Efforts to understand, improve, or do less harm to the world around me.


Monday, March 29, 2010

When did you stop beating your wife?

A recent article's reference to the rhetorical trap "when did you stop beating your wife" made me dig deeper.  Justify spends a lot of time working on bad reasoning without some of the ways to counter it effectively.  Although this is frequently a rhetorical and style choice rather than part of the hard work of good reason, its still nice to be prepared for loaded questions.  Additionally, you can use this technique, also known as framing, in reverse.  This quote by former VP Dick Cheney would make a great comeback to the question "why is conservation the right choice for America?"

"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."  (Note that this quote came from a speech and there was no interviewer.)


Question: Tell me how good conservation is.

Answer: Great, but too narrow.


Note that the best answer to the headline's question is "I never started."

Pennsylvania allows 11 year old to vote, drive, drink?

This headline is accurate only in that 11 year olds are increasingly treated as adults in only one aspect.  So while society has decided that children are fully responsible for their actions in one department, they have decided the others remain absurd.  Children must still attend school, must wait 7 more years to drive, and on no account will be allowed to join the military.

Yet the military is the perfect place to describe how responsibility and freedom are connected: those with great power have greater responsibility and those without power have much less.  A private has only one task: to do as he or she is told and nothing else.  A person with a low rank is not rewarded for doing anything but the task assigned and not accorded with any extra responsibility.  As a person rises in ranks, his responsibility increases as does his freedom.  A General of an army has great freedom to decide the actions of 1,000s and will be held responsible if he or she makes a mistake in judgment.  Thus, judgment and freedom must be proportional.

Additionally, the state frequently takes away the rights of adults as well as their responsibility.  A person who loses their license to drive should never be charged with another crime that would require them to get behind the wheel: that would be contradictory.  Similarly, the mentally ill are disallowed from purchasing firearms, driving, or other activities that a responsible person can be trusted with.  When they violate the law, there is legal recourse to protect them: not guilty by reason of insanity.  So the state takes away the rights of adults and protects them from the full rebuke of the law because they are not responsible for their actions.

So children are responsible for their actions when those actions bring about grievous harm and suffering, but not when for example a child genius solves major world problems.  They cannot drink, cannot drive, and are not treated as adults, and cannot go to college without supervision.

This is a distinction without a difference: Pennsylvania treats 11 year olds as adults only when he or she acts with exceptional violence, not exceptional gifts.  Elsewhere 11 year olds remain as helpless and incapable as they have ever been.  Therefore, the state thinks whoever you are at age 11, you are and must be for the rest of your life.  Yet it does not follow that the decision-making mechanics that put a gun in a boy's hand are and must be the same that in all cases create killers later in life.

Movie review: Twilight - New Moon

I don't hate vampire shows; if you ever watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you'll know that it was frequently well written, engaging, and delt with some very real, very heavy topics using a fictional backdrop.

Twilight is almost the complete opposite.  Dialogue so forced, hokey, and cynical its painful to watch.  I only made it about 15 minutes through the film before I became physically ill and had to leave the room.  It doesn't appear to be about anything other than obsession and self-destruction, undoubtedly a part of everyone's adolescence, but not something I wish to relive.

This isn't the worst movie I have ever seen.  Cool World was worse because I kept hoping it would get better and managed to stay through the whole horrid thing.  Fortunately, this time I opened the escape hatch before that plane could explode into the sparkly vampire mountain.

Changing behavior

Two enlightening articles on the nature of changing habits and combating addiction.

Sleep research: Valerian Root, blood sugar, and software

There's a variety of herbal drugs for coping with medical problems but it hard to tell the good stuff from "snake oil."  Now there's a graph to help determine what's worth the time.  Having done quite a bit of research about getting good sleep, I've heard about Valerian Root for a while now but it seems pretty well received.

Low blood sugar meanwhile can actually cause nightmares.  This sounds odd, but generally your body will respond to low blood sugar by having intense dreams.  Then, once your adrenalin kicks in, it zaps your blood sugar almost immediately and then for the rest of the night, you will continue to have intense dreams as your body tries to tell you it needs energy (thanks switch).  How you manage your own blood sugar is not a simple topic, but its something you should discuss with your doctor to handle restless sleep or frequent nightmares.

Some websites to help with sleep and some controversial software solutions (for Mac and Windows):
  • F.lux, which changes your monitor color slightly over the coarse of a day, purportedly helping you get more restful sleep at night. 
  • Brainwave entrainment with Gnaural.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Literal "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

Back in the 80s, the music video format was still fairly new so a lot of cocaine-induced video experimentation combined with horrid music brought about some truly bad television.  Fortunately, someone was able to take something hilarious from garbage (thanks colleen).  Its a bit like a very short Mystery Science Theater 3000 (full episodes available): equal parts clever and painful, but the few things it gets right it gets really right.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tanning bed regulation

The dangers of tanning have been spoken of here before and now it looks as if you won't be able to use one without parental permission before age 21.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

High Fructose Fat Syrup

... is what I will call it from now on.

Taking apart Glenn Beck

None of my conservative friends take Beck seriously, but I have to acknowledge his huge and growing audience.

So its enjoyable not so much to watch Stewart poke at Beck's theatrics, but much more his poor reasoning skills. As to the theatrics, a Time article compares him to one of his guests, Eric Massa.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fallout joke

If you've played the game, you might enjoy this graffiti found in a fairly post-apocalyptic bathroom in Texas.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Maybe the weirdest and most unexpected thing I've seen on Youtube in years.  Amazing and beautiful.

Texas teaches bad history

Growing up, I had no idea that part of the reason Texas declared independence was because Mexico was so anti-slavery.  I was taught that the reason the North and South went to war was a primarily economic reason, which is NOT an accepted platform of most historians.  Its the sort of thing that would have made the Texas independence effort seem less than the kind of excellent they wanted to teach a 5th grader like me. 

So while some parts of history are minimized or not mentioned, some Texas history books are now flat out wrong.  Not surprising for Texas, recent changes also seem fairly racist with the push against hip hop as a part of American culture and study of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis's inaugural address alongside Lincoln's.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cram this down your throat

Republicans are undoubtedly winning the war of opinion in recent health care developments.  In that framework, Jon Stewart commits yet another biting tear on Fox News after his recent O'Reilly interview where Bill claimed Fox was a balanced news program:

O'REILLY: ... And somebody told me off the record that you were one of the 49 percent, you believe Fox News is the most trusted news organization.

STEWART: I am. Here's what I believe. Fox News is the most passionate and sells the clearest narrative of any news organization, if that's how — are you still referring to it in that manner?

O'REILLY: Yes, it's a news organization. Right. That's how the poll referred to it.

STEWART: No, I'm sure it did.

O'REILLY: Nobody had any problem. Only you. Only you have a problem.

STEWART: I think Fox, in and of yourself, say you're not a news organization all day. Isn't it now your news — what was it your news from 9 to 11, and then your opinion and then your news again from like 1 to 2:30?

O'REILLY: It's kind of like a newspaper.

(From Fox's transcript.)

Here's Stewart's response (if that link breaks try the slightly longer version on comedycentral.com for when Hulu stops hosting it).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Justice Department investigates Monsanto

I've talked about the ultra-shady Monsanto before, and now a gold star for the Obama administration. (Thanks Kristy.)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Scientology abuse

Many people are very familiar with the Catholic church's abuse scandal, but fewer are aware of similar charges in Scientology.  Additionally, while the Mormon church was attacked as bigoted for its support of California's prop 8, Scientology was also a supporter, despite their sponsorship by many of the Hollywood elite, usually seen as very left-leaning.  Just as with the Catholic church, even very famous members are leaving.

Hopefully greater transparency will come about in both Catholic and Scientology organizations to bring about better accountability by members who break the law.  Unfortunately, its likely both will become more insular and resistant to public scrutiny.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Bank security tips

Physical security
  • Alarms that are not plugged in are not functional so keep them safe from unplugging.  Put up barbed wire and a rotating spike chain ball.
  • Statues of scary dogs are not as effective as three scary statue dogs.
The workplace
  • REAL security clearance means a no-holds-barred dance-off.
  • If your place of business is insecure, its a lot like being insecure about your social skills: alcohol and pills is the only solution.
Give out customer information only if:
  • They do a magic trick where you no longer are wearing a bra
  • They correctly guess the capitol of Iowa
  • Provide basket of ferrets
Confronting a perpetrator
  • Stay Calm
  • Choke the bastard and shake him like a vending machine.
  • For your last punch, remain in that striking position so as to better demonstrate you're finished.
  • Dan Marino is not a security officer, no matter what he claims.  And he will.
Critical Procedures needed for
  • Holdup
  • Kidnap
  • Hostage
  • Smugglers
  • Jugglers
  • Huggers
  • Dan Marino
  • Chasing people with a hatchet covered in broken glass is only okay if you're super duper angry
  • Christmas lights wielded like a whip are @#$%ing awesome

Grammar checker for free

If you were still using Microsoft Word merely because of that bloody grammar checker, you can now get a free one for the already-free OpenOffice.

Here's a detailed article on getting that put together.

Worshiping Raccoons

Note about makeup: its getting darker and wider.  Originally, eye makeup came from the ancient Egyptians who worshiped cats.  Accordingly, two thousand years from now, they'll think we worship raccoons.



Important note: although acknowledging it as absurd, I absolutely love this trend.

TV is lying to you

Enjoy it when something vile turns out to be something good after all?   The idea of an article explaining how to do the opposite of what you see on TV should be great fun.  Well, the article doesn't pay off very well in terms of its initial promises, so here's how it should have been written.

  • Has lots of stuff you don't need.  Live slim for a few years to help build your savings.
  • Has lots of serial killers, but they're not frequent in real life.  If you have extra space, rent it out.  A solid contract and a big deposit will prevent most problems.
  • Is where public transportation gets threatened by disasters.  These too are rare.  Use public transportation in any big city, especially when you travel.
  • Portrays Ethnic people poorly (e.g. soup nazi / goofy).   Yet somehow Ethnic restaurants are frequently cheaper and just as good. 
  • Wants you to go to Best Buy or other slick, overpriced gadget hole.  Instead, check Craigslist/Freecycle first for almost anything you buy or sell.
  • Thinks you need help.  Whatever it is, try doing it yourself first before you pay someone else from coffee to losing weight.

Related: Freezer tricks to save $