Saturday, April 30, 2005

dawkins doesn’t mince words

A refreshing read amidst the current rush-to-god froth the media insists America is in the midst of: The atheist: Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains why God is a delusion, religion is a virus, and America has slipped back into the Dark Ages. In Salon, by Gordy Slack. A quick snippet:

Still, so many people resist believing in evolution. Where does the resistance come from?

It comes, I’m sorry to say, from religion. And from bad religion. You won’t find any opposition to the idea of evolution among sophisticated, educated theologians. It comes from an exceedingly retarded, primitive version of religion, which unfortunately is at present undergoing an epidemic in the United States. Not in Europe, not in Britain, but in the United States.

My American friends tell me that you are slipping towards a theocratic Dark Age. Which is very disagreeable for the very large number of educated, intelligent and right-thinking people in America. Unfortunately, at present, it’s slightly outnumbered by the ignorant, uneducated people who voted Bush in.

But the broad direction of history is toward enlightenment, and so I think that what America is going through at the moment will prove to be a temporary reverse. I think there is great hope for the future. My advice would be, Don’t despair, these things pass.

and later:

How would we be better off without religion? We’d all be freed to concentrate on the only life we are ever going to have. We’d be free to exult in the privilege—the remarkable good fortune—that each one of us enjoys through having been being born. An astronomically overwhelming majority of the people who could be born never will be. You are one of the tiny minority whose number came up. Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain and presumptuous desire for a second one. The world would be a better place if we all had this positive attitude to life. It would also be a better place if morality was all about doing good to others and refraining from hurting them, rather than religion’s morbid obsession with private sin and the evils of sexual enjoyment.

And, one last bit:

Some scientists say that removing religion or God from their life would leave it meaningless, that it’s God that gives meaning to life. “Unweaving the Rainbow” specifically attacks the idea that a materialist, mechanist, naturalistic worldview makes life seem meaningless. Quite the contrary, the scientific worldview is a poetic worldview, it is almost a transcendental worldview. We are amazingly privileged to be born at all and to be granted a few decades—before we die forever—in which we can understand, appreciate and enjoy the universe. And those of us fortunate enough to be living today are even more privileged than those of earlier times. We have the benefit of those earlier centuries of scientific exploration. Through no talent of our own, we have the privilege of knowing far more than past centuries. Aristotle would be blown away by what any schoolchild could tell him today. That’s the kind of privileged century in which we live. That’s what gives my life meaning. And the fact that my life is finite, and that it’s the only life I’ve got, makes me all the more eager to get up each morning and set about the business of understanding more about the world into which I am so privileged to have been born.

His books are actually readable. More later ... heading out the door soon.

posted by lee on 04/30/05 at 06:42 AM

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Friday, April 29, 2005

assorted stuff

Stanley got his PICC line removed Friday morning. It was creepy to watch, but he’s delighted to have it gone. Though he’s supposed to go see the cardiologist to have things checked (like two weeks ago), he’s dragging his heels on setting up the appointment (“look what happened the last time” is, I guess, the reason for his hesitation). But I guess it doesn’t matter much since he’s scheduled for a physical near the end of May.

On Monday, S had a follow-up appointment with Zane Saul. We had to wait nearly two hours to see Saul for five minutes. Inexcusably rude. Saul’s rationale was that he was backed up because it was his first day back from vacation. Thinks nothing of wasting our time or the time of all the people cooling their heels in his waiting room. When we asked what the deal was, the receptionist said we could schedule another appointment. Like we were going to come back some other day and waste another two hours of our life.

Stanley says, “The woman who cuts our hair can manage to have the receptionist call us and tell us she’s running late, but Zane can’t manage that?”

Saul wasn’t our choice for following up on the staph infection (hell, he’s head of the department that is supposed to PREVENT staph infections at Bridgeport Hospital, why would we trust him?), but Robinson said we should see him, so we went along with it. If you have an infectious disease, find somebody else unless you like spending time in waiting rooms.

