Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Confirmation Bias and the End Times

Confirmation bias is the propensity to give priority (broadly defined) to evidence that confirms existing prejudices. You are familiar with the expression "hearing what you want to hear"? That's confirmation bias. This philosophically important notion is actually a product of pure biology.

Scientists believe the brain creates memories and solves problems by connecting dendrites. There are axons involved. There's your biology less for the day.

Alas, the little bastards can't help but fuse, so sometimes problems sort of solve themselves subconsciously.

Our biological instincts compel us to mate, and so it behooves our precious brains to make connections as quickly as possible. As such, the only sensible dendritic connections people ever form are of the "nice butt, therefore, sex now" variety. For more information, visit the Warehouse district.

So dendrites are extremely helpful in compelling us to have sex. To which, thanks dendrites. Thandrites.

Unfortunately, the facile propensities of these little beasts are poorly applied to, say, world events pertaining to the fate of mankind.

Instead of "smile is confident, therefore, sex now" we get "tsunami in Japan, therefore, end times".

Any Christian person with a Facebook account is either purveyor or recipient of ominous prophecy viz. the "end is near". See, the Bible does foretell (accurately, by the way) the world will end. There will be floods, fires, earthquakes, famine. You know, awful stuff.

As it happens, the much lamented 24 hour news cycle has done a more than capable job of continually reintroducing awful stuff to our collective psyches... Especially when aforementioned results in floating cars.

(I am convinced that every automobile that has ever floated on water has been photographed. Cameras are drawn to them, and why not? Pretty serious, this business of floating cars.)

To the average Christian, accounts of impending doom via car-floating massacres, both in scripture and on Drudge, serve as jello shots for preternaturally uninhibited dendrites. Every time some oceanic event destroys a coalition of non-whites, Christians read badly written books and store wheat.

Are the dendritic instincts correct in this instance? Not any more so than they are after bar close in the Warehouse district.

For starters, per Genesis, God explicitly said he won't be flooding us to death any more. To end mankind via alternative water calamities would seem rather hair-splitting, no?

Second, even if you adhere (as I do) to the theory of a young creation, our observance of geological and meteorological phenomena represents an awfully small data set in context. Prior to the 19th century, our knowledge is limited to accounts of particularly calamitous events.

The Shaanxi Earthquake if 1556 killed 830,000 people. The Antioch earthquake a millenia prior killed 300,000. I'll hazard to guess there was an undocumented hurricane or three in the interim.

Add to that the fact that our world is more populated now, especially in areas where there happens to be a lot of water (colonization near waterways boomed with the industrial revolution), and its no surprise that natural disasters exact a more profound human toll nowadays.

Of course, everyone forgets about good old fashion famine, under which conditions there are neither cars nor water. In the 20th century, China experienced two famines that claimed the lives of 50 million people or so. And yet, famine seems to have subsided. Is this particular end times bellwether taking a temporary hiatus?

Volcanic eruptions, as well, seem to have become less profound in the last century. This certainly owes to the ability to anticipate said eruptions, but if God wants to send a warning, who are scientists to stop him?

Are we in the end times (broadly defined)? I don't know. It is theoretically possible. However, it is mathematically unlikely that the end of the world will come about in my life time. Besides, it seems cruel for God to end mankind without giving us at least one space robot.

We live on a dynamic Earth, where death is a reality, and life is fleeting. Tsunamis do not change that fact. They ought compel us to reflect upon it. The bible encourages precisely this. God will return like a thief in the night, not a volcano in broad daylight.

It's easier to cope with the idea of the end of the world than it is our own unique mortality. Like a child who won't go to bed for fear that something exciting might happen, we would rather take see the world crumble with us than leave it behind.

Citing the end times strikes me as a reflection of our unwillingness to confront the inevitability of our own death. We are sentenced to die, and our death is not the end of the world. That might be uncomfortable, and our dendrites have a hard time with it, but it's what's real.

Confirm it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Musings: It's still Monday on the East Coast edition

Did you know it's going to snow on Wednesday? I feel like snow is a metaphor for Brett Favre's career. There is a time and a place, but everyone has now decided it's gotten old, and the mere mention of it makes us sadder. Let's muse...

Yahoo! wants me to be fiscally fit. Too that end, it posts an article from one Marlys Harris, whose son has graduated from a culinary school. Apparently, he also now has the scoop on how restaurants make money. It's mostly boilerplate (menus highlight items they want to sell? ZOUNDS!) until you get to this:

5. Dollar-sign avoidance. Focus groups who've been asked to opine on menus display an acute discomfort with dollar signs and decimals.
First of all, I doubt this is what her son learned in culinary school, so her appeal to authority is debunked. Second, dollar-sign avoidance is mostly about aesthetics, which is obvious to anyone who cares about aesthetics. As it happens, such people tend to care a bit less about dollar signs when they go eat.

