Thursday, July 28, 2016

"The Wrong Side of History"

I have a friend who tells me my social views (which would be considered ultra-conservative in San Francisco and ultra-liberal in Salt Lake City, so I consider them "moderate") place me on "the wrong side of history".  Such phrasing is reminiscent of "check your privilege", one of those phrases that's supposed to bring all discussion to an immediate halt, with the recipient leaving the field in clear and obvious defeat.

As they would say in the 90's, "homey don't play that way".

The American Conservative published a great piece on the culture wars; the author is far more eloquent than I, but captured my sentiments perfectly:
You hear this kind of thing a lot from social liberals who genuinely believe that nothing serious is at stake in the culture war. If conservatives would just roll over and accept that the liberal view is naturally, obviously correct, we could get back to our “real” problems. Thiel is the sort of person who looks at pro-Brexit voters and cannot imagine why they didn’t understand that their material interests were with the Remain side. What people like Thiel — really intelligent people, let us stipulate! — don’t understand is that not everybody values the things they do. Real, important things are being struggled over...

Culturally speaking, to be born in many places in the US is to suffer an irreversible lifelong defeat. If you come from a culturally conservative region, or family, you understand that the people who make the decisions in this culture are on the other side. At best they regard you as irrelevant. At worst, they hate you, and want to grind your nose in the dirt. Whatever the case, the things you value, that are important to your identity, and your sense of how the world is supposed to work, are either fading away or being taken from you — and you can’t do anything about it...

There is a widespread sense that the way the socially liberal globalist perceives the world is the end of history, as opposed to something constructed and particular to this time and place...

Back to Thiel’s assertion that the culture wars are not real. They are certainly real, in that they define what it means to be human, what it means to be a member of society, how we are to live together, and so on. I doubt a gay man in 1980s rural Alabama would say the culture wars aren’t real. Similarly, a traditionalist Catholic living in San Francisco in 2016 wouldn’t say the culture wars aren’t real. “Universal culture” only seems so to people who live in its artificial bubble.
By the way, I'm sure "wrong side of history" and "check your privilege" are types of logical fallacies, but I can't identify which type specifically.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

This Makes Me Suspicious

This "infomercial" is about lenses you can snap onto your smartphone camera and have awesome pictures:
Images produced by our lenses have been tested and found to equal or exceed the photos produced by such top makers as Zeiss, Leica, Nikon, Canon and Sony. We're extremely proud to have manufactured such a high quality product at such a modest price point, thanks to computer design and advanced CCD fabrication.
This isn't rocket science and there's no reason these lenses shouldn't work, and work well.  However, my shields go up and the "red alert" klaxon blares when my BS Detector is triggered, as it is here:
These Ultra High Quality lenses are being released in limited quantities. I’d advise you to grab your set before the super low introductory price is raised.
Outside of an artist, why would anyone limit the number of items they're selling?  Why release limited quantities of these lenses?  That doesn't make sense to me.  That's not how you make money.

It's entirely possible that the meaning was that there are limited quantities available at the introductory price--but that isn't what was said.  It's also possible that the sentences quoted above were meant to motivate someone to purchase the lenses right away! but if so, they were just poorly worded.

But as written, the sentences don't make sense.  It looks like a lot of work went into creating that ad, how could something so obviously suspicious slip through?

US Teacher Pay and Abilities

An interesting international comparison:
If you think the skills of American teachers don’t stack up to those of teachers in other countries, you’re wrong—American teachers are perfectly mediocre. Well, in fairness, American teachers seem to be a touch above average in literacy skills and noticeably below average in numeracy. They shine in neither area. “Mediocre” means middling. I guess some country has to be in the middle, but that’s not how we Americans like to picture ourselves. For me, American teachers being middle-of-the-pack isn’t good enough. I expect—at least if you’re an American reader of Chalkboard—that you too want the U.S. to be a world leader in education.

If this reads like a knock against American teachers, that’s not quite the intention. It is intended as a knock against American policymakers. We in fact get much better teachers than we pay for. More on this below.
Go read the whole thing, it's not that long.

Please, Oh Please, Democrats, Double Down On This One!

If doubling down is good, then tripling down would be even better!
Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are taking their gun reform message full-bore into the general election, betting that a shift in voter sentiment has turned a once-toxic issue into a political winner.

Gun control has emerged as one of the most prominent pillars of Clinton's 2016 platform, partly because she used it to draw a contrast with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), her former primary opponent, and his mixed voting record on the issue.

