March 31, 2005

All I'll Say About Schiavo

I haven't said much about the Schiavo matter, because I strongly believe that it is none of our damn business. This cartoon pretty well sums up my thoughts and feelings on the politics involved in this.

Stephen Green, Timothy Sandefur, and, surprise of surprises, John Derbyshire, all approach the issue much like I would, so I point you to their thoughtful opinions on this, too.

Just as an aside, my wife and I both have wills and medical powers of attorney, which we prepared a couple of years ago. I plan to pull out the powers of attorney to make sure they still say what we want. I'm pretty sure they address specifically the issue of withholding extraordinary care, including feeding tubes and hydration. But we have also given each other a fair amount of discretion to try what is reasonable (like what Michael Schiavo did for about three years) while granting each other the final say to consent to discontinuing treatment.

If you plan to write an advance healthcare directive or power of attorney as a result of this mess, I would recommend the same approach. Be careful not to be too specific.(*) What I mean is that in addition to granting certain explicit instructions (for the most foreseeable situation), be sure to include a general blanket authority to the person you want to speak for you. If you are married, after the Schiavo case, you cannot count on your spouse presumptively having that power anymore. (Way to strengthen the institution of marriage, conservatives!) If you want your parents or kids or siblings to have input, say so. Having written it down, be sure to discuss it, too. If there is one good thing to come out of this mess, it's that we are all talking about a topic we usually avoid. Take advantage of this moment to get your opinions expressed and memorialized.

(*)Usual caveat applies: I am an attorney, but not your attorney. You should discuss the terms of any legal documents (including without limitation advance healthcare directives or powers of attorney mentioned above) with a qualified lawyer of your own choosing before signing them. My general comments are intended to focus you on some issues that I myself have discussed that I think are relevant to planning.

That's all I plan to say on this.

Update: She (what's left of her) has passed away. May she rest in peace.

Posted by JohnL at 08:00 AM | Comments (2) |

March 30, 2005

Placeholder Post

I've been reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to my 8-year old for the past couple of months. Tonight we got to the part where I had to send him to bed or we would have been up all night finishing the thing. As it stands, I've been spending the last hour or so reading ahead to find out what happens. Plus, I've been starting to put together the outline of the Carnival of Recipes, getting it ready for this Friday. Keep the recipes coming to recipe.carnival(at)gmail(dot)com!

So this is it for original content tonight.

Minor Spoiler Alert -- If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, you may want to skip the following.

(More in the extended entry).

This book is great. I still have major issues with Rowling's writing style, struggling to get through layers of wordy dependent clauses, hanging endlessly one after another, wondering how long it will take to get to the end of the sentence, but nevertheless enjoying the plot and broader underlying themes.

I can see why some felt this book had a libertarian subtext. In fact, the scene we left off with tonight, where Dumbledore is cornered by the Ministry of Magic in his office and escapes, reminded me of the scene in Atlas Shrugged in which Dagny and Francisco rescue John Galt from the government. Just as Galt had refused to give the sanction of the victim to his torturers, Dumbledore had refused to give the Ministry of Magic the "sanction of the victim."

Highly recommended, and good stuff for kids to be reading.

Posted by JohnL at 11:07 PM | Comments (0) |

March 29, 2005

SF Initiation

John at SFSignal asks which book got you into science fiction.

I answer the question for me over at GNXP Science Fiction.

Posted by JohnL at 11:19 PM | Comments (0) |

Carnival Coming Soon

I will be hosting the thirty-third Carnival of the Recipes this coming Friday, on April Fool's Day. I'm flip-flopping among SciFi generically, Heinlein specifically, and April Fool's Day as themes for the presentation.

If you have a recipe that you would like to see featured here, please submit it to Beth, the kind coordinator of the Carnival at recipe.carnival(at)gmail(dot)com.


Posted by JohnL at 10:38 PM | Comments (0) |

SF Babes Weekly Poll (Andromeda)

A commenter on last week's poll noted that I had been neglecting competitors from some of the (to me) more obscure SF series from the 1990s on. For this week's poll, we'll start to remedy that by pitting the ladies from Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda against one another.

Full disclosure: I haven't seen a complete episode of this series, so I have to rely on hearsay for the following descriptions. I've gotten all images and descriptions featured here from the official site cited above (click on thumbnails for larger pics).

Lexa Doig portrays Andromeda Ascendant (aka "Rommie"), the AI of the starship of the same name:

Brandy Ledford plays Doyle, the ship's loyal android (and she would have been a worthy addition to our earlier cyborg poll!)

Lisa Ryder stars as Beka Valentine, commander of the salvage ship, Eureka Maru:

Laura Bertram portrays the semi-psionic alien Trance Gemini:

You can vote once a day in the poll, so have fun. And remember to check out previous winners in the Gallery.

Results (Posted 5 April 2005):

Andromeda Ascendant (Lexa Doig) 69 of 118 votes for 58% -- WINNER!
Doyle (Brandy Ledford) 21 of 118 votes for 18%
Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder) 10 of 118 votes for 8%
Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram) 18 of 118 votes for 15%

Posted by JohnL at 08:57 PM | Comments (2) |

March 28, 2005

New Blog Review

Rocket Jones introduces us to some new bloggers today. Of the ones he linked, I particularly liked Pamela (an egoist babe) at Atlas Shrugged, Joe (a gay New Yorker living in the rural South) at aTypical Joe, and Hermitville (an infrequently-updated collection of short stories and monologues).

I've added them to my blogroll, and you should check them out. Also, be sure to check the Munuvian Showcase of New Blogs to discover other such new gems.

Posted by JohnL at 11:01 PM | Comments (1) |

March 27, 2005

Sunday Aircraft Cheesecake (Boeing 377 Stratocruiser)

This week's serving of cheesecake features a bizarre-looking civilian transport/cargo aircraft the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, which was derived from a military transport, which itself was derived from the B-29 bomber of WWII:


In the 1960s, some of the 377s were modified to carry the third stage of the Saturn V moon rockets (the Saturn IVB) from its assembly plant in California to Florida. These variants were dubbed the Pregnant Guppy and the Super Guppy:



(Much information on these bizarre planes can be found at this great page. And according to this NASA page, Airbus manufactured a Super Guppy recently and traded it to NASA for transport of space station components!)

Posted by JohnL at 10:54 PM | Comments (3) |

March 23, 2005

Operation Coffeecup Dictionary Entry

This is way cool. To me, at least.

Check out in the References whose site is cited as "Letter to participants, Reagan's recordings."

(I didn't author the encyclopedia entry, by the way).

Posted by JohnL at 11:30 PM | Comments (0) |

Vintage Erotica

Via Rocket Jones, a very cool site featuring some pictures of lovely young ladies from early in the twentieth century. Even if you aren't interested in the pictures, you should check out the site layout -- the music and interactive interface. If you're not careful, you can even tear pages out of the photo album. As Ted says, this is a really well done site.

NSFW, but in a classy manner.

Posted by JohnL at 11:27 PM | Comments (2) |

March 22, 2005

Prodigal Blogger Returneth

Vodkapundit Stephen Green has returned from Mexico. Yesterday, his first full day back blogging, he posted 35 entries. He kept up a similarly fast (if not quite as voluminous) pace today. Wow. Just wow.

Click over and scroll down. And be sure to check out the many lovely pictures he took on his vacation.

Welcome back, Steve.

Posted by JohnL at 11:52 PM | Comments (0) |

Million Words of Crap - Installment One

I have previously mentioned the adage that a writer needs to write a million words of crap before getting published. I know I have written close to a million words of non-fiction crap on the Internet over the last nine years (some here, some on Usenet and old Listservs), but I would like to experiment now with some fiction.

I'll count this short story I wrote as a first installment toward those million words. Here's the setup: what happens when a citizenry, with the best of intentions, has empowered its government to wage wars on drugs, terror, and lesser evils such as tobacco use? What do you think would happen if that same government were paying for everyone's health care? Don't you think it might take an interest in the lifestyle choices of its citizens?

Thus, the following thought experiment on that theme (very rough, but then it is part -- 671 words, to be exact-- of the million I'm supposed to crank out):

The War on ?The Food Police*

A loud banging sound reverberated through the small, dirty apartment. A rat skittered in panic behind the walls.

On the floor, a stack of girlie magazines teetered, supported by open boxes of two-day-old Chinese takeout and a layer of crumpled fast food wrappers.

In the corner, a recent-model computer idled, its screensaver showing a cheap rendering of hyperspace.

