August 31, 2007

The Stance on Craig

Unless you've been a cave in Afghanistan for the past few, you've heard about Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (R) and his bathroom courtship rituals.

Is it just me, or does it seem like a Republican Senator can't solicit homosexual sex in a public place anymore without getting plastered all over the news? And don't we have any runaway brides to report on?

I'm cutting to the chase on this one. People who think that Larry was just possibly misunderstood (and there are those people) are full of baloney. The police have now released the tape that they made when questioning GOP Senator Craig and you can hear the frustration in the police officer's voice when Craig refuses to be honest in his description of the lengths he went to to make it clear to the undercover officer that he was soliciting sex.

Craig touched his foot to the officer's foot in the next stall. He reached under the stall with his opposite hand (the officer saw his wedding ring) and rubbed his hand along the underside of a stall.

In all my years of public restroom behavior, I've never had someone touch their foot to mine or stick their hand under the stall (or peer at me for minutes through the crack, as Craig says he did). These are highly irregular activities for a guy in a public restroom. Most male bathroom behavior is antisocial, so this stuff stands out. Craig was soliciting sex, he was not misunderstood, and he is lying to the police officer on the tape.

Is soliciting sex in a restroom a crime? I'll let more legal-minded folks debate that one, but probably not. To quote Dale Carpenter on the Volokh Conspiracy blog:

What really seems to have happened is that the airport police had received complaints about sexual activity and were acting over-zealously to deter it, regardless of the niceties of state criminal law.

A court will decide. Do I fault the police for trying to keep sexual encounters out of the public bathroom? These are the bathrooms we send our children into. And, frankly, I already don't like public restrooms -- I don't want the added fun of walking into a sexual buffet. I don't mind the police discouraging this behavior any more than I would mind the police discouraging some guy in the ladies room touching his foot to my wife's, peering at her through the space in the door and propositioning her under the wall between stalls. Do you think people feel safe alone in a bathroom when this kind of behavior goes unchecked?

As Tucker Carlson showed us this week, you're a lot safer being picked up by the police than if people take the matter into their own hands. Tucker "I'm Not Gay, Just a Gay-Basher" Carlson admitted to having been solicited in a bathroom, and then returning with his friends to bust some heads. (Literally, busting his head against the stall wall) Oh, and apparently this is what passes for humor on MSNBC.

I do have some sympathy for Craig, for the conservative hole he's dug himself into, even though he dug it for himself. Only the looniest can stick by this guy. Cheating on your wife with random strangers in airport bathrooms makes Bill Clinton's activities look like high school antics. My sympathy is more like pity.

The ironic, hypocritical sin is that Craig's public activities have been efforts to reinforce the elements of society that have pushed some homosexual activity underground where it remains secret but becomes dangerous (especially if you run into Tucker Carlson). And the people who he stood with are running away from him as fast as they can. Why? Because the Republicans rely on wedge issues like gay rights to pry their constituents away from Democrats who are more consistent in their beliefs and actions. Political gay bashing is a gamble that's becoming dangerous as people see the hypocrisy behind the Republican straighter-than-thou agenda and as they re-examine their assumptions. (See Iowa's recent ruling allowing gay marriages Yes - Iowa)

Craig is definitely getting some cosmic karma applied directly to his hypocrisy. Sometimes, gambling on hatred wins you an election. Sometimes it turns what could have been a quiet incident into a national issue.

Posted by James at 9:19 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Trouble With Shotgun

  • Top 100 Undiscovered Web Sites (tips,internet,links,review)
    • Be the coolest at your office after reading PC World’s list of still-underappreciated web gems. You can say you knew them when!
  • Google Maps Nighttime! (maps,mashup,satellite,geography,google)
    • It’s Google Maps… after dark!
  • Apple Jacket (cute,gadget,design)
    • It’s a sweater for your apple. To protect it in your lunchbox or book bag. Neatest knitting application I’ve seen this month.
  • Gorey Tribbles (comics,funny,humor,startrek,scifi)
    • Later in life, Edward Gorey became a fan of Star Trek. What if… (I’m waiting for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer one)
  • Don’t Get Nailed | This Old House (tools,home,technology)
    • It’s a This Old House nail gun gallery of horrors. X-rays, in case you’re squeamish. And safety tips.
  • Hitchens Takes on Mother Teresa - Newsweek (christianity,religion)
    • Discussing her crisis of faith, and what it means to the Church.
  • Women’s Health Magazine: 2007 BEST PACKAGED FOODS (health,diet)
    • These are the healthiest packaged foods as judged by Women’s Health Magazine. I plan to eat them and become a healthy woman!
  • YouTube - Star Trek: “Time Warp” (funny,parody,startrek,video)
    • Let’s do the (Star Trek) time warp again.
  • Stripgenerator v1.0.3 (comics,tools,blogging,drawing,flash)
    • The new version of StripGenerator. Now flash-powered!

Join us in the Twitter collective, and a world of updates will be your best friends.

Posted by James at 8:53 AM | Comments (1)

August 30, 2007

In The Enterprise

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Ok - these tribbles are not In The Enterprise

Uploaded by drmomentum at 2007-08-30

Another phrase that is bugging me.

Ryan sent me this “ars technica” article, which pertains to our work. It’s about how new standards in wireless routers are getting good enough that wired networks at companies may soon be a thing of the past.

My problem with it is that instead of “at companies” they pepper their prose with the phrase “in the enterprise.” For example:

The other major factor in adopting 802.11n is the increased prevalence of laptops in the enterprise.