Many high-tone foodie establishments
What the hell is a "high-tone foodie establishment"? She actually cites the shenanigans of Olive Garden, so I will assume she means "restaurants not like Olive Garden"?

that charge an arm and a leg for, say, a bowl of lentils and groats now omit such crass symbols from their menus
I know of no restaurants that offer groats (though I'm sure one or two offer them). Of the pure lentil offerings, I can cite Black Sea on Snelling, which offers a red lentil soup* for a whopping $3.95. Maybe I would be more likely to buy it if it were priced at 4-, but I only have so many arms. Those ruthless Turkish bastards ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Sorry for all the snark. It's not like the author is from Minnesota, and would Kn... Oh, dear...

-- like Spoonriver, a place I like in Minneapolis. I almost don't notice that I've paid $12.50 for a rather small chicken quesadilla.
Congrats on the national press coverage, Spoonriver. You can count a moron among your patronage. For the record, Spoonriver's quesadilla clocks in at $9.50, which is not at all unreasonable given that Chef Brenda is packing the thing with quality ingredients.

I've had a bone or two to pick with Spoonriver, but I've never, remotely, felt ripped off. Why is Marlys Harris throwing a restaurant she likes to frequent under the bus?

Once upon a time, menus used leader dots (... .) to connect the entree with the price. You won't find them much anymore either.
Here is how the quesadilla dish reads on the page:



Quesadilla • Natural Chicken, Roasted Vegetable-Sqaush Spread, Amish Cheddar. Chili-Mango Salsa / Veg. Option9.5 / 8.5

In other words, the chicken quesadilla costs $9.50; the vegetarian $8.50

How many leader dots do you freaking need, lady? Heaven forbid a restaurant would overestimate your ability to read horizontally.

Of course, Brenda closed down her namesake restaurant in order to make Spoonriver a success. You know, because that's what business owners usually do when they are trying to cheat their own customers.

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Here's a trick other restaurants use. They fill you up and cheap, sugary, fatty junk at 1,000% markups. They succeed because customers of restaurants like Spoonriver whine about being charged an arm and a leg (which again, $9.50) for real food.

Here's a little insider tip about Olive Garden. They do not care one way or the other whether you eat one bowl or three of a pasta bowl that costs them about 32 cents to produce. Just don't puke it up on premises, and they're pretty much cool.


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Let's make this a foodie muse. Hit up The Flame in Aberdeen, SD. This is their resident steak house, and they certainly try. The owner's daughter was our waitress. She spent some time in the Twin Cities, but came back to SD for work (this is not an uncommon theme, btw, Mark Dayton).

At any rate, she always recommends the meat rare, and seems to know something about food. To which, The Flame should listen to the owners daughter. She'd probably tell you that there is no compelling reason why a potato must accompany a steak, and that a real soup can command a higher price point than a "home made" one.

I am convinced that The Flame could make itself into an outstanding restaurant without alienating the locals.

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On the other hand, the Palm Garden Cafe gets it right. In a town where "from scratch" cooking happens in the fields outside of town, they do a pretty nice job.

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You know who else does a "nice" job? Heidi's in uptown. Had dinner there on Thursday, and had the opportunity to make converts of our dinner companions. Do you want to know what great service really means? What real cooking is? What ambiance looks like? Go there.

I'll note the service. We take it for granted that our servers treat us like crap in this town. Frankly, there was a point in the evolution of Heidi's (years ago) where the service was a bit slack. Not now. The twin cities hasn't seen this level of service. It just hasn't. Every staff member is on top of the mission of that restaurant.

If all goes well, there will be much riding on those tires.

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Yes, it's that good. Go.

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Should also throw a shout to Obento-Ya. My first experience was unspectacular, but a second visit hit all the right spots. I think a variety of sushi, small plates, and the robata is the way to go. Consistency and competence are the name of the game there, and when it comes to Japanese cuisine, what more could you ask for?

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I mean, there are things you could ask for, like better chopsticks and maybe a more robust...

But I'm done.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wonkette response I forgot to publish when it was relevant

So, Wonkette, purveyor of left-wing extremist nonsense, has apparently decided to get into the humor game. It is almost always a bad idea when ideology gets mixed with humor, and this is no exception. Let's parse:

We spent way too much time on all of this.

