Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Scandal of Scandals

A lot of political scandals have been dominating the news recently. I can't say that I'm following any of them very closely, other than to know that the IRS, in an attempt to determine which political groups should be tax-exempt or not, made a misguided decision to target tea-party groups, and that the DoJ intercepted a large number of call and other personal records to out a leaker. From that distance, neither incident inspires trust in the judgement of our governmental officials, but one of the few things I read about them was Digby's commentary on Elizabeth Drew's writing about these scandals in comparison to what happened in the Nixon Administration (simplified as "Watergate"). Holy crap - is it chilling. Money quote:
[Watergate] was also about, though this has still gone largely unrecognized, an attempt by a sitting president to determine the nomination of the opposition party’s presidential candidate. Potentially strong challengers were spied upon, their offices broken into and files disappeared, their campaign events disrupted by what were diminished by their categorization as laughable “dirty tricks.” It was about black bag jobs and paying criminals to carry out ideas that sprang from the fevered brain of a president who saw opponents, political and otherwise, as enemies, and then trying to hush the whole thing up.
No scandal should be tolerated, no matter how small, from our government - after all, they are working for us. I'm also no fan of how the Obama Administration has used it's "War on Terror" powers. But honestly Watergate is in another league altogether. I'm quite frankly surprised that I didn't realize the full scope of Nixon's criminality, and absent any further revelations about the current scandals any comparison seems misguided at best.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

See The World

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

To be Alive and Awake

"If you are alive and awake, sadness is a fluctuating constant."

- Marc Maron

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Save The Bees!

Andrew points out some scary facts about the state of the bees:
Almost a third of managed U.S. honey bees died last winter, according to a new survey of commercial and home beekeepers. That’s more than triple the losses of 5 to 10 percent that used to be normal for beekeepers before 2005 — and double the 15 percent that beekeepers say is acceptable for their businesses to continue unharmed. The finding marks a disturbing trend among honey bees: each winter since 2006, the Bee Informed Partnership has documented losses of 21.9 to 36 percent of U.S. hives. …
The most likely culprit of this Colony Collapse Disorder is a pesticide class called a "neonicotinoid". My understanding is that while Europe has started controlling these substances, the U.S. has been moving much slower.

Personally, we've actually seen a growth of bees around my house - a colony of bees have moved in nearby and while i'm not entirely comfortable with all these bees swarming around my children, we're not going to take any action so we can, in our small way, support the honey bee population.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tab Dump (as Seen on TV!)

Check out these amazing pictures from A Brief History of Children’s Picture Books and the Art of Visual Storytelling - some amazing pictures here.

The Kinks are one of the best rock bands of all time, and were fueled by the tension between brothers Ray and Dave Davies. We've heard Ray's story, now we can see Dave's side in this documentary.

Is S&M anti-feminist? Um... no.

A good primer on reading Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow

Dear SciFi writers, please stop being so pessimistic.

On the subject of Stephenson, here's a fun examination of how relevant his dreams of a data haven are today. BTW, if you haven't read Cryptonomicon, what are you waiting for?

A good video explaining why "global warming" is a misnomer and explaining why yes, climate change means that your average situation may get more extreme. "The wet get wetter and the dry get drier"

Everything you need to know about culture in 10 books

A great Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson at Capitola Book CafĂ© in 2012

In other KSR news, the quantum computers that he predicted in his books (specifically in 2312) is one step closer to reality. Money quote:
The D-Wave machine, which its makers say makes use of such unusual properties of quantum physics as a particle’s ability to move in one direction and its opposite at the same time. ... While quantum properties are among the most tested and proven domains of physics, the concepts behind them — for example, suggestions that we live in one of many universes, or that objects not in direct contact can affect each other — make such properties hard to accept.
Harnessing them for the sake of computation, suggested as a possibility more than two decades ago, has proved difficult.
The optimization problem is typically something like how a traveling salesman would plan a complicated trip most effectively. Ms. McGeoch tested three problems involving optimization. In two of them, the D-Wave computer was slightly faster. In the third, it was markedly faster.
Read the whole thing. It's just fascinating.

Along those lines, Quantum Foam is just a cool thing to ponder.

My first introduction to Jack Gilbert's excellent poem "Failing and Flying"

Take the time to see the beauty in boredom.

A New Yorker report on the light pollution epidemic and an analysis of how Tucson, AZ of all places solves the problem:

Tucson’s code limits the brightness of exterior fixtures and requires most of them to be of a type usually known as “full cutoff” or “fully shielded,” meaning that they cast no light above the horizontal plane and employ a light source that cannot be seen by someone standing to the side. These are not necessarily more difficult or expensive to manufacture than traditional lights, and they typically cost less to operate. Calgary, Alberta, recently cut its electricity expenditures by more than two million dollars a year, by switching to full-cutoff, reduced-wattage street lights.
A fun, old-school Aphex Twin video interview from 1996

Thursday, May 9, 2013

For Every Moment of Triumph

“For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled.”

-- Hunter S. Thompson

Friday, May 3, 2013

Modern Offense and the Buffalo Bills

As I've gotten older, the amount of time I spend on football has diminished. There’s a number of factors for this – decreased free time due to the kids, ambivalence about the sport due to the increased knowledge of how much damage the participants are doing to themselves, the dire state of the Buffalo Bills – but for  visceral excitement its hard to match watching a good NFL game.

I say this because Joe Buscaglia’s article for WGR 550 is one of the best things I've read about football in a long time. Going beyond a simple reaction to how the Buffalo Bills offense looks after the 2013 draft, he details how he feels a modern offense operates in today’s NFL and how the Bills are matching up. In short, he posits that once you have a good QB (the essential player in the NFL, and why the Bills have been bad for so long), you surround him with skill players in a spread offense, which diminishes the importance of the offensive line (since they no longer need to block for as long). It’s a fascinating read, and one that actually gets me interested in both football and the Bills again. After all, it is the offseason - the best time for a Bills fan, since our hopes have not - yet - been cruelly crushed under the merciless heel of fate.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Buscaglia has to say about the defense!

Shark Fin Soup

You really should click through to io9 to see this amazing infographic detailing just how many sharks are being slaughtered every day for their fins. The number is 11,417 per hour, but the graphic is really what puts this practice into perspective.

On a slightly related note, I had shark filets for dinner a year and a half ago and they were absolutely fantastic - tasting like white steak. I always feel slightly guilty for eating fish, given all that i hear about the incredible damage we're doing to our oceans by overfishing them, but a friend of mine caught the shark in a fishing competition, not as part of an industrial operation, so I figured it was okay. Damn was it good - it's an experience that will stick with me for a long time.