Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Truth, Justice and the American Way

Just when you think people like Beck, Bachmann, O'Reilly, Rove and associates have reached the nadir of human intelligence, something comes along to show that their stupidity and immorality know no bounds.

The idea that "Arabs" developed the swine flu and deliberately introduced it in Mexico to destroy the United States is so far out there that psychological exams. Hopefully that whacko idea is merely sensationalism for ratings and exposure.

No, the latest nadir that I want to talk about is much more mainstream and apparently widely accepted: the response to the administration's release of four torture memos.

vjack did his normal, excellent job of blogging about this earlier today , but I've been running a few ideas around in my head for several days now and want to get them out.

I sort of understand the "look forward" argument. I don't agree with it, but I can understand what assumptions might lead someone to think it is a legitimate and correct position. Which is why I was totally blown away by the indecent garbage that the pundits and right-wing politicos began spewing when the memos came out. In retrospect, I should have remembered better, I wouldn't have been so surprised.

Back in the early to mid 90's, when I was teaching college freshman, I taught a few semesters where torture would be examined as part of the curriculum. Two things from that time are pertinent: first, 25% of my classes, year after year, defined "integrity" as "doing whatever is necessary to win." The second pertinent fact is that around 75% of each class was fine with torture as long as they themselves didn't actually have to do the torturing.

So let's hit the responses:
Waterboarding, walling, sleep deprivation and so on aren't "torture." Wrong. Waterboarding has been internationally defined as torture for decades. We did, in fact, execute war criminals for waterboarding Americans. Throwing someone against a wall (even if you give them a collar that will prevent whiplash) is assault and battery, even if the wall is flimsy.

These aren't Americans, we're not obliged to give them any rights or to follow the Geneva convention if we don't want to do so. Bollocks. Think you can go down to Florida and start killing Canadian tourists because they aren't Americans? The Geneva convention might not, in fact, apply to many of the detainees, because we aren't at war with Al'Queda because they aren't a nation state upon which we can declare war. The only other option for dealing with them, outside the Geneva convention, is to treat them like the common criminals they are. There is no third horn for our government to pursue: they are either POWs or criminals, there is no special category of "people with whom we can do whatever we like."

Torture works. Almost certainly wrong. Most of the world literature on the subject, plus professionals that I know (such as Air Force SERE instructors) say this isn't true. But as vjack pointed out, this doesn't matter. I DON'T GIVE A SHIT IF TORTURE PREVENTS ANOTHER 9/11!

This seems harsh. And obviously, if time was running out for someone that I cared about I'd probably be willing to grasp at any straw I could find. As a personal, emotional response that's understandable. On the personal, emotional side I want to do what I want. I want to be able to kill anyone who, in my personal opinion, threatens me or my family or friends. If personal, emotional justifications make things right and should be implemented by one of the most powerful nations on earth then we're in for a severe population drop.

More than 10 times as many people were killed in auto accidents during the year of 9/11. Why did we not torture the auto makers to determine if there were any additional Pinto-like situations on the horizon (or perhaps ongoing)?

Killing every single suspected criminal that is arrested will eliminate recidivism in this country and save billions in penal costs. That doesn't mean it is a good idea that should be pursued by the government.

Releasing what we do to people will render torture ineffective. Bullshit, Rove. Since it is illegal for Americans to torture others, and since we shouldn't be doing it, this is moot. Just stop torturing people!

Airing our dirty torture laundry will cause Arabs to hate us and make terrorists. Do you think that the kind of people who become terrorists are just on the border, and one more wafer thin mint of injustice is going to open the floodgates to jet setting terrorists? If we apply transparency to the problem then there is at least a PR angle to pursue to demonstrate American resolve in the pursuit of justice. Pursue Osama? By all means. Invade a country with no ties to Osama? Stupid. Arabs who are disposed to become terrorists don't have to read confidential memos to know that people are being tortured by the US, the whole frickin' globe knows that by now.

Democrats are going to get splashed, too! Excuse, me, but so fucking what? This isn't a partisan issue. Should a special victims unit not pursue rapists because a mayor is a Republican and the rapist might be one too?

