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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen

The Psychology of George W. Bush

I have to thank Markus for this truly enlightening look at the psychology of George W. Bush. And as interesting as the article is, one of the most interesting things in there had nothing to do with psychology, but instead was a survery statistic about the religious Right: is certain that however much Bush may sometimes seem like a buffoon, he is also powered by massive, suppressed anger towards anyone who challenges the extreme, fanatical beliefs shared by him and a significant slice of his citizens - in surveys, half of them also agree with the statement "the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word".
Half? I have been working under the assumption that somehow a small but vocal faction of the fundamentalist Christian movement was behind this disturbing trend of anti-intellectualism, but this reveals a much deeper trend. To agree with a statement that avers the literal truth of the Bible, you have to be swimming neck-deep in the sacramental Kool-Aid. God help us all.



Just because it's a great resource and I didn't know about it (but, as we all know, I am typically a little behind in these things), you should check out Hopstop for subway, bus and walking directions anywhere in the 5 boroughs. Its directions, like MapQuest etc., are often suspect, but it'll steer you in the right direction.

Our Final Dose of Star Wars Mania

Despite Jar-Jar Binks and comparisons to Titanic, I can't help but feel a twinge of sadness that we may have truly seen the last of Star Wars. And it's not so much the movies themselves, but the cultural phenomenon that I will miss. Star Wars Mania -- the mind-clouding effect that a cult film has on its hapless, misled fans -- is rampant once again, but sadly this may be the last chance we have to laugh at the victims.

Star Wars Mania takes many forms, but follows the general pattern of causing irrational behavior when dealing with anything related to the series. Most of the time, this is completely harmless, causing eccentric but amusing behavior, such as creating an entire fan site dedicated entirely to a Jedi who appeared on-screen in Episode I for a few seconds.

But not every victim is so lucky. For example, consider the unadulterated geek hate for Jar-Jar, inspiring lists such as 590 ways Jar-Jar should die? Does a fictional character really deserve this kind of malice? No, of course not, but it is the peculiar effect of Star Wars Mania that causes such prodigious amounts of time and energy to be expended in hating him.

Still a victimless crime, you say? What about the poor Star Wars Kid, whose self-indulgent light saber fantasies led to a hundred remixes of his video? This kid's life has been single-handedly sabotaged by Star Wars Mania. It is a disease that does not discriminate based on race, color, or creed, but only strikes the socially-disenfranchised. And what about that seductive trap of in-depth and penetrating analysis of How Lightsabers Work? That's like crack to the weak-willed fanboy.

And reported just today by the BBC, a young couple from the UK landed in the hospital in critical condition after attempting to recreate a lightsaber duel using glass tubes and lighter fluid. Lighter fluid?! Let's hope that Lucas doesn't decide that he needs more money in a few years. Star Wars Mania claims countless geek lives every film and it must be stopped.

The Big Fat Greek Wedding

I returned this past week from Athens, Greece, where I attended my old colleague's wedding. I went with a friend of mine who worked with us at the old bank where I used to work, and another friend of ours met us there with her husband. Since coming back from Southeast Asia in December, I've had a growing interest in ruins and how to photograph them. I love the way that the broken architecture looks against the mountains or the sky (the links open in their own window). So, I wanted to make sure to take pictures of the temples and classic Greek sculpture.

I arrived on Thursday morning, and immediately the carousing began, and I got a huge blister walking around Athens wearing my beat-up sandals for the first time since last Summer. We ate at a place called God's Restaurant, in the Plaka, the old area of the city. Friday, we went to The Acropolis (the Greeks drop the "s" sound at the end), though it took us maybe three hours of walking aimlessly around Syntagma Square to find the way up to the top, where the Parthenon is. Interestingly enough, the Acropolis is open until 6:00 PM, but the Cloak Room (where they made me check my backpack for security reasons) closed at 5:15.

Friday night we went to a bar/club called Exo, overlooking the Acropolis with the moon hanging overhead. We met the myriad of people who had flown in for the wedding, but the highlight of that night was discovering Everest. This place makes sandwiches and assorted fried stuff, Greek style. That night I got a burger baked inside a pastry crust with cheese, ketchup and mustard in it. And after many drinks and a lot of walking around the dead suburb of Glyfada, it tasted goooood.

