Saturday, July 19, 2008

Inept super-villain wanna be spills evil plan on blog

We've watched the first two acts of Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog and are totally in love with Joss all over again. In some ways Joss is in familiar territory, here. Dr. Horrible is half Jonathan (geeky supervillain wanna be) and half Mal (decent person made into a bad guy because the existing moral order is corrupt). But there's singing! And funny! The letters Dr. Horrible receives after applying to be in a supervillain group are hysterical. They're like the letters you get when you apply to college, except they're sung. By cowboys. And they exhort you to murder. Oh yeah, and the cowboys are poking their heads in from the edge of the camera frame. Great stuff.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Watchmen News

The trailer for the movie is up. It looks nice, but we'll see what they do with the characters, plot, and theme. The trailer also focuses on the parts of the book that make for Summer Action Thrill Rides, especially Dr. Manhattan, the only real supernatural character. They certainly made Laurie Juspeczyk hella sexy. I want to see how Zach Snyder handles the visuals for the parts of the book that happen in the 30s. It is fairly important that the superheroes of the 30s look really cheesy. From the way Snyder's been talking, he will use visual feel of 30s serial movies for those parts. That should work.

My big fear, really is that they will take all the nuance out of the politics. If they made it a simple story about power corrupting, it would fit well with Hollywood norms about the moral content of movies: A movie should have a bland message that everyone will find uplifting. That's what they did to V for Vendetta. One of the things that makes Watchmen interesting, though, is that we see different kinds of power represented and according different ways it gets corrupted. Hurm.

In other news, the final version of my Watchmen paper has been accepted. So at least I have accomplished one thing this summer.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Greening of Religion in India.

Via the ISEE list, this Time article about green technologies being adopted at Hindu temples and Ashrams. Indian religion has always had environmentalist undercurrents, often largely rhetorical, but it looks like we are now seeing the mainstream of the religion engaged in real environmentalist practice.

It is interesting to compare the greening of Indian religion with the greening of evangelical Christianity. India is just as religious, if not more religious, than the US. The Time piece asserts that 99% of Indians profess some faith. The major indigenous religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism--all have strong environmental tendencies. They make welcome allies.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Buy n Large Corporate Homepage


My favorite press release so far: "Anarchist groups responsible for trying to persuade people from exercising their right to spend have been labeled "opportunities" by the Buy n Large Consumer Groups today"

The real genius of the page: It's only purpose is to get you to watch a damn movie.

The golden age of long-form televised storytelling.

It is entirely possible that by this January there will be three(3) TV shows that Molly and I will be watching every week, plus this cool online thing over the summer.

Joss's online project

Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

John Rogers' new project

via Kung-Fu Monkey

Saturday, July 12, 2008

2008 Reith Lectures on China

The great British historian of China Jonathan Spence gave this year's Reith Lectures. The first lecture is on Confucius and the alterations of Confucian thought through history in China and later the world. As with a lot of lectures, the question period is the most fun.

Following the question from Ram Mehta in the lecture, I think I'm going to make the opening graphic for the China portion of my Asian class will be a triptych of Confucius, Mao, and Adam Smith.

In general, Spence's capsule history of Confucian and Confucianism would be a fine model for an opening lecture for the Asian class on Confucius, particularly the emphasis on the man's own nobility and then the baggage his thought was saddled with starting around the 12 century.

Spence on the earthquake
I was very, very struck at the New Year's holidays in China with over a hundred million people on the move when these huge blizzards brought a standstill to the train service and people were in a kind of desperation with their children, they were freezing, they had no food, there was no trace of a toilet, people were sick, had no trace of a hospital. The government seemed to be totally incompetent. And I as a historian, my mind was racing back to moments in 1813, 1797, 1642, 1585 and so on when some kind of conjunction of extraordinary incompetence by an autocratic regime linked to manifestation of nature as a force being really angry and out of kilter. These had been catastrophic for tens of thousands of people and in at least three cases had nearly brought down the government.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Did you know

Did you know that kale, collard greens, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and Chinese cabbage are all cultivars of the same species?

but not Bok Choi?

Do you find this as interesting as I do?

