March 30, 2007

Dancing Robot Shotgun

My grandmother seems to have come through her heart surgery ok. Speedy recovery, Sittoo!

I have to say, the dancing robot is the cutest thing I've seen in a while. I want it!

Have a good weekend!

Posted by James at 2:04 PM | Comments (7)

Right Radicals

All of the people now deemed to be on the "left" -- including many who have quite disparate views about the defining political disputes of the 1990s -- have been able to work together with great unity because all energies of those "on the left" have been devoted not to any affirmative policy-making (because they have had, and still have, no power to do that), but merely towards the goal of exposing the corruption and radicalism at the heart of this extremist right-wing movement and to push back -- impose some modest limits -- on what has been this radical movement's virtually unlimited ability to install a political framework that one does not even recognize as "American."

Regardless of what other beliefs one might have, opposition to endless warmongering in the Middle East (and the wonderful tools used to promote it, such as rendition, torture and indefinite detentions) -- combined with a belief in the rule of law, along with basic checks and balances, as a means of modestly limiting the power of the federal government over American citizens -- is now sufficient to render one a "liberal" or "leftist." That's because the political movement that dominates our country is radical and authoritarian -- "security leads to freedom." Our political spectrum is now binary: one is either a loyal follower of that movement or one is opposed to it.

Regular readers of this blog may be interested in Glenn Greenwald's post about "neoconservative radicalism." I've never really thought the term "neocon" was quite descriptive enough. "Radical authoritarian" makes some sense.

Having passed through outrage into some sort of fatigue, I am not in a state of apathy or acceptance. I swear I see something like acclimation in the people around me. Even as Bush's numbers scrape bottom, people get to a point where they seem to just plain think this is the way things are supposed to be.

And I think people, somewhere inside, have bought into the idea that we can't be protected unless we give up at least some of who we are.

It's been said that for corruption/evil to prevail, good people must do nothing. That's meant to be a call to action, but I think it's inaccurate. I think the frustrating thing about pressure from the radical right authoritarianism is that it uses good people to do something. It draws on both fear and altruism to sustain expensive and otherwise impossible and distasteful efforts.

Minions of evil didn't rise up in America and launch an ill-fated war. Well-meaning and frightened people gave their time, money and lives to the effort. My opinion is that they were ill-used.

And that's how this works. People of evil intention don't need provocation. To get well-meaning people involved and keep them involved takes a little effort. And it's not really all that hard to find the button that will motivate one group. Since some buttons just don't work for some people, the trick is to pick the right button so that you get lots of people. And once you find that button, you push it hard and push it at every opportunity.

And when you're done playing with the government, lives and money, when the button is broken from leaning on it, hopefully something is left. Hopefully people can remember where they started instead of thinking it was always like this. Hopefully people don't assume that "everything is different now" but instead think about how they want things to be.

Tangents That Popped Into My Mind

Do second amendment rights become a sort of pacifier to inure people to the loss of other less tangible rights? Does the weight of a gun in your holster make you think you can take back your habeas corpus ant time you want? Is this why some otherwise libertarian-leaning conservatives retreat to gun rights when the discussion/specter of eroding civil rights rears its head?

Do people like being lied to during times of stress? Is there an advantage to being able to block out your aversion to lies (if you even have one) with the feeling that a sneaky lie can motivate more people more quickly than the open discussion of the truth? Complicity and lack of scrutiny is important in most hoaxes and cons. Did John Kerry suffer because people will burst out laughing if they imagine John Kerry trying to sustain a government conspiracy? The man can't hide his intention long enough to tell a joke. And when he changes his mind, actually changes it (flip... flop).

Posted by James at 12:36 AM

March 29, 2007

I Hope She's OK

We’ve moved our offices to Fairhaven. It’s pretty much over now, except for the monstrous unpacking which nobody wants to face at this point. I’ll have to try to get some pictures.

At the moment, I’m having real trouble getting WSAR from the new office. I will be having withdrawal from Keri’s show until I can figure out a solution… like a twin coil antenna or some such magic.

The new office is decent, but nothing too exciting. We’ve moved from an interesting place to a professional place. So we were trying to find something to be excited about. We focused on the shortened time it takes us to get to No Problemo. Via route 6 we’d timed it at 8 minutes. I was betting that the highway would get us to William Street quicker. But sometimes there is an interruption.

Sara and I told Derek we’d meet him in New Bedford for tacos, on the way back to the office to get our chairs. I hit the highway and tried to go quickly. Not trying to break any speed records, just trying to drive efficiently.

The drive, itself, was uneventful. (By highway we can get there in 6 minutes!) We pulled into the Barker’s Lane parking lot (the one neat Freestone’s) next to a beige sedan. I hopped out to get us a parking pass, but first I looked around to see if other people had passes. Often, the pass machine is broken, but it looked like people had passes on their cars. I noticed there was a young woman in the sedan, and she oddly had two parking passes on her dashboard. I think she was asleep.

I dashed to the machine (Sara staying near the car, yelling after me, offering to pay for some of the parking) but my mind was wandering. The woman in the sedan was bugging me. I yelled back to Sara; I think I asked if the woman was moving, or if she looked like she was asleep. Sara said she looked asleep.

She met me halfway on my walk back to the Jeep. I was a little worried about the woman and so was Sara after having a look at her. I threw my pass onto my dashboard and circled around the front of the sedan. She was asleep at an odd angle. Head lolled over to her right. Hands somewhere in her lap. It didn’t look right. But I guess she could have just been sleeping.

It was making very little noise, but I suddenly realized the car was running. I could smell the exhaust and faint cigarette smoke. What the heck? A young woman asleep in her car with the engine running? I needed to take a closer look. She was sitting up, but she was tilted slightly to the right. Her head’s tilt was anything but slight. Her hands were in her lap, loosely holding a credit card and an open cardboard pack of cigarettes. Her mouth was half open. Her chest was rising and falling. “She’s breathing,” I told Sara. We agreed this situation was not right.

I approached the car again and knocked rapidly, but lightly on the diver’s side window. There was no response.

I waited a moment and repeated the knocking, slightly harder on the window this time but stopping short of pounding on the window. There was no response.

I was feeling a little frantic wondering how to determine whether she needed help and how to quickly get her that help. I looked around for help. I think Sara thought I had gone a bit goofy when she saw me sprint towards William street. I saw the fire marshal’s red truck driving in the direction of Freestone’s. I had to dash around some parked cars so that I could jump in front of his vehicle as he slowed at the intersection. I told the man what I saw and asked if we could get the woman some help. He said he’d contact an ambulance on the radio and I directed him to the parking lot.

I ran back and explained what was going on to Sara, and as Derek arrived in the parking lot, the fire marshal was banging on the young woman’s window and calling to her; she didn’t respond to the loud attempts to rouse her. He opened the door to physically intervene (it was unlocked) and she groggily came to. She looked ill and when he asked her whether she was alright, she said she didn’t feel well. She looked like she was going to fall back asleep.

I stepped away slowly with Derek and Sara as he spoke to her and on his radio. I heard him ask her whether she knew where she was, and whether she realized her car was running. She answered very groggily, but I could no longer hear her voice. At this point I figured my involvement was over, and I was uncomfortable hanging around just to find out more about the situation. I wanted to know whether she was OK, but it really wasn’t any of my business anymore. The fire marshal went back to his truck (to get something, apparently) and gave me a wave and a nod. I waved my own “thank you” back at him and we wandered off for lunch.

I hope she is OK. I hope I overreacted, but at the very least I don’t think it’s safe to sleep in a running car with your door unlocked and your credit card in your hand. I hope she wasn’t as ill as she looked. Maybe she just had trouble sleeping last night. Maybe she just had some sort of flu.

I felt a strong urge not to interfere with this young woman until I factored in the running car. We should naturally check up on each other, shouldn’t we? Why did I feel at all reluctant?

Posted by James at 1:07 AM | Comments (6)

March 28, 2007

Punitive Means Punishment

I missed a chunk of Mike Moran’s show this morning on WSAR, but Maggie tells me there was a caller complaining about the inequity of the jury award in the case of Ms. Pelletier.

His specific complaint was about her compensation (the jury awarded 2.8 million) vs. what a rape victim might receive in a rape case. This same caller called up the attorney show in the afternoon yesterday. The implication was that Ms. Pelletier doesn’t deserve the money and a rape victim’s suffering is worse. This fellow wanted to blame Ms. Pelletier for her ordeal, and I guess he was upset at the size of the jury award. (Incidentally, that award may still be reduced. This has yet to completely be played out in the courts. For now, we have to assume Somerset owes 2.8 million or so.)

