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April 30, 2004

No more film cameras.... EVER!

First off, 10 points to whomever gets the reference in the headline. Second, it's apparently not safe to take for film to Walgreen's or anywhere else to be developed. A man's bare chest got film trashed at Walgreen's, and the Meijer chain is apparently calling the cops at the first sign of any nudity. Ratting customers out--now that's the way to beat Wal-Mart.

And whom do we have to thank for this? The American Family Association. Grrrrr.

Jesus is my gardner

This is a weird article in Salon. Well, not so much the first two-thirds about a high-level EPA official deciding she just couldn't take being a party to Bush's rape and pillage approach to the environment, but the last page about organized Christianity's disgust at just that.

Specifically, I was intrigued by the description of an Earth Day letter from a group of ministers claiming to represent 2 million Christians:

Citing the Bible's directive to "defend the poor and the orphan; do justice to the afflicted and the needy (Psalms 82:3)," the letter sings the gospel of environmental justice, noting that clean-air policy changes have the greatest impact on "those least able to defend themselves" -- namely, "[p]oor people, who have limited access to health care; senior citizens, who may have compromised immune systems; and children, who pound for pound breathe 50 percent more air pollution than adults."

What's notable about the effort is not just its attention to policy detail, but its direct assault on what Bush's supporters (and Bush himself) frequently cite as his core strength: an unswerving moral rectitude derived from Christian faith.

NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar put it this way: "President Bush has said that moral values are the cornerstone of his administration. But as a person of faith, I question whether the president fully understands his moral commitment. I'm concerned that he is failing to protect God's children."

I was afraid maybe it was going to wind up being middle of the country Christians against pretty much everyone else, but maybe that's still an audience that could be won. I'm hoping Kerry works this one well. It seems like it might be a good wedge.

Jesus is my political advisor

This article on Bush's religious beliefs is so full of good targets, I'm not going to comment further. Just let it speak for itself.

Better off under Saddam?

The Iraqis in these horribly disturbing pictures probably were better off before the Americans arrived. Wow... I'm proud to be an American looking at these. And you have to figure for every outrage like this that comes to light there are 10 more we don't know about. Because of course the US media can't discuss these things. (God bless the Memory Hole.) What's worse, "private military contractors" (read: mercenaries) are doing far worse things with impunity, because nobody on the ground in Iraq can decide who has jurisdiction. (We'll know it is really here the day the government starts blocking the Guardian's website.)

One thing you can be sure of... the Iraqi raped by a PMC isn't making a big distinction between uniformed military and Pentagon contractor. In his terrified, dehumanized eyes it's just another American. We're creating terrorists wholesale in Iraq, making true the fatuous lies W told to get us there in the first place.

Geeks do it smarter

Larry and Sergey are about to be billionaires, and I think that's great. Google is a great company with a service that has changed the way people think about and interact with information and knowledge. The founders also want to change the way investors think of IPOs and corporate management. They won't give quarterly guidance, so as not to be tempted to make short-term decisions or cook the books like so many executives have. Their stock will be strcutured to maintain voting control with a core group (much like Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, which has delivered amazing returns over the years). "A management team distracted by a series of short-term targets is as pointless as a dieter stepping on a scale every half-hour," wrote co-founder Larry Page in a letter that accompanied the offer statement.

Most notably, the IPO is designed to prevent the excesses of the 1990s bubble including "flipping," by relying on a kind of reverse auction that will likely prevent a dramatic first-day rise.

Too many tech startups have foundered as the people who were so smart about the tech failed to understand business. It is Page and Brin's wisdom about business that makes me optimistic about the company's long-term success. As Google gets a stock-inflated wallet to match its big brains, Microsoft will have a real fight on its hands. And that will be good for everyone, including our friends in Redmond.

April 29, 2004

Mean Girls

OK, OK, I know this doesn't really belong in this category... but. Everyone made fun of me Sunday at Paulette's for wanting to see "Mean Girls." Well, hello?! SNL's peerless (and sexy) Tina Fey wrote the screenplay. If it's half as good as her work on Weekend Update, it will be well worth the ticket price. She's one of the smartest, sassiest comedians out there, with a very wise feminist slant... maybe if more people paid attention to the politics of high school women wouldn't get to college thinking feminism is a dirty word. It's based on a well-reviewed nonfiction book titled "Queen Bees & Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence."

How do you solve a problem like Maria?

Maria's income disparity, that is. Or her lack of access to the best healthcare? Or her desire to have enough information to make informed choices about her reproductive health options?

You pretend those issues don't exist.

Scenesters take on Bush

I was a little bit heartened by this article in The Stranger today. Maybe one good effect Bush will have will be to galvanize support of the non-crazy elements of society to take back the country.

What "it" looks like

Dahlia Lithwick's coverage of yesterday's SCOTUS hearings of the Hamdi and Padilla cases is nothing short of excellent. And Hamdi's public defender, Frank Dunham, is my new hero. You need to read the article, listen to clips, and read Fred Korematsu's amicus brief that references the experience of Japanese Americans interned in WWII.

Lithwick starts with the question that should be keeping us all up at night:

How you feel about the indefinite military detentions of Yaser Esam Hamdi and Jose Padilla will turn largely on what you think life will look like when it starts. By "it," I mean the moment at which fundamental liberties are curtailed by well-meaning governments and the legal system becomes unable to offer relief. Never having seen "it" happen in my lifetime, I'm hardly an expert. German Jews who survived the Holocaust will tell you that it's hard to know at exactly which instant you've crossed the line into "it."

The endangered specied act sleeps with the fishes

One of these days, I'll be driving to work and listening to Morning Edition and hear a story about how the administration made a policy change that is good for the country, good for the environment, good for humanity, or at least good for someone other than business interests.

Today was not that day.

I'd suggest we all send Bush boxes of salmon that he doesn't believe are worth protecting, but I'm sure the paranoid machinations of the administration would take it the wrong way and send secret service agents after us for making a threat against him, like they did to some poor kid who drew antiwar pictures for a school project.

I now firmly believe that Bush and Cheney have a committee somewhere whose sole purpose is dreaming up new ways to fuck up what could be an otherwise ok world.

