Thursday, May 31, 2007

Jesus Camp, A DVD Review

Holy shit. Literally. This could quite possibly be the scariest movie I've ever seen, not including Gigli. I don't know who's more terrifying: The kids or the parents. (Hint: The parents. Why? Because by definition they've had "the sex". With someone else. Willingly. [takes shower])

I haven't been this pissed off about a movie since Paramount halted production on the sequel to From Justin to Kelly. I.e., really pissed off. (Word on the street is that the working title was From Justin to Kelly 2: Which One's Not A Girl?)

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against Evangelical Christians. I just think they should be sterilized. They should be used in lab experiments in place of rats. Why? Because rats have redeeming qualities.

The events in Jesus Camp fall just short of child abuse.

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against Jesus. I just think that people who manipulate kids who don't have the self-awareness to realize they're being used in His name should be executed. And then sent to prison.

Haggard's cameo was a nice touch. I think he's way too ugly to be gay. Then again, I've got impossibly high standards. Either way, that's one creepy faggot.

The most moving parts of the documentary are when these carnival freaks magically start speaking in a language they don't know because it doesn't really exist on account of it being meaningless gibberish. Nice save.

Here's a fresh approach: Instead of banning Harry Potter movies, why not pray to Jesus to help you lose about 150 pounds, you giant cunt?

If heaven is filled with these sorts of people, I'll take hell any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Christian Heavy Metal? Where's your fucking pod, you insane retard? Stop breathing my air.

Believe it or not, it was fun for the whole family. But I kept waiting for Jesus to come back and start chopping these people's heads off with s scythe. Boy was I ever disappointed.

Then end.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Last week, I discovered an infestation of morels near my house. Well, OK, I've only found four of them, but if I were really motivated, I bet I could hunt around for enough to justify claims of a colony. I'm pretty sure they're the real deal: they're hollow, their caps are joined to their stems at the base (not the top), and they have a nice pitted and ridged crown. Here's a picture of one of them.

It's a lovely organism, but the idea of putting the damn thing in my mouth drives me batshit. It's not that it's exotic-looking--not much worse than a cauliflower really--it's that the idea of eating weird-looking shit I find outside is wrong. I can look at pictures and field manuals all day, but until I see someone else pluck it, prep it, and pop it in his or her mouth, my stomach clenches at the very idea. Damn shame too, because I've always wanted to taste morels. [Twiffer says they're worth risking death for.]

I want to blame evolution, but it's not the lowness of the lifeform that sparks the revulsion. (After all, I can't imagine a life without yeast.) I'll eat a lily bulb before a garden variety bug or snail, but I'll scarf a dandelion or a pansy from my yard before I start shaking out pine cones for nutty treasures (which I quite enjoy of course). And I eye those baby spring ferns with deep apprehension. I want to saute the curly little bastards, but...

I'm an open-minded eater, but there are certain foods for which I hold an unreasonable horror. Partly it's because they're slimy and gross, partly because they just seem like they shouldn't be eaten, partly because they remind us of the animal nature of our dinners: tripes, brains, eyes. I can't imagine eating an animal's kidneys and I find the thought of sweetbread to be offensive, but I like calf's liver and heart. And I just love sausage. (Not like that, you pervert.) One time I had jellyfish, and even though it tasted like fishy noodles, it was hard to divorce my mind from the puddles of stinging beach goo. Seaweed tastes similar, but I've no problem with it. Lobsters taste good enough to get past the sea-bug vibe. Snails haul their big slimy foot awfully close to teh line, but I'll guzzle raw clams at the picnic. What's the difference? (The thing with the salt, for one.)

One of the better parts of Michael Pollan's recent book, was a (qualitative) discussion of food aversions, the odd combination of learned and instinctive behavior. The role of learning in person, he says, is irreplacable--edibility is something that really needs to be shown. Maybe that's why, against all reason, the American mind doesn't revolt against a twinkie in the same way it does against, say, chicken feet. As usual, it's the marketing.

Edible shrooms hold a certain freakish terror of their own. No matter how much I love some of the storebought varieties, I share the common human suspicion that yard fungus is deadly poisonous until proven otherwise (and even then, even then...). If I beat the odds and found (and recognized) a truffle, bet that I would chuck it horrified back into the trees. I'd make a second-rate survivalist. If I were suave, come the apocalypse, I could use those book-smarts to at least convince some tasters. Some people are made to be leaders, others to whisper in their ears. To my future band of ragged starving misfits: remember that I'm too valuable to kill. I can recognize a morel for you to try.

Fonts for the Memories

Slate had a pair of interesting (at least as far as these things go) articles on typeface* geekery today (here and here). The world of reading aesthetics is, not surprisingly, full of prejudice. For those people who can't go five minutes without thrusting endless rows of the things before their watery, myopic eyes, the presentation of words on the page or the screen matters a lot, and preferences worm their way in to the brain to imprint themselves somewhere just below the level of conscious thought.

For reading, I've long been a fan of the Times typeface, or one of its dozen usual variants. I'm not super particular about it or anything, so long as it's something decently seriffed, stately, fully justified, and proportionally spaced, like in all of those half-remembered novels from my childhood--it's what respectable prose writing should look like, way more serious than the urgently penned capitals of my innumerable dogeared comics, or the vast and random array of ironically emphasized styles of MAD magazine. The aspect ratio might change a little in the book printing, the spacing, the boldness, but it was always something tall and gabled, a font bespeaking decency, old money, dignity.

In those unheralded formative years of mine (after Led Zeppelin's peak and before Nirvana's, roughly speaking), sans serif typefaces had a certain unsavory meaning. They connoted a dated gosh-wow sci-fi (read "skiffy") feel, dusty and cobwebbed under the banality of actual post-Cold War modernity. They were the guilty pleasures of my parents' day, almost of my grandparents'. I'm grateful for the article's dissection of Arial as a streamlined, zippy-but-dumb Helvetica. Helvetica is the ubiquitous roadsign typeface, with a couple of curves and tails offering the reminder of the old-school sophisitication that had to be sacrificed in the name of clarity. Arial, by contrast, needs to have a rocketship underneath it. (Not that there's anything wrong with rocketships.)

I suppose this opinion is thanks in part to my young computer experiences, such as they were. I remember those ugly all-caps early computer displays--a string of pidgin English, delivered in a shout, and followed by a block of a cursor blinking inanely at the end. I always peeked at those gray plastic boxes in fascination, but the promise of doing cool shit with one of them tended to dissolve in five boring minutes of effort. If the programming bug ever bit me in those days (or ever), I'd probably be rich now. I wanted to believe, but I didn't have the patience to become an early convert to the digital cult.

Not that I ever got that far from the church though, even if I was a stranger to its deeper mysteries. I learned to type on one of these beasts, bought by my parents out of some sense of obligation to the times. Those Tandys were early advertisers of office utility (and the fact that the Radio Shack brand didn't have an underground network of pirated and swapped games had a lot to do with my parents' purchase). A lie, that. That machine had an evil and primitive word processing program that was already obsolete at the time of purchase. It could produce lower case letters though, and I remember the dot matrix recalcitrantly whirring out a barely legible mixed typeface for my school reports, some Arial bastard with Roman Is. My poor mother attempted to crank out a number of book manuscripts with that turd, perforated wheel guides carefully torn off, sheets separated and then lovingly packaged. (I transcribed one from its hard copy three years ago for her for Christmas, and keep meaning to follow through with the others). Mom never submitted in Courier (which I admit is a lot easier to scan by eye), but then she also never quite got anything published.

Fast forward a little. In college, there was, of course, more writing. As an engineering student, I don't think I imprinted quite as strongly as a liberal arts sort might have, and anyway there wasn't any word-wrangling platform ubiquitous enough at the time to lock in my character aesthetic. (I got my degree in '94, as Bill Gates was still perfecting his stranglehold on office software tools.) There was a huge network of public workstations (unix-based I think), blessedly with laser printers. Sometimes I wrote lab reports on a program called Slate, but usually I just used a generic text editor. If I was running really behind (not uncommon) and didn't have time for the haul across campus, I borrowed my roommate's typewriter. There was email on campus (and it was new!), and I engaged in some other text-based nerd-tivities I'd rather not disclose. None of it used the tired zip of streamlined Swiss letters. They were all stately and decorated at the ends, giving my playtime the illusion of respectability.

A lot of the writers interviewed in the Slate (magazine) article were annoying ("my preference of Courier means I'm better than you"), but I am not without my own pretensions. All of my accepted manuscripts have been for academic publications (not as great as it sounds, but pride baby, gotta have it). My graduate advisor insisted that everything be written in Times font for those because that's what the journals expected. I consider Microsoft's version of Times New Roman to be the graduation point of my writing efforts. I mean, I was (am) a second-rate scientist, but I could totally write circles around that guy.

