Sunday, December 31, 2006

Little bluebird in my backyard

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My parent's backyard is more or less rife with wildlife. While Holly and I were there over Christmas, there was a large flock of bluebirds that would come and go with some regularity. They were fond of the birdbath on our back deck, and this guy was clearly having a good time. There were often 30-50 bluebirds that would be taking turns at this and other birdbaths in the back yard.

That leeeeettle blob in the middle of the picture...

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To put that previous post in perspective, this is a straight shot at full zoom with my little camera, sans binoculars.

Eagle sez "Meh. You have my leave to go."

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Holly and I went canoing at Goodale State Park last Friday afternoon. We'd gotten out there late, and the park staff were kind enough to take a break from some serious tree-removal work at the entrance to let us into the park and let us rent a canoe. The lake at Goodale is an old (1830s, if our info is correct) mill pond on Big Pine Tree Creek. Much of the lake is now a cypress swamp, which makes for fun paddling in amongst the trees. We'd been paddling for about 10 minutes when I caught a glimpse of a very large bird taking flight a ways off through the trees. I wasn't sure, but I thought it might have been an eagle. It was just too big to be anything but that or an osprey, but my gut was just saying "eagle." Ospreys are rare enough that seeing one would be a treat, but I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've positively seen an adult bald eagle in the wild.

A few more minutes of paddling brought us pretty close to where I thought the bird had been, and we were also close to the edge of a fairly wide expanse of open water with just a few trees scattered through it. In the distance, in a lone cypress, something big was sitting on a bare branch up at the top. When I got the binoculars on it, it was unmistakeably a bald eagle. After passing the binoculars to Holly so she could get a good look, I went about trying to get a photo to record this critter for posterity. Zoomed to the full extent of my little pocket camera's lenses, I got a great shot of the branches of the trees a few feet from the boat, with a nice eagle-shaped smudge in the background.

So I decided to try digiscoping it, which involves taking a picture through hand-held binoculars. I have trouble getting this to work standing on dry land with a clear shot of my target. Sitting in a rocking canoe drifting back and forth among the trees in the middle of a swamp lent the process a level of additional challenge that can only be described as 'maddening'. But about twenty minutes of wailing and gnashing of teeth and about 10 shots of smudges or trees that have just drifted into the field of view later, and I had two blurry-but-marginal shots and the one above.

It would've been nice if the one good shot didn't look quite so much like America was giving us the cold shoulder.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Police want to burrow into your head

OK, not literally. Well, probably not your head, anyway. The AP reports that police in Beaumont, Texas want to compel 17-year-old Joshua Bush to submit to surgery to retrieve a bullet lodged in his forehead. They suspect that he recieved the gunshot as he participated in an armed robbery of a used car dealer.

Now, the body cavity search is established legal territory. Anything the police can reach with their fingers and some lube, they can get, so long as they have a search warrant. The question becomes, do they have the right to compell you to submit to a medical procedure you do not want, just to retrieve evidence they believe is hidden within your body. We are not talking about pricking with a needle to draw a blood test. This is surgery. Not life-threatening surgery, as this is nowhere near any major organ or blood vessels. However, since it is in his forehead, and bone has started to grow around the bullet, Bush would need to be put into full anaesthesia.

Full anaesthesia surgery is routine, but hardly trivial. The medications can have adverse reactions, and infection is always a risk. Infections in the face, where there are no lymph nodes to filter toxins out before the lymph re-enters the bloodstream, can be quite serious.

So the question becomes, how far does one's right to medical privacy and right to make one's own medical decisions go? Does the police's power to collect evidence (with a properly granted warrant) override one's fundamental right to make medical decisions?

If we look at the history of Supreme Court precedent, I think the balance must lean toward the rights of the individual to control his own medical decision. Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut come to my mind, although they may be too narrowly written to apply directly, what with all the IANAL and so forth.

Anyway, I certainly lean more or less in the direction of the defendant, although if he did sustain the bullet wound in the way the robbery victim says he did, he is a violent criminal, and one hopes that the police will be able to find the evidence they need to prove this one way or another without having to force him to let a doctor slice his head open and chisel out whatever is lodged in his forehead.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Merry Repeal Day, Everyone!

