Thursday, December 30, 2004

I spoke to a coworker who's a hunter
at lunchtime about the flaming pregnant woman, and he thought it was quite ridiculous of me to see anything other than a deer. Someone else at the table summoned the logo from Browning's website on his Blackberry (such marvelous devices), and the hunter still could not - or would not - see what I see. So it goes.
I program in C#
and am therefore doomed.
Law & Order needs to bring back my favorite DA:
Ben Stone. I'd start watching it again. Nowadays, all I watch is SVU. I've grown tired of the others.
It seems that Chris Noth,
Detective Mike Logan of "Law & Order" fame, may be coming back to the franchise. Rumors are cirulating that he may replace Vincent D'Onofrio on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."

I wonder how much of this has to do with D'Onofrio's reported health problems, and how much has to do with his apparent prima donna attitude?
In John Derbyshire's
December Diary at NRO, he states the following:
Among my more esoteric reading these past few weeks has been the math-history classic Mathematical Cuneiform Texts, by Otto Neugebauer and Abraham Sachs. It’s a survey of some cuneiform tablets, mostly from around 1700 or 1800 B.C., dealing with surprisingly advanced mathematical topics. There are algorithms for solving some quadratic equations, and the ancient Mesopotamians even took a stab at the cubic equation.

Never mind why I am reading this stuff. I just want to note the odd, rather melancholy, sensation I get when I set down this book and put on the TV news. There is the same place, the place I am reading about, nearly four thousand years later. Humanity doesn’t seem to have learned much in the interval. So far as the inhabitants of Mesopotamia are concerned, in fact, things have gone backwards. Back in Hammurabi’s day they had an innovative code of laws and were wonderfully creative in mathematics. Nowadays lawlessness and cultural stagantion are the rule in Mesopotamia and throughout the Arab world. Four thousand years, to get from Hammurabi to Saddam Hussein! Why did they bother?
I had a friend in college who, at the time, was pursuing his doctorate in Islamic art. Brilliant man. Anyway, one of the dilemmas he tried to grapple with was what had happened to the Islamic world during history. The Middle East was quite advanced for some time, and then, about the time the Western world began to emerge from the Dark Ages, the Muslim world began a descent into their own, from which, it would appear, they have yet to emerge.

Why? Commerce, trade, art, science, etc. were all vibrant way back when. Then something, whether it was a single, cataclysmic change or a gradual devolution, caused the Muslim world to retreat.

I wonder if he ever reached a satisfactory conclusion.
The group protesting the season premier
of "24" is the Council on American-Islamic Relations. CAIR is not exactly an organization I take too seriously, insofar as their taking offense to anything is concerned. Their knee-jerk reactions to any negative depiction of Muslims is silly. Fox could air live footage of a group of Muslims plotting to blow up school buses, and CAIR would protest the negative treatment.

And, we're all still waiting for CAIR's repudiation of terrorism.
Even though its first episode of the season has yet to air,
my favorite show is already taking criticism for its depiction of Muslims. Yeah, well, it's a show about fighting terrorism at home, which implies two things: 1) it has to have terrorists, and 2) they have to be in the United States. And which faith is by far the most popular amongst the terrorists of the real world? Hmmm...
If I declare myself a Purple Person,
do I need to fear the one-eyed, one-horned flying eaters of my kind?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I first saw the flaming pregnant woman
as a sticker in the window of a truck some time ago, though I had no idea what it was supposed to mean. I assumed it was the logo for some kinda Ducks Unlimited for deer, or perhaps the sign of one who doesn't appreciate pregnant women. Then yesterday I spied the logo in a Cabela's catalog, and so I chased it down.
Great,
now that's what I see, too.

Can I ask, David, why you're perusing the Browning website?
Someone please tell me
why Browning is using a flaming pregnant woman as its logo. Yes, I know what it's supposed to be, but that's not what I see.
Over in the Corner,
Jonah Goldberg again mentions the tid-bit that the recent earthquake caused Sumatra to move 100 feet. Even more impressive, in my opinion, is that the earthquake altered the Earth's tilt.
Forget
Susan Sontag; Jerry Orbach died. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier this month, and everyone was optimistic, according to the story. Must have been an aggressive form of the cancer.

