Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Through Thick and Thin

with 4 comments

Well, I thought I was leaving for the desert today, so I didn’t get a chance to write a post this weekend. So, gentle readers, a second “Through Thick and Thin” post in a row. Plus it’s an excuse to post another funny picture from Facebook. Sometimes this one comes with the caption: ” School textbooks have changed a lot since fundamentalists took over the school board.” I like it better without the caption though, it has multiple layers of implied humour. I particularly like the expression on the mammal’s face. I would also like to give notice of a change in the comment policy. In the future I will simply delete comments that contain personal attacks. If a person can’t make a point without making personal attacks, they generally don’t have much to say. Since I get polite comments from all over the political and religious spectrum, and don’t get the sorts of idiotic troll comments that plague so many other venues, I am pretty sure I’m doing something right. Sadly the anonymity of the Internet has certainly encouraged the worst in some people. I’m appalled for example how many people in the news get death threats for expressing themselves. Dear God, getting along with each other is hard enough as it is, how do death threats help?

Well, the Olympics are over. All said and done, I like the institution less every year. I applaud the athletes though. The same way I am anti-war, but still support the troops. Granted my idea of supporting the troops means bringing them home and giving them decent lifetime medical care. I also think cops and firemen should get the same. If that makes me some sort of radical socialist, so be it. I also support the idea of national service, though not for the usual reasons. How did I get from the Olympics to the draft? Anyhu, the commercialization of the Olympics bothers me. And the fact that many of the nations involved aren’t “real” nations, they are colonial era constructs maintained in power by the west. The Olympics, like the UN, has become an organ for reinforcing the colonial status quo. And it gets grander every year, which historians have pointed out is a bad sign. Bread and Circus, keep the masses diverted as the Empire rots from the top.

Speaking of the Olympics, I remember watching them as a kid. Coverage was much better then, they just covered events, it wasn’t the personality cult, soap opera, game contest coverage it is today. I in particular remember the infamous 1974 US vs Russia hockey game. The clock ran out, the horn sounded, the US team started to celebrate their victory. Then the officials added three seconds to the clock, gave the ball to the Russians, who then won the game. Shock and horror in the USA, crooked Russian officials had blatantly rigged the game to hand the US its first Olympic hockey defeat ever. The USA team was so slighted they refused to go to the podium and collect their silver medals. It was a truly shocking thing to see. And that’s how I thought it stood these past four decades. Then I recently looked it up. Another childhood misconception. Yes, I had seen what I saw. The truth of what happened however is much muddier. There really had been a problem with the clock. In fact there had been all sorts of problems in the last minute of the game. The final result was a comedy of errors as officials frantically tried to fix the mess they had made of it. Yes, there’s certainly reason to believe that some of the participants in the fiasco weren’t exactly pure of heart in their motives, but the end result was far more a result of a badly officialled game than any Russian connivance. IE the people running the game didn’t just blatantly cheat and add time to the game after it was over. Sadly, more and more as I look back to my younger years, I find out things that I knew were much more nuanced than I remember.

I see a man in Bahrain has been sentenced to two years in jail for defaming one of Muhammad’s wives. Sad on so many levels. I don’t think civil courts should be involved in religious matters period. Are there passages in the Koran where Muhammad claims people who diss his wife should be punished? If so, I take exception to them, no disrespect intended. If not, how the hell does this sort of stuff happen? Oh, wait, it involves humans. The new Testament I am more familiar with. Jesus said all sorts of cool stuff. He also said narcissistic sociopathic cult nonsense about worshipping him or else he will kill your children and torture you with fire. And there’s plenty of people in the USA trying to bring back the good old days where the Bible was the law of the land. Well, the law of the land in certain parts of the country. Mostly red states I understand.

Jeez, did it again, from nonsense in Bahrain to red state nonsense. I brought up Bahrain to point out again the evidence of blatant hypocrisy in US foreign policy. In Bahrain we are propping up with weapons and foreign troops a despotic theocracy that is suppressing a popular movement for freedom and democracy. Hardly a word of it in the mainstream media. In Syria we are arming people who want to install a theocracy. Lot’s of that in the news, though they neglect to mention the theocracy part and the atrocities the insurgents are committing in what has now become an ugly civil war. The point of course is that apparently though, millions of Americans still think that our foreign policy is about freedom … and is opposed to religious extremism.  Oh well, millions of Americans think Obama is a secret Muslim or that the Moon landings didn’t happen, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s all over the Internet, so I’m hoping it’s in the public domain. If anyone knows who to credit it to, I will. Gold Kudos to this guy though, the original “Save Yourself Mammal” guy. It’s one of those cartoons that I think will make me laugh forever. Another mental defect I suppose.)

