July 30, 2008

Scattershot

Another post about all the stuff that doesn't deserve its own post. There's too much fun and not enough time!

John Kerry's Party Girl Pics

Some drunken college co-eds descended upon Kerry outside of a Nantucket restaurant, and now the pix are up on TMZ (and the Boston Herald).

I've got some problems with Kerry (saving that for a future post) but I had to laugh when I heard that Jeff Beatty had a call out to the local conservative radio show host on WSAR immediately after the pix hit the net. Being ambushed by co-eds is, apparently, one of the issues Massachusetts voters really care about. Note, I didn't say "fantasize" about.

Obama '08 Bumper Stickers

I have about 100 of them, from MoveOn.org. 100 is more than I thought. So, if you want one, just ask. Save the SASE and just ask me in person. Gas is cheaper than stamps anyhow, right? Don't like putting stickers on your car? Turn any t-shirt, jacket, undergarment, tree, dog, or moose into an instant political statement!

Ted Stevens Indicted

I thought we covered this last August with my post "Ted Stevens: Model Republican." Well, now it's official, much to the feigned shock of the entire legislature. Yes, this was the guy with the bridge to nowhere. Yes, this was the guy who complained when we tried to allocate money for Katrina victims (we had to give Alaska more $$$ to shut him up). Yes, the scandal involves big oil! LET THE DRILLING BEGIN!

Ted Stevens is awesome. -ly Republican! Is there truth to the rumor (I am starting) that he's on McCain's short list for Veep? Stay tuned!

Whence the Jihad?

Dunkin' Donuts has announced a health conscious "DDSmart menu." To quote:

items include both new and existing Dunkin' Donuts food and beverages that meet at least one of the following criteria: 25% fewer calories; 25% less sugar, fat, saturated fat or sodium than comparable fare, and/or contain ingredients that are nutritionally beneficial.

So, don't worry about your jihad against proper nutrition just yet. There's a lot of wiggle room in "25% less sugar, fat, saturated fat or sodium." There's an enormous difference between the word "and" and the word "or." Hat tip Projo blog.

Purity Ball

I threw up a little in my mouth, listening to Keri's radio show this morning. The subject was the Bush Administration's latest attempt to assert authority over the out-of-control social problem in America that we call "rampaging uteruses." New rules are attempting to redefine abortion to include contraception, so that medical organizations cannot choose to hire people based upon their qualifications, including their ability to administer birth control, if desired by a patient.

However, at the very end of her show, she brought up another way that people seek to own other people's sexuality: the idea of Purity Balls in which girls pledge their virginity to their fathers in return for a piece of jewelry. The pact lasts until such time that the father agrees to hand over his daughter's virginity to her husband.

I'm all for women (and anyone!) making smart decisions regarding their sexuality, but what's that got to do with creepy ceremonies in which your virginity is traded like a commodity? Ew. Just... ew.

My idea, skip the Purity Ring jewelry and just tie a pink ribbon around your Bumper Nutz. Purity Ballz!

Obama Parody Goes Mute

Maggie sent this one along: R.N.C. Deletes Comments on Obama Parody Site. Essentially, the RNC created a lame Facebook/Obama parody site, complete with discussion boards. Soon after it was presented to its target audience it was sullied with racist and anti-Muslim screed. Later, as the liberal net caught on, they tried to convert the discussion board to be pro-Obama. In response, the comments were all deleted and it now all that remains as a lame, non-interactive webscar. It didn't even last one day. Kudos to the RNC for "getting" the intarwebz.

Scrabsolutely Fabulous

How many times am I going to read the story that Facebook took down the popular Scrabble clone "Scrabulous?" This is the sort of news you read (and appropriately so) in a blog comment or a Twitter update from a friend. And I like it that way. But it's in the NYT today, and I heard it twice on different radio channels. I bet it was on CNN Headline News, too. And look at all the blog posts and FriendFeed conversations.

People, Hasbro had no choice. I agree it sucks if you were a player, but tone down the rhetoric, will ya?

Folks are praising Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla for the quality of their app. Great, perhaps they can cut a deal with Hasbro, who owns the rights. But if these guys are creative geniuses, why didn't they come up with their own awesome game? I love a good "down with da man" bandwagon, but I have a friend who coded an excellent networked Scrabble clone for personal use over a decade ago, so I'm not super impressed.

Dr. Horrible

I checked out Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog on Ryan's suggestion, and it is musical Joss Whedonesque fun. $4 on iTunes, or see an iPod near me. Bring your headphones.

Hellboy II Down, Step Brothers Up

Didn't really love Hellboy II all that much when Maggie and I saw it last week. The film kept waking Maggie up in the theater, forcing her to seek out the quiet of our parked car. And I thought it was OK but didn't love it.

Step Brothers was completely stupid, and I have no explanation for how much it made me laugh. Lots of vulgar language, a number of very gross scenes, and complete childishness in the shape of two 40-year-old men. It shouldn't sustain a whole movie, but it did. Maggie thinks it's a cautionary tale about "helicopter parents." Perhaps it isn't as stupid as I thought. I would call it this year's pinnacle of lowbrow humor, but while the jokes are wrapped in plenty of crudeness, the actual humor is a lot more subtle than a fart joke. It's an extended essay on the conflict between adult responsibilities and male tendencies toward childishness, played out literally -- a metaphor of the general represented by a literal performance of the individual.

Yes, I am just trying to sound less stupid for liking "Step Brothers."

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Posted by James at 12:14 PM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2008

Arguments About The Surge

Arguments about the effect of one tactical decision in a sea of factors are well beyond the media. I'm not saying they're my area of expertise, but I am saying that they're not particularly digestible in today's media environment.

John McCain can't even get the time line straight, never mind causality, and this is what he wants you to think is his issue? Being charitable to McCain, that could be more of an indication of the complexity of the situation than proof of McCain's addled mind.

But McCain and the press want to digest it for you. Everyone is sick of discussion about the mistake that is the Iraq war (how often has McCain been taken to task for supporting this expensive adventure that we now know has tenuous connection to the global war on terror?) so the press focuses on "the surge."

Obama wanted us to have a phased withdrawal long ago, before it was so politically acceptable that even McCain can use the word "timetable." Talking about the surge then was not an argument about whether there would be a temporary drop in violence; it was keeping an eye on how to end our military involvement.

But this doesn't matter at the moment, in the media. Afraid of charges of liberal bias, political reporting cannot simply focus on issues anymore. If the situation seems to be against conservatives, the press has to either exaggerate or fabricate "nooz" to quell criticism that is constantly waiting in the wings. They're thankful and relieved to have a talking point they can repeat so they don't have to come up with one of their own.

Here's my talking point, then, to describe how we knew we were in a bad situation, and how McCain's arguments about the surge and, in fact, the whole political use of the surge is just ridiculous.

When a man loses $4000 at the dog tracks, and his wife tells him they should leave, she's right. When he tells her he wants to bet another $1000, he's wrong. When he makes another bet and wins back $200 or so, what's the conversation like on the ride home?

Is it about how good his judgment was to stay and make back $200? Does that make even the least bit of sense?

This is what you're being asked to accept when McCain, and the press, focus on the surge rather than Obama's increasingly accepted plans for withdrawal.

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Posted by James at 9:14 AM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2008

Lightning Swans

Swan Boat Swan

Swan boat

Strike!

Lightning Demo

We're getting better at planning our Boston trips, and the girls are getting better at walking longer distances without much complaint. For the most part, they're pretty happy as long as there are things to look at, talk about, and discover. Remaining in good humor is essential, of course, when you plan a nearly 12 hour day trip.

Taking Fridays off in the summer is not the same as taking a week or two off. In many ways it's much more efficient, if you have a plan and the weather cooperates. The bang-for-buck ratio of daytrips itself is huge compared to going away. It can't completely replace trips where long travel is required. Nor is it the same as a relaxing getaway where the point itself is to be isolated from distractions. But if family fun, learning and bonding is the goal, it rocks!

On Friday we hit the Swan boats, Chinatown (for soup dumplings, of which I am the only devotee), The Harvard Museum of Natural History, a peek into the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology (not to be confused with the Peabody Essex Museum), The CambridgeSide Galleria and the Boston Museum of Science.

Highlights

  • To our shock, we were asked to pose for a museum brochure picture at the Peabody Museum. We were disheveled from our exhausting on-foot travels, and Maggie and I gave each other incredulous looks when the woman asked us. I don't think we actually believed her until the photographer moved his setup and the coordinator gave us the release form. It probably had something to do with us being the only family around, and the photographer needed to round out his shots for the day.
  • Worst moment toss-up: Being stuffed into a Green Line train after two trains were taken out of service vs. getting caught in the late-night roadwork traffic on the southeast expressway. Good times! Small bumps in the road. AKA adventure.
  • Swan boats were relaxing, if not exciting.
  • Paying only around $33 bucks for a big meal for the 4 of us at the New Shanghai Restaurant in Chinatown. The scallop noodles were excellent.
  • Finally seeing the BMoS lightning demonstration all the way through. Although at home on Sunday we got as much lightning as we wanted.
  • A long conversation with a stranger who has prosopagnosia (face blindness) about interesting cognitive problems.
  • Arriving at CambridgeSide with two tired kids and leaving energized, FTW!
  • The fabric store in Chinatown that had to buzz us in and out of the store, causing much confusion when James attempted to casually wander in to see where Maggie was, and then wander out again. No casual wandering allowed! It was like a high security prison.


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Posted by James at 3:58 PM | Comments (3)

Loose McCannon

I don't know if you guys are paying attention to the presidential race anymore. It seems like many people are sick of it. I don't blame you if you are; there was a sort of media overdose during the primaries.

McCain seems to be all over the place. Flip flopping for money (he reversed his position on offshore drilling then suddenly got a big donation from oil companies). Making confusing statements about timetables (first decrying the use of the word, then using it himself, then denying he'd used it, then excusing his usage of it). Maybe it appeals to Republicans (because he's polling OK with them) to be all over the place like this.

Or, perhaps they get off on hearing him say that he doesn't support gay adoption. His specific description of why he doesn't support gay adoption really bothered me.

He wouldn't answer a direct question by George Stephanopoulos this weekend, instead repeating robotically that he supports "traditional families" where the child has two parents. But a gay couple can be two parents. Does he mean two biological parents?

He conjured up that unsettling smile, repeated his talking point, and slowed his speech down as if George Stephanopoulos were a developmentally challenged child, or perhaps non-native speaker. You could almost hear him saying "That's not change we can believe in." "I support traditional families, with two parents."

But I can see why so many Republicans are conflicted about this guy. I can also see why he got his "maverick" reputation. They're linked, but not because he's willing to buck his party for principle. No, that's the PR story version. McCain 2008 is a loose cannon, unfettered by principles, rolling across the deck and knocking over anything that gets in its way.

That's not McCain you can believe in.

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Posted by James at 2:08 PM | Comments (4)

July 26, 2008

Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival Bazaar

This weekend (July 26-27, 2008 10am-5pm ) there's a cultural survival bazaar going on at Tiverton 4 Corners in Tiverton, RI (map).

Maggie caught wind of this event, so we dashed out there in the late morning to check it out. Lots of food, crafts and music for the benefit of indigenous peoples/organizations.

Cultural Survival Bazaars are a sensory celebration of the music, food, art, and crafts of indigenous groups from around the world. Serving as both a vehicle for educating the public about indigenous rights and cultures, and a fundraiser for Cultural Survival and its indigenous partners, each Bazaar is a unique and unforgettable cultural experience.

(That's from the event's website. You can also check out directions to the event here. Only 10 or-so minutes or so from Fall River, 15 for the scenic route along the Sakonnet River.)

We enjoyed some food and Maggie shopped the crafts. It's nearly all under tents and in shade, which is thoughtful on this sunny, hot day.

I was fascinated by a performance by "Yarina," a Native American group you can learn more about here. I believe that's Roberto Cachimuel on the electric violin. I was able to capture a brief clip of it:

Check out the small photoset I put together. If you're interested, hop in the car and get yourself over there on Sunday. Across the street is Gray's Ice Cream, yet another excuse! (I had the Peach ice cream, and it was excellent).


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Posted by James at 2:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2008

Mechanically Separated Shotgun

I haven't been surfing for links much lately, but here are a couple:

  • Made In China (funny)
    • How's that for your lapel?
  • Nonsense (comics,blog,funny)
    • This is my favorite webcomic right now. I love her odd sense of humor. WALRUS MILK!
  • How many sequels were there to the film quiz? (80s,film,movies,quiz)
    • Take the quiz and see if you know how many sequels these wonderful movies had. I failed miserably.
Posted by James at 9:05 AM | Comments (2)

Canned Meat Taste-Off

Canned Meat Trio

God help us. The canned meat taste-off is complete. Find out who won by reading the transcript. It was longish, so I gave it its own page.


Posted by James at 2:58 AM | Comments (6)

When Was The Last Time Anyone Took Ben Stein Seriously?

When exactly was the last time anyone took Ben Stein seriously, and how soon afterward was it that they realized their mistake?

It's an honest question, after seeing what Stickthulu posted to Regime Turnover tonight. Essentially, Obama equates to Hitler because he can fill a stadium with his supporters.

I used to think the guy was just a harmlessly conservative celebrity. But he clearly snapped at some point. If there is an organization collecting money for counseling, please let me know.

Posted by James at 12:56 AM | Comments (2)

July 24, 2008

Tomalley Trouble

lobster.jpg

Image by Bethany King

Health officials have reported that summertime algae blooms are causing the tomalley in Maine lobsters to contain high levels of a toxin that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. Lobster meat is fine, but you shouldn't eat that green paste inside the lobster which functions as its liver and pancreas.

Firstly: yuck. I love lobster as much as the next guy, but I never eat the tomalley. That stuff is nasty! Only recently did I learn that some people consider it food. Live and learn.

Having said that, you might want to wait until the health warnings are over before learning about the tomalley.


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Posted by James at 9:04 AM | Comments (4)

July 23, 2008

Auntie Em!

BOX_0.png

So. There are currently tornado warnings over parts of Bristol County after trained weather spotters sighted a waterspout over Barrington Beach. The family is in the basement in Somerset.

Looks like it'll pass well north of the coast (here in Fairhaven) but they've extended the warning to the east of the original warning. No telling whether that funnel will drop again. We're awaiting our heavy rain and hail here, they're experiencing it in Somerset.

Quoting the Weather Underground site:

Heavy rainfall may obscure this tornado. Take cover now! If you wait to see or hear it coming...it may be too late to get to a safe place.


Posted by James at 4:42 PM | Comments (7)

Tomorrow's Tasteoff

Treet & Spam

Treet vs. Spam. Tomorrow at lunch we put them to the test. Which is the better mystery meat?

If you wish to play along, just aquire one or both of these products. We're going to try them tomorrow around lunch time, and I'll write up the results sometime before the weekend. You can add your own observations in the comments.


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Posted by James at 2:38 PM | Comments (13)

McCain: Some Kind of Blunderful

George Stephanopoulos reports that the McCain camp is frustrated that with Obama's recent trip to Iraq. They expected to make hay out of Obama blunders overseas, but instead have been plagued with their own blunders.

I mentioned a few of his bumbles yesterday in a post on Regime Turnover. But they keep on coming.

Worse than the earlier "Iraq-Pakistan Border" gaffe, Ilan Goldberg points out a mistake in which McCain reveals fundamental misunderstandings about the situation in Iraq. In short, while trying to attack Obama on his Iraq policy and claim that any gains in Iraq are his own doing (any failures are someone else's fault, natch) McCain credits the surge as the cause of the "Anbar awakening" (a cooperation between Iraqi sheikhs that put pressure on al Qaeda forces).

The problem is that the "Anbar awakening" began long before the surge was even announced. This is not a matter of parsing words; McCain puts it plainly: "And it began the Anbar awakening."

Agree or disagree with his politics, what is McCain smoking? If he thinks this is the issue he can get elected on, the least he could do would be to get the story right.

For those conspiracy theorists obsessed with supposed liberal media bias, CBS chose to cut McCain's gaffe from the evening news. The video showed up later on-line. Maybe it's not McCain bias; perhaps they can only spend so much time covering McCain's gaffes.


Recently, on Regime Turnover:


Related News I

In vaguely-related news, absolutely completely sane Jeff Beatty claims that if Romney is McCain's running mate, Massachusetts will go for McCain in the general election. I kid you not.

"Batty" Jeff Beatty, by the way, is competing for the Republican nod to challenge John Kerry for a senate seat. What are Beatty's supporters running on (other than large doses of hallucinogenics)? Trying to convince you that Kerry is an anti-McCain racist. Good luck with that!

Edited to remove unsupported link between Kerry story and Beatty:

In a related story, Kerry is being criticised for a "tar baby" comment made toward McCain. I was able to find a number of clearly non-racist uses of the term in a quick Google search. The attack seems like a new version of the "niggardly" goofiness. The politically correct blandification of our language. Haven't we had enough of this?