It’s in the title, too: “Report: 802.11n good enough to chase Ethernet from the enterprise” There are four usages like this, totaled, in the short article. Clearly, this is commonplace IT-speak. But here is what I think of when I hear about “the Enterprise”:

  1. Tribbles or the Lights of Zetar - especially “chased from the Enterprise”
  2. The newspaper where my grandfather used to work - The Enterprise out of Brockton, MA.
  3. Or this aircraft carrier.

I know the IT world doesn’t care, but, heck, why not just wear Spock ears to work, too? It’s the logical thing to do. Or maybe even say something like “in enterprise” rather than “in the enterprise.”

Rant off.

Posted by James at 1:57 PM | Comments (3)

August 29, 2007

WTF Wednesday

It’s WTF Wednesday, so here’s your WTF. I’m in a WTF mood, appropriately enough.

Suspect In Norton Shootings Didn’t Need Gun Permit

If you don’t want to need a gun permit, shoot someone with an antique gun. That’s the lesson in this tragic and sad story about a shooting in Norton. Robert McDermott allegedly shoots and kills his girlfriend, and puts two of her daughters to the hospital in critical condition. A bit of a WTF there; when a gun is old it is still capable of killing.

But the thing that really got me was the bit at the end.

Relatives of Wayne Cann [father of the girls] say he was concerned his three daughters were being mistreated by McDermott. They say he dropped the case because he was convinced he couldn’t win.

BTW - in case you missed this story, for every 10 people in this country, there are 9 guns.

DEA Blocks University of Massachusetts’ Application For License to Study Medical Marijuana

From the “Ignorance Is Bliss” file comes this story.

The DEA complains of a lack of medical marijuana research, yet the DEA is blocking research from taking place.

Neat little scam.

Missing Croat lay dead at home for years

Most unobservant police force of 1999 award goes to the Zagreb police.

A Croatian man lay dead for eight years in his flat in downtown Zagreb before a neighbour discovered the body, a local newspaper reported on Wednesday.

In 1999, police had searched his flat at the suggestion of his nephew, but failed to find the body. To be fair, the flat was so full of garbage that he was only found this year after an hour’s worth of digging. Ew. By this time, he was just a skeleton.

Acrylamide cleared of causing breast cancer

Remember when the media tried to scare you into believing that you were giving your daughters breast cancer every time you fed them french fries, and the damage was irreversible?

Surprise! “At levels in the diet, it doesn’t seem to cause breast cancer.”

But I do appreciate feeling like a bad parent for 4 years.

Battle Steak Bomb

N.H. Sub Shops Battle Over Steak Bomb

In this week’s food WTF, a New Hampshire sub shop wants to trademark the name of a type of sub that’s used all over New England.

“Karl Kuceris, owner of USA Subs, said he’s trying to protect his business.”

How does making people think you’re a jerk protect your business? Even D’Angelo’s has had a steak bomb on the menu.

Posted by James at 11:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 28, 2007

Dialogue with the Imaginary

So, there’s this conversation you can find cut and pasted all over the internet. It’s a discussion between an asshat philosophy professor who can’t argue for shit raking one of his hapless theist students over the coals for no apparent reason.

Someone saw fit to paste this near-worthless piece of writing in a comment to my blog. It amused me a little bit because it’s so sad. But I had to figure that some angry theist must have gotten a kick out of writing it. I thought I’d try my hand at that!

Now, to be absolutely accurate to the style of writing, I’d have to make the theist in the story a surly and belligerent moron, like the philosophy professor in the story who picks a fight with a student but can’t even argue about heat and cold. It doesn’t seem quite fair, but hey, that’s the template I’m working with. So, here goes!

Professor of Religion speaks to his class on how stupid atheists are.

He ask one of his atheist students to stand and….

Prof.: So you believe in the almighty God?

Student: No, sir.

Prof.: Why not?

Student: Based on the evidence.

Prof.: Can you prove God doesn’t exist?

Student: Of course not but…

Prof.: (Interrupting with a huge grin) Aha, so you admit that your claim that God doesn’t exist is the height of arrogance!

Student: I didn’t make that claim. You asked me what I believed. I am technically an agnostic because I refuse to say God is absolutely impossible, but I am a de facto atheist because the evidence leads me to believe that the possibility of God’s existence is intolerably small. So I live my life as an atheist. You also asked what I can prove. It’s impossible to prove…

Prof.: (Smugly, drooling slightly) Impossible because Gods existence is impossible to deny!

Student: (Calmly) Well, no. It’s because God is defined in such a way that you can wiggle out of every argument, but in general it’s not possible to prove the nonexistence of something. Nor is it appropriate; the burden of proof is on you.

Prof.: The proof of God’s existence is all around us. You and I couldn’t possibly exist if God hadn’t created us.

Student: Well, that’s what you believe, but you were attacking me on my reasoning and clearly I can’t take “creation” as evidence that God exists when there are quite plausible scientific explanations for the complexity of the universe. If this were an age of superstition, I might have to throw up my hands and concede the argument to you. But let me ask you a question, do you believe in a teapot, floating in space between the Earth and Mars?

Prof.: (Haughty) That’s ridiculous, of course I don’t. How would it get there?

Student: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wow - ridiculous, eh? That’s a bit arrogant, wouldn’t you say?

Prof.: (Suddenly looking confused) What? Well, why should I believe in such a teapot? Astronomers…

Student: (Interrupting) Oh, I meant to mention that the teapot is too small for any of our telescopes to detect.

