April 30, 2004

Modern Love

…puts my trust in God and man. (as David Bowie sung)

I threw out the following question on Greg’s Spirit Space in the comments on a particular post:
I wonder which makes more goodness on Earth possible… believing in God or believing in man?”

Greg asks if I think I have the answer, or whether it is rhetorical.

I asked the question mostly as something to think about and something I have been thinking about. I expect everyone will have his own answer. I can give you my answer. But you all will have to excuse my primitive philosophical meanderings.

If you were to take a poll, I’d guess the majority of people would say “believing in God.” The majority, after all, are religious.

But I need to clarify what I meant by the statement because it was open to interpretation. Then I can give you my answer.

“I wonder which makes more goodness on Earth possible… believing in God or believing in man?”

By “believing in God” I mean having belief in the existence of God. I am assuming that those who believe in God also believe in his power to do good in the world.

By “believing in man” I mean believing that man has power to have a positive influence in the world, and that we have an individual responsibility to be that good that we wish to see in the world. I am assuming the actual existence of man is not in dispute here.

People may disagree with my definitions. But this question is only meant for discussion. I’m not trying to define a complete system of belief.

“Believing in man” does not preclude believing in God-I want to make that clear. But I think that believing in God does not automatically translate into a belief in man. If, for example, you believed that God was actively causing things to happen in your life, you may have given up some of your belief in man. “God helps those who help themselves” is a phrase used to keep belief in God from slipping into giving God all of the responsibility.

Hitler is not an example of someone who believed in man. I don’t think anyone can claim he was motivated by a sincere desire to be the positive change he wished to see in the world. He only believed in his power to spread his will, and his hatred. I specified the squishy term “goodness” in the very question, after all. The question did not ask for an accounting where good and evil somehow cancel out.

Believing in God may help some people to believe in man. I think that’s great. However, I don’t think many people have much effect at all if they don’t believe in their individual responsibility for positive change in their own lives, their family, their community and the world. And perhaps more importantly, to be that change. Not only when they impose their will on others, but introspectively.

So, my answer is, whatever your path to it is, believing in man what does the most good.

As for our president, there is no way for me to tell you what he believes. He professes a belief in God. Does it translate to a belief in man? He certainly wants to exercise his power to impose change on the world… but does he see that as an extension of his efforts to be the change he wishes to see in the world? Does he see it as part of an effort for all Americans to be the change we wish to see in the world.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader.

Posted by James at 5:12 PM | Comments (2)

Tire Fire Part 2

The Herald News has the info on that fire from yesterday.

Firefighters battled a stubborn brush fire that ignited about 200 illegally dumped tires in the area of the Fall River Country Club Thursday afternoon.

Chief Edward J. Dawson said a call came in about 12:30 p.m. for a large brush fire between railroad tracks and the north end of the golf course.

Dawson said the brush fire spread to the tires that had been illegally dumped in the area. The fire was confined to a 75 by 100 square yard area, he said.

The chief said the fire to the tires was “very difficult to put out,” and took firefighters about four hours to extinguish.

Thank you, illegal dumpers and vandals! You’re a breath of fresh air. Bastards.

Posted by James at 1:03 PM | Comments (6)

Explaining Evil

My daughter wanted to know why some people were Red Sox fans and some people were Yankees fans. (I should end the post here, for effect)

I think it’s important to let children know that while the Yankees may be evil, Yankees fans aren’t necessarily evil. We don’t want to sow the seeds of prejudice in them.

As I drove around my daughters yesterday, we listened to some of the Sox post-game between yesterday’s double header. At that point the Sox had shut out three straight games. They’d won five consecutive. I explained “No No Nanette” and I described “the curse” as only a non-mystical thinker and Red Sox fan can. (It’s one of the mysteries of the Universe… yeah, I punted)

Jeter broke his cold streak, but earlier in the day, during the Sox pregame it was noted that the crowd chanted for Jeter as he took the plate, but were not very nice to him when he left without a hit. Sox fans like to note that kind of thing.

And the Sox extended their win streak to 6 later in the day. 32 Scoreless innings until that last game. A 7-run first inning. Do you see why I had to explain the curse? You do if you’re a Red Sox fan and/or a parent. You have to break the painful stuff to your kids slowly. 1986 will wait for another day.

(BTW - For those of you who saw this post and thought perhaps it was an essay on the arbitrary groupthink that sometimes results in hate, prejudice and violence in the world, and how that is related to team sports fandom… well, I apologize. Not feeling that deep this morning.)

Posted by James at 9:44 AM | Comments (4)

Post of Shotgun-Kind

Here we go. The Friday Shotgun post. There is much to see.

  • Disregarded Iraq Warnings Appear Prescient - Read the warnings of Republicans who were worried about the lack of post-war plans way back in 2003. They were right; the hawks were unprepared. Remember my translation?
  • Photos show jail abuse by US troops - Someone, please tell me this isn’t really happening. This is an extremely disturbing story that is not going to help us make any friends.
  • QT and Pasootie in the ME-02 Snatch - Cute Flash animation. A secret operation to steal a powerful device… but to what end?
  • Alien Abduction - Shockwave game. Why should the aliens have all the fun. Do some abducting!
  • Khaaaaan! - It’s exactly what it says. Make sure your sound is on.
  • Wine, Cigars, Deer Head — Charge It to Uncle Sam - Brian sent along this odd news story. It’s about government credit card fraud. Excuses for buying items were often novel. Asked about a mounted deer head, auditors were told it was to educate airmen about the local deer population. In another instance $200 of LEGO toy robots were bought to “teach Navy engineers about robotics” while the excuse for buying a $250 Louis Vuitton designer folio was simply listed as “personal preference.” Preference indeed. Remember the ethics training they put us through, BriWei?
  • Designs on the White House - Clothing to raise funds for Kerry. They’re looking for suggestions. (Thanks, Patty)
  • Sherlock expert in death mystery - You can’t make this stuff up. Sent along by Julie, this is an odd story. Mysterious death by shoelace of a mystery-obsessed Doyle enthusiast.
  • Vertigo (info) - There is a form of vertigo known as BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo). Unknown to me before yesterday, it occurs when a crystal in a semicircular canal of your inner ear becomes free-floating and stimulates your direction-sensing apparatus. It comes on suddenly (thus “paroxysmal”) when your head is at a certain angle. The treatment is very odd. While it may go away on its own, it can also be eliminated by having a doctor move your head around a particular way to get the crystal to lodge itself somewhere harmless. Weird!
  • Tontie - Weird Japanese Flash game. Like Whack-a-Mole on steroids.
  • GoEnglish.com will give you the definition of various idiomatic phrases. Fun with linguistics.
  • A Collection of Word Oddities and Trivia - …further linguistic fun. You’ve heard of “CHARGOGGAGOGGMANCHAUGGAGOGGCHAUBUNAGUNGAMAUGG” of course. Long place names are just part of the fun.
  • Bush Does The Robot
  • Newer Coke, Fewer Carbs - Don’t worry, there are still enough calories to make you fat. However, if it tastes decent I’ll give it a go. “Carbs” is trendy. Heck, I just want to eat less sugar. I wonder what the substitute sweetener is.
  • Claim vs. Fact Database - from the Center for American Progress. The Center for American Progress has launched this new database project to chart conservatives’s dishonesty. What”s not to like?

You didn’t really need to get any work done today, did you?

Posted by James at 3:19 AM | Comments (4)

April 29, 2004

Tire Fire?

I had to go home in the middle of the day today and on my way home I noticed the northern sky was filled with a black, billowing cloud of smoke. A I got closer to home it seemed to be right in my town, but a quick check from the second-floor platform confirmed that it was either in the next town or across the river.

I wasn’t able to investigate for a few hours. I took the picture above (click for enlarged image) about 3.5 hours later. The sooty-looking smoke had almost completely subsided by this time. I drove down to the river with the kids. There’s a small park in town that doubles as a boat ramp and it affords a good view of the other bank.

From the parking lot we could see the origin of the smoke, but not the reason for it. It was definitely in Fall River, right near the bank. The same wind that was making small whitecaps on the river was carrying the smell of buring rubber to our nostrils.

What happens in one municipality often affects the surrounding communities. When tires burn in Fall River, people in Somerset get a lungful of rubber.

Posted by James at 7:52 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2004

Got Ice Cream?

Do you have a Baskin-Robbins near you?

If so, get thee to it tonight between 6pm and 11pm. It’s free scoop night!

It’s also free cone day at Ben and Jerry’s. Use that information as you will, but use it quickly.

Free ice cream tastes goo-ood. And, just recently, one of these establishments opened up within walking distance of our house. Evil! But good.

[UPDATE: I’ve led you astray about Ben and Jerry’s. The email update I got about them was from yesterday, so free cone day was yesterday. Last year I swear it was on the same day as Baskin Robins’ free scoop day. At any rate, we just got back from Baskin Robins and a good time was had by all. We hit it lucky, during a break between the crowds. We actually stepped right up to the counter, but there was a line by the time we left.]

Posted by James at 3:43 PM | Comments (12)

Delightful, del.icio.us, Delovely

As my free time waxes and wanes, the length and frequency of my posts vary. However, I’m trying to keep the “Quick Links” moving along, because I do often come across great links that I want to share. But I sometimes don’t have time to write about them, or don’t feel I need to elaborate on them.

So, be sure to check out that Quick Links section. I’ve moved it up a bit to make it more prominent on the site. If you’re using an RSS reader, there’s a feed you can subscribe to (see the button section for the RSS del.icio.us button).

del.icio.us” is the link blogging system I’m using now. You can find my entire link archive here.

Check it out often.

Posted by James at 12:39 PM | Comments (1)

April 27, 2004

Kerry Given The Floor

Kerry has been given an invitation to speak at Westminster College. The college president has extended this invitation out of a sense of balance after Cheney took advantage of his invitation earlier this week.

And when I say “took advantage” I mean it. Half of his speech was Kerry-bashing, according to the slightly conservative-leaning (but independent) college president Fletcher Lamkin. They knew there would be politics in the speech, but didn’t expect the entire second half to be an extended bashing of Kerry.

Here is a story covering the Lamkin’s reaction. He thanks the student body for treating Cheney with respect. The implication is that they treated him with more respect than he deserved—more respect than he showed them.

Of course, the speech itself was also filled with distortions. Cheney attacks Kerry yet again on defense, and on his vote(s). What’s interesting is that, if you look at Kerry’s record and at recommendations by Cheney during the same period, both of them were of the opinion that certain defense programs were no longer needed. And so, in a time when the deficit was soaring, both thought they should not be funded.

Lies that make good soundbites cannot be explained by soundbytes. So the lies stand. And any attempt at explanation… well, it can be explained away with the word “waffling.” For those of you who aren’t sure what waffling is, I can explain. It’s the GOP’s new term for “making a decision based on the evidence.”

Posted by James at 11:16 PM | Comments (1)

Anti-Karen Hughes

Could you, if you tried hard, work terrorist attacks into an abortion discussion?

If you were Karen Hughes, you could.

Further, would you equate pro-choice women to terrorists?

If you were Karen Hughes, you certainly would. Here’s Jon Stewart putting a fine point on it. If you missed it last night, I believe this will be on again at 7:00PM tonight.

Let me reiterate this. If you are a woman who believes in your legal right to have sovereignty over your own body, you are just like the terrorists. Yes - the islamists are huge on women’s rights. HUGE.

Posted by James at 4:56 PM | Comments (6)

I Want A Good Idea

Do you ever spin your wheels a little bit because the idea you have is lousy, and you’re just hoping for a good idea to come along? I do.

I guess I’m an idea snob. I don’t like to begin something until I have what I feel is a good idea. That’s part of what keeps me from redesigning my site. All my ideas for redesign have seemed mediocre at best, and not worth committing the time. When I have a good idea, I feel like committing the time.

I wonder if I would ever get anything done if I thought all of my ideas were bad.

Posted by James at 4:03 AM | Comments (3)

Petrov - Unsung Hero

Mike says “Why doesn’t every man, woman and child know about this man?” (in his del.icio.us link blog)

In a military bunker near Moscow, in the former Soviet Union, Stanislav Petrov would have been considered an enemy by the people of America. But as it turned out, he would become for them and for the world an unknown hero—perhaps the greatest hero of all time. Because of military secrecy, and political and international differences, most of the world has not heard of this man.

The extraordinary incident leading to his heroism occurred near Moscow, in the former Soviet Union, just past midnight, September 26, 1983. Because of time-zone differences, it was still September 25 in America, a Sunday afternoon.

In short, Petrov prevented the world from experiencing a nuclear holocaust. Read the whole story in the Wikipedia entry.

History is likely rife with people who have made a difference, and coincidences that have changed the lives of millions. Certainly, Stanislav Petrov is one of those people. “What If” is an unsettling game to play when there are nuclear weapons in the balance.

Posted by James at 1:22 AM | Comments (1)

April 26, 2004

JDM Underlying Causes - Getting closer?

Are we getting closer to uncovering the causes of Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM) and other autoimmune diseases (especially those in children?)

This study and its findings suggest we are.

The Mayo Clinic study investigates a specific gene that can be passed on from mother to child, and what happens when a mother’s actual cells are present in a child’s body after childbirth. These so-called chimeric cells are present more often in JDM patients than in a control group of their siblings, or of unrelated folks. It’s long been known that fetal cells can remain in mothers. These cells may play a role in autoimmune diseases in mothers, and the data is pointing toward them causing problems in daughters as well. In addition, they’ve identified a gene which is, itself, passed along on the maternal side and appears to be related to the disease.

My daughter suffers from this degenerative disease for which there is no cure. The most obvious effects, thus far, are held at bay with drugs (which have their own side effects). Many children eventually enter an extended remission from this disease, but it’s a crap shoot. For those afflicted with this disease, and other diseases with an even lower chance of remission, the discovery of this mechanism represents hope that the mystery of autoimmune diseases will someday be conquered.

Posted by James at 2:46 PM

You've Got Mice

Looks like we’ve got some sort of rodent infestation at our offices. I came in this morning to find that my box of hot chocolate had been chewed into and a couple of the packets had been opened and consumed by someone with very small teeth. There was also evidence of a small cocoa-powder-covered body rubbing against the floor and under the radiator.

Maybe I’ve been watching too much CSI, but I took pictures before throwing away the box. There is also a hair (you can barely see it in the picture here) left behind, but it appears to be a somewhat long human hair.

Maybe it was a person who turns into a mouse. So much for my CSI skills.

Posted by James at 1:42 PM | Comments (8)

In Bushworld

In Bushworld, it’s fine to take $700 million that Congress provided for the war in Afghanistan and 9/11 recovery and divert it to the war in Iraq that you’re insisting you’re not planning.

In Bushworld, you don’t consult your father, the expert in being president during a war with Iraq, but you do talk to your Higher Father, who can’t talk back to warn you to get an exit strategy or chide you for using Him for political purposes. […]

In Bushworld, the C.I.A. says it can’t find out whether there are W.M.D. in Iraq unless we invade on the grounds that there are W.M.D.

In Bushworld, there’s no irony that so many who did so much to avoid the Vietnam draft have now strained the military so much that lawmakers are talking about bringing back the draft.

In Bushworld, we’re making progress in the war on terror by fighting a war that creates terrorists.

Dowd: The Orwellian Olsens (NYT, free registration reqd.)

Posted by James at 12:51 PM | Comments (2)

April 25, 2004

Lord of the Plot

When I read this story in the Globe, it evoked the image of medieval lords who had huge egos and got off on enforcing their will on the folks who were within their fiefdoms. The story is about street name disputes in towns around the commonwealth. Many towns have gone through bitter disputes as a result of necessary renaming of roads, and the naming of new roads as developments pop up everywhere.

But one story stood out, that of Peter Porcaro Drive. This fellow behind the name of this road really sounds like a little Caesar.

Porcaro says he wasn’t trying to antagonize his new neighbors; his complaint was with town officials, whom he sued for preventing him from developing his property. […] The town’s resistance to his naming of Peter Porcaro Drive, he said, only fed his desire to name the common driveway.

