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Keith Olbermann on Prop 8

11/12/08

I don't watch a lot of political TV but my friend Jen pointed out this link to me, and it is moving.

If you are a supporter of gay marriage you should watch it.

If you are against gay marriage you should watch it.

If you care at all about human rights you should watch it and you should pass it along to other people who haven't seen it yet.

Bravo, Keith. Well said.

Library Etiquette:

10/6/08

Just a quick note:  Don't come to the "Quiet Study" section of the library to have your lunch of potato chips.  I swear this guy in the carrol behind me was chomping through the loudest bag of chips in history.  That's all he was doing.  He was just sitting there eating as loudly as he could.  Then he left.  

Don't do that.  Don't be a jerk.  

The McCain Campaign gets nasty.

10/4/08

Palin has been called the "attack dog" of the McCain campaign, and now she's kicking it into overdrive. Unfortunately, it's not as easy to sling mud now as it was in the old days. Now we have the internet and sources are easy to check. Easy as pie.

She claimed at a speech that Obama is pals with terrorists. She based this on an article which says that Obama and Bill Ayres (founder of the Weather Underground) are from the same neighborhood in Chicago and have met a few times at the University of Chicago where they served on the same board.

Like some of the students we all get every year, Palin apparently didn't read all the way to the bottom of the article that she cites. Unfortunately for her the end of that article says that there is no evidnece that the men were close or friends or that Obama has ever expressed anything but distain for the man's past actions.

This is one of those attacks which people who are looking for a reason to vilinize Obama will latch onto without checking their facts. I hope that they read CNN and kill this slander.

Justice!

10/3/08
Finally! Video game fans, rejoice! Video game and entertainment foe Jack Thompson has been disbarred. It's about time!

(Edit: I just noticed that he looks a little like Jack Hanna. NOT the same guy. Jack Hanna is a good person.)

VP Debates!

10/2/08

Call me a nerd, but I watched the VP debates and I took notes. Here are a few of the things that I noticed.

Palin said at one point that McCain is such a "maverick" because he doesn't vote on his party line. He goes against the grain. The odd thing about saying this is that there are only two ways to vote in the Senate. If he doesn't vote on his party line, then he votes with the other party. As Biden pointed out at several occasions, that means that McCain and Obama voted the same way on lots of issues. Often these were issues that Palin brought up as "times Obama was wrong." She didn't mention (maybe it wasn't in her Cliff's Notes) that this also makes McCain "wrong" on those same issues.

Perhaps it's only me, but "Vote for McCain because he votes with the Democrats!" sounds like a weird sort of thing to say when you're a Republican.

Neither candidate was in favor of gay marriage. Biden believes that homosexuals should have the same rights of hospital visitation and cohabitation and inheritance as heterosexuals, but he doesn't think that marriage laws should be changed. Palin is just a bigot. She doesn't think they should have rights like these because it is too close to allowing marriage. She almost said "slippery slope," and I almost typed "a bridge too far." Puns are delicious.

So is irony. Perhaps that's particularly odd from a home-wrecking adulterer.* Clearly she is concerned with "protecting" marriage, and clearly those homosexuals who want to get married are a greater threat to the institution of marriage than adultery. Clearly.

Just a few more things:
1) Palin doesn't like to focus on the past when she's getting called out on it. Biden is right when he says "Past is prologue." That's a great comment, folks. Past is prologue.

2) Biden totally dodged the question regarding promises that their compaign wouldn't be able to keep in the current financial climate. He did it really well, though. He talked about the other campaign's promises, and which ones the Obama/Biden ticket wouldn't keep. It was so slick that it almost got past me. Palin, on the other hand, said that they would literally keep every promise that they have made. Right. As if that has ever happened. I don't remember the last time that a mute was elected to the White House.

3) "Drill-baby-drill" is a chant that makes my skin crawl. What the hell are people thinking when they chant that shit? Have they not heard of pollution? Ugh. Just ugh.

4) Palin actually said that nuclear weapons used as a deterant created a "nice, stable situation." Someone needs to read some Walzer and/or look up this thing called "the cold war" when they get home...

5) Palin is governor of a "huge state." Come on. Your entire state has 670 thousand people. Dallas, TX has over 1.2 million people. Houston has double that. You have land area, but you don't have people. Land doesn't need government. People do. No one is fooled.

