Saturday, June 03, 2006

lazy bums

This is depressing. Not that there are people like Theon Johnson --he's just one man and would be fairly harmless alone-- but that there is a powerful political machine to enable these sorts of people. You have to wonder what their motivations are. It can't be that they are motivated by concern for Johnson's well-being, because enabling that kind of behavior can only harm Johnson.

If it really were concern for Johnson's well-being, then it would be pretty one-sided. Where is the concern for the well-being of all the hard-working people who are forced to support Mr. Johnson?

Friday, June 02, 2006

be careful what you wish for

Juan Cole was just turned down for a job at Yale and bloggers at Power Line and Dean's World are happy about it. Dave Price calls it a sign of sanity at Yale. Well, maybe it is, in a way; Juan Cole has a habit of taking the side of terrorists against his own country, and I wouldn't want someone like that teaching my kids at college. But on the other hand, what does this say about the potential effects of blogging on one's career? It's possible that if Juan Cole weren't a blogger, that he would be a Yale professor today --a job with unusually high prestige in some circles, and certainly in the circles that Cole frequents.

And even if blogging didn't cost Cole a dream job, there will be wide perception that it did. This event may make talented and ambitious people less likely to blog, and the effect will be exaggerated on the conservative/libertarian side of the blogosphere. Conservatives and libertarians are much more vulnerable to this type of viewpoint discrimination than are leftists like Cole. Being perceived as right-wing can cause you career problems at most universities, mass media outlets, and government agencies. Being perceived as left-wing really can't hurt you much. In part because right-wingers, unlike left-wingers, tend to believe in freedom of speech for everyone, not just people they agree with.

After Juan Cole got (apparently) slammed for blogging, anyone who wants to achieve in those areas might be well-advised to keep his opinions to himself.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

glory days

Eugene Volokh originally reported on a Seattle school district and their odd definition of racism:
Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.
In response to criticism, they have changed the web page to not say what they think racism is (via Volokh again) to a paragraph containing this:
Our intention is not to put up additional barriers or develop an “us against them” mindset, nor is it to continue to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality.
"Unsuccessful concepts"? The melting-pot concept is one of the most significant factors in America's success as the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth and one of the most tolerant and integrated. As to the colorblind mentality, that was once a rallying cry for the Left when they were pretending that racism is a peculiarity of the right. Now that we have a mostly colorblind society, the Left thinks they can get more leverage by bringing racism back. Oh for the excitement of racist riots against the Man! The Black Panthers robbing banks and killing cops! White people protesting court-ordered school bussing, getting confronted by the National Guard and soaked with fire hoses! What good socialist doesn't pine for those days of civil strife?

Caprice D. Hollins, the writer of this racist sentence, doesn't think minorities ought to copy the successful culture they find themselves in. She most certainly does want to put up an "us against them" mindset or she wouldn't be going out of her way to create differences between races. This woman believes that thinking about the future, taking responsibility for your own well-being, and speaking the standard dialect are just for White people. She is a racist and shouldn't be in a position of authority in any government organization.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ink Magic 13


Ink Magic (part 13)

The elfish-looking guy was standing on what looked like an old-fashioned sled, a plank with the front turned up and back. It was floating about six inches off the ground and I figured this would limit the guy's ability to react quickly. As he also wasn't the most dangerous-looking one in the group, I'd take out the trolls first.

My hands were in the pockets of the trench coat, but the right pocket was cut out --a trick I learned from a spaghetti western. As the elfish guy was speaking, I was carefully pulling the Gatling gun out of the holster and aiming it at the troll on my left through the opening of my coat. None of them appeared to notice. I raised the laser dot up his chest and past his chin and as the dot disappeared into his open mouth, I squeezed the trigger of the automatic firing motor. Just a quick squeeze to put five or six rounds into the monster's cerebellum and brainstem through the back of its mouth. The other two just stood there gaping like paper targets as I swung the gun past the elf, triggering a quick, un-aimed stream into the vicinity of his face and then shot a few more rounds into the open mouth of the other troll. It was a beautiful, perfectly-timed sequence if I do say so myself.

