Sunday, November 29, 2009

He's just slow

An Oregonian columnist wrote yesterday that we should stop using "retarded" as a slur. She's right - hurtful insulting language is mean.

But I can't help but reflect on how many insults began as the kindest possible language. Retarded does simply mean slow. (Still does in Italian.) Now we use "developmentally delayed", because kids heard "retarded" and started using it with malice in their hearts.

The same is true of words like moron and idiot - once technical terms intended to be used with the greatest compassion, now raw insults with the power to burn. And very liberal, tolerant people used to use the word "Negro" out of the deepest respect. A word that in its roots really does just mean the same as the one in common use today - Black.

It's the way of things - we see our words are causing harm, and we find new words to try to fix the problem. And in a generation, the new words will have stopped working, and we have to try again. It's work we must do, but it doesn't mean we'll ever be done.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Religion and science, can't we all get along?

There's a superb article by Bruce Sheiman about science and religion in this month's UU magazine.

He excellently makes a case for how religion and science are worth having around. He does argue that science has a moral dimension, overlooking the many immoral uses of science in the world. But then, religion has been used immorally many times as well over the centuries.

It does make me wonder what the combatants in the "culture war" expect the final outcome to be. How can a creationist seriously expect the world to ignore evolution? I suppose they sincerely believe that evolution is a lie, but it's delusional to imagine that all the evidence and discoveries are going to ever go away.
I think the angry athiests who want religion to go away are slightly more connected to reality - religion is on the decline in many European countries, and science has undercut some religious explanations of the world in the last 500 years.

But the religious impulse - to find meaning in our lives and to spend time in communities that honor that meaning - that impulse is part of being a healthy human. That will never cease as long as there are humans.

The only way to end the war is with peace, not with more war. Unfortunately, peace is harder work, so this "war" isn't likely to end any time soon.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Batman: The Musical!

This is hilarious. And a real Warner Brothers Batman product. And it features Neil Patrick Harris. This is worth ignoring our crumbling democracy for. Thanks, pop culture!

Thursday, November 26, 2009


I've been "enjoying" Regretsy for a while now, although some of the disasters on Etsy are horrifying.

But I think the wreath of clown heads is my "favorite".

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Credit reporting gets serious

With all the news about credit card companies, it's of note that the credit rating agencies are engaged in struggles as well. Struggles with their enemies, to try to get more money from you. The Federal Trade Commission is not pleased with Experian, one of the big 3 credit agencies. Because after a federal law passed guaranteeing us all free access to our credit reports, Experian set up a website with a very similar sounding name, to sell us copies of our credit reports. (Not surprised the government didn't choose the best name. Although maybe it was already taken.)

But of course, on the internet, imitation is the sincerest form of spammery. Lots of people set up similar scam websites. But Experian couldn't have that, so they sued. And won. And every misspelling of their website now belongs to them.

There's big money in telling us whether we can borrow big money.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


In the spirit of Progress Quest, there is now also a text-based Pac Man.

I played Pac-Text for way too long before getting bored. I got a score of 1850. Dang. I need a life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Republican Party more rigid, more negative

I know it's hard to imagine, but the Republican National Committee is working hard to make their party even less ideologically diverse than it is now. They've drafted a resolution to exclude dissenting candidates. If you don't agree with them on at least 8 of their 10 items, you won't get RNC support. (Which you only care about if you're a Republican, but does make all their candidates carbon copy talking-point machines like Ms. Palin.)

What I find most interesting is how most of the items on the list are negative. We oppose this, we oppose that. They don't stand FOR anything, just against. They have some ideals and values that have some potential merit at least worth arguing, but all they want to do about their ideas is nothing. That's weak.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Suck it, bing!

Microsoft's new search engine censors anything in Chinese. Anywhere in the world, if you search in Chinese, you get what China wants you to see.

Granted, Google is complicit in Chinese censorship, and Yahoo has been extremely cooperative. But only within the country of China itself. To go global is ethically lapsed. Or just lazy. I suspect both.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bomb-proof wallpaper

I never really saw the benefits of wallpaper. It's a huge pain in the ass to install, it's an even larger pain to remove. And you could just paint. And then when you change your mind about what you want, you can paint over with new paint.

But then I saw bomb-proof wallpaper. That's cool. In a hurricane or tornado or war, it could protect you from debris. That's awesome.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Health Care Reform

I'm not terribly surprised to learn that the right wing lies about healthcare are exactly the same arguments that were made against Medicare and Social Security.

And everyone wants to protect those. Except for the pesky fact that they cost money, which means taxation of some form.

But I was truly surprised by a chart showing healthcare survey results. Although I shouldn't have been. Who wants healthcare reform the most? The young and the poor, people who don't have insurance now who would benefit the most. The elderly poor are more ambivalent, because they already have Medicare and the uninsured young can suck it.

Who is most opposed to reform? The old and wealthy, who not only have Medicare, but could buy insurance if they had to. They (accurately, I suspect) probably fear that they're the ones who will have to pay most of the bill for expanded insurance subsidies.

There's some regional differences. New York is more pro-reform. Red states are more anti-reform. But the generational and economic divide is stark.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Amazon review comedy

There are many products on where the reviews are hilarious.

It does seem unlikely that these people bought these products. But their writing is awesome.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Patchwork sewing machine

Most of the stuff on There I Fixed It is hilariously badly built.

But the barette sewing machine patch I saw today impresses me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Teachers selling out - or in?

The New York Times has an article about teachers selling lesson plans online and making some extra money doing it. One of the people they quote is shocked - SHOCKED! - that the great and noble art of education would be sullied by such dirty, dirty commerce.

I'm not nearly as offended. Teachers spend a lot of time at home, on evenings and weekends, coming up with lesson plans. They spend their own money taking continuing education classes and buying supplies. If new teachers are willing to pay for lesson plans instead of making their own, that seems a fine way to transfer generational wisdom to me.

If teachers are posting lesson plans during their contractual hours at school, or posting lesson plans they developed during their copious amounts of planning time on the clock, then that's not cool. But I doubt that's much of a problem.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Suck it, record companies

Turns out that a bunch of record companies song licenses are about to expire. While Congress has extended copyright to 1000 years (plus life of the author), the massive copyright extension of 1978 said that licenses would reboot in 2013.

This means that bands will be able to break free from their record contracts, and regain control over the rights to their music. The Eagles will be able to sell their own songs and take all the money.

Time to invest in new talent, record labels. Or just give up and die. Please.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fear: Vaccines

It's interesting to me how lots of people are afraid of the H1N1 vaccine, but for two opposing reasons. Some fear that the vaccine is dangerous, and some fear that there's not enough of it.

Health officials note that people used to instantly sign up for vaccines, because they'd seen epidemics. When you've buried children who died of measles, smallpox, etc. you weigh the risks and benefits differently. Today's parents knowledge of medicine includes thalidomide and their experience doesn't include plague.

We are emotional creatures, and reason is only a sideline. Rationalization comes much more easily to us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fix patent and copyright law, please!

The Supreme Court is about to decide whether patent law has gone too far. Which is good. Because it has.

Currently you can patent a "business method", not to mention an algorithm or DNA. That's bad. That means you can patent a living being, and ban it from reproducing without paying you a fee. Not ok.

Patents have value. Protecting inventors so they have some incentive to invent makes sense. But today there is WAY too much value for inventors to milk their old inventions and not enough public good. Inventions should eventually come into the public domain so they can be imitated, modified and improved upon. But right now that can't happen.

I hope they make it better.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Multibutton mouse

Some linux nerds are building an 18-button mouse.

The horror. The horror.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Jaywalking is discriminatory

Well, Tom Vanderbilt makes the case that the media are prejudiced against pedestrians.

I wonder if it's as bad in Portland, where we have lots of political support for urban planning and walkable neighborhoods.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

We're not meant to kill

I just read that in World War 2, 80% of soldiers didn't shoot at the enemy. (In the excellent book How We Decide.)

Only 20% of our soldiers were able to overcome their natural instinct to not hurt another person, and shoot. I think that's excellent. It impresses me greatly that so many people, honorable people who wanted to serve their country, still couldn't bring themselves to harm another person.

The book goes on to describe how the Army saw this as a problem, and set about designing conditioning that would overcome our basic instincts of humanity. By the Korean war, they got 55 percent of soldiers to shoot. In Vietnam, the number reached 90 percent.

I believe this is a big part of why our veterans come back from war so much more damaged now than in the past. PTSD and the other mental damage our soldiers receive comes from overriding the basic human instinct to not kill another person.

It seems ridiculous to advocate for a military that's inefficient, where we have people whose job it is to kill who can't or don't. Obviously, as a hippy, I favor increased diplomacy and work to find peaceful solutions to conflicts so the military doesn't have to kill anyone.

But I think more than that, I'm intrigued by the fact that 20% of soldiers were able to fire in the past. And my impression is that the returning veterans were more able to reenter society successfully then. There are lots of complicating factors - differing political support for the different wars, new medical technology to help badly wounded soldiers survive - but I think the military's ruthless efficiency at "helping" our soldiers become ruthless has a real cost that must be weighed and noted. Our soldiers lose a part of their souls in their training. I'm not sure the nature of the debt, but we owe them something for that.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Strawberries, Pakistanis and Hermaphrodites, oh my!

Google will offer to complete your search for you. I have often enjoyed this feature, when I don't have to complete typing out a movie star's name. Although it doesn't work well for some names.

Many people have noticed recently that if you type in the beginnings of basic questions, like who, what, when, etc. you get some interesting results. That is, people are searching on Google for some pretty stupid stuff. And some pretty weird stuff.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Comic Mashups

Ryan Dunlavey has created hilarious comic strip mashups. Like X-Men meets Peanuts. Or Spy vs Spy vs Predator vs Alien.

I think it's awesome.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Copyright conundrum

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has put together a Takedown Hall of Shame - a list of particularly ridiculous organizations who sued to have content taken off websites, even when the content was clearly protected as fair use.

Some of them are pretty awesome, and it's ridiculous that they were taken down, even if briefly. Like a one man a cappella greatest hits of John Williams. Or a dubbed version of White Wedding, where Billy Idol just sings about the images in the video.

But one case involves NPR, and confuses me. A political TV ad, 30 seconds long, plays clips from an NPR story for 25 seconds, and says how bad things will be if Measure 1 fails. That seems a lot less creative, and more reasonable for NPR to say, "stop stealing our material". It is political speech, which should be protected, but why not write your own damn script and make a case instead of playing the radio clip? It seems lazy and not persuasive.

But I'm not a lawyer. Being lazy and unpersuasive isn't grounds for copyright violation. Using the whole piece you copied, destroying the market for the work, whether it's fiction or not, and the character of the use are how courts decide Fair Use. And apart from the utterly untransformative (albeit political) character of this copying, it does seem to meet all the other qualifications. (Although I'm sure NPR would argue that using NPR tape in political debates damages the market for their work.)

I'm curious to see how this case turns out. The EFF thinks that NPR is dead wrong. I don't think they're totally out of line, but I wonder how a judge will rule.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Jesus, Pope!

Seems to me like the pope is a jerk. Not a huge surprise, but after years of conversation with the Anglican church, to bypass that negotiation and just declare that Anglicans are welcome as Catholics is pretty cold.

Not to mention how unlike Jesus it is to celebrate people who are angry that the Anglicans are ordaining women and gays.