Archive for May, 2007

Introducing Pug

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

Several years ago, before the realities of apartment-hunting with multiple pets set in, Becky promised to buy me a pug as a graduation present when I finished law school. But alas, given that we were barely able to find a place in Knoxville that would allow us to have three cats and a dog, and given that we may well be moving again in the next year or two, getting a second dog seemed exceedingly unwise at the moment. So yesterday, we found an alternative solution: we bought a goldfish and named it “Pug.”

So, there he is, ladies and gentlemen: my Pug. :) You can see a wider view, showing Pug’s tank, here.

Harry Potter and the Five-Dollar Sodas

Thursday, May 31st, 2007

A Harry Potter Theme Park! Woohoo!! (Hat tip: JG)

13 weeks, 9 states, 14 games

Thursday, May 31st, 2007’s Steve Megargee suggests the ultimate college-football road trip for the 2007 season.

UPDATE: Just for fun, I decided to go through the 2007 schedule and come up with the ultimate Brendan Loy college-football road trip. My criteria were a bit different than Megargee’s, however. My first rule is that I can’t go to the same stadium twice, so that inevitably juggles a lot of my choices. (For example, I picked UCLA @ Stanford over Tennessee @ Cal on September 1 because the latter would mean I can’t go to USC @ Cal on November 10.) I also tried to cram in as many games as possible — so, for example, if there are any Thursday games, I include them in addition to the regular Saturday game, and if reasonable driving distance allowed, I scheduled games on consecutive days. I even threw in a few possible same-day doubleheaders. The end result? At least 37 games, possibly as many as 40. At least 55 different teams, possibly as many as 59. At least one game on every day of the week, at some point during the season, except Monday. And five USC games, in five different stadiums! If only this weren’t purely hypothetical! :) Full schedule after the jump.


Fancy Parmesan cheese ideas?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

I designed my kitchen in Knoxville so that I’m maximizing my counter space to facilitate my goal of cooking at home more. I bought a block of reggiano parmesan cheese to use in a recipe this week and discovered that a) I don’t need that much for my recipe and b) I better figure out how to use this $10 wedge of cheese. So, does anyone have some fantastically delicious recipes that call for fancy parmesan cheese?

CNN Breaking News

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

A U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashes in Afghanistan, killing seven people, NATO officials tell CNN, adding a rescue team was ambushed.

Visit CNN for the latest.

“Oral favor” from porn star lands Tennessee cop in unemployment line

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

It seems I’ve arrived in Knoxville just in time to catch up on a local sex scandal. On May 7, Tennessee Highway Patrol trooper James Moss pulled over a motorist for speeding. Turns out the motorist was one Justis Richert, trade name Barbie Cummings — a local porn star. She had been speeding, and was in possession of a small amount of narcotics (though apparently not under the influence of said narcotics). When Officer Moss explained that she could face a probation that would bar her from leaving the state, she broke down crying and explained that this would interfere with her career, which requires her to fly to L.A. frequently to make “dirty movies.” This intrigued Officer Moss, who promptly logged onto her website from the computer in his patrol car. From there, one thing led to another, with the end result being an exchange of, ahem, favors: Officer Moss dumped out the drugs and didn’t charge Miss Richert with possession (though he still gave her a speeding ticket), and Miss Richert… well… you can probably guess what her “favor” entailed. She explains in this SFW video, an interview with the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

In an earlier age, such a story probably would have ended there, and the public never would have heard about it. But this is the age of blogs, and of course Miss Richert, a.k.a. Cummings, has one. So naturally, she told the world about the incident in a very definitely NSFW blog post. (Link goes to cached version because the post is no longer available on her site… and again, I emphasize, link is NSFW!! It even contains pictures, taken by Officer Moss… the idiot.)

Actually, on second thought, maybe this story would have broken even in the pre-Internet age, because it wasn’t the blog post that ultimately gave Officer Moss away (though it surely did help captivate the media’s attention) — it was his own stupidity that did him in. He apparently bragged to some of his fellow cops about the incident, and naturally, somebody said something. Now he’s unemployed, the highway patrol is humiliated, the local media is titillated, and Barbie Cummings is basking in the increased traffic to her website. Ah, the power of the blowjob.

UPDATE: Here’s another extremely NSFW blog post in which Miss Richert again tells the “whole story” of the incident (again, with explicit pictures).

And, as long as I’m posting NSFW links, here’s the very much NSFW perspective of a friend of Miss Richert’s in the porn industry (with still more explicit photos). It’s from a blog called “I Shoot Porn.”

Fred Thompson to enter race on July 4?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Tennessee’s own Fred Thompson is apparently revving up the campaign engines for a presidential bid.

Is Heaven at the Planck length?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

At LAX yesterday, I picked up several magazines, as I am wont to do when I have a long flight (or train ride, or bus ride) ahead of me. Among my purchases was the June issue of Discover, which featured a variety of articles revolving around the broad theme of “invisible” pheneomena here on Earth: life at the bottom of the oceans, tiny particles in the air, the electromagnetic spectrum, and so forth. The articles were all fascinating, but possibly the most compelling was Jane Bosveld’s “Soul Search: Can science ever decipher the secrets of the human soul?” The article isn’t available on Discover‘s website, but somebody posted it here. It’s well worth reading in its entirety (and it’s not that long), but here’s an excerpt:

At the University of Virginia Health System’s Division of Perceptual Studies, or DOPS, scientists are studying an array of anomalous phenomena, including near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and memories of past lives. Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist at UVHS and director of DOPS, is a pioneer in the study of near-death experiences. First described in ancient times, near-death experiences, or NDEs, happen when patients are critical or when their hearts have briefly stopped. Typically, they describe seeing visions of a bright light and feeling themselves carried down a tunnel toward it. Along the way deceased relatives or spiritual figures may appear offering comfort. It is by almost all reports a transformative experience.

Greyson, a soft-spoken man who has studied NDEs for 30 years, explains that although he does not necessarily believe in the existence of the soul, that possibility inspires his curiosity. “I believe that our current understanding of humans is woefully inadequate,” he says. “I think the spiritual traditions that we have are good starting points for researchers to look at what might be going on. I accept them as starting points for developing hypotheses that we can test, but I’m not happy with the answers we have now, either from science or from religion.”

Greyson reports that 10 percent of the people who go into cardiac arrest have an NDE and report knowing details of activities that occurred while they were unconscious. Frequently, individuals tell of watching from above the operating table as doctors and nurses work on their bodies. From a scientific standpoint, the most significant aspect of many NDEs is that the individual’s brain should not have been functioning at the time of the event. “We have a lot of well-documented cases where we have EEG and other evidence that the brain is not functioning, and yet people will say, ‘I was thinking clearer than I ever have before,’” Greyson says.

Dutch cardiologist and near-death researcher Pim van Lommel notes that, at the moment of an NDE, “these people are not only conscious, their consciousness is even more expansive than ever. They can think extremely clearly, have memories going back to their earliest childhood, and experience an intense connection with everything and everyone around them. And yet their brain shows no activity at all.”

If consciousness is the product of brain activity, near-death experiences should not happen. At the very least, the contrary evidence suggests that the standard understanding of consciousness is incomplete. Peter Fenwick, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College London, wrote in a paper, “The brain-identity theory says that consciousness ends with brain death. But if it can be shown that people can acquire information when they are unconscious and out of their body, it would be indisputable evidence that consciousness is separate from the brain.”

I’ve never thought about near-death experiences in this light before, but I find Fenwick’s logic pretty much unassailable. Perhaps I’m missing something, but it seems to me that there are but two possible conclusions here: either NDEs are a mass delusion, or they are proof of the existence of the soul (or “consciousness separate from the brain,” which sounds to me like a soul by any other name). Given the huge number of people who have reported having NDEs, I find the first explanation relatively implausible, and thus lean toward the second.

If consciousness is (or can be) separate from brain activity, any explanation of its precise nature is necessarily speculative. But I found the following bit of quantum-physics mumbo jumbo (from the same article) utterly fascinating, even though I can’t pretend I entirely understand it:

Perhaps the most surprising scientific evidence for the soul comes from quantum mechanics – specifically, from investigations of the subatomic phenomena that produce consciousness. Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist who has spent many years studying brain functions, has collaborated with renowned Oxford University polymath Roger Penrose on a model that explains consciousness as the result of quantum processes occurring in tiny structures called microtubules in brain cells. “I think consciousness under normal circumstances occurs at the level of space-time geometry in the brain, in the microtubules,” Hameroff says. “But the fluctuations extend down to the Planck scale [far smaller than an atom] because the microtubules are driven bioenergetically to be in a coherent state. When the blood supply and the oxygen stops, things go bad and the coherence stops, but quantum information at the Plank scale isn’t lost. It may dissipate into the universe but remain somehow entangled in some kind of functional unit, maybe indefinitely. If the patient is revived, the information gets picked back up again.”

