Monday, August 31, 2009

Torture Works

That torture works cannot be doubted, and these before and after photographs of Mohammed Ali Abtahi is all the proof necessary.

Before: plump, well-fed, pleasant-looking, and a critic of the Iranian regime.

After: red-faced, sullen, frightened, emaciated, no longer a critic of the Iranian regime.

Inbetween: a brief stay in Iranian detention.

For the sake of the editors of The New York Times and The Washington Post, when I say "torture," I mean the same thing as "harsh interrogation techniques," or "what some argue is torture" as applied to practices of the home team. Of course, even brand-name media are willing to call it torture when Iran is doing it, so let no one question their willingness to speak truth to governments not headquartered in the District of Columbia that violate human rights.

Should the current regime in Iran be swept away, we all hope that its successors will take up the Obama administration's banner of "looking forward" -- so forward as to be well past accountability. What good, pray tell, can come of dwelling on the past? Surely holding the regime's leaders to the standards of human rights law would be a debasing instance of "criminalizing" political differences. What happens in dark prisons should stay in dark prisons, right?

(via Revolution in Iran)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #10

My last leg- 5.77 mi in 41:11 and a net of 15 road kills - I was passed by 5 freakish immortals specially bred for running. Gazelle genes?

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #9

At last! Cell reception restored! All van 1 legs are done and we are stinky and only slightly broken. #htc #h2c

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #8

My OCD requests corrections- leg 1, 35:39, 11 road kills; 2nd leg, 38:31, 19 road kills; sleep, 15 minutes. #htc #h2c

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #7

My second leg, a pleasant 5.49 mi jaunt along hwy 30, finished in 37:30, give or take a fortnight. Sleep is for weeners. #htc #h2c

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #6

We had our hour's night sleep so we are fresh as daisies and minutes away from our second set of legs. #htc #h2c

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #5

We are at leg 5's house relaxing and feeding. Leg 5 probably has a more formal name, but whatever. We will run again 1130ish ... In theory.

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #4

Van 1 is done with our first set of legs and 2 minutes ahead of projections. We smell terrible but it will get worse. #htc #h2c

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #3

My first leg is done - 5.67 mi in about 35 min with 11 road kills. My shins might sue later. #htc #h2c

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #2

I just had my first portable toilet experience for this year's Hood to Coast. HUZZAH!

Hood to Coast 2009 - Live-Blogging #1

Van 1 is together and readying for departure to Mt. Hood ...

Features and Bugs

James Wood has written a very "on the one hand, on the other hand" review of Terry Eagleton's recent mud-toss in the general direction of "new atheism" (previously touched on here, here, here, here, and here), and while on the first hand -- the hand that more or less agrees with Eagleton -- he makes an all too common misstep. Wood:

This God [i.e., the version of god and belief treated by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, et. al.] is not very Judaic, or very philosophical: he is not the bodiless and indescribable entity that Maimonides or Aquinas ceaselessly navigates, or the slightly chilly and unapproachable divinity one finds in the work of the Protestant theologian Karl Barth. Nor is he the Buddha. Hinduism is mentioned only when it is fundamentalist -- when it approximates monotheistic literalism.
As it happens, Hitchens does mention Buddha and compasses certain forms of Buddhism in his critique of religion, and Harris delves into it as well, but I digress.

Wood has cited a feature, not a bug, of so-called "new atheism," and one that its critics would do well to notice: atheism, whether "new" or other, has little quarrel with the rarefied versions of god cited above, since these forms of god have little or no practical effect in human affairs. They do not try to dumb down science and other learning. They do not censor or proscribe. They do not commandeer and animate radical political programs. They do not underwrite campaigns of prejudice, dehumanization, and brutality. As such, they are roughly as interesting as other bloodless but false philosophical musings, and arouse roughly the same amount and kind of attention.

Hinduism -- and the rest for that matter -- is mentioned "only when it is literalist" because it is destructive, dangerous, and worth criticizing "only when it is literalist," or certainly in proportion to its literalism.

This is a feature, not a bug. Insisting on the literal truth of barbaric texts legitimates barbarity, and the grounds of this insistence deserves to be questioned, shaken, and upturned.

Hood to Coast 2009: The Live-Texting, Live-Tweeting, Live-Blogging, and So-Called Real World Experience

My aim is to live-text the Hood to Coast, which for me begins in about two hours.

I now have my texting machine hooked up to the Blogger contraption, to the Twitter apparatus, and via Twitter to the Facebook engine, so I believe I have arranged things such that no one may easily escape the gravity of the live-updates' gaping maw(s).

There is, of course, the question of battery life in the cell phone. There is also the question of cellular reception in the land-orca-prowled wilds of Oregon, through which the Hood to Coast course wends and winds. In other words, there's every reason to expect one, maybe two entries, tops.

I shall be packed, however, as the dramatic image above shows. If it's any consolation, I expect to carry the dumb bell for no more than two of the legs, and the cat scratching post, while not technically part of the packing, will be brought along simply so that this photograph doesn't make a liar of me. I said it was a photo representing my packing, and I stand by that. Firmly. Well, except for the carpet and the wood cabinet and that section of wall and that "ab shaper" thingy. Those will stay behind, so the photo has made a liar of me after all.

I hate that photo. I love this song -- Devotchka's "The Enemy Guns," a damnnear perfect running song:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Can This Strange Device Be?

Farhad Manjoo has added some lyrics to a song I've been playing for years -- a song about overheated, downright panicky restrictions on workplace computers and the little theories of management that undergird them:

You ask your IT manager to let you use something that seems pretty safe and run-of-the-mill, and you're given an outlandish stock answer about administrative costs and unseen dangers lurking on the Web. Like TSA guards at the airport, workplace IT wardens are rarely amenable to rational argument. That's because, in theory, their mission seems reasonable. Computers, like airplanes, can be dangerous things—they can breed viruses and other malware, they can consume enormous resources meant for other tasks, and they're portals to great expanses of procrastination.
Sure, sure. The choruses of the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx hardly stop there: not only will unrestricted computer use suck valuable time and spread terrifying malware, it may introduce license violations, create support nightmares, and above all, open the door to new-fangled ways of doing things that may or may not correspond to this week's preferred buzzword-riddled Approved Process, nor to the Industry Best Practice that some vice president just half-read about in a business-oriented discount magazine.

I find it tends to be the latter at the root of the anxiety, with the others serving as flimsy props to it. The narrative persona of Rush's 2112 suite seemed to share the same suspicions about the Priests, as does Manjoo. But what if ... oh nevermind. Manjoo summarizes an approach to management that's too bold for today's chicken-shit bureaucracies and high priests:
There is a jargony HR phrase that describes these forward-looking firms: They're called "results-only workplace environments," where people are judged on what they produce, not how. As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings once told a reporter, "I want managers to come to me and say, 'Let's give a really big raise to Sally because she's getting a lot done'—not because she's chained to her desk." This jibes with Pink's argument that it's a sense of autonomy—rather than money—that drive employees to work hard. People work best, he argues, when they feel they're being left alone to do their jobs. But it's hard to feel that way if your computer is constantly throwing up roadblocks in your path.
Results, eh? Are those currently considered an Industry Best Practice?