“The more they tried to deny me the right to do it, the more I wanted to do it, because I had researched this whole street-naming business,” he said. […]

Beede said he cared less about the new address than Porcaro’s heavy-handedness. The day Porcaro learned that he had won on the driveway name, the neighbors say, a bouquet of helium balloons reading “Congratulations!” was tied to the street sign.

It could be that he was well within his rights. I don’t know the details. But, either way, fighting to shove your name down your neighbors’ throats makes you, in my book, eligible for a special “asshat” award. Is “asshattery” a word? It ought to be.

Posted by James at 5:11 AM

Atkins Causes Buffet Woes

I ran across this interesting story: No-carb eating couple booted from buffet. From the story:

Isabelle Leota, 29, and her husband Sui Amaama, 26, both on the no-carb diet, were dining Tuesday at a Chuck-A-Rama in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville when the manager cut them off because they’d eaten too much roast beef.

This cracks me up for a number of reasons. Let me count the ways.

1) The place doesn’t claim to be an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Is it something in our culture that makes us think “if it’s a buffet, I need to gorge myself?” I’ll admit, I too have gone to buffets and stuffed myself. In fact, a decade ago when I worked in Newport for the DoD, we used to go to a little place called the Hong Kong Restaurant, before Chinese buffets were everywhere. As buffets go, this one was tiny, but it had chicken wings, ribs, fried rice and soup. In other words, it had a lot of fatty stuff. But I digress. What amuses me is that these folks were insulted that they were told to stop eating after 12 trips to the roast beef. In all my years, I don’t remember making even close to 12 trips at a buffet. At 3 trips for chicken wings, I feel supremely piggish.

2) The place is called Chuck-A-Rama. Tell me that doesn’t make you think “vomitorium.” Tell me, dammit!

3) The couple are finishing their second week of the Atkins Diet, which requires taking in little to no carbohydrates, and they eat at Chuck-A-Rama’s $8.99 buffet at least twice a week because of its convenience. It’s the convenience? If they wanted to eat a ton of roast beef and only roast beef, they could go to a supermarket deli and buy a couple of pounds of roast beef and eat that. That’s more convenient than showing your face 12 times at the buffet.

4) They make 12 trips up there for roast beef. Between the two of them, call it 20 servings of the main course for a total of $18 bucks. If you figure the average customer goes for roast beef seconds, these two people are consuming 10+ customers worth of main courses. That’s a loss of $180 of revenue a couple of times a week when they walk through the door.

5) Even though they had consumed about 10 customers-worth of the main course they asked for their money back when confronted by management.

6) This really could have been handled better. Of course, on the customer side, they should have left before the police had to be called. Were they staying just on principle? The restaurant manager should probably have responded differently for the request for money back. “Yes, you can have your $18 back if you promise never to come in here again for roast beef.” The restaurant would have noticed increased profits on certain days.

7) The couple says they’re not going back. Did they bother to ask how many servings of roast beef they were allowed? It seems like the line was drawn at 11. Is there anywhere else in their town where they could get 10 servings of roast beef for 9 bucks? At the deli it’s $7/lb. And my guess is that a restaurant serving is around 4oz. So 10 servings would cost them $17.50. Convenience, my butt. They were going for a cheap way to load up on beef.

8) Any sort of diet that has you going to a buffet at least 2 times a week for megadoses of beef is not teaching you anything good about long-term sustainable healthy eating. Sorry. It just isn’t. Unless Salt Lake City is Bizarro World.

9) I’ll give the customers this: I bet the restaurant does very little to visibly dispel the myth that they are an all-you-can-eat establishment. But still. Really.

(link found via Boing Boing)

Not-necessarily-related links:

Posted by James at 2:26 AM | Comments (7)

April 24, 2004

Bush Slashes Science

“The projected cuts to most nondefense R&D programs would leave key programs with budgets well below recent historical levels,” said Kei Koizumi, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program. “Particularly during a Presidential election year, it’s important for policymakers and taxpayers to understand the impacts of any federal budget changes, especially any proposals that may have implications for the pace of scientific discoveries in coming years.”

Science Blog - Bush budget would slash science spending

Posted by James at 2:15 PM

April 23, 2004

Friday Buckshot

  • Trippy Floating Guy - sent along by Ryan. It’s flash, no sound. Just trippy.
  • www.TrimShrub.com is now more or less live. I’ve got a brief statement there, and the plans are being made. The early plan is to make it a central source for banners and images in support of Kerry.
  • Service Pack for Star Trek (sent along by Julie)
  • How-tos For Getting Hitched in Massachusetts. (Thanks, Ailsa) I’ve never actually gotten married in Massachusetts. We crossed the border and did the deed in RI. Congrats to all those folks planning events in the next few months.
  • Compare and Contrast Bush and Kerry Vietnam records. One picture tells it. No wonder the Bushies pushed for Kerry’s records. Let’s talk more about Kerry’s volunteering and heroism.
  • CyberTan now offers a process for getting a tan while online. Nifty!
  • Creepy Hospital Tour - I don’t know who made this neat Flash site, but it’s a creepy, slightly artsy tour of an old hospital.
  • Marine Corps Moms - Deb is a friend of mine, and she’s created this site to support the moms of our marines. She’s also a great lady who has worked hard for Backpacks for Iraq.
  • The Brights’ Movement Forum is hosting discussion on the Brights Movement. Undaunted by people who didn’t like their name, they’re moving forward discussing their nonmystical worldview.

Posted by James at 2:17 PM | Comments (4)

Gotcha!

So, I bought a new domain yesterday. It probably hasn’t filtered through the DNS system yet, so it likely won’t work for you, if you’re reading this on Friday ther 23rd. No sense saying too much about it. I’m not completely sure what I’ll do with it yet, but I’ve started making some banners to laugh at and share. The graphic you see above is one of them. The new domain will help me spread them around. The name is www.TrimShrub.com.

Of course, whatever happens, you’ll hear about it here first.

Posted by James at 3:40 AM | Comments (2)

April 22, 2004

In Kerry News

Kerry was pressed to release his military records. I have to think that the Kerry campaign enjoyed holding off briefly before releasing the data. Kerry highly praised in military records

During his four years of active duty, Kerry received glowing evaluations that cited his maturity, intelligence and immaculate appearance. He was recommended for early promotion, and when he left the Navy in 1970 to run for Congress, his commanding officer said it was the Navy’s loss.

Meanwhile, a wingnut was arrested for threatening to kidnap and kill Kerry. Those Bush attack ads are finally sinking in!

Posted by James at 5:47 PM

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (Review)

Tarantino was clearly saving the deeper parts of the story for Kill Bill: Vol. 2 - the second half of his revenge tale. Where the first volume is a more cartoonish depiction of Uma Thurman’s “The Bride”, this is a deeper look into the character, where she’s from and where she’s going.

Yes, of course, it’s full of action as well, much of it hyperbolic, but the action is now used as punctuation for the emotional story.

The Bride continues her rampage, but we jump around in time to learn what really happened in that chapel and how she learned the skills that allowed her to survive one on one with an entire yakuza army.

I’m not the diligent student of film Tarantino is; I don’t get every one of the references that are surely embedded among the names, images and sounds. But I know what I like. I like the fact that Tarantino delivers a great action film and then gives us a mythology as a followup.

Going through Budd and Elle Driver turns out not to be as certain a task as slicing up the Crazy 88. The closer The Bride gets to Bill, the closer she gets to her past. This is where the first film let us off easy. The past gave Thurman’s character her motivation, to kill and to kill Bill, but it didn’t give her much trouble (she wakes up fully recovered from her coma) nor a reason to exist beyond vengeance. So now we need to be reminded that we’ve gotten a little bit ahead of ourselves, and with the shocking explosion of a shotgun blast. That’s just the sort of thing to slow an audience down, and get them ready for some background.

