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
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
.clue
Ravishing Light
Rosenblog
Cartago Delenda Est



Cars without compromise.





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Sunday, June 8, 2003
02:05 - Sweet Merciful Marzipan

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So this weekend I've been rather out of it; it seems a lot of people have, and all with good beginning-of-summer-type excuses. I hope mine counts.

See, it's been another painting weekend; and unlike the past few outings, this time we shanghaied several friends into helping steady ladders and lay blue tape everywhere. The result is that while at the beginning of the weekend we had a total of one room almost done, now we have almost the entire house painted with the exception of a few small detaily rooms, plus the original room that's... almost done.

Once the job gets into the big general chunk of work, it really does go fast. We found a $3 edging tool that screws onto a standard brush handle and runs on little wheels, letting you go right up the the ceiling's edge and cut-in properly with a nice crisp line, as long as you don't have any non-90-degree angles between the wall and the ceiling. (We have three walls with non-90-degree angles.) Plus the big vaulted ceiling means lots of extending the big ladder to its maximum setting and then standing about three rungs from the top, causing parents and homeowners' liability insurance agents everywhere to turn over unaccountably in their restless sleep.

But the Linen White ceilings are all painted now-- all of them-- and the walls, for which we chose a light-dusky-orange tone called Sweet Marzipan, are almost all done as well. As the day came to a close, and I stood in the middle of the living room with the sunset light streaming in through the west-facing picture window, I realized that suddenly we have a house where it looks like sunset was happening all the time-- and when sunset is happening, it looks like the Mingling of the Lights in Valinor of old. It's really frickin' cool. Once the walls are all done (including the accent walls in the living room, such as the big vertical hanging eastern wall opposite the picture window, which will be done in a rich Cinnamon Spice) and the vibrant forest green carpet is in, this place will feel like somewhere I want to start spending the night. Already it's looking like a place where I want to start making the neighbors stop coming in to see our progress, and wait until the housewarming to see what we've done with it. Suddenly I want to surprise everybody.

(Don't worry-- I'll post photos here soon.)

But that's the weirdest thing about the neighborhood, if I haven't mentioned it already. It's this little cul-de-sac in southern San Jose, right up against the hills at the south edge of the Valley, at the boundary between the gridwork of wan little ranch-style homes and dreary apartment blocks, and the broad-streeted upscale neighborhoods that appear the instant the terrain starts to rise into the foothills; while all other streets immediately around it are full of nondescript workaday housing, this one little strip of two distinct floorplans (each with two mirrored variants) is made up of fairly shiny, colorful little two-story contenders and pretenders to the world of the well-to-do suburbanite dwellings. No, they're not big; but they look bigger than they are, and they're inhabited by a tight-knit cast of folks who seem determined to turn the cul-de-sac into a vision of 50s domesticity transplanted to 21st-century cosmopolitan virtues. On one side there's a couple from Canada who have proudly stuck US flags all over their house, movers and shakers in their fields. On the other is the CEO of a placement agency, whose son-- a regular Dennis the Menace-- hit his baseball into our garage one day and stayed to prowl about the house while we banged on things, asking if he could take home this or that piece of scrap wood. There are twentysomethings with motorcycles. There are all ages and races and lifestyles in evidence. There are people who have been on the street since it was built-- recalling days when the circular end of the street was home to monthly neighborhood barbecues, where all the folks would wheel out their grills onto the pavement and cook each other steaks and burgers, and live bands would play, and everybody would tour each other's houses and keep abreast of gossip, and a good old-fashioned friendly American neighborhood-- the kind that would give Michael Moore hives if he saw it-- would forge itself from whole cloth.

Said neighbors have been taking great interest in the house's development. And frankly, I'm thinking it's one of the best things about the house's location-- right at the end of the street, it commands the circular cul of de sac, where during sunset the light streams down the street and washes over everybody as they come out of their houses which all face each other, carting their garbage cans to the curb for Monday-morning pickup, standing out in the street to chat for a languid hour while toddlers scoot around on toy fire engines in the background. All that's missing is a soundtrack.

