February 29, 2008

I Cast Magic Shotgun

Posted by James at 9:12 AM | Comments (2)

February 28, 2008

Goodbye, Mike

Just one of the reasons I’m glad I read Thirdmate’s blog is that I find out news I’ve overlooked because I’ve got my head buried so deep in the day-to-day BS of keeping my head above water. Well that and playing with the kids and practicing violin.

Anyhow. He posted that Mike Moran has left WSAR and no longer has his morning show.

Most of the people who read this blog probably don’t know about Mike Moran. I don’t know if I have many local readers; most of my friends are somewhat distant. Therefore, I’ll try to keep this brief and interesting.

Mike Moran’s show in the morning was one of the reasons I was glad whenever I was in the car between 9 and 10AM. It was a breath of fresh air to hear someone actually trying to be reasonable. That’s rare anywhere. When I listened to Mike, I heard qualities that I admire in many of my friends. He always seemed friendly, measured, and fair. And I was always interested in his take, even when I wasn’t interested in the specific subject. You can learn a lot from someone who actually puts effort into caring about how valid an argument is rather than spinning that argument. You can learn a lot, as long as you are paying attention. And I tried to, whenever I had the opportunity.

You’ll likely not read this, but I wish you luck, Mike. Continued success in your endeavors, and good health. I agreed with you more often than I disagreed. Whenever I disagreed you made me reexamine my opinion. Thanks for that.

Posted by James at 8:30 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Kiss Off

tlkmngstyrslvs_1, originally uploaded by boyshapedbox.

Hopefully, the chart is self-explanatory.

In case it is unclear, this is something I found on Flickr.

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

February 27, 2008

Getting SNL Wrong on Hillary

I enjoyed SNL's return last weekend. If you don't like SNL, you probably wouldn't have liked it, but I thought that the post-strike debut with Tina Fey hosting was contained a satisfying number of laughs. I think Tina Fey is great, and I can't wait for 30 Rock to come back.

As luck (or as Clinton) would have it, SNL was drawn into last night's Democratic Presidential Debate.

Maggie gave her summary of the debate, and I largely agree. So no need to repeat that, you can just read it on her blog.

But now here's a post on another blog I don't agree with. "The Plank" political (center-left) group blog at The New Republic published a post which agrees, to an extent, with the Clinton campaign's complaints about media bias, specifically their complaints about Saturday Night Live.

"But I still think it's kind of interesting, in light of the Clinton campaign's constant carping about the press, that no one batted an eye at Obama's SNL appearance. In other words, I think the Clinton people--sour grapes aside--have a bit of a point. --Jason Zengerle"

They're talking about a skit that aired last year, in which Obama himself appeared. If you view the blog post at The New Republic, you can see this skit, which I found funny, and which does cast Clinton in a negative light, but moreso as a woman afflicted with jerky male companions. But that's comedy.

My problem is that for the guy at the plank to agree with the general criticism of SNL, he really had to be paying no attention whatsoever. Not only did this weekend's opening skit cast Clinton as the victim of a media unfairness, there was a whole long "Weekend Update" segment in which Tine Fey berates the women of American for not supporting Senator Clinton. You can watch that here. (Again, there's a commercial)

What does he expect in these comedy sketches? It's bad enough that they are often not funny. Now they can't be subtly pro-Hillary, they have to be overt? If he'd just waited until midnight, he could have caught that as well. If you're going to criticise SNL for bias, at least watch the whole thing to see if your theory holds water.

David Grenier has a more pointed and detailed rebuttal to Clinton campaigners media lament. Worth a look. He was a lot less impressed than I was with SNL's return. Maybe I'm easily amused after 11:30 on a Saturday.

Posted by James at 7:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pity the Poker Dog

funny pictures

It’s my submission to the ICANHASCHEEZBURGER poker LOLCAT contest. If you are amused, I wouldn’t mind your vote. Click to go to the voting page. Be a part of LOLCAT history.

Posted by James at 8:01 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

February 26, 2008

Smoke Screen

This review of Jonah Goldberg’s most recent book is worth a read, so you can avoid the book. (NYT Free registration, yadda, yadda)

But a comment on that review gets “most insightful comment of the day.” Specifically, this part of the comment:

What is known today as the Right is quite outside the Republican tradition. Ideas such as limited government, individual rights, and indifference to other countries’ politics have suddenly been reversed by people such as Goldberg. Demonizing liberals is nothing but a smokescreen to distract from their real agenda, which is corporate fascism, military intervention, and control of individual behavior.

Well put.

Posted by James at 12:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 25, 2008

McCain's Dinner Surge

A guy wants to go out to an expensive restaurant. The reviews on the restaurant are mixed, and the wife has some doubts. But the husband hunts and hunts until he finds a positive review, embellishes it a bit and reads it to her. She suspends her misgivings. So they end up going.

The appetizer is expensive. It’s stuffed mushrooms, and the mushrooms taste pretty good! Not very filling, though, because, oddly, the stuffing is missing. The husband declares his restaurant choice a success!

Then the wine comes out. It’s like vinegar. The main courses take much, much longer than expected, so they’re sitting there with the lousy wine for almost an hour. When the main courses arrive, the restaurant says that they’re out of forks, so they’re going to have to eat their dinners with spoons and knives. The main courses are awful. The food is served lukewarm, one of the orders is completely wrong and they taste horrible. There is a tradition at this restaurant that you have to eat everything on your plate. It’s excruciating, long and drawn out.

The husband realizes that they’re going to be there a while longer, so he decides to order dessert early. It’s chocolate mousse with whipped cream and a cherry on top. The chef seems to have forgotten the sugar in the mousse; it’s extremely bitter. The whipped cream has curdled and gone sour.

However, the cherry, right out of a jar from the supermarket, is good.

The wife begins to complain about the restaurant. “You said this was a good restaurant.”

“Well, that’s what I thought at the time. In any case, you’re exaggerating your complaints.”

The wife says “Exaggerating? I can’t believe you went ahead and ordered this horrible dessert after this disgusting meal!”

The husband replies, “I thought you liked cherries!”

John McCain said Monday that to win the White House he must convince a war-weary country that U.S. policy in Iraq is succeeding. If he can’t, “then I lose. I lose,” the Republican said. He quickly backed off that remark.

What that practically means is that he’s going to try to convince people that the whole “war on terror” is represented by the most recent surge policy that he advocated in Iraq.

Now, this seems clear to me, but for some reason it’s fooled at least a few other people. McCain wanted a surge of troops sent to Iraq so that news of violence in certain areas would drop temporarily at a key time which would help him try to gloss over the historical tragedy of this war in dollars in lives. He can use that in debates and on the campaign trail, and hope you’ll forget how we got here.

Forget about how bad an idea this war was. Forget how it’s helped Iran. Forget the mistakes in execution. Forget the American lives that will continue to be lost. Forget that Iraqi political efforts are delayed, delayed, delayed, nonexistent or miniscule. Forget that political progress was the advertised point of the surge. Forget the economy, jobs, education, health care… Forget that Iraq has sucked resources from the war in Afghanistan and money from our government. And vote back in the people who gave us this war in the first place.

He wants you to forget by changing the subject. The unsustainable surge, not the war. His advocates will say that the past mistakes are old news. He’ll argue that he, the Republican with the “experience,” is better suited to provide the illusion of what no president or person can ever promise: security and safety. Well, the experience of Republican leadership is something we all have, now. What does “experience” mean? Experience at making bad decisions, and not learning from them? Experience throwing more lives at the problem to provide cover for a stalled political process?

How are the American people going to forget all that?

Posted by James at 4:32 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

OMG Is the Sincerest Form

OMG Cholesterol!

Out in front of the pack with an obvious joke.

Remember this post from the summer of 2006 in which I joked about the snack packaging you see to the right?

Apparently, I was not the only one to notice the ambiguous interpretation of that packaging. I noticed a very similar photo on someone else’s Flickr stream, and then decided to do a search to see just how many people noted the same thing. Here’s what I found:

That last one was even on Digg this weekend. Got a whopping 7 Diggs. Old nooz.

There’s probably more if you do what I did and search omg cholesterol flickr or omg cholesterol.

I’m sure there are more out there.

Who knew that so many people found cholesterol funny?

Posted by James at 4:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Would You Rather

Would you rather:

  • Win an Academy Award
  • Be the person that people think of as reliably nice and decent?
Posted by James at 9:09 AM | Comments (11)


I watched a tiny bit of the Oscars last night. Not having seen any of the films in the running for the big prize, I realized I largely did not care at all this year.

However, I do see that Ratatouille won Best Animated Feature Film. Hey - I saw that one! And liked it!

I caught the moment when Marketa Irglova got “played off” the stage after Glen Hansard’s acceptance words but before she could thank the Academy for winning Best Song. I didn’t see the movie “Once,” but I bought the soundtrack on iTunes a couple of months ago with some gift credits after hearing the song online. I might have rooted for it, had I been paying closer attention.

After the commercial, Jon Stewart called Ms. Irglova back on stage to make her thank-yous.

It’s not often you see such plain decency on TV. Just plain nice. The nice tend to shun he spotlight and work in anonymity. So it’s cool to see simple niceness happen at an event like this in front of the camera, where it can lodge in the brain and inspire others. To me, such acts are bigger than any award. Thanks, Jon Stewart!

