Archive for March, 2006

What geeks do in their spare time

Friday, March 31st, 2006

This is pretty neat. They’re selling it over at ThinkGeek:

SkyTag laser

I’m just a little puzzled, as I thought it wasn’t legal to sell these before tomorrow.

Update 3 April 2006: I don’t normally pass along the April Fools’ jokes, but this one struck me as funny because I got a “hey look at this” IM from a friend who thought it was real. 😉

Iraq Statistics

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Jeff Harrell has an outstanding piece about various goings on in Iraq. In it is an interesting statistic:

[H]alf of the Iraqi population today is under eighteen; 40 percent of the population is under 15.

If our goal in Iraq is to create a stable democracy in the Middle East — one with a genuine hope for the future — then there’s an opportunity here.

What are we going to do with it?

Discriminating minds

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Random Nuclear Strikes has some musings on the word “racist”, in which he says:

I see racism as a simple idea: Any act that discounts one race over another, whether malicious or not.

If the word racism is broken down to its roots we get the following: Race-noun: 1= a family, tribe, people or nation of same stock. Ism-noun (suffix): 1 = act; practice; process. 2: a manner of action or behavior characteristic of a person or thing. 3 = doctrine; theory; cult. 4 = adherence to a set of principles. 5 = prejudice or discrimination on the basis of an attribute.

The word Racist breaks down the same way only that instead of focusing on the abstract, the suffix Ist focuses on the individual.

So the textbook definition of the words Racism and Racist would seem to be on my side.

However, Websterâ??s defines Racism as a noun meaning: a belief that some races are by nature superior to others. And Racist as: discrimination based on such a belief.

Clearly, the english language isnâ??t on the side of Websterâ??s, who has prefered to use only the more popular definition, a pejorative, rather than the one which uses the actual rules of language to define it.

Isnâ??t a white male who prefers to only have relations with asian women a racist, just as is a black male who prefers to only have relations with white women? No one is being harmed by these selections (unless one of the males in question is actually serial killer), but the decisions are based on racial preferences.

Unfortunately, due to the popularization of the pejorative use of racist, only white males who object to interracial dating are considered racists (oddly enough, black males who donâ??t like white men dating black women get a pass on their prejudice, but that is another story Iâ??ll save for another day).

In college I remember walking into a room in my dorm, and the two occupants (who, as it happens, were black) were arguing over the relative attributes of the women whose posters adorned their respective sides of the room. The women in question were Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson. As I had walked in at a critical point in the heated discussion, they both turned to me and demanded to know which I though was the better looking.

I regarded the one poster, then the other, and after a moment’s consideration, responded “Michelle Pfeiffer”.

“You racist!” one of them said. The other just started laughing and nodding.

“Racist what???” I said. “Paula Abdul’s white!”

“No she not! She’s hispanic!”

“Whatever. Looks white to me. I still say Michelle Pfeiffer.” And I walked out. That’s probably the only time in my life I’ve been called racist.

Enough storytime. While this blogger’s definition is linguisitically correct, the meanings of words can change over time, (else we would all be talking like Chaucer*). For the most part, the definition of a word is best defined as whatever the sigificant majority of society believes it to be, as words are actually just “codes” representing ideas and objects in the real world, and are meaningless if people don’t agree on what they mean.

It would probably be accurate for the dictionaries to add his definition at the bottom and list it as “archaic” or “obsolete”, as, while linguistically and historically accurate, it is no longer used as such in the common parlance.

The exception to this rule, in my mind, is when words (usually deliberately) are blurred in such a way that “all words mean the same thing”. This is generally a technique used in various forms of moral relativism — deliberate distortion of the distinctions between words in order to suggest that two dissimilar things are in fact exactly the same.

…but I don’t think that’s really the case here, per se.

On the other hand, I often make a very similar argument regarding the word discriminate. The mere act of looking at a person and saying, “that’s a man”, or “that person is black”, or for that matter “that’s not a chair, it’s a stool”, is discrimination — as discrimination is simply the act of making distinctions.

Notably, in the story I told about the posters, I was the only one not discriminating racially.

* Actually, we would all be talking like cavemen — in unarticulated grunts and gestures.

We Three

Tuesday, March 28th, 2006

I made these a while back, then promptly forgot about them. Without further ado….

This is my friend B:

This is Ed:

And last but not least, Your Truly:

(via South Park Studio, with a little help from Photoshop)

Update: My wife couldn’t figure out what the tee-shirt says. (“Jungle Paste???”) Does anybody else have a guess?

If you don’t already…

Monday, March 27th, 2006

…you should be checking out podcasts.

I ran across this musical gem the other day, and thought I would share. Go to the Acappella U podcast site and download Episode 10.

The whole thing is quite good, but I would especially like to draw your attention to the last track — if you’re anywhere between the ages of 25 and 35 this will be awfully familiar. 🙂

If you get the MP3 version instead of the “chaptered” AAC file, skip ahead to 49:00.

Fiscally Conservative?

Friday, March 24th, 2006

Intriguing:

[W]hen Ronald Reagan left office in 1988 he was dunning us 18.1% of GDP to pay for a federal government that spent 21.2% of GDP. In 2004, the last year for which I could find numbers, George W. Bush had lowered our tax burden to 16.3% of GDP– a level last reached in 1959–to pay for a government that spent 19.8 of GDP.

There doesn’t seem to be any coherent reason why a president’s conservatism should be judged by how much he spends, but if you’re using that as your yardstick then Mr. Reagan was the most liberal president since FDR during WWII and George W. Bush and Bill Clinton are the most conservative since Nixon.

Source: BrothersJudd Blog

Is it too soon to say “So there goes that theory”?

via: Cam Edwards

Quick thanks…

Sunday, March 19th, 2006

Just a quick tip of the hat to Mark Cunningham for his excellent Search and Replace plugin for WordPress. I just did some structural reorganization of the blog directories, and this little gem saved me a whole heck of a lot of time and effort. Quick and easy; worked like a charm.

Joke of the Day

Saturday, March 18th, 2006

Just to prove that conservatives can laugh at themselves, I present a random joke I ran across at Blue Flypaper:

Donald Rumsfeld is giving the president his daily briefing. He concludes by saying: “Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed.”

“OH NO!” the president exclaims,”that’s terrible!”

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the president sits, head in hands.

Finally, the president looks up and asks, “How many is a brazillion?”

That is all.

Immigration Rally

Thursday, March 16th, 2006

I work in the Chicago Loop, and was out and about for a while during the massive immigration rally on Friday.

I know these people have their arguments, but I found some of the arguments absurd on their surface. You would be amazed how many people I saw waving large signs that read: “LEGALIZE IMMIGRATION”.

Umm… hey morons… immigration is legal, but it involves a little more than simply walking across the border. Illegal immigration is illegal. Imagine that.

(I also saw a few tee-shirts denigrating the Minuteman Project, because, you know, citizens upholding the law are by definition racist and violent, right?)

Regarding Blagovich’s proclamation that “Ustedes no son criminales. Ustedes son trabajadores” (trans: “You are not criminals. You are workers”): If they’re breaking the law, that is a criminal act by definition. (Correction: see note at bottom) Assuming that any person who comes into the country is a “worker” is absurd as well, as many of them come here for the free social services, or to give birth (and thus have a child who is an American citizen), or for many reasons other than honest work. And yes, many of them are genuinely here to work; but those who enter the country illegally are making criminals of themselves by doing so, as well as interfering with the efforts of those who are trying to immigrate legitimately.

[Update: Gahrie has another example]

[CORRECTION 30 March 2006: I claimed that any illegal act is by definition criminal. This is false, as some illegal acts carry only civil, as opposed to criminal, penalties. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure that entering the country illegally is a criminal act.]

Say it Brother! (or not)

Monday, March 13th, 2006

I remember attending a political debate on campus back when I was in college. College Democrats vs. College Republicans — I can’t remember the specific topic, but I recall that the republican team pretty much dominated the contest. There were two people on each team — the conservatives had two very sharp debaters, while the liberal side was split — one of them was quite intelligent, while the other just seemed to be parroting prepared “talking points” without seeming to fully understand the topic in depth.

In argumentative terms, it was a solid win for the Republicans, but at the very end of Republican closing statements, the second debater made what I saw as a bad mistake — he veered off the logical argument and stepped firmly into religious territory, essentially arguing that the conservative side was God’s will and was thus the right side of the argument. (The topic of debate had nothing directly to do with religion.) This wasn’t an error in purely logical terms, as he had made a lot of solidly reasoned arguments up to that point, and in the religious detour did not say anything to undermine those arguments. It was a mistake, I think, because it was the final impression given for the whole debate, and gave anyone listening who might have been predisposed to want to believe the liberal side an easy out to discard the entire argument as religiously based. Faith-based arguments are just fine and dandy if you know that your audience shares your strong religious convictions, but when speaking to a general audience and trying to convince people using facts, figures, and reason, capping it off with “I’m right because God says so” gives the impression of undermining the logic of the rest of your argument to any person who does not share your religious convictions. It is a reality that the average person relies far more on overall impressions than hard, cold logic, and politicos and pundits ignore this at their peril.

I approached the debater at the end of the presentation and tried to discuss this with him to some extent, and he was completely uncomprehending of my point — in the end I was not able to make him grasp what I was trying to say.

Today I read a column by Mike Adams, in which he opens talking about a letter he got from an atheist reader, and then goes into an extended discussion of the life and death of his grandmother, and the way she lived her life. He wraps up his discussion with the following advice:

…I often urge people who have fallen into the habit of self-pity to try a little experiment. Variations could be adopted by my conservative atheist and agnostic readers. But, for most, I suggest they begin with a change in the way they pray.

Rather than praying to God the same way you talk to your store-bound spouse â?? merely listing the things you want Him to get you â?? you should confine yourself to enumerating the blessings you already have. …If you follow my advice, your only problem will be choosing between the many blessings you have but rarely even think about.

At the end he suddenly becomes extremely dismissive of atheists and agnostics, saying:

Of course, my conservative atheist and agnostic detractors might not like my prayer advice. Perhaps, someone needs to market a calendar that lists every day as Thanksgiving just for them.

In this essay, Adams demonstrates a profound failing that I think is rather common among highly religious people — a fundamental inability to comprehend the beliefs of atheists. For some theists, the belief in God is such an a priori assumption that to even contemplate the possibility that He doesn’t exist is tantamount to arguing that the Earth is flat and rests on the back of a giant turtle. Thusly, atheists are by definition incomprehensible and no attempt to see their perspective need be made.

In this particular case, he’s basically advising people to “count your blessings”, and assuming that those wacko atheists couldn’t possibly comprehend such an idea because he has (rather unnecessarily) coached it in a religious context. Adams is making the precise opposite mistake as the debater I saw in college — he is making a weak argument based on religious conviction and attempting (and failing) to coach it in terms of logic.

To be clear: I’m not one of those who automatically disparages religious faith — in fact I have a lot of respect for it; but faith is not the same thing as reason, and I tend to have issues with people who muddy that distinction.

Note: Steven Den Beste has an excellent essay on atheism in his archives. Actually, this is the best treatise on the nature of atheism I’ve ever read, and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. I, like he, am what he terms a “mechanist” atheist.

Update 16 March 2006: minor textual changes for clarity, and added the note at the end.
17 March 2006: Added the brief final paragraph.