Lennie Briscoe, man. Damn.
Quote of the day:
From this piece on writing unmaintainable code:
Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur.
Whatever is said in Latin sounds profound.
I just made a donation
through Amazon to help with the tsunami relief effort. I suggest you do the same. Hat tip to Instapundit for the link.
MSNBC
has a lengthy article on Bill Cosby's recent foray into racial politics. I've been heartened by some of the things that Cosby has had to say, interpreting his comments as exhortations to black youth to stop blaming the world for their lives, and to look at the things that they can control and move forward.

Cosby has his critics, of course. MSNBC finds a few youths to comment on Cosby:
Kenny, 17, a onetime stick-up man, puts it plainly. "Cosby is ... talking about me holding up my end of the bargain. Listen ... I robbed 'cause I was hungry. If he's going to put food on my table, if he's going to give me time to pursue education vigorously, then fine. But if he's not, then I'm going to hold up my end of the bargain and make sure I get something to eat."
I thought this was an enlightening comment, and illustrative of the ideas Cosby is fighting against. Notice the kid's use of phrases like "he's going to" and "give me," instead of "I'm going to" and "earn." The story gives me no useful context about Kenny, other than the reference to him as a "onetime stick-up man," but I have to ask: Did he apply for a job anywhere?
"Times are different" than in Cosby's heyday, said Sonia, 20. "Back then even if [men] worked at a factory they'd get up every day and go to a job in a suit. Nowadays ... most black males don't have good enough jobs."
Sonia provides a useful phrase: good jobs. Why the qualifier, and what qualifies as a "good job?" I know that most people don't want to spend their lives flipping burgers or working on a janitor's crew or being a garbage collector, but you don't go to jail for making Big Macs. You don't face weapons charges by scrubbing toilets. They may not be "good" jobs, but they're jobs. You may not make tons of money, and you might have to hold more than one, but they're honest.
In "Code of the Street," sociologist Elijah Anderson wrote eloquently of the war in inner cities between "decent" values and "street" values. That is the war into which Cosby has leapt mouth first—and into which Ameer Tate was born. "I grew up in a bad neighborhood ... and I always had to fight... My grandmother was on crack ... Both my uncles were pimps. My father was never here ... [I remember] being beat up as an 11-year-old by this 36-year-old fresh out of prison just because he wanted to put his hands on my mom," recalled Tate, an 18-year-old San Franciscan.

Telling people born into such circumstances to shape up is not much of a plan.
Elijah Anderson misses the point, I think. Cosby isn't just saying to the kids to shape up, but he's also talking to the parents -- if you live the low-life, don't be surprised when your kids don't respect you and end up in your shoes some day.

What really draws my ire (not towards the article, but in general) is this:
"Your African identity has to be defined by ignorance," observed Edad Mercier, a junior at the Dalton School in New York City. "Caucasians don't have that pressure," she added.
I did a paper on black/white race relations when I was in college, and part of my reading involved academics and the perceived "whiteness" of academic success. Black students who do well are castigated by other blacks because being successful in school is a form of selling-out or Uncle Tom-ism ("oreo" is the term, I believe). A student in the MSNBC article relays how he was beat up for answering to many questions in class. I remember a story from my reading in college where a black student won a major academic achievement award, but he and school administrators kept it quiet so he wouldn't be shunned and hassled by his black classmates.

Of course, this leads to a whole new discussion on the general aspersions faced by the academically excellent. I was mocked and castigated for my nerdishness when I was growing up. The fact that I'm a fairly large man probably prevented me from being stuffed into lockers or being physically bullied. But, never in my experience has my achievement been reduced to racial terms. No one ever told me that being smart was a betrayal of my whiteness or my Swedish ancestry.

This is why I think Cosby's comments are so important. He's a popular and outspoken celebrity. He's largely self-made. He's educated (has a Ph.D, I believe). He has the opportunity to say: Hey, the black community is going to be a stagnant swamp unless and until you remove the cultural bias against achievement. As long as it's considered "white" to excel in school, then anything voaction that requires academic achievement is going to be closed to large groups of African-Americans.
I just realized
this is the first Christmas in countless years that I did not receive a Dilbert desk calendar as a gift. I...I...I think I'm going to cry.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

One of Andrew Sullivan's
guest babblers links to a New Yorker article that makes this inane argument:
...the Norse didn’t eat fish. For one reason or another, they had a cultural taboo against it.
The context: Greenland was doing okay, then it died out. Why?