Written by unitedcats

August 13, 2012 at 9:38 am

Modesto Teacher Leaves Wife and Kids to Live With 18 Year Old Former Student, Mom Calls for Scrapping the Constitution to Make Their Relationship Illegal

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The title pretty much sums up the salient facts in this case. A 41 year old teacher left his wife and kids to start a new life with an 18 year old. There are a number of things going on here, so I thought I’d deconstruct this case in my usual inimitable style. Or what passes for inimitable I suppose. I’m not even really sure what inimitable means. I suppose I could look it up, but maybe some gentle reader will tell me. Like the famous English author who was seen writing a letter and then tossing it out his window on the sidewalk. His friend said “What in the name of God did you do that for?” And the author said “Someone always sees it laying on the sidewalk and carries it to the mailbox on the corner.” Those were gentler times I am assuming.

OK, back on point. Guys dump their families all the time for younger women. Women no doubt sometimes dump their husbands for younger men. This is life, what’s the big deal? Yeah, he’s her former High School teacher, but still, this isn’t exactly a crime. Nor is it all that unusual, I knew an 18 year old who was sleeping with her former High School soccer coach. I suspect, though I can’t be sure, it’s because her mom went ballistic upon hearing the news, and did everything she could to get media attention to the situation. She even went so far as to get her state assembly representative to propose a law making their relationship a crime. Well, his part in it as yet, not sure if she wanted her daughter jailed. Mom and the representative both missed an important point in this little imbroglio … both parties are consenting adults in the eyes of the law. end of story in any legal sense, and a state assembly committee wisely killed the law before it got anywhere, due to the fact that it was so unconstitutional that it was practically glowing. Imagine though, a mom so unhappy with her adult daughter’s boyfriend that she wants him to be jailed for having an affair with her! That’s gonna be some wedding.

One observation is that this is another example of the National Enquirization and Evangelization of the news. These aren’t celebrities, and this relationship has zero impact on the average person. That’s not news by any definition I am aware of, but it is treated seriously as such by many. It simultaneously titillates and offends people, so it gets great ratings. If it appeals to people’s baser instincts, it’s news, run with it! And Evangelization because if this didn’t push Evangelicals moral judgment button, they wouldn’t care. Decades of preaching that Evangelicals can define morality for everyone has seeped into the country’s pores, and now many Americans will rush to judgment about a couple they will never meet and know essentially nothing about.

I should also point out that if the former student was anything but a cute Caucasian blonde, this wouldn’t have made the “news.” Do I have an opinion about their relationship? Yes. I hope they live happily ever after.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s use here in no conceivable way, expect maybe some sci-fi butterfly effect aspect, interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: Modesto Bee – Debbie Noda/ And I am sorry about not posting recently, but in my personal life, the solid human waste matter has intercepted the rotating turbine blades. Sigh.)

Written by unitedcats

April 25, 2012 at 10:53 am

Through Thick and Thin: This is not a Difficult Concept

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Image brought to Doug’s Darkworld inspired by the Oklahoma Senate, which just passed a bill claiming that a fertilized egg is a human being. We live in an interesting age, but when one tries to enforce a bronze age morality on a  21st century nation, the going really gets weird. Bottom line: It’s OK for people to have sex for reasons other than procreation. Really, try it some time, you’ll be surprised. As soon as we get that settled, the sooner we can go about sensible ways of making sure that every child is a wanted child, but sadly the evangelicals are never going to give up on sex. It’s how cults control people. It would be like a government giving up taxation, aint gonna happen.

Whitney Houston died. Whitney who? This  story got vastly more press than it deserved, but that’s the corporate fawning media at work, real news get short shrift, dead celebrities get top billing. Yes, the mainstream media is now little different that  the celebrity magazines by the checkout counter at Safeway. The state of New Jersey is even going to fly its flags at half mast for Whitney, so yes, it can always get weirder. Some aren’t exactly thrilled by this, who can blame them?

The UN has condemned the Syrian government and asked them to step down. Yes, an organization touted as being a way for states to avoid conflict with each other is now simply the enforcer of western hegemony, the US and its allies get to decide what a legitimate government is. The usual burblings about it being about human rights, like the bloody sores that are Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya were. Only tyranny and discord can be imposed on a country from outside, freedom can only be had when a people chose to be free … which of course is what the west is so freaking terrified about in the Middle East. They aren’t afraid of terrorism, that’s to distract the rubes. The real fear is powerful sovereign governments running their countries in their own best interests. Can’t have that, it makes it almost impossible to exploit them for their resources.

Speaking of fake scary again, Iran made its heralded nuclear announcement. Which got zero news coverage because they announced that they had installed their first domestically produced fuel rod in a reactor, and that they had made a breakthrough in medical radioisotopes. All under constant western supervision of course, since Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is carefully monitored as per its obligations under the NPT. Iran being a peaceful responsible player isn’t part of the crazy mullahs meme, so I doubt anyone even saw this in the news. No, just the stories about purported amateur Iranian plots to kill Israeli diplomats, stories so fishy one has to hold their nose while reading them.

Greece. What a mess. My current understanding is that the crux of the whole Euro thing, is that everyone borrowed beyond their means on the assumption that the world and national economies would continue to grow forever and outpace the debt. Yes, basically every nation in the west acted like a crack head with a  credit card, and now the bills are coming due. All in collusion with the bankers of course. If people really understood that,  capitols would burn. So instead a fall guy has been found, Greece. If the bankers can just get the population of one county to agree to be serfs to pay off the bankers debt, maybe others will follow. I don’t think it’s gonna work, people may be sheep, but they are going to notice if serfdom is brought back.

One would hope so at least. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s all over the Internet, I have no idea who to attribute it to. Redefining reality to promote social control, that’s religion in a nutshell.)


with 9 comments

A TV commercial just came on saying “Battle: Los Angeles” was the world’s number one movie. I’ve seen it. If it’s the world’s number one movie, it’s because it doesn’t have much competition. Not that it’s a bad movie. If one likes alien invasion movies, say Aliens crossed with Independence Day, it’s a passable and even enjoyable movie. (Aliens and Independence Day, whatever else one may say of them, are at the top of their genres.)

—Insert mild spoiler warning here.

The idea behind “Battle: Los Angeles” was to make a realistic alien invasion movie, combined with a gritty combat movie. In that, to a large extent, they succeeded where others have failed. In Independence Day for example, or Cloverfield, or Skyline, the alien’s rationale and tactics we’re both silly and/or incomprehensible. So I can get behind the idea of a realistic alien invasion movie.

And the producers tried, they really did. The start of the movie was great. The aliens managed to figure out a way to get close to Earth without being detected, and launched a basically D-Day style invasion of Earth. As war movies go, way cool. They emphasized the importance of air power. The aliens had a military very analogous to human militaries. They weren’t invincible, their weapons were no more powerful than ours. It was a great fight, humans were the aborigines that a colonial oppressor had decided to exterminate.

Sigh. The movie at one point explained the alien’s rationale for invading. I can only hope that in the director’s cut, this will be edited out. It was so stupid, that it rivals the scene in Independence Day where a Mac laptop interfaces with an alien computer system. The ugly truth is that if aliens capable of star travel wanted to capture Earth, they would just toss rocks at us from the Asteroid Belt, obliterate our 10,000 largest cites (and 90-99% of the human race,) and hunt down what humans remained like the vermin that we are.

The other really stupid thing, the aliens were terrible shots. I mean not just bad, but terrible. I mean, how hard is hit to it someone with a automatic weapon from 3 feet away? Maybe they weren’t used to Earth’s sunlight,  or gravity, or ere hung over from a  big pre-invasion party the night before, I dunno. Still, even with those two stupid things, it was still better than most alien invasion movies. Most alien invasion movies consist of endless stupid things and horrible plots as well. I think in that vein, Signs might be the stupidest movie ever made. It had the stupidest aliens too, I mean, an  alien travels light years to get to Earth, but can’t figure out how to get out of a locked pantry? The clincher was the thing that made the alien invasion doomed … water as like acid to them, just spray a bit on one and poof, fried alien.

Let’s think, say you’re a human leader and are looking for alien planets to invade. You find one. It has vast sulphuric acid oceans lakes, and rivers. Clouds of sulphuric acid float throughout the atmosphere, and sulphuric acid rain is commonplace. And the life forms on the planet are all mostly made of sulphuric acid. Would that make a great planet for humans to  invade and conquer? Of course not, it would be insane. Of course, considering some the USA’s recent invasions, maybe it wouldn’t be that far fetched.

Then there’s the fact that even watching the trailer, I thought, “The aliens want LA, so? Give it to them.” What can I say, I have  a Northern Californians attitude towards Southern California.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, and I’m basically plugging the movie so I can’t imagine anyone would object. Credit and copyright: Columbia Pictures. Next we get back into the disaster that continue to unfold in Libya and Japan Washington, LA getting blown up was just a  light diversion. Starting to look like LA is the Tokyo of our times as far as city destroying alien invasions go. If you see the movie, enjoy.)


Written by unitedcats

March 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Wednesday, December 8th: Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day 2010.

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Yes, it’s that time of year again! International Pretend to be a Time Traveller Day 2010! Yes, all Wednesday, participants  in this event will pretend to be a time traveller visiting the current era. The only “rule” is participants must never tell anyone they are a time traveller.  I’ve more or less successfully pretended to be a human being for decades, so this should not only be a snap, it will be a refreshing change.  I plan to photo-document my visit to 2010 from a dystopian post-apocalyptic future. Here are  details and suggestions from the originator of this event:

Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day (As described by Dresden Codak)

You must spend the entire day in costume and character. The only rule is that you cannot actually tell anyone that you are a time traveller. Other than that, anything’s game.

