Saturday, June 30, 2012

New toy!

Long story short.

Money was very tight.

Union negotiated for retroactive pay for last three years.

Union won.

Money much less tight.

Using about 5% of the windfall, I treat myself to a new bike.

I shopped around at a few places and decided to go with a Carmel 5. It's not fancy, but it's very well suited to biking on city streets. It has 24 gears, so I might be able to climb some hills I have not been able to climb before. I got rear mounted baskets instead of front mounted, which should make braking easier when fully loaded, though I have to get used to them being there when I get on or off the bike.

The seat and handles are very comfortable, but I ride much more upright than I did on my old bike. I kind of feel like Miss Gulch. I suppose I should get a Cairn terrier, but I'm pretty sure he'd just escape if I put him in the back baskets.

In any case, any ooh's or ahh's would be appreciated, and if anyone has any experience with the brand, I'd glad to know the ins and outs.

Yay, windfalls!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How we die, then and now.

A piece in The New England Journal of Medicine by Doctors Jones, Podolsky and Greene looks at the differences in how people died in the decades from 1900 to 2010. The death rate has nearly been cut in half, due in large part to the major infectious killers pneumonia, influenza and tuberculosis having been nearly eradicated. The graph on the left was nicked from a summary in the Washington Post, showing the top ten causes of death in 1900 and 2010. There are much cooler interactive graphs in the original.

If you like numbers half as much as I do, you will find this interesting.

Can the swastika be rehabilitated?

Some silly UFO cult called the Raelians has proclaimed June 23 to be Swastika Rehabilitation Day. You can follow the link to a story from the increasingly depressing Huffington Post.

I'm sorry that such a silly group is championing this movement because I've always liked the swastika. When I was a kid, I used to doodle it. Teachers would get upset and I would superimpose an X over it, then fill in the resulting triangles to create a pinwheel.  After getting into enough trouble for this, I changed my typical doodle to three triangles that shared a middle vertex, which looks something like the radioactive symbol.

I remember my interest was piqued because of old editions of Rudyard Kipling's work we had in our library.  If I recall correctly, our Kipling books were grey with green circles, a gold swastika embossed inside it.  All I knew about the swastika was the Nazi connotation, so I asked my father if Kipling was a Nazi sympathizer.  He told me no, that Kipling's books were about India and the swastika was a symbol of life in the Hindu religion. If you look online, you'll see that the great majority of Kipling's most famous works were written prior to 1920, the year the National Socialists appropriated the symbol used by cultures around the world as their own. This is not the only thing the Nazis stole and sullied. They decided the word "Aryan" was a synonym for Nordic, when the original Aryans were people from the region we now call Iran.

It makes little difference to me if the word Aryan is rehabilitated or not. The people who call themselves Aryan now tend to be on the stupid side, and I have to laugh when they take pride in their non-existent pure Iranian heritage.  On the other hand, I've always thought the swastika was an interesting looking symbol.  It has rotational symmetry, and the eye is naturally drawn to symmetrical things. I wrote a comment to this effect on the Huffington Post and while several people appreciated it, someone also blamed the swastika for millions of deaths.

The symbol didn't kill the people. The symbol existed long before Adolph Hitler claimed it as his own. I would like to see it accepted for what it is and for people not to assume it must a sign of kinship with the scum who lead Germany to ruin, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for the rehabilitation to happen. The most obvious lesson about humanity today is how much energy people put into hating things. Nearly as obvious is how most people cannot divorce symbols from the things they represent. Those two flaws in human nature mean the swastika will have no place in "decent culture" for the foreseeable future.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I'm going to stop saying bad things about Cristiano Ronaldo.

I've talked my share of smack about Cristiano Ronaldo.

Okay, maybe more than my share.

I've said he's like Anna Kournikova.  Really pretty, but he just doesn't win that much.

This is me, eating crow. Portugal 1-0 over the Czech Republic, on their way to the semifinals of Euro 2012. Fun little tournament so far.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The metaphor of the malfunctioning robot.

Our political discourse is so fractured now that any factual statement about a candidate must immediately be followed by "The other guy is just as bad!"

But in some situations, it's not even close.

Mitt Romney has trouble forming sentences in English. It's not quite the non-stop babble of run-on sentences we've come to expect from Sarah Palin, but quite often he just puts a string of words together that can be deciphered, but the listener's first thought is "Boy, that was awkward."

Immigration is a hot topic right now with the President's executive order announcement, but Mitt hasn't really got a plan yet.  He says he'll let us know once he's elected. Some people may find that not good enough. But in his statement trying to stay above the fray, he said immigration was "...something I don’t want to football with as a political matter."

To football with? Football is now a verb?  I football with, you football with, he/she/it footballs with?

Something in his brain doesn't quite click. Maybe because he doesn't have a Southern accent we don't just immediately say "he's stupid" like we did with George W. Bush, but Romney's brain doesn't fire on all cylinders. With his general lack of feeling and inability to catch the full meaning of the things he says, the metaphor of the malfunctioning robot is very apt with this guy.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Why do round headed frogs look like movie villains?

Hypothetical question asker, I can't 'splain everything!

They just do, all right?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

For one day, the world turned upside down.

The European football championships are being hosted this year by Poland and the Ukraine. There are 16 teams in four groups. Group A consists of:

Czech Republic

The order listed above is how they were ranked by the odds makers.  In the first two matches, Russia crushed the Czechs 4-1 and the Poles and Greeks tied 1-1. In the second pair of games, the Czechs got some of their pride back beating the Greeks 2-1 while the Poles got a second 1-1 draw in as many games, tying the hated Russians.

In the final matches in this group, the Poles had to win at home to advance, and it was expected the Russians would probably beat the Greeks and at the very worst get a draw.  Instead, the Czechs beat the Poles 1-0 to win the group outright after their horrible drubbing at the hands of the Russians to open the tournament, and the Greeks scored a single goal and held on like grim death to beat the Russians and send them packing.  (In the World Cup, two team ties are won by the team scoring the most goals advances. In Euro, it's the team that wins head to head. Bad luck for the Russians.)

So the Czechs and the Greeks are the first teams to get seeded into the knockout round.  If things go according to form, the Greeks will face Germany in the quarterfinals, not a traditional rivalry but the most political bad blood possible in 2012 based on the 24 hour news cycle. Still, this depends on the Germans getting past the Danes and could be complicated if Portugal smacks around the so far luckless Dutch.

I know I'm going to find some friendly local to see what happens.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Happy birthday to my big brother Michael.

Michael Bradford Macrae was born on this day many years ago.

He and his bride Janelle will be coming down to the Bay Area on Friday when the family will get together to celebrate. I will be there, but I also wanted to commemorate the actual day with my best wishes to my big brother.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mitt Romney makes it clear.
I am the enemy of progress.

Much is being made of President Obama saying "the private sector is doing all right". In this economy, that's not a good thing to say.

But then Mitt Romney answered and found a worse thing to say. Mitt says the "message of Wisconsin" is that we don't need "more firemen, more police, more teachers".  Usually, when Republicans attack the public sector, government workers are just called "bureaucrats", but now the enemy of progress are people who provide services the average person can understand.

I am at the bleeding edge of the war on government.  I'm a part-time math instructor.  I guess when I work for a private college like Mills (yay!) or the for-profit Art Institute of San Francisco (meh), I'm not a drain on the economy, but when I get my paycheck from Laney or Merritt (two community colleges in Oakland), then I'm an unsupportable burden.

I am nowhere near the gravy train.  Getting a tenure track position would give me a shred of security, but there are less of those as government at the state level keeps cutting back. Typically, when a tenured professor quits, the college hires a new one.  Two tenured professors at Laney retired last year and no position was added due to budget cuts.

There is clearly waste in government spending. There are people getting paid too much and some union contracts set up pension schemes that are unsupportable. Vallejo is a prime example of that. But a lot of government workers are just getting by or even sinking.  The Republicans have shown in no uncertain terms that they consider all of us the enemy.

Unless they budge from this position, I can never vote Republican and I will try to persuade my friends to join me in this pledge.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Striking a blow...
for comedy!

I'm working at the polls tomorrow for the California primary. Personally, I vote by mail and will put a stamp on my envelope this morning.

Election laws have changed and now the primary is completely open. Everybody from every party is put in a big clump and you can vote for your favorite regardless of your party affiliation or his or hers. Dianne Feinstein is running in the primary against twenty three other candidates, and though I am a recovering political junkie and trivia whiz, there is only one name besides Dianne's on the list I have ever heard of.

Orly Taitz, queen of the birther movement, pictured here on the right.

The far, far right.

I'm voting for Taitz in hopes of the biggest mismatch since Bambi vs. Godzilla. If she comes in second tomorrow, she will face Feinstein in the fall. (Could Dianne finish third on this list? As a mathematician, I have to say I honestly can't see how. There aren't as many lovers of comedy or readers of my blog as all that.) This will force the GOP into an unpleasant choice.

1) Completely write off the largest state in the union.
2) Give money to a certifiably crazy person with a base consisting of people crazier than her.

Of course, I would hate to see everybody vote comedy and no one vote Dianne.  If you are a member of a household with two or more registered California voters, may I recommend you draw for short straw, the loser voting for Taitz and the rest marking in Feinstein? Maybe you have a favorite among the other twenty two candidates, I don't know. They all must have friends, family and neighbors, I suppose.

It's time this woman became the face of the Republican Party. They deserve each other immensely.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Spring Dance Party 2012

Respect Aretha Franklin
I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) The Four Tops
Indian Giver The Ramones
Superstition Stevie Wonder (live on Sesame Street)
Genius of Love Tom Tom Club
Just Can't Get Enough (Schizo Mix) Depeche Mode
Raspberry Beret Prince (not on You Tube)
Little Floater NRBQ
Knickerbocker Fujiya & Miyagi
Bad Romance (Starsmith Remix) Lady GaGa
The Sweet Escape (featuring Akon) Gwen Stefani
Crazy Little Thing Called Love Queen
Bonus baker's dozen track:
Jitterbug Waltz Fats Waller

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Stuff I like:
Keith Knight

Cartoonist Keith Knight wants you to know he has Serious Nerd Street Cred, even though he was a Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator. You can buy this bumpersticker or any of a number of his compilations and other stuff over at his website, which you can get to through either link. I get to keep up on his comings and goings by following him on Twitter, which if used correctly can be much nicer than Facebook.

Personally, I'm old enough to remember when the worst thing George Lucas had ever done was the easily forgettable film version of Howard the Duck, but he now has more than enough money and less than enough advisors with taste that he can screw up on a much larger scale.