Monday, November 12, 2007

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

I'll not be posting to this blog for the foreseeable future, if ever. I hope you enjoy the archives, accessible over there in the right hand column. I'm particularly proud of the "humor", but I think (hope?) each category has a few worth reading.

As to why ... well, in a world with millions of blogs on every conceivable subject, I don't think I have anything more of substance to add. This blog has served its purpose, allowing me the chance to improve my writing skills and to work through changing from being a city nerd to a country bumpkin. Now that the adjustment is mostly over, it's time to get on with actually living.

All the best and thanks for the support,

Jeff

Read More...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Roadnapping

I bet this is something you rarely find in the city -- our neighbor kidnapped a road.

If you use Google Maps to find our place, it shows Nordic Ridge Road hitting County Road 252. Which is odd, since if you actually drive on CR252, all you see at that supposed intersection is our neighbor's gate. I thought that was strange, until I finally realized that our neighbor simply gated off most of the road and declared it his driveway.

I used to think if you nailed something down it couldn't be stolen, but I never figured on how big cajones are in Nerd Country.

Read More...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Department of Too Many Departments Department

Via Radley Balko, I've just learned that the state of Texas has spent 18 months to publish a 668-page report finding that the state of Texas ... issues too many reports.

The article doesn't mention if the report came from the Department of Redundancy Department, but it wouldn't surprise me.

The best part? Despite the report's finding, its issuers assure their paymasters that continuing to report on the excess of reports is vital:

As for the commission's massive report on reports, Heskett predicts it won't go away.

"For the report to be effective, it must be ongoing," he said.


I'm pretty sure that the part of state records administrator Michael Heskett is actually being played by the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, but I'll certainly issue a report once I'm positive.

Read More...

Monday, October 29, 2007

My Alma Mater and 15 Laterals!

My alma mater, Trinity University in San Antonio, made ESPN with a "Top Play" highlight featuring their 61-yard, 15-lateral play at the end of regulation that scored a touchdown and won the game against Millsaps. Pretty amazing stuff, and to think that when I went there we almost never won a game!

Read More...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Professional Sports Designer Does Good

My friend John Hartwell had the rare and incredibly cool privilege yesterday of seeing his designs literally take the field for a real live professional baseball team, as his new logo debuted in Birmingham for the Double-A Barons. Their home page features his new design boldly, which is definitely wise because it kicks ass. Here's the press conference where the new design was introduced, with a poster showing the various elements:



And here are the actual uniforms on actual players.



It's one thing to draw something out on paper, but it's a whole new level of awesome to see what you've created take life for real. My friends and I are all sports fans, and to see something one of us designed take the actual field is just cool beyond words.

Congratulations to John and the Birmingham Barons, I hope this is just the first of many sports-related projects to come!

Read More...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Calvin and Hobbes Halloween

Since I post so many Calvin and Hobbes strips here, I though I should show you this photo of a real-life Halloween version of Calvin's "Snowmen of Horror" displays.

Read More...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Another Failure

Great, here's yet another way in which my World of Warcraft character is superior to me:



If that's not clear, it says "Tip: Your character can eat and drink at the same time." At the same time! I know I can't handle a crossbow like he can, but now this? How many more ways can I be inferior to that stupid digital guy?!

Read More...

Catholics Against Torture

As Andrew says, we've heard plenty from the left about why torture is a bad idea, but very little from the right. This post from "Catholic and Enjoying It" is therefore a welcome change, and really made me think about the issue in a new way. Here's a brief excerpt:

What lies at the heart of all consequentialist appeals to do grave evil for the greater good is, ultimately, a refusal to trust that God knows what he is talking about. It is the conviction that the Christian revelation is not an insight into the heart of reality, but a sort of idealistic dream that is fun to contemplate in quiet moments and maybe even an "inspiration" in a vague way, but is nonetheless something that hard thinkers and tough-minded men must sweep away when crunch time comes in favor of "realistic" solutions that require us to frankly embrace sin and evil if we hope to live or remain free. In this analysis, the functional belief of the Machiavellian realist is "You shall embrace evil, and evil shall make you free and keep you safe."

The argument of the Christian revelation is that this is, not to put too fine a point on it, a lie from the pit of hell.


I remain confused as to why American Christianity and the Republican party have become synonymous on issues like torture, war, poverty, health care, and race relations. There is ample support for what Americans would consider liberal positions on these problems, and yet it is as if such a thing is unthinkable in the public discourse.

If I haven't made it clear on this blog before, I think torture is evil. I think it is wrong. I think it is useless, misguided, dangerous, and corrupting to the torturer. It is to be avoided at nearly all costs, and I am deeply appalled that our nation has joined the despicable ranks of those regimes that routinely employ it. I know there are those among the religious who feel the same way, and I am delighted that finally, at long last, their voices are getting heard.

Read More...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Jesus on the River (and I Don't Mean Chris Ferguson)

I may not be a Christian, but I just saw a stomach-turning spectacle of blasphemy and hypocrisy on ESPN's first night of coverage of the 2007 World Series of Poker that really offended me.

The hand featured seasoned professional Lee Watkinson's A-7 off-suit against poker neophyte and chipleader Jerry Yang's A-9 off-suit. Lee went all in and was called, putting his tournament (and a shot at more than eight million dollars) on the line.

Whereupon both parties proceeded to spit on the teachings of Jesus.

Watkinson, to his credit, handled it like a pro and was silent throughout the hand, but you can't say the same thing for his fiancée, Timmi deRosa, who jumped up and shouted "No weapon formed against him shall prosper!" If that sounds like a Bible verse, you're right -- it's Isaiah 54:17, which is all about God telling Israel how great they're going to have it from there on out. She then followed that up with "Come on, Father! In Jesus' name, No weapon formed against thee shall prosper!" With arms raised above her head, this woman was shouting for God, in Jesus' name, to let her husband win a gambling confrontation so he could bring home millions of dollars.

In Jesus' name. Yes, that Jesus, the one who said "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." The one who said, "And it came to pass that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in Hell." Sounds like a guy anxious to get all his money in pre-flop with the best hand, right?

I thought that was fairly appalling, but then Jerry Yang got his turn. "Come on Lord," he said, "you know your purpose for me. Have a purpose for me."

Apparently God's purpose for Jerry was to have his opponent dominated with a better kicker for his ace. I didn't know the Almighty went in for bad all-in raises with a Ace-rags, but apparently He does.

Not to be outdone, the fiancée again cried out. "Make him a believer! Make Lee a believer, Father!" So apparently Lee's not "of the faith" and this woman thinks that giving him a cash reward will get him to become a Christian. Sort of like a "Bonus Miles" program, I suppose.

The irony of having the soul of a non-believer hanging in the balance over a poker game for eight million dollars was lost on all concerned. Apparently poverty is only for those loser Christians who actually, you know, bother reading what Jesus said. Why do I have the feeling this lady is a follower of one or another of the "Prosperity Gospel" cults?

Jerry got the last word, though. "Father, in the name of Jesus," he said quietly, voice almost vibrating with intensity, "LET ME WIN!"

I'm sure both Jerry and Ms. deRosa are wonderfully nice people. I'm sure they feel quite devoted to their faith, and do what they can to follow the teachings of Christ. But they're both exhibiting the most crass kind of hypocrisy and -- yes, I'll say it -- blasphemy I can imagine.

This was the perfect example of that uniquely American abomination that weds greedy materialism with the teachings of Christ. I've seldom seen a case where Las Vegas' nickname of "Sin City" was more appropriate.

Look, I don't believe Christ is the Son of God, but I do think he had some incredibly wise teachings. To hear someone, much less two someones, completely distort those teachings to mean their exact opposite really made me angry. It would be like someone invoking Martin Luther King's speeches to justify the shooting of Black people, or Thomas Jefferson's letters to explain why we need to form a theocracy. It's just wrong, and it made me sick.

That was a disgraceful display, and both Jerry Yang and Timmi deRosa should be ashamed.

Read More...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Things I Hate About Chris Berman

Here is a partial list of the things I hate about ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman. And I'm skipping the obvious things, like his incessant usage of inane nicknames for not only every single player on the planet, but some species of African bush weasels as well.


  1. The overly broad gestures that punctuate every single syllable he utters. I fully expect him to knock a colleague unconscious some day with an exaggerated arm swing. Particularly egregious: the "Pseud-OK", the aborted love-child of "I missed it by that much" and Gumby's "O-TAY!".

  2. The sport jacket with a short-sleeve shirt underneath. What is he, twelve? With every overly broad gesture you see his hairy arms all the way up to his elbows. It is my dream that he will accidentally crush his own larynx during a broadcast while gesticulating, and die for lack of a shirt sleeve with which to stanch the bleeding.

  3. "BACK BACK BACK BACK BACK BACK BACK ... ((twenty minutes later)) ... BACK BACK BACK BACK ..."

  4. "WHOOP!", particularly when used at completely inappropriate times. I have visions of this abominable noise issuing forth from a bathroom stall in Bristol about an hour after lunch every day.

  5. The combover. Let it go, man, because trust me -- it's gone.

  6. The stupefied look on his face during every NFL Sunday Shoutathon And Screaming Death Match show, when one of his idiotic on-screen comrades finishes speaking and tosses it back to him to move along to the next topic. Pick up the ball, Berman, it's your turn to do something!

  7. He's still on ESPN, and Keith Olbermann is not. There is no justice in the world.

Read More...

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Near Death Experience

I almost died Thursday night.

I pulled out of the narrow street in the hills overlooking Lake Buchanon at about 11:00. The road was under construction, with two lanes torn down to chunky base rock, though you certainly couldn't see it with the almost-new moon throwing more darkness than light.

I was frustrated at having lost at yet another poker session and ready to be home. But there was still a forty minute drive ahead of me and I wanted it over. I spun some gravel as I drove onto the road, punching my little Ranger as fast as it would go. I had it up to sixty within moments, listening to the sound of loose rocks pinging on the undercarriage.

As more seconds went by and my sight started adjusting to the darkness surrounding my headlights, the truck started to shake violently.

And I realized I was on the wrong half of the road, on the two lanes closed down for construction.

The truck skewed violently to the right and I released the gas pedal, trying to pull it back to the left without overcompensating. My mind snapped out of its anger instantly, replacing frustration with one crystal-clear thought:

I could die here.

I remember it so clearly, that thought. The road wound in and out of the Texas hill country limestone, crossing over ravines and surrounded by cedar trees. At that time of night I could have plunged over the side and it would have been hours, at least, before anyone would notice, and that only with a careful search.

The truck skewed back to the left and fishtailed, the rear end going one way and the front end the other. In the headlights I could see the small warning placards in front of one of the bridges, just before a major curve.

I need to stop this before I hit that bridge, or I'm dead.

Again the thought stood there alone in my mind, outlined in silver and almost throbbing in its insistence. Press the brakes, but not too violently, pull the steering wheel back in line with the direction of the rear end, don't panic whatever you do. You could die, you could die you could die ...

An image of Annie crying hysterically flashed through my mind, me dead along the jumbled rocks of the hill, or plunging into the waters of the lake and drowning, bleeding out into the creek.

My entire life did not flash before my eyes. I did not beg for mercy, or in my best Carrie Underwood voice plead for Jesus to take the wheel. I had room for only three things: My death, my wife, and how to stop my truck.

I finally shuddered to a halt short of the bridge, breath pounding in and out of my lungs. "Holy shit." I said it aloud. Again. "Holy shit."

I put the car in park and just sat there for a moment, until I felt composed enough to pull back onto the road. The finished road, this time.

As I drove I thought about what had almost happened to me, how many years I still want to live, how precious existence is, how much I love my wife and my life and how I do not want it to be over.

And yet, I thought, not once did I cry out for a higher power. Not once did it even occur to me that a deity might be watching over me, guiding my path, to whom I should beg for mercy.

Believers will tell me that regardless, God was watching out for me, and that is why I am here, today, right now, typing this and enjoying the feeling of being alive. For all I know, they're right.

What struck me, though, is that I don't even have the instinct for God. I like to think I'm rational and thoughtful and have arrived at my belief system after careful consideration and relentless logic. And I have, in a sense, but I think all of that is a superstructure over what was already there, or already not there, in this case.

Whatever belief is, however it's supposed to exist as a part of one's innermost being, I just don't have it. I never have. Exhortations to "just believe" are as wasted on me as "Just see!" is to the blind. I used to think, "I don't believe in God," but the truth is that this isn't a choice. I didn't just decide one day that I don't believe -- it's just not present in me. At all. I couldn't change it any more than I could make myself hear if I were deaf, no matter how great the effort.

I say this not as any sort of argument either for or against religion, or faith, or God, or much of anything beyond this:

In that moment, when I was sure I could really, truly die, the part of me that exists before rationality reached not for the divine, but for the brake pedal.

That's just the way I am built, and if there truly is a merciful God as so many would have me believe, then He is the one who made me this way.

I'm glad I am alive, glad I am here to write this, glad that I know, finally, that what I believe is not a bit of sophistry or an angry response or willful defiance, but simply the way I'm put together.

I don't have any god-belief present in me, and that's ok. I've got a good life, and more importantly, a good set of brakes. For now, that's enough, and I am content.


Read More...

Monday, October 01, 2007

GoogleCreation?

Imagine if every article in "Science" or "Discover" had a blurb on it saying something like "Everything you're reading here is false. Go to this site to see how Scientologists have it right and we're all really alien slaves."

Actually I doubt you'd care because, let's face it, like most people you probably don't subscribe to either "Science" or "Discover". But I bet you do read CNN.com or MSNBC.com or FOXNews.com, and that's basically what's happening on those sites, only with Biblical Creationism instead of Scientology.

Here's how it works.

A big, credible site like CNN.com puts code on their web page articles to serve up ads brokered by Google. Google scans each article as it's delivered to your web browser, does some GoogleMagic, and figures out what the page is about. In this CNN science article about finding good DNA in mammoth hairs, for instance, it finds great words like DNA, scientists, and biochemistry. "Aha!" thinks Google, "this page is about science and evolution!"

Meanwhile, creationists sites out there are also using Google, only they want to buy ads. Their audience is the layperson somewhat interested in science, who they hope to sway to their way of thinking (e.g. the universe is only 6,000 years old, Noah's Flood happened just as described in Genesis, etc.), so they go out and tell Google, "put our ads on any page that has these words in it -- DNA, science, scientists, archaeology, and that sort of thing."

GoogleMagic isn't, of course, actually magic; it's just a computer program that tries to match up an article like the one on CNN with an advertiser. The beauty of GoogleAds is that you can be very targeted and only have your ad shown on a page that's probably going to be of interest to your likely customer. If you sell used drill bits, for instance, you probably don't want your ad shown on a page that is about baking cookies.

Thus Google sees a CNN article about DNA, and puts up the creationist ads on it. CNN is "The Most Trusted Name in News", so Joe or Jane Average gives credence to what they publish. They're reading an article written by the AP, another trusted source, which contains excellent, scientifically valid information. They get to the bottom of the page, and see ads for sites that seem to also be about evolution and science, and so they click on it:



And voila, the credibility and reliability of CNN and the Associated Press and all those scientists in the original story get carried through to the creationist site.

There's nothing immoral or illegal about what the creationists are doing here. They have every right to purchase ad words from Google and to try and reach their target audience.

The problem is that they're gaining legitimacy from sources that would otherwise completely undermine everything they say.

I'd love to see groups like the National Center for Science Education put a small part of their budget to countering this tactic. Bid up those same Google AdWords at a slightly higher price so the creationist ads don't get served. Be aggressive and target other words like "creationism", "bible science", "genesis facts", and more to try and get some well-intentioned but misinformed browsers good, accurate, reliable information about science and history.

This isn't about atheism or faith, it's about good science education. You can have a good understanding of real science and still be a Christian, as millions around the world show every day. Having a majority of people in America misunderstand basic scientific concepts is bad for a democratic nation. We can't make good policy or execute sound judgment when our knowledge is built on a foundation of lies.

Read More...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Watching The Watchmen

This likely won't mean anything to you non-geeks out there, but the latest super-hero comic book to be slated for production as a movie is DC's "The Watchmen", which has my nerd-ometer all a-twitter.

The original 12-issue mini-series was later collected as a graphic novel, and won Science Fiction's highest honor, the Hugo Award. It was also named by Time Magazine as one of the “100 Best English Language Novels from 1923 to the Present.”

I have to admit I'm a little skeptical that this can be turned into a good movie. The original is so dense, you have to read it four or five times before you really catch everything that's going on. It's a complex, multi-layered work of art, with a crazy number of different plot points, complicated characters, and varied levels of meaning. I don't know how well you can translate all of that into one movie.

Plus, there's just something fundamentally ... well, silly about people dressing up in costumes and fighting crime. The novel addresses this directly and uses it as a major background theme, and it works as told in a comics format. Dave Gibbons' artwork was the perfect blend of realistic and fantastic. But in a movie, you can't get away from the fact that these are real human beings running around up there in tights.

With a franchise like Spider-Man or Superman, it works because they're basically adventure stories. But "The Watchmen" isn't like that. Dare I say it, it's basically a psychological, political thriller. It just happens to feature people in costumes.

It's going to be a real challenge to pull off. It certainly has the potential to be a great production, but only if it's done right, with deliberation and insight. The fact that it's being directed by the guy who did "300" doesn't fill me with confidence -- that was about as two dimensional a script as you can get.

I'll be watching the movie site with interest as production rolls along. I really, really hope it turns out well. Along with "The Dark Knight", "The Watchmen" was largely responsible for launching the more serious, higher-quality, adult-oriented revival of the comic book industry in the 80's. I'd like to see it do the same for comic-book movies.

Read More...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Maybe Cingular Should Start With the Goat Sacrificing

Remember all those times the flight attendant came on and told you to turn off all electronic devices because they might endanger your flight? Apparently they're full of crap:

Air traffic controllers were forced to use their personal cell phones to reroute hundreds of flights Tuesday after the Federal Aviation Administration's Memphis Center lost radar and telephone service for more than two hours, snarling air traffic in the middle of the nation.


That's right, your Razor might crash that Southwest Airlines junket to Vegas, but it's ok for air traffic controllers in Memphis to coordinate all the flights at the entire airport via Cingular Wireless for two hours with no problems.

You know, there was a story a while back about Nepal Airlines sacrificing a goat to ensure their one plane made the next flight successfully, and everyone laughed at them. At least, everyone not in Nepal -- you don't want to mock the guys who might be dropping unused goat parts on your head as they fly overhead.

But I think our own good-old-fashioned American flight system is no less full of hooey and woo. No electronic devices during takeoff and landing. No liquids allowed on board. Confiscating corkscrews, for goodness' sake. The fact that none of this does any good at all makes no difference.

I think next time I fly I'm going to use a cooler full of cabrito as one of my carry-on items. It ought to do about as much good as most of the other "safety measures" we're subjected to, and unlike cell phones, it makes for a great taco.

Read More...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ride the Slut!

The Seattle neighborhood of South Lake Union has a new trolley, which means it's the South Lake Union Trolley. Or "SLUT" for short. An enterprising store in the area already has shirts for sale reading "Ride the SLUT!" which are selling like mad. No word yet on whether they'll also be staging a production of "A Streetcar Named Desire".

I might have to plan a trip to Seattle. It's been far too long since I experienced the high-speed thrill of riding a slut.

P.S. I'll be out of town till Sunday at my nephew's wedding in Houston. How to differentiate this interval from my normal glacial posting place is an exercise left to the reader.

Read More...

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Wheel of Time Stops Turning


Fantasy novelist James Oliver Rigney Jr. (aka Robert Jordan), author of the massively popular "Wheel of Time" series, died today in Charleston, South Carolina, of complications from primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, according to MSNBC.com.

Having read most of his fantasy series and a number of personal posts Mr. Jordan has made available online, he seemed to be a good man and certainly his writing brought joy to millions around the world. I think it's fair to say that he was a major figure in the genre and that his death will have a serious impact on the sci-fi/fantasy publishing industry.

My feelings about the books themselves are more mixed. I enjoyed the series at first, but after the first three books it seemed to grow heavy under the burden of its own seriousness. Events that could have taken place in a chapter were stretched out over several thousand pages. Too many characters plagued the plot, without seeming to advance the story at all. The same plot points kept coming up over and over to the same characters, and for a while there it seemed like literally nothing had happened over the course of three books.

Ultimately, I'd have to say the series was a victim of its own success. When an author (or musician or athlete or director or what have you) gets too big, everyone starts being afraid to tell them "no". They're given license to do whatever they like and no one has the courage to actually edit them, to say "Gosh, Bob, this sucks."

And I think that's too bad. Because clearly these guys have some talent, or they wouldn't have been successful in the first place.

In a way, we betray people like Mr. Jordan when we become too intimidated to express our opinions honestly, when no one will tell them what's good and what's bad become overshadowed by expectation and hubris.

I do feel saddened by the loss of Robert Jordan, even if my opinion of "The Wheel of Time" have become negative over the years. He worked hard, he treated the genre with respect, and he inspired thousands of people with his words. That's an impressive legacy for anyone to claim.

Read More...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Better Iron Man Trailer

I posted a bad, user-shot Iron Man trailer a while back. The official version of it is now available, though, so go check it out! This actually looks like a pretty good movie, I'll definitely be going to see it.

Read More...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Good Advice

Both of the two best pieces of advice I've ever gotten came from my brother Joey. To wit:

The opinions of worthless people are worthless.


And:

Marriage isn't fifty-fifty. It's one hundred-one hundred.


When my father and mother split up and Dad moved to Lake Charles for a while (before they got back together then split up again and got back together again and ... ), Joey was pretty much the man of the house. He took great care of us all. I remember that time as one of the few stretches where the house felt at peace, where I wasn't always walking on eggshells and waiting for the next explosion.

That didn't last, of course, but the simple and profound lessons my brother taught us did. Take care of your family. Shed the worthless opinions of those unworthy of judging you. Give it everything you've got.

It's the basic stuff that endures. I know it wasn't easy for him to take up the burden of responsibility at his age, but he did it and did it well.

So I want to say thank you to Joey, and to all those like him who carry the rest of us forward. You give it a hundred percent and inspire us to do the same. I hope we don't fail you.

Read More...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Underoos

I am 38 years old and am currently wearing Spider-Man underwear.

It's a good thing I'm already married, because there's no way I'm date-able material.

Read More...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Silence

I haven't been posting lately because I'm looking into some health issues (both physical and mental) and haven't been in the right frame of mind to interact with anyone, much less write anything. I hope that the cycle will swing back into a better place in the next few days, and I'll be settled enough to open up again.

I find it annoying how much we are at the mercy of our biology. Isn't it time we invented robots into which we can upload our personalities and minds already? Someone needs to get on the ball.

I say, until we have immortal, indestructible, incorruptible robot surrogate bodies and FLYING CARS ALREADY!!, we just give the finger to the entire technological complex.

Read More...

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Carnival of the Godless Redirect

Between the time I volunteered to host "The Carnival of the Godless #74" and now, I had decided to move the atheist content of Nerd Country to my other (new) site, "Atheist FAQs". So those of you coming here for the latest edition of The Carnival of the Godless, it can be found right now, hot off the Internet presses, at AtheistFAQ.com!

Anyone else who doesn't know what a "Carnival of the Godless" is, or who wants to know why it's not actually at this address today as advertised, read more below. Otherwise, get thee to the Carnival, post-haste!

First off, I should warn you that I chose to assemble and present the Carnival as if it were from a 1930's era "Doc Savage" type of supernatural pulp adventure novel. I hope you don't find it too distracting, and that the links are still easy enough to navigate. It was a hoot putting it together like that.

For my two regular readers, a Blog Carnival is a "Best of the Week" type of collection that gathers good blog posts from around the Internet on a particular theme, putting them all in one place so those interested in that topic have a good set of links to visit. This particular Carnival is about issues of interest to atheists, hence the name "Carnival of the Godless". There are lots of other Carnivals out there, like the Carnival of Cinema, The Catholic Carnival, or The Skeptics' Circle just to name a few.

You should be warned that some of the blog entries featured in the Carnival of the Godless (CotG) are pretty hostile to religion and religious adherents. Such is the nature of the world; I prefer to be more non-confrontational, but I don't think it's a bad thing sometimes for people to get in each others' faces, either. I have a different style, but the other way can work, and work very well, also. To each their own.

All that's by way of saying that if you're a theist, there are a few posts in the CotG this time around that might piss you off. So be warned.

One more time, Carnival of the Godless #74 is now available on AtheistFAQ.com.

Read More...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Texas Constitution Bans Atheists From Office

Did you know that it is unconstitutional for me to hold a public office in the state of Texas? Article 1, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution states:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.


Not that I was planning on running for Governor any time soon, but still, I'd have liked to think that I could in theory give something back to my state in the form of public service.

Guess not.

This is the kind of thing that made me "come out". Prejudice against people without a belief in god is enshrined in the actual constitution of the state I inhabit.

Think about that for a moment.

A child molester could hold office here. Or an admitted terrorist. Or a serial murderer. All of them are in theory qualified to hold the public trust, as long as they were Catholic, or Southern Baptist, or Hindu, or what have you.

But not me.

P.S. I better stay the hell out of Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee, too.

(Hat tip to Holly Orr for the link.)

Read More...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Senatorial Bathroom Power Stance

At the risk of turning this into a potty-themed blog, I just can't let this story about US Senator Larry Craig's (R-Idaho) arrest for lewd behavior in an airport restroom go without comment:

Craig stated "that he has a wide stance when going to the bathroom and that his foot may have touched mine," the report states. Craig also told the arresting officer that he reached down with his right hand to pick up a piece of paper that was on the floor.


I've been in a number of public restroom stalls in my 38 years, but I can't ever recall being in such dire gastric distress that I would need to take a stance while seated so wide that my foot was at any risk of touching the foot of the gentleman in the next stall. All I can say is, if you need to take a stance that wide, you'd better be in the handicapped stall, because you're going to need to grip those handlebars for leverage.

What really disturbs me is that you have to touch feet to signal you want to do something naughty. Frankly, I think foot-on-foot intimate contact is just wrong, and ought to be illegal pretty much anywhere. If feet weren't meant to be gross, they'd not have evolved to be waaaaaaay down there at the opposite end of our bodies from all our sense organs. They're stuck on the end of the legs for a reason -- they're nasty!

On a more serious note, I have a hard time understanding what was illegal about this episode. He didn't actually solicit any sort of illegal contact, he just exhibited some behaviors typical of people who would. And though as I noted, he lied about why he did those things -- the grip and the "I was just picking up a piece of paper" -- that's all after the fact. It seems like you'd have to prove he intended to solicit illegal behavior, and I don't see how you could do that in this case.

I understand the desire to keep lewd acts out of public restrooms, but honestly, this seems to be a pretty outrageous law. By comparison, you can't arrest a guy just for driving around slowly in an area known for prostitution. You have to see them actually solicit the illegal act -- just acting suspicious isn't (and shouldn't) be enough.

Read More...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Politically Incorrect Restaurants

Something about the Tex-Mex restaurant that just opened in Bertram makes me uncomfortable. I think it's the name:



Yes, you're reading that right, it's "Los Mezkan's", which for you non-Spanish speakers out there means "The Mexican's". Wait, I'm getting a cable from the Mexican embassy -- ok, that's not really Spanish, it's just slang. Hmph.

Anyway, I know calling someone "Mezkan" isn't really an insult, but it still seems weird. It'd be like opening a place that serves traditional "white people" food and calling it "Cracker's" or something.



Oh. Well. Bad example. But you'd never see a restaurant whose name could be construed as an insulting term for Black people, right? Right?!



I give up. Maybe we're normal here in Bertram after all.

Read More...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bloggers as Reporters

As my father-in-law George Phenix said at our wedding, Annie and I both have "ink in our blood" as children of newspaper publishers. So even though this blog is mostly for yuks, I take journalism seriously. That's why I want to point you to this excellent LA Times article by Jay Rosen about specific examples of bloggers doing the same real, honest, hard, valuable work that historically made journalism so important to our democracy.

Journalists are, at their core, supposed to be adversarial. They're supposed to go out and find the truth, even -- especially! -- when that truth offends those who hold power. Whether it's the local dog catcher abusing his authority to harm animals or the President of the United States lying through his teeth about blowjobs or WMD, reporters are supposed to be the guardians of truth in a democracy.

And yet, reporters at some point gained the mantle of royalty, holding a privileged and exalted position in our culture. We put them on pedestals and made stars out of them. They have become entrenched in the halls of power on which they are supposed to report, and I think something valuable in the profession was lost when that happened.

Making them stars subverts that adversarial positioning they're supposed to have. When our elite political reporters, for instance, hang out at cocktail parties with the politicians they're supposed to be covering, that's a problem.

Over the last ten years, bloggers have begun to fill the void vacated when our journalists became news readers instead of reporters, when they became part of the story rather than investigators of it. And yet most people think of blogging as being a series of high school slam books or open diaries, full of pointless trivia at best and the worst sort of vituperative bile at its worst. In any event, blogging certainly can't fill the same kind of niche that good reporting is supposed to. Right?

Wrong.

As Rosen points out, bloggers at their best can exceed even the best traditional journalism has been able to offer. They don't have the billion dollar budgets or massive news organization, but they have drive and a dogged determination to follow a story to the nitty gritty end, no matter where it leads.

I'm not saying blogging and bloggers will, can, or should replace traditional news agencies. But they absolutely can -- and already have, as Rosen points out -- do at least as well as any professional media outlet. Already they have helped remind our reporters what their job is supposed to be -- to uncover the truth, not parrot talking point memos.

This blog is just for yuks as I said, but others are much, much more serious. Before you casually dismiss all blogging as overhyped nonsense, remember that television news once got the same dismissive treatment from their print brethren. Then "The News Went Live" and nothing was ever the same again. I think we're in the middle of another such revolution, and bloggers are leading the charge.

Check out Rosen's piece. I think it'll really open your eyes to what's possible in the collaborative, interactive world the Internet and blogging software have made possible. Journalism isn't something you learn in an ivory tower, and "Reporter" isn't a title bequeathed by a royal elite. Journalism is what you do, and today, bloggers are doing it better than almost anyone else.

Read More...

Marking Your Turf

Any man who owns a sizable piece of property who claims he hasn't peed on it is either a liar or wears a colostomy bag.

We might not share much biology with wolves, but psychologically we definitely have the Pee Gene ("Markus Territorius") in common. There's something very pleasing about splashing about on the back ninety, like planting a very watery stake in the ground that says "MINE!" Now granted, you can take the concept too far, as the woman at HEB claims I did when I was "claiming" my truck in the parking lot, but the principle stands.

I like to imagine that marking the fence line will repel rapacious coyotes. They'll come up, hungry for horse or donkey meat, and encounter the manly fruit of my kidneys (can liquid be a fruit? maybe the "fruit juice" of my kidneys, then) which causes them to flee in terror. It's much likelier, of course, that they'll immediately start drawing straws on who gets to be first at the buffet.

"Smells like Microsoft, Bill."
"Break out the forks, Bob, I'm goin' in."

Still, 101 acres is a lot to cover. I think I'm going to have to invest in some shares of Diet Coke ("Billions and Billions of Gallons of 'Fruit Juice' Produced So Far!") and block out some time if I'm going to get to it all ...

Read More...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Get Your Ass On the Porch

Literally:



While visiting the front of the house, the donkeys ate some expensive monkey-grass we had just planted, knocked over two planters, decimated some plastic flowers we'd put out, tore down the rope intended to keep them out, and made numerous hoofprints in the granite gravel walkway.

Now I know why "jack-ass" is an insult!

Read More...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

MODAD Gets Bent

With the "most expensive piece of glass on the vehicle" replaced in my truck, the garden hose patched, and the small mower dropped off at the shop for wheel replacement therapy, I turned my attention to repairing the damage wrought both by and to MODAD and discovered why he was so grumpy:



That's what just one day of living the country life can do to high-tech equipment. Let that be a lesson to all you wanna-be Bubba Nerds out there.

I replaced the blade on Saturday, and on Sunday when I went to take MODAD out into the fields to play, he had two flat tires. Apparently he's still grumpy. I reminded him that in the fable, the mouse and the lion become good friends once the thorn is removed, but then I realized MODAD is a Deere. And apparently, deer are a lot less forgiving than lions.

Read More...

Monday, August 20, 2007

SNORK!

If Annie comes home tomorrow to find me dead, you can blame Tim Conway -- he made me laugh so hard (again) that I almost choked to death.

See, earlier tonight Fox aired a program called something like "Television's Funniest 30 Moments", which from the premise alone you know is guaranteed to piss everybody off when their favorite moment doesn't make the cut. And sure enough, I got pissed.

Because for my money, you won't find a funnier five minutes in the history of television than the following blooper outtake from "The Carol Burnett Show" involving an unscripted elephant story by the consummate funny man, Tim Conway.

The setting features the popular sketch "The Family" (which later got spun off into its own show called "Mama's Family"), one of the recurring bits on the program. Tim Conway's character just got an answer about elephants wrong in the game they were playing but Tim, never content to leave a script as written, jumps in with an ad-libbed story. How he holds his composure throughout is a true mystery, but what's really remarkable is that he manages to crack up Carol Burnett herself, legendary for her iron will and control.

You'll see Conway do his riff twice. I'm not sure if the first is from the regular broadcast and the second is from the West Coast feed (I think they used to shoot and air the entire show twice), or if it's a rehearsal or re-take, but they're both hysterical. Be sure to watch all the way to the end for Vicki Lawrence's fantastic zinger that literally sends them all falling off the couch laughing.



If you can't make out her line at the end, it's "Reckon that little ass-hole is just about through?"

Read More...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Behold ... MODAD!

In less than 24 hours I managed to purchase an $1,800 item that allowed me to destroy an additional $1,100 of previously owned merchandise. How did I accomplish such an amazing feat? Read on, my friend, and stand in awe of the power of MODAD -- Mower of Death And Destruction -- as it proceeded to destroy:



The push mower I was using to prep the yard for the new mower.



The garden hose lying in my path. (About which I literally thought to myself, not two minutes before, "The odds of me breaking that hose with this mower while it's on its highest setting is pretty much zero." Now you know why I'm not working as an odds-maker in Vegas.)



The mulching attachment that comes with the mower, restraining band severed by a flying rock.



The side cab window of my truck (probably from the same rock that severed the mulcher in passing), which the replacement company said is, and I quote, "The most expensive piece of glass on the vehicle." I don't go halfway, baby, when I break something, I only break the best!

The author of this rampage of mayhem? I present you with MODAD -- the Mower Of Death And Destruction!



I bet it's wondering how it's going to power through the garage door blocking its escape. Keep your eyes peeled, folks -- it's getting hungry.

Read More...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Top Ten Things World of Warcraft Can Teach You About Life


Many people decry games like "World of Warcraft" as vast, bloated time sinks that suck away the lives and personalities of its subscribers, giving nothing of value in return.

Not unlike America's political parties!

But seriously. I think these people are wrong, and as evidence I present the "Top Ten Things World of Warcraft Can Teach You About Life":

10. No matter how much time, money, and energy you put into making something, there's no guarantee anyone will want to buy it.

9. Hot girls can dance to make money. Even if they're really guys.

8. Where you choose to make your home (whether a neighborhood or a server) can make a huge difference in how enjoyable your time is. Nothing's more frustrating than having to constantly wait on construction when all you want is to get home.

7. Some people are just plain ass-holes and there's not a lot you can do about it unless you have powerful friends. Preferably friends with really, really big swords.

6. If you want a sweet ride, you better save your money.

5. Short people have feelings too. Even gnomes. Probably.

4. You can go a lot farther if you have a group of friends watching your back.

3. I've been rich, and I've been poor, and believe me -- rich is better.

2. That fancy, over-engineered mechanical gizmo might look neat and cost a fortune, but odds are it'll let you down when you need it most. Sometimes the simple, reliable things are better.

1. You might think of The Other Side as absolutely evil, soulless, cowardly scumbags with no heart ... until you actually step into their shoes and experience the world from their point of view, understanding their history and outlook. Don't be surprised if "Good Guys" and "Bad Guys" are interchangeable labels sometimes.

Read More...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Tantrum Meditation

I think "Get Fuzzy" has nailed what's been going on with me for the past few weeks (click for a larger version):

Read More...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Science Encodes Values

Chris Mooney served on the Yearly Kos NetRoots convention's science panel last week, and had this to say in his write-up of the event (emphasis mine):

[I]t has fallen to those of us who oppose the direction the country has been heading to simultaneously champion a way of thinking that would have averted so many blunders and disasters: empirical thinking. Scientific thinking. Critical thinking.

In other words, you might say that now more than ever before, we're finally waking up to the fact that the practices of science themselves encode a set of values -- a way of approaching the world, understanding it, and acting within it. At its core, it's a world view that is humble about what we know and don't know, flexible about what we do and don't decide to do, and open about admitting past mistakes and listening to contrary opinion. In short, it's the utter opposite of Bush's stubborn, inflexible, unwavering certainty about everything.


That bolded statement really spoke to me, because I think very often that science is looked at as a value-free exercise. But it's not. As Mooney says, because it has a certain kind of approach built right into it, it encodes certain values as part of its very substance. That's a powerful statement.

Science's core value of humility is often derided and looked upon as weakness by those who have certainty at the center of their approach to the world. But it's not a weakness to admit you might be wrong. It's instead the greatest kind of strength.

You see the same kind of split in the religious world as well, with some adherents telling us to be humble in the face of the Almighty and others arrogantly proclaiming that there is Only One True Way and they happen to know it, so get ready to be blasted if you oppose them!

It's a fundamentally human schism, one that runs through every movement and every belief system (yes, even rationalism or skepticism).

Arrogance versus humility.

Certainty versus doubt.

I expect that, like light and dark, both are somehow necessary for the universe to keep rolling along. But as for me, I'll always prefer the side that admits it could be wrong, that allows for the possibility of change, and that isn't afraid to stare the unknown in the face and ask "What are you?" And then deal with the consequences of getting an answer.

Read More...

Monday, August 06, 2007

Devil's Cape

My super-hero dream isn't the only one coming true recently. One of my online gaming friends, Rob Rogers (creator of the "Hero City" Uberworld campaign setting among others), has just announced that his first novel, "Devil's Cape", is going to be published by the Big Daddy of the gaming world, Wizards of the Coast. Even writing an entire novel is an amazing accomplishment. Getting it published is an order of magnitude greater, and getting it published as the result of winning a global competition by one of the premier gaming companies in the world -- well, there's just not a word for how fantastic that is. If you like crime novels, southern fiction, super-heroes, or any combination of the three, then pre-order your copy from Amazon today. I just did, and I can't wait for it to get here.

Congratulations, Rob!

Read More...

Authentic Italian Country

More evidence supporting the theory advanced by commenters Denise and Allen that most country businesses are just as awash in unimaginative naming as Bertram's own Earl's comes from this blurb ("Cool Places") in the August 2007 issue of "Texas Co-Op Power" newsletter:

In a part of the country where blue-plate specials are more the luncheon norm stands Frenke's Pasta & Pizza, authentic Italian fare. Hailing from Kosovo, Frank Misini opened the restaurant in 2002. There was a Mexican restaurant nearby called "Frankie's", so he named his Frenke's.


First, I don't know that coming from Kosovo -- which, if you'll check your local globe, is not in Italy -- necessarily grants you the mantle of "authentic Italian." Second, I don't know any Italians named "Frenke". Mr. Misini would have been better off just outright stealing the name of the Mexican restaurant, because I know lots of actual Italians named Frank but not one single Frenke. Being from Kosovo, of course, there's no way he could have known that. I guess that's what makes him authentic here in Nerd Country.

Read More...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Tale of Two Earls

Willie the One-Armed Volunteer Fireman who works at the tire shop isn't the only interesting thing about the tire business in our small town. Not by a long shot.

See, this is Ear's Tire & Automotive Repair, which as you can guess from its name sells tire and automotive services.



And this is Earl's Tire and Lube, which as you can guess from its name also sells tires and automotive services.



These two stores are only about ten miles apart, one in the small town of Liberty Hill and the other in the even smaller town of Bertram, the next stop down the road. But here's the thing -- they're two different Earls.

Completely unrelated.

So let's say you're in a small town of a few dozen people. And you're driving down the road and see that your friend Earl has opened himself a tire and automotive shop. "Well heck," you think to yourself, "my name is Earl, I reckon I ought to open one of them up too. I mean, what are the odds that a business would exist that has my name built right into it?"

I asked Earl about it one time (not that Earl, the other one), and he just gave me a disgusted look and said "That sonofabitch." I didn't pursue it any further, because I didn't want Earl (not that one, the other one) to get mad at me. I need my tires to work and I'm pretty sure "Earl's Tire, Lube, and Automotive Repair" one more town over is closed on weekends.

Read More...

Where Are The ESPN Challengers?

Why doesn't anyone try to beat ESPN in the sports news market? In general news you've got CNN, MSNBC, Fox, NBC, ABC, CBS, Bloomberg, and a handful of other competitors and yet ESPN stands alone in the sports news marketplace. Why?

Partly it's that the sports market isn't as big as the general news market, and thus there's less room for competition. And partly it's that ESPN so thoroughly dominates the space. I even think it would be fair to say that sports and ESPN are pretty much synonymous for most people.

Also, general national news was already a competitive enterprise before cable came along -- all three networks hosted monstrous news organizations. No such infrastructure existed for national sports reporting, so ESPN had the market to itself. And they've been relentless about pursuing and dominating every niche that's come along since, much to their credit. They've done everything they can to stay relevant and connected with younger audiences.

But I think ESPN is starting to show its age, ironically in the way they are so dogged about staying hip. It's all starting to look a little forced and fake at this point, like an aging superstar who still wears tight dresses and too much makeup, showing up at parties and laughing a little bit too loud. I think America's ready for the Next Big Thing in sports reporting, something to knock the big guy down a few pegs and liven things up.

The most likely candidate is FoxSportsNet, the group of local sports channels NewsCorp gobbled up over the past ten years or so. They've got a large infrastructure in place already, including on-air talent, and at least some national name recognition. The larger corporation has a vast amount of money to spend and a formidable lobbying presence in Washington to help pave the way for any legislation they might need. And Fox certainly has a history of knocking aging stars off their pedestals.

Frankly, I don't really think they'd be able to take a significant market share away from ESPN, but I do think it'd be fun to see them try.

Read More...

Friday, August 03, 2007

America's Shrinking Stature (Not That There's Anything Wrong With That)

Back in the day, Americans were the beefed-up muscle-bound guy at the beach kicking sand in the faces of the 90-lb weakling nations, sporting the tallest citizens on average of anyplace on planet Earth.

Alas, those days are long gone, as the United States isn't even in the top ten tallest nations any more.

What I'd like to know is, which of these newly-tall nations has been stealing our height? I demand an immediate investigation! Pass some laws, then ignore them and have the CIA do it the old-fashioned way. I even have a hot tip for them -- according to the article:

Back in 1850, the Dutch and other Western Europeans were 2 inches shorter than Americans.


The Netherlands now tops the "Tallest Nation" list at a resounding six feet for men and five foot seven inches for the women. That can't be natural; all they have to eat there is snow! Now I ask you, have you ever seen a tall snowman? I think not. Clearly something more nefarious is at play here, and I for one would like to know how they've been stealing our height.

Not that there's anything wrong with being short, as my entire family can attest. As my five foot tall mother said to my five foot one inch sister, "You're the tall one." Maybe that's what's really behind the Iraq War, a severe case of Short Nation Syndrome. There's certainly enough sand there for them to kick in our face.

Where have you gone, Charles Atlas? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Granted we now have to turn our eyes up to you since we're so short, but don't let that stop you from helping us beef back up.

Read More...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Iron Man!

With thanks to my friend John for the tip, here is the first sneak preview of the 2008 "Iron Man" movie, as presented at ComicCon (apologies for the dark nature of the clip):

Read More...

Why Americans Hate the Media

Matt Yglesias points this morning to an absolutely fascinating 1996 discussion of why Americans hate the media by James Fallows. Although it's 11 years old, the article still rings absolutely true. I think Matt's right -- it's so good there's almost no way to select only the "good parts" -- but being a stubborn git I nonetheless have tried to pull a few paragraphs that really jumped out at me to give you the general idea of the piece below the fold.

The discussion shows that are supposed to enhance public understanding may actually reduce it, by hammering home the message that issues don't matter except as items for politicians to fight over. Some politicians in Washington may indeed view all issues as mere tools to use against their opponents. But far from offsetting this view of public life, the national press often encourages it...

It is more fun—and easier—to write about Bill Clinton's "positioning" on the Vietnam issue, or how Newt Gingrich is "handling" the need to cut Medicare, than it is to look into the issues themselves...

[A]ll issues are shoehorned into the area of expertise the most-prominent correspondents do have:the struggle for one-upmanship among a handful of political leaders...

Midway through the interview Bradley gave a long answer to the effect that everyone involved in politics had to get out of the rut of converting every subject or comment into a political "issue," used for partisan advantage. Let's stop talking, Bradley said, about who will win what race and start responding to one another's ideas.

As soon as he finished, Woodruff asked her next question: "Do you want to be President?" It was as if she had not heard a word he had been saying—or couldn't hear it, because the media's language of political analysis is utterly separate from the terms in which people describe real problems in their lives...

[A] relentless emphasis on the cynical game of politics threatens public life itself, by implying day after day that the political sphere is nothing more than an arena in which ambitious politicians struggle for dominance, rather than a structure in which citizens can deal with worrisome collective problems...

Why not imagine, just for a moment, that your journalistic duty might involve something more varied and constructive than doing standups from the White House lawn and sounding skeptical about whatever announcement the President's spokesman put out that day? ...

The point is not that the pundits are necessarily wrong and the public necessarily right. The point is the gulf between the two groups' reactions. The very aspects of the speech that had seemed so ridiculous to the professional commentators—its detail, its inclusiveness, the hyperearnestness of Clinton's conclusion about the "common good"—seemed attractive and worthwhile to most viewers...

"Polls show that both Republicans and Democrats felt better about the Congress just after the 1994 elections," a Clinton Administration official said last year. "They had 'made the monkey jump'—they were able to discipline an institution they didn't like. They could register the fact that they were unhappy. There doesn't seem to be any way to do that with the press, except to stop watching and reading, which more and more people have done."


As I've gotten older, I've come to think of the mainstream media not as "liberal" or "conservative", but as Establishment. Like the popular clique at school, their main goal is the maintenance of their own power and influence. What matters is not truth, or fairness, or intelligence, but increasing the scope of their own importance. And as Fallows points out, the way to do that is to focus on only the interpersonal, political, high-school sociology of politics rather than the things that actually matter.

Read More...

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Singin' in the Gay

I'm pretty sure I'm not gay, but after watching "Singing in the Rain" again tonight, I'm starting to wonder. Is it normal to find yourself thinking "Damn that Gene Kelly is a good-looking, great-dancing, stud-muffin of a singer"? I definitely shouldn't have gotten weepy at the end -- again -- especially when I've seen the movie a dozen times before. I think I better go hack down a tree or shoot a deer or something, quick, before they revoke my man card for good this time.

I did have one major revelation while watching it, though. I've never done drugs, but I'm pretty sure if I ever do, I want to watch the "Broadway Melody" sequence during it. I feel reasonably certain that acid is the only thing that can make sense of that number.

Finally, I think this routine from Donald O'Connor not only is the best thing in picture, but pretty much sums up my entire approach to life. Enjoy.

Read More...

Nothing To Say

I found a blog called "Anonymous Truth", wherein the author says:

You know they are there. Things you'd never think to say out loud. This is my spot to say them here. I could care less if anyone ever reads this. The point is that I'll be able to say things that I wouldn't be able to on my normal blog. Completely uncensored.


The blog is completely blank otherwise. Apparently, they didn't have much to say after all.

For some reason, this made me laugh. The Internet is a strange and wonderful wilderness, with bizarre relics of the mind lurking just around every bend.

Edited to add: It also made me sad.

Read More...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Texas Creationist State Board of Education

Governor Rick "Good Hair" Perry has just appointed Creationist Ron McLeroy (R-Bryan) to head the Texas State Board of Education. Upon hearing the news, I promptly joined the Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group helping to promote good science education and the separation of church and state. President Kathy Miller pointed out some interesting nuggets from Mr. McLeroy's past:

• He voted in 2001 to reject the only advanced placement environmental science textbook proposed for Texas high schools even though panels of experts – including one panel from Texas A&M – found the textbook was free of errors. In fact, Baylor University used the same textbook.
• In 2003 Mr. McLeroy led efforts by creationism or “intelligent design” proponents to water down discussion of evolution in proposed new biology textbooks. He was one of only four board members who voted against biology textbooks that year that included a full scientific account of evolutionary theory.
• In 2004, Mr. McLeroy voted to approve "abstinence-only" health textbooks that failed to include any information about responsible pregnancy and STD prevention, despite state curriculum standards requiring that students learn such information.


Look, you're entitled to your own opinions, but you're not entitled to your own facts. And evolution is a fact. Putting someone in charge of the State Board of Education who doesn't know this is like putting someone in charge of the Navy who doesn't believe steel can float.

Read More...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Deathly Hallows

I don't want to spoil anything for those of you who have not yet read it, but the seventh and final Harry Potter book, "Deathly Hallows", is one of the most satisfying reads I've had in a long, long time. Exceptional end to an exceptional series. I hope to write up a few thoughts on the Harry Potter phenomenon in a couple of days once I've had a chance to think about it more, but for now, I can only urge you to read it as soon as you can. I picked it up at noon today and just put it down a few minutes ago.

Thank you, Ms. Rowling, for a great reading experience.

Read More...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Fruits of a Wet Summer

No, the title of this post is not a snide reference to some sort of dirty movie, I just wanted to post a couple of photos I took this morning of our house. The recent rains have resulted in a far greener beginning of summer than I can remember since moving to Texas; everything is in bloom and the local wildlife are out in force. Hope you enjoy this snapshot into what life is like in Nerd Country.



Read More...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Survival Strategies

What do you do when the survival strategy you've been using no longer works?

When I watch the various animals out here at the ranch I can clearly see how evolution has shaped their instincts for survival. At the first hint of danger -- whether a lurking puma or a flapping shopping bag -- those things can asphyxiate you if you're not careful! -- horses are built for fear and speed, with fast legs and big hearts. Eternal vigilance and a willingness to flee have served them well, and they're still ever-watchful here.

The donkeys went down a more aggressive path, facing directly into danger, finding safety in numbers not through the sacrifice of the less-fleet but in the power of multiple striking hooves. When the dogs get after them, the donkeys turn and fight.

The sheep, on the other hand, settled on screwing their way out of trouble. Not at the deciding moment, of course, but rather they breed rapidly enough that they could travel in massive flocks. They huddle together for safety, ensuring that only the ones on the outside get eaten. I'm not exactly sure how they decide who gets "Outside the Circle of Trust" duty, but I would guess it involves those poor individuals who insist on chasing an inside straight to the river.

On our ranch we only have four sheep, and yet they cling to their instinctual method of survival even so. Rarely more than a few feet from each other, they still clump into a ball when danger threatens. Of course with only four of them, they fail to realize that they're ALL on the outside of the flock, putting them equally at risk of being dinner.

You can look at their insistence on the old ways as either an honorable and commendable adherence to proven tradition, or as a hopelessly hidebound reliance on a now-irrelevant custom.

So what do you do when the survival strategy you've been depending on no longer works? I'm not sure, personally, but I plan on keeping an eye on those sheep just in case they hit on something new.

Read More...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Oklahoma Blues

MSNBC.com reports that the Oklahoma University football team must forfeit all of its 2005 wins:

Oklahoma must erase its wins from the 2005 season and will lose two scholarships for the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the NCAA said Wednesday.

The penalties stem from a case involving two players, including the Sooners’ starting quarterback, who were kicked off the team last August for being paid for work they had not performed at a Norman car dealership. The NCAA said Oklahoma was guilty of a “failure to monitor” the employment of the players.


Ordinarily nothing makes a Texas fan like me happier than seeing OU in distress, but I think this case is a pretty raw deal. The NCAA makes literally billions of dollars off of football, but an entire program, its coaches, current players, and the two young men involved are all being hammered over $15,500 in student job payments. Fifteen grand. Coach Bob Stoops makes that much while flossing his teeth.

And why did the two players have to take the under-the-table job? Because none of the billions made by the NCAA goes directly to the student-athletes who perform on the field. They receive scholarships, yes, and that's great, but you can't eat a scholarship.

Stoops, who I simultaneously admire and want to shove out an airlock every time he humiliates Texas in a game, also has the 2005 wins stripped from his record:

[C]oach Bob Stoops’ career record will be amended to reflect the erased wins, dropping it from 86-19 in eight seasons to 78-19.


Talk about a raw deal! He has to give up the wins but keep the losses, that's rough.

OU may suck, but the NCAA blows. The whole system is becoming a laughingstock. Just pay the players already and get rid of this overwrought, unnecessary, hypocritical joke of an enforcement system.

Read More...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Eulogy

One of the ScienceBloggers has a tremendously moving account of his father's death posted today. It brought tears to my eyes. I can still hear that horrible moan my dad let out just after he slipped into unconsciousness there on his bed in my mother's house. Losing a parent is a wrenching experience and my heart goes out to the author and his family.

The post is well worth a read, but have a tissue handy.

Read More...

Another Great Hellmuthian Moment

Once again Dr. Pauly nails it, with this line regarding poker brat Phil Hellmuth and his recent auto-accident during the World Series of Poker:

Hellmuth could dodge bullets, but he couldn't dodge a light pole.

(For context, Hellmuth once famously said of himself that he was so great he could dodge bullets after making a correct play during a previous WSOP.)

Read More...

Virtual Destiny: Are You Your Avatar?

How different would you be if you could be someone completely different? That's the issue faced by millions of online gamers involved in massive virtual worlds like "World of Warcraft". In my case, the answer is, "Not so different after all."

Granted, in my virtual life I have hair and am a ripped, big-eared, sword-toting Blood Elf. But the person beneath both the real and virtual skin remains surprisingly consistent. For instance, you have your choice of a bunch of different jobs you can have in WoW, just like in real life. Rather than a doctor, lawyer, web designer, or other real-life professions, in the game you choose from a "class" like Shaman, Rogue, Warrior, etc. From the very beginning I wanted to play a Hunter (lives in the wilderness, doesn't really need much help from others, has a big ol' pet), but I ended up playing a Priest instead (group dependent, can be kind of wimpy, lives to heal others) because the group I was in needed one.

That's right, even in virtual reality I put other people's needs ahead of my own. I think there's a name for that, and it begins with "pa" and ends with "thetic".

I worry about hurting other players' feelings in WoW. Isn't that silly? We're playing a game and I don't want to upset them. I can't "forget" that there's a person on the other end of the avatar, and whether they're a 13 year old kid or a 80 year old grandpa, I keep hoping they're having a good time. It's a throwback to my co-ed soccer days as a youth, when I'd yell "excuse me!" to the opposing girl player after I'd run her over.

This is a problem in a game like WoW which is fundamentally adversarial -- there are two "sides" and you are on either one or the other. Part of the goal is to kill the other side whenever and wherever you can (don't worry, they get to resurrect themselves right away, which would be nice in real life). Conflict is built right into the structure of the game, and yet I avoid it as much as possible.

Sound familiar?

I don't know what percentage of playing in a massive virtual world like this is running away from yourself, but it seems like I am not running fast or far enough to get away from who I am, fundamentally. That's good in some ways, bad in others. But just like in real life, this time around through WoW I am trying to grow. I'm finally playing a hunter as my main character, which is the way I wanted it originally. I'm on a dedicated Player vs. Player server (PvP), which ramps up the inherent conflict even more, hoping I can get over my dreadful reluctance to ever engage another human being. And I'm playing on the same realm (server) as my brother-in-law and nephew and their group of friends (guild), who seem to have the right idea about all of this. It's supposed to be fun, not an extended psychological drama, and that's a lesson I very much need to learn.

What about you? When you engage in fantasy play, whether it's through online gaming or in some other facet of your life, do you prefer to be someone else, or just another version of you?

Read More...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

A Gastronomic Miracle!

While shopping for the Fourth of July festivities, I came across an exciting new innovation in the snack chip wars -- corn tortilla chips that taste like corn!



I don't know why no one thought of this before. I can just imagine the meeting where they discussed the situation:

Bob: No one is buying our corn tortilla chips and I don't know why.
Stan: It's bizarre. I mean come on, they taste just like broccoli!
Bob: Exactly! I wonder what else we could make them taste like.
[puzzled silence]
Stan: You know this is kind of a crazy idea but ... nah, never mind.
Bob: No no, go on, I'm curious what your thoughts are.
Stan: Well, if you're sure ... I feel kind of silly even bringing it up but since you insist ... what if we -- now hang on to your hat here, this is pretty wild -- what if we made our corn tortilla chips taste like ... corn!?

Unfortunately we don't have a record of Bob's reaction because his head exploded at the unprecedented concept. What we DO have, however, is a close-up of the label announcing to the world this ground-breaking moment in food technology:



I hope you join me in studiously avoiding the thought "If they only just now made these here corn tortilla chips taste like corn, what in the name of all that's good and right did they taste like before?"

Read More...

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

How Much of a Geek Are You?

My mother will be so proud. And Han shot FIRST, I tell you. FIRST!

79% GeekMingle2 - Free Online Dating

Read More...

Gamer YinYanginess

I present the good and bad I recently experienced of being a gamer:


Good: Your sister trusts you enough to ask you to talk your nephew into giving up some of his "World of Warcraft" addiction.
Bad: Instead your nephew ends up talking you into reinstalling your World of Warcraft game so you can start playing again, too.

Good: The flame of addiction newly-lit, you rush to the store to buy the "Burning Crusade" expansion to the game so you can do all the new stuff that's come out since you quit.
Bad: The day you buy the expansion pack, lightning strikes your internet receiver, and you can't get online for a solid week.

Good: Your internet service gets fixed so you can now reinstall the original version of the game!
Bad: You have to download more than 1GB of patches and updates to complete the install. This takes three days.

Good: You finally download and install the last of the seemingly interminable patches and can install the "Burning Crusade" expansion you bought!
Bad: After you install the Expansion, you have to re-download the last five patches before you can log in. Which you already downloaded once. After agonizing through three days of downloads before THAT. And the week of dead internet before THAT. All while fighting the urge to put your fist through your router to force it to go faster, dammit!

Good: Finally, after a week and a half, you get to log in. Your brother-in-law kindly jumps in his high-level character and helps you out with some in-game money and items. Life -- virtual life, anyway -- is good.
Bad: It's going to be many months before you can get to a high enough level to thank him properly. Maybe beating his son with a hose for getting you re-addicted will be payback, though. Maybe.

Read More...

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Richard Simmons on "Whose Line"

Add Richard Simmons to the mix on "Whose Line Is It Anyway" (the hilarious improv show that prompts Annie to come into the room to make sure I haven't asphyxiated myself from laughing so hard) and the results are unbelievable. My friend Dave sent me the YouTube of his appearance and it's one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. The "ABC Family" logo at the bottom right is the perfect ironic accompaniment to what's happening on stage, too. Enjoy!

Read More...

Pennies From Heaven, Dollars From Lightning

We're back! It wasn't the floods or the rains that kept us offline so much as the lightning -- apparently that one really loud and bright bolt that woke us all up at three in the morning was a bona fide lightning strike. It fried our wireless Internet radio, two phone jack extensions, and our router. Luckily none of the other computer equipment was harmed as far as we can tell, and neither the house nor the animals nor the people inside were injured at all.

In that light, $200 in equipment repairs from electrical strikes is not a big deal after all.

Read More...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Here Comes the Rain Again

In just five hours on Monday night, the town of Marble Falls (where we do our shopping and movie-watching) got 18 inches of rain. That's almost as much precipitation as we got in all of 2006.

Amazingly, no one died, and although there was a lot of water damage (cars shoved out of garages and into the street, the city water supply compromised, etc.), they're pretty much back on their feet now.

We got about 8 inches at our house, but thanks to excellent home placement by Annie, we're up on a hill and were never in any danger at all. The creek swelled to amazing heights and blew out the fence at the back of the property (I'll post more on that later), and apparently lightning struck either right on, or close to, our house. The breakers tripped and our internet tower got fried, along possibly with one of our phone adapters. Otherwise, though, we came through just fine. The donkeys are stuck on the far side of the creek because they're too chicken to cross where the water's low. They've got plenty to drink and eat, though, and shelter in the forest, so they should be all right. I keep an eye on them with the binoculars and am going to bring them some grain and hay today as comfort food, but they're hardy little guys.

Not having Internet access is a pain in the butt, especially when you're trying to run a business online. I dragged out our ancient, decrepit laptop to an Internet cafe in town, but it's so slow I'd be better off hand-delivering my messages.

Anyway, I'll continue regular posting once I have regular access to the net, but wanted to let everyone know that we're doing fine.

Read More...