Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Do Kids Like Cartoons So Much?

I wonder if there have been any studies on the question of why kids love cartoons. Or maybe it isn't all kids, I suppose I'm drawing a big conclusion from observing really just one kid, my daughter.

The thing is, she really loves cartoons. It doesn't matter what the cartoon is. It could be the Simpsons. Or South Park. Or some random cartoon that I've never heard of. If it flashes onto the TV, she wants to watch it. The same is not true of non-cartoon shows, most of which she has no interest in watching.

So I wonder, what is it about cartoons that is so attractive that she'll want to watch it regardless of subject matter or even knowing what it is about. Could it be they engage her imagination better because it isn't real? I can't even pretend to speculate on this, I really have no idea.

Maybe it is unique to her, but then again, someone has noticed something, since there are so many cartoons made for kids.

As an aside, maybe this is also the reason that in this country, there used to be a general assumption that cartoons are only for kids and so they were dumbed down accordingly. Japan certainly doesn't make that assumption, with lots of cartoons that are rated R or even X. And I should say that the US doesn't seem to have this as much either, with plenty of adult cartoons, such as the aforementioned Simpsons and now Family Guy, South Park, King of the Hill, and so forth. Maybe we learned from Japan. One big bonus to all of those (not that I watch them all) is that as an adult, I could turn on, say, the Simpsons, a show I enjoy, and watch it, and my daughter will happily watch it with me (rather than scream she doesn't want to watch it, which she may do with something non-cartoony. Thankfully, if she is in a less contrary mood, she'll instead just ignore a show she has no interest in and play while I watch).

But that still leaves the original question. Why do kids love cartoons so much?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Legos are Still Cool

I admit it. I love legos. Though I guess I don't feel the need to play with them like I did when I was a kid, I really enjoy building things - first by the instructions, then by imagination.

Maybe it is just because as a kid I didn't get that many sets and now I can, but a year ago, I ordered just about every space lego set I did not have from the 1977-1982 space lego sets. As I indicated before, those were the golden years.

But my madness did not end there. More recently, as my daughter is (slowly) approaching the age where she can really play with these in earnest (and my son can at least avoid trying to eat them - he's 14 months now), I have found myself ordering contemporary sets. I ordered sets for the medieval line and sets for the Star Wars (original IV-VI, not I-III - call it nostalgia, but I just don't get excited about stuff from the newer movies). Unfortunately, most of that stuff is no longer sold on, so unless I go order stuff like the space lego stuff (which is rather expensive used) I can only get so much. But oh, what I've gotten. Just yesterday, the crown jewel arrived. The Lego Death Star. I think that is the coolest of all of the Star Wars sets, though I do admit it would be nice to get the Millenium Falcon (to scale with the figures) - and I would, except that it costs $500. (The Death Star was $400, but with everything it comes with, well, I could rationalize that easier...) Ok, the AT-AT would be cool, too. And that is a bit cheaper than both. So now I have a closet full of Legos that I can't give to them yet, just sitting in the boxes. Something like 10 sets, mostly big ones. (Like the King's Castle Siege, the Death Star, the Medieval Village, the Tower Siege, The X-Wing, Vader's Tie Fighter, and a few miscellaneous smaller ones. Oh, and the Cargo Plane for the City set). One set I can give them soon is the Duplo King's Castle. That is for ages 3-6, so when my son is a little older, like maybe by the end of the year, I can give that to them. That one I got from diaper points. I almost had enough points to get a second one when they discontinued the castle. I was very unhappy. But at least I got some Lego coupons for diaper points - that was how I ended up with the cargo plane - that was before I decided to get lots of castle and Star Wars stuff.

My 3 year, 8 month old daughter loves legos. She goes into the drawers where my space legos are stored and pulls them out and plays with them. I did have the sets all built and carefully put away. Now there are pieces pulled off (and put on) all of them and it is a mess. I was going to put them all away in bags, to be put together at a later time with my daughter (and son), but I never got around to it. I had put all of my sets together to see that I had all the pieces for each and I put the "new" (used) space lego sets together to make sure they had all of their pieces. And then I just didn't want to tear them apart. Oh well.

I remember how much I enjoyed playing with legos as a child. Now I just don't feel the urge. I guess I'm old. I still love having them and at least putting them together. And I find that I really, really enjoy watching my daughter play with them. It makes me feel as happy or happier when I did it as a child - just watching her play. I guess we really do relive our childhood through our children.

I need to watch money now. Well, I always need to, but there is much reason to be nervous. Still, I don't regret having gotten these legos. I know both my children will enjoy them - and so will I. And I can at least justify the Death Star by noting that $400 is what I spend on child care every single week. (Between day care and babysitters). That's like 50 Lego Death Stars a year. Wow. I can't wait for my daughter to start school!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Will Ferrell on Man vs Wild

Ok, I just thought that Will Ferrell on Man vs Wild was mind-blowing, so I had to post this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Torture is Wrong. Effectiveness is Irrelevant. The GOP is Dead to Me.

There have been multiple claims as of late that torture works, mostly as an attempt to counter the argument that torture is wrong and also ineffective. Leaving aside the fact that torture really doesn't work (any true information would be drowned in the sea of wrong information, with no way to confirm which is true and which isn't), any claim that torture works is beside the point and in no way addresses the first part of the formulation: That torture is wrong.

It takes a simple illustration to show this is true. If you have captured a man and threaten to murder his oldest son unless he talks, then to show you are serious, you murder his youngest son in front of his eyes, well, maybe that would be effective at getting him to "talk." But really, whether it works or not doesn't change the fact that you are a murdering psychopath who kills children. By the same token, torture is evil and whether it works or not doesn't change the fact that, if you use it, you are an evil psychopath who needs to be put down (locked up forever).

The Bush/Cheney regime used torture after the conventional, and very effective, interrogation techniques had gotten all the useful intelligence there was to get. But that wasn't enough - not because the captives knew anything, but because they hadn't linked 9/11 to Iraq or hadn't linked WMD's to Iraq, so then torture was used to get those "confessions." And gee, the torture was quite "effective" in getting the prisoners to say exactly what they wanted them to say. And this became part of the "intelligence" used to justify the Iraq war.

That is just sick. I'm sorry, after seeing the right-wing GOP pundits and the asshats on Fox (save Shepard Smith) come on day after day defending TORTURE and the MSM plays along; seeing them act as apologists for TORTURE, which is clearly against the law; seeing them call any attempt to even think about prosecuting these evildoers as somehow "partisan politics" - I just have to throw up in my mouth. The GOP is dead to me. Forever. I used to leave open the possibility that maybe there was someone in that party worth reasoning with, but after seeing this, anyone who doesn't immediately repudiate the GOP as a bunch of torturing fucks is to me, just another torture apologist. This does not make the Democrats much more than spineless wimps who refused to stand up for what is right and stopping this, but at least they aren't the torutre party.

In any case, for the display the GOP has put on today, I will NEVER vote GOP EVER for as long as I live. Not unless the party sincerely apologizes for this and calls for prosecutions of those responsible. Of course, I know this will never happen.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

My High School Reunion

A few weeks ago I got an invitation in my mail for my High School Reunion. The 20th. Yes, I'm that old. I remember getting the invite for the 10th. It seems like it wasn't that long ago. It was, I think, just after I had gotten married. I looked at it then and thought about going. This time, I really didn't give it a second thought. I have no desire to go.

I mean, at least from what I can gather from watching various films and TV plots involving high school reunions, they seem to be about people either still feeling inadequate about high school or wanting to go back and gloat about how well they are doing (or at least pretend to be doing well). The thing is, I really don't care what anyone from my high school thinks of me. I mean, there were a few individuals I liked in school, I suppose, but those are also the people I'd expect not to go to a reunion. While I would be considered by many measures a solid middle-class success, I really don't care if any of the mostly forgotten people from my high school know about it. I mean, I never had many friends in high school. I don't think I've laid eyes on anyone who went to my high school since I moved out of the city it is in about 15 years ago.

Thus, there really is no point. I mean, I'd be mildly curious to see who shows up and frankly, if I'd even remember anyone from high school or recognize anyone. I could probably count on one hand the number of people I even remember I went to high school with. I'm terrible at remembering names to begin with. I'd be hopeless to remember 20 years later. I suppose I could cheat and look at my old yearbooks for a reminder. Maybe I ought to do that anyway, just to see if there is someone I may remember and might be curious to talk to. Then again, if I really wanted to get in touch with someone, I wouldn't need a reunion to do it.

Maybe five or six years ago, before I was a lawyer (but while I was in law school and still working in IT), I was at work, over in an area I didn't usually work in, and I ran into someone from my high school class. She apparently recognized me or recognized my name. I had no idea who she was, though she looked vaguely familiar or maybe her name did. (And now I can't remember what it was). She basically just asked me if I had gone to the high school and I said I had and that was about the extent of the conversation. (There were maybe a few random pleasantries beyond that.) From that, I wonder if going to my reunion would just be that same sort of encounter, times 20.

Mild curiosity is the only thing that would compel me to go. It wouldn't be hard to, since I live only about 80 miles away now, and my parents still live there. Eh, I guess I don't have to decide for a while anyway.

Looking back, I don't seem to have many friends from any point in my life. At least not from school. No one I went to school with in high school is a friend now. No one I was friends with in undergrad is really a friend - well, there are a few aquantances I may talk to every few years, but really, there's no one. On the other hand, when I was first in undergrad, some of the people I met through gaming (Dungeons and Dragons and other games) I am still friends with now and still play with.

Really the friends I have now I made through gaming or work. Or law school. Which just goes to show that perhaps high school (and earlier grammar school) really is not all that important in one's life.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures: PHB Heroes

I just got the new set of D&D Minis this week. I bought one factory box, which gave me six packages, one of each type, giving me one of each of the 18 minis. That's right. This is non-random. And all of the minis are designed to be suitable for use in the role-playing game, rather than as part of the D&D Mini game, which as been discontinued.

The non-random aspect for these sorts of minis is nice. Really, for a mini you'd use for a player in the RPG, you only need one of each type. You'd not want to players to use the same mini - that would be confusing. And even if you used it for an NPC, you still likely would only want one of a given type. That generally worked out in the random sets because the really nice, player-character use type minis were usually rares so you'd only get one or two even if you bought a bunch of factory boxes (which I did).

When I first heard the announcement that the original line of D&D Minis was being cancelled, I was a little disappointed, since I have enjoyed getting the sets, but when they announced they were changing the line to focus on the role-playing game, I was excited, because that's all I used them for anyway. Now it seems like they will have a PHB set (Player's Handbook Set) with minis for players to use, then a monster set, that is partly random, partly not (I think with one large mini visible in each box), and a partly random huge monster set (with a huge monster visible in each box). Then maybe they'll repeat that pattern. (They haven't announced any sets beyond the first three - maybe they are testing the waters).

My review of the first PHB set is good. While a handful of the 18 are actually repeats, they only reused the molds. The paint schemes are completely different. Which makes them seem fresh and also makes them usable even with the earlier ones - they look quite different. They were some of the nicer molds, too. If that was all there was in the set, I'd be disappointed, but having a few like that is kind of nice. The rest of the figures are, for the most part, really nice figures with really nice paint jobs. My favorite is the ranger holding the bald eagle and bow. There are a few figures that are what I'd consider not great, but they are servicible. The human barbarian looks kind of blah. Finally, there are four that are of races seldom used in 3rd edition - two tieflings, a "goliath" and a dragonborn (female). But even that isn't so bad. There are rules for tieflings in 3rd edition, so someone may actually use one of those. That leaves just the dragonborn and goliath as the odd figures out - the dragonborn was wholly invented for 4E, and I don't know what a goliath is, and so neither may have any use for a player in 3E. Still, that leaves 16 other figures, and since you get them non-random and could still find something to use them for, it is still good overall.