April 28, 2004

Progress

Well, our Virginia boycott site launched Monday, and so far it's gotten over 8,000 hits. I've gotten some great mails from supportive readers, angry homos, and embarrassed Virginians. Oh, and at least one seriously scary guy. Anyway, check it out if you haven't.

Wake me when it's over

I'm seriously wondering if the number one threat to my health and well-being is knowing what's going on in government these days. Now congress wants to hold anyone who throws a concert where people might use drugs accountable for a federal crime. So basically, half the bands on tour should just go home.

You know, I half don't blame Bush anymore. It would be nice to be as blissfully ignorant of the real world as he is.

This one's for the ladies

We've been a bit obsessed of late about the fate of the gay boys (and girls) but Pam wisely pointed out that the whole female half of the country (and world) have plenty to worry about too. In the jeering voice of Gwen Stefani, and the interests of equal time, we offer a new category for tracking these issues: "I'm Just a Girl."

Take this pink ribbon off my eyes
I'm exposed
And it's no big surprise
Don't you think I know
Exactly where I stand
This world is forcing me
To hold your hand
'Cause I'm just a girl, little ol' me
Don't let me out of your sight
I'm just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don't let me have any rights
Oh...I've had it up to here!

You go Gwen, and all the rest of you girls, too!

More Muammar

I'm curious about how things will go with Muammar Gaddafi: will he continue to play nice with the West, will it bring him trouble from Africa or the East, will Libya become a significant source of trade and vacation locales?

I was delighted to read about his visit to Europe being so lavish. From correspondents in Brussels:


I'm so jealous!

Habeas corpus in flagrante delicto

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court hears the case about “enemy combatant” rights. The issue at hand?

“…whether in the war on terrorism President Bush can order American citizens held indefinitely in a military jail without charges, a hearing or access to a lawyer.”

A young friend of mine has been studying the Constitution as part of her home schooling program. I was honored to be asked to help put together some of the course materials. Every now and then I like to throw something over the wall to her to see what she thinks. I sent her a bit of about the upcoming Supreme Court hearing of the Guantanamo Bay case. She had this to say:

In the Constitution, the articles, it says that all people in the US have the ‘Writ of Habeas Corpus’, which is that you can’t be detained for more than 24 hours without sufficient evidence. Now, if this was the only thing, I could see an argument for the other side, that these people aren’t US citizens, so that wouldn’t apply.

But in the 14th amendment, that all people who can be punished by US law, also get to have the protection of the US law. Since it seems as if we are intent on punishing these people, it seems like they should also have the protection of our laws.

To which I say this: Will somebody get that gal a robe?

The two in question, Hamdi and Padilla, are both US citizens, a trait they share with a young man named John Walker Lindh. Lindh's lawyer said this:

"He was a soldier in the Taliban. He did it for religious reasons. He did it as a Muslim, and history overcame him," his attorney, James Brosnahan, said in July.

It’s possible that Hamdi and Padilla, if given legal counsel, might cite the same reasons. What’s the difference between them and Lindh? Why was Lindh given a lawyer and a trial and even given the chance to “serve out his term in a facility closer to his family, in Northern California” when Hamdi and Padilla have been in the hole, only allowed to receive counsel as the case reaches the Supreme Court?

Please don’t mistake me for thinking these guys should get off the hook. But this clearly selective application of justice smacks of racism. Of fascism, even. A 13 year old girl can look at the Constitution and see that something is not quite right in Guantanamo Bay. Let's hope the court doesn't let down my young friend.

April 27, 2004

Top 10 reasons Bush is a putz who needs to be booted from office

With so much information to wade through about the election, I thought I'd pick out the most salient issues and list them to guide further discussion about this year's political scene.

The easiest way to do that is to list the main reasons why W should not be president.

10. He lied about his military service
9. He needs to take a complex problem like national security and reduce it to a Candyland board in order to understand it.
8. He's always been more interested in attacking Iraq than doing anything to stop terrorism.
7. He thinks of reality as more an annoying distraction than anything else.
6. He hates gay people.
5. He doesn't give a rat's ass about the environment.
4. He doesn't give a rat's ass about the middle class.
3. He wants to impose his religious views on your body.
2. He's trying hard to do away with our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
1. He's easily the most inarticulate sonofabitch on TV.

uhm, liberal media my ass

So tell me why an article like "Bush's flight from the guard," published in Salon today doesn't get the same kind of front-page hullabaloo that Kerry's supposed protest tossing of his service ribbons (and not his medals) from Vietnam made yesterday.

Please, someone tell me why, with the mounting evidence that Bush lied about about his Guard service, and had people toss the evidence of it, the Washington Post can't even get up the backbone to call a spade a spade and instead takes the wishy washy approach of asking if the story has legs?

Can people tell me why the people of this country were clamoring for every detail about Bill Clinton's personal indiscretions and yet no one seems overly angered that we can't even find out whether the president served out his term in the military or why he was grounded as a pilot?

Or why it was more important to know who helped set up rendezvous between Bill and Monica than it is for any of us to know anything about the development of the president's energy policy and expert advice?

In today's Post, :
"The White House is framing the case as a major test of executive power, arguing that the forced disclosure of confidential records intrudes on a president's power to get truthful advice."

Ok, fine. My points are kind of all over the place today. But that's because there are so many good targets, and the stupid mainstream media doesn't care. They seem to think there is something inconsistent in John Kerry symbolically protesting a war by throwing away an award from it, while keeping a personal memento he earned and had every right to keep, but that the president lied (I'll say it in bigger letters) THE PRESIDENT LIED about his own military service record, is not such a big deal.

From Salon again today:

According to Lt. Col. Bill Burkett, who was a strategic planning officer for the Texas National Guard during Bush's gubernatorial administration, James ordered a cleanup of the Bush Guard files in 1997. Burkett said he was waiting outside James' office when he heard a speakerphone conversation between the commander of the Texas Guard and Joe Allbaugh, Bush's chief of staff in Texas. Recounting the conversation, Burkett said he heard Allbaugh tell James to "clean up the governor's files and remove any embarrassments in case he wants to run for reelection or something higher."

Sigh. I want ABC, CBS and NBC news to devote the entirety of their broadcast to this tonight. But I don't see anything on their front pages indicating that they have any intention of discussing this.

