Friday, September 30, 2005

Focused bias.

My good friend at Random Brain Dribbles has written a response to yesterday's post. He starts out...
In my defence, my statement (though perhaps poorly phrased) was more to illustrate the point that, if you are protesting the current administration, you really want to concentrate on things other than just being anti-Bush. By being primarily anti-Bush, you're really hoping that people vote for your side, as opposed to not voting, voting for a third party, writing "Mickey Mouse" on the ballot, etc.
I agree that it's more useful generally to be positive than negative, and I think the protest would have been better if it had been more focused. That having been said, I think that "not Bush" and "not war" accurately sum up the opinions of a lot of people, and it's something they agree on when they don't agree on the positive message (that is, "not Bush" captures supporters of Kerry, McCain, Dean, Nader, and Mickey Mouse). In that sense, "Bush is bad" enhances focus.

Left up to me, I think I would have made it a "no war" event. Getting personal is easy to ignore, and getting into details of alternatives is easy to confuse.
Concerning the abysmal public opinion - it appears that it might be going back up.

We switch gears slightly to things said by Hugh Hewitt:
The central part of this story, what went on at the convention center and the Superdome was wrong.
I've been reading about this a little, and I'm still not clear on what happened. Hewitt offers this:
America was riveted by this reporting, wholesale collapse of the media's own levees they let in all the rumors, and all the innuendo, all the first-person story because they were caught up in this own emotionalism.
(Emphasis added.)

I don't see how anyone can say certainly why this happened, but for a more charitable look at the situation, read Slarrow's Serious Thread at Obsidian Wings. In fact, go read it anyway. It's a fantastic look at the media and racism after Katrina. Long story short, tales of horror came from authorities such as a Chief of Police and from people who actually were inside the Superdome. Baldilocks sums it up this way:
The media believed ugly rumors about black people told to them by black people: by the evacuees and by the (black) New Orleans police chief. And, in the media mindset, why would these sources say things to make other black people look bad unless it was true? That's laziness (on the media's part), not racism.
Hewitt goes on:
If all of that amount of resources was given over to this story and they got it wrong, how can we trust American media in a place far away like Iraq where they don't speak the language, where there is an insurgency, and I think the question comes back we really can't.
He doesn't say it explicitly, but I think his message here is "Iraq is not as bad as it's reported" (as implied by "Katrina was not as bad as reported"). That's not a completely off-the-wall conclusion, but we should also allow for the possibility that Iraq is actually worse than reported. I've written about media bias before, and I don't have much to add now. I bring this up only because I find it amusing to see people (in the media!) claim "media bias" without ruling out other explanations.

Garou has this to say also:
Anyway, the point is that even a popular President can have a negative coat-tails effect.
Has that actually happened? I'm not nearly enough of a politics or history junkie to say, but that assertion on the face looks odd to me.

(I feel I should now apologize for this post's lack of focus.)

Judge Orders Release of Abu Ghraib Photos

Judge Orders Release of Abu Ghraib Photos - Yahoo! News
The judge said: "Our nation does not surrender to blackmail, and fear of blackmail is not a legally sufficient argument to prevent us from performing a statutory command. Indeed, the freedoms that we champion are as important to our success in Iraq and Afghanistan as the guns and missiles with which our troops are armed."
Sometimes I just love judges. When they're right, they're so very right.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Who's afraid of the big bad electorate?

Here's one I keep hearing:
President Bush isn't running for reelection, so public opinion doesn't matter.
Not to pick on Random Brain Dribbles, but a recent post about the protests has a sort-of example. A better example is in a comment on this post at baldilocks.

The reason the abysmal public opinion of President Bush and his job performance is important is not so much the effect it has on President Bush himself. It's important because of its effect on leaders around him. There's less reason for congresspeople to make an effort to work with him because the President can't help them in their campaigns anymore.

It's also a signal to future Presidential candidates: don't do what he did. I thought that President Bush's first term was terrible, and I thought that voting for a second term indicated approval of the first. A slim majority of American voters saw things differently.

Poor public opinion of President Bush gives me some hope that the policies of the Bush administration are coming to an end. Congress won't cooperate with it as much, and future presidents won't be tempted to emulate it. This is not to say that what comes next won't be as bad or worse in a different way, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Sleepy head.

(Once again, this is just like another post, but you know I just can't get enough pictures of my gorgeous daughter, and sleeping is about the only time she is stationary long enough to get a photo.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

White House Was Against Energy Conservation Before It Was For It

I saw this on The Daily Show last night and thought about tracking it down for a cozy little post this evening. Today I see that Think Progress has already done the work: White House Was Against Energy Conservation Before It Was For It.

Long story short, back in 2001, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was asked whether the President supported conservation, and he answered, "That?s a big no. The President believes that it?s an American way of life." Now Press Secretary Scott McClellan says the opposite and that "This has been a high priority for the President from day one."

My daughter mimics conversation.

When my adorable daughter was younger, she could walk but not talk. Nevertheless, she gave the appearance of comprehension with a simple trick:
  1. Recognize when someone asks her a question.
  2. Answer "no."
One night at the mall she showed this trick to the all female staff at Saks Fifth Avenue.
"Hi sweetheart, you're so cute! Do you want to come work here with us?"


[astonished] "Can you understand what I'm saying?"

You get the idea. This kind of interaction brought a big smile to Daddy's face every time. I always tried to work in questions along the lines of, "is there any other little girl more fabulous than you?" Unfortunately she grew out of this behavior before I was really finished enjoying it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The joys of home ownership.

Less than a week after buying the house, the air conditioner went dead. It is now day 15 of home ownership, and we're fixing the furnace.

The air conditioner, we knew, was old. The last guy who'd looked at it said that in its day it was "the Cadillac" of AC units, but that day is long past. The furnace we'd had little problems with before, but it's a fairly new furnace, and we didn't expect anything like this today. On the plus side, it's still under warranty, so it's not costing as much to fix.

I fear what might fail next. I'm afraid to even guess.

The group's members are not all the same.

In introductory psychology class, we learned about outgroup homogeneity, which is the belief that people not in "our" group are all the same. "Our bowling team is comprised of unique individuals," the thinking goes, "but the people in those other teams are all the same."

I see this in political discourse a lot. For instance, when Pat Sajak talked about the opinions of "Hollywood," he was lumping members of an industry together and assuming they all thought the same thing about something. (Is Pat Sajak part of Hollywood? This is left as an exercise to the reader.)

The contradiction that arises is that individuals can be members of both ingroups and outgroups. Those people on those "other teams" that are "all the same" are still Americans and so part of the American ingroup, which is diverse (while French people, for instance, are "all the same.")

It's easy to accuse the group of inconsistency if you ignore the fact that the members might have differing opinions.

This kind of lumping happens with lots of groups. Political parties are popular targets. (See "Who, Exactly, Is This "Left" About Which I Hear Such Strange And Dreadful Things?" As always, Hilzoy writes better than I do on pretty much any topic, and often sooner.) People see organizations (such as corporations and Presidential administrations) as a single entity, not so much as a group of people, not all of whom agree with each other (or even talk to each other), let alone act in concert all the time.

I try to be careful not to look for contradictions in a group for this reason (but something like Michelle vs. Michelle is perfectly fair game). In general, it's not fair to the members of a group to lump them together that way.

(I apologize for the sub-coherence of this post; it was written by a committee.)

Monday, September 26, 2005


Am I writing about Breathless Mahoney? No. I'm not.

There are some circles of the web in which they sometimes describe certain speech as "breathless". For instance, Dan Rather was breathless when he made his big goof. It seems to be the case that someone is breathless when they say something too soon, without enough thought. I can understand that, but I get the feeling too often that disagreement is mischaracterized as thoughtlessness. I agree that Rather was careless, but let's not get carried away with the out of breath metaphor.

And while we're at it, can we stop calling our opponents stupid with the phrase "reading comprehension"? That'd be nice. I know it's frustrating to be misunderstood, but this doesn't improve the very communication that's causing the problem.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Escape from Hamstertraz!

Our hamster's name is Baby. She has a spacious cage in the bedroom we use as an office. It has a nice place to nest on top with a latching door we can use to abduct her for our entertainment. You have to be quiet and a little quick because there's a tube running to the main cage, and there's just no way to get her out of that tube.

Sometimes we leave the lid unlatched. It's quieter that way, and she shows no interest in running. Well, not until recently.

I went to have a look at her, and she was not in her cage. I looked and looked (because it's easy for her to be there but not in line of sight), but the cage was empty. No corpse, no door hanging open, just a prison with no prisoner.

I went to get a flashlight. My wife was not optimistic. If I find Baby at all, she said, she'll be dead when I do.

There might be something she could eat laying around in there (her bag of food is right next to the cage, for instance), but there's nothing to drink outside the cage. I'd just seen her a night or two before, however, so I thought there was still a chance of finding her live and hiding, not yet dehydrated or starved.

Flashlight in hand, I started looking in places I used to see mice. I was surprised to find her in only a few minutes, sitting in the closet making a new nest. She hadn't gotten very far.

When I went to pick her up, she ran under something, but I was so happy to have found her at all that I didn't mind. I got some food, left it where she and I could both see it, and she came out for it shortly. I scooped her up, and now she's back to being a pet rather than a fugitive.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I have a horn to toot.

Project Censored presents the 10 biggest stories the mainstream media ignored over the past year.

I think the list may be a bit slanted. What I'm proud of is that I've heard of most of these stories already, and a few of them I've mentioned here. Their list (go there for details):
  1. Bush administration moves to eliminate open government (heard this before)
  2. Media coverage fails on Iraq: Fallujah and the civilian death toll (I linked to something about the civilian death toll in Iraq here without talking about it much)
  3. Another year of distorted election coverage (everyone has a complaint about the election, even the winners).
  4. Surveillance society quietly moves in (yup)
  5. US uses tsunami to military advantage in Southeast Asia (hadn't heard that)
  6. The real oil-for-food scam (I haven't even paid attention to the "fake" one)
  7. Journalists face unprecedented dangers to life and livelihood (I talked about dangers to journalists here)
  8. Iraqi farmers threatened by Bremer's mandates (hadn't heard that)
  9. Iran's new oil trade system challenges US currency (I talked about a connection between oil, euros, and dollars in this post, but I didn't know that had anything to do with Iran)
  10. Mountaintop removal threatens ecosystem and economy (wha?)
So I almost feel well-informed. On the other hand, my mainstream media intake is pretty limited. I don't watch TV news at all. Nevertheless I still get the jokes on Leno and The Daily Show, so I guess I'm not doing too bad.

My taste in casino ownership.

We watched the season premier of Las Vegas the other night. Lara Flynn Boyle is the new casino owner this season. I think she has a beautiful face, but it is decidedly wicked looking. She looks as if her natural fashion accessories would be stiletto heels and a bullwhip. (I say this having forgotten how she looked in "Men in Black II." It's like they read my mind...y'know, in advance.) Anyway, I'm looking forward to a little more of her character. I'm hoping the "ambitious gold digger" gains a little more depth.

Friday, September 23, 2005

O'Reilly vs. Donahue

Phil Donahue was on Bill O'Reilly's show recently. (I'm no fan of O'Reilly.)

I found it entertaining, but not very illuminating. I doubt anyone was convinced of anything as a result. For example:
O'REILLY (angry, jabs finger at Donahue): You're a cut and run guy and I don't want my family in danger because of you ...

DONAHUE: You wanna stay the course, don't ya'?
The options available are not merely "cut and run" or "stay the course." Basing a discussion around those two extremes just doesn't go anywhere. I've seen both sides of the aisle with some ideas of what to do in Iraq, and that can be an interesting discussion, but not if it's "cut and run" versus "lose another 2,000 soldiers."

So, for entertainment purposes only, here's a transcript.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


A comment from reliapundit on an excellent post I found in a routine link roundup at Feministe has finally spurred me to write down something I've been thinking for a while. Witness:
We believe that the USA should be a meritiocracy, not a commnd market which predetermines winners and losers based on race or ethnicity.
Consider two systems:
  1. One in which the smartest people get the most stuff.
  2. One in which the strongest people get the most stuff.
Completely different people get ahead in each system (with some overlap if you believe in scholarly body builders), but they're both meritocracies. They just are based on different merits.

In our society, in our system, some people get ahead. If you look hard enough, you can even find traits that they all have in common. Merits, you might call them. Are these people actually somehow better than those who do not get ahead? I don't think so.

The people who get ahead, and the qualities they have, are a reflection of the system at least as much as they're a reflection of the people. The rules of our society didn't come from nowhere, and the people they favor are not objectively more meritorious than the people who are not favored. The system we create is a reflection of our values as a society. I'm convinced that we have natural limits on what rules will work, but otherwise the systems we create are at our discretion.

I don't have a problem with meritocracies, by the way, but we have to be explicit about the merits. "Ability to swindle your fellow man" is not a merit. "Ability to win elections" is getting closer. Until we have a society and a system that genuinely rewards generosity, honesty, charity, and all those other teary-eyed virtues I could list, I think our meritocracy needs some work.

No weapons at the medical facility, please.

Since our daughter was born, our insurance has changed a little. As a result, all the prenatal blood testing is done at some place that specializes in blood tests. Inside the door is a sign:

Has this been a problem there before? Why have a sign pohibiting weapons, if nobody is bringing weapons in the first place? This is probably a template used by every office of some corporation across the country. Still, I wouldn't have considered the possibility of knives and guns in the waiting room if not for the sign clearly stating that they're not to be there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Memified history and death.

Another Blogging Quickie:
  1. Go into your archive.
  2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
  3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
  4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.
OK, 23rd post: Sad news.

It doesn't have five sentences, so I'll have to take the second (and last):
I didn't see any marks on it, so I can only guess it died of some kind of deprivation.
(I hope it doesn't ruin "the effect" to point out that this was said of a baby hamster.)

Balance, Daniel-san.

I really enjoy Paul Graham's essays. I don't link to them typically because I have nothing to add. I can't say anything better than what he said, and I agree with all of it.

Inequality and Risk is different. I disagree with most of it, and I really want to write about why. Starting with the first sentence:
Suppose you wanted to get rid of economic inequality.
As a hypothetical proposition, there's nothing horribly wrong with this. The problem is, I don't know anyone who really wants to eliminate economic inequality. Many people want to reduce it. I'd like to reduce it, but that's really because I want to reduce poverty.

Anyway, I consider the reader who wants to get rid of economic inequality to be a straw man though some disagree. Paul Graham states a central point thusly:
So let's be clear what reducing economic inequality means. It is identical with taking money from the rich.
This, I agree with. That sounds bad, taking money from people who've earned it merely because they earned more than others. That's not how I think of it, but the very idea could be the subject of a long discussion I'd rather not have right now. Suffice it to say for the moment that reducing economic inequality means taking money from the rich.
The problem is, risk and reward have to be proportionate. A bet with only a 10% chance of winning has to pay more than one with a 50% chance of winning, or no one will take it. So if you lop off the top of the possible rewards, you thereby decrease people's willingness to take risks.
This is only true when money is the only reason to take risk. Bungee jumping is risky and has no monetary reward. People pay to do it, in fact.

A lot of the essay seems to be chiefly concerned with starting new companies, not bungee jumpers. As this points out, some people will take risk for fun rather than for money:
But if they already have a Lexus and a 2-story lodge in Aspen, will the chance at a Maybach and a 3-story lodge really drive them to go through all the startup bullshit again? Well, yes, it will; but only for those people who live for that startup adrenaline and for doing deals; but those people would be doing it anyhow, because that's the kind of people they are.
I write for fun. I program for fun. Other people do this for money. Writing and programming won't come to a halt if they're no longer paid activities.

That having been said, Paul Graham has a point. Limiting the possible rewards does limit willingness to take risk. It's also true that if you really do eliminate inequality, there can never be a monetary reward for taking risk. The only people who will do it are those who do it for the love of it.

The essay has a nice summary in the middle of it:
Let's rehearse the chain of argument so far. I'm heading for a conclusion to which many readers will have to be dragged kicking and screaming, so I've tried to make each link unbreakable. Decreasing economic inequality means taking money from the rich. Since risk and reward are equivalent, decreasing potential rewards automatically decreases people's appetite for risk. Startups are intrinsically risky. Without the prospect of rewards proportionate to the risk, founders will not invest their time in a startup. Founders are irreplaceable. So eliminating economic inequality means eliminating startups.
Risk and rewards are not always equivalent (e.g., bungee jumping), but decreasing rewards does decrease appetite for risk. It's also not true that founders will not invest time in startups without the prospect of money in return. Rewards are more than money. Still, eliminating economic inequality does mean eliminating startups, but hardly anyone advocates that.

What's so great about startups?
New technology and new jobs both come disproportionately from new companies. Indeed, if you don't have startups, pretty soon you won't have established companies either, just as, if you stop having kids, pretty soon you won't have any adults.
Here he's talking specifically about technology innovators, not just about new companies. One can start a new company without any innovation by identifying an untapped market for something that already exists. This is what happens with a lot of professionals just out of school: doctors, dentists, lawyers, plumbers, etc. They hang out a shingle and start a business in a place that's lacking their skills but won't be surprised by them.
I realize startups are not the main target of those who want to eliminate economic inequality. What they really dislike is the sort of wealth that becomes self-perpetuating through an alliance with power.
True, except that "those who want to eliminate inequality" is a pretty small set of people.
The problem here is not wealth, but corruption.
No, the problem is poverty. Even if you eliminate corruption, there are still poor people who effectively die for lack of health insurance (i.e., money) while some people have more money than they can spend in their lifetime. That has nothing to do with corruption.
How do you break the connection between wealth and power? Demand transparency.
No. Wealth confers a lot of power without anything illicit. It's true that a lot of wealth's power is facilitated by corruption, and I'm all for transparency and the (hopefully) resulting honesty. That'll help, but it's not attacking the problem directly.
We don't need to prevent people from being rich if we can prevent wealth from translating into power. And there has been progress on that front. Before he died of drink in 1925, Commodore Vanderbilt's wastrel grandson Reggie ran down pedestrians on five separate occasions, killing two of them. By 1969, when Ted Kennedy drove off the bridge at Chappaquiddick, the limit seemed to be down to one. Today it may well be zero. But what's changed is not variation in wealth. What's changed is the ability to translate wealth into power.
This is wrong too. (Forget for a moment that this is an anecdote and we still have celebrities getting away with murder today.) The variation in wealth has changed in that time, and I consider that progress. I don't want to go back.

(Ready for an intermission? Read this and tell me if you think he's ridiculing me.)

Let me be clear about a few things.
  1. Economic inequality is desirable to the extent that it fosters innovation and productivity.
  2. Total economic equality is not desirable precisely because it removes an incentive for innovation.
  3. Economic inequality is undesirable to the extent that it's responsible for poverty.
  4. Transparency and honesty are always desirable, but those things do not imply poverty's demise.
  5. I believe it's possible to strike a balance.
That last point is most important, and I think it's not as contentious as it might look. I think most people think a balance is important, but they disagree on where to draw the lines. How impoverished can the people of Earth be before it's outrageous? How much gold can Croesus have before he's unworthy? I'm more than willing to cut off a certain amount of innovation for the cause of reducing poverty. We don't have to get rid of it all; I know it's a compromise, and I'm comfortable with that.

The essay broadly comes out against limiting economic inequality in any way, and it does it by fighting the straw man of eliminating economic inequality completely. Both ends of the spectrum are wrong; the real question is how to balance the innovation we want against the poverty we don't want.

This all reminds me very much of the estate tax, and of the recent bankruptcy legislation. People are passing laws to shift the balance more toward inequality. They may be doing it to foster innovation, but it's also easy to think they're doing it to foster corruption or out of an indifference to poverty.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What do you call that big box of stupid?

My darling daughter is in the habit of watching TV first thing in the morning. For a long time, she'd get up, and come with me to the living room where our big TV is, and I'd offer her the option of watching Noggin since it's non-stop educational programming for kids her age.

So, she heard me say, every day, "watch noggin?" while indicating the big TV. She used to have a small TV in her room too, but it didn't get Noggin; it was just for tapes.

Long story short, she calls the big TV "noggin" and all other televisions are just "TV." If she wants to see one of her movies in the living room, she'll ask to watch the tape "on noggin."

(I find my daughter's language more interesting than mine; I hope you do too.)

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hot deals

For some reason, this post (at Feministe) has reminded me of a quote from a really bad movie I paid to see once.
Here's the background: Senators Clinton and Murray (yeah Washington State) brokered a deal with the White House to quit blocking Bush's nominee for head of the FDA in exchange for a ruling on over-the-counter sales of Plan B. The senators stepped aside, and Lester Crawford was confirmed. Shortly afterward, he announced that his agency was finally taking action on Plan B — by indefinitely postponing a decision.
The line I'm thinking of?
First rule when dealing with the devil: don't.
Most of what I've read about the topic has come from proponents, so I don't think I have a good view of it. This post is really about White House duplicity and the sad fact that I still can't get that awful movie out of my head after ten years.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The President's responsibility.

I must say I was pretty floored when I read about President Bush taking responsibility for federal failures in the face of Katrina. John Kerry thought this of it: "The President has done the obvious, only after it was clear he couldn't get away with the inexcusable."

I guess I really am a bleeding heart. Or an optimist. I saw the man take a step in the right direction, and I thought right away that he was finally really doing the right thing. Of course, there's more to it than that, and maybe it's just that Rove is laid up.

Recently someone, asked about his politics, replied that he believes in personal responsibility. He didn't say whether he voted for Bush, but I assume he did. I think it must be hard for Bush's voters to admit that now, given how unpopular he is. I'm glad I don't have to take responsibility for that while believing that responsibility is of great importance (not that responsibility isn't important).

Also, the fact that Bush is now unpopular doesn't prove that he's a bad President (though I think he is). I like the fact that his decisions are not based on popularity polls. That having been said, I like to think that America is waking up to some of the things I thought about our President a long time ago.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Ray Nagin and the buses.

Katrina and Busing:
Here's what Nagin had to say on Meet the Press:
Sure, here was lots of buses out there. But guess what? You can't find drivers that would stay behind with a Category 5 hurricane, you know, pending down on New Orleans.
The second point is that during the evacuation the highways were all running both sides out of town (technical term, "contra-flow"). The buses might have been able to ferry about 10,000 people out of town with appropriate drivers, but they couldn't come back. More than 30k people were stranded at the Superdome, 25k at the Convention Center, and more around town.
I've been wondering what Mayor Nagin would have to say about that ever since I saw the picture of buses sitting around leaking petroleum products into the floodwaters. It's a better answer than I expected, but it's still not very good.

I think sending the buses out of town with people in them would have been a good idea even if the buses couldn't come back and even if there were some people the buses couldn't take. I think the kid who stole a bus to get people out deserves a medal.

It's sickening that the buses were sitting there when they could have saved people.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Goodbye lease, hello mortgage.

We've now bought the house we've been renting. At the closing today, I asked questions like, "do they define what 'hazardous material' means?" I think today I doubled the number of legal documents I've signed in my life.

It's been quite the ordeal.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

The live snake anecdote.

I've been trying to teach my charming daughter how to play twenty questions, but we're not quite there yet. I stumped her the other day by thinking of an animal (a snake) with no legs. No legs? How is that possible? Stumped.

That's all I could come up with when she started asking, "where is the snake's body?" She was holding a baby boa and asking this question, and I couldn't understand what she meant. She wants to know where the legs are?

"That's the snake's body," I told her. "You're holding it."

Then she got right to the point. "Where's his vagina?"

The manager who was watching us with his merchandise smiled and chuckled. I answered fully, "I don't know, honey." Trying to think of how to tell her something useful, I went on to say, "snakes lay eggs like birds."

She found this interesting, but it wasn't until hours later that I realized I'd made a connection she hadn't. She has no idea what a vagina has to do with laying eggs. Why did Daddy tell her that? Fortunately, she hasn't asked further.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Doom 3

I downloaded Doom 3 just to get a look at it. I'd heard it was scary, and I thought to myself, "self, that's just too scary for you." I figured I'd fire it up, see a few zombies and demons, and that would be that.

Well, I got into it. I played for maybe 20 minutes per week for about three months, and then I figured I ought to buy it. I haven't opened the package, but I'm now legit and proud of it. So far, I've bought every id Software game I've played for longer than ten minutes (the original Doom, Quake II, and Quake III Arena). My computer just barely can handle it (on the lowest quality setting), and I always reboot after playing to avoid some oddball instability that shows up afterward. Otherwise, it's been great.

It is scary. I don't play at night. I get creeped out going into the basement, even during the day. It's so scary that even when the walkthrough I (sometimes) use tells me the scary thing that's going to happen, it still startles me.

One day, playing without the walkthrough, I came to a dark corner and thought, "that can't be good." I switched to the flashlight. Then some monster jumped out of the corner at me, and I jumped and yelled such that my wife thought a bug had scurried across my hands or something. (In retrospect, I should have just tossed a grenade around that corner. I've since gotten a lot of peace of mind from dark corners that have had a couple grenades detonate in them.)

The thing scares the crap out of me sometimes, but I still play it. It's a great game.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Gay marriage: good news and bad news.

Legislature OKs Gay Marriage, making California the first state whose legislature sanctioned gay marriages (all other gay marriages have been sanctioned by court order). I'd have cheered upon hearing this, but I have a miserable sore throat. There's bad news, though:
Foes of same-sex marriage call Leno's bill unconstitutional, saying it overturns what citizens put into law five years ago when they passed Proposition 22 with 61% of the vote. That initiative said that only marriage between a man and a woman was valid and recognized in California.
Because of that, Governor Schwarzenegger may veto the bill.
After the vote, Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson said: "The people spoke when they passed Proposition 22. The issue subsequently went to the courts. The governor believes the courts are the correct venue for this decision to be made. He will uphold whatever decision the court renders."
I leave it to my gentle readers to decide whether this goes against what he said on Jay Leno's show in March:
"I believe in domestic partnership, and we have a law on the books here, so I'm against them handing out licenses because I think they should ... go through the legal procedures and the courts," Schwarzenegger said, adding: "If the people change their minds and they want to overrule that, that's fine with me. But right now, that's the law, and I think every mayor and everyone should abide by the law."
Back then he said he was looking to the courts and the voters, but he didn't mention the legislature. Frankly, I don't see why the court is a better place to decide it than the legislature. If the law makers make it law that gay marriage is allowed, why have a court infer the same thing?

I can't comment on the consitutionality of it, considering Californians voted on it. I just hope it becomes law, one way or another.

Snake charmer.

That's my daughter holding a baby red-tailed boa for the third time. It's the first time I had the presence of mind to take a picture. The fellow at PETCO has been very nice about it every single time.

If it weren't for the fact that they eat nothing but rodents (one per week), I'd think seriously about getting one. They're really easy to take care of, and holding one feels really neat.

No pictures, please.

I just happened to see these two at the same time. They go together so well, I thought I'd show them to you at the same time too.

First up was "Blinded By The Light?" from BAGnewsNotes which observed that there aren't any pictures in the news of the horrors of the Superdome.
So my question is, weren't any "non-romanticized" photos taken inside the Dome after the first day or so? And if so, why haven't we seen any? And if not, why not?

Certainly, there were quite a few news photographers inside the building throughout the week. Would these intrepid people argue that photos could only be taken from a symbolic Green Zone? And what about amateur images? I understand most local residents arrived with next-to-nothing, but what about those tourists who still had their luggage? In light of the images that emerged during the London subway attacks, is it possible there weren't even any cell phone photos?
Next up is "FEMA Wants No Photos of Dead" from the Los Angeles Times (which I found via this post at ThinkProgress):
"We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media," the spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
I don't think these are necessarily related. The request from FEMA appears to post-date what happened at the Superdome. Still, I thought it was interesting, the two of them right together like that.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Oh by the way, which one's Pink?

I found "Oh by the way, which one's Pink?" via this post at Thou Shall Not Suck. It's images from current events mixed with lyrics from "Us and Them" by Pink Floyd. Have a look.

Cuba evacuates better than we do.

JeSurgisLac wrote:
Cuba handles hurricanes better than the US. (Recently, Hurricane Dennis hit Cuba: one million people evacuated, 16 people killed. Compare and contrast.)
So I looked it up.

Cuba evacuated 600,000 people in preparations for Hurricane Dennis according to Wikipedia. Also according to Wikipedia, "The 2000 census put New Orleans's population at 484,674 and the population of Greater New Orleans at 1,337,726." (I added up the populations of New Orleans and the parishes that were ordered evacuated and got 1,354,638.)

Wikipedia says that roughly 150,000 people did not obey the order to evacuate (mostly because they couldn't). So the number of people who did evacuate appears to be more than those who evacuated in Cuba. On the other hand, the people in American basically evacuated themselves whereas, according to Reuters, "Storm fatalities are rare in Communist Cuba where the authorities can muster all state resources to evacuate hundreds of thousands from the path of hurricanes."

Only ten people died in Cuba during Hurricane Dennis (a category 4 storm at the time).

Monday, September 05, 2005

I don't just lie in bed.

Twice recently I've seen remarks saying, basically, "visitors from our site are being blocked by this other site." I haven't had this problem, personally, and I'm pretty sure the reason is that I use Privoxy, which lies like a bear rug to the rest of the Internet. It lies about where I've come from, it lies about what software I'm using. Coupled with Tor, it even lies about where I am.

I believe in obeying access restrictions even when I can evade them (I haven't made any attempt to evade my ban at RedState, for instance), but in this case I wind up evading without even noticing it.

Give it a try. Lie your ass off, and forget about being judged by where you come from.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


A disaster of biblical proportions......
They keep saying it .... "This is a disaster of biblical proportions." "This is a catastrophe of biblical scope." What do you suppose they think they mean by that?

I suppose -- in the spirit of "Mistakes were made" and "It's just plain astonishing how quickly we've moved to Reach Out to the people trapped in New Orleans!" -- what they mean is "Don't blame me, blame God."
Biblical proportions! I want to throttle these people.

We are the gods here. The world is what we make it. We soar over God's Earth in machines of our creation. We can slay any living thing on Earth from those too tiny to see to those too massive to lift. We've harnessed God's own lightning. We've visited the heavens and split the "indivisible" atom. We work miracles.

This is an absolute disgrace. Humanity is better than this.
The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
I'm just livid. There's no excuse for this.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Obsidian Wings: Explanation, Justification, Blah Blah Blah

I highly recommend taking the (considerable) time to read "Explanation, Justification, Blah Blah Blah" over at Obsidian Wings which discusses in some depth the difference between explanation and justification and associated topics.
So why do people tend to confuse the two? One easy reason is that both, when applied to people, can cite the reasons why those people did what they did.
This is another way of saying they both answer the question "why?". Many times I've answered the question "why did you do this?" honestly, explaining what I think happened, only to hear back, "but that's no excuse." I wasn't trying to justify it.

One other thing that's stuck with me quite a bit is the characterization of responsibility as not zero-sum:
People sometimes think that if one person is responsible for something, no one else can be responsible for it; or (alternatively) that there is a fixed amount of responsibility for each thing, such that if I am partly responsible for something you did, your responsibility must be lessened. More briefly: they think that that responsibility is zero-sum. If someone thought this, then she might see any attempt to say that I am to any degree responsible for something you did as tantamount to partially excusing you.
Reading this, I find that, yes, I have often viewed responsibility as zero-sum. Even having realized this is an error, I have trouble shaking the idea. It makes diffusion of responsibility make sense, and we know that diffusion of responsibility really happens. It "makes sense" for people to "share" responsibility. Nevertheless, I'm convinced now that responsibility is not zero-sum, and I need to make the corresponding attitude adjustment.

Anyway, it's a good article, if long.

Friday, September 02, 2005

This is not a post about Katrina

What are we seeing in New Orleans?
In actual fact, we are discovering that with a crisis of this magnitude, government's influence falls far short of guranteeing order or virtue. For many Americans, this won't make them want more and better government; it will make them want less, and even none.
The Gulf (of Mexico) War
the right has gotten their wish. they successfully made government ineffective. this is what happens when you take away the power of government. the point of effective government is to keep this from happening to society.
I find it fascinating that people look at the same events and come to the opposite conclusions about them.

Katrina and New Orleans

I've been avoiding the coverage. By all accounts, it is horrific.

Anyone who thinks that the blame game rhetoric is running a little too hot right now, wait until we have a final death toll. I've been avoiding the coverage, true, but it sounds to me as if it's already an outrageous disgrace out there. There won't be any "it's really Clinton's fault" this time.

The toy snake anecdote.

My daughter got a toy snake made of wood that's very realistic-looking with its paint job and articulation. Shortly after getting it, she lost it.

On the phone to Grandma, she talked about having lost her snake. Of course, she doesn't call it a toy snake, just a snake. Her mom confirmed, yes, we got it at the store, and it has indeed been lost.

So Grandma was left with the impression that a living, breathing snake was lost in the house. A pet snake wouldn't be dangerous, but we wouldn't want it roaming the halls where a dog might find it. I also wouldn't want it to find our hamster.

That's not a concern, though, because it's a toy snake.

The next day, we still hadn't found it, and my darling daughter reiterated to her grandma that the snake was lost. The misunderstanding was finally cleared up when she became concerned and asked my wife, "you still haven't found the snake loose in your house?"

Thursday, September 01, 2005

It tastes just like chicken!

This is the reason our Comcast service has been so lousy. Well, it's part of the reason. According to the tech who was here, there's still more wrong with our connection, but splicing out that little segment should make a difference. It was one of those "I'm surprised it works at all" problems.
Squirrels—self-propelled short circuits—don't conform to network guidelines. — Cliff Stoll, Silicon Snake Oil