The typical answer is that the Little Ice Age came along and made Greenland too cold for the Norse, and that was that. Jared Diamond, author of Collapse, argues that it was a combination of factors (soil erosion, poor use of environment, etc) plus a hitherto unknown taboo about eating fish.

I'm not Norwegian, as the Norse who settled Greenland were, but Swedish. So extrapolating from a shared Scandinavian heritage, I want to ask: What the hell is Diamond talking about? Eating fish is taboo? Does he know anything about the culinary history of the Norse? The Scandinavians invented lutefisk and pickled herring, for heaven's sake.

Feh.
Yes, congratulations to Peyton Manning.
I love that guy. No offense to Trent Green, but I wish the Chiefs had him. Him and a defense. Then we'd rule.

What was great about the record-setting pass was that it meant something. It wasn't one of those situations where the Colts were already way ahead and Manning threw a touchdown pass just for the sake of it. No, the Colts were behind and not only needed the touchdown but a two-point conversion as well. To top it off, the touchdown play was made up on the spot, a drawn-in-the-dirt play, so to speak. Manning couldn't have asked for a better situation.

Also, they didn't stop the game to have a celebration. I recall some years ago, Jerry Rice broke some record or other (I forget what) and they actually stopped the game for 15 minutes or so to have a ceremony on the field. How ridiculous. Save the party 'til afterwards. Jerry Rice may be the best wide receiver ever, but he's not bigger than the game itself, or so I would have thought.

In Manning's case, however, instead of having an immediate party, he was getting his offense together to go for two. Then in overtime, he got his offense down to the Charger's 12 yard line in three plays, setting up the winning field goal. The party waited until after the game, which is how it should be.
Neither I nor my son received Halo 2 for Christmas,
but I did receive some cash, so I picked up Halo 2 nonetheless (thanks Grandma). I love that it allows for two people (or more, it appears) to play the main game together, and together we beat it last night. It took us two days. Yeah, it's kind of short. Here's my official review. Warning, I'll reveal some things, so if you want to be surprised by some of the events, don't read the details. My short review: awesome game. I'll play it over and over again, to my wife's chagrin.

As for the details, I'll start with the negatives:

  • Too short. Wait, I just said that...

  • Sort of related to the previous item: it doesn't really conclude. At least the first one had a pseudo-ending. This one is left entirely open for a Halo 3. It's nice to know there'll be a third version, but still, I'd like some kind of resolution. I don't mind that in movies (think LOTR or The Matrix: Reloaded), but I need resolution in my video games.

  • Missing visual cues: unless I'm missing something or have some unknown setting turned on, there's no feedback on your actual health (shields yes, health no) or when your battle tank's primary cannon is reloaded, etc.

  • Some multi-player maps won't load. I don't know if that's a problem with my Xbox or with the H2 disc, but I pick a map and it gives me a message saying something like "Failed to load map". Lame.

  • Still have to fight the Flood. I hate the Flood, but then, I suppose I'm supposed to hate the Flood.

That's about it for the bad stuff, which isn't much. But there's not much to complain about on a game so groovy. Positives:
  • More vehicles. Not only do you finally get to drive a Wraith (the alien battle tank), but there's some other new vehicles to drive as well. Plus, vehicles are used more than in H1, which is fine with me.

  • Stealing vehicles. You can run up to, say, a Ghost or a Wraith or any other vehicle, hop on it, beat or pull its occupant out and take it over. Quite handy, particularly in a few areas where you show up on foot and there's a bunch of Covenant running around in Ghosts, which in H1 would have put you at quite a disadvantage. Now at least you can steal one and even things up a bit.

  • More weapons. The best is you can use the freaky Covenant energy swords. They rule against the flood. One swing - dead. The sword even works better than the shotgun, which was the ultimate anti-Flood weapon in H1.

  • Dual wielding. You can wield two smaller weapons at the same time, one in each hand, like two machine guns or two plasma rifles or even mix it up like a plasma rifle in one hand and a needler in the other. I love that. Against the Covenant, with two plasma rifles in my hands, I'm like the Terminator. It's not just you, either. I've noticed some of the bad guys wielding two weapons, too. Unfortunately, you can't wield two swords or two shotguns. Oh well.

