Friday, February 26, 2010

Sorry, technical difficulties. Please cry again later.

My computer is still in the shop, and there it will remain. They tell me they can't fix it but they can get the data onto a CD. The problem is, they have lied to me before. I'll believe it when I see it.

I won't update this blog until the new computer is in place, unless there's something that can't wait. I will keep updating It's News 2 Them™, because it's easier.

I think I'm about to become a Mac user again. The last one I bought was 25 years ago, and I hear they've made some improvements.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The two blogs: compare and contrast.

Let's get things clear. This is The Blog and It's News 2 Them™ is The Other Blog. At the end of March, this blog will be three years old and The Other Blog will be three months old. This blog has had about 250,000 visits, the Other Blog is just over 3,000.

But the growth potential for the younger sibling looks very bright indeed.

After all, what is this blog? It's some old guy talking about the stuff that interests him. Pop culture, politics, lolz, math, giant women, whatever.

There is some appeal, granted. I have people who read this blog everyday, the number is probably around 100. Currently, there are also about 400 visitors a day who stop by usually to look at some image in the archive, from Val Kilmer to transparent globes to analog clocks.

All well and good.

What is the possible appeal of The Other Blog?

Tattooed strippers.

In the long run, if I keep both blogs going, it won't be a contest.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 110: A simple mnemonic for division and zero

You might remember from a math class ages ago that you can divide by zero. The problem is that a lot of students just hear "Zero... division... bad." It's perfectly okay to cut zero up into as many pieces as you like, but chopping a thing into zero pieces is problematic. This means another set of students will know that one way to have zero in a fraction is all right while the other way is bad, but they will forget which is which.

Christine Will, one of my fellow teachers at Laney, put this mnemonic up on the board during a talk and I think it's a good teaching tool.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nice round numbers.

At a little past 3:00 p.m. this afternoon Pacific time, visitor number 250,000 came by this blog. I post this picture of the 250,000 Laris note from Georgia (former Soviet state, not former Confederate state) in commemoration.

The person was from Oregon City, Oregon and they were looking for a picture of Eartha Kitt, as good a reason as any to stop by.

Yay, milestones!

One degree (and 25 years) of separation

As I have mentioned before, back in the 1980s Padre Mickey and I formed a band called The Wonders Of Science. It was just the two of us who recorded our first EP The Record Of The Same Name, but when we decided to go on stage we added some members so the music wouldn't just be the two of us and a drum machine. From left to right in the picture, we have the Good Padre, yours truly, the crooning Travis Hunt and Lexi, our drummer. We recorded two records on our own dime, made a music video, but we were a local band playing mostly in the South Bay Area from San Jose to Palo Alto with a few gigs in San Francisco.

When I left the combo in 1985, the rest of the guys recruited a lead guitarist, Steve Swayzee, and made a major change in musical direction. Instead of a synthesizer band, they were now a guitar combo and changed the name to A Cruel Hoax. They also put some of their songs on vinyl, and their gigs ranged further afield, from Chico in the north down to Hollywood. But still, A Cruel Hoax played their last gig in 1989, local heroes who never got a recording contract, much like The Wonders Of Science.

You might think the story of two garage bands that played back in the Reagan era would just be a fading memory, but one of our contingent, our young drummer Lexi, later changed his name to Lex and gained some national recognition on the first major reality show Survivor. His blond swoopy hair was replaced with dark spiky locks and he went for several piercings and tattoos. He was still drumming with bands, and in 2005 hooked up with some guys from the band Smash Mouth, a San Jose band that had a couple hits in the late 1990s. The new band is called The Maids Of Honor, and their songs have been heard on the network TV shows Mercy and Dirty Sexy Money. Their first album was released last month on the Halfway To Hell label.

Best wishes to The Maids Of Honor on their record release and especially to my old band mate Lex. Nice to see hard work and persistence pay off.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The health of the nation.

Bob Dole, 86, is at a veteran's hospital. He had a bout of pneumonia and there were complications. He's getting the best care and he deserves it, but so do a lot of Americans who aren't getting the best care.

I wish Sen. Dole all the best.

Dick Cheney is in the hospital complaining of chest pains. He is not at a veteran's hospital because he is famously not a veteran. He had five deferments from military service and he's had just as many heart attacks, the first one at the age of 37. Still, he's getting good care on the public dime.

Mr. Cheney doesn't have a pacemaker, he has a portable defibrillator. From what I've heard, this machine will keep his heart beating after brain death.

I wish Mr. Cheney would get a fucking clue, but being evil is not counted as a pre-existing condition.

If I were to pray to the God of Machines...

today would be as good a day as any and better than most.

Friday afternoon, my computer crashed. I usually don't turn the machine off, just put it in sleep mode, but Friday morning I shut it down and when I came home from class, it wouldn't turn back on. I took it to the shop and they said they'd have a look at it, but some of their equipment was on the fritz, so there won't be any word until today.

The good news is that the data appears to be retrievable, and if the problem is just the power supply the fix will be fairly easy.

If not, I may be in the market for a new computer. I haven't bought a computer in probably 20 years, maybe more. The one I used back in the 1990's was a gift from my friend Kevin; it still works for writing homework and quizzes, but is way too slow to hook up to the Internet today. My upgrade was a laptop I got as part of my payment for writing the Pascal's Triangle website, and that's what I'm using to write this post. It's slow and there are keys that don't work, like the Ctrl key, which slows work down considerably. The computer in the shop was a second hand computer from my friend Alan, a major upgrade over the seven year old laptop. I'm thinking about what I will buy if the news is bad today, but I'll wait for the verdict before deciding my next step.

As you can see, the illustration is from a O-L-D science fiction story about a computer-reliant alien race. Those wacky SF writers! Where did they get their crazy ideas? A race reliant on computers indeed! It sure would suck to be them.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

CPAC Wackiness

Earlier this month, Sarah Palin spoke at a meeting in Nashville with less than 700 attendees. That same weekend, Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann and others were at a St. Louis meeting of conservatives with about half that many people.

For some sense of scale, I attended Magic: The Gathering tournaments bigger than this, and I only played sealed deck. A mid-sized regional bridge tournament can expect 2,000 to 2,500 people. These meetings were tiny, but the press lapped them up, whether left, right or "mainstream".

But this week, the minor league events are over and it's time for the Conservative Political Action Conference, known as CPAC, which has been in existence since 1973 and is held in Washington, D.C. Last year, they claimed 9,000 attendees and this year 10,000.

To give an idea of scale, that is about the size of the crowd that watched a top flight game of women's pro soccer in this country earlier this decade before the league withered and died after three years.

