A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Friday, October 28, 2005

Dogs and Cats Living Together

There’s unexpected, and then there’s unexpected. It’s one thing for the Devil to, say, allow an occasional cool breeze … but it’s quite another for him to actually distribute sno-cones to the damned. No less shocking than Satan handing out frozen treats is a sane, reasoned editorial from the WaPo about Iran.

It’s like Condi Rice showed up and dashed an editor with a bucket of ice water, rousing him from his liberal stupor long enough to write something other than an anti-Bush screed.

Money quote:

"But the crudeness of Mr. Ahmadinejad, and his already evident failure to deliver on his populist promises to raise Iranian living standards, ought to open the way to a different approach. Unlike their president, most young Iranians would like to live in a prosperous and democratic society that enjoys good relations with the West. The West should stand up for that Iran; it can do so by rejecting and isolating the hateful ideologue who would drag the country in the opposite direction."

Easy there, let me get you a chair. The cognitive dissonance created by reading something like that and knowing it came from the WaPo can cause extreme disorientation and dizziness. The piece even criticizes Europe’s appeasement-oriented approach to Iran and alludes to the idea that Israel and the Bush Administration may have been right all along.

Here, breathe into this paper bag.

Unlike the WaPo editorial, Ahmadinejad’s stance comes as absolutely no surprise to me; I have long argued that Iran is the real powder keg of central Asia. The government is a noxious mixture of religious fundamentalism and police-state politics, and all real power is concentrated in an unelected judiciary of rapacious theocrats. There are many states that exhibit one of these ills (or something quite similar), but none are as simultaneously repressive, dysfunctional, and belligerent as Iran. Even Saudi Arabia, with its reactionary monarchy and religious fundamentalism, understands the value of sane diplomacy and good relations with the west.

In Iran, genocide is not merely the desire of an Islamofascist minority. It is state policy. The greatest danger from Saddam was that he would sell nuclear technology to terrorists; the Iranians will use that technology themselves, as a matter of course. The danger is just as real and ten times more direct.

Unless there is a near-miraculous, pro-western revolution inside Iran sometime soon, I fear war is inevitable. Either the Iranians will try to make good on their threat to “wipe Israel off the map”, or the Israelis will tire of sitting on their thumbs while Ahmadinejad plots to vaporize Tel Aviv. I hope that the democratization of Iraq will spread to Iran, as it is already starting to do to most other nations in the Middle East. But I’m not counting on it.

Democratic influence, no matter how honest and pervasive, might well be futile in the face of such well-entrenched hatred and lunacy.



Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Two months away from Blogging, and I have to follow hot chicks in revealing Costumes

Ain't no way I can follow that. Best I can do is mention porn in here, but if you're looking for smokin' ladies, scroll down to the last post.

I can say "ain't" now because I live in the South again. South Carolina to specify. Spent the last two months moving, living in a hotel, buying a house and finally, FINALLY getting internet hooked up in said house.

Gotta say, it's been great not having interet. Well, except for the dearth of porn. Read a couple books. Got into a workout routine again. Traveled! Up to Virginia a couple times. Down to Savannah a couple of times. Over to Road Atlanta to watch my Uncle Larry and Cousin Cindy race vintage race cars. (bug-eye Sprite & Astin Mini if you're wondering.) I didn't miss reading news. I missed my blog reading a bit, but the bickering had gotten old, the jokes a little stale. Missed being able to email without worrying that work was monitoring some of my less delicate moments. In the end of course, the Porn Must Flow, so here I am, online and easy-news enabled.

What do I find in the first news story I click on at home? Well of course, a story about Bush getting blamed for another natural disaster.

Now, call me crazy (crazy - ed.)but I happen to agree with Gov. Bush when he states:

"People had ample time to prepare. It isn't that hard to get 72 hours worth of food and water," said Bush, repeating the advice that officials had given days before Wilma hit.

In the real world (as viewed through the hip shades of the media,) Ms. Shaw's three hours of procrastination induced headache certainly trumps 72 hours of warnings:

"This is like the Third World," said Claudia Shaw, who spent several hours in a gas line. "We live in a state where we suffer from these storms every year. Where is the planning?"