Maybe it would have ended there, but the internets were coming about at that time too, slamming me with that space-agey Helvetica ripoff all over again. Every online publication seems to use it, and it's grown on me, I admit (I mean, look around). It's tough to read anything for very long on a CRT, and simpler and bolder typefaces help ease the eyestrain immensely. I've gotten somewhat ecumenical in my tastes: different fonts for different haunts. Arial (or similar) for on-line reading or for presenting data, Times for prose, Courier to string up that Damocles sword of the rejection slip. I've never been much of a purist anyway.


*Note to self: remember this site

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My idea...

Paul Stamatiou writes that to make a lot of money on the internet, all you need is a great idea.

Here's my idea; whether it's great or not is not determined.

As the blogging market shakes out, withfew exceptions the individual blog is not the dominant model. Most of the leading blogs are either affiliates or under a corporate umbrella. This has numerous advantages -- I know that I do not write enough that a daily check of a personal blog for me would be worthwhile.

What was nice about the individual blog model was that there could be one source for all of someone's writings. As it is my writing is spread out, some stuff here, other stuff at my personal blog, some in comment threads (including WordPress, Blogger and HaloScan), Fray posts, newsgroups, and other forum software.

It would be nice to have a way to integrate all these sources into one page.

Now, this would require cooperation from each of these sources, but I don't think it would be terribly onerous. It would pretty much take each of them to have RSS feeds by username, since they require userid logins.

Then, these feeds could be mashed together for an integrated view of whatever I've posted online.

I also think there will be increasing demand for tools to manage one's online profile.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Off topic

Studio 60, Josh Hancock, and the harrowing bus plunge...

  • Now that sweeps are over, NBC is playing out the string on Studio 60. Last night's effort featured no screen time for Bradley Whitford, Amanda Peet, or Matthew Perry, a renewal of flirtatious banter between Allison Janney and Timothy Busfield, the startlingly original subplot of a black superstar's womanizing coming back to haunt him when he meets a woman he loves, and the cast expressing fatigue with the Matt-Harriett romance, which they've been building the show around. Can see why it's cancelled.

  • Well, any good will there was remaining for Josh Hancock's memory just went down the toilet. They won't win, but we shouldn't even waste resources defending against lawsuits for wrongful death for someone who wrecked one car while drunk, got drunk again, then drove again, and sped while talking on a cell phone. I guess I should shut up before Hancock's family sues me for libel.

  • You can read my first person account of my bus plunge over at MBB

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A New Timeline

From: The U.S. of A.
To: Iraq
Subject: Oops!

Good people of Iraq,

Okay, yeah, you were better off 4 years ago than you are today. We messed up, big time. We get it. But seeing as how un-ringing a bell is a lot like being a little bit pregnant, we're going to own up to our mistake and say, "We're sorry." Here lately it's starting to look like the war is being prosecuted by The Spice Girls with a ouiji board. Not pretty. (Was there an Incompetent Spice?)

So, we're leaving. This weekend, in fact. (Where "leaving" means we're gonna pull back to Afghanistan and set up a sort of Mall of America type deal where all the stores are ammunitions-themed. Don't sweat it; you'll know what we're going for when it's done.)

But what you people have to do is man-up, take some responsibility, show a little pluck & chutzpah & backbone, and get control of your own country back, if you can.

If the whole country devolves into civil war? Oh well. It was a thought. Besides, !!!NEWSFLASH!!! It already has.

If the Sunnis decide to wipe the Shiites off the face of our planet, earth, or vice versa? Well, somebody's gotta lose.

If the countries surrounding Iraq decide to annex parts of it for their own enjoyment and utility? Well, it's not like the current real estate is that attractive looking these days anyway, especially when you consider it's totally a buyer's market right now. (Though y'all have given an entirely new meaning to the phrase "housing market bubble burst", whereas the "bubble burst" in this case is more likely than not a 16-year old girl who's been brainwashed into strapping on a sports bra filled with explosives and chlorine and wandering over there to the Baghdad O'Charley's for some cheese fries and carnage [on the side, obviously].)

So we'll give you 3 months to straighten up, in every sense. 3 months. We'll monitor your progress through our "friends" in the region. And before any of you retarded maniacs decide to pull something funny on Saudi Arabia, Egypt or Israel (I'm talking to you, Syria, Iran, Lebanon!)? Keep in mind that, as far as we're concerned, our "friends" have carte blanche to do whatever it takes to protect their sovereignty and safety as nations. Anything. They. Want. (Yes, as a matter of fact, we are aware of the irony of our having violated Iraq's sovereignty almost overnight. Don't change the subject.)

After 3 months, we'll determine if what's going on in Iraq distracts those in the greater Middle East from pursuing the important things in life (e.g., commerce, relative tolerance, not blowing up, say). If it's not upsetting the balance of worldsmanship (New word!) in the area at large, we'll leave you to chopping each others' heads off and stoning women to death for showing a toenail in public. (Pretty harsh, there, Abdullah!)

But if what's going on in Iraq after 3 months does hamper everyone else's ability to pursue life, a little liberty, and happiness, then we're going to carpet bomb the country indiscriminately, reduce the country at large to little more than a rubble heap, annex the landfill ourselves, and put up a giant Chevron in its place with a Shop-a-Snack that will make your head spin, and then cut it off. We don't need your oil. In 5 years we'll have a car that gets 100 miles per gallon (in the city, no less!) that costs 15,000 dollars and looks like an Audi. Seriously.

"But the rest of the world would never allow the United States to obliterate another country off the map!"

Really? You're going to rely on the rest of the world's opinion of us as a defense mechanism? Yeah, have a good time with that.

It's your choice. Your fate is in your own hands and in those of your countrymen, which is as it should be. It's up to you to pull yourselves up by your goofie flip-flop looking thingie straps, dramatically adjust your mandress, and stand up for your rights as a citizen of your country and of humanity.

It's also your choice, if you feel so moved, to continue killing each other, and sentencing yourselves and your countrymen to oblivion and beyond. You can think of it as having Allah sort it all out.

(Note to Iran: If you guys develop a nuclear weapon, enjoy it while you can, because about 3 minutes after you invent it we're going to nuke you back to the Mesozoic Age. [You'll love it. It's the Age of the Reptiles; you'll fit right in.])

Are these measures a tad on the drastic side? Probably. Is it unfair for America to punish Iraq for a war we started, a war which has decimated the country's infrastructure (and outfrastructure, for that matter) and mutilated hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians? Of course, but that's never stopped us before. Is our response proportional to the crimes committed? Well, see, we don't really care. Why? Because this whole fiasco has demonstrated one immutable point that everyone is thinking but doesn't have the guts to blurt out, namely, the lives of lighter-skinned people are just simply more valuable than the lives of darker-skinned people. It's been in a couple papers, by the way. And we're a little tired of you killing our GIs because of it. (I.e., Barack Obama is plenty black enough for yours truly [Wink!].)

Oh, and you Sunnis and Shiites? One last thing. There's this great episode of Star Trek in which Captain Kirk and the whole Enterprise gang come across these 2 dudes, entirely black on one side and white on the other, bickering and being really mean to each other. We find out towards the end of the show that the reason they hate each other is because they're black and white on different sides of their bodies, like they're mirror images of each other, tint-wise. (It also turns out that they're the last of their kind left.) Get it? We don't know why, exactly, you people hate each other, but near as we can figure, the reasons are about as dumb as they were in that episode, too lame-inducingly stupid for even our poor Mr. Spock to comprehend, who couldn't even bring himself to use his formidable logic to justify a Vulcan Nerve Pinch Of Death™.

So the ball is in your court, guys. We'll see you in 3 months. Good luck.

Yours sincerely,

Uncle Sam (House and Senate Democratic Leadership*)

P.S. All Palestinians are hereby welcome to emigrate to Mexico. No questions asked. We promise. (They wouldn't be answered, after all.)

*2-for-1 testicle sale at the DNC – screw this up and it's, "Hello, Farrightwinginsaneville, population: Indefinite Occupation!"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some amnesty's OK

The main criticism of the immigration bill seems to be that it is too good a deal for those who are currently here illegally. It's been labelled the "amnesty" bill or other things.

I can somewhat understand this perspective -- these people are in violation of the law, and lawbreaking should not be rewarded. It sends the message that if you want to come here, get here by any means neccesary, and wait for the next amnesty.

But in looking at the current situation, it seems like the illegal aliens are not the primary immoral agents. That would be the employers, who were aware of the law, and broke it anyway. They did not patriotically sacrifice in order to honor are laws. No, they gladly employed these people, paid them below standard wages, didn't pay their part of social security, and pulled in the profits.