Just for the record, I'll be working on John Kerry's campaign at some point this year. Hell, I'm even considering taking a leave from work in the fall to do something full time for a month or two. I'm not sure in what capacity, but if there's one thing I do believe at this point, it's the responsibility of any citizen who values what this country stands for to do everything they can to get that putz out of the oval office.


One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State

This entry isn't really more than links to some articles I've enjoyed in the last several hours from the Washington Post. Three articles in a series, plus a chat transcript (that I recommend reading, too), that profile both the evident division in this country, as well as profiles of two familes, one Republican, and one Democratic.


Oh, but I do ramble on a bit here.

In the article about the division, Senator Jeffords—uniquely independent—calls the division a "chasm", and I also feel it's huge. There are a multitude of issues creating separation, and I think I could personally overlook most of those to unite on things we all want (safe roads, reliable financial markets, freedom to associate, etc.), but there is one belief that astonishes me in mature adults that if mostly expelled might fix most of the division. It is this: that one's belief about reality is so certain that it makes another's reality, where there is conflict, wrong. Not just wrong for the one, but wrong for the other, too, when the other's adherence to the conflicting view neither breaks one's leg nor picks one's pocket.

Of course, passive marginalization of the other's community sucks, too.

One of the family members in the article on the Democrats points out one of the strongest feelings I had when reading about the Republicans: that they can see the world the way they do because nothing is really impinging on their little world.


"They're eating well," Harrison continues. "They've got a roof over their heads. They're feeding their kids. They've got everything. There are no luckier people. How can they complain? About anything?" And yet they do, he says, griping about taxes, about the size of government and about politicians as though every last one of them were a one-dimensional cartoon.

How do the Republicans in this article feel about this?


"They make me feel like I have no hope. They make you feel like, why wake up in the morning?" Lannom says of Blue Americans he sees on TV or hears on the radio. "It's like every time I hear Al Franken speak, the world we live in is sooo bad, everything is going sooo wrong. Is it really that bad?"

"We see life as it is," May says.

"They seem bitter," Lannom says. "They just never seem happy. Every time you hear them talking, they're bitching about something."

"They're whiners," Stein agrees.

Part of me thinks, these people simply aren't suffering enough. At the same time, I often feel overdosed on bleak, too, but that doesn't mean that the problems don't exist.

Harpers has had an article in each of the last two issues that connect to this issue of division. I wish they were available on the web so that you could point and click your way to further engagement. The first is "Lie Down For America: How the Republican Party Sows Ruin on the Great Plains" in the April 2004 issue. I hadn't quite clued in to how consciously the political right uses God and values to manipulate its constituents; this article talks about that and the way it has changed the alleged heartland. (For example, Kansas, once the land of populism.)

The other article is in the May 2005 issue and is titled, "What Democracy? The Case for Abolishing the United States Senate". I've always thought the senate was a funny idea, due to the unequal representation; this article talks about its origins and its parallel to the English House of Lords. I've wished out loud for a single legislative body with proportional representation and a plurality of parties, and I've even wondered how I could make that a reality. (There are some bent on that already—but, curses, I cannot now find their web site—but this article suggests that the English eventually did to the House of Lords what we might more easily do to our Senate than abolish it.)

April 26, 2004

Virginia is for Haters - the website

Update Jun 14 2004: virginiaisforhaters.org has been forced offline. For the time being, you can still see the front-page content at the Google cache.

If you missed the news (which we first mentioned here), Virginia sunk to a new low in the anti-gay-marriage fight last week, banning ALL contracts between same-sex partners that aim to approximate any of the rights and protections of marriage.

This is the most punitive and dangerous bit of backlash we’ve yet seen, and I felt viscerally that it couldn’t go unchecked. It may be unconstitutional, but overturning it could take years. In that time, same-sex couples with face illness, death, and other life changes without the benefit of the legal arrangements they painstakingly made in the past. David and I just did this last year, at great cost, and it was galling how little protection it offers compared with civil marriage. But Virginia is attacking even this slim recourse.

So this weekend, with a little help from David, I launched Virginia is For Haters … check it out. I’m still working out some of the style issues—it’s just another blog and none too pretty—but it’s up, just a few days after HB 751 was passed.

Basically, we’re going the boycott route, starting with every homo’s favorite source for preppiness, J. Crew. Our first activity is just to get people to cancel their catalog subscriptions. We’ll be looking for other good Virginia-based targets to add to the list—and of course we want people to skip any travel to the state. (Virginia’s decades-old “Virginia is for Lovers” tourism slogan is, of course, the cognitive-dissonance inspiration for the site’s name.)

Longer-term and more strategically, we’re going to ferret out companies being courted by Virginia’s economic development department and let them know what’s up. (I have friends the other states' economic development offices, they will be more than happy to share what companies Virginia is actively courting.) Virginia’s governor was against the bill, but was overridden by a 2-1 margin in the Assembly. We think a little more ammunition might make them reconsider.

This is obviously a lousy time (wedding-wise) to launch a new site… but duty calls. Of course I’d ask all of you to forward the site around via email and blog posts.

April 24, 2004

Two faces of paulette

Hmm...Do you think mine's a good likeness?
paulette_avatar.JPG

April 23, 2004

My avatar

Jayavatar.bmp

David's is better, which figures because he's so photogenic.

Create your own avatar

avatar-david.gif
Create your own avatar. (Tipster: Ray.) I tried to make one that looks like me, but they don't provide the right kind of beard.

Actually, this would make a great psychological test. Does the avatar you create look like you ... or do you just think it does?

Boycotting Virginia, starting with J. Crew

As first reported here, Virginia has banned all contracts between same-sex partners. A direct assault on basic rights of property and association represents a serious threat not only to gay couples, but is for me the first state action that really resembles the Nuremberg Laws, in its specific denial of basic rights to a specific class. It imperils even the meager protections gay couples can cobble together at great care and expense (already a tiny fraction of the protections a $50 marriage license gets straights).

