Monthly Archives: August 2013

Coming Soon To All Fifty States: Marriage Equality

The Federal Government took a huge step in recognizing marriage equality today.  They IRS has stated that gay married couples would be able to file jointly on their Federal tax returns regardless of whether couples’ home state recognizes the marriage.

This bureaucratic change could all but guarantee every state recognizes gay marriage.  Why?  Paperwork.  Most State taxes borrow heavily from the Federal 1040 form.  State forms, as a result, are fairly straightforward and easy to fill out.  If State governments continue to not recognize the marriages, they will have to create new tax forms for everyone.  That would entail completely revamping the State tax codes.  Equality by papercut.  Brilliant!

Give ‘Em What They Want!

Kevin Spacey says something that I’ve been saying for a long time:


People, in general, don’t want to steal.  They want to reward artists for their efforts.  They won’t do so if you put too many requirements on their purchases.  Most of what the music industry sells is crap and the package it with one good song and expect people to buy the whole crappy package.  Most of what the movie industry sells is crap and they want to dictate to you how and when you can watch their crappy product.  That’s why Netflix has been so successful.  Sure, a lot of their offerings are crap, but you can watch their crap at a time and place and device of your choosing.  People love watching crap, just look at how many Anime fans there are.  They will even be willing to pay for crap if you give them the freedom to watch it their way.

Ich Bin Ein Martian

We see these origin of life stories every once in a while that will claim that life originated on Mars.  In this case, it’a a chemist claiming that a certain mineral necessary to create life could only be found in the necessary concentrations on Mars.  So, yeah, we’re all Martians now.  Or something like that.

Panspermia, the idea that Earth was fertilized with life by rocks from other planets, isn’t a new concept, but the idea that a specific mineral is necessary to create life is something I’ve never heard of.  If true, wouldn’t it be more likely that a large chunk of that mineral made it to Earth and allowed the transition from inorganic to organic material to happen on Earth?  Isn’t that a far more likely event than a rock from Mars filled with microbes is able to make it through the vaccuum of space and land on Earth without killing the microbes?

Despite the fact that I find the whole “we are Martians” very hard to believe, I love science like this.  It’s important to make these comparisons.  It may not lead to where you thought you were going, but it may lead somewhere even better than you originally hoped or it could be a dead end.  Science is full of dead ends.  But once branches of discovery open, they tend to blossom into dazzling new avenues of understanding which push our knowledge of life, the universe, and everything farther and farther.

Barack Obama Causes HUGE Drop In Teen Pregnancies

Black and Hispanic teens, alarmed by the fact that their children may one day become President of the United States, have either stopped having sex or started using birth control.  Or maybe it’s because the U.S., under the Obama Administration, has started focusing on evidence-based sex education instead of abstinence-only education.  If you read the article, it’s actually not entirely clear if better sex ed is responsible, but the drop is welcome regardless.

Between 2007 and 2011, the teen pregnancy rate has dropped 20% for Whites, 25% for Blacks, and 33% for Hispanics.  Those are some impressive statistics.  I wonder what will happen when Obamacare comes into full effect and teen girls will have access to birth control.  An even sharper drop could be just around the corner.

When Does One Become A Writer?

In my post yesterday about the evil invention known as the telephone, I was going to write a paragraph wondering whether using the telephone is a common anxiety for writers in general.  I balked.  Writing such a paragraph would imply that I consider myself a writer.  That just seems…wrong.

But what does one have to do to consider oneself a writer?  It seems like such an amorphously vague title.  After all, everyone is capable of writing and many do.  Everyone and their cat has a blog these days.  Is blogging enough?  Is keeping a diary enough?  Is it amount of time spent?  Is it number of words written?  Is it if you’ve been published?  Is it if you’ve been paid?  Is it how many people have read your words?

All this thinking about what it means to be a writer got me wondering how much I have written.  It turns out that today is a momentous day for my blog as far as pointless milestones are concerned.  I have had the blog since Novermber 2012.  Today, I have reached 5,000 page views and written just over 100,000 words.  The former is fairly meaningless, but the latter is…wow!  That’s a novel.  Over 1,200 individuals have read my words.  Someone from every state except Montana, North Dakota, and Kansas has read my words.  Someone from 40 other countries has read my words.  All of that sounds awfully writer-y.  Yet, still I balk at the title.

Maybe, to be a writer, you have to write something that you consider useful.  It doesn’t have to be shared, it doesn’t have to touch anyone except yourself.  You put pen to paper or hands to keyboard and scribble or clickety-clack away and look over the final product and say “I made that!” with pride.  Yeah, I’m definitely not a writer yet.

The Telephone Is My Enemy

Jen over at Blag Hag recently came clean about her massive anxiety over talking on the phone.  Boy, can I relate.  I don’t think I’m as bad as poor Jen, but I can identify with every point she makes to some extent or another.

I did not get a cell phone until long after they were in vogue.  Why would I want to pay double for another device that I don’t want to use in the first place all give other people the privilege of contacting me at times when I don’t want to be contacted?  I had the same issue with text messaging for a long time.  I refused to get it on the principle that I don’t want people I am not hanging out with to be able to be in instant contact with me.  Obviously, that changed when I realized that cell phones were practically a necessity and texting could easily replace a phone call.

