Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

I got an email from the University the other day, informing me that NU would be participating in Earth Hour, asking students and businesses to voluntarily turn off their lights in an effort to raise awareness about global warming and reduce energy consumption.

I'm afraid I don't really know what to make of it. I'm more or less completely ignorant on climate science, but my understanding is that there's strong evidence for anthropogenic global warming, and I'm willing to buy that. I think it's astonishing how intertwined the whole issue of trying to determine an answer scientifically has become with politics, something which both the left and right are guilty of. But that's not really an issue here, as it's voluntary and I really can't think of any political reason to care if someone wants to turn their lights out.

My issues, I guess, are with the overall "awareness" jive that gets thrown around in the form of wristbands, magnetic ribbon stickers and hour long voluntary black-outs. It seems like a cop-out to me. If you're actually concerned about global warming enough to make a change in your life to minimize any actual anthropogenic effect that does exist, it seems like it's a token gesture to turn out your lights for an hour on a specific day at a specific time. Most of the website seems to be suggesting the same "turn off the lights when you're not in the room/buy compact fluorescent bulbs" that usually get suggested (and which actually make sense even if you reject climate change science, because it's often cheaper), but organizing cities around the world to turn off their lights at a specific time, all at once, strikes me as something designed to make people feel like they're actually doing good without actually doing anything. It reminds me of those gas boycotts that get passed around every once in a while that completely misunderstand the concept of a boycott and the concept of how supply and demand work (if you get a million people to not buy gas on Day X with the intent of forcing oil companies to bring down prices, it accomplishes nothing unless you get them to do it on Day Y, then Day Z and so on. Merely shifting when you buy gas does absolutely nothing, but unfortunately, cutting back on the amount of gas you do use, which would cause the gas companies to drop their prices, actually takes a bit of effort. It seems like the only people that are going to notice that Earth Hour is happening are either people who are participating (and are, hence, already aware of global warming) and people who get emails about it, like me (who are also aware of the awareness campaign) and so I'm not sure among whom this is supposed to be raising awareness.

My other problem is with the timing of it. Apparently, Chicago has been selected as the US "Flagship City", whatever that means. Fine and dandy, and I understand that the organizers are Australian, but this isn't exactly the best time of year to be turning off all the lights at 8pm local time. It's not only completely dark by then (still, because winter will never end) but it's also below 30 degrees C (also, because winter will never end), which minimizes the possibilities for going outside and playing softball instead of playing on the computer. I'm sure it was an effort to pick a time when both the Northern and Southern hemispheres would have moderate weather, but I still think you don't pin "moderate weather" on Chicago. At all. Ever. So, because staying inside a completely darkened house isn't an option and playing by the lake isn't an option, I guess the suggestion would be to hang out in stores which aren't participating, which still reduces the total amount of energy used (because the store's lights would be on anyway) but which feels like it cheapens the thing. Also, you have to spend energy getting to the store that you wouldn't otherwise, so yeah. I'm not sold on Earth Hour.

I guess where I come down on this is that I'm not going to do it (though I'll probably be on the train during that hour anyway) and while I understand the goal, I'm not sure it'll actually accomplish very much in the way of raising awareness among people who, I guess, had never heard of the Global Warming controversy before and think it seems a bit too much like a way to pretend to be doing something while not suffering the inconvenience of actually doing something. If you're worried about global warming, get some light bulbs that use less energy and ride a bike once in a while. Better yet, support nuclear power. Nuclear's gotten a bad rap since Chernobyl* and Three Mile Island**, but it's 30 years later (22 years in the case of Chernobyl) and nuclear plants are safer by orders of magnitude. They're cheaper than they were, they're much cleaner than coal-burning plants (which actually put out more radiation than uranium plants because of radon), which does result in dangerous waste, but the fission products that are actually harmful have relatively short half-lives and are all but gone within 50 years, which we know how to store, and which we can recycle into more power production. The fact that France derives 80% of its power from nuclear plants while we get 20% should say something. It's time to look past the hysterical nonsense and, if pollution and global warming are actually a problem, fix it by switching to nuclear rather than building more and more fossil fuel plants.

*Very bad times, but they really had to try to get it to be as bad as it was, by which I mean that if you're running a nuclear power plant in a corrupt nation which is in bad shape to begin with, you might not want to run unnecessary, dangerous tests while not looking at the status of the reactor, ignoring what the previous shift had done that makes your test a phenominally bad idea, while running everything with a skeleton crew of people who weren't trained to deal with what you were trying to make them do.

**Yeah, partial meltdowns are bad times, but the safeties successfully contained what could have been a terrible disaster, the technicians were able to fix the problem in spite of the fact that they were given incorrect information, that was found to have resulted in zero deaths and which resulted in the equivalent of a chest X-ray's worth of radiation for those who were exposed to radiation from Three Mile Island. It was a successfully prevented disaster, but groups who rail against nuclear power for whatever reason seem to always leave off those first two adverbs.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Back to the Kingdom

If you haven't noticed, I tend to do things for a while, then get bored and give up on them, which is why it's somewhat amazing that I'm still sticking with science as a career and haven't run off to become a juggler. It would be even more amazing if I could actually juggle.

I've recently created yet another Kingdom of Loathing account, which is my third one, I believe, my past two being eaten by the thing that deletes your account when you're inactive for, in my case, three years. For those of you that haven't played, it's a whimsical little turn-based MMORPG that I found out about through one of Lore Sjöberg's old projects, Little Fluffy. I've never really gotten into the whole "become obsessed with it" thing and tend to just treat it as though other people don't exist, but that's fine and dandy and the worst that will happen is that it'll take me longer to defeat the Naughty Sorceress than it would otherwise. I'm fine with this.

Also, for those of you who have no ability to control how much time you spend on things, whether it's RPGs or making cotton candy or looking at carpet swatches, you only get 40 turns per day, and while they roll over, you can only ever have 200 turns saved up. So it's nice for not playing with for a while, then playing with intensely for like half an hour, then forgetting about for a week.

If you happen to play, find "murphspot" and then send me all your meat. I'm a seal clubber this time through (having previously been an accordion thief and a sauceror) and could use some help with all of this nonsense.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mascot Bracket, Final Four and Championship

South Alabama Jaguars vs. Cal State Fullerton Titans

This isn't even fair. I suppose my problem of having too many big cats has been minimized, and it seems anticlimactic that the final cat should be destroyed by a mythological creature. There isn't any way around it though. Titans would beat jaguars in a fight to the death. Can Titans die? We'll have to find out in the Championship Game.

Cal State Fullerton wins it.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Xavier Musketeers

While Spartans no doubt had phenominal abdominal muscles and some guy who walked around with one eye narrating things in an awesome voice, as well as mighty squarish beards, they'd be no match for someone trained in the modern(ish) art of fighting. Or someone who could injure them from twenty yards away.

Xavier moves on to the final game.

