Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One sentence movie review: Machete

Machete (2010) 8/10

This homage to '70s exploitation flicks is wildly entertaining at times, as long as you don't take it too seriously.

The ratings:
10: Best ever
9: Profoundly moving
8: Deeply engaging
7: Enjoyable
6: Just OK
5: Sorry I watched it
4: Couldn't sit through it
1: An abomination of human endeavor

Ratings for the last 567 movies I've watched

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/29/2011)

Vote for Newt Gingrich (the man who's so patriotic he cheated on his wives out of love for this country) or America will become a secular atheist country dominated by radical Islamists!

Actual quote from an LDS Young Women's Conference: "As I look out at you tonight, I wonder if this is what Helaman's stripling warriors' girlfriends must have looked like!" I assume that was said at least partly in jest. Still, it's rather a sad commentary on the patriarchal nature of LDS scripture that the best someone can do to encourage girls to live their religion is to tell them that they look like heroes' girlfriends. (It's also a sad commentary on the pressures on women in our society that much of the speech was about "inner beauty," and it was delivered by a woman who wears makeup and dyes her hair.)

The US State Department promotes internet freedom overseas, while the US Justice Department tries to curtail it in America.

Your Transportation Safety Administration at work: TSA employee complains that Wiccan co-worker (successfully) put a spell on her car; Wiccan ends up fired.

Tea Party conservatives are different from other conservatives.

Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn is back at work after cancer surgery almost paralyzed his face.

Indie e-book star Amanda Hocking just accepted a $2 million dollar traditional publishing deal. Barry Eisler just turned down a $500,000 deal to go independent. They had an internet conversation.

Art critic questions winner-take-all society.

Talking to strangers on the New York subway (video).

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What I liked about Mormon theology

Part of the reason I was a Mormon is because I really liked the theology, so I thought I'd talk about some of that today.

I'll begin with some caveats. First, this all made sense to me only because I began with a couple of assumptions. I assumed that there is a God, and that Jesus is the Savior of humanity. (And I made those assumptions because I was brought up from childhood with them.) Without those assumptions, obviously the theology is all nonsense.

Second, these are all my personal interpretations of Mormonism. If you disagree with them, well, they're all logically defensible based on mainstream Mormon thought, but I don't actually believe any of this anymore, so I'm not going to try very hard to defend it. I'm willing to discuss it nicely if you are, though.

Third, don't anyone bother telling me that it's all silly because there are no gods (if you think that, I already think you're probably right) and especially don't bother telling me that it's all silly because it's not in the Bible (if you think that, I think your beliefs are at least as silly anyway).

So, here's what I liked.

1) Mormonism has kind of figured out what to about the salvation of non-Christians. Yes, the whole baptism for the dead thing has its offensive elements, and yes, there are obvious practical difficulties, but I found it to be a clever way of taking care of all the non-Christians without automatically sending them to Hell. Everyone supposedly gets a fair chance to hear and accept or reject the Gospel, either in this life or the next. Seems like a step up from what a lot of other Christians teach.

2) The Mormon God is a space alien. Sort of. He has a body, he comes from another planet (or universe or whatever), he lives in a place, and he occupies physical space. He's not some obscure and bizarre thing made out of nothing. He used to be like us, and we can be like him.

3) Mormonism dumps the bizarre Trinity concept and embraces polytheism. None of that ridiculous egg, shamrock, or water-ice-steam nonsense for Mormons; they come right out and believe that the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate beings who are only figuratively "one God." (Not that many Mormons will admit that they're polytheists, but that's just because of our silly cultural prejudice against polytheism. By any sensible definition, it's obviously a polytheistic religion.)

