Archive for May, 2010

A Republican deer in the headlights

May 20, 2010 Comments off

The Republican Party is in deep, deep trouble.  Watch as Tea Party leader Rand Paul talks with Rachel Maddow about the Civil Rights act:

Maddow: Do you think a private business has the right to put up a ‘Blacks Not Served Sign?’

  Rand Paul: Well the interesting thing is if you look back to the 1950’s, 1960’s, that the problems we faced, there were incredible problems. The problems had to do with voting…blah, blah, blah.

  Maddow: I don’t want to badger you, but I do want an answer on this sir, do you think a private business has the right not to serve black people?

  Rand Paul: I’m against all discrimination of any kind, I wouldn’t join a club .(my golf club is cool, though) but I think what’s important about this debate is not to get into any gotcha on this but asking the question. What about freedom of speech. Should we limit speech. Should we limit racists from speaking?

  Maddow: I’m asking straight you forward questions. Do you realize that businesses wouldn’t let black people use the bathroom?

  Rand Paul: I abhor racism. Am I a bad person because I hate racism?

  Maddow: I’m asking you a yes or no question, Rand Paul. What about lunch counters? It’s not a hypothetical.

  Rand Paul: I’ll give you a hypothetical. What about the owner of the restaurant? Should the government tell him that AK-47’s aren’t permitted in his place of business? That’s when we’re in a slippery slope, Rachel…

This goes on for 19 minutes as Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican nominee for US Senate tries not to answer a simple, “yes-no” question.

If he were capable of a straight answer (he’s not, because he knows how it would sound) then he’d say that the law shouldn’t prevent a swim club from excluding Jews, or banks from denying loans to qualified black home buyers.  There shouldn’t be any law that says real estate agents can’t white-list entire neighborhoods, keeping blacks out, or against discriminatory hiring practices.  For all his protests of “abhorring racism” (I’d love to see a count of how many times he said that in the interview) he also describes it as a “non-issue”.  He thinks government shouldn’t tell businesses they can’t discriminate; the free market will do it.

Now I’ll be the first to admit the Democrats have not been progressive enough in office.  Obama should never have encouraged offshore drilling, DADT should be gone, and for good measure Dick Cheney should be in prison.  But before you think about “punishing” the Democrats at the polls in November, think about this guy winning an election… and a whole lot of others like him.

You may think: “That’s no excuse for the Democrats to be spineless” and you’re right.  This is why I miss the real Republican party.  If there were real Republicans (as opposed to these loonies) then Democrats couldn’t get lazy as they have.  I don’t know how to fix it from the Democrat side either.  Only Republicans can fix it, and time is running out.

To put it another way, Republicans: you don’t like Barack Obama?  Blame Alan Keyes and Sarah Palin. 

Categories: Uncategorized

20 May is “Everybody Draw Muhammad” day

May 20, 2010 7 comments

Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris proclaimed that 20 May is Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.  So here’s my entry:

From Notes

What you’re seeing could be a drawing of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.  It might be something like a basic portrait, or something provocative, like the prophet with his 9-year-old wife Aisha, or wearing a turban shaped like a bomb.  But you can’t really tell from this picture: it might just as easily be a portrait of John Rhys-Davies in the movie; Raiders Of The Lost Ark.*

Any representation of the prophet is a violation of Islamic doctrine against graven images.  So you would expect that no devout Muslim would have any picture of the prophet in their homes or places of work or worship. 

But the more important issue is that non-Muslims have been threatened with death or worse because they’ve drawn pictures of the prophet.  And since we really don’t know what Muhammad looked like, then communicating what you imagine he might have looked like can get you in in big trouble.  Drawing Muhammad is, then, a kind of thought crime.

In this corner of the world, Christians are prone to feeling awfully superior to Muslims about that.  After all, most Christians take non-Christian pictures of Jesus – even defamatory ones – in stride.  They don’t start sending death threats or even organizing boycotts.  At worst, supposedly, they respond with cartoons of their own or with snarky sermons.

Some Christians, to be sure, are bigoted and violent, and you’d better not cross them.  But they’re only a tiny minority, as the narrative goes. 

But to hear American Christians tell it – some of them, anyway – Islam is a violent, bigoted religion.  The majority of Muslims hate America and Americans and would slit all our throats if they could.

