March 28, 2007

To Boldly Go Back to 1982

Apparently, watching War Games a few weeks ago has put me in the 80's mood. I've got a hankerin' to dig up the outstandingly awesome 113 minutes that is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Chock full of some of the most iconic moments of cinema, the rest of the Star Trek franchise is either prologue or epilogue to this movie as far as I'm concerned. An entire generation of people developed a heightened fear of insects crawling into our ears thanks to an early scene of that movie.

Beyond the death of Spock, the spectacular Genesis machine and the budding career of Kristie Ally, I most enjoy the battle of overacting between Shatner and Montalban that mirrors the contest between their characters. Check out this clip to get the idea of the extent to which these actors go to upstage each other and even their own characters.

This clip features Shatner's much parodied Khan! scream. Watching it again, I get the feeling that scream has been parodied so much that the original is too subtle. Almost too subtle.

Anyway, everyone is invited to my house for the movie this weekend.

Fun Fact: The actors playing Khan's men were Chippendale dancers by night.
Rating: $6

Big Boy the Sepoy

The King of Saudia Arabia has called the US war in Iraq an occupation. So, is the US effort a form of colonization or not? A show on Open Source Radio brought up some interesting ideas concerning this question by investigating the so-called Sepoy Mutiny (Indians call it the First War of Indian Independence) which led to the undeniable colonization of India by Britain. I'm not going to discuss my conclusions about the Britain in India and the US in Iraq in this post. Maybe later. I will say that a complete evaluation of the US occupation of Iraq should compare it with not only the British colonization of India but also the British colonization of Iraq.

I recommend a listen here:

and for those of you that are "readers" check this out:

"It was literally murder . . . The women were all spared but their screams, on seeing their husbands and sons butchered, were most painful . . . I feel no pity, but when some old grey bearded man is brought and shot before your very eyes, hard must be that man's heart I think who can look on with indifference . . ."
-Edward Vibart, a 19-year-old British officer

Indian Soldiers Being Executed by British Canons

(picture via indhistory)

March 26, 2007

Must Love Dancing Bugs

Ruben Bolling has been creating the Tom the Dancing Bug comics for almost ten years now and I love um. I don't know a lot of other people who read his stuff but you should give it a try. Sarcastic, dry and intelligent. You can look at an archive here. You can also check out Ruben Bolling's website at

March 21, 2007

Movie Rating System

For all those of you who've asked (ie. no one), I have a real down to earth and easily understood movie review system. The rating is simply a cash amount. The cash amount is how much money is worth spending on the movie. You can spend that money by going to the theatre or buying the dvd or renting it or whatever. Here's how that system works for a few example movies:

Fight Club: $15
Metropolis: $3
Jaws: $6
Jaws 2: $1
Jaws 3: 25¢
Jaws 3 in 3D: $3
Sin City: -$8

Simple system huh. I don't know why no one thought of it sooner. There's no reason why we can't go further with it and free-market-libertarian-up the language. No more "it's a nice day." We should be saying "it's a $500 day." No more "You're a good friend." We need cash values. "You're a $10,000 friend." That's the stuff.

The only problem with this system is adjusting for inflation. So, hopefully, for the sake of my own personal movie rating system, we won't have too much inflation coming.

March 19, 2007

Concrete Thinking

Recon tells this hilarious story about how when he was a small kid he thought that the Miami Sound Machine was an actual machine operated by Gloria Estefan. I think that he cried his virgin eyes out when he learned the truth.

So, yesterday, I almost cried my virgin eyes out when my girlfriend was surprised to find that Phil Specter's Wall of Sound wasn't an actual wall.

March 18, 2007

War Games

I just watched this movie again for the first time in at least 15 years. If you don't remember, or are too young to know, War Games features Reagan era cold war attitudes, a plot packed with technical detail about the early days of personal computing, and 80's stalwarts Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. Can such a movie withstand the test of time?

Answer: Yes yes yes. The movie surives because it's well constructed with a little bit of comedy, a little romance a little action and even a little Michael Madsen threatening someone with a gun. There are some nice plot twists and turns and some solid acting.

Spoiler alert! and while I'm at it Nerd alert! for my favorite scene.

At the end of this movie, deep in the bowels of NORAD, the heroes are trying to stop a rampaging supercomputer from starting World War III by teaching it to understand the concept of futility. They start with a game of tic tac toe hoping that the computer will learn that the game is unwinable. Just as they're setting the game, some poor defense department computer jockey yells out in all seriousness and urgency, "Put X in the center square!." Pretty damn funny moment but also a great distillation of the cold war attitude. Don't question the game; Just play to win (even if it means using tactics that don't work on anyone older than 8).
Rating: $7

Wow What a Comback

This comeback might be old but I've never heard it before. You can't spell sass without A-S-S.