I’m not a lawyer, but I want to make two points I think are important.

The first, and more important point, is that most of the jury award was punitive. Punitive damages are…

not awarded in order to compensate the plaintiff, but in order to reform or deter the defendant and similar persons from pursuing a course of action such as that which damaged the plaintiff.

In other words, the jury didn’t decide that Ms. Pelletier deserved that money. They had already awarded her compensatory damages. The additional amount was to discourage this behavior in the Highway Department and to send a clear message that the people of Bristol County will not tolerate this behavior. Despite the painful fact that Somerset is now on the hook for a huge sum, I think the people of Bristol County should be proud that the system is working to protect workers by sending this message.

Ms. Pelletier should be removed from the equation when understanding the punitive award, except for the fact that she was the victim who brought this behavior to the attention of the court. The jury awarded that amount based on the degree and number of offenses. That should tell us something about how convinced they were of the wrongdoing, and how appalled they were by its severity and frequency.

But it should also send a wakeup call to other Neanderthal workplaces.

The second point I want to make relates to the “message” aspect of the punitive damage. I want to relate this to another story that callers were considering yesterday.

A man was found “not guilty” of second-degree murder in Taunton court this week. He shot a home intruder in the back as the intruder was fleeing his yard; the intruder fell into the street and died. (Story on the verdict in SouthCoastToday) (Editorial disagreeing with the verdict)

Callers to the mid-morning show yesterday said that this verdict sent a message to criminals. I’m sure it does, and to homeowners and gun owners. My point is that most of the callers, even the ones who disagreed about the verdict, agreed that the message this sent to criminals was a good thing.

If you accept that this verdict sent a good message to discourage crime, then you must accept that the punitive damages are a message of a different sort to discourage a different crime. That said, if it rankles you that Ms. Pelletier was awarded such a large sum, the only logical conclusion can be that you do not want to send a message that will fight inappropriate and intimidating behavior in the workplace.

It is not a question of whether Ms. Pelletier deserves the money. It’s a question of what kind of environment the citizens of Bristol County have a right to expect in the workplace.

Posted by James at 10:09 AM | Comments (8)

Billy Beer

Billy Beer

Billy Beer. For people who

really want some old beer.

This Billy Beer was visible behind a case in a "sundries" store within the Atlanta Hilton. I think they wanted $3,000 for it.

technorati tags:, , ,

Posted by James at 9:18 AM

March 27, 2007

Why Is Diebold Suing Massachusetts?

Why is the Diebold company suing Massachusetts?

According to Gizmodo:

Diebold is suing because Massachusetts chose competitor AutoMARK instead of them. Why is it worth suing the state over this? Because Diebold thinks their machines are better. That’s the reason. Really. That’s the only reason.


According to

Diebold says it will ask a judge to overturn the selection of AutoMARK , a Diebold business competitor, because the office of Secretary of State William F. Galvin failed to choose the best machine. […] Diehold was so stunned it did not get the contract that it now believes “it’s worth the time and money” of going to court to challenge the contract’s award, even though the company at this stage has no hard evidence of unfair treatment.

Er, help me out here, people. If you sue someone without any evidence, isn’t that, by their own admission, a frivolous lawsuit? I guess they have until the case goes to court to mount a sensible defense. But if they can’t dig up some evidence, the people of Massachusetts need to have our leaders consider some way of getting Diebold to pay all the expenses.

(Thanks for the tip, Leslie)

Posted by James at 3:30 PM | Comments (1)

Town Meeting Notes

Here are some quick notes on the Somerset Special Town Meeting of March 26, 2007. Not a summary, just the highlights. If you read the previous story then you know about our problems with the Highway Department. This situation made for a charged atmosphere in the high school auditorium.

Immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance, someone yelled out a sarcastic farewell “Say goodbye, John!” referring to Town Administrator John McAuliffe. Madam Moderator reminded the Town Meeting body that this was not the forum for discussing the events of the day, but rather to only discuss the articles listed on the agenda.

We passed articles to fix the leaky school roofs and other incidental town business. One moment of humor came while we were discussing $7,500 to be allocated for the “snack shack” at Pierce Beach. The money is needed to repair and refurbish the small building which houses restrooms used during beach events and also may be used as a concession.

There were a lot of people questioning the expense, and so a supporter of the article described what the money was for. He made the mistake of mentioning the Highway Department (who would be tasked with making the repairs) and a loud groan filled the auditorium. This only slowed him down for a moment, and he continued to explain that the repair was needed for many of the events that are planned for the beach this summer, including the showing of movies.

That was simply too much for the Town Meeting body, many of whom immediately burst into loud and bitter laughter as they imagined what sort of movies town employees would be choosing to show at the beach. (again see current scandal).

Madam Moderator had to sternly warn the body at this point to regain order.


We had long discussions on whether we should spend $1,000 on an Automated External Defibrillator. One of the selectmen seemed to be worried that untrained people would be running around zapping people. (I’m exaggerating) If you’re familiar with the AED, you should know that they are designed to be extremely easy to use. If you’re familiar with cardiac arrest, you should know that every second that normal blood flow is interrupted is a precious second. Having a device like this on hand can get the heart pumping blood again before the paramedics arrive. Whether oxygenated blood is getting to the brain makes an enormous difference in a person’s chances of survival. The schools and municipal buildings have these devices available, so the only real argument was whether we ought to have one at the beach.

The discussion that ensued seemed to convince the entire audience that $1,000 was a reasonable price to pay for the protection. It was a unanimous vote in the affirmative to appropriate the money.


There were two votes related to a long battle of certain residents who didn’t want Walgreens coming in to the center of town. I won’t go into detail on it; you can read the story Gene Emery wrote in the Providence Journal. (free registration required) or this older Herald News story.

I’d like to summarize my thoughts.

First, I didn’t have a ton of background on this issue. I came to town meeting thinking that it would be up to the proponents and opponents to make their case before the body. I listened to both with an open mind.

Proponents wanted us to rezone an area from commercial to residential, reversing a previous rezoning — ostensibly to stop Walgreens from building in the center of town. Opponents thought the rezoning should stand.

I had mixed feelings. The town needs the tax revenue and I don’t think that competition in the center of town is a bad thing. On the other hand, I’m not sure the center of town can support the traffic that may arise. I wanted to hear the arguments.

Proponents of the rezoning said the vote was about integrity in government because they felt they’d been lied to at the time of the original rezoning. They wanted the rezoning to either stop Walgreens, force them to find another site, or force them to negotiate some kind of better deal with the abutters.

Opponents said that they wanted more business in the town. But also, they pointed out that a Boston land court had already decided that the rezoning should stand. While a town representative didn’t think that the town would be liable if we reversed the zoning, some opponents raised the spectre of a lawsuit against the town accusing the town of “spot zoning” to keep out Walgreens.

In the end, I thought that the opponents made their case better. The woman and her husband who supported the articles seemed like really nice people. But I didn’t buy their claims to these being votes on morality. Every party in a deal like this is careful about what they hide and what they show. It sounded like they were asking the town to open itself to possible liability because they were unhappy about how business was conducted many years before on the original rezoning. On a personal level, I had bad feelings about my vote, but my head was telling me to go the other way.

Posted by James at 12:16 PM | Comments (2)

Highway Department of Porn?

Our Mess Called Somerset

What a mess in Somerset yesterday.

A woman who used to work for the highway department was awarded 2.8 million dollars when a jury decided the town needed to be sent a harsh message for mismanaging the sexually harassing conduct of Highway Department employees.

If you hadn't heard this story, then you'd be in the same category as a lot of people. As far as I know, this story didn't appear in the newspaper until today. We got an earful from Keri's show. I expect that many Somerset residents listened to the story as I did. It was difficult to keep our jaws off the floor.

Kim Pelletier told the jury about widespread outrageous behavior ranging from exposure to explicit material to documented discrimination in work assignments.

The list reads like a manual for sexual harassment. Porn magazines in all of the highway department trucks. Groping buttocks. Groping breasts. Verbal abuse. Sexual discrimination in work assignments. And a regular "afternoon matinee" of porn movies every day between 3 and 3:30 PM.

