Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Controlling People With Pain

Digby has been covering the excessive and inappropriate use of tasers for a long time. Now the Occupy movement is raising awareness of some of the brutal techniques being used to control people and the militarization of American police forces in general. She has a great post today about the use of pain to control and achieve compliance.

A couple of months ago I was really surprised by the sheer numbers of San Francisco police in riot gear sent out in response to (and in anticipation of) the OpBART protests. But the nationwide response to the overwhelmingly peaceful protests with riot police, pepper spray, batons, tasers, tear gas, sound cannons, and flash grenades is just stunning.

The notion that people gathered in peaceful protest can or should be brutalized is appalling. This is the same mentality that justifies torture. Torturing people to elicit information is wrong, as I have written repeatedly. Torturing people to make them compliant is just as wrong.

I used to think we'd come a long way from the days of using fire hoses and police dogs to intimidate and control protesters. It now appears we have come a long way, but in the wrong direction: we now have higher-tech methods of abusively controlling people, and seem to have little compunction about applying them.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The More Things Change...

...the more they go back to the way they've always been.

Or, yet another example of why Tom Tomorrow is brilliant.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Irony is SO Dead...

I can't really elaborate on the headline:
Gap and Banana Republic to open in Latin America

Friday, October 07, 2011

Oh, Dear

For me, the baseball season is over. I know there are playoffs going on and a World Series coming up, but I'm still licking the wounds from watching my much-injured Giants falter and finally fall.

But the off-season has its benefits, and one today is reading Grant Brisbee's take on the new baseball stadium in Miami, and particularly their new home run celebration device:
Behold. This is what will happen when the Marlins hit a home run. It's what Bernie Brewer thinks he's sliding down after a couple buttons of peyote.
There is more. The picture is worth the visit. I can't bring myself to copy it here. But really, click over to see it. Even if you don't care about baseball, you really should see this thing. Really.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sad State of Affairs

Apparently banks have too much money. They can't give it away.
"Banks and credit unions are doing everything they can to get rid of the cash except make loans," said Mike Moebs, a Lake Bluff, Ill., banking consultant.
Poor, helpless banks.
Bankers such as Robert H. Smith, former chairman of L.A.'s Security Pacific Corp., say the industry is being throttled by a combination of the weak economy and regulations that were tightened in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
 Really? We're going to blame this on regulation? Like, that's some immutable force that can't be changed?

Change the rules. Lend some money. Create some jobs. Get the economy moving.

Good grief.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Commentary on Science

I stumbled onto this story via Twitter. Apparently some scientists have discovered a crystaline planet out there somewhere: essentially, a planet made of diamond. This catches people's fancy, and they accept the science behind it without question.

The discoverer points out that, were he to have made a discovery about, say, the climate of Earth, it would have gone through the same scientific process, but many people would choose to dismiss his conclusions, though they be just as valid scientifically.

The secton at the end discusses method, including this:
But on occasion those from the fringe of the scientific community will push a position that is simply not credible against the weight of evidence.

This occurs within any discipline. But it seems it’s only in the field of climate science that such people are given airtime and column inches to espouse their views.

Those who want to ignore what’s happening to Earth feel they need to be able to quote “alternative studies”, regardless of the scientific merit of those studies.

In all fields of science, papers are challenged and statistics are debated. If there is any basis to these challenges they stand, but if not they fall by the wayside and the field continues to advance.

When big theories fall, it isn’t because of business or political pressures – it’s because of the scientific process.
At times like this, I hear the echoes of one of my Rhetoric professors, quoting David Hume in his A Treatise of Human Nature:
Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.
In short, we believe what we want to believe. Seems like people are fine with science, as long as it doesn't tell them they need to change their behavior. There is also a link to another article on the same site about the value of peer review. That excites considerable discussion.

By the way, several of the commenters on the "diamond planet" article are quite good. There is a discussion of analogous situations. Find the one about people falling out of planes and believing in gravity. I particularly like this add-on:
the variation is the faller who calls out $1000, $5000, $20000, $100000 ...... in the belief that once he price gets high enough, market forces will produce a parachute
Indeed. I like the concept of the Free(-Falling) Market.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Let Your Geek Flag Fly

I just saw a link to this t-shirt site on Pharyngula. I've always thought scientists and other great thinkers should get more of the rock-star treatment. Other than a few who have sneaked into the popular culture, like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, most are largely unknown outside their field.

I'm thinking I might need a Niels Bohr t-shirt.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Brief Baseball Rant

Ouch. Painful loss for my Giants today. Perhaps best summed up in this rant from Grant at McCovey Chronicles:
I'm through figuring out how to make the lineup better. It's like trying to build a combustion engine out of shredded cheese. Just stop.

I would laugh, if I weren't busy crying inside.

