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):


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Oklahoma Blues 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.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007


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.


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.)


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?


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?"


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


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.


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!


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.