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:

Steven Den Beste
James Lileks
Little Green Footballs
As the Apple Turns
Cold Fury
Capitalist Lion
Red Letter Day
Eric S. Raymond
Tal G in Jerusalem
Aziz Poonawalla
Corsair the Rational Pirate
Ravishing Light
Cartago Delenda Est

Cars without compromise.

Book Plugs:

Buy 'em and I get
money. I think.
BSD Mall

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12/31/2001 -   1/6/2002
12/24/2001 - 12/30/2001
12/17/2001 - 12/23/2001
Monday, February 2, 2004
11:47 - The difference between Sharon and Hitler?

Hitler annexed the Sudetenland; Sharon gave it back.

(Oh yeah. Maybe that's not the only difference, either.)

Sunday, February 1, 2004
02:52 - Share the Dearth

Well, this is just lovely, isn't it? So very heartwarming.

This, and its parent site, make me wonder just how eerily appropriate the title "Downhill Battle" really is. To wit, it's so tempting to sympathize with the file-sharing grass-roots communities, isn't it? Theirs is such a worthy cause. The filthy corporate whores of the RIAA may have the letter of the law on their side, but we all know the Internet has changed all the rules of copyright and information and creativity forever, right?

Well, this is where that downward slope-- as slippery as it is-- leads us:

PEPSI IS ABOUT TO DUMP 100 million free iTunes songs into circulation. During the Super Bowl, they'll be launching a promotion that gives you a 1 in 3 chance of winning a free iTunes song under the bottlecap of a Pepsi. Those 100 million caps could theoretically mean 65 million dollars for record labels and musicians (that's what's left after Apple's cut).

But we have a hunch that most Pepsi drinkers won't bother to download and install iTunes just to get a single song. To help remedy the situation, we are announcing the Tune Recycler which lets people donate their unwanted iTunes codes, which we will redeem. Of course, we would never send Pepsi's money to the big five labels (that would be a little incestuous, don't you think?). We'll be using the codes to buy music from independent labels. We're going to pick single albums and buy them over and over-- each purchase sends a little cash to some cool people.

So charming. So populist. So forward-thinking. So egalitarian.

It's for the artists' own good that they're tearing down the only hope the music industry's infrastructure has of surviving the transition into the digital future. It's for the artists' own good that these people can't compromise. Hell, they have all the power; they have the bludgeon. The genie is out of the bottle, and it's theirs to command, and they know it. Why should they compromise?

It all sounds so heartfelt and selfless. Too bad it all boils down to nothing more honorable than wanting to keep getting stuff for free.

11:49 - Helpful E-mailing Tips

Here's a lesson in how not to begin an e-mail to me:

Good daytime, my name's Tavu and I am under severe circumstances claiming your assistance.

Now, as luck would have it, this message goes on to become an actual on-topic piece of correspondence for me to answer. But the e-mailer will probably never know how close his message came to going reflexively into the "Nigerian Spam" bucket...

Saturday, January 31, 2004
00:31 - Train wreck of a nation

What must it be like to live in France?

Where Nazi slogans appear on WWI cemeteries and Jewish schools are firebombed, and there's always empathy for the perpetrators above action against it? Where capitulation is the prescribed treatment for any social or cultural disagreement-- where it becomes forbidden to sell pork in major chain supermarkets, while McDonald's outlets become gang-occupied strongholds in street warfare that outguns the police?

Where a Muslim immigrant population that makes up a third of France's under-18 demographic harasses and rapes women in the walled suburban projects, but the government thinks it's a useful gesture to try to ban headscarves in public schools?

And where slaughterhouses televise mass butchery because of a "right" demanded as part of a religious ritual?

The Paris suburb of Evry, which has one of France’s largest Muslim populations, has decided to install video screens to enable the local faithful to watch some 3,300 sheep being slaughtered for Eid this year.

The televised ritual slaughter which will take place in a large mobile abattoir is the idea of a local meat wholesaler.

“If the idea succeeds this year then it’s likely to become a permanent fixture of Eids in future,” a local municipal spokesman said.

Meanwhile, at Le Mans, west of Paris, the local authorities have decided to build a “hard” structure in which the sheep belonging to local Muslims can be killed.

“If this works out,” says an official for the prefecture which is overseeing the development, “then it’s an idea that will probably be tried elsewhere in France.”

The new approach to the slaughter of the Eid sheep comes after years of difficulties for French Muslims who, having bought a sheep for Eid, thought it was their right to see them killed in a local slaughterhouse.

What must it be like inside the average French person's brain? Behind what must be a mask of a fixed, quivering, teary-eyed grin? Happy, happy, happy! ... But what will PETA think? But non! We must do everything to make all cultures happy! But... the animals! But-- freedom of religion! But... secular society! But... France's traditional valu--aaaauurrghhh! POP!

22:26 - His boots are ivory, his hat is ivory, and I'm pretty sure that TOWER is ivory

Well, well. It seems that not every college student in the country is a complete raving nutbar. There are in fact some out there who are articulate, forthright, and willing to point out the hypocrisy in a prevailing campus atmosphere that so perversely shuts down all dissenting opinion in the very name of "free speech".

On Monday, January 26th, 2003, a debate about the Iraq War was held out in the hallways. While there was strong anti-war support, there were a few individuals, such as myself, who believed the war was justified. Those individuals, who believed that there was such justification, were badgered, and silenced by one person, because their opinions differed from her own. Even those who unsuccessfully tried to moderate the discussion were criticized viciously for having done so.

Because I was not allowed to openly say my piece, I expressed myself in an alternative form- writing. I put a three page paper on my door (largely derived from the online journal, “USS Clueless”) [Stephen denBeste -ed.] that for the most part, outlined, why I believed that there was a need to remove Saddam, and the Baathist party in Iraq; and also reform sects of the Arab culture (such as the Wahabi) that have long supported terrorism by all means. These three pages have caused quite a stir on the hall. So much so that:

· someone removed the three pages from my door

· I have been called (possibly by the same person who removed the paper from my door) a racist, a fascist

· those who stuck by me were repeatedly vilified for doing so.

I have reposted my opinion on my door, only to have it torn down again and again.

But now it's on the Web, and it deserves to be read by more open-minded heads than those tragicomical figures in her hall.

22:12 - What I Did Today

I was here:

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Having a roommate with a private pilot's license kicks ass.

And so does Yosemite, covered in late-January snow, on a crisp cold day where the clouds break over the foothills to give flyers-by a perfect panorama suitable for filling up whole Flash cards with photos. (Plenty more where this came from.)

The trip was a fairly exciting one, too. Columbia airport, in the foothills east of Stockton, is a hideous bitch goddess. Crosswinds of 15 knots made it impossible to line up accurately on the runway without losing rudder authority, so after two go-arounds we moved on to Oakdale, on much flatter valley ground. And thence a straight shot home. Yeah, mountain flying is cool-- but so is getting home in one piece.

I may get some nice high-quality iPhoto prints of a few of these photos. My brother might like some of them...

Friday, January 30, 2004
17:29 - I've seen things, I've seen them with my EYES

As thoroughly insane and mind-melting as this is, somehow I think this is even worse.

Kuala Lumpur... you know, Simpsons references show up in the damnedest places, don't they?


16:16 - Hey! Me too!


Woo-hoo! It's here!

And it sure did take its sweet time, huh? Panther was released in late October, and within a couple of weeks David Pogue already had a book out on it. How in the name of high holy hell did he write it so fast? Especially since the UI wasn't ready for screenshots until early October at the latest? That's why I had no fewer than three weeks' work beyond the release date just trying to get all the screenshots done. Now, the Apple Stores all have Panther books of all types, from this series and that series, and even one from another series by the same publishing company as mine. (Huh?!) I'm jostling for space, instead of being first out of the gate.

But if there's one lesson I'm learning from all this, it's that the world of Mac tech publishing moves very damned fast. Why, a few days ago-- not two weeks after iLife '04 was released-- O'Reilly published a 56-page PDF pamphlet on iLife '04 which is freely downloadable. It's instant documentation! Quite an industry we got here.

I'd originally submitted a TOC with 33 chapters; after I'd written and submitted them all, I was told that it came in at nearly 700 pages, and there was a hard 500-page limit. Besides which, as I was unaware, there's an iLife in a Snap book being done at the same time by another author, and it covers everything four of my chapters did, in yet more detail. So I had to combine those four chapters into one big mega-chapter on iLife, liberally spattered with references to the other book, and covering only the high points of the (then) four iApps-- which still entails quite a lot. (I also had to cram in things like QuickTime and image conversion and DVD playback into that chapter, which is about the only place they fit.) After all the hacking and slashing and consolidating and wholesale culling, I was down to 19 chunky chapters straining at the seams of the covers.

I just got my copy last night, and it ended up looking a lot better than I'd dared hope. It's very densely packed; they got it down to 600 pages (that's 600 exactly, including the insides of the front and back covers, which have actual content on them), and the illustrations came out nice and bold. Capri is featured front and center on lots of pages, as are various friends.

It's my first solo, and I think I'll pop me a Diet Coke in celebration. Huzzah!

Oh: The woman on the front? I believe her name is Joanne Royalty Free.

11:44 - Getting there


I'm still working on the South. One of these days!

Thursday, January 29, 2004
11:32 - FBI: "Get a Mac"

This has been popping up in various places. It's quite a good read, eliciting many a tired smile from anybody who's ever tried to educate a friend or loved one about the importance of computer security (or from anyone who's spent the morning cleaning out 500 copies of the MooreTurd virus, or whatever it's called).

It's not every day that I have an FBI agent who's also a computer security expert come speak to my class, so I invited other students and friends to come hear him speak. On the night of Dave's talk, we had a nice cross-section of students, friends, and associates in the desks of my room, several of them "computer people," most not.

Dave arrived and set his laptop up, an IBM ThinkPad A31. He didn't connect to the Internet - too dangerous, and against regulations, if I recall - but instead ran his presentation software using movies and videos where others would have actually gone online to demonstrate their points. While he was getting everything ready, I took a look at the first FBI agent I could remember meeting in person.

Dave is from Tennessee, and you can tell. He's got a southern twang to his voice that disarms his listeners. He talks slowly, slightly drawling his vowels, and it sort of takes you in, making you think he's not really paying attention, and then you realize that he knows exactly what he's doing, and that he's miles ahead of you. He wears a tie, but his suit is ready to wear and just a bit wrinkled. His dark hair is longer than you'd think, hanging below his collar, further accentuating the country-boy image, but remember, this country boy knows his stuff. All in all, he gives off the air of someone who's busy as heck, too busy to worry about appearances, and someone who's seen a lot of things in his time.

So what does this country boy have to say about security? We-hell:

Dave had some surprises up his sleeve as well. You'll remember that I said he was using a ThinkPad (running Windows!). I asked him about that, and he told us that many of the computer security folks back at FBI HQ use Macs running OS X, since those machines can do just about anything: run software for Mac, Unix, or Windows, using either a GUI or the command line. And they're secure out of the box. In the field, however, they don't have as much money to spend, so they have to stretch their dollars by buying WinTel-based hardware. Are you listening, Apple? The FBI wants to buy your stuff. Talk to them!

Dave also had a great quotation for us: "If you're a bad guy and you want to frustrate law enforcement, use a Mac." Basically, police and government agencies know what to do with seized Windows machines. They can recover whatever information they want, with tools that they've used countless times. The same holds true, but to a lesser degree, for Unix-based machines. But Macs evidently stymie most law enforcement personnel. They just don't know how to recover data on them. So what do they do? By and large, law enforcement personnel in American end up sending impounded Macs needing data recovery to the acknowledged North American Mac experts: the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Evidently the Mounties have built up a knowledge and technique for Mac forensics that is second to none.

(I hope I'm not helping increase the number of sales Apple has to drug trafficers.)

No, but you sure gave a boost to our image of the Mounties! Dudley Do-Right goes Mac-hackin'. I love it. We always get our Mac!

Okay, I'll stop now. But the article is plenty entertaining, even aside from that section. Well worth a read.

UPDATE: Oh, one more, thing, from an anonymous tipster.

Here's how Microsoft recommends you protect yourself from malicious URL-spoofing, phishing, and other spam-scam tricks:

The most effective step that you can take to help protect yourself from malicious hyperlinks is not to click them. Rather, type the URL of your intended destination in the address bar yourself. By manually typing the URL in the address bar, you can verify the information that Internet Explorer uses to access the destination Web site. To do so, type the URL in the Address bar, and then press ENTER.

Now that's the wave of the future right there. Good going, Microsoft.

11:12 - What's wrong with this picture?

Israel releases more than 470 Palestinian terrorists from prison, in exchange for a few corpses of IDF soldiers and a businessman who may or may not be alive.

On the same day, a Palestinian policeman blows up a bus in Jerusalem, killing ten and wounding fifty.

It's clearly Israel's fault. And the natural outgrowth of poverty and desperation.

What? You say my logic doesn't hold? You say the Jews aren't monsters who deserve to be killed no matter what they do? What are you, some kind of Nazi?


10:20 - Go to the source

You know... in all the rhetoric over Iraq that has come from the Left and from various Presidential candidates, there's something that seems very conspicuously absent.

Namely, any indication that any of them have taken the seemingly obvious step of seeking the Iraqis' opinion of the war. It's just taken as a foregone conclusion that the Iraqis never wanted the war to happen, and that they now resent us for waging it. Any reports of cheering or jubilation-- bah. Just propaganda.

Well, Dr. Dean, I hope you're as open-minded as the Left always claims to be, because here's yet another of the long string of testimonials straight from the mind of an Iraqi that wonders just what the hell people like you are smoking. What's more, this guy is responding directly to you.

I’m not going to comment about the rightness of the statement with more than saying that only a (blind) man would believe it and only a man blinded by his ambitions would dare to say it, but when you say such words, don’t you mean in other words that the sacrifices made by the American soldiers are all in vain? And that these soldiers are not doing a service to the world, nor to Iraqis and not to America. In fact you are saying that since they didn’t do the world, America or us a favour then they’re only doing a favour to GWB and his administration.

Don’t you agree that by saying those words you accuse the American soldiers of one of two charges each of which is worse than the other;
You are saying that, either they are stupid enough to sacrifice their lives for the sake of GWB political future, or they are evil people who love fighting and killing and they are doing this only for money, in other words they’re no more than mercenaries. Saying that you only disagree with the way this issue is handled will also not change the fact that you are only harming your men and women on the battlefield.

By statements like these you deny any honourable motives for the great job your people are doing here. How in your opinion will this affect the morale of your soldiers? Feeling that their people back at home don’t support them and that they’re abandoned to fight alone in the battlefield.

And all of this for what? For staying in the white house for 4 or 8 years? Is it worth it?
And this is not directed only to Mr. Dean, it’s for all the Americans who support such allegations without being aware of their consequences. What’s it that you fight so hard for, showing your soldiers as s occupiers and murderers, the soldiers who I had the honour of meeting many, and when talking to some of them, I didn’t see anything other than gentleness, honesty and good will and faith in what they’re doing.

Your words and those of others were insults to the Americans, Iraqis and moreover to yourself, and I’m certain you don’t represent the number of Americans you fanaticise about.

Imagine how pissed he must be, to write an open letter to someone running for the government of a foreign country, and to make these kinds of value judgments about Americans and how much of them Dean's statements represent.

And you know, for all the talk about whether Bush is losing his base, I can't help but think that there's something missing from the debate, and that's the debates. Remember those? Kerry or Dean or Edwards or somebody is going to have to spend the year standing up on stage next to Bush, and they're going to have to debate the issues.

In past years, these debates have involved things like: One guy says how he'd improve government-covered health care as President. The other guy responds by explaining the budgetary impact and how Americans have shown they don't want it, and the other guy would rebut with his own viewpoint, blah de blah de blah. The kind of stuff that puts the sitcom audience to sleep.

But what's it gonna look like this year? Will Kerry stand up there, point at Bush, and say, "You took us to war with a fraudulent coalition"? Will Dean wave his arms and shout about how Bush sold the war based on "lies"? Will Clark call on Michael Moore randomly from the audience to ask questions about how much ooooiiil Halliburton has stolen from Iraq? I sure hope so, because Bush won't have to do a thing but stand there with his palm pressed to his forehead, shaking his head and chuckling softly, as the opponent gets dragged off-stage with a shepherd's crook. In the primaries, these guys aren't describing plans for serving Americans' interests; they're just batting around conspiracy theories, and I don't think they're equipped for the kind of shifting of gears that's going to be necessary to take on Bush on actual issues like, oh, 9/11, and the removal of regimes that Americans have wanted to see gone for over a decade.

All Bush has to do is read a few letters from Iraqi bloggers, like Ali's, and it'll be in the bag.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004
18:36 - Eat oil, France

Via InstaPundit, of course. It's aaaall about the oil.

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Documents from Saddam Hussein's oil ministry reveal he used oil to bribe top French officials into opposing the imminent U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The oil ministry papers, described by the independent Baghdad newspaper al-Mada, are apparently authentic and will become the basis of an official investigation by the new Iraqi Governing Council, the Independent reported Wednesday.

"I think the list is true," Naseer Chaderji, a governing council member, said. "I will demand an investigation. These people must be prosecuted."

Such evidence would undermine the French position before the war when President Jacques Chirac sought to couch his opposition to the invasion on a moral high ground.

If this pans out, and people I talk to still grumble about possibly moving to France to become disaffected expatriates like Fitzgerald, I'll buy them a ticket my damn self.

I wonder what these bribes looked like, incidentally? Oh, look, Saddam's here-- let's get this party started! And-- oh my God, look what he's brought! Forty million barrels of OIL! Someone get the spigots out and tap these puppies! Chug! Chug! Chug!

Bleh. Seriously, though. At least something we suspected we'd find in Iraq is finally coming to light.

UPDATE: Interestingly, though, this represents a rather less nuanced and more pedestrian (though more sensational) view of things than Steven Den Beste's thesis, which states that France (and friends) have been actively trying to thwart American power and influence in the world by creating a European political bloc to oppose us in our international endeavors, obstructing us in post-9/11 action, etc. This news suggests that they're simply motivated by money. Does it mean that if Saddam hadn't bribed Chirac, he would have supported us? How much oil did it really take to move France from a "token participant" to an outright diplomatic opponent? Or was it more like a "thank-you" note?

Neither interpretation is going to leave Chirac standing, if the right questions end up getting asked.

Oh, and now is it clear why our soldiers guarded the Oil Ministry building after April 9th, and not the Iraqi National Museum?

13:17 - Now that's good comedy

Any fears that there's no mystique left in our international relations ought to be allayed by this silly Borowitz riff (at least I think it's a riff), via Dean Esmay:

Jan. 27 - North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Il got his first glimpse of Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean on the evening of the Iowa caucuses last week and is now “terrified” by the former Vermont governor, associates of Kim revealed today.

According to those sources, the ruthless North Korean had spent a long, hard day reprocessing nuclear fuel rods and was looking for something relaxing to watch on TV when Dean first appeared on the screen, delivering his bizarre post-Iowa concession speech.

As Dean built to a crescendo...

Not to interrupt, but dammit! Do I have to go through this again?!


...Kim appeared alarmed and agitated, the sources said. “Who is that madman?” the madman reportedly asked.

According to one of Kim’s aides, “There’s only one way to describe the look on Kim’s face when he was watching Dean: pure, unadulterated terror.”

Kim’s every waking moment is now haunted by his fear of Howard Dean, the aide revealed. “At night, Kim gets out of bed and wanders the hallways in his pajamas, muttering Dean’s name,” the aide said.  “Dean really gives him the willies.”

Now that's a visual. Hey, I bet it made his hair stand on end too!

But according to Dr. Randolph Koestler, a professor of Far East Studies at the University of Minnesota, Kim’s all-consuming fear of Howard Dean could impel the brutal dictator to abandon his nuclear program if Dean is elected President.

And if Kerry is elected, or even if Bush wins, Dean should be made ambassador to North Korea. They could even dress him up like one of those weird Korean vampires with blood coming out of the corners of his mouth.

Or if nothing else, they can have a deathmatch between Dr. Scream and the Rumsfeld Strangler. How 'bout it, Frank?

10:43 - What the Internet was meant for

I tell ya, it doesn't get any better'n this.

Penguins, a yeti, and range markers.

Monday, January 26, 2004
17:54 - Conventional Wisdom

I was at another of those conventions this weekend, in case anybody's wondering where the devil I've been. One of those conventions where the parking lot of the hotel is filled with Saturns covered with rainbow stickers (it's a factory-installed option!) and little 80s SUVs plastered with upside-down American flags and slogans like REPEAL THE PATRIOT ACT and ONE NATION, UNDER SURVEILLANCE and IT'S THE OIL, STUPID and a blood-dripping BUSHARON and I MAY LOOK LIKE A FREAK, BUT I CAN BEAT YOU AT JEOPARDY and I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK (to which I silently respond, Yeah, well, good luck taking it away from the rest of us. See you at the polls, Scooter!)

At one of the art auctions that I attended in order to procrastinate more effectively, it was difficult not to notice that few people were in attendance, and bidding was less than energetic. People were putting up anemic bids of $15 and $20 for full sets of comic books and pieces of original art, and the best bid-baiting anybody could get to stick was to coax everybody to raise bids to the next prime number.

At one point, the auctioneer, holding up a particularly non-desirable piece of art, looked out despairingly over the crowd, who just wasn't biting. And he said, "This is all George Bush's fault!"

Which, of course, got applause and rueful laughter. And a fresh round of bids.

See, the Dow may be over 10,700, and every economic indicator in the world may be giddily positive. But here's what's infuriating.

a) People who aren't paying attention to the news are still convinced we're in a deep recession; and

b) They're sure it's all Bush's fault.

Point out to these people that the crash of the dot-com sector and the freefall of the stock market began during Clinton's term, and they'll just shake their heads and stare dumbly. Or they'll claim that if it weren't for Bush, the recession would have resolved itself much sooner.

Mention the tax cuts, and they'll sniff dismissively. "They weren't fair! And they haven't done any good!"

Point out that yes, in fact they have done a lot of good, and manufacturing expansion is at its highest level since the 1950s, and so on and so forth, and they'll say that they don't have jobs yet, so what's everybody so excited about? And anyway, the economy was bound to recover on its own. Tax cuts-- bah!

Come back in six months, when unemployment has sunk to late-90s levels or less, and the refrain will probably still be "too little, too late"-- there'll be some far more complex and less compelling argument made than "Tax cuts => economic recovery". And yet it'll be what's on everybody's lips come election time. Somehow or other, it'll still all be Bush's fault; somehow or other, the economy will be made into a liability for his campaign and not an asset.

Ah well. It's not like logic or realism were ever terribly popular at these conventions.

Friday, January 23, 2004
16:42 - A Visual Day

Most of the noteworthy things on the web today are best enjoyed through the visual medium enhanced by the clickthrough paradigm.

Frank J has this for us:

I got an e-mail from a friend of mine in Florida who is trying to find a home for a cat. Hopefully someone can help.

I'm trying to find our cat a new home. It is a nice cat, even likes baths, as you can see from the picture. Trouble is, my husband says the cat stares at him, and it freaks him out. Even though it is all in his head, I have find the cat a new home. Interested?
Picture of the Kitty

Who can resist?

(Frank better keep that katana close by his bedside, though, after this.)

Anyway, then Cox and Forkum weigh in on the Dean Scream, with one of the best interpretations I've seen. (Oh, and keep scrolling. They do their blogging visually, and it surely gets the point across. And here I sit typing thousand words after thousand words...)

15:03 - History Is Lies

Should I just stop reading comics altogether or something?

Terrorists? There ain't no stinkin' terrorists! Why, just look-- no attacks in two whole years! You people are all just paranoid!

Pardon me while I go bang my face repeatedly into my desk.

UPDATE: Of course, for some people-- the ones whose skin burns at the mere mention of the word "preemption"-- the problem of terrorism is a self-solving one. Terrorists commit horrible acts, yes, but they kill themselves in the process. Justice is served! Problem solved! Everybody go back to discussing Ben and J-Lo!

Thursday, January 22, 2004
18:06 - The iTunes Monster Grows

And if you keep shooting it, it feeds on the rays and only gets bigger.

J Greely has been keeping a close eye on new features being added to the store, and of note lately are an RSS feed (which allows you to tune your music preferences with a bunch of checkboxes and menu options and then produces an XML/RSS feed for you to peruse in your favorite syndication receptacle), and a new "Imports" section (no URL available-- just wait until it fades in at the top of the Music Store page in iTunes). This latter features a page full of albums that are apparently exclusive to the iTMS, and which all come from exotic locales like the UK and Benelux and the UK and the UK and France and the UK. Chances are that this section will be doing a lot of expanding in days to come. (I want my Rammstein, dammit!)

Meanwhile, the grass roots continue to deepen and spread. Goombah, which is nearing final release, pairs you up with other iTunes users and matches you music collection up with theirs, producing lists of music you might like to buy. And for GarageBand (which, as Damien noted in e-mail, and which this article seems to confirm, reeeeeally prefers it if you're running a G5, wink, wink), songsmiths now have a centralized clearinghouse site to host their songs, much like iCalShare.com for iCal calendars: GBXchange, soon to be MacJukebox.net. Sure didn't take long.

This plus the Billboard charts feature added two weeks ago make it pretty clear that the iTMS has only barely begun to flesh out its offerings. Now that the first wave of competitors has hurled itself with all its force against Apple and drained back like the sea off the rocks, Apple's ready to concentrate on really inventing what this stuff's going to look like for the next five or ten years.

I, for one, can't wait.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004
23:11 - George W. Bush shot JFK!

Seriously. That's the reasoned opinion of at least one of the people whom Evan Coyne Maloney interviewed in the freezing cold outside the auditorium where Al Gore gave his speech on global warming the other day.

His goal was ostensibly to see whether "regular Democrats" bought into the Bush=Hitler nonsense peddled by the MoveOn.org crowd, and he sought to do so by interviewing regular attendees at the address. Now, granted, the circumstances rather selected for the kind of people willing to brave 1-degree weather in New York to sit in on a Democratic message, so there weren't going to be too many casual centrists in evidence. But still-- damn.

Watch it. And as you're doing so, repeat to yourself: It's conservatives whose thought processes are governed by fear, ignorance, and mad conspiracy theories. It's conservatives whose thought processes are governed by fear, ignorance, and mad conspiracy theories. It's conservatives...

23:04 - Help me out here

Why, why in the name of crap is this so $%^$^ funny?!?

Take three measures Lord of the Rings. Fold in two measures of cars. Mix thoroughly and roughly. Bake in a hot SomethingAwful for three hours.


Monday, January 19, 2004
23:44 - Pass the controller

On the way up the backside ski lift at Sierra-at-Tahoe on Saturday, a friend and I looked down at the largest of the many terrain parks now strewn about the resort.

Kids from fifteen through thirty-five were hurling themselves twenty feet in the air, spinning around in space, grabbing the edges of their boards, turning graceful somersaults, even riding the grind rails on skis. By the dozen, one after another, they were swooshing down the hill as easily as though they were strolling through the park, dressed in baggy pants and drooping hoodie-sweatshirts, looking almost bored. Boarder after boarder turned perfectly executed pirouettes and soaring leaps and flashy displays of easy competence, tossed off with an air of complete low-key nonchalance. It could hardly have been choreographed better.

"Wait a minute," my friend said. "Weren't we supposed to be a nation of big, fat, klutzy couch-potatoes?"

Funny, yeah-- I'd heard the same thing.

Next time someone steps up to the mike to lecture about how America's youth is bloating itself to death in an anti-physical wasteland of virtual reality and fast food, I'll offer to take him to the backside of Sierra-at-Tahoe and show him what America's youth is doing in its spare time.

Hell, I'll even spring for the lift ticket.

19:28 - Ooh-ooh, I know this one

Our friends at TrueMajority.com (the Ben & Jerry's guys, if my memory serves) have helpfully provided a PDF file of a "report card" which we can use to score Bush's State of the Union speech tomorrow night. You can print it out, mark in your grades, and mail it in, all in the interest of Bush's stated commitment to "accountability, testing, and reporting".

In the absence of an actual speech to grade yet, we have to amuse ourselves somehow. What better way than to perform a little independent auditing of our standardized tests, hmm?

Give a high grade for clearly focusing on the big picture. Watch out for "The Spin" and subtract for only talking about side issues that make him look good. Give a failing grade for using lies or misleading statements. Extra credit should be awarded for offering up real solutions to our nation's problems and facing up to our most difficult problems.

Sure 'nuff; sounds fair to me. Well then. Let's get cracking, shall we?
The Big Picture: During the President's term the number of jobs in this country has actually declined by over 2 million. The poor have gotten poorer. Record deficits have kick-started growth, but recent gains in jobs aren't even enough to cover the number of new workers looking for jobs due to natural population growth.
The Spin: Recent economic growth is a sign of better things to come.
The Lies: Everyone got a tax cut and the rich and poor benefited equally.
Extra Credit: Give the President extra credit if he admits that the rebound in the economy is being fueled by record deficits that will eventually choke the economy if we don't change things soon.