I order from now. They have the best deals, I think, for both singles and boxes. So it only cost $42 to get the entire set of 18 figures, which isn't bad. You can buy the singles cheap there, too.

So overall, I give a favorable review to these. I like what they've done with the line and I think this is a good way to make minis to support the RPG. One thing I don't like is that there is no card for each figure - not that you'd need one - I just liked it because I used the cards to keep track of what figures I had. Ultimately, you really don't need anything like that.

Oh, and each set comes with a set of (random, non random, I don't know?) ability cards for use with 4E. If I actually played 4E, I would probably find them useful and cool, but since I don't, eh, doesn't really affect my opinion of the product one way or the other.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

GOP: Party of Values has only one value: Power

The so-called "party of values" GOP has only one value: Power.

It is so ridiculously disgusting to see them all, to a person, flip a 180 on every single issue now that Bush is out of power and Obama is in (as well as the new Dem congress).

It is so bad it is beyond parody: Watching the GOP bend over backwards to defend torture. Watching these stupid tea parties where they suddenly are concerned about spending and government power when they were cheerleading both when Bush was in office. Seeing the Fox News anti-Obama smearfest that goes on 24/7, starting from the second he was in office (and really even before that).

These empty suits really believe in nothing but their own power and the talking points that they have handed down to attack with. Maybe it is just because they are way better at that nonsense than the Dems that I get so mad at the GOP, but it probably helps that the GOP smears atheists and are bigoted assholes, as a party platform (bashing gays, denying them their rights).

And they totally get away with it, with nary a critical interview given. Ugh. Now I have a headache.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Torture and the Rule of Law - The GOP knows how to Exploit Power - The Democratic Party does not

There have been plenty of articles urging prosecutions for torture done under the Bush administration. I've said it myself. But here's something I haven't heard discussed: The GOP would already have started prosecutions if it had been a Democratic administration that had incontrivertable proof of serious legal violations. That's not because the GOP cares more about the rule of law. That's because the GOP knows how to ruthlessly exploit power for political gain.

Look at how they went after Clinton. As soon as they had the tiniest of legal openings - a possible charge of perjury in a civil case about a blow job, they pounced and tried to impeach the president. Does anyone seriously doubt that if, after a new GOP administration came to power and had solid evidence of serious crimes against the previous Democratic administration, there wouldn't be wall to wall coverage on Fox News of how horrid this was combined with actual prosecutions of everyone involved, along with a smearing (perhaps deserved) of every single Democratic member of Congress who might have known about it and failed to stop it?

I have no doubt. Because the GOP knows how to ruthlessly exploit power for their own personal gains. It wouldn't matter that there would probably have been some GOP in congress implicated - the GOP Justice Department would only prosecute Democrats - as it pretty much did under Bush - and they'd get away with that too. As they pretty much did under Bush. Because they know how to ruthlessly exploit power and also play the media like a fiddle.

So the lack of prosecutions is truly pathetic and it just shows how weak the Democratic party is at exercising real power. They are afraid of their own shadows and totally buying into the threat of a GOP dominated media machine that will paint any prosecutions as somehow retribution - as if following the law is retribution. It is just so infuriating.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More Shows I Watch

I must apologize for forgetting a few shows. I did this from memory, and mine needs reminders to function properly.

Two more:


Both are fun, in different ways.

The Right-Wing Political Movement is just So Full of Shit

I mean, seriously. Tea-bagging? Defending torture? And the predictable 180 on pretty much everything the Fox News talking heads were saying now that power has changed hands?

I mean, it is so transparent it is laughable. What is sad is the 25% of the populace that totally eats it up like it was gospel. The RWAs. The rubes. The GOP is geared toward that demographic and that is their base and that seems to be all they are even attempting to appeal to right now.

This is not to say that there aren't intellectually honest conservatives. There are. They just have mostly abandoned the GOP. Either that or they are holding their noses and sticking with it because they really don't like the left or the Democrats. Of course, the joke is on the left because the Democratic party doesn't really listen to the left - they tack center-right, scared of their own shadows, for the most part. This is because they are cowards, they grew up under the right-wing dominant nation of the past 30 years and are shell-shocked by that (and the much superior campaigning and rhetorical skills of the GOP), and because the media has generally only followed right-wing framing of issues. On the other hand, the GOP kow-tows to the right-wing nutjobs as much as it can without completely alienating centrists (though they often go over that line, it doesn't seem to do too much damage as the MSM doesn't really cover it - the MSM, for the most part, totally ignores the vile stuff that is broadcast on Rush and elsewhere).

But truly, watching the Fox News wall to wall coverage of the astroturf (fake grassroots) tea parties, and the Sean Hannitys and others who are talking about how this is great stuff, this is revolution - contrasted with what they said during 2001, when people protested Bush - then, it was treason not to fully support Bush. Now it is patriotic to spew lies about Obama. They are so full of shit.

Now, Obama hasn't been perfect. Far from it. He's done plenty I don't like, and there is plenty I wish he would do. Like make a big deal out of the OLC stalling by the GOP in the Senate, which is also a bunch of bullshit that the MSM is ignoring. What is different is that the people I read, like Glenn Greenwald, are not giving Obama a free pass on this - they are calling him out on this. They are intellectually honest and have actual values and morals and are consistent. As I knew they would be.