Deep thoughts on niceness for your Monday morning.

Posted by James at 8:51 AM | Comments (0)

February 24, 2008

Substandard #9

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us

This Stripcreator comic lives here.

Posted by James at 6:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Nader's Decision



So, Ralph Nader has decided to run for president yet again.

No, really. Should you care?

I just watched Tim Russert interviewing Nader on Meet the Press. Nader comes off as thinking that nobody but Nader would run the country correctly. He was affronted when Russert asked him to distinguish between the two candidates.

Here’s what I said about this in 2004.

I don’t think there is a reason to panic if Nader decides to run. Unless you can get a whole bunch of other people who weren’t planning to vote to panic, too. If Nader does whip people up into a panic, it may even get out the vote. At this time, things are too uncertain to know what effect we will be seeing. We don’t even have a nominee from the Democrats yet.

Kerry lost, but that’s because Kerry couldn’t bring the country together under his vision. Nader was largely irrelevant.

Today, I think we have the possibility of a candidate that could do what Kerry could not, one who is getting more enthusiasm from progressives than Gore got in 2000. That’s Obama. But if Senator Clinton is the nominee, I expect we would either see a repeat of 2000 or 2004. Hillary is already behind to McCain in early polls assuming she’s the nominee. Polls this far out aren’t predictive, they’re only a temperature reading of the feelings of the electorate. And the feeling seems to be that progressives just aren’t enthusiastic to get behind Hillary. Will they defect to Nader or just stay home?

Both Nader and the Republicans are hoping against hope that the Democrats send Hillary to represent their platform in the general election.

The Republicans want Hillary so they can use all that rhetoric they’ve been honing against Sen. Clinton for years. They work extremely efficiently to take advantage of past groundwork in mobilizing support. For evidence of this, look at the effect of a NYT story that was perceived as a hit piece against McCain. All the canards bout the liberal media were trotted out and brave Republicans suddenly flocked to McCain’s side. You could hear it on conservative radio, they turned on a dime. Multiply that by a few hundred thousand if Senator Clinton is the nominee.

Nader wants Hillary in there because he gets more camera time. He doesn’t want to have to compete for attention with a charismatic candidate. He feels he is the charismatic candidate of virtue. Hillary is more representative of what’s wrong with Washington, and she would provide a better backdrop for his message.

Nader would tell you that, no matter who is the nominee, the Democrats have the best shot at winning in a long time. And he figures that if they don’t win, it’s not his fault, it’s their own fault. Well, that’s one point of view. In 2000 we were naive. Today we ought to know better when we see Nader coming. Nader would also tell you that his presence is going to pull Hillary (or Barack) to the left and get the Democrats more progressive votes in the process. He actually thinks he can help the Democrats win, and be more progressive candidates, by running against them in the election.

I don’t buy it. Making the Democrats fight a war on two fronts does not make them stronger. It makes them preoccupied. Obama has the best chance at largely ignoring Nader; he’s run the most effective campaign and proven he can stick to a message whereas Clinton’s campaign has faltered, thrashed on messages and frayed to a shambles. And Nader would act as a further strain on her campaign. So this may be worse news as Hillary speeds toward the end of the primaries.

So, my take: Nader largely irrelevant vs. Obama vs. McCain. Nader disastrous vs. Clinton vs. McCain, if not in the votes he will get then in the strain he will put on her as the fight for alienated progressives. And this has made me increase my support for Obama.

Obama is not some progressive savior. He’s a motivated politician who has shown effectiveness in working with people in both parties, and he cares about a lot of the issues that worry me. He’s been able to get people excited and involved on those issues in a way that makes me think he’ll be an effective leader in unifying this country to reverse some of the damage of the last 7 years. Is Nader more progressive? I don’t doubt it. But as we approach the final election, Nader is the enemy of progress, in practical terms. The only way to ignore that is to be ignorant of the way our electoral system works, with years of evidence staring you in the face.

Posted by James at 10:33 AM | Comments (4)

February 22, 2008



Coffee’s brewing!

In Dangerous Ideas for the Caffeind Part 1 we reviewed the cold-brew method.

In Part 2 we looked at the Aeropress.

On the Aeropress post, pippa commented:

Um… uh… Italians have done it for years. I’m just saying. ;)

And that’s when I decided to take those Bialetti pots seriously. I’d seen them locally at some discount stores, and the price was really reasonable. So I put one on my Christmas list, and my very generous in-laws saw fit to encourage our coffee habits.

Leslie tweeted today about the snowstorm keeping her away from the coffee shop, so I thought I’d pass along the advice. For next snowstorm.

The Bialetti Moka Express produces coffee via “pressurized infusion”. Water in the lower chamber is heated until pressure forces it up through the grounds, where it extracts flavor, and then collects in the upper chamber. This has some similarity to percolation in its appearance. However the process is quite different in effect.

I’ve found that it’s easy to make a decent, strong shot of coffee which is also easily diluted into a smooth cup of American coffee (Americano). I’m not an espresso aficionado, but this coffee is much better than what I was getting from Starbucks1 and Dunkin’ Donuts. Not saying I wouldn’t get coffee out in a pinch, but I much prefer what I make at home or Mirasol’s Cafe espressos and lattes2.

Interested in seeing the steps to brewing coffee via this method? I have a Flickr photoset, of course.

Also, Sweet Maria’s has some instructions on brewing with a Moka-style pot.

We’ve found that just by using this and saving the extra, we make enough concentrate for our iced coffee beverages. So we don’t really have to use the cold brew method much anymore. Although that might change when summer rolls around again.

1 “Starsucks”

2 Maggie, this is where we should meet for lunch after class sometime.

Posted by James at 11:56 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 21, 2008

Obama v. Clinton in the Senate

The top link on the link aggregator reddit.com right now is deceptively entitled “I Refuse to Buy into the Obama Hype.” It links to an article in a diary on the popular liberal DailyKos website, written by “Grassroots Mom.”

I say “deceptively titled” because the title sounds like it’s an anti-Obama piece. Instead it purports to be one person’s summary of her research into the two candidate’s accomplishments in the Senate after deciding that she wasn’t going to make a decision on hype. I think it’s a little disingenuous; even if the author is being honest about her journey (and I have no reason to doubt she is) the implication is that Obama’s momentum is hype-driven. She offers no evidence that other people haven’t made their decisions by rational means other the searching the Library of Congress site, but I guess I shouldn’t nitpick because it’s a decent read.

The author makes the point that she feels Obama’s record shows the kind of focus and effort she would look for in a leader, although she identifies a lot of work both candidates have done that is worthy of a Democratic nomination.

Her ultimate decision to support Obama comes not from a flat count of legislation, but on the scope of Obama’s ability to get people to work with him, and his legislation being more “to the point.”

Perhaps the “hype” allegation is natural after an Obama supporter came under fire for not being able to tell you about the man’s accomplishments. If you’re in the same position, you might be interested in Grassroots Mom’s article.

Posted by James at 7:56 AM | Comments (5)

February 20, 2008

In vs. Out

(For those concerned about my use of “missiling” see here.)

Posted by James at 11:26 PM | Comments (5)

Wiki Wednesday

This is actually more of a “Wired Wednesday” but it started out on Wikipedia.

I was looking for details on Ernest Hemingway, so I checked the Wikipedia entry.

While I was there, I read the following anecdote:

* The original short short story. In the 1920s, Hemingway bet his colleagues $10 that he could write a complete story in just six words. They paid up. His story: “For sale: Baby shoes, Never worn.” In a contest in Wired magazine inspired by Hemingway’s story, 33 authors recently submitted 6-word efforts.

So I checked out the Wired article as well. I found that a lot of the submissions reminded me of the “first sentences” fiction-writing exercise from a book Maggie owns, and I was disappointed because a lot of them did not have the feel of a complete story, as Hemingway’s did.

But this story cracked me up:

Osama’s time machine: President Gore concerned. - Charles Stross

Funny coincidence

A post on someone else’s blog reminded me of the book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche and so I had looked that up on Wikipedia hours earlier. Funny, the Hemingway search led me to the Wired article, which has an entry mentioning quiche:

Metrosexuals notwithstanding, quiche still lacks something.
- David Brin

That was more of a statement than a story. Anyhow, the coincidence amused me, since I had just searched about quiche hours before.

Runner Up

I encountered the word “merkin” on HMS Impossible, and I knew I’d heard the word before but couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was, or why it might show up in an art gallery.

Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry for merkin:

A merkin (first use, according to the OED, 1617) is a pubic wig, originally worn by prostitutes after shaving their genitalia to eliminate lice or to disguise the marks of syphilis.

It amuses me that “merkin” sounds like how our president pronounces “American.”

Posted by James at 10:10 AM | Comments (4)

February 19, 2008

Edges of Religious Bigotry

Scourge of Scientology dies in apparent suicide

Now that’s not shady at all. This is a fellow who created a documentary show for his public access cable channel, and angered more than a few scientologists in the process. He was even “battered’ at one point, while he was filming.

They called Lonsdale’s employer at a title company and his landlord and said that Lonsdale was a religious bigot, possibly dangerous.

