Thursday, December 6, 2012

Star Trek Teaser

It was nerdgasm time today as the teaser for Star Trek into Darkness debuted.

This has me very excited. I kept my expectations low for the last Trek film and Abrams did not disappoint. It was much better than I was expecting. Details have been scarce so far and the villain has not been revealed, yet. Speculation at first kept saying that it was going to be Khan (which would be a big mistake), but lately Garth of Izar and Gary Mitchell have been tossed out. Either of these would be fine choices. They are good characters and a lot could be done with either. I'm hoping, though, that the writers decided to create something new. You'd be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of The Original Series than me, but that's why I'm so interested in new stuff being done with these characters rather than just rehashing old material. Let it rest and peace and honor the memory of TOS by dreaming new stories up.

I still plan on forking out money to see this opening day and I'm confident it will be a very good film even if the villain is recycled. I will be a little disappointed if that's the case, though.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The High Costs of Emergency Medicine

A couple months ago, I had to take my youngest daughter to the Emergency Department. I picked her and her sister up from the park. She was in a panic because she had pain and a tightness in her chest and was having difficulty breathing. This is not something that could just wait for her primary care physician, so off we went to the ED. As it turns out, she has asthma like her sister and was having an attack. She got a breathing treatment and an inhaler and is now doing much better.

What was the cost for this excursion? I just got the bill yesterday. The grand total was $1417.30. After insurance, my share is only $551.72. I'll just write a check for that and it's over and done with.


Yeah, right. There's no way I have that sort of money just sitting around. Thankfully, I work at the same hospital and it's (relatively) easy for me to just arrange to have payments taken out of my check for the next six months (or whatever) to pay this off.

We talk a lot about the soaring cost of healthcare in the country and there is a push to take more preventative measures to reduce trips to the ED. Sometimes those visits are unavoidable, though, and it will be really important for Congress and the President to ensure that good cost control mechanisms are put in place with Obamacare so that the average person doesn't need to worry about healthcare being unaffordable. Like I said, I'm lucky in that I can make payment arrangements with a minimum of fuss. Most people are not in that situation and it's trivial to find horror stories of people going bankrupt over the cost of healthcare.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Importance of Actually Taking Your Meds

This morning was a bit hectic and I ended up skipping breakfast. That's when I typically take my modafinil pill. Right after lunch, I got a headache and started feeling really tired which is when I realized what happened. I couldn't get back to my office and by the time I did, it was really too late to be taking it unless I wanted to be awake half of the night. It's amazing how much different I felt. Tuesday and Wednesday were just awesome in terms of my energy levels. Today was completely the opposite.

So, the moral of the story, children, is that your meds don't do you any good if you forget to take them.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Drugs and Me

One of the most exciting things about getting multiple diseases is the drugs you get to take. Or something like that. There are plenty of people taking a whole lot more than I am, but just for kicks I thought I would outline what I am currently on.

We'll start with the big two; both are insulin. Without these I wouldn't live very long. You normals have a pancreas that kindly produces insulin for you. Mine no longer does. The first type of insulin is Lantus I take this once a day at night. It provides my basal rate of insulin. My body always needs insulin whether I'm eating or not. Lantus provides this. This is, of course, given by injection.

The other insulin I take is Humalog. This provides my bolus for when I am eating and need extra insulin to process it. I have to carefully balance my blood glucose levels. If it gets too low (if I take more insulin than I need for what I've eaten) then I risk becoming hypoglycemic. If it gets too low, I can go into a coma. I know when I'm getting low because my vision gets wonky and my brain gets foggy. Then it's time to drink some milk or juice (liquids are processed faster than solids). If my blood glucose gets too high, I risk becoming hyperglycemic. How do I know it's getting too high? My mouth is really dry, I'm thirsty no matter how much I drink, and I'm urinating. A lot. I have to check my sugar throughout the day and give myself more insulin as needed or eat more carbs as needed to keep it balanced. It gets old fast, but I sort of have to if I want to avoid being admitted to the hospital or, you know, dying.

Now we get away from stuff I inject and to pills. First up is lisinopril. Most people know this drug as something for high blood pressure. Thankfully that's not a problem I have. In fact, I don't know that I've every had high blood pressure. No, I take it for proteinuria. Thanks to diabetes, I have too much protein in my urine which can lead to kidney damage. The lisinopril helps protect them so I can keep 'em. Take a pill every day and keep my kidneys. I guess that seems like a fair trade.

This is one I finally got back on starting today (well, tomorrow). Like 80% of my fellow cohorts with multiple sclerosis, I suffer from serious fatigue. Even when I get a full night of sleep, I can struggle to be fully awake and alert throughout the day. Sometimes I'm sitting at my desk at work and seriously struggling to keep my eyes open. That makes being productive a struggle. Modafinil works against this, though I find it funny that scientists still don't understand how it works. Of course, they don't understand why people with MS have fatigue, either. The most common theory bandied about now is that the MS brain is constantly rewiring itself in order to most efficiently send signals where they need to go. Whatever the cause, fatigue sucks. And, however it works, Modafinil helps. I stopped taking it awhile back due to the cost. Just a couple of weeks ago, I checked with my insurance and Provigil (the name brand) would cost me nearly $600 for a 3-month supply. As it turns out, though, a generic was recently approved. That would cost me $18 for the same amount. That I can afford. So, my doc wrote me a script and starting tomorrow, I'll be taking one a day at least during the week. On weekends, if I can squeeze in a nap I might rely on that.

I'm not really big on supplements and this happens to be the only one I take. There is some evidence suggesting that a lack of vitamin D can contribute to contracting MS. There is also some evidence suggesting that taking a vitamin D supplement can help with the symptoms. It's not as if I can alter my diet to get more of it and I don't think my office will be located outdoors anytime soon, so I pop another pill every day.

So, those are the drugs I take. The insulin I have to take. The lisinopril is strongly recommended I take. The modafinil makes life easier. The vitamin D is completely optional and may or may not be helpful. I'm grateful that there are drugs I can take to keep me upright and I'm grateful that I'm not stuck taking 20, 30, or 40 different prescriptions like some people do. It would be nice to take something for the MS itself (rather than just symptoms of it), but even with good health insurance I would still be looking at hundreds of dollars a month in out of pockets costs. That's not something I can afford at the moment. All in all, though, I'd say I'm pretty lucky.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

21 Years

It was twenty-one years ago today that Freddie Mercury shuffled off this mortal coil. Queen is my favorite band and I think Mercury was the greatest front man of all time. On top of his incredible vocals, he just had an amazing chemistry when he was performing. The way he connects with a crowd is just awe-inspiring. Here is Queen at Wembley Stadium in 1986 in one of their most famous performances

Here's to you, Freddie. Your voice is amongst the angels now, no doubt showing them how it's done.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Nightwish Has a New Singer

This apparently happened last month, but I just found out today. Epic symphonic power metal band Nightwish has parted ways with Annette Olzon who joined the band in 2007 to replace Tarja Turunen. Olzon was a somewhat controversial choice as she did not have the operatic vocals of Turunen. Tuomas Holopainen's compositions didn't change, but the delivery couldn't help but be different with Olzon who had a "smaller," poppier voice. Personally I ended up liking her more than I expected to, but I still missed Turunen's voice as did many other fans of the band.

The replacement singer for the time being is Floor Jansen. She was the lead singer for After Forever before they broke up. At this time she is just filling in for the remaining Nightwish concerts on their current tour. Whether she will continue with the band when they go back to the studio is up in the air. I'm excited about the possibilities. I always liked her in After Forever and her voice is definitely more operatic than Olzon's. Here are a couple of tracks from After Forever.

She definitely has the chops. I hope she does stick with the band.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Journalism, Drones, and Assassination! Oh, My!

Jeremy Scahill is one of the best voices out there covering American foreign policy, especially in regards to drones and American policy on terror. Here is a good interview with him about these subjects and the media that covers (or doesn't) these topics.

I do think the stuff about video games comes off as sort of a cheap shot. Kids have played at war games ever since the advent of kids and I don't think violent video games are much different than running around whacking each other with sticks.

Leadership in Government

One of the things that bugs me the most from people in government (typically from legislators) is the phrase along the lines of "The President (or governor or whomever) needs to step up and lead" on some issue. The latest version of this I've seen is from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) speaking about the fiscal cliff.

There’s a problem out there. It’s got to get solved; it’s got to get solved by the president leading. He’s got to put forward what we ought to do and ought to negotiate from there? The point is real leadership — get in the room, here’s what I ought to do. All of the speculation doesn’t do anything to do anything except muddy the waters. He needs a clear vision statement, what he thinks we ought to do, and specifically how. If his answer is only to raise taxes, that doesn’t stop the problem. We ought to stop sequester.

I wonder if Sen. Coburn (or other people saying this) skipped their government class in high school. It seems that he doesn't realize that the Congress is a co-equal branch of government. He or any other legislator can step up and lead on this issue just as well as the President. The problem, though, is that would require Sen. Coburn to put himself out there, to take some responsibility. It's far easier to call for some other guy to put forth a plan and then criticize it for not being exactly what you want. I understand that's the political game, but there's no reason for us not to call it out when it happens.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Persistent Existence of Lunatics

A group of Georgia lawmakers got a briefing on the details of Obama's secret mind-control plot.

President Obama is using a Cold War-era mind-control technique known as "Delphi" to coerce Americans into accepting his plan for a United Nations-run communist dictatorship in which suburbanites will be forcibly relocated to cities. That's according to a four-hour briefing delivered to Republican state senators at the Georgia state Capitol last month.

I don't think there's much to be done about stuff like this other than laugh. There will always be a fringe group of people who hold out crazy notions (see also Birthers, Truthers, Grassy Knollers, etc.) The problem in the 21st-century is that the internet gives them an easy way to reach out to each other and connect, thereby reinforcing their foolishness.

About the only thing that can be done is to know the facts and be prepared to speak to them when those close to you start espousing nonsense. These people aren't going to be persuaded by the truth by anything they see on TV or read in a book. The only possibility is when it comes from someone they know and trust. Not that it's a guarantee, but it's a lot more likely than from someone else.

Also, for your own mental health: laugh. Because, really, this stuff is damn funny.

That Sparkly Vampire Movie

Tomorrow I am being dragged along to that movie about sparkly vampires, the dudes with tight abs that don't like them, and the wilting flower caught between them. The things we guys do for women. I probably won't be permitted to offer running sarcastic commentary, either. Damn.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

News in the Online Age

Some time back, the local paper here, the Billings Gazette, decided that it was going to start limiting online access to its website to people who were not subscribers to the paper. It's not the first paper to do this; the New York Times announced a similar plan earlier this year. Naturally there are typically ways around these firewalls. I understand that this is a turbulent time for newspapers, but this seems exactly the wrong way to deal with the problem. As a result of the Gazette's actions, I am not purchasing a digital or hardcopy subscription. I am just getting my local news elsewhere. With no disrespect to the people that work there, the Gazette just isn't that good of a paper. It does a perfectly serviceable job, but it's just not good enough to part from me $69.50 for a one-year digital subscription.

Again, I understand that it's hard out there for old-school journalism, but this is not the way to save it. The Gazette is no doubt counting on the fact that it is the only daily newspaper in the area right now. But counting on that is no way to ensure a successful future. They need to get a lot more creative than just limiting online access to meet this challenge.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Why Reading is Important

In case you weren't sure and needed an excuse to read more.

What Do We Expect From Our Leaders

So, David Petraeus is resigning as head of the CIA after it has come out that he had an affair. Am I the only one that finds this odd? I'm not in anyway defending his actions which are rather reprehensible, but I'm wondering why any of the rest of us care. Sure, there's the off chance of some sort of security risk in that someone could potentially blackmail him, but the blackmailing would rely on the rest of us caring enough about Petraeus's personal life to care about whether or not he is cheating on his wife.

Of course Petraeus is not the first leader, nor will he be the last, who was caught with dirty laundry in his/her personal life. These people are frequently tut-tutted by the rest of us in some sort of odd cathartic release as we imagine that we're better than the person being drummed out of their position. I'm just wondering out loud if this is the best way to run things. Should we demand an impeccable moral standard from our leaders? Is that even possible as long as people are people? Should we care about someone's personal life and personal failings even if those failings are unrelated to their job?

I don't have a solid position on this because I think it's complicated, but my first instinct is to say that it shouldn't matter. If Petraeus is having an affair, that should be the business of the people involved and not a matter for anyone else to concern themselves with. However, I'm open to arguments from the other side. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Six Years On

2006 was not exactly a banner year for me. In addition to losing my dear friend, Patrick, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis on this day six years ago. I had been having odd symptoms for months and I knew it was serious. I'll never forget sitting alone in the exam room waiting for my doctor to come back with the test results, thoughts running wild in my mind. Never have I ever felt so lonely and I seemed to be sitting there for an eternity. When he finally came in and told me what was going on, I'm not sure I could even tell you what went through my mind then. It was a jumbled confusion whatever it was. What did this mean for my life? What was going to happen to me? Why me? A sort of fog settled over me as I tried to parse this information.

In a sense everything had changed and nothing had. I was still the same person I always had been. Now, I just had this to aspect to me that I had to accommodate whether I like it or not. At least in the short-term, nothing was much likely to change. Down the road would be a different matter, but how long before that happened? How long before I could look forward to using a cane, a walker, or a wheelchair? How long before physical difficulties started having a serious impact on my day-to-day living? These were now questions that settled into my head and are always there, always lurking in the background.

I was lucky enough to get involved in a study being done on two MS drugs that were currently on the market - Copaxone and Avonex. The study was looking at whether these two drugs worked better when taken together or separately. The Copaxone was a daily injection that had few to no side effects. The Avonex was a weekly injection that made me feel horrible with flu-like symptoms for about 24 hours. It's a good thing I don't have a problem with needles because I was now poking myself eight times a week. The drugs are not a cure for MS which doesn't exist. Their purpose is merely to slow down the advancement of the disease and delay the onset of more serious symptoms.

I was in the study for nearly five years before I quit. The side-effects of the Avonex were having a serious impact on my quality of life and I just didn't want to put up with it anymore. That meant, of course, that further treatments would have to come out of my own pocket. Even with insurance, I was looking at hundreds of dollars a month for anything on the market. That's not exactly feasible for me at the moment, so I haven't been taking anything since then.

The disease has definitely progressed. My most common symptom is fatigue which really hasn't changed much since my diagnosis. On most days, even when I have gotten a proper amount of sleep, I feel very tired by mid to late afternoon. Whenever I have a chance (read: weekends), I try to take an afternoon nap. What I do deal with more frequently now than I used to is numb spells. My right leg is the most common victim and it will just go completely numb for a few seconds. This can lead to some entertaining results such as when it happens mid step when I'm on a flight of stairs or jogging across a busy road just ahead of oncoming traffic. The spells are brief and then sensation returns as if it never went away. They're more an irritant now more than anything. "Oh, there's my stupid leg going numb again. I guess I'll keep forcing myself to walk and hope it goes away in a second."

One good thing the MS has helped me with is that when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes a year-and-a-half later, it wasn't all that big of a deal. What's an incurable disease when you already have one? Pssh, it's old hat. That sounds like a really sad sort of good thing, but it's true. The diabetes diagnosis wasn't near so hard to hear as the MS diagnosis.

I'm not sure there's anything else I could really say that's been good about getting MS. Oh, I could probably spout some banal platitudes about appreciating life more or blah, blah, blah; but those all sound so silly. Sometimes shitty things happen in life and there's nothing to be done about it. You simply have to adapt to it and not let it get the best of you. I think I do all right most of the time. I'm human, though, and have moments of feeling sorry for myself. But for the most part, I'm just like, "I'm Shane Noble and no goddamn incurable disease is going to get the best of me." Or at least I try.

Back. Again. No Really.

I know I've said it before, but this time I really am going to work on committing to regular posting again. I've missed it. Feel free to shoot me an email if you haven't seen a post in a couple of days.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Displaying My Photos Online

I've been looking for some good sites for sharing my photos and I've come across a couple I'm going to try out.

500px - I hadn't heard of this site until recently. There's a couple of different membership options and I'm just driving with the free one now. So far it seems relatively simple to use.

DeviantArt - I have heard of this site and perused it before. Like 500px, it's relatively easy to use so far.

I think I'll link to these sites when I upload new pics rather than hosting them directly here on the blog.

One thing that became exquisitely clear on both of these sites is that there are some damn good photographers out there and I fell almost embarrassed having my photos on the same website. I plan to keep working at it, though, and maybe some day I'll feel like I belong there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Death Czar

Gleen Greenwald, always worth reading, has a post up about the power now being invested in John Brennan, torture cheerleader.

Now, Brennan’s power has increased even more: he’s on his way to becoming the sole arbiter of life and death, the unchecked judge, jury and executioner of whomever he wants dead (of course, when Associated Press in this report uses the words “Terrorist” or “al-Qaida operative,” what they actually mean is: a person accused by the U.S. Government, with no due process, of involvement in Terrorism):


Needless to say, all of this takes place in total secrecy, with no legal framework and no oversight of any kind. Indeed, even after they had Brennan publicly defend the CIA drone program, the Obama administration continue to insist in federal court that the program is too secretive even to confirm its existence. It’s just a tiny cadre of National Security State officials who decide, in the dark, whom they want dead, and then — once the President signs off — it is done. This is the Change with which the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has gifted us: ”some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of ‘how easy it has become to kill someone.’

This is so far from candidate-Obama's words that it's just baffling. The power of the Executive continues to grow seemingly unchecked and there seems to be no obstacles to stopping it and no future path visible to reverse it. This way lies madness.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What is the Outreach Strategy?

I often wonder what extreme Christians are thinking when they say we should do things like, "Build a great, big, large fence — 150 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there... Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can't get out… And you know what, in a few years, they'll die."

In a sermon blasting President Obama for his same-sex marriage support, Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina, offered a novel — and horrific — solution to the so-called gay scourge: build an electric fence and let "lesbians, queers and homosexuals" starve to death.

"I figured a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers," he says in his sermon, delivered on May 13. "Build a great, big, large fence — 150 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there... Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can't get out… And you know what, in a few years, they'll die."

Has Mr. Worley read a Bible? I have. A few times. I'm struggling to recall a place where Jesus talked about treating people like this. Maybe it's in some apocryphal book I'm not aware of. In my Bible, Jesus talks about loving people. He hangs out with outcasts - lepers, whores, tax collectors. I'm pretty sure he didn't advocate locking sinners up somewhere and letting them die. In fact, I'm pretty sure an idea like that runs counter to everything Jesus talked about. Again, maybe this is in a text that was accidentally and erroneously left out of the New Testament. It would be nice of Pastor Worley to share this text with the rest of us, though.

In addition to wondering where these people come up with these ideas, I wonder about their perception of the efficacy of these statements. Do they think that someone hears a message like this and thinks, "What? That's how bad homosexuality is? I had no clue. I guess I better get my act together." Do they imagine that someone hears this and thinks, "That's a church I'd feel comfortable going to. Those people aren't judgmental at all."

Look, I get that some people have honest religious convictions about issues like homosexuality and abortion. What I don't get is how people like Pastor Worley think that this is a good way to get that message across. This isn't the 18th-century anymore where nearly everyone is going to church and local pastors have a lot of control over what happens in their communities. People have enormous freedom and are bombarded with numerous messages, spiritual and secular. The bottom line is that people are going to go where they feel comfortable, where they feel welcome. Preaching that we should lock homosexuals up and let them die is unlikely to offer many outside a very small community a welcoming message whether they are LGBT or not.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekly Photographs

I went to Riverfront Park for these pictures. It's a great place. Two things became apparent, though. One, I really need to get some more lenses. There were a few shots I really wanted to get, but couldn't without a telephoto lens. If anyone has any spares lying around they want to get rid of, I won't say 'no.' Two, I really need to make sure I'm taking enough memory with me. I had 3 Gigs of memory, but I forgot the 2 Gb card was full. I had to cut the shoot early because of that. Ah, well. I still think I got some decent photos.

Stray Geese Strut

Geese Whisperer

The Elusive Squirrel

The "Mountain"

My niece kept pointing at the hill in the distance and saying we needed to walk to the mountain.

Swim Lessons

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Moral Humility

This is one of my favorite TED talks.

Humility, moral or any other kind, is hard. But necessary.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Have the Geeks Won?

Freddie deBoer writes that geeks need to stop playing the victim card because they've won.

The success of the Avengers is only a small part of a broader phenomenon: the rise of “geek culture” as the single most powerful force, commercial and cultural, in the art and media landscape. The major genres and media once consigned to the realm of geek or nerd culture, such as science fiction, high fantasy, comic books, and video games now dominate both in terms of commercial success and popular attention. They are simply unavoidable. Year in and year out, the most highly promoted and widest opening blockbuster films come from broader geek culture. Superhero movies have become so ubiquitous that filmmaker demand is outstripping the supply of comic book characters that could plausibly carry a movie. (Jonah Hexx happened for a reason.) Coverage of video games is now prevalent in general-purpose newspapers and magazines. Television shows like Game of Thrones and Grimm bring Dungeons and Dragons-inflected fantasy—once a bridge too far even for many genre fiction fans— to a large audience. Even the traditionally high-brow cultural media, publications like the New York Times and The New Yorker, devote more attention to sci-fi and superheroes than they do to opera, orchestral music, and ballet.

Yet despite this dominance, there remains a remarkable sensitivity towards perceived slights among these genres’ most dedicated fans.

It's a good essay. I wonder where this feeling comes from. As deBoer points out, it wasn't that long ago that geeky things weren't taken quite as seriously as they are today. However, I don't think it's proximity to the recent past that is fueling the aggrievement. My guess is that it comes down to two things.

One, on a large scale, geeks may have won. I don't think the same can be said on the individual level. A pasty-white, math genius who loves Dungeons and Dragons is a lot more likely to get teased and picked on and bullied than the star quarterback. It's hard to proclaim that geeks have won when you're getting shoved into lockers on a regular basis.

Two, geeks are still portrayed as sort of oddball losers in many forms of media. Not in every show and movie, of course, but in many. People are good at taking portrayals of their group in media and making it their own whether or not it matches their own experiences.

These are just a couple of off the cuff thoughts I had while reading deBoer's essay and not any sort of rigorously thought out ideas. Maybe I'll think differently tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Lowest Difficulty Setting

John Scalzi, sci-fi author and blogger extraordinaire, wrote a post analogizing being a straight, white male to the lowest difficulty setting in life.

Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

It's a good analogy. What I find most fascinating, though, are the comments. Plenty of SWMs pop-in to cry foul and "what has being a SWM ever done for me?!?!"

Many SWMs listen to someone talk about the privilege they have and immediately cry foul which is why Scalzi avoids using the word in his analogy. "I was born poor," they say. "I've contracted cancerAIDS," they say. "Some minority got a job instead of me just because of Affirmative Action," they say. Naturally they miss the point. Scalzi is not saying that being a SWM is a guarantee of riches and an easy life. He's saying that it gives you a leg up. Of course a SWM is (usually) still going to have to put some effort into life to get ahead. It's just that it won't typically have to be as much as someone who is, say a gay, Arabic woman. More doors open more easily for SWM than they do for people who are not.

The larger point that Scalzi is making is that the people who are privileged, the SWMs, need to be aware of this. Being aware doesn't mean needing to feel guilty or to run around making apologies for what they were granted by accident of birth. It means understanding that others have not been granted the same. It means asking, "What can I do, what can we do as a society to reduce the privilege gap so that all people have the same opportunity (not the same outcome) for success.

This is not a simple problem by any means and it's not something that will be solved overnight even if everyone agreed that it was a problem that needed solving. There are still people out there who think white supremacy is a good thing. But the first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging that there is one. That's what Scalzi's post aims at doing in the clever way he's so good at.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Town Outlaws Texting While Walking

File under "Annals of the Ludicrous." A New Jersey town has outlawed texting while walking.

Pedestrians in Fort Lee, New Jersey will have to stop to text, following the passage of a new law that imposes $85 fines on walkers caught texting. Fort Lee Police Chief Thomas Ripoli cited numbers of pedestrian crashes to support the ban: Last year there were 74 crashes involving pedestrians; three pedestrians were killed this year, according to The Record's

“It’s a big distraction. Pedestrians aren’t watching where they are going and they are not aware,” Ripoli said during an announcement of the ban.

Following a brief warning period, New Jersey police began issuing fines to distracted walkers near the end of March, with more than 117 violations recorded to date.

This sounds like an excuse to collect money from the citizenry. Sure, distracted walkers are getting into accidents and getting killed, but how is criminalizing it going to solve the problem? Oh, that's right. When we ban things as with alcohol or drugs, no one uses them anymore. Got it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Enterprise in 20 Years?

An engineer is saying that if we dedicate the resources, we could have our own starship in twenty years.

In Star Trek lore, the first Starship Enterprise will be built by the year 2245. But today, an engineer has proposed — and outlined in meticulous detail — building a full-sized, ion-powered version of the Enterprise complete with 1G of gravity on board, and says it could be done with current technology, within 20 years.

"We have the technological reach to build the first generation of the spaceship known as the USS Enterprise — so let's do it," writes the curator of the Build The Enterprise website, who goes by the name of BTE Dan.

This "Gen1" Enterprise could get to Mars in 90 days, to the moon in three, and "could hop from planet to planet dropping off robotic probes of all sorts en masse — rovers, special-built planes and satellites,” BTE Dan says.

I'd by lying if I said that this doesn't make me feel giddy. This guy isn't some dreamer, either. He actually is an engineer. He's got plans on the website for the ship including plans for funding the endeavor.

The importance of dreaming big cannot be understated. Dreams inspire us to achieve new heights, to strive for better things. They challenge us to be better than we are today. Without dreams we stagnate. NASA inspired so many people back in the 60s and 70s, but it has lost that these days. Just check out this recent Onion headline: "NASA Announces Plans to Put Man on Bus to Cleveland." How sad that it has fallen so far.

There are a lot of anti-science people out there and there's a lot of people out there who argue that "we shouldn't spend money on space stuff until we fix our problems down here." Guess what? There will always be problems here on Earth.

We are humans, imperfect constructs. We have messy feelings and emotions and an inability to perfectly reason. That's not going to go away. But dreaming big and aspiring to new heights will help us solve problems. Look at this list of technologies that came out of the space race. And that's just the start! It's hard to overestimate what the drive for space technology did for those of us stuck on terra firma. A new push for space will have the same effects. It will inspire new scientists in all sorts of fields.

Maybe this specific project isn't the answer. Or maybe it is. The sad fact is that there is far too little talk of space exploration. Check out his website, though. Check out NASA's website. Bug your Congressional representatives to fund more space exploration. Make your kids watch Star Trek. Inspire them.

Updated Blogroll

I just updated my blogroll over on the right hand side of the screen. I try to read a variety of stuff from around the spectrum. And it's all interesting. It makes me think which is the requirement for any blog I read. Check 'em out. They're worth your time.

Battling Robots During the Inevitable Uprising

This is crucial information. I hope you're taking notes.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Crazy Lady Says Crazy Things About Gays

This is the funniest video I've seen in awhile.

"Don't go gay. It's not healthy."

"Jesus was kissed by Judas, a homo."

You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cellphones and Etiquette

An interesting new study says that cellphones make us more selfish.

Researchers from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business found that after a short period of cell phone use, people were less likely to partake in “prosocial” behavior — actions that are intended to help another person or society — compared with a control group. For example, after using a cell phone, study participants were more likely to turn down volunteer opportunities and were less persistent in completing word problems, even though they knew their answers would provide money for charity.

The same drop in prosocial tendencies occurred even when participants were simply asked draw a picture of their cell phones and think about using them.

The study involved college men and women in their 20s, but the researchers think the findings would apply to any group.

So why would an innocuous thing like making a cell phone call make a person less giving? The researchers think it has to do with feelings of social connectedness. All humans have a fundamental need to connect with others — but once that need is met, say by using a cell phone, it naturally reduces our inclination to feel empathy or engage in helping behavior toward others. “The cell phone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong,” said study author and marketing professor Rosellina Ferraro in a statement.

This is very fascinating. I wonder how to combat it. I profess to being as guilty as anyone of being addicted to my smartphone even when I'm in social situations, though I do make some effort to not be constantly checking it every time it vibrates. I think the key is going to have to be peer pressure. Friends and family need to make pacts to have space away from phones and rigorously enforce it. It takes time for us to adapt to any new thing and smartphones really are still quite new. It's no wonder that we are still learning how to make them best fit in our lives.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Was the Death Star Worth It?

One of the greatest things about the internet is getting to read serious posts on serious topics like the Death Star and whether it was worth it for the Empire to build it.

But will it work? Only if it induces cooperation through fear. Every planet blown up represents a tremendous loss of potential future revenue, so like nuclear weapons today, the actual use of the DS is a calamity. Moreover, like nuclear weapons, they only work as a deterrent if they are used judiciously. Citizens throughout the galaxy must believe that failure to pay their taxes and comply with their Imperial masters will lead to detonation, but also that compliance will save them. The fact that the DS was used against Alderaan, however, would likely have had the opposite effect. Alderaan is “peaceful” and “has no weapons.” It was detonated because its teenage senator was secretly aiding the Rebel Alliance and waited too long to give up Dantoonie. To me, that’s a little too Caligula to induce rational compliance. One imagines the conversations on other planets:

Peasant 1: Did you hear the Empire blew up Alderaan? What kind of government blows up one of the richest planets in the galaxy because of one smack-talking teenager? It could be any of us next.

Peasant Windu: Enough is enough! I have had it with these [redacted] emperors on their [redacted] Death Star!

The whole thing is worth a read.

Our Broken Congress

Ezra Klein wrote a good post on his blog about how differently our Congress functions these days than it used to, specifically in regards to the filibuster. He included this helpful chart to demonstrate.

As you can see, things aren't quite the same as they used to be. No President or single member of Congress we elect, no matter how great they are, is going to be able to overcome the problems inherent in the way our government works. We need a different system and I don't mean throwing out everything we have and moving to a parliamentary system. I mean, we need to have rules that allow the majority to govern.

North Carolina Passes Sweeping Same Sex Marriage Ban

The polling made it look like it would and sure enough it passed. North Carolina has passed an amendment to their state constitution that will disallow any sort of partnership, homosexual or not, that isn't a "traditional" marriage. This is disheartening. I just try to keep in mind that demographics are on the right side and it's only a matter of time before more Americans in all age groups support gay marriage.

While younger adults and liberals remain at the forefront of support for gay marriage, the new results underscore its expansion. In an ABC/Post poll five and a half years ago, for example, under-30s were the sole age group to give majority support to gay marriage, at 57 percent. Today it's 68 percent in that group – but also 65 percent among people in their 30s, up a remarkable 23 points from the 2005 level; and 52 percent among those in their 40s, up 17 points. Adults 50 and older remain more skeptical, but even that's seen change. Most notably, 33 percent of seniors now say gay marriage should be legal, up from 18 percent five years ago.

As more and more people come to the realization that gay marriage hurts no one and is good for people, then more and more states will overturn these draconian laws. It's going to be a painful ride and it's not going to happen overnight. Opponents of gay marriage are not going to go gently into that good night. But as long as supporters keep making their case and more gay people come out and share their stories so people can see how normal they are, then I think the long arc of the universe will eventually bend towards justice on this issue.

Fringe Candidates

Elections are mostly depressing affairs, but occasionally something spices events up. Something like fringe candidates. Take a look at Keith Judd who is running against Barack Obama in West Virginia. He was a member of the League of Superheroes back in the day. He's also currently in prison for making threats at a university.

He's not doing too bad either, picking up about 40% of the vote. Those West Virginians know how to pick 'em.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Weekly Photographs

One of the things I thought I would do now that I'm blogging again is start featuring some of my photos. I don't do this because I think I'm some great photographer, but as an incentive to actually get off of my butt and get out taking pictures. I still have a lot to learn about the craft, but I'm not going to learn it sitting in my room. Here are a couple I took just today.


Self Portrait

A Question of Spaces and Periods Cont.

From the #realtalk from your editor tumblr. This cracked me up.


Friday, May 4, 2012

The Muslim Backlash

Related to my point about people judging the Bible on a different set of standards than the Koran, here's Conor Friedersdorf writing about the backlash Muslims have faced since 9/11.

It sounds to me like there was a significant backlash in 2001, and that even after that, hate crimes against Muslims stayed from three to five times more likely than they were before the terrorist attacks. And, of course, hate-crime statistics are hardly the only valid measure of discrimination.

We need to stop blaming all Muslims for the actions of a very select few. We don't tolerate that with any other religion or ethnic group; we shouldn't tolerate it against Muslims, either.

Monkey Helpers

I don't recall hearing about monkeys being trained as service animals before, but this is rather amazing. I have to say, though, that as someone with MS (relapsing-remitting, not progressive) this was particularly hard to watch.

Maybe I'll have a monkey someday.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Koran = Bad, Bible = Good??

I heard some coworkers talking about something today that bothered me. Somehow discussion came to the Middle East and Muslims and one woman brought up the Koran. She said she and her daughter had read parts of it after 9/11 to try to understand why the terrorists did what they did. Based on her readings, she determined that Muhammad was crazy and that Muslims just had radical notions that were completely antithetical to Western beliefs. The guy she was talking to nodded in agreement and said some things that weren't much better. Both of these people are nominal Christians.

