Strange Brouhaha

Monday, January 31, 2005

where do I start?

It's not so much that high schoolers think the First Amendment goes too far and that the government should have the right to censor our newspapers. It's the reason WHY they think that. Which is: they literally don't know any better. Schools have neither the time nor the money to teach First Amendment issues and, more importantly, to put them into practice in well-funded school journalism programs.

Why don't schools have the money to offer strong civics classes and journalism programs?

Because of the relentless thirty-year assault on civil society, aka tax cuts, perpetrated by a certain political party which shall remain nameless, but which profits from ignorance, apathy, and a population willing to have its news censored by Big Brother. So much easier to start wars under false pretenses that way, and more important, to get the sexy rush of being a country's master instead of its servant. ("Call up the Times, Ari! Tell them they have to kill that torture story RIGHT NOW. National security. Then tell our docile and subservient population that we did that so they can quiver with delight at our power. Then, uh...leave me alone.")

Some time ago, there was a story in the New York Times Magazine called "The Incalculable Costs of the Tax-Cut Crusade." This is part of those costs--high school students to whom the First Amendment is alien and who have so little understanding of what it means to be American that they think the government should have the right to censor our news.

I'll tell you one thing. The Repubs might pretend to hate the commies, but they're sure doing all they can to create Stalin's dream population.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

More Gripes about the Boondoggle Center

I've written before about how I feel about Jerry Frautschi's Arts Boondoggle, also known as the Overture Center for blah blah blah blah.

The Civic Center (R.I.P.) had a weekend series for kids called "Kids in the Crossroads," the crossroads in question being a small performance space in the atrium of the Civic Center where they would hold free shows. They would put on little plays, or have a singer perform, or a storyteller. It was always insanely popular, and was never less than really crowded, even on super-cold days after snowstorms. People would sit on the stairs and crowd the atrium. When they build The Boondoggle, there was a promise of a purpose-built space for the series.

They delivered, alright. They delivered a nice little mini amphitheater under the rotunda. It's actually pretty nice, and a reasonable space for a small show.

Notice the words "little" and "mini?" Used apurpose, I assure you, for the space is still too small. People sit on the stairs and crowd the space, and jam in around the balcony. Did they never pay attention to how crowded the events ALWAYS were?

To make matters worse, there is exactly ONE way to reach the space, and that's down a relatively narrow spiral staircase. (There is an elevator, big enough for a few people.) I think that's my biggest gripe about the Boondoggle in general: you can't get into the damn thing, assuming you want to. Imagine trying to jam hundreds of people into a tiny performance space down a single staircase, then getting them out again. What were they thinking?

I really hate this building. Really really really really. I promised Savannah I would remain calm the next time we go to a show there, and I will...but I hate it. They could have done a lot better for over two hundred million dollars.

Friday, January 28, 2005

What is the matter with these people!?

The title of the e-mail from truthout says it all: "GOP Sabotaged Security Efforts at Chemical Plants."

The chemical industry did not want to be made to harden its plants, and they found staunch allies in the Republican party.

I'm sure I do not need to bring up the numerous times George Bush said that if John Kerry was elected, the terrorists would win, the terrorists would attack, the terrorists this, the terrorists that. I'm sure I do not need to remind everyone how Bush has implied that he and Donald Rumsfeld were the only ones who would keep America safe.

Apparently their idea of keeping America safe is ignoring our borders, ignoring our coasts, ignoring our chemical plants, ignoring our water treatment plants, ignoring our food supply, ignoring our police and fire departments (no new equipment or training!), not finding Osama bin Laden, attacking a country that didn't do anything to us, and torturing arbitrarily-arrested prisoners in sick and hideous ways so that everyone will hate us and want to get revenge.

And people apparently (if the election results are to be believed) thought this was an excellent strategy.

Um....have we checked the water supply for lead lately? Or maybe LSD?

Good Christ, as my old Latin teacher Sister Eleanor used to say (while rolling her eyes).


"It's exciting times for the Iraqi people."

--Emperor Bush, quoted in the Nation

(You'll have to scroll down a bit. Meantime, you'll read Bush's press conference and all the stuff that the Nation's David Corn wishes he had been there to say. Including a response to the "exciting times" remark.)

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I'll tell, I'LL TELL!

I took the day off today to go to the dentist for the first time in...well, I don't know the actual number of years it's been, but ten is probably pretty close to the mark. The dentist was a really, really nice guy. His office is really nice. I just want to get that said up front so that you know.

Ten years is a long time to go between visits to the dentist. It is, in fact, an unreasonably long time, and if you haven't been, I highly advise you to go. As I was sitting there, whining inside my head and trying very hard not to think of "Marathon Man," occasionally rinsing mouthfuls of blood away and dabbing blood from my lips, I vowed to myself never to go this long between visits to the dentist. Seriously, I was ready to tell him anything he wanted to know. (Did I mention he was really nice? This was actually one of the better dentist visits I've had in my life.)

