July 31, 2007

Armed Stupidity

Four people were stupidentally (definition) killed and 17 were injured after Iraq won a game of football and men celebrated by shooting their guns into the air.

Apparently, dancing in the end zone or pumping one’s fist in the air is insufficient.

Look, Iraq. I can understand you’ve been through a lot. I also understand that violent death in your country is commonplace because of the ongoing conflict. But I can’t help but feel you need to strengthen your respect for human life before things are going to get better. Apparently, there is no taboo against shooting your weapons in the air even after you’ve endured repeated incidents where people were killed in such celebrations.

This is disturbing. Because I don’t think your problems can be solved (with or without American help) if you aren’t worried about what your bullet shot in the air might do, or whether your neighbor is shooting his gun in the air.

It is said that an armed society is a polite society. The middle east does not want for armed societies. But it is clear that there comes a point when politeness is the least of your worries. If your neighbors are stupid or careless, just try approaching them and their assault rifles to explain to them how they ought to smarten up.

An armed society is an experiment in power stupidity.

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

Man vs. Domicile: 12 Pack

Man vs. Domocile

Shortening the 12 Pack

I hear that “Man vs. Wild” is pretty popular. I hereby create “Man vs. Domicile.” One man’s struggle to survive in the savage domestic living space.

In this episode, I find that a 12-pack does not fit into the fridge at work. This is frustrating, because a 12-Pack like this is specifically designed for refrigerators. But the door won’t close with it in there!

I have triumphed over this hostile environment by ripping open the 12-pack, taking 2 of the cans out of and bending back the cardboard both to keep the remaining cans in and shorten the box so the fridge door closes.

Man vs. Domicile. Man wins again.

Posted by James at 12:38 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

July 30, 2007

Police Stop Religion Overdose In Progress

Fatal Ending to Ariz. Exorcism Response

Law enforcement prevented a man from killing his granddaughter (religiously) and the old man died once the girl was safely in the hands of an ostensibly-less-devout relative.

A bloody, naked 19-year-old woman who police later determined to be Marquez’s daughter and the girl’s mother was in the room, chanting “something that was religious in nature,” Tranter said.

Translation: she was babbling something incomprehensible and mentioned god. Someone had apparently convinced the lot of them of the existence of powerful yet invisible forces against which they felt they had to use extreme measures.

In this country, you have the right to believe in any goofy crap you want to. It’s a freedom. Freedoms are important.

If this were, say, someone trying to force feed a child drugs… if the mother and grandfather had been high, we’d probably be hearing at least some people advocating for tougher drug laws. The reason there is no talk of “finding this family’s suppliers” is because it isn’t against the law (for the most part) to delude people. And even many forms of fraud, couched the right way, are legal if they involve you believing something bizarre.

I’m no fan of illegal drugs. Friends will attest that I have been “a square” about mind altering substances throughout my life. But I have to wonder why we are more willing to regulate what people put into their own bodies than what they put into their minds.

I don’t think the government has any business regulating what beliefs you put in your brain. I think the known dangers of wacky beliefs don’t1 outweigh the freedom we need to think what we want. The horrible track record of government attempts to the regulate what you put into your body should dissuade anyone from considering a thought police. (Ask Walter Cronkite) Heck, I even think the government needs to stand aside when parents put wacky ideas into their children’s heads (marginally). And those kids are defenseless!

The bizarre truth is that the amount of respect for certain thoughts is skewed, considering the lack of respect to your individual choices elsewhere. Why not just give people the right to choose what they put into their bodies AND minds?

Are drugs just plain too dangerous? Even disregarding the dangers of religion, you see this reality twisting come to a head in cases where illegal drug use was allowed for reasons of religious belief. So, if you’ve got one sort of delusion it’s OK to experiment with your brain chemistry.

On the other hand, at that point what do you have to lose?

Let’s put an end to the war on drugs and spend that money elsewhere. Isn’t there some country we could invade?

Government oversteps when it tries to regulate what you as an individual choose to put into your body and mind. Its role is better relegated to helping you avoid putting something into you don’t want. I think it’s up to people, to influence each other regarding what is good to put into your body and mind, and then let the individual decide.

1 Oops, I left out the word “don’t” and needed to edit this for meaning after the fact.

Posted by James at 9:12 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 29, 2007

Uncanny Scorpion?

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Spike the scorpion seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

“He doesn’t make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die,” said Dr. Angus Dobb in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The 2-year-old arachnid was adopted as a scorpling and grew up at the Stern House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Spike would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He’d observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Dobb said Spike seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. “This is not a scorpion that’s friendly to people,” he said.

Spike is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Jill Gato of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill

She was convinced of Spike’s talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Gato said she noticed the woman wasn’t eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.

