g r o t t o 1 1

Peeve Farm
Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets
Brian Tiemann
Silicon ValleyNew York-based purveyor of a confusing mixture of Apple punditry, political bile, and sports car rentals.

btman at grotto11 dot com

Read These Too:

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James Lileks
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As the Apple Turns
Entropicana
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Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
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Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Sunday, March 2, 2003
01:22 - Just wondering...
http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2003/03/Avictoryintheshadowwar.shtml

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... Aren't devout Muslims supposed to wear full beards?

I'm just sayin', is all.


UPDATE: Marko notes: "Nevermind that, I'm just freaked that Ron Jeremy is the Al Qaeda mastermind!"



00:17 - Dilemmas

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On the way home from the dog show near Fresno, I saw a line of windmills on the ridge of hills lining the pass traversed by Highway 152 from the Central Valley over to Gilroy. A few of the mills were turning lazily, but not many appeared to be doing much good.

And it reminded me: one thing about the modern "liberal" mindset that must be really galling for those who espouse it is that so many of the morally pure, honest liberal causes so frequently clash directly with other morally pure, honest liberal causes. When this happens, you've got two crusades at odds with each other, both of which spring from the same political genesis, with the other side of the traditional political spectrum left scratching its head outside the loop.

Like, for instance, wind power. A group will lobby to get windmills installed on every ridgetop in the Coastal Ranges in the Bay Area region. It's unclear whether these windmills will ever produce anywhere near enough energy to even register on the grid, but that's beside the point: it's free, clean, safe energy, and that's all that really matters.

Except that it kills birds. If I recall correctly, there's a major problem with power-generating windmills, in that birds (endangered ones in particular, it wouldn't surprise me) seem to fly into the whirling blades with astonishing frequency, getting scimitarred out of the sky with deadly efficiency. And so the liberal animal-rights groups spring up, ready to do battle-- with the liberal clean-energy force that got wind power instituted in the first place. Their enemies are their own ideological compatriots. Who will win? In either case, is it a victory or a defeat for liberal values?

The same goes for the flap a year or two ago over the sale of live turtles in shops in Chinatown in San Francisco. Traditional Chinese food stores would sell turtles to customers by hacking off the shells while the turtles were still alive. Cruel, perhaps, but it's the traditional Chinese way of doing things. It's culture, dammit-- and non-American culture to boot, which makes it worthy of protection in its most pristine form, and defense against the corrupting and miscegenating influence of American life. We can't have that, no sir.

... Except when it's animal rights we're talking about, in which case all bets are presumably off. Which liberal cause wins? Multiculturalism or animal rights? Which side should a good liberal choose?

I keep noticing these little dichotomies, and I wonder whether there's a corresponding kind of tendency on the conservative side-- I can't think of one offhand, but there must be something. If we accept the structural symmetry of left- and right-wing politics, there have got to be analogs on both sides, including these kinds of second-order phenomena. Conservative causes must clash from time to time-- business freedom versus parochialism, for instance, or patriotic fundamentalism versus government non-intrusiveness in private matters, or something. I'm sure these causes can be fit together in ways that develop the same sorts of schisms. I'm sure it happens every day.

But for some reason, it's the do-gooding leftist causes that seem to really invite disbelief and ridicule when they collide.


23:46 - It's funniest late at night

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Van and I were just wrapping up an evening while listening to the History Channel in the next room talking about the Jesuit priests and their role as the "stormtroopers of the Counter-Reformation". It said that the Jesuits led lives that obeyed the three classical virtues: poverty, chastity, and obedience.

But we both heard it the same way, and repeated it uproariously back to each other simultaneously: Poverty, chastity, and obesity.

Boy, now, wouldn't that have made history more interesting. I'm sorry, I can't-- I've taken a vow of obesity!


Saturday, March 1, 2003
22:04 - Light Blogging

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Yeah, it's another of those "Sorry I haven't written anything for the past couple of days" posts. And I'm afraid it's not going to get much better anytime in the very near future, either-- this weekend I'm not spending a whole helluva lot of time at home. Good for my sanity, bad for blog. That's life, I guess.