But many leading gun-control advocates, including Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), say Clinton has made it clear the issue will remain at the top of her agenda as she battles Donald Trump and the Republicans heading into November.
No Democratic issue will help Republicans more.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Complexity Isn't A Bug, It's A Feature

I'm not so cynical as to think that the primary goal of California's new school grading system is to be opaque and incomprehensible, but after seeing this new system it's difficult to come to the conclusion that such goals weren't considered at all:
California’s proposed new evaluation system will use a colors — lots of colors — to evaluate schools by lots of factors, reports the Orange County Register.

The old Academic Performance Index, suspended in March 2015,  generated a single number based on test scores:  800 was the goal. Schools could be compared against schools with similar demographics. Parents could see how a school’s API score changed over time or check performance by subgroups.

The color-coded California Model shows boxes for test scores, attendance, dropout rates, English proficiency, access to advanced classes in high school, parent involvement, suspension rates and more.

The API may have been “simplistic,” the new system is so complicated it’s incomprehensible, editorializes the Los Angeles Times.
See the colors at the top link.

Third Time's A Charm

I have not been a fan of the first two "reboot" (or "Kelvin timeline") Star Trek movies.  They're not bad movies, but they are bad Star Trek.  The original Star Trek--in fact, Star Trek in all its iterations--was about interactions between the characters.  The original series (TOS) was built on the interactions between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.  In the first two Kelvin Timeline films, Kirk and Spock were the main characters and the others, including McCoy, were just there to take up space.

Fortunately, that has changed in Star Trek: Beyond.  McCoy became a full partner in this movie, which can only help the franchise.  Additionally, there were many homages to previous movies and TV series (I'd mention them, but don't want to include spoilers).

There was an dedication/acknowledgement of Leonard Nimoy's death.  Know what choked me up, though?  "To Anton".


Monday, July 25, 2016

An OK Start, But More Fallout Is Needed

When you write false articles about gang rape, there should be a penalty to be paid:
Rollings Stone recently “terminated” its contract with Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the reporter who wrote the debunked article about the gang rape of a University of Virginia student.

Erdely’s status with Rolling Stone has been kept under wraps since UVA dean Nicole Eramo sued the magazine for defamation because of its reporter’s Nov. 2014 article “A Rape on Campus.” In previous disclosures Erdely appeared to still be employed by the magazine...

But after the article was published, it came to light that Coakley had lied about the gang rape and that Erdely failed to conduct basic journalistic due diligence to verify the claims.
There are still lawsuits a-brewin' over that article, and rightly so.

Wonder Woman

My knowledge of Wonder Woman is limited to the 70s TV series starring Lynda Carter; I never read the comic books, so I have to ask this:  in the comic books, was Wonder Woman a violent butt-kicker?  Carter's Wonder Woman used the minimum force necessary to subdue her opponents, and I don't recall that she ever killed anyone.  Was that how Wonder Woman was supposed to be, or was that just 70s TV?  I ask because I'm trying to determine if the new Wonder Woman movie is doing a disservice to the ideals of Wonder Woman:

Also, this movie appears to take place during World War I; Wonder Woman's character wasn't created until 1941 and I thought she fought the Nazis....

Star Trek: Discovery

The new (but pre-Kirk) ship looks half-Klingon to me, but I kinda like it.  Too bad I won't be able to see the show because I won't pay for CBS's streaming service:

I'm supposed to see Star Trek: Beyond tomorrow with a friend from work.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Random Trip Pics

The Bow, in Calgary

I May Never Get To Retire

In order to help make CalSTRS (teachers retirement system) solvent, a law passed a couple years ago required California teachers, districts, and (I think) the state all to contribute more towards teacher retirement.  Even before this occurred, California teachers were paying well above what they would into Social Security, with the understanding that they'd receive more than they would under social security in retirement.  We've been promised so much, though, that we're now having to pay more to get the same retirement we were promised.

CalSTRS wants us to believe the funding crisis has passed.  I'm not so sure:
Earlier this week, CalPERS—California’s pension fund for most public employees—reported abysmal annual earnings of 0.61 percent, a tiny fraction of the seven-and-a-half percent annual returns needed to keep it solvent over the long run. And its sister fund for teachers, CalSTRS, isn’t doing much better. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The nation’s second-largest public pension posted its slimmest returns since the 2008-2009 financial crisis because of heavy losses in stocks.

