Friday, February 28, 2003

What are the cool kids reading? Well, it's apparently not The Hipster Handbook, though maybe it should be. Except that everything in it was made up, except for the stuff that wasn't, of which there might, or might not, be some. There's not really any there there in this review, but it's smile-inducing, which is enough for Friday afternoon reading.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

In the seventh episode of the seventh season, there will come a sign...
Well, it's over. Okay, not over yet, but this is the last season. That's okay. All good things must come to an end, and this was a very good thing. I think Joss said it best: "And I'm proud of what this show means...I truly believe that in years to come, people will look back and say 'that was a show that was on TV.' Yessir. I truly do."

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Summer Soldier and Sunshine Patriot - David Webber, an MU professor of political science, starts with the Thomas Paine quotation, "The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." He takes it in a new direction, however, and ends with what could be mistaken as a lukewarm conclusion that patriotism lies in expressing your opinion.

I may be overlaying my own political viewpoints over his, but I've always loved the chaotic, ugly mess that is American politics. For good or for ill, the course of our country is based on the will of the people, and the will of the people is determined through the collective pushing and pulling of a noisy, rude and smelly mob. It's crass, it's undignified, and it's beautiful.
Just read Tim Noah's piece in Slate on the French reaction to our Iraq evidence. In it, he refers to "the aluminum tubes Powell says are for enriching uranium that could just as easily be used for making rockets - a gray area that [I] never got into and that Powell didn't need to make his case." Now, I remembered reading a number of pieces saying that the aluminum tubes in question were anodized, and therefore not useable for enriching uranium. Naturally, as a blogger, I felt a strong desire to simply regurgitate this as fact, and email Noah my 'findings'. But I've got a couple of projects I'm trying to procrastinate on, so I decided to go ahead and dig a little.

Sure enough, I found tons of bloggers saying that the tubes were anodized and therefore not useful for enriching uranium. But that don't make it true, so I kept digging. I found an ISIS report on IraqWatch (dated 9/23/02) that put the kibosh on my research: "An anodized layer on the inside of the tube, however, should work fine in a centrifuge, according to an expert involved in the development of Zippe-type centrifuges in the 1950s and 1960s."

Noah's generally on the ball, so I wasn't too surprised to find that he was right and I was wrong. But I was still trying to procrastinate, so I kept digging, hoping to get a clearer grasp on the issue. The next link was another copy of the ISIS report, but the summary Google kicked up was a little different, and it was the copy hosted on ISIS' own site. Turns out it was revised 10/9/02. The paragraph on anodizing in this version ends a little differently: "An anodized layer on the inside of the tube, however, can result in hampering the operation of the centrifuge, according to an expert involved in the development of Zippe-type centrifuges in the 1950s and 1960s."

And the media wonders why people are confused about this war.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Fun Fact of the Day: 46 percent of the duct tape sold in this country is manufactured by a company in Avon, Ohio whose owners donated more than $100,000 to the Republican party during the last election cycle.

Friday, February 21, 2003

I may be late to the party, but conceal and carry apologist John Lott is in hot water for behavior which, to put it lightly, hurts his credibility. That's actually kind of old news, but here's a nice new tidbit: In order to prove his point, Lott performs some fairly complex manipulations of the numbers, which might be justified, given the complexity of cause and effect in the real world. There's just one problem. His analysis provides a murder rate of -2.3 for Missoula County, Montana, for 1979 and '91. Now, if it were Sunnydale, CA rather than Missoula County, I might be willing to believe a few resurrections, but it isn't.

