Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Growng Up in the 21st Century

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day and today I’m woolgathering and taking stock. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. Why wait until some arbitrary day on the calendar to do something that needs doing or change something that needs changing? But I understand that it’s human nature to procrastinate all that doing and changing and the start of the new year does serve to remind one that time is passing, if you need to be reminded of that sort of thing. Personally I’d be in serious contention for the title of world’s worst procrastinator of I let myself, so I’ve always made a conscious decision to try to get done as quickly as possible things I might otherwise put off. This leaves me free on New Year’s to take stock and plan what I want to accomplish in the future. And to ruminate on what has happened in the last year and try to understand it. I find this works better for me than trying to change everything at once, failing miserably, and then giving up for the rest of the year- which is what resolutions seem to wind up causing for a lot of folks.

The year has been rather uneventful for me on a personal level. Sure there have been the sort of things that crop up in any given year of your life- I bought a new car, sold my old one (both transactions on Ebay, that was a first), and had a bout of illness (practically the first time I’ve ever been seriously ill, so that was enlightening) but most of my time was taken up with the things that comprise day to day life- work, play, taking out the garbage. My life goes on at a pretty even keel. One of the advantages of getting a little older is that you’ve had a chance to work a lot of things out, to figure out what works and what doesn’t. And one of the advantages of my job is that it helps me keep things in perspective. It’s hard to sweat the small stuff when you deal with people who are dealing with real crises every day.

OTOH, the year seems to have been pretty traumatic on a national and world level. I’ve been thinking a lot about that. I think we’re on the cusp of big changes. One of the constants in the universe seems to be that things have a specific plan to their existence. Everything from plants and animals, to people, to stars, to galaxies, and presumably even the universe, has a series of stages they go through from birth to death. For instance, a star and it’s attendant solar system starts out as a ball of gas. The gas congeals into the sun and planets. The sun ignites when it gets dense and hot enough for hydrogen to fuse. There’s a period of furious activity where billions of orbiting particles get whittled down to a few hundred thousand and the planets cool. Then the sun settles into a long period of stable activity. Eventually the sun grows old and uses up the available hydrogen. It cools, expands, and eventually dies. Sort of like people. There’s birth, childhood with all its associated traumas, adulthood with it’s attendant stability, and eventually old age. One of my favorite psychological theorists, a fellow named Eric Erikson, postulated that human beings go through eight developmental stages from birth to death and that each stage had a central challenge that had to be overcome to advance to the next. I think intelligent species are like that too. Human beings have gone through a sort of childhood, where we developed society and technology, and an adolescence, where we covered the planet and learned some rudimentary control over the forces of nature. Now we seem to be entering a period of adulthood. We can no longer afford the excesses of youth. But like any adolescent, if we don’t learn to control our impulses to be wasteful, greedy, thoughtless, and self absorbed, we aren’t going to be able to enjoy a long fruitful period of adulthood. My entire life I’ve lived in a world where human beings had the capacity to destroy themselves and the planet. And somehow, so far we haven’t. But the problems are becoming more complex. Now we don’t have to worry just about doing something mind-bogglingly stupid and starting a nuclear holocaust. We have to start thinking about how we are going to manage the planet so we have a long prosperous life as a species. I hope we’re up to it. If we aren’t it’s entirely possible that, like many adolescents who don’t grow up, we’ll ruin our future or perhaps even kill ourselves as a race. I think we’re at that point now. We have the capability to do almost anything if we’re smart. But if we don’t quit acting like children we aren’t going to last long. It seems the time has come for us to start acting like adults.

Will we be able to? I honestly don’t know. There is such a strong spark of the divine in us. We can be so good and caring and smart. OTOH, like any child on the brink of adulthood, we have such great hesitance and fear when we think we are going to have to start being responsible for ourselves and start making good decisions. The current financial crisis is like the hangover that follows a wild college frat party. The party’s over, it’s Monday morning and time for class. If you don’t make yourself get up and go in spite of the fact that your head is pounding and the next little while is really going to suck, then you’re never going to graduate. Maybe in the long run this financial crisis will be a good thing. Those bleary eyed Monday mornings teach you that spending the weekend getting loaded is a pretty stupid idea. And people often are at their best when challenged. I’ve noticed that when times are good and things are easy, people often get complacent and lazy. A kick in the pants sometimes smartens us up considerably. I’m just not looking forward to the hangover. But if we wind up with a better world when we come out the other side then it was worth it.

POLITICS- Bristol's Precious Little Snowflake

And now, for something completely snarky…

Congratulations to Bristol Lampshade Burp Gompers Palin and Levi Cogswallow Twiddle Sparkplug Johnston on the birth of their little bastard Tripp Ouff Bang Quonsethut Palin-Johnston. The child is doing fine and looking forward to following in the footsteps of his mother and grandmother to be a high school dropout and Republican presidential candidate in 2048. Other career choices include going into the family business of his other grandmother and getting arrested for selling Meth. He also hopes to break with longstanding family tradition by waiting until after marriage to knock up some random trollop.

Attending the birth were uncle Track Boink Wazzle Dipshait Palin (also a proud high school dropout), aunt Willow Camshaft Doober Doohickey Palin (soon to drop out of school), aunt Piper Cub Dwizzle Particle Palin (looking forward to dropping out of school), and older brother Trig Gomer Fontanel Algebra Palin (referred to humorously in the family as “Uncle Trig” and who has no plans to ever attend school). During the birth Bristol’s siblings were overheard to exclaim “Wow!” “Shit!” “Look at the size of that thing!” and “Murmee, Murmee, Murmee.”

And these retarded rednecks want to tell me about family values? As the bumper stickers in Colorado say- Focus On Your Own Damn Family.

Monday, December 29, 2008

ECONOMY- The Auto Bailout

I had a talk the other day with a good friend and it started me thinking about some things that hadn’t occurred to me about the state of the economy and the auto bailout.

I’m going to refer to my friend as Bob, although that isn’t his real name. Not that I actually think he’d care for me to use his real name but simply out of respect of the fact that I haven’t asked him. Like many successful and thoughtful people I’ve known, Bob finds himself drawn to Libertarian principles. His thoughts on the auto bailout can be capsulated as (a) the government has no business bailing out failed companies and (b) the Big Three automakers are doomed to fail anyway so any money the government spends to prolong the inevitable is wasted.

As I told him, from a philosophical point of view I agree with both viewpoints. I don’t think it’s the business of government to decide who is “too big to fail”. A free market is only free if failure is an option for anyone. At this point it’s looking more and more like the bank bailout was a terrible waste. Not because the government might not have needed to do something to save the banking system but because, like virtually everything the Bush administration has done, it was poorly planned and terribly managed. What they have done seems to amount to pouring obscene amounts of money into the banking system and having absolutely nothing to show for it. Likewise, if the taxpayers give the automakers a loan that no bank would touch and they default, we have thrown away money and have nothing to show for it.

But Bob repeated a “fact” that I hear over and over again and don’t believe. He says that Detroit’s problems are the fault of the unions. I’m sorry, but this is patently absurd for a couple of reasons. To take GM as an example, the cost of their union pension responsibilities is immense. I read estimates between $1300 and $1800 PER CAR SOLD. But while this is a competitive disadvantage that the foreign companies don’t share, it isn’t the reason GM is bankrupt. Those pensions are a cost of doing business just like the cost of steel or interest on bank loans. You wouldn’t blame the banks for GM’s debts so why blame the pension plan? Those workers had contracts that entitled them to a pension and health care in retirement. They are no more responsible for GM’s predicament than any other creditor.

Another thing people say to blame the unions for Detroit’s trouble is that their workers make too much money. True, US auto companies pay slightly more to domestic workers than foreign companies. That’s why US car makers have been closing plants and moving them to Mexico where they pay significantly less. But the real Pay inequality is among executives. Ford CEO and President Alan Mulally makes about 100 million dollars a year, or about 557 times what that theoretical $75/hr. autoworker makes. To compare, Toyota CEO Katsuaki Watanabe makes under one million a year, or under 6 times as much as the same auto worker. Still think all the money is going to the people actually building the cars?

GM’s problem isn’t new. It’s the same problem they have had for a long time- every year fewer people want to buy their cars. PERIOD. While the Japanese and other foreign carmakers have expanded their market share, American companies’ sales have contracted. If you think the pension plan or labor cost is the problem then ask yourself- would making GM cars $1500 cheaper cause someone buying a Toyota to change their mind? According to Kelley Blue Book a base model Chevy Malibu invoices for $21,395.00 while a base Toyota Camry costs $26,210. The Toyota already costs over $4800 more! Obviously cost is not hindering Toyota who equaled GM in new car sales worldwide for the first time over a year ago.

There are lots of reasons for GM (and as GM goes, so America goes apparently) to have consistently lost customers to Toyota but they aren’t the unions, they’re the cars.