And to crown it all, the local Round Table Pizza-- owned by a couple who turn out to be Middle Eastern, though the newspaper article on proud display on the counter doesn't give any further detail than their Arabic names-- is apparently anointed by the Round Table Central Command to be the finest in the land. Seems the remodeling job they did recently, coupled with the consistently outstanding food and service we've had every time we go there, won them such acclaim that this restaurant is being held up as the definitive example of what a Round Table should be. Fine by me-- tonight's dinner, with which we treated our wounded and tired painting crew, was eminently worth the big fat tip we left on the table as we scuttled out at what had to be past closing time, under the undimmed smiles of the proprietors.

This week I'll be hopping over there for a couple of hours a day to putter about and do touch-up work, finishing up a few of the smaller jobs. We'll definitely be ready for the delivery of the carpet on the 17th, at this rate. And then... and then we can move in.

I'm really starting to get antsy now. Instead of shuttling back and forth with Home Depot spoils and tired friends, I want to be driving back to that place to stay.

Friday, June 6, 2003
21:25 - Oh ho ho, very witty, Wilde

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So when I started my car this evening, NPR had on a discussion of some local issue or other, featuring interview-soundbites from some deep-voiced commentator whose name I didn't catch. I have no idea what the context was (the show was "The California Report"); but in discussing the various viewpoints on the issue and the proper airing of the opposing stances, he had the following cynical one-liner:

"It's been said that democracy is like two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."

Ah hah. Cute. Very pithy. But let's finish the thought, shall we? How about when it's two sheep and a wolf voting on what to have for dinner?

Doesn't that more accurately describe the typical social issue these days?


16:17 - To Render a Laugh
http://img-nex.theonering.net/movies/gollum_mtvawards_Bband.mov

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Okay, this is one of those things that any Tolkien fans in the audience who are serious enough about it to be irreverent will add to the trophy shelf along with the Jack Black/Sarah Michelle Gellar "Council of Elrond" scene that Peter Jackson hid on the DVD. It's Andy Serkis' (Gollum's) prerecorded acceptance speech for the "Best Virtual Performance" award at the MTV Awards. Ahem-- actually it's not just prerecorded; it's prerendered. For a bloody good reason, too.



I've only just now stopped laughing. Damn, those guys know how to have fun with their work.

Caution: strong language ahead. Also, the link leads to the 8.2MB large QuickTime version; there are also smaller versions available from TheOneRing.net.

This must be why Christopher Tolkien sniffed recently that "all popular entertainment is unutterably low". Too bad for him; the rest of us have a sense of humor.


12:00 - The Inside Skinny
http://www.gnutellanews.com/article/6830

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Here's the list of juicy details on how Apple manages its iTunes music content, how it treats the various labels, what kinds of sales/browsing stats it's seeing, etc. This info was given out at the Indie Get-Together a couple of days ago, and supposed to be under NDA; but CD Baby posted it, and then it was snapped up by Slashdot and others before they took it down again.

I'm sure Apple didn't really expect this stuff to remain secret (well, actually, considering how they expected the market to behave with iTunes Music Sharing, maybe they did). But now that it's out in the open, this stuff's certainly not damning; the worst it can do is maybe give potential competitors a baseline for comparison. Either way, it's a great read.

I hope whoever transcribed it meant "4.1 billion in the bank", not "41 billion".

Great stuff. I hope CD Baby doesn't get stiffed by Apple now, after this, though...

Thursday, June 5, 2003
01:38 - One Disaster After Another Underwater

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My dad will get that title.

I just saw Finding Nemo, and I found it surprisingly... well, I won't say bad, because it wasn't, and I won't say dull, because it wasn't, and I won't say flat, because it wasn't. I don't know. I guess I just found it sort of un-Pixar. Which is odd, because on balance it has everything we have all come to expect from a Pixar movie. Extremely original characters. Kooky cerebral humor. Gorgeous animation. Emotional twists. A blast-from-the-past animated short from Pixar's early days preceding the movie. Silly surprises in the credits.