(Picture is photo is Woman riding a donkey via NYPL)

March 16, 2007

I Like it Here. It's Nice.

From this month's Harper's index:
  • Percentage of American adults held in institutions (prisons or mental) in 1953 and today respectively: 0.67%, 0.68%
  • Percentage of institutionalized adults in 1953 in mental institutions: 53%
  • Percentage of institutionalized adults in prison today: 97%

So, half of those we call criminals today were called mental patients in the 50's. The other possible interpretation is that crime is way up in exact proportion to the amount insanity is way down. Seems unlikely. I discussed these numbers a few months ago with my mom and she thought that the numbers indicate that we are using jails as proxies for mental institutions. There is probably some of that going on but as a whole that explanation feels incomplete.

To me, these numbers indicate that crime and mental health are mere rationalizations for removing people from society. I would go farther to say institutionalization performs some function for society that needs to be justified in clear terms like crime and mental health but probably is much more difficult to understand.

Here's another tidbit from Harper's index that's also justice related:

  • Amount by which the salary of Judge Judy exceeds the salaries of all nine Supreme Court justices combined: $26,000,000

(The photo is from Women of Protest: Photographs from the Records of the National Woman's Party, Library of Congress)

March 12, 2007

An Idea Worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize

Native Americans had the right idea. If you really want peace, associated it with an addictive substance (peace pipe). That way, war continues until the leaders start fiending for their cigs. I think that we of the future world could go a step further with the aid of our modern super drugs. Then, some day, hundreds of years from now, our grandchildren will be able to see a peace crack pipe or peace cocaine straw in the Smithsonian. The only draw back is that your president will be addicted to cocaine. I wonder with that would be like?

March 11, 2007

Subways II

When I was in Japan, I took the trains like crazy. Because I didn't speak much Japanese and didn't know anyone there, I was pretty desperate to talk to people. Everyday I would sit on the train and wonder why no one was talking to each other even though they could. It amazes me that strangers who share a language are able to talk about even the most complicated topics but generally don't. I felt that those people were really missing a great opportunity because they took there ability to express themselves and understand other for granted.

Now that I'm back in the old USA, I never talk to people on the bus and am back to not wanting to as well. Public transportation is a kind of public gathering by accident. While not intended to by a meeting place for people it could very well be.

In olden times, there was this thing called the commons. The commons were plots of land governed by some really old unwritten rules and are interesting to people today because the land had a special place in a legal system based on property rights. It was thought that the community (or sometimes God) owned this land and people in the community all had the right fish, gather wood, graze cattle and such on the land. I think that in modern times those types of common spaces which were originally utilitarian became a gathering space like the town square or open amphitheatres and such.

Despite not having much of a historical background, I feel like public transportation is today's commons in a cultural sense not a legal sense.

March 8, 2007

Subway Sketches


First of all, thanks to The Unbeatable Kid for inviting me to join this awesome blog. It's nice to be part of a group internet activity. On my blog I'm used to communicating via Tourette's-like bursts of extremely non-profound, profanity-fueled ramblings, so this experiment in "writing" should prove useful and hopefully entertaining.

It's funny living in a city with 12 million other people who seem to want to be alone.

Riding the subway in NY, I'm always fascinated by the fact that people seem allergic to eye contact. Your average train rider brings on all kinds of things to keep them from looking at (or hearing) other people..Ipods, newspapers, books, PDA's, video games, children, children with video games, dogs, Blackberrys, ice cream cones, sherpas, etc. You name it, people bring it on the train to distract them from human interaction.

I can't lie, I'm not immune. I always get caught on the train staring at someone's vicious lazy eye or a really neat Japanese Koi fish tattoo and get a weird look back, forcing me to jolt my gaze towards the orthodontist ads above their heads or to freeze in place and stare through them like a dead eyed mannequin. Sometimes I pretend like I'm sleeping standing up like a cow.

The weirdest time is in the morning during rush hour. Here I am, my body pressed against total strangers, and social protocol tells me to go against my human instincts and completely ignore their existence. I feel like I should say something nice to them to make them less uncomfortable, like "ma'am, that's a very colorful scarf" or "sir, your cologne smells like capitalist victory". You know, something to break the ice.

Sometimes you just want to know what people think of Manga toilet paper. Sometimes you just want to wake them up with one of these. And sometimes you just want a sip of their coffee.

So when someone goes on the train and does something different with their 15 minutes I'm always thrilled.

Check out Child Of Atom's NYC Subway sketches. They manage to capture the jaded poker face chic of the average Big Apple strap hanger perfectly.


