Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The hacksaw strategy

Intelligent designers at the Discovery Institute have made a $16,000 donation to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural Science to have the premier showing of their ID film "The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe" held there on June 23rd. The invitation-only event is being billed as "co-sponsored" by the Smithsonian.

Pro-science websites and bloggers are asking readers to make protest calls and send protest e-mails to Randall Kremer, National Museum of Natural History Director of Public Affairs 202-633-2950 giving@si.edu or nhevents@si.edu.
Read more at Red State Rabble and Panda's Thumb.

I wonder if the wedge strategy is all just a skillful bit of misdirection.

The "wedge" is a metaphor for taking a wedge to the "rotten tree" of evolution (as they see it) and chipping away at the trunk a bit at a time until the whole thing falls over. That's the image they want you to have. Personally, I've always had a funnier picture in my head -- an image of Phillip Johnson charging at a granite cliff with a plastic spork, going "Hah! (poke poke) It will collapse any minute now! (poke poke) Take that, evolution!"

For the metaphor of chopping a tree to really work, I think they would need to go after the scientific FOUNDATIONS of evolution, and make a scientific case against it. This, of course, they have not done.

Instead, what they are doing might more accurately be termed the "pruning shears strategy" or the "hacksaw strategy" if you will. After poking at the trunk for years, they have to resort to going after the extended branches of the tree. A school district here. A museum there. An obscure scientific journal over there. The SYMPTOMS of being an accepted mainstream science are evolution's wide dispersal through all the normal channels of science education. It seems that DI's real strategy is to attack those symptoms and make it appear as if evolution has no support in school, museums, etc., while declining to bother with the scientific trunk of the tree.

There was a wonderful story once by Raymond Smullyan, called Planet Without Laughter. A dwindling number of people on this planet still have a sense of humor, and humor is treated as an almost mystical or supernatural phenomenon. One character gives a sermon on humor, trying to make the humorless people understand that they can't "get" humor just by imitating it.
"Another way you try to learn by mere imitation is by this ridiculous practice of memorizing jokes. In a perfectly laborious and mechanical fashion you commit to memory thousands upon thousands of jokes and you think you are thereby acquiring a sense of humor! You call this activity 'studying' -- you say you are 'studying to acquire a sense of humor.' But these jokes are absolutely pointless for you to learn until after you have acquired a sense of humor. Without this inner sense, you cannot possibly see the real point of these jokes. True, even without this sense, you can understand the situations these jokes describe, but these situations themselves are totally uninteresting unless you can perceive the humor in them."
That's a great analogy to what the Intelligent Design movement is about: imitating science. They put on their white lab coats and write mathematical equations on their blackboards and come up with impressive sounding vocabulary words like "Irreducible Complexity," but they don't actually do science. They demand to be taken seriously in schools and museums and journals, but even if they succed, all they've done is memorized some jokes, not learned to be funny.

I'm no botanist, but I have been informed that you can kill some trees by hacking off all the branches while leaving the roots and the trunk intact. Trees use their branches and leaves to synthesize their food using sunlight, so killing all the branches cuts off their nourishment. However, if you did this then that wouldn't prove the tree was rotten in the first place, only that if you abuse anything enough then it dies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I received this email from my dad this morning:


I find the "agreement" reached by Senate "moderates" disgusting. The Democrats gave up everything they were fighting for in return for a promise by the Republicans not to invoke the nuclear option this time. The Republicans reserve the right to invoke it the next time they feel like it.

The closest parallel I can think of is Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich on September 30, 1938, waving a piece of paper signed by Hitler and proclaiming "Peace in our time." Chamberlain and Daladier had given Hitler half of Czechoslovakia in return for a promise not to demand more. 6 months later he took the rest of Czechoslovakia, and 6 months after that he invaded Poland, starting WWII.


Disregarding the fact that my dad has already invoked Godwin's Law, I'm torn about this subject. On the one hand, compromise is good. It's what reasonable people do. On the other hand, the judges who were waved through are all major assholes.

For instance, let me remind you who Bill Pryor is:
"The American experiment is not a theocracy. It does not establish an official religion," Pryor stated. "But the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are rooted in a Christian perspective of the nature of government and the nature of man.

