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Monday, April 22nd 2002

Today is the 32 Earth Day.

A sad change seems to have happened since the first Earth Day in 1970: concern for the environment has become less popular. From politicians who sell out our long term prosperity for short term politics to people who casually flick their cigarette butts on the ground as if the world was their ashtray. Expressing concerns over the state of our environment at least earn one a scoffing look or the handle of "tree hugger". But the irony is that there are few greater threats to the continuing survival of the human species than the health and welfare of our planet.

James Randi Wrote (from the JREF December 28, 2001):

"Here's a sobering image from JPL/NASA. In his book, "Pale Blue Dot" (1994) Carl Sagan showed just where he obtained that provocative title. It's a photo that was taken by the space probe Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. As the spacecraft left our neighborhood for the outer fringes of the solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look back at its home planet. The camera was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away from Earth when it captured and sent back this lonely portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. Carl wrote beautifully of the significance of that tiny image:

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.'"

It may have become unpopular and clichéd somehow, but give at least give a thought to the Earth today.

Friday, April 19th 2002

From Dictionary.com:


  1. A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof: The world is not run by thought, nor by imagination, but by opinion (Elizabeth Drew).

  2. A judgment based on special knowledge and given by an expert: a medical opinion.

  3. A judgment or estimation of the merit of a person or thing: has a low opinion of braggarts.

  4. The prevailing view: public opinion.

  5. Law. A formal statement by a court or other adjudicative body of the legal reasons and principles for the conclusions of the court.

Many times I've had conversations and debates with people about one subject or another and the person I'm debating will resort to the defensive catch all, "Well, that's just my opinion."

People will then often try and turn the subject into some sort of free thought argument. But its a defensive ploy to avoid actually debating their point. - I don't deny that it is your opinion, or that it is your right to have that opinion. However, having an opinion is not an escape hatch for reason.

I also don't deny that many things are subjective, but don't waste our time by just telling me its your opinion. Of course it is. -But why is it your opinion?

During college peer reviews of art, one could always tell the freshmen because when asked to critique a piece of art they would invariably say, "It's nice, I like it." The professor would then say, "Okay, buy why do you like it?" And the answer, "Well, that's just my opinion" would often follow. Eventually, the successful student would learn to speak about composition, color, line, theme and more to tell us why they had that opinion.

It's easy enough to have an opinion but it is hard to know what you are talking about.

-But of course, that's just my opinion.

"The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd."

-Bertrand Russell

"Opinion has caused more trouble on this little earth than plagues or earthquakes."


Thursday, April 18th 2002

Score one for the planet. Well, at least its one less score against the planet:

"WASHINGTON The Senate Thursday rejected President Bush's proposal to open a part of a pristine Alaskan wilderness to oil drilling, blocking a central element of the administration's energy policy."

- USA Today

It is good to read the drilling referred to as "drilling" and not the euphemistic "exploring".

Now if we could only convince the government to view research and development in renewable energy as a national defense priority, we might have to fight a few less wars and not pollute the environment at the same time.

Friday, April 12th 2002

As I've written before, I'm a slobbering, drooling, rabid Tolkien fan.

I had mixed feelings about The Lord of the Rings films but have come to really like the first installment, The Fellowship of the Rings.

I'll now post here, for my fellow Tolkien fans, a verbal description of the new The Two Towers trailer that has been released at the end of Fellowship.

-Trailer and Lord of the Rings spoilers follow-

The trailer starts, as the Fellowship ends.

White titles on black fade up:

This Christmas
The Journey Continues
In The Two Towers

  • Fade up on Aragorn's hand as he picks up one of the broaches Merry or Pippin dropped as they were carried away by the orcs.

  • A shot of Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn running on a hilltop overlooking a river.

  • The camera swoops over the heads of a troop of orcs as they run over grassland.

  • Another shot of Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn running but now silhouetted against a sunset.

  • The camera moves into a close up of Merry and Pippin looking apprehensive.

  • Shots as Frodo and Sam climb down gray rocks in a bank of fog.

  • Several shots of Gimli, Legolas and Aragorn looking apprehensive, drawing weapons in Fangorn Forest.

  • Gandalf the White revealed in a sun beam.

  • Close-up of Gandalf the White (with straight here, a white robe and a new white staff).

  • Shot of Eowyn climbing from steps onto a sunlight dais (in Edoras).

  • An ethereal close-up of Arwen.

  • A medium shot of Faramir.

  • The camera starts as a long shot of Eowyn, hair wind tossed, standing at the doors of the Golden Hall. The shot continues back to an extreme long shot revealing Edoras, fields of grass and mountains.

  • Wormtounge, peaking from a corner, hidden in shadows.

  • Eowyn close-up, a tear on her cheek.

  • Fade to black as Gandalf starts to speak over the next few shots, "The veiling shadow that glowers in the East, takes shape..."

  • An orc, lit by a half moon, overlooking a valley (fade to black)

  • A shot of Gandalf, Aragorn at his side as Gandalf continues, "There is a union now between the Two Towers, Orthanc and Barad-dur."

  • Shots of Orthanc and Barad-dur at night.

  • Close-up of the ring in Frodo's hand as Frodo speaks, "Its the ring..."

  • Frodo partially bent over, Sam in the background, ..."its getting heavier." (fade to black)

  • Frodo and Sam walking through a marsh, the water beside them on fire. Galadriel is heard speaking, "There is nothing we can do for Frodo."

  • A close-up on Galadriel as she continues speaking, "The quest - will claim his life."

  • An overhead shot of Arwen laying on a bench, leaves blowing around.

  • The Eye of Sauron, a shriek.

  • Gandalf and Aragorn close-up, Gandalf is speaking, "Sauron is not so mighty yet that he is above fear" (fade to black).

  • Aragorn in beams of light approaches a figure (possibly a flash back to Rivendale and the statue holding the shards of Narsil) surrounded by pillars as Gandalf continues, "He fears you - Aragorn". (fade to black)

  • Aragorn in the rain, draws his sword (probably on a wall of Helm's Deep), "He fears what you may become."

  • Saruman sitting in Orthanc speaking, "So, Gandalf Gray thinks he has found the lost king of Gondor".

  • Doors (probably of the Golden Hall) swing open as Aragorn enters.

  • King Theoden looks up from his throne.

  • Saruman, "It matters not, the world of men shall fall."

  • Shots of a village burning, orc yelling, people, screaming.

  • Smoke

  • Shots of King Theoden, standing in his hall, being outfitted. Theoden speaks, "Where is the horse and the rider?"

  • Orc spears, torches in rain. Theoden, "Where is the horn that was blowing?"

  • Theoden in his hall, "They have passed like rain on the mountain."

  • Orcs in helmets. Theoden "Like wind in the meadow."

  • Legolas and Aragorn, lit by lightning.

  • Archers at night in the rain (on the wall of Helm's deep). Thedoen, "The days come down in the West..."

  • Theoden close-up, "...behind the hills..."

  • Battlements of Helm's Deep, men at arms. Theoden, "...into shadow."

  • Orcs in the rain, stamping their spears, taunting. (Helm's Deep)

  • Legolas staring down a drawn arrow on his bow in the rain. (Helm's Deep)

  • Orcs continue stamping. (Helm's Deep)

  • Close-up of Aragorn in the rain. (Helm's Deep)

  • A single Orc on a hill in the rain at night, arm raised, a roar. (Helm's Deep)

  • Three horse riders racing away from the camera as Edoras is revealed, snowy mountains in the background.

  • A close-up of Faramir/Eomer (?).

  • Gandalf the White on Shadowfax leads a group of riders through a pass.

  • Frodo wields Sting towards the camera.

  • Eowyn whirls, sword drawn as Aragorn blocks her swing. (Yeah, you read that right.)

  • Eowyn parries her Aragorn, moving his sword aside.

  • Aragorn looks shocked.

  • Merry and Pippin fall onto the ground, a skull in the foreground.

  • Arwen laughing with Aragorn.

  • Figures on horses throw spears at the camera.

  • Legolas twirls two swords as people fight around him.

  • Faramir/Eomer (?) on horseback in the woods.

  • Pippin frightened, clutching a tree. A yellow eye on the tree opens (Treebeard).

  • Aragorn at Helm's Deep, swings his sword and the army releases a volley of arrows.

  • A daylight shot within a Helm's Deep courtyard.

    vEowyn, outside, smiling, her hair wind blown.

  • Aragorn on horse back.

  • A very bright Gandalf the White leads a charge of horses into a thicket of orcs and spears.

  • Saruman races to look over his balcony.

  • Aragorn on a hilltop observing a line of people walking a hill crest, snowy mountains in the background.

  • A sweeping shot of orcs throwing ladders against the walls of Helm's Deep.

  • Wormtounge bending down the the ear of King Theoden.

  • Three riders racing across grasslands.

  • King Theoden bowing and holding his head in distress.

  • Eowyn holding the sides of Aragorn's head, looking plaintive.

  • Gimli, Leoglas, Gandalf and Aragorn marching into the Golden Hall.

    vA close-up of Arwen lying down.

    vA long shot of tall mountains as a line of people walk on a hill crest. (fade to black)

  • A very dark shot of Gollum, looking down over his back at Frodo and Sam. Gollum crawls towards them ,hissing and angry, "The theives! The filthy, little, thieves! They stole my precious and we wants it!". His hand outstretched towards them.

  • Frodo lying on his side, eyes opening wide as Gollum finishes hissing.

    Cut to black.

  • Tuesday, April 9th 2002

    America has spent approximately 12 billion dollars on the "war on terrorism" in Afghanistan since September 11th.

    I believe about 40 some American forces have been lost during the fighting.

    An estimated one to four thousand terrorist related forces have been killed.

    About 20 terrorist spent three hundred thousand dollars to murder about three thousand civilians.

    I don't know what to make of these numbers but I know that they are interesting and I suspect that there are probably a few lessons to be derived from them.

    Monday, April 8th 2002

    I've seen the Lord of the Rings > The Fellowship of the Ring for the sixth time. I was driven to see the movie this last time, in large part due to the four minute trailer for the Two Towers that has been added at the end.

    The following passages assumes you have seen or are familiar with The Fellowship of the Rings and includes spoilers.

    The first time I saw the movie I was rather under whelmed. But I've grown to like the movie an awful lot. It is a flawed movie, but that shouldn't be too surprising given it has tremendous scope. And the ways in which this movie could have failed, far and away outnumber the ways in which it could be made to work. Perhaps that is too general of a statement, a statement that would be true of many movies and many things. I only mean to imply that, given the breadth, depth and complexity of The Lord of the Rings, it was highly improbable that the movie would work. And yet it does. That being said, it is more than noteworthy that the movie has a distinctly different feel than much of the book and takes great liberties with the original source. In no way do I feel that the movie is more enjoyable than the book. It is a very good movie that echoes much of the book. I feel bad for people who saw the movie before (or instead of) reading the book.

    Here are some random thoughts on the movie:

    Gandalf suffered from the Worf phenomenon. (Two Towers Spoiler Alert in this paragraph, skip if if you don't want anything about The Two Towers spoiled for you.)

    Worf was the Klingon, security officer from the Next Generation Star Trek. Worf was suppose to be a scary bad ass, tough guy. But in an attempt to prove how scary any given alien was, that alien was shown kicking Worf's ass. After a while, you never actually saw Worf do anything tough, you only saw him getting beat up.

    Similarly, Gandalf is shown getting his ass kicked or failing in almost every conceivable way in this first movie.

    • Gandalf is shown old and klutzy, he bangs his head twice in Bags End.

    • Saruman is literally show wiping the floor with him.

    • Unlike in the book, Frodo solves the riddle of the doors of Moira, Gandalf doesn't even get to look clever.

    • Gandalf is no where to be seen during the fight against the watcher in the water.

    • Gandalf is not shown actually killing anything in the Balin's tomb scene.

    • Gandalf is shown fighting and at least partially defeating the Balrog but is then shown simply slipping over the edge instead of being pulled directly into the abyss by the Balrog.

    Now the reason Peter Jackson did this is almost certainly to juxtapose Gandalf the Gray from Gandalf the White. But it wasn't necessary. It should be relatively easy to show the strength of Gandalf the White without making the Gray look inept. Hence: the Worf phenomenon.

    Many people have raved about Ian McKellen's role as Gandalf. It has taken me several viewings before I've come to appreciate it. I suspect that I wasn't doing a very good job of viewing McKellen's acting outside of the wimpy characterization of Gandalf.

    But the highlight of his acting can be found in the scene were Gandalf and Frodo discuss Gollum and the "Pity of Bilbo" in Moria.

    Although Elijah Wood who played Frodo wasn't exactly bad, he wasn't exactly good. His acting didn't keep me from enjoying the movie but his characterization of Frodo was rather "simpering". Some of this might not be Mr. Woods fault, because Frodo seemed to have much of his strength of character watered down in the screenplay. The most notable of these disappointments included Frodo quickly cowering from the Ring Wraiths on Weahtertop, Arwen standing against the Ring Wraiths at the Ford of Bruinen instead of Frodo and his being "let go" by Aragorn even as the Fellowship was being attacked by Orcs. By removing these acts of bravery and will power, Frodo's eventual loss of control will be significantly impacted. Ah well, at least Frodo got to be more clever than Gandalf at the doors to Moria (sigh).

    Viggo Mortenson (Aragorn) and Sean Bean (Borimer) are my hands down favorites in the movie. Aragorn is shown with a kingly demeanor and Borimer as a complicated, tempted but ultimately good man. I found I was virtually spellbound when either was the center of attention. Their scenes together are probably the best in the entire movie. Of course, unlike in the book, Aragorn is shown as less than decisive about his mantel of leadership but it seems a forgivable alteration.

    Orlando Bloom (Legolas) does a great job at the very difficult task of playing an ageless, ethereal Elvin prince.

    Gimli is adequately played by John Rys-davies. The two things I didn't like about Gimi were his plastic looking makeup and the line, "No one tosses a Dwarf!". (I can here Tolkien spinning now).

    Samwise Gamgee is played rather poorly half the time and very well the other half. Strangely, Sean Astin never seemed to get the more "yokel" characteristics of Sam down very well. While on the other hand he did a very nice job playing the stout, straight and narrow, 'hope personified' aspects of Sam. I simply love the scene at the end of the Fellowship were Sam and Frodo are surveying Morder as Frodo comments that they aren't likely to ever see the others again. Sam looks at him with this wonderful expression and says, "We might yet Mr. Frodo, we might..."

    Most of us could use a little more Sam Gamgee in us.

    Merry Brandibuck (Dominic Monaghan) and Peregrin Took (Billy Boyd) are played for too may laughs, they are ninety percent of the comic relief. Their acting is the most cartoonish but they both still seem to have some presence that makes you care for them. One of my least favorite scenes in the movie is at the end of the Council of Elrond where Merry and Pippin race into the council and announce that they want to join this "quest, mission, thing..."

    (Tolkien is on spin cycle at this point) while the music swells pompously as Elrond (Hugo Weaving) pretentiously announces, "You are the Fellowship of the Ring".

    The council of Elrond in general failed to capture much of the important back story and robbed many of the characters of their motivation. Why was Legolas there? Gimli? Borimer? It was also a shame that Merry and Pippin joined the Fellowship in such an obnoxious way.

    The Balrog was cool. Okay, he was hot. What a great depiction of "fire and shadow". Still, it is a shame that future readers of the book who see the movie first are likely to have their own imaginations hijacked by the movie Balrog. Tolkien purposefully kept the details to a minimum any may places appealing to the imagination through evocative atmosphere instead.

    There are hundreds of other details that I won't go into now but overall the movie captured much that is good in the book and has been the most enjoyable film I've seen in some time.

    Wednesday, April 3rd 2002

    You're at the airport. You go through extensive "security". You board the multi million dollar jet that must function flawlessly under extremes of speed, temperature and altitude so that you, your fellow travelers and countless people on the ground are not injured. You sit back in your seat in this modern day marvel of engineering as the captain activates the intercom to relay some important information to the passengers. "Crkkkkk, myrpilet smekin, thr sms tob tcnikl prblm wi trblnc u ma shl bckl yr seet blt."

    They can make a multi ton tube of metal hurtle through the stratosphere at 400 miles per hour but they can't make the speakers work. - My car has speakers that work!

    Does this ever give anyone else pause?

    Tuesday, April 2nd 2002

    Terror, terror, who's got the terror?

    Have you noticed that terror is the new catch phrase being used to justify all means of inhumanity, (censorship and invasion of privacy)?

    How is the US defining terror? How is the US defining its policy towards terror?

    Are suicide bombings against civilians terror? Hasn't President Bush's doctrine on global terror stated, 'that any nation or group that harbors a terrorist will be regarded as a terrorist and potentially subject to U.S. reprisals?'

    And yet...

    From Major Garrett - CNN Washington Bureau - April 1, 2002:

    "When asked why Arafat, whom he has repeatedly said could do more to stop terror against Israel, does not qualify as a terrorist under the Bush Doctrine, the president said:

    "Chairman Arafat has agreed to a peace process. He's agreed to the Tenet [security] plan. He's agreed to the Mitchell plan. He has negotiated with parties as to how to achieve peace."

    Fleischer added further context, rejecting the Israeli contention that Arafat is no different from the Taliban or al Qaeda.

    The situation in the Middle East is indeed different," Fleischer said. "What makes it different is the fact that you have parties who themselves have agreed together to the Tenet accords, to the Mitchell [peace] accords, which all follows the Oslo peace process.

    Hmmm... So, if a "state" (or leader) is willing to talk about Peace (for 35 years) than they are allowed to use suicide bombings?

    We have hypocrisy and Orwellian spin all around...

    In an informal (and unscientific) online CNN news poll, 60% of the people didn't think that the US should be involved in resolving the conflict in the middle east.

    Like it or not my fellow Americans, we are VERY much involved in the conflict and we choose not to help in its resolution than we will reap an evil reward.

    The Israelis are doing evil things, the Palestinians are doing evil things, the US is enabling both groups but particularly the Israelis. Israel would not exist if it wasn't for US backing. I'd read years ago (in National Geographic) that Israel derives something like 70% of its economy from its relationship with the US. -Not to mention the discounted weapons we provide Israel.

    Now both the Israelis and the Palestinians are using the words "terror" and "terrorism" to define the actions of the other. The Palestinians sacrifice their young because they have little recourse to the Israelis' (American purchased) tanks. The Palestinians justify this murder with religious zeal and the imagined hope of a paradise and 72 virgins for their Martyrs.

    The Israelis treat the Palestinians as little less than human in a manner that should remind even the densest of us of the way Jews were treated by Germans pre World War 2. Ghettos and torture are Israeli state policy. And by many accounts the Israelis also murder civilians (and not just as "unfortunate collateral damage").- Irony knows no bounds.

    The US is involved because of a magic, three letter word: O-i-l. If America wasn't concerned with oil it would let Israel flatten the Palestinians. But we are concerned about reprisals from other Arab nations - all of which are playing their own games as well.

    So again, if a "state" (or leader) is willing to talk about Peace (for 35 years) than they are allowed to use suicide bombings?

    -We (the US) review and change our policy regarding terrorism if it will impact our access to oil.

    I'm not under the illusion that this ancient hatred will easily be abolished but we must wake up to the realization that as long as we continue to back Israel that we are already involved. If we don't want the conflict to land on our front door someday we must strive to see it resolved. Americans aren't mustache twirling villains, but we often stomp around in foreign policy with all of the subtlety of a large Monster Truck show. Of course to be fair, other nations point fingers at our attempts at foreign policy while making no serious efforts themselves. But alas, we are accountable for our own nation's actions.

    Lastly, we need to start thinking of defense as more than just bullets and missiles. We spent hundreds of billions of dollars during the gulf war. We are already gearing up to spend hundreds of billions more in the middle east. And yet we chaff at investing in alternate energy resources. We should approach establishing alternate, renewable energy resources as the equivalent of a war effort.

    We will reap what we sow.

    Monday, April 1st 2002

    I finished the fourth Harry Potter book - The Goblet of Fire last night. Since last summer I've read all of the books and quite enjoyed them. But this fourth book has been the best since The Sorcerer (Philosopher's) Stone. They are obviously aimed for younger readers but that said, the fourth (and latest) book had some darker undertones that made it more engaging than the previous two. I recommend the books. They're fun.

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