The Town mounted no credible defense of the behavior. Comments like "well, it didn't seem to bother her" amount to an admission that this was the way the highway department did business. Ouch. Ms. Pelletier (who is gay) was told that she envied the "forbidden fruit" that the men had. The excuse that the jury heard? It was a harmless biblical reference. I guess I've been missing something when I read the Bible.

Town Meeting, Then and Now

There was a a special town meeting last night in Somerset. This matter wasn't on the agenda, and so it couldn't be discussed. However, it wasn't far from the minds of the citizens who were present. That was clear from bits of scattered conversation, and people yelling things like "time to go, John!" -- referring to John McAuliffe, the town administrator.

A vocal town faction has been opposed to Mr. McAuliffe for years, but the reasons were never really clear to me. At last year's regular town meeting there was an effort to get rid of the man which failed when the heads of all the departments showed up in uniform to stand shoulder to shoulder in support of the man. It made an impressive (some described it as "intimidating") display to see fire, police, and other town workers showing such support. The effort against the administrator was defeated as we citizens proudly supported all the department heads and reflected their loyalty with our voice vote... and then a stand up vote.

From the highway department story:

"What happened today didn't have to happen. We tried to resolve this amicably but McAuliffe wanted none of it," said [Attorney for Ms. Pelletier] Fingliss. "There was a time when all she would have taken was an apology or even a transfer, but McAuliffe said no. You have to ask yourself where the responsibility starts in the town. It starts with him (McAuliffe)."

Reached at his office late Monday afternoon, McAuliffe, a nine-year town administrator who recently received a $10,500 raise from the Board of Selectmen, said he "certainly disagreed" with the verdict, but offered little else.

I wonder if other Somerset residents feel, as I do, that we've had the wool pulled over our eyes. This case was filed in 2003 for events which occurred before Ms. Pelletier left her job in 2000. Instances of the behavior go back as far as 1987!

Questions and Consequences

I have a number of questions. What did the Town Administrator do about this situation, and why didn't he do more? Since the town's defense as I understand it was tantamount to an admission that these events occurred (witnesses corroborated stories about the availability of porn at the highway department), who is going to be held responsible?

Why did certain selectmen put a rush on a raise for the town administrator just this month, knowing that this case was pending? The picture of these selectmen in the local paper proudly giving Mr. McAuliffe his raise is still fresh in my mind, and in the mind of many other town residents, I imagine.

And I want to know more about the behavior of the people more directly in charge at the Highway Department - and I want to hear what the selectmen are going to do to punish those responsible and make sure nothing like this happens again. Apart from the fact that the situation is deplorable, the town now has to pay nearly 3 million dollars that we can't spare. We had heated debates last night over a million or so to fix leaky roofs in the schools. We voted down $7,500 to fix up the Pierce Beach snack concession. We had painfully drawn out analysis over a no-brainer measure to have a $1,000 defibrillator available at the beach for emergencies. Yet the Town Administrator (made aware of the problem long ago) decided to manage the Highway Department situation in a way that has exposed the town to liability exceeding any of what we voted on. I call that grounds for dismissal.

I'd like to see this organization cleansed from the bottom up; the entire chain of command. Supervisor and Manager alike. And then I want to see the selectmen provide some explanations of their own behavior and what they're going to do now to ensure a workplace free of both porn and bullying for town employees.

Heads need to roll, and soon. This woman couldn't get a freaking apology?? And here's a suggestion for the selectmen. If 3:00 to 3:30 PM was porn time in the highway department, those involved owe the town some money back. Get on that. We're looking at 2.8 million. The town knew this was going on, it behooves them to get some of that wasted town money back from people who were paid to watch porn. The ball is in your court, people.

Fun calculation for homework: How much per taxpayer is this costing the town?

Posted by James at 11:06 AM | Comments (12)

March 25, 2007

Neo-Luddite Day?

Apparently, Saturday was “Shutdown Day.” In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s the opportunity to entertain the insulting suggestion that you aren’t smart enough to know when to use your computer.

Their website was cutely still down on Sunday because they loved their computer-free day so much that they took an extra day off. I suggest the illegitimate brain-parents of this idea — Dennis Bystrov and Michael Taylor — do us a favor and swear off computers and all electronic communications for the rest of their lives.

I’ve been hearing this general brand of bullshit since I started studying computer science. The prejudice against technology users and builders was often reflected in their opinion towards computer scientists. Clearly, they are a bunch of people who never go outside, never see enjoy art or literature, never get laid, only eat pizza, don’t care about the world, and can’t get along with other people.

And now - ye gods! - the disease is affecting normal people!

Shutdown Day brings a question to my mind: What kind of an idiot needs two wankers to tell him to turn off his computer? Most of my friends are at various high levels of technical proficiency. They all know when to turn off the computer to listen to jazz, make dinner, have a party, take a hike in the woods, watch birds, cook, gaze at the stars, read, work, imagine…

And they know when to turn on a computer to help themselves do all of those things as well. Computers are a tool. Having a specific day chosen by someone else on which you turn your computer off is like having a day when people tell you that you can’t use fire, electricity, a hammer or your common sense.

If you want to spend the day off the internet, by all means go ahead. I love a break from email now and again. Turn off the phone, curl up with a book and enjoy. But if you support Shutdown Day and lament the fact that so many people out there spend their time on computers, why not sign up to my newly envisioned social experiment: No Toilet Week. Since you don’t know when to turn your computer on and off, I don’t think you can be trusted about when you need to go to the toilet. So no toilets for you for a week. Enjoy the freedom of having me decide when you should use technology.

Posted by James at 10:01 PM | Comments (16)

March 24, 2007


I’ve been without internet for a few days, so I had to abandon the blog temporarily. Sorry I didn’t warn you! I was off giving sessions (and making connections) at the National Conference of Teachers of Mathematics. Things went reasonably well, and there were some great experiences. One of our session was well-attended, but Derek and I got to give a session to two lonely people. Those poor souls got an earful (and a lot of attention) as we tried to get them to conceptionalize exponential change in new ways. Since we engage the audience with questions as a part of our interactive style, these two people were forced to respond to repeated inquiries. There were numerous staring contests.

I have a mountain of email to process, but I will back in the blog swing in no time. Now, I sleep.

[This post has been edited to make sense.]

Posted by James at 11:57 PM

March 21, 2007

In Contrast

I saw this story go by in Fark, and it turns out to be local-ish:

A mother and her boyfriend were sentenced to three years probation on Monday for having intercourse in front of the woman’s 9-year-old daughter to teach the girl about sex.
Chief Family Court Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. sentenced Rebecca Arnold of Woonsocket, and her boyfriend, David Prata, to probation and a three-year suspended sentence after they pleaded no contest to a felony child neglect charge.

Probation for exposing a girl to sex between her mother and someone who is not her father. It will be interesting to see how this sentence compares to the Julie Amero case, when sentencing is completed this month. She’s looking at the possibility of 40 years in prison after a court found her guilty of not acting quickly enough to stop kids form seeing pornography on a school computer. (As noted earlier, there are problems with the case itself, IMHO)

Posted by James at 7:50 AM | Comments (9)

March 20, 2007

Looking Out For One-Another

“It’s just the kind of place where everybody looks out for everybody,” she said recently while working behind the bar. “I mean, people look out for me. I hope.”

Those are the words of Karri Cormican, an alert waitress who likely prevented a date rape from occurring when she intervened after seeing a man slip a white powder into a young woman’s beer.

This guy was persistent. The waitress made some excuse and took back the beer. While she was trying to tell his date what she’d seen, he slipped more drugs into the replacement beer.

The vile asshat is getting a year in prison after pleading guilty to “transporting and furnishing a narcotic,” avoiding punishment for any charges related to a planned sexual assault. He’ll be out in May and I think that’s a tragedy.

Good people need to look out for each other, like Ms. Cormican and the bartender, Hannah Bridgeman-Oxley, did for this woman. Of course, it’s lucky that they saw him slipping the powder in the drink, but I see this as simply one example of protecting someone in a vulnerable situation. No matter if it is a woman or man in distress, good people do have a responsibility to look out for others. I’m glad to know there are people out there like this pair of women.

Cormican had arrived in San Francisco from Fargo, N.D., only six months prior to the incident and still works at Noe’s. She shrugs off any attempt to call her a heroine.

You know, she’s right. She did what anyone should have done. However, she and Ms. Bridgeman-Oxley do deserve kudos because their alertness and actions are much needed in the world, and (I think) extraordinary.