  • More detail. The character models look better. The Flood in particular look more varied and more detailed, more color, unlike in H1 when they all looked like some variant of snot.

  • You spend nearly half the game playing as a Covenant Elite. The only bad thing about it is you end up fighting against other Covenant, which wouldn't be so bad except that you have some Covenant allies as well, and it's difficult to determine who's on your team and who's not. Playing an Elite is similar to playing the Master Chief, and in fact it's easy to forget who you are. The cool thing is your Covenant allies talk just as much smack as the human Marines. Funny.

  • Updated multi-player maps. Most of the maps used for multi-player games are new, but one in particular is an updated version of the Blood Gulch map from H1, but better. There's more detail in the landscape, and they've expanded the fortresses on either side of the map - they're much bigger.

  • Customization. You have more control over your appearance in a multi-player game. You can even make yourself look like a Covenant Elite instead of the Master Chief. There's also multiple color schemes and you can create your own insignia.

I could go on, but you get the drift. Halo 2 is a great game, probably the best first-person shooter I've ever played. Now I need to register for Xbox Live so I can play some online matches. I need to convince Joe and Bart to do the same.
Ah, what a fine Christmas.
Like Joe, I've been out of town for nearly a week visiting my parents and then my wife's parents for Christmas. We did the same thing we always do - which is fine by me, by the way: go to my folks, go Christmas caroling, have Christmas Eve lunch at my parents, have Christmas Eve night at my grandmother's, have Christmas morning at my parents, leave mid-morning on a 7-hour drive to the in-laws, have Christmas night at the in-laws, hang out for a few days (read: play video games), go home. That's the way we've done it for 11 years - it's a tradition.

Someday we'll get a flying car or they'll perfect matter-energy transfer and we can cut that 7 hours down to mere minutes or seconds. At least the weather was good. Cold but clear, no snow.

Something we observed on the way home, driving south from Des Moines to Kansas City on I-35: there's a mass exodus of older folk from Minnesota heading south. We must have seen something like 20 or 30 cars, vans and pickup trucks with Minnesota plates heading south, and we thought, "How odd that these people would be headed away from their homes after Christmas." Well, we started paying attention to the occupants of said vehicles, and - I kid you not - a full 100% of them had to be 70 years old or older. We figured they must all be headed south for the winter. They hang around until Christmas is over and then make the long haul to Florida or Texas or Arizona. Just thought it was interesting.
I was a fan of George Carlin's
for a while. I have a collection of some of his best from the 1970's that I'd rate as some of the funniest stand-up I've ever heard (his routine about the "mysteries" of the Catholic Church is hilarious). I also have a copy of "What Am I Doing in New Jersey" and "Jammin' in New York."

Somewhere along the line, Carlin became incredibly bitter. I don't mean edgy -- he's always had a hard edge, and it's clearly evident on the New Jersey album. I mean bitter. On "Jammin'," he riffs about people in hospital gowns leaping to their deaths because the hospital's on fire. He talks about his love of chaos and how it moves him that everything will eventually collapse.

I saw "Back in Town" when it aired on HBO. It's the last Carlin performance I've watched. It was the most openly hostile haraunge I've heard from a "comedy" special. Carlin had lost his mind.

Well, I wonder if this explains it.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Congratulations to Peyton Manning
for breaking Dan Marino's touchdown-pass record. (Wow, I'm sportsblogging. Who knew?) Exciting game, yes.

Can I add, though, how dumb I think the NFL's overtime rules are? Personally, I think that OT should be played like an additional quarter -- you have 15 additional minutes of play -- instead of sudden-death. All sudden-death means is that whoever gets the ball first is most likely going to win.

I have decided, though, why sudden-death overtime is the rule -- television. Sports-casts are completely thrown off when the game goes into multiple overtimes, and when you're a television channel trying to broadcast games back-to-back, having the first game of the afternoon completely wipe out the second game because you're in quintuple overtime doesn't help. So, in my estimation, television stations lobbied the NFL to institute sudden-death overtime to make OT more efficient so broadcasts can move on, instead of lingering in OT deadlock for hours.