Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Republicans: Welcome to Credibility Gap

I've been getting a lot of posts from the right. Notably, from Human Events, Ann Coulter, Patrick Buchanan, Patriot Ledger, etc. I will not dignify them with a link.

I had thought there could be a meeting of the minds. I had thought we could have a rational discussion.

I was wrong.

I had forgotten the first rule of fascist propaganda: demonize your opponent.

According to the latest drivel from Human Events, I am a member of the extreme left and part of a conspiracy to make the USA socialist. According to Ann Coulter, people like me are "spineless little girls in pretty dresses who can't play rough because it musses up their hair."

Claire McCaskill, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, sent an email to Senator John Comyn, National Republican Senatorial Committee. It opens this way:
Senate Democrats are ready to turn President Obama's bold prescription for the country into the law of the land. But Republicans just keep standing in our way. That's not what America voted for last November. We want a new direction. The change we all seek starts with each and every one of us. Today, we have a tremendous opportunity to give Barack Obama the filibuster-proof Senate majority he will need to put this country back on course.

John Comyn replied beginning with this:
I received an unbelievable email from Claire "lean to the left" McCaskill, the DSCC's latest "snake oil" pitchman for failed policies. In it she calls Republicans "naysayers" for asking hard questions about the higher taxes and runaway federal spending currently before the Senate. She even calls Obama's dangerous plans a "bold prescription" for America.

Which rhetoric sounds more believable? Forget whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. Listen to the temperature of the rhetoric. How people say things is important. What people say is important. By using demonizing rhetoric, Comyn draws his lines in the sand: I don't have to respond to the opposing viewpoint as they are contemptible.

These people don't want debate. These people want power. And they will say anything to get it.

Okay. As far as I'm concerned, they are tainted. If they don't want me to use reason in discussion, I am compelled to believe their position will not stand up to reason.

The Republicans truly are the party of the stupid white guys.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cause and Effect

There's a disconnect in the way we discuss cause and effect. Here's an example,

A man is driving a runaway train. He's determined to run that train way to fast for the upcoming curve. He refuses to listen to anybody. You are standing by the switch. You are told to throw the switch that will cause the train to go into a siding. The train will self destruct. The driver will be killed. Instead, you do nothing. The train continues down the path and flips on the curve, flies through the air and destroys a school. Hundreds of children are killed.

Who killed the children?

There is a school of thought that would say you did. You had the opportunity to stop the train. By shirking that moral responsibility your culpability is equivalent to the driver's.

I don't believe that primary fault lies with the person that fails to prevent a failure. Now, that doesn't mean I don't believe that there is no responsibility here. Just that the primary criminal is the driver not the signaler.

Pat Buchanan disagrees. Apparently, he's channeling Milton Friedman who also disagrees. In his column he says of the 29 crash: "A Fed-created bubble burst, causing margin calls..." etc. And later, quoting Friedman, "The Federal Reserve had the power and the knowledge to have stopped [the loss]. And there were people at the time who were... urging them to do that. So it was... clearly a mistake of policy that led to the Great Depression."

Let's see. It wasn't the rampant speculators. They bear no responsibility?

It's a similar line to connect 1923 French military intervention to Weimar currency devaluation to the wipeout of the German middle class to discrediting the democratic republic to Hitler's rise to power to World War II. Clearly, it's France's fault.

It's the corollary to the classic morally challenged business decisions: "Well, if I don't do it, somebody else will." That might even be true. But that doesn't excuse the action even a little bit.

As much as we'd like to blame France and excuse speculators, or that train driver, proximate cause must trump secondary permissions. If you do something morally, ethically or financially culpable, it's your fault. Not Ben Bernanke, Barack Obama, the janitor cleaning up the school or (sigh) France.

BTW: More on Ada Lovelace Day:
Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here. Here.

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Taking down Ayn Rand, here, here,
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AI and global risk
Does Dark Energy Exist?
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Monday, March 23, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. (Biography here.) She suggested means by which the Charles Babbage Difference Engine could be used-- in effect, the first programmer predated the first computer by nearly a hundred years. The day is intended for recognition of women in technology.