Yeah. Just like those Ethiopians we are, eh Ms. Shaw? Why, if I had a nickel for every Ethiopian that had to wait 3 hours to fill his Honda... well I still wouldn't be able to pay a meter. So I'd probably find a non-metered site and walk an extra block or two to the watering hole. Not that I'm laughing. Much.

I did have to laugh at what the press deemed superlative efforts by individuals affected by the storm, with tales of such heroism as these two gems:

Storm-savvy Floridians resorted to their ingenuity. At one Wal-Mart, 30 people sat on the sidewalk while they used the store's outside electrical outlets to recharge their cell phones.

Yeah! A nod to the Noble Savage(tm) philosophy with a contemporary flair on the "hunter-gatherer" concept. AND sticking it to the man by stealing his electricity. These guys are the new cool.

At one gas station, a man went car-to-car selling fuel from a 10-gallon plastic tank. The price was $20 for about a gallon, and people happily paid.

I gotta know... exactly what do you need a gallon of gasoline so damned bad for that you're willing to pay 20 bucks for it? Wow. 20 bucks for what, 30 miles if you're lucky? With 20 bucks I could pay the cover and have a close encounter with 10 hot women. That's 20 nekkid breastseses for those who keep count. Hell, with 20 bucks and a 72 hour headstart, I could have bought that gallon of gas, a case of beer, a roll of paper towels and a bottle of aspirin. There's worlds of possiblities in that Andrew Jackson my friends. With a little personal responsibility and imagination, you could have spent that three hours you blew in line watching other people freak out while you sit back and mellow out.

In the end however, Gov Bush takes responsibility when none else will. Just how often do you see a local politician say something like this:

"Don't blame FEMA. This is our responsibility," Bush said at a news conference in Tallahassee with federal Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who oversees the agency.

Nice try Governor, but it ain't gonna work. We all know it's your brother's fault.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ten Photos from DragonCon

Yes, this is late. DragonCon was almost two months ago and I’m just now getting the photo essay posted. I offer two weak excuses: I was waiting for the various picture-takers in our group to send me more photos, and I hate working with Bloggerbot™ (Bloggerbot™ is the tool that Blogger™ uses to post pictures). Johnathan and Tim told me that I now have all of their best shots, and Reannan (who you can see in last year’s photo essay here) recently let me know that it will still be awhile before I get hers. So, onward we forge with what we have.

DragonCon took place the weekend after Katrina hit the New Orleans-Biloxi-Mobile area, and had over 20,000 attendees this year. Stationed in the main concourse of the Marriot – which is as central as anything gets at Con – was a “Red Cross Trooper” from the 501st Legion. They managed to collect thousands of dollars for hurricane relief, all of which went directly to the Red Cross. Well done, folks.

Just as you enter the Hyatt from the smoking deck – almost certainly the busiest mingling spot at DragonCon – The Cruxshadows always have their music and merchandise on display. Said display comes complete with their latest CD playing at full volume; I never feel like I’ve really arrived at Con until I’m hit with a blast of darkwave while climbing the stairs towards the Hyatt. My buddy Tim is posed here with two of them, though I’m not sure if those are musicians or dancers (The Cruxshadows have both … and either way, yum).

Another shot of The Cruxshadows girls. These outfits are amazing, though I find the wire hoop-skirt things to be a bit unnecessary and distracting. But the overall look is really hot, so the photo is presented here for all of you fine readers to appreciate (those of you not sophisticated enough to appreciate may merely ogle).

Space Ghost! Space Ghost! I’m in a picture with Space Ghost! That’s me up front; my buddy Todd is in back.

Unlike kids today, Space Ghost is not Coast-to-Coast for me. In fact, he has nothing to do with Cartoon Network at all. Space Ghost was a Saturday morning cartoon when I was a kid, to be watched – along with The Herculoids and Thundar the Barbarian – while munching sugary cereal and waiting for Creature Feature to start at noon. Space Ghost rocks.

We met Jewel Staite and Paul McGillion at the Hyatt Bar on Friday night. Jewel plays Kaylie Frye in Joss Whedon’s Firefly television series and its film spin-off, Serenity (recently blogged about by yours truly here and here). Paul is Dr. Carson Beckett on Stargate: Atlantis. On the far left is Jewel’s husband, a hell of a nice guy who insisted on splitting the bar tab with me … and after I saw it I was glad he did. Next to him is Tim. Notice the formula here: If cute chick in picture, then Tim.

Saturday night we went out to Hard Rock Café for dinner. It sucked. It was way too loud – and this is coming from someone who loves loud music – and the food was just awful. I think this was the last time we were all together at the con; after Saturday dinner I hung out with the lovely Reannan for pretty much the rest of the weekend. Greg and Tim played some LARPs, Johnathan went to panel discussions, and Todd shopped and went to The Cruxshadows shows.

Anyway, note to con goers: Skip Hard Rock in 2006. There’s a Roadhouse right across the street and a Steak & Ale about a block away.

Before I went to DragonCon for the first time I had no idea what Dawn was. Reannan explained to me at some point that it was a comic with a huge cult following; up till then I was pretty baffled by all the redheads in lingerie toting swords around. And that’s what I find most impressive about the whole Dawn thing: The costumes. I mean these women go all out. There are so many – and they are so well done – that DragonCon has a separate costume contest just for them. The other 5,000 or so people who dress up all have to compete in the general contest. Chumps.

An awesome Stewie Griffin costume. I have no trouble admitting to being a fan of Family Guy; like The Simpsons, it’s low-brow humor that is nonetheless much smarter and more relevant than anything the ivory tower elites are writing. A lot of work went into that headpiece, you can bet.

Okay, you need to open up your perceptions here just a bit. What is in this photo? Look closely, and intuit what the combination of images means.

Those, my friends, are Pimpaloompas. Simply brilliant.

Finally, we have Tim with (once again) a pretty girl. I think her costume might actually be another of the Dawns; maybe she just didn’t have the time or patience for the "left eye tears" makeup. Regardless, she’s hot and she has swords, so into the photo essay she goes.

That’s it for this year, kids. Next year I’m going to bring my own camera and make sure to get plenty of my own photos. Relying on others, while it appeals to my general laziness, is unfair and generally nets me fewer pictures for The Zoo. I’ll just have to make it a point to reserve a couple non-drinking hours each day for picture taking at the 2006 Con.

Can’t hardly wait!


Update: I had an e-mail from Reannan waiting for me this morning. It seems I have committed that penultimate geek faux pas ... misidentifying sexy animated women. The costumed lass in the 10th DragonCon photo is not Dawn; she is dressed as Bloodrayne, Playboy's first animated centerfold (NSFW). My appologies to Dawn, Bloodrayne, the person in the photo, and geekdom in general!


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Meter Maids and Pterodactyls

So the other weekend was my birthday. No, no, don't bother to send presents; I'm perfectly happy with my meager possessions. Anyway, the best presents are the intangibles.

Intangibles like irony.

I met a few friends for drinks to celebrate that weekend, you see. We met up at Palm Pavilion on Clearwater Beach. It is an area that has metered parking during the day, but everyone - everyone - knows that you can park wherever the hell you want after dark. So while we're sitting in the bar, my buddy Ed turns to me and says "Hey, did you put money in the meter?"

"Don't need to, it's dark." I sagely respond.

"Uh-uh, you have to feed the meters now. Seriously."

"Really?" Says I. "Crap. You got any quaters?"

"No." Ed replies, unhelpfully.

"Well, shit. Lemme go get some from the bartender."

At which point Ed and his brother Chris start laughing at me. "We're just messing with you, dude. You don't have to put money in the meters after dark."

"Assholes." I say, laughing with them.

A couple happy, buzzed hours later we wander out to the parking lot. We get in our cars. "Shit!" I hear from a few parking spots over ... just as I notice the ticket on my windshield. Turns out that you do have to feed those damned meters after dark, and the meter maid nailed us both. They even posted a sign announcing the new rules, we just didn't see it.

Sandor and Ed ... and Tickets Posted by Picasa

But I'm willing to pay the $20 to see Ed get bitten in the ass by irony, anyway. Hey, you take your amusement where you can get it (especially when it's at the expense of someone you've known for almost 30 years).

It has also occured to me recently that if I knew a cute girl with a tame pterodactyl, I'd be willing to buy her a fur bikini and a big-ass club.

I Bet They Both Bite Posted by Picasa

I'd take her camping in the Georgia mountains, where we'd attend obscure beer festivals during the day and snuggle up next to a warm campfire at night. I'd drive eight hours each way to do it, too ... at night after work if necessary. And it wouldn't be just for sex, either (though rumor has it that sex with wild pterodactyl-taming women is amazing, especially on Sundays). It'd be because she's funny and smart and awesome, and just getting to spend time with her is worth ten times the drive in ten times the dark.

That's if I knew a cute girl with a tame pterodactyl.

Peace ya'll. Have a deviant weekend.



Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Don't Drop the Soap, Gabe

Longtime readers will know that I’m a big fan of the Penny Arcade web comic; there is a link on my sidebar, after all. Reading that strip every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is something of a treat for me, seeing as I spend most of each work week researching and writing some pretty dry material. After several hours of copywriting dullness, Tycho and Gabe (the avatars of Penny Arcade’s creators, Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik) are always a welcome relief of gaming-related smartassery.

This is not to say that I agree with everything they do or say; from what I hear, Tycho is something of a Chomskyite liberal. Were you to lock he and I together in a room with, say, an adorable puppy, one of us would probably end up beating the other to death with it (I bet the guy in charge of locking-political-opposites-in-rooms-together goes through pallets of puppies that way). But I do agree with him on at least one real-world issue: Jack Thompson is an asshole.

Penny Arcade, 15Oct05 Posted by Picasa

Wikipedia has a huge article on Thompson here. Those interested in such details may go bask in its extraordinary comprehensiveness; for our immediate purposes it is enough to know that the old coot is a censorship advocate of the most extreme sort. Tycho and Gabe have been poking fun at him for months, but a few days ago the confrontation seems to have taken a more serious turn. My understanding of the situation is this: Thompson recently offered to donate $10,000 to charity in the name of anyone who created a game in which the makers of violent video games are themselves the victims. Several enterprising game designers went and did it - gee, never saw that coming - after which Thompson promptly backed out, claiming his offer was "satire". Yesterday Tycho and Gabe went ahead and donated the $10,000 to the ESA Foundation in his name, noting that "Thompson now claims that his repellent suggestion was 'satire', and we must conclude that his financial offer was also satire, some new breed of satire apparently that I'm sure is just hilarious to people in need."

Humiliated, Thompson has now threatened legal action. Apparently he's even faxed the Seattle police department, demanding that the infamous PA duo be arrested. I wonder ... which prison gang do you think is in charge of raping skinny gamers in the shower? Maybe they, you know, take turns.

Penny Arcade, 19Oct05 Posted by Picasa

For the record, I, like Gabe, do not think children should play exceedingly violent or sexual video games. But it is their parent’s job to monitor what they play, not the government’s, and certainly not Jack Thompson’s. Warning labels are fine – they tell parents what is inside without infringing on free speech – but outright censorship is an evil that free societies rightly shun. Even the culturally conservative National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) recently distanced itself from Thompson, issuing an open letter “condemning his use of biased and vitriolic tactics and asking him to refrain from implying that the Institute supports him and his work in any way”.

So there you have it; an interesting tidbit from the culture wars, care of your friends here at The Zoo. Oh, and on a side note: I’ve completely lost interest in EverQuest II … yes, I’m a fickle mushhead (though eight months on the same video game is actually pretty good for me). I’ve pre-ordered Civilization IV, however, which will likely return me to the bosom of turn-based strategy games. I've been longing for that ol' lover of mine anyway.



Wednesday, October 12, 2005

BPCP Update

The Blogosphere Political Compass Project has been updated. Go to the BPCP permalink page for a complete list of participants and links to their sites.