Although Hameroff does not talk overtly about the soul, he invokes a similar idea – consciousness that exists separate from the body. The Planck scale is the unimaginably small distance at which current theories of gravity and quantum physics break down. Events at the Planck scale, according to some theorists, may fundamentally establish the nature of reality. For Hameroff and Penrose, the idea goes even further, into the mystery of consciousness itself. …

[This theory] raises the question: Where did the Planck-scale processes that cause it come from? Penrose’s answer: They came from the Big Bang. In this view, consciousness – all consciousness – was created at the same moment when the universe was created. If the soul exists, it, too, might be anchored to our moment of cosmic origin. This is what Italian astrophysicist Paola Zizzi terms the “Big Wow,” shorthand for her description of the connection between “the very early quantum computing universe and our mind.”

Penrose’s ideas hint at a physical mechanism for consciousness that persists after death. “If a patient isn’t revived,” Hameroff says, “it enters the universe at large, and maybe it gets picked back up again by someone someday, who knows?”

The notion of consciousness, a.k.a. the soul, as a Planck-scale structure, a creature of the ultra-small world that supposedly underlies and determines the very structure of the universe, raises all sorts of compelling questions and issues. What would it mean for reincarnation and the afterlife? What would it tell us about the beginning and end of life? The distinction between human and animal life? Life on other planets? Do all intelligent beings in the universe draw from the same pool of available souls? These and a hundred other questions leap quickly to mind. But things get even more interesting when the notion of Planck-souls is combined with the conception of Planck-time (or lack thereof) discussed in a separate article from the same Discover issue, Tim Folger’s “In No Time: Searching For the Essence of Time Leads to a Confounding Question: Does It Even Exist?” I can’t find that article anywhere on the Internet, but here’s the money quote:

There is a temporal realm called the Planck scale, where even attosceonds [100 quintillionths of a second] drag by like eons. It marks the edge of known physics, a region where distances and intervals are so short that the very concepts of time and space start to break down. Planck time – the smallest unit of time that has any physical meaning – is 10-43 second, less than a trillionth of a trillionth of an attosecond. Beyond that? Tempus incognito. At least for now.

Efforts to understand time below the Planck scale have led to an exceedingly strange juncture in physics. The problem, in brief, is that time may not exist at the most fundamental level of physical reality. If so, then what is time? …

[Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France, says,] “The question is, Is time a fundamental property of reality or just the macroscoping appearance of things? I would say it’s only a macroscopic effect. It’s something that emerges only for big things.”

By “big things,” Rovelli means anything that exists much above the mysterious Planck scale. As of now there is no physical theory that completely describes what the universe is like below the Planck scale. … [T]he thing we experience as time might emerge from a more fundamental, timeless reality. As Rovelli describes it, “Time may be an approximate concept that emerges at large scales – a bit like the concept of ‘surface of the water,’ which makes sense macroscopically but which loses a precise sense at the level of the atoms.”

Again, very interesting (if impenetrably complex) in its own right. But now, think back to the first article. If time doesn’t exist at the Planck scale, and if our souls are creatures of the Planck scale, then wouldn’t that make our souls… eternal? Wouldn’t that mean, in essence, that to describe the nature of reality at the Planck scale might be to describe… Heaven?

I emphasize again that I really don’t understand this stuff, except at a very basic, quantum-physics-for-dummies level. And now I’m venturing into theology-for-dummies, which I know even less about. But still, from the perspective of an interested if ignorant layperson, I find this notion of “Planck-Heaven,” if you will, more and more appealing the more I think about it. The biggest reason I’m enamored is simply this: as I understand it, physicists believe that structures existing at Planck scales cannot be observed — not just because of technological limits, but for fundamental theoretical reasons relating to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and, uh, other suchlike scientific gobbledygook. :) Therefore, if we postulate that the spiritual realm and the Planck realm are one and the same, we can put the spiritual realm into some sort of physical-world context without presuming to “know the mind of God,” in Stephen Hawking’s infamous words.

Of course, just because it’s appealing, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. But theoretical physicists love “elegant” solutions, and frankly, I think this is a pretty elegant idea. It could even lead to a sort of Grand Unification Theory of Theology. Monotheism versus polytheism, anthropomorphic gods versus nature-worship, reincarnation versus a discrete afterlife: these things all seem utterly irreconcilable. But are they really? If our souls, and whatever higher power(s) oversee(s) them, are some kind of Planck-scale structures floating around the universe — in a sort of timeless, eternal cosmic soup that is fundamentally beyond our ability to observe, comprehend or describe — then it would make perfect sense that a wide variety of faith traditions could emerge from that incomprehensible reality, each of them describing a different aspect or interpretation of the reality.