It could be that the time of day I finally got this posted has something to do with the subject matter, but everything was just a fast-moving blur after the cryptic intercom announcement, 'WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL. WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL.'

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

That Narcolepsy Sucks

Damn those putative-not-actual liberals! Damn them to hottest hell! The New York Times presumes to tell you what you'll learn from their content:

[A]s you’ll learn listening to the stories in Patient Voices: Narcolepsy, created by Web producer Karen Barrow and contributor Sarah Arnquist, having the disorder isn’t just about nodding off occasionally.
No, it is about nodding off frequently, and especially frequently if you're not actively engaged in rousing yourself with vigorous physical activity or stimulants. You may be surprised to learn that cramming your body with ever-escalating levels of chemical stimulants has its disadvantages, and that engaging in vigorous physical activity has its practical limits.

As to the former, I would be surprised and dumbfounded at your surprise -- if you're just now learning that continuously-increasing consumption of chemical stimulants is A Bad Thing, I strongly suggest you take up reading a different blog that is even more prepared to state the blindingly obvious.

As to the latter, imagine how you would, if pressed to do so, go about maintaining an elevated heart rate via physical activity while watching a movie in a theater or reading in a library. Have you ever tried, say, jogging in place in those social settings? I have, and it proves hilarious, interesting, or otherwise welcome to your fellow movie-goers and library-users for something less than a minute. Putting aside the social aspects, just how sweat-covered and head-bobbing do you want your reading and movie-watching experiences to be? Not very? Me too.

In short, narcolepsy sucks, and the feature cited above illustrates it nicely.

On the Indeterminacy of New-to-Me Tech

This may or may not be a blog post, dear reader, and it may or may not be landing on my precious, precious blog. To me, it is a slowly-typed SMS message.

Subsequent edit: well, yes, it is certainly a blog post that began its life as a mere text message sent from my cellular phone. I have yet to discover the method for giving such messages a title or applying blogger labels to them, but perhaps I will so discover in the fullness of time and the shining grace of mood swings. Time will tell -- it always does.

RIP Senator Edward Kennedy

We had known of Ted Kennedy's severe medical condition for over a year, and I count us fortunate for the time from the unveiling of that news to this day. I am glad, among other things, that Senator Kennedy survived to see the election of Barack Obama.

I hope someone gives Ted Kennedy a eulogy as fitting and eloquent as the one he gave his brother in 1968, a speech I count among the best I know, one whose terms of praise apply equally well to the man who spoke it:

That Which Should Not Exist

Does anyone care to offer a coherent, non-scat-tossing account of how and why the collection of facts and circumstances recounted in this video should be legally permissible in a nominally civilized society?

The practices and machinations of United Health Group profiled here are disgraceful; they are beneath contempt; they are unacceptable; they are depraved, sick, and wrong. That the company's stock price should suffer a decline from the bad publicity is not nearly enough. This should not be permitted in a civilized, law-bound society, and yet all of this happened in the context of what passes for our current "health care system," and all too much of it was completely legal.

This should not exist.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It's So 2006

Let us count the ways:

  • Whether from cowardice or idiocy or a mix of each, the current occupant of the White House shows all the morals of a rattlesnake, or perhaps those of a middle-ranking mafioso, judging from his decision to pursue war crimes only inasmuch as they can be pinned on low-ranking functionaries.
  • The aforementioned president is just sure that we are a constantly-rolling six months and several thousand troops away from complete but undefined victory in a faraway crucible of fanaticism and dysfunction.
  • Little, if anything, of substance stands to be done to change the USA's abysmal health care failures since any such thing would inconvenience pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, and assorted other monied interests.
  • Ben Bernanke remains safely in his post to secure the interests of speculators, bankers, and allied parasites.
  • Such dizzying levels of cowardice and venality being wearisome to maintain, the president has taken a vacation, and the vice president is nowhere to be found -- not that anyone is looking eagerly.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sam Harris on Bill Maher's Real Time

The noteworthy thing about Bill Maher's recent interview of Sam Harris (below) is not so much what Harris has to say but the audience's reaction to it. I hope my six readers, especially the ones from non-USA nation-states, will appreciate that Bill Maher's live audiences are as left-liberal as any studio audience one can find in American television broadcasting; they typically hoot for any liberal-leftish debating point to such an extent that Maher expends lots of time shushing them.*

Not so much with Sam Harris. Several of his applause lines fall rather conspicuously flat in consideration of the ideological orientation of the audience -- even here at the left-liberal extreme of politics as it plays out on television in the USA, vocal expressions of disbelief are not popular.

I don't mean to say Maher's audience heckles, boos, and chucks rotten fruit at Harris, but by the standards of audience reaction on this particular program, this is a tepid reaction:

(via Sam Harris)

* If I had my druthers about it, Maher would either stop shushing his audiences, take the necessary steps to assemble a more ideologically balanced audience, or not have an audience. I don't see the rationale for inviting a live audience to your panel discussion program only to insist they not react to the discussions they witness. Maher has chosen to borrow the NFL's idea of getting outraged when fans give a shit, and I wish he'd return that rotten idea.

There Should Have Been Blood

As much as I admire both, I still say There Will Be Blood was slightly more best-picture-worthy than No Country for Old Men, but I am not bitter. Not very.

This scene is just one of many that really sticks to the ribs, and while it provides more than a hint of the severity of one of the film's central conflicts, it is not a spoiler:

If you have not yet seen There Will Be Blood, I can't recommend it highly enough, but beware the youtube clips -- quite a few of them show the final scene, and as intense as it must be when seen in isolation of everything that came before it, its dramatic value can only be appreciated in the broader context: it actually manages to be shocking in terms of how shocking it is.

Am I saying the final scene is shockingly shocking? Yes, that's what I'm suggesting. So it was for me.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Karen Armstrong's Just-So Story

On Karen Armstrong's own account, Western civilization began disappointing her in the 1500s:

During the 16th and 17th centuries Western people began to develop a new kind of civilisation, governed by scientific rationality and based economically on technology and capital investment ...
Yes. It was that bad, and by now, we see the signs of its ruinous reductiveness everywhere, right down to the very food we eat, which is now labeled with nutritional data and, where applicable according to "rational" standards, cluttered with disclaimers: this is not a low-calorie food; gluten-free; phenylketonurics. The horror!

