Dec 22

Utter IDiots

Leon H. at RedState writes in Intelligent Design (The Debate Isn’t Helping):

In other words, my feeling about Krauthammer, Derbyshire, et al is
basically this: if you wish to denigrate ID and insult its proponents,
go find an ID discussion board (they are legion) and do so there -
don’t use the pages of NR or your token space in the WaPo to do it
in. What possible benefit to the cause of conservatism could come
about by you propounding your opinion on a topic which is neither your
calling nor your area of expertise, and which will insult a
significant portion of the Republican coalition?

What a load of disingenuous crap this is!

I’m not a conservative, myself, and dislike conservatism for many reasons that I have written about elsewhere. But I can sympathize with conservatives who desire to put distance between themselves and the ID movement, which combines purblind stupidity with dishonesty about its actual aims in a way I’ve previously only seen in gun-control proponents.

The ID movement’s claim that it’s not about end-running the First Amendment and turning schools into instruments for the propagation of Christian dogma is just as transparently specious as most gun-grabbers’ claims that they don’t aim to render the Second Amendment a dead letter. Both gangs are enemies of liberty and the U.S. Constitution, and for precisely the same reasons. It’s hardly startling for anyone, conservative or otherwise, to want to avoid being associated with any movement that lies wholesale about its objectives.

And that’s before addressing the numerous gaping logical holes in the “intelligent design” argument. U.S. District Court Judge John E. Jones, deciding Kitzmiller vs. Dover on December 20th, nailed many of these in his opinion. To actually buy the ID argument requires either a complete inability to do critical thinking or a zealot’s refusal to exercise it.

“What possible benefit to the cause of conservatism” he asks. Maybe…just maybe…Krauthammer and Derbyshire would like to demonstrate that there are some conservatives who are neither liars, religious zealots, nor plain-and-simple idiots.

Dec 19

King Kong is a gigantic mess

My wife Catherine has written an excellent review of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, which we saw just last night. I concur with it; the movie is a meandering, flabby, over-long, self-indulgent mess that will be deeply disappointing to many of the fans Jackson attracted with the Rings movies. I hope it bombs, and he learns a lesson about artistic discipline. His next movie would be better for that.

Dec 16

Pornography redefined

Long-time readers of this blog will be aware than I’m fascinated by the semiotics of pornography. Not by pornography itself; as I wrote in Why does porn got to hurt so bad? I find most pornography ugly and unappealing. No; I’m interested in the meaning of pornography, the code it’s written in and what it says about its producers and consumers.

Since I wrote my original meditation on this topic, an interesting shift in the received meaning of the word “porn” has been visible. Consider Domai. This is a site which traffics in pictures of naked women. Yet the front page claims “No porn on this site”.

Continue reading

Dec 12

Saganami Island Tactical Simulator

I like SF. I like wargames. I like naval adventure fiction.
These tastes put me square in the middle of the target audience for
David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels. And yes, I do
enjoy them; Weber may be a hack, but he’s a very competent hack who
delivers good entertainment value for my money. So I was pleasantly
surprised to learn, this weekend at the annual Philadelphia Science
Fiction Convention (Philcon), that there is now an Honor Harrington
wargame — Saganami Island Tactical Simulator (SITS).

Continue reading

Dec 09

No War For Magnetite!

I contemplete this
news story
:

Earth’s north magnetic pole is drifting away from North America and
toward Siberia at such a clip that Alaska might lose its spectacular
Northern Lights in the next 50 years, scientists said Thursday.

The story goes on to say “exactly why this happens is a mystery”.
No it isn’t, or no it won’t be as soon as the unenlightened masses grasp the
truth: It’s all George Bush’s fault for not ratifying the Kyoto treaty.

You see, Halliburton has plans for making huge profits in the
navigational-equipment market. The pole shift is a nefarious
neoconservative plot to make all existing compasses obsolete. Mwa ha
ha. But you can stop it — just hook up with your local pathetic
Communist-remnant organization and take to the streets screaming “No
war for magnetite!”

(The preceding is satire. Any resemblance to actual moonbat conspiracy
theories is not coincidental in the slightest.)

Dec 06

Secret prisons

I’m having real trouble understanding the current flap over allegations that
the CIA is running secret overseas prisons for terrorists and enemy combatants.
I would prefer not to believe this is just another outbreak of reflexive
anti-Americanism, but I don’t see any principled case against what is
being alleged. Can anyone explain it to me?

Continue reading

Dec 06

Just desserts

There comes to us from Iraq the news that a terrorist group
calling itself Sword of Truth has kidnapped four people from a group
called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) and has threatened to kill
them unless some demands for the release of certain terrorists from
Iraqi jails are met. What makes this interesting is that CPT exists
to oppose the U.S. occupation; that is, they are in effect (if not by
intention) allies of the terrorists threatening them.

When I first learned this, my first gut reaction was to think “Ha!
Off with their heads!” My second reaction was to feel ashamed of my first
reaction. How have things come to such a pass that I find myself
rooting for terrorists to kill Westerners?

