Sunday, April 28, 2013

Did I miss the prom again? Eh. *UPDATED*

Seems I took a day off to recharge, or I was just being lazy...I could also may have fashioned a life, then lost it at the mall...Eh. So let's do some Tumbling and FaceBooking, and see what's up. What has happen this night? Nerdprom? Ah. White House Correspondence Dinner. Let's see if I can gripe about that.

I truly don't get it anymore. It's an event that was meant to celebrate and maintain the healthy relationship between government and media. A chance to break away from the necessarily adversarial nature of their roles. A chance for the press to stop holding government's feet to the fire, and just be whined, dined, and given a laugh.

You enjoy the humor of that last paragraph? That is the problem. It's just an old tradition. The press is regularly being wined, dined, and charmed by the powers that be. The media has a very friendly relationship, a very close one. Everyone is there because, it's expected. And it's important, because everyone says it is. An event Rich Little can MC is not that important.

Of course, some people enjoy watching the spectacle. That's fine. Many people do. But it doesn't take away from my own dissatisfaction and the apparent silliness of it all.

For instance, there is this star watching aspect that feels somewhat new to it, but it could be my faulty memory. It's supposed to be thrilling to see Scarlett Johansson meet John Boehner...Why? Movie stars and politicians...together! Listen. I'm already not watching the Oscars/Emmys/Grammys/Tonys, okay? I'd be more interested more interested if they were meeting in a committee hearing, discussing some national issue of personal importance to them. Instead we get this quasi red carpet deal. It feels so silly.

Yes. The White House Correspondence Dinner has a long a storied past. But that doesn't keep it from feeling like an awards show in the midst of awards show season. And I am talking Cable Ace Awards Show.

If having people like Stephen Colbert hosting was the norm, not an anomaly, the dinner would take on a new modern role. It would be a smart and sharp roast. A roasting of Washington. (Not to be confused with 1814 variation on the theme.) Then it would be a matter of Washington seeing if it can laugh at itself and it's faults.

But it's not about that. It's about laughing at safe jokes, jokes the Washington beltway approves. Jokes meant to steer you away from any serious thoughts about what the elected folk are doing the rest of the year. Jokes meant more to be a pat on the back. Jokes that make light of serious policy questions. Policy like drones and missing WMD's. Maybe when you see that the magic dies.

Watching Bush jokes his way through his failures should shake you.

Of course, I no doubt will eventually watch some of it. Best of clips will be all over tomorrow and at the start of the week. And, if anything good came of tonight it will be nigh impossible to avoid seeing it. It's hard to avoid the grand spectacle.

Wait! One more thing. It's called nerdprom by some the past few years? I think nerds everywhere should be insulted. I think any of us could pick out a better and less exclusive annual event to stand as a prom of sorts (Comic-Con, DragonCon, SXSW, etc.)....Just saying.


Charlie Pierce wrote a good piece excoriating the dinner. It just does get to feel sillier and sillier an event. It has because the overt  presentation of what's going on behind the scenes in DC.

Also he notes what I came across in another piece. Thousands of dollars are being spent by news orgs and corporations to wine. dine, and impress, before and after the dinner. Celebrities are being paid to come to Washington and hang around and smile. All this as so many are getting laid off to save on costs.

The dinners are promotional events. It hits me as I see photos of Rachel Maddow (a long time journalistic favorite of mine) at these events playing bartender/mixologist. It's become part of the package. While she is skilled at it and may love it, it's a selling point, come to the party and get Maddow to mix you a drink.

But it helps get corporate advertisers to the event to get schmoozed. It gets the execs to come by. And it offers some glamour and entertainment. But is that what the DC correspondence offices are there for? ...Maybe that is all it really is about. Maybe it is.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

CISPA: Bad law on bad.

In considering CISPA in the last piece I mentioned SOPA, the last iteration of these efforts to broaden government access and control of personal information. It managed to scare and anger many. And with numerous powerful online and tech interest opposed, it was given a lot of unwanted attention that helped lead to its demise in Congress. 

It was overly broad law. It was bad law. It was unpopular law, with the industrial deep pockets elected figures like to please.

So the lesson the lobbyist and Congressional supporters took away from that fight was to make it more palatable to industry. Nothing else really changed. Bad bill language stayed. Broad powers stayed. It just shows an interesting level of cluelessness.