It gets even worse: the rot of rationality spread to religion, as Armstrong explains:
As theologians began to adopt the criteria of science, the mythoi of Christianity were interpreted as empirically, rationally and historically verifiable and forced into a style of thinking that was alien to them. Philosophers and scientists could no longer see the point of ritual, and religious knowledge became theoretical rather than practical. We lost the art of interpreting the old tales of gods walking the Earth, dead men striding out of tombs, or seas parting miraculously. We began to understand concepts such as faith, revelation, myth, mystery and dogma in a way that would have been very surprising to our ancestors.
Armstrong's is an interesting just-so story about intellectual history, and far be it from me to gainsay it, given her status as a writer-of-books and A-list scholar in theology. Just kidding! This is patent horseshit, and this becomes clearer when she arrives at some of its -- dare I even utter the phrase -- logical entailments:
a deliberate and principled reticence about God and/or the sacred was a constant theme not only in Christianity but in the other major faith traditions until the rise of modernity in the West. People believed that God exceeded our thoughts and concepts and could only be known by dedicated practice. We have lost sight of this important insight and, I believe, this is one of the reasons why so many Western people find the concept of God so difficult today.
It's truer to say that pre-modern Christians reported believing that god's infiniteness exceeded their thoughts -- the writings of St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are littered with claims of that kind -- but as a matter of rubber-meets-road religious practice, early Christians were quite willing to arrive at firm conclusions about the likes and dislikes of god and enforce them.

So, with all that said -- granting, for the sake of argument, that 1500 CE represents an important turning point -- which of the following is wrong: Karen Armstrong's claim that Christianity couldn't be much bothered with theology until the 1500s, or this list (or this one, or this one, or this one) detailing numerous pre-1500's instances in which Christian authorities ostracized, exiled, threatened, detained, tortured, or killed people for theological transgressions?

I say Armstrong is wrong, and laughably so, notwithstanding her frequent appearances on tee-vee programming, book store shelves, and the lecture circuit.

(via Ophelia Benson)

Sunday Unhelpful Elisions Blogging: Religion and Morality

It's bad enough that religious believers routinely equate god-belief with morality, a confusion that goes back at least as far as the Decalogue, which elevates brand loyalty to Jehovah to the first rank of moral demands. It's arguably worse when non-believers participate in the same sloppy elision. Here's David Harsanyi:

Certainly, one of the most grating habits of the Bush administration was how it framed policy positions in moral absolutes. ... Obama has thrown around the name of God even more often than George W. Bush. Then again, no group couches policy as a moral obligation more than the left. On nearly every question of legislation, there is a pious straw man tugging at the sleeves of the wicked.
Well, no. The grating thing about the Bush administration's invocation of morals was not the absoluteness, but the baselessness and artlessness. Bush and company framed the invasion of Iraq in a variety of moral terms, not all of them patently ridiculous, but the versions that portrayed the war as a "crusade" against the forces of "Gog and Magog" will appeal, at most, only to people on Bush's particular side of theological disputes.

Throwing around the name of a god is one thing, appealing to conscience is another; referencing specific religious texts is one thing, referencing shared moral tenets is another; piety is one thing, morality is another. These are distinct and should not be confused.

We can and should couch arguments over public policy in moral terms. If we want to be convincing with such arguments, they will proceed from broadly-shared moral norms, and an interesting feature of broadly-shared moral norms is how they decrease in theology as they increase in broadness.

Making real moral arguments and talking about them is an opportunity to reinforce the distinction between them and useless (at best) theological twaddle.

Austin Dacey wrote The Secular Conscience to quash exactly this elision. David Harsanyi would do well to read that before he blunders into another argument that ends up trashing the idea of morality.

Previous Secular Conscience coverage here, here, here, here and here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Happens If Gays Marry?

Rod Dreher has interviewed Maggie Ghallager, who wants everyone to know that there are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad social consequences to legalizing same-sex marriage.

Curiously, despite the open-mic, open-ended nature of the interview, Ghallager either cannot or will not list these consequences, or not in a convincing or coherent fashion. Ghallager:

What does losing marriage mean? First the rejection of the idea that children need a mom and dad as a cultural norm--or probably even as a respectable opinion.
It's difficult to disentangle the point of confusion here -- does Ghallager think gays-as-spouses and gays-as-parents are the same proposition? Does she make the same equation for heterosexuals, and if so, does it lead her to oppose stripping marital rights from infertile straight people? Does it lead her to oppose permitting adoptions by unmarried straight people? Births by unnatural straight people? Removal of parental rights for people whose wife/husband has died or left?

No. Ghallager does not explain why this is so. For her, gay people are self-evidently second-rate. For her, gay people are icky, foul people whose rights are highly alienable, subject to majoritarian whimsy.

Shifting the emphasis to her hand-wringing about "cultural norms," does Ghallager not recognize the significant mutual autonomy between norms and laws? She should, if only for the readily-available instance sitting in her very lap, namely: an established norm in the USA is that self-labeled social conservatives write opinion columns in which they prate, moan, and whine about social changes they do not like. This happens without the direct assistance of any law. Indeed, it is pointedly the case that there are no laws prohibiting the writings of social liberals or others expressing contrary opinions. Even without a legal assist, then, Maggie Ghallager and her ilk demonstrably manage to perpetuate the norm of right-wing, knuckle-dragging, hell-in-a-handbasket, public caterwauling.

Again, she leaves unexplained why the cultural norm she is currently claiming to defend -- marriage as one man and one woman, hand-in-hand forever as witnessed by god almighty and undersigned by the county clerk -- is especially vulnerable without a legal boost in the form of denying the same rights to man-man or woman-woman pairings.

Soon enough she gets around to an almost, but not quite, concrete claim about the fate of societies that legalize marriage equality:
I'm not worried about the progressive myth that 200 years from now gay marriage will be the new world norm. I'm somewhat more worried about the kind of cultures around the world that might survive. It's not clear to me they'll have the virtues of American civilization for gay people or anyone else. [emphasis mine]
Isn't it quaint how Ghallager manages to present her anti-gay prejudice in a phony wrapper of pro-gay protectiveness? That aside, by definition, these hypothetical societies of the future will not include, among their "virtues for gay people," the legal barriers to their marrying people with whom they share felt romantic attachments. Should these societies come to exist -- and I hope they continue emerging -- I hope they develop norms that favor marriage equality to coincide with their laws, but if they do not, we can be sure of future Maggie Ghallagers reminding us, however vaguely and insubstantially, of how terrible it will all surely be if the norms and the laws don't match up.

More on the specific topic of right-wing predictions about gay marriage can be found at Rust Belt Philosophy; more on the more general topic of majoritarianism can be found at Butterflies and Wheels.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nothing Wrong

Ophelia Benson quotes Richard Dawkins and speaks for me here:

It's easy for me to be an atheist, but I'm a nerd living in a big coastal city; the fact that it's easy for me doesn't mean it's easy for everyone. It's not. It's hard for a great many people - it's not a live option - or if it is it's one with a huge price tag attached. And that's bad because there is nothing wrong with being an atheist. It's not a crime, not even a thought-crime. So Dawkins is right - people in the US at least need to know they're not weirdos marooned on Planet Theism, and the only way for them to know that is for it to be true, and the only way for it to be true is for more and more atheists to be openly atheist as opposed to bashfully apologetically silently atheist.
There is nothing wrong with atheism, and there is nothing wrong with questioning received religious beliefs, whether or not this questioning arrives at outright atheism.

Belief in god may well be the norm here in the USA and most places, but that does not make it right. Norms can be wrong. Norms can be unhelpful, ridiculous, even destructive. Belief in god needs to contend for its place along with every other set of ideas, not assume a privileged state merely for the sake of taboo or tradition.