Championship Game
Cal State Fullerton Titans vs. Xavier Musketeers

A lot of thought had to go into this final matchup. After all, both of these teams had to battle through long series of increasingly difficult opposition, facing all sorts of eagles and bulldogs and cats and whatnot just to get a crack at each other, at long last. Both teams surely have great mascots which have proved themselves throughout this nonsense. Both schools should be proud that they either have a human mascot with weapons or a giant precursor to the Olympian gods. Surely, any match to the death between the two would be devastating, and a great deal of analysis must be put toward attempting to comprehend the situation and assess who stands the greater chance of emerging as the victor. Only one may be left standing. And so it is only after much deliberation that I must announce that the winner of this year's Murphspot Mascot Nonsense Bracket is

Xavier Musketeers

Musketeers, you see, actually existed.

Mascot Bracket, Elite Eight

Washington State Cougars vs. South Alabama Jaguars

See, this is what I was afraid of. Two huge, fierce cats that I know nothing about meeting up in the final match for this regional. I could violate my premise and everything I stand for and consider that Washington State is ranked higher, or that South Alabama had a 26-6 record to Washington State's 24-8. Or I could go with the fact that jaguars have cool spots, which probably helps them in some sort of camouflage-y way. Yeah. We'll go with that.

South Alabama moves to the Final Four

UNLV Runnin' Rebels vs. Cal State Fullerton Titans

It may be that the Runnin' Rebel's mustache has finally run out of victory. Sure, he's a beast of a man, but Titans weren't overpowered by much other than the Olympians, and besides, Titan's pretty solid, as far as satellites of Saturn go. This one's going to have to go to Cal State Fullerton.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Stanford Cardinal

Which wins? The warrior society or the eternal tree? Considering that the Spartans are the first opponent that Stanford has encountered that I'm aware of that would have been able to build things out of wood, I'm going to presume they know how to chop down a tree as well. Michigan State makes it to the Final Four.

San Diego Toreros vs. Xavier Musketeers

And again, with the human-on-human matchup. I think, once again, I'm going to have to go with the superior weaponry, the proclivity to oppose Cardinal Richelieu, and the fact that I've met people who use muskets, while I've never met a Torero. Xavier fills out the Final Four.

Mascot Bracket, Sweet Sixteen

University of North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Washington State Cougars

I've been pretty positive toward the residents of the home of the first English colony of the Americas. They're fantastic people. George Clinton is a North Carolinian. So are Squirrel Nut Zippers and Reginald VelJohnson. Then again, Clay Aiken and Gallagher are from NC, so that's got to be points off. I think it just comes down to whether you'd go with a cougar winning a match with this guy.

This is Sunday Morning, and I've just had an arm torn off.

I'm going with the cougar. Washington State wins.

Boise State Broncos vs. South Alabama Jaguars

My complete ignorance of animals is starting to become a problem. It feels sort of cheap to keep giving the win to the big fierce cat, even though I'm pretty sure a jaguar wins a fight with a horse. I'll make myself feel better by arguing the same outcome, but on the basis that Jacksonville made the playoffs last year, while Denver didn't.

South Alabama wins.

UNLV Runnin' Rebels vs. Clemson Tigers

I might be tempted to say that I don't see a gun actually on the mascot of the Runnin' Rebels and that a tiger would win a fistfight, but another look at all of that fringe, that enormous belt buckle and the fact that while I'm writing this, I'm watching The Outlaw Josey Wales, I'm going to have to go ahead and assume he's got a gun and could take down a tiger. Is this the most scientific approach? No, but neither is picking who's going to win a basketball game based on their mascot. So screw you.

UNLV makes it.

Cal State Fullerton Titans vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Well, once again, let's see. Giant mythological creature or puny little dog with an underbite? Something so powerful it has to be trapped by the gods, or something that can be contained with a few strategically placed chairs? Which would you take? Number 14 Cal State Fullerton's going to advance to the Elite Eight.

Memphis Tigers vs. Michigan State Spartans

Well, I just argued that the Spartans are going to be able to take down large cats, because I saw it once in a movie. That's the kind of indisputable logic I thrive upon, and I'm not about to turn my back upon that kind of well-considered analysis now. Spartans take out the Tigers.

Michigan state advances.

Stanford Cardinal vs. Miami Hurricanes

I was worried when I got to this bracket earlier that both of these would be invincible, because I argued for the age-less quality of one and the sheer force of another. Here they meet, however, and I'm going with Stanford. Hurricanes come and go, societies rebuild, but trees seem to do pretty well. Do some trees get blown down in storms? Sure. But perhaps not this one.

Stanford moves on.

UCLA Bruins vs. San Diego Toreros

Am I a bit of a specist that I'm usually picking the human mascot over the animal on the basis of greater ingenuity/weaponry? Possibly, but those swords are really sharp and look at the end of these banderillas.

Note. Do not Google Image Search "banderillas". Just. No.

San Diego moves on to the next round.

Xavier Musketeers vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

I would like to come out here and take some pride in my brothers to the west, but I'm sorry, West Virginians. Not even Robert Byrd can save you from this one. I'm going to have to go with the guys with the moustaches and weapons and names like "D'Artagnan" rather than names like "Wayne".

Xavier finishes out the Elite Eight.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mascot Bracket, Round Two, South/West

Memphis Tigers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs

I think we're going to see a bit of a Tiger bottleneck coming up rather soon. Especially if we're tossing smallish, stubby dogs into the tiger cage. But my hands are tied by the rules of the mascot bracket that I'm making up as I go along. Memphis advances.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Pittsburgh Panthers

Most of what I know about the culture of Sparta comes from 300, which is something that I'm currently totally fine with. There may come a time in my life where I want to learn more about the Spartans and their encounters with eight-foot tall androgynous god-king Paulo-from-Lost-s, but for now, that suffices. And as much as I want to fix this so that Pittsburgh wins it, I can recall a young Leonidas killing some kind of wolf-or-such with a pointy stick, so I'm going to have to give this to Michigan State.

Kentucky Wildcats vs. Stanford Cardinal

Ignoring once again that the Tree is unofficial, this one's still going to have to go to Stanford. Sure, wildcats are feral and vicious and have scratchy claws and could probably do some damage to the bark of the tree, but if the cat dares to climb up into the tree, we've got to call the fire department to get it down.

Stanford advances.

Miami Hurricanes vs. Texas Longhorns

I want to say that the Longhorns would look at the storm stoically and press on in the face of adversity, but doing a google image search for "tornado cow" doesn't bring up good images, and they seem to be tossed around a lot in hurricanes, or confined to trailers in an attempt to get them out. The Hurricanes are going to win this matchup.

Miami Advances.

UCLA Bruins vs. Brigham Young University Cougars

Here's the kind of matchup I was hoping for when I started this. Bears, in my mind and because I know nothing about them, seem big and full of brute force. Perhaps quick on occasion and protective of cubs, but more on the "fat guy" side of things if we're taking all fights to be an analogy of the three character choices in Ice Hockey on the NES. Cougars are quick and claw-y and with the biting your jugular. So I'm not sure whether I want to go for guile or brute force. I think what it comes down to is that Bears sleep for a good chunk of the year, and so do I, and so they win.