More fun, all via

Friday, July 04, 2008

An outstanding example of the banality of evil

The Guardian is reporting that a secret World Bank report attributes 75% of the recent rise in food prices to the push for biofuels in the US and EU (via). The use of sugar-cane based ethanol in Brazil was exonerated as a factor, however. The report contradicts the Bush administration claim that biofuels are responsible for less than 3% of the rise in food prices. The Guardian further claims that the World Bank has suppressed the report to avoid embarrassing the Bush administration.

Rising food prices have pushed 100,000,000 people below the global poverty line, leading one UN expert to call the push for biofuels a "crime against humanity". If that's true, it is an outstanding example of the banality of evil. The worst crimes in the world today? Genocide in Darfur, Torture in Gitmo, and politicians wooing Iowa voters with ethanol subsidies. It's like finding out that kissing babies at campaign stops gives the tots cancer.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The slippery slope with euthanasia

In Germany, a right-to-die activist has assisted in the suicide of a healthy 79 year old woman. The woman wanted to kill herself to avoid being placed in a nursing home.

This post and the previous one are cross-posted from my online bioethics classes. I try to emphasize to all my classes that slipper slope arguments are sometimes legitimate. They are legitimate if the slope really is slippery and the bottom of the slope really is unacceptable. These are questions you really need to ask yourself when it comes to the euthanasia debate.

More women citing the economy as a reason for abortion

Check out this ABC story about a recent survey of women who had abortions in Minnesota in 2007. A record number of them, 40%, cited economic reasons, such as being unable to afford another child, as a motivation for abortion.

The overall number of abortions was down, however. This matches the general trend of the last few decades, minus a statistical blip in 2006.

It is probably wrong to say that the worsening economy has caused more abortions. Women who have abortions do so for very complicated reasons that are often hard to articulate to pollsters. The more likely explanation is that more women, when asked to justify their abortion to a strange person with a clipboard, latch on to economic concerns as a publicly acceptable reason, because the economy has been in the news so much recently.

Catherine Price at Salon agrees that women may be citing economics to justify a decision they feel guilty about. But she also points out that all the factors women cite in having an abortion--"not wanting to have children at this time, already being a single parent and unfulfilled educational goals"--are tied to economics. She also has some funny things to say about the strange graphic ABC chose to include with the story.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Stump the Yoo!

From the studios of Amygdala, as seen on Pharyngula and The Sideshow, it is America's new hit game show Stump the Yoo!

You see, torture memo author John Yoo has had some trouble answering straightforward questions about presidential power. John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee asked him
"Is there anything, Professor Yoo, that the president could not order to be done to a suspect, if he believed it necessary for national defense?...Could the president order a suspect buried alive?"
Yoo couldn't come up with a straight answer.

Yoo has trouble with questions like this all the time. When he does give a straight answer, it is pretty alarming. Law Professor Doug Cassel asked
"If the President deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?"
The answer? Well no treaty stops him, and US law might not stop him, depending on what his reasons for ordering a child's testicles crushed were.

So Amygdala's Gary Farber has issued a challenge: What other tricky questions can we use to flummox John Yoo. Farber's entry:
Can the president order the arms of a suspect eaten by wolves while still attached?
Pharyngula suggests:
"Can the president order a suspect to be impaled for his lunchtime entertainment?"
The Sideshow:
"Is there anything Hitler did that a president of the United States can't do?"
Pharyngula's commentators
  • Can a president order a person to eat his own foot?
  • Can the President order a person to shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die?
  • Could the president order you, Mr. Yoo, to be renditioned to Saudi Arabia to be interrogated, then decapitated? And if not, why not?
  • Can a president have a man's hands removed and surgically replaced with the tentacles of an octopus just to see what would happen?
  • Could the president order me to turn myself inside-out?
  • Could the president order that the suspect must travel in time to save Lincoln?
  • Could the President make you, John Yoo, answer my questions with a simple "Yes" or "No" response?
  • Can the president order a suspect to eat a booger sandwich?
These are really fun. When Boredom Strikes asks if the president can order someone be drowned in Splenda? My contribution:
Can the President order his enemies to be crushed and driven before him so he may hear the lamentations of their women?
I think people who take Yoo's constitutional law class should ask him questions like these after every lecture.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

US Torture Techniques Made in China

Instructions for Guantanamo interrogators on how to treat prisoners were copied verbatim from a 1957 description of how Chinese interrogators go false confessions out of our boys during the Korean War.

via unfogged, including joke.