(1) American cars are inferior in quality (many will protest “Not any more” which simply proves that they have been for so long that claiming equality is now considered a selling point). Not only do they break down more often but their build quality and “fit and finish” is inferior. Their technology is often inferior. And they just aren’t as nice. Go to a Chevy showroom and sit inside one of their cars. The interior is laden with cheap plastics, inferior finishes and textures, knobs that feel cheap when you turn them, and seats covered with fabrics that you wouldn’t use to line your dog house. Now go to a Toyota or Honda dealership and sit in one of their cars. The differences aren’t subtle. Do the same thing and look at the seams between body panels or test the ride quality while you’re at it. And the inferiority isn’t just skin deep. The 2009 Corvette, considered one of the best cars made by the General, still uses an engine technology that’s over 60 years old and is suspended on LEAF SPRINGS. For those of you that don’t know, this is the same kind of suspension technology used by stage coaches. And it wasn’t new then. Is it any wonder that almost every review of this “world beating sports car” comments on how bad the ride quality is? Simply put, the foreign brands have made such sales gains because they build better cars.
(2) The resale values for American cars are abysmal. This is mostly because of the program car sales that allow American auto makers to claim sales commensurate with Japanese brands. When you see sales figures from GM, Ford, or Chrysler they include significant sales of cars to rental fleets and other corporate buyers at substantial discounts. These sales assure that there are always plenty of used American cars available at heavy discounts within 12 months of the release of a new model. A friend of mine looked up the loan value on a 2007 Dodge Magnum the other day and found that the car, which had been purchased for close to $40,000 was now eligible for a loan of $15,000!
(3) American car companies make too many versions of the same car. If you walk into a Japanese dealership you will find that the option list is less than a dozen items and often there are only 2 or 3 factory options. Domestic auto option lists contain dozens of items and checking every one can almost double the cost of the car. In addition to that, American car companies make too many kinds of the same car- a marketing ploy called “badge engineering” It is common to find the same basic automobile sold by several different dealerships with only cosmetic changes. For GM to supply autos to GM, Chevy, Pontiac, Cadillac, Hummer, Buick, and Saturn they wind up making the same basic vehicle in several ways, gutting the economies of scale they would otherwise enjoy.
(4) Their management is incompetent and overpaid. True this isn’t exclusive to car manufacturers; it’s epidemic in American business. But American higher management seems to be a kind of “good ol’ boys” club where the ultra rich move from one company to another without demonstrating any real talent. Take the case of Bob Nardelli, who moved from being CEO of GE to being CEO of Home Depot in spite of the fact that he had absolutely no retail experience. True, during his tenure profits for the chain increased, but not at the rate they had been increasing prior to his taking charge. He also managed to keep Home Depot’s stock price steady while their main competitor, Lowes, watched their stock double. For this lackluster performance Nardelli was awarded with a salary of 240 million dollars a year until stockholders had finally had enough and ousted him with a 210 million dollar bonus for his trouble. His next job was to head Chrysler, since running an appliance manufacturer and a retailer was perfect experience for him to run a car maker (NOT). At Chrysler he has presided over it’s slide into bankruptcy, cut back on new model development, and basically continued to exhibit the kind of management excellence that makes one wonder why he isn’t flipping burgers somewhere rather than begging congress to give him some of my money even though he hasn’t earned my business.

Blaming the workers for the problems the Big Three are having is attractive if you are uninformed or have an ulterior motive for wanting to blame the unions. But truthfully, saying that the unions are the cause of the US auto industry’s problems is like driving your car into a tree and saying you shouldn’t have filled the tank with premium gas.

So, should we bail out the auto industry? I honestly don’t know. But I can’t help worry more about the workers for the industry and their ancillary suppliers. And all the industries that will be affected by their loss of purchasing power. And all the other ripple effects. But surely the almost $100,000 per employee that Ford, GM, and Chrysler are asking for would allow the government to keep those people from starving until the industry gets through Chapter 11. (Because if they go on the dole we’re still going to have to pay for them.) It’s only going to last the current management a couple of months. Then it will be time for the taxpayers to make their next payment.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

TELEVISION- Star Trek Legal

Barring some catastrophic change of plan, ABC has aired its last episode of Boston Legal. Further adding credence to people who say that any hint of intelligence is being systematically expunged from American television. In fact, admitting Boston Legal one of the more intelligent programs on television is perhaps all the proof that is needed. It is, at its core, just another lawyer show. And the claim that television network execs think that the world is comprised of doctors, lawyers, and cops has been being made since I was a kid and is just as valid today. But it is a lawyer show involved with something more important than who killed their husband this week, even it is painfully liberal in its orientation and deals with important issues with all the subtlety that a meat cleaver uses on a rack of ribs.

In classic David E. Kelly style, the show is quirky to the point of distraction. One character has an exaggerated form of Asperger's syndrome and squawks and burps and hoots as low comic relief. The male leads are misogynistic letches who practice law when they can fit it into the space between sniffing the closest crotch and getting to the next. The judges are the embodiment of character flaws magnified by whim and power. Lower level associates are known by their weirdity: the cross-dresser, the ex-madam, the hair-shirt ex-marine, the elderly woman who commits the occasional murder because she likes the attention. At least there are no co-ed bathrooms or remote control toilets.

Oddity for its own sake has always been a failing of Kelly’s television shows, in my opinion. But here it’s saved by some of the best acting in any television show, past or present. Even though the show is very much an ensemble piece, James Spader is the center and the anchor. Spader’s Alan Shore is subtle, heroic, principled, troubled, and quick witted. Although he is not in control of the firm (in fact, he’s not even a partner) and is openly despised by many of the other characters, he is indulged because he is so good at what he does. Spader conveys intelligence better than perhaps anyone acting today and the character is almost always the smartest person in the room. Indeed, when he delivers the closing argument for whichever case is the Maguffin of the week you know you have reached the climax of the episode.

Close behind Spader is William Shatner, who plays Denny Crane- founding partner and not shy about mentioning that his name is on the door. Or mentioning his name at any other time. If Spader is the rational mind of the firm, Crane is both Id and Ego. To reinforce this idea, he is almost devoid of rational thought and suffers from “mad cow”, a whimsical sort of Alzheimer's disease that seems to be just a put-on until at the end of the series we find out that he is actually developing Alzheimer's. Shatner is a revelation in the role, showing real acting chops here that few would have expected. (Nicolas Mayer, director of Star Trek movies II and VI, once said that Shatner was pretty good after you had done enough takes to wear him out so that he quit “acting”.) The character is obviously based on what you would expect Shatner to be in real life if all you knew about him were the things written and said by the other actors on the original Star Trek. He’s a lecherous egomaniac of questionable talent who maintains his own inflated self image at any cost, especially if that cost is to someone else. Yet the fact that Shatner can make the character lovable in spite of his having virtually every character flaw you could imagine shows why people love the actor. And why Shatner remains continuously employed while other actors who have taken genre leads early in their careers have been branded with those characters forever. (George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Adam West, Kier Dulla, Mark Hamell, Carrie Fisher, and even Leonard Nimoy must look at Shatner, and Harrison Ford, with envy and awe.)

The mention of Shatner's work on Star Trek is not incidental. If you are a Star Trek fan, you should have been watching Boston Legal. Around our house we even called it Star Trek Legal for the first two seasons. It’s like a reunion show. In addition to Captain Kirk in the lead, Odo runs the firm, Quark is a judge, Neelix has a case, and Seven of Nine shoots a stalker. In fact, there’s a web page dedicated to the Star Trek cast connections with Boston Legal. But it also skims the best actors from other TV shows for guest roles. Henry Gibson, Katey Sagal, Michael J. Fox, Bess Armstrong, Betty White, Gail O’Grady, Tom Selleck, Howard Hessman, Heather Locklear and many others show up for one or two of several episodes. The main cast also recalls so many great old television shows with actors such as Candice Bergen and John Larroquette (as the polar opposite of Dan Fielding).

But notice something else about this cast list, something alluded to in one of the final episodes, almost every one of them is over 40. It’s only one of the things that makes Boston Legal more interesting than the regular TV show. Another is that they don’t pretend that they aren’t on television. Breaking the fourth wall is as dependable as Alan Shore’s monologue, each happens at least once in every episode. In one episode Shirley Schmidt mentions that it’s a “sweeps week”. During the last season the characters mention that the series is ending in one way or another. This in joke is carried one step further by the fact that some characters seem to know they are characters in a TV show and others don’t. Existential humor in a mainstream television drama. How often do you see that?

Far less often, unfortunately, than we Boston Legal’s scripts preaching at the audience. I’m not adverse to entertainment dealing with issues. In fact, I think entertainment that doesn’t try to teach or advocate can’t reach the level of being called “art”. But a lot of people don’t like to mix their politics and entertainment. Here the slant is decidedly liberal, which seems to be the trend in television (though not for the reason most conservatives would think*) and if you are conservative and can’t stand to watch the liberal viewpoint win every week then you need not apply. Conservatives do get to see their side defended but the verdict is rarely in real doubt and West Wing did it better. Denny Crane is the weekly surrogate but he is a clown and his presence is the best argument that the writers (primarily David Kelly at 6 times as many scripts as anyone else) don’t take conservatism seriously.

But even if Boston Legal wasn't your cup of tea, it was a well made, well written, well acted piece of work. Something that continues to become more rare as the kudzu of BS reality shows and endless crime procedurals that all seem to have the same characters with different people playing them chokes the life out of the medium. It was one of only about three shows that I watch and I'm going to miss it.

* I honestly don't know what Conservatives think causes movie and television people to be more liberal than the general population but I've never really found it strange. The impulse to create art is an oddity in humanity. People who become artists, musicians, actors, directors, or any other artistic endevour usually are familiar with alienation. Much of their creative impulse deals with these feelings of alienation. As a result, it seems only natural that they would be more tolerant of people who are "different" since they could more easily identify with that feeling of strangeness.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

TECHNOLOGY- Is There a Monster (cable) Behind Your Stereo?

Merry Christmas!

I started selling electronics not long after graduating high school. Back then things were a lot different. Vinyl records were still the audiophile media of choice (and they were still called stereophiles* because the multichannel audio formats that had been tried were found wanting), the VCR was just becoming a mass market item, and the really adventurous early adopters were spending their money on a new gadget called a home computer (a good one had 64K of RAM). CD players were just on the horizon and the digital entertainment age was still gestating.

Now music and video are portable and ubiquitous. Even the most modest home audio setups have subwoofers and multichannel sound. Most people don’t even buy their music in a store anymore, preferring to have it sent directly to their audio devices, and high resolution video downloads are fast going the same route. Television displays are bigger, brighter, and sharper than those first VCR buyers could have imagined. Movies, television, and music are available when and where you want them, with almost nothing excluded.

But consumers haven’t changed much. Most of those downloaded videos have lower visual quality than those early VCR tapes. And the music that comes out of the earbuds of an iPod is more reminiscent of what we listened to on 8 Track tapes than it is the CDs that spawned it. High-end audio has always been like the high end of anything: rapidly diminishing returns for investment and rapidly increasing smoke and mirrors. So even today the audiophile combination of scientific jargon and mumbo-jumbo is as all pervasive as it was when Steve Martin mocked it in a routine he called Googlephonics.

Sure, when analogue sound was a crapshoot and there were so many inaccuracies in the chain of electronics that it was easy to let mysticism slip into your tech. There were a dozen Audio and Video magazines on the stands 30 years ago. Some were rigorous and technical (a magazine titled simply AUDIO was among the best) and some embraced subjectivity (The Perfect Sound comes to mind). I remember that Stereo Review magazine did testing of some common audio myths in the mid 1980s. My favorite was double blind testing of amplifiers to see if a panel of “golden eared” ‘philes could tell the difference between a group of amps which ranged from a $300 Pioneer receiver to a pair of Krell tube monoblocs that cost more than most cars at the time. The results- no, not really. At least, not statistically.

You would have thought that the digital era would have put an end to a lot of this silliness. But it didn’t. Not by a long shot. In the early days of CD there was the idea that using a magic marker to darken the outer edge of a CD would improve sound quality. (I remember one debate as to which color of magic marker was best for this!) Digital was new and “tweaking” was such a time honored tradition that a lot of people just couldn’t give it up.

One of today’s audio (and video) fetishes that has been around for a long time is the idea that the cabling you use (those wires that hook components together) has a demonstrable affect on the sound you hear. I’ve been fighting off the advances of salesmen on this one for decades. I used to just point out that having an RCA cable the size of my wrist didn’t make sense when the components themselves didn’t use such wiring internally. Or I’d mention that professional audio and video equipment didn’t use such expensive patchcords. This was often met with a combination of a puzzled stare and the kind of impassioned personal testimony that you rarely hear from anyone except TV evangelists. Don’t get me wrong. Decent cables are worth what you pay for them (which really isn’t much) and over long runs (>15 feet or so) good shielding is a good idea. Also what kind of connection you use can make a big difference. To change a video connection from RF to composite, to s-video, to component, and then to digital shows obvious improvement with each step. But to pay $150 for a set of Monster Cable RCA patchcords or northward of $250 for a Monster Cable HDMI cord is nothing short of madness. I especially like the idea that Monster Cable (not the only offender but surely the most widely recognized) thinks I should pay more that half the cost of my Blu-Ray player for a cable to hook it up. It’s a digital cable, for Pete’s sake! Either the bandwidth is adequate and the interference is low enough or it isn’t. Exotic compounds and special manufacturing processes don’t make those 1’s and straighter or those 0’s any rounder. They are either there or they ain’t.

The analogy that comes to me is putting a $2000 set of wheels and tires on your $3500 Toyota Corolla but with the added absurdity that you’re convinced they make the car go faster.

The Consumerist website has weighed into this faux debate with a couple of articles. The one where high quality patch cords and speaker wires are swapped with coat hanger wire is especially funny (although by no means scientific). But I do have problems with the one on how Monster Cable is ripping off consumers. They are right that the products are a rip-off but they miss the point of why they are a rip-off , sighting high profit margins to retailers as the problem. In fact, the margin on Monster Cable connectors is not at all out of line with other products in the same category- 35-45% (they also calculate margin incorrectly). Electronics retailers often work on moderate margins for bigger ticket items and depend on accessories and service contracts to keep their business profitable. When I was managing an electronics store our rule of thumb was that 70% of gross sales were generated by bigger, lower margin items but 70% of net profit was generated by accessories (wires, connectors, batteries- the stuff that hangs on pegs on the back wall). We aimed for a 40% net profit, which in electronics was excellent. To compare, grocery stores usually have a margin of 1-3% while clothing stores might have as much as several hundred percent margin. While this may seem like a large disparity, it’s more a result their retail constraints. Grocery stores rely on massive volume compared to most retailers, while clothing stores have to stock every style in dozens of sizes. It isn’t the profit margin that the retailer makes that’s the problem. It’s that you’re paying way too much for the cable in the first place.

And don’t even get me started on why a $1500 power strip that “filters and cleans” the electicity isn’t as good as a $150 Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). And those service contracts? Margins on them are typically upwards of 90% for the retailer. You could say they are almost pure profit.

So if you want to use that Best Buy gift card you got this morning wisely, buy a better component or some extra media. Don’t let the salesman convince you that a hundred dollar patchcord is anything but a pig in a poke.

* Stereophile is a word my spell checker has never even heard of!

Monday, December 22, 2008

CHRISTMAS- The Little Drummer Boy

Music has been ruined by commercialism. Period. End of story. Today popular music has no more relationship to real music than Pepsi has a relationship to real food.

Of all the saccharine, mindless, maudlin, moronic Christmas myths that I’ve endured for my whole life, one of my least favorite has been the story of the little drummer boy. I realize that, at its heart, it is a story of someone who has no money giving a Christmas gift to the baby Jesus. But my knowledge of that worthwhile story has been damaged by the puppet animation Christmas special about the story. While Rudolph was my favorite puppet animated Christmas story when I was a child (I remember crying because my mother had not woke me up from my nap in time to see it one year) even at five years old I was appalled at the sight of an obviously retarded drummer child hitting a drum randomly as some sort of gift for the savior of the world.

So here is my strike back at both the little drummer boy and the commercialization of real music made by machines to show you what a simple drummer boy can do when he isn’t plasticized and infused with high fructose corn syrup.


A New Beginning and a New Destination

“God is far too fond of irony.”

There are several problems with blogging. The main one is the same as the problem with keeping any journal. When your life is busy and things are HAPPENING, you don’t have time to write. When life has calmed down and you have time for quiet reflection, there’s nothing to write about.

Another problem is something I call the error of oversimplification. Blogs are great for snark, or a humorous aside, or the quick comment. But the world is a complex place and often you have to read several books on even a narrow subject to have enough information to start forming a worthwhile opinion. Thus, a blog is a poor way to explain or opine on any subject. There just isn’t space to deal with things in a meaningful way.

To put it another way, if you buy a pump for your well it will be described as pumping a given number of gallons per minute. Almost anything that moves fluid is rated this way- volume/time. Yet, one of the great unanswered questions of science is turbulence. In other words, science has no way to accurately determine how much water will come out of a garden hose in a period of time because there is no good theory of fluid dynamics. We KIND OF KNOW how much fluid should be moved by a pump in a certain amount of time, but we don’t ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND how to even start to calculate how much fluid will actually move.

Examples of this are everywhere in science. We used Newton’s laws of motion to send men to the moon even though we knew for hundreds of years that they didn’t actually work because Mercury’s orbit around the sun didn’t follow them. This is one of the main reasons that Einstein developed the Theory of Relativity (which does accurately predict Mercury’s orbit). But Einstein couldn’t wrap his head around Quantum Mechanics. His famous quote (often applied out of context)about QM is that God doesn’t play at dice. Yet it seems that there is a certain amount of indeterminacy in the universe.

Or to bring this home to everyone that relies on our technology- every time you go to the hospital for surgery they put you to sleep using anesthesia, even though we have no idea how anesthesia really works. There are two competing theories but each has significant flaws because both would predict certain chemicals would be anesthesia agents when they demonstrably are not.

Oversimplification may be useful in some cases but real knowledge is built on true understanding.

Science maintains that fundamental principles are simple and beautiful. This is not only an unsupported and prejudiced view, but is made ludicrous by one of our linchpins of current “knowledge”-quantum mechanics, which is neither simple or beautiful. The problem with human understanding is the same as the problem with map making: a truly accurate map would have to be a 1:1 scale. In other words, any map that isn’t the exact size of the thing being mapped is basically inaccurate. But what good is a map of the United States that is the SIZE of the United States? Human understanding requires simplification and the more you simplify something the more inaccurate that simplification is.

To bring this all home-all I’m really saying is that my hiatus from the blog has been because things have been happening fast in my life and knee-jerk opinion may be interesting and can occasionally be right but is rarely deep. Now that I have returned the blog will be starting anew. For one thing, I’m going to get a lot more personal, something I’ve avoided before. William Faulkner said that the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. While I don’t think Faulkner was a particularly good writer in a technical sense (a trait that I found common among writers I was required to read in literature classes) he was a brilliant man. And in this case, I think he has hit the proverbial nail on its proverbial head. Imparting knowledge without context is like giving you a canteen without water.

Another thing Faulkner said was, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: The ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies”. In deference to this quote I will from now on rate any work of art by how many old ladies it is worth killing. I have to admit that I did not originate this scale as a measurement of artistic merit. The Comics Journal used it over thirty years ago. But, like God, I am no respecter of persons. If stealing from your mother is OK (It’s not dammit, put that purse down RIGHT NOW!) then stealing from Gary Groth is almost mandatory.

And I will try to use brevity whenever possible. Sometimes that may not be possible, but in spite of what I’ve said up until this point, it is preferable. One of the reasons I think Faulkner was a poor writer is that he never met a period that he liked. I once counted 143 words in a single sentence of his writing. If you can’t find the thought in what you are saying in less than 143 words, you need to quit typing and think some more. As Max Plank once said, I’d have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have time. Complex ideas require complex explanations but again I fall back on minds greater than my own to say KISS (keep it simple stupid) or Einstein’s “make everything as simple as possible BUT NO SIMPLER”.

Comments are re-opened. I refuse to edit comments since I find comment moderation for anything but removing spambots to be the mark of a coward. I think that, more than often, comment moderation is a way for the blogger to protect themselves from valid points of view that differ from their own than it is a way to enforce civility (more on that later). If you have the courage to state your opinion but not to deal with the opinions of others you are a cur. If you are not willing to engage differing views, then you have no business stating your own.

So, welcome back to my world. Hopefully you can find something worthwhile here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

POLITICS- Obama's Last Big Pull

This is my election post and it has nothing to do with the race. Scan down to the middle of this page and play the video, you don’t even have to bother to read the article, it’s just about the video anyway. I’ll wait.

Things like this really cause me to like Obama. A president with common sense who talks like a person. He could have launched into a diatribe about individuality and cultural sensitivity and been as full of shit as every other politician. Instead he answered it the same way every dad in the America would. Yeah, individuality, great, but quit being a moron and pull up your pants. Every dad, at one point or another, has said, “Look I know how it is. I did stupid shit when I was young. Now I’m older and I realize it’s stupid. Someday you will to.” Our dads said it to us. We said it to our kids. And if you haven’t yet then someday you’ll say it to your kids when they come home with hologram projectors in their foreheads.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

MOVIES- Sarah Marshall, Dewey Cox, and Judd Apatow

Well, I found FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL in my mailbox last week and gave it a spin during the weekend. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a Judd Apatow produced comedy, starring Apatow alumnus Jason Segel (who you may know as Marshall from the sitcom “How I Fucked Your Mother”) and sporting the modest tagline: From the guys who brought you "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up". Due to the success of these two films, Apatow and his posse have been hailed by many critics as comedic geniuses. And while the movies are amusing, this says more about the state of comedy in film than it does about the films themselves. Here the characters seem a little more mature and there aren’t any drug references so this film is noticeably different than the usual Apatow fare.

Segel wrote the film as well as starring in it. The plot is the essence of sitcom high-concept- What if you went to Hawaii to get over a breakup and wound up in the same hotel as your ex and her new boyfriend? What surprises is that the characters nominally act like grown-ups and the dialog is clever and understated. There’s only one scene where somebody winds up hanging from something and it isn’t their ex’s balcony so it’s forgivable. It’s easy to see what a mess this would have been in the hands of cartoon comedians like Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell. But here Segel plays Peter Bretter OH MY GOD THAT’S HIS PENIS the way only a writer writing autobiographically THERE IT IS AGAIN can manage to and the commentary tract HOLY CRAP THERE IT IS AGAIN THIS IS RIDICULOUS confirms that almost every scene in the movie OH COME ON BUDDY JUST PUT THAT THING AWAY had happened to him at one time or another. Kristin Bell and Mila Kunis are lovely and perky and get a few good lines. But Russell Brand steals the show as Aldous Snow, the rock-star new boyfriend. This is a character you’re supposed to hate. He’s shallow, narcissistic, and we find out halfway through the movie that he was sleeping with the hero’s girlfriend for a year before the breakup. But the role is written so that he’s actually a pretty decent guy and Brand’s performance is so charming while at the same time being so completely bizarre that you wind up not applying any of the rules of human decency to this guy. He looks like he’s only a millimeter deep, but there’s more there than you expected. The whole movie is like that, the payoff is so much more than the set-up would make you think is coming.

Of the Judd Apatow produced comedies in the last couple of years, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the best of the lot. The dialog is funnier and the situations are easier to relate to than being a middle-aged virgin or knocking up the girl of your dreams and having her want to stay with you because of it. If you can stand to see gratuitous full frontal male nudity, give it a try.

The same weekend as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I saw WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY. Earlier I mentioned the mess FSM would have been with Will Ferrell involved. This movie proves the point. It’s basically the type of movie Ferrell has been doing for forever- the faux biopic. In the hands of Ferrell and SNL allumnus Alan McKay I’m sure this would have just been another Talladega Nights. That’s what I expected. But once again Judd Apatow and his FREEKS AND GEEKS cohort Jake Kasdan take a tired premise and put a fresh spin on it with good writing. Now, don’t get me wrong. Walk Hard is a collection of every cliché from every musical biopic you’ve ever seen. But that’s what makes it fun. It’s EVERY Cliché. All of them. From the troubled childhood, to the drug problems, to the infidelity, to the inevitable comeback tour. And to look at the movie with the sound turned down you’d think it was all done straight. John C. Reilly never raises an eyebrow to let the audience know he’s in on the joke. And that’s what makes it so funny. The movie is silly but never at it’s own expense and while it goes right up to the line it never goes over the top. It’s not a comedy classic, but if you are tired of comedy movies that are nothing more than Saturday Night Live skits padded out to two hours and don’t think yelling is funny for it’s own sake, you’ll probably find yourself being amused.

Friday, October 17, 2008

POLITICS- Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Christopher Buckley, son of conservative intellectual William Buckley, was forced to resign from the magazine his father founded this week. It seems he had the temerity to make a reasonable case for why a conservative Republican would vote for Barak Obama. He didn’t defile the pages of the National Review with his opinion but instead wrote the article on The Daily Beast website. He did this knowing that Review readers had called for jihad on another review writer who had dared state the obvious last month- that the nomination of Sarah Palin was not a proud day for the GOP. Unfortunately it didn’t do him any good. Review readers found out and unleashed the kind of wrath that only people who have shibboleths for political opinions can muster. Over ten thousand emails later, Buckley became another victim of a Republican party that has decided to excise any whiff of intelligence or disagreement from their ranks. A Republican party that has abandoned small government principles for a policy of attempting to destroy the government through unparalleled debt and ineffectiveness. A Republican party that has abandoned free markets in favor of plutocracy and socialism for the rich. A Republican party that has abandoned the discourse of democracy for the politics of character assassination and the covenants of the constitution for the despotism of theocracy. A party that is abandoning bright lights like Buckley and George Will to embrace dim bulbs like Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, and Ann Coulter. Replacing reason with rabble rousing. Leaving the high road to pursue the lowest common denominator.

Colin Powell will be on Meet the Press this Sunday morning and expectations are that he will also endorse Obama for president. It will be interesting to see how quickly the lynch mob forms for another great man in the party who still believes that the essence of freedom is that you get to choose who you vote for without duress. I’d say shame on them, but soon the only people left in the party will be automatons that have no shame.

MOVIES- Entertainment Weekly's Weak Website

Following a link (I almost compulsively follow links the same way I always read introductions, footnotes, and endnotes) about the new Star Trek movie by J. J. Abrams sent me pinballing around the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY website for a couple of hours this morning. It wouldn’t have been a couple of hours except that all their articles seem to be lists. Not lists like CRACKED.COM does them- articles that center around a silly or strange topics and are written like articles- but lists that are load every item as a new page and usually consist of a throwaway picture and a brief but boring paragraph of text that’s usually only a tedious synopsis. Reading the site consists of endless clicking “next” and having a page take three times longer to load than it takes to read it. All I can guess is that this pedalware format is an editorial decision held over from a weekly print magazine that has to pad, pad, pad every issue to keep it from being a flyer but never thought to hire interesting writers. Or writers at all, for what I can tell. For instance, their review of Orson Wells TOUCH OF EVIL DVD is three sentences long! THREE SENTENCES LONG! Exactly the same as the number of edits of the movie contained in the package. In another article, 20 Pop-Culture Hits We Couldn’t Pay You to See, they don’t even bother to write anything, simply publishing readers’ emails on the topic. The results are pretty predictable. One submitter prefaces why he wouldn’t watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer by saying that he hadn’t see any of the Star Wars movies, Godfather movies, or an episode of the Sopranos either. I guess he has a policy of avoiding anything people think is good. Another states she’s not seen the Godfather movies so she can “ save my Godfather virginity for my future husband — I want to be able to sit down one Saturday night with both movies, some wine and say, ‘Honey, have you ever seen these movies? I heard they were good.’ ” I wonder how long she’s going to have to look to find a husband who’s never seen the movies. I imagine his reply will be that he’d like to but the WWF is on Pay-Per-View so he’ll have to give it a miss. But my favorite is the person who says they haven’t seen ET because they “just want to remain in the dark.” Mission accomplished.

The writing, even when it’s not being culled from the emails of self admitted ignoramuses, is so pedestrian and uninformed that I can’t imagine an actual film or television lover hanging around for long. It’s just window dressing for the pictures. A plot summary for whatever you are being shown a still from. But the articles are interesting for one reason- to see what incredibly dumb idea they are going to spit at you next. Especially in their SF area. Some of the things they write are so ridiculous that if they were posted in a forum you would immediately peg the writer as a troll.

To give you an example, two of the lists are 20 Greatest Sci-fi Shows and 17 Sci-fi Misfires. The former includes such terrible atrocities against the genre as the Buck Rogers TV show from the 1970s, V- an early 80s series about alien invaders that look like lizards (unless they’re wearing their people masks, in which case they look completely normal) and eat humans, and The Jetsons. YES! THEY ACTUALLY NAMED THE JETSONS AS ONE OF THE GREATEST SF SHOWS OF ALL TIME! The latter list names Blade Runner and Jurassic Park as “greatest misfires”.

Another list posits Kirk’s 20 Best and Worst Moments. Now I know you’ve got to be pretty parent’s basement worthy to even look at such as list, but it’s almost worth it for the unintentional hilarity. This list is so padded that 4 of the best moments are from ST II, four are from ST III, and one is from the abominable ST V. Then the first Worst moment is TOS episode The Trouble With Tribbles. You almost think they are doing it on purpose.

So if you are looking for many pictures and not much reading, or enjoy public displays of FAIL, or just enjoy exercising your index finger, give the site a look. However if you want to read informed opinion or interesting writing, avoid it like people who don’t like good movies avoid The Godfather

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

MOVIES- Ridley Scott's War for Forever

The start of the 1980s was an unparalleled time in Science Fiction cinema. STAR WARS had launched a phenomenon and SF movies were being greenlit with wild abandon in Hollywood. Most of them were crap but several classics of the genre were made in those years Two of those classics were among the first films by a young film director named Ridley Scott. But perhaps more interestingly, two classic SF properties that would be started but not finished, to the chagrin of SF fans forever, would also be attempted by Ridley Scott. One of those was THE FOREVER WAR by Joe Haldeman and now, after 25 years, we may finally get a chance to see it.

Scott’s first attempt at SF was a film originally titled THE STAR BEAST. It was a high-concept SF/Horror hybrid. But an excellent script by Dan O’Bannon and Scott’s visual talents, with designs by Production Artists Ron Cobb and H. R. Geiger, would take a simple concept and make it a classic. When the movie, now renamed ALIEN, was released in 1979 it was nothing short of a knockout. But Ridley Scott was just getting started.

His next project was be one of those legendary missed opportunities. He took much of his design team from ALIEN and begin work on an adaptation of DUNE. Scott spent over a year doing pre-production work. But the DUNE project had been underway for almost 10 years already and a number of directors had already tried and failed to bring Frank Herbert’s magnum opus to the screen. Ridley Scott also failed, leaving SF fans to forever wonder what a DUNE movie by Scott might have been like.

Leaving Dune, Scott tackled an adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP. Again, a title change was in order and, with an assist from William S. Burroughs, BLADERUNNER was born. Unlike ALIEN, BLADERUNNER was a bit of a box office disappointment. But over the next twenty years it would become one of the most influential SF movies ever made. While filmmakers might mimic STAR WARS or CLOSE ENCOUNTERS or ET for satirical purposes, Scott’s BLADERUNNER would influence the look of literally hundreds of films right up to the present day. And it would make it’s mark in history by being the first movie to ever inspire a genre of written SF- Cyberpunk.

The question in show business is always “what do you do for an encore?” For Ridley Scott the unlikely answer was more SF. But if even-numbered Star Trek movies are better, even-numbered Ridley Scott SF films seemed doomed to limbo. His next project was perhaps to be his most challenging. This would be no horror film in space, or psychological dystopia. It was an adaptation of a “hard” SF novel that didn’t use faster than light drives but instead imagined an interstellar war at sub-light speeds, where six months aboard ship might mean that dozens of years had passed on earth due to Einsteinian time dilation. A novel that was a thinly veiled allegory for the Vietnam War, written by a veteran, that had already been called a classic less than ten years after its publication. An anti-war military SF movie that required the audience to understand Einstein to follow the plot, Joe Haleman’s FOREVER WAR might have been the best true SF movie ever made. At least, it might have been. Except Scott would never be able to obtain the rights to the book.

Eventually Scott would abandon the project and make a fantasy film about elves and unicorns with a rising actor named Tom Cruse. This movie would make BLADERUNNER look like a blockbuster success. After LEGEND Ridley Scott would abandon genre fiction entirely but go on to make groundbreaking movies for the next quarter century.

Twenty-five years is a long time. In spite of decades of Federation starships that move like dirigibles and X-Wing fighters that move like biplanes, movie audiences are far more scientifically literate than they were in the early eighties. We’ll never know what Tim Burton’s Death of Superman or Kubrick’s A.I. would have been. But now that Scott has finally been able to obtain the rights to THE FOREVER WAR perhaps we will finally see that movie. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

RELIGION- Be Careful What You Ask For

If you support the idea of prayer in schools, the main argument against it was made real in Cheshire County, UK recently when two boys were given detention for refusing to pray to Allah in a Religious Education class. I’ve never understood why so many Christians are so gung-ho for the state to take over religious instruction. Not only did Jesus plainly prohibit such public displays (a guideline even more ignored than the ones on bearing false witness or adultery), but to place a thing so seemingly important as communicating with the creator into the hands of public school teachers seems a classic case of pearls before swine. Often the reason proffered by people less friendly to the idea is that it is a tool for proselytizing but I wonder if anyone really believes that saying prayers in unison has ever converted anyone. So I’m left with the conclusion that it must be simply an attempt to display cultural clout. But as we see in the article, it is both a two edged sword and a case of those swine turning again and rending them.

POLITICS- Are You a Criminal?

Since the Labour Party (Labor for us yanks) in Great Britain took power in 1997 they have passed a new law criminalizing some action for every day they’ve been in office. Three thousand, six hundred new laws in just over 10 years. Everything from “disturbing” a package of eggs to offering to sell a game bird you killed on Christmas. This at a time when they’ve also blanketed their country in government cameras.

The UK of V FOR VENDETTA gets a little closer to being a documentary every day. And I’m betting that reality sticks with Alan Moore’s ending.

POLITICS- Is There a Tank in Your Future?

I’ve been watching with interest as our police departments have been being turned into domestic military forces. Cobb County Georgia (pop. 670,000 or so) has bought a new toy for their internal security shock-troops- a tank. Of course it’s necessary. Why? Because of the war on drugs, of course. I’ve got news for you, there are lots of things worse than a few people wasting their lives by escaping from them with drugs. And the rest of us living in a police state in an impossible attempt to stop them is one.

SCIENCE FICTION- Neal Stephenson Speaks

Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson gives a talk on the subject of SF as a literary genre (though the actual title, The Fork: Science Fiction versus Mundane Culture, is actually closer to what he actually talks about). His thesis is that, with Romance ubiquitous in film, Mystery (in the form of crime drama) the overwhelming preference on television, and Westerns on the endangered species list, SF is the only genre left. Be warned, Neal isn’t a very good public speaker and his main idea is so full of holes that he has to do all sorts of stretching exercises to make it work. In addition to talking mostly about movies (he mentions only one SF book and that was made into a movie), he also defines SF to include everything from fantasy and horror to The DaVinci Code. The speech is interesting if you are a SF fan or Neal Stephenson fan, but if you are looking for insights into the topic the closest you are going to come is that the “literature of ideas” tends to attract folks who like intelligent characters or that post-structuralist longhairs consider genre fiction a ghetto.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

POLITICS- The Vice- Presidential Debate

Best debate evar!

If I had some sort of guarantee that McCain would survive the term I think Sarah Palin would be the perfect vice-president. She could preside in the Senate like Vanna White, smiling and winking. Maybe people would like her so much that they’d start tuning in to CSPAN and having a clue about what is going on in government. She could vote a straight party line in tiebreakers and talk a lot about what a maverick free thinker she is. She wants the power of the VP expanded- let her a show on CSPAN AFTER DARK where she interviews Senate members about policy and, eh heh, other things.

Why has nobody been talking about the fact that Palin has a degree in communications and was a sportscaster on television? Of course she knows how to look into a monitor and recite. I thought at one point that she was reading from a teleprompter being lasered onto her glasses by the CIA, because her eyes never moved and she seemed to have on both glasses and contacts. But I realized that was just crazy talk. But she did give a wonderful speech. I’m just waiting for somebody to edit out all the interruptions of questions and that other guy talking so I can hear it the way it was written.

Joe Biden said Cheney’s views on the role of the VP were “Bizarre.” Thank you, Mr. Biden. The whole last eight years have been bizarre and I hope now that the rest of the country has learned an important lesson. No matter what your religious beliefs, electing a moron president is a bad idea. Even if he’s a well meaning Christian moron. Especially if he’s a spoiled amoral cynical “christian” moron.

I watched the debate on CNN and I don’t know how I ever got by without information overload. The most interesting thing was the real-time graph of acceptance by a group of undecided Ohio voters. It was fascinating to watch which things men responded to as opposed to what turned women on. I noticed that the lines were mostly parallel with women being more generous than men. I can’t remember a point at which the lines departed greatly although there were some interesting differences. I expected men to like Palin was was surprised at how consistantly women seemed to like Biden more. Palin started out really strong and sort of gradually petered out with both sexes. People respond to having smoke blown up their asses. ‘Oh, no, the middle class had no responsibility for the current banking problem’ got high marks.

The professional debate scorers were less interesting. Three gave Sarah Palin a point for walking onto the stage without falling down. From there on in I think each’s score was more an indication of their preferences than an attempt to actually technically score a debate.

As far as I understand it, John McCain plans to give everyone a $5000 tax cut for health care and tax employer provided health insurance benefits. I predict that if this happens employeers will drop health care coverage as a benefit like a hot potato and that you’ll be able to buy a policy starting at $4995. This is basically a plan to give Insurance companies $5000 of government money and making us the bagman for the payoff.

The next time somebody in a debate says “redistribution of wealth” in a debate it should be illegal not to answer by saying, “It’s been being redistributed for the last 10 years, it’s just all been going to the top 2%.” After Palin polished this old chestnut, the next morning McCain and Obama both voted to redistribute some more to the people at the top so they wouldn’t quit loaning us our own money back. To the tune of over $2000 per person in the country. A “confidence” game if I’ve ever seen one.

NEW-CLEE-ERR! It’s spelled nuclear, not nucular. There’s no second “U” sound. Stop it. It’s one thing to mis-pronounce a word. It’s quite another to be such an arrogant pinhead that you can’t admit that you are wrong and stop doing it. It even another to base a political party on the idea that all the stubborn pinheads are going to force every body else to do it their way. Pay attention, Intelligent Design supporters.

Joe Biden did a masterful job at avoiding the minefield of ways he might have offended women by saying something or doing something wrong while debating Sarah Palin. Not that women are easily offended or would ever play a passive-aggressive game with a man to get what they want. No sir. Not that that would ever happen.

A great debate. Everybody won. Palin won because she was able to hide the fact that she really doesn’t have a clue what she’s talking about. At least well enough that other people who don’t know what they are talking about can believe her. And Joe Biden won because he won.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

POLITICS- Plutocrazy

In the midst of all the talk of giving the financial sector just over $8000 (over $20,000 with interest) per family, the government giving a paltry $100 per family ($400 if they default) to the auto industry.

The folks over at TheTruthAboutCars have mounted a GM Deathwatch for the last couple of years. They have the best coverage of what's been happening in the auto industry. Long but worth reading if you want a real explanation of why this is such a terrible idea.

I mean aside from the whole free market thing.

What do they call that kind of government where the rich rule and the poor are little better than slaves?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

POLITICS- Tax and Spend Liberals

I’ve said a couple of times on this blog that in my lifetime I’ve noticed that every time the Republicans are in the White House they start wars and wreck the economy. I’ve forgotten to mention that, in spite of the “tax and spend liberals” stereotype, they also spend a buttload more of my money than the Democrats do. Don’t believe me? Here’s the info.

I’ve always had trouble understanding the willingness of people to believe propaganda rather than facts or even the evidence of their own senses. As Paul Simon said in the lyrics of his song THE BOXER, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”. Or perhaps Kay, Tommy Lee Jones’ character in MEN IN BLACK, said it better, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it”.

MOVIES- Green Lantern Movie

Riding on the coat tails of THE DARK KNIGHT it looks like GREEN LANTERN might go into production as early as next spring. Empire Online says the movie is greenlit but careful reading of the article shows that nothing is actually confirmed.

Green Lantern has been one of my favorites since the 1960s SUPERMAN/AQUAMAN HOUR Saturday morning cartoon series, which featured the Justice League both collectively and in individual stories. When I finally bought my first GL comic I was a little confused (the cartoon had changed Pieface to an alien) but that was nothing compared to the confusion I felt when I picked up another issue a few months later.

That issue was GL 76. The title was different (suddenly it was called Green Lantern/Green Arrow), the situation was different (no intergalactic storyline- GL gets a tour of the ghetto), and the artwork was different. Boy, was the artwork different. GL’s previous artist was Gil Kane, and the art on the book was top of the heap for DC at the time. But with issue 76 the art chores were taken over by Neal Adams. I was somewhat aware of Adams already. At the time he did the majority of DCs covers and I had a couple of issues of his Brave and Bold. I had been drawing since I was able to pick up a pencil and was already pretty good at it. A big part of my love of comic books was drawing my favorite heroes. So I was an 8 year old art snob and Adams was already my favorite artist. His work on GL was simply the best I had ever seen in a comic book.

I was hooked. But back then there were no comic book stores. Comics were sold off what they called “spinner racks”, revolving wire racks that stood about 5 feet high and held a half dozen comics face out in each pocket. They were found in most grocery and drug stores and had the famous slogan “Hey kids! COMICS!” across the top. I imagine most comic book fans nowadays have never seen one. I spent the next year riding my bicycle all over town (my parents would have killed me if they had known) looking for issues. Distribution was uneven and I only found about half the issues released before the title was discontinued.

But what I did find was heady stuff. Seems a little funny to hear Christopher Nolan praised so much for making Batman real when I was watching GL and GA cross the country in a pickup truck, fighting such evils as discrimination, overpopulation, and drug abuse almost 40 years ago. This was an unprecedented stuff for comics at the time and even at eight years old I was enthralled. Even after GL returned to his spacefaring ways a few months later the tone of the stories didn’t really pull back from the "relevant" storylines. In one story a planet was in the midst of a population crisis. In another, a dimensional rift opened to a world run by amazons. Green Arrow would find out that his ward and sidekick, Speedy, was addicted to heroin. And the final issue would climax with the crucifixion of an environmentalist Christ figure, the choosing of John Stewart as GL’s replacement, and GA deciding to run for office. After GL/GA was finished, writer Denny O’Neal would join Adams to complete the revamp of Batman started in Brave and Bold, returning him to his darker roots after the lighter tone the character had taken during the Adam West Batman TV series. (The names are an odd coincidence. Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Adam West and of course the names of the Lantern and the Arrow. Once Adams was asked why Green Lantern and Green Arrow and replied, “Beats the hell out of me, ‘cause they were both green, I guess”. ) O’Neil would write some of the most memorable Batman comics of the time and create, with Adams, the character Ra’s al Ghul. Eventually he would become editor of the Batman comics for several years.

But for me the real treat was the artwork. These more realistic, socially aware stories probably wouldn’t have had the effect they did if the artwork hadn’t matched or even exceeded the realism of the writing. Personally I think Adams’ work on GL was the best work of his career and some of the best ever in comics. I guess I’m not alone in this. One famous three panel spread (pictured below) is said to be the most reproduced in comics history. Every page contained something special- odd angles, natural poses, expressive faces, minorities that looked like actual minorities rather than the white faces colored brown that was the standard at the time. Adams’ work would be so influential that the phrase “Adams clones” would become a term of derision in the industry. In spite of this many of these artists would become the best working in the medium over the next decade.

So there’s the story of my affection for the character. I feel like I’ve already seen the perfect Green Lantern movie since Adams’ artwork was like seeing stills from that movie and I greet this translation with the same fear that every comic fan feels when a cherished childhood memory is about to make the trip through the Hollywood Veg-a-matic. Years ago I fantasized about a movie of the O’Neil/Adams storyline. In my mind Bruce Campbell would play Hal Jordan while Dennis Leary was my choice for Green Arrow. That movie will never be made anywhere but in my head but this one seems to have a pretty good chance of making it to the screen. I sure hope they don’t screw it up.

POLITICS- Economic Blame

I want to start by apologizing. I’m going to refer to an article on another blog that I’ve linked to twice already but it is such a perfect example of the kind of thinking so much of the fundamentalist base of the GOP engages in. People often say that they are appalled by the hatefulness and tone of so much of what gets written on the net but I think this is an extremely superficial way to look at it. I consider it more the natural honesty that anonymity engenders. People who would never think of using certain words or espousing particular ideas in public have the opportunity to really be honest online. You want to know what people are REALLY thinking, pay attention to those comment sections. And with that in mind…

The far-right blog Post-American Confederate (previously Daddio’s Dark side) posted an article explaining the current financial crisis the other day. The cause, of course, was liberalism. After all, isn’t the cause of everything that is wrong with the country liberal ideas? I find this sort of attitude common among the Rush Limbaugh/Bill O’Reilly loving shitheads that seems to have become the backbone of the party. It’s a kind of binary thinking that disserves a democracy greatly.

I posted a reply to this absurd idea, but as I’ve noticed in several other conservative* blogs, dissenting viewpoints, even when they are polite and thoughtful, are not posted by the moderator. So I’m going to take a few minutes to reply to this article here.

Al-Ozarka (non de plume of the blog’s author) is not completely wrong about the Democrats being as responsible for this as the Republicans. Both parties have enabled the financial sector to run amok. Part of the responsibility has to lie at the feet of the Clinton administration, who encouraged Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac to underwrite loans to more and more low-income people. But that isn’t surprising, their mandate was to do just that. But what has also led us to this situation is strangely similar to the circumstances prior to the Great Depression. In the 1920s interest rates were low, which spurred a great deal of debt, both private and for investment capitol. The accompanying increase in purchasing caused a big influx of money into the stock market, much of it leveraged on margin (using stock gains to buy more stock without actually paying cash). On Black Tuesday, when stocks began to lose value, brokers started making margin calls and investors couldn’t come up with the money. This exacerbated the losses. Banks, seeing that their investments had lost money, attempted to call in loans. And that didn’t work for the same reason that the margin calls weren’t met- instead of liquid financial reserves what people had was a lot of debt. The big banks were the first to fall (sound familiar?). But this wasn’t the Great Depression yet. Many economists think that even in this situation it could have been simply the recession of ’29 if not for a couple of things. First, the Republican administration at the time attempted to fix prices, which is a bass akwards way of managing a free economy. They did attempt to pump some cash into financial institutions but due to rules about how much money the Fed could dump into the economy (limited by rules tying outlays to gold reserves) it was too little too late by the time they tried to do it. This resulted in a failure in confidence and the eventual run on the banks, causing more banks to fail. This didn’t happen overnight. It took a few years. But few people disagree that what the government did helped little and many feel that it actually made things worse.

It is interesting to note that the Republicans had been in power for the decade prior to the ’29 crash (and the first several years after) and that their policies had contributed both to the boom in the twenties and the severity of the depression. Likewise, as far as the government is concerned, Republicans must bear the brunt of responsibility for our current situation. People have been warning about an impending sub-prime mortgage problem for years now and nothing has been done about it by either party. You don’t have to be an economist to realize that in a country where median income is around $35,000 and median house prices are over a quarter of a million dollars, somebody is living way above their means.

It’s also interesting to note that the previous Bush administration had a similar problem with the Savings and Loan industry. In fact, in my life I’ve noticed that every time we have a Republican administration we get a war and the economy winds up overheating. (In fact, Regan/Bush started two wars and had the S&L crisis, and Bush Jr has started two wars and now had this. Uncanny, huh? Well, Bush Jr. always wanted to out do his father, and he has in spades since his wars and financial crisis’ are far worse. ) As fond as I am of the idea of free markets, I also realize that if you don’t watch the finance industry closely they seem to start playing shell games (repackaging bad loans and selling them to unwitting investors, for instance). My current mortgage was sold to another bank before I got my first statement, and the loan on the last house I bought was sold FOUR TIMES before we even went to closing! And these loans were far from sub-prime.

The bottom line is that our elected leaders have set the ship to sinking and we really have no choice but try to bail ourselves out. Let’s hope they do a better job on this than they have on anything else in the last decade.

Me, I bought another 50 pound bag of rice at Sam’s last week.

*We really need a new word for what the current Republican party is. Conservative in the classic sense is inaccurate. The Goldwater conservatives and Libertarians that used to be a major force in the party are now relegated to its fringes and as appalled by the current administration as many liberals. I’ll work on this for another post perhaps.

Monday, September 29, 2008

POLITICS- Confused by the Financial Crisis?

Well join the club. But here is an excellent article explaining the whole thing in a page. Well worth reading if you have, use, or are affected by money.

And here's the actual text of the agreement.

And here's an example of what kind of silliness it has generated on the web.

SCIENCE- Robert Heinlein Would Be So Proud

Elon Musk's company SPACE-X has launched a privately financed and designed rocket into orbit.

Head over to for more details.

POLITICS- I Wonder If the Ceremony Will Be in the Rose Garden?

After “terrorist fist jabs” and “Obama won’t say the pledge of allegiance” and “or wear a flag pin on his lapel” the McCain campaign continues to see just what ridiculous shit will stick to the wall when thrown. The latest “vote for me because of this silly thing that has nothing to do with being president” idea is…

…wait for it…

…riding to election on the coat tales of a Bristol Palin wedding.

If you don’t think this is a joke, I submit that Bristol and Levi are registered at J.C. Penneys, the most expensive gift is $150 (an air hockey table), and that not one, not two, but three items prominently sport American flags. It’s a joke all right. I just don’t know if it’s a joke by the Republicans or on them.

Now I have to give the GOP credit. They have started two wars, instituted a surveillance program that Stalin would have been proud of, given the rest of the world the finger, and wrecked the economy. And yet, in spite of the fact that nothing (NOTHING) has really been done in the last eight years to advance the agenda of the religious fundamentalist “base” they still have their support. Why? Is it because nobody ever failed by underestimating the intelligence of the American people (to paraphrase Henry Ford). That seems to be the opinion in other countries. I’d hate to think so. Instead I believe it’s just that these people are so motivated by bigotry that their leadership’s disregard of their agenda and all the other failures are inconsequential. If it’s bad, it must be the “libruls” fault.