Anyway. We’re almost finished with a site that we’re looking forward to launching—lots of work but I really like it. More on that when it launches. Plus we’re making some revisions to another site, to fine-tune the sales pitch, cart flow. More on that later, as well. Very, very busy this week—actually too busy to do the billing that I should have gotten out a couple of weeks ago. I hate doing the billing because I hate bookkeeping. It’s never as automated as I’d like it to be since most of what we do is custom work. Frell.

This weekend, we’re going to Natick to visit Maureen, Kate, and Ben (oh, and Tattoo too). Mainly to hang out, watch Ben’s soccer game, paint swatches on the walls to decide on what colors to paint some of the rooms, catch up on our gabbing ... I am really looking forward to it.

I wanted to get a few photos up here. I would put them in the Gallery, but I haven’t had a chance to fix it since I screwed it up during the upgrade (like the shoemaker’s kids running around with no shoes). The first one is a photo of Twitch that Stanley shot, and I just love it:

Twitch enjoying the April sunshine, by Stanley H. Thompson

Earlier in the month we managed to get over to Sherwood Island and walk on the beach. Trying to get some walking in while Stanley was building up his strength again.

Stanley and Ginger at Sherwood Island, April 13, 2005
Stanley and Ginger at Sherwood Island, April 13, 2005

I planted lots of bulbs last fall. Some of them, the ones that survived the onslaught of the damn squirrels, woodchucks, or various other creatures who eat bulbs, are starting to bloom and it’s pretty interesting to see what’s coming up where. I love these tulips:

tulips April 2005

I had never heard of, or planted, fritillaria before until I saw them in a catalog and thought they looked interesting. I like them even more now that I can see them in real life, and will probably get more of them this fall.

fritillaria April 2005

The 2005 Lawn Reclamation Project is still underway. It will be three weeks since we seeded the part of the so-called lawn off the porch and, as yet, nary a blade of grass. Maybe when it gets a bit warmer? It’s slightly chillier than average for this time of year. Maybe a bit more sunshine? It’s supposed to rain again this weekend—maybe next week I’ll see green that isn’t chickweed or onion grass invading, though at this point I just want to see green where I now see dirt.

Next week we need to rake the back 40 and, in the area behind the apple trees, I want to sow wildflower seed, rake it in, and let that go to meadow. I see no reason to have a half acre of lawn.

Also, next week, we should be getting the 10 Giant Cedars we ordered (along with 10 complimentary butterfly bushes and a pair of garden gloves) so we can build more of our wall (aka a privacy hedge).

Oh, there’s so much more to babble on about, but I think I’d rather just go to bed.

posted by lee on 04/29/05 at 10:45 PM

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

the new food pyramid

When I first got a look at it, it kind of reminded me of Chitzen-itza. Then I looked at it, and realized it conveys no information. None. Emblematic of the Bushies, I think.

The design and the website the goes with it cost US taxpayers at least $2.5 million dollars.

But other who know more about design than I have written better rants about it than I can. Michael Beirut of DesignObserver comes to mind:

The new pyramid has none of the bracing clarity of the old one. As a seasoned graphic designer, I find myself with the dismaying ability to look beyond any new design and see the interminable series of meetings that was its genesis. The brief the Department of Agriculture gave its consultant, Porter Novelli, must have been daunting.

Indeed. Make it look busy while saying nothing, offending no one (except those of us who expect information graphics to, um, provide information).

posted by lee on 04/24/05 at 09:16 AM

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Friday, April 22, 2005

links!

Forces of Nature from National Geographic. See if you can start a tornado. For natural disaster buffs everywhere (I confess—my favorite movies are disaster movies).

The American Highway Project is planning to “document vanishing Americana such as motels, billboards, service stations, highway signs, tourist attractions, drive-in theatres and diners.” Hmm.

image

And, as long as you’re looking at stuff along the highway, take a look at Sign Language, which is a “collection of photos containing humorous, bizarre, and or confusing signs from around the world.” Modern Contemporary Design, aka MoCo Loco, is “a web magazine featuring modern contemporary design news and views.” I’m not sure why it’s modern AND contemporary, versus, say Modern Design or Contemporary Design, or maybe it’s a style. I don’t know. It’s just interesting to find out what’s going on in the design world. I like a lot of modern design, which is probably why I like the designs of our friends Christine and Greg at Fletcher Cameron Design. Ok, ‘nuff for now.

posted by lee on 04/22/05 at 08:49 PM

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

so. tired. but the front forty is seeded.