Certainly fear of the unknown should not control here. To live is to gamble -- this truth cuts across all forms of metaphysics. The fact before us all is plainly this: we have a lease with a short due date, before which we can make as much sense of world as possible. Beyond that, reports from the "undiscover'd country" are scattered, varied, contradictory, and far from reliable.

If there is a god as described in the major holy books, he sees all, and this includes the doubts that people labor to smother.

Whoever you are, doubt is a live option for you. There is nothing wrong with doubt.

Cowardice, Violence, Hypocrisy, Gender Confusion -- You Know, The Usuals

Sing, muse, of a world rapidly flying apart -- but keep it brief because I have only so much attention span to spare:

  • What's the trouble? What am I not seeing? The athlete in green and yellow pictured here is quite obviously a man. The athletes to his right and left should stay out of men's running events.
  • Christopher Hitchens calmly explains why Yale University should be ashamed of its cowardice for withholding publication of the cartoons that have inspired so many of Allah's earthly lieutenants to run amok. They and their cherished literary characters should strongly consider fucking the fuck off if they can't handle offensive cartoons without turning to violence and threats.
  • On the topic of cowards, Glenn Greenwald calmly explains why liberals are increasingly disgusted with the chickenshit who has replaced the president we thought we elected. I cavil with Glennzilla's (and Paul Krugman's) use of the word trust -- that word should not be indulged in this context -- but both are spot-on.
  • Notice, notwithstanding the intense feelings mentioned in the previous bulleted item, that liberals are not -- or I'll say should not be, if they are to be true to the ideals of free association and free speech -- registering their disapproval by brandishing firearms in the presence of the chickenshit. There is a word for the use of violence or threats of violence to achieve political aims, and many of the people currently using that tactic in domestic US politics are typically among the first and loudest to denounce it in other contexts. Hmm.
  • Speaking of screaming yahoos who love violence when it's their team perpetrating it, this is an exceedingly ugly scene.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Old Yeller Packaged

Is your cherished, diseased, imminently mercy-killed dog still far enough away from death that he/she requires food? Grrlpup has called up an image of the right choice of dog food for those last meals:

Other pet foods in the same inspired series include "Feline Leukemia Diagnosis Mix" for cats, "Black Beauty Ginger's Mix" horse meal, "Bambi's Mother's Choice" back yard wildlife chow, and maybe "Ancient Mariner" for the soon-dead albatross in your life.

Presumably, what Old Yeller lacks in nutritional value -- after all, why bother? -- is balanced by rock-bottom pricing.

Stay classy, Disney.

Download Radiohead's Twisted Words

Radiohead is preparing to release a new set of songs, among which is the freely-downloadable "These Are My Twisted Words." I have only heard it once, but Radiohead makes almost nothing but excellent, layered songs so I am prospectively appreciating it.

It even has artwork, as seen above.

Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except John Lennon and His Monkey

Certainly the cretins who persist in using shop as a transitive verb have something to hide. Hear me now, sons of Cain and/or sons of the men who peopled the community that Cain joined after slaying Abel (see below), and let their daughters hear it too: shop in the sense used here, i.e., "... shop affordable Star Wars Lego sets ...", is not a transitive verb. When one sets out to buy a thing, one is not shopping the thing, but rather shopping for the thing. One shops; one shops around; one shops at particular places; one does not shop direct objects in this sense of shop.

A correct restatement of that imperative would be "shop for affordable Star Wars Lego sets," but more correct would be to say nothing of the kind, since the Star Wars Lego sets in question are almost certainly not affordable, and likely do not deserve to be shopped for at any price.

While I am on this important cluster of topics, if you're shopping for a laugh -- I did not say shopping laughs -- check out Christian Answers dot net's explanation of Cain's wife, which makes this priceless observation among others:

If we now work totally from Scripture, without any personal prejudices or other extra-biblical ideas, then back at the beginning, when there was only the first generation, brothers would have had to have married sisters or there would be no more generations!
So there you have it -- incest is not an extra-Biblical idea, but a founded on scripture. Neat! I shall continue to decline to marry or breed with any of my sisters, politely whenever possible, forcefully if necessary.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Iraqi Gays Liberated from Life

For any who still needed any, here is yet more proof that invading Iraq and then occupying it for several years has been a study in spreading liberty:

Human Rights Watch documents a “spreading campaign of torture and murder” against gay men. HRW says "hundreds of gay men" have been targeted and killed since 2004," and nearly 90 gay men have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of January. "A campaign of systematic killings gathered gradually in strength through the early months of 2009," the report states. "Murders are committed with impunity, admonitory in intent, with corpses dumped in garbage or hung as warnings on the street."
I suspect the Islamists behind this campaign of torture and killing would label it an advance in religious liberty, and lest any wild-eyed reformers get the idea that killing and torturing gays in the name of Islam should be made expressly illegal, one only need refer to article two of liberated Iraq's constitution:
Article 2:

First: Islam is the official religion of the State and it is a fundamental source of legislation:

A. No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.
This passage negates whatever meager portion of rights Iraqi gays might claim by way of Islamic law's explicit condemnations of gays.

I doubt this outcome surprises or disappoints the principals behind the Iraq invasion/occupation, nor the most fervent and consistent supporters of that policy. Whatever you think of it, dear reader, if you are American or British, this is the liberation you have paid, and continue to pay, so dearly for.

FOX Reports, You Drool Down Your Shirt

It is fair to ask why it is that among recently-polled Americans,

45 percent believe the false claim that legislation includes “death panels” while 55 percent believe the false claim that coverage will be extended to illegal immigrants.
This fair question has a straightforward answer, even if a partial one:
72% of self-identified FOX News viewers believe the health-care plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants ... 69% think [falsely] that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly.
FOXNews is lying to its viewers, brazenly and frequently, and the lies are sinking in.

FOXNews is not the only source of these falsehoods, but given its high ratings compared with news organizations less inclined to spread the same lies, it is an important one.

Sadly, those who gather their information from the internets fare little better. The political moment is especially rife with lies, which is not surprising given the monetary stakes of health care reform.

Watching FOXNews will demonstrably increase your ignorance, but there are alternatives. and are two well-established sources for assessing the more heated and contentious claims that float around the culture. They are also searchable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Hood to Coast 2009: T-Shirt Spell-Checker Sold Separately

In these difficult economic times, it is to be expected that frills and extras will be pared down as much as possible, and so it is with the second letter i in the word official as printed on this year's offical volunteer t-shirts.

We should consider ourselves fortunate they didn't have to take out one of the f's and left the silent e on the end of the word race.

Runners, sighting this spelling error against its brilliant orange background indicates you are nearing the end point of your leg. It is the beacon that signals you can soon stop running and get back in the foul-smelling team van. Let a new mantra guide you: run toward the spelling error. Run toward the spelling error.

Poem of the Day: "Sailing to Byzantium"

I'm not sure how I should feel about my growing appreciation of poems that see the positive side of growing older, but I know this poem has some lines to remember.