(click pic for gallery)

(via Reddit)

March 7, 2007

Problems with Gender in the Military

Helen Benedict is writing a book on woman in the US military based on her interviews with 20 some female veterans. I've never been in the military myself but what these woman had to say is a bit disturbing. Benedict describes her findings in an article in Salon this week. Read it here. Here are some quotes:

"the Defense Department put up a Web site in 2005 designed to clarify that sexual assault is illegal "

"A 2003 survey of female veterans from Vietnam through the first Gulf War found that 30 percent said they were raped in the military."

"I was sexually assaulted by a superior officer when I was 19, but I didn't know where to turn, so I never reported it."

"you can't fit in if you make waves about it. You rat somebody out, you're screwed. You're gonna be a loner until they eventually push you out."

I'm just wondering how the military can protect Iraqi woman if it is having a hard time protecting female soldiers. Again, not having been in the military myself, or having done any of the research myself I can't say that this represents the majority of woman in the military but even a minority with this kind of experience is more than enough.

One particularly insidious aspect of how the culture of the military can deal with these situations is that woman are isolated and pressured if they report an incident while the perpetrators are better protected. There is no problem if it's not reported.

I would certainly doubt that this is a universal experience but unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence to support Benedict and her interviewees statements that it is a widespread problem. I believe the strongest source is a study by AG Sadler and others of female veterans. That is the study mentioned in the first quote about 30% of female veterans having experienced sexual assault. Not available online but citation is at the bottom of this post...

Second, the Department of Defense Task Force Report on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault from April 2004 does not paint a pretty picture either. You can download the pdf here. It is a fairly detailed document which supports, describes, and validates many of the findings of other studies. I also find few motivations for Department of Defense to exaggerate this problem as opposed to sweeping it under the rug of doubt. It is interesting to compare this Report on Care with the DoD's Sexual Harassment Survey of 2002 (again pdf). In light of the later Task Force Report, the Harassment Survey seems too weak because it ignores problems with under reporting.

I'm trying not to bore with a list of studies but here's another available online. And then there's the Denver Post articles.

Sadler, A.G., B.M. Booth, B.L. Cook, and B.N. Doebbeling. 2003. Factors Associated with Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 43:262–273.

March 6, 2007

March 5, 2007

Super Nintendo Chalmers

In case you missed it, Chalmers Johnson was on Talk of the Nation recently. I highly highly encourage everyone to check this guy out.

Check out the show and a book excerpt here.

One great part of the interview is that you can practically hear host, Neil Cohen, freaking out like a square after everything Johnson says. When Neil does have a chance to speak, he has to furiously backpedal to keep the show in line with the current Americanized view of history and foreign policy. Johnson, on the other hand, is all over the map discussing topics ranging from the kidnapping and rape of a 12 year-old girl by US soldiers on Okinawa to Greek mythology to current federal budgetary considerations. Suffice it to say that I doubt that he will be invited back to the show (or any other show on npr for that matter). So, don't worry, his name will be going down right after Noam Chomsky on the old blacklist and we'll be listening to the opinions of media-controlling think tanks like the Heritage foundation again tomorrow.

You can also read a great article about national security here.

I just have to reiterate that this guy is the best. His new book "Nemesis" just came out and I haven't gotten a copy yet but it looks great. I started reading his other books "The Sorrows of Empire" and "Blowback" after a good friend pointed me in that direction. These are scholarly but approachable books written with rare clarity and consistent insights. He presents original perspectives sharpened with repeated evidence and first hand experience at a speed that is almost breathtaking. I had to stop reading after every chapter just to digest.

One last Johnson article. This one is free economic advice.

While everyone was shrugging their shoulders over how the Japanese economy explosion occurred in the 80s Johnson investigated and came out of nowhere with what is widely considered the most plausible explanation for what happened in his book "MITI and the Japanese miracle". It sounds like a book for robot children and sadly it's not exciting reading unless you're an economist.

His later work "Blowback" warns of impending terrorist dangers facing the US in the form of terrorist activities as reciprocity (i.e. blowback) for US interference in other countries. The book essentially predicted a 911 like scenario before it was on anyone's radar.

"The Sorrows of Empire" reveals a hidden truth in the formation and preservation of the US empire of military bases. If you're still reading this post, please go and listen to the show.

March 3, 2007

Just Look Around You

ah, 1988. paula abdul wondered aloud to the world whether or not I truly loved her (I had to let her down easy). The presidential election afforded the democratic candidate to display his skills as a tank commander. And, most importantly, I embarked on that great journey down the well paved road of SCIENCE!

I remember fondly learning the skills that would serve me well in my later years pretending to be a top level researcher. I learned to make little submarines that dive and return to the surface, bend glass tubes with a bunsen burner, sit in the back of the class and try to figure out from whence came those strange feelings about the hairstyles of the girls in the class. Happy and confusing times indeed; but also a great foundation in the sciences.

