Thursday, August 31, 2006

Physics Saves the Day

I managed to get a comment posted on Michelle Malkin this morning. My 15 seconds of fame!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Blue States, Dumb States?

So the new SAT scores are out, and, curiously, no mention is made that the red states absolutely smash the blue states. Go here and have a look at the graphic in the pop-up link. Idaho, Wyoming, the Dakotas, even the southern (but not south coastal) states give the blue states a great big headlock and noogie. Texas sucks, but the great blue state of California evens it out. There are some blue states that fare well, like Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, but in an overall state-to-state comparison, we dumb red yokels seem to be a bunch smarter.

On the other hand, this can probably be at least partially attributed to small minority/immigrant populations in the red states ('cept Texas). It would be interesting to know exactly what the difference is. Take that, ya dang blue idiots!

Update: Well, on average red states have a math score of 547.6 and blue states come in at 532.4. The highest math scores in the nation come in from red North Dakota at 617 and the lowest are "achieved" by red Georgia at 496. There are three red states that come in a hair under 500, all of them in the southeast (Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida). North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa are the red states that score over 600, while Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois are the blue states to achieve that mark.

Interesting! Doesn't seem to correlate with minority populations as well as I had assumed at first. I wonder what the differences are. I didn't expect Arkansas and surrounding states to do as well as they do. Arkansas (568), Missouri (591), Louisiana (571), and Alabama (561), which are known, at least by me, as poor southern states, trounce the nitwits in uber-liberal and affluent Massachusetts (524), New Jersey (515), New York (510) and Rhode Island (502).

Update 2: Of course differences between red/blue could be due to just about anything. I don't have a breakdown of the data by county or city so I can't really offer any analysis, except to say Nya Nya. Heck, for all I know, the high scores in the red states could be due to the blue cities that they all inevitably have, and maybe they really are the smarty-pants's they claim to be and maybe the rural yokels in the rest of the state don't take the test, too busy deer hunting you see and so all the red state run-on-scentence types just don't spoil the data. However, it is always fun to take jabs at the blue staters whenever possible, and this was an ample opportunity to poke fun at the little under-achievers. Here's a little plot of the data

Update 3: And just to confirm that I'm not a knee-jerk racist, here's what the racial breakdown of SAT scores looks like. I don't think it has anything to do with race myself, but with culture, which happens to generally fall along racial lines.

Book Meme: Carnaby's List

Here goes:

1) A book that changed my life: The Key to the Sciences of Man by D.G. Garan. Fascinating book. After reading this, all vice became excruciatingly boring.

2) A book I've read more than once: The Founainhead by Ayn Rand.

3) A book I'd take to a desert island: I agree with Stickwick here, The Bible.

4) A book that made me laugh: If we're allowed repeats, then again The Fountainhead. It cracked me up. Otherwise, anything by P.J.

5) A book that made me cry: Uh, I can't think of any. Probably closest was in my youth when I read John Gardner's Grendel.

6) A book I wish had been written: The Adventures of Lionel Smegma.

7) A book that should never have been written: The Sword of Shannara etc. by Terry Brooks. Booooring.

8) A book I'm currently reading: All the Shah's Men by Stephen Kinzer. Fascinating book about the history of Iran and how interventionist foreign policy really screwed things up for us there. Recommended to me by my Iranian labmate.

9) A book I'm planning to read: Some C.S. Lewis. I don't know what it's called, but there's supposed to be a good one about the only guy who ever gets out of Hell, or something like that.

10) My top 5 fiction list, for your reading enjoyment: 1. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand), 2. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas), 3. Shogun (James Clavell), 4. LOTR (J.R.R. Tolkien), 5. The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis).

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Book Meme

Via Kevin at The Smallest Minority, who is far busier than I am, if only for the moment (semester starts again tomorrow -- I have 450 students. Eeek.)

1) A book that changed my life: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. It was a time in my life when lots of things were changing. I had left behind family and friends for the first time ever, living on my own in San Diego, becoming a physicist, and struggling to put some personal pain into perspective. Halfway through the book I realized I believed in God. Dumas also provides the single greatest literary insight into the nature of our existence: "Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss."

2) A book I've read more than once: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, which was also a life-changing read. I've gone through it four times, which ain't all that much, but I only allow myself to read it every five years. I'm due for another quest soon.

3) A book I'd take to a desert island: Something big enough to surf home on. Seriously, though, I'd take the Bible.

4) A book that made me laugh: P.J. O'Rourke's Holidays in Hell. I bought it at an airport bookstore during a layover, and was laughing so hard that I'm sure people thought I was crazy. Also, Letters From a Nut by Ted L. Nancy. Who thinks up stuff like that?

4) A book that made me cry: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It contains the most deeply sad moment I have ever read in fiction. I was also heartbroken at the end of The Lord of the Rings the first time I read it.

6) A book I wish had been written: Mysteries of the universe be damned, I want to know why my husband insists on leaving his dirty socks in the exact same spot every night, under the coffee table. Is there anything less comprehensible to women than their husbands? I would pay anything within reason for something like The Comprehensive Guide to the Male Mind.

[Note to Kevin: There is already a book that explains everything. It's called The Key to the Sciences of Man by D.G. Garan.]

7) A book that should never have been written: The Da Vinci Code, if only so I wouldn't have had to wade through the endless piles of Da Vinci-inspired crap at Barnes & Noble, including The Da Vinci Fitness Code (bleeeaarrgghhh).

8) A book I'm currently reading: At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon. A sweet, light-hearted escape. I'd love to retire in Mitford.

9) A book I'm planning to read: Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I just finished watching the HBO series Rome, and realized I know virtually nothing of ancient history. (I grew up in Canada, so the only world history I learned was that "Arab" is not pronounced "ey-rab".) This book also comes with one helluva recommendation -- Churchill gave it a big thumbs up.

10) Five people I'll send these questions on to: Anyone who's reading this, but three in particular: Carnaby, Rus at Solarvoid, and Fran at Eternity Road.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Food for Thought

The series Rome continues to fascinate me. Two of the main characters, though friends, are proceeding along very different paths in life. It has led me to wonder, which is worse: to betray your principles or to have no principles at all.

That's My Boy!

Turns out $40 can buy a lot of fun (13 meg download). The kid is looking forward to his first rifle, which will probably come sooner than later. Pretty good for a 5 1/2 year old boy.

Terrorist Spam, ARGH!

It's bad enough I get endless emails offering stock tips, ringtones, and herbal Viagra, but now I'm getting spam from "Hezbollah Terrorist." The subject line reads "Rudi OneBBabes BabiesBad BoysBeat." I use the PINE email program on a UNIX system, so I'm impervious to the usual viruses, worms, etc. -- but, seriously, who is dumb enough to open this kind of an email on a vulnerable system? But you just know that someone somewhere out there thinks a real "Hezbollah terrorist" is attempting to contact him, and opens the email...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Fudge Movie Review: Miami Vice

It's a bit late, but now that Carnaby and I have both seen Miami Vice, it's time for our review. Here it is: Zzzzzzzzz.

This is one boring movie. About halfway through I was sorely tempted to walk out as I sensed the minutes, and then hours, of my life drifting into oblivion... My husband wanted to persevere, so we stayed.

Highlights: One sorta interesting female cop. A nifty speedboat.

At the end, we finally get police, drug lords, and assorted riff-raff together for a surprisingly dull and monotonous shoot-out. Possibly the most boring shoot-out in movie history. Realistic, yes, but I would have been more engaged by one of those old-time movie shoot-outs where you hear a *bang* and then some guy clutches his chest and falls to the ground.

As for the acting, having now seen this and the previous Colin Farrell trainwreck, Alexander, I have to wonder how this strategically-shaved monkey still gets movie roles. He was good in Tigerland and Minority Report, but methinks his time has passed. As for the rest of the cast, no one stood out, except maybe that female cop whose name I forget.

I forgot a lot of things about this movie already. Except that it managed to take the one and only good Phil Collins song and remake it into something that's just as boring as the rest of his music.

Bottom-line: if you're having difficulty clearing your mind of all conscious thought or you need entertainment that won't get in the way of a good snooze, see this movie.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Way To Do It

The families of the victims of nut-job white supremacist and idiot Buford O. Furrow Jr. are suing my home state of Washington for failing to keep him properly supervised after being inappropriately set free from jail, Komo4 news reports. See, now this is the way to do it. Find someone actually at fault for problems, and sue the snot out of them. I hope the victims of Kyle Huff do the same to Montana. Maybe that will motivate the people in charge to keep dangerous criminals locked up, and to take guns away from obvious nut-jobs.

But then there's this:
A lawsuit filed by victims against the manufacturers of the guns Furrow used was dismissed last year under legislation passed by Congress to exempt gun makers from liability in firearms-related crimes. The lead plaintiff was Lilian Ileto, the mother of Joseph Ileto, a postal worker Furrow fatally shot shortly after leaving the Jewish center.
See, that's not the way to do it. We (the gun blogs) have said it before, but I'll say it again: that would be like suing the auto makers if Furrow had decided to smash a Ford Excursion through the school's wall and killed those children, instead of shooting them. Not Ford's fault. Not the gun maker's fault either. But wiener parole boards who let violent wackos loose? Sic 'em!

Moore Health Care

A little quote about Moore's upcoming mockumentary:
On his website, Mr. Moore offered a snapshot of what the documentary entails. "Back in February, I asked if people would send me letters describing their experiences with our health-care system, and I received over 19,000 of them," he wrote. "To read about the misery people are put through on a daily basis by our profit-based system was both moving and revolting. We've spent the better part of this year shooting our next movie, 'Sicko.' As we've done with our other films, we don't discuss them while we are making them. If people ask, we tell them 'Sicko' is a comedy about 45 million people with no health care in the richest country on Earth."
He should have asked people in Canada the same thing. Maybe talked to some of those people who suffered on the waiting lists and so forth. Oh wait, somebody already did.

Monday, August 21, 2006


Well, it looks like I'm going to have to give up my morning cup of Joe. I sure enjoy it, but it is apparent that it aggravates my tinnitus. About a year and a half ago the severity of the good ol' ringing in my ears amped up a whole bunch. Since then, it gets worse and better with little rhyme or reason, so it seemed. Now, I'm not a big coffee drinker, I limit myself to a single 16oz. cup per day, and always in the morning, and lately that's been reduced to a cup of half-caff. And since then, I often go days or weeks without the java.

Today was one of those better tinnitus days, and I hadn't had any coffee for the whole weekend, until this morning. And wouldn't you know it, almost as soon as I'd finished the cup, "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee..." How nice. Looks like the Joe is out, on account of some hyper sensitivity to caffein or something. Bummer. A couple times back I suspected as much, since I'd seem to get worse ringing from chocolate and tea too. I think I'll call it confirmed now. Argh!

Friday, August 18, 2006

It Came, We Saw, It Rules!

Hubby and I just discovered the HBO series Rome on DVD, and we're totally hooked. It offers what looks like a realistic depiction of Roman life at the time of Julius Caesar's ascension to power. It's full of blood, gore, sex, and classic lines like the one uttered by debauched soldier Titus Pullo, "I kill my enemies, take their gold, and enjoy their women." Not a million miles away from this classic line (warning: sound), which may or may not have something to do with the fact that the man who wrote it, the legendary John Milius, is a writer/producer on this series.

Rome unfolds on two levels: that of the powerful and privileged ruling/royal class, and that of the common soldier. You get a sense of the discipline, the debauchery, and the brutality of the age. You see Roman life depicted from the female, as well as male, perspective; those who think women had no power prior to the 1960s should take special note of Caesar's niece, Atia.

The series is filled with outstanding British actors, many of whom I recognized from my favorite Jane Austen adaptations. Particularly good are CiarĂ¡n Hinds as Gaius Julius Caesar and Polly Walker as the scheming Atia, whose performance in Rome is all the more electric if you remember her as an exceedingly demure Jane Fairfax in Emma.

I heartily recommended Rome to fans of historical fiction, but it is not recommended for those with a low tolerance for gore and sexuality.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I don't get it

She might be being sarcastic, but ironic? Or is he trying to make the Republican out to be a rube? Either way, kinda dumb.

Sad but True

A must read over at blackfive. On the Virtues of Killing Children"

H/T SmallestMinority

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's Really a Question About Poo

Now that I've had a moment to think about it, the recent poll results from Science on the question of evolution doesn't show much. Since the VAST majority of people in the poll almost certainly have very little understanding of science, all it points out is that Europeans and others are more likely to believe what scientists tell them over what others might. Big deal. Should they blindly believe "scientists" for some reason, when they do not possess the clue? I dunno, maybe yes and maybe no. What difference does it make anyway? The researchers claim that we Americans have a poor grasp of genetics. Is that true? Or do we grasp it just as well as everyone else, but just don't care about the final conclusions? Or is it more like this


"Did we come from apes or were we created on the 6th day by God 'n stuff?"


"Um, well, I don't really know... Apes? Really? I dunno, they kinda look like us, but they're kinda dumb and they eat their own poo. I'm gonna go with the God version, ok?"

More enlightened non-American...

"Yes, well, the notion that God made us in one day is preposterous. All the evidence points to a steady change in living creatures, and since we have been around not very long, we must be the latest in the line of change over time. Darwin and all that. After all, it's the scientific consensus. And to prove I came from a monkey, I'm going to eat my own poo, right now! Omng ymm rmgn ymg."

End result...

So what?

Monday, August 14, 2006

NBC Bunkola: "Ask if there's a gun in the home"

NBC has deep wisdom, and needs to share with us imbiciles. In an ASK (Asking Saves Kids) public-service announcement, some guy comes on and says some stuff about nothing, and then: "Ask if there's a gun in the home." And with that smug, self-righteous, Hollywood "I care" look on his face. Argh! Ask if there's a gun in the home... and then what? No advice there, just ask. Make for an uncomfortable scene between you and your kid's friend's parents.

Stickwick interjecting:

The motive is understandable. This opinion piece from MSNBC puts the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) campaign in the context of a case in which a 13-year-old boy visiting a friend's house is fatally shot in the face by a 9-year-old with easy access to a handgun. No doubt, the parents of the friend are absolutely to blame in this case. But the issue here isn't whether there were guns in the home, but whether they were stored properly and the children were educated about how to handle guns. If the ASK ad encouraged parents to be aware of their friends' parents' attitudes about gun safety, the ad would make more sense.

The author of the piece, Rabbi Marc Gellman, is good enough to mention that gun-confiscation is unconstitutional and doesn't seem to think it's the answer. However, he does a disservice by mentioning an unreferenced and misleading statistic -- that gun violence is responsible for nearly 2,900 deaths amongst children annually ("a 9/11-worth of young people every year"). Some groups put the number as high as 5,000 annually. However, concealed by these numbers is the breakdown by age and the type of activity involved in the deaths. The "children" in gun-violence statistics include adults up to the age of 23, and are cited by anti-gun groups to hype the "epidemic" nature of gun-related deaths amongst children. What these numbers don't tell you is that most deaths for "children" in the 15-24 age group are the result of gang-related activity. Asking if there's a gun in the home won't solve that problem.

How much of an issue is accidental shooting of children? The 2002 statistics from the CDC claim that out of a total of 5,305 accidental deaths of children aged 0-14 years, firearms were involved in 60, just over 1%. Tragic? Without a doubt. Epidemic? No.

Gellman has also failed to do his homework about the folks behind ASK, a group called Pax (the MSNBC article gives the wrong URL). He claims that Pax isn't calling for gun confiscation, and works with both sides of the gun debate. Indeed a cursory glance around the website seems to support that. The co-founder and CEO of Pax, Daniel Gross, has an understandable motive for promoting firearms awareness, as his younger brother was critically wounded in a shooting. But, given the strange details of the incident, in which a 69-year-old Palestinian tourist smuggled a handgun to the top of the Empire State Building and opened fire, it's unclear how the ASK campaign would have been able to prevent it. Pax's neutrality on the confiscation issue isn't completely evident. It has the support of the Bradys, who are not ideologically neutral on the gun-control issue, but what about the NRA (which does quite a bit to promote gun safety) or other pro-gun advocacy groups? KABA refers to Pax as "gun-grabbers," and as an interesting aside, mentions that it more or less burned down Woodstock '99 by giving out 100,000 lit "peace-candles" to drunk/stoned teenagers. (Idea for new NBC safety ad campaign: "Is your activist group using fire?")

Consider the motivation for the founding of Pax. A tragic incident to be sure, but what could have been done to prevent it? New York already had very restrictive gun-control measures in place at the time, and they did nothing to prevent this crime. But, more to the point, it's confusing how attempted murder by an adult is related to accidental shootings of children -- by children -- in homes.

The safety of "The Children" is a classic anti-gun talking point, meant to play on the fears of people who are naive about guns and gun safety. It's disingenuous at best, outright deceitful at worst. Given that more children die each year as a result of car accidents, drownings, fires, accidental falls and poisonings, a public campaign promoting safety in these areas would be more effective in saving the lives of as many children as possible. I support the promotion of safe storage and handling of guns in the home 100%, especially if there are children present, but the NRA already does a lot in this regard. Perhaps a better ad campaign for those concerned about children's safety would encourage parents to ask, "Is there a pool in your backyard?" and demand to know what kind of supervision is provided.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fascism vs. Freedom in Sci-Fi

President Bush's long overdue condemnation of "Islamic fascists" and the ensuing outcry from predictable quarters inspired a little research about the true definition and essential tenets of fascism. Well, no surprise, Bush's characterization is absolutely correct.

Now, imagine my surprise, when in the course of this search, a discussion of the fascist ideology of Star Trek was produced. If this sounds crazy to those of you familiar with the Next Generation series, think back.
  • There is no money in the 23rd century, no commerce except for that of the shifty and amoral Ferengi. Virtually all material needs and wants are satisfied. Utopia.
  • With everything in abundance and commerce a thing of the past, the only commodity is power. The defining quality of the Federation is militarism. The good guys are the ones with centralized power and very long arms across the galaxy.
  • No religion in any earthly form at all. The future contains no Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, etc. Earth is apparently represented by a universal and monolithic value system, with no belief in the supernatural. Belief in God is depicted as rustic and anti-intellectual.
Anti-capitalism, utopianism, militarism, atheism. There's no escaping it, Star Trek has the hallmarks of the fascist ideology.

The essayist goes on to offer up the ill-fated series Firefly as an antidote to the fascism of Star Trek. Consider:
  • Commerce still exists. It is not amoral, but necessary for survival, even in the future. No utopia here.
  • The bad guys are government, the ones with centralized power and long arms. The good guys are the rag-tag independent crew of a tiny ship, often at odds with government forces.
  • There are elements of religion (Christianity) in the series.
You get the idea, but read the whole thing.

Naturally, I'm a fan of Firefly. But even with this realization about the nature of Star Trek, I'll remain a big fan of the series. It has some original ideas, likeable characters, loyalty and commaraderie, and, well, who wouldn't want to think that the day might come when mankind has moved into space, and nobody ever starves or lives in squalor? (It's interesting that the Star Trek writers never delve into how this miracle occurs. As with most Utopists, they have the result in mind, but no clue how to achieve it.) But Star Trek is mostly escapism for me. It portrays an appealing fantasy future, something I dreamed about as a kid, that looks exciting and full of adventure, but with a detached sense of risk and danger -- almost a sense of immortality. (Sure, scores of red-shirted Starfleet security dudes have perished to further the action, but nobody worth knowing ever dies.) Watching Firefly, on the other hand, feels like a dose of reality. Danger and loss abound -- much to my everlasting sorrow, two excellent characters were killed off in the movie, and since neither of their corpses were jettisoned to the Genesis planet, that is, as they say, that.

I think that fascism versus freedom in science fiction can also be characterized as future-fantasy versus future-reality. What we want, that which makes us comfortable and secure, versus what we're actually faced with, which is often difficult and scary. If you're not sure of this assessment, watch Trekkies and consider the typical Star Trek geek. I wonder how many of them are Firefly fans.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Brad Pitt a "Freedom Fighter"?

I saw this at LGF today. I did a double take when I first glanced at it. Kinda looks like the Pitt, no?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Lindsay Lohan Going to Iraq?

Lindsay Lohan wants to entertain troops in Iraq, and has decided that she'll need to prepare by taking shooting lessons with her security guard. She is reportedly tired of her party-girl image and asked to tag along with Hillary Clinton, whose staffers suggested she'd be better off with the USO (they are correct). I'm a tad skeptical about whether the trip will happen, but I like the idea that Lohan wants to entertain the troops -- and that her natural inclination when contemplating a risky venture is to learn how to shoot.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

A Must Read

An op-ed at the NYT no less. What the heck did the guy in the T-shirt say, I wonder???

Hat tip Sound Politics.