Posted by James at 3:58 PM

Amazing Driving, Yankees Fan

What’s going on with the driving today?

I’m seeing some real horrible driving today, like the three people who passed me on a narrow road at high speed as I was slowing down to take the turn into work. I’ve had people pass me there before, and it’s not a big deal, but for 3 people to be close enough behind me and going fast enough for them all to be able to make it past me before I completed my turn is surprising.

But that doesn’t take the cake. Yankees Fan in the tan truck takes the cake today.

I crossing over the Brightman Street Bridge this morning, traveling along at a in the left-hand lane, nobody on my tail and nobody at all in front of me. A large, tan-colored pickup truck with MA tags comes up on my right, just in front of me and cuts me off. I think to myself “Jerk” but it’s not really a big deal. Nobody is behind me, so I just hit my breaks and give him some space. Still, nobody is in front of us, and if he wanted to get in front of me, he really could have given me a car length at least. I was going about 35, having just taken a left. He’d taken the left, too, from the right-hand lane, so we were going similar speeds.

He’s got a really big NY Yankees magnet on the left side of his tailgate. On the right side, a little fancy yellow ribbon magnet. Yay. I don’t see a “I support Good Driving” sticker anywhere.

We came to the light at the 79 onramp. Out of habit, I pull up next to him into the right-hand lane. I like to be away from the oncoming traffic that’s to the left, in case somebody runs the light. In about 3 minutes I’ve almost forgotten that he cut me off.

When the light turns green, he peels out in his big tan pickup. He’s about 10 car lengths ahead by the time I cross the intersection. I actually laugh out loud, because I figure he must have been unhappy to be stopped at the light, and he might have made it through the light before if he’d sped up instead of cutting me off. Plus, if he’s in a hurry I’m glad to see him go.

79 is 3 lanes here, but it narrows to 2. I’m in the disappearing lane. Amazingly, he’s slowed down now and I am catching up to him. He’s in the middle lane. Many car lengths behind him, I decide that I don’t want to be behind him when this lane disappears. So I put on my directional and cross over into the left lane. As I cross over into the left, he moves into my lane - no directional. I’m still quite a ways behind him. I interpret his lane-change as a desire to avoid the merging traffic about 2 miles ahead, figuring it has nothing to do with me.

In any case, I’d rather not be right behind him, and he’s still driving slow, so I change into the right lane (the 3rd lane is already gone.)

He, of course, crosses in front of me. I’m racking my brain now, wondering if I somehow cut this guy off at some point. But I haven’t actually switched lanes or taken any turns in front of anyone since I left the house. So I can’t have cut anyone off.

Without speeding up to pass, I switch into the left lane, and he switches back in front of me, this time close enough to cut me off again.

Whatever. At this point we hit traffic, getting onto 195. When another car passes on the right, I cut behind it, pass up two cars, and get onto the 195 onramp. He gets caught in merging traffic and disappears in my rearview mirror about 2 minutes later.

Dear Yankees fan:

On a scale of 1 to 10, your driving sucks like a late August 2004 Yankees game against the Cleveland Indians.

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Have a nice day.

Posted by James at 11:10 AM | Comments (14)

March 19, 2007

Would You Rather?

Would you rather…

  • Have a phone device implanted in your head which would allow you to talk on the phone with no external machinery. (When it rings, you can hear it. When you want to talk on the phone, you have to speak aloud. You control it with voice commands. You can’t turn it off, but you can disable the ringer.)
  • or Never be able to use any sort of telephone again
Posted by James at 10:53 AM | Comments (15)

March 18, 2007

Julie Amero

I remember hearing about this teacher recently, but only in passing. I did not realize this case was so bad.

In short: a substitute teacher is facing up to 40 years in prison for exposing some school children to internet pornography. Except that the evidence is lacking, her defense attorney appears to have been unprepared, the prosecution experts voiced outright falsehoods, and everyone involved seemed to be incredibly ignorant about the World Wide Web and how browsers work.

There is a distinct possibility that what happened to this woman is that she got flustered trying to close browser windows which popped up unbidden while students were looking at a hair care related website. I know I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before, and in my experienced opinion the prosecution did not sufficiently show that this is not what happened to her. In other words, there is a plausible and likely explanation for what happened, but she was convicted anyhow. She awaits sentencing on the 29th of March.

Thanks, Chuck, for brining this to my attention. This sort of miscarriage of justice is infuriating because any of us could be the victim of ignorance. It’s the sort of thing we used to discuss back in college. One implication of technology is that people who do not understand technology will be in a position to create and interpret laws which affect the people who use that technology. This is a prime example of the dangers of ignorance.

I assume that Ms. Amero is innocent since there is a distinct lack of proof to the contrary. I also agree with Chuck that, even assuming she is guilty, 40 years would be an extreme sentence.

Posted by James at 11:07 AM | Comments (11)

March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day and Other

St. Patrick’s Day was never really celebrated at all in our house, except that Mom would make corned beef and cabbage. In school, people made a big deal out of wearing some green. And partying on March 17th was never planned.

So I can’t say this is a big celebration day for me. The kids couldn’t really care less. They’re too young for Guinness.

I found this list of 10 must-drink Irish whiskeys on Forbes. Whoo - I think you have to “must afford” them first. I’ll have to content myself with a couple of ounces of Jameson late tonight when I will still be working on this software demo for Atlanta.

I raise a toast to my readers (even you lurkers who pretend not to visit, but show up in the server logs). And seeing the tired old toasts searchable online sorely lacking, here is my original toast to you:

May the path of your life wind through beautiful and wondrous places.
And may you see misfortune coming soon enough to get out of its way.


In other news, the anniversary of my date of hire passed without fanfare at work (it’s the Ides of March). I’ve been at my current job for 13 years. Lucky 13! Woo!

And, Chuck’s Blog turned 3 years young yesterday (the 16th). Let’s hear it for Unbecoming Levity!

Now, about that Guinness…

Posted by James at 4:09 PM | Comments (2)

March 16, 2007

Creepy Email

This was weird.

On my Apple Trailers RSS feed I just saw a film I’d never heard of before called “Color Me Kubrick”. It’s a somewhat true story about a guy who pretended to be Stanley Kubrick. John Malkovich plays the main character.

In any case, this is the first I’d seen of it, so I watched the trailer. As the trailer finished, I got an email from

Dear Customer,
We’ve noticed that customers who have expressed interest in 2001 - A Space Odyssey have also ordered Color Me Kubrick on DVD. For this reason, you might like to know that Color Me Kubrick will be released on DVD on March 27, 2007.


me/ off to get a roll of thicker tinfoil for my hat

Posted by James at 8:49 AM | Comments (1)

Spring Snow Shotgun

Bonus Link:

For Julie, because we were talking about robots on the phone last week:
Posted by James at 8:20 AM | Comments (7)

March 15, 2007

Too Much To Respond

Chuck had a post on his blog that I was going to leave a comment on, but then I thought “screw it, I’m going to post the response on my blog” not because I object to commenting on someone else’s blog, but because… er, longer posts is what I have my own blog for.

Chuck has had a really rough time lately. In fact, a few of my friends are going through some pretty crappy stuff including medical, family, stress, work, and school-related stuff. I’m not in the habit of calling people out, so I’ll keep this general. I want folks to know that I’m here to talk if you need it. Of course, most of you are probably too busy to talk, and I guess that’s part of the problem! We’ll sit down together soon over a drink or coffee or whatever. On to Chuck’s post.


Thanks for the update, Chuck. I hope that the least invasive treatment takes care of the lingering effects of your pneumonia. However, going on the idea that anyone can come up with treatments and “who needs proof???” I’ve come up with my own treatment for lung infections. Clearly, the reason bacteria is holed up in your lung is because it’s such a pleasant place to hang out. The bacteria are treating it like a trendy new club. They’re probably drinking Cristal and Jager in there, hangin’ with their peeps, chillin. Meanwhile, you’re feeling like crap.

So give those Pneumococcusuckers a kick in their ciliated asses!

  • Step 1: Purchase “William Hung: Inspiration”
  • Step 2: Place CD in player.
  • Step 3: Queue up “She Bangs”
  • Step 4: Lean forward with mouth open to allow sound waves to best penetrate your air passages.
  • Step 5: Hit play

There will be a slight discomfort at first, as the sound cannot be completely shielded from your ears. You may very well experience some irritation localized to your sense of good taste. However, that just tells you it is working. Repeat the procedure for an hour, or until you pass out. Make sure you have a companion there to watch you. You will be groggy and have a killer headache when the treatment is complete. Do this every day and you will probably forget all about any chest infection.