There are three possible options:

1) Utopian/cliché Future – “If the Future did a documentary of the last fifty years, this is how badly the reenactors would dress.” Think Star Trek: TNG or the Time Travellers from Hob. Ever see how the society in Futurama sees the 20th century? Run with it. Your job is to dress with moderately anachronistic clothing and speak in slang from varying decades. Here are some good starters:

- Greet people by referring to things that don’t yet exist or haven’t existed for a long time. Example: “Have you penetrated the atmosphere lately?” “What spectrum will today’s broadcast be in?” and “Your king must be a kindly soul!”

- Show extreme ignorance in operating regular technology. Pay phones should be a complete mystery (try placing the receiver in odd places). Chuckle knowingly at cell phones.

2) Dystopian Future – This one offers a little more flexibility. It can be any kind of future from Terminator to Freejack. The important thing to remember is dress like a crazy person with armour. Black spray painted football pads, high tech visors, torn up trenchcoats and maybe even some dirt here or there. Remember, dystopian future travellers are very startled that they’ve gone back in time. Some starters:

- If you go the “prisoner who’s escaped the future” try shaving your head and putting a barcode on the back of your neck. Then stagger around and stare at the sky, as if you’ve never seen it before.

- Walk up to random people and say “WHAT YEAR IS THIS?” and when they tell you, get quiet and then say “Then there’s still time!” and run off.

- Stand in front of a statue (any statue, really), fall to your knees, and yell “NOOOOOOOOO”

- Stare at newspaper headlines and look astonished.

- Take some trinket with you (it can be anything really), hand it to some stranger, along with a phone number and say “In thirty years dial this number. You’ll know what to do after that.” Then slip away.

3) The Past – This one is more for beginners. Basically dress in period clothing (preferably Victorian era) and stagger around amazed at everything. Since the culture’s set in place already, you have more of a template to work off of. Some pointers:

- Airplanes are terrifying. Also, carry on conversations with televisions for a while.

- Discover and become obsessed with one trivial aspect of technology, like automatic grocery doors. Stay there for hours playing with it.

- Be generally terrified of people who are dressed immodestly compared to your era. Tattoos and shorts on women are especially scary.

And that’s it. Remember, the only real rule is staying in character and try to fit in. Never directly admit you’re a time traveller, and make really, really bad attempts at keeping a low profile. Naturally, the dystopian future has a little more leeway. And for the record, I’ve already tried out all of these in real life, in costume. It is so much fun you want to pee yourself.

Cool, eh? I kind of found out about this late, so my costume is going to be pretty ad hoc. On the plus side, I’m in Berkeley so I won’t stand out,  people are used to odd dress and behaviour. So I won’t get arrested or shot for acting weird in public. And if I do, well, it will make a great blog post. Well, getting arrested would work, getting shot part isn’t a sacrifice I want to make for a blog post.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, etc. It’s a picture taken at a bridge re-opening in British Columbia in 1940 or 1941. I’m not sure of the actual copyright holder, but it came from this site: Virtual Museum of Canada. Why did I use this image? Because according to some people, an actual time traveller can be spotted in the picture! Can any of my esteemed readers spot the putative time traveller?)

Written by unitedcats

December 7, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Greatest Oil Spill in History and Other News of the Day

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I didn’t have the time to write a dedicated post for today, so another ramble through the news. I actually tried to watch the news on TV the other day. It was touted as “World News” on one of the major networks, channel seven I believe. The first story was about the “Times Square bomber” pleading guilty. This is a story of almost no importance, I as pretty shocked, the guy is either a stupid nutbar, or he’s a dupe for someone. The news made a big deal about his claims that “more attacks are coming.” If a car full of fireworks so amateurishly made into a “bomb” is the best they can do, I’m not worried. It was just hard for me to believe this was the lead story on the planet that night. It’s either a non-story, or propaganda, neither is news.

Next was a piece on how they “saved” all these birds from the Gulf Oil spill. Nowhere did they mention it costs tens of thousands of dollars to wash the oil off of a bird, and that said bird is almost certain to die of organ failure within weeks of being released due to all the toxins that soaked into their body. I mean, talk about a puff piece to make it seem like noble efforts are being made to fix this mess. In other words, this was basically an oil industry PR piece. I was not impressed.

Then there was an oh-so-dramatic piece about the opposition in Iran a year after the elections. Yes, the plucky Iranians fighting for their freedom against a repressive regime. I mean yeah, good for them, but exactly one person was killed in the demonstrations after the elections, so we’re not actually talking massive repression here like we see in so many other lands. And of course this was all about demonizing the current Iranian regime, there’s plucky people fighting for freedom in dozens of other countries  … but somehow all we hear about is Iran and North Korea. Again, this piece could have been scripted by a White House PR flack, pretty much like the first piece about the “bomber.”