Contrast that with Glenn Reynolds, or Sean Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh. Or Michelle Malkin. Or Anne Coulter. Or pretty much the entire Fox News Network. They are shameless liars, so full of shit that they are a self-parody. And yet the RWAs eat it up like it was candy. Which I guess is what makes them RWAs.

All in all, this is just terribly depressing. It makes me want to go form a space colony someplace with intelligent, reasonable people. Sigh.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Torture Lawyers need to be Disbarred

I didn't need to read all of the commentary about the OLC torture memos to conclude that all of the lawyers involved, and their supervisors, need to be disbarred. It is still refreshing to see I'm not alone in this.

Sullivan is, of course, correct. These were not memos giving frank legal advice. These were instead foregone conclusions that needed a memo to paper over the fact that there was torture going on that was blatently against not only the law, but against common human decency.

I am a lawyer. I've written frank memorandums of advice to clients. A true memo of advice exhaustively considers all sides of an issue. You don't know what the conclusion will be until you've written and re-written it, and discussed it with your supervisors (after you first did your own research). Where the issue is one that isn't yet decided by courts, you make it very clear that your answer might be the wrong one and that it could come out the other way.

These memos are none of that. Even worse, they not only fail to present the other side of the issue, they incorrectly represent the side that is covered. The legal "reasoning" is specious and falls apart under the scrutiny of any C-grade first-year law student.

All of the lawyers involved violated multiple ethical codes of conduct as attorneys and completely got the law wrong, all in an effort to justify torture. That makes them accessories to the torture, and to the deaths that resulted. In any just world, not only would they be disbarred, they'd be tried as accessories to torture and murder and face life in prison. Of course, that will never happen. They'll probably never be disbarred, either, but at least there is small hope that they might be. Bybee is a sitting judge now, for life. Do we really want a torture-apologist, who violated his legal oath, to sit in judgment in federal court? The most I hope for is for him and Yoo and the others to be disbarred and for Bybee to lose his seat on the bench. But I somehow doubt even that will happen.

It was terribly disappointing to hear that CIA officials who used these thin, bullshit memos as cover to torture will not face legal consequences. Andrew seems to think the door is open to prosecute CIA officials who did not believe the memos in good faith, but that is unlikely. It does seem to leave the door open to go after the lawyers, and I recall hearing on NPR that they were being investigated, but that seems unlikely to come to anything.

If the rule of law means anything, we need to ruthlessly prosecute EVERYONE involved in this. Obama seems to be worried it will look like a partisan witchhunt. But so what? He is right in that even though it most certainly is not one, the GOP would whine and whine that it was, and the mainstream media would give them plenty of airtime to do so. If the MSM did its job, perhaps Obama would worry about this less. But I know they won't, and Obama does too.

This is just disgusting to me. This is what RWAs do to us as a nation. Watching the idiotic tea-baggers just makes me want to retch. They don't have a clue. And they are the voice that runs the GOP. At least the left-wing nutjobs are basically irrelevant and ignored by the Democratic party. In the GOP, being a right-wing nutjob makes you in charge - of the party and of the agenda. Look at Michelle Bachman. Sigh.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Some TV Shows I watch

I was just going to list the shows I watch that I hope won't get cancelled, but that would not be as long of a list. Some of the shows I watch I doubt would be in danger of cancellation. Come to think of it, some of these shows I've not even watched yet.

My DVR is currently recording (in no particular order):

Law and Order
Terminator: Sarah Connor

I don't claim all are four star shows, but I enjoy watching them enough that I haven't removed them from my auto record. I actually haven't had time to watch any of the Dollhouse episodes, but I have to save Joss Whedon. I'll get to them eventually. I really like Chuck. It is obviously not a serious drama - but it is great fun and all of the characters, even the minor ones, are very likeable.

Heroes has not been as good this season as previous ones, but it has been interesting enough for me to watch and I think it has improved a bit.

Lost I'm not quite caught up on, but I am really enjoying this season.

Terminator started off a bit wobbly and now I'm really into it and enjoying it.

I'll always be a Survivor junkie - that to me is more fun to watch as sport than, well, sports, which I don't watch.

CSI and Law and Order are just staples of fun - so long as you can overlook the distorted view of the legal system and forensics. But then not all entertainment needs to be nutritious. We need candy, too.

24 I'm way behind on, but I liked the first few episodes I saw thus far.

And House - well, House is House. You can't not enjoy that.

I used to DVR Battlestar Galactica and Stargate:Atlantis, but don't because they both are over. I just wanted to throw that in.

There are probably other shows out there I don't watch and maybe even have never heard of, that are really good and I would love to watch. A few shows that looked interesting I've actually gotten DVD sets for their first seasons to try them out. Breaking Bad is one of those - I actually have that on my DVR too for season two, but won't watch that until I watch DVDs for the seven episodes of season one. I also have Damages, Burn Notice, and a few other series on DVD that I haven't had time to look at. Any other good shows out there I've never heard of?

Oh, and I DVR'd Kings and Harper's Island - I'll eventually watch those and decide if I want to watch the rest.

Finally, I DVR The Daily Show and The Colbert Report - I used to always miss those until, duh, I realized I could just record them. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me, as I don't think of them like I think of other shows. I should DVR South Park, but I have been watching them from DVD sets and am kind of used to that - I'd buy the sets anyway, might as well wait til they come out to watch them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

DM's Corner: Drawing on Maps

I thought I'd share a little tidbit that I've found helpful, mostly by accident and laziness.
When I've designed my own adventures or encounters, I often just draw out a nice map, using colored pens. The map details are in one or two colors and then I have writing in another color, right on the map, that describes what is in each area, including sometimes stats and treasure. I did this because it was quick and easy and I also sort of liked how it looked.

One of the more interesting maps I made was actually based on the great pyramids in Egypt. I ran that one several times. I ought to scan that map and show it here, just for kicks.

