Saturday, July 29, 2006

the passion of the Gibson

When Mel Gibson was recently arrested for drunk driving, he became very belligerant towards the police who arrested him. That would be bad enough, but unfortunately he used the word "Jew" in his drunken shouting, and now people are saying that, yep, Mel Gibson really is an anti-Semite. Mel, Mel, Mel, what have you gotten yourself into?

But be fair. It's just too simplistic to assume that what someone does when they are drunk is what they want to do when they are sober. Yes, alcohol reduces inhibitions, but it also impairs judgment generally. Not every mean drunk is someone who really wants to punch people when he's sober. Not every weepy drunk is someone who is constantly fighting tears when he is sober. Not everyone who tells people he was alien abducted when he's drunk believes it when he's sober. And not everyone who yells "Jew" when he's drunk is an anti-Semite when he's sober. Maybe Gibson was just reaching for the word that he thought would be most offensive to the police officer. Maybe it is unconscious behavior he picked up as a child from a drunken anti-Semitic father.

Or maybe Gibson really is suspicious of Jews when he's sober. Maybe it's something that he knows is wrong and struggles with --a legacy of his upbringing. How should we react to that? Should we condemn a man who is outwardly innocent just because we suspect that he faces inner struggles with evil thoughts? How many of us would pass that test?

And one more thing: Patterico suggests that the Sheriff's Department tried to "cover up" the incident by omitting the "Jew" remarks from the report and he condemns the department for that:
He’s not special. He’s a movie star. Big deal. Treat him the same way you’d treat anyone else.
But obviously Gibson is special. Almost anyone else could yell anything and none of their friends, family, coworkers, or customers will ever know what they said. By contrast, now that it has become public, all of Gibson's friends, family, coworkers, and customers (moviegoers) are going to know what Mel Gibson said. The consequences for including that information in the report are likely to be far, far more damaging to Gibson than they would be to most other people. I think leaving it out was an act of decent courtesy on the part of the Sheriff's Department. Especially since they had no reason to be fond of Mel Gibson after his behavior.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Guilding of Lillis -- scene 2

Heroes for Hire
Episode 1 – A Guilding of Lillis

Scene 1

Scene 2

Zantar and Rolph are sitting at a table in a large crowded room, speaking loudly and ignoring the angry glares of the other customers, all human.

ZANTAR: ... so I say's, "Krikey, Bugar, I've never started a fight in my life, but if you don't put down my pickle I'm going to have to split your head like a melon!"

ROLF: Quite right, a gentleman can't be expected to eat horse sausage without his pickle.

ZANTAR: EXACTLY! Well this Bugar fellow is half-again my size and I'm thinking that means he's slow, and he's the champion axe fighter of the clan so I figure he's used up all his luck...

ROLF: Stands to reason, the boob obviously had no chance against a puissant warrior such as yourself.

ZANTAR: EXACTLY! But ol' Bugar never was the deepest tunnel in the hill, if you get me, so he ups and pops my pickle, MY OWN PICKLE THAT I PULLED OUT OF THE JAR WITH MY OWN TWO HANDS, and up and pops it in his mouth!

ROLF: (aghast) The blackguard!

ZANTAR: (hesitates, then) Yeah, what you said. So out come the axes and let me tell you, they still tell the story of that battle. Seems ol' Bugar still had a little luck left, but not enough to save him from Zantar! No sir, I split his melon like a, well like a ... a head, I guess. With. My axe. I mean. ... Down the middle, like.

ROLF: And quite rightly, my good sir. Can't have miscreants stealing pickles from off the very table can we. Barkeep! Another round over here and snap to it! We've a great deal more drinking to do tonight! As I was saying Sir Dwarf, you let people steal pickles and the next thing you know they're pillaging the gold and ravishing the women!

Pan back to a view of Zantar and Rolf with two townsmen (Mutterer1 and Mutterer2) in the foreground, speaking lowly to each other.

ZANTAR: (from a distance) EXACTLY!

MUTTERER1: Damn Lillis. I don't know which I hate worse, stupid dwarves or squirrelly elves.

