Strange Brouhaha

Sunday, April 30, 2006

How Is This Not A Dictatorship?

George W. Bush is now "asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution."

If that's not "L'etat, c'est moi," what the fuck is?

("L'etat, c'est moi" means "I am the state," or if you wanna be all literal, "The state, it is me." It was uttered by Louis XIV of Poland.) (Okay, France.)

So anyhow, here's King George nakedly claiming absolute power. Meanwhile, Brangelina's trip to Namibia is on the cover of People Magazine. Way to fiddle while Rome burns.

Then again...maybe that's not just a sign of fatal indifference to the republic. Maybe it's a clever warning for those with eyes to see. Jolie volunteers for the UN--maybe they gave her an inside tip. "Get out while you can, Outspoken Tattooed Bisexual. Run! Run! Run!!" Maybe by posing on the beaches of Burning Shore she and Brad Pitt are trying to send a message to us all.

Better get that visa updated now, before George decides that allowing Americans out of the country contradicts his interpretation of the Constitution.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Keep it steady for fourteen bucks

Ever wonder how movies and TV shows achieve some of those long, swooping shots in tight corners, or follow a single person down a crowded street so smoothly? Chances are, they're using a Steadicam. It uses a complicated, bulky system of gimbals and counterbalances and body harnesses to keep a video or film camera steady while the shooter moves. Steadicam use is actually a complicated art that needs a lot of practice to get right.

The problem for amateurs and casual video camera users: a Steadicam costs a LOT of money--we're talking tens of thousands of dollars for a top-end one. Even a low-end Steadicam-like harness can cost near a thousand.

Enter Johnny Lee's totally awesome $14 Steadycam. It's not a substitute for a "real" Steadicam, but it's close enough for you and me, and probably for everyone you or I know. It really does cost around fourteen bucks, which is all it would have cost me if I hadn't needed to get new safety goggles and a new drill bit that was capable of drilling through steel. If you read the website, it is telling the absolute truth about how easily everything knocks together. (I was going to post pictures of the build process, and of the finished product, but...they'd be exactly like the ones that Johnny Lee posted!) The hardest part was that I don't actually have a vise to clamp down the pipe ends for drilling--but my neightbor does, and he let me use his workshop for a minute so that I could get it done.

I took a few practice shots with the setup, and it works exactly as advertised. The video quality isn't great because I shot indoors with basically no lighting. I hope the weather cooperates tomorrow so that I can go outside and get some shots in the sone.

Bush Is An Idiot

Apropos of yesterday, I don't want to take $100 out of my left pocket and put it in my right when we could do something smart like actually make corporations pay taxes.

Oh wait--no we can't. I think the Reagan years showed us that the trickle-down theory, like Communism, is a fine idea in principle but unworkable in practice. Bush is an idiot.

Friday, April 28, 2006

$100: Thanks, but no thanks.

This plan that the politicians in Washington have to give everyone $100 because of the high gas prices...what a bunch of (you'll pardon my French) fuckin' retards. If the money comes from Exxon, then okay--their $36 billion dollar profits are ample enough to give every driver in American $100 and have billions left over--but it's not going to come from Exxon. It's going to come from the taxes that you and I pay. I don't want to pay myself $100 like some moron.

And what does it fix? It doesn't lower gas prices. It doesn't increase our national investment in renewable energy. It doesn't stop price gouging. It doesn't do ANYTHING.

It's like putting a Band-Aid on a broken leg.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Blood Pressure Tip Of The Day: Don't Drink Sunny Delight

I've been REALLY thirsty lately, partly because I've been stuck with this really annoying cold and partly because our house tends to be dry. At work, I down a 32 ounce cup of water every morning, but it hasn't really been enough. By early afternoon, I'm parched again.

Now, I'm lazy. I admit it freely. The water cooler is farther away from my office than the (free) soda machine is, so I've been hitting up the machine in the afternoons instead. There's a bunch of different sodas, and there's Sunny Delight. On the theory that something that bears a vague resemblance to fruit juice would be better than a soda (and because I really don't like soda), I've been choosing Sunny D. Good choice, right?


Among other things (and I choose to just ignore the high fructose corn syrup), each can of Sunny D has 180 mg of sodium. That's FIVE TIMES as much as a Diet Sprite. That's more than a bag of potato chips. That's a LOT of frickin' sodium, considering that we're talking about juice. It's about as much sodium as you'd get in the equivalent amount of milk, but I expect milk to have sodium. Not juice. (By contrast, a cup of orange juice has 2 mg.)

To make it better, or worse, I found a statement from CSPI about Sunny D.

I resolve from here on out to make the trek to the water cooler.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"The First American"

I'm reading H. W. Brands' "The First American", his fascinating biography of Benjamin Franklin. It's worth at least checking out of the library for the prologue alone, which shows us a 68-year-old Franklin at a hearing of Parliament's Privy Council, being excoriated for leaking documents to the Massachusetts legislature.

When Franklin was sixteen, apprenticed to his brother the printer, he began writing secretly for the New England Courant under the pseudonym of Silence Dogood (the name is a dig at Cotton Mather). This passage comes from early in the book:

"Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thng as wisdom," [Silence] quoted from an English paper; "and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech, which is the right of every man.... Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech, a thing terrible to public traitors." This talk of traitors was strong stuff, but Silence had not finished. "It has been for some time a question with me, whether a commonwealth suffers more by hypocritical pretenders to religion or by the openly profane?...Some late thoughts of this nature have inclined me to think that the hypocrite is the most dangerous person of the two, especially if he sustains a post in the government." The openly profane person deceived no one and thereby limited the damage he could cause; but the godly hypocrite enlisted the unwitting many into his malign service. "They take him for a saint and pass him for one, without considering that they are (as it were) the instruments of public mischief out of conscience, and ruin their country for God's sake."

Franklin here is writing about Cotton Mather and the other influential ministers of Boston, but it doesn't take too much imagination to see that everything old is new again, does it?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Screw Royal Philips

"The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely."

I'm already strongly considering not buying a new TV when the digital switchover happens. Stuff like this just makes the decision easier. (And talk about a stupid idea; I wonder what happens when you're switching channels from the middle of a program and happen upon an ad. This basically removes the functionality of the +/- channel buttons on your remote.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Stuff that's been on my desktop

First, look at the Hipster PDA.

Second, see all the templates available at

I'm not a big "Day Planner" fan. Back when I worked at the music store, we were all given these things and I found them to just be a waste. I ended up holing a bunch of properly-sized blank paper and using the planner as an expensive notebook. These templates look neat, but honestly, since I don't really have the planner mindset, most of them aren't that useful for me--I carry around a blank notebook and a few pens and that's always been sufficient. However, in general, the DIYPlanner stuff can replace your expensive planner refills for a fraction of the cost.

I like the Hipster concept, tongue-in-cheek though it may have originally been, just because it's small and neat. I've been using a couple of freeware programs to try and design cards that are more closely-aligned with the way my particular brain works (or doesn't).

For page layout, I've been using the Windows version of Scribus. It's not PageMaker, but I don't really need PageMaker, do I? (Answer: No.) Graphics professionals may or may not find it lacking, but it suits my needs and it seems really nice. Give it a shot--it's free and it's open.

For graphics, I've been messing around with Inkscape, which is not Adobe Illustrator the same way that Scribus is not PageMaker. It's also free, and as a bonus, Scribus will take your Inkscape SVG files and import them as native objects. Always a plus.

I like these programs fairly well, although obviously time will tell if they're ultimately really useful to me. I just don't know enough to know what they're missing.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Pure Pwnage

If you know a little bit about games and gaming, you might enjoy Pure Pwnage, an Internet TV show out of Canada. I've been watching the episodes over and over...if you watch them, start with 9 and 10 and don't really worry that you've got no idea what's going on. Backfill as necessary.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Alternative handwriting

I like languages and calligraphy. I've created any number of inordinately complex language skeletons (you'd think that I'd be sick of noun declension after taking so much Russian) and scripts to go along with them.

I was looking around at some stuff and came across C. C. Elian's site. Elian has some really nice work up, along with a primer on how to write in the Elian Script, a beautiful reworking of the alphabet.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Clearly I do not get out enough, because deciding to go to the movies this afternoon (and actually doing it) perked me up *way* too much.

But y'know, it's okay that I don't have a life, because neither did anybody in the movie I saw! I saw *Ask The Dust* (Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Idina Menzel), and if you can get past some staggeringly bad opening monologues ("Mencken! American genius, blah blah"), this is actually a lovely little film.

Set in the Depression, *Ask the Dust* is about two seemingly mean, horrible little people, Arturo Bandini and Camilla Lopez. They get into a relationship marked by Bandini's performance issues and their total inability to go for two seconds without viciously insulting each other. Then Bandini meets a mysterious, deeply vulnerable woman (Menzel) who unexpectedly brings out his kindness. When he realizes this--that he's really not the asshole he has been acting like--the whole movie changes. It becomes an openly emotional and even sentimental (in the good sense of the term) love story, as he and Camilla shyly and haltingly bring out the best in each other.

There's lots of nice little touches, like Donald Sutherland's appearance, and a moment when Bandini buys some good clothes and promptly sweats and fidgets his way out of them. This is a much better movie than the critics gave it credit for. (So was Casanova, with Heath Ledger.) Plus, there's nudity. And not just in coy little flashes. I'm talking good long looks. Anyone interested in seeing more of Salma Hayek and/or Colin Farrell than usual is hereby informed that they will absolutely get their money's worth at this film.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the costumes were fantastic. It was a true period piece.

So: another small movie, unfairly maligned by critics. Go see it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Two gripes

One: The White House is NOT DENYING that little George authorized the Plame leak. Nothing's happening to him. There's no hope for this country. Why aren't we talking impeachment?

Two: Everyone is blaming everyone else for the "ban all Mexicans" bill not going through. What does it matter anymore? Legislation is meaningless now that the Unitary Executive is so free with his signing statements.

Bonus: Who are these lunatics envisioning a gigantic wall between the U.S. and Mexico? One plan I heard was a double-course, 15-foot high wall that extends 10 feet underground, which would be patrolled by Border Patrol agents and monitored electronically. What is this, Soviet Russia? And how do they propose to pay for this bullshit?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I have often wondered about this...

This news report sketch is really funny, but it brings up a point that I've often wondered about.

This is just weird

I admit, though, that I am mildly interested in seeing what the Willy Wonka 2112 mashup looks like.

Interesting Copyright Notice

Here's the copyright notice from (sue me, I got caught up in a couple of episodes last night; it's like watching a train wreck): "All contents on this site are a property of and shall not be copied or reproduced without the knowledge of The Dog." Does that mean that if I send an email to Dog that says "Hey, I'm going to copy some stuff off of your website," he knows about it and I've satisfied the terms? (Okay, there's a standard "All rights reserved" there, too, but still.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Necessity-poor, gadget-rich

"We cannot afford the big things we need [housing, healthcare, education, and childcare] and comfort ourselves with gadgets." So says Robert Kuttner, who's ready with the bad news: the "middle fifth" of the income spectrum increased its income by 41% ("not adjusted for inflation") during the years 1991-2002, but the cost of the four staples listed above rose by 46%. So we can afford kickin' cellphones with Bluetooth, but not college. Or as Kuttner puts it, "The emblem of the new economy might be a 35-year-old, listening to an iPod, living in a house much smaller than the one he grew up in."

I don't know about you all, but my house is indeed a *lot* smaller than the one I grew up in, and lacking a back yard to boot, and we are paying a *lot* more for it. Yet it really is kind of hard to notice that when you can buy literally wondrous gadgets that are beyond the dreams of the science fiction of your youth. (Check out a newer edition of William Gibson's "Neuromancer" and read his bemused confession that he failed to anticipate the development of the cellphone. Also, he thought the US would break up before the Soviet Union did.)

So we have amazing trappings that hide our underlying poverty. Yep, Third World here we come....

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Random Chicago Observation

While everyone we met was really nice, I guess I failed to be impressed by this one thing that I forgot to mention the other day.

I was walking back from buying clean socks on Thursday. Parked outside the hotel was a food delivery truck, which a couple of guys were unloading. They were chattering away in Spanish. One of them nudged the other one and pointed out into the street. They both started laughing and throwing up signs.

So I looked where they were pointing, and this white guy was leaning out a meat purveyor's truck, flipping the other guys off. All of a sudden, he starts yelling "WHITE POWER, BITCHES!" and tossng stiff-arm salutes.

I started looking for something to duck behind.