Olympic Dodgeball

One of my favorite movies of all time is Dodgeball. Yes, you read that right. Every time it’s shown on TV, I find myself watching it through to the end, smiling and chortling the whole way. Oddly, my wife finds it similarly hilarious.

“Necessary? Is it necessary for me to drink my own urine? No, but I do it anyway, because it’s sterile, and I like the taste.”

– Patches O’Houlihan

During the London 2012 Olympics this year, I can’t help but wonder: Why isn’t Dodgeball an Olympic Event? I mean, there’s Handball. And all kinds of Shooting events. It seems like a no-brainer. The Ocho!

Anyway, I love the Olympics. I have fond memories of the ’92 Dream Team, Greg Louganis, Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Dan & Dave…

Nowadays, I cheer as enthusiastically for Denmark as the USA, especially because the Danish medal-winners are few and far between, so it’s exciting when they do win. As of this post (more than halfway through the games), USA has 71 total medals, to Denmark’s 9. Of note, however, is that per capita, that puts Denmark way, way ahead of the US.

In fact, since the (modern) Olympics started in 1896, the total tallies per capita are perhaps surprising:

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New and Improved

In 2007, I finally installed a blog on my server. Now, five years later, I finally migrated the bulk of this site to WordPress, instead of static HTML pages. Took long enough, I suppose.

I tried to keep the lameness of my old “dk” page intact. It wasn’t difficult.

Vive la révolution!

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Hijacked!

Eep! My blog was hijacked recently, and was redirecting to weird spammy pages. It should be working again. Thanks to those who helped me get things working again (you know who you are).

I wish this kind of stuff never had to happen. The world is horrible! Demons! Fire! Brimstone! Aargh!

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Defending Science: An Exchange

Interesting discussion in the New York Times about evolution vs. creationism with the backdrop of epistemology. Note for the unlearned (such as myself): ab initio means “from the beginning”, and modus ponens means inferential logic, that is, “if A implies B, and A is true, then B is also true.”

Defending Science: An Exchange

Somewhat related, from skeptoid.com, How to Debate a Young Earth Creationist.

Yes, yes. I haven’t posted for an entire year. Isn’t the Interweb fun?

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Alice Marie (Windblad) Berthiaume

Alice Marie Windblad Berthiaume, 94, of Waverly, MO, passed over to her eternal home on Monday, July 25, 2011, at the Lutheran Good Shepherd Home in Concordia, MO. Alice was born in Mukilteo, WA to Walter and Selma Windblad in 1916. She married the love of her life, Orrin A. Berthiaume, in Santa Monica, CA, in 1938. Alice was very supportive of Orrin and his career as an aircraft manufacturing executive. His work gave them the opportunity to live in many different communities including Hagerstown, MD, Wichita, KS, and Sebastian, FL, among others. Alice was a wonderful and supportive wife, mother, grandmother, great- grandmother, sister and friend. She was also a homemaker, an avid gardener, an active member of P.E.O. for 51 years, and was devoted to her church, St. Luke United Church of Christ in Grand Pass, MO. She gave thousands of hours as a hospital volunteer in Sebastian, FL. Alice will be remembered for her cheery disposition, delightful sense of humor, unrelenting faith, thoughtfulness and compassionate nature. She was preceded in death by her husband of 47 years, a daughter and son-in-law, Janice M. and Philip L. Karlton, her parents, her step-father, Mack Moberg, sisters, Gladys Bolstad and Virginia Johnson, and a niece, Shelley Leiser. Mrs. Berthiaume is survived by three daughters, Lorene F. Lais (Harlan), Dodge City, KS, Karen L. Fevold (Dean), Bentonville, AR, Andrea L. Mockridge (Mike), Waverly, MO, and a niece, Lynn Leiser (Kurt), Seattle, WA. She also leaves behind five grandchildren, Lee Bobbitt, Jefferson City, MO, David Karlton (Stine), Denmark, Elaine Roddis (Ben), New Zealand, Patrick Londeen (Maree), New Zealand, Mary Beth Sprecher (Steve), Blue Springs, MO, and nine great-grandchildren. Her family and all who knew her will miss her greatly. There will be a memorial service at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24, at St. Luke United Church of Christ, Grand Pass, MO. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial gifts to St. Luke United Church of Christ, Grand Pass, MO or Cottey College.