Spike wouldn’t stay inside the room though, so Gato thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor’s prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient’s final two hours, nurses told Gato that Spike joined the woman at her bedside.
Posted by James at 2:48 AM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2007

Brain Cloud Shotgun

Remember the Twitter.

Posted by James at 11:28 AM | Comments (4)

July 26, 2007

Breakfast at the Computer

I’ve never really been a “breakfast in bed” kinda guy. I don’t want to eat in bed, and I don’t like to hang around in bed unless I’m tired or sick. However, my wife and I have been treated to breakfast in bed by the kids on occasion.

One would wake up to clanging and loud whispering echoing up the stairs. Chairs moving so that little people could get to high things. The word “oops!” And, usually, an admonition or two from our oldest daughter to our youngest daughter. “M!”

Maggie and I would wait uneasily to find out what the product of all the noise would be, and what the kids had planned for us. Eventually, the girls would make it up the stairs and come into the room. In their arms would be large bowls — mixing bowls. “We made you breakfast in bed!”

Very thoughtful — a bowl filled with one of my favorite cereals (from the cupboard). Approximately 3 servings of cereal. Enough milk for about 4 servings. Thus the need for a very large bowl. The children, beaming at us, jumping excitedly at the accomplishment.

“Thank you so much! I love this cereal! Um, where’s my spoon?”

A deflated voice replies, “It’s way down low.”

Today, Maggie was getting the girls ready to leave for an early appointment. I was flopped in front of the computer trying to absorb the morning’s news while my brain fully activated itself.

Just before she left, my wife thoughtfully came through the office door and presented me with one of the smaller mixing bowls (we tend to run out of the cereal bowls quickly at our house) containing a reasonable serving of cereal, and a non-submerged spoon! Breakfast at the computer! It’s the little moments of thoughtfulness that really make your day.

Maggie presented me with the mixing bowl: “Here, do you want this? I made it for M, but she won’t eat out of this bowl.”

Illusion shattered, I still enjoyed the cereal.

Posted by James at 9:03 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 25, 2007

Government Web and the Future

A story in the ProJo this morning mentions a Brown University analysis of how effectively US state government make use of the internet. RI came up 30th from 32nd last year and Massachusetts had a huge jump from the 20’s to now being in 6th place.

For some reason this reminded me of college days with my friends. I remember it being clear to us that so many things would make sense if the information were stored electronically. At the time, computers were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are now. Libraries still used card catalogs. Nobody, outside of universities, knew what electronic mail was or had an email address. It wasn’t until AOL and, really, Web browsers that there was an explosion of computer access to the point where people started feeling it was worth the effort to get data into electronic form so that eventually people could have access to it.

However, for a while, we were frustrated at the obvious possibilities and wondered how long it would take before things that you can easily find now on the Mass.gov website — like renewing one’s license, or searching the Mass General Laws would come to fruition.

What obvious near-future possibility exists today, where society is lagging behind the adoption of technology, but the technology is there? I don’t know if there is an obvious one, but I would have to say that an analogous one would not be some advance in interfaces or faster internet. I think that perhaps more automated methods of gathering and organizing information for retrieval would be a significant improvement over the manpower and time that goes into today’s information tech.

The web we have is work intensive and mostly hand-crafted. But it’s also limited by some human’s prior judgment of whether it’s worth the work to make the information available, and how. Automate that job and factor in advances in both storage and intelligent retrieval and you have an explosion of information that gets assembled after the fact rather than before, allowing the uses of that data to be discovered rather than pre-determined.

What do you think? What technology advance is awaiting us around the corner? Aside from the obvious self-chilling chocolate-covered banana. And invisible Hawaiian shirts.

Posted by James at 8:41 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 23, 2007

Haircut Wars

When he was governor here, some of us used to call Romney “Governor Haircut.” Those of us who just couldn’t believe Romney got elected here were pretty frustrated with the guy, especially since he spent so much of his time out of state promoting himself. It seemed like we either had a choice between him being an absent state official or, when he was around, he tried to tell a bunch of Massachusetts residents that he didn’t think their constitutionally-allowed marriages should count because… well, I guess because he thinks he knows what’s better for them.

In any case, Romney’s grooming has been in the news. But it doesn’t eclipse another candidate’s hair coverage. An outrageous expensive haircut is certainly humorous, but I object when somehow it’s considered hypocrisy. I object even more loudly when it is considered a recurring and valid news story.

Hypocrisy is when you say you’re a compassionate conservative but your policies boil down to “the rich get richer, the faster, the better.” It is not when you promote policies to help struggling Americans and when you yourself are living well.

I guess I can understand an aversion to richy-rich candidates on a gut level. But you have to buy into some odd logic to believe that someone’s a phony when they say they want to help the poor when they themselves are not poor. It’s the kind of logic that makes sense if you yourself are comfortable and you object to efforts to help struggling Americans.

Posted by James at 10:46 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Would You Rather

Would you rather:

  • Be able to run 60 MPH for an hour per day or
  • Be able to carry 1,000 lbs with the same ease you carry half your body weight now.
Posted by James at 12:11 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Taiko 2007

Taiko

Taiko!

Maggie posted a description of our evening in Newport watching taiko drumming at the Newport Black Ships Festival. I’ve tossed some photos up onto Flickr.

Also, here’s a brief video:


Posted by James at 11:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 21, 2007

Constitution Underway Demonstration

Stern View

U.S.S. Constitution

Last week’s U.S.S. Constitution underway demonstration was an amazing experience. I’ve taken some pictures and added captions to a Flickr set here.

We met with Bill and some family members at 8:30 that morning for refreshments in the CO’s office. Soon, we were led off by one of Constitution’s gallant tars to board the ship. We had a good hour before we left the dock, and so we explored all three decks of the ship.

Many people were already aboard, and they continued to board over the ensuing hour. There were hundreds of people on board, from all over the country. Many were wide-eyed in disbelief of their good fortune at having the opportunity to take part in this underway demonstration on a ship with such a storied history.

The official party boarded including Navy officials in their dress whites, a contrast to the crew of Constitution who were all in period uniform. Also aboard were a squad of marines in period uniform, complete with their long-barreled guns.

The ship flew a giant United States flag and we set off for the other end of the harbor.

When we got out to Fort Independence, someone on shore was firing off salutes to the Constitution. In return, the captain ordered the cannon to be fired in our own salute. Earplugs were provided to protect our hearing, and I was thankful to have them.

The cannon fire aboard Constitution was a unique feeling. While I heard the explosions, saw and smelled the smoke, the most dramatic aspect was feeling the pounding of the guns run up through the deck all the way to the crown of my head. Every cannon shot was a multi-sense experience. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be aboard Constitution with all the cannon firing, or when a cannonball famously bounced off the hull.

Constitution came about for the return trip and the crew had activities for the children on board — setting them on a treasure hunt for clues aboard the ship. It was a great idea, because after 2 hours on board, the children were getting worn out.

Halfway back, the crew cleared the main hatch and the Marines formed a line to fire off a salute of their own.

All in all it was a very rich and singular experience, and something I never imagined we’d be doing.

I am grateful for the opportunity, and wish “Bull” all the best luck with his command!

Posted by James at 10:48 AM | Comments (5)

July 20, 2007

Coffee, Civets and Shotguns

This post did not pass through the digestive tract of a civet. But it does mention both coffee and civets, separately.

  • Lily Allen's Third Nipple (tv,video,music,sex,culture,Britain)
    • The thing that strikes me most about this is that Lily Allen innocently shows a third nipple on British TV and the entire country did not explode into uncontrollable puritanical rage. How does that happen? Are all of Britain's moralists in comas? And would they mind if we shipped over a few of ours? We have a surfeit.
  • From a “pants lawsuit” to a right-wing talking point (politics,sneaky)
    • It's probably going to be the new "McDonalds scalded coffee lady" rallying cry to erode consumer rights. They're already fundraising on it. You only have to look at half the blogs on the internet to see how strongly people reacted.
  • Thames & Kosmos - Science Kits (engineering,science,kids,shopping,toys)
    • Science kits for kids (of all ages). Rui sent this link along, and I thank him. The microcontroller lab looks extremely cool!
  • Generation Chickenhawk: the Unauthorized College Republican Convention Tour (funny,video,republicans,war)
    • Derek provides this link to the best college Republican video ever. I feel bad for the high school student who prays not to be gay.
  • AdultSheepFinder (animals,humor,parody)
    • No, it's not about mutton or wool. Ewe.
  • Real Iced Coffee - A Mighty Appetite (recipes,coffee,drink)
    • Make iced coffee without a machine and without all the acid of heat-brewed coffee. A definite improvement over other methods of homemade iced coffee, according to Maggie's efforts this week.

Also: my Twitter feed is updated all the time. And my list of friends is just waiting to become your list of friends.

BONUS:

From the archives of Aces Full. Who made this comment? Care to guess?

Grown people dressed as furry animals, spraying eachother with civet oil and simulating sex whilst in their costumes...how could you ever forget that?
Posted by James at 8:58 AM | Comments (19)

July 19, 2007

Eschewing Collectivism

Years ago I heard it said that software developers don’t need a union. I’m not prepared to launch into an argument for and against unions, or even whether they apply to professional positions like software development. But I want to point out that discussion years ago, the point was that professionals could individually negotiate their own benefits when they are hired. They didn’t need protection from their employer.

