Tuesday, December 27, 2005

So at a guess, what do you think the odds are of my sister and I contracting some kind of flu-like virus, and showing the same symptoms - vomiting, fever, all that fun stuff - within half an hour of each other? But on the other hand, what are the odds of us being the only two people getting food poisoning out of a group of ten people at the table? Because it's got me stumped.

My family spent yesterday with my dad's family - my aunt Laurie and her twin daughters Raina and Maron (dammit, they've had their hair colored differently for more than a year now, I should not have such a hard to telling them apart), and my dad's cousin (?) Leigh and her husband Ken and son Sky. So there were ten of us having dinner at a restaurant in Hanover yesterday, and of them, only my sister and I got sick, apparently. My sister thinks it was the cheddar cheese on our sandwiches, since we were probably the only people to have it, but my dad still thinks it's just coincidental flus... who knows.

On another note, I'm definitely getting myself tested for allergies soon. I could have sworn I was allergic to aspirin but not ibuprofen (I've never had it tested, it's just guesswork based on hives I get after certain kinds of medicines), but based on the red blotches I have now either it's ibuprofen too or it's ibuprofen instead or it's changed since the last time I used a painkiller...

God bless us, everyone.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I love this guy. Dick Tuck, political prankster. If only every bit of negative campaigning could be like that. I first saw a reference to him at a blog posting somewhere, probably John Cole's. In addition, I'd like to add one other thing I read about him, I think it might have been on the Wikipedia page about him (which is now down, apparently, because parts of it had been taken without permission from the place I link to). Apparently after he ran for a Senate seat (House? Governor?) and lost, he was quoted as saying "The people have spoken... the bastards."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I learn new appreciation for George Orwell all the time. I think his essay "Politics and the English Language" (a copy can be found here) should be required for every student of political science or English. It's mostly about the craft of language, but there's some relevant and timeless bits about political use of language in there. This bit, for example:
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, "I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so." Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:
While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years [the essay was written in 1946], as a result of dictatorship.

The obvious corollary is that just as some words are used because they're stripped of meaning or they avoid the honest emotional reactions, others are used because their meanings are irrelevant but it's not obvious, or because they provoke emotional reactions just for the sake of those reactions. I'm reminded of Orwell because I just saw this post by a guest blogger at Andrew Sullivan's. What I'm wondering is, what is "militant philosophical atheism"? Can you think of any examples of militant philosophical atheists? I suppose Soviet Russia and other totalitarian communists would count as militant atheists, but there's little or nothing philosophical about them. And since the post itself is about the Catholic Church's position on intelligent design, I doubt Communists could possibly have anything to do with it. I can just see the thought process of this R guy: "hmmm, philosophical = weak, atheist = un-American, militant = terrorist, extremist, baaad..." Who cares that the people he's describing barely exist in this hemisphere and have nothing to do with intelligent design?

And while I'm at it, could someone tell me what "objectively dishonest" means? Is there a bit of Catholic moral teaching here that I'm ignorant of? (Complete coincidence that these both touch on Catholicism, by the way. I first heard this particular emotionally-charged but content-free phrase here; I just reference that Catholic news source because it seems like an earlier use of the phrase, if not the first.) Have any of the people using the phrase ever stopped to wonder what a "subjectively dishonest" statement or action would look like?

EDITED ON 12/21/05, 11:06 A.M.
And of course, how could I forget what might be the single most egregious example of our times: "homicide bombers," which is the term Fox News made up for suicide bombers. Even going as far as to rewrite AP stories without saying so in some cases to make that "correction". I first heard about this in the documentary "Outfoxed." As others have pointed out, it really is pretty much the definition of Orwell's Newspeak - removing information from a term and at the same time trying to incite irrelevant emotional reaction.

"Suicide bomber" - Huh? Why would someone do that? What's wrong with them? What could drive someone to such lengths? How can we prevent something that doesn't fit into normal patterns of rational behavior? "Homicide bomber" - Homicide is a crime, so they deserve whatever they get, end of story, no more thinking needed, it's probably seditious anyway.
To expand on my last post, let me say that I agree with Nicholas Boudrot in the general spirit of his comment. If what we've heard about the wiretaps is relatively complete and accurate, then Bush didn't use the existing procedures to get approval for ordering wiretaps on American citizens when a perfectly good system for getting that approval exists. The conclusion to which some have jumped in the absence of any apparent legal motive for the wiretaps is that they are being placed on non-terrorist opponents of Bush - specifically, Democratic Congressmen or activists or whatever. And since we don't know who they are being placed on - the single biggest effect of this program was to avoid oversight and accountability - that guess is as good as any. Since then, many people are suggesting that it's not that sinister: the program is a massive data-mining operation, so it would be impractical if not impossible to get a warrant for every person who would be affected by it. Of course, that's no less a crime - if the law is inconvenient, then you're supposed to either adapt to it or change it, not ignore it as Bush seems to have done.

So, with the obvious caveat that we don't quite have all the facts yet, I'd say that this rises to the level of "high crimes and misdemeanors." But given that there is no conceivable way that a motion to impeach Bush could be successful while Republicans control both houses of Congress, the question becomes, is it a good idea to move to impeach even if it will fail? Should we do it because it's the right thing to do and damn the consequences, or did Clinton's impeachment lower the bar for impeachment proceedings, or did it raise the bar or what, or does one of those details I'm ignorant of actually completely vindicate Bush, and will impeachment look like standing on principle or just look like pettiness...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Great minds think alike, simple minds seldom differ. Imagine it was 1999 again...

Just because I didn't want to let the warrantless wiretaps story go by, but I didn't have anything witty or original to say about it. What am I supposed to do, feign surprise?

Friday, December 16, 2005

I'd laugh my ass off at this, I swear, if it wasn't being done by an incumbent member of the party that currently controls the government.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pretend it's 1999 or so again. Matthew Shepard is still in the forefront of the national consciousness. Everyone knows about the President, Monica Lewinsky, and Linda Tripp. The word "globalization" is no longer limited to economists and radicals but has become generally known. The Y2K bug joins other, more religious millenial doomsaying. The economy is doing great, partly because of tech investment which will turn out to be a bubble. America's most recent military venture in Bosnia, despite its share of criticism, was successful by any measure. Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh are the faces of terrorism that Americans are familiar with, but the rest of the world still has Palestinian suicide bombers, Basque seperatists, Japanese cults, and more - at least Northern Ireland is calming down, thankfully.

So back in the world of 1999, suppose you saw the following sentence in an editorial in a mainstream American publication.
Torture is like almost every other issue: It involves trade-offs between the rights of individuals and the needs of society.

What would your emotional reaction to that phrase be? Assuming of course that it's being used seriously and not as a caveat or qualifier to introduce something else*, you'd think that the writer was nuts and you'd be right.

The world didn't change on 9/11. We did. And not for the better.

*This is how it's being used in the article I link to. Michael Kinsley is not supporting torture, he's dissecting the "ticking time bomb" "argument". I choose this quote at this link because it's a succinct summary of what many people really are arguing, and those people really are nuts.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Big death penalty debate over the past couple weeks. On the one hand we have Stanley Tookie Williams, co-founder of the Crips, who was executed yesterday for four charges of murder. On the other hand we have Cory Mayes, who is currently on death row for shooting a police officer in a maybe-illegal, undeniably-unnecessary no-knock raid on his house in the middle of the night*. My thoughts? Pretty much everyone is claiming that Tookie is a bad example for anti-death penalty activists to rally around. But I disagree - simply based on my experience. Most opinions about him seem to be "I'm against the death penalty in most cases, but this guy deserves it." But a lot of people are instead saying "I'm for the death penalty, and people like this are why." (Usually throwing in a few gratuitious barbs at the eeevil libruls in Hollywood who have supported Tookie more vocally than Mayes, of course.) A month ago I had been in the first group. But after hearing a lot of talk from the people in the second group, now I'm saying "I'm against the death penalty." So maybe I'm not the target for the anti-death penalty arguments, but Tookie's case worked on me.

Months ago someone e-mailed Andrew Sullivan to argue that the torture in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere was acceptable because terrorists are monsters and deserve whatever they get, and Sullivan's response only disputed the belief that all the abuse victims were terrorists. That e-mail and its response pissed me off - not "outraged", in the overused that-politician-won't-get-away-with-it sense, but genuinely made me angry. The only difference between that attitude and the most vicious, destructive forms of totalitarianism is a matter of degree. (In Sullivan's defense he didn't explicitly agree with the e-mailer, just argued a side issue, so I don't assume he believed the same.) And some sociopath manages to pass it off as fucking normal and walk around in polite society as if it's just another difference of opinion.

