Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's official - Republicans now officially beyond parody

An Oklahoma Republican has now managed to prove once and for all that it is now impossible to parody the Republicans. In order to be able to parody the Republicans, one would have to be able to take one of their positions and stretch it beyond the limits of reality for humorous effect. Yet the Republicans have consistently demonstrated that there is no extension of their positions, however illogical, that they will not embrace. For example:

Food containing fetuses targeted under new Oklahoma bill

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R - Oklahoma County), the "brains" behind this bill, admits that he doesn't know if companies are doing this. But just in case, he wants to let them know that if they decide to do this, they can't do it in Oklahoma. I'm sure he thinks he's going to make his constituents happy with this piece of legislation, but let's just see how happy they are when they're unemployed because Soylent Green cites the "hostile business climate" in Oklahoma as their reason for opening their new factory elsewhere.

Monday, January 23, 2012

H & R Blockheads

Tax season is coming up here in the US.  Maybe you're thinking of hiring a professional to help you with your taxes. If so, there are probably some questions you'll want to ask:  Did she pass the CPA exam?  How does she keep up with the ever-changing forest of tax code?  How do her clients typically fare in audits?  Can she provide references?  The question you probably won't think to ask is "Is she white?"  But for some wingnuts in the white power movement, the answer to that question can make or break a tax preparer.  Fortunately (?) there's a woman in Wisconsin who's ready to meet their bigoted tax preparation needs.  They say it takes all kinds.  It just wish it didn't take so many of some kinds.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Happy Friday!

This video just made my day: John Scalzi's daughter Athena encountering a record for the first time. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

So hard to say good-bye

Separation anxiety is something that all children go through - when they realize that they can move, they realize that you can move too, and that you might go away and not come back.  The wonder isn't so much that children go through separation anxiety so much as that separation isn't worse than it is.

Of course, when dealing with an autistic child, separation anxiety is worse than with a neurotypical child, and extends to a much older age.  Case in point:  Yesterday Mrs. B. had to wait for the school bus with Little Boy B, age 7.  Not only was he waiting for the bus with someone other than me (strike 1), he was also wearing a new pair of shoes (strike 2), and Mrs. B., being not dressed appropriately for the cold, tried to get him to go down the front walk to the bus by himself (strike 3).  Result:  Meltdown.  This morning I was back on morning bus duty.  He's gotten used to his new shoes (mostly), and so the transition went smoothly.  I convinced him to try walking halfway to the bus with me and then halfway by himself, and he managed that without a hitch, so I'd consider today's transition a major success.  Of course, the real test will come tomorrow, when Mrs. B. is back on bus duty.

It any of you are having trouble with separation anxiety, here's a list of tips from St. David's Center for Child and Family Development that can help out.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Blog review: Marc and Angel Hack Life

Mrs. B. introduced me to Marc and Angel Hack Life a couple of years ago and it rapidly became one of my favorite personal development blogs.  It's nothing really deep or heavy, being mainly lists of simple things to do or think about to improve your life, but if I open my mailbox in the morning and see "Oh!  New Marc and Angel!", that's the first thing I read.  Even though there is some repetition from one post to the next (for example, quite a few of the 101 Simple Truths We Often Forget had appeared previously as part of the 60 Inconvenient Personal Development Truths), this doesn't make the insights provided any less useful - these things are just as true the second or third time you hear them as they were the first, and the repetition causes me to consider them again, which I think is a good thing.  It may not be your cup of tea, but I highly recommend you check it out.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Comic book review: Archie #627

Buying a new Archie comic was a return to my comic book roots.  While my friends were all caught up in Marvel's Secret Wars mega-event, I was caught up in the happenings down in Riverdale.  When I heard that Kiss were going to be making a 4-issue guest appearance, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a walk down memory lane.

I didn't hear about the Kiss storyline until the second issue was about to come out, so I considered myself lucky to find a copy of the first issue (#627) at my local comic shop.  As soon as I had it in my hot little hands, I sat down and once again immersed myself in the Archie world.  And I can honestly say that not much appears to have changed in 30 years:  If you liked Archie comics then, you'll like them now.  The characters all looked just the way I remembered, and Kiss looked great in this style of comic art.

The storyline is that Archie and the gang are helping Sabrina the Teenage Witch cast a protection spell when Veronica messes it up and summons a group of monsters, who immediately start turning the townspeople into zombies.  Fortunately, the mixed-up spell also summons Kiss, who in the Archie-verse are both rock stars and monster-hunters.  The issue ends with Archie on the phone with Betty, as he just realizes how bad things have gotten.  Fortunately, he's got 3 issues left in which to set everything right.