Prof.: (Smug again) Of course I don’t believe in a floating, microscopic teapot.

Student: Fair enough. I haven’t given you any evidence. You should, at this point, be a teapot agnostic. But you went even further, calling my teapot belief ridiculous. I find that interesting. Why not go ahead and prove to me the teapot doesn’t exist.

Complete silence in the classroom as everyone realizes something EXTREMELY IMPORTANT is happening in this REALLY DRAMATIC MOMENT of this INCREDIBLE SOCRATIC DIALOGUE.

Prof.: (Humble and devoid of sarcasm) Holy crap, you’re right, I can’t prove it.

Student: And you shouldn’t have to. The burden should be on me, if I claim the teapot exists. You might not be able to prove that this teapot doesn’t exist, but you certainly shouldn’t believe it does. The possibility is intolerably small.

Prof.: (Suddenly coming to a realization about his theism) Class is canceled and all the atheists in class have an A. I’m going to see if there’s an opening on the visual arts staff because clearly I can’t teach this class anymore. Thank you, nameless student.

The professor walks out, but not before shaking the student’s hand, which turns into an emotional hug.

It’s not hard to write one of these silly dialogues. Feel free to write your own. Post it in the comments or, if you post it to your blog, post a link to it in my comments.

Posted by James at 9:30 AM | Comments (9)

August 27, 2007

Would You Rather?

  • Host Saturday Night Live or
  • Be a contestant on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
Posted by James at 9:06 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

August 24, 2007

Super Tiny Shotgun

No time this week to really collect a lot of nifty links, so you only get two. Feel free to submit more in the comments, but there may be a delay in them showing up because my spam filter has become over-zealous. It even blocks my links when I post to the comments, requiring me to go back and approve my own posts.

Enjoy these two exciting links.

Posted by James at 10:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 23, 2007

Win Ben Stein's Delusion

So, apparently Ben Stein is a Creationist.

And he’s making a movie, the gist of which appears to be that freedom of inquiry in science is being suppressed because… well, this is where it gets fuzzy. He claims:

Under a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator.

Has anyone personally told you what you are allowed to think? This is the most ridiculous claim I’ve read all week. I’d love to see him support this argument. His justification appears to be that he’s heard some people say that they wouldn’t hire people who believe in intelligent design.

If going that far out on a limb wasn’t bad enough, he digs himself into a deep hole with this selectively-ignorant name-dropping:

They cannot even mention the possibility that–as Newton or Galileo believed–these laws were created by God or a higher being.

He’s quite right that scientists of the past professed a belief in a higher being. Let’s ignore religious funding sources for a moment. Thing is, it wasn’t until relatively recently that we had any plausible explanation for the complexity in the world we see around us. Humans crave answers, and where no scientific answers are handy, superstition fills the gap. It is completely understandable that history is brimming with theists, for this reason alone.

His name-dropping is meant to imply that great intellects like theirs would be stifled today, but you have to assume that they would be Creationists if they were alive today for this to make any sense.

Let’s say you were going to hire a scientist and after a brief discussion you realized that he:

  • Didn’t believe in microwaves, insisting that microwave ovens relied on fire
  • Refused to believe that we could send men to the moon and bring them back
  • Believed trickery was responsible for all the calculations done by computers

Today, you’d never hire this person. There is a difference between freedom of thought and willful ignorance.

Well, actually, maybe there isn’t. You should be allowed to be ignorant in a free society. However, why anyone should have the obligation to hire you is beyond me.

The point is, way back in Galileo’s day, you wouldn’t expect even the best scientists to accept a lot of what we know today. Because science is a process and you can’t just jump ahead to the answer. I imagine these great scientists would understand the science if they were allowed to study it, but they can’t be used to bolster arguments about Creationism because the world has changed too much since they lived.

I thought Ben Stein was a conservative. It sounds really odd for a conservative to be arguing that some organization should be forced to hire someone who is not up to their standards. But of course, this issue involves the conservative boogeyman “universities” and the hero of our conservative story “Judeo-Christianity.” Suddenly, the idea of a merit basis goes out the window when they want to peddle their beliefs as science.

I may actually see this film when it comes out on DVD. But I expect it will be a bunch of badgering of scientists. Already, according to comments on Stein’s blog, comments have been deleted and a blog entry itself has been deleted. They claim they didn’t have to use any trickery to get their footage of scientists for the film, but it turns out that they duped scientist-blogger P.Z. Meyers into being in the film. This does not bode well for the intellectual honesty of the film.

But who actually needs intellectual honesty when you’ve got a supreme being and the Truth on your side? Many religious people feel they do. They’re just not Creationists.

Posted by James at 10:14 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 22, 2007

Happy WTF

Mon... Tue... WTF

MON… TUE… WTF??

Sign seen in front of a hair cuttery establishment in Swansea

And the WTF story of the day:

Gas plunges to 29 cents a gallon at Ind. station

A gas station attendant incorrectly set the price at about a tenth of the intended price… 29 cents instead of $2.79.

People poured into the station, thinking some sort of a promotion was going on.

On CNN Headline News this morning they covered the story and a woman on the scene (who did not get the discount) was quoted as saying:

“Oh, I could have filled this up for $20 instead of $80.”

I’m not the best at quick arithmetic (ask anyone; I hate doing arithmetic in my head) but I know that approximately a tenth of $80 is not $20.

For those wondering, she would have paid about $8.32.

