April 30, 2004

Jesus Spams

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:38 AM

Some smartass has signed me up to the Christian Family Coalition mailing list. Either that, or they are conducting an apocalyptic e-mail address Soul Harvest. Blasphemy will get you kicked out of heaven, but it won't deter conservative Christians from hitting you up for money.

Anyway, in the spirit of crisatunity, I am going to make good use of their spam by publicly mocking it.

To: hime@[redacted] Subject: Thousands of Christians Rally in San Francisco to Protect Marriage!

Even in San Francisco, where homosexual extremists have taken over the
political establishment and have used their "power" to discriminate against
Christians, the message was loud and clear about marriage.

I myself have witnessed the roaming bands of homosexual extremists, denying marriage licenses to Christians and forcibly redecorating their apartments. However, the Christians haven't been too concerned, because the shadowy gay conspiracy only has scare-quoted "power" and not actual power.
On Sunday, nearly 8,000 Christians from more than 180 churches came
together for a rally supporting traditional marriage. Chinese, Korean,
African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Filipino and Vietnamese people from
the San Francisco Bay Area lined the streets and held signs that read,
"Honk for Traditional Marriage," sending a strong message to the California
Legislature and Gov. Schwarzenegger (R) that marriage is the union of one
man and one woman.

Nearly 8,000 Christians! Clearly an unstoppable juggernaut. The legislature and Governator will now have no choice but to enshrine the principle of heterosexual marriage into state law... oh, wait.
"We applaud Pastor Kwong, the event organizer for his bold courage and
determination in standing up for marriage in California", said Anthony
Verdugo, Founder and Executive Director, Miami-Dade Christian Family

According to Pastor Kwong, the event boosted morale in the San Francisco
area and emboldened the community to take a stand. Pastor Kwong said it was
a "wonderful assurance of the Lord that this is His will, and His plan for
His people is to stand in San Francisco and be salt."

What? "Be salt"? I'd like to make fun of this but I don't know what it means. Maybe when God gets around to bringing down the holy smite onto SF these 8,000 Christians will turn into pillars of salt like Lot's wife? I have no idea.

April 29, 2004


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 8:45 PM

The first and probably last time I go bar-hopping with my grandmother (among others).

Best First Novel given to wrong book

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:03 PM


Spare me...

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:49 PM

Crap! Here comes the guitar again. I think the harmonica is pre-recorded.


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:23 PM

Some dude appears to be talking to himself up on the stage. Don't they have security?


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 6:12 PM

The award presenters are introduced in the form of a mystery, i.e. various facts about the presenters are revealed as clues before their names are stated. (Incidentally, the flow of bad puns shows no sign of ceasing.)


Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:41 PM

Angela Lansbury has just joined us by recording.

Live Edgar Blogging

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:31 PM

I am at the Edgars. The ceremony opened with some ridiculous song on acoustic guitar. They have now moved on to bad puns. More updates as events warrant.

April 27, 2004

Back East

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:56 PM

I leave tomorrow (today, technically) for NYC, and will return Sunday. Therefore the posting frequency here will probably continue to be low. However, tune in Thursday night for possible live blogging of the Edgar awards (depending on just how inconspicuously I can tap away on my phone).

While I'm gone, I recommend submitting an entry to the Kerry-oke songwriting contest.

April 26, 2004

Good advice

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:05 AM

Most people seemed to know last week's quote, which was from Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode 2x16 "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered":

Amy: Oh, I don't know, Xander. Intent has to be pure with love spells.
Xander: Right. I intend revenge. Pure as the driven snow.

This week's difficulty: Easy, 1 point.

April 24, 2004

Fast Food Etiquette

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:59 PM

The local Jack in the Box has recently set up their drive-thru speaker to play a recorded message when a car pulls up: "Welcome to Jack in the Box, how may I help you?" This has led to some hesitation on my part since, while the recording seems to be asking for my order, there's no guarantee that anyone is actually listening. I can think of at least three approaches:

  1. Assume that the same mechanism which triggers the message has alerted someone within to my presence, and give my order. This approach typically prompts a response of "Hi, may I take your order?" which indicates that this may not be correct. (But if not, what's the point of the recording?)
  2. Wait for a greeting from an actual human, on the grounds that I am under no obligation to speak to inanimate objects. This has worked so far, but I envision a scenario in which the clerk waits for me to speak in response to the recording (or assumes I am still reading the menu) and we reach an impasse while the line builds up behind me.
  3. Say something with the intention of ascertaining whether anyone is actually listening. "Hello, anyone there?" seems a bit rude but I imagine there is a better phrasing. This is a non sequitur from the recording's "how may I help you", so I suspect this is not the sort of behavior that the architects of this state-of-the-art drive-thru technology intended to promote.