I'll leave you with a question: Do you think paying taxes is patriotic? I waffle on this question, but Biden seems to think that it is and Palin made fun of him for it. I want your reactions. Do you think I've been unfair here? Are taxes patriotic?



* That link is to the National Enquirer. They mostly run trash news, but following a lawsuit a while back they are rumored to have the most stringent standards for truth in reporting around. Judge for yourself.

Playgrounds and Battlegrounds

8/25/08
Just in time for the new school year, CNN has published a piece on how to help your kid cope with bullys. As a formerly bully'd kid, I have a little insight on this issue.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimated that 30 percent of all children in grades six through 10 have been bullied or have bullied other children during a school year.

Clinical psychologist Mark Crawford of Roswell, Georgia, called the statistics unacceptable. "Bullying is not a rite of passage," he said. "It always has a bad outcome."

I dunno, I turned out alright. I think that the 30% number above is really too low. Unless middle school has changed a great deal since I was there the real number of bullys + bullied kids is WAY higher. Any kid who isn't rich, pretty, or of exactly average intelligence will get picked on and bullied. I wasn't rich, I was skinny, and I wore glasses. I also had a really smart mouth. I was a prime target. I think I came out well, but I don't know what I would have been like if I'd been the product of the mentality represented by this article.

He also conceded that some children won't open up to their parents about bullying. "One of the reasons kids don't tell their parents they are being bullied is the fear that their parents will run in and do something about it and they think that will make it worse."

That's probably because it will in most cases. This, I imagine, is because of the trickle-down effect of directed punishment. If your parents call Jimmy the Bully's parents they might punish Jimmy for being a jerk to you. He gets grounded or whatever and he knows that you're to blame because you opened your big mouth to your parents. Then he kicks your ass on the playground. It sounds a lot like a mafia movie, but that's how it goes down on the playground. What can we do about that?

But be judicious, she urged. Some parents can inflame the situation. "You will encounter situations where parents will tell their kids, 'If you are hit, I want you to hit back.' "

Experts point out it is important for parents to keep emotions in check and to not encourage a child to hit back or retaliate.

My parents never told me to hit back. My mother knew that I had a big mouth, and I generally didn't shut up when I probably should have in order to avoid getting in fights. (I've gotten a little better at that as I've gotten older.) She was never in favor of me hitting back, but I think she understood when I finally did. My father is a fan of defending yourself. He'd tell me not to attack anyone, but defending yourself is ok if you need to do it.

That's what kids need to hear. This rubbish about "just run away" or "don't retaliate" is not at all helpful on the playground. When the playground turns into a battle ground these weak maxims just don't work. All they do is paint you as a weak target for Jimmy and his crew. Turning the other cheek just gets you punched in both cheeks. Parents don't generally want to hear this, but sometimes you have to hit back. Generally you only have to have one good fight before bullys realize that you aren't a soft target and they'll move on to someone else.

I was picked on and beaten up and chased around for years before I figured out that running away didn't solve problems. I'm not saying that force is always the only option, but sometimes it is the right option. For me, that meant finally standing up for myself in (I think) 6th grade. This guy, Brian Something, would pick on me mercilessly every day. Pushing me around. Smacking me around. One day he hit me and I hit back. Actually, as I remember it, I punched him in the face and then gave him my own 6th-grade ground and pound. I don't swear that's what happened, but I know for sure that I punched that bully right in the face a couple of times and he never, ever messed with me again. Neither of us was really hurt, but I clearly won my freedom from bullys that day.

It would be really great to live in a world where children were always civil to each other and no one ever made anyone else feel bad about themselves. Unfortunately, that's not going to happen because little kids aren't civilized. When you're a little boy and you're bully'd there is nothing worse than being told by people you respect that you can't hit back. You only have so many options as a kid, and if the only ones left are Run Away or Get Beat Up you feel helpless.

That helplessness is what leads to the bad results that Dr. Crawford mentions. It's not the bullying that makes you helpless, it's the inability to respond to it.

Comcast and the FCC

8/21/08

Comcast does some shady things.

Customer service is nonexistent and they will sometimes charge you a couple hundred dollars for porn that you couldn't possibly have purchased. Then they laugh at you when you explain that everyone in your household was out of town that weekend for Thanksgiving and ask them to remove the fraudulent charges.