Truth, justice and the American way. The pundits have ruined this phrase for me. Once I thought that truth and justice, while not exclusively American concepts, were part and parcel of the American way. Between the Republicans and Fox News, and after 8 years of Bush, I have to wonder if we've seen a final divorce between the American way on one hand and truth and justice on the other. The rampant immorality of the GOP leadership and the conservative news organs is so completely un-American that I want to vomit. Every male member of my family (in the patrilineal line back to the Civil War, and including me) has served in the armed forces of the United States. We all took on oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. But when people lack the ability to discern reality, when the vice-president of the US says that breaking the law is ok as long as some good comes out of it, then what have we become? Rove, Chaney, Hannity, these people spit on the people of the United States and the principles upon which our country was formed.

So they can stick it up their ass with a red hot poker, except that's torture. So let's investigate instead, and bring the truth out into the light and achieve justice for as many as possible.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Getting close to getting a camera phone

Those of you who know the Pompotous know that I an ancient cell phone on a pay as you go plan, because I hate phones. With a passion. I am, however, being tempted to get a new phone, one that can snap pictures. Because every day that I go out into the Jackson, Mississippi world I see things that few would believe who haven't been here.

How about the two big faces of the clocks at the MS Ag Museum? Both faces have the wrong time. Or the giant exterminator's truck with the huge statue of a roach in the back? By itself just cheesy, but the truck -- giant bug and all -- had been repainted red white and blue, with "Fight socialism now, teabag Obama!" on the side.

The rusted, custom stretch limo Continental painted white, orange and green, covered in "God" and "Delivery Vehicle" and the name of some Italian food place.

The moron parents at the daycare who don't understand 1) what blocking the driveway means and why you aren't supposed to do it and 2.) how to park parallel to the lines on the driveway. C'mon, it's not rocket science, people, it is just pulling straight into a parking space!

How about a Christian Sporting Store. What the fuck do they sell there, lions? Hmm, that's a good idea. If Christians are going to complain about persecution maybe we ought to persecute a few to demonstrate that disagreement, or not letting them impose their insanity on others, isn't persecution.

So, yeah, I want a phone, because I'm not sure people who live in the United States understand what it is like in Mississippi.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Trying out SousChef

BMW, fully loaded

Bacon, Mushroom and White bread sandwich, purely bad for you, but great for an ultimate eating experience.


  1. 1/2 pound of bacon (try Father's Country Ham smoked flavors)
  2. 1/4 portabella mushrooms
  3. 1/2 sweet onion
  4. 4 tablespoons honey
  5. sourdough bread
  6. 1 tablespoon Parisien Bonnes Herbes


  1. Using kitchen shears, cut up the bacon into half inch pieces, fry in a skillet.
  2. When done, remove bacon from pan and, depending on the cut of your bacon, reduce the amount of bacon fat in the pan.
  3. Chop onions fine, add to pan with remaining bacon fat, saute until tender.
  4. Finely chop mushrooms, add to onions in pan when onions are nearly finished.
  5. Lightly toast bread
  6. Pour Bonnes Herbes into mixture in pan when mushrooms and onions are done.
  7. Pour honey into pan and stir to coat, add bacon back to pan, stir until well mixed.
  8. Spoon mixture onto toasted bread
  9. Cut sandwiches into triangles
Search, share, and cook your recipes on Mac OS X with SousChef!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Growing apart

Nine months ago I retired to follow my wife's job to Mississippi. And while my personal life is wonderful, my mental health is good and my emotions are generally upbeat, I am constantly bombarded with negatives from my environment.

For example, the person or persons who installed a red top on the hot water pipe behind the washer. And the person or persons who installed a red top on the cold water pipe behind the washer. Everywhere I turn in Mississippi I see incompetence and stupidity acted out in front of me. So much so that my normally seemingly inexhaustible rage seems to be... exhausted.