I paused with what I'm sure was an obnoxious smirk on my face. The two trolls dropped like sacks of cement and the elf slowly toppled … no wait, the elf wasn't toppling. The elf was standing straight up on the sled looking uninjured and unhappy; actually, he looked pretty annoyed. Thinking that I had missed him, I painted a dot on the middle of his chest and let 'er rip for a few more rounds. No apparent effect. That's what the Dungeon Master used to say when we would attack a magical creature with weapons that couldn't hurt it. But there weren't really magical creatures that were immune to bullets were there?

"Are you quite finished?" the elf asked in a frosty voice.

"Well, seeing as how…" I temporized as I raised the dot to his face and let him have another burst right between the eyes. He flinched and turned his head but other than that, no apparent effect. "Just checking," I explained.

"You are going to regret that," the elf said in a voice like ice sickles, "Such impudence shall not be tolerated." The sled moved ominously forward.

"So now you're going to kill me more dead than you were going to kill me already?" I asked, and just for the hell of it, I made him flinch with another face burst. This time something in front of him flashed violet, yellow and red.

The elf screeched in some language I didn't understand and spread out his hands as if pushing something in my direction. The sled dropped to the ground and I felt suddenly odd, stiff. I tried to shoot again, but found myself paralyzed, frozen in place like a statue of a really good-looking guy in a stylish trench coat.

The flash from the previous shots gave me some hope as I replayed it in my mind: a glowing surface that appeared a few inches from the elf, flashing from violet to yellow to red as though it was losing energy. Could the elf's magical protections have limits? I was determined to find out as soon as I could move my finger.

"I hope you enjoyed that little act of defiance, human," the elf spat out, but I didn't think he meant it; I didn't think he really hoped that I had enjoyed the shot. I had, though. The angry elf continued, "… because it will be the last thing you ever do in this life except suffer." I believed he meant that part.

I struggled again to squeeze the trigger, but the paralysis was total. It was an odd sort of paralysis without numbness or other signs of nerve deadening or loss of muscle control. I felt muscle strain when I tried to move, as if something was holding me in place against my struggling, but I felt no pressure on my skin. Something seemed to be holding my very skeleton rigid.

The elf swaggered over to me with an evil smirk. The little puke got right in my face to hiss some more threats, but I'll never know what he was going to say because that's when the tattoo attacked. The black cat leaped from my chest straight into the face of the smirking little turd, tearing my shirt open in the process. The backward force from the leap should have thrown me backward, but whatever was keeping me from moving, was keeping me from being moved, too.

The elf screamed as the cat bit his face off and disemboweled him at the same time. Or rather as the cat tried with considerable energy to bite his face off and disembowel him at the same time. The elf's magic was still protecting him, though the elf was obviously in trouble. Suddenly, whatever was holding me let go and something, probably the same thing, grabbed the tattoo cat and snatched it back from the elf. The cat was being held as though by an invisible net that could barely contain it as the black mercury feline body twisted and struggled and even flowed, trying to get away.

It was a fascinating sight but I missed most of it as I put a red dot on the elf's enraged face and hosed it down with lead. The magic shield quickly flashed from violet to yellow to red again, then again, then again. Or maybe it was different shields, going down one after the other. Finally there were no more shields and the elf's head quickly turned into lead-stuffed meatloaf.

I held the trigger until the clip was empty and then I watched the elf fall. At first, he just stood there wobbling, turning his ruined head back and forth as through trying to see from the pulped eyes. Seeing that, I quickly slammed my last clip into the receiver and was about to continue firing when the elf's head exploded. A white-hot jet flamed from his neck for a moment as his body wobbled. Then the corpse fell forward onto what would have been its face if it still had a head. The elf's back split open from the neck to the nether regions as though a zipper were opening and the fiery jet followed the seam until it was a flaming crescent streaming from the gutted corpse. In a moment the flames flickered out, leaving the body desiccated and slightly charred.