And they're getting amnesty, too, though nobody seems too outraged about that. There's not going to be any effort to punish those who have happily been benefitting from the curcurrent system. They're not going to have to pay back social security payments.

No, our outrage is reserved for those who risked their lives to get here in the hopes of establishing a better life for themselves and their children, and have been working shitty jobs for sub-standard pay for opportunistic employers, and us as consumers so we can pay a price for goods that is much less than their cost. They must pay. They must be punished. Those who exploited them, well, what are we gonna do about that now? In fact, let's set up a "guest worker" program so they can continue the practice.

Oh, but the immigrants sometimes wave the wrong flags at their rallies. And they don't arrive speaking our language. That's why they should pay, yeah. It doesn't have anything to do with their skin color.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Beautiful Oak tree

Beautiful oak tree
home to many living things
is a home no more

When we first moved to the wilds of Texas our land was covered in Oak trees and Yaupons. We cleared out the Yaupons where we built our home and left the biggest Oaks that weren't in the way. I love trees, they are some of my most favorite things on this planet.

I had a favorite Oak tree who stood just to the left of my deck. He was big and beautiful, tall and straight...proud is the word that I would use to describe him. Although he was quite beautiful on his own I decorated him with a terracotta half moon and put wind chimes in his branches. One day, four years ago I went out on the deck and noticed small pieces of bark all of over it and realized my beautiful Oak was in serious trouble.

The droughts in Texas have claimed the lives of many Oak trees. I've consistently lost 2 to 4 every year and sadly my beautiful Oak was one of the drought's victims. What the drought does is weaken the Oaks to the point where invaders move in, attacking them, sucking out their life's juices. I did everything I knew how to do to save my beautiful Oak but nothing worked....he died regardless of my best efforts.

I begged my husband to please cut down my beautiful Oak but he never Oak's dead carcass is still there for me to see and to hurt for what he once was. Oddly enough much of his bark has stayed on and though no leaves remain he is still tall and straight and to me...beautiful.

Today I decided my beautiful Oak would live once again. I planted fragrant Moon flower vines around his base to adorn his beautiful, straight trunk. The vines will be allowed to climb as high as they like, 30 ft. of big green leaves and huge fragrant white blossoms, 6 in. across. The vines will bloom every evening and when the moon is full it will look like there are lights hanging on my beautiful Oak. The air around him will be fragrant with the heady scent of moon flowers. I took out the wind chimes I made for him and they will once again make music in his branches, reminding everyone who passes by to look and see what a beautiful tree he is. I will hang the terracotta half moon back up where it belongs. I've put bird houses on him so that the birds may live in his branches as they once did, raising their young to take their first flight from the security of his embrace.

My beautiful Oak will live once again and be almost as beautiful as before.

Disproportionately Funny

Sometimes people say things that strike you as funnier than they probably should. There's no rhyme or reason to it; you just find yourself randomly chuckling about it for a couple days afterwards.

I ran into this exchange between two anonymous slashdot users today who were discussing modifying game hardware, and I nearly snarfed chai on two computers at once.

>"If you can't install Linux on it or otherwise do with it as you
>please, it's not anywhere near as useful as it should be."

I apply the same litmus test to all decisions in my life, including my choice of girlfriends and pets. That's why I masturbate a lot and have a hamster that runs Ubuntu.

I'm not going anywhere near the first part, but I want a hamster than runs Unbuntu.

Monday, May 21, 2007

On that.....

Daveto asks (and answers) the question of whether the NBA's policy of suspending players who leave the bench during an altercation has to do with the fact that most of the players are black, and most of the NBA's audience is white.

I agree with his affirmative answer, but I don't think that ends the conversation.

From the NBA's perspective, it seems this means they are doing the right thing. They are running the business. Their customers demand a certain product (world-class basketball without bench-clearing brawls). The NBA's task is to provide it.

Which brings us to the demand side.

As Simmons has noted, bench-clearing brawls in baseball and hockey don't bring about nearly the concern that they do in the NBA. But I'm not sure the reason for that is entirely racial. The crowd is much closer to the action in basketball than it is in other sports, and there isn't much of a physical barrier. As the Ron Artest incident showed, the crowd can easily get involved in an NBA scuffle, and help it turn ugly.

Of course, this begs the question of whether it's "ugly" because the crowd's involved, or "ugly" because it's black guys fighting instead of white guys. Not sure we'll ever be able to tease that out.

Which may bring us back to the NBA's culpability. They could have better security, but that would take away from the atmosphere. Jack Nicholson might not pay the same price for his courtside seat if there were a barrier between him and the court, so there won't be a barrier any time soon.

Plus, the NBA exploits animosity. Why have the Lakers and Heat played each other the last three Christmases? Didn't they play up Reggie Miller jawing with Spike Lee?

Any More Off Topic I'd Get Arrested

This just in: all fifty states have now moved their presidential primaries to last month. By forfeit, in 2008 the presidency will pass to Canada. Can this man be recruited as next leader of the free world?


Rather than trying to get Gonzales to resign, I think we should be trying to focus on the positive. How can Alberto remake his career? I say he'd make a great dominatrix. But I think he might really find his calling as replacement for Don Imus. Whatever it is, just make sure it's bold.

Why I like the French: they were right about the war, they stage meaningless protests, they have very, very good food. True, they are rude to most people, but I see this as a healthy recognition that most people are poopheads (eg: see above).

That being a lead in to august's very short reviews of French movies:
"Avenue Montaigne" A
"The Valet" B
"Paris Je T'aime" could have been cut by several features, but it's worth it in the end B+
"Private Lives in Public Spaces" D

What we think has become of switters:

a. Silenced by heartbreak
b. Reading bacon's book
c. Stiking it to the man
d. Golfing
e. Trapped when fence caved in.

Coffee -- rundeep has called it "the elixer of life." I used to drink Lavazza, but they've done something funny with their espresso. What's your tipple?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Playing by the Rules

The controversy around the suspension or Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for Game 5 of their playoff series brings to light a number of issues.

First, they were obviously in violation of the rule, and the application of that rule was correct. Whether that rule is prudent is another question.

One argument offered in their defense is that it is a natural reaction when one sees a teammate down to come to his defense. There's a couple problems with this.

One is this notion that "what feels right" ought to govern our laws, especially if some noble instinct is behind this feeling. So we shouldn't punish someone who comes to the aid of a teammate. If it would "feel right" under some circumstances to torture, then we can't rule out torture. If you'd want to kill the guy who murders your wife, then we should have capital punishment.

This is a dangerous way to construct moral laws.

We have rules to punish those who are malicious, and deliberately do what is wrong, yes, but also as a guide to inform our consciences, since our gut feel is not always right. In the moment, I might not understand the consequences of torturing a detainee; the rules help me to understand.

The other is that, in the context of a game like basketball, you act according to the rules , not according to natural instinct. It is completely unnatural to dribble the basketball if you want to move around the floor with it. But that's the rule, and anyone who plays basketball trains himself to dribble. Similarly, NBA players should know by know that leaving the bench triggers severe punishment, and train themselves accordingly.

Of course, the consequence for travelling is loss of one possession, whereas the consequence for leaving the bench is missing a game, which may turn the series. That seems unfair -- NBA players should know not to leave the bench, but a playoff series should not turn on that. It doesn't have much to do with which is a better basketball team. Plus, the travelling rule is more or less intrinsic to the game of basketball than staying in the bench area.

Which brings me to another point -- it seems that the outcomes of professional sports series are increasingly determined by who manages the rules correctly.

I've touched on this before. The Spurs may win this series because the Suns didn't remember the rule about leaving the bench. AFC supremacy between the Colts and Patriots is determined by how closely the refs call contact against the defensive backs. Bill Simmons notes that Bruce Bowen has built a career around skating inside the rules, and how players play for calls. The Miami Heat won the Finals last year in large part because the refs called a foul every time Dwyane Wade drove toward the basket. Curt Schilling writes about how the umpire's strike zone plays in to his approach.

The result is a game that bears little resemblance to how the game is played at an amateur level, as Simmons wrote. You can't build a pick-up basketball offense around having a guard drive toward the basket, jumping into a defender and getting a foul.

I'm not entirely sure why this is the case. Perhaps the game has become so sophisticated, and information so widespread, that this is the only edge left to be gained. Or silly rules like the leaving the bench rule raise the stakes for compliance. Or maybe it's a "winning is everything" type attitude that says that whatever happens is good so long as it helps your team win, regardless of what is has to do with who's the better team.

During the World Series, I was critical of Tony LaRussa for not pressing for a suspension of Kenny Rogers when the substance was found on his hand. But now I'm beginning to see his point. LaRussa wanted the Cardinals to win the World Series by playing better baseball on the field, rather than leveraging the rules to greater advantage.