I don't know what these guys expect Bush to say about the economy and the tax cuts, but apparently it's something along the lines of "Every American got an equal amount of tax proportionate to his or her income back in the form of a check", or something equally specific and equally preposterous. No dice there. But when it comes to the recovery, why do you suppose it is that "the big picture" insists on placing an upward trend under a big "but" clause, ignoring the fact that even the most timid projections show an extremely positive outlook in coming weeks and months? Why is a Dow average of 10,600 not part of the "big picture"? If you want to step back and look at the "big picture" regarding the economy, I wonder how much more effectively you can do that than "Bush passed tax cuts, and now the economy is rebounding"?

I also wonder how-- and why-- Bush is expected to downplay his role in this achievement, and point out only the pessimistic view of the economy, so that he can stave off criticism that he is just "trying to make himself look good". Remove the identity of the man on the podium, and tell me that he's supposed to respond to a surging economy by issuing sobering warnings and admonishments that things aren't as good as they seem. Yeah, that's the way to bolster consumer confidence.

Or is the message here that the economy is only allowed to recover under a Democrat?

Moving on.
Social Studies
The Big Picture: After 9/11 everyone wanted to help us, now almost nobody does. Osama is still on the loose and our bullying overseas adventures are fueling Al Qaeda recruiting.
The Spin: The President is taking strong and decisive action. We haven't had an attack on our soil since 9/11 and unnamed evildoers have been thwarted.
The Lies: Iraq was involved in 9/11.
Extra Credit: Give the President extra credit if he admits that last year's State of the Union was all about Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction that did not exist.

I entreat anybody to provide me proof-- or even convincing conjecture-- that Osama bin Laden is not dead. Any takers?

The Spin? Something tells me that if Bush wants to point out "evildoers" who have been thwarted, they need not be unnamed; he can point to many actual news stories. Unless we're meant to believe that all those Air France and British Airways jets were cancelled around New Year's purely as part of a conspiracy to fool Americans into thinking terrorists still exist. Who does he think we are? Some kinda morons? There ain't no terrorists and there never was!

Does the author of this thing actually expect Bush to implicate Iraq in 9/11, when he didn't even do so last SotU? In the absence of new overwhelming proof, I mean?

As for the extra credit, I hoped to see some attention paid to Logic class on this report card. For instance, explain to me the following: Given that Bush trumped up the case for war based on a lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Given further that Bush and his advisors knew that if we invaded on that false pretext, it would become known-- when we found no WMDs-- that it was false. Explain why the administration did not then plant WMDs for the troops to "find", or simply report that said WMDs had been found, thereby justifying the pretext. In other words: if the Bush administration is evil and ingenious enough to lie its way into war, why is it not competent enough to secure an alibi?

(For extra credit, convince me that if we do find WMDs in the near future, the Left will acknowledge that the pretext for war was correct, and will not accuse the administration of exactly the above subterfuge: planting weapons to retroactively justify the war.)

Next quarter we'll cover an advanced concept called "Occam's Razor".

The Big Picture: We do have a new Medicare benefit for prescription drugs. Unfortunately it was done in such a way only drug companies could love. Heck, the new law actually makes it illegal for states to join together and negotiate lower drug prices. Meanwhile, 44 million Americans don't have any health insurance. That's an increase of about 4 million since President Bush took office. The rest of us are paying more for the coverage we do have.
The Spin: The Medicare drug benefit is great.
The Lies: We can't afford to give everyone health insurance.
Extra Credit: Give the President extra credit if he admits that we are the only wealthy nation in the world without universal health insurance.

Sure. "We" actually can afford to give everyone health insurance. "We" meaning the people with jobs and health coverage, naturally. "We" have too much money as it is. Why don't we all volunteer to give up a big chunk of it so we can have nice beautiful prepaidfree health care? Why can't we be more like Canada?

That's the way to stimulate the economy, folks. More taxes and punishment of the rich for succeeding. Not Bush's stupid "tax cuts" which only look like they're working. Avert your eyes! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
Environmental Sciences
The Big Picture: Changes by the Bush administration are making the air dirtier, the forests shrink, and the globe warmer.
The Spin: These changes won't really hurt us but will help the economy.
The Lies: Letting power plants pollute more leads to "clear skies," letting lumber companies cut down forests saves them, we don't know why the earth is warming.
Extra Credit: Give the President extra credit is he simply admits the planet is warming and we share some of the responsibility.

See, when your audience is people who get their political awareness through comic strips, you can get away with crap like referring to the Healthy Forest Initiative as "letting lumber companies cut down forests" in order to save them, and you'll never get called on it. See, because the truth is just too hard to fit on a 3x5 card.

Remember: even if a statement has been shown to be true through practical application and empirical observation, if it's positive and Bush says it it's a "lie".
The Three Rs
The Big Picture: The President gave the schools a whole bunch of expensive new requirements but didn't provide any way to pay for them.
The Spin: The President gave the schools a whole bunch of new requirements.
The Lies: Giving schools a whole bunch of expensive new requirements without any way to pay for them will make kids smarter.
Extra Credit: Give the President extra credit if he proposes money to pay for the new requirements.

Hey nimrod: "No Child Left Behind" was a bipartisan initiative. If it was a stupid idea, just wave your hands a lot and it becomes the fault of the other guy. Brilliant, tried-and-true tactics.

What kind of superhuman would Bush have to be in order to fund all his original campaign promises, and deal with 9/11 and its global aftermath? Can you picture it? "Sorry, America-- al Qaeda and Iraq will have to wait, because I promised to deliver on No Child Left Behind. Real sorry 'bout that hole in Manhattan; I'm sure you folks can handle it yourself, right?"

By the way, remember how we were supposed to mark Bush down if he actually claimed any of the things listed as "The Lie"? Can you see him saying this one? "Ah'm not gonna spend any more money on these edumacation programs, but kids are gonna git smarter any-ol-ways." Is that about the size of it? Sounds like you've set him up to wreck the bell curve.
Arts and Crafts
The Big Picture: So much of the State of the Union Address is about image. The President will be prepped by pros to read a speech written by a team of wordsmiths. All the while he'll try to come across as a regular guy, only smarter.
The Spin: No, really, he's just a regular guy, only smarter.
The Lies: He's a regular guy. He's smarter.
Extra Credit: Give the President extra credit if he doesn't cynically exploit someone who actually did something heroic by putting them in the visitor's gallery and pointing to them during the speech.

Okay, look. The writer is just getting lazy now. He seems to have nothing left but a tired "Bush is stooopid" joke, and he can't seem to figure out how to fit it into his neat little format. If he's not going to put the effort into finishing this thing properly, then I'm not going to bother either.

Except to note that this Extra Credit piece is evidently a reference to this:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tempore, members of Congress, and fellow Americans:  

In the normal course of events, Presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the Union.  Tonight, no such report is needed.  It has already been delivered by the American people.

We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground -- passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer.  And would you please help me to welcome his wife, Lisa Beamer, here tonight.  (Applause.)

-- 9/20/01

That's right. Recognizing people like Todd Beamer is now "cynically exploiting heroism". Funny, I don't seem to recall anybody accusing Bush of that back in September of '01. What's the matter? Have enough people forgotten the horrors of 9/11 that it's now safe to turn it into an engine for political cheap-shots and sinister conspiracy theories about PR haymaking?

Remember this when someone who laps up this kind of stuff gets all offended about having his patriotism or sincerity questioned. This is what they giggle about to each other when they don't think anybody else is watching.

I'll be printing out my copy of this report and marking it in good faith. I might even make some marginal corrections to help out teacher.

Incidentally, here are transcripts of all the SotU speeches since Truman's in 1945. Fascinating... and very illuminating.

16:31 - Stand, Men of the West

John Rhys-Davies, just as he publicly said he was sure he would be, is now being thoroughly raked over the coals for daring to express that Western Civilization is worth defending.

In the interview, Rhys-Davies, who plays heroic dwarf Gimli and recorded the voice of computer-animated character Treebeard in the Hollywood blockbuster, interprets Tolkien's story of good versus evil as a metaphor for modern race relations.

He said: "There is a demographic catastrophe happening in Europe that nobody wants to talk about, that we daren't bring up because we are so cagey about not offending people racially. And rightly we should be. But there is a cultural thing as well.

"By 2020, 50 per cent of the children in Holland under the age of 18 will be of Muslim descent.

"I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged. And if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilisation. That does have a real resonance with me."

"I am for dead, (traditional) white male culture," said Rhys-Davies, who divides his time between his homes in Los Angeles and the Isle of Man.

"Many do not understand how precarious Western civilisation is and what a joy it is.

"From it, we get real democracy. From it, we get the sort of intellectual tolerance that allows me to propound something that may be completely alien to you.

"I'm burying my career so substantially in these interviews that it's painful. But I think there are some questions that demand honest answers."

Note the elision of a quote from the earlier interview that makes the above statements sound even less like the ravings of a white supremacist (except insofar that expressing pride in your own culture is a monstrous thing, if you're European):

And don’t forget, coupled with this there is this collapse of numbers. Western Europeans are not having any babies. The population of Germany at the end of the century is going to be 56% of what it is now. The populations of France, 52% of what it is now. The population of Italy is going to be down 7 million people.

There is a change happening in the very complexion of Western civilization in Europe that we should think about at least and argue about. If it just means the replacement of one genetic stock with another genetic stock, that doesn’t matter too much. But if it involves the replacement of Western civilization with a different civilization with different cultural values, then it is something we really ought to discuss — because, [hang it all], I am for dead-white-male culture!”

Now there are leaflets being handed out at showings of Return of the King by the British Nationalist Party, which is portrayed as a completely loathsome group akin to the KKK. The leaflets, which were produced without Rhys-Davies' knowing (or endorsement after the fact), evidently go to great lengths to make clear that they are not trying to make racial judgments against Muslims (which doesn't even make sense, because Muslims aren't a race, remember? Rhys-Davies clearly understands this, but it seems to have been lost on the horrified guys responding to him and on the writer of the article), but rather trying to call attention to the notion that Western Civilization is not some unassailable edifice that can never be torn down, and indeed is a very precarious tapestry of human achievement that must be nurtured lest it fall into disrepair and ruin.

But those who are determined to make race-baiting hay out of this aren't going to be deterred by simple adamant denials of racial chauvinism.

"I condemn these comments as being racist and ill-informed," said Adam Price, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East & Dinefwr.

"It is obvious that this man who now lives in the lap of luxury in Hollywood is out of touch with realities of the nature of present day European society.

"His attack on Muslims and comments about the threat that they pose to Western society shows his ignorance of world events and the true teachings of Islam.

"Ammanford people will feel very let down by a man with such close connections to the town."

Last night Mohammed Javed, chairman of the Muslim Society for Wales, said: "We want an apology. This could stir up racial hatred in society. It's ignorance, he should learn more about Islam and the religions before he makes these comments.

"They are based on his ignorance and nothing else."

Chief executive of the All Wales Ethnic Minority Association (Awema) Naz Malik agreed.

He said: "I do not know why he has said these things. If 50 per cent of people in Holland under 18 are Muslims in 16 years time, so what? In Britain the fastest growing race is mixed race, people of dual heritage. It is a cause for great celebration that our cultures are mixed.

"We live in a global society - we celebrate what is good in cultures and challenge what is bad in civilisations.

"Does he ever listen to any music other than European? Does he eat Indian food? Does he ever appreciate art other than that from Europe?

"I feel sorry for this actor because he must feel very insecure about his future. I feel sorry for his close mindedness."

Hey, maybe he does, you turd. How do you know how the man likes his tabbouleh? How do you arrive at feeling "sorry" for him and painting him as a past-his-prime actor now grandstanding for a legacy, just as he's knowingly imploding the reputation he's earned these past three years in the biggest role he's ever played? How come you can't bring yourself even to acknowledge that Western Civilization has a few benefits that even you enjoy, and that there are things that you might even learn from it, instead of just stamping your foot and demanding apologies? Can you be just a tiny bit less arrogant when demanding that Rhys-Davies turn his own expressions of cultural pride down from 1.5 to 1?

Rhys-Davies has made his career on playing protagonistic roles both European and non-European, and he's making it as clear as day that his goal isn't to denigrate other races or religions wholesale. His entire point is to demonstrate that Islam, just as we've been repeatedly remonstrated about, ought to be able to inspire great positivity in the world. But, dare we make mention, it's not. In this day and age it's inspiring suicide murderers, car bombers, sexual slavemasters, religious nihilists, and a cult of victimhood that preys on the modern European welfare states that are so bound to their mantras of multiculturalism and refusal to confront "what is bad in civilisations" that the social upheaval that Rhys-Davies is warning about is continuing unchecked, without even so much as a hunted and guilt-laden glance in its direction.

Rhys-Davies is daring to stand up and point, and for that he's being crucified.

If someone wants to see a social upheaval waiting to happen, one that's currently held in check by the fragile scaffold-work of postmodern antiseptic decorum, one could do worse than to point to the seemingly huge contingent of Britons who are snapping up the BNP's leaflets. The more they're denied the ability to speak freely and "challenge what is bad in civilisations", the worse the cataclysm will be when it finally occurs.

The way we're going, we will one day see a new Crusade fought right on the fields of Europe.

UPDATE: Alan e-mails to point out that the portrayal of the BNP as a skinhead/KKK-like group is entirely accurate, and Rhys-Davies is well advised to keep from being associated with such a bunch of thugs. I suspected as much, but I had no context for knowing for sure what the story was. I stand clarified.

In any case, it sorta confirms my point: if a major cultural confrontation is coming, it'll be between the radicalized fringes of society. And if the BNP is having as much success handing out these leaflets as the article makes it sound, then that ugly day may not be too long in coming.

Sunday, January 18, 2004
19:48 - LOLOLOL Bush iz st000pid LOL1!!11

In the hotel at South Lake Tahoe, trapped by the inevitable odd lineup of cable channels far from home, I caught a show that I've never seen before: VH1 Illustrated. Ever wonder what became of those guys who did the Napster BAD! short? Well, they're on VH1 now.

The show featured a long series of short animated skits, usually centered upon one pop star or another. (They have noses now.) Michael Jackson, for instance, moonwalks and flails through his latest video, only to have his bionic face fly off repeatedly. Ho ho ho. Arnold Schwartzenegger campaigns for the California governor's office on a platform of being a robotic monster from the future who will crush crime and budget problems. And Moby makes advertising jingles while dancing ridiculously behind his keyboard. And Steve Tyler answers the door for a bunch of talking drugs, and his lips-- some three times wider than his face-- flap wildly down to waist level. Sheer genius, I'm sure.

Which was all brought home to me by a recurring skit about George W. Bush, who appears-- surprise!-- as a gibbering buffoon. He tapes pictures of naked celebrities to his monitor and calls Cheney in to show him his new "website". He tapes letters (in envelopes) to the screen and phones Cheney to ask if his e-mail arrived yet. He becomes incensed at hearing that the Europeans think he's "stupid", and decides to write his own speech about world hunger, instead of the one prepared for him.

He delivers the speech before the UN. It consists of admonishments for parents around the world to pack their kids' lunches better. With juice boxes and sandwiches and pasketti. Just as Bush is about to demonstrate how to make pasketti, he's gonged by Kofi Annan and yanked offstage.

The next day, Bush reads the world's papers, the headlines of which all consist of variations on BUSH: EVEN STUPIDER THAN WE THOUGHT. There was a French one, a Spanish one, and several others.

And the very last one they showed was in German. It said, and I quote, letter for letter: BUSH IST EIN DUMKAUPF.

Don't you just love it?

Anyway, maybe I'm demanding too much from shows like this. But I think it demonstrates that I've been spoiled by South Park, which-- when it mocks things that are easily mockable-- doesn't merely make fun of the most obvious and easy targets it can find. No stupid visual gags about Steve Tyler's lips or Björk's surreal spaciness or Michael Jackson's plastic face come out of Trey & Matt's factory. Instead, South Park tackles difficult and often complex issues, usually by taking an unexpected or unpopular tactic, and wrenching the audience out of what may likely be its accustomed and barely-thought-out position on the issue. (Just think about that Mormon one. Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum!) VH1 Illustrated, it seems, is just a long string of dull and predictable cheap-shots, brought to life in frenetic Flash animation with eyebrows that wiggle epileptically with almost every frame.

And it's brought to you by the illustrious producers of a film that's "More subversive than Bowling for Columbine!". Gee. I never thought the artsy-fartsy Left would settle for this kind of stuff. Aren't they usually more demanding of artistic insight? Aren't they the superintelligent ones, who would never, say, misspell a word in a popular foreign language when making fun of someone they allege is stupider and less literate than they are? Aren't they the ones with the evolved sense of taste and intellect?

Or is this kind of stuff really what turns them on?

19:32 - Guns make you Rumsfeld

Via InstaPundit: an LA Times article that's genuinely fun to read. (Wow!)

Guns are bad. All my life, it's been that simple. At my son's preschool, if a child pointed a banana and said "bang," he was admonished to "use the banana in a happier way." As far as I was concerned, the 2nd Amendment gave us the right to protect ourselves against invading armies, not the right to buy a gun and keep it under our beds.

So what would make someone like me change my mind? I met this gun enthusiast. As research for my new novel, I asked him many questions, all the while voicing my disgust. My character might use a gun, but I never would. "Come to the range," the gun guy said. "I'll teach you to shoot."

I expected a dungeon full of men missing teeth and wearing T-shirts decorated with Confederate flags. Instead, I found a sunny, wood-paneled lobby and guys who looked like lawyers on their lunch break.

The man behind the counter was as pleasant as a grandfather from Central Casting. "What would it take for me to buy a gun?" I asked him. He explained the California laws, some of the most stringent in the country. I would have to wait 10 days — the "cooling off" period. There would be federal and local background checks. I'd have to take a safety class. I'd have to buy a childproof lock. I couldn't purchase an assault weapon. I couldn't buy more than one handgun per month. Of course, he said, if I didn't want to wait, I could drive 10 minutes and buy an Uzi illegally out of someone's car.

Ayep. I've only been shooting once or twice, but I can attest that the experience at the range I went to was about the same as hers. Now, I wasn't as taken by the thrill of firing the thing-- I still don't much like being around guns or shooting them-- but that's immaterial to how one might feel about the rights that ought to surround the things.

Later, I was surprised to discover that some of my closest friends owned guns. People I never would have suspected confessed that their guns made them feel protected. Still, most of my friends thought handguns should be outlawed, completely, in every circumstance.

I no longer was so sure. I did some research — there are countless testimonials about guns saving someone's life. I looked into shooting as a sport. I spoke to a woman who had found a wounded deer and shot it, ending its agony. I changed my mind: Guns aren't bad.

Which leaves gun violence. At least in California, we don't need more laws — we just need to enforce the ones we have. What else?

The answer has to be education: teaching people to deal with anger, to solve problems, offering them brighter futures, but also Gun 101. Maybe if teenagers were given computer-generated pictures of their own bodies, post-gunshot wounds, it would help them understand the enormity of firing a weapon. Maybe if everyone spent an afternoon at the shooting range, forced to follow the rules, they would respect the power of a gun.

I confess, I don't know exactly how to solve the problem, but at least now I know I don't know. Firing guns as a sport is great fun. Having a gun because it makes you feel safer seems understandable. Changing the way people behave? If you thought gun control was a distant dream … it could take centuries.

Very good. Indeed, just take people to the range and let them deconstruct the mystique surrounding guns exactly the way you have. If it converts an incorrectly premised "known known" into a well-founded "known unknown", that's the basis of realistic solutions rather than ideologically-driven thrashing about in the dark.

Friday, January 16, 2004
16:06 - Must be Friday

Was that last post optimistic, or darkly satiric, or nihilistic, or what?

I'unno. I guess there's a certain amount of morbidity and cynicism floating about the Net today. This guy is pondering death and how much it sucks. Andrew Sullivan is undergoing a meltdown-- both physically (his server) and philosophically-- making a lot of his supporters wonder what's gotten into him. Charles Johnson is finding ever more encouraging pieces of news. People who say the Israelis "don't want peace" will get to see just how inaccurate they were if Israel turns around, throws in the towel, and officially stops pursuing peace as a national policy. My project lead just stomped out of a meeting over a trifling disagreement with the product manager over a lack of timely decision-making over some inconsequential technical detail. And I've eaten enough Sour Patch Kids over the past two days that my tongue's skin is peeling off in great sheets.

In short, I think it's about time for a skiing vacation. I'm out of here in about an hour; after that time, I'll be incommunicado until Sunday night.

I knew I should have taken today off too.

15:43 - Jazz to Moonbase Two

Corsair the Rational Pirate seems to think he can't compete with the likes of Lileks on the matter of being eloquent about the space initiative. But with all respect due to Lileks, I think he's selling himself short.

We have always had sick people, poor people, bad people, and uneducated people. And when I say always, I mena for the last 100,000 years of so. Do you really think that closing up space to future exploration is going to change any of that? No! We have always had these problems and we are always going to have these problems. We spend hundreds of billions on education in this country every single year and yet there are still people out there who can't read. Want to know why? Because they are stupid or lazy or both. We spend further hundreds of billions on health care and yet people continue to get sick and die, the ungrateful bastards. Should we put on hold everything not health care related until we have conquered death and disease? Don't be a frigging maroon!

This country has proved that it can do more than one thing at the same time. we can fight terrorists (which are never really going to go away so you can quit holding your breath), protect the environment, try to make people's lives easier, educate the educateable and go to the moon and beyond. Will it be worth it? We can't know until we try it, can we? Will all the money spent on health care stop people from dying from a variety of horrible diseases? Probably not but we can still make life better while we try. Going to the moon is in the same category.

Yeah. And as Lance and I discussed last night, the moon isn't just a black-hole expenditure. What it amounts to, in the sense it's used in the business world, is a shifting of capital. If you're a company, you're not spending $6,000 to buy that new Cisco switch-- you're converting $6,000 of liquid assets into $6,000 in physical assets. Money changes form into equipment and people and all sorts of things all the time, often for no better reason than that it can do more work more efficiently (and develop more profit) in one form than in another. $80K can make a certain amount of money sitting in an interests-earning fund; but think how much value it can net your company if you give it to a person for a year's worth of his expertise. Maybe more, maybe less. But the question must be asked. And if half a trillion dollars is better spent taking us back to the Moon than floating in low-Earth orbit in slowly decaying shuttles, then wave that magic wand.

(As an interesting aside-- isn't it weird how the most vibrant developments in technology and wealth-creation come from a massive imbalance in capabilities between two parties? That's what trade is all about: A can produce X more efficiently than B, but B can produce Y more efficiently than A. So A trades X for B's Y, and both are richer in their own local contexts for it. And, perversely, the farther apart A and B are in their production capabilities, the faster wealth gets created. The same goes for space. We'll develop more and better miracle technology by trying to get that much further away from the pack in technical space supremacy, trying always for the overwhelming edge rather than the subtle one, than we ever would have if the whole world were operating on a cooperative and level playing field where nobody was particularly motivated for their own nation to be head and shoulders above the rest. Competition works in some types of markets, but in others-- like space, where the players are governments with budgets the size of planets-- a monopoly isn't a stagnation, it's a positive feedback loop.)

Space, as Bush has pitched it, is what amounts to a public works project (which ought to appeal to the socialists in the audience, if not to the nationalists-- heaven forfend the twain should meet). It's a tax-funded national effort which engages every citizen and gives him something of value for his money: pride, and hope. It creates jobs, it pumps money into private contractors, it stimulates visions of destiny and greatness when we need something to focus on. And it gives the country something of lasting physical value. In the New Deal, that thing of value was dams. Our task lies in making sure that we can get something of similar value from space.

And we will. If the first space push (and all its attendant infrastructure) gave us everything from DARPA to microwaves to ICBMs, this next one will give us things we can barely imagine today. If we play it right. If the money to pay for Bush's plan comes largely from cutbacks in the existing thumb-twiddling that NASA's been doing, then the bill we and our children pay will be as inconsequential to history as the bill we paid to get NASA moving in the first place, in the 1950s. Notice how much grousing we hear about that use of money these days? Didn't think so.

So, bring on the moonbases, and plant an American flag there bigger than the one at Guantanamo Bay. We can only hope that the technological plateau to which it brings us is a sustainable one, one that we won't have to abandon once the initial fervor dies down, because it will have found a way to pay for itself.

You know what I want to see? A sci-fi story in which humans have developed into a spacefaring species-- but have not achieved faster-than-light travel. Gimme a futuristic dystopia in which we've nuked ourself off the planet's surface, or in which the planet has greenhoused itself to the point where the only part of the surface that's habitable is in the polar regions, which are now temperate (minus ozone) while the middle latitudes are flooded and parched deserts too hot to support life. Give me a world where humans still forlornly orbit the planet, living now on floating cities in space, ferrying the way between autonomous moonbases and Mars bases and the Earth, carrying water between them, and where the future of humanity-- rather than out in the depths of interstellar space, which nobody any longer thinks it's feasible to reach-- is back on the Earth, on which we're practicing the nascent art of terraforming, just to get the surface back to a habitable state.

Do it without excessive preachifying, and I'll read the whole checkout-lane series.

Unless, of course, it's already been done, a hundred times over. In which case forget it.

Thursday, January 15, 2004
15:09 - Solid rocket backfire?

Andrew Sullivan may be simply suffering from a case of cold feet, but he just as well might be right:

LET THE KIDS PAY FOR IT: I'm talking about this $170 billion foray into space. After all, the next generation will be paying for a collapsed social security system, a bankrupted Medicare program, soaring interest on the public debt, as well as coughing up far higher taxes to keep some semblance of a government in operation. But, hey, the president needed another major distraction the week before the Iowa caucuses, and since he won't be around to pick up the bill, why the hell not? Deficits don't matter, after all. And what's a few hundred billion dollars over the next few decades anyway? Chickenfeed for the big and bigger government now championed by the Republicans. This space initiative is, for me, the last fiscal straw. There comes a point at which the excuses for fiscal recklessness run out. The president campaigned in favor of the responsibility ethic. He has governed - in terms of guarding the nation's finances - according to the motto: "If it feels good, do it." I give up. Can't they even pretend to give a damn?

Wouldn't it be something if Bush blew it on the last lap by alienating all the new-to-the-fold conservatives who flocked to his banner after 9/11, simply by being a reckless spender? Wouldn't it be a pisser if his final triumphant flourish post-Afghanistan, post-Iraq, and post-recovery-- his unveiling of a doughty space initiative to mirror and evoke JFK's-- in fact backfired on him by revealing a fiscal policy too extreme for even his fans to ignore or apologize for?

One can make the case that this kind of no-limit spending ought to appeal to people on the left side of the aisle... but those folks are the ones who will be put off by social conservatism, and who wouldn't be voting for Bush anyway. (Many people I know closely like to describe themselves as "socially liberal, fiscally conservative" or vice versa-- seldom both on the same side at once.) So is the space thing the coup de grace that seals Bush's legacy... or the blunder of the century?

That said, though... I would very much like to be there during something as huge and exciting as the first moon landing. Lance has told me with some asperity that humans have not been to the moon during my lifetime, and I sure hope something as petty as whether the line-items all fit on the page doesn't stand in the way of whether that remains the case.

14:56 - Bagged dad

Tim Blair found himself some pretty cool Saddam-capture photos, he did. Seven more where this came from.

"Hi, Mom! Look what I caught!"

Coolest hunting trophy photo ever, as one of the commenters said.

Incidentally, I love how the DU types squeal about how American troops are all white neo-Nazi inbred hicks on the inhale, and on the exhale posit that our ranks are filled with black and Hispanic cannon-fodder who take all the hits but get none of the glory.

This picture neatly explodes both those little pustules of thought, doesn't it?

Wednesday, January 14, 2004
13:22 - But... that's not what PBS told me!

A few months ago, there was a special on PBS or the Discovery channel or something which followed a young British Muslim on his first hajj. It dutifully recorded his every statement, following him through the ritual shaving of his head, the ritual collection of forty-nine stones to throw at Shaitan, the ritual throwing of the stones from within the swarming throngs as soon as he saw the pillar, the ritual off-the-cuff condemnations of America, everything. The show spared no effort to demonstrate how overwhelmingly beautiful and magical was the whole experience.

So what can this guy possibly be on about?

In Mecca, I found the same mixture of confusion, oppression and apathy I thought I had left behind in Egypt. But as in Egypt, nothing worked, even at the blessed hajj, for we were visitors not to an Islamic state but to yet another cynical Arab kleptocracy which only pretended to adhere to the true ideals of Islam.

The Saudis couldn’t even organize the hajj safely. Each day, as I performed the rituals of the hajj, I was part of massed crowds of Muslims from all over the world: Turks and Pakistanis, Nigerians, Malaysians, Arabs. We would shamble forward without order or seeming direction, endangering lives as we knocked over women, the lame and the elderly in our hurry to get from one ritual to the next. Once, in a street so filled with pilgrims that I could not take one step forward, I was forced to jump into the back of a truck to avoid being killed in a stampede.

