

Posted by James at 12:10 PM | Comments (1)

Hot Water

  1. We have hot water again thanks to a local plumber, who also did some additional work I’d been putting off getting done.
  2. To enhance the holiday spirit, I have switched over to the winter avatar. See the upper right corner of the page.

That is all.

Posted by James at 12:07 PM

December 11, 2006

The Sears Hot Water Tank Replacement Saga

We called a couple of places to get our water heater replaced and ended up going with Sears.

I thought I’d chronicle this experience here for those interested, or who might find themselves in a similar situation. I’ll try to keep it to mainly the facts and as little editorializing as possible, although I will include our feelings of relief, happiness, frustration, anger or whatnot as they occur. You be the judge.

Original Post @ 11AM on Monday December 11, 2006

  • On Saturday morning our water heater failed and began to leak in the basement. We decided to call Sears.
  • We were reassured when one of the 4 people I talked to said it was entirely possible we’d be getting same-day service because we’d called well before noon.
  • After going through most of the way with ordering the tank, “it became apparent” (they revealed to me) that in actuality, a plumber was going to contact us in 2 days to set up an appointment for the installation. I told them I would call back.
  • We decided to call another place to see if we’d get faster service. The other place was up front about the fact that someone wouldn’t contact us until Monday.
  • I guess I called back Sears because I trusted them to be on top of things, especially if we had a problem with the tank in the future. I completed the order. They said a plumber would contact us on Monday morning.
  • We made it through Saturday, Sunday and Monday morning with no hot water.
  • No call came from the plumber in the early morning. The plumbers we have dealt with in the past have contacted us before starting work for the day, so this seemed a bad sign.
  • Maggie called Sears and found out they had screwed up our appointment:
    • Sears put us in touch with a plumber that thought we wanted to wait until the end of the week to have our tank installed (!)
    • The plumber told us that they don’t even do work in our state.
  • Maggie called Sears back (it was now 9:50 and they contacted another plumber and told us we would get a call within a half hour.
  • Over an hour later there was no phonecall.
  • Maggie called Sears and they then told her a plumber would be calling us back immediately.
  • A plumber called us back immediately and said they’d be by the house between noon and 4PM.

[Update: Monday Evening]

  • At 4:32 Maggie was in contact with the plumber (he called) and he told us that Sears did not have the water tank in stock, and it could take them a week to get it.
  • Sears refused to do a store-to-store transfer and get the tank from another Sears store.
  • When Maggie got upset that they led us to believe the tank would be installed soon, could take our credit card information, yet could not guarantee us a tank or make an effort to get us that tank, the Sears representative hung up on her.
  • Maggie canceled the order with Sears and made a new appointment with a local plumber. The plumber says he will be at the house first thing in the morning.
  • We have not yet verified whether or not Sears has charged our credit card.

We felt Sears’ service was sub-par, but you can make your own conclusions. Maggie wasted a day (cancelling appointments and adjusting obligations) based on information from Sears that was inaccurate. Sears was unable to deliver s promised, and unwilling to make an effort to remedy the situation in a timely manner. Your mileage may vary, but I cannot recommend Sears.


Sears agreed to give us a $100 gift card to make up the price between the emergency plumber and their original estimate. Sears clearly was concerned about our bad experience and quickly agreed to what Maggie asked for.

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Posted by James at 4:47 PM | Comments (11)

Mental Attic Broom

Okay, time for me to clear a few things from the mental attic. Things that have been on my mind, but I don't have time for long posts on any of them.