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, earned 1.4% for the fiscal year ended June 30, according to a Tuesday news release. The result is the lowest since a 25% loss in fiscal 2009 and well below Calstrs’ long-term investment target of 7.5%. Calstrs oversees retirement benefits for 896,000 teachers.
As Steven Malanga has noted, both of these union-managed funds are notorious for pulling political stunts even as they face gaping shortfalls, going on a misguided “green” investing binge that flushed taxpayer money down the drain, and pulling out of tobacco companies on moral grounds just before those stocks began to rise.
I retire in 12 more years, any bets on STRS' solvency then?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Interesting Double Standards

Rachel Maddow thinks her viewers will get the vapors seeing "Hillary for Prison" political pins? 
Reminder: Rachel Maddow was a protégé of former MSNBC anchor/spittle-flecked raver Keith Olbermann, who in 2008 when Hillary was hanging on during the Democrat primaries and slowing Obama’s inevitable coronation, demanded someone from the Democratic Party “take her into a room and only he comes out.”

She debuted on Air America, also home to Randi Rhodes, who in 2008 was suspended from the now-defunct leftwing talk radio network for describing Hillary as a “big f***ing whore” and the since-deceased Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated to be vice president as “David Duke in Drag” for supporting Hillary that year.

But Maddow thinks a few anti-Hillary campaign buttons will cause her fellow lefties to dive for the fainting couches?

Earlier: Maddow Rambles For Three Minutes on “Incredibly Radical” “Openly Gay” Republican Peter Thiel.

I’m old enough to remember when being dubbed a “radical” was a compliment by lefties.

Random Trip Pics

Reflections of Calgary:

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Bought my first VCR in 1987.  I still have one.  It's not connected to my tv (although it could be), but when I switched to DVD I decided not to replace all my movies--so I copied them onto DVD instead.  They're still watchable, if not flawless.

But what to do with all those VHS tapes, some of which are so old they contain video of Army beating Navy in football?  They're in a box in an out of the way place in the garage.  I don't want someone to see all these home-burned DVDs and think I illegally downloaded the movies or something; no, I'm keeping the tapes.

So what prompted me to talk about VHS?  This article:
Funai Electric, the last company known to make VCRs, is ceasing production.

Random Trip Pics

Nanton, Alberta

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Vul-Con Celebrity Guests

I attended all the guest Q&A's except for Julie Cobb/Rosemary Morgan, which cost extra.
Adam Nimoy, Leonard's son

Garrett Wang, who was not an official Vul-con guest but shows up almost every year (Voyager)

Sally Kellerman (appeared in TOS 2nd pilot Where No Man Has Gone Before)

Robin Curtis (Star Trek III and IV)

Manu Intiraymi (Voyager)

Robert Beltran (Voyager)

Andrew Robinson (DS9)

Dominic Keating (Enterprise)

I found the Q&A's illuminating.  Some of the actors didn't like their colleagues.  Some didn't like the way the writers treated their characters.  Some seemed to be acting, not being all that genuine ("actor's gonna act").  Some seemed to be real people.  Well worth the money.

Jive Turkey

In the aftermath of what clearly seems like a staged coup to give cover to a purge, Turkey's government has (rather quickly identified and) rounded up over 50,000 people, teachers among them:
Teachers, journalists, police and judges alike have been caught in a net authorities are casting wider by the day, in what is increasingly looking like a witch-hunt to suppress dissent.

Last month, when teachers clashed with police in Oaxaca, Mexico, the press was all over it.  The National Education Association has certainly addressed Oaxaca.  If you want to hear crickets chirping, however, go see the lack of any mention of Turkey over at NEA's web site.  Why do you think that might be?  Hmm, I wonder.

Random Trip Pics

Seen in Calgary
click to enlarge

Monday, July 18, 2016

Home! Now Let's Look At Some Pictures!

Living out of a small travel trailer for almost 2 weeks and having to rely on campground wifi certainly imposes limitations! I promised pictures, though, and now you shall have them (in addition to what I showed previously).

First, the town of Vulcan, Alberta:
Note the empty plaza with the Spock bust in it. The first morning of the convention that changed, though, when Leonard Nimoy's son Adam unveiled a new plaque in honor of his father:

The convention itself was 2 days of great fun. Yes, there were plenty of people dressed in costume, including yours truly for a bit:

There was a dinner/dance on Saturday evening, and the food was great. Dessert was awesome!

I even won some goodies in the silent auction on Sunday! And then it was off to Calgary:

The Olympic Park is used for outdoor sports these days:

Drove through the Rockies on the Trans-Canada Highway, passing through Banff and Revelstoke:

And then stayed a couple nights in Kamloops:

What a great trip--and I'm going camping for a couple days next week!

Star Trek Continues, Episode 6