Now, it was politician smart. They don't want to have to get yelled at by the businesses they rely on for fundraising. So it's a no lose fight to their reelection campaigns.

But this cluelessness does have impact. SOPA would have been bad law, like CISPA before it, and now. But other like law are already on the books. Like CFAA, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This law is outdated 80's law against computer hacking (Hey. Remember all those bad 80's hacking movies? It's that old a law.). But it is badly worded and outdated law. This is the law that was used all too recently to hound a rather young and brilliant civil liberties advocate (and vocal opponent of SOPA) Aaron Schwartz for relatively benign activity. But under this law the DA was trying to put him in prison for decades (Because it was the law...kinda.). (And those efforts sadly led to his suicide.) It was punitive action through bad law.

CFAA is exactly an example about why we do need legislation, new legislation, for cybersecurity. Things do need to change. And PIPA, SOPA, and CISPA are examples of why it has to be GOOD law, SOUND law, and INTELLIGENT law; all things these bills are not. We need change, but these laws based more on paranoia and control will not do the job. Our law crafters have to do better.

CISPA is just too vague in how it will be applied, much like CFAA. It will inevitably be used poorly and people will be made to unfairly suffer. And now before it is law is the time to act. Congress needs to do a better job. Looking at CFAA, even many changes suggested for it focus more on increasing punishments and making the violations of the act a more vague and unclear matter. The legislators making the decisions here are not doing a good. job. They have to do better. We have to make them do better, particularly as all the loud voices with the deep pockets are walking away from the fray. It is up to us.

Get informed. Get involved.

I also wanted to note that in passing CISPA through the House of Representatives, even some good Democratic representatives supported it (like Duckworth). The backers of CISPA are spending a lot and schmoozing a lot to ensure it gets supported. This includes overselling it's national security value. So, I think, it would be a good idea to reach out to your representative in Congress (and contact your senators to) and let them know what you think about CISPA and why you don't want it to pass. We to can make them informed voters (in Congress).
It is likely it won't pass the senate. And the president has said he would veto it. But, as I've pointed out, it will be back. And our representatives need to be ready and understand our concerns when it does. They may even, if informed, be able to amend it to be good law. But it starts with us.

Monday, April 22, 2013

CISPA, And Why People Are Pissed and Scared

CISPA, or Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, is a bill that broadly expands the power government and business to share and use information, your information. It is an annoying bill, to say the least. Not in particular because it is one that refuses to stay down. A number of attempts have been made to pass it or similar bill in the last few years. Remember SOPA and PIPA? It's proving worse than a bad movie slasher. Not even a Son of CISPA. (But it is a curse.)

So. It is back, like a bad slasher movie remake (Don't worry. I'm killing these comparisons now.). And like before the idea is to sell it as a beneficent new law meant to help us, and keep us safe. Trouble comes in how it opens up the citizenry to new levels of privacy invasions. If the government says the words "national security", POP!, you're privacy rights and agreements online are no longer valid. (Lifehacker, Verge, and here look some more at the  CISPA bill and it's troubles.)

Here's the bill language.

 What this means is that when the government sees a threat, or deems one is rising, it can request an online provider hand over certain persons data. The provider can then just hand over all of the persons information. And under the new law the provider is protected from any lawsuits for violating promises about protecting personal data. It is all a quick and legal transaction between business and government.

And that is the key to CISPA now. SOPA got industrial opposition (the major business interests) because they were stuck in the middle and open to being held accountable. But now they will be made immune, while the law will still be able to screw the users over. But Twitter, Facebook  etc. will be fine (Phew!). The key thing is that this means these players aren't backing us now. For instance, AT&T and Verizon, along with the Telecom lobbyists, have come out in eager support now of CISPA.

And this is troubling. Troubling for peoples ability to speak freely. Troubling for privacy. Troubling for being able to feel confident in out constitutional rights.

CISPA is a very broadly defined law. It will make it extremely easy to bypass your legal rights. In my previous post I mentioned the Public Safety exemption to the Miranda rights. That currently just bends your constitutional rights. But it creates a future risk. With CISPA, as it is right now, it sets out a way to just disregard parts of the constitution, a constitutional bypass.

No warrants. No courts. No oversight. The American Library Association noted with the last attempt to pass this:

The ALA is concerned that all private electronic communications could be obtained by the government and used for many purposes–and not just for cybersecurity activities. H.R. 3523 would permit, and sometimes even require, Internet service providers and other entities to monitor all electronic communications and share personal information with the government without effective oversight by claiming the sharing is for “cybersecurity purposes.” 
It isn't directly meant to be a new spy tool. But it is built so it can be instantly re-purposed as one. And when government is given a tool like this, it tends to find a reason to make use of it, like with the RICO law.

Now we should remember that laws need to be changed and updated. And cyber laws do need to move with the times. But their is a difference between what we need on the books to reasonably protect and serve society and what is just a means to easily control. When is it overreach? Miranda is an inconvenience to law enforcement. But it is a good one. It helps some people get the aid they need to not be abused. The need to get warrants before scouring your personal data is another important protection. This law leaves us vulnerable, while doing to little to actual protect us.

More from the Electronic Frontier Foundation on this.

Fight for the Future - CISPA is Back

Right now. Many people are planning to use today as a CISPA blackout, where they will have no presence online, in protest to the effect this law could have on online activity. I am still deciding whether to do this to (Yes. Based on my clock, I am over the deadline a little already. But time is relative, and it's still Sunday in some of the US still.) I am tempted to. But I am also tempted to see if I can write anything of use tomorrow, focused o this. We'll see.

Still, whether blacked out or not, CISPA is back. And it's passed the House of Representatives. President Obama has indicated he'd VETO it's current form if it passed the Senate. But if he's pressured to do otherwise... Or, if enough support is bought in the Senate, how close would they be to being able to override a veto?

As EFF above asks. Contact your senator now. Be sure they know where you stand, and why you stand there.

Be informed. Be involved. These are your rights.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Learning after last week.

This last week has been an intense news week in the United States. It quickly got to the point that we largely became oblivious to what was happening elsewhere in the world (Yes, and the obvious joke is, "And that's new?" ha ha). So, logically I would talk about what we've been missing (bombings in Iraq, Chinese earthquake, etc.). But no, I want to address what the US has been through this week.

So, Boston. Patriots Day turned terrifying in Boston. The two bombs placed near the finish lines, thankfully, did not kill more, but more than a hundred were cruelly injured; some lost limbs, and three died. As with any terror act, fear flittered through the city and on the news. And some news resources were eager to get out information, real, confirmed, or not. I have not seen a clear indication yet how many additional people spreading bad information or rumors endangered this week.

Then, slowly information, streamed out, the police and FBI narrowed down the threat, and the media was still too eager. Worse though pundits and talking heads couldn't resist starting fights and finding ways to push nonsensical agenda bullet-points.
  • We shouldn't put in background checks on guns, because of this.
  • We have to close our borders, because...foreigners.
Then we learned who the bombers were. Young men, two brothers, who immigrated from Chechnya and Russia with their families, who were also Muslim. And it ramps up.
  • We need guns!
  • See! We let these immigrants in and they are all terrorists!
  • We need to catch them and hand them over to the military!
And finally they were caught up to. One brother dead, the other fled. Finally the other was found and captured. Injured, he was taken to hospital. The decision, as of now, is to not mirandize him...yet.
  • He's an enemy combatant!
  • People "like this" should never be mirandized.
  • Muslims shouldn't be allowed to immigrate.
Now this is a complicated question to me, rights vs public safety. We have had a "public safety" rule for awhile now in the US. It allows for Miranda reading to be delayed, and extend holding people. What do I think of that?

Sigh...Miranda rights are important. And it was a hard right to get police to guarantee. Before it, many people had their constitutional rights abused. Many police abused the accused. And, many like the idea of rolling back Miranda, and have wanted to since it was established.

BUT. Public safety. The idea that law enforcement would delay the evidence taking process to determine risks seems acceptable; it depends though on if the fact it is pre-Miranda is respected. Sometimes their are abducted people to recover, a possible bomb threat, or shooter to find. If we are going to separate what is admissible in court from the public safety work, it makes sense. Public safety should trump a conviction.

BUT. But if the information being taken will be used as evidence, that is wrong. We need to respect out law and process; why else have them? As well, it does worry we a little. It's an exception to Miranda. Creating exceptions to basic critical legal rights is worrisome. Once you say their is a space where you can just hold people indefinitely, and can classify for the greater good, you have to be vigilant for abuse, or expansion of uses. We citizens need to be cognizant of what is going on and hold criminals and the systems accountable. It is one of our basic duties.