Taken together, the two films complete a good story. I can see that the first film only gives you enough of the Bride to get you interested. In that aspect, the films are a bit uneven. For people who are not big Tarantino fans, they might have appreciated more of The Bride’s story in the first film rather than a raw action film. Yes, we get startling revelations, but not the character development that the second film holds. I find it hard to be too critical, however, as this combination worked on me. I looked forward to Vol. 2, and I wasn’t disappointed.

We finally get to see The Bride’s past, and how it will affect her future. But Tarantino has already revealed that the consequences of Kill Bill will come back to haunt The Bride. As she tells Nikki, in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 :

It was not my intention to do this in front of you. For that I’m sorry. But you can take my word for it, your mother had it coming’. When you grow up, if you still feel raw about it, I’ll be waiting.

Posted by James at 2:10 PM

Timewaster

Boy, fiddling with the layout is a time-waster. I’ve just spent hours cleaning up my side column to make it a little more usable, descriptive and fun. I have badges for a bunch of the blog’s features, they’re finally arranged semi-neatly and nearly all of them have rollover text.

You’ll see my various RSS feeds now listed (the ATOM feed will be of interest to folks who want full entries when they subscribe to my blog).

My point is, it takes a lot longer than it seems it should. Finding and/or creating the buttons I need, uploading them, editing the template (repeatedly) rebuilding… Wow. The hours fly by.

For those at all interested in syndicated content, I’ve been using Bloglines lately to read my favorite weblogs. If you want to get an idea of what this looks like, I’ve made my list of blogs public at Bloglines, and you can get to it through this button:
wherever you see it on the page.

Feel free to take any buttons here for your own use. I’ve created some of them, and the rest are freely distributed elsewhere. So have at it.

Posted by James at 5:04 AM | Comments (12)

April 21, 2004

Artificial Strawberry Hell

I have to come up with a better way to get organized in the morning. I left the house this morning again without checking to make sure I had everything I needed. Specifically, I forgot my breakfast, my lunch, and the cookies I was going to share with my coworkers.

I was in a rush, so I ate what I had in the office when I got here. Store brand sugar-covered rice puffs and strawberry milk.

If I don’t get organized, I swear I am going to become diabetic.

Posted by James at 1:59 PM | Comments (5)

Phreakish

I first heard of phone phreaking in the book Travels With Dr. Death and Other Unusual Investigations, a collection of articles written by Esquire journalist Ron Rosenbaum. Phone Phreakers are the original computer hackers. They pre-date personal computers and got their entertainment from hacking public phone systems. Free long distance calls is a perquisite of being a phone phreaker, but the draw is probably the challenge of it. Back when phone systems were less governed by fancy computers, some tricks were as easy to pull as using a whistle found in a Captain Crunch box to take control of a telephone trunk line. Nowadays it is not so easy.

It appears that a modern-day phreak has been harassing the Fairhaven Police Department.

The calls to Fairhaven police started on Jan. 31, when a resident on New Boston Road received a call from someone claiming to represent a financial company. The caller, calling himself “Mark Davis,” told the resident he owed $27, and gave the resident a 1-800 number to call with questions. […]

At one point, the caller obtained the home address of a Fairhaven police sergeant and kept demanding that police respond to that address. “It was a little unsettling,” Lt. Joseph said. “One dispatcher, who has been here quite a while, said this was the first guy who really got to her.” After receiving a number of threatening calls without knowing where they were coming from, Fairhaven police placed a trap on the line. But the caller knew that was coming, and the number on the trap kept coming back to the business line for the Fairhaven police.

They may have caught the guy in L.A. I suppose time will tell. But the barrage of harassment really got to these folks. You have to figure that they’re used to some level of abuse, being in law enforcement.

The telephone is an interesting tool. Partly in our control, but partly under the control of whoever wishes to call us. When a phreak has seized even more control, that alone is unsettling enough. But I think this case also points to the creepiness of phones in general, which must be why they figure in so many horror and suspense films. Dial ‘M’ For Murder, Scream, The Ring, When A Stranger Calls and others.

Posted by James at 3:20 AM | Comments (1)

Lapsang Souchong

As some of you may know, I’m partial to Scotch. Its smoky, peaty flavor differentiates it from other liquors. Single malt Scotch is not blended and so is prized and enjoyed for its particular characteristics (which vary based on originating region). I’m not a learned Scotch drinker, only having begun a few years ago, but I know enough to enjoy the differences.

I’m even less knowledgeable about tea. But I’ve always liked the stuff and am acquiring a new appreciation.

Recently, Julie introduced me to Lapsang Souchong, a tea which is produced in different parts of China and Formosa. A distinction of this tea is that it is smoked over wood fires after it is dried. There are a number of variations on it, and the version I have adheres to the Formosan tradition. The flavor is of a pine smoke, a bit like pine tree incense, though some versions are cedar-smoked.

It does remind me a little of Scotch, with its smokiness. Julie gave me some loose tea and I liked the aroma so much that I hesitated to brew with it. Eventually I began to chew it a little while I was sitting at my desk. On Sunday I went out to Whole Foods Market and bought some in tea bags, a brand called Taylors of Harrowgate. I enjoy the smell of most teas, but Lapsang Souchong is particularly elegant in its aroma. It’s a great tea to relax with.

I also grabbed their green tea version of Earl Grey. Earl Gray’s bergamot infusion comes out stronger against the less-assertive green tea, and this is a brew that definitely improves with some sweetener. I may save the green tea for iced tea this summer.

If you’ve never had Lapsang Souchong before but you like tea, give the stuff a sniff (which costs you nothing if your nose is sensitive enough and you can smell through the cellophane at the store). It’s said to be an acquired taste, but I’m already hooked. My local markets do not carry the stuff—I had to go to Whole Foods in Providence to find it.

Posted by James at 2:50 AM

April 20, 2004

Songs Inspired By

On a weekly trip to the local Best Buy, Ryan and I stumbled upon The Passion of the Christ pseudo-soundtrack.

I’ve noticed other films doing this — releasing albums with songs that were or were not in the film and calling it “Songs Inspired By…”

But here we have “The Passion of the Christ: Songs Inspired By” and look at some of the tracks. Apparently, Elvis saw the film, was inspired and wrote “Where No One Stands Alone.” Good news. Elvis is still out there! Bob Dylan was also inspired by this film… in 1997 when he wrote “Not Dark Yet.” It’s one of those deep mysteries of religion, or how time travel seems to always work out on Star Trek. Don’t ask—it ruins the enjoyment.

It does have some good music on it (Elvis and Dylan… right there you’re on the right track.) But also present is Ave Maria sung by the entrancing Dolores O’Riordan (of the Cranberries). Try as I might to be cynical, damn I love her voice.

Posted by James at 3:49 PM

Timeline (Review)

Don’t waste your time.

I hesitate to spend too much of my own time reviewing this mess of a film, but I will press on, at least briefly, as a warning to the rest of you.

The film is dead boring. And when there is any action at all, it is predictable.

You can tell the film is based on a book (Michael Crichton) because it plods like a book. You have the urge to skim at a number of points, but, alas, you can’t. (I had people watching with me, and I didn’t want to be rude. Though they might not have objected, had I asked).

The premise, if you must know, is that a scientist has gone back in time through a wormhole and is trapped in the past. His son and some other archaeologists are enlisted to go back and save the fellow. Sure, it could be exciting. But there is altogether too much talking involved with going back in time. Apparently, for the process to work, you must be lulled into a boredom-induced stupor.

The ratings board gave the film a PG-13 for “violence and brief language.” We (Julie, Maggie and I) were incredulous that the language could have been considered brief, and we were looking forward to some violence which might break up the endless scenes of people telling each other stuff you would have normally read in the book.

In the end, there is a scene that is apparently supposed to have some serious significance, but the poor direction leaves you wondering what the heck is going on. But it’s not so much the direction that is to blame. The screenplay is just horrific.

OK - I’ve wasted enough time trashing Timeline. Skip it. Really. If you must see it, get someone else to pay for the rental and make sure you either have a lot of caffeine on hand or a ready escape route. Or, bring a book.