(OK, I actually don’t think streptococcus pneumoniae have cilia, but I’m taking license.)

Mr Deity

I’ll take that. Thaaaaaaank… you. (steals link for shotgun post.)

RSS & YouTube

Substitute any user name between the slashes after “user” and you have yourself a user-based feed. I don’t know why they don’t make this detectable, but they talk about it here.

And I think I’m afraid if SuttSteve. And at the same time I am suddenly a lot less intimidated about having a podcast. However, my research indicates that if you have a blog, you can estimate the number of people who will watch your podcast to be the natural log of the number of people who read your blog. So where Vb is blog visitors and Vp
is podcast visitors, Vp = ln(Vb).

By my calculations, I would have 2.7 podcast visitors, which is not yet worth the effort, even if you round that 7 tenths of a person up to a whole person.

Texas and the HPV Vaccine

You wrote:

The thing I can’t shake is that the early complaints about the possibility of making this drug mandatory that came out of Fundie USA was that it would encourage young women to have sex. Which is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. But I can’t help feeling that because those who said it are realizing how stupid that sounds, we are now getting other excuses like a through d above. I find myself wondering if HPV was transmitted in a nonsexual manner, would there be any outcry at all?

It’s not just that social conservatives think that it’ll make girls have sex (and they seem to be pretty much in denial about what their daughters are doing anyhow, or the effect that their attitudes have had on female sexuality). There is also a government conspiracy undercurrent running through that very paranoid subculture. They think the government is going to slip some sort of sneaky secular dirty tricks in there with the drugs… like something that will make your daughter believe in algebra instead of faith based “mathemagics.”

These are the Same People Who Said…

Nothing of substance to add to your comments except to affirm that the global warming deniers are using similar tactics to the anti-evolutionists. Purposefully skewing research, misinterpreting old arguments, etc. Sad.

Posted by James at 8:53 AM | Comments (3)

Misery Of Your Undocumented Immigrant Neighbors

A lot of people have had a tough week:

NYT Article this morning:

A screaming baby girl has been forcibly weaned from breast milk and taken, dehydrated, to an emergency room, so that the nation’s borders will be secure. Her mother and more than 300 other workers in a leather-goods factory in New Bedford, Mass., have been terrorized — subdued by guns and dogs, their children stranded at school — so that the country will notice that the Bush administration is serious about enforcing immigration laws. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of poor Americans, lacking the right citizenship papers, have been denied a doctor’s care so that not a penny of Medicaid will go to a sick illegal immigrant.

Tuesday’s SouthCoastToday:

Michael Bianco Inc., the South End factory raided by immigration agents Tuesday, had a special tax agreement with the city that saved the company $57,000 in property taxes over the past two years.
The company landed an $82 million Department of Defense contract in 2004 to make backpacks for the military.

On Rhode Island’s Future blog:

Church leaders, including Catholic bishops, support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants because of the teachings of the Bible.
Leviticus 19:33-34“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

In Fitchburg:

When hundreds of federal agents checked into Fitchburg and Leominster hotels several days before they stormed New Bedford-based Michael Bianco Inc., rumors of a local raid spread quickly.

“It is devastating to families,” said Matthew Feinstein of the Worcester Global Action Network. “The police presence caused many to fear to go to work or send their children to school.”

Student absences based on the rumors Monday forced Fitchburg Schools Superintendent Andre R. Ravenelle to reassure parents and students that a raid would not happen in the Leominster-Fitchburg area. The very next day, the New Bedford operation netted 327 undocumented workers.

Sara and I were discussing what teachers were telling young students who might not have had anyone to go home to on Tuesday afternoon. Imagine being told as a middle schooler, or younger, that you might not be finding anyone there when you get home — and that this may not be a temporary situation.

In USA Today:

This country irritates me. My wife applied for naturalization nearly a year ago, and her green card is going to expire at the end of the month.

We have been married for seven years and have two children. I am a third-generation American citizen. Her family members immigrated from Canada more than 12 years ago, and each of them began the naturalization process within a week of applying. With an English surname, it seems, the process moved quickly.

Because my wife took my Mexican surname, however, the Department of Homeland Security believes she arrived from Mexico. It has been conducting a “background check” since her interview.

When asked why her sister received her swear-in date before my wife did, the immigration officer admitted her application was being held up as a result of her surname.

So much for “legal vs Illegal” and “doing the right thing.”

However, I am puzzled by one phenomenon highlighted on that USAToday page: illegal immigrants who aren’t interested in integrating into our existing society. They’re doing themselves a huge disservice. Even with the extreme red-faced “tag ‘em and bag ‘em” immigration faction of the conservative right, I think this country has a high capacity for accommodating other cultures. But there is an assumption that people coming here are going to adopt the language and learn to common things that form our American culture, such as it is.

Integrating better helps in a number of ways. One biggie is that it reduces the knee-jerk xenophobia which works against their cause. Another is that it shows something beyond existence at a particular location; it shows desire to be American.

There are people here who want to be Americans, want to work hard and become legal citizens. They are already part of our society, whether you or I like it, but they would like to be legal and they deserve to be treated as human beings. Right now they’re exploited (for work, for sex) because if they do anything to stand up for themselves, if they try to organize, they’re just a phone call away from a raid like we saw on Tuesday last week. We need to get tougher on the exploiters, like the employer in New Bedford who took a tax break while taking advantage of these immigrants to fulfill a government contract. We also need a quicker path to legal status. Legalizing people who want to work and who show a desire to become Americans will take them out of their perilous situation, allow them to stand up for themselves along with other Americans and use the laws of our nation to make the situation better for themselves and make the nation better.

I’ll have my eye on the efforts of our senior senator, Kennedy, as he tries to get the government to pass immigration reform. Because of the great need for change, he’s abandoned the reform that was in the works and has decided to support a previous, more conservative-friendly 2006 plan with McCain. Massachusetts was specifically targeted in this raid; perhaps Massachusetts will help find a solution for some of the misery these people are facing.

Other links:

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Posted by James at 7:49 AM | Comments (12)

March 14, 2007

Slicing Into π Day

Today, March 14, is observed here in America by number geeks as π day. Wikipedia will tell you that the Europeans celebrate it on July 22 because they write their dates differently, but we Americans are louder.

3.141592 translates to 3/14 1:59 PM in my own twisted interpretation of π day, which means I am going to stop by the market, buy a pie, and share it with my co-workers just before 2PM. (You can’t celebrate it at 1:59 AM because most people are asleep and pie is meant to be shared)

If my kids liked pie, I would have baked.

For other ways to p lay with your food on π day, I suggest this method for calculating an approximation of π using frozen hot dogs. If you don’t have frozen hot dogs, pretty much any small straight object will do, so long as you can throw it.

Posted by James at 9:02 AM | Comments (1)

5 Most Interesting Things You Should Be Sick Of By Now

  1. Blog posts in list form, simply to garner links.
    • It’s a clever idea, which I have used in the past — though not under the illusion it would increase traffic. People seem to love lists, and they’re always popping up on Digg and reddit, two of the places I frequently visit in my quest to find links for Friday’s Shotgun.
  2. Blog posts that tell you what you should do or think.
    • What do I know about what you should be sick of? Way to insult my readers. People love to read what they should think, because they want to know if they disagree. It’s drama!
  3. Blog posts that tell you what’s “most interesting”.
    • A ton of people find football to be the most interesting thing going on on a Sunday afternoon. Right there, that proves that people are screwed up in their ability to evaluate “most interesting”. Of course, if you’re trying ot get your blog post up-modded on popular social linking sites, you have to really sell it with the title. “5 Marginally Interesting Things” may be honest, but it probably doesn’t sell.
  4. Blog posts that don’t deliver on their titles
    • This general rule covers the rest of the broken promises of over-hyped blog post titles and descriptions on social linking sites. Saying you’ve got a jaw-dropping picture and showing me some screenshot from a game is just about as lame as saying you’re going to list 5 things and only listing 4.
Posted by James at 8:52 AM | Comments (14)

March 13, 2007

Defender: Invented By A Programmer!

Or: can 40,000 consumers and Kevin Costner1 be wrong?

I have an idea for a new product. It’s going to be great. It’ll be called “The Defender.”

It’ll have flashy packaging. It’ll say “Invented by a Programmer” on the packaging. It will strongly imply that it prevents the spread of colds. It will be high priced for what you get, but still affordable for most.

Inside will be a bar of regular soap. Not even antibacterial soap - just regular soap. The instructions will read:

To reduce your chance of catching a cold, wash your hands vigorously using this soap and some warm water for at least 30 seconds. Repeat every time you are about to put anything in your mouth or before you touch your face. To reduce your chances of spreading a cold, wash your hands after touching your face or blowing your nose.

Because washing your hands before you touch your face or put anything into your mouth is the best method for preventing the spread of a cold. And it’s not the antibacterial ingredients in the soap that are doing the work.

This post is, of course, inspired by “Airborne” - a product you can now find at any drug store. One which leads the consumer to believe that it will prevent the spread of colds (take it before you get on a plane… it was invented by a teacher!)

Noted skeptic Michael Shermer writes about Airborne in his Scientific American column in which he references this great blog post on the subject.

You should really read those two links, but the boil-down is that Airborne doesn’t have evidence to support its claims, so it is forced to do a fancy song and dance. Yet the brand remains strong, and the company rakes in the cash from credulous people who want to avoid getting sick. But I suspect my idea of an actual effective treatment for colds would be harder to market, because people are at least smart enough to realize that they can get the same benefit from any soap. Successful marketing has to convince them that our product works sufficiently better that it is worth buying over the other available products.

Is marketing, in this case, the same as lying? How wide is the line between telling someone something false, and just leading them to believe something false? I don’t think it’s a very wide line at all. In theory, it’s a wide line. If I say to you “I know for a fact Airborne cure colds” I am lying; I can’t back up the statement. But what if I put cute drawings of germs on the package, and tell you to take it “at the first sign of cold symptoms”, and say it’s soothing, and get a bunch of endorsements? What if i know that most people will assume, from all this, that it is a cold remedy? In my estimation, this is a rhetorically safe form of lying. however, it’s lying, but with different rationalization. I am rationalizing that “if you look closely enough, you’ll see that I don’t claim it cures colds.” So it’s not my fault if you come to that conclusion.

However, if I say ‘it cures colds” I could also rationalize by saying “if you did your own study, you’d see that it doesn’t cure colds.” And therefore it’s not my fault. Poof! The lie disappears! Not really.

We have to draw a line somewhere for legal reasons, and apparently Airborne does not cross that legal line. But it certainly crosses an ethical line, in my estimation. Making money selling snake oil is unethical. But the practical reality is that you do have to be the one who draws that line. You must be actively wary in your consumption of advertising. Start from the assumption that they’re wrong; the burden of proof is on them.


As you can see from this image, Airborne is no longer one product, it’s a freaking phenomenon with a whole lot of different variations. Including a version to help you inculcate your kids.

1 Apparently, Kevin Costner endorses the stuff. “Look, Airborne is great. I wouldn’t go on a movie set without it; it’s on my plane and in my house.”

Posted by James at 8:28 AM | Comments (13)

March 12, 2007

Would You Rather

I’m a little disconnected today, so you’re getting a weird one.

Would you rather:

  • Have a distractingly-attractive mole on your face (which people would tend to fixate on) or
  • Be unnoticeably plain
Posted by James at 11:22 AM | Comments (21)

Conversation Is Cheep

A conversation with M around bedtime tonight. The subject is Mario Kart for DS, which I lent her to play with the other day.

M: “I played the level where you have to get 5 cheep-cheeps with the star. It’s harder than you think.”

Me: “Really? How do you know how hard I think it is?”

M: “How hard do you think it is?”

Me: “I think it’s harder than I think it is.”

M: “It’s harder than that.”

She had me there. Maggie often finds it annoying to talk to me about the simplest things, but my kids are already experts.

Posted by James at 1:28 AM | Comments (15)

March 11, 2007

Monkeying With Time

As an experiment, I am setting all of the clocks in our house an hour ahead. Just to see what happens. I plan to keep it this way until probably some time in the autumn.

If you want to follow along at home, turn your own clocks ahead one hour.

Yes - it’s crazy, I know. But humor me.

Posted by James at 8:35 PM | Comments (3)

March 9, 2007

Thornfield Shotgun

Bonus news:

Posted by James at 9:54 AM | Comments (4)

March 8, 2007

Advertainment Unbound

The Wall Street Journal published this article yesterday about the blurring lines between advertising and entertainment, and the plans for a new TV show starring the caveman from the Geico commercials.

Changes in advertising are not new. We’re used to “commercial breaks in TV shows” model, but over the years and generations we’ve seen many others. Stars have endorsed products on their own TV and radio shows, “product placements” have annoyed and amused us in movies, and the football disinterested have looked forward to ads during the Super Bowl, just to name a few examples.

New media brings new examples. Subservient Chicken and other viral advertising come to mind. I can’t say that the new Burger King character has made me want to eat hamburgers, but there have been some successes in getting your customers to spread the word for you.

Blogs give an opportunity to get the word out at the grassroots level. I have used my blog to spread the word about products I like, which is a sort of unpaid advertising.

I’m someone who often finds advertising to be a negative force. I used to read Adbusters and even won a subscription from them for submitting a website parody once. Even so, I’m not philosophically against advertising or marketing, I just think that it unduly invades our consciousness. At home, we use it as a teaching opportunity to practice critical thinking skills. You can turn advertising into a positive force. As with many aspects of life, when you reflect on it and discuss it, you change the impact it has.

Speaking of impact, entertainment, advertising and characters, seeing the Caveman and “The King” together on the screen made me think of a new idea for advertainment. Make corporate mascots live together in an apartment and turn it into a series a la “The Real World.”

On second thought, it’s just not edgy enough. Solution? Corporate Mascot Cage-Fighing. The appeal is obvious.

Posted by James at 11:55 AM | Comments (13)

March 6, 2007

5 Stupid Things To Say To James Spader

Ryan says he saw James Spader in Marion recently. This prompted me to create…

5 Stupid Things To Say To James Spader

  1. Dude, you were awesome in “The Breakfast Club.”
  2. Can you introduce me to Molly Ringwald?
  3. Look, it’s Judd Nelson!
  4. Can you introduce me to Captain Kirk?
  5. Dude… Mannequin… WTF?

Hey, I did say they were stupid things.

On an administrative note, my posts are probably going to be shorter or less frequent over the next few weeks. There are complications at work and home, and I won’t have a lot of attention for the blog. But I won’t be abandoning it, because I am a addicted to blogging.

Posted by James at 3:12 PM | Comments (11)

U.S. Attorney Purge

I’m playing catch up on this story. If you are, too, Brian Igo has a good post on EAForums here bringing you up to speed on events in this developing news story.

The very quick summary is that a bunch of U. S. Attorneys (prosecutors for the government) were asked for their resignations by the Bush administration. The administration justification behind these resignations was that they were being requested for performance reasons, (even though some of the dismissed had a history of winning high profile cases). Now people have testified that the reasons were political. Some of the cases under investigation were, of course, Republican scandals.

Additionally, Bush was able to do this apparently political purge via some changes put in place by the Patriot Act.

As I said, I’m still playing catch up on this story. But, as I pointed out to Maggie last night, even though we’ve been getting screwed for 6 plus years, it’s amazing how the Bush administration keeps coming up with creative new ways to screw over the country. It’s like he’s got a Kama Sutra of political sleaze.

If anyone has enlightening links or information about this story, feel free to add them to the comments.

Posted by James at 2:50 PM | Comments (4)

March 5, 2007

Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp (2006)

This Oscar-Nominated documentary was more engaging than I expected it to be, at times touching and poignant. The difficulty is in the focus on the children, who have the same energy, hopes and fears that many children do as they approach double digit age.

Tori likes to dance, but wants you to know that she, too, sometimes has to catch herself when she’s dancing for the flesh rather than for God. Rachael is a very bright girl who imagines that working in a nail salon would be an ideal job for her because she could reach people with her message when their walls were down. Levi feels the power and attention that comes with being a charismatic speaker and likes the feeling of God speaking through him.

I was surprised at how honest the film was. Of the people depicted, only Ted Haggard disapproved of how he was portrayed (I expect it’s because he doesn’t like looking in a mirror, and he’s kind of a jerk). Clearly, these people believe deeply and the film is no threat to that belief because it portrays what their doing: spreading that belief any way possible.

One lasting impression is the passion and intelligence of these normal kids, and that the ministry is so frank in its use of that energy.

Indeed, as Becky Fischer, the leader of the child ministry says, these children are truly useful in their culture war. The comparison between these children and the indoctrination of Muslim children in madrassas has been criticized, but that comparison isn’t voiced by the filmmakers, it comes directly from the described motivation of the camp organizer.

Looking out at the crowd of kids, though, I really did wonder how much the message sticks in the long term. While there was a general demonizing of Harry Potter, one child laughs at meal time that his mother won’t let him watch it, so he watches at his father’s house. This sort of thing is precisely the focus later on, as the children are urged to reconcile their sinful behavior of acting one way in church and another way among their friends, prompting buckets of tears and reaching out to God.

I recommend this film. I couldn’t help but like the kids. You do get the feeling that, just as they are told, they are destined to make their mark on the world. The moment when Levi meets Haggard, the young and budding preacher may feel like he’s peering into his future. Haggard gives him the advice to “go with that cute kid thing” and by the time he’s older he’ll have some real content, simultaneously belittling him and giving us a peek behind the curtain. Young Levi’s smile is frozen oddly at the moment he receives the crass, petulantly jealous advice. Does Levi know there is something phony here, or does he just feel a hitch in all the positive energy that’s been flowing his way? More importantly, what does Haggard have to fear from the attention this little kid gets; what’s his motivation to criticise the boy who just told him his favorite subject to preach on is “faith?”

Maybe, at a base level, the liberal boogeyman is not what these people fear most. Instead, they fear the energy of the a young generation which is born eager to seek and learn and question. Children are ready-made to change the world with their imaginations unbounded by manufactured shackles. New life finds its own way. This fearful energy becomes something to be bent and harnessed, since it cannot be denied.

Posted by James at 1:04 PM | Comments (2)

Would You Rather?

Would You Rather…

  • Have X-Ray vision or
  • The ability to hear any conversation taking place anywhere?

and why, and what would you do with it?

Posted by James at 7:56 AM | Comments (29)

March 4, 2007

Space Peril

Astronaut Sunita Williams was recently quoted as saying:
“I don’t think we’re going to use it anymore,” she said. “It’s too dangerous.”

What hazard was she speaking of, which caused a week-long cleanup in the space station and has now been banished to storage?

A tube of wasabi. If it was anything like the tube I have in my fridge, you definitely don’t want that stuff floating around in zero G.

Read about the “toxic” spill here.

Posted by James at 11:42 PM

Your Early Cooking

What was the first thing you remember learning how to cook for yourself?

If that’s too vague:

  • What food do you remember preparing with help from someone else?
  • What food do you remember preparing without help from someone else?
  • What food were you first proud you could make from scratch?
  • How did you progress from there?

The first thing I remember preparing is toast. I love bread, and I’ve always loved toast. The toast I first prepared was Syrian bread with Promise margarine heated over a gas stove flame. With a little help from Mom.

Later, I prepared it for myself.

Before I left my parents’ house, I didn’t really cook much. I began to prepare a hearty lunch of choriço (Portuguese spicy pork sausage to the unfamiliar) and sliced potatoes. All this consists of is sliced potatoes (about 1/4 inch thick or so) fried in a nonstick or iron pan with choriço sausage and a little oil. Most of the fat to fry the potatoes is rendered out of the sausage. When the surface of the potatoes gets slightly crispy, and the potatoes are tender inside, it’s done. The only challenge is to avoid burning the sausage and make sure the potatoes are cooked through. It’s not much of a challenge at all. This is eaten with utensils, or tossed into a loaf of Syrian bread and rolled up.

By that time I was working at McDonalds, so I became familiar with eggs. Scrambled, fried, whatever. Not very interesting, though.

I was really proud (wrongly so) of my “stir-fry chicken” which was an abomination on stir-fry. I knew zero about stir-fry, and just tossed a too much sliced chicken into a wok with some oil and then covered it with a soy sauce and sugar concoction that was vaguely Asian. Oh yeah, there was garlic in there, too, which was its saving grace.

The surfeit of chicken would cool down the wok too much, preventing any kind of frying. By the time it heated back up, I was boiling the chicken in the sauce. The chicken tasted OK, if a little too salty, and the sauce was too runny. Paired with rice, it was kind of a joke. And there were no veggies. Sometimes, I would marinate the chicken and that would be even saltier.

A college friend from China, Danhua, saw me preparing it once and was very kind in her criticism. I explained that I’d pretty much made the thing up, and she asked me what i was using to thicken it. (Nothing, I didn’t know about thickeners). She explained corn starch to me. After some experiments with corn starch, I started to realize my sauce was too salty, and the whole thing was not stir fry in any case.

Maggie and I were soon wedded and living together, and at some time in our early marriage we bought a book of 1000 Chinese recipes and I started to get an idea of what the heck a stir fry was, and how vegetables figure in. And to use ginger. Things improved rapidly after that, but I have to say that Maggie’s lasagna sustained us through the novice cooking years.

[This post edited to fix horrible typos, grammar and awkward wording]

Posted by James at 2:50 PM | Comments (5)

March 3, 2007

Mainstream Conservative Coulter

Invariably it happens that if you complain about Ann Coulter in a group of reasonable people, and some of those people count themselves as conservatives, or moderate conservatives, somebody will pipe up and say something like “Yeah, but that’s Ann Coulter.” “Ann Coulter doesn’t represent Republicans.” “You can’t attribute what Ann Coulter says to other conservatives.”

Trying to be both kind and, I thought, accurate, I myself once wrote:

Ann Coulter jumped the shark a while ago, but now nobody can take her seriously. She doesn’t speak for the Republican party — of course not. I don’t even think you can call nutfudgery like that conservative.

I’m so naïve when I’m trying to be nice.

You might have heard that Ann Coulter is gaining attention again (it’s what she does best) and this time she’s doing it by using offensive epithets to refer to John Edwards. Details at ThinkProgress: Coulter: I Would Talk About Edwards But “You Have To Go Into Rehab If You Use The Word ‘Faggot’” Including video of Coulter. And video of Mitt Romney all excited that Coulter is about to grace the audience with her wisdom.

I really don’t like to post about Ann Coulter. The criticism is too easy. It’s ready-made for liberal blogs to disseminate, and we generally eat it up. I know I’ve bitten a few times, but over the years I saw that it was just self-promotion and I didn’t want to contribute. I had convinced myself that mainstream conservatives largely ignored her, so what’s the point of repeatedly taking aim at an intentionally extremist lightningrod/attention-whore? Ever since that run in with Matt Lauer over her using the 9/11 widows to attack liberals.

It happens that the latest bout of Coulterrhea comes as I was thinking about the term “wingnut” that I have taken to using lately. I adopted the term “wingnut” (short for “right wing nut” I guess) in an attempt to more precisely frame my criticisms. Although there isn’t a precise definition, and I’m not the one who coined the term, “wingnut” may be a person who thinks of himself as a conservative, but holds a subset of views I think are kooky and perhaps out of the mainstream. Among them:

  • You can’t be a good citizen if you’re not a Christian.
  • Teachers should be allowed to be armed at school.
  • This is a Christian nation
  • Liberals are traitors. / Dissent is traitorous.
  • The 10 Commandments belong in the courtroom.
  • It is OK to produce embryonic cells for fertility purposes, but not to use those cells in research.
  • Families are based on having two people with differing genitalia, not based on a loving bond.
  • Some form of religious creationism should be taught in schools, to counterbalance science.

Generally, I’m less interested in using the term “wingnut” to refer to people than I am to use it to distinguish between more moderate conservatives and “wingnuts.” If I complained that all conservatives believed this stuff, that would be tarring conservatives unjustly. Even if I called it “extreme conservatism” that presumes that these views are legitimate conservatism taken to an extreme, and some might take issue with that. “Wingnut” is safer. It is unflattering to be described as a “nut” for your views, but I feel the slightly pejorative nature of the word heightens the distinction between wingnuts and moderates.

A parallel discussion can occur around religious terms. Some have proposed the term “Christianist” as an analogy to “Islamist.” When one group wants to be thought of as mainstream, even though they are a radical group trying to take over the majority, the need for new terms arises. It ought to be especially important for those within the larger group, but they usually welcome the attention at first, and later it is too late.

Back to Ann Coulter. She definitely has the patter of a wingnut down. Why should we care? Why have I changed my mind about Coulter?

One difference between wingnut and other conservative can be described thusly: a conservative might credibly be able to say “I don’t listen to Ann Coulter; she doesn’t represent my views.” Heck, anyone can say that, but you might be inclined to believe your friendly neighborhood Massachusetts conservative. She wasn’t elected, but she certainly has been selected. So who does she represent?

Let’s look at this recent brouhaha. Coulter spoke at CPAC 2007 - the largest conservative conference of the year. So, conservatives as a group, love them some Ann Coulter. Romney practically drooled his introduction: “I am happy to hear that after you hear from me, you will hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing. Oh yeah!” and he wasn’t drooling over her looks. He was drooling over her endorsement, which came later when she described him as probably the best candidate out there. Maybe she meant the best candidate who isn’t “the gay.” Who knows?

And the crowd cheered her and her offensive remarks. Her books are bestsellers. She is invited to speak at the largest conservative conference with people like Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani. Shes’ a darling of Fox “fair and balanced” News. Does this seem to you to be someone out on the fringe, shunned by the mainstream? It looks more to me like the popular and energizing voice of the mainstream. The right-wing echo machine that goes into apoplexy when John Edwards hires for his website a blogger who has been known to use a dirty word or two embraces Coulter whole-heartedly.

Since Coulter dropped her bomb, Romney has very lightly criticised what she said. But if everyone and his conservative uncle is telling me that Coulter is a whacko and I shouldn’t criticise conservatives based on her screeds, why didn’t people running for the highest political office in the land see this coming? What she said at CPAC 2007 isn’t even close to the more objectionable things she’s said. Nor the only time she’s said something similar. It’s like inviting Carlos Mencia to speak and not expecting to get stolen, racist jokes.

Romney, your comment that Coulter’s words wore offensive is a joke. You glowingly introduced her knowing she was offensive. That’s Ann Coulter. And, apparently, that’s the heart of today’s conservative movement. You either want her, or you don’t want her.

This pretty much ends my ability to believe that conservatives don’t like Coulter, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity, Malkin and others when they pull their bad boy/girl routines. There’s a reason why they’re not only popular, but given the opportunity to speak for conservatives. And if the conservative world were to shun Ann Coulter, that would only make a vacuum to be filled by some other voice of a conservative movement that agrees with her offensive statements.

Face it, “moderate conservatives.” You’re dispossessed and marginalized. Or, face it and pucker up to Coulter and today’s conservatism.

So maybe I should consider retiring the term “wingnut” and use “conservative.” And come up with a new term for those who are appalled at Coulter and don’t want to see her speaking at big conservative events or as the conservative voice on Fox.


In case you want to tell me that Romney is considered a marginal candidate, Fox is already sucking up to him.

Posted by James at 12:23 PM | Comments (10)

March 2, 2007

Torrential Shotgun

It's raining! Hard!

  • Sprout (flash,game)
    • Check out "Sprout" - a prettily charcoal-illustrated adventure game.
  • Magenta Ain't A Colour (science,psychology,illusion)
    • Why does your brain think "pink" exists when there's no such color in the rainbow?
  • Photographer's Rights Page (aclu,privacy,reference,society,photography,law,politics)
    • If someone challenges you while you're taking pictures out in public, maybe you should have a sheet with your rights printed on it.
  • Detonate (game,fun,flash)
    • Don't let the bombs hit the city. Stop them by dragging them into each other. Aiii!
  • Printable Cold Sores (activism,advertising,funny,humor,society)
    • Make your ads a little less perfect with these stick-on sores. Found by Bob McC.
  • The Integrator--Integrals from Mathematica (education,math,online,useful,tools)
    • A website that will compute an integral for you. Whee!
  • Variety Is The Spice Of Life: Limited Edition Candy (food,funny,humor,parody)
    • These are limited edition candies you never wanted to see.
  • Pimp My Cubicle Office Survival: Office Products (funny,office,decoration)
    • Now you can express your individuality, even from within the soul-crushing depths of a cube-farm. Tip o' the hat to Sara D.
  • Foolyoo (flash,games,japanese)
    • Slice the monsters with your sword. You're going to have to figure most of it out on your own; that's part of the fun.
  • Religetables (video,parody,humor,funny)
    • Religious vegetables? Why does that sound familiar?
Posted by James at 11:38 AM | Comments (7)

March 1, 2007


Fuzzy math time.

It’s the eve of your 17th birthday. Tomorrow you’ll be 17. When someone asks you how old you are, is it truthful to say you’re 18?

Yesterday, I heard someone (a city councilor) talking about the homicides in Fall River. There have been 3 already this year, and the last one happened on the night of Feb 27th. This fellow was saying (and I paraphrase) “Well, the usual homicide rate is one per month. February is almost over, so basically we’ve had 3 homicides in 3 months.” Er, what?

1 month (January) plus .964 months (not having actually made it through February) equals 1.964 months by my calculations, or less than 2 months. Rounding up, you get 2 months. You can’t round up further.

1+.96 ≠ 3

No matter how you slice it, Fall River has gotten 3 homicides in about 2 months, on target for 18/year, not 12/year. You can argue that 2 months is too small a sample. You can try to argue it’s an anomaly. But as soon as you try to tell me that by the end of February, 3 months have passed (and that’s what you’re saying if you say it’s 3 months) then how can I believe anything else you say after that?

The age example at the beginning of this post is actually less outrageous. Proportionally, saying it’s 3 when it’s 2 is more like saying you’re 18 when you’re almost 12!

That’s councilor lawyer logic, not mathematics.

My father told me a story of a lawyer he knew who was flying with his son in January. I guess there were special rates for kids under 12. His son was already 12, having turned 12 in April of the previous year, and so was not eligible for the discount.

The airline representative asked him “How old is your son.”

The lawyer replied “He’ll be 12 on February 20th.”

They assumed the kid was 11 and gave him the discount. The lawyer was intentionally misleading, but technically truthful.

On a completely unrelated subject, can you make it through this video on YouTube : The Final Countdown? I actually couldn’t.

And, just for reference and to clear the palate, this is Europe performing their famous song.

I just thought you needed a laugh.

Posted by James at 8:29 AM | Comments (9)

In Stabbing News

Sometimes, people spend a bunch of time writing a blog post in their web browser, and then something happens and they lose that post. That’s an exhausting experience, because sometimes a blog author just doesn’t have the energy to rant the same rant twice.

That didn’t happen to me. I wrote a long post about stabbings that have happened over the last few days. One at UMass Dartmouth, one in Fall river (fatal), one in New Bedford where a man allegedly stabbed his wheelchair-bound brother and finally this one so that Boston-area folks don’t feel left out.

Then there was this editorial about the Iraq war that had lots of fancy footwork intended to convince you that people who changed their mind about the war once they realized they’d been lied to should be ashamed of themselves. That was almost as boring and depressing as the stabbings.

None of my comments on these stories were very helpful. So I deleted my post before I posted it, and I thought I’d say something about something else.

Sometimes it’s fun to vent negative feelings on a blog. But sometimes 3 days will go by and I don’t feel like I have anything positive to say, or time to develop the positive thoughts into a post. But 5 or 6 negative posts will occur to me and I just feel like if I have to think up something to round out those ideas into a fill post I’ll just feel like I want to barf. Maybe I’m just over-tired and stressed. But sometimes crappy news is just plain overwhelming and it feels like it’s creeping into my brain.

It reminds me of the time I had to walk out of a Stephen Seagal movie. I was embarrassed at the time, because I was a fan of plenty of violent action movies. Stephen Seagal wasn’t Oscar material, but I used to enjoy watching the Aikido in his earliest films. Even lamer by today’s standards, compared to some of the amazing martial arts you can get on DVD. In any case, maybe Stevie was getting old, but he traded in his Aikido for shooting people left and right. Not just the really bad guys, but some oil rig workers who were probably peons in this organization who probably had families and whatnot. The negativity was just seeping into my brain, and you definitely can’t enjoy an action movie if you’re worried about the family of the guy Stephen Seagal just shot. The guy just came to work that day to work the oil equipment and he got killed but good and that’s great entertainment.

Ironically, one of the most profound and emotional movie moments in my life. In a freaking Stephen Seagal film. I got to my feet and walked out. And it was over a year before I fully enjoyed another action movie, having built my resistance back up against the negativity.

If the usual coping mechanism of snarky/clever quips fails, the engine overheats and it’s time for a time out.

Posted by James at 1:35 AM | Comments (4)