Whenever anyone brings up the Koran and things they've read in it (or heard were in it), I wonder if they've read the Bible. I mean really read it. There is a lot of messed up things there. Too many people seem to conveniently overlook these parts when they talk about their wonderful Christian faith. But being a Christian should mean grappling with the hard parts of the Bible and not just the Beatitudes. Let's take a look at some troubling passages in the Bible.

1 Timothy 2:12

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

Sure, there are some denominations that still believe in this passage, but most don't. Why not?

Psalm 137:7-9

Everyone likes Psalm 137, right? It's quite beautiful. Many people never seem to make it to the last couple of verses, though.

Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof. O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

I know there are some Christians that seem to get excited about violence, but how many think it's okay to pray for the death of babies?

Exodus 21:20-21

And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

So, according to the Bible, a slave owner who beats his slave to death should be punished; but if the slave lives then the slave owner is free and clear? Got it. How come I haven't heard any preacher building a sermon based on this passage?

I could go on, but I'll let you find some more fun verses on your own. My point with this is not to say that the Bible is monstrous and should be thrown out. My point is to say that the Bible is very similar to the Koran in that there are some very beautiful things in each and some very troublesome things. We can't look at either with blinders (or blast helmets) on and make judgments on fragments. We must be fair and evaluate the whole. Perhaps you'll come to the conclusion that one or both are full of garbage and only idiots would read them for guidance in life. That's your prerogative. However, you should make your judgment based on a fair reading of the entire text and not just the bits and pieces that support your preconceived notions.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Shep Smith Calls It Like He Sees It

Here's your funny for the day.

Why don't more anchors do this? Are they so desperate for the attention and adoration of famous figures that they are too scared to call a spade a spade? Whatever it is, it's not healthy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

One More Reason I Don't Joint a Political Team

Conor Friedersdorf writes about how ideological voters are easy to manipulate.

The fact is that ideological voters are easy to manipulate. Think of the last presidential election. Conservatives had been complaining about John McCain for years. What did it take for them to rally around the Arizona senator? A vice-presidential pick and the perception that the media was attacking her unfairly. This makes no logical sense. The media's treatment of Sarah Palin had no bearing on whether or not McCain would be a good president, or sufficiently better than Obama to justify conservatives going out to the polls for him despite their misgivings and the signal it sent about the future -- that the base is always going to rally around the Republican in the end.

I won't hide my liberal proclivities, but I don't want to be a Democrat. I don't want to feel pressure to conform to the party line even when I disagree with it. It's too easy to say, especially in a two-party system, that your team is the good guys while the other party is the Evil, Scary, Un-American Other who will probably, most likely wish to do unspeakable things to you. How can we have effective governance when politicians spend more time telling us how bad the other person is instead of what their ideas are? Ideas get dismissed out of hand as soon as someone from the other team espouses them. See for example the origins of the ACA ("Obamacare"). It's basically a bill built on Republican dogma! But as soon as the Democrats embraced it, it became an unconstitutional assault on our freedoms.

There's a reason the Founding Fathers were wary of political parties. Perhaps it was naive of them, but it's hard to say that political parties have really done much to benefit our country, especially when today's Republican Party has gone completely off the deep end.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Question of Spaces and Periods

I've made no secret of my disdain for using two spaces after a period. What amazes me is how prevalent it is. It's been a year or two since typewriters were widely used and you'd think that would be more than enough time for this dinosaur to be laid to rest. Alas, 'tis not so. I made a crack about this on Facebook today after reading a coworker's report that somehow managed to put three spaces after a period. Lo and behold, Two Spacers jumped out claiming that they were correct.

I don't want to hurt any feelings here, but Two Spacers are wrong. Here is Grammar Girl with the skinny.

Although how many spaces you use is ultimately a style choice, using one space is by far the most widely accepted and logical style. The Chicago Manual of Style (1), the AP Stylebook (2), and the Modern Language Association (3) all recommend using one space after a period at the end of a sentence. Furthermore, page designers have written in begging me to encourage people to use one space because if you send them a document with two spaces after the periods, they have to go in and take all the extra spaces out.

Okay. Okay. It's a style choice, so feel free to use it if you must. Just don't be surprised if I'm editing your document and I do a find and replace to make all of the double spaces into single spaces.

Once More Unto the Blog, Dear Friends

So, it's been a little more than a year since my last post and it's time to bring it back. It's something I think about nearly every day. It calls to me. "Youuu...muuuusssst...wriiiiite!" it says to me in a dry, crackling whisper. It calls to me and I must heed its demands. My goal is to post once a day, except maybe on Saturdays. During the week, look for shorter posts on whatever catches my fancy at the moment. On Sundays, look for longer pieces. I think I'm also going to start featuring some of my fiction. It's a good incentive to get back into that. Look first up for a sequel to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" which I seem to have gotten myself into on Facebook. Also, I think I'll start featuring some of my photography which will again be good incentive. The game's afoot!