Posted by James at 7:57 AM | Comments (9)

August 20, 2007

Moving Forward

I just canceled “Auto Bill Pay” with my wireless provider. To acknowledge the event, they sent a message to my phone which told me that Auto Pay was canceled and that I should “remember to pay my bill manually moving forward.”

They mean that I will have to pay my bill manually, and therefore will have to remember to do so in the future.

I think “moving forward” is very odd wording, and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen it. I guess it’s like saying “from this moment on.” But why not say “in the future?”

Certainly “moving forward” isn’t as clear as “in the future.” Who is moving? What is moving? Forward? Forward is a direction, not a time.

I’m scratching my head wondering what was objectionable about explicitly mentioning the future, and why we needed the phrase “moving forward.”

It sounds managerial to me, like something someone picked up from a seminar or from too much time trying to talk to underlings in a condescending way. It’s sort of like a “as we move past this current unpleasantness, you’re going to have to take on the heavy responsibility of remembering to pay your bill on time. Don’t disappoint us by proving you’re not up to the task.”

Well, moving forward I guess I should just get over it.

Posted by James at 11:46 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

August 18, 2007

Simulated Socks

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Results of many trials…

Karen over at Verbatim sent her daughter to camp with 16 distinctly identifiable pairs of socks. When the daughter returned home, she had lost 8 socks. However, only two of the lost socks formed a pair. As Karen put it:
She came home with 9 matched pairs of socks and 6 different lone socks. What are the odds* that a kid will lose 8 socks—and only one pair in that whole bunch?

Even though she was asking rhetorically, I was curious. My number sense (which is stronger than my knowledge of the actual computations of probability) told me that it was not unlikely that you would only be missing one pair if you lost 8 out of the 32 socks.

So I wrote a simulator to test the situation1.

The simulator can run single trials. When I ran single trials I found that most of the time I was losing one pair. In other words, if you lost 8 socks out of your 16 pairs, it appeared most likely that you’d be left with only 9 pairs of socks and 6 singletons, just as Karen’s daughter had.

To further test this, I modified the simulator to run many trials. What I found was that nearly half the time, a person would lose only one complete pair. Just under a third of the time a person would lose absolutely no pairs, only singletons. You’d lose 2 pair around 18% of the time, and you’d hardly ever lose 4 pairs. Of course, you couldn’t lose 5 or more pairs.

You can try my simulator out for yourself, here on this webpage if your computer has Java. You can modify the pairs, lost socks and number of trials to get your own results.

Karen, I know you said you didn’t want to know what the odds were, but for some reason, these sorts of questions are diverting to me. And this was an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the Knuth card-shuffling algorithm, plus learn that Java has some built in array sorting routines I wasn’t aware of.

Maggie has a post on her blog about her attempts to do the math.

1 I’m a programmer, not a mathematician. So programming solutions come easier to me. If you have the mathematical solution, I welcome an explanation. I wouldn’t mind learning it. It seems to me similar to calculating the probability that people in a room share birthdays with one another.

Posted by James at 11:56 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

August 16, 2007

Bliznites Shotgun

It's the verge of the weekend. What, you can't wait ONE DAY to slack off, you're surfing the web???

Well, as long as you are, may as well check out these links:

What's a Bliznite? This video will explain how to answer that question.

If you're still bored, tell everybody about it on Twitter. Here's my Twitter profile.

Posted by James at 9:38 AM | Comments (6)

Stupidest Massachusetts Export

According to this story, one of Massachusetts’ exports to Maine is reckless campers who fire water balloons at high velocity into other people’s camps and injure those people

In summary, at least twice MA residents have been arrested (in the same vicinity, that of the Saco River) for injuring people by launching water balloons at them at high velocity. In the most recent incident, the victim had to be taken to the hospital because of an eye injury serious enough that the man will probably not see again with that eye. I have a few comments on the story.

Jonathan D. Buell, 26, of 108A Myrtle St. in Boston was initially charged with elevated aggravated assault for the incident.

“Reckless stupidity” must not be on the books. However, this definition of “elevated aggravated assault” seems to fit: “Engages in conduct that manifests a depraved indifference to the value of human life and that in fact causes serious bodily injury to another person with the use of a dangerous weapon

On Monday, Nelson’s mother told Murray that Nelson had suffered a broken ocular bone and lacerations to his nose and eyelid.

Hit hard enough to break bone. . True — the ocular bone is thin, but still.

Chief Wayne Brooking of the Fryeburg Police Department said Nelson was 67 feet from where the balloon was fired.

It stands to reason that if you’re getting a balloon to travel 67 feet, it’s got to be going fast, so it has to have a lot of force.

The officers confiscated two water balloon slingshots, a homemade 200 pounds per square inch water balloon cannon, a portable air compressor, and three water balloon remnants that matched remnants found at the site of Nelson’s injuries.

Well, there you go. They were shot from a compressed air cannon. “Effing brilliant.”

Buell stated that he had been firing balloons over the Saco River at other campsites. According to Reininger’s report, Buell was unaware that he had injured anyone and said that “there was no way that any of his water balloons could have caused injuries.”

Let me rephrase that. Buell admitted that he had been aiming his water balloons at people (see, the campsites… in the woods… that’s where the people are). According to Reininger’s report, Buell didn’t much care whether he might injure anyone and made the startlingly dumb comment that “there’s no way that any of my [long range] water balloons could have caused injuried [when I aimed them at people and then launched them with a freaking cannon].”

My new rule is this: If you’re not willing to stand, say, 15 feet away and have someone aim your new toy at your unprotected face then you shouldn’t be shooting it at other people. If you do anyway, you’re a pansy.

I like the idea of water balloon cannons and super slingshots. But, the thing is, people who show this sort of disregard for others with their fun toys give everybody interested in fun toys a bad name. Additionally, it annoys me when these people give Massachusetts a bad name in neighboring states. Please be sure to officially change your residence to another state before engaging in asshattery.

In an ideal world, people with the ingenuity to put together a device that can launch water balloons at high velocity would have the brains to not aim them at people. But the news brings evidence daily that this is not an ideal world.

Posted by James at 8:43 AM | Comments (9)

August 15, 2007

Hunt the Wumpus

Maybe this doesn’t mean anything to anybody else, but I didn’t realize that “Hunt the Wumpus” was originally written at UMass Dartmouth.

Hunt the Wumpus Wikipedia entry.

“Hunt the Wumpus” was a very simple “adventure” type game (think a REALLY super-primitive Moria) where you wandered from room to room trying to kill the Wumpus by deducing its location before it ate you. It ran on the IBM mainframe whatever-it-was that Somerset High School had in 1982. By that time it was almost 10 years old.

Again, this probably means little to anyone else, but “Wumpus” was one of the first pieces of software I became familiar with and it inspired me to write some simple similar BASIC games for my home computer in the early 80’s.

It originated at UMass Dartmouth while Gregory Yob was attending school here. Aren’t you fascinated?

Posted by James at 4:53 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Stories From the Internets

Breakin’

Bush and the Art of Breaking People (Scott Horton - Harpers)

Can torture and isolation be used to break people? Yes. Does that lead to reliable information for government investigators? No. Then why does the Bush administration have such a fondness for this fantasy of destroying people? And why have we allowed them to adopt techniques that recall Orwell and authoritarian dictators?

Roving Away

Apparently, Rove wasn’t really all that influential in the White House. He did start “Ice Cream Fridays,” so that’s something.

Mozzies

No tests have yet come up positive for triple E or West Nile Virus in Rhode Island this year. However, one skeeter pond was positive for EEE in nearby Seekonk.

Meanwhile, California is learning that your neighborhood’s neglected pools can be a serious health hazard as the disease has long since completed its westward march.

Man ‘Angry With God’ Drives Into Church

Police have determined that he wasn’t just trying to get a better seat at mass, he was actually angry with God.

Note that atheists are almost never angry with God. When an atheist gets angry with God, he drives his car into the parking lot of a psychologist’s office.

Congestion Payoff

The US DOT has given a few hundred million dollars to New York so that Mayor Bloomberg can continue to plan to charge a toll to everyone who enters and exits the city on weekends weekdays.

Coming to a city near you? Word is that Fall River, MA will not charge a toll for entry, but will make you remove at least one rat as you exit the city.

Posted by James at 9:35 AM | Comments (3)

August 14, 2007

Rove's Retirement To Do List

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Zombie Rove

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Ten Projects on Karl Rove’s “Retirement” To-Do List

  1. Dumpster diving for secrets on Hillary Clinton. And snacks.
  2. Challenging college Republicans at several institutions across the nation in wet T-shirt beer belly contests
  3. Finalizing plans to enroll in school part time in case next president reinstates draft
  4. Writing a bunch of sappy letters that start with the words “Dear Mitt”
  5. Organizing push poll with one question: “Would you be more or less likely to vote for Barak Obama if you knew he was a black Muslim terrorist sent to steal your soul, cancel American Idol and outlaw Twinkies?”
  6. Lighting cigars with replicas of the Constitution of the United States of America
  7. Following closely the continued search for WMDs from his air-conditioned home theater
  8. Daring Rudolph Giuliani to a “Use 9/11 Tragedy-off” — Entries to be judged on creativity, cynicism and “fantasy.”
  9. Completing his intricate model of the middle east… Stomping on an intricate model of the middle east
  10. Alternately shredding and erasing. But all the while cackling.


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

August 12, 2007

Cheney's Arguments Against Iraq Invasion

It’s a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

Not all that much is needed as a comment here. Basically, Cheney was against the invasion of Iraq way back when in 1994. To read his comments he sounds like an Iraq war protestor in today’s context. The word “quagmire” is especially nostalgic, reminding one of just a couple of years ago when you were practically a traitor for saying the Iraq war was a quagmire. That’s what Republicans call “the good old days.”

Of course, things were different by the time Cheney had changed his mind. There were WMDs in Iraq by the time he was Veep… or maybe not.

I wonder if the Guinness Book of Records has an entry for the biggest pair of flip flops.

Posted by James at 5:20 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2007

No Burial: You're Gay!

Noted this story on the Volokh Conspiracy:

A megachurch canceled a memorial service for a Navy veteran 24 hours before it was to start because the deceased was gay.

AP Story here.Volokh blog post Here

I basically agree with what Volokh participant blogger, Dale Carpenter says when he comments:

I doubt the church refuses to bury people it also thinks have sinned, like liars, blasphemers, and adulterers.

Does this High Point Church scour the lives of the folks they bury and refuse if they find people to be sinners? The pathetic excuse they use in this case is that a homosexual is living a lifestyle that is unrepentant. However, I don’t see how they can know what untold sins their parishioners and the other people they’ve buried have perpetrated through their lives. So, to me, this excuse simply comes off as PR cover, when it really is a discriminatory act. It’s a legal one, but it’s still hateful.