But even so... there just seemed to be something missing. It wasn't the Randy Newman songs, because none of the Pixar movies aside from the Toy Stories had any. It wasn't the wry cockeyed cultural references and visual memes, because there were plenty of those. It wasn't the visuals; they're easily more stunning here than ever before, and even the humans look plausible now for the first time. It wasn't the effortlessly tidy writing, with plot elements forever closing loops and tying off loose ends; that was here in spades. It wasn't the buddy-movie central plot trunk with the colorful gaggle of supporting characters, because they're more colorful this time around than even in A Bug's Life (plus it's a single-father-and-lesbian buddy pair, which is guaranteed comedic gold, not the potential romance that they keep almost flirting with). All the ingredients are there.

But for lack of anything more substantive, I'd have to say that what's missing is magic. There's just some spark of inspiration that just isn't there this time around.

Something about world-building, possibly. All the previous Pixar movies spent a great deal of time luxuriating in the kooky details of a universe of the writers' own creation. The monsters in Monsters, Inc. use a three-decimal-place monetary system and power their cities off the collected screams of kids, collected with the help of a wholly industrialized system of magic interdimensional doors. The ants in A Bug's Life put on kindergarten plays about circus bugs from the Big Dump City, where everybody drinks from palm-sized droplets held together by surface tension. And don't get me wrong-- Finding Nemo has these things. But somehow they're just not as easy and natural as they have been in the past; I didn't find myself giggling helplessly at the idea of tiny Pac-Man-ghost-shaped squids "inking" when they get startled, or of fish toddlers clinging to a bat ray for "school" (honestly, I expected more of a pun there). They seemed forced. Like the brainstorming sessions ran dry early in the evening, and the writers sat there glumly muching pizza as they bulldozed their way through a quota of gags under the merciless whip of the approaching dawn.

There was something "not quite right" about the delivery of the characters. There was this bizarre, repeated tendency for characters to drop into tuneless, singsongy doggerel. The bat-ray teacher does it to a bewildering, Tom-Bombadil-esque degree. Dory does it as part of her demented persona. Half the time, you get the feeling that it's because these are supposed to be fish, without cognitive reasoning skills, crooning like Furbys to themselves... but then the rest of the time they're perfectly human in character, and the singing sounds almost kinda creepy. I didn't find it annoying, per se... I found it more puzzling, like I was missing something critical to my understanding of the characters' motivations. I kept feeling like I was supposed to be getting more engaged in the story, more attached to the characters, like I helplessly did-- against all my conscious efforts-- to Boo in Monsters, Inc. But there was nothing in Finding Nemo to compare with the ludicrous semi-dark silliness of Sully's facial expressions as he watches what he thinks is Boo getting mangled in the garbage disposal. Instead, it's... well, one disaster after another underwater. Just a bunch of linear little misadventures, plodding toward an inevitable conclusion without any unforeseen major twists. No Stinky-Pete-turning-turncoat. No deliciously heart-pounding mechanical bird scaring grasshoppers out of their exoskeletons. Just some whimpering utterances of "Oh, thank goodness"-- to which my reaction wasn't emotionally flushed relief, but "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Can we go home now?"

Yes, there were some great bits in there-- the concept is ambitious and commendable, a single father fighting himself in order to let go of his son and let him find his own way in the world. The interstitial philosophizing along these lines works well, even with the crucial wisdom falling from the lips of a dazed-and-confused surfer sea turtle. But overall the premise just seemed stretched too far; rather than feeling like I'd just seen a tiny sliver of a universe which could be infinitely explored, as with all previous Pixar films, this one didn't leave me with any desire to see any of the rest of the ocean. Yeah, it's dangerous out there, but that's not the point. Neither is the fact that it's shockingly beautiful; that's not it either. It's simply that I felt I'd seen it all right here, on an overpriced tour that dumped me unceremoniously into a gift shop at the end.

Has Pixar lost its touch? Nah, I don't think so. I don't think Finding Nemo is a bad movie, either. It's just that I've come to expect miracles from Pixar, and now even a good movie seems like a letdown.

Oh-- and what was up with those "reformed sharks" and that one wisecrack? "Blasted humans-- think they own the whole world!" "They're probably Americans!" Someone grinding an axe in there somewhere, eh?