The Citypages article is here. Ted Goertzel's article explaining the statistical problems in Lott's research is here, but it's thick.
Gene Weingarten interviews the author of "the worst novel ever published in the English language" for the Washington Post. Here's a taste: "After your protagonist, Joan Milton, watches the planes hitting the World Trade Center, she turns away in horror and says to her friends: 'What an almost unbelievable tragedy! It will take a great resolve to overcome this terrible blow.' My question is, have you ever heard real human beings speak?"
There's something fundamentally wrong with a story that purports to tell the story of barbecue, but only mentions Kansas City once, and even then in a quote from someone else. Hell, this Jake Adam York fella talks about Chicago and St. Louis as way stations, and barbecue as a wandering tribe, but doesn't seem to realize that Kansas City is where the tribe stopped, put down roots, and said, "from now on, this is home." But, then again, he's from Alabama, and southerners always think they know more about barbecue than they really do. Still, he's a good enough writer, and I can't fault his choice of subject. He got me salivating for ribs at 9 a.m., so he must be doing something right.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Love is the chili pepper in the sandwich.

I sometimes miss the chili pepper, but it's still a good sandwich.
Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni on invading Iraq:
"If I were to give you my priority of things that can change for the better in this region, it is first and foremost the Middle East peace process and getting it back on track. Second, it is ensuring that Iran's reformation or moderation continues on track and trying to help and support the people who are trying to make that change in the best way we can. That's going to take a lot of intelligence and careful work. The third is to make sure those countries to which we have now committed ourselves to change, like Afghanistan and those in central Asia, we invest what we need to in the way of resources there to make that change happen. Fourth is to patch up these relationships that have become strained, and fifth is to reconnect to the people. We are talking past each other. The dialogue is heated. We have based this in things that are tough to compromise on, like religion and politics, and we need to reconnect in a different way.

"I would take those priorities before this one. My personal view, and this is just personal, is that I think this isn't number one. It's maybe six or seven, and the affordability line may be drawn around five."
This may be the clearest case against war that I've heard, and I'd love to see these arguments answered.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

What I Really Think of New York...
There's a strange schizophrenia in being from someplace like Kansas City. To my country cousins, I was a city boy. And I was, really. I'd grown up running errands with my grandmother, who was much more inclined to go downtown for the necessities of life than to the suburbs. Of course, I was also a Boy Scout, the grandson of a cowboy, and the son of a man who bucked hay for fun money when he was a kid. Truth be told, I was equally comfortable on sidewalks or tromping through the woods, and I have trouble even now imagining life without both.

Because of that, places like New York, Boston, or Washington are great places to visit, but, well, you know the rest. Actually, their appeal to me is largely historical, like London, or Beijing. Metropolises like that are leftovers, artifacts of the industrial revolution and previous economic models that predated the ease with which we now move goods and information around the world.

Of course, that's assuming people actually want to move out to places like Columbia, a town of 100,000 or so, with theater, music, art, and food to rival many New York neighborhoods, with a great farmer's market featuring largely organic food grown within a hundred miles of here, tons of bike and walking trails, rock climbing in town, reasonably priced housing, etc.

That's not to say there aren't tradeoffs. If you work in IT, for example, then you've got the choice of about 3 good sized companies that are frequently hiring or dozens of small shops that are always overworked and rarely adding staff. It's a situation which encourages people to stay where they are for more than a few years, but gives my boss incentive to keep me happy. It's a nice compromise, actually.

There are the students, sure. There's a bit of chaos when they swoop into town after a break, especially because we locals get used to being able to go to a movie on Friday night without having to wait in line and actually being able to converse in the bars. But they also bring in the art and the theater, as well as cute liberal arts grad students who are fun to talk to at coffee shops. Okay, that last part's just a theory, but I hope to test it some day. And at the risk of sounding like a dirty old man, college girls add a nice dimension to the town when the weather starts warming up.

You know, the more I think about Columbia, the more I think the New Yorkers have a point. The coasts have so much to offer that you just can't find here in fly-over country. You wouldn't want to give that all up. In fact, it's probably for the best if you don't even come visit out here. You'd just be bored. And, frankly, we have plenty of people here already.
My personal vote for worst Valentine's Day ever would be for February 14th, 1987. In that week, I broke up with my girlfriend but still had to debate and perform a duet acting piece with her, as well as a number of other school functions. Then my grandmother died. Of course, in the years since, I've heard plenty of horror stories that top mine, but I still put 1987 at the top of my list because, well, it happened to me.

