Monday, August 30, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/30/2010)

A really powerful and gripping account of prison life (warning: it's pretty graphic sometimes, especially when he describes how inmates compensate for the inefficiency of homemade "shanks"; there's also some bad language).

When an atheist feels lucky to be alive.

Yet another study indicates that moderate alcohol consumption is probably good for you. (The headline is a little misleading: of the people studied, moderate drinkers live longest, followed by heavy drinkers, followed by non-drinkers.)

Inside the pitch meeting for Devil.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Covers that you might not have known are covers: "Summertime Blues"

Lots of times, the most familiar version of a song isn't the original version. I'll be posting some of these "covers that you might not have known are covers" on Saturdays.

"Summertime Blues"

Familiar version: The Who (performed in concerts starting in 1967; released on a record in 1970)
Original version: Eddie Cochran (1958)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/26/2010)

On African-American women, feminism, and Women's Equality Day.

New Mormon PR campaign: "I'M NORMAL!" (just like Invader Zim).

Loneliness... leads us to see human-like qualities in objects around us, believe more strongly in the reality of God and supernatural beings, and even perceive pets to be more human-like.

Does music make you exercise harder?

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There's nothing like great religious art...

There's nothing like great religious art... and these pictures are nothing like great religious art (h/t: BCC and commenters).

Here are some of my favorites (slightly retitled):

Musical interlude: Humble Pie, "30 Days in the Hole"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/25/2010)

(Parenthetical Edition)

Top 10 lost technologies -- really interesting (should have included Jaredite barge-building technology, though...).

Right-wing propaganda is the same all over (or at least the same in India, Pakistan, and the USA).

Owning a home may never again be a wealth generator. (I'm going to buy one anyway.)

This is (pretty much) my life.

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Musical interlude: Chemical Brothers, "Marvo Ging"

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"F**k You"

Best new song I've heard in awhile:

"F**k You" by Cee-Lo Green (lyrics NSFW [duh]; h/t: Jane Wiedlin)

Musical interlude: Spencer Davis Group, "Gimme Some Lovin'"

Land of a thousand blog posts

Yesterday I posted my 1,000th blog post.

I've been blogging for about 4 years and eight months. At a thousand posts, that's about one post every 1.7 days on average. My longest hiatus was six weeks in May and June of this year. Except for that, I think I've posted at least once almost every week since I started.

Why do I blog? That's a good question. It's not for popularity; I've had around 85,000 total page loads, which is less than some popular blogs get in a day. It's definitely not for the money; I've earned $5.02 from ads on this site (not even enough to get paid yet).

I guess I blog mainly for two reasons. The first is self-expression. I like to write. It feels good to try to say something, to try to express humor, or sorrow, or outrage. It feels even better when it works, when I've made someone else feel the same way (or the opposite way).

I don't think I'm especially good at writing. I'll never be more than a hack. But I have improved a lot. Compared to what I could do 10 or 20 years ago, my writing is a lot better now. When I read my old, pre-blog stuff, I often cringe. I rarely cringe at what I write now. Practice makes better, I guess.

The other reason I blog is that it's a form of human contact. It's a way to interact with people. I know people all over the world from blogging. Since I find making and keeping friends IRL to be a real struggle, that's very important to me.

Anyway, what I really want to say with this post is "Thank you." Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thank you for linking. It means a lot to me. It really does.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

The young perish...

More from Tejaswee Rao:
I don’t consider myself to be too much of an optimist. Honestly, i can be a little fatalistic sometimes. But i do hope to live for a very very long time (wouldn’t mind being immortal too!). This world is so HUGE and i want to see as much of it as possible and experience all that i can!
She reminds me a lot of Anne Frank, actually. And of this, from Tolkien: "The young perish and the old linger, withering." Fuck death.

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She wrote this a year ago...

Tejaswee Rao wrote this a year ago (read the whole thing)...
Dear… daughter,

I don’t feel odd writing this. Just… so mature. I’m 17 going on 18, the age you’ll be when you read this for the first time. I don’t know how I’ll be then. Sometimes cranky, over-worked, cynical, the way I see my parents are today. But I don’t want you to see only that me. Maybe I’ll be hardworking, happy and eccentric. For you, I want to preserve some of my ideas, my optimism and my ideals. I want you to meet me, at your age, so many years from now. Beware… I was considered boring, by some.

Right now I’m changing. In small ways, and big. I’ve seen a certain amount of heart break (no doubt I’ll see more) and a great deal of love, more than I could ever wish for. My morals, my ideals, my resolutions, my wants and my beliefs are being formed, being broken, and, formed again with a stronger base. I want to be the President of India. I want to take 6 months off before college. I want to be the most powerful person on earth. I want to spend the rest of my life helping the poor. I want to adopt a girl and I know this is one resolution that won’t be broken. So you’re the one… It’s wonderful to meet you.
...and she died 12 days ago.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/21/2010)

Xenophobia obviously has nothing to do with opposition to the community center/mosque that is to be built two blocks away from the future home of the Ground Zero commercial building and shopping mall.

In the spirit of RoboJesus, movie fan art.

Mormon.org has a Facebook page.

Fashion copyrights:
"America is the world fashion leader," said Steven Kolb, director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the lead trade group in support of the Schumer bill, "and yet it is basically the only industrialized country that does not provide protection for fashion design."

Run that by me one more time? We’re the world leader in fashion, so we should change our policy to mimic our lagging competitors?

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Covers that you might not have known are covers: "You Really Got Me"

Lots of times, the most familiar version of a song isn't the original version. I'll be posting some of these "covers that you might not have known are covers" on Saturdays.

"You Really Got Me"
Familiar version: Van Halen (1978)
Original version: The Kinks (1964)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/17/2010.2)

And some regular links.

Can "a significant slice of morality ...be explained by our innate feelings of disgust"? (h/t: Mind Hacks).

Fascinating close-up photos of apes' faces.

Fashion copyrights are a bad idea.

Your pork is actually my policy.

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Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/17/2010.1)

Here are some links about Park51, the "Ground Zero mosque" (which, of course, will actually be two blocks away from the "hallowed ground" of Ground Zero [future home of commercial office buildings and a shopping mall] and is more community center than mosque).

Not "...just a setback for religious tolerance and individual freedom; it's a setback for the fight against terrorism, which demands that the United States marginalize violent extremists, not embrace their narrative and worldview."

Photos of the "hallowed ground" the same distance from Ground Zero as Park51: "The blocks around Ground Zero are like every other hard-working neighborhood in New York, where Muslims are just another thread of the city fabric."

"How the 'ground zero mosque' fear mongering began: A viciously anti-Muslim blogger, the New York Post and the right-wing media machine."

"This campaign is nothing different than all of the standard, definitively bigoted efforts to hold entire demographic groups of people responsible for the aberrational acts of a small percentage of individual members."

A cartoon that sums things up nicely: Overcompensating.

And Jon Stewart.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Mosque-Erade
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

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Musical interlude: Moby, "When It's Cold I'd Like To Die"

"When It's Cold I'd Like to Die"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Updated "Best of" page

I updated my Best of page so it's a little easier to find some favorite posts. I hope you'll check it out, especially if you haven't been around from the beginning and haven't seen many of them.

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Teh gay is a sign of THE LAST DAYS! WE'RE ALL DOOMED! DOOMED, I SAY! No really. We're so doomed. Because of teh gay. Doomed...

Homophobia: the gift that keeps on giving... giving unintentional comedy gold that is. I couldn't quite work this into my earlier post on Mormon WATBism, but I feel I would be remiss if I didn't point out these three (unintentionally) hilarious comments from reaction-formation poster boy Christopher Bigelow.

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STFU, WATBs

I just read yet another post about Prop 8 over at By Common Consent. Like what I wrote about last week, this one is also a whine about how hard it's all been on Mormons.

It takes a little different tack though. It's all about how divisive the campaign and its aftermath have been... among Mormons. (Surprise! ...not!) From the post:
"I have family and friends in California, all of them pro 8, and they all had pretty much the same reaction. They participated in a sort of unpleasant, grim business, necessary, but grim nonetheless. And now they all feel a sense of ambivalence about it, and some of them even regret and sadness. They almost all describe their experience working in the campaign as horrible and traumatic, even hellish, and something they wish to never be called upon to do again. It was a Pyrrhic victory, and it had costs to our people far beyond the millions of dollars we donated.