At night, I would wander through the pilgrim camps, disgusted by the sight of the mud-faced pilgrims who were only too happy to sleep on the filthy streets. In the morning, the streets would be clogged again, and veiled women who had trouble walking because they’d so rarely been let out of their homes would waddle slowly before me. At the stoning ritual, I watched little girls fall under the crowds of pilgrims: Turks shoving Arabs, Africans shoving Indians until each day a few more pilgrims were trampled to death. The next day I would read of the incident in theSaudi Times (FOURTEEN PILGRIMS KILLED IN STAMPEDE) which would quote a hajj official who never took any responsibility for the deaths. He would only say that since the pilgrims had died on hajj they would ‘surely enter Paradise’. There was never any promise to cut the number of hajjis or control the outsized crowds to prevent these needless deaths.

The mutawan, the dreaded Saudi religious police who enforce the rigid observance of Wahhabi Islam, patrolled the streets, beating or arresting anyone they caught missing a prayer; it was impossible ever to know if the native Meccans prayed out of genuine piety or to avoid a whipping.

I returned from prayer in the Grand Mosque one morning to find my sandals stolen from the shoe racks.

What I want to know is, why do the mutawan not have to pray too at the same time? ...And who's gonna ask them?

Fascinating story, though. There's a lot more. It ends like this:

I was riding a train home from a short trip with friends to Assuit in Upper Egypt when the war in Iraq began. Our Egyptian guide told us the bombing had started the night before and that we should no longer speak English on the shuddering train or venture out of our apartments when we got back to Cairo. I locked myself in my flat and waited for word from the American Embassy. The next Friday from my balcony I watched a quarter of a million Egyptians rioting in the streets below, men and young boys chanting, smashing windows, pelting soldiers with stones and carting banners. A giant tank rushed down my street, its water cannons hosing the crowds while the soldiers drove back the protesters with batons.

I fled home the next week, leaving all my illusions of the Arab world in my Cairo flat. I couldn’t wait to be in America again. On the long flight home, I promised myself I would never accept anything less than full democracy for my fellow Muslims in the Arab world or apologize for the tyranny that now masquerades as Islam.

Yet, for all the hypocrisy and suffering I witnessed during my time in Egypt, it was impossible to ignore the sincerity of the poor and righteous and the depth of the belief of Muslims and Copts alike. I studied Islam with a village sheikh from Giza; I watched shop owners feed strangers during the nights of Ramadan; the local beggars, men who should have lost all hope, prayed each day without fail on tattered sheets of cardboard. It is only because of these expressions of true spirituality that I never lost my faith.

Even now, I can remember the dread in the faces of my Egyptian friends at what would become of their lives. Could it be, that the fascism which once bubbled up in Europe has now invaded the Middle East and that in our time, all hope for the true Islamic values of freedom, modernity and equality in the Muslim world lies not in the East, but in the West?

The saddest thing, though, is that it takes a Seattle-born convert to say this.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004
13:50 - Jeremy's... Iron

Lileks has found a real gem of a site: Not Fooling Anybody, which features photos of old Taco Bells, KFCs, Pizza Huts, and other such recognizable edifices that are now serving an extended term housing completely unrelated businesses-- or sometimes, entertainingly, almost identical businesses.

There's a KFC in Ukiah, right next to the movie theater, that would be a good candidate for the site. It's one of those little square kiosk-style ones with the tall peaked roof, and it's currently a tax preparer's office or a very cramped real estate agent or something. I'll have to snap a picture next time I'm up there.

And if there's one theme I'm noticing throughout the site, it's that Canada appears to have very lax rules regarding trade dress violations. Exhibit A: a former Embassy Cleaners in Toronto.

Brilliant. (Anybody up for a little paste-up work involving a "D" and a "U"?)

Check out the rest of the site, too. It's well worth the time.

Monday, January 12, 2004
17:33 - Corporate-Owned Government

Hey, No-Blood-For-Oil types? Think America's squealing in the grip of a corporate-backed cabal of cynical oil men and venture capitalists, McDonald's and Wal-Mart and Nike, of whom George W. Bush is merely a front-man for public consumption?

Well, how's this grab ya?

According to De Volksrant, the Dutch government is having difficulty finding business sponsorship for their EU Presidency.

On Saturday, the newspaper quoted the foreign ministry as saying that "seemingly businesses would rather not advertise with the Dutch EU Presidency".

The government is hoping to save two to three million euro from the overall costs, which are predicted to be around 68 million euro, through business sponsorship.

As Den Beste says:

Perhaps corporations don't think they get the bang-for-the-Euro from this that they would spending that money in other ways. The Dutch, always pragmatic anyway, might consider a more direct way to reward corporate sponsors, like those which are already used in the sports world.

The top contributor would get to have his name associated with the position during that six-month period in all news reporting, e.g. "The Mercedez-Benz/German presidency", "the "Guinness/British Presidency" etc. The executive would have a special jacket made which he would wear at all official appearances and especially at photo-ops which would display the corporate logos of the next five or ten contributing corporations, with placement and size being a function of the amount of money the offered.

This is precisely why a lot of us are so dismissive of such theories of omnipotent government conspiracies. When we see blatantly on display such examples of just how stupefyingly incompetent all the very best-laid plans for post-modern, post-national government are that call upon all our accumulated knowledge collected throughout human historical experience, the idea of the all-seeing altered-reality Matrix state penetrating every facet of our lives is pathetically laughable.

(Of course, maybe that's just what they want us to think...)

15:08 - At least they're not calling it "unsinkable"...


LONDON - The world's largest cruise ship, Queen Mary 2, set sail for the United States on its maiden voyage Monday, carrying 2,600 passengers who paid up to $48,000 for the privilege.

The 150,000-ton Cunard Line vessel left the southern English port of Southampton on the 14-day journey to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., its first voyage with fare-paying passengers.

Although Cunard has denied reports of a terrorist threat against the vessel, security was tight and police maintained a high profile.

. . .

As a small flotilla of boats turned out to watch the giant liner pull away, passengers lining the ship's balconies waved Union Jack flags and threw streamers.

Terrorists: the icebergs of the 21st century.

UPDATE: Reader Kenny puts on the finishing moves:

Clark: "There is no connection between the arctic icepack and icebergs. This was an unnecessary war."

Dean: "There's this theory floating around that the President was warned by the Eskimos that there were icebergs in the North Atlantic before the sinking..."

Kennedy: "This war was planned back in Texas between Bush and his Iced Tea industry buddies to take control of the ice from the polar bears."

No blood for ice! Peace Dude.

09:53 - For the record

Know what rules?


Particularly in a Cessna; particularly up the coast to Ukiah, where I grew up, to meet my parents on the tarmac for lunch before turning around and making the leisurely 90-minute return journey to the South Bay. Particularly when you get to 6,000 feet, and can see every landmark between the Golden Gate Bridge and Ukiah, including Snow Mountain, Mt. Konocti, Clear Lake, Mt. St. Helena and its geysers right up close, and the whole snowcapped line of the Sierras off to the east, beyond the impenetrable sea of fog that is the Central Valley. And particularly when you can see Ukiah's whole geographical shape from the air by the time you're over Healdsburg-- a town that seemed exotically distant when Ukiah's hills were the boundary of my life-- which makes the whole area seem eerily miniscule when you land. (I'd always thought Snow Mountain was terribly far away-- you can see it from the Ukiahi campus, the only snow-covered eminence on the horizon during the winter, and endearingly forthrightly named. But when you can see it lurking in the northeast all the way up from San Jose, and it's so close you can reach out and touch it by the time you start the final approach, it makes the whole region feel like... a model of a landscape, or something. Every hill is now a foothill. Every ridge is a step and a hop away.)

Know what else rules?

Having a roommate who just got his private pilot's license, and is looking for any excuse to put it to good use.

09:40 - Island of sanity

Sometimes I come awfully close to mothballing my bookshelf stereo, which I currently use as a clock-radio, and switching to an iPod in a set of inMotion speakers or something, set to start playing one of my playlists at alarm time. It'd be cool, and take up less space, and so on.

Then, though, I hear Greg Kihn on KFOX, and I remember why I still wake up to it each morning.

I've just got one question to ask each and every one of the Democratic candidates for the Presidency. I just want an honest answer: What would you do if the terrorists nuked New York?

I don't want to hear any tap-dancing; I don't want to hear any name-calling. Just give me a clear answer: If they hit us again, with bioweapons or nuclear weapons, which someday they will-- what will be your military response? When the chips are down, when the American people are counting on you to defend them... what will you do?

Dean thinks removing enemy tyrants won't help make us safer. I wonder what he thinks will.

Sunday, January 11, 2004
00:28 - Oh, that's subtle

Boy, somebody sure went out on a limb to pitch this movie.

It's called Chasing Liberty, and it's all about the embarrassingly rebellious daughter of the President running amok in Europe and causing headline-worthy havoc in her pure and youthful search for romance and individual expression, away from the stultifying and banal land of her birth.

In the trailer, said President says, "Why can't she just do what I tell her to, like the British?"

And the title suggests the hypocrisy of America and our so-called freedom. Brilliant and subtly thought-provoking, I'm sure.

Mandy Moore, huh? Wonder if she's any relation.

Thursday, January 8, 2004
01:28 - Material Science

Steven Den Beste is in the middle of a series of long essays regarding the nature of philosophical thought, of both the idealist and the realist varieties. As it happens, by coincidence, I'm in the middle of reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything-- a fairly lightweight tome on the technical details of cosmology and quantum theory and such, but one that does a pretty good job of covering all the bases... and a better one still at tying them all together in a coherent narrative with fascinating historical relevance. (I hadn't known anything, for example, about Sir Humphry Davy and his early-1800s work in identifying many key elements-- including alumium, to whose name he added an extra n four years after discovering it, which American scientists adopted readily-- but the Brits later decided they didn't like the word and added another i to the name. So take that, aluminium proponents!)

What's interesting, though, is the characterization in Den Beste's analyses of science as (at least in part) a realist's game. Engineers naturally get to be the most realistic ones of all, since by definition the things they propose have to be put into practice. But scientists are just engineers who work on paper, and should therefore think more or less like engineers do, right?

Bryson's book reminds me that no, science can easily be seen as just as arcane and idealistic as any of the "intellectual" disciplines so readily mocked in Den Beste's examples. After all, the history of modern science-- from Copernicus onward-- is a long tale of the battle between idealistic contemplations on the nature of the Universe, and the occasional realistic glimpses into the actual nature that our most gifted minds give us from time to time. We all wanted to believe in the model of the atom with three little electrons zipping around the nucleus in neat circular orbits, right? It's only grudgingly that we attempt to wrap our minds around things like wave/particle duality and p-orbitals and "spin". We wish the Universe would resolve itself into neat and elegant laws that we can understand in simple terms that relate to each other without our having to develop new vocabulary; but that seems not to be our destiny. (Even Einstein couldn't unify macro-scale and quantum-scale physics, obsess over it though he did for decades.) On only some occasions do we get to see something as conceptually elegant-- in the engineering sense-- as the periodic table of the elements. Such solutions are rare. For much else of the time, theoretical physics consists of so much hand-waving and refusal to think too hard about any given problem.

On the Standard Model of subatomic particles:

It is all, as you can see, just a little unwieldy, but it is the simplest model that can explain all that happens in the world of particles. Most particle physicists feel, as Leon Lederman remarked in a 1985 PBS documentary, that the Standard Model lacks elegance and simplicity. "It is too complicated. It has too many arbitrary parameters," Lederman said. "We don't really see the creator twiddling twenty knobs to set twenty parameters to create the universe as we know it." Physics is really nothing more than a search for ultimate simplicity, but so far all we have is a kind of elegant messiness-- or as Lederman put it: "There is a deep feeling that the picture is not beautiful."

And a page later, after describing a treatise by the estimable Michio Kaku on superstring theory:

Matters in physics have now reached such a pitch that, as Paul Davies noted in Nature, it is "almost impossible for the non-scientist to discriminate between the legitimately weird and the outright crackpot."

Precisely the ideological conflict that Den Beste has been talking about.

I can think wryly about the cynically satirical intro to Science Made Stupid: science, it claims, is "a way to obtain fat government grants" and "a way of baffling the uninitiated with incomprehensible jargon".

Surely I take natural exception to these characterizations, since after all this is the area in which my own education lies. But I can't help but think that there's some truth to it. I know why I ended up leaning toward an engineering degree rather than a theoretical physics degree. See, in the middle of your freshman year, each Caltech student is supposed to choose between "practical track" and "analytical track" (or prac and anal, as we liked to call them); these tracks led us into engineering/applied physics and theoretical physics, respectively. It was very difficult, once that decision was made, for a student to jump from one track to the other, and more so as time went on. (I never regretted my choosing prac track, for the record. It meant not getting to study with the likes of Kip Thorne, but you can't have everything. Where would you put it?)

And now that I look back on it, where for all the tedium of the frustrating lab work we had to do (this classic gem being a prime example, albeit from another campus) I could just as easily have been sitting in deep leather chairs in old vaulted libraries postulating about whether, as Dennis Overbye said, an electron can be said to exist before you observe it-- a very solipsistic view of the Universe, if you ask me-- I'm just as happy with where I ended up, thanks.

From the Rutherford atom to the "ether" to the geocentric Universe, science has had a very philosophically idealistic history. The past century has seen science become more and more accessible as we learn more and more of its secrets, and more and more of its formerly incomprehensible jargon has become part of our daily discourse. (At MacWorld today, I pointed at the "pitch bend" knob on one of the M-Audio keyboards on display, and said, "Hey, pitch bend-- isn't that what the Curies discovered uranium in?" And the Apple employee on duty guffawed heartily, and then sheepishly confessed that he found it really disturbing that he'd gotten it.)

But there's always the danger of science veering off into the ineffable again. I'm a little worried that we're on the verge of the same thing happening. Den Beste quotes C.P. Snow thus:

Scientific topics receiving prominent play in newspapers and magazines over the past several years include molecular biology, artificial intelligence, artificial life, chaos theory, massive parallelism, neural nets, the inflationary universe, fractals, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the human genome, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, space biospheres, the Gaia hypothesis, virtual reality, cyberspace, and teraflop machines. Among others. There is no canon or accredited list of acceptable ideas. The strength of the third culture is precisely that it can tolerate disagreements about which ideas are to be taken seriously. Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.

Some will, sure. I don't doubt that things like neural nets and nanotech will become engineering problems, and therefore relevant to everyday life through natural product evolution. But what about stuff like string theory and the inflationary Universe and such? We learn the basics of these on the Science channel, but they aren't as relevant to our lives as the atom bomb was. Nor are they likely to be. Things are branching out, growing more byzantine. With the tendency toward the esoteric and abstract comes the tendency toward anal-track jargon.

Why all this musing? Do I disagree with Den Beste or with Snow? Nah. I just wanted to get a few thoughts down on paper, since the serendipity of all these things crossing my field of vision at once just seemed too interesting not to comment on. And much as I'd like for science to be as divorced as possible from disciplines that talk about "deconstruction and signifiers and arguments about whether cyberspace was or was not 'narrative'," I have to say with some disappointment that I don't think it's as far from that pole as it could be.

Long Live the Engineers.

UPDATE and random thought: Many people seem to be under the erroneous assumption that engineers love saying it depends, because we say it so much. Really, we don't. But we recognize that it's the only way to give a correct answer to most technical questions. We'd love it if we could explain things in simpler terms, but most often we just can't if we're trying to be accurate. Engineers vastly prefer correct answers over pleasing answers. It's when an answer is both correct and pleasing that we like it the best-- that's what elegance is.

Wednesday, January 7, 2004
11:29 - The Politics of Nice

Damien had some comments on my post from a couple of days ago about the Left's commitment to being "nice" above all else:

I think the Left is having such a hard time because the right has co-opted idealism. And idealism is a big part of nice, so they've somewhat lost the nice, and they aren't happy about it. Mostly, they are confused. "But, *we're* the nice ones - how can those mean repugs be freeing people in Iraq? How can they be deposing evil people like Saddam Hussein when *we're* the nice ones???" It's a real problem for them, but they are so brilliant they can easily postmodernize their way through it and come up with some twisted, convoluted logic where they are still idealistic and nice. But, it must be convoluted because they really have lost idealism. Their only real idealism now - environmentalism - is based on junk science. Ouch.

Speaking of idealism, I suspect I'll be pointing a lot of people at this post by Den Beste on the subject of the three factions fighting this long-term war. In part it's the age-old ideological struggle between those who think humans need shepherding and those who think humans can be their own damn shepherds; but now there's a new third force in the mix, one that we're all having trouble coming to terms with being there.

The parties have essentially switched - not policies, but in spirit. I've always been an idealist, and I am right at home in the current internationalist policies - freeing the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. I am not secretly evil, trying to take over their lands - I am genuinely nice and want people to have good lives, even if they had the misfortune to be born in the Middle East. I believe you share some of the same sentiments. It's the same reason I offer drunk people rides home from parties (if I am safely able to drive myself) or offer to lend my tools to my neighbors or stop to give people a jump start.

I like to think of myself as a realist-- it's the engineer in me. But above all I'm practical. If an ideology or a way of thinking has no use for me, I can't bring myself to waste time on it. But I'm known to allow a discussion to go on for months and months without my letting the other person know I loathe his ideas, because I find there's profit in the remainder of the conversation, the common ground. I'm into long-term solutions, and I'm willing to play the diplomacy game to curry favor from both sides of a disagreement so I can bring about harmony if possible. (How French of me.) But that's a part of practicality, to me. If by compromising or hiding my most deeply felt beliefs in the short term I can bring about an amiable and mutually beneficial result in the long term, I think it's worth it. I'd give a drunk friend a ride home instead of bugging out of there and staying away from him, because of practical impulses, not idealistic ones.

Maximizing happiness, in myself and the people around me, is a goal both for the practical and idealistic sides of the mind.

On a personal level, the liberals I live near are very nice, just the type of people I like to hang around with. However their politics have been dictated from the national level, and no longer align with the good-hearted people they are. It must be quite upsetting to have it thrown in their face by such a cretin as Bush, yet there it is - smiling Iraqis, Saddam - not Karl Rove - being frog marched.

Yeah. And just as the Islamists can't seem to imagine why all their piety hasn't earned them success like America's, the Left can't understand how the cold-hearted conservatives can possibly have it in them to be compassionate. The Islamists react by assuming that America succeeds because it's in league with the devil (and/or the Jews, whether or not that's redundant); and the Left reacts by assuming that Bush and co. must have ulterior motives. "Sure," they'll say, "Freeing Iraq was ultimately good for Iraqis. But come on... do you seriously expect us to believe that Republicans freed them just out of the goodness of their hearts?"

Uh, yeah. You expect us to believe that progressive taxes create jobs. Spooky.

It's true, the pro-war contingent does have other motives than the freedom of Iraqis in mind-- or at least, other aspects of that same goal. The long-term solution we're hoping for is a lust for freedom and democracy taking hold in the Middle East-- by gum a cause to fight for, against their own dictators, about which they can get just as incensed as they currently do over jihad. Only if their goal is personal temporal happiness and freedom rather than the death of the Americans and Jews, then the successful completion of that goal is in our interest and that of the world, not to our detriment. And we believe it'll be in their interest as well, if our own experience is any guide.

Talk about win-win. The only thing that has to lose out is fundamentalism. Tough thing for the Left to have to admit it can't get behind.

Tuesday, January 6, 2004
22:44 - Photo of the Day

Check out this photo. And Tim Blair's commentary above.

Geez, I'm in stitches over here...

Monday, January 5, 2004
00:18 - RealUltimateMajority

Wow. You know, for a fascist police state in which the slightest dissent from the prevailing party line is brutally suppressed with random midnight disappearings and torture, the jack-booted brown-shirts sure do give us an extraordinary amount of latitude, don't they?

Brought to you by the good people at Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

Sunday, January 4, 2004
21:48 - Flyover Country

This is why MoveOn.org is going to be so deathly bewildered come Election Day, when they discover that comparing Bush to Hitler seems unaccountably not to have swayed the election in their favor:

There's plenty more where this came from, from shore to shore.

(My favorite picture is the one of the UPS truck.)

19:38 - I believe it's called a "punt"

Some would respond to this ad by MoveOn.org by invoking Godwin's Law: The moment you mention Hitler or the Nazis in your discussion, the argument is over and you've lost.

I dunno. I think it's more accurate to describe this as a punt. The Left-- and the Democrats, unless they specifically repudiate ads like this in tomorrow's debate-- have gathered up all their remaining strength for a "last, best hope" sortie to launch with all their might. MoveOn.org has been running the so-called "Bush in 30 Seconds" campaign to solicit ideas for airable anti-Bush ads, with the promise that $7 million would go toward promoting the winning ad throughout the campaign process, whichever one might be the winner.

We want to run ads that are of the people, for the people, and by the people. Joining us in this effort is a great panel of celebrity judges, including Jack Black, Michael Moore, Donna Brazile, Gus Van Sant, Michael Stipe, Margaret Cho, and Moby.

With that kind of clout, you know they'll produce something worthy of Kubrick. (Fuck. Margaret Cho?! Has not a single comic or actor on the face of the planet not been eaten by the body-snatchers?)

Or will they?

If this is what wins, and what they air in the coming months, the Left will have spent all its remaining points. Instead of making a real argument surrounding Bush's policies, they're going to spend their precious thirty seconds morphing Hitler into Bush, and Hitler's statements about "protecting the homeland" into Bush's eerily religiously-charged statements about defeating al Qaeda and Saddam. (Statements which, if you google for them, you'll find that Bush never said.)

And they're proud of this.

I sure hope it wins. Because then every man, woman, and child in America will see clearly what the Left has reduced its arguments to. This is all that's left of it.

Even the least politically astute viewer will understand that there's this little thing called 9/11 which throws any spooky analogies into a cocked hat. And the newshounds and political busybodies will extend the metaphor, concluding that in MoveOn.org's estimation, al Qaeda and Saddam are the same thing as Poland and the Jews: unjustly attacked and ethnically cleansed to serve political ends.

I don't think any significant number of Americans is likely to fall for such lunacy. But I'd love to see this ad air, just because the blowback will be so amusing to watch. From a safe distance.

UPDATE: The baldfaced demonization of religion in this ad, by the way, further bolsters my belief that the Left thinks quite honestly that America has either out-evolved a need for religion, or deserves to be eclipsed by countries whose people have. Those who know me know I'm pretty much devoid of any religious conviction, but the principles of faith fascinate me, and I'm not so chauvinistic as to claim (as I did in high school) that to believe in a higher power is inherently irrational. The MoveOn.org-style Left, however, views religion with unmasked revulsion, and I somehow don't think that'll play very well in Middle America.

Saturday, January 3, 2004
02:35 - <

Okay-- time for another Public Service Announcement...

The word crescendo does not mean "climax".

Got that?

Every five or six web pages I read these days seems to contain some variation on the following: The evening's excitement rose to a crescendo when Lily threw a pie at the band. Aaarrgh! The word you're looking for here is climax, and the fact that this isn't an Italian-derived musical term just means you're gonna need to break out a thesaurus, pal.

Crescendo means, literally, growing. (I discovered this in 2nd-year Spanish class, where we learned the verb crecer, to grow, and its progressive form creciendo. Spanish and Italian follow many of the same rules.) It is used in music to signify a gradual increase in volume. It does not mean the fever pitch to which the volume finally grows. You don't "reach" a crescendo; you undergo a crescendo. You reach a climax.

Is everything clear?

23:39 - The deck's stacked

As I may have mentioned in passing, one of the sites that I spend most of my time administering is a fan-art archive for a particular animal-themed animated movie; the site has several thousand members, most of whom can be described without too much prevarication as "14-year-old girls".

The other day, I got the following e-mail:

Brian i need your help really bad. i know it's not really ____ related. but could you please post something asking the members to help me? it seems as though Canada wants to allow the hunting of harp seals. and there are just WAY too many animals being killed because of us. like horses and dogs and cats and pigs and everything. just because we say there isn't enough room for them. yet we have enough room for new shopping malls and houses for ourselves. i for one and so hurt by what i read on some of the sites i went to. there are lots of sites, i've been going to www.peta.org, www.hsus.org, andwww.theanimalrescuesite.com. i'm very sorry for sending this letter. but i'm so hurt by what we're doing to these animals. even TV programs are against saving the animals. please Brian i need all the help i can get, would you please please please help me help them? i'm gunna send an attachment with this e-mail. if you can resist such a cute face then i don't know who would help me. i'm begging you Brian, please can you help me!!!!!

Really, how does one respond to such a thing? How do you say something like "Well, little girl, it's very complicated..." and make it stick? I know it's never looked plausible in the least when someone tries that tactic in a kid's movie-- invariably it's some evil and stupid grownup too absorbed in his heartless grownup things to understand what makes life beautiful. If the silver screen has taught me anything, it's that adults are the primary reason why Ash and Pikachu must save the rain forest from Wario and Dr. Robotnik.

Now I find myself in the unenviable position of being one of those evil grownups. I have to figure out how to explain that PETA is a bunch of terrorists, and that animals are better protected today than they ever have been in human history. To buy time, I replied by simply saying that I didn't want to link to any such politically charged and off-topic causes from my site; and in reply she said:
but you posted about Sept. 11. should not the death of innocent animals be equily as important as that of humans? and you posted about lots of other stuff before, Brian, i know that it may not be that much of a big deal, but what if there were no more animals, there'd have never been a ____ for you to make your site on. if you won't help me than no one will, you know this is the first dream/wish i've had in a long time, and i didn't wanna give it up. but now that i see that your not even conserned about the animals i think i'll have to. but just remember that without the animals we as the artists on the site would have nothing to draw, and you'd have no website and wouldn't know any of us artists on the site. i would say thank you but i'm not sure what it'd be for. but just so you know, if you're with the other people that want to allow the hunting, etc. then i refuse to draw on your site again.

So clearly ambivalence is itself suspect, and I have to either wade into the discussion-- in appropriately softened language-- or take sides. Not fun.

And this is what I mean by the Left having the upper hand on kids' minds as they emerge from the scholastic systems of various Western countries. Who, I ask you, can resist such a cute little harp seal face? What kind of monster would be in favor of killing all the animals? And yet if you sit down and try patiently to explain that not only does not supporting PETA not imply wanting to kill all the animals, but supporting PETA is in fact tantamount to supporting domestic terrorism, congratulations-- you've just succeeded in filling with tears the eyes of a sweet young kid who just wanted to make the world a better place, and convinced her anew of the inescapable and incomprehensible evil of all adults.

It's long been held axiomatic that we all start out as unthinking jingoistic right-wingers, only to become compassionate and idealistic liberals later in life, after we've seen the beauty and wonder and joy there is in the world, and learned that life need not only be.... I dunno, cutting down forests and spilling oil all over virgin beaches to support our industry of endless unjust war. But as the above example illustrates, it's a lot goddamned harder to convince a kid that it is possible to be in favor of wildlife conservation without supporting organizations like PETA, than to explain to a kid in an American flag t-shirt why recycling is a good thing.

Dennis Kucinich must be snapping his fingers in frustration that these kids aren't yet of voting age, because that's all that separates them from his extant constituency.

20:53 - We get signal

"Very strong signal from the rover..."

"Flight 18 has carrier in lock."
"Thank you very much... and this is beautiful."

Friday, January 2, 2004
10:30 - Feels like France in August

<looks around empty office>

What-ho, we have today off too?

Jeez. I dunno about this.

Thursday, January 1, 2004
21:45 - "The people have spoken... the bastards."

I've never seen a more perfect line from the mouth of a statist lawmaker.

The BBC recently gave its radio listeners a chance to express their will, but did not want to hear the result. The great unwashed mass, who cough-up the license fees which pay the Beeb’s freight, were asked to suggest a piece of legislation to improve life in Britain, with the promise that an MP would then attempt to get it onto the statute books.

Listeners to BBC 4’s Today program (the very same show which claimed that intelligence on Iraqi WMDs had been “sexed up”), reposnded with a suggestion that would allow homeowners to defend themselves against intruders, without facing legal liabilities. The winning proposal was denounced as a "ludicrous, brutal, unworkable blood-stained piece of legislation" - by Stephen Pound, the very MP whose job it is to try to push it through Parliament.

The Independent reports that Mr Pound's reaction was provoked by the news that the winner of Today's "Listeners' Law" poll was a plan to allow homeowners "to use any means to defend their home from intruders" - a prospect that could see householders free to kill burglars, without question.

"The people have spoken," the Labour MP replied to the programme, "... the bastards."

Having recovered his composure, Mr Pound told The Independent: "We are going to have to re-evaluate the listenership of Radio 4. I would have expected this result if there had been a poll in The Sun. Do we really want a law that says you can slaughter anyone who climbs in your window?"

Memo to Britain: Yes.

I know you're a much more mature and dignified nation than we upstarts across the pond, and we colonists, we cowboyish teenager of a country, mustn't presume to lecture you on what a democracy is.

But perhaps your people can explain it to you.

UPDATE: Lest I be accused of Dowdification, I should point out that Pound's actual quote was this:

"My enthusiasm for direct democracy is slightly dampened," the MP told Today. "This is a difficult result. I can't remember who it was who said 'The people have spoken - the bastards'."

But I don't think this context changes the meaning as much as some people say it does. By couching the quip as an extant witticism that he's merely quoting, all Pound is doing is trying to deflect criticism from people alarmed at the directness of his language. He can say, "But I didn't actually mean that-- I was just echoing an aphorism I heard someone say once, as a way of exaggerating my own point!" But he's still saying the same thing. He'd have said the bare words himself if he weren't worried that the microphones were on.

13:48 - Is this a joke?


So this guy in Poughkeepsie, New York, has patented the star-and-crescent symbol.

Hopewell Junction attorney Aziz Ahsan and his family took on the task of seeking a patent for the symbol following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Patenting the symbol was Ahsan's attempt to create a positive Muslim identity.

Um... ever hear of prior art? Like, way prior?

I'm-a go register me a patent for the dollar sign and the cross.

Oh, and what's the reason for this again? So nobody but you is allowed to use this symbol? That's what a patent is for, you moron.

''There was a feeling that Muslims had something to do with the attacks,'' said Ahsan, adding most Muslims are law abiding citizens.

Uhhhhh... huh.

Yeah, better go combat that popular misconception.


Wednesday, December 31, 2003
12:33 - How do you know you're more geeky than the rest of your department?

When you come back from lunch on New Year's Eve and find that the automatic lights in your wing of the building have shut off.

(Such was the sight greeting Kris, Chris, and me upon our return from Togo's. Hello-o-o-o?)

Tuesday, December 30, 2003
18:12 - A breath of fresh, chill air from up North

Via commenter Iron Fist at LGF:

Being an American trapped in a Canadian's body means always having to say, "You're stupid."

With an intro like that, you know it's gonna be good.

When my hometown of Toronto awakened to the news that Saddam Hussein was in custody, we reflexively switched on CNN in my house. Why? Because Fox News still isn't available up here (although, in the spirit of "multiculturalism," Al-Jazeera's broadcast application proceeds apace).

At our only other option, the state-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corp., commentators repeatedly hoped Saddam Hussein would receive "a fair trial" through "an international tribunal" that "reflected Canadian values" – presumably the same "Canadian values" former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien invoked when refusing to send our troops (such as they are) to Iraq in the first place.

Such smug, pseudo-sophisticated "insights" would be only slightly less offensive if they weren't being paid for by my tax dollars.

I once was one of those smug sneerers at our southern neighbor, the product of a typical Canadian upbringing: my memorizing Trudeaupian doctrine about our superior "cultural mosaic" and the Yanks' inferior "melting pot."

The U.S. Bicentennial made a particularly indelible impression. I was 12 in 1976, the perfect age to be scandalized for life by red, white and blue toilet seats.

And like all Torontonians, I have my share of Stupid American Tourist Stories: loud, super-sized folks wearing what appear to be pajamas, asking if they can walk to Niagara Falls from here.

So, what happened?

Well, I am a recovering liberal, and Sept. 11 is my dry date.

The site requires registration, but it's worth it.

14:33 - Repeat after me: "I will not like anything"

Damien has found this rather negative review of Return of the King by Jonathan V. Last at the Daily Standard. It raises a few good points, but it's also stuck ankle-deep in that self-righteous must-not-express-approval-of-today's-popular-movie mode that seems to grip so many academic critics, such as the armies of them who panned Titanic with such phrases as "The worst screenplay ever written". C'mon, guys. Sure, there are weaknesses. But hyperbole does not serve you any better than it does some nerd with a blog.

Last's points against RotK are as follows:

  • Aragorn seems "listless and passive". Okay, well, he did get that one rallying speech where he lifted his voice to an unprecedented volume; and he mustered the Army of the Dead to his reforged sword; and he led the armies of the West against the Black Gate by his lonesome. Maybe he doesn't have a huge number of lines, and he doesn't seem as cynical and sarcastic as he did in the first movie, but that's a feature, not a bug. He's supposed to be the King now.

  • Frodo and Sam keep making goo-goo eyes at each other. Oh, come on. You're actually going to complain about the kiss on Sam's forehead (which was in the book), when not even the surly clutch of teenaged boys sitting in the row behind me had a snigger to offer? This is called character. I say it tells us something very discouraging about our time if it was easier for Tolkien to sell Frodo's and Sam's platonic relationship in 1950 than it is to play it today without attracting accusations of "homoeroticism". Methinks thou dost protest too much?

  • The cinematography isn't very creative. Well, all right, I'll give you that. The examples he lists of interesting camera shots from the first couple of movies, like the Council of Elrond reflected in the Ring, and the Ring's-eye view of Gandalf reaching down to pick it up, don't really have analogs in this movie. The very tension of the air in the first film was something new and magical; the immaculate timing of the whole first half-hour was what told us just how deep Jackson's vision ran. But perhaps he only had a clear idea of that first half-hour fleshed out in his mind; he had to play the rest more or less by ear, and there was less time to come up with cool framings. Yet I'm not complaining. It's not like RotK is bereft of good visuals. I'll put the "Lighting of the Beacons" sequence up against any spectacle from the first two movies you care to name.

  • The movie is too fast-paced. Gee, and I thought its biggest problem was all the pregnant pauses. One reviewer I read said that one of the best pieces of wordless character in the whole movie was Gandalf's facial reaction to Aragorn's "What does your heart tell you?" But Last quotes that very line as a reason to dislike RotK. Whatever, man.

  • The Battle of the Pelennor Fields is colder and more impersonal than Boromir's last stand. Um, yeah. War's like that. Okay, granted, I felt a little deflated watching the Army of the Dead swarming over the field of battle and dissolving Mordor's army upon touch, giving me that slightly sick "If they'd got here ten minutes earlier, they'd never have breached the gates" feeling. But c'mon, dude-- you're going to tell me you weren't levitating out of your seat in excitement at the Charge of the Rohirrim?

    Last seems to have convinced himself beforehand that the final movie of every trilogy, from Indiana Jones to The Matrix, is invariably the worst of the lot. (I don't agree with him on the count of Indy or Back to the Future, but anyway.) And what's more, he seems to be quite conversant with the books, to the point where he grumbles over the lack of the Houses of Healing chapter, and over the choad that Jackson turned Faramir into. But for someone whose Tolkienian lore is so well established, you'd think he'd have understood better the importance of keeping to the book's unflinchingly emotional character resolution between Frodo and Sam. It's the centerpiece of the whole story. Jackson understood that. It's why Sam is so central to RotK on-screen. It's all about Sam. He's the one who moves everything forward, who literally picks up the movie on his shoulders and heaves it uncomplainingly, thanklessly ahead. That's the visual Tolkien put on paper, and it's what Jackson understood was so important to amplify.

    In fact, as I've said to various people, even despite the rather big chunks it leaves out, I think RotK is the Jackson movie that holds most closely to the book. Aside from the judicious reworkings of dialogue (imagine the Witch-King standing there nonplussed as Éowyn droned on and on: "No living man am I! You look upon a woman. Éowyn am I, daughter of blah blah blah..." --he'd have thwacked her still-jabbering head straight off her shoulders, and it'd still be talking as it landed thirty feet away), and the major adjustment of plot timing surrounding Shelob, this movie stuck to the printed page like glue. For what it's worth, its tone and style is so like the other two movies-- whereas the third book is so profoundly different from its predecessors, all stilted and high-tongued-- that it's another testament to Jackson's abilities that he made it into such a well-rounded unifying piece for the story arc.

    Five years from now, "Fellowship" and "The Two Towers" will be the discs that go in the DVD player when people want to cozy up to The Lord of the Rings. Purchased out of a sense of duty and devotion, "Return of the King" will sit on the shelf, collecting dust.

    Forgive me, but that's the second most moronic thing I have ever heard anyone say about The Lord of the Rings in any context.

    The winner on that score, naturally, is this.

    UPDATE: I just remembered-- this morning, right before I woke up, I was dreaming I was watching RotK for the first time. Right after Aragorn recruited the Army of the Dead, there was a scene where Merry and Pippin went off together into the mountains, met a little guy in green with a beard (but no moustache), an Irish brogue, and one of those weird little upside-down pipes, and convinced him and all his little foot-tall cronies to polish up their shoe-buckles and hide their pots of gold and ride into battle with them.

    No, I'm serious.

    I even dreamed I read a review of the resulting battle scene-- a review that made up some entirely new words of horror and revulsion-- before I woke up sweating profusely.

    Let us never speak ill of Peter Jackson again.

  • 13:34 - Of The Body

    In case anybody's wondering where to get the snowflake screensaver that James mentioned yesterday, it's here.

    From the ReadMe:

    This is a Cocoa OpenGL screensaver. It's modeled on the pretty falling snowflakes animation that Apple have been running on an iMac in the window of the local Apple store. (Theirs is actually a QuickTime movie, and not available to customers. People have asked.)

    How's that for illustrative of the Mac community? Some geek likes a piece of Apple's own ambient marketing fluff so much that he goes home and codes it up himself and gives it to the world for Christmas.

    Sniff. I'm very proud.

    (Also check out "RedPill", on the same page-- a new take on the ever-present Matrix screensavers, but this one's the slickest one yet. You'll see.)


    You know, once upon a time I dreaded waking up to news of some horrific new terrorist attack.

    Waking up to things like this, somehow, is even worse:

    The Los Angeles-based Constitutional Rights Foundation was established in 1962 to “instill in our nation’s youth a deeper understanding of citizenship” and “values expressed in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.” Its $3 million annual budget creates and distributes teaching materials ostensibly to support the Bill of Rights. However, CRF’s Service Learning Network in 2002 issued online “diversity” teaching units featuring terrorism and Islam sections—plus a whitewashed history of Islamic law and a proposed blasphemy amendment to the U.S. Constitution. CRF created the Islamic Issues segments for the winter 1998 edition of its quarterly newsletter.

    Its final Islamic study unit does ask students to consider Islamic views on the Salman Rushdie case—and a proposed blasphemy amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating, “The First Amendment shall not be interpreted to protect blasphemous speech. States shall be free to enact anti-blasphemy laws as long as they prohibit offensive speech against all religions.” Students are asked to define blasphemy, explain the “strong” Islamic reaction to Rushdie’s novel, and assume the role of a U.S. Senator considering the amendment. They are not asked to discuss the Sharia punishment for blasphemy, which traditionally has been death. Such condemnations occur to this day.

    They're this close to publicly decrying the First Amendment as being itself The Enemy. And we're not lifting a finger to stop it, lest we be seen as "insensitive".

    I've never felt so urgently the need to enjoy-- and exercise-- my existing First Amendment rights as I do now.

    Monday, December 29, 2003
    14:55 - Teach us to love, O Germany! Teach us to live!

    Just think: if I lived in Germany, I could be registering my New Year's Resolution right now to "live more consciously".

    I guess we foolish Americans aren't even sentient enough to realize that we can become more conscious, if we only put our tiny little minds to it.

    ... Am I being just a tad snarky and self-righteous today? Gee, maybe I am.

    I guess I'd better work on that in the new year. Not making any promises, though.

    14:01 - Gettin' some weird barometer readings here

    So James is suggesting that the Bam earthquake may be "Iran's Chernobyl"-- the event that starts the wheels really turning, where everybody everywhere gets to see the good guys and the bad guys each doing what they do best, because cold hard reality won't let anyone keep confusing the one with the other.

    My take on this was that since the imams in Riyadh, Jerusalem, Mecca, Damascus, and Cairo have been calling every Friday for the past couple of years for Allah to "shake the ground under the Americans' feet", the twin earthquakes in Bam and San Luis Obispo might make for an interesting object lesson for them to take to heart: namely, that if they saw both quakes as acts of God, and when it happens here it causes two deaths as opposed to twenty thousand (or more) in Iran, then maybe-- just maybe-- it means they should be more careful in what they wish for. How would they explain it? If the quakes are the doing of Allah, then he's deliberately being fair: striking with the same force both in America and in the heart of the Islamic world. And if the quake in Iran is that much more horrifically devastating, well... does that mean earthquakes have nothing to do with Allah after all? Or that he isn't, in fact, on the Islamic world's side?

    But more alarming still, for a world which must be weeping into its espresso at seeing vindication after vindication for American policies over the past couple of years, has got to be this article from Iran:

    The regime's plainclothes men and security agents have arrested in several cities, such as in Tehran and Esfahan, Iranians who angered by the situation had shouted publicly unprecedented slogans considered almost as a blasphemy by the ruling theocracy.

    These unprecedented slogans were nothing else than "Long Live Israel !" and "Long Live America !" shouted during tens of popular Blood collect gatherings by Iranians welcoming the Israeli and American support of the quake's victims.

    The popular anger has been boosted as the Islamic regime has banned any Israeli support of the quake's victims by rejecting this country's offer of aid. Many Iranians consider such rejection as another prove that the regime's leaders are more willing to let Iranians die by sacrifying them in order to keep their backwarded anti-Semite ideology.

    Many also are cheering the US President for his constant support of Iranians and are qualifying the landing of US Aid planes as another "slap in the face of the regime".

    There's only so much ideology you can build up in front of your face. There are some things that it cannot obscure.

    Like, for instance, that America and Israel both pledged massive aid to the quake victims. Both countries are evil incarnate, as far as Iran's government is concerned, and neither officially feels particularly well-disposed to the regime. But they both pledged aid anyway.

    Iran refused it. They'll take aid from anyone in the region except the one nation (Israel) best equipped to give it. Purely out of spite.

    So Israel has been trying to funnel aid in on the sly. To the country that has repeatedly paraded missiles through its cities with "We will wipe Israel off the map" painted on them.

    How long can any sane Iranian citizen blind himself to events like these? How long can the Islamic world keep convincing itself that we're the Great Satan, and ignoring the fact that America under Bush has been more humanitarian in its global endeavors than the United Nations ever has been?

    I guess we have our answer. No more.

    11:50 - I weep for the language

    So I'm glumly reading another of Tim Blair's sightings of some moronic journalist (yeah, yeah, redundancy alert) who thinks he's being righteously insightful by saying the following about Donald Rumsfeld's public statements:

    I heard a speech by a man that made me realise that my quest to discover how humankind - being so unsuited to the rigours of this world - had managed to survive and prosper, was pointless and irrelevant. That man was US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and what he said was this, in relation to his country's failing search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq: "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things we know we don't know. But, there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we don't know we don't know."

    When exposed to a mind like Mr Rumsfeld's the question of how we survived loses all import. In its stead looms the much more important and ultimately more troubling question of why.

    Glumly, because as the first few commenters rightly point out, Rumsfeld's statement was perfectly astute and logical-- I only wish I were so clear in my thinking during verbal debate. So what is Mr. Weldon's problem with the statement? That it sort of sounds like a spoonerism? That it sounds like Rumsfeld is trying to obfuscate the facts? Is this the state of the art of the English language, when politicians in charge of war are the most adept wordsmiths of our age, and journalists are incapable even of comprehending a well-turned phrase without assuming it's fodder for one of those Foot-In-Mouth awards or public-goof One-A-Day calendars?

    Weren't journalists supposed to be our last bastion of artful language composition? Weren't they supposed to be the ones who make English into a delicacy for the public to consume?

    Maybe they are. Because after several quite well-thought-out comments following the post by Blair, comes this:

    Fuck all your right wing nazi parroting. See youn assholes on the streets.

    He even managed a three-syllable word. Boy's got a future in journalism.

    10:54 - "Talk, and you will be reunited with your sons..."

    Via LGF. It's looking like our guys have been busy over the break.

    Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) has given his U.S. captors information on hidden weapons and as much as $40 billion he may have seized while he was Iraq (news - web sites)'s president, an Iraqi official was quoted as saying on Monday.

    "Saddam has confessed the names of people he told to keep the money and he gave names of those who have information on equipment and weapons warehouses," Iyad Allawi, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat daily.

    "The Governing Council is searching for $40 billion worth of funds seized by Saddam when he was in power and which has been deposited in Switzerland, Japan, Germany and other countries under the names of fictitious companies," Allawi said.

    He said the council had asked international legal companies to track the money.

    Allawi said interrogators were now focusing on whether Saddam -- arrested by U.S. forces this month and held at an undisclosed site -- had any links to militant groups.

    "Interrogators are now focusing on the relationship between him and terrorist organizations and on funds paid to groups outside Iraq," Allawi told the newspaper.

    The dam has burst; the information flow will only increase now.

    Methinks certain people ought to be nice and worried about exactly what details we're getting out of him but that aren't being fed to the media...

    09:36 - The Law of Intended Consequences

    Via InstaPundit:

    December 29, 2003: The War on Terror has had an unintended, and welcome, side effect; world peace. Since September 11, 2001, and the aggressive American operations against terrorist organizations, several long time wars have ended, or moved sharply in that direction. Many of these wars get little attention in American media, but have killed hundreds of thousands of people over the last decade. These include conflicts in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Chad, Congo, Kashmir, Israel, Kurdistan, Philippines, Burundi, Somalia and Sudan. Some of these conflicts diminished because they had been going on for a while and, as is usually the case with wars, eventually the participants are worn down and make peace. But in all these sudden outbreaks of peace there was another factor; an American crackdown on terrorist activities around the world. The rebels in most of these wars depended on money raised outside their country to keep the fighting going, and on gun runners able to get weapons in. American anti-terrorism operations, energized by the shock of the September 11, 2001 attacks, now included cooperation from many nations, especially in Europe, that had tolerated, on their territory, fund raising, recruiting and public relations efforts by various rebel groups. No more. Most of these rebel organizations had already been declared "terrorist groups" (which they were, as most rebellions use terror, the American Revolution included). Once the U.S. and other nations began to crack down on the fund raising and other activities, it became difficult to keep many wars going. 

    Just one question: unintended?

    Though if this holds, and if it becomes more widely spoken about in the popular media, what are the chances that the Imagine Whirled Peas crowd will recognize and celebrate what they've got?

    World Peace at any cost-- on one condition. It must not be a Pax Americana.


    Friday, December 26, 2003
    16:05 - Skyscrapin'

    Combustible Boy sent me this link to a diagram of the New York skyscrapers and where the new Freedom Tower will fit into the pantheon.

    I just had to link it, because it-- and the whole damn site-- is just so very cool. These dynamic diagrams are the bees' knees, they are.

    Also there's this forum discussion on WTC redevelopment plans. I'm gonna be keeping my eye on this site. Looks like the place to be.

    (And for what it's worth, I'm warming to that tower. It's even got some symmetry to it. Only 70 floors, though? ...Oh, wait, I see. The topmost 400 feet or so isn't habitable-- it's just a truss. So this won't even have the highest observation deck in NYC; that's kind of a bummer.)

    UPDATE: Whoah. Check out these older proposal diagrams of the Freedom Tower. It could have been way worse.

    15:44 - Shake it up, baby

    So let's see here. Last week, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake hit the San Luis Obispo area. (Most people here in the office felt it, 150 miles away.) Two people were killed, and the downtown area of Paso Robles suffered cracked pipes and several collapsed buildings, which made for a subdued Christmas season there.

    In Iran, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake today killed as many as 20,000 in the town of Bam and completely destroyed a huge, 2,000-year-old fortress that was the area's main tourist destination, and from photos appeared to be in gorgeous repair. It also destroyed the town's only two hospitals, and 80% of the town's buildings. Iran will now mourn officially for three days, though this will directly affect far more lives than 9/11 did.

    I hope al Qaeda and the shake-the-ground-under-their-feet imams get the message.

    13:52 - That's it

    Okay, little iPod. I'll fix your wagon but good.

    See, I have a playlist called "Music". It's a Smart Playlist, which means it's actually a series of database query criteria that selects a set of songs dynamically. I've defined it as everything that does not match certain criteria. For example, I exclude everything whose Genre is "Books & Spoken", whose Genre is "Comedy", and whose Genre is "Unclassifiable"-- in other words, everything that I do not deem to qualify as "music".

    This way I can listen to this playlist without worrying about the music being interrupted by chapters of The Silmarillion or by Monty Python routines. Sure, there are times I want to listen to those; but not as part of the iPod's general randomly-mixed background hum.

    But anyway, out of necessity, I've added a new criterion to the set.

    There we go.

    11:13 - Where is everybody?

    Fully two-thirds of the company appears to have taken today off. Wandering around the office, I can hardly find any cubicles whose occupants are present. They've all taken a vacation day to make a five-day weekend.

    I guess maybe I'll take the opportunity to do the same, and at least take advantage of the remaining three days. Hey, finally-- a chance to get my Christmas shopping done!


    Thursday, December 25, 2003
    01:31 - Working Christmas

    "Did you hear about how we caught Saddam?" my friend asked me conspiratorially.

    I was standing barefooted in the garage, reinstalling Windows 2000 on his computer which he had once in the mists of time (a year and a half ago) obtained from this household's good offices, cobbled together from parts from Fry's. I had been trying gamely to install a FireWire card into it that would allow me to hook up my old iPod to it and thus bequeath it to him, but three separate FireWire cards were unable to prevent the computer from plastering the screen with sequences of dialog boxes saying Unable to copy file from \Devices\Hard Disks\F\Apple Computer DH230P\Volumes\iPod Control\C13245; this data has been lost. Please try to save the file somewhere else, each one taking some three minutes to time out the system and appear, whenever I plugged the iPod in. Maybe a nuke-and-pave is what's needed. Hell, couldn't hurt.

    I wasn't sure how to respond. This was a friend who fell into the Michael-Moore-may-be-a-little-dishonest-but-he-sure-does-make-you-think category, and his history of cleaving to Scandinavian allegiance despite having been born in Michigan of Chinese/Filipino and Jewish parents made me wonder where he was going with this. He did say we, though, not they, so there was hope.

    "Uh... no?" I wasn't sure if he'd meant had I heard that Saddam had been captured, or if he had some juicy tidbit that I in my lotus-eating-media-addled sheeple-stupor had no doubt missed. It was the latter.

    "The Kurds turned him in."

    Really? I thought. I paused. "Really?" I said.

    I hadn't heard this news. And I was unsure how to respond. He delivered it with a broad smirk, as though it was a deeply scandalous secret, but I wasn't sure in which direction I was meant to bristle.

    He added, "And you know, none of the American news outlets have reported this, of course."

    So it was evidently some source of embarrassment that the US Army would never admit, and that the gung-ho war-drum-banging Western news media would never let us hear, relentless as they are to give us the impression that the war is going well and that we are right to support our troops there, no matter how hopeless the fight. I wasn't sure why I should find this particular news to be bad, but I decided to be skeptical anyway, just to buy time.

    "Um... where did you read this?"

    He smirked again. "The Norwegian news," he said. "So far I haven't seen it picked up by anyone else."

    Ah, I thought. Now, I like to consider myself fairly well abreast of the news, even though I barely even read the big media sites anymore-- I used to reload CNN.com obsessively every morning post-9/11, waiting for the next big headline that never came. But ever since Iraq, there's been nothing of interest to me there, and every bit of useful news I've heard has come filtered via my favorite blogs. A self-destructive and dangerous technique, I know, but one that's indicative of the times at the very least, yes?

    "That's the kind of thing I'd like to see some corroboration on," I said, trying to keep the edge off my voice and sound appropriately disinterested. As I tapped on the keyboard, dragging files to the backup server (my G5 upstairs) and trying to keep Windows from going Eeee! There has been a sharing violation! You can't copy NTUSER, you numbnuts!, I racked my brains trying to figure out how the American soldiers being tipped off to Saddam's whereabouts by Kurdish elements constituted a scandal. "Tell me," I added after a moment's thought. "If the Kurds knew where Saddam was, why did it take so long to find him? Wouldn't they have been the first to jump up with the news, like months ago?"

    "It was a tribal rivalry thing," he told me. "The Kurds had a score to settle with him."

    Well, durn tootin', I thought. Still not sure why they'd have waited until December to go waving their hands at teacher and point accusingly into the septic tank. And still not sure why we should be embarrassed by this, or why the Zionist-controlled media agents should consider it a piece of dangerous morale-sapping agitprop unworthy of reporting to the proles. Not sure how he meant to spin it as a failure of what he would so chortlingly call "military intelligence"; after all, we had to get our tipoffs from somewhere, didn't we? It's not like we could just take a picture of Saddam-- including several bearded variants, worked up in Photoshop: Santa Claus, Saruman, Evil Twin Spock goatee-- and a recording of his voice, feed them into the orbital laser satellite network, and wait for it to report that it had detected a lifeform matching those criteria in a hole outside Tikrit... right? I'd always assumed that some Iraqis had been the canaries, and if they were Kurds, well, good for them, eh? So much the better. Why be embarrassed?

    "Well, he's like Little Miss Muffet-- he's always had Kurds in his way," I said uncertainly. He groaned, and we went back to tinkering.

    Anyway, it's been a weird Christmas. Up at 6:30 this morning, to match the down-home schedule of my folks who work in the non-nerd sector; and besides, presents should be opened by the light of sunrise, with the Northern California fog standing resolutely against any attempt by the cold watery gray sun to burn it off-- not under the brisk clear light of midday, when I'm accustomed to getting up. So breakfast-- something I enjoy approximately once a year, oddly enough-- and gift-opening, and calls to brother and his wife in Atlanta, and walks around the house, and petting of barely-familiar cats, and examination of several bullet points on Post-It notes regarding odd behaviors of the venerable iMac which must be looked into with all my boundless Mac OS 9 expertise, and relatives popping by later in the morning, and chin-stroking examination of the redwood deck that my dad insists is infinitely crappier than my new one, despite the fact that it's still sound and sturdy after twenty years-- merch-grade wood nailed to joists or no.

    And a couple of hours in the interim spent reviewing my final PDFs for the book-- yeah, yeah, I know, this has dragged on far too long for there to be any suspense left. It reportedly goes to print on the 30th, so I have until the 29th to get my revision notes in, and to cross my fingers and hope they are feeling the charity of the season enough to change "editable" to "selectable" on page 276, and many other such piffling trivial changes which in fact make critical differences in the meaning of the text. I've got three chapters left to check, and then I send in the file. And I'm home free.

    I left at about 2:00, and by the time I got home the tryptophan from the midday turkey was getting to me; I hadn't even been able to properly enjoy the fact that on the whole three-hour drive back down south, I'd followed the last heavy raincloud from the recent storm as it lumbered its way down the peninsula, and as I crossed into the East Bay to skim down 880 it was the only dark spot in the entire sky, still determinedly dumping down a distant curtain of mist onto the hills that were lit face-on with the golden setting sun from off to my right, looking startled as though caught in the act of something sordid. As though to reassure the hills, the sun caught the high rain curtain and blasted it into the brightest, strongest, most long-lasting and complete rainbow I've ever seen, with a double and even a triple band, standing there off my left shoulder all the way from Oakland to Milpitas. Finally as 880 turned southwest I found myself facing directly into the sun as it ducked behind the long rolling cloud-bank rumbling over the crest of the Santa Cruz Mountains at the southwestern edge of the valley, and it lit the back edges of the cloud bank with a lick of flame as the end of the Gandalf movement of Johan de Meij's Lord of the Rings Symphony played on my iPod. If you know the music, you know why it is that turning a wide bend on the freeway to face the setting sun as it shoots its dying yet triumphant rays through the nooks and crannies of a mattress of cloud, with the crashing chords of this music playing at high volume, is as close as you'll ever get to seeing end credits start to roll up the blue sides of the mountains.

    I was pretty beat when I got home; so after some hazy gift-exchanging, I retired to try to catch up on the last few Bleats. And to give you some idea of just how out-of-it I was feeling by that point, when I read James' explanation that the superiority of the Krispy Kreme donut stemmed from the fact that it contained no fean meat, I nodded sagely and stupidly, like Arthur Dent, and kept reading. It wasn't until the end of the column that I stopped and thought, wait a minute, and went back to see what it really said.

    Then I fell flat on my bed and took a nap. I slept gratefully through until 11:30, when I was awakened for Christmas steaks. Two nice thick broiled sirloins. Very tasty and tender, as a matter of fact.

    Not fean at all.

    (We never did get the computer fixed, by the way.)

    17:37 - Merry Kuffmas

    I got this last year too, from (naturally) the Ar-Rahman list. I decided then to let it pass, because hey, who knows-- it was probably just some dumb troll who thought he was too clever for words, and everybody else would just ignore him.

    Well, I've now received no fewer than three copies of it this year, so I guess it's become a meme.

    Let's learn about cultural sensitivity and respect for diversity, shall we?

    Christmas or Kuffmas

    Christmas or Kuffmas you decide,
    placed on a plater your faith
    is there to hide.
    For at this time of the year eeman
    can become an unwanted bride,
    to those muslims that substitude
    belief for dunya pride.

    We must remember it's not our day,
    it's not our time,
    these pagan rituals that the Kufar define.
    Be him a man in red,
    or their Messiah now dead
    they're still worshiping idols that
    their Lord never said.

    Did Jesus celebrate Christmas
    can you answer me this?
    can't answer, stuttering,
    now you wonder why your religion
    is so easy to diss.
    For you make your children
    believe in a man that
    climbs down a chimley,
    your faith is weak man,
    refutable and flimsy.

    Welcome to the real world
    where nothing is make believe,
    where we are tried and tested
    before we leave.
    Where no Christmas tree,
    Elf or Red nosed Reindeer,
    will help our souls on Yulma Qiyama
    the day of much fear.
    Where all Muslims, Christians
    and those Yahoods I mean Jews,
    will be asked
    "Did you celebrate this day of
    bidah and excessive booze"

    So is it KUFFMAS or CHRISTMAS?
    I'll let you choose.

    By BLAX ©

    Can I scream now?

    Wednesday, December 24, 2003
    11:52 - Catch ya on the flip side

    I'm off to to folkses' until sometime tomorrow night. Merry Christmas, everybody.

    ...And if the word "Christmas" offends you, well, try to be merry anyway. For once.

    And don't hijack any Air France planes.

    Tuesday, December 23, 2003
    21:03 - Drawn and quoted

    Tim Blair has done quite a service: rounded up all those oh-so-memorable moments of 2003 in a long series of nice crunchy quotes. With links back to where they all came from, no less.

    This may come in handy.

    The time is drawing near when I will have to unmask myself to my long-time e-mail correspondent, who still evidently hasn't guessed my hideous secret (I'd actually prefer it if it stayed out of the conversation entirely, but it's really hard to avoid it when the discourse unfailingly turns toward the stupidity of Texan drivers with Bush stickers on their cars, or the sheer apolitical genius of that Kucinich Flash ad that Eric Blumrich did, whoring the names of the American soldiers killed in Iraq to suit the Left's corporate-cabal conspiracy theories). He knows there's something I'm not telling him, but he hasn't struck near the mark yet. The closest he's come so far is to theorize that I'm actually a woman. Hmm. Good try...

    And of course I'm rehearsing just how I'll break the news once I'm finally requested to, because I know that moment is coming soon. Tim's quotes might indeed help, but they won't do the whole job. I need a way to lead into it gently, bearing in mind that as far as he knows, I'm just another benign San Francisco leftist, a bit politically unmotivated perhaps (why else would I answer him so noncommittally whenever he fumes about Bush's latest energy bill involving a provision to develop nucularnuclear bunker-busters and fusion reactors?), but thought-provoking nonetheless. I seem at least to have chastened him on the subject of just how helplessly stupid the American sheeple are, and how dismissive it's okay to be of them; he doesn't fume about them quite so much anymore now that I've used words like contempt and arrogance in describing that kind of attitude toward things like the South and Middle America in general.

    (I'm wondering, incidentally, how he'll respond to the next sortie that I'm preparing. For some six months now he's been tossing off dozens of rather alarming bits of racially supremacist value judgment, in passing, bam-bam-bam, when describing how the human mind works. See, he's of mixed Native American ancestry, and he gets to regale me with theory after theory about why the Indian mind is so vastly superior to the white man's, how he's tried so hard to wean himself off the hateful white man's habits, how he's worked to rid himself of white man's prejudices, and so on. I've sat and silently taken it, because what else can one do in this day and age? Yesterday, though, I inserted a brief line between a couple of his paragraphs that held forth on all the moral and physical and spiritual inferiorities of the white race: "You know, they say that on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. I'm starting to feel as though I'd be better off as one than as a white person." We'll see how he reacts to that.)

    But one day soon I'll have to broach the larger subject, and I'm not sure how I'll go about doing it. All this rehearsal is only getting me halfway there.

    I think I'll have to start out simply saying that there are what amounts to two different schools of thought in the world, and most philosophical/political conflicts seem to boil down to them. The first is this:

    Success is a desirable thing.

    And the other, barring some unfortunate language quirks, is this:

    It's best for everybody to be the same.

    (I didn't say equal, because while I do intend this in the sense of "equality" of status, prosperity, freedom, etc, we use the term "equal" to mean something specific: what Den Beste calls equality of opportunity, versus equality of result. Remember how Meg Murry confronted IT on Camazotz? No! like and equal aren't the same thing at all! That's stuck with me since third grade. So my meaning in this second philosophy is that everybody should be on a level playing field, whatever the best way of expressing that is.)

    Not quite polar opposite concepts, are they? That's sort of the problem. In fact, they're somewhat orthogonal to each other in meaning, though in practice they often turn out to be opposed to each other.

    Success is very closely tied to freedom. The freedom to succeed cannot exist without the freedom to fail; but the presence of the freedom to fail is exactly what inspires success, which gives back in value more than it receives as input. Likewise, success is about the freedom of one man to take care of himself and his family, out of the belief that he is better capable of doing so than someone else he doesn't even know. And this applies not just to people, but to economies and to nations on the global stage, too; nations need to have the freedom to make the right decisions for their people, just as they need to have the freedom to make the wrong decisions. But there also must be consequences for the wrong decisions, not a coddling of the mistaken and a punishment of the successful.

    Trying to make every person (and every nation) the same, however, is patently alien to the idea of freedom, particularly the freedom to succeed or to fail; because people are different. Sameness must be enforced by an outside hand. Some people are better capable of success than others; some are better capable of taking care of themselves than others. The question lies in whether this is a bug in the design of the human animal, or a feature.

    Now, the argument goes something like this:

    ME: Success is a good thing. When people succeed, wealth is created, and everybody benefits.

    HIM: But it also means the people who don't succeed are poor. What about them? It's much better to give excess wealth to those who don't have any. Then everybody will be happy, and there'll be no need for greed or hunger, just like in Star Trek.

    ME: Where does this supposed "excess wealth" come from, though?

    HIM: Well, rich people, of course.

    ME: People who succeeded, in other words. You're saying we should identify the people who have the gall to win in the game of life, and punish them by taking their winnings and giving them to the people who haven't won. Won't that just remove the incentive to win? Won't that just make sure there are no more winners?

    HIM: Yes. Because, see, in my system, if there aren't any winners, at least there aren't any losers either.

    ME: Really?

    HIM: Yeah.

    ME: Except for Soviet Russia and Cuba and North Korea. And France.

    HIM: Exactly. We should give our wealth to those countries. We have lots, and they have none. And our military power and economic influence too. Why should America be so powerful?

    ME: Um, because our way is better?

    HIM: That's not the point. It's much more important for everybody to be on a level playing field, than for "better" or "worse" ideas to be the basis of judgment of countries that affects the well-being of their people.

    ME: So you'd rather punish a wildly successful country, that's created more wealth and freedom and social and technological achievement than any other in history, where even the poor are richer than the richest people in some other parts of the world, to help make sure the countries that chose other paths-- wrong paths, I would venture to say-- don't have to bear the consequences?

    HIM: Yeah. That way everything's equal.

    ME: Except that without the incentive for individuals to succeed in entrepreneurship, or for countries to develop economies that reward the creation of wealth, or for proven just democratic nations to adopt international policies that champion their own systems of justice over those used by brutal third-world dictators with seats on international lawmaking bodies, there won't be any more wealth or freedom or justice created.

    HIM: Oh, there will. You'll see.

    ME: Will I now.

    HIM: Yeah. You think "success" is such a noble concept, but it only creates a gulf between rich and poor, between powerful and powerless, between just and oppressed.

    ME: Making sure that nobody has to work for wealth, power, or justice only means that nobody will.

    HIM: Sure they wil. Just ask Gene Roddenberry.

    I told one friend the other day about what the dole is in France, the benefit the government gives you just for being in France: $1300 a month. And that's the basic dole, to which are added hikes if you have kids, and even a Christmas bonus, which I'm sure amuses the North African Muslim immigrant population no end.

    This friend looked wide-eyed at me. "Damn!" he said. "I should move to France! I could make more money being unemployed there than I can by working here!"

    Which is why, I patiently explained to him, Paris has those cités full of unemployed people who outgun the gendarmerie.

    There's a reason, after all, why we call it making money.

    It's so easy to stand in a circle, holding hands with all your compatriots, and sing songs about peace and love and brotherhood, and sharing all your wealth so nobody goes hungry. It all sounds so simple. It's so obvious. And people who resist-- why, they're just hateful simian throwbacks to some ancient feudal society. They're greedy and thieving leeches who genuinely hate poor people and will do anything to keep them from being happy. And of course they're racists, too, because they're too stupid to realize that the color of one's skin has nothing to do with their mental, physical, or spiritual capacities.

    So we see the Instant Rhetorical Superiority that comes from the "make everybody the same" school of thought. It makes the practitioner into the occupant of the moral and intellectual high ground-- and he doesn't even have to have put any thought into what he's saying, let alone what the other side's story is. (By definition, the other side's story is simplistic rhetoric designed to glorify oppression and imbalance of power.)

    It's conventional wisdom that people start out as unthinking right-wingers, and then become compassionate liberals as they grow older and meet people and travel the world.

    Phenomenal, then, that the vast majority of movement from one side of the political aisle to the other over the past few years (as long as I've been paying attention) is in the other direction.

    What was that about how if you're not liberal when you're young, you have no heart-- but if you're not conservative when you're old, you have no brain?

    It's not such an antiquated notion after all, perhaps.

    I'm still working on distilling all this into an appropriate plan of attack, one that will keep me from ending up on the person's hammered-into-stone shit-list. But I'm left with the memory of an episode of the New Twilight Zone, from the 80s, which I saw as a kid and never really left me:

    In a technocratic futuristic city, a guy stands trial for "coldness" to his fellow man. He is convicted, and sentenced to wear a "mark of Cain" on his forehead. This mark signifies to all he meets that they are to shun him, at whatever cost, thereby punishing him with a measure suited to his crime.

    He wanders the streets, increasingly desperate for human contact and conversation. Nobody will meet his gaze; nobody will acknowledge his existence. Finally, he meets a blind man in a restaurant-- a blind man who, of course, can't see the mark on his forehead. Companionship at last! The two strike up a warm conversation, sit down to eat, and get along famously.

    Then, the waitress comes up to the blind man and whispers something in his ear. His expression changes immediately to a mask of betrayal and hatred. "Damn you," he snarls, as he stands up from the table and leaves.

    The Internet is a wonderful thing, isn't it? It's a tool for creating selective blindness in your conversational partner. But the secret will always come out.

    Saturday, December 20, 2003
    11:51 - Reasoned political discourse

    This would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

    Wait, no-- actually it is funny.

    Probably not for the intended reasons, though.

    I'm sure it'll win over voters by the legion.

    Friday, December 19, 2003
    18:33 - Sorry, we're only budgeted for 30 polygons

    CapLion isn't wild about this, but I think I could really get used to it:

    Remember what Libeskind's original proposal looked like? It was essentially just a big spire, like a knitting needle jabbed into the sky. This new design is apparently the result of a big pitched battle between Libeskind and David Childs, Larry Silverstein's own chief architect, and the result is something that actually has some interior space and a more prismatic aspect. Yeah, it's tapered still, and has those sharp icy edges that look like someone's a little bit impatient for cities to start looking like Bicentennial Man-- but it could be (and was) a whole lot worse. This design even evokes the WTC a little. Not much. But a little.

    What I don't like, though, are those new secondary office buildings-- the things that look like they were hacked off of the Fortress of Solitude with a machete. The tower-- okay, the tower can be futuristic and post-modern and wind-powered, whatever. But these other buildings look like they're trying to force the issue. They don't look like New York one bit. San Diego, maybe, but not New York.

    Maybe it's just because none of the other buildings around there are blue. They're all stone and cement, and don't spend all their time reflecting the sky like utopian structures from the 80s. The WTC was like a solid block of concrete. (Which is part of the silly appeal of this.) This thing looks fragile. And as determined as they are to eschew surface detail of any kind whatsoever, the secondary office blocks are going to look like cheesy raytraced CG models even when you're standing at street level and looking up at them. Look at the other buildings all around them. They all have something from the 19th century in them, even the most modern ones. But the new proposals are from the "blend into the sky" school of design, which I thought had gone out of style years ago.

    Nonetheless, I'm not going to complain much. I'm no New Yorker, so I won't presume to know what really "fits" the skyline; but I could get used to this. And we can be thankful that they're calling it the "Freedom Tower", rather than, say, the "World Cultural Center" (which is what that other finalist, the monstrosity made of two spidery ghost-towers of piping with a mysterious blob embedded between them, would have been). And it'll be tall as freakin' hell.

    It'll send the right message.

    15:42 - Built like a brick... spider-hole

    Hey, Arab World? You thought those pictures of Saddam's dental exam were humiliating? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

    Based on my own recent work in Iraq, I know that Saddam Hussein’s last place of refuge was a septic tank.

    During my tour in Iraq, I managed 75 reconstruction projects with the 4th Infantry Division in the “Sunni Triangle” near to where Saddam was captured. These projects included sewage disposal and sewage treatment systems, along with the refurbishment and construction of many septic tank systems. The cramped underground chamber next to the hut where Saddam had been hiding matches a common septic tank design found everywhere in Iraq.


    The location of the hole near a hut only reinforces the idea that this was originally a locally-built septic tank. Most likely, the hole was emptied of sewage and the dirt bottom expanded horizontally to allow for better hiding.

    This is supported by the reaction of news reporters who had crawled into the hiding hole. They all mention the terrible stench of the place. Also, a nearby ditch had recently been put to use as a latrine, which indicates that the septic tank for the hut was not available.

    From everything seen, it is apparent that Saddam had converted the septic tank of the hut where he lived into a bolt-hole to hide in if coalition forces approached. It turns out to be an unbelievably fitting form of irony. Saddam was found cowering in a septic tank like the vermin he is.

    I'm reminded of a scene from Schindler's List. (Anybody who's seen it can probably guess which scene I mean.) It's nice to see the shoe on the other foot once or twice in history, isn't it?

    13:27 - Quick, find a culprit! ...No, another one!

    Tim Blair links to this unintentionally hilarious Guardian column, in which Polly Toynbee freely admits to having been duped by a variant of the Nigerian spam/con game.

    But it wasn't about the £200. Not long afterwards my bank received a letter with a perfect copy of my signature, giving my bank account numbers, asking for £1,000 to be transferred at once to a bank in Osaka, Japan. Luckily, the bank thought to ring me up and query it. It turned out that a host of recent scams had asked for money to be transferred to Japan and the police had alerted all banks. It took me a little while to work out how they got my signature and my bank details, but then it clicked. Sure enough, when I reported it to the police, they laughed. They knew the Sandra letters very well and the real purpose was to sting the victim's bank account. It happened again last week when my bank got another request for a £1,000 transfer to Japan and I do feel a fool. Looking back at the letters now, I can see it all. For heaven's sake, she even said both her parents had died of the ebola flesh-eating virus.

    Then look where she lays the blame for it:

    The NCIS claims most of the scams orginate from Nigeria or the large global Nigerian diaspora. It began small-time in the 60s and mushroomed in the 90s, with large bundles of air-mails from Nigeria; two years ago it moved on to email. Why from there? "Clever, educated people with a long history as expert traders and dealers, they don't see it as criminal but as business. And they may think westerners deserve all they get."

    The line between honest and dishonest business is easily blurred. We point fingers at Nigeria, this richest and best-educated country in Africa that should be a mighty power had it not been so catastrophically misgoverned, with legendary corruption. Yet what kind of global honesty is promoted, what model of good capitalism and good government? The US is about to hold another election that will be largely bought and sold by business and oil interests. Think of the corruption that US and UK conservatives carelessly unleashed upon the former Soviet Union in the name of extreme free market ideology.

    The image of capitalism now being spread about the world is cowboy stuff: little gleaned from America extols the virtue of regulation, restraint and control. We reap from the third world what we sow: if some Nigerians learned lessons in capitalism from global oil companies that helped corrupt and despoil that land, it is hardly surpising they absorbed some of the Texan oil values that now rule the White House. Alas, the querulous, navel-gazing and increasingly non-internationalist EU seems in no mood at present to offer a different and better face of capitalism to the world.

    I get it. The real crooks here are thieving cowboyish oil barons... like George Bush. And the careless "capitalism" they're sifting out all over the world. Instead of the very reassuring mantra regulation, restraint and control. (Eeew.)

    I've got an alternate view of what's to blame for the Nigerian scam. How about: Members of a Western society that's grown to loathe itself so much for its success, and yet who are so guiltily greedy for more, that they're willing to undertake an ostensibly "charitable" cause-- even a patently illegal or immoral one-- to try to alleviate their consciences? The people falling for these things think that through an act of charity to an unfairly put-upon Third Worlder at the mercy of Western imperialism, they're puttin' one over on the Man, and yet making a tidy sum at the same time-- yet they'd never admit it to the authorities. As Toynbee herself says, "After all, who would admit they agreed to launder Bin Laden's cash?"

    It's ingenious in its design: it targets Westerners who are a) rich, b) greedy, c) dense, and d) guilt-ridden. Sounds like your typical Leftist do-gooder to me.

    "Rampant capitalism" isn't the problem here-- a lack of accountability is. One can only admire the practitioners' skills in efficiently seeking out ripe targets. Sure, what they're doing isn't business-- they're just committing fraud, and in the presence of actual police efficacy and enforcement they'd be doing time right now. But the country treats this as an industry, and so these guys look at themselves as entrepreneurs. Their rationale is probably along the lines of "We're entertainers. We play our targets like instruments, and make music that sounds like cha-ching, cha-ching." If their country doesn't treat them as criminals, they won't treat themselves as criminals. Time for some good old-fashioned cultural imperialism, eh?

    (This line of reasoning, incidentally, ought to appeal to people who say that the West "created" terrorism, and that the victims in the WTC were simply asking for it by being so arrogantly high up in the air. For a more ethically sound argument, how's this: The scammers are criminals, and they must be dealt with so that even the stupid need fear no scam.)

    By contrast, check out commenter "Wallace" at Blair's place:

    My email to the rube "Ms. Toynbee"...who by the way is so dumb as to leave her email address in html "tag" format so that every spammer in the world can reach her.

    I'm in the oil business in Texas where our values include honesty, business on a hand shake basis and loyalty. Like most self absorbed European journalists, repeating jingoistic blather, it is obvious that you know nothing of what you speak. And by the way, most European journalists worth anything more than a pence have learned by now that the "cowboy" reference to anyone in the U.S. is taken as a compliment.

    And at least we're not dumb enough to fall for a basic con game.

    The worst tactical mistake someone can make is to imagine himself or herself so much more intelligent and moral than the opposition that the opposition isn't even worth listening to. Examination usually shows the opposite to be true.

    Wednesday, December 17, 2003
    22:08 - "The very last stroke of the War"

    Apparently there are quite a lot of Iraqis, Zeyad included, who are experiencing an odd sort of let-down feeling following the capture of Saddam. In most cases it's not because they liked Saddam at all, or because they equated Saddam with their national pride; it's because Saddam looked so pathetic. "That was the tyrant we were so afraid of all these years?"

    In the words of LGF commenter Malice:

    Even those who hated Saddam feel saddened by his surrender. It makes sense when you think about it. He kept the whole country in a state of terrible fear for 30 years, but yet he was afraid to fight and die at the end. Wouldn't you also feel betrayed and sickened at your own cowardice for not standing up to him? Wouldn't you feel that such a weak man could have obviously been overthrown at any time, and that your people may have suffered for the last 30 years for nothing?

    I suppose it's kind of like that feeling that you get in the NCAA tournament - when the team that beats your team gets crushed in the next round. You hated them for knocking your boys out, but then you cheered for them to legitimize your own team's failure. When they get spanked, you realize that your team sucked all along.

    Yeah. And to anguish another metaphor...

    This wasn't the Valar driving Morgoth to his uttermost refuge in Angband, hewing his legs from under him as he pleaded for mercy, and dragging him out in chains, as some have painted it. Sure, the parallels are all there in context-- but those video images make plain that whereas even a chained-up Morgoth needed to be kept at bay by a vengeful and snickering Tulkas poking him in the back of the head every couple of steps, this Saddam clearly didn't. Docile as a cow.

    What it reminds me of, in the Tolkien context, is the end of the Scouring of the Shire: Wormtongue slitting a bedraggled Saruman's throat from behind, while the hobbits watched aghast. Though they were brandishing shovels and hoes and ready for a fight, this kind of anticlimax would have made them all wonder-- how come we didn't stand up to Sharkey sooner? Is this all there was to him?

    I haven't seen the Return of the King movie yet, but I know that the Scouring of the Shire was cut from it-- reportedly because Jackson didn't like it. To him it felt wrong, somehow-- too unbalanced, too anticlimactic, too depressingly banal an end for such an epic story. (I kinda see that point. Kinda.) And perhaps that's what's going on here; the thirty-year-old tale of horror that has been Iraq deserves a more crashing-chords-and-fanfares kind of ending, a blow-up-the-load-bearing-boss ending where the good guys have to race to safety before the last Tikriti palace caves in on them. Not this-- a Star Trek ending, where a few red-shirts dig the blinking and disoriented fugitive out of a cave, babbling incoherently, delusional, unlikely even to provide any kind of satisfaction to his victims who can't even get him to understand that he's lost.

    It's as though we'd caught Hitler, and he'd turned out to a quiet little man who enjoyed chess and painting Alpine scenes and who personally wouldn't hurt a fly, and when confronted with his crimes merely smiled beatifically and asked what the weather was like. Prison or execution-- neither end would have felt right. Like with the Japanese leaders who never truly accepted defeat, even in the Nuremberg trials, the only thing was to swallow the bitter pill of knowledge that this was the best we were going to get.

    I guess that's the nature of dealing with power-mad dictators. You can't deal with them as you would normal human beings-- they're too far gone. You'll never get satisfaction, no matter how well things go.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2003
    20:20 - Blame Kris


    In a hole in the ground there lived a dictator.

    Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing to sit down on or to eat: it was a spider-hole, and that means discomfort.

    Not my fault. I'm serious.

    Oooh, ooh-- What did the spider say to the rat? "Can I share your hole? Mine's infested."

    (If you groaned, that one's Kris' too.)

    Monday, December 15, 2003
    17:25 - Something Pleasant

    Now this is something I'm glad to see. Zack "Geist Editor" Parsons of SomethingAwful.com is a class act:

    Many of you, including me, may not be too keen on the war in Iraq. Don't let petty politics stand in the way of your human empathy for your fellow goon and your fellow American. In case you still don't want to send in money, keep in mind we're going to repeatedly nag you about this like National Public Radio until our goal is met! Besides, buying armor plates for some guys who are going to get shot at it is so much cooler than a freaking tote bag!

    Donate via paypal to armor-donation@somethingawful.com and keep watching this post throughout the day for updates on the amount of money we have raised.

    That's the kind of rooting-for-the-common-good I've been seeing so painfully little of. Thanks, SomethingAwful.

    More to the point, thanks, SomethingAwful patrons:

    Current Amount Donated: $8,278.04

    Jeezum crow!

    16:53 - Theater of the surreal

    Oh, man. This is rich. Edited for content.

    From: support@supportwebsite.com
    Subject: Fake ID for Muslims
    Date: December 15, 2003 4:32:46 PM PST
    To: ***
    Reply-To: support@supportwebsite.com

    Need a fake license to get into the nude bar and see some p***y?

    Visit www.souvenirids.com

    Travel and fly on planes under any name!

    Get job at preschool if convicted molester!

    www.photoidcards.com Do it now!

     CALL 24 HOURS 206-202-1672
    Here my voice I am from Iraq. My Muslim brothers I am here to service you. Praise Ala!

    This is not spam. You signed up as Arab decent person looking for new identity information for new mission.

    Wow. Iraq the free, eh? This isn't because I signed up for one of those Arabic translation sites a few weeks ago to translate that page put up by the supposed al-Qaeda hackers who perpetrated those DOS attacks, is it?

    I'm also having trouble with "Arab decent person" in this context.

    As Apu said, "It is good to see you are learning a trade"...

    Sunday, December 14, 2003
    21:13 - Le malaise existential

    You know, I've been weirdly irritable all day over the news of Saddam's capture. Every news report just makes me frown more, and grit my teeth more, and rub my forehead in more pain.

    Why? Probably because of things like this (via LGF): an entry, not unrepresentative of the whole, at the official blog of the Democratic National Committee.

    Well, tha capture of Sadaam takes the ‘failure to capture’ issue off the table.

    Now that the economy is picking up (mall was packed yesterday), Iraq is getting better, prescription drugs on the way, education spending at an all-time high, no further terrorist attacks—what is left?

    Oh, yes, the capture of Bin Laden.

    If that happens, we are completely sunk.

    Yeah? You wouldn't be sunk if you could bring yourself to express approval of just one extremely good thing that America does, in spite of the fact that it's a Republican who did it.

    Has life in the post-9/11 world really become so petty? Can a victory this profound really mean nothing more to the Democrats than a big setback on their road back to power?

    I've felt saddened all day by things like this (and there were dishearteningly many). It means that I can no longer even pretend to sympathize with the goals of the Democratic party, because those goals seem to have devolved into nothing more noble than getting into power. As a Democratic voter on most issues and in most elections for the first seven years of my voting eligibility, I feel heartsick that this is what the party has reduced itself to. I mean, they were honestly hoping we wouldn't catch Saddam, for God's sake.

    I feel no vindictive joy over what now seems to be the imminent death or splitting-up of the Democrats. Rather, I feel as though the country's left arm has become paralyzed. Sure, I agree more with what the right arm does these days, and more so each day. But balance is crucial to this country's operation. Each party needs the other in order to remain hungry and to operate efficiently toward goals that are universally in the interest of America. On the one-dimensional political axis that we use, flawed as it may be, the two-party system is more than a means of creating busy-work for the country's political machine: it's the fundamental balancing act that invariably drags public opinion back to the center, rather than allowing it to swing to one of the bizarre poles and transform America into a Nazi Germany or a USSR or a Talibanistan.

    I fear that following the catastrophe that will be the Democrats' bid for the White House in 2004, the party will splinter; surely a new party will arise in its place, probably bearing the same name, but in the interim we'll be badly unbalanced as a nation, without surety in where our moral compasses point. Half the country's people will still feel as though the current administration doesn't represent them, but they won't have anything to call themselves-- and that's when groups like International A.N.S.W.E.R. and the denizens of IndyMedia and Democratic Underground will have their chance to make a serious bid for the niche left vacant in people's hearts by what had been the Democratic Party.

    I honestly don't want to see things get to that point. If more Democrats can rally to Lieberman's call:

    Hallelujah, praise the Lord. This is something that I have been advocating and praying for for more than twelve years, since the Gulf War of 1991. Saddam Hussein was a homicidal maniac, a brutal dictator, who wanted to dominate the Arab world and was supporting terrorists.

    He caused the death of more than a million people, including 460 Americans who went to overthrow him. This is a day of glory for the American military, a day of rejoicing for the Iraqi people, and a day of triumph and joy for anyone in the world who cares about freedom, human rights, and peace. . . .

    This news also makes clear the choice the Democrats face next year. If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a more dangerous place.

    ... then there might be a chance for sanity to prevail. But unless more people remember that this country is firmly at war, and has been for two years and three months, and that today's achievement is a victory in that war more major than any invasion or nominal overthrow-- that it makes the world far safer and freer of brutal dictators whose defiance inspires terrorism against the West than it was before-- then yes, Virginia, I'm afraid you're sunk.

    This world is not so dismal a place. Let's learn to appreciate days like today for what they truly are.

    10:08 - Hoo-rah

    Watching Bush's speech on CNN just now:

    We have a message this afternoon for the Iraqi people:

    You're welcome.

    Okay, maybe not quite. But I wish.

    UPDATE: Lemme get this straight. The "car bomb" that blew up outside the Palestine Hotel was actually a police car full of jerry-cans of gasoline, which were ignited by a bullet that had been fired into the air in celebration and had fallen back down?

    The BBC and Reuters are rapidly running out of things to be happy about.

    And someone's really got to popularize a better method of celebrating things in the Arab world.

    Saturday, December 13, 2003
    02:29 - Greetings, comrade, from the Nerve Center

    How do I get myself into these things?

    Last night I jumped at the opportunity to see a concert in downtown San Francisco-- a concert of Prof. Peter Schickele and the music of P.D.Q. Bach. I'd never seen it visually before, and in that lies its charm-- without the visuals I'd never really understood the appeal. Classical music-- with weird instruments! And the occasional unexpected bizarre chord or odd lyric! Huzzah! But it makes much more sense live. The guy's pushing 70, but he still makes quite an acrobatic little show of it-- he's a bearded little gnome of a man, and his absent-minded-professor act is the centerpiece of the whole show. None of it comes across on CD.

    We enjoyed the show in the Davies Symphony Hall just off Van Ness, right across from City Hall. Gorgeous building, gorgeous concert hall. (The pipe organ in back is made of glass, for God's sake.) And when the good Professor came stomping in with a rickety wooden ladder which he used to clamber up onto stage, we knew it was gonna rock.

    But that was only part of what made the evening so entertaining. See, I got to enjoy the concert-- and the car trips up to the city and back-- in the company of a friend, Van (who is generally pretty open-minded and willing to listen to reasoned arguments, for a world-traveling Europhile who intends to stay in academia for the rest of his life) and a friend of his... from France. This friend, whom I'll call Jean-Marie-Françoise-Sainte-Jacques for short, is a college student who has apparently lived here for most of his life, judging by his almost completely Valley-ified accent (in which only a vague sort of clipped timbre can be detected); and yet he's as close as I've ever seen to a dyed-in-the-wool French Socialist of the haughtiest caliber. It was quite the experience.

    The first clue I had that the trip would be this interesting was when Van mentioned that the guy we were waiting for was a "Frenchman". (Van, refreshingly enough, has little more appreciation for the French than I do.) After the obligatory Sid Hoffman/Sid Fwenchman jokes, and after introductions were made, we piled into Jean's Jetta and headed north along 280.

    The Jetta, it turned out, was intentionally bought as a political statement. "If you want a good example of this stupid American capitalist system," he said, "Car dealers always have this one car on the lot that's got like no features, which they can point to in the ads to say Look, these are the kinds of prices we have-- so they can get you onto the lot and then try to sell you a more expensive car. But I insisted on taking the teaser car; I don't need anything more than the basic transportation, so I got to screw with their system."

    I was immediately fascinated. I sat silently in the back seat, imagining what the ideal car lot would be like in the Worker's Paradise. Oh yes: you might get lured onto the lot by the blue Lada, but the red Lada would prove irresistible.

    All the way up the peninsula, Jean regaled us with P.D.Q. Bach music from his Discman, punctuating every odd chord or choral trick with a gush of praise for the man's sheer comedic genius. "Why hasn't this been published outside the U.S.?" he wondered. "There's hardly anything in it that even has any English lyrics. They could sell this in France or Germany without any trouble. Or someone else could do this sort of stuff." Uh huh, I chuckled to myself. Could is such a wonderful word.

    Driving into San Francisco on 101 from the south, Jean sniffily pointed out how bad the traffic was and how dingy and run-down the city looked. "And this is the nicest city in the country," agreed Van. Jean simply exhaled huskily.

    We reached the parking garage, parked, and walked out into the rain to grab a quick bite to eat before the 8:00 concert. The block of Hayes between Franklin and Gough is full of little cafés; we walked to the end, and saw a place across the intersection called the Pendragon Grill. As we neared it, though, both Van and Jean slowed their steps-- they'd seen the big American flag and eagle painted on the wall between the sidewalk and the awning. "On second thought, that place looks pretty scary," they muttered to each other, and turned on their heels to find another, less American place to eat, like "Absinthe" on the near side of the street. (If we hadn't found a suitable place, like the nearby little hole-in-the-wall staffed by Chinese folks who served Italian-style sandwiches and French baked goods under paintings of bare-breasted Hindu goddesses by some inept local artist, I would have gone back to the Pendragon just out of spite. But there was no need. I pictured what that would have been like. "It's okay-- they're with me," I'd have said, making the secret VRWC hand gesture which gained me entrance to this hive of jingoistic running dogs who dare to profane the sacred Market Street zone with their presence.)

    Through dinner, I tried plying the humor. "Somehow I'd be just as happy if we had a resurgence of the kind of art that we used to think of as Art," I said, gesturing at the yellow-and-gold piece covering the wall behind me with the title Woman Birthing Herself. "There comes a time when you have to wonder whether postmodernity can be carried just a hair too far, y'know?" They smirked and nodded. There would be far too much ground to cover for me to try to make any real progress with these guys in one night, but I thought I'd at least try to plant a few seeds.

    We went into the concert hall, where paintings of identical-looking clusters of flowers were prominently sold at the concession booth. My esteemed companions immediately took to mocking the paintings' pretentiousness, unoriginality, unimaginativeness-- at least the meme seemed to have stuck, I guess.

    We ascended a flight of delicately-lit stairs circling the rounded inner sanctum of the concert hall. The broad curving window wall faced directly upon the San Francisco City Hall building, a gorgeous neoclassical structure that looks rather like the Capitol except with lots of gold leaf and an azure finish on the dome. It's stunningly beautiful, as a matter of fact. We all stopped at the window to admire it, between two tall Christmas trees hung with cards signed by local kids.

    After a moment, Jean piped up. "It's really an un-American architecture, isn't it?" Van agreed, and Jean continued. "It's like something European. Look at those colonnades... that dome... it's really beautiful. Nothing American about it." We turned to go. He dug in one last stroke: "Good for them."

    You've never been to Washington D.C., have you? I thought really loudly to his retreating back.

    The concert got started inauspiciously enough. The assistant to the Professor warmed up the crowd by making derisive statements about "Mr. Schwartza-- whatever his name is," which elicited a chorus of hisses from the three rapidly filling tiers of seats; then, when Schickele took the stage, he opened with a description of George W. Bush's upcoming book (Profiles in Courage, which covers some of Bush's most admired historical figures, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Attila the Hun, and so on), which he would purportedly be presenting at the University of Southern North Dakota "just as soon as the troops come home from Iraq". (Next Thursday, we're led to believe, he said.) Appreciative chortles all around. Likewise when Schickele introduced the "Freedom Horns".

    In the intermission, while Van was in the bathroom, Jean tried to ply me with disgusted observations regarding "Altria", a company whose logo adorned one of the art exhibits advertised in the program booklet. "It's a front for Philip Morris," he said. "This company has gone around buying companies like Kraft, Nabisco, Maxwell House, Oreo... now you can't even give your kids a candy bar without the money going to fund cigarettes." I tried to humor him by making fun of the company's logo (which looks even dumber in grayscale), but he was not to be deterred from his main point, which I neglected to point out was rather silly in light of the fact that America is far and away more smoke-free than, say, France. He ranted on for a few more minutes about the evil of Philip Morris, its intransigence, the necessity for its destruction, Jean's inability to find any products he was comfortable buying anymore, and so on. Finally I said, "I guess it'd be better if those products didn't exist at all, then, huh?" He winced. "I dunno," he snapped, and settled sullenly into his seat to wait for Van to get back.

    The concert went on. At last it ended, and we thronged out with the happy crowds of old rich bourgeoisie, against which we looked like ragamuffins off the street. (The usher, on showing us into our nosebleed seats, had welcomed us through the doors by saying, "Can I help you guys find your seats? Um.. I mean... gentlemen?") We found our way back to the car, snickering over the worst of the puns. (How are piccolos made? They're cooked over a bonfire on a Sicilian beach, in a cauldron filled with olive oil, in what's known as the Mediterranean Flute Fry.) One of the long, rambling stories about the finding of a certain P.D.Q. Bach piece had ended up with the Professor standing in a room in a building that was being demolished; at one end of the room was a safe with the door standing open; next to it there was an Indian woman who appeared to be hiding something in the folds of her robes. Deciding which to search first, Schickele decided, "better the safe than the saari." Groans and giggles alike had ensued, of course; but in retrospect, Jean said, "I was wondering why he said Indian woman. I was thinking, is this the kind of racism that's normal in New York, but that he wouldn't realize isn't welcome here in California?" Phew. I'd hate to see this guy watching South Park.

    As we drove back down 101, after Van had idly remarked about Canada being "just like a State, except bigger and cleaner," Jean burst out with "I really envy Canada's political stability. There's only been one political party in power for like ten years now, and even though the current PM is more conservative than the previous one, they're still from the same party-- so same-sex marriage will still be passed and so on. There's no actual opposition to worry about." Uhhhh... huh. "Yeah, I hate those damn opposing viewpoint things," I growled from the back seat. Jean visibly recoiled, but went on. "At least they get to accomplish things without having to argue so much." Or words to that effect. (It's over a day ago now; the memories are losing their coherence in my synapses. "That's stability for ya," I said, and settled back into my seat to let my mind wander far away from the People's Republic of San Francisco. I was only dimly aware of the conversation's turn a few minutes later, when Jean expressed dismay at the fact that there was a mall called "Fashion Island"-- including locations bearing the same name in Los Angeles, no less. "I mean," he said, "I can see fashion in San Francisco... but Los Angeles?" I tried to interject something about 'Scuse me, I sorta thought there was this thing about, like, all those movie stars and stuff in LA?, but they had already moved on to the next topic.

    Said topic was a tirade on Jean's part about some tutoring program sponsored by UC Berkeley, which competed with the tutoring program he himself was participating in on the side now that classes at De Anza have let out for the term. Apparently, from what I picked up, the evil UC can afford to pay its tutors $14.50 per hour, whereas the community college can only afford more like $10. The tutors had gone on strike, evidently; and Jean said that the UC had reached a deal with them. But apparently the deal was struck too late for the tutors to call off their strike, so it went ahead as planned-- "And now," Jean fumed, "The evil capitalistic UC gets to gloat that it has the moral high ground because the tutors went on strike even after the deal was agreed upon." Somewhere deep in my nose a tiny little violin played a sad, sad tune upon a thin silky hair. The evil capitalistic UC Berkeley. I love that concept.

    Finally we arrived back home, and Jean took his leave. There wasn't much to say. I'd done my part-- tried to bridge the gap, though I'd given no reason for them to suspect that there was a gap at all, by (for instance) pointing to a poster taped to a lamppost south of Market that said Free government-run health care for everybody, and intoning "Free health care for some, miniature American flags for others!" .... but it was clear that I was some kind of stubborn kook who refused to see the light embraced by this enlightened 19-year-old. And the fact that I have friends who treat the word "capitalist" as a good thing would only ensure that I'd be hitchhiking home.

    If nothing at all else, I can take comfort in the fact that one day this guy will have to get a job. And if he loathes America so much, there's clearly no reason for him to have come here to go to community college, is there? Surely there are ample opportunities elsewhere.

    But no P.D.Q. Bach. Isn't that a bitch?

    Thursday, December 11, 2003
    10:49 - Can we get an "amen"?

    Via InstaPundit:

    I don't want to take any more static from well-meaning friends who think that anybody who watches Fox News is a brainless dupe because Fox is so hopelessly slanted.

    Because if, as it seems, Fox is the only news service to cover this rally, and even organs like the New York Times bury news of it in tiny little one-sentence "even as" comments in the tailings of a story about 2 GIs being killed (Glenn has it), I'd say it's obvious whose side most of the news services are on, and what Fox is actually about.

    Slant me, baby.

    Wednesday, December 10, 2003
    00:25 - Get 'em up against the wall...

    Via LGF, where the news has been getting both far more encouraging (e.g. the anti-terrorism protests in Iraq) and more bleak, comes this:

    Likewise, in Iraq, both the violent resistance and the so far fence-sitting Shia clerics are learning that the U.S. only understands force. The White House decided to have "elections" in June, not because proconsul Bremer suddenly remembered that Iraq belonged to Iraqis, but because the tenacious armed resistance was beginning to threaten Bush's 2004 election.

    The rising death toll of American soldiers finally got the White House to set a date for "elections" in Iraq. But the White House is still trying to get away with a sham process in which proconsul Bremer will get the final word about who gets elected to the new Iraqi National Assembly. (It's an American tradition -- sham elections -- and who better than Bush to know it.)

    The Shia leadership's insistence, in the teeth of White House opposition, on real and free one-person-one-vote elections, is embarrassing to the U.S. It is exposing the hypocrisy of Washington's claim to "export democracy." But Washington's capacity to absorb embarrassment is infinite. The Shia clerics are likely to discover that only when their threats become dead serious will the U.S. cave in.

    Given how much the Pentagon wants to maintain Iraq as a new vassal state and a strategic military base, threats probably won't be enough. The Shia leadership will have to demonstrate a capacity for organizing effective resistance.

    Here, too, the lesson of the steel tariffs is not without merit. While Iraqis have every right to shoot and kill occupation soldiers, that isn't necessary the most effective way to influence George Bush. Quite a few of the people who fund Bush's election campaign are involved in the latest corporate gold rush ("reconstruction") in Iraq. Attacking their interests might be a quicker way to get the president into listening mode. The lives of American soldiers are dear, but four more years in the White House are priceless.

    This, and Eminem writing songs encouraging the assassination of the President, and Ted Rall actively encouraging the Iraqi insurgents to kill Americans, and regular protests in our cities' streets increasingly brazenly waving the banners of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden as righteous martyrs lying however futilely across America's senseless path of destruction... where's it all leading?

    It's getting harder and harder to imagine that these kinds of sentiments-- that our troops' lives and even those of the domestic and foreign reconstruction contractors are nothing more than casino chips to be stacked on Red and cast against Bush a year from now-- are the province of the wacked-out far Left. These ideas are seeing currency in longer and larger and more reputable-looking articles, graduating day by day from the fuming and incoherent message-boards where they were espoused with the same swaggering adolescent bravado that typically accompanies a righteous frag in Quake, and gaining in linguistic dexterity and intellectual "rigor" with each new medium it infects. By the time next year's election rolls around, how far will the one-upmanship have gotten? With another year of this seemingly out-of-control feedback loop of hatred and bile to come, where one's sincerity is judged upon how much he hates Bush and to what lengths he's willing to go to unseat him... what are the campaign ads going to look like?

    If they don't openly endorse assassination on prime-time TV by that time, I'll be very pleasantly surprised. But I worry about how far they will go.

    Sooner or later, one of these people will in fact legitimately commit treason. More accurately, hundreds and thousands of people will push well into the realm of the definition of the word, seeing no reason to stop the advance of their rhetoric, and the authorities will do nothing to stop it-- because they know full well that the most vitriolic of the Leftists are on a hair-trigger to accuse anyone who calls them on it of McCarthyism, fascist police-statism, and crushing of dissent. They'll continue to do so well beyond the point where what they're doing can, in fact, no longer legitimately be called "dissent".

    But it'll have to crack sooner or later. Something will happen, someone will finally go too far, and out will come the billy clubs. And what then?

    The revolutionaries will have their martyrs. They'll have their righteous cause (Look! Crushing of dissent, just like we've been saying all along!). They'll have the spark, and they've been busily piling up the tinder now for three years.

    They're itching for real, honest-to-God Revolution. And they may well get it.

    "John Locke" in the LGF comments:

    If violence will advance their cause, and Ash is clearly advocating that, have they not abandoned the democratic process, the rule of law, and the protection conferred by civilized discourse?
    Josh is exactly right, these power-crazed rhetorical nihilists are hell-bent on forcing a violent showdown. That will be the end of them, and their leaders know it, but the evolution of their rhetoric and the script of their fantasy ideology both require a violent climax.

    It's a terrible choice that we who would be the defenders against such a Revolution face: a) tolerate the affronts of the revolutionaries to the point where they're actively causing damage to our country and its citizens and soldiers, out of fear of the consequences if we... b) fight to put them down, thereby becoming everything they accuse the Right of having been all along.

    And honestly, I have no idea which choice I find more palatable.

    Both choices suck, from my perspective. But from the Left's perspective, both choices are winners.

    This is what spurs them on.

    They know they can't lose. Either they get free rein to pursue whatever mad goals they want, or they get the excuse to rise up in violent self-defensive war. Either way they get what they want-- whether by extortion, holding us hostage to our scruples, or by justified violence once they've pushed those scruples into the margins. Either way works.

    (The fact that these are precisely the reasons why terrorism works-- it depends on the West's insistence upon fairness and unwillingness to tackle declared threats sensibly and effectively, things terrorists can always count on-- is what makes these people's tactics all the more galling. They learn from the best.)

    There's got to be a third choice. It's got to be real, and it's got to be the one we as a country choose, because it's the only way we can remain a unified nation, I fear. Either of the first two choices would change America forever, and for the worse. There has to be a third way out that doesn't give away the farm.

    * Bush could resign. But no, that gives away the farm-- it appeases the Left and assumes unearned blame for what in more sober eyes has been a great success, not a bloody failure.

    * We could catch Saddam, and he could reveal incontrovertible proof of complicity in Islamic terrorism, plus active French and German and Russian subversions of US interests and UN mandates, eternally shaming them before the world and vindicating the US. But that's just a pipe dream.

    * Iraq could stabilize, a pacifist Democrat could win the White House, Britney Spears could have some sex scandal or something, and the war could leave the public radar screen, and the Left would gradually lose steam and fade from the streets. But that too would give away the farm-- another 9/11 would be our reward for the inevitably decreased vigilance.

    I don't know. All ways out of this mess look bleak or unrealistic, and I genuinely fear for what the coming months will bring.

    14:42 - Payday

    Will someone please explain to the popular Western media that this is important for America and the world to see?

    "Our people are for the reconstruction", reads the sign. And "Terrorism is humanity's shame". How much more clearly does it need to be spelled out before the anti-war protesters realize what they've been doing? Just how deeply ironic it is that while they fill the streets of their own home countries to try to stop the war and the occupation, these people in Iraq are just as fervently in favor of them?

    This is such elementary stuff to understand. "To bribed Arab stations:Killing Iraqis and destroying their civil facilities is NOT resistance". Does this mean nothing to our domestic Left? Are you listening, Ted Rall, you bastard?

    Someone explain to the AP and Reuters that this is an extremely beautiful picture:

    And while you're at it, explain to France, Germany, and Russia that if they don't want to put their soldiers' lives on the line to free these Iraqis, or even to just contribute money to the reconstruction, American taxpayers have no interest in lining the pockets of their corporate contractors. We paid for this war; we are paying for the reconstruction. We're not paying to reconstruct Europe's economy too. Go fish.

    My disgust with European greed and arrogance knows no bounds today.

    UPDATE: Hey, Reuters: Y'think maybe this looks like something you should think about covering?

    Nah, I know-- the answer's in your slogan: No. Now.

    Tuesday, December 9, 2003
    18:10 - Dear Santa

    A couple of gift ideas, in case anybody should happen to be interested:

    "Hunger is the Best Pickle." — Benjamin Franklin
    Grafton Four Star Cheddar

    If these are anywhere near as good as they sound (particularly together), CapLion gets to be my personal Jesus.

    11:02 - Please Update Your Slogans

    The other night in the parking lot at Home Depot, on my way back to my car with a cartload of 2x4s, I passed a parked car whose back window was full of weird little banners, stuffed animals, and other gaudy items. In pride of place was a large sheet that said, in big colorful letters:


    If only I'd had a piece of paper, a pen, and some tape on hand, I'd have scribbled up a note that said HELP STOP THE RECOVERY or something and taped it below her sign. But I didn't. Ah well-- lessons learned for the future.

    It's like people who still drive around with "Dukakis '88" bumper stickers on. C'mon-- read the news, will ya?

    Monday, December 8, 2003
    01:42 - Talk about freedom not being free...

    I'm continuing my long series of e-mails with that person I mentioned some time ago, dancing ever so gently around the fact that he and I are about as politically diametrically opposed as two people can be. I have only to read his online journal (in which he links with goggle-eyed sycophancy to this piece of Eric Blumrich-spewed drivel) to know where he stands; he as yet doesn't know where I come down, because he only knows me through a pseudonym, and I fear that should the veneer slip, the game will be well and truly up.

    My missives to him are always long, carefully thought out, and studiously apolitical. Every attempt he makes to draw me into a snicker of agreement at Bush's stupidity or the evil of the born-again Christian South, I deflect it by subtly changing the subject. Sometimes I can't resist a tiny little dig at the more outrageous of his claims (such as that he is risking arrest and imprisonment for the very crime of disagreeing with the administration, to which I said merely, "Yeah, I'm sure they're casing you out even as we speak. Sigh."), but so far the extent of my attempts at wearing him down have been of a much more roundabout nature.

    To wit, I've been setting little rhetorical traps. I let him go off on a tirade about how stupid the people are around him, how ignorant they must be to have these red-white-and-blue bumper stickers and to actually be proud of the fact that the President came from their home state, or how benighted and unworthy of fair consideration their views obviously must be. And then I respond by saying simply that I make it a point not to judge people so quickly. That every human being's life is a story, full of years and years of decisions and rational choices and love and fear and joy and death and dreams. I talked about how I deal with maddening SUV drivers on cell phones: I remind myself that some woman driving a $50,000 SUV has to have arrived at that financial position through some means or other, and that means is unlikely to be that of barking idiocy. You don't get to drive Cadillacs wearing suede suits by being a feckless moron; you don't get to pull down a six-figure salary by accident. And in any case, who among us hasn't made the odd mistake in traffic-- pulled out into an intersection briefly, mistakenly, a few feet before stomping on the brake upon realization that it was the left-turn arrow that went green and not the straight-through light? I give each person the benefit of the doubt, at least until I can determine more fully whether the person is really in fact a dunce and unworthy of my attention-- unless I'm in their blind spot.

    Thus do I sow the idea that to dismiss huge swathes of the population as too stupid to live is just a trifle contemptuous. There's more rationality in the world than one might think who sees the majority of the country laid out against one's political leanings, and far more people are rational on the micro level, seen up close, than are irrational. Henry Rollins put it this way: "The powers that be, that make up all these TV shows, are under this weird misconception that we're stupid. They think you're *dumb*, they think I'm *dumb*-- that's just so much bullshit. No one's *dumb*, man. They just get dumb media. This being 1998 in this country, you can't be dumb-- if you're dumb you're dead. You just can't even hack it if you're stupid. You know? You can be *stupid*, but you're gonna be reeeal tough, to still be alive. If you've done eight years working Burger King, you may be a dumb motherfucker, but you're one tough sonuvabitch."

    And it may be working. He's agreeing with the things I say, finding reason in them, and no hostility or evil. If I come at this from a few other tacks-- like, say, the ones Bill Whittle uses in laying his foundations of credibility-- I'll eventually have tricked him into believing the tenets of what I believe, at which point I'll break the horrible news.

    I hope he'll take it well.

    Anyway, in the meantime, the ammunition builds itself up with hardly any human labor necessary. BC at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler winds up and takes a big swing at the socialist paradise that is 35-hour-workweek France-- but his work is already done for him, by this article which demonstrates just what a travesty it's all been. If anyone doubts the monstrous nature of the State as a beast that grows to feed itself all the more the larger and more powerful it becomes, we've got the proof right in front of us: the French PM has said himself that France is on a one-way course to becoming a vast Holiday on the Riviera for the well-to-do... but a hideous totalitarian wasteland for the lower-class plebs who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of socialism in the first place.

    Though France has gotten the most attention for its short week, it has company in Europe. Since the 1940s, Europeans have expanded their annual time off by about one week, said Lawrence Jeffrey Johnson, chief economist of employment trends for the International Labour Organization, a branch of the United Nations.

    In the United States, a 40-hour workweek is standard and the government doesn't regulate vacation time.

    "The U.S. labor market is much more flexible that way, to allow people to work out individual accommodations in how they want to organize their lives," said Paul Swaim, an economist specializing in labor market issues for the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

    And you know what? I had never before even considered an idea like "the government regulating vacation time". Absurd! What business does the government have in telling my company when it can (and must) bar me from working? Lately I've been thinking a lot about how I demand the right to fail because without it there is no right to succeed... but it seems that in France, even the right to succeed-- the right to put in the hours you want to put in, to go above and beyond duty, to work two or three jobs, to write a book in one's off-hours, the right to claw your way up through your own teeth-gritted efforts-- is denied its citizens. Isn't that the worst of both worlds?

    In France, says the article, nobody even wants to work what extra hours they're allowed to, because earning more money just gets them taxed at ridiculously high levels. So why bother? Never mind that this is tantamount to the State punishing the achievements of the best, the brightest, and the hardest-working-- the ones whose efforts have given us the automobile, the airplane, the transistor, and a million other advances that could never have come about if not for the allure of monetary reward and personal acclaim for reaching beyond the State's expectation of a person's mathematically-calculated ideal work output.

    That's what freedom is. Not merely the ability to travel from place to place without having one's papers inspected everywhere. Not merely the ability to speak one's mind in the village square without fearing the Gestapo. Not merely the ability to cast a vote in a public election. I'm talking about much more visceral, psychological, human concepts. The things we don't even think about as "basic human rights" anymore, because they're so deeply ingrained into what we expect out of life.

    Freedom is the ability to try a new career just because it sounds fun.

    Freedom is the ability to watch whatever TV shows we want, without having to worry about Beavis being stopped from saying "Fire" or South Park from making fun of Mohammed because of some pressure group donning the mantle of the Offended-American.

    Freedom is the desire to own a house and a plot of land, to build a deck out back, and to build a fire in the fireplace while scoffing at rumors of attempts by the city government to fine and tax those things away.

    Freedom is the ability to train for a private pilot's license, volunteer for the Civil Air Patrol to do drug interdiction at the San Diego border zone (freeing up law enforcement to handle anti-terrorism activities), strap on a .44 revolver, and fly to another State just so you can enjoy sitting on the tarmac in your own piece of sovereign territory, immune from the gun-control laws of whatever State you landed in (until, at least, you set foot on the asphalt).

    And freedom is the ability to obtain the means to pay for all these things by putting in the effort of two-and-a-half European workers in their proletarian paradises; pounding away on overtime hours and in second jobs into the wee hours, working evenings and weekends and holidays, not merely putting in the time, but excelling at making new things to contribute to the employer's financial well-being, and in so doing creating out of thin air the inventions that will define the technological advancements of the coming decades.

    Sylvain M'Boussa, 30, was recently leaving the "Big Sky" mall in Ivry, a gritty suburb on the outskirts of Paris, with his wife and small children in tow. They had shopped at Carrefours, the French answer to Wal-Mart. M'Boussa, who works as a dispatcher for a messenger service, said the short workweek is great for his family life but disastrous for his wallet.

    "I can't save money. I'm thinking of leaving France" to seek better opportunities in Canada or elsewhere, he said. "There, maybe you wouldn't get good health care or pension benefits, but at least for those who want to succeed, there are real opportunities. Here, you're just blocked."

    Leaving aside the remark about "good health care", and omitting to note that Canada's prime minister flew to the US for his own surgery last year, and that all the prepaid health care in France's non-air-conditioned hospitals could do nothing to stem the deaths of 15,000 elderly citizens during the course of the heat wave this past summer...

    Canada's a place that gets it-- at least, more so than France does. But Canada would do well to remember that, as France's example so vividly illustrates, once one feeds the Beast, it only grows larger; it never stays static or shrinks once its job is done. It must justify its own existence, and once given the tether it so badly desires, it never voluntarily comes back to the post where it's tied.

    It's so easy to treat a defense of this concept of "freedom" as the simple, jingoistic rantings of a Montana survivalist. Yet how else to respond to such clear and obvious vindications of that very conviction?

    As Whittle says,

    Those that fear American power in the future might stop to consider that if current trends continue, we will – again – have no need to go forth into the world, because what good ideas that do come from outside our borders – and they are legion – are cooked up by individuals who almost universally want to come to America because here we admire and respect innovation, here ingenuity is rewarded – in cash! – rather than strangled and buried under ever-thickening, Kudzu-like mats of bureaucracy.

    It’s like oil loading itself on tankers and making their way to Galveston, or entire counties of prime farmland cutting themselves into sod and stowing away in container ships, to be opened and unfurled in Long Beach harbor complete with sheep and shepherds.

    We've got something good going on here, and I'd hate to see it allowed to wither because we'd somehow managed to convince ourselves that the Beast was friendly after all.

    16:41 - Reinstall the Internet

    Now here's a meme that's grown some unexpected legs...

    Such was J.R.R. Tolkien's legacy; and perhaps it would not have displeased him.


    10:48 - Double-take

    Sometimes I wonder whether those History Channel shows are written by people with more of a sense of irony and humor than they usually let on.

    Yesterday, the narrator on one of the Pearl Harbor shows, when discussing the events leading up to the Rape of Nanking, said: "The Japanese people thought that they were freeing the Manchurians from the chains of colonialism. They also believed that Japan needed Manchuria's rich material resources to help build their empire."

    Delivered perfectly straight, without further embellishment, and giving way immediately to the next historical point.

    I don't know whether I'd prefer it if it were intentional or fortuitous...

    Saturday, December 6, 2003
    11:00 - The F-bomb

    The obvious question one must ask: Is this what the Democrats are reduced to?

    Sen. Kerry (Mass.) used the undeleted expletive to express his frustration and anger over how the Iraq issue has hurt him because he voted for the war resolution while Democratic front-runner Howard Dean has soared by opposing it.

    "I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, 'I'm against everything'? Sure. Did I expect George Bush to f - - - it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did," Kerry told the youth-oriented magazine.

    Brookings Institution presidential scholar Stephen Hess said he can't recall another candidate attacking a president with X-rated language in a public interview.

    "It's so unnecessary," Hess said. "In a way it's a kind of pandering [by Kerry] to a group he sees as hip . . . I think John Kerry is going to regret saying this."

    You know what? I don't think Bush has a thing to worry about next year.

    At least not from the Democrats.

    Friday, December 5, 2003
    17:12 - There's a frightening thought

    Steve Jobs in charge of Disney?

    It could happen, if rumors were legally binding. Sent by Mark:

    As far as the entertainment industry and Wall Street would be concerned, the most welcome second-in-charge and nominal successor to Eisner could be none other than Steven Paul Jobs - head of Apple Computer and Pixar,and the guy who currently has Disney over one massive barrel.

    "That one's been around for a while," says a Disney spokesperson.

