Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Two Kinds of Government?

This guy may be crazy—he's written extensively about the Federal Reserve system, vitamin B-17 as a cure for cancer, and Noah's Ark—but he's close to the mark about government.

He argues that systems are either favoring individual freedom or favoring collectivism. He also argues that collectivism is a lie—there are no groups, only individuals. (No forests, only trees.) This is true in the sense that policies that favor groups tend to harm the individuals of those groups, but not true in the sense that we (humans) do have a very real desire to promote the survival of our tribe and species. (Unless you're PETA.)

Also, it's not really true that systems ever favor individualism. I mean, sure, they do in writing. But the system favors itself, and that favor transcends anything written or stated about the system. Almost as if systems were themselves organic.

Basically, you can draw a line, like this:

On the left, you have the ultimate totalitarianism, something along the lines of 1984. On the right, you have complete anarchy.

Now, the thing is, you can't have complete anarchy. I mean, it's theoretically possible, and if men were free in spirit (say, free of sin?) it would probably be an optimal set-up. But, under such circumstances, Communism could also work.

But nature abhors a vacuum, and anarchy (white) leads to the void being filled by black—the first strong-armed dictator who sees easy prey. And it's far from the absolute end where trouble occurs. Our Founding Fathers felt the need to override the Articles of Confederation to create the Constitution. (Which area of history I need to study more. How weak was the Confederacy? How much of the Constitution was a power play?)

"But Blake," you say, "you're always advocating pushing to the right as far as possible."

Why, that's very astute of you. Yes. Yes, I am. That's because the state—any state, at any given time—will move to the left, toward more power and less freedom. And we're in about as much chance of getting anywhere near anarchy as we are of getting pizza raining from the sky.

So, yeah, I push toward ever smaller government. I've long maintained there only need to be two parties at any given time: One arguing that the government should handle a particular issue, and one arguing that they shouldn't. The ones arguing that government shouldn't should usually be in power.

And forever banished should be the argument that just because one doesn't want the government to handle something, one doesn't want the situations handled. If anything, the reverse should be argued, as there is a lot more evidence to support it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Bitter Homeschooler

This came to me in an e-mail. I think it's kind of funny, and while there's a lot of truth, I've never felt bitter about the questions. Intriguingly, most normal folk are mildly interested by the concept. Teachers on the other hand split between very supportive and rather indignant. (Without fail, the indignant ones are hard-core union-lovin' Leftists.)

  1. Please stop asking us if it's legal. If it is (and it is) it's insulting to imply that we're criminals. And if we were criminals, would we admit it?
  2. Learn what the words "socialize" and "socialization" mean, and use the one you really mean instead of mixing them up the way you do now. Socializing means hanging out with other people for fun. Socialization means having acquired the skills necessary to do so successfully and pleasantly. If you're talking to me and my kids, that means that we do in fact go outside now and then to visit the other human beings on the planet, and you can safely assume that we've got a decent grasp of both concepts.
  3. Quit interrupting my kid at her dance lesson, scout meeting, choir practice, baseball game, art class, field trip, park day, music class, 4H club, or soccer lesson to ask her if as a homeschooler she ever gets to socialize.
  4. Don't assume that every homeschooler you meet is homeschooling for the same reasons and in the same way as that one homeschooler you know.
  5. If that homeschooler you know is actually someone you saw on TV, either on the news or on a "reality" show, the above goes double.
  6. Please stop telling us horror stories about the homeschoolers you know, know of, or think you might know who ruined their lives by homeschooling.You're probably the same little bluebird of happiness whose hobby is running up to pregnant women and inducing premature labor by telling them every ghastly birth story you've ever heard. We all hate you, so please go away.
  7. We don't look horrified and start quizzing your kids when we hear they're in public school. Please stop drilling our children like potential oil fields to see if we're doing what you consider an adequate job of homeschooling.
  8. Stop assuming all homeschoolers are religious.
  9. Stop assuming that if we're religious, we must be homeschooling for religious reasons.
  10. We didn't go through all the reading, learning, thinking, weighing of options, experimenting, and worrying that goes into homeschooling just to annoy you. Really. This was a deeply personal decision, tailored to the specifics of our family. Stop taking the bare fact of our being homeschoolers as either an affront or a judgment about your own educational decisions.
  11. Please stop questioning my competency and demanding to see my credentials. I didn't have to complete a course in catering to successfully cook dinner for my family; I don't need a degree in teaching to educate my
    children. If spending at least twelve years in the kind of chew-it-up-and-spit-it-out educational facility we call public school left me with so little information in my memory banks that I can't teach the basics of an elementary education to my nearest and dearest, maybe there's a reason I'm so reluctant to send my child to school.
  12. If my kid's only six and you ask me with a straight face how I can possibly teach him what he'd learn in school, lease understand that you're calling me an idiot. Don't act shocked if I decide to respond in kind.
  13. Stop assuming that because the word "home" is right there in "homeschool," we never leave the house. We're the ones who go to the amusement parks, museums, and zoos in the middle of the week and in the off-season and laugh at you because you have to go on weekends and holidays when it's crowded and icky.
  14. Stop assuming that because the word "school" is right there in homeschool, we must sit around at a desk for six or eight hours every day,just like your kid does. Even if we're into the "school" side of education (and many of us prefer a more organic approach) we can burn through a lot of material a lot more efficiently, because we don't have to gear our lessons to the lowest common denominator.
  15. Stop asking, "But what about the Prom?" Even if the idea that my kid might not be able to indulge in a night of over-hyped, over-priced revelry was enough to break my heart, plenty of kids who do go to school don't get
    to go to the Prom. For all you know, I'm one of them. I might still be bitter about it. So go be shallow somewhere else.
  16. Don't ask my kid if she wouldn't rather go to school unless you don't mind if I ask your kid if he wouldn't rather stay home and get some sleep now and then.
  17. Stop saying, "Oh, I could never homeschool!" Even if you think it's some kind of compliment, it sounds more like you're horrified. One of these days, I won't bother disagreeing with you any more.
  18. If you can remember anything from chemistry or calculus class, you're allowed to ask how we'll teach these subjects to our kids. If you can't,thank you for the reassurance that we couldn't possibly do a worse job than your teachers did, and might even do a better one.
  19. Stop asking about how hard it must be to be my child's teacher as well as her parent. I don't see much difference between bossing my kid around academically and bossing him around the way I do about everything else.
  20. Stop saying that my kid is shy, outgoing, aggressive, anxious, quiet, boisterous, argumentative, pouty, fidgety, chatty, whiny, or loud because he's homeschooled. It's not fair that all the kids who go to school can be
    as annoying as they want to without being branded as representative of anything but childhood.
  21. Quit assuming that my kid must be some kind of prodigy because she's homeschooled.
  22. Quit assuming that I must be some kind of prodigy because I homeschool my kids.
  23. Quit assuming that I must be some kind of saint because I homeschool my kids.
  24. Stop talking about all the great childhood memories my kids won't get because they don't go to school, unless you want me to start asking about all the not-so-great childhood memories you have because you went to school.
  25. Here's a thought: If you can't say something nice about homeschooling, shut up!
I found the source of this. It's by Deborah Markus, and was originally published here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Update To Haunt Post

If you happened to read the 2009 Halloween Haunt post this morning, I've updated it with the rest of our adventures.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Knott's Halloween Haunt 2009: All You Fear Is Here

Thursday marked our annual return to Knott's Halloween Haunt, our way of kicking the season off with a bang. I gave a pretty detailed review of last year's shenanigans here, and quite a bit of it still applies.

We always go on the first day, which is always the last Thursday in September. This is a great time to take kids, because it's not very crowded, and you don't have to worry about them getting trampled.

This year I tried to take a few pictures to add to the review, but some of them are quite bad. Bear with me: I really wasn't there to take pictures, and my camera is awkwardly big, so I rushed more than a few.

The fun started before we even entered the park. We had dinner at the hotel the beforehand (which entitles you to get into the park early) and a couple of ghouls came into the dining area to say "Hi". They were named Hollywood and Smiley and they told us to come look for us in the Ghost Town.

Since there's about an hour-and-a-half between the time we finish dinner and when we enter the park (Dad likes food to be well digested before kids embark on stomach-upending adventures), we chilled in our "apartment"—as the Flower styled it—while she drew a picture of Hollywood and Smiley to give to them later.

They started out with this new villainous zombie guy hosting, yelling nasty things from the top of the entrance to the Ghost Rider coaster. I used to think that Knott's, which was hosted by The Crypt Keeper and/or Elvira back the first time I went, and has been visited over the years by Jason, Freddie and Michael, had chopped these characters out as a way of saving cash. And perhaps that's true.

But now I can see that those characters weren't perennials, or I can at least see how they might not seem that way to the execs who run the park, aiming for the teen audience. I mean, the kids who were there this year would probably say "Crypt Keeper who?" Er, maybe "What Keeper?"

I, myself, am a lover of the classics. They could rock the Edgar Allan Poe and I'd dig it. I'd be in geek heaven if they did an H.P. Lovecraft theme.

As I always, we made a beeline through the Ghost Town and headed for the mine ride. I explained why in last year's post, but another reason not mentioned then is that about five of the mazes are right up front and easy targets for people looking to score a quick maze fix.

I kind of like this picture I took, from the waist, with the setting sun, and the monster's starting to run hither-and-yon to get to their destinations.

I was expecting a little more from the Mine Ride this year: It's still the Black Widow's Cavern, a spider theme, and the only maze that The Flower hides her eyes for.They flooded the ride with fog this time; you literally couldn't see much of anything. The giant animatronic spider wasn't there. They really haven't gotten anywhere near the coolness of the previous undead army theme. We were on the very first car, though, so perhaps this will improve with later evenings.

The other ride The Flower will not do—and I never push this sort of thing—is the log flume (Pyromaniax). So The Boy rode it alone while we accosted various monsters. He said they didn't do much on the fire front.

The Flower would get into these great situations with monsters but by the time I got the camera ready, she'd have moved on. There were some later opportunities, however.

From the two rides, I always head to the far end of the park. This has been Killer Klown Kollege for years now, but they changed it to Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre.

Honestly, this didn't seem like a new maze at all. I guess it wasn't 3D (which never really does anything for my experience, so I never get the glasses), but otherwise it seemed like the same maze as always. Minus last year's bungee-cord powered killer klown.

I'm a big advocate of going the first day—not too big, lest the idea catch on and ruin it—but I stopped on the way in to Uncle Bobo's to take a couple pictures to illustrate why I'm such a big advocate.

The following constitutes a small fraction of the queue, which on a later day would be all filled up.
It's all asses-to-elbows, the closer you get to Halloween. You can't hardly breathe. Especially in weather like we're having: warm, until late at night.

And, yeah, I just made up that phrase, "asses-to-elbows". I like it, even though it makes no damn sense.

Anyway, on the first day, you can get winded from running from one end of the queue to the actual maze entrance.

From there, we swooped 'round the north end of the park, where Lost Vegas had been replaced with the new Mexican-themed Dia De Los Muertos.
This was where we first encountered the heavy hand of the "No Flash Photography" police. I mean, they mention it on all the rides, but me having my camera out seemed to put the security guys on alert.

This maze was really great, especially for a first year. The colors were a little more festive—lots more greens and reds—and had a really nice thematic shift from the usual grays and browns, which was good because it replaced the garish "Lost Vegas". It was definitely one of my favorites this year.

It had a very different feel, with a little marketplace, a cemetery, and surprisingly few Mexican clichés. No "hat dance", e.g. It reminded me vaguely of all those Mexican-themed horror stories Ray Bradbury wrote.

From there we went to another new maze: Terror of London.

This was in the spot of the previous classics "Blood Bayou" and "13 Axe Murder Manor", and so had some big shoes to fill.

This was my favorite maze of the night. Often new mazes are a little sketchy, not quite fully realized, but Terror really was, as was Dia. (Uncle Bobo, sort of ironically, really wasn't.)

When you step into this maze, you step into 19th century London. Well, at least a movie-set rendition of 19th century London, which is good enough. This maze is quiet. Fog puffs up artfully as you navigate the alleyways, coming across more and more gruesome murders.

For good measure, they threw in a meat-pie shop and a Frankensteinian reference—I also thought a little Jekyll & Hyde. It's a mishmash in that sense, but fairly thematically constant for a mishmash.

From there, it was off to The Doll Factory.

And there's a creepy doll!
That always follows you!
It's got a ruined eye
That's always open!

And there's a creepy doll!
That always follows you!
It's got a pretty mouth
To swallow you whole!


This is always a favorite of The Flower. And it amuses me how her basic principles of "dolls = good", "faeries = good" override the obvious intended terror. It applies here, to Labyrinth and to Club Blood.

Well, by this time, we'd done six of the attractions and it was...7:40?

Holy crap.

The Hanging was at 8:00PM, and possibly the first time we'd ever seen the very first hanging on the very first day. So we settled in right up front and sat on the fence.
You have to watch out when you're this close, as they do splash blood on you a bit.

The hangings are always interesting on a number of levels. For example, we used to do very similar "stunt routines" in Karate, but we were way, way better. At first, that seems sort of shocking—after all, these guys are professionals—but then you realize we spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours practicing over the course of many years, where these guys can't possibly invest that kind of time.

But we made contact with our routines.

They're also always interesting because they're basically pop-culture fests. A lot of the references are very hit-and-miss. They started by trying to hang Susan Boyle, then the crew of the Enterprise (rent-a-car) intervened, the Octomom showed up, etc. But this year, unlike last, was completely apolitical. I prefer that.

And this year was hilarious, because they hung the vampire from the Twilight series. (I guess it must really annoy the crap out of people.) It's not that they hung him for being annoying, it's that the show didn't end there (though people walked away). And they actually ended with a big dance number.

Now, the other thing about this year in particular, was that they screwed up. Royally. All over the place. (First show, right?) Some people missed their marks, I think. But mostly, the tape playing was all over the map. You see, part of the show is live talking, but the imitations and singing are recorded. (Of course, where are you going to find stuntmen who can imitate Austin Power and Arnold Schwarzeneggar?)

And all these tapes have to be synched up with the action, and the special sound effects have to match the punches (that's always hit-and-miss, as it were), and the music has to come at the right time. At one point, they were playing two tapes at once. (One right, one wrong.) A few cues were completely missed. And they even had to stop the whole show for a minute to get set up again.

We loved it.

For one thing, the show really was better material than in past years. The usual misfires, crudities and badly timed jokes notwithstanding, it was better written overall. And for us, as longtime goers, it was kind of cool to see how they handled the screw-ups, big and small.

After this, we would head to the front of the park, where everyone usually rushes at the beginning of the night. I actually dislike moving around in this area, as I haven't been there during the day in years, and it's full of little cul-de-sacs and dead ends (in the form of rides, shops and a clubby-type restaurant). I swear they made this area hard to get through to make the park seem bigger.

And so we came to Quarantine:
I talked about this movie-based ride last year; movie rides are a bit iffy in general, but this was a pretty good one, and this year it was actually fleshed out a bit more, though they dropped the opening effect where they kill the fireman.

From there we went to the still exceedingly weak Corn Stalkers, to which was added the fresh scent of manure. Well, yeah, disgust is kin to horror. Seriously, what the hell were they thinking? (No picture.)

Then from there, we went to Alien Annihilation (no picture), but this year The Flower didn't want to rent a gun to shoot the aliens with. So she used her finger, and the monsters were quite accommodating.

Everyone was super-nice this year, actually. Monsters, refreshment stand folk, security. Helpful, even, knowing where rides were and so on.
This guy, for example. Stopped to talk with us, as did a werewolf whom The Flower gave some cookies to. (She was prepared this year. After being accosted every year by a wolf thinking she was Red Riding Hood, she decided to bring cookies in her backpack.)

Anyway, Alien Annihilation was a bit weak. I'm not sure what it was, exactly. Sometimes mazes aren't quite there on the first day, I think. Other times, older mazes can sort of peter out. Nobody's excited to work in them or on them, I suspect.

Another one I think may have been understaffed was Labyrinth. It's a cool maze, and The Flower loves the faeries. But it seemed like there were a lot of stretches of not much to look at.

I also got that feeling from The Slaughterhouse (sorry for the crappy pic). Just a lot of empty space. The Slaughterhouse is kind of funny because there wasn't even anyone out there with a sign indicating it was a ride.

From here, we started the long trek across the park to Club Blood and Lockdown, but as we passed the Wagon Camp theater, Inferno was starting up. We saw them last year and liked them so we stopped in to see the scantily clad performers twirl flaming weapons and light themselves on fire.
The Flower was on an autograph kick this year. She brought her book and wanted Snoopy to sign it. But I pointed out he couldn't hold a pen.

The Inferno guys (and gals) were better this year than last. The above-pictured girl had a flaming staff she was spinning like crazy. Adding to the excitement is the several people hiding behind strategically placed stage decorations with blankets and fire extinguishers.

Yikes. Show business.

As we trekked to the far end of the park, there was a new little thing based on the upcoming movie Stepfather. I guess this isn't a remake of the old Terry O'Quinn series—and I would've sworn Corbin Bernsen had a movie like it—and I can't figure out if this "scene" was a good thing or not. I wouldn't want to stand in line to see it.Basically, you pile into a room, they play a bit from the movie. There are a few startling things and some monsters come at you. It's, like, 30 seconds.

The last new maze of the night was Lockdown. This was previously the Asylum, a long-running insane asylum theme, and this is even listed as "The Asylum: Lockdown" in some places, but they've really gone full prison theme.

And this was another good one, too. It's derivative of the old asylum, but different enough. (Nice minor touch: A picture of Rita Hayworth pinned up on one of the walls.)

This feeds pretty directly into Club Blood, the inevitable vampire-themed maze, which The Flower loves and which has some very cool effects. It was here, though, that we had our biggest clash with the "flash photography gestapo".

You see, the maze is at the very edge of the park, and beyond the gate was a visible warehouse. Well, The Boy and I have a running debate going:

In every video game ever made, there are wooden crates. But in real life, you never see crates. He pointed to the warehouse and said, "Crates!"

I said, "No, boxes on pallets. There's a difference." So I decided to take a picture, and this female security guard came up and said, "What are you taking a picture of!"

Well, so then I had to explain. Heh. And the picture came out lousy, too, but I still maintain they were boxes on pallets.

At this point, we'd done all the mazes and seen two of the shows. It was 10:30PM. The Boy wanted to do them all again while The Flower wanted to see the shows. There's always one marginally inappropriate dance number (in the Charles Schultz theater, heh) so I was hemming and hawing on that a bit. But I did take a couple more pictures to demonstrate why Knott's was superior to Disney in important ways:

There were many such lasses with similar signs throughout the park, and while I don't drink, if I did, I probably would drink it during the Haunt.

No violence broke out, apparently. And people were generally not belligerent.

Well, we compromised a bit. We did The Doll Factory and the Terror of London again, caught the show at the Birdcage Theater, then did a couple of laps on Bigfoot Rapids, which is not done up for the Haunt, but which is a popular ride for the kids.

They got soaked, while I didn't, so we did the ride again—and they got even more soaked, while once again I remained dry. That'll show them whippersnappers.

The show at The Birdcage was really quite good this year: The theme was a take off on "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" so the material was new. The Twilight series was another whipping boy, only they had zombie romance instead. Cute and funny.

In between the last few rides we ran into our pals Smiley and Hollywood again, but the Flower couldn't find the pictures she had drawn of them.

We moseyed on out of the park just a little early—our energy was a bit low this year for some reason—stopping at a few shops here and there, and finally limping our way back to the hotel room, satisfied with another job well done.

Conversations From The Living Room, Part 25: 2nd Grade Poli Sci

The Boy: "You're a racist!"
The Flower: "I am not! My best friend is black!"
The Boy: "Yes, but you oppose a black President."
The Flower: "I oppose the black President."
The Boy: "That makes you racist!"
[The Flower rolls her eyes.]

The Boy was teasing The Flower, as he often does, and she was tolerating it, as she often does, but I have to admit, I was not expecting her response to "you oppose a black President". I expected her to say she didn't oppose him. (At eight, I can't imagine being too opposed to any politician but then, my children are unlike me in many ways.) I was also mightily impressed by her distinction between the articles "a" and "the".

I think she really liked Sarah Palin. (Actually, she was a little concerned that Palin would take her spot as first female President.)

But I think from now on I'm adopting the "eye roll" rebuttal to any accusations of racism.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Make That Dream Supreme

The incomparable Steven Den Beste has a Hot Air post up about how he would change the Constitution, given the chance. It's not really radical, for the most part. I mean, it is, in the sense that the statists we've cultivated and let take over everything would find it dangerous, shocking and potentially even racist. (Not even kidding about the racist part.)

But mostly, it boils down to, "This Constitution means what it says. No, really." Point one reins in the Interstate Commerce clause, so that it only applies to, you know, inter-freaking-state commerce. Point two says the Second Amendment means what it says.

Point three specifically allows hanging, i.e., says it's not cruel and unusual punishment. I'm not big on execution, but the constant redefinition of everything as cruel and unusual strikes me as an end-run.

Point four insists that international law can't be used as precedent. I'm sure the Founding Fathers would've nodded and said, "Wait, what? Do we really have to write that down?"

Point five is term limits. I'm sort of against term limits, in the sense that I think we should be allowed to vote for whomever we choose. What really needs to happen is for these political jobs to go back to being the menial sort of janitorial work that no one really wants to do, but that they do any way because they're patriots. And even then, a term or two is more than enough to satisfy any civic requirements.

Point six says you can't agree to an international treaty that will compromise individual rights. Again, James Madison says, "WTF?"

Point seven says you can't be taxed or regulated based on carbon output. At this point, the Founding Fathers roll over in their graves and go back to their eternal rest, having concluded that we're not really serious people, worthy of their time.

Point eight is sort-of tort reform. Maybe a little too detailed for a Constitution?

Point nine says the fifth amendment means what it says, and point 10 says the 14th amendment means what it says.

A lot of the points actually reaffirm the Ninth and Tenth Amendments as well, which seem to be unpopular with the elites these past hundred years or so.

Conclusion: If you have to pass a document that says the preceding document that was agreed to is what it is, all the subsequent documents meant to affirm that will have no significance.

Gadget Lust

I'm not a gadget guy. People are often surprised by that because I have something like ten computers. But, see, I'm a computer guy. Didn't get a cell phone till my latest job required one (and gave one to me). Don't have GPS. Don't listen to satellite radio. Didn't have a DVR, until I made one myself (out of a computer).

I have many guitars and stringed instruments (like a banjo, a dulcimer, a lute), but of these only two plug in to anything. I don't own a digital watch, a calculator, a PDA, etc.

But I do occasionally get the itch. Such as with this.

I've always wanted to make some digital artwork, but I'm not very good. I get by with #2 pencils, and most of the time, what I draw is rather kid-like, at the Ed Emberley level. (Every now and again, for reasons I cannot explain, given a lot of quiet time and concentration, I can make a truly lifelike illustration.) Nonetheless, they come out kind of cute sometimes and it'd be fun to put them up here from time-to-time.

Problem is, the meager ability I have completely vanishes when I try to move to digital tools. I've always felt the lack of a really nice tablet was a big culprit there. Sadly, I can't really justify spending that kind of money. (I miss you, '90s tech bubble!)

Ah, well. A guy can dream. If he can sleep, he can dream, anyway.

Come to think of it, though, this isn't really a gadget so much as a computer peripheral. So, none of my opening ramp really applies, does it?

Insomnia's Invisible Casualties

I find things on the 'net. I mean, sure, we all do. But I find stuff that makes people go "How the hell did you find that?" Weird combinations of words, mostly, or very specific combinations of words. But most people who I have any call to share my surfing habits with end up with links that they never would have expected to find.

I should make a career out it. "Links for those suffering from Internet ennui."

Anyway, the last few nights I've had trouble sleeping. My numbers aren't good and that means I'm supposed to rest, but if I'm doing a lot of resting, I end up unable to sleep. (I plan to remedy this, but it's too late to handle this particular night.) And, hell, Thursday is the Halloween Haunt! So the late night awakeness isn't so bad and it'll wear me out so that I can sleep.

Tonight I stumbled upon a Cosmopolitan link. You remember Cosmo: It's what women read in the '70s to be "liberated". It's 80% sex on the cover, and 80% ads on the inside, if memory serves. They have a website. And the thing I stumbled upon is the description of a sexual position.

It's not NSFW (SFW?), and I'll leave it to the less delicate of you to discuss the merits of the sexual position discussed (link), but what caught my eye was this one line of copy: "Raise your legs to an eye-popping 90-degree angle..."

Now, my first thought was, "How the hell can a 90-degree angle be eye-popping? A 90-degree angle is a 90-degree angle!" I realize that these things are supposed to sound exciting, but do we really need to try to dress up basic geometry?

Maybe it's eye-popping, I thought, because it's exotic? But, really, there's nothing very exotic about an "L" shape. It's half a square, for crying out loud! It's hard to imagine a less daring (and more non-committal) angle. Neither acute nor obtuse, neither this way nor that. Two line segments in search of a hypotenuse.

And then I wondered if it was eye-popping because it required limberness. I could imagine an extreme stretch causing my eyes to pop-out. Though usually it's the muscles that start popping first.

But once again, 90 degrees is about as unchallenging an angle possible, stretch-wise. That's basically called "sitting up straight". If you can't do it, consult your physician. Hardly seems very sexy for a sexy magazine that's obsessed with sex.

Other things observed: They have a whole mess of these sex positions. By my calculations, given that each print issue of Cosmo offers 101 new positions, and they've been in print for about 40 years, they should be able to come up with about a billion positions in toto.

My favorite part about this feature, besides the bombast (which perhaps explains why some women are dissatisfied in the first place) is a little blurb after each description called "Why You'll Love It". They have that in the guy-version of Cosmo, too, and it says the same thing after every position: "Because it's sex." The girl version is way more complicated, including things like, "You can freely imagine George Clooney" or "You can balance your checkbook without being harassed."

Sometimes I wonder if their heart's really in it.

I poked around a bit more, feeling somewhat like I'd snuck in the ladies' lavatory. There was an article about what "cuddling body language reveals". I was surprised that there was only four options. And, it had not occurred to me until reading that one was supposed to pick one of the four forms of cuddling and stick with it, so as to be readable by body language experts. What I really didn't get, looking at the slideshow, was why they used gay men to demonstrate things.

Then there was another article on the sex scenes they wanted to see in the new television season. Ten shows. I haven't seen any of them.

Maybe I'm not the target demo?

This is the sort of rambling that occurs when one should be sleeping, but isn't. My blog is one of insomnia's invisible casualties. And if you've read this far, so are you.

Movie Review: Extract

Mike Judge is someone whose work I always enjoy, even though (or maybe especially because) it's usually low key and driven by average guys. But it can sneak up on you with its addictiveness.

Office Space, for example, went from a limited release, low-key, low-budget film to a cult classic adored by millions. Idiocracy? Well, maybe not so big, but still a cult classic. Even "King of the Hill", which just ended its run last week, succeeded quietly, spending its run in the shadow of the iconic Simpsons and the far splashier "Family Guy". And I suspect we'll see "The Goode Family" build up the same kind of hard-core following, even if they don't bring it back.

We won't even talk about Beavis and Butthead, primarily because I'm not sure where that fits into the whole pantheon.

So, I wasn't too surprised to see his latest movie Extract, spend one week at a few regular theaters—just surprised it jumped immediately to the second run theater. So The Boy and I rushed out to see it.

We laughed. A lot. As to be expected. But does this movie have the kind of grows-on-you cult-watchability of his other movies? Not a freakin' clue. I'd have to rewatch it.

It is a bit ickier than his other films, I think. Though it's ultimately handled with a typically kind and light touch, it feels kind of weird when it's happening.

The premise is that Joel, a middle-aged man who built a successful extract factory, has become discontented on a couple of levels: First, he's not getting any lovin' from the wife (in a funny bit you can see parts of in the trailer); second, he's somewhat disenchanted with his life's calling of making extracts.

This second point is very secondary. We see and can understand why Joel's unhappy with aspects of his factory and the life-changes his wealth has brought him; but he's actually pretty passionate about extracts so his desire to retire ultimately seems to come down to the first point, and to a degree the encouragement of his colleague.

Anyway, into this mix is dropped a gorgeous con-girl, Cindy, a grifter who sees an opportunity when Step, one of the workers at the plant, suffers a freak accident. The accident, amusingly, occurs when one of the other workers, who's obsessed with how much work everyone else is or isn't doing, decides to let the machines roll even though doing so is bound to cause some sort of foul-up.

I've never worked in a plant like this, but from the people I've know who have, there are a lot of people who shoot themselves (and the plant) in the foot out of some perceived injustice. There are just a lot more of 'em at Joel's plant. He seems to have a soft spot for screw-ups.

Cindy's pursuit of Step takes her across Joel's path. And as we see in every single scene she's in, Cindy uses her sexuality to deal with everything.

That might be enough to get the ball rolling, but for good measure, Joel has a bartender buddy (former co-worker) who gives him all kinds of sage advice, like how, as the owner of the company, he could have any woman he wanted who worked for them. (Though they're mostly men and not very attractive.) And also, how, if his wife had an affair, he could also have an affair guilt-free.

It's sounds almost French, doesn't it?

The casting, typical for a Judge movie, is near perfect. Jason Bateman plays the milquetoast-y Joel with Kristen Wiig as his wife. Wiig does a great job, playing a very sympathetic woman in contrast to her usual quirky, sort-of cold comic character (seen in Ghost Town and Knocked Up). Mila Kunis is perfectly believable as Cindy, the sexpot without a heart of gold, though it's a little hard to dislike her as much as we should.

David Koechner plays the neighbor from Hell, a latter-day Lumberg, J.K. Simmons is the colleague who refers to all of the employees as "Dinkus". Dustin Milligan is the world's dumbest gigolo. Beth Grant, last seen as the mother-in-law in No Country For Old Men is the woman who will wreck the plant to prove a point. Repeatedly. Gene Simmons plays a rapacious bus-stop-bench-advertising lawyer also out to shut the plant down out of sheer greed.

And, finally, in my favorite role of his since he played himself in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Ben Affleck is the drug-dealing bartender who basically guides Joel down the path of losing his marbles. He's really good at these kinds of roles; he should do more of them. (I shouldn't knock the guy; he was really good as George Reeve in Hollywoodland.)

But really, this is Bateman's movie to carry, just as Ron Livingston had to make Office Space work and Luke Wilson had to make Idiocracy worth watching. Judge makes movies about Everyman and the Everyman has to be sympathetic and empathetic. Bateman's one of my favorite actors, since the short-lived '80s series "It's Your Move", and I love how he can turn up as a stoner jock in one movie (Dodgeball), an uptight white-collar worker in the next (The Break Up) and a smarmy won't-grow-up musician in the next (Juno).

But did he have enough warmth to pull this off? I'm not really sure. And I mean that exactly: I'm not sure. It might be that the movie didn't quite work for me at some levels and I'm looking around for reasons why.

The situation does get dire in this movie—Judge is excellent at making you wonder how the hell his characters are going to get out the messes they've made—and I felt like the resolution was a little pat. But it sort of had to be. It is a comedy, after all.

And it had what I consider to be Judge's trademark kindness. The movie isn't mean-spirited or misanthropic, so that goes a long way in my book. And while there was quite a bit about sex, it wasn't graphic. It was way less than TV level, frankly. (I didn't notice the language, though, so I guess that, and the drug use put it into the "R" category.)

I'm glad I saw it, and The Boy liked it a lot, if for no other reason then he was worried it was going to just turn into a downer and it didn't. But I'd recommend it selectively, and heavily to the people I know who work in plants. It's not Office Space level of classic, since there's much less about the actual workings, but I suspect it's eerily accurate.

There was another unusual thing about this movie: It's basically business-positive, which is rare, and the first time I can remember such a thing in a decade. Ultimately Joel is heroic in his own way and lauded simply because he likes to work, and built a business where other people (who might not be highly employable) can work, too.

Even when there's talk of a takeover, the company making the bid isn't shown as a villain. The workers are shown as rather short-sighted, interestingly. And, of course, the lawyer is just as wicked as the criminal who hires him.

The Boy liked it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wherein I Compare AI Development To Global Warming

Instapundit highlights this little article on Artificial Intelligence where J. Storrs Hall writes the following:

If you’re OK with calling a robot human equivalent if it can, say, do everything a janitor is supposed to, it’s likely by 2025; if it has to be able to create art and literature and do science and wheel and deal in the political and economic world and be a productive entrepreneur, you may have to wait a little bit longer.

Insty quotes this, and it's a misleading. Hall believes we'll have an AI capable of janitorial work, not really an AI that can "do everything a janitor is supposed to". What he means is that we'll have, essentially, a more advanced Roomba—perhaps humanoid, though humanoid shape wouldn't be necessarily optimal.

And, no, this isn't human intelligence. Robot janitors will, guaranteed, be stupid. They'll clean while building burns—or if that's prepared for, while the building floods. And if they're programmed for that, while the roof caves in.

To my mind, the key graf is:

What remains to be seen is whether it will be equivalent to the 2-year-old in that essential aspect that it will learn, grow, and gain in wisdom as it ages.

First of all: No, it won't. No mystery. See, that would be intelligence, versus pre-programming a set of defined tasks with a certain set of fixed parameters. I'll give him some credit that he's wondering, as opposed to making a prediction that anyone will actually be there in 15 years. 25 years ago, people who used to write and speak about AI predicted wondrous things in 5, 10, 15 years.

And we have the Roomba. And some other very cool domain-specializing tools. But nothing like intelligence.

But the idea that a two-year-old is considered less than a janitor, and a janitor less than an artist suggests to me that the field is still lacking a definition of intelligence. A two-year-old has as powerful an intellect as any of us will ever meet. A janitor's intelligence isn't necessarily going to be taxed by his job very often, but sometimes it will be—knowing how to react in an unexpected circumstances, like a fire, a flood, previously unsuspected structural unsoundness.

One can argue that many janitors who face such circumstances react wrongly or inappropriately, but they react to the best of their ability. Robots will simply fail to react to things outside their parameters.

Again, not to say that there won't be useful 'bots, but this isn't intelligence.

I'm not an expert in it, but I think the singularity guys have based their theory on a combination of working AI and Moore's Law. But Moore's Law is a trend, not an actual "law", and AI doesn't seem to be any closer to realization than it ever was—it's only a massive amount of computing power that allows the meagerest appearance of less-than-animal intelligence.

Appearance, I say. It's not even intelligence and the distinction is not something that can be remedied with quantity.

I'll go one step further: If the singularity were to come to pass, it would be a nightmare for humanity. But that's a different topic for a different rant.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wherein I Throw Down With XWL

XWL over at Immodest Proposals commits the ultimate crime here.

That's right, folks, he disses the placebo. Here at the 'strom, it's a toss up as to whether we prefer placebos or snake oil, but both have an exalted position in our world.

I'll concede his basic point that vague diseases lend themselves to vague cures. But it's a mistake to regard placebos as meaning that the patient was never sick to begin with. A lot of people tend to think that psychosomatic illnesses aren't real, that they're "all in your head".

But of course, they are real. The symptoms match those of "real" diseases. It seems to me that a psychosomatic condition could have a perfectly ordinary biological origin, but be held in place by a state of mind. The placebo gives the mind an excuse to let go of the symptoms, basically.

There's a congruence of mind and body not to be overlooked. If you injured your leg and tended to favor it, it would get stiff. And you might, noticing that it was stiff, tend to keep favoring it, actually making it stiffer. If you were convinced, on the other hand, that it was all right and just needed a little exercise, not only would you tend not to favor it, your body would probably create conditions more inclined to relax it.

The real question is how many diseases could be positively influenced by a placebo. Sometimes, I suspect, all of them. A midwife I knew said that while labor hurt, a lot of that hurt was a combination of past pain and future pain. In other words, remembering the previous contraction and fearing the next one made the present contraction three-times as bad as it really was.

I often wonder how much we could do with a really good placebo. I've mentioned my friend who died of cancer (three years ago now) and as I sat with her as she lay dying, I contemplated a chicken sacrifice. Rattle shaking. Dancing in a mask. I would've done it if I thought I could've convincingly sold it. Or if I could've hooked up a couple of Tesla coils and Jacob's ladders, and pulled a mad scientist.

There are examples of just about every disease getting spontaneously better. Maybe that's what we should be looking at rather than running placebos down.

All Weed Weed Up!

Via Instapundit and Boing Boing, the L.A. Times posted an article showing all the quasi-legal marijuana joints in L.A. with a handy interactive map.

I first noticed one of these a month or two ago. I was driving and talking on a cell phone (it's L.A., it's the law) and I said, "Hey! I think that's a medical marijuana shop!" I drove through the lot and saw the store was closed and looked abandoned. I thought maybe these places were supposed to look like dives.

But the map reveals this was a place that had its license denied or revoked. Looking at the map, the highest concentration of stores seems to coincide with the poorest areas with the highest crime.

I guess crime and poverty lead to glaucoma.

I am, of course, opposed to drug use, whether recreational, phoney-baloney medical—and in most cases, legitimate medical uses. (Drugs should be used short-term to keep someone alive; corrective measures should be applied as soon as possible to obviate the need for long-term drug use.)

But the sheer insanity of the current situation is almost comical. We have hundreds of legal stores—but some guy got arrested by the Feds because he grew it in his backyard?

It is funny, although in a blackly-comic sort of way: We "fight" drugs, which drives up the prices and makes criminals out of users, fills the prisons, creates powerful gangs and international drug cartels that contribute to the deterioration of our neighboring countries—all without affecting the actual amount of drug use.

Meanwhile, doctors prescribe psychotropic drugs of dubious value like candy, and people drink like fish while scarfing stimulants to get through their days.

Somehow that doesn't add up to me.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wherein The Boy And I Have "The Talk"

No, not the Birds and the Bees talk. That's what the Internet is for.

I've been musing about the difference between free markets and Capitalism. I'm very for free markets: People + stuff = trade. That's pretty much how things work, and the closer we keep to that, the better off things seem to be. I don't see the struggle we're undergoing now as "Communism versus Capitalism" but "Slavery versus Freedom".

Capitalism arises as organically from free markets as free markets do from people + stuff. Naturally some people are going to want to trade money for more money. And just as naturally, some people are going to end up just trading money for money. This leads to people saying "Hey, those guys aren't doing anything but making money offa us!"

This, in turn, leads to upsetting or compromising the free market, even revolution.

Well, I was trying out this logic on The Boy, and he would have none of it. He pointed out that problem wasn't Capitalism, but envy. Or ignorance. And I pointed out that Capitalism had always failed, ultimately leading to less free markets. And he pointed out that the State was always involved in the failure.

And so I said that if the system always failed, how was that different from Communism?

Well, The Boy wasn't having any of it. He was quite deftly arguing his point, puncturing my arguments and standing his ground. But I didn't let on that I basically agreed with him.

An hour or so later, he emerged from his man-cave and said that he'd always thought I knew everything and had all the answers magically. Now, of course, I've done everything I can to discourage that notion, gently, and he's been coming 'round to my less-than-divine status for years, but I'm not sure it fully dawned on him until that night.

It's a very good thing.

He did reassure me I was still magical, though, just in a different way.

sniff ... I promised myself I wouldn't cry...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Movie Review: Ponyo

Along with Pixar, Hayao Miyazaki is one of those filmmakers whose kid's films I look forward to (and have for 15 years). And with Pixar's John Lasseter running Disney's creative stuff, it'll be nice to see his films getting a bit of a wider release.

But when Jason (the commenter) tweeted that Miyazaki's latest movie Ponyo boring, I could relate. In my case, I've noticed that there's often something slightly relaxed about the narrative structures. There's a different pace and purpose to scenes. Oddly, I always get to the point where I can rewatch them without being bored at all. Much like Pixar, his films are so packed with artistry that there's always something new to notice.

I was pleasantly surprised by Ponyo, however. It skews young—more like My Neighbor Totoro and less Princess Mononoke—but the presentation was constantly entertaining. The Flower liked it. The Boy was chuckling throughout the whole movie, but I wasn't sure he would cop to having enjoyed the movie as a whole, but he had no reservations about it. (He was actually more enthusiastic than The Flower.)

The story is one of these Japanese things where there's a whole mythology that you're not quite privy to. Fujimoto is the guy in charge of keeping the seas in balance. We're not sure how he got the job, but he's made time with some sort of sea goddess, and had 500 or so pollywoggish mermaid daughters.

But he's a single dad, basically, raising a few hundred preschooler demigods, and so it's not surprising that one of them, Brunhilda, manages to escape the protective bubble he keeps them in. From there, she gets into trouble and then rescued by a 5-year-old, Sosuke, who keeps her in a fishbowl and calls her Ponyo.

Her father then rescues her back, and I sort of thought the movie was gonna flash-forward Splash-style to a grown-up Sosuke, but it didn't. Ponyo escapes her confines again, this time getting into her father's store of magic elixirs and throwing the seas into chaos.

Ponyo reminded me a lot of The Barb, really, and I was pleased to see a movie that really respected the awesome, earnest destructiveness of the kindergarten set. There was another scene where Pony is sprouting arms and legs—growing into a human through sheer force of will—and poor Fujimoto (Ponyo's father) is trying to stuff her back into her pollywog form, to no avail.

There's a metaphor for ya.

Anyway, the only part that got me kind of sleepy was the climax of the movie. It's a sort of weird thing for a movie about two five-year-olds, but they're in love, and Sosuke has to pass a test to be with Ponyo. And if he doesn't pass the test, Ponyo gets turned into sea foam.

Harsh.

But the whole aspect of what the test is and how to pass it is sort of vague. It might be something I get on rewatching the film, or it might not even be all that important. Other than that, the movie just seemed delightful: clever and cute, with some wonderful imagery.

Miyazaki fans will note a lot of trademarks: Food plays a prominent role; there's a magical world and a real world; the real world has its ugly side but isn't demonized; Ponyo's sisters are reminiscent of the tree spirits in Mononoke; and so on.

Disney has thrown a bunch of celebs in here, as is their wont. There's a Cyrus (not Miley) and a Jonas (but I don't know if it's one of the brothers). Cate Blanchett is the Sea Goddess, Tina Fey is Sosuke's Mom—didn't really recognize them or anyone else except Liam Neeson as Ponyo's father and Betty White as one of the old folks. They just have those kinds of voices.

It's been four years since Miyazaki's last feature, and I know he keeps threatening to retire. I wouldn't be happy about it, but Ponyo wouldn't be a bad one to go out on.

Baader-Meinhof Komplications

This movie—indeed, the entire premise of revolutionary totalitarian movements—is probably best summed up by The Boy, who about 45 minutes (or approximately 5% of the total length) into the movie leaned over and asked, "What is it they're fighting for?"

In fact, this movie feels so accurate, that one wonders whether it might not be used later on in the century by historians marveling that any group of people so stupid manage to survive. (Assuming, of course, we do manage to survive.)

The Baader-Meinhof Komplex is a German movie (the most expensive ever made at $20M euros?) about the Red Army Faction that operated primarily in the '70s in Germany. It covers about ten years of their activities, which include such socially advancing things as setting fire to a department store, robbing banks and blowing up newsrooms. And, at two-and-a-half hours long (in its pared down US version), it, uh...

What was I saying?

Oh, right. One-hundred-and-fifty-freaking-minutes of near uninterrupted idiocy. I read one review that said the movie doesn't take a judgmental stance—which I'd agree with—and so gives you some room to sympathize with the characters—which I don't agree with at all.

At one point, these spoiled Westerners who have been randomly destroying, killing and stealing go to a Palestinian Terrorist training camp and I actually felt sorry for the Palestinian terrorists. I mean, really sorry. I kept hoping they'd shoot the SOBs.

For example, the titular Meinhof at one point agrees to let her (pre-teen) daughters be thrown into a refugee camp. This, I guess, shows the completion of her transformation from bourgeois to radical.

The authorities are similarly clueless, with the one expert on urban terrorism constantly trying to figure out "the root causes". These guys get away with stuff for years, and once behind bars, spontaneously formed cells of idiocy continue to do stupid stuff in their name.

And, if I may borrow from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, "What the f*ck is wrong with German people?" In particular, these—I'm sorry, I'm having trouble writing this without swearing.

What I'm getting at is that a significant percentage of the German population apparently supported these people. Worse, their capture was followed by years of navel-gazing by the courts, and a jail setup with all of them together that reminds one of nothing so much as "Hogan's Heroes", with all of them passing messages to the outside and stuff.

Look, people, we had morons who robbed banks and shot up cops here in America, too! We even made folk heroes out of 'em—though we had the excuse at least of being in dire economic straits. But when the state caught 'em, the state killed 'em. (In fact, sometimes the state killed 'em rather than catching them, because they knew they weren't really all that good at catching, keeping and convicting.)

OK, sometimes we elected their friends President. But that's complicated.

The only reason this is of interest—and maybe why I started to lose interest around the 100-minute-mark—is that these thugs masked their wanton brutality in political trappings. So determined were they not to allow the sort of fascist horrors that occurred under the Nazis, they blew stuff up and killed people to allow the sort of horrors that occur under communism.

The movie spends all its time on their activities (pre- and post-jail) and never looks at the question of how can something so obviously stupid be supported enough to cause such incredible destructiveness.

At one point, the Germans shut down the borders to do a countrywide dragnet to catch them! Our heroes are solemnly watching this, allowing how this confirms Baader's idea that the country would turn into a police state. O, Irony!

I mean, honestly. I'm sure the people who lived it thought it was very exciting. An exciting time of change. But the only reason they could possibly think that is decades of a successful information war by communists, and a no-enemies-to-the-left attitude carefully fostered.

So, for me the movie ran out of steam. Well acted, well directed, well produced, and ultimately feeling like a waste of celluloid. (I have that reaction to Raging Bull, though, so your mileage may vary.)

Or as The Boy put it, "Hovercat is not amused." These kids today with their internets and roflcats.

Phrases That Should Never Begin Movie Synopses, Part VI

Dating the campus hunk (Fred Savage)...

No One Would Tell

(He turns out to be abusive. Who woulda thunk?)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Odds and Ends

From around the Intarwebs:

Ed Driscoll has dug u
p an old review of Michael Moore's movie Roger and Me. I found it interesting because she exactly describes what took me years to figure out. Blatant lies notwithstanding, the key quote is:

It does something that is humanly very offensive: Roger & Me uses its leftism as a superior attitude. Members of the audience can laugh at ordinary working people and still feel that they’re taking a politically correct position [242-245].


Yeah. And doesn't that seem to be common these days from the left? Disagree and you're a rube, worthy of contemptuous mockery.

Freeman Hunt links to a thorough take-down of the Penn and Teller "Vatican" show that I found so appalling. Seems they were more than a little factually challenged. Confirmation bias is the enemy people: Take a chainsaw to them hobby horses.

This Doctor Zero guy at HotAir is pretty dang good. Here he's talking about confidence, and talks about the way the government bumbling through the private sector tends to undermine it. These talks of health care nationalization—well, not so much the talks as the fierce drive that always seems on the verge of achieving it—undermine the medical sector. I suspect we'll see some shortages even if it doesn't pass. (If it does, shortages are a certainty.)

My old pal Nick Hodges re-tweeted Jeff Atwood (of Coding Horror) about the apparent increasing effectiveness of placebos. I tend to be cynical about this stuff and just assume the pharmaceutical companies were lying about the effectiveness of anti-depressants.

Chuck B. (back40feet on Twitter) tweeted about this cool book, The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension. Total nerd moment here.

Finally, I've been sitting on this post from "Cloven, Not Crested," a blog I occasionally read, entitled "Are Women Unhappier?" I suspect that, on the whole, they are (as I suspect men are, on the whole), but a segment is probably far happier than they ever would have been. But I haven't had the time to do the topic justice.

Check 'em out!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Today Is Not That Day, Part 5

Well, actually, yesterday wasn't that day. Pardon my lag.

The President gave a speech to all the little prisoners yesterday. You know the ones I'm talking about: The ones sentenced to 12 years of school?

I don't care what he said. Well, I do care what he said, but it's not the issue. (This is like health care: It wouldn't matter if it were perfect and free, it's not an appropriate task for government. The injury added to the insult is that it will mediocre and overpriced.)

I wouldn't always be against a speech being played in class; Pearl Harbor or 9/11, for example, the President could come out and say something, and that'd be appropriate. But just casually? Like this? Feels like Orwell.

I could make another point, too, about how the government education system creates people who are unable to survive on their own and feeds into the government welfare system, which fosters an inability to survive—and how despite all this neither system can be meaningfully reformed or eliminated—but this would just bring us to healthcare again.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Manic Monday Apocalypso: This Is Not How The World Ends

Well, gosh, folks, despite all the dire predictions, it turns out that the world may actually be in for an extended cooling period before we go through the horrors of global warming. The above New Scientist article (hat tip Ace Of Spades HQ) is priceless on so many levels.

We have "scientist" Mojib Latif insisting that cooling should not be taken as proof that there won't later be warming. Reassuring us that despite the evidence, he's still a true believer and he's only bringing up these ugly questions because, you know, deniers will point to this as some sort of validation, and question the whole premise of man-caused disaster.

Note that "global warming" carries the implicit guilt of Man in it: "natural variability is at least as important as the long-term climate changes from global warming."

Even the arctic ice loss may, in fact, be at least partly, no matter how minutely—we hate to even bring it up lest it give the easily led the wrong idea—due to natural causes! The money quote, for me, as it admits what I've said all along:

Model biases are also still a serious problem. We have a long way to go to get them right. They are hurting our forecasts.

Yeah. No kidding. Look, anyone using a computer model to predict something should minimally be able to: "predict" the past and also predict a short way into the future. The climate models I've seen couldn't even predict the past.

When you model something, what you do is feed your algorithms with your data starting from some arbitrary past point where you know the outcome well. Ideally, your model then shows what happened. If it doesn't, you rework your algorithms until your model actually works.

And then, it can still be wrong and completely unable to predict the future. Because what you're really doing with the above process is, basically, cheating. You know the desired results. Even if you're completely honest and pure, you can glean what changes in the algorithm will tend to favor the desired outcome, and it can't be easy to stop yourself from coming up with a theory to justify those changes. But the game is already rigged at this point.

Never mind if your intention is to create certain results. The Civilization games have off-and-on done an excellent job of modeling certain aspects of actual history. It wasn't unusual in Civ 3, for example, to have world wars break out at the beginning (and middle) of the 20th century. It could be positively eerie.

To the degree that it matters, the real shame is probably that global warming as an actual phenomenon has been demonized. But global warming would probably be a very good thing. It'd be a little (more) uncomfortable for those of us living in the desert, though the difference between a 118 degree high and a 120 degree high is not that much, perceptually.

But just look how much of the world's land is under permafrost. It's a cold world, overall, and a little more warmth would give us a much bigger food supply, shorter winters, fewer freezing deaths, and on and on.

Not that it really matters to the earth what we think or what is good for us: It's gonna get colder. Right now, I think, ironically enough, we might be headed for a new ice age.

But, honestly, that probably won't be the end of the world either.

So, until next time, stay frosty, non-mutants.

The Math Of Political Ideologies

As a geek, I tend to get excited over the possibility of applying logic, math and science to the mooshy topics of politics. We've talked about "test-driven" government (borrowing from programming), where any change to policy would have to be run through a series of rigorous tests to determine effect and unintended consequences.

But chatting with a friend today I began to realize that you can express the two main warring ideologies in politics with mathematical formulas. And it's kind of interesting. At least to a geek like me.

Let X = resources available
Let Y = cost of resource
Let Z = number of people
Let $= cost per person of resource

X × Y ÷ Z = $

This is a simple way of looking at a situation where resources are limited and are to be divided evenly among a group of people. Note this works both ways: For distributing resources and for distributing the cost of a resource.

This is, more or less is how collectivists and statists view problems. "If only," they think, "I—or some suitably clever person who shares my values—were in charge of collecting the money and distributing the service, then we could make sure everything was fair and equitable and just."

They fret because Y seems to go up all the time, as does Z, while X dwindles or doesn't seem to grow fast enough to cover some ultimate disaster. The whole "overpopulation" scenario is based on Z increasing exponentially while X flattens or decreases. This becomes the justification for a centralized planning system. To avert crisis.

But, of course, the system tends to reinforce itself: X dwindles while Y skyrockets. Z tends to flatten but can't keep up (down?) with the issues created by X and Y.

And you can tell when someone is really married to this mindset, because they can't see the problem any other way. (They'll even see the surrounding issues as relatively simple variables: if only everyone adhered to the orthodoxy in terms of diet, exercise, home size, whatever, all our problems—the ones they've very often created to justify their takeover of whatever—would be solved. This is actually true for them, because their ultimate problem seems to be that people are just too numerous and unruly.)

To someone with an appreciation for the complexity of human interaction, X can go up wildly, Y can drop crazily and Z going up is a good thing—because only people have the power to change X and Y in unforeseen ways.

In a larger sense, in Communism (including Socialism, which I think is pretty apparently a stepping stone), X is just a short-hand for wealth. A lot of people seem to operate under an even simpler formula:

X ÷ Z = $

Divide total wealth by the number of people and that gives you how much wealth everyone should have.

You can see the mentality, too: There's a fixed amount of gold, therefore why shouldn't we all share it equally? As if all the wealth in the world were just lying on the ground and—and this is not far off from what is actually said—disparity only occurs because some guys took away our wealth and made it their wealth.

Wealth is theft, in other words. Now, virtually everyone who utters this sentiment has some form of wealth. So you can safely assume that they mean your wealth is theft. They might be talking about someone else now, someone richer, but they'll get around to you.

But let's backtrack a bit: Is there a fixed amount of gold? (This goes back to my original X.) For that matter, is there any gold until someone pans for it/digs it up/picks it up off the ground, even? And then refines it?

Even real estate, which is considered to be fixed and finite, has to be explored, tamed or cultivated or exploited in some fashion before it becomes wealth. Finite? Even in this day of mapped out terra, there's building up—and almost completely undone: building down, building on the sea, building under the sea, given an anti-grav tech you could build in the sky. And that's just this planet.

Science-fiction, now, just like skyscrapers were sci-fi not too long ago.

It's all potential wealth, just waiting for someone clever enough, industrious enough, persistent enough to exploit it. And all wealth is created and must be maintained.

But in some philosophies, wealth, once created becomes everyone's. In practice, what happens at that point is that wealth ceases to be created. Worse, the wealth that already exists is left to rot.

This is often clucked about as selfishness and greed, which it can be. But the wild variable not considered is that wealth is also highly subjective, and any system which purports to distribute wealthy "fairly" must first evaluate that wealth. The Y in that first equation—the cost (or value) of the resource—is not uniform from person-to-person.

In other words, before you create anything in one of these "fair" systems, you have to confront the fact that an arbitrary person or bureau is going to set Y, that is, evaluate whatever it is you create.

Children are transparent when it comes to this sort of thing: If you want to kill a child's creativity and work ethic, simply evaluate whatever they produce. Obviously, trashing someone's output can make them stop producing, but even praise can have a deleterious effect. This is the pernicious side of testing and grading (and a mine field for parents).

Adults really are the same way. Even if you plan to give something away, creating it with the knowledge that not only will it be taken from you, but it will then be valued arbitrarily by someone who isn't going to consume it?

That's a joy killer. And, not coincidentally, a wealth killer.

And eventually you end up with this:

$ = 0

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

When Spam Is Weirdly Relevant

Got a diatribe about Catholicism in my e-mail today, which was weird because I don't associate any e-mail in this blog. I didn't recognize the sender, but it just seemed like it was in direct response to my Vatican post.

Then, as I scrolled, there was a graphic selling me all the usual penile things.

Which, I guess, they have a 50-50 shot at some relevance there.

And I suppose that the whole point of sending out random fragments to millions of people is that you will occasionally hit a coincidence like that. Though, you know, does someone really read about the Church and Gallileo and the Inquisition and then go, "Yeah...They make a good point, I could really use some ED meds/male enhancement pills"?

The Only Way To Win Is...

Phrases you don't get to say much: "I'm here to see the new Andy Griffith movie!" I like Griffith, though I never could stand to watch any of his shows. I should say, I liked him in Waitress. I thought his Obama commercial with Ron Howard was kind of cloyingly appalling.

Still, the old guy's back in the feature debut of Marc Feinberg, Play The Game. And once again his name is Joe. But unlike Waitress's Old Joe, Grandpa Joe is a nice old guy with a grandson, David, who loves him.

David (played by Paul Campbell, who normally plays a character named "Billy") is a sleazy used car salesman who is an expert at overcharging people he's oversold, and who is expert and getting ladies into bed. He's likable enough, and gave up his (weirdly low-key) dreams to buy a condo for Grandpa Joe in his time of need.

The premise of the movie is that David is teaching Joe how to "Play The Game", i.e., get the ladies. Grandpa Joe quickly lands Edna (former James Dean fianceé Liz Sheridan), but really has the hots for Rose (perennial sombody's mother Doris Roberts, who looks very good for 78). David coaches him through various strategies to land her.

Now, David is the main character in the movie, and it's really primarily about him becoming smitten with Julie (Marla Sokoloff, who's one of those actresses you'll probably say, "Oh! Her!") who always seems to be one step ahead of him, until he's become the victim of his own games.

Well, you can see where this is going. You don't make a RomCom about a guy who's a player and have him stay a player. Kinda cramps the Rom part, if not the Com.

What sets this movie—or this part of the movie, anyway—above most is that is there's an underlying mystery about what's going on with Julie and David. He's playing games with her, we know, because he goes over them in detail with his buddy, played by Geoffrey Owens (Elvin from "The Cosby Show") and sometimes with Grandpa Joe.

A lot of little things, though, don't quite add up. I wrongly attributed some of them to sloppy film-making (which attitude is the only one that makes it possible to be surprised by The Sixth Sense), but they're all tied together at the end Fight Club style. Stay until the credits roll, people.

We enjoyed it.

I actually liked the old folks part better than the young folks. I don't know if they're better actors, necessarily, but they seem to have a lot more character then the pretty, sort-of-generic-looking leads. There is a fair amount of old folks sex and talk about sex. We do see the 83-year-old Griffith's "Oh" face as the 80-year-old Liz Sheridan, uh... Let's just say she's out of frame for this part? We hear about it in detail later as well.

I also don't really like "the player" as a lead character, or a member of society for that matter. David is a consummate liar, positively mercenary in his approach to women, and also almost completely unperturbed about his car selling tactics. I wasn't sold on the back story for him; i.e., I didn't feel enough empathy toward him to care too much about whether he got the girl.

Then there's the question of the girl herself, and whether she's playing him. And also why and to what end. Certain things that are intellectually satisfying are not necessarily emotionally honest.

But then, I dislike game-playing.

So, you know: fun movie, don't think too hard about what it says about the main characters, or the view it takes of men-women relationships in general, and you can have a good time.

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