Here's Bioephemera's contribution on Pollock fractals. Make takes the opportunity to recognize women makers. Nancy Evans preserved the heritage of human space exploration. Did it against policy, too. Finding Ada has a mashup that is fun here. The London Science Museum also has something here.

Most of the shops I've worked in have been mostly men with a smaller collection of women. I've worked in a couple of shops which were essentially boy's clubs. One boss I had volunteered that women couldn't do serious programming. He was an idiot. And, not surprisingly, a poor engineer and really bad coder. Those that can't do get threatened by people that can and marginalize them if possible.

Now I work in an environment with a government mandate to have women and minorities.

It's great.
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Chu in the spotlight

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Vacuum fruit cocktails
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Friday, March 20, 2009

News from Walkings Rocks Farm

(From here)

Ben (my son) and I worked on his guitar much of the weekend. We've been building a 3/4 scale guitar for him to play. It's from a kit. We had taped off all of the bits we didn't want stained so we could get the neck just the right color of ebony. However, the wood of the kit didn't take to the stain and the stain ripped right through the adhesive tape and made this viscous scum.

This happened a week ago.

So, we've been doing clean up and repair work on the thing. Alcohol, acetone and something called goo gone was able to clean up the scum but portions of the neck and body were stained.

We're going to repair the neck by essentially taking advantage of the mistake and lacquer it. I'm still researching it since the neck of a guitar gets a lot of work and I don't want the lacquer to come off in his hands. Irving Sloane used varnish.

The shoulder of the guitar and part of the upper back are permanently stained. But I figured out how to veneer over it. Hopefully, it will look like some intentional marquetry.

The back is more problematic. We have to do some experiments to determine if the stain we were going to use will mask the black stain underneath.

Painter's tape next time. Not masking tape.

I had some sapele wood veneer that would have looked sweet in the role. It's a reddish wood, something like a tame bloodwood. But the veneer is just too stiff. I tried various things to soften it: soaking it in glycerin, alcohol, etc. But though I could cut it after soaking, like the Republicans: It Would. Not. Bend.

I have some other veneers that are, like the Democrats, more pliable.
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Geithner FAQ and here
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ISS at Full Power
Pontypool review and here
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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wanted: Critical Thinkers. Position: Conservative Right.

(Shmoo courtesy of Juleslife)

I get a lot of crap from Human Events and like minded right wing bottom feeders. This ranges from vitamins, to caulking tools to protecting your investments from Obama liberals who just hate freedom.

Pretty much all of them fall apart under a little scrutiny.

The latest one today came with a headline, "The ACLU's Worst Nightmare is Back in Print After 140 Years..." Difficult to have a nightmare before you exist but the hyperbole is typical.

Turns out Benjamin F Morris (unknown figure from 1864) wrote a book titled "The Christian Life & Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States." I looked around but found nothing of substance regarding either Morris or the book.

Now I'm not surprised someone would go looking for God in the closing days of the Civil War. After all, thousands of people died in minutes. Everybody lost someone. Religion thrives on loss and hence the book. But nineteenth century scholarship is rife with books where fact and chance are pulled together to make an unsupported point.

This book appears to be not much different.

I did find a link here that describes the chronology of "Christian Constitutionalism" leading up to our own. And, gee, in 1215 they have fighting clergymen. It's interesting that by the time they get down to 1776 the scholarship gets progressively more dubious. Things like stating a right exemplified and used at Runnymede (already linked to Christian thought early but in 1215) and then dropping unsupported statements of "Biblical doctrine based upon such texts as Jehoiada's stand against Athaliah and all the prophets who withstood tyrany."

What's weird about this is not this book-- I have a wonderful 19th century book at home entitled: "Vaccination: A Curse". 19th century tomes presenting the choking passions of authors abound. Books about vaccination, Christian Breeding and the Horrors of Masturbation were all written in the 19th Century. Not one of them means a whit today.

