Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday photo shoot

   It's been a while since I have participated in the Monday Photo Shoot. In fact, I haven't done one of these since John Scalzi was hosting it at By The Way. Not that I have any problem with the new host, Outpost Mavarin. On the contrary, Karen has been on my blogroll for quite some time. 
   The photo shoot was always an occasional thing for me, and since my camera got broken participating has been, shall we say, a challenge. But when I saw this week's theme, I knew I had the perfect picture to offer. In fact, I have been looking for an excuse to use this picture here for some time.

   Last summer Matt and my wife visited England and Wales. They took hundreds of pictures. Along the way, Matthew made it a point of taking the occasional photograph "just for Dad." What he meant was he was taking an odd, or out of the ordinary picture; and 'artistic' picture, if you will. He was referring to my wife's complaint that when we were in Italy, I took dozens of pictures of holes in the wall of The Colosseum, or sign posts pointing to Mount Etna, or broken doorways in a mountain village in Sicily. But I didn't take very many pictures of my family at The Colosseum, or at Etna, or in Mandanici. Next time we go on vacation, I was informed, we are taking two cameras.
   So Matt took pictures of big rocks, and close-ups of iron scrollwork, and old signs. And my wife rolled her eyes every time he did. Along the way, he got a shot, entirely by accident, that has become one of my favourite pictures ever. It was a product of the failings of an automatic point and shoot camera in a difficult situation, but the result would I say it...serendipitous, perhaps.

   The theme of
this week's Monday Photo Shoot is "Unreal." The more I look at this picture, the more I think I see in it. Of course, there is a perfectly rational explanation for what happened to produce it, but that isn't any fun, is it?

Wales 272

What do you see in it?

(A larger version is available at my Flickr photostream. Click on the picture to get there. It makes a cool wallpaper.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday random ten

   Offered without comment, because, well...because I got nuthin'.

The One I Got - Johnny Lang
Soma - Smashing Pumpkins
Fly At Night - Chilliwack
Cascada - Jesse Cook
Ain't Gone 'n' Give Up On Love - Stevie Ray Vaughan
Let's Get High - Dr. Dre
Because They're Young - Duane Eddy
Ode - Creed
Fire In The Hole - The Tragically Hip
Blue Eden - Neil Young and Crazy Horse


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Critical Thinking Thursday

   I haven't participated in some time, but I have a post included in the latest edition of The Skeptics' Circle at Andrea's Buzzing About: There's a lot of good stuff to read in the 85th edition of the circle, so buzz on over and check it out.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

April is national poetry month and...

   Just a quick mention. We are, right this very moment, smack dab in the middle of the annual National Cowboy Poetry Week. This year CPW runs from April 20 to April 26. Saddlle up!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Oye como va

Dear Carlos Santana,

   Hi, how are you today? I'm fine, too, thank you very much. I enjoy your music immensely. Oh, by the way, I illegally downloaded your album today. Not all of them. Just All That I Am.
   See, I already bought the CD at the record store. Paid full price, it wasn't even on sale. But, here's the thing: I can't copy it to iTunes. Seems your record company has employed some kind of copy protection technology that prevents iTunes from being able to properly read the CD.
   Which is a real shame, because, as I already mentioned, I like your music very much. I enjoy listening to it. But now I can't - at least not in the way that I want to. I want to be able to listen to it on my iPod through headphones while I'm riding the bus, or walking the dog. I want to be able to plug my iPod into my car stereo, and listen to your music while I drive to and from work. And the way your album was presented to me, I can't do that.
   Oh, sure, if I put the CD in my computer CD-ROM drive, it will install a proprietary media player on my computer, which will allow me to listen to your album there. But I have absolutely no desire to do that. I don't actually ever listen to music at my computer desk. And besides, if I did want to, the five hundred and seventy six other albums in my music collection are already on iTunes. Why would I want to open a new program just to listen to one other album. It's inconvenient. In fact, it's flat out stupid.
   So what happens? Well, what happens is, I don't listen to your album. I don't spend the time appreciating the fine music you spent all that time, blood, sweat and tears crafting for me. I listen to someone else's heartwrought audio art instead.