That’s what grabbed my interest in this story. But what further interested me was this at the end of Carpenter’s post:

I was raised in a Christian home and nothing the church did here resembles the values of respect for human dignity, and for the life of every single person, that I was taught. The most loving, understanding, and tolerant people I have known have been Christians. And they have been loving, understanding, and tolerant not despite their faith, but because of it.

Carpenter was taught respect for human dignity, and it does come through in his opinions and his post. And he says that some Christians have risen to the top of the heap as far as tolerant people he has known. Then he says that their faith has made them so.

I wonder on what he bases this conclusion. What this says is that he knows people who he thinks would not be as tolerant if they were not full of Christian faith. I can’t argue with him; I do not know the people he’s talking about. But I’ve never seen evidence that faith makes you tolerant, or a better person.

I’ve known good people of faith and good people who lacked faith. So, faith is not, in my experience, a factor in common. However, one thing those people did share was a respect for human dignity, and a respect for life. These are specifically humanist principles. Christians may share them, but if you affirm a respect for human dignity and you believe that is a large part of the definition of a good person, then it’s not clear to me why faith is necessary.

Perhaps Carpenter feels he needs to give this paragraph in support of faith because it’s clear, just looking at the news, that there are many acts that do not reflect a respect for human dignity, yet they are justified by faith. It would seem that faith is many times at odds with humanist principles.

On the argument that faith makes people more respectful of human dignity, I don’t find Carpenter convincing. I feel this paragraph is more effective as an attempt to mollify Christian readers who do not want to be tarred along with this megachurch. People acting on their humanist principles is a good thing. It seems to me that people betray those principles when they refuse to bury a man ostensibly because a great disapproving being in the sky is frowning at them.

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

August 10, 2007

Zombie Threat Shotgun

Remember, the zombie threat is 4Real.

Posted by James at 10:49 AM | Comments (11)

August 9, 2007

Can Get Fooled Again

It’s not difficult to get fooled. And if you think it’s difficult for you to be fooled, you have a big blind spot which you wear in plain view for people who want to fool you.

That may seem strange. After all, if you are wary of getting fooled, aren’t you on your guard? That’s certainly true. But if someone is really trying to fool you, and they know this about you, they are trying to fool you in ways you won’t expect. Many “heist” and “con” type films are about this phenomenon. Some object is behind incredible security measures, but the intrepid main characters find some chink in the armor and sneak in. They are aided by the overconfidence of the guards.

Back in real life, you can see this phenomenon in action when prestidigitators make attempts to fool physicists. According to some psychic debunkers, physicists and other physical scientists make some of the worst skeptics because of their predictable expectations about how the world works. One noted example was Uri Geller (13 minute video by James Randi) who was able to convince some physicists because they just couldn’t imagine they were witnessing trickery.

In any case, I mention that general principle because there are ways to protect yourself. And the general approach to protect yourself involves two things.

The first is to inform yourself, because information is power. Much trickery and manipulation happens in unbalanced information situations. Anyone trying to fool you will do so by trying to take advantage of what they know and you don’t. They will also take advantage of any sort of reluctance on your part to admit you don’t know, which would be a step toward getting help from someone who does know. For example, a physicist might be too proud to perceive that a magician might help him devise a test to uncover someone who claims paranormal powers.

The second part of the approach is to exercise some control over the situation, based on what you do know. For instance, you might know that you are susceptible to phone solicitations. So you decide that you will not conduct any business over the phone when the call is not initiated by you. If someone wants your business and they are legit, force them to send you any deals in writing where you can employ the help of others before deciding on anything.

An example of this approach at work is in the video linked above. Johnny Carson knew quite a bit about magic, but he asked James Randi for help to prepare for when Uri Geller came on the show. Armed with a newfound balance of information, he then exerted some (seemingly arbitrary) control over Uri’s visit. The result was that Uri was completely flummoxed in his performance.

So, it turns out it’s better to know something about your blind spot to help yourself sidestep it. This is one reason I’ve always enjoyed learning about con artists and frauds. People are creative and over the years they’ve found many different kinds of blind spots. Many types of manipulation are very subtle. But if they work at all, they confer an advantage on someone who is trying to sway your opinion, especially if you are in a vulnerable “unbalanced information” situation.

If you’re like me, it’s just fun to know how your (and other people’s) brains work.

Posted by James at 9:16 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 7, 2007

Man vs. Domicile: Batteries

Man vs. Domicile - Batteries

The battery tray is quite empty

Man vs. Domicile - Batteries

Man finds 9 volt batteries. Success!

In the domestic world, organization is a much vaunted virtue. But if man wishes to survive he should not believe everything he hears!

Batteries are a prime example. The modern household often includes a place to store batteries neatly, and for easy access. While this sounds like a great idea, here is where the man is separated from the boy, and the boy is caught unawares at a critical moment and is injured in a way that is horribly disfiguring.

If you place your batteries in this seductive location, you can be assured of one thing and one thing only. They will be found by battery scavengers in the house while man is not watching. The batteries will be spirited away and skillfully hidden in hundreds of toys where they will be used briefly and slowly drained of their electricity. If you look at the battery tray you will always find it empty.

The solution is to randomly leave batteries all around the house. The more obscure place, the better. Then, when you need batteries, just start looking in random locations until you find the batteries you need.

If you feel this is an inefficient means of battery retrieval, the “organization” alternative is failure; failure means you lose. And, yes, it is a very efficient way to fail.

When you lift your car’s floor mat and discover a pack of 9 volt batteries, even if your search took an hour, you are successful. Man wins again!