If the Spurs win the championship (and the Suns appear to be their toughest competition on that front), will they know that they were really the best basketball team, or that they were better at obeying a particular rule? How will that effect their satisfaction in that accomplishment?

In the last Baseball Abstract, Bill James suggested a variety of rule changes, and summarized the motivation for them as, "quit screwing around and play baseball." I suggest we apply that to other sports as well. It's hard to see what staying in the bench area has to do with playing basketball.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The "conversation"

(How I imagine it happening...)

Dramatis Personae

John Ashcroft, Ailing Attorney General
James Comey, Deputy Attorney General
Andy Card, White House Chief of Staff
Alberto Gonzalez, White House Counsel

The scene: a dingy hospital room with a sputtering yellow light bulb dangling from a frayed wire. A ratty bed occupies the center of the room. Ashcroft, looking pale, is slumped down in his pillow, festooned with tubes and wires, face partially obscured by an oxygen mask. A bank of bedside monitors produces a rhythmic beeping sound. Card and Gonzalez are nattily dressed in pin-stripe suits with vests, silk cravats, and spats on their Italian leather shoes. Comey stands on the opposite side of the bed from Card and Gonzalez, dressed in a summery blue frock nicely accented with a strand of pearls around his neck and matching earrings, clutching a tiny, stylish white purse.

Gonzalez is leaning against the stained gray wall holding a sock filled with birdshot in one hand and bouncing it on the palm of the other. Andy Card leans over Ashcroft’s bed and adopts an overly friendly, conversational demeanor.

Card: "So, Johnny... I hear you don’ wanna sign the papers Mr. Big sent over. Whaddya thinkin'?"

Gonzalez: ""

Card: "Alberto says Mr. Big wants you to sign the papers. Mr. Big don’t got a lotta patience. Alberto says he's kinda preoccupied with the 34th Street Muscle Men an' he's thinkin' they might have a mole in the organization. Mr. Big don' like moles. Alberto says he's gotta clean house. You wanna help Mr. Big clean house, don’tcha Johhny?"

Gonzalez: "...zlrz...mrhhz...hnhrmlrzr....."

Card: "Alberto says the Crosstown Boys are gettin' uppity too. They don' wanna play by Mr Big's rules no more. Alberto says they're startin' to encroach on our territory. You don' want the Crosstown Boys encroahin' on our territory, now, do ya, Johnny?"

Ashcroft (coughing weakly): "I ain't gonna sign those papers, Andy. Mr Big's outta control. The Crosstown Boys maybe gotta point here-"

Ashcroft’s voice cuts off as Card leans on the tube supplying his oxygen. Ashcroft’s breathing becomes labored and the beeping from the monitors becomes more strident.

Card (grinning sympathetically): "Aw, Johnny... why you gotta be that way, huh? Don' make us have to rough ya up. We're civilized people here, Johnny. Don' make us give in to our baser instincts."

Gonzalez: "...lmnm...ddlflz...prmmfn....."

Card: "Alberto says you gotta play nice, Johnny. Mr. Big took you under his wing, made a spot for you in his organization. Alberto says you owe Mr. Big. You like to honor your debts, don’tcha Johnny? Alberto says you gotta man up. You wanna be a man, don'tcha Johnny?"

Comey (looking alarmed): "You get away from him, you... you got no hold on Johnny, he's a man's man. He ain't afraid'a Mr Big. He's gonna do what's right even if it kills him!"

Comey steps forward, fingers curled into claws, reaching for Card, who easily fends off the half-hearted lunge. Comey collapses to his knees, sobbing. Card shakes his head regretfully and steps away from the bed.

Card: "You do what you gotta do, Johnny. Mr. Big'll do what he's gotta do. God help you, Johnny."

Card saunters out of the room.

Gonzalez (looking pointedly at Ashcroft): "...rrzlz...pthpp...gggzznnd.....pphpht....."

Gonzalez follows Card out the door, leaving Ashcroft alone with a softly sobbing Comey.

[Fade to black]

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The World and Him in it

So I’m out back, messing around in the snow, and I discover OH WOW that stuff sticks together in my hands! When I hold it in my hand and press my other hand on it IT STICKS TOGETHER. Of course I start trying things out—you know—first I make a ball, and then I make a bigger ball, and then I try a sorta square thing, and then another and—oh man!—like a flash it hits me and all of a sudden I am building a fort! Seriously! That is what I did. I am not making it up. Yeah, and anyway, so it’s a lot of work building a fort, so after a while I was getting hungry, so I go in the house and I’m in the hallway pulling off my boots when my mom calls out from the kitchen that lunch is ready. LUNCH IS READY. How freaky is that? I mean, how did she know? I seriously wonder, man—you know? I seriously wonder... So, big morning, right? And that’s not it, even. Next thing is, I go in the kitchen and get my lunch. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. My favorite. Like, big surprise, right? I was like, Oh. Uh huh. Sure. My favorite lunch. Of course. Okay, you’ve got my attention. What else have you got for me, Universe? And then I go to put on the TV and my favorite cartoon is on. My favorite cartoon, dude! I am totally not kidding. What are you going to do in that kind of situation? So I just sat down and watched it, dipping my grilled-cheese in my tomato soup, looking out the window at my snow fort, thinking about how it all fits together, man—it all fits together. It was like I was in a dream, or something. Everything just kept happening.

Natural Labyrinth

I was reading recently about the ideas of wildlife corridors. Conservationists have been floating the idea around for thirty years or more that the encroachment of habitat can be alleviated by--if large open spaces are out of the question--then by providing a lot of smaller spaces that are interconnected. When there is continuity between environments such that predators can roam, pollen can spread, even where species can migrate long distances, then the impact of human presence can be significantly reduced because the forest creatures are not uncomfortably cornered into shrinking squares of space. Wildlife corridors from Yellowstone Park to the Yukon and along tiger and elephant routes in India are being pursued (no doubt with varying degrees of ineffectiveness).

It's been a (reasonably asked) open question as to just how successful these corridors actually are in preserving species and their habit(at)s. Last year, a study out of UCSB was published in Science (sorry, the link is a report of a report) showing significant improvements in biodiversity as they measured it in controlled swatches of North Carolina woodland. Evidently, that's the first quantitative report of the positive effects of functional connectivity, even though organizations have been acting on that hypothesis for a couple decades. Ordinarily it's the sort of thing that would really annoy me--the idea of pushing a policy based on speculation--but these are policies with pleasant side effects. Living close to minor, local versions of wildlife arteries has really improved my quality of life. The upside of my crappy neighborhood is the illusion of seclusion that exists here. The view from my back porch occludes most of the neighbors by a stand of trees along a stream. My daughter loves to play along it, and regularly drags her little sister and her neighborhood friends on expeditions "down the bank".

The woods, such as they are, extend between back yards along two streets. If you go far enough upstream (not that far, but out of sight from my porch), there is a road to cross, but once you do that, you can meander westward behind the scenes until you get into a state forest. If you cross the street that bounds the east end of the stream, then you're in another sizable chunk of sparsely molested wooded area, cut through only with a railroad and a rarely traveled road or two (and dotted with official and unofficial landfills, and harassed by dorks on ATVs). I've seen deer, foxes, and coyotes that've managed to make their way along the mangy appendage of the state forest to my back yard.

Here is a picture that I took on a walk with my daughter in December through the eastern half of the woodland dumbell. That hill you see was completely forested last spring, but it's being cleared for new developments. McMansions probably, judging from the neighborhood on the other side of the hill. The top of the hill is just short of the elevation you'd need to see the roof of the new Wal-Mart that is currently being built a ways down below. Can't stop progress. Maybe those people will work there when the balloon payments on their creative mortgages hit.

If you were ingenious at solving those IQ-test spatial projection problems, you might enjoy crystallography as a hobby. Luckily for me, I was only all right at them, and I'm able to get my kicks from more primitive versions of morphology. (Whew!) One neat thing that's possible in three dimensions is bicontinuity. If you were walking along on the badly drawn monkey bars below (imagine an extended network of them), then you could get to any point in the cube. You could also do that if you were traveling in the space between the lines. A lot of bicontinuous structures occur naturally on a microscopic scale. Any system of immiscible phases can have this property, but you can also do cool shit with it on purpose. The picture on the right is a representation of an inverse opal, taken from somebody's presentation on photonic band gap structures. It's made up of the spaces in between close-packed spheres. You can actually fabricate microstructures like this in the lab by slowly depositing tiny glass balls from a suspension and then filling up the gaps in the "solid" with another material.
I love monkeying with the philosophical ideas of bicontinous structures. A viable way to mix civiliztion and nature is one agreeable way to consider it, although as a practical matter, you need to add a third dimension of bridges for the bears and elk to cross the highways that cut through the wildlife corridors. But you can go more universal too. I'm pleased that nature may contain hidden but as yet unseeable dimensions, and I want to imagine networks of activity invisibly occuring in this weblike alternate continuum. We can map our brains like this too maybe, cognitive labyrinths of the human experience, something apart and yet intimately close to the inanimate network of stones and trees. It's even a fine interstitial universe in which to pretend spirits can cavort when the light is just right.

