Thursday, September 29, 2005


Movie Trailers!

I spend more time watching trailers than most people. But everyone's had the experience of going into a movie and realizing it was quite different than the trailer led you to believe. For example, I believed, based on the trailer, that The Phantom Menace would be a good movie. It's an art to cut bits and pieces from a movie into a minute or two-long clip that tells you more or less what it will be like. Especially if you're trying, at the behest of marketing, to lie to people about what the movie will be like.

It's also true that trailers tend to put every movie, no matter how different, squarely in the realm of particular genres. That's marketing, and there's no way around it.

Anyway, long story short, a post-production house out here recently had a contest to recut trailers for movies that are already out. The winner is something you've gotta see, a trailer for a charming female-targeted romantic comedy called The Shining.

H/T Screenhead.


Actual Positive News From Iraq

This is nothing but good. Baghdad started its first film festival since 2003 last Saturday, all locally made shorts. Not especially positive towards Americans, either, most of them, which isn't too surprising, given that they've been made in Iraq since 2003. But if Iraq is ever going to be its own country it's going to need to regain a sense of national identity. Art is a huge part of that. And film is still the most populist art form. But I think the photo goes with this story makes that argument better than anything I could write. Here it is, until the New York Times moves it:


Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Theme Park Archaeology

Near my house in Knoxville was a house that had been abandoned to the elements sometime around 1985 (judging from dates on the magazines). The owner had presumably died; the house was way back in the country and hard to reach except by foot, so nobody had done much looting. So all the guy's clothes, personal effects, and papers were there, rotting away, as the house slowly disintegrated. I used to go there sometimes in high school and poke around; it was interesting, in an end-of-the-world kind of way. I used to have one of the guy's expired credit cards but I don't anymore.

Anyway, here's a site that provides a similar experience on a much larger scale. I've been meaning to link to this for a while; you've probably seen it already, but here's an incredibly detailed account of the ruins of Jim Bakker's long-defunct theme park, Heritage USA. From the main page, the interesting stuff is under the "Take A Tour of Heritage" link. (And it's a big site, be ready to spend some time on it). It's kind of incredible how much the place has decayed in 15 years or so.


I will even give you a new set of white sidewall tires...

One of the better things about The Incredibles was that it tried, in 3-D, to capture some of the expressionistic features of traditional cel animation--just look at the way Jack-Jack's body distorts when he's running. But there's imitation, and then there's the real thing. Here's one of Tex Avery's best efforts for MGM, 1943's Red Hot Riding Hood. Check out the way the wolf's entire head contorts during Red's nightclub act. Also: whatever happened to cartoon characters that embody the id the way the wolf does? There's Stitch, but he's pretty desexualized. The last original character I can remember who was like this was Baby Herman (also the last completely 40's style expressionistic animation I can remember), and he was created in the late 70s. I think animation is probably better for losing the "unattractive dowager desparate to make out with our hero" stock character, but I like the wolf! Bring him back! And while you're at it, bring back cartoons with morbid endings! You've destroyed animation for everyone!

OK, calming down now. Anyway, watch the cartoon, I think you'll like it.

(By the way, the sidewall tires the Wolf promises Red are a reference to wartime rubber rationing).


The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Finally! A systematic explanation and analysis of the fact that I'm surrounded by morons. My favorite law of human stupidity is the fourth:
Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.
H/T/ Screenhead.


Monday, September 26, 2005


Judd Apatow on Slate

For you Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin fans out there, Judd Apatow is writing this week's Diary for Slate. Sounds like his daughter is going to be a holy terror:
My daughter Maude was 5 when she realized that Barney had only one expression. She couldn't stop laughing when she noticed this. She ran around the living room with this psychotic Barney smile which never changed, and then started saying, "I'm happy. I'm sad." She laughed some more and then screamed, "Help me! I don't know how to feel."
Here's the first entry.


Dolphin Assassins!

Supposedly (and there are doubts as to the accuracy of this story), dolphins armed with toxic dart guns escaped during Katrina, and are no doubt reverse-engineering their weapons as we speak. The Observer has the story. This is the best news I have ever heard in my entire life.

And here's The Register being suitably skeptical.

H/T Wonkette.


Thursday, September 22, 2005


Don't Tax and Spend Conservatism

Rob Corddry got the President dead to rights on the Daily Show yesterday:
JON STEWART: Rob, two hundred billion dollar spending proposal to rebuild the Gulf Coast, a massive nation building effort in Iraq...uh, the President is supposedly an avowed conservative, how do you reconcile the disparity?

Rob Corddry: Well Jon, the only disparity here is the one between intelligence and you. Everything the president is doing is perfectly in keeping with the conservative ideal of limited government.

JON STEWART: How is what the president is doing "limited government?"

ROB CORDDRY: This president believes government should be limited not in size, Jon, but in effectiveness. Now in terms of effectiveness, this is the most limited administration we've ever had.
You can watch the clip here, by clicking on "Faith-Based Accounting."


Monday, September 19, 2005



Arrrrr!!!! It's Talk Like A Pirate Day, mateys!!!!

Arrrrr!!!! To be talkin like a pirate, that scurvy lass, Christiana, discovered this buried treasure - a pirate keyboard!


Saturday, September 17, 2005


Amusingly bad science reporting

First, from Balloon Juice comes this story:
An Australian man built up a 40,000-volt charge of static electricity in his clothes as he walked, leaving a trail of scorched carpet and molten plastic and forcing firefighters to evacuate a building.

Frank Clewer, who was wearing a woollen shirt and a synthetic nylon jacket, was oblivious to the growing electrical current that was building up as his clothes rubbed together.

When he walked into a building in the country town of Warrnambool in the southern state of Victoria on Thursday, the electrical charge ignited the carpet…

Firefighters cut electricity to the building thinking the burns might have been caused by a power surge.

Clewer, who after leaving the building discovered he had scorched a piece of plastic on the floor of his car, returned to seek help from the firefighters.

“We tested his clothes with a static electricity field metre and measured a current of 40,000 volts, which is one step shy of spontaneous combustion, where his clothes would have self-ignited,” Barton said.

Wow, that's a lot of "current". Why, that's like a SUV that weighs 4,000 meters! (Of interest, the version that Spakkadi links to doesn't include that interesting "malaunitism".)

Also note that even assuming they meant "charge" that's less voltage than a Van De Graaf generator, so Clewer was not about to spontaneously combust and probably wasn't burning things either as it's not voltage that burns things, it's dissipated power - voltage drop x current.

Then from Daily Pundit, comes this story:
"A CLOAKING device that makes objects invisible is being developed by researchers, bringing the magic of Harry Potter into the world of science fact.

While Harry uses his cloak of invisibility to move about Hogwarts School unseen, electronic engineers at the University of Pennsylvania are working on a real invisibility shield called a "plasmonic cover".

The development, which works by preventing objects from reflecting and scattering light, could have widespread use in the military as it would be more effective than current stealth technology."

Wow, making an invisibility cloak by using a material that absorbs all light in a particular band. I wonder if spakkadi was involved in this project as she's been wearing clothing that absorbs all light in the visual spectrum for years. For what I really think is going on in this story, see this comment I left on Daily Pundit.


Friday, September 16, 2005


A simple card probability approximation

This may be a rather commonly-known trick - I'm not a big poker player (read as I haven't read any books or played online or played in Vegas) - but I ran it by Thason and he hadn't heard of it either.

Frequently, it's useful to be able to estimate the probability of drawing cards in terms of percentages (for instance, when calculating pot odds). There's 52 cards in the deck and I've always found working in 1/52nds to be rather unwieldy. However, 50 is a pretty good approximation for 52. So rather than doing math in my head using 1/52nds I can use 1/50ths, or 0.02. So if there's 7 cards that will win me hand, then I estimate I've got 7*0.02 = 14% chance of winning.

Now imagine calculating 7/52 in your head. (It's 13.46%)

So this method won't give you the exact probability, but it's pretty close, and I think you'll find it to be quite useful after a few beers. Of course, if you're playing texas hold 'em with 2 hole cards, then the calculation is exact. (It's also not a bad approximation for 46, 47, 48, or 49 cards either.)


Nintendo Revolution Controller Finally Unveiled

Nintendo has finally let out the details on their super-top-secret controller for their next-gen system, the Nintendo Revolution. Here's IGN's take. It sounds like it really will be something quite different from other systems; the controller is motion-sensitive and tracks movement through three dimensions. The example everyone keeps giving is swinging the controller when your character swings a sword; this would certainly make lightsaber duels more intuitive. It remains to be seen how well software developers will use the technology, but I'd love to see a two-controller version of Konami's MoCap boxing. Why? Cause that game is awesome. Anyway, I think the Revolution will probably manage to stay out of the XBox 360/PS3 battle and be its own thing; whether that thing sells well, who knows. I always thought the GameCube was a much better system than the PS2, but it tragically didn't play DVDs, and Nintendo shot themselves in the foot by only selling the component video cables via mail-order. Perhaps they've got it right this time.


Thursday, September 15, 2005


Week 1 Polyscifi Fantasy Football Results

For those interested but not actually in the league, click through to read the results from the opening week of fantastic fantasy football action.

Show full post.

Normal League

Reverse League
Reached for comment on why he did so poorly in the normal league, Jody, manager of Jacque's straps, said, "My players scored no touchdowns." Asked to speculate as to why his team did so well in the reverse league, Jody, manager of Miami Suck Machine, said, "My players scored no touchdowns."


Be still my free-tradin' heart

At the UN yesterday Bush said,
"Today I broaden the challenge by making this pledge: The United States is ready to eliminate all tariffs, subsidies and other barriers to free flow of goods and services as other nations do the same. This is key to overcoming poverty in the world's poorest nations. It's essential we promote prosperity and opportunity for all nations."
CAFTA was swell and all, but I think I would have to change my pants if this actually happens (too much creamy filling).


Spy Game

This case study from the CIA into the life and times of A. G. Tolkachev, a United States spy in Moscow, is very long, but fascinating. It contains a lot of operational details about espionage in the late 70's and early 80's, including the more-than-slightly-alarming information that handwriting analysis seems to have been a big part of evaluating potential spies. A few of the stranger details:
Before the first personal meeting with Tolkachev, one of his handwritten notes had been passed to the CIA’s Office of Technical Service (OTS) handwriting experts for analysis.
As part of this process, every case officer went to great lengths to establish a routine that took him to various parts of the city on a regular basis, to do shopping, run errands, take part in recreational activities, go sightseeing, take the children out, walk the dog, and so forth. These routines were carefully constructed to try to bore the KGB surveillance teams, to the point where they would be moved to other, presumably more productive, targets.
Guilsher, while still in the vehicle, changed out of his western clothes and made himself look as much as possible like a typical, working-class Russian by putting on a Russian hat and working-class clothes, taking a heavy dose of garlic, and splashing some vodka on himself.
In November 1983, Tolkachev asked that he not be called at home to set up unscheduled meetings, because the phone was now located in his son’s room and it was his son who always answered the phone. Although the CIA could defeat KGB surveillance, defeating the habits of a typical teenager was more than either it or the agent could manage!
It's good to know that CIA agents splashed vodka on themselves to resemble working-class Russians. Here's hoping KGB agents dunk their heads in a bucket of Budweiser.


Defamer finally recognizes my brilliance.

Those of you who read Defamer know that there's a recurring feature in which readers attempt to guess who Ted Casablanca is talking about in his latest blind item. (Those of you who don't read Defamer are wasting your lives). Thanks (I think) to some reader who kept suggesting that the answer to every item was "Andy Dick," Mark Lisanti gives out "The Andy Dick Memorial 'You Also Say' Item" each week to the most unlikely, yet strangely compelling, answer anyone gives. This week I tied for first, by suggesting that Ted Casablanca was writing about the Reanimated Corpse of Cesar Romero. Victory is sweet.


Sweet Merciful Newdow!

The phrase "one nation, under God" is on its face a statement of religious belief, refers to nothing outside of religious belief, and has no purpose or value beyond that of a statement of religious belief. I don't see the slippery slope Jody envisions (although it seems to end with the complete demolition of public education, which is an outcome he actually wants...)

I don't accept the premise that a slippery slope argument can be applied here, and I don't see in any of Jody's writing on this any actual defense of including the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance. I am willing to be convinced that it is something I should encourage my own (at this point hypothetical) children to recite. But Jody's argument seems to be "we can't get rid of the words "under God," or we will be forced to jettison biology, history, health, and physics," and I'm sorry, but I don't think that passes the laugh test. So give me something better.

One further question: say the Pledge wasn't altered in 1954, and still was a non-sectarian statement of national allegiance. Say Congress wanted to change it today to put those two words in. Would you support that? If so, why? If not, why fight to keep it?


More Newdow

Continuing the series (post 1, post 2, post 3)

There's really two arguments to respond to 1) that I've mischaracterized Newdow's argument and 2) that some religious beliefs are not protected because they're contradicted by science.

First let's reexamine if I've mischaracterized the substance of Newdow's argument. Here's Matt's proposed formulation:
  1. Even when participation is voluntary, asking a child to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance is coercive.
  2. Every indication that we have, from Congress's own statements in 1954 on up to President Bush's description, and any commonsense reading of the Pledge of Allegiance will note that it contains an affirmation of religious faith.
  3. Government may not ask children to make statements of religious faith. And before this turns into an argument about whether the Establishment Clause is binding on anyone other than Congress, note that the words "under God" were inserted into the Pledge by Congress.
Of minor importance first, that Congress inserted the words "under God" is immaterial to the case. Congress is not compelling school children to be present during the pledge. According to Newdow, the state of California is the compelling party (pp. 4-5 in link). (However, it would be material to a case deciding if the Pledge itself was Constitutional.)

The only significant point here is whether or not children being "forced to experience teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance every morning" is coercive of a child's religious beliefs.

And why does Newdow say it's coercive? Because a) it makes him (and his child) feel like an outsider and b) because it's being led by a figure of authority. But don't take my word for it, take Newdow's. From the argument in Newdow's brief on merits to the Supreme Court in the Elk Grove case - the "precedent" in question:
"That “under God” in the Pledge violates the Establishment Clause can also be appreciated by applying any of the Court’s numerous tests. Here, purely religious dogma is injected into the nation’s sole Pledge of Allegiance, with governmental agents leading small children in repeating that dogma every day. This violates religious neutrality, endorses disputed religious claims, was instituted for a religious purpose, has religious effects, turns citizens into “outsiders” on the basis of their religious beliefs, and – especially in the public school environment – is coercive."
The only assertion of coercion (as opposed to the Constitutionality of the Pledge) is that students are being coerced by virtue of being different, by virtue of being an "outsider" as Newdow says.

Or as he says later (p 14): "Petitioners have an affirmative duty to remedy – not promote – situations where students are turned into “outsiders” due to their religious beliefs." In fact, this is Newdow's central point as he takes the effort to point out (footnote 19) that: "Petitioners have already admitted that Respondent has been turned into an “outsider” due to the now Monotheistic Pledge."

Newdow turns to the figure of authority as coercion in Argument I B 4 but still includes the outsider point: "Coercion stems not only from the didactic nature of the teacher-student relationship (where pupils attempt to please their instructors), but from the aversion youngsters have to being saddled with the “outsider” status just noted."

Now let's reiterate my summation of Newdow's argument:
"The pledge is an example of state coercion because a) it occurs on state property with state blessing (the state part) and b) constitutes coercion because it makes atheistic students feel like outsiders since the atheists do not ascribe to the endorsed state position."
So I fail to see how my summation differs substantively from Newdow's actual argument.

Back to the education points and responding in fisking fashion since there's enough different points to respond to that I think having the lines here for reference will be useful:
"The Pledge of Allegiance, unlike biology, health, history, and physics (the other subjects he mentions) is a statement of belief, something that students are asked to swear to, hand on heart Newdow makes this point again and again and again in his oral argument."

Any educational instruction spreads a set of belief (what else is education?). But students are not required to swear to a belief in God, but they are repeatedly asked if they believe the state's beliefs (homework, tests, classroom interactions..)
"I have no problem with such a pledge (in fact, I believe that the public schools should do more to teach citizenship and, pace Richard, national culture)." [I believe something got dropped about from the original post on a pledge sans "under God"]
I concur.
"However, Congress is specificially denied the right to make the statement that the United States is a nation under God. (And Congress sets the words of the Pledge)."
That's debatable. Congress would be denied the right to compel someone to say that the US is a nation under God, but insertion of such a phrase is no more a violation of the first amendment than a national day of prayer or to put "In God We Trust" on our currency.
"When you ask students to swear to the truth of something, to stand up and recite an oath daily, that's very different than asking them questions about evolution on a biology test."
Are there not right and wrong answers on the biology test? Is the state (and a student's peers) not saying that X is true? You're actually compelled to take the test, you're not compelled to state the Pledge. If you fail to state the pledge, perhaps you feel bad because of being an outsider. If you refuse to answer part of the test or give an answer other than the answer the state says is true, you feel like an outsider AND your grade is reduced. Which is the example of greater coercion to state sanctioned truth?
"The controversial parts of the school curriculum are the result of century-long struggles and debates. Quantum mechanics wasn't in physics textbooks until the idea had been debated, tested, shown to be useful in predicting real-world results, and so on; the same is true of evolution and health. (History is obviously a bit of a different case, but I think I can make an argument along similar lines about it if necessary)."
So English is out of bounds? No real world results.

And as I noted above, lots of theories don't have testable real world results (a plethora of theories if I go to results testable by school age children - Jefe, what's a plethora?). Further, I don't see an "except for scientific theories" exception in the first amendment, so I don't see how a legal distinction can be drawn.
"These theories were put into textbooks when, and only when, a significant majority of experts in each field came to believe they described objective truth."
That's a really bad distinction to use (tyranny of the majority and what not). But even Newdow acknowledges that the majority of Americans believe the existence of God is the truth (that's the premise of being an outsider).
"The words "under God" were inserted into the Pledge by Congressional fiat in 1954."
And evolution was inserted into the curriculum by Congressional fiat in 1958. But as I said above, it's irrelevant to the case and to this discussion.
"Describing our nation as "under God" is, on its face, a statement about religious faith; it is not a scientific theory with real world applications that ends up having disastrous implications for a set of religious beliefs."
The criteria here I see are a) gotta be a statement of religious faith and b) scientific theories with real world applications cannot be a statement of religious faith. But both fail as suitable legal distinctions. To a majority of Americans, evolution is a statement of religious faith. Further evolution doesn't have a real world application. Genetics, yes. Beyond just evolution, there's lots of scientific theories (e.g., beginning of the universe) that many consider to be statements of religious faith that have no real world application (I'm looking at you, M-brane theory).
"I'd also note that no first-grader gets taught evolution or quantum mechanics; by the time children encounter these ideas they are much less vulnerable to coercion."
I don't think age actually matters, but contra Newdow and Matt, I think teenagers are more subject to peer pressure than first graders.

Bottom line
While I agree that the current science curriculum should be continued as-is , I just don't see how a legal distinction can be drawn if one buys Newdow's "being-an-outsider-is-coercion" argument.


Substantive Debate

Bruce Schneier has an interesting essay on Katrina in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Excerpt:
Funding security based on movie plots looks good on television, and gets people reelected. But there are millions of possible scenarios, and we're going to guess wrong. The billions spent defending airlines are wasted if the terrorists bomb crowded shopping malls instead.

Our nation needs to spend its homeland security dollars on two things: intelligence-gathering and emergency response. These two things will help us regardless of what the terrorists are plotting, and the second helps both against terrorist attacks and national disasters.
Our government's ineptitude in the aftermath of Katrina demonstrates how little we're getting for all our security spending. It's unconscionable that we're wasting our money fingerprinting foreigners, profiling airline passengers, and invading foreign countries while emergency response at home goes underfunded.
You can agree or disagree with Schneier about whether the money spent on invading foreign countries is wasted, but that's not really the focus of his main point: we need to re-evaluate how we're spending our security money. This is the conversation that I am hoping we can have as a nation because of Katrina. It should be as free of political fingerpointing as possible, because it affects both sides of the political divide equally.

Or we could yell at each other about wedge issues until the next city gets wiped off the map.



I used to think David Letterman's Top Ten lists were the absolute height of comedy. Then I finished middle school. This one, however, his top ten questions for the FEMA Director, is quite good. Favorites:

H/T Crooks and Liars.

Note: I don't mean to slag on Letterman; the man who invented the word "Hitleriffic" will always have a special place in my heart. But I went through a phase where I was obsessed with top ten lists. Those days are over now.


Newdow and the Pledge

Jody's knocking over a straw man below, and there's enough wrong with his reasoning that I think it merits a post instead of a comment. Some obvious points:

  1. The Pledge of Allegiance, unlike biology, health, history, and physics (the other subjects he mentions) is a statement of belief, something that students are asked to swear to, hand on heart. Newdow makes this point again and again and again in his oral argument. I have no problem with such a pledge (in fact, I believe that the public schools should do more to teach citizenship and, pace Richard, national culture). However, Congress is specificially denied the right to make the statement that the United States is a nation under God. (And Congress sets the words of the Pledge). When you ask students to swear to the truth of something, to stand up and recite an oath daily, that's very different than asking them questions about evolution on a biology test. There is a distinction between reciting an oath (or, as President Bush calls it, a prayer) and studying a subject.
  2. The controversial parts of the school curriculum are the result of century-long struggles and debates. Quantum mechanics wasn't in physics textbooks until the idea had been debated, tested, shown to be useful in predicting real-world results, and so on; the same is true of evolution and health. (History is obviously a bit of a different case, but I think I can make an argument along similar lines about it if necessary). These theories were put into textbooks when, and only when, a significant majority of experts in each field came to believe they described objective truth. The words "under God" were inserted into the Pledge by Congressional fiat in 1954. Describing our nation as "under God" is, on its face, a statement about religious faith; it is not a scientific theory with real world applications that ends up having disastrous implications for a set of religious beliefs. I'd also note that no first-grader gets taught evolution or quantum mechanics; by the time children encounter these ideas they are much less vulnerable to coersion.

Anyway, I think Jody's summary of Newdow's argument is incorrect, and I'd offer the following in its place:

  1. Even when participation is voluntary, asking a child to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance is coercive.
  2. Every indication that we have, from Congress's own statements in 1954 on up to President Bush's description, and any commonsense reading of the Pledge of Allegiance will note that it contains an affirmation of religious faith.
  3. Government may not ask children to make statements of religious faith. And before this turns into an argument about whether the Establishment Clause is binding on anyone other than Congress, note that the words "under God" were inserted into the Pledge by Congress.

That seems pretty cut and dry to me. I like the outcome, but I would hope that even people who don't like the outcome would concede that sometimes the Constitution requires outcomes you disagree with (I feel that way about the second amendment, incidentally).


Wednesday, September 14, 2005


Why Newdow is dangerous to public education

As Matt notes below, today U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that school-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is unConstitutional. Disregarding the logical and legal flaws involved in this particular ruling, I find Newdow's line of reasoning especially dangerous to the institution of public education (I find the argument specious too, but that's for another day).

Newdow's argument can be summarized as: "The pledge is an example of state coercion because a) it occurs on state property with state blessing (the state part) and b) constitutes coercion because it makes atheistic students feel like outsiders since the atheists do not ascribe to the endorsed state position."

Now consider the fact that the US is a country rich in religious diversity. There's almost as many different religions as there are people. And religions take positions on a lot of different things which could make their practicioners feel like an outsider if taught to the contrary in a public school.

Atheists feel like outsiders when there's a pledge of allegiance recited that includes the phrase "under God". Creationists feel like outsiders when evolution is taught. Christian Scientists would feel like outsiders in any health class. Quakers would feel like outsiders when discussing positive outcomes of various wars. While Voodooists would find quantum entangling affirming (voodoo dolls), they would feel like an outsider when Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle came up (Tarot cards). And that's not to mention the Amish or the many many identifiable cults. Practically everything that we teach in school contradicts someone's religion.

While these situations are not identical to the Pledge, I would argue that they are actually more coercive than the Pledge - the endorsement of a religious position is just as clear in both situations, but you're not graded on the Pledge.

So if Newdow's argument carries the day, I don't see how a legal distinction can be drawn on any aspect of public instruction as virtually every topic of instruction would counter someone's religious beliefs causing them to feel like an outsider. With everyhing out-of-bounds for instruction, public education cannot continue.

This could be resolved by either a) eliminating public instruction all together (regardless of how this case case turns out, I'm actually in favor of this idea presumably coupled with some sort of voucher program) or b) we return to teaching children what heretofore had been traditional American values of not being swayed in one's beliefs or actions by peer pressure, the value of being an individual, and how cool it is to be an outsider.


Reynolds Breezes Through Confirmation Hearings

Ezra Klein imagines a Glenn Reynolds Supreme Court nomination:
SPECTER: In Casey, the key test on following precedents moved to the extent of reliance by the people on the precedent.

And Casey had this to say in a rather earthy way: "People have ordered their thinking and living around Roe. To eliminate the issue of reliance, one would need to limit cognizable reliance to specific instances of sexual activity. For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event contraception should fail."

That's the joint opinion; rather earthy in its context. Would you agree with that?


SPECTER: Excuse me? Could you elaborate?


SPECTER: ......

REYNOLDS: Hugh Hewitt has more!
H/T Crooks and Liars.


On with the culture wars.

Someone finally noticed that Michael Newdow's argument before the Supreme Court was right on the merits; I suppose we can expect this case to find its way all the way to the Supremes. My guess is that there's no question whether these parents have legal standing, so it will be interesting to see what contortions federal courts twist themselves into to avoid a phenomenally unpopular decision.

I think that Newdow is right, but the timing on another round of this particular battle couldn't be worse; the last thing the left needs is a big circus-sideshow culture war right now.


New Criterion Contraption

Armageddon, now at the Criterion Contraption.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005


The dynamic Scott McClellan

I was looking for a transcript of the Prez's remarks today (which I thought were about right, and pretty unprecedented from a President who couldn't think of a mistake he'd made a few years ago). Anyway, I found this on the White House site:

I may be the only person who thinks so, but this photo cracks me right the fuck up. It's like Scott McClellan is pointing right at me! Asking me for a question! Which he'll refuse to answer! I'm planning on turning it into a cardboard cutout and holding my own press briefings. I'll ask a question, and then the cutout of McClellan will stare blankly at me. Because bloggers deserve to be treated like real journalists.


It's no "Blowing in the Wind," but it'll do.

Houston-based rap group The Legendary K. O. has released a song called "George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People."

It was inevitable that this happened eventually, but I'm surprised they put this together so soon. It would appear that record producers are more efficient than FEMA.


Monday, September 12, 2005


I don't think anyone anticipated Eugene Levy being breached.

There's tragedy, and then there's comedy, and then there's The Man. Katrina was bad, but it seems that my employer has just made things worse. Must be read to be believed.


God Tower

This may be the trickiest flash game I've ever tried. I just finished level ten. Good luck!

Update: Level 13 is very, very elegant.


I've got a guitar and a story to tell.

Jody links below to the photoshopped image of Bush & his dad fishing in New Orleans. My favorite bit of photoshop trickery to come out of Katrina, however, is this:


Amusing visuals

Some others have been having fun modifying graphics.

First, did you know that Tom Cruise has been training with Darth Sidious? (h/t xrlq)

Second, Bush goes fishin'. (h/t volokh)

(My actual thoughts on the federal response differs significantly from those implied by the Bush fishin' picture - more in line with this (compared to past responses, not that bad) and this (bureaucracy sucks and is inherent to government) - but it's a pretty still a friggin funny picture).


Saturday, September 10, 2005


Mutant Mice

The mouse trap arms race just escalated: (article, h/t Dean)
When we injected fetal liver cells taken from those animals into ordinary mice, they too gained the power of regeneration. We found this persisted even six months after the injection....

The self-healing mice, from a strain known as MRL, were then subjected to a series of surgical procedures. In one case the mice had their toes amputated -- but the digits grew back, complete with joints.

In another test some of the tail was cut off, and this also regenerated. Then the researchers used a cryoprobe to freeze parts of the animals' hearts, and watched them grow back again. A similar phenomenon was observed when the optic nerve was severed and the liver partially destroyed.

We were so intrigued by this story that we assigned a stringer to travel to Wistar Institute to find out more about these miraculous lab mice. The stringer returned with an "amazing" photo of one of these regenerative mice as well as some other "uncanny" mutant mice that we've placed in the extended entry.

Show extended entry.


Friday, September 09, 2005


Finger of Embrace

Perhaps you've read about the "Crescent of Embrace" intended as a memorial to the hijackers victims of Flight 93.

Well, I've uncovered a competing design that I think might be more appropriate for memoralizing the hijackers. It might require a few more trees, but I think it's worth it.

Click to see the design.


A NTN question come to life

NTN (national bar trivia) likes to advertise a little dilemma game with a teaser question of "Would you rather be operated on by a drunk doctor or a medical student?"

Now you effectively have the first option available:

Would you be shocked to be treated by a drunken doctor?

Well, a new study says that residents -- usually the first doctor you see when you visit a hospital - are often so fatigued, their ability to concentrate and respond is equivalent to that of a drunk driver.

(h/t Luskin)


I is for Incompetence

Thought you might enjoy the text from this Daily Show graphic: an alphabetical list of administration failures, past and future. Ed Helpms introduces the graphic by saying "Well, Jon, as you know, administration fiascos are named alphabetically. As you can see, Katrina is their eleventh out of what could be up to twenty-six collosal failures."

The first eleven items on the list are checked off. The rest are yet to come.

Abu Graib
Bin Laden
Failure to find WMDs
John Bolton
Mars Attacks
North Korea
Osama & Jenna
Pregnancy: Osama & Jenna
Queer Revolt
Rodents of Unusual Size
Syrian War
Unicyclists, Nuclear
X-Rated Tape: Osama & Jenna
Yam Shortage
Zero People Left On Earth


Tuesday, September 06, 2005


A nerdy "Yo momma" joke

Yo momma was exposed to phthalates during pregnancy.

It also doubles as another classic putdown, but you'll have to read the article for that.


Polyscifi Fantasy Football Draft Reminders

A quicky reminder that the drafts for the polyscifi fantasy football leagues are scheduled for tomorrow.

The reverse league is @ 9:00 AM Eastern There were no other times available outside of work hours (I'm not certain I'll make it at that time - I should be traveling to Blacksburg then).

The regular league is @ 5:45 PM.

If you're interested in signing up at the last moment (they're free), the league info is available here.

May the biggest football nerd win!


What's been filling my time

Our new dog - Fritz der hund - in a picture taken in front of the house on Monday. He's been a very well-behaved dog to this point (apparently naturally house-trained mostly prefers to do his business outside). We had to take him to the vet today for a rash, but with a little bathing and some antibiotics that should be cleared up in a couple weeks.


Thank God These Guys Weren't Around For Dunkirk

Here's a specific example of the kind of incompetence that characterized FEMA's response to the destruction of New Orleans. They turned away a convoy of 500 evacuation boats last Wednesday, when virtually no one still stuck in the city had been evacuated.
On Wednesday morning a group of approximately 1,000 citizens pulling 500 boats left the Acadiana Mall in Lafayette in the early morning and headed to New Orleans with a police escort from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department. The flotillia of trucks pulling boats stretched over FIVE miles. This citizen rescue group was organized by La. State Senator, Nick Gautreaux from Vermilion Parish. The group was comprised of experienced boaters, licensed fishermen and hunters, people who have spent their entire adult life and teenage years on the waterways of Louisiana.
They then specifically asked the DWF agent that they (and other citizens in the flotillia) be allowed to go to the hospitals and help evacuate the sick and the doctors and nurses stranded there. They offered to bring these people back to Lafayette, in our own vehicles, in order to ensure that they received proper and prompt medical care.
The DWF agent did not want to hear this and ordered them home -- ALL FIVE HUNDRED BOATS.

It seems that in many cases New Orleans would have been better if FEMA had never showed up; here's a roundup of other cases of FEMA either missing opportunities or actively interfering with other rescuers. The "blame game" that McClellan seemed so eager to postpone in his press conference today is not, or should not be, a partisan issue. Providing for the common defence is one of the reasons a national government exists. If expecting basic competence from the federal government in this area is partisan, it's difficult to imagine what a non-partisan issue would look like.


Monday, September 05, 2005


New Criterion Contraption

Tokyo Drifter, now at the Criterion Contraption. Next up is Armageddon, which should be fun.


Sunday, September 04, 2005


Working on Sunday

Slate seems to be publishing a full set of stories today, mostly dealing with Katrina and Renquist. Of note is Richard Garnett's recollection of clerking for Renquist in 1996-7, including a memorable game of charades: "I don't think I'll ever forget watching the chief act out Saving Private Ryan, crawling around under his coffee table, pointing his fingers like a gun, and mouthing 'pow, pow!'"


New Criterion Contraption

Branded To Kill, now at the Criterion Contraption.


Happy Birthday!

Today is Jody's birthday. Here's hoping it's a great one.


Must Watch

Aaron Broussard, President of Jefferson Parish, gave maybe the most moving interview I've ever seen this morning on Meet the Press. I encourage you to watch it; here's a part where he is very specific about why blaming local authorites isn't a good idea: FEMA worked at cross purposes with them:
Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Walmart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water, FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. Uh, FEMA, uh, we had a hundred, we had a thousand gallons of diesel fuel on a coast guard vessel docked in my parish, the coast guard said come get the fuel right away. When we got there with our trucks, they got a word, "FEMA says don't give you the fuel." Yesterday, yesterday! FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut 'em without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line, he posts armed guards on our line and says "No one's getting near these lines." Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America would've, American government would've responded like Walmart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis.
I never thought I'd quote someone praising Walmart. And I should note that Broussard doesn't want local government to be in charge, he wants a FEMA that is independent, cabinet-level, and works. I won't transcribe the story he tells right after this; that's one you've got to see for yourself. But this, combined with Nagin's radio interview, has brought home to me the scope of this disaster: these are politicians who are trained to keep their cool, and they're breaking down on national television.


I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.

As everyone is pointing it out, there are uncountable examples of FEMA and others predicting the breach of the levees in New Orleans. I'd like to add one more name to the Cassandra Honor Roll: Electronic Arts. As any self-respecting gamer knows, 007: Everything or Nothing features a plan to breach the levees in New Orleans. The entire explanation of what this plan is and why it would be destructive is a single line of Bond's dialog, something like "Yayokov is planning to use the nanobots to destroy the levees and flood the city." He says this while looking at a computer monitor in the villain's lair on which is displayed an animation of a levee being breached. That's it. That's all the information you get.

If a video game (rated T for Teen) expects its audience to understand that New Orleans is below sea level and damage to the levees that surround it would be catastrophic, why was this concept unfamiliar to the president?

Of course, I guess it depends what the meaning of "anticipate" is. Perhaps Bush was using it in the "to deal with beforehand; act so as to mitigate, nullify, or prevent" sense.


Saturation Points

For the last five years, as anyone who knows me knows, I've been increasingly frustrated (furious, even) at the press's willingness to be spoonfed bullshit. But it seems that even Fox News has its limits. Jack Shafer has a roundup of some of the more notable moments of broadcast journalists pointing out that many government officials have left the "reality-based community." CNN goes one better, with an entire article that simply compares and contrasts official statements about conditions in New Orleans with on-the-ground reports. People on the left have overused the phrase "speaking truth to power" enough that I can't quite get it out with a straight face. But this, it seems to me, is what the press is supposed to do: call government officials on their bullshit whenever they lie to the American people. Please don't mistake this for Bush-bashing; the press should treat any and all politicians this way. They've been far to willing to give pols the benefit of the doubt during this administration; that's not their job. Welcome back.

Update: In the meantime, John Hinderaker at Powerline Blog thinks that coverage of the floods represents "A new low for the MSM." He thinks coverage of the disaster has been scandalously biased and faults Bush for not responding aggressively enough. Money quote:
I understand the administration's problem: it's hard to mount a defense without pointing out the scandalous performance of the state and local authorities who were responsible for emergency preparation and for the initial response to the hurricane.
I'm not by nature a cheek-turning sort, but I think that has too often been the administration's approach. This time, it could be fatal.

It is certainly true that local response to the hurricane was inadequate. But in a large-scale emergency, responsibility falls to the federal government. And anyone who thinks the feds handled this in an exemplary way, and are just too darn gentlemanly to point out the flaws of government agencies down the food chain needs to have their head examined. Even Michelle Malkin thinks Michael Brown should be fired. If there was any doubt that Hinderaker is a hack, willing to apologize for unforgiveable incompetence as long as it's his team that's bungling things, that post should dispel it.

Update 2: It appears that the White House is following Hinderaker's advice. Bravo.


Saturday, September 03, 2005


Another change on the Supreme Court

Rehnquist died. (h/t Drudge)


Friday, September 02, 2005



The news coming out of Louisiana sounds more and more like The Stand. And the worst stories are still unfolding. For example, from the New York Times:
Superintendent P. Edward Compass III of the New Orleans Police Department said, armed thugs have taken control of the secondary makeshift shelter at the convention center. Superintendent Compass said that the thugs repelled eight squads of 11 officers each he had sent to secure the place and that rapes and assaults were occurring unimpeded in the neighboring streets as criminals "preyed upon" passers-by, including stranded tourists.
Two kind of incredible video clips. First, Anderson Cooper going apeshit on Louisiana senator Mary Landreiu. Landrieu spends a good deal of time thanking all the politicians who have visited and Cooper flips out:
I have to tell you, there are people here who are very upset and angry, and when they hear politicians thanking one another, it just, you know, it cuts them the wrong way right now, because there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman has been laying in the street for 48 hours, and there is not enough facilities to get her up. Do you understand that anger?
It sounds like he's seen some things he didn't want to. What really brought home to me the fact that society is collapsing completely over there, though, is this footage of police officers looting a Walmart. You might remember the controversy over the fire truck filled with possibly stolen jeans that was dug up at the World Trade Center. There won't be any confusion about what's going on in this footage; the police are pretty shameless. And what did they get for their efforts? Shoes. Shoes from Walmart. Shoes you couldn't pay me to wear. Meanwhile the people they're sworn to protect are killing each other all over the city. Unbelievable.

Here's the conclusion I'm coming to from all this: when the big one hits Los Angeles, it would be good if I weren't here. There won't be a warning or evacuation, either, so everyone will be in the city when the shit hits the fan. I think I'm going to buy a helicopter.


The Seventh Sign

First war and rumors of war, then a great flood, and then Matt Dessem types the following words:

Boy, this M.A.D.D. commercial is really funny!

Time to get right with the Intelligent Designer; the end can't be far now.


Thursday, September 01, 2005


Trouble for Bush

More on the theme of this post; it seems that Jon Stewart and James Lileks are starting to agree about President Bush's rhetoric. Here's Stewart:
Why I ridiculed the president was he refuses to answer questions from adults as though we were adults, and falls back upon platitudes, and phrases, and talking points that does a disservice to the goals that he himself shares with the very people he needs to convince.
And here's Lileks.
...sites that obsessed over the President’s remarks today. I heard them. I was very underwhelmed. I suppose a bitten lip or a moist eye would have helped to part the waters of Canal St. like the Red Sea, but I don’t expect moving rhetoric from him anymore. I think the White House has a tin ear these days – I heard another speech the other day about how They Hate Our Freedoms, and true though it may be it’s as fresh as a Pink Floyd tune on a classic FM station. I know; impressions are everything, appearances count. But as I get older I care less about the political value of a particular address and more about what actually happens, and I would prefer the 1950s sci-fi movie Authority Figure as the societal default, i.e., someone who bluntly states the facts and says “that’s all, boys” before leaving through a pebbled-glass door to do something, leaving the reporters shouting questions. Sometimes you just tire of spin, the endless carping, the incessant pissy miserabilism, to quote the Pet Shop Boys.
Of course, Stewart and co. have been (gleefully) pointing out the President's tin ear since he was a governor. But when people on both sides of the aisle tire of being treated like children, there's a chance for real change. Not necessarily real "Democrat-in-office" change. I'd just like the next President, regardless of political orientation, to be someone who won't spend eight years throwing the same talking points at the wall, no matter what the situation.



Just a quick reminder: if you're going to be donating money to the Red Cross or any of the other worthy charities doing relief work on the Gulf Coast (and you should be, you should be!), check with your employer and see if they'll match employee contributions. Many companies will, so take advantage of this. You can find a list of FEMA-approved charities here, but like I said, check with your employer.



Miami is not a city famed for law and order. For that matter, neither is South Florida generally. But there's a new sheriff in town: Alberto Gonzales. And according to this story, he's cracking down on what's really important. The lede:
When FBI supervisors in Miami met with new interim U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta last month, they wondered what the top enforcement priority for Acosta and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would be.

Would it be terrorism? Organized crime? Narcotics trafficking? Immigration? Or maybe public corruption?

The agents were stunned to learn that a top prosecutorial priority of Acosta and the Department of Justice was none of the above. Instead, Acosta told them, it's obscenity. Not pornography involving children, but pornographic material featuring consenting adults.

Acosta's stated goal of prosecuting distributors of adult porn has angered federal and local law enforcement officials, as well as prosecutors in his own office. They say there are far more important issues in a high-crime area like South Florida, which is an international hub at risk for terrorism, money laundering and other dangerous activities.

His own prosecutors have warned Acosta that prioritizing adult porn would reduce resources for prosecuting other crimes, including porn involving children. According to high-level sources who did not want to be identified, Acosta has assigned prosecutors porn cases over their objections.
I'm not crazy enough to think that pornography is a completely innocent or beneficial force in the world. But making porn the top priority for federal law enforcement (as a stupid payback to the Christian right) strikes me as beyond stupid. I think it's obscene.

Update: I just noticed the headline on the story: "U.S. Attorney's Porn Fight Gets Bad Reviews." I can think of about a million better stories to go with that headline...


Looter Shooter

There's an interesting discussion going on at the Volokh conspiracy about (roughly) whether it's responsible to encourage New Orleans residents to shoot looters on sight. I think the answer to this is pretty obvious, and I can't believe David Kopel believes that encouraging people to start shooting is going to be at all helpful. So I guess I shouldn't say that the discussion is interesting, so much as on the one hand predictable and on the other hand jaw-droppingly naive. Anyway, my point was that one of the comments on this made me laugh:
Kopel's position takes the position that the basic non-looting New Orleanian is intelligent, even omniscient. He suggests that they assess whether a person is a looter, whether that looting is or is not a necessity, and then shoot the latter category.

My experience is that the basic non-looting New Orleanian is not omniscient and is, in fact, probably drunk.
Mine too. I've been in cities where people drink and drive regularly, but New Orleans is the only city I've been to where I've seen more than one person drinking from stemware while driving.


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