30 June 2008

Massive Night

Thoughts on last Friday's The Hold Steady concert:

<teen girl squad voice>Soooo cool!</teen girl squad voice>

Lot's of energy, lots of fun. Got to hear some stuff from the not-yet-released album "Stay Positive," but it was mostly crowd pleasers I knew.

Keyboardist Franz Nicolay was outrageous, rocking his Tom Tucker mustache and gesticulating like a small-town Italian opera performer unsuccessfully trying to adapt to silent movies. Front man Craig Finn was just rocking his own socks off with pleasure. He had Dave Matthews' hair line, Jerry Seinfeld's khakis-and-sneakers combo, and the moves of a twelve year old who just snorted 4 poorly ground up Adderal and turned his step father's stereo up to 11. Result: entertaining.

I really like Finn's barely singing-mostly-speaking thing, but Special Lady Friend doesn't care for it. Surprisingly he was much more melodious live, much to S.L.F.'s liking. Over all the sound was quite good, perhaps more agreeable for some than the studio versions, though less idiosyncratic.

I also discovered the new unofficial SMC motto lurking in the lyrics of "You Can Make Him Like You"
You don't have to go to the right kind of schools,
If your boyfriend comes from the right kind of school.
Oh! Zing!!

Also, I love the wittiness of naming one of their records "Almost Killed Me," so that you can list it's full title as the complete sentence "The Hold Steady Almost Killed Me." If I were to magically become a rock star I would title my first album "Is Big in Europe" to achieve the same effect.

Conclusion: Rocking good times. See them.

Creationism, Science, MSU and so forth

Here's a piece on Ars Technica (via Hit & Run) about Conservadepia's head-in-the-sand approach to any scientific evidence which contradicts their own hackish, ignorant world view.

Normally I wouldn't bother to comment on something like this. The creationist tactic of shoving their fingers in their ears and screaming "Teh evil heathen scientists is trying to fools us with their tricky maths and 'speriments" is just so wearying. But I feel I must weigh in because I personally know that the target of their latest tirade, Richard Lenski, is a good scientist, doing good work.

One of the problems with research into evolution is that it almost always happens very slowly and when it does happens relatively quickly it catches us by surprise, so it can be difficult to gather really good numeric data. To counter this Lensky and colleagues at MSU have been evolving strains of E. coli for, I believe, upwards of 30,000 generations now. I like this approach, I like the philosophy behind it, I like what they do. All around thumbs up.

I met Lensky when I interviewed with an MSU CS prof, Charles Ofria, who collaborates extensively with Lensky. While Lensky et al. are observing tens of thousands of generations of bacteria over a few years (which is still astonishingly fast, compared to the pace of most life on Earth), Ofria and his team are whipping through ten thousand generations of simulated organisms over a long weekend. Obviously there are plenty of simplifying assumptions needed for this in silico work, but on the other hand it gives you a complete record of the genome of every individual which ever "lived," which is, shall we say, pretty handy. I think it's just a phenomenal job of incorporating computational techniques into the traditional experiment-and-observe scientific method. This is truly good science.

On the other side of this debate we have some lunatic lawyer (Andy Schlafly) who's convinced everyone who doesn't wave the banner of his favorite -Ism is a fraud and a cheat and a liar. He had, by the way, not yet read the paper he was so vociferously objecting to at the time of his complaints. (Didn't this guy ever learn the first lesson of seminar classes: if you have not read the paper, do not say anything more committal than "hmmmm, yes, the author made some interesting points.") Needless to say, I trust him ever so much less than Lensky on this matter.

Particularly infuriating is Schlafly's "I pay my taxes!" gambit (i.e. the idea that all publicly funded research should be open to extra scrutiny from any taxpayer that gets a chip on their shoulder). This always drives me insane. Military hardware is tax-payer funded. That doesn't mean I can pop the hood of an Abrams tank if I wave a copy of my 1040 at the MPs. I can't just grab some donuts from the police head quarters break room because they were purchased with tax dollars.

Obviously, openness is critical to scientific inquiry. I am skeptical of any researchers who guard their data and methods too closely. But Lensky published his findings in a top notch journal and released them to the public, which pretty much fulfills the requirements of the any federal grant to make your findings public as a condition of receiving the King's shilling. Those are the rules of the game. If you keep your findings too private, your grants get cut off (or you don't win awards in the next round of funding). Indignant citizens don't get to parade around the internet claiming that they're taxpayers, dammit, and they want some answers from a private person who's already fulfilled his side of a contract with the State. How open scientists should be is a difficult question, and not one that is likely to be resolved soon. But it is obvious to me that Lensky has been plenty public enough to satisfy any reasonable ethical complaints on those grounds.

Finally, this story really rubs me the wrong way because these creationist goons give Christian scientists* a bad name. During said interview at MSU I had to answer questions along the lines of "You went to Notre Dame, huh? They're Christian, huh? Does that mean that you/they deny evolution?" First of all, I think they had a sub-par understanding of the sociocultural differences between Catholicism and Protestantism. But putting that aside, do you know how it feels to be a respected student, with a science degree from a respected research university, and be asked that? They were tactful about it, but they might as well have said "Are you as willfully ignorant as all those obnoxious Jeebus-lovers we see on TV? You're not one of them, are you?" And you know what? I don't blame them one bit for asking. I think I handled the question very well, and certainly to their satisfaction, but I despise the fact that it came up just because there are droves of empty-headed ideologues praying to (sort of) the same Great Sky Father as the founders of the university I attended did.

Seriously, creationists, you have lost this fight. You make everyone remotely or superficially similar to you look like idiots whenever you open your traps. Give it up. Find another issue. Go have a nice bongo circle with all the bald, pony-tailed hippies who believe in crystal skulls and commiserate with them about how the scientific community just doesn't understand your overwhelming piles of pure speculation and wishful thinking.

* Scientists who are also Christian, not Mary Baker Eddy-style Christian Scientists.

27 June 2008

Certain songs, they get so scratched into our souls

Going to The Hold Steady concert tonight.

Rock. And. Roll.

60 percent leg drive and 30 percent fight

Today's Lesson in Manliness: Knute Rockne

"We're going inside em, and we're going outside em. Inside em and outside em. And we're gonna get em on the run, and once we get em on the run we're gonna keep em on the run!"

I've always thought Churchill would have given locker room talks like that if he was a barnstorming football coach instead of a socialist-slaying statesman.

The Wine Purse

Good news from Cheap Fun Wines: Gallo has a new "Wine Purse" on the market. It's box wine, if you replace the box with a hand bag looking thing.

If we only had Tesco around these parts* I would get the Special Lady Friend one of these all the time. And she would love it.

I'm also overjoyed because this brings us one step closer to a culture that fully embraces the modern wine skin.** And that's a culture I want to live in.

What other kinds of wine transportation accessories could we have? Perhaps a wine bandolier? Each little pocket could be filled with a different varietal, so you could do a complete tasting menu and maintain maximum mobility. Plus you would look like an alcoholic Chewbacca, and it should go without saying that is a great thing in and of itself.

* These parts == United States
** Now available on Amazon! Score one for e-commerce, baby.

The March of Science!

I just (sort of) got an experiment I've been fiddling with all week to work. Take that, Forces of Ignorance! Science wins again!!

My project can now recognize variations on the first four letters of the alphabet in my handwriting. Admittedly, a small, and not particular novel, victory. Some might even say an insignificant victory. (Let's hope these someones don't include my adviser.) But still, A VICTORY!

Next step: some weeks of Steve Austinification — better, stronger, faster.

And if the funding agency would actually send us some specs or, God forbid, some sample data, I might be able to gets some real work done.

26 June 2008

Top Chef, Thoughts On

In the last few weeks I've watched the entirety of four seasons of Top Chef. Thoughts:
  • I like Bravo's competition shows because they get contestants who are already very good at what they do. It's a lot more interesting watching professionals do what they do best than it is to watch a handful of John Q Publics dance the rumba while eating scorpions and singing show tunes, or whatever it is they do on other shows.

  • With the exception of eagerly anticipating Restaurant Wars, the contestants seem blissfully unaware of the previous seasons' content. It really shouldn't throw you for a loop when you're asked to do something (like use junk food as an ingredient, or prepare a dessert) that has been done in all the previous seasons.

  • On the other hand, this is one of the few shows I've watched where people seem very aware that they will be watched by the American public after the fact. There were numerous comments to the effect of "loosing this catering challenge is going to make me look bad in the eyes of the clients of my catering business." Are these participants more self-aware than the average cast of the Real World? I'm going to say yes, but a baby sea turtle is probably more self-aware than a cast member on the Real World, so take that as you may. Hell, an unhatched sea turtle may be more self-aware than a great swath of the Real World cast.

  • Being outraged at having to do non-gourmet meals (e.g. cook for firefighters, cook for fat kids, shop at a convenience store, use a microwave, design a frozen dinner) is ridiculous. First of all, it shouldn't come as a surprise. And even if it did, the best Chef should be able to do more with less. The show isn't about doing a dozen unconstrained, top-shelf meals; it's about working with limitations. The contestants obviously have not taken to heart the story of Giotto's perfect circle, or ever seen an enso:

    The judges try to make this point over and over, but the contestants always seem indignant and surprised. If you can't cook some eggs for breakfast, or grill a steak, or make soup and a sandwich, why should I believe you can prepare an astounding seven course tasting menu?

    I heard a (possibly apocryphal) story that when a candidate showed up to apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright he gave them some basic tools, some canvas, spare stones, a little mortar, etc. and had them build their own dwelling. He didn't want them to submit plans for the next avant-garde hotel. He wanted them to build a decent tent. That's what I see Top Chef asking its contestants to do, and like petulant art students everywhere, they cry because they can't exercise their grand visions.

  • It's difficult to make judgments about individual contestants' thoughts (though I still do, perhaps unfairly) because everything is mediated through the producers and editors. Did contestant X really want to quit, or did the producers just highlight the two offhand references she made to doing so, and leave everything else on the cutting room floor? Watch some Top Chef, from beginning of season to end, and it should remind you how much of a media narrative is constructed by the people streaming it to you.

  • I couldn't help but compare Top Chef to Iron Chef. The one thing that stood out to me is the different treatment of each contest's theme. In Iron Chef the contestants really seem to embrace the theme ingredient. They try and show it off and play it up, and I believe they get points not just for incorporating it, but for emphasizing the theme. In contrast, the attitude on Top Chef seems to be to treat the theme as something to work around. It's treated more of a requirement to be overcome than a goal to embody. That's okay, I guess, but it's a very different take.

  • This show reminded me how much I love Anthony Bourdain. I've put Kitchen Confidential on my stack of books to read again. One of the prizes he awarded was a promise to take the winner out for yakatori and get them blisteringly drunk. How good. Bourdain (and Mario Batali, also a big drinker) are definitely on the short list of people I'd love to spend all night drinking with.

  • No offense to Katie Lee Joel, but she has got to be one of the worst non-award ceremony TV presenters I have ever seen. I don't think there was a single line from her all season (she was replaced after season one) that didn't feel scripted.

  • I did not realize that Padma Lakshmi is also the Lady Rushdie. I find that more interesting than I should, given that I have never read any Salman Rushdie. Maybe I just like the idea of people who piss off people like the Ayatollah. What an outlaw.

  • Is it a requirement that all reality contest shows must have a catch phrase to be deployed when you announce who that episode's looser is? "Please pack your knives and go" is alright as far as these things go, but it feels so forced.

  • This show also reminded me how much I love that chefs are referred to as "Chef" when in the kitchen. Not "Chef John" or "Chef Smith" or "The Chef," but just "Chef," as in "Chef wants more sauce on those plates," or "Chef is in the walk-in doing blow." I would, however, have all my line cooks and such acknowledge my orders with "Aye aye, Chef!" That may have more to do with me wanting to be Jack Aubrey than with anything food-related.

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Well, not so much Money, but plenty of Lawyers and Guns. (Sorry Mr Zevon, I tried.)

First off, Huzzah. Way to go, Supreme Court. I might just agree with Megan McArdle that this is the best or only good thing to happen to personal freedom during the Bush administration.

From Scalia's opinion in DC v Heller:
We know of no other enumerated constitutional right whose core protection has been subjected to a freestanding “interest-balancing” approach [responding to Justice Breyer’s proposal for a new standard for the right to possess a gun]. The very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government – even the Third Branch of Government – the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon. A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges’ assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all. Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope is too broad. We would not apply an “interest-balancing” approach to the prohibition of a peaceful neo-Nazi march through Skokie… Like the First, it is the very product of an interest-balancing by the people – which Justice Breyer would now conduct for them anew.
This has long frustrated me when discussing gun bans with anti-gun types. They invariably make arguments about whether we ought to have citizens owning fire arms, which to me seems wholly irrelevant. The Constitution does not have any consequentialist clauses. There's nothing that says "Here are some rights, privileges, responsibilities, etc. Only abide by them if you think it would be a net benefit to society." Either repeal the 2nd Amendment, or abide by it. Don't just shove your fingers in your ears and yell "Lalalalala we'd be better off without it anyway."

Case in point, Mayor Fenty responded to the ruling with the following:
"I’m disappointed in the Court’s ruling and believe introducing more handguns into the District will mean more handgun violence."
But this just isn't the point, is it? Hey, allowing flocks of largely ignorant and irrational people to vote leads to lots of bad, destructive, populist policies, including increases in violence (see "War on Drugs," "War on Terror," etc.). But that doesn't mean we can throw out voting because we don't like the outcomes.

If you want to argue that some gun regulation is not really an "infringement" of the right to keep and bear arms, fine. But don't trot out arguments about how we need to keep the streets safe, etc. That stuff just doesn't matter.

By the way, here's a Reason.TV rundown of what Heller was all about, recorded back when it was argued:

Sidenote: Lots of media reports are describing one of the DC gun control provisions with language like "the requirement that shotguns and rifles be kept disassembled or unloaded or outfitted with a trigger lock." The law actually required them to be (unloaded AND (disassembled OR locked)) not a disjunction of all three conditions. Residents did not have the option of keeping an assembled, unlocked weapon provided it was unloaded. I'm not sure if the above, incorrect, formulation is poor copy editing on the part of the Washington Post, or poor understanding of propositional logic. My bet is for both.

Addendum: Three good pieces of post-Heller commentary from Radley Balko, Jacob Sullum, and Megan McArdle. McArdle's commentary on gun control statistics reminds me a "debate" I took part in in my 8th grade civics class, in which my opponent and I each spent 10 or 15 minutes reciting equally sound and yet entirely contradictory statistics that fire arms do (or do not) lead to large spikes in violence. The take away was that you can get social science statistics to support pretty much any position you want to take.

24 June 2008

Around the World, Part II

Here's a story related to the previous post from a couple of days ago about European support for Obama. Frankly, I don't really blame them — I'm not inspired by McCain either. And if was an average Joe or Jose or Giuseppe wandering the streets of Anytown EU, and all I really knew about McCain was that he's an elderly veteran in the same party as Bush I'm pretty sure I would back Obama too. But what's endlessly entertaining is the rationalizations given. One interlocutor claimed that France doesn't have racism, which made about as much sense as Ahmadinejad's claim that there is no homosexuality in Iran.

Note also this bit at the bottom:

I have a friend in London, very Euro in outlook, who is terrifically frustrated and worried about the election.

His chief concern: the role of Americans. “It’s a pity that Americans are the ones who elect the president,” he says. “It would be much better if the people of the world voted on the American president.”
This is really a not-at-all veiled way of saying "I want the power of the United States for myself. We could run their country and use their resources better than they can." When someone in America wants to meddle in the affairs of a foreign nation it is (often rightly) labeled imperialistic. But when some twee Londoner expresses the desire to influence American politics it's supposed to be enlightened.

And doesn't that comment also serve as an apt description of the reaction of most of the continent to the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty (née-European Constitution)? "It's a pity the Irish are the only ones who determine Irish policies," say the Eurocrats. "It would be much better if the people of Europe voted on the Irish referendums."

Watching the reactions to the Irish no-vote has made me think that maybe the EU doesn't really understand democracy. Elections are not like a magic eight ball: you don't keep asking the question until you get the answer you are looking for.

Around the World in 80 Polls

My friend passed on this WSJ editorial about a new round of international opinion polls regarding public perception of America.

I've always been a little fascinated with the way some people like to use foreign opinions of US policies as evidence for or against those policies. Even more baffling is the obsession with general approval ratings. If we've got good policies, then they're good policies. If they're bad policies, they're bad policies. International opinion doesn't enter into it. Respectfully, I don't care how the fine people of Marrakesh or Caracas or Stockholm feel about Uncle Sam.

If, for some reason, flocks of Europeans decided Iraq was just a brilliant idea and we should keep on keeping on, it would remain a clusterf--k. Just like all the popular yet deranged Clintonian nation building was a clusterf--k. Policies are a good or bad regardless of how many protest monkeys line up outside our embassies.

I've never felt the need to "apologize" for George Bush. If some twit doesn't understand that supporting the US head of state is distinct from having a passport issues by the US State Department, then I really don't want their approval. I don't see any Venezuelans lining up to apologize for Chavez, and I don't expect them to. We are not our governments.

Perhaps this appeal to foreign opinion is related to Shame-based vs Guilt-based culture. It seems to be a lot of contemporary liberals, especially of the limousine variety, really buy into shame-based morality. These are, not coincidentally, the same people that like to flog us with these international approval polls.

I suppose concern for our international reputation can be partially validated by a desire to maintain a stockpile of goodwill for use in diplomatic negotiations. But that never seems to be a concern when we're talking about quotas on Brazilian sugar or tariffs on Chinese steel or hamstringing sovereign wealth funds or banning European air carriers from operating domestic routes or reneging on NAFTA. I know the Banana Wars of the 90's didn't effect public opinion as much as the real wars of recent years, but we benefit more from international cooperation in economic matters than in matters military, so it seems equally important to me to court international political capital on matters of trade.

Our support for Israel, for example, may "send a signal" to the "international community." But what signal do we send with our trade or immigration policies? What would building a chain-link Maginot line from South Padre to San Diego say to people? We never seem to care about that. That's why I'm convinced this endless fretting about international opinion is more of a rhetorical cudgel than an actual concern for our stock of diplomatic IOUs.

23 June 2008

Nutshell Literature

Courtesy of McSweeney's: Lit 101 Class in Three Lines or Less.

My favorite:
Paradise Lost

ADAM: Paradise has arbitrary dietary restrictions?

DEVIL: They're really more like guidelines.

GOD: Incorrect.

The runner up:
The Great Gatsby

NICK: I love being rich and white.

GATSBY: Me, too, but I'd kill for the love of a woman.

DAISY: We can work with that.

Monday Morning Videos: Nerf Leprechaun Edition

22 June 2008

Tab Clearing

Time to clear some tabs:

Megan McArdle offers good comments on "The perils of graduate education." Reminds me of this scene:

On the whole, I think she's on target. I certainly know some people like that, but I can't help but suspect things are different in the natural sciences. If anything, there are too many grad students in my department claiming to be far less capable than they are. Maybe the range of our studies is narrow enough that unqualified prognostication by graduates is more limited? I was once told that a new PhD (at least in Comp Sci) is the world's foremost expert in their dissertation topic. The flip side is, of course, that that topic is extremely, often embarrassingly, narrow. Is this also true of econ? If not, is this discrepancy related to relative hubris of recent doctoral grads across disciplines?

From Matt Welch at Hit & Run: "A (Not Really) Working-Class Journalist Is Something to Be." Insightful. Also links to this Slate article about celebrity, elitism and "downward social climbing." (Cf previous SB7 posts on Russert and on Elitism. Also, Hodgman.)

Rates of virginity broken down by major at Wellesley. Not surprising: P(virgin==true | major==studio art) = 0. Much more surprising:
3) The biggest upset is that Computer Science majors rank high on the sex continuum, beating out other majors that I was sure would score higher (English, Psychology).
That may explain some of the weird noises coming from the server room. (Via TJIC).

The A.V. Club taste test of Margarita and Bloody Mary flavored potato chips. A from concept, F for execution. I really only include this because I just had my mind blown by a novel snack concept: the bacon, egg and cheese Combo. A compatriot and I were drunk and wandering back from the pub, looking for some General Tso's. We found no Tso's, but we did stumble across these morsels on the rack at a 7-11. I didn't so much want to eat them, as I did not want to live another day of my life not knowing what they tasted like. So you know, they tasted exactly like you think they would: like tiny, crunchy, McDonald's breakfast sandwiches. And like grossness. I felt like a Gemini astronaut, eating miniature, dehydrated versions of foods that aren't that good to begin with.

The D.C. Universe on wine bars, NY yuppie street brawls, Sex and the City and Darth Maul. Many morsels of truth to be had there.

Alex Massie on proposals to (sort of) raise the drinking age in Scotland. He explains the proposal rests on "a justification that there's a problem so, rather than enforce existing laws, the public needs the protection of additional measures that, regardless of their likely effectiveness, demonstrate that the government is listening and doing something. Anything."

My untested theory: this is a feature of governments with a division of power. The only thing the legislature can really do to prove to the electorate that it's on top of things is to pass more laws or increase budgets, so that's the solution for everything. Think of that the next time an incumbent candidate trots out legislation they sponsored and presents it as an accomplishment. I don't care if you passed a law for more school funding. I want to know if children are any more educated than they used to be. I don't care if you passed a law to help disabled veterans get spear fishing licenses. I want to know if there are any more disabled veterans spear fishing that there used to be. Passing laws and spending funds is not itself a measure of success. Imagine if a business ran like this. Q: "Are sales up this year?" A: "No, but we've authorized seven new ad campaigns and doubled the R&D budget, so we're calling it a big success."

Via io9: shirts with Science! There's a series of "Teach the Controversy" shirts and the original "Science!" series, with awesome stuff and the simple caption "Science!"

Charlie Stross on contemporary environmentalism as religion. For a movement that claims to be based in reality and science, few of the suggested environmental policies have much grounding in rigorous analysis. Most are more concerned with "doing something," not unlike the teetotalers mentioned above, and in allowing the proponents to mark themselves as
followers of the cause. Example: you will likely consume less energy if you purchase a used Camry rather than a new Prius, because manufacturing the Prius is intensive work. But if you drive the Camry around you look like an average schmuck, while driving the Prius marks you as a true believer.

MPD Chief Lanier is now claiming there was a double-top-super-secret reason for those laughable citizen quarantine zones.
  1. Bulls--t. I don't believe her.
  2. There ought to be some kind of process, perhaps through a notary or auditing firm, that allows people to store private information to be released later, to prevent this kind of pre-dating of excuses. (That is, you send them a sealed letter that says "we know XYZ." then when you announce to the world "we knew XYZ all along" you can have them open that letter to prove it, and it doesn't sound like you're making excuses after the fact.)
  3. This seems like a piss poor way to find that one specific criminal they were looking for, since only one street was being roadblocked. And what kind of crime were they trying to prevent that had to be carried out in that one particular ten day period? This isn't the bloody Italian Job — I'd bet whatever criminal mastermind they were casting their (hole ridden) net for could have waited a week to do his dastardly deeds.
  4. A surefire way to lose credibility is to keep changing your story. That's almost too obvious to point out, but Lanier doesn't seem to have learned the lesson yet.
  5. This is proof that Carl Rove and Dick Cheney did not, contrary to what some would have you believe, invent the "we've got super-secret reasons to do risky things, but we can't tell you what they are, so you'll just have to trust us" gambit. The Bush adminstration, as duplicitous, dangerous and despicable as they may be, are not the only villains in town. Liberty will not suddenly sprout anew on January 20th, 2009.

David Masten at the Distributed Republic reminds me to add Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo) to the list of people who I disagree with so completely that I have lost respect for them as people. The offending idea:
I'm not here to say that the government is always right, but when the government tells you to do something, I'm sure you would all agree that I think you all recognize that is something you need to do.
This is either a tongue-twisted and ham-fisted appeal to the Ultima Ratio Regum — do what we say because we have all the guns — or it's just base authoritarianism. Or both. Either way, Bond fails.

Finally, I offer this Boing Boing headline: "Woman sues over harmful panties." Yes, she hurt herself attempting to put on her own undies.

20 June 2008

Burrito Related Thoughts

So the other day I'm in a foul mood because Target lost some photos they were supposed to develop and gave me the run around about it, including some jerking of my chain and pissing on my leg and claiming it's raining. I decide that to cheer myself after this thwarted retail transaction I'm going to the neighboring Chipotle and getting a burrito for lunch. (Because nothing cheers up a fat guy like a log of meat with cheese.)

Now I'm in line, and I get my steak on the tortilla, and I get my black beans, and then I get to the burrista dishing out the salsa. The following events ensue:

(1) The burrista dumps a spoon-full of tomatoes onto my burrito
(2) The burrista asks me if I would like tomatoes on my burrito

Yes, in that order. And no, I did not want tomatoes.

And to top it off the burrista in charge of wrapping does a poor job and bits of filling are squirting out the sides. Just poor form all around. She has to use a second square of foil to contain the beast. It's a very unprofessional performance. Well, che serà, serà — It's still a burrito. But now I've had two out of two simple retail maneuvers thwarted. More than anything it makes me wish someone would build a robotic burrito machine. I would name mine Dexter and love it forever.

Okay, semi-serious burrito thought unrelated to my unmitigated burrito disaster. Every time I have ever been in a Chipotle, the queue has backed up at the cash register. The tortilla steamer/meat scooper and salsa applier and topping lady and wrapper person always keep the line moving fast enough that it backs up at the register. That is always, without fail, the bottleneck for every burrito queue I have ever been in.

Why do they not increase the staff at the register? Why? One more register and you could move people through that line in less time than it takes Tom Colicchio to wash his hair.* Is there some mystical tradition of fast food burrito preparation that I am unaware of that requires everything to back up at the actual point of sale?

* Yes, I just made a half-hearted Tom Colicchio joke. And yes, I have watched two seasons of Top Chef in the last three weeks. Deal with that.

19 June 2008


From Q&O — Oh my - this just blew me away - "Nationalize Oil Companies"

Oh my Lord. My sweet, sweet Lord. I can not even count the number of things Malia Lazu got wrong in three minutes. By the time I got halfway through one "OMG so wrong!" she was already on to the next totally, incomprehensibly wrong statement. I'm not sure she makes a single statement that bears even a passing resemblance to accuracy. She has maxed out the preposterousness that one human being can generate in a single video clip. I could not find her opinions more laughably absurd even if she was wearing a Ronald McDonald wig and playing a comically oversized ukulele.

I would list here all her falsehoods and correct them, but I have a better solution. Just take everything she says, and think the opposite, and you'll have a decent picture of reality.

Give me a pointy stick, three soup spoons and a rainy afternoon and I could teach my cousin's pet ferret more about the energy industry than Lazu will ever know. And I don't even really need two of the spoons.

If you take this lunatic seriously I have only one warning: down that road lies Madness.

Addendum of Extreme Irony: Lazu is on the Board of Directors of Oil Change International. One of their three pillars they term "Separate Oil & State." And she supports nationalizing the oil industry. The mind reels at the doublethink. That's like claiming the Donation of Constantine originated the idea of separation of Church and State.

18 June 2008

Midgets, and also Freud

Threat Quality Press has a great rundown of how to pull of a good midget joke, and why The Love Guru does not seem funny. In fact, the only time I considered grinning during the trailer was at a throw-away Don LaFontaine joke, and that has more to do with me sweating Don LaFontaine than any actual humorousness of the joke.

Midget jokes really aren't that hard, as TQP explains. Look, here's a decent one, and it doesn't even have midgets in it. Observe the pointed subversion of our expectations. Expectations, by the way, that are built on previous Mike Meyers midget jokes.

In un-related comedy news, check out the new webcomic Sigmund Freud vs The Male Nurse. Here's a page from yesterday's edition:
SFvtMN is by Mike Le, creator of Don't Forget to Validate your Parking, which in addition to being funny, also wins Le the title of "Only Comics Artist Who Creates Less Art Than Ryan North."

Scott Pilgrim

By coincidence, I finished all four volumes of Scott Pilgrim in the past week, and iFanboy's weekly vidcast was all about Scott Pilgrim. I was all prepared to write a glowing commentary, but they really say it all there, so I feel inadequate and superfluous. Short version of review: read these books.

In lieu, a couple of miscellaneous thoughts:
  • If you are concerned with the uber-cute manga-like art style, try reading Lost at Sea first to get acclimated. It's a stand-alone graphic novel by O'Malley, and there are only four characters, so it's much easier to tell people apart. I liked it a good deal, but think it would have resonated with 16-year-old Me even better.
  • O'Malley does great dialogue. Just great. Really nails the post-Gen-X flavor.*
  • Stylistically, I really like the little visual cues and labels and video game references and self-referential bits. I'm not sure how they're going to work that into the movie, but I think it's critical.
  • I like Michael Cera a great deal, but I don't see him as Scott Pilgrim. It's that I've only seen him play the awkward nerd, whereas Scott Pilgrim is more of the awkward hipster cool kid. I think he can pull it off, but I'm interested to see how, and slightly dubious.
  • You can get free online previews of the books here.
  • I just love than Ramona has a bag of holding. That just makes for great 21st century magical realism. It's like MTV's Real World and The Legend of Zelda got together and mind f**ked Gabriel García Márquez.
Here are the first two examples of the little visual asides and stylistic additions that I mentioned. I find them fun, and I really like the self-referentiality of it. It's liek O'Malley just turning to me and a saying, "Yeah, you're reading my comic book. Deal with that."

* Attention demographers, and my entire generation: Can we please have a legit name for our generation? I really don't like "Gen Y" because it only makes sense in relation to Gen X, and I don't want to be defined by my relationship with some other cohort. All respect to Bill Strauss, rest his soul, but "Millennial" just sounds too much like a marketing gimmick, and revolves around the convenience of a decimal-based calendar, rather than any aspect of the generation itself. And the "iGeneration" or anything like that is just too cloyingly cute by half.

16 June 2008

Security Costuming

The TSA Security Repertory Theatre opens it's own costuming department: Real police upset over TSA's pretend-police costumes.
"Some of our officers aren't respected," TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said.
That's because some of your officers don't do anything worthy of respect, Ms Howe. This is America. I do not respect people because of the families they come from, or the titles they hold, or the careers they have. I respect people, not their job titles. When TSA screeners start doing their jobs well, and doing a job that makes society better, maybe they will be respected. But giving them some chest tin and some fancy new blues will just make them look more like extras from Police Academy 9 when I silently scoff at them.

Even if new uniforms do cause the public to respect TSA screeners more, how does that make me safer? Really, how could a new wardrobe make me safer? You could outfit those jokers in togae praetexta of the finest oriental silks, and my welfare would not change one quanta.

Iron Guy

Who's almost two months late commenting on Iron Man? This dude. I was just listening to the Nine Panel Nerds podcast about Iron Man, and in my defense, they didn't release their review of it until a couple of weeks ago, so I'm not the only late comer.

Anyway, two things they said really captured what I liked about the movie. First off, it was as much of a sci-fi action movie as it was a comic book movie. Now, I like the very self-conscious comic book-ness of something like Sin City, but if not seasoned just right that can be very cloying, and you end up with something unpalatable like Fantastic Four. I think for most audience members, SF action/adventure is the way to go, especially if you're using any character less familiar than Superman, Batman or Spider Man. (Which is pretty much all other comic book characters.)

The next thing was an off hand comment that the movie was fun because Tony Stark was having fun. Yes, he was worried about saving (parts of) the world and atoning for his sins, but he was having a good time doing it. He liked being a billionaire, he liked fighting, he liked flying around in his suit, he even liked building his suit.* And it's more fun to watch him have a good time than it is to watch Peter Parker mope about for two hours about how tough life is as a teenage crime fighter who can't get a date.

That's not to say every character has to be living it up all the time. Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne is brooding and largely sullen (when he isn't putting on an act of cavorting with models), and yet Batman Begins is by far my favorite super hero movie. But Brandon Routh's Clark Kent was gloomy and dull and a big contributor to the mediocrity and tediousness of Superman Returns. On average depressed superheroes are not a winner.

I think that having-fun-watching-people-have-fun thing is the primary driving force behind Entourage. For a big summer blockbuster you want people walking out with the same sort of smiles that my friends and I had even after episodes in which Vince et al. got themselves into a colossal train wreck. This is a time to entertain, not provide people with an artistic exploration of their own inner torment.

Obviously not every movie has to have a happy ending or send me home with a smile on my face. Three of my favorite movies I've seen in theaters in the last year (No Country, There Will Be Blood, 3:10 to Yuma) were all supremely unsettling, and none had happy endings. But IMHO none of them would make a good summer event movie. If you want my $10.25 to contribute to your hundreds of millions of domestic box office take for your summer tent pole, then I want some characters that are comfortable with themselves and that I would enjoy spending time with, like Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr.

* Nerd digression: (A) How awesome is it that the MIT engineering prodigy gets to be a playboy billionaire rock star sex symbol? Very. (B) Three things cemented Tony Stark's nerd cred for me: (1) He literally had a nerd cave workshop. (2) He had a meaningful relationship with his helper robot. (3) He enjoyed building the suit almost as much as flying it.

15 June 2008


Beyond a mild, guarded satisfaction I have almost no cogent opinions on the matter of suspected terrorist detainees and the detention protocols therefore, so I offer you this, courtesy of Q&O:

Because nothing substitutes for rational opinions like internet memes.*

* Postscript: I refer to my own lack of opinion. I'm sure Dale Franks has an abundance of well-founded judgments on the matter.**

** Shouldn't "judgment" be spelled "judgement?" I am informed that it is so written in Merry Olde. How did we get shorted out of a second "e?" Is there somebody I can blame?

Nil Nisi Bonum

Tim Russert: Yawn. Isn't there something of more import to be reported upon? Like decidedly non-deadly fresh produce?

Perhaps I am relatively unmoved because I have no heart. Or perhaps it's because I have been on a strict Sunday morning McLaughlin Group diet in recent years. Or perhaps this just reeks of "Woodward-Bernstein Syndrome," a mindset in which the very act of reporting the news (or having had reported the news, as the case may be) becomes itself a matter for news reporting. Nonetheless, I do not seem to be alone in thinking that, while sad, Russert's passing has been blown a wee bit out of proportion.

Here's a bit of Marc Cooper's "Requiem for Pope Russert:"
It should come as little surprise that, precisely at a time when the sanctimony of the Old Media stands threatened by blasphemes, bloggers and an increasingly agnostic public, the choirboys, priests and cardinals of the Media Church should treat the passing of a figure like Tim Russert as if it were the demise of the Pope.


But with all due respect for the dead, I would rate Russert as a journalist perhaps just above the median average. He certainly mounted his weekly pulpit of Meet The Press well-prepared by a hard-working research staff. He'd have his quotes and video clips lined up meticulously to at least, briefly, put his subject on the spot.

But what was baffling, if not downright maddening about Russert's style, was that he would inevitably pull that knock-out punch and end the encounter with an embrace rather than a roundhouse right. Just when he'd get his guest to start backtracking, dissembling and stumbling, he'd gently let him - or her--go.
And Alex Massie:
He was good, and a "Washington institution" and it is still shocking to think that he's dead so young, but... I agree with Marc Cooper that to judge from the tenor and quantity of the press coverage today you could be forgiven for thinking that a head of state, or a pope, had died, not a chap who gave up his Sunday mornings to ask politicians a few questions. Someone has to do that, of course, but does that justify MSNBC's schedule today?

8 AM-12 PM: Morning Joe — LIVE Remembering Tim Russert
12 PM: Dateline — "Remembering Tim Russert"
1-6 PM: MSNBC LIVE — Special Coverage — Remembering Tim Russert
6 PM: Dateline — Remembering Tim Russert


Russert was better than his rivals and deserves a decent send-off, but the notion that he's irreplaceable or that there was anything especially noteworthy about his love of his family or support for the Buffalo Bills is absurd.
I wish nothing but peace for Russert's soul or family. But let's have a little perspective please. How many other people died this weekend? How many of them were also "too young?" How many were also parents? Or were survived by their own? How many also attacked their careers vigorously? Conducted their affairs honorably? Supported their favorite sports franchises through thick and thin? Left behind colleagues and friends who bemoan their loss? Let's have prayers for all of them, please, and not just the influential ones with influential friends.

13 June 2008

Offered Without Comment

(Okay, I lied. Offered with short comments.)

From the Dude's ancestral shire: Ballot initiative to decide on transgendered bathroom usage. This is going to be a fun story to keep track of. I have nothing more to add than that.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Interns outraged at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Special bonus link: PETA Kills Animals. As a rule, I always support groups that actually attempt to change things themselves (like SPCA) rather than trying to raise a ruckus and lobby governments to change things for them (like PETA). Ditto The Nature Conservancy vs Greenpeace.

Commentary on wine tasting, link courtesy of Skipper, Lord of the Wingies. (1) Seriously, how many people know what an unripe pomegranite tastes like? So why use that as a descriptor in your tasting notes? (2) All wines should have tasting notes on the back label. It should be common courtesy. (3) P.J. O'Rourke did some fantastic wine reviews in CEO of the Sofa, in which he and a friend tasted many wines (ranging in quality from rot gut to regal) once when sober, and again when hammered. The only way to describe it is O'Rourkean.

Pig In Boots
. That is all.

12 June 2008

On Academic Journals

The Good Professor Bainbridge recounts having an article rejected by a law review after they had informed him of the acceptance and begun the editing process. If you are unaware, this is a Herculean feat of unprofessionalism.

But if law journals are anything like those in the natural sciences, this seems at once outrageous and typical. (It's one of those things like waiting six hours at the DMV: you can't understand how it could possibly be that screwed up, but you're really not all that surprised either.)

And not only did they jerk Bainbridge around and waste his time, how about the time of the editor they wasted? Again, assuming things are structured somewhat similar to the sciences, that editor was probably a volunteer. This is one of those situations in which the executive staff of some organizations seem to think they're the be all and end all. (See high school principals, presidents of universities, regional managers of small northeastern paper companies.) They do not recognize that they exist to help the people doing the real work. News for EICs of journals: your organization needs good referees and authors more than the referees and authors need you.

In my (admittedly somewhat limited) view of the academic publishing process, the entire system is just incomprehensibly inefficient. I just submitted a piece to a journal we specifically choose for it's fast turn around times. We expect to hear something in 6-8 months. Yes, 6 months is fast. And that's just initial critiques. That doesn't count the editing process, or the lag from final draft to actually seeing print. I know people who have had papers in the publishing pipelines for years.

11 June 2008

Puppy vs Robot!

Oddly captivating:

Beep beep!


Schneier on Security: New TSA ID Requirement

(Last politics/government post for a while, I promise. I can feel all three of you loyal readers becoming bored.)

Bruce Schneier reports on a new TSA requirement that will mandate extra screening for any air travelers who have lost or forgotten their ID, but will bar anyone who just opts not to show ID. Under the old policy anyone could choose not to identify themselves and undergo extra screening. That was ruled insufficiently spiteful, so this new policy was adopted in oder to meet the TSA's goal of not making us safer. Schneier concludes:

That's right; people who refuse to show ID on principle will not be allowed to fly, but people who claim to have lost their ID will. I feel well-protected against terrorists who can't lie.

I don't think any further proof is needed that the ID requirement has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with control.

Schneier is one of those guys who is so smart, and so right about so much, and has so much common sense, that it is deeply confounding that he is 95% voice crying out in the wilderness. Why does nobody making policy pay attention to this guy?*

If I were President I would have a team of Mycroft Holmes-like advisers. They would not be chosen for any particular area of expertise, but for possessing a general quantity of good sense. Every new proposal would go past them, and the only question posed would be "Is this policy prima facie absurd?" Some candidates for Team Mycroft would be Schneier, Paul Graham and Tyler Cowen.

* Clarification: Schneier is very influential within the computer security industry, but not nearly so influential in the realm of public policy. (At least that's my understanding.)

Crowd Control, Warren Ellis Style

Activists Preparing Against Use of ‘Brown Note’ at Dem Convention
Political activists planning protest rallies at the upcoming Democratic Convention in Denver have their stomachs in knots over a rumor about a crowd control weapon - known as the “crap cannon” - that might be unleashed against them.

Also called “Brown Note,” it is believed to be an infrasound frequency that debilitates a person by making them defecate involuntarily.
I wonder if it will have fun settings like Spider Jerusalem's Bowel Disruptor pistol, such as "Unspeakable Gut Horror"?Seriously though, I think it's pretty shitty* that the police can do all kinds of types of violence to people as long as it doesn't involve high velocity leaden slugs. (Consider at least 27 deaths from the "non-lethal" Taser.) On the other hand, if there really is a workable Crap Cannon, we are officially living in the future. And that is neat.

* Ha!

(Via Q&O)

10 June 2008

"Svengalis, not salvation"

A recent Don Boudreaux epistle relevant to yesterday's rant on politicians and Creatures of Light:
I'm flabbergasted by the faith that people - left, right, and center - put in politics and in the candidates du jour. Millions of Americans today famously believe that a President Obama will fundamentally "change" America (into what, though, is unclear). And today, David Brooks suggests that a President McCain might well quash special-interest-group politics and turn Uncle Sam's attention chiefly to the general interest ("Talking Versus Doing," May 20).

These are delusions. I'll bet $100 that, regardless of which candidate wins the White House, in 2013 the federal budget will still contain agricultural subsidies and tariffs that take billions of dollars from the many to give to the few - that a majority of Members of Congress will continue to successfully sponsor earmarks - that the unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare will be no smaller than they are today - and that partisan bickering will be every bit as much a part of the daily news as it is now.

Politics delivers Svengalis, not salvation.
A safe bet indeed, Dr Boudreaux.

And what do you have to say on the subject of political salvation, Joseph Schumpeter?
Politicians are like bad horsemen who are so preoccupied with keeping in the saddle that they can't bother about where they go.1
Awful hard to lead a nation to the promised land if you can't stay on your mount.

And Mr Eric Hoffer, what say you on the topic?
Modern man is weighed down more by the burden of responsibility than by the burden of sin. We think of him more a savior who shoulders our responsibilities than him who shoulders our sins. If instead of making decisions we have but to obey and do our duty, we feel it as a sort of salvation.2
If that last sentence doesn't wrap up the Obama and McCain campaigns (and Clinton's and Huckabee's and Guiliani's and...) then I'm not sure what does.

[1] From his private diaries, as reported on p 405 of Prophet of Innovation by Thomas McCraw.
[2] From
The Passionate State of Mind, entry #84

DC Checkpoint Check Up

Just four days into DC's "Crime Prevention" quarantines, and they're already a giant hash-up. What a surprise!

The Examiner notes that the barricades are being manned by police who have not taken the required constitutionality training. This explicitly contradicts Chief Lanier's written fiat which established the ghettoization program. So, she lied when selling the program, and now they're deploying armed goons who probably wouldn't recognize the Bill of Rights if it slapped them in the face with a sea bass.*

One supervising officer's clever solution? Just rename the quarantine zone a "Safety Compliance Checkpoint." Because there's no way you could be breaking the law if youre just checking up on people for their own safety, right? Euphemizing things is a sure sign of shenanigans with an undercurrent of moral depravity. (You're not being fired, you're just part of our "non-voluntary workforce reduction." This isn't a war, it's an "ongoing police action." The Japanese Empire? Non-sense. This is the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.") Not only are you getting pissed on, but they think you're dumb enough to believe it's raining.

Now, moving on the Washington Post, which reports that people are just using other streets to enter the Rights Free Zone. (See, I can euphemize too.) Who ever would have predicted that? Ummm, everyone who doesn't work for the City, including me. So first the fuzz is surprised that people are just finding other routes to avoid the roadblocks. Then they block other streets off haphazardly and to marginal effect with traffic cones. But then the lines get too long at the main roadblock, so they open the other streets back up. What is this? "Please wait in line here wasting time and money so we can search you. Unless you have to wait really long, then you can just drive around." Does this make sense in any conceivable way?

And this shouldn't surprise anyone: the police estimates for how many visitors were turned away (50%) was much lower than the the ACLU's estimate (90%). Also, an ice cream truck was denied entry.
"I'd be more concerned if they let in somebody who killed someone," Forst said. "They can't afford to have more homicides there, even if it comes at the pain and suffering of decent people. I can understand that calculus."
Well hey, here's some calculus for you. I don't want you, Brian Forst, professor of criminal justice at AU, to have any more pain and suffering. So I'm going to put you in protective custody for your own good. I know what's better for you, so I'm just going to send some armed thugs around to keep people from coming over to your house whether you like it or not. How's that calculus, Forst? How's that?

This, like all other State actions, boils down to some government functionaries thinking they know better than citizens do how they should be living their own lives.

* Think I'm being a little hard on the fuzz? Read.

But this time it might just work...

In a previous post I mentioned that I tend to see two perspectives on government programs in newspapers: either complaining that they've screwed up, or complaining that we need more of them. I illustrated this with an example gleaned from Radley Balko concerning DC's own Metropolitan Police Department.

Here's Balko again, with another hometown example of this rhetorical paradox in action, this time from the airwaves of WTOP. Concludes Balko:
Blows my mind how media people report on government failure after government failure after government failure, then still enthusiastically embrace the idea that the solution to every problem is more government.
I used to think this was just bias, but there's a better word for this. Insanity.

When you've fallen to the level of Tobias Fünke you need to start rethinking things:
Tobias: "When I counsel people, sometimes I recommend that they do a trial separation to fix things up."

Lindsay: "Well, does it work?"

Tobias: "NEVER! They end up deluding themselves that its the best thing for them but it never works... But it might work for us!"
(For not really related government-screw-up news from today, please reference TJICistan.)

09 June 2008

Barack Obama, The Kwisatz Haderach

Mark Morford trots out some Fairy Godmother Theory of Government and asks "Is Obama an enlightened being?" Actually, this is beyond Fairy Godmotherism, because this whackjob probably believes in real fairies. Observe:
Many spiritually advanced people I know (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) identify Obama as a Lightworker,* that rare kind of attuned being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of relating and connecting and engaging with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a very high order, and they speak not just to reason or emotion, but to the soul.
Wow. Did I just read that?
In the San Francisco Chronicle? Wow. By the way, the italics are in the original. He is not being metaphorical. The author really thinks electing a particular POTUS will actually alter the evolution of the human race forever.

Look, Barack Obama might be a fine president. (I doubt it.) He might be a swell guy. (Again, doubts.) He might lead us out of the dark days of the 20th Century and into a new golden age. (Whole piles of doubt.) But he is not a spiritual pitchfork tuned to the key of messianic leader. No amount of "powerful luminosity" or "unique high-vibration integrity" is going to solve your problems. You'd be better off putting your faith in a gnarly brew of basilisk eggs and cockatrice feathers.

Someone call Gene Healy. This transcends any notions of an Imperial presidency. This is a Caesaropapist Presidency.

People are on the verge of believing that Obama can make mountains tremble just by wiggling his nose, and after the mountains are done trembling everyone will get forty weeks of paid vacation and a new low-energy washing machine. I seriously feel like I'm about a week away from reading on CNN that if you add Obama's date of birth to his height in centimeters, and divide by the number of letters in his third grade teacher's name then you get an ancient Babylonian phrase which translates to "Healer of All Wounds," and furthermore, that chanting said phrase backwards twice a day constitutes a rational addition to the average American health regimen.**

Not only does Morford proclaim that Obama will change the course of human history by sending out a global Care Bear Stare of good vibes, he also hedges his bets and says that Obama will produce lots of corrupt bullshit.*** Which is it? A Great Shared Moment uniting us through high vibrational energy in the Void Which Binds, or four years of inside the Beltway log rolling and pork barreling and rent seeking? Which is it, Mark Morford?! I don't know what kind of mix-and-match, pseudospiritual, Robert Anton Wilsonian modern mythology you subscribe to, but I am pretty sure the Avatar of the Golden Dawn can not be just another Capitol Hill schmuck.

Attention voters: No one you can elect this fall, or any other fall, will make puppies shit rainbows, or pave the streets with lipitor, or rid the world of the gum disease known as gingivitis, or do any of the other semi-magical things you are ascribing to them. Cool out.

(Via Hit & Run and Alex Massie)

* !!!

Invoking Mesopotamian Gods of Healing may not be appropriate for women who are pregnant or nursing. Do not operate heavy machinery while invoking Mesopotamian Gods of Healing. Contact a doctor if symptoms persist. If you are considering cataract surgery, tell your doctor you have had contact with ancient deities.

*** "I'm also certainly not saying he's perfect, that his presidency will be free of compromise, or slimy insiders, or great heaps of politics-as-usual." How exactly is more politics-as-usual going to usher new Light into the world?

Update: SF Weekly seeks comments on "Lightworker" status from the Obama campaign. They respond "Ummmmm....?" Some important questions are raised, including:
3) Do “spiritually advanced people” have spiritually advanced degrees? Trophies? Certificates of participation? If not, how do you tell them apart from people who just believe in shit?

5) What the heck is “positive energy” anyway? I know it’s a term that gets thrown around here a lot, but… what is it? Is it a short hand for “stuff that makes people feel good” (like puppies)? Or will the next big breakthrough in physics at the hadron collider be to discover “positive energy” particles? Which you can tell apart from other particles because they’re more … um … positive?

07 June 2008

Saturday Sandwich Blogging

From The Onion Radio News: "New Prescription-Only Sandwich Extra-Delicious." I want one, but I'll settle for the over-the-counter chicken breast with grilled onions and avocado on a Portuguese roll that I'm about to make.

06 June 2008

Yippee-ki-yay No Longer

Jeff Holland at Threat Quality Press considers the modern action movie and wonders what happens to the bystanders?

I've had the same reaction a couple of times in the last year, though I feel that I ought to be too young to start worrying about the death and destruction that the likes of John McClane leaves in his wake.

Oddly, the last two times that thoughts of collateral damage dragged me out of a narrative the carnage was occurring in LA. The first was while watching Dragon Wars.

Yes, I actually watched this P.O.S. I mean, come on, Apache helicopters dog fighting with dragons. How could I turn that down? Unfortunately every scene that did not feature an AH-64 vs. scaly beast showdown was atrocious.

The second time I got concerned about civilian casualties I was reading Runaways. There isn't a whole lot of mega-scale destruction in the book, but there were enough instances of "He picks up a bus and he throws it back down / As he wades through the buildings toward the center of town" that I had to stop and think. This may be the only canonical Marvel Universe book I've read, so I'm on shaking ground here. But every few issues or so someone would comment about how all the real supervillain action is on the East Coast, and LA doesn't get sacked that often. And yet it seems to get stomped on, oh, every few months. This lead me to two questions: How are the Marvel Universe construction contractors so amazingly efficient that they can rebuild entire city blocks in weeks? And why would anybody choose to live in any urban center if some evil Hulk clone is going to come along and play Jenga with office towers every year? After about the umpteenth apartment building gets body checked by some Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal you'd think people would start to say "F this, I'm moving back to Paducah."

Anyway, back to TQP's discussion of Hollywood action movies. He sees the Bourne series, Casino Royale* and Mr and Mrs Smith as more personal, low-collateral action movies, a trend which dominated briefly and is now on the way out again. I think this is a shame because, semi-empathy for unseen civilian casualties aside, those were good flicks. (Well, I was indifferent to Smith, but the others were so choice.) A foot chase can be just as exciting as a car chase. A duel of assassins can be just as exciting as a hundred man shoot-out. I love spectacle. I love grandeur. Hell, I love seeing things get blown up. But I don't really need someone to burn down Nakatomi Tower to make an action movie interesting.

* Who's nervous about the next Bond movie? I am. Casino Royale was top notch, but I've got the same bad feeling about the title "Quantum of Solace" as I had about "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." If you can't get the title right things do not look good. On the other hand, there's supposed to be a car chase through Sienna. Amaze.

Best paragraph I will read today

This too-many-capes talk happens every other blockbuster season. A good comic book movie comes out, and like the love-hungry nerds we are we all start writing the 'Have [We] Comics Finally Gained Mainstream Acceptance?' article. Then six months later Elektra comes out and we write the 'Is the Comic Fad [Our Vicarious Popularity] Ending?' article. Then we die and become the grass, and the antelopes eat the grass, and the goddamn Circle of Life continues some more.
From "Comic Book Movies Ruining Summer?" on iFanboy. (And the answer is "no, they are not.")

05 June 2008

Slouching Towards Fallujah, Part 2

The previously mentioned DC Ghettoïzation plan will go into effect on Saturday. Adding to the ridiculousness: there will be only one road block set up, and it will only stop vehicles, not pedestrians. So here's a tip to criminals looking to do business in Trinidad: do not drive on the 1400 block of Montello Ave. Take literally any other route into the neighborhood, and you will not be harried.

Said Mayor Fenty, "We're going to go into an area and completely shut it down to prevent shootings and the sale of drugs." That is absurd. You might as well keep burglars out of your house by locking one of the windows and leaving all the doors open.

At least someone in the city government shows sense:
"I guess the plan is to hope criminals will not walk into neighborhoods," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). "I also suppose the plan is to take the criminal's word for it when he or she gives the police a reason for driving into a neighborhood."
On the other hand:
"We have to try to take away the things that are facilitating the ability to commit crime," [police chief] Lanier said.
Well, take them away for a week or so, anyway. I'm sure ten days of different traffic patterns are going to wipe out violent crime in Trinidad forever. What a stratagem, Lanier. Really, pure genius.

Here's an article from The Examiner quoting a variety of folks who recognize this for the atrocious abridgment of freedom that it is. One bone of contention: the article expresses mild surprise that it's not just "traditional liberals" who are upset about this, and that libertarians also object. Really? How can that possibly be surprising to anyone? If someone can find me a respected libertarian who thinks these roadblocks are a swell idea I will personally deliver donuts to the thugs manning the barricades this weekend. Contrariwise, liberals seem to be somewhat divided over the issue, since it's the (stillborn) brainchild of the liberal Fenty administration. Obviously whoever wrote and edited this article need to be reading some Jonah Goldberg forthwith.

Also from The Examiner, a look at residents' reactions to the roadblock. Here are the two money quotes:
During the rollout of the plan, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said 100 percent of the residents were in favor of the plan. But none of the neighbors interviewed by The Examiner had heard of the chief’s measure.
[Trinidad resident] Dorn said he believes the plan is doomed to failure... “I don’t know what kind of thought went into this but you can tell it wasn’t a lot.”
Oh really? The police chief lied when announcing the plan to make it seem less contentious? And she never consulted anyone in the effected neighborhood? And a random citizen has a more realistic view of this hash up than a well paid professional? Color me shocked.

Finally, some commentary by The Rad Geek, who links to this gem of a poster:

Rad Geek also reminds us that the MPD has recently placed an order for 500 AR-15 automatic rifles. Comforting.

04 June 2008

And now, videos

Music roller coaster:

(Via Boing Boing)

Fenway body check:

(Via Tasty Booze)


(Via Boing Boing)

Helicopter Hash Up:

(Via Tasty Booze)

Get Your Letters of Transit Ready

From the Examiner, via DCist, via Why I Hate DC: "Police to Seal Off D.C. Neighborhoods." Well, that's comforting.
D.C. police will seal off entire neighborhoods, set up checkpoints and kick out strangers under a new program that D.C. officials hope will help them rescue the city from its out-of-control violence... Officers will man cordons around those zones and demand identification from people coming in and out of them. Anyone who doesn’t live there, work there or have “legitimate reason” to be there will be sent away or face arrest, documents obtained by The Examiner show.
Yes, I want the MPD, paragons of efficiency and justice that they are, to be the arbiter of civilian comings and goings. Attention Captain Renault...errr, Police Chief Lanier, you have poor judgment and do not appear to be very good at your job. Do not take on more responsibility until you can lock down your existing business. In fact, District of Columbia, get your own house in order before you start throwing up roadblocks all over town.

Further evidence that the MPD are blathering bureaucratic fools, from the their own press release: "The Neighborhood Safety Zones is just another tool MPD will employ to stop crime before it happens." All crime prevention occurs before it happens, because you can not stop something from happening after it has happened. There is no other time to stop something than before it occurs. Unless you have access to Doc Brown's DMC-12, it is semantically meaningless to talk of any type of prevention other than ex ante. Unless you are actively seeking to convince me you are all useless wads of blue uniform, stop your ridiculous posturing and start doing your jobs.

Update: Megan McArdle recognizes this as an excellent example of Caplan's Fallacy:
1. Something must be done
2. This is something
3. Therefore, this must be done

Update II: On McArdle's post, commenter Claudius asks "How is this plan even remotely constitutional? Where is the ACLU when you really need it?" Well, I have an answer to that. They're busy supporting eminent domain abuse in California.

03 June 2008

Eat This, Morgan Spurlock

Fast Food Doesn't Make you Fat.
When eating out, people reported consuming about 35 percent more calories on average than when they ate at home. But importantly, respondents reduced their caloric intake at home on days they ate out (that's not to say that people were watching their weight, since respondents who reported consuming more at home also tended to eat more when going out). Overall, eating out increased daily caloric intake by only 24 calories. The results for urban and suburban consumers were similar.
PS. Supersize Me has the same relationship to truthfulness that a bathtub full of baby wolverines has to a Spanish treasure galleon. None.

(Via Marginal Revolution)