Being retired leaves me more time on line. Previous virtually all of my online reading was technical in nature, keeping up in my profession and the technologies in use in my profession. Slashdot was pretty much the only news-oriented type site which I read and mostly because Slashdot is a good site to keep a general eye on the type of technology with which I worked. For the last nine months I've read much more widely than that, and I have to tell you, a few hours following links on the internet and reading post and comments and even the most jaded stupidity hater will end up slack jawed in disbelief at the level of stupidity expressed in the opinions and ramblings stored on the servers of the world. I've read rants so ridiculous and delirious that the poster thinking they were the Emperor Napoleon would be one step closer to reality for them. People that make even my old college buddy, the one who thought he had a magical high school ring, seem sane.

There are some exceptions. I've found the world of atheist blogging, where the majority of posters are sane and reasonable and intelligent. Recently on I read the following article If "mainstream" religious nuts are dropping out, either turning more to the rational or the more extreme evangelical nuts, then there is a widening gap between those choosing to live in reality as much as possible and those choosing to live in fantasy as much as possible.

In Mississippi you still see, in the general population, the vast difference between rich and poor that dates all the back to the Civil war, and the US history of favoring large accumulations of capital (and how the oligarchs who make decisions of those accumulations of capital take advantage of the US political system) means that the huge socioeconomic gap in Mississippi is being mirrored all over the country.

Our current President is articulate, and this gets him charged as "elitist." Is stupidity now a goal? Are we headed for the society at the opening of Kornbluth's "March of the Morons?"

We are not melting anymore. We are separating. One of Heinlein's characters once opined that whatever particular government you instituted didn't really matter as long as there were sufficient avenues for advancement by merit. "Merit" is now not only running behind wealth and connections (which it pretty much always has), but it is now under attack by "spin" and "image" (again, backed by money). When attempts to correct information in the public sphere only end up serving to reinforce the original false claims, where are we as a society?

The fact of the matter is, most people cannot handle facts. (Consider the creationists flopping all across the public sphere, pretending that they are scientists.) If more people are working with fantasy rather than reality, then more than the US banking and mortgage industry is due to be reacquainted with Kipling's "Gods of the Copybook Headings":

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Disgusted in Mississippi

Today I saw something that made me want to puke.

I was driving behind a white Ford F150 that had a window covering in the back. The artwork was much like the 3 cross crucifiction (I can spell, don't 'sic' me if you quote me), except that the crosses were German Iron Crosses.

It doesn't take much imagination to figure out what kind of world view is required to put something like that on your car. There should be a filter in every ejaculatory duct to prevent racist Nazi-loving creeps like that from reproducing, and the fact that this knuckle dragging waste of space feels safe enough to advertise his moronic perversion severely tests the non-violent side of me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Truth part 3 -- the importance of truth to me

I could talk about how the scientific method requires truthfulness and integrity, and all the obvious benefits of knowing how the universe really works is beneficial for society as a whole. But for this installment on truth, I think I'll put a more human face on the matter: my own.

For my wife, one of the more irritating aspects about being around the Pompotous is the fact that my predictions are correct more than 99% of the time. Being correct -- making statements that are as equivalent as possible with reality -- is a passion with me. My success rate comes from two factors: I tend to not make predictions in the absence of evidence, and I'm very good at analyzing evidence.

This drives my wife bonkers, a view that most, if not all, of my male friends have trouble understanding. (Not to digress into a discussion of gender.) Reality is what it is, why be upset about a statement demonstrating a good grasp of reality? To me, demonstrated accuracy is a helpful indicator that my model of the world still works, meaning I'm still in some sense sane, and that my opinions and judgments can be trusted.

The wife is also slightly irritated when I apply my truth principles to her interactions with our daughter. Maternal instructions of "eat some chicken and you can have more bread" would result in Baby K taking a single small bite and expecting more bread. Fortunately, after years of practice with me, Mama was able to adjust and now couches instructions in more accurate terms (i.e. separating out what must be eaten to gain the reward). I caved on the whole Santa Claus/Easter Bunny thing, and needed something in return: in our direct dealings with each other, I think we need trust, and trust can only come with accuracy, because accuracy reduces the chance of misunderstandings.