  • WSAR (Keri and Barry) raised a bunch of money for charity on Friday by having a Salvation Army kettle-battle. Or bell-ringing battle. I was able to stop by in the morning to say "Hi" but I'd like to congratulate them on the ~$4,200 (corrected figure) haul for needy people this holiday season. Kudos to you folks and kudos to all who participated. Even though many left-leaning listeners contributed to both kettles, Keri came out ahead in the end, a lead that widened after an anonymous donor added $1,000 to the kettle. Not to mention a ton of toys they collected for DSS to deliver to foster kids. I dragged the family by the Mall with some toys  around 7:30 PM (after the broadcast) but it looked like WSAR had moved on by then. No problem, though. The toys will find their way into the hands of needy kids.
  • There was a rally against same-sex marriage  in New Bedford over the weekend. As mentioned on Keri's blog, it was a bust. There were more anti-rally folks than rally folks, at least by a factor of two according to the local paper. There was some controversy last week over Keri calling it a hate rally, with the leader of the rally himself showing up at the station to contest this characterization. I have to agree with Keri. If you are going to rally against extending the same rights to everyone, that ain't no love rally. I understand completely that some people have different religious beliefs which affect how they arrive at their conclusions about same-sex marriage, but there is a difference between disagreeing with people and staging a rally to deny them rights that are already recognized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its constitution. If you, perhaps, believe that government should get out of the "marriage" business altogether for straight and gay folks, that's a completely different animal.
  • Mirasol's Cafe, has a coffee that they call "CHiPPi" which is a very strong iced coffee. But I'd never heard of "CHiPPi" before with its strange inner-caps and so I always think of the other meaning of "chippy" which is a sexually promiscuous woman in American slang according to Random House. I guess "chippy" has fallen out of common slang usage, but it's still out there!
  • I hate, hate, hate, hate smoking and am very happy that I can go to a restaurant lately and not have to breathe smoke. However, I am a lot more sympathetic today towards smokers than I was when I was in college. As bans are extending into people's private lives, I see more intrusion into personal liberty than I like. My attitude toward cigarette smoke is this: don't expose me to it. But if you smoke and I don't have to breathe it or smell it, what you do is your own business. Unfortunately for smokers, it is nigh-impossible to contain your smoke if you smoke indoors. So you're starting to see smoking being banned from places where people rent their living space. I'm really torn. But part of my ability to be more philosophical about smoking is the fact that I don't have to live in a building with smokers. I imagine that if I lived in such a place, being confronted with the smell of smoke in my house would be similar to suddenly losing my personal space (i.e. someone being in-your-face 24/7) There is the freedom to smoke to consider, but then there is the freedom not to smoke which is easy to lose.
  • Sunsets on Mars are kinda blue. This is neat, because Ed and I were just talking about how the sky (i.e. our atmosphere) is blue because it scatters blue light. When it scatters blue light it transmits the white light minus the blue and minus whatever it happens to absorb. This turns out to be red and orange, which is why we have red-orange sunsets. On Mars, the atmosphere is reddish - it scatters predominantly red light. So it transmits bluish light. Thus, Mars has a blue sunset. Neat!
  • Human evolution continues, with evidence. As recently as 3,000 years ago, humans have evolved the ability to digest cow's milk in adulthood. Many people still can't digest milk as adults, but for those that can this is an ability that we gained through natural selection because the ability to get your nutrients from this additional food source was an advantage. Not that this would convince a creationist of anything.

OK, that's all for now.
Posted by James at 1:45 PM | Comments (7)

Would You Rather: Humbug

Would You Rather

  • Be Ebeneezer Scrooge or
  • Be the Grinch

And why?

You will be either of these people, live through their transformations, and come out on the other side as the new, reformed version of either.

As Scrooge, you’re a formerly stingy wet blanket who reconnects with his Fezziwig side. As the Grinch you tried to ruin Christmas but learned something valuable and saved it, to be welcomed with open arms into the community of Whos. (Please, the Seuss/Animated version of the Grinch and not the live action abomination.)

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Posted by James at 11:27 AM | Comments (17)

December 10, 2006

Your Pound of Cake

Pound CakeEarly on Saturday, before we knew the hot water heater was leaking, I made an attempt at a pound cake.

My last pound cake experiments came at a really low point in my baking. My first try at pound cake “fried” itself. In other words, the butter in the recipe melted and fried the sugar and egg mixture.

It’s now obvious to me why this happened. I didn’t follow the creaming method correctly. Some of my ingredients were too cold while I was mixing them, and so they didn’t mix smoothly. Butter, when it is cold, clumps up. I didn’t notice this the first couple of times I made pound cake — I guess it looked OK to me. This time, however, light dawned on my dense head and when I saw the clumping I thought “that doesn’t really look like cake batter, does it?” And so I gently warmed the mixture to room temperature and commenced to further mixing. A beautiful batter formed.

I immediately knew this cake would be a success; my previous mistake stood revealed.

And it was so. This cake had a wonderful velvety texture. I used a recipe from January 2007 Fine Cooking magazine (it should be on the newsstands right now) but using the correct temperature ingredients should be something to keep in mind no matter what “creaming method” recipe you’re using.

Also: a little nutmeg in the cake batter during the last seconds of mixing gives pound cake some added holiday “oomph.”

Another baking failure is in the past, absolved by a pound cake and assisted by the good folks at Fine Cooking.

Future baking experiments: Lime Pound Cake? Rum-Soaked Cake!

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

Water Water Everywhere, But All Cold

The good news is that it lasted 15 years. It was only rated for about 9 or 10. I just wish that we’d known in advance before it let go and leaked all over the basement, leaving us without hot water for the near future.

I’m talking, of course, about our gas-fired hot water tank. I bought a new one over the phone yesterday, but we won’t even hear from the plumber until Monday. If we’re lucky, he’ll schedule the work for the same day. That remains to be seen.

Until then, no hot water unless you’re willing to boil it on the stove and run it up the stairs to the bathtub. Which actually works surprisingly well if you have enough pots and a big glass bowl that fits in the microwave.

Or, you can bathe in 50 degree water. This makes hygiene suddenly novel and entertaining, what with the added risk of hypothermia.

Coworkers: If I come in to work on Monday and I have blue skin, a loss of coordination, amnesia and a severe case of the shakes, I want you to know that it’s all so I can be fresh, clean and inoffensive in the workplace.

So when I go into shock, throw a blanket over me and get me some hot cocoa.

[Bonus: photos of the tank. Pretty damn exciting, eh?]

Posted by James at 10:13 AM | Comments (10)

December 8, 2006

Small Shotgun Not Big Problem Anymore

It's true! Because you have these links to take a look at.

  • Simon Sez Santa 2.0 (christmas,games,video,viral)
    • Order Santa around.
  • Weird Al - Virus Alert (animation,video,music,humor)
    • This is the video for a Weird Al song called "Virus Alert." It captures the fun of computer viruses. Sent along by Bob McC.
  • Lil' Bush (animation,humor,cartoon,flash,funny)
    • Li'l Bush is such a rascal!
  • 281 tricks to irritate an atheist (funny,humor,atheism,religion)
    • Irritate an atheist today!
  • The Post-Rapture Post - Send Messages to Loved Ones! (atheism,funny,religion,satire)
    • If you're an observant Christian who believes in the Rapture, you may be interested in this service, run by Atheists who will most certainly be "left behind." They will hand-deliver your message to loved ones who didn't make the cut when the Rapture happens!
  • bread101_intro (bread,cooking,food,reference,baking)
    • Lots of info about baking bread!
  • AnnualCreditReport (credit,free,lifehacks,privacy,reference)
    • This is the place to go for your free once-yearly credit reports. Those places on TV try to sell you extra stuff. Go here and get your free reports, one from each company.
  • Free Public Domain Music - Welcome to (music,radio,audio)
    • Download free (mostly classical) music, uploaded by performers. Or just listed at your desk with Musopen radio.
  • Live Action Hamster Video Game (animals,animation,funny,humor,video)
    • Coolest hamster on the internets. He is in a live action video game! Ho do he do that?

Posted by James at 8:51 AM | Comments (5)

December 7, 2006

Freedom of Religion, Isn't That What You Wanted?

Funniest thing I’ve read all day, sent along to my by Bob McC. Here’s the scenario.

  1. Church wants to advertise its religious events through the public school by sending notices home in all kids’ backpacks.
  2. School says “we have a policy against the school distributing religious and political materials.”
  3. Parents go crying to the Jerry Falwell-affiliated “Liberty Counsel” — a religious right advocacy group.
  4. School caves under pressure, changes the policy to allow religious materials to be distributed through kid’s backpacks.
  5. Some folks at nearby Unitarian Universalist church decide to have the school distribute a flier that advertises their Pagan event which explains the history behind many of our holiday celebrations.
  6. Christian parents balk, have sudden amnesia about how they got where they are.

Have you ever gotten the idea that religious freedom means, to some people, special treatment for certain religions? I certainly get that feeling now and again.

Posted by James at 3:46 PM | Comments (7)

We're not in London Anymore

Tornado hits London, injuring 6 people and damaging up to 150 houses.

I didn’t realize that the UK got an estimated 50 tornadoes a year. That surprised me.

I’ve read that New England only gets about 6 tornadoes on land each year. New England is about 75% of the area of the UK, but only gets 12% of the number of tornado ground hits.

Posted by James at 11:15 AM

December 6, 2006

Whiny Republican Congresfolk

I couldn’t let the day go by without commenting on this story.

Moaning could be heard in Washington as the incoming Democrats decided to put an end to congress’ short work week which, under the Republicans, started late on Tuesday and ended by Thursday afternoon.

The new work week is (gasp!) 5 days per week!

Hoyer and other Democratic leaders say they are trying to repair the image of Congress, which was so anemic this year it could not meet a basic duty: to approve spending bills that fund government. By the time the gavel comes down on the 109th Congress on Friday, members will have worked a total of 103 days. That’s seven days fewer than the infamous “Do-Nothing Congress” of 1948. […]
He said members need to spend more time in the Capitol to pass laws and oversee federal agencies. “We are going to meet sufficient times, so the committees can do their jobs on behalf of the American people,” he said.

Congress has basically been a wimpy, lazy rubber stamp for a failed Bush administration. But the times they are a-changin’. The decade-long power trip where congress seems to have meant power not work is over.

If you don’t want to work for the American people, and you don’t want to spend time in Washington voting, don’t run for congress. Wankers.

Enjoy your freedom fries.

Posted by James at 8:45 PM

Worst fireplace building material ever.

Worst fireplace building material everDo you think this fireplace is going to pass the building inspection?

Somehow, I don't think so.

Posted by James at 1:32 PM | Comments (2)

Critics Disagree?

I was joking with Ryan about the phrase “critics disagree” because if you’re critical of something, you usually disagree with it. “President Bush wants to be dictator of the world. Critics disagree.”

Of course, there are other usages of “critic” but I decided to put it to a Googlefight.

“Critics Agree” vs. Critics Disagree.”

The winner is, “Critics Agree” with 150,000 results vs. the puny 31,300 hits that were garnered by “critics disagree.”

So, critics are more agreeable than I thought. Still, critics disagree.

Posted by James at 11:49 AM

Still With Small?

Spam Subjects

I've gotten quite a bit of spam email lately, and for some stupid reason I thought I'd catalog some of the subject lines. Some of them are amusing, but they do get repetitive very quickly. The funniest one is one that wasn't sent to me, it was contributed by Ryan.

  • why your sausage is so small?? :-))
  • hahaha man, why your meat is so small?? ;-))
  • pump your weenie!
  • Are you still with short weenie? ;-)
  • When did you spoil you computer at last time?
  • Where did you get so small weenie?
  • Avoid enhancement pills
  • More Size More Pleasure
  • Bigger Size Bigger Pleasure (Borrowing heavily from the logic of old Burger King ad campaigns)
  • Take your Award - Mr. Smallest sausage 2006 ;))
  • Ryan. better than warm milk. overnight debt settlement. (This one was sent to Ryan, obviously)
  • Beware of fake pills (This one has my best interests in mind!)
  • Any meds and christmas gifts
  • Small schlong not big problem anymore!
  • How long you will live with small ramrod?! ;-))
  • No need to visit local drug store. supersize

I'd like to think that people aren't really this self-conscious about their "size." To read all these ads, you might conclude that a preoccupation with this "your meat" is one of the major distractions of the human race, holding us back from eventual greatness. How do we get any work done when we're so worried about "bigger pleasure" and on top of it have to ignore the siren song of these alluring email offers?
Posted by James at 9:27 AM | Comments (12)

December 5, 2006

Have You Seen This Child?

Have You Seen This Child?
Originally uploaded by Dr Momentum.
Apparently, I was not too concerned with hairstyle when I was 16. circa 1983.

Maggie found this old ID that I was issued when I was part of a special high school program that allowed students access to college lectures and discussions. UMass Dartmouth was called "SMU" back then.

This is the age around when I first met Brian and probably B.O.B.(Bob) not too long after. I didn't meet Maggie and Chuck until a couple of years later. And his wife Patty very soon after. And then Mike L. And maybe a couple year or so after that I met Julie and Patti M.

And then somehow I got to my late 30's.
Posted by James at 9:01 PM | Comments (7)

Collection Agency Scammin'

My Friend Judy recently got a phone call from a collection agency regarding a past medical procedure; they then tried to extract money from her. She didn’t owe any money, and so she told them to take a hike. You can read the details on her weblog.