The idea of protection from an employer may be a gross over simplification of the benefits of collective decision-making. An example of why comes up in this American Prospect article on the difference between vacation here in the USA and vacation in France.

The virtues of collective decision are highlighted here:

Here in the sweltering D.C. summer, there’s nothing worse than wearing a necktie when the thermometer reads 95 and the humidity is so thick you could swim laps. But on your own, there’s not much you can do about this state of affairs. If you’re the only one who shows up dressed down, you’ll look bad for it. But if your office, or meeting, were to collectively decide to ease the dress code, all would be better off.

This is what the European Union just did, imposing new regulations on its bureaucrats barring ties in the summer. Cutting down on air-conditioning costs was the rationale, but centralized action was the only way to end the practice. Otherwise, every individual would still have had the incentive to show his commitment by dressing in a tie. Only the collective could remove that spur.

The relatively brief article has other points to make about vacation, so I recommend reading it. However, this one point jumped out at me. Sometimes we over focus on individualism in this country to the point where we screw ourselves.

Posted by James at 7:14 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Bodyspray For Men

Rejected names for what eventually became “Axe Bodyspray”:

  • Hoe Bodyspray
  • Rake Bodyspray
  • Hose Bodyspray
  • Pitchfork Bodyspray
  • Mulch Bodyspray
  • Manure Bodyspray
  • Wheel Barrow Bodyspray
  • Vaguely Sweaty Bodyspray

Rejected names for what eventually became “Tag Bodyspray”:

  • Hide and Seek Bodyspray
  • Simon Says Bodyspray
  • “Doctor” Bodyspray
  • Duck-Duck-Goose Bodyspray
  • I Spy Bodyspray
  • Dodgeball Bodyspray
  • Vaguely Pedophiliac Bodyspray
Posted by James at 1:14 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

July 18, 2007

Borlaug

If the world is saved it will not be by the Dubyas, but by the Borlaugs.

Posted by James at 9:51 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

July 17, 2007

From Sweet to Suicide Bomber in 6 Seconds

I had to post a link to this bizarre article written by a British journalist who paid twelve hundred dollars to go on the ultimate conservative cruise organized by the National Review. He lived to write about what conservatives discuss when they’re out on the water.

They rush through the Rush-list of liberals who hate America, who want her to fail, and I ask them - why are liberals like this? What’s their motivation? They stutter to a halt and there is a long, puzzled silence. ” It’s a good question,” one of them, Martha, says finally. I have asked them to peer into the minds of cartoons and they are suddenly, reluctantly confronted with the hollowness of their creation. “There have always been intellectuals who want to tell people how to live,” Martha adds, to an almost visible sense of relief. That’s it - the intellectuals! […] I stare out to sea. How long would it take me to drown?

Also notable (and on he first page) who needs to be beheaded to save America. And later on, questioning Kenneth Starr.

I guess this stuff isn’t anything you couldn’t find by browsing a bunch of neocon blogs, but this would be your one-stop-shopping center for alternate universe chest thumping and Muslim scare mongering.

Posted by James at 2:22 PM | Comments (1)

Would You Rather?

A day late:

Would You Rather

  • Visit Tokyo for a week, then Athens for a week, then London for a week
  • or visit one of those places (chosen by random die roll) for three weeks?

You will have a car at your disposal in either case, and so would be able to visit nearby areas by driving.

Posted by James at 2:33 AM | Comments (12)

HP 6

It’s easier to criticise than it is to become a worldwide bestselling author. So I’m going to do that.

J.K. Rowlings’ books have become longer and longer (just look at them). Are they full of engrossing detail or indulgent verbal runoff?

My contention is that, ever since her books took off, she’s got an editor who simply looks the other way when the verbal diarrhea hits. I don’t think this is an unusual phenomenon in publishing. I think a successful author is a clear cash cow. Why inflict on them an editor who might disrupt the genius; why cause arguments? The books are going to sell anyhow.

So we started Harry Potter 6 (…and the Half Blood Prince) tonight and read the first chapter. Don’t worry - no significant book 6 spoilers here, nor really anything that would spoil book 5.

Chapter 1 deals with the real Prime Minister (presumably of Great Britain) and a visit from the Minister of Magic. The chapter is 18 pages long. Most of the pages deal with this visit. But right in the first few pages, Rowling pretty much establishes that this isn’t the first time they’ve met this way and that he’s not comfortable at all when it happens.

However, 5 pages out of those 18 are, in my humble opinion, superfluous. Rowling is a good enough writer to paint a picture of the previous meetings in our minds based on her character’s reactions. But she can’t help but recount those previous meetings (briefly, but unnecessarily) padding the chapter and not really giving us much of value.