My only complaint about this issue was Reggie.  Reggie used to be cunning and devious, a truly worthy foil for Archie.  In this issue, he appears to have morphed into a cowardly metrosexual.  Somebody please tell me this is just an oddity of the script for this issue, and not a permanent change in the character!

As an aside, my collecting this series provides a great example why it's good to have a local comic shop that you patronize regularly:  The copy of this issue that I bought (the last in the store, mind you) had the variant cover.  When I talked to the shop staff about adding this title to my pull folder, I asked if they could be sure I get the variant covers of the other 3 issues.  They assured me that this would be no problem, and they've come through for me.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book review: Merchant of Death (Pendragon, book 1)

If I had to describe D.J. MacHale's Merchant of Death in one word, that word would be "adequate."  It  ticks all the checkboxes for YA fantasy:  Normal kid discovers he has a greater destiny, alternate worlds alongside ours, helpful but inscrutable mentor who disappears when it's important for the hero to stand on his own, appropriate sidekicks for the hero (one or more of which could end up being romantic interests), super-powered villain who the hero drives away but doesn't defeat (thus setting the stage for sequels).  But for all that this book does right, it still felt kind of perfunctory - I felt like I could see the superstructure under the story and see how things were happening because the story structure demanded it, not necessarily because they seemed like they were an integral part of the story itself.  In the end, though MacHale held my attention through to the end of the book, he didn't grab enough of my attention for me to want to pick up the sequels and keep reading.

I think the thing that really turned me off this book was the way the background magic/technology just didn't seem rigorous enough.  Things seemed to just work with no underlying mechanism in the way that was most convenient for the story.  I'm willing to accept any amount of magic or imaginary technology that it takes to make a story work, but I expect it to work within internally consistent rules, not just on authorial whim.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees - another disappointing year

I just heard that the 2012 inductees to the Rock and Roll "Hall of Fame" have been announced.  To my utter lack of surprise but continued disgust, neither Rush nor Kiss were inducted.  Perhaps if the "prominent rock historians" who currently decide the inductees were replaced with crack-addled wildebeests, the inductees would be more in tune with rock fans' tastes than with critics' tastes - the wildebeests certainly couldn't do worse.  As always, I'm dubious about several of the acts that did get inducted, but I'm going to keep quiet about them lest I be accused (near entirely unfairly) of sour grapes.  (I will say, though, that I entirely approve of the decision to induct the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Freddie King.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Don't know much about history...

Congress has recently announced the effects their latest compromise will have on the Department of Education.  My jaw dropped when I read Education Week's coverage.  They eliminated the Teaching American History program and also completely eliminated federal funding for foreign language education.  I'm sure their justification was something along the lines of "desperate times, desperate measures" and all that.  But let's look at the numbers, and see how desperate they really were.
  • $120 million saved by eliminating Teaching American History (they actually only saved 46 million, because funding for this program was gutted last year, but I'm going to use the fully funded amount so that Congress gets full credit for their heroic cost cutting.)
  • $27 million saved by eliminating funding for foreign language education
  • $25 million saved by cutting funding to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education
So, altogether, a savings of $172 million.  Now to ordinary people, $172 million is a lot of money.  But this is Congress we're talking about, where you can find more money than this lost in the sofa cushions.  By completely eliminating funding for social studies and foreign language education, and cutting STEM funding by 14%, Congress managed to cut $172 million out of a 2012 federal budget of $3.7 trillion, a total savings of 0.00005% (5/10,000 of 1%)!  Put another way, they've just saved each and every one of us 55 cents this year.

Well done, Congress.  Well done.  But since I really don't trust your money management skills, can I have my 55 cents in cash?

Monday, January 9, 2012

MagaMerlina: more pebbles... Pebble Drawing

more pebbles... Pebble Drawing
: Still having fun with the pebbles from
Kaikoura. The white pebbles are painted with black Faber-Castell Pitt Artist
Pens... but the Chin...

Having lived in Louisiana for as long as I did, I tend to forget about the existence of rocks, much less their potential as art supplies. But these decorated pebbles are awesome - I've going to have to pick up some rocks next time I'm out for a walk and give this a try.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cleverness 10, timeliness 3

My mortgage banker sidestepped the whole "December holidays" issue and just sent all his client's "Happy New Year!" cards.  The fact that mine just arrived yesterday in no way diminishes what a good idea this is.

P.S. Award yourself 10 bonus geek points if you recognized that the title of this post was a reference to A Chorus Line ("Dance 10, Looks 3")

Friday, January 6, 2012

Piers Anthony, protoblogger?

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite SF/fantasy authors was Piers Anthony.  I was especially fond of On a Pale Horse, the first book in his Incarnations of Immortality series.  But even more than his books, what I enjoyed were the author's notes he included at the end of each book.  Here, at fairly extensive length (20 pages or so), Anthony would write about his thoughts while writing the book, his struggles with his computer systems, his exercise program, local events in his part of Florida, and anything else that came to his mind.  Even after I had stopped reading Anthony's books, I would still look at the them in the bookstore so I could read the author's note.  He has since turned his author's notes into a newsletter on his website, updated with increasing regularity since 1997.  Even if I never read another of Anthony's books, I'll continue to enjoy to enjoy his nattering about his life.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Love and autism

Thanks to The Mary Sue for pointing out this NY Times article about a young couple with Asperger's.  In many ways this reminds me of when the Mrs. and I first met, with one crucial difference:  Neither of us was diagnosed with Asperger's until almost 10 years later (when our daughter was diagnosed).  When we first met, all we knew is that we had each found someone we "clicked" with, who seemed to understand and relate to us in a way that no one else did.  At any rate, we must be doing something right, as we got married after dating for less than a month, and are going to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this fall.  (Don't try this at home.)

The NYT article is also remarkable for one of the coolest retractions ever:
An article on Monday about Jack Robison and Kirsten Lindsmith, two college students with Asperger syndrome who are navigating the perils of an intimate relationship, misidentified the character from the animated children’s TV show “My Little Pony” that Ms. Lindsmith said she visualized to cheer herself up. It is Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual, not Fluttershy, the kind animal lover.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Politics: Michele Bachmann drops out!

In a victory for sane people everywhere, Michele Bachmann has announced she's dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination.  And, as an added bonus, along with providing the relief that there's now no chance she'll be elected president this year, she provided me with a couple of final chuckles at her expense.

First of all, in her withdrawal speech, she stated that after hearing the people of Iowa, she had "decided to stand aside."  Now maybe I'm being a bit too much of a language geek here, but to me "stand aside" carries implications that there's someone behind you whose way you're getting out of.  If Mitt Romney dropped out of the race because he thought Rick Santorum would do a better job, that would be standing aside.  Bachmann dropping out is just another straggler dropping off the back of the pack.

Then, as an added bonus, she said she would "continue fighting to defeat the president's agenda of socialism."  Really, Michele?  The president's agenda of socialism?  Has she ever met a socialist?  Or read anything about socialism?  Or even looked the word up in a dictionary?  On the other hand, I guess it's easy to make yourself look successful if you fight against something that doesn't exist.  Maybe I could run for president on the strength of my fight to protect the American people from Bigfoot, the Loup Garou, and the Jersey Devil.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A shout-out to a kindred spirit...

Before I started this blog, I did a quick search to see if anyone else was using "second breakfast" in a blog title.  Someone was (the phrase is really too good not to be used), but in such a way that the two blogs were easily distinguished.  Besides the names, the blogs are easily distinguishable by content:  They take "second breakfast" much more literally than I do, producing one of the most delicious-looking food blogs I've seen in quite a while.  So if you've got time to spare, and you like food, go check out
What About Second Breakfast?

You've got an education, but what you need is a degree

Forbes recently published an article by James Marshall Crotty about MIT's forthcoming MIT.x program, where people can access MIT courses online for free and then for an "affordable" (by whose standards?) but as-yet undetermined fee can get a certificate of completion for the courses, which they're quite careful to note is not an MIT degree, and they're going to great lengths to ensure it doesn't get confused with one.  Crotty says that this program, which from where I sit looks like nothing so much as an effort to monetize MIT's existing Open CourseWare program, is "nothing short of revolutionary [especially if] you aren't a credential freak."  Unfortunately, Crott's overlooking the fact that the pathway to jobs is guarded by HR professionals who are, pretty much by definition, credential freaks. 

In short, I think MIT's effort to expand access to their courses is laudable, but I don't think that MIT.x really does anything to address what I call the Good Will Hunting problem:

Will:  You dropped 150 grand on a f**king education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.
Clark:  Yeah, but I will have a degree.  And you'll be servin' my kids fries at a drive-thru on our way to a skiing trip.