Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Today's moment of snark...

... comes via the District of Columbia.  I would have never thought of using license plates for government sponsored protest against another government but I guess they really wanted to make a statement.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday morning musings....

Words I never would have thought I would hear in actual conversation: "Then I used a moles to cups conversion...." The Red-Headed Menace, discussing his determination of the chemical makeup of Bisquick.  Yesterday's quote of the day: "I've figured out the chemical composition of Bisquick! Chemistry rocks!"

My little geek.  I am so proud of him. Not that I really trust that he's found the actual composition of Bisquick -- what formulation did he use for flour, given that various flours have differing levels of gluten, for example? -- but more that he thought it was a fun and interesting way to spend an hour.

[Edited to add: A comment in the Resident Shrink's LiveJournal, "It could be worse. If he were a budding mathematician instead of a budding chemist, he would have spent half an hour doing the calculations, declared that he had proven that a recipe for pancakes exists, and then spent the rest of the evening watching TV."]


The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy taught me years ago to listen to the underlying elements of a recording, as well as the whole.  This morning, I am once again struck by how completely kick-ass the tambourine part in the Beatles' "Day Tripper" is.


Speaking of the Beatles, and the Red-Headed Menace, yesterday he launched into an enthusiastic explanation of how the bridge from "Polythene Pam" to "She Came In From the Bathroom Window" was simply incredible, and the best thing the Beatles ever did. Preaching to the choir, kid.


I almost never sign up for extended warranties, especially those that the salesman says "You can cancel at any time..."  I always forget to cancel, and then end up paying more than the actual cost of the item in fees.   When I bought my phone in March, I signed up for the "Total Equipment Coverage" from Verizon just to get my phone shipped to me sooner. "You can cancel this just as soon as you get your phone," the sales manager told me.   Did I cancel it? No, of course not.  The new smart phone had so many additional charges (for data usage plans, mainly) that I completely zoned on the fact that there was an additional $6.99 per month I didn't really need to be paying.

Maybe that was a good thing.  On Saturday, while it was plugged in and charging, a knapsack and a blanket were piled on top of the phone.  (Not by me, I might add.) When I finally discovered it, it was so hot I burned my hand.  I'm just lucky it didn't catch fire -- I have heard of instances where things like this did.  Of course, the phone was completely trashed. But since it was covered, I just had to go to the Verizon store, explain what happened, and my new phone should arrive tomorrow.*

So I will be getting a replacement Droid for $42, which was paid in monthly installments.  I can certainly live with that.

And, once again, it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day! As a friend of mine on Facebook said, "Sheel! Jidee raadin!" (That would be "Stop! Allow search!" in Somali.**)

Here's hopin' you have  a fair wind and smooth sailin'. Arrrgh.

* If you are reading this, and you are someone who communicates with me by phone, just a reminder that I will be unreachable until sometime on the 20th or 21st.
** Yes, I nearly spit out my coffee, too.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Quote of the Day

From Contagion: "Blogging isn't journalism, it's graffiti with punctuation."

Fifteen second review: "Contagion"

Go. See. This. Movie.  It's a horror flick with next to no blood.  I haven't been this filled with adrenaline after a film since Cloverfield.

It will also make you very careful about washing your hands, much the way Jaws made people scared to go swimming.

Well, I could do that, I suppose....

Me, after a frustrating morning dealing with the Red-Headed Menace: "Throttling children is wrong."
The Resident Shrink: "There are species that eat their young...."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11, ten years on.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Helen Keller

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.  Benjamin Franklin 

I said on Sunday that that was not the day to discuss my thoughts about 9/11 from the perspective of ten years on.  Today, however, is.

Looking back on that horrific day and all the 3,652 that followed, one thing becomes abundantly clear to me:

The terrorists won.

They won with the assistance of the government, the media, and large segments of the American populace. They accomplished their goal of turning us against each other, of destroying the nation we are, or were.

To be clear, the object of terrorism is not to kill people.  The main object is to instill terror.  Abortion clinics are bombed not just to hurt anyone inside, but to make any woman think twice about going into one, and any health care provider hesitate to work there.  For every abortion doctor killed, there are others who decide to either go out of the business or never begin in the first place.

The 9/11 bombers, and those behind them, managed to make us lose our collective minds.  They made us afraid of anyone who appeared Middle Eastern, resulting in stories like this one of an American citizen being pulled off a plane, held for hours, having to face the humiliation of being stripped searched, all because she was a dark-skinned woman who happened to be seated with two dark-skinned men in the same row, and who had the gall to be using her cell phone.  Suspicious activity, indeed.  Clearly, a terrorist cell at work.

They turned us into a nation that.... No, we turned ourselves into a nation that would be complacent about arresting and detaining people for years without any real level of due process because they were suspected terrorists.  Where individuals that the government admitted were innocent were held because they could not go back to their homeland without fear of death and God forbid that we admit our mistakes and allow them to stay in the U.S.  As everyone knows, if you are taken to Guantanamo, you must be a terrorist, right?

We turned into a nation where a large number of people condone the previously unthinkable.  All of a sudden, for too many people -- especially people in government and media -- torture became an unfortunate but acceptable way of extracting information, rather than a tool of tyranny that we had too much decency to resort to. And the level of fear became such that demagogues and bigots could feel comfortable saying outrageous things, such as "communities should be able to ban mosques if they want to," and where scarily high proportions of people believe that Muslims should not be allowed to sit on the Supreme Court (24% of respondents) or run for President (32%) and that simply by virtue of their religion Muslims cannot be patriotic Americans (25%).  So much for the first Amendment.* Where a blogger can be lauded by his commenters for suggesting, in a calm, rational, sad way that it is not only acceptable to kill children, but a moral imperative to do so.

One of the voices of sanity in an insane world, Paul Krugman, has called the years post 9/11 "The Years of Shame."  He gets it right.  Exactly.

We have allowed our fear to destroy our civic soul. We have placed a frantic need for illusory personal security above the ideals which purportedly underlie who we are as a nation.

The attacks on 9/11 were a challenge to all of us, and in the long run we failed.

We lost.

*I would include links to conservative Islamophobic blogs on this, but just reading the commentary made me ill, and I refuse to give them more traffic. (I know conservatives who are decent, rational people, and I think it is time that those of us in the progressive movement stop using "conservative" in a way that automatically equates to "racist.") I think it was the nicely formatted, very attractive blog which spewed the poison that Islam was by its very nature a threat to the U.S., and that Muslims should not be allowed to be in the country, let alone do anything as radical as hold public office, that bothered me the most.  The nastiest, most virulent hatred phrased in the most genteel, calm language. And I have linked to my post about the "killing children is okay" post rather than the original because the thought of revisiting the sewer that spawned that discussion makes me nauseous.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!

The Musee d'Orsay is currently holding an exhibition called "Beauty, Morals and Voluptuousness in the England of Oscar Wilde." Pre-Raphaelites, Whistler.... Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy....

How much would a plane ticket to Paris be? Think I could get by by sleeping in Metro stations? I'd need to get my passport reissued....

How to tell you're an art snob

One way is when you look at your son's Art of the Western World book, which he is reading for AP Modern European History, and try to determine how many of the paintings and sculptures you have seen in person.  The answer, for the Renaissance until the mid-20th century, is well over half. (It would be over two-thirds, but I have never been to Italy.)  In some periods, it rises to as much to 5/6 (I've seen a lot of "Golden Age" Dutch painting).

You're an even bigger snob when you mentally correct the locations attributed to the paintings.  In 1989, the year that the book was published, The Musee d'Orsay had been open for three years, and a number of the Impressionist and later works listed as being in the Louvre would have been in the Orsay instead. Picasso's  Guernica was returned to Spain in 1981, and therefore could not have been hanging in MOMA in New York in 1989.

That's being an art snob.  Being an art lover is looking at those same pictures as though they were old friends and feeling longing and melancholy that so many of them are so far away and you won't be able to visit them again for a long time, if ever.  And trying to figure out how to get to Italy to see the Uffizi and Vatican collections, and Vienna and Oslo to see paintings by two of your favorite painters whose works you've never seen in person (Klimt and Munch, respectively).

Hmmm.... Frequent flyer tickets to New York aren't that much. Four days should do it -- two for the Met, one each for the Guggenheim and MOMA.... No, five, I forgot the Frick.  Pity I couldn't schedule a day's layover in Chicago.  It wouldn't be enough time, but would give me a chance to revisit the Art Institute briefly. I went to the National Gallery in D.C. last January, so I can wait a while before I go there again.  Of course, there is always driving down to L.A. for the Getty -- I wonder what exhibitions are showing? Next April they begin a show on photography and the "cult of celebrity," which looks really interesting. And ...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

To state the obvious, on this day ten years ago, the world changed.

There are many stories of that day of terror and loss, and heroism and hope.  None of them are mine.  I experienced the day the same as most Americans outside the New York and Washington Metro areas did: as horrified and helpless observers.  I lost no one that day, although I know people who did.

There is much I need to say about that day and its aftermath, but that needs to be kept for another time.  Today is a not a day for analysis, but for remembrance of those who died and respect for their families.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The fact of the matter.

Damning facts are still facts.   Steven C. Holtzman*

Truth is difficult. Truth can be slippery, subjective, and in a larger sense unknowable. Facts, however...

Once again in Facebook I am confronted with people with whom I share political views on almost every issue under the sun repeating the factually wrong assertion that members of Congress do not pay for their own health care. What makes it worse, I have already corrected these people several times -- both as comments in their Facebook status updates, and with status updates of my own.

It may seem to be a very small thing.  It is not.

Facts matter.  How much any given fact matters is highly contextual, but whether or not a statement is actually true means a lot.  A worldview not built on reality, which refuses to accept facts that do not fit into its pre-written talking points, is that of a charlatan or a fool.

Confronting facts which challenge what we think is an important part of our intellectual growth. It allows us to develop nuance in our understanding of the world. It also helps us understand those around us: very few people are wrong all the time, and no one has a monopoly on truth.  Listening to truth voiced by those with whom we disagree -- once we have determined it to be true -- forces us to examine our own views, which is always a good thing.  Willingness to allow for facts we rather wish weren't true is vital to critical thinking.

More to the point in this case, facts are how we assess credibility. How better to judge a person's arguments than to see whether they get their facts straight? Far too often these days, many people seem to have that backward:  they decide whether or not they like or trust an individual public figure, then accept as fact statements that public figure makes, without bothering to check their truthfulness.  Those statements get repeated, as though factual accuracy was determined by popular vote or amount of media coverage.

As progressives become an increasingly endangered species in this country, adherence to factual accuracy becomes crucial.  Reality is our best weapon; indeed, our only weapon. Being sloppy with facts opens the door to (occasionally proper) accusations of bias and ignorance which many are only too willing to believe.  It behooves us to be very careful about what we assert to be true.

Facts do not cease to exist simply because they are uncomfortable, inconvenient, or call into question your entire belief system.  This is as true for progressives alleging the corruption of Congress as it is for young-earth creationists asserting that the dinosaurs never really existed, or tin-foil hat wearers who insist the moon landings were faked.

*This is a quote from "Oracle America, Inc.’s Reply To Google Inc.’s Objections To The Declaration Of Fred Norton In Support Of Oracle’s Motion To Compel Production Of Documents, or, In the Alternative Respond To Legal Argument,"  filed August 17, 2011 in Oracle America, Inc.  v. Google, Inc. (found on scribd.com).** I was, ahem, Googling for quotes about "facts," and ran across this gem. It is a) true and b) a nicely crafted sentence, which in my book makes it a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
**Yes, I know this is not proper citation form.  No, I have no intention of looking up the correct form.  Yes, I am being lazy.  Sue me.  The issue of the importance of proper form  is an entirely different post which I fully intend to write sometime in May, 2017.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

After all, it *is* 5:00 somewhere...

I am trying to unravel a problem with my email program and GMail.  Looking things over, there is a chance that I -- no, my mail program, without my freaking permission -- may have been accidentally sending my intermediate drafts out to people.  Which means...

I may have sent over a hundred copies of an email out to someone.* And until I figure out what the hell is going on, I am reluctant to email anyone about anything, so sending an "I'm so sorry I spammed your inbox" email is not an option.  Not to mention that it would look very silly in any case.

And if you're the person who got the 100+ copies of the single email?

I am not stalking you.

Really, truly. (Not that you're not stalk-worthy, mind you, but I don't roll that way.  I am certifiably crazy, but I am not THAT certifiably crazy.)

I am having the devil's own time resisting adding whiskey to my coffee right now.  Irish coffee makes everything better, at least until I have to drive somewhere.

*No, I did not rewrite the damn thing 100 times.  My mail program autosaves drafts every little while, and I took time to craft this email carefully.  And see what it got me?

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Role models

One of the books on last year's Entertainment Weekly's "Top Ten Nonfiction Books for 2010" is a book, Packing for Mars by Mary Roach, the subject matter with which I have at least a passing familiarity.  Among other aspects of NASA's space programs, it talks about the Haughton-Mars project on Devon Island, which the Rocket Scientist is part of every year since 1998, the second year of its existence.

The Rocket Scientist is in the book.  He comes across as quite irascible, which he can be when dealing with people who annoy him, especially if he thinks they are being idiots.  The fact that he has to go two weeks working long hours with minimal chances for showers doesn't help either.  Roach makes the rather romanticized statement that he looks like Walter Raleigh, except for the ruffled collar.  Which has led to me calling him, occasionally, the cranky Walter Raleigh.  (He actually looks nothing like Sir Walter, except for the beard.)

There is one problem with Roach's book: it is incomplete in a very disturbing way.  She writes about a number of people in camp, including the cook and the guy who fixes the ATVs.... but not one woman. To read her account, Devon is an all-male club, with the men ruggedly braving the elements for the sake of helping mankind along in its search for other planets.

Funny, she missed the fact that RS's assistant -- heavily responsible for the mechanics of his drill and indispensable to his project -- was a woman.  Not to mention my friend Sarah Huffman, who was the sysadmin, the comms person for RS's project, second in command on the traverse mentioned in the book, and the person who changed the spark-plugs on the ATVs when they were in the field.* There was at least one other woman up there that year. A rather large oversight on the author's part, don't you think?

I have not heard Roach speak about her book, nor read interviews with her.  It may be she offers an explanation about who she left out.  I would hope so, but that still doesn't change the fact that women are missing from her account.  I mean, the cook but not the sysadmin? What the hell? The Rocket Scientist points out that she is free to concentrate on whatever people she feels will make her book more interesting.  If that's true -- and I concede that it is -- the fact that she chose a narrative which eliminates women from the picture she paints says nothing good to me about how she views the world.

Sarah was very unhappy with this.  Not because she was left out (she's very level-headed and that did not seem to bother her too much**) but because of the effect on young girls.  Here was a chance for girls to see how possible it was for them to go into the field and do science and engineering in hostile environments.  Here were two women role models for adventurous girls who were totally ignored.

It is true that there are a lot of women who blaze trails.  But for many girls the roles in which they are capable of seeing themselves are influenced by the roles they see women filling. (This is not restricted to women, of course: its simply that there are so many more roles filled by men that they have a wider range of models to emulate.)  Every woman left out of the accounts is one less woman that a girl can point to and say "Yes, her.  I want to do what she's doing."

This was brought to mind by an article a friend posted to Facebook which discussed a report from the U.S. Commerce Department which stated that women who were getting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees were less likely than men with similar degrees to actually work in their fields, but instead to work in fields like eduction and health care.  According to the TPM website, "The report speculates that reasons for this could be socio-cultural in nature: 'a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields.'" [Emphasis mine.]

Girls need role models.  While it is true that we need educators and people in health care, we also need women to be scientists and engineers.  We could be missing the next Marie Curie, the next Annie Jump Cannon, the next Rosalind Franklin.  What a waste that would be.

A waste we cannot afford.

*The prior year, Sarah had been the camp cook as well.  There is a reason I call her "the fabulous Sarah Huffman."
** Have I mentioned that Sarah is the person I want to be when I grow up, even though she's two decades younger than I am?