Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Kount the Ku Klux Klowns

Let us see if we can decide on the number of pointy hat clowns.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Was This Really Necessary?

Last year, Sunni extremists bombed a Shiite holy procession in Iraq, killing many. This year the same procession was largely left alone. However...

This year the 1000-year-old golden dome of a 1200-year-old mosque of great historical and religious significance has been reduced to rubble. The attack was apparently carried out by four bombers, at least one of whom was dressed as either an Iraqi soldier or a police officer. No one was killed in the bombing, fortunately, but as far as Shiite Muslims are concerned, this is an attack that makes 9/11 look like a paltry slap across the face. The ensuing riots in Iraq have already killed dozens including three journalists of Al-Arabiya television.

As this guy points out, the response from Muslims worldwide has actually been surprisingly muted, especially after all that fire and blood that resulted (read "is still resulting", as Christians and Muslims continue to slaughter each other in Nigeria) from a bunch of ridiculous cartoons. Only the Iraqis themselves are getting into a froth over this. Moreover, it seems that only the Iraqis are actually blaming Sunni extremists for the attack.

President Ahmadinejad of Iran, displaying his usual rationality, blamed the U.S. and Israel for destroying the mosque. Firebrand clerics in Egypt, Lebanon, and elsewhere have expressed similar sentiments. Tellingly, extremist Iraqi Shiite cleric Al-Sadr did NOT make such a claim, saying only that the Occupation should "take responsibility" for the attack by accelerating their withdrawl timetable.

The whole picture just keeps making less and less sense as time goes by. Let's apply some simple logic here, shall we? No matter how noble, secret, greedy, or sinister the motives of the U.S. government in the Middle East may or may not be, there is nothing to gain and everything to lose from an attack like this. Even in an ideological worst nightmare scenario, this spells disaster. As for the Muslim world, launching into a sectarian civil war would wipe out the strength needed to stand against the Western encroachment they fear so much.

In other words, in this game, everybody loses.

So I ask again: was this really necessary?


Remember Dean Wormer from the movie Animal House? Here is someone pretty cool channeling him. I am adding this to my blogroll on the right and probably doing a little house cleaning of people I don't get into as much anymore. Don't worry, it isn't you. I also added one of my favorite authors, Barry Lopez, to the Brain Candy section.

Here is an interesting dude my cousin told me about who has a wealth of online information on game programming. Link on you crazy diamonds.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ranking the Blazers

I was playing around with Portland TrailBlazer stats to see how players compared. I took the stats off the team Yahoo! page and recalculated six different statistics (scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks, and turnovers) weighting them as if the player were playing a full 48 minutes at that level. From those numbers, I came up with two ranking systems. The simple ranking system tallies the player rank for each category and adds them up to make a total score. The weighted ranking system takes into account the fact that grabbing 10 rebounds might be as good as scoring 20 points. Each category was weighted and a composite score for each player was generated. The rankings are as follows:

The weighted ranking appears to be more true to life. I am not sure if I will do this again but, if I do, I may play with the weighting system to try to be more accurate. Overall, I'm pretty happy with it.

Below are the individual leaders for points, rebounds, assists, blocks, steals, and turnovers respectively...

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Big Apple Needs an Apple

This picture taken in Times Square shows a gigantic Windows error. Can we extrapolate on this piece of, well, work?

Here is my entry...

The Global Defense System suffered a general protection fault. Please notify Microsoft of the err..(sound of Nebraska exploding).

Title link goes to the Network World entry that took the picture.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Heart Cakes Galore!

First, I made this little cake from Martha Stewart. I overcooked it a little, and found trying to make the powered cocoa heart as pictured on Martha's website was more difficult (impossible!) than it looked. I gave up on that. What's nice about it is that it's light, and not too sweet. Hubby & Bean loved it! I baked it in a silicone pan I got at Target (it's actually smaller than the recipe called for, so I made some cupcakes on the side and gave mini-cakes to neighbors). The form is called a "sweetheart" - most other pans have a more short, round heart shape. There's a place to buy it online here.

Well here's a pic of the cake I delivered to my daughter's lunch time crowd, along w/some other Valentine's Day treats. The cake is easy to make, but is quite large, and you may need to make a special board to put it on, (it won't fit on a regular cake stand); and if you're allergic to strawberries, you're plum out of luck! Here's the recipe!