Behind the locked bathroom door, a dumpy, pear-shaped blob of a man desperately flushed his toilet. At just a half liter per flush (pursuant to the most recent eco-friendly conservation regulations), he was having trouble clearing the bowl of the incriminating evidence.

The front door splintered.

A squad of black-armored men and women crashed through the door and into the living room. The block letters "FDA" were stenciled on the back of their flak jackets.

From within the bathroom, the quivering mass of bad eating habits heard a muffled voice loudly stating "FDA! We have a warrant to take you into custody, and to search the premises."

Outside the bathroom, a trooper leveled her M4 at the door. "Open up," she said.

A desperate whimpering, accompanied by the sound of the toilet flushing answered her.

The trooper raised her boot and kicked the door, hard. Again. And again. And finally, the frame by the door knob shattered inward. The dumpy man fell backwards into the bathtub. The toilet bowl was filled almost to the rim. A few chunks of something yellow floated in the cloudy water.

The man in the tub emitted a horrible keening sound. His lank, greasy hair fell across his face, and a stain darkened the crotch of his gray sweatpants.

"Please God! No! Don't hurt me!"

The trooper roughly grabbed him under his left arm and attempted to haul him up out of the tub. As she staggered forward trying to overcome the inertia, she noted that the yellow chunks were some sort of spongy cake, oozing a creamy white filling into the toilet water. He tried to flush Twinkies down the toilet? Eeeeww! One last heave, and the suspect tottered up out of the bath, staggering out into the living room, the trooper backing ahead of him.

In the living room, the chief investigator was sifting through the oily detritus, placing different items in labeled evidence bags. As the trooper and suspect appeared in the living area, the investigator pulled out a pair of handcuffs.

As he bound the arms of the suspect, the investigator recited in a bored monotone: "You are being taken into protective custody for suspected civil violations of the Food Quality and Health Security Act of 2009. After we have determined your body mass index and performed a blood profile, we will notify you of your civil fine. Failure to pay the fine will result in your confinement to a federally-approved weight loss facility until such time as you have paid the fine, lowered your BMI, and restored your blood chemistry to acceptable levels of cholesterol and triglycerides."

"I want a lawyer! I have the right to a lawyer," pleaded the suspect.

"Well, no you don't. You see, this is a purely therapeutic proceeding, intended to prevent you from further harming your health. All fines and penalties are civil, and your custody does not constitute criminal imprisonment, so you have no Miranda rights."

As the agents dragged the overweight suspect from the apartment, the investigator looked around one last time for any remaining evidence. Then he saw it. A cellophane wrapper behind the TV. Telltale yellow indicated it was not empty, but contained a cream-filled treat he remembered well from childhood.

He glanced guiltily back at the door. A quick rip along the ventral side of the spongecake wrapper and the Twinkie was free of its plastic prison. He popped the entire snack into his mouth, chewed about five times, and swallowed. I wonder how soon until my next blood test, he wondered. I guess that means an extra 30 minutes of running tonight...

The End

(*) Title suggested by a friend. Thanks, Beth!

Posted by JohnL at 11:29 PM | Comments (3) |

SF Babes Weekly Poll (Fox's Foxes Finale)

"FFF" in organ music means "all stops out." And when it comes to this week's poll among Fox's Foxy Finalists, we are indeed pulling all the stops out. So far, we have seen competitors from Firefly, The X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond, and Dark Angel battle it out in three previous polls.

Now we pit the finalists from those polls against one another. It's like March Madness! So vote early and often and check back next week for the winner.

First up is Kaylee Frye (portrayed by Jewel Staite) from Firefly:

Next up is Max Guevera (portrayed by Jessica Alba) from Dark Angel:

Last, but far from least, is Kendra Maibaum (portrayed by Jennifer Blanc), also from Dark Angel:

Check the Gallery for previous winners.

Results (Posted 29 March 2005):

Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite) 33 of 72 votes for 46% -WINNER
Max Guevera (Jessica Alba) 32 of 72 votes for 44%
Kendra Maibaum (Jennifer Blanc) 7 of 72 votes for 10%

Well, it was close-fought, and after the controversy surrounding the electoral vote in the Ardala/Deering contest, I simply cannot throw this election to my favorite, Alba, as much as I would like to do otherwise.