Someone once said something to the effect that the measure of a society is not how well the "normal people" live but how the least among you get treated. I think it was Jesus, but I haven't been able to find the chapter and verse. It's inevitable that the rich and influential will be free and protected. It's normal that the middle class, when it exists at all, will be pretty secure. But how a society treats the poor, the crippled, the criminals, the gays and Jews and gypsies and other groups that have been pariahs throughout history - that is the measure of how just and fair and ethical a society is. And people already know it, even if they don't think about it in those terms. Why is America so great? Because it has almost always been a better place for the poor and downtrodden, with more opportunity and equality, than the rest of the world.

And Tookie's case reminded me of that. Forget how we handle the suspects of crimes who are probably innocent, how should we handle the ones who probably aren't? Cory Mayes is easy. He had every reason to believe he was acting in self-defense and the police didn't have a good reason to be there in the first place, so don't kill him. But that dodges the entire question in the death penalty debate. Do we, should we, kill the guilty?

If it was a case of us individually, most people wouldn't even think about it for long. We might take an "eye for an eye" view if it was a loved one, and of course people do terrible things when there's a mob mentality spurring them on. But most people in the position to make a consequence-free, cold-blooded decision about killing a human being would say "I'm not going to sink to their level." I don't think I'm being too naïve in saying that - of course some of the people would pull the trigger all the time, and all of the people would pull the trigger some of the time, but most people would not pull the trigger most of the time. But when it's safely removed because it's done by someone you've never met, to someone you've heard nothing but bad things about, when you don't have to think about what it means, it becomes controversial.

* I know both the links are biased. The idea was not to endorse one or the other of them, but if I happen to agree with Mayes I wanted to be fair to Williams.

Edited on 1/16/2006: Just because I can. No major changes, just tightened up some of the language.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Almost finished reading Al Franken's latest book, The Truth (With Jokes). I've been very slow about it by any standards, let alone mine. Partly just the fact that I have lots more to do with my time than I did when I read Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them, and partly because I think it's not as good. There's the inevitable sequel handicap, and also the fact that I pay more attention to politics now than I did two years ago so a lot of what he talks about is old news to me. But also, it just... seems to fall flat more, and comes across as bitter and refighting-the-election far too often.

However, he's talking about post-war reconstruction in Iraq, and he mentions a particular "security" company that got several contracts. (And it goes without saying, bilked the government for millions.) The company is named Custer Battles LLC.

Custer Battles. Post-war reconstruction was implemented in part by Mr. Custer and his partner Mr. Battles. It was run from the top down by people who thought Custer Battles was reliable. Business management genuises who named anything "Custer Battles," let alone a security contractor, were considered competent to rebuild a country.

Call me crazy, I found that funny.

"Thank you for calling the law offices of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe, may I help you?"

"Oh come on, anti-German prejudice hasn't been popular in America for two hundred years. Steven Hitler has a great chance of getting elected!"

And who ever thought Trojan was a good name? "Let's see, we need something that implies sneaking a bunch of seamen through the walls where they'll spill out and attack..."
- Mark "Kamikaze" Hughes

"I think we should name our new company Custer Battles. It really projects strength and sounds all-American."

Friday, December 02, 2005

Insanity. And while it's generally misleading to judge a blog's author or community in general by the comments that can be found on it, Goldstein and half a dozen other commenters chimed in with unqualified praise for this commenter, so in this case I feel justified.

There's quite a bit in that post that's incorrect, disagreeable, or similar, but there's one thing in there that's flat-out irrational and yet frighteningly common.
The only way we will lose is we keep on listening to idiots such as Murthra, Pelosi, Moore and Dipshit in the time of whatever.

I would recommend to all that they call up or write their congressmen and tell them to stay the course.

Right. El Salvador-style death squads are now a part of the Iraqi police force. The army thinks it's necessary to use propaganda in a country we aren't at war with and they got caught. The duly-elected Iraqi government is asking us to get out and saying that insurgents have a "legitimate right" to attack Americans.

But if we lose in Iraq, whatever "losing" means, it is totally and completely the fault of The Left(TM).

New flash, jackass: the Republicans are in power. If things were going well now, and if they got worse after a Democratic president started implementing his policies, then maybe it wouldn't be totally insane to blame the Democrats for the chaos in Iraq. Since neither of those "if"s is true yet, wake up. Like it or not, Bush is in charge. If he chooses to bend under political pressure and institute a plan that turns out to be disastrous, then - well first of all, I really don't care if it's disastrous unless it's even more disastrous than his current plan, and that's a pretty high bar for disaster. But even if he does follow the Murtha's-in-all-but-name plan and Iran gets nuclear weapons as a direct and inevitable result, it's still his fault. His choice, his decision, his burden. Gun makers aren't liable for gun deaths, neo-Nazis are not (usually) liable for hate crimes they didn't commit, and people criticizing a politician aren't responsible for what the politician does about it*.

To be clear, I can't really blame Bush or other elected Republicans for this attitude. As far as I know they aren't promoting this particular bit of stupidity themselves, and even if they were, politicians do what they have to do to get elected. Dishonesty and innuendo are still unethical, but this is meaningless to complain about because almost any professional politician would do the same thing in the Republican's shoes. But I can blame the morons who fall for it. There's a point when ideology becomes blind faith and willful ignorance, and when you're blaming your political rivals for "potential future"** problems in a situation that they have never had control over, that point is just a speck in the distance behind you.

*Yes, even if he what he's doing is just following their advice. The worst you can call someone who gives bad advice either in earnest or not expecting it to be followed is "stupid". That and much worse is perfectly fair against the men who caused, well, almost everything I linked to above half of what I linked to above and more besides.

**"There are none so blind as those who will not see..."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I think there's a lot of truth to how Jon Stewart described Bush on a C-SPAN show last year some time. He didn't talk about religion or history or any of the issues which has been so clouded that it's almost impossible to tell who did what, he basically just said that he completely disagreed with Bush's leadership style. I bring that up because this seems to be an extremely good summary of that leadership style, and I also just thought it was funny.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Kos saw an article about an increased number of veterans running for Congress and basically just said "Isn't it great, we have more veterans on our side than they do." But when I looked at the article, it was something completely different that caught my eye.
Driven by the unique relevance their experience has to current events and inspired by Paul Hackett’s near victory in an against-all-odds race in Ohio, soldiers back from the Middle East are scrambling to get their names on congressional ballots for 2006. Hackett, though, was not the first to run, or to lose. Marine Steve Brozak completed active duty in Haiti, Bosnia and Iraq before mounting, and losing, a high profile 2004 election fight in New Jersey. Fellow Marine David Ashe was outspent 3-to-1 in Virginia and lost by 10 points that same cycle. A Republican veteran in Wisconsin also lost, and Jean Schmidt, the woman who beat Hackett in the August 2nd special election, beat a different Iraq veteran in her Republican primary. All of this losing means that no Iraq War veteran sits in Congress today.

I don't know for sure if this article is comprehensive, and David Ashe - well, outspent three to one, losing is expected. But as for the rest, that seems like a weird trend. In general, but especially against the backdrop of a war which at the time was popular, why wouldn't veterans have done better? I've got five guesses.

1. Statistical flukes. Anyone can lose here and there, and the above list of names is a small sample.
2. Americans are becoming less jingoistic. Military service is no longer considered proof of patriotism, leadership ability and an unshakable devotion to service above self.
3. Americans fail to take the war, and/or politics in general, seriously at all. Who cares if he's a vet because Congress corrupts everyone, and who knows he's a vet in the first place?
4. The war wasn't that popular after all, at least not by the time these people were running. (Makes you wonder what kind of question the pollsters should have been asking, then.)
5. Incumbency is just that big an advantage.

#1 is a given, really, so the others are all irrelevant unless this trend continues in 2006. I hope #2 is the case, but realistically, it seems pretty unlikely. #4 seems possible, but impossible to be sure of, short of starting up a new polling company from scratch and/or finding some way to reach the 95% of people who always ignore pollers. There's a certain amount of truth to both #3 and #5, but they're only relevant if they're true to a greater degree than was the case in the past. I don't know if they're the main raison, but I hope not. Democracy should not be just a spectator sport, and the outcome shouldn't be a given either.

So I guess this is just idle speculation, but if none of the veterans running in 2006 get elected either, then I'll try to come back to this. (Or rejoice if #2 starts to look possible, but...)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Early New Year's Resolution, No Doubt the First of Several:
To work the word "Belgium" into everyday speech. I mean, really, what's wrong with people? Fuck them. I would boycott whoever the American publisher of H2G2 was, write unfavorable reviews with this specific complaint on the amazon.com pages for every one of Adams' books, and go out and find the original British version of the book and pay top dollar for it, if doing so didn't involve work.
Zoë was home for the weekend, and last night she rented "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." My parents didn't like it so much, but I thought it was hilarious. A good chunk of it was bad stuff happening to deserving or at least stupid people, which can be pretty damn funny if done well. There was a little actual intelligence in there, and the rest was shlocky moralizing after-school special stuff, and while that sounds pretty bad, it's vastly preferable to the contents of teen movies like "She's All That" and "American Pie." And it's the source (or at least an early example) of a lot of the clichés that get both parodied and used in earnest, like that thing at the end of the movie where the character freezes in a pose and a caption tells you their future and ties up all the plotlines nice and neat.