Strawberry Heart Cake - 2000 Taste of Home Annual Recipes, Reiman Publications, pg. 140

1 pkg (18&1/4 oz) white cake mix
1 pkg (3 oz) strawberry gelatin
3 tlbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen sweetened strawberries, thawed*
1/2 cup cold water

1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
5 to 5&1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
Red hots**, or Valentine M&M's (optional)

In a mixing bowl, combine cake mix, gelatin and flour. Beat in oil & eggs. Drain strawberries, reserving 1/2 syrup for frosting. Add berries and water to batter; mix well. Divide batter between two wax paper*** lined 8-in baking pans, one SQAURE and one ROUND. Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes or until cake tests done. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks to cool completely. In a small mixing bowl, combine butter and reserved syrup****. Gradually add sugar; beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Place square cake diagonally on a 20-in x 15-in covered board. Cut round cake in half. Frost cut side; placed frosted sides against the top two sides of square cake, forming a heart. Frost sides and top of cake. Decorate w/rehots (or M&M's) if desired. Yield: 12-16 servings.

*1-We got unsweetened strawberries, I don't think it really makes a difference.
**2-The original cake uses red hots for decoration. I hate red hots; you can use any Valentine's candy you want!
***3-I used parchment paper instead.
****4-I didn't have hardly any syrup from the strawberries, so I used a raspberry framboise (2 tsps of Royale Chambord Liqueur), and pink food coloring instead.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Spring Goes on Vacation

Well, our clear and balmy weather gave way to clear and cold weather with lows in the teens expected followed by bitter east winds this weekend. Hopefully the daffodils, which are almost ready to bloom, can weather the onslaught.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Any Trekkies About?

Viet sent this quiz along for the blog...here is my result...

You are a pessimistic and bitter doctor,
but you are skilled in the ways of medicine and science.

Click here to take the Star Trek Personality Quiz

Don't Let this Bicentennial Pass You By

These are the butts of Meriwether Lewis, an unnamed Clatsop Indian, William Clark, and a dog named Seamon. This is all you will see if you miss the bicentennial of the journey of Lewis and Clark.

Now is the time when there are bicentennial exhibits and celebrations of the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's historic journey across what is now America. The Oregon Historical Society is participating in a national exhibit to bring historical materials into public view so regular people like you and me can get a feel for that time.

We stopped by Fort Clatsop National Memorial this weekend to look things over and check the progress on the rebuilding of a Fort Clatsop replica that some idiot burned down several months ago (what frigging immaculate timing, eh?). [They are taking volunteers for those who would like to help rebuild the replica.]

Here is the foundation work. Makes you wonder who the loser was that made this necessary.

The main bicentennial exhibit is in Portland until March 11, 2006 so get moving...like these guys.

Okay, they are pausing to write something down, but that's beside the point.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Speaking of Botany

While much of the nation is still locked in winter, we are already moving onwards towards spring in Oregon. I took this picture of some crocuses growing in our back yard. The daffodils are not far behind. After nearly a month and a half of straight rain (with a couple of extremely minor breaks), a few days of sunshine is downright rejuvenating even with the brisk east winds gusting up around 30 - 40 mph (~50 - 65 kph) at times.

Sounds like a good weekend for heading to the Pacific Ocean or at least close to it.

Even so, it doesn't hurt to remember that the rain nurtures its own beauty...

This was taken in the middle of the rainy spell at Lower Macleay Park in Portland.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Wouldn't You Know It?

I was poking around at Quizilla.com, and I came upon a quiz that was definitely a must-try and a must-post for this site: "What color are you?" [The latter must be said in a tight-throated, nasal voice to get the full effect.] Anyway, I tried the quiz and, wouldn't you know it, got the following result:

BLUES are motivated by INTIMACY, seek opportunities

to genuinely connect with others, and need to

be appreciated. They do everything with

quality and are devoted and loyal friends and

employers/employees. Whatever or whomever

they commit to are their sole (and soul)

focus. They love to serve and will give

freely of themselves in order to nurture

others lives.

BLUES, however, do need to be understood. They have

distinct preferences and occasionally the

somewhat controlling (but always fair)

personality of a confident leader. Their code

of ethics is remarkably strong and they

expect others to live honest, committed lives

as well. They enjoy sharing meaningful

moments in conversation as well as

remembering special life events (i.e.,

birthdays and anniversaries). BLUES are

dependable, thoughtful, nurturing, and can

also be self-righteous, a bit worry-prone,

and emotionally intense. They are like

sainted pit-bulls who never let go of

something once they are committed. When you

deal with a BLUE, be sincere, make an effort

to truly understand them, and truly

appreciate them.

What Color Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

I also drive a BLUE car! (However, I no longer have a BLUE guitar...)

Friday, February 03, 2006

The History Game

(My school's provider ate my first version of this post, so I'll try again...)

December 7th, 1991 was Pearl Harbor Day. Obviously, it was the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by Imperial Japan which ushered the U.S. into World War II. Naturally, there was a flurry of media activity, both covering the commemorative events and discussing the original event itself. At the time, I had already been living and teaching in Japan for more than a year, but it hardly prepared me for the level of shock and confusion that broke out among my students in the international course at Kamisu High. You see, up until that time, they'd been led to believe (by their rather right-wing history teacher and textbooks) that the "Pacific War" had started in 1992 with the Battle of Midway, with Japan on the defensive. They had also been taught that Imperial Japan's colonization of Korea and Formosa (Taiwan) had been beneficial to those countries, and that the invasions throughout Asia had been intended to free the continent from Western aggression. Now their whole view of their country was thrown into doubt, and they weren't sure what to believe.

