### Iraq War 2: Electric Boogaloo

Sequels to Hollywood hits are rarely good. It's just too easy to succeed by being fundamentally lazy. Note the success of the original, sign the stars to new contracts, rehash the same basic story and jokes in a new setting, start advertising a year out, and finally: rake in the profits. It's great for the studios, but rarely good for the viewers. The Karate Kid was a masterpiece. The Karate Kid 2? Total bummer.
 Just do the crane kick, Daniel!

Remember the Iraq invasion? Not the prequel, when America barely dipped it's toes into Iraq. I'm talking about the good one when the military got all up into that sovereign nation, wrecked it, tried to install a government and set up shop in a gigantic fortified compound right in the middle of Baghdad (those madcap Americans!). Then, in a plot twist right out of M. Night Shaymalan, the Iraqi people fought back, pressured their government to kick the Americans out, and...something, something Surge! It turned out the Iraqi people were actually the bad guys all along. I know you're gonna say you saw it coming, because they were brown and Muslim and terroristy. But I was all: What. Tha. Hell?! Totes surprised. More than a decade and a million Iraqi deaths later America rides off into the sunset leaving a failed state behind.

That. Was. AWESOME! Oh, man. I still have the collectors' soda cup and the Mission Accomplished shirt.

A key part of the movie that most people don't remember as well as the explosions and car chases was the high drama of the protagonists having to convince the American people that the invasion was not only the right thing to do, but absolutely imperative for their safety. So there was George Bush warning of mushroom clouds, Colin Powell holding up vials of white powder, and constant messaging linking Saddam and 9/11. Oh, and don't forget the rape rooms, torture chambers, and stories of Saddam doing other, assorted bad things to his citizens. America movies always have a bad guy doing bad stuff to their citizens! How else are we supposed to get behind American death and destruction except by being reminded that only America can stop the bad-guy death and destruction? One must always add a bigger wrong to a smaller wrong to get to the right answer! It's just good story telling.

 "We'll tell you the facts. The same facts that were told to us by government officials."

Of course, the protagonists get what they want by teaming up with the mass media (Wolf Blitzer appearing somberly on screen following kick-ass graphics, music and all but a countdown timer for the start of the war), intelligence agencies, and a hastily assembled international coalition (Of The Willing). I mean, that's a given. The American government doesn't give hundreds of billions of tax dollars to the military-industrial complex to not fight wars. That'd be a total waste of military hardware*.

*I can't afford one myself, but a government official once told me that drone-launched Hellfire missiles go bad after like three months.  You gotta kill people with them when they're ripe or they stink up the house.

If you're like me, you probably don't think that this story sounds very realistic. No half-way rational person would ever do this, especially when America has been warning Assad that they'd kick his ass if he does anymore bad things to his people. But that's Assad for ya! And I don't mean to sound racist, but he is kinda Middle Eastern, and you know how those leaders are (it's a cultural thing). Right as he's about to win his civil war and have a nuclear-armed superpower finally leave him alone, he's just gotta gas some people one last time. He's like Hingle McCringleberry doing the third pump. It's so damn predictable that American experts know exactly what happened within hours of the first appearance of smoke over Douma. No investigation or credible evidence needed*.

*The State Dept. said, “These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community.” But you know how it is: it depends on what the definition of "if" is.

 Uh oh, that was the third pump!

So now America has no choice but to invade (re-invade? post-invade?) yet another Middle Eastern country. Look, if there were another hero in shining Kevlar armor out there, America would be all, "We're staying home. It's your turn to right the wrongs in this world." But there is only one Neo in this here Matrix. Right when America was gonna retire, they keep pulling it right back in!

I think the sequel is going to be predictably bad when it's all said and done. But there's always a chance it'll be as good or better than the first one, right? Right? Well, I'll be there on opening night dressed up as an Abu Ghraib prisoner*. Because what am I gonna do, not watch the next American war?

* I was gonna dress up as National Security Advisor and O.G. neocon John Bolton, but decided that'd be in bad taste.

### On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on NBA.com, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

### The Force is strong with this one...

Last night we were reviewing multiplication tables with Owen. The family fired off doublets of numbers and Owen confidently multiplied away. In the middle of the review Owen stopped and said, "I noticed something. 2 times 2 is 4. If you subtract 1 it's 3. That's equal to taking 2 and adding 1, and then taking 2 and subtracting 1, and multiplying. So 1 times 3 is 2 times 2 minus 1."

I have to admit, that I didn't quite get it at first. I asked him to repeat with another number and he did with six: "6 times 6 is 36. 36 minus 1 is 35. That's the same as 6-1 times 6+1, which is 35."

Ummmmm....wait. Huh? Lemme see...oh. OH! WOW! Owen figured out

x^2 - 1 = (x - 1) (x +1)

So $6 \times 8 = 7 \times 7 - 1 = (7-1) (7+1) = 48$. That's actually pretty handy!

You can see it in the image above. Look at the elements perpendicular to the diagonal. There's 48 bracketing 49, 35 bracketing 36, etc... After a bit more thought we…

### The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…