Right there, that’s 28% of the chapter unnecessary. I have no idea if that’s representative. This book is 831 pages long. Cut out 28% of the pages and you’d have 598 pages. That’s about the size of Prisoner of Azcaban (HP 3) bur still quite a bit more than the first two books. I’m thinking 28% fluff is a fair but conservative estimate, and represents a time when Rowling had more reliable editing.

I don’t remember who it was — maybe Orson Scott Card — who called this “World Builder Syndrome” (Maggie reminded me). The inability to resist fleshing out your world and then blabbing it out to the reader. I admire a well-built world, but I wish some authors would keep more of it to themselves.

Posted by James at 12:41 AM | Comments (10)

July 15, 2007

HP 5

Took the kids to see Harry Potter 5 today, and we enjoyed it.I wonder if it has anything to do with not reading the book.

I was happy to read this article about “The Death Of Reading” because, frankly, we never made it through book 5 because it was not the most interesting book to read aloud.

When the kids were younger, I would read to them frequently at night. I’d do the voices of all the characters and I think we had a pretty good time. As they got older, it became a little harder to find the time to read to the two of them together. K had homework and school the next morning meant that we couldn’t be up late for hours engrossed in a story.

But, to be completely honest, the kids were really not thrilled by what we were reading anymore. And the effort I put in for such a voluminous and slow-moving story did not seem equitable nor appreciated, especially when it resulted in snores. Now, I certainly don’t mind my kids falling asleep at bedtime, but the kids do prefer when the story actually progresses. In a Harry Potter book, this can take dozens of pages.

On the way back from the film, the kids discussed skipping the remainder of book five and going ahead with the next book. We’ll give this series one more chance this summer. But maybe we just need to find more interesting reading material.

The fiction I remember loving found me at a later age… Dune, Stephen King… and the great books they “made” us read in school like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe I’m just asking too much of a children’s book series.

Posted by James at 6:10 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

July 13, 2007

Shipping Up to Shotgun

Tomorrow we’re invited to take part in an Underway Demonstration on the most famous vessel in American naval history. I’m pretty stoked! Enjoy your weekend!

…and updates will surely continue on Twitter. See also my friends.

Posted by James at 10:11 AM | Comments (6)

July 11, 2007

Moorestorm

I was happy to see Moore’s little explosion at Wolf Blitzer the other day on CNN. If you haven’t been following it, Moore was on for an interview regarding his new film “Sicko.” Preceeding the interview, they aired a criticism by Sanjay Gupta.

Moore didn’t take kindly to CNN and Gupta’s criticisms, putting them in the context of their critical responses to his previous efforts. (Moore and Blitzer video Part 1)

Why was I happy? Because it’s nice to see that Moore isn’t a hypocrite, appearing on TV to be all sweetness and light and “thank you for letting me promote my film.” CNN needed to be put straight on their responsibility in the run up to the Iraq war and their lack of critical focus.

But Moore also attacked the criticism that was leveled at him by Gupta as inaccurate. Blitzer didn’t like that, and defended Gupta, but apparently this was a real “who watches the watchers” moment.” Gupta’s criticisms, it turns out, had the facts wrong and bloggers have since shown that Gupta was provided with the corrections before this interview aired (after his criticisms were originally aired, but 10 days before CNN re-ran his piece as a companion to the Moore interview). (Here is the Huffington Post story about those facts)

Moore and Blitzer did get past this initial scuffle and had a mostly fireworks-free second half of the interview: (Moore and Blitzer video Part 2).

I haven’t seen the film yet, but it is not surprising that, for some people, the idea of Moore himself overshadows the film. Many people hate Moore for a number of reasons… some for what he’s said in the past, some for how he said it. But it would be hard to criticise Moore for being right about the folly of the Iraq war before most of the country caught up with him. Again, his opponents were pretty effective at killing the messenger last time by nit-picking his message and attacking the liberties he takes in his (almost universally admittedly) powerful style.

The word is that he has his more dramatic personal tendencies in check in “Sicko” and some are concluding that this results in a much more powerful and more tenable message. I have yet to verify this by viewing the film.

Some will just dismiss anything Moore says, and, in fact, use this film as an excuse to dismiss healthcare reform altogether. Some will prefer to get mired in whatever detail they can dispute rather than face the big picture.

But, as with Moore’s previous work, I bet that there are plenty of people who leave the theater with a bug in their heads. And with this, perhaps they will ask themselves “what am I going to do about this now?”

[Update: Here is a point by point response to CNN’s criticisms.]

Posted by James at 7:14 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wednesday What's Lamer?

I need your opinion because I can’t decide.

What’s lamer?

Jingle Jugs

or

Bumper Nuts

What’s Lamer?
Jingle Jugs
Bumper Nuts
  
Free polls from Pollhost.com
Posted by James at 3:21 AM | Comments (7)

July 10, 2007

Prepare to Be Dazzled

I’m warning you that you should prepare to be dazzled as the debate over healthcare heats up. Because there are going to be some people who have never uttered a peep about the approaching half-a-trillion price tag of the abysmal Iraq war, but they’re going to want you to believe that it’s the height of fiscal irresponsibility that we use any tax money to rectify the mess that we call a healthcare system in this country.

They will squeal like they’ve been pinched when faced with the idea that the government might spend any money to help tens of millions of uninsured people and turn a mess of a multi-payer system into a single payer system.

$200 million a day for an endeavor with a 655,000 excess death toll… silence.

Posted by James at 10:09 PM | Comments (0)

Nice To Know

Nice to know that I’m worth something!

via Karen at Verbatim.

Nobody tell Chuck, though or he might try to sell his body to buy a telephoto lens.

Posted by James at 8:57 AM | Comments (20)

July 9, 2007

Local News Roundup

To Diet or not to Diet

Since The state of RI has lowered the weight limit for the Sakonnet River Bridge. I feel that some sort of permission to indulge has been given. The eating of high-calorie foods will continue until further notice.

And It Was Such A Good Plan

Apparently disguising yourself as a tree while robbing a bank is not enough to keep the authorities form finding you.

The Old Heave-Ho

They actually kicked someone out of our town, for real. Citing accusations that he was life miserable for his whole neighborhood with harassing tactics, they invited this fellow to leave, sell his house and never set foot in town henceforth.

Apparently, he had some complaints on the other neighborhood residents as well. The police tell that he reported the neighbor kids for sticking their tongues out at him. Shocking!

Bush Criticized on 4th

“I don’t care for him anymore because of the Iraq War,” Conway said. “I don’t like it (the war). I don’t like what the president is doing about it.”

Yikes! Harsh public criticism on the Fourth. The story fails to mention whether Homeland Security allowed the man to finish with his Independence Day celebration before making their visit.

If You Can’t Convert ‘Em…

In not-so-local news, the Pope would like you to pray for all those misguided Jews who would be better off as Catholics. Specifically, “deliver them from their darkness.”

I want to make some joke about his history as a Nazi, but really folks, what good is having a religion if you can’t deliver other people from their darkness?

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

July 8, 2007

Math and News and BAFAB

Karen over at Verbatim gave me a pleasant surprise this week. She bought me a book from my wishlist as part of “BAFAB - Buy A Friend A Book” Hooray, I’m getting to read John Allen Paulos’ insightful applications of mathematics to different types of stories you encounter in the news. It was written a decade or so ago, but it is still quite relevant and interesting, because the math is still the same and the issues you encounter still fall into many of the same categories.

An unexpectedly interesting aspect of the book is the inclusion of peripheral references to events of the 90’s… and to a different Iraq war. It’s a trip down memory lane from a time I wasn’t paying quite as much attention to politics.

The book is broken into very short chapters that quickly cover a mathematical concept and its application to making sense of the news. Sometimes it is critical of news reporting, sometimes it simply gives you a tool for understanding why the news is reported a certain way, why we understand news the way we do, or how to approach the news differently.

It’s an easy book to pick up, as Paulos’ writing style is very conversational for the subject matter and the bite-sized chapters are like eating potato chips. That makes it hard t put down. Perfect for a few minutes before work during breakfast and before you read the day’s news!

Thanks again, Karen.

Posted by James at 7:01 PM | Comments (2)

Grilled Wings

Anchor Bar Wing Sauce: “Hotter Recipe”

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Hooray! What’s better than hot wings on a hot day? Hot wings any day are a favorite of mine, and now that we’ve finally got a working means of cooking outdoors, I can experiment with cooking even when it’s too hot to heat the oven. Our kitchen is at the center of our house, which is good in the winter but bad in the summer when the heat from a hot kitchen becomes even more oppressive. (Also, it’s bad for venting and bad for lighting… but anyhow)

It’s not tough to make a good Buffalo Wings sauce, but it’s even easier when your cousin buys you a sauce for making the famous New York wings. A number of brands make the sauce, but The Anchor Bar is apparently the original, and this Anchor Bar Hotter Recipe happens to be the one Bob gave me on Thursday after he and Don made a trip to Buffalo and had the original wings himself.

Here’s how I cooked the wings on the grill:

I purchased about 14 wings from the market (on sale!). They’re usually cheaper in a larger package, but the sale made this purchase economical. Thirteen fresh wings is the equivalent of 28 wing pieces at a wings place like Wings To Go because they split each wing — there’s a drumstick-looking piece and a forearm-looking piece (radius and ulna) and an inedible fingertip that is discarded. I did likewise - cutting the inedible tip off, and separating the edible parts. That’s better for hot wings because you don’t want to have to grip the sauce-covered wings to separate them after they’re cooked.