Posted by James at 3:23 PM | Comments (5)

Ella Enchanted (Review)

Ella (Anne Hathaway) is a young woman with a unique problem. When she was born, a fairy godmother gave her the gift of obedience. That is, whenever she is asked to do something, she is forced to do it. If that doesn’t seem like much of a gift to you, you’re right—it isn’t.

How strong is the enchantment? When told to “kick someone’s butt,” she suddenly has the martial arts chops of Jet Li. When told to “stay there” she’s not able to get out of the path of a speeding coach. Yeah - it has its moments, but it mostly sucks to be magically obedient.

Ella Enchanted follows the story of Ella into her young-womanhood. Her mother has passed away, but not before instructing her to never reveal the secret of her “gift.” Ella is able to pass off her odd behavior as quirkiness. Her father has remarried and she now has a stepmother and a couple of stepsisters in the picture. In a fairy tale, you know what that means (CinderElla).

But she’s developed as a person. She’s got a strong opinion on the politics of the kingdom and where other girls are swooning over the hunky prince Charmont (Hugh Dancy), Ella shows up at events with her friend to protest the policies that the prince’s uncle (Cary Elwes) has imposed on the kingdom ever since the death of the benevolent king.

Things get complicated when it turns out that the prince appreciates a woman who can think for herself and who isn’t overtly interested in him. It’s too bad that the prince isn’t more interested in the slavery imposed on the giants (the large folk are made to tend the royal gardens) and the elves (all elves are made to sing and dance for the entertainment of the kingdom).

As Ella has more contact with her stepsisters and the prince, her gift of obedience becomes more of a problem. If anyone were to find out about it, they would have complete control over her. And more contact with t he prince means more chances for Ella to try to explain to him what he’s been missing in politics, and get him to see that people like her friend Slannen the Elf (Aidan McArdle) ought to be able to decide on their own whether they should be an entertainer or a lawyer.

In both subtle and heavy-handed ways, this is a film about self-determination. Ella knows what it’s like to be a slave, you see, and is sympathetic to the plight of the folk who have been banished to specific parts of the land. Issues of real-world slavery and societal roles imposed on women are just below the surface here and handled in a way that makes a pretty good allegory.

The film has attracted comparisons to Shrek andThe Princess Bride. I’d say it’s more like Shrek, but it definitely has its own mojo. This does not have the cross-generational appeal that either film have. It is a great film for kids, but while there is enough to keep adults mildly entertained, there is not enough for them to embrace here as there is in both Shrek and especially The Princess Bride.

Anne Hathaway looks like a princess in this film, and makes the obedience enchantment convincing, as she goes slightly glassy-eyed every time she is given a command. Performances by Vivica A. Fox, Minnie Driver and Joanna Lumley will entertain the parents. Parminder K. Nagra is horribly underused here after her excellent performance in Bend It Like Beckham.

Ella Enchanted is a worthy children’s film about the choices we make, the choices we are barred from making and the role of the heart in breaking free of limitations. If you appreciate a change from vacuous Disney animations with the same warmed-over insipid lessons, you’ll enjoy it doubly.

Posted by James at 10:56 AM

April 19, 2004

State Cookie

In 1997, 3rd grade students form my hometown of Somerset, Massachusetts suggested to that state legislature that Massachusetts declare an official state cookie. They succeeded.

That cookie is the Chocolate Chip Cookie, aka the “Toll House Cookie” aka the Massachusetts Official State Cookie.

My good friend Chuck has some details on this bit of cookie history and a much more interesting connection to the Toll House Inn where the cookie was first baked. You see, he was there that fateful night… well, I’ll let him tell you about it.

Posted by James at 7:03 PM | Comments (14)

lose FACE with THE NATION

Condi was on Face The Nation this weekend talking about Woodward’s new book. I stupidly missed the 60 Minutes where they talked about the Woodward book. There were parts of the CBS interview I was particularly interested in:

�Gets to a point where in July, the end of July 2002, they need $700 million, a large amount of money for all these tasks. And the president approves it. But Congress doesn’t know and it is done. They get the money from a supplemental appropriation for the Afghan War, which Congress has approved. �Some people are gonna look at a document called the Constitution which says that no money will be drawn from the Treasury unless appropriated by Congress. Congress was totally in the dark on this.”

I must be insane, but this seems wrong to me.

Congress didn’t approve that cash for an Iraqi war effort, it was approved for Afghanistan (possibly, though I’m not sure, for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan). I’m baffled that this isn’t getting more attention. Of course, I was baffled when no one cared about the outing of Valerie Plame back in July of ‘03. It took a few months before anyone was interested in that story — a story about political revenge which still hasn’t been resolved.

Back to Iraq war planning and cash.

Condi was on Face The Nation this weekend, and they tossed some questions her way about this book. You can find the transcript on the Face The Nation website in PDF form.

It shows that the press is finally starting to get a little feisty:

SCHIEFFER: But, Dr. Rice, you cannot take money that Congress has appropriated for one purpose and spend it on something else. That’s against the law.”

The administration line seems to be to claim congress approved the money for the entire region, not just Afghanistan. Condi goes with the stalling tactic of saying “I haven’t read the book” and “money wasn’t taken away from Afghanistan.” Translation: STALL.

Condi needs to brush up on economics. If money appropriated by congress is spent on Iraq, it can’t also be spent on Afghanistan. If Iraq is not involved with al Qaeda, then spending money on Iraq war planning is not spending money on the war on terror. What area are we talking about?

Finally, we’re learning who ranks where in the eyes of this administration:

In chilling detail, he documents what has been long suspected, that it was a war within the
administration going on over what to do. He identifies Vice President Cheney as the official
who led the fight to take out Saddam Hussein, and he identifies Secretary of State Powell as
the official who opposed it, warning the president that Pottery—Pottery Barn rules would be
in effect. That is, if you break it, you own it. He reveals that early on, as officials were
publicly denying such plans, that money Congress had appropriated to fight the war in
Afghanistan was being used to pay for preparations for war with Iraq. And he says Saudi
Arabia’s ambassador, Prince Bandar, was told about it before Secretary of State Powell.

The Saudis learn about the Iraq war plans before Colin Powell?

During the election, people were saying that Bush would put together the best team. But Bush’s love for mental inbreeding marginalized the voices of reason within his own administration, circumventing his State Department. Diplomacy has no place in war planning.

The best Dr. Rice can do to identify Powell’s location “in the loop” is to say that she suspects Colin would not have been surprised that Prince Bandar was being briefed. He wasn’t in on the briefing (the State Department wasn’t in on it). But don’t worry — they told Powell a couple of days later.

Posted by James at 1:29 PM | Comments (6)

What's Up Today?

Patti sent along the Scotsman Fact of the Day:

A strange little cartoon is aired on the popular ‘Tracey Ullman Show’ today in 1987. It is called ‘The Simpsons’. We believe it may have enjoyed some minor cult success since.

It seems like only yesterday that I was watching Tracey Ullman in my parents’ living room. But it wasn’t; it was 1987.

Today is also Patriot’s Day — the day of the Boston Marathon. The famous marathon starts at 11:30 AM. You can get all the details on the Boston Athletic Association: 108th Boston Marathon Race Day Home Page

If you know someone who is in the race, the site will let you track their progress. I do know someone who is in the race — an ex-coworker and decent guy John Intorcio. He’s bib #7392. Good luck, John!

Posted by James at 12:08 PM | Comments (1)

Music of the fears

Lazy Guide to Net Culture: Music of the fears (Scotsman.com)

The music industry is dying, apparently. It is being killed by amoral reprobates who get songs for nothing from the internet. (For a list of the places where you can carry out such nefarious acts, check out afternapster.com.)

The effects of this have been devastating, as can be seen from the obvious poverty of the likes of Madonna, Elton John and Ronan Keating.

Posted by James at 11:58 AM | Comments (2)

April 18, 2004

Rush Limbaugh and the Plot To Kill President Kerry

No More Mister Nice Blog reveals that Rush Limbaugh has come to the conclusion that if Kerry becomes president, Hillary Clinton will off the fellow.

Specifically, Rush would have us believe that Hillary knows Kerry will lose, but in case she’s wrong, his body will end up in the park where Vince Foster killed himsel… er, I mean was murdered.