At least tomorrow is an off day. Maybe that will hurt less. I can hope.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Theater Overdose

This weekend we kind of tested whether it is possible to get too much theater. The venue was the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and this was our second long weekend trip there this summer. Back in June we took the whole family, and we each saw three or four plays over three days. That was pretty nice. This time was a bit more intense. With our daughter away at summer camp, my wife and my mother-in-law and I managed to see six plays in three days.

The good news is: no problem! We really enjoyed all six plays. The bad news is...um...I guess we got pretty tired. Really, it was quite stunning how good it was. Six good plays.

We drove up Thursday night after work, and aside from some road work that slowed us down, it was a smooth, easy drive. Arriving about 1:00 am, we decided to sleep late Friday morning, which was fine, as we didn't have anywhere to be until our first play at 1:30 pm.

Quick breakfast at Brothers (with enough leftovers for at least one more breakfast), including very delicious scones, then off to the theater.

The first play on the docket was "The African Company Presents Richard III," a quite fascinating historical piece about an African-American theater company in New York City in the 1820s, presenting high-quality productions on a shoestring budget and its interactions with some rival, mainstream theaters. Very solid production, thought-provoking and interesting. The character "Papa Shakespeare" was particularly good, especially his scene being a "griot" translator.

After a tasty dinner at Tabu, we returned to see "Love's Labor's Lost" in the outdoor Elizabethan theater. That was a fun, solid production of one of Shakespeare's earliest plays. One one hand, you can see it's not as polished a script as some of the later works. On the other hand, the word play is rampant, which makes it particularly fun.

One thing I'm starting to appreciate about OSF is that they are a true repertory company. Not only do they use many of the same actors season after season and for different plays over the course of the season, the schedule is such that an actor may play roles in multiple plays in the same day. There were several who appeared in both of our Friday plays, including Charles Robinson, who had played "Papa Shakespeare" in the afternoon, and then appeared as Sir Nathaniel, the Curate in LLL. With much less makeup in the latter play, I finally recognized him from his role on the TV show "Night Court." Funny guy, and a fine stage actor, which is not always the case for TV actors.

Saturday we slept in again, then went back to the theater to see "Julius Caesar" in the New Theater, the smallest and most intimate of the OSF venues. This was an extremely cool production, performed in the round (or square, really), with the players rarely leaving the stage, taking seats in or near the audience. It was a very powerful experience, especially since we were in the front row (I think there are only 7-8 rows, anyway). With the actors dressed in contemporary costumes and talking with us before the show started (among other things, Cassius warned us that we were potentially in the "splash zone," but that the fake blood has detergent in it, so it should wash right out), it drew us right in, and with the scenes playing out literally in our faces, and characters sitting right next to us. I admit it's a bit unnerving to have Ceasar's ghost sitting right at my elbow. She (yes, she) was intense.

I would say that performance was the highlight (among many great experiences) of the weekend.

Jan went for a massage after the play, and we met up later at the Caldera Tap Room (outstanding beers, rather slow service) for beer, burgers, and sweet potato fries. Then back to the theater for "Measure for Measure." Really good production, cool staging, set in the 1970s. Lucio is portrayed as a jive pimp. And it works.

Sunday arrives, and we're back to the New Theater for "Ghost Light," a new play that we're also going to see next season at Berkeley Repertory Theater. It was, in a word, fabulous. It was particularly poignant to those of us who lived through the triggering event and aftermath, and probably more so to those of us who lost our fathers at a young age, too. This is a great, great play, and I look forward to seeing it again.

And finally, we concluded with "August: Osage County." It's really a tour de force and a marathon. It's disturbing and kind of vicious, and at times hilarious. It takes 3.5 hours and two intermissions, but it was really good.

So, a few of conclusions at the end of the weekend:
  • OSF has amazing actors, and this season, some incredible plays. We love going to the theater, but we're usually resigned to the notion that some fragment of the shows we go to will just not click for us. I saw ten shows in Ashland this year, and all were good, and some amazingly so.
  • Normally at the theater, especially when I'm tired, I find myself glancing at my watch to see how long until the end of the act, play, etc. Not once this weekend, through six plays, did I even think of doing that. In fact, I was generally surprised when intermission arrived, having been so immersed in the play that time had flown by. Similarly, by the end, although I could tell that the plot had been resolved and such, it seemed impossible that I had actually sat through 3+ hours already. That, to me, is a sign of great theater.
  • Finally, I am forever amazed at the skill and versatility of the actors at OSF. At one point, we realized we'd see the same actor in three consecutive plays, with fairly major roles in two of them. Just amazing.

As you can tell, we had a great weekend. I have to conclude at this point that with high enough quality plays, I can pretty much sit through as much as the theater will provide. And that summarizes our second weekend at OSF this year. Great stuff. I'd go back in a heartbeat, but will have to wait until next year.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New Respect for Old Politics

I was really impressed by a post by Digby yesterday. In addition to her usual wonderful writing, she quoted a terrific (and amazingly timely) speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from 1936. And like her, I am impressed with FDR's rhetoric:
It's a great speech, filled with all the rhetoric a lot of us would love to hear today.I particularly enjoyed the explanatory pieces, which speak to the people like adults and doesn't use improper metaphors.
 It's well worth clicking through to the text of the FDR speech, posted on Michael Moore's site. It's almost incomprehensible that a politician would make such a detailed, comprehensive speech nowadays.

Digby also had a great piece up the previous day, demonstrating how dramatically President Obama's rhetoric today has changed from that of Candidate Obama, circa 2008:
What's wrong with his commentary is his telling those young people that they should see his argument as a template for their own role as engaged citizens. I can't think of anything more antithetical to his message in 2008 than "don't set up a situation where you're guaranteed to be disappointed." It's actually rather stunning.

And it's completely wrong in terms of the role of average citizens (and especially young activists) in the political process. They are supposed to push for what they believe in with passion and single minded commitment. They shouldn't worry about "what can pass" congress or the limits of the political process. That's the job of politicians and political hacks. 
 As a former political hack, I certainly understand the need to formulate a policy that can actually be adopted and accomplish something, and I understand that incrementalism is sometimes a necessary approach to long-term problem solving.

But now as an outsider, an average citizen, I also understand the importance of differing and even extreme positions. After all, if only one side in a debate takes an extreme position, that moves the "center," or the range of possible compromises, in that side's directions.

It's been really interesting (in an abstract sense) to watch what used to be extremist, far-out positions espoused by the likes of Newt Gingrich in the 1980s become a consensus position within his party, while simultaneously decrying anything other than the mainstream, corporatist pablum as extremist, socialist, communist, and so on. By deligitimizing positions that were until recently quite commonplace, they continue to move the center of the debate farther to the right.

As a former congressional staffer and Washingtonian, I read with interest an article by Congress scholar Norman Ornstein today called "Worst. Congress. Ever.":
When I came to Washington in 1969, for example, the city was riven with division and antagonism over the Vietnam War, which segued into the impeachment of a president, followed by many other difficult and contentious moments. In this case, though, Carvey's old man would be right: The hard reality is that for all their rancor, those times were more functional, or at least considerably less dysfunctional, than what we face with Congress today. 
Ornstein contends that both major political parties have become more homogeneous and that their ideologies no longer overlap: they are more partisan. Although I agree to an extent, and certainly concur that on the whole, the Republicans today sit far to the right of the party of 40 years ago, I find it arguable at best to say that the Democrats as a whole, even minus the "Boll Weevils" and "Blue Dogs" who have largely crossed the aisle and fit solidly into the mainstream of the new Republican party, have become more liberal. Indeed, despite the defection of the more conservative members, the stances represented by the current crop of Democrats largely fall to the right of the mainstream of the mid-late 20th century.

Although I agree that the environment is more partisan, it is also quite clear that the center of the debate has moved considerably to the right. It's harder to get anything done, but what gets done is very, very different than it used to be.

Maybe if we had politicians willing to talk sense to us, that would be different.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Politics as Cargo Cult

I think this (unfortunately) catches a lot of the dynamics of the moment:
President Obama, responsibly acceding to the reality of divided government, is now the leading champion of fiscal austerity, and his proposals contain very little in the way of job creation. More important, he no longer uses his office’s most powerful tool, rhetorical suasion, to keep the country focussed on the continued need for government activism. His opponents’ approach to job creation is that of a cargo cult—just keep repeating “tax cuts”—even though the economic evidence of the past three decades refutes such magical thinking. What does either side have to offer the tens of millions of Americans who have settled into a semi-permanent state of economic depression? Virtually nothing.
 I wasn't in Washington or politics very long, but at least we had some notion that we were doing something. The current clashes of ideologies just seem like so much pointless theater. Sound and fury, etc.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Stories That Must Be Told

You just never know what will prompt me to blog. I've been meaning to, really, and even had posts composed in my head, but no.

Then my friend (known to some of you as "DenDen") pointed me to this story.
me: The 5-foot tall one was $300, marked down to $100. That’s like, $200 worth of chicken for free.

Laura: You’d be crazy not to buy that. I mean, look at it. IT’S FULL OF WHIMSY.
I'm still chuckling. Some of the comments are wonderful, too.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Arguably the Happiest Day of the Year

Yes, it's that most magical of days: Opening Day. Baseball begins again in earnest. The games count. The weather (here) is awesome, all is right with the world.

One of my colleagues pointed me to a good blog post from NPR about the feuding "schools" of baseball fans:
In short, there is, at this point in history, an entirely unnecessary conflict between people who supposedly appreciate the art/ballet/magic/wizardry/magic-8-ball qualities of baseball and people who supposedly only like the boring/nerdy/soulless/drained-of-life qualities of baseball.
 I think that sums it up nicely, and unsurprisingly, I find myself with at least one foot planted firmly in each camp. There is (and ought to be) more than one way to appreciate and enjoy anything, including baseball. I love being able to crunch numbers (or ponder the numbers others have crunched) to try to understand the game a bit more. But I also love to sit out on a sunny day with an adult beverage, an unhealthy meal, and a child's wonder to watch players do things I could only ever dream of.

I'm sure the same is true of opera (maybe without hot dogs and nachos, but still) and many other endeavors. There is technical appreciation and aesthetic joy, and sometimes a blend of the two. I doubt there are enough fans of either sort (for either baseball or opera) to sustain the enterprise. These exhibitions have to appeal to a broad base of patrons to exist. And that's a good thing.

The NPR piece refers to the (sadly, defunct) blog Fire Joe Morgan, which I used to read all the time (and I still link to it over on the right!). I read it because it was interesting. I read it because it was funny. And I read it because it helped me to develop my own understanding and appreciation of baseball. I laughed. I kept reading. Much like I keep going to baseball games and talking with all sorts of different fans. It's fun. I like it.

I realize I haven't gotten around to writing about my trip to Spring Training this year. It was great. I will have to do that. Not only did I get to see my favorite team several times, I also got to see ballgames just for the fun of it, games I had no real rooting interest in. And it was joyous.

So today, we get to say it for real: "Play ball!"

Oh, and we get to say, for at least the next six months or so, "Ladies and gentlemen, the 2010 World Series Champions, your San Francisco Giants!" Can't get enough of that.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Yet Another New Firefox

I upgraded my browser yesterday to Firefox 4, and I have to say that in general I'm quite pleased with it. New features, fast, etc.

As with the Firefox 3.5 upgrade a couple of years ago, Mozilla has a cool page to monitor the downloads worldwide, and once again, it is powered under the covers by my company, SQLstream.

In case you feel like learning how we do our part of the magic, one of my coworkers has written a very good explanation of how it works. Yay!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Words Fail Me

Six months. Really.

It has come to my attention, via some of my throng of loyal followers, that I haven't posted anything for six months. Is it possible that I have seen nothing interesting that I wanted to share? That I've done nothing and been nowhere and simply have nothing to say?

As I look back at the limited posting I did last year, it's clear to me that I was not in a good place, posting-wise. Truly, 2010 was a pretty awful year for me. Indeed, had it not been for my San Francisco Giants winning the World Series (I managed to not blog about that...amazing!), I would happily wipe the whole year from my memory.

I meant to write about things, really. But I didn't.

So what happened? Lots. Most of which you don't want to hear about, and I don't care to write about (school turmoil, home remodeling, busy at work, child-care fun). You know...life. No big deal. But what really sucked the words out of me was this: my mom died. Indeed, I was managing to maintain my meager blogging efforts for the year right up to the point that Mom died. And then, nothing. My last blog post was on August 6th. Mom passed away on August 22nd, and then...nothing.

Sure, there was a lot going on: planning and executing memorial services, clearing the apartment, tidying up financial matters. That takes some time. But surely I could eke out a few moments to write something. Couldn't I?

Apparently not.

So when someone pointed out that it's been six months, and I really should write something, I spent some time pondering just why I have not been writing. I've decided to pin it on my mother. I don't blame her, but she's responsible.

You see, whatever I am as a writer I can pretty much attribute to my mother. She was a teacher, primarily of English, and particularly of writing. She instilled and nurtured in me a love of stories, of books, of libraries, of language. For a time I even worked as a writer and editor, pretty much entirely because she gave me the idea.

So I suppose it's ironic that she probably never read my blog, and probably wasn't even aware that I was writing one. I'm not even clear that she knew what a blog is. But no matter. What's sneaked into my consciousness is that at some level, I associate writing with my mother, much as I associate my day job (programming) with my dad. My parents represent very well the yin and yang of my existence, and I think losing Mom caused me to lose touch with that aspect of myself for a bit. At some level, even though she wasn't reading my writing, it appears I was writing for her, and without her there, I just didn't write.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there is something else I'm missing. I suppose I'll figure that out. In any case, it's kind of nice to be writing again.

Thanks for the push. I hope I find something worthwhile to write about. I know I will have some words about Mom and Parkinson's Disease (oh, boy...you thought I went on about cancer!). But that's later. Right now, it's just worth it to break the ice, let you know I still exist, and get one post under my belt. More will follow.