But maybe mostly importantly of all, I've always liked this parody/homage, and now I can appreciate it even more.

Fun facts: Cameos in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" include Ralph Macchio (better known as the Karate Kid) and Nicholas Coppola (better known as Nicholas Cage, he started going by Cage to get out of the shadow of his uncle Francis Ford.)

Non-movie update. Right. Thanksgiving was fun and relaxing. Two aunts came over here and left our place with almost as much food as they'd brought, so we won't be eating leftovers for very long at all. No Christmas shopping happened - not protest, at least not on my part, just no need or desire to do it. I've started making plans for a surprise gift for a cousin of mine, but that's it. We visited family Friday afternoon - extended family: my mom's cousin and his wife, their two sons and their wives, and their two cute little babies. My cousin Anne had to work that day and her son Aidan was at a babysitter's, unfortunately, but her older brothers have also been breeding.

Personally, emotionally, socially... it feels like I hit bottom in some senses last week. I shouldn't say that, of course - lots of people have it much worse than me, let's hope I don't really hit bottom, etc. - but things were bad, and in some ways (followed by the qualifiers I can't stop myself from adding), they're getting better because of that.

So, that seems as good a segue as any into
What I'm Thankful For:
1. A good job. For who I am and where I am in my life, I couldn't ask for a better one.
2. Family and friends that know me, understand me, and put up with me - gosh, even love me. :)
3. Stuff like, well, this. Things like this with a certain balance of private and public. This and certain similar things have probably kept me from going crazy here and there. (Heh. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Cue H2G2 reference.)
4. Our cats. Gray is on his last legs, which is sad, but Panda, Felix and Lucas are still fat and happy. And funny, whiny, and cute.

Friday, November 18, 2005

You know, when exactly did patriotism become such a hot-button issue around here? Well, I guess that's a dumb question as written; it always has been. It's obviously been pretty important since the existence of the modern concept of nation-states, but here and now it seems even more so than usual. Even during the infamous McCarthy trials, at least then the alleged traitors were being tied to a concrete, threatening enemy. But now?

Google "patriotism", and the first hit ties it explicitly into terrorism, the current war and flag-burning.* The second valid hit oozes a mood of defensiveness, quotes Ben Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr., and pleads with people to stand up for their civil rights. A Daily Kos diary is in the top 10 sites.

And the first site talking about patriotism to a country besides America is the twentieth. And that site is talking about what is wrong with it.

Right-wing pundits question the patriotism of liberals left and right. (Er, no pun intended.) It's ad hominem rather than relevant, and almost never based on facts. But it's hard to see why it matters quite so much. I mean, I'm sorry to sound like my mother, but when someone insults you - so what? Especially if it's a content-free insult. Defensiveness is needed, to judge by how many people out there agree with the conservative pundits, but really, who cares if someone says you don't love your country? More to the point, who cares if you don't love your country? Does it affect your fitness to do your job? Is there no state of mind possible in between "love" and "hate"? Tendency to treason or something ridiculous like that - do people go around killing everyone they don't love?

See, this might say something about my interpersonal skills. Sometimes I have a sense of what is undiplomatic and stupid to say, and even then I say it. :)

* All this applies to mid-July when I wrote the bulk of this post. There have been some changes to the Google rankings since then, or course.
Huh. That last post linked to some of my previous posts, and in the process of looking back I noticed quite a few drafts that I never published. In most cases I think it was just because I wanted to add more to them or "refine" them, or I wanted to take time to think over how controversial it would look. But considering what I just said Wednesday about brevity, adding more would probably just be bloat. And as for controversy - hell with it. I blog pseudo-anonymously*, nothing I've said here in the past is really out-of-bounds, and I have at least three readers and maybe up to thirteen, but almost definitely not thirty, so who cares?

And I think two of those old posts are as worth putting up here as anything is. So the next two posts were originally written several months ago.

* I mean, sure, there's all kinds of stuff about my personal life here, and more than a bit about my friends and co-workers. Just going with what I've said here and what I've linked to, a person could figure out pretty much everything about me. But unless I'm forgetting something, my full name doesn't appear anywhere here, and neither do my friends' full names or my place of work [at least, not after a few edits I just made]. You can get from the blog to me, but I don't see how you can get from me to the blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

So apparently there's a lobbying group devoted to making intellectual property protection even stronger. My opinion of that is here, or, to summarize, "shove it". And by the way, the collection of illegal art I mentioned in that post, or something very similar to it, can be found here.

Here's the really fundemental question: is parody theft?

There's more to it than just theft vs. not-theft, and it applies to many more forms of expression than just parody, but if you had to boil the issue down to three words, those would be the ones. Are culture and existing art legitimate subjects for commentary? Artists and entertainers stand on the shoulders of giants all the time, but is there a legal or ethical principle that forbids them from doing so while that giant is alive? (More relevantly, and to me the question is so clear-cut that asking it is ridiculous, is there a principle that forbids them from doing so while the corporation that employed that giant still exists?)

With the kind of name that George Orwell vilified, the Progress and Freedom Foundation thinks the answers to those questions are "No" and "Yes" respectively.

This isn't really a new phenomenon, even though the technology involved makes it seem that way. I don't see any difference between this and the guilds in pre-industrial European cities that existed to keep the senior craftmen on top, or even to some of the occasional excesses of how unions have done business. It's not in the remotest sense about art or innovation, and it's only about property and individual rights to the extent that they're necessary to the MPAA and RIAA. Simply put, this push to extend copyrights into perpetuity, overturn Sony v. Universal Studios* and outlaw what it now called "fair use" is about keeping those on top, on top.

Via Matt Stoller at MyDD.

* My earlier thoughts on the legality of file-sharing can be found here. But let me clarify something - just because I understand and agree with the Court's ruling on the legality of this specific case, doesn't mean I like MGM's stance in any of the larger issues.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Random Thought of the Day: competing pressures on writers. On the one hand you're given story assignments with word counts, but on the other hand brevity is a sign if not a necessary condition of good writing.

In other news, I've finally got caught up at work. Between the national conference weekend before last (went well, by the way... nothing exciting happened, I just helped set up and sort things out, and mingled with the people I've been e-mailing for months), and my own tendency to procrastination I had got a bit behind on a couple jobs, but I'm up-to-date now. For that and other reasons, it's been a relatively bad few days, but... meh. I'm used to it and I'm trying to do something about it, so there's no point in complaining.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

There were elections in half a dozen states yesterday, and for the most part Democrats did well. The only real defeat that I know of was an amendment to the Texas constitution banning same-sex marriage. Here it is. But there's something funny about it. To my admittedly untrained eye, unless there's something very unintuitive about Texas's previous constitution... it looks like there's something in the bill that shouldn't be. When it was pointed out to me, I had to struggle to keep from laughing out loud at work. Can you guess why?

SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 32 to read as follows:
Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

[Emphasis mine.] So, am I reading that wrong, or did they outlaw all marriage? Well, more accurately, take the government out of regulating marriage. Which might be nothing to complain about, but I don't think it's what anyone was expecting.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Well, it seems all the cool kids are talking about the riots in France, (to economize links I chose some of those because they link to other posts) so here goes.

This seems to be getting a lot more attention on the right than on the left, probably because it fits so much more neatly with their prejudices and fears, and they seem to waffle between blaming the riots on Islamofascism (TM) or the French welfare state. Schädenfreude abounds. Most likely of all, it's multi-determined, as Andrew Sullivan put it in one post. Fears of racism by the police were a spark on the pile of dry tinder of a permanent and disenfranchised underclass, with Islamic fundementalists pouring gasoline on it as they can... or something.

Of course, I'm writing about this much later than some and with no news of my own to report, but on the other hand, unlike most pontificators I've lived in France. I didn't think about the racism that suddenly everyone is saying is pervasive in French society, mostly just because I wasn't really exposed to it. I was relatively good friends with an Arab guy and also a black girl at the Lycée Clemenceau, and they weren't stigmatized in school, but it was one of the good schools in Nantes and the effects of racism are rarely that obvious anyway. So I have just two thoughts of my own about this.

One thing I did notice is that France's concept of political correctness is almost nonexistent. Two examples: comic books like "Tintin" are full of some really caricatured racial stereotypes and they're still mainstream and accepted, and a common slang word for "homosexual" is "pédé" - which is short for "pédophile." It may be coarser than "gay" (which also exists in French), but it's still common and not unprintable. No doubt the lack of PC culture is partly just due to the general French lack of prudery, but that can't explain it all. So I don't find it hard to believe complaints about racism just because the French (on their own soil) skipped the really bloody excesses of bigotry that most other places went through.

But as far as people suggesting that this is a general rejection of the French system of government, the most credit that could possibly deserve is "true but irrelevant." If that. Why? Because it wouldn't be the first time. Since the French Revolution they have had five republics, and a monarchy and a couple dictatorships too. While I was staying in France, I remember seeing newspapers raise the question of whether it was time for the Sixth Republic. The editors at Le Monde weren't thinking of this exact event, but let's just say it's not unprecedented.

There are a lot of valid criticisms of France, but apathy and political cowardice are not among them. So even if Paris goes down in flames - and by the way, not too likely - I don't think there are any larger points to draw from it. Other than "racism is bad, mmmkay?" The brewing intifada is just a menace in the minds of the culture warriors out there.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

More "Serenity" thoughts. A lot of people saw political themes in it, and it would be hard to deny that they didn't exist. And of course, people are seeing what they want or expect to see. Liberals focus on the gender equality and lack of prudery, reactionaries focus on the oppressive government and the gunplay, bla bla bla. It reminds me of "The Incredibles." I had urged a friend to go see it but he refused for a while because he had heard that it had some heavy-handed right-wing messages, but when he finally did see it he was struck by how every unsympathetic character in the movie was motivated by greed and had found or made a place in the "free market" system to prey on the weak.

But on the other hand, as I said before, the protagonists of "Serenity" are the veterans of a war analogous to the Civil War, on the losing side. So does it have a right-wing slant?

Well first of all, I don't think it matters. I've read a few people - not many, but here and there - rejecting the movie for its political message(s), which strikes me as cutting off their nose to spite their face. Whedon and the other creators were trying to tell a compelling story and be entertaining, the work stands on its own, and any moralizing was secondary to that if intentionally created at all. And second of all, it's not clear-cut partisan at all. Just for example, in "Firefly" an interracial marriage was at least as important to the plots as the evil empire, and economic hardship was brought up much more often than political actions - if the Confederate elements are political, should we take political messages from those facts as well?

Also, it doesn't appear in the link I posted above, but I've read and read about similar analyses that were just insane. Of Whedon's other work especially. People saying that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spinoff "Angel" are deeply conservative in tone because they're about a fundemental, sharply divided conflict between good and evil. Well, it one big problem with that is obvious, namely that right-wingers don't have a monopoly on morality. But also, and on behalf of the non-Buffy fans who make up a majority of my friends: the show was liberal in most if not every sense of the word. Three lesbian main characters, all of whom were [intended to be] sympathetic and even admirable protagonists? A title character (and despite having human flaws, she's as close as the show gets to a paragon of virtue) who has sex in her junior year of high school? Guns appearing rarely by any standard but especially rarely for the action/fantasy genre, and always either ineffectively or negatively? And even the "sharply divided" part reveals ignorance, with the lines changing all the time between good and evil in the Buffyverse. In order to see a conservative message in that, you have to be completely nuts.

Edited for typos.

Monday, October 31, 2005

"Serenity" finally came to Middlebury's two-screen theater this past weekend, and I figured tonight would be as good a chance as any to go see it. I just got back. Some thoughts (minor spoiler warning for "Firefly" fans who haven't seen it yet, all three of them):

1. Jesus Christ, it's not a movie to go see alone on Halloween. It's not a horror movie by any means, but the origin of the Reavers...
2. It was a good movie. The plot stood on its own, was not overused by any definition, and the characters (those from the TV show, at least) were more than just plot devices. On the "show, don't tell" theory, here's how good it was: I was surprised by the deaths, even though I had been told that some characters wouldn't make it. More than that, I hadn't even tried to predict them. And I don't know if this is because of my own cynical detachment, a universal trait, or my cynicism magnifying a universal trait, but I'm almost always doing that. Will Jayne of all people sacrifice himself nobly? Will Inara and Mal have their long-delayed heart-to-heart while one of them is bleeding to death? Which main character from the series is most expendable to make things look serious? Stuff like that. But here, I didn't get to thinking like that once. There were no unnecessary "gotcha" moments telegraphing imminent crises. And the few clichés in it were either not important to the plot or were sudden and final.
3. Complaint: I missed the theme from the TV show. The song in the credits of the TV show might not have been appropriate for whatever reason, but they could have at least used the tune and as far as I could tell they didn't. Oh well.
4. At the end, I had an interesting thought which I really hope to see in a sequel - sequels - and at the very least it's sure to pop up in fan fiction. At one point Mal has this little speech about how what keeps Serenity flying, and ships in general, is love. For the ship, for the wild blue yonder, etc. This isn't new for him, but saying it out loud is. When he gives the speech, River is sitting next to him as copilot, though we don't know if this is a permanent role or not. Well, in the season [series] finale, there was a part where it looks like River had become one with Serenity - discorporated, assimilated herself into it, something like that. And there she is in the movie, sitting next to him as he talks about love for the ship. In fact, here's how that speech begins. He says, "You know what I'm going to say," and she answers "Yes, but I want to hear you say it."


5. The one season of "Firefly" plus this movie probably had as much Deep Thought (TM) as five seasons of the other major creations of Whedon the Great and Powerful, "Buffy" and "Angel." You could write volumes about the philosophy of it. But doing so would be hard, because the world it's set in is basically a translation of the Wild West - with the protagonists as Confederate veterans of the Civil War. The characters were racially diverse so we're obviously not meant to take any messages like that from it, but other stuff?
6. Fun ride.
The right to privacy. My beliefs about abortion, the context in which the right to privacy is almost always discussed, are relatively well thought-out and solid. They're influenced largely but I like to think not entirely by the experiences of some people close to me, so I can definitely see both sides of that issue. But on the right to privacy itself rather than that one application of it, I really can't see both sides. Either you believe that such a thing exists (or at least, should exist), or you haven't thought the issue through, or your beliefs are much too authoritarian to accomodate democracy. It's not an absolute right, of course, almost nothing is in the real world. But a lot of rights we take for granted flow from it partially if not entirely, and if the option of solitude and being left alone is the exception rather than the rule, then pretty much all other personal rights are empty platitudes. And complaints about penumbrae in the Constitution aside, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments say that anything not explicitly given to the government is reserved for the people - can't get too much clearer than that.

So I can see why people are worried about this Alito guy being nominated to the Supreme Court after Mier's "withdrew" her nomination. Anti-worker (a more accurate term then the common "pro-business"), well, pretty much inevitable from a Bush nominee. Reactionary and maybe even Dominionist, the same. But anti-privacy? This Alito guy didn't oppose abortion in an opinion he wrote, but at the same time supported a requirement of spousal notification. At best that's dishonest ("logically inconsistent," to be legalistic), and completely incompatible with any principle of a right to privacy. And later, supporting strip searches without a warrant? Jesus.

But it's not like I'm surprised. The reactionary and anti-worker tendencies of this administration show themselves in a hundred little and not-so-little ways, but there are often exceptions. Lots of the minorities and women in the Bush administration hold some liberal and/or progressive positions, even if never in a way that actually influences policy. But the one thing that as far as I can tell is completely and totally consistent is an expansion of executive power.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

When you hear about a kid who has diabetes, and goes to a Halloween party, and dies later that night... how many degrees of seperation do there have to be between you and the kid before unintentionally laughing at it in the "Darwin Award" sense is not totally sick and heartless?

Thursday, October 27, 2005


ANCHOR: Harriet Miers withdrew her nomination today.

RIGHT-WING TALKING HEAD: This was not about her lack of ideology, this was about her lack of qualifications.

ANCHOR: Meanwhile, back in Texas, some of Harriet's old friends and neighbors think the Washington establishment didn't give her a chance.

TRUCK DRIVER: Those librul wackos were too hard on her.

LIBRARIAN: It just wasn't very nice. I went to school with Harriet, and she worked so hard, she just didn't deserve people calling her all those names just because President George Bush wanted her on the Supreme Court.

ANNOUNCER: Next, with all the higher prices at the pump, did you think that oil companies were having financial trouble? Our special report may surprise you!

[AFTER BREAK] ANCHOR: You might have thought that after Katrina smashed a couple refineries in the Gulf of Mexico the oil industry would be hurting, but damn you're stupid.

RANDOM EXPERT, COMPLETELY FORGETTABLE EXCEPT FOR HAVING THE UNLIKELY NAME "CHENEY": The oil companies may be hurting, but it's only lower back pain from carrying their massive wallets around--

ANCHOR: Our intrepid Congressmen have been holding hearings to get to the bottom of this mystery.

UNIDENTIFIED DEMOCRAT: We propose a tax on oil companies, but only on their profits in a feeble attempt to look pro-consumer and pro-corporation at the same time.

UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE J. DENNIS HASTERT, ESQ.: On the behalf of these great United States of America, I would like to know what the oil companies are doing to keep prices low out of the goodness of their hearts and their sense of social justice.

RECFEFHTUNC: Oil companies are raking in the cash hand over--


ANNOUNCER: Next, in Tales of the Weird, a Hispanic state legislator in Idaho feels that illegal immigration is a serious problem, but strangely enough, he's Hispanic! Did we mention his parents were Mexican?

MR. EZ'S SUPPORTERS: Those damn aliens are coming up here and taking the jobs from honest, hardworking Americans. They should all be shot.

ANCHOR: And Mr. Ez, a Hispanic state representative, agrees with them completely.

MR. EZ: Factory farms encourage illegal immigrants to come here because they can get away with giving starvation wages and inhuman working conditions to non-citizens, so I want to penalize those farms.

RACIALLY AMBIGUOUS WOMAN ON THE STREET: Mr. Ez's heart is in the right place, but he's on a slippery slope that leads to--

ANNOUNCER: Up next, a gay dancing bear!

Actually, I should watch TV news more often. "Smallville" has often been a guilty pleasure of mine, and I'm always a bit embarrassed when my parents see me watching it. I mean, it's usually five to 10 minutes of intrigue and comic book superheroes, embedded in an hour of teen drama, eye candy, schlocky repetitive plots and shameless product placement - what am I, fourteen? (I probably shouldn't care if some of my interests are more juvenile, but that's another can of worms entirely.) But after one evening of seeing what my parents voluntarily subject themselves to on CBS Evening News, fuck it. I have nothing to be ashamed of.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Friday and Saturday I was all set to write a post about how autumn has really begun. The brilliant, dazzling trees - during my five years in France and Rochester, I saw pictures of Vermont fall foliage in magazines and stuff, and I remember assuming that they were cherry-picking (so to speak) the best examples in the state, that relatively little actually looked like that. So it was a pleasant surprise to notice colors like that on the drive home from work one day. :) And Saturday my dad and I got out the cider press, went over to Rick's, picked some apples and made four gallons of cider. And we didn't have time to finish all the apples we got, either - more cider-making is planned for next weekend. 2 gallons for Rick, and probably the rest for us. Good times.

Unfortunately, it looks like I won't get the chance to write that entry. BECAUSE IT'S SNOWING OUT.

Friday, October 21, 2005

It seems Google is getting sued because they plan to make a searchable index of copyrighted books. So you'd be able to type in a word or phrase and see all the books it appears in. Well, I say "plan to" - it's already out there to some degree at http://print.google.com/, apparently the only controversial thing is the intention to get every book. As in, every book.

The real problem seems to be that instead of asking permission for each book, Google announced their intention of doing this and gave publishing house an opportunity to opt out. Which at the very least looks pretty arrogant, and will probably prove to be no defense at all.

It's a bit ironic that book publishers, of all things, are getting into the intellectual property protection controversy. Audio/video media, software, merchandising, reference material - all of them really might have something to lose if it's safe and easy to get their product off the Internet. But books? I can't imagine myself reading an e-book, at least not with today's technology. For me at least, and I don't think I'm too very unusual in this, neither a desktop nor a laptop could possibly compare to a book you can carry around with you wherever, fit into some pockets, and not worry about because a paperback is only like $5-$10 and can take a fair amount of getting thrown around. (One's immobile, the other's fragile, and they both are less comfortable to read.) And printing a book out? Even assuming that it's as easy as hitting "print" once, and in reality it wouldn't be at all, you still probably wouldn't save any money after the costs of paper and printer cartridges. So how could publishers possibly think they face any competition from a search engine?

Also, it's sad that an author has to give up all proprietary rights to their work. Inevitable, yeah, and far from new, but sad. For all that it's (mostly) luxury items, media seems to be more stratified and soulless than the rest of our culture.

That's hardly the only way, too. I saw a Web site once with pictures of art that almost anyone would call either parody or commentary... but all of which was ruled copyright or trademark infringement. In some arenas it seems like if you want to mock or criticize anything owned by a corporation, you are legally bound to get their permission.

As you've probably gathered by now, I don't like the idea of "intellectual property." I'm not an extremist about it - I think such a thing should exist, it just gets overused and abused - and I don't really have a solution for the problems I see. Hell, if it's hard to define intellectual property it would be a lot harder to define abuse of it. But in the same vein as the "I know it when I see it" definition of pornography, if Starbucks can sue the creator of this and win, it's abuse.

Friday, October 14, 2005

It's been a while since I've posted, which, as in most cases, means not much is going on. Work, World of Warcraft, Magic, "Firefly," and enjoying time with the cats - very routine.

I've had a couple worried moments at work, times I screwed something up or Rick had to talk to me for whatever reason, but I seem to be getting by all right these days. My rogue in WoW has hit level 55, but it's a testament to the depth and complexity of the game that I'm not bored. I've spent less time playing him, but the only reason is that I have a lot of quests built up in instances (dungeons), which can require a couple of uninterrupted hours to do and you need a balanced group with you, and I don't have the time for that during the week unless I want to get five hours of sleep. The Ravnica expansion for M:tG came out in stores last weekend, and everyone at the Monday game night seems to like it. I know I do. I'm halfway through the DVD box set of "Firefly" I bought. It's great - hilarious, fun, exciting. I'm amazed it didn't finish the season, although I guess I shouldn't be too shocked because I've always had a high opinion of Joss Whedon and I didn't get around to checking this show out until now. So if I didn't watch it, who would have?

And it's just nice that I can really spend time with the cats again, especially since they're getting older. (Spending time around the house is definitely not good for me, my social life or my mental state, but at least there's one upside.) They're around 11 or 12, I think, depending on the cat. That's not too old, but still, Panda does seem to be acting it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

So it seems Bush nominated some woman named Harriet Miers to replace Justice O'Connor. I imagine a lot of liberals will probably want to just thrown up their hands and say "fuck it" at this, because you remember how John Roberts was controversial because he was nominated - to Chief Justice, no less - based on a whopping three years of experience as a judge? Well, this woman has never been a judge of anything.

According to that New York Times article, the last president who did that was Nixon. Hmmm, there's a great precedent to follow. And even in that case his nominee had been an assistant attorney general. Miers? Assistant to the president, staff secretary and deputy chief of staff. Oh, and former chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission.

I have to wonder, at exactly what point should normal, centrist people stop taking this administration seriously? Not dislike or disagree with, but treat like children?

EDIT: I wrote that bit pretty much as soon as I found out about this, then I saved the entry as a draft and left for a few hours to do more important stuff. In the meantime, I see a lot of people on the left love this - not necessarily the woman, just the fact that she was chosen and the reaction to her. Five years of pent-up schadenfreude at the right getting a candidate who is nothing like what they've been counting on while at the same time confirming some of the worst accusations against Bush. (And by the way, schadenfreude = "happiness at the misfortune of others" - doesn't that mean that the science of psychology was invented by a man named Mr. Happy?)
For a good chunk of last week I was pretty depressed. My utter lack of a love life and to an extent even a social life, and, worse, the improbability of one happening any time soon, were hitting home. But Gretchen and I got together Saturday afternoon and we talked a lot, and it helped. I can't say my situation or attitude is any different - but if nothing else, my mood is. It was good to get that stuff off my chest.

Also, my sister came back this past weekend while my parents were gone - they got away for the weekend to celebrate their 30th anniversary, and she came up just to take a weekend off from school and work and stuff. Other than me taking a little more responsibility for feeding and cleaning up after the animals than usual, it was pretty normal.

And now that her visit is over with and I'm settled in at work more or less, it's time to get halfway serious about painting my room. When I get all my stuff organized - not just "most of it organized" but "all of it ready to be put in the hall for a while" - I'm probably going to move into Zoë's room for a few weeks while I/we, finally, do something about the ridiculous paint job in my room.

That's the biggest way I finally have to move into the Middlebury house after only being there on vacations for five years, but there are a lot of little ones. For example, I've been meaning to buy a soap dish - nothing fancy, just something that would go in a shower that doesn't cost a ridiculous amount - because when Zoë went off to college, she took some of our bathroom stuff with her.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I got to Rochester around 4:30 or so Friday afternoon. We just had a little time to kill before a charity dinner for hurricane Katrina relief. A campus dining hall attempt at cajun food wasn't pretty, at least not to me. "A funny thing happened after I graduated from college: my taste buds grew back," as I said at the time. The show afterwards was fun too.

Kenny and I left Saturday morning to go to Syracuse. Despite waking up and getting in the car early, we were worried about not getting there in time, but we shouldn't have - the first flight of the main events was at 10:30 or something, but there were others as well. Out of four rounds, I won two and lost two. Didn't do well enough to win any prizes, but still, can't complain. I got some great cards out of it, and my initial tournament deck (75 cards, some of which are lands) plus two booster packs (15 cards each) seemed amazingly slanted towards a red-white deck. I also splashed green in it for a couple elves.

After that I entered a booster draft (you get the cards to make your deck out of by opening a booster pack, taking the card from it you like the most, passing it to the person next to you and repeating the process). I got eliminated in the first round, partly because I was all over the place in my drafting, taking some cards because they'd go well with decks of mine or with the cards I'd got earlier rather than because they'd work well in the draft deck. I made a few trades with other people at the tournament, and dollarwise I think I didn't do so well, but (with one exception) I traded cards I don't use for cards I will use, so in the end I can't complain too loudly.

It took us forever to get back to Rochester - I got us lost on the way. We finally got there, though. Sunday I slept in, we had brunch at good old Danforth, and played a few games and went shopping before I had to go. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the CT meeting even though it is apparently at 5 p.m. this semester instead of 8 like it was when I was around. The drive home is about six hours, so...

At the tournament I forgot, or just missed the announcement in the first place, that I could exchange the basic lands I had used in my deck for another booster pack. And when I left Sunday I forgot my towel and washcloth in Kenny's room, and my razor and shaving cream in the bathroom. At that rate, I suppose I'm lucky I didn't take a bus home and leave my car there...

I went to Magic night up at Quarterstaff Games on Monday, and people were suitably impressed with the cards, but it's not like I dominated the night or anything. I really need to make some decks intended for multiplayer, since that seems like all I go up against. Kenny and Seth and a bunch of other people they recruit at UR, four-person games or more on Monday, etc.

Work's going all right. Nothing big here. I'm doubting I'll come anywhere near my goal of 100 paying guests to the national conference in November, but it's not like my employment depends on that alone and there's still time to get more.

Monday, September 26, 2005

FUCK. I wrote a long and detailed post about the weekend, but for some reason I got logged out of blogger so I lost it. And now I have to get going or I'll be late for work.

Well, a summary: I had fun in Rochester, I saw a lot of people again even though I feel a little bit guilty about the people I didn't say hi to just because it was a brief and busy visit, the tournament went well, and I'm really looking forward to using my new cards at the game night tonight.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I should add to my sidebar there a heading for things that make you say "that's just wrong." Still funny, though.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Appearance can be deceptive. For example, as a news editor of the Campus Times someone gave us a link showing the salary of UR President Thomas Jackson. It was around $500,000, if I remember correctly, and even worse, it had doubled in the past eight years or so. We wanted to do a story, but a little research showed two things. First of all, he wasn't the highest paid UR employee (he wasn't even the 5th highest), that honor went to some heart surgeon at Strong Memorial Hospital. And second of all, he was on the high side for presidents of colleges in our weight class, but not really out there.

A little research showed that the main reason for this is simply market forces. Even a small college is a business (the same basic ideas apply to public colleges as well) with hundreds of employees and, between teaching and research activities, tens thousands of customers. The president of a major college has to be a good public speaker, a good diplomat, good with names and organization, has to have experience at something similar, and maybe most important of all has to be willing to work a 12 hour day, and people like that are pretty damn rare. So while I'm sure that a lot of CEOs are overpaid, setting their own salaries at a whim, and getting their jobs through who they know rather than what they know, not all are like that.

I was reminded of that on Friday. Rick, the boss around here, is bad with computers and has little appreciation of how much time and effort goes into lots of the more background, clerical work of managing this place. It's easy for us to make jokes at his expense. "Dilbert boss," stuff like that, although he's never been that bad. Well, he was working from Connecticut Friday and he asked me to forward his e-mails to him down there. I went to his computer and I saw the FreeCell program open. Out of curiosity, I checked his win percentage. Out of a little over a thousand games, he had won %97. Now, in case you don't play, that's fucking amazing to me. The record on my parent's computer is in the high 60s/low 70s. Sometimes I've had a record around %85, but even that was only on short runs when I was in that experiment last semester - in the long term, my record averages out to around my parent's.

Hardly a useful skill, of course. But damn, you think you know a guy...
This started out as a comment on another blog, but it got so involved and off-topic that I thought it would make a good post of its own.

Russ Feingold in 2008: Why Not?

People on some blogs, here for example, are already talking about 2008 Democratic candidates. And I've seen three names mentioned so far that aren't leftovers from 2004: Russ Feingold, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Notice anything odd about that list? It's a Jew, a black and a woman. And in all of American history, Kennedy was the only president who was not a male, religiously observant* WASP.

Some are wondering how this will affect things. The country seems like it's in as bad a state as it's been in my lifetime, the progressives in America are as weak and divided as they've been since Clinton, terrorism is the greatest threat to the country since the Cold War**... should the party that's not hopelessly corrupt and %110 in the pocket of the oil industry really nominate a candidate who a certain fraction of the country are just too bigoted to vote for***? On the other hand, would those people vote Democratic anyway?

I think Hillary and Obama would be bad for other reasons, (he's inexperienced, and she would bring a former President as First Husband), and I don't know much about Feingold, but I think the only response to those concerns in general is "What have we got to lose?"

The thing I don't think many liberals have noticed is, Bush's current unpopularity doesn't really reflect all that much on conservatives principles in general. For every person who looks at the Islamic Republic of Iraq and what's left of New Orleans and says "Wow, people who want to minimize government shouldn't be running it," even more people are saying "Wow, the feds can't do anything right." And hell, they're wrong, but not totally - competent management of FEMA has always been the exception rather than the rule, I think.

What Bush's %39 approval rating (%38? %35?) does show is distaste for blatant, naked politicking and the use of power for its own sake rather than accomplishing anything. Not reacting to a disaster until it's already hurting approval ratings, rampant patronage and cronyism, rewarding loyalty above all else, putting Karl Rove in charge of reconstruction... People obviously weren't happy to start with, but I'll bet history would show that "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" was the part that was really beyond the pale.

With all that at the heart of the Republicans, the Democrats would have to be even dumber than usual to look for electability and universal appeal. Kerry was supposed to be the most electable candidate, and a guy who spent the Vietnam War in Louisiana and presided over Abu Ghraib beat him by three percentage points. It's clear that the Democratic base has a tone-deaf ear for electability, and/or putting so much emphasis on that looks like soulless political maneuvering.

So if "electability," "centrist appeal" or "inoffensiveness" appears anywhere close to "principles" and "leadership ability" on the list of qualifications of whoever the Democratic candidate is, I'll probably be making my own threats to move to Canada.

*Actually, Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, and several others of his era probably were as well. But that's just details.

** Which isn't saying much. %90 of the fear-mongering has been just that, but there's still the %10 that isn't.

*** To be more diplomatic, and also more optimistic, I'd substitute "reactionary" or even "anti-PC." But claiming that bigotry doesn't exist anymore is, pardon the pun, a whitewash, so...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Random thought of the week:

The word "mentor" comes from the name of Odysseus's advisor/confidant, according to a pamphlet I've put in about 400 binders over the past few weeks to get ready for some workshops. Mentor had at least some hand in raising Odysseus himself - I don't remember the pamphlet exactly and who knows how accurate it is in the first place - and when Odysseus went off to war in The Iliad, he left his young son in the care of Mentor.

The interesting thing to me is, the French word "menteur" means "liar." Quite a difference. When I first noticed that coincidence, I assumed it was just a case of different roots. The French thing would have come from some Latin word rather than a Greek name.

However, a couple days ago I remembered a factoid from literature classes: Romans believed, or at least their cultural heirs in medieval and Renaissance Europe believed, that Rome was founded by refugees from Troy and Romans were descended from Trojans. This means that even though today Odysseus is considered the good guy, it wasn't always that way - through most of European history he was the villain of the story. The deception that went into making the Trojan horse, the arrogance that offended Poseidon and doomed him to a 10-year odyssey home... to us he's a quick-thinking tragic hero, but a view of him could go either way, and to people who associated themselves with Troy it did go the other way. Dante put Odysseus in the eighth circle of hell, if I remember correctly.

So what I wondered was, do "mentor" and "menteur" have the same root after all? To the Greeks he was a teacher, but to the Romans he was a teacher whose pupil was a liar?

Etymology is the study of words and their roots and history, I think, and entymology is the study of bugs. Or is it the other way around?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

I went to Gretchen's wedding Sunday. It was a little weird. Totally secular, not that that's too unusual, traditional vows and dress code, except she was barefoot and wearing a dress much less frilly than a traditional one and had a sort of, for lack of a better term, wreath on her head. As far as I know (and I think I would) there's no real Wiccan/pagan belief in that family, so I guess it was just because they decided they would like this way the best. So... a very unique wedding. Several times during the ceremony the bride and groom were cracking up laughing. I'm not really sure what at since I was standing more to the back, and it was never at an important part like the vows. It's just that I've never seen such an upbeat wedding. The last couple weddings I was at, the groom was in tears or very nearly, and now this, where everyone was laughing and he said he wasn't even frightened. Later on, the DJ played the song "Mrs. Robinson" - hardly a normal wedding choice.

Most of the crowd there were Gretchen's family and friends of the groom. I didn't dance at all for, well, obvious reasons.

Also, I saw Johanna for the first time in more than ten years over the weekend. So she's a lot shorter than I remembered. :) And I saw Georgia with her boyfriend Todd. He seems like a nice guy. Though even quieter than me, and that's saying something. You know, I actually asked Georgia to my senior prom. (I went alone in the end, since her prom was the same night, and it was just a friendly/cowardly safety date anyway.) It's a tiny bit creepy that Gretchen looks so much like Georgia, who I'd known since we were little kids together. I mean, no one would mistake them, but the haircut, the hair color, the build, to some extent the shape of the face... if not for the fact Gretchen and I had known each other long before we dated, my parents might have been disturbed by me dating a near look-alike to a cousin.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

I haven't written anything about New Orleans here yet. Partly because much better writers than I, obviously, are already writing about it, partly because it's not just my quality but also my content - I don't have anything to say that I haven't already seen. And partly just because this has been overwhelming. I mean, it's unreal. I read somewhere - sorry, no link, couldn't find it again - about a woman who couldn't fit on a bus out of the city, so she begged people on the bus to take her baby with them. We'd think a little less of a movie that had such a clichéd scene, but it's happening. FOX News anchors were on the verge of tears in some videos I saw.

I started writing this post several days ago but stopped because a) still wasn't sure that what I had to say was worth it, and b) thought I'd wind up looking like an ass. But since then I've gone from anger - why the fucking fuck did it take so long for help to get there - to despair. It's entirely possible that I'm looking at it from too close, especially since I've barely gone outside my usual channels, but it looks at the moment like this won't matter. I mean, it looks like the morals of this story, both the obvious ones and whatever new ones are revealed, will be ignored. Bush slashed the funding to FEMA and appointed as its head a friend-of-a-friend who's greatest accomplishment until then was getting fired from the International Arabian Horse Association? What do you expect, the federal government can't do anything right. The problem was too big for state governments and it says right in the charters of FEMA and DHS that being the first responder and/or organizer to this stuff is their reason for existence? But the Democrats in Louisiana didn't do everything perfectly, so the feds are off the hook.

I'm sorry. My disconnect from local issues and disinterest in the Missing White Girl of the Week means that I get most of my news from blogs, which is probably bad in general and certainly isn't helping here. And the more mainstream media really is noticing that FEMA fell through as well as many other problems, which seems like unusually good coverage to me. But when I see people attacking the federal government in general rather than the administration that's running it into the ground, when I see people as outraged by reaction to the government's conduct as to that conduct itself, when I read that Bush is trying to appoint Roberts to Chief Justice in the middle of all this...

I saw a quote I liked somewhere - again, sorry no link.

"If one good thing comes out of this tragedy, it will be the repudiation for decades of the idea that people who don't believe in government have any place running the government." --Jeffrey Dubner

The jury is still out on whether or not that will happen. Unfortunately.

On a lighter and more personal note - when I was a kid, I didn't like having such a weird name. It got twisted all kinds of ways by other kids - not necessarily that they wouldn't have made fun of me anyway, but it was easy ammunition, and for that matter chances are most of them didn't mean any harm by nicknames in the first place - and it's a pain having to spell it for everyone. But lately I've come to appreciate it more and more. For example, I can always tell when a caller is a telemarketer. And right now, well, the girlfriend of a good friend of mine is named Katrina. That will never happen to me.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I thought this was hilarious! (Blogging at work again. Oh well.)

Talk about correlations between race, literally a superficial characteristic, and other factors about a person that aren't, go back hundreds of years. The Bell Curve, and some book by its authors that just barely came out which makes similar suggestions about women, clarified the discussion at the same time it became more complicated. This post is the first one I've seen that suggests that the disadvantaged race is the white one, though. And coincidentally, it has the closest one to facts backing it up AND an explanation of the methods of it, by looking at albinism in animals and talking about the importance of melanin.

Clearly this page is a joke. Or at least, clearly it's not meant to have any wider implications than some anecdotes about albinism. All I ask of the people peddling pseudo-science in various fields these days is that they put as much time into their work as this person did into his. If nothing else, it would be a lot more entertaining and make for much better stories.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The discussion over Iraq has got a lot more complicated lately.

From mid-2003 to what seems like last week, it was pretty clear-cut. Either you agreed with the administration about the war or you didn't. On the anti-war side, followers of the Pottery Barn Doctrine (You break it, you buy it), the Pilate Doctrine (The least bad option is to wash our hands of it) and the Pinocchio Doctrine* (Of course invasion and occupation should be the first resort in a humanitarian effort, never mind the WMD fear-mongering, and the Iraqi body count is not growing!) could all get along just fine as long as they agreed that the war was being fundementally mismanaged at the top. Even in the presidential race, Kerry could afford to be very vague about what he would do, instead dwelling on what Bush had done wrong, and he still got the support of these groups.**

That worked because in practical terms, at that time, the differences didn't matter. The most important reason was simply that all of those groups were locked out of the government and they all agreed on the first step towards their goals - get back in the government. We could and would advance any argument and make most comprimises that we felt would get us to that first step. But now, not so much. The bad news from Iraq has got too big and too hard for the administration to explain as inevitable and/or acceptable, the anti-this-war movement has acquired spokespeople who are harder and harder to demonize, like grieving mothers of soldiers and Vietnam veteran Republican senators, and the public mood is definitively against Bush and the war he worked so hard to make his own.

So instead of discussing "Is the war good?" people are now discussing "How can we keep it from becoming more bad?" Which is, duh, a much more difficult question. And suddenly liberals who have been able to blame, second-guess and theorize without any real consequences will have to deal with whether or not their ideas are actually, you know, good.

Personally, I followed the Pottery Barn Doctrine until Abu Ghraib made the news, and ever since then I've suspected that we were wasting time, lives and a whole lot more trying to fix something that was simply unfixable. (Which boils down to the Pilate Doctrine.) It's like a saying I'm fond of about driving through Vermont: "You can't get there from here," "there" being an Iraq about as democratic and liberal as Turkey. But if President Feingold gets elected in 2008 and he openly and honestly follows the Pilate Doctrine, then thousands of Iraqis will die, he, Feingold, will personally get blamed for every single one, and the Democrats won't recover from the false "wimpy" reputation in my lifetime if ever. If he follows the Pottery Barn Doctrine, then thousands of both Iraqis and Americans will die (and it's anyone's best guess if the numbers will be higher this way than the other way) and the wimpy reputation just might be changed for an incompetent one.

If we're lucky, then Ezra Klein's strategy is right. If we're very lucky, then it won't be overtaken by events. If we're insanely, winning-the-lottery type lucky, leading Democratic politicians will follow it.

* I mean the liberal hawks who supported the war because it would be getting rid of Saddam. I realize dishonesty/hypocrisy is not a bigger problem for them than for anyone else in politics and this "Pinocchio Doctrine" description only applies literally to about three people. I was just stretching things to fit the alliteration.

** Too bad that wasn't enough.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Biked to work this morning. Took me 22 minutes to go what mapquest says is 3.9 miles. It wasn't a bad ride at all, but despite what I was saying at first I'll probably do it rarely. Two reasons: it takes longer than driving, and going out to get lunch would be a much bigger production so I'll be packing lunch... on a day when I want to be aerodynamic and will be hungrier than usual after exercise.

Heh, and as you can tell by what I've devoted so much thought and writing to, it's been sort of slow. :) I've spent most of the past few days putting labels in dividers for workshops coming up in September. I've spent quite a bit of time lately playing World of Warcraft - my dwarf finally hit level 40, w00t! But he can't afford a mount. And I got so sick of riding back and forth from one zone to another all the time that I started a new character - a mage, just because they have the spell teleport.

Still going to the Magic game nights in Burlington and having fun there. Other than that... no news, really.

Monday, August 15, 2005

I saw "The Wedding Crashers" the other night. It was pretty good. The interesting thing is, the quality is all in the execution, not one bit in the plot. The story is, two best friends (Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn) who make sixteen-year-olds look mature and sophisticated crash weddings serially to pick up women in the wonderfully romantic atmosphere. They go to one last wedding, get in way over their head, get caught in their ridiculous lies, fall head-over-heels for a girl in the bride's family, and finally learn A Valuable Life Lesson about love straight out of "Not Another Teen Movie". Oh, and how could I forget the absolutely perfect girl dating a good-looking guy who is secretly a pushy, violent asshole.

So, an overdone plot, and dumb to me. It seemed like every third episode of prime time sitcoms - "Frasier" was the worst I can remember about this, but they all did it sometimes - revolved around someone telling a story to cover their ass or impress someone, or else someone misinterpreting a completely innocent statement, and the rest of the story was nothing but awkward lies and supposedly comical misunderstandings until someone finally apologized. Oh, wait - "Meet the Parents," Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro, is probably the best example of all. Oh, ha ha ha, the septic tank overflowed and now Ben Stiller has to deny flushing the defective toilet. Ooo, he's so desperate to impress his girlfriend's dad that he tries to pass off a cat from the homeless shelter as the dad's missing pet. Just hilarious.

But "The Wedding Crashers" gets the formulaic plot right, in a lot of little ways. When Vince Vaughn lies desperately to cover his ass, it's hilarious because he actually deserves the trouble he's fleeing. And the blue-blooded family that sired the female leads is easily fucked up and vindictive enough to deserve Wilson and Vaughn. Owen Wilson's massive character growth doesn't happen overnight, it takes months, and you get hints from the very beginning that the potential is there. (That might sound like spoilers, but come on, it's still a Hollywood movie - of course the guy on the movie posters is going to get the girl.) His love interest is actually likeable for something more than a pretty face, a cute girlish giggle, and/or a tomboy-just-waiting-to-discover-her-feminine-side personality. You've got good actors - Christopher Walken, (and I really, really hope that site isn't a joke) Jane Seymour and a couple others - in relatively minor roles, and besides all the obvious positive effects of that, it makes it seem like the whole family and setting is actually important rather than just being a backdrop for the male leads with comedy backgrounds to bumble through.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Okay, so I just sent out an e-mail to 18 or so people - principals, teachers, guidance counselors - asking them for registration forms for some workshops that the foundation is holding in September. One of them bounced, and included in the long string of machine-generated technobabble explaining why and how it bounced was this:

X-Spam-Report: Spam detection software, running on the system "mf2-3", has
identified this incoming email as possible spam. The original message
has been attached to this so you can view it (if it isn't spam) or label
similar future email.

So apparently, my e-mail was mistaken for spam. Heh... whoops.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Best Dilbert Quote Ever:

"I believe in karma. That means I can do bad things to people all day long and I assume they deserve it."

Work's been going all right this past week. It's been slow, even to the point where I've felt guilty/self-conscious about how little I've been doing just because I couldn't find anything I could do, but I'm sure it will get busier, probably a lot busier, once the school year starts.

Today we went up to Ikea at Montreal. Got lost going in and coming back, in different ways and for different reasons, which must take some talent. How much French I've lost was a little embarrassing, though. Granted, some Canadians have pretty strong accents (last year I was saying they spoke French with a Southern accent), and the reading ability will take a lot longer to fade, but still. Soon I should go to a bookstore or amazon.com to get some French-language books, and I'm wondering how many of my DVDs have dubbing. I've got to slow the loss somehow.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Blogging from my first day at work. (I don't plan to make a habit of this, but it looks like I could if I wanted. I have my own computer, and while in the future I'm sure I'll have a lot more to do than I do right now, I'd still be able to take a few minutes to type something of my own. Hell, at the moment there's only two other people in the office, one of whom is upstairs, so even if being caught was remotely worth worrying about it would be pretty unlikely.)

It looks pretty good. I'll be working closely with Andrea, who puts together the foundation's annual newsletter, and I'm one of the two people who answers most of the phone calls, and besides that I'll have a lot of little things to do in terms of corresponding with member schools, program directors and stuff.

It's funny how much of a family operation it is. A woman I thought was pretty good-looking when I interviewed turns out to be the boss's step-daughter (whoops...) and I just found out that another woman I met is her mother. My three-mile commute is apparently higher than the average.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Yesterday afternoon I went up to Burlington and hung out with Gretchen for a while. Just hung out, watched a little TV, showed each other some funny videos online, talked about our problems, etc. After that I went to Circuit City in Williston. Got a little lost on the way but I made it eventually. From there I went to Burlington to pick up the pants for that suit I'd got a few weeks ago - we left the pants with them to have them altered - had a light dinner, and went to that weekly game night at Quarterstaff Games. It actually went pretty badly. Half the people there were playing decks with some kind of infinite combo, so it wasn't too much fun. (I'm in no position to complain because I was too, but I never managed to complete my combo. So I was bored/frustrated for a completely different reason than the people with really powerful cards that got countered or whatever. Bah.) The night petered out around 10 p.m., but I probably would have left around then anyway, between being tired and having the computer waiting for me.

Oh yeah - Sunday I biked 16 miles. Farther than I've ever gone in my life in one day. I'm a little proud of that, but not too much - self-consciousness is a powerful motivator. Most of the time I go biking alone, but Sunday afternoon my dad and I went together, and I don't think anyone wants to be the first person to say "I've had enough, let's go back." I know I don't.

So I don't especially care about having gone that far. But what I am proud of is that I was not sore at all afterwards, only a little bit stiff. I'm in much better shape than I thought. Cool!
Today's blog post brought to you from... my room.

My new computer is set up and running. I still have to install a lot of programs, but it's online, obviously, and it has the essentials.

One of those programs that needs installing is actually a re-install: iTunes. It came with the computer, but I used my iPod to move some files over from my old computer to this, and every time I plugged the iPod in iTunes refused to let me use it if I didn't configure the iPod to go with this computer, thereby losing all the files meticulously saved on it. But uninstall iTunes, and the computer read the iPod like any portable hard drive. Cool. If only I had figured out that would happen before the first time I tried, which wiped out all the files on the iPod...

Oh well. It's not like they're actually lost, because they were on the old computer, they were just deleted from the iPod. (Except for some TV episodes I had downloaded and saved only on the iPod to save space on the computer. Oh well.) I'll have a ton of organizing to do getting everything into its folder and proper file associations, and downloading software that I take for granted like AIM and skins for media players and game patches. But I'm typing this on a computer in my own room with a wireless connection, a flat screen (yes! I know it's sort of stupid to make my purchasing decisions now based on what my needs were when I was in college, but I grew to loathe lugging that enormous screen around every time I set up the computer), four times the RAM of the computer downstairs and almost three times the memory of my old computer.

Thank you, mom and dad, this was a great birthday/graduation present.

Damn, though, I haven't been sleeping well lately for some reason or other, and this will not improve matters. :)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Update: my monitor input cable is unaccounted for too. At this rate I'll really need to get a new computer.

But the strange thing is, I think I remember seeing it somewhere, which makes me optimistic about finding the set. I could be imagining it, of course. I mean, am I remembering seeing it today/yesterday, or remembering seeing it on one of the eight previous times I packed and unpacked my computer?

As you can tell, though, it's been a relaxing day. Unpacked. Biked into town briefly. It's nice out, for once.
Finished unpacking, pretty much. Unfortunately, my computer's surge protector and optical mouse didn't turn up. I've looked everywhere I could think of, and they apparently are not in the house. The surge protector doesn't matter - while looking I came across one or two spares belonging to my parents - but I want the mouse. It's not cordless, but I don't care about that because it's still a lot better than a mouse with a trackball. No moving parts to get dirty and stuck, that sort of thing. And even though this computer is getting pretty old and I'm already looking at replacements, I'm seriously considering a laptop, which probably wouldn't come with any mouse, let alone an optical one. Earlier I was considering biking to that computer supply store on Route 7, but I came to my senses. My parents might have some ideas of where to look, and after all it's not like I'd go into withdrawal if I can't get my computer up and running this very day.

Possible locations for the missing parts.
1. Still in a box. I wouldn't mention it, but lost items always seem to turn up in places like that. Over the winter I looked all over the place for my hat from Nantes and was bummed that I had lost it somewhere, but when I packed to leave UR in May I found it on the wrong side of the closet shelf, under a bag - I just hadn't looked there. For all I know I packed the mouse with my hand-held vacuum cleaner to save space and it's still there or something. But still, this is a long shot.

2. Still in the car (which is now at Mr. Up's, because Zoe drove it to work.) I doubt this, because I don't remember putting them in loose, but I didn't do a final check of the car before I put Zoe's bags of thrift-store clothes back in. It's worth looking again, when I bike into town or just when she comes back.

3. Somewhere in the house. Again, doubt it, because I've looked everywhere I can think of, but who knows. This would mean I brought it back with me in mid-May. (It just occurred to me that there was something I had left in the bottom of my suitcase for lack of anything better to do with it - was this it?)

4. Still in the storage shed. Hope not, because I won't even know for another month. And I doubt it, because I was more alert loading up the shed than I was unloading it and I had my dad helping me, and I thought we packed all my stuff on top of itself - if they're still in there, my dad or I had a brain fart or Kenny moved my things around, because I really couldn't have missed one more bag of mine in the corner yesterday.*

5. Still in the dorm. The chances of three "reasonably intelligent" people not noticing one last bag in a room that's been reduced to the original dorm furnishings seem like one in a thousand, but the mouse and surge protector have to be somewhere.

As far as searching the house goes there's no point looking under the rug and in with the staples, but I can check the boxes and car again, so I guess I'll go do that now.

* If Kenny or Seth can prove I did in fact do this**, I'll kill them and delete this entry. No evidence.

** On the other hand, if one of them moved my stuff around after I left, I'll never let them forget it. Their fault. Ha!