4) God didn't create the universe out of nothing, he "organized" it out of already existing stuff. Same with the people and other beings: "organized," not created. Which leads to:

5) God is not omnipotent. He couldn't just create any kind of universe he wanted; he had to work with what he's given. Good and Evil are eternal, and there are rules that apply to God too (putting Mormonism squarely on the sensible Platonist side of the Euthyphro dilemma). Which leads to:

6) Mormonism almost solves the Problem of Evil. Almost. In Mormonism, God can't create a universe with no evil, and he can't forcibly remove all evil from the universe he's created. (Yes, I'm aware that this contradicts the idea of "Celestialized" worlds. So sue me.) So all God has to do to prove he's good is to mitigate all evil that can possibly be mitigated. (Unfortunately, if he exists he doesn't seem to be mitigating all the evil that could be mitigated, only some of it, so the problem isn't solved. But at least it gets kicked down the road a ways.)

7) In Mormonism, God made people to help them grow, not to fulfill his own neurotic needs. Other Christian denominations generally tend to teach that God made people for reasons such as wanting worshipers (creepy) or companions (pets, essentially, since we're so far below him). (And apparently he wasn't competent to do this without condemning millions of them to eternal torment in the end, but hey, if you're going to make an omelet....) The Mormon God, on the other hand created ("organized") human beings because he wants to make us into his peers, which is supposed to be possible through a progression from "intelligence" to spirit to human to god. And even the ones for whom that doesn't work out are probably better off than when they started.

So that's some of the theological stuff I liked when I was a Mormon. Number 1) was the most influential in my conversion, since that was something I'd thought about a lot. (The logic of "They all go to Hell" was enough to get me to stop being a born-again Christian when I was about 14). Number 7) was probably my favorite idea, though.

Are there any aspects of Mormon theology that you (whether believer, non-believer, or ex-believer) find/found particularly appealing or interesting?

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/28/2011)

The new and improved Outer Blogness aggregator.

The glamorous life of the post-doc.

Human exo-skeletons (video).

High DC test scores at a model school under Michelle Rhee may have been a result of cheating.

Seeing what happened to Libya, North Korea concludes that holding onto its nukes is a good idea.

A broken iPod Touch.

Why we must defend Sarah Palin: "We will not bring an end to sexism by selectively defending only those with whom we agree. And that means that even Sarah Palin, whose very politics is anathema to the cause of women's equality, deserves defense against such attacks. Even if she doesn't want it. Even if she doesn't understand it."

The white populism of Geraldine Ferraro.

A president's prayer.

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'80s Music Monday and book review: Joan Jett

I'm pretty confident in my taste, musical and otherwise, but I do make mistakes now and then. And one mistake I made for a long time was being dismissive of Joan Jett.

During the '80s, I basically wrote her off as "old-fashioned." I'd been aware of Joan in the Runaways (although like most 15-year-old boys in 1977 I was all about Cherie Currie), and I really liked "Bad Reputation," which is very punk. But although I recognized "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" as a great song, the sound was a little too "arena rock" for me at the time.

I could be a bit of a punk/New Wave (and ska/reggae) snob back then, and the sheer popularity of the song was kind of a turn-off too. Most of the music I liked back then didn't have that much mass appeal (though ironically it seems more popular now than the stuff that was Top 40 back then), so I wasn't really comfortable with songs that everyone liked.

That's why I didn't pay much attention to Joan Jett during the '80s. But I was wrong about her. Not about her being "old-fashioned," because she is, in a way, but about her not being worth listening to.

Because Joan Jett is old-fashioned in the sense of "classic." Her music holds up really well. She managed to keep the heaviness of arena rock while stripping it of its excesses and giving it something of the purity of punk. Which is a pretentious way of saying what really matters: Joan Jett rocks.

So I was very interested to read this book:

Joan Jett, Todd Oldham ***

Mainly Joan Jett left me wanting more. It's by Todd Oldham, but it's mostly from his interviews with his subject, so it's told mainly in first-person-Joan. Which is good, except that the effect is more like a series of magazine articles than a book. It doesn't really serve as much of either a biography or an autobiography.

The basics are covered, from Joan's days as a teenage Bowie fan to the rise and fall of the Runaways to the lean days from their breakup until "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" to her ongoing success, but there's never much depth. There are interesting tidbits and insights along the way, such as that she prefers playing rhythm rather than lead guitar, and that she holds her guitar so low because she likes the feeling of the pickup vibrating against her pubic bone (something that probably actually goes a long way towards explaining why she is a true rock 'n' roll goddess), but I don't feel like I really know her after reading the book. I just know a little more about her, is all.

The photos are actually much better than the text. There are photos on every page. Unfortunately, though, the book works no better as a photo book than it does as a biography. There are no captions with the photos, so it's rarely clear how relevant they are to the text on any given page. There are credits in the back, but actually making use of them would require flipping back and forth page-by-page. That's very poor organization, obviously.

The main impression I got from the pictures is that Joan is unexpectedly beautiful. And I don't mean that in a Patti Smith not-pretty-at-all-but-beautiful-when-she-sings way, but in a flat-out very-pretty-and-actually-beautiful-from-the-right-angle way. It's a curiosity to me that I'd never noticed that before, because it's something that I (perhaps unfortunately) tend to pay attention to.

Anyway, I recommend the book, because as thin on text and poorly organized in terms of photos as it is, I still found it interesting. I just wish it was deeper and better organized.

And here are some videos, after the jump.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Understanding biblical parables: The Sower

The parables of Jesus are a rich source of religious and ethical wisdom. Unfortunately, however, they take place in a cultural and historical context that can make them difficult for people in modern societies to understand. I have therefore decided to give you, my readers, the benefit of my extensive biblical knowledge (even vast knowledge, some might say, though others have suggested half-vast knowledge is a better description) and explain one of these parables every week once in a blue moon.

Today we will cover the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-9).

Jesus sez (NIV):

The Parable of the Sower
"Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

The cultural context

This is one of the simpler parables. It specifically addresses a farming practice of the times, namely, manual broadcasting, or, in layman's terms, throwing your seeds all over the effing place and hoping some of them land in the right spot.

Obviously, this didn't work very well. Since Jesus was God and thus omniscient, He knew that people in the future would invent efficient mechanical devices called "seed drills" that would put seeds in exactly the right spot at exactly the right depth. He also knew that the Sumerians and Chinese had already respectively invented basic seed drills 1500 and 200 years previously. Yet His own Chosen People were somehow not up to the task.

Jesus found this stupidity and waste (which often led to famine) very frustrating, but He couldn't just give the people seed drills. He knew that He mustn't disrupt the time line or Reapers would appear and devour the entire human race within hours.

Jesus knew what would happen if He disrupted the time line

The meaning of the parable


And the final line of the parable, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear," was simply Jesus' way of saying, "YOU PRIMITIVE F***S HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT, DO YOU?!"

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/26/2011)

How the Libya war damages US security.

Census shows Detroit population down 25 percent in 10 years.

Gumby on the Moon: "No other film has ever been so frighteningly unequivocal in it’s simple yet brutal philosophy -– the point of life is to keep living."

Race and the 2012 election: advantage Obama?

Cuckoos in egg pattern arms race.

Regrets, I've had a few.

Why did four shrinks fall asleep during this patient's sessions?

No mortgage lenders have gone to jail for fraud, but at least one borrower has.

The drab reality of science.

The book that changed my life....

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Covers that you might not have known are covers: "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer"

"One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer"

I thought this one might be a little obscure, but since it was covered on Glee, I guess it's well enough known.

Familiar version: George Thorogood (1977)
Additional cover: John Lee Hooker (1966)
Original versions: Amos Milbourn (1953) and John Lee Hooker ("House Rent Boogie," c. 1950?)

George Thorogood's version is actually a medley of "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, and John Lee Hooker's "House Rent Boogie."

George Thorogood (1977)

John Lee Hooker ("One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer," 1966)

John Lee Hooker ("House Rent Boogie," c. 1950?)

Amos Milbourn and His Aladdin Chickenshackers (1953)
I'd never heard this one before. I really like it.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

My meaningless atheist life

When I stopped believing in gods, I realized that my life is meaningless. And that makes me happy.

What I realized is that my life has no prescribed meaning. There's no cosmic sky fairy who created me for his own reasons. I'm not the pawn or the slave of some "higher" being, no matter how benevolent and wise (or not). No external meaning is imposed on me. There is no Plan.

My life means whatever I make it mean. No more and no less. I'm free.* And I'm glad.

So here's the meaning of my life.

I find life meaningful. I find the way I affect others' lives meaningful. Some of those effects will outlast my own life. When I die, I hope I will die knowing that I made the world a little bit better place, for a few people, in a small way, while I was here. I hope I will die knowing that some of those people will carry with them some of my beliefs and values as a sort of legacy, and will pass them on to others as well.

As long as anyone who has been influenced by someone who has been influenced by someone (and on and on) who has been influenced by me exists, my legacy will continue. Just as most of my genes have existed since the beginning of humanity, my influence just might continue until its end.

But even if I leave no legacy, or only a short one, so what? I'll have lived. I'll have loved. I'll have thought. That's enough for me.

And in the end, I'll return to where I came from. "We are star stuff."

*Or at least, free to think I'm free.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One sentence movie review: Ip Man

Ip Man (2008) 8/10

This "biography" is fictionalized into the old kung fu cliche about the reluctant Chinese fighter pushed over the edge and smashing the Japanese invaders, but Donnie Yen brings great sincerity to the role, and the action scenes are excellent.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/20/2011)

Thirty children whose parents haven't come for them wait in a school in the tsunami-hit area.

Rats approved as service animals.

From the department of surprised they needed a study to figure that one out: When Nurse Staffing Drops, Mortality Rates Rise.

Credit where due: Utah gets immigration right. (Yes, I know the "real reasons"; I don't care, they still got it right.)

Obama and the National Surveillance State.

Obama in 2008: "The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation."

Big Picture: Japan one week later.

Minnesota Republicans want to make it illegal for poor people to have money.

Tohoku earthquake shaking intensity.

Dedicated to racists and homophobes everywhere:

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Friday, March 18, 2011

God's Dunning-Kruger love

Jason, he of the Great Grammar Conspiracy, is such a seething bundle of weirdnesses that he's actually inspired me to write a second post.

You see, Jason is all about the Christian love. Over the course of his scores of comments on Main Street Plaza over 10 days or so, he said things like this (just assume a "sic" everywhere):
Love the sinnger HATE the sin, i dont hate any of you gays on this blogg, we could even be friends

But as weird as this may sound i do in some weird way love all of you even though you make think im a little crazy

love the sinner not the sin. Ive had friends who were gay and if a gay friend came up to me id give him a big hug.

what do i think of black people? I love them

people like me are just devistated cause once the spirit enters us it makes us love everyone poeple we dont even know

Not saying i dont love liberals also

I know none of you will believe this but i love all of you. no i do not know you personaly but i know that when one has love in his heart he can do nothing but love his fellow brothers and sisters.

I am required by God to love everyone including my enemies and to treat them as myself.

I hate the sin, but love you the sinner.

ya know what, yea I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU , I LOVE YOU, and so does Jesus Christ capital J and God capital G
Isn't that special? Jason just lurves everyone, because he's so filled with the spirit.

Seth was Jason's chief interlocutor during that long, long thread. He treated Jason as if he were a normal person, one who would listen to arguments, answer questions, and, you know, see reason. Bless his heart. Jason is obviously capable of none of those things.

Now, Seth is thoroughly Mormon -- a bit heterodox in places maybe, but a believing, practicing Mormon. In Jason's eyes, though, Seth is an "appeaser of sin" because he doesn't get as excited as Jason does about homosexuality. And in Jason's farewell message to MSP, after denouncing the rest of us as sinners, he had some special words for Seth:
the comming spiritual war more then likely will be physical as well and i hope for your sake your not standing across the field against me cause im headed for the apeasers first. So long
Get that? Basically Jason is saying, "I hope I have a chance to kill you someday." Crazy. That came less than two hours after he wrote that "I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU" thing. Double crazy. Obviously, Jason doesn't know what love is.

All that's amusing enough, but can we learn anything from it (besides that Jason is a nut)? Well, Jason is the poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect. Among the things Jason clearly thinks he's good at are thinking, research, argumentation, writing, and spirituality. On that MSP thread, he obviously thought he was winning every argument and that he was pursuing a strategy that could "win souls." Unfortunately, he's tremendously incompetent at every one of those things, so much so that he's incapable of realizing how incompetent he is.

I think we can add "love" to the list of things Jason is incompetent at. He's so bad at the whole "love your fellow man" thing that he doesn't know he's not doing it right. Jason's love is a Dunning-Kruger love.

That's also amusing enough, but it got me thinking. How is Jason's love different from the Christian god's love? Think about it.

Jason: "I love you, I love you, I love you! I hope I have a chance to kill you someday."

God: "I love you more than you can imagine. Obey me or I'll let you be tortured for eternity."

Do you see a difference?

Obviously, God doesn't know what love is. He's so bad at it that he doesn't even know he's not doing it right. Or the people who interpret God's love don't know. Or the people who invented the concept. Whichever. In any event, God's love is a Dunning-Kruger love.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/17/2011)

Now with more randomness!

Robert Pattinson isn't an insufferable git, he just plays one in the movies.

What it's like to burn books.

Seriously creepy pathologization of what should be normal, harmless behavior: "The Sons of Helaman is a group of young men who have dedicated themselves to helping each other overcome pornography and/or masturbation."

All the earthquakes in the world over M2.5 in the last seven days, animated.

"I know my first reaction when I hear about an 11 year old gang-raped by 18 men is that she had it coming for dressing slutty."

More Big Picture photos from Japan.

The supposed infallibility of fingerprints is being debunked.

Yay! More blood for oil!

Courage! What makes a King out of a slave?
Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave?
Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk, in the misty mist or the dusky dusk?
What makes the muskrat guard his musk?

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What it would take for me to believe in (the Mormon) God again

There's been an ongoing discussion among some prominent atheists about what evidence could convince them of the existence of God. The three main conclusions reached (i.e., 1] the concept "God" itself is so incoherent that the question is meaningless, 2] there could be evidence for God, there just isn't any, and 3] there could have been evidence for God, but since there hasn't been, why even bother?) are aptly summarized here.

I suppose I must fall into the second group, at least as far as the Mormon god goes, because I could be convinced to become a Mormon again. All it would take is for God to talk to me. All he needs to do is come around and say, "You were wrong, kuri. Come back to my church." And I would. I'd say, "Oops, I was wrong," and I'd be a Mormon again.

In fact, he wouldn't even have to show up personally. He could just send an angel or something. I'd believe them. I wouldn't even ask to shake their hand.

It would have to be in front of witnesses, though. I mean, how else would I know it isn't just a hallucination?

Doesn't seem like much to ask; just talk to me, in front of witnesses, and I'll be back in a heartbeat. (I'll let you know on the blog if it ever happens. Don't hold your breath, though.)

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Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone of Irish heritage and/or everyone who wants to drink like an Irishman for a day!

Here's a picture of a leprechaun, by Chelsea, age 7. His pot 'o gold is hidden in the grass.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/16/2011.2)

Not earthquake-related edition.

Why things happen: the God Flowchart.

Sperm whales may have "names."

American cops are being trained to hate Muslims.

How we create our gods in our own images.

Declaring war on the shaky cam.

Barack Obama: like Bush, "a vacant, blood-driven monster whose outward appearance as one of our own kind is no more than an act of ingenious fakery."

Magical Naked Unicorn Head Girl On Beach (possibly NSFW/C/P, if you can't tell by the title.)

Dr. Who custom cubecraft templates!

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Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/16/2011.1)

Earthquake-related edition:

A chart showing what different levels of radiation do to people.

How the radiation plume will cross the Pacific, with animation. (It's not supposed to be dangerous, though. Really. We should trust them.)

The overall tone of this article is a bit too panicky in my opinion, but it has good pictures of what the nuclear plant actually looks like now. It's not reassuring.

More Big Picture photos from Japan.

Japan Earthquake Shows Business Reengineering Relies on Bogus Thinking Similar to Financial Engineering.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/13/2011)

A few earthquake-related links:

These before and after pictures bring home the scale of the devastation. (It's in German, but self-explanatory.) I saw the chief of the Miyagi Prefecture police quoted in English as saying deaths there would be "over 10,000," but what he actually said in Japanese was more like "in the tens of thousands."

Two excellent sites for news updates: NHK World and Kyodo News.

Interactive map of damage from the quake.

There was an explosion at a second reactor at the same nuclear power plant as the first one.

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Me and Twitter and the Japanese earthquake

My spouse, H, is from the same general region where the Japanese earthquake struck. Her parents still live in her hometown, Odate (pronounced "Oh-dah-teh").

Although Odate is in the mountains and thus safe from tsunamis, we knew it must have gotten a severe shaking. So we called her mom's house late Thursday night as soon as we heard, and ... nothing.

Phone calls don't connect. No rings, just beeping. We try phoning with Skype: beep-beep-beep only. Other relatives' landlines are the same. We only know a couple of cell numbers, and they don't work either.

So we turn to the internet. But Odate is too small and obscure to be mentioned even in Japanese national news when such spectacular events are taking place elsewhere, and we can find out nothing.

We turn to local websites. The Odate city government website: down. Local newspapers: down or not updated. TV sites: down.

We know that probably everyone is OK. Odate is obviously in no danger from tsunamis. And it seems far enough from the epicenter to escape the worst of the shaking. Probably. But we don't know. And we can't know. There's no way to contact anyone.

I remember Twitter. Does anyone from Odate tweet? I go to Twitter and try a few different things until I hit on the right hashtags: #odate and #oodate.

And I start reading: Power is out. Water is out. It's cold with no heat, but luckily not the dead of winter. "If you use a kerosene stove, be careful of your ventilation." And, from a man at City Hall: "No reports of any injuries or collapsed buildings." We hope that's right. There's nothing else we can do; we go to bed.

Friday, we still can't get through by phone. On Twitter, "Power still out; water still out." But: "Confirmed no injuries or collapsed buildings."

And on through the day: "Power is on in the hospital area." At City Hall. Water back on in a few areas. Power in a few. Reports on which gas stations are open. Where to get food.

Then: "We have power!" "We have water!" Some areas still without power, though. Phones still not working. Power will be back on shortly. No, it will take the rest of the day. We go to bed Friday night still not having talked to anyone.

Early Saturday afternoon, we finally get through by phone. Everyone's fine. They've had a scary 40 hours -- there are still aftershocks -- mostly without power, but everyone's fine.

And I imagine those 40 hours the way they would have been for us even five years ago. I imagine having had no information at all during that time -- not only having no idea how our family was, but not even knowing what general conditions were like in Odate. And I am so, so grateful for Twitter.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/12/2011)

Big Picture photo sets on the earthquake in Japan: Set 1 and Set 2.

Class warfare illustrated.

Trying to understand why educated American conservatives do not accept the science of global warming.

Administration Acts on Mortgage Fraud Against Military, Yet Denies It Exists Anywhere Else.

Newt Gingrich the Horny Patriot.

BYU Students Protest Brandon Davies' Dismissal By Having Sex All Over Campus (possibly NSFW/C/P).

This is actually pretty much what I feel whenever I'm around other people.

How many apologists does it take to change a light bulb?

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Covers that you might not have known are covers: "All Along the Watchtower"

"All Along the Watchtower"

Familiar version: Jimi Hendrix (1968)
Original version: Bob Dylan (1967)

Hendrix's version is so definitive that even Dylan said he never played the song the same way after he listened to how Jimi played it.

Jimi Hendrix (Atlanta Pop Festival, 1970)

Bob Dylan

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

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Friday, March 11, 2011

The Great Grammar Conspiracy

One of the things that fascinates me about the internet itself is how much some very poor writers actually write. I'm not talking about the average mediocre blogger such as myself; in fact, I'm not really talking about bloggers at all.

I'm talking about commenters. You know, the kind I mean. The ones who are filled with absolute confidence in shallow, incoherent thoughts that they express at great length using bad grammar and worse spelling.

I think the confidence part is explained easily enough by good old American "self-esteem" combined with the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The spelling and grammar part is more complex. English grammar is complicated, and English spelling is ridiculously inconsistent. Whether it's because of some failing of our schools or some characteristics in themselves, there are people who simply never master some of the formal rules. But I don't have a problem in general with people making grammar and spelling mistakes. (If they're trying to express interesting ideas; unfortunately, there appears to be a strong correlation between bad grammar/spelling and dull ideas.)

What I find interesting about the grammar and spelling of this particular type of commenter, though, is that they don't even seem to know what grammar and spelling are for. Primarily, of course, grammar and spelling are agreed upon rules that smooth communication. By following the rules, we make it easier to understand one another.

Obviously, there are other purposes for grammar and spelling too. They play a role in the aesthetics of language. "Beautiful" language works in part because of its use of grammar, whether it's by following the rules or intentionally bending or even breaking them. And they can serve as markers of class and education. Probably more so in the UK, but definitely in America too, people are sometimes judged and categorized by the way they use language.

But our commenters recognize only that third use, while completely missing the communication and aesthetic aspects of grammar and spelling. To them, grammar and spelling are just tricks that over-educated snobs use to catch out regular people when they can't deal with their common-sense ideas. It's as if they think that grammar and spelling are nothing more than a grand conspiracy perpetrated by elites to make fun of common people.

Of course, the possibility that their ideas are foolish and long-refuted, and that they're not even not even expressing those ideas in an understandable way never even occurs to these commenters. They don't reason well enough to know that they don't reason well, and they don't write well enough to know that their writing is so bad that people struggle to understand it, if anyone bothers to wade through it at all.

Exemplifying the Dunning-Kruger effect, they just go on thinking they're "doing just fine."

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

One sentence movie review: A Hard Day's Night

A Hard Day's Night (1964) 8/10

The boys are charming and funny, and the film's not dated at all.

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My favorite junk mail

In the spirit of xkcd's "mathematically annoying advertising," here's my favorite junk mail:

Qwest keeps sending me these "coupons" for a "Free account review." I'm supposed to call Qwest and ask them to "review" my account. For free.

In other words, Qwest is telling me that they won't charge me any money to call them up and ask them to sell me more stuff.

Gosh, that's really kind of them. I'll get on it right away.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (3/8/2011)

Even a Wealthy Suburb Faces Pressure to Curb School Taxes Millionaires tire of paying teacher salaries.

Guantanamo show trials restarted.

What we have and haven't learned from "Climategate."

All the lonely people, where do they all come from...

The levitating Japanese woman.

Really interesting piece all about that chimp who attacked a woman and his owner.

Faking illness online: Münchausen by internet.

Here's a good way to get your car vandalized...

Three Shatner Moon -- I would totally buy that on a T-shirt.

Who said it, "Sheen, Beck, or Qaddafi?"

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Repost: Cricket explained for Americans

Apparently there are some sort of "important" cricket matches going on, so I thought I'd repost this in case any of my American readers want to know more about the sport and maybe even play it themselves.

How to play cricket, for Americans

Cricket is a sissy foreign sport, but it can be very enjoyable for Americans who love to get drunk on beer after enduring a tedious cross-cultural experience. If you want to have a cricket game (or, "match," as they say in quaint foreign countries) of your own, here's what you need to do.

First, you and your friends will need to dress up all in white.

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A cricket team

The tradition of wearing white began in the 1890s, because cricket players who went to a pub after a "match" were naturally embarrassed about playing something so sissified. White clothing made grass stains show up more clearly, and this enabled cricket players to point to their grass stains and pretend to be rugby players when "down t' pub."

Second, go out and buy an oar. Cricket oars are usually only good for one "match" -- for reasons that will become obvious below -- so cheap ones are fine. I got these at Wal-Mart for $6.50 each. Good deal.

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Cricket oars

Next, you will need to find an umpire. I prefer female umpires, when available. (Hope that's not sexist.)

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A cricket umpire.

When playing sports informally, Americans are used to having the players umpire or referee their own games, but in cricket an outside umpire is essential. This is because the umpire is responsible for bringing the crickets. Four to five thousand crickets will be necessary for a typical cricket "match."

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Some cricket crickets

Any grass field will do as your cricket field. Once the umpire brings the crickets, you're ready to play a "match"!

First, the umpire releases the crickets and allows them to scatter around the field. Then the players take turns using the oar. The player using the oar is called the "oarsman." Each turn lasts one minute.

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A cricket oarsman

The oarsman's objective is to squash as many crickets as possible with his oar before his minute is up. The number of squashed crickets becomes the oarsman's score. A variety of techniques are used to squash the crickets. The oarsman shown below is using the leaping technique favored by advanced players. This is an effective but somewhat risky technique, because inexperienced players might land on a cricket. Stomping on a cricket is a foul and costs the oarsman the remainder of his turn.

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A leaping oarsman

After an oarsman has had his turn, the umpire uses a device called a "wicket" to scrape the squashed crickets off the oar and the ground and then counts them. Over the course of a match, the wicket becomes quite messy. (Hence the expression "a sticky wicket.")

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Various styles of cricket wickets

Only crickets count in the oarsman's score. Any other insects or small animals squashed by the oarsman are discarded by the umpire, who must say, "That's not cricket." (Hence the expression "That's not cricket.") Deliberately squashing other kinds of insects, such as flies, and trying to slip them into one's pile of squashed bugs is called a "fly slip" and is a foul.

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A cricket umpire preparing to penalize a player for a fly slip

When everyone has had a turn to be oarsman, the first "inning" is over. (Cricket borrows some terms from real sports like baseball.) By now, the oar is usually a disgusting mess. But that's all right if you bought a cheap one; just throw it away.

It's now time for the "tea interval." The tea interval is the break between the two innings of a cricket "match." Traditionally, tea and "scones" (a quaint foreign word for "rolls") are served, with the squashed crickets used as a spread on the scones. (I recommend that Americans substitute beer and potato chips. One need not go to extremes in seeking cross-cultural experiences.)

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Buttered "scones" with squashed crickets, a traditional "tea interval" favorite

After the "tea interval," the second and final inning begins. In the second inning, players take turns "bowling." A large round ball is used. The ball weighs up to 16 pounds and has holes in it for the player's thumb and two fingers.

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A cricket ball

Each player gets one turn to be the "bowler." Bowling consists of rolling the ball on the grass. The object is to squash as many crickets as possible with a single roll of the heavy ball. There are two main kinds of bowlers in cricket, "pace bowlers" and "spin bowlers." Pace bowlers pace nervously until it is their turn to bowl, while spin bowlers spin with excitement.

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A pace bowler

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An Australian spin bowler

Once each player has had a turn to be the "bowler," the "match" is over, or "overs" as cricket players inexplicably say. The player with the highest combined score of crickets squashed during his turns as oarsman and bowler is the winner. A score of 100 squashed crickets is called a "century" and is regarded as fine accomplishment in the sport of cricket.

Once the "match" is over, it's finally time to go "down t' pub" and get drunk. This, of course, is the highlight of any sport as tedious as cricket. American players should be sure to reward themselves for enduring the cricket experience by observing this tradition.

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