   At least, that's the way it was, until today. See, I got to thinking. I paid for this music. And make no mistake, I paid for the music, not the physical delivery system the CD represents. If you want to be all technical about it, I paid for licencing rights to personally, and privately listen to your music whenever and wherever, and as often as I like. And you have not provided me with what I paid for.
   So today, I did about thirty seconds of Googling, and found an uncorrupted, high quality copy of your album on this here Internet thingy, and I downloaded it. And I copied it to iTunes.And I loaded it on my iPod. So now I do have what I paid for, and I can enjoy your music all I want (thank you very much).

   It's kinda ironic ain't it? Your record company employed their little copy protection schemes in an effort to prevent illegal downloading of your music. Instead, they have encouraged it. You might wanna talk to them about that.


Paul Little

   Oh, and here is your Friday Random Ten; the first ten songs randomly assigned to my iPod by iTunes on my latest sync.

1) Chokin' Kind - Joss Stone
2) Isn't It Midnight - Fleetwood Mac
3) Jeb Rand - Bedouin Soundclash
4) Xanadu - Rush
5) Another Brick In The Wall (Part 3) - Pink Floyd
6) If Not Now... - Tracy Chapman
7) Dazed And Confused - Led Zeppelin
8) I'm Sensitive - Jewel
9) Cum On Everybody - Eminem
10) Easier To Run - Linkin Park

edit Sunday 5:00PM: If I had actually read the Wikipedia article to which I linked above, I would have realised that All That I Am was one of the albums Sony/Arista originally tried to release on the sly with Digital Rights Management software hidden in it uncredited. They got busted by the tech crowd, and had to back down on it. They claimed the CDs were defective (nice try), and recalled and re-released them without the DRM. That's what I get for buying the album the first week after it came out.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Album cover meme

   This has been languishing in my test journal for months. Originally, because I was having difficulty with uploading new pictures to AOL's ftp space, and then more recently because I've been lazy. Here's what you're s'posed to do:

1) Go to
Wikipedia. Click on the random article link. The title of whatever article you get will be your band name.

2) Go to Click on the random quotes link. Scroll to the bottom of the page. The last four words of the last quotation on the page will be your album title.

3) Go to Click on the interesting photos from the last seven days link. The third photograph on that page will be your album cover.

4) Employ your favourite image editing software.

5) Present to us your album cover.


1) Wikipedia gave me the article,
Naval Intelligence Handbooks.

2) gave me the quotation, "Every person takes the limits of their own field of vision for the limits of the world." --Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

3) gave me this photo:

4) ::edit edit edit edit::

5) Here is my album cover:

Album Cover

   Many thanks to Thinklab for the excellent photograph. I hope he doesn't mind my appropriation of it for this meme. Stop by his photostream, why don't you, and check out his other impressive work.

Accordion Guy

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some skeptical items for your consideration

   I haven't been doing much writing of any substance lately. I've mostly been posting little quickies than don't require any thought. Yes, I haven't forgotten that I owe you one more installment of the 100 movies series. That's coming. Honest!
   But here are a few little things that I've been thinking about lately.


Expelled Exposed 
   You may have heard of the soon to be released movie, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Or, you may not have. Ben Stein (Bueller...Bueller...Bueller...) stars in what the producers are calling a documentary about the suppression of new ideas by the scientific establishment (whatever that is). According to the film's website:
“Expelled” calls attention to the plight of highly credentialed scholars who have been forced out of prestigious academic positions because they proposed Intelligent Design as a possible alternative to Charles Darwin’s 150-year-old theories about the origins of life. Instead of entertaining a debate on the merits of competing theories, the scientific establishment has moved to suppress the ID movement in a “systematic and ruthless” way at odds with America’s founding principles, the film asserts.
   That would be quite an interesting movie to watch, I suspect, if the statement above were actually, you know, true. Unfortunately, like many other things that have come to light about this film, the statement above is a lie. The scientific establishment is quite prepared to debate the merits of the science behind the "theory" of Intelligent Design...if only its proponents would present some. To date they have failed to do so.
   Make no mistake, Intelligent Design is not a scientific theory. It is religious propaganda, and its primary proponent, the Discovery Institute, is not a scientific research facility. It is a political lobbying organisation. Lucky for us, the "scientificestablishment" is quite prepared to back up their position with cold, hard, observable fact. To this end, the website
Expelled: Exposed reveals the facts behind the veil of lies being spread by the producers of this film.