Converting the everyday to the extraordinary, whether turns of phrase or situations of life, is the work of poets. The final stanza recasts the speaker's limitations in terms of gold -- "such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make / Of hammered gold and gold enamelling" -- in a way that brings to mind John Donne's recast of romantic parting as "gold to aery thinness beat" in "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning."

W.B. Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium"

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Tulsa Falling. Oral.

Is Oklahoma ready to face the challenges and embrace the opportunities of the 21st century? This question can't be meaningfully addressed until its cosmopolitan center, Tulsa, successfully acknowledges the 20th century, or really any of the double-digit centuries:

Republican mayoral candidate Anna Falling said Tuesday that putting a Christian creationism display in the Tulsa Zoo is No. 1 in importance among city issues that include violent crime, budget woes and bumpy streets.

“It’s first,” she said to calls of “hallelujah” at a rally outside the zoo. “If we can’t come to the foundation of faith in this community, those other answers will never come. We need to first of all recognize the fact that God needs to be honored in this city.”
Hallelujah! The city of Oral Roberts, Oral Roberts Ministries, and Oral Roberts University is notoriously a hotbed of non-recognizing the fact that god needs to be honored. After all, would people go around inserting the word "oral" into names in a city that recognizes the fact that god needs to be honored?

By dint of her understanding that no city government has ever solved a problem without first recognizing the fact that god needs to be honored, I expect this candidate to do well in Tulsa's next mayoral election, and if elected, to spread creationist bullshit to the zoo and beyond, orally and otherwise.

We Had a Big Election Recently, Right?

Am I the only one who finds it odd, and not in a good way, the extent to which President Obama and other Democrats are treating the question of health care reform as though it sprang into existence de novo within the last few months?

With due respect to daily tracking polls and half-hourly news reporting cycles, there was a closely-watched nationwide election in November 2008, one in which millions of people voted in every state, and health care policy was very much discussed, debated, and dissected in the context of that election.

Strong claims and counter-claims concerning health care policy were traded, vividly distinct alternatives were placed before voters, and when all the votes were counted and certified, Barack Obama became president and the Democrats enlarged their majorities in both the House and the Senate. Consequently, it is fair to say that one vision of health care policy was rejected and another vision embraced last November.

I didn't simply imagine that years-long political campaign leading up to November 2008, did I?

No. It really did happen. This fight was fought, and on the largest, most visible, hardest-to-miss public stage imaginable -- and beyond that, its terms were as detailed as anyone could hope for. Any mildly motivated person, whatever the motivation, had sufficient time, means, and opportunity to acquire, evaluate, and draw conclusions about the foreseeable range of alternative policies.

To pick only a single example from many thousands: as early as January 2007, 657 days before the 2008 elections, Free Republic -- whose content is free but for the pain of reading it -- was loudly warning its readers of Barack Obama's troubling socialistic tendencies.

If there are people who today claim they had no idea of what Obama and the Democrats planned to do with respect to health care -- who today, for example, find themselves stunned to learn that elected Democrats overwhelmingly favor a so-called "public option" -- to such stunned people, I say: tough cookies.

Elections have consequences, or so I have been told.

For the people professing to be stunned by the nature of the proposals now under consideration, my advice is to learn an important lesson from this: the best time to understand and assess questions of public policy over which you are, in principle, willing to throw a screaming fit is before the election, not months after it.

Democrats would do well to observe the same standard. They won the election and need to begin speaking and acting as though they did.

Usain Bolt - Faster Than You Are

Usain Bolt, shown here well ahead of a field of elite sprinters who are, themselves, faster than all but a handful of human beings in the history of human beings, is fast. Over the weekend, he clipped another .11 seconds off his previous world record time in the 100-meter run, taking it down to 9.58 seconds -- breath that in for a moment: 100 meters in 9.58 seconds with only leg power, no engines or wings involved.

I know it sounds rude and presumptuous to say so, but Usain Bolt is faster than you are.

(photo source)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Mad Men Season Three - Blegging Broadcasters

The third season of Mad Men, featuring the handsome devils shown here (source) and several more besides, begins within just a few hours -- 10pm local time, to be exact.

And here lies my cavil with AMC. AMC, like most tee-vee broadcasters, fails to appreciate that 10pm on the west coast is not really the same thing as 10pm on the east coast. People on the west coast tend, in my vast experience, to orient their schedules to synch up with the east coast, and they do so because so much commerce hinges on the east coast: the home office is there, customers are there, calls are expected from there, etc.

A typical east coast person might begin his workday at 9am and finish it at 6pm, and that translates to 6am and 3pm here on the west coast. In my workplace here in fair Puddle-town, smack in the Pacific time zone, 9am start times are all but unheard of, but 6am start times are fairly common.

I offer these fascinating and thoroughly valid sociological insights to point out that AMC and other broadcasters should strongly reconsider the definition of prime time, especially for flagship programs like Mad Men. While 10pm is not the wee hours of the night, it is very late for us "out here;" we are, many of us, out of bed at 4:30am or 5am or even earlier.

I want Mad Men season three to start playing on my television in 90 minutes, not in 270 minutes. I really need to be sleeping for many of those extra 180 minutes.

The above no doubt holds for the Central and Mountain time zones, but the people in the flyover states famously do not matter and should not be considered in this connection or any other.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dear, Sweet, Precious Woodstock

Woodstock happened 40 years ago this weekend, and I want to assure everyone that I am focusing on it with every ounce of strength I possess -- not because of its importance in the history of music or the performing arts, since in those terms it seems to be, like Paris Hilton, famous for being famous, but because its true contribution to culture is in its status as a whetstone on which everyone can, nay must, sharpen his/her assessments of The 1960s.

Put differently, not to gesture enthusiastically at remembering Woodstock on this, one of its multiples-of-ten anniversaries, would be to pass up an opportunity to grant the Baby Boomers what they most crave and never pass up the chance to grant themselves: gazing at the navel of every marginally interesting goddamn thing that happened during the Boomers' formative years.

So in deference to that cultural imperative, or meta-cultural imperative, or whatever, I offer the following:

Baby Boomers, everything that happened during your formative years was brilliant and priceless and enduring, and if you, dear reader, are yourself a Baby Boomer, I realize that you yourself were there in the center of it. I see it; I acknowledge it; I genuflect before it; I envy the living shit out of it.

You were, after all, there when Howdy-Doody first aired; there when Elvis appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show; there when The Beatles landed at JFK; you were already slightly tired of Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and The Who before they made it big.

Your heart sang with joy at the announcement of Brown v. Board. You were in too many lunch-counter sit-ins to count. When you weren't driving, you were riding in the freedom rides to confront the ugly face of Jim Crow. You were there on the Washington Mall, tears streaming down your cheeks, when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech, and you know exactly where you were when you heard the news of his assassination. Likewise, it goes without saying, with the assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, and RFK.

You burned bras and draft cards. You saw your own friends die at Kent State. Long before it was popular, you worked to bring the nation's attention to the horrors of the Vietnam war.