Happy Repeal Day, folks.

That's right, it's the 73rd anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition in America.

Dewar's celebrates with a full page ad in the New York Times, and has posted a google video of a chilling alternate-history where prohibition never ended. Of course, would it really be that much more chilling than actual history? Prohibition by any other name still smells like shit.

Hat tip to Hit&Run

Saturday, December 02, 2006

So Congress wants the words "Freedom" and "French" to be synonymous?

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 74%

You are a terrorist-loving scoundrel who hates our dear leader and the values he defends. There are few redeeming qualities about you. You most likely celebrated when the evil-doers hit us on 9/11, then opposed the Iraq war when we tried to pay them back. You hurt us at every step and cause troops to die in the field by questioning Bush's decisions. You are most likely a lost cause, doomed to be a brainwashed victim of free thought and liberalism forever. No dose of Ann Coulter's prose can save you now.

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I don't call them Freedom Fries, but I have been know to freedom kiss, and like to laugh at the freedom ticklers for sale in those bathroom vending machines. The UN is run by euro-sissies and third world dictators, except when it's being our lapdog. I think deep down, the French wouldn't be too unhappy if the terrorists put America in its place. But damn if those surrendermonkeys don't make some tasty cheese, and I'll buy it if I damn well please.

Hat Tip to Sandy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Historical Blogging II: Faretheewell Johnny Cash

Part II of my series where I recover various rants from blogs past. Without further ado, from September of '03, my long-distance elegy to The Man in Black.

Johnny Cash, We hardly knew ye

posted by lunchstealer on Fri 12 of Sep, 2003 [13:18]

OK. At least I hardly knew him. Growing up in a small town in South Carolina, I made a decision pretty early on to separate myself from all things redneck-related. Unlike almost all my peers, I didn't watch The Dukes of Hazard. And from an early age, I garnered a strong distaste for country music.

Well, for the most part, I was right. To this day I'm more into Progressive Rock than Country. Actually that's an understatement. I still frickin hate that crap they play on the Wolf.

Now, in accordance with Sturgeon's Law, most genre are mostly crap. But if they're mostly crap, then they're also slightly good. So there are artists and performances out there that kick ass. Johnny Cash was such an artist, and he passed away yesterday at the age of 71.

When Trent Resnor sang 'Hurt' he was angry Avant Garde guy. When Johnny Cash covered it, he was a guy who was 70 years old, and was looking back on a life of drugs, alcohol, and pain.

Here's to you, Johnny. May you be in Heaven half an hour 'fore the Devil knows you're dead.

Congress re-approves $20M to celebrate the flight of pigs

When at peace, prepare for war. When at war, prepare to party! Apparently, Congress had a little line-item in the 2006 budget to allow the Pentagon to spend $20,000,000 to celebrate victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, that turned out to be a little premature, so they've re-upped that approval, for 2007. And they promise we'll get to spend it this time. For realsies. This isn't like that time they promised to give back that copy of The Big Lebowski they borrowed. Really, we're going to have a victory party. And who doesn't like victory?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Historical Blogging I: Performance Art I Can Get Behind

This is part one of a series in which I will recover my previous blog entries (at least the ones I deem worth keeping) from the old Virtual Vortex site, along with other various email rants and reviews I may be able to dig out of the hidden recesses of the ether.

Coolest Cow Caper EVAR!!!

posted by lunchstealer on Tue 02 of Sep, 2003

"It's impossible to do something cool without outraging someone. In fact, I usually judge how cool I'm being by how many angry people are following me with signs."

This from Seanbaby, or some such person, regarding reaction to an Austrian performance art thing that incorporated Helicopters, Nudity (of course), Dynamite, and a side of beef.

The link is


PS. you can also find this item by doing a google search for the following set of keywords:

exploding cow art dog window animal rights berlin drop food helicopter austria

Who else but The Lunchstealer is going to give you google gems like that?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Non-illogic is non-useless

Recently perusing The Economist, an article caught my eye, entitled, "The Non-Denial of the Non-Self". In it, I found the following quote:
IN THE 1940s a philosopher called Carl Hempel showed that by manipulating the logical statement “all ravens are black”, you could derive the equivalent “all non-black objects are non-ravens”. Such topsy-turvy transformations might seem reason enough to keep philosophers locked up safely on university campuses, where they cannot do too much damage.
Now, I'm slightly baffled as to how this is a suprising statement. It certainly seems obvious to me. To illustrate why, let's consider a basic syllogism.
If A then B
A, therefore B
In this case, the premise (the if-then statement) is, "All ravens are black," or more formally, "If a bird is a raven, then the bird is black." Therefore any time anyone tells me they're seeing a raven, I can safely assume it is black (neglecting albinos and poor ravens which have been painted blue, or just bumped against Tobias Funke).

The converse is not necessarily true.
If A then B
Not A, therefore perhaps B, perhaps not B.
If a bird is not a raven, that does not necessarily mean that it is not black. It may be a crow, a vulture, a blackbird, or any of a number of other black birds.

The "topsy-turvy transformation" listed above is to turn that around, and suggest the following syllogism:
If A then B.
Not B, therefore not A
This just follows logically. Imagine the following exchange.
"Hey, I see a bird. Is it a raven?"
"Dunno is it black?"
"Nope, it's blue"
"Then it ain't a raven (again neglecting the Blue Man Group's pet raven, Gerald)."
It's just neither topsy nor turvy.

Now, Carl Hempel wasn't just noodling about solving trivial non-problems like the one above. He was attempting to improve the logical rules associated with observational science. So his Raven Paradox is not just assuming that we know that all ravens are black, but looking at the case when we are trying to observe whether all ravens are black, and seeing what implications that has for our logical constructions.

Suppose we are trying to figure out whether all ravens are black. One natural consequence would be that all non-black things are not ravens. However, finding 100 ravens and observing that each is black is helpful. Finding 100 things that aren't black, and observing that none are ravens is useless. When finding non-black non-ravens, you are making observations that are consistent with your theory. After all, if your theory is correct, then non-black objects must not be ravens, as proven above. But these observations of non-black non-ravens do little to confirm the main theory regarding black ravens.

It is unsuprising to find things that aren't black that aren't ravens, because it is unsuprising to find things that aren't ravens. Look out your window. In my case, I see trees and cars and leaves and buildings and clouds and the sky. Of the millions of things I see out there, only a very few, some tires, a few bits of roof racks on trucks, and one Jeep Cherokee, are black. None of the things I see are ravens. So I have seen many non-black non-ravens, and a few black non-ravens, but I saw no black ravens, nor non-black ravens. Fully half of the possible states of combined ravenness and blackness are left with no observations from my experiment. I just can't say much about the correlation of ravenness and blackness.

As a scientist, I see that the problem of observing non-black objects to test the black-raven theory is that it fails to exclude competing theories. I may have a competing theory that Blue Man Group has painted all the world's ravens blue as a performance art piece. Observing many blue things and finding that none of them is a raven woulds still do very little to distinguish between the blue-raven theory and the black raven theory.

The point of the Raven Paradox, then, is to show that observations that fit a theory are only useful if they don't fit other theories just as well. Could be of some use to the current debate on String Theory.

Note, my title in no way implies that all illogical things are useless. It does however, imply that logic is useful.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Phone Taxes Revisited.

Halelujah! The Spanish have been defeated! Y'know, the Spanish-American War? Remember the Maine? That's how we got Gitmo, and took over the Philipines. And Teddy Roosevelt got to charge up San Juan Hill, while his two lovely aunts poisoned their houseguests? Wait, that's Arsenic and Old Lace. Anyway, it was a war in 1898. To pay for it, the federal government instituted a 3% excise tax on all telephone lines.

In May, recognizing that we can now safely declare the Spanish Menace no longer a threat, Congress repealed the Federal Excise Tax. So one of those little nickel-and-dime line-items has finally gone the way of, well, not too many taxes.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Those Little Phone Taxes

So as I peruse my cell phone bill, I see this little line-item for the Texas Universal Service Fund. This, for those who don't know, is part of the FCC-mandated Universal Service Fund.

The basic idea was this. Back in the day, there were people living in what we call "The Sticks". To run a phone line to 20 houses on one street was cheap, but to run a phone line to six houses along a 10 mile dirt road was ex-damn-spensive. Those wacky congresscritters thought that this was unfair, so they decided to tax city-folks' phone lines and to give that money to rural phone companies to encourage "Universal Service". And lo, the hills and dales had phones and the rabbits and the squirrels danced their little woodland dances and all was well in the world.

Jump to 2006. Having a cell phone and a landline for DSL, I currently pay around $6/month - that's about $70 a year, to subsidize these rural phone lines. Over at Marginal Revolution, some intrepid soul dares to ask, are they getting my money's worth?

The answer is that this has devolved* into yet another bit of corporate welfare which yeilds dubious results in terms of actual benefit per dollar.

* assuming it was ever anything more than corporate welfare.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trolling BBC America

So TiVo's finally started coming up with some really good suggestions. Took maybe a year (the first 8 months of which were devoted almost entirely to trying to catch up on missed episodes of Angel, Stargate, The West Wing, and the Simpsons) for my TV-watching patterns to fill out enough that TiVo could start amassing sensible data on what I watch, but in the past few months it has really started putting some gems in the suggestion box. I now am checking the suggestions as much as my regular season-pass shows. I shall now report on two such suggestions which have caught my fancy.

Green Wing, on BBCA, is sort of like Britain's answer to Scrubs. But like Coupling, their answer to Friends, Green Wing is far less heart-warming and kid friendly than Scrubs. As near as I can tell, no patient ever has a line in Green Wing, and seem to spend a good portion of their time cowering to avoid injury while the staff pursues their aims of alternately screwing or tormenting all the other members of staff. Although theoretically the show centers around Caroline, played by Tamsin Greig (whom most readers of this blog may dimly recall as the nurse in charge of computer-interface implants on Satelite 9) The cast is hugely ensemble, and the narrative cuts dizzyingly between all the characters over the course of an episode (each of which are 1 hour, with commercials - very rare for a sitcom). This dizzying effect is compounded by constant switching between normal speed, slow-motion, and fast motion, designed to highlight the physical comedy. It's a bit like a Guy Ritchie film after one too many bumps of cocaine.

The second gem that TiVo* has picked up for me, also on BBCA, is Black Books. Set in an eponymously named bookshop, it follows Bernard Black, a drunken, chain-smoking, insane used bookseller, his similarly self-destructive neighbor Fran (also played by Tamsin Greig), and his oddly codependent assitant, Manny. Bernard is wholly contemptuous of his customers, to the point of abuse. Somewhat in the tradition of The Young Ones and Bottom, Black Books is a fantastical, impossible voyage into the lives of worthless human beings, and it is invariably hilarious.

*As Renee points out, she may indeed have shown this to me first. All I remember is getting a bunch of grief for drunken enthusiasm for determining that that girl on the teevee was the same one that played the mom in Mirrormask. My enthusiasm turned out to be misplaced because as Holly loudly and insistently pointed out, Tamsin Greig is not in fact Gina McKee. Nonetheless, I was more than one sheet to the wind at the time, so neither my face recognition skills nor my timeline-recollection skills were at the top of their game, although my enthusiasm skills were prodigious. Coincidentally, TiVo picked up Black Books as a suggestion, but it got deleted before I could get a season pass, and there were no upcoming episodes. So I had to wait until TiVo suggestions picked it up AGAIN to successfully add a season pass. Hence my crediting TiVo incorrectly with the introduction. It did successfully introduce me to it, but it did so after Renee's intro.

Indonesia fears 'toons

Indonesian officials have arrested the web editor of an Indonesian publication for posting the infamous Jyllands-Posten cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohamed.

Here, I tempt the wrath not only of Indonesia, but most of Asia, Europe, North and South America, parts of Africa, Australia, and last but not least Utah, by publishing a scene from South Park's Super Best Friends episode. Here I show not only Mohamed, but also John Smith, Buddha, and Jesus. Theoretically I could also be pissing off Israel, since Jesus is talking to Moses on his two-way wrist communicator watch. They're probably the ones I should worry about the most, although I may be safe in that I am not Lebanese or Palestinian.

Via Hit & Run

Monday, June 05, 2006

A new low in Operation Look-A-Baby-Wolf-ism

Well, George Bush has once again shaken me out of my blogging complacency.

I applaud him for realizing that the constitution does not currently allow a federal marriage ban.* Unfortunately, he sees this as a bad thing.

First, my view of the constitutional questions. Article I Section 8 enumerates the powers of Congress, and no where in it is marriage mentioned, nor is there any power granted to Congress that could make sense. So Congress doesn't have the right to prohibit states from recognizing gay marriages without an act of Congress. The 14th Amendment pretty much outlaws making sexual distinctions in marriage laws. My argument flows thus. Under current law, Nicole Kidman was allowed to marry Tom Cruise. However, John Travolta would not be allowed to marry Tom Cruise. What makes John Travolta ineligible to marry Tom Cruise when Nicole Kidman is eligible? Nothing but gender. However, Amendment XIV, Section 1 states that no state may abridge the rights of any citizen of that state, nor deny them equal protection under the law. Therefore, if one citizen is allowed to marry Tom Cruise, any citizen must be allowed to do so.

Now, the only reason to propose a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, is that you believe that the current bans in place are unconstitutional. That and that you're a jerk-off who's terrified that if somehow, somewhere, a gay person is married, and you're married, that must mean that you're gay.

Either way, I'm longing for the days when Clinton was bombing Iraq to distract us from his Oval Office hijinks, rather than introducing stupid Constitutional Amendments to distract everyone from your incompetent elective wars and ballooning deficits and general utter incompetence in office.

* Care to read the rest of the damn Constitution now, assclown?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

iTunes - the new tea leaves - but a bit Dada

Got this little challenge from Holly's blog.

Rules: Turn on your media player of choice, turn on the SHUFFLE option. Answer these questions with the (RANDOM) song titles as they show up.

Now, I'm doing this at work, while waiting for stuff to run. My work files are limited, heavily skewed towards Rush, and contaminated by some of Casey and Jeremy's mp3s. Were I to do this at home, actual mileage would vary.

How does the world see me?
Fugue - Emerson Lake & Palmer

Will i have a happy life?
If My Heart Was A Car - Old 97's

What do my friends really think of me?
Stupid Girl - The Rolling Stones

Do people secretly lust after me?
Up On Cripple Creek - The Band

How can i make myself happy?
Waxie's Dargle - The Pogues

What should i do with my life?
Rockin' Chair - The Band

Why must life be so full of pain?
Anagram (for Mongo) - Rush

Will i ever have children?
Space Monkey - John Prine

Will i die happy?
I Lost My Head - Gentle Giant

What is some good advice for me?
The Lazy Boy - Moxy Fruvous

What is happiness?
The Enemy Within - Rush

What's my favorite fetish?
Syeeda's Song Flute - John Coltrane

How will I be remembered?
Thomas - A Perfect Circle

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


For those of you who recieved Brad's 'Naughty Tree' email, I present to you Dominica's answer. The Penis Tree. This has to be the best-endowed flora ever to erect itself.

This odd sight, found alongside a path at the Rainforest Tram in Laudat, Dominica, is actually two trees. The 'member' is a smaller tree that somehow grew under the buttressed base of the larger tree. I'll update this with more details if I recall them. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I Have New Pariahs

So the TABC is baffled as to why Texans are upset that they're sending undercover agents into bars to arrest people for being drunk. OK, let's break this down.
  • Undercover agents
  • In bars
  • To arrest people
  • For being drunk
This may be what folks are upset about. You send the secret police to arrest people in bars to arrest them for something harmless. We all understand that if you're being drunk and disorderly in your neighbor's front yard, you might just spend a night in the pokey. We also understand that if you get shitfaced in a snooty restaurant, they're gonna call the cops. Because those are inappropriate places to be lit up like a christmas tree. If you're drunk behind the wheel of a car, you're obviously going to find yourself at the business end of a gavel, and deservedly so.

If, however, you are in a bar, you don't expect the guy in the hawaiian shirt on the barstool next to you to call in the goon squad and have you thrown in the clink. It's just against the social contract. They defend these arrests by saying that 'that's one less drunk driver'. However, 10% of recent arrests in Irving were of hotel guests in the hotel bar where they were staying. This is the SAFEST form of drinking. Even drinking at home is less safe, since you might be tempted to go get more beer if you run out, or you might want to make that midnight run to Taco Cabana.

These hotel patrons were where at a source of liquor. They were at a source of food. They were going nowhere.

I feel the need to repeat my call for the TABC to be disbanded, and for all current employees thereof to be prohibited from public employment or recourse to public funds in the State of Texas.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Texas defines TABC thusly:
TABC (TEE ay bee see) n. A bunch of mindless jerks who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I Have New Heros

It's good to hear the story behind the headlines sometimes. Thus it is with the creator of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Seriously if you haven't checked out what's up with FSMology today, you're missing out.

I do tend to wonder if they're going to co-opt International Talk Like a Pirate Day the way the Christians co-opted pagan holidays aka Yule/Christmas.

Via Hit&Run.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Holly's Happy Birthday

Holly and myself at Sushi Sake in Austin celebrating her birthday. The photo in the caption contest going on below is from the same event.

Thanks to Sharon for sharing these pix. Posted by Picasa

First ever Grains of Sand caption contest

OK, here are the rules. Make a caption for this photo. C'mon, it's begging for it! Post them in the comments below. The winner shall be the first person who shall win. Posted by Picasa

Friday, March 10, 2006

Wow, when they finally get it right, they get it wrong.

So the Dubai World Ports deal is dead. The debacle has driven down Bush's approval rating. This was the first time I actively wished for Bill Clinton to be back in the White House.

Now, this administration may be the most inept in generations. So when an ally in the War on Terrah capitolized on its status as a port city state to develop port-management expertise that is rivaled only by that other great port city/state, Singapore, they thought nothing of a deal that would have had them hiring people to run the cranes in American ports.

Senate Republicans and Democrats heard about it, and thought "OH MY GOD! We can't have ARABS in our ports!"

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Heh heh, cool.

I Am 62% Evil

I am very evil. And I'm too evil to care.
Those who love me probably also fear me. A lot.

OK, this is a bit exagerated, because almost all the most evil stuff was borderline, and as a child. For example, I checked the box saying I like to burn things. However, most actual burning events occured in the Boy Scouts, and I've never actually burned anything that wasn't more-or-less harmless to burn, and almost never dangerously. Certainly by Boy Scout standards I'm very non-pyro.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Speaking of Crybabies, Holly points me to a CNN article that points up a serious problem in the American psyche.

A youngster was involved in a spelling bee. OK, I get that. Nerds gotta have their sports too. I was in marching band, and we competed. I also competed in some of the statewide music competitions (never well). I even somehow got talked into competing in the South Carolina Latin Olympics (this involved speaking a dead language, not high-jumping over J-Lo), at which I overcame the handicaps of severe apathy and a year and a half of chronic narcolepsy in Latin class (I made sleeping in class a spectator sport, which even earned me an unsolicited cheerleader phone number, which I didn't have the stones to use) to bring home the statewide championship in Latin Derivations.

So anyway, this kid is in a spelling bee at University of Nevada, Reno. She gets a word right, but the judge dings her, because refs suck, and make stupid calls. Seahawks, you know what I'm talkin' about. Unfortunately, there is no attempt made to challenge the call at the time. After the bee, the mom points out the mistake. The organizers appologize (or not, it doesn't say) but point out that there's nothing they can do, since protests must be lodged immediately, not after the conclusion of the bee.

So far, there's nothing for America to be ashamed of here. Nerds are an important part of our culture, and nothing forges a nerd's rejection of society like the humiliation of being forced to compete in a spelling bee.

The mother requested a spell off, to at least allow her daughter the opportunity to qualify for the state bee, and possibly for scholarships. Well, it's a little pushy, but I'll allow it, I mean, the young'n did get the short end of the stick, and there's no harm in asking.

The organizers turn her down. The bee's over, and it's just too late to correct the mistake. Here's where things go off the rails. The mother is now threatening to sue. There's no harm in asking, but there's harm in suing. She describes herself as "a mother bear with her claws out."

Bears get shot for that sort of shit.

In competitions of all kinds, judges/refs/umps/whathaveyou make mistakes. In most circumstances there are explicit rules governing the protest of such mistakes. They are, nonetheless, a part of the sport/game/bee/competition. Just because life has dealt your child a bad call, you do not have the right to go on a rampage about it.

Mrs. Beckman (appologies if that's not your last name, no news story on the subject confirmed this one way or the other), the judge made a mistake. Judges do so, and to expect otherwise is ridiculous. They're not focused on your kid, they're trying to make sure the whole thing runs smoothly. No easy task with a group of bright, often socially awkward, universally nervous tweens dealing with all their fears of public speaking and competitive pressure. You, on the other hand, were watching your child with the focus of her mom. To you, she was the most important thing in the world, and all the other kids were just other kids. She had your focus, but you didn't go ask the judge to review his call. He made one mistake out of hundreds. You made one mistake out of one.

If you take this to court, I guarantee that the school district will spend more money defending itself than your child stands to gain from any scholarship she might win. Little Sara, had the call gone her way, still had to go on to win this podunk local Nevada tourney. Then she had to win state, or at least show, to get a decent chance at any scholarship. And most of those scholarships are going to be modest. We're not talking about a full-ride to Oxford or Harvard here. Probably not even full tuition to an in-state school. I'd be astonished if anyone gave a scholarship over $10k for anything but winning the national spelling bee. But defending a lawsuit could easily cost the local schoolboard 5X that amount.

So you'd be willing to intentionally throw away $50,000 of school funding from your own school district to get your kid a longshot chance at a spelling bee scholarship? And that's assuming you even WIN the case. A judge would have to be an idiot to allow it to go forward. You CLEARLY had a chance to protest the call when it was made, and didn't bother to do so. The tournament officials made a mistake, but you did not make a good-faith effort to protest at the appropriate time.

Raising a kid is hard, but this attitude of "Anything I do for my kid is OK, because I'm a parent, and we should revere parents and children are our most precious resources" crap is getting out of hand. People, your kids are a resource. Like coal, only more likely to commit crime. We don't sacrifice everyone else's coal just because you weren't watching out for your coal. Get over yourselves.


S E L F hyphen A B S O R B E D

self absorbed

What would Randy and Jason say? Dunno, but it'd probably be funny.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Nobody wants him - They just turn their heads

I am Iron Man
Iron Man
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
The Flash
Inventor. Businessman. Genius.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Intelligent Vatican?

Speaking of ID, Hit & Run recently pointed out an article (via NYT) published in the Vatican newspaper that supported the recent Pennsylvania decision barring ID theory from science classes.

Intelligent Blogging

So a while back, a poster on Hit&Run pointed to an article in the journal Cell, which had some interesting things to say about intelligent design. The broad stroke of the article has to do with science education, and is worth reading in its entirety. However in one passage, he discusses the Intelligent Design debate as an example of some of the challenges facing science education today. The real kernel of his argument is that ID is errosive to the fundamental assumptions that make science work. If we can just say, "this is too complex to explain, so God must have done it," then we run the risk of taking that easy way out any time we run into a difficult problem.

We have recently received a wakeup call. A new survey finds that two-thirds of Americans agree with some of our political leaders that “intelligent design theory” should be taught as an alternative scientific explanation of biological evolution. What does this mean? According to intelligent design theory, supernatural forces acting over time have intervened to shape the macromolecules in cells, thereby forming them into the elegant protein machines that drive a cell’s biochemistry (Alberts, 1998). In other words, at least from time to time, living things fail to obey the normal laws of physics and chemistry.

Teaching intelligent design theory in science class would demand nothing less than a complete change in the definition of science. This definition would give those of us who are scientists an “easy out” for the difficult problems we are trying to solve in our research. For example, why spend a lifetime, constrained by the laws of physics and chemistry, trying to obtain a deep understanding of how cells accumulate mutations and become cancerous if one can postulate a supernatural step for part of the process? Yet we can be certain that, without the deep understanding that will eventually come from insisting on natural explanations, many powerful cancer therapies will be missed.