The tattoo cat, free now, stood near the corpse in an alert stance, staring at it like a pure black silhouette of a housecat watching a rat hole when it has heard a squeak. And sure enough, something sprang from the corpse. Another black-liquid creature, but this one was small and winged, bat-like. It flushed from the open cavity like a startled quail, but it was not quick enough. The cat sprang ten feet , snatching the thing from the air.

The two monsters rolled on the ground like battling shadows for perhaps a minute as the small flying creature seemed to be putting up a real fight. In the end, the cat seemed to flow into a flatter shape and engulf the little winged nightmare, and then the both of them vanished from sight like a shadow when the light comes on.

Well, that was interesting. With no one immediately trying to kill me, it felt like there was plenty of leisure time. At least that's my excuse for not getting out of there right away. I wandered over to look at the sled; it would be pretty cool to have my own magic sled but to my disappointment, it seemed just like a just a very high-quality, very light, but very mundane sled. There was nothing that looked like a control panel and no apparent power source.

As I was about to put the sled down, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and turned. There was an another elf just coming from the brush, and this one was throwing something at me. I raised the sled like a shield barely quick enough to deflect a slim bladed, four-pointed throwing star. I was surprised that the star didn't stick in the wooden sled and was actually pausing to look at the bottom of the sled --curiosity will get me killed some day-- when I saw the elf throwing again. I dodged and blocked it with the sled.

I was working out how to get the Gatling gun into one hand while still holding my improvised two-handed shield when another elf showed up, with two more trolls, and there was more movement in the bushes behind them. I spun around, keeping the sled between me and the monsters and then sprinted for the stairway, holding the sled behind me. I heard several clunks on the sled as I ran.

The monsters were all a lot faster than me in a sprint, but they lost wind before they caught me and I was able to keep ahead, barely, as far as the stairs. By that time the trolls were just feet behind me and I had a feeling that they would dive down the stairs and catch me if I slowed down. Ergo, I did the only logical thing: I flipped the sled around front, threw it down on the stairs and jumped aboard. I'd surfed stairs before with a snow board, so this wasn't that challenging.

At the bottom, I rode the board into the stream and nearly to the tunnel before it slid to a stop on a sand bar. Only then did I look back to see if the monsters were still after me. They were. When I looked forward, I jumped a bit to see the tattoo guy standing in the mouth of the tunnel, giving me that toothless scowl. I put my hands in my pockets.

"Look like you havin' some fun!" the old man said.

"Yup," I agreed, "Extreme sports while being chased by homicidal mythical creatures. Some day it'll be on ESPN, but until then, we aficionados have to support the game ourselves."

"Less go before Balsha's servants get here," the old man said. He peeled a tattoo from his shoulder and shook it before tossing it toward the sled. I was wavering on whether to pull the trigger when the sled suddenly rose up, very nearly making the decision for me as I jerked to keep from losing my balance. The sled hovered over to the old man and he impatiently waved me to the back so that he could hop in front with a show of unexpected agility.

A thrown rock slammed the stone tunnel near my head just as the sled started forward through the opening into the bright world. Soon, we were cruising along the beach at pace that I guessed at twenty miles per hour, and I took advantage of the lull in action to ask the old man a question that was concerning me, "So, aren't you going to try to kill me too?"

"Naw," The old man said dismissively. "You been a good tool. Might use you again some day."

"I've been a tool?" I tried to raise the gun stealthily under my trench coat, wondering if this man had magic shields and if I had enough bullets to break them down.

"Well, maybe a partner." The old man said. "You got yours. I remedied the spell on your eyes and give ya' revenge on the guy what killed your daddy and you got rid of Balsha for me. Good trade."

"Balsha," I repeated. "That's the elf I killed?"

"Ayep," the old man answered. "He was like a general for Baal."

"What did he do to piss you off?" I asked.

"Never you mind," the old man answered, "but he was the one that got your daddy."

"I heard that you were the one that captured him."