Their technicians are hit or miss and sometimes they just don't show up, or they show up and do a really poor job. (I've had a couple of really good ones, but that's not the norm.) Their services in cable, phone and internet will just go away for no apparent reason, and woe betide the person who calls customer service to find out what's up. Woe!

Another thing that they do which is shady is that they block or impair some web-things that go across their internet connections. Bit-Torrent is a program (and protocol) that allows large files to be sent over the internet in bits and pieces between peers. It saves expensive and limited bandwidth for companies like Blizzard (who uses it to dispense their WoW patches to hundreds of millions of players) and Revision3 (who uses it to dispense their free web programming). Comcast doesn't like torrents and they instituted some code to drastically slow or block torrents. This has been determined to be unfair by the FCC because Comcast and other ISPs are supposed to provide an internet connection that is neutral to those things that move across it. They are violating Net Neutrality (not a law, but it's coming I hope!) by limiting the sorts of files they'll allow to pass. It leads to situations in which web page owners would have to pay off Comcast so that people could access their sites. That's bad. It would be like your phone company allowing you to call your mother, but not Pizza Hut. Or your internet connection working only with PCs and not MACs. Bad stuff.

Now, the FCC has been known to make big threats before (Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfuntion), but in this case they haven't really put their foot down. They say that Comcast has to give them details of their operations and change the bad parts with in a year. What a load of crap that is. Come on, FCC. Make yourself useful. Some people are offended by nipples and the F-word, and you threaten fines and sanctions. Comcast (among others, I imagine) has a monopoly on the internet service in many areas, you have determined that they are doing something bad, and you give them a soft ultimatium like this? Outragous.

Comcast now says that they would remove this torrenting restriction, but they want to slow down the internet connection for their heaviest users at peak periods during the day. I don't know the details yet, but this might be an ok solution. If the impact is minimal and these heavy users aren't paying a premium for fast service then I suppose it's a decent solution.

A better solution would be to take the massive profits ($1.163 BILLION in free cash flow) that they make from their monopoly and roll them into a better infrastructure that can handle traffic without impacting anyone's service.

Back in town and back to the Grind!

I spent a week in Maryland recently helping my Aunt Marge get her house ready to go on the market. Mostly, I carried heavy things and replaced rotten parts of a deck. More heavy lifting than anything else. I also got to see folks that I don't see very often, so that's a big plus. I don't have the pictures that I took with me right now, but I'll post some of them in the very near future.

School started yesterday. I'm still pretty relaxed because I haven't been to any of my "real" classes yet, but they start today so that will come to an end soon. I wish all of the awesome video games that are coming out in the fall had come out in the last month or so when I could have had time to play them!

Kilts FTW.

8/7/08
Dudes and Dudeettes,

I want a kilt. A Utilikilt. Why should men be limited to bifurcated leg-wear? Audrey says that she won't be seen in public with me if I were to get one. People would probably laugh. How sexist is that? Women can wear a tuxedo and it is acceptable. Why can't a man in the States wear a kilt? It harkens back to a time when men were MEN with big ass swords and face paint who drank from the skulls of their enemies. (Ok, I don't know that last bit for sure.) Pants harken back to when men were little frilly boys in puffy shirts and colored tights with codpieces. Which is more manly?

{YES! America's Best Dance Crew kept the Super Cr3w! We were sure they were going home tonight. America, I don't know why you put them in the bottom on every show. They're awesome. AWESOME. It's not that I don't like FannyPack, but the Cr3w is just better at the dancing.}

Texas Defies the World Court

8/6/08
According to this article from Reuters, Texas defied an order by the World Court and executed a Mexican national who was convicted of the rape and murder of a 16 year old girl. The world court said that Medellin, the murderer/rapist/gangbanger, shouldn't be executed because he didn't get to talk to his consulate before he was sentenced (or some such technicality).

Yep, we executed a guy who participated in the gang-rape and strangulation of two young girls who just happened to be walking down the street when a gang was doing some initiation bullshit. His aunt said "He was a normal, happy kid ... They don't have the right to take his life away, we acknowledged that he committed a crime but make him pay with a life sentence."