UCLA advances.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. San Diego Toreros

I really, really want that goofy, happy, skipping guy with the floppy mouth to win this one. I really, really do. Unfortunately, that Torero's still got the banderillas and the sword and the ingenuity and he's not some big red blob.

San Diego advances.

Purdue Boilermakers vs. Xavier Musketeers

You probably think I'm going to hand another one to the Train, don't you? Because it's big and strong and if the musketeer were tied to the track, he'd be dead. And you'd be right. But he's not tied to the track, and even though his musket is going to be useless against a steam engine, I'm going to have to go with the musketeer being resourceful enough to board the train and figure out how to stop it.

Xavier moves on.

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Belmont Bears

One-on-one in a naked brawl, I'm going to take the bear every time. But as that wasn't the rule I set out at the beginning and I'm making this up as I go, I'm going to go with the Mountaineers, simply because I've been to West Virginia and I've seen bear traps, and I'm pretty sure a mountaineer could figure out a way to kill a bear, at least by the weird, creepy, animal-carpet industry's existence.

West Virginia makes it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mascot Bracket, Round Two, East/Midwest

Mascot Bracket, Round Two East/Midwest

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

That's still a fierce looking pig, and the bit about razorbacks being able to kill humans still has me a bit concerned about them, but I think overall, the guile of inhabitants of North Carolina and their magical ram-controlling powers have to win out here. I'm not terribly sure, but I think I've had barbeque in North Carolina, and if so, it appears they know how to handle pigs. Plus, I'd like "magical ram powers" to continue a bit further in the tournament.

North Carolina advances.

George Mason Patriots vs. Washington State Cougars

All the freedom-fighting in the world isn't going to help you when a cougar's biting your neck off. I have it from a good authority that Roy Horn was incredibly patriotic, and look what happened to him. Cougars care not about your ideals and a new form of government. They care only about their dinner. Oh, and the age disparity in sexual relationships. They care about that too.

Washington State moves on.

St. Joseph's Hawks vs. Boise State Broncos

Again with the bird/horse matchup. Hawks are more dangerous, in my experience (which is zero) than cardinals, but I just really can't think of a way a bird is going to kill a horse. Please feel free to write in your suggestions in the comments. So, for now at least, Boise State soldiers on.

South Alabama Jaguars vs. Tennessee Volunteers

There's a lot of "humans getting their faces eaten by large cats" in the second round so far, but there's really no other way around that. Volunteers have a sense of accomplishment and grateful elderly women who now have a new roof and, perhaps, a circular saw. Jaguars devour you. South Alabama wins.

Portland State Vikings vs. University of Nevada-Las Vegas Runnin' Rebels

Finally, a matchup that's actually human-on-human. This one's tough. As mentioned previously, the Vikings have that whole "fighting for honor/dying/going to Valhalla" thing going, but look at this dude.

You can tell he's a badass because he's not afraid to cover every square inch of seam with frill. And what a 'stache.

Added to the fact that they at one time used a sort of slack-jawed wolf

Is Disney getting residuals from this?

I'm going to have to go with UNLV.

Clemson Tigers vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

Scene: It's the early eighteenth-century, and the United Kingdom is in the process of gaining political control over the Indian subcontinent. Recently given the rank of Commodore along with a squadron, Commodore Fredericks converses with Commander Insertwhiteguyname.

Fredericks: I say, it is a glorious day as we expand our empire.

Insertwhiteguyname: My word, Commodore, what is that approaching us with great speed?

Fredericks: Oh, Insertwhiteguyname, that is merely one of the Great Cats native to this area. I believe they are called tigers.

Insertwhiteguyname: Are they dangerous, Commodore?

Fredericks: I don't think so. They're relatively ta-AAAUUUGH.

Insertwhiteguyname: Oh dear. I believe I shall have some stereotypical British food and then stereotype stereotype.

Clemson advances.

University of Southern California Trojans vs. California State University-Fullerton Titans

I gave the USC Orlando Blooms a pass in the last round, but not here. I'm sure there's some sort of "Titan" condom joke I could run with here, but I won't. I'm going to have to take the giant mythological creatures over people who brought a giant enemy-containing horse into their walls because they thought hey, surely the opposition just up and left.

Cal State Fullerton advances.

Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Georgetown Hoyas

I'm giving this one to Gonzaga just because bulldogs actually exist, as opposed to "what" in Greek or, alternately, pretty tropical flowers. I've seen what bulldogs do to flowers. It's not pretty.

Round Two South/West when I feel like it.

Mascot Bracket, Round One West

UCLA Bruins vs. Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils

This one seems like it would be easy. Bears should probably lose to the Prince of Darkness. There are, however, two drawbacks to the Delta Devils. First of all, their name reminds me of Delta Burke, which makes me sad. But more importantly than that is the actual depiction of the Delta Devil.


I'm not one to criticize, but I'm just not threatened by this green-skull-cap wearing Lord of the Underworld. Sure, he apparently controls fire, but that just reminds me of Pyro, which reminds me of X-Men: The Last Stand, which makes me weep. I have no doubt in my mind that a brown bear could take this guy in a fight. UCLA it is.

Brigham Young University Cougars vs. Texas A&M Aggies

I haven't met any students of an agricultural/mechanical school, and so cannot testify to the ferocity of Aggies. I'm sure they're more fierce than I am and wish them nothing but the best. However, put one of them in a cage with Felis Concolor and I'm guessing all of education in the world isn't going to stop the cougar from ripping his face off. BYU comes away with the win.

Drake University Bulldogs vs. Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers

I've already expressed my skepticism for the ferocity of bulldogs. I was worried that I was going to have to give yet another one to the bulldogs, because what the hell is a Hilltopper? Even their logo is some guy waving what appears to be a scarf. However, Wikipedia informs me that "Hilltopper" is a name for a horse that is used in fox hunting, and both because I can't figure out how a bulldog would go about killing a horse and a general superiority of the horse over the Canidae family implied by the fox hunting, this one's going to Western Kentucky. Plus, this picture made me inexplicably happy.


University of Connecticut Huskies vs. San Diego Toreros

Huskies are pretty solid dogs. They've got the pulling-a-sled-through-adverse-weather thing, though that's probably forced upon them and not their natural behavior, and the heterochromia thing is another point in their favor. Toreros, however, have lances and pointy sticks and swords. Sorry, Balko. This one goes to San Diego.

Purdue Boilermakers vs. Baylor Bears

There are a few mascots that are tough to see going down. Tigers are going to eat pretty much everything, as are bears. Bears, from what I understand through the experience of Timothy Treadwell, if you constantly mess with bears, ignore all safety precautions and anthropomorphize them to an absurd degree because you have no grasp on reality, they will eat you whole. It's hard to think of what could kill a bear.