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Posted by James at 2:22 PM | Comments (4)

Rorschach's Journal October 12th, 1985

watchmen_200807171600.jpg

"... Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face."

If you've seen "The Dark Knight" then you've probably seen the trailer for Watchmen .

I can't believe they're finally making it. I hope they do it some justice; I have to admit that the trailer is intriguing.

My copy is beat up and yellowed by now. Hurm. Time to give it another spin?

Rorschach's Journal. October 13th, 1985. On Friday night a comedian died in New York. Somebody knows why. Down there... Somebody knows.


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Posted by James at 1:01 AM | Comments (12)

July 22, 2008

Salmon and Eggplant

Salmon and Eggplant

Salmon and Eggplant

Cedar Plank Salmon and Grilled Eggplant

This weekend we had some fun with the grill. Since Sunday was an unscheduled day, I had some time to prepare before dinner. I soaked a cedar plank that I'd gotten on sale a few weeks ago so that I could try my first cedar plank seafood recipe.

I got my salmon recipe here, on Food Network's website, but it was the most simple recipe possible.

You soak the cedar plank for an hour or two. Heat the grill. Heat both sides of the plank for 3 minutes. Salt and pepper a skinless salmon fillet. Spread Dijon mustard on one side of the salmon, then sprinkle brown sugar over it. Place the fillet on the plank (sugar-side up). Grill until done (fish flakes, internal temp of 140F).

The cedar does impart a great flavor to the salmon, but this mustard and sugar combo would be great for cooking without cedar as well (and in that case, I'd leave the skin on the other side of the fillet and cook the fish in some sort of grill basket).

The eggplant is a tiny bit more work, simply because you have to mix up a marinade, and you need to salt the eggplant to remove bitterness. But it's a very simple marinade, and the salting only takes 15-30 minutes.

Grilled Honey-Garlic Eggplant


1 eggplant
1 1/2 Tablespoon honey (I try to use local stuff!)
3 Tablespoons of olive oil (any type, but Portuguese Saloio is my favorite for recipes with strong flavors)
5 garlic cloves crushed
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel strips off the eggplant's skin, then slice it to form 1/2 inch thick rounds. Salt the slices on both sides and place them on paper towels. I use my heavy sheet pans for this, and I place paper towels over the slices as well so that I can place another pan on top and add a 10 lb weight to help push out some of the water. Let it sit for 15 minutes while you mix all the other ingredients for the marinade.

Wipe off the salt and pat the slices dry. Dip each slice in the marinade, then throw it on a preheated grill at medium. You can turn the eggplant after 3 minutes to create a crosshatch pattern. Brush the remaining marinade over the slices and flip them to grill the other side. A total of 6 minutes per side should be good.

I stole the eggplant recipe from here -- an excellent local(ish) blog about cooking fish. It's entitled Beyond Salmon. I encourage you to go there as soon as you have time, if you're at all interested in cooking fish, and branching out from salmon. It's a wealth of excellent information!

BTW - that marinade smells incredible, thanks to the smoked paprika.

These recipes were an amazing success. I'll definitely be using both again. I actually overcooked the fish a little because I found and removed a worm while I was checking for bones. No parasites can survive the cooking process over 140F, so I wouldn't worry about it. That's the breaks with wild fish. Always cook your food thoroughly.

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

Songs That Move - Ryan Suggestions

Ryan is practicing with his new band tonight and asked for suggestions regarding songs that get people tapping their toes and moving.

I threw together a quick mess of songs on my current Muxtape. Go here to listen.

The last song is on there largely as a joke - Icculus by Phish. It doesn't move, but it is funny. Warning: Language on Icculus and Snakes on a Plane.

Got any of your own suggestions for songs that'll get people moving? Post 'em here.

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Posted by James at 12:57 PM | Comments (3)

July 21, 2008

In Bruges

I finally watched the film In Bruges on Thursday and liked it even more than I expected to, and tha was after friends had consistently recommended it.

Particularly, I loved the structure, the internal references, the foreshadowing, the dark humor, the odd characters, odd conversations, and the ending.

Have you seen it? If so what did you think about it?

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Posted by James at 9:31 AM | Comments (5)

Weekend Report

Beetle

It's been so long since it rained that the grass has all become shredded wheat. But that means:

  1. No mowing
  2. 100% good weather for outdoor activities

This weekend was no exception.

Friday

On Friday, Maggie and I each took a daughter to her respective scheduled morning activities while we contemplated the day. Without advanced planning, we decided on a play-it-by-ear day. We settled on lunch at Angelo's Civita Farnese on Atwell's Avenue in Providence, and go-karts afterward.

Angelo's was decent. Extremely friendly and helpful staff. Parking in the back, with an attendant to manage the small lot. I'd heard of the place through the Phantom Gourmet website. Since the Phantom recommended the eggplant parm (and I love eggplant parm) I ordered that. The rest of the family ordered various pastas.

The eggplant parm came in a round metal dish. It's fried in a batter that is similar to a popover -- smooth and slightly sweet. It's covered in mozzarella and a tomatoey (but not very assertive) sauce. I enjoyed it, but I would rank Riccardi's as a more savory (and better) eggplant parmesan. I actually wondered whether the usual sauce was on the eggplant parm, because Maggie was informed that they were out of marinara, which struck us as very odd. Eggplant parmesan, in my opinion, calls for a strong sauce, and I wondered if they'd replaced marinara with the vegetarian sauce. However, I can recommend Angelo's if you like your eggplant parm on the sweet side.

Onward to go karts! We spent some time at Seekonk Grand Prix. Also, $30 for 7 ride tickets. That was enough for 3 laps around the go kart track for 4 of us, and then I let the women enjoy the bumper boats while I kept my electronics at a safe distance.

We were able to swing babysitting for the kids, but unable to connect with friends, so it was off to see The Dark Knight together. Perhaps we'll have a separate post later for discussing the film (with spoilers) but here's the spoiler-free mini-review: This is the Batman movie that reminds me of when I first decided I liked Batman. Instead of the clown we've gotten in other Batman treatments, we get the portrait of someone obsessed. But the benefit of having the Joker and other strong characters alongside Batman is that we can see other less healthy forms of obsession (even though Batman himself is arguably nuts). We'll probably see it again in IMAX later on.

We got home early enough to start preparing for Saturday's trip and to watch the season premiere of Monk with the kids, who had been looking forward to it.

Saturday

We left early (but not as early as we'd intended) for Chatham to join the Stone family reunion beach party. The girls experienced their first Cape traffic, and friendly cape-going motorists.

Once in Chatham, we reunited with Maggie's gracious family and were ferried via a couple of boats to a nearby beach. This was a beach with choices. The northwest side was bathtub warm, shallow, gentle and offered the children the excitement of chasing and catching an eel. The southeast side was frigid, had high crashing waves, and social seals who watched you from just one wave crest away.

The kids and I enjoyed the waves until we couldn't feel our extremities any longer, linking arms in attempts to stay together but being ripped apart all the same. Getting dragged over the sand by the undertow was surprising and novel. Many bruises were sustained as proof of our good time.

At one point, it was amusing to see a juvenile seal swimming over to play just out of reach of the children as we watched. We noticed a pair of adults observing us from a wave crest away, as if similarly concerned. Honestly, if the seals had consented to stay still, I could have joined them in seconds. It's remarkable to see them floating there, like giant wet dogs. In the end, we had to drag the kids away from the icy waves, so entertaining it was to be repeatedly smashed, thrown, dragged and buffeted.

We stayed longer than we'd originally intended, so it was a good thing we'd given up on the taiko drums in Newport. Instead, we took a leisurely drive back and then said our goodbyes to the Weissman family who were heading back to California.

Back home, I tried to watch Doctor Who with the girls, as they poked me in an attempt to keep me awake.

Sunday

Sunday was a resting, reading and cooking day We hung around the pool and deck, or hid in the A/C and nursed our itchy spots which took 12-24 hours to show up after having been nipped repeatedly by horseflies on the northwest (warm) side of the beach the day before.

All in all, a successful formula for a memorable weekend.

Posted by James at 9:11 AM | Comments (0)

July 17, 2008

Things Getting Wild and Scenic on Taunton River?

While Republicans tried (and failed) to stop the measure by deriding Fall River as overrun by gangs and ugly industrial development, Reps McGovern and Frank argued passionately for the Wild and Scenic designation which will protect both the upper and lower parts of our Taunton River from further damaging development.

The Taunton river is considered by local authorities to be the most ecologically diverse river in the state. There are no dams in the Taunton river, a fact that makes it unusual among major New England rivers.

The lower Taunton river is, of course, plagued with a coal-burning power plant on the Somerset side and a proposed LNG facility at the old Shell Oil site in Weaver's Cove. We live with the two power plants in town, but that doesn't mean we are comfortable with watching our river become the target for every sort of industrial development that the energy companies and their congressional Republican stooges want to exploit.

One after another, Republican representatives who live in states and areas which either do not have LNG facilities at all (Massachusetts already has 2 and a third is approved by FERC) or are directly benefiting from wild and scenic designations stood up to display pictures of Fall River and make their jokes about the local residents' hopes that our river's beauty will not be further eroded. When that didn't work, they pulled the "cheap energy" card and attacked Democrats as being unconcerned about the price of energy. It's an amazing tactic, considering a Republican-controlled government has displayed little concern and even less action to help our country move to an age of cheaper, and/or more environment-friendly energy. Do they actually think they have any credibility when it comes to anything other than that their will to preserve the profits of big energy? Do they think we've already forgotten about Dick Cheney's secret, closed-door energy policy meetings?

Frank also fended off comments from the bill's lead opponent, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who while displaying photos of a graffiti-marred area of the river, said the designation is not appropriate.
"The only part of this river that is scenic is the graffiti found on the bridges and embankments, and the only thing that is wild is the gangs that wrote this in the first place," Bishop said.

To the cynical, big-energy elitist, faux-populist Republican representatives who ridiculed the beauty of the Lower Taunton, I challenge you to paddle a kayak around Muddy Cove, look at the shorebirds, watch the crabs skitter back to their holes, float quietly as a majestic egret takes flight, and then tell me that the Lower Taunton River is simply a place where gangs scrawl tags on bridges abutting power plants.

Or, watch kids feeding the geese just north of the power plant, across the river from Weaver's cove.

Or run along Riverside Ave. south of the marina in the morning when the ducks are floating and bobbing in their sleep.

You will either change your mind or I respectfully suggest you take your out-of-state, hypocritical, big-energy bullshit and shove it up your bought-and-sold posteriors.

"If you want to fight about energy, work it out with the big boys and girls, don't turn it on the people," Frank said.
If the designation is applied to the lower section of the river, the measure would effectively stop Weaver's Cove Energy's proposal to construct a LNG terminal in Fall River.

In the end, our reps won. It's now up to the senate to approve a similar measure. If the senate does, then future industrial use of the Lower Taunton will be much more difficult for people like Hess LNG. And we'll be able to rest assured that my kids and perhaps their kids might be able to enjoy the river the way it is today and not some future dystopian craphole while the children of these Republican senators relax on their pastoral inheritances far away from the frightening morlock hoi polloi of Fall River.

House deals blow to proposed Mass. LNG terminal in the ProJo News Blog

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Posted by James at 12:51 PM | Comments (3)

July 16, 2008

All About Movies

A quick look at some movies I bothered to watch.

The Eye (2008)

I don't know exactly why I watch American versions of Asian horror films that I liked the first time around. Maybe it's because I like to see the re-interpretation, and how the creepiness translates. I know that, in some cases, I have liked American versions better (notably, The Ring). So it's not a complete waste of time.

In the case of The Eye, I needn't have bothered. Critical review was lousy. I guess critics don't like a story about a woman who receives a corneal transplant and then can suddenly see... and hear and feel and be hurt by spirits. It was actually better than the Tomatometer promised (a lousy 22% - "rotten"). I recommend people just see the original, alone in a darkened room with the volume up high enough to hear all the creepy sounds.

The Eye 3 (2005)

Want to be confused? In China, where this film was made, it was called Gin gwai 10. No, the Chinese translation for "3" is not "10." And this is not the tenth film in a series of "The Eye" films. It's the third film. When they released it here, I was hoping they were going to keep the name similar, and call it "The Eye 10." But I guess they figure the American horror market isn't as smart as the Hong Kong audience.

If you liked "Gin gwai" (that's the first "The Eye") you will probably not like this film, which is a cross between "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Airplane!" but without Freddy Krueger or Leslie Neilsen.

Perhaps the Pang brothers, directors of the Eye series, thought Horror-comedy was the new thing, following on the success of Shawn of the Dead. But this film may be a candidate for Chuck's bad movie collection. How do you explain what is ostensibly a horror movie in which a person possessed by a haunted basketball suddenly finds himself in an on-the-spot street dance competition? On reflection, that does sound pretty damn funny, doesn't it? It is; it's the comedy high point of the film. The problem is that I thought this was supposed to be a horror movie!

I appreciate creativity, but this film is third in a series. A horror series. What if they had made Godfather III a zombie flick? On second thought, that would have been awesome.

The Signal (2007)

Speaking of creativity, The Signal is quite a creative horror film. They broke it into three sections (or "transmissions") directed by three different fellows. Despite that, it holds together well. The plot asks the question "what would happen if everyone who watched TV went batshit crazy and voted in a completely incompetent president for 8 years." Uh. Wait -- that was real life. The film is actually about what would happen if the whole country went batshit crazy and everyone started attacking each other. Wait! That was real life again, but in Iraq.

This film is about what would happen if a mysterious TV signal made everyone crazy enough that they started believing they had good reason to attack the people around them. It's like violent imagination in overdrive; where people actually believe the excuses they come up with. But without sending Colin Powell to talk to the United Nations in a type of propaganda campaign for the cameras back home.

Okay, I'm sorry folks. This particular review seems to have gone off the rails. Short version: I liked this film, but didn't love it. If you like gory zombie films, but would like to see a completely different take, The Signal is a refreshing, creative detour. NEXT!

Hancock (2008)

In this movie, Will Smith is Hancock, a super-powered reject from society. Despite some bad reviews, I decided to see this film because everyone I knew who saw it told me it was better than the reviews said. And they were right; it is better than the bad reviews implied. It was very enjoyable.

Reviewers point out that the film takes a detour about halfway through and never recovers what makes the first half of the film wonderful. So what? Half a wonderful film is better than none, which is what I get with most movies these days! Bad reviewers!

Without spoilers: Jason Bateman is great as the PR guy who wants to clean up Hancock's super-powered image. Will Smith is convincing as the superhero who has lost his way. And the movie is fun for those reasons alone.

BUT - once that movie is over, you get a bonus film that isn't so great, but has a lot of the same characters in it. It has over-the-top effects, unlike the first (part of the) film. It has a different main character, and they don't tell you the movie has changed. The only purpose of the second movie is to clear up the mysteries that were behind the first movie. These are mysteries you probably didn't care much about, because you were having fun seeing Will Smith awkwardly save people with cool special effects, and Jason Bateman trying to re-awaken Hancock's sense of self respect with a charming naivete. I still think you'll enjoy it, if the original premise of Hancock sounded good to you at all.

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Posted by James at 10:12 AM | Comments (3)

July 15, 2008

Hot Summer Playlist Action

Today we have an audio post. Here's a playlist of stuff I'm currently listening to. Hosted by Project Playlist. With comments below.


  • The Chauffeur -- Duran Duran
    • I've always loved this song, but it's on this list because the band who performs the next song (Urbs) has their own version of it that is making good headphone music for work.
  • The Incident -- Urbs
    • The Urbs album "Toujours le mĂȘme film..." is like the soundtrack to a nonexistent film. This sounds like the music you might hear during the trailer. I like the riff in there that sounds like they were listening to Depeche Mode's album Music For The Masses when they wrote this.
  • Everybody Knows -- Ryan Adams
    • Great, short song about someone having trouble holding everything together.
  • Two -- Ryan Adams
    • This song can be heard in the background at a restaurant in the movie Hancock. It clearly wasn't chosen for the film by mistake, but it tells a pathetic story. Adams' plaintive crooning is soothing.
  • Rockferry -- Duffy
    • This song and the next are off Duffy's recent album. Her voice is great, and this song reminds me of an earlier time.
  • Warwick Avenue -- Duffy
    • I guess I just like this style of female vocals. There's nothing spectacular about this song, it's just got a great combination of her voice, the band and the orchestra that swells up as she gets going.
  • Down To Earth -- Peter Gabriel
    • From Wall-E. Some of the gentle electronica from the soundtrack is woven into this very Peter Gabriel tune.
  • Green Onions -- Booker T. & The MG's
    • Project Playlist didn't have the Tom Petty version, but Booker T. and the MG's will certainly do! It's Green Onions, and needs no description.
  • Lil' King Kong -- Simple Kid
    • My younger daughter M really liked this song we heard on TV (I think it was the Saturn Vue commercial) and I had to agree, it was pretty catchy. Head-bobbin stuff.
  • I Turn My Camera On -- Spoon
    • While we're bobbin our heads, we can move right along to the song I fist heard because of a dancing robot named Keepon.
  • Blood And Roses -- The Smithereens
    • A blast from the 90's brings us down to Earth. "I want to love, and it comes out wrong. I want to live but I don't belong."
  • Fight With Tools -- Flobots
    • There's not enough violin in this playlist, so I sneak some in via a rap song.
  • Last Day Of Our Love -- The Bird And The Bee
    • The bubblegummy popish sound contrasts with the subject matter - love withering on the vine, and finally ending. It's all over, even the shouting.
  • Short skirt, long jacket -- Cake
    • Can't have a summer playlist without Cake. Short Skirt/Long Jacket moves, and I add it to this list imagining John McCain singing this to Carly Fiorina.
  • Me, I'm Not -- Nine Inch Nails
    • He sounds like he's in a lot of pain.
  • Crosstown Traffic -- Jimi Hendrix
    • Higher gas prices. Lousy economy. It's all crosstown traffic.
  • Hiphopapotamus v Rhymenocerous -- Flight of The Conchords
    • The lighter side of rap.
  • Polaris -- Nortec Collective
    • Some electronica to drone on in the background while I work.
  • I'm Shipping Up To Boston 9 (Departed Soundtrack) -- The Dropkick Murphy
    • With Fridays off, we try to find some reason to go somewhere interesting with the kids. Often, that's in Boston.

If you're looking for a laugh, here's a "trailer" for the new movie Journey at the Center of the Earth. Not to be confused with Jules Verne, or the similarly titled kids adventure film now in theaters. This one is about the band.

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Posted by James at 12:46 PM | Comments (9)

July 11, 2008

Sachuest


Spent part of the afternoon at Sachuest Point in Rhode Island. I love the waves there. (Map) Photos to follow on Flickr.

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Posted by James at 3:30 PM | Comments (3)

July 10, 2008

Wiki Thursday: Sweetest Day

Sweetest Day

Quoting Wikipedia:

Sweetest Day is an observance celebrated primarily in the Great Lakes region and parts of the Northeast United States on the third Saturday in October. It is described by Retail Confectioners International, as "much more important for candymakers in some regions than in others (Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo being the biggest Sweetest Day cities)" and an "occasion which offers all of us an opportunity to remember not only the sick, aged and orphaned, but also friends, relatives and associates whose helpfulness and kindness we have enjoyed."Sweetest Day has also been referred to as a "concocted promotion" created by the candy industry solely to increase sales of candy.

I think it's great to remember the sick, orphaned, friends, relatives and associates... but we've gotten along fine out here in the SouthCoast without "Sweetest Day." Maybe I'm just cynical, but this is just lesser-Valentine's day without all the romantic or religious history/baggage, focusing purely on the sales of candy.

Forget the dubious benefit of feeding your dearest friends high doses of processed sugar for the purpose of propping up the candy industry, why do we need a coalition of candy manufacturers telling us when we have an "opportunity" to remember the people who make our lives special, or who need a little special attention?

I mean, you know I love me some jihad against proper nutrition, but this is too blatant. Voted "Officially Lame" by the editorial board of Aces Full of Links. I have a suggestion. Eat the leftover candy on Halloween, and remember your friends and such on October's BAFAB (Buy a Friend a Book) week.

If you think BAFAB is blatant publisher-promotion, then just give away books you've already read, or buy used books. It's up to you. If it's a good book, nobody will care whether it's already been read. I know I don't look a gift book in the mouth. Speaking of which, Chuck just sent me a cool book about the coming of the "singularity." I told him I'd report back on it, so I'd better get through my current short stack of started-but-not-finished (see below).

I'll remind you when Sweetest Day comes around so you can join with me and avoid candy that day. It's not like you're not going to pig out on Halloween anyhow.

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Posted by James at 4:23 PM | Comments (11)

Return of the Caffeined

Back in November, I was experimenting with cold-brewed coffee. this led to my epic post "Dangerous Ideas for the Caffeined - Part 1" wherein I detail a cold-brew coffee recipe.

You can read the original post for the details (it's so worth it!) but for reference, I will provide a lightning-fast summary. The Cold Brew method produces coffee concentrate by soaking ground coffee overnight. The concentrate is like cold espresso, ready to be used in any recipe that uses espresso, especially iced lattes (although some folks do add hot water to make an Americano). The ratio is 5 cups of water to 1/2 pound of ground coffee. Let sit overnight. Strain. As detailed in the earlier post.

I mentioned using a French press to strain the coffee. My problem is that the French press I inherited is not big enough for 5 cups of coffee sludge. So I have altruistically devised a method of straining the coffee just so you all would have an easier time with it. That's how much I care about you, the reader.

Click to read the extended entry of this post and see details and pictures.

Once you have let the coffee sit for 12 hours or so, soaking in the water, it's ready to be strained.

Cold Brew

Here you see a half pound of coffee soaking in 5 cups of water in a 2 quart bowl. The grounds have sunk to the bottom by now, but at the beginning of the process they float.

But while this puppy is soaking, you have some time to make a strainer.

Cold Brew These are two 2-quart plastic pitchers I got from Wal*Mart for less than $2 apiece. This is the major expense of my new method.
Cold Brew

Do you see how I can stack them? If you cannot find these exact pitchers, you will need to find something similar. The important elements here are:

  • Make sure that there is something that prevents the pitchers from nesting completely; in this case, the handle keeps the top pitcher from sliding down and filling all of the space below.
  • That bottom space needs to be at least 3 cups. 4 cups would be better. In this picture that bottom container has well over 6 cups of space.
  • Make sure they aren't too unbalanced. They have to be able to sit flat on a table.
Cold Brew You're going to need a drill and a 1/16th inch bit.
Cold Brew

You need to drill about 100 1/16th inch holes in the bottom of ONE of the pitchers.

"But James," you say. "Why can't I just drill one 1/3 inch diameter hole? Isn't that about the same?" Hey, you can do whatever you want. But I'm trying to make a strainer.

Cold Brew About 100 holes looks something like this. How's that for precision?
Cold Brew Clean off the plastic burrs as best you can. I scrubbed this with a copper scouring pad, and that did a good enough job. But it's up to you to make sure you don't eat any plastic. Stack your pitchers with the drilled-out one on top.
Cold Brew

Pour your coffee mixture into the top pitcher. It helps if you were soaking in something that makes it easy to pour. The bowl I was using doesn't make it particularly easy. You can be smarter than me.

Coffee will start to drip through to the bottom pitcher.

I use a grind that is finer than automatic drip coffee but not as fine as espresso.

It takes over an hour for this thing to do its job, so go read a book.

When it's complete, you should have around 3 cups of coffee concentrate in the bottom container. The dripping will have slowed to a stop. You could try pressing or tamping the coffee, but i don't think it's necessary.

Cold Brew After sitting there for over an hour, some very fine sludge has a chance to settle into the bottom of the bottom pitcher. You needn't drink this sludge. If you decant the coffee concentrate into another container (perhaps, a smaller container) the sludge sticks to the bottom of your pitcher. This is an easy way to further clarify your concentrate without using a disposable filter.
Cold Brew

Here you see my concentrate sitting in a quart bottle, which takes up very little space in the fridge, where space is at a premium.

I got a little over 3 cups of concentrate. Delicious!

Enjoy your caffeine responsibly. In the morning, at my house, that means using skim milk to make a latte. In the evening it means Jameson.

But whatever you were planning to do, that's probably fine, too.

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Posted by James at 1:14 AM | Comments (8)

July 9, 2008

Historical Warship Bumper Stickers

Chuck started a bumper sticker discussion in Twitter this morning, which prompted me to suggest a bumper sticker for the sweetest "ride" of anyone I know. The U.S.S. Constitution.

My suggestion:

I DRINK YOUR JAVA

Unfortunately, I think a giant banner like that might not be in keeping with history. That's not going to stop me from quietly lobbying for it.

Posted by James at 12:57 PM | Comments (5)

July 8, 2008

Salmon-Colored

Recent reading about our food supply prompted Maggie and me to increase the amount of fish in our diets. Specifically, we're adding salmon.

Since the switch was health-related, we wanted to make sure that we're getting the omega-3 fatty acids that are said to be more heart-healthy. It turns out that if you're not picky regarding what sort of salmon you buy, you might not be getting as much of that beneficial fat as you think. Farmed salmon is fed cheaper corn, wheat gluten and other sources of protein which results in higher omega-6 fatty acids and lower omega-3s. And then there's the possibility of PCBs in your salmon. From Discover Magazine:

Using the cancer-risk assessment methods of the Environmental Protection Agency, he calculates that men can safely eat wild salmon as often as eight times a month but farmed salmon only once or twice a month. Carpenter says salmon from farms in Scotland and the Faeroe Islands are so contaminated they should not be eaten more than three times a year.

