Sunday, August 31, 2008

Behold the power of the comma

I was asked to fill out a job application web form the other day. Right below the title of the form was this:

Do not answer questions, which may be contrary to existing laws or regulations.

(I guess it's not just the comma, but the fact that whoever wrote this used "which" when he meant "that.")

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

By their headlines, shall ye know them

IlliniPundit over at, um, IlliniPundit has on several occasions, claimed that Democrats are being overly-sensitive when it comes to race in this election. (Example.)

That's the advantage of privilege, isn't it? Whether is white privilege, heterosexual privilege, or male privilege, one of the benefits is that you don't even have to realize it's there. A corollary to that is that you don't have to wonder about those borderline cases. Until I'd read a few feminist blogs, I'd never actually noticed that paper towel commercials always show a smiling woman mopping up some mess or another, either made by a child or while some hapless male looks on in bewilderment. I'd never even thought about how our society often makes jokes that imply that rape is a complement.

So maybe it's easy for the (I assume) white IlliniPundit to pooh-pooh the racism that may be inherent in political ads this season. But think about this: Ann Coulter's August 20th column was titled "Constitutional Scholar Obama Questions Legality Of Slavery Ban."

Really. One of the most visible and most syndicated conservative writers in our country just wrote a column suggesting that a black Presidential candidate might approve of slavery.

No, race won't be a factor in this election. Not at all.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The definition of useless

This weekend, I ran by the bank to cash in several jars of change I had accumulated. I think it was five to ten pounds worth. All in all, it wound up being $40 in coins, roughly half in dimes, and the rest split between nickels and pennies. Most of the volume by far, however, was pennies. (I hoard quarters because I need them to do laundry.)

This got me to thinking, I can't even remember the last time I used a penny for any purpose other than making exact change just so I didn't get more pennies. You can't use them in any vending machine. I can't imagine anyone using them to pay for anything even as trivial as a Coke from a 7-11. So what's the point of keeping them in circulation?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why can't you buy plain yogurt in small containers?

When I was shopping for ingredients to make a recipe the other day, I needed to buy plain yogurt, something I don't often buy. In the yogurt isle of the supermarket there were a wealth of options. Even in plain yogurt there was plain, vanilla (pretty close), whole-milk, low-fat, nonfat, organic, and regular. But that kind of yogurt is only sold by the bucketful.

Sure, the flavored yogurt is sold in smaller containers. If I wanted Banana Berry Rhubarb Delight instead of plain, I could have bought individual 8 oz. containers, four-packs, six-packs, whipped, blended, sugar-free, drinkable smoothies, and even freakin' yogurt-in-a-tube. But, no, I needed plain yogurt, and the smallest container they seem to sell is two pounds.

So I have two-pound-minus-a-cup of plain, whole milk yogurt and no idea what to do with it. I've made yogurt cheese before, and that worked fine, I just don't have a lot of use for it. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Just how crappy is Conservapedia?

No, that's not a rhetorical question. Just how crappy is the world's crappiest encyclopedia? Pretty crappy, it turns out. In a solar-flare-sized burst of irony, Conservapedia actually accuses Wikipedia of being "anti-intellectual."

In looking up stuff for my previous post about Conservapedia, I poked around a bit. The John McCain article is reasonably level-headed, if not balanced. There's nothing in there that's particularly kook-worthy.

Oh, but just take a look at the Barack Obama article. It's not just biased, it's spittle-flecked, conspiracy-mongeringly, unhinged. Here are some of the good bits, with the craptastic segments bolded.

Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. (allegedly born in Honolulu, August 4, 1961) is the presumptive 2008 nominee of the Democratic Party for president... In 2007, Obama was the most liberal Senator. If elected, Obama would be the first Affirmative Action President.

You have to love the subtle Muslim-baiting in the comment that he is only "allegedly" born in Hawaii. Kind of like commenting that John McCain is only allegedly not a shape-shifting alien come to steal Earth's water. The "most liberal Senator bit?" That's based on a conservative hit piece that cherry-picked votes, I can only suspect, deliberately to portray Obama as the most liberal Senator, just as they did to John Kerry last election. One of the "liberal" bills he voted for was the one to implement the 9/11 committee's suggestions. The "Affirmative Action President" comment is so blatantly racist, I just can't think of any way to respond.

Obama has declared himself to be a Christian, yet never replaced his Muslim name with a Christian one as many do, casting doubt on his politically self-serving claim.

See, he's not really a Christian, he just claims to be one for political reasons. More Muslim-baiting.

Obama wore an American flag lapel pin after 9/11, but later stopped wearing it without adequate explanation. Presumably it would have hurt him with anti-military campaign donors. Recently, he has begun wearing one again, for explained reasons, though it is likely a political pander.

How dare he change his choice in jewelry without getting permission first! Plus, his supporters hate the military. Continuing the Obama-hates-the-military theme:

Obama's campaign has been financed largely by leftist donors opposed to the war and to the American military in general. Obama has encouraged this by refusing to wear the customary flag on his lapel during appearances...