The increase in attendance is due in large part to the presence of Ron Paul at the conference. I say this because of the results of the Presidential Straw Poll this year, an event the conference has held for some time now. The poll is unscientific because of self-selection bias, and so completely meaningless as a predictor, even of the true opinions of the people at the conference. Though the straw poll costs nothing, only about a quarter of the people attending actually filled out the ballot, and this year Ron Paul, boosted by his followers known as the Paultards by their opponents on both the left and right, pushed their candidate into first place with 31% of the vote. In the three years before this, the largest ballot stuffing contingent at this meaningless charade belonged to Mitt Romney, who went home with 22% of the vote. That 22% was very close to the proportion he had last year in a smaller sample.

This brings me to why I am reusing the shattered GOP symbol. This year's CPAC meeting was supposed to be the first of the post Tea Party era, and the Tea Party hero Glenn Beck spoke, but it was Ron Paul's supporters who made the real difference. Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh hate Ron Paul, who has opposed the wars Bush got into after the fact and thinks marijuana legalization should be a states' rights issue. When Paul's huge straw poll win was announced, boos were heard in the audience. It should be noted that alleged Tea Party darling Sarah Palin finished a distant third in the balloting with 7%. The fact that the top three vote getters in the poll only accounted for 60% of the responses shows that these people can't agree on lunch, let alone the direction of the country.

Another chorus of boos at CPAC is also getting a lot of play, when speaker Ryan Sorba went into a tirade about the presence of a gay GOP group at the conference, a group called GOProud, a splinter from an older group called the Log Cabin Republicans. You can listen to Mr. Sorba's tirade if you want, but it really is just nonsense words strung together. For instance, I know the definitions of all the words in the sentence "Human nature is a rational substance in relationship." But it's obviously crap. Substance implies a thing you can measure, and there is no measuring human nature. Moreover, only someone living in Fantasyland would call human nature rational.

If I may quote Andy Samberg's impression of Rahm Emanuel, "What are you? Fourteen?"

On other blogs' comments about the rant, I've seen pop psychology diagnosis of Mr. Sorba's latency levels, but I'd like to say in his defense that he's not gay, as in happy, but he is queer, as in odd.

I, on the other hand, am both gay (happy) and queer (odd), but not homosexual. My heart still belongs to The Big Girls.

And Indira Varma.

We must never forget Indira Varma.

I'm currently re-watching the first season of Rome trying to remain completely objective about the topic of Indira Varma, but any camera shot longer than three seconds puts the lie to that immediately. And then she talks in that English accent.

I'm mad for her and that isn't changing, unlike the definition of what conservative means now in this country.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Time travel much?

I've been having a lot of fun working on my new blog, It's News 2 Them, keeping track of the headlines from The Only Ten Magazines That Matter, the supermarket checkout gossip rags. In some ways, it's like reading a detective novel, where you try to keep track of a story when you know most of the characters are lying most of the time.

Ive learned that all the tabloids are slightly different. One of the unusual aspects of the National Examiner is their decision not to have a presence online. Online gossip is hitting the supermarket tabloids just as hard as the Internet is hitting the legitimate press, but this week, the editorial board of the Examiner appears to have made a conscious decision to corner the market on old people who aren't Internet savvy enough to find Radar or tmz. Their cover this week features Vanna White, Jim Bakker, Mel Gibson, Priscilla Presley, Michael Douglas and Cybill Shepard.

It's like some cosmic version of daylight savings time where we are all asked to set our calendars back to 1989.

And, oh yeah, garlic and vinegar are healthy foods. Who knew? It's a wacky world out there, what with those mobile phones and compact discs and those kids playing with their Nintendo. So let's find out why Vanna isn't wearing make-up and how Jim Bakker could have been such a fool as to let that nice Tammy Faye get away.

Friday, February 19, 2010

iTunes gets funkier.

I'm posting four more songs with embedded videos for a seriously great four in a row from my iTunes later in the morning after the Random 10.

Pata Pata Miriam Makeba. For my friends who write songs, have you ever written a tune as good and as simple as this? I know I haven't.

Until You Come Back To Me Aretha Franklin with Stevie Wonder. My sister Jen calls this "The Stalker Song" and she has a point. But DAMN! It's Aretha and Stevie!

The World Is A Ghetto War. I still love this song beyond all proportion of understanding. So sweet and then so funky.

Papa's Got A Brand New Bag James Brown.

And there we stop, because it isn't going to get any better.

Random 10, 2/19/10

Too Experienced The Bodysnatchers
Hold On I'm Coming Sam & Dave
Bernadette The Four Tops
Have A Little Dream On Me Fats Waller
45 Elvis Costello
Eleanor Rigby The Beatles
Tyler UB40
Should I Stay Or Should I Go? The Clash
The Big Picture The Wonders Of Science
Ask The Lonely Vonda Shepard

The You Tubes have links to 9 out of 10 songs from my iTunes random list today, including an obscure band called The Wonders Of Science, a fact I find truly amazing as one of the founders of the obscure band. Whenever a Beatles tune is found on a Random 10, I go with this picture of girls dancing at The Cavern in Liverpool.

Since the Fats Waller tune is not available, let me post one verse of lyrics from the cute little ditty.

How'd you like to mingle with the smart set?
And invite the Vanderbilts to tea?
Everything on which you have your heart set
Baby, have a little dream on me.

So, what are you listening to?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Science Fun, Vol. 4: The three body problem

The revolutionary importance of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica cannot be overstated. The title translates to The Mathematical Principles of Physics, and like many scholarly works of the day, it was published in Latin so all learned people in Europe could easily read it. Even today when it has been translated into modern languages, people still call it the Principia, pronounced Prin-KEY-pee-ah.

As a revolutionary work, it stirred up controversy in its day, though now it is so widely accepted as the fundamentals of physics of objects larger than atoms that it is hard to imagine what the disagreements could have been. One of my favorite of Newton detractors is Robert Hooke, not because I agree with him, but because it shows that even smart people can be 100% wrong, and personal flaws of character are usually to blame. His name survives to this day in Hooke's Law, a differential equation that explains the action of a spring very precisely. Hooke said that there was nothing of much interest in the Principia, and if there was, Hooke himself had already figured it out.

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! Sorry, Bob, wrong answer, thanks for playing.

There is a lot to Newton's work, including the first understanding of the properties of optics and his three laws of motion. The concept of universal gravity may be the thing people associated most readily with Newton, what with the falling apple and all. Here's a fun experiment that you can do yourself that shows the unusual properties of gravity when three bodies are involved.

In space, the three bodies might be a star, a planet and a moon, but for this experiment, you will need a golf ball, a ping pong ball and the earth. The part of the earth you should use is a hard flat surface, like a table top. It also helps to have a transparent cylinder wide enough for the golf ball and ping pong ball to fit into easily. I cut an empty soda bottle to make the cylinder. A pint glass could work just as well.

If you hold either ball just above the rim of the cylinder and let it drop, it will bounce back, but not all the way back to your hand.

Wait a second. Didn't Newton say that every action has an equal and opposite reaction? Doesn't this experiment disprove Newton's so-called third law?

BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ! Sorry, Mr. Beck, wrong answer, thanks for playing.

On impact, some of the energy dissipates, absorbed by the ball or the earth. No ball will bounce all the way back to its original height on even the hardest surface.

But the second time you do this experiment, put the ping pong ball slightly above the golf ball and let them both drop straight down into the cylinder. Get ready to catch the ping pong ball, because it will bounce well above the top of the cylinder. Besides giving a good visual reference as to how high the ball bounced, the cylinder will also keep the ping pong ball from bouncing very far off line.

This experiment will not work with two golf balls or two ping pong balls. You need two bouncy balls with different masses. Dropping a golf ball on top and a basketball on bottom simultaneously will give you a similar result, though if the bounce is slightly off line and you might have to chase some distance after the golf ball. In space, where gravitational attraction often causes orbits instead of collisions, very unusual situations could arise under the right (and very unlikely) circumstances where a body could be accelerated to nearly infinite speed.

A lot of people talk about common sense, and in today's society it is revered beyond all proportion. The fun of science is when our expectations founded in common sense are blown out of the water. I propose we use a new term, vulgar sense, for the rigid ideas expounded most often by people who want to deny science when science runs counter to their strongly held and often nonscientific beliefs.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wednesday Math, Vol. 109: Logic and Duality

Logic has been studied as a subject unto itself for about 2,500 years now. What our confused penguin friend here is trying to do is construct a syllogism, and he's making a common mistake. The study of mathematical logic made a major stride back in the 1850's when George Boole published The Laws Of Thought, and now there are many mathematical systems, including set theory, computer architecture as well as mathematical logic itself, that follow the rules known as Boolean algebra.

Instead of syllogisms being the basic building blocks, mathematical logic breaks down the system into smaller bits, and builds all logic connections by using the basic connectors AND, OR and NOT, and the logical states TRUE and FALSE. Much like the duality of trigonometry discussed last week, we have two way connections between objects, though unlike trig, the connections do not have an easy physical representation as to why they are duals.

The basics are:

AND is the dual of OR.
TRUE is the dual of FALSE.
NOT is the dual of NOT, which is a situation called self duality.

All of the axioms of logic have a dual axiom, by switching all ANDs for ORs and vice versa, and doing the same for any TRUE or FALSE that shows up.

commutative AND: a AND b = b AND a
commutative OR: a OR b = b OR a

Domination by truth: a OR TRUE = TRUE
Domination by falsity: a AND FALSE = FALSE

DeMorgan's Law #1: NOT(a AND b) = (NOT a) OR (NOT b)
DeMorgan's Law #2: NOT(a OR b) = (NOT a) AND (NOT b)

This is not to say that the study of logic is very simple, far from it. But duality in a system can be a very nice tool for cracking open some very difficult problems.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Making fun of Utah: way too easy or essential to the republic?

Sometimes I think making fun of Utah and the Mormons is not fair. After all, the faith rejected polygamy 120 years ago after they looked at the practice prayerfully.

And after the U.S. government said they'd start seizing church property. You have to take that into account in any prayerful consideration.

But just when I get to thinking we should leave the nice white people in their magic underwear alone, they hand those of us in the reality based community a charming story like this.

You can't go wrong with an opening sentence like "Sen. Chris Buttars isn't talking about dropping 12th grade any more."

He was talking about dropping 12th grade. Now he just wants to make it optional.

The thing is, it already is optional, not just in Utah but all over the country. A student can opt for early graduation if he or she takes enough classes. It's hard work and it doesn't save much money, because the student still has to take as many units, but Sen. Chris Buttars (R) hasn't fully thought this through. His first idea was just to get rid of senior year because all his friends' kids say they just wasted time in senior year.

Did it occur to him that if 11th grade was the last year of mandatory education, his friends' kids would just waste time then? Probably not, hypothetical question asker.

By the way, if you read the story, everybody reached for comment is listed as R-Some Such Place. There are Democrats in Utah. In fact, they appear to be nearly a majority in Salt Lake City, but outside the city limits, it's the waste land snooty elitist outsiders always thought it was.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The free market doesn't work.

Sometimes I find myself in an argument with someone who uses the phrase "free market" and I know it's going to be very slow sledding. I am mystified that people still buy into the idea of the brilliance of the free market and the consumer as a rational actor.

If you have watched the most recent ads from Microsoft and Domino's Pizza, either the actual text or the obvious subtext of these ads are "our products suck and they have for years, but we promise to do better".

The two markets are very different. People are intimidated by computers and there is a natural desire to go with the biggest company, under the sometimes mistaken assumption that more software will be compatible with Microsoft products than with competitors' products, whether it's the operating system or the browser or Office. But Microsoft is so big and clumsy that there are well-documented examples of Microsoft software that is incompatible with other Microsoft software. And yet, they hold on to a massive share of the market after treating their customers like crap on a regular basis for several decades.

On the other hand, people aren't intimidated by pizza. Everyone knows what it tastes like and most people seem to know good from bad. Even so, Domino's has held on to a large slice of the market since the 1980's selling a product widely acknowledged to being weak tomato sauce and cheese like rubber covering a piece of cardboard. They were able to do this because the market doesn't work and the consumer is not a rational actor.

Some might think that my opinion of these products is tied to my opinions of the politics and personalities of the corporations' founders. I certainly didn't like my money ending up in the pocket of Domino's founder Tom Monaghan, an anti-choice and anti-gay zealot, but he sold the company in 1998, and I have no idea about the politics of the new owners. Software suckiness aside, my view of Bill Gates has mellowed considerably, largely because he married well. Melinda Gates has done a great job of turning her husband into a philanthropist, not unlike the robber barons of days gone by. I'm not so foolish as to consider Bill Gates or Andrew Carnegie or J. Paul Getty saints, but it's a hell of a lot better to be those guys rather than selfish psychos like Howard Hughes or Larry Ellison.

I still run into people who believe in the beautiful mathematics of the market, but I can't comprehend how these people hold onto these beliefs when faced with the ugly arithmetic of actual market share.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Finely aged gummint cheese.

The law in California stipulates that adjunct faculty are allowed to get unemployment benefits during the breaks between terms, and I have been availing myself of the extra income stream since I found out about it in late 2008. The legal reason is that we are given a contract, but like so many contracts nowadays, the employer can wriggle out of it easily, so the state gives us a little cash for the weeks we have promised to wait for a job that might not materialize due to budget constraints or low enrollment.

So far, so good.

The way it has worked before is that I signed up and then got a letter that there would be a phone call determining if I qualified, usually within the two week period before I mailed off my first claim. I get paid for a few weeks, I let them know I'm back at work and how much I'm making and the checks stop coming.

But this time, though I stopped working in mid-December, the call to check my story was scheduled for mid-January. They said wait ten business days to hear back, but nothing happened, so I sent a message online in early February. Now, mid February, I get an e-mail reply that there is absolutely nothing wrong with my paperwork and I should be seeing my first check any day now.

These delays, which I didn't see as recently as six months ago, can be laid at the feet of the Republican Party of California, who are also to blame for massive budget cuts in education. I'm lucky that I teach math, which is always one of the last departments to get slashed, but that doesn't mean I don't feel the pain of my fellow faculty in other departments.

The blame belongs to the Republicans, a distinct minority in California government, for rejecting any new taxes to solve the budget crisis in California. In our state, an entrenched minority can burrow in like a tick and stop anything they don't like. I wrote last year about the fact that only California does not tax oil companies for removing our natural resources, and finally starting this tax after letting the oil companies off the hook for more than a century could get our state back to a position where it could actually be governed again, providing services that are a benefit to all Californians.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Box scores from the minor leagues

Last weekend, left wing, right wing and mainstream news sources were all in a tizzy about Sarah Palin giving a speech in Nashville at a Tea Party conference. Talking Points Memo brought up there was another conservative get together in St. Louis where both Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann spoke. I haven't seen the full schedules from either get together, but Joseph Farah of World Net Daily spoke at both meetings. If you aren't aware of the name, Farah is second only to Orly Taitz as a proponent of the idea that Barack Obama isn't a citizen.

Here's the thing. The Nashville gathering had about 600 people paying $650 for the privilege of attending. The St. Louis numbers were between 300 and 400 people, and if you wanted to see Glenn Beck the price ran as high as $500.

These are just drops in the bucket compared to the Conservative Political Action Conference, which will be held later this month. CPAC has been a yearly meeting since 1973, and the people running it are very proud that they were able to get Ronald Reagan to speak in 1974. As you can see in this archive photo from Life magazine, Reagan also spoke to the conference after he was elected president.

CPAC has several price options, from about $175 for a chance to go to all the talks to over $500 if you also want to go to the banquets. They expect about 9,000 people to attend this year.

I don't know of a liberal conference that has as long a history or as high an attendance as CPAC. The meeting that started out being called YearlyKos is now called Netroots Nation. It's less than ten years old and they claim about 2,000 people attended last year.

It's said that if something doesn't happen on TV, it might as well not happen at all. The press is more likely to get themselves into an orgasmic spasm about the conservative meetings than the liberal ones, and we can see from the numbers that the fuss over Sarah Palin has a lot more to do with her being flavor of the month than her actual ability to attract huge crowds.

While it is comparing apples to oranges, consider San Diego Comic-Con. The price isn't nearly as high as the political meetings can get, with a full four day pass costing less than $200, if you can get one. This summer's convention is already sold out of the four day passes. Last year, 125,000 people attended.

And yet, no one talks about the possibility that Joss Whedon or J. J. Abrams could be a viable candidate for president. This is just a small part of the blatant anti-nerd bias of the mainstream press.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Online predators... or something darker?

Padre Mickey sent me this public service ad warning against the Old Ones lurking in chat rooms, picking off young innocent girls with deceptions usually used by 35 year old perverts who live in their mother's basements.

But if ancient evil really roams the Internet, I think they would have hired a good consulting firm by now, and any reputable consultant would tell them the secret of this goofy series of tubes.


Dos and Don'ts for Job Seekers

For those of you who are looking for work, you might want to jot down some notes from the unsuccessful job search of Nathan Augustine of Monterrey, California.

Mr. Augustine applied for a job at a restaurant, and when he was turned down he threw a Molotov cocktail into the establishment.

Mr. Augustine also had a disagreement with a local tattoo parlor, who refused to give him a swastika tattoo and a tattoo of Obama's face with a super-imposed cross hairs, so he fire bombed them, too.

While in custody, Mr. Augustine admitted that he was the one who had put up graffiti all over town reading "KILL OBAMA" decorated with swastikas.

You might think these would be bad things to put on a resume and you would be right. But if you leave the details out, you could simply say that Mr. Augustine is a determined, persistent, motivated self-starter!

Of course, we know these details because Mr. Augustine has been arrested and has already plead no contest. On the upside, this means he doesn't have to worry about room and board for the foreseeable future. But is he planning ahead for retirement?

Clearly, the two firebombings are two separate felonies, while the graffiti itself is just a misdemeanor. But threatening the life of the president is a federal offense, and that could be the third strike that will mean Mr. Augustine will be able to live out his golden years in the manner he is about to become accustomed to, the welcoming arms of the California penal community.

Note: I couldn't find a picture of Mr. Augustine online, so instead I used a picture of actor Edward Norton playing a Nazi skinhead in American History X.

Random 10+1, 2/12/10

Elevator Operator Little Richard
Sugar Daddy Blues LaVern Baker
Swingin' Machine Mose Allison
No Action Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing Buffalo Springfield
A-1 On The Jukebox Dave Edmunds
Share What You Got (But Keep What You Need) William Bell
Win Or Lose Lew Lewis & Reformer
I Wanna Be Your Lover Prince
Things Go Wrong Chris Isaak
bonus track
God's Away On Business Tom Waits

It's like it's 2008 on the You Tubes this week, with very only four songs in the first ten found. One of the surprises is finding a Prince tune that hasn't been scrubbed away by his music company. Some of the songs are obscure, but I thought the Chris Isaak tune would be there, or maybe the Dave Edmunds.

I went to an eleventh track hoping we'd get something that would have a video on YouTube, and not only that, we got a great song by Tom Waits. How can you not love the lyric

Who are the ones that we left in charge?
Killers, thieves and lawyers.
God's away... God's away... God's away on business. Business!

As Padre Mickey asks... so wadda you listening to?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

They didn't have time for a second take?

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made a joint commercial to ask people to give generously to help people in Haiti. Good for them. You'll recall Clinton and Bush the Elder did the same thing after the big tsunami hit in the Indian Ocean when Bush the Younger was still in office.

But have you seen the ad itself? Take a look.

My dear friend Mina Millett told a story about a directing class she took in college. After watching some fellow students do a scene they had blocked out where the characters were eating, her first comment was "This is a scene about a carrot."

This is an ad about George W. Bush's thumb.

Who directed this? Couldn't he or she have done another take or zoomed in slightly or just told Bush to stop fidgeting? You'd think the guy had never been on camera before.

Metaphor and My People, several generations back

One of My People sent me this scan of a magazine from the 1920s. Giant women showed up in illustrations quite a bit back then, and it was very common for her size advantage to be a metaphor for the advantage a young woman had over the men who were courting her. Another of My People, he who shall be called The Curator, informs me that this magazine Film Fun had many giantess covers back in the day, most of them drawn by the artist Enoch Bolles.

In this painting, Bolles puts together several metaphors. She is shown as a ringleader in a circus, where the ring is a wedding ring even larger than she is.

Of course, we have the problem of how any of her tiny suitors will be able to afford a band of gold the relative size of a two car garage to them or what she will do with such a thing besides use it for a hula hoop, but this can be a problem with piling on too many metaphors, can't it?

As a friend of mine told me many years ago, "Don't pick at the metaphor, Matty Boy. It raises a scab."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday Math. Vol. 108: Trigonometry and Duality

The word opposite isn't used much in math, because there are so many different ways to be opposite. Some elementary algebra books will say that 3 and -3 are opposites, but soon enough they stop using that word and start calling them the negatives of one another. You could also say that 3 and 1/3 are opposites, but the common word used is reciprocal. You could say that squaring a number and taking its square root are opposite actions, but the word used there is that they are inverse actions of one another. The list goes on and on.

One common usage of "opposite" in math deals with the geometry of a triangle. Pick any angle, and two of the sides help make that angle, so those sides are adjacent. The other side is opposite, so any angle in a triangle has exactly one opposite side and vice versa, every side has an opposite angle.

When teaching trigonometry, there is a commonly used mnemonic for the formulas for sine, cosine and tangent,
soh cah toa. Teachers tell students to pretend it's a Native American name. It stands for the following three equations.

Sine A = opposite/hypotenuse
Cosine A = adjacent/hypotenuse
Tangent A = opposite/adjacent

There are three more basic trig functions, and they are defined as reciprocals of the first three.

Cosecant A = 1/Sine A
Secant A = 1/Cosine A
Cotangent A = 1/Tangent A

So far, so good, but let's take a hackneyed metaphor and turn it into a literal thing. Let's look at it from a different angle. If we take Angle B as our point of reference, the hypotenuse doesn't change, but what we call the adjacent and the opposite switch. Because this is a right triangle, the two small angles A and B must add up to 90°, since A + B + 90° = 180°. Any time two angles sum to 90°, they are called complementary, so A is complementary to B and B is complementary to A. That's where the "co" in cosine, cotangent and cosecant come from.

Sine A = Cosine B
Cosine A = Sine B
Tangent A = Cotangent B
Cotangent A = Tangent B
Secant A = Cosecant B
Cosecant A = Secant B

In equations, the six trig functions are shortened to sin, cos, tan, cot, sec and csc. The idea that we can interchange every function with its complementary function means we have a system with duality, two ways of looking at any equation. For example, there is a trig identity involving tangent and secant.

tan² A + 1 = sec² A

This means there must be a dual identity with cotangent and cosecant.

cot² B + 1 = csc² B

The letters A and B are completely arbitrary, so by relabeling, we can also say

cot² A + 1 = csc² A

Trig identities can get messier, but if we are dealing with a single angle, every identity has its dual, two true statements for the price of one. Take this identity.

sec A = cos A + sin A × tan A

This means its dual must also be an identity.

csc A = sin A + cos A × cot A

Not every system in math has duality, but those that do are very powerful and it makes proving theorems easier. Next week, we'll look at another dual system even more powerful and fundamental than trigonometry, logic.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Super Bowl ads - highlights and lowlights

I watched the Super Bowl in a brew pub, so with the ambient noise it was hard to make out all the dialogue in the commercials. On the upside, I heard almost nothing Phil Simms said all day. I can go online and watch the commercials I wanted to find out more about, so it's a win-win.

The ads I hate the most: If you want a website domain, I guess the only thing you really want to know is "How good is the company at producing soft core porn?"

The ads work. GoDaddy is the best known name in website hosting. They must think their product is too boring to talk about, so they've decided their trademark should be none too bright young women almost about to show their breasts.

When watching these, I'm not thinking about how much I want to see these women's breasts, which would be a natural thought for me. I'm thinking that humans don't deserve to survive as a species.

Tim Tebow tackles his mom. Okay, I don't get it.

Tebow is a quarterback. Quarterbacks don't tackle people. The only time a QB has a chance to tackle someone is when he throws an interception that is being run back, and usually some lineman takes the opportunity to lay a big block on a QB after an interception, much like what happened to Peyton Manning during his pick six in the fourth quarter.

So Tebow hits old women instead. What a pussy.

But even senseless violence can be put into context.

Putting Betty White's butt in the mud? Sacking Abe Vigoda?


Monday, February 8, 2010

Congratulations to the New Orleans Saints on the greatest maiden victory in Super Bowl history.

Let me join the chorus of kudos for the 2010 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints, who played a great second half and whipped the favored Indianapolis Colts fair and square. While the game had miscues on both sides, there were no big penalties that made a game changing difference. The refs let them play and the Saints played better.

Just as the Saints deserved to win, history said they deserved to be underdogs. In the previous 43 Super Bowls, teams playing in their first Super Bowl against a team with a recent Super Bowl win have not done well. The only maiden team to beat a former champ was the Tampa Bay Bucs beating the Oakland Raiders back in 2003, but the Raiders' previous championship had happened 19 years before, so there were no players still on the roster from the last champion. When the Saints won last night, they beat a team that had been champions only three years ago with many of the same players on the roster, most notably Peyton Manning, the most prolific passer of his generation.

Best wishes to all the Saints fans and particularly those in the great city of New Orleans. I blush to even consider giving all y'all tips on how to party, but I say pace yourselves. After all, Mardi Gras is only eight days away.

That puppy's gonna be big when she grows into those paws.

Oh, wait. That's not a puppy, that's a baby.

And those aren't her paws, they are her pa's paws.

This is my grand-niece Avery, looking grand, sitting up and being part of the world.

If you want a compare and contrast, here's a link to her new born picture from four months ago. She is growing up fast, but not too fast. Just about exactly the right baby growing up speed.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

TV biopics, part 1: The Reagans

Back in 2003, CBS announced that they would be airing a mini-series about the lives of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. As the air date drew near, conservative groups railed at the show which only a few people had seen, complaining that it was a liberal hatchet job and inaccurate in its portrayal. CBS caved to the pressure and the movie was shown on the pay cable channel Showtime instead of on the free TV network. Note that when liberal critics complained about ABC's mini-series The Path to 9/11 a few years later because of its perceived conservative inaccuracies, the show aired anyway.

If you look at the box art and find yourself wondering "Why does it look like Ronald Reagan is married to Joan Crawford?", you have happily stumbled on the real reason for conservative complaint and the only thing that makes the commercial free three hours even remotely worth watching. The Reagans is a cheaply made mini-series with very little star power, but the best actor in the cast is Judy Davis as Nancy Reagan. Davis is a movie actress, best known for playing bitches in Woody Allen movies and the excellent Jonathan Demme comedy The Ref, while James Brolin, who plays Ronnie tolerably well, is mainly known for his TV work. His best roles on the big screen are in the cheesy Capricorn One and his finest hour playing Pee-Wee Herman in the movie-within-a-movie in Tim Burton's Pee Wee's Big Adventure. All the historically interesting things mentioned in the mini-series happen to Ronnie. All the interesting scenes belong to Judy Davis as Nancy.

Network mini-series have been able to pull in good casts since the time of Roots, which makes the weak casting of The Reagans a bit of a mystery. After Brolin and Davis, the next best known actor in the cast is E.R.'s Zeljko Ivanek as Michael Deaver, a loyal worker for the Reagans since their days in California. The actor who gets the final billing after a long list of largely Canadian unknowns is John Stamos, who gets a few scenes as John Sears, the 1980 campaign manager who gets fired. There are many pivotal roles during the White House years, but the only actor this trivia champ even recognized was Bill Smitrovich as Al Haig, and Smitrovich is one of those "oh yeah, that guy" actors, nothing like an actual star. Possibly worse than casting unknowns is casting a lot of roles of known people with actors who don't look the part. For example, Smitrovich as Haig is a little too heavy, and likewise the actors playing Oliver North and Bud McFarlane are fat when North and McFarlane weren't. In the opposite direction, the actor playing the hugely fat CIA director William Casey is far too thin.

There are a lot of important events in Reagan's life, are many odd choices were made about what would be left in and what would be taken out. The story is about Ron and Nancy, so we meet him after he is divorced from Jane Wyman, which means it's also after his best years at Warner Bros. King's Row and Knute Rockne, All American are just fading memories and Bedtime for Bonzo and Hellcats In The Navy are in his future.

One telling incident from his movie days is left in. His big gig on General Electric Theatre is canceled when G.E. pulls out due to heat about the unscrupulous deal Ronald Reagan made with his agent Lew Wasserman. Wasserman was allowed to be a studio executive and an agent at the same time due to a waiver signed by Reagan as head of the Screen Actors Guild, which meant he could hire his clients and also collect the agent's fee. Eventually he was forced out of being an agent, but that early sweetheart deal helped Wasserman become the last mogul in Hollywood, running Universal for years like a plantation after the other studios had freed the slaves.

When Reagan becomes president, several embarrassing moments are left in. The laying of the wreath at Bitburg stays in because it is central to Deaver leaving the White House. Iran-Contra, the defining act of the end of Reagan's administration, had to stay in as well. His greatest triumph, the negotiations with Gorbachev and the beginning of the end of the Cold War, also get a few scenes. Several other events during his administration, like the Soviets shooting down KAL 007 in 1983, the Americans shooting down Iran Air 655 in 1988, the death of the Marines by a car bombing in Lebanon and the funding of the Taliban, are left out. George Bush and Tip O'Neill are mentioned in the script, but no actors were hired to play them.

As I said before, Judy Davis is the best thing in the film. For it to have been a better film, she needed stronger actors to play her main foils, especially the roles of chief of staff Donald Regan and daughter Patti. Canadian actress Zoie Palmer plays Patti, but it really deserved to be played by someone like Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman or Claire Danes.

If you look on, you'll see Judy Davis had a three year lay-off after this movie. It may just be coincidence and she may have been working on stage instead of in film, but it looks more like Nancy Reagan's friends in Hollywood exacting a little revenge.

Another thing that could have made it better was if Ronnie was a completely fleshed out character, but he's a walking cypher. It may be that the writers had the same problem that Reagan's biographer Lou Cannon had, they looked inside Reagan and couldn't find anyone home. Sadly, it means it's only half a movie. If we think about a great mini-series like I, Claudius, we know the script made Livia a fantastic character, but Augustus wasn't chopped liver.

I can't give The Reagans my highest recommendation, but if you want to have some fun eating popcorn and watching camp and you've worn your copy of Mommie Dearest down to a nub, you'll definitely enjoy watching Judy Davis play the biggest bitch on TV since the glory days of Joan Collins, a tough as nails little fag hag hellcat who loves her astrologer almost as much as she loves her husband.

TV biopics. part 2: Winchell

Besides The Reagans, I watched another made for TV fictionalized biography, Paul Mazursky's Winchell, starring Stanley Tucci as the powerful New York gossip columnist Walter Winchell with Paul Giamatti as Herman Klurfeld, one of Winchell's many ghostwriters.

It's bad form to use a corporate tagline when trying to write a piece of serious criticism, but there's a lot of truth in the sentence "It's not TV, it's HBO." The better production values and better decision making really shine through in the best HBO productions. Their budgets are scrawny compared to major motion pictures, but they know how to spend their money wisely. Tucci was a known quantity when Winchell was cast, but it was a big step up in the size of role for Giamatti, who had done a lot of small work in quality films before this. Unlike the rest of the cast in The Reagans who really couldn't keep up with Judy Davis, good solid character actors play the people with whom Winchell butts heads, like Xander Berkeley as his editor who hates Winchell's prose and Kevin Tighe as William Randolph Hearst, who hates Winchell's politics but loves the circulation level the gossip columnist commands. In The Reagans, the cast list ends with "and John Stamos". In Winchell, the last spot is given to Christopher Plummer, who plays F.D.R. That's a name worthy of the last spot in a serious production.

The source material is Herman Klurfeld's book about Winchell, so it's no surprise that Klurfeld considers himself the second most important character in the show. It also means the characterization of Winchell is a little kinder and more balanced than we would have gotten if one of Winchell's many enemies had written the story. He is certainly no saint. Winchell is powerful, vindictive, vain, stubborn, vicious about other people's weaknesses while having plenty of his own, but we see a certain sense of decency motivating him. Early on, Winchell rails against Jews who have changed their names, the Berkowitzes who became Bellamys, and states how proud he is of his name. In truth, he is the grandson of a Russian Jewish immigrant, and changed the spelling of Winschel to Winchell, a name that had been in the New World since it came over from England in the early 1600s.

Everything is personal for Walter Winchell. A kid from the New York slums, he loved the patrician Roosevelt and hated the common Harry Truman, whom he found vulgar. In the movie, F.D.R. courts the columnist and asks him to take a good look at Hitler. Winchell begins writing columns against Hitler, which is an embarrassment for his publisher Hearst, whose editorial position and business interests are pro-Hitler.

Winchell's power and influence came both from his newspaper columns and his radio program, but after Roosevelt died he starting picking fights that in the long run would bring him down. He gave Josephine Baker a great review for her show at the Apollo, but did not come to her defense when the Stork Club sat her down but didn't serve her, even though he was present. He decided his fan base loved Joe McCarthy, so became a major red-baiter, and was always ready to smear anyone who said a word against him as being pro-communist. Not unlike Rush Limbaugh, Winchell was a fantastic success on radio, but a relative failure on TV. Out of vanity, he predicted that TV was a fad. While he didn't have the face or the comportment for TV, he may be best remembered today as the announcer on The Untouchables, which was a natural fit, given his connection with the earlier era and his closeness with J. Edgar Hoover.

For me, Winchell speaks very loudly to our situation in the present day, though the man himself died in 1972 and the movie is ten years old now itself. Now that I'm writing the silly little blog about the tabloids, it's easy to see his work as being an ancestor of the modern gossip world, maybe a grandfather where the generation in between would be the 1950's magazine Confidential. But more than that, the fight with Josephine Baker could have been diffused if he had so desired, but Winchell believed you could never defend, only attack. Maybe Walter Winschel learned this trying to be a tough kid in a Jewish neighborhood in New York City before the Great War, but it now looks to be the battle cry of everybody on the Internet, regardless of ethnicity or place of origin.

We are now all in the mud, and few of us have time to look to the stars.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Scumbaggery and the law.

Remember this guy? Have you seen him recently?

Enzyte advertised itself as the pill for "all natural male enhancement". The ads were vague, but if you were paying attention, it wasn't supposed to be Viagra. To be blunt, Viagra is supposed to make you dick hard, and it's been tested by the FDA. You know all those side effect warnings? That's really the proof that the stuff works well enough to be sold as a serious remedy to a medical condition.

Enzyte was supposed to make your dick bigger. Small dickishness is not a recognized medical condition. There were no side effects mentioned.

This is because Enzyte was complete bullshit, and the original owner Steven Warshak was sued by the government for fraud and sentenced to 25 years in jail. His mom got two years in jail and the company was forced to forfeit a half billion dollars.

Warshak's landlord has bought the company name and plans to expand the company. The ads are going to have to change, because the product sold by the expanded company will still not expand your dick.

There is a much lamer product called ExtenZe that began advertising in half hour infomercials with clothed porn stars, including Ron Jeremy, who is probably the last guy in the world who would buy a dick expanding drug. The advertising was more vague, and the company that makes ExtenZe was merely fined $300,000 for misleading advertising and told to reduce the amount of lead in the product.

What kind of rock f*#king stupid person would want to be the celebrity spokesperson for such a useless and discredited product?

Meet Jimmy Johnson, former head coach of the University of Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys, a man who has been abusing hair products for about as long as Keith Richards has been drinking booze.

I am not the sports fan I once was, but I do still hate the Cowboys. I have mellowed in my dotage, and I have friends and loved ones who are fans of the team and I do not think less of them for this, though I do have to make a mighty effort.

I don't hate everyone who was ever associated with the 'Pokes. I mean, how can somebody hate Emmitt Smith or Troy Aikman? But I did hate Jimmy Johnson before he was with the Cowboys, and my contempt only grew when he took a job with the Evil Empire of pro football.

It's nice to have my good judgment confirmed once again by this miserably moronic scumbag.

When there is no middle ground.

The National Tea Party Convention in Nashville opened last night with speaker Tom Tancredo, a candidate for president in 2008 whose campaign picked up a grand total of zero delegates. According to Tancredo, Obama won the election because there is no test for literacy or knowledge of civics necessary to vote.

Yes, Obama is president because of millions upon millions of libtards.

I wonder if Sarah Palin will demand that people stop using the phrase libtards.

No, I take it back. I don't wonder at all. She'll never do that. Sarah Palin is about making a martyr of Sarah Palin. Other people's pain and discomfort are not part of the equation. She doesn't really care one bit about the word retard or about the disabled.

So back to Tancredo, the superstar opening act of the pricey show in Nashville. He is sure the problem is mass stupidity. The problem is that I agree with him on the diagnosis, but not on the case. While his campaign sputtered and his most famous exchange at the interminable debates was a squabble about mamas with Sam Brownback, he and Brownback also got some ink when in the first debate, a reporter asked if anyone didn't believe in evolution, and both of them raised their hands, along with Mike Huckabee, a person we are supposed to take seriously.

So the story is this. We think they are stupid and they think we are stupid. There is no middle ground. There is no point in asking one side to take a test to prove to the other side that they aren't stupid, because there can be no agreement on what the test should include.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan had the famous quote, "You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts." Mr. Moynihan is dead now, and his ideas about the rules of the game are on life support and not expected to survive.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Random 10: 2/5/2010

Cry Creme & Godley
Little Floater NRBQ
Sophisticated Sissy Rufus Thomas
Coolsville Laurie Anderson
Clint Eastwood Gorillaz
Raspberry Beret Prince
Veronica Elvis Costello
The Man With The Golden Gun Lulu
The Seventh Son Mose Allison
I'm Only Sleeping The Beatles

8 of 10 from The You Tubes this week, not bad. Most of Prince is scrubbed off the website, so lucky to find the audio for Raspberry Beret. As usual, if the Fab Four show up, there's the picture of the girls dancing at The Tavern club in Liverpool.

Let me give mad props to NRBQ, with one of the best love songs to a car ever written. My two favorite bar bands in all the world are Los Lobos and NRBQ. These guys play their stuff live with a lot of energy, but still very clean musicians.

What are you listening to?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An artist in his prime.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, still one of the best newspaper names of all time, has an interview with Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, still one of the best newspaper comic strips of all time. There are links to his earlier work as a political cartoonist in Cleveland, and scanning through them I would have to say he really hit his stride when he produced Calvin and Hobbes. He has no regrets about retiring and is happy with a quiet life out of the limelight.

At the time, I was seriously bummed by departure of Watterson and Gary Larson, who created The Far Side, but I respect them for having pride in their work and knowing when they were pretty much out of new ideas. The generation of cartoonists previous to them tended to give up on cartooning when the pen was pried from their cold, dead hands, but the baby boomers had a bunch of guys who decided to move on when they felt they had produced their best work and continuing would just be a slow downward spiral. I remember when Berke Breathed came back after he closed down Bloom County, promising something new with Outland, declaring that he would do a new strip without leaning on the crutch that was his most popular character, Opus the Penguin. Readers of comics know how that story ended.