Excalibur is a movie with some excellent moments, and one of my favorites is when Merlin is pressed to provide an answer to "what is the single greatest virtue?" Eventually he spits out, "Alright then, truth, that's it, yes, it must be truth, above all. When a man lies he murders some part of the world." I love that part. Because I was raised in a family of lies.

Yes, to be truthful, my attachment to truth is in part an emotional reaction to my life. Some of the truths behind some of the lies I was told for between 11 and 30 years (all revolving around my maternal side):

  • my grandmother had 3 husbands

  • my grandmother's first husband beat her into a miscarriage after WWII, thinking the child wasn't his (it was)

  • my mother was a bastard

  • my grandfather, after a fling resulting in my mother, was married for 15 years and had 2 children

  • my mother, as a teenager, located her biological father and stole from her stepfather and used it to fly to where my grandfather was, proceeding to break up his marriage

  • my mother used her middle name because her first name was too close to that of one of my grandfather's legitimate children, whom he never saw after my mother broke up his marriage

  • my grandfather, while a finalist for sergeant major of the Army, in part didn't get the post because he had joined the Army as part of a plea bargain over an assault with a deadly weapon charge (knifing someone at his high school prom)

  • my grandfather was 1/2 Native American, which explained how so many of his friends from his Army days were Native American, but he himself "passed" during my lifetime

While in college I ended up hospitalized for a bit with a large combination of illnesses. (Fortunately I responded to the antibiotics and steroids, and so didn't have to get a spinal tap to rule out meningitus.) I was 15, and Gaby C. (my first girlfriend, 20 years old) didn't visit me. When I got out, the first time we engaged in foreplay I noticed a hickey on her breast. I wasn't quite horny enough to ignore it nor stupid enough to believe her when she said I had placed it there. Thanks, Steve P. Given where my life went, and that I became friends with the three other guys I know she dated during college, I should probably forgive you.

Julia G., the 16 year old I'd fallen hopelessly in love with when I was 11, was getting ready to start marriage number 2 by the time I reconnected with her after college, law school and joining the military. Rather than hating her betrothed, poor Steve M., I came to love him like a brother. So the first time Julia G asked me to become more than friends I left the state, coming back a year or so later when Steve M called and asked me to come back to help take care of Julia G and her mitral valve prolapse.

The night Julia G took off all her clothes and jumped on me, telling me to fuck her right then or leave her house forever happened to be the one night that Steve M wandered out of the bedroom after going to sleep. Julia G insisted on talking to him first, after which I was invited in and Steve M announced that we should try to make this work with all of us. A year and a half later, in a fit of pique, Julia revealed to me that she had given Steve an ultimatum that night: say what he ended up saying or she'd divorce him right away and move in with me. And, she added, I was surely too smart and must have known that's what she did. (I did not, by the way.)

When Curtis B, a married colleague of mine, took such great pains in seducing me, my track history, obviously, had me knowing that this would end badly, that her protestations of love for her poor husband, Kevin B, were incompatible with the "will always love you" and "will always be there for you" and so on towards me. Yet I ended up relying on them for a couple of years, right up until she broke up with me forever for the 1st time within a week or two of my devastation on learning that my grandmother had Alzheimers. (In case you are wondering, there were a total of 3 "break up forever" moments with her, the second right after she got pregnant for the first time (she said she was already two weeks pregnant the last time we had sex that go around, and I had no clue she was off the pill), the third after she felt sufficiently recovered from the miscarriage of the first pregnancy.)

Given my experience, I think that it is safe to say I agree with Merlin. On a personal and emotional level, truth is vitally important for emotional wellbeing. Lies generally don't last forever, and a lie discovered is the death of trust.

It is truth, people. Truth can, indeed, set you free. Without truth, without reality as it really is, there is just falseness, error and pain.

Truth: deal with it.

Monday, March 16, 2009


A recent tweet from vjack (author of the most excellent asked, "Why is it that nearly every Christian who comments on an atheist blog acts as if he/she is the first to ever do so?" I suspect this was in reaction to his latest Christian troll, a 14 year old with all the arrogance and enthusiasm of his tribe, along with the lack of answers or experience also common to his tribe.