Separating the wings is some work. Use a sharp cleaver and cut within the joint.

Lubricate the grilling surface to prevent sticking. Heat your grill to between 425 and 455. If your thermometer is precise, 425 is sufficient. I went for just under 450.

Arrange the wings on your grill skin-side up at first. If possible keep them off direct heat so that they mostly bake rather then grill. Put your grill’s hood down.

In about 20 minutes, flip the wings skin side down. Let them cook that way for another 20 minutes with the hood down.

Now, if you can, apply some direct heat to the skin side for the last 5 minutes with the grill open to watch for flare-ups and to crisp the skin.

(More simply, if you can get your grill to be about 425 degrees for 45 minutes with indirect heat, just do that with the skin side down for the whole 45 minutes and you ought to be fine.)

Using tongs, put the wings in a medium-sized bowl and pour the hot sauce on the wings. Toss to coat. Eat!

It’s that simple. Serve with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks if you care to — mine didn’t last long enough to worry about that.

ALSO:

Sharon bought us Blair’s Death Rain Chips to try. In Habanero flavor and Cajun flavor. Mini review: they were both delicious and full of flavor. Both were hot, but the Habanero was measurably hotter and more flavorful. I would recommend both, but if you like hot snacks I would especially recommend the Habanero flavor. Have a favorite drink on hand to cool down.

Thanks Sharon and Cousin Bob!

Posted by James at 3:55 PM | Comments (3)

July 6, 2007

Marine Corps Kids Shotgun

If you get a chance, check out the link for Marine Corps Kids. They're looking for a few good crafting volunteers, and they're good people.

  • Marine Corps Kids (marines,military,charity,kids)
    • Accepting donations from crafters to benefit the kids of deployed troops. Run by some really great friends of mine!
  • Scientific Savvy? In U.S., Not Much - New York Times (article,science,news,education)
    • One in five Americans think the Sun revolves around the Earth. "We ignore public understanding of science at our peril." - Quite true.
  • StupidiPhoneLady.com (funny,internet,video)
    • They say "Money talks" but they also point out that it and a fool are soon parted. News story about a lady who paid $800 to get to the front of the iPhone line with her plan to buy a bunch of them.
  • Puzzle Piece Metaphor (photo,pictures,humor,images,funny)
    • Amy sent me this blog post. Neat photographic metaphor for something missing. There's a joke in there, too.
  • Mr. Megatron - Flickr (flickr,funny,geek,photo)
    • This guy likes Transformers, hardcore.
  • Sci Fi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale - Television Tropes & Idioms (funny,geek,humor,scifi,writing)
    • Science Fiction writers are apparently all about the story and not too much about the actual metrics of science.
  • Flip (funny,text,free,toy)
    • Flip your text upside-down.
  • YouTube - Virtual Barber Shop (Audio...use headphones) (audio,video,science,hearing,sound)
    • It's a demonstration of how carefully recorded sound can trick your brain.

There's also your friends on Twitter, if you're bored. My feed is here.

Enjoy your weekend, OR ELSE!

Posted by James at 12:35 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Independent Party Crashing

No celebration ought to be about forcing other people to celebrate. Which is why I definitely support this fellow’s right not to party.

The gentleman writes:

The issue of whether African Americans should celebrate the 4th of July is one of those eternal questions that is often asked this time of year but never receives a valid answer. Why do black folks feel obligated to dress up in red white and blue top hats and sing the Star Spangled Banner when our ancestors were in the field picking cotton while the colonists were getting their party on ?

To summarize my understanding of Min. Scott’s post, he feels he has a right not to celebrate the 4th (this I would agree with). He feels he will be persecuted for not celebrating (this I can’t speak to; perhaps his neighbors are more nosey than mine). But it’s his reasons for not celebrating the 4th and what they imply about why other people celebrate the 4th that I take issue with.

He cites the loss of freedoms we’ve recently suffered. He cites slavery which existed at the time of the signing of the Declaration. He cites ongoing civil rights inequities.

I’m not known as a brainless flag-waver. However, I believe I am patriotic in the sense that I am happy to be living in the USA and feel an obligation to contribute to the success of the country.

When I think about Independence Day, I don’t think about where my ancestors were when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Why not? Because my love for my country has nothing to do with my ancestors.

Celebrating the independence of the United States of America is a much simpler decision. If you like the country, if you find something worthy of celebration here, then you can celebrate the country’s independence because this was a step toward today’s United States of America. I’m not talking about our government, by the way. While it is meant to be a government of the people, there is a hell of a lot more to this country than its government.