1987 was the worst, but they pretty much all sucked until 1993. Carrie and I started dating on the Feb. 5th, so we were drunk with new love on that particular Valentine's. Eight more good V-Day's followed, then we split up. Last year was my first Valentine's Day as a single man in 9 years, so, naturally, I spent it getting drunk.

This year I decided that it'd been a while since I'd played this game, so why not flex my romantic muscles a bit? The gift was nothing much, just something I thought she ought to have (and aren't functional Valentine's gifts taboo?), but I did very well on the card (blank, of course, with a bit of verse by yours truly), and arranged for a wonderful dinner (I considered cooking, but laziness won out). She blew my mind, getting me a selection of bronze Roman rings in a puzzle box. It was exactly the kind of present I've always hoped to get: The kind I didn't know I wanted.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Oh, and in case you were wondering whether our presidency is doing its part to maintain their carefully crafted facade of incompetence, the BBC points out that Bush's budget proposal did not include a single dime for aid to Afghanistan. (courtesy of Josh Marshall who gives much better analysis than I)
Finally, Valentine's Day cards to say what you're really thinking.
Tim Noah has some tips for a terror-free Valentine's Day, including this very important reminder:

A bouquet is an ideal conduit for toxins, some of which may occur naturally. It is strongly recommended that you accept no flowers at all, and that you report immediately the name of anyone offering you flowers to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Recognizing, however, that some will ignore this warning, we urge these individuals to spray their flowers with a quick-drying sealant, wrap them tightly in Saran Wrap, and place on a very high shelf.

Be safe, everybody!

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

A friend of mine wrote me an email today that I won't reproduce, mostly because I'm lazy. But in the course of writing my response to him, I figured some things out, and, more importantly, was kind of funny. If I were a real writer, I'd take those nuggets, polish them up and find an appropriate setting for them. But I'm not. I'm a blogger, so I'm going to just paste in the letter.

I read an article about Google a few weeks back that said their corporate mission statement was, basically, "Don't be evil." Wouldn't it be nice if our foreign policy was based on that as well?

I can't argue with anything you say, though there is a layer I'd add to the talk of Palestine and Palestinians, something to evoke my frustration with the "government" of Palestine's continuous refusal to act like a nation, choosing instead to lash out, squandering energy on hatred and violence that could be directed to more productive, more nurturing ends. It's a war where the only heroes seem to be the medics who rush in to save lives, regardless of creed or nation. That's a credo I can support: stem the flow of blood.

Are there heroes in war? I think there can be. I'm not a pacifist; I think war is sometimes good, and sometimes necessary. But I've spent my entire life trying to learn how to express anger appropriately, and think there's a similar discipline required to do what is necessary in war, then get the hell out before you get caught up in the endlessly escalating cycle of violence and retribution.

I don't know what the right thing to do about Iraq is, but I do know that the burden of proof must rest on those who want to start shooting, and I, for one, am not persuaded. I know few people who are. And even if there are good arguments to be made for invading Iraq, the people who will be running the invasion aren't the ones making them. Hitchens is. The hard part, the dangerous part, is not the invasion, it's the aftermath, and I haven't heard a damn word about it from the folks who are supposed to be in charge.

At the same time, it's exhausting to think about. I've spent my entire life loving my country, researching the minutiae of politic and policy because I take my voting rights seriously and want to make the right choice, and along comes some knuckle-dragging moron who sees the dissent that I've struggled with, fought over, stayed awake with, who seems my dissent and calls me a traitor. That's bad enough from some idiot at the bar, but now it's coming from the New York Sun, the Washington Post, and from in front of the blue curtain in the west wing of the White House.

We have a president who thinks his favorite political philosopher is Jesus, and that he has the right to bomb people on the other side of the world against the will of the world and his own people. We have a vice president who lets company lobbyists write legislation, then cries executive priviledge when we ask for names. We have an attorney general who thinks every amendment in the Bill of Rights except the 2nd should be suspended on his say-so. I mean, Jesus, Bob Barr of all people thinks they've gone too far!