You're not even sure when, but in a upper east-side apartment, Andy Warhol himself rendered you in the form of a tomato soup can as Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison, Nico, and Janis Joplin clustered in a mad orgy -- all of it witnessed by Hunter S. Thompson, who was either too altered or too sold-out to write of it in Rolling Stone.

At the same time, you were among the very first to appreciate the significance of William F. Buckley's Man and God at Yale. You were a Goldwater Girl, or among the first to enroll in the Peace Corps, or you volunteered for Vietnam long before even its most wild-eyed critics called it a war. After your three tours of duty -- or was it five? -- you returned, redeemed in the eyes of your "Greatest Generation" parents, but scorned by hippies who turned on, tuned in, dropped out, and spat in your face with a cry of "baby killer!" You wept with pride when Armstrong touched down on the moon, and proudly counted yourself among Richard Nixon's Silent Majority.

You were there for the very most significant events of human history, and focusing on Woodstock is properly understood as focusing on the singular importance of everything that shaped the noble being you've become.

You are in this video, literally, figuratively, and in all other ways:

Baby Boomers, thank you. You are something more than merely human, and I, for one, shall never tire of focusing on you.

Public Policy and "Trust"

A peculiar exchange comes at roughly the 1:10 mark of this video of Senator McCaskill's meeting with constituents:

"We don't trust you!" shouts at least one of the far-right screamers, to which McCaskill responds with a slightly plaintive repetition, "You don't trust me?"

With whatever respect is due to the senator's hurt feelings and the screamer's fake outrage, this is a deeply incongruous exchange. Both the screamer and the senator should know that their relationship is not a bond of trust. She represents each of Missouri's 5.9 million people* in the US Senate; the screamer happens to live somewhere in Missouri, or so I too-charitably assume.

The screamer, and all of us, should be extremely wary of placing trust in senators, presidents, congressional representatives, governors, mayors, state legislators, and other government officials. Indeed, I think we should place no trust whatsoever in such figures, but rather should scrutinize their words and deeds in the light of the best available information culled from multiple sources. The public vocalizations of politicians is one such source of information, but these deserve nothing more than to be clearly heard and fairly evaluated.

Senator McCaskill should have responded with words to this effect:

Of course you don't trust me, and you shouldn't. You should not trust any politician, ever. I don't even know your name, I don't recognize your face, and I am quite sure you know of me only because my image and statements have been on TV and radio. Your doubts about my public representations are fair enough, so I invite you to evaluate them by reading the relevant portions of the bill I am supporting, checking on what various reputable sources are saying about the relevant provisions of the bill, and above all, by paying more attention to what I do and how I vote, and less attention to what I say and whether you "believe" or "trust" it.
Placing air-quotes around the words trust and believe in the above would work well, but I realize that's a matter of style, and having no personal relationship with McCaskill (nor even my own two senators), I have no idea if that befits her style or not.

She also might have added a few choice words to the effect that FOXNews, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh are not reputable sources of analysis or information, but demonstrable, serial liars. That said, I am not the one to instruct Senator McCaskill on the sharpness of her rhetoric, which varies from person to person, but only on the distinction between bullshit and reality, which is communal resource all should cherish and defend.

* Am I the last person to notice google's population data utility? Cool stuff!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Hood to Coast 2009: Slide Whistles Ready

I have a strong dislike for downhill running, so naturally I chose leg 2 for this year's Hood to Coast experience, which begins with the crippler illustrated below, the "hard"-rated leg 2, in which I am asked to charge, or perhaps roll, or more likely tumble, down a 5.67 mile stretch of Mount Hood.

The appropriate sound-effect for this opening leg will be a slide whistle. I can hear it already, registering my descent and the health of my knees, shins, and hips.

Within several hours that will seem like several minutes, the "moderate"-rated leg 14 sends me and whatever remains of my lower extremities along a mercifully flat 5.49-mile length of highway 30.

After those refreshing experiences and, with luck, a small amount of food and rest, I close the running portion of the event with the 5.77-mile "hard"-rated leg 26, which closes, as you can see, with a 3/4-mile uphill that I find gratuitous to the point of insulting.

Truly, the only thing that worries me about any of the above is that I'm looking forward to it. The absence of a genuinely-felt healthy fear can't be a good thing.

I am doomed, but not without appropriate sound-effects.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why Evolution Is True and Baby Tapirs Are Cute

Baby tapirs are adorable, and it turns out, all extant varieties of tapir babies, Malay (top) and South American (below), look very much alike -- more alike than the adult tapirs they'll become:

Adults are either self-colored (the American species) or particolored (the Malay tapir). (It’s interesting that both young and adults have white edges to their ears.) The question is, is this coloration of the juveniles an adaptation? Or is it an ancestral feature of no current utility, which makes a brief appearance in the young, but is then lost (like the coat of hair that human babies have in utero)?
You did catch that part about the coat of hair that human babies have in utero, right? If you are reading this, or if someone you know is reading this at you, you had a coat of fur when you were in your mother's womb. You also had a tail. Both disappeared before you were born, or so I will assume for present purposes.

Fascinating details such as the above -- things you might have forgotten or perhaps never learned -- are presented brilliantly, along with expositions of biogeography and scores of other insights touching on biology, in Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution Is True.

Had someone told me I would find a account of evolution that rivals, in clarity or in the power to awe, Richard Dawkins's The Blind Watchmaker or The Ancestor's Tale, I would have spat in his face, called him terrible names, placed flaming bags of dog scat on his front porch before knocking on his door, hurled Molotov cocktails into his passing vehicle, and so on -- I have been told I tend to go slightly overboard, and there may be something to that. Nevertheless, had that person been referring to Coyne's superb new book, I would have been in the wrong.

Why Evolution Is True is not to be missed by anyone who wishes to understand life on earth.

The NBA Needs Me

It is not yet widely acknowledged, but the NBA and its commissioner, David Stern, need me. They need me to correct their misbegotten ways and save them from public scorn and financial ruin into which they are flying headlong.

The trouble, for present purposes, is the length of the regular season schedule, which is currently 82 games. A season of this length all but invites players, coaches, and entire teams to take nights off and experience "ghost" injuries because, too often, especially early in the season, any night's game, being only slightly over 1% of the total, just doesn't matter.

The solution is a shorter regular season, and I propose the following:

  • Each team plays each other team in the same conference three times. Home court advantage rotates from year to year. With 15 teams in each conference, this translates to 42 games (14 opponents x 3 games).
  • Each team plays each team of the other conference one time per season, with home court advantage rotating from year to year. This adds another 15 games (15 opponents x 1 games), for a grand total of 57 games. 57 is still arguably too many, but it's better than 82, and for reasons explained below, each individual game does increase in importance.
  • Divisions within conferences are abolished. That's right, I said abolished! In each conference, the top eight finishers, ranked by regular season record, go to the playoffs. The rest join the LA Clippers in the draft lottery.
  • Since each head-to-head rivalry occurs either once or thrice, any ties in regular season record are settled on the floor. How quaint! How unlike college football's execrable BCS system!
  • Referees caught cheating are executed imaginatively in a televised pay-per-view ceremony by a carefully selected group of the 100 meanest, most frightening fans of the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs (permanent members) together with fans of any teams know to have been cheated by the referee in question. This has nothing to do with schedules, but everything to do with ginning up fan interest and assuring the integrity of the game.
I am happy to help, but that's not to say I don't insist on a finder's fee for these extremely helpful suggestions.

(via Rust Belt Philosophy)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Not British Enough

It's only a matter of time before my British citizenship is revoked, and deservedly so. Happily, I only play a British citizen on this precious, precious blog -- if at all -- and do a horrible job of it with or without pop quizzes.

The news isn't all bad. I scored just a little lower than actual Briton Norm Geras, who will soon be expelled from the scepter'd isle. You're welcome here, Norm, but you'll want to dumb things down a few notches if you want to fit in. We don't take kindly to folk who score above 50% on tests.

Oh, and you'll want to make sure you are absolutely free of pre-existing medical conditions of any kind.

How British-citizen-y are you? Take the quiz and find out -- this is not one to leave to guesswork.

Update: here's another quiz failure soon to be cast out of England like just another Viking raider.

In Contempt of Whining

O how the world hates whining, and rightly so. Just try, if you can, to make it all the way to the end of this:

Empty, I echo to the least footfall,
Museum without statues, grand with pillars, porticoes, rotundas.
In my courtyard a fountain leaps and sinks back into itself,
Nun-hearted and blind to the world. Marble lilies
Exhale their pallor like scent.

I imagine myself with a great public,
Mother of a white Nike and several bald-eyed Apollos.
Insread, the dead injure me attentions, and nothing can happen.
Blank-faced and mum as a nurse.
It sounds like somebody has a case of the Mondays! In her refusal to stay focused on the sweet things in life, Sylvia Plath was almost as bad as this guy:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
Get over yourself, Will! Go outside or something! Of course, he has nothing on the ancients, for we can trace this sort of belly-aching as far back as we like, at least as far as the endlessly self-pitying author of Ecclesiastes:
So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.

Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.

Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
It goes just as deep in the classical tradition -- Plato, that moaning little frowny-pants, practically celebrated looking beneath the shiny surface to find the rot beneath, and this inspired, among countless others, this epic whiner, this one, that one, and even more grating, this character and this little downcast toad. Don't even get me started on this malcontent.

Not all of this pointlessness took written form -- would that we could be so lucky! Visually distorted and wordless though it might be, there's no small amount of whining here:

A common tactic has long been to cloak the useless complaining in humor (see video below if you can stomach it), while still others have grabbed on to an outrageously longstanding tradition of clouding it in music, with and without lyrics.

Whining is simply awful.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ideas Can Fail

Ophelia Benson asks us to suppose that

commenters here and there said that people who believe in Santa Claus or Loki or parking angels are crazy. That would be insulting to such people - and that would be just too bad. If you believe fanciful things for no good reason, then you just have to put up with people in the wider world saying those beliefs are silly. Your best friend may humour you, your siblings and colleagues perhaps will too, but you can't expect all of humanity to oblige. You just can't. In the public realm, ideas and beliefs have to stand on their merits. If they can't - then there's something wrong with them.
Yes. It's so utterly fundamental and yet it needs repeating: meritless ideas are the ones that have no basis in reason or observation, and they often, though not often enough, fare poorly as winners of respect. Ideas are not like elementary school chess tournaments where every participant receives a ribbon for having completed all rounds of play. No, when it comes to ideas, a few receive and deserve winner's medals and accolades, while many do not, and this is as it should be. Continuing:
This is obvious in the case of beliefs in Santa Claus and parking angels. Generalized discussion of the absurdity of belief in Santa or parking angels doesn't generally trigger outrage about militant fundamentalist new aclausists. Christian beliefs, like other religious beliefs, are not fundamentally different from other such fantasy-based beliefs, but people in Christian regions think they are because of long habit and social norms. That's an illusion. It's an illusion that ought to be patiently chipped away at until it is gone. It's not an illusion that ought to be cherished and cuddled and pandered to.
Ideas can stand athwart well-established norms and yet be superior to fantasies. Baseless ideas are failed ideas, and pinning medals on them only serves to debase the medals.

Don't Drink and Treadmill

With a mix of pity and scorn, I go out of my way to visit the exercise facilities offered by any hotel where I stay -- mostly to survey the horrors of what someone thinks passes for an exercise facility, but willing to be pleasantly surprised -- and so it was during my recent visit to Great Wolf Lodge.

I entered to find that the exercise bikes, elliptical machines, and treadmills were of reasonably good quality, and the room was outfitted with several televisions to distract the bored. I've seen better, and I've certainly seen worse.

What came next was novel, however: a Latino man was just climbing onto one of the treadmills and began clumsily fiddling with the controls. He pushed a button or two and seemed to try to start running, but the machine was unresponsive. He tried again, and then again. At last he turned to me because, I don't know, maybe I look like someone with "a sense for" treadmills?

"Sir," he slurred. "How do you ..." gesturing toward the treadmill. I approached and soon realized the two-fold nature of the problem: first, the treadmill's large green "quick start" button -- similar to the one pictured here, but much larger and more prominent -- had not been pressed, maybe because the large red scrolling readout of "PRESS QUICK START TO BEGIN" had been carelessly left in English; second, and most importantly, the man was extremely drunk. I concluded he was drunk not only from the slurring of his speech but from the thickly-alcoholic fumes mingling with his breath and extruding from his pores.

I maintained my coherence despite the buzz I was catching from his alcoholic discharge long enough to direct him to press the gigantic "quick start" button and adjust his pace using the "speed" up-arrow / down-arrow buttons next to it, before backing away and leaving the room. My tolerance for alcohol is only so high, surely no higher than my tolerance for treadmills or the cramped, sad, stultifying little hovels they call "exercise facilities" in most hotels.

(Photo Source)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rules. We Need Them.

Exhibit A: Use of Spaces.
Should we place one space or two between sentences? I was taught to use two, but that was centuries ago in a high school typing class that did substantial harm to my love of learning and showed me that typewriters are incredibly annoying: hot, noisy, inefficient, insatiable for tedious maintenance, destructive of human potential.

The correct answer -- the one for our present-day world, the one in which all the typewriters are moldering in a landfill, where they belong -- is one. Take it from grammar and usage overlord Bryan A. Garner:

Use even forward-spacing in your documents: one space between words and one space after punctuation marks (including colons and periods).

The custom during the reign of the typewriter was to insert two spaces between sentences and after colons. The reason was that letters on a typewriter are monospaced… Continue the custom only if you use a typewriter or the Courier font.
I think it goes without saying that no sane, good-hearted person uses the Courier font, and typewriters should only be used to demonstrate to young people how terrible and difficult our lives were in comparison to the ease and convenience of theirs.

Typewriters. Is there a spirit of anything they didn't come close to breaking before they were finally put down? No.