If you live in the USA but you don’t like the country, I can understand not celebrating the fourth. It just seems that simple: you like the country, you celebrate. You don’t then you don’t.

While I respect someone’s choice to eschew celebrating Independence Day, I am baffled by some of the reasons I have seen.

Posted by James at 8:47 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

July 2, 2007

The Long Commute

To be clear, Bush has commuted Libby’s sentence, and not pardoned him. In other words, Libby is still guilty but Bush doesn’t think he ought to suffer the indignity of, you know, actually serving time for his crime. Republican “tough on crime” means “only when you people commit crimes.” Yay!

Quoting the president:

My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby.

Right - just knowing he was convicted is a harsh punishment. We can empty out the jails and just tell all the criminals that they’ve been convicted. That’ll show ‘em!

19% of the public supports the idea of rewarding this guy for being Bush’s friend.

Coincidentally, here are some other things 19% of Americans think:

  • 19% of Americans agreed with the strategy of the Iraq war back in September of ‘06.
  • 19% of Americans want to give HMOs more power to reject procedures.
  • 19% of Americans believe that Elvis is still alive

Yes — they are all the same 19%.

And all around the country, more “So glad I voted for Bush” stickers become obsolete… It’s a good thing they used strong glue on those stickers!

Posted by James at 11:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Pardon My Scooter

Newsday is reporting that President Bush has commuted Scooter Libby’s 2 1/2 year jail sentence which he received for his involvement in leaking information about a CIA operative.

President Bush commuted the sentence of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on Monday, sparing him from a 2 1/2-year prison term that Bush said was excessive. Bush’s move came hours after a federal appeals panel ruled Libby could not delay his prison term in the CIA leak case. That meant Libby was likely to have to report to prison soon and put new pressure on the president, who had been sidestepping calls by Libby’s allies to pardon the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

At one time, Bush said he would fire anyone involved with this CIA leak.

Maybe by “fire” he meant “pardon.”

While this will likely cause fewer ripples in the media than the treatment Paris Hilton received, it reinforces the conclusion that the Bush administration has no respect for the laws of the land. And this is how they operate in broad daylight with the eyes of the law and the nation upon them. Who needs to sneak when you’re above the law?

Posted by James at 6:27 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Vampire Seeds

People do some pretty crazy stuff.

A peacock that roamed into the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant was attacked by a man who vilified the bird as a vampire, animal-control authorities said.

When you see a story like this, what the heck do you think?

  • Mental illness
  • The guy is just violent and made up the vampire thing as an unrelated joke on top of a cruel act.
  • Believing in vampires is his personal choice — don’t criticize! But this guy went too far by attacking a defenseless animal.
  • It really was a vampire!
  • Other

… because I’m having a hard time putting this news story in context.

And does believing in peacock-shaped vampires automatically make you mentally ill? Don’t people believe all sorts of weird things, like UFOs, ghosts, astrology, neo-conservatism and we don’t automatically think they’re mentally unbalanced.

I knew a guy who once told me he had been abducted by aliens. Up to that point he’d never said anything to me to make he think he believed in strange things. He was a functioning member of society. But one day he comes out with his abduction story. I won’t go into detail, but it was mostly a classic story which led me to believe he had experienced a combination of dreams and hypnagogic hallucinations1.

I tried to explain the natural phenomena which could account for his experiences, but he wanted to hear none of it. Neither of us ever brought up the subject again, and his beliefs didn’t affect our relationship any more than if he’d told me some surprising religious belief. This, even though I am a confirmed alien abduction skeptic after an adolescence of scouring every nearby library for all information on what is called “the paranormal.” It’s funny, because I thought that knowing this about a person would completely change my opinion about him. However, I compartmentalized the belief since it didn’t seem to have a visible effect on his daily functioning.

So, people believe strange things, and I seem to have an allowance for that, up to the point where those beliefs seem to be driving destructive actions, I would imagine.

This attitude is healthy for coexistence; a society which would sustain our liberties demands tolerance of strange beliefs. The inherent risk, however, is that if a belief is not rational, you can’t expect it to forever stay innocuous. You can’t apply rationality to a concept not grounded in reason and expect your conclusions to be accurate. All our liberties are balanced against the risks we take on to universally apply those liberties2.

Perhaps the fellow in the story believed in vampires, and that they could change shape. Perhaps he had friends who knew this. Maybe they talked about how you can tell a vampire: if you see a strange animal out of context, it is clearly a vampire. And when he was faced with a coincidence he could not explain, his belief launched into action.

Beliefs are the dormant seeds of actions.

1 I, myself, had experienced a probable hypnagogic hallucination as a youngster but got woken up in the middle of it. I know how real they can seem. But they’re still hallucinations.

2 Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. - Ben Franklin

Posted by James at 10:14 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack