Monday, July 30, 2007

Tolerating intolerance

Fantastic article on Slate today that points out the illogic of searching for a "moderate" Islam (and a "moderate" Christianity, for that matter.)

A couple quotes that are spot on:

Why, then, should we be commanded to "respect" those who insist that they alone know something that is both unknowable and unfalsifiable? Something, furthermore, that can turn in an instant into a license for murder and rape?


The enemies of intolerance cannot be tolerant, or neutral, without inviting their own suicide.

Not much to add personally, since Hitchens nails this topic as well as I could hope to. As soon as you abandon logic, as soon as you give yourself over to mystical beliefs that overshadow the importance of life become an immediate danger to yourself and others. And that danger is not something to tolerate - it's something we must actively protect ourselves against, or die.

The Simpsons Experience

I saw the Simpsons Movie on Friday with my family.

It's a solid movie that fans of the show will enjoy. There were several times I laughed out loud - mostly during the first 30 minutes, which is hilarious. There are also a few 'blue' moments - Marge swears and Bart's weiner appears on the big screen - but overall it's just a long Simpsons episode. As Homer says in the beginning of the film, as he's watching the Itchy and Scratchy movie: "I can't believe I paid money to watch something I can see for free on TV."

If I sound a bit disappointed, I'm not. I just want to be cautious when setting expectations. If you think the Simpsons writers have been saving up their best jokes and biggest ideas for 18 years, you're wrong. It's a fast-paced 85 minutes, very enjoyable and funny, but not groundbreaking. kids and I are still singing the "Spider-Pig" song.

Spider Pig, Spider Pig
Does whatever a Spider Pig does
Can he swing from a web?
No he can't, he's a pig.
Look out! Here comes the Spider Pig!


Speaking of genius...the same generic movie idiot who seems to follow me to each movie I attend was again sitting directly behind me. He predictably read every word on the screen and pointed out the punchlines that were obvious to even my five-year-old son. Parents of this idiot, wherever you are; you should be extremely proud of this brain-dead fleshbag that you've inflicted upon my existence. At least his friend tried valiantly to contain the oozing stupidity.

As Marge knits a "Dome Sweet Dome" sign...

Idiot: (chuckling) Dome, instead of Home.
Idiot's Friend: (whispering) Shut up!

When Rainier Wolfcastle sits behind a plaque reading 'President Schwarzenegger'...

Idiot: That's Rainier Wolfcastle.
Idiot's Friend: I know, shut up!

When something hilariously improbable happens...

Idiot: Wow, that was lucky.
Idiot's Friend: Of course, shut up!

When Siamese twins make an appearance...

Idiot: They're conjoined.
Idiot's Friend: Shut up!

And so on, ad nauseum.

Somehow, I still enjoyed the movie.

Friday, July 27, 2007


I'm way too lazy to consider any sort of a second job, but sometimes the job is so much fun, you just can't resist. Why not get paid to do something you love to do anyway?

There aren't too many opportunities to make money doing what I really enjoy - like playing mediocre golf, watching Mythbusters, and reading - but there are 35,000 people across China, some of them farmers, who right now are getting paid $100/month to fire anti-aircraft guns and rocket launchers into the sky.

Sound too good to be true? Hardly! China spends up to $90 million a year on weather modification programs that include cloud seeding. They pass out shells with calcium chloride or silver iodide to the locals, and at a specified time, these lucky individuals load up their government-sponsored anti-aircraft weapons and lauch them toward heaven. I'm not exactly ready to swap my lot with that of an Asian peasant, but firing heavy artillery sounds like a great way to blow off steam after a long day of work.

The US National Academy of Sciences experimented with cloud seeding, and determined that after 30 years of trying, "there is still no convincing proof of the efficacy of intentional weather modification efforts" (source). But why should that stop anyone? Despite concerns that cloud seeding actually works, regardless of problems with silver iodide poisoning and soil contamination, ignoring the property damage and death caused by wayward munitions, the government of China has plowed forward - guaranteeing man-made clear skies for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

I wonder what it's like to live in a country led by delusional leaders, who have no concern for the well-being of their own people, and who waste taxpayers' money on worthless programs?


Monday, July 23, 2007

Strange days

On Friday we did something a bit unusual - we actually made a trip to the book store.

For me, it's nostalgic. The uber-convenience of Amazon has destroyed most practical reasons to travel to a building full of books, and I am nothing if not a slave to convenience. But I've found a few good authors by just wandering through the fiction section and picking up a book because the cover looked interesting. It's also nice to be able to turn to random pages and get a feel for the author's style in different situations. It makes me chuckle to remember the frustration of digging through the shelves to find the third book in a series of eight, behind multiple copies of the seven you don't need.

But anyway, that's not why we went. The kids enjoy the trip, and they get a lot more out of free-range browsing than they do from searching by author on a website. There's also a little play area, where mom and dad can take turns preventing Thomas-the-Tank-Engine-related injuries while the other one browses in relative relaxation.

Little did we realize what we were in for.

It seems like everyone else in the world knew that Friday was the day the Harry Potter book was being released. Technically, it was Saturday at midnight, but by Friday at 7pm the store was packed with children and adults alike, dressed up in wizard's robes and Gryffyndor regalia. Signup for wristbands was going on outside - it had started at 5pm - the wristbands that guaranteed you a place in line when the books were handed out at midnight. At 7pm the activities started - of course you'd need activities to kill the five remaining hours before the book was released - and our kids actually waded through the crowds to take advantage of said activities, even though they'd never heard of Harry Potter before.

It's difficult to withhold a snicker as you pass adults, dressed as wizards, arguing about the significance of the numbers on their wristbands, as they wait 5+ hours to buy a children's book. As my wife quickly reminded me though, I'm hardly in a position to cast stones at fantasy geeks, as I (not too long ago) played Dungeons & Dragons, and even once attended an Everquest convention. But I'm willing to write off those incidents as youthful indiscretions and besides, I never dressed up as a shadowknight. I swear.

Anyway, it all makes me wonder if possibly I'm missing something. I generally dismiss any craze that reaches the mainstream offhand, so I was surprised to see such a strong endorsement of the series from Stephen King. Rowling's storytelling is apparently superb, and although it may not come through in the movies (I've only seen the first one, and it was blandly juvenile), it's good enough to draw raves from one of the best storytellers of our time, and draw freaks to the bookstore in large numbers.

Oh well, you could certainly find worse ways to spend a Friday night. And although I'm not likely to spend a lot of time in public wearing a conical hat with stars and moons on it, maybe someday I'll pick up a Harry Potter book and see what all the fuss is about.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Everything's gonna bee alright

Back in May, it was reported that our food supply is threatened by the death of honeybees. Because honeybees are dying off in huge numbers, the many plants that rely on insect pollination are threatened as well. This includes apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash, cucumbers, citrus fruit, berries, and melons. Alfalfa, used to feed cattle, also relies on pollination. The article warns that we could soon be reduced to a "glorified bread-and-water diet."

I first heard about this on the Howard Stern show, since he has a couple relatives who hawk bee-related products, but that's easy enough to dismiss as marketing propaganda. The Washington Post, though, they've got to be reputable enough to actually check the facts, right?

Then came the theroies - what could be causing the dreadful CCD, or Colony Collapse Disorder? Cell phones were quickly blamed, even though the publishers of the study denied the link between cell phones and CCD. This false relationship was widely published and repeated.

Could this bee another round of fear-based reporting, as we often see in the global warming arena, where the emotional impact of the story overrides the science that supports it?

Turns out, the answer is yes. Between 1987 and 1994, 98% of the wild honeybees in the US died off, and nearly half of all captive honeybees did also. Why? Because of a natural predator - a mite called the varroa destructor. And even though that didn't dent our food supply, we should all be seriously fretting about our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

As usual, the fear-mongers use this platform as an opportunity to flog their favorite dead horses. Anti-industrialists and technophobes rush to the forefront, and are somehow given a forum, as unsubstantiated claims of pollution and cell phone towers are offered as the cause for our impending doom. But ironically, the solutions to our honeybee dilemma are being offerred by those vilified corporations and technology. New lines of bees, like the blue orchard bee, are being bred to provide the cheap labor of pollination. California had a record almond crop last year, not because they demolished cell phone towers, but because the California Almond Board successfully experimented with new pollen-carriers.

Also as usual, the fear-mongers extrapolated a short-term trend and chose to ignore important bits of contradictory history. More captive bees did die this past winter than normal, but that also seems to have been the case in 1897 and again in 1960. And it doesn't even come close to the 98% drop before 1994. As long as you ignore important historical and scientific evidence, you can make a convincing case that the end of the world is fast approaching.

But remember, it's only a temporary reprieve. Even if industry and technology don't kill us by wiping out honeybees, they'll surely kill us all with global warming.