Sunday, April 30, 2006

Coin fight!

My wife and I were parking the car today, and doing the usual digging for change. My wife had some dimes, I had some quarters. I knew my quarters could beat her dimes in a fight, and I told her so. This was an intuition, but of course it is backed up by the fact that quarters are both bigger and more valuable than dimes. So unless the dimes vastly outnumbered the quarters, they'd get their butts kicked if they somehow fought each other.

Of course, dime vs. quarter is not really an interesting fight, because it's so lopsided. So I got to thinking what sort of coin fights would be interesting. The first one that lept out at me was dime vs. nickel. I think they're pretty evenly matched: the nickel has a hefty size advantage, but the dime is worth twice as much. I thought about dime vs. penny, but pennies are pathetic wusses that no one wants. During my recent move, I treated pennies like dust bunnies or paper scraps left over from torn spiral bindings, i.e. as the worthless trash that they are. I recently read in the New York Times that it costs the U.S. mint 1.4 cents to make each penny. That just shows how lame they are. Its marginal size advantage against the dime in no way makes up for the repulsive insignificance that is at the heart of its very nature.

Unfortunately, I don't think there are too many more good one-on-one coin fights unless you go to some of the lesser used coins. Susan B. Anthony dollar vs. the Sacajawea dollar would be interesting. It would be a "chick fight", since both coins prominently feature women. But I'm not sure how much of the femaleness of the image would influence the coin's behavior in coin-on-coin combat. I think the Sacajawea dollar would win, unless the SBA dollar could trick its opponent into thinking it was a quarter. I doubt this fight would happen though, because the only place I encounter these coins is when getting change from a vending machine in the post office. And despite the myths about "going postal", etc., the post office is usually a pretty sedate place. It would be nice to have some entertainment while waiting to pick up a package though.

The Kennedy half dollar would be a good opponent for either of the dollar coins, creating a dynamic similar to dime vs. nickel. No doubt someone who knew more about coins than me could come up with some great matchups, especially when foreign coins (which often can have higher values than US coins) are considered.

But then, the whole topic now strikes me as rather pointless, since coins can't actually fight each other.

Monday, April 24, 2006

If you want to feel contempt for puritans...

...then read this article. It about southern states that have banned the sale of sex toys. Really. In the United States. In 2006. Some sadly humorous scenarios that could result are spun out here. It's this sort of thing that makes me think that apart from ending slavery, winning the Civil War was a big waste life and limb. I feel the culture gap in this country is a gaping abyss, and I don't see how it can be bridged.

Some, such as Andrew Sullivan here, have proposed a more robust federalism as a solution. Traditionally, federalist and states rights arguments have been used by reactionary conservative forces to inveigh against federal civil rights laws. But when Congress and the White House are controlled by corrupt Republicans beholden to Christianist Theocons, while many state governorships and legislatures are trending Democratic, states rights ends up having a nice liberal ring to it.

Let the puritans legislate themselves into a Taliban-like society of repression and morality police. And then let people vote with their feet. But then, what about all the people who can't move away, or who have a true connection to their homeland in the Bible Belt and don't want to be exiled? Isn't the right to buy a sex toy free from government interference at the very core of what it is to be an American, no matter where they reside? Or am I just wrapped in a ridiculously delusional, sex-positive, Berkeley-hippie-leftist-bubble world? Maybe lots of Americans want hypocricy and denial when it comes to sex. Who am I to deny them their pathology?

How far can the cultural left and right drift apart before our nation's polity is torn to shreds? How far can states drift apart and still feel part of the same country? Do rural Kansas and urban Massachusetts belong in the same country?

Probably they do. Consumerism, sports, language, television, etc. probably unite us more than morality and religion divide us. Maybe what unites us is shallow, but I'll take shallowness over open strife any day.
Impeach Bush!

Enough sex and religion! It's time for politics. Congress won't do a darn thing about the current administration, because it's controlled by Republicans. But apparently, state legislatures can initiate the impeachment process, and Illinois and California legislatures have begun the process of doing so. Here's a site dedicated to making it happen. I urge all 3 readers of this blog to take action!

When's the best time to kick some one? When they're down. And bush is down. Even FOX news polls say so. It's about time. Finally, those of us disgusted with the actions of this administration don't have to feel alienated from the rest of our fellow citizens. It's taken a long time. Too long. But you can't fool all the people all the time.

For those of you who are interested in this issue, Dan Savage (of Savage Love fame) has a site: ITMFA.com that pursues the same objective from a different angle.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

First there was the Purity Test (and its many variations), now there's a Purity Ball

But while the purity test was taken by college sophomores competing to see how sexually "impure" they'd managed to become (answer for me during most of college: not nearly enough), those attending a purity ball seem to have a different agenda altogether. Googling the subject brings up this and this and this and this.

I don't have anything original to add that hasn't been said by this diarist on Daily Kos or by Digby here. But the whole phenomenon strikes me as very Freudian, puritanical, and creepy. Not to mention that it invokes the commodization of virginity and the propagation of harmful double standards. Where's the ball where boys pledge to be pure? But maybe that's not so important to them.

I just don't think human sexuality works the way puritans think it does. I think they have a pathological model of sexuality: it's like alcoholism. It's something to be cured by public declarations of rectitude, societal condemnation, and internal moral will. I think sexuality is more like hunger: it must be satisfied somehow, and the goal of society should be to help individuals find the safest, healthiest, sanest, and yummiest way of satisfying it.

I'd be more convinced by these kind of abstinence pledges if the girls received a vibrator and a collection of erotica when they made their pledge. Because then I'd know that at least the abstience freaks had some viable plan for what to do with a girl's sexuality between puberty and matrimony. Right now, it seems like they just hope their sexuality will go away (or get displaced in a very creepy way). If sexual desire is some kind of pathology, maybe that's a healthy wish. If it's an intrinsic part of human nature, it's a recipe for weirdness, STDs, and unplanned pregnancies.

I'd give a sizeable fraction of my Dungeons & Dragons miniatures collection to get some good data on how many of these virginity pledgers end up keeping their promises. (Well, come to think of it, I probably wouldn't.) It'd be fun to talk to both those who managed to keep their pledges and those who didn't about their experiences. Apparently, there's some data on this, but interpretations of it conflict and of course are colored by the moral agenda of the people involved. I admit I'd have a hard time accepting data that completely undermined my views on this subject, but I hope my realism would triumph over my socio-political agenda.

Just for the record, I'm highly suspicious of those who have never been sexual with someone before marriage. I think one of the following must be the case:

1. They are lying.
2. They got married way too young.

But then again, I've talked to nice folks who've gone the abstinence route, and they seem to be OK. But I bet they didn't abstain from everything.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Am I more famous than I think?

Often, actors are thought of as having enormously inflated notions of their share of the public mindspace. And someone of my insufferable arrogance might be expected to follow in this noble tradition of thespians afflicted with delusions of grandeur. But could it be that I am actually more famous than I think I am, rather than less?

I was surfing the net, engaged in a typically vain activity: searching for reviews of a History Channel documentary I narrated. It's part of their highly-touted "10 Days that Unexpectedly Changed America" series. (The Episode is "Gold Rush".) The seventh result of my Google Search was this. His review of the episode was luekwarm, but what struck me was the following quote:

Narrated by voice-actor Zachary Drake (you'll recognize his voice from numerous documentaries and commercials), this installment of "10 Days" comes off as nothing very special.
This lept out at me immediately and of course my ego began to inflate. I had thought of myself as something of a fledgeling voiceover artist. But it turns out that the author of this review (one Raul Burriel by name) is convinced that his readers would recognize my voice! Maybe I am famous ALREADY, and just don't realize it yet! Maybe everyone has heard my deeply moving performance in the role of Bodrus, a shopkeeper encountered about 6 hours into the 2002 computer game Dungeon Siege. Or maybe everyone tuned in to hear my radio commercial for Ford, even though it only aired in the Bay Area during baseball games. Or maybe an industrial for Borland Software touting their Integrated Development Environment was my breakout performance. Or that indie film I was in that hasn't even been finished yet (and the only relevant Google hits you get when you search for it are my own resume and that of one of the other actors.)

