Saturday, October 20, 2007

Car Shopping

I'm not sure which is more painful, shopping for a vehicle or the hokey-pokey room. I hate car shopping. Hate, hate, hate it. Car salesmen are pretty close in level to gas chamber attendants as far as I'm concerned. I was stalked around a lot by one salesperson while he talked on his cellphone. Another cornered me and went on and on about his company and their mission. When I found a car I was interested in, I had to sit around playing the back and forth game. "Okay, I'll take this offer back to my manager and see what he says." After about four times of that I got up and walked out when he went to talk to his manager. Then I had to deal with him calling me over and over and leaving multiple voicemails. "I don't know what happened, Shane, but call me." I never answered when he called and I certainly didn't return any of his calls.

Why does shopping for a car have to be such a pain in the ass? Car salesmen have to know most people think they are slimy spawns of Satan. I bet a lot of people, myself included, would pay more for a vehicle if they didn't have to deal with a salesperson. I'm going to have to find a private seller or else I'll never get another car out of sheer annoyance with the whole process.

Who Says Money Isn't Everything?

'Cause it is in poltics. Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia is pushing to give telecoms retroactive immunity for turning over their records to the government. He has also been receiving large amounts of money from them. Big surprise, eh?

American Monarchy?

Slate has a scary article about a Presidential directive to keep the country running in case of a disaster. It is called NSPD-51

I don't want to be alarmist, I have no evidence there's a coup brewing. But I think the American people and their congressional reps deserve some say in how they will be ruled when the ordinary rules go out the window in a national emergency. For one thing, what will happen to the Bill of Rights' guarantees of individual liberty and the courts that are supposed to enforce them?

If you ask me, setting aside any paranoid fantasies, it is clear on the most basic level—read it yourself—that NSPD-51 is the creation of irresponsible incompetents, bulls in the china shop of our constitutional framework. It is a recipe for disaster. For a catastrophe of governance that would match whatever physical catastrophe it followed and threaten the re-establishment of constitutional democracy. It would make the partisan warfare over the 2000 election in Florida seem like child's play. We might recover from a disaster but we might never recover from the "continuity coordination" that followed, "coordination" that could forever undermine any faith in the actual continuity of constitutional liberty in America since it would put it at the mercy of any president who wants to "coordinate continuity" rather than govern legally.

As the author states, it is obviously prudent to plan for disasters. However, the President needs to bring in Congress on this issue. The go-it-alone approach isn't going to cut it. We also need the media to be harping on this more. Aren't they supposed to be the fourth estate? And while Republicans seem to have mostly supported the Bush administration's push for more executive power, I can't see them being so happy about it when a Democrat is in office. I also can't imagine some Democrats (read: Hillary) willingly turning over any power that Bush has so kindly acquired for her.

No matter who is in the White House, this is a nightmare. America is not supposed to be a monarchy.

UPDATE: Fixed typos.

Birth Order

Once the domain of folk wisdom and old wives' tales, birth order is now being seriously studied by scientists.

The importance of birth order has been known—or at least suspected—for years. But increasingly, there's hard evidence of its impact. In June, for example, a group of Norwegian researchers released a study showing that firstborns are generally smarter than any siblings who come along later, enjoying on average a three-point IQ advantage over the next eldest—probably a result of the intellectual boost that comes from mentoring younger siblings and helping them in day-to-day tasks. The second child, in turn, is a point ahead of the third. While three points might not seem like much, the effect can be enormous. Just 2.3 IQ points can correlate to a 15-point difference in sat scores, which makes an even bigger difference when you're an Ivy League applicant with a 690 verbal score going head to head against someone with a 705. "In many families," says psychologist Frank Sulloway, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and the man who has for decades been seen as the U.S.'s leading authority on birth order, "the firstborn is going to get into Harvard and the second-born isn't."

The differences don't stop there. Studies in the Philippines show that later-born siblings tend to be shorter and weigh less than earlier-borns. (Think the slight advantage the 6-ft. 5-in. [196 cm] Peyton Manning has over the 6-ft. 4-in. [193 cm] Eli doesn't help when he's trying to throw over the outstretched arms of a leaping lineman?) Younger siblings are less likely to be vaccinated than older ones, with last-borns getting immunized sometimes at only half the rate of firstborns. Eldest siblings are also disproportionately represented in high-paying professions. Younger siblings, by contrast, are looser cannons, less educated and less strapping, perhaps, but statistically likelier to live the exhilarating life of an artist or a comedian, an adventurer, entrepreneur, GI or firefighter. And middle children? Well, they can be a puzzle—even to researchers.

I think that as long as people remember that hard and fast rules are hard to come by in social sciences, studies like this are interesting and give parents something to think about when raising their children.

And for the record, I am a first-born. I guess that means I'm guaranteed brains, fame, and fortune.

Yeah, if only.

Not Just the White House

I've tried to make it clear before that it is not just the Bush administration that is signing off on torture. It is every member of Congress that has not stood up and made an effort to check the President's power (as our government is designed to work). People like Representative Rohrabacher of California who says that extraordinary rendition has saved "millions of American lives."

Even were it true, and none of the evidence I have read suggests it is, I would not support it. It's a slippery road when you say it is okay to hurt someone to save a few lives. How far do you go? Can you torture hundreds of people to save even more American lives? Can you kill people to save American lives? When does it stop?

If you haven't read it, I highly suggest reading the graphic novel Watchmen, which tackles in part the question of whether or not the ends justifies the means.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Religious Fact of the Day

Much of the tension between Jews and Muslims stems from the fact that Muslims have erected the al-Aqsa Mosque (the third holiest site in Islam) and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount where the Jewish Temple was before being destroyed (first by the Babylonians and then the Romans). Many Jews (and fundamentalist Christians) would like to build the Third Temple there.

Kirk Has Been Cast

J.J. Abrams has found his young Kirk for Star Trek XI. Chris Pine will attempt to fill the boots of William Shatner as the famous Captain. I have not seen him in anything, so I have no clue what he is like as an actor. I'm also disappointed that Matt Damon will not be taking the role. When rumors started swirling that he was up for it, I thought he would be an excellent choice.

I'm still very nervous about this movie. I don't think it will be a complete flop as Abrams is quite talented. Still, I don't want it to be just good. I want it to be awe-inspiring.

The English and Torture

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers writes to him with some background on torture in English history.

But the key to all this litany of pain is that the English stopped torturing, at least officially. The last torture warrant dates from 1642, just before the start of the Civil War. Several reasons have been advanced for the forgoing of torture as a tool of investigation or the discovery of evidence. But the two most pertinent were the recognition that information under torture was not reliable, and even more significant, that the English jury system allowed for juries to find fact, thus eliminating the need to have a confession to prove guilt. In other words: if you trust the rule of law, you don't need to act in ways that would make Jesus weep.

Andrew also addresses one of his critic's notions that his beliefs on torture are "subjective arguments."

My view of what torture is is grounded in the plain language of US law, in the plain English of what torture has always meant, and in the clear precedents of American legal and military judgment. It is based on the Geneva Conventions, American law, American history and the consensus of the entire civilized world for a very long time. And it is grounded in what conservatives themselves used to say about the subject - when waterboarding was used by the Khmer Rouge, when hypothermia, sleep deprivation and stress positions were used by the KGB and when the exact techniques used by Bush were deployed by the frigging Gestapo.

Sigh. How far we have fallen as a nation when we can have serious debates about torture instead being able to stand united in condemning someone who thought it was the proper course of conduct. Sadly, it doesn't seem Bush's latest pick for Attorney General is going to fix things. He won't say whether or not waterboarding and other specific techniques are actually torture or not.

Mirror, Mirror

A group of scientists at Oxford believe they have proved that parallel dimensions do exist.

Too bad Star Trek is way ahead of them:

Dammit! What a Bunch of Shit!

A certain level of cursing may be good for the workplace. I'm not sure how well this would fly at my job (a Catholic hospital), although one of my coworkers and I do swear a bit when no one else is around more as a joke than anything. And the security guards do their fair share of swearing. Aw, hell. Fuck it! I'm swearing as much as I damn well please at my job because it's just a bunch of bullshit anyway!

Healthcare Plans

Whether you agree or nor with increased government funding for health insurance (ala SCHIP) or full on socialized medicine, it can be all to easy for opponents (many Republicans) to fall victim to attacks such as this. I haven't heard any Republicans make any good arguments for keeping our current system. The only thing they seem able to say is "government just makes things worse" or "it takes away personal choice." These may be true, but Republicans need to be seen as something other than best friends with big corporations and rich people, not to mention better articulation why they feel healthcare should remain in the private sector.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Does Anyone Have High Standards Anymore?

So much for Mukasey being a check on presidential power.

Improv Everywhere

I saw a post about these guys, Improv Everywhere, and checked out their website. It's a group of people in New York City who get people together, sometimes dozens, to stage giant pranks. Their latest one was getting over one-hundred guys to shop at at an Abercrombie and Fitch store without their shirts on (all at the same time). They have also had dozens of people riding the subway sans pants, had lots of people dress in blue polos and khakis and invade a Best Buy, stationed a bathroom attendant McDonalds, and planted a "suicide jumper" on a four-foot high ledge." There are lots of others, too.

It makes for some hilarious reading. They have lots of pictures and videos of the events. The reactions of the bystanders are priceless. Maybe I should try to organize something like that around here....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Evolution and Moral Relativism

Steve Martin over at An Evangelical Dialogue on Evolution disputes the notion that belief in evolution leads to moral relativism. It is amazing to me how fearful people can be of science (not Steve, but people such as those who wrote the article Steve comments on).

Religious Fact of the Day

The oldest books in the New Testament are the authentic letters of Paul, the oldest of which, 1 Thessalonians, was written between 50 and 52 CE, twenty years of the death of Jesus.

Church Secrets

Slate takes a look at what is in the secret Vatican archives.

An AG Against Torture?

Mukasey seems to be saying all the right things when it comes to torture. It must be remembered, though, that Alberto Gonzales said the right things in his confirmation hearings, too, though. Mukasey doesn't seem like he will be a Bush toadie, but I'm withholding final judgment until I see what does as AG.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Who's Donating to Whom

A breakdown of candidate donations. Rich people are donating to Clinton. Not-so-rich people are donating to Obama. What does that say about each of them?

"No Pin" Gate

This is why I love Bill Maher. Though I disagree with some of his politics, few comedians have the irreverent sarcastic wit he does. Some things are just so stupid, condescending humor, not a calm and reasoned rebuttal is what is needed. We need people like Bill saying, "And they give cover to people like Sean Hannity, who reported on "no pin" gate and then had to call a doctor because his fake outrage hard-on lasted longer than 72 hours." I laughed my ass off when he said that on his show the other night. You should check it out if you haven't, though you need cable (it's on HBO). One of the few TV shows worth your while.

Can I Slam My Head Against the Wall Now?

I called a mechanic today about my car to see if I could get it in today. When I described what was going on he said he didn't need to see it. "Sounds like you blew a head gasket." He proceeded to tell me that it would cost about $1200 to fix.

So, I didn't bother taking the POS in because I'm not going to sink that much into a car that is 18 years old and has all ready cost me a ton of money and given me a mountain of grief. I really don't want to get into a loan for a car, but I don't see any other options at this point.

Only Tuesday?

I agree with the rest of the nation.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ha Ha

A reader of Andrew Sullivan's blog compares Hillary Clinton to Galadriel. No, not the usually good, righteous elf, but the one that was tempted by the One Ring to become an all-powerful queen. That's one of the more humorous (and probably true) analogies I have heard for Clinton.

Religious Fact of the Day

Being that I am studying religion and want to teach, I thought it might be fun to have a religious fact of the day around here. Religious knowledge is seriously lacking in this country, so maybe some people can learn something and maybe it could spark some interesting discussions.

Note: I am not someone who believes the Bible is literally true and inerrant. That means you aren't going to see any facts like "God created the world in six, twenty-four hour days." That also doesn't mean that every fact is going to be completely indisputable. Even amongst secular researchers there is a wide variety of opinions on various topics.

If you want to discuss it further, please do so in the comments section or send me an email. Please, though, if you want to dispute a fact, offer up some evidence or a source for your counter-argument. And, no, "the Holy Spirit told me" is not evidence. Not unless you tell the Holy Spirit to come tell me the same thing.

Anyway, without further ado...

The Torah also known as the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) was compiled from oral stories and brief written accounts in the period after the destruction of Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. It was basically complete in the form we know today by 400 BCE.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Drug Use

An interesting article on Slate about prescription pill abuse.

That's because over the last two decades, the pharmaceutical industry has developed a full set of substitutes for just about every illegal narcotic we have. Avoiding the highly charged politics of "illegal" drugs, the pharmaceutical industry, doctors, and citizens have thus quietly created the means for Americans to get at substitutes for almost all the drugs banned in the 20th century. Through the magic of tolerated use, it's actually the other drug legalization movement, and it has been much more successful than the one you read about in the papers.


That's why drug legalization is happening in a wholly different way. Over the last two decades, the FDA has become increasingly open to drugs designed for the treatment of depression, pain, and anxiety—drugs that are, by their nature, likely to mimic the banned Schedule I narcotics. Part of this is the product of a well-documented relaxation of FDA practice that began under Clinton and has increased under Bush. But another part is the widespread public acceptance of the idea that the effects drug users have always been seeking in their illicit drugs—calmness, lack of pain, and bliss—are now "treatments" as opposed to recreation. We have reached a point at which it's commonly understood that when people snort cocaine because they're depressed or want to function better at work, that's drug trafficking; but taking antidepressants for similar purposes is practicing medicine.

Anymore it seems that the answer to any problem is medicine/drugs. When people get a cold, they drink cough syrup, snort decongestants, pop pain pills, and whatever else they think they need. It's a short jump from there to "I need a pick-me-up. How about some Ritalin?" Why do so many people feel they can't cope with their life without drugs, whether illegal or not?

Father Issues


Awesomely Bad Video

This lady must be competing for some sort of anti-talent show.

The Emperor feels a disturbance in the force.