While I don't think this means Virginia is drawing up a "Final Solution" for gays, I do think this should be a wake-up call. As painfully documented in The Pianist, European Jews didn't fight back against the Nazis as things got worse, seemingly convinced that they would wake up to find it was all a bad dream. I for one do not intend to make that mistake. It's a little early for us to take up arms (cf. Plato's army of lovers), but I think we all have to do the minimum: start collectively whipping the Commonwealth of Virginia with our wallets.

I'm going to do some research towards putting together a list of Virginia-based companies, but let's start with a favorite: J. Crew. Wow... that's a painful one for me. I've been a great customer for almost 15 years, buying so much there during college that people actually called me "Jay Crew."

It's not their fault, obviously, that the State Assembly are such bigoted idiots. But homos spend a lot of money on the company's products and I think we can make clear our displeasure rather rapidly. If Virginia wants to hurt gays and lesbians, gays and lesbians can take the fight back. It's pocketbook for a pocketbook.

To announce the beginning of this effort, here is J.Crew's customer care address: mailto:service@jcrew.com . I'd suggest writing to ask that they cancel delivery of their catalog until such time as the Commonwealth ends its discriminatory posturing.

Their postal address, should you care to write a letter:

J.Crew Customer Relations
One Ivy Crescent
Lynchburg, VA 24513-1001

MoveOn PAC: "50 for the Future"

MoveOn PAC, which has been running amazing ads and pulled together the bake sale Pam told us about last weekend, is really a thorn in the administration's side. David can't, as a damn furner, contribute to PACs or candidates, but we both agree this is a great organization to support.

To that end, I ponied up for their "50 for the Future" drive which aims to raise $50 million from 500,000 Americans (translating to $100 each). According to their site, these funds would be spent as follows:


  • $10 million to support the biggest get-out-the-vote drive in American history;

  • $20 million for independent advertisements to reach millions of voters in swing states – ads that will cut through the spin and set the record straight on the issues facing ordinary Americans;

  • $20 million in contributions collected by MoveOn PAC directly to candidates from state senators to John Kerry, giving them the resources they need to compete.

Good causes all. Incidentally, Bush campaign director Ken Mehlman was quoted Monday as saying "MoveOn.org is a huge threat and has hurt the President." Awwww. Of course don't feel too bad for W--unless Dick or Carl told him how badly it was hurting him, we know he hasn't read about it in the paper. If ignorance is indeed bliss, Bush must be a very, very happy man.

If you decide to take part, please let me know... I'd like to get a sense of how effectively we can use the site to raise awareness about different efforts. Also, look out soon for an invitation to a very special Swallow Don't Spit evening. In honor of supposedly "French-looking" John Kerry, we'll be sampling French wines and gathering donations for his campaign. We will win this election one sip at a time, my friends!

First we take Manhattan

Darlings, I feel good. Really good. I feel that my age is approaching. That is, I feel like we as a culture are moving positively into an era that not only accepts hedonism as a valid lifestyle, but embraces it. I've been feeling we were starting to move in that direction for some time, away from the puritanism of "healthy living" movements, and back toward taking pleasure in life. Grilled, boneless skinless chicken breast--move over! It's the age of the duck cooked and preserved in its own glorious fat!

In some ways, though I resisted it out of some weird need to adhere to common sense, the whole Atkins thing was helping to move us in that direction. But now, dieters, we have a new hero. One who understands that life is not only about living to be 100 and disease free, but about having a hell of a time getting there. His name is Robert Cameron, a 93 year old bon vivant who has been publishing his book The Drinking Man's Diet since 1964.

In this fine contribution to the pantheon on diet and fitness books, Cameron tells us that cutting carbs is definitely the way to go, but reminds us that distilled spirits contain almost none. Says he: "the things you like best don't have to be counted at all: steak and whisky, chicken and gin, ham, caviar, pâté de foie gras, rum and roast pheasant, veal cutlets and vodka, frogs legs and lobster claws--they all count as zero."

I now understand why Atkins didn't make it. It wasn't that his low-carb, hi fat diet was so bad for him. He was just parched.

I've always been a fan of the bon vivants of literature--Auntie Mame (a woman can be a BV, right?) and Eliot Templeton, for example. But now, I've a real life hero to model my habits around.

It is a good day indeed.

Flying is funny

Great edition of Ask the Pilot in Salon today. The topic is amusing in-flight PA announcements. There's been a list going around for years but I suspect many of these are apocryphal. Those in Ask the Pilot this week are a fresh batch with an altogether truer ring. Here are a couple of examples:

We were taxiing at Heathrow on British Airways when one of the crewmen came on the P.A. making the usual end-of-flight announcements, and slipped in casually: "Anyone standing before the fasten-seatbelts light is switched off will be shot." It's the sort of thing that would cause horror today, but at the time everyone laughed, the light tone reinforced by the fact he sounded so ... British, in that cute and harmless way. I suppose if it had been Lufthansa it might have come across more menacing.
Flying to St. Louis, the pilot got on the public address system near Pittsburgh and said: "A special treat for the passengers on the left side. Look straight down and you'll see a very large white house. Here, let me show you." [At this point he actually tipped the plane so we could see.] "That's my ex-wife's house. I know it's her house because that's her lawyer's BMW in the driveway." He was very cheerful about the whole thing, but a lot of passengers looked at each other with a mix of laughter and anxiety.

See the full article for some other great ones.

By the way, Patrick (the column's pilot-author) is soliciting entries for a favourite airline poll. If you'd like to read my entry, read on.

I've gotta put my vote in for British Airways. I've been loyal to them ever since, in what I can only assume was either a bureaucratic error or a misguided attempt to gain a share of my company's pitiful travel budget, they upgraded me to the Silver tier of their executive club. It was worth it for the executive transit lounge alone. Spacious, sunny places with the relaxing lilt of running water are a haven in bustling metropolises like Heathrow or glorified backwater bus terminals like Sea-Tac. I'd always make a point of getting to the airport at least two hours early so I could settle down with a plate of sandwiches, a vodka tonic (with more olives than most would deem necessary), and read the Guardian cover to cover.

Another perk was that in the early days (around the Millenium) on my frequent LHR-SEA jaunts, they'd upgrade me from economy to business about half the time. The summertime hop across Greenland was always a favourite trip of mine, and somehow the views of the glacial fields were all the better from a comfy leather seat. I was actually a little sad (but juuuust a little!) when the flat beds came into business as I'd usually be snoring through that amazing view.