In part I think that old arguments get brought up to provoke a reaction (rather than taking the time to see where they've been answered again and again and again), but part of it lies in the basics of the human ego, particularly among the incompetent. (Incompetent people, of course, have no idea they are incompetent, and tend to rate themselves more competent than people who are competent.)

Before I retired, the products whose user interfaces I and my team designed consistently made profits, took market share in expanding markets, and spurred supplies profits. Yes, these products were in a niche market where ease of use was an excellent selling point, but the point is that much, much money was made by these devices, and our work was the public face of these flagship devices.

As our success became obvious, market forces and trends happened to erode the profitability of other divisions in this Fortune 500 corporation. And here's the counterintuitive part, the one that I think ties in with vjack's question: the more money our products made, the more awards we won, the more rave reviews from customers, the harder it was for us to do our jobs.

Designing a user interface requires scientific creativity. You make several things up, you test them, you iterate, and so on and so on until, out of all your hypotheses about how different aspects may work, you end up with a theory of a usable interface that matches your customers' needs. This process involves seemingly endless research and thought and experimentation.

When you outperform others in a multi-billion dollar a year company, one where corporate "restructuring" is CONSTANT as a method for placating financial analysts, people want to be associated with that stellar performance. As our devices performed better and better across the years, more and more people tried to interfere in the development process: you should do this, our customers are going to hate that, I think this should go here and be called this, well how many people did you test, on and on and on.

And the most frustrating part of all of that almost universally worthless advice and questioning is that the majority of these incompetent hangers-on were impossible to shut up. "Yes, thank you, no one on MY team is a moron, your points have already been considered and rejected."

"But blah blah."

"Blah blah doesn't matter, it has already been considered, tested, and rejected by the exact same process that has resulted in profit making, market share taking devices for the last 9 years."

"Well, the old one did bleh, and I think that is the way to go, our customers really like bleh."

"I am the one that personally INVENTED bleh, I hold a patent on it. The same methodology that said BLEH was a good idea says that our current ideas are even better!"

And this continues for days. Weeks. Months. Years even. (We had a normal 2 year development cycle, and the same stupid suggestions would get reborn as new people, with no training in our field, no experience and little intelligence would come in and duplicate the time wasting of their equally idiotic predecessors.) I once tried sending out form letters of, "I read and understood your points. Your opinion now resides as a data point in the thousands of users and experiments whose actions and opinions and results I have absorbed. Nothing that you have said is new, and there is no reason for I or my team to spend any more time on this issue. Thanks for your input, The Pompotous."

Needless to say, I was ordered to stop using that -- too insulting, as if an untrained novice with no evidence attempting to dictate to a seasoned, educated and proven successful professional wasn't insulting! But that is corporate life. People really don't seem to understand that some ideas are correct, many more ideas are incorrect, and there are indeed instances where this can be demonstrated. Being wrong, as a scientist, is just part of life. It is part and parcel of the scientific method. Most people can't seem to internalize that, and end up wasting a lot of time with what is, quite frankly, crap.

And I don't want to give the idea that all input from untrained novices with no evidence is useless. Sometimes questions from the non-idiots can provoke a chain of thought, when answering, that opens up new doors to be explored. That's the basis of collaboration, at least the way it worked for my team: someone lays down a set of hypotheses and you start asking questions until you're down to things with all the obvious logical or technical flaws removed, something that needs to be explored through experimentation.

Too much ego is bad for the scientific method. So when scientists come along and say, "You're not only wrong, you're not worth arguing with because YOU HAVE NOTHING NEW AND THE PROCESS HAS ALREADY HAPPENED," they just go nuts with outrage. If the basis for, say, evolution was as completely worthless as the basis for, say, creationism, then speaking out would be warranted. But it's not.

I wonder if there is an atheist FAQ (or FAA, Frequently Answered Answers) that we could point to: you think Biblical Creationism is a scientific theory, you have provided no new evidence to support your ridiculous position, see tinyurl.bleh#3.