Posted by JohnL at 10:01 PM | Comments (5) |

March 21, 2005

John Scalzi Wants Your SF Cliches

John Scalzi wants to read your fiction and non-fiction stories on the theme of SF Cliches. More details here.

(And my first entry at GNXP Science Fiction on this topic here).

Posted by JohnL at 11:33 PM | Comments (0) |

Funny Legal Writing

I've written a few legal writing rants, criticizing stuffy, wordy legal writing. This past Friday, I ran across a hilarious Force Majeure clause in a contract. While it may seem like a joke, the rest of the quotation to which this term was attached was perfectly serious.

For those of you non-lawyers, force majeure is an intervening event beyond the reasonable control of either party to an agreement that prevents one or both parties from performing. The most common of these kinds of events are colloquially referred to as "acts of God." Parties usually agree to waive performance by the other party for some period of time during an event of force majeure.

The person who drafted this clause wanted to cover all the bases:

Issuance of a PO or other engagement of [Consultant] services enacts full force of this proposal and constitutes acceptance of the terms and conditions set forth above regardless of purchasing or other corporate contractual policies. In the occurrence of natural events, World War, biological or nuclear holocaust, whereby such events cause delay in travel, installation or other on-site and delivery schedules, customer/client agrees to hold [Consultant] harmless against such misfortunes and pay for reasonable and customary costs incurred by [Consultant] during travel at such instance. In the event of the End of the World, this contract becomes void in its entirety. Should either party survive the End of the World, World War, biological or nuclear holocausts, both are released from any remaining obligations.

I didn't fix any grammatical mistakes; I just deleted the names of the parties to protect the innocent.

Posted by JohnL at 11:07 PM | Comments (4) |

March 20, 2005

Sunday Aircraft Cheesecake (Kalinin K-7)

This week's serving of cheesecake is the Kalinin K-7. This bomber hails from the early 1930s, and foreshadows the heavy bombers that would play such a large role in WWII less than a decade in the future. Looking at its contemporaries, this plane is really a stunning bit of modernism. Unfortunately there aren't many pictures available since the prototype crashed and no others were ever produced. Enjoy:

Kalinin K-7.jpg
Kalinin K-7(2).jpg

Images found here and here.

Posted by JohnL at 10:41 PM | Comments (1) |

March 17, 2005

Calypso Louie

Nation of Islam firebrand Louis Farrakhan was once-upon-a-time a calypso singer known as "The Charmer." One of his 1950s albums, Calypsos From The West Indies, contained a real gem of a song: Is She Is, Or Is She Ain't?, a song about a transsexual. I kid you not.

Where did I learn this? Well, I first heard it on James Lileks' third online installment of The Diner. I couldn't believe it, frankly, so I googled around until I had confirmed its authenticity.

If you want to sing along with any other of Calypso Louie's hits, click here.

Posted by JohnL at 11:55 PM | Comments (0) |

What is Glamour?

Virginia Postrel asked this question a long time ago, though I didn't answer her at the time.

Her statement the other day that she's adding a section on Glamour to her website reminded me to finally take a crack at answering her old question.

As a first step in defining glamour, I would point to one woman who clearly exemplifies it: Audrey Hepburn. I haven't seen her in many films, but was struck by her amazing, classically glamourous beauty in Roman Holiday, which my wife and I rented a few months ago.

Her character in the movie is a princess who tries to escape public scrutiny for a day to enjoy Rome as a normal person. The interesting thing is that, even when her character's hair is mussed and she is wearing ordinary clothes, there is an aura of glamour about her. Something of a casual confidence and poise that is hinted at. She appears just as comfortable later in the movie, when dressed in full royal regalia.

So for me glamour connotes more than just flashy or expensive beauty. It encompasses an underlying confidence or ease of manner that shows in all kinds of situations (common and formal both).

How's that?

Posted by JohnL at 11:20 PM | Comments (0) |

Another Book Meme

Don kinda sorta tagged me with this book meme:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be?
Ayn Rand's Anthem, hands down. Just read the opening paragraph to grok why:

IT IS A SIN TO WRITE THIS. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see. It is base and evil. It is as if we were speaking alone to no ears but our own. And we know well that there is no transgression blacker than to do or think alone. We have broken the laws. The laws say that men may not write unless the Council of Vocations bid them so. May we be forgiven!

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Yes. Eowyn in Lord of the Rings, undoubtedly; maybe the cyborg artificial person Friday in the eponymous book by Heinlein.

The last book you bought was...?
Calculating God, by Robert Sawyer

The last book you read was...?
Calculating God, by Robert Sawyer

What are you currently reading?
Six months' worth of back issues of Analog, The Man-Kzin Wars X: The Wunder War (short stories by other authors based in Larry Niven's Known Space universe), and The New Strong-Willed Child by (shudder) James Dobson.

Five books you would take to a desert island...
1. Some sort of How Stuff Works/Simple Machines book so I can make all kinds of cool Gilligan's Island inventions. Or maybe not. Maybe I'll finally get around to reading all of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
2. Lucifer's Hammer, by Niven and Pournelle (SF, post-apocalyptic survivalism, rebuilding civilization. . . a textbook for being stranded on a desert island).
3. Goedel Escher Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, by Douglas Hofstadter. A wonderfully unique literary offering, virtually impossible to describe. I would recommend that Rob read it as soon as he's done reading the Wolff Bach book.
4. Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Every re-reading brings new rewards, so this is a natural choice.
5. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Heinlein. (More full-power rugged individualism to keep me going).

I won't tag anyone else with this, but please trackback here if you are moved to contribute your own book lists.

Posted by JohnL at 10:51 PM | Comments (7) |

Steroid Hearings

I haven't really been following this in any way (just saw the headline for this story on Yahoo), but I find myself wondering -- just where is the Federal interest here? And under which enumerated power in the Constitution is Congress acting?

Posted by JohnL at 10:02 PM | Comments (1) |

March 16, 2005

Shameless Self-Promotion


Update: I guess I have some shame after all.

Posted by JohnL at 11:17 PM | Comments (0) |

Second Gig

After sort of inviting myself in a comment to this post, I actually received a very gracious invitation from Jinnderella to start posting over at GNXP SciFi. Its parent blog, Gene Expression, has been one of my daily reads since before I even started blogging, so I am extremely happy about this development.

I look forward to adding some appropriate commentary over there very soon (in fact I am working on a book review of recently-read Calculating God by Robert Sawyer and plan to post it over there). This should not impact my lackadaisical pace of posting here in any way; I'll cross-post when appropriate, or just put a link from here to there.

Posted by JohnL at 10:27 PM | Comments (0) |

Interview With the Visionary

The Sunday Times (UK) ran a profile/interview of Burt Rutan on March 13, 2005 (found via X-Prize Space Race News).

Mr. Rutan comes across like a character out of an Ayn Rand novel (and I mean that in a good way):

Apollo 17 landed on the moon on December 11, 1972, and thereafter the US space effort ground to an undignified halt. Nasa invested in the Space Shuttle, the ugliest and most pointless machine ever built. They told the US government it would be 10 times cheaper to put payloads in space with the shuttle than it had been with Apollo’s Saturn V rocket. In fact, it turned out to be 10 times more expensive....

“You can’t fix it by throwing money at it,” says Burt, “because you make something that’s bad because it’s too complex even more complex.”

On top of all that, Nasa, having become an insanely defensive bureaucracy, went out of its way to crush all opposition both within and without. Any rival trying to get into space more safely and cheaply was either absorbed or drained of cash and talent. With the collapsing Soviet Union all but dropping out of the space race, and China just clinging onto a precarious toehold, the whole extraterrestrial adventure seemed to be over. A sci-fi generation, now in their fifties and sixties, realised that their childhood dream of roaring rockets taking them up to wheeling orbital space stations and beyond was dead.

Burt made sure that Nasa only heard about his project at the same time as everybody else — when he wheeled SpaceShipOne out on the tarmac at Mojave to be photographed by Aviation Week. He points out sadly that, but for Nasa, we’d be holidaying in orbital if not moon-based hotels already. He has no faith in George Bush’s new decision to spend the next 20 years going back to the moon and then on to Mars, because it uses the same old dumb technology and keeps the government monopoly intact. But it doesn’t matter, because Nasa won’t survive the next 20 years. Burt thinks it is about to be wiped out by a sudden space explosion in the private sector. And so now, at 61, he expects to live long enough to see the first moon resorts.

According to the author, the first flight into space aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceship should take place in about three years and contain some interesting characters:

It will carry — and this is very informed guesswork — William Shatner and Sigourney Weaver. Shatner is the favourite, as he will officially name the ship the VSS Enterprise. So both Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise and Ripley of Alien have signed up to pay $200,000 (just over £100,000) for the trip, but they don’t yet know who will be on the first flight. If Ripley has anything to do with it, there will certainly be a giant, homicidal lizard. Victoria Principal, the former Dallas star, has also signed up. Burt and Sir Richard Branson will be on board, as, I think, will Branson’s dad, Ted. Bill Cullen, the 63-year-old chairman of Renault Ireland, might be there too; he’s the only one of the 21,000 applicants for tickets who has paid the whole sum upfront....

I can't do the interview justice with excerpts, so go read the whole thing.

Posted by JohnL at 10:16 PM | Comments (0) |

March 15, 2005

Selection Fatigue

Today, Virginia Postrel talks about too many choices on her blog and at Forbes. More accurately, she deconstructs the negative take on freedom of choice propounded in Barry Schwartz's recent The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, as applied to the current debate on giving Americans more control over their Social Security.

In his book, Schwartz takes a hard look at the multiplication of choices available to Americans, and contends that the overload on our psyches requires us to eliminate choice. According to the Publisher's Weekly excerpt at Amazon:

Like Thoreau and the band Devo, psychology professor Schwartz provides ample evidence that we are faced with far too many choices on a daily basis, providing an illusion of a multitude of options when few honestly different ones actually exist. The conclusions Schwartz draws will be familiar to anyone who has flipped through 900 eerily similar channels of cable television only to find that nothing good is on. Whether choosing a health-care plan, choosing a college class or even buying a pair of jeans, Schwartz, drawing extensively on his own work in the social sciences, shows that a bewildering array of choices floods our exhausted brains, ultimately restricting instead of freeing us. We normally assume in America that more options ("easy fit" or "relaxed fit"?) will make us happier, but Schwartz shows the opposite is true, arguing that having all these choices actually goes so far as to erode our psychological well-being. Part research summary, part introductory social sciences tutorial, part self-help guide, this book offers concrete steps on how to reduce stress in decision making. Some will find Schwartz's conclusions too obvious, and others may disagree with his points or find them too repetitive, but to the average lay reader, Schwartz's accessible style and helpful tone is likely to aid the quietly desperate.

As Ms. Postrel points out, Schwartz does not prescribe any governmental policy solutions to this perceived problem in his book, but in a recent op-ed on Social Security, he wrote: "[w]hether people are choosing jam in a grocery store or essay topics in a college class, the more options people have, the less likely they are to make a choice."

In her Forbes article, Virginia examines the experiment supporting Schwartz's "jam" thesis and discovers that he has conveniently omitted one of the three outcomes -- the one that would undermine his argument about Social Security. According to Ms. Postrel's summary of the experiment, the subjects had to select a chocolate from a group of Godiva chocolates, based on the name and appearance of each type of chocolate. One half had only 6 chocolates to choose from; the other half selected from 30. Then, half of each group (i.e., a quarter of the overall subjects) received the chocolate they'd picked, while the other half got a different sample, which was chosen for them by the experimenter.

The results showed that the people choosing from the group of 6 who received what they wanted were most satisfied. The ones receiving the chocolate they chose out of the group of 30 were less satisfied, as they were worried they hadn't selected the best. But the result omitted by Schwartz was that the group who received the chocolate chosen for them by the experimenter were the least satisfied of all.

Kind of knocks the legs out from under the one-size-fits-all ponzi scheme we have for Social Security right now, doesn't it?

I think it important to note that at some level I sympathize with Schwartz's thesis that we are faced with many many choices, and that learning to distinguish where there may be no real difference can cause fatigue. But I am not a passive consumer. When word-of-mouth fails, I can educate myself online, whether shopping for the best combination of price and features in a gas grill or checking out reviews at on digital cameras. Virginia specifically points this capability out in her Forbes article as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Services like's reader reviews and, heck, blogs help give us new means of making informed choices.

The only real frustration I have with new choices is when they eliminate some of my old ones. But that's just the looming old fogey in me. And, ending on this personal note, I can state with certainty that my family is not afraid of choices. Check out the toothpaste we keep in our bathroom drawers:

Toothpaste Choice.jpg

Posted by JohnL at 11:13 PM | Comments (3) |

SF Babes Weekly Poll (Fox's Foxes, Part II)

This week's poll features the supporting actresses from the same FOX science fiction shows whose leading ladies faced off last time. The next poll will pit the winner of this poll against last week's winner and the winner of the Firefly poll, so that we can crown the champion FOX fox.

During the ninth season of The X-Files, the T2 android teamed up with Special Agent Monica Reyes (portrayed by Annabeth Gish) in a sort of bizarro-world Mulder/Scully arrangement:

On Space: Above and Beyond, the lovely Lanei Chapman portrays Lt. Damphousse:

Finally, on Dark Angel, Jennifer Blanc (portraying the character Kendra Maibaum) challenged Jessica Alba's overall hubbaliciousness (to borrow a Lileks coinage):

As always, vote early and often, and thanks for your continued patronage!

Results (Posted 22 March 2005):

Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) 17 of 47 votes for 36%
Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman) 10 of 47 votes for 21%
Kendra (Jennifer Blanc) 20 of 47 votes for 43% -- WINNER

Posted by JohnL at 09:59 PM | Comments (0) |

March 14, 2005

Doctor Who Number 9

I haven't had a chance to see the new Doctor Who, but Eric Akawie has. Go read his review of the first episode.

N.B. Of course I have previously mentioned the new Doctor's lovely companion, Rose Tyler.

Posted by JohnL at 10:43 PM | Comments (0) |

March 13, 2005

Brain Exercise

I first learned about the card game "Set" from my mother-in-law this past Christmas. It turns out that my older kids had already been playing it at school for awhile. Now we all like to play it, and my wife spends about five minutes a day on the online version here.

Read the rules carefully, as you might find them confusing at first. The easiest rule to remember is the "magic" rule: if two are and one is not, then it is not a set.

Have fun!

Posted by JohnL at 09:24 PM | Comments (0) |

Sunday Aircraft Cheesecake (F2H Banshee)

Here's a pic I took of the Lady Lex's F2H-2 Banshee last weekend:


Here's an archival photo of the plane in flight (found here):


Posted by JohnL at 09:07 PM | Comments (2) |

March 12, 2005

On the Moral Use of Force

This month's Heinlein Quote of the Month (mentioned here), prompted an interesting comment from new-to-me reader [the best kind!] Tommy Hall:

"...conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate [the doctrine that 'violence never solves anything']. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon."

There seems to be some unintentional irony in the Heinlein quotation. He has Bonaparte pleading the case for pacifism while Hitler acts as impartial moderator. Logically someone like Ghandi or Martin King should argue the effectiveness of soft power, but of course Indian independence and the passage of the voting rights act undermine the point Heinlein wished to make.

Napoleon and Hitler were among the staunchest champions of naked force the world has seen during these last few blood-soaked centuries, to their everlasting regret. All their example shows is that those who rush to plead their case before the bar of violence run the risk that justice will hand down the harshest of verdicts.

First, I wouldn't agree that Bonaparte is pleading the case for pacifism, unless it's the case that his enemies should be pacifists.

Second, I don't really see any irony in Heinlein's choice of Napoleon or Hitler to illustrate his point. They were both initiators of violence who were stopped (and only stoppable) by violence. Sweet talking, negotiating, cajoling, and conceding would not have ended Napoleon's or Hitler's respective reigns over continental Europe. Only the use of overwhelming violence stopped them.

When is the use of violence in foreign affairs appropriate? One of the fundamental principles of what we call "libertarianism" has always been that one should never initiate the use of force against another. At the same time, it is morally required to use violence to respond to the initiator of force. So the Waterloo and WWII examples make pretty easy cases.

But what about the current war? Whether a pre-emptive use of force is ever justifiable is one of the issues that has split libertarians over the war in Iraq (and to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan). I think that one of the great mistakes of the anti-war libertarians is in their conflation of individual morality with international law. While states are technically "persons" (like corporations) in classical international law, they are not people. They are not endowed with the natural rights to life, liberty, and property.

Indeed, to the extent that they dishonor those natural rights, they lose legitimacy. So in my view, an illegitimate state should not benefit from some abstract non-initiation principle designed to protect an individual. There's quite a bit more to write on this, but I can't do it justice tonight. I hope I get some good comments to help guide some future refinements of this idea.