Published in Kansas City Star on July 29, 2011

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Karltonism

“There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things.”

– Phil Karlton

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What Did Watson the Computer Do?

Cool article in the NY Times about artificial “intelligence”. More like, “lots of data and quick access, with some speech recognition built-in”.

Yes, yes, computers are powerful and Moore’s Law etc., but I personally don’t think we’ll ever achieve true artificial intelligence with machines — and if we ever did, it would certainly not occur in our lifetimes.

Unrelated, but also interesting: pheromones and fidelity.

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The United States of Christians

Let me just start by saying that this post will probably offend some people. Maybe a lot of people. Even friends and family. I’m sorry if it does, so I’ll apologize up front.

OK, here goes…

I read a rather long article in the New York Times recently: “How Christian Were the Founders?” It’s about the growing tendency in the United States (especially Texas) to rewrite school curriculum history books to have more focus on Christianity, sometimes fundamentalist. One of the more powerful arguments in favor of these changes lies in the fact that many of the founding fathers of the US were devout Christians — a fact that has often been disputed or even ignored by many scholars and scientists. The argument in favor of renovating the teaching methodologies and school books goes something like: “The US was founded on Christian beliefs, by Christians, and we need to get back to our roots!”

Living in Europe, which is even more profoundly rooted than the United States in all things old-fashioned, I can understand and respect traditional thoughts about maintaining a strong connection to cultural history. We stand on the backs of our forefathers, and the freedoms, rights, and privileges we enjoy today (and take for granted) are borne on the shoulders of those who fought for them.

But, wait a second. Some things in the past are pretty bad. Really bad. Downright awful. Off the top of my head, I can name just a few heinous cultural pasttimes: sacrificing virgins; burning witches; slavery… And a lot of these things aren’t even that long ago. Ouch. Humans suck, apparently. (And a lot of this stuff happened after Christianity was founded. What does that say about us? But that’s another discussion.)

Heck, just go back a few hundred years, and we see that Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Cardinal of Rome for being a proponent of the Copernican theory that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Scandal! Sacrilege! Scientists are clearly evil conspirators, who are hell-bent on undermining the very fabric of our lives. Sinners!

My point is really twofold: Not all things historical are necessarily good things. And almost all progress is good progress. If we decided to ignore science over the millennia, we’d certainly be in one big heap of a mess, living on our Flat Planet and coveting fire. Here be Dragons. Beware.

Think of all the incredible progress in science since the 1700’s alone — all the amazing things that we take for granted now. And I don’t just mean luxury comforts like cars and computers. I’m talking about fabricated components that make our lives safer. Improvements in medicine that save lives and cure the sick. Understanding of Newtonian physics so we can build better structures. Navigation of the oceans so we can explore, meet, and learn.

So, what irks me about how the founding fathers may or may not have been practicing Christians is that, for me, ultimately, it makes no difference whatsoever. The original Pilgrims left Europe due mainly to religious persecution. Their devout Puritan ways were just not tolerated by the British in the 1600’s. So, they came to America, set off a wave of annihilation of the natives, bought Africans to do their chores, and just over a 100 years later, their descendants claimed independence from the UK. They forged a fantastic set of documents for “how it should really be done”. Bravo! As an American, I am quite proud of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, and more importantly, the Constitution. (Not so proud about the American Indian part. Or the slavery.)

Whether or not the folks who birthed the U. S. of A. were Christian fundamentalists makes no difference to me. They could have been heathen pagan idol-worshipers for all I care. The beauty is that they drafted some revolutionary ideals for how to establish a country.

Let’s simplify things. Let’s say that we accept the argument that many of the founding fathers were devout Christians. Ergo: today’s modern American society should emphasize Christian ideals and notions. Pretty simple argument. Now, if we take this one step further, we can also point out that many of the founding were slave owners. Ergo, we should all own slaves. (I’m fairly sure you can lease them over the Internet.)

Progress is good. It always has been. It always will be. And almost all progress historically has met backlash from religion, which has single-handedly undermined science over centuries. Galileo is just one example. The recent step backward regarding Darwinian evolution and the rise of creationism is another. And now, even climate change is under fire by religious zealots.

And what about other religions? Why should we emphasize the Christianity of our founding fathers? Didn’t the original Pilgrims ditch Europe because of religious persecution? So, wouldn’t denigrating other religions be a bad thing, as seen from the perspective of those who were themselves victims of exactly the same thing? Should we elevate Christian ideals in our textbooks, so that we can look down upon the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, and Atheists that make up the rich tapestry of America? (Yes, we should — they are all surely terrorists anyway.) Is Christianity so much better than the rest that we should focus on it as a universal truth in American society? This stinks of prejudice and intolerance to me. Call me nuts.

Let’s take a parting look at those grand ol’ documents that those Christian, slave-owning, British-hating, fatherly figures wrote up. How about the First Amendment? Mmm, yummy! And I quote:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What does it all mean? Constitutional scholars are in agreement:

The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of a national religion by the Congress or the preference of one religion over another, non-religion over religion, or religion over non-religion.

So, the founding fathers had a pretty strong principle in mind: a clear separation of church and state. Even though they may have been good little Christians, they had the foresight, probably because of their unique Pilgrim history, to outline the importance of this separation. And the crowd goes wild with applause.

This whole tendency to emphasize Christianity in school books smells of taking giant leaps backwards. And it looks exactly like what religion has often done so often in the past — a backlash against scientific progress, and an argument that the old ways are the only ways.

I’m OK with people teaching their children religion. That’s why we have churches (or synagogues, or mosques). But public school, paid for by public tax dollars, is not the place for this.

Christian or not, I think the founding fathers would be appalled.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html
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COP15

We’re in the middle of the two-week climate discussions here in Copenhagen. I am hopeful of a progressive outcome, but also skeptical that anything truly effective or groundbreaking will be agreed upon.

The latest I’ve been reading is that in the US, the majority of people actually don’t think climate change is occurring at all. Huh? Excuse me? What the heck is wrong with y’all? (If I bang my fists loudly on my desk, does it help?)

Let’s look at some facts:

1) How much CO2 is the US dumping into the atmosphere? Certainly not that much, right? Think again. (Pay special attention to slide 3, which is per capita):

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/12/05/world/climate-graphic-background.html?ref=world#tab=0

co2.jpg

2) “But wait, CO2 is good for the environment, and this whole climate change thing is grossly exaggerated. No way it’s caused by man. Temperatures swing all the time. It’s normal!”

Again, let’s look at some facts. Here’s a great audio-visual article at BBC. It only takes a couple minutes to watch. Note that over the past 800,000 years, the atmospheric levels of CO2 have never even been close to what we see from the past 50 years. See that blue spike at the end of the graph? Does this not concern you at all? Are the short-term gains of unchecked production and consumption really so important that it’s worth jeopardizing life on our planet? (Why isn’t this a total no-brainer? Somebody help me here.)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/sci_tech/2009/copenhagen/8386319.stm

temp.jpg

OK, so what riles me up most about our current state of affairs? Without a doubt, it’s that the US (and China) adamantly insist that protecting the climate is a shared global responsibility, and that the blame and burden should be equally shared. I’m sorry, but this strikes me as preposterous to the point of being tragically absurd. Let’s pretend we have two neighbors. A rich American and a poor African.