Okay, the author is doing the ironic thing where you throw a bunch of preening images into a pile, and that is supposed to be a detached commentary somehow. I get it, I guess.

To which, is the stripper pole supposed to connote birthday celebration? Why is there a referee? Is that an abstinence jab?

Reagan II? Do liberals just get that joke, and so I shouldn't question it? I'm out of the loop and the whole "it's funny simply to name politicians" meme, but I'll give it a shot. Lyndon Johnson 5.

Seriously, what the hell is this? Okay moving on.


BY JACK STUEF

Oh dear, I hope that's a pseudonym.

That strange man yelling unintelligibly at Sarah Palin? He’s merely a lowly shepherd proclaiming the birth of our savior.

Wait, what strange man? Jack Stuef? I need context. Of all the things in the picture above, there is no man yelling. John McCain? That doesn't make any sense.

Today is the day we come together to celebrate the snowbilly grifter’s magical journey from Texas to Alaska to deliver to the America the great gentleman scholar Trig Palin. Is Palin his true mother? Or was Bristol?

Well, first of all, Bristol's last name is Palin, so either way, a Palin gave birth to Trig. Second, snowbilly grifter? I get the snowbilly part, but grifter? Does the word just find the right cadence, and so why write things that are meaningful?

(And why is it that nobody questions who the father is? Because, either way, Todd definitely did it.)

Well, that's quite the parenthetical. I thought we were being all cool and ironic, what with the stripper & pole. But now we've moved into broad satire, what with the incest and such. Good point, though... Republicans definitely rape their daughters.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are privileged to live in a time when we can witness the greatest prop in world political history.

The TelePrompter?

Bald eagles or baby Palins? Same thing.


This is a montage of baby Trig's photos. Keep in mind that, to some, the idea that disabled people should be allowed to live long enough to be photographed is inherently funny.

Sorry, what I meant to say was, HA-HA-HA. Baby is retarded! BRILLIANT!

This morning, Team Sarah posted a happy-birthday message at the exact time of his birth. This is a poem “Lynda” wrote for Trig:

Of course, it is inherently absurd to write poems for and about babies. We should simply take them at face value. They are poop machines. Nothing more.

(TPWK To Jack Stuef: Do you want to kill yourself now, or do you want to build up a fan-base so you can score an error-riddled New York Times obit? Either way, make it so. Thanks.)

Okay, the poem is pretty lame. It's about baby dreams. What does Jack have to say about it?

What’s he dreaming about? Nothing. He’s retarded.

In addition to being clinically inaccurate, this has the added bonus of being bracingly unfunny. Is Jack Stuef a pseudonym for Andy Dick?

Here are a couple of excellent YouTube tributes to the magic intellectually disabled baby prop, presented by Glenn Beck:


Now we've changed gears. Stuef/Dick's problem with Trig Palin is that he has been used as a prop. In related news, I have no idea whether Barack Obama has adorable daughters.

Here’s Piper licking her hand and rubbing it all over Trig’s head for some reason:

She never explained her reason to the press, which is inexcusable, considering she is seven years old.

Here’s Trig returning the favor, meeting another Down syndrome baby and immediately trying to lick it:

You know what? As cynical as I am, I cannot cast this comment in a darker light. Congratulations, you ugly, chubby bastard (no, the ironic glasses do not save you... I get it, but you evoke pity... That's not good.)

And finally, Louis C.K.’s verdict on the kid:

Louis C.K. isn't funny either. Why did Mitch Hedberg have to die, while the rest of us are saddled with Jack Stuef, Andy Dick and Louis C.K.?

“Why just celebrate tax day today, April 18th? It’s also Trig Paxson Van Palin’s 3rd birthday. His mom went to a lot of trouble to leak amniotic fluid over 8 states to make sure that he arrived in this world somewhat alive,”

This bit of acerbic commentary is rather chronologically challenged. The baby was born before Palin was tapped to be the vice presidential candidate for the party Jack Stuef rather obviously dislikes.

I'm trying to avoid the "somewhat alive" bit, but will simply note that this is how people once discussed slaves, and Jack Stuef pretty much fits the mold of privileged wealthy son of a slave owner. My assumption is that he is too much of a pussy to have ever owned slaves. He strikes me as the snotty kid who would have gone around antagonizing them until they went Nat Turner on his ass.

writes Wonkette operative “Barbara_i,”

Oh my bad... The amniotic fluid bit comes courtesy of a Wonkette operative. Congratulations, "Barbara-underscore-lower-case-i", you are an official operative for a blog (or were... I'm guessing staffing cuts are on the horizon, now that Jack Stuef pissed away all of your advertising dollars). Try not to waste oxygen for the rest of us. You had damn well better drive a hybrid.

Sarah went to a whole lot of trouble to name him ‘Van Palin,’ a ‘Van Halen’ reference he will never get.” Indeed.

Slapping "indeed" at the back-end of a flatly banal joke does not make said joke any less so, nor does it justify it's replication. I am also confused about the attribution. Did Barbara_i make a stupid amniotic fluid joke or a stupid Van Halen joke? I feel like Jack Stuef is hedging his bets here, grammatically speaking.

Enjoy yourself today, Trig. Have fun!

This is why I vote Republican, people.

Get drunk (on purpose this time)!
The hell?

We can hardly wait for 15 years from now, when you will finally be able to vote and will be sent off by your mother’s junta to fight the Union in the Great Alaska War.

If this piece is any indication, it will be the mentally handicapped who are fighting to reclaim satire from left-wing degenerates. The rest of us conservatives will be on to bigger and better things, of course.
It’ll be quite a loss. You’re the smartest one in that family.
Right, because the smart money is on insulting retarded babies on one of the most prominent liberal blogs in America. That's what smart people do.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Musings

Spring snowstorms on the horizon. This is why Minnesotans drink. Let's muse.

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Paul Krugman joins my call for doing away with civility. This, on the heels of his blog post, asserting that civility is the last refuge of scoundrels, wherein he accuses Republicans of hypocrisy, w/r/t the civility issue.

Unreal. Let's step back a few months, shall we?

Liberal commentators, politicians and bloggers shed crocodile tears over the Tea Partier's incivility and anger (and racism, but that's another story... It is fair to say the Tea Party was, at times uncivil, and certainly angry). Something bad was going to happen, we were told, unless we would allow the left to herald a "new era of civility".

In response, Republicans wrote things like this:

"The charge of incivility has morphed into an epithet, a way of dismissing valid ideas and contributions. The irony explains why those who call for civility are so infrequently civil themselves.

Bugger that; it's a trap. I'll not take moral lessons from moralists. Give me someone who is forthright and sincere, and leave the self-righteous preening about civility to the pots and the kettles. "

Then, some deranged lunatic tried to off a congressman in Arizona, and the blood was on our hands. See, Republicans were uncivil, creating a climate of hate that, in combination with global warming, prompted an insane man to do what insane men do.

Now, having lost several ideological battles (and having behaved uncivilly in the process), the left is done with civility.

And I'm the hypocrite.

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So is Krugman on the till for the next assassination? I think he just raised his hand... His bloody, bloody hand.

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This business with debt collectors has to stop. I'm being hassled by some company called "Portfolio Recover Services" over an overdue bill to Ameritech. To which:

Ameritech was bought by SBC in 1999. This was before I had a cell phone, or even a credit card.

They have the wrong address, and I have told them so repeatedly.

The above is important, as they are required to send me something in writing before calling me.

So, to summarize, by virtue of not having my address, this company, which bought a 12 year old debt for somewhere in the vicinity of, oh, 84 cents, is free to hound me for it ad infinitum until I give them my personal address.

Or....

I can work to make their life a living hell.

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Are we still in Libya? Why?

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Watching Carmelo Anthony hoist bricks at the end of the Knicks-Celtics game was a nice bit of schadenfreude for us math geeks who been trying to explain to everyone the dude isn't a very good basketball player. We are told that, because we don't watch the games, we can't understand how awesome these guys who miss tons of shots are.

Well, he just destroyed his team's chances of winning the game. I'm glad I was there to watch it, but I'm pretty sure I could've just looked at the 5-18 FG in his stat line, and drawn a similar conclusion.

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Speaking of missed shots, that was a pretty insipid Obama speech last week. My favorite part bit was where he went to great lengths to explain how and why politicians claim they can cut spending by eliminating waste, and then proposed to do just that.

In fact, that has been his proposal since he began running for president. He was going to change the way government worked so that efficiencies would allow us to expand benefits without raising taxes.

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Had another meal at Obento-Ya this weekend as part of our "baby is coming, life will be over soon" tour. This is a great place for sushi lovers whose dates are not sushi lovers. As a Japanese restaurant, it's a close second to Tanpopo, but the variety can't be beat.

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On a recent trip to Barrio, I had the chance to try the skirt steak sandwich, at the behest of my co-worker who raved about the think. I thought it was tasty, but he was crestfallen at the fact that the bun has changed from a baguette to a cubano-style. Can't see how a baguette would elevate it to a must-have sandwich, but apparently it isn't anymore.

The salsas and guac were, as before, fantastic.

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Also grabbed a drink at the Forum. Very Mrs. Havisham. Somebody competent needs to get in there and give that place some life.

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Surprisingly delicious? The szechuan beef noodle stew at Szechuan in Roseville. Rich and complicated. For $7, it's just good take out. As a whole, the restaurant is easily the best in Roseville. To which, the two best restaurants in Roseville are a Chinese resto in a strip mall and Mavericks, a roast beef joint in a strip mall.

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I'll say this. Keith Marler's assent to local power celebrity has coincided with the worst winter in memory.

Just go to Chicago already, Marler.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Tuesday Musings

It's not Monday anymore. I still wish to muse. I will, therefore.

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Lindsey Graham: Free speech is a great idea, but we're in a war.

Me: South Carolina can muster a primary challenger to this guy, yes?

My goodness, nobody seems to care if we burn our own flag, but burn the "holy" book of the people who hate us?

Islam, the unofficial official religion of the United States.

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Why it's wrong (morally, if not Constitutionally) to burn the flag: You live under it. It is a symbol of your very protections.

The Koran? Does nothing for you. At all. Some people are really into it. The same can be said for Dungeons and Dragons manuals.

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In response to the drastic (i.e. nominal) budget cuts Republican are proposing, Jim Wallis has taken to the National Press Club to announce a fast. The New Testament says little about fasting, and doesn't actually require it (I do not oppose the practice, and have even partaken). However, Jesus is pretty clear that we shouldn't declare our fast in public.

Would Christ have ever crafted a press release, much less a partisan one?

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Hit up the Oceanaire this weekend. First of all, I expect big things from a place like this. I mean that in the semi-literal sense. Make it big. Razzle-dazzle and all that. From a service perspective, an absolute victory. Our waiter was gregarious, knowledgeable, but also charismatic and fun.

On the food side, we were immediately presented with a tray of inedible vegetables on ice. The canned olives didn't taste canned, nor did they taste like olives. The bread was dry, and the butter hard. Note to Oceanaire: Depending on the customer's mood, they can spend $50 or $150 per head at your restaurant. Splurge a bit if you want us to do so.

I would have traded the above for a Red Lobster cheesy biscuit, and I'm not even intending that to be mean.

The crab cake was as advertised. Crabby, with just enough gunk to keep the thing a cake, and very tasty. My oysters were fine, and the clam chowder was beautiful. In fact, you could make a decadent meal of those three items.

Our entrees, the $29 (!) shrimp scampi and $29 (not !) monkfish, were just fine. To which, why on Earth should shrimp scampi cost as much as a fish entree? The shrimp were good quality, if a bit overdone, but the preparation is, essentially, butter noodles.

Monkfish was good. A shallot-heavy (note to anyone cooking at home: put shallots in everything, always) sauce that nonetheless let the fish speak for itself. I'm not as much into steaky fish, so this was up my alley.

The roasted beet side is, well, a hell of a lot of beets. It has that much going for it.

Dessert was a giant creme brulee. It was boilerplate (ostensibly a Thai coffee variation) but huge. The custard was inconsistent, which is probably why most creme brulee isn't, you know, giant, but Khris liked it, so what do I know?

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To which, I just nit-picked a bit. But isn't the Oceanaire the kind of restaurant you nitpick? Isn't that the idea, that we plebes spend a bit of money and, if nothing else, get everything done right? I'll take "does a lot of things well" from Little Szechuan any day, but at a certain point, shouldn't someone do something to bridge the $120 price gap?

Our waiter made a valiant effort, but when I hear that bread/desserts are baked at Parasole (which has no particular affiliation with the Oceanaire, and which generally disappoints me on a regular basis), it's hard to feel special.

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On the topic of Little Szechuan, it's just great Chinese food. I mean, what is there to say? There are six good Chinese restaurants in the Twin Cities. They are: Little Szechuan, Evergreen, Grand Szechuan, Tea House, Szechuan, and Szechuan Spice. I mean, right? So that's where you go.

However, I do wish Little Szechuan would put a few authentic dishes on their lunch menu (offerings @ $8.50). Nobody needs a gallon of Ma Po Tofu at 11:50 a.m., and the stuff doesn't reheat well.

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I have so much to say about the new trolley that is presently destroying St. Paul, but I'll leave that for a post later this week.