It put me in mind of the time I got my wisdom teeth out, about 15 years ago. On one of them, the dentist pulled and pulled and pulled. Then he stopped pulling. "This is a hard one," he said. He braced his foot on the chair and pulled some more. Then he said the word that nobody ever wants to hear from a dentist:


I don't even remember what the "oops" was for. (Whaddaya mean, OOPS?) All I really remember about the rest of that was having to stay because they broke a drill in my mouth--they needed to x-ray the jar of spit they sucked out of my mouth to make sure that the bit wasn't floating around inside me somewhere. Oh yeah, I also remember being an idiot and not filling the prescription for the painkillers.

If you ever get your wisdom teeth out: Get. The. Painkillers.

That is all.

Don't study Microbiology

I'm not really big into conspiracy theories or anything, but when forty microbiologists have been killed (or died under mysterious circumstances) over the last four years...uh.

Yes, I know, this doesn't actually prove anything. If you go through ALL murders and deaths over the last four years, you'd probably come up with a lot more than forty members of any single group you'd care to mention. Still, it's a little interesting.

Watch for this to show up on Fox News: "Microbiologists murdered by Iraq...proves Saddam WMD connection."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Cloudscape Contest

I was intrigued enough by the advertisement ("Win an iPod!") that I clicked on it, to find that it as for a contest, sponsored by IBM, for the Open Source database Cloudscape.

Not to cheerlead for IBM, but Cloudscape is actually pretty neat. I'm thinking that when I finally get around to taking inventory of all of those thousands of books in the basement, I'll embed Cloudscape into my app, rather than using mySQL.

The contest itself is pretty simple. They send you a starting table and row, and you have to write an app that queries the database to get the data from that table and row. That leads you to a second table, which leads you to a third table and row. That third entry contains a word, which is your ticket to contest entry. (Okay, "simple" if you've ever written a JDBC application. The hardest part for me was figuring out how to construct the database URL, since I had no idea where Cloudscape was going to look by default.)

I wrote a horribly ugly app (what do you want for two hours' work?) and submitted my answer, which turned out to be correct. Maybe now that I already have an iPod, I'll win another one.

If you need a relational database, you could do a lot worse than Cloudscape.

"outposts of tyranny"

Amitabh Pal, writing for The Progressive, has gone to the trouble of exposing the Bush Administration's flamboyant hypocrisy on the subject of tyranny. Apparently Ms. Condoleezza Rice thinks Iran is tyrannical, but Saudi Arabia is fine. In what fucking universe? North Korea made the "outposts of tyranny" list, but not Uzbekistan, where they BOIL PEOPLE TO DEATH. Yes, that's "boil" with a "b." Zimbabwe made the list, but not Equatorial Guinea, which has been cited over and over again for its human rights violations. (No boiling, though.)

Now, boys and girls, what's the thread here? Anyone? Anyone? (Or as my old French professor used to say, "Et alors? Et alors?")

That's right! The countries on the list do NOT provide the United States with oil! The absolutist, tyrannical, totalitarian, no-freedom-of-conscience-or-religion bugfuck regimes which ESCAPED the list DO provide the United States with oil. Aren't you glad we got that all cleared up?

So now we know what the word "tyranny" means. It means "place where there is no democracy or oil."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Parka delivery for a Mr. Satan

It must be a cold, cold day in hell because I found myself agreeing with a whole bunch of stuff Ted Kennedy said. From the article:

But Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, said the war there has become "a catastrophic failure, a continuing quagmire" -- and he called Rice "a principal architect of our failed policy."

Kennedy said he believes Bush should be allowed to choose his Cabinet and that Rice has extensive experience and credentials. But he added, "In these continuing circumstances, she should not be promoted to secretary of state."

And that's not even conveying properly what he said or how he said it, at least not the parts of it that made it onto the radio today. But it's true: she is one of the principal architects of a structure built on lies, and for this, she should be promoted? For shame.

Oscar Nominations

This year's list of Oscar nominations is interesting. For all of the hubbub late in 2004 asking "Who the heck is gonna get nominated this year?", the list of nominees seems to be pretty strong. It's interesting to me that Jamie Foxx is nominated twice--that doesn't happen too often, does it? "Collateral" is on my shelf, ready to be watched, but I did see "Ray," and he was pretty good in that. The Best Actor race looks really tight: maybe I'm wrong, but there's nobody in there that you can really dismiss out of hand, which is unusual for the Oscars.