What I noted when running that adventure (and others where I had done the same sort of thing) was just how easy it was to keep track of everything. Essentially it was all on one sheet of paper. The map. The descriptions. The encounters and their locations. It made it easy to plan ahead, to see if creatures in other areas heard an alarm, and so forth. I also did not have to spend time flipping pages back and forth to see what was in a room, or switch back to yet another page for a map (though that can be avoided if you copy the map and keep it separate - more on that later). It made it so easy to run, I had more fun running.

And really, the only secret was - have everything on the map, so you don't need to look anywhere else and can see the whole "world" (local as it were) at a glance. Now, you can't do this as easily with a published adventure. They have richly detailed descriptions that you can't juts put on the map. And that can be a good thing, too. I was free to make up what I needed for my own maps - you can't do that in an adventure - you need to know the storyline and keep in it or else you lose a lot of the value of having a pre-made module.

But you can get the next best thing. I now make color copies of all of the maps in a published adventure. I then write on the maps the locations and descriptions of the denizens and of traps and such, so I have a nice, global view. On top of that, I read and re-read the text so I am familiar with it. Then I can run things almost as smoothly as when I made the maps (and adventure) myself. It makes things so much easier. So that's my little tip of the day.
[Maps above, drawings from my youth - it is amazing how someone with no drawing skill can make something look good by copying from the historical record and using a ruler and a blue and red pen.]

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Leave Miley Cyrus Alone!

Ok, so this isn't exactly going to be a rant akin to the towel-covered head of some guy who complained about the treatment Britney Spears was receiving. Heck, I don't even really want to defend Spears. She has kids and has acted terribly irresponsibly, and that I really do not approve of.

More generally, I couldn't care less what celebrities do in their private lives. Mostly I ignore that sort of thing. Mostly I ignore Miley Cyrus, for that matter. My daughter does, too, simply because she's too young (at 3 2/3) to really know what is going on gossip-wise anyway. But since she does watch Miley and want lots of Miley-stuff, I have paid more attention than I otherwise have, and so I have noted the various "scandals" that have popped up in the media, including something about pulling her eyes (oh no, racial slur!) or saying bad things about rival Disney stars or some other such nonsense. Suffice it to say, pretty vanilla stuff. It isn't like she was found covered in her own vomit from a heroin overdose after shooting eight-balls.

Nothing I've seen indicates she is acting any different than your typical 16 year old - it is just that when she does it, it gets broadcast. What partly compelled me to bother writing about this was an article I saw (really two articles) about Miley. I'd link to them but now I can't find them. The articles were a point-counter-point - one saying she's a good role model, the other saying she isn't. The "bad" Miley article discounted any notion that she was acting like a typical teen, as the author noted she taught teens and knew plenty who were much better behaved than Miley. I had to laugh when I read that. I'm sure the teens were plenty well behaved around the author - what the author never sees is how those teens act when they are with other teens, no adults in sight. I'm sure she'd have had a very different picture.

Now, not all teens do crazy stuff, but all teens do stupid stuff. I had a slice of that on my computer one day. I have many sitters for my two kids. The very first sitter we had has always been very well behaved and a model citizen when she's been here. Obviously we trust her. But one day I discovered a whole bunch of pictures on my computer that she must have downloaded from her camera (which was fine, I had let her plug her camera into our computer before to charge it and such). She probably just forgot to delete them when she was done. In any case, at first I couldn't figure out what they were, but then I saw she was in some of them and the mystery was solved. It was pictures she'd taken with her friends, when no adults were around. No, nothing naughty, all relatively tame teen stuff, but still, she was posing and doing silly things that she'd never done in front of us. I'd almost thought of her just as another adult - the pictures reminded me that she was also a teenager and what that really meant. I'm sure if the pictures (and every other tiny detail of her life) were placed online, disparaging remarks might be made about her, but really, she's just a typical teen doing what typical teens do.

So really, it is kind of annoying to see so much being made out of basically teen nonsense, just because it is Miley Cyrus doing it. Hell, I think it is refreshing to see she's just a typical teen in her behaviors.

I think the complaints are almost Victorian in character - then again, so is our country. We pretend to the world at large that everyone is prim and proper while ignoring what really goes on behind closed doors. I wonder what a society would be like that didn't let people get away with that fake Victorianism. In any case, leave Miley alone! (said only slightly tongue-in-cheek).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fact-Checking Legal Shows

I sometimes wonder if the reason people have such misinformed views of lawyers and how the law works because of how inaccurately it is portrayed in movies and in TV shows.

Of course, this probably isn't the whole picture because there is a deliberate misinformation campaign out there about the law put in place by the right-wing, but that aside, I do still wonder about the influence of "Hollywood", to use a shorthand for the entertainment industry.

During the elections, there were web pages, such as, that you could check to see if the latest campaign ad was full of shit. That has now given me the idea about fact-checking other things, such as, say, the law as portrayed in a movie or on TV.

I'm sure this could go beyond the law, but I want to focus on the law in particular, because that is something that is probably easier to research than other, more esoteric things that might come up in a show.

I often see things on Law and Order, for instance, that I think deserve immediate disbarrment. But then they are also done by prosecutors, so maybe it is realistic that they do this and get away with it. So perhaps the research needs to include not just the law, but how it actually is implemented in practice. For example, you often see the most damning evidence in a case kept out by some "liberal" judge, forcing the prosecutors to get creative to prove the case (and also giving a wink to the audience that hey, these people are "really guilty" so don't feel so bad about the unethical things you will see the prosecutors do next. It also probably makes for better drama that way). But realistically, I wonder these days how much damning evidence is really kept out. It is probably much more common that damning evidence that is illegally seized will be allowed in anyway, and then the conviction will be upheld on appeal as the mistakenly-admitted evidence is found to be "harmless."

Maybe a show-by show analysis would be more trouble than just going back and looking at a show statistically - see how many episodes has such and such happened compared to how often it happens in real life.

I'd have an easier time with doing it on the fly if I knew New York law, which I really don't, living in Michigan and all. Still, I suppose I could look it up. Not that I'm volunteering to create such a site. I'd much rather someone else do it so I could read it. Maybe someone already has and I just don't know about it. Anyone know?

In any case, it would be nice to have something to dispell the false notions about the law generated by Hollywood (and the right wing for that matter). Something for the lay public. Information is power. Maybe I'll work on this further.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Missed Business Opportunity

It seems that the day after Obama got elected, gun sales have spiked, as have ammunition sales, as (completely unfounded) paranoid fears gripped the right-wing nutjobs out there about a suddent and imminent restriction on guns and ammo. This despite Obama never having said a single word about it during the election. It persists even now as no action has been taken by Obama to restrict firearms or ammo.

As I was listening on the radio about these nutjobs, who no doubt have been stirred up into a frenzy by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, and so forth, I kicked myself for missing such a great business opportunity. If only I knew just how nuts they were, I could have stocked up guns and ammo months in advance and then made a killing (pun intended) in the market as now prices are going up from the shortage.

Sure, it may seem like it is easy to see this in hindsight, but really, I should have seen it coming. I'm old enough to remember when Clinton first took office. Before he had done anything, the rabid right went absolutely nuts. The first thought I had about it was that the right-wing somehow sees the presidency as their god-given right and so for a democrat to be elected you basically have to have a deal with satan. Or at least that's the vibe I got. And the lunatic right has only gone deeper off the edge over the years since Clinton. So if I really thought about it, I should have seen this coming. Especially when you throw in the whole Aryan nation crowd into the mix.

Oh well. I guess I'm going to just have to work for a living, as planned. And I guess I'm going to have to put off buying my own firearms - they are too hard to get now - and cost too much. Just as well. With daycare costs and such, I really couldn't afford one now anyway. Maybe next time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Back to Normal

Well, things are finally back to normal, if there is such a thing. My son is almost better, and he now likely doesn't have anything terribly bad, though we will keep an eye out. My daughter is feeling better too, though she's just as difficult and unreasonable as a 3 1/2 year old can be. My wife is not going to be travelling much for the next few months, which will make things easier on the child-care front, and we even managed to clean the house yesterday.

So I'll have time to post again and really to think again, which is the primary issue - no time to think means I have nothing to post about. Some interesting things happened this week at work, so I will probably start with that.

And the truly sad thing - despite this long hiatus, the Minnesota Senate race is STILL not decided, though Franken clearly won ages ago. The GOP are power-hungry d%#$s.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dungeons and Dragons loses another one

Looks like Dave Arneson , co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons has died. May he rest in peace.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Scientific Explanations for Biblical Events

Article here. Could have been shorter. Here's an even simpler explanation, also scientific, to explain those events depicted in the bible: They didn't happen.

Note that this explanation also works when you want to explain how Superman can fly, how Wolverine regenerates, and how every alien on Star Trek looks basically human shaped and speaks English.

Prosecutorial Misconduct with Ted Stevens

I have mixed feelings about the Ted Stevens case. I am convinced he's corrupt, but I also think you can't just skip due process and convict just because you think someone is guilty.

I am convinced there was horrible misconduct by prosecutors, and I am always happy to see this result in criminal charges against prosecutors who do that, but it is sad that this only seems to happen when a defendant is a rich person with strong political connections. (And probably white as well, though this is more likely because most people who are rich with strong political connections are white - being white sure won't help you against prosecutorial misconduct if you are white but poor and have no connections).

So it annoys me that much is being made of how horrible this is without placing it in the context of just how routine prosecutorial misconduct is. And how it almost never is punished. It also almost never results in a reversed conviction.

So I have mixed feelings about this. When the same sort of attention and outrage is placed about misconduct done against poor defendants on a routine basis, I'll take heart. Right now, though all the right words and fury is there about prosecutorial misconduct, I think this will quickly fade, be seen as an anomoly by the press, and the routine crushing of defendants will quietly continue in courts across the nation.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Battlestar Galactica Finale

First off, I should point out, there are spoilers here. So don't read it if you don't want to spoil the fun of watching the entire series from the beginning to the end. Four seasons of awesome sci-fi/drama/great storytelling. That said, I want to tackle this by first tackling an article on yahoo tv about the series finale's unanswered questions that I thought was just, well, wrong.

Here's the article. And now here are the questions (and my own answers):

How long would an advanced race of humans survive on a primitive planet with no technology or experience in such an environment?
Lee proposed stripping the remaining 30,000 colonists of their current belongings and spreading them out across the globe. Basically, go forth and populate and don't kill anyone. But really, without advanced weapons or any training on how to hunt or farm, any access to modern medicine and any knowledge of the terrain or animal life, wouldn't these people die off after a month or so? Piloting a raptor doesn't prepare you for taking down a bear. Those people on "Survivor" barely make it through six weeks, and they've got Probst supplying them with occasional treats and producers cherry-picking safe locations. We're not convinced the Colonials would make it long enough to apparently sire our human race.

There's so much wrong with this I don't know where to start. First, one of the characters, Baltar, explicitly said that he knew something about farming. If he knows it, perhaps others know, too. More to the point, those who do know can teach the rest. But even if they didn't know, I'm sure they could figure it out. After all, these are the 38,000 survivors of billions - these are the tenacious, tough bastards who despite the near anhiliation of their race and the relentless pursuit of the cyclons managed to survive under the harshest of conditions. Living on ships for years that were not meant to house so many for so long, they had to have already learned some tough survival lessons. They'd been starving, living on nasty-tasting algae for years, probably barely subsisting. To go from that to a green, fertile planet must have been a big step up. And we may forget this today with 6 billion people on the planet, but when there are only 38,000 people, spread out over the whole globe (presumably to the nicest locations), you really can live off just hunting and gathering without running out of things to eat.

Those poor schumcks on Survivor don't have the option of searching for the best place to find food. They are stuck where the producers place them, presumably in locations that don't have too much easy food, or else those food challenges become rather pointless. They also have to waste a lot of time looking for immunity idols and plotting who to vote off. If they instead had to only focus on survival and were free to go where they wanted, they'd probably do much better in the food-collection and shelter-creation business. Finally, even with their restrictions, some of them actually do get rather good at gathering food.

Will it be dangerous? Sure. But the dangers of the wild are overstated. Our ancestors without any advance knowledge or weapons or training managed to do it. I'm sure the colonists could figure it out. And even if almost all of them perished, well, see the next item.

How is Hera "mitochondrial Eve"?
The importance of this human/Cylon hybrid was drilled into our heads ad nauseam over the course of recent seasons, and yet it simply doesn't make sense that she's essentially the mother of all humanity on our Earth (and yes, we know we're greatly simplifying the science here). The last we see of our rag-tag fleet, there are about 30,000 other humans and Cylons scattered across the planet, who will presumably produce plenty of human/human children, human/Cylon children, human/indigenous primitive children, etc. Doesn't this make all of the sacrifice in Hera's name a waste of life, not to mention viewers' time? it long enough to apparently sire our human race.

This item seems to contradict the one before it. First the author complains that there's no way the colonials could survive well enough to sire the human race, now they complain that so many of them will do so that it makes Hera irrelevant. Maybe it is the case that all of the colonials fail and die off without leaving descendants. And perhaps then only Hera is hardy enough to survive (or have her progeny survive) and so she really was key for the survival of the human race. They certainly seem to suggest that this might have been what happened in the show, showing her as Mitochondrial eve. So I call bullshit on this complaint paired with the previous one. Which is it? Will the colonials all die, or do they all leave so many offspring that Hera is irrelevant?

And even if she is irrelevant in terms of siring the human race, I think the author misses the point about Hera - it isn't just about her specific survival. It is more about the central core of the series - not just whether humans survive, but whether they deserve to survive. You could apply that to the cylons as well. In the end, the cylons who make peace with humans and try to save humanity (and themselves) are the only ones who survive because they are the ones who deserve to. Rescuing Hera could be more about showing humanity deserves to survive. And it did lead to them jumping, on their last jump, to what would become their Earth (our Earth).

In the end, humans and cylons volunteered to save Hera, risking their own existence to do so. That means something. And their risk and sacrifices led to not only rescuing her, but rescuing the entire human race, by finding a suitable planet to settle on, something they may never have found with the time they had left to search.

Isn't it an amazing coincidence that not only human life, but animal life as well, evolved exactly the same way on different planets light-years apart?
So even though we can't find existence of any kind of similar life outside of Earth, we're supposed to believe that Caprica evolved in exactly the same way, with humans looking identical as us (and sounding it, too) and even animals (like those pigeons we saw so much of in the final episodes) being the same? With the only real differences between us and them being that they liked to cut the corners off of their paper goods and say "frak" instead of our preferred F-word? And that the original 13th tribe also had a society that looked remarkably like ours, but with humanoid Cylons thrown into the mix? What. Are. The. Odds. Wasn't this supposed to be a science-fiction show?

First off, to anyone who has been paying attention, sci-fi has always been secondary - this has always been first and foremost, a drama about people. (Of course, so is really good sci-fi). It is true that it would be incredibly unlikely to have parallel evolution on another planet of even a similar bi-pedal species, much less one that could actually breed with humans evolved elsewhere, but then, this you would just have to chalk up to the spiritual element of the show and say that it wasn't accidental. Or perhaps not spiritual - maybe there is some alien who seeded the planet. Who knows. It doesn't matter. I'm willing to forgive them this one science lapse simply because it really makes for a great story and ties in their civilization to ours. At some point, you have to sit back and enjoy Peter Pan as a story without complaining that there is no such thing as Faeries.

Was this entire series really about teaching us that robots are dangerous?
In the present-day coda, we see a cheesy montage that could've come from "Terminator" in which modern-day robots are shown becoming more advanced. And this was following the renunciation of technology by the fleet's survivors. Was this Luddite message really what "BSG" was supposed to be about? Funny, we thought the show struck a chord with fans and critics because of the brilliant way it referenced our all-too-real struggles with faith, war, terrorism, etc. within a sci-fi setting. Politicians who are blinded by religion scare us. Ideologues willing to kill themselves and others for a cause scare us. A military that ignores the will of the people scares us. Robots? Not so much.

I think the author yet again completely missed the point. It isn't about scaring us with robots. It is about wondering whether humanity will repeat the same mistakes over and over and nearly destroy itself (or fully destroy itself) with its own cleverness - again, with the theme, not can we survive, but do we deserve to by the choices we make and the lives we live.

Would an entire fleet of people really give up their technology?
Was there not one person in the new Quorum who thought that landing on Earth and getting rid of their ships and all of their creature comforts seemed like a bad idea? Yes, they were tired of running and fighting, but what if the planet proved inhabitable for humans and hybrids? Wouldn't they have wanted a way to get off? And wouldn't someone have at least insisted on bringing some weapons for hunting? Were there no dissenters? Collaboration with Cylons resulted in a bloody mutiny, yet a renunciation of eons of technological progress produced not even one debate.

First, there may have been some dissenters or debate that was simply done offstage, so to speak. But as difficult as it may be for us to understand, think of it from the perspective of a colonist. Technology resulted in an almost total genocide of your race. You've been living in cold, metal ships in space eating algae for years. You've been hunted, afraid that the person next to you might be a cylon, and the whole path of your society up to that point led you to this misery. You might be quite ready, after years living in a tiny metal box eating algae, to just chuck all of that crap and go work a farm under the open sky.

With regards to the mutiny, the situation there was quite different. Everyone was totally demoralized by finding a destroyed Earth - it felt like everything they fought for was for nothing and that they'd all just die in space. That depression was turned on the leaders, who were blamed for it. The dissenters were ultimately defeated, their leaders executed. But more to the point, upon finding a real, livable Earth, all of the reason for that previous discontent vanishes. Now there is hope again! A full, empty planet, lush with life and food (and no algae required!). That sounds pretty damn attractive. Now, the leaders look like they really did know what they were doing. They got them there.

They made sure the planet was inhabitable for them. That was made clear. How could similar, more primitive humans be alive and surviving if it wasn't? They really didn't have many other options anyway - they had limited range for further jumps and it is a big galaxy. And I'm sure they were just plain tired of running.

Given the total war they endured, I could also see a reluctance to have weapons. And I'm sure they could make some to hunt with.

Ultimately, I just don't think it is all that implausible - in fact, it is an understandable and reasonable reaction to everything that civilization (what was left of it) had been through.

Did all of the rebel Cylons die in the nuclear blast?
So we're led to believe (however vaguely) that after the nuclear blast on the Cylon baseship (where the 1,3 and 5 models were keeping Hera), the rebel Cylons were eliminated and sucked into the black hole (or singularity). But what about other baseships, the ones that the Galactica crew took photos of during their scouting mission? Where did they go? Is there still an Ahab-like Cavil out there searching for revenge on the human/hybrid race?

There could be, but the point is, it doesn't matter. Those cyclons did not earn the right to survive. They wanted war and to stagnate with resurection rather than rebirth. Even if stragglers survived, they probably eventually died out. Maybe the colonials all died out too, leaving only Hera and her descendants, as noted above. Maybe only together could they survive.

In whose mind were "head" Six and Baltar supposed to be existing in during the coda?
We'd been shown these visions of Six and Baltar as they advised/pushed Caprica Six and the real Baltar throughout the course of the series. We're supposed to buy that they are angels (or demons... it was never really made clear) and that they only were seen through the eyes of their human or Cylon counterparts. So in whose head were they in when we see them strolling through Times Square? Series mastermind Ron Moore's? Ours? God(s) only knows.

Who says they have to be in anyone's head? And really, it never is made clear exactly what or who they are, and sometimes, I think that is ok. If you explain everything down to the tiniest detail, there's nothing left to ponder, is there? This question is based on a premise that has not been established.

Were the Cylons right about the One God thing all along?
One of the most resonant issues during the series was the issue of monotheism vs. polytheism. The Colonial humans believed in multiple gods, while the Cylons believed in one god. Who was right? We never thought there was supposed to be an answer – just like religious conflicts continue to remain unresolved in our real world. And yet in the finale's final scene, Head Baltar made a reference to a "He" who doesn't like to be called God, making us question what the point was of the scintillating debate over the past four years. Sounds like we're supposed to believe the Cylons were right all along. Who the devil thought that line made sense?

Maybe it isn't a god at all, just an alien? Really, it isn't answered and it doesn't need to be. Of course, as an atheist myself, I'm not all into god debates in general. The series doesn't attempt to deal with that. One could take it symbolically - the colonies were not all equal. The cylons and humans were not equal - that led to the first war, no doubt. Maybe the polytheism to monotheism is about the unifying theme of bringing all of the colonies and the cylons together into a single race - that only united do they survive - divided and squabbling, they do not.

Finally, what the heck is Starbuck?
Kara was called a harbinger of death, but yet she ultimately led the humans and remaining Cylons to our Earth, where they could live out their lives and propagate the species. So is she really an angel? If so, does it make sense that an angel could apparently have amnesia and need to experience a vision of her father in order to help solve her final puzzle? (Angels have visions?) And if she's the same kind of entity as whatever Head Balter and Six are, how could she exist in a corporeal form and be visible to everyone, while the Heads weren't? And why was she of all people chosen to be whatever the hell it is that she was? We know the answer to the Starbuck Conundrum (as a future college course will undoubtedly be called) was meant to be left up to the individual viewer, but we can't help but be severely disappointed by the non-answers provided.

I rather like that they didn't explain this. It is clear that Starbuck, the original, did die. And she was somehow (along with her ship) put back together. Was it some sort of resurrection technology put together by the alien Baltar-angel refers to? Maybe. It is interesting to speculate on it, and wonder. And you couldn't do that if they just explained it. So as I said, I rather like that they didn't.

Final Thoughts

I really liked the finale. It was very satisfying for me. I was happy with it. It had an awesome action sequence for the first half and a very satisfying coda that resolved all that needed to be resolved and left the rest open, as it should. (Unlike, say, Star Trek: Voyager, which just kinda ended abruptly - that kinda sucked). It was a brilliant capstone to a truly groundbreaking series that I'm going to miss but that I'm also glad was finished on its own terms.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sick and Tired

Literally. Ok, I'm not sick, but I am tired. My two children, ages 3 1/2 and 13 months, have been sick over the past two weeks. It has been generally miserable. Gallons of vomit. Buckets of almost pure liquid poop. First one sick than the other. And on top of that, an alarming blood test for the little one, my son, that has led to many visits to the doctor in a deep concern that there could be something seriously wrong with him, like, well, cancer. Small chance, but being a parent, you worry.

So I've been busy with that over the past few weeks. Thankfully, they are now almost totally healthy, but we are still waiting on tests for my son. We'll know soon. I think he's probably ok, but better safe than sorry.

Things should hopefully be back to normal soon. Well, except for the like 5 (administrative) trials I have over the next six weeks. Hey, it is all good.