Posted by James at 11:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Haunting the Pet Cemetery

Deer

A fawn notices some humans.

I've been taking days off from work here and there this summer. It hasn't been the organized summer of activities as in years past, but on Monday I was able to have some opportunistic fun, after checking my morning email.

A new geocache had been approved, just over three miles away to the east! New geocaches means the possibility of a "FTF" - "First To Find." An extra layer of excitement over the normal activity of geocaching is the race to be first.

On a Monday morning, many geocachers at work, so we had an advantage. We rushed out of the house covered in bug spray, bound for the somewhat creepy state forest. Our familiarity with the area from previous expeditions was also a plus.

Bell Rock Road is another one of those roads (like Copicut in the video linked above) that disappears into the forest. Luckily, it doesn't become as impassible as Copicut, so it was a quick ride out to the trail.

It's weird you can be in Fall River one minute and then out in the middle of absolutely nowhere the next.

On the hike in to the cache, we were motoring along trying to rush, since the sky told us that we'd have to be quick to avoid the rain. We noisily crested a hill and immediately froze as we saw a doe entering the woods below. I snapped a picture, but not before a third of the animal was already obscured. To our luck, a fawn then emerged from the opposite side of the road. It lingered for a moment, regarding us, and then hurried after its mother. Already the trip was a success.

The area is full of wildlife and also stories of strange goings-on, and the paranormal. And geocaches.

We found this geocache in an old pet cemetery along a trail offshoot. It's fascinating where geocaching takes you, and what you get to see because of it.

When we were looking for the cache, I swore I could hear loud, deep panting behind me a number of times. This spooked the girls. I was worried more about wild dogs than ghost dogs, but nothing ever "materialized." Creepy locations really get the best of your imagination, but it's advisable not to get carried away.

We made it back to the car just as a downpour hit. The timing was very lucky, since we weren't really dressed for rain. A quick phone call and we met Maggie for lunch at Newport Creamery. Oreo Awful-Awfuls to celebrate our FTF.

M and I went off to snag a cache near the restaurant in Seekonk, at Burr's Pond. Along the way we spotted a tree that was positively covered with lovelorn messages. From what I could gather, a boy had lost his girl and was returning to this spot frequently to record his lamentations as he pined away. He imagined that she would someday see the tree and realize how much he loved and missed her. Unfortunately, even permanent marker doesn't last too long on bark -- the messages over a month old were extremely faint.

An odd, but interesting day.

See more images from Monday.


Posted by James at 8:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 5, 2007

This Idea Has No Leggings

Out of (to my perception) nowhere, there are a bunch of stories cropping up about the possibility that male leggings could be the next big thing in clothing.

To my dismay, they’re not just saying this might happen in California, they’re saying it could hit New England, and this story in the Northeastern News discusses the possibility:

“I believe when you appeal to a man on the level of comfort you’re always going to find takers,” he said. “Since workout wear has become a part of our fashion vocabulary, it’s easy to imagine men enjoying the ease of wearing a new streamlined version of the sweatpant to express their own personal style.”

Screeech! Hang on a second there — sweatpants? Is this fellow saying sweatpants are an acceptable part of your out-and-about wardrobe? For men? Good lord, I think he is!

Nobody would consider me an expert on fashion, but I know what’s hideous. Nothing says “I couldn’t find any clean pants and didn’t know what to do about that” than a man walking around in sweatpants. There’s a reason it’s called exercise gear or workout wear. And by “work” they don’t mean office. And if you’re sweating while you’re walking around the mall, that doesn’t count, either (it’s just gross.)

Stepping back from the cliffs of madness, and back to the issue of male tights (a contradiction, right there) the article discusses that many sensible New England residents are skeptical that this will catch on…

However, some women were more divided on the trend. “I like it. I think that’s hot,” said Kristy Alano, a middler accounting major.

I don’t think they should ask women what looks good on men. They obviously have ulterior motives. Plus, since women look better in tights, and can get away with them in public on occasion, they may have a skewed view of how acceptable tights are. Thirdly, about 2/3 of the time I hear women’s opinions on men’s fashion, I have to wonder if they just want to make men look silly so they can secretly laugh at us when they visit the lavatory in droves.

Kristy, be careful what you wish for. You may be all hot to see 400 lb. guys in tights standing in line at Old Country Buffet, but that’s an image I’d rather not have to burn out of my optic nerve with a soldering iron. I understand you want to look at men in tights, but that’s what health club memberships and ballet performances are for. There are appropriate venues, and some of them actually select for fitter body types. Not that I’m slamming anyone’s body type, but “it looks stupid” is only one of the reasons you won’t see my “glutes in tights” at the office. The other has something to do with how much I like Ring Dings. Tight fitting exercise gear is made that way for a reason: comfort when you’re exercising. In the case of biking tights, it’s so nothing gets caught in the machinery.

Unless you can convince me that you’re lying awake at night worrying that your khakis are going to get caught in the office shredder, please keep the tights confined to your at-home (or at-gym) activities of pilates, yoga, spinning, and that impersonation you do that knocks ‘em dead whenever the guys come over for poker.

Posted by James at 10:35 AM | Comments (13)

August 4, 2007

ShhhhhCat

Chuck was kind enough to let me use one of his photos, and so I have created my first LOLCAT.

SHHHCAT

Posted by James at 9:31 PM | Comments (4)

August 3, 2007

Skeptical Cat

Found this LOLCat. I wish I could have a big poster of this for my office:

skeptical-cat-is-fraught-with-skepticism.jpg

Posted by James at 11:09 PM | Comments (1)

The Lemonade Shandy

Thursday nights this summer have been movie night at Cousin Bob’s house, but also drink experiment night. Not that we’ve gotten too terribly experimental, it’s more like we’ve been choosing a different mixed drink every week.

A few weeks ago, for example, we determined that Scorpion Bowl is an excellent drink to mix in a pitcher. However, it’s probably not the best drink to serve full strength for a party. (It’s got a high alcohol stealth factor)

This week’s been really hot and I was craving something much lighter on the alcohol but higher on the refreshment scale. The answer: Lemonade Shandy.

Wikipedia defines Shandy as a drink created when you mix beer with some sort of soft drink. As a big fan of citrus, my choice of mixer is lemonade.

Here’s my recipe:

Lemonade Shandy
  • Bass or any other pale ale you like.
  • Good, fresh lemonade (Newman’s Own, for example. Not 2-liter bottle lemonade, please)

The mixture is roughly judged. Carefully pour beer into a beer glass to more than halfway and less than 2/3.
Fill the rest of the glass with lemonade.

Drink.

Like the Scorpion Bowl, this is a very refreshing and easy-to-drink concoction. Unlike Scorpion Bowl, this drink is quite low on alcohol. So, it has a high refreshment to alcohol ratio.

As for flavor, the sweetness and tartness of the lemonade definitely complements and balances the bitterness of the beer. If you’ve ever enjoyed a slice of citrus in your beer, you probably would like this.

It would also be fair to say that this is a relative of the Pimm’s No. 1 Cup. (See this post from last summer).

Posted by James at 12:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Shandy Shotgun

Have I mentioned I'm on Twitter?

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August 2, 2007

Unpack Your Expletives

Apologies to Schoolhouse Rock’s excellent “Unpack Your Adjectives.

Warning (Obviously) Language

Unpack Your Expletives

Read the newspaper today.
My spouse could sense my dismay.
I slammed the pages down
I faced her with a frown
My deep frustration I wished to convey.
So I unpacked my expletives.

“President Dumbass” came first.
Then “fucking absolute worst.”
Then I picked “what the fuck?”
Next I picked “lousy schmuck”
Then I was ready to have a good rant,
‘Cause I’d unpacked my expletives.

Expletives are words for your political discourse
To honestly react to the news.
When they’re quoting Bush or Cheney
And your forehead gets all veiny
Expletives can help you to vent.

You can even make expletives out of the other parts of speech like
verbs, nouns and adjectives. All you have to do is tack on a profanity like “damn”
or “fucking” or “ass.” For example: This dummy can grow up to be
a president, but still be an ignorant ass. “Dumb” is
an adjective, but the ending “-ass” makes it an expletive,
“Dumbass,” that describes the President’s approach to life. Get it?

Next time you take in the news,
Don’t drown your sorrows in booze:
Reach deep inside your lungs,
And loosen up your tongue.
And raise your voice to announce how you feel.
Simply unpack your expletives.
You’ll feel better with expletives.
Tell ‘em you’re fed up with expletives.
Don’t let the feds hear your expletives.

BONUS!

Posted by James at 11:03 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 1, 2007

Ted Stevens: Model Republican

If anyone is looking for a model of today’s Republican party, look no further than Senator Ted Stevens.

He’s the longest serving Republican in chamber history at an impressive 7 terms, so he’s well loved by his Republican constituents. He’s on the Senate Appropriations Committee, so he is an absolute expert at funnelling money. He funnels tons of it to Alaska, which is #1 per capita in snagging juicy federal bucks.

Alaska gets $1.80 back from the federal government for every $1 in tax money collected from Alaskans. In comparison, Massachusetts is getting a measly 83 cents back on every tax dollar1. Where is those extra $0.17 going? Alaska. And maybe straight to Ted Stevens’ house. Or rather, under his house.

You see, his house was just raided in a federal investigation after contractors pled guilty ot a bribery scheme and Stevens’ name came up as one of the beneficiaries:

Contractors have told a federal grand jury that in 2000, Veco executives oversaw a lavish remodeling of Stevens’s house in Girdwood, an exclusive ski resort area 40 miles from Anchorage, according to statements by the contractors.

The work done was to, get this, lift his existing house up on stilts and build in a new first floor, making the house two stories. That’s right.

Stevens is no stranger to construction, having convinced the federal government to fund the construction of the famous “Bridge to Nowhere2.” In fact, you may remember that he threw a hissy fit in 2005 when it was suggested that, instead of building a bridge to an island inhabited by 50 people who were already served by a brief ferry ride, the money ought to be used to build infrastructure in recently devastated New Orleans. (I don’t want to ruin the ending for you, but instead of defunding the bridge, they took explicit mention of funding the bridge out of the bill and just gave the same amount of money to Alaska… less embarrassing that way.)

You’re innocent until proven guilty, Senator Stevens… as far as the law is concerned. You’re a model Republican. A trusting soul who believes that oil executives shouldn’t have to swear in when speaking before Congress. After all — why would they lie?

The new fiscal conservative Republican: tighten your belt, Alaska needs bridges and Ted Stevens needs yet another floor built under his house.

1 Per Capita Tax Burden and Return on Federal Tax Dollar Table, and Alaska, Virginia rank tops in grabbing federal dollars

2 Americans For Prosperity Foundation posted this YouTube video explaining the craziness of wasteful bridge.

Posted by James at 1:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack