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busy, busy, busy

Saturday, January 29, 2005

I just finished watching Terry Gilliam's 'Brazil'. For the first time. Yes, I'm slapping myself. I do find it a bit disturbing--and I'm sure I'm not the only one--that many fantasy and science fiction films made in the 1960s/70s/80s portraying an absurd, oppressive, inefficient, etc., society of the future don't seem entirely fictional or fantastic when viewed now.

Are we screwed or what?

(Image borrowed from Mac's film page)

I am hot shit!

I got bored one afternoon and listed myself on Blogshares, which I guess is supposed to be some stock market, Wall Street-esque fantasy game for bored bloggers. Since I don't follow the "real" stock market, nor do I care at all to understand how it (and the fake economy that it represents) works*, I don't keep up with the fake performance of my real blog on the fantasy market.

I looked it up today, and get this: On 24.1.05 at 9:35 AM, my "share price" was at $.70. A little over five hours later that same day it was at $56.69. During that period someone "bought" 80% of my "shares". The other 20% belong to me, although I don't recall "buying" them.

If Blogshares was for "real", like the fake stock market, I would take my fantasy 6,073.84% growth in net worth and run. Are there any takers out there?

*DISCLAIMER: A bit of an exaggeration, since I actually do understand how it works. I was, however, being truthful in stating that I don't care.

Friday, January 28, 2005

I guess this story got stuck in the Liberal Media Filter.

Nuclear Incident in Montana

A retired high-level government source was called yesterday to respond to a nuclear incident in Montana. Apparently the silo doors of numerous ICBM missiles were opened.

Two such incidents during the Cold War era nearly started World War III. When silo doors open, it indicates the intention to launch missiles against another nation.

According to an essay published by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), an organization dedicated to abolition of nuclear weapons: "The US experienced several near-accidents at its Cheyenne Mountain early warning station in the late 1970s. Twice, the equipment at the base generated false indications of a nuclear missile strike from Russia and nearly prompted US retaliation on both occasions." ...

Today, there are 200 Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base at five missile alert facilities in Montana, with four operational missile squadrons assigned as combat-ready forces to continuously operate, maintain, and secure "strategic nuclear deterrence."

Just when I thought I had mostly overcome my most overpowering childhood fear.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I hope this is one those recently-recalled Ford trucks that spontaneously bursts into flames.

via This Modern World (with close-ups)

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Out on DVD February 15. I'm thinking I might pick it up.

And now for your "What the Fuck?!" moment of the day:

Republican National Committee Seeks Donations to Get Bush Message Past 'Liberal Media Filter'

"The president has great goals for our country: a growing economy, strong homeland and national defense, tort and Social Security reform and affordable health care. But we need your help to get the president's message past the liberal media filter and directly to the American people," wrote Mehlman, Bush's 2004 campaign manager. Mehlman asked donors to give $25 or more. ...

Bush said there "needs to be a nice independent relationship between the White House and the press, the administration and the press."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The 'Monkey See, Monkey Do' Approach to Science

I've heard some crazy arguments by creationists against evolution, but this one takes the cake:

"Methodological Naturalism [MN] holds that when scientists investigate and seek to explain the natural world they must irrefutably assume that Naturalism is true. We must assume that only natural causes have operated throughout the relevant history of life without the aid of any intelligent cause. Those who break this rule are not scientists and therefore are not qualified to speak or be heard. MN is sort of a rule that would require arson investigators to provide only natural explanations for all fires. If an investigator disagrees with the rule, he is not deemed a qualified investigator, so his reports cannot be considered. The result would be massive increases in insurance premiums and profound misunderstanding about the true causes of fire."

Until the time comes when an "intelligent cause" can be verified, tested, and/or objectively observed, those who "break the rule" and factor a god into their research are not engaged in science. Arson investigators do not need to base their work on "Methodological Naturalism" (whatever that is) because they have objective knowledge that human beings set fires. It has been observed. It is a fact. It is completely logical to assume that if a fire did not result from natural causes that a human being was the cause. Such an assumption requires no faith.

Of course, the "Naturalism" referred to here is a concept created by the Intelligent Design crowd; it's a definition specifically designed to knock down their own carefully tailored pro-evolution straw men. In the real world, it's absolutely meaningless.

The creationists' obsession with the idea that they are being locked out of the debate, that they "are not qualified to speak or be heard," simply because they believe in a god borders on the absurd. The author of the quoted segment above "has a degree in geology and currently focuses on constitutional issues relating to the teaching of origins in public schools". Such are the "qualifications" of many of the opponents to biological evolution.

Although what Calvert describes is essentially what science has become, it should be noted that modern science could never have arisen in our modern culture on such a premise. In other words, today's science essentially claims all of life is random, irrational and illogical. To borrow from Calvert, the core claim of evolution is that "apparent design is just an illusion." Such rejects the notion of absolutes, therefore, rejecting the very foundation of science. Consider carefully: if everything is irrational and illogical, if there are no absolutes, if there is no design, then results in experimentation are relative. Scientific claims cannot possibly be subject to refutation or falsification. A foundation of that order for science destroys its credibility.

Intellectual dishonesty at its finest. Creationists control every aspect of the "debate" by simply redefining--or outright creating--the positions of their opponents to fit their own attacks. More often than not, most of the "premises" and "claims" of science creationists like rail against are really projections of their own personal feelings and fears of a concept they don't fully understand, which are then attributed to those against whom they are fighting. How else could they come up with ideas like "the core claim of evolution is that 'apparent design is just an illusion'," and that science claims life is "irrational and illogical" (randomness is claimed, but what is wrong with being random?). The only reason creationism is seen as so persuasive an argument by many is because what they are arguing against is of their own creation. They may score some points in philosophical debates, but only because their arguments are carefully crafted to take down "opposing ideas" that are manufactured to be taken down. It's easy to win a debate when you're debating yourself. On an equal playing field, they would be crushed.

At any rate, dismissal of "apparent design" in no way suggests the rejection of absolutes. If valid and carried out properly, identical experiments carried out by an atheist scientist and a Bible-believing scientist will end up with the same results. The believer will be no more accurate for their belief in a supernatural designer. Science examines the physical universe, and as such has no need of a godlike designer. There might actually be such an entity, but it's irrelevant.

It is an absolute waste of time to engage creationists in point-by-point refutations of their bogus "scientific" arguments against evolution; not only does such "debate" lend creation science an air of legitimacy, it also distracts the experts from the misinformation campaign that is the true essence of creationism. They know all too well that no respectable scientist is going to pass on an opportunity to tear pseudo-scientific ideas to shreds, and while the experts are involved in pointless arguments about vestigal limbs and transitional forms, creationists are busy quietly redefining entire philosophies of science to suit their own needs. Know this, the "debate" is not an attempt to change the minds of scientists, since the creationists couldn't care less about science; it is about playing upon the fears of the unwashed masses who, unfortunately, are intimidated by science. Just tell them that mainstream science says their very existence is irrational, illogical, and ultimately pointless, throw in a few barbs about a chimpanzee in their family tree, and who's side will they take? They aren't going to question anything, because deep down science scares them. Creationists offer them easy, emotionally-appealing answers.

For proof that, for the creationists, the issue isn't about science, the remainder of article wades deeply into that infamous last refuge and plays the "founding fathers" card. The founding fathers, who were mostly eighteenth-century agrarians and lawyers, believed in a creator! Even the founding documents of this great nation come out against the idea of evolution. Never mind that what the founding fathers thought of evolution has any more impact on whether it is a fact of nature than does the creationists' fantasy tale of Darwin's deathbed recantation of his findings. What if all of them rejected the ideas of gravity or a round earth? That doesn't make either concepts false. But, it doesn't matter. Now, to accept evolution as the fact that it is not only makes one "go against" God, but it also makes one un-American.

My advice to those in the fight against creationism: Forget about arguing over details of science. Don't acknowledge any "evidence" for creation. It only gives them credibility in the eyes who don't know any better, and many of those who don't know any better are responsible for making laws and policy regarding science education. Leave the real scientific debates regarding the mechanics of evolution to the scientists to figure out for themselves. Instead, attack the malicious motives, philosophy, and tactics of the creationists to expose their agenda for what it really is--one that doesn't care at all about science, but instead seeks to scare the nation into installing one more rung on the ladder to theocracy.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Error Message Generator (via BoingBoing)

Waste countless hours of your precious time creating your very own personalized Windows-esque error messages. Here's one of the hundreds I made:

I think Blogger has been eating my posts recently, as I have made three since last Tuesday that are nowhere to be seen. They weren't anything special, so you're not missing anything, but it's pretty annoying.

But is it more annoying than someone complaining about a free Web service? I don't know. Probably not.

I often wonder if someday an intrepid web explorer will come across a strange site, one that is composed solely of mashed-up "lost" weblog posts--those posts that seem to transfer to one's weblog without incident, but then do not ever appear on the blog nor is there any apparent evidence or history of such a post ever having been made. Perhaps an unidentified server glitch routes those random entries to an obscure location, or mischievous individual with an anti-blog grudge snatches posts during transfer just to cause annoyance and frustration.

On second thought, those scenarios seem pretty ridiculous and far-fetched. I think this is what really happens:

An undetected and semi-omnipotent consciousness--could be AI, extradimensional, whatever--is culling specific, seemingly pointless and dull blog posts and assembling them in such a way that, when discovered, will reveal The Truth About Everything. A new era of human development will begin; all will be One and peace will reign for all time.

Or maybe this kind of shit only happens to me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tuesday's required reading

The US Press in Iraq: Hotel Room Journalism

"The United States military couldn't be happier with this situation," a long-time American correspondent in Baghdad says. "They know that if they bomb a house of innocent people, they can claim it was a 'terrorist' base and get away with it. They don't want us roaming around Iraq and so the 'terrorist' threat is great news for them.

"They can claim they've shot 600 or 1,000 insurgents and we have no way of checking because we can't go to the cemetery or visit the hospitals because we don't want to get kidnapped and have our throats cut."

Bible vs. science war rages on in classrooms

This is America's new civil war.

In the classroom, the Christian right is advancing on two fronts: Fighting for lessons in creationism over evolution in science classes and abstinence over birth control in sex education classes. The ferocity of the battle against Darwinism has intensified since Bush's re-election because school boards are attracting more evangelicals who expect conservative judges to side with them as they try to write evolution out of the science books.

U.S. planning for possible attack on Iran

Hersh said U.S. officials believe that a U.S. attack on Iran might provoke an uprising by Iranians against the hard-line religious leaders who run the government. Similar arguments were made ahead of the invasion of Iraq, when administration officials predicted U.S. troops would be welcomed as liberators.

And Hersh said administration officials have chosen not to include conflicting points of view in their deliberations -- such as predictions that any U.S. attack would provoke a wave of nationalism that would unite Iranians against the United States.

"As people say to me, when it comes to meetings about this issue, if you don't drink the Kool-Aid, you can't go to meetings," he said. "That isn't a message anybody wants to hear."

The plans are not limited to Iran, he said.

"The president assigned a series of findings and executive orders authorizing secret commando groups and other special forces units to conduct covert operations against suspected terrorist targets in as many as 10 nations in the Middle East and South Asia," he wrote.

Bush Says Election Ratified Iraq Policy

President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Public Service Announcement

I just finished watching the film "Troy". If you haven't seen it yet, and are tossing around the idea of maybe renting it some weekend evening, let me give you this little bit of helpful advice:

Do not ever watch this horrible fucking film.

I am a person who loves to watch bad movies, and this thing is absolutely unbearable. I was expecting it to be pretty bad, but I wasn't expecting it to be 100% unredeemable. Stay away. Stay far away. Consider yourself warned.

If you want to see a quality film, I suggest picking up "Shaun of the Dead" instead.

Just sayin'.

Friday, January 14, 2005

One more reason...

The missionary group, WorldHelp, is one of dozens of Christian, Muslim and Jewish charities providing humanitarian relief to victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that devastated countries around the Indian Ocean, taking more than 150,000 lives.

Most of the religious charities do not attach any conditions to their aid, and many of the larger ones - such as WorldVision, Catholic Relief Services, and Church World Service - have policies against proselytizing. But a few of the smaller groups have been raising money among evangelical Christians by presenting the tsunami emergency effort as a rare opportunity to make converts in hard-to-reach areas.

"Normally, Banda Aceh is closed to foreigners and closed to the gospel," WorldHelp said in an appeal for funds on its Web site this week. "But, because of this catastrophe, our partners there are earning the right to be heard and providing entrance for the gospel."

The appeal said WorldHelp was working with Indonesian Christians in that nation who want to "plant Christian principles as early as possible" in the 300 Muslim children, all younger than 12, who lost their parents in the tsunami. ...

"These are children who are unclaimed or unwanted," he said. "We are not trying to rip them apart from any existing family members and change their culture and change their customs."

Don't get me wrong, this is absolutely vile, but why is this shocking to anyone (and by "anyone," I mean almost all of those blogs linked to your right)? This is exactly what these organizations always do--they don't "help" the unfortunate and/ or tragedy-stricken peoples of this world out of goodness of their hearts. Their goal is more souls in the big book, more minds under control. This is why people fucking hate "us".

And at any rate, what else does one call forcing very young Muslim children to accept Christianity if not "changing culture and customs"?

The first image from the Huygens probe on Titan.

via Rudy Rucker

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

US Geological Survey's Digital Data Series 21. It's a good thing I have the day off from work today.

via BoingBoing

Sunday, January 09, 2005

School closing may boost district test scores

The closing of Lawrence Alternative High School could result in a better showing for the school district as it strives to meet standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Some students at the alternative school are saying they will drop out if they don't like the new alternative programs being designed for use in the district's other schools. And their absence could boost the district's overall test scores -- a key component of the act's requirements.

"If a significant number of kids drop out, then they won't bring the scores down," said Dick Wedel, a former social studies teacher at LAHS, adding that he hopes they don't drop out. "That's one way to get better scores."

Whether that comes to pass is anyone's guess.

The approximately 80-student alternative high school at 2600 W. 26th St. will close at the end of the academic year.

I guess the school district won't be leaving those kids behind so much as forcing them out of the door. When do we get the "Kick No Child to the Curb" act?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Is it too late to add more stuff to my Christmas list?

I don't know how I miss these things: Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly is being made into an animated feature film. As if that weren't awesome enough, Richard Linklater, the man responsible for the incredible Waking Life, is the mastermind behind the whole project. I can't wait to see this. For more dirt check out the following sites:

Some images and information about the film are here. (via BoingBoing)
A blog detailing the production of the film is here.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Listen: I just watched a film called Equilibrium. I won't say too much about it, except that I really liked it and that it makes The Matrix films look like the fucking Karate Kid series (including the one with the girl). It has a plot, another strong advantage. Oddly enough, it features the highest death-count outside of war films. If you haven't seen it, I highly reccomend it.

Oh yeah, it also stars American Psycho/Little Women hot-guy Christian Bale. Do you need any more reasons to see this?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

It's too cold to leave the house, so why not stay inside and have fun with hypercubes!

What the hell is a hypercube (or tesseract)? A good answer, another good explanation, and a really good explanation (a bit technical, but with great graphics).

Manipulate a hypercube, with java.

Play the tesseract game!

More hypercube applets: Stereoscopic animated hypercube, Hyper Dimensia (also with some good discussion on hyperspace), and hypercube slicing.

Just about the only thing more fun than thinking about hyperspace is Rudy Rucker doing a Lynndie.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Websites of the day:

Doh the Humanity! (via MemeMachineGo!)

Christian Books and Things (especially this part)

National Security Archive

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know

“A better climate for keeping government as open as possible has to begin with improving public understanding and support for freedom of information,” said Associated Press President and CEO Tom Curley, a member of the Sunshine Week steering committee. “This project marks a great new start in promoting public awareness of these issues.”

The current initiative, spearheaded by the American Society of Newspaper Editors with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, expands the Sunshine Sunday efforts nationally and across media. The Radio Television News Directors Association also has received a Knight grant to help broadcasters to participate.

Other journalism groups and media companies also support the project, and several state press associations are coordinating existing Sunshine Sunday programs with the national effort. The 54-member Steering Committee includes leaders from media companies, newspapers, magazines, academia and major journalism organizations.

“This is not just an issue for the press. It’s an issue for the public,” said Andy Alexander, ASNE Freedom Of Information chair, who is chief of the Cox Newspapers’ Washington bureau. “An alarming amount of public information is being kept secret from citizens and the problem is increasing by the month. Not only do citizens have a right to know, they have a need to know.

“Our goal is the raise public awareness of this horrible trend that is hurting democracy,” he said of the Sunshine Week project. “We hope that it sparks a public dialogue about the value of open government and the damage to citizens from excessive government secrecy.”

Mappr is an interactive environment for exploring place, based on the photos people take. By adding geographical information to the wealth of photographs found online, it allows new ways of looking at spaces and images. Mappr adds place to pictures.

Mappr takes advantage of the cornucopia of descriptive information provided by Flickr's users to organize their photos. Flickr's admirable policy of openness with its data provides a way to anticipate and envision a future where cheaply-available GPS technology generates this placement as a matter of course. There's no reason to wait for this technology to become common; by mapping the millions of photos that Flickr makes available, we can start looking at its broad scale potential now.

Monday, January 03, 2005

This one is for real: (via Mac)

In the beginning...Adam walked with dinosaurs

The museum, which has cost a mighty $25 million (£13 million) will be the world's first significant natural history collection devoted to creationist theory. It has been set up by Ken Ham, an Australian evangelist, who runs Answers in Genesis, one of America's most prominent creationist organisations. He said that his aim was to use tourism, and the theme park's striking exhibits, to convert more people to the view that the world and its creatures, including dinosaurs, were created by God 6,000 years ago.

"We want people to be confronted by the dinosaurs," said Mr Ham. "It's going to be a first class experience. Visitors are going to be hit by the professionalism of this place. It is not going to be done in an amateurish way. We are making a statement."...

So the museum's creators are hoping to suck people into the fold with a tourist-trap fitted with flashy theme-park attractions. Well honey, that fake dinosaur sure is impressive. I had no idea the Bible was so correct. I guess Jesus really is our lord and savior. So much for spiritual enlightenment. But can a veneer of professionalism and special effects really be the hook to get people into Jesus? Frankly, it seems more like bait to me...

Mr Ham is particularly proud of a planned reconstruction of the interior of Noah's Ark. "You will hear the water lapping, feel the Ark rocking and perhaps even hear people outside screaming," he said.

More controversial exhibits deal with diseases and famine, which are portrayed not as random disasters, but as the result of mankind's sin. Mr Ham's Answers in Genesis movement blames the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two teenagers killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves, on evolutionist teaching, claiming that the perpetrators believed in Darwin's survival of the fittest.

Other exhibits in the museum will blame homosexuals for Aids. In a "Bible Authority Room" visitors are warned: "Everyone who rejects his history – including six-day creation and Noah's flood – is `wilfully' ignorant.''

Elsewhere, animated figures will be used to recreate the Garden of Eden, while in another room, visitors will see a tyrannosaurus rex pursuing Adam and Eve after their fall from grace. "That's the real terror that Adam's sin unleashed," visitors will be warned.

...and the hook is set. You can't control souls and minds with pretty tales of God's undying love for mankind.

I did find this part of the article a little questionable:

Followers of creationism have been pushing for their theories to be reintegrated into American schoolroom teaching ever since the celebrated 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial", when US courts upheld the right of a teacher to use textbooks that included evolutionary theory.