It doesn't seem that there is any reason for us to think that Medellin is innocent of his crimes, and I have a gut feeling that when two girls are gang-raped and strangled those responsible gotta pay.

The article makes it seem as if Texas did some outrageous thing by defying the World Court in this decision. It makes no mention of the fact that the US (much less the state of Texas) has no obligation to follow any World Court decree. It's true that we sometimes follow their edicts, but only when we want to or it seems prudent. If we don't have an obligation to listen to them, then who cares what they tell us to do?

State sovereignty is a big deal these days. Basically, the idea is that States have the right to do as they please within their own borders without the risk of other States intervening. How does this idea apply to foreign nationals who come to our country and commit crimes like Medellin's? Why should we think that local laws do not apply to those from other countries? I suppose that there ought to be policies which limit the sorts of laws which apply to foreigners (say we have some really weird laws that don't apply anywhere else) or which give some leniency to those whose languages would be a barrier to an effective legal defense, but neither of those things apply here.

Of course, this rule applies to Americans too.

Proof that we're the subjects of government experiments: Rainbows.

8/5/08


This woman needs at least two things:
(1) A tripod or a camera with steady-shot. Shaky-cam makes you look/sound extra crazy, and she really needs to dial it back a couple of notches.

(2) A class in general science where she learns the stuff that Isaac Newton figured out a couple hundred years ago. Light refracts through water. You don't need "oxide salts" or government conspiracies to make rainbows.

Shark Weak!

8/3/08

I'm generally a huge fan of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. (This is a full week of shark-themed shows.) This year was a bust, though. Every night fell into two categories: (1) Great Whites jumping out of the water and looking awesome and (2) how to avoid becoming shark food. (Don't smell like fish/blood.)

I like great whites as much as the next guy, but there's only so much time in a week to see sharks, and I'd rather see some science-y shows about neat sharks. Mix it up a little bit, Discovery! Show me some Goblin Sharks. Show me some more unusual stuff that I've never seen before. There are something like 350 species of sharks out there, and as far as I can remember you only showed me tiger sharks, lemon sharks, great whites, and Caribbean reef sharks. That would be a nice variety if I were talking about one or two shows, but that was the whole week. It sounds like a lame thing to complain about, but I wait all year for my shark-fix and I feel like I was denied this year. Shark weak, Discovery. Weak.

Burning River and Hancock

7/15/08

Tonight we went and saw Hancock and I tried the Burning River Pale Ale from GLBC.

Hancock was a better movie than I thought it was going to be, but it could have been better in a few ways. Several of the reviews that I read say that the best part of the movie is the section before the turn. That's probably true. It's funny. I like movies where superheroes aren't perfect and Hancock reacts to public criticism in the same way that most of us would: badly. He saves a guy's life and the public is pissed off at him for the way that he does it. That hardly seems fair!

It's not really a movie about a superhero. It's a movie about a guy who needs someone to care about him. Here are some spoilers: Hancock doesn't know who he is or where he comes from or how it is that he got to be the way he is. He woke up with amnesia in a hospital in Miami and thinks that he must be pretty worthless if no one ever came and looked for him. That worthlessness really eats at him. A simple thing like meeting a kid who likes him despite the bad things that people say about him or having inmates clap for him when he finally speaks up in group are enough to give him the feeling of being needed. It's a film on the theme of "no man is an island."

Also, Hancock kills a few people. I don't know how you folks feel about that, but I don't mind seeing that from a super hero. Perhaps I'll start an Unideal Observer thread about it.

The Burning River beer is only OK in my book. I'll drink the ones that I have, but I'm not really interested in getting any more. It's a bit too bitter for me. Whereas the Dortmunder was beautifully balanced this one is a little heavy on the hops for me. It reminds me most of a Samuel Adams. They have essentially the same tastes. If you like one then you'll like the other, but neither are for me.

Also: Shark Week is coming! I wish it were then now.

Great Lakes Brewing Company

7/14/08
Aud and I went up to Ohio this weekend, and it was great to see everyone who was around. I miss those Bowling Green folks. A couple of them have a radio show on Mondays from 4-6 that discusses political issues. I'll be calling in there pretty regularly when I have the chance. If you go to that link you can find a link to their show's live broadcast on the interwebs. Check it out.

Also while I was in OH I picked up a sample pack of beers from the Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, OH. They are a really great brewery, and they make some very fine beers. Unfortunately I had only just discovered them when I left OH and it isn't available in Tennessee for some reason. I'll post some little reviews of the beers that I try in the next few days. Here's the first one!

Tonight I tried the Dortmunder Gold Lager. The website lists 14 gold medals for this beer from the World Beer Championships. It deserves every one of them. The color is a beautiful gold and the head is thin but stiff enough to last to the last sip while leaving light rings on the glass. The flavor is a really plesant and balanced combination of malt and hops that leaves a lightly hoppy aftertaste. If you want a bright and delicious lager with a lightly hoppy flavor, this one is for you.

As a side note, check out the website for the GLBC. They are a green company in many different ways, and the brewery tour video on the site is pretty excellent.

To Grandmother's house we went!

7/8/08



Audrey and I spent the weekend+Monday at my grandmother's house. It was a good time had by all, I think. We were able to stay until Monday to see my Aunt Marge.
I installed blinds for Grandma and she and Audrey did things with plants and Grandpa watched the weather channel and informed us of the weather conditions in the greater Jacksonville area every few minutes.
After Aud and Grandma packed up all of the plants that Audrey thought were pretty I got to plant them and stick them in water to root and such like that. I'm not the best planter, but I hope that most of them survive.



Matt dances across the world.

7/3/08
This video was made by a fellow named Matt Harding. He travels and dances this silly dance wherever he goes. Sometimes lots of people dance with him. It's made me smile today.

Mike has a new car!

7/2/08


I had to say goodbye to Sally last night. She has been a wonderful car for the last 10 years, but it was time to part ways. I fervently hope that she goes to a highschool kid who is fixated on repairing 1995 Thunderbirds.

Last night I traded her in for a 2008 Nissan Sentra. It's got almost all of the bells/whistles, but the manager decided to count it as "used" since it had 572 miles on it. Apparently the previous owner returned it because she was worried that the intellikey system would interfere with her pacemaker and kill her. (This is a neat little feature that allows me to keep a key fob in my pocket and run the car without inserting a key. I just turn a switch. It also unlocks the doors and such for me when I'm close enough. Neat!) We got it for a lower price than many of the used Sentras were going for, and that's super for us. Pictures will follow later this evening!

A blog run by a bigot.

6/26/08
No, not this one. THIS one. This is the guy that I was debating with at 2nd Hand Smoke a month ago. He has his own blog (apparently they'll let anyone have a blog here...) and he seems to be some sort of super-naturalist. His pet issue is the creation of children from the sex-cells of same-sex couples. It's just a DNA switch-a-roo, but he seems to think that natural=ethical and that any question which ignores this "natural fact" is just missing the point. It's also not possible at this point.

I post to his blog a lot because I find his psychosis interesting. I'd love to meet the guy. Preferably in a public place where he can't pull any "funny stuff." If you want to see what happens when you let a loon have access to science-y sounding words, go visit his blog.

[EDIT: I changed the title of the entry because I realize that one doesn't have to be mad to have these beliefs. One only has to be a bigot.]

RIAA and MPAA gone wild with copyrights.

6/25/08
We're going to be talking about copyright in the digital age in my class this afternoon, and I've been doing more reading on that topic than I usually do in order to prepare for class. What I've found is that the crazy is accelerating faster than I could have believed.

MPAA doesn't think they should be required to have evidence in order to prosecute (persecute) people they believe to have pirated movies. They want to sue for $150,000 per supposed offense without presenting any evidence.

RIAA (and a bunch of other people) think that they should get royalties from Broadcast Radio. They want $7 billion a year. That's almost half of the $16 billion that the NAB is reported to make.

John Barlow wrote a prophetic piece for Wired in 1994 that has been dead on with regard to the future of copyright. He followed it with another great piece in 2000. (The first gets a little lyrical, but they're both amazing.)

Barlow writes that the real problem is that the property that these groups think they have is illusiory. Ideas can't be kept in bottles or widgets, and they are worthless when they are. Information and ideas need to be free in order to be useful or great. Information doesn't behave like widgets in the market because it isn't physical. As Barlow says, if I steal your horse you have to walk, but I can take all of the information that you have and then we BOTH have it without either of us being impoverished.

The switch from selling widgets in the marketplace to selling information in the digital world has left people with the mistaken impression that they should be paid for every instance of that information in all cases because if they aren't then they are losing something. That's just not the way that information works, and the public has noticed. If you put your songs out there for free and people like them then they will buy your albums and go to your shows and buy your merch. As Barlow puts it, ethics is replacing law. Law is built to be static, but ethical requirements may shift in response to changes in society. What is happening is a shift from the law smashing you with a hammer when you don't pay for music that you enjoy to a sort of horizontal public disapprobation. There is personal presure applied from your peers to support acts and artists that you enjoy watching. Radiohead and NIN have figured this out and integrated a pay-as-you-like scheme. The Offspring figured it out long ago when they would digitally post their music for free. The Greatful Dead encouraged fans to tape their shows and give it to their friends. They did quite well for themselves by producing a product that their fans loved and by being good to their fans.

Another interesting tidbit is that artists are like waiters in the US. I can name several people who have done quite well just by making something neat on the WWW and then selling related merchendise. The comics from Penny Arcade, Questionable Content, Dr. McNinja have become a viable source of income for these guys without requiring their fans to pay to see their work online. Revision 3 is a company that produces really excellent web-based shows for free. Ze Frank had one of the greatest web-casts ever for a year. At the end he let people donate and seems to have done well on that deal. They aren't starving either, but they don't charge for their content. If you do a good job entertaining people and you forge a connection with your audience you will profit from it. People will work to support you in your endeavour. They'll do that with cash-money.

Faith "Healing" vs. Real Healing

6/24/08


Stories like this really get my blood to boiling. In the linked story a 16 year old died from an easilly treatable illness because he belonged to a faith which practices "faith healing" instead of real medicine. There are no charges expected in this case because the state allows minors 14 and older to make health care decisions.

Normally, I'm a huge fan of autonomy and liberty. I will argue all day for a silly basic right like the right to property. (Don't get me started on home owner's associations!) This, however, is just ridiculousness on stilts. At 14 none of us know what the heck we are talking about. That's why we're legally required to go to school. They can't drive, vote, smoke, buy porn, have sex, leave home, or any number of other things. Why? Because we're not mature enough to make those decisions, says the State. Why in the hell are we going to allow a 14 year old to make decisions which may immediately lead to life or death?

The case in question involves a 16 year old, but the principle is still the same. At 16 a kid will do whatever crazy thing their parents tell them. This seems especially true in relation to religious beliefs. I bet the convo went something like this:
"Mom, I don't feel good. I need to go to the doctor."
"God doesn't like you to go to the doctor."
"Really?"
"Yes."
"Ok, I won't go to the doctor then."
This is where the conversation ends because the kid is now dead.

You know what else I imagine God doesn't like? Just a guess: Needless death of teenagers due to easily treatable illness.

***Edit: The other picture disappeared. The new picture in this post is a fake angry bear in response to fake healing.***

Reckless Power

6/18/08

Apparently, John McCain thinks that we should build a whole slew of nuclear reactors. 45 of them by 2030.

That seems completely irresponsible to me. We have 104 nuclear plants in the States, and we don't know what to do with the waste we are creating that way. Why would we build that many nuclear-waste-creating things without any way to get rid of the primary waste (glowing goo) and the secondary waste (glowing goo cleanup and containment stuff)? Figure out a way to deal with the problem we have without increasing the problem by ~50%.

And that's to say nothing of the hypocrisy of building nuclear plants while forbidding others from doing so. We sanction Iran because they want to build nuclear reactors, but the "cure" to our problems is to build nuclear reactors? Riiiight....

Good news for gamers:

6/12/08

Video game addicts are not shy nerds!

The AMA has considered adding video game addiction to the list of official addictions in the DSM. This psychology grad in Australia has shown that we MMORPG players aren't the basement-dwelling, anti-social, socially inept trolls that we are stereotyped as.

I don't count myself as an addict of anything (except JUSTICE), but I have always resented the public perception that gamers have gained over the years. I don't live in a basement, I don't have any social issues, and I can put down the game when I need to do so. I've known a lot of different gamers in lots of different games and I've never known one who matched the stereotype.

Thanks for bringing the science, Daniel Loton!