What's a consumer to do? Eat wild salmon, of course! But, to quote Julie on Twitter: "Wow, wild salmon really IS pricey!" Indeed. I felt lucky to get it for $10/lb this week at Stop & Shop. Ordinarily, it is $15/lb there. Yes, that's cheaper than eating out, but not by much.

Even if you cough up the cash for wild-caught salmon, there's the worry you might not be getting actual wild caught salmon after all. B.O.B. pointed out this weekend that the term "Atlantic Salmon" is used for farmed salmon which seems counterintuitive, but the labels are pretty clear where we shop. They say "farm raised" on them, and you can always ask the fishmonger.

But then, what if you can't trust the fishmonger or market? In 2005, an investigation in New York found that a lot of the so-called wild salmon was actually farm-raised. Farm-raised salmon is given pigments to deepen the red, simulating wild salmon's color. These agents can be measured, and so the deception is uncovered.

But the consumer can't tell just by looking. And the fish market can't even tell if their supplier is pulling the scales over their eyes. So now, what the heck is a consumer to do?

My suggestion: ban artificial coloring of farmed salmon. Now, once the fish is filleted, both markets and consumers would easily be able to see the difference (farmed salmon would be gray, more like the color of tuna). It seems to me it would be easier for regulators to ensure compliance at the farms (just test the occasional fish at each farm) than it would be to go around to various fish markets and constantly do chemical tests.

An argument against this is that it might make farmed salmon less desirable, and be unfair to fish farmers. Tuna isn't red, and it sells fine, I assume. Also, isn't the consumer's ability to get what they're paying for more important than allowing farms to simulate wild fish? Finally, if there are strong motivations not to eat salmon more than a couple of times a month (PCBs) perhaps a business model based on fooling the consumer is not the best thing for the food marketplace. As free-market folks like to say, let the market decide (once the deception is removed, of course).

BTW, if you've got money to burn, why not buy your dog or cat some Wild Salmon Treats? $10 for 3 ounces (to be fair, it's dried) and what sort of a guarantee do you get that it actually is wild? And will your pet care?

Posted by James at 3:24 PM | Comments (5)

One Answer to Universal Health Care Critics

When confronted by the idea of universal health care, some opponents (when they're not simply yelling SOCIALISM! at you) will point to the weakest examples of other countries which have universal health coverage to bolster their argument. You can argue back that there are countries who have quite successful universal coverage, but these facts often fall on deaf ears. Germany and France are often cited by proponents and nonpartisan groups as successes in universal coverage with their lower costs and their relatively short wait times; such successes are rarely mentioned or even acknowledged by universal coverage opponents. And in fact, these successful countries do not have systems you can honestly call socialized medicine.

The resistance comes from their ears already having been primed by the idea that any reform of health care is socialism. A rhetorical answer is necessary to break these people of the idea that a couple of bad examples in other countries is enough to discount the idea.

Because religion is so popular, it makes an excellent counterargument. If you make an analogy between religion and universal health care (there are many different religions in other countries, just as there are many different implementations of universal health care) you could pose the following question:

You can point to arguably destructive religions in other countries (radical Islam, certain cults, state-sponsored religion which persecutes non-adherents), therefore, religion should be abolished in this country.

If we disregard all the differences between religions, just as some seek to disregard the specific details of universal health coverage systems, and you choose to focus only on examples that bolster one side of the argument, then you must come to the same conclusion. If some countries do religion wrong, then we must learn from that example and eliminate religion here!

Hopefully, they'll see the flaw in that argument and see the same flaw in the health coverage argument.

(And yes, I think it is wrong to argue against religion in general based on extreme examples. Extreme examples may prove useful in weighing the costs and benefits of religious freedom, or for purposes of asking adherents to rein in their more radical brethren. But alone they are no kind of argument against religion.)

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Posted by James at 2:35 PM | Comments (35)

When Media Dodges Scrutiny We All Lose

The Brave New Films documentary "OUTFOXED" covered some of the ways that Fox has skewed its news coverage to support a political agenda, including how directives would come from the top to push certain ideas each day. But I don't remember that film going into such detail about what happens to reporters who report anything about Fox news.

Fox's defensive war on reporters was revealed yesterday in a New York Times article by Bob Carr entitled "When Fox News Is the Story."

I was amazed to hear how much Fox is run more like an ongoing political campaign than a news organization. This dovetails with OUTFOXED, but their approach goes beyond simply distorting news coverage. From Carr:

Once the public relations apparatus at Fox News is engaged, there will be the calls to my editors, keening (and sometimes threatening) e-mail messages, and my requests for interviews will quickly turn into depositions about my intent or who else I am talking to.

And if all that stuff doesn't slow me down and I actually end up writing something, there might be a large hangover: Phone calls full of rebuke for a dependent clause in the third to the last paragraph, a ritual spanking in the blogs with anonymous quotes that sound very familiar, and - if I really hit the jackpot - the specter of my ungainly headshot appearing on one of Fox News's shows along with some stern copy about what an idiot I am.

I don't think reporters should be immune from criticism, but there is legitimate criticism based on the standards of reporting and then there's defensive backlash based simply on Fox not liking any sort of scrutiny of its own organization. As vital as media is to a healthy running democracy, our media organizations should be subject to plenty of scrutiny. Part of Fox's success is based on its ability to suppress scrutiny by exacting a high personal cost for any reporter who dares shine a light in their direction. The threat of retaliation is a good motivator.

But is it real? Actually, I was surprised to see this come up the other day when I was watching a humor video on line. I can't recall the link now it was a sort of a "The Soup"-type TV criticism vlog, and the target was Fox host Greg Gutfeld. The guy making the vlog noted at the beginning that any time he mentions Fox News he gets complaints from the people who watch his blog. That took me by surprise. Really? I knew there were people who liked Fox, but apparently there are enough attack dogs for Fox that, above and beyond other news networks, criticizing them brings out the nastygrams.

In the quotation above, what does Carr mean when he writes "the specter of my ungainly headshot appearing on one of Fox News's shows?" It's not unreasonable to slap a headshot up during a TV news story. TV is a visual medium, after all. But, in practice, Fox does more than just show your picture. This, from a Media Matters story:

Fox News featured photos of Steinberg and Reddicliffe that appeared to have been digitally altered -- the journalists' teeth had been yellowed, their facial features exaggerated, and portions of Reddicliffe's hair moved further back on his head. Fox News gave no indication that the photos had been altered.

Click through to the story "Fox News airs altered photos of NY Times reporters" and check out just how much fun Fox had with the images of these two reporters whose crime against Fox was to report on the rising popularity of CNN during this election cycle. You have to see it to believe it.

And, really, attacking reporters for pointing out that your competition is gaining on you? That's not just defensiveness, it's some sort of personality or psychological disorder. Like media road rage.

The additional charge has been leveled that the alterations on one of the photos was anti-semitic, but I don't see a specific attempt at a Jewish caricature. Maybe I'm unfamiliar with Jewish caricatures, but to my eyes both photos got similar treatments (although the one did get special attention to the nose).

Fox has operated without enough scrutiny. I'm not talking about government scrutiny; the media should police itself. That's not to say that half the news broadcast should be taken up by media outlets attacking each other for ratings gains, but perhaps journalistic standards should be made more explicit, and the public should be made aware of them. If such a yardstick were familiar to the public, perhaps when media did not live up to that measure people would take an interest. And it is in media's best interest to self-police, because they risk becoming irrelevant in a world of expanding information choices, many of which are the brain equivalent of junk food.

An idea I had, which I think government could help with by providing funding, is to create educational resources regarding the role of a free media in society. They should be targeted to very young people, to at least get the basic concepts across. In fact, the model of "Schoolhouse Rock" would work really well for these lessons. Sure, you only learned some of the most basic things about the government from "Schoolhouse Rock" but at least you know what a bill is. And hopefully that there are three branches of government.

It's not productive to make media a dirty word, which has especially been the hobby of people on the other side of the facts. After decades of attack on the so-called liberal media, where is our "Schoolhouse Rock" to educate our citizens on the role of a free press and what journalism is?

(BTW - you can view OUTFOXED in its entirety on line here.)

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Posted by James at 12:18 PM | Comments (1)

July 7, 2008

Man vs Domicile: Cereal

Breakfast is a treacherous time in the domicile. The most familiar challenge at breakfast time is the possibility (realized many unfortunate times in the past) of running out of milk from the shared cowsmilk supply.