    Indeed. But sources out in the land of warmth say speculation that the Disney Co. would be forced to offer Jobs a position - if only a seat on the board - intensified this week, as soon as Roy Disney's keister had cleared the company parking lot.

    But there are problems, naturally.

    For one thing, Eisner apparently doesn't much like Jobs, either.

    And the famously independent Jobs, who founded Apple Computer in his family's garage, apparently has been returning the dislike ever since Eisner accused Apple in Washington of abetting video piracy.

    Yeah, that's okay-- nobody likes Eisner these days.

    I just have to wonder... let's say Jobs does to Eisner what he did to Amelio: comes into the company as an outside voice, a bit of consulting help; then he turns up on the Board of Directors; then he makes a subtle little gesture with his head, and the former CEO is booted out, making way for the Steve to step in. Let's say this happens at Disney. What would happen to the product? We could be certain that the company's direction would change, in some way; it would be unlike Steve not to instigate major upheavals. But which direction would it jump? Would Disney throw even more weight behind the glorious golden future of 3D animation, bowing to Jobs' Pixar experience? Would this simply further seal the fate of Disney's 2D feature business?

    Maybe not. Jobs' philosophy has always been one of "Do what you do best, and be better than anybody else at it". It's not about the promotion of one particular technology or product; it's about having a pool of talent at a company coming together as more than the sum of its parts, creating new things out of pure synergy. In Apple's case, that means making supah-sweet computers and iPods, led by the likes of Jonathan Ive and Avie Tevanian, the best minds in their respective businesses. For Pixar, it's about leading the 3D charge not through superior technology, but through Lasseter's story vision, making movies that are stories first and 3D animation second; Pixar movies are helped by looking great, but without the writing they'd be nothing.

    So maybe Jobs leading Disney would be one of the best possible scenarios for those hoping the 2D feature animation business isn't dead. Maybe he'd recognize that nobody on earth understands the grandeur possible in traditional animation better than Disney's animators do, and he'd have the personality presence to channel that expertise in the way that it once was done.

    And if not, it's not like the trajectory they're currently on could be much more dismal...

    Thursday, December 4, 2003
    17:01 - Turkeygate


    President Bush's Baghdad turkey was for looking, not for eating.

    In the most widely published image from his Thanksgiving day trip to Baghdad, the beaming president is wearing an Army workout jacket and surrounded by soldiers as he cradles a huge platter laden with a golden-brown turkey.

    The bird is so perfect it looks as if it came from a food magazine, with bunches of grapes and other trimmings completing a Norman Rockwell image that evokes bounty and security in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.

    But as a small sign of the many ways the White House maximized the impact of the 21/2-hour stop at the Baghdad airport, administration officials said yesterday that Bush picked up a decoration, not a serving plate.

    Officials said they did not know the turkey would be there or that Bush would pick it up. A contractor had roasted and primped the turkey to adorn the buffet line, while the 600 soldiers were served from cafeteria-style steam trays, the officials said. They said the bird was not placed there in anticipation of Bush's stealthy visit, and military sources said a trophy turkey is a standard feature of holiday chow lines.

    To paraphrase Arthur Dent: Would it save a lot of time if I just went ahead and went mad now?

    I'm racking my brains to come up with a word to use in place of the woefully inadequate "pathetic". But all I can think to do is to bear down on that very word, to turn to its florid definition and history in the OED, and ponder its meaning on all levels of interpretation and etymology. Pathetic. There is no more appropriate word.

    What must it be like in the breakrooms of these news offices? Editors hunched glumly around metal folding tables, drinking coffee, heads propped in hands as they moan to each other about their collective failure to come up with a sufficiently explosive scandal with which to detonate the Bush Administration?

    What level of despair must there be among the senior editors, for them to conclude that it's worth a shot to run a story on whether the turkey that Bush posed with was the one they carved the soldiers' portions from or not?

    I can take some solace, I suppose, that I don't live in England, where this is how the enlightened elite saw the event.

    Bush's standing rose in a poll conducted immediately after the trip. Administration officials said the presidential stop provided a morale boost that troops in Iraq are still talking about, and helped reassure Iraqis about U.S. intentions.

    Nevertheless, the foray has opened new credibility questions for a White House that has dealt with issues as small as who placed the "Mission Accomplished" banner aboard the aircraft carrier Bush used to proclaim the end of major combat operations in Iraq, and as major as assertions about Saddam Hussein's arsenal of unconventional weapons and his ability to threaten the United States...

    The trip was pulled off in total secrecy -- only a few Bush aides and reporters knew about it in advance, and they were allowed to discuss it only on secure phone lines. Reporters covering the Thanksgiving program in Baghdad were not allowed to report the event until after Air Force One had left.

    Some of the reporters left behind at Crawford Middle School, where they work when Bush is staying at his Texas ranch, felt they had been deceived by White House accounts of what Bush would be doing on Thanksgiving.

    Hey, guys? Ever notice how the only people for whom this event "raises questions" are those who would benefit from a Bush takedown? Notice how you never seem to hear these kinds of ludicrous complaints from, say, the soldiers or the Iraqis?

    Or don't they count?

    Pathetic. It's the only word for it. This is what our news media is reduced to.


    13:17 - "I like puppies! And space travel! And chocolate!"

    Wasn't it just Tuesday when I said that I hoped Bush would "give a speech where he says 'I like puppies' or something, just so we can watch the protesters' reaction: Hah! Well, we hate puppies! Down with puppies!"?

    Well, shut my mouth:

    President Bush (search) wants to send Americans back to the moon — and may leave a permanent presence there — in a bold new vision for space exploration, administration officials said yesterday.

    The return to the moon would be for the purpose of technological advancements in technology, including energy exploration and testing a military rocket engine.

    And a permanent presence likely will include robots and communication satellites.

    But beyond the nuts and bolts, Bush's call for a to return to space would give Americans something new to hope for - amid a period of permanent anxiety about terrorism. It would also help move NASA beyond last February's space shuttle Columbia disaster.

    Sources said the president may also give the go-ahead to pursue a manned trip to Mars - a long range goal.

    Let the countdown begin to the protesters-- who used to get misty over NASA's every idealistic accomplishment-- taking to the streets waving NO TO BUSH'S SPACE IMPERIALISM and NO BLOOD FOR MOON ROCKS banners: T minus twelve, eleven, ten...

    Wednesday, December 3, 2003
    15:50 - Dig harder, Andrew

    Damien sends me this Register article in which Andrew Orlowski, with the help of several adroit readers, has unearthed a scandalous secret: iTunes/AAC DRM places restrictions on consumers. Oh me, oh my.

    Johansen posted his code on Friday a week ago, but the discussions were rumbling on well into Thanksgiving: the remarkable thing being how people who had happily bought iTunes music without realizing that they were guinea pigs for a much larger social engineering experiment were now cottoning on. What seemed like a friction-free source of happiness one day, looked like a noose the next.

    How so?

    Well, by observing the time honored BBC tradition - that there are only two, and never more than two sides to an argument - Apple's alliance with the RIAA has been welcomed in the public prints as an honest compromise. On one side, there are P2P file swappers, on the other, are the pigopolists who want to lock down your music forever.

    It's an appealing, but absurd reduction, however; one that's flawed by the amount of ideology that's already baked-in to the argument. As Register readers pointed out, the issue is one of who owns, or has rights to use our common culture. That means stuff we created ourselves, and only we can decide is worth sharing. And as many of you pointed out, what we call the "entertainment industry" today is merely a distributor, much like the Victorian canal owners were in the last century, in Britain. The smarter Bridgewaters bought into the upcoming railways, while the dumber canal owners didn't, and died a natural death. Today's pigopolists don't "own" the culture simply by claiming that their exclusivity is based on technology - that's a social contract we don't buy, and history, in most cases, is on our side.

    So for Apple to pop up and grant the dying RIAA members a $99c toll on each song - when the distribution costs are zero, and when the RIAA is so manifestly corrupt - is a pill many find hard to swallow.

    I don't know what it is he's trying to say here-- that Apple shouldn't be charging money for songs? That they should sell music but shouldn't have to give any of the money to the RIAA? That they can collect a profit but the song files should have no DRM? I thought we'd been through all this before.

    His readers-- not, mind you, what he calls the "Apple Taliban" who have the nerve to suggest that QTFairUse doesn't really present much more of a vulnerability to iTunes' saleability than re-recording using an analog line-in cable-- come across as bitter basement pundits:

    "I'm glad to see the system is being challenged, not being a user of ITunes I didn't realize there were copying limitations on the files. For the life of me I can't figure out why on earth ANYONE would be willing to spend $1.00 per song and get nothing more than a file. This seems to me that the consumer is being screwed royally by the RIAA. It works like this: I end up paying $15-20 dollars for a CD and get no physical product. The record company gets to sell it for the same price but pays nothing for manufacturing and distribution. No middle men to speak of, the public gets hosed. But that's what they've been doing for years anyway. Just curious, does the artists cut increase with online distribution? Support the artists but boycott the RIAA and overpriced online music."

    Of course he's not an iTunes user, but he's all too willing to call it "overpriced". Look, genius, you have two options: pay money for legal music that follows well-established rules of commerce, or get it on KaZaA for free. It's obvious which you'd prefer, but if your threshold for making the move to purchased digital music is "When it's free", then you've bifurcated yourself from the rest of the music-buying community, along with the rest of the file-swappers. These two camps will fluctuate in relative size until one wins. But they won't merge. Purchased music won't become "too cheap to meter". The RIAA won't shrivel up and disappear. If you're not willing to compromise, well then, good on you for holding on to your principles, whatever they are.

    But thanks to the connivance of get-rich-quick computer companies, who have this year tried to market DRM, the dying industries have an opportunity: not only to control the distribution of popular culture, but of course its price, too. And remember, most of that $99c goes back to the pigopolists. Even seasoned music industry executives are championing models that allow music to be shared, and that give the artists their fair due. The Apple-RIAA pact closes such arguments, both parties argue, all in the sake of 'convenience'.

    But at what cost does this convenience come?

    For a Steve Jobs, relaxing in his Austin Powers Peninsular pad, downloading Fleetwood Mac from one expensive gadget to another expensive gadget must seem the very embodiment of friction-free futurism. Bully for him. But for readers such as Gene Mosher, enjoyment of our culture represents a very inconvenience. Let's hear it in full, once again -

    . . .
    I'll be damned in hell before I accept the notion that I and my ancestors who love to listen to the audio arts are in any sense guilty of anything that is illegal, wrong, evil, immoral or improper.

    Remember when we smirked at Tommy Lee Jones in Men In Black when he held up that little mini-disc thing which he said would replace CDs, and ruefully sighed that he'd have to buy The White Album again?

    Damn "pigopolists".

    I suppose this is the shining alternative, right?

    As with so much Apple technology, iTunes DRM is a matter of learning to stop worrying and love the bomb. Stop fighting the pulsing rhythm of IT and become a citizen of Camazotz. Or, if you prefer, just quit trying to second-guess the system and find a way to get something for nothing. iTunes' DRM is less restrictive than any of the WMA-based schemes, and if even that's not good enough to wean you from KaZaA, then we can't expect that anything will. But in a couple years, when everybody's enjoying their legit digital music, which they bought for less than it would have cost on CD, guess what: they will be in the position that PC-based gamers are in now relative to Mac users. Having accepted a modest sacrifice, they're now the mainstream... and the holdouts have the look of crazed basement-dwelling Luddites. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?

    God damn, I'm tired today.

    Tuesday, December 2, 2003
    23:47 - Ukiah, say it ain't so

    This is my hometown. This is my high school.

    Billed as "The Wheels of Justice Bus Tour," a brightly decorated school bus will roll into Mendocino County on Thursday, Dec. 4, bringing speakers who have recently been to war zones in the Middle East. Having seen and lived with war, terror, and occupation in Iraq and Palestine, participants in the Wheels of Justice offer first-hand witness about the actual effects of war and occupation on people abroad and Americans at home.

    "The bus is really a mobile classroom," says Ceylon Mooney, the tour's national coordinator. "It comes complete with teachers and a wide range of instructional materials: videos, photographs, essays, fact sheets, etc."

    Several events are planned in Ukiah and Fort Bragg. The bus will spend Thursday afternoon at Ukiah High School. At lunchtime, in an event sponsored by the Ukiah High Progressive Club, bus tour speakers will talk with students and faculty. The bus will remain on campus throughout the afternoon.

    At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 4, a presentation and discussion will be held at the Ukiah City Council Chambers, 300 Seminary Avenue. The following day, the bus will travel to Fort Bragg, for a presentation at the Town Hall, on the corner of Laurel and Main Streets. These two evening events are free and open to the public.

    Commenting on the upcoming events, Gordon Miles, UUSD social studies teacher said, "From a teacher's perspective, any time we encounter an alternate perspective based on experience, it challenges our ways of thinking. At the same time, our students will challenge their assumptions. This can only lead to greater understanding."

    Among the speakers traveling with the bus when it arrives in Mendocino County is John Farrell, 28, an organizer with Voices in the Wilderness in Chicago. Farrell recently spent a month in Iraq interviewing ordinary Iraqis on the street and in their homes, talking with U.S. soldiers about their experiences, and witnessing the violence and tensions in Iraqi neighborhoods.

    Another speaker, Lauren Anzaldo, is a 24-year-old resident of Pensacola, Fla. She spent two months this summer living and working as an ESL teacher in Jenin, Palestine. A member of the International Solidarity Movement, her presentation will focus on the effects of the "Security Wall" under construction in Palestine, on the day-to-day life of families in Jenin, and on the possibility of peace between Israel and Palestine.

    I loved Ukiah for all the first eighteen years of my life. It's an island of apolitical, agricultural sanity between the well-understood turmoil of San Francisco and the pot-heavy air of Humboldt County. Ukiah High School is large, comparatively wealthy, well-staffed with talented teachers, and designed like an outdoor-oriented junior college with lawns and benches and angular stucco walls that come as close as possible to being Good Architectural Design from the 70s. When I pass through there for Memorial Day each year, the sentiments on the roadsides are genuine. It's still, to the best of my knowledge, one of the best places in all of California.

    I thought I knew the Ukiah Daily Journal better than to expect its reporters not to understand that the country Jenin is in-- not to mention the "quote-unquote" "Security" "Wall" "quote-unquote"-- is not called "Palestine".

    ...Then again, on second thought, the paper's been full of howlers all my life. I still remember how they reported my friend Eric's loss at our fifth grade spelling bee. The BBC's got nothing on the Journal's "sexing up" of events.

    Par for the course, then.

    Via LGF, one place where I never expected to see the name of my beloved hometown. Charles has the lowdown on who the organizers of this event in fact are.

    23:29 - "We're all different!" "I'm not!"

    So in the spirit of playing nice with our overseas allies and partners, Bush is repealing the steel tariffs, which were an ugly thing that all the conservative bloggers hated. And wouldn't you know it, according to NPR's news, the Giant Puppet Brigade is protesting, demanding a continuation of the tariffs.

    Why don't they just cut to the chase? Why not just carry huge banners that say WE HATE BUSH NO MATTER WHAT HE DOES!

    I can't wait to see W give a speech where he says "I like puppies" or something, just so we can watch the protesters' reaction: Hah! Well, we hate puppies! Down with puppies!


    09:42 - Going after the coveted "kindergartner" demographic

    Chances are that this man will actually be standing behind a podium and debating with actual Presidential candidates ahead of the upcoming election.

    I met Grandfather Twilight for the first time in 1975. We became friends and he often visited my studio, where he helped me create a picture book (Grandfather Twilight, Philomel Books, 1984). Yet when he spoke out recently, endorsing Dennis Kucinich for President, I was stunned. For in all the time I have known him, Mr. Twilight has spoken very few words. His is a quiet wisdom. So quiet, in fact, that teachers and parents still remark on the hush that comes over children whenever they hear his story...

    The audience will be enraptured. If just to hear what comes out of his mouth next.

    Don't forget to send each other Kucinich e-cards this Solstice season.

    Fer cryin' out loud...

    Monday, December 1, 2003
    10:03 - Too funny

    Via Cold Fury-- everybody's linking this, and I'm powerless to resist joining the fun. But I'm going to do it by simply quoting Patterico's post:

    INCREDIBLY STUPID COLUMN EXPOSED, OR, WHY YOU SHOULD THINK TWICE WHEN YOU'RE THE ONLY GUY IN THE WORLD WITH AN AMAZING INSIGHT: Hahahahahahaha. A guy named Wayne Madsen at a leftist site called CounterPunch has an entire column making fun of George Bush for supposedly forcing military personnel to eat that famous Thanksgiving dinner at 6 a.m.The only problem, as Brian O'Connell points out, is that they ate the dinner at 6 p.m.

    Based on his sloppy mistake about the time, Madsen writes a whole piece mocking the supposed 6 a.m. dinner. In the process, he makes plenty of idiotic statements. For example, he claims that

    our military men and women were downing turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and non-alcoholic beer at a time when most people would be eating eggs, bacon, grits, home fries, and toast.

    He also says:

    I would have thought most of the troops, many of whom are support personnel who work relatively normal working hours, would have been more surprised when they were ordered to get up before sunrise to eat Thanksgiving dinner between 6:00 and 7:30 A.M.

    Madsen is proud that he is the only guy who figured this out. He says that "the abysmal and sycophantic Washington and New York press corps seems to have completely missed the Thanksgiving 'breakfast dinner.'" So why does he think nobody else remarked on the unusual timing of the dinner?

    Chalk that up to the fact that most people in the media never saw a military chow line or experienced reveille in their lives. So it would certainly go over their heads that troops would be ordered out of bed to eat turkey and stuffing before the crack of dawn.

    Or, Mr. Madsen, you could chalk it up to the fact that you are an idiot.

    This is rich. Hurry and look before they figure out how stupid they were and take it down. Maybe one of you computer-savvy types can even save us a screen shot, to preserve the evidence. That way we can all laugh at this imbecile for years to come.

    I've long since grown tired of the people who think it's some great insight to say how stupid Bush is. These are people who, if they were to take it upon themselves to actually research the things the man has done and accomplished in the last year alone, even if they disagreed with his policies, would be forced to admit that whatever else the man is, he's not some Epsilon-Minus chimpanzee. Hell, I'm even having these arguments in my dreams-- about twenty minutes before I woke up this morning, I was telling someone, slowly and carefully, that "He's the President of the United States. You don't get to be the President of the United States by being a moron. That's how you get to be a guy working at a dry cleaner." And the fact that these people haven't done such research and continue braying the same tired non-arguments means they're simply not worth debating. I'm not going to call them "idiots" in return, because there's no point.

    But oh, how sweet it is to see it proved.

    Sunday, November 30, 2003
    21:17 - Go back to your bonfire

    So SomethingAwful, in its inimitable way, is playing to what we know its audience to be in the following way:

    Lately I've been thinking about the 2004 election. After all, the first primaries are coming up with remarkable speed. With any luck, Ol' Dubya will be out of the White House pretty soon. But in the meantime, I think it's high time we stop bemoaning the fact that we have a juvenile power-mad redneck as our current President and start enjoying the privileges this affords us. After all, we may have been the most powerful nation in the world under Clinton, and sure, we may have even felt like the most powerful nation in the world under Clinton. But did we get to act like the most powerful nation in the world under Clinton? I think not, unless you take "like the most powerful nation in the world" to mean "diplomatically and reasonably." But that's not what having power is all about. Having power is about making the people who don't have power feel like they don't have power. So as long as Bush is pissing off every other country in the world to the point where our allies are taking to the streets and burning him in effigy, let's make the most of it. Since we already look like jerks, we might as well be jerks. It's time to tell the other nations of the world that we're not acting like this because we're stupid. We're acting like this because we can, dammit!

    Setting aside for a moment whether the disaffected college-age youths who were toppling the effigies represent "our allies" or not, I have to ask: Where's the honor in being in these countries' good graces?

    These are countries that, "represented" by their unelected delegations in the EU, thought that there might be something worth investigating about how 59% of their polling publics had concluded that Israel was the world's biggest threat to peace and how anti-Semitic attacks and slanderous hatred seem to be occurring at a rate not seen there since the late 1930s; so they commissioned a study to find out where all this Jew-hatred could possibly be coming from. Then, when the independent body returned its findings that the attacks were primarily being perpetrated by young immigrant Muslims, the EU in its infinite wisdom buried the report for fear of offending young immigrant Muslims. In other words, fuck the Jews-- they've had their moment of sympathy.

    And they call us the simplistic racists. Bunch of bloodthirsty, unrepentant, unreconstructed Nazis over there, the lot of them. (Or at least, 59% of them.) They haven't learned a goddamned thing from the past century.

    I don't want these people's approval.

    And I especially don't want them getting any ideas about "having power".

    Thursday, November 27, 2003
    00:19 - Now there's an undisclosed location

    Via Instapundit-- you just gotta love this...

    In a stunning mission conducted under enormous secrecy, President Bush flew into Baghdad today aboard Air Force One to have dinner with United States officials and a group of astonished American troops.

    His trip _ the first ever to Iraq by an American president _ had been kept a matter of absolute secrecy by the White House, which had said that he would be spending the Thanksgiving weekend at his ranch outside Crawford, Tex. . . .

    The presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, appearing on CNN, called it ``a perfectly executed plan'' that would be ``one of the major moments in his biography.'' It would have provided ``an incredible thrill'' for the American.

    Mr. Bush sneaked out of Crawford on Wednesday in an unmarked car, then flew to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where a few advisers and a small number of reporters sworn to secrecy joined him. They then flew on to Baghdad International Airport, arriving around dusk.


    "We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost of casualties, defeat a ruthless dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins," the president said, prompting a standing ovation and cheers.

    He also had a message for the people of Iraq: "The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone forever," he said, and pledged the help of the United States and its coalition partners, saying "we will stay until the job is done. I'm confident we will succeed."

    Wearing an exercise jacket with a 1st Armored Division patch, Bush stood in a chow line and dished out sweet potatoes and corn for Thanksgiving dinner and posed with a platter of fresh-baked turkey.

    It reads like a parody. If this were early April, I'd certainly be doing a double-take. But no, this is just the way it's done these days.

    First he does a tailhook landing on a carrier to show the flyboys that he's willing to undergo the same dangers that they do every day. Now he's following the flight-path of the DHL jet that got RPG'd on its approach a few days ago.

    One would have thought he'd tone down these stunts, under pressure from the Agent Smiths surrounding him. But noooo. I wonder if even Democratic Underground hates Bush as much as whatever hapless schmoe is responsible for directing this man's security does.

    But I'm sure it's all just an empty gesture, that all the soldiers see through to its hollow, shallow roots. Just politicking; just grandstanding, just baby-kissing.

    Whatever. You know what? These are epic times. Not just terrible, fearful times-- epic times. And I'm not complaining one bit that there's a guy in office who's willing to put some good things into this chapter of future history books to go along with the bad ones.

    Wednesday, November 26, 2003
    16:36 - Clippy's been de-res'ed!

    This is what happens when you run Microsoft Office and that Matrix screensaver on the same Windows machine, and they fight for the same piece of memory:

    Now if only I could simply stretch out my gloved hand and decompile Clippy into a vertical stream of unidentifiable amber ASCII characters, and hold him there until I squint behind my little oval sunglasses and with a barely perceptible gesture I break the loose bindings that hold his virtual entity together and he dissolves into the digital continuum...

    Monday, November 24, 2003
    18:06 - Dum dum dum dum dum

    By the way... I'm sure quite a few people saw last week's South Park episode, and I'm sure that the lesson it taught-- in light of the "Let's Make Fun of Islam (coughandalltheotherreligionstoocough)" episode that caused all the furor a Thursday or two ago-- was not lost on them.

    Namely, that this one made fun of the Mormons... for about 21 minutes. Then, in the final sixty seconds, Trey and Matt spun around and whapped the audience in the face with a two-by-four.

    You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls.

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we appreciate South Park so much. Yeah, anybody can make fun of the Mormons, say the duo (I believe Trey was brought up Mormon-- and hell, he's done it before). But it takes being willing to shake up the audience and alienate the people who are lulled into that dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-stupor to turn around and point out the obvious, practical, real-world significance of whatever topic they're skewering this week. The lesson, as always, is quit being such a dumbass, get your head out of the clouds, and come join us in the real world.

    And even without the turnaround at the end, in any case, I'd have a hard time imagining the Mormons getting up in arms over this episode. If they didn't do so over Trey's 1997 masterwork, they won't now.

    Though if Trey and Matt ever go after the Scientologists, now...

    11:29 - Now that's redwood

    Behold! The partially-finished deck.

    It's already serving a gallant purpose: providing a clean, level surface at the same level as the kitchen floor, so one can traverse the six feet to the hot tub without walking through mud or going down and up steps. It's all Thompsonized, too, and the water seal brings out that deep rich redness all the more. This deck rocks.

    It's going to rock all the more when the secondary, raised portion is done. All that's complete at the moment is part of the truss, but when it's finished, it'll be a quarter-circle jutting out over the planter box, where there will be a tree and lots of planted items. And it's 25 inches or so up off the ground. The vertical variation in this backyard is going to be what makes it cool. Especially once the sunken areas are done, with all their landscaping and flagstones and gazebos and things.

    It's really taking shape now...

    11:23 - I love it here

    Last night I finished the book and submitted the last five AR chapters.

    And just as I'm ready to step blinking back out into the sunlight, I discover that it's November. How the hell did that happen?

    Now I have to wear a jacket when I walk Capri at 2:00 AM. But as I pass the long open swath where the power lines are strung, I can hear the weird yelping howl of coyotes, howlign all night somewhere up in the Almaden Valley. If I listen, I can even hear them from my bedroom window.

    Right here in the middle of Silicon Valley, and I can hear coyotes from my house.

    November or not, I love this place.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2003
    17:42 - Speechifying

    I know it's difficult to judge how good an orator a given President is by the content of any particular speech, because they're all written by hired teams of wordsmiths, and the President is just the vehicle (right?).

    But part of me just likes believing that Bush wrote stuff like this himself:

    It was pointed out to me that the last noted American to visit London stayed in a glass box dangling over the Thames. (Laughter.) A few might have been happy to provide similar arrangements for me. (Laughter.) I thank Her Majesty the Queen for interceding. (Laughter.) We're honored to be staying at her house.

    Americans traveling to England always observe more similarities to our country than differences. I've been here only a short time, but I've noticed that the tradition of free speech -- exercised with enthusiasm -- (laughter) -- is alive and well here in London. We have that at home, too. They now have that right in Baghdad, as well. (Applause.)

    And that's just the start. There are plenty more "(Laughter)"s before the piece is out.

    11:34 - One for the ages

    Via Cold Fury-- this is quite possibly the funniest damned thing I've seen all month: a story related by Porphyrogenitus' uncle in Iraq.

    A squad of Marines were driving up the highway between Basra and Baghdad. They came upon an Iraqi soldier badly injured and unconscious.

    Nearby, on the opposite side of the road, was an American Marine in a similar but less serious state. The Marine was conscious and alert.

    As first aid was given to both men, the Marine was asked what had happened. The Marine reported; “I was heavily armed and moving north along the highway. Coming south was a heavily armed Iraqi soldier.”

    “What happened then?” the corpsman asked.

    “I yelled to him that Saddam Hussein was a miserable ass hole, and he yelled back: ‘Tom Daschle, Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton are miserable ass holes’.

    “We were standing there shaking hands when a truck hit us.”

    Beauty, eh?

    11:04 - Why I fear for the future of a great ally

    From The Guardian's page of letters from what seem to be deliciously cherry-picked celebrity sources to George W. Bush on the occasion of his arrival in Britain:

    Dear George,

    I would just like to say how much I hate you. You have done nothing positive in your whole time as president. You are the reason for the poverty in the Middle East. You have no idea what you are doing. You're killing loads of people, and that is not excluding your own nation too. There are still lots of very poor people in America, and they are getting poorer.

    You keep making excuses about Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, but all you were in Iraq for was the oil. Saddam had been there for 30 years, so why is it only now you decided to act? You keep talking about September 11 when all you do is bomb other countries and give Israel lots of money. It is a very bad idea that you have come over here.

    I don't want to grow up in a country which is so influenced by you and your policies.
    Mickey (12)

    How goddamned sad is that?

    UPDATE: Oh, and the last time I saw something like this, it was on the Ar-Rahman list.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2003
    00:17 - What a turkey sandwich was truly meant to be



    16:36 - NIMBY

    So at what point do we declare that the second Kristallnacht has occurred?

    Obviously Jewish high schools or the Israeli embassy in France getting torched hasn't qualified. Nor has all the anti-Semitic graffiti at Rutgers and other enlightened universities, or on WWI memorials in France.

    So how about the Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute getting firebombed and burned to the ground?

    The last fifty years have been but an uneasy respite, everybody. Round Two is upon us.

    Monday, November 17, 2003
    09:58 - Look what's done

    Here's what we finished this weekend.


    The deck's in two sections (so far-- a third, raised one will straddle the planter box where it sweeps diagonally across the left segment), and we did the first one Saturday and the other one yesterday. The first one-- directly between the hot tub and the door-- was just a simple rectangular truss, which we bracketed down onto the beams footed in concrete. The other piece, though, was more complex-- sort of a "U" shape, which we partially constructed on top of the hot tub, then moved into position, and then held up at a twisty oblique angle-- huffing and puffing-- by one of us while the other fired in deck screws at a rate that would make one think what it would be like if Legolas were a carpenter.

    Then a generous slathering of Thompson's, and then some planks laid down so Capri can get out into the yard without breaking his legs. (He has not been happy with the recent developments in his backyard. It'll get better soon, trust me...)

    Just another couple of days' worth of work, and the planking will be down. And oh, what a psychological coup that will be.

    09:38 - Braaaaaaiiiins

    Okay... so like, I was up till well past 4:00 AM last night doing author review on the most hideously mutant chapter ever-- a combination of three previously submitted chapters, which I had to stitch together with new text and illustrations and somehow form into a coherent whole. I don't remember any of it, so I may or may not have been successful. Either way, I haven't had much sleep this weekend at all. As you'll probably hear once I get a certain post written.

    So if anybody needs me, I'll... uh, be right here pretending I feel like a normal human being.

    Saturday, November 15, 2003
    13:46 - Oh, that evidence

    You know... it seems to me that the administration could have saved itself an awful lot of grief by simply releasing information like this before its entire integrity was called into question.

    Friday, November 14, 2003
    10:55 - Enough old-food mockery to go 'round

    This lady soooo wants to be Lileks.

    Reading it is like reading Cracked magazine when your subscription to MAD has run out, but even Cracked had the occasional funny morsel.

    ...Okay, no, it didn't. But this site is good for a chuckle or three.

    Thursday, November 13, 2003
    11:24 - How To Do It

    Wesley Clark's going to show us all up by catching Osama bin Laden.

    Alan: Hello children!

    Jackie: Hello!

    Wesley: Hello!

    GC: Hello!

    Alan: Well, last week we showed you how to be a gynaecologist, and this week on "How to do it", we're gonna learn how to play the flute, how to split the atom, how to construct box-girder bridges...

    Jackie: Super!

    Alan: ...and how to catch the notorious terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, but first here's Jackie to tell you how to rid the world of all known diseases.

    Jackie: Hello Alan!

    Alan: Hello Jackie!

    Jackie: Well first of all, become a doctor and discover a marvellous cure for something and then, when the medical world really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right, so that there'll never be diseases anymore.

    Alan: Thanks Jackie, that was great!

    GC: Fantastic!

    Alan: Now, how to play the flute. Well, you blow in one end and move your fingers up and down the outside.

    GC: Great Alan! Now, we have Wesley, who will tell us how to catch Osama bin Laden!

    Wesley: Right-- you talk to the Saudis, and you pressure them to jolly well help us out, and then we take their crack Saudi commandos to where Osama is hiding out on the Pakistani border and we run up and catch him!

    GC: That's just wonderful, Wesley! Well, next week we'll be showing you how black and white people can live together in peace and harmony and Alan will be over in Moscow showing you how to reconcile the Russians and the Chinese. Till then, cheerio!

    Alan: Bye!

    Jackie: Bye bye!

    Wesley: Bye!

    GC: Bye!

    Wednesday, November 12, 2003
    17:46 - Ladies and Gentlemen, the Loyal Opposition

    1. Read.
    2. Weep.

    NEW YORK--Dear Recruit:

    Thank you for joining the Iraqi resistance forces. You have been issued an AK-47 rifle, rocket-propelled grenade launcher and an address where you can pick up supplies of bombs and remote-controlled mines. Please let your cell leader know if you require additional materiel for use against the Americans.

    You are joining a broad and diverse coalition dedicated to one principle: Iraq for Iraqis. Our leaders include generals of President Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s secular government as well as fundamentalist Islamists. We are Sunni and Shia, Iraqi and foreign, Arab and Kurdish. Though we differ on what kind of future our country should have after liberation and many of us suffered under Saddam, we are fighting side by side because there is no dignity under the brutal and oppressive jackboot of the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority or their Vichyite lapdogs on the Governing Council, headed by embezzler Ahmed Chalabi.

    Because we destroyed our weapons of mass destruction, we were unable to defend ourselves against the American invasion. This was their plan all along. Now our only option is guerilla warfare: we must kill as many Americans as possible at a minimum risk to ourselves. As the Afghan resistance to the Soviets and the Americans' own revolution against our former colonial masters the British have proven, it will only be a matter of time before the U.S. occupation forces become demoralized. As casualties and expenditures rise, the costs will outweigh the economic and political benefits of occupation. Soon the American public will note that the anticipated five-year price tag of $500 billion, with a probable loss of some 4,000 lives and 10,000 wounded, is not a reasonable price to pay to get our 2.5 million barrels of oil flowing to the West each month. This net increase, of just 0.23 percent of total OPEC (news - web sites) production, will not reduce U.S. gasoline prices. At an average of 35 attacks each day, an hour does not pass without an American soldier coming under fire somewhere in Iraq. Ultimately the American public will pressure their leaders to withdraw their harried troops from our country.

    It is inevitable. Our goal is to make that day come sooner rather than later.

    This from Ted Rall, who if you questioned his patriotism would fly into a fury.

    What is the matter with these people?

    (Via Emperor Misha I.)

    UPDATE: Oh yes, and lest I neglect to point it out, this was written on Veterans' Day. I'd been expecting to see throngs of brain-donors staging their usual anti-war protests against the veterans' parades, but I guess they were too smart to pick a fight with a bunch of people who had been trained in various forms of unarmed combat. Pity.

    However, Rall's thing is, if anything, worse.

    Tuesday, November 11, 2003
    16:56 - Talk about "embedded journalists"

    Via LGF:


    Maybe we should sic our own reporters on them and have 'em duke it out.

    Operation Desert Fox™ for real this time!

    13:20 - "I invented homeland security"

    After reading the text of the Gore speech (at Aziz's suggestion), yes, I acknowledge the many explicit details he outlines regarding the Patriot Act and its political overtones. But you know... I noticed something else about this speech. Namely, that it's probably not quite what MoveOn.org was expecting; their lavish praise of it (which is mostly what I was pointing at in my earlier post) has to have followed a few sideling glances and furrowed brows from those in the audience.

    Gore's stance, in a nutshell, is that our efforts at shoring up homeland security are insufficient. That the moves we've made are secretive at best (if we give them the benefit of the doubt) and, at worst, smack of the gulag. His biggest beef is with the search-and-seizure and arrest-without-trial parts of the Patriot Act.

    And you know, he's not going to get a whole helluva lot of argument from me on that. I don't like those parts of the Patriot Act any more than the next guy. A case can be made for their necessity in a shadow war, yes, and it's been pointed out that the infamous "library records snooping" clause that Gore flashes for the camera has never actually been invoked. But still, that's small comfort for the civil libertarians in the audience.

    But that's just it. Gore's speech is designed to appeal to those for whom civil liberties and security are both paramount goals, and seeks to find a better balance between them than what's currently on the books.

    Where Civil Liberties are concerned, they have taken us much farther down the road toward an intrusive, “Big Brother”-style government – toward the dangers prophesized by George Orwell in his book “1984” – than anyone ever thought would be possible in the United States of America.

    Hmm. Anti-big-government. Anti-Big-Brother. Anti-Orwellian-Nation.

    Sounds to me like he's more conservative than Bush in this speech.

    I don't know what MoveOn.org initially thought of this speech-- obviously they lapped it up, because it was delivered in front of them directly, and was a broadside straight at Bush. But they must have realized at some point that what they were applauding was a libertarian's call-to-arms... not the self-blaming, dictator-supporting, Stalin-apologist agenda that's at the corner of the International-ANSWER-style Left that's usually so well represented at MoveOn.org.

    This is why I think the 2004 election is going to be so interesting. To beat Bush, the Democrats are going to have to find ammo that will serve them. The economy apparently is no longer in their quiver. Iraq is not gaining traction as enough of a "failure" for the American people to blame Bush for it. What's left? Security and individual liberty... and in order to beat Bush, the Democrats have to effectively be better at both of those things than the Republicans are.

    Can they stump for smaller, less invasive government and better, more effective security against terrorism without selling out the entire rest of their statist, centralist platform? Can they pursue these goals without, in effect, becoming Republicans?

    10:40 - Dissension amid the cabal?

    So, conspiracy-mongers: the Joozineks control all media and politics, and rule the world by proxy, right? And Bush is just a puppet on strings fighting a client war for Sharon against all his Arab neighbors? And all wealthy Jews are a part of the secret cult that directs the world's finances and keeps America rich, the Middle East poor, and the Republicans in power?

    Well, then-- what to do about George Soros' $15.5 million in donations to MoveOn.org and others, intended to oust Bush?

    Is Soros cruising to get his ass busted down by the International Zionist Conspiracy? Or is this all just part of some evil scheme that's just too complex for mere mortals to comprehend?

    Soros has the right to give his money to whomever he wants to (Campaign Finance Reform Act notwithstanding). But you know... that's the point, isn't it?

    Monday, November 10, 2003
    15:38 - The Easily Impressed Orphans

    MoveOn.org calls this speech by Al Gore "remarkable":

    "I want to challenge the Bush Administration’s implicit assumption that we have to give up many of our traditional freedoms in order to be safe from terrorists.

    Because it is simply not true.

    In fact, in my opinion, it makes no more sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get at terrorists than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get at Osama Bin Laden.

    In both cases, the Administration has attacked the wrong target.

    In both cases they have recklessly put our country in grave and unnecessary danger, while avoiding and neglecting obvious and much more important challenges that would actually help to protect the country.

    In both cases, the administration has fostered false impressions and misled the nation with superficial, emotional and manipulative presentations that are not worthy of American Democracy.

    In both cases they have exploited public fears for partisan political gain and postured themselves as bold defenders of our country while actually weakening not strengthening America."

    According to MoveOn.org, Gore was "not mincing words". Well, if he's trying to make Religious Reich salsa, he's going to have to mince these words a little bit finer, because I don't see anything "remarkable" or "damning" or even "new" here. Just more expansive rhetoric about all the freedoms we've given up, though I've yet to hear anybody actually be able to name one way in which Americans are less free than we were before 9/11. I guess Gore must have listed some in his speech (the e-mail links to a streaming webcast version of it, which I'm not going to waste time watching), but MoveOn.org doesn't seem to have seen fit to have listed any in this call-to-arms-- preferring instead to use this vague and spurious digest, with its implicit assumptions of decimated civil liberties, as its above-the-fold banner.

    The rest of the e-mail encapsulating it fairly pees on itself with glee over how amazing the speech was. Guys, just a note... the more you do this, the more people look at you with pity rather than with sympathy.

    Sunday, November 9, 2003
    01:41 - Who is this moron?

    As I was driving to the movie, NPR was airing some guy in a darkened soundstage reading headlines off a sheet of paper and reciting their details in as snarky a tone as possible. I have no idea who this joker was, because there was no station ID or anything in the fifteen minutes that my radio was tuned to him... but I'd love to know if he was someone I should have known about beforehand. Sunday evening, 7:00-8:00 hour? San Jose area, KQED?

    He started out by reading the usual encouraging news about chaos and disorder in Iraq, reading all the administration's statements in Epsilon-minus voices, and peppering it with his own recommendation, which was "Get our troops back home, right now. But hey, that's just me." Great. Noted.

    He went on to talk about "some stories of our Homeland Security forces on the march," which I thought were going to be lurid reports of our Ashcroftian Gestapo running amok and arresting shopkeepers and filmmakers on flimsy pretenses. But no... as a matter of fact, the most heinous story he came up with was a group of police who had been hired to guard a Texas power plant against possible terrorist activity. Instead, it turns out the cops had spent their shifts-- for the better part of a year-- fishing in a pond at the facility. This clown read the story and its unfolding details-- the cops kept fishing even after they'd been ordered to stop, they covered for their colleagues who wanted to fish-- against a backdrop of mocking music and in a tone of deep puffed-up indignation, except where he read the police chief's statement in a know-nothing Texan accent, even though the statement itself (talking about how the department is very disappointed in the actions of its officers and will take whatever corrective means are necessary) was completely unimpeachable in its content.

    He then also noted a story about how security guards at Lawrence Livermore Labs had lost a set of keys, and now they'll have to change all the locks. "'Because of redundant security systems, the increase to risk of security breach is minimal; and in any case there is no evidence of a security breach.' Yeah, well, how would they know?" Great. Real insightful commentary there, whoever you are.

    Then he switched gears, moving on to making fun of Fox, who had just announced criminal prosecution against an employee who circulated an e-mail containing the salaries of all the upper-level employees. His tone was, "Those dastardly power-grubbing executives! How dare they-- who do they think they are, treating this simple e-mail as cause for criminal prosecution?" Never mind the fact that this kind of incident would be grounds for termination and possibly prosecution at any company, but the fact that it was Fox... now, damn. That's comedy gold!

    He proceeded to read an apology e-mail sent out by the execs to the employees, which apologized for the distraction caused by the original e-mail and its consequences; but of course, this was worth mocking, so he played that "I'm so sorry" song in the background.

    "The company said it feared that the e-mail would spark a storm of executives asking to renegotiate their salaries, in light of the information contained in the e-mail. Oh, now we all know executives would never do something like that!"

    By this stage I was in the parking lot and he still hadn't announced his name, so I shut off the car in disgust. What is this? Who decided this was insightful commentary? Whose idea was it to give this guy, whoever he is, an hour-long slot on Sunday prime-time on NPR?

    The way he was going, he'd have sneered over reports of a low-pressure system moving into the area if he could have somehow blamed the Republicans.

    UPDATE: Harry Shearer? Dear God, nooooo...

    I swear, Hollywood's starting to look like the end of the 70s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    Thursday, November 6, 2003
    17:49 - Oh.

    I'd wondered why, in all the back-and-forth over whether Pvt. Jessica Lynch had been tormented while in captivity in Iraq, or whether she had been expertly cared for until the 'Merican stormtroopers burst in firing blanks while the cameramen filmed, Lynch herself had never said a word about what had happened.

    Well, now she has an authorized biography out, so I guess we know.

    "Jessi lost three hours," Bragg wrote. "She lost them in the snapping bones, in the crash of the Humvee, in the torment her enemies inflicted on her after she was pulled from it."

    The scars on Lynch's battered body and the medical records indicate she was anally raped, and "fill in the blanks of what Jessi lived through on the morning of March 23, 2003," Bragg wrote.

    "The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage, or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead."

    But, after all, it's just "filling in the blanks". So expect Indymedia and DU to leap to the fore with the charges of conspiracy and propaganda.

    It does fill in an awful lot of blanks, though.

    (Via LGF.)

    11:05 - Sanity spreads

    Fawaz Turki, writing in the Arab News, says he was wrong all along to oppose the war in Iraq.

    Is it too early to adopt a revisionist view of the US war in Iraq and for this column to admit its mistake in having vehemently opposed it from the outset?

    At issue here is whether the Iraqi people have benefited from the overthrow of the Baathist regime and whether the American occupation will eventually benefit their country even more. I’m convinced — and berate me here from your patriotic bleachers, if you must — that what we have seen in the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates in recent months may turn out to be the most serendipitous event in its modern history.

    Let the fatwas ring forth. But you know... sometimes all it takes is a single voice to be raised, for others to realize that it's okay. Someone has to be the first.

    Via InstaPundit, who also links to this post at Healing Iraq which is as worthy of a read as that "Andrea vs. Mohammad" radio clip from March was.

    First, I have to explain to some western idealists that public demonstrations is an alien idea to the majority of Iraqis. We have been forced to demonstrate in favour of Saddam, the Ba'ath, Palestine, and Arab nationalism for 3 decades. Just to give you an idea on how that was like for us; party members would surround colleges, schools, and govt. offices. They block all outlets and shove people into buses which head to wherever the demonstrations are to be held. You simply cannot refuse to demonstrate. I remember hiding in the toilet back in high school whenever the buses came into the park to herd us to the demos. It wasn't a pleasant experience I can tell you. Once I got stuck and had to shout anti-imperialist slogans at one of these rallies just two years ago. You don't have the slightest idea of what it is like to live your life daily in fear.

    Now today, we are facing terrorist and violent threats against our nurseries, schools, colleges, hospitals, clinics, oil pipelines, power stations, water purification systems, and other civilian facilities. If you think that a peaceful demonstration would deter those criminals from doing harm to us, then you are 100% wrong. Do you think the Syrians/Saudis/Iranians/Yemenis/Sudanese would simply say 'Oh look, the Iraqis don't want us there, lets go home and leave the Americans and Iraqis work it out'? Or if you think we should go out and face the dangers just to prove to you -paranoid Americans sitting in your ivory towers watching tv- that we do not support the terrorists, then you are wrong again.

    You see a handful of teenagers dancing in front of the camera celebrating dead Americans, and you judge an entire people, you start whining about pulling the troops out of Iraq and giving the Iraqis what they deserve. Are you people really so close-minded? It is the fault of your news agencies that show you what they want, its certainly not ours. If you want us to go out and cry for your dead soldiers and wave American flags, then don't count on it either. We are losing way too many innocent Iraqis daily to be grieving over dead soldiers who have actually made a decision to come here. What about the thousands of dead Iraqis who were not as lucky to have a choice? Did you cry for them?

    Sooner or later it will dawn on the Left that they've grown so complacent about the assumption that they speak for the "common man" and are "open-minded", that they've become the elitists who heap contempt upon the average Joe and suck up powdered propaganda through the nose.

    10:48 - Blood Money

    So I was all set to write some snarky post about how NPR should turn down the $200 million gift they just received-- from the widow of Ray Kroc, the McDonald's magnate. Sure, it's enough money to run the network for like two years... but it's money that comes from that bastion of evil American corporate imperialism, carrying our filthy culture into places that don't want it (like Jordan, where they lined up literally for miles outside the door when the first Golden Arches opened).

    But, of course, Scrappleface is way ahead of me.

    Dammit, I just get up too late in the morning.

    Tuesday, November 4, 2003
    13:01 - This here's what America's all about

    'Tis the season, it seems, to Fisk poetry, or at least overanalyze it. And as I was driving in to work this morning, Weird Al's "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"-- long one of my favorite songs of his-- suddenly seemed to be a lot more microcosmic of some bigger archetype than I'd really figured before. It's an immensely silly song, yes, but it's as apt an encapsulation of what really drives all us warmongering, inbred, proselytizing, overfed, unsophisticated cowboys to do the things we do as any other piece of popular media that's a product of its cultural environment.

    Well, I had two weeks of vacation time coming
    After working all year down at Big Roy's Heating And Plumbing

    Not a rock star or a movie god, just a regular Joe in a workaday job. What has he accomplished? What has he contributed to society? Well, maybe he hasn't built dams or designed moon rockets, but this is a guy who does his job because it's his duty-- and whatever he makes from it no doubt goes into his family and his house, his own little corner of America that he's helping build.

    So one night when my family the I were gathered 'round the dinner table
    I said, "Kids, if you could go anywhere in this great big world, now
    Where'd you like to go ta?"
    They said, "Dad, we wanna see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"
    They picked the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    ...And yet he lives all year for that vacation. And what does he plan to do on his two weeks off? Sit on the couch and eat pork rinds and watch golf? Lie in the hammock and swat mosquitoes? Nope-- his plans center on his family. It's all about the wife and kids, and what they might enjoy. And if they pick something he wants to do too, well, hey-- bonus!

    So the very next day we loaded up the car
    With potato skins and pickled wieners,
    Crossword puzzles, Spider-Man comics, and mama's homemade rhubarb pie
    Pulled out of the driveway and the neighbors, they all waved good-bye
    And so began our three day journey

    Packed to the gills with snack foods and popular media. More than just creating a semblance of homelike comfort while on the road, they're indulging. This is a time to celebrate.

    I used to think, by the way, that the waving neighbors were a relic of a time long past. But at the new house, well-- our neighbors would wave.

    We picked up a guy holding a sign that said "twine ball or bust"
    He smelled real bad and he said his name was Bernie

    You never turn away someone who shares your common goals.

    I put in a Slim Whitman tape, my wife put on a brand new hair net
    Kids were in the back seat jumping up and down,
    yelling "Are we there yet?"
    And all of us were joined together in one common thought
    As we rolled down the long and winding interstate in our '53 DeSota
    We're gonna see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    We're headin' for the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    It's a kooky combination of Route 66 retro and modern suburbia. Of course the whole song's a paean to Americana, but the setting in time and space is deliberately left vague-- the family's stuck in the Leave It to Beaver 50s, while at the same time evidently living in a world of car tape decks and diet sodas. (This song dates from the early 80s, remember.) And kids being annoying in the back seat is as timeless as the interstate that leads to Wally World.

    Oh, we couldn't wait to get there
    So we drove straight through for three whole days and nights
    Of course, we stopped for more pickled wieners now and then

    Once you've got the goal in mind, you don't stop or get distracted. But there's always time to feed the economy with snack-food consumption.

    The scenery was just so pretty, boy I wish the kids could've seen it
    But you can't see out of the side of the car
    Because the windows are completely covered
    With the decals of all the place where we've already been

    There's Elvis-O-Rama, the Tupperware Museum,
    The Boll Weevil Monument, and Cranberry World,
    The Shuffleboard Hall Of Fame, Poodle Dog Rock,
    And The Mecca of Albino Squirrels
    We've been to ghost towns, theme parks, wax museums,
    And a place where you can drive through the middle of a tree
    We've seen alligator farms and tarantula ranches,
    But there's still one thing we gotta see

    All immensely silly places, but they may as well have been real (some were). Why go to these things? Because they're cool. Where do you think memories come from? It's all so inconsequential, so futile, so false-- but it's all a part of a shared national hallucination that coalesces into something that's all the stronger for it. When a people has this much leisure time, and yet worries at it with such gusto as to find attractions like these to go to and spend their money, it's not decadence, as some accuse-- it's the opposite of decadence. It's the raising of the banal to epic heights. It's the lust for life. It's the feeling-- nay, the conviction-- that while the past may make for good postcards and window decals, the best days always lie ahead.

    Shame about that scenery, though.

    Well, we crossed the state line about 6:39
    And we saw a sign that said "Twine Ball exit - 50 miles"
    Oh, the kids were so happy the started singing
    "99 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall" for the 27th time that day

    Another timeless classic. As is the obsessive need to time the trip and track the mileage-- "Are We There Yet?" for the grownups. Because obviously the dad's as big a kid as the ones in the back seat.

    So, we pulled off the road at the last chance gas station
    Got a few more pickled wieners and a diet chocolate soda
    On our way to see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    We're gonna see the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    Better make sure it's "diet", to cancel out all those wieners and pie. Charmingly naïve.

    But here's where we get to the real crux of the thing: the narrowing of perspective, the raising of something so provincial and pointless to the stature of a religious experience:

    Finally, at 7:37 early Wednesday evening as the sun was setting
    in the Minnesota sky
    Out in the distance, on the horizon, it appeared to me like a vision
    before my unbelieving eyes
    I parked the car and walked with awe-filled reverence towards that
    glorious huge majestic sphere
    I was just so overwhelmed by its sheer immensity,
    I had to pop myself a beer
    Yes, on these hallowed grounds, open ten to eight on weekdays,
    in a little shrine under a makeshift pagoda,
    There sits the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    I tell you, it's the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    Even a holy place charges admission-- and that's okay. There's nothing else in the world that matters. This is vacation time; this is the one little break and reward we give ourselves for a year of uncomplaining labor, and by God we're going to make it worth remembering. We may not be able to change the world in our spare time, but we can at least enjoy the living daylights out of it.

    Oh, what on earth would make a man decide to do that kind of thing?
    Oh, windin' up twenty-one thousand, one hundred forty pounds of string
    What was he trying to prove? Who was he trying to impress?
    Why did he build it? How did he do it? It's anybody's guess
    Where did he get the twine? What was goin' through his mind?
    Did it just seem like a good idea at the time?

    Do you really have to ask? Because he could.

    And that kind of dedication you've just gotta admire.

    Well, we walked up beside it and I warned the kids
    "Now, you better not touch it, those ropes are there for a reason"
    I said, "Maybe if you're good, I'll tie it to the back of our car
    and we can take it home", but I was only teasin'
    Then we went to the gift shop and stood in line
    Bought a souvenir miniature ball of twine, some window decals,
    and anything else they'd sell us
    And we bought a couple postcards, "Greetings from the Twine Ball,
    wish you were here"
    Won't the folks back home be jealous?

    Suddenly it all drops back down to Disneyland mode. It's still sacred ground, but now there's moychandising, moychandising. And good for it, too; these guys aren't buying knickknacks and postcards out of a feeling of obligation, but because they genuinely want to remember this experience. Now, it's left sort of open-ended whether the song portrays the whole family's honest emotions, or just this dopey dad and his rose-colored and inscrutable obsession with Americana that the family just indulges him in, for the sake of blessed family unity. But for all intents and purposes, it's all genuine.

    I gave our camera to Bernie and we stood by the ball
    And we all gathered 'round and said, "Cheese"
    The Bernie ran away with my brand new Instamatic,
    but at least we got our memories

    Aw! That's what you get for trusting people. I'll bet they pick up another hitchhiker on the way back home, though.

    Then we all just stared at the ball for a while and my eyes got moist,
    but I said with a smile, "Kids, this here's what America's all about"
    Then I started feelin' kinda gooey inside and I fell on my knees
    and I cried and cried
    And that's when those security guards threw us out

    Now then, now then. It won't do to get too sentimental over this, now would it? Yet when it comes to paying your respects to something you believe in, there's no limit to the lengths to which you'll go.

    You know, I bet if we unravelled that sucker,
    It'd roll all the way down to Fargo, North Dakota
    'Cause it's the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota
    I'm talkin' 'bout the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    And it'd probably reach all the way back to here, too.

    Well, we stayed that night at the Twine Ball Inn
    In the morning we were on our way home again
    But we really didn't want to leave, that was perfectly clear
    I said, "Folks, I can tell you're all sad to go"
    Then I winked my eye and I said, "You know, I got a funny kind of feelin'
    we'll be comin' back again next year"
    'Cause I've been all around this great big world
    And I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather go to
    Than the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota
    I said the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota

    And in the end, though, it all comes back around to the kids. Whether it has any bearing on reality or not, nothing makes this guy's day more than to see his kids bouncing in glee. And really, that's what makes the Twine Ball such a spiritual destination: sure, it's worth nothing. No symbol has any value, in and of itself. But you can never foretell just what power can grow up around a symbol, or what associations people will form with it. With luck, a symbol's fame and meaning grow, spread, expand beyond its own provincial borders-- and before you know it, people flock to it, though they don't even know why. Money changes hands. Memories are forged. And wealth is created.

    These are the foundations of a nation that's so secure in its own existence, its own petty leisure pursuits, that it is willing to dash itself to bits when called upon to save the world. The more ridiculous our diversions are and the more ease in which we live our lives, oddly, the harder we're willing to fight to keep from giving any of it up.

    That's the dichotomy that repeatedly confuses the rest of the world about America, while at the same time defining us. And it only looks like a contradiction if you don't live here.

    11:17 - Oh my flippin' gawd

    Via LGF, Tariq Ali spins quite a yarn in The Guardian:

    Few can deny that Iraq under US occupation is in a much worse state than it was under Saddam Hussein. There is no reconstruction. There is mass unemployment. Daily life is a misery, and the occupiers and their puppets cannot provide even the basic amenities of life. The US doesn't even trust the Iraqis to clean their barracks, and so south Asian and Filipino migrants are being used. This is colonialism in the epoch of neo-liberal capitalism, and so US and "friendly" companies are given precedence. Even under the best circumstances, an occupied Iraq would become an oligarchy of crony capitalism, the new cosmopolitanism of Bechtel and Halliburton.

    The Iraqi maquis have weakened George Bush's position in the US and enabled Democrat politicians to criticise the White House, with Howard Dean daring to suggest a total US withdrawal within two years. Even the bien pensants who opposed the war but support the occupation and denounce the resistance know that without it they would have been confronted with a triumphalist chorus from the warmongers. Most important, the disaster in Iraq has indefinitely delayed further adventures in Iran and Syria.

    Got that? No reconstruction. Misery. Worse than it was under Saddam. And the guys who blow up the UN building and the Red Cross are the maquis to Bush's Hitler.

    This is a hugely widely-read paper in Britain. Yet facts evidently are not welcome there.

    But people like Tariq Ali are:

    Ditching the Labour Party he embraced Leninism, becoming a leader of the International Marxist Group (IMG). "One can see," he said then, "that we shall once again see (workers') Soviets in Europe in the 70s".

    So: when people talk about how America is trying to defend those quaint little notions like "freedom" and "democracy", and people sneer at them to say that those ideas are under no threat in today's postmodern enlightened world... um, guys? Hello? Right under your nose?

    God, this makes me mad.

    How many American soldiers and political victims of brutal regimes will have died in this century alone, only for us to blithely throw away all the fruits of our hard-won hundred-year victory and invite the enemy in to sit at our table?

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    © Brian Tiemann