As much as I miss opening the newspaper and reading about the six year old and his tiger, I'm glad I can still remember it fondly without watching it fade badly, as many comic strips do when the artist does not know when to leave the stage.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

God gets Rickrolled

The Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas is a small congregation run by the Reverend Fred Phelps. The Reverend Phelps is by all accounts the world's leading authority on everything that God hates. Apparently, God hates homosexuals with a white hot hate and also hates anyone who doesn't hate gays as much as He does. The church's outreach program consists of sending parishioners around the country to protest whatever they think God hates this week, and so five of these worthies were dispatched to San Francisco to have a protest outside of the Twitter corporate headquarters.

The reason for God's hatred of Twitter is not completely clear, though if they were explained, I might very well agree with them.

Westboro Baptist hopes and prays for counter-demonstrations to meet their hate with more hate, but San Francisco had a surprise for them. The City That Knows How met hate with... absurdity. Blog buddies Princess Sparkle Pony and Namaste Nancy both have links to the many wonderful signs you could see at the counter protest, and links to their original source can be found here and here.

There were many wonderful signs, including of course I WAS PROMISED DONUTS, but I am particularly fond of the young ladies who decided to Rickroll the Almighty using the Westboro font and color scheme. Rickrollers are a bunch of well-meaning but misguided creatures who believe the Internet was constructed for the sole purpose of making sure Rick Astley's ghastly hit Never Gonna Give You Up is remembered for as long as electrons run through wires.

As someone who dislikes Rick Astley and has serious doubts about the nature and existence of the Almighty, let me say that this holy Rickrolling pleases me and is acceptable in my sight.

Here endeth the lesson.

Numbers, not math, about today's Republican Party.

Yesterday, a poll conducted by Research 2000 was published by the DailyKos website. The respondents all identified themselves as Republicans, and some of the results are remarkable. A lot of websites that have picked up the story show how much Republicans dislike and distrust Barack Obama and how much they love and admire Sarah Palin.

In other news, water is wet and rust never sleeps.

For me, the more remarkable numbers are the attitudes towards gays held by the Republicans. They oppose gays in the military by a 55% to 26% margin (19% unsure) and oppose gay marriage 77% to 7% (16% unsure), but they oppose openly gay teachers in the public schools by an astounding 73% to 8% (19% unsure).

These people would vote overwhelmingly for the Briggs Initiative, which failed in California thirty two years ago. The initiative, numbered Proposition 6 in 1978, would have banned gays from teaching in public schools and was a major plot point in the movie Milk. People may now think the Briggs Initiative was Harvey Milk vs. Anita Bryant, but a lot of people weighed in on the topic against the obviously discriminatory and unconstitutional proposal, including Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, who wrote in an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle on the Sunday just before the election. This quote is from that editorial.

“Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this.”

Republicans say they love Reagan. They also say they love Jesus, though they only pick and choose the stuff He said that they will listen to.

I was reading comments on other blogs about this poll, and someone said that Republicans are basically nice people who are stuck at an emotional age between 5 and 10, with strong feelings that if someone isn't like them, they cannot like that someone. That got me to thinking.

There was a statement Bush made on Sept. 21, 2001, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." A thinking person might feel a little pause when hearing that, worried about just how big a blank check this guy is going to ask us to cash. The average Republican, on the other hand, hears God's own truth coming forth from the mouth of a righteous man.

To quote the mother of us all, Princess Sparkle Pony:

"And this is the essence to which the GOP has been boiled down, like a toxic caramel."

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Can we repeal the law of unintended consequences?
Probably not.

A petition to put a proposition legalizing marijuana cultivation and sale in California has collected more than twice the number of signatures it needs to get on the ballot this fall. I think the proponents gave themselves such a comfortable margin of error knowing how many times they would get Smokey McPott's signature.

All kidding aside, the governor and the legislature talked about this last year, but California government right now doesn't actually do much of anything, especially something this bold. If it happens at all, expect it to come through the ballot initiative.

Marijuana is not just a left-right issue any more. Some libertarians on the right like Ron Paul frame the issue as one of state's rights. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he never took drugs, but he has smoked pot. "Marijuana is not a drug. It's a leaf." The governor may not have done very well in chemistry or botany class, (it's the flower, not the leaf and it's full of chemicals) but he is not the only person who sees a significant difference between marijuana and other illegal drugs. If the proposition gets on the ballot, it's a distinct possibility that it will pass. The Bush administration tried to make medical marijuana as difficult as possible to sell in California, subverting the will of the people as stated in a 1996 proposition. The Obama administration has taken a more hands off approach, not unlike the Clinton administration before them.

A lot of numbers are thrown around estimating the size of the California marijuana cash crop. Some say it is as high as $14 billion, compared to $5.6 billion for vegetables and $2.6 billion for grapes. Whether pot will still command such high prices when it is legal is hard to say, but the prices in the Netherlands over the counter are about the same as the prices in the United States on the black market, from about $1,000 an ounce for skunk weed to a high between $3,000 to $4,500 for the best quality herb. Compare this to saffron, which sells for $500 to $5,000 an ounce. While this is obviously a very high price per pound, a pound is good for about 600 to 1,500 joints, more than a year's supply for anyone on this side of Woody Harrelson.

If I may use an overused phrase, this law could be a real game changer here in California. The state could save money on the law enforcement end and get revenue both at the state and federal level from people in the business of marijuana cultivation, distribution and sales who would legally report their newly legal income. An extra tax at the point of sale similar to alcohol and cigarette taxes is already being discussed in the legislature.

But then there's the fallout from taking billions of dollars out of the illegal economy and putting it into legal. Gangs would still have other illegal drugs to sell, but taking pot off the table will be a serious blow to their business, and I don't expect the Crips and the NorteƱos to sit around singing Crosby, Stills and Nash tunes and ponder whether they should switch to Amway products or selling Beanie Babies on eBay. On the so-called legal end of things, after the dust settles on the downsized drug business, we might actually get away from the constantly expanding prison population, and the powerful prison guard union won't like that one little bit.

Don't get me wrong. Though it will have next to no effect on my personal habits, I think marijuana legalization is a good idea on balance. It also is much more likely to be implemented on the state level than it is on the federal level, and I expect Democratic administrations will show less dickishness towards the states who legalize than will Republican administrations. But there are things we haven't thought about that much that could present serious problems on the road to Matthew McConaughey's dream world.