I need to point out that not all of the high schools at which I was teaching were quite as rightist as Kamisu seemed to be with regard to history, but the fact was that nearly all of my students (and even many of the teachers) at all of my schools seemed surprised. The darker points of Japan's wartime history, including how the war started, were something that was not generally discussed. Now it was being paraded around for all to see. It didn't stop with Pearl Harbor, either. Over the next few years, such topics as the Korean "comfort women" (forced wartime prostitution) began to be discussed in the media much more seriously and much more openly. There was also a lot more soul-searching going on in debate forums.

The right-wing groups were also starting to scream bloody murder that their country's history was being hijacked.

Although there had been muted apologies for wartime atrocities in the past, a new sort of apology fever seemed to start from the early to mid 90s. In 1993, Prime Minister Hosokawa shocked the nation by offering an open apology for Japan's wartime aggression, the strongest yet given by any leader till then. Prime Ministers Murayama (1994-1995), Hashimoto (1996-1998), and Obuchi (1999) kept the momentum going. Even the Emperor himself apologized in 1996.

Asian nations victimized by Japan never felt these apologies were in any way sufficient, which irked a lot of Japanese. Moreover, right-wingers at home in the Land of the Rising Sun were becoming increasingly concerned that their children were being brought up to hate their country. Therefore, in 1997 the Society for History Textbook Reform was founded. (Actually, its Japanese name literally means "Group for making a new history textbook"...very uninspiring...) Their stated goal was to create a new history textbook that would help restore pride in their nation. They did that, all right. When the first book came out in the early 2000s, it shocked a lot of people.

To be blunt, it was a shameless whitewashing of history. Wartime atrocities were either glossed over or ignored if not denied. Once again, it was claimed that colonization had been beneficial and the invasions of Asia a "noble" venture to combat Western imperialism. The Nanjing Massacre was denied. The issue of Korean forced labor and "comfort women" was ignored. Even more troubling, the book made a strong claim of sovereignty over islets (read "rocks in the sea") which are currently claimed if not administered by China, Korea, and Taiwan.

At first the government asked the Society to tone down the rhetoric in its book. They did, but only a little bit. That was still enough to convince the government to approve it. It was then published...and orders for it began to pour in from school districts all over the country. (The stated reason was usually the same as that offered by the Society itself: they wanted children to grow up proud of their country.)

Needless to say, Japan's neighbors aren't impressed. In fact, the approval and sale of that textbook was one of the chief reasons for the explosion of anti-Japanese violence in China last year. That, and Prime Minister Koizumi's continued visits to Yasukuni Shrine, have probably set inter-Asian relations back more than a decade.

Clearly, whitewashing or revising history for the sake of feeling good about your nation (or group affiliation) is not only lame, but dangerous. Look at President Ahmadinejad of Iran calling the Holocaust a "myth" and saying he intends to form a commission of "experts" to prove it so he can justify attacks on Israel. The Nazis in Germany also used manipulations of history mixed with myth to back up their "Aryan master race" theories used to persecute people of various races as well as the handicapped, homosexual, and (depending on denomination) religious. Here we have clear cases of historical distortion being used as a weapon. That's a dangerous path, and one too easily followed. It's better to own up to your history, recall it, learn from it, and get on with life.

I can only hope that people will be so wise...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Snabulus Caption Contest

What Was That All Really About, Anyway?

If you've been keeping up with events on this post recently, you know that a very long, knock-down, drag-out debate took place in the comment thread for the post talking about the Chinese world map supposedly dating from the Ming Dynasty. A hitherto unseen poster using the handle Goemagog pointed out that my "flat Earth" comment was in error, naming a book I obviously hadn't read as his source. When I expressed some skepticism, what followed was a very long and tumultuous debate.

No, actually "tumultuous" is not an accurate term. It got ugly. Between smart-aleck remarks, my debate partner made the strong implication that the church never really interfered with or inhibited scientific research at all during the Renaissance period. When I continued to be skeptical, citing my own education (rather than living in the Google universe), I was given one (obscure, apparently written by a student) web site as "proof" followed by a blistering assault on my character in which it was implied that my university education was, at best, "rumors" and, at worst, a figment of my own imagination. I was also accused rather frothily of having a pathological hatred of religion. None of this made any sense, so I couldn't help but wonder about my increasingly hostile opponent's true motives.