Of course. It makes perfect sense. If you’re a drug-addled radio talk show host, or any of his listeners.

[Update]

One of the things that cracked me up about Rush’s transcript was the bit at the end here:

There it is again. Folks, he was overshadowed by the kids. He’s sitting there reading some Mother Goose book to a bunch of four-year-olds and they were more interesting than he was. Hillary photographed sitting behind him looking at his rear end was more interesting than he was as he was reading to the kids. I’m telling you on this. I’m telling you.

Okay, Rush. Not everyone can compete with Dubya for entertainment value. If we were voting for Court-Jester-In-Chief, clearly the more entertaining GW Bush would be the shoo-in. You’re telling us on this, you’re telling us. What’s more interesting than a guy who is on vacation more than any other president, hides his plans for war from even his own people, can’t have a press conference without looking like he walked into the wrong room, jokes about misleading the country on weapons of death and calls the death of our soldiers “a tough week?”

I don’t think we can handle four more years of an “interesting” presidency.There it is again. Folks, he was overshadowed by the kids. He’s sitting there reading some Mother Goose book to a bunch of four-year-olds and they were more interesting than he was. Hillary photographed sitting behind him looking at his rear end was more interesting than he was as he was reading to the kids. I’m telling you on this. I’m telling you.

Posted by James at 10:33 PM | Comments (1)

LA Police, On The Ball

Apparently, the L.A. police force is doing its job. Daryl Hannah attended a premiere for the film “Kill Bill” and hammed it up a bit to cover up her nervousness in front of the crowd.

When she left the theatre, there were police waiting for her to give her a breathalizer. This was a test which clearly warranted five officers. After all, Ms. Hannah plays an assassin in the film. You just can’t be too careful, you know?

Posted by James at 4:34 AM | Comments (1)

April 16, 2004

Here Come The Links

  • Right Wing Eye
    • What if they had their own show? Take a look at this flash cartoon supporting Planned Parenthood.
  • Planting WMDs
    • The idea of the Bush administration might be planting WMDs is spreading. However, I haven’t seen anything credible on it. Everyone knows I’m no fan of Bush, but I have an aversion to rumors with no evidence. Heck, WMDs have not yet been uncovered. I agree that if they were to uncover something tomorrow it would be suspicious (considering they’ve been looking so long and they said they knew where the WMDs were before the war began). However, they haven’t claimed to have found anything yet. I understand people paranoia regarding Bush, but please.
  • Absinthe FAQ
  • Make your own new animals (Switcheroozoo - Flash)
  • ‘Simon Says’ on Drugs (Flash)
  • Remember Hyakugojyuuichi?
Posted by James at 4:26 PM | Comments (4)

Outrage Fatigue

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been enjoying Air America Radio. And a couple of people have thanked me for letting them know about it, and a number of other people have told me they are listening to it, too. But I fear that I have experienced an overload of jaw-dropping lately, and my jaw has become so bruised that I’m talking a lot less.

Is there such a thing as outrage fatigue? I think so. I’ve reached my limit with the Bush administration and I barely even want to talk about it anymore. That’s why I say “November can’t come soon enough.” I’m impatient for the election. And, of course I want the election to take away Bush’s job, but it’s not just that. I want the election to be over with.

I usually enjoy politics, but now I feel like I’m watching everything with an incredulous stare. It can’t be healthy.

I avoided reading one of Chuck’s recent posts for a day or two because of this fatigue. Overload. By the by, his post very eloquently puts how he feels about the Iraq bait-and-switch we’re currently mired in. He points out that we protested the war in Iraq, but I’m really not sure we feel any better because of it. I don’t feel like I did enough.

And I wonder what that means regarding the upcoming election. Am I not doing enough to put an end to this presidency? We have an opportunity to make a change every four years. In mid-November, will I feel like I hadn’t done enough?

Posted by James at 11:09 AM | Comments (9)

April 15, 2004

Happy Tax Day

I’ll direct you to Kerry’s little “Tax Day” animation. It’s not very amusing, but what is amusing about what Bush has done to the country? :: JohnKerry.com - Tax Day ::

The animation shows a family going through their mail to discover all of the impact of the last 4 years on their quality of life (the Misery Index Kerry has used to measure Bush’s performance) They’re a little upset about it at the end of the animation and ready to vote for Kerry.

A more realistic cartoon would have shown them getting the tiny child tax credit check, praising Bush and ignoring all of the rising costs and deficit building.

Posted by James at 4:26 PM | Comments (1)

April 14, 2004

Unimpress Conference

His thinking is fuzzy. He is our president. Watching him answer questions is painful.

He spent 15+ minutes of giving us his opinion and resolve on Iraq — we have basically seen it before.

In answering questions he relied heavily on evasion and straw men when he wasn’t drawing a blank. That’s how it struck me. Few if any straight answers.

Example: He tells us Osama is the one responsible for 9/11, not he. Nice straw man - no one is suggesting Bush is the one behind the 9/11 attacks. Of course, the ones directly responsible are dead, but few Americans dispute Osama’s role as head of al Qaeda.

If his thinking on his feet were any more fuzzy, it would be angora.

When asked about why Bush and Cheney insist on using the buddy system in their “help” for the 9/11commission, he pretended to misunderstand the question… even after it was clarified. He ignored the real question (Why are you appearing together).

He cast our role in Iraq as a mission from god. I guess that plays to the base.

It is a good thing he took up so much time with the speech portion, because it was painful to watch him with the questions. I disagree with Bush, but I don’t want to hear him struggling for an answer to pop into his head. It really did embarrass me. This is the guy our system put in control. We unleashed Bush on the world. He doesn’t have the introspection to answer simple questions about when he might have made a mistake — the kind of question you might get in any job interview.

We don’t get to ask the president questions ourselves. The press, whether we like them or not, get to ask questions for us. He should be able to give answers. These were not unanticipated questions. Why so much evasion?

Here is the transcript at USA Today

Here’s an analysis of him contradicting himself.

November can’t come soon enough.

Posted by James at 2:07 AM | Comments (10)

April 13, 2004

Tax Time Anger

As if you need anything to make you more angry during tax time, there is journalist David Cay Johnston. His book Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else talks a little about how the tax laws benefit the super-rich at the expense of everyone else. Not having read it, I can’t give you a review. What I can give you is that this fellow is for what many conservatives have been calling for: a simplification of the tax code. When I’m doing my taxes, that sounds great to me.

However, he’s not talking about a flat tax of the type that Steve Forbes championed when he ran for the Republican nomination years ago. I wish I could explain why, but it’s not quite clear to me yet. Johnston identifies a progressive tax as having history’s endorsement as a tax that works, but that tax code complications make it easier and easier for the super rich to evade responsibility in shouldering their share of the tax burden.

I’m for tax code simplification. But there is a lot of money invested in keeping the tax code complex. I think neither of our current candidates are committed to simplifying it. Neither party cares at this point.

Posted by James at 1:54 PM | Comments (1)

April 12, 2004

Drats, Rats

I heard about an interesting chat transcript on the WaPo website regarding rats.

Robert Sullivan, the author of the book Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants took questions about rats, and a number of interesting facts are revealed. The fellow has a sense of humor:

Manhasset, N.Y.: what do you think of the movie “Willard?”

Robert Sullivan: I haven’t seen it. I am waiting for the musical.

I had a run-in with some rats in the yard last year. The neighbor insists on ignorantly leaving out dog food which is a bounty for the rats. The dogs are adjacent to our property and there are a number of good hiding places near our wood pile. However, I find rats interesting in that they live together in a symbiosis with humans. As Sullivan points out in the transcript, where there are people, there are rats. It’s my philosophy that it’s best to discourage a burgeoning rat population than to let them multiply, cause damage and then have to poison and kill them all. It has to be less costly to deal with a problem at the source.

Posted by James at 6:28 PM

April 11, 2004

Conservatives Against Bush Pulled

The website Conservatives Against Bush which I first mentioned in a post long ago appears to be gone. The URL now redirects to the DOJ website.

An anonymous reader sent me the info — probably someone searching to find what happened to the site. I’ll bet there’s some kind of interesting story behind the disappearance. If anyone has any info, please pass it along.

Posted by James at 1:34 PM | Comments (2)

April 10, 2004

Gothika vs. Jian gui

Chuck reviews Gothika, which reminds me that rented it from Netflix a couple of weeks ago. Chuck liked Gothika more than I did.

I saw Gothika and found it mediocre at best, except for some of the visual creepiness, which was top notch. It’s too bad the story was so cliched and forced, including the ending which will probably surprise you very little.

Gothika tells the story of a psychiatric doctor who is put in the place of her patients by supernatural means. The spirit of a young girl reaches out from the grave to use Berry as an instrument of justice and revenge.

I want to be fair, so I give the director credit for his eye. It’s not just the SPFX, Mathieu Kassovitz uses the camera to play up themes of loneliness, desperation and paranoia. Halle Berry’s considerable talent is used, but not to full effect.

Anyone thinking of seeing this film should see The Eye (aka. Jian gui). If you’re like me and have to see any remotely creepy movie, rent both and watch them side by side. The Eye has a lot of its plot in common with Gothika but, ironically, doesn’t rely as heavily on flashy visuals.

The Eye also deals with the theme of suddenly being trapped in an unfamiliar and frightening world. A woman receives a corneal transplant which gives her the ability to see restless spirits (a la The Sixth Sense ). As with many Asian films I’ve seen, this is a slow film with a number of punctuated moments (such as an unsettling elevator scene that may stick with you). However, it builds to an ending that is far more satisfying than that of Gothic. Even so, the pace of The Eye is noticeably uneven and the acting is less than inspirational.

The final nail in the coffin for Gothika, from my point of view, was the heavy-handed way they make their point about how naive rational people are. I watch a lot of films that require suspension of disbelief. I know I’m watching a movie. I’ll accept there are supernatural forces in your universe. But don’t try to pound me with the message (via repetition) that there is some deeper meaning in the character’s realization that her view was previously narrow-minded. Let me break it down for you — no matter how you try to make this person’s epiphany seem meaningful, no one sensible (even in a film) believes in the spirit world until their life is pretty much completely disrupted by the spirits. Surprise, surprise: extraordinary evidence convinced them.

In brief: See The Eye. Perhaps see Gothika but I don’t recommend it (thumb down).

Posted by James at 6:22 PM | Comments (1)

Questions I'd Ask

If I were conducting a debate between the presidential candidates, here are a few of the questions I’d ask. And I’d give them time to answer.

  • What role does diplomacy play in a world with a larger and less centralized terrorist threat?
  • Is the only effective “preemption” of terrorism military action? What control, if any, do we have on the growth of terrorist organizations and how would you apply that knowledge to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks?
  • What, if any, is the relationship between our reliance on fossil fuels and global terrorism?
  • What do you see as the biggest threat to any given individual American: terrorism, unemployment, health care difficulties, or some other threat?
  • Under what circumstances do you think the government should override a citizen’s control over his or her own physical body? In the future should we move toward the government having more control over a citizen’s body, or less control?
Posted by James at 3:54 PM

April 9, 2004

Friday Buckshot

Here’s Your Friday Link-o-rama. Enjoy.

And… I’m spent.

Posted by James at 9:52 AM | Comments (4)

April 8, 2004

Clarke 9/11 Hoax Revealed

Clarke 9/11 Hoax Revealed

WASHINGTON DC - In questioning before the 9/11 Commission, National security advisor Condoleezza Rice revealed that a long, secret Executive Branch investigation has uncovered that Richard Clarke was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, which is actually an immense hoax to boost book sales.

Humor from the old, nearly abandoned, Infrequent Observer. Here are two older stories that tickled me:

Posted by James at 2:33 PM

The Passion of the Bunny

I’d like to preface this by saying most Christians are not sadistic lunatics. But apparently, Christianity is practiced a little differently in Glassport, PA.

Church’s Easter show shocks crowd with bunny whipping

many parents and children got upset when a church trying to teach about Jesus’ crucifixion performed an Easter show with actors whipping the Easter bunny and breaking eggs.

People who attended Saturday’s show at Glassport’s memorial stadium quoted performers as saying, “There is no Easter bunny,” and described the show as being a demonstration of how Jesus was crucified. […]

Performers broke eggs meant for an Easter egg hunt and also portrayed a drunken man and a self-mutilating woman, said Jennifer Norelli-Burke, another parent who saw the show in Glassport, a community about 10 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

One attendee describes her son crying and asking why the bunny was being whipped. I guess they were lucky there wasn’t any vivisection in “The Passion of the Christ” else these people would have gotten a few more creative ideas.

But you should see their Christmas pageant. Santa shoots up heroin and beats up his stable of prostitutes.

[Thanks, Julie, for sending this along]
[A semi-related humor image from ViralMeister]

Posted by James at 12:44 PM | Comments (3)

Meetings By The Nose

Our conference room is used by a number of other groups. Two come with very specific scents.

When the campus police use the room, the offices smell like shaving cream which reminds me of a barber shop. When there is a meeting of public school teachers there is a strong scent of perfume in the air that reminds me of school.

Posted by James at 12:21 PM

Hellboy (Capsule Review)

About the time I was slowing down in comic book collecting, I remember seeing Hellboy from Dark Horse Comics. It earned some acclaim, but I never looked at it for some reason. I think I missed something.

I’m not a really big fan of comic book adaptations. Sure, I see all of them when they come to the theatre, but they’re a disappointment more often than not. Even when an adaptation is above average, they often try to cram too much, or too many characters into the film. X2 suffered horribly from this. League of Extraordinary Gentleman was flat and bland. The Hulk was too much talk and not enough “Hulk smash!” or perhaps not enough Peter David.

In any case, Hellboy finds a good balance, starting with an origin story that isn’t as ham-handed as most. That’s not to say it isn’t outlandish—they want you to know you’re watching a comic book, after all. The WWII-era Nazis are in full villain mode, with your occult-obsessed leader, your aryan-blonde siren-bitch and your inhumanly quirky henchman who, in this case, is a skinny Darth Vader without the James Earl Jones.

In their first attempt to destroy the world, Hellboy arrives in our universe as a little monkey-like tyke. Flash forward to the present day and he’s turned into Ron Perlman, who plays this antihero with dry humor, a vulnerable heart and a disregard for his own safety that only the nigh-invulnerable can appreciate.

There is a love story here, and other characters, but this film can be boiled down to a few elements: Perlman and his Hellboy, great breakneck SPFX, that creepy mask guy with the blades. Hellboy is worth the trip.

Posted by James at 4:12 AM

April 7, 2004

Ads in D&D

What happens when Dungeons and Dragons slams head-on into advertising? You get a whole lot of goofy ads, that’s what. Something Awful (the website) has got its members creating D&D-related joke ads. I’ve decided to make one of my own, which you can see here.

When the Drow are running recruitment campaigns, it makes all the neighboring towns a little nervous. It’s never quite clear what they’re recruiting for.

Posted by James at 7:14 PM | Comments (3)

Ashcroft's War Continues

Ashcroft’s biggest disappointment came in late 2001 when the new focus on terrorism and homeland security put a huge crimp in his plan to clamp down on nekkid pictures. Now that the terrorist problem is licked (with Saddam behind bars and little chance of a terrorist threatening anyone ever again) Ashcroft has the full weight of the government to bring to bear on real problems.

How big a problem are we talking about? As Bruce Taylor put it, “Just about everything on the Internet and almost everything in the video stores and everything in the adult bookstores is still prosecutable illegal obscenity.” Bruce is Ashcroft’s new hire and right-hand buddy on nekkid-picture patrol. You might remember him as the guy who lost against Larry Flynt in 1981 representing Ohio.

“I think a lot of adults would say this is not what they had in mind, spending millions of dollars and the time of the courts and FBI agents and postal inspectors and prosecutors investigating what consenting adults are doing and watching.”

The Baltimore Sun reports on this story. As my friends know, I’m not much of a porn-hound. What bothers me the most about this is what appears to be an expansion of some extreme idea of what is unacceptable. The approach here appears to be not to go after the extreme. Instead, they’ll attack the middle. What will that do? It will polarize the entertainment industry. Nekkidness goes deeper underground and becomes more extreme. More acceptable outlets of entertainment get more gunshy about what they present and begin to blandify what they produce. This isn’t just about porn - it’s liked to the FCC backlash in the wake of a certain “wardrobe malfunction.”

It’s a terrorist approach to the entertainment industry. Ashcroft and his cohorts obviously feel that too much freedom has been given to Hollywood. Ashcroft hates that freedom. It is important for them to create a chilling effect on the popular media by expanding their definition of unacceptable.

Ashcroft: enforce the laws. Go after child exploitation. But keep your Crisco out of my movie theatre popcorn.

Posted by James at 12:30 AM | Comments (5)

April 6, 2004

Speaking And Ruling

Bush speaks Spanish much as he governs, “poorly but with great confidence” says the New York Times

I stumbled on the above quote here, and I laughed heartily. A great quote.

Posted by James at 6:43 PM

Sometimes They Come Back

Bonus: There’s a Family Guy Reference Archives. Too cool!

Posted by James at 11:15 AM

Morning Shotgun

Yes, it’s another edition of “Shotgun Post.” I have a feeling you don’t read my shotgun posts, so you don’t know what you’re missing.

  • If you’re as tired of “free registration” as I am, here is your remedy: BugMeNot.com. It will provide you with a login for different online newspapers right when you need it. Lazy people like me even have a bookmarklet option that makes it a snap. (Found at A Cry for Help)
  • Don’t eat mushrooms on Mars. This is why. (requires Flash)
  • A mechanism that can tell the differnce between lumber and your finger? That would be really handy in a table saw, wouldn’t it? SawStop technology is a boon to people who want to drink, take antihistamines and operate power tools.
  • This video shows some of what Sony’s latest robots can do. An amazing coordinated dance. (It’s a 6mb WMV file)
  • Don’t call him “sir.” The president gets testy whan an AP reporter makes the mistake of forgetting to use his entire title.“Who are you talking to?” There’s even an audio clip on Drudge. The press are the public’s only real access to the president. They are our surrogates, acting on our behalf. Bush’s feelings for the press are displaced feelings for his constituents. Voters: wake up and smell the contempt.
Posted by James at 9:24 AM | Comments (4)

April 5, 2004

Cheney. Caption This.

I found this great picture of Dick Cheney. I was itching to caption it. But I don’t want to do it until I’ve given my readers a chance. So, please caption this picture of Dick Cheney in the comments.

(Image found on JohnKerry.com)

Posted by James at 3:26 PM | Comments (7)

Call Buffy. Bring Clothespins.

Who says those cute little vampire bats are harmless?

Bites from rabies-carrying vampire bats killed 13 people in a north-eastern Brazilian state last month, the health ministry said on Friday. - Vampire bats on attack in Brazil (BBC News)

We’ve got rabid skunks in our town. Rabid skunks are bad. Rabid bats are bad. But imagine how bad it would be to have rabid flying skunks. Any flying skunks would be a real bummer, now that I think of it.

Posted by James at 12:11 PM | Comments (4)

Disturbing Morning

I’m not referring to the snow that was on my car this morning, on the 5th of April. Though, that should qualify as disturbing.

No, what I find disturbing this morning is this attack which took place on campus last week.

One student was raped, and another woke up screaming, frightening off her would-be attacker. This happened in the new dorms, which I can see from my office. It’s a minute’s walk away.

Erin Dow, 18, of Carlisle said many female students also are concerned about walking on campus at night. “At nighttime, you don’t know who will be hiding,” she said. “It’s a pretty scary thought.”

Ms. Dow, who lives in Roberts Hall, said many female students now will not go out alone.

We had attacks here even back when I was a student. But people want to forget past attacks. The forgetting happens, the doors go unlocked and people begin walking around alone at night until another attack happens.

Posted by James at 11:05 AM | Comments (1)

April 2, 2004

DANGER! WARNING!

Danger, Will Robinson! Warning! Warning!

Fearing that the world might come to an end if he is not successful in his efforts, our governor put aside the other, clearly trivial, problems in the state and gives his full attention to the task god himself appointed to him. He is the chosen one. He stands for sanity, holding back the tide of madness. He will find a way to stop those homosexuals from marrying, goddamnit!

Posted by James at 6:13 PM | Comments (3)

Pentyl Ethanoate, Among Other Things

  • The activity downstairs is distracting. The “policy analysis” folks who use the other offices in our building are in the middle of a big survey project. It’s a bit distracting, because the people manning the phones are coming and going frequently, and using the stairs. A young woman stopped to ask me where someone’s office was. She was about 15 feet away, but a very strong tropical fruit aroma wafted my way, and lingered for quite a while. I’m guessing she washed her hair with a product containing pentyl ethanoate, among other esthers. It made me want a strawberry banana smoothie.
  • I’m not the only person depressed by the political landscape. But Chuck wrote a poem and I didn’t.
  • Air America Radio is great! If it’s too busy on their main website, check out AM 620 KPOJ — an alternate internet feed. The O’Franken factor is definitely a balm for sore ears—like listening to a funny friend. Franken has a great “Rush Limbaugh” voice. The other shows are great, too. I haven’t had a chance to catch Janeane Garofalo’s show yet, but I’m looking forward to it. They just played an extended interview with Richard Clarke. G. Gordon Liddy is about to come on to elaborate about why he thinks O’Reilly is a “disgrace.” Apparently, Liddy and Franken are friends.
Posted by James at 3:25 PM | Comments (2)

April Foolishness

It wasn’t a huge “April Fool’s Day” at our house. My older daughter has dubbed me the “King of Pranks” because she thinks I like to pull pranks. I do, but I don’t like to pull them on April 1st. Too obvious.

The girls did pull a prank on me. Mattie made some springy popup critters—little drawings of mice, spiders, beetles and an ant— that are attached to a paper spring. She hid them in a Harry Potter book and then asked me to read Harry Potter to them last night. I was appropriately shocked when the book turned out to be full of unwelcome visitors. This prank was based on an earlier prank that she conceived of, designed and executed all by her 6-year-old self. It was a small book she made entitled “How To Pull a Prank.” When you open the book, a freakish face jumps out at you, giving you a coronary episode.

Maggie tells me that there was a long list of possible pranks that they wanted to pull on me, ranging from putting wooden blocks in my underwear (to make me think I’d had an accident) to tricking me into leaning over so they could jump on my back.

After school, Mattie discussed with Maggie an elaborate prank which involved me being trapped in the shower.

Maggie told her that I usually only shower in the morning, so I’d already had my shower that day. The prank would not be feasible. At this point, there was a pause in the conversation as Mattie considered.

“Are you going to have a shower later?” she asked. I have to get her to work on her subtlety.

Posted by James at 12:31 PM | Comments (3)

April 1, 2004

April Fools Pages

Skeptic’s Dictionary has a great April Fool’s joke up.

He’s seen the light! R. T. Carroll, skeptic, no more. wink

Posted by James at 1:29 PM

Pounded

Sometimes, you just feel pounded. I think it started with the recent inexplicable computer problems I’ve had lately. I use a number of different machines, and it seems that the more machines you use, the more computer problems you have. If you want to test on multiple platforms, there’s no way around it.

Even when you hunt down 1 or 2 of your 5 computer problems, 2 or 3 seem to pop up in their wake.

It’s a decent metaphor for life in general. You’re always trying to solve problems. Every day brings new challenges, which is great when you’re feeling on top of the world and each solution feels like a victory. But on some months it can feel like you’re just losing ground. It’s as though you can’t get on top of things without applying some extraordinary effort using energy you don’t have. Then there’s the stuff that’s out of your control that sticks in your craw.

This is why my blog posts have slowed a bit. I’m enervated and can’t seem to get out of my own way. I’ll feel better soon…I think…but at the moment…”Bleh!” is the emotion of the day.

I do have to say that listening to Air America Radio is helping a little bit. Misery loves company?

Posted by James at 1:15 PM | Comments (4)