A Case Of Curse Transference?
   One of the areas of our lives that is absolutely permeated by superstition is sports. Ball players take great care not to step on the chalklines as they run off the field. Hockey players will grow a "playoff beard." Basketball players will refuse to wash their socks during a winning streak. And we completely accept these silly things, as if they could possibly have any effect whatsoever on the outcome of a game.
   For the most part, these things are harmless, but the fact that so many people believe in them can lead to problems. Last week, constuction on the new Yankee Stadium in New York was delayed for five hours, at a cost of over $30,000, so workers could jackhammer through two feet of concrete to remove a Boston Red Sox jersey placed there by a former worker. Gino Castignoli, a construction worker and Red Sox fan hid the jersey just before concrete was poured for one of the luxury boxes during his one day of work on the stadium. Representatives of the New York Yankees Baseball Club called it "a very bad, dastardly act." A very bad, dastardly act. Dastardly, like tying Derek Jeter to a set of railroad tracks.
   OK, so you think you've heard everything now, don't you? You're wrong. 
The Yankees organisation is considering legal action. I swear, I'm not making that up. These guys truly believe that the action of burying a Red Sox jersey under the stadium could have materially harmed their ball club. I'm sorry, but that's just plain kooky.


Making a Choice
   Recently, here in Toronto, a devout Sikh man challenged the Ontario law requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. He could not wear a helmet, he said, because his religion required him to wear a turban, and prohibited him from covering it in any way. The Ontario Human Rights Commission ruled in favour of Balinder Badesha's challenge to the law, but
a Superior court Justice over-ruled that decision on March 6th of this year. Mr. Badesha plans to appeal the decision.
   I have two questions for Mr. Badesha:
1) Does your religion require you to wear an uncovered turban at all times outside of your home?

2) Does your religion require you to ride a motorcycle?
The answers to these questions are, of course, "yes," and, "no." I don't see a conflict here.
   You see, Mr. Badesha, observing your religion is a choice you have made. Like all choices, once you have made it, you find it impacts upon other choices facing you in your life. Riding a motorcycle is also a choice. There are many alternate forms of transportation of which you may avail yourself. You could drive a car, you could ride a bicycle, you could take a bus, you could walk. If riding said motorcyle conflicts with your religion, well then, you are going to have to choose between them. But choose wisely. As far as I'm concerned, they're both dangerous practices.


But She Was On Oprah, So She Has To Be Right
   Also back in March, former model Jenny McCarthy was in Toronto for the Holistic World Expo, and spouting her load of nonsense about Autism and Vaccines to anyone who would listen. Toronto Sun columnist Michele Mandel wrote what started out to be quite a rational and skeptical
article on the subject, saying:
According to McCarthy, the recent alarming rise in autism -- as high as one in 150 children -- is directly tied to the increasingly heavy childhood vaccination schedule that began in the 1990s...

 The scary thing is that no one in this town's goo-goo-eyed media bothered to challenge her controversial stand...

The scientific evidence, though, is pretty conclusive. The oft-touted link between autism and vaccination has been examined to death and endless studies have concluded there is no connection.
Somewhere along the way, however, Mandel lost the script.
So I was all prepared to completely discount the 35-year-old crusader and her Internet science. But it turns out that part of her message may actually have something to it. McCarthy credits a complete change in diet for helping to "cure" her son of his autism. After removing wheat and casein (found in milk) and adding vitamins and supplements, she noticed a dramatic change in just six months. "I do know I undid the damage that was done by vaccines," she told one local morning show, "and healed the body. You heal the body and you heal the mind and then he was able to function in society."
Mandel appears to accept McCarthy's statement at face value, leaving all semblance of skepticism behind. There are several things Mandel had overlooked in credulously reporting McCarthy's claims on this matter.

   First - and you've heard me say this before - correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Just because two things happen at the same time (or one follows the other) does not necessarily mean they are related. They might be, be it can be hard to know for sure.
   Autism is a condition marked by developmental delay. Note that is delayed development, not arrested development. It can seem like an autistic child is stuck at one level of development forever, then they can suddenly progress dramatically, seemingly overnight. It isentirely possible, indeed likely, that had McCarthy not changed her son's diet, he would still have experienced the same rapid improvement at the same time. Of course, Jenny would have just found something else to credit for the change.
   There are all kinds of alternative autism therapies out there - modified diet, heavy metal chelation, what have you - that people claim are effective. Scientific investigation has, to date, shown that they are not.

   Second, by allowing McCarthy's statement to go unchallenged, Mandel undermines a fact she presented earlier in the piece - that there is no scientific support for the 'vaccine causes autism' claim. She has allowed McCarthy to throw in her contention that she has undone "the damage done by vaccines." Even if there is something to the claim that a modified diet can have an effect on autism, that in no way points to vaccines as a cause. But Mandel allows that idea to slip back into her readers' minds by not applying critical thinking to the whole story.

   The third thing that Mandel completely overlooks is that McCarthy claims to have healed her son. She conveniently leaves out the fact that Evan McCarthy still has autism. It hasn't gone away. He just showed some developmental progress. The fact is, everything McCarthy says is complete, and utter hogwash. Mandel needed to stick to her skeptical guns all the way to the end of her article. By failing to do so, she has failed her readers. She doesn't think so. She ends by saying, "at least this prescription of hers won't cause harm." Michele, I beg to differ. If just one of your readers abandons traditional treatements and therapies in favour of the woo presented by Jenny McCarthy, then there is harm. I've said this before, too.
Alternative therapies that are ineffective, are not harmless.


   There! I feel much better having got all that off my chest. Sorry to harsh your mellow.

Friday, April 11, 2008



   Check out my winning caption at Magic Smoke. Also, play along this week.

Now here's your Friday Random Ten:

1) Dog New Tricks - Garbage
2) It Could Happen To You - Robert Palmer
3) Konifale - Kadja Tangara
4) White, Clean and Neat - Robert Plant
5) Teenage Jail - The Eagles
6) El Fuego - Santana
7) Wicked World - Black Sabbath
8) Vajra - Shadowfax
9) Angie - The Rolling Stones
10) Till - The Angels

Friday, April 4, 2008

A musical interlude

   Cin was curious about a couple of the musical acts I mentioned in the last Friday Random Ten (and its follow-up post). She'd never heard of Ashley MacIsaac - "who's she?" she asked - or Bedouin Soundclash, and wondered if they were Canadian. I believe she was using the common American definition of the word 'Canadian': quaint, but obscure.
   And so I present for your viewing pleasure, and listening enjoyment...

Mr. Ashley MacIsaac

Of course, Ashley is probably much better known for his duet with Mary Jane Lamond, Sleepy Maggie.

   I hope that last video didn't scare you away, because this is the one I really want you to see.
Bedouin Soundclash are local Toronto musicians of various backgrounds who have created an enticing fusion of sounds. When The Night Feels My Song was their first single.

   I hope you enjoyed. Also Canadian on those previous two lists are Bruce Cockburn and Nickelback, but I expect you already knew that.

   And now, I present to you your Friday Random Ten from my weekly iPod update. My pool of songs now sits at slightly over 5100. From among those, iTunes randomly selected 112 to populate my iPod for the next week. The first ten of those are:

1) Three Sheets to the Wind - Colin James
2) Black Clouds - Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts
3) Dreaming - Blondie
4) Black Black Heart 2.0 - David Usher
5) Come Together - The Beatles
6) Juke Box Hero - Foreigner
7) Don't - Jewel
8) Still Wonder - Johnny Lang
9) Smoke on the Water (live) - Deep Purple
10) Session - Linkin Park

Can you spot the Canadians?