At any rate, if I have in fact done "numerous documentaries and commercials", I demand that the producers of said pieces immediately 1: Give me my money; 2: Inform me which documentaries and commercials I was in, so that I might add them to my resume; and 3: Send me copies of these works posthaste so that I might admire my undoubtedly sublime performances.

Upon further reflection, what I suspect happened is that the dilligent Raul Burriel, who wished to comment a bit on each of the narrators (others include Martin Sheen and Campbell Scott), Googled me, found my voiceover page (it's the first thing that comes up if you Google "Zachary Drake"), listened to my demos, and naively assumed that the commercial and narration segments presented therein were from real work I had done. Poor fool. He doesn't know how voiceover demos are produced. If you don't have enough REAL work, you pay your demo producer to FAKE IT. And when I made that demo, I had done NOTHING. Nada. Zip. How do you think I got my first work? By making that demo to prove I could do it! Here's how it works: You use real scripts, but you overdub phoney music and sound effects to make it sound like a real commercial or narration. It costs a lot of money. It takes a lot of time. But if it fooled one reveiwer into thinking my voice is a household sound, it was worth it! To say nothing of the modest amount of work it actually has generated for me, including probably the very History Channel documentary about which Mr. Burriel was so pointedly unenthusiastic.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

South Park does "The Aristocrats" joke
If you are looking for something horrendously vulgar, obscene, and funny, look no further. This is an excerpt from the movie The Aristocrats, which is a documentary about not-very-funny joke that comics tell each other as a test of skill and personalization. I think Trey Parker and Matt Stone did the best with Cartman telling the joke to his friends. One of the most absurdly obscene and funny tellings of the joke in the film.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Andrew Sullivan has a nice quote of the day from H. L. Mencken:

We must respect the other fellow's religion,but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The old {Dungeons & Dragons = Satanism} meme: still around?

This thread over on maxminis contains some very sad stories about children being prohibited by church groups and parents from playing my favorite game. It also becomes a discussion about the truth of the Bible and the validity of Christianty. My post doesn't come until page 6 (and quoted below for your convenience):


This thread has been absolutely fascinating to me.

Regarding the whole D&D=Satanism meme that flourished in the early 80's:

I'm surprised and saddened by many of the stories related here. I didn’t know the fear and hatred of our hobby was so strong in certain subcultures. I'm hopeful, however, that we'll be hearing fewer of these kinds of stories in the future. Back in the late 70's and early 80's, fantasy culture and geek culture in general were not as mainstream as they are now. I don't think there was "geek chic" in 1981, and now there is. I think Bill Gates (whatever you think of his business practices) showed that a geek can be a spectacular success. Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings movies brought huge exposure to the whole “sword and sorcery” genre. And the video and computer game industries have grown enormous and ubiquitous. So I hope that geeky, fantasy-related stuff won’t be so scary to the people who found it so alien and frightening before

Heck, Dungeons & Dragons can seem downright QUANT compared to Diablo (talk about Satanic imagery!), Grand Theft Auto III, hip-hop lyrics, and Internet Porn. So I would hope that negative religious reaction to Dungeons & Dragons would be on the wane. But I have never really encountered such reactions face to face, so I don’t know for sure which direction they are heading.

My worry about D&D is not that it will be condemned by puritanical zealots, but that people's attention spans will shorten to the point where they won't be willing to invest the time and creativity into it.

Regarding the question as to whether Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship the same God: My understanding is that most scholars within the three traditions believe that all three faiths worship the same "God of Abraham". Indeed, to an atheistic Unitarian Universalist like me, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity appear remarkably similar: all three proclaim the existence of an almighty God, all claim that this God should be worshipped, all claim that this God has revealed important things through prophets and that these revelations have been collected in sacred texts, etc.

I am frightened by the poster who stated that Ghandi is in Hell while Dalhmer is in Heaven. I understand that within a certain interpretation of Christianity this is a logical consequence of how the universe works. It’s like gravity: you may not like it, but that's the way it is.

But my sense of fairness and morality balks at the injustice of such an arrangement. But then I calm down, because I remember that (in my worldview) there is no God, no Heaven, no Hell, and no immortal soul. But just as one can get inspired or exasperated with a character in a fictional story, I can get inspired or exasperated by moral cosmologies and Bible stories, even ones I don’t think are accurate depictions of reality.

And I find the moral cosmology in which Ghandi is in Hell and Dahlmer in Heaven pretty horrendous from a moral standpoint. Why would God set up the universe in such a perverse way? If a human were to reward a person who did awful things and punish a person who did virtuous things, we would condemn that person as unjust. Should we not condemn God for acting in such a way, or at least, like Job, vent our outrage? This difficulty (called by philosophers the problem of Theodicy-justifying God’s ways to humanity) has never been solved to my satisfaction.

Of course, this isn’t a huge problem for an atheist like me.

Congrats to everyone on keeping things civil. Geeks of all religious stripes should support each other!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nostril Salsa

I was in Picante today. My wife was getting our table ready, and she obtained two bottles of salsa sauce: one red and one green. These were transparent grey plastic bottles with a squirt top of the kind often used for ketchup and mustard. The squirt tops had been trimmed to enlarge the hole at the end of the nozzle in order to accommodate the chunkier consistency of the salsa.

My first thought on seeing these two bottles was that I should sieze them and shove the nozzles up my nose as far as possible and squeeze on them as hard as I could. The nozzles seemed to be the exact right size to shove up my nose, and they seemed to call out to be shoved up my nose. This is not the first time I've thought of shoving one of those bottles up my nose, but it is the first time I thought of doing so with two bottles simultaneously.

But a difficult choice immediately presented itself to me: Which bottle should go up which nostril? Should the red salsa bottle go in the left nostril, and the green go in the right, or vice versa? It seemed terribly important that I get this right, or the entire endeavor would be pointless and accomplish nothing. Immediately, a solution presented itself to me: I should follow the nautical convention that the port-side light on a boat is red, and the starboard-side is green. Thus, the red salsa should be forcibly injected up my left nostril, and the green salsa up my right.

I experienced a great deal of satisfaction upon arriving at this conclusion, and was absolutely convinced of its correctness. I was then able to consume my three soft-shell steak tacos with guacamole and accompanying black beans with complete serentity and composure, without being plagued with irrational urges concerning the condiments and my nasal passages.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

THOU SHALT NOT BE A TRAFFIC OBSTRUCTION

This is the first and only commandment of modern life. All considerations of morality are subordinate to it. Here are some examples:
  1. If you stall on a busy bridge (like I-80 Bay Bridge or the 520 bridge across Lake Washington) during rush hour, the ill-will and loss of productivity poured into the universe by the traffic jam that you thereby create is probably a lot worse for society than if you had just stolen a car or committed some fraud.
  2. People who block the aisle in airplanes when de-boarding because they're fiddling with their stuff or can't get it down from the overhead bin. Can you not feel the laser beams of ill-will boring into the skulls of such violators?!?!?
  3. If there is a long line of people behind you, it is inconsiderate to make non-standard requests from the clerk at the window. It's a bureaucracy, for cryin' out loud! Don't try to interact with the person as if they're an autonomous being capable of solving your problem. They're a funtion in a computer program, and it's unfair to treat them as anything else. Especially if the person doesn't speak your language. It's unfair to them because THEY CAN'T HELP YOU and it's unfair to us because you are WASTING OUR TIME which basically the equivalent of murder under the new moral code which I am outlining.
  4. I don't know if this is true or not, but I've heard that in Japan there are public service announcements specifically discouraging people from committing suicide by throwing themselves under Tokyo subway trains, becaue this causes the whole delicately timed system to shut down, inconveniencing an entire metropolis.
  5. Osama Bin-Laden not only killed thousands of Americans with his attacks, he managed to inconvenience tens of millions of us who travel on planes. Every time I have to take off my shoes at airport security I send a little bit of ill-will his way.

"Time is money" doesn't even come CLOSE. "Time is morality" is the ethos! If time is money, you should be able to compensate me for wasting my time by paying me. But I will not accept that, because time is not a renewable resource, at least until Ray Kurzweil's dream of immortality comes to fruition.