It’s a perception that doesn’t pass the sniff test, and not only because in the last 100 years, Christians have killed many more Muslims than the other way around.  It’s also because, well, there are a billion Muslims -  not to mention there are more Muslims in the US than there are Presbyterians – and we’re still here.  Mostly it comes down to a tendency to focus on the worst aspects of our perceived enemy, and only the best aspects of ourselves.  It’s natural, but it’s also the royal road to self-deception.

In reality, most Christians are only bigoted against people they don’t personally know, and the same is undoubtedly true of most Muslims (think about it for two seconds).  While this is as harmful as any other kind of bigotry, it’s also the most remediable.  Because group stereotypes start to fall apart the more people you personally know from the group.  Not that there may not be some truth to the stereotype, but you start to realize that it isn’t only a generalization; it’s a cartoon.

Now the obvious points of “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” are that nobody has a right to not be offended, and your religious restrictions apply to you and not to people outside your religion, and that surely Allah doesn’t need anyone to defend Him, and so on, with maybe a dig at Comedy Central for backing out of including a representation of Muhammad in South Park.

(True enough: they certainly can’t claim to have pulled the images out of “sensitivity” to anyone’s religious beliefs – or at least it would be a first if they had.  No, it’s transparently obvious that Comedy Central was just afraid someone would blow up their offices.  The fact that the fear was not really irrational does say something, but the dispute is over what, exactly, it does say.)

But you don’t have to scratch very deeply below the surface to find that Christians can be just as tetchy and (from the perspective of people on the receiving end of Predator drones and tanks with “Jesus Killed Muhammad” painted on them) even more violent than Muslims are reputed to be.

So on this first “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”, my message is: everyone chill.  If you’re offended by something, draw a cartoon mocking it.  We’ll eventually get it all sorted out as long as we stick to trading ideas.  Violence has a way of shutting down the exchange of ideas so that centuries can go by with only incidental human connections penetrating the fear.  And people who are afraid… don’t reason well.  Instead, try to make a conscious effort to find the humanity in the people you’re afraid of.  If you fail in the attempt, fine, but don’t fail to try.


  • It in fact IS a portrait of John Rhys-Davies in the movie; Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  I just did a picture of a vaguely Arabic-looking man in a turban to make a point.

  • I’ll be posting other EDM day links here late in the day.
  • Cartoonist Larry Gonick, in his epic series, Cartoon History of the Universe, decided to skip depicting Muhammad:
    From Notes

    I agree with his decision: it would have overshadowed a magnificent work of history in graphic novel form.

  • I was hoping ***Dave would weight in, and he did.  Nailed it, as usual:

    …I don’t anticipate worshiping my drawing, nor do I think it likely anyone else will.  That point is, just as I don’t expect Muslims to, for example, get baptized, or refrain from eating fish on Fridays, or close their businesses on Sunday — because those aren’t their religious beliefs…

  • Jesus & Mo aimed low

  • As expected, the Pharengulites posted a veritable gallery – some offensive and some really quite artistic.  As a result, PZ got his very first death threat from a Muslim, and it was pretty mild compared to the hundreds he’s gotten from Catholics.

  • Muhammad was really onto something with his emphasis on the prohibition of graven images, by the way.  It’s as if he presaged Renee Magritte by 1300 years, realizing that a picture is not the thing it represents, and is therefore not, in itself, worthy of the same adoration.  And even today, many Muslims are prepared to respond violently when someone draws a cartoon of their prophet

  • Webs05 has an interesting take on Muhammad cartoon censorship

  • Les Jenkins Made it just under the wire!  And fires a shot at Comedy Central.

  • You can get your weekly “cartoon depiction of Muhammad” – and Jesus too – at the Jesus & Mo comic.

  • Friendly Atheist has reactions to Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”

Categories: Uncategorized

No, greed is not good (the BP spill, updated)

May 18, 2010 1 comment

Now we’re learning about the relationship between Transocean and BP over the drilling by the Deepwater Horizon, the super-sophisticated $350m drilling rig.  60 Minutes interviewed survivor Mike Williams, the head electrical engineer for the platform.  He related how his concerns about the damaged blowout preventer had been brushed aside, and how the BP rep argued, in front of the whole crew, with the Transocean drilling engineer to press ahead anyway.

I know that mind-set.  I once worked for a guy who used to say; “Can’t you just (do it half-assed to save time and money)?”  And his other favorite saying was; “I’m sure it’ll be fine.”  Even when he got a batch of fake Microsoft Windows licenses from his jobber, and didn’t want to return them for the illogical reason that he’d “already paid for them.”

“I’m sure it will be fine,” he said.  I threatened to quit if he didn’t call the jobber and tell him; you send legitimate licenses within 24 hours or we’re calling Microsoft.  He did, and it worked, but he never really understood what I was on about.  And he may have had a point: the jobber didn’t give him very good deals after that, which cut into his profits.

And that’s the problem in a nutshell: when profit is on the line, people tend to cut corners.  Whether it’s Enron or Exxon or Union Carbide or Halliburten or BP, companies won’t. regulate. themselves.  Even when it’s in their own best interests.

Thing is, letting companies ruin the environment without taking it out of their corporate hides is corporate welfare, plain and simple.  Yes, holding companies to account will seem to “raise the price of oil”.  But in reality, it’s just making sure that we pay for oil when we buy it, instead of when we buy it and then in a thousand other, diffuse ways.  It’s paying what oil really costs, including the externalities.  When we do that, clean energy starts to occupy a whole different part of the spreadsheet.


  • Read the 60 Minutes transcript: Blowout: the Deepwater Horizon

  • A small irony: there was a failed o-ring in the blowout preventer as there was with the Challenger.

  • Bureaucracy, far from working against national wealth, actually helps preserve it.

  • At The Oil Drum, really fascinating analysis of the blowout from an industry insider perspective

  • Categories: Uncategorized

    Bike To Work Week, 17 to 21 May

    May 17, 2010 2 comments

    Hey, cool!  It’s Bike To Work Week!, from 17 to 21 May!

    From Muscle-powered transportation

    And May is Bike Month.  But anytime is good to park that Hummer and let your own muscles get you where you want to go.

    Categories: Uncategorized

    It’s been a year; it’s been five years

    May 16, 2010 4 comments

    Five years and a few months ago, something happened – I don’t remember it – and I woke up in the emergency room all banged up with my head bandaged and neck and shoulder immobilized.  And now it’s been one year since the last brush with that guy in the dark robe carrying a sythe: if it hadn’t been for immediate surgery my perforated intestine would have been a very, very unpleasant way to go out.  Even with surgery, it was pretty damned unpleasant.

    I’m semi-recovered from both things: my memory is full of holes, my shoulder and hip still hurt, and my innards still feel pretty iffy.  But I got my balance back, so that’s something.

    I can’t extrapolate a trend from two data points that are comprised by random events anyway.  Besides which I’m not sure it would do me any good to know what’s next.  Hopefully, there’s no trend to extrapolate.

    Categories: Uncategorized

    “Homeless person”

    May 16, 2010 1 comment

    Ed Darrell over at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub has acquired a guest blogger, Dan Valentine.  They had both worked for Senator Orrin Hatch back in the day; Ed went on to become a teacher and Dan became a successful author and newspaper columnist – until he became a homeless person.

    Most of us know what a homeless person is: someone with mental problems, often a shell-shocked veteran, a drug addict, usually someone who never was successful.  This stereotype is our way of whistling in the dark: It can’t happen to me.  It’s difficult for us to imagine ourselves in those shoes.  We really want to think that once we’ve “made it” – have a house, a mortgage, a family, that we have reached home plate and the Karmic Umpire has swept his hands to both sides with palms down and yelled; “Safe!”*

    We might be more watchful, though, if we read something actually written by an actual homeless person.  Just the realization that a homeless person might once have been “successful”, and had money and family who cared about them, and has thoughts worth writing down plus the ability to write them, makes a good start in poking holes in our undeserved self-assurance. 

    …Two weeks ago–two days before I was to leave again–she said her I had to do something with my boxes or her parents, who were moving in, would.

    What to do? Get a grocery cart? A wheel barrow?

    The boxes were filled with files. My dad’s letters to me when I was in Vietnam, my mom’s letters to me, photos, all my by-lines, hundreds of thousands of words I had written and had been honing for decades. Plays, songs, screenplays, musicals, my dad’s unfinished shorts stories, poems, etc. Everything I treasured. Every piece of writing I had been working on and polishing for years. I went through each file in each box the first day, thinking to my self, “Well, I can’t throw that away. I can’t throw that away. I can’t throw that away.”

    Next day, with no time remaining, I had to toss it all. Three car trips to the dumpster down the road…

    Or this:

    …To save money, when I had a little, I had a routine in Nashville. I would walk downtown to the Marriott, pour myself a free cup of hospitality coffee, and put a free hospitality orange or two in my pocket.

    One morning I’m standing on a corner by the Marriott, peeling an orange, in my own little world (my friend calls me The Man Who Isn’t There; inside my head I’m always writing), when it dawns on me that the street is jam-packed with bystanders gathered around watching a bench being hosed down.

    I asked a cop what was up, and he told me somebody had put a couple of bullets into the body of a homeless man sleeping there.


    Ed has an RSS feed, and his already outstanding blog just got even more interesting.  Here’s a couple links to get you started. 


    Categories: Uncategorized

    Amazing new movie technology

    May 15, 2010 3 comments

    Remember when it was a big deal to rent a VHS tape of a movie? Hey look; I’m watching a movie without commercials in my own home!

    Well DVD’s were a big deal too, with better sound and picture, and the ability to jump directly to any part of the movie (plus no need to rewind!)  I just picked up this old movie at a yard sale and was amused by the sales pitch for the exciting new format. It’s something to remember amidst all the hype about Blu-Ray: 

    From Notes

    EXPERIENCE MGM DVD!  Discover all the high-tech action and high-powered excitement of Hackers on DVD – the state-of-the-art entertainment format that brings theatre-quality audio and video right into your home!

    • 8-page booklet featuring Trivia, Production Notes And A Revealing Look At The Making Of The Film

    • Theatrical Trailer

    Jump directly to your favorite scenes!

    The text of the movie blurb is pretty funny too:

    Boot up for suspense and high-powered excitement as the rebels of the information age fight an electrifying battle in this sharp, cutting-edge adventure.  Pulsating with non-stop action and nail-biting tension, Hackers is a hip, fast-paced spectacle American Urban Radio Network calls “an experience you will never forget!”…

    Sorry, American Urban Radio Network; I’ve seen this movie at some time or other but can’t remember much about it.  And I guess if a movie is going to be cutting-edge, it should be sharp.  You wouldn’t want anything on the cutting edge to be dull, would you?  That would just be painful.

    The box includes an 8-page booklet about the movie.  This was before they figured out they could just have a “Special Features” section right on the DVD.

    Categories: Uncategorized

    “Time to wake up,” said the cricket

    May 12, 2010 3 comments

    I originally bought this iPod (which I now call an “iPad Nano”) to see how web pages render on a portable device.  But it has turned out to be useful in other ways.  For instance, it can track and analyze wireless networks though I heard that Apple pulled the WiFiFoFum app from their store.  But it keeps working on my device.

    Lately I’ve discovered its alarm clock.  Now I normally despise alarm clocks.  Some damn buzzer or bell jarring you awake – it’s an infernal intrusion.  I have not used one for years for this reason, but sometimes that’s inconvenient.

    In fact, there was an episode of the TV series Millennium which featured four demons sitting around a table in a doughnut shop in the middle of the night, trading shop talk about how they torment humans on Earth.  (I think the episode must have been inspired by C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters)  One of the demons opined that his favorite invention was the alarm clock.  “Why would they make a device that interrupts their only natural state of happiness?”

    But the iPod has a configurable alarm clock.  I set it to make a sound like a cricket.  My hearing isn’t particularly good, and it’s soft enough that it may run for a minute before I hear it.  But it’s a pleasant sound and then I don’t half kill myself trying to leap out of bed and shut it off.

    Then I can sit up at the bed while my head clears and get a bead on the weather forecast for the day, even check my email if I like.  I understand it also plays music but have not tested that function yet.

    Throw out an alarming alarm clock. If the ring is loud and strident, you’re waking up to instant stress. You shouldn’t be bullied out of bed, just reminded that it’s time to start your day.

    - Sharon Gold

    Categories: Uncategorized

    Temptation at the bike shop

    May 9, 2010 6 comments
    From Muscle-powered transportation

    Is it a coincidence that Bloomington Cycle & Fitness has an open house every year right around my birthday?  They’re not the biggest bike shop in town, but if you ride like you mean it, this is where you go.

    Inside, they were stocked to the gills with awesome bikes and gear.  Outside, they were grilling brats (didn’t eat one this year) and showing off exotic carbon frames.  Upstairs (from where I took the picture below) there was a biking coach giving a presentation about training and nutrition (hint: unless you are a professional athlete, Gatorade doesn’t do much for you.  And caffeine doesn’t dehydrate you.  And the old myth about sex undermining athletic performance isn’t true either.)  I got some pretty nice pedals and did a bit of planning for the Winter bike that I intend to build this summer.

    From Muscle-powered transportation

    From the title of this post, you might think that I was “tempted” to buy some ‘spensive bike or something.  Not exactly.  See, driving a 21-year-old car means no car payments.  I can buy the bicycle equivalent of a Porsche Cayenne for about four months worth of what most people pay for the privilege of renting their boring cars from the bank.  So when it’s time for me to buy a bike, I buy it and that’s that.  But it wasn’t time

    So bikes ‘n gear wasn’t the temptation – this was: FogDesigns had a BMX track set up in back.  Here’s a rider just starting at the pneumatic launching ramp:

    From Muscle-powered transportation

    And here’s another rider jumping the Volvo:

    From Muscle-powered transportation

    And another catching some air:

    From Muscle-powered transportation

    So what was the temptation?  I wanted to ride that track so bad.  I may be a wreck, and not exactly a mental-health poster boy, but I know what to do with wheels.  I was catching that much air on a bike before there were such things as “BMX” or “mountain bikes”.

    But a year ago at the open house of this very bike shop, just standing there looking at bike parts and taking it easy, I was struck by one of those random internal disasters and had to be rushed to surgery, where I had a really rough six weeks following and a year’s worth of almost-recovery.  Since then I’ve rebuilt enough muscle for this kind of entertainment, but my innards still feel pretty iffy.  If I’d blown another gasket, it just wouldn’t have been worth it.  So I just balanced there on my mountain bike, watching the whippersnappers having fun.

    Oh well, maybe next year.  Given how close I came to missing this one and every one after it, I shouldn’t complain.

    Categories: Uncategorized

    Methane hydrates and the BP spill

    May 9, 2010 5 comments

    Give them credit: the engineers at BP have attempted something nobody’s ever done before.  They have built a 98-tonne dome and lowered it nearly a mile to cover the leaking well-head.

    This has been done in shallower waters, but to send it down a mile you have to steer it by ROV.  I couldn’t find the width of the containment dome, but BBC says it’s 40 feet tall and their “not to scale” illustration shows it as less wide than tall.  (I had the impression it was wider than that)  But it’s still down there 125 times its height.  And therein lies two problems: the pressure (nearly a ton per square inch) makes it impossible to send people down there to do anything more than look, and it also affects the chemistry of the methane gas that’s leaking out along with the oil.

    There are large chunks of the ocean floor covered with methane hydrate crystals, formed long ago.  It’s interesting stuff, a possible energy source, and also a possible wild card in global warming: if it gets warm in shallow waters, it becomes unstable and dumps huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere.  Since methane is something like 100 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, to say the least it’s a matter of concern – especially since that is already beginning to happen in places.

    Anyway the chemistry of methane hydrates is fairly well understood: pump hot methane gas into cold water under high pressure and you get methane hydrate crystals.  Unfortunately that’s just what is happening, filling the containment dome with methane ice crystals and displacing the oil it is supposed to be catching.

    BP didn’t put all their eggs into the containment dome basket; they’re also trying to drill a relief well and it is reported to be going pretty well.  If they’re lucky they’ll keep this mess for surpassing the Exxon Valdez in absolute volume, but that doesn’t mean it will have less impact.  Compared to the Gulf, Prince William Sound is something of a concentrator or containment vessel in itself.  Bad for the Sound, certainly but at least the disaster couldn’t travel very far.

    And travel, this disaster can.  The Gulf loop current can take it all along the coast to the Florida Keys, and possibly to the East coast of the United states. 

    BP lobbied and lied, downplaying the risk of this kind of catastrophe.  The truth is, nobody knew how to answer a blowout in a mile of water.  We’ll be lucky if this doesn’t trip huge areas of the Gulf into a biologically unproductive state for generations.  And if we are that lucky, we shouldn’t abuse that luck.  We have known for a whole generation what we needed to do, but we’ve been listening to the carbon energy industry instead.

    Now we know what WE have to do: throw out the apologists and carbon-energy stooges in Congress.  When they start talking about “responsible drilling to meet the needs of a growing American economy”, recognize that for the flag-waving blather that it is and take away their votes. 

    And as for Barack Obama’s determination to allow more undersea drilling; if there was ever a time to “flip-flop”, it’s now.  Nobody will blame you, Barack.  Well except FOX News, but they’re going to blame you anyway.


    Categories: Uncategorized