If you disagree with the tactics of Scientologists, you’re a religious bigot? Really? I mean, seriously. L. Ron Hubbard said that if you want real money, you have to make up your own religion. Where’s that quote? Here it is on Wikiquote. So, he decided to do that.

If you make up a religion, should people be labeled as “bigots” if they oppose the activities of an organization they disagree with?

The answer is “no.”

I’ll restate it for clarity: Opposing the actions of an organization that calls itself “religious” does not make a person a bigot. Actions are part of the observable world, and are subject to evaluation on their merits alone. You are not a bigot if you oppose an action.

I think we all agree that we wouldn’t respect an organization if its stated goals were to oppress some other group. If they couch that activity in religion, it doesn’t make it any better. Certain fundamentalist Muslim organizations have a radical and violent agenda. Are we bigots if we openly disagree with those beliefs, and even work to oppose the activities of such a group? No.

If we agree on that, does it only apply to a violent agenda? I shouldn’t think so. If your disagreement is based in reality, it’s a rational objection, then it’s not bigotry. If you disagree with some of the ideas the organization espouses, that’s also a disagreement based on reality.

So, what do I think is religious bigotry? That’s easy. Like other bigotry it’s when you discriminate against an individual because of some group affiliation. here are some bigoted statements:

  • “I refuse to have an Arab in my house.”
  • “I will not hire a Jew.”
  • “I refuse to ride in an elevator with a Scientologist.”
  • “Christians have an anti-science agenda.”

That last one is tricky. I’m generalizing, so I’m applying my opinion to all Christians. That’s a problem, because it’s inaccurate and unfair. If I was trying to make a rational point with that comment, I should try to be much more precise, accurate and fair. Even if I make a comment that hurts feelings, if it is defensible as accurate and fair, it can be argued that there is value in the comment.

Not bigoted:

  • “I won’t shop at that website because part of the proceeds go to the Church of Scientology.”
    • If you disagree with the activities of the Church of Scientology, you should not be expected to support them.
  • “The people I talked to from that Baptist church have some pretty backward ideas about biology. I worry about their effect on the local schools.”
    • You may feel some beliefs are detrimental to your community without being a bigot, especially when they result in policies that affect you.
  • “O’Leary was extremely rude last time he was here. I am never inviting that guy over again.”
    • O’Leary may be Irish, Black, left-handed or whatever. He was rude, you aren’t obligated to invite him over.

I’ve drawn a fairly clear line between individuals and organizations, your ideas and actions, their behavior and generalization.

But there is a borderland, of course.

Your actions against an individual, if they cause injury or are unfair and hurtful, are not just an opinion; they have a measurable effect. That will land you in the “bigotry zone” if they are motivated by a generalization.

But some organizations define themselves based on a specific behavior or idea you might find abhorrent. You might be able to defend against charges of bigotry if you think that people who believe aliens are hiding among us are not worthy of trust. And if those people form a group called “Humans Aware of Alien Presence” they’re self-identifying, and that doesn’t exempt them from your opinion. But what if a job applicant says he is a member of that group? Now you are in a situation with potential to do harm by not giving the person a fair shot at the job. Is this a grey area where your ability to be more certain of their beliefs collides with the knowledge that your actions could be unfair? Perhaps we need to err on the side of calling it bigotry if you don’t go out of your way to be fair here. Or is that, in turn, unfair to you, because it strips you of an aspect of your decision-making process?

Human Resource departments often have rules to avoid these situations altogether, by limiting what you are allowed to ask applicants. But presidential candidacies don’t. I had no problem with Romney for his Mormonism; there was plenty I disagreed about with him. I think that if I said I opposed Romney for president because of his religion, I’d have some real explaining to do to show it wasn’t for bigoted reasons, because that’s a bigoted statement1.

How about whether you decide to be a part of the Catholic Church2? Let’s say you make that decision based on the Church’s priest scandal, because the organization acted to sacrifice the security of children in an effort to avoid criticism and retribution from the law. If it’s a church, a book club, or a bunch of model airplane hobbyists you can argue that your actions are a direct consequence of their actions. There is no bigotry there, and no religious discrimination. You cannot say that this priest or that priest is a molester, but it is entirely fair to say you don’t trust the organization.

Calling someone a bigot because they don’t like the actions of the Church of Scientology is inaccurate and unfair. It attempts to protect the organization from valid criticism. And it dilutes the meaning of “religious bigotry” from an unfair treatment of an individual to meaninglessness.

1 If you had a sense that a candidate was only in a race to impose his religion on the country, or if he didn’t seem to be able to make a rational decision without making it a religious issue, you would have a real basis for questioning his judgment as a humanist.

2 I apologize to my Catholic friends for this example, not because I think the Church shouldn’t be criticized for its actions but because I think that Catholics and Priests are disproportionately criticized. I think that, as an organization, the Church deserves all the criticism it gets for its scandals, but the fact that other churches are less organized, or smaller organizations, or more splintered makes it less likely you’re going to hear about a scandal. And there’s possibly as much of a chance that some random non-Catholic cleric is taking advantage of his position as there is for a Catholic one.

Posted by James at 3:18 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 17, 2008

Looking Forward Redux

I’d like to revisit a previous post because I think I have come to a better (for myself) answer to the question.

In “Looking Forward” we discussed what we would do if we came face to face with the president under various circumstances. I felt my answers and musings were a little muddled because I wasn’t specific about the exact situation involved, and we actually discussed at least two possible scenarios.

When I said I wanted to play poker with him, I was joking that I think I could read him. But it was a joke; I would not find that an enjoyable evening. It’s a similar situation to the beer, really. I’d just rather not.

But back to the specific situation that Leon Fleishman found himself in (first discussed on Barry’s blog which I linked in the previous post, and now Maggie has added further on her blog where you can see more of the link trail and more comments). Mr. Fleishman concluded that if he was going to have to come face to face with the president, he’d wear some small symbols to express his opinions about the war.

I think this is a great idea, which is subtle, reasonable, proportional, and could lead to further discussion if someone is so inclined to discuss the situation. As Maggie said on her blog, people don’t have the right not to be offended. But polite people often worry about whether they are offending people. So, here is a possible compromise. If I were going to be in that situation, I’d announce here that I am going to wear some sort of symbol of peace.

If people are worried about being offended by my small expression of opinion, they can check my opinions beforehand (it’s not as though I make a secret of them) and if they decide they don’t want to be in the presence of someone with my opinions, they can either choose not to attend or they can wear their own pro-war pins. Then we’ll all be happy.

Julie, in her comment on Maggie’s blog, said she doubts Bush even noticed, and I agree. And it’s funny we might worry about the reactions of such unobservant people. Then there’s overly sensitive people. If Bush, or others at the event would be offended by such a small and reasonable expression of opinion, even if it is not customary, they might reexamine the idea of going out in public; it’s a scary world full of opinions out there. If ever, in the past, I’ve said “I don’t want to make a scene” I meant that I didn’t want to be obstreperous1. I didn’t mean I wanted to be completely silent. In other words, there is a difference between reasonable protest and coming off like you’re a nut. I’d call it a good protest if a reasonable expression of opinion is met with an out-of-proportion freakout or attitude of offense.

I want to be the guy who causes the freakout, not the one in the middle of it.

But maybe Bush will become a recluse after he leaves office and none of us will have to face any of these situations.

1 Chuck, I use “obstreperous” at least once per year. It pays to increase your word power!

Posted by James at 3:15 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Boston Beer Rocks

I've been a supporter and drinker of Boston Beer's products for a long time. Sam Adams makes one of the best doppelbocks I've tasted, and they are the makers of delicious Chocolate Bock.

It makes me happy to see them doing something good for struggling American craft brewers.

So we looked at our own hops supplies at Boston Beer and decided we could share some of our hops with other craft brewers who are struggling to get hops this year. We’re offering 20,000 pounds at our cost to brewers who need them.

Some will take a cynical view, that they just want publicity, but why shouldn't they get props for helping out smaller craft breweries using their long-term hops supply contracts?

Good for you, Sam Adams.

Now, could you email me and let me know when you're bringing back Chocolate Bock? Pretty please?

Posted by James at 2:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Crusty Low-Knead Bread Recipe

I’ve posted about No-Knead Bread before, and if that bored you, you’d best skip this one, too. But if you’re interested in checking out a recipe for a great loaf of crusty, flavorful, open-crumb bread that’s easier to bake than you probably expect, read on. (For the short version, just ignore the “Notes” section.)

The lineage of this recipe is, roughly, from the NYT No-Knead bread article that caused such a stir in 2007 to the Cooks Illustrated test kitchen, then to my own minor adjustments. This Low-Knead recipe is improved in flavor, technique and


  • Parchment paper
  • A large bowl (4 qt.)
  • A small bowl (1.5 qt)
  • Baking vessel (5-8 qt. covered dutch oven or similar that can withstand 500 degrees. I use an affordable cast iron Lodge pre-seasoned.)


  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp rapid rise yeast
  • 15 oz. of all-purpose flour (3 cups)
  • 4 oz. of malty beer, or American Pilsner, room temp
  • 6 oz. water
  • 1 Tbsp white vinegar


In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast.

