Strange Brouhaha

Monday, February 28, 2005

Why No, I *Won't* Shut Up About It

This essay is about a month old, and comes from the anxious moments before Alberto Gonzales's grim but inevitable confirmation. Yep, it's about the United States and torture. We're doing it, and we shouldn't be. Don't close your eyes to what it really involves. Don't pretend we need it to be safe. And above all, don't forget that it's wrong. First, last, and foremost, it's wrong.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Card Game For You

If you like super-wacky, high-action wild-card poker games (and who doesn't? It can't be all Texas Hold 'Em, all the time, right?), here's one to try. It's called "Dog's Ass" or, if you're playing with someone who doesn't want to hear about canine hindquarters, "Dogbutt." It's a variation of Baseball, which is one of those games that the guys who are holding down chairs at poker tables for eight or nine hours a day will slap you for even mentioning.

After the ante (post-ante, ha ha ha ha, Latin teachers everywhere are spinning in their graves), deal out five cards to each player. 3s and 9s are wild. If you have a 4 in your hand, show it and pay twice the ante to get an extra card face-down. If you have more than one 4, you can pay for more than one extra card. After the deal, and after any card-buying, there is a round of betting starting to the left of the dealer. After the round of betting, any players left in the game can trade in one or more cards, as in five-card draw. Freshly-dealt 4s can buy extra cards for twice the ante. (4s that were in hand ab initio cannot buy more extra cards.) There is another round of betting.

The best five-card hand wins, and with eight wild cards in the game, you'll want a high full house to remain competitive. Even then, you'll be beaten by the guy with 5-6 suited and three wild cards for the straight flush. (Of course, he'd beat you with four sixes, too. But a straight flush is so much cooler.)

Saturday, February 26, 2005

One of the signs you need to take a rest

If you ever find yourself looking at rows of 1-pound packages of beans in the grocery store, and you can't choose a package because you don't know which one is heaviest, you may need to take a rest.

(My excuse is that I needed them to weight a pie crust. I know, that's no excuse.)

Friday, February 25, 2005

Oh, and here's this

Two articles in one link about our current flirtation with torture.

And since it didn't highlight for easy clicking in my comments to "Torture: Not Okay," I will repeat the link to the Catholics and their dogged opposition to the SOA. This will tell you way more than you ever wanted to know about our country and torture. I went to Catholic school myself, so I knew about this way back in the 80s when angry nuns would come and yell about all the raping, genital-electroshocking, and murdering going on in places like El Salvador.

My only comments on Gannon or Guckert

I just heard a quote from Gannon. Know what he said? "If the White House wanted a plant, wouldn't they choose a better one than me?"

I me, that says that he is in fact a White House plant. Whenever you say that, you're guilty as hell.

(Oh, the other priceless thing is that he claims that he calls himself Gannon because "Guckert" is too hard to pronounce. Yeeeeeeah, okay.)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Torture: Not Okay

I had links. I had links about the "extraordinary renditions," where we kidnap people (yes, kidnap them) and take them to places like Syria where they are secretly tortured and secretly tried. I had links about "Brooklyn's Abu Ghraib," where post-9/11 torture of assorted Semitic-looking people happened ON OUR SHORES (surprise! The Justice Department has declined to prosecute!).

But you know what? I'm too mad to do links. I'm too angry that our intelligence services, and increasingly our politics, have become the Catholic Priesthood for torturephiles. That's right! It is nothing...but a big...scam.

Someone or some group of people, in the last fifty years, has convinced the CIA, the military, lots of Republicans, and even some spineless Democrats, that torture is good (when done to foreign brown people and uppity nuns like Sister Dianna Ortiz whom we will then accuse of being lesbians). I don't know what they said. It's the way of the world? Everyone else does it? It will make people respect us? The commies/terrorists will take over if we don't do it? You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs? Whatever they said, it worked, and they got to write their sick-minded manuals and open their all-torture-all-the-time School of the Americas and "harden" American military personnel (y'know, just in case) and generally have lots more fun than if they had to stay home chopping up vagrants in the basement like Jeffrey Dahmer. Hey, at least Jeffrey Dahmer knew he had a problem. He didn't fool himself that he was saving America.