Even if it's better that we mostly confine ourselves in the man-made phases, it's good to know there are others.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Training for Survivor CBS

Top 5 things to do before going on Survivor.

Fans of Survivor are no strangers to the keystone of Survivor’s success -- its vicarious appeal. But that appeal inevitably leads to more than just outwitting, outplaying and outlasting each Thursday night and then on Sunday. It leads to uncounted mental checklists--revisited and revised with each new season--of how to best prepare to play Survivor for real. Never mind completing an application and an audition tape. That’s for later,... maybe,... someday. Besides, who actually wants to do most of the stuff on their mental checklists? That wouldn’t be vicarious, now would it.

But what would happen if you wrote down and numbered your get ready for Survivor scattering of things to do. How would it compare with others’ checklists? Would it evolve even further? Does going through the trouble to write it down make you think again about completing an application and sending it in with your audition tape?

My short list:

1. Make Fire. Learn how to make it! How hard can it be!?! For those of you not familiar with the show, making fire so you can boil water so you don’t get dehydrated is quite possibly the one challenge every survivor can count on facing. Yet with a very few exceptions, group after group of survivors fails miserably in their attempts to make fire. It’s first on my list, not because it’s the most important, but because it has been on everyone’s list from the very first season, yet somehow it continues to tripe up tribe after tribe.

2. Say No To Drugs. For me, that means giving up the nicotine and caffeine well before the game begins so that I’m not mentally and physically addled by cravings and withdrawals in addition to all the other miseries Survivor throws at you--and it goes without saying that in a game where keeping a cool, clear head is a key to survival, it’s a no-brainer. Besides, who wants to be chemically imbalanced on national TV?

3. Play Chess (and puzzles/memorization games). Chess is the best game I know of to prepare you to think strategically. To a lesser degree, I’d also go out of my way to tackle various puzzles and play games that test memorization.

4. Study and Practice Lying. There are lots of tells to look for, and although I’m aware of some of them, the need to watch people scrupulously for signs that they are lying isn’t something I’ve needed to do all that often. So in a game where lying plays a crucial role, it’s a good idea to brush up on how to tell a good lie, and how to tell if you’re being lied to.

5. Exercise. Run. Swim. Pull-ups. Run. Swim. Pull-ups. Run. Swim. Pull-ups. I’d want to mix in other exercises, like sit-ups and jumping jacks, etc. to balance out my workouts, but the three--running, swimming, and pull-ups--would be where I made my training goals. And I’d probably take up Yoga.
There are more items I could put on the list. Watch Survivor reruns. Learn how to catch, clean and prepare fish. Read up on the history of your exotic location and how to make use of naturally occurring food sources. Etc. But none of them break into my top 5.

Then there’s the sobering fact that Earl, Fiji’s winner and not a longtime fan of Survivor, had just a few days to prepare. But I think that speaks more to developing tactics to fit the circumstances and good fortune, so I’m going to keep working on my list.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Jury Duty

Cornerstone of our democracy, or totally pointless?

The day begins with a short film. Folks in period costume are about to chuck some sap in a river to determine if he is guilty or not. Solemn, supposedly medieval, but in fact more like early Madonna as remixed for elevator, music sets the mood. We, the assembled jurors of New York County, are meant to experience (like Kurtz) the horror! the horror! of that bygone age, trumped by Democracy!!!

Or not. I can't say that in the course of the day I ever felt the spirit of '76 coursing through my nether regions. My innards were, on the whole, unmoved. I was briefly in danger of winding up on a trial of somebody suing the city for negligance because she tripped over a curb two weeks after September 11. I told the lawyers in voir dire that I wasn't feeling impartial about this (I wanted to strangle the plaintiff's attorney, which at least would have given him a legitimate case). I was not selected.

It all felt quite weird. And it's not over yet.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Dreaded User Ratings Poll

With this, tomorrow’s fray really starts to take shape. User ratings, a simply thumbs up or thumbs down, and a hit counter for individual posts.

It seems Slate is aware of the “issues” involved with empowering the mob, but they’re pushing ahead anyway because [red herring alter] although the fray is full of lively and thoughtful discussion, it’s almost impossible for newbies to find it. So, visualizing this, a new reader can’t find lively and thoughtful discussion when they click READ MESSAGES, yet last I checked every message on a topical board was on-topic. So is Slate saying that the list of on-topic messages that a reader is faced with when they first enter the fray is not lively or thoughtful? And if those messages aren’t the good stuff, then where does the good stuff come from? Maybe posts are like wine in that they get better with age. Who knew?

Here’s a thought. Why don’t we take a poll of “active Fraysters” asking them whether they read the fray unfiltered or filtered? Or better, how about we poll active fraysters whether or not they even know what the fuck the filtered fray is?

Now I have to say I’m a bit disappointed with the latest revelation. I figured a rating system was coming. I even welcomed it because I thought it would turn off many of the fray’s best, and they in turn might find refuge at nuponuq. But I didn’t anticipate Slate hiding the results of their user rating system behind a View Fray Editor’s Picks filter. Did no one tell them that no one reads the fray through this filter? Did they not get the memo, Subject: I know we like to think the View Fray Editor’s Picks idea was a good one, but for a number of very practical reasons--they can’t see their own posts, they can’t see what people currently “present” are posting, it turns out the best discussions are inspired by idiots--fraysters don’t ever use it.

It’s farcical that they’d go through the trouble to institute a pushbutton rating system and then, practically in the same breath, make it irrelevant. It’s classic. They’re so concerned about making everyone happy that they’re mitigating every innovation at every turn. Pick a demographic already Slate. You either want a forum friendly to people who write, or you want one friendly to people who click. Can’t have both, and in trying to, you’re going to drive the writers away and leave the clickers scratching their heads. And we all know, clickers hate scratching their heads.

The crux of the matter, as far as I can tell, is no one inhabiting the otherworldly place that is Slate is speaking up and calling bullshit in the face of the two contradictory goals propelling the decision-making. The first and most obvious is to make the new fray a hands free department. To do that, they are intent on delegating fray editor’s responsibilities to fraysters. Here is a rating system, aren’t you encouraged, now police yourselves. The second, and incongruous with the first, is this bizarre insistence on preserving thoughtful and erudite discussion which requires a forum [bullshit]. To put it another way, Dear Readers: We value your considered contributions insofar as they are better than spam. It’s a reflection on us you see. Therefore, we hereby present you with our plan to have even less to do with you, and in return we will empower you, dear reader, to not only continue working in obscurity and for free, but to reward yourselves!

Here what’s missing in all this. Fix the login and hire a fray Editor who views fraysters, not as cattle, but as his or her pool of writers. And just as no one tells Jacob how to run Slate, empower that fray Editor to run their little corner of Slate as if it were an entire magazine in and of itself. Get someone who cares about their job, who defines it as a job worth having, and give them all the space (is cheap) they need to make it happen.

In other words (look around), copy us.

Disclaimer: Slate doesn’t read this blog, so although I was writing to them, my hope is the fray reads it.

Easy sports column fodder department..

In response to this, I suspect we'll see lots of columns with lines like the following in the next few days...

  • Apparently, an actual death isn't enough to break baseball's addiction to beer. One wonders how many deaths it will take.
  • Once again money talks. Is it too much to ask baseball players to wait an hour or two to get home before having a postgame brew to save a few lives? Sadly, the answer appears to be yes.
  • Cynics may note that the Brewers play in a sparkling new retractable domed stadium named "Miller Field," and wonder what Miller has bought with their dollars.

Dear Theatergoing Yobs

No, it is not okay for you to position your elbow on my nutsack.

Freedom of speech does not mean you get to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Similarly, your ticket does not entitle you to tie your shoe in the doorway.

If, for some insane reason, you wish to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp company, that is your affair. Carrying your stinky day-old Bubba Gump doggy-bag into the theater and munching loudly on "shrimp" (or whatever that thing is that smells like the dead moles my dachsund used to bring home) is frowned upon.

Lozenges. Fine, have your damn lozenges. But if you're going to need a lozenge, keep it handy, not in the darkest recesses of your purse or pocket in a bed of braying, cacophonous change. Try heroin, it's much quieter.

If you need the play translated into Russian, I suggest watching the play in Russia.

If you are struck by the intense need to go to the bathroom, then I suppose you must go. However, there is no such thing as an "intense need" to return to your seat during the performance.