"The challenge of the next millennium," Pryor continued, "will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective."

Schumer castigated Pryor for his characterization of the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion-on-demand during all nine months of pregnancy, as "the worst abomination in the history of constitutional law."

The problem with compromise is it works well only if both parties believe in compromise. It reminds me of a favorite joke:

Two street urchins find a cake in a dumpster and argue about how to divide it up. One of them demands to have the whole cake, while the other says, "That's not fair, we should cut it in half and each get half."

As they argue, a mathematician wanders by and asks if he can help. When they explain the situation, the mathematician says "Gentlemen, the answer to your problem is compromise! I know exactly what you should do: give this one three quarters of the cake."

I know the right wing bloggers were griping loudly this morning about how betrayed they feel, but this is complaining by the kid who got only three quarters of the cake when he wanted the whole thing.

Paradox: the only way to have a fair society is to make sure that everyone can be reasonable. But when a reasonable person meets an unreasonable person, the reasonable one often gets the worse end of the deal.

Another paradox: in a free society, people are even free to support political agendas that go against other people's freedom. When you have a group that is determined to strip other people of rights, the only way to stop them is to limit their right to impose their agenda. I wonder, is "freedom" inherently a self-destroying concept?

Finally, I'm reminded of a great bit of dialogue from Life, The Universe, and Everything. I'm snipping out some really funny lines, so go read the whole chapter.

In this book, there are a bunch of insane religious fanatics who decide that their ultimate mission in life is to obliterate all other life in the universe. Slartibartfast wants to save the universe, whereas Ford is much more interested in going to a party and getting drunk. Slartibartfast asks Ford, haven't you understood the stakes?

"Yes," said Ford, with a sudden and unexpected fierceness, "I've understood it all perfectly well. That's why I want to have as many drinks and dance with as many girls as possible while there are still any left. If everything you've shown us is true ..."

"True? Of course it's true."

"... then we don't stand a chance. The point is that people like you and me, Slartibartfast, and Arthur - particularly and especially Arthur - are just dilletantes, eccentrics, layabouts, fartarounds if you like."

Slartibartfast frowned, partly in puzzlement and partly in umbrage. He started to speak.

"- ..." is as far as he got.

"We're not obsessed by anything, you see," insisted Ford.


"And that's the deciding factor. We can't win against obsession. They care, we don't. They win."

"I care about lots of things," said Slartibartfast, his voice trembling partly with annoyance, but partly also with uncertainty.

"Such as?"

"Well," said the old man, "life, the Universe. Everything, really. Fjords."

"Would you die for them?"

"Fjords?" blinked Slartibartfast in surprise. "No."

"Well then."

"Wouldn't see the point, to be honest."
While I disagree with Ford's philosophy, it's hard to deny that there's a major problem with the fact that they're fanatics and we aren't. We don't WANT to be fanatics, that would make us just as evil as they are. But fanatics hold the upper hand, it seems.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Recent additions

I've wasted a lot of my life on message boards for the past few years, and some of the motivation for starting this blog is so I can collect all my favorite things I've written. Since I'm sticking old material in this blog as I find it, posts appear to go back to 2002 even though I started it in May 2005.

In order to keep track of what I've added recently, I'm creating this floating post, which will always be near the top of the blog and will link to old articles that I've added most recently.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

"Kazim"? What does that mean?

I just want to clear up a couple of things about the title of this blog, so I'm putting this in a sticky post on the front page.

I wish I could tell you a fascinating story about how deeply significant the word "Kazim" is to me, but the fact is I made it up as the name of a character in a video game. The character looked somewhat Middle Eastern, so I stuck some syllables together that sounded good. Since the character wound up very powerful, I started re-using the name. So there you go.

It was only later that I found out that "Kazim" is a real Arabic name which means "restrainer of anger". Now I didn't plan that, but I kind of like it. I'm often worked up and filled with righteous indignation when I write, but I think that being angry is usually counter-productive and clouds your judgment. People tell me I am very laid back, and I often play the role of peacemaker among friends and family.

As for the Arabic origin, let me say that I am just about as white as they come. The picture that I used to use for my avatar made me look a bit more exotic than I do in person -- it was me as drawn by my first wife in charcoal. I'm also not usually that sinister.

Muslims today have a perceived reputation of being the violent extremist religious thugs of the world -- not surprising, considering that bit of unpleasantness in 2001. However, to my mind the thing that makes religion dangerous is not the particular kinds of invisible beings you believe in, but how fanatically devoted to the cause you are. There are plenty of moderate, liberal Muslims, and I consider them to be far, far less scary than your average Christian fundamentalist. And let's not forget that for a while, the Islamic world was a major center of culture and enlightenment.

I'm an atheist. I am not speaking in favor of Islam; I personally think that religions are fairy tales. My point is, it's a huge mistake to believe that the country, culture or religion that happens to be on top at the moment is destined to stay on top forever, which is why it's important to continue to use logic and reason, prop up elements of your culture that are good, and try to change things which are not so good. And if you can do all this while restraining your anger, so much the better.

I am Kazim.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Creationism in Kansas

This is my topic on The Atheist Experience today.

When I heard the news that evolution scientists were not going to bother testifying in Kansas, I immediately said "Good!" Since there is NO theory of Intelligent Design, the only thing they can resort to is throwing darts at evolution and hoping that if they raise enough "doubts" about the established scientific theory, the bureaucrats will eventually assume that ID should be substituted as "science".

William Dembski (author of "The Design Inference" and other arguments by mathematical handwaving) and his friends at the Discovery Institute claim that ID is scientific, but when they came to Texas, they refused to talk about ID. Instead, they said "All we want to do is 'teach the controversy.' We don't want to talk about ID at all, no not us, not today." And then they batted their eyelashes alluringly. :)

So while some of my friends said "Those scientists are just giving up by refusing to testify" I said it was a great idea. Force the ID people to talk about THEIR plans, and don't bother turning the hearings into a science class, because that's really not what it's about.

Dembski apparently agrees with me that this was a good move on their part, because he is now hopping mad about the hearings, as he indicated in this post on his blog. Now he wishes they could have FORCED the evolutionists to come in and testify. Proving, of course, that this whole Kansas spectacle really is just about grandstanding. Check out the picture on the site, it's adorable.

Here's some more commentary about Dembski's blog from Panda's Thumb.

Of course, as usual, this isn't about science at all. The creationists say all they want to do is "teach the controversy," but they are lying. What they really want to do is undermine evolution and, by extension, all of "naturalistic" science, as everybody knows who has read "The Wedge Strategy." The way the try to accomplish this is to stay on the offensive at all times and promote "doubts" about evolution. By boycotting the testimony, the science groups declared that they refuse to play the game, and I say that's a great move. Make the Intelligent Design guys defend THEIR complete theory (or rather, their complete lack of a theory). Make THEM prove that they have any alternative to offer.

The clearest indication that this has nothing to do with science is to listen to how aggressively the ID campaign is pushing memes out into the rank and file Christian soldiers. I heard a great comment on the radio this week. A creationist called in to the morning show on Air America and said "These evolutionists want you to think that 'I was a monkey swingin' from a tree now I'm a doctor with a PhD.'" (The guy said he was a trucker, but just listening to him I didn't have to be told that he didn't have a Ph.D.) Elsewhere, the phrase that evolution means "From goo to you by way of the zoo" has been all over the place. I've heard it on Christian talk shows, seen it on message boards. These cute little rhyming catch-phrases serve as a stand-in for actual thinking.

And the people on the board who are supposed to be making the decisions clearly aren't paying as much attention to the scientific substance as much as they are the political maneuvering, as revealed by the fact that so many just hadn't read the science standards.

According to Panda's Thumb, a man got a round of applause for stating in his testimony:

[Darwin’s theory] is not scientific. Why do you waste time teaching something in the science class that is not scientific? We must, by no means, get rid of science. I don’t think the argument is between maintaining scientific approach and inquiry and study and not doing so, but I think truth needs to get a hearing, along with scientific theory. In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. Thank you.

Remember that. This is what the ID movement is really all about. The typical citizens of Kansas who were at the hearings knew that, they just didn't have enough sense to keep their mouths shut about the real agenda. Dembski tries to pretend that this is about science education being "fair", but don't believe him. Believe the guy quoted above: the objections are religious in nature, pure and simple.

Some great links:

Previously reported on this blog:

My report and testimony from the Texas school board hearings in 2003.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

For my mom on Mother's Day

Memories of growing up with my mother, Sheryl Glasser

I think most of my earliest memories of my mother involve co-counselling. Of course I had no idea what co-counselling meant at the time; I just remember going to a lot of weekend retreats and spending time with unusual people talking about their problems to one another and screaming into pillows. There were also some kind of off the wall games and activities involved; I dimly remember what seemed like jumping off the roof of a house onto a mattress and having tons of fun. Although since I was very young at the time, it was probably a much shorter jump than I'm picturing right now.

Mom never really stopped being a hippie. Sheryl Glasser has always been the dreamer, the entertainer, and the diplomat of the family. She's into new-age religious practices that many of my family find silly, but she has an enormous heart. For one thing, she has this incredible ability to empathize with other people. She always taught me that the most important thing, when you disagree with somebody, is to be able to understand their point of view so well that you can say it to them in their own words and have them agree that what you just said is fair.

Another of my earliest memories is that we used to watch "The Incredible Hulk" TV series together on our old black and white TV. In fact, it was years before I realized that the Hulk was supposed to be green. But mom loved superheroes, and she was extremely patient when I would run around outside with her and pretend to be turning into the Hulk. I couldn't rip out of my own shirt, of course, so I would wear one of dad's button-up shirts and then slowly and carefully undo each button, one at a time, all the while roaring ferociously. This must have required mountains of patience for her.

(Ben loves playing the Hulk too. But he's still too young to see the TV show or recent movie, so he doesn't do the whole shirt ripping thing. His version of the Hulk is stomping around the house yelling "Rarrrr!" and scaring the heck out of the cats.)

That's the thing about mom, she loves to do things with other people just for a chance to participate in something that THEY like to do. It doesn't matter if that's not what she'd be doing on her own, she can enjoy it just for the vicarious pleasure of being a part of your life.

I was into text adventure games on the computer, and so she would listen to me babble about them. She even tried them with me every once in a while. I remember being a young adult and playing a game called Spellcasting 101. There was a sequence where you have to look at a series of about 100 strange objects and guess what their names might be, and they were all bad puns. A pack of canines were called "Wolfgang." A couple of British toilets turned out to be named "Lulu." A bunch of uncooked bread smeared on the room's vertical surfaces? "Waldo." I remember that puzzle in great detail because Mom was there with me, trying to guess what all the crazy puns could be.

One year when I was 11, we travelled to Mexico to visit a colleague of dad's. One afternoon after we'd all had our fill of wandering around Mexico City with people trying to sell stuff to us, she decided to take me and my sister out to see a movie. We found out that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II was playing at the local theater, probably billed as "Los Ninjas Tortugas" or something like that. Now I'm sure she would NEVER have chosen to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II on her own, but she wanted us to have a good time and we reasoned that this would be the easiest to follow in Spanish. Then it turned out that the movie was in English, with Spanish subtitles. So we were all laughing at the lame jokes about a second before the rest of the theater would finish reading.

But Mom wasn't always watching shows and movies just because she wanted to share the experience; she really was a serious entertainment buff. She was a Trekkie from a long time back, and she was always willing to watch a new series about sci-fi, fantasy, or superheroes whenever I recommended it to her. In my college years, we both regularly watched Lois & Clark and Quantum Leap, and we'd sometimes call each other to talk about the episodes.

I'm pretty sure she was also mostly responsible for getting us to see a stage melodrama every year in Colorado. It became a family tradition that after they picked me and Keryn up from the Ranch Camp, we would go to a Gilbert and Sullivan festival and then a melodrama. The melodramas were big overproduced comedies in which the audience was encourage to cheer for the hero, sigh and say "Awwww" for the heroine, and boo and throw popcorn at the villain. A few years ago, mom paid for Ginny, the kids and me to fly to Colorado so we could do that one more time.

She was also a big Disneyland aficionado. Since her family lives in California, we had a lot of excuses to go out there for several years. And when Keryn graduated high school the same year I graduated college, the three of us took a special vacation to Florida so we could spend most of a week hitting the various Disneyworld parks, as well as Universal Studios.

She tells me that when I was a little kid, a friend asked her what it was like to be a mom. She replied, "He jumps on the bed and tells me about his dreams." That is the kind of thing that would sum up the experience of motherhood for her: being entertained by listening to other people's experiences.

Although I grew up in a family of atheists or (in mom's case) near-atheists, mom still insisted that we never lose track of our Jewish heritage. It was completely because of her that we attended Temple every once in a while; observed and celebrated all major Jewish holidays; and had semi-regular fancy dinners on Shabbat (Friday nights), where we all said prayers in Hebrew (including the kids, as soon as we were able). It was also probably because of her influence that I stayed in Saturday school at temple, had a bar mitzvah, and went to a Jewish summer camp called "The Ranch Camp" for two years. I have nothing but good memories about these for the most part, although studying for the bar mitzvah got tedious at times. When I wanted to slack off from studying my Torah portions, mom was right there helping me slack well. And when I was actually working on it, she was there encouraging me.

The bar mitzvah itself was great. It was managed by a wacky feminist Rabbi named Lynn Gottlieb, and it makes perfect sense to me that mom picked her -- although some of the people in her family who took Judaism more seriously referred to the event as "an abomination." I had my Torah portions down pat, even using a built-in musical scheme to sing the passage. It was a section on justice in the ancient world, including the overused and abused phrase "eye for an eye." And I got carried around on a chair, which was great.

One part I remember from Hebrew school was having a part in the Purim play. I got to be Haman, the bad guy in the story. I didn't want to be the bad guy, but mom convinced me that it would be the most fun part. She was right. And she made my costume, including a big beard out of brown cordoury. I remember shouting angrily as I got dragged away by two kids playing guards, and having the time of my life.

Mom was also the den mother in my cub scout troop. I don't remember cub scouts all that well, but I do remember fighting the other scouts with the wooden sword she had made me.

My Mom was also an accomplished musician. She played cello and piano, and loved to sing. I remember her programming our first computer to play Bach music using a series of beeps. She came into my grade school one year and taught the class about music. She taught everyone about Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and Haydn's Surprise Symphony. She told a story about each piece and played the music for us. It must have been quite a job keeping a room full of kids that age interested in classical music. I think she pulled it off.

When we lived in Alabama, mom remotely worked for a company in Paris, France. When I was eight we all took a trip to Paris, I think (I hope) at company expense. I have strong memories of visiting the Louvre and other museums, eating in French restaurants and cafes, and trying to cross the street against scary French traffic. Keryn says her only memory of the place was climbing a lot of stairs. (We walked up Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe, as well as much of the way up the Eiffel Tower.)

Another thing mom did exceptionally well was cook. I remember some of my favorite meals when I lived with her were corned beef with cabbage and leg of lamb. When we moved to Santa Fe she learned to cook posole and carne adovada. After our trip to Paris, she started making canard a l'orange (duck with orange sauce).

Whenever I was having trouble in school, mom was always the one who had the patience to sit down with me and work it out. I remember pulling an all nighter side by side with her in freshman year, working on a huge packet of biology homework that I should have spent the entire weekend. She said, "Russell, it's about time you started to like coffee." We ground through hours of material, and she always kept me focused even when my attention started to drift and I was trying to procrastinate. The reason I remember the words "Endoplasmic reticulum" to this day is because she kept drilling me on it.

She did the same thing for me on my SAT vocabulary a few years later, and I think I got a 710 on the verbal in the end.

Another thing my mom has always been good at is playing the diplomat. Whenever I've had to deal with any kind of crisis or family conflict, mom is always the first person I call. Even when she's busy, she's nearly always willing to set some time aside and talk about things and give me suggestions about the best path of action that will make everyone happy. I have called on this kind of insight many times over the years, especially at times when my wife and sister -- both extremely strong-willed individuals -- were fighting with each other. Somehow she seems to always know how to defuse a situation.