These people, and their policies, are a big reason why the world is the hellhole that it is. And it's all for nothing. Torture works on whoever's being tortured, that's for damn sure, but it doesn't do anything else. In fact, it backfires. Duh! In the end, it does nothing but give sick satisfaction to people who should be in a locked room somewhere on a Thorazine drip.

But those people have the ear of power now. Our president apparently likes what they have to say.

Torture's not okay. Okay? And if we the public get seduced down this road by fantasies of power and "dealing with" the bad guys and making big freedom omelets, we are going to be sorry.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Little George is at it again

Let's see a show of hands.

Who believes Little George when he says that the assumption that the U.S. has plans to attack Iran is "simply ridiculous?" (But at the same time, "all options are on the table!")

Yeah, I didn't think so. Given that pretty much every single thing to come out of the mouth of everyone associated with the Bush Administration has been a lie, it's safe to assume that this is too. Should we start a pool? What's the over/under on the number of days before the Army rolls into Iran?

And if it isn't a lie...perhaps Little George's mommy never read him bedtime stories when he was a kid.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Have they no shame?

Okay, I know they don't, but come ON. Bush's proxies at USA Next (the guys behind the Swift Boat Veterans for Bullshit) are now attacking the AARP. (That's a New York Times link. It's free. No spam.) This appears to be a part of a larger effort coordinated to abuse the AARP for having the temerity to oppose Bush's plan to destroy Social Security.

Perhaps Bush was hoping that by saying "The system doesn't change for people already receiving Social Security" he'd shut the AARP up. Thankfully, they're all a little smarter than Bush.

Hell, my chair is smarter than Bush.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

More on stage.cls

My collection of LaTeX stage play macros, stage.cls, is now fully documented and distributed under the terms of the LaTeX Project Public License. It's still available at its website, and I've also uploaded it to CTAN, although it has to go through a review process, I'm sure, so it won't appear there for a while.

Poetic Justice?

I dunno, what would you call it?

Chunk (of the late, lamented Chunky Boy's HL FA server) sent around this posting from autoblog, talking about an idiot who threw a lit cigarette out the window of his SUV. I wish I had been there. You know, schadenfreude and all that.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Where's *my* cult of personality?

If you get a free day pass at Salon magazine, you can read an exciting article about the CPAC, which is some kind of Really Damn Conservative conference where people are told that we continue to find new weapons of mass destruction every day in Iraq.

Yes, there are American citizens who literally believe this is true. Why not? As the author points out, many elected representatives and members of White House staff were present at the conference, lending these assertions an air of implicit legitimacy.

But that is not all. Many of the attendees at the conference take an attitude towards George Bush which is not healthy in a democracy, aka, they pretty much worship him.

I've been reading a lot about Alexander the Great lately, and I can tell you one thing: if he's anywhere watching this phenomenon unfold, he's really pissed. See, Alexander had a cult of personality too, except that he *earned* his. He did not sit there on his butt in Macedon and say "Hey guys! Let's go tell everyone that we conquered the Persian empire." No...he actually went out and conquered the Persian empire. This entailed bravery, hardship, and competence. His men saw him sweating out every march, they saw him lead every charge into combat, they saw him share their exhaustion and pain, they saw him go among the wounded every night when he wasn't in the field hospital himself, and they saw him make the plans and give the commands that revolutionized military history.

So if he's somewhere out there, watching George Bush get a cult of personality that he doesn't deserve (and shouldn't have anyhow, this being a democracy), then he's probably just a little bit annoyed.

And don't get me started on how Thomas Jefferson must feel.


Friday, February 18, 2005

God hates...

Well, okay, He doesn't. Remember that rant I posted a while back? The one that gave you a great hammer, the one that said "Don't go to Leviticus" when you're dealing with people who claim that God hates homosexuals?

The advice stands, but on the other hand...God hates shrimp.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Rush: "Feedback"

Rush put this album out in June, 2004. I must have forgotten, because it was new to me when I saw it on the shelves at Best Buy the other day. I picked it up immediately, of course, and you know what? I'm glad I did.

"Feedback" is an eight-song collection of covers that, as Neil Peart puts it in the liner notes, Rush "learned from and were inspired by." Clocking in at a shade over 27 minutes, we'd call it an EP these days, and some folks probably are. (I've got some albums that were released as full-length LPs that aren't much longer than this.) Freed from the constraints of intense technical perfection that a regular Rush album would imply, the band seems to be a lot lighter and looser, in much more of a laid-back, lets-get-together-and-play mode than normal. You can really tell, or at least I got the impression, that they were just kicking back and having fun. Geddy, especially, just sounds totally relaxed.

The song selection is not exactly inspiring. I like "For What It's Worth," for example, but does the world really need this particular version? The Lost did a good cover in the 90s, And I also think the world is not asking for another version of "Crossroads." Still, that's the kind of thing you put on a cover album, because those are the songs that everyone wants to play.

What is interesting is that Rush performs the songs in a way that really clearly shows that yes, they WERE influenced by these songs. It's a return to the roots of Rush in a way that "Vapor Trails" was supposed to be but really wasn't. In a bunch of places, I was struck by the way these songs sounded like they'd fit perfectly on "Rush" or "Fly By Night" or, especially, "Caress of Steel." In fact, if you didn't know they were covers, you'd probably think that most of these tunes came straight out of Chapter 1. (The only giveaway is that Geddy's voice is much, much lower these days than it was thirty years ago.) The rhythms, arrangements, and chord voicings are all classic Rush.

When I was walking out of the store with the disc in my hands, I was already preparing to write it off. I'm glad I didn't. This is, in my opinion, probably their best studio album since...well, you have to go back a long way. I liked parts of "Counterparts" and "Roll the Bones," but I like this one better. (For those of you that don't know, both those albums are over a decade old.) It's kind of a relief to listen to it, knowing that it's meant to be fun and not A RUSH ALBUM.


Belated Valentine's Day

I missed this column on the day of its greatest relevance, but whatever. It's a Valentine's Day-inspired reflection on family happiness. Apparently, married couples are less happy. Some people blame the couples' children, or more specifically, the child-centered, "attachment" style of parenting. The real truth seems to be that couples are overworked. Apparently, unscheduled outdoor play for kids is down fifty percent in the last 25 years.

The thing is, it's not just overwork. It's safety issues, real or perceived. I *was* a kid 25 years ago, and my mom let me run around unsupervised all over our block with my friends. I don't feel I could do that today with my own kid.

Anyhow, the whole thing clearly sucks--longer working hours, a feeling that you can't just turn your kid loose to go dream and discover. One thing that hasn't changed is depression rates among housewives, which are still high. *That* one's a no-brainer.

Worth a read.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Why I Am An Atheist

It was things like this. Well, actually, it was childbirth. Not immediately afterward, as happened with Allegra Kent. (A devout Christian Scientist, the legendary ballerina experienced a bit of a hiccup in her faith when she went into labor. Among other things, her stomach muscles, made powerful by her career, were torn apart when her panicked body tried to fight her own labor. Kent took stock of the pain and the internal bleeding, and that was it for God. She fired him.) But anyhow, ruminating on childbirth led to the inevitable question: "What FRICKING MORON...or worse...allowed it to evolve like THIS?"

Such sensible questions didn't usually make it into the mystically-inclined Religion Room of my mind. But being a mom makes you a lot more practical than you used to be. So after a couple of years of "what FRICKING MORON..." echoing in my head, and articles like the above link (about the theodicy of the tsunami), I pretty much sighed and shut the door to the Room.

Monday, February 14, 2005

This drives me insane

The imbalance in spending on the military versus spending on human development drives me up the wall. UP THE WALL. Listen, whoever-the-hell-is-in-charge, if we started putting our global capital towards making everybody middle class, we would hardly NEED the goddamn army, because everyone would be too busy watching "Reno 911" on cable and eating Tostitos to make any trouble.

But noooooooo. No, literacy, electricity, clean running water, flush toilets, clinics, and boring indoor sit-down jobs (hell, even jobs that pay halfway decently) are too SIMPLE. And apparently too cheap, too--we could get halfway there by 2015 on something like a tenth of the Pentagon's budget. Can't have THAT! Oh no. Can't do something if it's going to benefit humanity, create jobs (all those new not-poor people are gonna need services; literacy, electricity, health and pipes all have to be supported by professionals), and be dirt-cheap to boot. No no no no no. Kinda like investing in renewable energy--sorry, makes way too much sense. Can't do it.


All Together Now

I was thinking how to come at this. I could go the personal route: "Back when I was a theist, I was praying one morning at breakfast when I had a vision." I could go the professorial, use-an-example route: "When Alexander the Great got done wiping the floor with whoever he was conquering at the time, there came the moment when the defeated were brought before him."

Both of those leads are relevant to the story to which I want to link you. It is a story about the soul, and it is a story about mercy. It is a story about how we can see, or not see, that we are all links in a chain....and how we can choose, or not choose, to ennoble ourselves by lifting up those whom it is in our power to crush.

It is also a story about a woman and her car.

And our country.

Read it.

It's not quite Jethro Tull, but...

The first-ever Grammy for best Hawaiian music recording has gone to Charles Brotman. That's not necessarily a bad thing, you understand, honor to be nominated blah blah blah, but shouldn't the first one EVER be a "body of work" Grammy? The Cazimeros were robbed.

Friday, February 11, 2005

R.I.P. Arthur Miller

A giant has fallen.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Attention, Students at Brittan Elementary School!

I am not in any way, shape or form suggesting that you stick your new RFID nametags in the microwave for a few seconds. All I'm saying is that I heard that those things are susceptible to microwaving. That's all.

Then ask your school's administrators how much of a kickback they're getting by mortgaging your freedom.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

stage.cls has a website

In the first half of 2003, I wrote some stage play macros for LaTeX. I had intended it solely as a personal project, but then decided to post it on the old Strange Brouhaha at Somehow, people found it and apparently started looking at it. I've seen blog posts about it, for crying out loud!

When died, I didn't know that anyone had any interest in it. Apparently they do; in addition to the aforementioned blog posts, I've received emails asking where it's gone. I've brought it back to the Web, at a little Geocities web site I set up just to serve it out.

You can visit the website at, but really, you only need to do that if you're interested in writing stage plays using LaTeX.

(Yes, I still use it!)

L&O: CI changes

I like Law & Order: Criminal Intent. I think I've said this before. I don't usually otherwise care for Vincent D'Onofrio's performances, but he's perfect on CI. I think I've also said this before, but the usual "revolving cast" MO that they have on the Law & Order shows wouldn't really work for CI--the show is so strongly about how Det. Goren works that it would be utterly ruined if D'Onofrio was to decide to leave.

Well, maybe "ruined" is a bit hyperbolic, but given that the show was conceived and built around Goren's style of police work, any cast change would perforce change the show.

They're changing the show.

I read on CNN that Chris Noth is going to take about half of this season's CI episodes. D'Onofrio has been battling exhaustion; he collapsed on-set last year, if I remember correctly. They'll be bringing Noth's character, Max Logan, back into the city. I wonder how they're going to accomplish that--Logan was exiled (see "Exile: A Law & Order Movie") after punching a City Councilman on live TV. It will be mildly interesting to see how it's done, but after that...I admit, I don't like those early L&O episodes with Chris Noth, so I can't help thinking that CI is going to go downhill fast.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

"The Office"

My friend Chris has the DVDs of "The Office," including both complete seasons and the two-part reunion special. I warn you now that I'm including spoilers in the upcoming paragraphs. If you haven't seen "The Office," and you're planning on seeing it, then maybe you oughtn't read any further.

I liked the series, as a whole. It was very well-written and nicely underplayed. The main difference between (good) British comedies and (most) American comedies is that our shows follow a rigid formula and most of the time err on the side of "laff riot." It seems that our comedies echo our national characters much better than our dramas do; American comedies are big and bold, while British comedies, even wilder fare like "The Young Ones," are a lot more understated and calm--the belly laugh versus the slowly burning fuse.

(Digression: Realize that what we get over here, on PBS and BBC America and on videos and DVDs, is the cream of the crop. We're not getting the British "Dharma and Greg," here. Also, the British format of having a single six-episode "series" lends itself to tighter construction and better writing than a roomful of people trying to come up with laff riots every week for six months, which is what he have on this side of the pond.)

The more I think about it, though, the unhappier I get with the resolution of the reunion special. I liked that they continued with the humanization of David Brent, the smarmy office manager. I think Ricky Gervais played the end of the second series really, really well, giving him just that little touch of humanity and vulnerability that he had been missing, and the blind date he had in the special really continued that trend nicely. I also liked that they humanized Gareth a little bit: remember, he was supposed to be boss only temporarily, and yet two years later, he's still in charge and nothing much has changed. (It's a testament to office ennui as much as anything else, I suppose, but I still see it as a compliment to Gareth.) What I didn't like...was Dawn and Tim.

How to explain Dawn and Tim? Dawn is the office receptionist, Tim is a salesman. Although she's engaged to one of the warehouse workers, Dawn flirts with Tim and he flirts back. It's basically a big "unrequited love" story across both seasons: Will Tim ask Dawn out? (Yes.) What will Dawn say? (No. Twice.) In the special, Tim gives Dawn a very sensitive gift that proves his love (yes, sorry, I'm gagging just typing that sentence) and she leaves her fiance and she and Tim get together.

I don't like it.

The problem is, as much as I don't like audience pandering--of which this is a perfect and blatant example--there's no other possible resolution. It's written so tightly that that pandering solution is also the only solution. I don't like it, but it happens to be the perfect ending. That's really strange, or at least I think it is. You can't change that ending without changing one of the other characters. The only, only thing you can do is film that car driving off and end it there, have Tim deliver another blatant lie about not being in love with her maybe, have David deliver his last line and close it right there. That might have been good...but it wouldn't have been better, which is so rarely the case that I'm a little surprised. It just seems more right, usually, to let unrequited love remain that way.

Overall, I highly recommend "The Office." It's funny in that great "oh my GOD why am I laughing at this?" way. An absolute and utter gem, as the gushing critics are apt to say.

Gee, I wonder why?

I read the sad news today that Dick Cheney won't seek the Presidential nomination. All together now, "Awwww."

Actually, it really is bad news, because Cheney would have been completely and utterly beatable, and if he ran and won in 2008, I would think that the mere fact of it would be enough evidence of election fraud. The Democrats could put up a monkey, or Dennis Kucinich, and beat Cheney.

So, here are three reasons why Cheney isn't going to run.

  1. As I mentioned, he's beatable. Everyone knows it. He's been a complete non-presence during the last four years. He's got nothing. Satan will only allow Cheney's heart to continue to function properly for so long.

  2. Possibly, they're opening the door for Little George's brother Jeb to be appointed President.

  3. Halliburton made a pile of money off of the war. Think Cheney's gonna get some love? I do.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Social Security Analogy

Now that Bush has admitted that the non-existent "plan" to "save" Social Security would in fact do nothing, and now that Dick Cheney has admitted that the government would have to borrow TRILLIONS of dollars to fund the privatization scheme, I'd like to present you with an analogy that I heard on the Al Franken show today. Michael Kinsley said it, I'm paraphrasing. (Realize, now, that if we can borrow TRILLIONS of dollars to make some Wall Street stockbrokers rich, then we could also just put those TRILLIONS into Social Security...ensuring its solvency.)

Here it is: Imagine you're crawling through the desert, nearly dead of thirst. You collapse at the feet of George W. Bush and say "Mr. President, I need some water!" He says, "Well, how about some lemonade instead? It'll quench your thirst a lot better than water will!" You agree--any port in a storm!--and he hands you a packet of lemonade mix, saying "All you need to do is add some water to that and you'll be good to go."