Into weekend two of our 2005 Lawn Reclamation Project. We have about a third of the half acre raked and seeded with grass seed. The good thing is this April is uncharacteristically dry and sunny, so we had two good weekends to rake and seed. The bad thing is this April is uncharacteristically dry and sunny, so the seed isn’t sprouting since we don’t have the time to water it every day. But, the package says it WILL sprout, from 7 to 30 days, depending on the weather.

I mixed some of the fall planting mixture in with the stuff we got at Home Depot a couple of weeks ago. Because I was running out of that. I don’t really understand the difference between fall planting seed and spring planting seed since they’re both perennial rye grass. Probably a way for Scott to make money twice a year by getting people to buy it twice a year. We’ll see.

Way behind in putting up pictures—I have some of Jamie’s princess, aka her dog Bailey, to get up. And other comments and observations to blather about. But, instead, I think I’ll watch 60 Minutes, take a long shower, then listen to the telly while I finish the restructuring of westportnow.com—or at least begin to finish it (I can’t wait to get it launched with the new platform—MT has gotten clunky and unwieldy so it should be a lot faster with the mysql/php configuration). Oh, and I guess I should make dinner too (just realized I’m really hungry!)

posted by lee on 04/17/05 at 02:49 PM

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Monday, April 11, 2005

frank rich exposes our national sham

There is one columnist I look forward to reading to a point where I actually check to see if there’s anything new by him. That’s Frank Rich, who writes for the New York Times. I like him because he pulls aside the curtain without getting shrill, without trying to beat you over the head with his opinions. He exposes the left and the right, the religious and the non-religious, etc. Nobody is exempt. He exposes the hypocrisy of American herd.

Yesterday, he wrote about all the blather and the bullshit surrounding the so-called “culture of life” claimed by blowhards in politics and the media, suggesting that Americans, if you believe the media, is a nation of necrophiliacs. But, don’t go by my interpretation. Read it yourself. A Culture of Death, Not Life by Frank Rich, NYT, April 10, 2005. Here is a brief excerpt:

As sponsors line up to buy time on "CSI," so celebrity deaths have become a marvelous opportunity for beatific self-promotion by news and political stars alike. Tim Russert showed a video of his papal encounter on a "Meet the Press" where one of the guests, unchallenged, gave John Paul an A-plus for his handling of the church's sex abuse scandal. Jesse Jackson, staking out a new career as the angel of deathotainment, hit the trifecta: in rapid succession he appeared with the Schindlers at their daughter's hospice in Florida, eulogized Johnnie Cochran on "Larry King Live" and reminisced about his own papal audience with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

What's disturbing about this spectacle is not so much its tastelessness; America will always have a fatal attraction to sideshows. What's unsettling is the nastier agenda that lies far less than six feet under the surface. Once the culture of death at its most virulent intersects with politicians in power, it starts to inflict damage on the living.

When those leaders, led by the Bush brothers, wallow in this culture, they do a bait-and-switch and claim to be upholding John Paul's vision of a "culture of life." This has to be one of the biggest shams of all time. Yes, these politicians oppose abortion, but the number of abortions has in fact been going down steadily in America under both Republican and Democratic presidents since 1990 - some 40 percent in all. The same cannot be said of American infant fatalities, AIDS cases and war casualties - all up in the George W. Bush years. Meanwhile, potentially lifesaving phenomena like condom-conscious sex education and federally run stem-cell research are in shackles.

This agenda is synergistic with the entertainment culture of Mr. Bush's base: No one does the culture of death with more of a vengeance - literally so - than the doomsday right. The "Left Behind" novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins all but pant for the bloody demise of nonbelievers at Armageddon. And now, as Eric J. Greenberg has reported in The Forward, there's even a children's auxiliary: a 40-title series, "Left Behind: The Kids," that warns Jewish children of the hell that awaits them if they don't convert before it's too late. Eleven million copies have been sold on top of the original series' 60 million.

posted by lee on 04/11/05 at 07:46 AM

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Friday, April 08, 2005

update: uncrustables patent rejected

According to The Wall Street Journal, Smucker can’t patent the process it uses to make it crustless PBJ sandwiches. Too much like the process used for making ravioli. So, “smushing” and “compressing” are the same thing. A victory for crustless PBJ makers everywhere, no Giant Jelly Corporation can come swooping into your kitchen, frightening the kiddies and the cat, if you smush the edges of the next PBJ sandwich you make.

posted by lee on 04/08/05 at 12:30 PM

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Thursday, April 07, 2005

compressed, not smushed

“So it’s smushed!” Judge Raymond Clevenger III declared, referencing the way Smuckers makes its crustless PBJ sandwiches.

The Wall Street Journal outlines the earth-shattering case in “Patent Case Turns Sticky for Smucker,” proving once again that justices are too often sense-impaired when deciding what cases to hear.

Today, Sara Schaefer Muñoz wrote:

Three federal judges yesterday questioned whether the method for creating a crustless, peanut butter and jelly sandwich is unique.

The hearing, at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, was the latest round in J.M. Smucker Co.‘s attempt to expand its patent on Uncrustables, frozen, disk-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that have been among the Orrville, Ohio, jam-maker’s most successful products.

The three judges explored the difference between bread that is “smushed” versus “compressed,” and pondered the idea of jelly “encapsulated” in peanut butter. One even questioned whether his wife violated Smucker’s patent when she made lunch for their child ...

Smucker obtained patent rights on the sandwich in 1999, and set out to expand them with new applications before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. But a patent examiner handling the case rejected the company’s requests. The Patent Office’s appeals board upheld the decision, declaring the sealed sandwich wasn’t new, and citing, among other things, a pastry cookbook that shows how to seal the edges of tarts and stuffed pasta.

Yesterday, Smucker lawyer ... argued that the sandwich’s edge isn’t made like the tarts or raviolis shown in the cookbook. Instead, he said, the bread retains its original characteristics but its edges are compressed.

“So it’s smushed!” Judge Raymond Clevenger III declared,

“It is sealed by compression, but it is not smushed,” Mr. Vickers explained.

Mr. Vickers also said the sandwich is novel because the filling “encapsulates” jelly between two larger layers of peanut butter. But the judges weren’t sure how the “encapsulated” filling makes the Smucker sandwich different from other versions.

At one point, another judge, Arthur Gajarsa, said his wife often squeezes together the sides of their child’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to keep the filling form oozing out. “I’m afraid she might be infringing on your patent!”

A statement handed out by company representatives at yesterday’s hearing says, “It wouldn’t be fair to let another company simply copy the product and benefit from the hard work our people have invested.”

It’s too much. I wonder how much this case will cost taxpayers?

posted by lee on 04/07/05 at 12:46 PM

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

blumenthal getting ready to kick federal butt

Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, clearly wants to be governor some day. The problem is, he’s such a great attorney general that most of the voters here see to want him to stay right where he is. For example, he is now planning to sue the federal government for imposing a burden on states that the feds are not also providing funds to pay for, ergo, the No Child Left Behind law. The details, from WTNH:

(WTNH, Apr. 5, 2005 8:30 PM) _ Connecticut is taking action against the No Child Left Behind law. It’s becoming the first state in the nation to sue the federal government claiming the law violates the constitution.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said today it is the schools ultimately that suffer. He says the federal government requires the tests—they should pay for the tests but somehow, Connecticut winds up footing a large chunk of the bill.

Most students strive for “A’s,” but when it comes to the Federal Government and the No Child Left Behind Act, or NCLB, what grade would the Connecticut Attorney General give? “The Federal Government deserves an “F” or below for failing to follow the law,” he said from his office in Hartford.