So what's the correct action in this delicate social situation? (Keep in mind that your comments will determine my future behavior at Jack in the Box.)

April 23, 2004

I'm Not Dead

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:22 AM

My blogging time has been sucked away by other activities this week, and it's difficult to brainstorm interesting posts when one is thinking about networks of copper tubing all day. Maybe this weekend I'll have more opportunity for recreational thought and can be more active in this space.

April 19, 2004

(Physics) Graduate Students and Technology

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:06 PM

There are a number of interesting posts on Crooked Timber today, notably this one on Graduate Students and Technology, which raises the question: "How much technical knowledge/ability should we require our graduate students to have[?]" The author, a philosopher, suggests:

Hereís some suggestions for skills graduate students should have.
  • How to use Powerpoint in lectures
  • How to manage a large course website, including interactive features
  • How to setup maintain a large database for administrative tasks

This has spawned a debate in the CT comments on the value of Powerpoint. In this regard physics is a bit different from philosophy, insofar as the large volume of mathematics in most physics courses makes a blackboard much more suitable than a slideshow. (There are exceptions, such as a course I took as an undergrad in Low-Noise Electronic Measurement with lots of plots and block diagrams. Some professors insist, with disastrous consequences, on using Powerpoint even for courses like Classical Electrodynamics. Other Berkeley physics students may know of whom I speak.) On the other hand, Powerpoint is an essential skill for presenting research at conferences/seminars/colloquia and is nearly universal (the second most popular tool is viewgraphs on an overhead projector, which is basically just a lower-tech equivalent of Powerpoint). I've observed quite a few physicists who could use some better training on how to prepare a Powerpoint talk, which is different in some subtle ways from preparing a class lecture in Powerpoint.

As for maintaining large administrative databases, I believe this is usually something physicists leave to their secretaries, but I gather secretarial resources are rather less abundant in philosophy departments.

In experimental physics there are a number of technical skills which are important for graduate students to learn, but the importance of knowing them decreases thereafter in one's academic career (since one has one's own graduate students to do these things):

  • The principles of operation of certain general classes of instruments
  • When faced with a specific unfamiliar instrument, the ability to master its interface without having to pore over the manual.
  • Automation of measurements using computer control (in my case, with LabVIEW)
  • Computer-assisted data manipulation (in my case, with Mathematica)

Ideally the student is prepared to acquire these skills with certain undergraduate courses; the advanced physics lab for the first two and a couple good computer programming courses for the second. In retrospect, it's very odd that as a physics major at Caltech I had no requirements in computer science.

Kerry-oke songwriting contest!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 10:04 AM

(Or: Contribute to my public humiliation)

On Tuesday, May 4 I will attend Kerry-oke, a John Kerry fundraiser at a Berkeley karaoke bar. The event is described as follows:

Sing for Kerry! Come out and show your Karaoke skills. Rewrite lyrics to your favorite song for John Kerry, for America, or for the 2004 election.

Most of my readership is too remote to attend, but I would like to invite you to participate by writing Kerry-themed song lyrics and posting them in the comments. I will select one of these entries and sing it at Kerry-oke. The songlist is here. Don't miss this excellent opportunity to help me embarrass myself!

You know the drill.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:22 AM

Last week: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This week's difficulty: Moderate, 2 points.

April 18, 2004

Last Kill Bill Post, I Swear

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:12 PM

Here's a piece in the NYTimes explicating some tiny fraction of the film references in Kill Bill. Contains some minor spoilers for vol. 2.

April 16, 2004

Kill Bill Comments With Spoilers

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:47 PM

You may not want to click below if you haven't seen Kill Bill vol. 2 yet.

Continue reading "Kill Bill Comments With Spoilers"

Spoiler-free Kill Bill comments

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:58 AM

Since Kill Bill was originally one movie, split into parts, once I had seen the first part it was natural to try to extrapolate what the second part would be like. The first thing I will say about vol. 2 is that my extrapolation was very far off; I was surprised by how different it was, in a lot of ways, from the first part.

Anyway, I'm still absorbing all of it, but it was very good. The second part spends much more time on character development than its predecessor, and it really pays off; The Bride, Budd, Elle Driver, and Bill are all incredibly interesting and well-drawn, and at the end my deepest impressions of the movie are centered on these personalities.