That reminds me, I need to see "Sideways," too.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Michael Tomasky in the American Prospect

A great article on the '48ers, an underrated group of liberals who helped shape our history in key ways and whose help we could really use now. The point of the article is to resurrect their forgotten achievements. They used skilled brinksmanship to scare the USSR away from invading/subverting Greece and Turkey. They also, and this is key, refused to sign off on CIA-sponsored "regime change" in Iran, for the very sensible reason that it was a bad idea. (These people were able to make the distinction between "democratically elected socialist government" and "Soviet puppet regime.") Then in the 50s the Republicans took over and that fucking lunatic Whatsisface Foster-Dulles signed off on the coup, and the sick bloody dance began.

Anyhow, the '48ers have a bad reputation today because they authored the Truman Doctrine, which was used to justify the Vietnam War, which is a tragedy. But their achievements turn out to be well worth a second look, and like I said, we could really use them now. Tomasky's description of what they would be doing to contain Islamic terrorism made me weep with longing.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Carl Hiaasen will save us

Auntie, I am no longer frightened. As long as Carl Hiaasen is out there writing columns like this, we may just squeak by. (Barely.)

I love his point about if Clinton had tried it. You bet they would have impeached him again, and they would have made it stick. Yet here they are, saying that when THEY do it it's just public relations. Kinda like how they said (this is true) that THEIR extramarital affairs were "normal" affairs, so it was okay. Isn't there a Garth Brooks song that kinda sums this all up? "Shameless"? Yep.

Anyway--you go, Carl.

Help me, Auntie Em, I'm frightened!

Donald Rumsfeld has his own personal spy unit.

Aw, rats

I was idly thinking about writing software for dance notation, but there's already Labanwriter. There are others, too; I heard of a project at Yale to use Labanotation as a starting point for a control language for robots.

Plus, there's the fact that I'm not really all that interested in dance, except as far as my daughter's involvement in it. And the fact that I know nothing about movement notation. The latter is not a large barrier, as learning it isn't impossible. But the former...well, we'll see. It'll probably go in the drawer along with all my other great ideas.

I still need to write that inventory control system for our book collection anyway.

Friday, January 21, 2005


Just remember, when you see the picture of the screaming girl covered in her parents' blood, that we have apologized for the unfortunate incident.

We have always been at war with Eurasia

I saw something on the television machine today. The local public access channel carries a few hours of Free Speech TV in the morning. I happened to catch a little bit of it this morning.

They were doing man-in-the street interviews at the Coron...uh, Inauguration, with people who were Bush supporters. Amid the "This is a great day for democracy" stuff, the FSTV person asked someone, "What's your greatest concern today?"

"World peace," was the firm answer. "And you can't have world peace unless you remove all the people, like Saddam, who are against world peace."

Huh? War is peace?

Perfect, isn't it? Apparently, ignorance is strength, since Bush is so solidly anti-intellectual, anti-science, and anti-thought and people seem to love him for it.

And we know they think there's such a thing as too much freedom, and too much justice.

Where's the modern-day Orwell?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Splashy Inaugurations, Thomas Jefferson...and Jimmy Carter

Here is a Harper's-style roundup of Bush's inauguration festivities with tidbits such as how much lobster the Mandarin Oriental hotel is laying on for guests and how much WORTHWHILE things the inauguration money could have purchased, such as "emergency health care for displaced tsunami survivors" and "schooling for girls in Afghanistan."

Buried in there is a figure concerning Jimmy Carter. It turns out that he spent $1 per guest on food at his inaugural party. He served snack foods like pretzels.

Carter is, famously, the president who carried his own dry cleaning over his shoulder in public. I believe he may also have walked the route of his inauguration, although I am not sure. It seems clear to me now that he was trying to emulate Thomas Jefferson, whose deep humility at his own inauguration is the subject of one of my earlier posts.

Anyhow. Jimmy Carter quickly became roadkill for the emerging neoconservative media machine, and stunts like carrying his dry cleaning were a big reason why. In the year 2000, the American media made fun of Al Gore for serving them yogurt and granola bars as snacks. They preferred Candidate Bush, who served them lobster sandwiches and designer water. Can you imagine how they would have reacted (and how their older colleagues probably did react) to Carter's modesty with public money at his inauguration? (Yet it was in these very years that the cry "tax-and-spend" got started. Apparently that is only a problem if the "spending" is on poor people. If it's on your own goddamn party, hey, rock on.)

Anyhow, I just wanted to recognize Jimmy Carter for his grace, for his dignity, for his public humility, and to say how sorry I am that this country failed to recognize his humility for what it was and turned away from the leadership it gave us. I guess we wanted the boot, the boot, the brute, like Sylvia Plath's everywoman--as long as it was glamorous and lavish, as befitted our pride. Well, we got it.

Oh Cassandra, Cassandra

Dude from the Village Voice speaks sad truth about exactly what is going to happen to Social Security, exactly what will subsequently happen to any effort to rein in corporate excesses ("They're threatening your retirement account"), exactly what will happen to the public schools (hint: better have your smarter partner brush up on their math and buy a chalkboard) and how it is being done (hint: propaganda), and exactly what will happen overseas.

Think this can't possibly happen? I got two words for ya: Ancient Rome.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Inaugurals and the American spirit

Madison's own John Nichols has a good article on the Nation website comparing King George's planned totalitarian inaugural festivities with the magisterial humility of Thomas Jefferson's inauguration in 1801.

I shudder to think what Jefferson would make of the sight that will greet us all tomorrow--the helicopters, the Army, the lavish and opulent celebrations under the dark umbrella of fear. He would not recognize this as his America. Not the extravagance, not the force, not the brute unreason, not any of it.

There's Something Happening Here

What it all too clear.

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times book review reviewed a book which compared Hitler and Stalin in an attempt to figure out who was "worse." It was strongly implied, although never exactly stated in so many words, that Stalin was "worse" than Hitler. There were lines like, "The Germans [after Hitler betrayed the non-aggression pact and sent his troops into the USSR] were greeted as liberators by the Russians." No mention of the fact that that lasted exactly as long as it took the SS to start stringing up the hated Slavs, whom they intended to RACIALLY EXTERMINATE AS SOON AS THEY WERE DONE WITH THE JEWS, GYPSIES AND GAYS.

I was very disturbed by this, but I ingored it. Until today, when I read a letter written in response to the review. After carefully stating that, of course, such comparisons are inappropriate because "evil is absolute," the letter-writer went on to state that:

"The Communists in Russia...pursued the aim of the victory of the proletariat. As this proletariat did not exist in the Russia of that time, it had to be created. This was done by the elimination of the aristocracy, the upper middle class and the...kulaks. The consequence was destruction, deportations and death of unimaginable proportions.

"On the other hand, Hitler in Germany did not touch the ruling classes. He tried to co-opt them, but left alone those who did not openly complain about the regime or work against it. Members of the aristocracy and the upper and working classes lived quite unmolested in Nazi Germany unless they opposed the regime or were Jews, Gypsies or homosexuals."

Oh, well I'm sure glad we got that cleared up! Okay then! Hitler left the rich people alone--unless they were, y'know, Jews--so everything's fine.

First of all, what's bad about Stalin is not EVEN that he turned rich people out of their estates. That does not even come close to what was bad about that insane, power-mongering maniac whose ridiculous bungling of collectivization caused tens of millions of deaths and who personally ordered tens of thousands of his countrymen to be individually dragged out of their homes and shot because he (Stalin) was clinically paranoid.

But second of all, none of it--none of it--comes close to the RACIAL EXTERMINATION openly practiced by Adolf Hitler. Does anybody remember the DEATH CAMPS, whose SOLE PURPOSE was to gas people? Does anybody realize that after Stalin died, tens of thousands of former prisoners returned home, but in the concentration camps, the killing ONLY STOPPED BECAUSE THE ALLIES CAME AND SHUT THEM DOWN? Does anybody grasp the difference between being gulaged because somebody ratted you out for some made-up reason, and being PUT IN A CATTLE CAR AND TAKEN TO AN EXTERMINATION CAMP BECAUSE YOU ARE A JEW? Has anybody gone to the Holocaust memorial and looked at the children's shoes? Hitler had CHILDREN MURDERED. Deliberately. They were not spared from the camps. YES, HITLER IS FUCKING WORSE THAN STALIN. Jesus Christ.

Don't tell me his body count was smaller--it was more deliberate. Don't tell me he left the rich people alone so that makes it all right--fuck you. Don't tell me whatever you think you can try and tell me to make it look like "communism was worse," which is nothing but a code for "fascism is okay." Hitler was about three things: invasion, torture and extermination. And in that time, the United States was not confused. It reached right out and joined hands with the Soviet Union to stop him. To the people living in that time, the lesser of the two evils was VERY clear.

Lest we forget.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

This is a problem how?

Creative Labs apparently thinks that they can build an MP3 player that can beat the iPod. Why? Well, because if you want to purchase music online, the iPod will only play music purchased from iTunes Music Store.

How is that a problem? Do they really think that there are any iPod users who care that much about buying music from, say, Musicmatch? Or Real?

With the new iPod shuffle, Apple is going to dominate the low-end market too. The iPod shuffle is the MP3 player that everybody was predicting when the iPod mini came out. Yeah, you can only buy from iTMS. You can also rip your own music. At least for me, iTMS (and any online music-buying service) is a distant, distant afterthought.

I didn't actually read the article I'm not going to link to it. I just read the abstract on Arts and Letters Daily. Apparently it is an article accusing Hinduism of being Orwellian because they "combine opposing ideas" by "declaring them different paths to the same end."

It's been a long time since I've seriously studied Orwell and *never* since I've seriously studied Hinduism, so take this with a grain of salt. But as far as I remember, Orwell's totalitarian characters never said it was okay for different people to believe contradictory things because it all turned out the same in the end. Orwell's totalitarian characters chose to believe contradictory things seriatim ("We have always been at war with Eurasia," "We have always been friends with Eurasia") or simultaneously ("2+2=4," "2+2=5"). That is not the same thing as allowing your co-religionists to believe whatever the hell they want (one god, many gods, yoga, meditation, asceticism, hedonism, whatever) with the idea that "all roads lead to Oz." In fact, it is exactly the opposite. The Hindu strategy is a way of encompassing diversity, even extreme diversity, so that people won't start calling each other heretics and deciding to kill each other. Orwell's terrifying characters obviously were quite happy with calling people heretics and killing (or mentally breaking) them.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

God has got me for that, Walter

For implying that anything about President Bush is funny, I have been cosmically punished by the news that--apparently--and I desperately hope it isn't true--the United States has been conducting secret missions in Iran.

Please do not let this be true. Please, Jebus, Vishnu, Pan, Allah, The Unknown God, please, do not let this or any of its dire potential implications be true. Please.

Oh, is that why

Our intellectual giant of a President has explained to us why Osama bin Laden can't be found:

He's hiding.

Aren't you glad we got that all cleared up?

Friday, January 14, 2005


There was a microphone on the Mars Polar Lander. I think that's the one that disappeared "with all hands" because of the unit conversion error.

It also turns out that, in a classic "too good to be true" moment, what we'll be getting back from Huygens is not actually sound. Sigh.

Yes, I know!

When I said I wanted to be one of Those Guys at NASA, I meant in general. Huygens is primarily an ESA project. We should, if all goes well, be seeing real pictures any time now.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I cannot wait for these pictures

Huygens lands tomorrow, and remember, this is also the mission with the microphone. Yeah, all we're going to hear is "WHOOOOOOOOOOSSSSHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!" but it'll be a whoosh from an ALIEN WORLD!

If I had it all to do again, I'd do better in math and physics so that I could be one of Those Guys At NASA. This is just too cool.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

How do you tell when someone is being a humorless jerk?

When he has two guys arrested for telling lawyer jokes.

The Device Du Jour

Much like David, I too am infatuated with the Mac Mini. You can see my comment on the matter over at noise-to-signal. You're not gonna play Windows-only games on it, you're (probably) not going to develop Windows software on it, but otherwise, there's no reason not to get one. You could probably even make a reasonable home entertainment system out of it; you can hook it up to your TV with S-Video and play movies and such.

And the fan noise...what a sweet machine that would be. I want one, and we don't even really need a new computer.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

I Was Already Feeling Ashamed Enough, Thank You

...about Abu Ghraib. Now I have to read (on Michael Moore's website under "Latest News") that some fucking joker who calls himself a "lawyer" has argued that the naked Iraqi prisoner pyramid cannot possibly be considered abusive because "cheerleaders form pyramids all the time."

Um...yeah, except that they usually have their clothes on and are not being forced to do it at gunpoint.

Our bright shining light has also argued that the leashes are okay too, because after all, parents put tethers on their toddlers at the mall.

I'll leave it at that, except to say that I desperately wish I was making this up.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Wild Card Weekend

  • Let's leave Randy Moss alone for ten minutes inside any tavern within twenty miles of Lambeau Field. Can we do that?

  • Ugh, the Packers stank. Where the hell was the defense? (I know the answer to that question: the same place it's been since about week 2 of the regular season, namely nowhere.) I don't want to even think about the number of times Daunte Culpepper was able to just STAND in the pocket while the seconds ticked away. The Packers need a new Defensive Coordinator. And a new defense.

  • I still say the Vikings are gonna get creamed next week.

  • Given the state of the NFC this year, are any of the remaining teams in the playoffs even worth anybody's time and effort? Even if you're in Minnesota?

  • Matt K. told me today that he watched the end of the Colts-Broncos game. My response to that was, "What, you mean the first ten minutes of the first quarter?" What a blowout.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

what you learn from staring at the magazines in the Target checkout lanes

We can only imagine the embarrassment now being felt by the editorial staff of the Star magazine, which has Brad and Jen on its cover this week with the title "BRAD AND JEN: BACK ON!" Yeah, except for the part about how they've "decided to separate." I wonder what the magazine will do next week--say "CANCEL THAT"?

two more little things

  • On ESPN there's speculation about whether Brett Favre is going to retire if the Packers lose today. There has been speculation like this for the last five years. At least the talking heads are saying "Hell, no, he's not retiring." Brett's still better than most of the quarterbacks in the NFL. He's going to have a George Blanda-length career, I swear.

  • Have you seen the latest trailer for the latest movie that nobody is asking for, "Elektra?" Now, I realize that the only people who are going to see this movie are people who have already seen "Daredevil" (as well as those who inexplicably think Jennifer Garner is hot, and that's probably a subset of the former group anyway), but...they give away parts of "Daredevil" in the trailer! I was amazed. I thought you weren't supposed to give spoilers in trailers. Can you imagine what the trailer for "Unbreakable" would have been like if they had blown "The Sixth Sense?" Highlight the next few lines; they're in white text for people who haven't seen either movie. "He was dead and didn't know it in 'The Sixth Sense.' Now, Bruce Willis stars as a superhero who doesn't know he's a superhero in M. Night Shyamalan's 'Unbreakable.'" Sheesh.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Little Bits Of Stuff

Gosh, it's been so long since I had a little catch-all list that I thought it was high time for another one. Herewith, a bunch of small items.

  • The Rams won their game against the Seahawks. Given that the Rams beat Seattle twice this season, it's not exactly a surprise, and here in Wisconsin, we're happy to see Mike Holmgren lose. Unfortunately, since their wins this season came against either weak teams or teams that were resting their starters for the playoffs, the Rams aren't going to go any farther.

  • Happy birthday, Elvis, wherever you are. Seventy years young. (For anyone who was wondering, Peter Guralnick's two-volume biography of Elvis is totally worth reading, but also very, very depressing. Tom Parker can rot in hell.)

  • Speaking of football, I'm hoping for a good game between the Packers and the Vikings tomorrow. The Vikings are gonna be pissed at dribbling away their season the way they did, and they're going to want some revenge for having the division title taken away. But the Vikings are slumping and the Packers are hot. If the Packers win, they play Atlanta next week and the Rams go to Philadelphia. If the Vikings win, they play the Eagles and the Rams go to Atlanta. Either's Atlanta vs. Philadelphia for the NFC Championship.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

A Sign Of The Apocalypse

I will be the first to admit I am not perfect and I make mistakes.

Albert Gonzales, at his confirmation hearing.

He's just flunked the first test for membership in the Bush Administration, which contains the most infallible people this side of Vatican City.

Read the article to see what Senator Leahy from Vermont had to say.

And remember, the stuff about not approving of torture is a smokescreen*, because if you'll recall, they redefined the word to include only severe physical pain. Read what he has to say in that CNN article, and you'll see that he says that he doesn't disagree with the redefinition of the term "torture." See, he condones what most people who aren't trying to prove themselves to their fathers would call torture--just not, you know, the REALLY bad stuff, like setting dogs on people and giving electroshock therapy to their nuts and tying hoods over their heads and wiring them in standing positi...oh, wait a sec. Hm.

* Did I say "smokescreen?" I meant "lie."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Happy New Year!

In a not-totally-unexpected development, I and most of my colleagues have been laid off. At least they waited until after Christmas to let us know; the people in the California office weren't so lucky. We work until March 31, and the severance package goes into effect. I haven't looked at the details of the package yet. The envelope is sitting on the counter like a poisonous snake.

Like I said, though...none of us were surprised.

Read Some Comics

I read D.C. Simpson's "Ozy and Millie" regularly. The closest comparison I can think of is Walt Kelly's "Pogo," but that's not really right. "Ozy and Millie" is what it is, a good mix of pointed and silly.

What I really wanted to call your attention to is Simpson's "I Drew This." It's a political cartoon, and even though he's been drawing it for a year, I somehow only just became aware of it. Check it out, read the archives. Simpson does good work.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

R.I.P. Will Eisner

I'm not that big an Eisner fan, so I'll skip the part where I would otherwise call him "the greatest creator of comics ever," but sequential art legend Will Eisner has died. Go read "Comics and Sequential Art" for an insight into how and why comics work the way they do. Then go read anything else Will Eisner has ever done, from "The Spirit" to "Contract With God" to "Last Day in Vietnam." Some of Eisner's "The Spirit" stories legitimately qualify for consideration for inclusion in the Western literary canon--or they would if The Keepers Of The Canon were not so stuffy.

Fundamentalism: Not Just For Religious Loonies Anymore

If indeed it ever was.

