Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Marriage vs. Civil Union

I originally posted this on the Legal Marriage Alliance of Washington mailing list on February 12, 2004, where someone asked “Other than the semantics of ‘marriage’ and ‘civil union’, what are the real differences?”  Mildly edited to current blog inclusion…

The difference is that the benefits, rights, and responsibilities of “marriage” are already defined and supported by case law.  “Civil union” is still a largely undefined term.

One of the proposed amendments to the Massachusetts constitution which was discarded in February, 2004 would have disallowed same-sex marriage but permitted civil unions, with the legislature being made to define such, and with the ability of the legislature to revisit that definition periodically.  In theory, the legislature could thus define “civil union” to be nothing at all (or at least nothing of value).

The only acceptable set of benefits, rights, and responsibilities to go into “civil unions” is those which go into “marriage”.  So then you are left with two choices: either say “Civil unions are granted all the benefits, rights, and responsibilities of marriages” or try to specify all of those benefits, rights, and responsibilities in great detail and have to revise that every time a new item comes up (and if you don’t revise, fight a lawsuit for every one of them).

In the end, you are left with either two terms which mean the same thing (in which case, why have two terms?) or one term which is said to be the equivalent of the other but falls short both in some known areas and some unknown areas, in which case it isn’t equivalent, and certainly isn’t equal.

What can you expect to lose?  Clarity, smoothness, and efficiency.  Will civil unions cover hospital visitation?  Inheritance?  Adoption?  Extra Chevron credit cards?  Attending company holiday parties?  Health care?  Corporate travel for spouses?  State income tax?  Federal?  Family seating at your partner’s daughter’s high school graduation?  Each and every benefit, right, or responsibility which is given blindly and unquestioned to married opposite sex couples, you may have to ask for and possibly demand.  You may have to show paperwork or ID cards.  Rules and regulations will have to be considered and rewritten by every company and government organization to include appropriate wording.  On the flip side, “married” means “married”, and all you’ll have to do is sigh every time someone has to do that mental adjustment about your spouse’s gender because they haven’t been hit with it a thousand times just yet.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Letter of Comment
    — Swarm Theory

I sent this letter to National Geographic regarding their July 2007 article on “Swarm Theory”:
I was very interested on the article on Swarms in the July 2007 issue of National Geographic.  I immediately thought of three places where swarm theory works for humans:
  • Consider crossing a street: tasks include wait for the light, cross at a reasonable pace, don’t jostle others, and avoid colliding with those coming the other way.  Especially interesting is how the crowd shuffles about, deciding whether to break out before the light changes.
  • Or at a concert where there are no assigned seats: sit close to the stage, sit close to the exit (or concessions, or the bathroom), sit with friends, sit far enough away from your neighbors.
  • And on the dance floor: don’t collide with others, keep the beat, move in the right direction, keep the right pace.  (And for some, “have fun” and “innovate” are tasks that should be included.)
Also of interest, though understated in the article, is the idea that we can predict what the swarm will do.  Any individual may vary behavior or break out, but as a group, the actions are roughly predictable based on known inputs.  For fans of science fiction, this is the basis of Isaac Asimov’s “predict the future” science of psychohistory.  We’re still a long way from the stuff Asimov wrote about, but the first step is recognizing that in the big, big picture, masses of humanity aren’t any different from a swarm of ants or a herd of caribou.

Update on December 18, 2009
The letter was not published in the magazine.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Movie Review
    — The Dukes of Hazzard

Against my better judgement, we watched The Dukes of Hazzard last night.  This is the 2005 film starring Johnny Knoxville, Seann William Scott, and Jessica Simpson… with all that implies.

First up, it wasn’t that bad.  (It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t that bad.)  Knoxville and Scott had some genuine rapport, Simpson was acceptable, and Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg was adequately smarmy and a whole lot nicer to look at that the actor from the TV show.  It was a tickle to see Lost’s M.C. Gainey (“Tom Friendly”) as Rosco P. Coltrane.  And Lynda Carter: how can you go wrong with Wonder Woman?

The car scenes, of course, were where the film really shined, as it had to.  Toparaphrase Superman, “You will believe a car can fly.”  (Although I’m not sure whether the blooper scenes of the failed jumps tearing the car to bits were a good thing to include.  They took some of the magic out of things.)

It was also nice to see every last little bit and running joke from the old show rear its head: Flash, Cletus, referring to Enos as a “dipstick”.  That made it feel like an actual continuation of the old show, rather than something with just the bare trappings, as is too often the case.

But the less good?  Willie Nelson would have been adequate as Uncle Jesse, but the constant play of bad jokes and riddles?  What was up with that?  And while I welcome a bit more authentic speech in the language, the crew apparently took the PG-13 rating they were going to have and embraced it a bit too whole heartedly, ending up just this side of foul mouthed.  (Although from the deleted scenes, they appear to have trimmed back from what would have got them an R rating.)   Oh, and tell me again how they got the farm back?

(Oh, I see: the governor pardoned the boys and Uncle Jesse, which must have reversed the seizure and sale of the farm to Boss Hogg.  Would have been nice to actually explain that, though!  And I’m not sure it would work.  The farm was probably seized and sold under RICO guidelines, since such property sale can occur independent of a trial and its outcome.  Perhaps the state would have had to compensate Jesse for the improper seizure, and either coerce Boss Hogg into restoring it [and reimburse him the 35 cents he paid for it, per one of the extra scenes] or give him the money to buy it back, which might not bee too expensive given that Hogg didn’t want the farm without the mineral rights.)

Mostly, though, the Duke boys were… inept.  These weren’t Good Ol’ Boys, these were Dumb Ol’ Boys.  I don’t remember Bo and Luke on the original show being quite this bad.  Seann William Scott especially played the role of Bo overly dumb.

In the end, mindless fun.  Just like the TV show always was.

Use an iPod and DIE!!!!!!!!

Well, that’s the thrust of this article at CNN.com from July 12, 2007 (from the AP, uncredited):
Experts warn of lightning-strike injuries with iPods
No telling how long the link will be good for, so here's a summary:
Two people have been outside during storms and had nearby lightning strikes jump to their iPods.  Doctors say beepers, Walkmans, and laptops can result in the same thing, and a guy who was struck by lightning while playing golf tracks such strikes on his website, recording 13 strikes on cell phones in the past three years.  Even coins in the pocket can be lightning targets.  Damage from these strikes can include burns and ruptured eardrums, and the damage can even be passed to someone standing next to you.
And most important, but buried in the middle of the story:
Contrary to some urban legends and media reports, electronic devices don’t attract lightning the way a tall tree or a lightning rod does.
In other words, two — count them, two! — people have had lightning strikes jump to their iPods, and many times that many have been struck doing other activities and with other devices, but we’re going to spread fear and panic by invoking “iPod” in the headline.

Someone’s an Apple hater.  The parallel would be a headline saying "Windows systems vulnerable when lighting strikes a building"… which they are, but no more than any other computer.  But hey, there are more of them, so it’s fine, right?

Updated on December 17, 2009
Yup, the CNN link is dead.  But here’s the same story from ABC News:

Experts warn of lightning-strike injuries with iPods, similar devices during storms

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Movie Review
    — Ratatouille

We went to see Ratatouille last night.  I had hoped to see Hairspray instead, but it was opening day and we were running late, so the first choice was sold out.  No biggie, and I wanted to see this, anyway.

Ratatouille is probably the most adult-themed computer animated film to come out of the Hollywood studios yet.  With its themes of life in the big city, getting and keeping a job, running a restaurant, and getting along with your peers, and especially with its mostly human (ahem) cast, it was a step away from the likes of Shrek and Toy Story.   No musical song-and-dance numbers, and not a screaming amount of bwa-ha-ha! funny moments.

In fact, it was because of the more adult nature of much of the film that the kid-friendly (read: “People who want kids to learn a lesson while being entertained”-friendly) bits sang out as over the top and too intense.  “Family is important” and “You don’t have to steal to be successful” were wedged in throughout the film way too obviously, as though Gusteau’s neon sign were lighting them up.

I was reminded once again (as I was after recently watching the DVD extras on Shrek II) just how good a job they have done with these computer animated cartoons.  We just don’t notice a lot of the subtle stuff they do simply because they do it right.   Think about it with this, a film about cooking: steam rising, ingredients plopping into liquids of various viscosities, reflections off highly polishes pots and utensils — all done so well that they don’t even register as “fake” (computer animated).  That is the mark of incredible skill and technology — magic.

I was also struck by the idea that this is where superhero films should go next.  The Incredibles already led the way, of course, but it was with their own characters, whom none of the audience are especially invested in.   Think about a computer animated version of Spider-Man or Dr. Strange or the Legion of Super-Heroes.  Designs which have a strong rooting in the comics, realistic enough to work but not all the way into the freak “uncanny valley”.  The ability to do whatever effects you need without having to integrate them with the live actors.  No stunt men, no mega-miniatures.  The time is right.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Secrets of the last Harry Potter book

My exposure to Harry Potter is limited to the 5 films to date — I just saw Order of the Phoenix an hour ago — plus maybe 20 pages of reading, but I’m going to lay in my predictions for the Big Reveal in book #7 right now. These may be completely off base, but they are based on standard story cycle tropes — lots of mythology and comics and soap operas in my past.

Here are things we know:

• Voldemort couldn’t kill Harry when he was an infant.  Or at least couldn’t bring himself to kill Harry.

• In all the scenes we see of Harry’s parents’ deaths, it is only his mother we see being killed.  We don't see Harry’s father actually bite it.

• There are any number of wise and powerful people always looking after Harry.  And always seeming to keep secrets from him.  If they’ve known stuff and kept it from him thus far, they probably still do.

• Per the flashback with Snape in movie #5, Harry’s father had a bit of a mean streak in him.

What always happens to a group like the Order of the Phoenix?  (Or like Harry's group of student wizards and witches?)  Why, they get taken down by a traitor in their midst.  Ergo, I predict that Voldemort is Harry’s father, who succumbed to the Dark Side and became the student of Darth Sidious.

Well, maybe not quite that last bit.  But it captures the gist.

Updated on December 16, 2009

Saturday, July 14, 2007

New blog

I’ve finally buckled down and done it.  Started a formal blog, using real blogging software (as opposed to maintaining it all by hand).

I have had two blog-like sites in the past, both manually constructed and maintained.  The first, from 1999–2000, was called “An Opinion About Everything” — so-named because someone in a mailing list flamewar once accused me of having an opinion about everything, as though that were a bad thing.  The second, from 2003–2006, was called “Bouncing Off the Walls” — it was at the site attached to my personal e-mail address, “rubberize”.

This blogging software allows me to backdate posts — perhaps controversial, but less so than with stock options — which I am using to bring in my posts from those other two pseudo-blogs and repost them here, in chronological order, while still being able to post new items as well.  (Some of the original posts themselves got updated at some point, so as best I can, I am posting them with their original dates, and adding notes at the bottom indicating updates.)

Despite backdating the entries to put them in the right context, I am not going to rewrite the entries.  What I originally wrote and posted for all the world to see (if they happened to trip over my site) should still be something I’m happy to have people read today.  (I had better be okay with it, since the web never forgets.  Anything I ever posted is archived somewhere.)  There are exceptions to that, though: (1) if I spot a typo or puncutation error or HTML coding gaffe, I will fix it; (2) if I had links to websites and those links are no longer valid, I will fix the links or remove them; and (3) if a removed link means that an entire paragraph no longer has valid content, I will remove the paragraph.

Enjoy, and please add comments where you like.

(Oh yeah, and comments: a few of the original posts had manually inserted comments added to them.  I’ll do something like that here, when I get to those posts.)

Updated on July 22, 2007
I’ve now completed bringing over the posts from “An Opinion About Everything”.  The other blog will take a lot longer to port across.
Updated on July 29, 2007
As I’m starting to move through the old blog post, I see some items that are notes about pages I added to the other website, or “Hey, this is my 100th entry!” posts, which don’t have any content worth preserving. I’ve decided to not bring those across into this blog.
Updated on December 15, 2009
I’m slowly reposting everything another time following the re-creation of the blog.  This time around, I am allowing myself to make a few more adjustments to the content.  Entries posted years ago are still a product of their time, but I’m doing a few in-place edits for clarity, and sometimes adding new notes to the end of an entry.  I am also unifying the format for the update notes.