Combine the wet ingredients together, then add them to the flour mixture. Mix (your clean, floured hand is fine) to moisten all the flour.

Cover and let sit (ferment and autolyze) for 12-18 hours.

When you’re ready, take the now bubbly dough and knead it for about 15 seconds. You can do this on a floured surface, but I like to knead it right in the bowl with a cheap plastic bowl scraper, sprinkling a little bit of flour down the sides of the bowl so it coats the dough ball.

Place about a foot-long sheet of parchment paper into a small bowl. Form your dough into a ball and plop it on top of the parchment.

Cover and let rise (proof) until doubled, usually between 2-2 1/2 hours for me.

About a half-hour before you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 500 F with the baking vessel inside (cover and all). Give it an extra 15 minutes or so of preheating to allow the vessel to reach temperature.

When the dough is doubled, slash the top of the loaf, then carefully transfer the dough, parchment sling and all, into the hot baking vessel. Cover vessel and return it to the oven, but reduce the oven to 425 F.

Bake covered for 30 minutes.

Uncover and bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until the center of the bread reads an internal temperature of 210 F.

Remove bread to a cooling rack for an excruciating couple of hours while you wait for it to be ready to slice.


Cook’s Illustrated

Their improved No Knead 2.0 recipe can be found in an excellent iTunes video podcast.


This recipe takes very little work but lots of time. The long wait at the beginning allows the combination of liquid and all purpose flour to produce strands of gluten which give the bread its texture.

Yes, this recipe takes a lot of clock time, but barely any work time. I make it on a workday by mixing late one night and then baking the next evening. The long ferment time is actually a boon; you can really adjust it from 8-20 hours without causing much harm to the bread. That’s an enormous window to figure out how this recipe fits into your schedule. The only bother is the 3.5 hours on the baking end for the proofing and baking. But you can knead and let the thing proof while you’re out grocery shopping for an hour and a half.


Use an instant read thermometer to measure the internal temperature of your bread. If you don’t have one, your bread really is probably done after 20 minutes cooking uncovered. The bottom will be a little dark on this bread, even if it’s cooked according to directions. Also, the top crust can get very dark. Personally, I like the flavor this brings out in the crust.

Beer and Vinegar

These ingredients improve the flavor of this shortcut bread. I have increased the amount of beer over the CI recipe, but I try not to use a hoppy beer. I actually like Sam Adams Boston Ale. But Budweiser, Coors, and Miller will do.


Strictly speaking, you don’t have to slash the loaf. I do because I like the way it looks and I want to encourage the bread to really spring up in the oven. Use a razor or very sharp knife. if you find the dough too sticky to slash, snipping the top of the loaf with kitchen scissors works, too, and can create some pleasing crust shapes.


I use a two-bowl method for preparing the dough, to avoid using plastic wrap. I mix the stuff in my large bowl, and invert the small bowl on top to cover it while it’s sitting on the counter. Then I reverse that for the final rise of the dough. I like avoiding plastic wrap; it’s easy to clean a bowl. And kneading in a bowl with a bowl scraper saves on counter mess and cleanup: Dough Scraper

Here’s what the dough looks like after you set it in it’s parchment sling:Parchment Sling

And covered with the large Pyrex bowl: Bowl Cover

Actually, I’m putting together a photoset of pictures related to steps in this recipe (filling out the steps as I remember to take photos; usually I’m focused on the cooking itself). You can see my Low-Knead photoset here on Flickr.

Hot Oven

Use oven mits and take proper precautions against burning yourself whenever you are working with a really hot oven.

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

Shooter Coincidences

I read that the shooter in the most recent firearm-enabled tragedy bought supplies from the same online gun dealer that sold supplies to the Virginia Tech shooter.

I can’t say how much or little of a coincidence this is. But I doubt this type of publicity hurts an online gun dealership. Likely just the opposite is true.

If they’d found that the shooters played the same role-playing game, writers would be drafting a screenplay for a straight-to-cable fiction movie on the dangers of said game.

We’re really worried about strange music, games, thoughts and ideas. And the Internet.

If anyone gets concerned about this, guaranteed it’ll be because the items were bought on the Internet. And what are we going to do about this Internet?

Posted by James at 12:27 AM | Comments (1)

February 16, 2008

Glimpse of Our Possible Future

First, SNL is back tonight thanks to the end of the writer’s strike. [ Correction: SNL is back with live episodes next weekend - Feb 23rd ]

Second, NBC has put the semi-prophetic “Glimpse of Our Possible Future” skit up on their website. They imagined what the first GW Bush State of the Union Address would be like.

In 2000, they made a skit for each of the three most influential presidential candidates. They tried to go over the top and hit surprisingly close to the mark on a number of their “predictions:” War, Cheney being involved in a hunting accident, “this is HARD”, and the ostriches. (We’re interpreting the tax rebates as ostriches.)

Check it out, if you are so inclined, to be either amused or appalled at the coincidences.

Posted by James at 9:06 PM | Comments (6)

February 15, 2008

Driving Safety - A Tip For Making Traffic Useful

I read a rule of thumb somewhere that if you have your sideview mirrors adjusted correctly, you should not be seeing the side of your car in them. I have an even better tip for getting your side mirrors optimally adjusted.

If you find yourself in heavy traffic, the kind where you are rolling very slowly, it’s a great opportunity to test your mirror configuration for blind spots.

Ideal mirror positioning means that no matter where a car is in the lane next to you (either side), you should be able to see it in a mirror or through a window without moving your body or turning your head. That way you can keep your eyes primarily on the road, and either see nearby cars with just a glance, or with your peripheral vision. If you have to move your head to see a car, or you can’t see it no matter what, the car is said to be in your blind spot.

You can get by with blind spots because often a car moves into a blind spot after you are already aware of it, and then it exits your blind spot. You will have a continuous awareness of this car because your brain knows that cars don’t cease to exist just because you can’t see them. However, this is far from ideal, and it is also possible that a car can get close to you while staying in your blind spot, never becoming visible at all. Merging into traffic is one situation that can cause this problem to arise, because the angle of your car changes with respect to your direction of travel.

In any case, it’s best to minimize or eliminate blind spots. Here’s my suggestion:

  • In heavy traffic, find a car you are near that is passing you slowly, or is being passed by you, slowly.
  • Notice when it passes through your different visual zones:
    • visible in your rear-view mirror
    • visible in your side view mirror
    • visible through your side window, peripherally
    • visible through your windshield
  • Ideally, you should never be able to lose sight of the car as it moves through these zones. If you do lose the car, you have a blind spot.
  • To eliminate a blind spot, you would usually want to adjust your side mirror so that it is tilted more away from your car. If you have motorized mirrors, you can make the adjustment and try again immediately. If your mirrors must be manually adjusted, you will have to wait until you are parked, adjust them, and then check them again later.
  • Vertical tilt doesn’t have as much of an effect on your blind spot, but you may want to make small vertical adjustments if you notice you are looking over the tops of cars, or seeing too much road.
  • Repeat until your blind spots are gone.

If you can’t get rid of your blind spots (and you may not be able to, especially on your driver’s side mirror1) consider getting a small, round, convex mirror with an adhesive backing and affix that to your driver’s side mirror. My thoughts are that it’s best to affix it in a spot that is closest to where your blind spot happens, but YMMV.

With correctly-adjusted mirrors, you’ll be a safer driver. And I know I’m more relaxed when I’ve eliminated my mirror blind spots.

1 The passenger side mirror on most cars is already a convex mirror, which is why those mirrors usually carry some warning about the distortion of perceived distances in the mirror.

Posted by James at 3:03 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Post-Val Shotgun

Better than a dozen roses.

  • Grenade Spin (game,flash,fun)
    • Unique game where you move by spinning, and attack by launching grenades.
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (entertainment,movies,video)
    • Who's coming to see this movie with me? Teaser trailer.
  • Blog Juice - kentbrewster.com (blogging,tools,social)
    • It's a javascript that mines a blog's MyBLogLog list to give you info about recent visitors, like their websites, twitter feeds and flickr feeds. Drag to your bookmarks bar to use.
  • State: Public: Faith trumps science (education,evolution,science,news)
    • Things are much worse in Florida than I had imagined. Rudimentary understanding of science is confined to a minority, and most of the rest fill in the blanks with superstition.
  • YouTube - Indian Superman (indian,wtf,funny)
    • No Japanese video this week. Just this wacky Indian movie clip.
  • Bear Attack (animals,cute,funny,photos)
    • Sure, it's cute when they're that size. But wait until they get to be much larger.

BTW - surf You-Tube for a while and you start to get the idea that reality is a lot more like a David Lynch film than we probably would like it to be. I like David Lynch films, but I think I prefer to believe they're just good movies.

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

February 14, 2008

No Emperor Bush

Remember fears that Bush would somehow suspend the elections in November and somehow remain president past his two terms?

Sitting here today, reading the news, I can’t imagine that he’d want to remain president. A mess in Iraq, the economy tanking, his popularity in the toilet, everyone more interested in what the candidates are doing… I think Bush is going to celebrate his departure as much as we are.

He’d probably leave now if Cheney would let him.

Posted by James at 10:23 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Primarily Worried

As the campaigns wear on, it appears more likely that neither Clinton nor Obama will get the required number of pledged delegates (2025) needed to win the Democratic nomination.