There, I said it.

The south has a long history of motivation by prejudice. Republicans found that out after Lincoln. Democrats after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s (prophetically saying at the time that the Dems had lost the South for a generation- he was a southern boy, he knew). While hatred for blacks has lessened in the south, it’s been replaced by hatred of gays, “elites”, and liberals. This isn’t a classic conservative difference of opinion on the role of government, its just finding someone to blame for everything you don’t like. Xenophobia is a strong force in human nature. And since the Republicans seem to have abandoned their traditional values (small government, free markets) all they have left are identity politics and fear.

No wonder so many of us that used to be Republicans are voting for Obama.

Friday, September 19, 2008

SCIENCE- Paul Dirac and the Big Number Theory

So what did Dirac do that was so all fired great? Some mundane stuff like predicting the first antimatter particle. (Though he didn’t think of it as a particle, he called it a “hole in the Dirac Sea”. Didn’t like poetry my ass.) But the thing I’ve always thought was the coolest thing Dirac ever came up with is called the BIG NUMBER HYPOTHESIS.

Dirac was a born mathematician. In fact he once said that “getting beauty in one's equations” was the path to progress. Often he found himself playing with numbers and equations for the simple joy of it; the way a gifted pianist might sit and noodle at the keys. And just like that pianist might stumble onto a classic melody, Dirac stumbled onto one of the great mysteries of the universe. A mystery that is sometimes pointed to as evidence that the universe is a constructed thing.

In other words- evidence of God.

He realized that the ratio of the electromagnetic force and gravitational force between a proton and an electron was on the order of 10 to the 40th power. That’s a 10 with 40 zeros after it. A big number. Human beings have a hard time comprehending large numbers so we look for things to compare them to in order to get a sense of scale. What do you compare such a number to in a person’s experience? It’s a big number, so how about all the grains of sand on the beach? Problem is that it wouldn’t even be close. All the grains of sand on all the beaches in the world? That’s about 7.5 x (10)18th grains of sand.

which is still only (10)-21st of Dirac’s number.

So all the sand on all the beaches on the entire earth is such a pitifully small number in comparison that it can’t help us. What else might he compare it to?

How about the ratio of an electron to the radius of the Universe? That’s got to be a pretty big number. The calculated radius of an electron is (10)-15th and the radius of the universe is about 10)23rd resulting in a final ratio of (10)40th.

Wait. That’s a really good comparison. In fact it’s within the same order of magnitude. It’s unusual to find anything that matches up that closely when dealing with numbers of this size.

So, The relationship between the interactions of protons and electrons is about the same as the relationship between the size single electron and the size of the universe. Interesting.

What else might be a number that big? We’ve compared two of the four basic forces of the universe and we’ve compared a unit of distance. So, what about time? The universe has given us a fancy stopwatch in the form of the speed of light so let’s compare the length of time it takes a photon to travel the length of the radius of that electron we measured earlier and the length of time that the universe has existed since the big bang.

And guess what. That turns out to be about 10)40 as well!

Things were starting to get really weird.

What about a comparison of the mass of a proton to the mass of the universe? Well that doesn’t wind up being on order of magnitude of 10)40 instead it winds up being roughly the square of 10)40. That’s a little odd too. How about the number of elementary charged particles in the universe. That also winds up being about 10)80, the square of the number that kept cropping up.

By now Dirac was getting pretty excited. As he started comparing the fundamental constants of the universe the number 10)40 just kept cropping up. I’m sure he was beginning to feel a little like Jim Carry in the movie THE NUMBER 23. He figured that anything with this close a correlation must be important. But the connections were so odd. Why would the age of the universe and the size of a proton be related? Dirac continued to fool around and eventually figured out that all this could be the result if the Universal Gravitational Constant varied with the age of the universe. So he immediately set out to do what physicists do when they hit upon a new idea. He built a universe around it.

In 1937 Dirac published his paper on the Large Number Hypothesis and the possible Cosmology it implied. The problem was that his cosmology didn’t seem to support the big bang and for the next 20 years big bang was to become all the rage in cosmology. So most physicists said yes, that’s interesting, but it’s just a coincidence. Scientific numerology, it was called.

But the story didn’t end there.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

SCIENCE- Paul Dirac and the Big Bang Theory

I occasionally catch an episode of The Big Bang Theory on television. (I've loved Chuck Lorre since Cybil.) It’s a little broad for my tastes but I respect the fact that they seem to go out of their way to get both the geek references and the pseudo-scientific double talk in the ballpark of plausibility. But I wonder sometimes if the biggest joke in the series is intentional or not.

You see, I’m convinced that the tall skinny geek is modeled on 20th century physicist Paul Dirac. (I confess that I don’t watch the thing enough to know the names of the two main characters. For the purposes of this post I will refer to them as the tall skinny geek and the whiny Roseanne alumnus.) Even in the time of Einstein and Schrödinger, Heisenberg and Oppenheimer, Paul Dirac stood out as an intellect (he shared the 1933 Nobel Prize with Schrödinger) and also somewhat of a character. He was tall and slight, considered extremely shy and a little socially awkward. Someone once joked that 90% of his vocabulary was “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t know”. He once introduced his new bride to a friend by saying “This is [Hungarian physicist Eugene] Wigner’s sister, who is now my wife.”

At another time he was talking to a colleague (either Rudolf Peierls or Peter Kapitza, depending on who’s telling the story) who’s wife was in the room knitting. After watching her for a while he tells her that “There is a topologically inequivalent way of doing what you are doing.” Of course she asks him what he’s talking about and he shows her an alternate knitting stitch. The woman then informs him that what he’s doing is called purling.

Replying to a student who had told him “I don’t understand the second equation.” He once said “That is a statement, not a question.”

Dirac kidded Robert Oppenheimer about his love of poetry. He once said, "The aim of science is to make difficult things understandable in a simpler way; the aim of poetry is to state simple things in an incomprehensible way. The two are incompatible."

But there are two Dirac stories that make me sure that the tall skinny geek on The Big Bang Theory is based on the erstwhile physicist. The first is when someone making small talk with him at a banquet mentioned that the weather was blustery. Dirac got up and left the dinner table only to return in a few minutes to say that, yes, he had checked and it was indeed windy outside.

The second story could have come straight from the show itself. Dirac once postulated that there must be a optimal distance from which to view a woman’s face. Not so close that minor wrinkles and blemishes are too apparent or that the face is distorted but not so far away that one bit of the important detail is lost. After explaining his theory at a party once, another physicist asked him how close he had ever BEEN to a girl.

Holding his hands a couple of feet apart he said, “About this close.”

Maybe I’m just projecting Dirac onto the tall skinny geek. I don’t think the whiny Roseanne alumnus is actually a caricature of Einstein (though the hair is suspicious). It’s not likely that the creators of the Big Bang sitcom purposefully styled the character on an actual person. But the parallels are there. Even down to the character’s inherent sweetness. Niels Bohr said that of all the people in physics, Dirac had the purest soul.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

POLITICS- Include Me Out

...of the incessant BS of the campaigns.

You notice I don’t write much about politics even though it’s something that I think is important. What is there to say when most of the dialog is like listening to a couple of four-year-olds argue. For instance, this morning the news is about how Barrack Obama used the phrase “you can put lipstick on a pig but that doesn’t make it anything but a pig.” He wasn’t referring to Gov. Palin but the Republicans were quick to say that it was sexist. Because of the joke she told at the convention about hockey moms and pitbulls (lipstick apparently makes the difference, and the legendary scarcity of AK females would imply that it’s funny because it’s true). I’m so sick of this crap. Mommy, he’s talking about me! I don’t like it! He’s being mean to me!

I’ve seen this happen on the playground a few times so let me explain it to you. Imagine that you are seven years old again. There are two boys at the edge of the parking lot having an argument that might become a fight. You know the types. One boy is a lout, a bully. He’s in these situations frequently but somehow they usually don’t seem to come to blows. But he calls a lot of kids out. The other boy is a slightly nerdy boy who “started” all this by saying something the brute didn’t like. It’s usually a different lout and nerd each time, picked seemingly at random from their subsets of the school’s general population. (Funny that I don’t remember many fights where both contestants were from the same group. I guess louts don’t fight louts and nerds don’t fight other nerds.) Anyway, the two are squaring off. There’s a lot of talking. Insults are thrown, there’s some speculation about family customs and heritage. This is the boring part of the fight. The subjects are varied, true. I remember one fight was over whether the British had ever captured the White House, with the lout taking the side of America. Another was sparked when some kid correctly answered about things falling at the same rate regardless of weight. That particular lout fancied himself brainy so there had to be a confrontation. Anyway, the subject was always something different but the argument was always the same. The nerd would start out thinking he could set the guy straight with facts and figures. The lout would grow frustrated that the nerd didn’t realize he was there to grovel, not make the same mistake a second time. This is phase called “one boy is afraid to fight and the other is glad of it” as we used to say. At this point it is the crowds job to try to help by shouting encouragement to one or the other in the hope that he will have an irrational surge in confidence and throw the first punch. Somebody would get called a fag and depending on how secure the person on the receiving end of that bon mot was in his sexuality, an actual fight would sometimes break out. Eventually someone in authority would arrive to break up the fight. If this happens before anybody gets hit, then the audience disperses to decide who was the bigger coward.

So that’s the campaign season in a nutshell. It rarely comes to blows but other than that…

And that’s why I don’t write about politics unless I’m addressing some purely wrong idea. And even then, the campaign brings it into sharp relief that most people aren’t listening and a whole lot of people are just rooting for their side to throw a punch. Doesn’t matter who’s right.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

abbreviated post this morning because I’m in away from home.

Cool tech thingie- an ink-jet printer for concrete buildings.

An article at the NEW YORK TIMES website where Peter Leeson (in their Freakanomics column, and if you haven’t read the book go to Amazon or your local library and do so right now) realizes that UFO sightings and Bigfoot sightings statistically occur in the same states. (bonus surprise, none of them is below the Mason-Dixon line). This either means that (a) UFOs are actually looking for bigfoot, (b) wookies are piloting UFOs, or (c) this should be a three dimensional (or three-dementia-onal) graph where the third axis is alcohol consumption.

In a UFO thread on FARK I was the only person to get a song lyric challenge.

And yet more astronauts are saying that the government has been covering up UFO contact. (And shame on for not having a dateline on the story.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

POLITICS- The Answer to Hurricanes is More Offshore Drilling

This morning, in the wake of Gustav hitting the LA coast, President Bush is calling for increased offshore drilling.

Do I have to even point out why this doesn’t make sense?

Seems that you can sum up the Bush presidency in two ways. The story of a guy born on third base who thinks he hit a triple. And “give a kid a hammer and everything becomes a nail”.

Monday, September 1, 2008

POLITICS- U.S. attack on Iran?

Hope it’s not true. But as Lily Tomlin used to joke, “No matter how cynical I get, I just can’t keep up.”

Any why? In case you think its because they are some sort of threat to us

Sunday, August 31, 2008

RELIGION- Mork calling Orson Scott Card

I’ve been a fan of Orson Scott Card since 1980. That year he was the keynote speaker at a dinner hosted by the company I was working for at the time. I’ve probably given out a dozen copies of his most famous work, ENDER’S GAME, to friends who hadn’t read it and I own probably two dozen of his works- including a cherished 20 year old cassette tape of a speech he did called the Secular Humanist Revival Meeting, railing against the religious right intruding into government.

Which is why I’m even more surprised that the gay marriage issue has caused him to decide to be the latest poster child for the idea that no one is so smart that they don’t have some stupid ideas.

His latest article in The Mormon Times makes it look like he’s been saving up his stupid over the last few decades in order to have a giant stupidgasm. Right out of the shoot he says something dumb even though I’m certain he knows better.

“The first and greatest threat from court decisions in California and Massachusetts, giving legal recognition to "gay marriage," is that it marks the end of democracy in America.

“These judges are making new law without any democratic process; in fact, their decisions are striking down laws enacted by majority vote.”

Now I’m sure that Mr. Card realizes that (a) equality for all people is guaranteed in the constitution of both these states and also our country and (b) democratic process has nothing to do with it. This idea is exactly what was used to justify slavery for so many years- most people think it’s fine. And, just as it’s ironic that blacks are overwhelmingly against equal rights for homosexuals, it’s even more ironic that a Mormon would think that marriage mores should be decided by referendum. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the Mormon church’s own history of bucking the majority’s concept of marriage. It would be easy to be snarky and say that it was pretty convenient that when Utah wanted statehood God changed his mind about the whole plural marriage thing, but truthfully I think it was sort of a black spot in the history of the US that the Mormons were run out of the country for it in the first place. In a country founded on both personal and religious freedom, that this was a condition for statehood is ridiculous. The government simply has no place in decisions of marriage. Period. For a state to say who you are allowed to marry based on sex (or color as many states did) is an affront to the very principles on which the nation was founded.

“it is absurd to claim that these constitutions require marriage to be defined in ways that were unthinkable through all of human history until the past 15 years… It is such an obvious overreach by judges…”

No it’s not and no, it’s not. The role of a judge is to provide a check on legislation that is unconstitutional. And the historical argument is bollocks. You could use the same point to defend any practice which is historical and yet abhorrent. Again, slavery and plural marriage are the immediate precedents that come to mind. To say that freedoms can’t be expanded because they were prohibited before is to say that no progress should ever be made in human society. Democracy was a radical idea with scant historical backing in 1776.

“At first, it was only early abortions; within a few years, though, any abortion up to the killing of a viable baby in mid-birth was made legal.”

This is just wrong and I think Mr. Card knows it. But wait, it gets better.

Already in several states, there are textbooks for children in the earliest grades that show "gay marriages" as normal. How long do you think it will be before such textbooks become mandatory -- and parents have no way to opt out of having their children taught from them?”

Hopefully sooner than it took for schools to stop reinforcing racial stereotypes in textbooks.

A term that has mental-health implications (homophobe) is now routinely applied to anyone who deviates from the politically correct line. How long before opposing gay marriage, or refusing to recognize it, gets you officially classified as "mentally ill"?”

I would think that Mr. Card would be more worried that the term misogyny would become a diagnosis, considering his church’s teachings about women. People in glass temples shouldn’t throw stones.

“When gay rights were being enforced by the courts back in the '70s and '80s, we were repeatedly told by all the proponents of gay rights that they would never attempt to legalize gay marriage.

“It took about 15 minutes for that promise to be broken.”

Those uppity gays, give ‘em an inch and they’ll start demanding to be treated like everybody else.

“Here's the irony: There is no branch of government with the authority to redefine marriage. Marriage is older than government. Its meaning is universal: It is the permanent or semipermanent bond between a man and a woman, establishing responsibilities between the couple and any children that ensue.

“The laws concerning marriage did not create marriage, they merely attempted to solve problems in such areas as inheritance, property, paternity, divorce, adoption and so on.”

Here’s the irony: that’s all the gay marriage thing is trying to do. Being gay is older than government too, BTW. its history is also universal. And oddly for those who think it’s a societal thing, it seems to be spread pretty evenly in all cultures. As to the idea that it’s more prevalent in more permissive societies, I have some Muslim and Christian friends who would disagree. Repression of human behavior seems to inspire more hypocrisy than it does conformity. (Insert the name of the loudmouthed preacher of your choice caught, literally, with his pants down in the last few years.)

If a court declared that from now on, "blind" and "sighted" would be synonyms, would that mean that it would be safe for blind people to drive cars?

“No matter how sexually attracted a man might be toward other men, or a woman toward other women, and no matter how close the bonds of affection and friendship might be within same-sex couples, there is no act of court or Congress that can make these relationships the same as the coupling between a man and a woman.

“This is a permanent fact of nature.”

STRAW MAN alert. No one is trying to make a gay marriage the same as a heterosexual one. They are just trying to deal with those pesky legal issues that were mentioned as the reason for government to be involved in this stuff to start with. And don’t forget that there will always be and always has been homosexuality. It also is a “fact of nature”.

“That a few individuals suffer from tragic genetic mixups does not affect the differences between genetically distinct males and females.”

So why are you so upset? I didn’t quote all the “gays can’t have children because of legislation” nonsense because it’s another straw man and ignores all the hetero marriages which do not result in offspring. News flash Orson, if your wife is past child bearing age (which I assume she is) you are still married.

Oh the "tragic genetic mixups" thing is both a giveaway about the prejudice that is motivating this normally reasonable man, and a slap in the face of his infallible deity which would offend me if I thought He was real.

“We need the same public protection of marriage that we have of property.”

That the man could write this and not realize how medieval it sounds is evidence that he’s not thinking rationally. Still, for the next several paragraphs he goes on to admit that the problems with heterosexual marriage have nothing to do with granting the same rights to homosexuals. And that, in fact, the institution of marriage is already so devalued that many hetero couples don’t even bother anymore. This leads him to wonder why gays would want to bother. I call this the “shitting where you eat so no one will steal your food” defense.

“Because when government is the enemy of marriage, then the people who are actually creating successful marriages have no choice but to change governments, by whatever means is made possible or necessary.”

Now we’re getting to it. Be patient.

“Why should married people feel the slightest loyalty to a government or society that are conspiring to encourage reproductive and/or marital dysfunction in their children?”

So government sanction of marriage isn’t encouraging heterosexuals to get married, but it makes people gay. That’s a pretty neat trick. Look Orson, if your children are gay, they’re gay. Whether they can share insurance or not. 100% of gay people are born from heterosexual relationships. It’s genes, not judges causing it.

“How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.”

And there it is. Did you catch that? Card is advocating open rebellion against the government if they allow people he doesn’t know to do something that’s none of his business. Or since we’ve been talking about historical precedent, if you let those people have equal rights then we’re gonna start a war.

This is why many Christians and non-believers alike fear the increasingly militant religious right. You don’t see homosexuals threatening armed rebellion in order to obtain the rights they feel they are entitled to. But for all the inane yapping the right does about how much they love this country, as soon as patriotism and dogma part company, here come the threats. I’ve got news for Orson Card. When a religious theocracy is established in America, it’s going to be right back to all that Carthage, Illinois nastiness for the Mormons. The other fundies don’t think much better of his religion than they do the gays.

(BTW, the reason Joseph Smith was taken from Nauvoo to Carthage for questioning isn’t mentioned in the link. It was because he had led a band to destroy the printing presses of a newspaper called the Nauvoo Expositor that was printing anti-plural marriage articles. The more things change…)

I know I’ve beat the slavery metaphor to death but those are exactly the terms in which I see the gay rights debate. I’m no more gay than I am black, but I’m able to realize that freedom for anyone must include freedom for everyone. And I can’t help but remember that in the Secular Humanist Revival Meeting speech Mr. Card made the point that, when they are in the minority, religious groups all cry for relief from oppression yet as soon as they garner power they set about to use it to force everyone else to follow their standards. Considering the persecution that the early Mormons suffered you would think that would be something they would remember. But unfortunately, they’ve never been on the vanguard of this equality thing. It wasn’t until 1979 (no not 1879- they were still fighting for their right to marry more than one woman back then) that his church decided to allow black men to hold the priesthood that every adult male in their church is expected to hold. And without it, blacks couldn’t be married in their temples. So, in spite of the irony that they didn’t grant equal marriage rights to blacks until 30 years ago, here they are trying to tell another group that “real” marriage is for them only.

Seems like another good time for one of those convenient revelations from God. Perhaps this time he’ll just say something like “Look, you guys have gotten this wrong twice now. I think you should check the connection.” Well, maybe in another hundred years.

God is far to fond of irony. Orson Scott Card, OTOH, is oblivious to it.