Archive for December, 2010

When we can’t confess an awful mistake

December 31, 2010 4 comments

We know about it, now, but I wish there had been disclosure then:

The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

- James Haught: A French Revelation, or the Burning Bush

Boots on the ground, from a lesson not learned

This is what Nationalism does.  It is what Religion does.  It is the kind of thing you expect someone to say while they’re holed up in their mountain cabin during a tense, 78-hour standoff with FBI and BATF agents.  It is what the President Of The United States did say, trying to persuade the president of another country to join him in an invasion.

At the time there were people who said; “This is another Vietnam”; they were called unpatriotic.  Others said; “You better believe it, and by God this time we’ll win!!!”  And Donald Rumsfeld said it would be a “cake walk” and that we’d be greeted as liberators, and Bush and Cheney held it aloft as Truth, and they assured Colin Powell that the intel was right, and they leveraged the respect that Americans had for him to carry the day.   And it led to the same predictable morass of destruction, of poverty, of death and the real criminals getting rich from their safe enclaves, and America just generally coming out weaker and less respected on the other side.

And now the Iraqis want us out.  All that blood, all that grief, and treasure, and opportunity, all that humanity; wasted.  And for what?  Is there a bell mournful enough to toll for this travesty?  For the grief of the Americans, for the sorrow of the Iraqis, for the many other countries who must answer to their people for the trust they misplaced in… us?  For the lessons of Vietnam that we clearly didn’t learn at all?

Go read Cujo: If It Were Done. Ask yourself: how can we inscribe the lesson so clearly that no generation will fail to read it?  Is there any way?

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The disgusting object in your hand

December 30, 2010 1 comment

The mouse scroll wheel began to work very badly.  If it had quit entirely, I’d have thought the optical emitter or sensor had gone dark but working badly means it can be restored to full function with a simple clean-out.

This mouse is 7 years old; it was made for a laptop but I’ve used it for both laptops and desktops.  I’d say that it has certainly delivered value for the fifteen bucks I paid for it, but what the heck.  I took out one screw and popped the two halves apart.  It’s the standard arrangement with the scroll wheel having spokes that interrupt a beam of light between an emitter and a sensor. And the actual mouse positioning is accomplished by fixed sensors on the underside that see the desk passing by.

Since it’s an optical mouse, I thought it would be cleaner inside than the old ball-style mice.  How wrong I was: the scroll wheel acted like a little vacuum cleaner for cat hair and… something else.  (Click on the first picture, then on the magnifying-glass to see the awful truth).

I don’t even know what that translucent beige-colored stuff IS, but… eeeewwww.   I suppose most of the objects we handle everyday get this nasty inside. Anyway after a few minutes with tweezers and compressed air, the mouse is good as new.

One other thing: the mouse, like most mice, has internal ballast in the form of a heavy steel plate. Even for a mouse designed to be used with a laptop (where every ounce counts) I guess heft matters.

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Actually, Happy New Year, EVERYBODY!

December 26, 2010 6 comments

(Would it have  been more convincing if I’d put some yellow dye in the sprayer?)

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Freedom, by which we mean…

December 26, 2010 1 comment

It’s no secret that Republicans have been trying to gut the new Affordable Care Act, so they’re cheering a court decision that declares the individual mandate unconstitutional. The fact that it was their idea in the first place, going as far back as Richard Nixon, doesn’t matter, nor does the fact that they’re the ones who talked Barack Obama, in his bipartisan frenzy, into putting it in the bill instead of the public option that he promised and which we elected him to enact.

Their opposition to their own idea in a law passed by a Democratic president could be motivated by either cupidity or racism. Or come to think of it, depending on the individual there’s no reason it couldn’t be both. In any case, they keep using the word; “Freedom”, but likely they mean something else entirely. They just call it Freedom. Nancy Nall has the picture, and it looks a lot like a neon sign.

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Argumentum ad consequentum

December 24, 2010 3 comments

It’s funny how the mind works, or doesn’t work, or ricochets off in some weird direction.  Here’s what I thought of today when MrsDoF read the newspaper weather section (which she reads from a glowing rectangle, not a printed page):

“Revised forecast,” said MrsDoF, “Clear today, three to five inches of snow tomorrow.”

Originally the snow was supposed to hit today, with clear traveling weather tomorrow.  “Could be bad travel weather right before Christmas,” I answered, and that was pretty much it for weather conversation.  But then my mind got to wandering;  I imagined two friends, Alfred and Clark, discussing the weather:

Clark: “Oh, they should revise the forecast. It can’t snow tomorrow; people will be on the road for Christmas and there will be accidents.”

Alfred: “Changing the forecast wouldn’t alter the real weather tomorrow.”

Clark: “You don’t know that. If enough people sincerely believe the weather will be clear, maybe it will be. And maybe people would at least take comfort from the belief that the weather will be clear tomorrow!”

Alfred: “The mistaken belief that tomorrow will be clear traveling weather will cause them to waste an opportunity to do their traveling today.”

Clark: “You have no proof it will snow tomorrow.”

Alfred: “True, just a reasonable expectation based on analysis of data. If new data becomes available, we’ll change our expectations.”

Clark: “So your story changes all the time, does it? I got my weather forecast straight from the Farmer’s Almanac. It was good enough for generations of farmers before us.”

Alfred: “The scientifically-driven forecast adjusts to reality, yes. So it has a much better chance of being close to the truth at any given time.”

Clark: “The Almanac has a great track record! My uncle checked the Farmer’s Almanac once before beginning a trip. It said clear weather, and that’s exactly what happened! And just last week the Weather Service predicted rain, and it only rained 20 miles North of here.”

Alfred: “um… ”

Clark: “What do you have against traditional sources of knowledge? Do you want people to live in despair?”

Alfred: (speaking softly) “You’re right, of course not. Go ahead and wait until tomorrow to start your trip.”

Clark: “Thank you! Finally a voice of reason. Wait, where are you going?”

Alfred: “To put a blanket and some road flares in the trunk of your car, and charge up your cell phone.”

See, this is why I sometimes don’t share my thoughts during conversations.  And the “Appeal to consequences” isn’t Clark’s only fallacy.

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Not looking forward to the next bit

December 22, 2010 7 comments

Meeting with an “oral and maxillofacial surgeon” tomorrow for a consult.  My dentist referred me to one, who said it was beyond his comfort zone and referred me to this guy so we’ll see.  It seems that damage to the root of one of my teeth started a slowly growing infection that has been eating away at the bone supporting one of my upper eye teeth.  They’re gonna go in sideways, cut off the root of the tooth (without removing it), carve out the damaged bone, and put in some bone from a dead guy.  But I prefer the term; “zombie bone”, or at least have dibs on it for a band name.

But no, not looking forward to any part of this.  It has “gonna suck” written all over it.

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Thank you, Wal-Mart, for protecting our moral fibre

December 21, 2010 10 comments

I was at Wal-Mart yesterday to get exciting things like a cheap Blu-Ray player and some apples and shelf-brackets and other essentials.  And there’s a huge bin full of $5 DVD movies in the back, which serves as a kind of social network for the flu germs of people rummaging through them.

Anyway, who could resist that? I looked in the bin and found a $5 copy of Waitress.  MrsDoF and I first saw it at the Historic Normal Theater and liked it a lot.  So I nabbed it and the Mrs put it right in the player that evening.  And then…

“They censored it!”

The movie has a pivotal scene in which the title character’s husband Earl barges into the restaurant where she works, furious with her for reasons I shan’t explain, swearing and breaking up furniture.  The rest of the movie depends on that scene, but Wal-Mart Bowdlerized it down to just a thrown chair and the angry phrase; “I am very disappointed in you!”

The end of the movie therefore made a lot less sense, and to add insult to injury it was the last movie that director Adrienne Shelly made before someone murdered her at 40. I suppose in a way, it was her dying message to the world, though she didn’t expect it to be.  But hey, at least Wal-Mart protected us from the bad words in it.

Thanks, Wal-Mart.  I mean, yes; it’s an adult movie in the first place (and by “adult” I mean that it was written for actual grown-ups) but it would be valuable for kids to see it too.  Young boys would understand that it’s bad to be a controlling jerk, and young girls would learn that relationships like that can’t end well, but everyone would also find out that even jerks are human, but sometimes just insecure.  And men thinking about having an affair might realize it probably isn’t a great idea.  And old people sometimes just seem meaner than they really are.  Not a bad day’s work for a charming movie that would be on Hallmark Hall of Fame if the HHoF movies were ever that good.

I suppose this means that Wal-Mart has morally vetted every other object and media in the store and decided that it’s OK. Seems like a rather far-reaching social responsibility for a store chain to take on, but if any corporation is up to it, I guess they are.

Wal-Mart apparently approves of the checkout-aisle magazines with Photoshopped women on the cover, that drive teen girls to anorexia and even suicide trying to match that impossible standard.   It looks like they endorse the fraudulent homeopathic junk in their pharmacy on the shelf right next to legitimate medicine.  They must approve of the “Saw” movies and the “Halloween” movies and all that crap about sparkly vampires.  And I guess they don’t have any problem with Janet Napolitano making announcements on monitors in the store to remind us that if we “see something” we should “say something”.

(I see a metastasizing fascist state; who should I say it to?)

What other movies and scenes did they censor?  If I buy a book from them, can I depend on it having the author’s words in it?  Is there hexavalent chromium in my breakfast cereal but they thought it would be too disturbing to put in the ingredient list?

I ordered another copy of Waitress from Amazon.  And say, Wal-Mart; see if I ever buy another movie, book, magazine, or any other media product from you, ever again.


  • The restaurant in the movie specializes in creative pies.  The pies are on-screen a lot. I think I gained about three pounds just watching.
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We are all downstream from something

December 19, 2010 1 comment

What is the worth of Nature?

It’s not easy to think beyond the ends of our noses.  The Digital Cuttlefish writes about a recent dishwashing detergent story:

The bloom in the river is turning it green
And it’s killing off all of the fishes,
The river is dying, tree-huggers are crying,
But Mabel, just look at my dishes!

They sparkle! They glimmer! They’re spotlessly clean!
They’re as gorgeous as gorgeous can be!
The scientists may see the cause of the bloom,
I see a reflection of me!…

That’s just two stanzas – go read the rest of it for the pure delight of the Interweb’s Most Awesome Poet.

But here’s what he’s on about:  NPR did a story where people were actually complaining because EPA rules banning phosphate dishwashing detergents were resulting in dish spots.  That’s right: aquatic life was less important than sparkly dishes.  Some of them even went so far as to go to the hardware store to buy trisodium phosphate and mix their own.

Laundry detergents went phosphate-free in the ’70′s, but for some reason dishwashing detergents lagged 40 years behind.  Sadly, it’s almost impossible to sell anything anymore on the basis that it would be better for the environment we all share.  It’s an inspiring testament to the human ability to deny reality if it interferes with something we want, however insignificant, and regardless of the consequences, however great.  Will it be possible to educate ourselves out of this mess?  What will it take?


  • Check out the Natural Capital Project, which produced the video.
  • At the other extreme is Resisting The Green Dragon, a 12-DVD set from the Religious Right on why environmentalism is of the devil.  If mining puts heavy metals in the groundwater, then it must be God’s will, dammit! Drink up!
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A good decision on DADT

December 19, 2010 Comments off

Good morning: if you’ve not been on a desert island for the last week, you know that the Senate passed the repeal of DADT, or “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” yesterday.  It will take a few months for the change to take effect, but gay soldiers will be able to serve openly for the first time ever.  Our country will, in at least this way, catch up with much of the civilized world.

I am pleased that it was Congress that pulled the rug out from under that law, just about 17 years after passing it.  If DADT had been struck down in court (and eventually, it would have been) we’d have been treated to generations of people whining about “activist judges” – a label that means; “I didn’t like their decision”.  Instead it was our representative body that stayed into the Christmas holiday to argue and vote.  I’m especially thankful to Republicans who broke ranks to do the right thing and represent their constituents who so clearly wanted that law rescinded.

If someone puts on a uniform and goes into harm’s way for our country, I salute them.  It is noble and self-sacrificial and they have my thanks – perhaps especially if they are a member of a minority that faces discrimination back home.

And on that note: can we please legalize gay marriage coast-to-coast?  Eventually the wars will be over, and what a great welcome-home present that would be.


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Tron Legacy: geektastic

December 18, 2010 Comments off

Met up with four other geek friends this evening to see Tron Legacy. OK, Lord Of The Rings it ain’t but it was a fun story and – wow! – the visual design environment! I was blown away by the sense of movement, solidity and energy in the digital realm. Everything fit and the movie was gorgeous. And Sam Flynn’s bachelor pad was amazing. If I told you the ending you’d accuse me of lying because it was too obvious, but then you don’t go to the Tron sequel because you can’t imagine what might happen.

Short version: Sam Flynn comes back from the digital realm, takes over Encom, and leads a double life fighting crime dressed as a bat. No, wait… wrong movie. The plot, what there is of it, is pretty silly; if you want spoilers, read the Wikipedia article, and donate to Wikipedia while you’re at it.

Sitting in a movie theater for two hours is always chancy for me. Last movie I saw, I did an hour’s cardio first so I got away with a little stiffness. But today’s schedule didn’t work out that way so I went pretty much from work to dinner to theater. Unhappy legs, but I’m fine now.

It was neat to see Jeff Bridges both old and young on the screen at the same time as Kevin Flynn and Clu; that must have been fun to produce. And I totally want a Tron Car like the one Quorra drove. There was just one thing however that rang false about the whole movie: that you could park a Ducati in an abandoned urban environment for eight hours at night… and no one steals it. You’ll also meet the World’s Most Fearless security guard. And you might want to bring earplugs; it’s one of those cranked-up movies. But if you enjoyed the original on any level, you will almost certainly enjoy this one.

Have you seen it?  Did you like it?  Did you see the original?


  • We saw it in 2-D on a giant screen.  Seemed appropriate for old-school
  • Wired has a pretty good 10-things review
  • Kevin Flynn’s fireplace may be one of the coolest, possibly non-digital special effects that I’ve seen.
  • Other neato visual touches include the 2001-inspired living room, and the Tron-styled Disney intro
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