BPCP Chart for September 2005 Posted by Picasa

New to the BPCP in September 2005:

272 Abe of Don't Let Me Stop You (7.6, -1.8)
273 fmragtops of Fmragtops Spews (5.3, 1)
274 Pete of iHillary (4.3, 0.5)
275 The Artist of The Art of the Blog (8.1, 0.3)
276 Tad Babbert of Chronicles of the Knights Simplar (6.5, 0.5)
277 Pamela of Atlas Shrugs (8, -1.2)
278 Tommy of Striving for Average (0.6, -0.4)
279 Everyman of Everyman Chronicles (5, 3.6)
280 Katelyn Sills of Stand Up and Speak Out (1.3, 1.1)

Sorry for getting to this so late, but the first week of October was really busy. Anyway, all caught up now.

Peace, yo. *Flashes gang sign*



Friday, October 07, 2005

Crusade or Introspection?

For me, the only thing more interesting than a conversation about politics or religion is a conversation about politics and religion. Well, thanks to President Bush's haphazard speaking style and the far left's eagerness to label him a crusader, I've got myself a good one here.

An acquaintance from the EverQuest II forums e-mailed me this morning, asking what I thought of this "God told me to invade Iraq" business. Below is my response:

[Opening social plesantries omitted]

As for the recent "quote" by the President, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach. To me, it seems likely that he was misinterpreted by a non-native English speaker (former Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas). President Bush's actual words were "God would tell me ...", which to me indicates he is extrapolating what he believes God would tell him to do, based on his understanding of his own faith. It's a semantic argument, but I think it's an important one (I can firmly say that Carl Sagan would tell me to support the space program, but that doesn't mean I actually hear Dr. Sagan whispering supernatural messages to me). I think it's also important to understand that when a born-again Christian says something along the lines of "God is speaking to me", he probably doesn't mean a literal voice in his head. He most likely means he has prayed about his problem - as a Buddhist might meditate on it, or a scientist apply Occam's Razor - and subsequently come to a decision.

But beyond the "crazy man talking to God" question, there is the idea that, regardless of semantics, the decision to go to war was at least partly based on religion. My first response to this is, of course, that religious wars are an unmitigated evil ... and in this case, precisely antithetical to what we're actually trying to accomplish (establish secular democracy in the Middle East). I once said that I would withdraw my support for the war in Iraq - and for the larger war on terror - if I came to believe it was a religious crusade instead of the strategic, secular reformation of the Muslim world. I stand by that assessment.

However, all of us listen to that little "inner voice" we have, [name omitted]. As agnostics, you and I would probably refer to it as our conscience, or our subconscious. Theists usually call it the voice of God. Either way, it is the same thing: The clear, quiet, thoughtful part of ourselves that we consult when vexed by a troubling moral question. It's the part that knows right from wrong in an absolute sense. It doesn't matter so much what one calls it, only that we dutifully listen to it on occasion. The people who worry me most are those who lack such an inner voice, for what they actually lack is the ability to introspect. That way lies arrogance at best (and sociopathy at worst).

So my position here is this: If President Bush meant that he prayed about going to war, and introspected deeply on the question, then I have no problem with it. I don't care if he calls it "God speaking to him" (on the contrary, that's exactly what I would expect a Christian to call it). However, if he means that he literally believes that God is giving him direct orders to go to war, then I exaggerate not at all when I say the man should be impeached. Personally, I'm pretty sure it's the former, but I guess it could be the latter ... as I said, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach at this point.

[Closing social plesantries omitted]

Now some of you are certainly wondering if I, a pretty darned adamant supporter of the War on Terror since day one, would really do an about-face if I believed it was a religious crusade. The answer is yes, absolutely. It doesn't matter that I believe the cause is just; the ends cannot justify the means, especially not in something as deadly as war. In fact, if this war is a crusade then President Bush and I are not looking for the same ends at all; I have no desire to convert the Middle East. On the contrary, my goal is to see secular democracy do to Islam what it did to Christianity during the 18th and 19th Centuries: Strip it of its temporal power and remove its influence on government.

As I stated in my response, I'm waiting to see how this one develops. My suspicion is that the President's statements were 1) misunderstood by the Palestinian envoys, and 2) seized upon for political gain by the leftist media. I'm keeping an open mind here ... the liberals will jump to enough conclusions for all of us.

More to come, almost certainly.