100 movies - the penultimate list

   Penultimate. Isn't that a great word? It almost carries its own dramatic echo. Or maybe that's just inside my head. Sure, I could have just said, "the next to last list," but I think one should use a word like penultimate whenever the opportunity presents itself.
   So, here are the penultimate ten films from the list of 100 movies I really like. If you need to do things in order,
here's where I started.

Armageddon - A lot of people didn't like this movie. Or, at least, they claim not to have  liked it. For all that they seem to talk about it a lot. There's a Shakespearian quotation about that. (I'm sorry, did I just invoke Shakespeare in a sentence about a Bruce Willis movie? What was I thinking!)
   Yeah, this turned into a bit of a flag waver, but come on! It wasn't as bad as Independence Day, and I liked that movie, too. I'm not ashamed to stand up, tall and proud, and announce that I liked Armageddon.

Agent Cody Banks - Frankie Muniz plays Cody Banks, a High School student who has been recruited by the CIA (or some such secret agent organisation). His latest assignment requires him to get close to ::gasp:: a girl! Hilarity ensues.
   His agency contact is played by Angie Harmon...or at least by the many skin tight outfits she sports throughout the film. Two thumbs waayyy up.

Underworld - Vampires. Werewolves. Vampire-werewolf hybrids. Kate Beckinsale. Need I say more?

True Lies - This is one of my favourite of Ahnold's movies. It pokes fun at secret-agent-living-a-double-life cliche so common in spy-thriller films. Tom Arnold is hilarious as the sidekick. Also, Jamie Lee Curtis - Rowr! (Hmm, I seem to be falling into a predictable pattern here.)

The Matrix - Trinity rocks! So does her rubber wardrobe. Hawt! (Pattern continues). This is one of those films that has become so entwined in the pop-culture collective unconscious that virtually every piece of media released in the first five years of this decade made some kind of reference to it. Even the dogs' breakfast of the next two films cannot dim the brilliance of the original. I watch this movie over and over again.

Benny and Joon - Mary Stuart Masterson is, you know, kinda cute I guess. This is a Johnny Depp movie, but not so much a Johhny Depp movie, know what I mean? No? Well just look at the cast. It's pretty awesome, right down to the bit players. Aidan Quinn was great as Benny. And then there's Julianne Moore, Oliver Platt, Dan Hedaya, William H. Macy. Pretty Awesome, if you don't mind the repetition. Also, Johnny Depp, cause, you know...

The Nightmare Before Christmas - Tim Burton is something of an odd duck, isn't he? Brilliant, but odd. I have heard it said that he made The Nightmare Before Christmas because the studio wouldn't let him make The Corpse Bride at the time. I like the former better than the latter. And the sound in this DVD is top notch. If you have a surround sound system with a good subwoofer, this is the film to give it a bit of a workout.

Chicken Run - A fun animated romp from back when Mel Gibson was still cool. It also cashed in on the incredible popularity, at the time, of Nick Park, of Wallace and Grommit fame. What can I say? Virtually every character in this thing is a hot chick.

Payback - Mel again, in perhaps my favourite of his movies. His character, Porter, is enormously amusing in his insistence that all he wants is the seventy thousand dollars he claims is owed to him, even in the face of even higher offers. "
We went for breakfast... in Canada. We made a deal; if she'd stop hookin', I'd stop shooting people." [pause] "Maybe we were aiming high."

Casablanca - In an earlier edition of this list I mentioned The Maltese Falcon. This is the other of what are arguably the two best known Bogart movies. I think this one is the better of the two. I like the pacing better, and I think the tangled web weaved by Rick Blaine in this film is far more clever than the one woven by Sam Spade in the other. I am willing to bet that there are many out there who would disagree with me.
   That's OK. I'll get over it.

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