The following morning we went to Delphi, to see the site of the famous oracle. Delphi was my one must-see destination of the trip, because I wanted to see the site that so much literature had been written about. It was a beautiful site, and the mountains were simply incredible, and I learned something interesting from the tour guide. Apparently, Plutarch had written about the priestess inhaling vapors somewhere in the heart of the temple, and claimed that these vapors induced her visions. Many had doubted these claims since there was nothing of the sort at the current site. However, a team of American scientists visited the Delphi site and took samples of the soil and discovered naturally-ocurring ether deposits, thus proving that there could be some truth to the claim.

That night, we attended the wedding, and I was part of the four-person American contingent at a wedding with people from everywhere: Germany, Cuba, Greece, England, Spain, India. The food was incredible (though we agreed that the spinach pie left a little something to be desired) and (surprise!) liberal drinking ensued. We caught an early-morning ferry to Mykonos and I slept like a baby on the five-hour ferry ride.

Mykonos was utterly beautiful. Unfortunately, the weather was dreary the first day, so we explored the town and ended up in an Internet cafe, where I checked my email while listening to two kids scream back and forth at each other in Greek as they played Counterstrike. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, where I had an 8€ margherita pizza with a 10€ salad. Sitting next to us was a couple from Boulder, Colorado. She was a travel agent, and he was in sales for steel or something like that. That night, we went to the Scandanavian Bar and met Macon ("it's like bacon with an m") and Christine, from California. They were on their honeymoon and planned to drink their way through all of it. We partied until the wee hours, but not before being lectured by the guy for about two drunken hours about how picking up chicks is all about attitude.

The next day was beautiful, so we went to this beach called Paradise, which did not have the white sand that I expected, but instead the sand was quite coarse. So I lay out a while and then who do we see but the couple from Boulder, with the missus bare-breasted. That was an uncomfortable wave hello. That night, my friend was useless, so I wandered Mykonos, ate gyros, and had a two-hour political discussion with the bartender.

Tuesday morning, we checked out and went to go store our bags because we were going to Delos. We would have gone on Monday, but the island is technically a museum – no one is allowed to live there – and museums were closed on Mondays. Apparently, the baggage storage place decided to open late that day, so we missed the early ferry, but eventually we were on our way to the sacred island of Delos, where the god Apollo was said to be born. This palm is said to have grown at the spot where he came into the world, and is supposed to be over 2500 years old. At Delos we met an Australian schoolteacher who trekked up the half-zillion stairs with us to get a view that was spectacular. There were ruins everywhere, including temples to Aphrodite, Apollo, and even Isis, from the time when the Egyptians had occupied the island. That evening, on the way back to Athens, we met a Russian programmer, who had long discussion with two fellow developers about why conventional object-oriented languages often fail to effectively model business processes.

We flew home the next morning, and I had a new owl for my collection. Athens was cosmopolitan but somehow seamy. The islands and ruins were beautiful, and the wedding was one of the best I had ever been to. All-in-all a pretty good vacation.

The Parade of Unfortunate Star Wars Costumes

I have to thank Agent139 for this one. It was so geeky, I had to post it. Here are a couple of funny Star Wars fan costume images.

Greece Photos

Here are my photos from Greece. I will have a full post ready by this weekend.

Creation Science

Speaking as someone who has traditionally defended religion as something human, necessary and good, I felt that I had to speak out on this whole debate that has reemerged in the media of late. Apparently, there's a serious push in some parts of this country to insist that "Creation Science" be taught alongside evolution in public schools.

I want to back up a minute and examine this "Creation Science". According to this camp, creationism is a reasoned, scientific model for explaining the origin of the universe. So I went online to seek out more information on the research being done.

Out friend Google turned up about thirty million hits on the term, and to be fair, I didn't visit them all. But a survey of the top twenty or so started to shed some light on what this alternative theory is all about.

The number one site is The Institute for Creation Research (ICR), and though their masthead quotes Romans 1:20, I dug through their material to find their evidence. To their credit, the ICR endeavors to support the idea of creationism without mentioning any religious dogma or text. According to their Summary of Scientific Evidence for Creation, the creationist model of the universe rests on the notion of the sudden emergence of life and the universe as a whole, and rejects the idea that gradual, natural processes can sufficiently explain the emergence new "kinds":

The scientific model of creation, in summary, includes the scientific evidence for a sudden creation of complex and diversified kinds of life, with systematic gaps persisting between different kinds and with genetic variation occurring within each kind since that time. .... The creation model questions vertical evolution, which is the emergence of complex from simple and change between kinds, but it does not challenge what is often called horizontal evolution or microevolution, which creationists call genetic variation or species or subspecies formation within created kinds.
And what are these "kinds" that form this crucial barrier between "horizontal" and "vertical" evolution? It's not well-defined in the paper. They explain:
Systematic gaps occur between kinds in the fossil record. None of the intermediate fossils that would be expected on the basis of the evolution model have been found between single celled organisms and invertebrates, between invertebrates and vertebrates, between fish and amphibians, between amphibians and reptiles, between reptiles and birds or mammals, or between "lower" mammals and primates. While evolutionists might assume that these intermediate forms existed at one time, none of the hundreds of millions of fossils found so far provide the missing links.
By this explanation, a "kind" roughly corresponds to an entire taxonomic Class of organisms, such as amphibians or birds. Coincidentally, these are exactly sort of large-scale changes that would be impossible to prove through examination of our spotty fossil record. Let's not forget just how rare fossils are. Taphonomy is an extraordinarily random and selective process:
...only a few [species], living in favoured environments and possessing hard parts, will have any likelihood of being preserved (a large number of known phyla have no members which possess hard parts, and most phyla have members which possess no hard parts). On top of this, the vast majority of fossils have not been discovered since they have either eroded away previously or remain buried and out of reach. So the fossil record is not a comprehensive record of all life that has existed on Earth.
Simply pointing out that there are gaps in the fossil record seems like better proof for taphonomic bias than creation.

This same process of negative reasoning applies to the emergence of life in general. Citing a lack of fossilized evidence, the paper points out that life suddenly appears in all its complexity, and reasons that by the Second Law of Thermodynamics, order will not prevail over entropy without energy being added to the system. It is unclear in their argument why the primordial energies of the Big Bang, coalesced into stars like our sun, should be insufficient to provide the energy for this change.

Finally, the ICR paper further clarifies their model by stating that "mutation and natural selection are insufficient to have brought about any emergence of present living kinds from a simple primordial organism". While they correctly identify mutation as being unlikely to produce useful changes, they forget embryonic variation, which is the most important factor in the process of change. True, Downs Syndrome is not a useful adaptation. Being taller or faster is.

It goes on to say that the concept of natural selection is tautological because it states that the fittest specimens reproduce more successfully and defines those specimens as fittest as those that produce more offspring. This is, of course, a gross misrepresentation of Darwin's theory. The "fittest" organisms are those that are best suited to their environment, based on their success in competitive arenas of biological interaction, such as reproduction and feeding. Like the principal of causality, the principal of natural selection is so simple it seems obvious, but we can still draw conclusions based on the principal by examining its particulars. It's tautological to say that an effect is that which has been caused, because a cause is that which has an effect. But it is the foundation of most fields of logical inquiry that all phenomena arise from other phenomena. Likewise, inherited traits that promote survival are more likely to be passed on, but that doesn't change the fact that this pattern will promote the continual change and improvement of species into ever more survivable forms.

But beyond the scope of this well-written but logically flawed paper, there is an underlying assumption that if evolution is incorrect then creation is somehow the only viable alternative.

A major goal of creation science is to point out the weakness of evolutionary theory, because basically there are only two alternatives for how we got here, and if naturalistic processes are incapable of the task, then special creation must be the correct answer. ....[M]uch scientific energy has been wasted over the last century in the search for evolutionary evidences and experimental proofs, which have been unsuccessful so far and will continue to be. How much further might we be in some areas of scientific understanding if a model of special creation had been the working hypothesis?
What do Creation Scientists Believe?
And it's this unspoken assumption that ultimately destroys their argument. Creationist literature that does not resort to reference to religious concepts ends up defining itself as not-evolution. Nothing in their argument positively asserts any sort of scientifically-based alternative at all.

Zombie Parasite

Markus gets props for putting up a link to an article on a subject we don't hear enough about: reanimating dead flesh. But alas, the tale of Cambodian zombies is a hoax.

...this parasite is able to restart the heart of its victim for up to two hours after the initial demise of the person where the individual behaves in extremely violent ways from what is believed to be a combination of brain damage and a chemical released into blood during "resurrection."
Hoax BBC News Site
I figured I'd pitch in and do my part for disinformation.

The PC that did the Kessel Run in less than 12 Parsecs

Get a load of this: a running PC made from the Millenium Falcon. There's one motivated geek. Of course, you and I know that the whole Kessel Run thing doesn't make sense because, after all, the parsec is a unit of distance (3.08568025 × 1016m), not time. I'm sure George "It's-Titanic-in-space" Lucas would have us believe that this is just a case of Han shooting off his mouth without knowing what he's talking about, but just like this guy, I'm not buying into some retcon.

Jenna's Bush?

Now, ultimately I have to credit Patsy for this one, but sharing is what blogs are for, and how could I not share this? These are supposed shots of Jenna Bush getting changed on the beach and number five shows the gold. I'm going to have to agree with the majority of the other commentators and agree it's not our esteemed president's daughter, based simply on the fact that I think she's the kind of girl who wouldn't be wild and woolly. With a prig like him for a father, you know she's a little slut, and as we all know, sluts go Brazilian.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was a lot of fun, but I have to confess I've been a bad geek and have never read the book. Although, I did hear some of the original BBC broadcast of both Hitchhiker's and the entirety of some audio presentation of Restaurant at the End of the Universe. So I can give a half-assed geek-purist review.

What's great about the movie is the presentation of all the hilarious little side-note entries from the Guide itself, such as the babelfish and Vogon poetry. What's not that great was the weird interpretation of Zaphod's two heads, Marvin's Playskool-looking design and some pretty darn mediocre acting. It's a funny movie overall and I laughed, but I wouldn't say run out and see it.

BSR (Base Show Rating): 6/10
Applicable Modifiers:
  • +1 if you like Jim Henson's work. The Vogons looked cool.
  • -1 if you want something very faithful to the books (from what I understand, it was changed quite a bit


Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall is a German film about the last days of Hitler's Third Reich. I saw it at the Film Forum in the Village and walked out fairly speechless. I highly recommend the film to anyone at all, but it is a war movie, and to call it dark is an understatement. Bruno Ganz's portrayal of Hitler is almost utterly convincing, and he takes you through the mad Führer's descent into despair as he stubbornly refuses to leave his Berlin bunker. Ganz studied Parkinson's patients in a Swiss hospital to prepare for the role and studied with an actor who was young in Hitler's era to perfect his accent (source), and on the screen, his is both a small, unassuming German man, and a monster of epic proportions.

The story is told through the eyes of Hitler's secretary, Traudl Junge, who they interviewed for the movie and a clip of this interview is tacked on to the end of the movie. In the clip, she explains that she did not know what sorts of atrocities were being committed in the name of her country, deepens the sense of realism and blindness of this story. Junge, played with a mix of innocence and ignorance by Alexandra Maria Lara, was hired two years before the actual fall of Berlin, and she is awestruck of Hitler, and seeks somehow to stand by him as the Russians storm the walls. In an act of kindness, Hitler gives her the choice to share his fate with him.

The Nazi ideology was everywhere, and it is this that makes the whole movie surreal, as what you see seems to undermine reason. The performance of the mouthpiece of Nazi dogma was chilling. This is a movie about the madness of war, told by Germans about relatively recent events in their own country, and it's easy to understand why it was controversial in its native country.

The body count is very high, and the violence is desperate, human, and realistic. There are so many characters, most of them manic in their own ways, all of them watching their world crashing down around them. Outside the bunker, a doctor desperately tries to keep the people of Berlin from starving, and the children fight their own ideological war against reality in the rubble of the city. Inside, Eva Braun, played by Juliane Köhler, is content to party her last days away as the Führer accuses his generals of conspiring against him. It's a mesmerizing two and a half hours of desperation.

I tried hard to come up with some bad stuff in the movie, and didn't come up with much of anything, except to say that for my caffeine-addled mind, the pacing was a bit slow for me towards the end. It's a foreign film, and they all tend to move just a step slower than your standard American fare, so I'll just chalk that up to triple Venti caramel no-foam lattes.

BSR (Base Show Rating): 10/10
Applicable Modifiers
  • -3 if you are sensitive to macabre imagery, such as group suicide, body burnings, and psychotic behavior.

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.