This sounds like some sort of new scam. Information is getting into the hands of unscrupulous people and it is being used to make very-slightly-credible demands for payment.

This really pisses me off because it is an attempt to prey on the vulnerable. If you get enough of this sort of information, you have a treasure trove of people who have been through trying health problems.

It’s been said that you can’t con an honest man. The theory behind this is that most good cons hook the mark by appealing to their greed, which makes them override their better judgment. However, it’s much more accurate to say you can often con a vulnerable person. This is why elderly, lonely, sick, bereaved and poor people are so often the target of scams. And greed (the dishonest man) is one sort of vulnerability.

[This is the moment when I marshal my powers of self control and don’t go off-topic into a rant about “psychics” who scam the bereaved. Marshalling… Whew - close one.]

Long story short, check out Judy’s story and be wary of anyone trying to collect on old debts that you don’t remember. Ask for everything in writing before making any payment. Call the organization you originally had business with and get them to verify the debt.

Posted by James at 1:23 PM | Comments (4)

December 4, 2006

Would You Rather?

Would you rather:

  • Have been brought up by parents with absolutely no holiday traditions, who barely register that there is a holiday.
  • Have parents with numerous and varied holiday traditions that they expect you to participate in, which they go overboard celebrating, and are hurt if you do not join in.
Posted by James at 11:04 AM | Comments (16)

December 3, 2006

Kneadless To Say

No-Knead BreadKaren had a recipe for “No-Knead Bread” on her blog, and baking freak I am, I had to try it almost immediately.

The results are in!

I made some changes that were not improvements. First, I used too much water; I added 1/4 cup to it because I was afraid it would dry out over the long rise time. Bad idea. It was harder to work with that way. So, if you’re going to try it, use the 1 1/2 cups Karen recommends. I used 1/2 teaspoon of Fleischman’s “Bread Machine” yeast. That seemed right. However, for recipes that are supposed to be slower rising, a regular dry active yeast is probably better. I was all out of my usual SAF-Instant.

No-Knead BreadThe loaf came out very spongy. One and one-quarter teaspoons of kosher salt were not enough flavor for my tastes. I would go with one and a half teaspoons of table salt. Or 1 1/4 of table salt. I think table salt might yield more flavor here because of smaller, more regular crystals.

Also, my choice of “bread machine” yeast may not have allowed for the production of complex flavors that I look for in my favorite breads. So next time I try this I’ll use an active dry yeast, not one of these newfangled bread machine jobbers that are supposed to make bread with one rising. Slower means more flavor, and I can’t seem to pull it off with this yeast.

In short, the verdict is that it was a technical semi-success, but a flavor disappointment because of my modifications. Still, we ate 2/4 of the loaf before it even cooled off. I will be trying a slow-rise recipe again, but I will probably be kneading the dough. Since i use a KitchenAid mixer to do my kneading, it’s not a hardship and only takes 5 minutes or so. Heck, I actually liked kneading when I used to do it by hand, and even by hand it only takes 10 minutes or so.

So, while I don’t really need a no-knead recipe, it was fun and I learned something about bread. Isn’t that what it;s all about in the end?

Continue reading below the fold for the lyrics to Aha’s new hit song about baking.

“Bake For Me” (To the tune of “Take On Me” by Aha)

Mixing away
I don’t know what I’m to make
I’ll make it anyway
this recipe I bake is quite new
Rising away
I’ll be hoping it comes out O.K.

Bake for me
Bake me for
It’ll be done
in a day or two

So kneadless to say I’m letting it rise for
All day, bubbling away
Slowly growing to twice its own space
Not too much yeast
It’s not better to be in a hurry.

Bake for me
Bake me for
It’ll be done
in a day or two

The yeast that I take
Is it alive just not awake
I worry all day
But worry is bad I’ve got to remember
Relaxed you should stay
You’ll be baking in a better way

Bake for me
Bake me for
It’ll be done
in a day or two

Posted by James at 9:40 PM | Comments (4)

December 1, 2006

Zombie Shotgun

Your entertaining links for the week. Gathered from various sources (many heavily borrowed from Bob McC). Have fun!

Posted by James at 2:00 PM | Comments (4)