Note how his supporters are no longer "liberals" but "leftists." I'd be a "leftist," too, but my Che Guevara beret is in the wash.

In the context of sex, he quipped about his daughters, "if they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby." Obama makes it clear if his daughters had an unplanned pregnancy, he would support terminating the life of his grandchild and it is undeniable that Michelle Obama agrees with that decision.

"Undeniable," you see. The conservatwats are apparently mind readers, to boot.

He has no clear personal achievement that cannot be explained as the likely result of affirmative action.


Nonetheless, he asserted that elements of sex education should be taught in kindergarten.

Wow, that sounds terrible! Perverted, even! Or maybe not. Crapapedia gives that statement without explanation or context. The citation it claims it comes from quotes Obama as saying this:

Nobody's suggesting that kindergartners are going to be getting information about sex in the way that we think about it ... If they ask a teacher 'where do babies come from,' that providing information that the fact is that it's not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing.

The fact is that it's not inappropriate to talk to even preschool kids about where babies come from. The key is to do it in an age-appropriate manner. In about five seconds of internet searching, I found a number of family-oriented websites discussing how to do it. Here's the baby-hating, an excerpt from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler, and something on

I wish I could remember where I read it, but it's been said that when liberals see something that's biased, they want to make it more accurate. When conservatives see something that's biased, they want to make it more conservative. Even if Conservapedia's thesis that Wikipedia is liberally biased were true, just piling on more bias, as they've done, isn't the answer. Conservapedia sells itself as a scholarly website, fit for teaching students. You don't get quality academic material by framing things you don't agree with in the most inflammatory way possible.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The pentayokel

OK, this has gone from amusing to depressing to downright annoying. Yet another letter by a yokel from the Ghetto of Ignorance® was in the News-Gazette. This one by Mark Thompson of Dewey. As before, since these people aren't capable of having an original thought, the standard creationist claims are identified by a link.

Au contraire, evolution as a theory is entirely inconclusive. For all they preach the evolutionists have little evidence for the record.

Let's ignore for the moment the fact that "inconclusive" doesn't make sense in this sentence. I imagine he's trying to say it's not backed up by evidence. The only reason evolution is the dominant theory in biology is that it is consistent with the evidence. It's the only theory that's consistent with all the evidence.

Universal reproduction could not have evolved randomly; it is beyond scientific probability (insert DNA, any organ, voluntary and involuntary bodily systems, flora and fauna).

I have a hard time fisking this because ... what the hell is "universal reproduction?" Is he talking about sexual reproduction? If so, I guess he has no problem with organisms that reproduce asexually having evolved? Ghetto of Incoherence is more like it.

Creationists, especially the casual, letter-to-the-editor writing kind like to talk about things being beyond some level of probability and therefore impossible. It's a crock, of course. You can't calculate the probability of events like that. (We'll ignore again whatever the hell he means by "scientific" probability.) The head yokels, the ones that write the books for the yokel audience, come up with metaphors like a tornado in a junkyard constructing a 747. But that's a false analogy. Evolution isn't random. It's stochastic. It has an element of randomness, but it's not a random process.

Could one person win the lottery every day of his life, unaided, probability or impossibility? Math science suggests "random evolution" as one chance in trillions.

What the hell is "math science?" Again, you can't calculate the odds for evolution. It's not a probabilistic event. It's like saying, "What's are the odds of gravity?"

On the other hand, evolution theorists can't rule God out of the equation statistically. After all, they believe in "any" chance.

And here, of course, we have it. Mr. Thompson equates evolution with atheism. Since he knows atheism is teh evil, so evolution must be, too.

"Random" evolution didn't create this marvelous, interwoven, natural world from a crucible of metals and gases; statistically and scientifically impossible, beyond reason.

Scientifically impossible, huh? So I guess all those, you know, scientists just missed that fact. That God we have Mr. Thompson of Dewey, Illinois, to tell us what is scientifically possible.

Math science favors this hypothesis, as does reason, as miraculous design is everywhere. Open your eyes, see?

There's that "math science" thing again. I guess this whole line of argument is the "stamp your foot and shout, 'It is too created!'" method of rhetoric. To paraphrase the Goblin King, if design is apparent and obvious literally everywhere, from every biological species to subatomic particles to even the very laws of physics that make the whole thing possible, what's your basis for comparison? If literally everything is designed, how do you know what a non-designed thing looks like?

Creationism does not refute science; it guides it, quite logically, on an enlightened level that stands the test of reason. No spin, just reasonable logic and math science, a theory that should be taught in school, alongside the random evolution theory, given the lack of conclusive facts. A totally reasonable stalemate.

Well, no, actually. Creationism does not guide science. There is nothing in science that requires religious belief. You don't need to be a Christian for an electron microscope to work, nor do you have to be a Hindu to study the human genome.

We're not at a stalemate. Creationism lost the game over a hundred years ago, and now they're just trying to change the rules.

Previous yokels: