Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
So what actually happened in those Taiwan municipal elections?
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Monday, November 22, 2010
Murphy, 51, arrived on a train from his job downtown with the American Sociological Association about 4:10 p.m. and found that two of the three escalators at the Tenleytown exit were out of service. The only functioning escalator was carrying customers down.It gets better:
A bit miffed but not surprised, Murphy, together with at least four other people, selected his route - the closest halted escalator - and started trudging up the long metal path. There were no warning signs or barricades at the bottom, and as a result they decided not to rope together for the climb.
Huffing and puffing, they neared the top, Murphy recalled, only to be horrified at the obstacle that lay ahead.
"Imagine our shock to find a giant HOLE where several steps should have been!" Murphy wrote in an e-mail.
Once over the crevasse, the group huddled, catching their breath, and a Metro employee approached.
Murphy and other customers told her of their ordeal, but she was cold and unsympathetic, he said. "All she really said is, 'You shouldn't be there.' She said it over and over," Murphy said. The businessman also tried to get through to her, but the Metro employee appeared unfazed. "She had her line and she kept repeating it," Murphy said.
I've spent about six years of my life, total, living car-less in DC and taking the Metro on a near-daily basis. Sadly, there's nothing in this article that I find difficult to believe.
To leave the station, one either had to take a cramped elevator (which might well have been out of service) or climb up a stopped escalator? Unfortunately, that's just about par for the course. Taking the Metro regularly gave me countless chances to thank Fate I was healthy and able-bodied.
The stalled escalator turned out to have a great big HOLE in it that was invisible from the lower level? That never happened to me, but really I can't say I'm terribly surprised.
But, for me, the real gem of this story, the icing on the cake, the final indignity for these commuters, was the attitude of the station staff after the commuters had nearly gotten themselves killed trying to get the hell out of the station.
I could deal better with a subway system that suffered from frequent delays, broken escalators, broken elevators, and various other annoyances if it were staffed by personnel who displayed even the slightest understanding that the people who rode their trains were actual human beings.
I feel like sympathy and empathy are sucked out of Metro employees as an administrative policy. My mother says she was in a DC Metro station once and she saw a bunch of tourists ask a janitor for directions. The janitor was friendly and he helped them out, only to then be chastised by an actual Metro employee. Apparently, as a janitor, he was not supposed to interact with the Metro riders.
My own favorite Metro employee experience came when I lived on Columbia Pike. One cold evening I was waiting for a bus at the bus stop adjacent to Pentagon station. A woman asked an employee about the bus schedules. She sounded a bit peeved; apparently she'd been waiting for over half an hour for a bus up Columbia Pike. The employee spoke to her in a soothing voice. Clearly he knew how to deal with an irate customer. In a tone that said he knew she was exaggerating but he understood her feelings anyway, he reminded her that buses up Columbia Pike departed every fifteen minutes, and this evening was no exception.
I'd been there for longer than the woman. I'd been there for about forty-five minutes. THERE HADN'T BEEN ANY GODDAMNED BUS.
The woman didn't pursue the matter any further. I still regret that I didn't confront the station employee; chalk it up to my own non-confrontational nature.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
So I’m at a loss about what we’re supposed to do in the world according to Jon Stewart. Hey, all you people working for gay and lesbian equality, all you women asking for equal pay, all you workers trying to unionize, all you peaceniks trying to end the war in Afghanistan, all you nurses and doctors and clinic workers trying to maintain reproductive freedom and keep women alive, all you teachers trying to teach science and history without censorship, all you citizens trying to build a rational health care policy, all you scientists and doctors who want our country to progress in medical research, all you damned secularists who want to keep religion out of our schools and government, hey, hey, HEY, you! Tone it down. Quit making such a fuss. You’re too loud. Shush. You’re as crazy as the teabaggers if you think your principles are worth fighting for.That's Pharyngula on the message of the Stewart/Colbert rally. Zunguzungu has similar thoughts here and here.
What am I trying to say? Well, let's look at the Tea Party brand. I don't agree with what the Tea Party stands for, but I don't think it's necessarily racist at its heart either. But it's impossible to deny a lot of loud people in the movement say a lot of really, truly racist things.
In the past I've wondered why the most prominent promoters of the Tea Party brand haven't loudly spoken out against this kind of moronic tomfoolery. Wouldn't that be leadership? But then (this is going to sound a little conspiracy theory-esque) I realized to just what extent the Tea Party brand was promoting the idea among Tea Partiers that they're looked down upon by elitist snobs. Tea Partiers are condescended to. Not understood. Not listened to. Oppressed. So it makes sense to get liberals to believe that Tea Partiers = Bigots and Morons. The better to encourage Tea Partiers to go into defensive formation and support Tea Party candidates all the harder.
If I had to summarize that on a bumper sticker or protest sign:
If you think your political opponents condescend to you, you'll enter a defensive formation. Defensive formations cause echo chambers. Echo chambers cause whacked-out beliefs. I wonder if climate change denialism would be so popular in the United States if not for the fact that it's big dumb liberals who are telling denialists climate change is something they need to be concerned about. Some people believe what they believe chiefly to differentiate themselves from segments of the population, real or imagined, that they hate and don't want to identify with.
I'm not an idealist. I don't want us all to join hands and sing Kumbaya. I like to think I'm pragmatic. And getting people to calm the hell down and talk in civil voices to each other is a big part of that pragmatism.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Researchers at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology report they were able to cloak a tiny bump in a layer of gold, preventing its detection at nearly visible infrared frequencies.
Their cloaking device also worked in three dimensions, while previously developed cloaks worked in two dimensions, lead researcher Tolga Ergin said.
The cloak is a structure of crystals with air spaces in between, sort of like a woodpile, that bends light, hiding the bump in the gold later beneath, the researchers reported in Thursday's online edition of the journal Science.
From Nature: Scientists supersize quantum mechanics.
A team of scientists has succeeded in putting an object large enough to be visible to the naked eye into a mixed quantum state of moving and not moving.
Andrew Cleland at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his team cooled a tiny metal paddle until it reached its quantum mechanical 'ground state' — the lowest-energy state permitted by quantum mechanics. They then used the weird rules of quantum mechanics to simultaneously set the paddle moving while leaving it standing still. The experiment shows that the principles of quantum mechanics can apply to everyday objects as well as as atomic-scale particles.
Okay, people of Earth. You are officially no longer allowed to complain that it's the year 2010 and there are no jetpacks or flying cars. You're looking for cool future tech in the wrong place.
Monday, March 15, 2010
I’d like to start by asking you to give our readers a brief history of how you, using Facebook, came up with the idea to form the Coffee Party.
It was actually a very simple idea, or a hypothetical idea. Right after the Massachusetts election, leading up to Tea Party convention in Nashville, it seemed like there was non-stop coverage of the Tea Party movement. There was a growing narrative that the Tea Party represented the real America or a majority of Americans. And I thought that was completely wrong. I know they don’t represent me and I found the narrative alienating. And I just felt that was a shared opinion among many people.
So I kind of just started ranting on my Facebook page on late January 26. “Oh, God, I’m just so sick of the Tea Party. We should just start our own party, call it the Coffee Party, or the Smoothie Party—anything but Tea.” Friends of mine online bonded immediately. Within about a half an hour of that rant I created this fan page, Join the Coffee Party Movement.
Eric Mead's TED talk on the magic of the placebo has spawned some interesting comments. The site's top 3 adjectives to describe it are "Confusing", "Funny", "OK". As I write this, there are still very few comments and every one is a variation on "Huh. That was interesting, but I'm not sure what he's trying to say."
Sunday, March 7, 2010
Much of the wording was meant to be surreal and strange, but has actually made its way into common parlance so that it seems perfectly normal to a modern reader. For instance, Alice says "Let's pretend," in the beginning. At the time, "pretend," meant "to lie or deceive", so "Let's pretend," sounded very strange. Now, thanks to Alice In Wonderland, the meaning of the word has changed quite a bit.
That is super-neat.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Nicholas George, a senior in Middle-Eastern Studies at Pomona College, was detained, handcuffed, and intensively questioned by the TSA while trying to catch a flight back to school from Philadelphia. The TSA guards found English-Arabic flashcards in his luggage and said that because Osama bin Laden spoke Arabic, "these cards are suspicious." The FBI was called in, and an agent called him a "fucking idiot" when he asked why he was being held. After being asked if he was a communist or a Muslim, he was released. He was not read his rights at any time.
Student: "Osama bin Laden."
TSA supervisor: "Do you know what language he spoke?"
TSA supervisor: "Do you see why these cards are suspicious?
Student: "OK, I get the point. TSA guys are morons. Can I go now?"
TSA supervisor: "What?"
Student: "That's the point of this whole game, isn't it? You want me to think the TSA is staffed by a bunch of illiterate racist morons, aren't they all so stupid, let's all point and laugh at them, ha ha ha? Like that time a few years ago, when that guy wasn't allowed on board a plane because his T-shirt had a picture of a gun on it? Well, I get the point. Very funny. Can I get on my plane now?"
TSA supervisor: "You're not taking this very seriously, young man. I represent the United States Federal Government."
Student: "You want me to take it seriously? Okay, then let's talk seriously. My aunt's a government bureaucrat too. She works for Health & Human Services. She's got a master's in public health. She takes her job very seriously. I respect her a lot. You want me to take it seriously, really? Well, take my brother Bob. He's a Marine. He volunteered to go fight in Afghanistan. You know why? Not because he wants to go blow up 'Ay-rabs', as you probably think, but because he respects what the U.S. military is trying to do over there and he wants to lend his skills. I respect the hell out of him and he's probably got more book smarts than me. Does he fit into your little pre-conceived notions of what a big stupid US army guy should be? No, I'd guess he probably doesn't."
TSA supervisor: "You--"
Student: "So yeah, if you want me to take it seriously, I really don't appreciate the way your silly little satire tars people affiliated with the U.S. Government with such a broad brush. It's unrealistic and it's kind of offensive."
TSA supervisor: "Listen, you fucking idiot. Satire doesn't have to be realistic. If you found the TSA guy who nailed the passenger who was wearing that T-shirt with the gun, and told him he was being unrealistic, do you know what he would have told you? He'd have told you that you were missing the fucking point."
TSA supervisor: "You think Monty Python practiced strict realism? You know that Python bit where the guy goes to the doctor's office, and when he gets there the nurse stabs him in the stomach for no reason, and the doctor makes him fill out all this paperwork while he's bleeding to death? Do you think that was realistic?"
Student: "But the difference is, the guy who got stabbed in the Monty Python bit was played by one of the Python team. They didn't set up a hidden camera so that they could stab a random guy off the street. I, on the other hand, do not wish to be a part of your little play, and may I remind you that my flight is boarding in less than 15 minutes and I would rather like to be there."
TSA supervisor: "No. I don't like your attitude. If you think I'm doing a fairly good job making the TSA look stupid now, I'll be doing an awesome job making fun of the TSA when I toss your Arabic-studying ass in a detention cell."
Student: "If I miss my flight, so help me I am calling the ACLU."
TSA supervisor: "Really now. Did Allen Funt get the ACLU called on him when he did Candid Camera, involving people in jokes without their knowledge?"
Student: "Allen Funt didn't intimidate people who'd been minding their own business, so that the organization he worked for would look like a bunch of incompetent asses."
TSA supervisor: "Fine then. Involve the ACLU. Maybe that's what I want. Because then, this whole satirical little scene will make the news. I'll get some publicity. People from coast to coast, and in other countries, will read about my idiocy and will have one more reason to believe we TSA guys are morons. How will your government bureaucrat aunt feel, when the American people see one more data point to confirm their notions that government bureaucrats are surly, incompetent fuckwads? And your brother in Afghanistan. How will he react when people's stereotypes of the men and women protecting America are pushed a little more in the direction of ignorant, racist imbeciles?"
Student: "You know, they're both adults. I think they can handle it."
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
One year after his election, Barack Obama's approval rating is lower at this stage than for any US president since Eisenhower. So why has the optimism surrounding his victory disappeared so suddenly?