The old man looked over his shoulder at me and it was the first time I'd seen any emotion on the old man's face other than orneriness. He looked surprised. "Ayep. But I was workin' for Balsha." There was a long pause as he studied me. "Is that gonna mean trouble?"

I thought about it. "Doesn't have to," I finally decided. "But you still owe me."

The old man studied me for a moment more before turning back. We were now passing by the occasional beach walker, but they didn't appear to see us.

"OK," the old man said. "I still owe you. But you're a hunted man now. Best get out of California."

"Yeah," I answered, taking my finger off the trigger and lowering the barrel. "I guess I'd better run far and fast; just get me back to my car and I'm off like a prom dress." And miss all the action that was coming up? Not likely; I wasn't going anywhere.
This is the end of Ink Magic


Donald Crankshaw is hosting the next Storyblogging Carnival. Get your stories in by Saturday!

Monday, May 29, 2006

spin of the Myth Busters

As long as I'm complaining about educational TV, I might as well talk about the Myth Busters episode that annoyed me so much. They were out to test the "myth" that cell phones don't really interfere with airplane navigation systems and that the real reason that cell phones are forbidden on airplanes is so that people are forced to use the much more expensive phones provided by the airline.

Now there are two parts to this claim: first that cell phones aren't a real danger to the airplane and second that there is a nefarious reason for banning cell phones (profit for the airline). I don't put much stock in the second part of the claim. I'm pretty sure that airplanes have been banning all electronic devices from before they had those phones, and the other things they ban like laptops, radios, and computer games are much less likely to cause trouble for an airplane than is a powerful broadcaster like a cell phone. If cell phones are really not a threat to navigation then the reason for banning them isn't the greed of the airlines, it's the fear of the unknown and the fear of litigation.

Myth Busters was really just testing the claim that cell phones cannot effect airplane electronics. They did so in their usual impractical, over-the-top way by trying to construct their own cockpit and testing the sensitivity of the instruments. It was a stupid idea to test things that way; a jury-rigged cockpit, thrown together in one day, with no attention paid to shielding or isolation, is not going to behave electronically like a real cockpit so it is no great surprise that with amplified signals on the bands used by some old cell-phone networks, they were able to show some interference.

Myth Busters made it sound like this was a chance discovery, but I suspect that the engineer who did the myth-busting deliberately chose to test those out-dated frequencies because he knew they were close to frequencies used by a particular navigation device. In other words, I think it was a setup.

When they took their jury-rigged cockpit to the airport, the system was so screwed up just by normal interference that they couldn't even do the test with it. In other words, they had a system that was so bad that it couldn't be used, and one of the problems it had was with certain out-dated cell-phone frequencies. In other words, even the setup didn't prove anything.

When they got into a real jet and tried to effect the navigation equipment with their signal generator, they were unable to effect the airplane electronics even with signals much more powerful than any cell phone could generate.

So, "myth confirmed" right? Nope. After all this, everyone sat down to chat about the experiments and all agreed: "myth busted".


Were those guys watching the same show I was? They were not able to demonstrate any effect at all on a real airplane and the system where they did display an effect would not have been usable in a real airplane! Just how did they bust this myth? I must have missed it.

They had a predetermined answer to this question, and they were just going through the motions. Throughout the show, there were occasional comments that struck me as decidedly non-objective, revealing that they thought they knew the new the answer before they did the experiments. Their final justification that "maybe there are some cell phones that could interfere with some navigation equipment and it just isn't practical to test all combinations" could have been given without doing all their useless experimenting. What their experimenting proved is that they were unable to find a significant effect, leaving the myth at best undecided. Failing to disprove the myth and then declaring it busted is just pathetic.

However, I'm not going to accuse the Myth Busters of deliberate deception as I did the History Channel. Myth Buster, at least, gave us all the information we needed to see that they were full of it. As far as I know they didn't hide anything (except how strong the signal that caused the deflection in the jury-rigged equipment was), they just put a ridiculous spin on it.

My conclusion? Myth Busters is busted, but not as bad as the History Channel.