I’ve often puzzled over how to reconcile the vast array of religious beliefs and spiritual experiences that countless people, in countless faith traditions, have had throughout human history. One answer (again) is simply mass delusion, but another, I think better, answer is that different people and cultures are simply describing different aspects of the same thing. Wouldn’t it be awesome if that “thing” is the very same thing that theoretical physicists are also desperately trying to describe? If science and religion are actually two sides of the same coin? And if ultimately, neither is capable of finding the answers they both seek, because those answers are fundamentally beyond the horizon of ascertainable knowledge?

Needless to say, I have no idea whether any of this is correct. But I think it’s high time somebody founded the Church of Planck. :)

UPDATE: Welcome, InstaPundit readers! That’s two consecutive Instalanched posts — that’s gotta be a first since at least Katrina, maybe ever.

Smoke rising from I-40

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

An apparent car fire has stopped traffic dead on the 40 East between Nashville and Knoxville. Looks like it just happened; cops are just arriving. Hope everyone's okay.

UPDATE, 10:02 PM EDT: The accident has set off a sizeable brush fire along the righthand side of the road, and the authorites seem pretty busy fighting the fire(s) at the moment, so I don’t think we’re going anywhere anytime soon.

UPDATE, 10:18 PM: I walked up maybe a mile from where we’re stopped, and took some pictures. Click any image for the full-size verison.

UPDATE, 10:53 PM: We’re moving!

UPDATE, 10:57 PM: The fire was started by a truck hauling maybe 10 cars!! That would explain the size of the fire! Wow… all (or at least nearly all) the cars were toast.

The fire appeared to be out as we drove by.

P.S. As I was walking up toward the scene (I never got closer than maybe a couple hundred yards away — didn’t want to interfere with the police or put myself in danger), I overheard a bystander relaying a second-hand report of “cars exploding.” I dismissed it as unreliable hearsay, a result of the old “playing telephone” problem, which is very common in situations like that… but given that it was a car hauler that apparently started the fire, the report actually makes sense. A fire could easily have set off a chain reaction, causing multiple cars to explode, or at least to rapidly and dramatically go up in flames. It was dark when we drove by, but some of those cars appeared to have very little of ’em left.

P.P.S. Welcome, InstaPundit readers! Shortly after publishing the photos, I link-whored this post to Glenn (figuring, correctly, that Tennessee News + Citizen Journalism = Instalanche), and I also e-mailed various Nashville and Knoxville TV stations, and the Tennessean. A reporter for the latter promptly returned my call and interviewed me by phone about the accident. I don’t know if I said anything interesting enough to make the paper, though.

UPDATE, 11:34 PM: Hey, on second thought, the article is online, and I am indeed quoted:

Smith County Police are responding to a wreck on Interstate 40 east near mile marker 262. The eastbound lanes were closed for over an hour, and emergency workers have just reopened the left lane.

The accident was caused by an 18-wheeler hauling cars that caught fire at about 8 p.m. Brendan Loy was on the way from the Nashville airport to Knoxville with his wife when they were caught in the traffic and sat still for an hour and 40 minutes, he said.

“People didn’t know what was going on and obviously wanted to get some kind of information,” he said. Loy said he couldn’t tell whether anyone was hurt, but that it looked like the majority of the fire was in the cars on the back of the trailer.

“I didn’t really get a real good view of [the] cab, but it didn’t look like that was as charred as those cars were,” he said. Police could not confirm whether there were any injuries.

I didn’t get a photo of the car hauler as we drove by, but I did take video out the window. It was dark, but I’ll post it later if it shows anything worthwhile.

UPDATE, 11:45 PM: Those who aren’t regulars may be wondering how I am blogging all this while in the car. (As I type right now, we’re 65 miles out of Knoxville.) I have a magical Sprint phone that I can use as a modem for my laptop, giving me virtually unlimited, albeit slow, Internet access from just about anywhere for a mere $15 a month. As a result, I routinely surf the Internet from the car while Becky is driving. That’s how I added all the updates to this post. (The original post, with just the camera-phone pic and the brief caption below it, was posted directly from Becky’s phone, without use of my laptop. But then I hooked up the laptop to my “modem” phone and added all the updates, and uploaded the large photos.)

UPDATE, 12:06 AM: The above-linked Tennessean article is now using one of my photos! Also, apparently one of my photos was featured on the 10:00 News on WSMV Channel 4, Nashville’s NBC affiliate.

UPDATE, 12:30 AM: Almost home… finally.

Several small bugs, attracted by the light of my computer screen when we were stopped along the highway with our windows open, have hitched a ride to Knoxville with us. They’re still crawling around the computer screen as I type this. When the doors open, they’ll find themselves very far from home. Heh.

More photos after the jump!


Heroic CT DEP rescues escaped pet anaconda :)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

The rare News story with a Happy ending :} ~

TORRINGTON, Conn. — A 10-foot-long yellow anaconda that escaped from its owner’s apartment more than a week ago didn’t get too far.

The snake, named Ana, was found alive in the basement of the apartment building on Birge Street Saturday by a state Department of Environmental Protection conservation officer. It had been missing since May 15.

…Officials warned neighbors to stay away from the snake if they came across it, because of its sharp teeth. Authorities were also concerned that the reptile would not survive long because of the cold nights.

Police Chief Robert Milano said possessing anacondas is only illegal when they create a nuisance to other animals

Beauchesne gave the snake, which had its own room in his apartment and ate whole rotisserie chickens, to Massachusetts-based Rainforest Reptile Shows after it was found.

Although the foregoing excerpt is only slightly Constricted, here’s where you can writhe the whole Skinny, unless of course you conda Shed your ancient ancestral Fears & inhibitions. ;>

That sign is da bomb!

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Bush takes action on Darfur

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Specifically, new sanctions against Sudan:

President Bush imposed sanctions Tuesday against Sudan in reaction to the “genocide” in Darfur, and has ordered actions against 31 companies and three people — preventing them from doing business in or with U.S. companies.

The three Sudanese people affected include two high-ranking government officials and a rebel leader, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. They were targeted for their roles in fomenting violence and human rights abuses in Darfur, the agency said.

“For too long the people of Darfur have suffered at the hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder and rape of innocent civilians.

“My administration has called these actions by their rightful name, genocide. The world has a responsibility to help put an end to it,” Bush said.

Bush said he had ordered Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to write up a draft resolution that will be presented to the U.N. Security Council.

Our adorable niece

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

We had a very nice visit with the Santa Barbarians. :) Here’s me and Becky with Kaja, Jen and Sören on Stearns Wharf:

And here’s a shot of Kaja being grumpy:


Poles probe Tinky Winky, Russians attack gay pride marchers

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

Jerry Falwell’s body lies a-moulderin’ in the grave but his soul goes marching on ~ in Poland (!):

A senior Polish official has ordered psychologists to investigate whether the popular BBC TV show Teletubbies promotes a homosexual lifestyle.

The spokesperson for children’s rights in Poland, Ewa Sowinska, singled out Tinky Winky, the purple character with a triangular aerial on his head.

“I noticed he was carrying a woman’s handbag,” she told a magazine. “At first, I didn’t realise he was a boy.”

…Poland’s authorities have recently initiated a series of moves to outlaw the promotion of homosexuality among the nation’s children.

Tinky Winky’s psychological evaluation is being treated fairly light-heartedly by many people here.

One radio station asked its listeners to vote for the most suspicious children’s show. Some e-mailed in, saying that Winnie the Pooh had only male friends.

…Last month the European Union singled out Poland for criticism in its resolution condemning homophobia in the 27-member bloc.

Read the whole sillyarse thing.

Meanwhile, in a more Ominous report from the Motherland of Poland’s most-Recent former imperial Masters,

A gay rights demonstration in Moscow degenerated into violence for the second year running as right-wing and orthodox extremists attacked gay rights activists and supporters of the unauthorised demonstration.

GayRussia leader Nikolai Alexeyev was bundled into a police van and driven away moments after arriving outside the offices of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has called homosexuals “satanic”.

…”What we have is authoritarianism and we are moving towards totalitarianism,” said Lydia Hmelevskaya, a 24-year-old lesbian.

“I have been beaten up on a train because of the way I look. I have the right to look the way I want to.”

…On numerous occasions, nationalists circled gay rights activists as they spoke with journalists, then reached in to punch or kick the person being interviewed.

One journalist was attacked because he wore an earring, which led nationalists to say he was gay.

Police intervened to arrest dozens of gay rights activists and only rarely detained their attackers.

Here’s the whole Unfunny thing.

Three thousand wooden crosses

Monday, May 28th, 2007

It's Memorial Day and we're in Santa Barbara, where war protesters have put up a wooden cross for every U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.