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Wednesday, December 14th, 2005


I think that being a doomsayer is cool. My favorite character in the movie Aliens is Bill Paxton's Private Hudson. I love his refrains, 'Game over!', 'We're toast!'

People who panic have all the fun. I resolve in the new year to panic in more situations.

The Scream (by Edvard Munch)

Tuesday, December 6th, 2005

Happy Holidays!

There is popular talk that the expression 'Happy Holidays' is for the 'Politically Correct'. This is an ad hominem attack aimed to discredit the arguer and not the argument.

The reason I don't wish 'you' a Merry Christmas is because I don't know who 'you' are. You could be Atheist, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, Islamic, or anyone of the majority of individuals on this planet who do NOT celebrate Christmas. (And as a reminder, there are non-Christmas holidays in December including New Years Eve, Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah.)

However, if I know that you celebrate Christmas I am very likely to wish you a 'Merry Christmas', if I do not know, then I am very likely to wish you a 'Happy Holiday'. Those manners stem from courtesy, respect and reason. As mall clerks across the country serve us in our consumerist orgy this season, I hope that they will at least have the manners not to assume that they know our religions (or lack there-of.)

"A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices." - William James

Friday, November 11th, 2005

One of my favorite unintentional satirist – Pat Robertson strikes again:

Robertson warns Pennsylvania voters of God's wrath
Thursday, November 10, 2005; Posted: 5:27 p.m. EST (22:27 GMT)

''WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson told citizens of a Pennsylvania town that they had rejected God by voting their school board out of office for supporting "intelligent design" and warned them Thursday not to be surprised if disaster struck.

Robertson, a former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the influential Christian Broadcasting Network and Christian Coalition, has made similar apocalyptic warnings and provocative statements before.

Last summer, he hit the headlines by calling for the assassination of leftist Venezuelan Present Hugo Chavez, one of President George W. Bush's most vocal international critics.

"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

"And don't wonder why He hasn't helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I'm not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that's the case, don't ask for His help because he might not be there," he said.

I had no idea that you could vote god out of a city. Hell, I didn't even know that he/she was running for office.

Wednesday, November 9th, 2005

Editors note: If you are asked to register for any of the links in this essay, you may want to consider the handy site 'BugMeNot' to quickly generate a username and password.

First, the good news: Pennsylvanian voters ousted the school board that attempted to bring pseudo-science into our schools:

'Pennsylvania Voters Oust School Board
The Associated Press
Wednesday, November 9, 2005; 2:39 AM

'DOVER, Pa. -- Voters came down hard Tuesday on school board members who backed a statement on intelligent design being read in biology class, ousting eight Republicans and replacing them with Democrats who want the concept stripped from the science curriculum.

And now, the bad news:

'Kansas Education Board First to Back 'Intelligent Design'
Schools to Teach Doubts About Evolutionary Theory
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 9, 2005; Page A01

TOPEKA, Kan., Nov. 8 -- The Kansas Board of Education voted Tuesday that students will be expected to study doubts about modern Darwinian theory, a move that defied the nation's scientific establishment even as it gave voice to religious conservatives and others who question the theory of evolution.

It is important to note that in order for the embarrassing Kansas school board to pound the square peg of so-called, 'intelligent design' into the round hole of the science curriculum, it had to change the definition of science. The board voted to drop the part of science definition that reads, "a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena," thereby opening the door to supernatural explanations.

Perhaps this same approach can be used for math if we drop the requirement of logic. Thereby I can justify that 1+1 = 57 through divine intervention.

But I think more than the disconcerting news from Kansas, I'm disappointed by the failure of media to properly explore the Science versus Norse Mythology debate. (Link opens in a new window.)

The late Douglas Adams reminds us of the irony of religious, blind-faith advocates pushing the 'Intelligent Design' agenda in this excerpt from the comedic science fiction book 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy':

''"The Babel fish," said the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy quietly, "is small, yellow and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centers of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindbogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. Q.E.D."

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.''

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

Once in a while a fly gets into my living room. More often than not, said fly will meet its doom in the floor halogen lamp. - A hiss, a tiny puff of smoke and the fly is gone. What's really disturbing is that afterwards the air smells like burned steak.

Thursday, November 3rd, 2005

An addendum to my Monday, September 12th, 2005 posting on the manipulation of image by the government:

Brown Discussed Wardrobe During Katrina
"WASHINGTON - Newly-released e-mails show former FEMA director Michael Brown discussing his wardrobe during the crisis caused by Hurricane Katrina."

"...Brown's aide, Sharon Worthy, reminds him to pay heed to his image on TV. "In this crises and on TV you just need to look more hardworking ... ROLL UP THE SLEEVES!"

Tuesday, November 1st, 2005

I played with my fog machine a lot over the Halloween weekend. I LOVE my fog machine. I need more fog machines. I want a bank of fog machines creating a cloud around my (future) house. Then all I need to do is add fireworks.

Thursday, October 27th, 2005

Are you surprised?

NEW YORK (Reuters) October 27, 2005: 2:51 PM EDT
"Exxon Mobil Corp. posted a quarterly profit of $9.9 billion Thursday, the largest in U.S. corporate history, as it raked in a bonanza from soaring oil and gas prices."

Rosa Lee Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man sparked the modern civil rights movement, died Monday. She was 92.

Thanks Mrs. Parks, you started a revolution with a simple act of great courage. You will be missed.

Rosa Parks, February 4, 1913 - October 24, 2005

"Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others."
-Rosa Parks

Tuesday, October 4th, 2005

From my perspective 'fall' is October. Sure, sure, it technically starts in September and ends in December but all the action occurs in October: the changing color and then the actual leaves falling. By extension, I define winter as November 1st to about mid April.

So, by that definition, I like fall. Hell, I love fall. But right about now, I also start taking deep existential breaths in preparation for the deep dive into the bitter cold, black waters of winter.

Unlike some people: some crazy people, I dread the Pittsburgh winters. It's not the cold so much as the colorless, bleak landscape of skeletal trees overshadowed by the perpetual dark clouds of Mordor. The world falls into a gray coma for six months. The foliage along the roads is dead revealing all the cigarette butts and detritus rattling like husks of skin in the pitiless breath of winter.

The crazies will wax on about the joys of the winter holidays. But one day for Thanksgiving, one day for the solstice celebration of your choice and one day for New Years does not compensate for the months of dreariness. And after January first what do you have? - Nothing but the holidays that nobody has off unless they work for a bank.

And if all of this wasn't bad enough, we have to endure ENDLESS talk of football. What teams did yesterday, what they are going to do today and what they will do tomorrow. Rah! Rah! Rah! Pleeeease make it stop...

... Must-(gasp)-move-(gasp)-from-(gasp)-Pittsburgh...

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

Humanists Support Katrina Relief Efforts
Donate to the American Humanist Association Katrina Relief Efforts.

Monday, September 12th, 2005

You can tell that George Bush is hard at work on the task of Hurricane Katrina recovery. Not so much by his action but by his sleeves: they're rolled up and he has that 'man of the people' look. Very photogenic. He must be doing a bang up job.

Bush and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Brown. (Now resigned).
Bush and (ex-)FEMA Director Mike Brown, September 2, 2005.

eorge W. Bush greets New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin (L) after arriving in New Orleans, September 11, 2005.
Bush and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, September 11, 2005.

George Bush and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, August 2004
George Bush and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush (far left) receive a briefing from members of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Punta Gorda, August 2004.

U.S. President George W. Bush (R) tours Florida damage from Hurricane Charley with Florida's Governor Jeb Bush (2nd R) in Punta Gorda, Florida, August 15, 2004. Bush Sunday assured Floridians help was on the way to ease their suffering after a devastating hurricane, as he toured the wreckage of a state critical to his re-election.
George W. Bush and Jeb Bush tours Florida damage from Hurricane Charley , August 15, 2004.

Rolled up sleeves for that 'getting my hands dirty' look is hardly damning evidence nor is it unique to GW but I present them here for two reasons.

First, we are being manipulated all the time. - And I don't mean in the Illuminati, all-controlling, secret-society way. No, more Orwellian: leaders (and their henchmen) controlling images and language. And Bush and his people are masters. Rolled up sleeves are just a tiny, tiny, tiny detail.

Second, Bush's raison d'etre has reputedly been 'homeland security' (an Orwellian phrase that reminds one of 'The Fatherland'). - When his other poll numbers sucked, people still thought that he provided better security.
The fiasco of Hurricane Katrina should further dim if not douse that dubious claim of Bush's reign improving public safety. All that money and where was the improved emergency response? Well, here is one place we might start looking:

Iraq 100, Louisiana 8
September 7, 2005.

'Is it possible to actually quantify how screwed up the priorities of the Bush cabal in Washington have been? Usually not. But when it comes to the issue of wetlands -- the natural buffer that could have protected New Orleans against a deadly storm surge liked the one that essentially wiped out the city last week -- the answer is "yes."

In 2004 -- at a time when George W. Bush was running for re-election and presumably courting votes in Louisiana, a potential swing state -- the White House proposed spending a whopping 12 1/3 times as much taxpayer money restoring wetlands in southern Iraq as he planned to spend on the same task in the Mississippi Delta.

Before Congress intervened, the Bush administration asked for $100 million to restore the Iraqi marshlands, drained and destroyed by Saddam Hussein, to its status as -- according to legend -- the Biblical "Garden of Eden."

The proposed funding that year for the Louisiana wetlands, heavily damaged by overdevelopment, was just $8 million. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city once buffered by those disappearing wetlands is now Hell on Earth.

 Bush walks the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln after landing there aboard an S-3B Viking, as the carrier steamed toward San Diego, California on May 1, 2003

Oh. How did that picture slip in there?

Remember folks: when you are play acting, it helps to dress the part.

"If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves."

- Howard Zinn

Sunday, September 11th, 2005

'Listen, lad. I've built this kingdom up from nothing. When I started here, all there was was swamp. The king said I was daft to build a castle in a swamp, but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the swamp. So, I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third one. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. An' that's what your gonna get, lad -- the strongest castle in these islands.'

- Monty Python and The Holy Grail (The Tale of Sir Launcelot.)

Of course my heart goes out to those who have lost so much in New Orleans. But it appears to me that there is no serious thought being put into whether the city should be rebuilt in its old location. Most officials seem to be taking it for granted that it should be reestablished in spite of the fact that it sits in a natural cistern, is on average 8 feet beneath sea level, continues to sink 3 feet every century (since it sits on silt) and lies adjacent to a lake, river and one of the most hurricane prone spots of ocean on the earth. (And all of this is made worse because of the radically depleted wetlands that were destroyed in the name of residential and commercial development which has weakened a natural defense against storm surge.)

The world's Hurricane prone areas. Hurricane alley

Those who love New Orleans would lament the loss of so much history but that history is already lost - buried beneath mud and toxic water. The spirit and culture, the people, the culture and even the salvageable history of New Orleans could be rebuilt on proper, enduring land.

Of course relocating a major population center in order to avoid future calamities raises many questions. One of which is: if we move New Orleans due to its high risk, what obligation do we have to other high risk areas such as San Francisco, Las Angeles, coastal communities in Florida and the like? Truthfully, that is a very tough question and I'm sure I can't hammer out the finer points of policy here but I would think that if Las Angeles is wiped off the face of the earth by an 8.5 earthquake, we would be wise not to build it on the same, very active fault line.

New Orleans is wiped out. It will cost hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars to all Americans. It may lead to a national recession. Untold lives have been lost, tens of thousands have been made homeless. The city wreckage still sits in the same sandy mud puddle within the same hurricane alley. The disaster was predicted. Should we really rebuild the castle in the swamp? Let’s at least, really consider the question.

In memory (from the September 11th 2005 memorial) ''The Tribute of Light'' memorial shines into the sky over the night skyline of New York City as seen from Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2005.

'In the last analysis it is the theist who can find no ultimate meaning in this life and who denigrates it. For him life has no meaning per se. This life here and now is hopeless, barren, and forlorn; it is full of tragedy and despair. the theist can only find meaning by leaving this life for a transcendental world beyond the grave. The human world as he finds it is empty of 'ultimate purpose' and hence meaningless. Theism thus is an attempt to escape from the human condition; it is a pathetic deceit. To the theist, death is not real; it is not final and tragedy is not irreparable. There is always hope of some saving grace. Living in this world, unable to cope with its problems, dilemmas, and conflicts, the theist leaps beyond it into another world, more akin to his fancy.' -- Paul Kurtz

Friday, August 26th, 2005

An (obsessive compulsive) update to my August 18th, 2005 review of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

My review has faced two types of comments.

Comment 1: The new (2005) version of 'The Chocolate Factory' is more accurate to the book.

My response: I don't care. All that means to me is that the 1971 version of the movie may have been better than the book.

I'm not one of those people who think that the source material (so often a book) is automatically better than the material it spawns.

2) Comment 2: You just like the 1971 movie better because it was the first version of the story that you were exposed. People always like the first version of what they experience.

My response: Not true. A recent case in point: War of the Worlds. I grew up loving the 1951 version. A few years ago I read the book. On Monday I saw the new (2005) version of War of the Worlds and felt that it was the most enjoyable version of the story yet.

Thursday, August 18th, 2005


1. Worthless nonsense; drivel.
2. blahs A general feeling of discomfort, dissatisfaction

1. Dull and uninteresting.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 'remake' of the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) last night. Blah.

In many ways the movie is emblematic of what is wrong with so much of current cinema: all visuals, no heart.

A little elaboration:

Johnny Depp portrays a creepy, disturbed Willy Wonka sans the undercurrents of wisdom that Gene Wilder brought to the character in 1971.
In the 1971 version Wilder's Wonka is an off kilter eccentric but he plays a genuine man who is looking for an honest, loving child to take over the factory for him. Wilder's Wonka represents the morality in the movie, who not only tests the character of Charlie but is also interested in teaching the spoiled children and their parents a lesson. In the new version Depp's Wonka is only passingly interested in finding an heir who is less rotten than the others.

In the original, one senses a setup from Wonka that Charlie was his only real preference, that his search had started long before and that the whole contest may have been rigged. In the 2005 version Charlie really seems to win by default (in spite of the movie's suggestions that the Oompa Loompa songs seem suspiciously rehearsed).

The morality play is weakened further because the 2005 Charlie is not forced to make the choice to be honest by forfeiting his gobstopper instead of handing it over to Wonka's competitor Slugworth.

The revised story attempts a new moral on the importance of family with a thin, poorly motivated, poorly executed screenplay.

Depp's Wonka owes his personality and love of candy to the supposed strict upbringing of his dentist father (played admirably by Christopher Lee). In this version of the story Wonka is at least as troubled as the spoiled children who tour his factory.
(STORY SPOILER STARTS HERE: Depp's Wonka finally transforms to a better person in an un-engaging, unemotional reunion with his father towards the end of the movie, leaving the film with no emotional anchor. Charlie's ethical choice is that at the end of the tour he is asked by Wonka to give up his family. This supposed conundrum plays itself out in about one minute and with no real emotion or heart. SPOILER ENDS HERE.)

Depp seems to be trying desperately hard to push his energy through the thick wall of uninteresting scenes and sketchy story. Depp adds a few fun idiosyncrasies to Wonka but ultimately leaves the audience feeling nothing for him except a feeling that, perhaps one should think twice about leaving their children alone with the man.

Young Freddie Highmore does a respectable, if uninspired job in his role of Charlie Bucket. Not as much can be said for the four supporting children who's line readings sound like unrehearsed auditions.

Director Tim Burton brings his usual, charming art direction to the film. Alas, it seems that on most of his films he is more interested in the look of the movie than the story or its characters. Burton attempts to create excitement in the story through fancy sets and ho-hum computer generated elevator rides. With the (only partial) exceptions of Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Batman Burton's films are emotionally autistic.
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Burton adds a few decent re-inventions to the story including an updated approach to the Oompa Loompa, all of whom are digitally cloned versions of actor Deep Roy. Composer Danny Elfman aids in the update with energetic (if less memorable) new Oompa Loompa songs.

Save yourself the time and skip the 2005 Chocolate Factory. The original may be a bit dated in it's look but the story is heartwarming and you'll actually care about the characters.

Monday, August 15th, 2005

I'm now accepting applications for the position of 'Goon'.

Ideal candidates will have no visible neck: their head will flowing directly into their meaty torso.

Thoughtless loyalty and brute strength a must. Silent, brooding personality preferred. Should like to lurk in shadows and have a penchant for tailing.

Educational requirements: none.

Dress code: mafia casual. 1 day's growth of beard preferable. Stogie optional.

Future job growth: possible leadership role in charge of 'Goon Squad' as my organization grows.

Will report to 'Boss' or 'Boss-man'.

Compensation package includes 'loot' commensurate with experience.
Health insurance covers bullet wounds and stabbings

Friday, August 12th, 2005

I think that 'Level Earth Theory' should be taught in schools. It is an alternate theory to the 'Round Earthers' who would try and squelch free speech by suggesting that the only reasonable view of the earth is that is a sphere. There are strong reasons to doubt the evidence presented by the Round Earthers including the so-called 'moon landings'.

The Round Earthers will try and tell you that Level Earth Theory is just a dressed up version of the Biblical teaching of the Flat Earth Society but this isn't true. The Level Earth Theory is scientific, as proof of this, we have scientist who subscribe to it.

For now we need to open the debate by at least placing stickers on science books to warn students that The Round Earth is only a theory.

I'm sure that President Bush would agree.

See? They have equal weight, therefore they should have equal footing in the classroom!
See? They have equal weight, therefore they should have equal footing in the classroom! (Click for a larger version.: opens in a new window)

Wednesday, August 10th, 2005

Yesterday morning I watched extended coverage of Discovery's safe return to earth while I got ready for the day. I was glad to see the extra reporting on an all too often neglected amazing event.

I think that most of us are guilty of forgetting how truly astounding our space achievements really are. Of course it doesn't help that our national news agencies are to busy sensationalizing stories that should be for the local news.

The sun illuminates the Earth's atmosphere during a sunrise, seen from the Space Shuttle Discovery after departure from the International Space Station on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2005. A portion of the shuttle's aft cargo bay, its vertical stabilizer and orbital maneuvering system (OMS) pods are seen in the foreground.

The space shuttles (officially called Space Transportation System [STS]) have been great but I'm afraid that they are due for retirement. (They are currently scheduled for retirement in 2010). Of course, retiring the shuttles isn't as simple as packing them in moth balls; replacement vehicles must be in place. The shuttle's successor, the the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) was not originally planned to be in operation until 2014 although that timeframe is being accelerated.

Still, I'm afraid that the replacement plan is behind where it should have been. Columbia was the first shuttle launched on April 12, 1981: 24 years ago. But the actual shuttle program started in the late 1960s (with the Enterprise 'Alt program' to test in atmosphere flight capabilities starting in 1976.) All of which means that the shuttles are (in large part) based on 40-some year old concepts and engineering.

But for now, I salute the scientist, engineers and explorers who brought the shuttle home again. And I present this list of facts which might remind readers about how very astounding the accomplishment really is:

  • A space shuttle weight about 4.5 million pounds, about 81% of this is fuel.

  • During re-entry, friction with the atmosphere causes the shuttle to heat up to about 3000 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Each shuttle was designed for a projected lifespan of 100 launches or 10 years operational life.

  • The Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSMEs) operates at greater temperature extremes than any mechanical system in common use today. The liquid hydrogen fuel is -423 degrees Fahrenheit, the second coldest liquid on Earth. When the hydrogen is burned with liquid oxygen, the temperature in the engine's combustion chamber reaches + 6000 degrees Fahrenheit - that's higher than the boiling point of Iron.

  • The maximum equivalent horsepower developed by the three (SSMEs) is just over 37 million horsepower. (The energy released by three of Rocketdyne's Space Shuttle Main Engines is equivalent to the output of 37 Hoover Dams.)

  • Each of the Space Shuttle's solid rocket boosters burns 5 tons of propellant per second.

  • Although not much larger than an automobile engine, the SSME high-pressure fuel turbopump generates 100 horsepower for each pound of its weight, while an automobile engine generates about one-half horsepower for each pound of its weight. (The Space Shuttle main engine weighs 1/7th as much as a train engine, but delivers as much horsepower as 39 train engines.)

  • Even though Rocketdyne's SSME weighs one-seventh as much as a locomotive engine, its high-pressure fuel pump alone delivers as much horsepower as 28 locomotives, while its high-pressure oxidizer pump delivers the equivalent horsepower for 11 more. (The discharge pressure of an SSME high-pressure fuel turbopump could send a column of liquid hydrogen 36 miles in the air)

  • If water, instead of fuel, were pumped by the three Space Shuttle Main Engines, an average family-sized swimming pool could be drained in 25 seconds.

  • A Space Shuttle and its boosters ready for launch are the same height as the Statue of Liberty but weigh almost three times as much.

  • It only takes the Space Shuttle about 8 minutes to accelerate to its orbital speed of more than 17,000 miles per hour.

  • How a space shuttles lands

    Friday, July 22nd, 2005

    As I've gotten older, I've increasingly viewed the heat waves of summer from behind the chilled windows of a air conditioned rooms. I walk from my air conditioned home to my air conditioned vehicle to my air conditioned work. At lunch I'll do a short walk to an air conditioned restaurant. At the end of a day I might visit an air conditioned store. I probably spend a grand total of 30 minutes outside.

    Hmmm... A contemplative thought... But on typing 'Hmmm' I'm told by my spell checker that 3 'm's are enough. Once I add that fourth 'm' (you know - to signify that really deep thought), the spell checker objects that I've misspelled 'Hmmm'. So, to clarify: 'Hmmm' = spelled write; 'Hmmmm' = spelled wrong. 'Hmmmmm' is right out (as the English would say).

    Now that I've shared that wonderful observation (still here?), let me spring some more insights on you.

    Saw Star Wars III (or VI depending on how you view these things) several weeks ago. - Revenge of the Sith.

    For this, the supposed final chapter in the Star Wars movies I opted to break my rules about spoilers and instead stuffed myself with every detail that I came across. I didn't actively research the movie but I didn't balk at learning about it either. Based on my bad experience with the last two chapters I wanted to be fully braced for any bad news.

    The movie unfolds with a space battle featuring high definition sound and fury... Yeah and all of it signifying nothing. To paraphrase a friend: the opening scene is about as interesting as watching a stranger play a video game. Lots of pretty pictures, no emotional involvement.

    After the yawner opening sequence the movie found some footing. All of the many disagreeable moments were easier to take since I'd already heard about most of them. - By the end of the movie there had been some enjoyment.

    All of this is said with a few caveats:

    1) The movie was judged from the perspective of horrible expectations so it really had no where to go but up.

    2) At the end of this, the third installment of the prequels, one is reminded how not only bad, but extraordinarily pointless the first two sequels were in story telling. One could skip episodes I & II, see the third installment and actually be better off.

    So for me, I will try and forget these prequels. Star Wars will be 'A New Hope', 'The Empire Strikes Back' and the 'Return of the Jedi'.

    Hmmm... Spell checker recognizes 'Jedi' but not 'Sith'.

    Time to wrap it up. I've got a weekend of air conditioning ahead of me.

    Wednesday, July 20th, 2005

    Summer is passing through and I'm neglecting it. No parties, no trips, nada. - Too much time at work and no time doing anything that would qualify as 'living'. Not good.

    Tuesday, June 28th, 2005

    I've been pondering on the whole 10 commandments ruling. The more details that I've learned, the less I like the ruling. Alas, I'm sleep deprived again - insomnia since 3am today, so I don't expect to make much of a case for my growing disappointment.

    As I understand it now, the Supreme Court says it's okay to display the ten commandments on public property in certain cases -- but not to promote religion. Supposedly, if the commandments are displayed for historical reasons or to exemplify their importance in the law, then it is okay to display them.

    The Texas state capital commandments are cited as an example of a non-religious display. I'm not at all certain how this can be.The graven image has only been there since 1961. 44 years. Not exactly the pyramids of Giza.

    Nor are the commandments representative of any Texas historical event. After all, the 10 commandments weren't created in Texas, so it's not as if the monument is saying, 'On this location Moses was reported to have brought forth the 10 commandments - a document of historical significance to christens and jews.' - Appropriate for Mount Sinai perhaps, but not Texas.

    The first ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up the Bill of Rights.
    As for the dubious claim that our laws are based on the commandments... Others have said it very well... American Law and the 10 Commandments.

    Nope. I predict that this ruling will result in varies 10 commandments plaques around the country being framed along side our real documents of laws - like, I dunno... the Bill of Rights.

    You remember the Bill of Rights don't you? Crazy thought - but maybe it should be on our government buildings. - Remind people of what they've forgotten.

    Monday, June 27th, 2005

    A partial victory for freedom of religion and separation of church and state:

    "Supreme Court bars Ten Commandments at courthouses
    Monday, June 27, 2005; Posted: 10:29 a.m. EDT (14:29 GMT)

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- A split Supreme Court struck down Ten Commandments displays in courthouses Monday, ruling that two exhibits in Kentucky cross the line between separation of church and state because they promote a religious message.

    The court's decision was 5-4, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor casting the swing vote.

    The decision was the first of two seeking to mediate the bitter culture war over religion's place in public life. In it, the court declined to prohibit all displays in court buildings or on government property.

    Justices left legal wiggle room, saying that some displays -- like their own courtroom frieze -- would be permissible if they're portrayed neutrally in order to honor the nation's legal history.

    But framed copies in two Kentucky courthouses went too far in endorsing religion, the court held.

    On the other hand - some bad news:

    "Court: Some Ten Commandments Displays OK

    In contrast, a 6-foot-granite monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol one of 17 historical displays on the 22-acre lot was determined to be a legitimate tribute to the nation's legal and religious history.

    Dissenting in the Texas case, Justice John Paul Stevens argued the display was an improper government endorsement of religion. Stevens noted in large letters the monument proclaims 'I AM the LORD thy God.'"

    The 10 Commandments -  Erected 1961 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles of Texas.

    "The sole function of the monument on the grounds of Texas' State Capitol is to display the full text of one version of the Ten Commandments," Stevens wrote.

    "The monument is not a work of art and does not refer to any event in the history of the state," Stevens wrote. "The message transmitted by Texas' chosen display is quite plain: This state endorses the divine code of the Judeo-Christian God."

    If you visit the Texas State Preservation Board website and view the list of monuments, you may note that the other monuments displayed on the grounds of the Texas Capital have an explanation as to what they represent (such as the World War I display which reads, 'this monument is dedicated to the memory of World War I veterans.') while the ten commandments monument has no such explanation. That is because, such an explanation would have to read, 'dedicated to the promotion of christianity'.

    Of course any advocate for the display of the ten commandments must really start by stating which ten commandments they are referring to...

    Friday, June 24th, 2005

    Ah! I just received a lovely letter of recommendation from a minion of mine - Lori Yacko (a.k.a. Zik). I use to D.M. Zik back in the day through many great games of D&D. (And if you don't understand those acronyms, the following post probably isn't for you.)

    "I had the honor of working with Master of the Universe (a.k.a. Glen Green) for several years in the early nineties. Master consistently displayed a variety of abilities valuable to Corporate America.

    As Master's minion, I had the opportunity to view, first hand, many of His skills. In the opinion of one not worthy to lick Master's boots, I believe His greatest skill to be omniscience. Master possessed the uncanny ability of knowing what waited around the next curve of every path, who lurked behind every door, what slithered under every rock, what was written on every scroll, stored in every flask, and locked in every so-called 'treasure' chest, while the rest of us lowly grunts had to gain this valuable knowledge through much trial and error which, might I add, oftentimes came at great pain and even personal injury. However, we were grateful to Master for the learning opportunities these obstacles presented to us.

    Master has found that delicate balance between minion development through mentoring and effective time management. For instance, while other lesser beings might resort to the 'repetition with praise' method of training, Master's creativity led him to develop an entirely new method of training that improves minion information retention by an astounding 90%. The savings are a direct result of improved minion motivation. For example, if a minion is given 60 seconds to open a locked chest and the only motivating factor is praise upon successful assignment completion, many iterations may be needed to achieve the goal. Master's innovative training program realizes timesavings by altering the traditional training model slightly. By 'rewarding' a failure to open a locked chest with an acid spray, electrocution, or possibly the release of poisonous gas, to name a few of His cutting edge behavior reinforcements, the number of repetitions is, in most cases, reduced to one, thus greatly reducing training time and expense.

    Being an accomplished motivator has not only helped Master revamp the traditional training model it has also helped His Greatness in His extensive studies and work on the teamwork concept. Master firmly believes that there is no 'we' in teamwork and that 'divide and conquer' is supremely superior to all other methods. At every turn, we minions were set against one another through the use of confusion spells and various other such mind tricks. Though during exercises such as these, I allowed myself to imagine new and interesting ways of separating Master's head from His body, hindsight has shown me that, once again, Master in His infinite wisdom, was teaching us two new and valuable skills He taught us self-sufficiency and creative assassination, both of which have served me well over the years.

    In conclusion, I can declare with strong conviction, that Master of the Universe possesses the confidence and skills necessary to lead any evil plot that could ever be conceived by man or beast. Master is a supreme communicator, manipulator, motivator and teacher, and any force of evil would be blessed indeed should He deign to allow that evil to bask with him in His glory.

    Sincerely Yours,
    Master's Minion #310B

    Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

    Highlighting our news values CNN.com:

    1) Approximately one third of the 'above the fold' CNN page is devoted to one kid who got lost and then found. (Note: child brownish blond hair, white.)

    Not incidentally, this was also the only 'news' reported at the 8am news report of CBS's "The Early Show". (And a weather report).

    2) Approximately one thirtieth of the 'above the fold' CNN page is devoted to 1.5 million people (Zimbabweans) who were left homeless after police burned or demolished their shacks in 'Operation Murambatsvina', ('Drive Out Trash').

    CNN captures the news that shakes the world.

    Learn more: Zimbabwe: Thousands of forced evictions and arrests in violent crackdown

    Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

    Only one Sudanese child in five goes to primary school
    I don't understand people who aren't interested in travel any more than I understand people who aren't interested in reading. Both seem to be fundamental if one hopes to gain any understanding of the world - of life.

    Excuse 1: Not enough money.
    Of course not everyone can travel very far and many people (most people outside of some select countries), are limited in their options. But if you are reading this, chances are, you are in the select, lucky few.

    Travel doesn't have to be expensive - stay at a long lost relatives, camp, hostel or a cheap hotel. Look up deals on flights on the internet or just jump in a car with a friend (split the gas) and drive. It's just not that hard.

    So many people who claim that they can't afford it, spend an equal or greater amount going to the same beach that they've gone to decade after decade when they could just as easily afford to expand their horizon and explore much more of the world. (And don't get me wrong: I love the beach. It's just that I also love pizza but I wouldn't be happy if I had to eat it every day. Variety - the spice of life and all of that good stuff...)

    Excuse 2: Traveling is a hassle.
    No doubt being crammed in a stuffy plane with some screaming kids kicking the back of your seat can frazzle one's nerves. No doubt, long car trips can stiffen the back.

    But the trouble is short and the benefits last a life time. Plus - even the 'hassle' of a flight or a drive have direct rewards. I for one have been lucky to see glaciers from a bird's eye perspective. I've witnessed silent, nighttime, lightening storms creating flashbulb still lives on towering cumulous clouds from thirty thousand feet. - A lightshow incalculably more magnificent than any fireworks display. I've enjoyed the companionship of friends as we cruised through alien landscapes of golden, sunlight-kissed mountain passes and haunting desert vistas: sagebrush skeletons caught in headlights under a nighttime sky dripping in the stars of the milky way.

    Of course, all of this begs the question, 'Why do I care?'
    - I care because I'm something of an idealist and I think that the world would be better off if we understood more about other people and the small chunk of iron that we all spin on in the void. And travel is a fantastic vaccination against prejudice and narrow mindedness.

    So, my unsolicited advice? (What else would you expect here?) Stuff the excuses - go - travel - see the world! - (Or at least a bigger corner of it.) We only pass this way once and the world is a lot more wondrous than what can be seen from our front porch.

    Or as others have said it (no doubt, better):

    "Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
    –- Miriam Beard

    "Don't tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have traveled."
    — Mohammed

    "Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries."
    -- René Descartes

    "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page."
    -- St. Augustine

    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    -- Mark Twain

    Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

    A friend at work had hiccups. When he was engrossed at his computer - I charged at him - complete with a growl and snarling face. He jumped back - startled. His hiccups stopped.

    Thursday, June 9th, 2005

    From the satirical 'The Onion' (Thanks to Mr. Brian Janaszek for the link.)

    June 8 2005
    Well, I Guess That Genocide In Sudan Must've Worked Itself Out On Its Own
    By Ellen Turlington

    I was pretty worried a year or so ago when the news came out that thousands of people had been indiscriminately slaughtered in Darfur. It was unsettling to hear that citizens of one ethnicity (Arab, maybe?) were systematically mass-murdering the population of some other ethnicity (Was it the Ganjaweeds? It's been so long since I've read their names!) But lately, the main stories in the news seem to be about Deep Throat, the new summer blockbusters, and something about stem cells. Since I'm sure I would have remembered if the U.S. had intervened in some way to stop it, I can only assume that the whole genocide-in-Darfur thing has somehow worked itself out.

    Well, that's good news then, isn't it?

    I also seem to recall that this genocide was causing a massive exodus of displaced refugees, with millions starving to death while attempting to flee to neighboring nations. Since I haven't seen any petitions or heard any emotional entreaties for somebody anybody to please, for God's sake, do something... Well, I'm gonna guess that the major humanitarian crisis must be over. And thank God, too! The whole situation sounded really awful.

    Not that I wanted to be an alarmist, but when I first heard about the Darfur conflict, I thought to myself, "Uh oh! Sounds like another massive ethnic cleansing, not unlike Bosnia and Rwanda!" Those genocides sure were unfathomable! And not only because of the inhumanity of the acts, either—the blind indifference with which the world allowed the killings to continue unchecked was upsetting, too.

    Well, someone must've invaded or overthrown a corrupt government or something like that. I know it wasn't the U.S., though. I may not be all that up on current events, but I do follow the news enough to know when my own country attacks another country. Maybe it was one of those genocides that solves itself without substantive international intervention. Well, that's one less horrific reality of modern geopolitics hanging over our heads!

    Good thing, 'cause for a while there, it seemed like the Sudan situation was pretty serious, especially when both President Bush and Sen. Kerry talked about it in the presidential debates. Heck, that the Darfur conflict qualified as genocide was practically the only thing they agreed on! So, if both presidential candidates acknowledged on TV that genocide was taking place, it's pretty safe to assume that someone stepped in before more innocent victims were systematically butchered. Right?

    What a great turn of events! Frankly, I'm relieved that all the horror, death, and human agony is over. I mean, after all those reports of ongoing murder, rape, and looting, I confess I was a little surprised when I didn't hear much more about it, beyond some international sanctions and aid packages. Ah, but what's the point in belaboring the grisly details? Why go on and on about which paramilitary militias were killing and raping which women and children? The important thing is that the conflict's apparently over.

    Evidently, the hatred has been healed, peace has been restored, and the perpetrators of this unimaginable crime have been brought to justice. It sure is good to know it all must've turned out all right. It's like they say: No news is good news! Right?'

    Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

    My hats off to Mr. Brian Janaszek and his open minded article regarding religious equality for all:

    "Religious Liberty June 01, 2005

    There has been an interesting news story flying under the national radar: recently divorced parents in Indiana cannot teach their Wiccan beliefs to their son, according to a local judge. Apparently, Wiccan is not a "mainstream" religion, and because the child is enrolled in a local parochial school, the judge has decided that the disparity between the belief system is not good for the child. Since the belief system at issue here is Wiccan, and not Christianity or Catholicism, few people have caught wind of the story. Get Religion, however, has found that this case is important to people of all faiths, and I agree:

    'Religious liberty is only as strong as the rights of miniorities. Take away the rights of parents to advocate their own faith to their children and the next thing you know you'll have evangelical kids forced to sit in school classes that openly attack the faith taught in their homes. Wait, that's happening already, isn't it?

    But the point remains the same. Parents have a right to pray with their kids and even preach to them. If Christians even very conservative ones want that right they should defend that right for others.'

    Christians should be appalled that a judge has attempted to define what mainstream religion is, and what belief systems are appropriate to teach children. While many evangelicals promote the idea of teaching Christianity in public schools and further shrinking the separation of church and state, they often too short-sighted in their goals. The Christian Church is a terribly complex beast, and denominations and churches regularly split over issues like singing Psalms or women praying aloud during a worship service. Certainly, most of them believe in God, and believe that Christ died for our sins, but the similarities often end there. Government should not be in the business of telling us what belief systems are valid.* Isn't this what Kuyper fought against?

    * At this point, many will argue "but what about a faith that promotes the sacrifice of innocents? Well, faith should not infringe upon the rights of others. certainly the slope here becomes slippery, but it is one we must tread nonetheless."

    Thursday, May 26th, 2005

    I've had the privilege of acquaintance to two sweet ladies who died within these last two weeks.

    Pearle was the grandmother of a best friend. I was lucky enough to share vacations with her and my extended family when I was a teenager. She was the definition of a cool, hip grandmother. Pearle made me feel like another grandchild.

    Norma was a sweet lady who lived across the hall from our apartment. She was a little hard of hearing; I'd walk by her apartment and hear her TV blaring through the door or hear her singing to herself.
    She always had kind words and a delightful smile for my wife and me. I'm glad to say that during the last winter holidays, we stopped to visit and chat with her for a while.

    I always felt warmth after talking with Norma, reminded that the kind people in the world are sometimes no further away than your next door neighbor.

    Both ladies lived long lives but for those of us who were lucky enough to know them even a little bit, it wasn't long enough. They will be missed.

    Two Flowers

    Friday, May 20th, 2005

    I had a dream last night that I was being chased by a Spinosaurus inside of a big mall. I don't really think of it as a nightmare though because, well , - dinosaurs are cool and at least it wasn't a boring night.

    Dreaming of Spinosaurus

    Tuesday, May 3rd, 2005

    I understand that our largest, national news organizations have very important issues for which they must devote days and days of coverage (such as a runaway bride and Laura Bush's attempts at humor) but I'd still like to see them squeeze in a sound bite or two about a few of those silly, nationally-scaled, humanitarian crisis. - I'm just wacky that way...

    Only one Sudanese child in five goes to primary school
    War legacy strangles hope for Sudan

    By David Blair in Juba
    (Filed: 03/05/2005)

    "...Today, nowhere in the world compares with southern Sudan for poverty and backwardness. An area more than twice the size of Britain possesses hardly a single mile of tarred road.

    Only one child in five goes to primary school and barely one in 50 finishes. Last year, only 2,000 boys and 500 girls completed primary school - in a region with 7.5 million people. The consequence is that three-quarters of adults are illiterate.

    Worse, almost 70 per cent of infants are malnourished. One child in four will not live to see a fifth birthday. One child in five suffers from wasting illnesses caused by malnutrition...

    ...Southern Sudan has some of Africa's best agricultural land and, if the fields were cleared of mines and connected by road or rail with the outside world, it could export its way to prosperity...."

    Oh well, I can console myself that, in a few years, these things might have a movie about them...

    Friday, April 19th, 2005

    This is a great big shout out and thank you to Mr. Janco for recoding my contact form so that spam bots can't extract the forms address and for implementing validation.

    Thurday, April 28th, 2005

    Two very good essays from Mr. Teddy Carroll that I recommend reading:

    "4.25.2005 US Christian Conservatives Take Aim at Filibusters

    Christian Conservatives were urged by Christian radio and television over the weekend to let their senators know that they favor the so-called "Nuclear Option" of removing the filibuster challenge from senate protocol. This would remove the last roadblock that Democrats could put up against radical conservative nominations for Federal judges.

    Republicans and their Christian Conservative supporters will tell you that it is the only way that they will be able to get on with the nations business and fill critical spots on the federal bench. They will say that the filibuster is only good for derailing W's agenda - an agenda they say was supported by a "mandate" in last November's election. They will say that it is the right thing to do for the oppostition to role over and play dead. It is majority rule, after all.

    I will tell you that it is a despicable plan to remove the last vestiges of democracy available to the minority in the face of the tyranny of the majority. It is true that the filibuster is a desperate act. And whether you believe it or not, these are desperate times. Desperate because we have a weak electorate that has once and for all given all of its individual authority and critical thought to the sound byte and the cravens who rule in D.C. Desperate because America has decided that good/moral = Christian = Republican agenda."

    Read the entire essay (Opens in a new window)

    '4.8.2005 In Legislature we mistrust

    In case you haven't heard, Pennsylvania legislators have come up with the grand idea of putting the phrase "In God We Trust" in every single school room in the state of Pennsylvania. Yes, that's right. Every single room. Classrooms. Auditoriums. Gynasiums. Bathrooms. Cafeterias. Etc.

    Agenda-driven, rural Republicans are attempting to hide their intertwining of religion and politics by saying that the bill, which would also require an explanation of the motto's origins, is their contribution to a well-rounded civics education. The bill states that "a proper understanding of United States history and government is essential to good citizenship."'

    Read the entire essay (Opens in a new window)

    Monday, April 18th, 2005

    My friend Mr. Keith Vargo sent me his take on an interview of Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

    Thu 4/14/2005 10:15 PM Mr. Vargo writes:

    'Subject: The reason we have a right to privacy is...

    ...because congress didn't stop it?!?!?!? That's what Tom Delay said in a truly unbelievable (but real) quote from a Washington Times interview. If that weren't enough, the full quote reads...

    "I blame Congress over the last 50 to 100 years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them."

    ...That's right. Separation of church and state, judicial review, and the right to privacy come from a failure of congressional oversight...and this is coming from the most powerful man in Congress. Unbelievable. You can find it near the end of the transcript at this link...'

    Thursday, April 14th, 2005

    Mmmmm: good. Much sleep was had last night. I not only feel awake, I feel SUPER awake. Yes-sir-ee my attention span is razor sharp today, in fact today I was - - - what was I talking about?

    Oh yeah: Spring! A few eager trees are popping out green or flowery white, like freeze framed photosynthetic explosions. Delightful. Sun, warmth. More goodness.

    I skimmed the net before writing this in an effort to find something a bit more interesting to write about then updates on my sleep habits and the local flora. Did I find anything? Sure! -Death, atrocities, stupidity, arrogance and much, much more in a similar vain. And well - my heart isn't in it. Instead, I'll say what I've said before - (because I can't really remind myself enough): I'm one fortunate person.

    Wednesday, April 13th, 2005

    Finally saw white flowery blooms on some of the trees Monday. Two days later and there is a light but perceptible green tinting to the hillsides. Having lived with the greenery in San Francisco for weeks, it has been very difficult coming back to the gray bramble of Pennsylvania. Bring on the green.

    In other boring news: my struggle with sleep continues. I've been waking up around 5 or 6am after restless sleep. I come home from work, and around 7pm I often (inadvertently) cat nap for twenty minutes while sitting on the couch watching the evening news. I feel very refreshed about an hour after waking and I easily manage to stay up until 11pm. I go to bed, fall asleep quickly until the restlessness kicks in some hours later. Come the weekend I sleep like a rock.

    Today, my unsettled sleep has filled my head with a higher percentage of cobwebs than usual.

    Probable solution: exercise. Objects at rest tend to stay at...

    Thursday, April 7th, 2005

    Leaving Borders Books last night, in front of me a thirty something man walking with an exaggerated stride and cartoonish twist of his waist like the Robert Crumb 'Keep on truckin' guy. As I followed several paces behind him I tried to determine if his gait was from a handicap or if he actually walked that way. (In the end I concluded that he just walked that way.)

    Keep on Truckin'...

    Walking from the store into the parking lot he tossed the ice filled cup that he'd finished over his shoulder with a nonchalance that I could not fathom. If you tried to imitate the ignorance of somebody who felt that the world was his garbage can you could not do justice to his self-centered, utterly casual, thoughtless manner. He never even glanced back as he pitched the cup, the ice making a surprisingly loud crashing sound on the pavement behind him.

    I yelled at him, "Dude - that's ignorant!" He circled 180 degrees with his extra long stride like a truck doing a 'u' turn.
    "You really need to pick that up. There is a trash can right back there." With out breaking stride and in a casual voice he said, "Sorry", picked up the cup and got into his car.

    My van was next to him and I waited for him to go, following him until I needed to go my way to the main road.

    Now, maybe the fool threw the cup out of the window the instant I was out of site just for spite but I like to think that maybe - just maybe - my remark will stick in his bug sized brain leaving him with the realization that somebody else may call him on his ignorance and it's just as easy to toss his next cup into a trash can as it is to litter.

    Sometimes when I think about what the ultimate fate of humanity might be, more than the wars that we wage, I lose more hope from the realization that so much of the time it is in our nature to be casually ignorant and rude. A thoughtlessly tossed cup may tell us more about our fate than our next war.

    Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

    I was reading an article about an Amnesty Internal report which discussed the global increase in state sponsored executions. The article featured a photo of the execution chamber in the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. The article is interesting but I'm not here to write a political rant.

    What caught my eye in the photo was the tiled pattern on the floor. The room's walls have a monochromatic gray tile. But the floor has a pattern - which strikes me as really odd. Patterns are after all, a form of decoration. Sure, it's not much of a design, but it's the type of thing that you might find around a public pool.

    Did somebody look at the execution chamber and say,

    The execution chamber in the Federal Prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, North America.
    "You know, this place is rather grim, we need to liven it up a bit - how about a design on the floor? When I took the kids swimming the other day, I noticed a pattern that I thought would work nicely here. It was a sky blue with green flecks, but I think if we make it a flat gray it'll look great for a lethal injection. Now if we were doing an electrocution I'd go for a yellow-orange look."

    Thursday, March 31st, 2005

    While in San Francisco the last few weeks, about 4 or 5 people referred to Pittsburgh as being in the mid west. So, as aid for San Franciscans, I thought that I'd point out where Pittsburgh PA is, in context to the rest of the country.

    Pittsburgh PA: not in the mid west.

    Also: although we may have cloudy skies - the whole smoggy, filthy, industrial steel city: not so much - at least not for the last 30 years or so.

    Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

    I'm back from another gig in San Francisco. That should be the last trip for the foreseeable future since the work is now wrapped up.

    I love the city: cosmopolitan, fantastic food, diversity of people, good climate.

    Of course, upon returning to Pittsburgh, I was greeted by rain and a leafless gray landscape. Spring is here but Pittsburgh is still in the pale shadow of winter. Naturally, after a few weeks in sunny, warm (70's), leafy green San Francisco, this climate is harder to take than usual.

    Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

    SoBe:  "Live Green or Die"

    I got a "SoBe" Energy Drink for lunch yesterday. Written inside the cap were the words, "Live Green or Die".

    Seems kind of militant for mass produced high fructose corn syrup beverage doesn't it?

    Monday, March 7th, 2005

    I've had conversations with friends about the merits and demerit of teaching kids that various fictional beings and ideas are real.

    People often respond that kids need to believe in "magic". I firmly disagree. I believe that children (and adults) need to have a sense of wonder. There is a difference - a big one in fact.

    Believing in "magic" is believing that wishes make things happen, that the alignment of planets affect who you are and that elves visit us at night.

    Wonder is the joy in learning.

    But what about pretending? I'm all for imagination. I think that no one who knows me would ever accuse me of not cherishing imagination. But just because we can imagine something doesn't mean that we should believe that it is true. It's the difference between pretending that you can fly by flapping your arms and trying it by jumping from a window. (Flap, flap, flap - splat.)

    Take magicians for example: I love prestidigitation. But when I leave the theater, I don't believe that the elephant was actually made to vanish into ether. I know that it was a trick - a great illusion.

    Kids who don't learn this lesson will grow up with poor reasoning skills and become susceptible to hucksters, or they may simply miss the real beauty and wonder of the world.

    For more on the subject, I recommend Richard Dawkins's "Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder".

    In part, the book is described as follows:

    "Did Newton "unweave the rainbow" by reducing it to its prismatic colors, as Keats contended? Did he, in other words, diminish beauty? Far from it, says acclaimed scientist Richard Dawkins; Newton's unweaving is the key to much of modern astronomy and to the breathtaking poetry of modern cosmology. Mysteries don't lose their poetry because they are solved: the solution often is more beautiful than the puzzle, uncovering deeper mysteries."

    My only argument with the book is that Richard Dawkins short changes the value of fiction. Other than that, it is a great argument that the perspective from science is more wondrous than delusion.

    (If you use the button on this page to buy the book - I get money! Wahoo!)

    Monday, February 28th, 2005

    I was in San Francisco last week and read an article in the local paper. The article pertained to erecting a "suicide barrier" on the Golden Gate Bridge. Proposed 'solutions' included a tall fence. The fence/barrier would cost $2 million.

    While I'm sympathetic to the personal losses experienced by the families, I still believe that they are terribly misguided.

    We aren't talking about building a guard rail on a heavily trafficked walkway that might prevent accidents that's already in place. What is being proposed is a fence to keep people from willfully killing themselves. Why stop there? Why not handout bubble-wrap suits with self deploying parachutes and line the ocean below with floating trampolines?

    I understand that a large number of suicides are impulsive, but it is not possible, (and I would wager) not effective to remove all the high places of the world. If the $2 million is to be spent, it might be better spent on something like... ummmm... I don't know: suicide prevention programs?!


    March 1st, Reader Corey Davis comments,

    "The high points of the note were that, apropos of your recent blog entry, i was recently asked to review a paper in that vein..

    Apparently, the elderly in NYC have a propensity for committing suicide by jumping out of residential windows, typically their own. After supporting this, the paper argued that a relatively inexpensive method for alleviating such suicidal falls from height would be an ordinance that all such windows located above, say, the 3rd floor, be affixed with non-removable bars. This, the argument goes, would prevent such suicides as well having the added benefit of decreasing accidental infact falls, forced entry, and so on.

    "Well, maybe," was my reply, but (besides the massive regulatory and infrastructure headaches involved in such a scheme), what about the substitution effect? Folks in NYC jump out of windows because they tend to live in tall buildings. Take that means away, and what's to stop them from using pills, like cats in Portland, or shooting themselves, like old people in LA? And wouldn't all that money be better spent on providing health and mh services to at-risk populations?

    "Yeah, but it's just so much *easier* to just stick bars on the windows!," replied the authors. The mind, as they say, boggled.

    I eventually green-lighted the submission on the condition that they take out the silly recommendation, or propose a number of possible solutions, including increased outreach and access to elderly populations. I think it's interesting, tho, that it's not just silly San Franciscans looking for the seemingly easy solution to a difficult problem; respected PhDs are prone to jump on the bandwagon as well.

    Friday, February 11th, 2005

    I was surfing the ether yesterday and stumbled across an emergency room photo of one of the most gruesome, painful looking images that I've ever seen. Naturally I sent the link to a coworker/friend. (My friend deserved it since just last week; he'd bragged that there wasn't any difference between some other gruesome pictures on the web and what he sees on TV.)

    During lunch today the disturbing image came up in conversation - peeking the interest of our colleagues.

    We tried to warn them - "It's lunch time, you don't want to see." "We're doing you a favor by not showing you." Etc.

    But they wouldn't hear of it. One would leave the conference room where we eat, escorted by someone who had the link only to return a minute later - aghast and amazed. This happened a couple times as someone new would join us who would want to see for themselves.

    But most amusing to me were the people who didn't see the image and who would hear the reactions of those that did. They had no context for the image - having not heard even a description - they could only imagine from comments like, "It makes you never want to ride a motorcycle again" and "How would they bury a person like that?" or "A waste of an ER table".

    So, wanna see the image? No you don't.

    Friday, February 11th, 2005

    Parents protest radio ID tags for students

    "SUTTER, California (AP) -- The only grade school in this rural town is requiring students to wear radio frequency identification badges that can track their every move. Some parents are outraged, fearing it will rob their children of privacy.

    The badges introduced at Brittan Elementary School on January 18 rely on the same radio frequency and scanner technology that companies use to track livestock and product inventory.

    A U.S. school district wants to use chips to track their students.

    The argument will be made that; it will make the students safer.