As far as I know, my entire family has this anxiety.  You should witness the conversations my brother and I have on the phone.  “Hello?” “Hey, movie Sunday?” “Sure.” “Movie X is showing at Y.” “Sounds good.”  “Ok, bye.” “Bye.”  We rarely do anything except text these days.  Same holds true of Mom.  The minute she got a phone with texting, she picked it up like she had been doing it her entire life and left phone calls only for special occasions.

Besides the general anxiety, the thing that bothers me the most about phone calls is that they feel like trying to talk to someone while partially deaf and completely blind.  Hearing modulated snippets of someone’s voice and not being able to visualize body language and facial expressions is beyond frustrating for me.

Maybe when holographic conferencing becomes common place I’ll change my mind about phone calls.  Till then, don’t call me, I won’t call you.

Wait, What? Moon Water?

That was my reaction to this news.  Mind blown.  I’ve always thought of the Moon as a lifeless ball of potentially valuable minerals.  Time to reprogram some neurons.

Bearing the incredibly cool name magmatic water, which is just a fancy name for water that bubbled up from the depths of the Moon, scientists have discovered water on the surface of the moon!  If it’s detectable on the surface, there’s no telling how much water is still in the depths.  Imagine what a large water discovery would mean to colonization.  One of the biggest roadblocks to colonizing any foreign satellite is the prohibitively expensive costs of transporting water to the colony.  Even transporting water as close as the Moon would be a huge cost undertaking.  Maybe now it won’t be.

Please let there be large amounts of water on the Moon!  Oh please, oh please, oh please!  I want my underground Moon lair and I want it now!

Book Review: Pump Six And Other Stories by Paolo Bacigalupi

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

My guess is that Paolo Bacigalupi does not hold out much hope for the human race.  “Pump Six and Other Stories” contains a series of stories that share many themes, none of them very pretty.  Water shortages, oil shortages, corporate control of resources, fiefdoms run by celebrities, humans devolving into morons, humans filled with environmental chemicals; all can be found in this book.  And it is all beautifully done.

A few of the short stories end a bit suddenly, but endings are the bane of the short story writer.  That a few of the short stories obviously take place in the same “world” helps this, though.  Even thought one story may leave you wanting more, another picks up and introduces more of the same world to you leaving you sated.

Another thing that makes these stories work so well is that Paolo Bacigalupi is obviously one twisted individual.  I mean that with the utmost respect.  Some of the concepts he invents and the images he evokes left me awed by their sheer audacity and imagination.

Short stories are my favorite literary form.  It is good to have another author whose short stories I love after a many years drought of good short stories.  I highly recommend you pick this one up and despair for humanity.

One thing that I thought strange is why Paolo Bacigalupi chose “Pump Six” as the titular story for this collection.  There is no doubt that it was enjoyable, but I found it one of the weaker stories in the collection.  I can only assume that it was his breakthrough story that more people would recognize.

This book was another from the Humble Bundle package that I purchased.  I think that makes it about 50-50 between great books and meh books.  Not a bad record.

It’s Time For a Pointless Quiz

Sometimes I like taking those stupid quizzes that you find online.  A friend of mind who I trust not to waste my time posted a decent one.  What’s your Social Attitude?  It asks you about some general and some specific political/philosophical/economic topics and then ranks you.  Here is my result:

Radicalism    96.75

Socialism    62.5

Tenderness    53.125

These scores indicate that you are a progressive; this is the political profile one might associate with a university professor. It appears that you are skeptical towards religion, and have a pragmatic attitude towards humanity in general.

Your attitudes towards economics appear socialist, and combined with your social attitudes this creates the picture of someone who would generally be described as a political centrist.

To round out the picture you appear to be, political preference aside, a centrist with several strong opinions.

I think I broke it.  I’m a progressive centrist socialist university professor.  Is that possible?  And are the last two redundant?  Ooooh, university professor slam!

Why Are Chemical Weapons A Red Line?

I am well into Things I Don’t Understand™ territory here so forgiveness ahead of time if I’m talking out of my ass.

President Obama said a month or two ago that the use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Assad government was a “red line” that could not be crossed.  It wasn’t specified, but people have rightly taken this to mean that the use of chemical weapons would be the deciding factor in U.S. intervention in Syria.  Well, chemical weapons have almost certainly been used in Syria now and the Obama administration is, thankfully, hedging and saying that we don’t know for sure if chemical weapons were used and, if they were, we don’t know who used them.

That’s all fine and dandy, but why the “red line” on chemical weapons to begin with?  Why is a chemical attack so greatly reviled while a 2,000 lb bomb is not?  It seems completely arbitrary to me.  Do chemical weapons produce more secondary casualties than cluster bombs?  Do the effects of a chemical attack linger longer than depleted uranium ammunition?  Do chemical weapons cause massive infrastructure carnage on top of the loss of life?  Do chemical weapons produce much larger amounts of casualties than conventional weapons?  Is losing a loved one more devastating because they died from a chemical weapon?

The only thing that I can think of is that chemical weapons are more psychologically devastating to those of us 10,000 miles away.  What little we see from the devastating effects of conventional war can be written off in our minds;  oh, that person had his limbs ripped off and suffered a massive head wound, of course he’s dead.  The same can’t be said for many chemical weapons.  The body is intact, often whole.  Large groups of perfectly formed dead people causes a mental block in our heads; these people shouldn’t be dead, they look so whole.  Dead is dead, though.  How they got that way is immaterial.  The fact that the dead most likely didn’t deserve death is all that matters.