Sunday, February 06, 2005

another event

Lani had another party at her Sunday school. I was sick last time, but had no excuse this time. Off we went. Fortunately, my friend Kate came too, so we were able to sit and chat while our kids played games (from balloon popping to hula-hoop relay races to something where you had to pretend to be an animal and find another person pretending to be the same one), did activities (the giant inflatable "room" where they all got to bounce around was neat), and just generally ran around hooting and hollering in between eating cookies and brownies.

I remember watching Lani and her friend Katherine waiting their turn for the "bouncer." Lani looked back at Katherine and grinned, "Isn't it fun here?" Katherine enthusiastically agreed. I was happy for the kids that they were having a great time. But it was also One Of Those Moments, in this case, "What kind of alien has come from my body?" The running around, the noise, the exuberance--all of this would have been UNENDURABLE to me when I was Lani's age. (It's practically unendurable to me right now!) And I do mean unendurable. I don't just mean I would have "disliked" it or something manageable like that. I mean it would have terrified me. I did not, at that time, interpret the running around and screeching of my peers as "fun" or "happiness." I'm not sure what I thought it was. I think I thought it was aggressive, but mostly I wasn't thinking at all. I was too busy clapping my hands over my ears trying to cut down the acute sensory overload. If either of my parents had been dumb enough to try and bring me to an event like this, I would have cried until they Made It Stop. Running around in wild abandon only worked for me in groups of two, maybe three kids that I saw every day and had known since toddlerhood. Anything else was too much.

(It just now occurs to me that THAT is probably why I never ate my lunch in school: the single scream from many voices that was, to me, the lunch room. I can still feel how the noise felt to me back then.)

Anyhow. I guess that today, you'd call me "sensory defensive" or "highly sensitive" (well, they called me that back then too) or whatever. Lani obviously is not nearly so vulnerable, and I'm glad. It was great watching her tear around the activity hall, picking up impromptu games of catch and balloon-volleyball. But what's weird is watching your child have a totally different experience of life than you did. I will never be biologically or emotionally closer to anyone than Lani, yet I see that life feels utterly different to her.


Thursday, February 03, 2005

Bill Gates

Now, I don't usually defend Bill Gates, mostly because he doesn't need to be defended. I mean, say pretty much what you want about him, you can't deny that Microsoft is hugely successful.

Yes, "pretty much." I read something recently that said, in essence, that Bill Gates himself is not a geek and has no more technical knowledge than a salesman.

This is not to be taken seriously! Lord knows I'm not huge fan of Bill Gates, but he is by all accounts a pretty serious nerd, a pretty serious thinker, someone who can ask all the right questions and understand the answers. The man has been involved in the industry since the beginning. Since BEFORE the beginning of "the industry" as we know it today. You don't build a successful company--not even with help--by being a dope, and you don't build a successful software company--not even with help--by not knowing anything about the field.

So go ahead and say "Word is ridiculously bloated" and "IE is full of holes," but you've got to show the man himself a little respect.

(p.s. Bill, get your guys to lighten up about the whole iPod thing.)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Who Knew?

I sure didn't.

One of the things that I learned from entering the Cloudscape contest was that Eclipse (the outstanding free IDE) has a visual editor mode. The Cloudscape-branded version of Eclipse that I downloaded had it enabled by default, so I tried it out.

Now, I wasn't super-impressed, and I'll need to study it a little more before I actually try to use it, but it was certainly nice to right-click on the bean in the explorer and be able to add a stub for an actionListener. When I make Java GUIs, I like to organize things in a certain way (and I probably over-organize), and the auto-generated code isn't really the way I like to see it, but it's nice to see that the ability is there.

(For the record, I like the GUI designer in NetBeans. Oh, and by the way, about the Cloudscape contest...why in the heck are they waiting until February 18th for the drawing? The entry deadline was Monday, you'd think they could do the drawing right away.)

The "Million Dollar Baby" Controversy

Folks, it's a MOVIE, not a public policy recommendation.