    To which, I would say: parents and officials should not abdicate their responsibility to technology. This is an Orwellian step into a panopticon society where we accept constant monitoring. Children who are raised in an environment of ceaseless observation will become adults conditioned to not trust, and to forfeit their freedom for perceived safety. Teach children self-respect, the virtues of trust and personal responsibility. Do not try and make the world a cushioned cell with no corners where the government (or anyone else) will make you safe.

    Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

    If a wood chuck could chuck wood, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

    A wood chuck would chuck as much wood as a wood chuck could chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood.

    Happy Groundhogs' Day!

    Ground Hog, Whistle Pig, Wood Chuck - a noble beast

    Tuesday, February 1st, 2005

    Who chose the pronunciation for the letter 'w'? - "Double 'u'".

    They must have looked at the letters alphabetically near by and seeing the letter 'u' decided that two of them together resembled a 'w'. Of course, shouldn't 'w' really be called "Double 'v'" since the 'w' more resembles two 'v's'?

    This quandary has been brought to you by double 'v', double 'v', double 'v' dot GlenGreenDotCom.

    Monday, January 31st, 2005

    4:00a.m. last night and I awoke from some sword and archery combat. I lay in bed for a half of an hour but eventually I gave in and got out of bed, knowing that lying there for more sleep would be hopeless.

    I watched a little news and then popped in the "Lost in Translation" DVD that I'd rented. I wasn't very excited about the movie going in since I'd heard mixed reviews and the trailer left me with ambiguous sense of the movie's nature.

    Lost in Translation (2003, directed and written by Sofia Coppola) stars Bill Murray as actor Bob Harris - a fading movie star who has traveled to Japan to shoot a lucrative, Japanese whisky commercial.

    Lost in Translation

    Bob Harris is a man lost in the doldrums of middle age who now finds himself lost in a different time zone and a different culture. Afloat in the surreal landscape of a sleepless Tokyo, insomniac Harris strikes up a friendship and an affair of the heart with the much younger Charlotte played by Scarlett Johansson.

    The movie is a comedy in the same, wry, understated manner as The Graduate - also a story about a (young) man at a crossroad in life, lost in a surreal world (of 50's suburbia) who finds hope in a forbidden love.

    Lost in Translation avoids cliché's and paints a picture of two interesting characters feeling for their place in life. The cinematography is beautiful - from the inviting colors of Shinto temples to neon pachinko bars, (much of it shot hand held). The sound design is also worth a nod - with music and sounds of the city layered and controlled so as to immerse the audience into not just the locations - but into the characters.

    It's a funny movie, bitter-sweet, and very intelligent. Lost in Translation is a good movie to watch - particularly late at night when you can't sleep yourself and the dream like quality of a sleepless night is closer to the mind.

    Wednesday, January 26th, 2005

    Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance
    My wife and I have been grooving on some videos games as of late.

    She had gotten me "Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance" (PlayStation 2) for the holidays. The game is a very straightforward dungeon crawler: an overhead view of your characters as you kill nasty monsters, gain experience levels and pick up magic items and gold.

    We finished that game on easy mode in about a week. (Which included some game playing into the wee hours of the weekend.)

    We liked it so much that I've since picked up two others: "Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2" (the sequel) and "Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest" - another dungeon crawler. We got all of the games used - about 12 bucks a piece - so they are good entertainment value. (Particularly if one considers that these games tend to be about $50 when they are first released.)

    Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance Screen Capture

    The games are great on the big screen TV and killing virtual beasties with the swing of a +3 magic battle ax of disruption is really pretty good for relieving the stresses of the day.

    From the satirical "The Onion," January 19, 2005:

    Tsunami Death Toll Rises to 36 Americans

    Tuesday, January 25th, 2005

    I would like to change the design of this site. I'm pretty bored with the current 'look and feel'.

    Anybody who runs a website knows what a big deal it is to update a site. The new design is the relatively easy part, it's migrating all of the old content over to the new design that is the hassle.

    I've known many a visual designer who got themselves stuck in redesign cycles - perpetually tweaking and even completely redesigning their sites over and over with little more content than an "under construction - come back soon" note that has been there since 2000.

    I figure it is more important to keep posting. - "Content is king" and all of that. (I first heard that saying from a guy that I use to work for who was one of those people that kept the companies promotional material in design hell for years at a time. I remember working on a brochure for him - it took years and was finished and printed just in time for our company to be purchased making all of the material inside obsolete. One of the headlines in the brochure was "Content is king".)

    I often get requests for 'comments' - those little links associated with every essay that allows the reader to give their two cents. I'd very much like to have 'comments' but all of the systems that I've ever seen require third party software or extra hosting. Free or not, I've got a (probably irrational) desire to keep most if not all of my content under the hood of this one site.

    However, if you are a coder - or know where I can find some free (or dirt cheap) code that I can plug into my site with little aggravation, please let me know.

    In the meantime, readers are always welcome to use the handy contact form.

    Thursday, January 20th, 2005

    In a recent conversation regarding Tsunami relief with some neo-conservative minded coworkers they repeated the cliché that the United States is the most generous country in the world. I noted that we were giving a smaller percentage of our GDP than other industrialized countries. They argued that it didn't matter what percentage - we were giving more. Well, that made me do some fact checking, and here is what I found:

    Tsunami - Funds pledged (Actuals)

    So we can see that (at least as of this writing) the United States gives less than half the amount of the leading Country.

    And in terms of our Gross National Product (GDP)?

    Tsunami - Funds pledged (As a % of GDP)
    Source: NationMaster.com

    Prior to the Tsunami 200 million people in that region of the world have been without access to clean water on a day to day bases. As a result of this persistent lack of clean water a child dies every 15 seconds -- the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets of children crashing every day.

    To combat these losses the United States spends only 40 million dollars per year in Asia and Africa combined - a fraction of the 10 billion dollars that Americans spend on bottled water each year.
    Source: In Some Areas, Clean Water a Problem Before Tsunami

    It is worth comparing this with the more than 150 billion dollars spent to date in the latest Iraq war.
    Source: CostOfWar.com

    We can grasp the unusual danger of a Tsunami, but we are less moved to action by the more lethal but less dramatic deaths caused by bad drinking water.

    Millions of dollars and billions of dollars are almost equally gray in our minds which are evolved from hunter primates who (at most) concerned themselves with numbers measured in the thousands (like herds of prey).

    The human brain is designed to understand dramatic threats and relatively small numbers. Our brains' capacity and natural prioritization of information play a large part in leading us down the road of bad policies as does our lazy tendency to accept truisms and "common sense".

    Monday, January 17th, 2005

    On the eve of G.W. Bush's inauguration, I'm saluting him like he has saluted us.

    (Requires the free Apple QuickTime plugin. You may initially just see the "Q" QuickTime logo. Please be patient while the movie downloads.)

    I watched Collateral over the weekend staring Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise, written by Stuart Beattie, directed by Michael Mann.

    The story involves Tom Cruise as an assassin who has hired an unsuspecting taxi driver to chauffer him from one assassination to the next over the course of a night of murders. During the first assassination one of Cruise's victim jumps from a window in an attempt to escape and falls dead on Jamie Foxx's taxi thereby alerting him that this is no ordinary fare and initiating the 'conflict' and character play.

    The movie was painfully - PAINFULLY contrived. I kept waiting for some reasoned justification for the characters actions even as the end credits rolled.

    The acting was lifeless, the directing uninspired.

    I can easily imagine that this story was spawned from the writer imagining how much great drama there would be if one had to assist an assassin. - Maybe so, but this formula fizzled.

    Monday, January 17th, 2005

    Apparently the local football team is doing very well. I hate football and yet I'm surrounded by people's incessant chatter on the subject. I imagine that it's a lot like being Jewish around Christmas time.


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