I decided to do some research of my own, so I spent quite a bit of time with Google and Yahoo checking out various sites (trying as much as possible to stick to ones that had documented source material or were in and of themselves "respectable" outfits). I came up with a lot of material, and the evidence definitely did NOT support the position that the church never interfered with science during the Renaissance period. On the contrary; I couldn't find any real evidence that it didn't. There were plenty of examples. There were names, dates, and events, and I made sure to provide plenty of links to them in a comment I posted to support that position. As it turned out, that comment was neither responded to nor acknowledged it in any way. My debate partner simply continued to assert (with no further source material) that his argument was correct. Even though I had accepted his claim of the flat Earth myth by then, I still had to wonder what he was really on about.

As it turns out, others did, too. The same anonymous poster (no, I can honestly say that it's not me) that finally provided that link that would've ended it all in the first place, did some research of their own, and this is what they told me they found (cut and pasted from their e-mail):

"I read through the Wikipedia link (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Earth) that Anonymous (me) provided and saw the corrections about medieval views of the flat Earth, but that wasn't it.

Most Flat Earth sites kept referring to a historian by the name of Dr. Jeffrey Russell of UCSB. I poked through the offsite links at Wikipedia and noticed that Russell is featured most prominently at the UCSB Veritas Forum (http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/), a national group of people of whose purpose is "having the Forum ... promote dialogue about Truth and to explore the ultimate questions of life, society, and the human condition, and how they relate to Truth found in Jesus Christ," but that wasn't it.

.I checked their library which features a number of Russell's books (http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/index.html#4). Their book selection was rather interesting and was close to it, but that wasn't it.

I followed one of the links to the main legitimate source of the debunking the origins and common thought regarding Christianity and the Flat Earth during medieval times, The Myth of the Flat Earth by Dr. Russell (1997) (http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/russell/FlatEarth.html). This passage is it...

"The reason for promoting both the specific lie about the sphericity of the earth and the general lie that religion and science are in natural and eternal conflict in Western society, is to defend Darwinism. The answer is really only slightly more complicated than that bald statement. The flat-earth lie was ammunition against the creationists. The argument was simple and powerful, if not elegant: "Look how stupid these Christians are. They are always getting in the way of science and progress. These people who deny evolution today are exactly the same sort of people as those idiots who for at least a thousand years denied that the earth was round. How stupid can you get?""

So you see, it is a big secular conspiracy to destroy Christianity. This is the fire in the belly of Goemagog and the reason Pa've and Vulgarius didn't join in is that this issue hasn't gathered enough steam yet...but I think it could. Once the mighty right-wing Wurlitzer starts playing, it will be the talk of America.

It was difficult to find a non-evangelical (or just Christian?) treatment of all this, but I finally found it at a site called Ethical Atheist. (http://www.ethicalatheist.com/docs/flat_earth_myth_ch4.html) They apparently had a dialog with Dr. Russell and summarized it thusly:

"As we stated in email correspondence directly to Mr. Russell, we sincerely apologize for our previous rash approach. While we still disagree on some issues, there is no reason not to live in peace. Mr. Russell responded, "Good. Peace it is.".

While our view has changed significantly on the timeframe and extent of flat earth thinking, we believe the title "The Myth of the Flat Earth" is a misnomer. It's not a myth in that it never occurred. It's more a matter of when and by whom. We now tend to agree with Russell in his discussion on the lack of flat earth thinking in medieval times. Doing this research has been very enlightening in this respect. But, we will remain open to all new evidence that presents itself regarding flat earth thinking. We're convinced that Russell will too.

However, what still annoys us is Russell's claims of attacks on Christianity, anti-religion conspiracies and a myth promoted by supporters of evolution. Contrary to Russell, who sees the entire matter as a myth produced as "ammunition against the creationists", we see his accusations as "ammunition for the creationists in their fight against evolutionists"."

Is this what it's really all about? Is it an attempt to start a new culture war by wrapping an element of truth up in several layers of cold, hard zealotry and wielding it as a weapon to try to force a belief (or a version thereof, at any rate) on others? Just as any legal case against a famous member of a minority group these days seems to bring rash accusations of "racism", is it now the case that we have to whitewash history or be accused of "a pathological hatred of religion"? Is accepting historical truth (or scientific research, for that matter) a form of heresy, then? I really hope this is a terrible misunderstanding.

There has never been any reason for science and religion to be mutually exclusive, and trying to rewrite history to prove a point is ludicrous at best and dangerous at worst. We don't need to return to the days of Cardinal Bellarmine or the Inquisition under any label or denomination. In this day and age, even the relatively conservative popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have done a lot of owning up to and atoning for the Catholic Church's darker past chapters so that they can reach ahead to the future. That is most honorable and enviable of them, and I really pray that modern American Christians in general can at least be that enlightened.

"He who has ears, let him hear."

Now let me put on my flame-retardant clothing...