Friday I spent largely in re-coding the image approval system for the Fan-Art Archive, so that now the "holding area" is a lot more tolerant of me stepping out of my duty for several days-- uploaded files have guaranteed unique filenames now, instead of the not-really-unique-but-close-enough scheme that cgi-lib uses (plus my half-assed extension to it that tries to avoid collisions). Now the info goes into an actual database table, too, instead of flat info files, so once again we're closer to sanity. Still not there yet, but every little bit helps.

And I also spent the day thinking that well, y'know, we've just about got to the point where it's all been said. The troops are in place; war is a go/no-go decision and a phone call away, and everybody has said his or her piece. Everybody's opinions are known. From protesters to bloggers to heads of state, everybody's staked their claim to a particular piece of the moral riverbank, every conceivable opinion has been registered and rebutted and counterargued, and all that remains now is to fight or not fight.

We've heard "Let's Roll" and its equivalent from Den Beste and Lileks and Reynolds and many others. The new moon is upon us. There's word of another big attack being planned for somewhere in Asia (probably Afghanistan, but you never know), to coincide with the Iraq invasion, and we've all braced for impact. We've stocked up our survival pantries. We've passed around essays explaining why not to panic in the event of an attack of any sort from chemical or biological all the way on up to a nuke. The initial cold pit-of-the-stomach dread has given way, at least among my friends and associates and myself, to a kind of grim que será, será. Bring it on. And for the love of God, let's get it over with.

Anyway-- that's a major part of why I haven't felt much like writing lately. I'm mostly just holding my breath-- doing my best to enjoy a nice pleasant day like today, exploring the southern end of Almaden Expressway and Camden Avenue with my parents, having some great Teppan food cooked by a Benihana alum, and puttering about with plans for the new house and how the landscaping will work and where we can go for walks once we've moved and how to wire the TV cable. I find myself wanting to smirk wryly at how ".Hack" is an MMORPG in which you play an MMORPG-- isn't that like taking a drug which makes you hallucinate about taking drugs?-- than to speculate about whether we'll be at war in 24 hours or 48. It seems futile now. We've all spoken. The powers that be have heard everybody's voices and weighed them against their own data, and it's their decision to make now. It's out of our hands.

So tomorrow I'll be getting up early to head over to Fresno with Lance; it'll be for a dog show, not for a lame excuse to get out of the Bay Area during a tense time or anything. I'm going to get up at 7:00 AM because it'll be a distraction, something I'm all too grateful for this weekend.


UPDATE: Yes, yes, I know .Hack is actually an RPG about playing an MMORPG. But c'mon, it was funnier my way.

Thursday, February 27, 2003
20:17 - Raed it and weep
http://www.dear_raed.blogspot.com/2003_02_01_dear_raed_archive.html#89502772

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Raed has the inside scoop on just how grateful the Iraqi man-on-the-street is to have those Western "Human Shields" running around:

One of the latest group to arrive in Baghdad, mostly Europeans, were welcomed to the Rasheed hotel , which is like the Waldorf Astoria of Baghdad, no other hotel is more expensive and exclusive. All of them were wearing T-shirts with what was supposed to be "Human Shields" in Arabic, but they had it all wrong it said "Adra'a Basharia" instead of "Duru'u Basharia" which got them a few giggles and a new name; they are now the "Adra'a" just to show how clueless they are. A lot of funny Arabic these days with all these HS's running around, a van with a foreign number plate standing near the ministry of information has "No War" written all over it in many languages the biggest in Arabic. All over the front of it is says "La Harba" which is wrong and sounds like a night club, my cousin thought that was cute. Anyway, what really got my goat this time was finding out that they get food coupons worth 15,000 dinars per meal, 3 for every day.fifteen thousan.
Do you know how much the monthly food ration for a 4 person family is worth, for a whole month not per meal (real cost, not subsidized) ? 30,000 dinars, if you get someone to buy the bad rice they give you for a decent price. 15,000. What are they eating? A whole lamb every meal? Let's put this within context. Today in the morning Raed, our friend G. and I went for a late big breakfast we had 2 tishreeb bagilas (can't explain that, you have to be an Iraqi to get it otherwise it sounds inedible) and a makhlama (which is an omelet with minced meat), tea, fizzy drinks and argila afterwards (the water-pipe-thingy) all for 4,750 dinars, and we were not going super cheap. A lunch in any above-average restaurant will not be more than 8,000 dinars and that includes everything. 15,000 thousand is a meal in a super expensive restaurant in Arasat Street, in one of those places that really almost have an "only foreigners allowed, no Iraqis welcome unless you are UN staff" sign on it. I will stop calling them tourist when they stop taking all this pampering from the Iraqi government. Did I tell you about the tours? Today was Babylon day. You are really missing it, the cheapest way to do the Iraq trip you have wanted to do but were too scared.

I love it. I wonder how these guys like wearing what amounts to Engrish t-shirts -- 100% Boys For Cotton Atlas! I just wish Raed had explained what "Adra'a Basharia" actually translates to.

Also make sure to check out his photos of Baghdad. I wonder how many of us have any idea what it actually looks like?


UPDATE: A reader points out that in this story, this line appears: "She was named al-Adra'a because Fatima never lost her virginity." So does "Adra'a Basharia" mean "Human Virgins", or what?



09:21 - Cologne
http://www.roadsideamerica.com/news/021215colon.html

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I don't have a word to say about this.

Seriously. I can't think of thing one.


UPDATE: J Greely does, however: "Worst first date ever!"


Wednesday, February 26, 2003
17:26 - Well, okay then...
http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/Northeast/02/26/wtc.finalist.ap/index.html

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So this is the new World Trade Center.

Libeskind's design beat the THINK team's "World Cultural Center" plan, which envisioned two 1,665-foot latticework towers straddling the footprints of the original towers.

The new building is planned to be taller than the trade center towers, which briefly stood as the world's tallest at 1,350 feet. Libeskind's tower also would surpass Malaysia's 1,483-foot Petronas Twin Towers, the tallest buildings in the world.

I guess it could be worse. And for what it's worth, I think I could get to like this-- at least, more so than the THINK Team's nightmarish "Skeletons in the Sky" vision.

As I've said before, I would have much preferred something big, substantial, eye-popping-- a new masthead for the nation. Maybe not something as brash as WTC2002, but something along those lines.

But they seem to have gone for something jaggy and wispy, ghostly and fragmented, like a broken window or a collapsed volcano. I mean, yes, it's tall-- at least, that one spire is. But I have to wonder just what the inspiration was for this kind of design.

I hope it's not just that this would be harder to hit with a plane.


09:43 - In Defense of Cowboys

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The more I hear the word "cowboy" bandied around as though it's an insult, the greater becomes my compulsion to re-read the end of the Preacher series. And I tell you, these three pages-- just a few from the end, right after Jesse has finished securing justice against a double-crossing friend, killing all the bad guys, destroying a corrupt and conniving God, and winning back the love of his life-- they're looking better and better these days.



The first time I read this, I thought it was a cheap and juvenile sort of ending-- about as trite and naked as... well, as a Vertigo comic with a main character whose initials are "J.C." But on subsequent rereadings, particularly recently, it's clearer to me that it couldn't have ended any other way.

And might I add that the script is penned by Garth Ennis, an Irish fellow, whose extensive work carries a common thread of undiluted love for America-- exemplified in Preacher by his deep affection for the cowboy romance and what it really means, but in other books realized in other ways. His Superman story in Hitman must be seen to be believed, particularly now-- as the storyline revolved around a Space Shuttle accident.

An unlikely place to find an oracle, I know, but these are unusual times, are they not?