I hope we will soon see this guy mirandized, and then we can get to arraigning him. (At present, he is apparently awake and communicating. So we'll see.)

But it is curious this week how eager conservatives are to fight hard for the 2nd Amendment, while not particularly caring for the 5th. But I've seen a lot of contempt for plenty of the amendments (15th, 19th).

Veering over to immigration...I just wish it was surprising to see conservatives take any opportunity to demonize immigrants. Really digging deep into that dark place of human fear. I expect better, and seldom get it.

But there has been the good to. In the wake of those explosions, people were there for each other. Stopping bleeding, getting people to help, reaching out with compassion. It was heartening to see. It is a reminder of what we can and do do.

And the emergency services worked just as they are meant to. As one person put it, they are the people that run towards the screaming and explosions as a daily function. We out it to appreciate just what these government workers do and endure. Better than allowing them to be lambasted and belittled as unnecessary and wasteful. It is in times of disaster that we remember just why we rely on all of these people, and why people take these jobs, even when the pay isn't the best.

It was a very sad and painful week in Boston. But in the midst of it, we were shown some of the light that exists within our society.

And then their was Texas. A fertilizer plant exploding in West, Texas is...terrifying. The fact it was surrounded by a nursing home, school, park, housing, etc; that is something all the more shocking following the actual failure of the safety measures at the facility. Thankfully the worst case scenario did not play out and the deaths (known so far) are not as large as I could have imagined (See the before and after images.).

But what we've seen since is that inspections of this facility haven't been done in some time. But inspection and regulation are such a burden and such a hindrance I'm being distracted from hating regulation and inspection at the moment. If Texas wants to draw in new business and people, it might want to care about the safety of Texans and business not literally detonating on them.

And in the wake of this, we've seen Republicans, who have denounced federal funds, and others that have blocked federal aid to disasters make an about face. Gov. Perry now is eager to receive funds. And Sen. Cruz, who opposed aid to New York and New Jersey post-Hurricane sees a need to expedite aid to his state. It's funny. No, it isn't. It's predicable.

But this tragedy also was a moment where people around West were there to help people escape the damage, rest, and begin recovering.

To the people in Massachusetts and Texas who acted to help those in need. Thanks. To those struck by these tragedies. My sympathies. Plenty of lessons to take away from this week, as we mourn, heal, rebuild, and make tomorrow a better place.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

75 years of Lois Lane being it all.

It's been 75 years of Superman come to day. All those years of adventures. But, as important, it's been 75 years of Lois Lane adventuring, often by his side. Chasing a story. Aiding her husband. Scaring the powerful into soiling themselves. That's Lois Lane.

Sadly, DC Comics is not as interested in her anniversary, or character, these days. I can't explain the thinking. But I can celebrate Lois Lane and Superman both. But, today, let's look at all that Lois Lane does in our grand comic book world. And tonight we've been celebrating her some on Twitter with the  hashtag. And this post is late for that. But posts are less transient than twitter. And I plan, hopefully, to write far more later on about Lois and Clark. So let's start here, the many faces of Lois Lane (Not guaranteed to actually be all the faces of Lane. And all offers void in the Continental United States.)


The stupid that come from the History Channel

Came across this. History Channel, remember when it was about history?

It is almost a cliche now to talk about it (When Chuck Grassley is on it, it must be old.). But it is an annoyance. It once was nice to have access to a channel where you could watch historic documentaries. Now it is day long marathons on scavenging, logging, and other things.

Sure you can see more docs, if you get History Channel 2 (which I don't), but that's like saying you can get music videos if you get MTV2 (Do they still have music videos?). So it's annoying, and makes me not want to get the channel on my cable.

But as this video notes. About as bad as the ridiculous reality shows, the channel spends a lot of time on pseudoscience and pseudohistory. Why are you offering up conspiracy, demons, bigfoots, and alien abductions? I shouldn't be surprised when you honestly critique conspiracies. Still, most of these have moved to other channels now. And History Channel has it's reality TV, mixed with some old ancient aliens and bible mystery docs.

Now, I do get the evolution of channels. (I going to make a long aside now.)

I remember getting SciFi Channel...when it was still called that. It was early days, and like every young channel, it was filling space. It would buy up cheap shows and show them in mass. So you would get day long runs of Star Trek, Knight Rider, Invisible Man, etc. And that could be repetitive  But it was also scifi, and fun. (There was also the occasional UFO or mysterious sightings shows.) They also threw on shows that were made in their studio, like Sci-Fi Buzz and SF Vortex. These were shows that would promote and talk about what was going on in scifi TV, Movies, etc that week. So you'd get the channel's niche topic talked up, have interviews with actors and writers in the genre, clips from shows (it was how I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and even rants from Harlan Ellison. It was fun. It was the kind of thing you ought have on a channel specializing in Science Fiction entertainment. And eventually they got dumped as the channel evolved.

Here's some of those old shows:

SF Vortex:

Sci-Fi Buzz:

An Ellison Rant:

That is what we always see, channel execs see cheaper or more engaging ways to draw customers/viewers and they change. So more shows come and go, and the original in studio shows get dropped. That made me sad, as it would be nice to have at least one show talking up the genre. But the channel changed and started buying up new shows, like the Invisible Man, Chronicles, Farscape, Lexx, new MST3K episodes. So there is a trade off. And this seems like a nice place. Some old shows, some new shows. But...the channel evolves.

Execs look at ratings and want more, and they want to find ways to pay less. So shows get replaced, and fans aren't happy. And change keeps coming. Reality shows boom. Ghost Hunters. Horror makeup shows. Weird little games. And then wrestling is put on. And I missed the point they started buying more and more crappy bad movies off the shelves on studios to put on and original movies.

And SciFi come SyFy might want to look back at itself to see what it's become. (Makes me want to pull up the piece Charlie Brooker did showing how TV is where innovative ideas go to die...OKAY!)

SciFi was an interesting channel to start. It needed improvement. It needed to grow. It needed to change. Some changes have been good, and many bad. And it is definitely not what it started out seeking to be.

But it's like what we see with History, Learning, Arts, Discovery, etc. The channels start shifting from who they are. Some more than others, but the marathons of silly shows and ridiculous choice of funding these silly shows...They've made online choices for thoughtful entertainment a desperate need. I think Travel Channel had some better luck. For awhile they became the Poker and Vegas Channel. But they seem to have shifted back some (And they are about travel, which is all about advertising.).

But then we have examples of where this can go like Tech TV. A niche channel, that gave some gaming talk, but also lots of talk about technology, computers, and Leo Laporte. Then they began the move that ended up with them becoming G4. As G4, they had a lot of crappy reality shows, Ninja Warriors, old movies, old TV, with a bit of guy focused gaming talk shoved in. And that channel is dead now (Gods, it's not around, right? I mean, we already have Spike. -- Another tale of an evolving and changing channel.).

Still, let's get back to the History Channel. Ice Road Truckers? Top Gear? Ancient Aliens? Pawn Stars? Swamp People? Chasing Tail (What is this even about?)? American Pickers? Ax Men? Cajun Pawn Stars (Cause one isn't enough.)? Counting Cars (Theirs a show called Counting Fucking Cars.)? Really? This is who you are, History Channel?


But, as noted in the video at the top, this was a long time in coming.

Look at this show Satan's Army (Interesting point. This is an example of what a lot of these channels do. You have a show. And you just plug it into whatever other show you have that is related and pretend it's new. I've seen most of this in another show on History, with different graphics. You know, I once saw a piece on the haunting of a WWII aircraft carry pop up on three different paranormal shows. What a way to save cash.)

But just watch the first minute or two, and think, "This is what the History Channel does."

Oh my gods. I forgot for a moment about The Nostradamus Effect...That was so dumb. Anyway, I want to sit down at a some point and talk about how bad this and some other shows were.

Shame on you History Channel. Shows like this make my brain hurt. So so dumb.

Being Boldly Wrong: The GOP isn't moving, it's just moving the furniture around the office...and SMASHING it.

Incredible Hulk V.2 #315 John Byrne, Keith Williams,
Andy Yunchus Dennis O'Neil
The GOP has been trying for months now to say it is a party of the future. New ideas. New voters. New acceptance of the nation around them. But it seems that is all such a huge lie that they struggle to keep up the facade. It will always come down.

Luckily the media isn't watching, most always.

So when candidates aren't racing to a camera to talk about women and their rape myths, or getting caught on film making racist statements, it is pretty smooth sailing  And the GOP has become very accustomed to this arrangement.

They pass their regressive laws, dismantle regulation, and go after the disenfranchised.

Like last week, when the Republican National Committee unanimously agreed that marriage equality was bad, and they would oppose it. Unanimous agreement, no debate. Marriage is between a man and a woman (Who are doing it.). Yes, we all know the blatant flaw in logic right there. This is the RNC, logic is considered liberal (and possible a homosexual). And they made sure to include the point that traditional marriage is where kids belong. So you know they are implying opposition to gay couples parenting. How does a serious modern party do this? By having unserious leaders, and a legion of unserious voters.

As was noted here, this resolution they voted on is just garbage dressed as science and serious policy. But it fits their ideology and they will continue to peddle the inferiority of gay people as some scientific truth.

And Paul Ryan and others in the party are eager to rally the social conservatives to push harder. Continue to push back access to abortion. Push against access to contraception. Push back the definition of rape. Push to make a zygote a being with full rights. (They don't even want gay people to have full rights!)

We've been seeing this for months now. Push after push to make it impossible to access abortion. Moves to limit voting access. Then someone goes on TV and says, as a conservative, the party needs to change, and is changing (earnest smile).

So just remember, as yet a another representative or flak goes on TV, just what lies beneath the surface.

Incredible Hulk V.2 # 375 Peter David, Dale Keown, Bob McLeod,
Glynis Oliver, Bobbie Chase

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Standing up to the Religious Right: Katelyn Campbell

We can loose sight of the people who are putting up the hard fights. People who stand up to authority and peer pressure in places where there is just not much cover, and standing out can mean your life will be made hell.

But once in a while we see someone stand up, and refuse to sit back down and be silent. One such person is Katelyn Campbell of West Virginia. She is standing up to abstinence education with blatant religious content.

A religious spurred speaker came in and began to spout to students. Condoms are bad, and don't work. If you have sex, you will get a disease. If you take birth control, your mom hates you. And that the speaker could tell if you would be promiscuous.

Campbell opted out of the event, but was given a recording of it. Hearing it she was outraged and spoke out, and sought those who would listen.

For speaking out, and talking to the media and the ACLU, the principal threatened her. He told her that he may contact the university that she was going to in the fall, and tell them she was of bad character.

In response, she's called for him to resign.

So there she was, taking a stand, having her future threatened, and she did not back down. Good for her. Thank you. Thank you for standing up and trying to make a difference. For science. For education. For the separation of church and state.

And her future university had some thoughts to.

Smart move Wellesley College. Smarter than that principal.

And, again, thank you Katelyn Campbell. People like you can make a difference, and help make the world a better place. We should all try as hard.

Joy of ice skating

You know, I love to watch ice skating. I don't skate myself...that would be a horrific sight, like an elephant doing ballet...or ice skating. But it is beautiful to watch when it's at the Olympic level. So I look forward to it during the Winter Olympics.

If you enjoy it to here's a short clip with Sasha Cohen, Rite of Spring, from a new film, Nowness:

Sasha Cohen: Rite of Spring on

Marriage Equality in New Zealand

Marriage equality is now law in New Zealand. Still not in the United States. But we have to be thrilled these basic rights are now being acknowledged in one more country on this planet.

14 countries now! We have over 100 to go. Including the United States of America, and Australia (Really Aussies? You used to be cool.).

Here is the vote, and the resulting singing in celebration after (the Pokarekare Ana -- a traditional love song):

And here's an MP, Maurice Williamson, who responds to all the people, including religious leaders who attacked him and others on the looming equality vote (includes physics joke):

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Monday, April 15, 2013

Astromech Spy by SFDebris

SFDebris (@sfdebris) regularly does humorous reviews, and the occasionaly literary analysis. But last week, he brought us Astromech Spy, the tale of a cunning little spy named R2-D2...He translates R2's beeps and whistles from the 1st Star Wars movie (A New Hope). And this reveals all (Spoilers: R2's kind of a dick.).

So enjoy the 6 part tale of R2's trip from Tantive IV to Yavin IV.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Anniversaries of exploration in SPAAAACE!

And more intriguing anniversaries almost slip by me. Today, April 12th, is one of those interesting days in space exploration. A day of firsts.

Yuri Gagarin Statue in
In 1961. The first human entered the orbit of the Earth, and proceeded to go for a spin, heading once around. And he even returned home, alive. It was another major step for human space travel and exploration. And with everything that came, every new accomplishment, every new wonder, Yuri Gagarin, Soviet cosmonaut, was first.