However, a new challenge has reared its head.

In the past, one would reach into the cereal cupboard and simply decide which sort of cereal to eat. Similar to the milk, the cereal was a shared supply. But sibling rivalry has upturned the natural cereal order.

The children are allowed to eat a limited amount of sugary cereal in addition to their semi-healthy cereals (bran flakes and shredded wheat). Apparently, there was a disagreement about the uneven rate of consumption of cereal which led to a system in which the children now inscribe their names on cereal boxes to mark their food territory.

The effect? To be even, we now maintain a double-supply of sugary cereal. It has crowded out other (less-sugary) choices. And when you grab a box of cereal today, it has somebody's name on it.

This is such an unmitigated success from the standpoint of the children, I'm bracing myself for Sharpie-scrawled names on electrical outlets, furniture, bathrooms, apples, and corners of the pool.

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Posted by James at 9:07 AM | Comments (8)

July 6, 2008

Sunset Parade

I had the honor and the privilege yesterday to attend the Sunset Parade at the Charlestown Navy Yard on Boston Harbor, with the crew of the U.S.S. Constitution. Even better, I got to spend some time afterward with friends and family, relaxing back at my cousin's house.

It was a beautiful evening for the event, clear skies and cool temperatures.

We were treated to a number of performances, the Lincoln Minute Men, A 4H Fife and Drum band, and the William Diamond Fife and Drum Corps. They finished up the musical portion of the evening with a group of drummers and bagpipers who let fly with a rendition of Scotland The Brave which was quite a crowd pleaser (video embedded below on this post).

We were also treated to demonstrations of the steps of firing cannon. For the silent demonstration the crew concluded with an actual firing of a U.S.S. Constitution cannon at the moment in the demonstration when the demonstration cannon would have fired. The volume of the cannon never cease to surprise me. We then stood for evening colors.

Afterward, we walked over to the Captain's residence where the conversation and company were both lively, and the kids played their own games in the back yard.

I got to meet a number of people, including one of the family of DrMomentum.com blog comment posters - Boston Maggie. We didn't get to spend too much time talking to each other, but it was lovely to speak with her. I don't often get to meet people who have actually read my blog; it is always a noteworthy occasion because of the superior quality of my blog readers.

My daughter was having such a good time she declared it "the Party of the Century" which seemed to please Bull. At one point, after the kids had gone inside for the evening, I went to check on them and the eldest cousin from each of the families was engaging in a spirited discussion on the merits and attributes of different sorts of robots. It reminded me of similar discussions my cousins and I used to have while poring over books of drawings with robots and spacecraft. I'm glad my daughters can get to know their cousins; as I've gotten older I've gotten closer to the family members with whom I spent so much of my important formative time.

K had at least as much fun with her cousins as I did with Bull, Sarah, B.O.B., Patti, Bob, Liz, my aunt and uncle, and everyone.

Here is a set of pictures (the public ones are entirely from/of the Sunset Parade) and I really wish I'd remembered to take some shots of the party afterward. Even with the camera on my hip, I'm lousy at remembering to take snapshots. I give you, some bagpipes I uploaded to Google Video:

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Posted by James at 1:36 PM | Comments (3)

July 5, 2008

Social Media and Online Communities

Are social media simply online communities?

Over a decade ago, when I created an "Online Interpersonal Communication" course for UMass' nascent "CyberEd" program it was meant to simply be an introduction for neophytes. It wasn't a credit course, and it wasn't very difficult to create. I introduced people to the details needed to communicate effectively in email, Usenet, MUDs, and other technologies of the time. However, I also made it a goal for them to learn the online mores that had formed ("netiquette").

In addition to students that were there just to pick up some Internet savvy, there were already thinking about how to create and maintain online communities. For example, some of my students were, themselves, educators who already worked for organizations which specialized in distance learning. We had class discussions on the issue, and the class did double-duty as discussion forum and experimental example of a very small online community.

During this time I also started participating in online communities with the specific intention of observing what held them together, and what patterns of interaction seemed to repeat. My work took me away from teaching, so my online community use lapsed more into entertainment than research, but I kept it in the back of my mind.

Today, I hear the term "social media" used frequently in reference to online communications such as blogs, microblogs, image sharing sites, etc. Why has "social media" appeared, and is it the same as "online communities?" I don't object to new terms for old concepts, but the motives behind new language interest me. I think "social media" is marketing for "online communities" although "online communities" might be more accurate.

One way to tell if two classifications are the same is to run the check: for classification X and classification Y, if every X is a Y AND every Y is an X, then X and Y are essentially the same. If it works only in one direction, then one is a subset of the other. This allows you to test X and Y casually without even a precise definition of either, but of course definitions will make your case stronger.

If the two classifications are not exactly the same, the similarity can be judged based on the quality of the examples which break the test.

For example, I believe that every online community is a form of social media, if we accept the Wikipedia definition of social media:

Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio. This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and "building" of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories, and understandings.

...then we'll see that a long list of online communities qualify as social media. However, by the definition of social media, you might stretch it to include a collaborative paper newsletter. If you said that this is social media but is not an online community, I'd probably question your application of the definition of "social media." Non-online examples of social media may be possible, and if they exist they are not commonly referred to as social media.

Is "social media" a better term than online communities? I think it does serve some purpose. Its use of the word "media" contrasts the products of social media with the product of traditional, monolithic corporate media. And "social" defines how it is different, implying that this media emerges from social interactions.

Ironically, the use of the term "social media" may be a subconscious effort to give a professional sheen to the products of online communities at the same time social media seeks to distance itself from traditional media. The word "media" implies, to most people, a certain professionalism, even if they have come to criticize "the media." "A member of the media" still certainly carries with it a strong implication of professional credentials.

Perhaps the biggest distinction, for me, in the two terms is not in their ultimate meaning, but in the emphasis. "Social media" is a type of media (modified by "social.") Online communities are a type of community (modified by "online.") Thus, in social media the stress is on the stuff that these people generate, and perhaps the system that generates it (the way it is generated) rather than on the social/community/personal part of it.

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Posted by James at 4:32 PM | Comments (3)

Classifying A Hate Word

A Twitter contact of mine posted a link to his comment on this article, in which he draws attention to what he calls "a dangerous thing" about language.

To summarize, he's asking about the use of the word "Kike" in "Casa Kike" (pronounced "kee-kay" it is a Spanish given name) and his concern is about the slur-word "kike" (rhymes with "kite").

I was interested when I saw he refereed to it as an anti-semitic word. While I'm no expert on the etymology of the word, his description made me wonder whether "anti-semitic" was a correct characterization, and I find myself coming up with more questions than answers.

Clearly, the word is and has been used by anti-semites. But it also has a well-known history of use as a slur word within the Jewish population. Although the origin is often disputed, its usages are well documented.

All parties agree that the term was originally used by German Jews who had emigrated to the United States earlier in the 19th century to describe their later-arriving Ashkenazi counterparts. In its origins, kike was used by Jews to describe other Jews who they felt were vulgar, and from there it became appropriated as part of the American vocabulary of slang. Kike is still used to this day by Jews to describe other Jews who they feel are low in character.

Calling it a slur word against Jews is certainly accurate. And saying that it has been used by anti-semites is also accurate. And even that it has been used to express an anti-semitic sentiment is also accurate. But can it really be called an anti-semitic word if its historical usage was often between semitic groups? These weren't people seeking to adopt a racist word and claim it for their own, these were people using for their own purposes as a slur. Presumably, they were not anti-semitic, but rather sought to use the term to distinguish themselves from other semites.

This makes for a very confusing situation when describing the term. On the one hand, it is a term used attack Jews. On the other hand, describing the word too broadly encourages and perpetuates an inaccurate view of the word's history.

I don't object to describing this as a word used to denigrate Jews, and for that reason it is an word that should be considered offensive by polite people. If you are not Jewish you use it at the risk of being taken for an anti-semite, with good reason. It's a word used with the intention of being hurtful.Yet I still don't entirely feel the word itself ought to be labeled "anti-semitic."

But I can't say that with complete conviction. The word is used exclusively to attack people who are Jewish, but not always because they are Jewish (in the case of other Jews using the word). Perhaps that is enough to call it "anti-semitic." But I'm not sure.

If it feels like I am drawing too fine a line, I will agree that for many purposes the distinction is unimportant. However, I feel that understanding language is often important to understanding people, even when it might be complex. It beats ignorance, and these are questions I feel are worth at least thinking about.

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Posted by James at 2:06 PM | Comments (2)

July 4, 2008

ViziLite Plus

We didn't tough our co-blogging project Thing of Ugly at all in 2007, but Maggie found a worthy subject for a quick update.

Check out her excellent post ViziLite Plus where she ponders the information that's missing when the hard sell comes on for oral cancer screening in the dentist's chair.

I actually took the screening when they offered it to me, months ago, but Maggie is right. The statistics they give you are misleading if you're trying to use them to decide what your risk of oral cancer is.

When should you be suspicious of a medical statistic? Here is one big warning sign: statistics that tell about the population of people who already have the disease do not help you in determining your own risk. You need to know what percentage of the general population (or your particular risk group) contracts the disease. If more people asked this sort of question, like Maggie did, maybe medical professionals would be more careful in informing the public.

It's not too much to hope that the public could one day understand the concept of risk a little better. Check out Maggie's post for more details.

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Posted by James at 8:39 AM | Comments (8)

July 3, 2008

Happy Independence Day

Since many of you will be away from a computer tomorrow, I want to wish you a happy 4th today. You can have a happy 3rd, too, if you like!

My gift to you is this video, which is touring with Spike and Mike. It is not safe for work (NSFW). It reveals the truth behind the legend of this historic figure who was instrumental in securing our independence.

I give you "Washington" by Brad Neely. Again, it's NSFW (language).


Washington Rap - Funny bloopers R us

Posted by James at 4:14 PM | Comments (2)

Weird Noises in the Night

Well, that was weird.

Some time at or around 11:30 PM last night we started hearing a strange noise in our house. It was coming from outside, and it was loud enough that we could hear it over the air conditioner with all the windows up. It sounded like a jet at first, but the sound never died out. As it continued, Maggie wondered if it wasn't somebody's A/C unit.

We stepped outside and then I thought maybe a neighbor had installed a huge roof ventilation fan. The sound was coming from the south (actually, more south-southwest, but I think of 138 as going north-south). It was like a great rush of air. At first we thought it was coming from the neighbor's house across the street, but then the sound felt like it was coming from slightly above, from the air, from many directions, as if it was farther away. When it began to stop and start abruptly, Maggie described it as the sound of the burner of a hot air balloon.

At 11:45, curiosity got the better of me, so I hopped into the car and hit the road to see if I could get on the other side of the sound. (That's right, in horror movies I'm that guy.) I rolled the car with all the windows down so I could still hear the sound. A mile south-southwest of my house and I still was hearing it roughly from the south. And roughly the same volume. This was clearly far away.

My cell phone rang, it was Ryan. He could hear the sound, too (Maggie had tweeted a message about the noise). He was over in Fall River, and had also gone out to get a better idea what the sound was. (He's that guy, too) He was hearing the sound roughly to the west -- from over the water. West of him and south of my location put the sound near the Brayton Point Power Plant. And the power plant was also about the same distance from where he was and where I first heard the sound.

Unfortunately, before I got near the plant, the sound stopped.

Maggie, meanwhile, called the police and just asked them what the sound was. They said it was the power plant, venting steam. I guess that's one way to find out what's going on in town.

So, mystery solved and I had an excuse to go out and get a late night chicken sandwich. But no pictures of anything interesting, not even steam.

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Posted by James at 8:43 AM | Comments (6)

July 2, 2008

The Official Lie About Waterboarding

The "official lie" about waterboarding, Hitchens says, is that it "simulates the feeling of drowning". In fact, "you are drowning - or rather, being drowned".

I have to give the guy credit. After being adamant about waterboarding not being torture, he agreed to be waterboarded. And then, armed with new facts, he changed his mind.

Cue the attacks from the "Torture a Spic for Jesus" crowd (credit where due for that name). For short, I just call them the armchair sadists.

I don't want my country to torture. This is yet more evidence of how much I clearly hate my country.

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Posted by James at 7:45 PM | Comments (0)

On Euphemism

An additional comment, specifically on why I like certain euphemisms.

Obviously, some language sounds better than other language. Language can sound different depending on the circumstance and the speaker.

Under certain circumstances, the well-placed expletive conveys a lot of meaning. But if used too liberally, these words not only lose their rhetorical punch, but they convey the idea that the speaker is not a very creative soul. Shades of meaning begin to evaporate in a black and white world of words where you always go for the nuclear option.

Euphemisms can, at times, appear wimpy. People avoid using certain words to spare the ears of children or others. It is an attempt to be polite or thoughtful, but it is a blunted version of your intention. This is one reason why it's better to strive use sharp, honest, precise, and creative non-vulgar language when possible. It takes more wit, but you can put the edge back on your language and avoid looking like a dolt.

On the other hand, I like to use certain euphemisms out of exasperation rather than anger. I can see a well placed "feck off" or "shove it in your ear" not as a compromise between your anger and your language, but rather conveying the feeling that the object of your frustration is not actually worth the vulgar language.

It's easier to pull that off if you're a creative communicator, but I think it's a valuable shade of meaning. Next time you want to curse someone or something out, consider denying them the full force of a vulgar expletive, thereby showing them they don't deserve your most heated anger.

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Posted by James at 4:22 PM | Comments (3)

Wiki Wednesday: Feck

From the Wikipedia entry on "feck."

Feck is a monosyllable with several vernacular meanings and variations [...]

Modern Irish English

  • Expletive employed as an attenuated alternative (minced oath) to fuck or express disbelief, pain, anger, or contempt in a given situation [...]
  • Verb meaning in Irish slang "to leave hastily"(e.g. "He's after feckin off down the road when he saw the shades!")
Feck as an expletive

Vernacular usage of feck in the expletive sense is syntactically interchangeable with fuck, though it has no sexual connotations. This includes such phraseological variations as fecker (noun), fecking (verb or adjective), and feckin' 'ell. It can even be used to describe a person: "he's an old feck". It is not uncommon for school teachers and some members of the religious order to use the word 'feck' as an expletive in Ireland thus demonstrating the word's peculiarity in meaning to Ireland where it does not equate to the word 'fuck' as many people outside Ireland tend to think.

Isn't language fun?

I looked up this slang term after I saw a link on Reddit to a photo purporting to show "an Irish scarecrow." To ruin the joke for you, the link takes you to a photo of a number of bales wrapped in a black material, and the phrase "FECK OFF CROWS" is written in large white letters.

Interesting to me is that many American English speakers will interpret this as vulgar slang, when it is likely intended to be euphemistic (as in the words "poop" or "darn" or "shoot"). Can misinterpretation make something vulgar? Can vulgarity exist without intention, or with the opposite intention?

Certainly you can offend someone without intending to. But arguing about whether language is vulgar or not is different, because the language itself is being labeled apart from intention. Does language have meaning without intention? On the other side, does language have meaning without interpretation? Is misinterpretation just another form of interpretation, and can unintended interpretation lend vulgarity to language?

I tend to think that a wide latitude should be given to speakers when there is the possibility that an extreme interpretation is unintended. And, I think "feck" looks appropriately irritable on the page. And on the bales.

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Posted by James at 3:56 PM | Comments (4)

Buy a Friend a Book Week!

buyafriendabook.com

That's right - It's Buy A Friend A Book Week again.

I did it, and you should, too!

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Posted by James at 1:31 PM | Comments (0)

Will Technology Obsolete Gun Rights?

If you shoot and kill someone in self defense, you will have to make the argument in court that lethal force was an option of last resort.

But what if many non-lethal options were at your desposal, and yet you chose to defend your house with a gun? Your argument could become hard for a jury to swallow.

In this way, the march of technology may obviate certain gun rights people are fighting for today. That's the gist of this Op-Ed in the NYT today by Paul H. Robinson.

We've seen this pattern before in the online and information technology worlds as access to data, copying of data and lack of security of networks have changed what is effectively legal or illegal. Not only do laws change to accomodate technology, but people's attitudes about and interpretations of existing laws evolve as an understanding of the technology spreads through the population.

A hermit mentality when it comes to gun-ownership (mentally holed up in your cave with a gun) isn't going to fly if the rest of society comes to accept that you have conscious choices to make long before that intruder enters your home.

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Posted by James at 9:32 AM | Comments (6)

July 1, 2008

So Long, Sharon

Our friend Sharon had her last day at work on Monday.

The office will be a much different place without her. In the years I've known her, I've found her to be a really generous and kind person. Above and beyond her work duties, she worked hard to make the office a friendly place to be. I hope that she keeps in electronic contact (and in-person contact when she can!) so that we hear about her adventures in life.

May the future bring you health, happiness and interesting opportunities, Sharon. I'll miss you; we all will.

Posted by James at 2:07 AM | Comments (0)