Until you get to a train, which just runs it the hell over. Purdue wins.

Xavier Musketeers vs. Georgia Bulldogs

Thinking about it now that I'm almost done with the first round, I kind of think I should have painted bulldogs as incredibly fierce and tough in a fight, because it seems like at this point I could have had the entire Elite Eight be bulldogs. This one, however, is no contest. I don't even to have to suppose what kind of weaponry the Bulldogs' opponent have. They have muskets. Muskets beat dogs. Xavier with the win.

West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Arizona Wildcats

I grew up about an hour from West Virginia and am not going to make a joke about the residents thereof, because everyone I've known from WV has been fantastic and, besides, it's not as though I'm separated that far from them geographically. Still, I think any given mountain man from West Virginia could not only take a feral cat in a fight, but could skin it, eat it and make a nice hat out of it. West Virginia wins.

Duke Blue Devils vs. Belmont Bruins

Again with the not-very-threatening Devil depictions. The Duke Blue Devil looks more like a Batman villain than anything else, and I think I'd trust a bear to beat the tar out of him. Is this influenced by an attempt to appeal to Fark? Yes. But no one ever said a mascot bracket that has no relation to reality had to have integrity. Plus, Belmont Avenue is good times. Belmont wins.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mascot Bracket, Round One South

Memphis Tigers vs. University of Texas at Arlington Mavericks

I could go with a political bent here, given John McCain's status as a maverick, but I don't think a matchup between a 71 year old man and a tiger is going to be anywhere near fair. Instead, I will go with Tom Cruise, who played Maverick in Top Gun. The tiger's still going to rip him to shreds, but he stands a fighting chance by being younger and certifiably insane. Plus, it's more satisfying to have Tom Cruise ripped to pieces by Tigers.

Tom Cruise's crotch agrees. Also, what the hell is this picture?

Memphis wins.

Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Oregon Ducks

I'd like to knock the Bulldogs down a peg, since I have identical mascots winning two games in the Midwest, but I really just can't. It's a duck. You lock an irritated bulldog and a duck in a cage and see what happens. Actually, don't, because that would be cruelty and I don't want to be held liable.

Mississippi State takes it.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Temple Owls

I was hoping for a bit of a matchup here. Last year, I had Michigan State going pretty far in my mascot bracket because 300 had just come out, and so I was hoping to knock them off early this year, if, for example, they were up against some team whose mascot was a tank. Unfortunately, Temple couldn't pull through and gives me owls. Sure, they've got the head-rotation thing, but ultimately, it's just no contest.

Michigan State wins.

University of Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles

I hate to seem like a homer here (full disclosure: I do have a Pitt hat laying around somewhere), but in a matchup between some more goddamn eagles and huge cats that tear you apart, I'm going to have to go with the huge cats who tear you apart. Plus, taking the Panthers to be somehow affiliated with the Pink Panther, I'm going to have to say that I just like Peter Sellers more than I like Oral Roberts.

Marquette Golden Eagles vs. Kentucky Wildcats

I'm so over both of these mascots it's not even funny. That said, while the Wildcats and Golden Eagles both look kind of fierce, I'm going to have to cite Tweety v. Sylvester. Now, I could go the obvious route, that Tweety inevitably outsmarts Sylvester and so should win, but if you remove the Bulldog that's hanging around from consideration and get rid of Granny, Sylvester wins a deathmatch one-on-one. Plus, Tweety's incredibly annoying. Kentucky it is.

Stanford Cardinal vs. Cornell Big Red

Who the hell came up with this matchup? What am I, the blogger who's making a mockery of the whole bracket procedure by putting up picks based on team name/mascot supposed to do when it's two different shades of red going at it? Cornell does have an unofficial bear hanging about, while Stanford hase unofficial Stanford Tree. I might tend toward the Bear as far as sheer force, but in a match to the death, I'm going to have to go with the Tree out of sheer stamina.


Miami Hurricanes vs. St. Mary's Gaels

In trying to find out a bit more about the Gaels, I ran into basically every news outlet doing a gael/gale/hurricane pun, so I'll not do one here. Again, you'd think I'd go with the Gaels just because my name's Murphy and it's March 17th, but you'd be wrong. A single Gael trying to fight off Katrina would not have changed anything, so this one's going to have to go to Miami.

University of Texas Longhorns vs. Austin Peay State University Governors

There's an Eliot Spitzer joke here, but it seems kind of hacky, so I'm not going to do it, though I hope to get credit for the mention. I imagine that if we took any given Governor and put him or her in a cage with this

the Governor's not the one that's coming out of it. Enforcement of laws doesn't help you when you've been gouged. Texas wins.

Mascot Bracket, Round One Midwest

Kansas Jayhawks vs. Portland State Vikings

This one seems no contest. We have yet another bird going up against a big horn-wearing adventurer whose culture is centered around crushing you, Odin and flaming ships. Portland State in an unprecidented upset.

UNLV Running Rebels vs. Kent State Golden Flashes

The mascot for the Golden Flashes appears to be some manner of bird, which already is enough to send me into a fit. It's somewhat fierce looking and "Golden Flashes" is kind of sweet for a meaningless name, except that it sounds like a sex act I don't want to know about. I'm going to presume they went with that because their zoological prowess is impaired by the nearby Akron Zoo, which is the saddest damn place I've ever been. Running Rebels, on the other hand, remind me of Oi! bands from the eighties and definitely have guns. UNLV takes it.

Clemson Tigers vs. Villanova Wildcats

Hey there. Finally, a matchup that not only doesn't involve birds, it's actually kind of interesting. Which wins? The tiger, obviously. Apparently, wildcats are kind of puny, and even if you go with Wildcat as a superhero, he's apparently stuck using slang from the 1950's and pissing off Power Girl.
There's such a thing as tact, dude.

Clemson it is, then.

Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Siena Saints

Saints aren't exactly known for their fighting prowess, while commodores are at least military. I imagine the saints are going to turn the other cheek in a deathmatch and wait for their reward in the afterlife. Which is all fine and good, but doesn't move you along in this bracket. Vanderbilt wins it.

USC Trojans vs. Kansas State Wildcats

I've already established that wildcats are kind of puny and susceptible to being whomped, and it seems like you'd just pick the warriors and be done with it, but it's a bit more difficult than that. It depends, mostly, on which Trojan. I have no doubt that most would crush the cat into non-existence, but if your Trojan is Orlando Bloom, I imagine he's going to lose, then cry and beg for Eric Bana to make it all better.

What a douche.

Still, it's not fair to judge a group of people by their affiliation with Orlando Bloom, so reason will have to prevail and the Trojans take it.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Cal State Fullerton Titans

From what I understand, badgers are unpleasant little bastards that will rip your face off. Which would be fine and good if they weren't going up against the embodiment of hugeness. Plus, it'll make this dude happy.

Cal State Fullerton takes it.

Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Davidson Wildcats

I've previously expressed my skepticism about the tenacity of bulldogs, but that might be unfair since I've never actually met one. I've also painted wildcats as feral, but not much else. So which do I choose? I'm going to have to go with the Bulldogs. The standard dog/cat relationship is there and the spiked collar probably helps instill some fear. Gonzaga wins it.

Georgetown Hoyas vs. University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers

I've gotten no closer to figuring out what a Hoya is (and Wikipedia leads me to believe there's no real answer) so I'll be substituting a bulldog, since that's what Georgetown uses as a mascot. I'm kind of stunned by the use of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a mascot, and want to give it points for sheer inventiveness, but I'm still going to take the bulldog in a fight. If this were a fetching contest, I might go a different way, but it's not, and that means the win goes to Georgetown.

Mascot Bracket, Round One East

Play-in Game

Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers vs. Coppin State Eagles

This one's pretty easy. Mountaineers tend to have guns, and eagles tend to be vulnerable to guns. Even if we take away the weaponry, I'm going with the Mountaineer. I'd like to take some points away from Mount St. Mary's for having "The Mount" as the logo, rather than telling me what the mascot is directly or having some kind of an illustration, but as this is the play-in game, I'll let it slide.

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers

I was tempted to go with the Mountaineers again, but on further reflection, the name Tar Heel applies to inhabitants of North Carolina generally, some of whom are probably Mountaineers and some of whom evidently control rams and make them do their bidding. I'll go with North Carolina.

Indiana Hoosiers vs. Arkansas Razorbacks

Hoosiers could also have guns, but I'm going to have to go with the Razorbacks here. Angry hogs are, I imagine hard to deal with, and Wikipedia claims that they "can become very dangerous if they are cornered, wounded, or with young, and can injure and even kill humans and other animals."

As Wikipedia is the infallible source of all information on anything, I'm going with Arkansas.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. George Mason Patriots

It's St. Patrick's Day, and I feel as though I should go with Notre Dame, if only because I'm named "Murphy" and they've got "Fighting" in their name and who doesn't love a good caricature? But Patriots, and I'm going with "Patriots" in the sense of the Founding Fathers, had something to fight for and had actually participated in a war. And they weren't drunk. All the time. George Mason it is.

Washington State Cougars vs. Winthrop Eagles

Provided they had to interact (that is, the eagle couldn't just fly the hell away), this is no contest. Cougars all the way.

Oklahoma Sooners vs. St. Joseph's Hawks

Every other one of these teams is named after residents of the state or, in the case of the Oklahohma Sooners, settlers who earned a part in the Homestead Act and, apparently, farmed. Actually, the hawks might be able to help them out by preying on pests, but let's not get all nice and cuddly here. Hawks are apparently intelligent and while a Sooner could theoretically just grab the hawk and crush it to death, I have a feeling that with the clawing and the scratching, the Hawk's coming out ahead in the fight. St. Joseph's it is.

Louisville Cardinals vs. Boise State Broncos

Again with the birds. They're making this hard because it's not a very likely scenario that a seed-eating songbird is going to go at it with a horse. Cardinals are, in my experience, relatively tame birds, and that Bronco looks kind of angry, so I'm going to have to go with Boise State in this one.

Butler Bulldogs vs. South Alabama Jaguars

I have friends that went to Butler, so I'd like to come up with some insane reason that a bulldog, which I'm not even sure is a dog that's renowned for its ferocity, is going to take down a jaguar, but it's just not happening. South Alabama in a mascot-rout.

Tennessee Volunteers vs. American Eagles

I'm only a quarter of the way through the bracket, and I'm already ready to break something if I see another goddamn Eagle. This is the problem with schools today. Not funding or overworked teachers, but the inability to have a little creativity in coming up with a mascot. Because I'm sick of birds, I'm going to presume this is the Volunteers (who have hammers and nails) against people who work at American Eagle, who have hair gel and money. I'm going with the Volunteers.

When I feel like it, the Midwest will be up.

March Madness

I've never had very much of a rooting interest in college sports. I was aware of Pitt and Penn State growing up, mostly because I'd occasionally see sweatshirts that told me about them, but I never really actively followed any college teams. As I grew up, I moved on to a Division III school that has, as far as I know only one professional athlete doing anything right now and he was cut for not being in shape. I've gone from there to a team that's actually in a major conference, but isn't, shall we say, feared.

On top of that, I've never been a big fan of basketball. I think it probably had something to do with growing up in a town without an NBA team, but it's not something I care about easily. With the other three major sports, following the team has been something that goes back to some of my early memories. The fact that I still remember watching the Sid Bream play, that I was able to throw out the first pitch, that I remember both Stanley Cups and how it felt watching Neil O'Donnell throw interceptions in Super Bowl XXX gave me a link to each of those teams. I don't have that with any NBA teams, and it seems fake just to pick a team at random, or start cheering for the Bulls because I happen to live in Chicago.

All of that to say that I really don't know college basketball as well as I should. I know a bit, but not nearly enough to intelligently fill out a March Madness Bracket. What I usually end up doing is a combination of looking at statistics and guess work to fill something out which usually fails horribly. So that's fun.

But, because I like brackets and things where you can affect the outcome by changing the tiniest thing, I tend to try to figure out some ways to entertain myself without actually entering picks into the office pool. Besides telling Yahoo! sports to pick everything randomly (which resulted in #16 Portland State winning the whole damn thing just now), I have attempted, over the past few years, to come up with a reasonable Mascot Bracket. The only rules being that whoever's mascot would win a fight to the death advances. If the team name is not something which could be involved in a fight to the death, I'll go with the mascot. If that fails, I'll assign losses randomly.

Over the next few days, I'll be taking a few posts to detail the Murphspot Completely Improbable Mascot Bracket That Has No Relation To Sports At All. It's going to be absolutely nothing like what I actually enter for the office contest and no relation to reality, but it'll hopefully be at least mildly entertaining.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gay Banditos

Gay Banditos.

The title, if you were wondering, is from a bit of a Lewis Black skit that a friend referred to when I mentioned the whole "Sally Kern is a homophobe" thing on a messageboard.

First, what happened.

Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern (who authored the bill that I disagreed with in yesterday's post) was invited by a group of Republicans to give a speech regarding her views on homosexuality, which was secretly recorded by someone there and then posted on YouTube by a D.C. gay rights group, Victory Fund. It's since been all over the internet and I'm actually the last person with a blog to comment on it, but whatever. Throughout the speech, she makes assertions that she can't back up with actual evidence ("The homosexual agenda is destroying this nation. It's just a fact."), statements which might be factual but which ignore possible causes (noting that homosexuals have a higher rate of suicide, but ignoring the fact that part of that is likely because there's a huge stigma imposed by people like State Rep. Kern which is responsible for at least some of that rate discrepancy), things that ignore all of society except the issue of homosexuality ("Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades."), some vague moral panic rhetoric (They're after the two year olds! Gays are more dangerous than terrorism!), some weird conspiracy theories about gays taking over city councils (in my home town of Pittsburgh, which I wasn't aware of, but maybe it was a side plot on Queer as Folk) and claims that students lives are being ruined by joining Gay-Straight Alliances and not judging people solely on who they sleep with.

