Octopodial Chrome

Stuff that Made Sense at the Time

The Personal Weblog of Bob Uhl

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Is high self-esteem harmful?

Dennis Prager notes some recent results in criminology and psychology to ask if high self-esteem might not be detrimental to good character. It wouldn’t be suprising if true: it would explain why those who really are that good at what they do (e.g. Tiger Woods or Frank Sinatra) are so unpleasant in the rest of their lives.

And of course it accords with traditional religion, which notes that pride is the chief of the sins. Gosh, it’s almost as though religion knows what it’s talking about!

Weak beer illegal for Colorado restaurants to sell

It turns out that Colorado restaurants and bars are allowed to sell high-alchohol beer, not the weak stuff. The law had never really been enforced, but due to some political manoeuvering (grocery and convenience stores are only permitted to sell the weak stuff; they want to be able to sell it all; so they got the law enforced in order to annoy people) it is now.

So right now in Colorado one can buy weak beer at a grocery or convenience store to take home, or can sit in a restaurant or bar and drink a strong beer. How is one supposed to get home safely—levitation?

Monday, 29 November 2010

Scott's letter to his widow

As he and his party of polar explorers slowed and died, Robert F. Scott wrote a letter to his wife. And what a doozy!

’Scuse me, I think I must have a speck of something in mine eye…

The first winter-over at Concordia

Some time ago I discovered a log of the first winter-over at Concordia in the Antarctic. For someone like me with an interest in subsistence and survival, the feats involved in sustaining a small community alone in the dark are deeply intriguing.

Particularly amusing is how much they tried to live well (the group was European). The author’s birthday dinner consisted of pickled gizzard and smoked duck breast, farfalle with smoked salmon, génépi sorbet (a tasty herb from high up in the Alps), frog legs, orange duck, chocolate fondant in mint sauce with raspberry sorbet. I’m pretty sure that an American equivalent would be chocolate cake from a box, and an ordinary USDA Quality-Free carb-loaded, factory-ranched dinner.

Public healthcare is really a giveaway to proprietary software

Back in September 2009 Washington Monthly, a centre-left publication, had an article about how state healthcare is a giveaway to proprietary software vendors. This isn’t really a surprise: Big Business loves Big Government, and vice versa. It’s much easier to deal with a single customer spending other people’s money than many customers spending their own; it’s much simpler to deal with a few suppliers than with many.

That it leads to poorer outcomes really doesn’t matter. The goal of business is not quality but money; the goal of government is not quality but survival.

Why the lady basketball player is no gentleman

Stephen J. Heaney has an intelligent article about that women’s basketball player who claims to be a man. He opens with a bit from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

In one scene, we encounter the People’s Front of Judea, one of many tiny radical groups bent on the overthrow of the oppressor Romans. As the four conspirators struggle to articulate their group beliefs, one fellow named Stan admits that he wants to be a woman, and that it his right as a man to be called Loretta. He wants this because he wants to have babies. When Reg points out that he can’t have babies, Stan cries, Don’t you oppress me! Reg protests, I’m not oppressing you, Stan. You haven’t got a womb. Where’s the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box? The other three agree that it is Stan’s right to have babies, if he could, and that they will fight for this right. Says Francis, It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression! Retorts Reg, Symbolic of his struggle against reality.

It’s an apt comparison. We are not what we wish to be but what we in fact are. And that poor woman (who clearly could benefit from counselling) is not, no matter how much she or other might wish it, a man, any more than another lunatic is Napoleon Bonaparte.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Pay what you can

A new phenomenon in restaurants is the idea of paying what one can. The idea is that those of us who are relatively well off can pay a bit extra, and those who are worse off can pay just a little, or volunteer to wash dishes in the back.

There are only ten such restaurants in the country, but Denver has three of them. I’d really like to eat at one and thus do well by doing good.

Friday, 19 November 2010

No more fair fights

Generals Scales and van Riper have an article in the Washington Post asking a provocative question: why are our soldiers still in fair fights? They make some interesting points about how the infantry bears the brunt of the fighting (although only 4% of the military, they suffer 81% of the combat deaths), and they appear to have some interesting ideas about how we could use our technical superiority to tilt the balance in our favour.

I think that some of this was part of the transformation the Secretary Rumsfeld wanted to achieve, although Lt. General van Riper has been critical of those efforts and their results. Some may remember his public criticism of Millennium Challenge 02

Things hoplophobes believe

One of my brothers recently linked to this hilarious list of things one must believe to believe in gun control, written by Michæl Z. Williamson. Some of these are a bit hit-or-miss, but others are just brilliant. Among the better ones:

  • That a mugger will kill you in the half-second it takes to draw from the holster, but won’t harm you while you dial 911 on your cell phone, talk to the dispatcher and wait half an hour for the cops to arrive.
  • That the Second Amendment only applies to flintlocks, just as the First Amendment only applies to quills and lead type.
  • That 1 firearm owner in 10,000 will commit an act of violence in his or her lifetime, and this is far more frightening than the 25% of drivers who will cause a serious or fatal accident.
  • That families with children should not be allowed to own guns for safety reasons, just as they aren’t allowed to own dogs, power tools, or toxic chemicals.
  • That one can sue a store for having a slick floor, falling ceilings, and sharp corners, but if they refuse to let you bring a gun in and you get shot by a criminal, they aren’t liable for enforcing that rule with others.
  • That Charlton Heston as president of the NRA is a shill who should be ignored, but Michæl Douglas as a representative of Handgun Control, Inc. is an ambassador for peace who is entitled to an audience at the UN arms control summit.
  • That the New England Journal of Medicine is filled with expert advice about guns, just as Guns and Ammo has some excellent treatises on heart surgery.
  • That the right of the people peaceably to assemble, the right of the people to be secure in their homes, the enumeration herein of certain rights shall not be construed to disparage others retained by the people, The powers not delegated herein are reserved to the states respectively, and to the people, refer to individuals, but the right of the people to keep and bear arms refers to the states.
  • That women are just as intelligent and capable as men, but gunmaker’s advertisements aimed at women are preying on their fears.
  • That a handgun, with up to 4 switches and controls, is far too complex for the typical adult to learn to use, as opposed to an automobile which only has 20.
  • That rifles with pistol grips are assault weapons, just like vehicles with racing stripes are sports cars.
  • That people who own guns out of a fear of crime are paranoid, but people who don’t want other people to own guns in case it causes them to commit crimes are rational.
  • That we should ban Saturday Night Specials and other inexpensive guns because it’s not fair that poor people have access to guns too.
  • That teaching abstinence exclusively rather than use of condoms is doomed to fail, but encouraging absolute bans on guns rather than education in safe use is the only acceptable method of reducing crime.
  • That it is outrageous that civilians have rifles that were designed for the military for their own self defense, but perfectly okay to have polluting, potentially unstable, heavy vehicles that were designed for the military simply as status symbols.
  • That people are too stupid to handle guns, but are intelligent enough to vote.
  • That the NRA, with over 4 million members, is out of touch with America, and HCI, with 50 thousand members, has a mandate from the people.
  • That private citizens making private sales of private property is a loophole.
  • That the existence of weapons not banned by previous laws is a loophole.
  • That it’s safer to do nothing than resist with a gun, which is why the military wins so many wars by not fighting.
  • That we must close shooting ranges because of the noise, but ban silencers because they are quiet.
  • That owning a gun for self-defense indicates an intent to kill, just like owning a first aid kit indicates an intent to impersonate a physician.
  • That suggesting teachers be armed is an outrageous suggestion for a civilized society, which is why the Swiss and Isrælis do it.
  • That making it harder and harder for even cops to have guns on school property will somehow make it harder for lunatics to kill the utterly helpless students.
  • That the 14th Amendment requires states to accept each other’s drivers licenses, even with age or vision requirement differences, marriage licenses even with age or relationship differences or if it’s a gay marriage, but somehow doesn’t apply to licenses to carry weapons.
  • That banning rifles with bayonet lugs will cut down on all the drive-by bayonetings.
  • That shooting at an intruder who smashes your door and enters with knife in hand will somehow escalate the violence.
  • That it’s safer with less guns, which is why lunatics shoot up schools instead of gun shows or police stations.
  • That it’s outrageous to count 18 and 19 year-old parents as children for statistical purposes, but perfectly acceptable to count them as children for purposes of exaggerating gun deaths among children.
  • That the few people who can’t use martial arts or other non-lethal means of self-defense–the young, the old, the infirm, the disabled, the weak, the small, and the pregnant–are simply the necessary sacrifice we must make to criminals to avoid the risks of letting people be armed.
  • That the dangers of guns outweigh their recreational uses, unlike alcohol and motorcycles.
  • That getting rid of guns reduces violence, so the military should be armed with bouquets of flowers.
  • That only people over 21 are allowed to defend themselves.
  • That if a group of anti-gun protesters feels threatened, they should ask police with guns to protect them while they tell everyone how worthless guns are for protection.
  • That the 1939 US vs Miller case, is established law that endorses gun control and the matter is closed, just like Plessy vs Ferguson endorsed separate but equal schools and the matter is closed.
  • That when the government promises that they won’t confiscate our weapons after we register them, we can believe them, just like the Commanche, the Sioux, the Apache, the Kaw, the Cree, the Blackfoot, the Italians in NYC, the Jews in Germany, the Zulu in South Africa…and the Americans at Lexington and Concord.
  • That Charlton Heston, as president of the NRA, must be a racist, despite his marches with Dr. King in the 1960s. After all, all gun owners are racist, and that theory isn’t bigoted.
  • That allowing the poor and minorities to defend themselves is Fascist.
  • That small arms can’t win wars, as all the Viet Cong bombing, air superiority, and naval missions prove.
  • That hate is not a family value, but all gun owners are tobacco-chawin’, beer-swillin’, racist, redneck bubbas.
  • That there’s no contradiction in the same liberals who said in the 60s that 18 year olds who could fight should be able to vote, now saying that 18 year olds can vote but shouldn’t own guns.

Read the whole list—it’s quite funny. Completely unpersuasive to the unconvinced, of course (I imagine by hoplophobic friends are sputtering right now), but funny nonetheless.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Funniest mistake ever

Over in England two drunken thugs picked a fight with the wrong victims: a Victoria-Cross-winning SAS soldier, a George-Cross-winning British Army captain and a George-Cross-winning Royal Marine. For their next trick, they’re going to punch a lion.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Nifty Hotels

I really want to visit some of these unusual hotels. My first choice would be one of the Finnish glass igloos; second is definitely the underwater room and third would probably be that tree hotel. But man-oh-man would the igloo be sweet.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Wooden cutting boards safer than plastic

Researchers at the Universaity of California have determined that harmful bacteria are less of a problem with wooden cutting boards than with the plastic variety. Turns out that brand-new wooden & plastic boards are similar, but that knife cuts in plastic harbour bacteria whilst similar cuts in wood don’t.

One more piece of evidence dmeonstrating that nature can be better than engineering.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Veterans Day

The United States is rare—perhaps unique—in that we have two military holidays: Memorial Day, for those slain in our nation’s service; and Veterans Day, for all those who have served. It’s appropriate to remember the many sacrifices that soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen have made, are making and will continue to make; not just the large sacrifices of life and limb but all the small ones too. As just one example, in the civilian world it’s expected that a father will see his children born; in the military world it’s not at all unusual that he will be deployed. In the civilian world it’s normal to be in constant telephone and computer contact with loved ones; in the military world it’s common to have none of that. There are a thousand things big and small about military life that are just different from civilian life, and we should honour veterans for making those sacrifices. We should take a moment to remember all those deployed in harm’s way, or safely home in port making less than minimum wage (on an hourly basis), or studying hard while their friends are enjoying their youth, or just putting up with the minor indignities of military life.

This morning I was thinking of how I used to call up various members of my family and wish them a happy Veterans Day, and how now one has to call up the entire family, when I was struck by a thought. If we’re going to recognise veterans for the many small and large sacrifices we make, then shouldn’t we also be recognising those other veterans today: the wives, the husbands, the sons and the daughters? The ones who didn’t have a husband to hold their hands; who didn’t have a dad at the ball game; who had to drive half-a-dozen kids around town; who ate dinner on Valentine’s Day alone but not unloved; the ones who had to up and move every two or four years to a new school, a new neighbourhood, a new home and a new job; the ones who always knew that they had to take second place, because America took the first. We had a choice—as one popular article making the rounds today notes, a veteran is someone who at some point chose to hand Uncle Sam a blank cheque—but in many cases our families didn’t have a choice. So let’s take a moment and remember them too.

Happy Veterans Day, Mom!

Monday, 08 November 2010

The ABCs of Bob

So this is another one of those fun things wandering the Interwebs.

Bed size
Chore I hate
If I don’t hate it, it’s not a chore.
Dog’s name
Essential start-my-day items
Oxygen, food digesting from previous night’s meal. In winter, shelter.
Favourite colour
Gold or silver
As a metal? Gold. As a decorative colour? Silver.
Instruments I play
I sometimes hit guitar strings with a pick, but play is probably too kind a word.
None yet.
Living arrangement
A condo
Music I love
The stuff that sounds good—which means no country or rap.
Overnight hospital stay other than birth
Once on warranty
Pet peeve
Improper pronunciation and grammar (and yes, my idiosyncratic punctuation in this list is both intentional and systematic).
Quote from a movie
I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.
Right- or left-handed
I am dextrous, not sinister.
Only the three finest young men I—or anyone else—knows. Well, Tom ain’t that young anymore…
Time I wake up
Boxers, of course.
Vegetable I dislike
Avocados, bell peppers, cucumbers, delicata squash, eggplant…let’s stop at eggplant, the worst of the vegetables, the foulest stain upon the planet.
Workout style
Alternate a day of running with a day of situps, pushups and pullups. Skip Sundays.
X-rays I’ve had
Yummy food I make
I’m a culinary Midas; everything I touch turns to gold. Except that one time…well, and that other time.
Zoo, the best place to visit at
I have no particular and enduring favourite.

If you don’t post this same list on your blog, hyenas will eat you.

A Roman multitool

Today I learnt that the Romans invented the multitool. Not the Swiss Army, not Gerber, not the Leatherman company—the Romans! Pretty sweet.

Monday, 01 November 2010

Woman caged in the desert, no-one punished

This story is disgusting: an inmate in an Arizonan prison was caged in the desert until she died of dehydration—and no-one will be punished for it. When she died her body temperature was 108°; her body was thoroughly burned and blistered.

I’m sure she was a rotten person in many ways; I’m sure she was a discipline problem; I’m sure she well-deserved punishment. None of that excuses treating a human being that way, none of it. I’m sure she made life very difficult for her guards; some people are simply not great people. But that doesn’t matter. If a father treated his wayward child that way, he’d be executed. And none of those responsible for this is even going to jail.

It’s very sad. For all her faults, Marcia Powell was a human being. God loved her just as much as He does any of us; she had exactly as much inherent worth as any of us. And she didn’t deserve have her life baked out of her in the desert sun.

Why Orthodox men love the Church

A lot of Orthodox women I know have been passing this article on Facebook recently. While imperfect (and a few years old), it’s a good read.

I think that it’s better to ask why Orthodox men and women love the Church; many of the answers are the same. Sheer physicality, for example: our worship involves sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. And while an Orthodox man is free to be a man, so too is an Orthodox woman free to be a woman.

And, of course, beards. You just can’t respect a man with a boy’s chin…

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