Thursday, January 29, 2009

The hell with Pluto (the dwarf planet AND the minor Disney character)

I was recently reminded that I simply do not understand the emotional attachment that people had to Pluto as a planet. It's another dinky ball of ice in the Kuiper Belt! I don't want to get caught up in semantics, but we should at least lump it in with similar objects in terms of composition and formation.

But I have a serious question here: is the attachment to Pluto a symptom of bad science education in this country? Have we failed at conveying that science is a system of inquiry, and not just a list of facts?

Friday, January 23, 2009

I give the reviews 5 stars!

There are few things online I find more delightful than the Amazon reviews for wacky products. I recently was pointed to the reviews for uranium, which include the classic line, "I would have given this product 5 stars for the teeth and the project on embracing diversity, but I deducted one star because of the giant mutant ants." Some of my other favorites include milk, a wedding chapel ("if you live anywhere but the mountains you will have to provide your own snow and trees"), and of course, the classic Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank:
Well, this has been a real mess for us. We had been shopping for a land cruiser/tank and after reading the reviews on Amazon, we decided on the JL421.

The problems started when we tried to take delivery. UPS left a note on the door and we arranged to be there the next day and they did not show up when they said that they would, so we ended up having to go to the UPS pickup office to get the Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank.

This item will not fit in the trunk of a Corvette.

We ended up unpacking the JL421 there in the UPS parking lot and they were kind enough to dispose of the packing. I was pulled over twice on the way home because of not having tags and driving a vehicle that wasn't licensed for public roadways. We got off with warnings when we explained to the officers about our difficulties in getting the tank delivered to the house.

What are some other classic reviews out there?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Will, Fully Obtuse

On the NY Times site yesterday, William Safire complained about a line in (President!) Obama's speech:
He skirted the controversy about harsh interrogations with a facile “As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals” — when there are times when that painful choice cannot be “rejected.”

Safire is missing the point entirely here. It's not that Obama was looking for a nice turn of phrase here: he was saying that the choice is always rejected. Torture is always wrong. Etc. But Safire chose to see that line through a prism that is willing to sacrifice liberty in order to gain security, and we should all remember what Ben Franklin has to say about that.

(Full disclosure: I still have a grudge against Safire from the time he partially blamed the decline of marriage on "nubile women postponing weddings to pursue careers.")

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Comedy in a Post-Bush World

Just as 9/11 killed comedy, apparently so will the Obama administration. The NY Times interviewed a bunch of comedy writers on how they planned to cope with the apparent upcoming comedy drought. (Full disclosure: I would totally watch Letterman do household safety demonstrations.) I particularly liked the point made by an Onion editor:
Too many people had one Bush-is-dumb joke and thought that made them the next Mark Twain. The arrival of a president fluent in English should raise the bar.

Although, to be fair, there was an awful lot of mileage from the Bush malapropisms:

(Three more days!)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tortured Logic

The NY Times recently posted a range of opinions on torture after the report of torture at Guantanamo. I disagreed with much of what Andrew McCarthy had to say (including his definition of what is and is not torture), but the logic of this particularly escapes me:
On that last score, even those of us who have argued that there is a place for enhanced interrogation techniques have insisted that those techniques should be limited to intelligence gathering in dire threat circumstances; they are not for gathering trial evidence. You can call a proceeding in which coerced confessions are used many things; one thing you can’t call it is a “trial.”

Why shouldn't coerced confessions be used in a trial? Besides the obvious reasons of them being biased, fruitless, and, of course, torture?

I would love to know McCarthy's precise reasoning for not wanting coerced confessions used in a trial. I cannot conceive of a reason that could disqualify them from trial proceedings and yet still yield useful intelligence. If you're going to destroy America's reputation by torturing prisoners, you should at least be able to back it up.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Senator Stuart Smalley!

It is with great glee that I note that Al Franken has officially won his senate race. Not only will C-SPAN2 be more entertaining, but this is the final bit of proof that we live in our own alternate universe. I think a switch got flipped back in 1998 or so, giving us, among other incongruities, Dubya instead of Jeb. (Also, in the alternate universe we elected a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama. Seriously! Look it up!)

I think I'm obsessed with alternate histories -- mostly from WWII to the present -- because I don't have a good feel for exactly how stable our society is. How could the past eight (or fifty) years been different, for better or for worse? Where is the tipping point where we slide into totalitarianism? What if 9/11 never happened? What if it was worse? What if Kerry won in 2004? What if Bush died, and Cheney had been president since 2002? I've inhaled Jo Walton's alternate histories, as well as some Philip Roth, and I cannot wait for people to start tackling Bush years.

Happy 2009 to you all. Let's make sure this alternate history doesn't get shelved under "dystopia".