MUTTERER2: Don't those elves ever shut up?

Back to close-ups of the heroes.

ZANTAR: (peering at Rolph) Are you sure you aren't done drinking? Don't wanta get a delicate sort of elf to get all puked up or anything.

ROLF: Your concern is appreciated, but I assure you it is quite misplaced. Why I'm not half done! You do have enough coin to fulfill your obligation in the matter of the wager do you not?

ZANTAR: (nodding glumly) I guess, but it looks like it's going to be a close thing. I never thought elves could drink so much.

ROLF: We have many glorious characteristics as a race, and I excel at all of them as an individual...

Close up of another townsman.

MUTTERER3: I think elves mostly excel at how funny they hop around when you hang them. (others snicker)

ROLF: It was indeed jealousy of my perfection that led to my current traveling situation.

ZANTAR: I figured you for a guy that just seduced the wrong guy's daughter or something.

ROLF: Perish the though, sir! My behavior in all matters is impeccable. My honor unbesmirched by any peccadilloes of the flesh. No, I assure you that no elven maiden has ever had cause to rue my welcome presence or my gallant attentions. Some one or two human wenches may have caused me some difficulties, but they can hardly count. Is it my fault that young human women seem to be drawn to romantic eldritch heroes such as myself? (Rolf is attracting some pointed glares) I think not. And what am I to do, spurn them cruelly like a passionless elemental? How could I not ... Thank you, Barkeep, my friend here is about to pay you... How could I not indulge their deepest...

INNKEEPER: (in a low voice) Please, good elf, lower your voice if you must speak of seducing human girls. The men of this town are likely to take exception and I want no trouble!

ROLF (in a slightly lowered voice): Bah. I suppose I should not provoke them to the point where I would have to kill them all. (raising his voice again) So Good Dwarf, you have told me of no less than four villains you had to dispatch. Bugar, who stole your pickle, Dinkwickle, who stepped on your foot and scuffed your new boots, Joe, who said you had something hanging out of your nose, and Keriwan who stole away your betrothed, destroyed your ancestral cave home and murdered your entire family. Are there any others?

ZANTAR: Of course not, I'm not a violent dwarf by nature. Why, Krikey, I'd have let any one of them off if they'd just showed the slightest politeness or said they were sorry or anything.

ROLF: Of course, sir, it is obvious that you are a dwarf of conscience. One who pays his gambling debts without complaint or penny-pinching. I drink to you, sir! (Rolph takes an enthusiastic swig and Zantar takes a glum one) My own story is somewhat less impressive, as I only had one battle to fight with my people. Of course it was against twelve great elven warriors, but with my wizardly powers, it was hardly a fair match. I bested them easily, but I could not go on killing my countrymen so I fled to save their lives. Ah, it was a great tragedy! Elven bards will surely sing it at the great festivals (his voice taking on an exaggerated tone of tragedy), the great eldritch festivals that I may never attend again (sobbing drunkenly) the exotic trading booths, the great trees dripping with colored wax, the beautiful women dressed in shining spider silk gowns...

Rolf lowers his head and weeps ostentatiously. Zantar stares at him in amazement for a moment.

ZANTAR: Get a grip, kid, you're bawling like a woman.

ROLF: (lifts his head, dry-eyed) Am not!

ZANTER: Like a little girl. Krikey.

ROLF: Some men are strong enough to show their emotions.

ZANTAR: In my village you'd have to be stronger than ten dwarves to bawl like than and not get the crap beat out of you. Are all of you elves sissy little crybabies like that?

ROLF: I'm not a sissy little crybaby!

HECKLER1: You were sure bawling like a sissy little crybaby!

The crowd breaks out laughing. Rolf stares around in impotent anger, but Zantar gets up and goes over to Heckler1. He reaches up, grabs Heckler1 by the lapel and without effort pulls him down to slam his head against a table. Zantar holds the man's head against the table and the man is too dazed to even fight back.

ZANTAR: Did you call my friend a sissy little crybaby?

ROLF: (from the background) Does everyone have to keep repeating that phrase?

HECKLER1: (face pressed against the table so only half of his mouth is working) Uh, you called him that first?

