Archive for February, 2007

Hard Hitting Reporting

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Quoth the Wall Street Journal:

Andrew Concors, a physical therapist[…] has had a couple patients in the past who have ruptured their balls at home while sitting on them[…]. Still, some workers say sitting on a ball makes them feel younger. “It kind of reminded me of when I was a kid,” says [Pat] Harder.

Shall I quote more or did you get the general thrust?

In comparison, this story from The Onion sounds downright serious:

According to [child-safety expert Kenneth] McMillan, children can suffer broken bones, head trauma, and even fatal injuries from unsupervised exposure to childlike awe. “If your children are allowed to unlock their imaginations, anything from a backyard swing set to a child’s own bedroom can be transformed into a dangerous undersea castle or dragon’s lair,” McMillan said. “But by encouraging your kids to think linearly and literally, and constantly reminding them they can never be anything but human children with no extraordinary characteristics, you can better ensure that they will lead prolonged lives.”

That is all.

What’d I say???

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Joshua has a post up on local complaints (his local — Seattle) over a prominent downtown sign for a store that sells high-end doggie items. The name of the store is “High Maintenance Bitch”, and they of course have a large sign out front that prominently stresses the third word of that appellation.

Joshua writes:

“[T]he ‘most progressive liberal person in the world’ is complaining because she’s offended by the word ‘bitch.’ Not for any reason, mind you. The store sells accessories for dogs. Female dogs are bitches. There’s nothing pejorative or inappropriate about the word in this context.”

There was a story a while back about some town in Texas that had a law saying that you couldn’t have food on your signs. (It might have been “illuminated” food signs — basically they were trying to keep the street looking classy and didn’t want Burger King putting up a giant neon hamburger.) This was all well and good until Apple Computer put in their store and of course… the town told them they couldn’t display their logo outside the store because an Apple is food. The argument was complete nonsense in light of the intent of the law.

That is a case where I think Joshua’s argument would hold more merit. Apple’s logo originally (as far as I can tell) was meant to invoke learning, as in “an apple for teacher”. They’ve clearly never had anything to do with food, and the rather understated company logo seems pretty far afield from what the law was intended to block.

In this case, he is technically correct — the store sells stuff for dogs, and a “bitch” is a female dog… BUT clearly this store name is meant to deliberately invoke the meaning of the word in its offensive sense. They didn’t just coincidentally come up with the term “high maintenance bitch” — they’re making a pun off of an offensive slang use of the word, as a deliberately edgy joke; the “I just don’t understand why people are offended” argument is highly disingenuous.

It would be like… I dunno… somebody who sells the machines that pluck chickens putting up a big sign on main street that reads “Cocksuckers”. (Okay, not the greatest analogy, unless the things use vacuum to pluck the birds….) I can see how people would be bothered by this regardless of the literal meaning. Maybe a hardware store touting its low-cost hand tools for smoothing cement could advertise its “Cheap Crack Hoes” in bold letters. (Heh. This could be fun — put further suggestions in comments!)

I’m not a big fan of offensive language — not in the sense of “make it illegal”, certainly; I just mean that I (mostly) don’t use it, and don’t like it when others do. The word “sucks” in particular bugs the… um… heck out of me because it’s an extremely crass term that has somehow been mainstreamed. We’re talking about a fellatio reference… how is it any less offensive than the so-called “f-bomb”? Yet somehow it has made its way onto prime time television and the popular everyday lexicon.

I bring that word up in particular because, coincidentally, I just finished reading a novel entitled “You Suck“. What? No no it’s about vampires, see. I can’t imagine how you could have possibly thought about the word “sucks” in it’s foul language sense. Geez, get your head out of the gutter; what’s wrong with you people?

Yeah. Doesn’t sound very sincere, does it? Yet Joshua just can’t imagine why any reasonable person would be offended by a store called “High Maintenance Bitch” because, well it’s a store for dogs, see….

That being said, I will give him points for an excellent title to his post….

Update: Joshua has taken down his entire blog for personal reasons. That’s unfortunate, because he’s a good writer and frequently had worthwhile posts. For the record, his post to which I refer in this article was titled “For Fuck’s Sake”.

Presumption

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

I discovered this post just recently, though it dates back almost two years — it’s new to me. I thought it was worth linking and giving it a bit more sunlight, since it wonderfully responds to something that has always bothered me within the whole Gay Marriage debate. Actually, it responds to a lot of different arguments you hear in politics.

From the blog of Jane Galt:

Social conservatives [argue] that institutions have a number of complex ways in which they fulfill their roles, and one of the very important ways in which the institution of marriage perpetuates itself is by creating a romantic vision of oneself in marriage that is intrinsically tied into expressing one’s masculinity or femininity in relation to a person of the opposite sex; stepping into an explicitly gendered role. This may not be true of every single marriage, and indeed undoubtedly it is untrue in some cases. But it is true of the culture-wide institution. By changing the explicitly gendered nature of marriage we might be accidentally cutting away something that turns out to be a crucial underpinning.

To which, again, the other side replies “That’s ridiculous! I would never change my willingness to get married based on whether or not gay people were getting married!”

[…]

My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes. The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can’t imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining. If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that’s either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I’m a little leery of letting you muck around with it.

Jane Galt

I myself have made the (conservative) argument she cites, and her post is an excellent examination of the question at hand. She does not ultimately take a side in the debate, but examines the questions and responses on both sides, in the best tradition of that intellectual integrity that I seek in all my political and philosophical reading.

Read the whole thing. Highly worthwhile.

Jeff knows his readers…

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Jeff knows his readers… apparently a lot better than he thinks he does….

Go read this post of his from about two weeks ago. It’s titled “A Post With Two Subjects”, but you only need to read the first part, about a woman in the grocery store.

Then scroll down and read the comments, and realize that Jeff Harrell is no longer allowed to claim he has a small readership.

Here’s the link.

Dealing with the Devil

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Sunday night we went to see Ghost Rider, the comic book movie starring Oscar-Award-Winning actor Nicholas “I-Named-My-Kid-After-Superman” Cage. This isn’t going to be a review, though I did enjoy the movie, and thought they did pretty well considering how cheesy superhero movies can get. Combining that with a “deal with the devil” movie, and the awfulness potential was quite high on this one. Rather, I’m going to discuss one of the pivotal concepts behind the plot: personal responsibility and the making of bargains.

The character, if you’re not familiar, is a guy by the name of Johnny Blaze who sells his soul to the devil, and as a result becomes a “Spirit of Vengeance”. In the movie, his father has cancer, and the devil offers to cure that cancer in exchange for Johnny’s soul. Here’s where I have an issue, and I see this frequently in Faustian-bargain plots: Johnny never actually agrees to the deal. He’s fixing his motorcycle when some stranger walks in claiming he can cure the father’s cancer in exchange for Johnny’s soul. Johnny doesn’t really seem to believe the guy (would you?), but the guy hands him a scroll of paper and says. “All you have to do is sign”. Johnny unrolls the scroll, and as he does, unwittingly jabs his finger on some part of the spindle. Before he even has a chance to look at the thing, a drop of his blood falls on the bottom of the sheet and the devil takes it out of his hand saying, “That will do it.” Young Johnny then spends the next couple decades turning into Nick Cage and mourning his “mistake”.

The Faust stories were always to me about people making the choice — that something they wanted was worth selling their soul for. Even if they thought worse of it later, (and with the possible exception of Bart Simpson, they always did), they were willing at the time the make the deal. The thing is… Johnny never actually makes the deal.

I’ve seen this flaw in less obvious forms in other stories and movies, but I would take it a bit further than that even. Often in these stories the character basically says “Sure, whatever” to the deal, but thinks it’s all a joke, and that counts. I don’t see how this could be legitimate under (presumably) the eyes of God. A contract is a willful act, not an accident of circumstance.

Let me give a real-world example: For years I went to Gen Con, an annual gaming and science fiction convention. It’s a lot of fun, and the thing is huge, filling a massive convention hall with games, exhibits, vendors and displays, artwork, and 30,000 or more attendees. Just about every year I’ve gone, they’ve had this charity thing called the “Jail & Bail”. The Jail & Bail is a booth usually set up somewhere in the main hallway outside the exhibit hall, and manned by people dressed up as Klingons from Star Trek. There’s a big wooden cage next to the booth, and for about five dollars they will go and “arrest” a person you specified and bring them back to the cage, where he can either buy his freedom by paying “bail money” (a second donation, probably another fiver) or do some sort of silly game or task to earn his freedom and entertain passersby by making a general fool of himself (role playing gamers are generally cool with this concept…). At no time do the “Klingons” break character (at least that I’ve seen, though I’ve never been “arrested”). They scowl and growl, and generally sort of ham it up as bad-ass alien warriors, but the terminology of the transaction is as described — “arrests” and “bail” and the like. This of course works just fine because… Duh… Klingons aren’t real and it’s all a joke.

…right?

Now imagine that you walk up to the booth and pay your five bucks, and sick them on your buddy who’s in the exhibit hall. You chuckle as you follow them into the hall, and go up to your friend. Then your jaw hits the floor as two of the Klingons beat him over the back of the head, take him by the arms and teleport out right in front of your eyes, and the remaining one informs you that the prisoner has been transported to a prison ship in orbit.

Stupid, right? Never gonna happen, so it’s a pointless example, right? Well, yeah, any reasonable person would think so right up until the point when three people vanish right in front of them in a dazzle of static. So, given the fact that you obviously wouldn’t believe in a million years that it was real… would you really be responsible for making a decision you didn’t make?

The Ghost Rider bargain is worse than some others, but I’ve seen similar thing a lot in movies and stories. I’ve never thought the deal was legitimate unless the the person first genuinely believes that this guy is The Devil. In fact, the only example I can think of where the deal-ee truly knows what’s he’s doing is the excellent short story “The Bottle Imp” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I can see why — coming up with a believable circumstance in which a person would knowingly sell his everlasting soul is difficult; because even granted the world in exchange, it would be a damned fool thing to do.

Yes, well…

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

a cartoon: two dogs talking with the caption: 'I had my own blog for a while, but I decided to go back to just pointless, incessant barking.'

via

Gotta have Hope

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

A nice catch by Gahrie:

(more…)

Complete Climactic Stability

Monday, February 12th, 2007

You may or may not have noticed recently that as politicians and environmentalists talk about Global Warming, they are more often using a much more… fuzzy… term — “Climate Change”. This comes about in part I think to the growing number of scientists who have come forward prominently arguing that the Global Warming theory is unproven at best, and certainly not evidenced to the extent that we should be making major societal changes in response. It’s also reminiscent of the fact that thirty years ago the same environmentalists were jumping up and down and waving their hands about “Global Cooling” that was going to kill us all. Throw in the arguments that amount to saying any season that is not “average” (that is, warmer or cooler than average) is evidence of global warming, and you’ve got yourself a theory that is radically dubious in the face of any kind of scientific method.

So they’ve now quietly moved the goalposts by changing the language — we now must be on the watch for Climate Change, and turn our society and culture upside down in a mad scramble to avoid change at all costs. (Note also a common tactic of the left — if people stop supporting something, just change the word you use for it and keep going. See “quotas” vs. “discrimination”, gun “regulation” vs. gun “control”, “choice” vs. “abortion”, or “progressive” vs. “liberal”.)

On and off over the past 15 or so years I have been part of an Internet email discussion list for “fans of vampire lore and fiction”. (I tend to be more on the “actual lore” end of the spectrum, though I definitely enjoy certain novels in the genre.) Among any long-term large group of people you’re going to develop a certain number of in-jokes and references that have too be explained to the n00bs.

One of these in-jokes on the “Vampyres” list is to refer to a person as “metabolically stable”. The human metabolism changes all the time — it slows down when you sleep, for example, or speeds up when you run. The only time your metabolism is going to stop changing is after you die. Thus, the term “metabolically stable”, by definition, means… Dead. Change is a part of life. Any life.

Climate changes. Change is a relentless and inevitable reality of existence. The universe changes; the galaxy changes; the Sun changes; our little planet changes, and we change. Generally speaking, changes in the smaller among that particular chain don’t affect the larger. Our planet could explode and the Sun wouldn’t much care, and our galaxy wouldn’t even notice. Humanity could all die off tomorrow, shutting down all industry in the process, and the planet would just keep on spinning. We could double in population with similar result. Prevent “Climate Change”. The very terminology in which leftists have coached the discussion has become an insult to the intelligence.

To suggest that we could radically, and unintentionally, change the global environment sounds to me like the height of human hubris. If we were to deliberately try, we could probably bring about long term (but not permanent) climactic change, such as by setting off all of our nukes at once and causing a nuclear winter. We know, absolutely, from history that the global climate has changed many times. There have been ice ages. There have been warm periods — just look at the agricultural villages buried under the ice of Greenland (and how did that icy landmass ever come to be called “Green Land” in the first place??? hmm…). These have had nothing whatsoever to do with the intelligent inhabitants of the planet, and everything to do with the simple universal law: change is inevitable.

If the Earth’s climate ever stops changing, it will be because the planet has died. The Sun will have burned out, and the part of the gaseous atmosphere remaining will have frozen to the surface as ice (sometime around the time that the same thing happens to pretty much the entire rest of the universe). Then the planet will have finally achieved the ecological Holy Grail sought unwittingly by Al Gore and his ilk: complete climactic stability.