Most of it's logically fallacious, and it's clear that State Rep. Kern doesn't like homosexuals or homosexuality, and that's totally fine with me. Her religion tells her she shouldn't, and I'm all for people believing whatever they want to believe so long as they cannot force their beliefs upon anyone else. Unfortunately, she can, but even that's sort of ok. A lot of people have been calling for her censure by the Oklahoma House, demanding her resignation and demanding that she apologizes. Thankfully, she hasn't resigned and hasn't apologized, and to my knowledge she hasn't been censured (though I imagine that takes a bit of time). And, frankly, she's probably right that she couldn't have said those things in public (rather than at a meeting where she was asked to say them) and therein lies what bugs me about this whole thing.

She should be able to say whatever she wants. Sure, she's a state representative, but that doesn't mean she forfeits the right to free speech. If anything, it's more important for her to be allowed to say whatever she wants, and this kind of honesty should be encouraged. She said a lot of things I disagree with and a lot of things that I think reflect poorly on her ability to function as an elected official (the "gays are more dangerous than terrorism" is my favorite bit, because it just implies that she has no concept of priority. To borrow another bit from Lewis Black to illustrate, who's a fine comedian but by no means my favorite which is why it's odd I've now brought him up twice, "Gay marriage is on page six of things we need to worry about, after 'Are we eating too much garlic as a people?'"). But none of that matters. She should say whatever she truly feels and she should be encouraged to do so.

Censuring is an empty act. It's pointless and accomplishes nothing. Luckily, we live in a place where we're allowed to choose the people who represent us by casting ballots. If someone says something insane that we disagree with, we don't need everyone in the house to tell them they've been naughty and that they made people sad and they should learn to be more secretive about their opinions. We are free to throw their asses out of the legislature. What Sally Kern did is exactly what politicians should do. She let her electorate know precisely how she feels. So now Oklahoma voters can either say "Sure, I agree with that, and your wacky ideas for getting kids to be awarded credit for answering demonstrably incorrectly on science exams by government force is right up my alley. I'll re-elect Sally Kern" or they can say "My God. I'm being represented by someone who's way too concerned with what consenting adults do in bed, prioritizes 'who's sleeping with whom' above 'terrorism' on the list of things to be worried about, who wants to change reality by fiat and who is trying to use her position of power to foist her specific religious ideas on the rest of us. I'll pull the lever for the other guy."

That's the beauty of living in a free society with free elections. You enter into the marketplace of ideas and if someone's obviously batshit crazy and obsessed with minutae, you can elect not to have them represent you, because they don't accurately represent your opinions. Or, if she does accurately represent how you feel, you can vote to keep her in the legislature, where she can divert any resources that would be going to keep you safe to make sure Bill and Frank don't shack up and annihilate society. Take funds away from protecting the citizenry and make sure they aren't allowed to express their love for each other publicly and give each other power of attorney. I personally could not care less about what Bill and Frank do, where they express their feelings or what legal rights they feel like sharing. So I'd vote against her. That's just me though.

Bill and Frank shacking up and annihilating society made me think of "gay antimatter" and then I realized that it's probably a subject that's been explored extensively in some twisted Star Trek fanfic out there, which indicated that I should probably sleep.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Let's Vote on the Sex of the Cat

I think I've used that analogy before, but I'm not positive and don't want to type "murphspot cat sex" into a search engine. It's meant as an analogy for the objectivity of reality. Let's say you and six of your closest friends are sitting around in a room. There is no form of entertainment in the room, and so you're profoundly bored. A cat wanders into the room, and one of your friends (let's call him James) asks you whether it's a male or female cat. Is the proper response:

1) Vote on the sex of the cat. Take a poll of those people who are sitting around you and ask them not "Is the cat male or female" but "What do you believe about the cat's sex?" Simple majority wins.

2) Check.

The proper response, which is to say the response that acknowledges the objectivity of reality, is "Check". If you and your friends all want the cat to be male, that doesn't stop it from being female (if it happens to be female) nor did it influence the cat to become male because you all wanted it to be. It simply is either male or female, and the correct answer is the one with the most independent evidence to back it up. It doesn't matter how you check (presumably, you'd just look at the genitalia, but if that makes you feel funny, I'm sure there are other ways of determining a cat's sex, though unfortunately I don't know them as I have no concept of cat physiology), only that you check and that you be able to back up your answer with evidence that isn't dependent upon what you want the answer to be.

Unless you're in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives Education committee has approved House Bill 2211, a "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act". There are some bits of it that are simply redundant, like Section 5, which states that students are allowed to organize prayer groups and "see you at the pole" gatherings before, during and after school to the same extent that other groups are allowed to form non-religious clubs that have nothing do do with curriculum, which I'm pretty sure they're already allowed to do. I know, for example, and this is only anecdotal, that there were "See You at the Pole" gatherings at my high school, though I never attended. And really, so long as everyone's allowed to go to everything, I could not be more supportive (though I'm somewhat curious about the "during" school thing, because I don't know that any extracurricular clubs had meetings during school). This is how the whole "prayer in school" issue is solved. You don't have the teachers leading prayer in their capacity as employees of the state, and kids are allowed to pray/worship however they want, as long as it's not disruptive to other students learning. Which is fine, because you're not allowed to disrupt other students if you're doing it for non-religious reasons either (standing up and singing "Paradise City" during a test, while amusing and actually happened once in high school, isn't something they encourage, and so I have no problem with asking Little Bobby to sit down and stop reciting the Namokar Mantra.) I'm somewhat skeptical of a "moment of silence" before the day starts, because it's my understanding you could just pray for the few minutes before the day starts on your own without the school telling you to, but I'm not going to get into that here. So yes. That part of the bill, from my view, is redundant and pointless, but then this is a legislature, and so that sort of goes without saying.

The part that's got everyone all hot and bothered is this.

Section 4. Students may express their beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Homework and classroom assignments shall be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school district. Students shall not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of their work.

The problem, as a others have pointed out, is that the way that section is phrased, it becomes impossible to penalize a student who gives an incorrect answer in, say, a science class as long as the student claims that it's based on their religious beliefs. As the second linked article points out, it becomes illegal for a school to take off points if, in a science class, a student claims the earth is 6000 years old, despite the fact that the scientific evidence points to the Earth being roughly 4.5 billion years old. It's an attempt to change reality by governmental fiat, and subverts everything that science is supposed to be about.

A significant theme in the Creationist movement recently has been appealing to "fairness", which is fine and good, except that facts are not determined by what we wish them to be. The exclusion of religious interpretations of creation from science classes isn't a form of religious persecution, it's the exclusion of theories which have no scientific evidence to support them and are not falsifiable. Attempting to paint them as persecution is not only intellectually dishonest, but is actually an insult to those people around the world who actually are persecuted for their beliefs, or their non-belief.