ZANTAR: But he's MY friend. Is he your friend?

HECKLER1: Uh, yes?

ZANTAR: (confused) Oh, I guess that's OK then.

Zantar lets Heckler1 slide to the floor and turns his back. He never sees who swings the chair...

The heroes are sitting on the ground, leaning against a building in the dark. Their clothes are torn and dirty and they both sport multiple bruises.

ROLF: They are fortunate that I was able to restrain myself. I very nearly massacred the entire town.

ZANTAR: Why didn't you? We could sleep in a warm place tonight and loot the place in the morning instead of sitting out here on the ground nursing our bruises.

ROLF: It's a wizard thing. We only use our powers for good.

ZANTAR: Krikey. Then what's the point of being a wizard?

ROLF: (after reflecting deeply) I guess it's as good a job as any.

ZANTAR: Well, anyway, now I hope you see what I mean about bawling and getting beat up. You go around bawling like a woman and ...

ROLF: Yes! Yes! I see your point. Let us speak of it no further.

ZANTAR: I was just going to say as how it's OK getting yourself creamed, but when you get your friends thrown out of a perfectly good tavern...

ROLF: I regret it, sir! I do! But how was I to know that the ill-bred folk of this decrepit town would be so hostile to sensitivity and tenderness in an otherwise virile and masculine, not to say heroic, elf of great ...

ZANTAR: Krikey, Rolf, you were bawling like a little...

ROLF: FINE! FINE! Let us have no more detailed descriptions of the event! I regret it! I allow my behavior was ill-considered in the company in which I found myself! It was unwise! Careless even! But it is now history. Spilt milk. Spent arrow. It cannot be undone. Let us speak of it no more. Let us move on to more profitable topics such as how we shall spend a chilly night.

ZANTAR: And I'd say my bet is paid-off now.

ROLF: Don't pretend to be so penurious, sir! The terms of the wager were that the loser would buy the victor enough to put him under the table. Am I under a table, sir? I think not! I am quite clearly...

ZANTAR: But who knows how much more you could have drunk if you hadn't started bawling like...

ROLF: PLEASE, sir dwarf. PLEASE! Must you insist on revisiting ancient, not so say archaic and uninteresting history? Must you continue to describe regrettable events in such loving detail? Let us speak of it no more I say! I shall forgive you the balance of the wager so that we need discuss the particulars of the obligation no further. It is a small enough thing.

ZANTAR: You mean if I don't talk about the bawling any more we can forget the bet?

ROLF: Precisely.

ZANTAR: Done and done!

ROLF: Whatever. In any case I propose...

Rolf is interrupted by activity further down the street: People shouting, a woman screaming, people running. Gradually, some of the shouted words become clear.

MAN1: ... right out of the house through an open window.

MAN2: ... but how do you know it was goblins?

MAN1: ... Rosha said she saw one sneaking around at dusk. If only I'd believed her...

WOMAN1: ... You bastard. My poor little Rosha is gone, taken by the goblins and you did nothing but nail up the shutters after they had already gone.

MAN1: What could I do...

MAN3: No time for blame, everyone get torches, we must search now!

Back to the heroes. The crowd continues to shout in the background.

ZANTAR: Poor kid.

ROLF: (matter-of-factly): Yes. It's a great tragedy. But more importantly, you may notice that the tavern has emptied out as the louts go on their fruitless search for the doomed child.

ZANTAR: Yeah. I was seeing that. They'll probably be out all night trying to find the kid.

ROLF: Precisely. This might be an opportune moment to repair to our former place of lodging, now empty of ruffians and brawlers.

The two stare at the apparently empty inn for a few moments, then without another word they start walking toward it.

Cut to: Rolf and Zantar are arguing with the innkeeper.

INNKEEPER: I regret your difficulties, sirs, but I must insist that you find somewhere else to spend the night.

ROLF: I find your suggestion impractical. We will spend the night here as planned.

INNKEEPER: But sir, the town is quite riled up about the goblins, and they already have shown you the door quite decisively...