Blumenthal ... says states are forced to spend millions of dollars above what federal funding provides to create standardized testing under the NCLB ... “State and local taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for this federal policy according to Congress itself.”

Blumenthal adds Connecticut has a 20-year track record of successful testing in grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. Under NCLB, the state is forced to test students annually, resulting in an additional $8 million at the state’s expense. “The uncovered costs are so clear and so large, the law is clearly violated.”

... Blumenthal doesn’t deny the idea of NCLB is valid. He just feels the methodology to accomplishing those goals is not. “We have no alternative but to go to court.”

I’m just wondering if the idea of NCLB really is valid. I have yet to see even one news story about it working to raise reading scores. I suspect NCLB is a first class demonstration of the law of unintended consequences—a concept that fascinated me when I first studied it in grad school under Robert Merton. It explains how sometimes even the most well-intentioned government programs can go so badly awry.

posted by lee on 04/06/05 at 07:08 AM

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

quiet sunday

Stanley is off meeting a friend for a cuppa joe, the dog is snoring on her bed, the cat is off doing his cat things, so I’m just catching up with a few things before I continue working on Big Project #2. Out of about six. Anyway ...

Later today, I hope we can head to Home Depot to get some 5’ arborvitae they have on sale, I think they’re four for $30. We’ll add them to the living fence we’re working on to block the ugly house next door. Besides, we like them. We also have to go retrieve my trellis from the house I used to live at. Since Helene moved out, I want it back because I NEED it to replace the junky one from Gardener’s Supply that finally collapsed.

crocus040105
click to enlarge

The crocuses (crocusi? croci?) are abundant this year, which surprised me since we didn’t rake the lawn in the fall and there’s a dense mat of dead leaves over most of the lawn. Or what’s left of the lawn. We have four or five house and garden projects slated for this year, and The Resurrection of the Lawn is one of them. Another is Restoration of the Porch Columns. And there’s a couple of more having to do with the eaves and the roof (which needs replacing, ugh) and maybe, maybe, reclaiming the potting shed from about 15 years of mold and tiny mammals. Kate and Tattoo, Easter Sunday 05

Anyway. I forgot to mention our trip to Natick last weekend, for Easter. It was a great break—good to drop everything and just head up to visit my sister and crew. She made a great Easter dinner, which made Stanley very happy because she made scalloped potatoes (“Mmmm, starch,” he said.) and ham and the seafood salad I like so much. And chocolate for dessert. Everyone was pretty much in a good mood. Kate is going to the Junior-Senior Prom or something like that, and she and Maureen found a dress that is just beautiful; the colors are just perfect for Kate. Ben slept for maybe twenty minutes on Saturday night. I’m not sure what he did. But he made up for lost sleep on Sunday afternoon:

Ben snoozing, Easter Sunday 05
He was so out of it both Ginger and Tattoo jumping up on the bed and licking his face failed to wake him up. We dodged the bullet this weekend on the projected five inches of rain. We got about two inches yesterday, maybe we’ll get another inch later today. But certainly nothing like the dire forecasts. The rivers in Connecticut are flooding and it would be good if they don’t set any more records. The lower portion of our half acre looks like a pond. But the cellar didn’t flood for a change. I was worried about it based on the predictions. Ah, here is the cat, twitching as he watches the finches in the burning bush. Isn’t it interesting how news producers, particularly on TV, can only seem to carry one story at a time? For two weeks, it was Shiavo all day and all night. Now it’s All-Pope, All the Time (as Stanley says).  I guess the rest of the world has ground to a halt, since I don’t see much coverage of anything else such as, oh, Iraq, The Sudan, Indonesia ... next thing we’ll see is some stupid analysts telling us that religion is very important to us because we watched the Pope-aganza in record numbers. Kinda like when the OJ “Chase” Show got huge ratings, wowing the pundits who failed to note that it was the only thing showing on nearly every bloody channel. The Pope Show is even bigger than the Reagan Show was. Will last longer, too, since we’ll have to endure all this until the world sees white smoke. All this for a reactionary old fart. Yes, I am a recovering Catholic.
posted by lee on 04/03/05 at 09:19 AM

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