Oh Jesus Christ. That's disgusting.

Your eighth-grade role as Kurt in "The Sound of Music" does not entitle you to sing along on Broadway.

Another standing ovation. Did I miss the new rule that requires us to give standing ovations to any two-bit street performer? I don't think I did.

Compiled after a particularly bad night at a performance of Spring Awakening, which is a pretty good show, although it's no Avenue Q. Think of an R-rated after school special where the moral is to have more sex.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Election 2008 Musings...

I'm not even seriously looking at this yet, but I do have a few idle thoughts that come from having to grit my teeth and listen to my extremely Democrat office-mate rant every time Bush clears his throat in front of a mike. She was at it again today, so I'm going to pass the savings on to you.

I don't see anyone there on either side with enough going for them that they could buck the last eight years. We need a statesman able to get the work done in a way we haven't seen in this country for a lot of years. Otherwise, the next president is going to be the moral equivalent of Gerald Ford, stuck going through the motions trying vainly to pick up after Nixon and Vietnam. It'll get us through, but I don't think we as a country should waste four years rescue floating.

With that context in mind, I want to talk about our two big voices: Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton.

These two have a double-challenge. Once in office they will be fighting significant uphill battles just because of who/what they are, on top of trying to get the country back on it's feet. And both of them carry the hopes of two major minority groups who have never yet been represented in the White House.

I don't like Hillary. I'd love to see a female president. Just not her. I don't like her politics. I have serious doubts about her ability to fix the brutal slashing our rights and freedoms have taken these last eight years. Worse, I have serious doubts she'd want to based on her voting record and her history from Arkansas. She would be getting dropped right into the middle of the truly ugly foreign policy mess that's the aftermath of Iraq. And I'm sorry, but she's no Madeline Allbright. I'm not even going to touch the domestic front other than to say I've never seen anything from her that hasn't been short-sighted and woefully out of touch with real life. And I damned skippy don't want her as Command-in-Chief trying to mop up an inherited war.

I like what I've seen of Obama, but I feel like electing him his time around would waste him. We've got someone with real potential here to drive a foot in the door and give us a black President. And not only a black president, but a great one. He is a visionary who has the ability to get people going all across the aisle. But unless he's got a big yellow "S" on his undershirt, I don't see how he can deal with the situation this country is in and move ahead the way he's talking about. Especially if he tries to pull off both at once. And if he doesn't get too far with either agenda, he'll get crucified like Hoover. People are already trying to pull on him what they did to Dan Quayle (another waste, IMHO). It'll only get worse from here.

He's plenty young enough to wait four years in the Senate, gaining experience and demonstrating to the country so loudly even the thickest dunderhead can hear that he has what it takes to move this country forward. We just need someone else in the middle here to sort out the current mess and make moving forward possible again.

Do I know who the heck that could be? No. I just know I don't see a hat there in the ring that I think has any cattle behind it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Who Needs User Titles?

Well, we do.

This is a clip of the Manage Users Titles page of nuponuq. As you can see, during one of my more creative moments, I decided that because your User Title is determined by the number of posts you’ve made, that it made perfect sense to assign Roman Numerals as User Titles. It was only later that I realized this was a lame (and redundant) idea. Typical user titles range from the sober (New Member, Member, Veteran Member) to the sardonic (Just popping in, Quite a regular, Just can't stay away, Home away from home).

So, anyone have any good ideas for new User Titles? I can edit the Title and the PostCount, and it appears I can create an unlimited number of Titles. So give me your lists or theme suggestions. For example:



Fearless sports predictions...

Nobody asked for them, but here they are...

  • Spurs win the NBA title.
  • Ducks win the Stanley Cup.
  • Cardinals finish below .500.
  • Roger Clemems is ordinary with the Yankees, retires for good at the end of this year.
  • Barry Bonds passes the record this year, moves to the AL next year, and pushes the HR record over 800.
  • No Triple Crown.
  • Rick Majerus puts St. Louis University in the NCAA tournament in the next two years.
  • Tiger Woods wins the US Open at Oakmont.
  • Boxing will not die after the De La Hoya-Merriewhether fight; another star will emerge briefly. But the decline will continue.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Five More Thoughts (Contrarian Bullshit Ed.)

Some time ago, Demosthenes2 wrote a Fray post on three levels of thinking.* It was one of those that stuck with me, and I sure wish I could find a cite for it. As I recall it anyway, level one thinking involved sucking down wholly packaged ideas--usually without chewing--and regurgitating them loudly--often without provocation, at the dinner table. Having moved past dogmatism, the sophomore(ic) level two thinker lives to poke holes in every established manner of thought. Level three had something to do with mature independent blah blah something. That guy does like to go on.

1. Contrarian Bullshit and Statistics
The engineer in me loves to conflate mature analysis to number-crunching--not that you can't lie with statistics or dazzle with pie charts or anything--but low-level thinkers have a tendency to not really weight anything properly, to follow one possible chain of cause and effect and proclaim away as though it were the only important one. And some of the lying trends are sometimes falsifiable, which is a good reason to poke at them. If you don't have the time, and need a rule of thumb, however, the number of links in the causal chain is usually a pretty good depth gauge for the bullshit.

Playing in the real world--or at least the sometimes verisimilitudinous worlds of policy and economics--means that all such chains are hard to follow because you can't control the inputs very well, and you don't understand the initial conditions (damn butterflies with their incessant wing-flapping). More, there are human casualties to the approximations. The fact that lives are quantized does matter, and while you can't account for all the anomalies in any analysis, minimizing the bad consequences of policy is as important as maximizing the good, as Claude Scales has suggested here. (Hippocratic policy beats hypocritical policy.) Acting on models of spherical, frictionless, er, humans with no external forces can have deadly consequences, and simplifying assumptions should be thrown around with great care of the context.

But that doesn't mean that speculation and conjecture can't be interesting and fun. (Especially considering that otherwise it's "work".) Context, as always, is everything.

2. Solar Desalinization
Considering ensemble effects, the whole round earth is a fine place to draw a control volume. If you do a heat balance on the earth, you're really down to four effects: solar radiation absorbed, solar radiation reflected, heat radiated out to space, and heat energy generated at the surface. Your initial condition is the surface temperature at whatever time you call zero. (Since the temperature distribution across the ball of the earth is impressively not flat, it's probably better to draw your control volume as a shell, which means you'll have some boundary conditions too, at the bottom of the crust say: constant temperature or close enough.)

Most people are aware that this is a good-enough way of looking at global temperature balance (some argument about all the factors that change the globe's reflectivity and absorptivity remains), but it's also a limit on how much energy is available to do stuff. There are really only two sources that are not finite: there's mining heat from the earth's mantle (that should last a while), and, whether it's biomass or silicon, there's solar. The cool thing (so to speak) about solar, is that it doesn't really affect the heat balance (unless there's enough spread out to really affect the absorption coefficient). It just gives that energy something to do on the way down its natural path. And what's life anyway, if not a pointless little whirligig kicked up in the dust of the universe's insensate march toward heat death?

I was thinking about fresh water yesterday. Maybe that will cause more wars eventually than the oil will. Wouldn't it be great if we could efficiently desalinize seawater? Wouldn't it be great if that energy was completely renewable? Duh, Keifus: this one is already working, and adding technological steps may make it more controllable, but it sure ain't going to make it more efficient. If we wanted to increase the generation of fresh water, we'd have to lower the reflectivity of the oceans or something, warm up the...

And you thought the butterflies caused trouble!

3. Research and Development
Solar sounds like a good place to sink our research dollars, eh? But who would fund that sort of thing? Having dabbled in the area (I'm supposed to be a professional researcher, my bosses would prefer me to be a professional negotiator, but dabbling in half-ideas is basically what I do), it's my understanding that there was a lot of venture capital sunk into solar power in the seventies, and the technology grew a lot of stigma because it didn't achieve much return very quickly. Plus, oil got cheap again.

By common agreement, solar power needs to drop to about $1 per Watt to become competitive with fossil fuels, and for the time being, you're stuck with either low efficiency or expensive materials. (Ignore, for now, the matter of all that open space you need to gather it.) Cheap, efficient solar? Maybe possible, but at least a decade off, depending on the oil. You can still get funding for solar R&D: aerospace is a driver (you can't carry a jerry can on the back of the shuttle), and the commercial market's slowly getting grown. Looking twenty years out, you'd think that it would be a huge opportunity, given climate change and oil scarcity. Can we count on investors to think in quarter-century time scales? What do you think.