"I hear reports that many of our wards in California are still fractured and split along lines that developed in the campaign. One friend described almost with a sense of despair her frustration at the division that prop 8 caused in her ward, her family, and even in her marriage."
And in the comments:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Covers that you might not have known are covers: "I Can't Stand Up (for Falling Down)"

Lots of times, the most familiar version of a song isn't the original version. I'll be posting some of these "covers that you might not have known are covers" on Saturdays.

"I Can't Stand Up (for Falling Down)"

Maybe this is a little too obscure to have a "familiar version," but it's familiar to me. One of my favorite Costello songs.

Familiar version: Elvis Costello and the Attractions (1980)
Original version: Sam and Dave (1967)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/13/2010)

Terror Babies! Oh noez! The funniest thing you can ask someone who believes something with no evidence is, "What evidence do you have for that?" as proved by Anderson Cooper and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Crazytown). Watch the video. You won't regret it.

Randian parenting: Our Daughter Isn't a Selfish Brat; Your Son Just Hasn't Read
Atlas Shrugged
.

Roger Ebert on Christopher Hitchens.

The Great Lie about the Civil War.

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Musical interlude: Sleater-Kinney, "Call the Doctor"

Behold the work of the mighty helmet cam!

Since I spent yesterday evening making this video instead of writing, I thought I might as well post it here. It's a backwards-facing "helmet cam" video I made with my six-year-old daughter. (Said helmet cam consisting of one bike helmet, one long stick duct-taped to the helmet, and one Canon PowerShot duct-taped to the stick.)

It's not meant to be a finished product or anything, just a "proof of concept," so it has no ending and it's a little sloppy in terms of technique. Mostly, I wanted to see if I could get the dang thing to work. But it actually came out a lot better than I expected. I think the helmet cam has a lot of potential. (Especially if I can convince my daughter to wear it outside of our backyard. I'm still working on that part.)

video

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/11/2010)

Why are animals cute?

Islamismism: On Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Tariq Ramadan, and Paul Berman.

Taunting Muslims FAIL: Rightwing blogger thinks that opening a gay bar next to the (two blocks away from) "Ground Zero" mosque (and community center) would be a good way to taunt Muslims for doing something he doesn't like. Only problem is, there are already three gay bars closer to the planned mosque than the mosque is to Ground Zero. FAIL.

Words. I was going to explain this video, but I think it's even better when you figure it out yourself.

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Musical interlude: The Muffs, "Really, Really Happy"

It's the Tour de France, not the Tour de Happy Pretty Candyland

Here's what I believe about doping in sports:

The most important thing to remember about doping is that it works. It works like hell. It can make mediocre athletes good, good athletes elite, and elite athletes great. It's almost impossible to win without doping in a sport where there is widespread doping. In fact, if the doping is widespread enough, it's almost impossible even to compete at a high level without doping.

Here's what I believe about cycling and the Tour de France:

In terms of doping, cycling is just about the dirtiest sport in the world, and the Tour de France, a grueling, superhuman test of endurance, is the dirtiest event. It has a culture of doping that dates back more than a century. It's rife with banned athletes and trainers. Entire teams have been banned en masse for doping. Winners of the most prestigious events have been caught and banned. Former competitors confess and accuse left and right.

Here's what I believe about Lance Armstrong:

Monday, August 09, 2010

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/9/2010)

I've never been a fan of Christopher Hitchens, but I have to say he's a marvelous writer and he seems to be handling his cancer diagnosis with courage and grace.

What collapsing empire looks like.

Cooking with Dog (it's not what you think) is probably the best Japanese cooking channel anywhere.

This WSJ article about Japanese companies switching to English is fairly interesting in itself, but this is my favorite part:
By contrast, a group of online grammar sticklers has emerged at Rakuten that enjoys correcting [CEO] Mr. Mikitani's English. "Let's stop discussing about our policy to convert our main language to Eng. We are going to do this to become strong global company," Mr. Mikitani tweeted after his Twitter account was flooded for days with discussion of the company's language policy.

Someone replied in Japanese: "For your reference, one doesn't usually put 'about' after 'discuss.'"

Mr. Mikitani immediately wrote back: "Let's stop being picky."

He revisited the issue four days later, writing: "Well I think many native people use 'discuss about.' At least my friends at Harvard did. How good is your English??"
It's just so typical of my experience with "important" people in Japan: defensively insisting that he's right, even when he's wrong. Though, of course, that's probably pretty typical of "important" people everywhere (and plenty of "unimportant" ones too).

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How intolerant of you to not tolerate our opinion that you and your relationships are inferior!

There's a curious meme I've noticed running through some of the debate on gay marriage. It comes from some of the more thoughtful people opposing (or even just leaning towards opposing) gay marriage. It's the idea that gay people in this debate are "intolerant."

I've been noticing this for quite some time, probably ever since the aftermath of the passage of Proposition 8 in California, when so many Mormons seemed to react with shock at the idea that people would actually be angry at them for outlawing their marriages. And just today, through Andrew's post, I'm seeing it again. (Not in Andrew's post, but in posts he links to and in comments.)

Symphonyofdissent is "uncomfortable with the labeling of people of conscience as bigots and homophobes" and "sick of the lack of effort to build consensus on common ground and to efforts to punish and smear those that disagree." SilverRain feels that gay marriage advocates' "aggressive behavior has already done more to hurt [their] cause than help it" and they call people bigoted and homophobic in an "attempt to manipulate through shame, to control another person's behavior." In short, as commenter Scotty Starnes puts it, "the gay community’s intolerance is also a factor when it comes to others accepting their lifestyle."

Let's break down these ideas a little bit.

'80s Music Monday: The Motels

The Motels were one of the most successful New Wave bands to come out of L.A. during the 1980s. They were fronted by the luscious Martha Davis, a beautiful woman with a lovely voice. They had four Top-50 albums and two singles that reached #9 on the charts. Their popularity made them a little unusual among the bands I listened to.

Another thing that made them unusual among the New Wave bands I listened to was that their songs were actually pretty. They tended towards haunted, melancholy love ballads rather than the more up-tempo sounds that I usually preferred. In fact, their two biggest hits, "Only the Lonely" and "Suddenly Last Summer," were more Adult Contemporary than New Wave. I pretended not to notice.

Here's four from the Motels.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Covers that you might not have known are covers: "In the Street (That 70s Song)"

Lots of times, the most familiar version of a song isn't the original version. I'll be posting some of these "covers that you might not have known are covers" on Saturdays.

"In the Street" is the theme song from That 70s Show. I actually thought it was original to the show, until I listened to the album Third/Sister Lovers by legendary no-hit wonders Big Star.

Familiar version: Cheap Trick (1999)
Original version: Big Star (1972)

Friday, August 06, 2010

Musical interlude: Billie Holiday, "Strange Fruit"

Tomorrow is the 80th anniversary of the lynching that inspired this song.

Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.



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Proposition 8 overturned

By now I assume that you've already heard that a Federal judge ruled that Proposition 8, the California ballot measure outlawing same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional. I think this is good news, of course, although there are several appeals still to come. (I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that it will probably go to a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, then to a larger panel or full panel of the same court, then to the US Supreme Court.)

Here's the conclusion first:

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

There are a couple of striking things about the case. The first is how poorly the pro - Prop 8 side argued it. The anti - gay marriage arguments are weak and easily rebutted to start with, but their presentation of their side, such as it is, was pathetic. They ended up with only two "expert" witnesses in the trial, neither of whom was a qualified expert and both of whom left the judge singularly unimpressed. He said of one:

Blankenhorn's opinions are not supported by reliable evidence or methodology and Blankenhorn failed to consider evidence contrary to his view in presenting his testimony. The court therefore finds the opinions of Blankenhorn to be unreliable and entitled to essentially no weight. (p. 49)

Of the other, he said:

...the court finds that Miller's opinions on gay and lesbian political power are entitled to little weight and only to the extent they are amply supported by reliable evidence. (p. 54)

As for their deposition witnesses, two of them were so damaging to the case that their testimony was entered into evidence by the other side! (p.36)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Book review: Battle Cry of Freedom

Ratings:
**** Highly recommended
*** Recommended
** Meh
* Don't bother


Battle Cry of Freedom, James M. McPherson ****

Battle Cry of Freedom is probably the best one-volume history of the Civil War available. Sweeping and well-written, it covers the period from 1850 to the end of the war in 1865.

I was generally familiar with the war itself, but what I found most valuable was McPherson's coverage of the period leading up to the war, where my knowledge was more sketchy. He admirably shows the cleavages in American society during the mid-19th century, differences of class and origin as well as region, along with changes in economic, social, and family life.

McPherson also delves into areas that are probably not as well known today as they should be, things like fugitive slave laws, the influence of Uncle Tom's Cabin, Southern efforts not just to retain but to expand American slavery (not only into US territories but also into the Caribbean and Central America), Bleeding Kansas, and so on. I found the pre-war chapters on those subjects enlightening.

But the core issue, of course, was slavery. Contrary to the somewhat successful efforts of revisionists and Confederate apologists to turn the popular narrative in a different direction, McPherson makes it quite clear that the Civil War was indeed "about" slavery. Yes, there were issues of states rights and regional rivalry involved, and once the war began the rhetoric on both sides changed, but in the run-up to secession and war, it was clear what the real issue was: slavery.

That's the greatest service the book provides. It makes it clear that the revisionists and apologists don't have a leg to stand on. They may claim bias on McPherson's part, and I'd have to agree with them. He clearly thinks that slavery was bad and the South was wrong. Those who think otherwise probably won't like the book.

I've said the writing is good. Here's a sample, the passage I found most moving. Lincoln tours the newly captured Confederate capital:
Lincoln's visit to Richmond produced the most unforgettable scenes of this unforgettable war. With an escort of only ten sailors, the president walked the streets while [Admiral David D.] Porter peered nervously at every window for would-be assassins. But the Emancipator was soon surrounded by an impenetrable cordon of black people shouting "Glory to God! Glory! Glory! Glory!" "Bless the Lord! The great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seen him. He's been in my heart four long years. Come to free his children from bondage. Glory, Hallelujah!" Several freed slaves touched Lincoln to make sure he was real. "I know I am free," shouted an old woman, "for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him." Overwhelmed by rare emotions, Lincoln said to one black man who fell on his knees in front of him: "Don't kneel to me. That is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for the liberty you will enjoy hereafter."

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Musical interlude: Brooklyn Funk Essentials, "Ska Ka Bop"

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Musical interlude: HoneyHoney, "Little Toy Gun"

What happens when an obscure blog gets linked from reddit.com

My post on "How Star Wars destroyed my faith in God" got linked from reddit.com yesterday. (Thanks Chino Blanco, ladr0n, and vishenml for posting it. And thanks redditors for visiting.) Here's the result:


Sitemeter counted 9,525 hits yesterday. (And StatCounter counted 10,204, Google Analytics 9,490, and Blogger 9,815; what's up with that? I don't know, but if anyone asks, StatCounter is right.) That's about what I get in four months usually. (Pathetic, I know.)

So it was quite a shock to check my stats yesterday morning and see a hit count in the thousands. For a second, I thought it was a mistake. In between working, I spent the rest of the day watching the stats go up and reading the comments on reddit.

If I hadn't been so busy, I would have joined reddit and argued with a couple of the commenters there, who didn't really get the post. But I know I would have spent hours doing that (I've done it before!), and I had too much work. So I just read. (A few years ago, I might have done it no matter how much work I had. I guess maybe I'm growing up.)

Oh, one more thing about reddit; they have this thing where you can vote links "up" or "down" if you like them or don't. So I spent the whole day going, "Yay! Some more people liked it!" when my post got more "up" votes and "Oh no! Some more people didn't like it!" when it got more "down" votes. (Not that I'm insecure or anything...)

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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Refudiated! The Movie

The movie of the haiku:

Refudiated!
A terrible thing wasted:
My mind, you betcha!



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Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (8/1/2010)

Inception as a portrayal of Christopher Nolan's anxieties.

Monkeys hate flying squirrels.

Tasers were supposed to be an alternative to lethal force for police. The idea was that instead of shooting and killing people, they'd taze them instead. But somewhere along the line, they started to taze people for just about anything.

What would you do if you knew you only had two or three years to live? Here's what Leah Siegel, a mom of three little kids, did.

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