Tommy's conclusion is undoubtedly correct: if you initiate violence, you should be prepared to be dealt with violently. Or, more pithily, "live by the sword, die by the sword."

Posted by JohnL at 10:33 PM | Comments (5) |

March 09, 2005

Back in Town

I've been out of town with my family since last Friday.

Naturally, it was during my absence that my main traffic draw, the weekly SF Babe poll, would go down and that a couple of big-time bloggers would link to me (Thanks, Virginia! Thanks Bill!)

I've got the SF Babe poll fixed now, though anyone who voted before will have to vote again (Pollhost lost everything, including the number of votes).

I hope to have some pictures and a story or two up tomorrow.

Posted by JohnL at 09:32 PM | Comments (1) |

SF Babes Weekly Poll (Fox's Foxes, Part I - RETRY)

Go figure. Leave town for several days and not only does your direct link to the main page crap out, but drops all of your polls for no apparent reason. So, we will now retry the same poll from last week, unaltered, and pretend that nothing happened:

This week's poll pits the leading ladies from three of Fox's SF series against one another. Next week, certain supporting actresses from these same series will face off. The week after that, we will have a championship, featuring the two winners, together with the winner of the already-conducted Firefly poll. On with the show...

One of my favorite female characters in all of science fiction is Dana Scully (portrayed by Gillian Anderson) of the X-Files. I am not normally partial to redheads, but I make an exception for this character. Tough, sceptical, and rational, she tries to reconcile her reason with the faith of her childhood and the bizarre phenomena she encounters. Scully is truly one of SF's super-heroines. And a babe, to boot:

I was a new dad and new lawyer when Space: Above and Beyond first aired, so I only managed to see a couple of episodes. I'll have to give it another try someday. The lovely Kristen Cloke portrayed Captain Shane Vansen:

And finally, yet another series that I must catch up on now that the DVDs are out, is the James Cameron-created Dark Angel. The beautiful Jessica Alba portrays the genetically-enhanced Max Guevera in this dystopian SF drama:

Results (posted 15 March 2005):

Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) 39% (28 of 71 votes)
Captain Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke) 14% (10 of 71 votes)
Max Guevera (Jessica Alba) 46% (33 of 71 votes) WINNER!

Posted by JohnL at 09:02 PM | Comments (3) |

March 06, 2005

Sunday Aircraft Cheesecake

Could there be any doubt this week?

Burt Rutan's Global Flyer, piloted by Steve Fossett in his record-breaking flight this past week:



(Both images from Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer multimedia site).

Also, this little-known plane from very early in Rutan's career (courtesy of a family friend), the Rutan B-17X:


(Note for the clue-impaired: it's a photoshop).

Posted by JohnL at 10:32 PM | Comments (0) |

March 03, 2005

Way to Go (and Go and Go), Fossett!

Steve Fossett successfully circumnavigated the globe in a single-engine jet airplane on a single load of fuel. Solo.

Details here. And here.

Frank Martin blogged a good deal of the flight.

Posted by JohnL at 10:15 PM | Comments (0) |

March 01, 2005

Martinis and Heinlein

I'm sure glad that Vodkapundit Steve Green has returned to blogging. And over the past 24 hours, he has blogged with a vengeance. Just click over and scroll, but pay particular attention to this veritably den Bestean analysis of the Lebanese goings-on.

Just a couple posts later, he covers this hilarious summer project of a couple of British students who are planning a scofflaw vacation. That is, they intend to embark on a crime spree, breaking old and silly laws that are still on the books, though no longer enforced.

This reminds Mr. Green of the proposal in Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to have a bicameral assembly in which one house would be the house of legislators and the other the house of repealers. The legislators would need a 2/3 majority to pass new laws while the repealers would require only a 1/3 vote to repeal existing laws. Great idea, I think.

Speaking of Heinlein, I have updated the quote of the month for March, with a Starship Troopers quote appropriate to the changes underway in the Middle East:

"Anyone who clings to the historically untrue — and thoroughly immoral — doctrine that 'violence never solves anything' I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and of the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee, and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms."

Update: I was referring above to Steve's month-long hiatus over December and into the New Year. Not sure if that was clear as originally written.

Posted by JohnL at 09:55 PM | Comments (3) |

SF Babes Weekly Poll (Fox's Foxes, Part I)

Moved here.

Posted by JohnL at 08:40 PM | Comments (8) |