The idea that intelligent design theory could be part of science is preposterous. It is of course only by insisting on finding natural causes for everything observed in nature that science has been able to make such striking advances over the past 500 years. There is absolutely no reason to think that we should give up this fundamental principle of science now. Two-thirds of Americans might seem to have no real idea of what science is, nor why it has been so uniquely successful in unraveling the truth about the natural world. As I write, the Kansas State Board of Education has just changed the definition of science in revisions to the Kansas State Science Standards to one that does not include “natural explanations” for natural phenomena. What more proof do we need for the massive failure of our past teaching of biology, physics, chemistry, and earth sciences at high schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States?

I have to admit that from a philosophical standpoint, I've had a fair amount of sympathy for the Intelligent Design idea. I don't subscribe to it by any stretch of the imagination, but I understand it, and do not find it outside the realm of possibility. This is sort of a 'God as cosmic watchmaker' concept. And at the same time I knew that there was real value to it for making true scientific claims. I had no use for the 'the eye is too complex to evolve by chance' crowd.

Intellectually, I must admit the possibility that God did step down and zap the primordial ooze to create the first cellular life, and that he later interfered to add eyes, legs, lungs ears, and brains to the critters that resulted. I certainly cannot claim to have proof that God does not exist, any more than I can prove there are no flying saucers or no Loch Ness Monster. Science has no position on the matter.

But while I knew the basic reasons why ID wasn't real science, I didn't quite get what was so bad about teaching it in a science classroom. This article solidified that for me. Science, if it is to find answers to difficult questions, must have high standards for what answers are acceptable. And those answers must be natural phenomena. If science can just sit back and ascribe phenomena to magic, miracle, or just ‘space aliens’ doing things that we are too primitive to understand, then we’ll never keep seeking until we find an answer that we can understand.

The cornerstone of science is universality and internal consistency. If a theory applies in one situation, it cannot be contradicted in another. Therefore if ‘then a miracle occurs’ is an acceptable answer in one branch of science, then it must be accepted in all branches. And if that happens, then no scientific theory can be supported. There will always be doubt as to whether to believe observation, because it may be the result not of natural processes, but of supernatural meddling.

For science to be valuable, we've got to explain everything that can be explained. Intelligent Design is the theory that some things cannot be explained. While this might ultimately be true, it defeats the purposes of science, and undermines the scientific understanding that supports medicine, engineering, and most of the other disciplines that create our modern world.

Fauna on the Cabrits

The Cabrits is a peninsula just north of Portsmouth formed by two small andesite domes. It's on the dry side of the island, and while it's not exactly barren, it's a very different environment than other places on the island. The trail to the top of West Cabrits was a popular place for black land-crabs to die, and for hermit crabs to go scuttling about. This guy is about three feet across, and is perching on the finger of a giant that lives in these parts. Posted by Picasa
One grove snake on West Cabrits. Saw a lot of these critters there. Unfortunately I didn't get a shot of the checkered snake a couple of days later at Soufrie Springs. These guys are very good-natured. We caught one at the fort on Cabrits, and while I think he wanted to be kept in the shade, he wasn't too upset about being picked up. Grove snakes are members of the colubrid family, like the black racer and the coachwhip in the US. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Fair fowl.

This blue-headed hummingbird was wholly indifferent to all the two-legged ape-critters pointing cameras and flashing flashes in its very near vicinity. Posted by Picasa

Domincan fowl.

Seriously. Tell me this smooth-billed Ani doesn't look just a little like T. rex.

These guys are part grackle, part crow, and part doin' their own thing, man. Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 23, 2006

A stream in the Valley of Desolation on Dominica. The rivulets coming in from the left are full of minerals that deposit black stains on the rocks, while the stream on the right looks like nothing so much as a river of alka-seltzer.

This place stank of rotten eggs and howled like a demon. Posted by Picasa

First Dominica footage.

Here's a kick-ass fumerole/steam vent thingy at the Valley of Desolation. You can hear the steam and sulfur-dioxide/hydrogen-sulfide gasses burning out of scores of little holes in the ground around me. Jus' thought y'all would dig this. Posted by Picasa

Friday, January 13, 2006

Blondes, nature's blondes

I'm largely skeptical of blonde jokes, but my brother's found a good one.