Also, Tarantino seems to have been reading his Joseph Campbell. I think all the elements of the classical hero myth are in there.

On another note, the audience was very well-behaved except for one really obnoxious guy. So naturally he was sitting almost directly behind me. Since my copy of Quicksilver was sitting on my lap, I considered re-enacting this Penny Arcade strip, but that would have required taking my eyes off the screen.

April 15, 2004

Killing Bill soon...

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:25 PM

At about 8:30 this evening I started to feel a rather intense need to see Kill Bill vol 2, and it occurred to me that midnight showings might exist, even though my chances of getting a ticket seemed rather slim. Two hours later, having watched the first volume on DVD, I was driving across the Bay Bridge with Battle Without Honor or Humanity playing on the stereo. Now I'm updating by phone from the (very long) line at the theater. Spoiler-free review to follow later.

Twain didn't have trackback, either.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:15 PM

My post yesterday got me thinking about statements of the form "X is a gift from god" where X is actually some human achievement. In particular I was reminded of Mark Twain's treatment of this in Letters from the Earth. What he wrote was even more appropriate than I remembered. It's a little humbling to see that yesterday's blog post was a poor imitation of something written 95 years ago:

If science exterminates a disease which has been working for God, it is God that gets the credit, and all the pulpits break into grateful advertising-raptures and call attention to how good he is! Yes, he has done it. Perhaps he has waited a thousand years before doing it. That is nothing; the pulpit says he was thinking about it all the time. When exasperated men rise up and sweep away an age-long tyranny and set a nation free, the first thing the delighted pulpit does is to advertise it as God's work, and invite the people to get down on their knees and pour out their thanks to him for it. And the pulpit says with admiring emotion, "Let tyrants understand that the Eye that never sleeps is upon them; and let them remember that the Lord our God will not always be patient, but will loose the whirlwinds of his wrath upon them in his appointed day."

They forget to mention that he is the slowest mover in the universe; that his Eye that never sleeps, might as well, since it takes it a century to see what any other eye would see in a week; that in all history there is not an instance where he thought of a noble deed first, but always thought of it just a little after somebody else had thought of it and done it. He arrives then, and annexes the dividend.

Letters from the Earth should be taught in high school instead of Huck Finn. Kids might actually learn something.

April 14, 2004

One step forward, one hundred and four steps back.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 9:40 PM

This morning, being on page 112 of Quicksilver, I was 832 pages behind in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. On the BART, I read eight pages. (It's a short ride.)

Now I am 1,656 pages behind.

Shock: Bush annoys me by talking about God.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:50 AM

I was unable to watch the press conference last night, and have therefore been reading the blogs to find out what I missed. Kevin Drum gave out awards, including this one:

Best performance: The second to last question. "I also have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country's gift to the world. Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world." He was genuinely animated and seemingly full of conviction on this one.

I find it very disturbing that Bush seems most full of conviction when making an assertion which is manifestly false: Freedom is the Almighty's gift to every man and woman in this world. Thinking about that for about two seconds, one wonders why vast numbers of men and women don't seem to have actually received this gift. Surely any being worthy of the appellation "Almighty" would have no difficulty freeing people from authoritarian regimes via divine intervention, and as this has yet to occur, Bush's statement is rather overly generous.

So what does Bush's conviction about an obvious falsehood tell us? I can think of a few possibilities:

  1. (Most likely) Bush hasn't really thought about this very carefully, and just likes the sound of it. Plus the base likes to hear him say "Almighty".

  2. (Disturbing) Bush sees himself as God's agent in delivering the gift of freedom. This would explain why he couldn't admit that he had made mistakes.

  3. (Probably not) Bush has in mind something like an analogy to the Christian notion of salvation through Jesus. Many Christians would describe salvation as "Almighty's gift to every man and woman in the world" where in fact it is only given to every Christian man and woman. Freedom may be the same kind of "gift" in that one actually has to satisfy some divinely mandated conditions to receive it. Under this view those people who don't have freedom must just be doing something wrong.

What really bothers me is that describing freedom as a divine gift neatly ignores the fact that the freedoms we enjoy today are due to previous generations fighting and dying for them, and these freedoms could slip away again if we aren't careful. It's not something that just falls from the sky.

April 13, 2004

Why I will never run for political office

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:56 PM

Because it would be too hard to resist doing this.

New Negative Campaign Ads Blast Voters Directly

A controversial 30-second TV spot for Kerry that aired throughout the Midwest Monday blamed the country's ills not on Bush's policies, but on the "sheer stupidity" of America's voters.

"In the past four years, America's national debt has reached an all-time high," the ad's narrator said. "And who's responsible? You are. You're sitting there eating a big bowl of Fritos, watching TV, and getting fatter as the country goes to hell. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

April 12, 2004

Into the image world of the soul

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 12:56 PM

I actually enjoy certain kinds of nightmares, at least upon waking up; I find the experience somewhat akin to having just viewed a very immersive horror movie. A dream I had last night was of this type.

In the dream, a grad student in my department had been found murdered, and I had somehow taken it upon myself to investigate. Naturally my questions attracted the wrong kind of attention, and I soon found myself abducted off a dark street by some conspiratorial men in black. And this is where the dream started to get weird.

I was taken to a church service for a secret religious sect. The church itself was windowless (maybe underground), and the sides of the pews were painted with the major arcana of the tarot. As I entered an usher handed me a tarot card: Moon. I sat down in one of the pews at the back, but an elderly man next to me saw my card and indicated, wordlessly, that I should move to a different spot. I gathered that the symbol on the card was incompatible in some way with the one on the pew I had chosen (though I don't remember what the latter was). There was a sense of panic behind the man's eyes and I realized that he was not here of his own free will either.

During the service, the preacher would call newcomers up to the front, one-by-one, and engage them in some sort of role-playing exercise (the details fled my mind upon awakening) to demonstrate the danger to one's soul of not being fully committed to this particular cult. There was a clear subtext here that, hellfire aside, insufficient loyalty would be punished in this life through violent reprisals. I realized that this is what had happened to the grad student whose death I had been investigating. But before I could contemplate this further, it was my turn to go to the front of the church.

I don't remember what happened in this part of the dream, just the feeling of it -- the fear that my hostility to the organization would somehow be drawn from my mind by the preacher. I had to bluff my way through the encounter, pretend that I had been scared into obedience, even though I was already trying to think of ways to fight these guys once I got out of the lion's den. Somehow I passed muster and returned to my seat. A choir began to sing. I was wondering what else I would have to endure before I could make my escape, when my alarm went off and brought me back to reality.

It's overanalysis time. Some interpretations that come to mind:

A: (Null interpretation) It's meaningless subconscious debris.
B: (Obvious) I dislike religion, and find it rather creepy at times.
C: The cult in the dream isn't a religion at all, but represents academia. The ill-fated grad student embodies my observation that a lot of people in the pre-tenure stages of their academic careers are made unhappy by the extreme pressures involved, and I am looking for an escape from this.
D: The dream expresses a subconscious need for individuality. The persona of the lone investigator that I found myself in contrasts starkly with the cultist's demand for conformity.
E: (Gratuitous political interpretation) The dream expresses my fears about the increasing power of right-wing religious elements in our country, and especially their anti-science agenda.

Or, suggest your own. I have no idea about the significance of the tarot cards, although reading the description of Moon about doubled the creepiness.

Mystery Space Quote

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 1:20 AM

Last week's quote: Cowboy Bebop, session 18: Speak Like A Child, English dub. Faye's call to the Bebop is answered by Ein, so when Ed shows up, she says: Well, I'm glad I reached a life-form that's capable of speech.

New quote is Difficulty: Easy, 1 point.

April 9, 2004

Draft Moore!

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:39 AM

If, like me, you would like to see heavily armed preacher Roy Moore run for president, check out the new Draft Moore website. (via Slate) Roy Moore has taken a strong stand against the fundamental principles on which this nation was founded, and for that he fully deserves the nomination of the Constitution Party for President of the United States. (However, he should hold no political office higher than dogcatcher, and possibly not even that.)

April 7, 2004

We are not above taking cheap shots.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 7:13 PM

I started Quicksilver yesterday. Already much more fun than the other historical novel I just finished. (Sorry, Dan.) I just hope Stephenson doesn't fall into the Shanghai Knights trap of "Look, our protagonists are encountering every historical figure of the era!" This gimmick very quickly gets old.
Anyway, I wanted to comment on this paragraph:

He'd stayed a week or two in Wilkins' chambers, and attended meetings of the Experimental Philosophical Clubb. This had been a revelation to him, for during the Civil War, practically nothing had been heard out of England. The savants of Leipzig, Paris, and Amsterdam had begun to think of it as a rock in the high Atlantic, overrun by heavily armed preachers.

"Overrun by heavily armed preachers"? Sounds a lot like Texas.
[Texans, feel free to come to your state's defense.]

April 6, 2004

Caffeine intake: the physics student's perspective

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:51 PM

Brad DeLong posted yesterday on the coffee habits of academics. My reactions:

  1. Good Lord, that's a lot of coffee.
  2. Maybe the reason I'm always falling asleep in seminars is that I don't ingest grams of caffeine on a daily basis.
  3. On the other hand, I'd need to go to the bathroom about every three minutes, so maybe I shouldn't adjust my intake.
  4. Prof. DeLong apparently hangs out at Nefeli. This is a cafe just north of campus, where I am a sufficiently regular customer that the staff will begin making my double cappuccino when they see me walk in the door.
  5. Berkeley economics grad students are apparently either hungrier or more punctual than physics grad students, since cookies still remain at physics department tea by 4:03 or even 4:04.

My own caffeine consumption has these days been restricted to the aforementioned double cappuccino after lunch; I gave up the morning pot of coffee when I started regularly running in the morning, and have also eliminated department tea and 90% of the soda I used to drink. The net effect of all these adjustments on my alertness has apparently been negligible.
A relevant link: the caffeine faq on overdoses.

April 4, 2004

What? It's Monday already?

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 11:56 PM

Damn daylight savings time stole an hour of my weekend. Why don't we "spring forward" at, say, 4 pm Friday? Someone should look into this.

Last week's quote was, of course, from the 1985 film Real Genius, as all you "Pacific Tech" alums should have recognized instantly. The new quote is Difficulty: Formidable (4 points).

April 3, 2004

One for the anime geeks.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 2:40 PM

Ok, but where's the laser cannon?

April 2, 2004

Mmm, popcorn.

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 3:55 PM

List of movies to see in the next (approximately) 5 weeks:

  • Dawn of the Dead
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  • The Ladykillers
  • Hellboy
  • Kill Bill, vol. 2
  • Shaolin Soccer
  • Van Helsing
  • The Punisher?
  • The Whole Ten Yards?
  • The Passion of the Christ?

Anything I'm missing? At current ticket prices, I may have to rob a bank to be able to see all these.

April 1, 2004

Candidates are human, but ballot measures are divine

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at 5:17 PM

Yesterday I ran across this post on American Street discussing the increasing involvement of churches in politics (an easy incitement to rant for me).

Churches on both the left and the right are getting more and more involved in the political process. That isnít a bad thing (as long as the churches on the left win). The United Church of Christ is offering a new web site on how churches can become involved in the political process and still adhere to IRS laws for non-profits. Churches cannot, for example, endorse political candidates and maintain their tax exempt status. Yet churches can endorse ballot measures or reversely urge their congregants to oppose measures.

I'm really happy for the Bizarro America where the the left-wing churches turn out a massive liberal vote and usher in a new age of tolerance and civil rights. But here in this reality, the vast majority of churches are socially conservative; there's no way the churches on the left can "win". An overall increase in church involvement is on balance bad news for gay rights, reproductive rights, science education and a number of other liberal causes. So in this pragmatic sense this is very much a bad thing.

A second and more general reason this is bad, even in Bizarro America with its liberal churches, is that religion is simply not a good basis for policy formulation. Even if some churches occasionally take the right position on some issues, there's still no reason to believe that the sacred texts of the various religions were written by people expert on policymaking, especially 20 centuries removed. Nor do we think that the church leaders interpreting such texts should be considered particularly wise in areas like tax law or energy policy, especially when they've already demonstrated poor judgement by going into the clergy in the first place. (Ok, that was a cheap shot.) Now, I freely admit that it will be impossible in most cases to convince a religious person that this argument is correct, but that doesn't make it any less accurate.

And what's up with churches being allowed to endorse positions on ballot measures? Is this just a loophole, or is it somehow substantially different from endorsing a candidate for office? It seems to me that part of the deal with granting tax-exempt status is that churches stay out of the political process entirely. I can see that if a preacher declares that "it is God's law that marriage is between a man and a woman", this is not very different from an endorsement of California Proposition 22 (from March 2000) - ballot measures cover single issues and churches are certainly allowed to take positions on single issues. On the other hand, I do think there is a line, albeit a fine one, to be drawn between statements like the above and "Jesus demands you vote yes on 22". Surely we can, and should, prohibit the latter kind of endorsement for tax-exempt churches.