At this point, the only aesthetic response that works for me is to believe with all my heart that when Douglas Adams died, God promoted him immediately to head writer.
Good Morning America's Home Improvement Editor, Ron Hazelton on how to prepare your home for a terrorist attack.

Okay, we have definitely gone through the rabbit hole here, people. Our government actually suggested duct tape and plastic sheeting as protection against a terrorist attack, and now Good Morning America is teaching us how to use it. Fine. Sure. I mean, it won't actually help or anything, but there's no reason not to take reasonable precautions, such as setting aside a small reserve of essentials.

Does anybody take these guys seriously anymore? Maybe it's the crowd I'm hanging out with, but I know very, very few people with any respect left for the morons running our country.

Part of my problem is that I'm an optimist at heart. For example, while I think that pretty much everyone in the White House is either incompetent or corrupt (or both, I suppose), I look out at the world and see that life is still happening, and things are going fairly well in the real world (as opposed to the political one), all things considered, and I'm reminded of an old George Will column written back when George the Elder was taking on Dukakis. The column basically said, "Look, it's only four years, and then we can get somebody real in." Now, if Bush actually wins in 2004, then I'll be depressed, no doubt.

Just as an aside, does anybody else think it's weird that the problems in my marriage started coming to the surface right after Shrub's inauguration? Just me, huh? Well, okay.
Spam of the Day:
From: Free Sample
Subject: Be a loser and be happy at the weight you want to be

I've gotta admit, when I first read this, I was thinking they were going to try and sell me some pill that would make me be happy to be fat and alone, watching TV while my arteries harden. Nope. Unfortunately, it's just another weight-loss thing. Oh well.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Recent Yahoo News headline: "Bush Disappointed in France, Says NATO Hurt"

I remember getting that speech from my parents. Sorry, France. It sucks when they're disappointed in you.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Brokentype has a nice piece up on writing for the web. He wrote something that had real world consequences, in that people were offended or formed false impressions based on a couple of his pieces, and this was his response. His two major points are that he's a liar who ejaggerates, so you're weigh his words as having any more weight than the air they are, and, as with any liar, the lies he tell reveal more about him than about the person being lied about. He also gets into some of his rules for writing (based on Paul Ford's rules), which got me thinking about my own:
  1. Be kind.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Be funny.
  4. Don't let fear dissuade you from doing any of the above.
In that order. And in looking at them, I'd also take them as pretty good rules for life, but only in that order.

Friday, February 07, 2003

Okay, so maybe a little explanation is in order. When the first Gulf War came around, I did the usual thing. I worried, I ranted, I rave, I even went to a couple of protests. Granted, there was this girl, but I did genuinely object to what was coming out of the mouths of our president at the time. I objected to the fact that people I cared about (I had a cousin the Air Force, and my best friend's girlfriend was in the reserves and her unit was on the short list to get called up) might have to die in order to clean up a mess that our own incompetent and hypocritical leadership had allowed to happen. Not to mention that Bush was on my TV screen talking about "defending democracy and freedom" when the nation we were supposed to be "liberating" was a sexist, oil-drenched oligarchy. I objected to our troops flying off to save Kuwait and defend Saudi Arabia when our president had never even let the name of Tibet pass his lips. I objected to men and women my age being used as little more than Hessians in the service of Saudi Arabia, rented out to protect the corrupt royal family of a nation that thinks teaching women to read is being progressive.

But I liked making signs and chanting "No blood for oil!" while marching side by side with cute hippie chicks through the streets of Kirksville, where absolutely no one cared. I even kind of liked the protest where less than ten protesters showed up along with a couple of ROTC guys who wanted to argue with us. I especially liked it when one of the ROTC guys admitted that, yeah, it was pretty hard to trust the guy who ran the CIA for Nixon.

Now it's 12 years later (12 years? Jesus, how did that happen?), and I try and picture what the Middle East would look like if we hadn't intervened. Hell, I don't know; I suspect it's unknowable. But let's throw a few things out there. We'd probably be trading with Iraq, so that would mean more oil on the market, which should lead to lower gas prices. Our troop presence in the area would be much lower, which means probably no bases in Saudi Arabia, which was supposedly what set Osama Bin Laden off in the first place. But Bin Laden was primed to hate us, and if it hadn't been our troops in his homeland that set him off, it would have been something else. And as far as gas prices, well, my experience has been that they raise the prices whenever they think they can get away with it.

I'm starting to come around to the belief that the mideast is a sort of strange attractor, with the tendency of the region being a stable but chaotic state, and every attempt to tinker with it fails as the system falls back into a bloody equilibrium. There's never peace, but it never flares up into the kind of long-term all out firestorm that was WWII Europe either.

Naturally, I hope I'm wrong, but I haven't heard anything particularly convincing coming out of our current leadership.

Okay, so maybe I haven't actually changed my mind. 12 years ago I thought I was being lied to, and I didn't trust Bush I et al. to do a good job of it. Now I think a better crew never would have let it happen in the first place and, if it had come to war, would have taken out Saddam, or at least encouraged a Kurdish rebellion. But there's no point to playing "might have been", and no matter what we did or didn't do, the whole region's karmically inclined toward being a clusterfuck.
A while back, Welch asked a good question of those of us who opposed Gulf War, the First: "Have you changed your mind?" Well, it's been fermenting in the back of my mind, and I think the answer is Yes. Sort of.
The long version is here. The short version is that Sen. Chuck Hagel won his seat in a huge landslide, in spite of all the polls saying he was going to lose. By pure coincidence, Chuck Hagel ran the company that made the voting machines that were used in 80% of the voting locations. And Nebraska law prevents anyone outside the company from examining either the hardware or the software involved.

Reminds me a bit of a Jai Nitz comic, Nosferatu Kennedy. Your opponent sees you eating a baby and goes to the press with it, but he ends up sounding like a crazed conspiracy freak, and all you have to say is "Yeah, right, I eat babies!"

Um, not that I'm actually saying that Hagel stole the election. Or eats babies. But if I had to choose between believing every word in the Weekly World News or every word in the Reader's Digest, I'd definitely go for the Weekly World News, and this is definitely Weekly World News material. Unless it's true, in which case I'd want to see it in the headlines of every paper in the country, on TV, and all over talk radio.
Josh Marshall says, in essence that Saddam's refusal to cooperate with inspectors is self-destructive, in that it is a course of action which leads his nation closer to war, a war which will almost inevitably end in his being deposed, if not his death. These are his exact words: "Yes, one can figure issues of pride, national honor, unwillingness to lose his WMD capacity, etc. But at the end of the day he's courting his own destruction, sealing his fate. How does that square with the idea that he's purely a rational actor, most interested in his own survival?"

I'm sure Marshall read Mark Bowden's profile of Saddam in last May's Atlantic Monthly (he seems to have read everything else even tangentially related to the possibility of war in Iraq). I don't know what he got out of it, but I got a picture of Saddam as a tribal chieftain in a modern world, brutally devoted to the acquisition and maintenance of personal power. Power is his reason for being, the driving force in his life, and so it's no surprise to me that he'd rather die than have to genuflect before the U.S. But I still think of him as a rational actor within the limits of his character. Like most of us, he sees social standing as a survival issue, so he'll fight to save face as much as any cornered animal. The secret to the art of war is allowing your opponent a way to survive that saves face.

In his own way, I think Bush is trapped by the same alpha male mindset, and just as unable to step outside of his own macho rhetoric to see a solution that doesn't involve the deaths of a whole lot of people who, honestly, could care less about the psychosociological and/or political issues involved.
The week after V-day, I'm going to see Dawn Wells in the Vagina Monologues. Yep, two hours of watching Mary Ann talking about her cooter. Somewhere deep inside me, there is a very happy 12-year old boy.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Fuck off, I'm full!
I made the mistake of going to Hardee's for lunch today. Dunno what came over me, but I had a sudden craving for a Frisco Burger. Actually, what I was craving was really a Frisco Chicken Sandwich, but they stopped serving them years ago, and the Frisco Burger was an almost acceptable substitute. Except there's no Frisco Burger anymore, it's now a 1/3 lb. Thickburger on Sourdough, which is a massive edifice of meat on a buttered sourdough roll with bacon, mayonaise, tomato, and lettuce. My first thought on seeing their new menu, which is all "Thickburgers" of one kind or another, was to say, "No thanks" and drive away. But there was a car in front of me, a car behind me, and concrete on either side, so girded my loins and ordered the massive mound of meat (on sourdough). My second thought was that I was a frog in increasingly hot water, and that Hardee's wasn't going to be satisfied until I was consuming a good 5 pounds of beef at each meal, if even then.

I love food. I eat beef. I think fat is good. But this was just too much fucking food.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Gregg Easterbrook writes in Time that we should cancel the shuttle program. I really want to disagree with him and, in fact, do. Sort of. Mostly. Mainly I don't trust him, or, rather, I don't trust the piece he's written, because anything written so soon after a public tragedy like this will be motivated almost exclusively by grief. But his core argument is much less inflamatory that the headline ("The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped"). Basically, he's arguing that much of the technology behind the shuttle launches is 20 years old, and we need to start from scratch.

I've never really been a space geek. I've been a food geek, a computer geek, and a martial arts geek, but never a space geek. Sure, I read a lot of science fiction, but I was always much more interested in the people (and non-human people) in the books than the machines. For me, the science in science fiction was anthropology. But I had friends who were, and they always kept me updated on what was happening, on the slowly approaching day when people lived on the moon, mined the asteroids, and took those first, hesitant steps outside the solar system.

I read my history books, so I knew that the first pilots crashed a lot, that the prairies were seeded with the bones of the pioneers. Knowing that, I also knew that the people in the space program now had placed themselves on the bleeding edge for the sake of the species. And make no mistake, as long as we're limited to just the one planet, we're unbelievably fragile (on a cosmic scale, anyway). They put their lives at risk so that maybe a thousand years from now some kid can lay his back in the grass on some other world, looking up at the backside of the same stars I see from my front porch.

And then there are the engineers, who push the limits of reason and imagination to hurl a select few at the void and bring them safely home. What's harder, to risk your own life, or to make decisions and calculate risks for the lives of others?

The space program isn't about money, or ego, or politics, though all of those things end up affecting its course. The space program is, in the short term, about basic research (which, by the way, has wonderful return on investment), and in the long term its about the future of our species.

Aw, hell. The principals of oratory demand a call for action, that I advocate a position, something. But what action? What position? But the decisions about the future of the space program are in the hands of our government, which is currently run by, well, not the most forward thinking individuals.

If I wrote a letter to my congressman today, it wouldn't say "Vote yes on Bill H423" or "Increase funding for basic research", it would ask that he please take more of a long-term view, that he think about what each bill meant not just for himself and his campaign contributors, but for his grandchildren, and for as many generations forward as he could imagine. I'd ask that he please find it in himself to be hopeful for he future, in spite of the rhetoric coming from our leaders, who so desperately fear change, because you cannot plan for a happy future if you cannot see it.
I'd sort of sworn these off, but I couldn't resist the What Poetry Form Am I? quiz. For one thing, it told me I was a haiku. For another, this is one of the questions:

    What sort of mechanical contrivances are you fond of?:

        * Thingies.
        * Thingummies.
        * Whatsits.
        * Gadgets.
        * Doodahs.
        * Gizmos.
So you probably know Neil Gaiman's got a blog, right? The beautiful thing about blogging is that sometimes you get to read the sort of tossed-off nonsense that would never make it into a more polished medium. For example, the creator of Sandman, American Gods, Coraline and others doing a quick imitation of Gollum-Smeagol slash fiction: "Oh, the preciouss, we takes it our handssses and we rubs it and touchess it, gollum....no, Smeagol musst not touch the preciousss, the master said only he can touch the precioussss.... bad masster, he doess not know the precious like we does..."

That's just sick.

(he doesn't use anchor tags, so you'll have to scroll for it)