Continue reading

Dec 02

Iraq Gun Porn

This is an essay blog; I don’t normally just carry links to other peoples’ postings,
but Iraq Gun Porn is just too informative, and too much fun, to pass up.

I was particularly tickled by this:

The ..45 pistol: Thumbs up. Still the best pistol round out there.
Everybody authorized to carry a sidearm is trying to get their hands on one.
With few exceptions, can reliably be expected to put ‘em down with a torso
hit. The special ops guys (who are doing most of the pistol work) use the HK
military model and supposedly love it. The old government model .45′s are
being re-issued en masse.

Yeah, baby! .45ACP rules OK.

UPDATE: Yes, I like cranking off the sort of person who is offended by a title like “Iraq Gun Porn”; why do you ask?

Dec 02

Rudyard Kipling Invented SF!

Ever had a moment when somebody else drops an insight on you, and you feel
totally stupid because you had all the facts and all the motivation to generate
it yourself, it was about something you’re expert at, but you
just…didn’t…see…it? And you should have, and you’re damn annoyed with
yourself for missing it?

Continue reading

Dec 01

Take the WRT54G challenge!

So, LinkSys (formerly independent, now a tentacle of Cisco) has
brought the Linux version of their WRT54GL wireless router back to
life. We’d previously heard that Version 5 of the box would run
proprietary VxWorks firmware. But according to this
story
over at LinuxDevices.com,

LinkSys is shipping a Linux-based WRT54GL model that it says it
created specially for Linux hobbyists, hackers, and aficianados[sic]. The L
version is identical to the “series 4″ WRT54G units that Linux
hobbyists have long enjoyed hacking, according to the company. [...]

Here’s the key ‘graf:

VxWorks allowed the company to halve the amounts of Flash and RAM in
the device, while retaining similar functionality. Apparently,
reducing memory-related BOM (bill-of-materials) costs more than offset
the costs of licensing a proprietary OS

You know, to me that sounds like a challenge. Personally, I have
no firmware-hacking or cross-development skills; my interests lie in
other directions. But some eager band of Linux hackers out there
should strip Linux down far enough that it can fit in the reduced
footprint, just to prove it can be done and undercut the idea that
proprietary firmware is ever a good idea. And I have no
doubt it can be done; heck, we’ve made Linux run on a Z80!

(I maintain the
Linksys
Blue Box Router HOWTO
. There might be a new version, reflecting the
fact that Cisco has dropped its lawsuit against Michael Flynn, up on the
LDP site by the time you read this.)

Dec 01

Mathematics versus reality

In the comments to my posting on the incoherence of Narnia, it has become apparent that some of the respondents are deeply confused about the relationship between mathematical and empirical truth. Symptoms of this confusion have included a superficially plausible but mistaken application of the Law of the Excluded Middle and an an attempt to invoke Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem to suggest constraints on our ability to obtain empirical truth.

It’s time to bust some myths…

Continue reading

Nov 29

C.S. Lewis is morally incoherent

I read C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” books as a child, and have dim memories of enjoying them. Because of this, and because the trailers for the upcoming movie look gorgeous, I have been planning to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when it comes out. As preparation I thought it would be a good idea to reread the series. To my great disappointment, I’ve discovered that they don’t hold up well under adult perception — in fact, that Lewis’s creation is morally and dramatically incoherent in a deep and damaging way.

Continue reading

Nov 28

Anti-fashion

Manolo the Shoeblogger writes in The
Paradox of Not Caring
: “claiming to not care about the clothes, to
not be concerned about what one wears, it the paradox, for the clothes
worn by one who claims not to care make as much the statement as those
worn by one who dresses with the purpose.” He’s got a point. And yet,
there is a difference between fashionistas like most of his fans and
anti-fashionistas like me, and it’s an important one.

Continue reading

Nov 28

Riots in France declared over

The Brussels Journal reports that the
French government has officially declared the banlieu riots over. The
article continues:

Police figures are at exactly 98 cars torched on Wednesday
night. This, the police say, is a normal average. Consequently
the 20th consecutive night of violence was declared the last one.

Yes, you read that correctly. 98 car-torchings a night is
“normal” in the glorious Fifth Republic in 2005. Civil order in the
banlieus has collapsed, but instead of addressing the breakdown the
French response is to define it out of existence. (In other breaking
news, war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ol’ George Orwell is
spinning in his grave.)

The American mainstream media, alas, have so much invested in the belief
that Eurosocialism is what we ought to be doing that they’ll
certainly take this as an excuse to drop the story. They’d rather cover
fictional riots in New Orleans than factual ones in Orleans, if only because
they can more easily blame George Bush for the former.

The article also observes:

…the French state was obliged to borrow money last week to pay the
wages of its civil servants. The money has run out. One must
concede: this is no example of a strong state.