She also knew how to talk sense into me during times when I was determined to be a jerk to others myself. There was a time, during my surly teenager years, when I was fighting with a particular teacher all the time. When I told her how I told off this teacher, she said "Russell, that's a terrible way to behave. You should apologize to her." I said, "But mom, she's an awful teacher and she's being unfair to me." She said "It doesn't matter. It NEVER hurts you to be the first one to apologize, and she might treat you better if you do. You don't have to think you really mean it, but you need to say it to her so you can make the first move." This advice turned out to be exactly right, and it has served me well throughout the years. Sometimes she has had to repeat it during fights with my wife, which is another time when I always call her.

There was also the time when I was 18 and discovered the big world of online message boards for the first time. Mom had signed us up for the Prodigy network and I basically barged into a board for religious (and un-religious) teens and acted like an idiot for a while. Everybody turned on me, including a bunch of the atheists who might otherwise have been on my side. When I told her on the phone how good I was at telling them all off, she said "Russell, why do you enjoy making people angry at you? I don't understand." That was another time when I discovered the value of a sincere apology. Within a few more weeks, I had made a lot of those people into online friends.

Finally, mom has been a wonderful grandmother. She can't get enough of her grandson, Ben. Whereas Ben has often had a hard time warming up to people and tends to get scared of those who come on too strong, he loved his grandma right away. Every time we visit, I worry a little bit that he won't remember her. But as soon as he catches sight of her, he gets a huge smile on his face and yells "Hi gramma!" Or when he was smaller, "geema".

What I've learned from my mom:
  • That the first way to get people to like you is to understand them.
  • That it's much better to "lose face" and apologize than carry a grudge forever.
  • That entertainment is often the best bonding experience.
  • That other people are entitled to their beliefs, even if you think they are silly, and there is even something beautiful about other people's silly beliefs.
  • That it's okay to talk about your feelings, and talking can help you get over them.
  • That it's okay to relax and enjoy yourself, as long as you always keep sight of your important goals.
  • That imagination is cool.
  • That a large part of how happy you are in your relationships depends on how you communicate with the people who come into your life.
This essay is my own little communication with my mom, because she's still with me, and will be for a long time, and I want her to feel good about herself today.

Happy Mother's Day.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (movie, ***)

I saw Hitchhiker's Guide last night, and my reaction is that it was... fine. It was... good enough. Didn't love it, didn't hate it. I'd heard that it wasn't great, so I had to decide to just relax and enjoy it.

My wife asked if it was "true to the book" and I told her there was no such thing as "true to the book." You've got the radio series, the books, the TV series, the adventure game, and now the movie. They're all different. There is no such thing as continuity in the Douglas Adams universe, there is only what seems to be the funniest choice at the moment.

And often, to its credit, the movie did the right thing. The whale scene was absolutely perfect. Marvin was a great character, delivering everything I would have expected. The other computer personalities were great too -- the sighing doors were funny and Eddie the computer was dead-on (although they left out his "Jewish mother" personality, no big deal). Slartibartfast struck the right note, and the scene with the planet construction warehouse was just awe-inspiring, and I think it did justice to Douglas Adams' likely vision of what it should have been like. And to be honest, the scene where Marvin shoots at the Vogons with the point of view gun -- a scene which was not in any of the other versions as far as I know -- was hilarious.

So the movie was "good enough". There was not anything I saw that was really, seriously wrong with it. Having said that, there were very many things in the movie that just seemed like uninspired choices, as in "They're free to go with their artistic instincts, but I'm not sure I would have done it that way."

For instance, the romance between Arthur and Trillian? I don't feel that it was anathema to the books, but it was just a waste of time. Arthur really did like Trillian a lot, enough to challenge the god Thor to a fistfight in book three, and I think they spent some quality time together near the end of that book, though I'm pretty sure they never slept together.