In 1987, the US Supreme Court reinforced that position by banning the teaching of creationism in public schools on the grounds of laws that separate state and Church. [emphasis mine]

Scopes was found guilty, actually. The teaching of evolution was still illegal in Tennessee after the trial. While it's true creationists around the country largely backed off on their crusades for anti-evolution legislation, Biblical "theories" were still very much integral parts of science instruction in American schools. Creationists pretty much had free reign in most places until 1987.

White House Exploring 'Rapture' Contingency Plans

The White House is reportedly exploring contingency plans in the event that President Bush and other prominent Christians are 'raptured.' But succession plans are complicated by Vice President Dick Cheney's poor health and the fact that Representative Tom DeLay, like President Bush, will be summoned to heaven along with millions of other Christians.

I hear tell that Christmas happened a little over a week ago. As far as I'm concerned, it's never too late to spread the Love and Glory of Mr. Christ.* It's not even his real birthday, anyway. In an attempt to prove to the Religious Right (and Bill O'Reilly) that I personally do not wish the complete and utter destruction of the time-honored and federally-recognized (since the late-nineteenth century!) celebration of Christmas, I scoured the web and found two heartwarming stories that are not only sure to become beloved classics, but also embody the true spirit of the season. Enjoy!

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, 2007, by William Gibson (permalink inoperative, scroll to December 24, 2004)

'Tis the Season, by China Miéville

*Truth be told, I meant to post these links on the 25th, but hit 'save as draft' on accident. So Merry Christmas, from the Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

I'm going to try hard to post more often, perhaps even daily. Look! I'm already at three days in a row--I'm on a helluva roll.

I came across the Guardian's 2004 Bad Science Awards a short while back. Some highlights:

Durex Performa were in a slightly different category of bad, meaning "evil": a new condom with a special cream in the teat "to help control climax and prolong sexual excitement for longer lasting lovemaking". The magic ingredient was benzocaine, a local anaesthetic, which made the judges' tongues go numb. We didn't even think about trying it on our genitals. Persil Aloe Vera also received a special mention for totemic and pointless use of a herbal ingredient by a biotech firm.

Then there's Cussons' Carex, a soap that "effectively removes bad bacteria on hands, whilst gently protecting the good". It was never made entirely clear how it was supposed to do this in the company's evidence to the ASA for a complaint which they lost on. "Carex knows the difference." ...

PO2 Contour Cream from Laboratoires Herzog is a "patented stabilisation of oxygen within a cream" that "puts oxygen back into the skin, reoxygenates skin cells, encourages natural rejuvenation". It sounds like bollocks; but it smells like peroxide. Especially since Laboratoires Herzog point out, in the small print, that you will want to keep the stuff away from your eyebrows.

But the winner was a hair-straightening treatment by Bioionic, called Ionic Hair Retexturizing: "Water molecules are broken down to a fraction of their previous size ... diminutive enough to penetrate through the cuticle, and eventually into the core of each hair". Shrinking molecules caused some concern among the physicists at the ceremony, since IHR was available just 200 yards away, and the only other groups who have managed to create superdense quark-gluon plasma used a relativistic heavy ion collider. The prospect of such equipment being used by hairdressers was deemed worthy of further investigation.

That last one just kills me. I often wonder what it must be like to be a person who could see something advertised as being able to break water molecules "down to a fraction of their previous size" and think to themselves: this sure will make my hair look really nice! I have no doubt they know exactly what a cuticle is while having only the vaguest of notions of the nature of molecules. And as to why water molecules penetrating to the core of a hair would make said hair straight, well, I'm sure it doesn't even register so much as a nanosecond of skepticism.

I don't know who I am more ashamed of, the people who sell the stuff making such claims, or the people who buy into those claims. Compressed molecules, in a hair-care treatment? "Patented stabilisation of oxygen within a cream"? Soap that removes "bad" bacteria while leaving the "good" kind? Good god, people.

I'm happy that someone is out there pointing this stuff out, though I'm sure the only ones paying attention are the ones who already know.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year.

Things are only going to get worse.