Exhibit B: Use of Roads by Runners, Cyclists, and Drivers.
This one is more subtle -- arguably too subtle for the vast majority of Americans, certainly too subtle for those who most need its corrective embrace. If you are, by chance, too fucking stupid to handle this rule, please take an extra dose of whatever drug you've talked your doctor into prescribing and tune in as carefully as you can.

In the United States, on any road that is a legal thoroughfare for cars, observe the following:
  • Drivers (of cars, trucks, motorcycles, and all other motorized vehicles): stay to the right-hand side of the road.
  • Cyclists: stay to the right-hand side of the road, within the bike lane if available.
  • Runners (i.e., all pedestrians): stay to the left-hand side of the road, or, if available, on the sidewalk.
Skeptical? Good for you! Take it from Coach Joe English, who conducted honest-to-goodness research on the matter.

Be safe out there, and follow the rules.

(Image Source)

Cowards [Heart] Easy Targets

I have to assume this is the product of our chickenshit president's search for "bipartisan compromise" on the rule of law:

The Obama administration is close to appointing a special criminal prosecutor to investigate alleged abuses by the CIA of prisoners held at detention centres around the world ... CIA officers who used waterboarding – an interrogation technique approved by the Bush administration but now judged by the Obama administration to be torture – would not be prosecuted. But officers who subjected prisoners to excessive amounts of waterboarding could be the target of a criminal prosecutor.
I question the wisdom of singling out lower-level agents, operatives, and soldiers in the first place -- to stop a mad dog, you aim for its head, not its tail -- but sure, if there are people out there who were "excessive" in their war crimes, I can see pursuing criminal charges.

The choice is whether to condone the war crimes begun, elaborated, and embraced at the highest levels of the Bush-Cheney administration. Nothing else the present administration decides will matter more than this, and more and more, it appears they lack the courage and audacity to stand for the law and against its abasement. True to cowardice, they are aiming -- and haltingly even here -- at the easiest of targets.

(via Normblog)

Great Wolves I've Seen

Having now spent a few days at The Great Wolf Lodge -- easily one of the ten most appealing destinations of the Centralia-Great Mound metropolitan area -- I now insist that my house be outfitted with a gigantic indoor water slide and wave pool. I assume these are pretty expensive to construct and operate, so I'm going to need ideas about how to raise the necessary funds.

I would liken the Great Wolf Lodge experience to the cruise ship experience -- comparable food, extremely slow elevators, few clocks visible anywhere, and similar activities, albeit more targeted at kids. The business model seems to be to get people inside the lodge and then pluck them clean, dollar by dollar, by providing everything they need, want, or think they want, and making it oh-so-easy to charge the room for the running expenses.

Later on, mood swings permitting, I will post a few of the photos I took, but for now I'll note that the look and layout is an odd mix of the meretricious and the authentic. On the one hand, it looks like they're trying to make an ersatz Timberline Lodge: old-timey snow shoes and ski poles tacked to the walls, log cabin styling in the paneling and furnishings, and -- Timberline cannot be blamed for this -- some of the saddest and least convincing examples of the taxidermic arts on public display anywhere.

On the other hand, as you look around, you see that there is a lot of actual, honest to goodness wood and other recognizable building materials in the place -- the door to the bathroom in our suite, for example, was either solid wood or an extremely convincing simulation of solid wood, and either way, I commend the craftsmanship. The furniture throughout the place, in and out of the room, gave the same impression. The bed, plumbing fixtures, floor tiling, blankets, and window treatments showed similar quality. For a place so overloaded with kids of all ages, very little (if any) sound came through the walls, so I have to assume they've bothered to use some kind of old-fangled building material in the walls as well. This genuinely surprised me.

I would hesitate to call it a place of enduring cultural interest -- the animatronics cancel that out even if nothing else does -- but it's definitely fun and it seems to do what it sets out to do. My son wants to live there, and I miss the slides already.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Blank, White

I look forward to a time when my regular mental faculties, and the grudges and mood swings on which they're borne, are restored to their former state. Former to what? I've found it convenient to blame it on Bike-pocalypse '09, so here I do so again.

Meanwhile, there are the finer things in life, one of which is The White Album. One could highlight any song, or any 2-, 3-, 4- or n-minute-long sequence, so I've settled on "Dear Prudence" because it is one of the 4-minute sequences that fills out the mosaic.

From the first second to the last, the album is inspired beyond words -- certainly beyond mine, certainly now:

Poem of the Day: YYZ

Now, this is poetry:

I will understand if you need to take a few moments to recover from the weeping; and no, that comment does not come from irony.*

This is not to say that everything by Neil Peart has produced a weeping response, though some of it could plausibly generate one of the other kinds of weeping -- the derisive kind, the what-man-has-made-of-man kind.

Surely a high percentage of all lyrics written in the history of modern popular music trace to the pangs of romantic heartbreak, but I think it's fair to suggest that Neil Peart has added more than most to the annals of political heartbreak. The lyrics to the 20-minute multi-part title track to 2112 strike me as the kind of things written immediately after finishing Atlas Shrugged and amid the heat of a tussle with the Canadian government's tax/pelt/syrup auditors.

It's a fantastic song and a fantastic album, but the lyrics may cause a bit of weeping.


*Quite possibly a first-ever in this precious, precious blog!!!

Official Oaths, Here and There

Andrew Sullivan has passed along an English translation of the oath sworn by the presidents, elected and otherwise, of the Iranian republic:

As the President, I swear to Almighty God before the Holy Quran and the Iranian nation that I will protect the official religion and the Islamic Republic regime and the country’s constitution, and use all my talents and qualifications towards responsibilities I have undertaken, and dedicate myself to serving the people and promoting the country, promoting religion and morality, supporting truth and spreading justice, and will avoid any kind of obstinacy and defend the freedom and dignity of individuals and rights of the nation that the Constitution has recognized. I will refrain from any action to safeguard the borders and political, economic and cultural independence of the country, and with the help of God and by following the Islamic Prophet and the Imams like a devout and self-sacrificing trustee will protect the power that has been given to me by the nation as a sacred trust placed in me and pass it to the nation’s elected [leader] after me ...
It's not all horrid, I suppose -- the bit about willingness to pass power to succeeding leaders is a nice flourish, albeit apparently more honored in the breach yadda yadda.

Such are the ways of a theocracy such as Iran; the more interesting question to me, and I mean this genuinely, is how and to what extent this same oath would displease American Christianists if it were edited to replace the Allah with Yaweh, Koran with Bible, and Muhammed with Jesus.

For the record, and for the sake of American Christianists who have somehow convinced themselves otherwise, the following is the whole of the USA's presidential oath as set forth in article two, section one of the Constitution:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Do note the absence of words such as God, Bible, Jesus, Yaweh, and variants. It excludes even the overloaded AOL keyword dignity.

I strongly prefer ours.

To narrow the part about "American Christianists" above, I would be interested to see a scientific poll of Republicans asking two questions concerning the USA's oath and the Jesus'd-up version of Iran's oath: 1. Which would they prefer? 2. Which would they name as the USA's current oath?

When will I ever learn to be careful what I ask for?