Saturday, August 28, 2010

Understanding One Quadrillion

A helpful visual guide.

The Commerce Clause

Here is a ten-minute video from about the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and how it relates to the new healthcare bill.

Though I mostly support the healthcare bill, I do think this is a reasonable debate to have. My problem with this video is that it seems edited to make Erwin Chemerinsky come off as having wildly crazy theories while everyone else is rational and correct. Now, perhaps Chemerinsky does that on his own; but you wouldn't know it watching this video. It doesn't matter which side of a debate does this; it's wrong and it's irritating. If you obviously have the correct position, then letting the other side clearly articulate their ideas should not affect the strength of your argument.

But it seems pretty obvious that for most people, well-reasoned and polite debate is not the American way.

h/t: Radley Balko

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Really Facebook?

Facebook (500 million+ users) is suing the people behind Teachbook (fewer than 20 users) over their use of "book" in their name. This is another sad example of the 500 lb. gorilla knocking the little guy around. No one is going to confuse the two or start thinking that "book" is somehow getting diluted. Which one do you think has the money for a court battle like this? Right. So, who wins nearly by default. Right. Sad but true.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Something Deserving of Protest

This is something actually deserving of protest.

Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn't violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn't tracking your movements.
That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant.

This is all sorts of fucked up. There's no other way to put such an egregious violation of basic civil liberties. As conservative (label alert!) as the current Supreme Court is, I can't see them letting this stand. God, I hope not, anyway. This and not the Muslim community center (not mosque) near (not on) Ground Zero is something that people should be up in arms about.

The Problem With Labels

Check out this discussion between Conor Friedersdorf and Conn Carroll on Bloggingheads in which they discuss labels and labeling (e.g. conservative, liberal,etc.) Specifically, Carroll likes them and thinks they are a useful shortcut. Friedersdorf disagrees.

I find myself much closer to Friedersdorf. Labels can be alright as long as people using them and reading (or hearing or whatever) them remember that they are not always accurate, that they are mental shortcuts that are not capable of fully describing a person.

Unfortunately, this typically does not happen. We divide everything into oversimplified black and white groups. As such, one label becomes a signal of good and its opposite becomes the moniker of the scary other, the bad (like...conservative and liberal). We form teams. The team you belong to is obviously the good team and so the other team is the enemy. That also means that someone supposedly part of your team who disagrees with you in some way must clearly not be on your team whatever you may agree on. He or she is apostate and must be cast out like Carroll does with Andrew Sullivan.

What this means is that a label can end up obfuscating just as often as it clarifies. A journalist or blogger or anyone writing for an online audience is typically trying to explain a topic or their views on said topic. If using a label is not going to aid in that endeavor, then it should not be used. Carroll's argument that these labels help him understand a writer and their biases and the "holes" in their arguments was just bizarre. A person's ideas should stand on their own. You shouldn't need to know what label they are in your world-view in order to judge the merit of the argument. Carroll's use of labels this way allows him to agree with anyone on his team whatever the merit of their position and disagree with someone with the wrong label in the same manner.

In fact the reason I don't like to call myself a liberal or a conservative or any other label is because it is too easy to make that a neat little box to put someone in and I don't feel like I fit in a box like that at least not politically. Some labels are okay - male (nothing confusing about that...for me), dork/nerd (uhm...I play Dungeons & Dragons, love Star Trek, read Lord of the Rings over and over, can recite quite a bit of pi off the top of my head, so there's no real disputing of that one), father (I've tried not claiming my two daughters; it didn't work). Maybe there are a few others that I can accept. But when it comes to politics, I think it's far too broad a subject and the labels far too meaningless to let one apply to me. Do I typically lean left? Yeah. Do I agree with orthodox liberals (whatever those may be) on everything? Definitely not. As Friedersdorf said, calling me a liberal would not tell you much about how I thought politically.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fox Makes It Too Easy

Why can't the mainstream media demonstrate the same level of analysis that The Daily Show does on a regular basis? Watch in awe as they demonstrate the intellectual dishonesty that exists on Fox.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Harve Bennett Interview

Harve Bennett is credited (along with Nicholas Meyer) as one of the saviors of Star Trek. After the enormous expense and lackluster box officer performance of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the prospects of further movies was grim. Bennett stepped up and with virtually no knowledge of Trek when he agreed to the project, he went on to make some very successful and good films. Naturally then, I hold him in high regard so it was nice to see an interview with him over at Trek's official site. Check out part one here and part two here. There was nothing really new in it to a junkie like me, but I enjoy hearing directly from people behind the scenes.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Is Curiosity Good or Bad?

Stanley Fish writing an opinion piece for the NYT says that curiosity is not so good.

That’s exactly what Paul Griffiths, professor of divinity at Duke University, is afraid of. Where Leach welcomes the enlargement of curiosity’s empire, Griffiths, who is writing a book on the vice of curiosity, sees it as a sign of moral and spiritual danger: “Late modern societies that are fundamentally shaped by the overwhelming presence of electronic media and the obscene inundation of every aspect of human life by pictures and sounds have turned the vice of curiosity into a prescribed way of life” (“Reason and the Reasons of Faith”). The prescriptions come in the form of familiar injunctions: follow the inquiry as far as it goes, leave no stone unturned, there is always more to know, the more information the better. “In a world where curiosity rules,” Griffiths declares, “unmasking curiosity as a destructive and offensive device . . . amounts to nothing less than a . . . radical critique of superficiality and constant distraction.”


In short, curiosity — sometimes called research, sometimes called unfettered inquiry, sometimes called progress, sometimes called academic freedom — is their God. The question, posed by thinkers from Aquinas to Augustine to Newman to Griffiths, is whether this is the God — the God, ultimately, of self — we want to worship. Given the evidence, including Chairman Leach’s address, the answer would seem to be yes.

I suppose it's to be expected that an attack on curiosity would come from a person of faith. I'm not sure I've ever seen someone criticize it from a secular point of view.

It's a shame because I think curiosity is one of the greatest assets of humankind. Curiosity has allowed us to search out the entire world and beyond. It has given us medicine and the computer and democracy. Yes, of course, no advancement of knowledge comes without a cost, but I think that the price has been worth it. We are better off in many ways (not all) than we used to be. We can't learn anything without someone being curious enough to ask, "How?" and "Why" and "What if?" Without learning comes stagnation. With stagnation comes regression. Soon we find we are barbarians. Would we be able to eliminate slavery and enact women's suffrage without curiosity? Hardly. Somebody has to question why we have these institutions and why we are keeping them. That takes curiosity.

Fish brings up going "too far" and crossing moral boundaries due to "insatiable" curiosity. But does that mean curiosity is a bad thing. Some people eat too much. Should we then declare food a bad thing, something to be avoided? Not likely. We learn to moderate ourselves. We teach our children how to respect boundaries. Avoiding it completely is cowardly.

It's also interesting that Fish condemns curiosity as something that "distracts men from the study and worship of God." But how are we supposed to learn about God if we aren't curious about Her? Wouldn't a lack of curiosity lead to apathy? I think it would. So, I think some level of curiosity is necessary for human growth whether spiritual or not. Now Fish may think much less curiosity is desired than I do, but I don't see how we can be fully human without the ability to be curious.

Now, I specifically avoided one of the biggest points of Fish's essay, that of Adam and Eve and Original Sin. Such a topic requires much more space than a blog post. Suffice to say that I don't think that the lesson he learns from that story is specifically applicable to humans today.

h/t: Sullivan

What a Stud

This made me laugh.

Source: Fail Blog

A Vote for Pac-Man

Some hackers demonstrate how easy it was for them to install Pac-Man on an electronic voting booth.

Check Out the Big Brain on Philly

The city of Philadelphia wants bloggers to start purchasing a $300 business license whether or not they make money because they "could" make money. In the annals of stupid ideas...

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Zoom Zoom

Don't click this link if you don't have time to waste. National Geographic has created a series of beautiful pictures that you can click to zoom in and see the smaller pictures making up the larger one. Click on one of those to enlarge it and then click it again to zoom in on it and pick a different photo. A very cool idea indeed.

Teal and Orange

A film editor complains about color in Hollywood films.

Those of you who watch a lot of Hollywood movies may have noticed a certain trend that has consumed the industry in the last few years. It is one of the most insidious and heinous practices that has ever overwhelmed the industry. Am I talking about the lack of good scripts? Do I speak of the dependency of a few mega-blockbuster hits to save the studios each year, or of the endless sequels and television retreads? No, I am talking about something much more dangerous, much deadlier to the health of cinema.


He's got a number of screenshots to show what he's talking about. I never really noticed before, but now I won't be able to watch any movie without looking for this.

Weekly Secret


Wow, there's certainly a lot of emotion here. Whenever I read something like this, my curiosity is piqued. What was this person's childhood like? What are they like now? Was their childhood as bad as they make it sound? Who knows? Whatever the story is, though, this person is clearly carrying some baggage.

What Is Multiple Sclerosis and What Is Its History?

Two questions I know you have been asking yourself. Well, maybe you have been if you have it or know someone who does. I just discovered these two videos on MS on just this very topic. The first explains exactly what MS is (or at least our current understanding of it) and the second is a history of the disease. Did you know that one of the first people we can definitely say had MS was Lidwina, a saint from the Netherlands in the late14th/early 15th century? Now you do.

This takes about ten minutes to get going.