Wednesday, April 16, 2014

London Days

Carol and Rachel continue their relentless drive to get us to every single attraction in London. I've been wearing my Fitbit every day and my daily steps from Sunday to today have been 27,000: 17,000: 23,500: and 26,000 adding up to about 42 miles of walking. 

Here are a couple of pictures I took today. The first is the Globe Theatre which we toured this morning. Built in the same way as the original Globe in the 17th century (except for fire prevention tech) it was fascinating to visit. We got to watch them rehearsing Titus Andronicus. 

The second is the grounds of the Greenwich Observatory where we saw the Prime Meridian. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Back in London

Here are a few pictures from the last couple of days in France and back in London. 

Bond Update

While we're traveling, I've got my Kindle with me and have been reading my eleventh James Bond novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It seems particularly  appropriate to read Bond while in London. 

I am enjoying this particular novel immensely. The story is fascinating and Fleming is by this time a master of his characters and his action sequences. I know that the movie is well regarded by Bond fans and while I have seen many parts of it, it's one of the few I haven't seen all the way through. From what I have seen, it seems to be a more faithful adaptation than most. 

I'm really looking forward to watching it when we get home. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Paris Baby!

We're on our last day in Paris. So far we've seen the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triumphe, the Champs Elysse, and walked nearly fifteen miles through the city. Yesterday we spent the day at Disneyland Paris. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Just heard the neww about Stephen Colbert taking over for Letterman. Colbert's conservative pundit character will end with the Colbert Report.

This is a HUGE loss for those of us in the rational community. Damn. I am really, really unhappy.

London Baby!

We arrived safely (2AM Maryland time) and have spent the last 11 hours running around London (and napping for 3 hours on Rachel's couches). We are now waiting for the Chunnel train to Paris.

Have not seen Ricahrd Dawkins, Richard Branson, JK Rowling, or a single alien invasion. Disappointed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

A New Companion

Rachel posted this on Instagram yesterday.

My life is complete.

Autumn Games - Babel

Our 29th game, one of our favorites in the series, is Babel by Hagen Dorgathen and Uwe Rosenberg. In Babel, the players represent various ancient tribes and use their unique skills to build temples. The player who builds the tallest temples is the winner.

The game bits consist of a board, two stone player markers, a number of temple cards from value 1-6 and a deck of tribe cards representing the Medes, Sumerians, Hitites, Persians, and Assyrians. On your turn, you may play cards from your hand to move your stone marker to and from any of the five spots on the board. You may play tribe cards down onto the space where your marker is located and build a temple on that space using temples cards in one of the two face up draw piles. Temples must be built in numerical order from 1 to 6 and you must have as many tribe cards down as levels of the temple you wish to build. So, for example, if you want to build the fourth level of a temple, you must have four tribe cards down on that space.

Card play is unlimited. You may play as many of your tribe cards as you wish on your turn. Since you only draw three per turn, however, you have to be careful not to deplete your hand. A new temple card is turned up at the end of your turn and after the first few cards is of a random value. This makes it even more challenging to build the temple levels in the correct order.

One of the important tactics is to lay down three consecutive cards of the same tribe. If you do, when you're in that territory, you may discard one of the three cards to use that tribe's skill. These skills include stealing your opponent's top temple level (Hitites) (assuming you have enough tribe cards to support it), completely destroying your opponent's temple (Assyrians), moving some of your opponent's tribe cards to your side (Sumerians), etc. The use of the tribe skills is crucial to beating your opponent.

Three Medes cards spell trouble for Carol.

The winner is the first player to build to a total of 15 points of temple levels, so long as your opponent has under 10 points of temples. If the other player has more than 10 points, then you enter the end game where the first player to build over 20 points wins, or the first player to drop under 10 points loses.

Babel has some long term strategy but turn to turn play is all tactics. You have to use what cards you draw, react to what your opponent is doing, try to break up his sets of three tribe cards, use tribe skills effectively, all the while building up and protecting your temples.

Carol and I jockeyed back and forth until she finally got to 16 points at the end of a turn. Unfortunately for her, I had more than 10 points so we weren't finished. Scores went back and forth for a few more turns, both of us getting near 20 and down towards 10 but not quite getting there. Finally, Carol built to 20 points in temples for the win.

Final scores:

Carol   20
Ipecac 14

Carol moves to within one game of Ipecac.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Yes, why do your job at all?

This guy is the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America:
House Speaker John Boehner blames President Barack Obama for Congress’s inability to pass an immigration reform bill, saying that it’s a lack of trust in the president that keeps members of the GOP from getting it done.
“The American people want us to deal with immigration reform,” Boehner said on Fox News’s “Kelly File” on Monday. “I’ve tried to get the House to move on this now for the last 15 or 16 months. But every time the president ignores the law, like the 38 times he has on Obamacare, our members look up and go, ‘Wait a minute: You can’t have immigration reform without strong border security and internal enforcement, how can we trust the president to actually obey the law and enforce the law that we would write?’” Link
 Yes, the President is to blame for Congress not passing legislation. And despite record deportations, Boehner doesn't believe the President is upholding the law.

What an asshat. Way to go Republicans, good choice of Speaker.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Rachel (and soon others) in London 5

It's been a long time since I've done an update of Rachel's semester in London. If you follow her blog, you'll be happy to hear that she's actually made it past Day 8, the last post she made. She's realized that she doesn't have time to do a daily blog update, so they come in infrequently and way out of date.

Since I last posted, she's been through Spring Break. Her boyfriend flew in and they spent a week traveling to Dublin and Galway, Ireland, Berlin and Hamburg, Germany and back to London. From all reports they had a great time and saw a lot of cool things. Her class went to Paris a couple of weekends ago and Rachel Skyped me from the top of the Eiffel Tower! This weekend her class traveled to Bath, England, to sightsee.

She's in her final month of her London semester now. And this week, we're joining her! We fly into London on Thursday morning, spend the day, and then take the train with her to Paris. While in Paris, we're going to Paris Disneyland for a day, and of course we'll do a lot of sightseeing. Then it's back to London where we'll spend the following week. It will be the first time Ben's left North America and the first trip to Europe for Carol. I was in Europe an unbelievable 34 years ago when I toured with my church choirs in 1980.

Being something of a Tolkien geek, the first thing I did when I stepped off the airplane onto British soil in 1980 was to recite Frodo's part of the Tom Bombadil rhyme to summon him. Sadly, it didn't work. I'll likely try again on Thursday morning.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Bill O'Reilly Defends Inequality

Yes, he likes inequality. Colbert's reaction was hilarious.

Colbert is a national treasure.


I've been watching FOX TV and National Geographic's updated version of Carl Sagan's iconic science series, Cosmos, with Neil deGrasse Tyson since it premiered last month. It's fantastic.

Produced by Family Guy's Seth McFarlane and Star Trek's Brannon Braga, the show uses modern computer graphics and animation to tell the story of the universe, from the Big Bang to its eventual heat death, through biology, cosmology, geology, to the history of science. Neil deGrasse Tyson has an easy, open style of explanation that translates the most complex scientific concepts. He's wonderful.

I especially like the use of animation and celebrity voices to portray the history of science and scientists, telling the stories of great scientific discoveries like the theory of gravity, and the laws of motion. These stories are so well told, they've even nearly brought me to tears a couple of times. We humans can do amazing things when we put our minds to it, and the show makes that beautifully clear.

Nearly every episode directly addresses some anti-science religious claim, not by directly calling the claims out, but by explaining why ideas like a 6000 year old universe or that the eye couldn't have evolved are wrong. The explanations are devastating to the religious interpretations without being heavy-handed. The show celebrates the wonder and awesomeness of the universe.

I never saw the original Cosmos when it aired. The writing credits list Carl Sagan, which means that at least some of the narration is lifted from the original show. I wonder how much.

The show airs on FOX station at 9PM Sunday nights, and on the National Geographic Channel on Monday nights at 9PM.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Stand Your Ground Plus

Attempts to roll back any of the Florida Stand Your Ground law’s most incendiary elements have foundered more than two years after the death of Trayvon Martin. But a bill to expand the law passed Thursday, mere months after it was introduced.

The National Rifle Association-backed bill would expand Stand Your Ground-like protections to those who point a gun at an attacker or fire a gun as a self-defense threat or warning, expanding the scope of the discretion judges and juries retain to exempt shooters from criminal charges for gun violence. The final bill also includes a provision to keep Stand Your Ground records secret. Link
Why don’t they just legalize murder by gun? That would make things a lot simpler.

Oh, wait. Black people, right. Stand your ground is just for when a white person shoots a black person.

Forgot about that. Never mind.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


I have dreaded Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming film Noah for months. I can’t stand Biblical epics for the most part, and anything that whips up Christian enthusiasm for torture and brutality (The Passion of the Christ) or genocide (Noah, presumably) is not doing anyone any favors. However, reactions to the film have been somewhat different than I expected.
If you read anything about director Darren Aronofsky’s newest epic film Noah in the past few days, it was probably about how much Christian biblical literalists hate it. Various conservative Christians such as Rick Santorum, Rick Warren, and Brian Mattson have blasted the film for diverting from the biblical narrative, calling it “pagan” and a “subversion of the biblical story.” As Ken Ham, the President of the Creation Museum who recently “debated” Bill Nye about the validity of creationism, put it: “Ultimately, there is barely a hint of biblical fidelity in this film. It is an unbiblical, pagan film from its start.” Link
That almost makes me want to see it.
Aronofsky raises valid religious questions about the Old Testament prophet that are rarely asked in Sunday school or Hebrew school. Through vivid and often harrowing portrayals of Noah single-mindedly following what he believes to be direct orders from on high, Aronofsky asks: what kind of faith does it take to close oneself off inside a massive floating vessel and listen, stoically, to an entire world die? Did Noah suffer from survivor’s guilt? If he didn’t, what does that say about faith, and what does all of this say about God? These questions are difficult but important, and it is only through the intentional deviation from the biblical narrative — a series of theological “what ifs?” played out in dramatic fashion onscreen — that we are confronted with them.
And that definitely does make me want to see it. Maybe when it’s available on video.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Obamacare enrollment leaps on final day

And now it’s over 7 million.
The 7,041,000 figure reported by the administration does not include the people who enrolled in state-based exchanges on Monday, and also doesn’t include anyone who’s still waiting in the queue for their application to be processed. Link
Republicans would take that away in an instant if allowed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Makers not making?

One of the arguments that conservatives make every time anyone tries to discuss raising taxes on the rich (as opposed to raising taxes on the poor which they are ALWAYS in favor of) is “You can’t tax the job creators. They need that money to create jobs.” Conservatives make this argument 100% of the time, even when corporate and individual tax rates are, and have been, at historic lows.

So, while the U.S. is still suffering significant employment problems six years after the economy tanked, we have this:
After-tax profits for American corporations hit another record high last year, rising to $1.68 trillion. Link
If there’s a causation between the rich having more money and job creation, this should mean that unemployment is also at record lows, right? I mean, the Job Creators have record amounts of money, they should be creating record numbers of jobs, right?

The answer is of course not, because it’s not a real argument. It’s just obfuscation and bullshit, to keep the rich rich. Workers have been increasing their productivity, increasing profitability, and wages for everyone but the top management haven’t been growing commensurately. Income inequality is increasing.

Maybe it’s time we try something not demonstrably wrong.

Obamacare at six million and counting


Ahead of schedule, Obamacare enrollments hit 6 million this week, meeting the projection made by the Congressional Budget Office. This means that MILLIONS of Americans now have access to cheaper and better healthcare, with significant consumer protections from insurance company hijinks. This is a FANTASTIC thing.

It should be noted at this great news that if the Republican party had control of the Senate as well as the House, they would pass a bill TODAY repealing the law and throwing those millions back into the good old days of no healthcare and the possibility of bankruptcy if they got sick. The Republicans continue to do all they can to thwart the law. Repeal would hurt MILLIONS of Americans, but they’ve voted 52 times to do just that. Republican governors have already screwed over millions of their own residents by refusing to extend Medicaid at NO COST to their state, just to put a thumb in President Obama’s eye.

Why the hell are people still voting for these psychopaths?


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

This is March 25, 2014

Out our front window. Notice anything strange?

Well, at least we have this to look forward to

The Supreme Court heard arguments today for why corporations should get to decide whether or not their employees get contraception. Because the religious beliefs of corporations (yes, they have religious beliefs now) should trump the rights of the corporation's actual human employees.

Good times.

Hey Rumsfeld, STFU

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is blasting the Obama administration’s handling of Afghanistan, saying a “trained ape” could have done a better job in diplomatic relations with the country. Link
This from the guy who got us knee-deep in blood in both Afghanistan and Iraq, causing thousands of American deaths, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani deaths, and who lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

And of course the “trained ape” wording is a racist dog whistle. So just stop talking, Rumsfeld, and go the hell away.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Short answer, no. Long answer, NOOOOOOOOOOOO.

Ugh. Here's another CNN "opinion" piece on the recent, amazing, finding of gravitational waves, additional evidence for how the Universe rapidly expanded during the Big Bang. Does the Big Bang Breakthrough Offer Proof of God?

Of course, some can't be content to wonder at nature and how science allows us to discover it, they have to get confirmation for their pet beliefs. Enter Leslie A. Wickman who is actually a scientist who has worked for NASA. Oh, and she's also a Christian.
The prevalent theory of cosmic origins prior to the Big Bang theory was the “Steady State,” which argued that the universe has always existed, without a beginning that necessitated a cause.
However, this new evidence strongly suggests that there was a beginning to our universe.
If the universe did indeed have a beginning, by the simple logic of cause and effect, there had to be an agent – separate and apart from the effect – that caused it.
That sounds a lot like Genesis 1:1 to me: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”
Again, ugh.

First off, we've known for a long time now that there was a beginning to our universe. Second, there didn't have to be an agent; quantum mechanics has already shown that. Third, if everything has to have a cause, then what caused God?

And finally, the news sounds NOTHING like Genesis 1:1 unless you're really reaching. Let's try an experiment, shall we?

“In the beginning Zeus created the heavens and the Earth.”

“In the beginning Buddha created the heavens and the Earth.”

“In the beginning Gandalf created the heavens and the Earth.”

“In the beginning Bugs Bunny created the heavens and the Earth.”

“In the beginning Ipecac created the heavens and the Earth.”

Okay, I kinda like that last one. The point is, ALL of these are just as valid as putting the word "God" in there.

Sheesh, CNN.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

He just forgot to win that whole voting thing

All Hail President Romney! Wait, what?
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus applied some dizzying spin on Wednesday to the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

Forget the final results. Priebus told MSNBC's Chuck Todd that voters thought Mitt Romney had the better presidential chops.
"I mean, the fact of the matter is Mitt Romney won on the message," Priebus said. "He won on jobs, he won on the economy, he won on the question of, 'Who do you actually think would make a better president?' But where he lost was on the question of, 'Who cares about you?'"
Yes, Mitt won on the message (47% takers). He won on jobs (tax cuts for the rich). In fact, Mitt Romney won on EVERYTHING!

Except the election.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don't worry, women. Republicans have your back!

So do you believe that women should be paid the same as men for doing the exact same job?

Of course you do! How about the Executive Director of RedState Women, a Republican group focused on outreach to women?

Well, to start with, Cari Christman doesn't believe that legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which is a small step towards salary equality, is the way to do it. What does she think would work?
"If you look at it, women are extremely busy," she said. "We lead busy lives, whether working professionally, whether working from home, and times are extremely busy. It's a busy cycle for women, and we've got a lot to juggle. So when we look at this issue we think, what's practical? And we want more access to jobs. We want to be able to get a higher education degree at the same time we're working or raising a family."
So the Republican solution to women being paid far less than men is "Women be busy".

Got it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

More Snow - March 17, 2014 edition

Another snow day. What do you think, 10 inches?

Frustrating Politics

If you follow American politics, you know that we're not in a good place. As someone who wants the nation to move forward with new, progressive policies that guarantee freedom for everyone, that take care of those who need it, that open our country to those who share our dream, and that let us peacefully coexist with the rest of humanity, I find the current environment particularly frustrating, especially since those who want an aggressive America on the world stage, who favor business interests over human interests, and who want to push a particular version of antiquated morality on the rest of us are doing everything they can do halt any forward progress.

And that's not what bugs me the most. What's absolutely crazy is that those who would return us to the dark ages continue to get elected. They've so maligned progressives and confused the electorate, they've convinced tens of millions of people to vote against their own interests. 

A huge majority of Americans want the minimum wage raised. Republicans would like to reduce the minimum wage or repeal it all together.

A majority of Americans want unemployment benefits extended. Republlicans are preventing that from happening, hurting millions who are out of work and hurting our economy in the process.

A large majority of Americans want sensible gun regulations. Republicans want to dismantle what regulations we have.

A large majority of Americans want affordable health care for everyone. Republicans want to destroy the progress we've made with Obamacare and return to the bad old days.

A majority of Americans favor gay marriage and access to women's healthcare, including contraception and abortion. Republicans want to push gays back in the closet, deny them rights, and take women's control over their reproduction away from them.

A majority of Americans don't want us to attack any more countries. Republicans want us militarily involved in Syria and Iran.

And yet Republicans continue to win elections. It's insane.

Of course this is due to relentless propaganda, a neutered media, and the gerrymandering of House districts. And also the short-attention spans of much of the American public.

If we don't get our act together, we're doomed.

Bob Cesca, my favorite political blogger, details ten of the most egregious Republican lies they've used to control the agenda. It's worth a read.  Check it out here.

Here are a couple I especially like:
10) Obama Doubled The Deficit.
This was a favorite of the Mitt Romney campaign. Throughout 2012, Romney repeatedly said, “The president promised to cut the deficit in half. He’s doubled it!” No. No he hasn’t. First of all, this line depends entirely on voters not understanding the difference between the deficit and the debt. See previous “simpleton” remarks. Indeed, the president has absolutely cut the deficit by way more than half in his first five years. When he took office, the deficit for 2009 was projected to be $1.4 trillion. The deficit at the end of 2014 will be $514 billion, just three percent of GDP. That’s a nearly one trillion dollar reduction in five years. Not only that, but he boasts the lowest year-over-year increase in government spending since Truman, and he’ll be one of just three presidents who left office will a lower deficit than when he arrived. The last Republican do leave the White House with the same record was Eisenhower more than 50 years ago.
7) Tax Cuts Do More To Stimulate The Economy Than Food Stamps And Unemployment Benefits. 
According to Moody’s Analytics:
–Every dollar spent on unemployment benefits generates $1.61 in economic growth.
–Every dollar spent on food stamps generates $1.74 in economic growth.
–But every dollar spent on rolling taxes back to Bush-era levels only creates $.32 in economic growth — that’s a 68 cent loss on investment.
Go read the rest.