Sep 29, 2004

checking out is hard to do

The promise is simple: faster, easier. The delivery mechanism is impressive: touch-screen, laser, plenty of glass and plastic, receipt pump, change machine. The experience is painful.

Self-checkout represents... this is where I should start using Luddite phrases like "false promise" or "lure of" or "sweet beckoning of saccharine charm."

Self-checkout, though, is really all about America. High technology reduces the need for extra employees and empowers the consumer. Independently, now, bag those onions, that coleslaw, those ramen noodles; you can do it yourself.

Except you can't.

Oh, you can, and you're thinking that as you clutch your 99-cent soda and 99-cent potato chips to your breast. It's the drudge in front who can't. He flips through produce, trying to remember if it's arugula (ARU) or romaine (ROM); the computer scratches its processor and helps with "artichokes" and "Roma tomatoes." She has fifty items in her cart--her cart!--and there's no limit to how long it will take.

After all, she is faster than a trained checker. He more nimble than a sprightly courtesy clerk. Feeding cash to a machine so much faster than handing it over.

The Albertson's near my home replaced half of the checkout lanes with machines, and now the lines move twice as slowly. The false promise of ease-of-use, the lure of a short lane, the sweet beckoning of saccharine charm....

Sep 27, 2004


Finally, the perfect news item [link broken].

Update 8/16/2007: Maybe no news really is good news. I'll try to dredge Google and figure out where the link used to point. Not like I can remember, nearly three years later.

old habits never die

Try to explain the persistence of irrational behavior, and you're likely to end up a gibbering fool from anger. If people only knew that speeding in the right lane is dangerous. If they'd only stop spending their Social Security checks on Divine Slots. If they'd use paper instead of plastic.

If they'd only stop blowing their noses.

No, really.

But they--or, should I say, a guilty we--can't. It's just too tempting. That crap stays up there, or starts slowly leaking down, and every rational impulse and memory that screams "Remember the Aarhus study!" is drowned out in a torrent of temporary satisfaction. And bacteria and viruses, propelled into the sinuses, give thanks to Kleenex.

Nearly two weeks, and now I'm headed off to Group Health for Cipro. That's right, anthrax-demolishing Cipro. There's no harder opponent than the soft tyranny of mucus.

Play on, nasal trumpet, play on.

Sep 26, 2004

no friggin' way

Quick--think back to 1977. How old were you? Were you even alive then? I wasn't.

In 1977, the San Francisco 49ers suffered a shutout at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons. It would be their last until today--a string of 420 games, an unbelievable number.

And our Seahawks skunked 'em. Bad.

I smell Super Bowl.

Sep 25, 2004

breaking up is hard to do...

...unless your flesh has decayed in the course of minutes thanks to a mysterious, possibly viral, ailment that kills and then reawakens you to a zombie dreamland: the busy streets of London. Chick flicks, westerns, big box electronics stores, TV news, George Romero, and 28 Days Later are fat targets for the gut-wrenching drop-jaw comedy-suspense-romance-slasher Shaun of the Dead, which I implore you to see, provided you have a strong stomach and a healthy (and a bit snarky) sense of humor.

Along the way you'll learn new uses for old LPs, cricket bats, sambuca, video games, juke boxes, and laundry baskets. From scene to scene you'll chuckle, burst out in laughter, shrink back in horror, cringe-laugh, grasp your armrest, apologize for grabbing your neighbor's arm, snort, and, most of all, marvel that a movie could be this funny, this graphic, this horrific, this clever, this British. Thankfully, there's no sap-happy ending; the film's light touchdown is as shockingly funny as the previous hour and a half.

It was showing on just one screen within thirty miles of Olympia; I can only hope and pray it becomes a bust-out hit by word of mouth. See it. Don't take the kids.

free to respire

I guiltily read Ed Brayton's dooooooooooooom piece, knowing that I hadn't yet installed Service Pack 2, thus placing the security of the entire internet at risk--but it wasn't my fault. I tried to download it through the website, but it simply wouldn't take. The school's tech expert ended up throwing up his hands, saying "order the CD," which I did. "Will arrive in 4 to 6 weeks, Microsoft promised. I now sat at the horns of an ethical quandary: should I continue using the 'net, knowing that for two or three fortnights I could jeopardize the fate of the free world?

The disc arrived in a week. Now I'm up-to-date.

Incidentally, blogging's been light recently; school has started up, which means time is suddenly unavailable. To add to that, I've been assaulted by a viral invasion for over a week and a half, laboring through rivers of mucus, coughing fits, sleeplessness, and the like. But blog I must.

Oh, and you should read this.

Sep 22, 2004

from the bizarre to the sublime

"Rescue rats" used to mean rodents saved in animal shelters. Not anymore.
Rats equipped with radios that transmit their brainwaves could soon be helping to locate earthquake survivors buried in the wreckage of collapsed buildings.

Rats have an exquisitely sensitive sense of smell and can crawl just about anywhere. This combination makes them ideal candidates for sniffing out buried survivors. For that, the animals need to be taught to home in on people, and they must also signal their position to rescuers on the surface.

In a project funded by DARPA, the Pentagon’s research arm, Linda and Ray Hermer-Vazquez of the University of Florida in Gainesville have worked out a way to achieve this.

I hereby trademark the phrase "Rescue Rats." Anyone who wishes to create a children's cartoon, prime time action series, or HBO special, drop me a line.

Update: My wife read the article, and her reaction was much, much different. "Most people fear rats," she said, pointing out the all-too-obvious. "They'd freak out if some long-toothed rodent started snuffling around their head." Which is why Rescue Rats will have to wear little speakers that broadcast their identity. No surprises.

go to your head

As Old Media continues to either beat down or fawn over New Media, let's stop and think for a moment:

Bloggers don't do original reporting.

That's it.

We're media critics, fact-checkers, b.s.-callers, gadflies, and useful in such roles. But we're not out there interviewing, digging through libraries, talking to The Woman in the Street. No matter how well-read we are, no matter how many websites we peruse each morning, no matter how quickly we can link to obscure factoids, no matter how crisp our prose, we just don't matter that much.


When they offer a degree in Blogging, I'll rescind this statement. Heck, I'll print it on 80-lb white paper and eat it, pica by pica.

A little humility, please.

Sep 21, 2004

I yam what I yam

Go ahead and start with the Popeye jokes.

tune in, turn on, drop in

A little while ago I wrote, "Who cares what our WASL scores are, if we're losing students?"

Turns out we're losing them aplenty--but we're gaining ground.
During the 2002-03 school year, 21,390 high school students, or 6.7 percent of all students in grades 9-12, dropped out of high school – down a full-percentage point from the previous year, according to a report released Tuesday by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

Drop-out rates in the three largest districts in the South Sound were lower than the state’s average. They were: 6 percent in North Thurston Public Schools, 4.1 percent in the Olympia School District and 5.2 percent in Tumwater schools.

Across the state, the “on-time” graduation rate for a specific group of students – in this case, those who entered grade 9 in the fall of 1999 and were expected to graduate in the spring of 2003 – held steady, according to the report.

About 24.3 percent of the students in that class dropped out, and only 65.7 percent of the students graduated on-time. The other 10 percent took more than four years to complete their high school requirements.

Let's forget about the success stories and the belated-success stories in the latter two statistics, and look at that first number: 24.3 percent of our students are dropping out, statewide.


Once the WASL is required for graduation, I wonder what'll happen to that number.

One thing high schools (in particular) should do is find community members who can talk to students about the reality of dropping out. For some employers, a GED is a red flag. The maintenance manager at my apartment complex made that fact very clear to me about a year ago, when he and I struck up a conversation and I mentioned that I teach high school English.

"You better tell 'em to work at it and graduate," he said. "That GED is a sign. It means the kid was too lazy to stick it out. If we have two guys and one has a diploma and the other a GED, we'll always choose the guy with the diploma."

Perception, sometimes, matters more than reality. Kids with GEDs face harsh judgment from unforgiving prospective employers. Counselors, teachers, and administrators need to ensure that students know that harsh truth.

it all makes sense... sort of

After reading and thinking about Intelligent Design and peer review and Christianity and gay rights, I stumbled across this article by Jim Brown of Agape Press:
(AgapePress) - A Christian group is asking an Assemblies of God Bible college in Pennsylvania to drop a frequent guest chapel speaker because of his heretical beliefs. But the school's president is defending his decision to invite a man who holds to universalist theology and an unbiblical view of homosexuality.

Dr. Don Meyer says he is not backing down from his decision to once again welcome Dr. Tony Campolo to preach in chapel today (Tuesday) at Valley Forge Christian College, a small four-year college located northwest of Philadelphia. Campolo, a well-known media commentator on religious, social and political matters, often preaches with his wife in homosexual-affirming churches, where he has stated that the homosexual "did not choose homosexuality," but is rather "a victim either of biological accident or someone else's folly."

Campolo is also founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an inner-city ministry that combines evangelism and social justice in public schools, universities, orphanages, literacy centers, and tutoring programs. But Michael Marcavage, director of the Philadelphia-based group Repent America, says Valley Forge Christian College is ignoring the scriptural command to mark and avoid false teachers.

In what teachers call an "aha!" moment, it all came together.

Intelligent Design proponents, the majority of whom are Christians and hold to a fairly literal interpretation of the Bible, view science and religion through the same lens. Doctrinally speaking, someone with radical ideas is a "heretic," not to be reasoned with, but to be shunned, by "scriptural command." If you tend to think of scientists as a cabal of dogmatists, holding fast to the Word of Naturalist Truth, then any response from said cabal is not a matter of reason but of repression, not of critique but of counterattack. It's projection in the classic sense: IDers feel that way about religious heresy, so they assume that scientists must naturally feel as strongly about unorthodox theories.

I doubt I'm the first to formulate the comparison, but it finally sank in upon seeing the absurd treatment of Dr. Campolo, who is a famed speaker, a good man, and a bright fellow to boot.

Amazingly, Campolo's view on homosexuality isn't even terribly progressive; blaming gay behavior on genetic mistakes or molestation (what I assume he means by "someone else's folly") still plays to the standard Christian line that homosexuality is "unnatural."

sic 'em

Al Mohler: prevaricating hack.

If you haven't been following the controversy, read up on it here.

The Readers Digest condensed version: Meyer publishes a review article in the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington that espouses traditional Intelligent Design argumentation: neo-Darwinism is bankrupt, mutation and selection can't generate novel body plans, 99% of biologists are wrong, real research is hard, don't read the whole article I cited, forgive me if this all sounds strangely familiar.

Scientists smell a rat, corner it, and, to Michael Behe's surprise, trap it.

Meyer's supporters start to spin, sputter, and spout BS.

Those of us on the sidelines wonder when the Discovery Institute is going to publish any original research...

Sep 20, 2004

beam it down

Newscientist claims that India has launched the first satellite used solely to educate.
Millions of illiterate people in remote, rural India could soon have access to an education, as a satellite devoted exclusively to long distance learning was launched on Monday. It is the world's first dedicated educational satellite, according to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

India launched the $20 million, 2-tonne EDUSAT from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, a tiny island in the Bay of Bengal. The satellite is the heaviest ever launched by an Indian-made rocket - the new Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), which cost $33 million.

Even though I'm gung-ho for the project, I can't help wondering if the satellite has other more strategic uses. After all, Pakistan already launched PAKSAT-1, a communications satellite, back in January of 2003, even though it wasn't technically only for educational purposes. Now India's stealing Pakistan's thunder.

Watch for Pakistan to launch DEFEATINDIASAT next.


Whilst bloggers cry victory over CBS and ready to crash the gates of the Old Media, Ben Wasserstein pulls up the drawbridge:
In the days that followed, newspapers and television programs moved the story along by cross-checking the memos against contemporaneous National Guard records, interviewing witnesses and family members, and again questioning the network's experts. The blogs picked up the story, but they couldn't carry it to the finish line alone. They were complemented by traditional media but never came close to supplanting it.

The bloggers who first cast doubt on the CBS memos deserve congratulations, gratitude and, of course, their time in the sun. This has been another moment of triumph for this dynamic and emerging field, and it will surely not be the last. But it has been a moment, not a revolution.
Aw, shucks.

Update: Cathy Young lobs down some boiling oil.

Sep 19, 2004

this is for your own good

Ed Brayton points us to this story of a young woman purportedly arrested, without cause or warrant, and held in a detention center at Pier 57 in New York City, a building apparently offered to the NYPD for such a purpose by the Republican National Committee, in order to quell protests. "Little Guantanamo," Erin Starr (the author, and mother of the young woman) calls it. A juicy quote:
My 21-year old daughter disappeared from NYC last Tuesday afternoon when walking with friends through a park where no protest was being held -- and was held prisoner -- without being charged -- by the NYPD for three days. The first day and night she spent in an unsafe and inhumane facility at Pier 57 ("Little Guantanamo") provided by the Republican Party.

Yes, it was managed by the Republican National Committee. It was leased by the RNC to hold political dissenters who disagreed with the Bush administration. The second two days, my daughter was in a city jail in Manhattan, where her treatment improved. She practices Buddhist precepts of compassion (she told the NYPD officers that she knew they must be tired and overworked also, and she did not resist arrest). She is a graduate student in Poli Sci at the University of Hawaii and is a MortarBoard honor society/service club member.

The notorious Pier 57 (owned by the Hudson River Trust--a city/state consortium) was dubbed "Little Guantanamo" by reporters who also got caught up in police sweeps and who said it looked like the Guantanamo Bay prison built by the USA to hold the Al Qaeda terrorist political prisoners in Cuba. Pier 57 was leased by the RNC before their convention.

They arranged for the NYPD to put up the chain link holding pens with razor wire on top in the old Pier 57 warehouse that had oil, gas and asbestos dust on the floor from a previous fire. My heart was in my throat when I got a call from one of my daughter's friends on Oahu who told me she had been arrested and taken to Little Guantanamo. I looked it up on the internet and fear crept into me.

I called my daughter's cell phone over and over ("it's mom, where ARE you, call me"). She didn't answer.

Only hours before, she had been calling us with joy, telling us of the peaceful protests and beautiful march. But now, nothing. I had nightmarish visions of a fire sweeping over the combustible floor with hundreds -- nearly a thousand -- trapped in the chain-link pens, razor wire on the top of the pens making escape impossible.

The tone is shrill and hysterical, so I'm a bit doubtful that things were as bad as Starr makes them sound; furthermore, she has no hard evidence that the RNC really was involved. As Brayton points out, Daily Kos is trying to sniff out the paper trail.

Raymond W. Kelly, Police Commissioner, claims in the New York Times that nothing was out of the ordinary, and his remarks are worth quoting in full:
To the Editor:

In "A Setback for the City of Tolerance" (Metro Matters, Sept. 6), Joyce Purnick asks, "Since when does New York City practice preventive detention?"

Delays in arrest processing were not part of a scheme to keep protesters off the streets during the Republican National Convention.

The fact is that the screening of arrestees at Pier 57 went smoothly until more than 1,000 people were arrested in a four-hour period. About half were women - not unusual for civil disobedience - but highly disproportionate for the court system, requiring time-consuming redeployment of cell space.

Also, 65 percent of those arrested were not New Yorkers, increasing the likelihood that they wouldn't return for court dates if released.

Before arrests ballooned, hundreds of prisoners were quickly processed and released, as evidenced by their re-arrest when they returned to the streets to engage in unlawful conduct.

All arrestees were treated humanely and processed as quickly as possible.

Raymond W. Kelly
Police Commissioner
New York, Sept. 7, 2004

Kelly, though, never explains why arrests "ballooned," especially since Summer Starr, the young woman in question, claims to have committed no illegal acts. Were the police simply rounding up protesters en masse?

It's tough to say, at this point, whether this incident is a true "erosion of civil liberties," "creeping fascism," or merely an overreaction to legitimate police work. But, interestingly, no one has bothered to shed more light on who this "Erin Starr" really is.

So, off to Google we go.

First, we learn that Erin Starr, of Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, is a published poet and author of three upcoming books.

Broadening our search, we find that, in a similar vein, she has written New Agey advice columns with such bromides as
Found in the ancient tantric teachings is the concept that Woman is the leader in a marriage. Woman is the Wisdom figure. Man is the figure of Compassionate Action. She says: "I need a good plot of soil to plant my seeds in, to grow food for the family, right here by the kitchen." He digs the garden where she wants it, and builds the soil. She plants the seeds and tends to the weeding. Together they harvest and eat.

Man refreshes his soul at the Well of Woman; and Woman refreshes her soul at the Well of Solitude. This is the bygone way. As she takes her time alone, he has his solitude if he needs it. In older times, women were often confined during their moon cycles each month, or avoided by men. Although the reason for this was a bit unsavory (women were considered "unclean" during this period), the result was that women had a chance to sip at the well of solitude once a month, which could be quite refreshing.
(These ramblings are similar to her adventure in e-book publishing.)

Erin Starr also has a skewed sense of time. In her ZNet piece, she claims her daughter was held for "three days." But at the bizarre website Signs of the Times (brought to you by the Quantum Future School!), we learn that Summer herself claimed to have been held for only two days. As reports,
On the day after the arrest, [Summer] Starr said she was taken to a Manhattan jail where she and others were regularly moved from cell to cell. She said they were told they were going to be released soon and that the fingerprinting process was slow.

She said she was released around 10 p.m. on Thursday, about two days after she was arrested.

Frankly, there's just too much weirdness here. Erin Starr seems as paranoid as Annie Jacobsen, and her daughter displays all the signs of class privilege: "I can't believe that being arrested isn't a picnic!" This isn't the end of the story, though. If it could be confirmed that the RNC really did lease Pier 57 to use as a holding tank for hippies, oh boy oh boy, we got trouble in River City.

RNC officials, of course, deny everything. Which means it must be true.

Oh, and, coincidentally, the Maui Democratic Party chairman is Jonathan Starr, a Kucinich fan. Any relation? Can't tell for sure, yet, but something stinks in the state of Hawaii.

There's another version of the Erin Starr rant here.

Update: Erin's husband is Hugh Starr, a Maui realtor. Jonathan Starr isn't related, although he jokingly calls Hugh his "cousin." Alas, there seems to be no dark Democrat conspiracy.

Update update
: The NYPD apparently took out the permit for Pier 57 themselves, according to Indymedia (via Ed Brayton). Sorry, Kos, there goes your smoking gun. The ghost of Annie Jacobsen lives on.

Sep 17, 2004

never woulda guessed...

... that Ben Dougherty would start at quarterback for a historically black college. Dougherty qb'd for Elma High School, my alma mater, and how he ended up at Florida A&M is a convoluted chain of events including, of all things, a Mormon mission.

Props to Dougherty. It's not everyday someone from "The Gateway to Grays Harbor" makes it into the news for a non-criminal act.

Sep 15, 2004

painters of the right

I know I'm not the first to draw the connection between crappy aesthetics and crappy political philosophy. (I'd even scare up a link or two, but my head is throbbing from sinus congestion; this is the best I can do.) Conservatives, for example, eat up schmaltz--Thomas Kinkade, e.g.. He's a darling of the Religious Right, and for obvious reasons: his paintings, in their utopian, warm and saccharine way, hearken back to old times, the days of theocracy and roses.

Further evidence: for some reason I'm on the NRA mailing list. Don't know why. I've never owned a gun, and never wanted to own a gun. I tried shooting a 30.06 about ten years ago, but couldn't steady my aim. (That was before I discovered caffeine.) Out of their cold, dead hands to my mailbox came this bizarro collection of Christmas cards with sugary winter scenes. They were uninteresting, mostly, except a couple by Jesse Barnes, "The Light Painter."

Unsurprisingly, his work shares the same hazy, sap-infused quality of that of "The Painter of Light." But I started wondering: has one ever sued the other for trademark infringement? Both slogans are registered. It'd be like Burger King suing some hamburger stand called "King of Burgers."

Or maybe they're both cool with it. I can't find any evidence of internecine hostility. Letcha know if I do.

Sep 14, 2004

take this niche and shove it

Coldstone Creamery.

They make--no, shape--no, craft--superb ice cream combinations. Their portions are gluttonously large. Their shops are clean, visually appealing, and often crowded; word gets around. And their employees are friendly.

Too friendly.

Scary friendly.

They're trained to shout a "Welcome to Coldstone!" any time the door jangles open, quicker than Pavlov's dog in a clock shop. They ask you if you've been to Coldstone before (if you haven't, just say you have) and are quick to thrust a sample of rich, velvety ice cream in your face should you lean too close to any particular variety. Every sentence is spoken with exclamation points, as if being welcoming means shouting loud enough for Grandma to hear. You wonder if their bosses make them stuff their ears with wax and pin their cheeks back in permanent grins.

When you finally order, after minutes of scanning the daunting menu, and, if you should be so kind, leave a small tip, how are you rewarded? Why, with song. That's right: the whole crew sings some inane song about how Tipping is so great! Thanks for the tip! We love to sing! Coldstone Creamery owns our souls!

Coldstone's intentions are good. They have bland Baskin Robbins to contend with, an industry juggernaut. They know that having a slightly different sort of product just isn't enough. People come back for good ice cream, sure, but they won't become addicted if they're served by zombies. So Coldstone makes their employees turn on faucets of charm.

The effect, though, is more like being sprayed with a fire hose. No one likes being shouted at, even if the shouter is smiling. No one likes having their tip become the center of public attention. (Especially not those who tip poorly.) And no one, deep down, likes watching those hapless employees humiliate themselves for small change.

I have nothing but pity for Coldstone's drones. Many of them are young, adolescents even, and they're learning an early hard lesson about corporate idiocy that will soon turn them into Tyler Durdens. I know their pain; I've had to wear a uniform to work, hold a clipboard as I walked the floor, welcome every customer, push extended warranties nobody really wanted, keep pushing extended warranties, beg and plead for people to buy extended warranties, etc., etc. (I worked at Circuit City back in the good old days, when they paid commission, so you had to know at least a smidgen about your product to succeed.)

No one at Starbucks sings for a tip. No one at McDonalds welcomes you to the store. No one at Walmart will help you with anything, really.

Cut the crap, Coldstone. You don't need it. Your ice cream is good enough. Really. No, really.

Sep 13, 2004

spit and polish the crystal orb

Everyone else out there is already calling the election, though we still have fifty fun-packed days before the rumpus even starts.

So here's my foolproof, guaranteed prognostication.

Bush wins.

Kerry might score the popular vote, but the electoral college will ensure that we're in for another four more years.

Now, the only question is: will you be ready?

Update: My wife notes that there's a glaring redundancy in the phrase "another four more years." My apologies for that brief fit of extreme pessimism, which, thanks to Amendment XXII, will never come to pass. But then, the Constitution's been trampled on before...

Sep 12, 2004


Language is access to power, as I've stated before. Now, more than ever, voting resembles a literacy test. Thanks to a recent court order banning Washington's classic "open primary," the new ballots and instructions are more bloated--and confusing--than ever, especially for Thurston County voters, as election officials are discovering. (I haven't sent my ballot in yet; it's due Tuesday).

You're supposed to choose one of four ballots--Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, and Non-partisan--and then vote for candidates on a punch card that includes the numbers for all the ballots. In Washington, judges are considered non-partisan, and so many voters send in two ballots--Republican and Non-partisan, for example--instead of just one. (The non-partisan races are on the back of the partisan ballots, but most folks miss that.)

"Reading is the basics for all learning," said a certain political genius who was elected largely due to a confusing ballot. And it's certainly the basis for functional democracy.

Update: early results for Thurston County are in, and they're not pretty: under 20% participation. Ouch.

Update update: absentee ballots have pushed the total to over 26%, but voter turnout still is well below normal.

fossil love

The next time some sappy liberal tells you "It takes a village to raise a child," snap right back and call them a bird-brain or a dinosaur. Either one will do.

Sep 10, 2004

schoolhouse rock

The first week--okay, three days, really--is over. When I get my rhythm back, I'll be blogging again on a regular basis, providing fresh insight into one microcosm of American education.

Hope wears baggy jeans and bling-bling. It sports black lipstick and purple eyeliner. It is pimply and extroverted. It is stubbly and shy. Hope slouches in the back of the room and fidgets in the front. It scribbles love notes and locker combinations. And hope preaches from a markerboard and an overhead, between the rows and behind the podium.

I love this job.

under the knife

Anyone who's been following the flap over Meyer's bogusly "peer-reviewed" pro-Intelligent Design paper should read this close reading by PZ Myers, a developmental biologist. His summation: Meyer gets a lot wrong, and ignores major evidence that contradicts his thesis.

Now you might be able to see what a qualified reviewer would see when reading the Meyer paper. It's full of these peculiar disconnects from the reality of the scientific literature—he's constantly citing little fragments of papers while ignoring the bulk of the work. It's a more rarefied version of more typical creationist quote mining, made slightly more sophisticated and much more difficult to check, and designed to wow the rubes rather than persuade anyone knowledgeable in the subject.

Remarkably, PZ shows three or four major errors or omissions in just one paragraph of Meyer's hack work. If Intelligent Design proponents want credibility and respect, they could at least start by getting research right.

Sep 9, 2004

fightin' fashion

The new Army uniforms are in, and they look.... indistinguishable. But I guess that's the point.

Sep 7, 2004

Mr. Consistent

We pause to note in our 200th post that Bobby Cox is just shy of 2000 wins. Most managers don't even make 2000 games.

Back to work we go. School starts tomorrow.


The sky is falling.

Sep 6, 2004

Mr. Fix-it

When I should have been just relaxing by a campfire, enjoying casual chit-chat under the stars, instead I spent too many hours last night working through all sorts of social and political problems with a Reluctant Republican--you know, the kind who actually believes in smaller government, that old bugaboo of the GOP, and is voting for Bush despite GW's affinity for spend-and-cut beyond-voodoo economics.

Turns out that this particular RR had seen something on cable news that informed him that his political philosophy is closer to libertarianism. He won't dare vote capital-L Libertarian, though, and who can blame him? In a national election, going with a third-party candidate is like waiting for the D in BINGO. So, saddened that the GOP's ideology has been coopted by moralizing hypocrites, our Reluctant Republican holds his nose and dimples his chad for Bush/Cheney.

There's a better way, though. Why don't we adopt a parliamentary form of government in which parties are identified by an actual ideology, are proportionally represented, can form bizarre alliances, and can call for elections without waiting four agonizing years? If you're a Libertarian, you could vote that way and have your vote still count for something. (It might even help fix our abysmal voter turnout.)

Let's forget about abolishing the Electoral College or campaign finance reform. Why trim the mullet when we should just shave it off and start all over?

Besides, we'll need that headspace for powdered wigs.

Sep 4, 2004

once more into the breach

Three days in Oakville, Washington. It's enough to drive a man mad, mad, I tell you. But the wife insists, and I, being a good husband (I can out-nod a bobblehead doll), am blithely going along to brave the mud, coyotes, peacocks, and Deabo the One-Eyed Poodle. If I return, I'll be back sometime on Monday.

Sep 3, 2004


We love Ichiro for the same reason we love Greg Maddux: he is smart, humble, hard-working, and, above all, a student of the great game of baseball. And he's on pace to break George Sisler's hits record--he needs 40 hits in 29 remaining games, and he's hitting .374. If anyone can, Ichiro can.
Suzuki, chasing George Sisler's major league record for hits in a season, went 3-for-5 and has 217 hits. He has 29 games left to break Sisler's mark of 257 hits set in 1920 with the St. Louis Browns.

Suzuki, the AL player of the month for August, leads the majors with a .374 average. He finished 20-for-40 against Toronto this season.

"He's unbelievable. I never thought I'd fear a guy who hits singles," Blue Jays interim manager John Gibbons said. "He's a weapon. Geez, I guess if you're great you're great."

Hudson and Gabe Gross drove in three runs, and Wells ended an 0-for-24 slump with a two-run homer for the Blue Jays, who won for just the third time in nine games.

Seattle manager Bob Melvin could tell the Blue Jays were in awe of Suzuki.

"You can see the look on those guys faces when Ichiro leads off the game with a hit," Melvin said.

Asked if he can keep up at this pace, Suzuki said through a translator: "Ask a fortune teller."

Add "funny" to the list. Ichiro rules.

the Chosen One

Usually I pass over The Nation, preferring moderation and solid prose to anti-Bush screeds. (Not that they're unjustified, but wacked-out extremist ranting in the defense of liberty is no virtue.) But this essay by David Corn sums up the RNC quite nicely:
The obvious question: will the Protector-as-Missionary bit sell? Will voters hear the term "liberty century" and be moved? Or will they ask, is that the name of a new car? It's one thing to turn a lemon (a messy war now considered a mistake by a majority of Americans) into lemonade. But can Bush turn that lemon into blessed wine?
Bush continually forgets that he was elected in the democratic*, not the Calvinist, sense of the word.

*You know why there's an asterisk here, don't you?

Sep 2, 2004

sniff that Sharpie

The government only blacks out portions of documents that are sensitive to our nation's security, right?


Sometimes, it censors statements that it just doesn't like. Even if they're already part of the public record.

[Thanks to Hit and Run]


Our WASL scores are up. This is supposed to be cause for celebration (if not cork-popping or confetti-throwing, at least high-fiving). Before we praise teachers for their increased effectiveness, let's consider some mitigating factors (not mentioned in the article, I notice):

1. The WASL score, for the first time, went on the transcript, even though it won't count toward graduation until 2008. "Colleges or future employers will see it," some teachers threatened. This may have spurred some to actually try.

2. Counselors and administrators, at least at my school, busted their butts to make sure all students took the test. Last year 10% didn't; their scores counted as zeros. This year, only 1.6% missed out. This single factor alone may explain the increase.

3. Our ITED (9th-grade) test scores didn't rise at all--unsurprisingly, since the test doesn't "count" toward anything. Students aren't necessarily getting smarter; they're simply becoming more familiar with the structure of the WASL (which is standards-based, rather than judged against a "norm group").

4. There's no mention of dropout rates. Who cares what our WASL scores are, if we're losing students?

Sep 1, 2004


Let me say it here: I visited South Africa, and I loved snoek. In fact, snarfing fried snoek'n'chips in a Hout Bay eatery was one of the highlights of my trip. Snoek is a cross between catfish and halibut, but somehow better than both. If you skip the oiliest parts, it's juicy and flavorful. Fresh out of the sea, batter-dipped and fried, served with hot sauce (for the daring) or ketchup (for the bland), it's tough to top.

All of this has come roaring back to my memory thanks to this delightful article by Calvin Trillin of The New Yorker.
A snoek (technically, Thyrsites atun) is not gruesome-looking but it does look ferocious. Apparently, it actually is ferocious. A book that Jeffrey has owned since boyhood, “The Sea Fishes of Southern Africa,” by J. L. B. Smith, says, “Justly feared by all who deal with them, as they are vicious brutes able to inflict terrible wounds with the great fangs, the bite said to prevent coagulation of the blood.” Another restaurant proprietor we spoke to about the absence of snoek on the menu told us that white people—the bulk of a pricey restaurant’s clientele, even in the new South Africa—might be happy to have snoek at a braai in the back yard but tend to avoid it in a restaurant because they don’t want to deal with all of those bones in public. I myself wouldn’t mind picking out bones on the stage of a sold-out concert hall, assuming that the taste of the fish in front of me made that worth my while, but I have to admit that snoek bones are both plentiful and formidable. They are often several inches long and remarkably straight. If mice went in for the decathlon, they’d use snoek bones as javelins.

Oh, just read the whole thing.