At that point I gave up in disgust. These were the top three stories in a mainstream world news report? No wonder Americans are so misinformed. It didn’t used to be like this, back in the old days the media was actually independent and not simply a vessel for regurgitating corporate and White House puff pieces. Certainly makes it no wonder though why there isn’t more outrage over the incredible shenanigans going on in Washington as it blunders forward on a path to national self immolation through corruption, theft, and pointless wars in far off lands.

Oh well, in real news the Gulf Oil Spill is possibly the worst oil spill ever at sea, and the second worst in history. Depends on whose numbers one uses. Still, the spill continues so it’s just a matter of time until it is the worst. In terms of economic effects, we are there already. By some accounts it simply will not be possible to stop or contain the spill. And here’s a link about how the Russians used a nuclear weapon to shut off a well blow out. I won’t go into it, but for any number of reasons the nuclear option isn’t  a particularly attractive option for the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Now I understand that BP has put up $20 billion dollars to compensate people for this spill. I’ve also heard that they will be able to deduct this from their taxes, and that the recipients of this aid will have to pay taxes on it. If true, then this is just more stealing from the poor and middle class under the guise of helping people. For the record, I think ultimately BP won’t lose a dime over this spill and that all the costs will be taken from the pockets of the American taxpayer. Yes, socialism has arrived in America, as long as you’re rich.

I see general McChrystal is in hot water for some intemperate remarks. Not much to say here, our wars are driven in the army and in Washington by domestic political concerns, and the high commands of all branches of the service are totally corrupt and politicized now. Even if Mr. McChrystal gets fired now, he’s still set for life, and there’s plenty more where he came from. In other words this is at best political theatre of little import, and at worst simply cover and distraction from the fact that America’s longest war is a dismal failure with no end in sight. But like the Ottoman Empire before us, we are blind to our own byzantine weakness, and will likely carry on striving to recreate the glory days of 1945 until the whole house of cards that is the American empire collapses of its own weight.

I wonder if I will ever try and watch a mainstream TV news show again?

(The above image predates 1927 and is Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s the Lakeview Gusher, an oil blowout in 1910 that is the worst oil spill in history, more than 9 million barrels of oil spilt, though about half was recovered. And yes, the Gulf War oil spill may have been larger, but it was deliberate, not an accident. And finally some good news: “Here’s a little bit of good news. The Coast Guard says that BP is now catching up to 630,000 gallons of oil a day. The bad news is that they’re capturing it with ducks.” —Jimmy Fallon)

Written by unitedcats

June 23, 2010 at 7:32 am

From Michael Jackson to Markarian’s Chain of Galaxies

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Another week, another tiny blip of time in the greater scheme of things. And another “Through Thick and Thin” post on Doug’s Darkworld. Yes, a tiny blip on a tiny blip, nothing like admiring the universe to feel insignificant. In any event, two bits of blog news. The first a repeat, there is now a Doug’s Darkworld twitter. And no, that means nothing as far as this blog goes, the blog is staying right where it is. (Apparently some people aren’t familiar with twitter, who knew?) More importantly, henceforth there is going to be a bit more order to my posts. Monday I will post a history post, usually about  a battle or war, but not always. Wednesday I will post a science post, or a weird science post as the spirit moves me. And Fridays, such as today, I will ramble about various things, mostly current events. There will also be random posts about other subjects on other days when I have the time. And of course when events transpire such as the Georgia War or Israel’s latest military action in Gaza, I will make a flurry of posts. My muse will let me do nothing less.

Which comes to the question, why aren’t I making a flurry of posts on the situation in Iran? I mean, the mainstream media is still playing this up as this huge important event. After reading a few articles on the subject, pretty much the same reasons as I didn’t say anything last week. This is factional infighting in domestic Iranian politics, not some incipient popular revolt. The rioting however fits the USA’s narrative of how the Iranian government is somehow not legitimate, so it’s getting played to the hilt. What the media rarely reports is that Mousavi, widely touted as some sort of liberal reformer, is nothing  of the kind. He was highly placed in the Iranian government of the eighties, where he played a role in such things as the creation of Hezbollah and the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon. He is also reputed to be deeply corrupt, in fact that’s one of the reasons Ahmadinejad is favoured by the clerics.

In any event I don’t think this Iran situation will amount to much, I certainly hope it doesn’t  at least. More instability in the region the world doesn’t need, however much it serves the interests of the global oil industry and the militarist faction running Israel. It’s a shame Rachel Corrie’s death didn’t get as much coverage as that of Neda Agha-Soltan. One must remember that the USA government doesn’t really want democracy in the region. True democracies would immediately nationalize their oil industries or at the very least insist that the contracts be renegotiated. The USA can’t have that. America’s wars in Asia are the new world trying to recolonize the old world, it’s bizarre really. A interesting comparison can be made between the current USA regime and the Spanish Empire at its height. Fodder for a history blog I suppose.

And speaking of America’s Asian wars, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue apace. An American “drone strike” (it sounds so harmless doesn’t it?) killed another pile of civilians in Pakistan. The Pakistani government is starting to request that we like, stop, since they’re doing more harm than good. You’d think that we would learn from the Israeli example, they’ve been assassinating people from the air for decades, has it bought them peace and security? A death squad is a death squad whether it is thugs with guns or some guy with a joystick in Kansas, counter-productive evil incarnate no matter what it’s called.

OK, so I meandered a bit there. I’m going to cover a lot of ground on Fridays. In any event, speaking of deaths, both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died yesterday.  I’m not really big on celebrities and entertainment figures, it’s always been my Achilles’ heel in Trivial Pursuit. I never quite understood the fascination with either of them,  still, it’s kind of an odd feeling when big fixtures of one’s youth pass away. Kind of puts things in perspective, like today’s picture above. Click on it for the full size version, that’s Markarian’s Chain of Galaxies. At least seven of them are indeed travelling together through the cosmos. You are looking at trillions of stars, a number so large it’s almost inconceivable. And while their may be beings something like us out there looking back, there isn’t another Michael Jackson, Farah Fawcett … or you, gentle reader. The laws of statistics dictate that beyond all doubt.

We may be minuscule, but we’re unique. See, a Doug’s Darkworld post with a happy ending. (OK, I lost a bet.) Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit and it’s use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. It’s from the APOD site, credit and copyright: Piotrek Sadowski. And yes, I did catch that North Korea threatened to blow up the USA this past week. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it, I recommend my readrs do the same.)

Written by unitedcats

June 26, 2009 at 10:14 am

I used to like the History Channel

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I’ve been sick the past few days so I’ve been laying around watching the History Channel. And frankly, I’ve been appalled. Like clockwork on any number of documentaries they have confidently stated things that were so wrong and misleading that it made me want to scream. In come cases I got so angry I did yell, just before turning off the TV in disgust. I could easily devote a whole blog to “Silliness told by the History Channel.” Sigh. Then I’d get sued, run up enormous debts defending myself, get thrown in debtors prison (I believe Cheney is planning on bringing that back) and spend the rest of my days racing cockroaches. So I’ll limit myself to one blog post. And I’m going somewhere with this, so bear with me.

Japanese jets. I watched a show about Japanese secret weapons during World War Two. Cool enough, had some nice footage, one of the main reasons I watch the show. Turns out near the end of the war the Japanese were working on copies of the German ME-163 and ME-262. Now this was quite amazing actually, and was something I hadn’t known. Then the show showed this fanciful graphic of a swarm of Japanese jets attacking an American carrier fleet…and claimed that the war could have turned out differently if the Japanese had been able to build fleets of these jet aircraft.

Sigh. And that’s when I start screaming, because what can at best be described as an entertaining childish idea has been presented as some sort of serious historical speculation. Why is this scenario silly? Because Japan had no fuel for such aircraft. They had no pilots for such aircraft, (Japan foolishly lost virtually all of its trained and experienced pilots and naval gunners early in the war, and spent the rest of the war fighting with barely trained gun crews and pilots.) And tactics for how to use jet aircraft had not yet been developed, having a weapon doesn’t mean you know how to use it effectively…something the German’s aptly demonstrated with their jets in World War Two. And even if by some magical means Japan had managed to get a few squadrons of these planes up and forced the USA to curtail its B-29 attacks on Japanese cities, so what? The war was still lost, they had no fleet, Japan was starving and cut off from what little colonies it had. Even if the allies lost 100 planes for every Japanese jet they shot down jet, the outcome of the war would have remain unchanged. I mean, I have no problem with sci fi fantasy scenarios (Dear God no, I mean, I’m a modern Walter Mitty,) but let’s not interject them into a historical documentary without warning labels.

Sigh. So I turn on the TV to see what’s playing on the History Channel and they are doing a special on Nostradamus. More screaming. Short summary: Nostradamus wrote a book full of nonsense poems. After the fact, some people noticed vague similarities between historical events and some of his poems. Nostradamus was hailed as one of history’s great seers ever since. One little problem. Note the “after the fact” in the above sentence. If one connects the prophecy to the event after the fact, no actual prophecy has taken place. Or as Wikipedia puts it “…none of the sources listed offers any evidence that anyone has ever interpreted any of Nostradamus’s quatrains specifically enough to allow a clear identification of any event in advance.” In other words, there’s no there, there. If it were a show about why people believe silly things and the role that myth and mystery play in society, OK then. Sadly it wasn’t, it gave aid and comfort to the idea that Nostradamus predicted the future.