Obama supporters are worried about two looming possibilities.

Florida and Michigan

Will Clinton push to have the excluded delegates from Michigan and Florida counted? These states were stripped of their delegates when they violated the party's wishes and decided to hold their primaries early. The votes counted there are tainted by the knowledge that they would be ignored, which kept some people at home. No campaigning (technically) happened in those states, and Clinton was the majority choice in both places.

Of course, the present situation reveals the stupidity of deciding not to vote because you think your vote doesn't count. You are so infrequently asked for your official opinion on anything that it behooves you to be counted. On that basis, I would almost agree that those delegates should be counted, because some people did make the effort to vote, and if some stayed home it's their own damn fault. A hell of a way to choose a president, but there you are.

The reason I cannot support the counting of those delegates, however, is that the candidates agreed not to campaign in those states. Clinton clearly had enormous name recognition, which Obama has been working against in what has been an uphill but ultimately surmountable battle. So, people in those states voted without the candidates having benefit of campaigning there, at the specific request of the DNC. Counting them now would be equivalent to the DNC just saying "screw the voting, we pick Hillary" because they created the situation.


Apart from the Florida and Michigan situations (BTW, thanks, Democratic Committees of Florida and Michigan) there is the role of superdelegates. President Clinton has been lobbying these Democratic movers and shakers very heavily. If they break for Hillary, they could erase his lead in the pledged delegates and hand the nomination to Hillary.

In the past I've told people there's no way the superdelegates would go against a lead in pledged delegates. My reasoning was that this would cause a suicidal division in the party, and perhaps professional repercussions for the superdelegates themselves. But I've worried on and off that I was wrong, and had to be reassured by folks like Brian Igo. If the lead in pledged delegates is ignored, with the whole country watching, the DNC may as well hand the presidency to McCain. If Hillary is the most popular candidate, I think she could win. But if she uses the superdelegates, the echoes of 2000 will be far too strong. Disillusionment will reign in the ranks of progressive democrats.

Earlier, I worried that the DNC might consider Senator Obama unelectable. The last couple of weeks have erased that worry. I think he's more electable than Senator Clinton. The DNC won't be able to make that case, if that's what they think as well.

What Is It Good For?

Which leads me to wonder, what the heck are the superdelegates for if not to break close races like this? It is just outdated? Nowadays, the whole world is watching the numbers, and with superdelegates apparently unpledged and seemingly uncounted by the news media, they can only swoop in at the end to either support the popular candidate or tell the majority of voting democrats that they have their heads up their asses -- it's our party and you can cry if you want to.

This is why I was hoping for a more clear lead. The more obvious the lead, the less the chance of shenanigans.

Am I still just worried about something that's never going to happen? The New York Times today acknowledged that these possibilities are being considered. Clinton aides are already working up a story for the superdelegates going against the vote count, saying that caucuses shouldn't be given the same respect and the same weight as a popular vote; of course, Obama had a lot of support in states with caucuses.

What do you think? If Clinton comes out ahead in delegates, this problem goes away. But assuming that Obama is the popular pledged delegate leader when this process is over, what then? If you're a Clinton supporter, what would you like to see happen? Let the superdelegates decide? how do people in caucus states feel about having their caucuses disrespected compared to the primaries in other states?

Posted by James at 9:31 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

February 13, 2008

Looking Forward

Barry asked what we would do if we were unavoidably involved in a White House reception and came face to face with the president.

I’m pretty sure what I would do. I would not be inclined to make a scene. There are a lot of things I could say, but none of it would really make much of a difference.

I would shake his hand, think of the imminent end of his administration and say “Mr. President, I’m looking forward to the celebration.”

If it were a situation where we were having a beer together, I think I’d be much more uncomfortable. I have very little I can think that I’d like to ask him. I don’t think he can offer much insight. And I wouldn’t trust him to necessarily tell the truth if I were to ask him questions that probed just how much of this mess was his own idea. “What do you regret most” questions don’t get you anywhere with this kind of person. So, I’d rather not have a beer with the guy. Some people will say this is a lost opportunity, but I’d rather enjoy my beer.

I would like to play poker with him, though, tournament-style. It’s said he is a skillful poker player, but I’ve been watching him, and I’m not sure he can hide his emotions so well.

Posted by James at 11:38 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 12, 2008

Random Crap


Am I the first one to notice Glen Beck looks like Porky Pig? I actually searched for “glen beck” + “porky pig” on Google and was shocked there aren’t any blog posts about it. I watched a bit of the Glen Beck show and it was really bugging me that he reminded me of somebody. Even after I turned off the TV and tried to clear my palate with some of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, it was bugging me. I only got any peace after I recalled Porky Pig.

Maybe I’m wrong. It seems like the ‘net thinks that Karl Rove is the Porky Pig-looking guy du jour. Whadda you think? Whose looks and mannerisms are more like Porky Pig? Glen Beck or Karl Rove?


Ugh.Speaking of clearing the palate, who is hotter?

Bzzzzzzt, sorry. While you were pondering that, you were collateral damage, killed by a stray punch.

Personally I prefer Sarah Connor. (Either or)

For the ladies:

Fight Them On The Funny Pages

A plot against one of the Mohammed cartoonists was apparently foiled. That got me to thinking. If we really wanted to draw out dangerous Islamist extremists, instead of attacking Iraq, perhaps we ought to have trained a bunch of hardened American servicemen as cartoonists and formed a comics brigade.

They could regularly publish cartoons with the likeness of Mohammed and act as a magnet for trigger-happy folks who don’t respect freedom of expression. They’d, of course, be ready to deal with any extreme responses.

Lottery Offender

The Herald is running this story about a sex offender who hit the lottery. People’s panties are in a bunch because sex offenders aren’t supposed to have good fortune.

Look, I don’t like sex offenses either, but the lottery is supposed to be random. The universe isn’t scripted. I think the people complaining about this are the same folks who think they’re going to win the lottery because they think they deserve it. Hey, maybe the system could do a better job handling sex offenders if it weren’t so clogged with drug cases! I know; it’s crazy talk.

However, the law should do something about this:

The Connecticut Sex Offender Registry lists Snay as a registered sex offender who has not verified his address since 2004. Sex offenders are required to law to verify their work and home addresses every 90 days, said Connecticut State Police Trooper William Tate.


GM reports a quarterly loss. Layoffs and buyouts on their way.

Bush: “prosperity and peace are in the balance” in November. No kidding, Mr. President?

President George W. Bush on Monday said the U.S. economy was structurally sound for the long-term despite a shrinking job market and anemic economic growth.

Of course it’s more stable for the long term. You’ll be out of office soon.

Dumb Criminals in School

If you like stories about dumb criminals, you’ll like this one. We recently lost one of our research computers to theft in a school, and we’ll unlikely ever catch the thief. Unless, of course, he’s as smart as this guy. He was one of three thieves who stole school computers. The other two criminals were caught after they set off the alarm. his guy would have gotten away, but needed to ask for directions from a passing motorist.

The driver turned out to be an administrator at the school, Dan Butler, who directed the man towards a nearby squad car. The man was immediately taken into custody.

Cheating Horsepower

Have you seen the new Avis ad running on CNN Headline News? It’s your car worrying about what you’re driving while you’re away on travel (a “hot” rental car, which is what Avis offers).

I get it! Avis is effectively communicating with their clientele by speaking to a situation they understand: cheating on their spouse. Brilliant!

Get Out!

Speaking of ads, the song from the MacBook Air ad is stuck in my head. I don’t know if that means I like it or hate it (I think I hate it, but I just can’t exorcise it).

Let’s pick a random song to clear the..OH NO! It’s that iPod Touch song! Oh well.

Posted by James at 9:20 AM | Comments (14)

February 11, 2008




“You look like a future pedophile in this picture, number 1. Number 2: it doesn’t even have a first name, it just says “McLieberman”!

Posted by James at 8:14 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 10, 2008

McCain Pulling Us Out Of Iraq

I don’t want McCain to be president, but you know what would be funny?

If McCain were to become president by talking about how he supports Bush’s prosecution of the war, and how we should have more wars, and then somehow he gets elected on that platform.

And then, he gets into office and doesn’t reveal a timetable, but pulls us out of Iraq soon after he gets settled in.

He could get away with this. He’s got no obligation to save face on the Iraq war, nor to prop up Bush. Especially not after the election. And he might get some advice that the money could be letter used building American infrastructure and other measures to blunt the impact of a recession and shore up domestic prosperity.

It’s very unlikely he would do this; he was for an Iraq war before even 9/11. He’s shown no sign of wanting to end the war.

However, he could do it and I think the conservative backlash would be vocal, but brief.

I can dream, can’t I?

BTW - the most we’ll get from any president we elect in 2008 is going to be some sort of phased withdrawal, because of the fear that Iran will take over and there will be a conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. But the milestones for the withdrawal and speed will likely vary. While I am excited to see the presidency turn over, I have a feeling we’re saddled with the albatross of Iraq no matter what happens. And for a good deal of time (and cost) into the future.

Posted by James at 4:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wiki Weekend: Time Value of Money

Karen at verbatim blog has a feature called “Wiki Wednesday” in which she uses Wikipedia’s random function to plumb the brain of the wiki for some new fact, and she shares that with her readers.

