Thursday, February 16, 2012

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (2/16/2012)

The US should attack Iran, because Iran is threatening the US by saying it will fight back if the US attacks it.

All options are on the table regarding Iran, except the option of not going to war.

The Tea Party's war on mass transit.

The mystery of exploding pig poop.

An interesting (and funny) profile of Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto.

You sluts get off my lawn!

Religious apologists aren't actually dumb.

I could see this happening.

Last-minute drunken valentine.

A real War on Christmas.

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (2/12/2012)

Sciencey links in honor of Darwin's birthday edition!

Is your cat (literally) making you crazy?

Flow, and how to get it.

Cancer drug reverses Alzheimer's symptoms in mice.

The facial expression-emotion connection may not be all that simple.

How Adele's "Someone Like You" makes people cry.

The peppered moth story is solid.

A group's intelligence depends in part on its members' ignorance.

Jeremy Lin is not a fluke.

Racial/ethnic shifts in metro areas.

Valentine's Day Prisoner's Dilemma.

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Prop 8 and the To Kill a Mockingbird effect

With the recent court decision upholding the finding that California's anti - gay marriage law, Proposition 8, is unconstitutional, there's been a lot of talk about the weakness of the arguments in Prop 8's favor. This piece by Dahlia Lithwick is pretty typical:
So there you have it: That’s the best case that can be made against gay marriage. An appeals court dissent that rests on the premise that states needn't act rationally, or offer evidence of rationality, or even be rational in creating classifications, so long as someone publishes a study and someone else believes it. That's the best they've got, it seems.

That is not legal argument or empirical evidence. It is the death rattle of a movement that has no legal argument or empirical evidence. Nobody disputes the fact that Americans opposed to gay marriage believe passionately in their ideas and arguments. But that doesn’t necessarily mean those arguments should win in a court. The best thing that could have happened in the Prop 8 case just happened. The dissent has no clothes.
Now, I agree completely that the arguments are weak. As I've said before, it was the realization that there is no rational argument against gay marriage (there is only prejudice) that changed my mind and made me favor marriage equality. So I'm with Lithwick and everyone on that.

But. The dissent has no clothes, but Judge N. Randy Smith, a distinguished judge of long experience, argued that it does. Think about that for a minute. Why would he do that?

As Liz Newcomb points out, "Smith's reasoning seems incredibly weak." And that's the problem. She goes on to say:
The very weakness of his justification worries me. Now, the Supreme Court has done some good civil rights decisions, but they've also done some terrible ones -- Korematsu (Japanese internment, for instance) and Bowers (upholding sodomy statutes). So Smith's dissent illustrates a danger. It just goes to show you that some judges will grasp at straws to justify doing the wrong thing. And in this polarized, ideological climate, that worries me if this goes to the Supremes.
Smith's dissent reminded me of the trial in the book To Kill a Mockingbird, set in 1930s Alabama. As defense lawyer Atticus Finch clearly demonstrates, Tom Robinson, the black defendant, is obviously not guilty of raping Mayella Ewell, the young white woman who accuses him. After the case goes to the jury, Atticus's 12-year-old son, Jem, is discussing it with Reverend Sykes, minister of the local black church:
"...but don't fret, we've won it," he said wisely. "Don't see how any jury could convict on what we heard -- "

"Now don't you be so confident, Mr. Jem, I ain't ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man...." But Jem took exception to Reverend Sykes, and we were subjected to a lengthy review of the evidence with Jem's ideas on the law regarding rape....
Much to Jem's shock, the all-white jury, of course, finds Robinson guilty, not because the evidence rationally points in that direction, but because of the dictates of their prejudice: the word of white people must always be taken over the word of black people.

I call this the "To Kill a Mockingbird effect": the willingness of people to ignore rational evidence and render a verdict based on prejudice.

Because that's exactly what Judge Smith did. He dissented not because the evidence rationally pointed in that direction, but because of the dictates of his prejudice: marriage is a heterosexual institution. (And he probably did so while being completely incapable of understanding that that's what he did.)

The To Kill a Mockingbird effect is why I have to offer the same warning as Reverend Sykes if the case proceeds to the Supreme Court: "Don't you be so confident." It won't matter how weak the case is if the prejudices of five justices dictate another verdict. And I'm afraid they certainly seem likely to in the case of at least four of them.

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Goodbye Whitney

As you've probably heard by now, Whitney Houston has died at age 48. The cause of death hasn't been announced yet, but the best guess is obvious. And even if it turns out that drugs didn't kill her, they'd already ravaged her, robbing her, and all of us, of that wonderful voice.

It's been 20 years now since her peak, and I think a lot of people have forgotten or don't know what Whitney Houston once was, and how influential she's been. She changed the way people sing. Almost every pop and R&B singer today tries to sing like Whitney. Or if not like her, like someone else who tries to sing like her.

She was that good -- that great, I should say. Other than Barbara Streisand, I can't think of another singer in popular music with the same combination of technical virtuosity and pure vocal beauty. And even Streisand couldn't match the kind of pyrotechnics that Whitney could generate with a song like "I Will Always Love You."

And of course she was beautiful as well. Just absolutely gorgeous.

This brilliant performance is how I'll always remember her. Only about 21 or 22 years old, she misses her cue or something and has to rush into the start of the song, but she's completely unfazed, and she has everything: a commanding stage presence, remarkable beauty, a marvelous voice, great technique, and above all, joy -- the pure joy of a young genius, certain in herself and her gift. Fuck drugs.

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Thursday, February 09, 2012

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (2/9/2012)

Repulsive progressive hypocrisy.

Is the white working class "coming apart"?

Thinking about death while being an atheist.

Evolution: only a theory.

Rider and horse save boy from charging grizzly.

Whatever happened to the spitball?

The only Asian-American in the NBA.

In honor of Black History Month. (I suspect somebody at that store's been watching too much Dave Chappelle [video -- language NSFW/C/P].)

I still do this kind of thing pretty much every time my spouse is late coming home.

And it's still not too late to vote on the Brodies! I'd appreciate your vote for "Discussing potato chips with your future son-in-law* - Kuri" in the "Best Religion-and-Parenting Discussion" category. (I'm nominated in three other categories too, but I don't want to be greedy.) Anyway, there's tons of other good stuff to read there too. You should check it out if you haven't yet.

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Monday, February 06, 2012

Why books are better than Kindles

Because you never find random foreign money in used Kindle editions of The Canterbury Tales.

One cruzeiro: not legal tender, even in Brazil

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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (2/5/2012)

US drone attacks target rescuers and mourners.

One town's war on gay teens.

Atheism in America: Godlessness is the last big taboo in the US, where non-believers face discrimination and isolation.

Native American 7th-grader suspended for speaking Menominee in front of teacher.

Komen's flailing continues.

The cost of football glory.

The world's heaviest insect is 3,500 times as massive as the world's smallest invertebrate.

And I just bought a house with a wood-burning fireplace, dang it.

Vermont inmates sneak a picture of a pig into official decals for state police cars.

Read the mouse-over text for the punchline.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Good Reads/Random Cool Sites (2/2/2012)

The Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure (the pink ribbon breast cancer foundation) has decided to put abortion politics ahead of women's health.

Damage control is underway, but it's pretty clear that the Komen Foundation has committed itself to being an anti-choice breast cancer foundation rather than a breast cancer foundation.

The Obama Administration brags about its assassination program while claiming in court cases that it's so secret it can't even confirm its existence.

Twenty-five percent of Romney's campaign money has come from 41 donors.

Tyler Clementi's suicide and Dharun Ravi's trial.

Scientists are drilling through two miles of Antarctic ice to reach one of the largest lakes in the world. (What could possibly go wrong?)

This is hilarious, but on the other hand, half the country is starving because of that fat fuck.

When is White History Month?

"[Defendant] also owed plaintiff ... a duty of care not to drink under age, or to fire bottle rockets out of his anus."

So it begins. The greatest battle of our time.

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Shameless self-promotion (Vote for me!)

It's time for the Brodies again. The Brodies, if you don't know, are internet awards for the (mainly) ex/post/former/recovering/New Order/struggling/etc Mormon side of teh interwebs.

I'm nominated in four categories (look for 'kuri'):
I hope you'll vote for me, but even if you don't, click over and take a look. Tons of great posts and blogs have been nominated, and you don't even have to be Mormony to appreciate most of them.

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