Whereas fundamentalism is particularly noticeable in religion, its core characteristics can actually be found everywhere. That diet article I ranted about a few posts ago? If you think about it, they're peddling nutritional fundamentalism. "There is one way, it's our way, and it's the only way." Or as the editor put it in her monthly letter, "I'm getting really bored with people who don't eat carbs. Whose idea was it to cut out a whole category of food? Who ever thought that made sense?" Three things are happening here: defining an enemy, mischaracterizing it (nobody ELIMINATES carbs, fer chrissakes), and belittling it, all with an impatient, don't-we-all-know-better tone. It's designed, not to make us think and choose for ourselves, but to make us fall into line.

Recently, I had an unfortunate non-meeting of the minds with a fellow atheist online, who sternly informed me that the term "religious liberal" has no meaning. Apparently one is either a fundamentalist or an atheist; anything in between has no validity. This would be news to the large numbers of people who do think God literally exists, but who believe that evolution and other religions are also true.

When Spike Lee released his ludicrous movie "She Hate Me," about a man who hires himself out for sex with lesbians who want to have children, lesbians got mad. It is not hard to see why. But I read an article where a self-appointed spokeswomon of lesbiankind announced that "No lesbian would ever have sex with any man for any reason." Oh really. I bet large numbers of her constituency would be quite surprised to discover that they've been disqualified. I guess they can go sit with the religious liberals.

And who can forget the incredible *political* fundamentalism of the Republican Party? You'd think that politics would be full of nuance and flexibility, but these guys have made it as hard as a rock and as simple as a light switch. I stand in awe. "Death tax!" "Free markets!" "With us or against us!" "Dead or alive!" "Less government!" "Life!" "One man and one woman!" "Mission Accomplished!" With slogans like these, they have indeed made politics every bit as simple as they wanted to.

But self-help, you say. Surely a field designed to help us find happiness is unaffected by such boneheadedness. Hahahahahaha!! Ever heard of Dr. Laura? She wrote a book called "Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives." Among them was "Stupid Living Together," which was always a "stupid" thing to do. Rob and I lived together for five years before we got married, and you know what? It was fun.

Oh, but I fear I've crossed the line of *today's* current popular self-help Diktat, "He's Just Not That Into You." You see, I was the one who asked Rob to live with me, so, clearly, He's Just Not That Into Me. Sorry. My mistake.

That phrase is the authors' answer to everything. There are never any extenuating circumstances, never any allowances for personal style, never any exceptions. If the sober, employed, well-dressed, clean, nice-smelling, spiffy man is not right there with flowers, e-mail, phone calls, witty bons mots, thoughtful surprise gifts, and the appropriate proposals for every stage of the relationship, He's Just Not Etcetera. To give their ruthless fundamentalism an extra kick, the authors only consider the most obvious case studies, as in "He makes fun of me to my friends," "He gets up and leaves right after we have sex," "I've only seen him loaded," and "He owes me $5000." If you need a book to tell you to break up with these kinds of guys, then you need far more help than that book can provide. Hearing "He's just not that into you" will do nothing to change whatever deep emotional issues caused you to pick him in the first place. But gee, it sure sounds attractively simple, doesn't it?

But real, true psychology--that's okay, right? HAHAHAHAHAHA!! Freud was a major fundamentalist. "What? You dreamed of a butterfly? Obviously you want to kill your mother and eat her brains while being anally violated by your father. What? You say I'm wrong? That proves I'm right, because the more a patient resists, the more they secretly agree." (I am not, by the way, making that up.)

We will never deal with religious fundamentalism until we deal with FUNDAMENTALISM. Let's hope it's soon.

Here Is How The Internet Destroys Local Economies

That title is a tiny bit hyperbolic, but intentionally so. I offer you two scenarios from recent experience. The second one amazed me. (I am easily amazed.)

When I need to buy something non-food-related, my preference is to buy it from a store. I suspect that most people actually prefer that to Internet shopping, for several reasons. For me, it's just that I like to see and touch the item that I am buying, to make sure that I'm not getting the first piece of crap some guy in a warehouse pulls off the shelf. Speaking as someone who used to be "some guy in a warehouse" (sort of), I can tell you that that guy doesn't give a damn about what your stuff looks like. He gets paid six bucks an hour to put other people's crap in boxes, and that's about it.

The other reason to buy from a store, of course, is that at the end of the transaction, you walk away with the whatever-it-is in your grubby little paws. If I go to the hardware store to buy a hammer, I pay my $21.09 and drive home and break my thumb with it that very same day. Online shopping would require me to wait 2-5 business days to break my thumb. For a lot of items, like books and CDs, this really isn't a problem. It would be a problem if you cut your finger off and didn't have any band-aids and tried to order them online, but that doesn't happen more than once or twice a week anyway.

First Scenario: I need a keyboard stand for my MIDI keyboard. I don't need anything particularly good--it's not very heavy at all. I just need something that will hold the keyboard at a comfortable height. The first place I went to, of course, was It's a good place to go for stuff like that. I found the perfect thing there, for thirteen bucks. They said it holds "up to 75 lbs." and that's overkill for me.

In a scenario like this, it's actually a little difficult for me to shop locally. Madison Music doesn't sell keyboards (or at least they didn't the last time I was there), so they wouldn't sell stands. I forgot about Forbes-Meagher until I sat down to write this piece. Good Music didn't have any stands on their website. I'm never setting foot inside Ward-Brodt Music ever again. (Which makes me wonder what's going to happen when Lani says "Daddy, I want to join the strings program at school.") There are a couple of other little hole-in-the-wall shops that don't sell keyboards, so it doesn't pay to go there for this. That basically leaves Music-Go-Round.

When I'm shopping locally, I take into account the fact that there's usually no way they're going to meet the online price, let alone beat it, so I leave a little bit of leeway. After all, online pricing doesn't take into account shipping charges; that thirteen bucks was actually "thirteen bucks plus shipping". In this case, I figured that if I could find a stand for about twenty dollars in the store, I'd buy it.

Did I find one? Well, of course not. It looked to me like they had the same stands as the one I had seen online--but for thirty dollars. So I went home and ordered the stand from musiciansfriend. I guess I can't really blame the Internet in this case, since I forgot about one place and didn't actually set foot on the other one, but that's a pretty significant price differential, don't you think? (Later, I noticed that the stand I bought was "Regularly $29.95", so maybe it was just on sale.)

Second Scenario: This is the real mind-boggler. I was considering buying the "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" DVD from Barnes and Noble the other day. Normally, I don't buy DVDs from there, but I had a gift certificate. Anyway, the DVD is $29.99. With the various discounts (15% because it says so on the box, 10% because I have a Barnes & Noble discount card), it comes down to $22.91. This is an acceptable price to me. $19.99 would be better, but hey, it's a gift certificate and that's what it's for. I didn't buy it right away.

The store didn't have some of the books I was looking for, so I decided to go online. Where?, of course. You can use the gift certificates online, which is fabulous! What did I see? The same DVD for $20.83. I've got the additional membership discount, which takes the price down to $19.93. That's right: THEY'RE UNDERCUTTING THEIR OWN PRICES. Not only that, but with the other books I wanted, the total package will qualify for free shipping. That means that even with tax (which I assume I will be charged), this DVD is less than the pre-tax price in the store. Why on earth, even over just $3, would I buy it from the store?

Okay, so Local Economies are not Destroyed over three bucks, but it's interesting to think about why prices are the way they are. I'm kind of glad I know nothing about economics. I might be even more scared!

Monday, January 03, 2005

Happy Birthday!

Well, not really a birthday. More like an anniversary: Spirit has been on Mars for a year now, and it's STILL sending back data. NASA expected the rovers to last for three months, and here they are, still working. The only problem now is that they're going to be expected to top this for the next one.

Sounds Crazy, Yes

Here's a New York Times article (register if you haven't already; it's free and they really don't spam you, at least not that I've seen) on Harvey Fierstein, who takes over for Alfred Molina on Tuesday in "Fiddler On The Roof". I'm still not sure what to think. On the one hand, I like Harvey Fierstein a lot. On the other hand, this is a role that requires singing, and...let's just say that I don't think that he won his latest Tony on the strength of his singing voice. It will be interesting to see what the critical assessment is.

One thing that's funny in the article comes right at the beginning, when he talks about someone asking him if it would be difficult for him to play a heterosexual. It just made me smile, because I remember reading an interview with him where he claimed that he played a straight man in "Independence Day."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

This is America, you sick bastards

Or at least, it's supposed to be. We don't keep people in jail forever without evidence. Of course, to get around that, these prisons won't actually be on American soil.

They can call the system the Gulag Archipelago. Oh wait, that's already taken.

You know, by the FUCKING RUSSIANS.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Happy New Year!

A happy, safe, and proseperous new year to all of you from all of us here at Strange Brouhaha. Last year certainly had its ups and downs, didn't it?

I always loved celebrating the new year when I was growing up, possibly--possibly, I say--more than Christmas. I loved it for one simple reason: BLOWING STUFF UP. We would always have tons of fireworks, and my cousin Trevor and I would try and come up with new and innovative ways to set them off, combine them, and generally just make noise. Yeah, yeah, gathering with friends and family, blah blah blah BLOWING STUFF UP. Those were the days.

Of course, here in Wisconsin, there's none of that. It's not that it's too cold outside, because it's never too cold to blow stuff up, but rather it's that setting off fireworks is not precisely what you'd call "legal" in Wisconsin. You can get in trouble for setting off one firecracker, let alone the multiple strings of 10,000 that you need to do it right.

So, new year's greetings to all and sundry. I hope you had the celebration you wanted.