ROLF: Yes. I allowed it the first time, but if they try it again, there will be consequences. Serous consequences.

INNKEEPER: You make my point for me, sir. I want no consequences of any type at my inn. Serious or otherwise. Once again, I must ask...

The door bang open and a crowd barges in.

MAN1: Rocko, do you have any pitch for... Hey, what are these two Lilliputians doing back here?

MAN2: Didn't you two get the message clearly enough an hour ago?

INNKEEPER: Please, gentlemen! You have more urgent business to attend to than harass these two harmless creatures.

MAN1: How do we know they aren't hooked up with the goblins?

MAN3: Yeah! Elves are Lillis, dwarves are Lillis, and goblins are Lillis! They probably have a pact or something...

ROLF: (shocked) Now see here...

ZANTAR: (roaring in indignation) Why you little worm! I've killed more goblins than you've plowed furrows, or my name isn't Zantar.

ROLF: Quite! Goblins are the bane of elves and dwarves even more than...

ZANTAR: (still roaring) and it is!

ROLF: (looking sideways at Zantar, trying to complete his thought) ... even more than humans ...

ZANTAR: (a bit quieter): "Zantar", I mean. My name.

ROLF: ... the point being that Zantar here and I have both fought goblins extensively...

ZANTAR: I mean my name really is "Zantar", so that means I really have killed more goblins than you've ... done ... whatever I said before. I forget.

The townsmen are looking at each other in confusion.

MAN1: I think we can take a few minutes to string these two up before we go out after the goblins.

ROLF: (feeling around in his cloak for something) THAT'S IT! MY PATIENCE IS ENDED! NOW YOU SHALL FEEL MY WRATH!


Rolf pulls something out of his cloak. Tears it, and immediately begins to glow. He points to the crowd and mutters something. The glow flashes visibly toward the crowd, settling around three of the men in front who fall to the ground a second later. The crowd stares in shock for a moment, then flees through the door. Zantar and the innkeeper stand there open mouthed, and Rolf slumps against the bar.

ROLF: (to Zantar): Did you say your name is Zantar Two? Does that mean your father's name was Zantar too?

ZANTAR: No, if my father's name was Zantar Two, that would make me Zantar Three.

ROLF: Quite so. How silly of me.

Rolf's eyes roll up and he slumps to the floor. Zantar tosses a couple of coins to the innkeeper, grabs Rolf's ankle with one hand and casually drags him over to a ladder and up it to the loft. As he drags Rolph upside-down up the ladder, Rolph's head bangs hard against each rung. Zantar tosses Rolf onto a pile of straw, lays down next to him, and immediately begins snoring.
Scene 3

Thursday, July 27, 2006

speaking the language

All this time, it was a communications problem. I have this co-worker, Sarika, who is always saying "I'll be there in 5 minutes" and then not showing up, or showing up much later. I was trying to figure out what she is doing that takes so long, but now I realize it was just a language problem. Sarika is from India where they have invented their own dialect of English. Apparently "5 minutes" in this dialect translates to my dialect as "whenever-the-hell I get around to it".

See, you just have to learn to speak the language.

social responsibility

I went for a long walk on the beach last Saturday. It was one of the hottest days we've had so far, but although the beach was a bit crowded, there was only one attractive woman in a swimsuit. What's with that? What were they doing on one of the hottest days of the summer if not down there on the shore adding to the esthetic quality of the beach?

Certain people are burdened with social responsibilities, not because they have sought out those responsibilities, but just because of who they are. Physically healthy men, for example, have a responsibility to come to the rescue of women who are being bullied by other men. It doesn't matter whether the man wants the responsibility or did anything positive to accept it, but the responsibility is there, inherent in the social fabric. Similarly, wise people have a responsibility to warn foolish people when they are doing something foolish. It doesn't matter if the wise person wants to give advice (genuinely wise people don't), or if the fool wants to receive advice (genuine fools don't), but the responsibility is there, nonetheless.

Just the other day, I saw a man peeing against the headlight of a van in the Safeway parking lot. Broad daylight. I was just picking up my shirts (you didn't think I pressed my own shirts?) from the laundry next to the Safeway, was getting in my car, started the engine, looked up, and there was a man leaning against the van parked across from me, urinating on the front of the van, right on the headlight. I certainly did not want to deal with a public pee-er but still I confronted the man. I don't know how effective my confrontation was --he was predictably dismissive of my concerns-- but the point is that public peeing is something that is suppressed by public pressure. Each person has a responsibility to discourage it, and I accepted that responsibility, much as I preferred to avoid it.

So it is with attractive women. If you are a woman who looks good in a swimsuit, you have a social responsibility to be out there at the beach or the pool on hot days. Not every day, not every hour of the day, but at least take some responsibility for your body. Maybe you could all get together and schedule times. I don't care how you do it, but when I go down to that beach on a hot day, I expect to see some hot babes. Do you think I'm down there for exercise? OK, I am down there for exercise, but that's not the point. The point is that I'll be much more inspired to exercise if I'm going to enjoy the scenery while I'm down there. My health depends on you women living up to your social responsibilities. If we guys can go to the trouble of stopping other men from peeing in Safeway parking lots (which we do for women, by the way, guys don't really care that much about it) the least you women can do is be there when we want something nice to look at.

The social fabric depends on it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Donald is hosting the next Storyblogging Carnival. If you post stories on your blog, why don't you enter one in the carnival?


I just saw the first in the new Sci Fi channel series, Eureka. It was every bit as good as the best episodes of Battlestar Galactica and the Stargate shows. Given how last season's Stargate shows had deteriated into Star Trek remakes and Battlestar Galactica had turned into a soap opera, I'm looking forward a lot more to Eureka this season than those shows.

The acting in Eureka was very good and the directing was perfectly paced, providing just the right sense of wonder and unfolding mystery. It was funny too, with odd but engaging characters and the humor never got in the way of the story.

Of course I'm always going to be more critical of the writing than the rest. The story could have been more original. It had your autistic mathematical genius, your law enforcement officer who can't balance work and family, your scientific disaster that can only be solved by finding the right equation in a hurry, your auto mechanic who is working on an anti-gravity device in his garage ... oh wait ... that part was pretty original. There was a stereotypical teenage daughter who did a great job of annoying me, and a stereotypical woman warrior who did as good a job as it is still possible to do in that role. If female fighters were even remotely unusual, this woman on Eureka would have done a fine job. But come on. Can't anyone write an adventure story any more without including a woman that has completely unbelievable fighting skills? It was a cute device when it was unusual. Now it's just trite.

There was still some great stuff. The villain managed to surprise me. There's a mystery dog running around and a mystery dog catcher. And there's a mystery left over from the very beginning of the show that they never resolved. If they don't resolve it soon, I'm going to think it was a bogey and be annoyed. Competent sci fi writers don't just thow in wierd things for effect and then never explain them.

I'm a little worried by the previews. The first show was about a scientific experiement that goes wrong and has to be fixed by the intrepid sheriff. The previews made it look like the next ten shows are each about a scientific experiment that goes wrong and has to be fixed by the intrepid sheriff. There may be an alien thrown into the mix, but if it's just one disaster show after another, I'm going to get bored.

Monday, July 24, 2006

I've got it!

I've finally figure out what's so strange about this chai tea latte -- it tastes like pumpkin pie.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

evidence, prediction, and old jokes

There is an old joke that has been reified in various ways on various TV comedies. I don't know how to tell it with a punch line so let me just describe it: a dog owner tells someone that his dog, Spot, is well-trained. The dog is lying on the ground ignoring the proceedings, and the owner says, "Spot, down!". The dog does nothing but he is already laying down so this is arguably the right thing. The owner continues, "Spot, just lay there and don't do anything!" Again, the dog complies by doing nothing.

The humor (sorry for analyzing this; I usually get annoyed when people analyze humor but I'm getting to a point eventually) comes from the fact that the commands were obeyed by default. They were obeyed, arguably, but only because the owner was able to predict what the dog would do and commanded the dog to do what it was already going to do.