My previous prediction
stands. We’ve seen only the beginnings of the reckoning for decades
of folly. I expect to have the last laugh on every single one of the
useless idiots who insisted on the superiority of “humane” European
welfare-statism over American cowboy capitalism. But I don’t expect to
enjoy that laugh very much, because the payback is going to be brutal,
bloody, and horrible.

Nov 27

2wenty minutes of goo

Went to see the latest Harry Potter flick last night and got —
no, I won’t say “assaulted”, I’ll say “oozed on” by the infomercials
Regal Cinemas started running earlier this year, some sludge called
“The 2wenty” that tries to be trendy and hip and cool and attractive
and fails miserably on all four counts.

I deduce from the existence of this thing that either (a) ad
executives have the brains of planaria, or (b) they’re engaged in a
conspiracy to waste their clients’ money. The 2wenty isn’t even the
kind of in-your-face bad that leaves an impression — it’s just
unbelievably lame-ass bland, a kind of elevator music dressed up
in video effects.

It’s all the more unbelievable that this thing got produced
because, presumably, it was done by people who get paid to be current
with popular culture. I’m just a 47-year-old white computer geek but
it is dead clear that even I have way more street cool than
whatever “creatives” they found to put the 2wenty
together, fo’shizzle. How did that happen? On the
production values alone they have to be sinking at least $300K a pop
into these, and they can’t out-hip one single aging baby-boomer?
Geez…I think I’m offended as much by their incompetence as by
its results.

Neil Postman and Naomi Klein and their ilk have made a growth
industry out of running around whining about consumer culture, how
it’s all a spectacle designed to distract people from what’s really
important. Never mind that their definition of “what’s really
important” is tired Marxist bullshit…if this is
representative of what the merchants of spectacle are pumping out,
they have no worries. The 2wenty couldn’t do an effective job of
distracting a hyperactive three-year-old. It’d be more likely
to put the tyke to sleep.

Ah well. I look on the bright side. When Big Media wastes money
and putative talent on this scale, it’s good news for the rest of us.
It’s resources they’re not spending on screwing up our culture or our
legal/political system in more effective ways.

UPDATE: After some discussion, my wife and I think we may have identified the 2wenty’s target demographic — early-teenage girls of the mall-rat persuasion.

Nov 25

The Ice Harvest

In 1997 I was delighted by Grosse Point Blank, John
Cusack’s masterpiece about a hitman who finds himself (in both senses
of the phrase) at his high-school reunion. I loved that movie for its
action, its dark comedy, and a script that never stopped being
wickedly intelligent for even a second. I’ve been waiting nearly ten
years for Cusack to do a movie as funny and as plain damn
good.

Continue reading

Nov 24

LISP — The Language That Will Not Die

I’ve spent large parts of the last week editing maps for a game
system I’m working on. I’ve been using the GIMP graphics editor, and I’m pretty
impressed with it. I haven’t found anything I can’t easily make it do
— except, oddly enough, draw straight lines between defined
endpoints. (I suspect there’s actually a way to do this using the
path facility.)

I have a requirement to prepare about six different variants of a
base map, using the same topographic map but with different
arrangements of national borders. I’ve handled this by creating a
multi-layered XCF file with the topo map as the background and the
different borders as optional overlays.

OK, so I save the variants to flat PNGs by hand whenever I change the
image, but that’s a pain. What I wanted was a way to put in my makefile
instructions that say, for each variant map, that it depends on the XCF
and the way to make it is to composite a particular selected subset of layers
by running GIMP in batch mode.

Fortunately, GIMP has an embedded Scheme interpreter that’s good
for exactly this kind of thing. Looking at some Python-Fu code by
Carol Spears taught me enough about the API to get started; the fact
that I’m an old LISP head got me the rest of the way.

Here it is.

;; Batch-mode select and save of a layer set as a PNG.
;; Has to be copied into  ~/.gimp-2.2/scripts to work
;;
;; Note: This assumes that gimp-drawable-get-name returns a list with
;; the actual string name as its car.  This is what gimp-2.2 does, but
;; not what the documentation says it should do!

(define (layer-set-saver infile select outfile)
   (let* ((image (car (gimp-file-load RUN-NONINTERACTIVE infile infile)))
	  (layers (cadr (gimp-image-get-layers image)))
	  (ind 0))
     (while (< ind (length layers))
	    (let* ((layer (aref layers ind))
		   (layer-name (car (gimp-drawable-get-name layer))))
	      (gimp-drawable-set-visible layer (if (member layer-name select) 1 0)))
	    (set! ind (+ ind 1)))
     (file-png-save-defaults RUN-NONINTERACTIVE 
		     image 
		     (car (gimp-image-flatten image)) 
		     outfile outfile)
     )
   (gimp-quit 0)
   )

Here's one of my makefile productions. The second arg is a list of layer names.

basic.png: basic.xcf
	gimp -i -b '(layer-set-saver "basic.xcf" (quote ("topographic" "skinny-borders" "grey-switzerland")) "basic.png")'

Apologies for the long line.

LISP truly is The Language That Will Not Die. And that’s a good thing.