Most vital of all to my budding education was the 15 minute science video. I was reminded of these excellent videos after reading some of my girlfriend's blog. What a raucous ride those videos were. If you remember those as fondly as I, you should check out the "look around you" series of educational videos. Each takes a subject crucial to science and explores to the maximum depth that a sixth grader can understand.


and these special editions:
computer games
music 2000
synthesizer patel

March 2, 2007

Carling Cup

Chelsea beat Arsenal in the Carling Cup in a game with all the makings of a classic.

  • A great early save from Cech
  • The 17 year old boy wonder Theo Walcott scored the opener.
  • Chelsea captain, John Terry, got kicked in the face DAMN HARD. He had to be carried unconscious from the field with generous applause and support from fans of both teams. He later returned to the field from the hospital still in his uniform to cheer on his team. To everyone's relief, he seems to be ok.
  • African player of the year Didier Drogba supplied the equalizer and then in the closing minutes of the match the winner.
  • A scuffle erupted during injury time which saw several players sent off.

I check highlights regularly at

March 1, 2007

Boys and Girls for Pele

Let me open by saying, I self-identified as a nerd not a geek so you'll have to forgive me for dropping the blog ball. Somehow, as I flailed my way across the information superhighway like an angry bear, I set up comment moderation and possibly destroyed some comments people made. Sorry. On with the show.

Football is called the beautiful game all over the world. So, what's so great about it? Well, I submit Exhibit A:

Carlos Alberto's goal in the final of world cup 1970

If you are a fan of football, you may have a visceral reaction to the mere mention of this goal (I do even though it happened before I was born). You can click on the link to watch it. Let me set the stage then describe the goal. The '70 World Cup was the first one broadcast in color. This detail may seem minor but the fact that the eventual winners, Brazil, wore brilliant gold and blue to match their brilliant play made an unforgettable impression with the millions who watched the cup from their homes. The cup had already seen some astonishing play including Beckenbauer playing out the quarterfinal despite a broken clavicle. The final of the tournament (commonly regarded as "game of the century") saw the clash of two styles that couldn't be more different. The creative attacking style of Brazil met with the hard-nosed defensive counterattacks of Italy. Both nations had already won the cup twice and it was decided beforehand that the winners of this final would take the Jules Rimet trophy home to their nation where it would stay permanently. It was eventually stolen and melted down in 1983 but I digress.

The important point is two teams with vastly different styles playing for keeps and a whole lot of pride on the greatest stage in the world. On to the goal.

With five minutes left to play, the Brazilian forward, Tostao, gets control of the ball well into the Brazilian half. He passed it back quickly to Piazza who quickly scans the field before pushing the ball forward to Clodoaldo. A quick series of passes between Clodoaldo, Pele and Revelino shakes up play a little. When the ball returns to Clodoaldo, he drives forward turning, twisting and eventually dribbling past four Italian players. Once Clodoaldo gets into some space, he looks forward and spots Jairzinho on the wing. Clodoaldo doesn't pass directly to Jairzinhno though. The Brazilian style is more devious than that. He passes to Revelino to pull the Italians in a bit. Revelino holds the ball for a few seconds then, while Clodoaldo points and shouts to send the ball, he launches it forward to the sprinting Jairzinhno.

Jairzhino controls the ball beautifully and breaks across the front of the box. He gets two defenders on him then, just as they close him down, he sends the ball to Pele.

Pele collects the ball at the top of the box and turns to face down the last few defenders. I think that it is a testament to the Italian defense that even with all the twists and turns of the Brazilians that Pele is facing a rock solid defence. All eyes turn to Pele who simply stands and waits. His relaxed posture and intense gaze issue a challenge: Go ahead. Try and stop me.

The Italians are taking the precious few seconds that Pele seems to be squandering to shore up their defence. They are ready for the challenge. Then, instead of meeting the Italian defence head on, Pele nonchalantly passes the ball into a wide open space on his right. Carlos Alberto comes storming down the field and rockets the ball through the legs of a sliding defender and past the legendary goalkeeper Albertosi.

In that split second of great skill, Pele used a tactic practically straight out of "The Art of War". He drew all attention to himself and made the defenders view him as the only and greatest threat. He had spotted Carlos Alberto running down the flank before recieving the ball and in a moment of poise and tactical genius Pele simply waited. If an opportunity had arisen, he would have scored himself but I'm sure he knew that the Italians were too competent to leave an easy opening. When Pele finally passed that ball, you can almost see the shock in the defenders eyes. First, at why he would pass the ball into empty space and then that Carlos Alberto would soon be filling the empty space.

This is beauty. The ball moves down the field like water down a hill. Many people have called it the goal of the century.

Here are a few places to view that goal.

Brazil's journey to the final and the goal.

Carlos Alberto narrating the goal.