I liked the idea, but I seem to be searching Wikipedia all the time for my own purposes, so I thought I’d create my own riff on her idea, which I will post on the weekend, or on Wednesday, depending.

Wiki Weekend will feature some concept I searched for on Wikipedia either because I’d never heard of it before, because I needed details on the concept, or because I saw an opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the subject1. I’ll present the concept and then tell you why I was looking for it. We’ll continue so long as I do not suddenly decide that it is a lame idea.

This edition’s concept is:

Time Value of Money

The time value of money is based on the premise that an investor prefers to receive a payment of a fixed amount of money today, rather than an equal amount in the future, all else being equal. All of the standard calculations are based on the most basic formula, the present value of a future sum, “discounted” to a present value. For example, a sum of FV to be received in one year is discounted (at the appropriate rate of r) to give a sum of PV at present.

In other words, money now is often better than money later.

Read the Wiki entry for the details, but here’s my oversimplification: Over time, there is a potential for money to turn into more money. There is even an expectation that money should do this, so long as you hold the money in some interest-bearing account. So, according to the Wiki entry, the change in value over time can be calculated with various formulas.

The idea of a time value of money is something (like so many things) my dad taught me about when I was just a wee lad. And when I looked it up, I was thinking of the more general idea that money now is better to have than later.

What made me look it up is all the discussion over the stimulus package that Congress passed. People will be getting chunks of money which they are expected to spend. The intended result is to stimulate the economy by convincing consumers not to stop spending just yet. Consumer spending needs to continue in a healthy economy2.

Some people were leery of the one-time rebate because they thought the government was going to demand it back (like a loan) in a future tax year. there was some confusion over how this rebate was being reported. As I understand it, you won’t actually be asked to pay it back. It’s more like a rebate that you would get in the future, but since they need the economy stimulated now rather than later, they’ll send out the checks now even though it’s a rebate on taxes you haven’t paid yet.

This law lowered your taxes, so you wouldn’t have been getting that money in the future. You’re only going to have to “pay it back” in the sense that the government is not going to give you this same rebate twice. I agree, it’s a little confusing. But understand that it is not a loan, and you won’t be asked to pay it back.

Why Want It Now?

Let’s assume that you did have to pay it back later, like a loan. Some people turned their nose up at the money because they didn’t want to have to pay it back. But according to the time value of money, you should never turn down dollars, even if you have to pay them back in the future. This is part of why institutions charge interest when they loan you money. With money comes potential, and they are charging you for their loss of potential, because you hold the money rather than them.

  • If the government “loaned” you $1,000, you could invest the money, and then pay them back. You’d get to keep any capital gains or interest.
  • You could turn around and lend the money to someone who needed it, and charge them interest like a bank. Again, you’d get to keep the interest.
  • You could use it to pay for something related to your means of income. lets say you bought some musical equipment that allowed you to play gigs you couldn’t before. You’d get to keep the money you earned.* You could use it to buy a laptop earlier than you had planned. Whatever you plan to use the computer for, you now have an additional year of your life using a laptop. Even if this didn’t result in you earning more, you would experience the benefit earlier in your life. That has some value.

When the value of the dollar is dropping, dollars today really are, themselves, worth more than dollars in the future. If prices are rising, you’ll get more for your dollar today. I am not an economist, so your mileage may vary.

So, the concept of a time value of money means that money in the hand is better than money promised in the future. So, however you can, try to lay hands on that money as soon as possible and use it wisely!

1 Yes, I know that Wikipedia is not always the best place to broaden your knowledge of a subject. I didn’t say Wikipedia was my only source, but it is one of the sources which best lends itself to this blog feature. But thank you for your concern!

2 No, this post doesn’t mean I think the stimulus package is the solution to the recession.

Posted by James at 9:24 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

February 8, 2008

The Terrorists Win Construction

In America, it’s seen as a sign of weakness to quit anything, no matter what it is. If your leg is caught in a bear trap, you’re a weakling if you don’t let yourself bleed to death.

On NPR last night (media for people who try to think about bear traps before stepping in them) they said that there were a number of really smart reasons for Mitt Romney to exit the race when he did. Foremost, they said that his experience as a businessman led him to know when to get out of a bad situation.

McCain must have sensed Mitt Romney’s smartness. Perhaps this is why McCain accused Romney of having a plan to get out of Iraq, something which Romney vehemently denied. For Bush Republicans, it’s very bad press to say you have a plan for anything. It’s especially bad if the plan involves admitting you made a mistake.

If giving up is practically a cardinal sin in the conservative world, how the heck can Romney pull it off without losing face?

Of course, there’s only one thing that trumps everything else. The “Terrorists Win Construction.”

You’re already maddeningly familiar with it, because you lived through the Bush years. “The terrorists win if…” It is the unstoppable force of Republican rhetoric. It’s a get-out-of-jail free card whenever it can be convincingly played. No matter how we try to turn it into a joke, it survives because there is nothing more un-American than being for something that someone else claims would allow the terrorists to win.

That’s what is going to ultimately unite Republicans behind McCain. It worked on Romney. You think it was his idea alone to drop out? Nah. He likely got some earnest phone calls saying “Well, we really would have gotten behind you, but now the terrorists will win if you don’t drop out of the race.” (Hint: Republicans even use this phrase on each other).

The terrorists win if… you don’t support McCain. They will dutifully pull the lever like they’ve been trained to do, even if they don’t like it.

The reason so many people want change is not that they’re eager for the terrorists to win. They’ve just started to figure out that they have no idea what “the terrorists will win” has to do with “America will succeed.”

When you look around at problems facing this country, you see that there is a very real reason we need to work together on America’s success rather than think that everything is going to be fine as long as we elect the people who tell us that the terrorists aren’t winning.

We need a new construction. “America will win if…” we are not afraid to temper our emotions with intelligence. “America will win if…” we have fewer enemies, rather than collecting them proudly. “America will win if…” we see diplomacy as an expression of strength, not weakness.” America will win if…” we don’t scapegoat immigrants, but instead let them help us build a better nation. “America will win if…” workers are treated fairly and prosperity reaches every American. “American will win if…” we have a better educated citizenry.

Feel free to add your own.

Posted by James at 9:11 AM | Comments (1)

240 Shotgun

Posted by James at 8:52 AM | Comments (2)

February 7, 2008

God Forbid

I happened to catch a bit of Glen Beck on CNN while flipping channels and heard him say:

If there is, God forbid, something that happens in national security right before the election and Obama is on the other side, liberals will say “we need John McCain and if Rush hates him, he must be OK.” McCain should French kiss Rush.

I get the impression that he feels conservatives need terrorism to get elected.

I agree!

God forbid we might catch McCain French kissing Rush, and God forbid the Republicans regain the White House. Outside the conservative ideologues, Republicans are offering the country the opportunity to give in to fear by weaving it into our politics.

We could experience an attack during a Republican or a Democratic presidency. We had a pretty big incident during a hawkish Republican presidency. Neither party can offer you 100% insurance against terrorist attack.

What we know about the Republicans (because we have lived it) is that their reaction to terrorism is to consolidate their political power and use it to unrelated ends (like the Iraq war). There are people who agree with that reaction, and I don’t doubt that those people will vote Republican this time around.

But I feel that using fear like that is an extension of terrorism. This predictable reaction to terrorism is part of the cycle of terrorism itself. And I find it disturbing that terrorism can become so central to an American political party. Romney, in his concession speech today, said he’d stop at nothing to fight al Qaeda.

What that seems to have meant in practice in the Republican party is that nothing is valuable enough not to be sacrificed to the idea that fighting is now a way of life for the country. Even the things that you think make America “America” are up for grabs to continue fighting, not necessarily in the most sensible or in the most effective way but in the most aggressive way we can manage, and not always in the right way or for the right reasons.

Instead of being willing to sacrifice anything at all, including what’s important, how about being willing to sacrifice what’s necessary to preserve what’s most important?

God forbid we expect something better for our future than perpetual war, overreaction and aggression.

Posted by James at 7:19 PM | Comments (2)

Quitt Romney

Romney is out. The conservatives are all sorts of unhappy.

It’s times like this I like to choose a random right wingnut blog and see what the top story is. This one has John Kerry-bashing as its latest story. This one is headlining a hot story about Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati which the mainstream liberal media are mysteriously burying.

This one is praising Romney’s exit speech. Speaking of which:

But I agree with him on doing whatever it takes to be successful in Iraq, on finding and executing Osama bin Laden, and on eliminating Al Qaeda and terror. If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win. And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror. (— from Romney’s exit speech)

Osama? Are the Republicans even still looking for that guy? I guess they trot him out for elections when they need a bump. We’re coming up on 7 years of Republicans saying they were going to get Osama and failing. I’m pretty shocked they aren’t more embarrassed. It shows either a pretty strong lack of self-examination and self-awareness, or a lack of respect for the intelligence of their electorate. Since Powerline ate it up, I guess there really are still people who think they’re sincere about Osama.

And, Mitt, please let me know which terror attacks were launched from Iraq, and what terrorist organizations were under the control of Iraq before the war. Iraq Terror Iraq Terror Iraq Terror. Repeat after me. Iraq=Terror.