UPDATE: James Sentman also notes that the movie was simply too dark and scary for the kids in the audience. There weren't any in my 10:30 showing, but I see what he means. Mom and all the kids getting shockingly eaten before the title credits? Screen-filling, gravelly-voiced, knife-toothed, violently-thrashing sharks? Sure, they looked great, but the writers definitely didn't seem to know what age group they were playing to.

Plus I just can't see any kids-- or adults, even-- being able to really connect with the character concepts. When Dory first said, "I suffer from short-term memory loss"-- I thought, oh great... this is going to be one loooong movie.

Previous Pixar movies had the benefit of being aimed at kids but thoroughly enjoyable for adults too. This one, however, sacrifices its kiddie appeal for the sake of some darker plot elements, but manages to forfeit its adult watchability as well.

Maybe it's because Lasseter only had Executive Producer credits on this one, and apparently wasn't any more deeply involved?


00:51 - Too easy...
http://www.denbeste.nu/cd_log_entries/2003/06/GettingRooked.shtml

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My only reaction to this scoop covered by Den Beste, on the possibility that the reason we haven't found any WMDs so far is that Saddam kept trying to buy them from con-men who delivered him barrels of sand instead of the weapons he paid for, is a juvenile but irresistible one:

There's a great joke in here somewhere about "selling sand to Arabs".

I'll let someone else come up with the actual joke. But as the late, great Bill Hicks used to say, I'm just planting seeds, people... just planting seeds.


14:30 - 'Scuse me while I kiss this peanut
http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=worldNews&storyID=2885928

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Those darned pesky ripcords...

BERLIN (Reuters) - One of Germany's most controversial politicians, former deputy chancellor Juergen Moellemann, fell to his death Thursday in a parachute jump that police are investigating as a possible suicide.

His death came within hours of a search of his home in Muenster, western Germany, by prosecutors probing allegations he violated party funding rules. Also Thursday, the German parliament lifted his immunity from prosecution.

Moellemann's populist stunts -- he often parachuted into campaign events -- had helped propel him to the top of the liberal Free Democrat party, but he quit in March in disgrace over charges of anti-Semitism and irregular party funding.

Eyewitnesses at the jump near the western town of Marl said Moellemann, who had been a paratrooper in the German army, probably killed himself. "It was clear suicide," said an experienced parachutist who saw the fatal jump.

Poor old Hans Moellemann. Must have been the date with Selma that really did it.

And to think-- he was only 31 years old!

Wednesday, June 4, 2003
01:33 - Could it be...?
http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20030603/lf_nm/mideast_bomber_dc_1

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As heart-sickening as this story is, and as many maddening questions as it raises, there is one bright ray of hope: the fact that it's Reuters, and that it's concluding something like this:

Like many of the new generation of bombers, he has more in common with the hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States than with the stereotypical profile of poor, desperate young men with nothing to lose.

He is a father of eight, well educated with a middle-class background and has even taken the unusual step of letting his family in on his plans. "They are proud of me," he said.

They still can't bring themselves to say the word "terrorist", but this is as close as I've ever seen Reuters get to acknowledging that the idea is the same.

Not that it really means there's hope or anything. It's probably way too little, way too late.

Via LGF.


16:20 - Apple Courts Indy Media
http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1472248/20030603/dashboard_confessional.jhtml

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No, not that Indymedia. The good guys. (Mostly.)

Apple has invited hundreds of indie label representatives to a private presentation on Thursday at the computer giant's Cupertino, California, campus to discuss hopping onboard and adding their content to the more than 200,000 songs already available through the service.

"The plan was to go out of the gate with the five major labels, but there's always been an interest in expanding the store beyond that," an Apple spokesperson said.

Senior iTunes music store staffers will show the label reps how the store runs and they'll perform some hands-on demos, though it is unclear whether Apple boss Steve Jobs will attend. The spokesperson declined to specify which, or how many, labels were invited to the meeting.

One label president who has already booked his flight is Sub Pop co-founder Jonathan Poneman. "I'm very interested in this as the owner of a label," Poneman said. "The Apple store is accessible, well organized and attractive. I wouldn't miss this for the world."

A lot of the indie outfits are doing fairly well already through the unrestricted online distributors like MP3.com and Emusic, but whenever you talk about how such sites "carry 900 labels and 500,000 tracks," it's always a thin and wan variation on saying, "Well, no, we don't have anybody who actually matters... but look how many of everyone else we have! All the guys with nothing to lose and everything to gain!" ...Which is fine, but Apple's store is the first such venture to be equally attractive to big-label players and starving indie bands.

Now if only they can settle the whole "Apple Records" business once and for all, and get some Beatles...

That buyout never materialized, but now MacDailyNews notes a piece over at Fox News claiming that "The Beatles... are gearing up for a fight," presumably over the iPod, the iTunes Music Store, the alleged impending deal with Amazon, and the various other ways in which Apple (Yay Apple Rah Rah Rah) is branching into the music biz-- ways which Apple (Big Meanies Boo Boo Boo) never sanctioned.

Surely he means "Blue Meanies Boo Boo Boo"...?

Sent by J Greely.

14:07 - Offenders Anonymous
http://www.proche-orient.info/en_xjournal_pol_rep.php3?id_article=13445

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This almost makes me want to do postdoctorate work in linguistics or history or art, obtain a fellowship, and become a professor at this institution or some similar one.

Just so I can tell these students to go directly to hell, do not collect 200 francs.


11:36 - St. Ive
http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/story.jsp?story=411956

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Hey, look: an Independent article worth reading. It's about Apple VP of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive, who just won the Designer of the Year award from the Design Museum of London.

In the past year Apple has released new versions of the iMac, iPod and two versions of its PowerBook notebook computers, all designed by Mr Ive's team. He is a softly spoken man who gives interviews only rarely, and even less often reveals his opinions of other peoples' work. But in an exclusive interview with The Independent last year, he noted that those who mimicked his work were never successful. He said he was unimpressed by those who use, "swoopy shapes to look good, stuff that is so aggressively designed, just to catch the eye". He said: "I think that's arrogance, it's not done for the benefit of the user."

Ive is the kind of artist I can respect: one who is employed first and foremost to please the public, and hides his own ego lest it interfere with that goal. He's probably responsible more than any other person for keeping Apple in the public eye post-1997; Jobs gets credit for giving him direction and free rein, but Ive is the one who keeps hitting those homeruns. Jobs can dream and make grandiose claims; but Ive has to wrestle with actual metal and plastic and make it all work. He's the proof that Jobs' dreams actually can be made material.

Tuesday, June 3, 2003
18:32 - Turn, turn, turn
http://www.appleturns.com/

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Good stuff at As the Apple Turns today. That's kinda not really news; after all, it's good every day, and as often as not I feel like I should either just post a link like this every day, or just Apache-redirect all visitors there directly.

But today it has coverage of QuickTime 6.3 and 3GPP, the new MPEG-4-based video-phone technology standard that Apple's at the heart of developing and that you can now create content for using the newly available QT component. Woo-hoo. (Though, and correct me if I'm off-base on this, but does it not have the absolute worst logo ever created by the hand of man? I mean, really?)

But there's also the final word on "Redmond Justice:

Okay, so this is a little late, and possibly more than a little off-topic, but we just can't let this one go without comment: faithful viewer Mike D reminded us that CNET recently discussed Microsoft's stated plan of "phasing out standalone versions of its Internet Explorer web browser" and instead developing it further only "as part of the OS." This isn't speculation, folks; Microsoft's IE program manager Brian Countryman said as much in an interview a few weeks back, which is available for your head-shaking, disbelieving pleasure on Microsoft's own web site. To which we can only reply, "Justice Department? What's that?"

Yup, it's great to know that after five years of antitrust courtroom drama primarily spurred by Microsoft's anticompetitive bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows in a transparent attempt to vaporize Netscape, the U.S. and all but two states have settled, AOL appears to be on the verge of pulling the plug on Netscape, and Microsoft gets to tie the browser even tighter to its operating system. Which all goes to show that justice ain't just blind; it's apparently also deaf, mute, stupid, comatose, and dead.

...

Personally, if IE disappeared overnight, we'd probably dance a little jig and break into the celebratory Tater Tots. We hate trying to support this mess. Our latest pet peeve is its complete inability to handle PNG graphics, unlike just about every other browser on the planet. (The Mac version at least tries, although it still screws up alpha transparency in PNG-backgrounded table cells.) We noticed that someone at the interview asked Brian "When will IE get transparent PNG support?" Brian's reply? "I'm sorry, I can't answer that question for you." Yyyyyyeah.

Ah, the joys of monopoly life: customers have been begging Microsoft for PNG support for four years, but the company has absolutely zero reason to bother implementing it, since its customers are just going to use the product regardless. Long live Safari, long live OmniWeb, long live just about any browser made by anyone who actually cares. Or, indeed, needs to.

Exactly.

I guess this means we can also despair of Microsoft ever fixing the bug in IE where if it encounters a JPEG written by certain obscure, marginalized programs (like Adobe Photoshop 7) which write XML header data into the file, it will hang on that image and never be able to load another image until you hard-kill it or reboot. I mean, hell, why should they? What are people going to do-- not use IE?

They're doing an excellent job of hushing it up, too, if in order to find a mention of it I have to go googling through techie blogs which talk in bewilderment about it (like this one, which has an excellent and detailed ongoing commentary on this latest Microsoft hubris-fest).


15:39 - That Syncing Feeling
http://www.apple.com/isync/

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iSync 1.1 is out. As early reports and rumors had indicated, among other improvements (including support for lots more phones, with neato model-specific icons and everything), it now synchronizes Safari bookmarks between Macs.

It works really well, too. They did a very good job with it. Namely, for example, you don't have to restart Safari for it to refresh its bookmarks after a sync, as one might expect from how applications of this type usually behave. Just select "Sync Now" from the menu bar icon, and watch your browser's bookmarks automatically update even as you use them.

I'm inclined to think that Safari bookmark syncing is a) a killer feature for Safari, and b) a killer feature for iSync. Has this kind of thing ever really existed before? The ability to keep the same set of bookmarks on all your computers, from your home desktop to your laptop to your machine at work? It has that feel of something whose time was desperate to arrive-- I have enough blog-related bookmarks that it's a serious pain trying to keep a usable common set of them on all my machines. Now I don't have to worry about it-- they're all there, no matter which machine I'm using. With iSync set to auto-sync every hour, the whole thing is a no-brainer; it's out of sight, out of mind, and-- how's that go again?-- it just works.

It doesn't sync your browsing history, though, which is probably a good thing. No need to worry about the trail of places you surf to at home being published to Apple or, worse, to your machine at work.

Nice job, Apple. Thank you.

Monday, June 2, 2003
15:48 - Help! I've been typecast!
http://www.enterstageright.com/archive/articles/0603/0603idiot.htm

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I step away from my computer for a weekend and look what happens: I find that some semi-thought-out tirade I dashed off in the heat of passion has gotten out of my control and landed me in political company I'd never expected to find myself keeping. (Well, not before I'd grown up a bit more, at least. I wanted a few more years to be young and misguided. I'm being cheated out of my halcyonitudinousness!)

Namely, my "A good idiot is hard to find" post has been picked up as a featured article by Enter Stage Right. (And yes, before one concludes that my feigned shock is anything but a clumsy attempt on my part to handle praiseful exposure through good old-fashioned self-deprecation, yes, it's entirely by permission.) It's been adorned with an entirely appropriate Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel picture, and the editor even added a reader poll. I'm being referred to with my middle initial. (Hey, the next step is for my whole middle name to be credited-- and then I'll sound like a mass murderer!) And weirdest of all, it describes Peeve Farm as being "popular". If that part's true, then I know the Apocalypse is nigh.

So I guess this means I'm officially right-wing now, eh? I dunno-- I kinda prefer Den Beste's axes, whereby a person can be conservative (opposed to revolution) and liberal (in favor of personal liberty) with no contradiction in ideology. I hope that model catches on a bit more, because without it I feel hard pressed to adopt traditional labels without fear of them being totally misinterpreted.

Ah well. Just another thing to get used to, I guess. I reserve the right to remain freaked-out for a little while longer, however.


10:43 - Ow

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Painting makes my neck feel weird.

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© Brian Tiemann