Some across the Atlantic (and here at home) misunderstand the point of America so badly as to threaten national alliances that have stood for centuries; however, it's also true that we can look to those outside our borders to appreciate what we have and what we are a lot more deeply than we ourselves do. Some people do get it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003
16:43 - It sure looks good...
http://wonderfuldays.co.kr/english/

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There's a new animated Korean film coming out: Wonderful Days.
In the future, after the human civilization ended by war and pollution, only those few people who had the power and technology escaped the disaster.

Those people built the last human city of Ecoban.

As its energy source is the pollutant, the people of Ecoban plan to destroy the inhabitants of Marr to get more pollutant.

Standing against Ecoban is a young man who wants only to clear the skies of the clouds to show the wonderful heavens to the girl he loves.
Hmm. Well, at least it's visually a lot more interesting than "FernGully".

Cool animation style; it's like "anime grown up", with actual facial movement and fluid speech, with a fairly traditional anime-style anatomical construction and shorthand. The line quality is curious-- almost like the characters were traced in MS Paint and colored in Flash. But the CG is excellent, the production values are awesome (this is Korea's most expensive and most ambitious animated movie ever), and it looks like every bit as rich a visual experience as anything by Miyazaki. I wouldn't be surprised, in fact, if he's one of this movie's director's influences, especially considering the, er, theme.

I wanna find out more about this one.

Monday, February 24, 2003
18:44 - The People Have Spoken
http://www.thinksecret.com/news/safaritabbedbrowsing.html

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It would appear that "Nick DePlume" of Think Secret has gotten his hands on a build of Safari that addresses the single biggest shortcoming complained about by Mac users accustomed to Chimera and Mozilla: tabbed browsing.
In beta 62 of Safari, which has yet to be posted for download, tabbed browsing can be activated via the hidden debug menu. Once turned on, pressing Command-T opens a new tab. In Safari, tabs are lined up in their own bar below the toolbar, much like the bookmarks bar. When the bookmarks bar is shown, the tabs are presented below it.
Sounds as though there will be several more internal betas before we get this feature in the flesh; some other items, like form autocomplete, are reported as being not-exactly-ready-for-prime-time as yet. But this is another good sign that Safari is being designed with all the consumer attention of an open-source project and all the tightly-scheduled, well-funded oomph of a commercial one. It's a brave new world out there...


14:42 - A tremendous EXPLOSION... in timber prices

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You know-- it occurs to me, all of a sudden, that people in the Midwest are doubly lucky.

For one thing, they're not in a high terrorism risk zone to begin with.

And for another, they get thunderstorms. Like on a regular basis.

So when the air lights up outside in a BLINDING FLASH, followed almost immediately by a TEN-SECOND-LONG BOOMING CRACKLING CATACLYSM, they don't immediately wonder whether someone snuck a tactical-nuke into the Port of Oakland in a shipping container.

Sheesh. The numbing niceness of the weather around here has its downside.


11:53 - The more things change

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Zjonni brought over a compilation trade-paperback of The Watchmen over the weekend; I'm about a third of the way into it, and it's turning out to be a fascinating period piece, quite unexpectedly. Written in 1986, gritty in its graphic Blade Runner alleyway dimness, but still evoking the 1950s with the curious pulp-comic primary colors of hair and clothes and cars and skin (since then replaced by the Vertigo comics' more subtle and mood-altering realistic earth-tones), it's a time-capsule from the days when we still worried about the Reds while snickering knowingly about McCarthyism. With characters like Rorschach, Dr. Manhattan, Nite Owl, and the Comedian-- none of whom I'd heard of before-- it's thus far a dismal and depressing tale of the death of a society's innocence and self-confidence, terrified and intimidated by superheroes rather than comforted by them. It's prescient in a way; how long would a radioactive super-being last today without attracting a class-action lawsuit from all his past sexual partners for giving them all cancer?

Anyway, one facet of the story is a strong undercurrent of liberal-vs-conservative banter between the heroes-- the kind of thing they seemed to talk about in the 80s, but which became deeply unfashionable in 90s pop-culture, only to reappear with a bang post-9/11. That's another way in which this story is a time-capsule; it's like an old acquaintance has come back for a visit, tweaking my cheek and telling me the last time he saw me I ran naked into the living room and knocked out a tooth on the wooden couch while all the houseguests clucked and fluttered.

Dr. Manhattan, one of the characters firmly in the conservative camp, made an interesting observation: since these were all superheroes whose heyday was in the early 40s, a fad begun by Siegel and Shuster but (in the comic's storyline) deeply gauche after the concentration camps were cracked open and let out the stench of real good and evil onto the world, the whole team of heroes ("masked adventurers" in those days) found themselves disillusioned and unloved by the public. In an essay about his own genesis (centered on the media's "God is real-- and he's American!"), he made a crack about the ensuing 50s: the nation's pop focus was now on beatniks and a hip-swinging subversive musician, rather than on the black-and-white world the heroes had exemplified before the war. "We fought a war for American values-- only to have the nation turn its eyes to Elvis?" was the refrain.

Fast-forward to two or three weeks ago, when Lileks called America "The Axis of Elvis". None of the "conservative" bloggers batted an eye; in fact, they rallied around it and quoted it, much as Den Beste and Sullivan and Reynolds and Johnson are doing now, gleefully co-opting as a banner a meme that was intended as a slur. If I may invoke a Simpsons quote that's too newly broadcast to have become recognizable yet: "We're the Learn to Fart state!"

But that's the thing about America, apparently. What defines us is our ability to reinvent ourselves so quickly, so readily, rejecting the mindset that came before us but unafraid to make whatever we ourselves latch onto be even more vibrant and self-defining. Elvis was a threat to the very fabric of society at first-- but rather than suppress him, we let him tear up the fabric of our society. And the result was that society knitted itself back together in a way that was more amenable to the times, rather than stretching and straining under the load of old sensibilities as well as new. We require our elder generations to keep up with the times or risk being disenfranchised, because it's the younger generations that write the social rules. Some might see that as a lack of respect for our elders, a quality that makes us contemptible in the eyes of other peoples for whom such respect is paramount. But what I think is telling about us is that for the most part, our society does adapt as it ages; it assimilates new ways of thinking and speaking. We might giggle at cell-phone ads featuring little old ladies speaking hacker-l33t or cane-leaning men conversing in fluent hip-hop 'hood, but it's less a joke than an ideal that we seem to regard with affection. We like to think of our elders relating to us on our terms; it's our preferred mode of operation, rather than idealizing relating to them on their terms.

And perhaps that's what gives us the ability to reinvent ourselves so quickly, and to redefine what "American" means-- for Elvis to go from subversive object of derision and suspicion to beloved, nostalgic national symbol in the space of twenty or thirty years. My culture, growing up, was the 80s of Nintendo and Transformers cartoons; today, that age bracket is using cellphones and listening to progressive techno and watching anime and playing DDR, and I find myself wishing I could be a part of it rather than sneering at it and popping sour grapes. (Mmmm, sour grapes.)

Does this make us any different from other countries in the world? Perhaps, if the implication is that we continue to believe that the Golden Age is in the future, and we're inching toward it every day, sometimes even leaping and flying toward it-- rather than in an imagined past, a grace from which we're falling farther with each new fad and reinvention of the world. It's certainly true that a lot of European countries have seen better days, and aren't likely to see them again if they keep on their current track; but there are other countries in the world-- among them Russia, China, Afghanistan, Eastern Europe, and the United States-- for whom it still feels as though the story is building to something.

There's still a good two hundred brightly colored comic pages in my right hand. The story's pretty bleak at this point, but there's plenty more on the way-- and blood or no blood, gritty alleys or no gritty alleys, sex scandals between superheroes or no sex scandals, somehow I still expect a happy ending.

UPDATE: Steven Den Beste tells me that everything I expect about what's coming is wrong. Boy oh boy.

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© Brian Tiemann