So yes. Unnecessary-to-actively anti-education bill has passed in the Oklahoma State House of Representatives. Hopefully, the State Senate will recognize it for what it is and discard it. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Oh, one last thing. The bill was formally authored by State Rep. Sally Kern, who has come into some trouble in the past few days for some virulently anti-gay comments that were recorded and posted on YouTube. I'll have my opinion up on that sometime tomorrow.

Friday, March 07, 2008

This is your captain speaking. Please ignore that wing that just fell off.

I don't travel very often. I wish I did, and I wish I had the resources to go bopping around the world while still actually accomplishing something in the lab, but I don't, and I'm sort of resigned to that for now. When I do leave Chicago, it's usually to head back to Pittsburgh for something or other. Given that I'm a graduate student, I'm usually not taking solid gold limousines or private helicopters. I'm usually taking the cheapest flight I can find (buses and trains also go between the cities, but I'm impatient and the thought of ten hours on a bus is not something that appeals to me). Usually, this is Southwest, which often has some deal where if I'm not screwing around and actually remember to book my flight on time, will fly me from Chicago to Pittsburgh for about $60 each way, which is an awesome deal.

What is not awesome is finding out that they were cutting down on overhead by skipping inspections and flying non-airworthy planes. I don't have much of a fear of flying, apart from some nervousness during take off. I've actually found that taking Mr. Sjöberg's rocket hypothesis as a basis, that subsides pretty easily. I also have a bit of a fear of airplane-related irony, and that once we've safely landed the brakes will go out and the runaway plane will plow into the terminal. I should note that that's not entirely irrational, as that sort of happened at the airport I fly out of on the airline I use, though that was a combination of pilot error and a snowstorm, not the brakes going out.

Oh, and flying into Midway is somewhat off-putting, as you get really close to a lot of houses.
They're not so much with the roominess concept on the South Side, apparently.

It does bother me that I may very well have been on one of those "non-airworthy" planes, or at least I think it should in theory. I guess the fact that none of my planes ever went down (obviously) makes me feel better, though it'll be interesting to see if I stick with them. Will my unwillingness to part with a bunch of money to pay for a flight with another carrier that actually performs maintenance overcome my fear of being on a plane held together by packing tape and prayers?


Thursday, March 06, 2008

I would like a sandwich

A new era has begun. A new era in which I'm tired all the time and my calves really, really hurt.

I've decided, over the past few days, that I should stop being a fatass. This is a shocking change to my previous positions on this issue, which have all been pro-fatass. After analyzing the data, I have discovered it is in my best interest and the best interests of all humanity to do something other than eating chips while bathing in cola. Please do not misconstrue this as a flip-flop on the fatass issue. Rather, as more evidence has come to light, my position has been forced to become more nuanced.

I've, as of this writing, tried to limit myself to one pop (or soda, or whatever you heathens call it) per day (which has been tough, as I'm a graduate student and therefore depend on vending machines for sustenance) and have been going to the gym, which if you know me should shock the hell out of you. Previously I've avoided it because I'm out of shape and had some wacky idea in my head that I'd get in shape during the summer when I was biking a lot anyway (hopefully, by that point, on roads that aren't entirely made of potholes), and so would start going to the gym then without the embarrassment of being a fatass, but it appears that that's just nutty. I'm worried that I'm going to just abandon it in about a week, so I'm trying to make that my March Project and will be keeping track of it somewhere that's not here and if I fail, I'll either post about it on here or, more likely, keep it as a private shame. If any of you who read this have any suggestions for what I should be doing there, let me know, because I'm basically clueless.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Milorad, Money, Church and State

Something about the state level of government kind of eludes me. I know enough about local governments to try to get people who understand science on school boards (which is to

say, barely anything) and the federal issues are all over the place, and so there's no way to really avoid them. I don't think I could tell you very much of what Tom Ridge or Ed Rendell

did when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, which was fine because I never voted for either of them. And then when I moved to Illinois, I lagged behind and had some issues with my registration, and so didn't vote in the last gubernatorial election.

Anyway, Blagojevich has gotten some criticism in the past for being fiscally irresponsible, which is sort of an enormous problem. If you're reading this and you're, let's say, Hal, you'll

probably say that that's a huge understatement, and I'd agree. But the purpose of introducing the fact that he's terrible with my money is to work us into the specific story that was

floating around on the Sun-Times this evening.

Blagojevich: $1M for church went to 'wrong place'

Ok, so right off the bat we're in a place where I'm a little confused. Why on earth is Blagojevich talking about money for a church?

It was $1 million in aid for the Pilgrim Baptist Church, which was located at Indiana Ave. and 33rd in Bronzeville,

was on the National Register of Historic Places and is credited as being the birthplace of gospel music, with Thomas A. Dorsey as music director and played host to Mahalia

Jackson, Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers among others. All of that is fantastic and it deserves all the credit in the world for helping to pioneer a new genre of music. Sadly, it

burned down in early 2006. And that's awful. The church I went to when I was but a wee little blogger was consumed by fire about a year and a half ago, and the diocese has recently decided not to rebuild. It's taken a toll on the people who went there and destroys the sense of community the parish had, perhaps even moreso at a small church like Transfiguration because you know everyone that goes there.

So I agree that it's sad, and understand how the congregants at Pilgrim Baptist Church lost something when their church burned down, and how they'd want to rebulid. That doesn't mean that they should be getting government money.

Churches are, by definition, private organizations. They're allowed to exclude whomever they want, they can preach whatever they want (with some restrictions in the instances of priests drumming up political support for particular candidates, which is a bit of a separate issue) and they're making controversial statements about reality by their very nature. It must be the government's position to hold no position for or against any particular faith. This is not, as many on the religious right contend, some kind of attempt at instituting "state atheism" or whatever scare word they're using most recently. It is, rather, an integral part of protecting the freedom of every citizen to believe what they want to believe, completely seperate from what that belief system is, including no belief. Because it's intrinsic to the claim of any one religion that it is the sole source of truth, with the implication that all other religions are false, recognition or aid uses my tax money to help champion a religious belief I do not hold. Even within a larger religion (such as Christianity) there are disputes between Catholics and Baptists, Lutherans and Methodists. Using the money of an adherent of one sect to help champion the beliefs of another chips away at the adherent's ability to believe what he or she wishes. I have to wonder whether people who attempt to get prayer explicitly back in the schools would be as gung-ho about it if it were implied that there was going to be some time set aside to pray to Allah, or if school boards started proposing that the Zoroastrian creation myth be taught in science classes. Proponents of getting rid of the separation of church and state appear to have this idea that if that's done, they (the church) will be free to mandate what the state does, which is fine with them so long as they're the ones who are perpetually in the majority. As soon as it's proposed that another church might take power, that scenario doesn't look as appealing. Furthermore, intermingling the two would imply a reciprocity. It would allow the state to start to make demands of what the church does and how the churchgoers practice their faith, because, after all, it is the state's money, and for some reason I don't think that idea appeals to a lot of religious folk. It is absolutely in the interests of the religious to protect their ability to practice freely by supporting church/state separation.