But I suspect that Douglas Adams wouldn't have given that much credibility to sappy emotional scenes. The theme of his books is, "These characters are all alone in a vast uncaring universe, and they're trying to do things that will make their lives mean something, and that's just so pathetic that it's funny." Hence, the whole scene where Arthur whines "The only question that matters is, is she the one?" just seemed out of place in the story, even though it was just the setup to another joke. Plus, you know, she's actually NOT the one, since Arthur falls in love with (and loses) Fenchurch later in the series.

Then there was the scene with Humma Kavula (John Malkovich). Amusing. Gave them an opportunity to use some keen looking special effects. But just not necessary. As far as I can tell, the entire point of having Humma Kavula at all was to set up the punchline of the movie. Humma tells Zaphod to find the point of view gun, and that winds up in Marvin's hands, and Marvin shoots the Vogons. And like I said before, that was really funny. But I'm not sure it was funny ENOUGH to justify the set-up to the joke. Also, I don't really understand what Zaphod's reason was for wanting to visit Humma in the first place. Just so he could tell him "Don't call me stupid"?

Then of course there's Zaphod himself. Okay, so they did something different with his two heads. Could have been worse. But for the first half of the movie, the personality was right. He was the right combination of arrogant, dim-witted, lovable, and nuts. Then for some reason that I just don't understand, they took away his personality in the second half and basically wasted his character for the rest of the movie. Why? I just don't get why they would take one of the best characters and throw him away.

So, what worked:
  • Marvin. DEFINITELY Marvin.
  • The Guide.
  • The whale.
  • Zaphod during the first half.
  • Marvin shooting the Vogons.
  • Planet construction.
  • The shipboard computer.
What didn't work:
  • Zaphod during the second half.
  • The emphasis given to Arthur and Trillian's romance.
What was "good enough":
  • The improbability drive.
  • Humma Kavula.
  • Towels.
  • The mice.
  • The dolphin song.
  • The Nutrimat making the substance that is "almost but not quite entirely unlike tea."
  • Vogons.
Interesting to note, the Vogon bureaucracy was not as big a deal in the book, but it does fit in with the Douglas Adams universe in general. When Douglas Adams worked with Infocom to make text adventures, he produced a game in 1986 called "Bureaucracy." The plot is, you have to get some mail and catch a plane. The comedy is, nothing goes right and there are all kinds of difficult bureaucrats in your way, and many forms to fill out in triplicate. The Vogon scene felt like it was pulled straight out of that game.

Final score: *** out of 5.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Election Shrapnel by Adam Cadre

An excellent article, written by another atheist gamer like me, a week after the election.

It's not just that [Bush] proudly proclaims that he doesn't read newspapers, trumpets his bad grades at Yale to prove he wasn't tainted by higher education, mocks people for speaking foreign languages or using words outside his active vocabulary, and is regularly described even by his most ardent supporters as "incurious". It's his sheer hostility to unsolicited input. Even questions from reporters are invariably greeted by Bush with defensive whining; while John Kerry's town hall meetings during the campaign were come one come all, Bush's audiences had to sign loyalty oaths to get in. And then there's his approach to foreign affairs, in which the US says, "This is what we're doing; you can help if you want," and if other countries try to chime in with an opinion, the response is effectively, "Shut up — fuck you — we don't care what you think."

"First" post

Okay, don't get confused, but this is my first post on my new blog, around noon May 3 2005. I plan to post things that I wrote years ago, so there will be posts EARLIER than this one, but were actually posted to this blog AFTER this one. Clear as mud? Great.

"Kazim" is a name I invented for a character in Diablo a long time ago, and later I used it as my screen name on the Motley Fool boards (paid subscription required; free trial available). The Motley Fool is where I sound off about all kinds of stuff that's on my mind. Many, if not most, of the posts here were first put up for comments at the Fool site.

I will also have some computer game and movie reviews. I can't promise that the reviews will be entirely free of spoilers, though I will do my best to warn where this will happen. I suspect that I am generally more kind than most critics towards the material I review. Or rather, I rarely write reviews of movies and games that I am not interested in. So I think most of my reviews are likely to contain glowing praise, while a few of them will be total ranting hatchet jobs. There won't be that much in between.