American: “Woops, I just dumped a bunch of garbage on your vegetable garden by accident. I have been generating this garbage for 50 years, and I ran out of room. Don’t you agree that this was partially your own fault and you should clean up half of it? That is only fair.”

African: “Huh?”

American: “Well, I have more money than you, and I generate way more garbage than you, and in order for you to save your own lawn I think you should agree to help stop generating garbage too, and be punished as much as I.”

African: “You mean you want me to stop generating waste too? I barely have any waste.”

American: “Try this Coca Cola. It’s delicious.”

African: “Um…”

American: “See, you like it! Hence, you owe me. Plus your vegetables were weird exotic things I can’t pronounce. That garbage I dumped was actually a big help for the world, plus it was really your fault to begin with. Please sign here.”

Grumble, grumble. I mean, did you even see the chart above from the New York Times, about how much African nations are polluting, compared to China and the US? Look at the nice round circles. Having trouble finding ones over Africa? (Yes, you’re right — it’s a left-wing conspiracy, and crazy scientists removed the circles on the graphic covering Africa.)

Another big issue is that the US Congress actually has to decide whether whatever comes out of COP15 should be enforced in America. Obama can decide it’s a great idea, but senators and representatives have to ratify the thing. Will they? I doubt it. They’ve got constituents and reelections to worry about. Who cares about the island nation of Tuvalu? I’ve never even heard of it. Pfshaww!

Some of you may have heard about the protests here and the mass arrests. In general, I side with the police on this one. There are two kinds of protesters assembled here in Copenhagen: peaceful, and violent. The former make up the vast majority, and have held a number of small and large demonstrations, trying to call attention to specific issues in specific geographic areas, or just to remind the political leaders that the issue of climate change is a big deal. The latter group, a tiny minority who are here to spoil the whole thing for everyone, are a real pain in the arse. “Let’s fix climate change by burning cars! Yeah!” C’mon people. You want change? Then fight with pen, paper, voices, and votes. Smashing windows and throwing rocks at police (they’re just people too) ain’t gonna help. Plus, I bet you’re here just to break stuff anyway, and you don’t care a rat’s bum about climate issues.

Anyway, the mass arrests have unfortunately affected mainly innocent people, who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.The police have seen unruly behavior, and young crazies wearing all black and masks, intermingling within the throngs of perfectly peaceful activists, trying to stir foment and trouble. So, the cops have just arrested in droves to prevent things getting out of hand. Yeah, it sucks. But what should they do instead? Let the troublemakers ruin the whole show? I’m open to better suggestions.

536121_640_450.jpgoprydning_efter_aut_344887d.jpg (Please see what happened in May 2009 when troublemakers from the radical group “Undoing the City” were left unchecked by police to wreak havoc and destroy property on Hyskenstræde in inner Copenhagen — right where my office is.)

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Socialist America!

OK, I stole this from Darin May off of Facebook, but this is awesome:

socialism.jpg

I know the majority of Americans, even bleeding heart liberals such as myself, are vehemently opposed to a state run healthcare plan in the US. At least that’s what I’ve been reading in the news. Living in Denmark, I feel sorry for the lot of you. We have socialized medicine here, and it’s pretty freakin’ nice. The quality is above the average in the US for sure. Instead of a complex insurance system, paycheck deductions for private employer-organized policies, and all kinds of weird payment rules that are different for each clinic and insurance plan, we have one simple system: everyone gets health care, paid for by taxes. It’s substantially more cost effective. Preventative medicine and caregiving is the norm, instead of expensive emergency procedures when it’s way too late. Oh, any my wife’s maternity leave? 10 months. Which I can share with her as well.

Plus it seems like I’m hearing more and more in the news that Americans are getting tired of Obama. What is wrong with you people? You (we/I) barely survived 8 years of Bush (the worst president the US has ever had), and now you’re complaining about America’s best hope for the future? Get a grip folks! Enjoy it while it lasts, because if you keep moaning and groaning, Palin’s up next.

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