(PS: The guy in the above photo isn't Loton. That's Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel. He's the most famous gamer on earth. Not only is he not some creepy guy in the basement, he's turned his awesome gaming skillz into a brand. He has merchandise. I swear I played Quake with him back in '98-'99.)

Randomness = Love?

6/11/08
I'm totally on a bioethics kick recently. One of the things that's come up in genetic engineering discussions over and again is the idea that a parent who makes some selections (sex or hair color or something) with regard for their child will be an unfit parent because they will view their child as a commodity or something.

This just looks like a bad argument to me. I can't think of any strong reasons to suspect that having a child with randomly assorted genes will be treated better by their parents or that the 'naturalness' of it all has anything to do with parenting ability. There are plenty of parents who do it the old fashioned way and still end up treating their children horribly. If there's no correlation between the two then what is the argument about?

Holy Crap!

6/10/08
A politician is running on a platform of raising taxes!

Yep. I typed the right word there. Obama has said that he will raise taxes on those making above $250k/year and those who have large profits from the stock market in order to lower taxes on the middle class. (McCain is going with the classic tactic of promising big tax cuts to corporations and such.)

I kinda like the idea. The check that we got from the Bush tax cut is great and all, but I would have voted against it if I'd been asked. Why politicians think that a country in debt can give people back a big chunk of the taxes they pay I will never know. Currying favor before an election year, maybe?

At heart I'm kinda Libertarian, and I don't know that I want to pay taxes to the State at all, but if anyone is going to it should probably be those who can afford to give up some cash instead of those who are scraping to get food on the table and keep the car running so that they can get to their minimum wage job. We're not going to get rid of the IRS, so let's have a tax plan that makes some fiscal sense!

Of course, McCain is telling folks that Obama is raising taxes on "everyone," but you have to expect some spin on something like this. I'm pretty sure that neither of these guys is going to do exactly what they campaign on, but I'm offended that McCain thinks no one will read a paper or listen to an Obama speech in order to get the right story. Apparently McCain thinks that "everyone" either makes $250k+ or makes lots of money in the stock market. Maybe most of his friends do.

The value of tradition.

I read Wesley Smith's blog "Secondhand Smoke" and I occasionally comment on things that go on there. Smith is a bright guy, but I disagree with him on almost everything and that makes the discussions interesting for both of us.

The current argument I'm in started out with Smith's post regarding the distrust between the public and the medical community (perhaps including bioethicists) and has ended up as a 'discussion' between myself and another poster regarding the value of tradition.

I have argued all along that tradition does not provide much, if any, moral weight. If a policy is going to stand it will need more legs than the spindly tradition leg. He seems to think that if I (and all bioethicists) don't accept tradition as an important argument then I am dismissing it because it is tradition-based. That's just not the case. I merely recognize that tradition only means that you've done something for a long time.

Perhaps tradition is important. Maybe we've been doing things in a certain way for a long time because it works. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't question the things that we traditionally do. Traditionally black people were sub-human slaves and women lacked most of the rights that men had. Neither of these traditional conditions or beliefs could withstand the onslaught of rational argument, and neither should lots of other traditions.

What do you think? Tradition as a spindly-leg or unquestionable rock-solid pillar?

Where have all the bodies gone?

6/9/08
This article, over on Wired, takes a look at one of the constants of video gaming. When we kill a truckload of bad guys their corpses don't just stack up like kindling. A new game, Ninja Gaiden II, doesn't leave us with an empty street. When you dispatch a bunch of evil ninjas they stick around. The author of that article points out that this trend began a long time ago. It was originally a response to the need to free up computing power. All of the corpses sitting around needed to be rendered (a really grisly word here) by the computer and the old ones just couldn't keep up.

Now it might just be that this trend has become a tradition that has followed us into the modern age of games, but it might also be that

"... when you put it that way, this idea -- that the bodies of everyone we kill
just sort of wink out of existence -- is so hilariously pregnant with misplaced
dread that it's practically Freudian. It's as if our violent games can't quite
bear to have us face up to the dimensions of what we're doing. So they just get
rid of the evidence." -Thompson


I don't know what the plot of the Ninja Gaiden game is, but I picture Mario shrugging as he walks through a field of squashed goombas and dazed turtles saying "It's not my fault. I was just trying to save the princess!"




Tough decision.

5/28/08
Two posts in one day? I know. That's a lot of posts for me.

So yesterday afternoon I got an email from the department head asking if I would teach a course for them this summer. First summer session, actually. That session starts a week from last Monday. I've never taught the course, and I have never taken a summer course that meets every day. It really seems like a daunting amount of work, but the extra pay is probably worth it. The only problem is that I have to create a syllabus in just a few days based on a book that has been ordered, but that I have never seen. I'm not excited about this. I had planned to spend my summer sitting around in my underwear playing video games. :-(

Questionable Content

This is a web comic that I think is occasionally hilarious, and this one is a good example. The characters strike me as people that I would really like to know and hang out with. Today's comic is exactly what I would do if I had that sort of power. Restaurant gives my friend food poisoning? The obvious next step is to OWN them.

I would have changed the name, though.

Back from the cruise.

5/20/08
We drove through the night to get back to Knoxville from our cruise out of Miami, but we made it. I have some pictures posted here on my MySpace page. Check them out. I'll be adding more as I have time. St. Maarten was kind of a let down after the awesomeness that was St. Thomas. It has some of the best scenery and beaches that I've ever seen. If we were offered jobs there we would take them for sure.

In San Juan we took a kayak tour on a a lake filled with bio-luminescent flagellates. We got to row through a Mangrove forest in the dark and the water lit up every time we put an oar in the water. It was pretty impressive. The guide claimed that on a really dark night you can see the fish swimming by the glowing blue trails in the water. Either he's a liar or it was just not dark enough that night to see them.

Aside from some mild stomach thing on the last day of the cruise it was great. I have a bit of a tan now, and I hardly got burned.

It's Grand Theft Auto Day!

4/29/08

and I don't care AT ALL. This is the game that has had the anti-video game-violence folk in a tizzy since the first one on the PC let you run your car into other cars. Honestly, I haven't liked one since that little top-down PC game let my little pixel-person carjack people and run around. My good friend Chris is super excited about it, and Audrey sorta liked the last one. I just don't think it's fun at all.

To put this in perspective, Hollywood was worried that the Iron Man movie will have poor box office numbers because so many people will be playing GTA4. Apparently people just won't be able to tear themselves away from the couch to go sit in a cinema and watch the extravaganza that will be Iron Man.

Here's what the Penny Arcade guys say about GTA4 and Gran Turismo (a hyper-realistic racing game). I agree with them on both counts.

"Grand Theft Auto - like Gran Turismo - is a game that we have a difficult time integrating into our consciousness. Gran Turismo got this way by being an uncompromising simulation of something we don't care about, a blisteringly high-resolution image of a ketchup packet or a strip of bark. Ketchup fans and bark enthusiasts are going nuts, they'll pay forty dollars for part of the image. I played the second one a million years ago, earned enough money to wash my virtual car, and then quit the series forever.

Grand Theft Auto has had another problem, or rather, we have had a problem that intersects with what the game offers: the raw, virtually limitless opportunity presented is paralyzing, a sheer face with no purchase. We're always impressed by each world's livingness, but historically the story structure - the obvious thread that we can grip and pull ourselves along - is hung about the neck with frustrating, repetitive gameplay. We end up burning out on free roaming in a couple days, taking random missions or sitting in a parking lot listening to the radio. I feel guilty, because there's probably no game more "important" globally than Grand Theft Auto. I certainly feel like I'm looking in on what I consider my own community. It never seemed to bother anyone else that the core of the game wasn't much fun, so mostly the whole thing just makes me feel like a crazy person."

So, to wrap up: Don't care about GTA. I am giddy in anticipation of Iron man. I don't want to write any more term papers. I certainly don't want to take this test in logics.

Thorny Devils:

4/25/08

So I have to admit that I love animal shows.

Crocodile Steve Irwin is a personal hero of mine. I also like Jeff Corwin, and Aud and I were watching some Corwin's Quest tonight where he started talking about this little guy.

He's called a Thorny Devil and he's really neat. He's a little lizard who lives in the Australian desert and he can use little grooves in his skin to suck any water he can find towards his face. Corwin put the little guy's foot in water and you could actually see the water move toward his mouth. So neat. Also they're covered in spikes and they change color in response to the sand they are standing on. What a neat critter. Respect the Thorny Devil.

Who couldn't love that face?