Aboard Vostok 1, he was launched into space and history. Then he was kept grounded, to prevent him from being lost on another mission. He was an important symbol. But he worked hard in the Soviet space program to prepare and aid future space travelers. More than just a symbol to the Soviet Union, he is another of humanity's adventurers, inspiring many many more, and bookmarking one more human achievement.

STS-1 Mission Patch
Then, in 1981, STS-1 was launched from Kennedy Space Center. STS, or Space Transport System, means the U.S. space shuttle program. This was first launch of a space shuttle, the Columbia.

This was mostly a test flight of the new shuttle technology, a shakedown cruise. Two astronauts were sent up, Young and Crippen. John Young was a veteran at the time of the space program. He'd served on the Gemini 3 mission as pilot, and commanded Gemini 10. Then he flew the command module for Apollo 10, and commanded the Apollo 16 mission, walking on the moon. Robert Crippen was a "rookie" at the time, having entered the space program as manned missions were ending. He did work as support for Skylab. This would be his first chance, and all the other newer astronauts chances to fly and work in space.

And it was the beginning of a new era. And like the last manned era it had it's high and low points, success and tragedy. But like all exploration and advancement, a choice is made to accept risk and danger.

Sadly, the era did come to an end. But it needed to at some point. Shuttle technology needed to be overtaken by something newer, and it has not been. I know for years I've watched new designs come up as the next advance, then fade away. We need to be willing to make the investment in a new reusable transport. But since the 80's it seems nothing has been good enough, or worth the expense.

Maybe commercial transport is the future, but I have to think that exploration isn't over. I think we have more bookmarks to lay after Gagarin's still.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Dog's Life: the tired, the conquering, and the lead.

Been traveling, been tired, and trying to get myself writing.

So, how about some videos. Not a lot of cat, I'm afraid. But plenty of happy pooches, and one that's a bit confused by his situation.

When you're a pooped puppy. (No euphemism.)

Getting to know your bone. (Still no euphemism.)

Now it's time for the cat to take you home. (Surprisingly not a euphemism in sight.)

Friday, April 05, 2013

First Contact Day

Okay, this is embarassing as a Trekkie.

Forgot that April 5th is First Contact Day. On this day (in the fictional future), Zefram Cochrane launches the test ship, Phoenix, from Bozeman, Montana.

And was the first Earth ship capable of warp speed.

The test flight caught the attention of alien life, interested to see that humans had developed interstellar travel.

So they landed.

And proved to be the Vulcans.

And Earth had it's first contact.

And The Adventure Continues.

...Granted that leads to Insurrection. We don't talk about Insurrection.


Thursday, April 04, 2013

It's a The Anti-Choice Empire and the ongoing War on Women. *UPDATED*

Before now I was unaware of the term TRAP laws. Now, I have seen them at work, but didn't know they had a name. (ThinkProgress looks at the states leading the charge on them.)

TRAP means Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. It is a legal trick to ban abortion in a state, without actually openly creating a ban. Red tape and regulation. Yes, it is curious how conservatives seem eager to embrace regulation here, while EVERYWHERE ELSE they are violently dyspeptic about it.

Pressing. A cruel and barbaric
But conservatives are regularly open to the idea that the ends justifying means, so I'm not agape. With TRAP, they get to micromanage facilities that offer abortions. How big are your closets? What medical machinery do you have on hand? What privileges do you have at hospitals? They just keep stacking on the regs.

It could almost sound sensible. The layering on of regs can seem benign. Safe and sound is good in medicine. But they don't care about making these facilities safe. This is just concern trolling. The rules are not meant to make things better or help the women of a state. These are meant to be just strict enough to make it impossible to have abortion providers stay open.

If one regulation doesn't do it, add another. And if that doesn't do it, keep adding them until they can't function. It reminds me of the old punishment known as pressing. In it weight is added on top of a person until it finally kills a person. When it comes to reproductive rights, conservatives have decided to add the weight of regulation, bit by bit, until those rights slip out of reach.

So, at long we can say the efforts by Republicans to shut down abortion access are, yes, a TRAP.

Yeah...I already know what it is.
So, to keep with the Star Wars imagery, we can't retreat now. We have to push on and fight. ...And we may also have to concentrate all fire on that Super Star Destroyer...I don't know why for sure...But it is really important. Okay?


Rachel Maddow looked at the TRAP laws last night:

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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Autism Awareness Month, and some things to avoid.

I am glad someone reminded that we have now shifted into Autism Awareness Month.

Autism is one of those evolving topics of medical science. We continue to learn about it, how it manifest, and how we treat it. Still, it does get a certain level of coverage, and hype. So it is good to have times when we can pause and cut through hyperbole, conspiracy, and outright lies, and talk seriously and scientifically about an issue like this. (Granted of course their is an ever important human element to always remember.)

So, their is a lot of garbage out there about autism. One area of particular concern to me is in the quest to understand what causes it to occur. This is because in an attempt to answer that question some decide to attack science and the medical establishment. Specifically, some like to attack the administering of vaccines. There have been continuing attempts to try and tie vaccination to autism. From vaccines in general to mercury to thimerosal. But all research says the claims do not hold up. But the claims continue, like that vaccines contain antifreeze. And the result is parents scared to treat their kids, and illnesses getting spread. This causes a lot of harm, and isn't helping to end autism, or help autistic children.

This obsession diverts focus from the areas where their has been real success in helping autistic people, and keeps money from going to the real issues that need addressing. One group tied to these claims is Autism Speaks. The group doesn't have a good record. And it's been aggressive in pushing anti-vaccination messages. They have not been a good resource for autistic advocates.

So, please, learn about autism. And avoid sources, like Autism Speaks. There are many bad resources around, and people eager to profit off the desire to help children. You can find all manner of claims. Harmful claims. Claims desperate people can cling to, not knowing better:

So find good sources. Here are some resources you can try:

If I come across some other good resources, I'll add them.

Monday, April 01, 2013

April's Fool Jokes

Tarot Card - The Fool
Tarot Card - The Fool
And the joke is on you! Ha ha ha! Because now you are going to have to learn.

...Unless you click away now. ...Don't do that, I'm so lonely...

Still, if you haven't fled, good. Something we don't always consider on this, April 1st, is why do people do this hilarious/flipping annoying stuff today.

Apparently, many have settled on one pat little story for why April 1st is so hilarious. It goes back to the end of the 16th century when the pope was updating the accepted calendar from the long standing Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. (This change curiously enough is tied to Easter, as the church was trying to get Easter to the right time of year. -- Sneaky old Easter.) Among the changes this new calendar caused was a shift of when the New Year occurred. It moved from April 1st to January 1st.

Now, the story goes, that some group were not pleased with this change. And didn't think reworked a calendar made a difference to when the year started. (I know! Traditionalist unwilling to accept change? And in the 16th century to?) So, apparently, they continued to celebrate the New Year in April. And were mocked as fools for doing it.



That isn't entirely true. From enjoying podcast like Skeptoid and Answer Me This I've long since learned that the nice pat and obvious origin story is often just the story people got fond of, or made sense so is accepted.

Trouble is that the spread and embrace of April Fools' Day doesn't real match up to the use of the new calendar throughout Europe. This custom was already in place in some regions when the calendar changes were embraced.

Also, it fails to account for the fact festivities around jokes and pranks, tied to March/April predate this and reach outside of Christendom. Before the church, in the Roman Empire, Hilaria was celebrated on March 25th, games of amusement, and masquerades and imitations. In February to late March, Hindi celebrate Holi, in part commemorating the pranks of Krishna and also dousing everyone in colored powders, and just getting messy. In Iran, Persians celebrate Sizdah Be-dar, which occurs around April 1st. This goes back to around 536 BCE, and involves going out into nature for the day and picnicking and enjoy everyone's company. In amidst the games and fun, people play pranks on each other.

It is interesting. Iranians offer one of the oldest traditions, we remember in history, but it ends up being found to some extent existing over in South Asia and west in the Roman Empire. And this period is one of transition. Winter to Spring (for the region of the world in question). So the chance to finally get outside again, to interact, to share, to commune...Seems like an excuse to finally share some japes with old friends you are getting reacquainted with.

But it's all speculation.

What we do know is that it's a tradition that seems to have gained solid purchase in society. That it's been spread by empires and colonials ever since. And some people still cannot take a joke. And some people don't know how to properly prank others.

In some ways we don't change. I'm sure, millennia back, during a Hilaria, lowly scribes chose to mock the wrong magistrate, and paid for it. And today, some cubical workers will prank the wrong manager, and pay a like price.