After a while I think they must have figured out that my company was never actually going to spring for a business fare of its own accord. The upgrades started to dry up, and after about three years my Silver membership lapsed. But I still fly them when I can. Mostly it's because they're the only airline with a direct flight to London from Seattle, but it's also just a bit in the hope that one day, just maybe, I'll be in that club again.

P.S. I also love the way they don't censor their movies, even in economy. I think I even saw a plane crash in an onboard film, once.

April 22, 2004

a man after my own heart

Quite possibly, very literally as well.

The Silmarillion in <1K words

If you spent way too much of sixth grade pretending you could read Elvish, this is almost like sacrilege. But if you came a bit later to the whole Tolkien thing, this is a very humorous condensation of the way-way-back story to LOTR. One thing it does very efficiently is to show clearly Tolkien's debt to the Norse creation myths.

April 20, 2004

It's all about the price of oil

There's an interesting read on the BBC today about where the oil is and how much of it is left. If you want to cut straight to the chase, check out the chart. Flip ahead a few slides to see the chart that shows who the big consumers are. When you look at this chart, Bob Woodward's revelations - which the Saudis are denying - about the Saudis offering price controls in exchange for election results become less surprising.

"...President George W Bush... in an election year really does not want to see car-loving Americas moaning about high gasoline prices, which have also risen as a consequence. " The Beeb is right, but also, I'm pretty sure W. doesn't want to see us conserving either.

The other day I listened to Billy Bragg's song "The Price of Oil" - available for free from his site. I don't know if Billy Bragg read the Beeb article, but I'm thinking the song would be a good soundtrack for the Power Point presentation of the Beeb's slides.

I carpool to work. It's not just that I adore the company of my carpool, though that's a huge bonus. It's that we really need to vote more with our wallets and our gas tanks.

April 19, 2004

Virginia considers ban on any contract between same-sex partners

A bill before the Virgina legislature proposes to render any contract between same-sex partners void. This isn't just about banning gay marriage. It's about banning same-sex couples from using ordinary legal contracts -- like the living will that Jay and I had a lawyer prepare so that one of us can make medical decisions for the other if he is incapacitated -- from providing any of the "benefits" of marriage. The text of the proposed bill begins:

A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges or obligations of marriage is prohibited.

This is just appalling. It does seem like the governor is attempting to water down the bill, but this deserves an outright veto.

April 17, 2004

This is What Democracy Tastes Like

Bake-Sale-Table.jpg


"We put away 300 dollars already, and we had to do a second shift of baking," said our neighbor at the Half-Baked Baked Sale. "One guy gave me a check for 100 dollars. So, no, I don't really know how much money we've brought in. One thing you can say for our President, he's really brought us together."

Here's hoping you found good cookies in your neighborhood. We had blueberry pound cake, handmade chocolates, and a brownie to die for. Thank you Move On!

April 16, 2004

dance, chicken, dance!

Because sometimes, you just need something even stupider than badgers to entertain you.

Presidential Daily PPT

I love Slate. They can take the most boring government report, filled with all kinds of opaque facts and figures, and turn into something snappy and easy to follow. While we're at, let's all bless my own company's PowerPoint for sparing us from those distracting details.

April 15, 2004

Grey illusion

Here's an amazing optical illusion. The squares marked A and B on this checkerboard are the same shade of grey:

checker-shadow.jpg

Don't believe me? Check out the rest of the article see if it's true.

I didn't believe it myself, so I snipped out the squares to compare them outside of the context of the checkerboard. Check out these details (zoomed 2x):

checkerA.gif and checkerB.gif

Pretty neat, huh?

"Mr. Nobody"

Mr. Nobody is a very interesting site... a tad oblique, but obviously a well done "viral game" intended to teach us a few things about Bush. Even more interesting is the content of the links section, espcially this site--a devastating 3-minute road movie (complete with a little Bing Crosby) of America's creation of Saddam Hussein, almost from whole cloth.

I think there will be more to come from this site. I'll keep you posted.

April 14, 2004

Driving Votes, and driving 'em hard

Driving Votes is a great idea... little Oregon (or Nevada or Arizona) road trip, anyone?

Now we just need to worry about getting out the vote on Election Day. I've joked with friends about starting a movement to make sure that everyone with a "I voted!" sticker gets a little sumpin-sumpin the evening of 11/2. They almost got Clinton out of office for a blowjob... using them to make sure Bush gets defeated (well, defeated again) seems like a pretty good idea.

Some folks are already thinking along these lines, but I don't think it's fair just to tittilate would-be Democratic voters. We really should just make Election Day a legal holiday... but short of that, I think the average voter deserves a little love. And it's the perfect promotional idea for us libertines--I mean liberals--because we all know that the religious right is far too saintly to be swayed by something so obscene.

Duplicitous son ... or duplicitous dad?

I confess I didn't know who Randall Terry is -- I guessed he was one of the pantheon of homo-hating right-wing ideologues. Turns out he's the founder of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group with a mission to "rescue those unjustly sentenced to death". Anyway, it seems his son is making the news, having outed himself in Out magazine.

Reading the response to this article from the father in the Washington Post -- a story "about being Randall Terry's homosexual son" -- is just heartbreaking. Not because his son is gay, of course, but how the father claims to "understand" his son, but clearly just loathes who he is. The entire piece is written as though the son is some distant adversary, not a member of his family.

Some quotes from the article, and my comments:

The Out story paints a picture of my son based in fraud. The story states, "I was baptized Catholic and raised Protestant, and I later returned to the Roman Catholic Church." This is not true. -- Randall says "this is not true" with such certainty. I wonder if he could ever believe his son could return to the church without changing his sexual orientation.

The story states, "My father seems to believe that the fact that I'm an adopted child may help explain why I'm gay ... I was adopted at the age of 5." Jamiel was adopted when he was nearly 15, not 5. -- And yet, Randall says that the boy joined his family at the age of 8 as a foster child (but not adopted until the age of 14). However, I'm sure the son counts joining the family as the defining event, not when the legal paperwork was finalized. And at that young age, the years kind of blur together -- my parents divorced at around the same time for me, but I still can't remember exactly how old I was at the time.