Blagojevich attempts to get around the entire issue of a wall of separation between church and state with the following

The money is to be used for church administrative offices and educational purposes so as not to violate the separation of church and state.

which is absurd. Because you're helping to fund the people who are in charge of the church and giving money so that the church can educate children doesn't make that less of a violation of church/state separation. I'm not even sure how he was able to construe that so that he thought it made any kind of sense.

I'm not saying that the church shouldn't be rebuilt, or that it shouldn't be allowed to shout whatever it believes as loud as it can, but this is a matter for charity, not government intervention. I hope they do rebuild. I'm not going to contribute any money personally, because I don't believe what they do, but more power to 'em. Strengthening the marketplace of ideas is always a good time. Being as historic a church as Pilgrim Baptist was, I'm sure someone who isn't using my tax money can pony up and help rebuild, a scenario that isn't as likely for the tiny church in Russellton. Such a large church is going to be rebuilt, and it's mostly going to be done using charitable donations from the members of the church, as well as perhaps a few very large donors. It doesn't need tax money, and even if it did, it shouldn't get it. It violates the nature of the church as a private organization, which harms both those of us who do not belong to the church and those that do.

More bizarre than the fact that Blagojevich doesn't seem to understand the importance of church/state separation is the stunning incompetence he seems to display with money.

Governor Rod Blagojevich is giving $1 million to the historic Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago because the initial $1 million grant he pledged to the burned out church mistakenly went somewhere else.

What do you mean it went somewhere else? Letting aside the fact that he shouldn't have been giving state money in the first place, how do you lose the money and then pledge more state money?

His latest grant comes from available capital money he doesn't think has been earmarked for other purposes.

He doesn't think it's been earmarked for other purposes? Why in the hell is he guessing at this? Isn't this something you could look up? Are there stacks of millions of dollars lying around in Springfield, neither being returned to taxpayers or used for things that are breaking down, like the CTA for example?

Blagojevich says lawmakers don't need to approve the move.

At this point, I'm not taking him at his word anyway, but I'm pretty sure they do need to approve the move. You can't just keep tossing money around without, you know, consulting the people who represent the people whose money it is.

So yes. I'm not sure why he's giving them money anyway, but more than that, I'm not sure why he seems to be so cavalier with money he took from me.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Now Everything's Broken and Hard To Replace

Someone needs to tell me when things I have are going to be hard to replace so that I can take better care of them.

It's happened twice so far, once with Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, which seems like an odd thing to go out of print. I bought it at some huge chain store many years ago, and because I was not as careful with my master copies of things during my college years as I am now (which I'm still barely competent at), it's kind of scuffed. It still plays, but it was kind of a shock to look at Amazon for a copy that doesn't look like it was dragged along a gravel road by a fleeing band of horse theives, I found out that they're, oh, seventy dollars. Which is a little absurd, considering that it's basically just an episode of the show. Apparently, since I've checked into that (and done absolutely nothing about it, because that's how I roll), they've worked out a deal to re-release it so that future copies to replace the ones I've destroyed will be somewhere in the reasonable range.

The most recent "oh no, I was an irresponsible youngster and have either lost or destroyed this relic of my childhood" occured a little while ago, when I went looking for what happened to a band that I apparently saw at some point. I remember really enjoying their debut album (and, because I discovered Pilfers at about the time I was getting into ska, rooting out everything else Coolie Ranx did, which is why Hard Band For Dead and Dub 56 became pretty solid staples of my collection) and wondered what happened to it, because I can't find it at my parents' house any time I go back to Pittsburgh. So I looked online for copies.

Apparently, it was only sold at shows and on the website, and only 20,000 were made. Which means Amazon told me, at the time, that it was about $45 to replace.


I gave up on it, resolved that I would never enjoy it again and went on with my life. Could I have found it illegally and downloaded it? Probably, and it's less of a moral dilemma because I owned it at one point and so had already given the band money for it, but I tend not to trust things online. Then, magically, while illustrating what happens to the prices of CDs when they're out of print, I found that someone was selling a copy for about $12.

Purchased and received. It's not as good as I remembered, but few things from my adolesence are. I'm still a fan of it and listened to it while biking to and from work at about 3am yesterday. Oh, and yes. I do associate it strongly with a specific action.

Kensuke Kimachi recommends the track Generation

And, checking back in on Amazon now, it appears that the album is once again unavailable. I have a sense of victory. Now if only my chemistry would work.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Results from the 1904 Olympic Lacrosse Finals

Wikipedia and I have a strange relationship. It's very good at convincing me that I care about things that I have had absolutely no interest in prior to finding them on Wikipedia. It preys on the part of my brain that wants to look up cocnepts when I'm not intimately familiar with them, and so is the same reason it takes me forever to read things with extensive footnotes. I'm going to blame it on studying German and having to look up words I didn't know constantly.

Occasionally, though, I'll find something that I don't care about and would never have an interest in but that nonetheless pulls me along for a ride. While waiting for a heating block to get to the right temperature the other day, I decided to read a little bit. Somehow, this led to Dolph Lundgren, who I'd read about a little while ago and who I was surprised to see that, in addition to being Ivan Drago and He-Man, also held a master's in chemical engineering, had been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to work at MIT, speaks five languages and led the 1996 U.S. Olympic modern pentathalon team.

I had no idea what the modern pentathalon was (it's épée fencing, pistol shooting, freestyle swimming, show jumping and a cross-country run) and was led from there to looking at lists of sports that are no longer played in the Summer Olympics (which I didn't pay attention to in 2004) to what the hell was going on when they'd restarted the Olympic games in the late 19th/early 20th century.

Therein lie the oddities.

I'd known that croquet was at one point an Olympic sport, but wasn't aware that an American variation that has some minor differences and is named Roque because that's what you get if you cut off the first and last letters existed, much less was played in 1904 at the Olympics in St. Louis, and which the Americans took all of the medals (and may have been the only ones competing, given that they'd invented the variant). Or that jeu de paume was a sport. I didn't know that you could, if you're the host country, be the only nation to field a team.

I wasn't aware that driving a motorboat was something you got a medal for at one point, and if I had to guess, I don't think I'd have picked "1908" as the year that happened. Though if you're going to make an argument for which sports get a spot at the olympics, I think anything that has this symbol should get bonus points.

And I don't know why, but it made me smile to see the results of the inclusion of baseball in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, with a Swedish club playing a single game against a collection of track-and-field Olympians from the United States, who won the six-inning game 13-3 despite not batting in the top of the sixth and allowing Sweden to have six outs in the bottom of the inning. Frankly, I'm surprised that the Pirates haven't proposed these rule changes.

So yes. This is why I shouldn't be allowed to use Wikipedia. Because I end up reading all I can about the middle distance runner who played shortstop for the U.S. team in 1912.