What caused the decline of corporate R&D? Was it economic or was it cultural? Could Bell Labs have existed without a telephone monopoly? Possibly not, but I fear that the investment culture has become short-term (and the intellectual culture has devolved). It's as though that great post-war manufacturing and innovation surplus (that my parents' generation mistook for their deserved way of life) has been slowly cannibalized. Maybe it was inevitable, but it's an article of faith with me that we could have sustained the boom longer if we kept priming the front end, with a better eye on the horizon. Right now, basic R&D gets mostly funded by (1) the military (which doesn't do real basic at all) and (2) by universities, mostly on the government buck. Even though I'm turning anecdote into data here (hi, hipp), not to mention recycling thoughts (a five-trick pony, that's me), I've seen agreement among my more assiduous peers. R&D is a toughie for the level 1 and 2 libertarian types.

4. Foreign owned: who cares?
Oh, but by monopoly or luck, we once did R&D, and by the Good Ford, the U.S. was the king for a while there. It was pointed out to me yesterday that Toyota and Honda are the new saviours of the American auto industry. Evidently, our crumbling manufacturing infrastructure is desirable to those who'd like to develop new markets, and, I presume, the shipping costs are less if they're building cars for American markets in America (who else is dumb enough to buy SUVs en masse?). There's some yellow streak (not that kind) in me that's annoyed that this isn't being done by American manufacturers, but lets face it: 401k or no, I'm no member of the ownership class. I'm not the sort of person that can network his way to success. Sadly, I need a job.

Income inequality is way up (look at the BLS). Level 1 market types say, "hey, the economy's growing, so stop whining," but even while profit creeps up, wages remain stagnant (anecdote + Paul Krugman), and CEO payscales skyrocket unconscionably. So if it's Toyota's providing the yahoos a salary or if it's GM, do I give a shit who the owners are? Not really. In fact, I feel a little kind of good about sticking it to the man.

(Except that I don't think Toyota hires a lot of American scientists.)

5. Electability
Just for the record, I fucking hate politics, but since I'm speaking of oil and vision, wasn't there a guy running for office who actually faked caring about those things sort of convincingly? What was his name again?

I thought Al Gore was all right. Sure, he was a dork (ahem), but he was a hell of a lot less innumerate than his challenger, more aware of the world, and, sighing or not, light years ahead on the articulation scale. Reading about his support for Iraq bombing in hindsight disappoints me, but still, he was the best Pepsi product I can remember. His wife was a scold, but I'd put up with her too if I were Al.

So. Level 1 political thinking: it's the party platform, vote for the team, Yankees suck. Level 2: Supply side contrarianism, issues voting, and--wait--how does voting for the "electable" guy fit in? Is that bullshit too? Look, I supported Kerry in '04, and it was, like most Kerry supporters, not because I loved the guy but because I thought he was the least obviously flawed candidate. Saying that electability is bullshit is likewise bullshit. Electability ain't so much guessing what your fellow citizens will vote for so much as it is guessing who's going to go down easier with the media. The press will crucify the candidate who they can't imagine getting laid in high school. The electable guy or gal is the one that the reporters aren't slavering to deconstruct into a teenage clique. Gore in 2000 got hoisted as the moody chess champ against the avuncular high-functioning retard. No contest.

So in 2008, who's the one most likely to going to sweet-talk the press and provide them free drinks? That's who's electable. And thus is the lowest common denominator reached.

Good night, everyone.

*UPDATE: D2 mentions that it came from an essay by William Golding (yes, that William Golding) called Thinking as a Hobby. I got the levels backwards (figures), but as our Greek friend says, it's definitely a good read.

UPDATE2: Claude pointed out the link.

Dirk denied...

Well, I guess we have our explanation for everyone's lack of enthusiasm about Dirk Nowtizki.

I admit it -- I didn't quite believe it when Bill Simmons wrote that Nowitzki was no MVP and the Mavs couldn't win in Dalls. C'mon. The Mavs won 67 games in a tough Western Conference! The Warriors barely made the playoffs! Surely they can pull one off.

But they couldn't. Not even close.

And here was your likely MVP's line for the evening:

39 2-13 0-6 4-4 2 8 10 2 1 0 3 2 8

Not exactly an MVP performance....

Ah, but he didn't have his shot (0-6 3pt). Anybody can have a bad shooting night.

Yes, and that's the problem. A truly great player doesn't need to have his outside shot going to effect the game. But Nowitzki does. It is impossible to imagine a 28 year old Micheal Jordan having so little impact on an elimination game. Or Tim Duncan. Or Allen Iverson. Or Dwyane Wade. Or Steve Nash. Or several other players.

There just seems to be something missing from this Mavs team; they do not respond well to adversity. They spent the Finals last year whining about the calls, and then they came out for the second half last night and got steamrolled.

It'll be interesting to see how Cuban responds to this.

Beauty Ain't Truth

The Chrysler Building transforms each time I see it. Sometimes its reflected light-weave is as bold as the sculptures on Rockefeller Center – here is the fulcrum of the country's industry, the aspirations of an age. Later, from a different angle, it's dystopian, Big Brother vs. Batman. Sometimes it's cheesy as a mood ring. In the snow, steam will sneak from its windows.
At some point in your life, a work of art has floored you. For me it was coming around a corner at the Museum of Modern Art and seeing "Guernica." Or saving up pennies to see "The Magic Flute" at the Vienna Opera, it was as if music were champagne, Papagena meeting Papageno was me meeting Mozart. Or reading Romeo and Juliet and realizing that the lines when Romeo and Juliet meet ("If I profane with my unworthiest hand") were a sonnet, as was Rilke's "Archaic Torso of Apollo." That last poem stuck with me a long time, for it was itself about art, what it means" "You must change your life."

It's like cardiac arrest. Sometimes I'm giddy after, as if I were walking around Paris, wine drunk and wild. I'd always thought it was something like transcendence, this encounter with timelessness. Art was a stand in for permanence. I think for a lot of people, it has an almost religious truth. I know plenty of atheists who worship Rembrandt, or who feel that art gives meaning where God offers none.

So here they are, these monuments of civilization, fixed in their museums, sometimes peeking out and undoing us. Maybe we want to make a little ourselves – write a poem, blog, sculpt a block of marble, anything for a touch of immortality.

But the thing is, art changes. For one thing, it gets reproduced, so that soon everybody gets a copy. At the end of his career Picasso ran these enormous workshops, churning out bowls and things. Or, you know, what I wouldn't give for a really good end table. Beauty doesn't have to be unique. Take the Chrysler Building, more mutable than not.

At the 4:30 mark in this blogginghead diavlog, Mickey Kaus mentions that blogging and the internet might encourage a new way of looking at art. Why shouldn't art change? Why should we think of beauty as timeless (when so much experience suggests otherwise?) And what might this new art look like?

Well, it might look like a very good blog. Or it might have the effect of another Mozart tour-de-force. Mozart speaks of an artistic feat in which a solo becomes a duet, a duet a quartet, and so one up to an entire chorus. The idea being that music can handle these additional layers, in part because it takes place in time. But what I've been realizing lately (what the Chysler Building has been telling me) – all art takes place in time. If you want transcendence, look elsewhere.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Fray History

A post by Charon caught my attention. He/she says:

According to legend, the removal of the stars came about because of the quantity of them and as a result of some posters who rarely wrote at a level typical of a star.
Funny thing is, without relying on legend or rumor, I happen to know for a fact why Kevin decided to reboot the star system. I’m probably not the only one. But I was told why in confidence. I probably still have the actual email.

Anyway, I’m curious when, if ever, it would be correct to set the historical record straight? Doesn’t the demise of stars warrant a reckoning of sorts? Wouldn't it be both interesting and proper to lay bare the secret history of the stars? Cause I'm not the only one who knows stuff..., am I?

Some of you have asked

Here's some house pics:

Da House.

We'll be moving at the end of the month, sadly, but for good reasons.

Giuliani Implosion Watch

He's like Britney Spears.

You know it's going to happen. He's just going to piss off too many people with his ego, or otherwise self-destruct. And for many Republicans, the whole Giuliani appeal is that he could win -- once he starts to look vulnerable, his support will plummet because even his supporters don't love him. And he's a candidate running from his strength on national security when he's never actually done anything for national security. Surely somebody will notice.

Finally, he's said so many times, "Thank God George Bush is our president," it's hard for me to see how that can help him?

Anyway, what will be Giuliani's downfall? Public spat with ex-wife? Ranting tirade at Romney? New policy to ban pizza deliveries? Shaves head? Marries Kevin Federline?

Points for creativity...


August's post about repressing abhorrent urges (e.g. pedophilia) raises a number of issues.

One is the notion that in order for a feeling or urge to be effectively dealt with, it must be brought out to the light and examined. A corollary is that we shouldn't judge someone's urges unless they are acted on, and indeed someone who experiences a strong temptation and resists it is worth of praise(addressed by JTF and Ender)

There are obvious counter-examples. A military leader (or even a grunt) who is scared to death of being killed in battle is probably better off repressing that urge rather than prattling on about it and realizing that it comes from being scared of his alcoholic father.

But of course, that's a short term. A soldier is only going to be in battle for a short time, wherein repression might be feasible. The assumption is that some with abhorrent urges will have them the rest of his life, so that repression may not be an effective long term strategy.

If I may offer a tangential note on Catholic morality -- it teaches that temptation itself is not a sin -- Jesus Himself was tempted in the desert. At the same time, Jesus also taught that a married man who fantasizes about having sex with another woman has already committed adultery in his heart. So, there seems to be a line between getting that initial tug of temptations (hey -- that's a good looking woman) and following it, even if we don't follow it all the way. We have a responsibility to "avoid the near occasion of sin."

It seems to me that de-stigmatizing abhorrent urges would have two effects:

  • Those with those urges may be better positioned to effectively confront them, not it will not manifest itself in actual abuse.
  • The increased tolerance for the urges will slip into increased tolerance of acting on those urges, resulting in more actual abuse.

My suspicion is that the second effect outweighs the first effect, and thus our current norm of stigmatizing the urge is appropriate. But I can't prove it, and I don't even know how I would go about proving it. The only empirical proof I can offer is that I cannot think of an instance where de-stigmatizing a desire for something resulted in less acting out of that urge. But I could be wrong.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Who is this Grant Miller?

I see he is circulating two pictures of himself.

A picture of a youngish man who is somewhat normal looking and appears to be attempting humor or menace. [source]

And then there's this picture, which appears to date back to 1970. [source]

One of these pictures is the Real Grant Miller, and one of them is the Fake Grant Miller. Feel free to speculate.

Something Old, Something New...

Well, this new voice recognition software is finally getting used for what it is designed for. I've got the new houseape in my arms and I'm writing away busily. Thank goodness the microphone did not pick up the huge working man's belch he just gave me. I've got all this brand new stuff, but so much is still just the same as it's always been.

It’s been two weeks, and the world is settling into its new grooves now that he's finally here. His mother and my son are in the other room talking about their relationship yet a-fargin’-gain, and I'm not sure where this is going to go. A lot of my incomprehension is that I'm very tired, but still. All this nonsense seems very juvenile to me. But it's not my relationship so who am I to say.

He's kind of fussy. We just changed him and I’m feeding him, but I’ve got the audacity to insist that he burp halfway through guzzling his meal. How rude! But I think we've worked it out. There's always a certain amount of learning about each other at the beginning of all of this. Each baby likes their own position, and their own lullabies. We’ll figure it out as we go. He's only been at this whole life-thing for two weeks, after all. He's not sure where his own limbs are much less what he likes.

The girls are in the room tittering about something at the top of their lungs. One of them was on the phone with her ex-boyfriend for quite some time and they’re probably rehashing the whole conversation looking for signs of meaning like priests sifting through the entrails. It's funny to me how much rune-casting and maneuvering is required for just a simple thing as a phone call or even talking in the halls. I guess it's just another symptom of how old I'm really getting.

Sometimes I begin to wonder how I’m going get through all this. I don't now how older parents do this. I'm 38 for crying out loud and I'm about ready to go Elven postal. (Believe it or not this crazy software actually has “Elven postal” as a selection under phrases) I can't imagine starting off with the baby and size of him right now and be staring down the barrel of the next 20 years like so many of my peers are doing. I know I could do it if I had to, but it seems foolish in the extreme.

It’s kind of peaceful, though. This situation, I mean. It certainly brings back a lot of memories. And it takes quite a few of the rough edges off today. I spend a lot of time fumbling around, but this squishy weight on my chest just sort of simplifies a whole lot of stuff right into insignificance. It boils all the priorities down to brass tacks. It’s starting to show with his mom and my son, too.

All that emo feeling and crap washing around that was so important to them just a couple weeks ago became Priority 5. For Priority 1 and 2 you’ve got what he needs and what he wants. Then comes whatever it takes to get those things for him in third place. Then what the parents actually need comes in fourth. You don’t even get to wants and what have you until after all that. And most of the time you just don’t have a way to get that out of the amount of energy and time that there is in a given day. I told them, but it takes having that warm weight in your own arms before you can really understand it, I guess.

It doesn't last long though. They hash out whatever they’ve got their knickers knotted about and her mom has come to pick her and the baby up. The tide of giggling in the other room has risen again, and Mr. Fussy here is doing his damndest to kick off his blanket. That’s life for you.

Label Restrictions Lifted

With the label cloud out of the header, there’s really no more reason to limit labels to author and series. So, feel free to label your posts with whatever labels you see fit.

China's Foreign Relations

What country's relationship with China is the most important for understanding global politics?

Answer: Russia. China is, even today, predominately a Central Asian nation. Meaning -- its borders with the various 'Stans, with India, and especially with Russia tend to dictate its foreign policy. Rocky relationships with Russia tend to mean smoother relationships with the West, and vice-versa. In the most famous example, the Sino Soviet Split lead Mao (interrupted by the Cultural Revolution) to turn to his traditional enemy, the United States, thus bringing about the Nixon visit. Since Clinton sent an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Straits (I think that was '95), Sino-Russian relations have been relatively warm. And now, a very interesting blog post by Daniel Drezner suggests an additional shift.

Apparently, U.S. leaders are finally sufficiently chastened by the Iraq fiasco that they are at least eating a little crow. Not so the Russians, and thus there is a possibility of backlash. It's really just a hint at this point, but worth keeping an eye on.

Drezner's fourth item is worth quoting:

4) When it comes to the transatlantic relationship, China is the 800-lb. elephant in the room. It's rising power cannot be ignored. The $64,000 question is whether China's rise will cause the Americans and Europeans to compete for Beijing's favor or force greater coordination between the US and EU.

Another way of posing the question: is "The West" still a meaningful way of talking about relationships with China? I suspect so, but I'm deeply ambivalent about the implications. I want the United States-Europe relationship to be close, but I'm not wild about viewing China as an enemy.

And while we're on the topic of pesky foreigners, Thy Goddess is in Turkey at the moment. Be sure to wish her well.

Easy there, Mr. Friedman

Tom Friedman would be funny, if the stakes weren't quite so deadly. It's like reading the transcript of a psychoanalytical session:

"Now Mr. Friedman, we'll do a little role playing today. Pretend you're the president of the united states, and you'd written a few dozen columns, er, speeches about Iraq's threat of chemical weapons and 'doing it right'. Unfortunately, it didn't go as planned. What do you tell the American people?"


"Yes, you can do it."

"I... was..."

"Oh, very good, Mr. Friedman. Very good. Please go on!"

"I was ...wrong. There. I said it."

"Oh, very good."

"I'm so sorry, America. He didn't have any WMD. He wasn't a thre--

"Mr. Friedman?"

"wasn't a th--


"wasn't a... wasn't..."tyranny! nihilism! car bombs! Islamists! Iraq! Do it right, do it right, DO IT RIGHT!"

"Okay Mr. Friedman, that's enough for today."



Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Question About Sex

Because there's no place like an anonymous internet message board to look for expertise on such matters.

Dan Savage, the syndicated gay sex advice columnist who is more likely than anybody else I know to say something horrifying and something incredibly wise in a twenty minute span of conversation, said that he thought some of the most admirable people around were pedaphiles who had sexual urges and managed to control these urges.

I thought his reasoning was interesting. He said that pedaphiles who act on their urges are clearly monsters. Furthermore, in most cases we distinguish between a sexual thought and a sexual action (or do we? -- see below). So a married man who sees a woman and finds her attractive is not an adulterer. But someone who finds a child attractive is automatically a pedaphile, and are usually terrified of seeking any kind of help. So, Dan theorized, there must be a whole class of people who are basically attempting to minister themselves to keep themselves from becoming monsters. And these people deserve praise, as well as enough social leeway to be able to get help for their problem.

Do you agree with any or all of that? To what extent do you think sexual urges can be separated from sexual actions? Do you think containing/repressing/otherwise channeling sexual urges is possible? If so, is there a way to hold up certain people as role models (or at least as praiseworthy exemplars)? Do we have a good way of talking about different degrees of attraction?

For my part, I suspect Dan Savage is right, but I don't see how we can identify, to say nothing of celebrating, the celibate pediphile. It strikes me as a case of moral luck rather than moral strength. Thus, reviving an old discussion, it seems to me another argument for a kind of grace (or lack thereof).

Interested in your thoughts...

Here's How It (Doesn't) Work

If nobody posts on the blog, then

there's nothing to discuss in the forum. If there's no posts on the blog and no discussion in the forum, then there's no Wikifray. If there's no posts on the blog, no discussion in the forum, and no Wikifray, then I may just cease to exist.