What's weird is there is an audience that finds this stuff the least bit relevant. I find myself just floored by such tiny, silly concerns. Trying to pull religion into the government-- haven't the people who purport to revere the Constitution actually read it? Didn't they notice Amendment I? Numero Uno. The Big Red One. The first of the Bill of Rights-- do they think it was number one by chance? Here, I'll quote it:

"Congress shall make no law respecting and establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petitiion the Government for a redress of grievances."

Note that the first part of the amendment is religion. Note that it doesn't say "Christian"-- even though most of the Founding Fathers were Christian. Note that it says "respecting and establishment" of religon. Which means that Congress can neither establish a special relition nor give any particular religion special treatment. This is about as strong a statement regarding the separation of Church and State as I've ever seen.

Yes, they were Christians. Yes, we have God all through the government from our money to our speeches. So what?

As Paul said, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God."

We're imperfect beings and we get things wrong. A lot.
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Friday, March 13, 2009

Who Wants to Watch the Watchmen?

I went and saw Watchmen this weekend. I'm going to talk about the film at length. If you don't want to know what goes on in the movie, stop now. If you haven't read the book, stop now since most of what I have to say about it will be in reference to the book. Also: I'm going to refer to the character names, not the actor names.

Just to fill in some space: Acting ranged from mediocre (Laurie Jupiter/Silk Specter) to exceptional (Walter Kovacs/Rorshach). Special effects were, as expected, fantastic. Story follows pretty much the through line for the book so if you liked the book, it's likely you'll like the movie.

That said, now let's go below the fold.

After this lurk the spoilers.

The Good
The realization of the tone of the book and the nature of the world of the book is pretty good. The special effects are great and, what's more important, are integrated into the book. I have some quibbles with the Doctor Manhatten character in that I think they could have toned him down somewhat, but it's a quibble. They got Rorschach down right down to the undone epaulet on his left shoulder.

The ending in the original Watchmen is pretty lame. Ozymandias contrives an alien invasion that will unit mankind in the face of certain Armageddon. Okay. Like we haven't seen that a million times before. But the book was essentially built as a series of character studies and the ongoing plot was the armature around which these studies were wound.

In the movie, they completely rewrote the climax. It is not a contrived alien invasion and destruction that becomes the scare tactic by which humanity is unified, it is a contrived attack by Doc Manhatten himself-- much more believable. In the story, and the book, the relationship of the world to this God figure is uneasy and this confirms deep suspicion. Moore should have done this instead of the other.

And this choice drove out much unnecessary material. The Black Freighter subsequence was a morality tale on the dangers of obsession-- which was then played out on a grander scale across the rest of the book. The ostensible role of the subsequence, the author having been coopted into writing scenarios for the grand invasion, is now removed. The inset extractions of books, movies, psychological profiles which further illuminated characters, were reduced to side dialog of television shows or the book on a shelf.

The change to the climax removed even the merest hint of needing that stuff.

They got Dan Drieberg down. They got Doc Manhatten down (mostly). They got the comedian down. They dropped the cops looking for the murderer of the comedian and concentrated on the masks. All good.

The violence was beautifully choreographed. It was very violent (more below) but there were layers to it. Normal violence could not be stopped by hero violence-- hero violence was just too powerful. But then normal hero violence was topped by Ozymandias' violence. This is pretty much in keeping with the book and reminded me of Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven.

The Bad
They trivialized the subplot of Laurie finding out the Comedian's her father down to the point it was meaningless. It was a little station of the cross that had tobe observed to the religious faithful. Laurie, herself, was not well realized.

One problem was with the script itself. When Moore wrote Watchmen, back in 1985, he took pains not to have any comic dialogue in it. So, phrases like "arch-enemy" just didn't happen or if they did happened in situations that showed they were seen as rediculous. The script writers for the film just couldn't keep away from them.

They got Nixon completely wrong. From a failing president who agonizes of impending nuclear war-- like any president should-- they created a war monger.

There was also a continuing sense the director thought we were stupid. (Which may have been the source of the comic book dialogue.) For example, when Eddie Blake is buried, the camera shows over the graveyard. Hundreds of tombstone. Camera pulls back out through the gate and rises until we can see the writing over the gate: CEMETARY. Okay. I think we got that. If it was in the book, they still should have cut it.

Also, in the comic, Jon's dick was just a little squiggle. In the movie, he's four stories tall and you can tell if he's Jewish or not. There were points in the film where I wanted to bleach my eyes.

Going with that, the movie earned its R rating. The sex was just short of pornographic-- not that I don't like pornography. I just don't like to be surprised by it. The violence was, well, violent. It was as if Zack Snyder said to himself. Heck. That's violence? Let me show you violence. That's sex? Let me show you sex. The sex and violence of the book were points to be made. Here it was just unnecessary sensationalism.

Further, the violence didn't fit with the characters. There were scenes, for example, in the fight between the knot-tops and Dan and Laurie where some moves were clearly fatal. Killing was not something that Dan and Laurie did.

The Mars discussion between Jon and Laurie was anticlimactic.

While the change to the climax was very, very good, the post climax ending was just... well, wrong. The book tail off was far superior and could have been used.

The movie was 2 hours and 43 minutes and it was just about 30 minutes too long.

The Ugly
My friend David once described monuments as going like this: the first generation does something. The second generation lionizes the first generation and builds a monument builds it to show what they did. The third generation thinks its funny and the fourth generation has forgotten all about it.

Moore is 1 year younger than I am.

Watchmen is a morality tale about how the world was made different by the introduction of just a few things. Doc Manhatten wins for us the war in Viet Nam. At one point, Eddie Blake says "it was good that we won the war. If we hadn't, it might have driven us crazy as a country."

Which, of course, it did.

When the book was written, we had an evil empire, Ronald Reagan as president and Richard Nixon trying desperately to rehabilitate himself.

After the book came the fall of the Soviet Union, the first Gulf War, the Clinton Impeachment, 9/11, the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq-- Bush's successful attempt to recreate Viet Nam.

The points Moore was trying to make are irrelevant. (As opposed to V for Vendetta which are just as relevant now as they were then-- and which was made into an unspeakably vile film.)

This said, Watchmen is now a safe movie. Those that fund movies had nothing to fear from it. As opposed to V which is still pretty radioactive and therefore had to be castrated before it was ever put on the screen.

The Bottom Line

If you go see it, be prepared for some pretty rough stuff. See it on the big screen. The special effects will be wasted on the little one.

But it is more of historical interest than anything else.
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Unexamined Life of Fiction

(Recipe here)

I don't talk much about writing in this venue. Mainly it's because I use this arena to talk about things I wouldn't normally discuss in my fiction.

That said, I've been seeing a fair amount of discussion of fantasy (and, perhaps, SF) as an imaginary environment somehow more satisfying than the real thing. I've heard people discuss on line environments, such as Second Life, similarly.

Experimentation is fun and cool-- especially on the internet where no one knows you're a dog-- and fiction of all sorts is a means of projecting yourself into a new environment. My Mom used to say that every book is a life and reading a book adds that life to your own. So, the more you read, the more lives you have lived.

That said, I have to say I am irretrievably connecting with the waking life. I like reality. Fiction is a working laboratory where people are your lab rats but it is no substitute for the dirty stink of reality. I don't even use a music player, iPod or otherwise, when I ride the subway or walk outside. Give up on the noise? Heck, have you ever listened to people on the subways or talking on their cell phones? I've sat next to deaths, births and divorces, car wrecks and proposals. How could anybody give that up?

Fiction is not reality, regardless of how the two are blurred in our celebrity culture. For me, fiction doesn't serve to escape reality but to examine it.
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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Ocean of Idiots

(Image from here)

Obama Unmasked is the latest round of right wing drivel to be dropped on my doorstep by Human Events-- the magazine that's also sent me spam for the ultimate caulking tool, how to lose weight by a number of New! Improved! Formulas! and warning me that exercise is bad for you because it hurts your lungs.

Their credibility is clearly unimpeachable.

Obama Unmasked is by Floyd Brown-- the man behind the Willie Horton ad back in the Bush I election. Among other things, it tells us the "mad billionaire" (quoted from Brown's ad) George Soros conspired with currency traders around the world to make the economy take a nose dive so Obama could get elected.

Right. Let's see. Billionaires willing to dump as much as half their net worth to get a candidate elected whose policies might just well cost them more money until things get straightened out. Yeah. These guys have the morals of a peanut maker. I bet they would lose money for some political candidate.

It's this sort of drivel that gives idiots a bad name. I'm not a conservative-- far from it. But I think conservative views have a right to be heard and deserve respect. Human Events also hosts Anne Coulter, who's so shrill bats have deserted her neighborhood and Chuck Norris, who took a few too many punches to the head. They love to lionize that fat, drooling pig, Rush Limbaugh.

Like my father said: you have to watch these guys.

Anne Coulter said she wished more people had read Mein Kampf. I did. Coulter, Norris, Brown and Limbaugh use the same sort of rhetoric: lies, half-lies, misdirections and appeals to fear and conspiracy. What next? Will Brown warn us that Obama and Soros are consorting with the World Jewish Conspiracy? Will Coulter scream out that Liberals are fronts for the Illumanti?

These people deserve nothing but contempt. Still, like televangelists and late night scam shows, somebody takes them seriously.

They bear watching.
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Baiting Limbaugh

Links of Interest
Kepler Launched
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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Exotic Love

I have not seen Slumdog Millionaire but I am rereading The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushie.

It's been a long time since I read Verses. I went out and bought it the night I heard the fatwah had been declared on Rushdie. I was perfectly prepared not to like the book but, in point of fact, I loved it. I've read the book several times since, twice out loud.

Yet, this time as I'm reading it I find myself irritated. Perhaps it's because there are so many Indian writers in American bookstores right now-- many, if not most, of inferior caliber. But, curiously enough, I don't think so.

It's the magnetic pull of the exotic.

We like strangeness. We adore it. We clasp it to our bosom even when we don't really understand it, can't quite grasp the message or figure out what's going on. It's they mystery that attracts us, not the medium or the message.

So: I've been reading Verses without the same patience as when I first read it. I'm not interested in the exotic for the sake of the mystery. It's now something I'm putting up with to get to the meat of the matter.

It makes me wonder how much of the hype over new/edgy/foreign writers is just another case of exotic love.
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Big Head Press

As anybody who has perused my website, both of you, will know, I'm a big fan of comics and webcomics in particular. There's a new kid in town I'm quite enamored of. New to me, anyway. That's Big Head Press. I've been through two of their webcomics, one finished and one in process.

The finished one is La Muse. La Muse goes where superhero comics fear to tread. I mean, if you really were super, if you really were a god like being with incredible powers, wouldn't you do something about the world? This is where a lot of superhero comics go off the rails: the good guys in spandex need the bad guys in spandex. Otherwise, they have to really save the world. What's that going to do to the franchise? It's similar to the way Hancock worked. La Muse doesn't have any villains to fight. Just us.

The other isn't finished but has the potential to be very, very interesting: Odysseus the Rebel. Now, I have a soft spot for Odysseus. I even wrote a book (unpublished) derived from the Odyssey.

Grant and Besier have a different take on the story. Odysseus is just trying to get home. He didn't want to go to Troy. He doesn't like the gods-- if they'd leave him alone he'd be just fine.

I haven't gotten through the rest of the stories yet but I'm eager to try.
Political Links
The Cost of Cap and Trade

Links of Interest
Cooperative Feeding Frenzy
MARS: A New Kind of Wind Turbine
The Cost of Being Baleen

Greenhouse: here and here