I go to their web site and it’s no better. What’s the big news on the History Channel? Their new show tonight called UFO Hunter. Sigh. You know, more than anyone I would love to believe that aliens are flitting around overhead (as long as they weren’t big alien pigeons I suppose.) Unfortunately I’ve spent years looking at the evidence and concluded what any rational person would conclude, there’s no reason to think that UFOs are anything other than misidentification of known or unknown natural phenomena, there’s no need to invoke aliens and no evidence that suggests aliens. I don’t have a problem with people looking for aliens, whatever, and one may show up sooner or later…but for now there’s nothing to research or hunt. This sort of show panders to the idea, along with a whole ilk of similar shows, that there is scientific and logical controversy and enquiry when in fact there is none.

So frankly this blurring between sober fact and sensational childish fantasy really bugs me, because I think it really hurts people’s abilities to thing logically about issues. It also really annoys me because science and history is rich with real mysteries and amazing events, why the hell can’t they promote those instead of the grocery store check out line variety? Instead we have grown-ups playing silly games in the woods with video cameras, and getting paid good money to muddy people’s brains about what constitutes science and research.

And by no means is the History Channel the only entity that is blurring the line between fantasy and reality these days, but I will leave the gentle reader to ponder that one. And yes, I even still tell people to watch the History Channel, but take what they say with a good dose of salt. Sigh. Coming soon, a post about Cincinnatus, an amazing man who did something truly incredible, and even better…it really happened!

(The above image of the Adamski Saucer is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is a low resolution version, and it is arguably the most famous UFO hoax picture in history. Here’s a hint for telling fake UFO researcher’s from real UFO researchers: A real researcher would use a 16 mm camera or some other device that yielded an image that could be subjected to spectrographic analysis to determine what the object was made of, and they would use two of them carefully slaved together with a clock so that they could use parallax to determine how far away the object is and how big it is. Might just be useful information, ya think? If someone watches the show, let me know if it addresses either of these issues, I’m betting it doesn’t.)

Written by unitedcats

January 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Oprah, abuse, stupidity, good guy/bad guy fallacies, psychology, sheep, cave men, and the Stanford Experiment

with 3 comments


Maybe I’m just angry at the world lately, who knows, but Oprah’s boarding school scandal really annoyed me. And not for the obvious reasons. And since the whole point of this blog is for people to avoid reading the actual news, I will explain. Oprah is apparently an American TV star of some fame and wealth. She used some of her money to set up a boarding school for underprivileged girls in South Africa. All well and good so far, I wish more rich people tried to do good things with their money. Well, the scandal is that it turns out one or more staff members were abusing, sexually and otherwise, the girls at the school. This is really sad, and my heart goes out to these abused girls. Being abused in what one thought was a place of refuge and safety must be a terrible experience.

Oprah is very upset about this. And here’s where I get annoyed. Oprah said she had a real hard time getting her head around what happened. Followed up by a promise to clean house at the school, and more carefully screen potential employees. This is maddening for two reasons. The first is that it’s easy to get one’s head around. Any first year psych/sociology student or even a quick review of the literature could have told Oprah an unassailable fact: If you set up a prison environment, sooner or later some or all of the guards will abuse the prisoners unless extraordinary measures are set up to prevent it. This is human nature, no matter how carefully you screen your employees, no matter how well intentioned you are…prison environments breed this sort of problem.

This is a wonderful example of westerners belief that the world consists of good guys and bad guys, and all one has to do to solve problems is weed out the bad guys. Decades after scientists showed with the Stanford Experiment just how much of a problem this sort of institutional abuse is, after Abu Graib, after countless teenage “boot camp” deaths in the USA…people persist in believing that problems like this are caused by a few “bad apples.” No, they are caused by normal predictable human psychology, and until we recognize that and take precautions to prevent such occurrences, these events are inevitable.

The second thing that annoyed me was Oprah saying she would fix this by screening her employees better. I’m not saying of course that employees for these sorts of positions shouldn’t be screened. I’m saying that’s not enough, and it is amazing that in this day and age that people don’t know that. This is another theme I haven’t been ranting about enough. People like to believe that we live in modern times, with all our computers and jets and space probes, how can it be otherwise? Please, if you hand a cave man a cell phone..he’s still a cave man. In many ways our culture is still completely stuck in the middle ages, and refocusing our educational system to exclusively teach math and English is making this worse, not better.

Oh well, ranting aside, it’s probably not as bad as all that. The Boy Scouts for example took a sensible step that has pretty much kept abusers and such out of the Boy Scouts. They made it a rule that there always must be two adults present with the kids. This has pretty much kept paedophiles out of the Boy Scouts, since they don’t operate in pairs. Yes, the Boy Scouts isn’t a prison environment, I just mention this as an example of the type of creative thinking that can prevent situational sorts of problems. If the Catholic Church had adopted the same policy a few decades back, a lot of children would have been spared abuse.

Digressing all over the place now, the good guy/bad guy fallacy poisons much of our foreign policy and social policy. Many in the Bush administration apparently believe that the US can simply kill the bad guys and put the good guys in charge and it will fix the word’s problems. In reality Afghanistan and Iraq have shown that it’s far more complicated than that. And then look at our social policies, if locking up all the bad guys was a solution to our social problems, the USA would be a crime free paradise since we have a higher percentage of our population in jail than any other nation. Yet somehow locking all these bad guys up has still left us pretty much dead last among industrial countries when it comes to crime.

Going to a deeper level here, the point I am making is that much of human behaviour is situational. People do the things they do, good or bad, because of the situation they are in and what the people around them are doing. We all like to think of ourselves as standing above the flock, but the ugly truth is that most of us most of the time are little better than sheep when it comes to self determination. Still, the wonder and beauty of being human is that everyone one has at least the potential of being a really alert sheep some of the time.

Heck, at the very least thinking for yourself occasionally will astound your friends and confound your enemies, that has to be a good thing, nu? Have a great day everyone. Baaaa!

(The above image of Phil Hartman as an unfrozen caveman lawyer is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is the only available image of a cave man with a cell phone, and its use here does not in any way interfere with the copyright holder’s marketing of the image, and arguably aids their marketing efforts. Credit: NBC Universal Inc.)

Written by unitedcats

November 6, 2007 at 9:41 am

Posted in Entertainment, Science

Music gets on my nerves?

with 11 comments


This week tens of thousands of Elvis fans and Elvis impersonators have gathered in stifling Tennessee heat to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his death. So far one waiting fan has died as a result of the heat, yes, thirty years after his death people are still dying for Elvis. Who knew? What is it about this singer that inspires the devotion of multitudes of fans decades after he died?

Beats me. Historically his influence cannot be ignored. He was the progenitor of the modern music concert where a singer or group played to a live audience rather than just stood on a stage and performed. The Beatles, John Dylan, and numerous others who followed Elvis were tremendously inspired by him. John Lennon even going so far as to say there would have been no Beatles without Elvis.

However, saying that many people were influenced by Elvis doesn’t help explain why his voice had such a remarkable effect on them? What is it about Elvis’s music that stirs people’s souls? In fact what is it about music in particular that invokes such powerful emotions in people? And there we are up against a mystery of the ages.

Is music merely a byproduct of evolution? Cognitive scientist Steven Pinker thinks so:

“Music is auditory cheesecake. It just happens to tickle several important parts of the brain in a highly pleasurable way, as cheesecake tickles the palate”

Most scientists vehemently disagree with him, even Darwin argued that music preceded speech and was crucial in the evolution of same. I would argue that the size and scope of the music industry and musical expression across all of human history and culture makes nonsense of the idea that it is just “cheesecake.” Especially the way that music can inspire emotion in people, cheesecake usually doesn’t inspire people emotionally, no one ever changed their life because of cheesecake I would wager. (Or stood in line for days in stifling heat to see where a piece of cheesecake died.) For a well thought out more detailed refutation of the cheesecake analogy, see Babel’s Dawn.

While I can’t really add anything profound here, I too am mystified why listening to “Greensleeves” sends shivers down my spine, musing about this did make me wonder if a recent scientific theory might help explain this. It was proposed earlier this year that nerves do not transmit electrical impulses, they transmit sound. This is, to put it mildly, a revolutionary theory. How did anyone arrive at this idea?

In short, there is an unsolved problem with nerves transmitting electricity, electricity should produce heat, and no one has ever been able to detect a nerve heating up. And no one really understands how anaesthetics work, but scientists do know the efficacy of an anaesthetic can be rated by how well it dissolves in olive oil. This new theory could explain that since it proposes that an anaesthetic merely changes the melting point of a critical nerve membrane fluid (a fluid very similar to olive oil in some ways) to the point where it can’t transmit sound. And thus the nerve is “deadened.”

Most scientists aren’t buying it, there’s a lot of good reason to believe nerves are electrical impulses. The “nerve impulses are sound” theory should stimulate more research though, and that should be interesting. And the point I was leading too, if nerve impulses are actually sound, then wouldn’t that hint that music might actually sometimes directly enter our nervous systems rather than stimulating? IE our other senses work by “translating” the world into nerve impulses, might music go beyond that and actually directly resonate through our very beings? Maybe because of our very biology we can experience music and sound in a deeper and more intimate way than we experience everything else? Food for thought, and a new meaning for “feel the beat.”

A tip of the hat to in2thefray and Wh|te Russian for suggesting this post’s topic.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it’s central to illustrating the post, and it is an historically important image. I believe it is titled “The Sacred Heart of Elvis” but I don’t know who the artist is. Their initials are C.R. and the painting is dated 1996. If anyone knows I will properly attribute it.)

Written by unitedcats

August 17, 2007 at 8:59 am


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