Now suppose that you and I are sitting on a porch, watching a hummingbird at a feeder. It comes to the feeder, drinks for a moment, and then flies away. A few minutes later, it returns to feed again for a moment and then flies away again. It repeats this behavior five or six times. Now I tell you, "Gentle Reader, I have formulated a theory on where the humming bird is going when it flies away. It is taking the sugar water that it drinks from this feeder and going to the back of the house to fill the feeder back there, for I noticed that the feeder back there is lower than this one, and the hummingbird wants them to have equal levels."

You will probably dispute with me on the merits of my theory. You will argue that hummingbirds do not have a compulsive need to make sure that all feeders are kept at the same level, and that furthermore, it doesn't seem likely that the little creature could pump sugar water into the other feeder anyway. I argue, "But, Gentle Reader, my theory makes falsifiable predictions. The hummingbird could not have filled the other feeder yet, so I predict that it will return in just a few seconds."

When my prediction comes true, does this count as any sort of evidence in favor of my theory? Of course not. I noted a pattern in nature and I predicted that the pattern would occur again; such predictions don't require a theory. One doesn't need a theory of motion to predict how a stone will fly when you throw it. One doesn't need a theory of behavior to predict that if you sneak up on a sleeping cat and make a loud noise, it will shoot away almost faster than you can see. The only thing you need to make predictions like this is observation and the ability to recognize patterns in nature.

When a theory is designed to explain or account for a pattern that is already recognized, the fact that it predicts the pattern is no evidence for the theory at all, none, because the theory was created on the assumption that the pattern would continue and any theory created on that assumption would have made the same prediction. Therefore, this prediction cannot be used to distinguish between good theories and bad theories, only between theories that predicted that the pattern would continue and theories that predicted otherwise.

My previous post on the evidence for evolution combined several things that I should have kept separate. In particular, all three of the "predictions" that I discussed fall into this category: that they were simply continuations of a previously known pattern. Technically, I didn't have to add anything in order to show that these predictions are useless as evidence in favor of evolution.

I emphasize that this makes them entirely useless evidence, not merely poor evidence, so arguments to prop them up will not help. Twice as good as zero is still zero. In order to rescue these "predictions" from uselessness, you need to show that the patterns predicted had no part in the creation of the theory that predicts them. If they played any part at all, then they cannot be used as evidence for the theory.

So what was the point of my other objection: that evolution doesn't predict them anyway? This is a bit subtle, and I passed over it too quickly, so let me be more specific. Darwinian theory, taken as a whole, does predict those phenomena. However, the parts of Darwinian theory that predict those phenomena were specifically designed to predict those phenomena so repetition of the pattern does not provide evidence for evolution, a theory designed on the assumption that the patterns would continue to be observed.

In order o get around this, someone might argue that the fundamental core of Darwinian theory, the idea of common descent, was not created with those phenomena in mind. I doubt that this is true, but it doesn't matter anyway unless you can show how the phenomena can be predicted from the core of Darwinian theory alone. In other words, you have to show that in a world with common descent, it is impossible for those three phenomena not to have been observed. Such a proof is (it seems obvious) impossible, so you are left with a set of three predictions, none of which can logically be used to support the theory of evolution.

Now, there were other predictions in that same chapter, predictions of phenomena that probably were not observed before Darwin constructed his theory. These involve extensions of parahomology, analogy, and suboptimality to the molecular level. It isn't obvious to me that people observing these phenomena at the macroscopic level would expect the patterns to continue at the molecular level, so these are arguably better predictions.

My case against these predictions is slightly different. I don't know the actual history of when these molecular phenomena were predicted and when they were observed, but the core of Darwinian theory does not predict these things, so I predict that they were observed first, and then were explained post hoc in the same way that the macroscopic phenomena were explained. If it turns out that they were predicted first, then I'd still say that the theory itself does not predict it so this was just a perceptive extension from the macroscopic to the microscopic of the sort that could have been done just as easily based on the patterns alone, with no theory, so it still does not confirm the theory.

In other words, Chapter 3 of the FAQ contains no evidence in favor of Darwinian theory at all.


I forgot to mention the latest Storyblogging Carnival...