I’m glad he thinks it’s possible to “eliminate… terror.” Really? I guess it sounds manly. Can it be done? Surely, if it can, then the Republicans would have done it when they had full control of the US government and were on top of the world. But what did they eliminate when they were in control? Here’s a list of things they eliminated when they held the cards: Prosperity. Budget surplus. International goodwill. American unity. Jobs. Innovative energy policy. Hope of affordable health care. Home equity. Strong dollar. Need I continue?

Why no suggestion that they’re going to do everything it takes to eliminate poverty, or illiteracy, or children going without health care, or unemployment, or the erosion of the USA’s world dominance in research and technology?

Pthhhhhh. Bye, Mitt. I guess we’ll see you again in four years when there’s another election. Stay classy.

Posted by James at 2:39 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Maharishi Coincidence

My kids like to give my cars nicknames, but they haven’t yet given one to the used Saturn I was struggling to get registered on Tuesday.

I joked to my wife that “Saturn” made me think of Sadie, and for a few other reasons “Sexy Sadie” might be a justifiable (if unattractive) name for the car.

Odd coincidence, the actual “Sexy Sadiedied on Tuesday.

I think we might go with the nickname “Ian” for ION instead.

Posted by James at 12:15 AM | Comments (3)

February 6, 2008

Youth and Politics

David had an excellent comment about Super Tuesday, and where Obama’s strengths are at gaining support. It coincides with what I’ve seen as well; the more people are exposed to Obama, the more they choose him. It doesn’t always work that way with a candidate.

In any case, David also points out that Obama has been able to get previously uninvolved people out to vote. It reminded me that I see a lot of young people excited about Obama and paying attention to politics.

Lately, I’ve been very sensitive to listening to what people say, and trying to decide whether they really mean what they say, or whether they are saying things in a sort of automatic way. Even when people are sincere in their intentions, and are intending to be straight with you, they’re not always really straight with you because they’ll repeat things that they either have heard and have not thought through themselves. Sometimes they have accepted an idea for a reason that no longer applies because the situation has changed. Or they accept an idea superficially, but would never accept the true implications.

You hear a lot of people say that it’s a shame that young people aren’t more involved in politics, or interested in the world. It’s a common enough lament that I am almost positive you’ve heard it more than once. But do they really mean it? If they did, there ought to be a lot more support for progressive candidates, because I see young people largely supportive of progressive candidates.

I think that what they mean is that they wish more young people voted and thought the way they do, and in reality they are a little bit afraid of what would happen if mote young people were active. This is the counterpoint to experience; this is innovation.

If you want young people to vote, you have to offer a candidate they’d be willing to vote for. So, don’t say you wish more young people would vote without considering whether you want those candidates to win.

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

CAPTCHA My Attention

People aren’t working hard enough to make CAPTCHA systems more easy for users.

I know; I whine about CAPTCHAs a few times a year. Well, I guess this is this quarter’s whine.

Google is a big company, and they own Blogger. I can think of a simple way to reduce the burden of CAPTCHAs on the user. Maybe you can tell me what’s wrong with it, because often the simple solution was already considered and dismissed. But this solution seems to me to be not so bad.

If you are commenting on blogs, chances are you make a habit of it. Since many blogs are on Blogger, it seems to me that you only should have to prove you are a human once, or maybe once within a certain span of time. If I prove I am a human in one blog comment, shouldn’t I still be a human the next time I comment?

If you were only required to prove your humanity once ever, I could see that easily being abused. A human passes the CAPTCHA and then the robot takes over and spams the internet. But it seems like there could be a happy medium. Something simple like “require a CAPTCHA on one out of 5 comments from James.” Or, “Require a CAPTCHA once per week, but sooner if James exhibits spammer-like behavior, like more than a certain number of comments in a very short span of time.”

Using cookies, Google can keep track of all sorts of things. You’d think they could keep track of the fact that I keep successfully proving I’m a living, breathing person.

As much as I hat CAPTCHA, I have to say I don’t mind reCAPTCHA so much. Not only are they using CAPTCHAs for a good cause, their CAPTCHAs are all actual words, which makes it much easier for me to type them. I find them much less annoying. But I still would rather do them a lot less often.

Posted by James at 11:36 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

On Leading In Delegates

Correction: Hillary did not have the lead in delegates going in Tuesday as I said in my last post. She was ahead in polls and superdelegates, but Obama had the delegate lead.

Last night I said that I would have rather seen a person clearly pulling ahead on the Democratic side, but I’ve changed my mind after reading that the RNC is just waiting to see who the front runner is so they can let loose their attack dogs. The earlier there is a clear winner, the earlier they begin to smear. It is a slight advantage to the Democrats that McCain is clearly out in front, because it’s so likely he’s going to be the candidate to beat in November.

And also, last night I responded to a tweet from Mike about the possible role of superdelegates; I was skeptical they could play an important role in swinging the result of the primaries away from the will of the voters, mainly because I figured they would worry about losing swing support for their candidate. I still think this is true on the Republican side, but I’m starting to see that a really close delegate count would give the party leaders cover on the Democratic side to flex some muscle.

Posted by James at 9:41 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Super Tuesday Aftermath

Are the Super Tuesday states representative of the nation?

If so, then Republican voters are largely for McCain and Democratic voters are narrowly for Clinton.

Looking at the delegate totals thus far here, I’m making my amateur conclusions. The delegate totals tell the same story as the Super Tuesday totals. Although nobody has nearly enough delegates to close the book,

Romney had what can only be described as a horrible night. He was hammered in states with large delegate counts, to the consternation of those who consider themselves conservative. Is this a conservative backlash? Maybe the dittoheads are dittoing less, but there is also a rising concern about the economy. Huckabee’s presence cannot be denied as a factor; he was a popular alternative in the south where Romney might have otherwise made traction in places with weak McCain support.

The McCain momentum was enough to convince him to come out and declare victory fairly early in the night, but not before Huckabee had already made his own delusional announcement that it was a two-man race, and he was in it. That’s an interesting conclusion to reach from third place in the delegate count. Maybe he was talking about the race to lose to McCain? Or maybe he thinks that he can attract last minute support away from Romney and make more out if it, since he’s spent far less money than Mitt up to this point to better effect.

On the Democratic side, Clinton continues to have the lead in delegates, but without a spoiler there is still a lot of work for her to shake Obama’s rising popularity. However, Karl Rove (of all people) had an interesting observation. A lot of Obama’s Super Tuesday support is coming from states which are not expected to be carried by the Democratic candidate in the general election. Like the flip-side of Romney’s support here in Massachusetts; it’s not going to help him become president. Democrats are simply split on the candidate question, but Clinton must be happy that there was no rising tide that took the lead out of her hands.

It was amusing to see Chelsea (obviously on assignment from mom) nudging Bill away from reporters after casting his vote last night. The whole family is on task keeping the ex-president in check.

An interesting night, but there are still decisions to be made. If your state has yet to be counted, your vote is certainly going to make a difference.

Posted by James at 6:29 AM | Comments (10)

February 5, 2008

Obama on Super Tuesday

Super Tuesday is upon us, and that means voting in primaries for many Americans across the nation, now including Massachusetts.

I cast my vote for Obama. Obama and Clinton are very close in policies, but when I went through statements the candidates had made, I agreed more often with Barack Obama. (I used MyElectionChoices.com for some of my comparisons, because it was convenient). Especially on topics most important to me like education, net neutrality, campaign finance reform.

It was still a tough choice, however, because my research led me to believe that Hillary Clinton has expressed views similar to my own a lot more often in the realm of fiscal policy. It may be that Obama has not been as specific on the subject, but this worried me a bit.

But this only made it a difficult choice between two good candidates. Both candidates have mentioned autism in their plans for Americans with disabilities, with Hillary producing a very specific plan. Obama has consistently supported money for research into Autism spectrum disorders. (Pippa provided the link to this info)

I went with Obama because of two things which I think separate him apart.

I think he has a fresh view that will be more likely to produce new ideas. Experience can be a great boon to a candidate, but it can also make them too conservative. I think we're at a time when we need someone who might be willing to spend some political capital to undo the mess of the last 8 years. I think Obama would be more likely to spend that capital.

I also think the Obama would be less polarizing and be more likely to unite the country toward common goals using the values that Americans share, rather than dividing us with contentious wedge issues. We've experienced eight years of a president playing us off each other for his own presidential power, in many ways Obama promises to be a polar opposite. That's refreshing.

That's why Aces Full of Links is enthusiastically supporting Obama in this primary.

May the best candidate win.

Posted by James at 11:46 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 4, 2008

How 'Bout The Superbowl... Commercials

All I can say about the game is that I'm glad I'm a Red Sox fan. Many people who tried to tune into "The Biggest Loser" on NBC were surprised when they realized they'd been watching the Patriots for a full half hour before noticing they were on the wrong channel.

However, whadja think of the commercials?

Commercials were noticeably less violent and mean-spirited this year, and I think they connected with more people. The group I was with for the first half seemed to respond a lot better.

Yet, there were still some commercials I wish I hadn't seen. Most memorable was the online job search commercial which had a woman whose heart decided to jump out of her chest, confront her boss and then hit the road.

At first I thought it was some sort of rogue breast implant, and my stomach did a backflip or two. My daughter was not amused. And it was a lot of effort to simply illustrate "follow your heart." I'd call that my least favorite commercial of the night.

I'd rather see a wardrobe malfunction any day over that commercial. And it frankly amazes me that the country would get worked up over a nipple but has no problem with a beating heart going all "alien chest-burster" on national television.

The halftime show didn't appear to suck as much as usual, though it never matters to me who is up on that stage, I just never can get into a halftime show. We skipped over it on the DVR.

What was your least-favorite commercial, or your least favorite aspect of Sunday, apart from the game itself?

Posted by James at 1:51 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

February 3, 2008

Arrested Development Movie?

It’s a distinct possibility! People are being probed for interest.

According to Yahoo Entertainment:

“I can confirm that a round of sniffing has started,” Bateman says. “Any talk is targeting a poststrike situation, of course. I think, as always, that it’s a question of whether the people with the money are willing to give our leader, Mitch Hurwitz, what he deserves for his participation. And I can speak for the cast when I say our fingers are crossed.”


And so it seems that a few good—wait, no, outrageously amazing—things just might come out of this unfortunate writers’ strike, as the creative minds in this town have had time to pause, regroup and think about their dream projects.

You know, I think I’d give up all TV for a year if it meant bringing back Arrested Development for another season.

Posted by James at 3:12 AM | Comments (1)

February 2, 2008

Good Photography

“I know a good photograph when I see it.”

I reiterated to Maggie today that I don’t think I’m a good photographer. I think I have taken some good (but not great) pictures. And I have had fun taking pictures. If I were a good photographer, I would have taken a lot more good pictures, and perhaps some great ones.

Part of the discussion on the previous post wandered into the territory of defining what a good photograph was. I think that even though many people will produce many definitions, it’s still an interesting discussion.

I wanted to note that those who are skilled at photography are more likely to take a better picture, given the same equipment. Chuck actually has made that comment before I had the chance to post this, so thanks, Chuck!

This illustrates that the equipment is minimized in the equation of determining “good” so long as it qualifies some minimal definition of “photographic equipment.”

By “reductio ad absurdum” argument you can show that there is no specific camera setup needed to take good photos. Whatever setup you claim is necessary, I can degrade it slightly and ask you if it’s at all possible for this setup to produce a good photograph. Eventually, we’ll just get down to arguing about what minimally constitutes a photograph. So, you see, it won’t be about having better photographic equipment, but whether you even have a camera.

Imagine an equation in this form: G = E * (S + r). It’s far over-simplified to illustrate that a Good photograph relies on Equipment and Skill. If Equipment is zero (i.e. not a camera) then goodness is zero. You have to have equipment of some kind that minimally satisfies the ability to produce a photograph. But what if you have zero Skill? I think there is a very small constant r for random chance that prevents the right side of the equation from going to zero if you have no Skill1.

G does not insure that a photograph is good; for larger values of G you simply have a better chance of something being a good photo.

David spoke of being a professional, and I certainly respect his opinion. For the purposes of this discussion I don’t concede that wedding photography customers get to define what “good” is. Maybe if I were looking for a consensus they would count for something as a group, but I’m not. Clearly they want a specific product, and that’s fine; specialized equipment makes that possible and/or easier to achieve. I generally don’t see a photographer as a mechanic, but I do see that when a very specific product is in mind, it’s about pleasing the customer, not arguing whether you can be a wedding photographer with only a phonecam2.

Let me leave professional photography aside, though. Not only am I not a photographer, but I’m especially not a professional photographer!

Chuck pointed out that Flickr’s “interestingness” algorithm is a mysterious secret. That’s not because it’s too fascinating for your eyes, it’s because attention junkies will find a way to game the system if they knew how the algorithm worked. But it constitutes one automated definition of good. I am willing to bet that graininess, or camera resolution do not figure into the interestingness equation. I bet it doesn’t check EXIF data for your camera type, or any of your settings.

People will look at a picture and decide whether it is good. When you look at a photo, do you need to know what equipment was used before you decide if the photo is good? I don’t think so. I do agree that you might look at a photo and think it would be improved if the photographer had used better equipment, or even if he had been more skilled.

Some of my more popular pictures are those of bread I have baked. Why is that? Not because I photograph them with skill. It’s because of the work I put into the bread. Does being a better baker make me a better photographer? I don’t think it does, but it’s funny to think that it might be more likely to get me into the Explore section of Flickr. Would being an attractive self-photographing girl make me a good photographer? Same question3.

If this whole thing comes off as me telling you what your definition of good should be, it’s not. Think of it more as an explanation of my definition, and how I defend it. In the world of subjective measures, I think there’s a ton of wiggle room.

1 Alternately, we could remove r and just argue about the minimal definition of “taking a photograph.” In that case, a Skill of zero would mean you can’t even initiate a photograph, for whatever reason. But this equation is only for illustrating the point.

2 I found it interesting that David used a mechanic analogy to show how he felt about my opinion of photography. I don’t think he thinks photographers are mechanics, but I do think there are some areas of overlap when you are doing this work as your job. A photographer could take a hundred beautiful photographs at a wedding and still not please the bride and groom. What if there were no pix of the maid of honor in any of his wonderful photographs? A different standard must be achieved. I’m not saying it’s divorced from the more general definition of “good,” but I do think it complicates it to the point that it isn’t helpful.

3 Actually, I think young/attractive/confident girls have an advantage in photography, because I think they can approach an interesting-looking person and be more likely to get them to agree to be photographed. I haven’t tested this theory scientifically, but I’m willing to bet people would rather be approached by a young girl with a camera than by a 40-year-old guy who looks like a terrorist.

Posted by James at 11:10 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 1, 2008

I'm Not a Photographer

I’ve noticed an interesting thing in my Flickr interactions.

Actually, I’ve noticed lots of both interesting and annoying things about Flickr. Some are too obvious to warrant their own blog post, like “if I wanted my pictures to appear in Explore more often, I should be a female and take photos of my bellybutton.”

I can’t say I’ve put a hell of a lot of time and effort trying to get attention for my photos, but it is hard not to notice that the “explore algorithm” favors ahem*tasteful*ahem shots of scantily clad female body parts. And since I’m not interested in posting photographs of my wife, and couldn’t afford the surgery if I did, I’m shit out of luck.

I shouldn’t care at all, but I guess I do, a little. Otherwise I wouldn’t have mentioned it, right? I choose to be amused. “Whatever.”

Oh, and babies. Pictures of babies. Who is clicking pictures on Flickr? Guys who like skin and women who want to look at babies. Okay, I admit it, I like the baby pictures, too. Damn, you people are tough interviewers.

I’m not a photographer. Some would argue that an amateur photographer is someone who has a camera and tries to take interesting pictures. But by some other, more stringent definition, I am not a photographer. I won’t try to guess what that definition is, but I can tell you that I don’t fit it.

My camera is mediocre at best. I do not try to hone my craft. I take pictures that have meaning for me, not you. I take pictures for content, not style. If some style creeps in there, then I guess it’s more enjoyable to look at. Great. But I am not trying to impress anyone with my pictures. I am trying to inform, amuse or document.

So, photojournalism is probably closer to my “goal” than “photographer,” but my Flickr photostream is to photojournalism as my blog is to journalism. So, you know.

So, like I said before, I noticed something. Chuck participates in Flickr a lot, has a great eye, bought some great equipment and draw lots of (IMHO well-deserved) praise for his photos. On Flickr, you can encourage other people to submit their photos to groups where other people will see them. The groups often have criteria for photos in the group pool. Chuck1, being the good friend he is, has nominated my pix to be added to certain groups. I declined, and felt bad about it, because I looked at the group’s criteria. I didn’t think my photos were up to group standards. Those groups seemed to be looking for “high quality” photos, and their definition of quality was different from mine.

At other times, folks have asked me to add my photos to groups where the criteria was as lax as “this group is for photos of lunch” or something equally challenging. I almost always say “OK” to those.

It’s not just because I have a low opinion of the quality of my photos (I feel it’s an accurate opinion). It’s because these are two kinds of pictures. My picture of lunch is not saying to you “look at how beautiful my lunch is, and look at how beautifully I captured it.” It’s more like “look at what I ate for lunch!”

I have looked at photos being praised in “high quality” groups and been embarrassed that my own photos weren’t better. And I have looked at photos with tons of gushing comments and thought to myself “you’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” Sure I like honest comments on my photos if someone connects with them, but I swear some of the people sound like they’re on ecstasy when they make these comments.

Flickr is a strange world and there are a lot of nice people there. But I do wonder about some of them. I guess it comes down to trusting that comments from my friends are more honest and less cheerleading, and that cheerleading comments make me feel weird. And, of course, I want to avoid criticism of my photos inclusion in a group pool if they don’t fit the criteria. There’s a bit of a game going on there, and I’m not interested in playing.

1 Chuck always leaves very supportive comments that are encouraging, but I’ve never felt patronized. I think he gets that these are different kinds of pictures, but it’s not clear that group participants make that same distinction — the content of the image vs. a more comprehensive analysis involving the “art” of photography.

Posted by James at 2:48 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack