Will & Grace reunion episode

The cast of Will & Grace (a popular sitcom that ended its run just over ten years ago) reunites in a ten-minute episode mainly to poke fun at Donald Trump, another TV personality best known for playing a comic villain. Not great but reasonably amusing.

Link: https://youtu.be/jzae4DKexko

Annoyingly, they don't seem to have aged anything like ten years.

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Tom Grady 1959-2016

My brother Tom died September 15.

In March of 2015 he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a particularly deadly type of brain cancer. He initially responded well to treatment, experiencing few side effects, but earlier this year the tumor began to grow again and he was hospitalized for a few weeks in July. He kept apologizing for being a burden, saying that he was the youngest and he should be taking care of us. Finally he was placed in home hospice care and after a steady decline he finally simply stopped breathing. Toward the end it was very difficult for him to express himself, but he still got jokes and smiled and laughed.

Tom was a life-long athlete and sports enthusiast who played on the longest-lasting recreational softball team in his area. As a volunteer he officiated at basketball games and coached youth soccer. One of his teams, the Pink Panthers, gained the state championship for girls in their age group, but he emphasized enjoyment and sportsmanship over winning. On one occasion when his team faced a virtually unbeatable opponent he encouraged his players to forget about winning and instead focus on having as much fun as possible, even switching around what positions they played. They didn’t win, but they played remarkably well and laughed joyfully throughout the game, the baffled stares of the other side adding to their amusement.

On another occasion, when he was officiating at a basketball game, a young boy who had not scored a point all year had a free throw. The ball went in, but the boy stepped a bit over the line. Determined not to take away his one point, Tom turned toward the scorer's table and shouted, “Count it!” This drew angry reactions from the other team and their supporters, but their coach later came to Tom and apologized, saying that after thinking about it he realized that Tom had done the right thing. The boy's father told Tom, “You made my son’s year.”

Tom was fortunate enough to have his a dream job, as a sports and features writer for the Wilmington North Carolina Star-News newspaper. He also wrote two columns for them, one of them on youth sports and the other about pets and animals in general. Humane treatment of animals was his other passion, and besides his column he wrote a popular blog on the subject and had thousands of followers on his Facebook page. His editor wrote an excellent article about Tom you can read here. One of his feature articles from 2003 was cited in Garner's Modern English Usage as an example of the correct usage of the unusual word calender (a type of rolling machine and not to be confused with similarly spelled and pronounced "calendar").

A memorial service for Tom will be held Saturday, October 1, from 3:00 to 5:00 pm, on the softball field where he played for many, many years. Details can be found here.

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Speed of climate change made graphic

Below is yet another notable installment of the XKCD web comic that is very much worth a look. It addresses the far-too-common misconception that since the world's temperature has changed before, global warming is no big deal and possibly just natural variation. (That argument is parodied in the title text that you see if you mouse over the comic: "[After setting your car on fire.] Listen, your car's temperature has changed before.")

As the graph shows, the best data we have indicate that the annual average surface temperature Earth is higher today than at any time in at least the past 22,000 years. Even more concerning, the rate of increase is also higher, by a lot.

The graph includes three projections of future global temperature rise for the remainder of this century depending on how urgently the world addresses the problem. Some people dismiss such projections. After all, they say, we can't forecast the weather even a month in advance. That misses a basic point: Forecasting weather is a lot different from forecasting climate. We can't predict the weather for a particular date in Toronto next year, but we can be pretty confident the monthly average temperature will be higher in August than in February. Continue reading

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Review: Kung Fury (2015 movie)

Over the past six months or so I've heard a few mentions of this film, all of them reasonably favorable, so I finally decided to watch it.

What we have here is a half-hour-long, intentionally over-the-top parody of 1980s Hollywood action movies, including multiple sub-genres, from cops to fantasy. I found it reasonably funny and entertaining if not laugh-out-loud hilarious. I should note that a lot of critics loved it, and it won at least a couple of awards, including Best Narrative Film at the Mexico City International Contemporary Film Festival.

You should be able to figure out in the first five minutes whether it's your sort of thing. In fact, I would suggest that you do that and not watch the trailer first, since it gives away a number of nice jokes and surprises you'll enjoy more if you don't know they're coming.

(Incidentally, while Kung Fury was made in Sweden with a mainly Swedish cast and crew, it's in English. Also, the seeming VHS tape playback problems seen in a few spots are a deliberate joke. And the American actor you'll recognize is really the actor in question doing a short cameo, not a digital trick.)

Below is the entire film (not the trailer). Once you start it playing, you can watch it full screen by clicking the broken square shape in the lower right corner of the picture.

Link: https://youtu.be/bS5P_LAqiVg

The associated YouTube channel has a fair number of related videos, including a trailer (which, I repeat, I think gives away too much of the movie) that was created as part of the Kickstarter crowfunding campaign to raise the money needed to complete production. (They aimed for $200,000 in donations and did more than three times that well.) There's also a trailer for the appropriately 1980s-arcade-style Kung Fury video game, which you can download for free from your favorite app store.

Wikipedia has an interesting article about the film, and you can find out more on the official website, which has more background on the production. While the filmmakers uploaded the film to YouTube for anyone to watch for free, you can support them by purchasing a digital download or streaming access for $5. Most of the associated merchandise is sold out.

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How the world reacted to 9-11

Like most of you, I suspect, I vividly remember the full-time television news coverage in the immediate aftermath of the horrific and monstrous terrorist attacks on the United States fifteen years ago today. The networks did a reasonably good job of it, and my one criticism is that I don't think they paid enough attention to reactions outside the United States. Surely most Americans who saw or read about them were deeply moved by the widespread and heartfelt expressions of sorrow and support, and more would have felt that way if they had been aware.

Link: https://youtu.be/djo12DqE9-4

Link: https://youtu.be/Rlmygu_hn9U

Link: https://youtu.be/pmTeI4Rj6YI

Link: https://youtu.be/3MwqbZnc6m0

Link: https://youtu.be/W5vGho1fEw4

Link: https://youtu.be/rmpo0csiIMs

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Disgust with some drug companies

In a free market businesses are free to set prices, customers are free to buy or not, and competitors are free to compete by offering an alternative product at a better prices. But sometimes customers don't really have a choice whether to buy a product, and sometimes there's no competition, and in that case the market breaks down because it isn't really free.

An obvious current example of what that can lead to is the EpiPen, an epinephrine auto-injector used by people with life-threatening allergies, including quite a few children. A few years ago a package of two EpiPens cost under a hundred dollars and made a respectable product. Now the company has cranked the price up to more than $600. There's no reason to think that the company's costs to make them are higher (unless you count the sharp jump in salary for the CEO), so pretty much all the additional money is profit. Congress is looking into this (see for example this), but it's doubtful that it will do anything, especially if the House remains in Republican control.

Customers can't just refuse to buy the product, because doing so might cost their own lives or the lies of their children. And other companies can't just just in with a competing product, because it takes time to perfect one and prove that it's safe and effective so it can be marketed. (Of course, we could let people sell competing products without approval, but that's gambling with people's lives.)

There's more detailed information in this video by pediatrician, author, and medical school professor Aaron Carroll. The second one is a brief update on the first, and if you're pressed for time you may want to watch it by itself.

Link: https://youtu.be/BdY38YL39g0

Link: https://youtu.be/U-lYKFoVPGM

(Click on the URLs below the videos to see the YouTube page with links to related videos and other sources of information.)

As Dr Carroll mentions, EpiPen's manufacturer has started offering coupons to offset some or even all of the customer's co-pay, but the cost to insurance companies will not gone down, and their higher spending will of course by passed on to individuals and businesses in the form of higher insurance premiums. Moreover, it appears that the coupon only counts against the amount of one's copay -- the fixed amount of money based on the drug's category that's paid by people with prescription drug coverage. Those without insurance, or who pay a percentage of the price ("coinsurance") won't be able to use the coupon as I understand it. The company also says that it is planning to introduce a generic, non-name-brand version of their own product that will cost half as much, but that generic EpiPen is not yet on the market, and it will apparently still cost three times what the EpiPen sold for before the price was hiked.

In the meantime there are plans for competing, cheaper products (such as this one), but it takes time to get them approved and onto the market. Until that happens (if it happens) many people will have to spend a lot of money out of pocket, and the overall cost of U.S. healthcare is that much higher.

Here's a cynical comedic look at drug companies from the people at Cracked (warning: contains a bit of indelicate language):

Link: https://youtu.be/rbFYsYMA3No

(Updated 2016 Sep 12 to add the first of the two Aaron Carroll videos.)

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Whose/who's, your/you're, its/it's made ridiculously simple

A lot of people have trouble distinguishing between with "your" and "you're" or "whose" and "who's." Many years ago I realized there's a simple rule for remembering which is which. I still get them wrong, but at least I can blame my fingers, since in theory I ought to be able to get it right.

Here's the rule: With personal and relative pronouns, apostrophes are used only in contractions and never in possessives. So the word it's, for example, stands for "it is" (as in "It's about time") or "it has" (as in "It's been too long"). You would no more write "everything in it's place" than you'd write "every king in hi's castle."

Of course, the rule assumes you know what "contractions," "personal pronouns," "relative pronouns, and "possessives" are, but all that's reasonably easy as well.

A contraction is just a shortened form of a phrase (or less often a single word), such as 'tis for "it is," I'll for "I will," or can't for "cannot." The apostrophe indicates were some letters have been left out.

The personal pronouns are what most people tend to think of as just plain pronouns: I, me, we, us, you, he, him, she, her, it, they, and them. The old-timey thou and thee fall into that category as well.

There are also a number of relative pronouns in English, but for our purposes the only one we need to talk about is who. (If you want to see a complete list check out this link.)

A possessive is a form of noun or pronoun showing (duh) possession, ownership, or a relationship conceptually similar. If you say "my pen" or "my notebook" you may very well mean that you bought it, but if you say "my friend" or "my country," or "my cat" you usually don't mean literal ownership.

Anyway, what the rule tells you is that it's, you're, they're, who's, and so on are all contractions and need those apostrophes, while "your," "their," "whose," etc. are possessives.

(Incidentally, while on the general subject of contractions, a lot of people understandably but mistakenly suppose that till is a shortened form of until and hence write it "'til." In fact, the older word is "till," and until is derived from till rather the other way around.)

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TV dance mashup

From YouTube's "What's the Mashup ?" channel out of France, the latest compilation of dance clips, this time from television series and set to Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling." There are 75 total clips used. To see which programs are sampled, turn on closed captioning with the little CC button near the bottom of the video window (visible when you click on or mouse over the window while the video is playing).

Link: https://youtu.be/jz_xmoj08vY

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A Syrian refugee family in the United States

A couple of months ago John Green posted another good short video about Syrian refugees that's worth four minutes of your time.

Syrians in general aren't all that different from middle class families in Europe or the United States. The adults tend to be pretty well educated, and they're often fans of American movies. Yes, there are of course cultural and religious differences, but everywhere people are still basically people.

Syrian refugees are people trying to get away from a horrific civil war. Most of them are living in camps in neighboring countries or in some relatively quiet area inside Syria. Some have been taken in by countries in Europe. Out of a few million Syrian refugees a mere few thousand have been allowed into the United States after a difficult and thorough vetting process that takes two years or so. Canada is admitting more than twice as many.

The people who say that Syrian refugees are being admitted without a thorough background check, or that Obama, Clinton, or anyone else is planning to bring in vast numbers wholesale, is either seriously misinformed or scaremongering for political purposes.

Link: https://youtu.be/7rdi9SZX2k8

Here are some previous posts on the same subject:

How much of a real-world threat are Syrian refugees?
This post from last November references information about the complex and thorough vetting process from The Washington Post, The Economist, Buzzfeed News, MSNBC, Fox News, and Republican former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

A conservative Republican's view on welcoming refugees
Republican Congressman Steve Russell of Oklahoma is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a decorated veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who was involved in the operation that tracked down Saddam Hussein. This post from November includes a video of his speech to the U.S. House of Representatives explaining why traditional American values require admitting refugees.

More about refugees from John Green
Young people in a refugee camp in Jordan

Short pieces on the background of the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis

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