The story stated, "My father is still trying to get me to go to a three-month retreat to be 'delivered' from homosexuality." Not true. Jamiel has repeatedly asked me to pay for him to go to "Love in Action" (an in-patient program with great success with homosexuals). I'm happy to pay that tab. -- Offering to pay is a pretty clear sign the father wants the son to go. If the son had asked to go, and the father was willing to pay, why hasn't the son gone?

He told journalists from CNN and The Washington Post that he is not welcome in my home because of his homosexuality. That is not true. I've had him in my home repeatedly since learning he was homosexual two years ago. -- Having him in your home isn't the same thing as him being welcome there.

My point isn't to highlight the discrepancies between the father's and son's testimonies, though. What is so sad about this article is that the father apparently believes all of the discrepancies are due to the wilful distortions of the article's author at Out magazine. But it's plain that the real distortion lies with the father, who simply can't see -- or can't accept -- who his son really is.


An Ordinary Evening in W's Brain

The press conference last evening was simply horrifying. The spectacle of Bush being forced to think on this feet was so painful as to inspire an ashamed sympathy in me, so much so that I was relieved when he finally turned and walked away from the podium down that majestic red-carpeted hallway. He took no responsibility for anything that has happened on his watch, held ridiculously to the fiction that WMD's might still be found, and painted a gruesome picture of a mind grinding away at the hard work of ignoring what have become rather glaring facts. So busy keeping reality at bay, he could think of no mistake he has made.

Just this morning, several people have mentioned to me this article in Slate, and I do think it is an incredibly important read. I will try to withhold judgment on whether Bush is stupid (a very Bushian exercise in fact-avoidance, really); if you believe this article, his intellectual prowess is rendered largely moot by his refusal to engage in external reality. His insistence that internal consistency alone is proof-positive of correctness (and rectitude) is one of the most solipsistic and inane features of his presidency. Does he fancy himself infallible? (Isn't Kerry the Catholic in this race?)

My Papaw (who, bless his heart, loves W with a fervor previously reserved for Reagan) has always said "Smart people change their minds," but that is exactly what W refuses to do, regardless of the mounting evidence around him. To hear him talk (in oratory that would be mediocre for a small-town mayor), you would think he believes changing his mind to account for reality would amount to going back on his word. To quote Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." (And, for good measure, Auden: "The enlightenment driven away,/ The habit-forming pain,/ Mismanagement and grief:/ We must suffer them all again.")

W famously spent time in New Haven (thinking, one must assume, the same thoughts for four years), but I am willing to bet he never read the poetry of Wallace Stevens (America's foremost insurance executive-cum-poet). Pity that. Wallace's "An Ordinary Evening in New Haven" is one of my very favorite poems, a meditation on learning, religion, poetry, and reality set in a place I love.

The poem's main subject, Professor Eucalyptus, is at once wise and befuddled, prone to beautifully difficult statements and endlessly able to change his mind as he grapples with the challenges of seeing rightly as "an ordinary evening" descends. It is one of the best meditations on thought, reality, and perception that exists, and it provides an excellent gloss on the Problem of W's brain: "The search/ For reality is as momentous as/ The search for god."

W certainly spends a lot of time talking to us about the search for God. As an extraordinarily dark night descends on the globe, we should all pray that God might mention to W in one of their frequent chats how much better and safer the world would be if W would look around for reality at least once in a while.

I've quoted a few poets in this post; these are days we need poetry, to understand how old these supposedly new problems are (wrong wars, mad kings, and the dangers of siting evil always elsewhere than our own hearts). To end with a quote, timely as ever, from William Carlos Willams: "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there."

April 13, 2004

Defining the Language of War

The ugly turn in Iraq (if a war can get uglier) has set me to thinking about who the hostages are and how they fit in to the semantics of war. The hostages that aren’t soldiers can’t – I think – be considered Prisoners of War because they’re civilian employees, regardless of what role they actually play on the ground. Since they’re not POW’s, they’re also not subject to the Geneva Convention rules for Prisoners of War. This would include the “private security forces”, though I wouldn’t call them private security forces, I’d probably call them mercenaries.

In Guantanamo Bay, we have “illegal combatants” who also aren’t subject to the Geneva Convention - that’s why they were so classified. Jessica Ryan and her crew were considered POWs; they were enlisted folks, not civilian employees of Haliburton or any other company contracted for reconstruction in Iraq.

The hostages aren’t illegal combatants or POWs. One might argue that folks like Jessica Ryan and Thomas Hamill, were already hostages of the policies of the Bush administration, after all both Ms. Ryan and Mr. Hamill ended up in Iraq because of economic despair.

Paul Bremer said on national television that “We will not negotiate over hostages.” About the same time, Donald Rumsfeld stated that the troops in Iraq who’d been scheduled to go home will now have to wait. And layoffs in corporate America continue with Dupont announcing that they’re cutting six percent of their work force.

Who's a hostage? Who's a POW? Who's an illegal combatant? And who decides?

April 12, 2004

Faith-based security

I'm hearted to see more articles pointing out the Emporer's new clothes in relation to Bush's campaign strategies, and I'm hoping that more mainstream press than even salon will make a point of reminding us that Bush has been most successful at making us all fear the consequences of not going along with his plans, as opposed to actually doing anything positive in reducing the threat of terrorism, but I particularly enjoyed this little bit today:

Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and deputy director of the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism, is more blunt: "I call the color-coded system the 'terrorism mood ring,'" he says. "Security isn't green, yellow and purple. This is a public relations ploy, run by people who are making decisions on security who don't really know what they're doing. They make statements that aren't backed up by any real data or empirical evidence. It's faith-based security."

I think he's right on the mark. And it comes a little close to bringing up the questions that have been dogging me for the last few years about how much of Bush's answer to fanatical Islamic jihad is a good old-fashioned Christian crusade.

April 09, 2004

But it starts at sundown!

Mel Gibson is preparing to antagonize the Jewish community yet again, this time with the "High Noon" version of Hannukah. When I first heard about this, I though that it could not be true, but the venerable BBC seems to think it newsworthy. "They stuck by their guns and they came out winning. It's like a Western." said Mel.

And Slate has picked it up too. "My only comment: Nice try, but that won't really "sing" in a movie trailer. ("In a world dominated by Hellenized Syrians, one clan said, 'Enough'!")"

It's possible that Mel is trying to reconcile with the Jewish community for his portrayal of Jews in history as violent tyrants. And it's interesting that the vehicle he considers for doing so is the portrayal of the Jews as, oh, hey, wait, can we please be the violent tyrants again? People love that.

April 08, 2004

Ask, receive, deconstruct

I always give Paulette what she asks for--it's the least I can do--but "metacritic" is kind of taken. But I think this fits the bill pretty well, and it's a great idea. But it does make me kind of sad.

"Heavy meta" is, kind of like "deep background," symptomatic of an age when the impossibility of originality priviliges the "story behind the story" above anything so mundane as le degré zéro de l'ecriture. (And no, I'm not being glib by referring to Post-Structuralism as mundane--really, after three years with W kicking around in our national attic we're probably post-Baudrillardian, beyond help of even the French mediaphilosophes.)

So let's revel in it... let's root around in the story about the story about the story about the media's coverage of the of media's coverage of the White House spin of the alleged event, the popular response to the critical reception to the movie about the screenwriter writing the script for the movie of the same name. Just watch out for the Ouroboros, because this category could end up eating itself.

ESL notes on "Network"

I finally got David to watch the amazingly prescient film Network tonight, and as I predicted he quite enjoyed it. I did too--I always do--as the film has some of my favorite dialogue. Paddy Chayefsky was a screenwriting god.

Anyway, I wanted to look up references in Google to a few trenchant lines from the movie, and I stumbled upon ESLnotes.com's notes on the slang and topical references in the film. It is nothing short of genius, somewhere between Cliff's Notes and a dictionary of slang. (A funny but grammatically difficult insult. "Blow it out your ass" is a very vulgar and somewhat dated way of saying "fuck you," and generally speaking, the "it" is rarely replaced by another direct object, as Laureen does here. In this case, "the seminal prison infrastructure" refers to the political organizing of prisoners. "Seminal" is a word that means seed, or the beginning of an organization, and "infrastructure" is an important word referring to physical foundations, such as streets.) Though the notes on Network are "among the longest we've ever written," you can peruse notes on everything from Amistad to The Wizard of Oz.

When you think about it, millions of non-native speakers have learned English through the movies--so the effort makes sense. But to the native speaker, there is an earnestness that is both touching and disconcerting. On the other hand, one has to wonder if this feeling is not the very same an Elizabethan would have looking through the ridiculously didactic footnotes that embellish every modern edition of Shakespeare.

Literary Metacrique

Jay, first off, I think Metacritic would be an awesome new category for this site. We could have a lot of fun specifically criticizing critiques. I'm going to start here, with my critique of a critique of Jean Francois Revel' book Anti-Americanism which was published last week in the Asia Times.

The book abut which the criticism is offered is a refutation of the legitimacy of what is, according to the critic, a global religion of America hating. And, apparently, according to both critic and criticized author, more a wrong-headed global cult than anything else. A complex and psychologically perverted spectator sport, if you will, a la The Running Man, I suppose, in which the participants try to absolve themselves of their insecurities about the failings of their own societies by imposing those despicable traits on a socially acceptable devil and then revelling in all the ways we Americans continually prove our own unworthiness.

I'm unconvinced. First of all, both the book author (a Frenchman) and critic (an American expat) seem to make the assertion early on that the biggest flaw these anti-Americans make in their logic is that of assuming the view of America the world develops from exposure to the media (which focuses on the actions of our government) is representative of the character of the individual citizens. The refutation then goes on to describe not how we Americans, as individuals with free will and freedom of speech, are as complex and diverse a lot as any other group of human beings sandwiched between two oceans, but rather how the American government's actions, which have inspired so much recent anti-American sentiment, are entirely justifiable.

There seems to be much begging of questions (and I mean that in the true sense of the expression, of using as evidence to back up an assertion, statements that in themselves require some serious backing up) in this review, and one suspects in the book as well, since the author of the critique seems to have been converted to Revel's own cult of anti-anti-Americanism with a born-again fervor that leads him, more than three quarters of the way through the review, to admit that there are some flaws in the book, including writing issues and factual errors, that he doesn't really want to bring up because other than those things, he's so enraptured.

For example:

Examples of this psychopathology are almost endless, but the Iraq crisis has certainly provided a profusion of new cases. For example, during the 12 years after 1991, the anti-American press was filled with self-righteous hand-wringing over what was billed as the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people under UN sanctions. But when the administration of President George W Bush abandoned the sanctions policy (a policy that, incidentally, had been considered the cautious, moderate course of action when it was originally adopted) in favor of a policy of regime change by military force - which was obviously the only realistic way to end the sanctions - did these dyspeptic howler monkeys praise the United States for trying to alleviate Iraqis' suffering? No, of course not - instead, without batting an eyelash, they simply began criticizing the United States for the "terrible civilian casualties" caused by bombing.

This type of logic is applied several times throughout the review. The Americans created a bad situation, and everyone hated them for it. So the Americans did something to change the situation, and now everyone hates them for it. Therefore, Americans can't win. That another way of looking at the situation would be to say that the Americans took a bad situation and created an infinitely worse one, however, is not explored or refuted. The assertion that we had no way of getting rid of the sanctions without bombing Iraq to kingdom come is at worst Bush Administration--shoveled horsehockey (with apologies to Sherman Potter), and at best, one point of view that might merit examination but is a far cry from qualifying as a foregone conclusion.

A little later in the review he asserts that "referring to anti-war banners that proclaimed 'No to terrorism. No to war", Revel scoffs that this "is about as intelligent as 'No to illness. No to medicine'." Uhm, well perhaps, if you take as a conclusion that war is the most effective means to bring about the end of terrorism. On the other hand, it seems that any truly meaningful examination of the anti-war faction's point of view (in my understanding of scholarly discussion, a prerequisite to refuting an opposing perspective) would bring up the questions of whether war is more effective at ending terrorism or at breeding more of it. Again, questions being begged like a dropped porterhouse in a dog run.

The review goes on to criticize the anti-Americanites for criticizing Americans for being unpleasant in ways that they themselves are. He gives as examples Mexico criticizing the 2000 election, Arab writers critizing the current administration's abrogations of press freedom, and others who he can easily point a parallel finger right back at. That these things might be true isn't addressed, nor apparently is it a concern. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, so just shut up already.

It's a weird review. The book purports to be about the wrong-headedness of global anti-Americanism, but the review seems to be largely using it as evidence in an apology for the Bush Administration's bad mishandling of, well, everything, since it took office. So much so, that I'm almost inclined to read the book to find out if Revel really supports the critics pro-Bush credo or has been badly represented in this review.

Regardless, all of this global anti-American sentiment covered here makes me think it might not such a bad idea to claim Canadian background next time I travel outside our borders.

Strange Bedfellows

You can hear or read transcripts of Condi just about everywhere today, but with the gay marriage amendment simmering on the stove, I thought it was worth noting this one small thing Ms. Rice said during her grilling this morning:

When our Founding Fathers said, We the people, they didn't mean me. It's taken us a while to get to a multiethnic democracy that works.

I'm sure she didn't mean to make an argument for extended equal rights to all, but I can't help noticing the irony - and projecting to other causes.

April 07, 2004

Your own private weekly

Reason magazine simultaneously demonstrates the benefit and danger of integrated databases by publishing a specialized edition of the magazine for each of 40,000 subscribers. Not only does each copy have ads targeted to the particular subscriber, but the subscriber's own house is displayed on the cover (by circling it on a satellite photo). Chilling.

April 06, 2004

Secret slam in laptop bag

Skeptomai has fun news today... inspecting a laptop bag he bought from a Seattle-based laptop-bag boutique (yeah, I know, only in Seattle) to find out if it was washable, he found out something else. The French translation had an "Easter egg" hidden after the actual care instructions... translated, it reveals "We are sorry that our President is an idiot. We didn't vote for him."

This is a smart and funny stealth version of the sentiment on the American Apology tee we profiled earlier and noted in use here.

Oh, and the bags are really cool too... I think my birthday money might be burning a hole in my pocket!

Baby Okie has two daddies

Well this is one of those wild news stories where one knows pretty much everyone involved--as well as one of those that makes me hang my head in shame at being from Oklahoma. (If anyone ever wonders why I'm an expat Okie, read no further.

The short version is that the State of Oklahoma is giving some gay Seattle dads the run-around in getting a revised birth certificate reflecting both their names. It just so happens that Gregory, one of the dads, played rugby with David and I before the combination of daddy-duty and a nasty injury sidelined him. These are like the nicest guys in the world... and their daughter is darling. Too bad she came from where she did. The idiot Oklahoma Commissioner of Health (James Michael Crutcher, who has one of those great Oklahoma serial killer names) instructed the department to send a single-parent certificate listing Gregory, along with a note that they were unable to "establish maternity" for Ed. For that funny little quip, I hereby nominate Crutcher for the Golden Asshole award.

Thankfully proving that not all of Oklahoma's political establishment are homophobic knuckledraggers, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson swiftly supplied the following opinion: "Upon receipt of a certified copy of an adoption decree the parentage established therein must be reflected on the supplementary birth certificate."

Drew is a great guy--I met him several times when I was working for the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence (a group devoted to raising the "Oklahoma is OK!" standard a notch or two). I actually know his wife Linda much better, having worked with her on several good (which is to say, hopeless) causes in my Okie days.

Of course Gregory and Ed are still waiting for a revised certificate, but with the Christian Coalition having hijacked much of the state government, I'm sure the health commissioner knows he'll get maximum political benefit from making them wait.

April 05, 2004

Bill Gates no longer richest man

Looks like Bill Gates is no longer the richest man in the world. According to Swedish media, that title now belongs to Ingvar Kamprad, founder and owner of IKEA. While operating systems come and go, I guess people will always need somewhere cheap to store their useless crap.

Anthropomorphized probes

Read about Cassini's travel to Saturn at the new blog
Cassini's Big Adventure. This is a really cute way of communicating the goals and status of the various NASA missions. Other probes have anthropomorphized blogs, too.

I'm really looking forward to the Cassini mission, though. This will be the first time we get a close-up look at some of the "interesting" moons imaged by Voyager. Titan is likely to have hydrocarbon oceans, and we'll get to see them up close thanks to Cassini's Huygens probe next year.

Economist cover

20040403issuecovUS400.jpg

It's my birthday, so I'm going to make as much fun of W today as I feel like with no apologies. Remember, The Economist is center-right... so this is hardly some left-wing British rag savaging Bush. The article is just as scathing but not quite so much fun.

"War President"

W wants the reflected glory of being a "war president" with none of the reflected gore. He seldom mentions the war dead, let alone attend a funeral or the homecoming of a casket. (He's probably too busy not reading the papers.) But with the miracle of Photoshop, and with apologies to Chuck Close, you can see the real picture of W as a war president. (Thanks Ray!)

April 02, 2004

Nader on Air America

Air America, the new liberal radio network, started on Wednesday. You've got to hear the interview with Ralph Nader. (You can also read a transcript of the interview.) Ralph simply does not get it. He simply does not understand that people are angry about what happened in 2000, and that we just can't take the risk of having that happen again. He doesn't even hope to be elected -- he has no plan for what he would do if he were -- so what is the point? They guy is clearly insane.

April 01, 2004

Crack for media junkies

screenshot.gif

Marumushi.com's newsmap is a constantly updated visual reflection of Google News (a computer-edited summary page of current news coverage in 10 different countries that is hella impressive in itself). It's nothing short of stunning. This is one of those things that you see that just totally blows your mind and suggests almost painfully the kind of things that will be coming down the pike. This may be the 21st century equivalent of the bank of TVs tuned to all the news channels. More amazing is the ability to instantly compare content country by country.

"Double Iraq Latte with a shot of Al Qaeda"

Holy marionberry crumb cake. Rumsfeld! If your top deputies leave sensitive anti-Clarke talking points behind after a visit to Starbucks, how can we trust the secrecy of your crack military plans?! Boing Boing: Memos in Starbucks detail Bushies' Richard Clarke strategy